childrens books

READ THE WORLD – Wales: Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

The story of Roald Dahl’s childhood in his own words. Each of the things he writes about are not earth-shattering, but they did make a great impression on him, so much so that he could remember them sixty years later.

I read quite a few of Roald Dahl’s books when I was a child (my favourite was The Twits) so when I heard about this semi-autobiographical book about his childhood I thought it would be an interesting read. And that it was! Born in Cardiff in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Dahl was a part of a large family and it was fun to see what kind of scrapes he got into with his siblings and at school. It wasn’t just interesting to see what Dahl’s life was like but realising that his childhood was probably very similar to my grandparent’s childhood.

One thing about Boy that stood out was how it really highlighted how the past is indeed a foreign country. Kids tonsils were removed without any form of anaesthetic, headteacher’s beat children with a cane and when motor vehicles came to be more common place, it was perfectly natural to start driving after a thirty-minute lesson. The way Dahl talks about these events is almost blasé, though he does state how times were different then, in the early 1900’s, and how these things wouldn’t be accepted today.

Boy: Tales of Childhood is a quick read and I think it’s a great book as it’s a little snapshot into the past as you follow Dahl’s school life until he’s 20, spanning the years 1922 – 1936. The writing isn’t fancy, but these little incidents in Dahl’s are told in such a way that they are charming and a great way to introduce non-fiction to children. The pages are sprinkled with photographs of Dahl’s family and illustrations from Dahl’s long-time collaborator Quentin Blake which is fun, and you get a little insight into how Dahl got the inspiration for probably his most well-known book – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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READ THE WORLD – Switzerland: Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The edition of Heidi I read was translated by Elizabeth P. Stork.

The classic children’s story about a young orphan named Heidi who after growing up with her grandfather in the Alps, where she falls in love with the wide-open spaces, is sent to the city to be a friend for a sickly girl named Clara. Soon Heidi becomes homesick and wonders whether she’ll ever see the mountains and her grandfather again.

Heidi is a very bright, adventurous girl. She’s friendly and caring but she’s also determined. She’s an interesting heroine as you see how the people she meets and befriends shape her and her beliefs.

There’s a lot of lovely themes in Heidi of love and friendship. The familial love between Heidi and her grandfather is touching as he’s seen to be a gruff, unfriendly person by the villagers but the two of them understand one another and Heidi brings out his caring side. Her friendship with both Peter, a young goatherder, and Clara, a sickly girl in need of a friend, are heartfelt and believable.

The story is a bit too cutesy and sweet for my tastes and the way the characters talk is definitely a product of its time a it was written in the late 1800’s. Everyone is very enthusiastic about their emotions, especially if they’re positive about something, and it’s a bit much sometimes.

The descriptions of both the mountains which Heidi loves so much and the city she finds so oppressive, are both vivid. You really do feel like your sitting on a mountainside with the way the colours and smells are described.

Heidi is a quick, easy read. It’s nice I’m able to now say I’ve read this classic children’s story, one that I knew next to nothing about as I hadn’t seen any of the various film and TV adaptations there’s been over the years, but it wasn’t a memorable read.

REVIEW: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

It’s Midwinter’s Eve, the night before Will Stanton’s eleventh birthday. But there’s a threatening atmosphere all around him in the familiar countryside. Will is about to make a shocking discovery – he was born with the power of the Old Ones, he is the Seeker and a guardian of the Light, and he must begin a dangerous journey to vanquish the evil magic of the Dark.

The Dark is Rising is the second book in the Dark is Rising Sequence, but much like how you can read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without reading the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, the same can be said for how this series works. I read The Dark Is Rising as a part of #TheDarkIsReading, a Twitter readalong set up by Robert Macfarlane and Julia Bird. As I’ve had a big bind up collection of the series sitting on my shelf for about ten years, this was the push I needed to delve into the series.

The Dark is Rising is a creepy and atmospheric book. The description is incredibly vivid and often raised a chill down my spine. It’s set in the heart of Winter and over the Christmas period and it artfully blends together the dark, eerie nights with the family and warmth of Christmas. Having these two elements juxtaposed adds an extra level of danger and consequence to the task Will must complete.

Will is a young boy that has a heavy burden on his shoulders. Once he learns that he is the last of the Old Ones and what that means, he is embraces his role, but he never stops being a child. He’s an incredibly brave character who often act on his gut instinct alone.

The Dark is a truly evil and foreboding force that’s present throughout the book. The Black Rider is often the visible foe for Will and his allies, but the Dark is so much bigger than the Rider. Everything the Dark can do adds a sense of wrongness to Will’s life in the countryside, the way animals act strangely or attack people, and how harsh the weather can be, it’s all influenced by the Dark.

I’m pleased I’ve finally read The Dark is Rising and can see why it is a beloved children’s classic. It has good themes, a strong mystery and a real sense of peril. Perhaps I’d like it more if it was a formative book of my childhood, but it’s still a spooky seasonal read with an intriguing and fantastical adventure. 3/5.

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin travel through a “wrinkle in time” to find their missing father at the advice of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. But can they overcome the dangerous forces they meet on their journey through space and time?

A Wrinkle in Time is said to be a children’s classic but I’d never read it nor had never heard of it till all the talk about the film adaptation which is due to be released next year. It was the film and hearing about all the people cast in it, many of them are some of my favourite actors, that got me to pick up the book.

I like how A Wrinkle in Time combines science with fantasy and how it shows different planets and creatures through the eyes of a child. As both of Meg and Charles Wallace’s parents are scientists there’s a lot of talk about maths and fact and how people work things out. This was great to see in a children’s book as in some ways it made difficult topics like traveling through space accessible – and it’s always great to see a young female character interested in STEM subjects.

Meg is a great character. She’s about thirteen years old and sometimes gets overwhelmed by the situation she is in, missing her father and being flung into danger by three strange beings, but she uses her faults to overcome her fear. That’s the thing I really liked about Meg and this book, it took a character’s faults like stubbornness, fear and anger and made them a valuable part of the character. Yes, those traits are often seen as negative but they are a part of Meg just like her love and intelligence.

The thing that surprised me most about A Wrinkle in Time is how it shows that parents are fallible. There’s a childlike wonder throughout most of the books, even with the threat of danger present, that when Meg sees her parents as normal people for moment it’s a surprise. I think this theme is a great thing to include in a children’s book.

I liked A Wrinkle in Time well enough. It’s a quick read with likeable characters but as someone in their twenties, it’s not a book I loved. I can see why it’s become a much loved book for many but it does lack that emotional punch reading it for the first time as an adult. 3/5.

How I Read Tag

I saw that Joy from JoyIsabella had done this tag and I loved the questions and her answers so I had to give it a go.

How do you find out about new books to read?
While I’m always a bit slow to read new releases (I’ve got too many books that have been sitting on my shelves for years) I usually hear about new books from the people I follow on Twitter. If I keep seeing people I know and whose opinions I often agree with talking about a book I’m more likely to remember it. Plus when I have a wander around a bookstore that’s where I find what’s new on the shelves.

How did you get into reading?
I’ve always been a reader from a very young age. My mum used to read to me every night (my favourite book was a big collection of Meg and Mog stories) and then I’d always read when there was a spare moment in school and I’d read before I went to bed at night.

How has your taste in books changed as you’ve got older?
When I was really young all I would read was the Animal Ark books by Lucy Daniels, slowly I started reading other books starting with the Puppy Patrol series by Jenny Dale (can you see the animal theme yet?!) but by the time I turned about 10 I was reading a lot of different stuff. The Princess Diaries and Eragon both helped me discover and love new genres and now I’m a very much an eclectic reader. Fantasy, chick-lit, sci-fi, contemporary, adventure – I’ll give it all a go.

How often do you buy books?
I go through stages of not buying any books for months and then buying like seven in the space of a week. If I don’t go in a bookshop for ages then I’m OK, it’s as soon as I walk into a bookshop and see all the 2 for 1 offers and stuff like that, I become weak and my purse becomes empty.

How do you react when you don’t like the ending of a book?
If struggled with the whole book I’ll probably be a bit annoyed if the endings not worth the struggle. If I’ve liked the book and then the ending is completely out of left field (think The Death Cure) or I didn’t like the ending for whatever reason I’ll be a bit peeved. Depending on how much I liked the book/series I might be annoyed for a bit and then just forget about it or otherwise I’ll be annoyed and bitter for a long time.

How often do you take a sneaky peak at the last page to see if there’s a happy ending?
I very rarely do that. Sometimes I like reading the last sentence which is a bit weird but otherwise I don’t skip ahead.

So that was the How I Read Tag. Like Joy, I tag anyone who wants to do this tag!

REVIEW: The Giver – Lois Lowry

photo (5)Jonas lives in a community where there is no war, no hunger, and no suffering of any sort. But when he is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory he is discovers that his world may be built on lies and secrets, lies and secrets that he will have to decide whether he can live with.

I ended up getting The Giver purely to top up my Amazon order so I’d get free shipping. It had been on my wish list for a while and wasn’t too expensive so that’s how it ended up in my possession. I then chose to read it next since it was so short – only 224 pages – and I did indeed read it in a matter of days.

I really liked how The Giver was written. It often has very short, simple sentences (which makes sense as really it is more of a children’s book than YA) but the simple language and sentences makes the story quite eerie and unsettling. That perfectly suits this utopian society that really does seem too good to be true and I loved how it was slowly revealed that the community wasn’t what it appeared to Jonas.

I liked Jonas and his relationship with the Giver of Memory – it was quite like a grandfather/grandchild relationship which I haven’t read for a while. Jonas was great as he learns more about the world and becomes conflicted about it as he learns to see the world how it’s meant to be.

The Giver is about emotions, it’s about having the right to have the ability to make decisions and choices for yourself, it’s about relationships and the importance of knowledge and history. I really thing the important elements of the book can be summed up with the dedication at the beginning – “For all the children to whom we entrust the future.”

There was so much about this book I liked but I feel that I can’t really talk about it for fear of spoiling it. When certain things were revealed it changed how I read the story and how I saw things that I’d already read. If you’ve seen the second film trailer for The Giver then you’ll know what I mean but if you haven’t watched the trailer I’d definitely say to read the book first without any prior knowledge.

There are sequels to The Giver that I may pick up at some point but I don’t feel as if I have to read them now since I really liked the way The Giver ended.

So to wrap up this review (though I don’t think I’ve really said that much about it really) I give The Giver 5/5