Tag Archives: David Fickling Books

Jam!

Jam! Jam! Jam! Jam! Lovely Jam! Wonderful Jam!

I may have misquoted slightly, but I couldn’t resist. Jam goes in sandwiches, in porridge, on toast, in cakes, and in debates about whether strawberry or raspberry is best. Raspberry, obviously. And it can be mistaken for blood, which is what the following three books sort-of have in common.

jampires

Jampires: Sarah McIntyre & David O’Connell (David Fickling Books, 2014)

Jampires began life as a comic created by Sarah McIntyre and David O’Connell, where one drew a page and the other one followed until a story appeared.  Encouraged by their publisher to transform the idea into a picture book, David and Sarah worked together to create Jampires. Sarah and David are both the author(s) and the illustrator(s) in this fabulous collaboration.

Sam is distressed to find his favourite treat dry and wrinkly, as if all the jam had been sucked out. Determined to catch the culprit, he sets a trap with ketchup filled doughnuts (yuck!), but ends up with more than he bargained with. Two small Jampires, a land of yummy treats that DG(5) wants to move to, and a deliciously sticky adventure.

The Jampires are far too cute to be scary, even with those fangs and red-smeared faces. You can find out more on the Jampires website, including the original comic and activities to download.

bernardBernard: Rob Jones (Beast In Show Books, 2014)

This is not only Rob Jones’ debut picture book, but the publisher’s debut too. Based on the quality of this, I expect Beast In Show Books, and Rob Jones, to have a rosy future ahead of them.

Bernard is the tale of a misunderstood wild dog. Poor Bernard, all alone on the moors with everyone afraid of him, and all he wants is your yummy tasty jam – eek, lock up your fridges!

Told in a minimal palette with strong lines and text taking a starring role, the bold style will appeal to even small children. Grown-ups, however, might find some of the images a little scary, especially one of the double spreads showing a close up of the hound’s mouth full of sharp pointed red-stained teeth and manic red pupils… Just hold your child’s hand and you’ll be fine.

Disclosure: Bernard received for review from Beast In Show Books.

The Wolves in the Walls: Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2003)The Wolves in the Walls: Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2003)

The slightly scary nature of Bernard, and his taste for jam, brought to mind the wolves from this classic Gaiman/McKean picture book. I reviewed The Wolves in the Walls a couple of years ago, and actually we haven’t read it this year so I’ve pulled it out to see what DG thinks of it now she’s five (MG doesn’t listen to stories at all any more, she prefers to read alone.) What this has in common with Bernard is that it’s a book that grown-ups will probably find more frightening than children will.

I think we forget that a book like Owl Babies is more terrifying to a small child than vampires or werewolves can ever be, or that children will just see jam as jam if that’s the context…

Phoenix by SF Said

Phoenix: SF Said (David Fickling Books, 2013)Phoenix: SF Said (David Fickling Books, 2013)

I think this is a book to buy in real book format rather than electronic. I read it on my (now considered ancient) Kindle 3 which can hardly do justice to the pictures, plus some of the formatting of the electronic version text is out of sync, which will affect my opinion. I think the book works well as text only, but I suspect the full impact has been lost.

The plot follows a boy named lucky (I’m not sure if the odd capitalisation throughout my version is intentional but I assumed it was*) who dreams of the stars singing to him and awakes one day to find a hole burned through his sheets. This starts a chain of events as his mother rushes to hide him, knowing all along that something like this would happen.

Starting with the you’re-not-who-you-think-you-are premise, and losing the only connections to finding out early on leaves a mystery to solve wrapped up in alien warfare, a galaxy-wide quest, and a host of endearing characters both human and alien.

To talk much of the plot would give away intended twists and turns. There is a review on Amazon, written by a fourteen year old, says the book has twists that will leave everyone open-mouthed. As a thirty-eight year old who has read a few books in her life, I found the twists to be predictable from the hints scattered throughout so no, not even the ending surprised me (although I hoped it wouldn’t be what it was) but that aside, this is a very enjoyable and compelling read.

I can’t give it 5 stars though, and I don’t know whether that’s because the e-book took away some impact because I’ve not seen a real book version to compare. An enjoyable, page-turning, proper science fiction novel for approx age 12+ but please get the real book to fully appreciate it.

*Addendum: I’ve looked at the Kindle preview on Amazon, and the odd capitalisations and out-of-sync text appear to only be in the Netgalley preview.

Second Addendum: Working out the twists from the hints in the plot isn’t a bad thing. I liked that it stuck to its logic and that it was possible to ‘guess’ certain things because of what had been told already. Having an illogical ‘twist’ that makes no sense in the context of the story would have been annoying. I liked that you could work things out, and it still was a page-turner to see if you’re right and find out how the story progressed.

Disclosure: Electronic copy received for review via Netgalley.

Ways into Reading: Oxford Children’s Book Group Conference 2013

Oxford University Press

image from Wikipedia

I am sitting here with about eight A4 pages covered in notes from the Oxford Children’s Book Group conference, wondering how to even start writing it all up. In summary: it was excellent. All of the speakers were interesting and informative and everything ran smoothly. The conference was held at the Oxford University Press offices, which was the perfect venue.

The day was split into ninety minute sections for the speakers. There were drinks and pastries on arrival, the same at mid-morning break and then a delicious buffet lunch. The OUP museum was also open for viewing, which I managed briefly after lunch, and Mostly Books were supporting with their travelling bookstall of relevant books.

My camera battery died at lunchtime so I have limited pictures but I spent more time making notes than taking pictures because the talks were so informative. All the talks were on the theme “Ways into Reading”, and the different methods available to encourage and support children to become readers.

The first speaker was Victor Watson, a retired lecturer and current author. His interest was in series fiction, which a child had described to him as entering a “room full of friends”. Series fiction is comforting to readers, you are returning to characters and places that you’re familiar with and you want to know more. He talked about how series fiction is often sidelined as being worthless, but argued against this premise. The series fiction author must provide a story that regular readers want, but make it different each time. He described the difference between progressive and successive series and the effect that time had on series written over long periods – for example the effect of the second world war and the sixties on series started in 1940’s and completed in 1970’s – and how different authors approached these changes. It was a fascinating talk, and I’ve requested his book Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp from the library.

Oxford Children's Book Group Conference 2013

Victor Watson, Caro Fickling, Tracey Corderoy, and some props!

Andrea Quincey from Oxford University Press talked about the perception of reading schemes and the aims of the Project X scheme. This was a great continuation from the theme of series fiction because reading schemes are series, however Andrea pointed out that becoming too attached to one series can have a negative effect so the aim is to create an interest in all kinds of reading. For some children, reading schemes are the only books that they come across in their lives so it was important to create something that will hold interest. Research states that the clearest indicator for a child’s future success is not economic status, family background or other social indicators but their ability to read. The details behind creating a 21st century reading scheme to hook children and the challenges faced in ensuring that the series can be read in any order but still make sense was fascinating.

As a picture book aficionado, Tracey Corderoy was my most anticipated speaker, and she didn’t disappoint. With a suitcase packed with props she exuded enthusiasm and wit. She talked about her childhood growing up in what she described as a grey and smoky Welsh town, in a school that was often closed due to chemical spills, and a childhood with few books. But being unconventional she turned into a literature student, a teacher, a parent and an author with 38 published books in three years. Tracey’s talk was all about setting children’s  “senses on fire” – using colour, props, crafts and singing to pull out a story and make it an experience. She talked about how she tells children that if they write stories then they are writers just like she is; this particularly spoke to me because it’s something that I do with my children. Tracey was incredibly inspirational, and a very humourous speaker. This was the highlight of an amazing day.

Tom and Caro Fickling talked about comics, and specifically The Phoenix. Tom talked about how comics are a way into reading that works because the child ‘owns’ the books by discovering themselves. As adults we’re allowed to look at pictures but children are expected to dump pictures at a certain age. Caro wondered whether declines in literacy were correlated to the lack of decent children’s comics in the last few decades and about how today’s ‘comics’ are thinly veiled marketing devices based on characters with printed matter not designed to stand up on its own and are thrown with relief into the recycle bin – I could completely relate to this having small children who are only interested in the plastic tat attached to the front! They talked about the medium of telling stories visually and how positioning and page turns affect how a story is read. Another fascinating insight.

Oxford University Press Museum

Oxford University Press Museum

Vineeta Gupta from Open University Press talked about the Oxford Children’s Corpus. This is not a term I’d actually come across before but with a background in analysis I now want to work for them! The Corpus is an enormous database of words used in writing for children and, more interestingly, in writing by children. The writing by children was collected in collaboration with Radio 2’s 500 words competition which gave them access to 160,000 samples of writing and over seventy million words to analyse. The Corpus is used to create dictionaries full of words that children actually come across in daily life, and to give real-life examples. Analysis of connections between words (for example, how often a word is used ‘near’ another word) means that, for example, ‘zoom’ can be illustrated by Harry Potter zooming around a Quidditch pitch making dictionaries relevant for today’s children.

Andy Mulligan only just arrived in time for his talk, having a journey cursed by public transport problems (Trains? Today? Of course they’re not running…) His theme was dangerous books and contemplating at what point children go from wanting to read “Shadow the Sheepdog” (Enid Blyton) to “The Fault in Our Stars”, and is something like The Fault in Our Stars a children’s book? Should children read books that don’t offer them reassurance that everything is going to end well? His talk was fascinating and engaging and covered a range of experiences. I now have all his books on my wish list too, especially The Boy with Two Heads and Trash. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do go.

Finally the day was rounded off with Bill Laar, educational consultant, whose passion for sharing books and words spun into the room of fairly tired attendees. It is quite lovely as a ‘grown-up’ to have picture books and poetry read to you by such an enthusiastic reader. The perfect end to a packed day!

Thanks must go to everyone at Oxford Children’s Book Group who put together such a smooth-running and informative event whilst keeping costs low; and to all the speakers and publishers who provided their services, especially Oxford University Press. I had an amazing day, got to meet up with some people I usually only know on Twitter, and learnt so much.

Advent Books, part five

The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder, 2003)The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder, 2003)
This is an absolutely perfect Christmas book, as well as being an almost perfect book. Annoyingly, it is currently out of print. Even more annoyingly, meany old grown ups are trying to sell copies of it for £40 and up online (see here) We were lucky enough to get a copy almost three years ago, and I reviewed it here. I am frustrated on behalf of children who are missing out on this lovely book, and it is a pity that the publisher didn’t manage to get it reprinted in time for Christmas. If you find a copy in an independent bookstore, do snap it up, it is a beautiful book that MG and DG love to hear again and again (and then watch the animated version too!)

The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas: Ronda & David Armitage (Scholastic Children's Books, 2002)The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas: Ronda & David Armitage (Scholastic Children’s Books, 2002)

Another one I ordered via school and has only just arrived so we haven’t had a chance to read it enough times to review yet!

 

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tim Burton (Hyperion Children's Books, 1993)The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tim Burton (Hyperion Children’s Books, 1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas is probably my all-time favourite film that I can watch over and over again. This is a lot to do with the genius of Henry Selick who is an amazing director, coupled with the imagination of Tim Burton (who sadly ‘jumped the shark’ many years ago in my opinion!) This book is pure Tim Burton in the good days however and a joyous rhyming romp! It’s not the film (there’s no Oogie Boogie or Sally for a start) but it’s the same rough plot. There are a couple of rhymes that don’t gel (maybe it’s not having an American accent but I can’t get “good job” and “macabre” to rhyme) but the luscious art and the plot more than make up for this. A gorgeous book, and well worth it just for the “A Visit From Saint Nick” parody (“… The children, all nestled so snug in their beds, would have nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads…”) This is my book, of course, bought long before I had children, but my children are my children so they love it too! Bear in mind one of DG’s favourite books is The Spider and The Fly!

When It Snows: Richard Collingridge (David Ficking Books, 2012)When It Snows: Richard Collingridge (David Ficking Books, 2012)
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. With an ending which will leave book-lovers everywhere signing with delight. It is so luscious that I’ve added it as an actual Christmas present instead of an advent book so I don’t have my copy to hand! But that gives me the perfect opportunity to share the review written by one of my favourite fellow book bloggers: Read It, Daddy! If you love children’s books and aren’t already following his blog and twitter, I really urge you to do so. I aspire to produce so many outstanding reviews every week!

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker: James Mayhew (Orchard, 2012)Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker: James Mayhew (Orchard, 2012)
DG is going through a Ballet phase. MG did at about the same age. It’s all about dressing up in ballet clothes, pretend dancing (it’s amazing how much they pick up even with not going to a single class ever!) and reading books with ballerinas in. So this book is a HUGE hit. Not to mention that “Ella Bella” are very almost MG’s names as she is Eleanor Isabelle for long 🙂 She likes Ella as a nickname now, but when we tried it as a baby she insisted on being Eleanor so she’s always been that. I often call her El’s Bells which she dislikes intensely! As I mentioned in my Katie and the Starry Night review, James Mayhew is a genius and this is another wonderful introduction to… book. Playing by the Book, another of my favourite book blogs, has such a gorgeous nutcracker feast in her write-up that I can’t resist sending you there to read more! I’ve just found out that there’s another Ella Bella review today, and her review is beautiful so please do look. Library Mice is the cause of much of my book spending with her wonderful reviews of the most beautiful books.