Friday, 6 March 2015

50 Books That Every Child Should Read by 16

Another excellent list of must read books, this one generated by a survey of 2,000 readers by Sainsburys for World Book Day 2015.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

2. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

4. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

5. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell

6. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl

7. The BFG - Roald Dahl

8. A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond (see my review)

9. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

12. Matilda - Roald Dahl

13. The Railway Children - E. Nesbit

14. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

15. Five on a Treasure Island - Enid Blyton

16. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (see my review)

17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

18. The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

19. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

20. The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

21. Watership Down - Richard Adams (see my review)

22. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

24. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (see my review)

25. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 - Sue Townsend

26. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

27. The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss

28. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

29. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (see my review)

30. The Twits - Roald Dahl

31. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

32. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

33. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

34. The Tiger Who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr

35. Green Eggs and Ham - Dr Seuss

36. The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham

37. Bambi - Felix Selten

38. Tom's Midnight Garden - Phillipa Pearce (see my review)

39. Little House on the Prairire - Laura Ingalls Wilder

40. Funny Bones - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

41. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

42. Carrie's War - Nina Bawden

43. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

44. The Magician's Nephew - C.S. Lewis

45. Northern Lights - Philip Pullman

46. The Story of Doctor Dolittle - Hugh Lofting

47. The Story of Tracy Beaker - Jacqueline Wilson

48. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

49. Curious George - Margaret and H.A. Rey

50. Each Peach Pear Plum - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

32/50 not bad, although I'm just past 16.

I think it's delightful that Roald Dahl has 5 entries- i.e. 10% of the books. It seems only fitting.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


I just knew that I wouldn't like Redwall. I knew it wasn't my thing, and put off reading it for ages. Years, probably. Fantasy. Blech. Talking mice. Oh ho hum. And then I started reading it. I didn't just like Redwall- I loved it!

It isn't really fantasy, well not what I think of as fantasy, not map at the front fantasy, and Brian Jacques didn't like his writing referred to as fantasy either. He preferred them to be called old fashioned adventure stories, or good yarns. And a good yarn it certainly is. The action starts very early on, with the first death on page 21, and rather unusually Brian Jacques isn't afraid to kill off some of his major characters along the way. Perhaps Redwall is the Game of Thrones of children's literature?

Redwall is the story of a tumultuous time at Redwall Abbey, a rather medieval, commune type of institution that is home to a peace loving band of mice mainly, but with assorted other friendly rodents and woodland creatures- Constance the badger, a hedgehog called Ambrose Spike. 

Down long ages the beautiful old Abbey had stood for happiness, peace, and refuge to all. Diligent mice tended the neat little vegetable patches which every season gave forth an abundance of fresh produce; cabbages, sprouts, marrows, turnips, peas, carrots, tomatoes, lettuces and onions, all in their turn. Flowerbeds, heavy and fragrant with countless varieties of summer blooms from rose to humble daisy, were planted by the mice and husbanded by the hard-working bee folk, who in their turn rewarded Redwall with plentiful supplies of honey and beeswax. 

Very early on danger literally rolls into town in the form of a gang of rats under the charge of Cluny the Scourge. Cluny of course sets his sights on becoming lord and master of Redwall. Cluny is an excellent villain. 

Cluny knew the value of fear as a weapon.
And Cluny was a fearsome figure.
His long ragged black cloak was made of batwings, fastened at the throat with a mole skull. The immense war helmet he wore had the plumes of a blackbird and the horns of a stag beetle adorning it. From behind the slanted visor his one eye glared viciously out at the Abbey before him. 

Cluny's rats have great names. Scumnose. Skull face. Mangefur. The hero of Redwall is a young mouse called Matthias, he's ernest but clumsy. It is no accident that these are stories of mice. 
"Mice are my heroes," Mr. Jacques said, “because, like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits." Source

As an adult reader this is easy to see.

Matthias felt that he had grown up overnight. Duty was a mantle that he had taken willingly upon his shoulders. 

It's classic good versus evil stuff, and it's been wildly successful, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide and being translated into 28 languages. As well as duelling sides there are secret passages, secret messages in code and Brian Jacques gives young readers plenty of delicious food descriptions too, in a similar way to Enid Blyton. The bounty of an English summer, suited to mouse tastes. They eat nutbread, quince pie and some mice are more fond of nut brown ale than others. Brian Jacques also uses a sophisticated language, with lots of magnificent words- sibilant, ululating, legerdemain and milksop. 

As with many writers Brian Jacques took inspiration from his own childhood and life to create stories for children. Brian Jacques left his Liverpool home at 15 to join the Merchant Navy. Years later 
Jacques wrote Redwall as a story to read to the deaf children that he would visit at Royal Wavertree School for the Blind when he delivered their milk. He didn't like the books they had at the school to read to the children, finding them too real, too much divorce, too much teenage angst and misery. He based his Redwall animal characters on human characters that he had met over time. Cluny and his sea rats are based on merchant sailors. and the unionised shrews are based on Liverpool dockworkers. Even the red walls of Redwall Abbey drew inspiration from the red walls of Stanley Park in Liverpool. 

A mouse is the child, and the child is trying to resolve something, to be better, to be a warrior, to be a hero, and if the mouse can, why can’t the child?

Brian Jacques is fantastic, and so is his Redwall universe. I'll read more of it one day. Redwall is definitely a book I wish I'd discovered when I was still reading aloud to my son. I know he would have loved it.


Monday, 2 March 2015

Paris Revealed

Paris Revealed is a fascinating three part documentary detailing three of the most visited sites in Paris- The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Montmartre. It's especially fascinating if you've been there, or useful if you're planning at rip. 

The first part is naturally The Eiffel Tower, Paris' most recognisable landmark. The Grande Dame is the most visited paid monument in the world, and remains the tallest building in France over 120 years after its completion. 

It was interesting to ponder how amazing an experience it would have been in 1889 to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. People at that time did not routinely take off in planes, and seeing their city from such a height was completely new. Eiffel Tower experts and staff become rather philosophic at times. 

Seeing things at 300m from the ground somehow brings us down to earth. We realise the ground beneath our feet is complex, maybe fragile.

The behind the scenes glimpses are particularly fascinating. The intricacies involved in repairs to the structure itself and the elevators- the youngest of which was installed in 1964. The structure of the Eiffel Tower is still 95% original 1899 construction of "puddled iron" and rivets. Most repairs need to be done to the newer already-replaced pieces. These repairs are done at night, whatever the weather, after the tower has closed for the day. Paris Revealed was filmed during the recent redevelopment of the first floor. 

The beacons that pierce the night sky were only installed in 2000, but Gustave Eiffel included a lighthouse type light on top of his tower too, so it was part of his original vision for his tower. 

I had no idea that the elevators had conductors until 1986. I can't believe that I'd never seen this detail before!

I can't believe that I've never noticed this guy!
Maybe because I'm always taking the private lift to
Le Jules Verne?
The nine gift shops are restocked every morning, with daily deliveries as there is no storage, and they sell up to 4 tonnes of souvenirs each day!

The procedure for food to arrive at Le Jules Verne was particularly fascinating for me. I've eaten lunch there three times now (and have shared two of those experiences with you, lunch in 2010, and lunch in 2013). It's amazing to see their vegetable and seafood deliveries to the Champs de Mars each morning, the produce is then taken to an underground preparation kitchen where they fillet and cook the fish, all to cut down on the weight and volume of produce that needs to be taken up to the kitchen in the restaurant. All flame is prohibited on the tower, so the cooks must use electric stoves and even candles on birthday cakes are forbidden. 

Musee d'Orsay holds the Eiffel family archive. There is a fascinating segment about the early construction of the tower- opposition from the few nearby residents (NIMBY early adopters), how it was built in prefabricated sections. Gustave Eiffel held the concession for 20 years until the tower was given to the city of Paris. Gustave kept a guest book of all the famous people who visited. 

The Eiffel Tower segment ends with Bastille Day celebrations, which made me reminisce our Bastille Day 2013 spent on the hot and sweaty Champs de Mars waiting for nightfall.

In Eiffel Tower news this week they have installed wind turbines as part of Paris' impressive goals for greenhouse emission reductions.

