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. Diana 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. Rebecca Butler writes and lectures on children’s literature. Jane Churchill is a children’s book consultant. Stuart Dyer is headteacher of a primary school in East Devon. 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 Ferelith Hordon is a former children’s librarian and editor of Books for Keeps Carey Fluker Hunt is a writer and children’s book consultant. Matthew Martin is a primary school teacher.

Sue McGonigle is a Lecturer in Primary Education and Co-Creator of Neil Philip is a writer and folklorist. 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. Clare Zinkin is a children’s book consultant, writer and editor.

The Age Between. Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction


Aidan Chambers, Fincham Press, 187pp, 9781916121409, £16.00 pbk

Aidan Chambers is a distinguished and successful writer of Young Adult books. He is also a leading theorist on what goes on in the act of reading and the multifarious ways authors engage with their stories and how readers might respond.

Now, aged

85, he has brought together his final thoughts on such matters into a slim volume packed with quotations ranging from Lewis Carroll to Tolstoy and Wittgenstein. What follows is always admirably

lucid, thankfully avoiding the high theorising and currently fashionable jargon


increasingly creeping into academic

discussion of

children’s literature. He often refers to his own novels, some of which are now out of print although often ground-breaking at the time. All youth writers face an uphill struggle

trying to remain contemporary when actual events and practices on the ground are changing so fast. But when it comes to the eternal issues of adolescence and young adulthood,

reviews Books about Children’s Books

Chambers later novels still remain ever-accessible, with one of them, Dance on My Grave, recently filmed. When discussing

Mark Twain’s

Huckleberry Finn, Chambers makes no mention of the racist language Huck as a boy of his times often turns to. This in some quarters has now given this classic story a bad name, but it is good to be reminded that it is still a supremely wise as well as witty work which deserves to be defended, as Chambers does so well. He is less impressed by J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, seeing it as more a celebration of immaturity rather than as a serious comment upon it. But this is perhaps to under-rate the enduring appeal of Salinger’s style of writing for young adult readers and the message this conveys in itself whatever else is in the text. There is a lot more to think about here and elsewhere in this admirable book which ends with a long and illuminating dialogue with Deborah Thacker, herself an expert in youth literature. Read on! NT

Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant

been trying all along to make Cheeky Monkey see the error of his ways, asks the question, and Cheeky Monkey says ‘Sorry’ and really seems to mean it. Then they all play happily together. It is the remarkable pictures in this lovely book that make all the difference. Brightly coloured animals displayed on green, purple, blue, yellow, and orange backgrounds make up a vivid panoply of fun. The text is simple and memorable, and the whole produces a charming way of helping the youngest child learn about behaviour. ES

Little Bear’s Treasures Cheeky Monkey HHHHH

Zehra Hicks, Hodder Children’s Books, 32pp, 978 1 444 95001 4, £12.99 hbk

Lively and funny, this delightful picture book will prove to ‘cheeky monkeys’ everywhere that there is more to friendship than playing tricks on ones’ friends.

The little monkey

(painted bright red in this story) is very ready to play with his animal friends, but when he cheerfully paints the zebra’s tail green, nicks the giraffe’s banana, and jumps the queue to slide down the slide, his friends begin to feel cross. Knocking down ostrich’s block tower and hitting elephant with balls doesn’t help matters. But when he clangs cymbals next to sleeping lion… he begins to realise he has made a mistake.

What should he do? The deus ex machina who has HHHHH

Written and ill. Stella Dreis, trans. Laura Szeinmann, Greystone Kids, 32pp, 978-1-77164-653-6, £12.99 hbk

Little Bear is a treasure finder. He doesn’t go looking for it: treasure finds him, and he shares the news about it with everyone he meets. What could be better than a shiny button, a handy clothespin or a piece of fluff? A handful of blueberries on a bush becomes a brimming multitude, and even dust takes on a glow of rosy possibility. Sadly, though, the other animals

have better things to do than pay attention to a load of junk. Donkey is too busy combing his tail, and as for the carpet-slippered goose, she doesn’t stop dusting long enough to listen, let alone look. Eventually Little Bear

nose will hit a root…’ A little bird is sitting on Bear’s head, and he’s interested in treasures. In fact, he really seems to understand. ‘Oooh!’ he cries. ‘A magic stick….!’

And the two of them set off to discover things that are bigger and better than ever before: a log for trumpeting, a tree-bark boat, a mysterious fog… Bear’s world changes when he

finds someone with whom to share his enthusiasms and experiences. Together, Bear

and Bird create

something that neither could have discovered

worth the wait. There’s a message here


independently, and it’s friendship, but

it’s stops sharing. He becomes

quiet, and his nose droops. ‘Watch out,’ says a voice, ‘or your

delivered gently and in a way that enables us to observe and learn. The possibility of a special friend out there for everyone feels very real. Stella Dreis’s characters are charmingly expressive, but there’s an emotional edge to their world that grounds us – softly rounded pastel forms encourage and protect, but shadows gather in murky corners and amongst the glittering fish there swims a shark. Luckily for Bear and Bird, enthusiasm and imaginative joie-de-vivre are enough to keep them from harm, and together they dance through shadows discovering delights at every turn A lesser book might have left us with a standard observation about the value of a friend, but in allowing Bear’s and Bird’s experience of the night sky to play out – ‘true bear- bird treasure!’ – Dreis delivers a heartwarmingly memorable finale with real punch.

Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021 23

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