Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Age Between – Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction




Fincham Press is the academic press of the University of Roehampton and it is so appropriate that they should produce this account of these liminal readers and those who write for them. The University of Roehampton is a centre of excellence for the study of children’s literature.

The subtitle is apt.  This is a reflective book in which Aidan Chambers tells us of and rationalizes his journey into becoming a full time writer, writing mainly for the young adult, for that age between.

Yet the work is more than just a reflection. Chambers presents us with a sound definition of what the young adult text is and who are the readers and writers of those texts. He identifies key texts, his selection demonstrating a history of the genre and recommending a canon. He also analyses his own texts, showing that they conform to the habits and etiquette he has identified.

He also demonstrates here a piece of metatext. He argues that we don’t grow so much because of our experiences rather than because of our reflection about those experiences. Writing about them is a form of reflection. In writing about what these texts do and how they  are made he establishes his own rationale about writing for young people.

I used the word “liminal” in my opening sentence because that is important in Chambers’ argument. The young adult exists between two ages and in many of the texts discussed, including some of his own, the protagonists and other characters are often in a liminal space for other reasons.

Chambers admits to some limitation to his arguments. He has only referred to British and American texts.  He has not referred to texts written in other English-speaking countries, or to those in other languages.  He highlights the lack of translated texts for young people. With some relief I note that his arguments coincide with my own and my study did include texts from other English-speaking countries and written in other languages. Chambers highlights IBBY and IRSCL as offering a way forward on this.  

Usefully for many of us, Chambers recognizes that it isn’t only young people who read these texts.  Adults other than school librarians and teachers read perhaps in order to redefine their own youth. He gives us permissions to carry on reading.

The final thirty pages are an interview with of Chambers by Doctor Deborah Cogan Thacker, who has a special interest in youth literature and literary theory. They cover the topics of voice, adult character in young adult literature, the implied reader, reader response, reading for companionship, multiple personalities, ethics, morality, responsibility, multiple points of view, preparation and research, the reader as co-author, and the connection between reading and writing.

This has all the hallmarks of an academic book: its price, the fact that it is produced by an academic press, and some sound and valid arguments demonstrated well by the texts discussed. It  is also a very readable book for any adult interested in this area of literature. As one would expect of Chambers it is well written.                          


Friday, November 20, 2020

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris



Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris introduce us to some strong images of nature.  As we turn the pages we can hear the wind swirling in the trees, we can feel the cold softness of the snow and we can hear the cry of the birds.

The verses make an extraordinary use of language.

The book is very tactile and is one anyone would be proud to have on their bookshelf.

Who is the reader, though? This could be a book for sharing though the language is possibly a little sophisticated for the preschool child.  It would be excellent for reading aloud – either by  an adult or by a reasonably fluent new reader. The latter would be aided by the simple font.

It is longer than standard picture book though is divided into “chapters” with a few pages being dedicated to a particular animal or plant.

The illustrations are superb and would provide a good talking point.-  

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest



The story is set in Blackpool 1935 around the time of the second big switch on of the illuminations. Gracie, her mum and brother George take over the running of the Majestic boarding house. Seaside boarding-houses of this era were a little different from the 21st century B & B. The family have to provide three meals a day for their guests. And they almost fall at the first post; Mum disappears and they don’t know how to cook.  However, the maid Phyllis helps as do their two new friends Violet and Tom.

There are many details of time and place here. Susan Brownrigg paints a vivid picture of what Blackpool was like then. Even the road where the boarding house is situated actually exists, though the place itself doesn’t. We have a lot of details about the trams, the tram depot, the Illuminations, the Winter Gardens and the piers.  We also have plenty of atmosphere.  One of the characters is even involved in the Mass Observation Project, though in real life this didn’t happen until 1937. Observers studied ordinary working people from Bolton, renamed Worktown.

Then there is the disappearance of their mother and the mystery surrounding Presto the magician who is also a crook. They are aided by the League of Shining Stars, a detective agency run by children.  This is inspired by the League of the Silver Star which appeared in the Blackpool edition of the Lancashire gazette.  Children were invited to become members and take part in competitions.

Mum is found.  Presto is outwitted. Gracie finds she does like living at a boarding house in Blackpool. Phyllis’s job is made permanent and she is given a pay rise. They decide that children will be offered a full English breakfast as well.

The book is 192 pages long.  The text is blocked but double-spaced. The font has a serif. The chapters are relatively short.  Chapter headings are in cursive font and are fronted with a picture of a suitcase with a question mark on it. At the end of the book there is a glossary which contains a lot more information about Blackpool,  a note form the author on her research and an author bio.           

Friday, October 30, 2020

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis


 New girl Maya comes to Chloe’s school. She doesn’t say much and is always dressed in shabby probably second hand clothes. The other children tease her. Then she stops coming to the school. The teacher shows the class how kindness can spread like the ripples on the water when you drop a pebble in it. Chloe fails to identify her own act of kindness and regrets not having been kind to Maya.  

This looks and feels like a standard picture book: it is a tactile hardback and includes many pictures that tell more of the story than is in the text.  Yet there is a little more text on each page than in most picture books for pre-schoolers. There are some telling facial expressions which may be easier for a slightly older child to interpret.  This contains a first person narrative that is quite unusual for either the pre-school or the Key Stage 1 child.  

The text uses an adult serif font with difficult ‘g’s and ‘a’s.             

Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz



2015, first published 2013  

This is the tenth and final book in the series.  It is really some back story and gives a first person account of Yassen Gregorovich, whom Alex Rider, his father and his uncle have encountered.

We learn how Gregorovich became as assassin. His parents were involved in something dangerous. This went wrong and he had to fend for himself.  He ends up becoming involved in Scorpia. He is a reluctant killer at first but manages to develop the habit. This novel ends where he allows Alex to escape.

The use of first person is unusual here yet it still doesn’t read quite like a YA book yet. This is supposed to be Gregorovich rereading his diary just before he goes out on a mission.  Only the last couple of chapters are concerned with the present mission. This is the only part where we see Alex. The diary however is a little too sophisticated for a young man, especially in the early parts which he should have written when he was a young boy living on the streets. We have to suspend our disbelief. However, this form does give us some insight into the character.   

There are shades of Oliver Twist. When he lives on the streets he meets a character called Fagin. He is pushed through an open window and gets caught by the man he is trying to rob. This man does indeed take him in. However, he is not as kind as Oilver’s rescuer.    

The book is 405 pages long with blocked text in a simple font.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

2002, first published 2001  

The traveling pants of the title are a pair of jeans bought from a charity. The four friends, Bridget Carmen, Lena and Tibby pass them on to each other during a long summer in which each of the girls grows up a little.  So, we approach the bildungsroman of the young adult.

Bridget embarks on a forbidden relationship with an older boy a coach at her summer camp. Carmen behaves badly when she is confronted with her father’s new family. The beautiful but rather shy Lena causes a misunderstanding between her and Kostos, the grandson of friends of her grandparents.  Tibby works at Wallman’s and befriends Bailey, a younger girl who is dying of leukaemia.

The pants develop a spiritual quality and bring luck and meaningfulness to each girl as she wears them        

Each chapter contains glimpse of each of the girls and is headed by a quote usually from literature though there is also a quote from a bumper sticker.

The book is 304 pages long.  The chapters are quite short. The text is blocked and in an adult serif font. Other fonts are used for had-written notes, giving each girl a different sort of handwriting.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Last Wolf by Mini Grey



This is a green twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story. Red Riding Hood becomes Little Red and wears a red coat, a red and green hunting hat and red boots.  She has the power; she is off to catch a wolf. Mother is not afraid to let her go as there haven’t been any wolves around for a hundred years.  She is allowed to go out alone and is warned not to be late for tea.  She makes her way through the forest and finds the Last Wolf living cosily with the Last Lynx and the Last Bear. The animals reminisce about the time when it was easy to catch food. They help Little Red find her way back home and she and her mother decide that they need to plant more trees to help the animals.

Significantly, the only full double spread shows a picture of a healthy forest with animals running through it. The rest of the book is made up of single spreads, one and a half page spreads and some pages with multiple pictures.  Additional story is shown in the pictures.  The difference between the wilderness and the town is emphasized. Some of the text is blocked off.  As the animals reminisce, pictures are framed by wavy lines to imply dreaming. There is plenty of repetition.

This is a large almost square hardback edition.

The text uses an adult serif font with difficult ‘g’s and ‘a’s.            


The Age Between – Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction

                                                                     2020 Fincham Press is the academic press of the University of Roehamp...