Sunday, 28 April 2013

Book Review - Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

Until 'Binny for Short', I had never read anything by Hilary McKay at all and had not imagined her stories would appeal to me. But the artwork on the cover of this, her latest book, assured me that it should be my cup of tea and I was not disappointed. I love this book , perhaps beyond all others I have ever read, and it has made me look again at her other titles in my hunger to immerse myself in her beautiful, clever writing again.
Reading this book has been a thorough joy. I raced through it over a weekend, grabbing chunks of it as and when. I have been tittering away merrily at it's quirky expressiveness and have fallen in love with the people within it. The kind of books that make me happy are those that touch your heart but inject a healthy dose of humour and charm. This book is a shining example of those qualities.

I do not feel I should tell you anything much about the story, as it unfolds to those who read it. The picture below will show you the blurb from the publisher and give you an idea of what the story contains. 

But I will tell you that it very cleverly and neatly uses flashback to lead the reader through a series of events. I hadn't even realised what Hilary was doing til I was nearly halfway through the book; all the goings-on washed over me so effortlessly

Put simply, this is a very special book. It is a piece of written art and genius. It is intriguing, delicious, hug-somebody-tight endearing, funny and just so jolly brilliant. 

The physical book itself is very gorgeous, airy and fresh like the seaside town the story is set in, and with an enticing set of endpapers that feature what all good books should have: a map! Although the book appears dense, the pages are generously thick and the type is spaciously laid out, making the reading experience comfortable and luxurious.

This story is pitched at pre-teens, and is a delightful level of storytelling. It is real, it has depth, but it is free from the rubbish you get in most adult and many teen novels.  It is complex enough to keep an adult enthralled yet safe enough for a child to enjoy. 

I am just so pleased that there are writers producing magic like this for me and others to enjoy. I hope you'll go in search of a copy of this book and experience it for yourself. 


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Illustrator Alert - Sarah Warburton

I love finding brilliant books by super talented authors and illustrators that I've never heard of before. And new publishers too. 

This week I seem to have unearthed a wealth of scrumptious books at the library and just have to share the loveliness. However, there is far too much goodness to convey in just one blog post so I will be bringing you a plethora of

perfectly precious publications over the next few days and weeks. 

I must thank our stock managers in Library HQ office-land who have been distributing all these shiny new books to the libraries in Devon, and for the waves of fresh titles washing over me in our regular deliveries. 

Today I bring to you this delightful package of pinkness: The Princess and the Peas. 

Written by Caryl Hart
Illustrated by Sarah Warburton.
And published by Nosy Crow.

Nosy Crow are a young, smallish, independent Children's publishers. And one that is definitely moving with the times, developing their own range of apps for little kids, alongside their wide range of children's fiction. I discovered them somehow the other day and have since submitted a bunch of my own picture book stories to them. But that is by the by, the point is, HERE is a book worth looking at. 

It's gorgeous, long, and rhyming, with a sweet, funny story and so much to look at. The front cover is very gorgeous; barbie pink with lush green peas weaving their curly tendrils over the surface, embellished with shiny shiny metallic green leaf.  Beautiful, hand-drawn lettering and a cute little girly skipping merrily across, ready to dive into the book and draw you through it's story. 

The green endpapers covered in little white doodles and the publication page would almost be enough on their own but they are just a fraction of the brilliance of this generously illustrated book. 

I would like to coin some new words to describe how much I enjoy looking at a beautiful drawing, that fully expresses the gazing delight of it all. I know there are a lot of excellent words in the English language but many of them are just not the right ones. Basically, I really really like Sarah Warburton's drawings. I like the fresh, relaxed nature of them. The believability of the characters and the liveliness of lines; imperfect and scrawly, yet ever so correct.

I also really admire her use of strong colour. It is luminous and strong but never garish. 

The story of Lily-Rose-May is enhanced by the injection of a very succinct version of the fairy tale Princess and the Pea, depicted in almost monochrome greys and yellows. Caryl Hart's lively story rhymes with an easy flow, creating a jaunty ryhthm, moving you ever onwards through the book.


This version of events tells of the effect of Lily-Rose May's Daddy giving her peas for dinner one day:

When Lily-Rose May found the peas on her plate
She worked herself into a terrible state.
"But, darling," said Dad, "can't you manage a few?
They're ever so tiny and so good for you."

When the Doctor is called he explains that with her prettiness and politeness, and her clear allergy for peas, she must be a Princess, as all princesses are allergic to peas. 

"With all things considered, I have to assess
This disease has no cure! The girl's a princess."
"You have to be joking!" her father explained.
"She's a princess all right," the doctor explained. 

And to prove it, he told them a terrible tale ... 

His prescribed treatment for Lily's intolerance of peas is to go and live the life of a princess, in the palace . Although this comes with the luxury of a huge princessy bedroom, a sparky tiara and an extensive wardrobe, it is accompanied by dull duties, such as hours of smiling and waving each day, and practising being very Royal. We soon see that Lily is prepared to compromise in order to live her normal life again. 

This is a fantastic story for ages 5 and up, nice and long for those wanting a classy bedtime story, and warrants many re-readings to appreciate the details in the pictures and the fullness of the words. 

