The Truth Pixie – by Matt Haig

25 10 2018

Yes it’s a children’s book.
No I didn’t choose it to get my book total up this year, that was just a handy coincidence.

If you’ve followed these posts for a while you’ll know I’m a bit of a Matt Haig fan, so when he said he’d written a book that was a bit like a Reasons to Stay Alive for kids, I thought I had to give it a try.

At a little over 100 pages, but only a couple of lines a page, it’s definitely a one-sitting read, and very easy, but teaches some really important points to kids. I’ve put some of my favourite bits below.

  • “There will be people you love, who can’t stay forever,
    And there will be things you can’t fix, although you are clever.”
  • “As the dark in the sky makes the starts shine brighter,
    You will find the bad stuff has good bits too
    The bad days are the days that make you you.”
  • “You’ll never know happy unless you know sad.”
  • “Yes, the night has dark bits, but it has stars too,
    And you’ll feel when they shine, that they shine just for you.
    You will step outside, and see from the park
    That the light is brighter when it’s next to the dark.”
  • “If everything was perfect, every single day,
    You’d never know the good from the just-about-okay.”

He has a very good way with words – if you enjoy this stuff, please can I recommend his twitter and instagram accounts!

Boy, Tales of Childhood – by Roald Dahl

1 10 2018

I read a lot of Roald Dahl’s fiction in 2016, but never got round to Boy or Going Solo. After it popped up in conversation a couple of times lately, I thought it was about time I gave this a go.

He states that it is not an autobiography, but I’m not quite sure why given that that is exactly how I’d describe it! Dahl’s parents were Norwegian though he was born and raised in Wales. The book covers his childhood and teenage years at home and boarding school, up until the age of 20. (When I presume Going Solo must pick up the story).

When he was at boarding school he regularly wrote home to his mother, and she kept everything she ever sent – so in a rather sweet addition, all the writing in the boarding school chapters is interspersed with images of handwritten letters from those times.

It’s funny as you read it, you can see the inspiration for some of his characters and stories as he talks. There was a lady who I’m sure has part of Mrs Twit about her, and then when at school the boys were each sent boxes of chocolate bars to test for Cadbury, which is when he first started thinking about the idea of “inventing rooms” in chocolate factories.

It’s really just a collection of stories from home and school (including an awful incident when he nearly lost his entire nose!), but told in such a warm and I guess child-friendly way. As a Roald Dahl fan I’d definitely recommend this as a way to get to know him better!

Anne of Windy Willows – by L M Montgomery

28 10 2017

Book four chronologically in Anne’s life, though this one was actually written 20 years after most of the others. A newly engaged Anne moves to Summerside to become principal of a high school and lodges with two widows in a house called “Windy Willows”. A lot of the book is written as her letters to Gilbert, maybe a half and half split with that and general narrative. She spends three years there while Gilbert is at medical school, and doesn’t get off to the easiest start.

The majority of Summerside either seem to be the Pringle family or have some Pringle blood of them of some sort, and they seem to gang up against Anne initially. But Anne being Anne, she finds her way! From there we meet lots of different people over the three years, very few characters get featured the whole way through other than the little girl, little Elizabeth, who lives next door with her Grandmother and “the woman”, who feed and clothe her well enough, but don’t show anything by way of affection, so in time Anne befriends her and that relationship blossoms beautifully! Elizabeth goes by many different names, depending on how she is feeling: Betty, Beth, Elsie, Bess, Elisa and Lisbeth. “But not Lizzie; I can never feel like Lizzie.”

Anne seems to be not a matchmaker as such, but definitely gets involved in pushing a couple of couples forward in their relationship who have for various reasons not got engaged or married yet. Somehow it’s written so that you feel it’s entirely justified and gives each couple a happy ending!

My only real frustration with this book was a couple of times when we meet someone who is meant to be annoying and talking non stop without Anne or anyone getting a word in edge-ways. But the way it’s written you end up reading pages and pages of this irrelevant annoying waffle and actually don’t care! It makes the point well, but did make me want to skip pages at times.

This book was publish 3 years before World War 2, so it was sad to read the following: “It’s impossible to think of Canada ever being at war again. I am so thankful that phase of history is over.”

Of course, these books always provide some wonderful one liners, maybe not as many as in the other books, but still!

  • “I’ve always liked washing dishes. It’s fun to make dirty things clean and shining again.”
  • “[Babies] are what I heard somebody at Redmond call ‘terrific bundles of potentialities’. […] But I think I’m glad Judas’s mother didn’t know he was to be Judas, I hope she never did know.”
  • “If we were all beauties, who would do the work?”
  • “But there’s one consolation: you’ll be spared an awful lot of trouble if you die young.”

Mary Poppins – by P L Travers

21 07 2015

Most people have seen the film Mary Poppins, but not many have read the book. However, last year I saw the film Saving Mr Banks, which is all about when the story was sold to Disney to be made into a film, told alongside Travers’ childhood story, and it stirred my interest in reading the original children’s book. (Trailers for both films can be found at the bottom of this post)

mary poppins

I was surprised at how different it was; I didn’t like the character of Mary Poppins at all. But before I get into that, some other major differences between the book and the film.

  • There are four Banks children in the book: Jane & Michael who we know from the film, but also twin babies John and Barbara.
  • Bert (the chimney sweep) barely gets a look in. He’s in the first chapter, and gets a mention in the last, but doesn’t appear at all in between.
  • Mr Banks doesn’t have any trouble with his job at the bank at all (I wonder if this comes up in a later book?)

If I had to describe Ms Poppins in 5 words from this book I would go with: Vain, Stern, Conceited, Serious, Grumpy. I know in the film she is quite stern and serious, but at least she smiles and has fun sometimes. I think she was Disneyfied for the film; in the book she doesn’t smile once. She also has a complete fascination with how she looks – I quote from the penultimate chapter while they are out Christmas shopping:

“May we look at the windows first?” said Michael hopping excitedly on one leg.
“I don’t mind” said Mary Poppins with surprising mildness. Not that Jane and Michael were really very surprised, for they knew that the thing Mary Poppins liked doing best of all was lookinh in shop windows. They knew, too, that while they saw toys and books and holly-boughs and plum cakes Mary Poppins saw nothing but herself reflected there.
“Just look at you!” said Marry Poppins to herself, particularly noticing how nice her new gloves with the fur tops looked. They were the first pair she had ever had, and she thought she would never grow tired of looking at them in the shop windows with her hands inside them. And having examined the reflection of the gloves she went carefully over her whole person – coat, hat, scarf and shows, with herself inside – and she thought that, on the whole, she had never seen anybody looking quite so smart and distinguished.

So all in all I did not like this woman!

The book is essentially a set of short stories. The first chapter covers Mary Poppins’ arrival, and the final chapter, her departure, but each of the others is its own little adventure or story, so I guess in the childrens’ book world, you could read a chapter a night as a bedtime story. I’m aware this is me as an adult reading a childrens’ book that was not designed for me!

One thing I noticed was that in the film Saving Mr Banks, P L Travers says she doesn’t want anything red in it “I’ve simply gone off the colour”, and yet in the book, there’s a whole chapter about The Red Cow! That said, maybe at that point she knew which parts of the book would be coming across and so knew that that wouldn’t be included.

I definitely felt a little disheartened after reading this book as Mary Poppins wasn’t at all appealing as a person, but the stories were definitely fun and imaginative!