Category Archives: Classics

Fortunately the Milk – Neil Gaiman

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Fortunately the Milk – Neil Gaiman (Ridiculously bestselling author) and Chris Riddell (Illustrator)

Young Fiction, 7+ years, UK Author

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZFSbGY7L7g

This is a partnership made in heaven, I think. A little bit like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake – quite a lot like that, in fact. There is an energy between the story and the drawings that means the sum is more than the parts. This book is a must have for every book shelf home and school – even if your kids are big (My 15 year old chuckled his way through it in one sitting). Or they’ve left home. Or they’re a cat and a dog. Or a goldfish. Anyone who’s been a child living with adults will enjoy this book.

I loved recognising Gaiman as Dad in the illustrations, and one of the things I liked about that was that it made the story even more believable – well – perhaps authentic is a better word…

Mum has to go to a conference, and Dad is left looking after the kids. Dad can be a bit distracted at times. We know this because a) Mum checks a list of instructions with him AND leaves them pinned to the fridge b) defrosting a frozen dinner ends up a bit of a mess and it’s Indian for dinner instead and c) well, we just know.  He’s the kind of Dad who can make a spoon sound new and exciting:

‘We can’t eat our cereal,’ said my sister sadly.

‘I don’t see why not,’ said my father. ‘We’ve got plenty of cereal. There’s Toastios and there’s muesli. We have bowls. We have spoons. Spoons are excellent. Sort of like forks, only not as stabby.’

‘No milk,’ I said.

‘No milk,’ said my sister.’

I’m not sure why, but as I read it, I heard Ardal O’Hanlon reading it – I’m pretty sure that’s the perfect voice for this book (although there is apparently a very good version of Neil Gaiman reading the book, which would be excellent, too.)  It’s a born read aloud for parents, or in the classroom – there is plenty of room to play with funny voices, ridiculous accents, spectacular pauses, and even the odd loud, scary noise.

The story is really a riff on why Dad took so long to get the milk from the corner shop, and it is story telling at its best. Most of us have someone in the family who spins a good yarn – kissed the blarney stone, so to speak.  And Dad really does tell a fantastic adventure involving flying saucers inhabited by globby snot green aliens, a professorial stegosaurus, several wumpires (or possibly vampires), and more…

Potentially a modern classic – buy or ‘borrow’ it now!

Click on the link below to see Neil Gaiman introduce the book, and watch Chris Riddell draw Professor Steg.

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/fortunately-the-milk–9781408841761/

 

 

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Filed under Children 8+, Classics, Five stars, humour, Uncategorized

Holes – Louis Sachar

Holes

‘If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
That was what some people thought.’

Stanley Yelnats is not a bad boy, but thanks to his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great grandfather, he does have some pretty bad luck.

‘Stanley Yelnats was given a choice.  The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.”
Stanley was from a poor family.  He had never been to camp before.’

But, as he discovers when he gets to Camp Green Lake, there is no lake at Camp Green Lake…

This novel has been described as ‘groundbreaking’ – I can only hope that was a deliberate pun.  What I like about this novel is its down to earth (I know, I know), spare language, which generally leaves a lot more unsaid hanging in the air, than it says. It’s eloquent in its brevity.  For example, this is the description of Stanley’s first meal and shower at Camp Green Lake:

‘Stanley took a shower – if you could call it that, ate dinner – if you could call it that, and went to bed – if you could call his smelly and scratchy cot a bed.’

It doesn’t take many pages before kids are asking, ‘What’s up with the three thing?’  Oh!  You’re asking me about literary devices, now?  Well, if you insist!

In that sense, it’s a perfect boy novel – there’s not a lot of deep talk going on.  But it’s deep, for sure.

Four stories are woven together.  The stories of Elya, Stanley’s great-great-grandfather; Kissin’ Kate Barlow and Sam the onion man; and the Zeronis are peppered throughout Stanley’s story, at seemingly random points, with little clues thrown in to gradually make the reader aware of how they connect, and some pretty powerful imagery is thrown in, to boot.

Stanley finds himself in with a bunch of youths that may well have been the kind to bully him in his previous life.  They all have nicknames like Armpit, ZigZag, X-ray and Zero – although Stanley’s not entirely sure that Zero is a nickname.  The boys each have to dig a hole a day, and if they find anything interesting they have to give it to the warden.  Stanley starts out finding the digging hard, and getting along with the boys harder.  There are all sorts of codes he needs to figure out.

Stanley’s pathway to lifting his great-great-grandfather’s curse is both complex and simple, and stunningly wrought.  The first part of the novel leaves readers feeling a little confused, on the edge of understanding what’s going on, but not quite getting it.  The second part cleverly litters little clues and the bringing together of the clues is made immensely satisfying for the reader because there is a purpose to everything in the first half – even the bits that seemed irrelevant.  So satisfying!

Everytime I read this book, I find something else to love about it.  This needs to be on everyone’s reading list, and you need to read it more than once.

This book has won a huge number of prizes.  For more information, go to: http://www.louissachar.com/HolesBook.htm

PS – the film version is one of the best book to film adaptations I have ever seen:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/holes/

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Classics, humour, Uncategorized, YA 14+

Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis Anyone who knows me at all, knows that this is one of my all time favourite books. I love Bud’s positivity, his energy and his curiosity. This story is set in 1936 Flint, Michigan, USA, during the Great Depression. Bud’s Mama died when he was 6 years old. He spent some years in foster homes, but at the beginning of this book is sent to live with the Amos family. Toddy Amos and Bud fight, in a surprisingly hilarious chapter, which leads to one of my favourite moments in the book – when Bud is certain he has encountered a vampire bat…you REALLY have to read the book. Bud runs away, determined to find his father. He has only a few little clues that his mother left him – some rocks with strange numbers on them, and a flyer with Jazz musicians on it. Bud is certain his father is the great Herman E Calloway. This might seem a big logical jump, but as Bud explains it, “The little idea had gone and sneaked itself into being a mighty maple tree tall enough that if I looked at the top of it I would get a crick in my neck, big enough for me to hang a climbing rope in, strong enough that I made up my mind to walk clean across the state of Michigan.” (Chapter 9). The cast of characters Bud meets on his way to find his father are entertaining and thought provoking. This book won the 2000 Newbery Medal, and Christopher Paul Curtis won the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award.

Christopher Paul Curtis Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan on May 10, 1953 to Dr. Herman Elmer Curtis, a chiropodist, and Leslie Jane Curtis, an educator. The city of Flint plays an important role in many of Curtis’s books. One such example is Bucking the Sarge, which is about a fifteen year old boy named Luther T. Ferrel, who is in a running battle with his slum-lord mother. Curtis is an alumnus of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Christopher modeled characters in Bud, Not Buddy after his two grandfathers—Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro league baseball pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression.

Curtis moved to Detroit, Michigan in January, 2009.

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Classics, humour