Tag Archives: Children’s Books

Book Review: Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron

A children’s picture book about a boy who can’t resist a sticky gooey chocolate cake! I thought I’d love this new Michael Rosen book. Usually a big fan of anything from this author, I confess I was a little disappointed.

michael rosen chocolate cake2

The story is about a little boy (a little Michael Rosen really) sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night, when everyone else is fast asleep, to look at a big chocolate cake his mum has made… and then, of course, he’s unable to resist having a few crumbs… and then a bit more… until the whole cake is gone!!

It’s a picture book version of Rosen’s original poem, Chocolate Cake, from his collection ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’, but unfortunately it’s been re-written. The story itself is ok and I like the illustrations but the fill-in parts on the page, speech bubbles etc., just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. It comes across to me as disjointed and doesn’t really fit with the overall feel of the book. I might have preferred it better if it had been re-written with some partial rhyme to help it along, or if it had been reproduced in its original format but with the new illustrations for picture book format.

However, the idea of a boy sneaking downstairs in the night to look at this big chocolate cake (with a cute dog at his feet)… and then to be unable to resist eating it bit by bit… well, it’s fun and is bound to get kids giggling, even if it hasn’t completely hit the mark with me. I think it’ll be a ‘fun for 5 minutes’ sort of a picture book rather than a classic keeper.

I really love Michael Rosen’s YouTube performance of his original poem ‘Chocolate Cake’, together with other poems from his book ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’ which has, to date, had over 4 million, yes million, views. Perhaps I would like this picture book better if he did a reading of it and made it as good as his reading of the poem!


About the Author
Michael Rosen is a children’s author and poet and has written a lot of books. Really, a lot. Too many to list here. Michael Rosen was Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009 and you can find out more about him on his website http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk.

Where to Buy
You can buy Chocolate Cake from your local independent bookshop (the best option!), 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. Chocolate Cake is published by Puffin (August 2017) and is available as a new hardback, RRP £12.99 ISBN 9780141374093. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.


Banbury in Literature – Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy

Banbury is most famous for the nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her finger and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes1

But Banbury crops up in other literature and verse from time to time and the town and surrounding area has also been home to some well-known authors throughout its history.

Today, I stumbled across a bit of nonsense verse I hadn’t heard of before and it features Banbury so I thought I would share it. The verse is Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy (not the easiest one to spell… or say) and it is by William Brighty Rands (1823-1882).

Frodgedobbulum’s Fancy by W. B. Rands (taken from Lilliput Levee)

Did you ever see Giant Frodgedobbulum,
With his double great-toe and his double great-thumb?

Did you ever hear Giant Frodgedobbulum
Saying Fa-fe-fi and fo-faw-fum?

He shakes the earth as he walks along,
As deep as the sea, as far as Hong Kong!

He is a giant and no mistake,
With teeth like the prongs of a garden rake!

The Giant Frodgedobbulum got out of bed,
Sighing, “Heigh-ho! That I were but wed!”

The Giant Frodgedobbulum sat in his chair,
Saying, “Why should a giant be wanting a fair?”

The Giant Frodgedobbulum said to his boots,
“The first maid I meet I will wed, if she suits!”

They were magic boots and they laughed as he spoke –
“Oh-ho,” says the giant, “you think it’s a joke?”

So he put on his boots, and came stumping down,
Clatter and clump, into Banbury town.

He did not fly into Banbury,
For plenty of time to walk had he!

He kicked at the gate — “Within there, ho!”
“Oh, what is your name?” says the porter Slow.

“Oh, the Giant Frodgedobbulum am I,
For a wife out of Banbury town I sigh!”

Up spake the porter, bold and free,
“Your room we prefer to your company.”

Up spake Frodgedobbulum, free and bold,
“I will build up your town with silver and gold!”

Up spake Marjorie, soft and small,
“I will not be your wife at all!”

Th giant knocked in the gate with his feet,
And there stood Marjorie in the street!

She was nine years old, she was lissome and fair,
And she wore emeralds in her hair.

She could dance like a leaf, she could sing like a thrush,
She was bold as the north wind and sweet as a blush.

Her father tanned, her mother span,
“But Marjorie shall marry a gentleman,

Silks and satins, I’ll lay you a crown!” —
So said the people in Banbury town.

Such was Marjorie — and who should come
To woo her but this Frodgedobbulum,

A vulgar giant, who wore no gloves
And very pig-headed in his loves!

They rang the alarum, and in the steeple
They tolled the church-bells to rouse the people.

