22 February 2009

Book of the Week (2): "Don Quixote", retold by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Martin Jenkins and Chris Riddell, the pair who brought us the fabulous Gulliver in 2004, have now turned their talents to this most classic of classics, the great Spanish novel Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. In it a dreamy old man who has read too many tales of chivalry believes himself to be a wandering knight and sets off on adventures to win fame and honour for himself and his fair lady. With his patient squire Sancho Panza by his side, the old man attacks a flock of sheep (he thinks they’re an opposing army), he releases dangerous prisoners from a chain gang, he spends nights in various inns (he thinks they’re castles) and invariably upsets the innkeepers, and meets a mass of characters along his way who share their stories with him.

Don Quixote is a very episodic narrative, so though it’s a long book it lends itself well to reading in little bursts; and then, of course, there are the pictures… The truth is, I’ve never met a Riddell book I didn’t like, but there’s something about Quixote’s world for which they seem especially appropriate – they’re detailed and lifelike, but also quite mad and fantastical, they’re humane and sympathetic but also grotesque. In this book – itself a beautifully made object – the few coloured images complement an amazing array of uncoloured line drawings into which each box of text is set – the layout is unusual and really effective.

Jenkins and Riddell’s Don Quixote would be more than worth having for the collection of pictures alone (it’s taken me far too long to read as I keep stopping to explore each superb-looking page) but in addition you get one of the finest of all stories stringing them together. Magnificent.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

  • You’d be surprised at how easy and un-intimidating the original is if you give it a try. Why not pick one of your favourite episodes from the story (Cardenio’s tale is probably mine…) and see how it reads in the full version? And if you can get hold of an edition illustrated by DorĂ©, have a look and compare how another brilliant artist has interpreted the story.
  • Riddell and Jenkins’ previous collaboration, Gulliver, is just marvellous, too.
  • And for the stories that set Quixote off on his mad quest, read some old tales of chivalry. King Arthur is among the greatest of heroes of this type, so you might like to start with Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

17 February 2009

What a swell party...

You know those nightmares wherein you throw a party and no one turns up? No? Maybe it's just me... however - last night A & C Black threw a party for us (for Danny, Susan and me as editors of the Ultimate Book Guide series) and you know what? *everyone* turned up!

It was amazing, and Louise and Jacki deserve a medal each for their patience and imagination and downright dedication to having a good time. Something the editors certainly had, especially so as it was in the company of the most fabulous names in the children's book world. Everytime I turned around there was another fab conversation happening, from Tony Ross and Cathy Hopkins leaning on the bar to Anthony McGowan and Justin Somper being very earnest. Cressida Cowell and Eleanor Updale held court in one corner while Caroline Lawrence and Horrid Henry (OK, the guy who plays him on stage - but Francesca Simon was there too. Hmm, as was the HH editor - so we had a full set!) stood in a sea of people and laughed. Jan Pienkowski and Graham Marks moved from friend to friend and I managed to chat in person (as opposed to email!) to the wonderful Mr Achuka himself, Michael Thorn and the woman who pretty much single-handedly created the whole world of children's books as we know, it - Margaret Meek!

There were so many wonderful people at the Groucho, from friends and family, to authors, agents and publicists. It really was a night to remember. Thank you all for being such great party-people! A special award however has to go to Ted Dewan, who braved coming out for a pizza with us afterwards - true dedication...

16 February 2009

Book of the Week (1): "Guantanamo Boy" by Anna Perera

This is a brilliant yet shocking book that makes you question everything you know about humanity. When a normal fifteen-year-old boy goes to Pakistan his father goes missing, and on his own initiative he goes out to find him - and his search takes him through an al-Qaeda demonstration. After a whole day searching in a city unknown to him he goes back to the house where a group of Americans come and take him prisoner. He is taken to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre simply because he has dark skin, and he loses faith in the world.

Based on a true story this book raises an issue that everyone knows about but is afraid to discuss. Guantanamo Bay, where people are kept without any legal reason, is an appalling place where the inmates are humiliated and tortured – by a supposedly humane Western government. If you read this book be ready to stay up to the early morning, and be prepared to cry.

Recommended by Jonah Freud, age 12

  • If you’re interested in what it’s like to be imprisoned, try Matt Whyman’s Inside the Cage, which is about a boy suspected of hacking into Fort Knox and who ends up in an American secure prison in the Arctic. Or try Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates, which is about the effects of false imprisonment on a teenage boy.
  • Or there’s a new series about a boy sent to the harshest of all juvenile detention centres; The Furnace Penitentiary. The series looks interesting; the first one, Furnace: Lockdown, comes out in March.
  • Or if you want to think about what the colour of our skin might mean, try Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses. The whole series is wonderful, but particularly of interest might be Checkmate, which is about what turns someone into a suicide bomber.

12 February 2009

Books of the Week

The Ultimate First Book Guide was published just this time last year, and the new Ultimate Book Guide (8-12) just hit the shops this week, and the new Ultimate Teen Book Guide is already with our publishers, which means we're not currently compiling any new volumes; which in turn means that from now this blog is the only place we've got where we can tell people about new books as they appear (published inconveniently between UBG editions), the only place we can go with our enthusiasm for amazing things we've just discovered...

And though we've already been doing this a bit in the past, recommending things we like as we come across them, we're going to be doing it in a more orderly way from now on, by posting an entry on our 'UBG Book of the Week', every Monday, starting this week (first post, Monday 16th). Each entry will recommend something that's just come out or is about to appear. Some entries will be by us, some will be by our contributors, by children or teenagers we know, and other guests too... If you've just discovered something new and amazing, let us know and we might be able to give you a free Monday slot to tell people about it!

And check back on Monday, of course, for the first UBG entry online!

04 February 2009

New book!

Just to tell you if you didn't know - and remind you annoyingly if you did - that the new edition of our Ultimate Book Guide (for 8-12s) is out this week!

The 8-12 was the very first UBG we published, back in 2004, and this is a substantially revised edition, with about a hundred new entries, supplied by new contributors like Jeanette Winterson and Justin Somper, Cornelia Funke, Linda Buckley-Archer, Tobias Druitt and Steve Cole, and Heather Dyer, and Julia Golding, and Joshua Doder, and Robert Muchamore, Brian Selznick, David Roberts and Jeremy Strong and many others... And of course all the amazing contributors whose great work we've kept from the original volume too. It's pretty exciting. (Well, we think it is.)

Posh launch party in a couple of weeks, which is pretty exciting too.

Oh, and last week we delivered the mammoth manuscript for the new edition of the teen guide to our publishers, so that's (sort of) under control now too.

By 'mammoth', I mean '173,502 words long', incidentally. Not a small book. But you'll have to wait for that one for a bit. But you can buy/borrow/steal your second-generation 8-12 UBG *now*. So please do!

PS I was invited to speak about the UBGs at the Lewes Children's Book Group last week which I really enjoyed - a really nice group, and it was held at the brilliant new Lewes library too, which was very good to get a chance to see. My talk was scheduled for just a couple of hours after delivering the manuscript of the Teen Guide, so I was a little de-mob happy (not to say a little sleep-deprived) so I do hope that at least some of the things I said made some sense to someone...