All Steamed Up: Ewww
At the risk of coming over all Mary Whitehouse, wtf? Teenagers now have to have their own dirty books and they are known in the trade as “steamies.” In my day we made do with our parents’ copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover but obviously John Thomas and all that pubic daisy threading would seem hopelessly old fashioned now. A horrible portend of what was to come emerged in...
Comics: not such a Golden Age after all
When I was a child the Saturday comic was the highlight of my week. I started with Harold Hare, moved on to Princess and then the upstart Diana which seduced us all with its flashy free gifts. I’ve long nurtured a nostalgia for these comics, believing them to be a cornerstone of my literary development. So leafing through a 1972 Bunty annual recently was a revelation. The first...
Review: Stupid Baby
My favourite picture book hero of last year - a kind of demonic Miffy called Simon who featured in the brilliant Poo Bum - is back in Stupid Baby. New baby books follow a pattern as predictable as scheduled feeding: baby comes back from hospital, disgruntled sibling asks when it’s going back, disgruntled sibling starts acting up, baby cries and no one can settle it, until disgruntled...
Review: The Hit by Melvyn Burgess
There is an unwritten list of authors who will always get review space - mostly because they are just brilliant writers, have won big awards in the past or because they are “controversial.” At various points in his career Melvyn Burgess has straddled all three categories. He won the Carnegie Medal with Junk and over the years has written some great novels, though never surpassed, to...
Reviewers' dirty secrets: judging the author not...
OK, I’m not saying I would definitely have included Louis Nowra’s Into That Forest in my upcoming Easter reviews in the Sunday Telegraph if I hadn’t made the mistake of looking him up on Google and deciding I didn’t like him. And I’m not saying that every reviewer is as culpably judgemental as me (goodness, how would Martin Amis ever get any column inches if that...
Book recommendations from my Teenage Self
Anyone who happened to read my letter in the Guardian (OK, so you may not all be Guardian readers but it got tweeted, and retweeted until it went viral, or at least mildly infectious) about my teenage diary will know I was a bit of a narcissist. July 20 1969. “Went to Arts Centre (by myself!) in yellow cords and blouse. Ian was there but he didn’t speak to me. Got little...
Review: Night School
Everything about Night School by C J Daughery screams Step Away From the Book. The initials (Salinger yes, everyone else no), the dark cover featuring pale skinned, red (they’re always red) haired beauty, and the French love interest who “purrs” and calls our feisty – naturally – heroine “ma belle”… It’s set in a mixed boarding school where a mysterious night school separates elite students...
Review: How the Light Gets In
Why did I not review How the Light Gets In by M J Hyland when it was reincarnated last summer as a young adult novel for Walker Canongate? Maybe I just allowed my prejudice against authorial initials (yes, yes we all loved Catcher in the Rye but, you know, get over it) to overcome my critical neutrality, or maybe it arrived too late for my deadline? But better late than never to hail a teen...
Top 5: What the Dickens?
So, according to Claire Tomalin, today’s children don’t have the attention span for Dickens? The television’s on in the corner so we can’t really concentrate on the argument other than to say that Dickens himself, who objected to both memorialisation and cruelty to children, would not have condoned force feeding his dense prose to young readers. The truth is that some...
A Christmas Tale from Under the Counter
Customer: “I’d like to return this copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Shop: “Oh, was there something wrong with it?” Customer: “There aren’t any Christmas carols in it.” Unfortunately this isn’t a sketch from The Two Ronnies, or a bad cracker joke. It actually happened. Happy Christmas!
Ladybird Books Deconstructed
I have been forced to have a radical rethink on the seminal influence of Ladybird books. A friend has just been round and dived with glee in to the box of covers - ‘Oh The Nurse! that was my favourite.’ All her nostalgic joy was directed at the educational ones - and as she is an Oxford educated Renaissance Woman who can unblock an S bend with one hand, while writing books about the...
Gender Bending Ladybirds: the Box Set
Shameless bout of nostalgia brought on by the box set of Ladybird cover postcards that arrived in the post the other day. Ohhhhh! Beaky the Greedy Duck! That was MINE - in a family of five children, books were read by us all but we had a strong proprietorial sense of which ones belonged to us. One Christmas my brother and I received each other’s books - he had Puppies and Kittens and I got...
