Wolf Brother : Michelle Paver

Wolf Brother (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, #1)Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he’d never meant to have”

This, the opener to Paver’s stone age saga, sets the scene instantly and does so with a great and vivid grace. This sentence. This book. This story, this richness of story, this richness of tone, of voice, this book, oh my god, this book.

It’s rare, I think, to find a story which is written so sparsely, so subtly, and yet have every word tinged with such a great and terrible grace that you can feel it. All of it. The words spill from this book until it is not book-bound and simply is.

It is a great and terrible thing, Paver’s writing, for she writes so quietly and perfectly. So simply. So tightly: “An ember spat. The dark trees leaned closer to listen”.

This is such story.

It is the story of Torak’s quest; his father has been slaughtered by a giant demon who came to them as an immense bear, and now Torak has to survive against a world that is full of terror and foretold horrors. The only thing he has on his side is Wolf; his ally, his brother, a young wolf cub.

Paver shifts viewpoints between the two characters occasionally, writing both young boy and young wolf with such grace. There’s a great orality to her text as well, a spell in her words.

When I reached the end of this, I started to get a bit nervous. Have you ever had that? That sort of book sadness; that feel that nothing can ever be as quite as good as this moment that you have, right now, this connection between you and a story, and you are so deeply aware that you may never experience that again? I had that. I have that now. I don’t want to let this book go and yet, I have the feverish urge to want to do so. I need this story to go on. I need more of Paver’s beautiful writing. I need it.

One final thing to note is that I was lucky enough to read the 10th anniversary edition of Wolf Brother, courtesy of Orion (ISBN: 9781444015416). It is a ridiculously beautiful book as so many of theirs are and a genuine joy to read. The cover is embossed and the edge of the papers are inked with signs and symbols from the book. It is so beautiful. So, so beautiful.

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The Sixth Form at St Clare’s : Pamela Cox

The Sixth Form at St. Clare's (St. Clare's, #9)The Sixth Form at St. Clare’s by Pamela Cox

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to my local charity shop, I recently picked up a batch of the Pamela Cox fill-in titles for both St Clare’s and Malory Towers and was a bit fascinated to see what I thought of them. I’d registered that they existed but had never, quite, wanted to read them. It’s hard to quantify why I didn’t but I think it had something to do with the whole fact that, well, Enid Blyton is so resolutely Enid Blyton that thought of somebody else trying to be Enid Blyton blew my mind a little bit.

And these books do feel like they are undercover Enid Blyton titles. There’s something interesting in how Cox’s name doesn’t appear on the front and instead we see that familiar signature of Blyton’s on the cover. It feels a little like these are packaged as Blyton books rather than, say, a book written in the St Clare’s series but by another author. And that’s interesting to me. Do we buy these books as St Clare’s books, or Blyton, or Cox? What sort of pre-reading do we come to these books with; these books that both fit and don’t fit into the Blyton school story canon?

The Sixth Form at St Clare’s is one of the books that I felt a greater affinity with and that was primarily because I was already acquainted with the characters. I already loved them, really. My reading of the Malory Towers fill-ins (they’re the story of Felicity Rivers and her journey through the school) have been substantially different in that I have had to let go of the fact that I want them to be about Darrell and Sally and Alicia. I want that story. And there’s a necessary reading process of grieving for that.

So here we are with Pat and Isobel, the don’t care O’Sullivan twins, and it’s all rather lovely. There were a few plot twists which felt far too modern and a little off-canon (I found the ‘coming to the sixth form with your problems’ plot, very problematic), and certain of the new girls didn’t quite gel with the context of the series as a whole.

But I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it because I’ve always wanted this story. I’ve always wanted to know what happened – and Cox is very good at delivering that. She knows her series and she knows the motifs of it so well, Mam’zelle Dupot and Mam’zelle Rougier, Miss Potts, midnight feasts, Miss Theobald being awesome (Carlotta being awesome…). It’s a lovely book. And I think the key for my enjoyment of it was to acknowledge what it wasn’t, and understanding why it wasn’t that, and then appreciating what it was.

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This morning, I accepted an offer from the University of York for their full time PhD programme. I will be researching children’s literature and literary tourism. (Aren’t you all impressed at how calmly I said that? Let’s just say the reality involves lots of WOARGH and buying of new pencil cases).

I’m ridiculously excited about it and the opportunity to wallow, in depth, in some of my most beloved texts. I’m hoping to look at things like Robin Jarvis and his ridiculously wonderful Whitby books, Enid Blyton and Bourne End  and perhaps, just maybe, get chance to squeeze in some Chalet School books. There’s a chance for me to look at Noel Streatfeild and Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, or to read about the Jinny books by Patricia Leitch.

Basically, it’s a glorious, huge, topic and one that I’m very interested in (which is handy, as I’ve just signed up to study it for three years!). An opportunity to study this in depth is a great and exciting gift.

