Posted in general and welcome

If you go down to the woods today…

… you might meet the Minpins!

https://www.penguin.co.uk/content/dam/catalogue/pim/editions/72/9780141377506/cover.jpg

Today I am delighted to be reviewing the latest edition of The Minpins, called Billy and the Minpins, illustrated by Quentin Blake and published by Penguin.

I was surprised to discover that The Minpins was Roald Dahl’s last book for children – somehow this fact eluded me until, well, today when I read an interview in the Guardian with Quentin Blake. As part of a dynamic publishing duo with the ever-popular Dahl, this was one book that Blake did not illustrate on first publication – the honour went to Patrick Benson (at the time, Blake was illustrating another of Dahl’s books – Esio Trot).

When Blake was asked to illustrate this new version of The Minpins, he was understandably reluctant, not wanting to tread on another illustrator’s toes. His publisher – Penguin Random House – reassured him that it was to fit in with other books in the Dahl series: Benson’s version had amazing images that could not be scaled down in size to fit in a pocket. So, in 2015, Blake agreed to take on the challenge and what we now have is a beautiful, sympathetic and, in Blake’s inimitably comic style, fascinating reimagining of the original tale.

What the book’s about

Like many fairytale characters that have preceded him, Billy is constantly warned by his mother NOT to go into the woods because, therein, lie dangers such as Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers, Snozzwanglers and Vermicious Knids’. (Yes, you might very well recognise some of these monster names from other Dahl books!) So worried is Billy’s mum, that she does her ironing in the kitchen, while administering occasional reminders of what not to do and asking her son where he is and what he’s doing. Of course, anything forbidden acts like a charm on human curiosity, and Billy eventually succumbs to his desire to see just what is so bad in the deep, dark woods.

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He doesn’t have to wait long, as he is soon terrified by the Gruncher – a monster that has fire inside his belly and who exhales so much smoke that he can’t see in front of him (luckily – or perhaps not – his sense of smell is so acute that he can track his prey with his nose). Billy climbs a tree to escape and stumbles upon a colony of Minpins – tiny people dressed in old-fashioned clothes (Blake says they’re modelled on 17th century garb), who wear suction boots so they can walk wherever they like – and even upside down – on the trees. The leader of the group is Don Mini, who makes it his business to try to help Billy return home without being eaten by the wicked Gruncher.

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I loved this book for all the usual reasons why I adore Roald Dahl. In Billy he has created a daring and disobedient child who’s still likeable – who here hasn’t gone against parental warnings to explore the world around them? Billy might get into an awful scrape but he’s also capable of getting out of it when he creates, in the words of Blackadder’s sidekick Baldrick ‘a cunning plan’. Dahl’s trademark talent for creating new and crazy words is ever evident and children will love the mix of fear and excitement, fun and thrills, that are always part of his stories.

Quentin Blake’s illustrations, as usual, are spot-on – I cannot think of a better author/illustrator pairing. While Benson’s original paintings were beautiful and rather epic in their use of colour and ratio, Blake’s leap off the page with life, creating a different side to the typical fairytale world of ominous threat. Blake’s is a world of fast  action and quick thought, his characters quirky and amusing.

This latest release in the Dahl collection is a must-have for any fans. You will not be disappointed!

Note: I was sent a review copy of Billy and the Minpins by the publisher.

 

 

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Posted in general and welcome

Hip-hop happy birthday, Roald Dahl!

Today has been a brilliant day for children’s literature. One of the top trends on Twitter was #RoaldDahlDay and schools, bookshops and libraries all over the country celebrated what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday.

For the past couple of weeks, this friendly fellow has decorated our library wall at school:

bfg-display

which Holly helped me make. The little test tubes are his jars of dreams and they’ve now been labelled with all sorts of ideas.

Last week I asked the children to design their own confectionary, which might find a place in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. We had some excellent suggestions:

character

And they also designed strange characters based on the Roald Dahl name generator (basically, you take the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your second name and look up what they equate to). Here are some hilarious examples:

silly-chars

My favourite has to be The Rotsome Trunchbull.

Finally, Year 3 hosted a cake sale, with all profits going to The Roald Dahl Charity. We thought the children might bring in bought cakes, but many went through tremendous effort to create their own cakes based on one of Roald Dahl’s books. We had a chocolate river from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a tortoise from Esio Trot, for example.

cakes

You can read more about it all on our lovely library blog at: https://stmichaelsschoollibrary.wordpress.com/

Please do visit us and subscribe to our posts – the children will be delighted.

