Posted in general and welcome, other news and reviews

Is it really true? Baffling book blurbs

Holly and I were talking about blurbs today, and how some publishers try to sell books on the back of the success of others. We found an example on one of her summer reading challenge books, Molly Moon and the Morphing Mystery.

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panmacmillan.com

This was Holly’s reaction:

‘I was reading the blurb of a book when I came across a comment. It said : “Need a break from Harry Potter? Try Molly Moon … fast, funny and original.”  Telegraph

‘I  personally think it was a bit silly because this book Molly Moon is nothing like Harry Potter. I have read all the Harry Potter books and I am now halfway through Molly Moon and it is nothing like them. This proves that you shouldn’t always believe what you read. Publishers and reviewers say this sometimes just to make you read the book. It does not mean you will like it.’

I know what Holly means. Although the reviewer from the Telegraph wasn’t saying that Molly Moon was the new Harry Potter, by mentioning the books in the same breath, it leads you to believe that they are somehow similar.

It must be lovely as an author to have one’s work side by side with a firm favourite but on the other hand it seems a bit of a shame to me (as a potential author too!). You’d think an author would like to be known in their own right rather than as some sort of literary shadow to a predecessor. The number of times I’ve read ‘The next Steig Larsson!’ on a new Scandinavian thriller defies belief. The thing is, while I enjoyed Steig Larsson’s work, when I read a different author I want to read their stories, not an extension of someone else’s. It sort of devalues their own literary achievement if they have to be sold on someone’s reputation.

This article, written last year, says that the race is on to find the next Harry Potter series as there’s a huge gap left by JK Rowling’s absence. The thing is, it’s the publishers and the film companies who are feeling the panic, not the readers they are seeking to attract. Of course, Harry Potter fans were in mourning over the end of the series but they have recovered and moved on. But for those looking for a new franchising opportunity, the quest for the literary equivalent of Harry Potter’s horcruxes is, as ever, neverending.

Posted in general and welcome, other news and reviews

What’s worth more: a book or a cup of tea?

I saw an interesting article in the Telegraph today, in which well known crime author Mark Billingham bemoaned the growth in self-published ebooks, claiming that the practice devalued literature.

This seems to be a constant source of controversy now in the publishing world, where some established authors and publishing houses discredit the material that is coming out of self-published authors while on the other side of the fence, new and unknown authors accuse the literary establishment of snobbery.

The whole e-book/self-publishing phenomenon is an interesting one. Years ago, when I was training in editing, self-publishing was severely frowned-upon – the term it was known by was derogatory enough: vanity publishing. The view was that it was for people with more ego (and money) than talent. However, with the growth in technology, these layers of cultural snobbery are gradually being removed.

Will this happen with children’s books? The situation looks less clear. Certainly with young adult titles the self-publishing route offered by companies such as amazon looks like an easier and attractive route if the more traditional path is hard to navigate or get a foot on. For picture books, however, where design and illustration are as paramount as text, there aren’t a lot of options available when you do a quick web search.

I can testify to this. Last year, at the end of the summer holidays, Holly and I wrote our own story: Useful Uses for Pets. Originally we were just going to laminate the pages and do a very simple form of binding. However, a friend told us about a company – Blurb – that offered flexible publishing options for people who wanted to create their own books, primarily photo albums with a difference. When we looked into it all it seemed like a great idea so we decided to try it for fun and ordered several copies for relatives as Christmas presents. We were quite proud of the results, which you can read online here. If we were to do it again, though, I’d scrap my rather unattractive writing for a suitable computer font but this was just meant as a fun project. We hope to perhaps do another this summer and will learn from the experience. It was much, much more expensive than a cup of tea though!

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So what are your thoughts? Will we see self-publishing coming to children’s books? Would this devalue their worth?

 

Posted in general and welcome, Holly's fun corner, other news and reviews

Holly’s Summer Reading Challenge!

On Saturday, the annual Summer Reading Challenge was launched in libraries throughout the UK. Run by the Reading Agency, and with 97% of libraries taking part, the idea is to challenge children to read six or more library books throughout the summer break.

Holly and I went to the central library in Oxford to check out what was happening. We’d just missed the official launch but there were loads of children excitedly grabbing all the gear to record their reading journey on – a special chart to attach stickers onto as they progress, plus a fun door hanger, presumably to fend off interfering parents when the kids have their noses in their books.

I am sure we will be reporting on Holly’s journey over the next six weeks, but she wanted to write an introduction to what she had chosen. So… over to Holly!

 

This year, like every year, I am doing the Reading Challenge for children. It begins on Sunday 14th July and what you have to do is go to the library and choose six books. When you have chosen your six books you go to the library desk and fill in a form and collect a chart. When you have finished a book, you take it back in and eventually you finish reading all the six books and come in to collect your certificate and medal. This happens every year in England.

These are the books I have chosen:

School Friends: Dreams at Silver Spires, by Anne Bryant

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usborne.com

Ruby Holler, by Sharon Creech

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amazon.com

 

The Stolen Lake, by Joan Aiken

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joanaiken.com

 

Molly Moon and the Morphing Mystery, by Georgia Byng

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panmacmillan.com

 

Bad Cat Good Cat, by Lynne Reid Banks and Tony Ross

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goodreads.com

 

Doctor Doom: Oli and Skipjack’s Tales of Trouble, by Ceci Jenkinson

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amazon.co.uk

Are you doing the Summer Reading Challenge? We would love to hear what books you’ve chosen!

Posted in fun resources, general and welcome, other news and reviews

Words for Life – Come rain or shine

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image courtesy of ehow.com

 

My new feature for Words for Life is out: literacy ideas for families, come rain or shine. And, if you’re in the UK, you just know it’s going to be rain! Well, at the rate we’ve been going at recently, anyway.

Try:

  • Beating the Forecasters
  • Vocabulary Booster
  • Film Reviewer Challenge
  • Mind-boggling board games…

and more. Check it out! Words for Life – Come rain or shine.

But if the sun does shine, you have my permission to run around like a mad thing…

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Image courtesy of medimanage.com

Posted in general and welcome, Holly's fun corner, other news and reviews

How to choose a favourite book, by Holly Fratter

It is hard to choose a favourite book, like when you try to choose a favourite author.

Well then you don’t have to have a favourite book or author. Why not try choosing a top favourite group of books and authors? I’ll tell you mine:

The Famous Five, The Twins at St Clare’s, all Roald Dahl books, Mr Gum, Winnie the Pooh and last, but not least, Harry Potter. I all love these books the same as much as I like the authors of them. Now I will list the authors:

Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, A.A. Milne and Andy Stanton.

Now you know all my favourites you can try doing the same but you don’t have to choose my ones. Do your own and tell me here at Childtastic Books!!

Winnie the Pooh
Holly and Mr Gum
Posted in general and welcome, other news and reviews

Good reads guilt – do you feel it too?

I was helping to tidy up Holly’s room today (which takes all day with teddies, books, and all sorts of bizarre things hidden in nooks and crannies) and one of the jobs was to move a bookcase across the room. It was too heavy to move with all the books in it so I took them out and then re-shelved them later. I realised while I was doing this that, while I am not exactly OCD tidy about most things I am really neurotic about how I shelve books. Is anyone else like this or is it me? I can’t bear it if the spines are way out of alignment, although there is a reason behind this – sometimes this hides other books so you can’t see the titles clearly enough. Then I started trying to put them in according to author and debating which authors should go well together. I really ought to get myself a job in a library. I’d love my own bookshop but that’s a far-off dream I’m afraid…

A guilt read

Anyway, while I was digging through the piles of titles, I came across Swallows and Amazons. As a family we had tried to read this book together fairly recently but it’s fallen by the wayside. It was one that I felt I ought to have read as a child but never came across and so when I found a copy in a charity shop I bought it so Holly and I could share it together. (In fact I bought two copies, so keen – and forgetful – was I.)

 

Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, it’s about a group of children who go off in a boat to camp on a little island on a lake in the Lake District. During their stay they meet a couple of girls who are also spending the summer sailing around the lake and start friendly war, with them the Swallows and the girls the Amazons.  

Troubled waters

Arthur Ransome does go into tremendous (and in my opinion unnecessary) detail about the various parts of boats, to the point where you feel like you’re reading a yachting manual instead of a children’s book. There are pages upon pages of descriptions and it’s so convoluted at times that I feel I need a specialist sailing manual to understand what he’s talking about. The children do have little adventures which are more interesting but there’s not the conversational tone of other books that are similar in vein. It’s all quite dry. There aren’t even any scrummy meals to be salivated over – all you get is a mention of pemmican and a boiled egg.

We trudged through the book for a couple of weeks, but as I read to Holly her mind wasn’t on it. She’d be rearranging pillows, or plaiting her hair or would suddenly start talking about something totally unrelated. I asked her if she wanted to move on to something else (I was secretly begging her to do so) but she rather indignantly replied that she wanted to stick with the story, thank you very much. My heart sank and I continued reading about cleats and booms and keels and halyards.

Captain Caveman

But suddenly requests to re-read old picture books became increasingly common, and then when her library reservation for a new Benedict Society novel came through, she leapt on that eagerly. Swallows and Amazons has therefore sunk unceremoniously to the bottom of the reading pile.

Since it is a classic, I feel like I should have enjoyed it – that I am some sort of literary philistine for not devouring it. I feel guilty for  admitting that I found it tedious and long-winded and just not very good. Am I alone in this? Do any of you feel this way about other books? Do you feel you ought to at least finish a classic even if you’re struggling? Or that you ought to make an effort to like one when you just want to move on to the next – to any other – book?

I am a great fan of Daniel Pennac – a French writer and educationalist – who wrote the amazing The Rights of the Reader (which deserves a post of its own some time in the near future).

 

In this book, Pennac argues that readers have rights and one of them is not to finish a book they don’t like. Another is not to have to like anything because they are supposed to. I adhere to this, and share these views with the children I work with, so maybe I should heed my own advice and just get over my dislike of Swallows and Amazons. Before I start boring you all with the details!

Posted in general and welcome, other news and reviews, parents' and adults' corner

Daddy’s Day and Who Rules?

Part of what I do as a freelance writer is volunteering with the National Literacy Trust to produce articles and features for different audiences. Much of what I do is for their Words for Life initiative, which encourages adults to share in their children’s literacy activities. This doesn’t just mean reading books – it can be anything that involves words in any format.

I have two articles out this month:

Words for Life – I rule! – which is all about how you can share Jubilee-related activities with your children

and

‘Hooray for Dads’ which is about how important fathers are in the emotional, behavioural and academic development of their children.

I hope you enjoy them and check out the work of the National Literacy Trust, which does a lot of amazing things!

 

Image courtesy of thinkbaby.co.uk