Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Gates by John Connolly, Hodder £12.99

This treat for any bright, enquiring child of ten or twelve or even older slipped through our net this autumn. Perhaps the review copy arrived late.

News that the scientists are about to restart the Hadron Collider sitting under the Swiss Alps makes this most enjoyable novel even more timely. John Connolly is known for his pretty tough (well nasty) adult detective novels but here brings all his considerable writing skills and views of the dark side of life to bear whilst writing a book which is wholly suitable for children. Perhaps not for those of a nervous disposition, but for all others.

The hero of the tale is a small boy called Samuel Johnson and his faithful dog Boswell - and yes the novel is full of those sort of wordy jokes. Samuel is the sort of boy who drives teachers mad but who is wholly logical and endearing. The problem is with his neighbours and the effect of the Collider opening up a portal to hell. The book is littered with wonderful footnotes (pace Jonathan Stroud) giving comments on the story and helping with satanism and quantum physics for example. There is a lot of humour, some terror and plenty for a bright, enquiring child to think about and enjoy. Excellent winter reading, a real page-turner.
Enid Stephenson

Friday, 6 November 2009

Illustrated Children's Books

Illustrated Children's Books published by Black Dog Publishing £24.95 isbn 978-1-906155-81-0 first published September 2009

At first glance this book looks just the job. Good layout and full of colour illustrations, good paper, well bound, good cover design (no jacket). So one could assume the perfect Christmas present for someone interested in or studying illustration.

The idea, I imagine, behind the book is to take a look at illustrated books from the 17th century to now. There are two essays. One entitled The World in Pictures by Peter Hunt (Professor Emeritus in Children's Literature at Cardiff University) and the other by Lisa Sainsbury (who is based at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Roehampton University) who covers Contemporary Children's Books. There is a foreward by the current Children's Laureate Anthony Browne. And to complete trust in the book at the back there is the logo of The Big Picture, Book Trust.

But look a little further and this book is a complete expensive mess.

The lack of clarity begins on the contents pages. We can all play games over why a certain person was left off but to list the Authors and Illustrators sometimes under title and sometimes under illustrator is confusing to say the least. So the section headed Authors and Illustrators 1659-1945 begins with Alice in Wonderland and then continues to Edward Ardizzone, Babar, Helen Bannerman, Thomas Bewick etc. You get the idea? Authors and Illustrators 1945 - Now runs Emily Gravett, Mini Grey The Gruffalo, Shirley Hughes... And I am confused about who wrote the short essays that accompany each illustrator, I can't imagine either Peter Hunt or Lisa Sainsbury could be responsible.

There is the odd sentence in the essay by Peter Hunt which I would query "Initially, the horrors of the First World War produced a protective and retreatist attitude to childhood, epitomised by AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh, 1926, Hugh Lofting's Dr Dolittle series, from 1920 and Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons." Ransome's children seemed to be able to be independent and adventurous.

There is the odd proofing error viz Anthony Bowne (instead of Browne), routes instead of roots in the piece about Jan Pienkowski, Anderson instead of Andersen Press.

There appears to be a misunderstanding between a reprint (albeit by a different publisher) and first published. Francis Lincoln is repeatedly cited as the First Publisher viz Tim in Danger, Tim to the Rescue, Captain Pugwash, Sunshine, Moonlight whereas what they have clearly done is publish reprints.

Then the odd phrase making the paragraph read as a rather poor translation as when talking about The Very Hungry Caterpiller "...the endearing humpbacked, obsolete look of the caterpiller" or when writing about Polly Dunbar "written by her mother, Joyce Dunbar, also a writer..." or in the article about Ezra Jack Keats "But in order to get more of this kind of work it became clear that Jacob Ezra Katz would have to become Ezra Jack Keats. This reality was a sad result of the anti-Semitic attitudes still prevalent at the time" or (and sorry to go on so) in the bit about Helen Oxenbury talking about her husband John Burningham "She learned a great deal from him, and has likened his influence to that of a teacher or illustration course".

And how could any book on illustation worth its salt not include articles about Maurice Sendak or Raymond Briggs.

I rest my case!

What a shame though as it looks so very very good and is so very very disappointing.

Enid Stephenson