I have been aching to do another picture book in depth post for a while now. Whilst I know picture books aren’t the main focus of this blog, they are one of my great and genuine joys and they are something very, very important. Picture books are our introduction to literacy. They’re read by us in so many ways as our reading ability develops, and as such they have to work on a ridiculous amount of levels. They have to reward the adult reader. The child pre-literate. The child emerging literate. The child literate. And quite often they do that with maybe a handful of words, or none.
Picture books are extraordinary.
A) Front cover of ‘the yes’
And I think that the yes stands proud up there with the best of them. Continue reading
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Found floating in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck, Sophie is adopted by Charles; a beautiful, good, eccentric and lovely character. Together the two of them live their oddly lovely life, acceptable to them but unacceptable to the authorities who eventually come calling for Sophie and announce their intent to remove her from Charles’ guardianship and into a ‘normal’ life.
The thing is, Sophie does not feel she is an orphan. She remembers, quite vividly, her mother. And so Charles and Sophie run away to Paris, to evade both the reach of the authorities and to find out if Sophie’s mother did truly survive. After all, it is not impossible that she survived and “you should never ignore a possible”.
This rich, whimsical, destined-to-be-a-future-classic book is something rather lovely. There was a lot in it that reminded me of my beloved Girlsown books; the inherent strength and bravery of Sophie and the richness of Rundell’s text. That sort of comfort in the space of her narrative, to play and to spin with language to the extent that Rundell does, and yet to retain the pure truth of her story? That is why I love Girlsown books. And that is one of the big reasons why I loved Rooftoppers. It is so comfortable and so wholly what it is.
It’s a lovely book this,can you tell that I adored it? I loved the fairytale feel of it and I loved Charles. Oh god, how I loved Charles. Rooftoppers has so much to give. It is a story of love, and of faith, and of acceptance. It is a wonderful, buttery-toast by the open fire, sort of book.
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Let’s talk about roofs. Niche, I know, but something that’s sort of starting to needle at my imagination and what with a visit to Oxford yesterday, and my current reading of (the incredibly lovely) Rooftoppers, I thought it was an appropriate time to explore this.
See, the thing about roofs is that they’re inacessible, usually. They are places that people can’t get to, not easily, and they’re everywhere. And I think sometimes we can miss that, because we’re simply so used to seeing them. They are always there. Every building has them. They are invisible through their visibility.
But, I think, not everywhere has them quite like Oxford.
Just a quickie heads up for you, but have you heard about Down The Rabbit Hole ? It’s a radio show whose pilot debuted this week, and you can read a bit behind the scenes here. And it is ACE. Seriously, go and listen to it and wallow in it. My congratulations to all concerned. It was a pleasure to hear your smart and passionate thoughts, and the legitimacy and respect with which you treated children’s literature was a genuine joy.
(PS – Laura Dockrill’s reading aloud is very, very splendid).
(PPS – And it features The Etherington Brothers! Excitement!).
(PPPS – And THE WORST WITCH)
The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s a couple of things I need to acknowledge about my reading of The Child’s Elephant and it’s those that influence my rating and feelings around the book.
This is a glorious big book, but it’s also resolutely a book of two halves and it took me two goes in reading to actually complete it. The first time I read it, I think it suffered both from my preconceptions and reactions to it (expecting something akin to a Michael Morpurgo, which is not a bad thing but it is not the right thing for this book), and also the slow, leisurely pace of the first half. The pacing of the first half is one of those things that do make sense upon completion, and I understand it now and see the shape of this book, but it was the reason I put the book down at first. So there is something to learn from this and it is something to do with pacing, but also of expectations and of the difficulty of classifying a book before you have read it.
Because the second half of this book told me that I had got it all wrong and that beneath this world, edging the beauty, was a kernel of darkness so horrible and so gutwrenching that it would inevitably pull Bat and Muka and Meya into its path.
You’ll note that I’m telling you very little about what actually happens in this book, and that is quite deliberate. I’m starting to wonder if it’s one of those books that benefit from the blank slate, from not being compared and contextualised against others. I wonder if it’s one of those books you sort of have to slide into a little blankly, a little reluctantly, maybe, to read into the book, to wade through the beautiful, painterly passages about the jungle to fall a little unexpectedly into the bit where everything starts to fall apart, too fast, too soon, too hard, and to feel that shift, to feel that wrench from everything you’ve become comfortable with, that you have come to love and accept as the truth of this world and to be left breathless at the awful, awful truth.
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*note* I’ve just dropped this book back off at the library and have realised that everything I’m trying to say in the above review can be summed up if you look at the coverwork (shown here in an excellent review over on We Sat Down). My utmost applause to David Dean.