The Owl Service by Alan Garner

Published by Harper Collins Children's Books

This won the Carnegie Medal in 1967. I am surprised that I didn't read this when I was little, but for some reason it completely passed me by. 

It is set in contemporary Wales, and according to a nice little write up in the back is based on a Welsh legend about a woman called Blodeuwedd

In the book we meet step brother and sister Alison and Roger, taken by their father to stay in a remote cottage in a Welsh valley for the summer. There they meet the handyman Huw, Nancy, the grumpy housekeeper and her son Gwyn. 

The valley seems to hold secrets from the past, and these are slowly revealed when Alison discovers stacks of dinner plates in the attic with a strange floral patter on it. 

The whole story is surrounded by myths and legend and a sense of the landscape holding onto secrets until balance is restored. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and despite parts of it being a little dated now, it is totally absorbing as the children bravely face down what history has hidden for so long. 

Heft by Liz Moore

Published by Windmill Books

Arthur Opp is a retired, morbidly obese professor, who no longer leaves his Brooklyn home. Twenty years ago he had a brief affair with a student, Charlene, whose frequent letters stopped arriving, until one day out of the blue she writes asking him to help her son Kel with his college application.

The story is has dual narratives, told from the point of view of both Arthur and Kel. Both are carrying a weight of sadness with them, and as their story lines unfold and eventually converge, the reader starts to understand their backgrounds, and motives and how they arrived at the current point in their lives.

This had the potential to be sickeningly sweet, but it isn't. It is clever, and touching, and sad and hopeful, all at once. It is long, but every scene is important and each will encourage you to wish Arthur and Kel well, whatever happens. 

 

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

My literary locations of late have been shrouded in mystery, that is to say that I haven't posted them in a while...

Today though, I am in the office of the mysterious Mr Benedict, who keeps falling asleep. I have been through several very strange tests to get this far, including a maze, and an impossible exam. Looks like I'm a member of an elite team, but for what purpose I haven't a clue.

- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This copy published by the Folio Society

I was delighted when this was chosen as a book club read a couple of months ago. I love the Hitchhikers books, but haven't read them in a good few years. 

I have the first three of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (a trilogy in five parts) as Folio editions, and as with all Folio books, they are beautiful.

Our hero is a very ordinary human called Arthur Dent, who awakes on Thursday morning to discover his long term pal, Ford isn't Human at all and is going to rescue him from the imminent destruction of the Earth by the alien race the Vogons who need to bulldoze it to make room for Hyper-spacial express route.

From then on in, Arthur dressed in his PJs and dressing gown is introduced to an array of mad characters who take him on an adventure across the universe. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy of the title is the book which Ford is employed to do research for, so that the entries on the various places around the galaxy can be kept up to date.

Whether you have read the book or not, the characters names have entered the everyday lexicon, including Marvin the paranoid android (brain as big as a planet) and the fantastically titled Slartibartfast who won awards for designing the Fjords of Norway.

It is frankly one of the most bonkers and yet clever books I have read. The adventure is funny, and thrilling, and full of intellect and clever observations. If Steve Jobs didn't base the iPhone on the Hitchhikers Guide, I'll eat my towel.

Remember, Don't Panic!

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Published by Vintage Children's Classics

Firstly, this is one of a series of books published by Vintage Children's Classics, and who could fail to love that cover!

The story is set in a alternative Britain during the reign of Charles II. There is already a tunnel under the English Channel and this has allowed wolves from Northern Russia to make it to Britain where the climate is less severe. The Wolves roam the countryside in packs terrorising the locals. 

Bonnie lives with her parents in the grand house of Willoughby Chase, with servants and horses and all that a little girl could want. The house is a happy and contented place to be. Bonnie's Mum is ill and so her father takes her on a Mediterranean sea voyage to help her recover, leaving Bonnie and her newly arrived cousin Sylvia in the hands of a governess called Miss Slighcarp. As you have probably guessed from the name, Miss Slighcarp isn't going to win any childcare awards, and packs the girls off to a terrible workhouse. From there the girls escape and with the help of their friend Simon try to raise the alarm and prevent Miss Slighcarp and her cronies from claiming Willougby Chase as her own.

This is a fantastic adventure, with plucky children trying to beat some really rather sinister baddies. The prose is very evocative of bitingly cold winters and of evil hidden in the dark shadows of a Britain before electric lighting.  The wolves bring an added element of the wild to a perfect adventure of three young children, who entirely without adult help, set out to bring justice to those who deserve it. 

The Twins at St Clare's by Enid Blyton

Published by Egmont

On a whim several months ago, and despite the horrendous cover, I bough The Twins at St Clare's. I was a huge Malory Towers fan when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and in fact still have my childhood copies. I never got around to reading the St Clare's books and was curious as to how similar they were to Mallory Towers. 

Pat and Isobel are twins, and frankly are a couple of  spoilt brats. Their parents, clearly recognising they have cerated a pair of monsters decide to send them to St Clare's, a sensible school which should take then down a peg or two. 

The twins make a pact to hate every single minute of their time there and to be as disruptive as possible. What a couple of little darlings. 

On arrival, they upset nearly everyone in sight by being stuck up and generally unpleasant and unhelpful. Blyton does like to moralise in her books, and most naughty children are taught a lesson or two by the end of the story, but this is chock full of pupils learning hard lessons, and thinking twice about behaving badly again. I don't recall this being so much of a theme in Malory Towers. 

This is very much of the time, and I am not sure how much girls now would relate to it. I'd love  to hear from anyone who has children who have read it and to find out what they think. Is it too goody-goody for kids these days?

On balance it was quite fun to read, you can't beat a good midnight feast, and a practical joke on a French teacher can you?

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Published by Faber and Faber

This was a one sitting read, so you know this is a going to be a glowing review! Sophie is found as a baby floating in a cello case following a shipwreck which appears to have taken the life of her mother. Charles, a single academic, with a wonderful, joyful and inquisitive zest for life takes her in and raises her, much to the displeasure of the lady from the National Childcare Agency.  Charles allows Sophie to explore the world for herself, developing her own ideas, and most importantly, making sure she doesn't dismiss the impossible too quickly.

The impossible in this tale of course, is that Sophie's mother is still alive, and there are clues that she may be in Paris.  The pair set off across the channel to try and find her. In Paris, Sophie meets a group of street children who live on the rooftops of the elegant Paris buildings, and they help her in her quest to find her Mother. 

This has a true fairy tale element to it. The writing is beautiful, although the descriptions of the children travelling across the rooftops won't be good for anyone with vertigo! The relationship between Charles and Sophie is perfect and touching, both characters written with a really delicate touch. It is very different from a lot of recent children's literature in that it isn't set in a dystopian future, there are no vampires or other supernatural beings, and no violence, just a beautiful, and exciting story about a girl looking for her mother. 

The CLIP Carnegie Medal

The more observant of you will have noticed the appearance of an new button in the navigation bar. Clicking said button will take you a lovely new page listing the CLIP Carnegie Medal winners, and thus adding at least another dozen books to your wish list. 

I am a little late to the party on this one (I do seem to be dawdling over things of late don't I?), but the 2014 winners were announced in June, with The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks taking top place. 

For those not in the know, The CLIP Carnegie Medal was set up in 1936 memory of Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy industrialist who set up more than 2800 libraries across the world. Mr Carnegie was clearly an all round good egg.  Each year a book is chosen by librarians which is considered to be outstanding writing for children and young people, and the award winner given £500 to buy books for a library of their choice. 

When I saw the list of past winners I realised that I already had a few on my shelves and they had been books I had enjoyed immensely, so promptly decided I needed to read the rest of the list. Why am I so list obsessed? 

I know some adults are a bit sniffy about reading books for children and young adults, but frankly I can't see the problem. A good and well written yarn, is a good and well written yarn, and I don't see why I shouldn't enjoy them too. 

Do you have any favourite children's books?