PS: Now that I follow the link to read more about Caryl Hart, it is no surprise that I love her writing. She has also written Whiffy Wilson, a completely genius tale about the need to wash. I cannot praise this book enough. I do not believe myself to be exaggerating when I say EVERYONE will love it. It is that good. Personal Hygeine has never been so funny or so cleverly written about. And the drawings by Leonie Lord are scruffily delicious. This could go on forever though, following the bookish trail from one genius writer to another talented artist. Read them! Read them all. Even if you don't have kids. It's alright. 


Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Children's Bookshow and Me

Through a series of unexpected and delightful developments I am thrilled to be volunteering with The Children's Bookshow.

This wonderful organisation recently allowed Cullompton Library to host a rather magnificent visit from renowned author and illustrator Alexis Deacon. There is so much I could tell you about the brilliance of this event but I will keep it simple. Lots and lots of kids from local primary schools. Packed in to our lovely library. Entertained and inspired by the hugely talented Alexis Deacon. Delighted by his books. Resounding success. Everyone happy. Big smiles on my face.

Basically, making kids happy with books is one of the most lovely things you could be paid to do. Encouraging their reading skills and confidence is so important, and how much easier is this when they have something tangible and fun to bring this process alive. 

Devon Libraries was superbly priveliged this spring to be one of only two areas in England who were given the opportunity to put on some free Author/Illustrator sessions for children.

This is a pilot scheme, in celebration with World Book Day, where the Children's Bookshow collaborated with Bounce to provide a tour showcasing the very best of children's writers and illustrators.

My ears pricked up at this news, and positively flapped when I heard which author we were allocated. It was just such a gift. We are still reaping the rewards of such an extraordinary experience. Our relationship, as a library, with the local schools is being forged and nurtured to allow further cooperation in the future. We are merrily planning visits to schools, drawing competitions, class visits and a whole lot more in the pipeline. 

Alexis' visit really sparked something and I am thrilled to have been there when things ignited, and to be a part of keeping the fire alive within our precious community, under my role within the library. 

And now, as an amazing bonus, I will be helping out a little with the work of the Children's Bookshow. It is early days but I am so stoked to be involved. The organisation conceives and facilitates some very special events at Theatres around England, every autumn. Schools are invited to attend, and additional workshops are run within individual schools. The people behind the scenes are passionate about promoting the work of talented and unique storytellers and artists, and are devoted to introducing children to these inspiring people and their brilliant books. 

I am learning a huge deal about the many and varied organisations out there who do such a lot to get kids hooked on reading at an early age. 

Sarah Clarke and Alexis Deacon Cullompton Library, March 2013.

I believe every job in the world has bits about it that are irksome, even if you love your work and don't want to be doing anything else. I am so grateful that in my job I am able to link in passions of my own, that either encourage, inpsire, or facilitate a child to enjoy a good story. And in so doing, equip them for life, even if only in a very small and unquantifiable way that I may never see. 


Thank God for books, and for people who make brilliant ones.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Illustrator Alert - Heath McKenzie

I have just found a scrumptious new illustrator, and wanted to share the excitement. The lovely thing about books is, you never know when a really enticing one is going to jump up and grab your nose, or rather catch your eye.

When you're in a bookshop you're fairly well guaranteed that a book will pop out at you, but you just don't know what.

This one popped out of a shelf in an excellent book store in St Ives, Cornwall. It was all fresh and beautiful and could not be ignored. I didn't know the book, or the people who had created it; written by Alison Reynolds and illustrated by Heath McKenzie. I bought it all up with my pocket money and thoroughly enjoyed gazing at the lovely pictures inside. It is a very sweet story of a girl who reluctantly agrees to look after a friend's cat. I love the simple bright colours that tell us the seasons, and the gorgeous black flowing lines that make up the shapes of the trees and surrounding objects. 


Then the other day in the library when I was hunting through the shelves for a shy copy of 
Pippi Longstocking, out pops this little stunner. 

It is a perfect little package of brilliance. The design is delicious, the illustrations are inspired and the writing is wonderful. Simple but expressive, succinct yet quirky. I love the way it teaches a valuable lesson about life in the form of a fun story.  The chapters are bite-size, so perfect for building confidence in newly independent readers.

A prim little girl named Lily is in obvious need of letting her hair down. Literally as well as figuratively. 

When Pop Hooper's absurdly long truck and trailers pull up in Lily's town, full of all sorts of animals, Lily can't help but be drawn in by the hope it might contain an elusive 'perfect kitten'. 

Where did this mysterious Pop Hooper come from and where is he going next? Nobody knows, but he does promise to provide the perfect pet for everyone. However, what he has in mind for Lily certainly doesn't match her expectation. But the scruffy little moglet he asks her to babysit while he sources her perfect, pristine kitty is more suited to her than she could imagine. With her strict tidiness and ballet attitude she's in need of a bit of a mess-up. 

Clearly, this magical Pop Hooper knows best and has a perfect plan to help every child he meets to find a lovely animal companion, whilst also sorting out their life for them. Cunning and creative, he meets the needs of these little people with big problems. 

The other books in the series are: