Book Review: Flights of Fancy – Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates, introduced by Michael Morpurgo

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_flights_of_fancyFlights of fancy gathers the first ten British Children’s Laureates together to celebrate their contribution to children’s literature. It shares their wisdom, inspires a new generation of storytellers and is full of imaginative delight.

The Children’s Laureates are all household names and this book is a fascinating insight into their creative process. It contains lots of practical information such as Jacqueline Wilson’s advice for plot development, and Malorie Blackman’s prompts to deepen creative language.

I guarantee that teachers and parents will learn something new in the process too. We loved reading about Quentin Blake’s different writing quills! More importantly, it is full of whimsy and possibilities. There are many ideas for budding authors and illustrators to get started on their own story telling adventures.

Each contributor shares an original example of their work alongside their wisdom and creative prompts. There is something for everyone – doodles, illustrations, writing samples, poetry and even a play to act out. The structure of the book is designed to be ‘dipped into’ when in need of inspiration.

This book is a wonderful compilation of our favourite children’s writers and illustrators and it will be a great boredom-buster for older children who will be inspired to tell their own stories in their own way.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Flights of fancy: Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates
Introduction by Michael Morpurgo
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387858

Book Review: Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

This book is in bookstores now.

Beloved children’s author Michael Morpurgo is enjoying something of a renaissance with the world-wide success of the War Horse film and stage play. Now, his novel Private Peaceful, originally published in 2003, is about to be released on film, hence the republication of this thoughtful, tragic take on wartime Britain.

This is the deeply personal story of Tommo Peaceful, a gentle lad growing up in Devon just as the First World War takes its grip on Europe. He tells his story from a strained perspective as he struggles to stay awake, ‘I want to try to remember everything, just as it was, just as it happened’. With each chapter marking the passing of time from ‘Five Past Ten’ until ‘One Minute to Six’, the unsettling tick-tocking structure forms the spine of an even more anxiety-inducing social backdrop and plot.

The first-person narration is convincing, drawing us immediately into Tommo’s journey from the rural English countryside to underage soldier in the French battlefields. As he puts it, ‘Charlie and I went rattling off to war. It all seems a very long time ago now, a lifetime.’ At points the tone becomes a little schmaltzy and we crave a different character’s viewpoint, but this sentimentality is tempered by the horrifying descriptions of war, ‘Through a yellow mist I see the trench filling up with [gas]. It drifts into the dugouts, snaking into every nook and cranny, looking for me.’

Morpurgo uses his story to tackle huge social issues around war and conflict, and the treatment of soldiers, which undoubtedly make it appealing to anyone interested in engaging with it from a socio-historical angle. Equally enjoyable though are the more domestic questions posed about how to deal with love and complex family relationships. With such a narrow narrative perspective, readers will be conscious of not receiving all the answers and having to interpret situations for themselves. This is no bad thing however, and might well keep readers pondering long after the book is finished.

Parts of the novels are highly cinematic, so it’s easy to understand how this story would be considered for screen adaptation. One particularly tender passage recalls ‘the day of the yellow aeroplane’ in which the children spot their first plane, which turns out to be flown by a lost pilot. After he soars off, ‘we lay there in the long grass watching a single skylark rising above us, and sucking on our humbugs.’ A profound, tale; hankies required.

Reviewed by Caitlin Sinclair
Private Peaceful
By Michael Morpurgo
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780007486441

Book review: A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

This book is in bookshops now

I was looking forward to reading award-winning author Michael Morpurgo’s A Medal for Leroy because, although I haven’t read any of his other books I have heard of a number of them, and am a big fan of the theatre play War Horse, based on Morpurgo’s novel of the same name. However, I have to hope that A Medal for Leroy is a departure from his usual form as I did not find it to be inspiring or engaging, and it left me with a distinct feeling of ‘so what?’

I realise that I am not the target demographic for this children’s book, but this, I felt, was one of the problems with the book – it was very unclear at which age group it was aimed. The narrator, Michael, is telling the story of events in his life when he was first 8, and then 13, but is retelling these events as an old man. The ‘voice’ of Michael feels very much like an older person telling a boy’s story, and I’m not sure it would capture or really ‘speak to’ its young audience. The book opens and closes with present-day Michael, but the promise of the suspenseful opening pages, which leave us initially wondering what is happening and why, is never really fulfilled.

The story suffers from over complexity. Ostensibly about Michael at three different ages, the bulk of the story actually concerns the lives of his father and grandfather who died in the second and first World Wars respectively. A significant chunk of the story is told via a letter from Michael’s ‘Aunt Snowflake’, who turns out to be his grandmother. The ‘twist’ whereby all the dogs are named Jasper just served to add to the confusion. I found myself constantly having to flick backwards and forwards to remember whether we were in Leroy’s story, Roy’s story, or Michael’s. And all this in 200-odd pages of fairly large type!

The themes were also quite adult for a children’s story. Dialogue about intercultural relationships, single parenthood and racism all run through the story, and because of the historical context of the book it did not feel like these issues would be easily comprehensible to a child reader. The pace was quite slow and all the “action” happened at a distance, either being relayed by letter, or through someone telling a story about something that happened years ago. This really distanced me from the core of the story, and it didn’t feel like any of the action was really big or important or relevant to Michael either.

Having said all that, I particularly like the characters of Aunty Pish and Aunty Snowflake, and I could tell that this particular story was one the author was passionate about telling.

Perhaps making it a longer story for older readers, told in context rather at a remove, would have made it a more engaging read. I will persevere and read other of Morpurgo’s work and would recommend those new to his work to start with some of his award-winning works before considering this one.

Reviewed by Renée Boyer-Willisson

A Medal for Leroy
by Michael Morpurgo
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007363582