Quick post! Happy World Book 2021, everyone! I hope you are all celebrating stories and diving into some really good books today. In times past, I would be entertaining school classes and introducing incredible authors and wonderful books to (hopefully) inspire them to really love reading and make reading for just the fun and pleasure of it a life-long habit. But of course, this is a year unlike any other we have seen. Which makes escaping into stories even more important! So please, please….get those books off the shelf and find a new land and a new life to enter.
The annual World Book Day Books are available now. It is the focus of WBD to put a book into every childs’ hands; one they can choose and read and love and is their own. Reading for pleasure is one of the most important tools you can give a child. And while the bookshops may not be open right now, if you contact your local, independent bookshop (they need your support!), you can order any of the WBD2021 books online and have them delivered directly to your door. And they only cost £1/€1.50! (Free with a WBD2021 token…check the terms and conditions with your local bookshop.) And what an incredible selection the have this year!
February is always a hard month for me. I just don’t get on with it very well. I should probably still be in hibernation (and do my best to do so. ) And when the end of it comes, I’m always surprised. I suppose that’s the gift of February for me…it doesn’t last long. So once again, I bid February farewell, but this time I’m going to give you a wrap-up of the books I’ve read in this shortest month in this most challenging time we live in. Some are older; some aren’t out yet (and bear rereading), some picturebooks, most are kids books….and even two books for the adults in the room (both of which I loved.)
Anyway, February….the Books I’ve Read: the list
-Old MacDonald Had A Phone by Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross
-Finns’ First Song by Gerry Daly
-Imagine! by Patricia Forde & Elína Brasalina
-Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus & Polly Dunbar
-I Talk Like A River by Jordan Scott & Sydney Smith
-Gaspards’ Foxtrot by Zeb Soames & James Mayhew
-Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland
-The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes
-Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery by Julia Golding
-Rumaysa: A Fairytale by Radiya Hafiza; illustrated by Raida El Touny & Arriba Siddique
-Twitch by M G Leonard
-Monster Max and the Bobble Hat of Forgetting by Robin Bennett, illustrated by Tom Tinn-Disbury
-What Love Looks Like by Jarlath Gregory
-Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond
-The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay
-The Swallows Flight by Hilary McKay
-The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
-Sally Go Round the Stars by Sarah Webb, illustrated by Steve McCarthy
-Lily and the Lissadell Ghost by Judi Curtin (a World Book Day book!)
I feel like I’m forgetting something, but 19 books is quite respectable. I feel I can move on into March with a bit more enthusiasm, looking forward to new offerings from the book world, shaking the cobwebs out of my head, my bones and my bookshelves, which definitely need dusting and probably, extension.
As for March and what I’m looking most forward to…..everything! Like the fact that this week is both the beginning of Seachtain na Gaielge (running right up to St Patricks’ Day) and….WORLD BOOK DAY 2021! (My favourite time of the year. My old and most favourite boss, Matthew used to accuse me of turning it into World Book Month. Well, I did my best.) Things may have changed in that respect, for a number of reasons…but you should stay tuned. There will be exciting bookish adventures.
So Hello, March and all the surprises you may have up your sleeve. You are most welcome.
Welcome to my spot on the One Night in Beartown Blog Tour! Hosted by Rachel’s Random Resources, and inspired by the painted bears of Congletons’ Bearmania event in 2011 I think you’ll find this is one bear-ific story.
One Night in Beartown
author: Nick Jones
illustrator: Si Clark
Full Media Ltd (2020)
From the award-winning duo that brought you Sarah’s Shadow comes another magical adventure…
When bear-mad schoolgirl Sandy Lane has her beloved teddy bear Berisford confiscated at school, she dreads the thought of going a whole night without his cuddles.
Little does she know that a bear-rilliant night awaits her, involving Berisford, a bear statue and many other wonderful friends!
We’ve all had that one toy or teddy that we totally attached to as a child….the one that causes complete devastation if we’re separated from, even for just a night. This book expresses that feeling of loss to perfection, while bringing an understanding that all is not lost! With an easy, flowing story-telling style, One Night in Beartown takes us on a marvelous adventure to reunite Sandy with her beloved Berisford bear. The illustrations, with a detailed, comic, graphic novel style bring this tale to life and highlight all the imaginative wonder on offer. Each character, more to the point each bear shines with individually and diversity as they band together to lift Sandys’ (and our own) heart, bringing magic and hope to her sad, lonely night. With a quirky twist, we see the bully (who caused the problem in the first place) given a taste of his own medicine and bringing this story to a happy, satisfying conclusion. A wonderful tale for home or school; bedtime or anytime, One Night in Beartown is a delight; full of joy, magic and of course, bears.
