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What On Earth Books

What On Earth Books are new to me but Laura Smythe who works as part of the publicity team is not and she sent me two of the company’s new books.  And I am delighted because they are wonderful in their own right but they are also about two things in which I am passionately interested: language and islands.  (I know, it’s an unusual group.)


Literally, written by Patrick Skipworth and illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson, does what it says in the subtitle.  Patrick has chosen a selection of English words with different roots.  He explains, with the artistic help of Nicholas, where each word comes from, how to pronounce it and how its meaning has changed.


I’ve chosen this one as my example as it demonstrates one of the reasons English has so many synonyms, something I was very interested in at Glasgow University where I studied English Language.  The history of language and its development is a fascinating thing and this book is an excellent starting point.


Amazing Islands is by Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman and it is due out next month (June 2020). They have chosen some isands and some island groups for a variety of different reasons, be it geographical, geological or literary.


I collect islands in a loose sort of way and am fascinated by the literal insular nayure of them, how it affects the people who live there and the particular phenomena it gives rise to.  Svalbard and Prince Edward Island are two isands I would love to visit and for the reasons in these descriptions.  I’ve been as far north as the top of mainland Norway but I’d really like to go norther still!  And for most of my life I’ve been dreaming about meeting Anne on her home ground.


Although the publisher has aimed these books at quite young children, I’d say that anyone of whatever age will find something interesting in them.  And it might well lead on to further journeys of exploration, virtual or actual.


My Lockdown Books: Forty Nine

My sister wanted me to write about an Alexander McCall Smith book so here you are: School Ship Tobermory.  It’s the first in a series about (you guessed it) a school on board a sailing ship.  However, if I had to categorise them, I’d say they were as much adventure/mysteries as school stories although they don’t really fit neatly into any genre.  And that’s a good thing as I think they’ll appeal to all sorts of readers.

The book was published by Edinburgh based Birlinn who played a big part in launching Alexander McCall Smith’s fiction writing career.  I was very happy to review it in The Scotsman in 2015.

Ben and Fee are looking forward to starting at a new school, a very different kind of school, on a sailing ship. They quickly make friends but soon they are drawn into rivalries, mysteries and danger. School Ship Tobermory: a school story set at sea. That’s two of my favourite things in one book. Added to that it’s written by Alexander McCall Smith with all that means in terms of style and humour, and illustrated by the brilliant Iain McIntosh. What joy!


My Lockdown Books: Forty Eight

Here’s another review from The Scotsman for a very good book.

From Nosy Crow comes Little Bits of Sky, SE Durrant’s debut novel. The story of Zac and Ira, siblings in care in the 1980s, it is a beautiful book. The plot is slight but the characters and the emotion are things of joy. SE Durrant conveys both economically and subtly as she tells the story of the children and the mysterious Glenda. In spite of its lyrical quality, realism permeates the book and the ending, whilst optimistic, is entirely believable. I can offer no higher compliment than that this is worthy of Elizabeth Laird at her very best.

My Lockdown Books: Forty Six

As many of you will know, Jean Estoril was one of Mabel Esther Allan’s pseudonyms.  I, however, did not know that when I came across Drina Dances in Italy in this edition in Lossiemouth Library.  It’s the fourth book in the Drina series so I had a bit of catching up to do but I loved the book and quickly set about finding the others.  Only the first six were published in this Collins Ballet Library series and for a long time I was unaware that there were in fact another four books (at that time; an eleventh was published much later).

Drina is half Italian, half English orphan who lives with her maternal (English) grandparents.  It turns out that she is in fact the daughter of a world-famous ballerina, although she only discovers this at the end of the first book.  Her two sets of grandparents fought over the right to bring her up and this book sees her first meeting with her Italian grandmother.

In small ways the Drina books cross with some of the books published under Mabel Esther Allan’s own name.  I remember being puzzled when the Lingeraux Ballet School and Company appeared in Black Forest Summer and later (in terms of my reading history) in Amanda  Goes to Italy.  I had first come across it in Drina.  I have a theory that the books Amanda starts writing in Italy are a variation on the Drina books – which, I admit, is maybe far-fetched.  An author putting her pseudonymous creation as fiction into another of her books, published in her own name,  maybe says more about the convoluted way my mind works!

My Lockdown Books: Forty Five

Every so often, but not often enough, a book comes across my desk that makes me laugh and laugh. Cue: Weasels by Elys Dolan and published by the always wonderful people at Nosy Crow.

Have you ever wondered what weasels do all day? Wonder no more.  It turns out that they plot, and prepare for, world domination! The book takes us inside their HQ on the day they have arranged to take over the world. But as the countdown begins something happens to derail their plans. I guarantee that you will laugh out loud as you read this complex, absurd, utterly engaging picture book.

Who’s it for? Well, everyone!

My Lockdown Books: Forty Two

Fortunately, the Milk is a ridiculous riot of a book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Their combined talents produce a far-fetched adventure as told by a father to his children as an explanation for taking so long to nip out for some milk. It’s a book to read and enjoy and laugh over – and then to read again, paying special attention to the pictures. It’s hard to see how you could go wrong buying this beautifully produced book.

So I said in my review for The Scotsman.  Imagine my excitement when the paperback came out and I was quoted on the cover!  I’ve read it a lot with classes and invariably there’s been a queue of children (and teachers) wanting to borrow it.  If you need something to laugh about, this could be it.



My Lockdown Books: Thirty Nine

A few years ago, when I was rationalising ny book collection, I took the dramatic step of getting rid of my Elsie Oxenham books.  I realised that I hadn’t read them for years and wasn’t likely to do so in the future (just wait, I’ll collect them up again one day!)  However, I did keep a few titles and Mistress Nanciebel was one of them.

I’ve always have had a soft spot for it even though it’s set far too early in history and it’s not even my history!  It’s set towards the end of the seventeenth century and features the Seymour family, English landowners and critics of the king.  Their outspokenness causes them to be exiled.  Sir John and his two older children, Gilbert and Nanciebel, along with the latter’s companion, Constancy, are sent to Wales under the guard of Captain Morgan.  The book describes their adventures there.

I’ve never been quite sure what it is about the story that appeals to me.  I think it’s probably the idea of adjusting to changed circumstances and making something out of nothing.  It’s a little twee in places but the characters are well drawn and the landscape well defined.  It’s also the book that gives the background to the contemporary (at the time they were written) Kentisbury set of books, probably my favourites.