Friday, 29 May 2015

How to Catch a Dragon

How to Catch a Dragon
Caryl Hart & Ed Evans

I have an incredible habit of pickling up picture books that end up being about libraries. This one has a beautiful big dragon on the front, and this month, Share a Story is celebrating the theme of dragons. I have been visiting nurseries and primaries, telling stories and creating opportunities for learning and creativity, with the book, Too Hot to Hug. But having read that a number of times, I thought I'd treat myself to another dragon themed story.

Albie's homework is to draw a dragon, but if he has never seen one, how can he draw one? When his mum takes him to the library, Albie tries to find a book that might help,  but a chance encounter with a young knight leads him on an adventure full of dangers and monsters - he must be very brave to make it through.

How to Catch a Dragon is a generous story, in which kindness and friendship is celebrated, and libraries are praised as sources of inspiration and fuel for the imagination. It is through his creativity and willingness to explore the library that Albie manages to make friends and complete his homework.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Too Hot to Hug

Too Hot to Hug
Steve Smallman & Gee Biscoe

This afternoon, I am welcoming a group of primary school children to their public library for Share a Story month. The theme this year is 'dragons', so I got to explore our collection of dragon picture books and find some favourites. 

Too Hot to Hug is an adorable book about a dragon growing up. He is found in a cave by a young boy, who takes him home to his family. Crumpet the dragon is quickly adopted by the family, using his warmth to keep them all comfortable during the cold winter months - drying laundry, heating toast. But as Crumpet gets older, he gets hotter, until he is just too hot to hug. 

As an adult, I love the subliminal messaging in children's books, and in this one, it isn't even subtle - the family find the best way to keep Crumpet cool is to have a bath, so bathtime soon becomes incredibly fun for all. 

The illustrations in this book are brilliant, and those children who have already visited the library for a dragony story time have loved colouring in the pictures of Crumpet. He is a lovely, friendly dragon; perfect for Share a Story month. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect
Holly Smale

There are few young adult novels that have continued to be a necessity in my life since I stopped being a school librarian. I am currently basking in being able to read adult fiction, and dabbling increasingly in picture books for fun. But without the Geek Girl series, I fear my life would not be the same.

It is finally time for Harriet Manners to hit New York City. With a new baby sister in her life, Harriet's dad must go back to work, and his career choices lead the family to New York. Harriet and her best friend, Nat, dream of those high spires and infamous landmarks, of adventures through great museums and romantic walks through Central Park. It means a couple of months off school, where Harriet is excited to embark into sixth form, but perhaps she might get to see a little more of the handsome Lion Boy, Nick.

But the arrival of the Manners family in New York does not quite go according to Harriet's plan. Rather than living in a fancy appartment in Manhattan, they are a few hours out of town in Harriet's idea of suburban hell. She has no friends, no school, and her parents seem to be perminantly asleep or trying to sleep around baby Tabitha's naps.

In a tizzy of anger, Harriet decides to take matters into her own hands, and ventures into the city to see Nick and the magic of the Big Apple. But running away is not as easy as it seems, so Harriet manages to upset just about everyone around her. And, in classic Geek Girl style, she finds herself drawn into a world where people just seem to want to change her and trick her and ultimately (though mostly accidentally) ruin her life.

As a reader, it is very easy to get frustrated as Harriet plunges into foolish decisions, from simply running away from home to pretending to play it cool with Nick to make him more eager. But equally, it is very easy to relate to her confusion and desire to fit in - we have all been there.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon the next Geek Girl book in a book shop, and could hardly stop myself reading it. So I went straight home and ordered it from the library. I cannot wait.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Lorraine Mariner

Okay, so I am a little late on the scene when it comes to Lorraine Mariner. Anyone who knows anything about contemporary poetry must already be familiar with her blunt commentaries on real life and her first lines that make you just want to go away and write. But I couldn't resist getting in on the conversation. 

This collection reads a little like the diary of a teenage girl, growing up, learning about the world around her. But it is also reflective and mature, looking back on the hopes and fears we all share, and those that are unique to each of us. 

This is what makes Mariner's poetry so inspiring - first lines that can lead you anywhere, taking you back into your own memories of being in school, falling in love, feeling jealous or angry or naive. Like Injured, which starts with a line about what you always fantastised about at school - Mariner's dream being that she would get injured and be propelled to the dizzy heights of in-school celebrity. 

Or My Beast, documenting a young girl's concern that her fairytale story would come unravelled by her own inabilities to play the part of princess properly; which led to some brilliant creations in one of our First Story sessions back at OSA.