In December 2017, I tried something different: a children’s picture book about a girl who loses her shadow. Illustrated by the super-talented Si Clark, Sarah’s Shadowhas proved popular with kids and parents alike. In 2018 it won Best Children’s Picture Book in the 2018 Book Awards on international book review site Readers’ Favorite. My claim to fame is that the same award was previously won by none other than Jim Carrey, the Hollywood actor-cum-children’s author! Sarah’s Shadow also won Runner-Up in the Book Excellence Awards and received a Purple Dragonfly Book Award as one of the best picture ebooks for children aged 6+.
In 2020 I ran a Kickstarter campaign during lockdown to fund my next book, One Night in Beartown. It was inspired by the Bearmania event that took place in 2011. Thanks to amazing support from businesses and individuals in Congleton and beyond, I raised £4,000 to illustrate and print the book. It was published on 1 December and you can buy it on my online shop, on my publisher’s website or as an ebook on Amazon. For updates, please follow me on social media or subscribe to my newsletter!”
You can grab your copy of One Night in Beartown through the following links:
I’m playing a bit of catch-up here, but I want to give a quick nod to three of my favourite childrens’ book awards. The CILIP Carnegie Award, the Kate Greenaway Award and the Branford Boase Awards have all released their longlists in the last few weeks and here they are…
The CILIP Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and best-loved awards in the childrens’ book world. They exist to recognise outstanding reading experiences created through writing and illustration for children and young people. Chosen solely by librarians and with a huge backlist of prestigious winners, the CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book written in the English language for children and young people, while the Kate Greenaway Medal is given to an outstanding work in terms of illustration. Both lists this year are full of incredible books with riveting, moving stories. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to chose a winner. The longlists were released on Thursday, 18th February, while the shortlists will be revealed on Thursday, 18 March. Best of luck to everyone!
The Branford Boase Award is awarded annually for an astounding first novel to a first-time writer of a book for young people. It also recognises the important contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent in the world of childrens’ literature. This award longlist was announced on Thursday, 28 January. The shortlist will be announced on Thursday, 29 April. And here they are…..
As this latest lockdown drags on and on and on, I think it’s fair to say we’re all very weary. We need some refuge and some variety in the now all too familiar routine. Personally, I turn to books and even that can be a bit too…well, routine at this stage. So, it’s fantastic when events come along to ignite some more excitement. Here’s just a few things to keep you going…
We have a new National Holiday and it’s all about celebrating reading. On Thursday, 25 February, the whole nation; people of all ages are invited to get reading and to make some noise about it. Why? Because taking some time for yourself to do something you enjoy just for the pure pleasure of it (like reading) is so extremely important for your mental wellbeing. Ireland Reads is a public libraries initiative in partnership with publishers, booksellers, authors and everyone under the governments’ “Keep Well” campaign. It’s so easy to get involved and costs nothing. Just take the pledge and join everyone else to see how many minutes Ireland is setting aside to squeeze in a read on Thursday, 25 February. Follow the link to pledge your reading minutes. It’s the perfect way to break the cycle of “lockdown fatigue.” https://www.irelandreads.ie/
And if you need some recommendations as to what to read for Ireland Reads, or any other reading time, check out my pages for great books from Picture Books to YA novels. There are loads. Or head over to my friends at LitVox and check out the wonderful article on Lockdown Reading for Kids (and all the other brilliant recommendations for all ages.) https://litvox.com/lockdown-reading-for-kids/
WORLD BOOK DAY 2021
Yes, believe it or not, even a global pandemic cannot stop World Book Day! On Thursday, 4 March we will be celebrating, even if it’s only from the comfort and safety from our homes. Over the last 24 years, World Book Day has become firmly established as Ireland’s biggest annual event promoting the enjoyment of books and reading, encouraging children to explore this very unique joy. This may sound like a very simple idea, but sadly, many children do not have access to books in their homes. At World Book Day, we provide children with an opportunity to have a book of their own. There’s even an exclusive Irish title. This year it’s Lily and the Lissadell Ghost by Judi Curtin, published by the O’Brien Press.
You’ll still be able to take part in events online during the lockdown period. In fact, quite a number of podcasts and videos are currently running to enable as many kids as possible to take part. If you’re online schooling, don’t forget to do something special for the day…like a Zoom school World Book Day party?
I know you’ll be concerned about how to redeem the £1/€1.50 WBD tokens for these fabulous books. World Book Day has continued to work with schools to make the WBD tokens available to the children. But how to redeem them in a pandemic world? Well, the World Book Day site has all the answers to these questions and more AND, while the WBD tokens are valid from 18 February through 28 March, participating booksellers have been given the go ahead to honour the WBD tokens after that date, as long as stocks of the World Book Day books last. So please check with your local bookseller for availibility of the WBD2021 books, and to see if they are able to offer £1/€1.50 off other books with the WBD token. Here’s the link for all the World Book Day 2021 information you could possibly need…..https://www.worldbookday.com/about-us/ireland/
EMPATHY WEEK 2021
Okay, so this incentive, to help raise the Empathy Generation, is an invitation to young people all over the world to put empathy into action and, while doing so, raise awareness and develop skills of leadership and resilience along the way. It’s a brilliant source for us all, with helping of videos and films, online discussions and workshops. https://www.empathy-week.com/
It’s not really about books and reading. But I am, so along with pointing you in the direction of Empathy Week programmes, I’m going to shout out to Empathy Labs UK and their amazing 2021 Read for Empathy collection for children. Nothing can take you into the world of another, help you understand and put yourself in someone elses’ shoes like books. And this collection is inspirational! Check it out! https://www.empathylab.uk/2021-read-for-empathy-collections
I love receiving bookpost…it always makes my day. And when this batch from The O’Brien Press arrived in my door, well…I was delighted. Three wonderful new books for little ones that take us around Ireland, out to sea and bring on a warm sense of nostalgia that will, of course, be brand new to small book lovers. Let’s have a look….
SALLY GO ROUND THE STARS:
Rhymes from an Irish Childhood
authors: Sarah Webb and Claire Ranson
illustrator: Steve McCarthy
8 February 2021: ISBN: 9781788492461
A selection of fun and happy rhymes taken from the 2011 hardback book of the same name, this is a delightful board book to share with the smallest people in your life. Filled with McCarthys’ original lively, joyous illustrations, it includes, Janey Mac, Michael Finnegan and the title piece, among others. A great little book to bring your own childhood back to life for a new generation. Just wonderful and easy for little hands to manage.
SCOUT’S BEST DAY EVER!
A Doggy Adventure Around Ireland
author/illustrator: Jennifer Farley
22 February 2021: ISBN: 9781788491747
Daisy and Dad are going on a holiday all around Ireland. And they are taking Scout with them! Scouts’ best friend Cat doesn’t care. She’s staying at home with Gran. Scout will miss Cat, even though he knows, at some point on the journey he’ll have the best day ever! And he promises to send Cat a postcard of all his adventures every single day. (Cat still doesn’t care….maybe.) Listening to music in Cork, winning a prize at the county fair, visiting Trinity College, the Giants’ Causeway…even swimming in Galway; there’s so much to see and do, each day seems better than the last. You can tell by the postcards he writes, Scout is having so much fun! But does Cat miss Scout, even a little bit? And where will Scout find his best day ever?
An Irish holiday seen through the eyes of an exuberant pup, this is one to get you planning! Each page features a different location with all the excitement to be found there, and a new bit of mischief from Scout. He ventures all across the island and back again, never forgetting to include those at home in his adventures. Warm, bright illustrations with imaginative detail grace every page and are sure to bring a smile. Fun and friendship are at the heart of this story, with a poignant, humourous reminder that the nicest thing of all is coming home!
FINNS’ FIRST SONG:
A Whaley Big Adventure
author/illustrator: Gerry Daly
22 February 2021: ISBN: 9781788491914
Far away, across the huge, glistening ocean, baby whale Finn is swimming with his Mum all the way to the Irish Coast, guided by his Dad’s magical whale songs. Dads’ songs can make him feel very near, but there is a long, long way to go. Along the way, Finn jumps and splashes and hides. Listening to Dads’ song, he nestles beneath the waves to sleep. Then, Finn gets lost! Can the other sea creatures help him send a message to his Mum and Dad? He can’t change colour; or click or whistle. But can he sing his own song to call out to his parents? He’s never done it before….
Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations depicting underwater life lead us on an exciting first journey with Finn, a baby whale. The rich, bright colours offer an enchanting view of the ocean that is animated, but has an amazing attention to detail. The entire cast of charming characters are imaginative, warm-warming and completely engaging, making this lovely new animal adventure book a real winner. Perfect for home or classroom. Read it! Share it! It’s just wonderful! From the creator/illustrator of Where Are You, Puffling? (written by Erika McGann)
Thank you so, so much to The O’Brien Press for sending me these delightful books for review.
So her we are; well and truly in February now. February is always a rather confusing month for me; late winter, early spring and not really having a firm foot in either. While the early spring bulbs are poking their heads out of the ground (some are even attempting their lovely blossoms) and you can tell the sap is beginning to rise, there is still that notion of snow. And some places are more successful with the reality of winter weather than others.
And as for me, my body and, more to the point my soul is trying to shake off the need for hibernation. Each morning I rise as see the light coming in that bit earlier and that bit brighter…and still I feel like a mama bear that should be left to sleep a while longer. A bit blurry, a bit tired, a bit in need of encouragement to find the energy and so….something. I tend to reread favourite books among the new offerings, seeking familiar and beloved territory and something to wake up my brain. Gently, please. This year, I took a bit of a departure from childrens’ classics and adventure, seeking magic of a different kind. In the most literary sense, I returned for a walk in the woods, looking for their mystery and history…and trying to find fairytales at their very roots.
Gossip From The Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland (Granta Books, 2012) served my purposes gloriously. It is a beautiful book; full of exacting observations, fascinating musings, history, geology and the magic of fairytales as they emerged from the forests. Maitland took a rambling journey through 12 different forests over a year, investigating how the forests came to be, the changes that came over them, the social and political ramifications impacting them over time and how they are now. Within this, within the emergence of different trees and landscapes, different methods people have taken in managing the forests, different people who lived in or left the forests; comes discussion about fairytales. She is quite specific; the fairytales illustrated by the forests are, from their inception, Germanic, or more accurately, Teutonic fairytales. These would be the tales that fed the cultures with strong Teutonic influence in there development. All stemming from the work of the Brothers Grimm; quite an influence they’ve had, too. When we even say the word “fairytale”, we think Grimm.
And there is a small bit explaining how fairytales from different cultures were informed by the landscape surrounding in; the desert in the Arabian Nights tales, the different natural focus ( a great amount of sea and water) that created the Celtic and Nordic tales…which I found quite satisfying and utterly absorbing.
But back the forests…and the fairytales. It is intriguing to consider the changes in the forest over time, and how much has this has been influenced by human intervention and invention. As our society has changed, so have our forests and our fairytales…and our relationships with both. Forests are much more things of managed beauty and their possible wildness instills more trepidation than perhaps previously. And while we want the familiarity of the tales we tell around them, we need them to change, as well. We need them to speak more directly to our lives. But do we throw away the old time-honouored versions? I don’t think we can….not really. We simply have to rewrite them as we “rewrite” the forests to better suit our needs and theirs. But we need to understand them first.
The very nature of fairytales insists that they change with the progression of time. They started their long and tangled existence as “told” stories, oral storytelling to enthrall and entertain in the (not exclusively, but especially) long, dark nights. And each time they were told, they changed that little bit. Then, the Brothers Grimm come along and they were put in a fixed, unchanging form. This causes us a problem. They lose a degree of their dynamic quality. Once a story is written down and published, it tends to become “set in stone”, so to speak. We think we understand what they’re about, but their meaning shifts and changes with each subsequent rewriting…and so it should. While there is still something of the essential nature of the story in each new telling, we have adapted it to be part of who we are now.
I think the same is true of our forests. We try and must continue to try to preserve our forests, our ancient woodlands for the future. It’s urgent for ourselves and the planet that we must. But…what we have preserved and conserved is not really “ancient woodland.” There is still something of its’ essential nature, but the forests have been adapted over time. “Something like” ancient woodlands. Still, this book teaches us a way to hold on to that essential nature bit. And to let it become part of who we are, as opposed to adapting the forests to suit who we are now. Such a poignant, rich message, perfectly expressed in moving, lyrical language.
