My Lockdown Books: Sixty Nine

You might think I’ve chosen another book by Elinor Brent-Dyer to include in this lockdown selection but I haven’t – although I understand why you might be fooled into thinking otherwise. I love Visitors for the Chalet School by Helen McClelland, the original (I think) fill-in to the series. It’s a great addition but it’s a good book in its own right too.

When I read Elinor Brent-Dyer’s books I don’t really feel a sense of period but Visitors makes me aware that I’m reading about a bygone age. This is a good thing!  For me, the historical detail adds so much to the book. It also gives a wonderful outsider’s view of the Chalet School and contextualises it well. And it gives more description of Tirol, a place I love regardless of the Chalet School.

And I remember Helen fondly too.  She took the trouble to keep in touch with a young teenage Chalet School enthusiast in the north east of Scotland and found me an Australian pen-pal, with whom I kept in touch for years.  In turn she put me in touch with a friend of hers and that was the beginning of my Chalet School networking.  Hello Michelle and Rosemary if you’re reading this!

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Eight

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return for another unladylike murder mystery in Mistletoe and Murder.  The school friends are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and great-aunt. Before they’ve even settled in they are faced with puzzling and unsettling events. And when a fatal accident occurs in Maudlin College the girls suspect that it might have been planned. Determined to prove that it was, in fact, murder, the girls reluctantly accept the help of fellow Cambridge visitors, George and Alexander. Nancy Drew meets the Chalet School in this clever crime novel set in the 1930s. Robin Stevens’ period detail, strong characters and meticulous plotting come together in a satisfying story.

This was the first Murder Most Unladylike Mystery I read and I was immediately entranced.  I think that came partly from the fact that I had also recently discovered Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels.  Although this is set in Cambridge rather than Oxford and is for younger readers than Sayers’ output, it has the same college atmosphere as Gaudy Night.  I’m not trying to suggest that Robin Stevens and Dorothy L Sayers are comparable writers.  That would be ridiculous.  Their books are not trying to do the same things at all and they come from different eras.  But the settings are similar and both writers make me feel I’m in the same other time.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Four

By rights Mimi by John Newman should be a dismal read, recounting as it does the days after the death of Mimi’s mother. Her family is not coping well and Mimi, the youngest, is struggling to make sense of life as she experiences it. However, this is not a maudlin book; it is poignant and funny and real. John Newman handles his subject with insight and sensitivity and manages to keep the resolution realistic as well as positive. Full of a mixture of emotions, the story avoids sentimentality without ever minimising the sense of loss felt by Mimi’s family.

I read this book when it was first published and reviewed it The Scotsman.  The book really captured my heart and I’ve been recommending it to children ever since.  I commend it now to you!

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Three

Philip Reeve was another author I discovered in the course of my duties as a Carnegie Medal judge.  Predator’s Gold was longlisted in one of my years and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I read all the others in the set.  So, years later, I was delighted to read Fever Crumb.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve recounts the much earlier history of the world of the Mortal Engines quartet but it doesn’t depend on having read those books. Fever has been brought up by the Guild of Engineers, men who believe in reason not emotion. At the age of fourteen, however, she is sent to work outside the Guild’s precincts and gradually everything she has been taught about the world and herself begins to unravel. Who is she really? And what has she to fear from Charley? This tightly-plotted, fast-paced adventure has all the answers.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Two

When the bank his parents own crashes, Oliver’s life starts to spin out of control. Precipitated into responsibility for a grumpy girl, her unpredictable mother, sixteen camels and a dog, he has to do some fast thinking, creative planning – and difficult sums. Too Small to Fail is another book by Morris Gleitzman and sees him at his clever best. The humorous story has moments of unexpected pathos, a thought-provoking undercurrent and a cliff-hanger ending. Gleitzman’s lightness of touch and awareness of the absurd, not to mention his ability to tell a gripping story, make this a book not to be missed.

I really like the way Morris Gleitzman writes.  It feels simple but there’s always a deeper point being made.  I could have chosen many of his books for this selection but I enjoy this one for the journey across Australia it takes us on.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty One

I know I’m not alone in having had horrible experiences of being compelled to read books in primary school that I hated.  But, hopefully, I’m also not alone in having discovered some great ones.  For me The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean stands out.  We read it, I think, in Primary 6 and it stays with me yet.  Which is a good thing.  On one memorable occasion one of our authors failed to turn up at the Spirit of Moray Book Festival.  The audience, however, didn’t!  It fell to me to entertain them and I did that by using an excerpt from this book.

It all starts when Alasdair is on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig en route for Skye, the birthplace of the father he scarcely remembers. On board he encounters two men, each chilling in his own way, who leave the train in dramatic fashion and leave Alasdair with a crumpled note saying ‘Hunt at the Hill of the Red Fox MI5’. Allan Campbell McLean’s classic thriller is as exciting today as it was fifty years ago. The Hill of the Red Fox is published by Kelpies Classics.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty

Two reviews for one today.  I’ve added these books to my picture book collection but they’re not simple and they can be enjoyed by fluent readers as well as those we normally think of as picture book consumers.

The Day the Crayons Quit seems like a simple picture book but take a closer look. Debut author Drew Daywalt and celebrated illustrator Oliver Jeffers have produced a sophisticated triumph in technicolour! One day Duncan’s crayons all write him letters that make him re-assess his colouring-in. Drew Daywalt creates unique identities for each crayon in a few well chosen words and Oliver Jeffers brings them expressively to life. Give this book to competent young readers who realise they’re never too old to draw.

The Day the Crayons Came Home is Oliver Jeffers’ and Drew Daywalt’s triumphant sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit. The tale is told through a collection of postcards sent to Duncan by his missing crayons. One by one they tell their sad stories as they prepare to come back. And, full of remorse, Duncan builds them a home. Daywalt and Jeffers collaborate brilliantly to create a funny, strangely heart-warming story of a reunion that children and their parents will enjoy. The premise may be simple but this is a sophisticated book in language and illustration.