My love for Lorraine Mariner arises somewhere between Stanley, the witty first poem in the collection in which the author breaks up with her imaginary boyfriend, and Heart, which recounts that universal experience of losing your heart to someone who doesn't deserve it, accidentally "slipping it / into his pocket as he did up his overcoat". She explores those heartbreaking elements of growing up in a way that is so unique and yet seems so obvious - you will hate yourself for not thinking them up first. 

I borrowed this collection from the library, and have had a hard time bringing myself to take it back. Perhaps it is just one I am going to have to buy. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
Kazuno Kohara

It is a little self-appraising of a librarian to love a book about libraries, but that is not stopping me.

The Midnight Library, as you might imagine, is a library that is only open at night. It's regular customers include animals from all over town, and it is run by a lovely little librarian and her three assistant owls.

But things don't always run smoothly in the library. A band of musical squirrels come in, clashing their drums and banging their cymbals. But the kind librarian finds somewhere they can practice their music without disturbing the other visitors. In another corner, a wolf is crying that her story is so sad, but the librarian manages to convince her to see it through to the happy ending.

The illustrations by Kohara are gorgeous - bold and contrasting - it is the kind of book you really want to take care of.

It is a beautiful picture book about a magical library, though if you ask me, all libraries are pretty magical.

Happy World Book Night!

Monday, 13 April 2015

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami

In my opinion, Murakami is one of the most incredible writers of our time, and / or he has an uniquely talented translator. The novels he writes are original, thought-provoking and haunting, often leaving you with more questions than answers (I recently read Kafka on the Shore as part of the OSA book club). But the fact that his stories often conclude with many lose ends is forgivable due to the brilliant of his style, his ability to portray life in a way like no other. 

I hadn't realised that Murakami was such a keen long distance runner. This book accounts for his thoughts around his writing but mainly his running in a period of just over one year. He describes his progression into running and his development as an amateur athlete. Alongside this, Murakami explores some of the overlaps between being a runner and being a writer - the stamina and dedication needed, the prerequisites required, and the importance of seeing past the suffering and challenges. 

It has taken me quite some time to read this book - in between various other novels and collections, I got stumped by the un-Murakami-ness of this Murakami memoir of sorts. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Rainbow Rowell

I needed this book as my holiday read - something light weight, uncomplicated and vaguely funny. I just wish it had been a little less predictable.

Lincoln is employed at a newspaper as the guy who checks the email filter for red flags. It's 1999, and everyone is paranoid about the millenium bug and about the potential evil of emailing, long before reading other people's emails became the job of the government. The emails of two friends, Beth and Jennifer, catch his attention and his imagination - he loves the way Beth writes, she makes him laugh. But before he realises, he knows too much about her to approach her; plus, she already has a rock star boyfriend.

Rainbow Rowell is a great writer - easy to read and very witty (though there is something odd about Lincoln falling for Beth over the way she writes, as if Rowell is celebrating her own amazing talent for words). I don't know what I had hoped for in terms of predictability, but as with any romantic comedy, the guy typically bags the girl, and a little bit of me had hoped that Lincoln's wishes wouldn't be fulfilled.

Lincoln is praised across social media as one of the greatest boyfriends of all time - and he truly is dreamy: clever, sensitive and apparently rather handsome - but his modesty and lack of self-belief seemed too put on, as if Rowell was trying just a little too hard to write the dream man.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but confess that I enjoyed reading this - if you are looking for a holiday read that is a little more high brow than the norm, try Attachment.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet

The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet
Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter

This is one of my new favourite things of all time. McFly / McBusted fans will know that the gang are talented song-writers, but this step into children's literature has shown that they are also simply brilliant wordsmiths.

Danny and Dinosaur embark on an adventure into outer space, but, despite mum's advice, they haven't yet had their dinner. So when Dinosaur gets up amongst the spacemen and planets, he gets awfully peckish and finds himself craving some rather unusual tummy-fillers; the result of which is a rather full stomach that might just need relieving.

The illustrations by Gary Parsons are brilliant, especially considering the material with which he is working (i.e. a pooping dinosaur). It is not as crude as you might expect, and I actyually think that the silliness of the story is what makes it even more appealing - you can just imagine your child giggling as you read it together.

But the story is my the best thing - mainly because I madly decided that the dinosaur must be based on Harry, with Dougie and Tom being the authors and Danny being the name of the other main character.

And it rhymes, in some places rather creatively. Like all good things targeted at children, there are lots of things in this book to tickle parents, or anyone else who fancies a fun read.

I am so happy to be in a world where this book exists.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl
Caitlin Moran

 I had almost neglected to write this review, seeing as it has been so over-reviewed already, but when I saw a friend reading it and laughing all the way through, I felt the need to offer my thoughts.

All those who know Caitlin Moran know her story by now - a clever girl raised on a council estate who lands a teenage writing prize and goes on to blag a column in The Times. Moran insists that How to Build a Girl is fiction, but it is hard to distance this novel from her own reality.

