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Our Public Libraries Need Help

October 20, 2016



Tony Brown and Elizabeth Hawksley with some of the donated books

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.

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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.

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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.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 21, 2016 1:44 pm

    It’s wonderful that your supporting your local library in this way, Rachel – John

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