Posted by: janesandell | March 30, 2009

More Desert Island Books

A while back I promised that I’d write more about the newer children’s books I love.  As my bookshelves prove, there are many of them but there are a few in particular that stand out for different reasons. 


One of them is Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, a Canadian.  This is a book I had to read whilst judging for the Carnegie Medal and my heart sank when I saw it.  It appeared to be yet another sci-fi/fantasy mixture, two of my least favourite genres.  But one should never, of course, judge a book by its cover and when I finally steeled myself to read it, I was enchanted.  It’s set in an alternative past (it feels Edwardian) on an airship – a very enclosed community – and tells the story of Kate and Matt who are first-class passenger and crew.  It’s a fast-paced adventure but it’s also a character study and has a great supporting cast.  I loved this so much that, when the sequel, Skybreaker, was published, I rushed out to buy a copy.  And now I’m excited because there’s a third book due out in May.


I’ve mentioned Linda Newbery elsewhere in this blog, I know, but her books are so good that I can’t apologise for that.  I discovered Linda’s books in my early years as a school librarian and loved them immediately.  In my view, Sisterland is an outstanding teenage novel and it was a strong contender for the Carnegie Medal.  Linda has a tremendous ability to create memorable characters and to cause them to interact believably.  In Sisterland she cleverly depicts a variety of relationships, some of them overlapping and all containing an element of tension.  Without it ever becoming an issue-driven novel, it looks at the nature of prejudice and explores the reactions of various characters to it.  I have to say, though, that the first time I read the novel that wasn’t what I thought about.  I simply enjoyed the story.  Whenever I see Linda, I nag her about writing a sequel.  I know she’s never going to but it doesn’t stop me wishing she would!


That I would include here something by Eva Ibbotson was never in doubt; the problem was always going to be which her books.  As I’ve said before, I love them all but in the end I chose The Star of Kazan.  It’s a jewel!  With a deft touch she has created memorable characters: Annika, a girl in love with life and Austria; Ellie and Sigrid, servants defined by duty and generosity; the eccentric professors for whom they work; the glacial Edeltraut von Tannenberg.  And Vienna.  The warmth and fondness with which the author always describes Vienna make me feel as though I’ve been there – although I never have.  This is a wonderful evocation full of waltzes, Sauerkraut, the not-so-blue Danube, the Prater, Lipizzaner stallions and affectionate laughter at the city’s idiosyncrasies.  Vienna is integral to the novel.  It is more than a setting in time and place.  It is a main character.  The Star of Kazan is a delight.  Eva Ibbotson’s gentle irony and subtle humour enhance a beautifully crafted and well-managed plot.  There is no extraneous detail; like an expertly conducted symphony, everything comes together in a satisfying Viennese conclusion.  It truly is a masterpiece and I’m still a bit put out that it didn’t win the Carnegie Medal!



  1. I’ll have to read some of those! I’m always on the lookout for new books to read, thanks for suggestions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: