Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Waffle Hearts by Maria Parr

Waffle Hearts is the most delightful book I have read in a long time.  It's the story of Trille, and Lena, who live in a small coastal community in the Norwegian Fjords.  Reminiscent of Tove Janssen's The Summer Story, Waffle Hearts is stuffed full of fun , innocence, naughtiness, passion and bewilderment. Maria Parr captures the mood, language and logic of the children brilliantly.  

Here's one of my favourite bits.  Lena is growing up without a dad and is talking to Trille about his father.  

Lena looked at me irritated.  Then she burst out, "What use are [dads], anyway?"
I didn't really know what to answer.  Do they need a use?
"They build things," I suggested.  "Walls and so on."
Lena had a wall
"And they can...um..."
I'd never thought properly about what use my dad was.  To get ideas, I stretched up onto my toes and peeped over the hedge.  Dad was standing there muttering about his summer project, red in the face.  It wasn't too easy to come up with exactly what use he was.
"They eat boiled cabbage," I said in the end.

Together, Lena and Trille get into all sorts of scrapes.  They have a go at filling their own ark with animals, they try busking with recorders, they rescue a pony and work on finding Lena a dad of her own.  

What really makes this book special, though is that it's not just a series of funny, charming stories.  In amongst all, Trille and Lena deal with some really traumatic issues and life events.  Maria Parr approaches death, loss and uncertainty with great compassion and understanding, making this an excellent book to read aloud to young children.  It is full of hope, happiness and the warmth of a loving family.  Definitely one to cosy up with a hot chocolate and roaring fire.

Oh, and if you're thinking of getting it as an eBook, forget it.  The hardback edition of Waffle Hearts is so beautifully tactile, you'll want to carry it around everywhere with you.

I give this book 10/10. 

If you like Waffle Hearts, then you'll love Tove Janssen's The Summer Book

Waffle Hearts is published by Walker Books and is ideal for 7-9 year olds.
It has been translated from Norwegian into more than 15 different languages and has been made into a popular children's television series in Norway.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Heroic, by Phil Earle

I first met Phil Earle in the offices of Simon and Schuster when I was preparing Supermarket Zoo for publication.  In fact, Phil suggested Albie as the character's name. And it stuck. 

So when he published his first book, Being Billy, I had to read it.  It had rave reviews and won the 2012 WeRead Book Award.  It was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and was shortlisted for both the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and Branford Boase Award. 

Saving Daisy, Phil's second book has been shortlisted for both the Leeds and Hounslow Book Awards.

So what's all the fuss about? 
Both Being Billy and Saving Daisy are gritty, no-nonsense stories of children's lives in care, inspired by Phil's own experience working in care homes in his early career.
Heroic is a little different.  It's the story of Sonny and Jammy, streetwise brothers living on the rough and unforgiving Ghost estate.  Driven by poverty and a desire to make a difference, older brother Jammy and his friend Tommo sign up with the military and are soon posted to fight in Afghanistan. But the promise of glory is overtaken by the true horrors of war as Jammy fights for his life and that of his friend Tommo.  Meanwhile Sonny is fighting his own battles at home, as he struggles with his own identity and his older brother's glowing reputation.  When Jammy returns home on leave, Sonny is forced to take charge, and become the brother, friend and son he always longed to be. 
Interview with Phil Earle
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Phil Earle says that while he has no personal experience of basic training or active service, he did lots of research and hopes that his accounts of his characters' experiences with the Taliban ring true.  Phil says, "I've never been interested in sugaring the pill, or telling a half-truth... It's a sad reality that [the Taliban] have tortured their own people for perceived "acts of disloyalty" towards British or American soldiers. It is common for them to set improvised explosive devices indiscriminately, and for these to have wide-reaching casualties. I didn't feel I could ignore this, and didn't want to. Young adult readers deserve the truth and demand it too!"
I feel that Phil has approached the issue with sensitivity and understanding, conveying something of the horrors of war without being overly graphic or sensationalist.  His focus is on how war is glamourised, and how vulnerable people - people with few other choices - can end up on the front line. 
Battles closer to home
But this story doesn't only deal with war per se.  It also looks at life on a rough inner city estate and the pressures on the young people living there.  Pressure to commit crimes, pressure to take drugs , pressure to create a reputation in order to survive in a world run by violent gangs.  All this while trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Heroic is a brilliant, honest and sensitive tale, pitched perfectly for children aged 12 and above and I heartily applaud Phil Earl for what he has achieved. 
Other brilliant books by Phil Earle

Heroic is published by Penguin.  The book contains some strong language and reference to drugs and violence.  Suitable for 12 years plus.

You might also like: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman