Who am I?

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Mmm books - they taste good in my brain. So I decided to work in publishing and feed my habit. So now for a living I read wonderful children's books and tell everyone how great they are. It's called publicity! Many thanks to Oliver Jeffers for the name inspiration and header image.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Off Topic... Dream Christmas Gifts

Ok rather off topic. But I'm one of those people it's easy to find gifts for - you know things that have been created with no purpose other than TO BE A GIFT? Yeh, I love that stuff. Oh my god, a toast stamper! A flannel printed with lovehearts! Nun chuck chop sticks!! I have been known to tell people when prompted for birthday gift suggestions that I'd be happy with an empty box. I then received an empty one of these on the day - and I still have it today, filled with cotton reels and beads and such useful items.

In my hunting for presents - for other people! I am caring, honest! - I just keep coming across things my life absolutely will not be complete without. So here in its glory are my 100% greedylicious self Christmas shopping wishes. In my dreams... ah! Oh yes, and so they fit in here on a book blog, they are all book based! Well, sort of...

1. Top item would definitely have to be the painfully amazing Oliver Jeffers jewelry. Someone sub book boy an extra £100 on the gift budget! Quick!*
*I actually think for this particularly beautiful piece of craft the price is not that bad. Well worth the love and labour going into them - but sadly still out of my price range...

2. Moomin tea flask. Itsh schoo cute!!! I don't even drink tea but I might need to transport some hot squash on a winter picnic one day...

3. Oh how I really should have my own Personal Library Kit. I'm a bit too happy with the lending and not stern enough of the demands for return of borrowed books. I have many a pair of fake nerd glasses I could wear whilst issuing my books... sigh.
4. So... the Muppets probably had books at some point right?* Regardless, I really, REALLY want all the Muppet themed Opi nail varnishes. Whilst the pictured "Fresh Frog of Bel Air" has a special place in my heart and "Divine Swine" is full of googly sparkles, I think "Rainbow Connection" is just too glittery to resist... but so much harder to get hold of!

* Look, The Muppet Babies Annual 1987 was a literary classic, ok?

5. Oh how I loved The Little Prince when I was younger. I have vague cloudy memories joy over an animated video bought at a car boot sale (as with most amazing nostalgia, you can find examples here on youtube!) and to this day it still has an air of mysterious Frenchness to me. So what more classy garment to give me than this snazzy t-shirt?

6. I don't know about you, but I often fall asleep face down on the sofa... with all the lights on, still wearing my clothes... in the shower... in the middle of reading a literary classic. When I wake up to peel the pages from my face, I can't help but think there should be some way to combine falling asleep and reading into some kind of convenient bedside lamp. Well obviously someone out there is listening and created this cute little piece of lighting equipage.

The only bad thing about this bedside genius is that the book is not included. And I imagine if, like me, you forget to turn the light off, you might end up setting fire to your book, and ironically burning the house down. Not recommended...

7. Ever since I sat next to someone at an Oliver Jeffers event (actually in Cambridge) who had one of these, I have needed one. Once again, just sub me £70 odd and it's mine! I mean, I need it to put all my books into. It's academic.

Plus, it's available in ultra barbie neon pink! From the Cambridge Satchel Company. Mmm... Satchels.

Thus concludes my gift buying procrastination... I'll get on with other people's presents now - what's on your dream gift list??

Monday, 28 November 2011

Carnegie Meal Number 3 - One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

Positively speeding through now. I'll have finished this lot before you can say pneumonoultrasilicovolcanoconiosis... Soon after finishing Shadow I popped by book boy's house as I knew he had some of the books on my hit list. Being a bookseller, he is one of these lucky people who get sent proofs and one such example was One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. When I worked in a library, I shelved a helluva lot of Eva Ibbotson books as they were always flying in and out. So when this book proof was released, it clocked on my radar, but tragically even more so due to the sad news that Eva had passed away at the age of 85. I knew I just needed an opportunity to steal borrow this and get reading - so thank you Carnegie folk for nominating this one!

From One Dog and His Boy, it seems very obvious that Ibbotson was indeed a master of children's storytelling. I don't specify "children's" to in any way belittle her writing - I think when you write for children in the best way, you have created something that does not speak down to children but is still most definitely created with them in mind. With the dreams and beliefs that you hold as a child at the forefront.