Review: Far From Home
The opposite of Guilty Pleasure must be Worthy Read. And I must confess that when faced with a cover featuring an AK47 and those orange-y colours that usually denote war-torn African country, my instinct is to reach for the glitzy book next to it. The Frances Lincoln list is heavy on Guilt Trip Lit - and we love them for it. Because, generally, it means their books are well written and resonant....
Bottom Humour - Enough!
Maybe it was the fact that the Pop Up Book of Poo (Walker) arrived with Harvey, the Boy Who Couldn’t Fart that caused the sense of humour short circuit. I’m sorry to be so po-faced - oh, let’s get in to the spirit of things and add an extra o to that - but ever since The Story of the Little Mole who Knew it was None of his Business (a mole goes round with a lump of faeces on...
Event: Chris Riddell and Tony DiTerlizzi
Last Thursday LBB had the pleasure of attending an event with not just one, but two of our favourite illustrators/authors: Chris Riddell and Tony DiTerlizzi. The event focused very much around their childhood. Tony grew up in Florida (the Mickey Mouse badge he was sporting on his blazer surely an ironic nod to his roots?). Spiderwick Chronicles started as a field guide that he made when he was...
Author Crush: Kate de Goldi
Admittedly she has only published one children’s book which shouldn’t really qualify her for an infatuation. But what a book! If you haven’t already read the 10 O’clock Question (Templar), rush out and buy it immediately. It was the best young adult novel published last year. But having met Kate the other day (tea at Fortnums – it’s been a fattening week) it’s clear why she is such a...
One of the best things about literary dinners (and last night’s at Quo Vadis – we suffer for our art - definitely was literary because it was in honour of Roddy Doyle) is not necessarily meeting the author – though in this case he was as lovely as his book A Greyhound of a Girl. No, it’s the chance to have no-holds barred conversations about books with other critics and booksellers and to...
Review: Colours and Numbers Orla Kiely
Oh dear. Yes, these beautifully produced baby board books with cloth covers will totally go with your Orla Kiely handbag and patterned coat. And the colours are fabulously dingy in an ultra-cool mid-century-modern kind of way. Which is great news for design-obsessed 30 something parents. But not so good news for babies who, last time we looked, were rather keen on bright primary colours.
Not Suitable for Grown ups? David Almond
David Almond’s latest book, published simultaneously for adults and children is written entirely phonetically in the voice of Billy Dean, “a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing”. For teenagers, bilingual in textspeak, this is not a problem but adults, particularly the linguistic pedants amongst us (am I alone in wanting to give pre-nup spelling tests to...
There must be no computer, phone or iAnything, naturally. Did Edgar Allan Poe...– Chris Priestley on writing horror…
Tales from under the counter
“Do you have a sticker book about clock making for a 3 year old ?” NO.
Review: Let's Make Some Great Art
Just looking at the title makes me feel anxious: Let’s Make Some Great Art. It’s that exhortive “Let’s” which makes you immediately think Let’s Not. (Let’s Talk About Sex; Let’s Have Fun with Maths - these are not conducive book titles). But putting aside my own hang ups, this is a fabulous book - though it might not look quite so good when...
Reviewers' dirty secrets: "Do you read them all?"
I think the answer to that is pretty obvious, looking at the mountains of review copies obliterating every surface in my office - I would not have a life, let alone a critical faculty, if I did. “So how do you decide which ones to review?” The disappointing answer to this is: the same way as most people select a book in a shop - judge it by its cover. I will then do random spot...
The news of Lynn Barber being successfully sued for ‘malicious’ libel in a “spiteful” book review has sent shock waves through those of us who are sometimes less than kind in our judgement. There’s no doubt that bad reviews come back to haunt you, whether in the form of the maligned author on your doorstep (Jeanette Winterson) or your own conscience. When Lionboy by...
Tales from under the counter
Children’s book publishing is a tricky business, not only are you marketing towards kids but you also have to reel in the parents too. The trend for books with screaming flayed skulls and gruesome monsters on the covers sits very well with Resident Evil immunised boys. But try selling The Shadowing by Adam Slater (see pic below) to parents about to reach for another bucolic looking Michael...
