Sunday, 15 December 2013

Library cards for National Libraries Day

Musician One Man and His Beard is looking for library lovers to contribute to his We Need Libraries video for release on National Libraries Day 2014. What he’s after is a photo of you holding your library card(s). Here's my effort - I have cards for Glasgow public libraries, Glasgow Women's Library and the University of Strathclyde. Send your photos to him at or tweet @weneedlibraries by 5th January.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Give the gift of reading this Christmas
Reading is the greatest gift - it opens up so many new worlds. The children in your life probably already have easy access to this gift, but could you help some of the children who don't this Christmas? Here are a few suggestions you could consider.

National Literacy Trust - Gift of Reading

Many children across the UK do not have books of their own, nor are they likely to receive any for Christmas this year. Donating just £7 will buy a book for one such child.

Blackwell's - Children's Giving Tree

Giving Trees in the Children's Departments of a number of Blackwell's shops are adorned with gift tags with requests from children who might not otherwise receive any presents (in association with local charities). Customers choose a tag and the booksellers wrap the requested book and deliver it to the child in time for Christmas. You don't have to live near a shop - gifts can be purchased online for £5.99 or £9.99.

Finally, Playing by the Book lists 125 Literacy / Book charities that you could choose from. Happy giving!          

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Julie Berry: All the truth that's in me

Julie Berry: All the truth that's in me

The place and time of this story are never specified, but I'm guessing colonial era America. After two years missing, Judith comes home with her tongue cut out. Her friend, Lottie, who disappeared around the same time as she did is dead. The villagers of Roswell Station, including her own mother, are ashamed of Judith and she is treated like a pariah. All she can do is silently pour out her heart to Lucas, the boy she has loved since childhood, but he is now engaged to another girl. When the village is attacked by "Homelanders" Judith and Lucas effectively save it, but their actions bring them both into disrepute. What is the mystery surrounding Judith's disappearance? Can she learn to talk again? Will she and Lucas survive their disgrace and end up together? These are the questions that Judith's narrative slowly resolves.

 At first, I found this book a little irritating. It's written in the first-person present tense, and Judith addresses herself to Lucas who is referred to throughout as "you". Some of its chapters, or sections, are only a few lines long. These factors combined to make me feel the book was bitty and difficult to get into. What changed my mind was taking it with me to Glasgow Women's Library's Reading Hour for Book Week Scotland - a whole hour of concentrated reading got me gripped, and I started to care what happened to the characters. The book is more than just a romance or a mystery - it raises important questions of what defines our identity and how we treat those who are different from the norm. I'm glad I persevered.

My thanks to Templar Publishing for supplying me with a copy of this book.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The nation's favourite children's book?

Last month, I wrote about my choices for Booktrust's vote on 100 books to read before you're 14. The winners were announced today - and the most popular title is probably not a surprise: JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Read the full top 10 and more information about the books on Booktrust's site. How did I do? Well, only one of my choices made it onto the list, Philip Pullman's Northern Lights at number 9.

There's a short, but sweet, video of the choices on Youtube:

Friday, 22 November 2013

Pop-ups on display at the National Library of Scotland is definitely on my to-do list; an exhibition of pop-up books from the 19th to the 21st centuries has opened this week at the National Library of Scotland.  The Library's website gives a historical over-view with some illustrations to whet your appetite, and STV's news report has a short video showing one of the books opening out - into a paper model of Hogwarts! I think my favourite pop-ups are Jan Pienkowski's, Haunted House for example, though I don't know if there are any in the exhibition. I'll be popping over to Edinburgh soon to find out.

PS January 2014: I visited this exhibition last week and, yes, Haunted House is there.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Picture book update: the latest Picture Kelpies

I was delighted to win copies of three Picture Kelpies via a Twitter competition from Scottish publisher, Floris Books, who also produce Young Kelpies for 6-9s and Kelpies for 8-12 year-olds.) There are child-friendly websites to go with the books - Discover Kelpies (including Young Kelpies) and Picture Kelpies - and Floris also sponsors the Kelpies Prize and the Kelpie's Design and Illustration Prize. I bought many Kelpies when I was responsible for a children's literature collection and generally found them to be high quality. However, I was not asked to write a review, favourable or otherwise, and these are my personal opinions on the three books:

Kate Davies: N is for Nessie : A Scottish Alphabet for Kids

This bright, colourful book gets well away from the "A for Apple" clichés. My favourite page is Puffins, because they are so cute, and the one that made me laugh out loud was the double page spread for U and V - Umbrella and Very, very wet! The clouds of Midges ran that a close second though. I wondered how X would fare - cleverly, there is no word, but a beautiful blue Saltire fills the page. However, non-Scottish children need not be confused: there is an explanation for every letter at the back of the book.

Lari Don and Claire Keay: The Magic Word
Despite the passing of decades, I can still remember the frustration of having to write thank you letters as a child. The first one was easy, but, oh dear, the repetition! It seems nothing has changed as Lari Don's Catriona despairs at having to finish her letters before Granny will let her play with her birthday gifts. Her attempts to make the task quicker are amusing, and become disastrous when she tries to use a spell (the magic word is, of course, please). Children will enjoy laughing at the mess she makes, but all ends well - the magic word reverses everything and she settles down to write the letters herself. And, guess what? It doesn't take nearly as long as she thinks. Some lessons in perseverance and politeness here, as well as a whole lot of fun.

Janis Mackay and Gabby Grant: The Wee Seal

This book has a beautiful island setting which very much reminded me of the illustrations in the Katie Morag books, so they might appeal to the same children. It tells the story of a fluffy, white baby seal and the efforts of Jamie to protect it from tourists who think it has been abandoned. They don't know that its mother goes hunting in the sea in the morning but always comes back at night. Eventually, the baby seal grows up, loses its fluffy coat and the two seals swim away together. A nice way to learn about the lives of seals - and the right way to treat nature.

I enjoyed all three books and will now be donating them to my local library so that lots of children can enjoy them too.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Winter's child
Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith: Winter's child.

The weather has changed, and as we hurtle towards winter it's time for the seasonal books to come out. When I bought children's books for a library I was very sparing in my purchases of anything that would only be used once a year. It would have to be a very special book to get onto my list. This one wouldn't have made it, but it's an attractive book nonetheless and comes with a good pedigree: author and illustrator are both award-winning. Angela McAllister won the Red House Children's Book Award in 2011 and Grahame Baker-Smith won the Greenaway Medal in the same year for Farther. Their first book together, Leon and the Place Between, was short-listed for the Greenaway Medal in 2010.

Tom wishes that winter would never end, but the cold is having a terrible effect on his elderly grandmother. While Tom enjoys playing with a new-found friend who shares his love of snow and ice, his grandmother gets sicker. Eventually, Tom realises that his friend is Winter's Child, and for the seasons to go on they must say goodbye until next year. After pages of wintry illustrations (I feel cold just looking at them) the final spread is of Spring in all its glorious colour.

So - not an essential, but a pleasant modern fable on winter if you are looking to add to your collection of stories about seasons.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Boys, birds and beasts: a trio of picture books

And what do the boys, birds and beast have in common? Well, all three books have a theme of escape - from home or from hunters, including the human kind. Let's start with the birds.
Gareth Edwards and Elina Ellis: The littlest bird.

Seven green birds share a beautiful nest at the top of a tree, but the littlest one is not happy. The nest is cramped and it's crowded and she doesn't get enough attention, so she packs her bag and sets off to find a better place. Eventually, she finds a nest which is empty apart from one large egg - but what's that loud cracking sound? Suffice it to say that Little Bird gets a very big surprise and decides that home is best after all - where, of course, everyone has missed her.

This would be a comforting read for any child who occasionally feels crowded out by the rest of the family (i.e. all of them at some point.) I liked the little birds whose chubby bodies reminded me of the Twitter bird or a more benign version of Angry Birds.
Adam Stower: Troll and the Oliver.

A boy and a mythical beast now. Troll and the Oliver (yes, that is the right way round) start off as enemies. Troll is determined to catch and eat the Oliver who is usually too quick and clever for him. Finally, Troll succeeds in catching him, only to find that, actually, Olivers taste REVOLTING and Troll spits him right back out. Fortunately, the Oliver is a nifty baker, they discover together that all trolls love cake and harmony ensues. There's even a recipe from Trolliver's Cookbook on the back endpapers in case you ever need to feed a passing troll.

I liked big, blue Troll with his marvellously expressive eyebrows, but was less fond of the Oliver with his teasing, self-satisfied ways. The book is beautifully produced with one half-page "reveal" and a cutaway cover. I'm afraid I always look at those with the eyes of a librarian though. Where are we supposed to stick the labels, for goodness sake?
Nahta Noj and Jenny Broom: The lion and the mouse.

More paper engineering in this retelling of Aesop's well-known fable. A lion helps a mouse reach her favourite food, but scoffs at the idea that the favour can ever be repaid. How could a tiny mouse help a mighty lion? He finds out when the hunters catch him in their nets....

Every page is die-cut so that the reader makes the story happen by turning the page which, for example, lifts the nibbled nets from the lion. (There is also a hole in the cover, but plenty of room for labels, hurrah!) The illustrations are colourful and cheerful, but I found the brightness and the lack of an outline to the figures detracted from clarity, so that sometimes I just seemed to be looking at a big pattern. Maybe that's just me and a child would do better!

I was sent these books by Templar Publishing, but was not required to write a review, favourable or otherwise. The books will soon be on their way to a local library and will, I hope, be enjoyed by many children.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Funny prize, fiction prize and Katie Morag on TV

Two prize announcements this week - the Guardian Fiction Prize was won by Rebecca Stead for Liar & Spy. I've not read it yet, but When you reach me was a wonderful, intriguing novel so I have high hopes of loving this one too. It's the first time an American has won this prize apparently.
The short list for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize was also announced. I don't, I'm ashamed to say, know any of the books but I'm sure titles such as Noisy bottoms will have a certain appeal.

Finally - something I do know about: Katie Morag. CBeebies has now filmed 26 episodes of these delightful stories about a little girl living on a fictional Scottish island. Although Katie Morag's Struay was based on Coll, one-time home of author Mairi Hedderwick, the programmes were made in Lewis. I hope they boost tourism to all the Hebridean islands when they air next month. It's been too long since I had an island-hopping holiday myself!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sara Grant: Half Lives

Sara Grant's Half Lives (Indigo, 2013) tells the story of two young people living in the same place but separated by time. Icie (short for Isis) is a 21st-century teenager at high school in Washington DC. Her life is completely normal until the day her parents (a government employee and a nuclear physicist) tell her they must leave for Las Vegas immediately. They have the key to a secret mountain bunker there, and must hide out to avoid an imminent terrorist attack - not bombs, but a deadly virus. Not only that, they have breached national security by taking the key and running away. As a result of this, Icie's parents are arrested before they get to the plane and she has to go on alone. On her journey, she meets three other young people: cheerleader Marissa, poor little rich boy Tate who dreams of being a rock star, and the mysterious Chaske who saves her life by killing a venomous snake. Together, they find the bunker and seal themselves up to await - what?

Interleaved with this is the story of another group inhabiting the mountain at some time in the post-virus future and worshipping the Great I AM. Their young leader is Beckett, and most of this second story is told from his point of view as he faces challenges from some of those he thought were his friends and decides what to do when a mysterious girl, Greta, appears on the mountain. He falls for her, but is she a spy from a terrorist group?

How do these two stories connect, and do they work together? Initially, I found Icie's story much more compelling and would look ahead to see what was going to happen next before reading Beckett's sections. However, I was gripped as the connections became more apparent and it became obvious that something of Icie had survived - the language and rituals of the group owe a lot to 21st-century teen vocabulary with "Whatever" elevated to a sacred word. Even the characters' names begin to take on a significance related to our own time. Eventually, both Icie and Beckett discover the mountain's dangerous secret which has a profound effect on their lives.

If you enjoy this book, you might like others on Survivor,  a list from Strathclyde University:
"Mostly set in apocalyptic versions of the future, the books on this list share a common theme: the battle for survival. Their central characters, usually teenagers, have to overcome fire, floods, demons or some other horror as they struggle to build new lives or new societies. As well as being good stories, the books will also make their readers think about the way we treat our world today."
Half Lives certainly fits into that theme.

Disclaimer: I won this book from the Indigo & Orion Children's Books in a draw, but I was not required to write a review, favourable or otherwise. The book will now be donated to the wonderful Glasgow Women's Library which has recently started collecting books for younger women.

Friday, 11 October 2013

100 books to read before you're 14

In honour of Children's Book Week, Booktrust has announced its Ultimate List - 100 books every child should read before he / she is 14. It's split into four age-groups and covers the last 100 years. Until 15th November you can cast a vote in each category and the top books will be announced on the 25th. Instead of the normal Friday roundup, I thought I'd spend time thinking about this and my choices are below. I have to say, many of the books on the list were published long after my childhood (and I'm nowhere near 100 before you even think about asking), but I did know most of them through having worked in libraries for the last 30+ years.

0-5 years

David McKee: Not now, Bernard. (Andersen).

Poor Bernard tries to tell his parents about the monster in the garden, but will they listen? No! They fob him off with "Not now, Bernard" until it's too late - the monster eats him.

I've chosen this because it's great to read aloud - I remember using it in story-times when it was first published in the 1980s. The illustrations are clear and easy to see, even for those at the back of the group, it has plenty of repetition for the children to join in with, and it builds up their anticipation with an agreeable shudder.

6-8 years

Michael Bond: A bear called Paddington. (HapperCollins).

For this age-group, I was torn between two books from my own childhood. I loved the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories about a little girl growing up in the 1920s but I'm not sure they would appeal to children of today, whereas I think Paddington is timeless. The eccentric bear who comes from "Darkest Peru", and keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat, gets into all sorts of scrapes that reassure a naughty child that he or she is not alone.


9-11 years

David Almond: Skellig. (Hodder).

The choice is becoming increasingly difficult as I move through the age-groups. Here, I am again torn between childhood favourites (Swallows and Amazons and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to name just two) and books that impressed me later (Private Peaceful, Flour Babies and Goodnight Mr Tom could all have made the cut.) I finally decided on Skellig, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, because it is so different. Who is Skellig? Is he an angel?  If he is, he's a contender to be the most cantankerous one in literature. Does he, as Michael appears to think, help save his little sister? This story packs a real emotional punch.

12-14 years and beyond

Philip Pullman: Northern Lights.

Tough choices again. There are three titles on the list which start off trilogies which I greatly admire: The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go and Northern Lights. I've gone for the latter mainly because of the book's heroine, Lyra, who is funny, courageous and fiercely intelligent. The cast of supporting characters is varied and equally lovable  - or loathable in the case of Mrs Coulter and her cronies - and the concept of daemons (a sort of external soul) allows an extra level of commentary as they and their humans consider events. I also liked the alternative, rather steampunk, world that Lyra lives in. I can't read this in public though; there's a scene towards the end that makes me cry every time.

So those are my choices and I've now voted. What will you choose? And can you spot a pattern in my choices? When I looked them over at the end I realised that all the authors were men. So here is my alternative all-female list which I could just as easily have chosen:

0-5 Judith Kerr. The tiger who came to tea. HarperCollins.
6-8 Joyce Lankester Brisley. The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. Macmillan.
9-11 Anne Fine. Flour Babies. Puffin.
12-14 Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games. Scholastic.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book Week Scotland and other stories: posts of the week 3

The programme for Book Week Scotland (25/11/13 - 01/12/13) was announced this week. Some items particularly relevant to children are:
  • Three free picture books will be given to every Primary 1 pupil in Scotland. The titles consist of the shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2013: Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, What's the Time Mr Wolf by Debi Gliori and Jumblebum by Chae Strathie and Ben Cort.
  • Scottish children’s illustrator and author Mairi Hedderwick will bring her most famous character, Katie Morag, to life for children across Scotland during a special live broadcast in partnership with the BBC on 28 November.
  • Book Week Scotland's Author Ambassadors include children’s author and illustrator Nick Sharratt. Along with popular fiction author Shari Low and poet Ryan Van Winkle he will lead the push to spread the joy of reading throughout the country.
There's a new edition out of Books for Keeps, the online children's book magazine, featuring news, reviews and features on authors such as David Almond, Patrick Ness and Neil Gaiman.

New sites discovered this week include Outside In World - the organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring world literature and children's books in translation - and Picture Books in ELT which has just won the Best English Blog Award from Really Learn English.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Lynne Rickard's work as a Writer-in-Residence in Methil in Fife where she has been collaborating with a group of women to produce a picture-book on healthy eating. In the project's blog, The Methil Makars, this week there is an account of a workshop with Alison Murray, author of Apple Pie ABC. It's an interesting insight into how an illustrator gets from first sketches to finished book.

Last week, I mentioned an exhibition about children's books in New York. Slightly closer to home is the British Library's Picture This exhibition about ten of the most iconic illustrated children's books of the 20th century. The Telegraph lists all ten (my favourite has to be Paddington Bear) and the Guardian also has more information. It's on till 26th January if you happen to be in London before then.

Kirsty's Blog has a piece on drama and children's literature (not new, but I've just spotted it) - Kirsty is a B.Ed (Primary) student in Australia. Here, she writes about the work she did with her class based on Night of the gargoyles by Eve Bunting, and there's a lot more on drama elsewhere in the blog.

The BBC reports on a new survey by the National Literacy Trust which suggests that fewer children across the UK are reading in their own time and one in five is embarrassed to be caught with a book. This is sad for all sorts of reasons, not least the evidence that children who read do better at school and in life - most recently, again from a BBC report, the Institute of Education report found that reading improved performance not only in English but in Maths. Not to finish on a negative note, let's take this full circle and return to Book Week Scotland - a chance to get more children reading and try to increase the two in five in the survey who thought that reading was cool.

That's all for this week! Happy reading.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Posts of the week 2

Phew, made it to the second week of Friday roundups! Except that it's Saturday - oh well, near enough. A lot caught my eye in the past seven days, so here they are in the order I spotted them.

Black History Month is coming up in October. You might find useful titles scattered through Strathclyde University's Children's Booklists page - see the lists on Diversity, Global Citizenship, Refugees and Slavery.

Lizzy Ratner asks in The Nation "What are children's books for?" She's inspired by an exhibition at New York Public Library on the history of children's books. It runs till March 2014, but I don't think I can contrive to be in New York before then, wonderful though that would be.

Malorie Blackman's piece in the Guardian on the value of libraries has been widely circulated on social media so you might have seen it. Libraries' huge contribution to children's literacy is threatened by swingeing cuts across the country. "Where is the outrage?" she asks.

Vivienne Smith at Reading Fictions pays tribute to Margaret Mahy (1936-2011) with particular reference to a title I heartily approve of, The Librarian and the Robbers, concluding "If you aspire to a life full of unexpected exploits and all things delightful, become a reader! Treasure awaits us all on the shelves of the library." Hear, hear!

I've discovered that Seven Stories now has an online Enid Blyton exhibition, with one on Judith Kerr coming soon. For those of us who can't get to Newcastle to see their exhibitions live, this is a great new idea.

I've added Rhino Reads to my RSS feed of useful blogs to follow. It was the post I've linked to on gender non-specific characters that I first noticed, but it all looks worth a read if you are interested in picture books.

UKLA (UK Literacy Association) has announced its 2014 children's book awards longlists - for ages 3-6, 7-11 and 12-16+. The winners will be announced in July.

A bit of fluff to finish with. Regular readers will know of my love for Anne of Green Gables. Green Wedding Shoes offers an Anne of Green Gables Wedding Inspiration (posed) with "Anne" and "Gilbert" looking divine. So if you're a red-haired woman thinking of getting married it could be just the thing for you.

That's the end of this week's Children's Literature Roundup. No extra charge for the wedding advice.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Banned Books Week, 22-28 September

It's Banned Books Week - and it might surprise you to find out some of the many books that have been banned at one time or another. University of Strathclyde has a list of children's titles with explanations about when, where and why they fell foul of censors. It's divided into Young upstarts and Teen trouble and contentious kids. There's also a section on Controversial classics (adult books which are taught in secondary schools) and suggestions for further reading. Before you look at it, here's a book from each section. Try to guess why each one was banned!


Friday, 20 September 2013

Posts of the week

This is a hostage to fortune, but I thought I would start a weekly feature of blog posts that have caught my eye over the past seven days. If I'm absent next Friday, then you know that was a very bad idea! In no particular order, here is this week's selection.

Elaine Aldred is a Doctoral student in Education at the University of Nottingham. Her blog, Strange Alliances, aims "to explore all different kinds of writing and storytelling, through examining the craft of writing." The post that interested me was Gez Walsh. A style all of his own. Gez, a former social worker, first started writing when he was trying to get his dyslexic son to read and felt the available books were too boring. They started writing a poem together and things took off from there - it resulted in his first book, The spot on my bum. Now, he says "I devote my whole life to working with children. I work with kids that nobody else wants to work with. I’ve also written some books for their parents too, because you got vicious cycle of having parents who can barely read who won’t buy a book for a child because they don’t put any value in it." Worth checking out.

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen writes about Books for boys and books for girls: problems with gendered reading and concludes "The more we expose young readers to the wide variety of reading possibilities, the wide variety of how books look and feel and grow in our hands and minds, the more positive steps we take in combating gendered reading. Maybe while we’re at it, we also stop writing about “books for boys” and “books for girls.” Books are for readers." Do you agree?

I've added The Cambridge Children's Literature Students' Blog to my "Favourite blogs" page. It's written by graduate students at the Cambridge-Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children's Literature - in their latest posts, they tell of their exploits at a Picture-book Conference in Stockholm. Lucky them!

We love this book's newsletter pops into my inbox every Friday. One of the articles they are highlighting today is Hating the happily-ever-after, an examination by Holly Bourne of romantic clichés in teenage novels. Have fun thinking of books to match each category!

Last, but not least, Scottish Book Trust has an interview with Lynne Rickards in its Spotlight On feature today. In it, Lynne talks about her influences, her writing and her work as a Writer-in-Residence in Methil in Fife where she has been collaborating with a group of women to produce a picture-book on healthy eating. We also find out that Lynne likes dark chocolate, fresh fruit and crunchy organic carrots - two out of three for healthy eating Lynne, two out of three!

PS I would go for the dark chocolate myself, preferably washed down with a nice glass of red. Speaking of which, wine-o'clock is not far away so time to finish this post and start thinking about dinner.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Fairy tales, feelings and fish: three picture books reviewed

It was a lovely surprise earlier this month to find a parcel of picture books from Templar Publishing awaiting my return from holiday - though it's taken me a few weeks to get round to reviewing them. Here they are now:

Alison Jay: Little Red Riding Hood. (Text rewritten by Katie Cotton.)

This retelling of a classic story is firmly aimed at children who are already well-versed in fairy tales. The text is much less important than the illustrations - crackle-glazed paintings in (according to the blurb) "Alison Jay's much admired style". Personally, I don't care much for the tiny-featured faces and spindly limbs, but I do love the concept. Although Red Riding Hood is the main character, she lives in Fairy Tale Village, where her Mum runs the tea shop, and all around her other fairy tale characters are taking part in their own stories. Children will have great fun spotting these - I found more every time I looked - and could be encouraged to tell the story of, say Hansel and Gretel, themselves. NB the fates of the baddies in these tales have been considerably toned down! No wolves appear to have been harmed in the telling.

Tor Freeman: Olive and the bad mood.

Olive is having a really bad day - something has put her in a bad mood (make sure you start reading well before the title page to find out what) and she just can't snap out of it. Not only that, it makes her behave badly towards her friends (a variety of animals in clothes), putting them down in a most unpleasant fashion. Then - she passes a sweet shop and a bag of jelly worms puts all to rights! Except that, she discovers, her friends are all now in bad moods - I wonder why? It doesn't occur to Olive that she might be the cause, but she passes her sweets around, cheering everyone up, until the bag is empty and her bad mood returns. Primary school children often learn about feelings through stories - see Strathclyde University's list of suitable picture books - and this title is a good addition to the canon. Some might object to Olive's bad behaviour going unpunished, although she partially makes up for it by sharing her sweets generously. Children have mood swings like the rest of us and need to learn about the less positive emotions too, helped here, for those who can't yet read or aren't good at interpreting facial expressions, by the little black clouds which appear over the unhappy heads.

Andy Mansfield and Henning Lohlein: Fish food.

Children love pop-ups, and paper engineer Mansfield and illustrator Lohlein have done a grand job with this one. The story is minimal but pleasingly repetitive as each fishy character gets eaten up by a bigger one. This could be a useful introduction to the concept of the food chain, though possibly not for the over-sensitive - that shark's teeth are awfully big! The strength of the book though is, well - its strength. Many pop-ups are fiddly and flimsy and soon fall to pieces, but this one seems sturdy enough to survive multiple readings.

Thanks to Templar for sending me the books. They'll all be on their way to good homes in local libraries soon.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

100 years of Pollyanna

Statue of Pollyanna
Littleton Public Library, New Hampshire
Do little girls still read Pollyanna (1913)? You can still buy the books on Amazon (and not just the free Kindle versions) so maybe they do, or maybe she only finds older, nostalgic readers such as myself? I loved the book as a child, but hadn't thought of it for years until the 1960 Disney film, starring Hayley Mills, was shown on television a few months ago. I was rather more impressed by it than I had been first time round - in fact, my first memory of the cinema is being carried out screaming when (spoiler alert) Pollyanna falls from a tree. In my defence, I would only have been three or four, so was much too young to understand it. However, I wasn't inspired to re-read the book until this summer, while on holiday in New England, I came across the statue above. Littleton, New Hampshire, is the birth-place of Pollyanna's author, Eleanor H Porter, and every year they hold a Glad Day to celebrate Pollyanna, this year marking her centenary.

Why a Glad Day? Pollyanna is an orphan who is sent to live with her maternal aunt when her father dies. Her mother's family had not approved of her marriage to a poor minister, so Aunt Polly is not very welcoming. However, Pollyanna's sunny nature can melt the stoniest of hearts, and soon she has transformed the whole town with her "glad game" which consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. It started one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, found only a pair of crutches inside. Pollyanna's father invented the game to teach her always to look for good in bad situations and to find something to be glad about —in this case, that they didn't need to use the crutches! When Pollyanna has an accident, all the people she has helped rally round to help her recover and her aunt is reconciled to, and marries, her former beau, Dr Chilton, leading to a happy ending. Like another of my childhood favourites, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna can be irritatingly pious, but the message of the book is a sound one.

There are a dozen or so sequels, (see the list in Wikipedia) but only the first, Pollyanna grows up (1915), was written by Porter. Pollyanna's aunt wishes to accompany her husband to Europe. Rather casually, to the modern eye, she leaves Pollyanna to stay in Boston with the sister of an acquaintance. Mrs Carew's past has left her a bitter woman and Pollyanna, unknowingly, has been "prescribed" for her like a medicine. The glad game works its magic, Mrs Carew is transformed and Pollyanna makes many new friends. She is, however, horrified by the poverty she witnesses in Boston and returns home with views which sound dangerously socialist for the time! At this point, I got rather confused because six years pass and at first the second part of the book seems to bear little relation to what went before. Aunt Polly is now widowed and impoverished (by her standards), and Pollyanna casts around for money-making schemes and ways of preventing her aunt from sinking back into gloom. Her solution is to take in her friends from Boston as summer boarders - the connection is now clear! The rest of the plot features romantic misunderstandings and a rather hard-to-swallow coincidence which I don't think I could summarise without giving the game away. The attitude to a "crippled" character also sits uneasily in the twenty-first century, but is, I suppose, reflective of its times.