But all the people in Banbury town
Could not put Frodgedobbulum down.

The tanner thought to stab him dead –
“Somebody pricked me?” the giant said.

The mother wept — “I do not care,”
Said F. — “Why should I be wanting a fair?”

He snatched up Marjorie, stroked his boot,
And fled; with Banbury in pursuit!

“What ho, my boots! Put forth your power!
Carry me sixty miles an hour!”

In ditches and dykes, over stooks and stones,
The Banbury people fell, with groans.

Frodgedobbulum passed over river and tree,
Gallopy-gallop, with Marjorie; —

The people beneath her Marjorie sees
Of the size of mites in an Oxford cheese!

Castle Frodgedobbulum sulked between
Two bleak hills, in a deep ravine.

It was always dark there and always drear,
The same time of day and the same time of year.

The walls of the castle were slimy and black,
There were dragons in front and toads at the back.

Spiders there were, and of vampires lots;
Ravens croaked round the chimney pots.

Seven bull-dogs barked in the hall;
Seven wild cats did caterwaul!

The giant said, with a smirk on his face,
“My Marjorie, this is a pretty place:

As Mrs. F. you will lead, with me,
A happier life than in Banbury!

Pour out my wine, and comb my hair,
And let me to sleep in my easy chair;

But first, my boots I will kick away” —
And Marjorie answered “S’il vous plait!”

Then the giant mused, “It befits my station
To marry a lady of education;

But who would have thought this Banbury wench
Was so accomplished, and could speak French?”

Did you ever hear Frodgedobbulum snore?
He shook the castle, from roof to floor!

Fast asleep as a pig was he —
“And very much like one” thought Marjorie.

Then Marjorie stood on a leathern chair,
And opened the window to the air.

The bats flap, the owls hoot —
Marjorie lifted the giant’s boot!

The ravens shriek, the owls hoot –
Marjorie got into the giants boot!

And Marjorie said “I can reach the moon,
Before you waken, you big buffoon!”

Once, twice, three times, and away,
“Which is the road to Banbury, pray?

The boot made answer, “Ha-ha, ho-ho!
The road to Banbury town I know.”

The giant awoke in his easy chair,
Saying, “Ho, little Marjorie, are you there?

“A stoup of wine, to be spiced the same! —
Exquisite Marjorie, je vous aime!”

Now where was Marjorie? Safe and sound
In the Magic Boot she cleared the ground.

Frodgedobbulum groaned, “I am bereft!
The left boot’s gone and the right is left!

“The window’s open. I’ll bet a crown
The chit is off to Banbury town!

“But follow, follow, my faithful boot!
One is enough for the pursuit;

“And back to my arms the wench shall come
As sure as my name’s Frodgedobbulum!”

Hasty Frodgedobbulum, being a fool,
Forgot of the Magic Boots the rule.

They were made on a right and a left boot-tree,
But he put the wrong leg in the boot, you see!

It was a terrible mistake
For even a giant in love to make,

Terrible in its consequences,
Frightful to any man’s seven senses.

Down came a thunderbolt, rumble and glare!
Frodgedobbulum castle blew up in the air!

The giant, deprived of self-control,
Was carried away to the very North Pole.

For such was the magic rule. Poor F.
Now sits on the peak of the Arctic cliff.

The point is so sharp it makes him shrink;
The northern streamers, they make him blink;

One boot on, and one boot off,
He shivers and shakes, and thinks, with a cough,

“Safe in Banbury Marjorie dwells;
Marjorie will marry someone else!”

And so, Frodgedobbulum, the giant,
Sits on the North Pole, incompliant.

He blinks at the snow, with its weary white;
He blinks at the spears of the northern light;

Kicks out with one boot, says, “Fi-fo-fum!
I am the Giant Frodgedobbulum.”

But who cares whether he is or not,
Living in such an inclement spot?

Banbury town is the place for me
And a kiss from merry Marjorie,

With the clerk in the vestry to see all fair,
For she wears orange-flowers in her hair!

She can dance like a leaf, she can sing like a thrush,
She is bold as the north wind and sweet as a blush.

Her father he tans, her mother she spins;
Frodgedobbulum sits on the pole for his sins;

But here comes Marjorie, white as milk,
A rose on her bosom as soft as silk,

On her finger a gay gold ring;
The bridegroom holds up his head like a king!

Marjorie has married a gentleman;
Who knows when the wedding began?

W B Rands wrote extensively but is most remembered for his poetry for children. He didn’t often put his name to his writings and frequently wrote under a pseudonym. This poem is taken from Lilliput Levee (published in 1864, author anon. but known to be W B Rands).

lilliput levee title
Title page illustration from Lilliput Levee


1 There are numerous variations to the Banbury Cross rhyme and quite a bit of controversy about the meaning of cock horse and the identity of the fine lady. This may be the subject for a future blog post.

Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

I’m a long way beyond the target audience age range for this book but I enjoy reading children’s fiction; sometimes it’s the perfect switch-off at the end of a busy day. All the best children’s novels are just as good to read as an adult – good writing, good characterisation, plot structure and so on are the main requirements. If a book can meet all those elements I don’t mind who it’s aimed at.

do not read small


A good opener. I was intrigued. If a book can grab my attention at page one then I’ll read on, whatever the subject. This was just too intriguing. ‘Do not read beyond this page’. Nothing could be more likely to make me want to keep reading than an instruction telling me not to! A great means to get the reader to buy or borrow the book and see what happens next.

“Generally speaking, books don’t cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems.
Books can, for example, give you ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an idea before, but, if you have, you know how much trouble an idea can get you into.

Books can also provoke emotions. And emotions are sometimes even more troublesome than ideas. Emotions have led people to do all sorts of things they later regret…” [from the first page]

I like the way the author talks to the reader, telling us the book is dangerous. There’s a secret in the book and knowing this is worse than not knowing. Of course we’re supposed to read on!

Cass (short for Cassandra) is quite a serious and a very practical 11 year old. She is always prepared for an emergency and carries around a backpack containing items to help with surviving all kinds of disasters; her ‘survival’ kit. Cass has two surrogate grandpas who live near her house in an old abandoned fire station, where they also run an old antiques store. This is one of Cass’s favourite places and she spends her Wednesdays after school here, supposedly helping in the shop but really listening to the grandpas’ stories and exploring some of the antiques.

Max-Ernest, also 11 years old, fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but his classmates aren’t as amused by his jokes as he is. Max-Ernest is always on the lookout for someone to try his jokes out on at school and looking around the school yard one day, he can only see one pupil who hasn’t yet heard his current joke; sitting alone at the edge of a field is Cass. Cass isn’t lonely; she’s investigating a finding on the field which she thinks may spell doom and disaster for the school. Cass is convinced that the school has been built on top of a toxic waste dump. She loves to imagine disaster scenarios and it frequently gets her into trouble with the headteacher.

This meeting on the playing field is the beginning of a friendship between Cass and Max-Ernest and spells the beginning of their adventures. They end up trying to uncover a mysterious secret, involving a rare antique case of vials of smells, a missing magician and his diary and a suspicious estate agent called Gloria Fortune. The pair find themselves embroiled deeper and deeper in this mystery as it leads them on some quite perilous adventures, needing their wits, decoding skills, intuition and escape capabilities. I won’t reveal any more but I can recommend reading the book to find out their SECRET.

The first in a series, this book is followed by:
2. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. This Book Is Not Good For You
4. This Isn’t What It Looks Like
5. You Have To Stop This

Recommended for ages 8+

About the Author

Pseudonymous Bosh is a pseudonym, or pen name and it belongs to American author Raphael Simon. He has written other books under the Pseudonymous Bosch name – the Bad series and a stand-alone children’s novel, Write This Book. To find out more, have a look at his website www.pseudonymousbosch.com

Where to Buy

You can buy the series 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 Name of This Book is Secret is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £6.99 ISBN 9781409583820. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning

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.

Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning (Jane Nissen Books, 2008)

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:

‘This is a story about a girl called Susan, or Sue for short, who went for a seaside holiday to Constantine Bay in Cornwall. Perhaps you have never been to Constantine Bay. Perhaps you have never even been to Cornwall. That won’t matter at all. Just think of the rockiest rocks, the sandiest sand, the greenest sea and the bluest sky you can possibly imagine, and you will have some idea of Constantine Bay.’

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.

Beach at low tide – St Ives, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

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.

Prehistoric Cornwall – Lanyon Quoit in the mist © Sam Barnes

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.

Tintagel, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

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.

All About Ladybird Books

‘…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.

Wills & Hepworth, the publisher of Ladybird books, began this infamous series way back in 1914 but it wasn’t until 1940, when wartime paper shortages prompted Wills & Hepworth to look at a new and more economical way of printing, that the Ladybird book in its slim pocket-sized format, was born. Essentially each book was printed on one single sheet of paper (40” x 30” in size) including pages, endpapers and dust jacket; thus an efficient and economical way of producing a book for children.

Single printing sheet showing a whole Ladybird book

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.

A c. 1981 edition of Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, matt cover Ladybird book.

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.

Foreign Ladybird books – London in Esperanto and The Child of the Temple in Fijian

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.

Ladybird Books green plaque at Angel Yard, Loughborough


Collecting Ladybird Books

Collectors come in all types, ages and budget sizes! If you’re thinking of getting started as a collector, you can start your own collection for very little cost at all. Prices in our bookshop start at just £1, with many matt edition standard Ladybird Books being around the £3-4 mark. You can browse charity shops, antiquarian bookshops, bring and buy sales and the internet and pick up many lovely Ladybird books for the price of a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Best of all, as book collections go these little books take up such little space on your bookshelf that they’re not going to take over your living space… unless you go really crazy…

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
120-140 1965
150-180 1966
190-200 1967-8
210-225 1968
230-260 1969
270-280 1970
290 1971
300 1972
320-340 1973
350-370 1974

Good luck with building up your collections and enjoy re-reading your old favourite Ladybird stories and discovering new ones you never knew existed!

To view our current range of Ladybird books online at Books & Ink Bookshop please click here. We have many more in the shop so contact us with your requests, or pop in and see us.

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).

Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

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.

Nancy Drew novels

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.

Review: Awful Auntie by David Walliams

Awful Auntie by David Walliams

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.

Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, illustration from Awful Auntie by David Walliams. Picture by Tony Ross.

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
Mr Stink
Billionaire Boy
Gangsta Granny
Demon Dentist
Awful Auntie
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.


Review: The Terrible Thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Barnaby Brocket-2

I started reading Barnaby Brocket with very little expectation; surprising really, as I had read the author’s most well known children’s story, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, several years ago and found it an incredibly powerful, moving book. Barnaby Brocket, however, has just sat on the bookshop shelves and has not sold very well for me. Having not read it I haven’t felt particularly able to recommend it and it has languished forlornly in the children’s section.

So I suppose I felt sorry for it (this happens sometimes; I’m sure I’m not the only bibliophile to suffer from this affliction?) and it ended up in my ‘to read’ stack.

From the outside the book has two things to immediately recommend it: First, John Boyne – already mentioned for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas acclaim; and second, Oliver Jeffers – one of my all time favourite children’s book illustrators. (Aside: there will definitely be some future posts about Oliver Jeffers and his wonderful picture book creations).

The novel opens with Barnaby’s arrival into the world. Now, depending on the age of the reader, I thought this was unnecessarily detailed. Don’t worry, it’s still okay for a young reader, and younger children will tend to gloss over anything they do not understand, but I didn’t think it was necessary to even mention the screaming, perspiring, groaning, wailing and pushing. It isn’t mentioned in any detail but it could have been presented as fait accompli, hey presto, baby arrived.

From then on in I really enjoyed the book. Barnaby is born with an unusual characteristic – he floats. He literally cannot keep his feet on the ground without the aid of weights or a leash to keep him down. His parents are appalled by this condition. Both parents have spent the whole of their adult lives avoiding anything that would draw attention to themselves, leading a plain, what they consider normal, existence. They hate the thought of standing out from the crowd or appearing ‘different’ in any way. Barnaby’s condition does  not seem to be curable so his father, Alistair, affixes matresses to the ceilings and Barnaby is mostly kept indoors for the first few years of his life, so as not to cause embarrassment to his parents. When he’s old enough he is packed off to a dreadful institution that passes itself off as a school. His parents can’t bear the thought of him going to the local primary with his brother and sister – the comments, the pointing, the attention; oh no, that won’t do, so Barnaby goes to a school for ‘misfits’.

Due to a bit of a calamity at the aforementioned institution, he later has to join the local school where, after his condition is exposed on the TV on a school outing, Barnaby becomes something of a local celebrity. This is the final straw for Barnaby’s mother and she decides to act on a terrible thought that occurred to her the day she brought baby Baranby home from the hospital all those years ago… She decides to let him go, to float away…

Barnaby has some fantastic adventures. He misses his family dreadfully and is always trying to return home, despite what his parents have done; he loves them and he hopes that they will miss him and come to accept him the way he is.

‘Because they’re my family,’ said Barnaby with a shrug.

‘But they didn’t want you.’

‘But they’re still my family,’ repeated Barnaby, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. ‘And it’s not like I’m ever going to have another mum and dad, is it?’

On his travels Barnaby meets all sorts of other extraordinary people; people who are all a bit ‘different’. There are the two older ladies who live together and hold hands, the young pregnant girl whose father won’t speak to her, the artist whose wealthy parents have cast him out penniless for wanting to be an artist rather than a businessman, and then other children with characteristics that mark them out as different from other people.

This is a really good story about being different, about being unique and more importantly about being yourself. A warm, humorous and often funny novel. I would recommend it for readers aged 9+ though younger readers might enjoy it too.

About the Author

John Boyne was born in 1971 and is an Irish novelist, author of 9 novels for adults and 5 for children, including the runaway bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Other novels include The Absolutist and A History of Loneliness for adults and Stay Where You Are and Then Leave and The Boy at the Top of the Mountain for children.

Where to Buy

You can buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket 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 9780552565769. Published by Random House Children’s Books in 2012.

Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

About my edition: Published by Macmillan Collector’s Library in 2010. Translated by Ros and Chloe Schwartz, with an afterword by David Stuart Davies. ISBN no. 9781907360015.

A cosy Sunday afternoon, sat by the fire, seemed the perfect time to re-visit this delightful little classic, The Little Prince.

“All grown ups were children once (but most of them have forgotten).”

I never read it as a child but, like all the best children’s stories, it is just as appealing to the grown up me as I am sure it would have been to little me.

The story opens with a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert; he is trying to fix a mechanical problem with his plane before his food and drink supplies run out. He wakes one morning at daybreak to a little voice asking him to …”Please, will you draw me a little lamb!” It is the Little Prince.

The Little Prince comes from a planet a long way away; a star, or more specifically Asteroid B 612. It is a very small planet, no bigger than a house, and he looks after it all by himself. He sweeps the chimneys of his three little volcanoes every day and weeds the ground from invasive baobab plants. One day, a new seed comes up through the soil and he watches it grow and develop and get bigger, looking more and more unusual, until it finally blooms into a beautiful, yet thorny flower.  The Little Prince gets talking to the flower and it becomes quite a bossy, vain, demanding and opinionated little flower; demanding water and wind shields and a glass dome to protect it from the cold. The Little Prince loves this precious flower but he doesn’t know how to handle her over-sized ego, so he makes his escape from his beloved planet and sets off an adventure.

“It is sad to forget a friend. Not everybody has had a friend.”

The plant becomes very sad as The Little Prince says goodbye; she knows she has driven him away with her unkind words and she becomes remorseful and sorry for what she has said:

“‘I’ve been stupid,’ she said at last. ‘Please forgive me. Try to be happy.'”

The Little Prince sets off to visit different planets. He encounters a king, a show-off, a drunkard, a businessman (who owns all the stars but does not have the time to appreciate them), a geographer, and a lamplighter. He finds all of these adults very strange and quite tedious; he can’t understand why they do what they do. The only one he has any affinity with is the lamplighter, because …”he’s the only person I don’t find ridiculous. Maybe it’s because he’s looking after something other than himself.” The final planet in his journey is Earth but this planet is much, much bigger than any planet he has encountered before and to begin with he can’t find any people… He meets a snake, a fox and a rose, from each of which he learns some pearls of wisdom. From the fox, he learns:

“People no longer have the time to understand anything. They buy things that are ready-made from the shops. But as there are no shops selling friends, people no longer have any friends.”

The fox tells him his secret:

“You only see clearly with your heart. The most important things are invisible to the eyes. You mustn’t forget this simple truth. You are responsible for ever for those you have tamed.”

The Little Prince shares all he has learned with his new friend, the pilot, and when the pilot carries the Little Prince through the desert on a search to find water, looking down at the handsome prince the pilot comes to the realisation that ...”What I see here is only his shell. The most important part is invisible.”

It is a beautiful story, simply told and illustrated, and with a gentle philosophy in the tradition of the best moral tales such as Aesop’s Fables and the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Each of the people the Little Prince encounters on his travels highlights a different human vice or weakness; that each of them has a different failing serves to highlight that failing all the more. The Little Prince is soon longing to go back to the planet he loves and the sad little flower he left behind. The author gently attacks the stupidity or short-sightedness of adults throughout the book, leaving us to wonder how we lose the inquisitiveness and unrestricted views of childhood.


About the Author

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born in 1900 in Lyon, France, and The Little Prince was first published in 1943 (Le Petit Prince). Saint-Exupery began military training in 1921 and later became a pilot, becoming an international postal pilot in the very earliest days of air mail. In the Second World War he joined the French Air Force and went missing on a mission over Germany on 31 July, 1944. He sadly didn’t live to see his little book become an international publishing success. To date, it has been translated into over 180 languages and has sold over 80 million copies worldwide. Saint-Exupery’s other books include Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars (published in 1931 and 1939, respectively).

Where to Buy

You can buy The Little Prince 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. For collectable editions, try biblio.co.uk. My edition, the Collector’s Library edition, is currently available new as a pocket-sized hardback (with black and white illustrations) at the RRP of £7.99. It is my favourite translation of the book, though you might also like to try the editions published by Egmont with colour illustrations.

Review: Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

Trickster Front Cover
Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

I read – and loved! – Tom’s first book,The River Singers, which was published in 2013, snapped up the sequel, The Rising, as soon as it came out and when his latest book, Trickster, was published on the 4th February I bought myself a copy straight away. I enjoyed reading Trickster so much that I stayed up ridiculously late to finish it (cue, bleary-eyed bookseller in the morning!).

Now, I don’t want to sound all gushing or anything… but I just genuinely really like Tom’s style of writing, the depth of knowledge and research that goes into his stories and… well… just his great characterisation and storytelling. He writes nature stories for kids of the twentyteens and he does it really well. Think Farthing Wood, Watership Down, Rats of Nimh, The Wind in the Willows, Joyce Stranger’s stories and so on – but, dare I say it… after all I grew up on all these wonderful animal stories… in my opinion he does it even better. I loved all these other stories – and still do – but Tom’s stories are real. I feel like I’ve learned a whole heap about water voles from reading The River Singers and The Rising but not intentionally; it’s the stories that shine but the ecological information just sort of filters into the brain as well. It’s genius.

Trickster is a story about two brother rats, Ash and Gabble, growing up from being young flapfeet, to I suppose adolescent ratlings, to growing into being full grown rats. Rats. Yes. I detest rats. Now, water voles (the subject of The River Singers) were cute but I’ve always hated rats. I shouldn’t get on with this book at all, right? – No. Wrong. Once I’d got the idea of rats out of my mind, it didn’t matter at all that this was a story about animals that I really dislike; the story is good enough to overcome that. It helped that I had grown quite fond of a kindly old rat in The River Singers and The Rising and it turned out that Trickster is the story of that very same rat.

There is absolutely no need to read the other two books before you read Trickster; it stands completely by itself as a novel. In fact, you might even call it a prequel of sorts as it looks at a young Fo’dur’s life (aka Gabble – the sensible brother) but you don’t need to read these books in sequence at all. I highly recommend that you do read them all but it’s not necessary to have read the other two before you read Trickster.

So, where was I? Yes, Ash and Gabble. Ash is a troublesome young rat; he gets into scrapes, has a very independent, adventurous, even reckless streak and likes to test all the boundaries. Moreover, he’s white and the rest of his clan are more ordinary brown rats, so Ash stands out physically as well as by his behaviour. Gabble is a more sensible rat shall we say and is very protective of his difficult brother and tries to be a stabilising influence, though Ash makes this as difficult as he possibly can. Ash’s adventurous streak takes him and his brother off on food raids before they are ready and exploring territories out of bounds to their rat clan. He brings trouble on his own community when neighbouring rat clans want to fight. Gabble does all he can to save his brother and his clan. Will it be enough?…

Like I say, a great story and it also touches on some good themes; such as fitting in, independence, following one’s own path while being considerate to others, communities, difference and acceptance. There are subtle messages that can be taken from the story, or it can just be enjoyed as the good adventurous story that is. I would recommend it for the 8-12 age range but …well, let’s just say I’m considerably (ahem) outside of that range and I loved it. I’ll recommend it for those aged 8-108 instead! If I had to rate Trickster, it would get a full 10/10 from me.

About the Author

[From the blurb inside the back cover] Tom Moorhouse lives in Oxford. When not writing fiction he works as an ecologist at Oxford University’s Zoology Department. Over the years he has met quite a lot of wildlife. Most of it tried to bite him. He loves hiking up mountains, walking through woods, climbing on rocks, and generally being weather-beaten outdoors.

Where to Buy

You can buy Trickster 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 to keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £6.99.

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Trickster, with The River Singers and The Rising by Tom Moorhouse


Tom Adderbury
Tom Moorhouse giving a talk at Adderbury Literary Festival, November 2013