Thursday, 13 November 2008

Some more books

Coraline by Neil Gaiman is a superb book. It is strange and haunting and very, very scary. The dreamlike (or should that be nightmarish) tone of the prose is perfectly complimented by Dave McKean's illustrations. Short, but far from sweet.

The Children of Green Knowe is as strange in its way as Coraline, but Lucy Boston was a very different kind of writer. The interplay between the world of the present and the world of ghosts and of the past is incredibly complex. There are other Green Knowe books and they all have a feel about them that I can honestly say is unlike anything else I have ever read.

The Phantom Toll Booth is equally unlike any other book I can think of. It is a strange and lovely thing, fizzing with imagination and a love of language. Make sure you find a copy that has the the orginal Jules Feiffer illustrations.

And we have to have Roald Dahl, don't we? He is so familiar that it is easy to forget just how good his books are (and how much children love them). They are hugely imaginative, dark and often deeply odd. Dahl's voice is unique.

I loved this book when I first read it. My son recently read Jack London's The Call of the Wild and really enjoyed it. White Fang is sitting on his bedside cupboard waiting to be read. It is a fantastic book. It has strong characters, a great story and a wonderful setting. What more could you want?

Mark Walden's Hive books have proved hugely popular with readers and rightly so. They are fast-paced action adventures where certain 'gifted' children are kidnapped and taken to the Higher Institute for Villainous Education to hone their skills. Great stuff.

Louis Sachar's Holes is another book that it is hard to think of anything even remotely similar. The way the story is told is very unusual, moving back and forth in time and with a plot that skillfully binds all the characters together. It is set in a punishment camp for teenagers where they are forced to dig holes in a dried up lake infested with poisonous lizards in the baking sun. Why? Read it and find out.

My son is working his way through Michele Paver's highly successful series that begins with Wolf Brother. This is not so much historical fiction as prehistorical fiction, set in a vividly realised world of our hunter-gathering ancestors. I would have loved these books when I was 11.

Another series I would have enjoyed at that age are Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Percy Jackson - half boy, half god - has been a huge hit with children and I'm not surprised. I loved Greek myths when I was young and so too, presumably, did Rick Riordan, who has skillfully borrowed from those myths to create adventures stories that seem to really grab modern readers.

Stan Lee has spent a career inventing demi-gods and heroes Spider-man and the Hulk among them). He and Jack Kirby are one of the great writer/illustrator partnerships of all time (although it was the brilliant Steve Ditko who came up with the look of Spider-man of course). I have chosen the Marvel Essential book of the Fantastic Four, but all the Essential books are great value and a fantastic introduction to some of the best in American comics.

Clive King's Stig of the Dump is a very special book. It plays on the idea - an idea that children love - of a child having a secret friend. Just as in the movie E.T. the bond between the boy and the out-of-time hunter-gatherer is complex, with Stig being both vulnerable and powerful by turns. It shares some similarities with The Indian in the Cupboard as the boy comes to understand that Stig is not a plaything but a real person who needs to get back to his family and his own time. Make sure you get a copy with the Ardizzone peerless illustrations.

Collaboration between author and illustrator is common in picture books but Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell are possibly unique in collaborating so closely in books for this age group. Roald Dahl obviously had a very successful relationship with Quentin Blake, but Chris and Paul blur the job descriptions much more, with Chris being involved right from the beginning at the ideas stage. Their highly successful Edge Chronicles are drawing to a close, but this is where it all started.

I read this to my son last year or the year before and the whole time I was concerned that he would think the story was just too bizarre. But as we carried on it became clear that he absolutely loved it. I was far more resistant to the strangeness than he was. It is an astonishing book; a book that definitely merits the word magical.

As with the last list of books, by recommending a particular book I am in effect recommending the author, and definitely the series of which the book is a part if that is relevant. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, and if I think of more I will add them. Tomorrow I am going to list some books for older readers.


  1. You might enjoy this Mr. Media podcast interview with cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who talks about the new collection of his comic strips from the Village Voice, Explainers, getting his start with Will Eisner on The Spirit, his plays (Little Murders), his movies (Carnal Knowledge, Popeye), the Disney musical adaptation of The Man in the Ceiling, and his forthcoming memoirs.

  2. Thanks - I'll have a look. That sounds really interesting. I don't ever recall having seen an interview with him.