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.

10th December

Trudy Takes Charge is the first of ten books about the eponymous heroine. They were published over the course of twenty-one years, from the late forties on, by Pickering & Inglis, a Scottish publishing house well-known for its overtly Christian books.  I know nothing about the author, Mary Alice Faid, but I believe she also wrote adult novels.  My copy of Trudy Takes Charge is actually my Mum’s, a Sunday School prize.  I read it when I was maybe about ten and over the years acquired the rest of the series, mostly from McCall Barbour’s bookshop on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.  Fifteen year-old Trudy is recalled from her boarding school and left in charge of the family in her parents’ absence due to illness. It’s unashamedly evangelistic but it is also (and this makes it sadly unusual) a great story.  Everything does not go well and being a Christian brings Trudy trials as well as triumphs.

Something completely different is Once by Morris Gleitzman.  It’s also the first book in a series but there the similarity ends. It is the story of Felix and Zelda, two children living in Poland in the 1940s, trying to escape from the Nazi regime. Once is a good book – maybe a great one – and it’s deceptively simple.  The language is simple and the plot is simple but there’s nothing simple about the story.  It deals with horrific situations and dreadful choices and real-life history.  The power of the book lies in its matter-of-fact description, and some of the scenes will haunt readers of any age for a long time.  Because of that it is a challenging, but ultimately worthwhile, read.

2012’s Bookshelf

The other day I was clearing out all the books I’ve received from publishers this year. Don’t worry; they all went to good homes. I dealt with the books for primary children first, as they were being given as prizes, and the picture books had already gone. So I was left with the teenage titles. One of my colleagues took them to pass on to a local organisation which is collecting gifts for young people who might not otherwise receive anything. Hopefully there will be lots of happy teenagers in Moray this Christmas.

But they’ll pretty much only be happy if they like dystopian novels or the paranormal/supernatural. Fairies, vampires, zombies, angels, werewolves and dark spirits of all kinds were clustered on my shelves. And I hate them all! I’ve never met one that I could enjoy reading about. I’m sure some of them are good books. In fact, I know they are. Take a bow, Joss Stirling. But I can’t get interested. Part of my problem is that I’m irritated by publishers jumping on the bandwagon and giving us more of the same – even when it’s badly written, plotted and populated. The dystopian novels aren’t quite as bad but I do think that they’re going the same way as authors run out of anything new to say. But Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy was interesting and I thought that Slated by Teri Terry was a great concept.

Once these genres were off my shelves, I was left with very little. Fortunately some of it was very good. Sophie McKenzie’s Missing trilogy was represented and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Similarly, I am loving Anne Cassidy’s Murder Notebooks. I’m surprised by both of these as I don’t particularly enjoy thrillers. But these are gripping without being a ridiculous strain on the nerves. More to my general taste were the historical novels by the likes of Mary Hoffman, Rosemary Sutcliff, Paul Dowswell and Marie-Louise Jensen, who is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. And my small Australian collection: Garth Nix, Michael Gerard Bauer and Morris Gleitzman. I met the first two at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year and they were as lovely as their books. (I’ve met Morris Gleitzman previously and he is too!)

Clearly there are other brilliant books out there and I do understand that publishing is a business and it needs to be commercially viable. But my wish for 2013 is that more publishers will be brave and take risks – and that they’ll keep sending me their books!

Now by Morris Gleitzman

Last night I read Now by Morris Gleitzman.  It’s the third part of the trilogy whose earlier books are Once and Then.  It brings the story of Felix and Zelda up to date being set in Australia in 2009.  If anything, this book is even better than its predecessors.  It caught me unawares and left me in an emotional whirlwind.  I don’t know how Morris Gleitzman creates such powerful prose using such a simple style.  I can only conclude that he’s a literary genius.

Morris Gleitzman

A few weeks ago, I was at the Youth Libraries Group conference in Lancaster.  It was a great conference, probably the best YLG conference I’ve been at, and one of the highlights was meeting Morris Gleitzman and hearing him speak.

I’ve always liked his books, especially Two Weeks with the Queen, which I often use with school groups in my Ways Into Reading sessions.  I like it so much that I bought another copy of it at the conference so that I could get it signed.  I’ve never really lost my excitement at meeting authors even after all these years as a librarian.  There’s just something so special about talking to the people who’ve created the books I love.

However, Morris was at our conference at least partly to promote his forthcoming book, Then.  It’s the sequel to Once which tells the story of Felix and Zelda, two children in 1940s Poland.  Once is a good book (I feel I should maybe give that capitals) and it’s a deceptively simple one.  The language is simple and the plot is simple but there’s nothing simple about the book.  It deals with horrific situations and dreadful choices and real-life history.  I think the power of the book lies in its simplicity.  But Then is even more powerful.  It’s published in the UK in January but I have a proof copy.  I have no intention of spoiling the story for you but I do want to encourage you to read it.  I also want to warn you that some of the scenes will haunt you for a long time.  The words might be easy but the book is a very difficult read.  But read it – and remember that some people lived it.