Sunday, 29 May 2011

Classic cars

Every May bank holiday, classic cars purr and roar into town for a pageant. This year, although there were other cars there, the spotlight was on America in the 1950s – think Cadillac; think Thunderbird and Mustang; think Giant Beasts of Power. I donned my best rock-out fifties swirl dress (in my head only as it was bloody freezing) and set off to admire the chrome.

I've decided 'just roam in your chrome' might be my new favourite saying in times of stress, replacing the usual coping tactic of quoting dodgy lines from the film Predator.

I was also over-excited to realise that 'hydra-matic' is a real word, and not just made up to rhyme with 'automatic' by the film Grease. But what is a hydra-matic drive? Is it one stage better than a dramatic drive? Is it somehow powered by hydrogen? Is it... *runs to google*... Ah. Automatic transmission. That was the next thing I was going to guess, of course...

At these events I nearly always get stopped by somebody (local press, organisers, old blokes with beards) who will tell me that it's quite unusual for a girl to be into classic cars. It’s true - you don't often see females wandering around admiring the dashboards. But they are so pretty!

It's the shapes, the styles, the throaty roar of engines – all the glamour and romance of an era long-past. For me this is the attraction with classic cars – these vehicles tell stories.

I am also rather fond of pondering over which classic car best suits a wicker picnic basket. I've now decided it may be this E-type Jag. Let's see it from the front...

Yup, that wins my Wicker Picnic Basket medal for this year. I bet the owner is well pleased. What better accolade could there be?

The other car that caught my eye was this bad boy below. Just what on earth is it? And where can I drive one? :)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Z is for... Zachariah

We come to the end of this A-Z challenge with a look at the apocalyptic novel Z for Zachariah. I remember reading this book at school - the premise is as haunting as it is simple. At the end of a nuclear war, sixteen-year old Ann Burden lives alone in a valley that has escaped contamination. She thinks she is the only person left alive in the world until one day a man appears in a radiation protection suit on the ridge of the valley. The initial euphoria of knowing she is not alone is soon replaced by fear of his intentions.

The protagonist is well-named, as the burden she carries is heavy. The realities of living in a destroyed world, of being the last one left, are well imagined, to the point where you can almost hear the lonely echo as she speaks. In a way this is a twisted version of Adam and Eve, and it is very frightening in places, as the Garden of Eden, the valley, is already poisoned.

There is a crumb of hope buried in this novel, much as the subject matter is bleak. It is the sort of story that stays with you long after the book is back on the shelf, and as such is a fitting end for this challenge. I hope you have enjoyed the posts – normal service will resume shortly!

Z for Zachariah
Published: 1973
Author: Robert C. O'Brien

End fact one: The A-Z post to attract the most comments (72) was, unsurprisingly, the first one, A is for Alice.

End fact two: I've loved every single one of your comments through this challenge. Thank you for sharing your reading memories and anecdotes along the way. Did I miss any of your favourites?

End fact three: U, X, and Y were the hardest - couldn't think of any characters from children's fiction whose name began with those letters.

End fact four: I really enjoyed writing the posts for this challenge but real life just parked itself in the way of finishing in April.

End fact five: Welcome to all new folk who came here via the challenge! I look forward to visiting over at your blogs very soon.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Y is for...Why do adults like children’s books?

We may be older than the target audience, but age should never be a barrier for enjoying and appreciating good stories. Picture books, mid-grade, and young adult – the world teems with fantastic children’s fiction, and it's a shame to feel excluded by the amount of candles on a birthday cake. I am equally comfortable reading books by Evelyn Waugh and by Mary Norton on the tube, although get far more looks when seen with the latter.

I adore children’s picture books because I adore illustration. I’ve always enjoyed pictures that tell a story, or tell more of the story than the words beside it. There can be several layers of understanding within a tale, and this can be shown by the illustrations. Children may laugh at the picture of an octopus doing the washing up; adults might laugh at the bottle named ‘Sud Off’.

My love for picture books as an adult seems split between nostalgic memories and darker tales. For the former I enjoy books like The Church Mice by Graham Oakley and Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem. For the latter it would be The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown, or The Rabbits by Shaun Tan. I love the medium of picture books – especially the ones that treat children as intelligent beings who can grasp concepts, as well as understanding their humour. Now I am thinking of any book by Lauren Child – they are a perfect mix of fun language and brilliant illustrations. Even better, the author really knows her audience.

I also love reading and re-reading older children’s books. I collect classic Puffin titles, and enjoy escaping occasionally back into that world. Children’s books by their very nature are often seen as ‘light’ reads, yet they can be just as hard hitting as their adult counterparts. There is also a pleasing nostalgic element to some children’s books, which appeals to me. More importantly, some of them are just pure fun!

