Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday – Skellig by David Almond

P1020161 (2)


The baby is here. Dr Death visits the new house every day. Mum and Dad say the baby will be fine, but they don’t seem certain themselves. Michael won’t talk to anybody about his concern for the baby. Instead, he stays home from school, and explores the new house.

It’s a strange place, full of dust and decay. Old Mr Myers seems to shadow every corner. There’s the toilet put in downstairs while Mr Myers was dying, and his takeaway menus.

Then there’s the shed, and Skellig. Is he a man? Is he real? Whatever he is, he refuses to move, even though the shed might fall on top of him. It’s like Skellig has given up on the world. It is like he has given in to decay. 

Michael isn’t certain he can help Skellig. Then he meets Mina, a girl nothing like her peers, a girl who knows about blackbirds and owl pellets and William Blake. Strange but assertive, Mina insists on meeting Skellig.

Together the children learn about angels, and evolution, and lifting each other up. Together they learn about Persephone, who came back after months in the underworld.



I thought I knew Skellig. How wrong I was. Almond’s work is like fine wine – it is perfection first time around, and it improves with every reread.

Skellig came into my life shortly before my eleventh birthday. The book had been out for two years, and my primary school raved about it. We worked with it in literacy. I won a Year 6 Certificate for my poem about Skellig – a certificate I treasure equally with my degree. Our teacher read to us every evening, but she was too slow. When I opened my birthday presents, I found a copy of Skellig in my hands. I had talked about it so often, my Mum found me my own copy.

As my early reading of Northern Lights was about a girl running around with Arctic Bears, my first reading of Skellig was about a boy who finds a strange being in his shed. About 27 and 53.

My Name is Mina arrived, a prequel which added a new layer to the original text. It also turned Mina into a character I strongly related to. From the age of 13 I became largely self-taught. Intensely interested in the world, but different from my peers. At the same time, I reread Skellig, and told the then-owner of my favourite bookshop that Skellig was the most perfect text I had ever come across. She told me many school customers said the same. At this time I reread Skellig. Planning my Flashback Friday, I thought this would be sufficient. I chose to reread, but I thought I knew the text.





Somewhere along the way, the original text had muddled with the television interpretation, which I bought on DVD at the same time as my last reread. This brings out the baby’s story. Makes more of life and death, of the tension between father and son.

Five years is a long time. In those five years I have learned to read critically. Suddenly I can see why Mina’s mother is cutting a pomegranate, shortly before the baby comes home. Suddenly I understand this is Michael’s journey and Michael’s fear and anger.

Something else has happened.

In the past year, I have heard David Almond speak about his work. Twice. That has given me an insight no amount of textual analysis could uncover. I’m due to see him in concert with Katherine Tickell this Autumn. BOOK. BOOK. Almond is building on his interest in different art forms doing the same job. In children’s natural understanding that song and story and drama and visual art are one and the same thing. Read the scene in Ella Grey, where Ella gets out her old art box. That’s what this concert is about.)  

I finished Skellig last night. This morning, I am reading Heaven’s Eyes. Next I will reread The Fire Eaters, or Kit’s Wilderness. Did I say read? I meant savour. Indulge in.


Have you read Skellig? Has hearing an author talk enriched your perception of their work?

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais



Hakima sighs. ‘I wish … I wish there was a way to go to that garden party, to tell the truth about Sassin, to scream it to all the journalists, to make them see…’

‘Hakima,’ growls the Sun.

At the same time, Astrid murmurs, ‘I wish … I wish I could see that Indochine gig …’ 

And I’m also whispering, ‘And I … I also have a reason, of sorts, to wish I could be there …’ 

Funny reason. Diverse, but … related reasons to be their, on the 14th of July, to interrupt their annual fiesta and yes, why not, to remind them we exist.

And while we’re at it, we may as well do it with a bit of … panache, right? 

(Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. P44.) 



Mireille wants to shame the father who has never acknowledged her existence. The father who happens to be married to the president of France. Hakima wants to expose the General who has accepted a prestigious award, when he could have prevented the attack which left her brother disabled and traumatised.   Astrid wants to declare her love for Indochine – the best band in the world.

