Top Ten Tuesday: My Most Read Authors

I’ve been meaning to try out the brilliant blog project Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and the Bookish for such a long time now, but never got round to it. But today’s list was such a fantastic  suggestion that I have finally been kicked into action. The task is to compile a list of your most read author’s. There are some writers that can be relied upon to never fail at delivering wonderful works of literature, so this is a great opportunity to highlight my favourite children’s authors.

110 Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz output is vast. From the spy stories of Stormbreaker, to the inept detective Diamond brothers, he flits between serious adventure and biting satire of a genre. And for older teenage readers, The Killing Joke is a hilarious book about a man on a dangerous, surreal quest to find out how a joke at his mother’s expense began.

09 Eoin Colfer

I was in awe of the first Artemis Fowl novel when it cam out. The world Colfer creates is an incredibly clever take on traditional stories of fairies and goblins. Everything from the police force’s name (LEPrecon) to the genius of our anti-hero is a remarkably painstakingly thought, creating a brilliantly detailed and intricate world. Alongside the Artemis Fowl series, Colfer’s The Wish List is a fantastic book about a girl who’s died struggling to get to the after life.

08 Philip Ridley

Any child or teenager who likes the weird, dark side to children’s literature should definitely check out Philip Ridley. From the colourful world of Scribbleboy, to the moth-ridden banoffi pie in Kasper in the Glitter, Ridley’s stories are laden with gothic details and unforgettable characters.

207 Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell

I’ve mentioned the weird and wonderful Edge Chronicles before, but that’s not the only world Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell created. The Muddle Earth series introduced an equally quirky and bizarre world, ideal for slightly younger readers.

06 Roger Hargreaves

Way back when I was a tiny, I absolutely adored the Mr Men and Little Miss series. Despite being tiny little books, they are fantastic stories with some of the most memorable characters.

05 Peter Clover

As a child Peter Clover was the first author I really thought of myself being a fan of. His series about Emma and her pet horse Sheltie were captivating, and I’d devour  each one as soon as it was published.

04 JK Rowlingjacqueline_wilson

Like the vast majority of the population, I adore the Harry Potter series, which were a staple part of my childhood and adolescence. As well as the seven Potter novels, she has created an amazing background to the world of Hogwarts in her 2 short pieces of fiction, Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, and Quidditch Through The Ages.

Now she is writing for adults, I wait with eagerness for her next Cormoran Strike novel, and lose myself in the sinister politics of Pagford village in The Casual Vacancy.

03 Jacqueline Wilson

From bullying to disabilities to mental health, Jacqueline Wilson is the master at telling stories about the difficult problems children may face. With captivating plots and a heavy dose of realism, she makes the worst things in the world seem a little more bearable.I doubt I’ve read even half of her over 100 books, but I’ve definitely had a good stab at it.

I’ve done a quick some of my favourite Jacqueline Wilson novels here if you want to find out a little more.

402 Beatrix Potter

A staple of my childhood, nothing sends a wave of nostalgia over me more than the works of Beatrix Potter. A celebration of the British wildlife, Beatrix beautifully tells stories for the children inquisitive about the world around them. Her writing makes us look closer at the world around us, and shows us that some of the most amazing stories can come from the smallest creatures.

01 Roald Dahl

There was only ever going to be one author claiming the number one spot, and that is of course the much adored Roald Dahl. Captured dreams, ingenious woodland creatures, ever-growing Grannies, flying fruit… the list of Dahl’s incredible plots, characters, and worlds is endless. As is my love for his stories.

Reviewing the Classics: The Worst Witch

As I recently mentioned I’ve decided to read a few more of the classics of children’s literature that have passed me by or I’d like to revisit. There are a whole host of stories which, thanks to numerous adaptations, I feel a sense of nostalgia for, despite never having read thwwe original book. So now’s the time to fix that!

Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch is a prime example of this. A battered copy floated around my sister’s bookshelves for years, and thanks to the after-school TV show I knew the characters. But until this week I had never read the book, published for the first time in the mid 70s.

Just in case it’s passed you by too, the story follows the adventures of accident prone witch Mildred Hubble as she stumbles through her first term at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches.

Let’s get it out of the way now, it is inevitable that a book dealing with a host of magical young pupils will draw comparisons to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and it’s true, both series draw on the same tropes. There’s slip-ups in potions class, an authoritative group of powerful wizards, and pet cats roaming the castle walls. Murphy’s series definitely would be perfect for younger  children looking for a hefty dose of magic before they progress onto Potter. But, importantly, they offer a much lighter take on the witching world, with characters risking detention rather than imminent death. It was a much simpler read than I was expecting, making it an engrossing read for the newly independent reader rather than the experienced bookworm.

Worst_Witch___3089975bWritten when Murphy was just 18, plot-wise The Worst Witch falls firmly into the traditional school story canon, seemingly influenced by series like Malory Towers, as well as the author’s own school days. It’s a gentle read, that will certainly bring a smile to young readers, while tackling some very real concerns, notably bullying and the nerves of starting a new school.

But for me the real strength of this book, and I imagine the rest of the series, comes from the sheer glorious-ness that is Mildred Hubble. As someone who spills more cups of tea than she drinks, I will always prefer the heroine who tumbles down grand staircases over the one who sweeps elegantly down them.  And Mildred more than fits the bill.  With her trademark scruffy plaits she flies an out of control broomstick, with her rather shabby cat perched perilously on the end. Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 17.42.30

I have mentioned before that one of my biggest irritations in children’s literature is the portrayal of the idealised child vs the boy or girl who is naughty with no real motivation. Stories for middle-grade readers should be able to portray more complex characters. And despite being a short novel, The Worst Witch does exactly this, introducing us to a brilliantly rounded central figure. She frets about schoolwork, explodes with anger at the mean girls, and quakes at the thought of being sent to the headmistress- all realistic reactions we can relate too

Though she is known throughout the school as a trouble-maker, Mildred very definitely means well, and what I love most is how hard she tries. No matter how many times her plans go off-course she never gives up her ambitions to be a good witch. Prioritising her friends above all else, she is good, without being perfect. Her flaws are proudly on show, and while at times she tries to overcome them, ultimately she accepts herself for who she is. For me accepting the imperfect aspects of ourselves is a hugely important message, particularly in children’s books. Mildred is loveable because of her flaws and that is certainly something to be celebrated!

The Various Vocations of Noel Streatfeild

At the end of Noel Streatfeild’s adored children’s classic, Ballet Shoes Posy, the youngest of the three Fossils muses, “I wonder, if other girls had to be one of us, which of us they’d choose to be”.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 16.22.39Like a favourite Spice Girl, Power Ranger, or Hogwarts house, every reader of Ballet Shoes will have a preferred Fossil girl.  Posy is mine, the precocious, daydreaming ballerina unable to think beyond her feet. Meanwhile a level-headed friend adores the tomboyish Petrova, who puts up with stage school while pining for automobiles and aeroplanes. I have yet to meet Pauline’s champion, but I am sure countless readers have fallen for the golden haired performer’s charm.

What allows us so easily to pledge our allegiance to one or other of the sisters is their incredibly clear knowledge of who they are. They are decisive in the direction their lives will take, and the success they will achieve in their chosen field.  Each has a passion they will pursue relentlessly, and it is these passions which guide, shape, and ultimately, define them for the reader.

00014391-377x540The children at the heart of Streatfeild’s ‘Shoes’ series all share the ambition to succeed. Skating Shoes introduces us to the pair of young ice skaters destined for fame, Tennis Shoes focuses on the sporting prowess of the Heath siblings, while Travelling Shoes sees musical prodigies step into the limelight.

Yet there are very few children who grow up with as distinct a life plan as the Fossil sisters.  I certainly didn’t. Rather I harboured ever changing dreams of becoming a farmer, a florist, and, unfortunately, a burglar.  The books I read as a child opened my eyes to the infinite opportunities life can offer, with each character bringing to my attention another path that my life as a grown up might take.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 16.23.0215 years, 3 quarter-life crises, and 2 career changes later and it’s becoming clear that the promise of certainty Streatfeild presented was shaky to say the least.  But then her own career path was far from smooth. Her first job in a munitions factory gave way for her decade long acting career, before she finally settled into her role as an author, first for adults, and then for younger readers. So what do readers gain from her depictions of characters chasing their one true vocation?

For me her offer us the chance to momentarily step into another world and try it on for size. And whether or not the goalScreen Shot 2015-07-28 at 16.22.19s of a character become ones we share, in triggering our imagination these stories inspire us to think about what we might want from our own lives.  They help us see just how much the world has to offer. They make us curious. They make us want to find the thing that will energise and excite us, even if some of us will take a few wrong turns before we get there.

The actress, the pilot, and the ballerina are three identities that Streatfeild’s readers will fleetingly adopt as they lose themselves in Ballet Shoes’ nineteen chapters. And perhaps some readers will  decide the life of a Fossil is the life they want. But if not, there are countless other characters out there, just waiting for us to wiggle into their shoes, even if only for the length of a book.

New Strand: The Classics

A few weeks ago when I introduced my new picture-books strand I mentioned that I’d be starting another new section. I’ve decided I really want to take a closer look at the Classics of children’s literature, some of which I read in my own childhood as well the many that I didn’t. Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.07.37

My parents gave my sister and I lot of freedom to choose the books we wanted to read. They didn’t pressurise us to read the books children are supposed to love, but let us roam the book shelves and pick out the books that looked exciting. The ones that would energise us and make sure we would never visit the town nearest our village without begging to be dropped off outside the library.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.03.26And this is how reading should be. Pick out the stories that spark our curiosity, search down the characters we want to befriend, and settle down in the landscapes we can dream of moving to.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.06.41I wasn’t particularly drawn to classics when I was younger, choosing spy kids over railway children and flour babies over watery ones.  However over the past few months I have picked up some of the books I ignored in childhood and been enthralled.

So armed with a library card and a copy of 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before We Grow Up, I’ve decided it’s time to search through the books we ‘should” read in childhood and find out what I’ve been missing out on.

Picture Book Review: The Land of Lines by Victor Hussenot

There are some books which transform every time we visit them. That in our absence have rewritten themselves and now tell entirely different stories.1

These are the fluid tales. The ones that we don’t realise are working on multiple levels until we view them with an entirely new perspective. Different passages resonate with us. Previously skimmed images now dominate the page, and, in recompense, once mesmerising sentences go unnoticed.

Victor Hussenot’s The Land of Lines is one of these books. Somewhere between a picture book and a graphic novel, his illustrations evolve from one line on sparse early pages into grand mountainous landscapes.

Telling the story of a boy drawn in blue and a girl in red, Hussenot uses colour to portray their respective experiences. Primary-coloured lines whirl around them, as if hastily creating their worlds seconds before they step into it. Their love story is told in a series of intertwining colours and lines as these two worlds collide.

2But it is not a simple romance. It has monsters, mystery, battles and pain. It is the richness of this story, combined with the wordless minimalism of its pictures that lends the book its transformative powers.

For the child reading this as the school holidays draw near the adventurers’ story will offer a vision of the imminent days of freedom and opportunity. In a few years time when that same child leaves home for the first time it will offer a comforting message. A reassurance that friends will be found no matter how big the world seems, and in the meantime it’s not so bad a place to be alone in.

With this book they will celebrate the simple fact of love. Yet when the day comes that our now grown-up reader finds themselves broken in the aftermath of a shattered relationship, they should reach for this book.

In a recent interview, the author described the couple’s brief period of togetherness as a realistic  3depiction of a relationship, and all the heartbreak that comes loaded with- “A part of our lives might converge with someone else’s, but often only for a while”. The Land of Lines poignantly captures this as those tangled lines slowly unknot.

Reading this book in the midst of a break-up will be crushing. The image of the girl weeping into her mother’s arms will hit hard. Yet it is the perfect accompaniment to wallowing. And then, when a few months have passed it will be time to pick it up again and find something new once more. This time the lasting image will be of the boy striding out for his next adventure, with a new story ahead of him and more lines to cross.

Yes, this is a book you will find on the shelves for people a lot smaller than you. But no matter what point in your life you have reached, take a visit to the colourful corner of the bookshop and have a look. There’ll be something for you there. I promise.

Five Favourites

This week has been Children’s Book Week, the annual celebration of the mysterious worlds, exciting adventures and brilliant characters our children’s authors have introduced us to. Though it is many years since I called myself a child, there are some books which I keep returning to thanks to a blend of nostalgia, comfort and sheer brilliant storytelling.  Here’s a little snapshot of some of the children’s books that will stay with me forever:

5.Balloon Lagoon by Adrian Mitchell

BLThis collection of poems is one of only two poetry books I adored as a child. Brimming with surreal stories and bizarre characters, I dipped into this throughout my childhood.

Several years later I rediscovered Adrian Mitchell as an adult while studying the Mersey Poets at university. Reading a bit more into the poet who wrote of urban residents navigating unromantic romance and pop-culture, I was delighted when I realised it was the same man who’d peaked my childhood interest in poems.

4. Thanks for the Sardine by Laura Beaumont

I borrowed this book time and again from my local library, and still remember how excited I was the day I found it in their sale of old books. For the bargain price of 10p, this quickly became one of the most often returned to books of my childhood.

Telling the story of Aggie and her two terrible Aunts, we see the trials and tribulations they encounter as they enrol in Aunt School, taking lessons in Auntie speak and ridiculous dressing. Funny, weird, and alive with some fantastic illustrations, if you can track down a copy I can’t recommend it enough

3. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter

There are some books that no matter how you feel about them have a special place iSamuel_Whiskers_article_detailn your heart, and carry the ability to transport you to the place you first read them. For me Beatrix Potter’s stories take me back to sitting on my sister’s bed as my dad read us stories each night.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers was my sisters absolute favourite Potter story, and, as a consequence of her older sister status, is probably the one we heard most often. While at the time I remember being a little unnerved by this story of a kitten being turned into a roly-poly pudding, it is now the book that will most trigger that bittersweet blend of nostalgia and homesickness.

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

For a few weeks early on in the term when I started secondary school, the majority of my classmates could be found hidden behind the colossal weight of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It would be three years until we would all be clutching the next book- the dark days where Rowling stopped her annual publication of the latest installments.

It is perhaps exactly because of this wait that the fourth Harry Potter book might be my favourite. The tone had suddenly become darker and I’d become more invested in Harry’s story as my age caught up with his. While I impatiently waited for the next book, Cedric’s death,Voldemort’s reappearance, and the first hint of romance were promises of what was to come, reassuring us all that book number five would be worth the wait.

1.  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

PTI couldn’t have this list without paying homage to one of this blog’s namesakes, Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth. Until I discovered this book, I’d never really encountered a story that just seems to adore words and letters appreciated before (not since Letterland anyway!). The way Norton Juster plays on phrases we usually think nothing of just opened my eyes to how intelligent writing can be.

The Ever Fashionable Alice

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 09.57.58This year one of the namesakes of this blog is turning 150. Yes Alice has been sitting on our bookshelves for a whopping century and a half. And doesn’t she look pretty damn good for it?

The V&A’s Museum of Childhood certainly think so, as they have created an entire unnamedexhibition celebrating the lasting impact of Lewis Caroll’s most famous creation, Alice in Wonderland.

Though a lot smaller than I was expecting it to be, The ‘Look of Alice‘ was an absolutely fascinating exploration into the widespread appeal of Alice within the design world. From high fashion to music videos, there is something about the figures of Alice and her friends that remains a rich source for artistic inspiration. Her imitators are everywhere.

In contrast we also see how society has changed Alice. From Tenniel’s classicSwahili illustrations, to a 1920s Alice in a drop-waist dress, the drawings of a central character reflect how society expected a young girl to look. And of course, Alice has travelled across the globe as well, meaning her traditional gown and apron has been replaced, most dramatically in a Swahili edition of the text where her heroine dons a Kanga.

I found it so interesting to see how different times and different cultures have depicted one character. It really shows how fluid a text can be, and how much room for interpretation and creativity the act of reading offers. Of course the author does most of the work in building the story, but it’s the reader wtumblr_mbrbk0MTAs1qb8ugro1_1280ho brings it to life!

For me Alice appeals because she blusters through the story, unsure of herself but carrying on anyway. Her innate curiosity (and sometime nosiness) leads her in, and out of, adventure. She is relateable, rather than a streetwise character who always knows the best way to handle a situation. And it is the way she stumbles between adventures rather than moves with a sense of great purpose that makes me love her.