Every single year I forget just how cold winter is, every year. It is a shocker, to me everytime… anyway it is indeed the season to make sure you are prepared for long days indoors and reading in a sunny spot… So to help prepare for the weekend we are bringing you a pile of the latest and greatest reads to check out…
The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse: I was looking for a quick weekend read, that had a little substance… I found it in this teen read. A World War II story, set in Amsterdam in 1943. In an era where telling the truth could get you and your family killed. This was an time when a lot of things were left unsaid, and that opens up the opportunity for the writer to pack the book with twists and turns… because nobody knows the complete truth… in fact nobody may ever know. So Hanneke, a teenage gal, works in a funeral parlour and not by choice, but her real job is distributing black market goods to those that can afford it. Adding to the story, she is grieving for the love of her life. That sounds interesting enough, but then one day she is surprised by one of her clients, who instead of wanting her usual supply of “real coffee” wants Hanneke to find the girl that had, until then, been hiding behind the pantry. From here on, I had to read the book in a sitting, I hide to find out what happened to the girl in the blue coat. Hanneke finds herself getting embroiled deeper and deeper into the resistance. Would Hanneke find the mysterious girl before she gets “deported,” it is really just a matter of time. This book is a sensitive look at life in the war from a teenage gal’s perspective. You can take a look at Monica Hesse’s website here.
The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling: The story is set on the spaceship, Ventura, which is hurtling through space looking for another earth-like planet, they are on a 700 year mission. Set in a world where everything is clinically planned and preordained for you… what you may do, when, how and why… has been pre-arranged for the functional survival of the species. The book revolves around a teenage girl, Seren, who doesn’t think she can live without sunlight… and she is matched to the Captain’s son… and should marry him and have two children, a girl and a boy, and live happily forever after. Seren does not exactly fit the model passenger profile, she suffers from depression and is prone to rebellion, “rules is rules” is not an adage that she lives by. Then she meets Dom and discovers, if she can’t have sunlight, then she must have love. So this is a love story set in the future, it is fast and furious read, about rebellion and overcoming societies restrictions… if you ever wanted to know about day to day living on a space ship and how to cope if you don’t easily follow the rules, then this is the book for you.
The Rain by Virginia Bergin: This book was chosen as one of the key books to read for this year’s local Battle of the Books High School Competition… which gives an indication that this is one book that adults think all teens should be reading… Mine did and they thought it was a good read, not because of the heroic characters, because there weren’t any, (or the bad language, there is plenty of that) but because of the story. The book is dark and dystopian and the characters live in a fairly precocious world. It is set in South West England, where it rains, a lot. The book begins at a typical student/teen party that has gone somewhat awry, there is drinking and everything that goes with that, and they are all having a “great” time. And then it begins to rain. The thing is, this rain is not your typical rain, a drop of rain can kill you and indeed does kill the boy who dashes out to get his mp3 player… in fact the rain kills everyone you would know and love if you were there. And then obviously all the water becomes contagious and only bottled water will do. With water rations getting tight the fight for survival becomes critical. The story is written by Ruby, and is a kind of post event diary of what happened… her journey from a self absorbed teenager, to a warrior fighting for survival is intriguing. The thing that makes this book a good read is definitely not the main character, who is somewhat annoying, if not unlikeable, throughout… but the idea that the rain could carry a fatal disease and how would we cope with it is somewhat creepy, but intriguing nevertheless.
Gypsy Girl by Katherine James: Meet Sammy-Jo, a feisty romany gypsy, kick-boxing, cage-fighting, street-wise gal, who is trying to earn money to pay for her sister’s very extravagant wedding. Sammy-Jo is passionate and very likeable, she is prepared to fight hard for the people she loves… and when she does get into trouble she tends to fight her way out of it. But it appears that in her efforts to please everybody she has somehow disturbed a rather terrifying enemy… and she is going to have to dig a lot deeper than usual to get out of this problem. And of course it is a teen read so there is romance, the boy she should love versus the boy she shouldn’t… of course the owner of the land that their caravan is parked on has a gorgeous son, but cultures don’t mix, or do they? The heroine of this book makes the story, she totally opens up the can of worms that is “being part of a marginalised group” and “disliked because of your background.” Sammy-Jo tackles real issues head on and wins. And you will love her for it. You can read more about the author, Kathryn James on her website.
The Classics: The Jungle Book
This year as part of the 150th anniversary of Kipling’s birthday in 1865, you can expect a revival in all things relating to the Jungle Book. I have to confess that I have never read this book through before, I have begun and stumbled and lost my way and faded. The stories are timeless, and intriguing but I have never managed to read them before… but when we received these books to review I decided that they would be some one on one time with Hood 6, and we have been reading our way through them and loving them. It really does help to have someone read a book alongside you.
The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: These books were clearly written in an era when children were expected to have longer attention spans than they do now, there are no three page chapters here… the chapters, which are inclusive stories are much longer and we realised quickly that we had to set apart a good chunk of time to read through them, because once we were in a chapter we couldn’t stop before the end of it.
The collection of stories that is The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are classics for a reason, they are exciting and resonate danger and adventure in the world of the Indian Jungle. Written at the hight of colonialism in India, you find yourself stepping back in time, to an era that you can’t quite imagine. One can safely forget about any cute ideas that you have of the animals, that you might have inherently assumed because of the Disney movie… These are real animals, experiencing real life, with a very real little boy, Mowgli, playing the main part. The characters all take on human personalities throughout the stories and suffer from typical human failings… greed, jealousy and so on… where would a good story be without our human failings. The stories have a familiar ring to them and names that will have been in and out of our childhood… Kaa’s Hunting and Riki Tikki Tavi, for instance… it is so good to finally put the actual story to all the names. We really enjoyed the poems at the beginning and end of each chapter and found ourselves going back to them and reading them over for some light relief from the depths of the chapters. Otherwise these books are beautifully put together and would make a really special gift, gilt writing on the cover, original illustrations in the chapters, and a little bit of fun at the end of the book: a word search, a quiz a glossary and such like. These books are great, classics and keepers. My ten year old would find these a bit difficult on his own, but together we have enjoyed them thoroughly.
The MacMillan Jungle Book Colouring Book: In keeping with the colouring craze their is a beautiful Colouring book to join the 150 year celebration. Just like last year there was a stunning Alice in Wonderland Colouring Book, Pan Macmillan have managed to bring us a stunning Jungle Book version. Each page is a work of art, beautiful design and snippets of poetry intertwining through the pages… intricate patterns, and beautiful mandalas, not to mention exotic animals from the Indian Jungle. There are hours and hours of colouring in this book and the paper is great quality and will withstand crayons, pencils, and markers without a problem. For any Jungle Book fan, or potential Jungle Book fan… this is a must have book.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate Di Camillo: With Kate Di Camillo nothing is too big to imagine and in a word… whimsical. This book is set somewhere in the century before last, in the city of Baltese. Peter Augustus Duchene is a young orphan, who has been told that his sister, Adele, is dead. He is not convinced and when a fortune teller mysteriously arrives on the market square, he seizes the chance to ask his pressing question. The answer is somewhat unexpected, “Follow the elephant.” And in a city that has never seen an elephant, there is no chance of following an elephant. And then a failed magicians act and an elephant falls from the Opera house ceiling… and life begins to take a couple of turns that he never ever could have predicted. The book reads like a fairy tale, full of delightful surprises. You can take a look at Kate DiCamillo’s website over here.
The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo: Well it’s a Michael Morpurgo, your heart will be wrenched, it will be beautiful and as always it is a keeper. A television journalist, Max, heads for the West Bank to get a behind the scenes look at life on either side of the Palestinian/Israeli front. When he arrives in the West Bank he is fascinated by a young Palestinian boy’s kite making skills, and Said, the young kite maker, is equally intrigued by his video camera. A firm friendship is forged… and the story alternates between Max and Said narrating. Said doesn’t speak because of unspeakable trauma in his past, and yet he is eloquent and communicates expressively. Max discovers that the world is not nearly as black and white as he thought it was and in fact the face of the world he reports on is really so much deeper than he expected. Said perseveres and sends kite after kite over the wall into “enemy” territory… the book has a beautiful result. As usual a poignant story, this author has the incredible skill of transforming “just another news story” into the human tragedy that it really is, with real faces and real hearts on the line. Michael Morpurgo’s ability to bring world events to young people in a heartfelt way is unprecedented. You can take a peek at Michael Morpugo’s website here.
Quick Chapter Book Reads
My Girls have discovered chapter books of the easy and very quick reading variety… they are flying through them and keeping up is somewhat of a challenge. These books are just up their street… Short chapters, cute illustrations and best friends… add a few cute kittens and you have arrived in girl heaven. These stories are about real children, and their real lives and the scrapes they get into and my girls would recommend them to their friends in a flash. A nice touch with this series is the author’s contact address in the back of the books, I know my girls would love to send a letter to an author they have read and enjoyed!!! Anna Wilson clearly knows who she is writing for and she does it well. In this series Bertie Fletcher and her best friend Jazz, discover that life with kittens isn’t quite as dreamy as they expected…
The Kitten Hunt: The first book in the series introduces us to Bertie and her dad, who can’t think of any good reason to have a pet. But Bertie is desperate for a pet and so she starts a pet-sitting business. Of course her father knows nothing about her plans and continues with his somewhat dull job. Meanwhile her first client is the cutest looking little kitten ever, only looks can be somewhat deceiving!!!
Kitten Wars: Book Two in the series and Bertie’s dad has relented and she has a kitten called Jaffa. And there are all the ins and outs of having a pet for the first time and learning how to cope with a baby kitten. And then the kitten goes missing… And the new neighbours are too perfect.
Kitten Catastrophe: And Book Three in the series, Bertie is going back to school after the summer is over and who will look after her precious kitten? She finds a sitter… and then her pet has a personality change and she needs to figure out the reason why.
Alan’s Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis: So Alan is a crocodile, with very scary teeth and he delights in frightening the local crowd of jungly friends. But he has secret, his terribly ferocious teeth, that go snap snap all day long, are actually false teeth and he takes them out at night and carefully puts them away in their secret hiding spot. One day he oversleeps and Barry the beaver discovers the truth… and before long so does everyone else. When Alan wakes up his teeth are missing and he very quickly discovers that without his teeth he is very ineffective as the scariest chap around. Alan is devastated to discover that he his identity is somewhat shaky without his teeth and sheds many tears. The animals promise to return his teeth in exchange for less terrorising… and they all live happily forever after, except… for bedtime stories in which Alan is allowed to be the Big Scary Storyteller. This story is a bit of a romp, with lots of twists and surprises in the tale. This is a fun, colourful read and delightful for little wild animals trying to calm down for bed. You can read more about Alan on his website, here.
Little Red by Bethan Woollvin: Think little Red Riding Hood for the gal who is not easily fooled… It looks like the same old fairy tale, but it isn’t. As you read along you very quickly realise that this Little Red Riding Hood is well aware of the world around her and quite prepared to cope with anything that the big bad wolf might want to surprise her with. Needless to say the hungry wolf’s plans for a feast are somewhat thwarted… by a little girl who rolls her eyes in disbelief when the wolf tries to trick her. I daresay the wolf was in for a bit of a surprise himself and the story has a somewhat dark ending… fairytale lovers will love the twist, and little people with a wicked sense of humour will thoroughly enjoy the twist in the traditional tale. You can take a look at Bethan Woollvin’s colourful artwork and other books she has written on her website here.
We would like to thank PanMacMillan South Africa for all the books we were given for review purposes in this post. This is not a sponsored post, we were not paid to write it and all opinions expressed are as usual our own.