I am a huge fan of public libraries; I’ve had a library card since I was six. Nowadays, they offer you far more than just books. With my library card, for example, I can access the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (the DNB) or read The Times or The Guardian online, and much more. And libraries are currently suffering from ferocious budget cuts.
So, when I became the UK Children’s/Young Adult Book Review Editor for the quarterly Historical Novel Society Review, I decided to offer the ex-review copies to my local library. Every few months, when my floor round my desk has once more disappeared under books, I email Tony Brown, the Stock and Reader Development Manager of Islington Borough library, label the email: Books looking for a good home, and send him a book list. Would he like any of them? So far, he has always said, ‘Yes, please,’ to the lot.
I always get far more books than I, or my wonderful stable of reviewers, can review; often because they are not actually historical (a dragon on the cover, for example, is a giveaway; or the recent book where Lady Jane Grey’s husband has become a horse; or a book featuring jokey zebra gladiators) or where I’ve been sent two or more copies of the same book. So Tony gets an eclectic mix.
Here are six examples of recently reviewed Historicals which I hope other readers will now be able to enjoy in my new list of books for Tony.
Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby
Illustrated by Marieke Nelissen
Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby is a traditional Travellers’ tale with delightful pictures of their everyday lives. It is about the power of the imagination to help in times of hardship and it’s aimed at children of four plus.
And I Darken by Kiersten White
And I Darken by Kiersten White, the author turns Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century Transylvanian warlord, into a girl, Lada. Lada must fight to succeed her father and ruthlessness is the key to her survival. As the reviewer wrote: This is not a book for the squeamish. For girls, age fifteen plus.
Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection by Julia Lee
Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection by Julia Lee is a murder mystery set in the 1920s and our heroine is a housemaid who can’t spell. I thoroughly enjoyed this lively story – and the amount of work poor Nancy has to do is 100% accurate for the period. For girls of ten plus.
Rugby Player by Gerard Siggins
Gerard Siggins is a well-respected Irish writer follows the adventures of the 21st century young rugby player, Eoin Madden, with a gift of seeing ghosts from Irish history. Rugby Flyer features real life Prince Alexander Obolensky who became an Irish football legend in the 1930s. A great read and boys of ten plus will love it.
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
These Shallow Graves is set in New York in 1890, where young socialite, Jo Montfort, uncovers the truth about her father’s untimely death. The reviewer praised this book for depicting a realistic late 19th century New York, with a believable heroine struggling with the restrictions on a well-brought-up young lady’s behaviour. This is a young adult novel but my guess is that it will be a crossover book.
Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman
The publisher’s publicity department actually sent me three copies of Tanya Landman’s Hell and High Water! And I can understand their enthusiasm. It concerns a mixed-race boy in 18th century England, struggling to find his place in the world. Landman doesn’t pull her punches about the ignorance, corruption and bigotry of the time. Aimed at both sexes, age twelve plus.
What I enjoy about the Historical Novel Society is that I can keep up with what’s out there and what publishers are looking for. Children’s/YA novels are changing all the time; boundaries are being pushed; and difficult subjects, like race, are tackled openly which would previously have been mentioned more obliquely. Modern children’s Historicals can be challenging as well as terrific reads.
There is a real variety of books for Tony to choose from.
Most of the time I make up stories and concentrate on fiction. However, for about two years I worked on a Memoir about our younger adopted son, who joined the family when he was nearly four years old. The whole Memoir has not seen the light of day. In other words, I have not found a publisher, but I was happy to have a short extract published in an anthology edited by Dr. Kate Massey.
“Tangled Roots – True Life Stories About Mixed Race Britain”.
My true-life story is one of at least twenty five varied and moving stories. It is entitled ‘A Rock for Jah’. It tells about the first time we saw Jah. He was with a short-term foster family, where he had been staying for eighteen months, which was far longer than planned. The family was wonderful and they had been preparing him to move on to a ‘forever family’, but it must have been difficult for a little child, not quite yet four years old, to understand why he had to move onto an entirely different family again.
The reason why I called my story “A Rock for Jah” is because the first time he saw my husband and myself, we showed him a photo of our other three children. It was a holiday snap of them sitting on a big rock in Scotland. Jah examined the photo solemnly and he then pointed out something nobody else had observed – a little rock next to the big one. “There’s a Rock for Jah” he said. It was moving to witness how deeply he wanted to belong somewhere. He had spotted this tiny rock where he could ‘belong’.
Jah’s birth family was partly African, partly from the West Indies and partly white British, so clearly his story belongs in a collection dedicated to multicultural Britain. However, we had already adopted a son from a Caribbean background and we were already a mixed race family before Jah joined us.
The back cover of the book, states “12% of UK Households are mixed race, although experts estimate the actual number of mixed race people may be more than two million – double official figures..”
The collection is described as “a shockingly honest, funny and heart-breaking collection of memoirs revealing the human dramas behind the phenomenal success of ‘mixed Britannia’.”
You can find out more about Tangled Roots on the website www.tangledroots.eu.
Once I realised that I was not going to get my Memoir published, I started writing a blog – Adoption Reflections. It is a very interesting way to communicate to others around the world. More about this in my next Buzz About Books blog post.
I was at a superb talk given by Dr. Eva Griffith at the London Metropolitan Museum, about ‘Shakespeare’s Rivals’ a few weeks ago.
During it we were allowed to look at the documents of the period, which were sometimes just little pieces of paper, that when pieced together told some of the social history of the time. I was hooked.
Old pieces of paper intrigue me. The official name of course for those scraps is ‘ephemera’ described as ‘transitory written or printed material not meant to be retained or preserved’. You know, those are the bits that turn up years later in forgotten diaries like bus tickets, shopping lists, scribbled lyrics written after a break up.
I have one piece of paper that was so important to me that I’ve have kept it ever since I was twelve.
It came with me when as a child we immigrated to the States and then I brought it back again still intact years later when we arrived home to The Isle of Bute in Scotland again.
My treasured item was a postcard of acknowledgement from the publishers Blackie & Son Ltd, to say that they had received my work.
Imagine this…. aged twelve I’m sitting at the kitchen table scribbling in longhand and whizzing through a dozen school jotters to create my book called ‘‘Adventure Isle”. (For those who might be moderately interested it was an adventure in Enid Blyton style with lots of descriptions of food…just the way she did it) When it was finished I went to the local printers to see if I could get someone to type it up for me but it was too expensive so I wrapped all the jotters up lovingly in a brown paper package and posted them off.
One week later the mail arrived and in it was a postcard. It simply read:
“Blackie & Son’s Publishers acknowledges the receipt of ‘Adventure Isle’ by Margaret Nicol”
For me this was a magical moment. I was a writer and I could prove it!
The postcard was my trophy and I’ve kept it ever since just to remind myself that’s who I am…in case I forget.
It’s a bit unusual to have three publications out in one month (July), but very exciting – and they are all collaborations with lovely people.
The first two are picture books, co-written with the English Traveller, Richard O’Neill, and are published to coincide with Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. Yokki and the Parno Gry, about a magic horse and its relationship with a Traveller family which has fallen on hard times, is a really lovely story and was great fun to work on with Richard, turning it, with his blessing from an oral story to a picture book. The other, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, is a more comical story about a monster, and a girl from a Travelling background who yearns to be a musician.
Equally, it was an honour to contribute a chapter, ‘Becoming English’ to A Country of Refuge, edited by Lucy Popescu and published by Unbound this month. This was a book that celebrates the contributions that refugees have made to this country. I wrote about my mother and grandmother coming to the UK just after the war from what was then Yugoslavia.
The first picture books reviews are in:
“This is a window onto a different culture and a reminder to have faith in imagination.” Super review by Nicolette Jones in the The Times and The Sunday Times Children’s Books Summer Reading!
Historical Novel Society on Ossiri and the Bala Mengro: Marion Rose reviewed it, writing: “This is a picture book where everything has been thought about, from the patterned end papers to the glossary that explains the sprinkling of unfamiliar words. It is beautiful to look at, and wonderful to read aloud. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is old enough to meet an ogre.”
Elizabeth Hawksley reviewed Yokki for the Historical Novel Society thus: “I loved learning about the Travelling life, what everyone did, and how they coped. It’s also a story about the power of the imagination to rise above the bad times and look forward to a better future. Children of 4-9 should love it.”
Leeds Gate, a Traveller charity, reviewed the books, with 11 year old Jerry Hanrahan writing:
“My name is Jerry Hanrahan, I am 11. I went to primary school except for most of the last year. I’m hoping to go to high school in September. I read the books in our training room at Leeds GATE with my brother Billy crawling and exploring around us!
I read Parno Gry, it was quite easy for me to read, and I liked the story. My favourite character was Yokki cos he told stories. The worst bit was when Aunty couldn’t sell her flowers, I felt really disappointed for her. The pictures were good. I read half the other book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, but then my brother was making a lot of noise so Helen read through the rest.
I think these books would be best for children a little bit younger than me, say about nine. I liked the stories being about Travellers and what was in the pictures. I think they should write more books. Thumbs up!”
“A traditional Romani folk tale brought to stunning life… hugely original story introducing characters and stories from other cultures in an engaging and delightful way.” ReadItDaddy
Over at the Travellers Times, a magazine for the Roma, Romani and Traveller community, the books were reviewed thus: “This book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro was a fantastic read, all though it is mostly suited to younger children as there are a lot of pictures. The illustrations are colourful, entertaining and show what is happening in each part of the story well….Yokki and the Parno Gry…made me feel hopeful towards the future. ‘Yokki and the Parno Gry’ is a wonderful tale of what a child’s hope and imagination can bring to a family, it’s just an added bonus that it’s about the Gypsy and Traveller community.
Samantha Ellis also reviewed A Country of Refuge for
The Times Literary Supplement:
“Lucy Popescu’s A Country of Refuge is a collection of both fiction and non-fiction about refugees. A moving essay by Joan Smith about Anne Frank’s father’s attempts to seek asylum, comparing it to the story of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a victim of “the same depressingly bureaucratic response to refugees fleeing fascist regimes”, proves that empathy is not the preserve of fiction. Not every contribution earns its place. An excerpt from Rose Tremain’s story “The Beauty of the Dawn Shift” is not nearly as powerful as the whole original. It is also a little unclear why two pieces (neither new) by William Boyd about Ken Saro-Wiwa have been included, since Saro-Wiwa was never a refugee. But this book is full of powerful writing. Many of the best contributions come from writers who are refugees,
or second-generation refugees, themselves. Hassan Abdulrazzak describes an encounter with an RSPCA inspector who refuses to allow his Iraqi family a dog, and his realization that “it was going to be a long, hard struggle to learn all the rules of my new homeland”; Katharine Quarmby tenderly describes her mother’s induction into the mysteries of The Archers.”
The video shows pop-ups from the second children’s theatre production I co-created for Wordpepper which finished it’s final tour earlier this year. The show was presented by Half Moon Theatre in association with Apples and Snakes.
I made 19 pop-up books in total for the show, from very small to extremely large constructions which opened up to form the set. The video shows a small section of the smaller ones. These presented a type of illusion, being made to look like full books but often containing only one pop-up design to illustrate a moment in the show.