Sunday, 16 November 2008

And yet more

Here are a few more book recommendations. . .

Mervyn Peake is extraordinary. He was a great illustrator - his work for Stevenson's Treasure Island and Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner is amazing. Both those pieces of writing have been illustrated many times, but his versions really shine out (if that is the right expression, given how dark they are). But then he also wrote the weird and wonderful Gormenghast books. Fantasy fiction at its gloomy best.

I am a big fan of the short story and it annoys me that it is seen as bite-sized and lacking in substance. H G Wells is a writer I really enjoyed when I was in my teens and I could easily have suggested The War of the Worlds or The Time Machine, but I've chosen a book of his short stories. The Country of the Blind is one of his best. Once read, never forgotten.

I read David Almond's Skellig when I first started writing for children. I wanted to see what was out there and what the standard was like. Skellig was one of the things I read that made me very excited about the prospect of writing. A strange and moving book.

I'm reading this to my son at the moment. I had to review Susan Price's Feasting the Wolf recently and I thought it was very strong. It is short and punchy and although it is about Norsemen in Anglo-Saxon England, it is actually a fairly timeless study of the boredom and brutality of warfare. The endless ditch digging is reminiscent of WWI. But what makes this book stand out for me is the way the lot of women - as wives, slaves, even rape victims - is brought to the fore by Price.

Witch Child by Celia Rees. Hard to persuade boys to read a book with a girl on the cover - even when the girl is as striking as this one, and the cover as beautifully designed - but Celia Rees has made historical fiction for girls a force to be reckoned with. A very clever story, nicely told.

This was another book I was asked to review recently. Anne Frank's diary is justifiably famous and should certainly be in every library, but this book is by a school friend of hers - Hannah Goslar. They are separated early on in the narrative when Anna disappears into hiding with her family. Hannah believing that she has escaped. They do meet again, but under tragic circumstances. A short but powerful book.

Twilight. This is the first book that I am recommending that I actually have not read. I tried to read it, but I just could not get on with the writing. But it isn't for me, and the people it is for seem to lap it up. I recommend it purely on the basis that a library should have popular books in it to get the punters in - and they don't come much more popular than Stephanie Meyer's tale of teen-vampire-romance at the moment.

Now this book I can wholeheartedly recommend. Edward Gorey is utterly brilliant. Any compilation of his work would be just as good as Amphigorey because all of his work is equally superb. His humour so dark I can't believe that anyone would publish it if he turned up today, and I am not quite sure how it was published in the first place. I'm just very glad it was.

There has been a spate recently of picture books for older readers. Can I make a pitch for having some of these in a secondary school library? Some of us like pictures. It doesn't mean we don't like words, it just means we like to take pleasure in looking at narrative illustration. The Island is a thought-provoking, fascinating book.

Art Spiegelman's classic comic book looking at the horrors of the Holocaust deserves a place in any library. If ever a book showed that any subject at all can be tackled by the comic strip form - in the right hands of course - then this is it.

The wonderful Charles Schulz. What can I say? People who don't get Peanuts think it is cutesy or preachy (and it can, on occasion, be both those things) but it is so much more. These strips are funny and wise and I think they will be read forever.

Shaun Tan has made a name for himself doing picture books for older readers. In some ways they are a link back to the wordless novels of artists such as Frans Masereel (though without the expressionistic angst). I find his visuals a bit too intricate, but that is the painter in me speaking. I think I would have found them fascinating when I was in my early teens.

Zits is a strip about teenage life by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. It is very American, and it can be hard to get past that. But it is still nicely observed stuff and some things about teenagers are the same wherever they live!

The Fire of Ares. Another nice piece of historical fiction, this time set in ancient Sparta. Historical fiction always carries the problem that your reader (especially if they are young) might not know anything at all about the age in which you have set your novel. Michael Ford gives enough background to make it seem authentic, whilst still producing an action-packed book.
As with Peanuts, it is easy to dismiss Calvin and Hobbes as cute. I must admit, I felt that way when I first saw the strip. But it has really grown on me. What was never in doubt was the fantastically accomplished drawings of their creator Bill Watterson.

At the risk of becoming a Ray Bradbury bore I am going to add this one. It is a lovely little hardback I have mentioned before on the blog. It is a Dave McKean illustrated short story called The Homecoming. Great story, great illustrations, beautifully presented.

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