Sunday round up and reflections

Look, it’s a new series! I’m hoping to do this sort of catch up post as a bit of a weekly thing. There’s a lot of good stuff that flies around the Twittersphere and so this series of round-up posts is designed to catch some of them that you may have missed and stuff that I think warrants highlighting. And things I, to be frank, just like.

1. It’s been a big week in children’s literature as Malorie Blackman continued to storm the media following her being announced as Children’s Laureate. I’m in great love with what she’s been saying and long may it continue. Here she talks about the need for “more books about non-white children” (a sentiment reinforced here by Tanya Byrne). In a separate article, Blackman discussess how honest sex scenes in books will stop young people learning from p*rn (asterisked solely to prevent errant search results) and I have to say, she’s on point. Very much so. (As is Sarra Manning who is a bit brilliant in this post on the topic.)

2. Related to the above, there’s been a flurry of interesting posts relating to the issue of diversity in children’s literature. The new issue of Write4Children came out and it was a themed issue on diversity. The range of topics covered, and the skill that they’re covered in, is massively impressive and I’d urge you to have a long look through it. In addition to this, there’s been some interesting blog posts on the topic of diversity. I was particularly struck by this heartfelt and vital post from Rhino Reads “Mommy, Mama and Me and the importance of diversity in children’s books”.

3. In the land of picture books, this article on reading wordless picture books is really interesting (and lavishly illustrated which is always a plus). And I discovered the best / most bonkers range of children’s board books ever! Have you touched these? Are they amazing? Are they terrifying? I need to know!

See you next week 🙂

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Fashionistas : Irina – Sarra Manning

Irina (Fashionistas, #3)Irina by Sarra Manning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Irina is the third in the series of Fashionista novels by Sarra Manning. I have a lot of love for this series. Each novel takes the viewpooint of different characters in the series, and this time it’s the turn of grumpy Russian supermodel and the apparent uber-bitch Irina.

Irina’s impact on the first two novels is huge; her rivalry with Laura and her spikey background presence with Hadley. This time we get to hear Irina’s version of events and it’s pretty much a revelation. What Manning does, very very well, is give her characters depth. You may not like them, you may not love them initially, but she brings you to seeing things from their perspective and then, when you see it, you love them. You can’t help yourself. Told in a solidly readable, third person style, we get to see Irina’s journey from the start and learn just why she’s become the woman she is.

There’s something adorable about Irina, despite all her bad tempered bitchiness and it’s something that becomes clear throughout the novel. I won’t spoil it – just to say that I really love Irina. It’s probably my favourite book in the series and the resolution between her and Caroline Knight is brilliant.

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Fashionistas – Laura : Sarra Manning

Laura (Fashionistas, #1)Laura by Sarra Manning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before we get into the meat of this review, I need to let you know something. I have a massive love of America’s Next Top Model. Seriously. Respeito. Wholahay. Skank H*s pouring beer on weaves? All great TV moments. I didn’t even know what a weave was until I started watching this show.

So yeah, I love ANTM and all of its trashy, self-aware, beyond parodying glory. And I really love this series of books from Manning. Laura is the first of a connected series of four (the Fashionista books); each book focusing on different characters from the same cast and written from the relevant characters perspective.

Laura is the newest winner of the reality show Make Me A Model. Manning manages to send up ANTM and all the related shows in the genre. It’s brilliant. We have the hushed tones of the host – and the increasingly unrealistic challenges – and the fact that these winners now have to exist in the real world. And the real world of fashion isn’t pretty. Laura’s spoilt, indolent and fashion-overweight. It’s time for her to make a choice; does she want to be a model with all the sacrifices it entails or is she going to give it up before she’s even begun?

I love how Manning writes. She’s not afraid to present us with unlikeable characters because even when they’re unlikeable, they’re still sort of lovable. They’re real. Irina’s awesome, despite being an utter bitch. All of the characters in the shared flat are brilliant actually, and you’ll spot some nice references to pop-culture in this book and the series as a whole (although do bear in mind it’s a couple of years old now).

Don’t come to this book expecting Dostoyevsky or some sort of cutting edge satire on modelling. What it is is a brilliantly frothy and enjoyable romp through the impact reality shows and what happens after the cameras stop rolling. Manning is so solid and delivers all the way throughout.

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Location, location, location

On the long drive back from Scarborough (everywhere seems MILES away when you’re a kid), we used to pass this house.  It was a perfectly innocent house but in my head it was where Jill, from the books from Ruby Ferguson, lived.

For some reason this innocent house in my home county, on the way back from the supermarket, became incomparably linked with the Jill stories. It was Pool Cottage in Chatton. It was where Black Boy and Rapide lived. And it was where Jill’s mother wrote her stories. It just was these books. I don’t even know what originally started this idea but it’s something that’s stuck with me for nearly twenty years. Seriously. I thought about doing this post and then I thought about that house and within minutes I had found it on Google Maps.

But that’s the power of location in books. Sometimes, when you really love a book, you can’t help but map it onto your local surroundings to make sure that feeling never leaves you. And that’s exactly what I used to do. This house, for example, is the house at Green Knowe. It bears very little relation to the actual house but it had a garden that just sang of magic to me.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit places that some of my favourite series were actually set. The early part of the Chalet School series is set, indelibly, in the Austrian Tyrol and in particular at the Achensee near Innsbruck. What’s particularly vivid about this memory is my gran and I accidentally mountaineering (“What’s this? A short cut?”) in the middle of the day and then practically breathing in the biggest serving of Weinerschnitzel I had ever seen. And then there was the moment where I paddled in the Achensee and almost collapsed from over nerdiness.

