Here are the occasional reflections of a joyful traveller along the strange pathways of fantasy and adventure. All my reviews are independent and unsolicited.

I started this blog intending to write only about children's fantasy ('magic fiction') but have since widened my scope to include any work of children's fiction that I have read and enjoyed. Fantasy will still probably predominate, as it remains a favourite genre, but I cannot now resist sharing thoughts on other wonderful books too. (MG and occasionally YA.)

Here you will find only recommendations, never negative reviews. If I read a book which I feel is less than wonderful (which happens far more often than not) then I simply don't write about it. This blog is, rather, a celebration of the most exciting books I stumble across on my meandering reading journey, and of the important, life-affirming experiences they offer. It is but a very small thank you for the wonderful gifts their writers give.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner


Cover: Helen Crawford-White

‘Time turns on a wave; the tide changes; the clock resets.’ (p 322)

(Un) Usually strange

This book is an intriguingly strange mixture of genres, but then it was written by Sally Gardner, who has been writing books that are an intriguingly strange mixture of genres even since her triumphant debut into children’s fiction with the wonderful I, Coriander, in 2015. Since then she has proved herself one of our most imaginative and engaging authors in a string of excellent titles. All are well worth seeking out by bookish young readers, who will be enthralled on many different levels. Often her books mix history and magic in a way that purist historians  may disapprove, but open-minded children will relish at the same time as they learn much. They are magical realism of a kind, I suppose, but very much of their own kind. I doubt few children will actually confuse their elements of fantasy with past reality. One of my absolute favourites of her books, though, Maggot Moon, is slightly different in its genre, being one of the most effective (and moving)  dystopian adventures that I know for younger readers.

Wrapped in mystery

Invisible in a Bright Light is every bit as much of an enigma as its title suggests. Insofar as it is a story about children who live in and around a nineteenth century opera house, it could be a tale from the pen of Eva Ibbotson in her more romantic vein (as opposed to her comic one), or even that of Noel Streatfeild. It has an inhibited girl who discovers a great talent, a diva mother, cruelly jealous of her own daughter’s flowering artistry, an admired little dancer, a kind-hearted boy who helps create scenery, and an avuncular, if rather enigmatic clown - all very endearing, with no lack of emotional tug. It could be such a tale, that is, if it did not exist within the framework of a horrifying  life-and-death game run by a disquieting undersea guardian of hook-suspended, seemingly-drowned corpses. It is nightmare stuff that could almost come from the likes of Stephen King. 

In the juxtaposition of these two disparate elements abide many mysteries. There is a huge galleon-shaped chandelier that crashes disastrously without obvious cause; there is a ship at sea found inexplicably bereft of any human life (it is not without significance, perhaps, that two of its principle young characters are called Maria and Celeste); there are unfolding memories of a part life different from the one being lived, and objects that prompt those recollections; a miraculous ability for a young girl to radiate intense light. Woven through everything are pervading issues of both reality and identity. Is the action of the story dream or reality, present or past, life or game? Or perhaps it is just a play acted out for a toy theatre? Is Celeste really Maria, or was she in the past? Can she ever find herself, or her lost family? The intrigue of it all pulls the reader irresistibly through a truly enchanting, if sometimes chilly, narrative.

Truth in fantasy

I love children’s authors who feed the imagination of readers with their own rich imaginings, and Sally Gardner is one such. Despite her darknesses, in the end she promulgates wholesome values; she is a writer with heart. Many children, now and in the future, will find in her writing the same courage and hope that she conjures in her character, Celeste. 

‘You shone so bright with the truth, with the ferociousness of love, no monster could face that and live.’  (p 326)

Saturday, 7 December 2019

My Books of the Year 2019


Reader of children’s books since 1953

The best of the best

December has come around again, so here are my highlights from another year’s meandering through the delights of children’s fiction. I have enjoyed enormously all the books I have reviewed on this blog over the past twelve months (I never write about books unless I can wholeheartedly recommend them) but these are the very best of the best. Of course, my reading choices are very much influenced by personal taste, together with a good deal of chance as to what fate and opportunity happen to have put my way. I am sure that there will be many wonderful books I have missed, or simply not yet discovered. Regardless, the titles that are here made an outstanding impression on me, and confirm, yet again, the breathtaking quality of literature  currently available for readers between about 9 and14.

First class sequels

This year has seen the arrival of a number of follow-ups to books that I hugely enjoyed. To be honest, sequels can sometimes be a bit of a let down, especially when they have been eagerly awaited, but not so any of these. Every jot of anticipation was delightfully fulfilled, and even exceeded.


Piers Torday is developing as a very special link between children’s classics and the best of contemporary writing. Together with others such as Michael Morpurgo and Cressida Cowell, he does much of enormous value to promote children’s reading, both within and beyond his books. He would, in fact, be my nomination for the next Children’s Laureate. His homage to C.S.Lewis, The Lost Magician (review Aug ‘18), was far more than mere pastiche, a fine work of fantasy in its own right. Now its sequel, The Frozen Sea, lives up to that auspicious start quite wonderfully. It is magical, in every sense, and a book-lovers delight.

The Train to Impossible Places by P.G.Bell (review Nov ‘18) was one of the best examples of children’s entertainment reading that I have come across in a long time. Its sequel, The Great Brian Robbery is no less so. It has just about everything: humour, excitement, wild imagination, delightful characters - and trains. It is a real portmanteau of everything children will love in a zany, escapist fantasy.

Catherine Doyle’s The Storm Keeper’s Island (review July ‘18) is a children’s fantasy that stands in a line of  succession stretching back to the likes of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper - and it is a totally worthy successor to those illustrious predecessors. The recent sequel, The Lost Tide Warriors retains, and indeed exceeds, all the same wondrous qualities. It has  a rootedness in place and the grounding resonances of traditional story and myth, whilst still adding new layers of wonderfully fecund imagination. This is a developing sequence of exceptional quality.

I found The Shadow Cipher, the first volume in Laura Ruby’s York sequence (review Jan ‘18) to be an astonishing delight in so many ways.This quirky mystery adventure is a totally intriguing read, brought alive by a quite devastatingly entertaining, and diverse, cast of characters, not least its young protagonists. The sequel, York: The Clockwork Ghost  now continues and extends the saga with huge originality and breathtaking writerly skill. UK readers should not be put off by the US cultural context of this series; its pervasive humanity and its compelling narrative involvement are universal.

Stand out stand-alones

Much as I love sequels, sequences and sets, my most outstanding reads of all this year happen to have been stand-alone stories. They are also, in their various ways, very challenging books. None of them are easy reads:  some are difficult to handle emotionally; some involve  difficult themes and ideas; some are difficult structurally; and some are all of these. They are, in fact, superb examples of when children’s books become children’s literature. It is, of course, important for young readers to have access to books that provide amusement, entertainment and diversion. It is equally important, though, that they experience books which take them further; books which can help them grow as people and as citizens of the world; books which can perhaps encourage and support them in making that world a better place.

Donna Harraway, in her introduction to the brilliant The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction by Ursula K Le Guin (published by Ignota, 2019) says: ‘Storytelling might well be fundamental to organising and promoting cooperation in human evolution.’ 

These books contain storytelling of exactly that mind-expanding, life-enhancing, humanity-evolving kind. It is no good expecting them to be easy.



Christopher Edge has recently written a number of brilliant children’s books using engaging story to explore some of the most difficult concepts of recent physics. Now with The Longest Night of Charlie Noon (review May ‘19) he has produced a gripping, puzzling, surprising novel which approaches metaphysics in its exploration of time itself. It is a book for those who want children to think big thoughts, and live big lives. It says to us all: You can’t stop what’s coming, but you can help to shape it into something better. . . . The actions you take will change the world.’  (p 170/171)

Chloe Daykin is an author who tells wonderful, and important stories, often making accessible to young readers sophisticated narrative forms more usually associated with adult fiction. In doing so she offers up to them early glimpses of the rich possibilities that fiction has to offer.  Fire Girl, Forest Boy (review July ‘19) introduces a version of magical realism as a way of exploring  both environmental and character issues. It is a book that expands experience and engenders empathy, yet it succeeds in being an engrossing adventure at the same time. Her writing is a joy. Her rich gifts to children are invaluable, and given without any hint of patronising. 

Rarely have I encountered a children’s book that deals so sensitively with illness and loss of a much-loved sibling as Karen Foxlee’s Lenny’s Book of Everything (review March ‘19). One of Australia’s leading contemporary children’s authors, she had written other outstanding books too. This one actually came out in Australia last year, but since it was only published here (in paperback) this year, I feel justified in including it. Its very moving story involves a young girl living alongside a brother with the unusual condition of gigantism. However the book’s profound understanding and acceptance easily translate into sensitivity towards all who are unavoidably different. It, therefore, has much to say to all children. It is harrowing, but equally charming, amusing and beautiful - and not to be missed. 

Anne Ursu is one of my favourite US children’s authors, and, I think, one of the greatest, Her book The Lost Girl (review March ‘19) introduces twin girl characters, almost identical in looks but very different in who they are, in a story that encompasses both the real and the fantastic. It explores in depth questions of identity, of truth and illusion, of individuality and of group solidarity. It is a deeply feminist book, but it is far more too.  It is not a comfortable book. It is one to read and then return to. It is full of enigmatic images. Its story, like life, holds some of its secrets close, to be pondered, to be teased at, even to worm their way into a reader’s dreams. This is a novel that is both riveting and revelatory, from a writer of breathtaking skill and imagination.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season (review June ‘19) treats bravely with two subjects that have too long been taboo in children’s fiction, mental illness and same-sex relationships. It deals with them openly and honestly, yet it also deals with them with great sensitivity, in a way that to me seems totally appropriate for young readers. It also explores the life and experience of a child thrust into the role of carer, a situation that some readers will know well, and others need to understand better. Those who have experienced something similar to the life this author so touchingly evokes will find comfort and hope in seeing themselves here. Those who don’t will learn much. It is a story brim full of life, music, art, love, sadness, beauty - and humanity.

Although Frances Hardinge began her rightly acclaimed writing career with delightfully quirky fantasies, she has more recently turned to deep, dark fiction with a quasi-historical setting. Now she returns to fantasy with Deeplight (review Dec ‘19). However, here she conjures a world from her wildly idiosyncratic imagination with much of the same depth and complexity as in its award-winning predecessors.  This is a novel of rich ideas and multiple themes. It challenges and confronts, as well as entertaining magnificently. More than anything, though, it is a story about the power and potential of stories: stories true and untrue; stories invented and inherited; stories believed and doubted; stories that save and stories that kill. It says that stories are what we are, and make us what we are. And it is not wrong. 

My Book of the Year

In previous years, I have not singled out an overall favourite, but this time one novel made such an outstanding impression on me that it begs for this title.


Cover: David Litchfield

Last summer, I read right through all the principal novels of David Almond in writing order, and I have to say it was one of my finest reading experiences ever. There is so much more to this author that Skellig, remarkable  book though it is, and in my view he ranks with the likes of Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin as the truly great writers of (children’s) fiction in English. His latest novel The Colour of the Sun (review Aug ‘19) is the quintessence of his writing, with a theme he returns to often, that of the relationship between identity and place. This short novel’s superficially simple writing belies layers of richly resonant imagery and meaning. It explores a lifetime of experience and growth through one day’s there-and-back-again ramble. It is quite simply a masterpiece.

And now . . . My Publisher of the Year



I have never before nominated a Publisher of the Year, but feel the need to do so now. Children’s titles created by BAME writers and books with lead BAME characters are becoming just slightly more in evidence - but still far too slowly. What Knights Of are so strongly contributing in this is therefore warmly to be welcomed and should be supported with conviction. Their work to place into the mainstream of UK children’s publishing outstanding  writers like Jason Reynolds (see my review of Ghost, June ‘18) and popular adventures like The High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson (review April ‘19) is a wonderful thing. These fine books are of inestimable importance both for children who are of BAM ethnicity and for those who aren’t. They provide high quality reading experience with vital implicit messages about the value of all individuals within our wonderful, diverse society and need proudly to be present on classroom shelves in every school in the country. We who are passionate about children’s reading should shout out, at every opportunity, for Knights Of, and for all writers and publishers who are providing children with positive images of diversity and inclusion.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge


Illustrations: Aitch

‘Stories were ruthless creatures, and sometimes fattened themselves on bloody happenings.’ (p 8)

From fantasy to history (of sorts) . . .

Frances Hardinge describes her own books as ‘odd’, and it is hard to disagree with this. However they are odd in a good way, a very special way. Her oddness is that of a striking fecundity of imagination, often devastatingly original. Her early books were an absolute joy of fantasy invention, and her first, Fly by Night, remains one of the true treasures of speculative fiction for young readers. She followed this with several other fantasy gems, but more lately her novels have left the realms of ‘high’ fantasy, and delved more into history, although with significant elements of what could be supernatural thrown in. Her stories have also grow darker with time, and their orientation towards, perhaps, slightly older readers. They  have culminated in what I consider two masterpieces of contemporary literature, The Lie Tree (the recent hardback re-issue, wonderfully illustrated by Chris Riddell, is well worth looking out for), and A Skinful of Shadows (see my review, posted Oct. ‘17), which was one of my Books of the Year in 2017.

. . . and back to fantasy

Now her most recent novel, Deeplight, returns to a context of pure fantasy, and does so with all the panache, all the wild, idiosyncratic imagination of her early forays into this genre. The naming of things, characters, places, and perhaps, especially, gods, has always been one of her many delights; no less so here, where the defunct sea-monster gods that inhabited a stratum of breathable water below (!) the bottom of the conventional ocean, are a triumph of both evocative nomenclature and highlights of highly original world/myth building. Diving and scavenging for ‘godware’, remnants of these defunct deities, has become a major activity for the entrepreneurs of Myriad, the multi-island geography she conjures, be they the impoverished child equivalents of Thames mudlarks, or the viciously completing gangs of submarine pirates.

Deeps with depth

As might be expected from Frances Hardinge, she conjures yet another new world of fascinating and highly entertaining, not to say astonishing, oddness. And yet this latest novel of hers is not altogether a return to the style or feel of her earliest book. Rather it retains a great deal of the darkness, complexity and thought-provoking disruption of ‘normality’ that were dominant characteristics of her more recent literary triumphs. This story is deep and disturbing in more than its oceanography. It has more layers than its physics-defying waters. It is a book with many themes, and plumbs ideas associated with our creation of and need for ‘superstitious’ religion, with priesthoods, with cults and with science. It equally treats of phobias; of true and false friendship and how they arise, and are destroyed; of belonging and dislocation; of roots and nationalism; of the ties of family, actual and developed. It is as rich in though-provoking themes as it is in vivid, quirky imagination. Although not as rib-tickling as, say, Fly By Night, it is not without touches of wry sharpness either. For example it is drily said of the former sea-creature gods: ‘What’s the point of a god you can pickle?’ (p 243)

Signs of empathy

There is something further, too, that makes this book particularly special. Its fictional surmise is that the amount of extremely deep diving that many inhabitants undertake causes profound hearing loss. This means that a number of its characters are deaf, including a young girl protagonist. The book therefore explores communication through both sign language and lip-reading, together with some of their inherent difficulties, not as an ‘issue’, rather as a given and ‘normal’ aspect of life. That deaf characters are included and accepted in this way will both provide a rare point of identification for children with similar characteristics and allow hearing children valuable insights. It is a story that carries important messages about empathy, diversity and inclusion.

Story story

And one of the most remarkable things of all about Deeplight is that, at the same time as being a profound novel of ideas, it also succeeds in being a totally engrossing and exciting story, a thrilling rollercoaster of a read. Don’t miss it. This one too is headed straight for inclusion in my Books of the Year.



‘Stories, stories. He had always been a storyteller of sorts . . . Now other people’s stories were the treasures he prized. He was a storykeeper for gods and heroes. . . You could keep people alive forever through stories.’ (p 434)

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper in new editions introduced by Robert Macfarlane


New cover illustrations by Joe McLaren

Stunning new editions 

I am just thrilled to see these beautiful new editions of Susan Cooper’s deserved classic, the Dark is Rising sequence, released by Puffin. They should bring a whole new readership to these wonderful books - and our children’s reading experience (and very possibly their lives) will be hugely the richer as a result. 

Prelude

The first of the set, Over Sea, Under Stone, was written well before the others, and its earlier genesis does show, although it is still an important development in children’s literature, and well worth reading. It provides a valuable prelude to what follows.

The dark days of Midwinter

Susan Cooper really hit her stride, however, with the book that now gives its title to the whole series,  The Dark is Rising. This is one of the very greatest works of children’s fantasy fiction, and a very fine piece of literature at any level. With its narrative spanning just a short period of days from Midwinter’s  Eve to Twelfth Night, it is perhaps the apotheosis of a child’s stand against the forces of the ‘Dark’. It also draws on the resonances of British landscape and folk myth more sensitively and yet more powerfully than almost any book I know.

. . . and beyond 

The series subsequently develops into a quite devastatingly memorable fantasy sequence. Overall, it is truly a story for all time, which very much deserves a presence in our own.

New contributions from two other greats

There are also two very particular reasons for seeking out these new editions. Firstly, the sequence is introduced, at the start of each book, by Robert Macfarlane, a brilliant writer, who is fast becoming the Merlin/Gandalf (Merriman?) for our contemporary world. He conveys his love of, and admiration for, these books most tellingly, and his illuminating introduction is unmissable for any aficionado of children’s literature, as well as for more general readers. No less an attraction are Joe McLaren’s striking new cover illustrations which brilliantly capture the distinct character and energy of each book, whilst still subtly tying them together as a set. Both new additions bring these titles vibrantly into our own time, and a wonderful thing that is.

For now . . . and the future

The Dark is Rising sequence needs to be discovered by as many new young readers as possible, not to mention any older ones who have not yet read these stunning books. They are not one jot less accessible, powerfully thrilling or rewarding than when they first came out fifty or so years ago. I hope these reissues will also prompt revisits from many old friends too, for these are books which amply reward multiple re-readings.

Robert Macfarlane reminds us in his introduction that, ‘The dark is always rising, and the work of the greatest stories is to hold it back.’  Few books succeed better in this than these from Susan Cooper. Long, long may they continue to help hold back the dark.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The Ghouls of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson


Cover illustration: Kim Geyer

Well done, Mr Tomlinson 

Often, if you dip a bucket into the well of a book, the first few sentences you wind up will give you clear indication of the quality of the water and, indeed, of the depth of the well itself. 

Nick Tomlinson’s new children’s novel has no pretensions to be anything but humorous, spooky entertainment (in which ambition it succeeds gloriously). Yet, when I raised that first test bucket from his particular source, what instantly glistened within it it was a brimming pail-full of joyously evocative language and inventive wit. This well of a book may not be as deep as some, but its water has the liveliest of sparkles, giving it a richness that hugely enhances both its merit and its enjoyment as a read.

‘Mrs Fullsway flung open the door and stood looming . . .“0h! Yug Mommy!”
“Yug Mommy?’
Mrs Fullsway pirouetted, flowed to her bedside table, plucked her teeth from a glass of water and slotted them into her mouth . . .
“Young Molly!” She said again.’ Mrs Fullsway had a voice like very heavy tomato sauce.’  (p 21)

In fact Nick Tomlinson’s descriptions are often so lush that, in a ‘serious’ work, they might be considered over-written. But, here, they simply add to the effulgent entertainment that suffuses almost every page. Time after time his language, his turn of phrase, and, indeed, his own obvious delight in writing, morph what could have been vaguely amusing incident, into chortles, guffaws, and truly joyful reading experience. 

Every trick in the graveyard

The story itself bursts with crowd-pleasing features: Molly, a plucky girl protagonist (almost de rigeur these days); a best friend, Lowry, partner in much hugely entertaining banter; a classmate ‘enemy’, Felicity, to up the ante; a boy, Carl, to balance out representation; a rather odd, but much-loved cat; a strange, small town that provides both a mystery to be solved and enough spooky goings on to stock countless Halloweens; dastardly doings and a creepy villain to hiss at. Nothing is lacking for an ideal escape under the duvet with a torch, although the quaking to be seen from without will be as much from mirth as from horror.

Nick Tomlinson’s storytelling has many touches of delightfully fresh imagination too. I particularly love his conjuring of the disturbing orphanage building:

‘The odd thing about Howlfair Orphanage was that it had no windows. Instead, windows had been painted on. Within their phoney frames were painted various scenes of happy orphans in bygone attire playing in cosy firelit rooms. But the paint had run and faded and the children’s features were misshapen.’ (p 88)

Decidedly creepy.

Just what the spook-doctor ordered

Sometimes what young readers want, and need, is a light, entertaining read. When it has real energy and flair in its writing, then that makes it a particularly valuable addition to their bookshelves. This title  reminded me quite a lot, in its tone and qualities, of the wonderful, humorously spooky books from Eva Ibbotson that I so much enjoyed reading to my class when I was teaching. (Humphrey the Horrible, from The Great Ghost Rescue was a particular favourite of us all.) The Ghouls of Howlfair will provide a highly motivating independent read for many children, but it would also make a glorious read-aloud.

The back cover promo calls this author ‘a fresh new voice’, which he certainly is. He also looks to be a very talented and spine-tinglingly promising one.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll


Cover: Julian De Narvaez


A shelf-full of delights 

Children’s author, Emma Carroll has good reason to feel very proud of the remarkably long line of novels that she has produced since her 2013 debut, Frost Hollow Hall. They now fill almost a whole shelf (if your bookcase is not too wide).Young readers have good reason to feel enormously grateful too, for her books are a wonderful addition to the store of children’s literature, both individually and collectively. Each is somewhat different in content and tone, each being set in a different places at, largely, different times in history, so inevitably some will appeal more to some children than others. But each is an enchanting read, in its own way, and many young readers, I know, avidly devour each title of hers as soon as it is published, as, indeed, do I.  Thankfully, we never seem to have too long to wait.

Favourites 

Amongst my own particular favourites are Letters from the Lighthouse, one of the best younger children’s WWII stories of recent years, and Strange Star, a lyrical ghost story built loosely around Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein, perhaps best suited to somewhat older children or ‘tweens’. And now there is a further volume to add to my shelf, and to my favourites, because The Somerset Tsunami is another particularly sparkling gem amongst Emma Carroll jewels.




