The Secrets of Sam and Sam : Susie Day

The Secrets of Sam and SamThe Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to start this review by talking about another book. Stay with me, there’s a reason for this.

I nominated Pea’s Book of Big Dreams by Day as my pick for the Carnegie last year. The Carnegie, for those of you who don’t know it, is a big and wonderful award for children’s literature in the United Kingdom. One of the big bonuses about being a member of CILIP is that I get to pick a book. Pea’s Book of Big Dreams was my pick for last year. I chose it because, really, it’s perfect.

And I rather suspect that The Secrets of Sam and Sam might be right up there for my pick for this year.

Day is so good. Seriously. Her books are just a constant joy of humour, of emotion, of life and of living and of siblings. She’s one of my epochal authors; a writer who can give you heart and soul and Cover Important Things and biscuits and just wrap it all up in a perfect little package of just proper good bookishness. I want to cry, really, because I’ve literally just finished this book (one, which I dropped everything to read) and I want to start it all over again.

I love her books. I love The Secrets of Sam and Sam so much.

I love it because it is a coming of age story in a family that is full of adults that are not perfect, children who are trying to figure out who they are, and drooly occasionally-green dogs. Sam and Sam have previously appeared in the very wonderful Pea Books and this is their solo adventure. The Sams have two mums, one occasionally-green dog, biscuits and secrets. Lots of secrets. Growing up is hard. Sam is struggling to come to terms with hummus and heights, whilst his sister Sammie is navigating the whole deep water that is best friends in year six. Everything around them is changing and it’s time for some secrets to be told, others to be kept and basically I love this book, I love what Day does, I love that she gets that moment when you suddenly realise that you’ve become somebody but now (thank you hormones and teenager-ness) you have to be somebody else and you’re not really sure who that somebody else does. I love that her books tell you so wholeheartedly that it’s okay to be different, that it’s okay to be who you are and that yes, that journey is complicated, but you’ll get there eventually and it’ll be okay.

I’m babbling. I love this book. I was excited about it the moment I heard about it, and now I’m just rapturously in love with it. Just, I say, just. I don’t think anything could quite coherently express my admiration for the work of Day at this point.

(TL:DR? Book good. Read book).

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that every rainy day requires a very good book”

I wish I wrote this sitting in the kitchen sink but I don’t, I write it upstairs and I write it staring out onto a grey and rain spotted day. The sky’s a smudge of sadness and the roofs are slat-dark with the rain that’s pounded on them since first thing this morning.

So what do we do on such days? We read. Books are made for rainy days; for days where the only thing that matters in the world is you and a blanket and a sofa and time, time, time to wallow and read and to lose yourself.

Here’s five of my favourite recommendations for such days.

1. Roland Barthes – “A Lover’s Discourse”

A dipping book this, one to pond-skim and then to dive in wholly and hold your breath until the text releases you. This is a book that reminds you of the quality and power that language can yield. It is a book of constant inspiration for me; a book for breathing, in and out, and realising just what words can do.

2. Frances Hodgson Burnett – “A Little Princess”

There is a part of me that could populate this list with just repeated references to this book. Rainy day reads are reads that should transport you, that should take you to other worlds and times and places, and do so quite ferociously and fiercely and vividly. The tale of Sara Crewe and her attic is that book.

3. Dodie Smith – “I Capture The Castle”

Grace, bold and lovely and heartfelt and awful, this book is full of grace and of heart and of romance and of love. Read it slowly, read it richly, read it slowly and selfishly and when you’ve finished reading it, read it again and remember how perfect a book can be.

4. Michelle Magorian – “A Little Love Song”

To talk of Michelle Magorian and her work, is to talk of a writer who is simply very very good. A Little Love Song is lesser known, I think, than ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ but it is, I think, better. Can books be better when they are all so good? I think so, yes, I think Rose and her seaside coming of age story is one of the most perfect books to ever dawn the world of children’s literature.

5. Susie Day – “Pea’s Book of Holidays”

A classic in the waiting, this series ; all of them are written so beautifully that I fall in love with them afresh each time I read. Day’s books and this one in particular sing of life and of warmth and of love and of people. What better to read on a rainy day than this book of sunshine and of humour and of Enid Blyton and of adventures and wish fulfillment in every sentence? These books are a constant, constant joy and ‘Pea’s Book of Holidays’ is a book that I am feverish with love for.

Pea’s Book of Big Dreams : Susie Day

Pea's Book of Big DreamsPea’s Book of Big Dreams by Susie Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The more I read of the Pea books, the more I keep being reminded of how they are a very quiet classic in the world of British children’s literature today. They have an almost palpable heritage of the Casson family, Noel Streatfeild, Enid Blyton and read like snow on a school day, crumpets by the fire, and that first day of the school holidays, and they are perfect. Genuinely so. Beamingly so. There’s a richness to these books that astounds me and were I to recommend one book for the relevant age group, it would be these. Any of them. I love the care of them, I love the quiet sagacity of them, and I love the story of them. I love them. So much.

This is the second book in the series. All of them stand ineffably well by themselves so don’t worry about the series of the series. (I appreciate that may make no sense – I hope it does). One of my big pet hates are series titles which forget that they are sold as stand alone titles; you know the sort where you get launched in and have no clue why Aethelfred is stealing the Diamond of Importantness and ignorning the fact that Flibbertigibbet just died…. Suffice to say, Day doesn’t do that. I love the construction of this book, the tightness of it and the way that within three pages, we have characters established, backstory and a motivation for the story all just -there. And not obviously either. Just there, and part of the story that is Pea’s Book of Big Dreams.

And what a lovely little book this is. Pea is having a bit of a crisis; she can’t figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. The new English teacher at school has quite spectacularly dented her confidence so it’s time for a change. What is Pea going to be when she grows up?

There’s not many more ways for me to reiterate how wonderful this book and this series is but I’m going to try. The richness of Day’s world and the soft, genuine warmth of it is something quite perfect. These books exist are a constant delight and they should be savoured. Intensely. Like the finest of things. Because they are.

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Pea’s Book of Holidays : Susie Day

Pea's Book of HolidaysPea’s Book of Holidays by Susie Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I finished this, all I could think was: “I don’t read enough of Susie Day’s books.” These Pea books are glorious, wondrous things, full of heart and love and I am still glowing with the post-reading feeling several days later.

I am burning with love for this book, the latest in the Pea series, this book of holiday adventures in Corfe *coughEnidBlytonland* Castle. And genuinely, it’s like Christmas for anyone who has a healthy love for Enid Blyton stories, adventure, and Girls And Boys Being Awesome.

One thing I want to highlight in this book is how beautifully simple it is with regards to representations of diversity. The issues of diversity in children’s literature is one which is rightly very much debated at present. In Pea’s Book of Holidays we have a whole range of characters of diverse appearances, diverse family structures, diverse sexualities and diverse physical attributes. And the great gift that Day has is that she presents it just – how it is. It’s not a highlighted, box-ticking exercise; it’s just a reflection of the diverse society of our modern day world. I love her greatly for her ability in achieving a simple, matter-of-fact reality and I was a little bit in awe of her story-telling ability throughout.

I love this book. There’s such a purity of story in it, of fun and love and adventure, that I can’t really be coherent in reviewing it for you. What I can say is that I can’t recommend it enough and have made myself a promise to pick up the rest in the series, and everything else done by Day, as soon as humanly possible.

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Pea’s Book of Best Friends : Susie Day

Pea's Book of Best Friends (Pea's Book, #1)Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually think there’s a bit of a quiet revolution going on at the moment for the under ten market. I’ve been reading a lot for this age demographic recently and have been really loving the idiosyncratic quality of practically everything I’ve read. These books aren’t churned out by factories, or written by committee; these books are written by funny, charming and highly unique authors. I mean, if you showed me a paragraph from say Alex T Smith or Maudie Smith (no relation!) or Jacqueline Harvey or Lauren St John, I bet you could very easily identify who wrote what.

I love that. I love that we’ve come to a stage of having books that are uniquely written for this age demographic and that they’re GOOD. They’re all so flipping good!

And I really really love that I can now add Susie Day to that list.

Pea’s Book of Best Friends doesn’t quite have the right title for what it is. I sort of expected a bit of a Junior Mean Girls type thing but what I got is a gorgeously quirky, funny, crumpets toasted by the fire sort of book. It’s so lovely.

Pea’s mum is Marina Cove, author of the famous Mermaid Girls books. And now, because she’s doing really well, she’s bringing Pea and her sisters through to London. That means Pea has to start a whole new life, one where she’s not automatically getting the hand-me-down clothes and one where she’s not got a best friend. Her sisters aren’t that happy either – and so begins the great “ex-merminating” project where the sisters decide to exterminate the mermaid books that have brought them to London and so go back to their former lives.

Pea’s list of best friend requirements – and how it changes over the story – is brilliant. She gets an extra star from me for wanting a best friend like Sally from Malory Towers (which, to be fair, doesn’t everybody?)

And Vittoria, over from Brazil and living with the family in order to improve her English, steals practically every scene she’s in. Innit.

I look forward to the rest of the series!

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