My Lockdown Books: Twenty Six

In Welcome to Nowhere Elizabeth Laird tells Omar’s story. Omar is a twelve-year-old from a fairly average Syrian family who hates school and has great dreams for the future. As the novel unfolds so does the civil war and slowly, gradually life as Omar knows it begins to unravel. Elizabeth is unsurpassed in her ability to personalise stories of global catastrophe, causing her readers to empathise with, and therefore, understand the situations to a greater degree. Without ever going to extremes, she is both truthful and hopeful in her account of the struggles of Omar and his family. Based on her own experiences working in Syrian refugee camps her novel is powerful, heart-breaking and compelling. This is a book not to be missed.

That’s what I said in The Scotsman on the book’s publication and I don’t think I can better it.  I certainly haven’t changed my mind about the book.  If you enjoy this, you might like to read its companion piece A House Without Walls.  It’s equally as insightful.

My Lockdown Books: Nineteen

I’ve met Frank Cottrell Boyce and he’s a delightful man.  We should have met at the Carnegie Kate Greenaway Medal award ceremony in July 2005.  However, the devastation wreaked on London by terrorists the day before meant that the ceremony was cancelled.  Instead there was a much lower-key award made at the end of the summer in CILIP’s building in Bloomsbury.  I seem to recall that the judges and Frank convened on the pavement outside for photographs.  And as we hung around, we chatted.

The book we were celebrating was, of course, Millions.  I had enjoyed it very much and I continued to read Frank’s books after that, often reviewing them.  Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth came to me from Catherine at Macmillan with a post-it list attached.  That seemed a bit random to me and not something Catherine normally did.  However, once I’d read the book, it all made perfect sense.

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I felt a strange sense of recognition as I read on and gradually I realised that the book was set in and around Dumfries, the town in southern Scotland that we moved to as I was about to start school.  And it seemed to me that it was in fact set in my part of Dumfries as I wrote in my review for The Scotsman.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down causing him to retreat into silence. But when Sputnik erupts into his life all that changes. For the better? Well, eventually. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception. As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

As I said, I’ve read most of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books and it’s hard to choose you favourite book by an author you like but I think this might be mine.

My Lockdown Books: Ten

I adore the Ottoline books, both as items and for the content.  This one is my favourite, though, because it has Norway and the sea in it!  It’s another one I reviewed for The Scotsman.  Here are my thoughts from 2010:

Chris Riddell returns to delight and amuse with Ottoline at Sea. In this instalment Ottoline is devastated when Mr Munroe disappears. Eventually, with the help of the bear, she puts together the clues and realises where her friend has gone: back home to Norway to search for Quite Big Foot. Ottoline and the bear set off after him, meeting many interesting people on their journey. Chris Riddell’s absurd story and brilliant annotated illustrations are a constant joy. With its combination of oblique references and obvious humour this will appeal to children and adults alike.

I see no reason to change my mind about any of that.  But I would add my congratulations to Macmillan for publishing such beautifully tactile items and not stinting on the number of pages.  Whoever was responsible for the design deserves praise.  And I’m happy to say that since then another two instalments of Ottoline’s adventures have been published, bringing the total to four.

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary MacKay

I’m already an admirer of Hilary McKay’s writing so it wasn’t a stretch for the publisher (Macmillan) to get me to read a proof of The Skylarks’ War.  Quite simply, it is the best book I have read by Hilary.  She has excelled herself .

Set in the early part of the twentieth century, it is a wonderful piece of writing about love, loyalty, friendship and war.  Clarry, Peter, Rupert, Simon and Vanessa are superb, well-rounded characters with flaws and failings, feelings and fears who interact in the complex ways of human beings.  The story is engrossing and involving and un-put-downable!  I read it almost without stopping, desperate to know how things would be resolved – or not.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

I have never grown out of my delight at reading books set in places I know so when I realised that Frank Cottrell Boyce had set his latest book in Dumfries I was ridiculously excited.  In fact I felt it necessary to share my excitement with Catherine at Macmillan Children’s Books!  As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down causing him to retreat into silence.  When his grandfather is taken ill, Prez is sent to live with a family on a farm for the summer and in their care he begins to relax.  But when Sputnik erupts into his life everything changes.  For the better?  Well, eventually.  Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception.

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

It’s no great secret that I hold Elizabeth Laird’s books in very high esteem.  She’s a talented writer, a superb storyteller and also a humanitarian.  In an environment where fantasy and dystopia vie for shelf space, Macmillan should also be congratulated for continuing to publish her books which are not easy reads although they are hugely rewarding.

In Welcome to Nowhere  Elizabeth tells Omar’s story.  Omar is a twelve-year-old from a fairly average Syrian family who hates school and has great dreams for the future.  As the novel unfolds so does the civil war and slowly, gradually life as Omar knows it begins to unravel. Elizabeth is unsurpassed in her ability to personalise stories of global catastrophe, causing her readers to empathise with, and therefore, understand the situations to a greater degree. Without ever going to extremes, she is both truthful and hopeful in her account of the struggles of Omar and his family.  Based on her own experiences working in Syrian refugee camps her novel is powerful, heart-breaking and compelling.  This is a book not to be missed.  And surely the Carnegie judges will finally award Liz the Medal she so richly deserves.