Monday, September 28, 2020
Claire Robertson brings us Letters of a Love Struck Teenager. The protagonist is a little young for this defined reader yet the text is more sophisticated than the Hopkins one mentioned earlier. The story is told through a series of letters.
Protagonist Gilly Freeborn is obsessed with her flat chest. She compares herself with others (160-61). She has other body image problems. She decides that her nostrils are too big (153).
Gilly is sexually aware to some extent. When dreamboat Johnathan O’Neil arrives at her school she gets “‘stirrings’ all over the place- in my arms, my legs, in my chest, in the gym, in the cloakroom and here in bed” (6). She is sexually naive and only learns the facts of life form a friend who draws a diagram on the back of a recipe for her. Gilly is horrified: “I must say that I was absolutely horrified.It seemed incredible that respectable humans being who had never harmed anyone were forced to submit themselves to this humiliating degradation just because they wanted to have children” (24). She cannot fathom why people would have sex if they weren’t interested in having children but gradually realises that the strange “spasms” (26) she was having were something to do with this. When on holiday she accidentally comes across a porn channel in the hotel she cannot see why there would be any pleasure in “doing it” (188-89)
Gilly defines herself as a feminist and wants to be taken seriously. However,she is rejected by Radical Feminists because she is not yet eighteen (20-21). She is forced to form her own feminist organisation LSHYWAC - Langley Street High Young Women’s Action Committee more radical. But not until a party is out of the way (21). They decide to write to the paper - the Trowton Evening Echo (128). Their letter is published. Though claiming themselves to be feminist, Gilly and her friends are obsessed with clothes and spend much of their time talking about them (28).
There is sibling rivalry too. Gilly’s older sister Rosalee skulks like a shadow in the background.Gilly fears criticism from her and occasionally borrows her clothes. Roslaee is stood up by boyfriend Greg and offers to let Gilly wear some of her clothes (96). Yet this is only a ruse to get her to go to Tricks in search of the “traitorous Greg” (97).
There are family woes - Auntie Paula has to come to stay as she has been thrown out of the flat that she shares with her boyfriend - even though she owns the flat. Mother is not happy about this (58-61).
However, Auntie Paula becomes an ally and a mentor but leaves again, as mentors generally do. Her parents’ marriage becomes more and more fragile.
We have details about school - failed cookery projects and boring English and history classes. Gilly dislikes the class swot(44-48).
She gets a Saturday job at a hairdresser. This is far form glamorous (111-12).
Gilly see through the gloss of the agony aunt’s strategy. She accuses her of providing form answers and not being realistic (118-121).
She starts to take risks and goes to a party her parents would have not allowed her to attend - all covered by a lie (144-48).
Towards the end of the novel she wins a special prize for her essay on Emily Bronte (182). Then she is reconciled with her friend Annie, with whom she has had a falling out (185).
The novel ends on a very upbeat note: she has boobs at last, Jonathan, who happens to be Aunt Paula’s new husband Fred’s nephew, dances with her at he aunt’s wedding, it looks as if her father and mother are going to be reconciled and she and her sister become more friendly.
This is a slightly difficult novel to place; it was published in 1990, just before the vast expansion of young adult novels. The protagonist is just fourteen - and only for part of the novel at that. This puts it right at the beginning of the young adult period. It can be construed as young adult as the protagonist is concerned with her growing sexual awareness though there is some reluctance there.
As ever, though much of this is upbeat and light-hearted, there are significant shadows.
The book is 218 pages long in blocked text. The font is Plantin 13 point.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
2015, first published 2007
This is the seventh of the Alex Rider books. The stakes get higher still in this one. He has recently t splashed down from his journey into space and has just been reconciled with his guardian Jack Starbright when the Australian secret service employ him.
Alex only accepts this mission because he will be working with Ash, who used to know his father well. Ash is in fact Alex’s godfather. Ash has had most of his stomach ripped out and is in constant pain. This is one of the consequences of this sort of work. MI6 had not been very sympathetic so he went to work for Australian intelligence.
This time his Australian mission gets mixed up with Scorpia again and once more Alex finds himself working also for MI6. There are gadgets again but mysteriously one crucial one lets him down. This makes him realises that Ash is in fact a double agent. His other allegiance is to Scorpia.
Alex learns more about his parents’ death. Ash was involved.
Alex is becoming more sexually aware but still in a very subtle way. The novel ends with the reappearance of Sabina Pleasure. She is presented to us as being extremely attractive.
The book is 398 pages long, with blocked text and an adult but simple font. The chapters are quite long.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
There are several books written for teens that resemble chick-lit but are written for younger women. I like to call these chicklet-lit. There is also what might be called “staglet-lit” literature which has a male focus. These books are characterised by lots of parties, interest in other sexes, and fun with peers. Yet there is also peer pressure and on the whole these texts are slightly more serious than their adult counterparts. Cathy Hopkins Mates Dates series offers us plenty of examples.
In the opening scene of Mates, Dates and Pulling Power (Hopkins 2003) the girls are together and “We were covered in some homemade gloop that Lucy and Izzie had concocted in the kitchen and were discussing the local boy talent in North London” (2). Much of their chatter is about boys.
The girls are generally lighthearted. One of their father’s is a university lecturer and recommends books to his daughter. But Nesta, our protagonist, says “Not my cup of tea at all, I’d rather watch a good soap on telly” (7). Retail therapy is an option: Netsa buys new underwear when she is annoyed about having a brace on her teeth. Her friend questions this. She replies: ”Distraction …. Obvious, isn't it?” (62). They don't take themselves too seriously. “’Yeah, bugger unrequited love and passion,” said Lucy. “Chocolate never lets you down” 968).
Nesta isn’t all that ordinary; her father is a film director and her mother is a TV announcer. Dad is also partly Italian (21-22). Yet her mother’s hours are cut and when Netsa asks to join an acting class that will cot £5.00 a week her mother says that they can’t afford it. She takes a job stacking shelves to raise the money. He father confirms that this is a good move: “he says that loads of movie stars start out working in dead end jobs, so that they can pay their way before they make their big break” (48).
There is humour. Nesta visits the dentist. The dentist asks her a question. She replies: “‘Urg, argle, oof,’ I attempted to say. I mean how ridiculous? Asking people questions when they’re lying on their backs with their mouths full of fingers,” (28-29). Later she is not amused; the dentist recommends that she wears a brace. She exaggerates on the day the brace is fitted:” I emerged form the orthodontist’s looking to the world like a normal teenager, but inside I was a wounded soul cut down in the prime of my life (35).
Also, when she invites Luke for a meal she switches the grill on instead of the oven, she takes creamed fish out of the freezer instead of vanilla ice cream and finally sets fire to her hair with a candle (Chapter 8).
The book is peppered with good advice for teen girls. The advice isn’t totally impractical and may give hope. This includes: recipes for face masks, explanation of the meanings of difficult words, how to fit a bra, visualisation / affirmation exercises and a recipe for pesto.
The peer pressure is there from page 4. Our protagonist reminisces about her former boyfriend but her thoughts are really more aobut her girlfriends. “Maybe they thought I only dated him because he was loaded. I decided to find out what they really thought about me in a really subtle way”(4). There is also peer support: after she has the dreaded brace fitted her friends rally round (Chapter 4).
There is is a distinct dark side to this novel. Nesta’s dad reacts strangely to Luke. There is history between his family and Luke’s. He bans Nesta from seeing Luke ( Chapter 9). We learn in Chapter 13 that Nesta’s father blames Luke’s father for his sister’s death. She was killed when a drunken driver ran into the car she was driving. Luke’s dad had let her drive when she had only just passed her test. Netsa has grand ideas of staging a reconciliation between the two Italian men. It doesn’t quite go according to plan. Luke’s father takes over and the reconciliation happens after all.
Though this novel has its darker side but it has a feel-good ending. There is also some wisdom as Nesta realises there is room for garlic and for roses in the world (Chapter 16).
The book is 169 pages in blocked text and a simple font.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
2016, first published 2002
Rabbit goes to the library to choose a book about wolves. With Rabbit we learn where wolves live, what they look like, which parasites they have to endure, all about their teeth and what they eat. There is a story too. Fortunately for rabbit, the wolf he actually encounters is a vegetarian.
The illustrations are amusing and add a little to the story.
There are some novelty interactive elements. There is an old-fashioned library card at the beginning of the book. There is a letter that the child can take out of an envelope. The double spread where this is situated is covered in realistic pictures of letters and a receipt from the Burrowed Wok that provides Carrotenese takeaways.
There is even another story at the end of the book. The chid is invited to make a booklet that tells the story of the ten little rabbits. This story is more suitable for the emergent reader.
It has sixteen double spreads. The paper in this edition is matt. The book is almost square and tending towards portrait suggesting that there may be an expectation that the child would read it alone.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Jon Blake’s The Beautiful Game has an older protagonist, a teenager who is good at snooker. The book is just 79 pages long, and the text, although blocked implying it is for a fluent reader, is double-spaced and in a child-friendly font. The chapters are short. The book has a decent spine. Only those interested in snooker would choose it. It contains a first person narrative which would suit the teen reader. This is high-low - a simple text for the older struggling reader.
There is tension right from the beginning. By the end of the first chapter - just four and half pages long the protagonist knows “I’m going to get my arse kicked by Creeping Death” (9). By the end of Chapter 3 Jamie’s estranged father has turned up at the family home and upset his mother.
Gradually, Jamie’s dad creeps back into their lives. He gets Jamie a new cue. Jamie has to hide this from his mother but she does find it eventually. Do we trust Jamie’s father? He turns up one day with a bruise on his cheek. He has been in a fight with another man who thought that he was looking at his wife.
After Jamie’s mother has found the new cue and is not happy about it. Jamie runs away form home and joins his dad. However what he finds is not pleasant: “there is a stink of aftershave,stale beer and rotten food. The sides are chock-a-block with pizza boxes, paper plates and empty cans of lager” (47).
Later, Jamie clears the place up and is pleased with himself (56-57). But it is all spoilt when his father brings his mates home and an orgy takes place (58).
His father lets him down. Yet Jamie manages to pull himself together enough to win the big game, defeating Creeping Death. He realises that his mother was right all along. He walks away from the beautiful game.
This story does indeed have plenty of negatives but the ending is completely upbeat and will appeal to the mature reader.
Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are looks like and behaves like a standard picture book for pre-schoolers.
It is a large, almost square book and though portrait in orientation it is big enough for adult and child to share. It has scant text which is formatted in an adult serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. The pictures give more information than the text. Yet the information in it is probably for the older child. Indeed,
the information in it is so important that it is appropriate that the text is shared between child and adult.
It brings a totally positive message. Its subtitle is “Notes for Living on the Plant Earth”. It is the point of view of parent explaining to a child what the world is about. A message in the front papers says “The book was written in the first two months of your life as I tried to make sense of it all for you”. Or is it that the writer is trying to make sense of it all for himself and other adults?
We start off with a description of our place in the universe and then we explore the planet Earth in more detail. We look at the land, the sea, and what we can see in the sky at night. Then we move on to the human body and its needs. There are double spreads showing all sorts of human beings and all sorts of animals. The writer recognises that the child will have all sorts of questions. He also tackles time and warns that it goes by quickly.
There is enough for everyone - physically, intellectually and emotionally. There are a lot of people in the world to love and be loved by.
The book rejoices in abundance and positivity.
The only tiny shadow is the warning about time slipping by.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
2015, first published 2005
This is the sixth of the Alex Rider books. It starts off with Alex almost recovered form a bullet wound at the end of the last adventure. The bullet only just missed his heart. He befriends the boy in the next room. Paul is the son of a very wealthy business man, Nikolei Drevin. An attempt is made at kidnapping Paul but Alex takes his place.
All is not what it seems. The aggressive activist group Force Three is a set up: Drevin has commissioned it to make him look innocent when he blows up the space hotel he has been working on with the British government. The project is bleeding money and Drevin wants to get rid of it. He has arranged for it to fall out of the sky and act like a nuclear bomb that will wipe out Washington. Alex’ a guardian, Jack Starbright, is currently staying in Washington with her parents.
Drevin also makes several attempts to toughen up his son. The kidnapping is his idea and had it not gone wrong with Alex taking Paul’s place, Paul would have lost a finger.
Alex, who has still not quite recovered from the operation to remove the bullet, is now sent by the CIA to move the bomb to another part of the space hotel, so that it explodes harmlessly in space.
Anthony Horowitz supplies us with graphic details of what travelling in space would feel like.
The book is 346 pages long, with blocked text and an adult but simple font. The chapters are quite long.
Sunday, September 13, 2020
The story is told by a naïve female narrator. She loves school, has some good friends and has a comfortable life with her mother. We learn that her father died in a car accident when she was six. Her mother has to do two jobs to keep them fed, clothed and sheltered. But she lives in a safe environment. We also learn that her paternal grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.
The new boy Ahmet arrives at school. He does not speak English. The narrator and her three chums try to make him feel welcome. Gradually he is able to respond to the offered friendship.
The children learn that it soon may not be possible for Ahmet’s parents to join him because the Border Agency will “close the gates” in a few days’ time. They seek the Queen’s help and end up storming the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This is seen by some as an act of terrorism!
All comes good. Ahmet gradually learns English. His parents are found. They are all invited to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the Queen.
This isn’t without a struggle. Ahmet and his friends have to face Brendan-the Bully and some xenophobic adults, including one teacher at their school and a local MP.
There are good adults too: most of the teachers at the school, the greengrocer who finds the pomegranates and a kind taxi-driver. We must not forget Her Majesty the Queen.
Even though the protagonist is somewhat naïve, she realises that some people can’t help their first reaction to somebody who dresses differently and eats different food.
There are materials at the end of the book that will be useful for teachers.
This is in a normal blocked text and the book contains just a few simple drawings which are meant to be the work of the narrator. The narrator may be a little too naïve for some maturer readers.
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