All that remains is for me to wish you all a splendiferous Tuesday evening!

 

 

Posted in general and welcome

What book would you give?

I am sure you’re all aware from the many news items going around that it’s International Book Giving Day, which you can read more about here and in this article in the Guardian.

What a fantastic idea, to link up Valentine’s Day with a day for giving books! It’s done in Catalunya, but on their own version of Valentine’s Day, which is 23 April, Sant Jordi’s Day (yes, you’re right, St George’s Day – they share their patron saint with England’s!). Men given women roses and women give men books, or vice versa, or both.

Anyway, Holly and I had a think about what book we would give someone today (alas we can’t as Holly is unwell with a stomach bug and is in quarantine).

Holly’s choice: Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking, as drawn by Lauren Child, courtesy of telegraph.co.uk
Pippi Longstocking, as drawn by Lauren Child, courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

“I’ve just leant my copy to a friend because I know she will like it. It’s a great book that I have just reread. I like Pippi and think she’s a good character for anybody to read – boys or girls. She’s funny and strong and I like how she just appears in a town and walks off a boat and lives on her own and can carry her horse around.’

Holly and I love this quote by Susanna Forest, in the Telegraph, in an article entitled Pippi Longstocking: The Swedish Superhero:

‘If Pippi met Voldemort she’d make mincemeat of him and then, because she’s a generous, forgiving soul, sit him down and feed him ginger snaps.’

 

Sam’s choice: Matilda, by Roald Dahl

One of Quentin Blake's marvelous illustrations from Matilda. Image courtesy of kelvincheong.com
One of Quentin Blake’s marvelous illustrations from Matilda. Image courtesy of kelvincheong.com

 

Choosing one book was hellish for this. I would have gone with Pippi too but I thought I should try to choose another book for the sake of interest. The reason I love Matilda is because of the way in which the heroine overcomes all the obstacles in her life to get the existence she wants and deserves. At no point does Dahl make her journey sad or invoke pity in the reader. Instead, he treats you to a hilarious, if somewhat black, rollercoaster ride of caricature parents and headteachers and Matilda’s ability to outsmart them all.

 

Now over to you! What book would you give someone today? Please share!

Posted in general and welcome

What draws you to a character?

It’s 10.30pm here in the UK so it’s Sam and not Holly posting now. But, like Holly last week, I have a question for all you lovely readers:

What draws you to a character?

I ask this because I am in week 5 of my Writing for Children module, which is part of my MA in Children’s Literature. The study materials ask us first of all to think of a children’s character that we are drawn to, either because we admire them or because they have qualities that intrigue us. We don’t have to like them – they just have to engage so that we want to read about them throughout the entirety of a book. What is it about their personality and their progress through the story that keeps us hooked?

The first character that sprung to my mind was the wonderful Matilda from the book of the same name by Roald Dahl. She is one of my literary heroines (the other being the fantastically eccentric and powerful Pippi Longstocking) because she overcomes the worst possible start in life and redraws her own destiny.

image courtesy of reddit.com, showing Matilda doing what she loves best. Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Born into a family that is as alien to her as, well, a family of aliens, Matilda becomes the saddest possible orphan – she has a family, but one that will not accept her and in fact openly reject her. However, she’s not a weepy victim. As soon as she is able, she’s off to the library to read the work of Dickens, she tries to disobey the family tradition of eating TV dinners in front of the telly and, when her conman father really gets her goat, she turns his hair a hideous peroxide blonde and then superglues his hat to his head. The comedy in these actions prevents the book from descending into tragedy and makes Matilda a more rounded character – as well as being a person who prizes justice and free thought, she also has a very healthy appetite (and talent!) for revenge.

These acts of defiance help Matilda to be more attractive (in my opinion) to the child reader, who roots for her because they see that she will not stand for being disempowered. After all, it would make for very boring and frustrating reading if she just whimpered in a corner and waited to be rescued like some well-known princesses, whose names I shall not mention. Instead, she manages to get herself enrolled in the local school, where she comes upon another tyrant to be overcome – the hideous Miss Trunchbull – through the use of paranormal/supernatural powers.

 

image courtesy of youtube.com, from the film Matilda, featuring the fantastic Pam Ferris

 

At school Matilda also meets the person who will eventually become her true family – the kind but downtrodden Miss Honey. Interestingly, Miss Honey symbolizes the child Matilda could have been had she not rebelled against her parents, and it is Matilda who helps her break free from her life of misery. By the end of the book Matilda has not just saved herself but also her future ‘foster’ parent and created the life she knows she deserves for herself.

In short, Matilda is my character of choice because she:

  • is true to herself, despite what others (mainly her natural family) would prefer her to be
  • follows her dreams, whether this means walking to the library on her own as a toddler or persuading her parents to let Miss Honey adopt her
  • has a strong sense of justice and will always fight for the underdog
  • fearlessly will stand up to bullies (most of whom are adults!)
  • breaks the rules when necessary
  • invents some truly fantastic revenge ideas!

But that’s enough about my character of choice from children’s literature. Who would you pick as a fantastic protagonist and why?

 

Posted in general and welcome, popular authors, Roald Dahl

Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!

September 13th marks the birthday of one of the world’s most popular authors – Roald Dahl – and a day of literary celebration to remember his wonderful stories.I doubt children’s literature would be basking in such a marvellously modern Golden Age had it not been for Dahl’s contributions. While stories had been funny and even satirical before his books hit the shelves, perhaps they had never dared be so dark. When Dahl’s books were first published, many literary professionals didn’t approve of his plots, of his  horrendous (but hilarious) comeuppance to his villains, of the power he gave to his child heroes/heroines. But, by golly, the children lapped it up… and still do.

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Image from http://www.childrenswebmagazine.com

 

Bewitched

Holly and I discussed Roald Dahl’s books today. We’ve read everything he has written for children, except The Witches, which Holly cannot bring herself to read or listen to. It frightens her too much. I have read it and enjoyed it but can understand her fear – Dahl blends the terrifying witches so skilfully into a ‘real’ world that it just seems too plausible that they could be lurking somewhere.

Fantastic favourites

We talked about our favourites while walking today. Holly’s is The BFG, because it was the first book she had ever read by him and she loved the language that was so particular to it, such as snozzcumbers, and the way that the BFG talks, with things being ‘left not right’ instead of wrong or right.

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image from en.wikipedia.org

 

Matilda is my favourite of Dahl’s. I loved how she overcame her neglectful parents and used her brains and talents to get the life she not only wanted but deserved. The portrayal of her family’s stupidity is wickedly humorous and Mrs Trunchbull must be one of the best villains around. How Matilda uses her skills, in a kind of Stephen-King’s-Carrie way, is original and has the reader cheering on.

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Image from http://weknowwearecute.undebug.org

 

Whizzpoppingly wonderful

I asked Holly if there were any books she wasn’t so keen on. Interestingly we both chose Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Despite the fact we both liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory we just felt the sequel never matched the magic of the original. It seemed a little too surreal and lacking in the ingredients that make a Roald Dahl book so easily identifiable.

‘However,’ Holly remarked, ‘Even though I wasn’t so keen on that, I didn’t dislike it. I don’t think I dislike any of his books. They’re just too good.’

So Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl, and Happy Roald Dahl Day to you all. We hope you have a whizzpopping time!

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Image from http://www.abebooks.com

If you want to find out more about this great writer, why not visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre?

Over to you!
What’s your favourite Roald Dahl book? Please let us know!

Posted in general and welcome, parents' and adults' corner, popular authors

Happy Father’s Day! (a day early but we’ll be busy tomorrow…)

We’re a day early here at Childtastic Books but we’re going to be spoiling Holly’s dad Carl tomorrow so chances are we won’t get on to the site much. So this post is dedicated to Carl who Holly says is “nice, kind, funny and caring”. She also said “tall” which is true!

Dad and daughter
Dad and daughter … just a normal family scene!

To be fair, I should show one of Carl with his real hair!

Holly and Carl
Holly and Carl on holiday. If you peer carefully you may see the ubiquitous doughnut on the table!

 OK, embarrassing picture time over. Next, we have a round-up of Holly’s Father’s Day books. She only included ones where the dads were responsible, discrediting Pippi Longstocking’s father for going off and having adventures without her.

Top ten stories about dad (in our library, and in no particular order)

Some of these are written by the same author, so I will group them together.

Numbers 1, 2 and 3: all by David Walliams

The Boy in the Dress

Mr Stink

Billionaire Boy

 

 

Image courtesy of snazal.com

Holly once was overawed and rather tongue-tied when she met David Walliams at a book signing at Waterstones in Oxford. She had first come across his stories through an audiobook I downloaded for a car journey – Mr Stink – and thought he and Matt Lucas were hilarious. When David Walliams chatted to her as he signed her own copy of Mr Stink and his next book, Billionaire Boy, Holly just stood there, mouth agape. I think she managed to mutter something to one of the questions and then skipped away after being offered a Malteser.