(And on a final note, if you’re a publishing / literary / heritage / museum type, who wants to be in on this research from day one, it may be worth us having a chat? One key driver of this research for me is for it to have practical, applicable and commercial interest. If you think I might be of use to you, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you

Worrals of the W.A.A.F : W.E Johns

Worrals of the W.A.A.F.Worrals of the W.A.A.F. by W.E. Johns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve heard a lot about Worrals over the years. It’s a title I’ve sort of brushed into contact with, having read a lot of Girlsown, and so, when I received an email telling me that it was being reprinted by IndieBooks Limited and would I like to review a copy, my answer was a very positive yes.

The titular Worrals, Joan Worralson, is a pilot in the WAAF. Worrals and her best friend ‘Frecks’ are rather lovely creations. Vivid, hearty and hugely patriotic, they’re a defiant joy. I don’t think I’ve read much that teenage / children’s fiction which acknowledges the role of fighting women during the second world war (Code Name Verity etc aside) so Worrals is a much welcome addition to the canon.

Worrals of the WAAF is the debut in the series and it features Worrals and Frecks solving Mysterious Goings On Involving The Enemy. I was really surprised at just how much is packed into this book – there’s so much plot. Everything happens and then, just to make sure that you’re paying attention, Johns throws a little more in to make sure that you won’t even think about stopping reading. It is very good adventure writing and it’s undoubtedly hooky.

However, there a few parts in Johns’ work which don’t translate superbly well to modern audiences. His sentences are quite complicated in parts and require some parsing: “Drop she dare not, for fear she should slip from the roof of the car and injure herself on the concrete floor”. I’d recommend this for confident readers for that reason or for readers who won’t be intimidated by such stylistic tics. One thing that is worthwhile noting is that this new edition is unabridged and that’s something I hugely welcome. Johns’ text is sporadically dense (as is this entire paragraph, ha!), but it’s a stylistic that whilst it occasionally irritates, does not detract (and, to be honest, cannot detract) from this lovely, pacy, adventurous story.

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#kidbkgrp Historical Children’s Literature

Last night, #kidbkgrp met on Twitter and talked about historical children’s literature. It’s a big old topic so I was interested to see what was said! We covered periods of history we wanted more books about (publishers / authors – if you’ve got anything about the Russian Revolution, do stick your hand up now?) and periods of history we were sick of reading about. And a lot of love was expressed for Charlotte Sometimes.

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

The next chat is on October 2nd, 9-10pm and will cover award winners in children’s literature. Should be good! See you there? :)

Nevermore : Linda Newbery

NevermoreNevermore by Linda Newbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always feel with Linda Newbery that I read her stuff on a slightly different level. She has such grace with her writing, such precise and skilled use of tone and of shadow and of light, that sometimes it can feel like an education in how to write books and how to write books that are somehow more than books.

Nevermore is something quite lovely. Quite mysterious, too. Tizzie and her mother aremoving to Roven Mere. It’s a house full of secrets and everyone is waiting for the owner and his daughter – Lord Rupert and Greta – to come home and live in the house once more.

There’s echoes of Tom’s Midnight Garden, of Lucy M. Boston and of The Secret Garden here, stories within stories and stories that you’re not quite able to see into just yet, until the time is right, and you ache with the longing for that time to be now, now, now.

Newbery makes me greedy. I want more of her work every time I read it: “Shrugged into moodiness, she wore it like a coat, even though part of her wanted to wriggle out of it and stamp it to the floor.” How can you not just taste that image?

There’s so much more of this throughout the book, such vivid little moments that sing: “The pony had stopped grazing to look at them. She made a small, whickering sound, but didn’t move. They made their way towards her, Davy swinging the rope halter. Brown butterflies, disturbed, rose from the long grass.”

Everything. Everything.

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The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting : Holly Bourne

The Manifesto on How to be InterestingThe Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As Joss Whedon so rightly said, “High school is, among other things, … always, always about power.” (From here.)

And as ABBA said: “The Winner takes it all.”

Two drastically different authorial voices but both, I think, bearing relevance to any discussion of Holly Bourne’s searing set in school drama ‘The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting’. And oh, how I devoured this vicious, witty, bitchy, heartbreaking book. I always know it’s a good sign when I want to cancel everything I’m doing to to read something and that’s exactly what happened with this.

The Manifesto… is the story of Bree. Bree is a writer, writing moody and painful stories which are being steadily rejected by publishers. When she’s told that she needs to start living her life, she decides to do exactly that. She changes herself and documents every step of the journey on her blog: The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting. She’s going to become interesting. Whatever the cost

I loved this and I think one of the key reasons why I loved it (apart from Bourne’s lovely style – though I’d like it if it was pared back at points) is that Bourne takes it all so seriously. She treats this drama with the respect it deserves. School can be so horrible (so horrible) at times and it’s hard to understand that when you’re not in it. When you’re living your life your way and not living it the way that you think everyone else wants you to live it. See that last sentence? That’s school right there; complicated, contradictory and bloody hard work. Bourne gets that. She gets that so well and I’m this far from singing my praise for this book from the hills.

A couple of last things to note: the design of this is gorgeous and the book itself does deal with some themes which may prove difficult for some, so as ever if you’re intending to have this in a library context, I’d recommend a read and a familiarisation of yourself with the text. What is also worth noting is that Bourne deals with these themes with a poignant, sympathetic and supportive grace. It is not a book which leaves you alone in the shadows.

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