WHAT WE’VE BEEN READING THIS WEEK
Last Thursday my younger daughter and I took her birthday book voucher to the bookshop to snap up Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell’s new Ottoline book, Ottoline and the Purple Fox which was published that day. The blurb reads:
Ottoline and Mr Munroe love puzzles, clues and mysteries. One day, they meet an enigmatic purple fox, who offers to take them on a night-time urban safari. The fox shows them all the hidden animals of the city and Ottoline makes notes on them in her field notebook. Mr Munroe is making notes too – on the anonymous poems he finds stuck to lampposts on their journey. Who is the secretive poet, and how can he and Ottoline help them mend their broken heart?
It is, as always with the Ottoline books, a lovely book to hold and read. They are beautiful hardbacks with pages of Riddell’s illustrations. They also have a little paper gimmick in the back, such as a miniature book or a pair of ‘bog-goggles’. This new installment comes with one of those paper fortune tellers we used to make at school which you fold up and use your fingers to control, asking your friends to pick a colour, then a number, then another number and finally reveal a hidden message. I confess that I was rubbish at making these so had to find someone else to do the basic paper folding for me. These days children don’t seem to play with them as much so my daughter loved having a go with it.
My younger daughter said she’d give it a ‘5 star rating’ and especially liked the foxes’ secret hideouts. She found it ‘exciting, especially the end’, which I won’t spoil for you. My elder daughter has long loved Ottoline and got her sister started on the books so she was hovering to get her hands on the book as soon as it was finished with. She ‘loved it, loved it, loved it’ and said it was ‘hilarious’. She especially liked the Lampost Poet and had quickly memorised a poem about cakes.
My elder daughter had been reading The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison:
What happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was? This is a story about one of those stories . . .
Midge loves riddles, his cat, Twitch, and – most of all – stories. Especially because he’s grown up being read to by his sister Alice, a brilliant writer.
When Alice goes missing and a talking cat turns up in her bedroom, Midge searches Alice’s stories for a clue. Soon he discovers that her secret book, The Museum of Unfinished Stories, is much more than just a story. In fact, he finds two of its characters wandering around town.
But every tale has its villains – and with them leaping off the page, Midge, Gypsy and Piper must use all their wits and cunning to work out how the story ends and find Alice. If they fail, a more sinister finale threatens them all . . .
My daughter said it is ‘extremely anticipatory’ and loves how Alice writes herself into the story to bring the book characters into her life but didn’t much like the ending where the characters melt away, back into their own books. She found it a bit scary (having a low tolerance for mild peril) and kept it to read at school so that she wasn’t tempted to read it in bed but still awarded it 5 stars.
She and I have just finished reading aloud The New Dimsie Omnibus (including Dimsie Among the Prefects, Dimsie Head Girl and Dimsie Grows Up) by Dorita Fairle Bruce. We love school stories and I already had a copy of The Prefects at Springdale by the same author, the Springdale books being a sort of sister school series to the Dimsie stories set at the other end of the country, and I’d been idlely looking out for Dimsie and Springdale books when I found this omnibus in the fantastic Kim’s Bookshop in Arundel. The books in this volume are the stories which take place when the titular Dimsie is an older school girl and so my daugher (who is nine) enjoyed the escapades of some of the younger pupils a bit more than Dimsie’s struggles with leadership and, latterly, (very chaste) love affairs. Dimsie (Daphne Isabel Maitland) is an earnest, impetuous, golden-hearted school girl who boards at the Jane Willard Foundation, a small, friendly public school in the between-war era. The stories follow her as she is promoted to prefect and then saves the moral fabric of the school when her friend accidentally runs it off the rails by focusing on her own poetry rather than being a dedicated headgirl. In the last story Dimsie’s dreams of becoming a doctor have been cut short by her father’s unexpected death which leaves her and her mother in straightened circumstances. Living in their Scottisde Lochside home, Dimsie resolves to make herbology her career, cultivating her great-great-grandmother’s herb garden and selling the produce. Of course, her new found skill is able to help many lowly villagers and a best selling novelist staying locally. Meanwhile she saves his relationship with one of her best friends, reunites a little orphan with her long-lost relatives (having rescued her from a mountain in a blizzard) and falls in love herself. My daughter said the books were ‘wonderful’ and liked best the orphanage for abandoned animals in Dimsie Headgirl.
I read Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier by Michelle Cuevas, having seen it recommended. The premise is that a boy living with his sister and parents often feels ignored and unpopular but then discovers that he is actually merely his sister’s imaginary friend. What he thought was unpopularity was actually invisibility. The book is about how he comes to terms with being imaginary. He joins a support group for imagainary friends (Imaginaries Anonymous, mantra: ‘I’m only imagainary as I feel, imaginary or not’) and is ‘reassigned’ to several different children as he learns what it is to exist, how the imaginary intersects the ‘real’ and how imaginary friends can be, for a moment in time, the most important friend a child could have. There is a lot of uplifting stuff in this book, lots of assurance of the validity of being yourself (whoever that may be) and of the fact that ‘anyone and everyone is amazing’. There are also a lot of very clever and funny ideas, like the anonymous group for essentially anonymous people, and a lot of punch the air moments where the underdogs (sometimes actual dogs) win through. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that this is the sort of book that adults like more than children and that adults think children will enjoy more than they actually do. My nine-year-old said she wasn’t ‘so keen on it’ and it wasn’t her style of writing, perhaps because it is more introspective than the books she usually enjoys. It is a book that gives you a lot to think about and leaves you happier than you were when you began it but is a little too earnest and sweet to become one of my favourites.