So what if the girls have won the Trotters – the award for the ugliest girls in school, organised online by Mireille’s ex-friend Malo. Mireille isn’t going to cry about it. Not when the Bastille celebrations in Paris provide an opportunity for all three girls to achieve their real ambitions.

With the help of three bikes, a trailer full of sausages and Hakima’s 26 year-old brother Kader, the girls set off for Paris. Social Media interest builds up, and soon the girls are a press sensation.

Will the girls fulfil their ambitions in Paris? Will their ambitions even be the same by the time they reach the Bastille? A feel-good, feminist read.



I loved this book. Mireille, Astrid and Hakima are super-realistic teenagers, with big hearts and individual flaws. Think Annabel Pitcher. Mireille’s voice is witty, observant and unerringly honest. Mireille uses humour to hide her feelings. People will think she is fine if she makes them laugh.

The main theme is a feminist narrative. Marlo believes his Pig Pageant is an opportunity for girls to realise they have let themselves go. Like many males before him, he believes girls have a duty to look good for the boys around them. Marlo’s story is interesting. He was friends with Mireille until the end of primary school, where people started to tease him for hanging around with an ugly girl. I’m sure more than one reader will relate to this story, and question whether boys have the right to judge girls on their appearance the second they hit adolescence.

There is also some interesting exploration of race and disability discrimination. Hakima and Kader face casual racism daily. Fewer people buy sausages when Hakima and Kader serve, and an elderly lady assures them it isn’t their fault they aren’t white. After all, she says, people come in all colours these days. Likewise, where a newspaper article introduces the girls by name, Kader is written off as a disabled man. Beauvais is excellent at exploring a theme without throwing it in the reader’s face. Many of these comments are incidental – the reader is left to challenge them. Kader is an excellent character. He is not defined by his disability, but his situation means he hasn’t yet adapted to the implications of his condition. This allows the reader to see the challenges Kader faces without turning his disability into a trope.

Pushkin publishes international fiction. One of the great things about their books is reading about other cultures. Piglettes is set in France, and there is a particular focus on the pressure for perfection piled on Middle Class women. There are also descriptions of French cuisine which will make your mouth water. This is a wonderful contrast. Mireille firmly believes there is no point trying to stay slim when you live alongside such wonderful cuisine.  

How can a book which encompasses sexism, racism and disability discrimination be uplifting? The focus of the story is about overcoming other people’s opinions. The fictional press take to the Piglettes for this exact reason – everybody relates to the ‘revenge’ narrative. Three girls are told they are ugly, so they set out on a phenomenal journey, and promise to achieve great things. If that isn’t uplifting, I’ve got two pink ears and a curly tail.


waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thomson


Innis Munro is walking home across the bleak wilderness of Nin Island when he hears the chilling howl of a wolf. But there are no wolves on the island – not since they were hunted to extinction, centuries ago. He decides to investigate his island home and accepts an ancient challenge: he who jumps the Bonnie Laddie’s Leap wins a fortune. As the wolves rise from the darkness of history, and long-buried secrets resurface, Innis’s adventure truly begins …


Why I can’t Wait to read The Rise of Wolves:

  • I love the concrete challenge – to jump Bonnie Laddie’s Leap. My theory is Innis will jump the gap in the form of a wolf. How cool would that story be? If this isn’t the story, I’m writing it. My imagination is going wild, and I’ve only read a short synopsis.


  • Done badly, they’re a cliché. Think drooling, snapping wolves, or princesses made brave by the first sight of a bushy tail. Wolves have been in stories since time began. As I said in my review of The Wildings, the best animal stories respect animal behaviour as equally as they anthropomorphise their characters. The setting makes me feel The Rise of Wolves will be in the second category.



  • I love stories where the protagonist learns about their environment by learning about its past. Think Kit’s Wilderness, Wolf Hollow or The Crowfield Curse. The history of the wolves, hunted to extinction and the ‘ancient challenge’ sound promising.


  • Kerr Thomson won the 2014 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition with The Sound of Whales. Chicken House have a great reputation for knowing a good story, and the competition has unearthed some fantastic authors. It’s not only an accolade, it’s an indication of a great author.


The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thomson

Chicken House

November 2017



The Ice Lolly Book Tag


Mid-July means walking past the freezer isle, drooling over boxes of ice-lollies. As a kid, I had great ambitions to try every type of ice-lolly under the sun during those six-week summer breaks which lasted a life time. These days, I’m hyper-aware of the calorie count. 

What better way to eat every type of ice-lolly than to match them to books? This is how the conversation between myself, Amy and Charlotte began. ‘Mini Milks – Short and Sweet’, said Amy. An hour of Twtitter-Chat-Gold later, and our tag was born. 

I hope you enjoy. If you are tagged, please tag FOUR other people and credit Amy, Charlotte and Louise. I guarantee you will be craving a Nobbly Bobbly or a Mini-Milk by the time your answers are written. Thanks to Charlotte for the cute pictures, and Amy for the Banner. 

  • Some of the questions are straightforward. Others – such as ‘Calippo’ – are open to interpretation. 






Mini Milk: Short and Sweet?

The Aarhus 39 stories. 39 short stories by some of the strongest emerging children’s writers in Europe. What’s not to love? I’ve read all the stories, and know I will be rereading them for the rest of my life. Read my review of YA collection Odyssey here.

Magnum: Best Classic?

Best is difficult. Staying with children’s fiction, Alan Garner’s works are great modern classics. I’m a huge fan of Red Shift. If you liked Midwinderblood by Marcus Sedgwick, you’ll love Red Shift.

Cornetto: Book with a surprise ending?

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson. The best sort of surprise endings hang over your head throughout the novel. As well as the ending, there is a surprise which made me catch me breath. It had been there all along.

Rocket Ice Lolly: a book which looks more exciting from the Outside?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Script. I don’t care if it’s Harry. I don’t care how many awards the stage production won. Voldemort was nothing more than a pantomime villain, and the plot was so dull I barely remember it. Compared to Fantastic Beasts, which is one of the best stories I’ve heard in the past year … This wins the Rocket Lolly because ‘Harry Potter’ made me expect more.

Ben and Jerry’s – Most Versatile Author 

Geraldine McCaughrean. From haunted seaside music halls to the early days of the American railroad, to Noah’s Ark, McCaughrean can take any setting and tell a great story. I have her latest novel form the library. Whether the library will get it back is a moot point.

FAB – Weak Ending

Heartless by Merissa Meyer. Why set up that fascinating story about Chess if the reader was never going to see it? There was potential for a seven-story series. Instead, it was cut off with something which amounted to ‘you didn’t see that coming’. Did I say earlier this was the strongest type of surprise? It can be done badly, it can be done well. Done well, it doesn’t sweep away the plot as it stands.

Calippo – Reader has to Work to Get the Good Stuff Out

I’m interpreting this as a story made stronger by textual analysis. My answer is Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond. A strong adventure, when you think about the structure, you realise the story is a metaphor for storytelling. A story which is already strong becomes 100 times more interesting. I get something new out of Almond’s stories on every reread. 

Rainbow Lollies – Favourite LGBQTA fiction

Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott. It is not openly stated that the relationship in Barefoot on the Wind is Ace, but it is possible to interpret it this way. Marriott is openly Ace, and some of her other novels are about Ace characters. I love that the relationship isn’t LABELLED – an asexual relationship is equally valid as any other, and Marriott’s fiction shows people that Asexuality isn’t something lesser or non-valid. It is a relationship like any other.

Nobbly Bobbly – Gritty Subject, Sweet Message

The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan. Charlie Law wants a space to escape the bombs and the tyranny. The Big Man is willing to provide that space, at a cost. The Big Man says it is time for Charlie to decide between ‘them’ and ‘us’. A look at war, and political tyranny, the ultimately uplifting message is to look at the things we have in common, not the things which make us different.

Boss Strawberry Double – Book by an International Author (nb. Country other than your own.)

Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. A super-uplifting summer read about overcoming the slurs people throw at us, and finding what out what is important to ourselves. Check back for my review on Thursday.

Magnum Ice Cream Tubs – Weird but Good

The Head of the Saint by Socoroo Acioli. A kid hides in the head of a fallen statue, and answers the prayers of a town. Should it work? It does. It so does. Would take a reread to do it justice, but I remember raving about it.

Cruchie Blast – Great Spin-off/Retelling

Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriot. Again? Yep, but Marriot deserves Crunchie Blast Crown. Instead of lanching into sugary tributes to someone else’s vision, she thinks about the story she is retelling, then plots something new. Her Japanese-style fantasy world was perfect for Barefoot on the Wind, with its whispering trees and daemon women. Marriot is writing a Little Mermaid spin-off. I can’t wait for her take on the story.

Solero – Light and Fluffy

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. Yup, it deals with grief, but it also has great mother/sibling relationships, a handsome boy on a motorbike and a fashionable girl in the sunshine. It proved that light, summery reads can have substance.

Choc-ice – Book you don’t want to admit you love

Hairy McClairy. Actually, I’ll shout it to the world, but I was once in a situation where a group of not-very-pleasant people said how rubbish the Hairy McClairy books are. Rubbish? The plot isn’t elaborate, but listen to those words. ‘Bottomley Potts all covered in Spots.’ If I’d asked you to write the start of that sentence, you would have said Fred Smith, or Dot Trot. Not got the same ring to it, has it? The best picture books look deceptively simple.

Fruit Lolly – Left on Shelf

I ran out to get Strange the Dreamer. When I started blogging, everybody had beautiful photographs of this blue book on their Twitter feed. Six months on, it is still pristine. As in untouched.

Mint Choc Chip – Love it or Hate it

Wonder. Either reading about a kid with a facial disfigurement reaffirmed your live and broadened your horizons, or you hate that Auggie’s character development is all about his disability. Love it or hate it. It’s mint choc chip.


I tag: Sarah, Donna, Bex and Kelly. With strawberry sauce and a flake on top. Take our little tag out into the world, guys!








Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Bad Mermaids by Sibeal Pounder



They looked up as a cluster of piranhas started making their way back down from the rock face. 

Shelly Shelby started drumming her fingers against her tail with the momentum of someone who thought time was going to run out. ‘Your mother is a dear friend of mine, Beattie, and she’d want me to tell you to stay safe, to hide. But I say – be like her!

‘But I’m not nearly as brave as her,’ Beattie mumbled. 

‘Go find danger! Be bold! Bad!’ Shelly Shelby went on, really getting into it. ‘And figure out how to stop this Swan character.’ 

(Bad Mermaids by Sibeal Pounder. P51.) 


Beattie, Mimi and Zelda are enjoying a holiday on land when they receive a Crabgram from mermaid queen Arabella Cod. It instructs them to go home to the lagoon through the secret back pipe entrance. If Beattie’s Mum can investigate wrecks in the Atlantic searching for legendary shells of power, then surely Beattie can be brave?

The girls arrive home to find Arabella has been overthrown by a mysterious mermaid known only as The Swan. The Swan orders her sidekick Ommy Pike to keep the lagoon under surveillance. Piranhas follow the mermaids, drawn to them by the marks imprinted on their nails. Beattie, Mimi and Zelda were away when Arabella was overthrown, so they haven’t got the piranha marks. They may be the only mermaids who can investigate.

Every year the mermaid queen appoints five mermaids to rule the districts of the Lagoon. When it becomes apparent that the only mermaids Arabella met with on the day she vanished were the newly appointed SHOAL councillors, Beattie and her friends journey across the lagoon, seeking the truth while trying to avoid some seriously bad mermaids.



In Witch Wars, Sibeal Pounder made a distinctive world, of friendship, glitz and quirky buildings. She’s done it again. The Lagoon has its own fashions and sports, television shows and cars. The different areas of the Lagoon are distinctively different from each other, allowing Pounder to go to town with her ability to create interesting places. You’ve got to love the restaurant built in the stomach of a floating shark, and the drive-through hairdressers of upper-class Oysterdale. Pounder is clearly observant of people and their quirks.

The mystery itself is straightforward. It can only be one of four people – we work through the SHOAL councillors until we realise what we’re overlooking and the mystery is solved. I don’t read much younger MG, (although Pounder’s books make me think I should read more,) but I imagine the limited range of suspects is comforting to a very young audience. There is more to the story than the initial mystery. A secondary plot comes into play, opening new questions and leading us into a sequel.

Pounder’s books remind me of some of the puzzle adventures I read when I was young. This is not about the style, but the poems and magazine pages, menus and letters which build the narrative alongside the story itself. We’ve got half an eye on Beattie’s Mum, who is off exploring wrecks. There a secret codes to solve, and a whole chapter written in ‘mermish’. Reading is about so much more than sitting with a book. Reading is about involvement with a text. Pounder offers her young readers different ways to interact with the story.

On a similar note, throughout the story we’re keeping track of press cuttings from ‘The Scribbled Squid’ and ‘Clamzine’. I was ridiculously tickled by this element of the text. The Scribbled Squid is a newly opened gossip tabloid. Alongside news from the Clamzine, we’re presented with misinformation and unnecessary gossip form The Scribbled Squid. What a great way to open conversation about reliable and unreliable media from the very young. What an important conversation to have with children, who have access to a range of communication from an early age. You’ve got to laugh when meet Penny Poach, editor of The Scribbled Squid. So much can be communicated by a character’s name.

Fun and funky, Bad Mermaids is a great adventure. Certainly a quick read for adult kidlitters, but you close the book feeling as if you have been in Lagoon. I look forward to the rest of the series, and intend to read the rest of Witch Wars at the nearest opportunity.







Chat: Memories of my childhood library

South Woodford Library

In 1998, I found a pair of gerbils on the library shelves. Their names were Oscar and Roo, although I never found a single detail to tell them apart. They lived with me for two-and-half happy years. Being a small child, I thought that was a very long time. 

South Woodford Library was a short walk from my childhood home, (though it felt like a very long walk back up the hill, especially on a sunny day.) My family spent many happy Saturday afternoons in the children’s library, and Mum would often take me and my sister for an hour on the way home from school. I was read to from birth, but there is no denying the library played a HUGE part in forming my love of books. My primary hobby as a child was ‘picking library books’. I remember the library as a cool, quiet space with seemingly unlimited shelves of books.

The library was a place of discoveries. I often followed my sister. When she discovered the ‘big children’s’ (8-12) books in alphabetical order, I followed. Although a relatively small space, it offered endless discoveries to relatively small people. Not only did we read, we learnt to browse books. To choose titles. To scan shelves. By nine or ten I knew the system. If I wanted to search for a book, I knew where to look. We developed research habits -me and my sister found out about gerbils in the pet section, and diligently researched their background and care. My parents probably gave in to the gerbils so the library could have their gerbil books back. When people fight to save libraries, they talk about the damage done to children’s reading, but libraries are about so much more than sitting quietly with a book. They are the first place anybody learns academic skills.

GerbilsGerbils aside, I want to share some memories of a childhood spent in libraries. I’m sorry the pictures are all taken from the internet. I’m a child of the 90s/00s. Libraries were sacred places of hushed tones, and camera phones didn’t come into play in any useful way until my late teens. I wouldn’t change my quiet-in-the-library childhood, but I’m sorry not to have a single picture. A visit to the library was too day-to-day to waste film, (actual fim,) on, yet visits to the library are among the most special memories of my childhood.

[nb. The photograph I found online is reccent. Three or four years ago, a private company took over the library services, and turned the bottom floor into a gym. That gym is my childhood library. My feelings about that gym are neither here nor there for the purpose of this post. (*cough*). ]

Memories of a Childhood Spent in the Library: 

  • When we were tiny, me and my sister caught our Mum tearing pages out of her magazines. We knew books should never be damaged, and we told naughty Mummy off. Mum explained she was tearing out the recipes. Later, she found us tearing pages from our library books. When she asked, we explained: we too were tearing out the recipes. The only time we damaged our own books was library-related. We found sticky dots and turned our books ‘into library books’. There might have been some crayon scrawled returns labels…Naughty libraries. They don’t know how to look after their books. 


  • After rainwater damaged a large amount of stock, the children’s library was moved Crocodiledownstairs, and given a new lease of life. With said new lease of life came Mr Crocodile. I was possessive about ‘my crocodile’. He was just the right size to lie back on with a book. (See what I mean? Life-long habits formed in libraries.) The only time I was told off for making noise in the library involved an exuberant game with the child from next-door-but-two and Mr Crocodile. 


  • Reservations were made by writing a request on a pink slip and pinning it to a noticeboard. When your request was in, a white slip would appear. My sister and I made countless requests for the joy of pinning up pink slips. Even if the book was in. Even if we’d read if 46 times.


  • The library was good for a free bookmark or postcard at the best of times. The postcard is CARBONEL, no less, and the puffin bookmark still glows in the dark. With bookmarkslibrarysummer came the reading scheme. You know the one – it is now a national programme. A noticeboard was taken over with a board-game like display. You got your very own counter – if you the pink reservation slips were exciting, the laminated pictures were in a league of their own. Every time you read to a volunteer/librarian, your counter moved along the board. So many squares meant a bookmark. So many more, a stickyfoot. If you got to the end – as a graduate of the Redbridge Libraries Summer Reading Scheme circa. 1997 I am well-placed to inform you – you were invited to a prize-giving, complete with magic show.


  • One November, children were invited to the library after closing hours to decorate  for Christmas. We made paperchains and paper snowflakes. Our picture was taken for the local paper, (sadly not found in the online archive.) 


Do you have any memories of your childhood library? Did you discover gerbils on the library shelves? Do you have a bag full of free-and-treasured bookmarks? Please share.

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Odyssey by Aarhus 39

AarhusOdyssey is one of two books published by the Aarhus 39 – 39 emerging Eurpoean children’s writers under the age of 40. The books, Odyssey and Quest, have been published to coincide with the International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, which takes place in October 2017. Both books were editied by Daniel Hahn. Odyssey is the YA title.

The stories are centered around the theme of ‘journeys’. It is wonderful to see the different interpretations. Many metaphorical journeys take place – rites of passage, growth, exploration of gender and sexuality. The book’s introduction talks about political division, and goes on to highlight how the same themes emerged regardless of which country the author came from. I think this is one of the most interesting things about the book. Adolescence is adolescence is adolescence, no matter where it takes place. It is a journey in its own right.

I was interested to see the varying ages of the protagonists – although the majority of protagonists fitted the standard 14 – 18 of YA fiction, there were a healthy number of younger children, and a couple of adults. I was pleased to see a university-aged protagonist. In all other sections of children’s fiction, it is accepted that the reader wants to read up, to see what is coming next. Certainly in the UK, the advice is to write about young people of school age. Where does this leave 17 year-olds who want to know about settings beyond  the school gates? 

 I have written a short synopsis for eight stories which stood out. These are the stories which stayed with me when I closed the book. They stood out for different reasons, some for the theme, others for the form. I want to emphasise that both Odyssey and Quest are high among the best reads of the year. Devour these stories, then return to them for a second sitting. See what else they have to say. Outstanding.


Breakwater – Michaela Holzinger. Illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

Breakwater uses a repeated journey to show how young people change over time. Lilian’s family have vacationed by the lake every autumn. Every autumn, Lilian spends her days with Kilian, while their fathers play chess under the trees. This year Lilian would rather stay at home. She’s too old to play games. Too old for geeky Kilian, with his silly games and his Lego-Minecraft. Except time has changed Kilian, too. Suddenly, Lilian’s father is not so certain the teenagers should be spending so much time together. Like the chess played out below the trees, Lilian and Kilian have a battle on their hands.

This was one of the few stories which took place in a static location – that is, many authors took travel literally, and wrote about walking trips and boat journeys and trains. Holzinger shows the passage of time as effectively by focusing on one moment in time.


Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay – Endre Lund Eriksen. Illustrated by Jörg Mühle. 

