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Top Ten Tuesday – Autumn/Winter TBR List

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Every week The Broke and the Bookish conjure up a new Top Ten list for us book bloggers to write about This week is all about the books to see me through the winter. There are a few books on this list that are a step away from my normal reads – I think I fancy a reading shake up as the nights draw in!

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
My colleagues have been raving about this book for some time now and, as we write some non-fiction titles, Henrietta Lacks has cropped up in conversation on more than one occasion. Its time I found out more methinks…

The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men
I finally started the Patrick Ness Chaos Walking trilogy last month and I am determined to finish it off before the year is out – the opener, The Knife of Never Letting Go, was stupendous (review coming)!

Yes Please
I’m not usually one for biographies/autobiographies but Amy Poehler is far too awesome a human being not to read about. I was putting off reading this book until I had experienced the entirety of Parks and Recreation (one of my new all-time faves) and now all seven series have been consumed, the time has come to read about the genius woman behind Leslie Knope.

The Sisters Brothers
This book was huge when it first came out but Western’s weren’t really my thing so I steered clear. Some family members have read The Sisters Brothers and loved it and as the boy and I are going to see The Magnificent Seven this weekend, it may be time to give this Western a try.

Are You Dave Gorman?
I read this book about five years ago and thought it was hilarious! It’s a book I wanted to give the boy – as two men going on an adventure based on a conversation in the pub is something I know he’d get on board with! – but wanted to reread first because it as so good the first time round!

Reasons to Stay Alive
With winter drawing ever closer, I do get really affected by the darker mornings and eves so I feel now is the time to crack open a book that has inspired many. I loved Matt Haig’s The Humans and it’s become my go-to recommended read so I have high hopes for this one.

Noughts and Crosses
Since a BBC adaptation was announced, I have been desperately meaning to schedule a reread of Malorie Blackman’s signature series. The long winter evenings seem like a perfect time methinks…

I’ll Be Home for Christmas
My company’s sister imprint has released this Christmassy anthology about the meaning of homes. With some of the biggest names in YA contributing at least £1 form every sale going to the amazing Crisis charity – this book is already scoring major points before I’ve even turned the first page!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
Because who better to get you through the cold, crisp evening than Neil Gaiman?!

What titles will be keeping you entertained this autumn?

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Writing ‘Feelings’ and Expressing Emotions

As regular TTWers will know, my job involves writing children’s books as well as editing them. Every single one of my books, from a sticker activity to a touch-and-feel with sound, means the absolute world to me but this Friday’s post is introduces one title that is extra, super special.

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Feelings is a peek-through picture book that takes the reader on a journey through the emotions they might experience. It isn’t prescriptive or a handbook telling children how to deal with their feelings, it just describes how each emotion feels with the philosophy of “Looking from the outside, I may seem the same as you, but deep beneath the surface feelings bubble, stir and brew…

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My Publisher came to me with the idea of writing a feelings book with a fixed character appearing throughout. He had already scoped out an illustrator for the project, the amazingly talented Richard Jones, so it was just the small case (!) of coming up with the concept and writing the book ready to brief.

I have to say, I don’t have a fixed process for writing. Sometimes I start writing in a notepad, making word bubbles, or typing combinations of rhymes in Word but with Feelings it began more clinically than other projects – in an Excel spreadsheet! Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of an abstract subject matter with the order of a grid but, by gradually making lists of feelings and buzzwords, a book plan was formed and I began writing.

To write how something feels can be quite tricky so for most of the emotions, I let the list of buzzwords I’d associated with the main feelings lead me towards a senario. For example for ‘Alone’ the words lonely, isolated, uncertain and vulnerable drew me towards the image of a floating bubble. Once the image was decided upon, I could then write the verse to accompany it and so on.

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Feeling lonely…

I think that anyone who picks up this book will be blown away by the artwork from Richard Jones. He has done a stunning job bringing everything to life and I am very lucky to have worked with him on this project (and he’s such a lovely man too!) Feelings is Richard’s debut picture book so it became a very exciting project for both of us (and I can say “I knew him when…” when his illustration career takes off!) Richard has put his thoughts on the book here, sharing some early character sketches and developmental work.

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So much joy and happiness!