Off to see Harry Potter. You know, I’m beginning to get the feeling this...– Author Tweet of the Week: Patrick Ness
Top 5: Modern Books with a Retro Twist
For parents trying to waft their beloved childhood books under their children’s noses in the hope that they’ll take the bait, why not ease them in with modern tales with an old-fashioned twist? 1. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry - A fantastic pastiche of old fashioned children’s books, replete with a trip to Switzerland, an old fashioned nanny and irresponsible parents (they...
Favouritism in reviews
In Kate Kellaway’s summer round up in The Observer yesterday, four out of six picture books were from Walker. As a reviewer, you try to be inclusive - it somehow feels wrong not to share out the plaudits (though not quite as wrong as feeling morally obliged to review a book because you accepted an invitation to the launch dinner at The Ivy…) But when it comes to illustrated books...
Book Rant: the Classics
A few weeks ago, Anne McElvoy wrote a little snippet for the Evening Standard as part of their “Get London Reading Campaign.” Although we applaud her sentiments (the value of independent children’s bookshops and personal recommendations from knowledgeable staff), we couldn’t help titter over her lament that her boys would rather read Darren Shan over Huckleberry Finn. ...
Review: My Dad is Ten Years Old
My heart shrank just a little when I saw this title, particularly the strap line “and it’s pure weird”. A jaunty-sounding novel about a brain-damaged father? Really? Must I? But it’s much better than it sounds. Eala’s dad has a collision with the local drug dealer’s son that leaves him with the mental age of a ten year old. When he comes home from hospital,...
Tales from under the counter
One thing a parent must never do is walk into a bookshop and tell their children, ‘darling, pick out anything you want.’ It happens every shift. You can see the unsuspecting mother thinking, ‘it’s an independent bookshop, he can’t possibly pick out anything trashy. No, Milo will trot over to the classics and pick out Treasure Island.’ Little do they know that...
Review: Swim the Fly
Swim the Fly by Don Calame (Templar) is like a literary version of Judd Apatow films which, because we’re talking about a target audience of teenage boys rather than grown men, is actually a good thing. Matt, Coop and Sean set themselves a challenge every summer – it used to be things like collecting a thousand stray golf balls but this year it is to see a real live naked girl. Matt has the...
Top 5: Books to wean your teen from vamp trash...
LBB is not really mad about teenage bloodsucker books: Team Edward we are not. We find the idea of teenage boys (17 going on 117) not fumbling with bra straps slightly disturbing. If you want to wean your teen from vamp trash, we suggest our top five (actually) good supernatural novels: 1. Moth Diaries - Rachel Klein. Published before its time in 2004, this has all the angst of Twilight but, with...
Author Crush: Mal Peet
You know when a book has really got under your skin when you have to remind yourself that no, the characters do not exist in real life, and no, it would not be cool to ring the author and ask whether Clem goes back to Frankie, that in fact you are really only one step away from talking at characters in The Archers like your mum…. But we defy you to read Life: An Exploded Diagram (Walker)...
Top 5: Depraved Young Adult Novels
Unlike Wall Street Journal columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon, we’re all for a bit of depravity in children’s books. But only when it comes with literary excellence. So here we celebrate the last fifteen years of depraved literature. 1. This is all: The Pillow Book of Cordelia by Aidan Chambers. It should be passed down the maternal line when girls ‘come of age’. It has underage...
News: another cosy, middle aged Laureate?
Robert Muchamore put the cat among the tweeters today by asking if we really needed “another cosy, middle aged, white person representing kids lit?” on the announcement of Julia Donaldson as Children’s Laureate. We know what he means - but bet poor old (sorry, middle aged) Michael Rosen is spitting: he doesn’t do ‘cosy’. Yes, of course it would be good to see...
Tales from under the counter
A big part of working in an independent bookshop is offering recommendations. You get addicted to it, and each bookseller has their own favourites that they always try and push (I’m still trying to get someone to buy Francisco X. Stork’s The Last Summer of the Death Warriors - story about a boy wanting to wreak violent revenge and another dying of cancer anyone?) As another parent...
