Thursday, 30 April 2009

New Kid on the Block

Well, actually, David Teale is quite an "old kid" if he won't mind my saying so! He started the Red House Book Club thirty years ago and ran it for nearly twenty and now he's at it again. I met David in Bologna in March and he was telling me about his new website which has just gone live.

My School Book Club ( is dead easy to use. If you're a school, once you've registered, you'll have your own personalised website, e.g. and order books direct. If you're a parent, grandparent, you join and have the books sent straight to you. Either way the school benefits and gets 20% worth of orders extra in free books.

"The aim is to make reading pleasurable and help mental and personal development of children by guiding their reading," said David, who has four grown-up daughter and six grandchildren, stressing that this is all about pleasure and nothing to do with testing.

In time there will be all sorts of extra goodies like video clips and author interviews, games and so on. 15,000 schools have received a mailing about the new club, endorsed by former children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo, among others.

And the criteria for the books featured? "Nothing boring," says David Teale.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Old favourites

All the coverage I've seen and heard about the Children's laureates' favourite books has mentioned the absence of Harry Potter. This is just lazy journalism. Why would four writers and one author-illustrator who are "not in the first bloom of youth" as Anne Fine described them on Radio 4 this morning, pick such a Johnny-come-lately as HP?

What the headlines should have been were: "No Alice, no Pooh, no Peter Pan, no Wind in the Willows, no Tolkien or C S Lewis." For that is the case. You can read the full list of 35 books at

It is a funny list, as all such lists must be, with some of the usual suspects, like Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, John Masefield's Box of Delights and so on. Some are not children's books at all, like Oliver Twist, or only arguably so, like Treasure Island. It takes more than a child protagonist to make a children's book. I hated the Diary of Anne Frank (one of Mike Rosen's choices) when I was a child and felt moved by it only as an adult.

So here's my list of seven:

J R R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
OK, three books and not according to its author children's ones at that.

I read this as it came out, removing the volumes one by one from my older sister's hands as she finished them. And then I read them every year until I was 18 and doubts began to set in. I read them all to my three daughters in family reading and they loved them and we all, plus my sisiter, adored the Peter Jackson films.

But I can no longer read them as an adult with unalloyed pleasure. The storytelling, names and invented languages and cultures are superb but the language isn't good enough and the attitiudes to women and to "evil characters" totaly inadequate.

James Thurber's Thirteen Clocks
Many of the phrases from this are part of family vocabulary: "a blob of glup," "I'll slit you from your guggle to your zatch," plus the Gollux with his "perfectly indescribable hat" are just part of my mental furniture. The Wonderful O and The Great Quillow are equally good.

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It (one of Quentin Blake's choices)
One of the great classics. I loved the way the sand fairy was so grumpy. But I found I had to expurgate the appalling class attitudes towards the cook etc, when reading Nesbit aloud to my own children.

Rudyard Kipling's Just-So Stories (One of Michael Morpurgo's)
I adored these and so did the girls. My favourite is The Beginning of the Armadilloes

Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden
An almost perfect children's book. Other recent ones with this claim are Louis Sachar's Holes and Frank Cottrell Boyce's Cosmic.

Lewis Carrol's Alice Through the Looking-Glass
I had Adventures in Wonderland as a child but prefer this one, discovered in adulthood. I especially love the White Knight.

Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle
You need to be a 13-year-old girl for this, which I was when I read it first. And I thought the film, with Romola Garai and Bill Nighy, wasn't half bad either.

My omissions? Well I have never liked Peter Pan or Wind in the Willows. I read every word of Enid Blyton but can remember not one so haven't included anything of hers.(her husband did take my appendix out, though).

And CS Lewis is a mystery to me. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a wonderful title and Narnia a magical invention but I find the books such a sloppy unsatisfactory mishmash that they could never be a favourite.