Childhood favourite: The Sea Witch Comes Home by Malcolm Saville

This novel by Malcolm Saville (1901-1982) represents another dive into my literary past, as Saville’s Lone Pine adventure stories were once great favourites of mine. I have previously written about the Dimsie books after I retrieved Dimsie Among the Prefects from my mother’s house (call it the Landing Book Shelves Annex). Similarly, I picked up this book on my most recent visit. It is the only Lone Pine book still knocking around the family home but I can’t remember exactly when I obtained it. As far as I remember I read most, if not all of the adventures in the series and used to save up my pocket money to buy the paperback editions or else borrowed them from our local library.

This edition of Sea Witch is a blue cloth-bound hardback, bought as a second-hand copy and with the previous owner’s name stamped inside. It appears to be a first edition (1960) but sadly the jacket’s condition has deteriorated over the years and as you can see from the photo, is quite damaged, so that part of the spine has faded. The book is otherwise in nice condition and the pages have worn the passage of time well. It is a pity that my copy isn’t in better nick as according to ABE Books, a good first edition could sell for as much as eighty-odd pounds. Oh well.

I never read the Lone Pine series in chronological order, the first being Mystery at Witchend (1943), but as each book contained a complete adventure, that never seemed to matter. The books followed the activities of a group of friends who formed a secret society called the Lone Pine Club. The club’s oath was sworn in blood, which was guaranteed to appeal to a child’s love of secret societies. If you recall from a previous post, Dimsie Maitland was a member of the Anti-Soppists society, though I don’t think that any bodily flids were involved in those initiation rites.

On re-reading Sea Witch many years later, I can see both why it appealed to me and why the Lone Pine mysteries followed naturally for me after Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure series. The idea of kids having lots of adventures largely without adults (girls got to be part of it too) greatly appealed to me at the time. And as for the thrill of solving mysteries that defeated more experienced hands, well that was the icing on the cake. Now as an adult, it’s slightly mind boggling to re-read and see just how much the kids got up to with just instructions to be home for tea. No mobile phones either!

Several of the Lone Pine books were set in Shropshire, some in Rye in Sussex. My fondness for the Shropshire countryside has its roots in the Lone Pine Stories; I even loved the place-names and wanted so much to visit the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones. Sadly, although I have been to Shropshire on several occasions, I’ve never yet got around to visiting Rye. With its connections to Saville, EF Benson and Henry James, I do feel that a visit is long overdue. The recently installed Blue Plaque, reported in the Rye News, to honour Malcolm Saville provides a fresh incentive to do so.

But, returning to The Sea Witch Comes Home, here is a brief plot summary to this Lone Pine adventure for the uninitiated amongst you. This East Anglian-set novel only features three of the club’s nine members, founder member David Morton (16) and his siblings Mary and Richard (Dickie) who are 10-year-old twins. The three head off to a village called Walberswick at the behest of David’s schoolfriend Paul Channing. Paul and his sister Rose are worried about their father who has gone off in his boat The Sea Witch without saying where or why. (And Mrs Morton calmly lets them go off to a house where no adult is around to keep an eye on them!).

As the children try to find answers, they realise that they are not the only ones trying to find Richard Channing. What is he involved in? As well as contending with inquisitive strangers while seeking answers to the mystery, the friends have to deal with a far more dangerous foe: the sea. The climax of the book features a coastal emergency, when the sea breaks through defences in several places, threatening lives and homes. In his foreword, Saville admits to cheating a little in his timing, as the high tides of the autumn equinox occur a bit later than early September, the time period of the story. It does make a dramatic plot element though. I won’t plot spoil, but of course the young detectives win the day and solve the mystery.

I suppose I can blame both Blyton and Saville for a life-long love of crime and mystery novels. The next stop was Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and the rest was, as they say… history. If anyone is interested in Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine stories, as well as the many other books that he wrote, then take a look at the website dedicated to his books, Also, if you are interested in reprints of some of the stories, check out Girls Gone By Publishers to see their current list.