A new favourite 

This time we are taken back to the England of 1616. But, as in many of her books, Emma Carroll does not pretend to write history as such, rather to borrow elements of history as the background to a completely engaging, and viscerally exciting, story of her own. Yet there is much history to be learned from its pages, even if this is not the book’s principal purpose. As the twin foci of this story, she cleverly intertwines a historically attested huge, sudden and violent sea surge (the ‘tsunami’ of the title, even if it would not have been identified in that way at the time), with the witch hunts horribly real enough under the patronage of King James I. It is very much to the author’s credit, and a testament to her writing skill and experience, that she succeeds in conveying this horror to her young audience in a way that disturbs in its total unfairness and injustice, as it must, but without ever descending too far into the most gruesome details of historic practice.

Girls and boys . . .

Most importantly for me though, this is a strongly feminist novel. Yet, despite having a wonderfully strong, ‘modern’ and plucky hero in the highly memorable character of Fortune Sharpe, it does not make its point by overtly preaching. Rather, it does so by continually pointing up the truly horrendous attitudes to women endemic in this period of history. Through this, it implicitly raises questions as to how much better things are (or aren’t) in our own time..

Wonderfully, too, Emma Carrol does not ignore the equally important issue of stereotyping boys. When Master Ellis, son of a prominent landowner and merchant, displays aspirations to become a travelling acrobat, his grotesquely prejudiced father tries instead to ‘make a man’ of him. That Ellis is shown to succeed in being his own self, despite such depredation, is one of the many triumphs of the book. In fact this is a title that celebrates, as strongly as any children’s novel I have read for a good while, the importance of children being who they need to be, despite all the pressures of social stereotyping,

I hope that it will be widely read and enjoyed by both girls and boys, as both a valuable window on the appalling attitudes and treatments of the past, and an invaluable reflection on how much they have changed, and how much they still need to change in our own societies. It certainly deserves to be.

. . . and books

And of course it is a great read into the bargain.

Long live tolerance. Long live diversity. Long live books.

Long live the right to be who we choose to be. Long live the right to read what we choose to read.  

Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different 2; Stories for Kids Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks


Cover Design: Arnauld     Illustrated by Quinton Winter

I am a strong supporter of the feminist cause, and make it known at every possible opportunity, delighted that so many recent children’s books celebrate the limitless potential of girls. However I am also starkly aware that many boys can be painfully and destructively limited by the horrendous prejudice of stereotyping. A particular concern is those countless boys who do not wish to be ‘real men’ or ‘proper lads’, or, indeed, know that they simply cannot be. This is not only an issue of sexuality, but applies to boys who are ‘different’ in a myriad ways. I was therefore thrilled to welcome Ben Brooks’ Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different (see my post April ‘18), when it came out as a kind of counterpart to the deservedly global megastar book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls (see my Christmas posts Dec ‘17 and Dec ‘18).

Now we have a ‘Boys who Dare’2, to balance ‘Rebel Girls’2 and doubly welcome they both are. This second volume greatly  expands the range of potential role models offered, and what a tremendously important job it continues to do in the process.

To be even more warmly welcomed, I think, is the further follow up Stories for Kids who Dare to be Different, for here is a volume that even eschews the potential divisiveness of being focused on a particular gender. All are kids, all have the right to be different in their own way, and this is perhaps the most important message of all.

Of course, with each of these books, not everyone will necessarily approve of all the portraits offered, in words and pictures, but that is not the point. Or rather, it is the point. Diversity and unconventionally are its strength - and its purpose. In there somewhere many kids will  find figures, aspects of whose lives they can identify with, figures whose interests and ambitions they may share, figures whose achievements they may aspire to. But more than anything they will perhaps find there, permission to be different, to be themselves.

These books, together with ‘Rebel Girls’, cannot but help a vital ambition for a society, a world, where all children have a right to be accepted and respected for who they are, and the opportunity to strive to be who they want to be.

My only real regret about these particular titles is that the artist Quinton Winter is not acknowledged on the cover, even though he is inside. His striking, ‘poster-print’ illustration are often amusing, sometimes enlightening, occasionally touching and always entertaining. They are every bit as important an element of the book as the text.