For Richard, Elle Ward (the designer on the project) and myself this was a collaboration – working together on every spread to create, what we hope will be, a book to treasure as well as start conversation. Children learn to read pictures before they read words and with Feelings we hope to stretch that further, helping children to read and discuss emotions too.

You can purchase a copy of Feelings here and join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #FeelingsBook. I’m excited to see what you think!!

 

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A Dahl A Day – Roald Dahl Day!

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Happy Roald Dahl Day everybody! Today is not only Dahl’s birthday but it also marks 100 years since he was born, a very special Dahl Day indeed!

I have absolutely loved reliving the magical worlds he created in his books, rereading 16 of his books over the last 12 days (reviews can be found in the index). I really hope you’ve enjoyed your daily dose of Dahl over the last fortnight too!

There is no denying Dahl’s status in the canon of children’s literature for he is a naturally funny and instinctively clever storyteller. He invented some of the most loved characters in the whole of fiction and entertains children and adults alike across every generation. More importantly, he is my hero.

Today I turn to his ‘autobiographies’ Boy and Going Solo. I use quotation marks because Dahl very strictly lays down in his prelude to Boy that he doesn’t agree with autobiographies – they are too selective. Instead, both of these books contain the highlights from Dahl’s childhood and early adult years, memories he wanted to share with his fans. In both of these books you can see inspirations, events and people that perhaps became more than memory…

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An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.

A charming and nostalgic collection of short stories from Dahl’s childhood, Boy is where it all started! Written in a style not dissimilar to his fictional works, Boy is an insight to Dahl’s family, holidays to Norway, going to boarding school and growing up. The chapters are episodic, all containing humorous anecdotes of the events that shaped the life of this great man.

I get the impression from Boy that Dahl wanted to give his readers just enough to satisfy but not enough to expose him fully. The stories are quite narrow, frank and fast-paced and with no wide emotive angle on any of them. They are adventures that were no doubt elaborated upon in some cases for entertainment. In contrast, the actual snippets of letters to his mother from school are a really lovely addition, for the break up his narrative and return the school-day tales to something more tangible and real.

3 star

 

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The ship that was carrying me away from England to Africa in the autumn of 1938 was called the SS Mantola.

A title with two meanings, Going Solo picks up where Boy left off to explore Dahl’s life after school – first working for oil company Shell in Africa and then signing up to become a fighter pilot in the RAF during WWII.

Given the subject matter, there is less whimsy Going Solo but you’ll be happy to know it’s not all seriousness. Dahl clearly loved adventure and his enthusiasm for life in Africa leaps off the page – particularly when describing African wildlife and the wonderful ridiculousness of British Empire society.

As in Boy, the narrative has a matter-of-factness, which serves to distance the reader from some of the more horrific events of war, inevitable deaths of colleagues and his horrific injury. I really enjoyed this style as it placed Going Solo firmly in the autobiographical camp, giving the reverence and respect this particular part of his life deserves.

4 star

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A Dahl A Day – Danny the Champion of the World

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When I was four months old, my mother died suddenly and my father was left to look after me all by himself.

Danny the Champion of the World was Dahl’s first ever book and it is a fitting conclusion to my near-fortnight of his fiction. Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the books about the man himself, Boy and Going Solo, but today it is all about Danny.

There are no fantastical elements in Danny the Champion of the World but that doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly magical. Focussed on a father and son, living modestly in the countryside, it’s a heart-warming and sweet story I have loved since first my first read. There is a simple purity to Dahl’s story-telling that sets this book apart from his more wacky titles and makes it all the more beautiful. The whimsy is replaced with a unique narrative honesty that I adore and Danny’s relationship with his father is what makes this book so special.

Danny the Champion of the World takes the reader back to a simpler time without materialistic complications. Danny and his dad live in a small gypsy caravan, run a filling station and make-up bedtime stories each night. They build cars, make kites and fire lanterns and have midnight feasts – living in the moment, for each other. Danny hero-worships his twinkly-eyed father and William tries to give Danny the best childhood he can. They’re a partnership and a team, who take on the world together and embark on an adventure to beat the bully, Mr Victor Hazell.