Review: My Dad is Beautiful
We do love an emasculated Dad here at LBB - and the deliberately provocative repetition of the feminised adjective in My Dad is Beautiful by Jessica Spanyol (Walker) combined with the pictures of an obese, hairy, dungareed male of indeterminate species ticks all our boxes. Boden Dad he ain’t. As with all the best picture books there is a subtle sub-text, probably visible only to mothers. Dad...
We read some of the swearing together and had a good discussion about...– American Amazon review of The Boy Who Lost His Face - Louis Sachar. Another comedic gem.
Review: The Case of the Deadly Desperados
LBB has to shamefacedly admit to ignoring Caroline Lawrence, author of the hugely successful Roman Mysteries books, purely on the basis that the parents who buy them for their children are always so smug. It’s the Educational Glint in their eyes that’s so annoying. But putting prejudice and all thoughts of John Wayne aside, we decided to give her new Wild West series a go and, dang,...
Top 5: Literary Sedatives
If Go the F**k to Sleep doesn’t do the trick here’s our top five expletive-free books to lull little ones to sleep. 1. Tuck Me In by Dean Hacohen & Sherry Scharschmidt. Lift the flaps to tuck the baby animals in. Very sweet and repetitive enough to get those eyes drooping. 2. Husherby by John Burningham. Soothing rhyme and plenty of pictures of tired animals. Baggy-eyed fish...
Tales from under the counter
From mothers wanting their 8 year olds to read James Bond (drinking, misogyny, violence - perfect for your little darlings) to setting up portable potties so their tots can defecate on the shop floor, we see it all at the children’s bookshop where I do weekend shifts. One thing you learn is that everybody has ‘very, very bright’ (and I mean very, very, very bright) children. It...
The beginning of the book does nothing but teach your child how to lie, cheat...– Amazon.com reviews of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Our new favourite game: finding morally outraged American reviews of books we love.
Event: Literary Teens
Read Between the Lines, an event run by Live! magazine and Walker books to discuss teenage reading in the digital age left LBB feeling surprisingly optimistic, not least because the young (mostly male!) teens there were fidgeting less than us. Mal Peet, Peter Cocks (and no one sniggered either), Michelle Gayle and Martyn Bedford talked about the difficulties and pleasures of writing for...
Writing for the Grown Ups
Patronising or what? In reviewing Eoin Colfer’s “adult” novel Plugged (Picador) in the Guardian today, Mark Lawson, in an otherwise positive piece, refers to Colfer’s “experiments beyond the youth shelves.” Funny, isn’t it, that when a writer of adult novels decides to try his hand at fiction for children (there was an inexplicable rush to do so soon after...
Review: Rockoholic by C J Skuse
Unlike her brilliant debut Pretty Bad Things, Rockoholic by C J Skuse (Chicken House) is more X-rated Jacqueline Wilson than Quentin Tarantino. Jody is obsessed with a rock star, to the extent that she “accidentally” kidnaps him after a concert. Jody’s best friend Mac is the voice of reason – “you can’t keep him in the garage like Skellig” – but by the time Jody comes to her senses, the rock...
Bookburning Watch: Go the F*** to Sleep
Hugely looking forward to the furore that will be unleashed with the publication of Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Ansbach (Canongate), a picture book for parents. The sniping on Guardian online after Annalisa Barbieri’s piece yesterday, will be as nothing compared to the moral outrage from those who police children’s books on Amazon.com (God fearing folk and librarians who advocate...
Review: One Boy and His Dog
Eva Ibbotson died last year, soon after delivering One Dog and his Boy (Scholastic) and it has all the characteristics of her best novels: charm, old fashioned adventure and a sly wit. Hal is a boy who has everything money can buy except decent parents and the thing he wants most of all in the world – a dog. When he discovers that the mongrel his father gives him for his birthday is only rented...
Review: Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School
Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins) says out loud the things we wish our children didn’t think. The narrator has to sit next to the new boy who is “different”. He wears a boater and glasses that he obviously pinched from a boy named Ray Ban. Worst of all “Marshall Armstrong’s arm is too close to mine. It is all white with red spots on it.” But when the...