Book Review: The Book that Made Me, edited by Judith Ridge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_book_that_made_meThis is an ideal book to leave around any home containing a book-lover, for idle moments while eating breakfast, while the kids are peacefully bickering about what to watch on the tablet, or falling asleep, or…

In this book, 32 authors tell their stories, in whatever form they see fit, about their love of reading and how their chosen book/s have made them who they are. When I began the introduction and realised it could have been written by me – I don’t remember when I couldn’t read, and I was well and truly into chapter books by age 6, this was a shoo-in for my reviewing pile!

My highlights were NZ writers’ Rachael Craw and Mandy Hager’s stories, not only because of their parallels with my own experiences – As a child I actually spent more years in Australia than in New Zealand – but because they each chose one book (a series in the case of Craw) and concentrated on its effect. Trixie Belden was a friend on sodden West Coast summer days for me as well as for Craw, and I remember the Sweet Valley books well, though Sweet Valley High was a bit racy for me!  And Hager’s pick, 1984, came along when I needed it, late in my high school years, changing my view of the world.

Shaun Tan’s illustrations throughout the book were ideal brief breaks between individual works, showing all creatures great and small reading, as acts of challenge, expansion, and everything in between.

Most of the authors meditate at some point on the link between reading and writing, but Simon French I think says it best. “As an adult writer, I came to understand how much the unfolding skills as an author had been indelibly fashioned by encountering so much in the way of quality reading; that reading and writing are so eloquently knotted together and dependent on one another.”

This book has seen me add  20 more books that I’d never even heard of to my reading list. It expanded  my understanding of the works of those authors I had read, and my awareness of those I might be interested in reading. And in a nice double-up effect, it made me aware of more brilliant books that are waiting out there for me to be transformed by.

I recommend this book to every bookseller, and book-lovers everywhere. It would make a particularly brilliant gift for a teenage reader. And a range of the books suggested, and those by the authors that suggested them would make a wonderful window for NZ Bookshop Day!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Book that Made Me
edited by Judith Ridge
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922244888

Book Review: The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

cv_the_singing_bonesAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

These are Grimm’s fairy tales as they ought to be portrayed. The mix of the Grimm Tales and Shaun Tan’s genius was always going to be fruitful, and as a bit of a fan of both these tales and Tan, there was no chance I wasn’t going to love this book.

Every time my husband sees this book lying around he groans and says, “That would have been a brilliant Christmas book for you. Why did you have to go and get a review copy?” So I could tell the world, of course!

The Grimm Brothers’ biography is a fairy tale in itself: the eldest brothers in a family of six, despite their father’s early death, they were lucky enough to have wealthy relations send them to an elite school in Kassel, where they studied law and philology. They believed in the power of folktales to tell the essential truths of life in central and northern Europe. Fittingly, Shaun Tan’s sculptures were inspired both by the tales themselves, and by Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines – used in a similar way in their own culture. This is a very concentrated way of expressing the tales.

Each sculpture is shown beside short excerpts – between one and three paragraphs – that tell the essence of the fairy tale that has inspired the creation. Those who are familiar with Tan’s illustration will see similarities in his approach to characterisation, particularly of the impish characters. The sculptures give such a unique view of the stories, they force you to reconsider the stories’ meaning.

I received the 2011 Taschen edition of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm for my birthday last year. This edition used the fairy tales to display the development of illustration in children’s books, from the very earliest to more modern interpretations. This is a valuable background book, if only to show the variety of ways this work has been interpreted. Tan’s translation is just as beautiful, if less ornate than those shown in the Taschen collection.
There are several sculptures that stopped me in my tracks, the first being Tan’s depiction of ‘Cinderella’ – a golden face staring out from the hearth of a clay oven, with a blackened chimney-top. (pictured left, ©Shaun Tan ‘In the evening, when she was exhausted from working, they took away her bed, and she had to lie next to the hearth in the ashes.’ Another was ‘The Two Travellers’, one with a simple line on his forehead, another with the same line lower in his face, as a smile. And ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ is a gloriously devilish imp.

There are fuller summaries of the fairy tales at the back for those who aren’t familiar with some, and I found that useful at that stage, but don’t be tempted to go there earlier. The excerpts are generally well-enough chosen to make the meaning of the art clear. If the publication is missing one thing, it is a ribbon, to keep your place.

Give this to your fairy tale (or Shaun Tan) lover this summer: be they young or old, they are certain to respond to these retellings of the classic Grimm’s fairy tales.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Singing Bones
by Shaun Tan, foreword by Philip Pullman
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s
ISBN 9781760111038

Words of the day: Tuesday, 8 October 2013

words_of_the_day_graphicThis is a digest of our Twitter feed (now with a new title) that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
You can find all Readings Books’ reviews of October new releases right here

Author interviews
‘Don’t be afraid to write a bad book’: an interview with David Levithan, author of Every Day and Two Boys Kissing 

Bestselling author @john_boyne talks about his latest book, Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

Immensely excited about the new Shaun Tan book, Rules of Summer

Read an extract from Jung Chang’s controversial new book Empress Dowager Cixi:   @TelegraphBooks

Abbie Napier shares the stories of three Canterbury dogs, as told in Quake Dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock

Book News
Bloomsbury Has Introduced an eBook Imprint Called Bloomsbury Spark 

‘…and from Richard Ellmann I learned the art of a good footnote.’ Bridget Williams profiled in the Otago Magazine

In the digital era, content trumps platform. An in-depth article about ebooks and their myriad forms.

Hot books to watch out for from the UK for the christmas market

From around the internet
Fleur Beale’s coming-of-age novel End of the Alphabet is being read on Radio NZ. Listen to the 6-part series

Which 100 Books List?, asks vicbooks

Rainy day readin, from Page & Blackmore Books

This, library endeavours people have undertaken, is worth a read. Camels, donkeys etc

What makes a good short story?

This is cool – the art of ‘Read every Day’ – Scholastic