Shelves! Shelves with books!

I always love it when people share photographs of their bookshelves because I do the whole squinting at the page/screen thing and try to figure out what they have on their shelves. Seriously, I even do it on magazines when I’m meant to be focusing on who’s got married to who; all I’m interested in is whether they’ve got any books I recognise on their shelves.

So here we are. This is the current state of play at DYESTTAFTSA Towers. It’s not pretty. It’s not organised. (Dear god, it’s not organised). But they are OUT OF THEIR BOXES. The books live! The books live!

(Also – Bowtie gets to come out of storage as well! Suddenly I’m a six year old again!)





#kidbkgrp – Boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature

Last night we talked about boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature. It’s a bit of a vague topic but one that has a lot of relevance for children’s books and the world of reading / publishing in general. Children’s books are defined by adults for children and very rarely the other way round. Therefore we may have expectations of the genre that may not be actually reflected by the intendees (intendees is not a word and that point’s also a rampant generalisation so please forgive me but I hope you see where I’m going with it.) It’s also a topical issue with things like Roald Dahl front covers receiving less than positive feedback and The Bunker Diary receiving heated reactions post its Carnegie win.

I think talking about this sort of stuff and questioning both it and ourselves is vital (which is why I love blogging and Twitter in general). It’s through talking that we reaffirm ourselves. We understand ourselves. It’s when there’s silence and fear, that’s when understanding starts to become something quite foreign.

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the previous chats.

The Glass Bird Girl : Esme Kerr

The Glass Bird GirlThe Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of books out like this at the moment (no bad thing -ed). The school story with a hint of mystery seem to be having a little bit of a resurgence (like I said, no bad thing -ed) and that’s clearly no bad thing at all (finally -ed).

The Glass Bird Girl is a very beautiful little book. From the precise eloquence of that title, through to the old-time feel of it, it’s a book that harks back to the classics of the genre and one which both plays with and pays tribute to the genre itself.

The first in a series, it tells the story of Edie who’s been sent by her uncle to Knight’s Haddon School to keep an eye on the daughter of one of his clients. Anastasia, a Russian princess, is finding school hard and there’s something afoot…

It’s a book which I liked a lot but also had a few troubles with. It’s a reticent book which, I grant, fits the nature of the beast but it’s also one that is not quite easy to grasp onto. I liked it, as I say, but there were moments when I felt quite removed from it. I wonder if a part of that is due to the nature of it being an opener to a series (and thus, having to set A Lot Of Things Into Place), but it’s something I’d like addressing in the next title in the series.

What is clear, is that Kerr is an eloquent, graceful writer and she does something I will always admire and pay tribute to. She’s written a book where school girls are school girls and where adults are mysterious, fallible, and three-dimensional. It’s always good for a school story to acknowledge the fact that the adults are people too because it invariably adds weight to the text of itself. It gives the story, the world, import. And Knight’s Haddon is full of truth, of import and of weight. I loved that about it.

This is a perfect book for those readers who are looking to graduate on from something like Malory Towers or St Clare’s onto something a little more mature and challenging. Kerr writes in a lovely, eloquent and accessible manner (though some of the ‘home’ scenes are little difficult to reconcile with the grace of the ‘school’ story itself). A book of two halves! It’s a good job the school part works so well.

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Have you heard of #kidbkgrp ?

Hi! Do we talk on Twitter? If not, we really should (say hi, you know you want to). (But, you know, say it with some context and not just hi, because then I’ll just hi back and that will not be constructive in the whole beginning a conversation thing and now I’m digressing just a tad, so I’ll stop and move on to what I actually wanted to tell you about)

#kidbkgrp is a monthly chat group which meets the first Thursday of every month, 9-10pm on Twitter. We talk about a whole range of issues relating to children’s literature and everyone is welcome. This means you, specifically ;)

All you need to do to take part is tweet during that time frame using the #kidbkgrp hashtag (basically so I and everyone else taking part in the chat sees you). That’s it! You can view the schedule for the remaining chats of the year here and this Thursday (August 7th), we chat about Drama in Children’s Literature (particularly relevant in a post Carnegie climate, no?). We’ll talk about what children’s literature should and should not do and how to achieve this. It should be good – and I’d love to see you there :-)

“Language is a skin : I rub my language against the other”

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” – Roland Barthes

Barthes was one of the first people I found who said what I wanted to say about language and who said it how it needed to be said. And this quote, oh how I am stuck on it, how how I am always stuck on it, how I do not look away from it with heart nor eyes.

It makes me think about viewing. It makes me think about relationships, about sight and about point of view. We engage with everything we read on a personal nature, we push ourselves up to it and frame ourselves against it, in opposition to it and in conjunction with it.

We are not what we read, we are anti-what we read, we are and always will be what we read.

Reading is about viewing, about a relationship so specific, so tight, so focused and yet, it is a relationship that we do not control. We are controlled by An Other, an unknowable, un-quantifiable other who has pulled our focus, who has turned our head and made us see what we want to see.

Books lie. Books tell the truth that you want to see. Books tell you the truth that you need at that point in time, for who and what you are. Come back to them later, come back to them never, and they will change and they will meet you for what you are at that point in time.

I love writing. I love the shifting, feckless nature of it and the way it can lift its hands up to the hills and stand silhouetted in the setting of the sun. I love the way that it is, the way that it exists and then does not exist, the moment that I change a sentence or edit a word. Language is art and art is language and I love it , I love it, I love that it is. 

And I touch it. I rub my hand against it and I bathe in it and I look at things and I remember and I want to do it all over again.

I finished a draft of the book this week. It’s a book that I have ached for ever since it began inside my head. Finishing it has left me drunken and content and so, so pleased. It’s almost there. I hope you get to read it some day soon.


An introduction to the school story – ten titles to begin your reading journey

So you know I have a bit of a thing for school stories, right?

Just in case that comes as a bit of an awful surprise to you, you’re either new (in which case, hi!) or haven’t been paying attention (in which case, remedial prep for you and Antoinette will bring ‘anchovy’ toast to your study later).

So, to clarify, I do enjoy the school story and the girl’s boarding school story genre in particular. Here’s a thing I wrote about why you should read the genre itself but what I want to do in this post, is tell you about a few titles (nb: in no particular order) which I think will serve as an excellent introduction to the girl’s school story.

I’ve picked titles from The Dawn Of Time and also some very contemporary books and over a fair few differing age groups and I have, I know, omitted a few very popular authors. It’s one of the problems and joys of lists of this nature. What does, however, unite all of these titles is that they are great and lovely things and I have hugely enjoyed them all. I hope you have the chance to do the same.

And do let me know what you’d add as number ten?

(My thanks to @nonpratt for inspiring this post! She wrote an excellent book btw, fyi and all that.)

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The Dark Portal : Robin Jarvis

Dark PortalDark Portal by Robin Jarvis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m on a bit of a Robin Jarvis kick at the moment, and it was when I reread ‘The Dark Portal’ (the first in the Deptford Mice series) that I came to realise something.

I think that Jarvis taught me the concept of story, in a way. I think he taught me the concept of telling a single story within a greater whole. I am a fan of him, avowedly so, and love his work from the Whitby series to the Deptford books; from Aufwader to Green Mouse and everything in between.

His books are big books. They are unashamedly children’s books too; scary, challenging and yet accessible literature, told in a rolling style that does not dress itself up behind dense stylistic shapes. These are stories which want to be told, to be read, and when they are read, they have the curious impact of pushing themselves under your skin and settling in that odd unsure space between reality and fiction. I grew up near Whitby and could almost see Aunt Alice, cycling over the bridge and tramping the beach, Ben and Jennet at her side.

But the Deptford books, oh the bigness of these books astounds me so (and my thanks to my equally beloved Michelle Magorian for teaching me the proper way to pronounce Deptford). These books are stories which stand hugely in their own right but also layer and cut against each other, their sediment shifting and revealing more of the individual story the more you read the other. This is great and clever work and patient, too, that quiet belief in the story to happen when and how it needs to happen, that shift in perspective that comes when you read one and come back to reread another. I admire this, I admire it greatly.

And so The Dark Portal sits, as a beginning to the Deptford Mice, but as a sequel to the Deptford Histories and as a companion to the Deptford Almanac (one of my most treasured books ever). It is, nominally, the story of a group of mice and a group of rats and an evil, terrifying figure in the shadowy sewers called Jupiter. The rats serve Jupiter and the mice keep their wary distance, living above the ‘Grille’ and rarely making trips down into the sewers. But there is magic in the Grille, dark magic, and one day it makes a mouse called Arthur Brown enter the sewers and so begin a series of dark and terrifying events which could change the world forever.

It is a story which sits comfortably and superbly so within itself. The world of the rats and mice (and squirrels, and bats) is huge and layered in mythology, story and truth. There’s not one inch of this world I don’t believe, and there’s a part of me that wouldn’t be surprised, even now, to see Twit shimmy up one of the plants outside. His competency in this world, the thick, dense taste of it, is beguiling. And it is powerful, hugely so, These are books that show relatively young readers just what can be achieved in books, in story.

(Do note, that if you’re reading this with your own mouselets, there are some scary and bloody moments in it so do, as ever, read the book yourself and trust your instincts)

The Dark Portal is also a story that swells and grows, the more you read of Jarvis’ work. You learn character backstories, motives, rationale and so much more. There are things in these stories which would feed the internet for weeks, and the puzzling out of meaning, the dull suspicion of something more than coincidence, and then the bright clarity of connection , is something that will always make me relish Jarvis’ work.

Children’s literature is good, guys. It’s been good for a long while, and I think it’s in a bit of a brilliant and golden position right now with the quality of work being produced. But with every trend there are individuals who are ahead of the curve, who are producing world-changing, genre-defining books ahead of their time. Jarvis was, is, one of those authors and The Dark Portal is a wonderful introduction to his work.

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