To The Heart of Notre Dame is equally fascinating. Notre Dame is the most visited monument in Europe. 

A prayer in stone. 

I have visited quite a few times, but last year I climbed the tower to enjoy the view, an absolutely incredible experience, and one that I should share with you some time. The gargoyles that are so famous to us now are a mid 19th century addition.

Documentaries like this can access places we visitors can only dream of. They visit the spire and look down on Viollet Le Duc (who restored the spire in the 19th century) looking back at them.

They show us the making of the holy oils in the cathedral basement, choir practice in the lead up to Easter, the inner workings of the organ (they have lungs!) 8000 pipes and 115 stops. It's astonishing to see the 13th century wooden roof structure is still there.

Big doors have big keys!

The incense for Notre Dame is made in house by the sexton, he varies it for the season and the occasion, and it is much more like a perfume than I had ever imagined. 

They visit the Treasury, a particularly fascinating section of Notre Dame, and well worth the small entrance fee (entry to Notre Dame itself is free). The Treasury recently found a 13th century jaw bone that they hope may belong to Saint Louis.

Montmartre. Sacré Coeur Basilica is the second most visited monument in Paris with 10.5 million visitors per year.

They always all seem to be there at the same time as you are.

Largely completed in 1914. 7 architects and 44 years to complete. The location was decided in 1873 at the site of the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris who famously walked carrying his head for 6 kilometres. Underground pillars were needed for preparatory work as the area is riddled with old quarries.

The stone is "self cleaning" and secretes a white substance when rained on. Sacré Coeur's bell tower (which somehow I seem to have never noticed before) holds the largest bell in France, Le Savoyarde, weighing 19 tonnes. Sadly it is cracked and can't be rung at the moment.

A particularly fascinating aspect of life at Sacré Coeur that was new to me is nocturnal worship. Up to 170 pilgrims can stay at The Guesthouse of the Basilica and commit to spending at least an hour of prayer during the night, these prayer sessions are rostered to give continuous worship round the clock, and over the years.

But you get cracking views from the bell tower.

Montmartre is not my favourite area of Paris, and I now realise that I've never visited Place du Tertre, the famous open air art market where Picasso and Renoir worked at one time. I've felt uncomfortable on my two visits to Montmartre, both were brief it's true and we didn't really stray beyond the very crowded, awful area around Sacré Coeur- the only place I've ever felt the crowds to be too much in Paris.

Paris Revealed visit several Montmartre characters, Michou who is all decked out in blue and a collector who only collects objects related to Place Pigalle.

An old stained glass window from Le Rat Mort
I found each of the 50 minute episodes very enjoyable. Of course my favourite was the Eiffel Tower, but all were enjoyable and informative. Paris Revealed is well worth seeking out.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Sydney Festival

I had a rather quick trip to Sydney in January. Quick, but still fun. Sydney Festival runs every January, we had time for a little look around Festival Village in Hyde Park.

 There was a great library. Free books to go.  I liberated five....

You could bring books in from home to donate.
Many were surplus from the City of Sydney Library. 

 Higher Ground is said to be part art installation, part photo playground.

It does make for some cool photos

But as an experience in the HOT sun of an Australian Summer
It was HOT.

Baking really. 

Staff retreated under umbrellas. 

We retreated for an ice-cream. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday, 27 February 2015

40 Classic Children's Books Even Adults Love

Recently Time alerted me to this list, but they couldn't be bothered including the whole list, just the first five.

The full list is at My god, I loathe sites that make you click through lists one by one. It's like a punishment.

Here is the list, as a list.

