AirToob Lightning

Tags  →  children's books

The New Crusades

Wars fuelled by religion are no new thing. But there are at least two crusades taking place today against (some forms of) religion itself - campaigns fought with words and ideas rather than with swords, bombs or bullets.

And some of them are very entertaining.

The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in Philip Pullman's long-awaited prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USA), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The original trilogy, and now its prequel, are gripping stories for younger and older readers alike. But they are also Pullman's crusade against forms of religion that I would describe as "a waste of life" - denying pleasure in this one life that we have in the expectation of a glorious (or eternally damned) life to come.

The two images and quotes below come from this really excellent Guardian review.

“Philip Pullman … a tension between deep attraction to magic and fierce atheistic pragmatism resolves itself into a commitment to art. Photograph: Michael Leckie”

“Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in The Golden Compass, the 2007 film adaptation of Northern Lights. Photograph: Allstar/New Line Cinema”

From the Guardian review (click any of the images to read it):

Bible Belt America didn't know much about the original trilogy until the movie came out, and was then horrified. The books were withdrawn from libraries and schools because "they are teaching atheism to our kids", and no movies of the remaining books in the trilogy were made.

Such censorship is the opposite of education, closing minds instead of opening them - something that I find wholly destructive and evil.

Which brings us to the second crusade, this one being waged against science-denying forms of religion, particularly prevalent in the USA:
America still living in the Dark Ages - rejection of science by religion

In today's Dark Ages, many Conservative Evangelical Christians support a morally-degenerate President and a morally-degenerate political culture that are as far from real Christian values as you can get. It seems that they only had to be told that Hillary Clinton is a satanic figure who will deny your religious freedoms (an Internet-multiplied lie), and be fed and feed each other with distorted and falsified versions of her views on abortion, for them to bring about and support something that is truly evil.

The really frightening thing about the situation in the USA (and increasingly on the other side of Atlantic) is that truth in politics matters less and less - a situation for which science-denying religion is, of course, only partly responsible. To some extent politics has always been "a dirty business", but this is different. Donald Trump rose to power by telling literally thousands of flat-out, easily-disproved lies, spread by supporters on the Internet, and has gone on doing so since becoming President (at an average rate of 5.5 lies per day, see the CNN analysis here).

It is no accident that Trump constantly vilifies the free Press (violating the 1st Amendment) and is actively damaging (among other things) the country's Environmental Protection Agency, Intelligence Services and Science (follow these links for a current damage report). What all of these have in common is that they deal in reality, something to which Trump and his supporters are seriously allergic.

It is also no accident that the crusade against science-denying religions has become a wider crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, which thrives on easy labels, fake news and the power of the Internet to spread misinformation, and which enemies of democracy (and I unhesitatingly include Trump, Steve Bannon and Putin among them) have clearly been exploiting.

It includes the world-wide protests that had a hashtag #StandUpForScience.

It includes (in their gentle and subtle support for reason and humanism) the highly entertaining books of Terry Pratchett.

It includes, in a small way, what you are reading now, and published letters like this one:

(Climate change denial has other causes, including corporate interests in fossil fuels. Also, the letter was actually written in response to a similar article in the same issue called THE TRUTH ON LIES.)

So... is there a bright side in all this? Are these crusades having any effect?

It seems true (whether you view it as good news or not) that religion is slowly declining in the USA. Part (but by no means all) of this is due to a backlash against what many Americans see as moral corruption in organized religion, examples being the political support for Trump and the pastor who refused to open his megachurch to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The effect of this last single incident in shifting the American religious landscape is probably very easy to underestimate.

In response the crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, Google, Twitter and Facebook are finally taking action against fake news (the very latest links on that subject, relative to when you read this, will be found here).

Finally, as I asked in my previous article on a similar subject, how do we get out of this dark place?

Not easily, that's for sure - but FWIW here's my 2¢:

Moving forward, some suggestions for improving life after Trump

From this blog:

[PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.]
[GPS: The Miracle in Your Smartphone]
[Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics]
[“The Trump Diaries” (the Trump thread in this blog)]

From my web site:

[Thoughts on Science and Religion - and why this stuff matters]

From others:

[White Evangelicals Are Sticking With Their “Prince of Lies” (Newsweek)]
[Moving forward: the Obama Foundation ]


And if you like this, don't miss the other list from Time: The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time.

You might argue with which list some books fall into, but you'll probably find some of your favourites in one or both lists - and maybe discover a few new ones, as I did.

(BTW: you'll need to click the right-arrow on each page to see all 100 from each list, if that isn't obvious.)

What is Suzanne Collins doing with in Central Park with a rat, you ask?

I'll get there in a minute.

Suzanne is probably best known for her “young adult” blockbuster trilogy The Hunger Games. I nearly didn't read the books, or see the movies, because a short description of the plot (children fight to the death in an arena) somehow didn't seem like my thing.

In fact, as several authors who have climbed on her bandwagon have found out, The Hunger Games is a very tough act to follow. The story is basically about an uprising against oppression and injustice in a dystopian future. Beginning with a struggling community in the Appalachians, the author makes you really care about the characters and what happens to them. It is a truly gripping adventure, very well told, and there is no upper age limit on who might enjoy it.

Looking around for something else by the same author, I discovered Gregor the Overlander, a single story in 4 parts (the last part spread over 2 books) notionally aimed at a younger readership than The Hunger Games.

As with The Hunger Games, a short description of the plot (boy living in New York descends to an underworld populated by giant rats, bats, cockroaches and a whole range of other talking beasties) wouldn't make me want to read it. And as with The Hunger Games, it's hard to convey easily how very good the story is, and why there is also no upper age limit on who might enjoy it.

The themes in the story are actually very adult (and very relevant to today's world), and many traditional conventions of children's books are well and truly broken. There are many heartwarming moments as unlikely bonds are formed with apparently loathsome and/or fearsome creatures, but there are also scenes of horror, agonizing loss and dire peril - and yet it is still a story that children can read (see here, for instance).

The climax of the gripping story includes a siege that reminded me strongly of the battle for Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings, and a moving love story between two very young people that is not a fairy tale.

If you like reading, and whatever age you are, I recommend this one.

(Like The Hunger Games, it's also available as good-value (and properly produced) eBooks.)

If you like this...

[Brian's Place - The Book Corner]

Ripping Things to Do is a simply wonderful book (another recommendation from my younger daughter - her previous suggestion is here). It is several things at once: an anthology of classic children's books (English, American and Swedish), a treasure trove of ideas and resources for children's activities based on those books, a nostalgia trip for parents who can remember the days before computer games, and more.

I can also highly recommend this review of the book. It comes from a very nice blogger (as does the above image), and can't possibly add anything to it - except to say that the book is aimed at parents of both boys and girls.

When my young niece introduced me to Eva Ibbotson's books a few years back, I was struck by how much they reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic books for children. Anyone, young or old, whose has enjoyed reading The Secret Garden or A Little Princess, or has seen the excellent film adaptations of those books by Agnieszka Holland and Alfonso Cuarón respectively, will greatly enjoy Eva Ibbotson's books. (Alfonso Cuarón, by the way, directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azhkaban.)

The books of Eva Ibbotson's that I have read (so far) are Journey to the River Sea (another name for the Amazon), The Star of Kazan and The Dragonfly Pool. Another book of hers, The Secret of Platform 13, is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling's famous platform at King's Cross (and Eva Ibbotson is said not to have minded this in the least).

Eva Ibbotson, who was born just a few months after Frances Hodgson Burnett's death, died peacefully at home in October 2010, aged 85. An excellent obituary appeared here, and a good summary of her work will be found here.

For bookworms...

[The Guardian Book Club]
[Alison's book posts]
[Brian's Place - The Book Corner]

(Original post: March 5th, 2011)

The Open Library is a great site for book lovers.

From the page:

One web page for every book ever published. It's a lofty but achievable goal.

To build Open Library, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a wiki interface, and lots of people who are willing to contribute their time and effort to building the site.

To date, we have gathered over 20 million records from a variety of large catalogs as well as single contributions, with more on the way.

Open Library is an open project: the software is open, the data are open, the documentation is open, and we welcome your contribution. Whether you fix a typo, add a book, or write a widget--it's all welcome. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can't do it alone!

I came across it when my daughter was given a beautiful copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson (the facsimile edition), for our granddaughter (who is not able to read it for herself just yet).

The book is generally regarded as one of the greatest recollections of childhood in verse.

If you have read it, you may remember closing it on this last poem:

The Hoose at Pooh's Neuk
(Original post: November 18th, 2010)

It wasn't long ago that my younger daughter asked me what I would like as a Christmas present.

Thanks to a trail of friends, this hilarious translation of a well-loved children's classic (click the image for a sample) by James Robertson is the perfect answer!

If you like Pooh...

[The uninvited bouncing had gone on long enough...]

and from my web site:

[My books page]

Where The Wild Things Are (Movie)
(Original post: September 14th, 2010)

I recently watched the DVD of this movie, adapted by Spike Jonze from the great book by Maurice Sendak.

Where The Wild Things Are is not a Muppet Movie, even though Jim Henson's Creature Shop contributed to it (and Maurice Sendak had a considerable influence on Jim Henson). The movie is a unique work celebrating the fears, delights and imagination of childhood, with an atmosphere all of its own. The seamlessly-combined types of special effects used to create it are truly wonderful, but are quite secondary to the artistic skills that make the movie what it is.

From Wikipedia on the book:

According to Sendak, at first the book was banned in libraries and received negative reviews. It took about two years for librarians and teachers to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and for critics to relax their views...

and on the movie:

There were fears, expressed by production company Warner Bros., that the film was not family friendly and may frighten children; however these fears were not shared by either Jonze or Sendak, and Jonze refused to compromise. Maurice Sendak said after having seen a completed cut of the film, "I've never seen a movie that looked or felt like this. And it's [Spike Jonze's] personal 'this.'"

If you have read the book and/or seen the movie, then you may wonder what kind of tea some child "experts", critics and movie moguls smoke in their spare time.

Thanks again to my younger daughter for recommending this one...

If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]

Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
(Original post: September 4th, 2010)

O frabjous day! Another book by Terry Pratchett!

This is the fourth in possibly my favourite of all Terry Pratchett's sequences of stories, the sequence following Tiffany Aching, trainee witch (now full witch in this book) and the Wee Free Men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegles), a hilarious bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans.

(The previous 3 in this series were The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.)

The stories are very funny, very serious and very wise, and best of all they have the witches. I suspect that (as with Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch in some of his other Discworld novels) his principal witches carry much of his own personal philosophy.

Some time in the next few years, a form of Alzheimer's will rob the world of one of its greatest living authors (Sir Terry was knighted for services to literature), but he will leave behind a truly wonderful legacy. In the meantime, as this book shows, the creative part of his brain is still in absolutely top form.

And that's not all...

This new DVD is possibly the best so far. If you liked the Sky productions of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, then you will love this one.

Terry Pratchett specialises in sardonic, unsentimental heroines. Claire Foy does a great job of playing Adora Belle Dearheart in this one, just as Michelle Dockery did as Susan (Death's granddaughter) in Hogfather.

The rest of the cast is also top-of-the-range, and the movie is prefaced by a short introduction from Sir Terry himself. This is a joy not to be missed.

If you like Terry Pratchett...

[My review of 'The Bromeliad']

From my web site...

[My books page]
[My movies page]

"Winter Light" by Linda Ronstadt

"Winter Light" by Linda Ronstadt

This was a nice video of a beautiful song from the end-credits of Agnieszka Holland's film of Frances Hodgson Burnett's book The Secret Garden. The original has gone, but if you click the image you can select a different video with the same track.

I can remember only two film adaptations of classic children's books that (IMO) are virtually perfect. Agnieska Holland's film of The Secret Garden is one, and Lionel Jeffries' film of Edith Nesbit's book The Railway Children is the other. If you know of more, please let me know!

If you liked this...

[Wikipedia's list of classic children's books]
[My books page]

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
(Original post: January 1st, 2009)

Having just read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" again for the fourth time, I realised how much detail I still hadn't taken in from the previous readings (owing to my bad habit of reading too fast when gripped by a plot).

Exasperated by my lack of attention, on the last reading I put together a list of questions whose answers I still didn't know from previous readings. Then I thought that these would make a fun set of questions for a "Mastermind" style quiz, so here they are. If you have read the book, see how you do!

(I have tried to avoid spoilers and questions easily answered from on-line digests.)

  1. Whose blue eyes does Harry keep seeing in the fragment of mirror, and where did this fragment come from?

  2. Why is Ron barefoot when he is standing by the grave at Shell Cottage?

  3. What leads Harry to the Horcrux in a particular high-security vault?

  4. How did Dumbledore come into possession of the elder wand and the invisibility cloak?

  5. Rita Skeeter publishes a malicious version of the deaths of Kendra (Dumbledore's mother) and Ariana (his sister). How did each of these people actually die?

  6. How does Harry realise firstly where the general location of the Ravenclaw Horcrux must be, and secondly where it actually is?

  7. As the final battle of Hogwarts approaches, a new method of getting between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade is used both for getting into Hogwarts, and for evacuating many of the students. Who accidentally caused this new method to come into existence, and what was this person doing at the time?

  8. Towards the end of the story, Voldemort kills the bravest man that Harry Potter ever knew for a mistaken reason. What (exactly) was Voldemort's mistake?

The answers... are all in the book!

[The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and other good books for treating Harry Potter Withdrawal]
[More of my posts related to children's books]

From Laura Miller's web site:

"The Magician's Book is the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. As a child, Laura Miller read and re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its sequels countless times, and wanted nothing more than to find her own way to Narnia. In her skeptical teens, a casual reference to the Chronicles's Christian themes left her feeling betrayed and alienated from the stories she had come to know and trust. Years later, convinced that "the first book we fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fall in love with," Miller returns to Lewis' classic fantasies to see what mysteries Narnia still holds for adult eyes--and is captured in an entirely new way...

"...In 2006, I traveled to England and Ireland in search of the places that inspired Narnia. I began in Oxford, where C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles, and went on to Northern Ireland, where he grew up. Lewis always maintained that the Counties Down and Antrim were the models for Narnia, especially the area around the Mourne Mountains near the Lough of Carlingford. Others (such as his illustrator, Pauline Baynes), seem to see it as more English. Here are some of the photographs I took during my trip."

I can really recommend this cracking 3-part thriller by Jonathan Stroud. Some of the best fiction nowadays seems to be written for young people but is intended to be enjoyed by people of all ages, and that certainly includes me in this case.

The flavour of these books is a mixture of Philip Pulman's superb Victorian thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart (starting with The Ruby In The Smoke), combined with the sardonic humour and intelligence of Terry Pratchett, together with a dash of J.K. Rowling. Jonathan Stroud is no imitator, however - this is unique stuff.

The three books form an almost continuous, multi-layered story, set in an alternative London, with a back-story stretching back to ancient Egypt. One of the things that I really like is the multiple viewpoints from which the story is told. The ancient djinni Bartimaeus has a wonderfully sardonic and (perhaps justifiably) conceited outlook on life, and tells his part in the proceedings in both first and third persons, with many entertaining footnotes. Nathaniel is a young magician who summons Bartimaeus. Initially oppressed himself, he becomes part of the oppressive Establishment and is then gradually reformed through much painful experience. The third main character, the feisty Resistance leader Kitty, doesn't really take the stage until later, her importance and quality only gradually dawning on the reader.

Adults familiar with the recent British government will pick up a whiff of sharp political satire (although it doesn't intrude on the story), and people familiar with history will get an extra kick from Bartimaeus's unique outlook on events.

The movies, when they come out, will have a hard job living up to these excellent books. The books deserve the best quality movie-making - I hope that they get it.

[More links on the Bartimaeus Trilogy]
[10 best books for treating Harry Potter withdrawal]
[Some of my additional suggestions]
[My books page]

Since I really like J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Frank Herbert (for the original "Dune" and "The Dragon In The Sea"), Douglas Adams and John Wyndham - very different authors from each other - I shall certainly check out the rest of these suggestions.

Mille grazie to qthews for finding this for me!

One of the finest fantasy authors not on the list (IMO) is Ursula K LeGuin, best known for the Earthsea books, but whose other work includes some very good adult science fiction. She writes seriously good literature, and her own web site is well worth a visit.

For people who like entertaining fantasy literature for young people (or anyone young at heart) I would also recommend Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson and the Olympians which starts with "The Lightning Thief". This isn't seriously good literature, but it's great fun and a real page-turner.

And then there is the Inheritance Cycle (now to be a quartet) by Christopher Paolini. The make-a-quick-buck movie of Eragon was a real disappointment for many fans of the book, including myself. I enjoyed Eragon and its two sequels (one more yet to come) which get progressively better as the young author matures. Paolini has gratefully borrowed much stuff from other great authors (particularly Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin), but he has spun a really engrossing, original tale of his own. I'll stick my neck out and say that although Tolkien's linguistic skills and scholarly background (and age when writing) greatly outweigh Paolini's, Paolini has added a social and political dimension to his elves and dwarves that is quite new. Paolini also has a real talent for making you see, hear and smell what he is writing about.

Back to J.K. Rowling... I am always curious about the negative criticisms and comments that she sometimes receives. Some are doubtless due to envy of success, some come from religious myopia, and some are just the kick-back reaction "Everyone keeps telling me that these are great books and that I should read them - why should I?".

It doesn't bother me that not everyone likes Harry Potter - why should they? What I don't understand are criticisms of her writing ability, maybe because I value the ability to tell a good story well (even in non-fiction) as one of the main requirements of good writing. J.K. Rowling has crafted a gripping, tightly plotted story that is more than 3,000 pages long. Well over a hundred million children and adults have read it (some sharing copies) in 64 different languages (so far). How many of these were introduced to reading by her books? We will never know, but it's a big number for sure, and it may be her greatest achievement. And rarely, if ever, has one person spent more than 5 years of his or her life giving so much pleasure to so many people.

[The J.K. Rowling Phenomenon]
[My books page]

(Original post: September 28th, 2008)

[Lake District visit continued from above]

This is a view of Sawrey, between Windermere and Esthwaite Water, as painted by Beatrix Potter. The fact that so much of the Lake District is unspoilt is due in no small part to her using the proceeds of her famous children's books to acquire large areas of working farmland, in order to preserve them in their original use.

"Hill Top" near Sawrey was bought by Beatrix as her personal retreat. Even after marrying William Heelis this was her private place for herself alone, and in her will she instructed the National Trust to keep it exactly as she left it - it was to have no other personal use.

Hill Top Farm, not open to visitors, adjacent to Hill Top

The entrance to...

...the world's most famous vegetable patch!

Inside the house, apart from Beatrix's own work, the rooms have many paintings and illustrations that Beatrix acquired from other people, including a couple of illustrations by Randolph Caldecott (1846-86) illustrating the nursery rhyme "Sing A Song Of Sixpence". This one is "The Fowler's Snare".

Another painting hanging in Hill Top is "Two Girls On A Jetty" by George Dunlop Leslie (1835-1921)

"Apple Dumplings" by George Dunlop Leslie - this one isn't hanging in Hill Top but I'm sure that Beatrix would have liked it!

[Location of Hill Top on my England Map]

[Lake District visit continues below]

(Original post: September 28th, 2008)

[Lake District visit continued from above]

If you were lucky enough, as I was, to have read the Swallows and Amazons series of books by Arthur Ransome when you were a child, then they have probably stayed with you all your life. Written between 1930 and 1947, their realistic and vivid descriptions of children's adventures in wonderful parts of the world still enthral children and adults alike.

Five of the books: Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Winter Holiday, Pigeon Post, and The Picts and the Martyrs, were set in the Lake District (and I was interested in tracking down some of the real locations that he used).

Four of the books: Coot Club, We Didn't Mean to go to Sea, Secret Water and The Big Six, were based in the Norfolk Broads and on the East Coast of England. We Didn't Mean to go to Sea is (IMO) one of the finest adventure stories about children ever written, for children and adults alike.

Two of the books: Peter Duck and Missee Lee, set in more exotic locations, were written as romances that the children make up for themselves about themselves - a story within a story, as it were. Arthur Ransome's knowledge of boats, the sea and the wide world make these books every bit as realistic as the others. Peter Duck ranks alongside or surpasses "Treasure Island", and is still one of my personal favourites.

The last book: Great Northern? is set in the Hebrides, where a holiday in a borrowed Norwegian pilot cutter turns into a campaign to preserve a rare bird from an unscrupulous egg-collector.

Having taken several of the books with me on holiday, I worked out that the lake loved by the children is actually a composite of two lakes, Windermere and Coniston Water. The east bank of the children's lake, the islands shown on the maps, and the north end of the lake, all seemed to correspond to Windermere (the children obviously know Bowness as a real place, but call it "Rio" amongst themselves). The west bank of the children's lake, and the fells behind it, seemed to belong to Coniston Water.

When I got home I found out that I was mostly right - if you click the picture to the left you will find more information on the real locations - and check here as well.


The previous two pictures show both sides of the real island on Windermere that is positioned where "Wild Cat Island" is positioned on the children's fictional lake, and looks very similar - but the source for Wild Cat Island was apparently Peel Island on Coniston water (maybe he combined the two?).

This is Coniston Water and a spur of Coniston Old Man (known to the children by its real name, but referred to by them as Kanchenjunga) that could well be Ling Scar in the book Pigeon Post.

In the book they explore the old mine workings around and beneath the spur, discovering in the process that disused workings can be a dangerous place.

This is the beautifully restored Victorian Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston Water, a great way to view the lake and its surroundings.

The steam engine (now running eco-friendly on reconstituted wood logs) is incredibly quiet and vibration-free - in most parts of the Gondola you can hardly hear it at all when the craft is moving. It's so much nicer than the noisy excursion boats on Windermere - and it makes me wonder why more craft aren't powered this way. Why not?

I didn't realise when riding on it that it gave Arthur Ransome the idea for Captain Flint's houseboat in "Swallows and Amazons" - more information here.

Behind the Gondola in the picture is the east bank of Coniston Water, replaced by Arthur Ransome for the children's lake by the east bank of Windermere.

[Lake District visit continues below]

Yes, we are in one of the worlds of Terry Pratchett. It is our own world in this case, as described in his trilogy for children entitled "The Bromeliad" (which you may have seen as individual volumes entitled "Truckers", "Diggers" and "Wings").

As always, Terry Pratchett makes us see all our absurdities in a wise and funny way, his use of the English language crackles with wit and invention, and his story grips the reader from start to finish.

Some of his best work is written for younger readers but is enjoyed by all ages, and this is well up to his standard. The Bromeliad is a single story in three more or less consecutive parts, concerning the lives and adventures of the race of tiny, fast-living nomes, who are not natives of Earth but whose racial memory has long forgotten this fact. One small group of nomes lives rough in the fields near a motorway, and life becomes so hard that they steal a ride on a lorry (a major undertaking) in the hope that it will take them anywhere that might prove better. This turns out to be a large department store inhabited by a larger group of nomes, living beneath the floorboards of different departments, apparently in the lap of luxury. Alas, the store is due to be demolished. The nomes in residence have become very set in their ways and in their beliefs, and the incoming band of nomes has to seriously shake things up (including themselves) if they are to survive. Their final mass escape from the store is only one step of an enthralling saga, involving hardship, computer assistance (when it feels like it), agonizing personal reappraisals, much hot-wiring and some increasingly awesome forms of transportation.

If you enjoyed his book "The Wee Free Men" then you will love "The Bromeliad". If you like reading and have never heard of either, and are curious to find out why Terry Pratchett was awarded the OBE for "services to literature" in 1998, do try either book - whatever age you are. You may be hooked.

[My review of Shel Silverstein's Official Site For Kids]
[My books page]

Shel's official site for kids is an absolute joy, beautifully designed and full of brilliant animation and humour. I suspect that many adults (especially parents and teachers) will enjoy it as much as I did - and children will absolutely love it.

I haven't read Shel Silverstein for a very long time; when I went hunting for his work on the web I was reminded of what great stuff I had been missing.

I found this poem on the wonderful pages of my friend succes (Rita/Renée), now tragically passed away. Her pages are all that many Stumblers and ex-Stumblers have left of her; if you are reading this before October 24th 2011 (when SU destroys all blogs with images, colours and links) then you may want to save at least some of her pages as a keepsake (see here).

[More Shel Silverstein links]
[My books page]

(Originally posted: April 13th 2008)

I like good children's movies, but I was not expecting to like this one as much as I did. The production values, art direction and acting were all first rate. The only slight problem with it is that the build-up before the "fantastical creatures" appear is so good that their actual appearance (good as it is) can't quite live up to the imagination - which is probably just as well, or it would be too scary for young children.

I first saw Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland, where he played one of the sons of the family that J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) befriends. Freddie plays two brothers in "Spiderwick" and his performance is very impressive. The rest of the excellent cast includes Mary-Louise Parker (from Fried Green Tomatoes, The Client and many other good movies) and a very welcome appearance by Dame Joan Plowright, who was married to Laurence Olivier. She starred in one of our family's all-time favourite movies, Enchanted April.

If you liked any of the movies mentioned above and are still young at heart then you'll probably really like this one.

If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]

Very beautiful children's book illustrations by Jean-Baptiste Monge.
(Click here for English language translation of his site.)

"Leaping to the high, wild mountain", by children's illustrator Jackie Morris.

(The BBC have recently produced a wonderful "Natural World" documentary on the snow leopard, one of the most beautiful (and rare) animals on the planet... more details here, and an update here.)