School libraries are magical places and the shelves at Nairn Academy were no exception. Browsing the rows one lunchtime, I came across a thick paperback with a dark blue cover that caught my eye.
Job: A Comedy of Justice by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein opened my mind to the possibilities of speculative fiction. Suddenly the boundaries became blurred; science fiction didn’t have to have space ships and moon bases and aliens in it, just like mainstream fiction didn’t have to be set in the present day.
It was a journey that led me through Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Chips Are Down and Robert Harris’ Fatherland and eventually onto my debut novel, an historical thriller called Hare.
In Job, just like the book’s Biblical namesake, the main character is put to the test. At its heart, it’s a very whacky love story, told only as Heinlein could.
I’ve gone for four books in one with The Tales of Earthsea novels by Ursula Le Guin, an adventure full of magic and darkness in an otherworldly fantasy land of islands and uncharted seas. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972) and Tehanu (1990) are beautifully written and so barely there in detail to what we know today. Sparrowhawk is myth-like, a fabled anti-hero. Earthsea has been a firm favourite since I was a teenager. Now I know Le Guin created a genre, writing science fiction and fantasy before it had a name. She’s a master.
Hey you, yeah you, maybe you’d like to try some wild swimming? In Tasmania we just call it swimming. But maybe the wild will tickle your fancy. Whatever it takes/whatever you call it, give it a try. Maybe you’ve not swum outdoors for a while. Maybe never. I’m not inspiring you?
Maybe you should try reading Waterlog, a beautiful paean to aquatic places, people and pursuits in the British Isles and nature in general. If you do and feel inspired and want some suggestions for spots near you try further research at sites like http://www.wildswimming.co.uk/hidden-beaches/ where you will find directions to places such as Seacliff where I’m pictured reading. It has Britain’s smallest harbour. Sombre sea monuments. Bass Rock filling your vista. Ruined castles. Birds roosting and swooping. Swathes of sand, sea and rocks to explore. Why not dip your toe in the Waterlog?
Lots of great children’s books can be read by children and adults alike. This is definitely a must read for adults- the combination of the slightly dubious storyline and simple but brilliant illustrations make for one very funny book. The illustration where the rather peeved big fish who has had his hat stolen narrows his eyes is particularly priceless.
Read it for your own pleasure. Then decide if you want to try it out on your kids. It might not be for all children, but my preschooler was gleefully scandalized.
Ferdinand is the one bull in the world worth knowing intimately. Ferdinand is a safe bull. A peaceloving creature. An individual. A poetic bovine.
I’m selecting this wonderful story because it’s really ideal for fathers to read to their children. Ferdinand is a boy who refuses to yield to peer pressure to be a fighter. Instead, he prefers to sit and dream and enjoy the beauty of his homeland’s meadows and cork groves. By the end of the book, we know Ferdinand is a little bull who is full of courage.
It’s great to see The Story of Ferdinand is still in print after more than 80 years. Written for children in one afternoon in 1935 in a world beleaguered by a drift to war, it raised the possibility that to choose not to fight might be an honourable and humane position. The Story of Ferdinand topped the charts in the USA in 1938, ousting even Gone with the Wind.
I have had this book as long as I can remember. It was one of the first I read and its message is still a huge, humane and beneficial influence on me. Beautifully illustrated in pen and ink, quick and easy to read, and with the added bonus of reminding us animals may indeed be wiser than we humans.
It’s super fun and I love it – and other kids will love it. My favorite character is Penelope, because she is a chef! The drawings are beautiful. They are colourful and pretty.
The Prince I didn’t like so much (scrunches up her nose) but the Queen – I love. I think all kids will like this book, especially kids whose favourite colour is green!
“The Shakespeares had the builders in again.” As opening lines to historical novels go, it’s great. For a novel about the sixteen year old that Shakespeare, it’s glorious. Jan Mark never wrote but that she gave it her all, and her all was gleaming wit and intelligence. In Stratford Boys she gives the most famous writer in the world, ever (after God and His bible, of course), an ‘early years’: his lurching, hilarious, but always credible, entirely teen-typical first ‘go’ at play writing. Not your usual YA subject, not your usual YA approach and all the more fabulous for it.