Book Review: The Book of Pearl, by Timothee De Fombelle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_book_of_pearlThe Book of Pearl is an enchanting tale, strange and beautiful, with echoes of Cornelia Funke. Delightfully written, it is the interwoven stories of four people, connected by various threads, both direct and indirect.

It is the story of a boy from a world we have ceased to believe in. Snatched away from his haunted, spectral life, he is deposited into our world, France, sometime in the 1930s. Here, he makes a new life for himself, joining the Pearls in their quaint marshmallow shop. But war changes everyone, and it transforms the boy into Joshua Pearl, opening his eyes to our harsh reality. Joshua clings to the memories of his past, and as those begin to fade, he sets upon a quest to collect strange objects, fragments from tales that had already been told. Fragments that he hopes, one day, will see him home.

Entwined with Joshua’s tale is that of Oliå, once a fairy, now just an ordinary, albeit beautiful, girl. Love led her through into our world, but along with it came a curse. If he ever sees her, she will cease to exist. And so she must remain in the shadows, a ghost, observer and sometime saviour, never able to touch, or even see the recognition or love in his eyes. Never aging, never changing, and never able to truly settle.

Lovingly interspersed amongst these tales is the true fairy tale that begun it all: A boy, all but alone in his island sanctuary, who falls in love with a fairy. The prince, a cruel ruler with a cold heart and a desire for revenge on the sister deemed responsible for the death of their mother; a hunter who will never cease the hunt until his quarry is found.

And, shrouding them all, the final narrative, that of the unnamed author, whose chance encounter, as a teenager, with a beautiful girl, followed by rescue from a mysterious man, will have echoes on, into his future.

The Book of Pearl is a book of many layers, like those that form around the pearl’s core. It is rich in language, exquisite in imagery, and truly a modern fairy-tale. It is a book to savour, like an artisanal marshmallow, or a pearl.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Book of Pearl
by Timothee De Fombelle
Published by Walker Books Ltd
ISBN 9781406364620

Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless, with Jo Randerson

corneliaBefore I delve into another session, I just want to say how lucky I feel to know so many children’s authors and brilliant people involved in working on behalf of children. These people are my people. They care deeply about children, and they work tirelessly – writing, teaching or providing gateways to books for children. They deserve a standing ovation for what they do, and it was a real privilege to be in the audience to see Cornelia Funke speaking about her life as a writer.

Funke started out as a social worker for disadvantaged children, as a way of rebelling from her parents (who wanted her to study art) to do something that she saw as much more necessary than art. She realised you can’t betray your talent, when she noticed herself drawing a lot with these children who she was helping. Ultimately, she became an illustrator, then started writing her own books when she didn’t like those the publishers supplied. Her books are now so popular she is able to fund organisations for the socially disadvantaged.

“Your mistakes will teach you – don’t ever let people tell you to take the straight road. Take the crooked road.”

Funke firmly believes that there is a story for everybody. She loves to find stories that she can write both for book-eaters like herself, as well as for those who “hate to read.” She was told a story by a teacher about a boy who stole his copy of Ghosthunters, then hid behind a bush at lunchtime to keep reading it. She says, “It is much more difficult to condense a book.” You need to do this to engage reluctant readers.

ghosthuntersChair Jo Randerson started a conversation about the inner child by quoting Maurice Sendak: “The child that I was didn’t grow into the adult that I am, but the child is still alive.”

“Until they are 10-11 , a child is still a shape-shifter,” says Cornelia. “I like to say I write for children, but I let grown-ups read it as well.” We are too restricted as adults. Children still ask the big questions. The older we get, the more we hide from these questions. She herself never has trouble with keeping her inner child. Her kids say she has the mental age of five.

Funke has an incredible awareness of children’s psyche when contemplating darkness – many are fascinated by skeletons, for instance. “It’s much scarier for the child when they notice the lie. It is when you hide things that children get scared by what you are not saying.” You have to be sensitive of when your child is ready for their awareness of the world – don’t put them in front of a war report at 5 years old. A book is a way to introduce things gently – children close the book when it gets too bad. “A book is a place where we can practice the dark side of life.”

Funke receives very touching letters from soldiers, dying children. She says “As writers and artists, we create shelter, because we all need it – but from this shelter, you need to hear the storm. You should always know that it is there. Every person has to face the storm at some point. Cruelty, darkness, grief, is all part of the human experience.”

pans labyrinthFunke’s favourite movie is Pan’s Labyrinth, because it explains fascism so brilliantly. “Fantasy is just a mirror – it is a very powerful way of talking about our world.” Her favourite fantasy book is The Once and Future King, by T. H. White. She added later, “If you can’t create your own fantasy, it makes it very difficult to change your reality.”

Funke is now writing the book of Pan’s Labyrinth. She is unpacking this compressed format into a bigger format – and this is the first time she has done this in English. She will need to translate it herself into German afterwards. She is keeping all of the dialogue because it is so brilliant, and simply adding the monologue.

Funke has had nine books made into movies: “You give them a flying carpet, and they hand you back an envelope.” She wanted more from this experience, so she went to Mirada, and asked them to help her allow kids to go to Mirrorworld. What they came out with was something called ‘a breathing book.’ She has also now created a breathing book out of Dragon Rider, and fell so much in love with the process that she wrote a whole novel during the process. “I am simply changing up the form – it is a new type of collaboration, with a new dialogue. I see it as a type of travel guide into a new world.”

While Funke loves technology, she is concerned that children no longer get to experience nature. Children need nature to be familiar to them. But Funke sees the development of technology as the only way to save the planet. The technologies scientists are still discovering are teaching us more about the world, which gives her hope.

The way Funke spoke about Inkworld being the same place as Mirrorworld, but 500 years earlier, made me think of Elizabeth Knox and her imaginary games and how they influence her diverse writing. Here is my review about Knox’s session last Writer’s Week.


There was a great amount of time for questions with this session, one that begun the questions was about how countries she has featured in books have coped with the tourism brought by these. Funke says that Venice, Salzburg Cathedral have both embraced it – but these are just small places. She is not sure how the whole country of New Zealand should live up to Middle Earth, but she hopes that in the future, our tourism industry will start paying attention to our unique taonga (my word), and displaying this on the walls in the airport instead of making us Disneyland.

Funke was asked how she has written through sadness in her life. She said: “We all lose so many things in our life. Sadness doesn’t contradict creativity, in fact it helps it. We all have to learn to embrace these times – I never feel unfocused when I am in pain or upset. We never learn better or faster. I am only vibrant and happy because I have been through darkness. The only thing is if you start hiding from the pain, that’s when it becomes very dangerous.” It makes it much harder when it finds you. She says “the most dangerous thing is comfort and security.”

This session made everybody in the audience think, about fantasy and its connection with reality, and about how darkness leads to lightness.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster

Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless, with Jo Randerson
2pm, The Embassy, 13 March 2016

Cool quotes I couldn’t fit into my review:
“Neil Gaiman is as exciting as you think he is. I think he’s not human, by the way. I think he is an elf.”

Her advice for those who have never written before: “Start with a one-page short story and make it better.”

And good news for Inkworld fans: Funke is writing a book called The Colour of Revenge, which is a sequel to the ‘Ink’ series. There was an audible gasp at this.

The Kids are All Right: Cornelia Funke, Sally Gardner, Ted Dawe, Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager was the best chair I have seen in action this Writer’s Week. She introduced Cornelia Funke, Ted Dawe, Sally Gardner as award-winning writers that “write the sort of books that you put down and think about for hours afterwards.” I could not agree more.

The first pitched question was about the very concept of writing for children and YA. Each of the authors came from uniquely intelligent perspectives, they all allowed each other to hold opinions and were respectful of these.

Funke doesn’t agree with the concept of YA – she loves to write for children, the stories will be heard where they may. Ted Dawe has been put into a YA box because of the type of novels he writes, and he is at peace with this. Meanwhile, Sally Gardner said it best: “The Y is Why? And the A is the attempted answer. Many adult novels only answer. And I’d rather read books with the Y? Wouldn’t you?”

As this panel included Ted Dawe, there was a discussion about the banning of Into the River. Though I am familiar with the stoush, I was interested in Ted’s perspective:

“There were two interesting things that came out: One was the role of librarians as guardian angels, the second was how staunchly the judging panel believed in their decision. They were told by the sponsor, to go back and rethink their decision. They said ‘this was the book that deserved the prize.’” But it was Auckland libraries that led the call for review, which despite seeing the book banned temporarily, was ultimately successful in getting the restriction removed.

The other writers hadn’t had their books banned, but they agreed that publishers have a tendency to require a certain amount of censorship. Gardner had to place Maggot Moon with a different publisher because her usual one told her to bury it. It has a teacher brutality scene that ends in the death of a student, and a boys-kissing scene. She did allow the kissing to be removed for the United Arab Emirates, reluctantly. Maggot Moon won both the Carnegie Medal and the Costa. But Gardner’s favourite prize was the French prize for imagination.

Funke moved the conversation on to publishers and how things can change once you are a bestselling author. “If you are a best-selling author, you are put in the box marked ‘money.’” While a reader may draw the conclusion that that would lead to more freedom, but actually at that point you are assumed to only write things that sell, in trends. Sally Gardner agreed, calling it the “Versace effect”. The minute you write to a trend though, she says, you stop following your heart. Publishers also, added Funke, seem to dream that you are always writing for a movie deal. “They try to put books in tidy boxes.”

The discussion turned then to morality in books, with Ted Dawe asserting “I didn’t realise it to start with, but I am a social awareness writer.” He sees Into the River as being about the consequences of bad decision-making, not morality per se. Gardner finds it horrendous that parents will jump on books that have the F-word in them, yet not realise what their TV being on is doing to their children. She said of novelists, “We are the guardians.” Funke pointed out that perhaps the reason that people have picked up the theme of bullying because they are themselves guilty of this behaviour – not something Dawe had considered.

The discussion turned on to the power of books, with Mandy saying “The fantastic thing about the book ban was that nobody argued that books weren’t these powerful things.” Gardner added, “The power of words is just fantastic. The power words have to get you to dream and define your situation.” Dawe added that this was why he started writing for boys and why he became an evangelist for boys reading novels, “Otherwise they are trapped like birds in a cage.”

I will be honest, I was blown away by the things these authors were saying, the power behind their words. I have always read fantasy, as escapism – not guiltily, but with an awareness that perhaps it wasn’t the best way to enrich my mind. Funke gave me the perfect reason, as did Hager: “Sometimes you see better through the other side of the mirror.”

Hager moved on to concerns about children today. The biggest concern for Gardner is social media bullying. “I am alarmed that young children are allowed these tools. The potential for torture is too real.” She says, “We live life looking into a machine. What happens when they go blank? What happens when all the pictures are gone?”

Funke doesn’t dislike social media, as it has connected her with fans in Japan, in Norway, in Argentina – and all of these fans start talking together. Note to readers of Funke – if you send her a tweet, she will respond to it. She only has book people following her, so she sees it as a “community of nerds.” Her biggest concern isn’t that children don’t read – she worries that they don’t live. Schoool eats up their whole lives. She would finish school at 1pm, and send the kids to work on the environment – a real concern. But, Funke says, “Society can’t get much worse, I’m optimistic about the future.”

I will relate one more story from this session, because I teared up. Cornelia Funke has a lot of fanmail – she has had some from abused children, from soldiers, from those that were dying. They say to her “You gave me shelter with your words.” Now this is true power. She added, “We can change things, even if we just give comfort. Sometimes we don’t have to do more.”

I will give the final word to Cornelia Funke: “How did I get to have this job? It’s fantastic!”

You will have a chance to see the tremendous Cornelia Funke at The Embassy for Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless tomorrow at 2pm. Sally Gardner is also at the Embassy at 11am for Sally Gardner: Maggot Moon.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Kids are All Right
The Embassy, 2pm, Saturday 12 March
NZ Festival Writers Week

Maggot Moon, by Sally Gardner
Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471400445

Book review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

This book is in bookstores now.

If there is a child in your life aged between six and 10, you need to get them this beautifully published version of the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Penguin has done a great job with this edition – a cloth cover with heavy gold and silver detailing, beautiful silver end papers, and a mix of original black and white illustrations and a small number of modern day colour plates by wonderful children’s illustrators such as Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs and Helen Oxenbury.

This is the sort of book I think of as an heirloom, something to keep for the next generation and beyond.

The stories are in the original form (first published in 1823), so the language is slightly dated, but still very readable. The content is as good as ever, and it’s refreshing to reread the stories without the influence of Disney – The Lady and the Lion (aka Beauty and the Beast) is almost unrecognisable.

There is no sugary-sweetness in these stories, and not a lot of happily-ever-afters. The morals are still as relevant today as they would have been at the time the Brothers Grimm collected from their native Germany: work hard, don’t be greedy, be kind and generous, cleverness will usually be rewarded, listen to good advice, keep your promises.

Buy this for someone who loves being read aloud to, but doesn’t mind if there’s not a picture on every page, or who is a confident reader and likes reading to themselves. The stories are a perfect length for bedtime reading, and will be wonderfully familiar to many adult readers.

This is a book to keep and treasure for a long time. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore, a primary school teacher who loves sharing books with her students and revisiting the classics.

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm
Iintroduced by Cornelia Funke
Published by Puffin Books
ISBN 9780141343075