All aboard the Bobo Road : Stephen Davies & Christopher Corr

All Aboard for the Bobo RoadAll Aboard for the Bobo Road by Stephen Davies

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been too long since I reviewed a picture book, and so I am indebted to Andersen Press for this review copy of ‘All aboard for the Bobo Road’. Written from the author’s own experience of life in Burkina Faso, this is a vibrant and rather appealing picture book that tells the story of the bus journey along the road to Bobo. Driven by Big Ali, with his children Fatima and Galo on the roof, the bus picks up a host of passengers on its way and passes through real places in Burkina Faso: Lake Tengrela, the ‘hippo lake’; Karfiguela Falls, the Domes of Fabedougou and several other sites, illustrated in lovingly rich and warm detail by Christopher Corr. This is a book of colour; of thickly saturated yellows and golds and oranges; searing greens and vibrant blues. I particularly loved Corr’s horizons; great double page spreads of rich blue-green; shadowy palm outlines; tumultous green-edged rainforests with the ever present sun beaming out behind the trees. Pages need ending and finishing and Corr does this so well.

FILE0106.JPGThere’s something rather deliciously welcome about All Aboard For The Bobo Road. I intensely welcome and actively embrace books that detail the lives of other cultures; far too often, picture books tread a similar path and whilst many of them deliver brilliant and nuanced things in that treading, it is a path that should never be treated as the sole and definitive route. A particular joy about All Aboard For The Bobo Road is its linkage to real world sites, turning this book into something that straddles the borders of fiction and non-fiction. There’s a wide world here in this book and it’s something that could inspire a lot of craft and activity around it; bus journeys of your own, counting games on the train with people and luggage, making a map of your local area, and so on.

FILE0101.JPGHidden away in Davies’ exuberant and rythmically pleasing narrative of the journey is a counting tale; we are asked to count the different items placed on the bus ranging from watermelons to mopeds (and yes, the amount of the items specified in the illustrations do tally with the text; some slightly picky reviewers, naming no names, do check this sort of thing), and I do love a book with a healthy aural refrain. A picture book lives in two spaces; the visual and the aural, and this has a lovely repeating motif of “Beep, Beep! They’re off again!” All Aboard The Bobo Road is such a bright, delicious thing. I rather like it.

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Links of interest

A quick link round up …

I recently read a proof copy of Goldy Moldavsky’s ‘Kill The Boy Band’. I’m not going to be reviewing it as I’m not sure that there’s anything constructive that I can add to the discussion (and please don’t think of that as a detrimental comment; this is a complex, challenging book with wildly brilliant moments). But in lieu of such a review, I will signpost this piece Kill the Fatphobia: Fat Girls in YA for it is a searing, painful piece of writing and the issues it raises are valid, glass-sharp things.

This piece on autism in young adult literature: I have autism and the lack of authentic autistic voices in books angers me is well worth a read as well. Whilst its main focus is on young adult / children’s literature, it shifts to discussing the cross-media representation of autism as well.

Walker Books are launching Walker Studio; an imprint that will publish “books for book-lovers”. I am very much behind such an endeavour.

And finally, I loved this. Not the most obvious link to include in a children’s literature blog, but it’s “the sort of thing you would usually associate with an Enid Blyton adventure”. Yes. Exactly. I love it.

The Jinny series by Patricia Leitch

I’ve been rereading this series recently (I review the opener here); partially as a refresher for a paper I’m delivering in the next few months, but also, you know, because they are good. I’ve been reading the originals and the reprints and I really love what Catnip hae done with them.

And if I am honest, I have simply ached to write about these books really though I have not known where to begin.

So, perhaps, I begin with this.

This is a story about a horse; a story about loving a horse, so much, that it becomes almost a daemon of yourself. From Pantalaimon to Kes, animals are our heart. The thing we do not deserve and yet we are given. Jinny is given Shantih. Quite often she does not deserve her, does not deserve this horse of flame and fire and magic, and she knows this. She knows the great humility of loving a horse. The horse. The entirety that is caught up in that.

I have been writing about landscape in children’s literature; about the way the natural world reflects those explicit and implicit ideologies in narrative, the way that The Secret Garden both gives the natural world to Mary and Colin and Dickon and yet cages them within that natural existence, the way the city and the country coexist so uneasily, so emphatically, within Goodnight Mr Tom, and I have been writing about the Jinny books and the madly evocative landscape of Finmory and of Loch Varich and of ospreys and sturdy Highland ponies.

So, perhaps, I give you these photographs of Talisker Bay, the inspiration for Finmory Bay, in lieu of words. Both a taster of the paper I’m going to give but also, perhaps, a way to talk about books that leave you wordless and unmade.


cc Jixer / Flickr


cc chrismartinuk / Flickr

Unbecoming : Jenny Downham

UnbecomingUnbecoming by Jenny Downham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished reading Unbecoming, and I exhaled; one of those great shuddering breaths that rolls from your toes to your throat, and I felt clean. Cleansed. Whole.

Unbecoming. Not just unseemly, inappropriate, but literally un-becoming. A process of being dissasembled and remade; of unmaking and remaking. (A brief segue: I was upset, recently, at some photos a friend took, in which I did not look good. I did not look like myself. I looked like a stutter, a hole in the world, and then I read this book, and I remembered that I am me, I am me, I am me and that is all that matters and oh, this book, this book – !)

Unbecoming is something slow, painterly. Rich. This story of three generations of women; grandmother, mother, daughter, elderly, adult, teenager, is a layered and quiet and subtle read. For a long time as I read it, I did not quite understand it. I couldn’t find the shape of it. I appreciate that’s a slightly airy statement to make so let me explain it. When I write, when I read, I look for the shapes of things. The patterns. They’re in everything and we know how to read them. We know what to do when we see them. Buses come to bus stops. Happiness comes with pain. The shape of things, the shape of the world, and for a long time I couldn’t find the shape of Unbecoming.

But then I did, and it was like seeing a detail in an oil painting and suddenly having that painting come to life around me. A light in the darkness that suddenly shows the whole pattern, the glorious truth at the heart of the novel. This is a novel of selfhood, of learning to be unafraid, of learning to live with the pattern of your life, of your world and of your people. It is a rich gasp of a read, aching, pained, breathless, bright, and I love it and it is talismanic and special and something that is there for those moments when you lose grasp on who you are and what you could be.

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‘For Love of A Horse’ : Or, quite possibly, one of the best pages ever in children’s literature


(Isn’t that just – perfect? Isn’t it a breathtaking page? It’s from ‘For Love of A Horse‘ by Patricia Leitch, and God, this book is everything, but everything and I am rereading and I am in love once more. How wondrous it is that there are books out there that just sing out their world to you, every time, and every time feels like the first time you’ve read it even though the pages are dogeared and worn. Pages, such perfect pages with such beauty amidst them.)

Wild Lily : KM Peyton

Wild LilyWild Lily by K.M. Peyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard, sometimes, to write about KM Peyton without descending into ‘ISIMPLYJUSTLOVEHERANDYOUSIMPLYJUSTSHOULDTOO’ and so, I’ve taken my time over this review of her latest: Wild Lily, a novel of the 1920s and beyond, and of airplanes, and of foolishness/bravery/lovelovelove. One of the most foremost reasons for taking my time, was an attempt to gain some sort of critical distance upon it. Sometimes writing about the beloved authors is difficult because it simply turns into something incoherent. Passionate, yes, but incoherently so. Passion is glorious, thrilling, but when you’re on the outside of it? A spectacle, nothing more.

And I don’t want that for KM Peyton. I wouldn’t want that for any of the authors that I write about because I write about their books to share them. One of the greatest things I believe about children’s and young adult literature is that it is for the reader, and everything I do – but everything – is to facilitate that moment of book finding reader and being read. Without the reader, we’d be nothing, and so I give myself distance because I want you to be part of this transaction. You, you, you, you’re vital. You’re powerful.

KM Peyton gets that, I suspect, and she writes outwardly; great swathes of beautiful, eloquent passages dominate this book with their almost physical urge to be read, to swell and grow out of the page and to live. This is a book about life and love, as so much of KM Peyton’s work is, and we follow the titular Lily from her youth through to old age; a life knotted together with people and animals and regret and love and wild, wild exuberance.

I found the blurb of the novel a little opaque and the opening was, I admit, slow. But I suspect a novel of this nature was always going to be slow and subtle to start, and when the narrative properly started to kick into action, I was rapt. I always am with KM Peyton because every now and then she will give me something perfect, something so perfect that I will stop and write it down or simply stare at it and will the day I get to write things like that. She captures love, I think, just love, and the great drunken infuriating joy of it, so well. Perfectly, really.

And this is such a good book, exultant in places, glorious in others, that I can forgive Peyton that slow start and the odd moment of being too deft with her narrative. I can forgive her those moments where she ties things up a little too neatly because in another breath she’ll give me the ragged edge; an unfinished moment where the story is something quite wild and quite beautiful and I feel it, I physically feel it, inside of me, always. A book of light and shade; of dazzling, dazzling light, and it is good really, it is beyond good at points, and I love her, I love her, I love her.

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The New Chalet School : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

The New Chalet School (The Chalet School, #14)The New Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a moment in this book, relatively early on, where Joey is advised to rub butter on a bruise and it is a moment which fascinates me to this day. Would the butter have to be salted or unsalted? How much of the butter would suffice? Is this really a thing or is it Elinor M. Brent-Dyer having one of her hallucinations? A part of me wants to google whether this is true medical science, and yet an equal part of me doesn’t want to find out.

And so we come to The New Chalet School, a book that is legendary to me for the quality of its small details; a book so full and rich of minutiae that it’s almost not a children’s book at all, but rather something that feels almost like reportage. It’s too real, at this point, this series to me, it is a book that is so thoroughly real that reading this, and the resolution of one of the key sub plots, is almost painful. It’s perhaps one of the few moments in the series where Brent-Dyer delivers a lesson on morality and behaviour that is hard; truly hard, to read, and coming after a sequence defined by happenstance and pratfalls, feels even harder. It’s horrible, really how the subplot is resolved, and I think it’s one of the few moments where Brent-Dyer becomes a hard, and almost cruel author.

(A sidebar: Happenstance and Pratfalls will be my new band name)

But; coupled with that, as ever, is a novel full of glory, and it’s so hard to digest, these wild shifts of tone and style. Brent-Dyer handles the girl’s slow realisation that Mademoiselle is not going to get well with a warm, light and kind hand and again, in contrast, I return to that subplot and the way it’s wrapped up and the hard, hard tones in which it is delivered. A novel of contrasts; the New Chalet School, and yet one I love. I do, despite it all, I do. I don’t think I can’t.

A hard, complicated book to resolve, and I don’t think these are words that I easily associate with the Chalet School. But – here, I do, and this book is fascinating to me and rather important because of that. But. Yes. A review of stutters this, and of contrasts, and of an author who is so very good and somewhat terrifying, somehow, with the skill she has.

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