Ireland Reads Day: Squeezing in a read (or two)

Today’s Landing Tales post is written in support of the #Ireland Reads day, so I want to talk a little about my memories of my early reading life (once upon a time in Birmingham) going back to where it all started, with a quick delve into the Landing Book Shelves. I hope to give you a little insight into what started me off on a lifetime love of books and reading. And of course, today I will certainly be squeezing in a read. Though in fairness, it’s more a case of trying to stop me squeezing in a loooong read…

My relationship with books goes back a long way. Like many people, I can trace that love back to all those old familiar nursery rhymes and songs, many of which will never be forgotten. Then it’s a short step onto children’s poems such as those of AA Milne, whose ‘The King’s Breakfast’ was one of my early favourites. Nowadays, just like the poor old king, ‘I do like a little bit of butter to my bread’ in the mornings! Although, I am also of the view that ‘marmalade is tasty, if it’s very thickly spread’, so I’m at one with the Dairymaid on that issue.

Now, as Paddington Bear afficionados know well, he is also a confirmed marmalade fan, usually keeping a spare marmalade sandwich under his hat for emergencies. Apparently, it’s a well-known fact that bears who come from Darkest Peru like marmalade,

“Where was it you said you’d come from? Peru?”
“That’s right,” said Paddington. “Darkest Peru.”
“Humph!” Mrs. Bird looked thoughtful for a moment. “Then I expect you like marmalade. I’d better get some more from the grocer.”
“There you are! What did I tell you?” cried Judy, as the door shut behind Mrs. Bird. “She does like you.”
“Fancy her knowing I like marmalade,” said Paddington.

If I were to attempt to compile a top ten childhood favourites list, then Paddington may well be at the top. Not least because, as an adult of (ahem, mature) years I can still sit down and chuckle over one of his adventures, which really do stand the test of time. Take a bow, Michael Bond.

I think that I have probably mentioned on here before, The Treasury of Children’s Classics collection that I had as a child, which still survives, albeit in a very battered state, with the cover selotaped together. It contains a mixture of extracts from classic tales and several poems. It was my first introduction to the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Dickens, Shakespeare (via Lamb’s Tales) the Arabian Nights and Susan Coolidge, to name but a few.

book cover with Aladdin, Pinoccio, Don Quixote
A childhood favourite

But it was the verses that initially drew me into the book, when I was too young to appreciate extracts from Robinson Crusoe and the like. I enjoyed the humorous poems best, such as John Drinkwater’s ‘Washing’, which I am sure struck a chord with many a child. Here’s an extract:

What is all this washing about,
Every day, week in, week out?
From getting up till going to bed,
I’m tired of hearing the same thing said.
Whether I’m dirty or whether I’m not,
Whether the water is cold or hot,
Whether I like or whether I don’t,
Whether I will or whether I won’t.-
“Have you washed your hands, and washed your face?”
I seem to live in the washing place.

Of course, this poem seems particularly innocent and old-fashioned in our Covid era of required hand washing, when handwashing doesn’t just relate to a grubby child in from playing in the garden, who can’t see why a bit of dirt would hurt a jam sandwich.  Or in Paddington’s case it would be sticky paws from eating directly from the marmalade jar.

The themes of washing and general cleanliness link to my final choice for this post (though believe me, I could go on but I have to stop somewhere), which is The Family from One End Street written and illustrated by Eve Garnett (1937).  The family is the Ruggles family, father Joe is a dustman and his wife Rosie takes in laundry:

Mrs Ruggles was a Washerwoman and her husband was a Dustman. “Very suitable too,” she would say, though whether this referred to Mr Ruggles himself, or the fact that they both, so to speak, cleaned up after other people, it was hard to decide.

Mrs Ruggles has a sign outside their little terraced house proclaiming, ‘The Ideal Laundry. Careful Hand Work’ and the house is often full of clothes, steam and folded laundry. Joe and Rosie have seven children, the youngest still a baby so life is busy and full of activity and comic adventures. If you know Alan Ahlberg’s picture book Peepo!, then you would recognise these books as sharing the same working class world of the 1930s and 40s. Clothes drying by the fire, kids playing in the yard and the mother in her pinny doing the chores. Though in Mrs Ruggles’ case, working as we would now term it ‘from home’ as well as doing the family tasks. These stories could be sentimental, dealing as they do with a poor family whose children seem to be constantly taking boots to be repaired, yet who have a happy life. Yet, they aren’t at all saccharine sweet, merely very funny and thoughtful. And Eve Garnett’s black and white sketches speak volumes.

I’ll wrap it up for now, but I’d love to hear about your favourite childhood reads or what you’re reading for #IrelandReads, so drop me a line below if you’d like to do so. Now, I will just go and #SqueezeInARead!

Recipes: from an Old Farmhouse by Alison Uttley

Cover of Recipes from an Old Farmhouse

An evocative image

I wanted to follow up on the last Landing post on foraging-related books with another foody feature. This book is part memoir of a Derbyshire country childhood and part recipe book by children’s writer Alison Uttley (1884-1976), who was best known for her Little Grey Rabbit series and also the Sam Pig books. The recipe book was first published by Faber and Faber in 1966 and I recently treated myself to the copy shown here, which is in very nice condition. Something to cheer me up during the spring Lockdown! It is a beautiful little hard back book decorated with black and white sketches by Pauline Baynes. The drawings complement the text beautifully. Recipes has been reprinted more recently, but I opted for a copy of the original edition and wasn’t disappointed.

Alison Uttley gives us recipes that her mother used in the farmhouse kitchen, including recipes given by friends and neighbours. These were named for the donor, for example ‘Mrs Lowe’s Parkin’. The book is divided into sections with anecdotes, reminiscences and recipes. If you wanted to try out any of the items, you would need to scale down and adapt the recipes as Uttley gives the quantities and methods as they would have been used by her mother at the end of the nineteenth century in the farmhouse oven. So, you would need to figure out the oven settings and alter the timings accordingly. The recipes aren’t laid out as recipes as we would find them in a cookery book nowadays, but they are easy enough to follow. I’m planning to try one or two of the cakes or puddings in smaller quantities.

I have found overlaps with my foraging post as in a few of the recipes given, Alison Uttley talks about foraged ingredients gathered by the family. I was particularly taken with her account of the annual cowslip gathering expedition with her mother. They took a clothes basket out with them to fill with blossoms. She describes it beautifully here,

Black and white illustration of the author's mother and the maid picking cowslips, with the children in the background

Picking cowslips

One morning in April my mother would announce that we would pick cowslips for cowslip wine. We would set off after breakfast, the servant girl, my brother, my mother and I, with a clothes-basket, and several smaller baskets. It was exciting to run down the first big field, deep down to the gate that led to the cowslip field. By the gate we left the clothes-basket, and we each took another basket and began to gather the flowers.

It sounds idyllic but it was also hard work for all of them, Uttley describing herself as ‘dazed with stooping to the ground’ after a few hours of picking. It sounds as though the children were allowed to go off and play though, while her mother and the maid carried on for the whole day. But of course, the work didn’t stop there. What Uttley refers to as ‘peeping’ was the next task: removing the flowers from the stalks and calyces. That task must have been mind-numbingly tedious as well as an instigator of repetitive strain syndrome. I find it bad enough picking stalks off fruit for a modest sized batch of jam, so I’m not sure how I would have coped with that mammoth preparation session.

Black and white title page illustration for the chapter on beverages, showing entwined branches with culinary equipment hanging off them.

Chapter title page

I’d actually love to be able to try making a small batch of cowslip wine, but cowslips are quite rare now in Britain and also in Ireland according to Zoe Devlin’s website, However, she does go on to point out that the plant has made a comeback in Ireland in recent years, so perhaps it will continue to spread.  In his foraging guide Food for Free, Richard Mabey suggests that the huge quantities of petals used in making ‘one of the very best country wines’ has probably contributed to the flower’s scarcity in Britain. He comments on the ‘devastation that some of these recipes must have wreaked on flower populations’. Thankfully now, you can buy cowslip seeds as well as other wildflower seeds to grow in your own garden and even up the balance a little. I somehow doubt that I will be able to grow enough flowers to make wine, though cowslip growing is to be one of my projects for next year (I have the seeds ready!) As far as beverages are concerned, I think I will have to stick to making elderflower cordial, the only problem there being that the best blooms always grow too high to reach!

I hope to return to the book for another Landing post, when I have had a go at some of the recipes. Meanwhile, I will decide where to go for August’s Landing Tales post when I have scoured the book shelves again!

Are there any Alison Uttley fans out there? Does anyone remember her Traveller in Time, televised by the BBC in 1978? I loved the series then, but wonder how it would stand up now.

(Pauline Baynes illustrations scanned from my copy of Recipes) 


School Adventure: Dimsie Among the Prefects

Cover of Dimsie Among the Prefects; faded green cloth with a letter D as decoration


For this post, I have lighted on a book that pre-dates the Landing Bookshelves by many years as it is one that my mother had as a child. You might recall that I have previously included one of her old books, A Coach for Fanny Burney so I thought that I would dig out one or two more titles as Landing browsing from time to time. Dimsie Among the Prefects by Dorita Fairlie Bruce (1885-1970) is part of a series set at the fictitious Jane Willard school, which begins with Dimsie goes to School published in 1921 (original title: The Senior Prefect). Among the Prefects was published in 1923, though my mother’s green cloth bound hard back edition is an Oxford University Press reprint from 1940. I assume that it must have had a dust jacket at one time but I’m not sure; I certainly don’t remember it ever having one.

The edition is by this stage rather elderly and battered, as you can see from my scans, so it wouldn’t fetch the price that some of the higher quality copies can command. I was surprised to discover that the earlier Dimsie editions can be quite pricey (a 1923 edition of Among the Prefects for £88, without a dust jacket), however ABE also had a 1940 edition in good condition for £9 For instance, which isn’t too bad. I am tempted to order the first in the series as I’ve never come across a copy in my second hand bookshop moochings.

When I was younger, I had a somewhat lukewarm relationship with boarding school stories. I wasn’t a devoted fan by any means, yet I was drawn back to them every now and then. I dipped in and out of various series over the years; the idea of boarding schools had a fascination for me. I suppose this was because it was something that I knew nothing of in real life; for me boarding schools were just places to be found in stories, much like secret gardens and mysterious islands. Maybe it was just that as one of four siblings, I liked the idea of going off by myself somewhere. I also enjoyed adventure stories and school stories often involved adventures of some sort. I loved the boarding school part of the Katy series, when Katy and her younger sister Clover go away to school (What Katie did at School). It seemed a terribly grown-up thing for them to be doing.

I first read Among the Prefects more years ago than I care to remember and I haven’t really looked at it since then, despite seeing it on the shelf every time I visit my mother. I was trying to re-capture the pictures in my mind from that first-time round, but it’s a bit like trying to recall memories of the first time you visited a certain location or to recapture a dream. The impression is there perhaps but the detail remains tantalisingly out of reach. I remember liking the camaraderie between Dimsie and her friends. I must have been quite young when I read the story as I have retained the impression of the girls being terribly grown up and sophisticated. Of course, I also liked the tuck boxes and teas in the study aspect of boarding school life (not realising that this was a privilege only for the older girls) and not for the grubby lower school!

Decorative title pages of my edition of Dimsie Among the Prefects.

Title page


This story then is a further instalment of the adventures of a now seventeen-year-old Dimsie Maitland and her friends, who have all been members of a society called the Anti-Soppists since their Lower School days. This was explained as, ‘a league for the suppression of anything and everything that they considered to be “soppy”. Many and varied were the things that came under their ban’. One of the banned things was writing poetry, particularly morbid verse. In this episode the members of the league are shocked to discover that one of their number, Jean Gordon has been furtively penning poetry. As her accuser points out, ‘I counted a dozen poems, and in every one of them somebody is dead! And she has the cheek to think she can go on being an Anti-Soppist after this!’

At the start of the book, Dimsie is appointed to be one of the six school prefects. She is a very popular and admired figure amongst the younger girls and is trusted and valued by the headmistress Miss Yorke. I don’t think it’s really plot spoiling to say that Dimsie is well on her way to being Head Girl in a later instalment. For anyone interested in the series titles in order, there is a Wikipedia page on Dorita Fairlie Bruce, but the reference given to an author page is sadly now defunct. I have searched for an author society or a fan page but no avail. If anyone knows of one, I would be interested to hear about it.

In this episode, the main strand of the story concerns Dimsie’s mentoring of new girl Hilary Garth (niece of Dimsie’s friend Rosamund), who is a devotee of school stories and thinks that life will be just as it is in books. She arrives at school under the firm impression that school will be just the place to have lots of adventures. Also culled from books are Hilary’s ideas about school meals. She is amazed that the girls have jam for tea, rather than just illegally at midnight feasts. As one of her new schoolmates points out, ’Those books you’ve been reading are all wrong…Perhaps you haven’t noticed that plate of buns lower down? And twice a week we have cake – fruit always.’ A useful lesson indeed for all of us school story afficionados. Dimsie undertakes to keep an eye on Hilary, which proves to be no mean task as the new girl is determined to extract her quota of adventure from her new school. Naturally, this all leads to a dramatic crisis towards the close of the book, at which time moral lessons are learned, bonds forged and even the despised poetry (though a more uplifting variety!) finds a role.

Anyway, it’s probably now about time that I had a re-read! Are there any Dimsie fans out there? Drop me a line in the comments if so.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Dylan Thomas

As the snow is falling on the blog pages (courtesy of WordPress wizardry) and was recently attempting to fall perilously near to the The Landing Bookshelves region, I hereby present a very snowy, Christmas themed post. I was rooting around upstairs for an idea for a seasonal offering and as the snow was flurrying (I didn’t think that was a word but my spell checker obviously does) by the window I spotted the wonderful snow filled A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas, 1959). We have a version with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone (1973, 1993) that I added to The Bookworm’s Christmas collection a few years ago. I took a few scans to show you some of Ardizzone’s brilliant drawings (see below) of small schoolboys having seasonal adventures in a snowy Welsh village. I have also included a picture of the 1959 edition taken from Wikipedia, alongside our own illustrated edition. It’s enough to make anyone ready for Christmas, with or without the white stuff. Last week we attended A Night Before Christmas at The Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire and I was delighted to hear Michele Forbes reading from A Child’s Christmas as part of the cornucopia of seasonal stories.

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I began leafing through the pages of the book with a wodge of mini post-it notes in hand, so that I could mark my favourite bits to quote. Before I had finished doing this I realised that the book was already bristling with little paper strips. There were so many bits of the text and so many brilliant drawings that I had to give up my post-it notes before marking up the entire book. As I was doing this on the Luas one morning, apart from trying not to lose scraps of sticky paper, I was also smiling away and imaging it was Christmas already.

For this brief seasonal post, let us just concentrate on the snowy parts of the book:

One Christmas was so much like another…that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

Such is the fascination of snow that we imagine that all our Christmases were snowy when we were young. The narrator of the book talks about several Christmases, that all meld into one big, snowy Christmas as he tells of childhood games and adventures.

Thomas describes the snow with a wide range of evocative descriptions. Snow was ‘shaken from whitewash buckets’ and then ‘it came shawling out of the ground’; on the roofs of the houses it resembled ‘a pure and grandfather moss’. The town was ‘bandaged’ and the landscape enticingly described as the ‘frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea’. It certainly sounded magical, as well as edible.

The reader becomes caught up in a white wonderland when anything could happen (at least in a schoolboy’s fantastic imagination) in between Christmas lunch with the aunts and uncles and a spot of carol singing:

Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and jack and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge deep footprints on the hidden pavements.
‘I bet people will think there’s been hippos.’
‘What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?’
‘I’d go like this, bang! I’d throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I’d tickle him under the ear and he’d wag his tail.’
‘What would you do if you saw two hippos?’
Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow towards us as we passed Mr Daniel’s house.

I love the thought of hippos charging through a snowy Welsh village, on the way to who knows where. The snowy scenes in A Child’s Christmas in Wales truly are scenes of the ideal Christmas that we all wish we had had or think that we have had. Much like the eternal sunny summers of our youth that you just don’t get any more. Or so we think.

Here’s wishing anyone who chances upon this post a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you want to browse a few seasonal posts from the archives, then have a wander around The Landing Bookshelves while you’re here! 

The Magi: in Art and Poetry

To mark the end of the Christmas season, I have returned to one of The Landing’s poetry collections for a suitable verse. You might recall that Read Me: A Poem for Every Day of the Year (chosen by Gaby Morgan) has appeared here before in poetry features.

The poem for 6 January is by poet and translator Christopher Pilling, who originally hailed from my hometown of Birmingham but who now lives in the Lake District. ‘The Meeting Place’ was originally published in Poems for Christmas (Peterloo Poets, 1982). It was inspired by a Rubens painting, The Adoration of the Magi so I have included it in the post. Rubens painted several versions of this painting, and this particular one now belongs to Kings College, Cambridge. If you want to discover more about the history of this representation of The Adoration of the Magi, then take a look at Patrick Comerford’s blog who has featured the painting today as the last in his Art for Christmas series.

The Meeting Place

(after Rubens: The Adoration of the Magi, 1634)

It was the arrival of the kings
that caught us unawares;
we’d look in on the woman in the barn,
curiosity you could call it,
something to do on a cold winter’s night;
we’d wished her well –
that was the best we could do, she was in pain,
and the next thing we knew
she was lying on the straw
-the little there was of it-
and there was a baby in her arms.

The Adoration of the Magi

The Magi

It was, as I say, the kings
that caught us unawares…
Women have babies every other day,
not that we are there –
let’s call it a common occurrence though,
giving birth. But kings
appearing in a stable with a
‘Is this the place?’ and kneeling,
each with his gift held out towards the child!
They didn’t even notice us.
Their robes trailed on the floor,
rich, lined robes that money couldn’t buy.
What must this child be
to bring kings from distant lands
with costly incense and gold?

And what were we to make of
was it angels falling through the air,
entwined and falling as if from the rafters
to where the gaze of the kings met the child’s
-assuming the child could see?
What would the mother do with the gifts?
What would become of the child?
And we’ll never admit there are angels
or that somewhere between
one man’s eye’s and another’s
is a holy place, a space where a king could be
at one with a naked child,
at one with an astonished soldier.
I love the almost gossipy way the event is being described, as though someone is just popping round from next door to see what’s going on. Being ‘caught unawares’ and almost not in on the action!

Once again, ‘A Happy New Year’ to all of my followers and thanks for reading!

Picture credit; Wikipedia, with thanks.

Summer at the Bookshop: it started with a sketch…

In honour of bookselling summers gone by (and fellow booksellers), I am re-posting an edited version of a blog article that I originally wrote for when I was working for Hughes and Hughes a few years ago. It was first posted on 31 May 2012 in the now discontinued Booksellers’ blog column. The post was inspired by the fun we had putting together a summer themed table at the front of the shop. The book recommendations from 2012 still stand I think, so if you are looking for ideas for the kids then read on…

If anyone had told me twenty years ago, that bookselling would involve playing with bits of coloured paper and cotton wool; I would have raised a gently inquiring eyebrow. These days I am more experienced in such creative matters. Indeed, there are times when it feels less like working in a bookshop and more like being back in primary school. Thank heavens for all of those Blue Peter watching years when I was being inspired by Val’s and John’s handiwork.

Like most creations, our summer themed table began with the merest sketch of an idea. The tricky part is usually translating the idea into 3D reality (and serving customers at the same time). That was where the cotton wool came into play as we attempted to create a model of an ice-cream cone (complete with flake) for our shop front display table. With the addition of yellow wrapping paper and some crepe paper in a lovely shade of blue, we were well on the way to bringing the seaside to a Dundrum shop floor.

The table was truly a joint effort: Claire, Maeve and Michelle were responsible for some very bijou beach huts and a shoal of little Nemos. And did I mention the fierce-looking pirates? However, the piece de resistance was Andrew’s larger than life ice-cream cone, which dominates the table, inviting thoughts of summer treats. Don’s original idea was very well realised by the team and we were very pleased with ourselves (she said modestly).

Summer Table

Our rather splendid summer scene

We have all had a great deal of fun cutting out shapes, but the serious purpose was obviously to make something a little more eye-catching than basic merchandising. We filled the table with stock aimed at parents and children, with a mixture of new summer titles, colouring and activity books and toys. We arranged some bright and cheerful gardening gear for kids, which include hats and gloves for any future ‘Bloom’ exhibitors out there. When I saw the little ‘Bug House’, I was reminded of Dick King-Smith’s enchanting ‘Sophie’ books. For anyone not familiar with the series, the plot of the first novel saw Sophie earnestly collecting garden bugs of all shapes and sizes for her mini farm. Not all parents would appreciate that one I suppose…

For parents travelling with younger children, sticker, activity and colouring books are usually a good idea. For example, the Airport Colouring Book will peacefully while away the inevitable waiting time. If not, there is always Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler to rely upon, with for instance the Tales from Acorn Wood Activity Book.

Usborne Books had the bright idea of bringing out a book made up of holiday postcards for children to colour. There’s no excuse for anyone not to send cards home to the grandparents then! We also have plenty of ideas for summer holiday reading. Gerry Boland’s new Marco adventure, Marco: Master of Disguise (O’Brien Press) is completely charming. Marco is an escaped tea drinking grizzly bear who is hiding out from the zoo authorities. Áine McGuiness’ illustrations are wonderful; you could just see yourself giving a home to a grizzly like Marco (always assuming that you had enough tea bags).

For children’s holiday reads, then look no further than to the winners of the CBI Book Awards, announced recently. For older readers, Celine Kiernan’s Into the Grey is a gripping and atmospheric story. Celine received the double whammy of the Book of the Year Award and the Children’s Choice Award. I’ll hazard a guess at which award she was most pleased to win.

At the other end of the reading scale, his delightful picture book Stuck will no doubt appeal to the many Oliver Jeffers fans around. Stuck won the ‘Honour Award’ for Illustration, beating off stiff competition. Jeffers’ new book, The Hueys in the New Jumper has recently hit the bookshelves, which promises to be another bestseller. I want a Huey of my own now please (complete with orange jumper). Mark O’Sullivan won the Judges’ ‘Special Award’, for My Dad is 10 Years Old; Paula Leyden won the Eilís Dillon Award for The Butterfly Heart, based on her own experiences of growing up in Zambia. Siobhán Parkinson had two titles in the shortlist and won the ‘Honour Award’ for Fiction with Maitriόisce, which explored five generations of a family. Last but by no means least, Roddy Doyle was lucky enough to win the schools’ ‘Shadowing Award’ for A Greyhound of a Girl, which is now out in paperback just in time for the holidays.

Congratulations to all of the winners mentioned above. I hope I have given a few useful ideas for the holiday season, but if you need a bit of help choosing, just pop in and ask a bookseller.

I hope the post has inspired you to either pop into a real bookshop for your children’s summer reads, or to grab scissors and paper and have some creative fun during the holidays! The Bookworm read A Greyhound of a Girl when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it and going a little further back, she was a firm Sophie fan. If you’ve never met Dick King-Smith’s feisty heroine then do give her adventures a read.

Picture credit: me (unfortunately I’ve lost the original jpeg file so the quality isn’t great) and also used on the blog post.


Books are for everyone

As a bookseller my heart sank into my boots every time a customer asked for the ‘boys’ or the ‘girls’ books. I used to do my best to convince people that there’s no such thing; that stories are for everyone but I wasn’t always successful.

Here’s a recent post (re-blogged from the young bookbug in our household) about the campaign to change hearts and minds….

Spoils from the Trinity College Book Sale

As regular readers probably realise, I  don’t need to be adding any more books to the huge TBR Pile that is the Landing Book Shelves but nevertheless I brought a few new additions home recently.  I hasten to add that the photographic evidence shown here is slightly misleading in that some of the books belong to one of the other book bugs in the household. Note that I’m attempting to fudge the numbers here.

Book Sale Purchases

Now where to put them…

I was particularly pleased to spot a Noel Streatfeild novel, When the Siren Wailed that I had not come across before. This was originally published in 1974 (William Collins) with the Collins Lions paperback edition I found dating from 1984. The book retains its Eason price sticker, originally costing £1.54. The blurb on the back from The Birmingham Post says, ‘Noel Streatfeild vividly recreates the atmosphere of blitz-torn London with all its friendliness, horror, confusion and tragedy. Her book cannot fail to impress young readers.’ The books tells the story of three children despatched with their school mates to safety as part of Operation Pied Piper.

Stories from the blitz interest me because my mum was evacuated from Birmingham during the war and she was lucky enough to make a lifelong friend as a result. I don’t think she ever had any exciting adventures as a result of being an evacuee though. I was struck by the fact that Laura the eldest sibling in the story,  was nine at the beginning of the war when the evacuation programme began. She was given the responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers Andy and Tim on a journey to an unknown destination with a train load of strangers. My mum was also nine years old at the outbreak of war but as an only child would have been sent away without the comfort of brothers or sisters. It’s hard to imagine now a circumstance where you would send a child away alone with a luggage label attached to a coat, a suitcase and a gas mask. Fortunately it all turned out well for my mother in her temporary home.

Closeup Books

Which one?

Now the only question remaining (apart from where to put the books when one bookshelf already covers the only landing window) is what to read next…I’ll keep you posted on that one.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who loves second hand book sale bargains too!

First Day of Advent

This time last year I was just embarking on my Advent Calendar challenge for the Landing Book Shelves but this year’s December won’t be as bustling. I hope to do some seasonal posts but I’m continuing with the challenge of reading War and Peace too; my aim is to finish the book by Christmas.

As this is the first day of Advent the ritual of putting up the Advent Calendar has taken place in our house (the calendar having first been retrieved from the mysterious depths of the loft by He Who Put The Shelves Up). There is usually more than this one calendar in the house thanks to various friends and relations but they are mere bit part players. The perpetual Advent Calendar is the star of the show.

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

The calendar is a hard backed book that opens out into a 3 D scene of a living room with a fireplace, down the chimney of which Father Christmas will pop on Christmas Eve. The calendar is by writer and illustrator Atsuko Morozumi and published in 2006 by Mathew Price Ltd. I can’t remember when we first had the calendar but it has certainly been doing its duty for the last few years. A few creases have appeared but it is wearing well.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is coming closer again, I really must get geared up for making mince pies and other seasonal goodies. The first door on the Advent Calendar is always a wake-up call to get planning and list-making. I’ve also had my first Christmas card.

Advent Calendar Interior

Interior of the Advent scene

If you have a favourite Advent Calendar at home do drop me a line in the comment box. By the way, does anyone else remember the Blue Peter team making an Advent decoration with wire coat hangers and tinsel?