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BOOK REVIEW: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Friday, April 27, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.


My Thoughts:

I’ve had an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of this book on my shelf for literally years, but had never found the time to read it (although I wanted to). Then the movie came out and I always like to read the book before I watch someone else’s creative response to it. So the book jumped the queue and I finally got around to reading it.

It’s a simple enough story.

August Pullman was born with a genetic disorder that resulted in a childhood of hospitals and operations. Despite this, he has been left with facial deformities that make many people who see him for the first time uncomfortable. He’s been home-schooled, but his mother thinks it is time for him to go to a mainstream school. Auggie is reluctant. He is afraid of the other kids’ horror and unkindness. But finally he agrees, even though he knows it will be an ordeal.

The first part of the book is told from his point-of-view, with succeeding sections told by his older sister, her boyfriend, and some of the other kids at school. This device allows us to see how Auggie’s struggle to be accepted impacts on those around him. R.J. Palacio does a good job of creating different voices for her characters, though it is Auggie’s point-of-view which is most memorable. Auggie is funny, brave, and caring. He just wants to be an ordinary kid, and yet those around him can’t help but treat him differently.

R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”, and this is the book’s great strength. Wonder has been criticised for being over-sentimental and over-simplified, but you know what? I had a big lump in my throat when I finished it. It’s true that this is a big, difficult and complex topic, and that – for people who suffer differences and disabilities - there is rarely any such happy ending. However, this is a book written for children, with a very important message about learning to live with empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness, and I believe that many child readers will find themselves fundamentally changed by reading it.

You might also be interested in reading my review of The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Friday, February 02, 2018


The Blurb for Book One (from Goodreads):

On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that -- the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril.


My Thoughts:

The five books in ‘The Dark is Rising Sequence’ are among my most treasured books from my childhood. I have the old Puffin paperbacks, which cost my aunt $2.75 each when she bought them for my 11th birthday. I have read them so many times they are battered and creased and faded. I read them again this Christmas as part of an international reading challenge initiated on Twitter by British authors Robert Macfarlane and Mary Bird. Thousands of readers joined in to read The Dark is Rising, Book 2 in the series, which takes place between Midwinter Eve (20th December) and Twelfth Night (5th January). Some read it in one big gulp (like me) and others read each chapter on the date that corresponded with events in the book (i.e 1-2 chapters a day). Readers shared their memories of the book, discussed the meaning of symbols and events, created original art, found kindred spirits. It was absolutely wonderful.

I went on to read all five books in the series:

Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in the series, and was written by Susan Cooper in response to a publishing content organised to honour the memory of Edith Nesbit, one of the great Golden Age children’s writers. She did not finish the manuscript in time to enter, and the book was subsequently turned down by more than twenty publishers, before being accepted by Jonathan Cape and published in 1965. 

It tells the story of Simon, Jane and Barney who go to Cornwall on a holiday with their family and end up being caught up in a quest to find the lost Holy Grail. Drawing on Arthurian mythology but set in contemporary times, the book introduces the children’s Great-Uncle Merry, a professor at Oxford who ends up revealing mysterious powers. The book is more like an old-fashioned mystery than a traditional fantasy, except with eerie unsettling moments of darkness and magic, particularly towards the end. 

The second book in the series, The Dark is Rising, was published in 1973. It tells the story of Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, who turns 11 on Midwinter Eve, and finds his safe and comfortable world threatened by strange and eerie events. For Will is, he discovers, an Old One, destined to fight on behalf of the Light against the ancient and malevolent forces of the Dark. Merriman Lyon – the character of Great-Uncle Merry – returns as the Oldest of the Old Ones, and becomes Will’s guardian and mentor. Will needs to find Six Signs if he is to defeat the forces of darkness this midwinter and help fulfil a mysterious prophecy:

“When the Dark comes rising six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; Water, fire, stone;
Five will return and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday; bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning; stone out of song;
Fire in the candle ring; water from the thaw;
Six signs the circle and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of old.
Power from the Green Witch, lost beneath the sea.
All shall find the Light at last, silver on the tree.”

Of all the books in the series, The Dark is Rising is my favourite, perhaps because it was the first I ever read, perhaps because of the vividness of the setting (a small snow-bound English village that seems outwardly normal but is still shadowed with magic, menace and danger), perhaps because I loved the idea of an ordinary boy who finds himself the carrier of an extraordinary destiny. The book as a ALA Newbery Honor Book in 1974, and is often named on lists of the best books for children ever published.

Greenwitch, the third in the series, brings Simon, Jane and Barney back to the little Cornish village where they had discovered the lost Holy Grail. Jane watches an ancient ritualised offering to the sea and makes a wish that then helps the Light unlock the secrets of the Grail. Greenwitch is the favourite of many female readers of this series, because the key protagonist is a girl and she triumphs not because of any battle of strength, but because she is compassionate and empathetic. 

The Grey King, the fourth book, returns to the point-of-view of Will. He wakes after a long and terrible illness with no memory of his role as an Old One and at risk from the forces of the Dark who seek to strike him own while he is vulnerable. Sent to Wales to recuperate, Will meets an albino teenager called Bran who has a strange dog like a wolf. Guided only by snatches of memory, Will and Bran must find the golden harp that will waken the Sleepers under the hill. This is my favourite second of the series, again because of the setting – the wild mountains and moors of Wales is brought so wonderfully to life – and also because of the sense of the great struggle between the forces of good and evil. The Grey King won the 1976 Newbery Medal. 

Silver on the Tree is the final book in the series, and brings Will and Bran together with Simon, Jane and Barney and their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry. They are searching for a magical crystal sword which will enable them to cut the mystical mistletoe, the ‘silver on the tree’, in the final battle against the Dark. Drawing on Welsh mythology and stories of a drowned land, the suspense is heightened by the presence of a hidden enemy, someone who is trusted but betrays them in the end. 

It was truly wonderful to re-read this series, which had such a powerful shaping force upon my imagination as a child. And a great deal of the pleasure came from sharing it with like-minded people. The twitter book club set up by Robert Macfarlane and Mary Bird intends to choose other great works of fantastical literature to read over the year. I’ll can’t wait to be a part of it.

If you love children's literature, you might also be interested in my review of Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 


BOOK REVIEW: The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?


My Thoughts:


The sequel to Kimberley Brubaker Bradley’s Newbery-Honor-winning book The War That Saved My Life, this lovely children’s novel continues the story of Ada, crippled from birth with a clubfoot and cruelly mistreated by her mother. Ada and her little brother Jamie have found refuge in the country with Sudan, a clever and sharp-tongued woman with a lot of love to give. She arranges for Ada to have the surgery she needs to correct her deformed foot, but the scars from Ada’s childhood are clawed deep into her psyche, and there is no surgery for emotional wounds. Ada must learn to trust others, and to understand the hidden hurts of those around her, all while living through the horrors of the Blitz. I had not thought the sequel could possibly live up to the power and beauty of the first book, but The War I Finally Won had me blubbering like a baby. These books are destined to be classics of children’s World War II evacuee stories, up there with Carrie’s War, Goodnight, Mister Tom and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.


You can read my review of The War That Saved My Life here. 


Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts! 



BOOK REVIEW: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Friday, January 26, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making. 


My Thoughts:

The War That Saved My Life is the favourite book of the daughter of a friend of mine. She has read it dozens of times. I am always interested in knowing what books kids are reading and loving (as opposed to the books adults think kids should be reading), and so I bought it with a sense of great interest and curiosity. It is set in England during the early days of World War II (a period of time I am always interested in), and tells the story of Ada, a poor girl from the East End who is evacuated to the country with her little brother Jamie.

Ada has a clubfoot. This is a congenital deformity which means that she was born with the sole of one foot twisted inwards and upwards, so that she must walk with the soft upper flesh of her foot pressed into the ground. A clubfoot can be corrected by surgery, but Ada’s mother chose instead to keep her daughter locked up in their one-room flat. Ada has never been outside, never seen trees or meadows or the stars, never been taught to count or read, never been loved.

When word comes that London children are to be evacuated, Ada seizes her chance and runs away. Or, rather, hobbles away. She and her brother end up being housed by Susan Smith, a woman who is crippled by grief. Together, Ada and Susan learn a great deal about their unknown inner strength, kindness and wisdom. Ada is given a crutch and is taught to read, and finds joyous liberation learning to ride (which reminded me of the great Australian children’s classic, I Can Jump Puddles, inspired by author Alan Marshall’s struggle to overcome his crippling poliomyelitis). 

The War That Saved My Life is simply and sensitively written, the kind of book that leaves you with a big lump in your throat. It was a Newbery Honor Book in 2016, and became a New York Times bestseller. I loved it so much I went straight out and bought the sequel the day after I finished it. One of the best children’s books I have ever read.

Please check out my post, The Best Children's Books Set in World War II for more recommendations.

Are there any other similar books that you'd recommend? Let me know in the comments! 


BOOK REVIEW: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor Book 1) by Jessica Townsend

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world--but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks--and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart--an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests--or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.


My Thoughts:

I was sent a proof copy of The Trials of Morrigan Crow by the publisher, Lothian Books, as part of a massive publicity drive promising a magical and captivating children’s fantasy novel. The back of my proof copy lists all the advance buzz this book has garnered – publishing rights sold in 28 territories, film rights pre-empted by 20th Century Fox, a ‘multiplatform marketing and publicity campaign like never before.’

I, of course, love children’s fantasy. It’s one of my favourite genres to both read and to write. And I was interested to see if the book lived up to all the hype.

The first line is: ‘The journalists arrived before the coffin did.’

The opening scene then shows a black-clad man, Chancellor Corvus Crow, reading a statement to a mob of journalists in which he announces the death of his daughter Morrigan and assures them all that – now she is dead – there is ‘nothing to fear.’

Then Chapter One begins, three days earlier, with Morrigan discovering the kitchen cat was dead and that, as usual, she was being blamed. Morrigan is a cursed child, thought to bring trouble and misfortune everywhere she goes. She was born on Eventide, and so is pre-destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday – which is only three days away.

Luckily Morrigan is rescued on the eve of her death by an enigmatic man named Jupiter North with fiery red hair and a taste for elegant but brightly coloured suits. He whisks her away to Nevermoor, a world in another dimension, and allows her family to think she is really dead. Here she must take part in a series of trials in order to win a place in the Wundrous Society. If she fails, she will be sent back to her own world where nothing but death awaits her.

The comparison to Harry Potter is inevitable, and indeed Jessica Townsend has a great deal of the humour, whimsicality and excitement of the first few books by J.K. Rowling.

Anyone who has read as much children’s fantasy as I have will recognise many of the tropes Jessica Townsend employs – the unwanted child, the mysterious curse, the hidden world, the secret enemy, the dangerous competition …

Jupiter North reminded me of Willy Wonka, the magical umbrella flight parroted Mary Poppins (please forgive me the bad pun), while the battle between Saint Nick and the Yule Queen had strong echoes of the rather startling appearance of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Does it matter? Not a bit. The Trials of Morrigan Crow is brimming over with imagination and fun. Morrigan is a wonderful heroine – dark, moody, and wry – and the unfairness of her situation makes her very easy to empathise with. The story gallops along, and the setting is wonderfully vivid. I can understand why the movie rights have been sold. The scenes are all brilliantly cinematic and the characters – while undeniably one-dimensional – are also fresh and vital. A wonderfully assured debut from a young Australian author, The Trials of Morrigan Crow sparkles with zest, wit and inventiveness.

For a similarly excellent children's fantasy novel, check out my review of A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee.

Please leave a comment, I'm interested in your thoughts! 




BOOK REVIEW: A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

From the author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy comes the story of a friendship between two girls set in Victorian England, with magical machines, wizards, witches, a mysterious underworld, and a race against time.

Annabel Grey is primed for a proper life as a young lady in Victorian England. But when her mother suddenly disappears, she’s put in the care of two eccentric aunts who thrust her into a decidedly un-ladylike life, full of potions and flying broomsticks and wizards who eat nothing but crackers. Magic, indeed! Who ever heard of such a thing?

Before Annabel can assess the most ladylike way to respond to her current predicament, she is swept up in an urgent quest. Annabel is pitted against another young witch, Kitty, to rescue the sacred Moreover Wand from the dangerous underworld that exists beneath London. The two girls outsmart trolls, find passage through a wall of faerie bones, and narrowly escape a dragon, but it doesn’t take long for Annabel to see that the most dangerous part of her journey is her decision to trust this wild, magical girl.

Sparkling with Karen Foxlee’s enchanting writing, this is a bewitching tale of one important wand and two most magical girls.

My Thoughts:


I’m a big fan of Karen Foxlee and always buy her books as soon as they come on my radar. A Most Magical Girl is a delightful, whimsical tale of a very ordinary girl named Annabel Grey who is sent to stay with two eccentric old aunts when her mother disappears. To her dismay, Annabel realises her aunts are witches and that she is the heir to their magic. Meanwhile, a wicked man named Angel is sucking out the power of sad things – such as flowers stolen from a new grave or the bonnets of long-dead babies – to feed his Dark-Magic Extracting Machine. He plans to take over the world and only Annabel can stop him. She needs help, however, which as always comes from the most unlikely people …

An enchanting story, told with simple lyrical writing, and just enough wild magic to keep it fresh and surprising, A Most Magical Girl is just the kind of book I would have loved when I was eleven.




Want more Karen Foxlee? Here is my interview with her from 2014.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts! 

BOOK REVIEW: TWO FEARSOME FAIRY TALES FROM FRANCE retold by Adele Geras and illustrated by Fiona McDonald

Friday, February 26, 2016


Christmas Press has been quietly producing a range of exquisite fairy tale retellings with gorgeous illustrations for the last couple of years. This beautiful edition has the Jerusalem-born author Adele Geras retelling ‘Beauty & the Beast’ and ‘Bluebeard’ with illustrations by Fiona McDonald (who also illustrated my own contribution to the series TWO SELKIE TALES FROM SCOTLAND). 



THE BLURB:

Two magical, scary classic fairy tales from France, Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard, elegantly retold by Adele Geras and lavishly illustrated by Fiona McDonald. For older readers.


WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

The stories are simply and elegantly retold, and are carefully pitched to appeal to a younger reading age – no need to fear for a sensitive child’s sensibilities here! 

So far the series has included tales retold by Sophie Masson, Ursula Dubosarky, and me, with one coming soon from Duncan Ball. Other titles are in the pipeline. 

Together they will build to a library of some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales, with stories from Russia, Japan, Ancient Greece, Rome, and Ireland , as well as Scotland and France. 

A perfect gift for any fairy-tale-loving child!


WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE FEARSOME FAIRY TALE?


You may also enjoy my blog on Neil Gaiman's wonderful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, THE SLEEPER & THE SPINDLE

REVIEW: Pull Out All the Stops by Geraldine McCaughrean

Wednesday, November 18, 2015



Pull Out All the Stops
 
by Geraldine McCaughrean


The Blurb:


There isn't much drama in Olive Town. The highlight of Cissy Sissney's days are the letters from her old schoolteacher, Miss Loucien, describing her adventures on board an old showboat with the Bright Lights Theatre Company. If only life were full of such adventure for Cissy too. 

But then diphtheria breaks out in Olive town, a silo crushes Cissy's home and Miss May March agrees to take Cissy and classmates, Kookie and Tibbie, to stay with Miss Loucien until Olive town is safe again. The ramshackle crew on board the Sunshine Queen sail along the 'shoals and shimmer of the Numchuck River,' performing plays for the towns scattered along the shore. Cissy and her friends have a whole host of adventures beating hustlers at their own game, catching criminals, and embarking on a daring rescue mission. They must use all their wits to survive. 

As their journey along the river comes to an end, Cissy must put in one last performance and this time the stakes are higher than mere applause. The award-winning author, Geraldine McCaughrean, captures the spirit of adventure and the power of imagination in this rip-roaring read.


What I Thought:


Geraldine McCaughrean is one of Great Britain’s most celebrated children’s authors. She is probably best-known for Peter Pan in Scarlet, the brilliant “official” sequel to J.M. Barrie’s famous story of the Boy Who Won’t Grow Up. I love her work, and am trying to slowly read my way through all 150 of her books. This one is a rambunctious adventure story set in a steamboat on the Missouri River. It features a cast of lovable, oddball characters, a lot of slapstick humour, a dash of poignancy, and a whole lot of heart. 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

SPOTLIGHT: Best Children's Books Set in World War II

Sunday, November 08, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Best Children’s Novels Set in World War II

My new novel THE BEAST’S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, set in Nazi Germany.

I have been fascinated by World War II ever since I was a child, and read every book I could find set during those tumultuous years as I grew up. 

I thought I’d make up a list of my favourite children’s books set in World War II for you. 


The first book I ever read with that setting was The Diary Of Anne Frank. It sent a seismic shock through my life when I first read it at the age of twelve. Her voice was so honest and true, and her ending so very tragic. I found it devastating, and it began my lifelong fascination with the Second World War.


I am David by Anne Holm was published in 1963, and written by a Danish author. It’s a haunting tale about a 12 year old’s escape from a concentration camp and his struggles to find safety and a home. I have read it again several times, and it never fails to shock and move me. 



The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier, published in the late 1950s, is another utterly gripping and harrowing children’s book set during World War II. 
On a cold winter’s night in Warsaw, three children watch in horror as the Nazis arrest their mother. Left alone to fend for themselves, in a city that has been bombed into ruins, the three children struggle to stay alive. Eventually they hear their father is alive and has escaped to Switzerland. They set out to find him, keeping as their talisman an old letter opener that they call the silver sword. 


The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico is a small exquisite book about the friendship between a crippled young man, a girl, and a snow goose. It was first published in 1940 as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post, then he expanded it to create a short novella which was first published on April 7, 1941. It was my introduction to the extraordinary story of the Dunkirk evacuation, and has lingered in my imagination ever since. Youc an read a longer review here.


When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr is inspired by the author’s own childhood, growing up in Nazi Berlin. It tells the story of a little girl who does not even realise that she and her family are Jewish until the pogroms begin. Her father – an outspoken writer – has to flee in the middle of the night, and Anna and her mother and brother must try to follow as best they can. I remember lying awake for weeks afterwards, imagining what I would pack … where I would hide … would I remember a can opener? Which one of my beloved soft animals would I take? 


Good night, Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian did not have as strong an impact upon my imagination as many of the other books in my list – perhaps because it is set in England and so the danger did not seem so acute. It tells the story of a skinny Cockney boy sent away from London because of the Blitz. He is reluctantly taken in by a grumpy old man in a small country village, but the two end up being each other’s saviours. As a child, I mainly remembered the scene in which the boy, Willie, is discovered to have been sewn into his undies by his mother … and his bed-wetting …. But I read the book again as an adult, and found it a beautiful and subtle book.
 

I first read Dawn Of Fear by Susan Cooper because I loved her Dark is Rising fantasy series so much, rather than because of its WW2 setting. However, it lingered for a long time in my memory … I think because it felt so real. It tells the story of a mob of boys in blitzed London, their games and feuds, and the sudden shock of tragedy that changes everything. An unjustly ignored book, I think. 


As I grew older, I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, an utterly brilliant story about the Danish Resistance and how they worked to save nearly all of the country’s Jewish population after the German occupation in 1943. This is a book I return to again and again – it is so simple, and yet so powerful. In my estimation, it is one of the best books for children about World War II.



In my teens, I also read Briar Rose and The Devil’s Arithmetic, both by Jane Yolen. The first is an extraordinary reimagining of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale ‘Briar Rose’, moving between the modern day story of a Holocaust survivor’s granddaughter and her grandmother’s harrowing escape from the Chelmno concentration camp. The second is a timeslip adventure, taking a modern-day girl – who finds her family’s Jewish traditions embarrassing – back to a Polish village in the 1940s. When the Nazi soldiers come and start rounding up the Jewish residents, only Hannah has any idea of what lies in store … but no-one will believe her. Utterly compelling and heart-wrenching.


As I grew up, I never stopped reading WW2 fiction intended for the young … here are a few favourites by contemporary authors:


A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

This is the first in a trilogy about an extraordinary family, the FitzOsbornes, who live in a tumbledown castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray. The FitzOsbornes are minor royalty, and their home has a strategic position in the ocean between Germany and Great Britain. Beginning in 1936, the trilogy charts the lives of the family as war breaks out in Europe. It is fresh, charming, surprising, and will make you smile one moment and weep the next. You can read more about Michelle Cooper and the Montmaray 
Journals here




 
I also really love those books of Eva Ibbotson set during this period. My favourite is A Song for Summer, which tells the story of an unusual English girl who takes a job as a housekeeper in a progressive Austrian boarding school in the late 1930s. As always, the minor characters are extremely eccentric and delightful, but there are darker shadows here as the Third Reich spreads its tentacles over Europe. I’d also recommend The Morning Gift and The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson, set in the same period and sharing her delicious blend of sparkling humour, acute insight, and heart-warming romance.


The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo is one of my daughter’s all-time favourite books. I first read it to her when she was about eight, and she has read it again many times since (Michael Morpurgo is her favourite author). It’s the story of a girl and her cat and their small English village, and the impact of the war upon their lives. I am not ashamed to say I cry at the end every single time. We also love Waiting for Anya and  An Elephant in the Garden by the same author.


One of the most brilliant, clever, and heart-rending novels about WW2 that I have ever read is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It was only published in 2012, and so is a recent addition to the oeuvre – and absolutely one of the best.   It tells the story of a young British female spy whose plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Arrested and held prisoner and tortured for information, she tells her story on small scraps of paper … yet is she telling the truth? This is one of those books that is terribly hard to summarise in a blurb, in the fear of giving away the story’s unexpected plot twist … and yet you want to say to everyone: READ  IT!




Elizabeth Wein’s follow-up Rose Under Fire is almost as good … which means it is absolutely soul-shakingly brilliant.


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne has been widely celebrated and has sold a motza. I did not like it much when I first read it – I felt it struck a note of false naivety, plus I thought it was too similar in key ways to Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, which I absolutely loved. However, I have re-read the book a few times since then and have been won over. In a way, its simplicity and naivety make it a key entry point for teenagers who have never read any Holocaust fiction … and its ending (very similar to the ending of Jane Yolen’s novel) at least does not try to escape the awful reality of Auschwitz. 
 
I just hope that readers of John Boyne’s work will go on and read Anne Frank, and Anne Holm, and Ian Serallier, and Jane Yolen, and those other writers of extraordinary WW2 children’s fiction. 


And one final note: I cannot talk about wonderful WW2 children’s’ fiction without mentioning my own sister Belinda Murrell’s brilliant and heart-wrenching novel The Forgotten Pearl, set in Darwin and Sydney in the 1940s.

 


You may also like to read my blog about The Diary of Anne Frank, and how reading it changed my life. 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!


THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST: Book 1 launched!

Monday, September 01, 2014

I am very excited to announce that Book 1 of THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST is being launched today



Four unlikely heroes 
Four mysterious gifts 
Four impossible tasks 
Five thrilling books

‘Tell your lord to beware,’ the wild man said, gripping Tom’s arm with a dirty hand. ‘The wolves smell danger in the wind.’

The Impossible Quest is set in the faraway land of Wolfhaven. It tells the story of four friends who are forced into undertaking an impossible quest to try and awaken the legendary sleeping warriors of the past.

Tom is the son of the castle cook, trained to scrub pots, not fight. Lady Elanor is the daughter of the Lord of Wolfhaven. She has been protected all her life and is not equipped for a dangerous journey through the wilderness. Sebastian is a squire who dreams of being a knight, but has a tendency to fall over his own feet. Quinn, an orphan, is apprenticed to the Grand Teller, and likes to think she knows everything.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked by deadly enemies, and the lord and his people have been forced into slavery. An ancient prophecy says that four sleeping warriors are hidden deep beneath the castle and that, with the help of a spell, they can be awoken to fight for Wolfhaven. The only problem is, the spell calls for seemingly impossible ingredients:

When the wolf lies down with the wolfhound 
And the stones of the castle sing, 
The sleeping heroes shall wake for the crown 
And the bells of victory ring. 
Griffin feather and unicorn’s horn, 
Sea-serpent scale and dragon’s tooth. 
Bring them together at first light of dawn, 
And you shall see this spell’s truth.

Hunted by sinister bog-men, led by a knight with a helmet of boar tusks, Tom, Elanor, Sebastian and Quinn have only the last gifts of the Grand Teller to help them – an old flute that makes no sound, a wooden pendant of a dragon curled around amber, a moonstone ring, and a wooden talisman of an old man’s face with a beard of oak leaves.




Together they must learn about courage, compassion, and trust, if they are to survive and succeed in their impossible quest.

Watch the cool THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST trailer or go THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST website to read a sample chapter! 


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