Category Archives: Children’s Fiction

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two by Catherynne M. Valente

the girl who soared over fairyland and cut the moon in two“Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you’re changing into a hundred other things, but you can’t let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he’s a rabbit, or a mouse while he’s still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he’s a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It’s harder than it sounds.”

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two, Catherynne M. Valente

Every time I’ve finished one of Catherynne M. Valente’s novels (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels There) I feel very much like September after she’s been ripped out of Fairyland and away from her friends before it’s time.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two is a little slower to start that the other novels in series, but as soon as September’s loyal sidekicks A-through-L the wyverary and Saturday the Marid have reappeared Valente hits her stride and the enchanting storytelling which characterised the other books in the series comes into play and we visit a Lightening Jungle, watch two lovelorn insects (my favourites) play a variant of battleships, meet a Tyguerrotype who cleverly introduces the Turing test and run around trying to stop a Yeti who seems intent upon shaking the moon apart. I thought this book was the final title in a trilogy, and have since found that the Fairyland series will contain five books… which is great but I now need to know when book four will appear.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only a children’s fiction series, it’s a fantastic crossover series with more than enough clever allusions and wry remarks to keep discerning adult readers hooked.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City Ransom RiggsRetaining the high production values of the first book in the series, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs is a stylish follow-up to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Following on where the first book left off, it sees Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends running for their lives from the wights and hollowgasts that are pursuing them. Their fight for survival becomes a race against time when they realise that their injured headmistress, an ymbryne trapped in bird form, is at risk of losing her humanity for ever unless they can find another ymbryne to save her within two days.

Though it retains the style and charm of the first book in the series, there were times when I became a little frustrated with aspects of the characterisation. Many of the peculiar children have been living the same day since the Second World War, which would easily make them in their 70s, but their emotional responses to many of the situations in the book make them seem like ordinary children. I can appreciate that a lot of the tension derives from this, but at times I felt the children’s emotional vulnerability was played on a little too much. Even if you have grown up in an incredibly sheltered manner, surely you have to some extent grown up?

Either way, it’s a minor criticism and the book should be praised for its originality and flair. There are some brilliant moments where minor characters in the plot of the story like Olive’s friend Jessica, or Sam and Elsa, steal the scene completely. The idea of time travelling within the loops is a great one as well, and the examples of people aging forward are horrible and highly effective. I only wish there’d been a little time to explore the landscapes that the characters travelled to within the loops in a little more detail, as this was a real strength of the first title in the series.

I’ve no idea when the third book is due, but I’m really looking forward to it. I only hope I get to read it before the rumoured Tim Burton film adaptation comes out.

The Twyning by Terence Blacker

the_twyning_terence_blackerBeneath the city of man is a kingdom of rats. The rats are a sophisticated society, with each rat working for the good of the collective depending on its individual abilities. It might be a warrior, a taster, a historian, a spy or a translator but it will put the needs of the kingdom ahead of its own desires because they understand that tradition and love is where the strength of their kingdom lies, and nothing demonstrates the strength of the Kingdom more effectively than The Twyning:

“They were The Twyning. They tugged against one another, forever in motion, forever going nowhere. For almost all their lives, they had been united by an accident of nature that had occurred while they were still in the nest.

Their tails had become inextricably entangled. As they had grown, the knot of living tissue that was at their centre melded and fused together so that, with adulthood, each of these was less an individual rat than a limb on a greater shared body, a spoke on a wheel of flesh.

We know that to have a twyning within the kingdom is a rare blessing. As it grows, it is fed and kept alive by citizens, and it is respected by all, even by the Court of Governance and by the ultimate source of power among rats, they king.

The Twyning expresses life’s mystery. Unable to move in any one direction except at an awkward, complicated shuffle, it has its own kind of strength, for nothing terrifies a human more than the sight of rats, helpless, bound together, yet powerful.

Above all, it shows the power of the kingdom.

For it is love which keeps The Twyning alive.”

                                                The Twyning by Terence Blacker

The most important tradition in the rat kingdom is the abdication of a dying king, who swims downriver to the world above allowing his successor to be named, but when the time comes for the great King Tzuriel to step down, something terrible happens. It will push rats and humans to the brink of war, and at the heart of it all is a young rat called Efren…

I am on a rat run at the moment. By which I mean that I have been reading a lot of books about rats, which my boyfriend is a bit worried about. He suggests that I may have a few issues, but really, there a few things finer than a fictional rat and The Twyning by Terence Blacker is one of the best rat books I’ve ever read.

Set in Dickensian London, The Twyning portrays a world in which talentless politicians conspire with fearful and biased scientists to achieve their personal ambitions, bending the law of the land and spending public money to support their pet causes while impoverished children live on the street ignored or abused by those in authority. In many ways it’s a novel for our times. Swap the word rat for badger, unemployed or disabled person and Dr Ross-Gibbs’ plans might read like a Tory manifesto, but don’t for a second think that I mean to suggest that this is a soap box rant. It’s more a politically aware, urban Redwall for the noughties- vividly imagined and sharply executed.

I particularly like the well-timed moral ambivalence of this book; there are good humans, ordinary humans and bad humans at times just as there are good rats, ordinary rats and bad rats at times. Both sides have members who act well, both sides have members who act badly so there are shades of grey for readers, young and old, to interpret.

It’s difficult to express how good this book is without giving too much away, but if you like stories with friendship, battle, love, gore, misadventure and redemption then this book is for you.

And if anyone thinks that the idea of a tangled group of rats called a Twyning is silly, check out these Rat Kings to see that these things do, in a sense, exist.

Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book?

After our visit to Cotswold Wildlife Park today (amazing, go if you can) we popped in to visit my boyfriend’s sister and I read Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book by Lauren Child with my four and a half year old niece. It’s a great story for children, which sees a young boy called Herb fall into a story book that he has defaced and have encounters with fairy tale characters, including a very bratty Goldilocks. My favourite character was the queen he had drawn a moustache on some time ago.

It’s a beautiful book with a great plot, and while it’s not ideal for young readers who are just building up their confidence because of occasional backwards letters and upside down words, it’s a really fun book to read together. I hope it teaches children to look after their books properly!

I would recommend it to anyone who thought that Goldilocks was a naughty little girl and didn’t understand why she didn’t get into trouble when they were small.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There

the girl who fell beneath fairylandIf The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is to be compared to The Wizard of Oz for its tale of astounding journeys, unlikely friendships and a plucky heroine standing up to a sinister figurehead, then The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There must be compared to Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Returning to Fairyland, September finds that the magic is bleeding away as shadows fall away from their owners and seep into the dark realms of fairyland below. Being a plucky lady, September is forced to investigate and finds herself in a strange land of anarchy and mischief, accompanied by the shadows of A-through-L and Saturday who, while looking a lot like her friends, aren’t quite the friends that September remembers.

Another plucky, darkly amusing novel from Catherynne M Valente. I can’t wait to read the final instalment of the trilogy.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own MakingWhen a Green Wind arrives at the kitchen window offering to take September to Fairyland, she puts aside her washing up and climbs straight onto his Leopard to fly away and seek adventure. When she arrives at Fairyland, she discovers that a wicked Marquess is ruling by terror- fairies and dragons are banned from flying, witches who displease her are being killed and children are being selected at random to be sacrificed as a tithe to the Glashtyn. With the aid of a Wyvern (who thinks his father was a library) and a Marin, September sets out to set Fairyland to rights. But will she succeed? And will she ever make it home?

Reading this book, I began to suspect that my copy had magic powers. It seemed to be circumnavigating my house, aided by some mysterious force. Whenever I put it down, I would find that it had moved by the time I came back to it. And it found the most cunning places to hide…

These vanishing acts were the only thing about the book that I found unsatisfactory. Otherwise, it was a great book to read as my first book of 2013.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is the first book in a planned series of five by Catherynne M Valente, and having read the first, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It has all the makings of a brilliant cross over novel which will appeal to both children and adults- great characters, a strong plot and a seemingly simple but hilariously knowing narrative. Fairyland was charming and enticing while retaining a sufficient threat of danger beneath the surface, and even though this is a book which would make a great bedtime story for children aged eight and up, there were moments when I felt genuinely anxious for September and her motley crew.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There, which is released in the UK this month.

Catherynne M Valente has also written a prequel to the series The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland- For  A Little While.

The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This evening I have been forced out of my sitting room while my boyfriend and two of his friends play a football game on the Playstation.

I don’t care about that though, because I am curled up in my rocking chair in the dining room flicking through this beautiful copy of The Nutcracker illustrated by the late, great Maurice Sendak who died earlier this year. Isn’t it gorgeous? My photographs don’t do justice to the luxurious feel of the paper or the comforting weight of a nice hardback book, but they do show the charm and colour of the illustrations.

pictures 033 - Copy

Front cover

Many headed mouse king

Toy shop

So, I’ve got a good book, tea and a tin of Christmas biscuits. All I’m missing is some little people to read it to, but I’m not planning to do anything about that just yet! If you do have some little people, I think The Nutcracker would make a great bedtime story, a chapter a night in the run up to Christmas and they days that follow. It’s not too late to get yourself a copy either, the ISBN is 978-0-385-34864-5, ask your book shop to order a copy for you, mine gets them in the very next day.

I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader, though sadly it won’t reach you in time for Christmas. If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning, just email me your address with the subject The Nutcracker to bookandbiscuit@hotmail.co.uk

 

J.K. Rowling-In It

Will be tomorrow’s headline in The Sun (rolling in money, geddit?) Not that she wasn’t already, but you may have already heard that J.K.R did not sell the digital rights to her books to Bloomsbury, and I’ve been waiting for some time for her to make a move in this direction.

Following much speculation in the press that Pottermore would be a world-wide treasure hunt for hidden Harry Potter wands (sounds like great fun, if a bit unwieldy) and my own secret hope that this would be a move to a UK theme park, the Pottermore website revealed today that Pottermore would be a free website building an interactive experience around reading the Potter books. Screenshots suggest that there will be opportunities for readers to play games like wizard chess as they read about these in the books.

I’m sure that this will be a great resource for people reading the paper books who want to get more involved in the world of Potter, but it’s certain to bring the books back into world-wide focus if these features are available with the eBooks for download…

Pottermore is currently  jammed with people trying to enter their email address for updates, but you didn’t need to be a professor of divination to know that would happen. Sign up when you can for updates though, as there will be an announcement on Harry’s birthday (July 31st to muggles) to let you know how you can trial the system early.

What-the-Dickens by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is probably best known for his Wizard of Oz spin off, which despite its flair, owes some of its fame to the cult status of The Wizard of Oz and the runaway success of the musical version of the book, Wicked. However, in his modern fairytale What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy, Maguire shows that he has the ability to craft his own fantasy world securely within the familiar confines of our own.

Ten year old Dinah waits with her big brother, little sister and adult cousin for her parents who have left the house during a deadly storm to find insulin. Their neighbours homes have been evacuated, but the family’s strong religious conviction has made them attempt to weather it out. With little food and no power, their older cousin Gabe tells a story to pass the time.

The story, he says, is a true one which happened to him during his child hood, and explains how What-the-Dickens, an orphaned skibbereen, or tooth fairy to you and me, comes to find his place in life, facing deadly challenges and making friends along the way.

Even as an adult I found the story charming and funny. If I was still teaching, I would include it in a scheme of work for 11-13 year olds. It’s an excellent starting point for exploring fairytales and mythology, as the modern setting takes us away from the traditional men-in-tights-and-women-in-need-of-a-bloody-good-haircut scenarios children expect from a fairytale. It’s also a lovely little tale about culture, identity and self belief.

If you have a small person between the ages of 9 and… well I refuse to stick an upper age limit on it, then you should get this book for them. Read it yourself first though!