Tag Archives: katherine rundell

Five Favourite: books for young adults

My Five Favourite series is focused around the three categories in which I now have books published. The last post was my Five Favourite Creepy Stories, and the next and final one will be Poems. That means this time it’s my Five Favorite books aimed at the audience of my own series, The Secret of the Tirthas. These are mainly pre- and early teens, but with crossover appeal to older readers. They’re books that I think can be enjoyed by the whole family – or at least all of them over nine-years-old!

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

OK, so there’s no surprises with the start. Harry Potter is hardwired into our lives now for a very good reason – it’s brilliant. I’ve chosen Goblet of Fire as my favourite although it’s marginal over the first and all the later ones.

Why do I like this one in particular? I like the fact it’s where it starts to get properly dark, with the fate of Cedric and the proper return of Voldemort. I like the first battle between Harry and Voldemort. (I also like the fact the Quidditch World Cup in the film is set on the Sussex Downs, near where I was born.)

Whilst including Harry Potter is a no-brainer, I will admit something here. When I first tried to read the Philosopher’s Stone I was turned off by one phrase on the first page and put it down… for years. It was only thanks to my wife, a big fan, that I picked it up again, pushed past that section – and then devoured the whole lot in a few weeks one summer.

2. Northern Lights

Five Favourite YA books: Northern Lights

So I’m getting the obvious out of the way first. Philip Pullman has been a major inspiration in my writing. I like Northern Lights best out of all the books in His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust. I love the settings, the cold north and Oxford spires, the armoured bears, the nuanced appearance of Mrs Coulter – and of course the sharp mind and character of Lyra.

3. Chicken Dance

Five Favourite YA books: Chicken Dance

Now for something completely different. I read this book on my own years ago, and then read it again recently to my two boys. They loved it too.

Chicken Dance is the story of a boy who lives on a chicken farm and gains fame in his hometown by entering them into competitions. Don Schmidt has his own special take on the world, quirky, cautious and observant. Despite poor treatment by his family, he remains the true grown-up – even when events take a strange turn, and he begins to investigate the mystery of his sister who supposedly died when he was born…

Check out my Goodreads review here.

4. Cigars of the Pharaoh

Five Favourite YA books: Tintin

I remember my excitement at seeing a Tintin book, King Ottakar’s Sceptre, in a shop in Eastbourne when I was nine. I was staying on a long summer holiday with my grandma. I asked her if I could buy it with my book token but she was hesitant as it was a comic (or graphic novel, as we’d say now…) She eventually agreed and so began my passion for Tintin.

It was hard to select my favourite. It came down to a fight between this one, Cigars of the Pharaoh, and the superb Tintin in Tibet. I chose Cigars of the Pharoah because it was a breakneck adventure and it made me laugh – a lot, especially the eccentric archaeologist, Dr Sophocles Sarcophogus. You can read about how Tintin inspired The Secret of the Tirthas here.

5. The Girl Savage

I love Katherine Rundell and find it hard to select my favourite from excellent books such as Rooftoppers, The Explorer and The Wolf Wilder. But ultimately I think The Girl Savage pips it, particularly for the sheer exuberance of the opening section where tomboy Will runs through the South African countryside, living a wild and free existence. She is loved by her father, and adores every bit of her life. But it’s all about to be shattered by the arrival of a terrible stepmother. Like all of Rundell’s books, The Girl Savage drips with poetry whilst retaining a strong sense of plot and direction.

And now for the ones that got away…

Moominvalley in November. Not really young adult, but I didn’t feel I could leave the Moomins out. I read them when I was eight, but think they appeal up to ages twelve or older. They have a beautiful combination of friendship, strangeness and adventure – surrounded by a wondrous delight in northern landscape and nature.

The Three Investigators – The Mystery of the Screaming Clock. I loved loved loved this series as a kid. They’re now out of print but you can still get them second-hand online – and I keep finding them rummaging around in old book stores. Good news, as my boys love them too!

Skellig – David Almond has a masterful touch for fantasy that subtly encroaches the edges of reality – and of the ability of kids to accept and engage with it. This story of a boy finding a damaged angel in his garage is truly magical.

Earthsea – a wonderful fantasy series from the late Ursula le Guin. The moment in the first book when the young mage Ged accidentally summons a shadow creature is every bit as dramatic as the ‘You shall not pass’ Gandalf-on-the-bridge moment in The Lord of the Rings.

Five Favourite YA books: Earthsea

A Library of Lemons – a fantastic book about the relationship between a boy and his father, struggling to cope with the loss of their mother / wife.

And finally, I couldn’t finish without superlative praise for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I read them all in my early teens but think of them as adult fantasy, which is the only reason they’re not in this top five.

Five Favourite books: The Lord of the Rings

If you’re inspired to read more young adult novels, why not check out my own adventure mystery series, beginning with The City of Light. What would you do if you inherited a garden with a portal to India – and found a killer was using it?

My Top Ten Books for Children and Young Adults in 2018

So, I’ve already told you my best reads for adults in 2018 here. Now it’s time for my Top Ten books for Children and Young Adults that I’ve read this year.

La Belle Sauvage: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

A quick note. I have two boys aged 7 and 9 and this collection includes several I’ve read to them at bedtime. When we finish I discuss the story with them and ask them to rate it out of 5. I then give my own rating and we average it for Goodreads.

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), Philip Pullman

How great was it for those of us who followed Lyra Belacqua through His Dark Materials to hear Philip Pullman had written another book about her? But the twist is… it’s a prequel and this time she’s a baby being cared for by nuns! Lyra lives in a Priory opposite an Oxfordshire riverside pub run by our hero Malcolm’s parents.

La Belle Sauvage is an interesting read. The first half – nearly 300 pages – follows the steady life of Malcolm. He learns handicraft, serves at the pub, and gradually comes within a circle of revolutionaries who dare to criticize the Authority. In the context of today’s high-octane novels it’s quite an innovation, a return to old-fashioned slow-build storytelling with a low level of peril. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how quickly I read it. The second half – when Malcolm and a local girl have to save baby Lyra following a massive flood – is more action-packed and exciting. 4 stars

Tigerfish: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

Photo courtesy of Linda Lou Oliphant

Tigerfish, Hoang Chi Truong

I was fascinated by Hoang Chi Truong’s memoir of her family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam, and how they sought refuge in the United States. A very powerful story, with a message more relevant than ever in today’s world. You can read my full review here. I will be interviewing the author soon – watch this space. 5 stars

The Mystery of the Silver Spider, Robert Arthur

I loved The Three Investigators adventure mystery series as a boy. They’re now out of print, so it was a huge pleasure to stumble across this title in a second hand bookshop. In this episode, Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews find themselves working as spies on behalf of the CIA, trying to maintain the integrity of fictional Eastern European country, Varania. I read it to the boys at bedtime and they adored it. We’re now on to our second book in the series, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot. 5 stars

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Another one that I read to the boys at bedtime. As it had been with me as a child, it was very popular with them. The seven-year-old did however have a delayed-action burst of tears in the scene with Aslan on the Stone Table. It’s a fairly gruesome and sustained horror scene, as far as middle grade fiction goes – be warned when reading to younger listeners! 5 stars

Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

Another classic read to the boys, one of the few Roald Dahl books I have never read. We all enjoyed this saga of a boy and his poacher father. The ending is particularly poignant. 5 stars

Peacock Pie, Walter de la Mare

“Peacock Pie is surely one of the greatest children’s books of the century.” said The Times. I’ve had this secondhand book of Walter de la Mare’s poems for a while and had occasionally picked out a poem or two to read to the boys. But this year I read them a lot more and realised how brilliant this collection is. The majority of the poems are great fun, carried along by a crisp rhythm and rhyme. But many also have a subtle mystery. They appear as simple vignettes of people’s lives, but the more you read them, the more they resonate with darker, more adult themes. 5 stars

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers, Dav Pilkey

My youngest son adores Captain Underpants. Pick any book and you will see why – this is rocket-fueled, imaginative storytelling for kids, full of ebullience, good will and humour! 4 stars

The Explorer: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

The Explorer, Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell is one of my favourite children’s writers. I’ve loved all her books I’ve read – Rooftoppers, The Girl Savage, and The Wolf Wilder. The Explorer is the story of a group of children trying to survive in the Amazon after a plane crash, who come across a long-lost explorer in a ruined city. Whilst I found this story more conventional than her others, it still includes her trademark blend of excitement, suspense, poetry and mystery – exactly what I strive for in my own writing. You can read my review of Katherine Rundell’s other books here. 4 stars

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Lynley Dodd

A re-read, because my children love this book so much. It’s a great story, with a colourful cast of dogs ranging from Hercules Morse (‘as big as a horse’) to Muffin McClay (‘a bundle of hay’) and the eponymous Hairy Maclary, from Donaldson’s Dairy. The gang go for a doggy strut downtown – only to be sent packing by Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town. 5 stars

Finn Family Moomintroll

Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson

The Finnish writer Tove Jansson features in my A-Z of inspirational authors on Instagram, #stevegreads. The magical Moomins series was the first set of long books I remember reading as a child. This year, I read Finn Family Moomintroll to the boys. They weren’t quite as enamoured with this tale of the magical and tricksy Hobgoblin Hat as I was, but they still enjoyed it. It reminded me why I’d loved these books so much. The author’s gentle, wistful storylines; her delightful, eccentric characters; and above all, her deep empathy and reverence for nature. 5 stars

So that’s my top ten books for children and young adults in 2018. What did you read this year that inspired you?

If you’d like to find more books I’d recommend for children and young adults, check out my post for 2017 here.

Author Review – Katherine Rundell

Jpeg

Jpeg

I recently finished The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, one of my favourite children’s authors. Like Rooftoppers and The Girl Savage, this book is highly original and poetic, with a very driven heroine. Feo helps her mum re-wild the no-longer-wanted wolves tamed as status symbols by the elite of Tsarist Russia. The story takes a treacherous turn when a wolf kills a farm animal. Wicked General Rakov tells Feo and her mum that all the wolves need to be killed – something they are determined not to let happen.

Relationships between girls and their mothers are key to the set up in all three novels. In Rooftoppers, Sophie is hunting through Paris in the belief that her mother, declared dead after their ship sank when Sophie was a baby, is still alive. In The Wolf Wilder, Feo is similarly on a quest to St Petersburg to free her mother, imprisoned by the loathsome Rakov. The Girl Savage is different in that Will is not seeking her mother, but rather rebounding from the cruel actions of a controlling stepmother, who has sent her away from her carefree life in Zimbabwe to boarding school in a wet and miserable England, where she is bullied by other girls.

All three books laud the spaces outside of civilisation as bastions of freedom and joy, the snowy forests of Russia, the wide open spaces of Zimbabwe, and even the rooftops of Paris. Society, represented by the aristocrats of St Petersburg who treat wild animals as playthings or the oppressive routines of English boarding schools, is seen as crushing to the spirit and innocence of childhood. In The Girl Savage I’m not sure I really buy the message of compromise of the kindly grandmother of Will’s new friend Daniel. It seems a step too far in contrast to the majestic description of Will’s early life in Zimbabwe. It feels rather that British society has failed to make happiness an option for children.

What makes all three novels stand out is not only the characters and fabulous settings, but the awe and beauty in the language. ‘Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.’ Like Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials, Rundell runs the rooftops of Oxford colleges in her spare time. No wonder she’s a favourite of Philip Pullman.

Buy these books: