Fiction for children

I will not pretend I wasn’t petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn’t be exciting if they didn’t. I sat very stiff and upright in my seat, gripping the steering-wheel tight with both hands. My eyes were about level with the top of the steering-wheel. I could have done with a cushion to raise me up higher, but it was too late for that.

Danny and his widowed father live a long in a tiny gypsy caravan parked behind his father’s filling station and garage. Danny absolutely worships his father who seems annoyingly good at everything to do with both cars and parenting. Oh, and to make things worse, the book ends with the following message to child readers: When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.” Way to make a mummy feel inadequate!

Anyway, Danny’s father has a secret vice, and it leads to a Great Adventure. And yes it actually is exciting, even for grownups – I was reading this book for at least the second time and even I was on the edge of my seat more than once. :)

Here’s an Amazon link.
I read my own.


The skin I’m in looks good to me.
It will let you know one small way to trace my identity.

But then again

the skin I’m in will always be just a covering.
It cannot tell my story.

If you want to know who I am you have got to come inside.

This book has a quality I love in children’s books (well any books really, it’s just that it is so much rarer in books aimed at children): a slightly offbeat rhythm, half-rhymes – not quite the easy verse we are used to, but poetry nonetheless.

It isn’t a story as such, but it will be meaningful for – and a good way to start a conversation with – any child who has got questions about race, colour and identity, or who has experienced or witnessed prejudice or exclusion and is trying to make sense of why and how much race matters.

Ariel likes the pictures.
I do too: they are bold, bright and sassy.

(And fortunately the somewhat creepy line “you have got to come inside” will probably be lost on most young readers…)

George had absolutely no doubts whatsoever about how he was going to make his famous medicine. he wasn’t going to fool about wondering whether to put in a little bit of this or a little bit of that. Quite simply, she was going to put in EVERYTHING he could find. There would be no messing about, no hesitating, no wondering whether a particular thing would knock the old girl sideways or not. The rules would be this: whatever he saw, if it was runny or powdery or gooey, in it went.

Nobody had ever made a medicine like that before. If it didn’t actually cure Grandma, then it would anyway cause some exciting results. It would be worth watching.

Yes, I know, it’s Roald Dahl and kids everywhere doubtless love it – but – ewww. I can’t help thinking that this is such an irresponsible book! Put loads of probably poisonous and certainly inedible items in a pot and feed it to Grandma just to see what happens?

(And, yes, just one more story where it is a female relative who is wicked and/or comes to a sticky end. Ho hum.)

Here is an Amazon link.
This is already in my Dahl collection.

Jacqueline Wilson, SleepoversAmy has bunk beds so Bella got to go on the top bunk above Amy. Amy’s mum had made up a mattress on most of Amy’s floor for two more girls.
“That’s fine for Emily and me,” said Chloe.

“It’s a very big mattress,” said Emily. “I’m sure there’s heaps of room for Daisy too.”
“No, it would be too much of a squash,” said Chloe, firmly. “Daisy had better have that camp bed thing in the corner.”

Four best friends – and the new girl Daisy. Daisy is lucky to be invited to their sleepovers at all – so surely it is too much to ask that one of them should ever be her best friend? Especially when Daisy is terrified about what they will make of her sister if she ever has the courage to invite them round to her house. Yet Daisy does want one of them to be her best friend, and Chloe seems determined to keep her out. Will she succeed?

Well, this feels a bit like blasphemy, especially loving Jacqueline Wilson as much as I do, but actually I’m a bit tired of stories where the young heroine just longs for a best friend and then gets one and they live happily every after. What about, for a change, a story where the heroine longs for a best friend and doesn’t find one, but actually everything turns out more or less OK after all? And what about the spoiled brat of the story, the poor ousted Chloe, jealous Chloe? Have we not a little conscience, a little understanding about why she is who she is? Must she be a villain entirely? Can there be no space for pity? Or is the target audience of females under 10 deemed too insensitive, too unsympathetic to grasp such complexity?

Whatever. I carp. And I still love Wilson.

Here’s an Amazon link.
I have my own copy already.

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl“Poor fellow,” the Centipede said, whispering in James’s ear. “He’s blind. He can’t see how splendid I look.”
“In my opinion,” the Earthworm said, “the really marvellous thing is to have no legs at all and to be able to walk just the same.”
“You call that walking!” cried the Centipede. “You’re a slitherer, that’s all you are! You just slither along!”
“I glide,” said the Earthworm primly.
“You are a slimy beast,” answered the Centipede.
“I am
not a slimy beast,” the Earthworm said. “I am a useful and much loved creature. Ask any gardener you like. And as for you…”
“I am a pest!” the Centipede announced, grinning broadly and looking round the room for approval.

Poor little orphaned James lives with his two revolting aunts and has nobody at all to play with until one day something peculiar happened, which caused another, very peculiar thing to happen, which in turn caused something to occur which was really fantastically peculiar. The upshot is that we find James setting out on a journey aboard a giant peach, with enormous bugs for company.

As with pretty much all of Dahl’s books (especially the ones with Quentin Blake illustrations) you can’t really go wrong. I do find the plot a bit lacking, but at least there are lots of interesting facts about bugs to distract you. Most of which are more or less true.

Here is am Amazon link.
I already had a copy :)

Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson “I trailed back to bed and started reading Anne Frank’s diary all over again… The first part made me fell sadder than ever because Anne had so many friends when she was at school, before she had to go into hiding.
Maybe we’re not soulmates after all.
I absolutely
have to get a proper best friend at school this year. I shall try harder with Maria. Maybe she’ll let me be her second-best friend. She might even get fed up with Alice and want to go around with me.”

Secrets is a story in two voices. Treasure has escaped a violent stepdad, “Terry the Torturer”, and a helpless and/or heartless mum to live with the nan she worships, on the dodgy Latimer Estate. India is stuck with her vacant mother, increasingly self-absorbed father and drippy au pair in the neighbouring and infinitely more luxurious Parkfield. One day they meet, by chance, and become unlikely best friends. When Treasure has to hide from Terry, India hides her in the attic and the two of them seem about to re-enact the life of India’s inspirational heroine, Anne Frank.

It is a story about all that, but mainly – to me – it is a story about friendship. It is a story about not having a best friend. And then, it is about finding one.

Here is an Amazon link.
I have had my copy for a while.

The Silver Sword, Ian SerraillierThey liked the stories from the Old Testament best. Their favourite was always Daniel in the lion’s den. They enjoyed it just as a story, but for Ruth it had a deeper meaning. She thought of it as the story of their own troubles. The lions were the cold and the hunger and the hardships of their life. If only they were patient and trustful like Daniel, they would be delivered from them. She remembered a picture of Daniel that her mother had once given her. He was standing in the dungeon, with his hands chained behind him and his face lifted towards a small, barred window high above his head. He was smiling and did not notice the lions that prowled about his feet, powerless to touch him. At night she liked to fall asleep with this picture in her mind. She could not always see it clearly. Sometimes Daniel’s face was clouded, and the light from the window fell upon the lions. They were scowling and snarling, and they filled her dreams with terror.”

This is the story of the Balicki family during and immediately after the second world war. The father Joseph is taken to a prison camp for turning a picture of Hitler to the wall in his Warsaw classroom. The mother Margrit, who is Swiss, is conscripted to work as slave labour in the German fields. The children are left – Edek, Ruth and little Bronia – to fend for themselves, living in the woods during summer and wintering in a bombed out cellar. Edek takes primary responsibility for finding food, and is caught smuggling so he too is taken to slave in Germany. Ruth and Bronia eventually fall in with Jan, a vulnerable little boy with a talent for thievery and a gift for befriending animals.

The eponymous silver sword is a device used to tie all the threads together. When Joseph manages to escape from his prison camp and walk all the way to Warsaw, he finds his home bombed and his family gone nobody knows where. In the ruins is a little silver sword, a letter opener, that he had given to his wife years before. He gives this to a boy in the ruins, asking him, if he sees any of the Balicki children, to tell them that he has gone to Switzerland to their grandparents’ house. Traumatised little Jan forgets the details but guards the sword as a precious treasure. When Ruth finds him ill in the street, takes him in, and later recognises the silver sword, they piece together the essentials and know they must leave Warsaw and go to Switzerland. From that point, the sword becomes a kind of talisman, and plays an important part in their journey.

The writing in this story wouldn’t set the world on fire, although its direct simplicity does make it an easy read. Better, the themes of the book – hardship, poverty and death in a cruel world where even little children are left to fend for themselves – are themes not often handled in children’s literature. Certainly this is a very early example of this dark, unflinching realism in a children’s novel. Despite the somewhat implausible happy ending, and the slightly irritating focus on good Christian children, this is an important book, and not in the least patronising. Refreshing.

Here’s a link to Amazon.
My copy came from the library.

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