Indigo’s Star : Hilary McKay

Indigo's Star (Casson Family, #2)Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second in the Casson Family series by Hilary McKay. It reads well as a standalone (an understatement, it reads perfectly and joyously and richly, like the best slice of cake at the best possible time on the best possible day) but treat yourself and read the others. It has been too long since I read these books and I have reserved them all at the library to wallow in on a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Any day, really, for these books are worth cancelling worlds for.

Indigo’s Star focuses on Indigo and his return to school after a long bout of illness. He is not keen to go back but go back he must and face the bullies who are there and seem centred on him. That is, until a new boy arrives to join Indigo’s class and Tom, as the blurb on the back says, “will make all the difference.” Alongside this plot, we have Rose being vividly gorgeous and writing letters to make her dad come home: “Darling Daddy. This is Rose. The shed needs new wires now it has blown up. Caddy is bringing home rock bottom boyfriends to see if they will do for Mummy. Instead of you. Love Rose.”

I love what Hilary McKay does. Sometimes I think through reading so much and simply having so much to choose from, we can miss the great perfect things that are here for us and just aching to be read. Reading McKay is like therapy. This book is full of a tumultuous joy. She captures family quite perfectly; the layering of relationships, the mixture of love and hate and awkwardness and pain and secrets that is family and she does it quite perfectly.

This book (and, to be fair, all of her books) are joyful, joyful things. Indigo’s Star shifts from hilarity through to intense vivid pain and right back again and oh God, how you miss it when it’s done.

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#kidbkgrp recap : Picture Books

Last night #kidbkgrp (and lots of lovely new Tweeters – welcome!) met to chat about picture books. Picture books are one of my great literary loves and so basically I spent the chat going “YES!” at every title suggested. There are a *lot* of lovely books recommended in this chat so it’s definitely worth having a look at it. (And perhaps one day I’ll be able to spell recommendations…).

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

The next chat is on December 4th and we talk about Christmas!. See you there :-)

A question of fit

I have been thinking about fit for a while now, that idea of fit and of absence of shape and of completion.

I have been thinking about books. About reading, to be precise, about the hunger of it and the twisting aching longing of it.

We read, I think, for completion. Not always and sometimes not consciously but I think that this need to feel completed, to have the shadows of your being explored and split open for the light to shine through, this need is something that is at the heart of what we do as readers. We read to escape, yes, of course we do, but in that, we’re reading to complete. We read to find our edges. We read to discover what they are and what they could be and we read to push our selves against the edge of that world and find out where we fit. We read to find out the shape of ourselves.

The idea of shape, that idea of knowing what and who we are and of finding that out, that’s why we read. But isn’t it why we do anything? Everything? It’s why we select Bulbasaur instead of Squirtle, why our heart burns at the sight of the ones we love, why we eat the chips first instead of the fish. We are finding the limits of ourselves and understanding that and rationalising it and learning that we can and we may love that.

And that is a fight, an argument, a hard fought for thing, and it’s something which happens everyday in this alchemical space between reader and text, between eyes and words printed black upon white upon the page. We accept that fight. We long for that fight. We want to split ourselves open before a book, we let it burrow inside of us so we can remake that book inside our head. So we can see Shantih, or Manchee or Charlotte and recreate them inside our mind and hold them to us, in that space where they fit and that space that they make themselves fit in to. We read to find ourselves and once we do find ourselves, we don’t let that go.

We come back to a text, we reread this story that we read weeks ago, years ago. A different life. A different us. And then we have the best of things, that magical thing, that heartbreaking, world shattering, perfect perfect thing. We realise that that space inside us, that space that the book fit in, so softly, so comfortably, it still exists. And the book still fits in it. In you.

Reading is coming home, always, ever.

Endangered and More Strange Stories : Art Heroes

I am going to be attending Thought Bubble soon. (Which is exciting, no? I do love me some conventions. Last time I attended one, aaages ago, my friend and I spoke to Paul Cornell and asked him to stop making stories which make us cry. We saw Paul leave shortly after. No connection, I promise you. Honest. Shut up. Stop looking at me like that).

Anyway. As part of my Thought Bubble prep, I’m re/reading some comics. It’s been a while since I’ve done comics on the blog so let’s sort that out with a look at Endangered and More Strange Stories from the Art Heroes team.

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A Little Princess : Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess; being the whole story of Sara Crewe now told for the first timeA Little Princess; being the whole story of Sara Crewe now told for the first time by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to begin with Sara Crewe and her magical story of hope and dreams and imagination? Where to begin with this story full of richness, of sweetness, of grace, of aching tears that can’t help be shed by the reader?

Perhaps at the start, perhaps there, and then we shall have some sort of structure to this review other than my incoherent love for this book and as you may know, incoherent love is all very well and good but it is not structure nor is it perhaps intelligible at times.

Sara Crewe has come to England with her beloved father, all the way from India. She is to be sent to school and her father has chosen Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies to serve as her home for the next few years. Just everything about the name of the school makes me tingle with satisfaction. The preciseness of that phrase. The tightness of it. The way it makes your mouth purse, just a little, when you say it loud. Perfection.

Sara is left at school and her father goes back to India. Initially everything goes splendidly for Sara. She lives the life of a Princess, wrapped in money and expensive things, but this all changes when something happens – something awful and almost unbelievable to dear Sara. (Dear Sara, how naturally I write that, god I want to adopt everyone in this book and hug them tight, but maybe not Lavinia). Sara is thrown into distinctly different circumstances than she began her life at school with and who knows what will happen to her?

One central motif in this book is the idea of imagination and of dreams and of the importance of this dreaming. Throughout the book, Sara’s ability to dream and tell stories is emphasised and beloved by the vast majority of her fellow pupils. One of her favourite pretends is to be a Princess and, as Sara herself puts it:

“”It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend that I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.””

What is more perfect than that little painful quote of hers? You can almost see her jutting her chin out and flushing a little bit as she says it. You can taste the quiet fury in her words and the way that she’s holding everything inside of her and part of that everything is something so precious that she can scarcely even begin to talk about it.

It’s important to acknowledge in a review of this book that there are elements which have dated and are a little uncomfortable when read with a modern mindset. It’s also equally important to acknowledge that this book was written in a very different time and societal context and as such, those issues are very much contextually produced.

Also it’s equally important to acknowledge how beautiful this book is. It is edible. It is full of hope and sadness and joy and grief and it’s all written in such an accessible and graceful way that reading this is like being wrapped in a blanket of words. It is lovely. There are many, many classic children’s books out there which are rightfully still being read and savoured but not many, I think, which can pull a story like this out of the bag and make it accessible and believable and so ferociously lovely that the ending of it makes you cry and smile and sigh with contentment all at the same time. The Railway Children is one. The Secret Garden is another. A Little Princess is well up there with them.

Do note that there are a couple of different versions out there of this, due to the nature of it being originally serialised in a newspaper and then put together as a collected edition. The version I read was via Project Gutenberg and is available here. Go and have a look and swoon at that front cover.

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TiN : Chris Judge

TiN front cover

figure one: TiN front cover with unintentional moody lighting

A book which give me good endpapers is basically my literary equivalent of “You had me at hello.” Good endpapers are a mark of clever work, work that revels in the nature of what it is and knows how to fully utilise that space. I mean, picture books are books that, perhaps more than most, have space to play in. You can do so much here. So much. Continue reading

Let’s talk a little bit about adults and children’s literature

I’ve been doing a PhD (is that the right phrase? Do you do this sort of a thing?) for nearly a month now and so far my brain has resembled one of those Stretch Armstrong dolls I always wanted but never got for one reason or another. You can sort of feel the moments when everything starts to come together, just a little bit, but then you realise that that coming together is somewhere far and distant in the future and what you actually thought was coming together really isn’t, but it sort of maybe is and maybe could if you do this certain thing.

Basically books, man, knowledge and books, like whoah.

And as part of this erudite conversation I’ve been having with myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about adults and their relationship to children’s literature. (If you’ve got time, I’d get you to have a look at this by Dr Matt Finch where he talks about Alice Munro and the notion of what actually is a ‘suitable’ (my emphasis) read for young adults.)

Yesterday, I met with my supervisor again and whilst talking about everything in the world, we touched upon the notion of adults reading children’s literature. This came from a book I’m reading which seems to sort of disregard everything that made the author who they were today. “But when I grew up, I put away childish things”. That sort of thing. 

Which is fine, but it’s not a complete view of the way we get to be who we are as adults.

It’s not acknowledging the building blocks of our selves.

Our readerly journey begins as children and sometimes I think we forget that (and I’m using we in a spectacularly global manner here, please forgive me for the inherent generalisations in such usage). Sometimes I think that people sort of think they came out full formed as readers, that what they read as children does not matter. That what it was was childish. (And oh, how I twinge with that term). That what is was as a temporal experience that cannot and should not be revisited or even, in some cases, acknowledged.

And I don’t know if that’s right.

I don’t know if it’s fair, even, to those books or to us.

We are all made and shaped by literature, by the text that our society is as a whole. By the textuality of our worlds. By the textuality of our existence, our own personal narratives. I love the fact that I read, write and get to research children’s books. I love the fact that I am part of this narrative, this hugely important narrative that shifts worlds and builds people. (Every time you read your books with your kids or take your grandkids to the library or whatever, you are buying into that narrative of change and potential and brave new worlds and I think you’re all world-changers and rather brilliant for doing that).

Children’s literature, young adult literature, picture books, non-fiction, apps; everything that comes under that increasingly umbrella-like term is something that is incredibly vital and something that has made and continues to make who we are. We give it to our children, we share it in schools and libraries, and we do that because we believe in it. We want it to say certain things, to share certain things, to be certain things to the child of today.

The child that we once were.