Brian Alderson is founder of the Children’s Books History Society and a former Children’s Books Editor for The Times. Gwynneth Bailey is a freelance education and children’s book consultant. Clive Barnes, formerly Principal Children’s Librarian, Southampton City is a freelance researcher and writer. Diane Barnes, was a librarian for 20 years, mostly as a children’s specialist, working in Kent, Herts, Portsmouth and Hampshire, and Lusaka (Zambia) with the British Council. Jill Bennett is the author of Learning to Read with Picture Books and heads up a nursery unit. Jon Biddle is English Coordinator/Reading Champion at Moorlands Primary Academy in Norfolk, and co-founder of the Patron of Reading scheme. Rebecca Butler writes and lectures on children’s literature. Jane Churchill is a children’s book consultant. Stuart Dyer is an Assistant Head Teacher in a Bristol primary school. Anne Faundez is a freelance education and children’s book consultant. Janet Fisher is a children’s literature consultant. Geoff Fox is former Co-Editor (UK) of Children’s Literature in Education, but continues to work on the board and as an occasional teller of traditional tales. Sarah Gallagher is a headteacher and director of www.storyshack. org

Christine Hammill teaches in a college of further education and is also an author Ferelith Hordon is a former children’s librarian and editor of Books for Keeps Matthew Martin is a primary school teacher. Sue McGonigle is a Lecturer in Primary Education and Co-Creator of Dr. Lucy Pearson is Lecturer in Children’s Literature, Newcastle University. Margaret Pemberton is a school library consultant and blogs at Val Randall is Head of English and Literacy Co-ordinator at a Pupil Referral Unit. Andrea Reece is Managing Editor of Books for Keeps. Sue Roe is a children’s librarian. Elizabeth Schlenther is the compiler of Nicholas Tucker is honorary senior lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University.

Bookworm. A Memoir of

Childhood Reading Lucy Mangan, Square Peg, 322pp, 9780224098854, £14.99 hbk

Three years ago Lucy Mangan penned an indifferent

study in praise of

Roald Dahl. She now makes amends by writing an account of her own childhood reading that is both wise and witty. Books about children’s literature

can sometimes be on

the worthy side, over-stressing the pedagogical at the expense of the personal. But Mangan openly adores all the authors she discusses and also writes with wry affection about her former responses. The amount of books she read as a child is so enormous her discussion of them now reads like a history of children’s literature over the last two centuries. She quickly developed a habit of literary honesty, telling herself and any of her family who would listen what she really felt about her reading. Upset by the ending of Charlotte’s Web, she rejects her father’s typically

reviews Books About Children’s Books

kindly suggestion that the spider’s death is an inevitable part of the great scheme of things. ‘I know people die in real life,’ I shrieked. ‘But why do they have to die in books?’ What an interesting comment! Here are the rest of us critics solemnly attesting over the years to the value of books that introduce the idea of death to children, faced by the experience of a real child who knew it all anyway and simply wanted a safe fictional place in which to escape. Mangan takes her a

adolescence, classmates were time

story up to when

‘my discovering real

boys. I thought I was doing quite well to have discovered them in books.’ She writes about well-known authors but also some forgotten ones for whom she still has an abiding love. If there is now something of a revival for Gwen Grant, Sybil Burr and Antonia Forest, it will surely be down to her advocacy. She doesn’t get everything right; George Macdonald would not have been able to share a beer with C.S Lewis at Oxford’s famous Eagle

pub because he died in 1905. But she has interesting things to say about other celebrated names from the past like Joyce Lankester Brisley, whose own home life as a child was in such marked contrast to that enjoyed by her immortal fictional character Milly-Molly-Mandy. And all the time Mangan has ability to be ceaselessly and


apparently effortlessly funny, as all who read her television reviews in the Guardian will already know. Her footnotes are a particular


still waging family battles but now conducted in high good humour. There are also moments of sadness when she describes the joys of going to her local school or public library and finding lovely old books on the shelves as well as bright new ones. Today the young Lucy would still be able to visit her beloved Torridon Road Library in Catford, South London. But where in so many villages and suburbs now might her modern equivalent go to find such past and present treasures of the mind? NT

Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant

Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert


Morag Hood, illus Ella Okstad HarperCollins Children’s Books, 978-1471145629, 32pp, £6.99pbk

Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert is a beautifully conceived and executed picture book, and a thoroughly joyful reading experience. Little Sophie Johnson is a unicorn

expert, proudly announcing that she lives with 17 unicorns. A look at the pictures reveals that most things – your toys, dog, little brother – can be transformed into unicorns by the addition of a cardboard horn, or toothbrush if you’ve


out of cardboard. Sophie takes her responsibilities for looking after her unicorns very seriously, and has a lot to do. Teaching them everything they need to know, she starts with magic, and is so busy that she doesn’t notice when a real unicorn joins the party. Indeed, as Sophie plays happily all day, she never notices the little unicorn quietly participating in the action, though her baby brother and dog both do. Ella Okstad’s gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture

the bustle and

liveliness of a nursery age child’s life, and the little unicorn – small, round, white but sparkling with magic – provides a small patch of unmissable quiet in the proceedings. At the end of the day, while Sophie is enjoying her tea, head buried in a unicorn book, the little unicorn trots out of the door,

leaving slightly more possibility of return than that other magical visitor, the tiger who came to tea. The story is told through a particularly skilful combination of text and illustration, each supporting the other while still leaving gaps for the reader to fill in. It’s a delightful representation of ordinary life, but with the perfect emphasis on children’s awareness of the ever- present possibility of magic. AR

The Story of Tantrum O’Furrily HHHHH

Cressida Cowell, ill. Mark Nicholas, Hodder, 36pp, 978 1 444 93380 2, £12.99, hbk

Here is a simple, poetic fable, which plays a new variation on the old picture book theme of the comforts of safe domesticity and the allure of the dangerous outside world of adventure. Tantrum O’Furrily (what a lovely name) sings a tale to her

three kittens as they dance their hungry stray cat way across the roof tops under the moon. It is a tale of kitten Smallpaw, who had a comfy bed and a kind owner, but was bored and longed for the world beyond the cat flap and to hear a good story. Just outside the back door is a fox ready to please her. If only Smallpaw would come close enough to hear his seductive tale. This could end badly but, at the crucial moment, in flies a scrappy ginger stray and sees off the fox. And, from then on, Smallpaw goes out every evening to dance with the stray cats under the moon, and is careful about foxes. This tale of a story within a story is perfectly told, with an especially satisfying ending, and two good morals to take away: ‘A cat with courage makes her own story’; and ‘you CAN be a stray cat and a good cat as well.’ Cressida Cowell’s well- chosen words are matched by some outstanding illustrations from Mark Nicholas, who uses minimal pictorial resources, mainly in black and white with ginger and red touches. His windblown silhouette houses and elongated cats suggest Tim Burton for toddlers. CB

Colour My Days HHHH

Ross Collins, Barrington Stoke Picture Squirrels, 32pp, 978-1-78112-694-3, £6.99 pbk

At first, this looks like a colouring book, as the first pages are in outline when we meet Emmy and Jeff, and

Books for Keeps No.230 May 2018 21

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