This story has at its centre a young boy called Hal, who lives a privileged life with all the toys and gadgets he could ever want. With a wealthy businessman for a father and a prim shopaholic for a mother, the only thing Hal yearns for is a dog. But he has never been allowed one. In a cruelly thoughtless move, his parents rent him a dog for the weekend, but let Hal believe it's for life. Hal and the dog he rents, Fleck, find a strong connection straight away and their separation is heart breaking. Back at Easy Pets, the dog rental agency, there are a whole room of cell mates to Fleck who have their own tragic stories that have led them to their ownerless existence. The dogs' back stories were revealed in effortlessly natural narration, with delightful details set up for later heart wrenching moments. A whole host of other characters come into the story and every one is just perfectly woven in to create a classic adventure tale with a really simple but lovely emotional core. This really was pretty much perfect - funny, sad, emotional, exciting and filled with a kind of magic that needs no wands or sorcery.

I will place this book very high up on my recommendation list for any children aged 9 and up, and any adult with a young soul!

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson is out now in hardback, and will be released in paperback in March 2012. It is long listed for the Carnegie Medal 2012.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lunchtime Review - Shadow by Michael Morpurgo

The Carnegie Challenge continues! At quite high speed this week as I pilfered Shadow from the shelf at HC headquarters (book.. err obtaining method number 2. Can't really call that purchasing) on Friday night and got reading on my Monday morning commute. Then finished it on my Monday evening commute! I just had to know how it was going to end... It's hard to stop reading a Morpurgo!

So here I am at lunch time blogging my review, which I think is wholly acceptable considering it's one of our titles :) I'm just WORKING right now..

Shadow is the story of a teenage boy from Afghanistan who is seeking asylum in the UK. He and his mother have lived in the country for 6 years but are suddenly being deported. But first they are being held in the Yarl's Wood detention centre, essentially a prison which holds families including young children before they are sent out of the country. Morpurgo, in his wonderfully characteristic way, took inspiration from real life in two ways with this story. Both that Yarl's Wood was a real place and that it was wrongly detaining families and children, but also the story of Shadow the dog.

During the book we hear the story of how Aman made it to the UK from his troubled home country. During their journey to escape, Aman and his mother found themselves accompanied by a foreign looking dog, which Aman names Shadow. Although they don't know it, Shadow is in fact a trained bomb sniffer dog from the English army who is missing and presumed dead by his squadron. This was inspired by the story of Sabi, a black labrador who disappeared from battle only to be found a year later, cared for by an unknown person in the desert.

This weaving together of true life elements is characteristic of Morpurgo and serves to create a story that is all the more touching. It's satisfyingly based in reality and I'm sure will be a valuable book to many children who read it and think a little more about those who seek asylum in the UK. It reminded me of the brilliant account of Enaiatollah in In the Sea There are Crocodiles in the way that the story was sad, but maintained an air of hope. I think this is incredibly important when telling stories with this much emotional pain for children. Whilst it is important to keep their eyes open to hard things that happen around them, we mustn't damage them too early on with thoughts of desperation and hopelessness.

To hear Michael talking about the book himself, click here.

Shadow by Michael Morpurgo is out now in paperback, and is long listed for the 2012 Carnegie Medal.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

My first Carnegie bite - My Name is Mina by David Almond

A couple of weeks ago I decided I would set myself a little challenge - to read all the Carnegie long listed titles before the winner is announced next year. This is no mean feat, as although I've read 11 of them already - there are 52 in total! Well I would have started my challenge immediately but I was part way through reading the second Department 19 book, The Rising. I will refrain from talking too much about that as I know it will make many of you painfully jealous and there are SO MANY AWESOME plot points I don't want to give any away!

So once I finished that I finally got myself down to Daunt books to visit my friendly book boy and request he buy me a book with his discount (book purchasing method 1 - let's call it supporting a friendly Indie) and that book was My Name is Mina by David Almond. This book is a prequel to David Almond's first book, the Carnegie winning Skellig. Ashamedly I have never read Skellig, so found myself coming to this book as a fresh standalone. Which, for any of you in the same position, is absolutely fine, aside from you may get slightly less satisfaction from the ending.

I have to say when I first started reading this I couldn't get my head into it. I couldn't work out why - perhaps coming to it from such a high action thriller? Perhaps because all my reading is done on my commute and I'm largely standing and feeling rushed? The book reminded me a lot of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli which I just adored so I just couldn't understand why I was less interested in this. I stopped and thought about it, quite literally as I was walking along the street in a rush. I had a slightly obvious epiphany - I am a grown up, in a sometimes stressful and always busy profession. I live in a city thats always rushing and jostling me around and often surrounded by people huffing and sighing and grumping about like we grown ups do. When I read Stargirl I was a teenager with plenty of free time, less cynicism, and more belief in everything being just wonderful. I was quite whimsical! But wait! I still am whimsical and childish and I got really cross at myself for not letting this story carry me away just because I was having a busy week.

So I came back to the story and paid attention - I looked around me on the tube and felt sad for anyone else who wasn't using their journey to have a little escape like me. An escape back into the mind of a child, where the world is full of completely amazing things - in Mina's journal she writes words she thinks are particularly delicious over and over, or really big across the page. She writes mini stories and poems and spends lots of time sitting in a tree, watching the world and waiting for the eggs in the nest above her to hatch. She's by no means always happy, as she finds the process of being a child and growing up quite painful, and philosophizes on this transition throughout. She has perhaps clung to her more "childish" ways longer than most others her age, but this only means she still knows how to take notice of all the little things and take delight in them.

I was just enchanted by the book once I got my brain in the right mode. Everyone should be a little bit like Mina - her "strangeness" is to me what makes her more sensible than most - I think as we grow up, we lose the strangeness of being a child, where we create magical worlds and imaginings in our head, and question things that grown ups accept. I think that's something to lament - which is of course really why I work in the world of children's books!

Most appropriately, Mina does seem to have something quite apt to say on this, so I will leave you with a lovely quote from the book:

"It's so strange: grown ups trying to become young, young ones trying to grow up and all the time, whatever people want, time moves forward, forward."

My Name is Mina by David Almond is available now in paperback, and is longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal - see the full longlist here

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Carnegie Longlist - My Challenge!

On Friday, the longlists for the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Awards were announced. If you don't know, these are two of the most prestigious awards for children's fiction and picture books you can win in the UK. For someone in publishing it's a very exciting day, but inevitably you'll be disappointed too - you work on so many books in a year and not every one makes it to the list, which is always sad. Titles are nominated and judged by librarians across the country, and there's also a fantastic shadowing scheme which gets kids involved in reading the titles on the shortlist and voting for their favourites.

Having just moved to HarperCollins, there were some titles from Random House I had been working on over the previous year that I was really desperate to see on the list and so when I loaded up the page on Friday, I did end up wooping out loud and doing a little dance in my seat (alone in a corner, nice and embarrassing)! In particular, two books that I worked on made it - Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans. Hooray! Congratulations ladies! But there were plenty more I've already read and loved or heard about and been intrigued to read. So this led me to set myself...

My challenge, should I choose to accept it (from myself) is to read EVERY BOOK on the longlist*. There are 52, and I've already read 11. So this means reading 41 books. If I wanted to finish reading by the shortlist announcement at the end of March 2012, I'd have approximately 20 weeks and I guess I'd have to read two books a week. Now I am quite realistic and much as I'm a fast-ish reader, I'm going to get distracted by reading the books I'm working on and other things that just catch my eye. But as long as I've read them all by the announcement of the winner in June 2012 I think that's acceptable. Right??

I also want to use this exercise as an adventure in book buying. I'm going to try and obtain the books from as many sources as possible, for example HEY MUM CAN I HAVE THIS FOR CHRISTMAS? Or, more exactly from as many retailers, online sources, first hand, second hand, hardback, paperback, and maybe even blagging a few from booky friends.

In the mean time, as I've read 11 already I'll do some posts reviewing about two or three at once, partly just to show off how many of them I just happen to have signed copies of (ahem, humblebrag).

So, just to recap, I'm going to:

  • Obtain ALL the Carnegie longlisted titles from various amazing book selling sources
  • Read 'em (and occasionally weep)
  • Tell y'all about them
  • Accurately predict the winner and win all of your respect 
Just you wait...

*I can hear you real book bloggers snorting into your keyboards. HA I'VE READ THEM ALL ALREADY! Well, you guys had a head start! No fair!