A Quick Pre-Pullman Catch-Up

I got a little bit behind on my reading and blogging recently – I decided to take a couple of weeks out to read the whole of the His Dark Materials before the publication of the new book today – so here’s a quick catch up on some of my recent reading. Not themed because, as you may have noticed, I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye…

Malala’s Magic Pencil – Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai continues to be an inspirational young lady.  The determination which led to her being targeted by Taliban enforcers has sustained her through writing her life story, continued activism for the education of girls and her own education. I can’t be the only one who felt oddly proud to see that she has just taken her place at Oxford – she has become a sort of symbol for what girls and young women can achieve. Although her autobiography was issued in an edition for younger readers in 2014 she has not previously written directly to the very young. This book changes that – it is, through the simply told story of a girl who decides that, if she had a magic pencil, she would draw a world where life was fairer. Malala’s story is one that children understand – life really should be fair – but the reality of her experiences are the sort of thing that we would hope to shelter primary-aged children from. This book allows her to encourage youngsters towards the sort of activism they can appreciate – kindness and fairness to all and not keeping silent about inequalities. Nobody is too young, or too old, for that.

Everything You Do Is Wrong – Amanda Coe

Set in a North Yorkshire coastal town where nothing ever seems to happen this is the story of Melody, a teenage girl who really wishes that something would happen to her. Her mother is absent – sometimes away, sometimes just too ill to get out of her bed – and her step-dad always seems to be working. Home-schooled (or rather mostly left to her own devices) she is working towards her GCSEs and what she really wants to happen is that her maths tutor will fall in love with her before her final exam. We also have Melody’s aunt Mel, trying to be in charge of everyone and everything, who finds a mysterious girl washed up on the local beach in the middle of a storm.

This book looks like it is the story of Storm, the name given to the mystery girl, who doesn’t speak or communicate in any way – she is certainly the focus of most of the town – but really it is about Melody.  She is adrift – her short experience of mainstream schooling mainly involved being bullied – and has very little contact with other young people (apart from her cousins).  Melody lives in a bit of a fantasy world – one where her tutor will fall in love with her and take her away from her boring, yet messy, life – but by the end of the book she is starting to grow a little. The story involving Storm ended a bit disappointingly (just a hint of the Bobby Ewings, if you know what I mean) but, once I reminded myself that, for me, this was just an also-ran of a plot that seemed to matter a lot less.

Pocketful of Crows – Joanne Harris

Finally on this round-up is the latest from Yorkshire author, Joanne Harris. (Interestingly, well, to me anyway, she is another in my list of authors who add an initial M to their name to differentiate between the two genres she writes in)  This is one of her many books based on myths and folklore and a perfect short read for the dark nights around Hallowe’en. The main character is one of the ‘travelling folk’ (who we would probably refer to as witches, faeries or the like), a girl who lives wild in the woods. She is nameless and free, experiencing life through the eyes and bodies of various animals, until she steals a love token and then falls for its intended target. This is a book about a rather female folklore – maidens, mothers and crones – and our nameless heroine is bought low by the young man she falls for (especially when he gives her a name – naming confers power over the named). But revenge at hand and the wheels of both the seasons and life turns full circle. This book feels like a new version of every classic folk tale – as old as Old Age but fresh as springtime.



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