Just after finishing Gossip From The Forest, I quickly turned to two other books to satisfy my longing for more. First, the lovely new picturebook, Who Makes A Forest by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Carolina Rabei: a glorious journey through the woods with Grandpa, as he explains to his grandchildren how the forest came to be, and how it did not. And then, a more traditional look at fairytales seemed necessary; FairyTales From The Brothers Grimm with a forward by Cornelia Funke. Beautifully illustrated from six of the best illustrators working today, this is a definite selection of tales recounted in their (as close to as possible) original form. Both of these books compliment what I had just read, and left me wanting still more. I think it may be time to physically go for walk in the woods.
Language; communicating with each other can be tricky at the best of times. But when children have difficulties hearing or making themselves heard it can be a little more than ‘tricky.’ Walker Books has just published two picturebooks that display these problems with understanding. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of perspective to make a huge difference.
I TALK LIKE A RIVER
author: Jordan Scott
illustrator: Sydney Smith
Walker Books (4 February 2021)
A boy wakes each morning with the sound of words all around him. But he can’t say them all. After a day at school, hiding in the back and hoping he won’t be called on; after a day of trying and being unable to make the words come unstuck from the back of his throat, he can’t stop thinking of all the eyes on him watching the words twist in his mouth. The boy and his Dad go down to the river for some quiet time. “It’s just a bad speech day,” Dad reassures him. The boy watches the water bubbling, whirling and churning, and he sees a new way to think about how he speaks. Even the river stutters…like him. “I talk like a river.”
Exquisitely moving, Jordan Scott has created a book (based on his own childhood experiences) full of wonder and empathy. The language is clear, demonstrative and so very poetic, with a sense of the boys’ feelings of isolation and difference throughout, ultimately resolving into self-acceptance. This is perfectly echoed by the gorgeous, painterly illustrations that lend a true picture to the boys’ feelings; the panic of being called on, the desire to want to fade into the background…his aloneness. Everything is shown with great sensitivity in word and image and as his understanding of his own stuttering, that which made him feel so different, begins to flow into another way of seeing it, the tone of the illustrations shifts ever so slightly, creating a sense of calm, beauty and compassion towards himself. He turns his difference into something beautiful, something poetic. This is such a powerful book, in every way. It is a story to feel, rather than analyse. Compassionate, empathetic, a real gift. https://www.walker.co.uk/I-Talk-Like-a-River-9781406397222.aspx
CAN BEARS SKI?
author: Raymond Antrobus
illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Walker Books (4 February 2021)
Little Boy Bear can’t hear Dad Bear coming to wake him up in the morning, but he can feel the floor vibrate as Dad Bears’ heavy steps get closer. He can feel the bed rumble and the windows tremble. At breakfast, Dad asks him a question, “Can bears ski?” At school, Boy Bear only grasps bits of what his teacher is saying. He doesn’t really understand the jokes his friends are laughing at. All the time, everyone is asking him the same question, “Can bears ski?” Why do they want to know? What does it mean? Then, Dad Bear takes him to see an audiologist and Boy Bear gets hearing aids. Suddenly, the world seems LOUD, like the clothes he he wears. And he understands the question everyone has been asking him; “Can you hear me?”
With heart and humour, this is a gorgeously painted story of the world as perceived by someone who can’t hear. The bright, boldly-outlined illustrations bring us along through Boy Bears’ world as the text reflects the depth of his misunderstanding and frustration without any overt heaviness or drama. Boy Bear is surrounded with support at home and at school, as he blithely navigates daily life…knowing there is a problem, but because his deafness is so ordinary to him, not knowing what the problem could be. The story is fun and lively, the pictures are colourful and friendly, and the whole effect is joyous, particularly when we get to the moment when Boy Bear can hear and understand. While offering a unique insight into hearing impairment, it does so with love, laughter and understanding. https://www.walker.co.uk/Can-Bears-Ski-9781406382624.aspx
A huge thank you to Walker Books for sending me these wonderful picture books to review.
When I first picked up a copy of The Diamond of Drury Lane in 2006, I immediately became a fan of Julia Golding. She knows how to tell a story; how to create characters and build a mystery around them that immerses her readers in the world she has created. So when I heard that she about to take us back to the world of Jane Austen (of whom I have always been a firm fan), I jumped at the chance to get pre-release copy of her latest effort. To create a mystery series with young Jane as its protagonist and private investigator….well, let’s have a look….
JANE AUSTEN INVESTIGATES: THE ABBEY MYSTERY
author: Julia Golding
Lion Hudson Ltd. (23 April 2021)
In 1789, it is certainly true that life as the daughter of a clergyman in rural Hampshire is “disappointingly full of duties.” Making their way home from a visit with one of their fathers’ more tedious parishioners, Cassandra and Jane Austen are looking forward to a summer lacking in excitement and adventure. But all of that changes quickly. A carriage accident forces a change of plans. Thirteen-year-old Jane is sent to act as companion to Lady Cromwell at Southmoor Abbey, while Lord and Lady Cromwell prepare the eldest sons’ coming-of-age party. Goaded on by her older brother, Henry, Jane vows to solve the centuries-old mystery of the ghostly monk haunting the Abbey grounds. It seems one vision of the ghost assures certain death. Jane, of course does not believe in such stories!
When she arrives, Jane discovers there is more mystery than the ghost of a mad monk. A stable boy with unique engineering talents and an Indian servant girl with hidden, unique abilities and big dreams worth fighting for soon join Jane is her spooky nighttime investigations. As the day of the celebrations draw near, they are thrown into chaotic events as a hovering lantern lights the ruins, a fire in the library destroys precious family documents and two prize horses are kidnapped with no trail to be found and a new-found friend stands accused of nefarious deeds. With her notebook in hand and her faithful dog, Grandison by her side, Jane wages a secretive battle with preconceived notions and strict social guidelines to uncover the truth…but will she reveal all in time?
With all the charm and insight of a Jane Austen novel, and all the excitement and drama of a historical mystery, this is a delight! Here we have a plucky, bold young Jane honing her skills (that will lead her on to become a famous, beloved author) and developing practical reporting tools to expose a fraudulent (perhaps) ghost and a deep-seated family plot. There is great attention to detail as Janes’ observation of fashion, food and family life wind their way through this tale. Golding has given a glimmer of Austens’ criticism and cynicism of the social constructs of the time. Turning these observations to the solving of mystery is absolute genius! With all the social morés of the time well intact and while honouring the historical nature of the tale, this book has a surprisingly contemporary feel in the writing. Janes’ character is bold, quirky, clever and determined. The allies she draws around her are unique and brilliantly cast. And the painting of the villains and their deeds hold shocking twists and turns that keep you riveted to the page. Janes’ letters home to Cassandra add a wonderful, true-to-character element that tease and peak interest. And with the inclusion of plenty “Easter Eggs” seeded into the plot lead to a curiosity (and perhaps your own investigations?) about the original Jane Austen books.
While The Abbey Mystery is detailed and complex, it is a fast-paced, grabbing the attention and holding on tight. Each description oozes with atmosphere, painting the scenes with pin-point accuracy and unusual insight. As the story builds and the tension mounts, the end hands the reader an unexpected revelation that not only surprises, but delights and entertains. I am really looking forward to further Jane Austen Investigates… mysteries; and I think I’ll go back and read Pride and Prejudice right now. An absolutely gorgeous story soaked in the feel of Austen and her life; thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully imaginative and fabulously mysterious!
My advice? Pre-order your copy NOW!
I want to thank Lion Hudson for sending the pre-release proof copy (and all the Jane Austen goodies!) for review purposes…and my utter enjoyment! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!
….if understanding were possible. Today, 27 January marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. When the Red Army arrived at the gates of this most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps, they saw for the first time the horrors that it held. It stands today as a memorial; a stark reminder of what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings in the name of…I’m still not sure. In my mind, it must be in the name of some kind of insanity. We need to understand what can happen. Our children need to know what happened in those dark times and that we must not let happen again. There have been a lot of books written for young people telling the stories. Here are a few of my recommendations that will keep the memories alive and help our children to understand.
Of course, we must begin with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. These writings taken from the diary of Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the German occupation of the Netherlands begin in June 1942 and documents daily life; the ever-present threat, the small joys, the comfort she found in her family and friends…all the thoughts and feelings of a young girl in these unimaginable circumstances. The Frank family was captured in 1944, and Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 of typhus. Her diary was retrieved and placed back in the hands of her only surviving family member, her father.
For more biographical fare, we turn to Tomi: Tomi Reichenthals’ Holocaust Story by Eithne Massey. Tomi grew up in a small village with friendly neighbours, a happy family and many friends. But things changed. First Tomi was told he couldn’t play with some of his friends any more and then the police began to take away his friends and his family. By age 9, he was on the run in fear of his life. Soon came the day when he was taken, with many others, to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In this biographical novel, Tomi tells his story, in hope that it will never happen again.
When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit is a semi-autobiographical novel by Judith Kerr. It is the story of what happened to one Jewish family; how they had to flee Germany before World War 2 broke out; how they were secreted away by their mother, running from place to place to escape a horrific fate. Told from the perspective of Anna, a nine-year-old girl, it closely mirrors the youth of Judith Kerr herself. This and the 2 sequels give a vivid picture of the life of, not just one child, but the fate of many as Hitler moved across Europe, changing their worlds and lives forever.
Released just the other day, Saving Hanno: A Refugee Boy and His Dog by Miriam Halahmy is a beautiful, heartfelt book for younger readers. Based on a character from her previous, The Emergency Zoo, it tells the story of 9-year-old Rudi, a happy normal boy with a loving family forced to leave his home on the Kindertransport to England. But he won’t go without his beloved dachshund, Hanno. But in England, with a German invasion imminent, thousands of pets are being put to sleep. He joins a group of children who vow to save all the pets they can find, hiding them away in a make-shift “emergency zoo.” Rudi and his new friends set out on a dangerous journey to find a safe haven for Hanno and the other animals.
A personal favourite, Letters From the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll is a gripping historical mystery. After months of bombing raids in London, 12-year-old Olive and her little brother are evacuated to the Devon coast. Mr Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper is the only person with beds to spare, but he’s not used to company. Trying to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying messages to the villagers. But Olive has a secret. Her older sister Sukie went missing in an air raid, and she must discover what happened to her. And then she finds a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, and to something dark and impossibly dangerous. While a cracking adventure, it rings with an astounding amount of truth.
Once by Morris Gleitzman tells us the story of Felix. For 3 years and 8 months, he has lived in a convent orphanage high in the mountains of Poland. But Felix is different from the other orphans. He is convinced that his parents are still alive and will return to get him one day. When the Nazis arrive at the orphanage and burn all the nuns’ books, Felix escapes the orphanage and begins the dangerous journey through occupied Poland to find his parents. Intense, stunning and one everyone should read.
The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr is a WW2 story with a powerful twist. Max is the keeper of a wildlife preserve who has learned to keep secrets and deal with the Nazi soldiers. One of the secrets is the young girl, Kalinka. She has lost her home, family, possessions; everything but her life and is in hiding on the wildlife preserve and has gained a deep friendship with the wild, rare Przewalki’s Horses who wander there. But, a Nazi campaign of extermination in search of perfection has eliminated all but the last two. Kalinka embarks on an epic, treacherous journey across the harsh Ukrainian landscape to save the horses…and herself.
Flight by Vanessa Harbour is another gripping, unusual novel; full of heart and insight. In 1945 Austria, young Jakob is hiding out, sheltered on Herr Engels’ rural estate after losing his home to the Nazis. There, he tends the Lipizanner stallions, also hidden there. Herr Engel knows that Hitler wants these beautiful horses for his own. He also knows that if the Nazis’ find Jakob, it means certain death. When a German officer comes looking for both, the horses and Jakob must steal away across the Austrian Alps. They are joined by a young Roma girl, Kizzy who is running for reasons of her own.
I will end with Number the Stars by Lois Lowry; a most poignant book that brings the past to life. 1943 Copenhagen; life is increasingly complicated for 10-year-old Annemarie. The Nazi occupation brought with it curfews, food-shortages and soldiers on every street. As difficult as it is for her, it is even more so for her best-friend, Ellen. The Nazis are planning to arrest all the Danish Jews and will come at any moment. Ellens’ life is in certain danger. Annemarie musters all her courage to commit one selfless act; she will help stage a daring and dangerous escape. A contemporary classic.
So many more books are available that paint a vivid picture of the this horrific time, embedding in children and adults alike a sense of the urgency of remembering, of listening and of why this kind of horrible, inhuman act must never happen again. But they also nurture a sense of courage, conscience, strength and determination; a sense of the best of human spirit and of hope…if only we will allow it.