Friday, 17 April 2015

A Light Hearted Selection

After the teen angst of last week I have continued to indulge in my favourite past time of reading but this time reading picture books, a guilty pleasure?  Great enjoyment!

I love the title of my first one Don't Think About Purple Elephants of course makes me want to think about them Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones (EK Books), in fact I want to see them too and know why I can't think about them!  This is of course the perfect title for a book, it generates  questions and when you open it to start reading some of those questions are answered!  This is a gentle and calm book about coping with troubles, troubles that come to mind at night, the worst possible time for them of course, and minor troubles they may be but they are enough to keep a young person awake at night - what if a favourite t-shirt is being washed and can't be worn?  What if its sprouts for supper?  A lighthearted and wonderfully illustrated look at the idea of easing worry that will resonate with children and grown ups alike.  And are there any purple elephants ... I will leave that to you to find out!

What the Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson, Nick Sharratt and the children from Life & Death (Macmillan Children's Books) is a very special book written and illustrated by a super talented duo along with a very special group of children who were lucky enough to spend a day with Julia when she was Laureate.  In exploring stories for deaf children they worked on this new title whose characters are deaf and use sign language.  A book about signing, about acceptance and about friendship this is a delight to read and an education too.  It features some wonderful animals and a very funny story!

Ever wondered what life is like for children in Australia?  Wonder no more for with the help of An Aussie Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books) you are about to find out!  This is a packed and busy book but it does take you through 12 months, using 5 children and their pet dog to introduce you to all things Australian from Chinese New Year in January when it is summer to paddling with jellyfish in May there is an Aborigine celebration in July of course play dates and sleepovers and even Christmas.  Some fascinating insights into similarities and differences make this a fascinating book to return to time and again.
Another book from the same authors and publisher is the charming Tottie and Dot, two best freinds who do everything together until one day competition enters their lives, what will be the cot?  A thoughtful exploration of what friendship means.

Ever wondered what a slimy slug would feel like if you were to give it a hug?  Wonder no more for in Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross' Slug Needs a Hug (Andersen Press) you can find out just how the little slug feels when he doesn't get a hug from his mummy.  Why can this be he and his friends wonder and so efforts are made to make him more attractive but is this really what he needs?  A great book about accepting who you are and understanding just what it is you might really need.

Now a collection of titles from the glorious Phaidon Press.  The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer is the story of a prize winning pear tree missing all its fruit.  Monsieur Racine cannot be cross however for the stealer of his fruit is a very strange looking beast and they soon form an unlikely friendship.  There is a wonderful twist at the end too so do pay attention to the illustration.  A picture book for older readers this has a strong message, more detailed text and a generally more grown-up feel to it.

Snail Where Are You? by Tomi Ungerer again is a gloriously vibrant wordless picture book that encourages no end of storytelling ideas with its quirky pictures.  From a boat at sea to owls, a ballerina and even a violinist what story can you make and how many different ones can you tell?

Finally, but not least of all A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin is a tremendous picture book, a work of art that encourages readers to look at the pictures, read the sparse words and literally try to create a world of their own.  Laura Carlin provides the sparks, the reader must provide the imagination.  Intelligent and once again a picture book well deserving of an older readership.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Summer teen reads - without the angst!

I've been reading in the Bookseller magazine about concerns that many teen novels are reflecting the enormous pressures and concerns impacting on the lives of these teen readers.  Is this really anything new I wonder?  Yes, there do seem to be more books featuring 'issues' but hasn't this always been the case I asked myself?  Haven't teens always wanted to read realistic fiction alongside fantasy and adventure and all the other genres available to them.  Is this not just a way in which they can find a way to understand the issues that may face them, that they read about in the papers and may see in those around them?  Is it not safer to allow them to read about these issues and learn about them through fictional stories than in real life?  Books and their fictional characters, no matter how set into reality they are, are an escape for readers, a way to help them understand, a story for them to enjoy, a chance for them to look at concerns and issues in a safe and structured environment and hopefully realise that almost every problem in life can be solved and is not usually as bad as it seems.

A rise in dystopian fiction is not unheard of and it is a great way for teens and adults to realise what the world could turn into if we do not look after it. transgender and other gender novels are also a wonderful way for all readers to explore their sexuality and what it all means.  Teens will always need an outlet and a means to understand the complex world that they are entering into, fiction is one of the safest ways I can think of for them to do this.  Whilst I agree that they need some uplifting reading too it is all out there for them, they are free to make their choices with us as adults as their guides, one more reason why it is so important to read this all ourselves and recommend it to them - PLUS - it is all SO GOOD!  I love my teen reading as much as my picture books and junior fiction!

So rant over what teen fiction am I going to recommend?

I will start with a book that readers can get their teeth into and which will keep them going until my additional recommendations are available!

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You being You by Todd Hasak-Lowy (Simon & Schuster) is almost as long as its title!  At 646 pages this is not a book for the reader who is after a small volume but having said that as this is a book of the most brilliantly conceived lists.  This is the story of Darren.  Darren has had an awful year, his parents have divorced his brother has gone to college, his best friend has moved to another state and he has no girlfriend.  This is a book of teen angst, hilarious lists.  It is the story of a journey, a journey in the physical sense, on a bus, and also metaphorical all about what can happen to you in life, how it can change you as a person and why this can be hard but good.  Many pages it may have but the list format makes it highly accessible and surprisingly thought-provoking.  A brilliant creation.

Recommendation number 2 is a book in time for summer festivals.  Remix by Non Pratt (Walker Books) is Non's second title for teens, a book of friends, music and lies.  This is the story of best friends, ex-boyfriends and some great music.  Over the course of three days two friends will go to one music festival and discover whether there is any chance of things working out either how they planned or entirely differently!  I love the way that this book is written, Non has a very strong teen voice and the characters truly come to live in the mind of the reader, their voices really can be heard, their situations imagined and you can almost feel yourself shouting at them about their wrong decisions, knowing much ore than they do is the benefit of being the reader and also a drawback as you have to wait and see what the characters will do, when they will realise and how the story will unfold whilst all you can do is sit back, watch, wait and enjoy.

Finally, as always, for now only, This is Not A Love Story by Keren David (Atom) is going to be the next perfect read for summer.  Here is a story that is complicated and it not what it seems to be on face value.  First there is Kitty, a girl who lives in a suburban London and has dreams of a beautiful life. Amsterdam holds promise, here she can escape the haunting memories of her father's death and start a new life - can't she?  What she finds in Amsterdam is two boys.  Ethan, unpredictable and Theo clever but troubled.  These boys have their own secrets as does Amsterdam.  However Amsterdam is a new city, a beautiful city and as she is far from home Kitty takes advantage of the opportunity to fall in love for the very first time.  First love is never easy, being away from home can make it harder.  Will Kitty find the love that she is looking for, hoping for?  Will any of the hearts involved in the story survive intact?  A brilliantly moving, cleverly told summer love story full of angst and issues, yes, but full of hopes and dreams too.