The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein

Ferdinand- Munro Leaf

The Saggy Baggy Elephant - Kathryn Jackson and Byron Jackson

Are You My Mother? - P.D. Eastman

Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson

The Poky Little Puppy - Janette Sebring Lowrey

Go, Dog. Go! - P.D. Eastman

Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs - Judi Barrett

Raggedy Ann & Andy - Johnny Gruelle

Little Bear - Elsa Holmelund Minaret

The Five Chinese Brothers - Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese

The Snowy Day - Ezra Jack Keats

Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst

Amelia Bedelia - Herman Parish

The Swiss Family Robinson - Johann David Wyss (see my review)

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (see my review)

Superfudge - Judy Blume

The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)

Encyclopaedia Brown - Donald J. Sobol

The Incredible Journey - Sheila Branford (see my review)

Goosebumps -R.L. Stine

Henry Huggins - Beverly Cleary

The Cricket in Times Square - George Selden

Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (see my review)

The Indian in the Cupboard - Lynne Reid Banks

Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary

Bambi - Felix Salten

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

Ballet Shoes - Noel Streatfeild

Betsy-Tacy - Maud Hart Lovelace

Lassie Come-Home - Eric Knight

The Borrowers - Mary Norton

Mary Poppins - P.L. Travers

Greek Mythology -

Old Yeller - Fred Gipson (see my review)

Pollyanna- Eleanor H. Porter (see my review)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor

Tiger Eyes - Judy Blume


There are always more books to read, and more books you've never heard of.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Sky So Heavy

I do like a bit of post apocalyptic lit from time to time. It's not a genre I want to wallow in, but they're often a great page-turning read, whether meant for adults, such as The Road (see my review), or On the Beach, or any number of YA titles, with possibly the most obvious ties to John Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began series. Claire Zorn references Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness a number of times within The Sky So Heavy- I do wish that I had read it.

Claire Zorn's debut novel The Sky So Heavy was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Older Readers last year, and went on to be a CBCA Honour Book. And for a while it was everywhere, of course I wanted to read it, I just needed the opportunity. Thankfully that arose recently. Perhaps if I'd known that it would only take me a day or two to read I could have squeezed it in sooner.

The Sky So Heavy is firmly set in Australia. Findlay Heath is a 17 year old schoolboy in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, with schoolboy concerns- assignments, his parents and whether Lucy will talk to him again, but all that is about to change, when two unnamed countries to the north start lobbing nuclear weapons at each other and the world falls rather quickly into a nuclear winter.

I never like it when writers are coy about countries involved in a fictional war. Just name someone, or make up a new country if you don't want to pick a current one. It's especially odd when the Australian setting is so very real- the lower Blue Mountains, and Sydney are described in close and accurate detail. There is quite a bit of action though, right from the start.

There are two things I know right now: one is that a guy is holding a gun to my head, the other is that I don't want to die.

While there is a great first person story for Fin, his family and his friends, there are also many broader themes- nuclear war naturally enough, conservation and global warming. There are more political slants, and we can definitely see some parallels with our current asylum seeker debates with segregation of the population.

It's funny how without something as simple as electricity it was completely useless- just a gaping, blank stare of black. Without electricity our house was a box of useless bits of moulded plastic and wiring. 

You can hear an audio review on RN Books and Arts Daily from 2014 (with some major spoilers it must be said). I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Claire Zorn, her second book, The Protected is already out, and has already won the Victorian Premiers Literary Award 2015.  I'm sure it'll be on some more award lists this year.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Shakespeare and Company

Rather incredibly it took me four trips to Paris to make it inside Shakespeare and Company, one of the most famous bookstores in the world. I can't believe it either, but I guess I usually manage to buy enough books accidentally when I'm away, I don't need to go deliberately searching out more books that I would naturally want to buy to stuff into my suitcase that will at some stage burst at the seams.

I knew exactly where it was of course. I've walked past many times, once this past trip there were people filming a movie maybe, or an ad, although there were only a few people, it wouldn't have been a big movie, but they did have one of those clapper things.

I always scan their events page before any trip to Paris. They have scads of great writerly events but these always seem to be just before I arrive in Paris, or just after I leave. I guess the Wicker boys were never keen to go either, although they wouldn't have discouraged me. Whatever the reasons for the delay, last year I finally made it inside. And it was fun.

Tempting books outside

and in

Of course I popped upstairs to the children's section. Just to check out what was on the shelves.

Noticeboards and Shaun Tan

I need to read this one. 

They don't like you taking photos of inside the shop apparently because of customer privacy, so I was careful not to include any customers. I did manage to escape without buying anything this day. Sadly I didn't come across their famous cat, Kitty, but there's always next time.

Some lucky folks get to stay in the shop (check out this link, it's amazing).

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog