Tag Archives: children’s fiction

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.

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WARNING:
DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS PAGE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.