Do you still read children’s books? If so, which ones? Why do you like them?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

X is for... ‘X’ marks the spot

Since I cannot think of a children’s character beginning with ‘X’, let’s look instead at something else that often crops up in children’s stories – the search for hidden treasure!

The idea of a marked treasure map was made popular in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, published in 1883, but he wasn’t the first author to play with this concept. Thirty-four years earlier James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Sea Lions, begins with the death of a sailor who leaves behind ‘two old, dirty and ragged charts’, which lead to a location in the West Indies where pirates have buried treasure.

There were, however, some limitations to finding treasure in these early books. It would be helpful to be acquainted with a pirate, and to be ready to set sail on a schooner at the earliest convenience. Even to be on talking terms with a parrot would be an advantage. Luckily the Famous Five came along to show us it was perfectly possible to find treasure closer to home, although you still needed your own island.

In Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island, published in 1942, the story revolves around Julian, Dick, George and Anne finding a treasure map with the word ‘ingots’ (gold) marked by a red ‘x’. Luckily the map is of an island owned by George’s family, but before they can search for the treasure they hear the island is to be sold, resulting in a race against time.

The idea of marked maps or a code revealing the way to unknown treasure is very powerful. It crops up in adventure films (The Goonies; Indianna Jones) and books time and time again. However the skill is finding a new way to tell the story!

Treasure Island
Published: 1883
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure fact one: I used to love making maps of fictional islands.

Treasure fact two: I also made a map of my house detailing squeaky floorboards so I’d know where not to tread when creeping downstairs early in the morning to look at Christmas presents.

Treasure fact three: I used to bury ‘treasure’ in the garden for my dolls to find. I swear some of it is still missing.

Treasure fact four: When my mum and dad moved to our house in the sixties they found a fencing sword behind the coal shed.

Treasure fact five: A recent treasure find was an old horse-shoe when I went for a walk near Glastonbury. I felt very lucky indeed!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

W is for... Wombles

I’ve written before about Elisabeth Beresford and her Wombles but no alphabetical list of my favourite characters from children’s literature would be complete without these early eco-warriors from London’s Wimbledon Common.

Has anyone ever been womble-searching? It’s on my list of things to do (that and find Narnia in Hampstead Heath.) A quick look at the Wimbledon Common website and it seems I’m not the only one who harbours hopes of finding a womble – they currently have an advert saying ‘Wombles needed!’ – but this is a cunningly worded appeal for folk to help collect litter.

Why did I like wombles so much? They are very much Londoners – the books reference places such as Hyde Park, the Serpentine, and Fortnum and Mason. Womble names, chosen at random from a map of the world, are interesting to pronounce. They collect rubbish and renew it in some way to make it magical. They have a philosophical nature and saw the good in people. Most importantly, they are part of a hidden world. My favourite chapter in the books was the one about the lonely elderly gentleman who bumped into Great Uncle Bulgaria one Christmas Eve. He was invited back to the burrow for a party and ended up thinking life wasn’t so bad after all.

Not only that, but the TV show had the best theme tune!

The Wombles (first of five titles)
Published: 1968
Author: Elisabeth Beresford

Storing fact one: I’m a hoarder who has had to curb her natural hoarding habits and try and live a bit more sensibly. For now (bwahahaha...)

Recycling fact two: I was the sort of child who always wanted empty tubs and cereal packets so I could make things.

Renewing fact three: I used to make walkie talkies from yoghurt pots and telescopes from toilet rolls. I was convinced that they worked.

Collecting fact four: I used to collect an awful lot of strange things – buttons, badges, beads, erasers, key-rings, tips of coloured lead pencils (they looked pretty in a tin!), and stickers.

Collecting fact five: Favourite stickers to collect were Garbage Pail kids, which always smelt slightly like the rubbish bubble gum that also came in the pack.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

V is for…Vermicious Knids

You’ve got to hand it to Roald Dahl. (And what is the ‘it’ that we hand over in that sentence? A drink, a medal, a dirty sock? Let’s go with medal.) Only Roald Dahl, that wonderful wordsmith, could come up with baddies called Vermicious Knids, and make them sound somewhat like a giant, horribly 'aware', poo:

‘It looked like an enormous egg balanced on its pointed end. It was as tall as a big boy and wider than the fattest man. The greenish-brown skin had a shiny wettish appearance and there were wrinkles in it…

…The eyes were everything. There were no other features, no nose or mouth or ears, but the entire egg-shaped body was itself moving very very slightly, pulsing and bulging gently here and there as though the skin were filled with some thick fluid.’

Nice. Way to go, Mr Dahl. I’ve just been put off my chocolate mini roll. Bleegh.

The Vermicious Knids (pronounced K’nids) are some of the horrors facing Charlie and his friends travelling in the Great Glass Elevator. This is the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and as a child I enjoyed it more – probably due to the horrible sounding Knids – although there is much strange silliness going on throughout the story. It also was a lot darker a tale. The idea of Minusland, where people drifted around in ghostly mist waiting to be born (made into a plus), was frankly terrifying.

We’re not quite told how Vermicious Knids kill their victims. Willy Wonka gives us a lot of hyperbole about what they can do (rasp people into a thousand tiny bits! Grate you like cheese! Stretch out its neck and bite off your head!) but Grandma Georgina correctly questions how it can bite anything, since all it has are eyes.

However I knew. I knew exactly what Vermicious Knids would do. They’d squoosh you to death! They’d sit, squash and suffocate you in seconds! (It appears his hyperbole is catching.) Although it is thoughtful of them to spell out the word ‘scram’ first.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Published: 1973
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Faith Jacques
Editor: Kaye Webb

Vermicious fact one: Although I loved Dr Seuss books, I found his world quite scary too, especially those manic oh-so-intent swished little creatures.

Vermicious fact two: The scariest book I owned was one about true life ghost stories. I have no idea where I got it from; I think I picked it up in a jumble sale when I was 13. Oh My. I gave it to a friend on the pretext that she’d like it, and then kept ‘forgetting’ to take it home with me.

Vermicious fact three: Not as scary, but still pretty damn close, were the Armada Ghost books. Yikes! These were spooky little short story anthologies designed to give children sleepless nights.

Vermicious fact four: I wasn’t that keen on ‘The Groke’ from the Moomin books.

Vermicious fact five: I always ended up being eaten by a Minotaur in ‘choose your own adventure’ books.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

U is for...You

Yes, gone for the phonetic get-out clause for the letter 'U'. Try as I might; rack my brains as I did; I just couldn't think of a children's fictional character that began with 'U'. I am probably missing hundreds of famous Una's and Unwin's, but my work-addled brain can't think of them.

This poor A-Z challenge. You see, I can't stop now. If I stop then my side bar gets muddled. I feel like I am one of those people you see struggling through the London Marathon (26 miles or so), dressed as armour-clad knight, doing their bit for the challenge but in their own time. And which media luvvie nicknamed these folk 'fun' runners? Have they tried running marathons for charity dressed as a lumbering dinosaur, London bus, or errant knight? Calling these brave hardy souls 'fun-runners' makes their contribution seem a little less, when struggling around a course with actual equipment is an amazing feat and should be lauded from the sky.

But the point of this post, apart from having a chat with you, as it feels so long since we've had a chat, you and I - is the You part. Firstly for being here, reading this blog. When I started blogging I was confessing my writing fears to the wind. I didn't know, for a very long time, how to find others, and what to do when I did. Commenting seemed a big step. I like to read blogs, and I think of you all massively when I don't get around to visiting. Sometimes life just swells... not because of interesting, exciting things, but because of mundane boring things that pay the bills. C'est la vie, eh?

Agh - see how much I have missed chatting to you! I have gone wildly off target. But the point of this post is I wanted to ask you a question...

Over to you

What books did you read as children? Did you haunt libraries, like me? What books do your children like? Do you write for children - if so, what age? Do you write Young Adult books, and if so, who is your favourite contemporary YA children's author?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

T is for...The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler

When I was ten I had a lovely teacher who really encouraged reading and creativity. We had a reading list of books that actually sounded interesting – there was Tyke Tiler, Stig of the Dump, Ghosts in the Attic (The Dollhouse Murders) - many different books to hook our imagination.

The author Gene Kemp uses a first-person narrative so we can see exactly what the protagonist, Tyke, sees. Tyke is a fearless twelve-year old who often gets into trouble, although never means things to turn out quite the way they do. It looks at life and the situations during the final year at Cricklepit Combined School, and is a very humorous, realistic (for the time) slice of life. It was the first book I read that had a swear word in it (git!). I remember dreading my turn to read a chapter aloud to the class (and secretly really wanting to!) in case the chapter picked was the one that had the naughty word.

The best thing about the book is the twist at the end – it is very unexpected, but at the same time, it really shouldn’t be – and the very reason why it is unexpected is worth exploring. Definitely a book to make a class think.

The Turbulent term of Tyke Tiler
Published: 1977
Author: Gene Kemp

Turbulent fact one: Every plane I have been on is turbulent around meal-times.

Turbulent fact two: The quickest way to make me ill is to sit me at the back of the car and drive around roundabouts in heavy traffic on a hot day.

Turbulent fact three: I was such a bad car traveller when I was little that my dad and brother would drive ahead with all the luggage and me and mum would have to get the train.

Turbulent fact four: The worst boat ride I’ve ever been on was a ferry from Guernsey. Everyone suffered!

Turbulent fact five: Not surprisingly - I love trains (especially the vintage steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle). No turbulence to be found!

Friday, 6 May 2011

S is for... Slinky Malinki

Slinky Malinki is a cat – a bold fearless adventurous cat – who can open doors and steal slippers. He is brought to life by New Zealand’s bestselling children’s author / artist Lynley Dodd, as part of a series of brilliantly rhyming picture books which also includes Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Dairy).

Wonderful names and brilliant rhymes abound throughout Lynley Dodd’s work – you can sense a real joy behind her use of language – and this gives the reader, whether child or adult, the same happiness. She plays with words in the same vein as Dr Seuss but sets them in reality – so the stories take everyday situations and inject them with a bit of rhyming magic. Her illustrations of cats and dogs are beautifully realised – scrappy dogs, sniffing dogs, slinking cats, superior cats.

As for Slinky Malinki – I love the name so much! Every cat owner knows a Slinky Malinki, just as I’m sure every dog owner knows a Hairy Maclary.

Slinky Malinki (but the author has written many other books)
Author / Artist: Dame Lynley Dodd
Published: This book published in 1990

Illustration fact one: Shirley Hughes, creator of Alfie and Moving Molly, is my favourite children’s illustrator. Her characters expressions are perfect; their clothes and surroundings wonderful.

Illustration fact two: Other favourite illustrators include Edward Ardizzone, Arthur Rackham, Ruth Brown, Graham Oakley, Jill Barklem, Shaun Tan, Dave McKean, Lauren Child, Jason Cockcroft.

Illustration fact three: I’m a BA (Hons), with a degree in Two-dimensional design (focusing on illustration). I have held three exhibitions of my work. My style is mixed media, main influence German expressionism.

Illustration fact four: I love and adore illustration and will often buy books purely based on either the illustrations or cover art. I can recognise the style of my favourite illustrators from ten paces.

Illustration fact five: I used to have a stall on a farmer’s market selling my hand-made cards and illustrations (and a shop in Shoreditch). I still remember how happy I was when I sold my first print - it was of the Louvre in Paris, and the person who bought it said it would be a birthday present for her sister. I hope she liked it!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

R is for... Rupert Bear

Rupert began life as a newspaper’s marketing ploy in order to win readers from a rival. He first appeared in the pages of the Daily Express in 1920, and today can be found on an interactive website; a CGI-animated television series, and a seemingly limitless collection of merchandise. Not bad for a 91-year old bear!

One secret to Rupert’s success could be down to his creators realising that an annual, promoting both him and the paper, could come out every Christmas and be collected. This tradition began in 1936...and continues to this day. The annual I remember most was the one celebrating 1971 (pictured), which, given the year, must have been my brother's, and later found its way to me. I recall there was a story about some magical seaweed on a beach, and some weird gold gnomes that popped up in the bushes. The illustrations were incredibly detailed, especially the endpapers, and I could stare at them for hours, making up my own adventures.

I remember begging my mum for the video of Rupert and the Frog Song – which was an animated cartoon feature by Sir Paul McCartney that promoted his 1984 song ‘We All Stand Together’. That Christmas I was a happy girl – can’t say the same for the rest of the family who had to listen to it over and over again. Let’s sing the grand finish – ‘We all. Stand. TOGETHER!’

Rupert Bear
Published: 1920 onwards
Author and Illustrator: Mary Tourtel, Alfred Bestall (and many others)

Annual fact one: I’d always get an annual for Christmas (an annual being a collection of stories in a hard-cover, for anyone unfamiliar).

Annual fact two: A Christmas day annual was full of fun. A Boxing Day annual would be an encyclopaedia, dictionary, or the Guinness Book of Records.

Annual fact three: I always received a Mandy annual without fail. This is because (whispers) Mandy is my real name. Sh! It’s an un-secret.

Annual fact four: Other annuals would be Mr Men, Jem (Sings: She’s truly outrageous! Truly, truly, truly outrageous!), Beano, and Whizzer and Chips.

Annual fact five: I often buy my friends annuals at Christmas from retro fairs as I think it’s just not Christmas without one. This means nearly all of them have random annuals poking out of their bookcase thanks to me. Hee! They love me really.