But it is not the plot of this novel that I want to celebrate, rather the little snippets of hilarity that are simultaneously completely familiar and obsurely unique. The teenage self-consiousness that convinces Johanna Morrigan she is singularly responsible for her family's poverty. The misreading of social convention that makes dressing solely in black seem like the best idea, and her mother's concern that she is acting like a dark crow that has decended upon the household. The naivety that allows her to have so much sex and so few orgasims.

Whether or not you like that fact that Moran seems to only write about one thing, you cannot deny the fact that she is honest, realistic and frankly hilarious.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Adventures of Superhero Girl

The Adventures of Superhero Girl
Faith Erin Hicks

This unexpected treat I found in the children's section of Cardiff Central Libraries, during a day I spent "researching" the resources there. (I was finding materials for story time and got distracted in the graphic section.)

Superhero Girl is a completely terrible superhero, especially compared to her brother, who takes on the world and handles the fame of his status with ease and composure.

And yet it is Superhero Girl that I would like to be - terrible with romance, impoverished by lack of income, and pretty useless at maintaining her secret identity. Her missions are somewhat mediocre - rescuing cats from trees, placating her overzealous mother, etc. - but that makes it all the more brilliant when her arch-nemesis finds himself chosing between continuing in a career of evil and a more conventional profession.

This comic stemmed from a blog, which you can find here:; and author Faith Erin Hicks is very vocal and entertaining on social media. She is definitely worth following.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Hare with the Amber Eyes

The Hare with the Amber Eyes
Edmund de Waal

I am not much of a reader of biographies - only those of specific individuals I admire. But in order to see how Cardiff librarians run their book clubs, I thought I would read this and attend the meeting at Cathays. 

Edmund de Waal has a fascinating family history, spanning many nations, and measured in this book by the presence of netsuke, small Japanese figures collected by his ancestors. They are initially collected by Charles Ephrussi, a Russian immigrant in Paris, at the height of their popularity. The figures move from here, to Vienna, to England and finally back to Japan with de Waal's uncle, Iggy. 

I really enjoyed reading through the context of the journey - learning the details of the Ephrussi's attempts at assimilation into Vienna between the wars, and their eventual exclusion from the city during the Nazi reign. They were an incredibly adaptable family, spreading themselves through Europe and later into South America and the far East. And yet, despite their best efforts, anti-Semitism was too ripe to bring the family peace. 

Some elements of the story seemed too good to be true - many of the family's fortunes came thanks to their wealth, but the survival of the netsuke was incredible. During the Nazi occupation, the Ephrussi household was taken over by the Nazi bureaucracy, and their property was scattered amongst the Ayrian elite. But the netsuke escaped attention, and were smuggled to safety in the folds of the apron of the family maid. 

I would have liked to have learned more about de Waal's grandmother, Elisabeth. She was the daughter of the glamorous Baroness Emmy, a fashionable, sophisticated woman - but unlike her mother, Elisabeth had little fashion sense and was a determined, academic young woman. She fought for her education, and later fought to get her family out of Vienna during the Second World War. And after the war, she fought to regain possession of all the art and property her family lost during the Nazi occupation. I admired Elisabeth, a woman who seemed completely ahead of her time. 

The end of the novel left me wondering what might happen next to the netsuke and to the Ephrussi family, now diluted by marriage and spread across the world. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Howl, Kaddish, and other poems

Howl, Kaddish, and other poems
Allen Ginsberg

Andrew McMillan is the reason for me reading Allen Ginsberg - I am just ashamed that it has taken me so long!

Reading this so soon after finishing Kerouac has slightly messed with my brain - I am starting to feel like part of the Beat Generation, like a young, disillusioned man, endlessly searching for truth and honesty and beauty. 

Even now, Ginsberg's style seems unconventional - it must have shocked and awed when first published - with it's long, winding sentences, peculiar line breaks, and complete disregard for standard meter. 

But all this adds to Ginsberg's power. He is angry and passionate and contemporary, though some of his words resonate with society today. 

The images in Ginsberg's poetry are vivid and mesmerising. I can picture him sitting in a coach station on "great wooden shelves and stanchions posts and beams assembled floor to roof jumbled with baggage"; I see Ginsberg bent over his typewriter, wondering if his audience of the future "will [...] eat my poems or read them". 

As I read 'Kaddish', I was gripped by Ginsberg's depth, his love for his mother and his battle between the guilt and the responsibility he feels. My heart broke for his strength through such adversity.

But the poem I loved most was 'Sunflower Sutra', an account of a day spent with his friend, Jack Kerouac, mulling over the beauty of the tiny details in the world around them; finishing in a loud, uplifting call to arms:
"we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside."