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Costa Children’s Book Award The 2012 prize has gone to Moira Young for her debut book Blood Red Road.

Set in a dystopian future world, Blood Red Road (Marion Lloyd Books) tells the story of 18-year-old Saba, a tough young woman who embarks on an epic quest to rescue her twin brother when he is kidnapped by four mysterious horsemen. Moira Young was one of the twelve writers and illustrators included in last year’s Books for Keeps feature on rising talent, and the article praised her fluent, witty and irreverent style, as well as her inventiveness with future world technologies and customs.

The other books on the Costa short-list were Flip by Martyn Bedford, The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans.

Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize

How the World Works by Christiane Dorion, ill. Beverley Young (Templar) has won this year’s prize. An interactive, pop-up book exploring the science of the earth, the idea for the book came from a meeting of two parents whilst waiting for their children at the school gates. The two parents were Amanda Wood and Christiane Dorion. The title came first ... and that was the start of the synchronicity. How the World Works was also a shortlisted for the Blue Peter Best Books with Facts and the SLA Information Book Award.

Useful Organisation No. 56

Author Profile e-mail:

These days, authors are expected to hit the ground running – demonstrating knowledge, energy and commitment in areas such as online networking, author branding, delivering high-impact events and dealing with the media in a confident and informed way. Author Profile is a new training company run by Justin Somper, author and publicist, and Phillip Norman, an expert in learning and development. Author Profile is committed to sharing industry experience and fast-tracking authors over all the kinds of hurdles they are likely to encounter in today’s fast-changing publishing industry. Training is typically conducted in small groups within publishing houses, although one-on-one and out-of-house training is also available. All Author Profile training is geared towards helping authors shape their own careers more proactively than ever before and change how they feel about the author/publisher partnership in a very constructive way.

Hal’s Reading Diary

Does 11-year-old Hal learn more from computer games with historical themes or from books? Hal’s father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, discusses.


ike many boys of his age Hal is a keen player of PS3 games. There are regular tussles in our house about what he is and isn’t allowed to play. Hal tries to cajole us into allowing

him to play games that carry 15 or even 18 certificates (there’s a bizarre slippage here in which he claims that a game which is ‘only a 15’ is entirely appropriate for someone who is just 11). And Jo and I stoutly block his requests, citing the language and the bloodshed as well as the certificate to explain our utterly unreasonable decisions.

In the case of one game though, Assassin’s Creed, we were a bit more permissive than usual. This was on the strength of a recommendation from one of Hal’s godparents who said that as well as the usual slaughter and leaping around, you also pick up quite a bit about life in Renaissance Italy along the way. Hal started to play and watching it over his shoulder from time to time I could see what Hal’s godfather meant. There was Rome looking very plausibly as it might have looked in the 16th century with a mixture of Roman ruins, gothic buildings and the odd Renaissance Palace. Being a big Rome fan, and knowing the city quite well, I found this fascinating. But what I was less sure of was whether Hal was getting much history from the game. I asked him what he had learnt and he said it had taught him that crossbows were really accurate, guns at the time were really inaccurate and that early doctors wore pointy hats. Romaphiles might get a bit from Assassin’s Creed, I concluded, but 11-year-old boys weren’t going to pick up much that didn’t relate to fighting.

briefing OBITUARY

Russell Hoban (1925 – 2011) Brian Alderson writes…

Over some thirty years following his birth on 4 February 1925 Russell Hoban’s life took on the pattern of a bright talent drawn to the exercise of his powers both as artist and writer along the margins of commercial art: designer, copy-writer, illustrator for the magazine trade. In 1944 however, during a brief spell in the US army, he had married Lillian Aberman who had been a fellow student during his time at art school, and it was with her that he built a new reputation as picture-book storyteller. His first two books in 1959 and 1960 had been illustrated by himself and were his take on factual matters that interested him, like dump-trucks and atomic submarines, but in the latter year, accompanied by that fine illustrator Garth Williams, he introduced the world to Frances, the little girl badger (invented as such by Williams), demonstrating a childlike reluctance over going to sleep.

I don’t know what the artist thought when the affairs of this instantly attractive young miss and her ever-patient parents passed into the hands of Lillian for their further portrayal, but for the next twelve years and through seven titles (including a little volume of “songs”, Frances became the constant element in a succession of more than twenty collaborations between husband and wife.

A decisive change occurred in 1967 when The Mouse and his Childwas published in New York. Though seemingly a children’s novel, illustrated (brilliantly) by Lillian, its text took readers into a countryside unknown to residents among such conventional Neverlands as Narnia or Prydain and into themes of an inexhaustible resonance. It looks to have been all too much for Hoban’s American audience and the enthusiastic response of British critics when the book was published here in 1969 was one of the main reasons for Hoban to quit his native land for good, in favour of London, and for Lillian to quit the partnership for good, returning to the United States with their four children.

Although Hoban’s ‘English years’ saw him win wider fame as a novelist, he by no means ceased to write books for children, clocking up thirty or so of widely varying lengths and subjects. Pre-eminent, of course, was How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen(1974) and its successor A Near Thing for Captain Najork (1975), whose superlative illustrations by Quentin Blake should not be allowed to deflect attention from the gift of such illustrable texts.

Something of a sage, who liked to give the impression that his probing thoughts were not as serious as they actually were, Hoban was a man of constantly affable humour. He will be much missed by friends and readers alike.

(The unabridged version of this obituary can be found on the BfK website.)

Something similar could be said of Hal’s favourite current book series – Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ titles. Hal is very into these books (he reads them with Jo most nights, Hal reading first and then Jo picking up the baton when he gets tired). The books, for those not familiar with them, feature a boy living in contemporary America, who discovers that he is the son of Poseidon and that the gods and creatures of Greek Mythology are alive and well in disguised forms in the contemporary world. Throughout the books classical mythological stories are recast in modern guise, making them powerful and gripping to Hal in a way which they almost certainly wouldn’t in their original forms.

So a great way, you might think, of learning about Greek mythology. But is it? The books do of course offer a lot about the mythological world, but I found myself wondering if Hal was actually learning much. Wasn’t it a bit like the Assassin’s Creed experience? If you already knew about mythology you had a context to relate the books to and an enhanced learning experience as a consequence. If you didn’t, you just had a series of paranormal characters slugging it out and making a good yarn in the process.

Talking this over with Jo, however, I was quickly pulled up for being snotty. Jo’s point, and I agree with it, was that though Hal may not have the context to refer the myths back to the originals, what they do do is give him a core knowledge of Greek mythology which he isn’t going to forget. And she is right. When I picked his brains about the books he does now know what kind of creature Medusa is, he knows what the Golden Fleece is, he knows about Zeus and Aries and Poseidon and Athena. And the next time he has to learn about Greek mythology at school he’ll have a foundation to go on which he didn’t have before. Hal’s principle enjoyment of these books is, I am sure, that they are gripping, tension filled yarns. But they smuggle in some learning in the process in a way which is far more potent than anything he is ever going to pick up from Assassin’s Creed. n

Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian (978 0 1413 2128 8) and other ‘Percy Jackson’ titles are published by Puffin at £6.99.

Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 17

Richard Mewton

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