Despite these reservations, I've thoroughly enjoyed re-reading both books, but I don't think I'll go on to the sequels by other authors. I'll need to find another childhood heroine to revisit.

Update 26/08/13

Since posting the above I've learned of the existence of a list of children's literature statues in the US, Pollyanna included. Does anyone know of a similar UK list? Or of statues that could be included? Let me know in the comments if so.

Journeys from images to words: picture books in multilingual classrooms

An article in last week's TES, Pictures really do tell a thousand words, alerted me to this interesting research from Glasgow University. Sub-headed "Glasgow researchers find that images can build language skills", it sounds a bit obvious at first. However, there's more to Journeys - from images to words and back again than the heading implies. Working with classes which included refugees and asylum seekers as well as native English speakers, the researchers were looking for a way to help the children with poor English. However, they discovered that picture books were also of benefit to those whose first language was English, even advanced readers (the classes were P6, so were aged around 10).  They started with completely wordless books and moved progressively to books with no illustrations. Work included putting picture books into words and creating artwork to illustrate text. The research found that these visual strategies “provided a level playing field for all students because there were no expectations about success or failure based on the traditional reading and writing skills”. Find out more at the links above, and see the books used below.

The rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. This is a story which represents an allegory of colonisation using images and minimal text.

Gervelie's journey: a refugee diary by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allan. This is a non-fiction book with text illustrated by line drawings and photographs. It's part of a series in which the authors wanted to allow children to "put their feet in the shoes" of others.
Boy overboard by Morris Gleitzman. A chapter book consisting entirely of words, this tells the story of two children who journey from Afghanistan to Australia.

Update 26/08/13

 Since posting the above, I've come across a blog post by Trevor Cairney at  Literacy, families and learning which is relevant to the idea that pictures can help improve literacy. See "How drawing can improve reading comprehension."

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The world through picture books

The world through picture books is an IFLA project to create an annotated list of picture books from around the world, as recommended by librarians. There's a list of favourites from 30 countries (10 from each). Can you guess what the UK chose? Not too difficult! here they are:

Would you have chosen any differently?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Looking back at Refugee Week: books for children

Lajee Dancers in Glasgow
Last week was Refugee Week. In Scotland, it kicked of with a photo-call of a few of the acts performing throughout the week, including these talented young dancers who live in a refugee camp in Palestine. Aida Camp is crowded and insecure - how do you explain to children the sorts of lives these young people are living?

Step forward the amazing Zoe Toft who writes the award-winning blog Playing by the Book. All through Refugee Week she featured children's books about refugees. For example she both reviewed Azzi in between, about a young girl arriving in this country, and interviewed its author, Sarah Garland. She wrote about fiction for kids to make them think about life as a refugee and listed over 75 books about the refugee experience. Finally, she posted about 17 authors and illustrators who were themselves refugees, including famous names such as Judith Kerr and Eva Ibbotson.

Zoe's posts are often accompanied by suggestions for activities, written for her own children but adaptable for the classroom. Books about refugees are not just for Refugee Week - use them at any time to encourage children to empathise and learn to combat negative attitudes in society.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Carnegie and Greenaway Awards announced

Hot on the heels of my last post on the Scottish Children's Book Awards Shortlist come the Carnegie and Greenaway winners!

The winner of the Carnegie Award is Sally Gardner for Maggot Moon (Hot Key). Sally, who is dyslexic, used her acceptance speech to speak up for children for whom reading and writing does not come easily, and the librarians and teachers that help them. She also criticised Michael Gove's new curriculum.

The winner of the Kate Greenaway Award (for illustration) is Levi Pinfold for Black Dog (Templar). Writer and illustrator Levi also used his win to celebrate libraries and librarians across the country.

Both winning books are tales of triumph over terror. In Gardner's Maggot Moon, the unlikely young hero Standish who, like his creator, is dyslexic, stands up to a sinister dictatorship whilst friends and family around him 'disappear'. Pinfold's Black Dog sees a little girl called Small Hope facing fear head-on in the form of a monstrous giant black dog.

Congratulations to all concerned!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Scottish Children's Book Awards: shortlist announced

The Scottish Children's Book Awards shortlists have been announced today! It's an eclectic selection from a mess loving monster to an accidental time-traveller and an angel with a terrible sense of direction. The choices are:

Bookbug readers (3-7 years) 


Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan)

A string of paper dolls go on a fantastical adventure through the house and out into the garden. They soon escape the clutches of the toy dinosaur and the snapping jaws of the oven-glove crocodile, but then a very real pair of scissors threatens. A stunning, rhythmical story of childhood, memory and the power of imagination from the author of The Gruffalo, and new illustrating talent Rebecca Cobb. 

What’s the Time Mr Wolf? by Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury)

Accompany Mr Wolf as he goes about his daily routine from breakfast to bedtime - and get to know the real Mr Wolf! Little ones will enjoy recognising familiar faces from a plethora of nursery rhymes, including Little Red Riding Hood (masquerading as the post girl), three cheeky little pigs (who make prank calls), a cat who's a dab hand at the fiddle, plus four and twenty blackbirds. An enchantingly original story inspired by the well-known playground tag game, this is also perfect for practising telling the time.

Jumblebum by Chae Strathie and Ben Cort (Scholastic)

A funny story... all about the importance of tidying up. Johnny thinks that his room has its own special style. But his mum thinks his room is... a MESS! Johnny doesn't care... until all the chaos attracts the terrible Jumblebum Beast. Will Johnny end up in the Jumblebum's tum - or can his secret plan save the day?

All P1 children in Scotland will receive a free copy of each of these books during Book Week Scotland in November.


Younger readers (8-11 years)


 Black Tide by Caroline Clough (Floris)

Toby's dad and little sister have been kidnapped by pirates, and Toby is left alone in the aftermath of the terrible Red Fever epidemic, which has wiped out much of the world's population. Menacing tribes of super-intelligent dogs are gaining ever more ground in Scotland, moving northwards. A mysterious figure called The General is leading a group of villains who are kidnapping people and imprisoning them in a place he calls New Caledonia. But where is this New Caledonia and what does The General plan to do with his captives? Toby sets out on a perilous mission to find New Caledonia and, he hopes, his family. This is the dramatic sequel to Red Fever, which won the Kelpies Prize in 2010.

The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis MacKay (Floris)

One ordinary day, Saul is on his way to the corner shop when a girl appears suddenly in the middle of the road. She doesn't understand traffic, or the things in shops, and she's wearing a long dress with ruffled sleeves. Her name is Agatha Black. Agatha Black is from 1812, and Saul needs to find a way to get her back there. With help from his mates Will and Robbie, he tries to work out how to make time travel happen. This pacy, time-travelling adventure from Janis MacKay, author of the Magnus Fin series, is full of funny misunderstandings and gripping action.

Really Weird by Daniela Sacerdoti (Floris) 

Mischievous fairies? Stranded mermaids? Smelly troll? Whatever your supernatural dilemma, call the Really Weird Removals company! Luca and Valentina's uncle Alistair is a paranormal investigator. When he realises the children can see the supernatural creatures that share our world, he invites them to join his team. With the help of Camilla, a friendly ghost, the Really Weird Removals team save a real-life stranded Nessie, help a selkie come ashore, and befriend werewolves. But this exciting new world is also packed with danger. When confronted by malicious kelpies and hungry vampires, can their wayward uncle keep the children safe?

Older readers (12-16 years)


Ferryman by Claire McFall (Templar)

When Dylan emerges from the wreckage of a train crash onto a bleak Scottish hillside, she meets a strange boy who seems to be waiting for her.
But Tristan is no ordinary teenage boy, and the journey across the desolate, wraith infested wasteland is no ordinary journey. Life, death, love - which will Dylan choose?

The Seeing by Diana Hendry (Bodley Head) 

1953. When wild, dangerous, break-all-the-rules Natalie arrives in the quiet town of Norton, thirteen-year-old Lizzie is drawn irresistibly to the new girl from the wrong side of the tracks. As the girls grow closer, Natalie and her strange, eerie brother, Philip, reveal a shocking secret. For Philip has a second sight, and all around them he sees evil - 'left-over Nazis' lying in wait until the time is right for revenge. Natalie and Philip believe it's up to them to root these people out of Norton. Lizzie is swept up in what starts as a thrilling game - but the consequences of Philip's 'gift' quickly spiral into disaster. A chilling, powerful tale from Whitbread Award-winner Diana Hendry.

The Book of Doom by Barry Hutchison (Harper Collins)

The second hilarious book in the comic fantasy Afterworlds sequence.
There’s panic up in Heaven. They have mislaid the Book of Doom – the most important object in existence. They think Satan might have stolen it, so to save the world fifteen year old Zac and his angelic guide Angelo are sent to retrieve it. Sadly directions aren’t Angelo’s strong point and they soon find themselves just as lost as the book, wandering through Afterworlds such as Valhalla and Hades and encountering some colourful characters along the way. Can the hapless pair make it to Hell and back?
The awards are run by Scottish Book Trust in partnership with Creative Scotland and are voted for entirely by children - nearly 32000 last year! All over Scotland for the next seven months (until 7 February 2014), children will be reading and voting. Do you know some who would like to join in?

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, 5th March 2014.