Monthly Archives: August 2017

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Morals and Make-believe: A podcast series documenting the socialising and moralising effects of British children’s literature for over 200 years

Chapter One:
Exploring the emergence of children’s fiction, and its development in the 100 years that followed…

Visit the website to hear all the podcasts here:

Stuff Mom Never Told You: Librarians

Fantastically informative podcasts about Librarians from the awesome team at Stuff Mom Never told You.

Part 1

Part 2

Dad Life: #Dadvertisement Training Day

So I was chuffed (ho ho) to be offered a Hape Train Set for review (heads up there will be a review of sorts at the end of this post!), now I had been meaning to purchase a small train set for my little ginger snap after seeing how excited she got over trains during a visit to some friends with a daughter of similar age, but then this offer came along and I thought Why not?”. So yes I am selling out for toys for my girl – for some things I have no shame!

So yesterday a lovely figure-eight train set arrived in the post (& a Battery Powered Engine No. 1).

I was able to resist ripping it open and playing with it at work because I am an adult and can restrain myself! When I got home I got an excited welcome with hugs and a demand to be picked up – until she saw the box; then nothing else mattered, she picked it up and followed me around shouting at me excitedly until we had dinner. After dinner she helped me put it together and as anyone who has a tiny toddler will know helping consists mostly of grabbing random pieces and hitting me with them then crying when I take them away. Eventually despite all the help I received the track was complete and the fun and games began. I put the batteries into the engine, pushed the on button and we were entranced!

She stood entranced for about two minutes and then shouted “Wow!” a brand new word added to her slowly growing lexicon!

There is magical something about watching a tiny train run around its tracks because she did not rip it apart as I expected, instead she stared at the train and helped it over the bridge when it got stuck and generally enjoyed just watching and playing with the loose carriage. The train and carriages are the perfect size for little hands.

The train set is aimed at ages 3+ and as the light of my life and my delight is quite a bit younger than that it gives me the perfect excuse to play with the train with her and get more daddy/daughter time – this is something that is a win for everybody!

The set is a Hape Figure-Eight Railway Set

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

Barry Hines was a phenomenal writer and A Kestrel for a Knave is rightly regarded as one of his finest works. In the 50 years since it was published, his words have lost none of their power or stark beauty, detailing a day (with flashbacks) in the life of Billy Casper, a poor, working class lad from a broken family in the North.
I cannot think of any other unflinching portrayals of working class youth that have become so deeply embedded into the public consciousness, thanks in part to Kes; the film adaptation directed by Ken Loach and co-written by Hines himself.

The edition from the Folio Society does justice to the story. It is not only beautiful to behold – from the translucent dust jacket to the endpapers illustrated with silhouettes of birds in flight and the illustrations throughout the story breaking up the text but it is a thing of beauty to hold, the slightly rough cover and the rich, soft pages that are a delight to turn and read.

David Howe’s illustrations are a wonderful addition to the story and I cannot think on any other artist that could have done justice to this story of a no-hoper and a hawk!

A Kestrel for a Knave takes the reader back to a time that although not so long ago is gone forever, of roaming the fields, catching and taming raptors, knowing what the future held – usually a rough life down in the pits and casual violence and brutality.

Published by the Folio Society, A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines is available now.

All Illustrations by David Howe from The Folio Society edition of A Kestrel for a Knave ©David Howe 2017

#DadLife: 1st Day of Leave

Today marks the first day of my week off from work. The first thing my little gingersnap and I did before breakfast was watch an episode of Peppa Pig (traditions are so important).

After breakfast we walked down to our local library for a play and craft morning. This was the first time I have been able to attend a library toddler event as a parent instead of as a Librarian. I had hoped that there would be other dads in attendance but this morning I was surrounded by mums. I soon got over feeling self-consciousness as my beautiful girl is an old hand at these events, she did the rounds saying hello to the mums and her fellow toddlers.

I followed her around making sure that she shared the toys instead of grabbing and running away as she is sometimes prone to do. We then sat at the craft table to make a paper fruit plate.

By this time I had relaxed and sat down with my little one as she played with giant duplo-style blocks and fell in love with a tiny baby doll while I chatted to some of the mums about local craft activities for children at libraries and children’s centres. We all agreed that chatting to other parents is the best method of finding local activities for children, although asking at the library reference desk or checking the hoop app is also good.

On our walk home I was greeted by one of the mums who had been at the craft morning and we had a short chat about toys (she had seen some dolls like the one my girl had become besotted with at the local charity shop). For the first time it felt like I was part of the local parenting community

This enabled me to cross ‘library craft activity’ off my bucket list, now I just have story times and the summer reading challenge to look forward to!

Book List: Books with Antifascist/nazi Themes

  • Number the Stars – Lois Lowry
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic – Jane Yolen
  • Tarzan & the Blackshirts – Andy Croft
  • A is for Activist – Innosanta Nagara
  • Who are Refugees and Migrants? – Michael Rosen
  • Girl with a White Dog – Anne Booth
  • Hitler’s Canary – Sandi Toksvig
  • Tender Earth – Sita Bramichari
  • Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner
  • The Hypnotist – Laurence Anholt
  • Noughts and Crosses – Malory Blackman
  • The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew
  • The Tripods – John Christopher
  • Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
  • When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
  • The Silver Sword – Ian Serrailier
  • I Am David – Ann Holm
  • The Wave – Todd Strasser
  • A Wrinkle in time – Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain – John Boyne
  • Street of Tall People – Alan Gibbons
  • Trouble at Cable Street – Joan Lingard
  • A World between Us – Lydia Syson
  • The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
  • My Friend the Enemy – Dan Smith
  • Max – Sarah Cohen-ScaliFor Older Readers
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • It Can’t happen Here – Sinclair Lewis
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Night – Elie Wiesel

‘Reading Russia’ while researching The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

In 2012, when I was just beginning to have vague thoughts that I might write an historical novel set in Russia during the Revolution, an email appeared in my Inbox. Edinburgh International Book Festival was celebrating 50 years and, supported by the British Council, invited 50 writers to do a cultural exchange with different locations world-wide. So, while other writers ended up shopping in New York or sunning themselves in the Caribbean I was one of a group who were asked to speak at a Cultural Fair in… Siberia!

A stop-off in Moscow provided the opportunity to speak with librarians, teachers and students of English literature and see some of Russia’s literary treasures. In addition to their pre-printing press beautifully illuminated manuscripts, there were originals manuscripts of famous Russian writers, such as Dostoevsky and, thrillingly, the handwritten title page of Mikhail Bulgakov’s original manuscript for The Master and Margarita.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

We discussed the transformative power of good fiction and in the evening attended an ‘open mike’ literature session in a night club. Seriously. In a night club. During the music breaks anyone could come up and talk about reading. And they did. Amazing! Young people spoke about the influence of Gogol and quoted favourite bits of Turgenev. And I learned so much about modern Russian writers. We were challenged to name a ‘hero for our times’ I chose Katniss Everdeen – who else?

Russia has enormously influential writers, with Alexander Pushkin rated as the funder of modern Russian literature. In Eugene Onegin Pushkin speaks on writing saying: “… weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound; I write, …”

Pushkin supported the 1825 uprising and his writings were considered so dangerous by the Tsar that he was banished from St Petersburg and barred from any government post. When he died he was buried without ceremony in case the occasion of his funeral would cause unrest. I’m intrigued by Pushkin for he used language in a new way, melding traditional tongues with the words of the common people. He proved a big inspiration for the character of Nina’s father, Ivan, the Storyteller, in The Rasputin Dagger.

Then on to Siberia. I was soooooo excited. It was late October / early November and they said “Oh, it’s not that cold, yet…” Really? I was glad I’d packed my grey-goose down-filled parka with the fur-lined hood. I have to say that Melvin Burgess looked fetching in his dark green wool overcoat and was a particular draw for our teen audiences.

As I’m a former Young People’s Services librarian the organisers were keen that I speak on the subject of Youth Library Services. Despite the remote venue the session was full and I was proud to share examples of British ‘best practice’. Like ravenous wolves the librarians fell upon the material I’d brought with me.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

Then Melvin and I had events with articulate and engaging young teenagers, organised and moderated by the pupils themselves.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

It was an absolute joy to talk to these young Russians. Although desperately keen for modern teen fiction from the West, their own reading included Tolstoy and Chekhov, and a wide range of classic Russian books.

And a final interesting fact – schools in Siberia only close if the temperature drops below 26 degrees centigrade!

©Theresa Breslin 2017
Twitter: @TheresaBreslin1

#TeenLibrarian Monthly August 2017: the Antifascist issue

Download (PDF, 513KB)

Game Library Camp 17

If, like me, you were not able to attend the Game Library Camp on the 12th then watching this padlet may be of interest to you:

#DadLife: Park Life

My little ginger snap and I have been working on a regular Saturday morning (7am) trip to our local park. This gives my lovely Mrs a chance to sleep uninterrupted by our creaking couch and excited shouts of “Peppa Peeeg!”

I make her a bottle, put a banana in my jacket pocket and we stop off at our local Costa for a latte (for me) and a take-out toasted breakfast bloomer. Apart from morning dog walkers wandering around the recreation ground the children’s play area is usually deserted at this time of the morning.

We start off by sitting down on one of the benches and sharing the bloomer a third for her and two thirds for me and we drink our drinks and then she has her ‘nana – having chatted to a friend of mine whose child is of an age with my little ginge I think that small children have an affinity for bananas that is difficult to put into words. She is good at sharing though and will physically try and fore mushed banana into my mouth if I do not take some willingly.

For several weekends now her main fascination has been with the children’s obstacle course, she is still too small to do it but walks around the course looking at the various obstacles going “oooh” and sitting on the bits that are low enough. Lately she has been trying out beginner geocaching by picking up pebbles and putting them in places that you would not normally expect to find them at the playground.

When she starts wandering heaven help me if my concentration falters – even for a second for she will take off, and she can move rapidly, even on her little legs. I sometimes lag back purposefully and if she notices that I am not keeping pace with her she will turn around and shout at me until I catch up. Sometimes she will head towards one of the gates and if I cannot catch her in time she will try to open it and get into the larger park.

Once she has been suitably distracted she will do a circuit of the playground’s other attractions, down two of the smaller slides, round the merry-go-round and spinning wheel then crawling around the toy train and finally the see-saw with interludes sitting in the little playhouse where she will put wood chips on the table and tell me about them when I sit with her.

She is changing so rapidly, she alternates between demanding her freedom and chasing me away very vocally when she wants to do things on her own then wanting to be picked up and lifted on to whatever she wants to play on. She is at the size where I can still sweep her up and throw her into the air and catch her safely while she screams with laughter and nuzzles into my neck for a cuddle.

I have heard tell that these moments pass by so quickly that I am taking every opportunity to spend time with her while everything is new and exciting – even a quick visit to the park!