Locations make books. Who can think of Hogwarts without it being, well, Hogwarts? I know for me that my image of Hogwarts was solidified and made something incredible after watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuarón took what had felt a relatively flat location in the first film and gave it shade. He made it something superb; translating his concept of Hogwarts to the screen. But he’d have had nothing to build with were it not for the gorgeous amount of detail delivered in the book. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, not really, but I can’t deny the superbnosity (thankyou Georgia Nicolson) of Hogwarts.

Locations pay off books. I’m rereading Sarra Manning’s Fashionista books (as a massive massive treat to myself), and Manning knows her London. I’m a yokel, country bumpkin through and through, but even I’m thrilling at the tightness of the model flat and the descriptions of the underground. Manning knows and loves her London very much.

So maybe that’s it? Maybe books with vivid and long-lasting locations, real or reader-impinged, rise from love? Maybe that’s the way to make it – and keep it – real. Maybe you just need to fall in love with your location, real or imaginary, and have to share it with others. Maybe that’s the superpower behind books – that want, that need to share this story and all its colours, shades, lights and darks with somebody else. Maybe that’s how it works.

(Images : Google)

An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part four)

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

I love these. They’re the ugly duckling tale of Mia Thermopolis who, during that first year of awkward High School-ness, discovers she’s actually the heir to the throne of Genovia. Essentially, Mia’s a princess. She’s a funny, gorgeously engaging narrator who you can’t help but root for. Plus Micheal is *adorable* in the books and probably my first guy-book-crush.

Similar to : the rest of the series

A Horse Called Wonder – Joanna Campbell

These books blew my mind. We only got the first four or so in my local bookshop and then, on a family holiday to America, I discovered the truth. There weren’t just four books in the series. THERE WERE MILLIONS. This horsey saga of life on a racing farm spanned generations of people, of horses, and of hot jockey types. It was like Sunset Beach (look it up on Youtube) and The Saddle Club all in one. It was AMAZING.

Similar to : Sunset Beach + horses. Like I said, you really need to look it up.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

A classic. It’s the story of a caterpillar who eats loads of stuff, getting bigger all the time, before eventually turning into a butterfly. There’s a lovely simplicity to the story, coupled with lots of holes for fingers to be poked through, and it practically begs to be read out loud.

Similar to : Herve Tullet / Mr Men

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Oh, this book. It’s written in tight, restrained prose full of spooky horror at every step. It’s unnerving, and it’s edgy and it’s brilliant. A family is murdered by “the man Jack” but the toddler survives. He finds himself in a graveyard, there adopted by the resident ghosts, and named Bod. Bod grows up in the graveyard but the man Jack is never far behind – and he wants to finish what he started.

Similar to : When you walk home at night, and hear a twig crack, but there’s nobody there.

Troy – Adele Geras

This is a very beautifully written book, all from the perspective of women locked in Troy during the great siege. Geras has  a gift of writing female characters very, very well and handles them with great restraint. Even though most of us already know how this story ends, you can’t help but be swept up in it again.

Similar to : Ithaka (Adele Geras)

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry

This is one of the most wildly romantic horse stories out there. The wild horses of Chincoteague Island are round up, and their colts sold off. One of those colts is Misty. I remember this book genuinely blowing my mind – and there’s a whole saga of them to enjoy.

Similar to : Black Beauty

For Love of a Horse – Patricia Leitch

So. You’re eleven. You’re stubborn. You’ve got red hair. You’re moving to the wilds of Scotland. You visit a circus. You see a wild Arabian steed. And then, just as you’re getting near to your new home, you witness a road accident – involving the circus van that carries the selfsame horse. WHAT DO YOU DO? Well, you do what Jinny Manders does and you get your horse and you fight for her. These books are stunning and quite unusual in that they dispense with the blunt practical knowledge that tends to characterise a Pullein-Thompson book and shift towards a mixture of near-pagan mysticism. Amazing books. I want them back.

Similar to : the rest of the series

The Fashionista Books – Sarra Manning

I have a love of America’s Next Top Model. And these books are the books that Tyra wishes she could write, but can’t. Sarra Manning’s series of four books, all taking the viewpoint of different characters, are brilliant. These are sharp, funny, and brilliant books.

Similar to : the Wholahay ANTM incident (aka the best moment ever)

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I’ve written of my love for this book before so I’ll try not to rehash things here. Essentially, if you’re at all interested in horses, families, love, heartbreak, emotionally satisfying endings, get to this book asap.

Similar to : Black Beauty (God, Black Beauty really was quite genre-defining wasn’t it!)

Bedknob and Broomsticks – Mary Norton

Mary Norton also wrote the Borrowers but I decided to plump for Bedknob and Broomsticks as my choice for this list. Whilst some elements of B and B read very poorly today for the racist connotations (viz. the Cannibals), it remains a fascinating and intensely readable book. Written in the middle of World War Two (1943), it also has a lot of intriguing social commentary (particularly about life as a single woman) tucked away in between all the hijinks.

Similar to : The Worst Witch