Anyway, Holly has chosen these books because she says the fathers in them are good examples of how dads should be:

  • “In Billionaire Boy, the dad buys his son everything he needs but when things go wrong and the boy runs off then the dad realises how much he loves him and wants him back.”
  • “In The Boy in the Dress, the dad brings the boys up because the mother has left home. He’s nice but doesn’t know how to show it. By the end though he shows it very nicely.”
  • “In Mr Stink, the dad is nice to the daughter when the mum is not. He treats her well and understands her.”

It’s quite interesting actually, considering David Walliams’ books together like this. There does seem to be a pattern in them in terms of the children feeling like outcasts and uncomfortable in their own skins. The parents don’t appear to know how to handle this (as is often the case in real life) but mums don’t fare quite as well as dads do in his stories.

Numbers 4 and 5, by Roald Dahl

4 Danny the Champion of the World

 

Image courtesy of reinsmoen.blogspot.com

5 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 

Image courtesy of equire.org.uk

Roald Dahl is one of Holly’s favourite authors (alongside David Walliams, featured above). I think we’re all quite familiar with his sometimes grotesque treatment of adults and acerbic tongue when describing them but he can be kind too. These two books are examples of how parents, while needing help from their children, can still provide a good example and a loving relationship. Holly chose these two because:

  • “In Danny, the Champion of the World, the father supports Danny when his mother dies, and looks after him, and they have a good relationship.” (You can read Holly’s review of Danny here.)
  • “In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the dad works really hard to bring in money for his family.”

6. Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome

 

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk

I must admit I was rather surprised Holly nominated this book because we’ve failed to finish it. However, the father must have made enough of an impression to inspire her to put this in her top ten. When I asked her why she said this book when the father is ‘at sea’  for the duration, she said, “Because he allowed them the chance to go off in the boat. If he hadn’t they wouldn’t have had their adventures.” So an absent but permissive parent is top of the pops. Must remember that.

7. The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

 

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk

Holly came across this one while researching her books for this post. She suddenly remembered Anne Frank’s descriptions of her relationship with her father and how “she gets on better with him than her mum. Her mum doesn’t understand her and they don’t get along.” It does happen, sometimes, and the daughter-father relationship is well-known and documented for its particular closeness.

8. Out of the Hitler Time, by Judith Kerr

 

Image courtesy of www.harpercollins.co.uk

When I was 8 or 9 I remember reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr’s fictionalised version of her own family’s experiences during the Second World War and the rise of the Nazis. I recommended it to Holly, who then took to it with fascination. I bought the trilogy as I thought it would be interesting to follow the story on but I must say that the second and third books were rather more adult in content. We did read them with Holly in the end, but wouldn’t let her read them on her own as some of the issues they deal with are too adult. Holly loved the trilogy and, in fact, loves anything by Judith Kerr, as her review of Mog the Forgetful Cat shows.  

Holly chose this trilogy for the Father’s Day list for very similar reasons to Anne Frank’s autobiography – that the girl in these stories does seem to have more in common with her father. “Her mother was quite stressed a lot of the time,” said Holly, “whereas her father seemed to understand her more.” Goodness, this must happen in this house, as I tend to stress a lot and I haven’t the excuse of World War Two to blame.

9. The Lion King, story adapted from the film by Disney

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk

We were a little concerned that we didn’t have many picture books in our selection, especially since these are the ones that often focus on dads and how special they are. When we visited a bookshop last week, all the displays were dedicated to baby books about dads but we don’t seem to have any here! Anyway, The Lion King was a good choice as it does portray how far a father’s love for his child will go. Holly thinks this is the utmost in fatherly love: “He saved Simba from a stampede of wildebeests but died instead!”  There is no greater sacrifice, and thankfully this situation is rare.

10. Can You Catch a Mermaid? by Jane Ray

Image courtesy of www.janeray.com

We have already reviewed this book on the site here but we wanted to repeat it again because it is a lovely portrayal of a daughter-father relationship that seems to be more unusual in books than the typical mother-child bond.  As Holly says:  “He is very nice to his daughter: he’s good and they have a caring relationship.”

Posted in popular authors, Roald Dahl

The original Willy Wonka (on screen)

I came across this fascinating post on Letters of Note about letters that Gene Wilder wrote before his screen portrayal of Willy Wonka. He had some very definite ideas on how his character should be represented and it appears they really worked (depending on your opinion of the film – many rate it more highly than Tim Burton’s adaptation with Johnny Depp). Read and enjoy!

 

Image courtesy of http://www.inc.com/ss/greatest-fictional-inventors