Everyone knows that new kid Petter is gay, but our narrator sets out to prove it to his peer group. After all, anything could happen if there was any uncertainty. This story is great for tone – it is clear from the character’s voice that he is resentful. He begrudges Petter his success on the football team, and the friendships he makes when he moves away from the narrator’s company. It is a great story about the peer pressure which makes coming out feel impossible to young people, and the effect that can have on their life.

Like ‘Breakwater’, there is a physical journey, to training camp, and a metaphoric journey. In Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay, the metaphoric journey is coming out.


Journey at Dusk – Sandrine Kao. Illustrated by the author.

 Blanche could have spent the summer practicing for her oboe exam and hanging out with her friends. You know, normal French things. Instead, she must spend time in her parents’ country. Blanche works hard to fit in at home. She doesn’t  want to learn about the family culture. Greeted by Aunt Mi-I and her small son, Blanche trails through the market, dripping with sweat and contempt. Then she hears the one thing that might win her over to a new culture – a woodwind instrument.

This was the only journey which focused on a young person born in the western world, learning about their parents’ very different culture. With so many people now relating to multiple cultures, it was right up to date, and so beautifully done. Blanche learns to focus on the similarities between cultures, and to explore her heritage with pride.


What We’ve Lost – Sarah Engell. Illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet.

aarhus2 A boat full of people who know each other not by name, but by what they’ve lost. After seven hours at sea, the engine packed in. Our protagonist looks after a small boy, but with no idea which direction they are drifting in, and only so much water between them, odds are not in their favour. We’ve all seen the news articles. ‘Journey in Europe’ brings to mind the refugees, who undertake desperate journeys in search of a peaceful home. Sarah Engell hands it with great sensitivity. This was one of the stories which beautifully matched its pictures. I was in floods by the end, but so I should be. These stories need to be read. 


The Blue Well – Ana Pessoa. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

 Our protagonist has found herself sitting back, watching life slip past. She’s lost her sense of adventure. The day her family visit the mountains, she would rather hide beneath her wide-brimmed hat, alone with her thoughts. Thoughts nobody else understands, but that is OK. Our protagonist would rather exist, a part of the landscape. The mountain. Then she reaches the Blue Well. This is a story which merits rereading. It is also in touch with the intensity of young people’s thoughts.


 Mine – Sarah Crossan. Illustrated by Anke Kuhl. 

The baby is coming. Stacey is waiting to find out whether it is a girl or boy, but frankly she doesn’t care. Curled in the baby’s cot, she waits for live to change beyond recognition. Why does the baby’s room get a fancy name? Why does it get everybody’s time and attention. Then she sees the bunny in the corner of the cot, and she hatches a plan.

Rites of passage are metaphorical journeys. Stacey travels along with her family, wondering whether anybody will care about her when they reach the point of great change.


Out There – Victor Dixon. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. 

 Thibaut refuses to wait another season before taking up a rifle and becoming a man. He has great dreams of taking over his father’s estate, and protecting the livelihood of the tenants. Determined to prove he is a man, Thibaut shoots a gander, as it leads a flock of geese on migration. Throughout the summer, the geese land on the farm, first in tens, then in thousands. The crop is decimated.

Victor Dixon uses the metaphor of migration to explore the transition between adolescence and manhood, and the relationship between Thibaut and his father. This reminded me of a fairy tale, particularly with its country-estate setting.


Lost in Transformation – Cornelia Travnicek. Illustrated by Dave McKean. 

aarhus4 Lou is neither male nor female. That’s about to change, but Lou wants to know why. ‘Because everybody has to make that decision’ doesn’t seem a good enough reason to face the transformation all young people undertake before the start of their secondary education. Following years among the Cybele – a colony of asexual, genderless beings – Lou wants to know if there are options which have not been presented. This was the only Sci-Fi story in the anthology, and it is one of the stories which got under my skin. It put its questions across in a way which lasted beyond the last page. This was intensified by Dave McKean’s haunting illustrations.

Lou is about to be escorted back to face transformation into something gendered. Will Lou follow, or will Lou break away?