“All the diversity, all the charm, and all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (first published 1877)
“All the diversity, all the charm, and all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (first published 1877)
A friendly green dragon, a mermaid, Arthurian legend and eight-year-old Sue who is on holiday at the Cornish seaside with her parents. Add together these ingredients for a magical, gentle children’s story.
First published in 1957; I don’t know how I missed this growing up as I LOVED green dragons… but perhaps they didn’t have it in my local library. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading Green Smoke and I’m about to go on the hunt for the sequels: Dragon in Danger (1959), The Dragon’s Quest (1961), and The Dragon in the Harbour (1980). Original editions are hard to find but second-hand Puffin paperback reprints aren’t too tricky to track down.
“A story about life-long friendship and magical adventures – a happy book, with lots of jokes” – Amanda Craig
So Sue is on holiday in Constantine Bay. Perhaps I should let the author introduce Constantine Bay – this is how the story opens:
There is a high cliff with a lighthouse, a ridge of rocks jutting into the sea, sand dunes ‘with hummocks of tough grass, and little hot sandy paths running in and out like yellow streams’.
Idyllic, yes? I think so.
It’s on the third day of the holidays, early in the morning when there aren’t many people about, that Sue is scrambling about on the rocks by herself and she hears a sound like a very loud sneeze and sees a little puff of green smoke come out of a cave nearby. Sue goes to investigate and another sneeze erupts and with it a paper bag comes flying out of the cave. Sue goes to bury the paper bag in a hole and cover it over with sand when a voice comes out of the cave to thank her for burying their rubbish. Sue keeps the conversation going with the mysterious voice until she can coax it into telling her who it belongs to… a rather surprising Mr R. Dragon; Cornish, green and a friendly, if occasionally grumpy, dragon.
R. Dragon and Sue become firm friends and Sue visits nearly every day to share her picnic, or a bun or a biscuit, to hear the dragon’s tales and to go on the occasional adventure. Dragon is some 1500 years old and he’s quite lonely in his cave so he loves spending time with Sue and gets quite grumpy if Sue misses a visit due to bad weather or a day spent with her parents! However, his manners are impeccable, he’s very polite and he’s lived a long, long time, so has some fabulous tales to tell. Most of R. Dragon’s tales relate to Arthurian legend as he lived for a time at the court of King Arthur so knows all about the legend of the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake and Arthur and his knights.
As to why he’s called R. Dragon… well, he can’t tell Sue his full name. If a dragon or a mermaid or a fairy tells you their name then you will have complete power over them and that can be a very dangerous thing…
About the Author
Rosemary Manning was born in 1911 and studied Latin and Greek at one of the first universities to take women students, the Royal Holloway. She was a teacher and later headmistress of a school for girls in North London. She wrote several books for children and adults and was also known by the pseudonyms Sarah Davys and Mary Voyle. She died in 1988.
Where to Buy
Green Smoke is currently out-of-print in the UK. For collectable editions try biblio.co.uk. For second hand paperbacks try your local second hand and antiquarian bookshops, charity shops and the internet. Click here for a good resource to help you find your local second hand bookshops in the UK.
‘…here is Peter
here is Jane’.
Very few books are as evocative of childhood to me as Ladybird books. In fact, there must
be very few people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s who don’t remember a Ladybird book.
I learned to read in the early 1980s, mostly from books in the local library and second hand and jumble sale finds but I did have just a few new Ladybird books and they are the ones which became my very firm favourites. I LOVED Dennis the Dragon, Mervyn Town Mouse, Thumbelina, Cinderella, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel. They were my treasured new ones and the ones I loved most of all.
Others might remember best the factual Ladybird books, such as Transistor Radios, Exploring Space, The Ladybird Book of Motor Cars and so on, but for me it was the fairy tales and other fiction stories that captured my imagination.
The first Ladybird book to be made in this format was Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, written and illustrated by Angusine Macgregor, with a delightful gentle story told in rhyming verse. Two more books were published in this series, Series 401, in 1940 and three more, though with a different author, were published the following year. These proved to be successful for Wills & Hepworth and they followed these in 1941 with the first three books in The Adventures of Wonk series and their first book for series 413, The Ladybird Book of Nursery Rhymes.
These ten books, plus a 1944 edition of Cinderella (Series 413) were the only books to be published during the Second World War, though they were popular and most of them stretched to a number of reprints during those years.
A note on series numbering: The first two digits of the series number indicate the year of publication of the first title in the series, i.e. Bunnikin’s Picnic Party being the first book published in 1940 begins Series 401; the first Tasseltip story, A Little Silk Apron, was published in 1947 and so begins Series 474. Nobody knows where the last digit in the series number comes from; no documentation survives and perhaps it was simply a random number choice.
From 1945 onwards the Ladybird offering really started to grow, first with the introduction of their non-fiction Uncle Mac titles – the first one, In Green Pastures, published in 1945 – and with more books added to series 401 and 413 and then series 474 (Tasseltip tales) from 1947 and series 497 (Animal tales) from 1949. The 1950s then saw an expansion of their non-fiction offerings, with the nature, history, travel adventure, and bible stories series all taking off.
The look of the boards of the books underwent various different changes over the years but up until 1965 all books were first published with printed dust jackets. After 1965 the books were given a printed pictorial front board with a matt finish. At first these colourful designs were the same as the dust jackets which had preceded them but illustrations evolved for some of the series to change with the times. The matt-finish pictorial boards were changed to laminated (or glossy) boards in around 1983.
Ladybird Books came to be well-used by schools. They were well-written, often beautifully illustrated, appealing to children and in the case of the factual titles, very well-researched. The Key Words Reading Scheme, featuring Peter and Jane, came to be the series that thousands of children learned to read with from the mid-1960s through to the 1980s and beyond. The first book, 1a Play with Us, was published in 1964 and the last one, 12c The Open Door to Reading, was published in 1967, so they managed to complete the publication of the series in quite a short space of time. Spin off Picture Dictionaries (Series 642) and Easy Readers followed in the 1960s and 70s and a range of supporting educational resources were also created for use in schools – workbooks, flash cards, puzzles, audio tapes.
Children of the late 1980s might have developed their reading instead with the Puddle Lane Reading Programme, another very popular reading scheme published by Ladybird.
The popularity of Ladybird Books wasn’t just confined to the British Isles. By 1970 a number of Ladybird books had been translated and were being sold overseas and it is estimated that Ladybird Books have been translated into around 70 different languages. The most unusual I have come across is a Fijiian edition of a religious title. I have also seen a few copies of the rather bizarre Esperanto edition of London. More commonly seen are Welsh, German, Scandinavian and Arabic editions.
In 1996 Ladybird Books became a subsidiary of the Penguin Books Group and in 1998 Penguin took over the management of the company, closing the iconic Loughborough printing works later that same year. A notice at the town’s railway station welcoming visitors to ‘The Home of Ladybird Books’ was taken down but in 2015 a green plaque was unveiled at Angel Yard in Loughborough, the original home of Ladybird Books, recognising the company’s importance in the town’s history.
Some series and titles are more sought after by collectors and that makes them more difficult to find and more expensive when you do find them. Some collectors focus on the early standard format Ladybirds from the 1940s and 50s; some collect only Ladybirds with dust jackets; some only books in a particular series; the 606C Well-Loved Tales series are currently quite sought after by collectors of my generation who grew up with these; some collectors seek out the early Ladybird books from the pre-1940s, some collect books with illustrations by well-known illustrators and some collect foreign language editions. Some series like the ‘Wonk’ books will have prices which vary considerably – it’s not too difficult to find an inexpensive tatty Wonk without its dust jacket (readable but with considerable flaws) but once you go looking for really tidy copies with very good condition spines and good condition dust jackets, you might have to weigh up the weekly shop vs a nice Wonk book in really good condition!
In general first editions will usually command a higher price than later editions and the condition of the books is also something to look out for – if you are only after near pristine copies in excellent dust jackets they are clearly going to be harder to find and more expensive than a ‘reading’ copy which may have creased pages, thumbing marks and previous owner’s names inside.
Dating the books is done with a mixture of methods – from endpaper and Ladybird logo design, to more obvious points such as the presence of a dust jacket (pre-1965), the price and the lists of other titles in the series (initially on the last few pages of the book, then the dust jacket flaps and later on the back covers of the post-1965 matt board editions). You will also see mention of so-called tally numbers in books that have been offered for sale online with good descriptions. This relates to the number of Ladybird books in publication at a particular time and this figure was often mentioned on the last few pages, rear dust jacket flap and then on the rear board of the book as well. Tally numbers started in 1963 and increased every year with new titles published; they ceased being mentioned in about 1974. The following indications might help you to loosely identify the age of your Ladybird Books*:
Tally of 100 titles 1963-4
This article can be found both on our website as a static page article and on our wordpress blog.
*Johnson, Lorraine; Alderson, Brian, ‘The Ladybird Story: Children’s Books for Everyone’ (The British Library, 2014; p. 165).
Pub Date 06 Sep 2016 (or my UK systems show 01 Nov 2016)
Publisher: The Experiment, USA
UK price not yet available. Cover image shown is from a digital proof copy and may be subject to change.
UK availability is not yet clear at August 2016 but this should be available to order from your local bookshop nearer the publication date. Please shop local to help keep your high streets alive.
I eat about a 95% vegan and gluten-free diet and I’m a bit of a foodie, so there’s quite a lot in this cookbook that I’ve come across before, or through trial and error, have already created for myself. However, if you’re not a die-hard veggie and are new to a plant-based diet or are exploring the idea of trying out more wholefoods and plant foods, then this book is a great starting point to get you going. The author explains really well how she and her family came to make the decision to turn to a plant-based wholefood diet. The recipes sound nutritious and delicious but – and this is particularly good for the newcomer – they are not all virtuous! Using natural sweeteners, such as apple sauce, dates, raisins, fruit, maple syrup etc., there are plenty of sweet treats in here to appeal to kids and adults alike.
The author claims that her recipes won’t take you hours or involve fiddly preparation. However, I think they are likely to require some careful thought and planning, some re-stocking of your store cupboards and possibly some searching through the health food shops for some of the ingredients. The same goes for kitchen equipment. A food processor seems to be an essential for a lot of these recipes. I have a small kitchen and I don’t have a food processor, although I do have a juicer (another bit of kit used in Melissa’s recipes). I certainly don’t have a citrus press, a dehydrator or bamboo cutting boards (other recommended kitchen gadgets). There is a bit of an over reliance on kitchen electricals in the recipes, where alternative suggestions would be useful for the average cook. In fact, ‘the food processor and blender vegan cookbook’ might almost be a useful subtitle. This isn’t a criticism but it is an indicator of how much they feature in the recipes. Time is also a factor (despite the author’s assertions that it isn’t!). She recommends making your own nut milks, for example. This is a great idea and of course they taste wonderful but it is a fiddly and time consuming job and also not a particularly cheap option – not ideal for the time-poor, over-worked or cash-strapped amongst us). The recipes also don’t translate brilliantly well to the UK market. I have other US cookbooks but reading through this proof copy, I had to look up arugula, cilantro and sriracha to see what on earth they are (for those not in the know, that’s rocket, coriander and a hot thai chilli sauce).
I haven’t made any of the recipes yet – I’ve only just had a first look at the book today. I’m looking forward to trying (amongst others) the macadamia nut cheese sauce, raspberry vanilla chia jam, homemade applesauce, apple cinnamon quinoa, sweet potato pancakes and blueberries and cream chia pudding.
There’s some nice photography in the proof edition; always a help when visualising how the finished product should look! And it does all look quite delicious and appetising. When I get around to trying some of the above I’ll report back on the blog and let you know what I think! Overall, I like the style of this book and it looks reasonably accessible to the novice vegan or wholefood cook. There are some lovely-sounding flavour combinations and, along with books like the ‘Deliciously Ella’ cookbooks, it looks like a good starting point for discovering new healthy food options.
It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.
I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.
The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…
I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.
About the Series
Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well. The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.
Where to Buy
The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend biblio.co.uk for collectable and out-of-print books.
Having met my other half in the bookshop (him customer, me bookseller) I loved the sound of this book; it was a definite must read and just the thing for a summer’s eve.
Emilia is 32-ish and she inherits, from her father Julius, the bookshop and home she grew up in but where she has spent little time over the past few years. It has been just the two of them since Emilia was a baby, so when Julius dies there is no other family to help out and Emilia has to make all the decisions about the future of the bookshop by herself.
Julius has poured much energy, love and money into the bookshop for the past 32 years but has he left a strong enough business for Emilia to continue his legacy…?
‘A book shop could only make things better – for everyone in Peasebrook. Julius imagined each person he passed as a potential customer. He could picture them all, crowding in, asking his advice, him sliding their purchases into a bag, getting to know their likes and dislikes, putting a book aside for a particular customer; knowing it would be just up their street. Watching them browse, watching the joy of them discovering a new author; a new world.’
Nightingale Books occupies a prime location in the yellow-stoned Cotswolds town of Peasebrook and it occupies a very special place in the heart of the community, with a core of customers who are determined to help keep the bookshop open now that Julius has gone.
There’s the ‘lady of the manor’, Sarah, who has a long-standing connection to the bookshop and understands all too well what it’s like to be in financial difficulty. There is Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher, just a few years younger than Emilia, who falls for a man she met in the cookery section. There’s Mia, a young mum who’s given up a high-flying career to have the country life at home with her baby but is looking for something more. There’s Marlowe who used to put the world to rights with Julius several times a week over a drink or two, and who Julius used to play cello with in a small chamber group and then there’s Jackson, the young builder who is trying to save his marriage and form a deeper connection with his young son, through books.
There are several love stories woven through the novel, each of them appealing in their own way and the multiple plot strands make it a great page turner; it literally kept me up one night to finish it. I was slightly less enthused about the inner workings of the bookshop, renovations and practicalities but that’s only the bookseller / bookshop owner in me picking holes in the detail. It is a novel after all, not a factual account. Very few readers are going to notice anything to grumble about there; just bookshop owners like me! My only other grumbles are extremely minor but they niggled at me so I’m going to mention them. Book Shop or Bookshop? There are so few examples of ‘Book Shop’ being used these days; the norm being bookshop or bookstore (bookstore being slightly more American but both terms are used in both countries). This bothered me, perhaps unduly. What do you think? My only other niggle was just a tiny editorial thing. Near the beginning of the novel Veronica Henry has the characters going ‘up to London’ from Oxford… and that just didn’t work for me; you don’t go ‘up’ to London from Oxford, you definitely go down. They really are tiny grumbles.
I haven’t read any other novels by Veronica Henry so I can’t make any comparisons with her other books but when I fancy a light-hearted romance I would read another. I enjoyed her style and multiple plot strands and anything that keeps me up into the early hours of the morning has to get the thumbs up from me.
About the Author
Veronica Henry lives in Devon and has penned 14 romance novels; one of which won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award, A Night on The Orient Express. Before trying her hand at fiction she also had a successful career as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, amongst others
Where to Buy
You can buy How to Find Love in a Book Shop from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local where possible to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new hardback is £12.99. ISBN no 9781409146889. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Orion in hardback in 2016.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I chose Mobile Library as my next read; something cute and fluffy about books and reading perhaps. The story is about a 12 year old boy and I think I was expecting a children’s book. What I got was something quite different. Mobile Library is something of a contemporary fairy tale, complete with all the dark and dismal parts that usually crop up in fairy tales, as well as the redeeming fairy-godmother.
Twelve-year-old Bobby lives a bleak and lonely life, devoid of affection since his mother died. His father and girlfriend appear to care little for Bobby and show little interest in the boy, except for when they are venting their anger. When he’s at home Bobby spends his time neatly arranging and rearranging memories of his mother into files, or boxes, so that she can pick up her life where she left off when she returns… Bobby is also bullied at school but has a best friend, Sunny, who is his greatest protector. Bobby and Sunny are on a mission to turn Sunny into a cyborg so that he can protect Bobby from bad things forever.
Then Bobby meets Rosa when he’s passing by her house on his way home from school. She is 13 and she asks Bobby if he’d like to play. She has a disability of some sort, has a loving and trusting nature and immediately takes to Bobby as a friend. Rosa is attacked by the same bullies picking on Bobby (while Bobby, through fear hides in the bushes) and through this situation Bobby comes to meet Val, Rosa’s mum. Val and Rosa both warm to Bobby very quickly and take him into their hearts. Bobby spends more and more time with them, learning better how to communicate (after the silence he endures at home), taking baths (another forbidden thing at home), reading books, playing, eating proper meals and indulging in treats like ice cream (not allowed, his father says). Val enjoys Bobby’s company – for many years she has had little company other than her daughter – and Bobby feels love and a sense of belonging for the first time since his mother’s death. The little trio start to become like a functional family unit, although Bobby still has to go home to his father at the end of the day.
‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so that the things that happen in them will happen to you.’
‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’
Then events occur which put their surrogate son-mother relationship in danger and Val decides to take off across the country with Bobby and Rosa in the mobile library which she cleans once a week. In their time together this library has become like a dreamworld to Bobby – full of stories, adventures and escapism:
Morning hours vanished somewhere inside the books. Bobby read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, amazed that a man whose name he couldn’t pronounce might write a story that seemed like it was written just for him. Like the young prince, he too found the adult world strange. He too saw very few certainties in it.
They encounter quite a number of adventures while travelling and trying to evade detection, including picking up a fellow traveller-on-the-run who leads them all the way up to Scotland, from middle England, and back down and Bobby, Rosa and Val are all having the times of their lives when reality strikes. Will they be able to stay together in their new-found family unit…?
The novel starts at the end, which I didn’t particularly mind; it’s usually a device that annoys me as I like the novel to tell the story but in this case it is the ending told from a slightly different narrative perspective to the actual ending which is narrated in more detail and with Val’s voice, so the story isn’t fully revealed at the beginning. I didn’t get into the book right away, perhaps because it was so different to what I was expecting. I found the characters all a bit extreme and therefore not very believable and the plot a bit far-fetched. But. Then I settled into the fairy-tale-type style and it no longer mattered to me if the characterisation was over-the-top and the accumulation of events unbelievable; the characters were living out their own story and that’s when it started to work for me and fall into place. There’s no doubt that child abuse on this level does take place, disability discrimination, and so on. And there’s no doubt that reading stories, along with love and nurture, can really help unlock a child’s potential. The author also explores the theme of imagination and how far one can go with imagination before harm is done, i.e. is it always good to be imaginative, or should the self or another inflict boundaries to protect you from harm? A number of deep themes are explored.
There is some interesting philosophising in the novel, some great snippets about books, reading and the influences of literature, and some deeply disturbing aspects regarding child abuse and abusive relationships. It is not a novel for children, that much is clear but it doesn’t otherwise fit into a neatly arranged category. It is a good, thoughtful read. I often find it easy to forget a book almost as soon as I’ve read it but I won’t forget this one. The book isn’t perfect and can feel overdone and blatant but I would recommend it, particularly for the universal message about the power of stories to change, heal and transform.
About the Author
David Whitehouse was born in 1981 and lives in London. His first novel, Bed, won the inaugural 2010 To Hell With Prizes Award for unpublished work, the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in eighteen countries. His journalism has appeared in the national press and he has undertaken TV and film projects as well.
Where to Buy
You can buy Mobile Library from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £7.99, ISBN no 9781447274711. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Picador in hardback in 2015; Picador paperback edition 2016.
It’s that time of year again -the 18th to 25th of June is Indie Booksellers Week (IBW) here in the UK and it’s a week for celebrating all the great things about being independent – as a bookshop, that is….
In 2012 Jonathan Cape produced the first little booklet essay to be published in Independent Booksellers Week and sold exclusively in independent bookshops. This first one was A Life with Books by Julian Barnes and was followed in 2013 by Ann Patchett’s The Bookshop Strikes Back (Icon Books), 2014’s The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books) and this year’s The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane.
These little essays each epitomise what’s best about books, book buying and the giving and reading of books for pleasure.
In A Life with Books Julian Barnes, at a time when we were all a little bit nervous about the future of the printed book vs the e-book, made a strong case for the supremacy of the printed book over its electronic counterpart. Like many writers he has had a deep love of books from a young age and this love of books stems not just from the words themselves but from the handling of the books, the turning of the pages, the touch and the sight of them on the bookshelves (your own or in the library). To quote from the beginning of his essay:
I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. It was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head…
Later in his essay he goes on to say:
I have no Luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.
And a little earlier in his essay, I love this snippet as it rings so true with me:
…how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life.
The year after Julian Barnes’s essay, Ann Patchett gave us a heartwarming and optimistic read with The Bookshop Strikes Back. In 2011 Ann Patchett bucked the trend and opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. Disappointed to wake up one morning and find that her city no longer had a bookshop – not a chain, nothing – Ann slowly came around to the idea of doing something about it. Parnassus books is now a roaring success and it’s on my ‘must see if I ever take a world tour of fabulous bookshops’ list.
If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.
Jump forward to 2014 and Mark Forsyth’s essay for IBW. Mark has a delightful way with words and his essay is witty and succinct, though much more philosopohical than the previous two. How can you know what you want if you don’t know it exists, or in other words how can you know what books you want unless you browse a bookshop and discover them?
The internet is a splendid invention, and it won’t go away. If you know you want something, the internet can get it for you. My point, and the whole point of this essay, is that it’s not enough to get what you already know you wanted. The best things are the things you never knew you wanted until you got them… The internet is, ultimately, a huge army of machines. And machines do not allow in the element of chance. They do exactly what you tell them to do. So the internet means that, though you get what you already knew you wanted, you’ll never get anything more.
And then there’s bibliomancy – there’s a word I learned from Mark Forsyth – bibliomancy: the art of foretelling the future by interpreting a randomly chosen passage from a book, especially the Bible. He applies this to bookshop browsing as well, ‘Yes. This is what I’m going to read next.’ Forsyth believes that in a good bookshop you should be able to go into the shop ‘blindfolded, reach out your hand at random and find something wonderful.’
This year we have an essay from Robert Macfarlane about the pleasures of giving and receiving books as gifts, The Gifts of Reading. Macfarlane reflects on how such gifts have affected and, in some ways, shaped his life so far. He particularly mentions Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, a book that was given to him when he was studying for his PhD.
If you have never read ‘A Time of Gifts’, may I urgently suggest that you buy a copy as soon as possible, or better still ask someone to give you one as a present?
He goes on to say:
When I first read ‘A Time of Gifts’ I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles. It rang with what in German is called Sehnsucht: a yearning or wistful longing for the unknown and the mysterious. It make me want to stand up and march out – to walk into adventure.
And walk he did and has now walked many miles under the influence of Leigh Fermor; all from the the simple influence of a book received as a gift. It’s a delightful addition to the IBW essays about books and will hopefully inspire the gifting of many more books.
IBW is a celebration of bookselling on the High Street, a celebration of independence (something I’m pretty passionate about), a celebration of readers and browsing, of authors and writing, a celebration of the serendipity of discovering books you never knew you needed, a celebration of giving and receiving books and watching the joy on a child’s face when they describe to you a book that they’ve really enjoyed reading, or when they discover on the bookshelves a new book by a favourite author. Above all, it’s a celebration of booksellers, without whom there would only be algorithms to help us discover the books we want to buy and it’s a celebration of the printed BOOK.
Where to Buy
The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane is published by Penguin Books and has an RRP £2.50. It is only available to purchase from independent bookshops, so get yourself to an indie bookshop near you very soon as stocks will be limited. Essays from previous years are out-of-print but if you’re very lucky you may be able to find a few copies in independent bookshops as well. Just remember, every little purchase (however small) helps to keep an independent bookshop alive and on your High Street – Thank You!
What’s not to love about a David Walliams book? Well… nothing. They’re great! They’re warm, funny and meaningful. They’re also brilliantly illustrated and they have appeal right across the 8-108 age range; they are not just restricted to kids!
I have now read most of his books (skipping The Demon Dentist – I’m really not that keen on the theme) and I haven’t yet read Ratburger. All the ones I have read have been brilliant. David is definitively the new Roald Dahl of children’s literature. No other children’s writer has come close to pulling off the Roald Dahl style of humour but Walliams does it brilliantly. Three of his books have won the National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year – Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger and they’ve all sold a crazy number of copies.
Aunt Alberta is a truly awful Auntie. Her niece Stella has been orphaned – parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, killed in a horrific car crash – and Alberta is ‘looking after’ Stella at Saxby Hall, the family pile, while trying to trick her niece out of her inheritance. Aunt Alberta has a pet Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, called Wagner, who assists her in her evil schemes and has been devoted to her since he was a little owlet. There is also an ancient butler at the hall who is deaf as a post and gets everything muddled, so he’s no help to Stella for protection from her wicked aunt. Stella’s one salvation comes in the form of the ghost of a chimney sweep but will he be enough of an ally to help her overthrow her wicked aunt?
…’the butler was marching proudly down the corridor carrying his silver tray. Wobbling on top of it was a tiny pot plant. “Your breakfast, Duchess!” he announced, as he opened the door to a cupboard and stepped inside.’
The butler only makes brief appearances but he’s a firm favourite with me. All of the characters are well-described and then brilliantly brought to life by Tony Ross’s illustrations. There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, especially if you read it aloud and I have no hesitations in recommending it to anyone and everyone. And once you’ve read Awful Auntie, get down to your local bookshop or library and buy or borrow some more David Walliams novels to enjoy with, or without, your children or grandchildren!
About the Author
I’m not sure that David Walliams needs introducing so I’ll confine this to mentioning his literary output. So far David has written Camp David (2012), his autobiography; co-authored Inside Little Britain (2006); 4 children’s picture books – The Slightly Annoying Elephant, The First Hippo on the Moon, The Queen’s Orang-utan, and The Bear Who Went Boo! – and 9 novels for children; they are:
The Boy in the Dress
Grandpa’s Great Escape
The World’s Worst Children
Where to Buy
You can buy Awful Auntie from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £6.99, ISBN no 9780007453627. Like most of our new books, we usually have this for sale in the bookshop at a discounted price. Published HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2014.
I’ve not long finished reading Love, Nina and although I have a couple of other books in my waiting-to-review stack, I want to share this one first; not least because of the recent TV mini-series adapted by Nick Hornby which, although good, I didn’t enjoy half as much as the book.
Reading the book very close to watching the TV adaptation was a coincidence and it wasn’t until I was already half-way through the book – and half-way in love with this delightful family and eccentric nanny that I saw the series was about to start on BBC1. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t watched them so close together as Nick Hornby takes a bit of artistic license with the anecdotes, names are changed and the feeling of the series is quite different to the book.
Nina Stibbe was aged 20 in 1982, when she left her home in Leicestershire and went to work as a nanny to two young boys in central London. Nina had no idea how to do nanny things; how to cook, clean or how to look after children! She was so appalling at housework her employer had to employ a cleaner while she was there as well! She had no idea who the eccentrics were who called round at the house, or who this Alan Bennett was who invited himself round for dinner nearly every day… but she had a good sense of humour and a matter-of-fact nature which seem to be all the essentials she needed. Most importantly Nina was very happy in her job and loved spending time with the boys, oft-times treating them to lots of fun like an older sister might.
Nina’s employer was Mary-Kay Wilmers and her two sons, Nina’s two charges, were Sam Frears (aged 10) and Will Frears (aged 9). Various other characters that crop up in the book include Jonathan Miller, Claire Tomalin and her son, Tom, Michael Frayn, Stephen Frears (the boys’ father), Ursula Vaughan Williams, and others.
Here’s a quote of Nina’s about her nannying style, taken from her blog, The Good Nanny by Nina Stibbe
“Then there was my child-minding style. I put Sam (aged ten and with some disabilities) into a builder’s skip for a laugh and struggled to lift him out again. I pushed him into a swimming pool because he didn’t fancy a swim and read Thomas Hardy to him pretending it was Enid Blyton. I did other things too awful to write here (things that are explained in detail in the book).
I completed nine-year-old Will’s homework for him to get it out of the way so that he could get on with a novel he was writing and taught him to draw a fake tattoo on his arm in ink and took both boys on grafitti-hunting expeditions. I pranged the car and made the boys promise on their mother’s deathbed not to tell her about it. I walked around barefoot and took them to the pub to play snooker. I smoked and swore like a trooper.”
The book takes the form of a collection of letters Nina wrote home to her younger sister, Vic which the two sisters apparently discovered some years later in Vic’s attic, to their absolute hilarity! There’s an honesty and warmth about them, such as you will only find between two people close to each other. Nina is quite frank about what goes on in Gloucester Crescent and passes on the odd snippet of wisdom to her sister as well as exchanging recipe ideas and other tips.
“Thanks for recipe. I didn’t do it exact – too many ingredients. I’ve not done anything with more than five/six things in it so far. Plus we don’t have the right attachments or a pestle. So I did my own version: Cooked chicken, almond flakes, curry powder and parsley, plus two packs Bachelor’s savoury rice.”
This is by far and away one of my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year and it’s one I will definitely re-read when I need some light humour, a good laugh, or even a bit of a pick-me-up. I’ve already recommended it to customers and it’s had a good response. It’s warm, endearing, refreshingly candid and hilariously naive and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it as a light-hearted read. In fact, if you haven’t got your beach reads for the summer sorted yet then add this one to your stack.
About the Author
Since this book is already about the author, there’s not a whole lot more to say! Nina has worked in book publishing, has also had two novels published – Man at the Helm and in June 2016, Paradise Lodge – and she lives in Cornwall with her family.
Where to Buy
You can buy Love Nina: Despatches from Family Life from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online fromhive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £8.99, ISBN no 9780241965092. Published by Viking/Penguin in 2013.
We need your help to protect the ancient woodland of Leith Hill from being ravaged by Europa Oil company
Discoveries by Maria Vassilopoulos
A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I love sea. I love books. I live by the sea. I'm writing a big book about the sea in literature. Right here is a daily dose of salt for you. Welcome! Nice to sea you!
Organic, Natural, Wholefood
"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world" – Freya Stark
Plant based cruelty free recipes for cooking, baking and living from India and beyond!
good (gluten-free) food = good mood
Nutrition, Fitness, Lifestyle.
The Fantastic and Mundane Chronicles of an Aspiring Writer
'for my whole life, my favourite activity was reading. it’s not the most social pastime' - audrey hepburn
Books & Ink Bookshop - Sam's Book Ramblings
I have people to kill, lives to ruin, plagues to bring, and worlds to destroy. I am not the Angel of Death. I'm a fiction writer.
A bookish blog for bookish people
Life with Literature, Lattes, and a Little Pug
Get Lost in a Good Book
Books, Writing, & the Law