This book is about how imagination can create sparks in the everyday world we live in and how, even a small boy, can become Champion of the World! The possibilities in the Dahlian universe are endless and even Danny, a tale without magic or miracles, doesn’t limit on anyone’s ability to create change. Dahl empowers his child audience even with his first book and the characters in Danny are genuine, realistic and amazing!

What makes this book even more special, to me particularly, is the brief guest-star appearance. The BFG, another Dahl I adore, was spawned from Danny the Champion of the World when Danny’s dad tells him the story of the BFG as a bedtime story and, from this snippet, another classic Dahl was created. I love this intertextual reference, it links the mini universes of his stories together and makes them seem connected by something more than their author.

5 star

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A Dahl A Day – The Enormous Crocodile

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In the biggest brownest muddiest river in Africa, two crocodiles lay with their heads just above the water.

When the Enormous Crocodile decides to journey into the village for a snack of small children, the jungle animals are shocked and appalled. How could he think of doing such a terrible thing? And surely the children will run a mile as soon as they see him? Ah, but the Enormous Crocodile has secret plans and clever tricks to help him get his lunch – but are they as clever as he thinks?

The Enormous Crocodile is Dahl’s first foray into picture books and I’m happy to say that he packed as much humour and characterisation in this short tale as he does in his novels. The names of the jungle creatures alone are signature Dahl – Muggle-Wump the Monkey, Humpy Rumpy the Hippopotamus, the Roly-Poly Bird and Trunky the Elephant – and they are so much fun to read aloud! The key repetition pattern of picture books is present throughout, allowing children to join in even if they are unable to read independently themselves and Dahl creates a villain in the titular character who poses just enough of a threat to enthralled but not terrify!

Not only is The Enormous Crocodile a fantastic picture book read but it was the first collaboration between Dahl and, the man who came to be his illustrator, Quentin Blake. This professional ‘marriage’ of illustrator and narrative style has created possibly the greatest, or at least the most recognisable, product in the whole of children’s literature – the dynamic duo were born with The Enormous Crocodile. It’s worth a read just to witness where the magic began…

4 star

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A Dahl A Day – Matilda

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It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers.

Today is all about a book that unites and excites book lovers universally, Matilda. Growing up, I had found an affinity with this little girl and her need to consume the written word, though I was a little behind her – not quite able to read the newspaper at three! Matilda is a fabulous book, a book lovers’ book, and I have also been kept spellbound by this marvellous little girl.

Matilda Wormwood is very special. Reading fluently by the age of four, you’d think she’d be the pride of every parent and yet she’s considered to be nothing more than a nuisance by her own. Fed up, Matilda counts down the days until she can escape her parent’s ignorance and enter school but little does she know she’ll face her biggest adversary yet – the Trunchbull! It will take a superhuman effort to bring this tyrannical woman to her knees but is Matilda the one to do it?

In Matilda Dahl shows that size is irrelevant to power – that even the smallest child can make the biggest impact. Before her kinetic powers kick in, Matilda is still able to best her parents intellectually as well as punish their behaviour with tricks, the hair-dye trick being my favourite! Dahl combines the everyday with the extraordinary by giving Matilda the ability to move things with her mind. Though is this a less fantastical book than his others, Dahl still manages to make the magic believable – oh, how I stared at water glasses when I was little!

The Trunchbull is everything little children first think teachers are when they start school – but worse! Truly one of the baddest baddies, the Trunchbull tortures children on a daily basis, most notably force-feeding Bruce Bogtrotter rich chocolate cake and throwing Amanda Thripp over the fence by her pigtails. Her enormous stature and bullish ways make her the terror of Matilda’s school and children aren’t her only target.

Everyone wanted a teacher like Miss Honey – sweet, patient and thoughtful – she’s every five year-olds dream! But there is a sadness behind her kind eyes that only Matilda sees. Matilda and Miss Honey develop a beautiful bond, both finding in the other what has been missing from their lives.

Rather than humorous (though there is humour), Matilda is one of Dahl’s more heart-warming stories. There is a darkness lurking throughout – of parental neglect, abuse and, more sinisterly, death – but that doesn’t bog down the tale or stop Matilda from being one of Dahl’s most beloved tales and a truly entertaining read.

4 star