Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 In Review (Well, *My* 2013, at least)

So, apparently this is a thing.

Every New Year, WordPress compiles a report of how your blog fared during the previous twelve months, and it allows you to make it public if you so desire. Last year, my blog was only barely toddling about on wobbly, dimpled little legs and so there was nothing interesting to read in its ‘annual’ (read: ‘three-month’) report; this year, however, things are a little cooler.

So, I’ve made it public, and you can find it below.

It may interest nobody but me, but no matter. Here it is. Happy New Year to anyone whose eyes have glanced – even if only by accident – upon the slightly unhinged pages of this blog, and my sincerest wish for you all is that 2014 turns out to be a wonderful year, in every imaginable way.

Happy New Year, and thank you for helping me make this blog so much fun.

Image: eatwatchrun.com

Image: eatwatchrun.com

“The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it…”

Click here to see the complete report.

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Palace of Laughter’

This week, I’m excited to share my thoughts on a little hidden gem of a book which I picked up, on a whim, ages ago. It’s languished on my shelves for at least a year, maybe longer, probably thinking I’d never get around to reading it, but I proved it wrong in recent weeks. I’m now sorry that I didn’t read it sooner, because it might have lifted my spirits – this year, you see, I have read a lot of books which sounded great, but which ended up being a disappointment.

This one was sort of the opposite. I wasn’t convinced it would be up to much, and it surprised me in a good way.

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

I was, I have to admit, captivated by the back cover blurb of this book. ‘Laughter,’ it tells us, ‘can be dangerous.’ Then, it goes on to talk about an orphan named Miles Wednesday, and the fact that a strange circus has come to his town, and I was hook, line and sinkered. I can’t resist books about circuses, and I have a soft spot for literary orphans, too. Jon Berkeley (incidentally, an Irishman) writes beautifully, with a great turn of phrase, wonderful dialogue, funny set-pieces, smatterings of Irish-language words (none of which impede understanding for non-Irish speakers, so don’t worry), and has created some fantastic characters in his sparky, courageous Miles and his noble, gentle Little.

We meet Miles early in the book, learning that he lives in a tub under a tree just outside the town of Larde. He was abandoned on the doorstep of the Pinchbucket Orphanage as a baby, and has run away because of the severe ill-treatment meted out on the children. Now, at the age of eleven, he lives alone and makes his own decisions – as he puts it himself. In the first chapter he is visited by a talking tiger who tells him he has ‘the circus in him,’ which baffles and mystifies him. As a result of this strange encounter, he resolves to get inside the unnerving Circus Oscuro, newly arrived in town, in order to find this tiger again and find out more about himself. What he discovers there, however, is far from the answers he sought. He meets a mysterious little girl – aptly named Little – who is able to fly, and a terrifying beast simply called The Null because nobody knows what it is.

Little tells him she is being held captive, and that her friend Silverpoint has also been kidnapped by the owners of the Circus. However, he has been taken far away, and Little doesn’t know how to get him back. So, their quest begins – and, even though it all takes place in one country, and probably not over a huge geographical spread, it takes in the whole world, and more.

One thing I will say about this book is that it’s long. In my opinion, it doesn’t need to be. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the writing, and the lushness of the word-pictures, and the humour of the characters, and the sparkling dialogue, but at over 400 pages it could have done with a fuller edit, I think. There are whole chapters which could have, if I’m being brutal, been removed without really affecting the story (I’m thinking particularly of a chapter wherein Miles meets an elderly man named Baltinglass of Araby, and almost gets roped into helping him clear his orchard), or which could have been shortened, at the very least. There’s also a particular sentence structure which is used to open every single chapter – and, sometimes, to start paragraphs within chapters – which is cute and appealing the first ten times you read it, but after that it begins to grate a little.

But that’s just me being nit-picky, really.

This book has it all. There’s an elderly lady who loves children, the widow of an eccentric inventor who died in a freak pudding explosion; there’s the aforementioned Baltinglass of Araby, another slightly odd elderly character who is great fun to read. There’s gang ‘warfare’ (in the form of an excitingly described game of ‘Pigball’, which again is a bit too long but is very interesting), and there’s a character who can talk to animals. There’s a journey. There are trains. There’s a wonderful meditation on the value of love and laughter and happiness, and there is mention of the interconnectedness of all life, the importance of everything having a true name and the power of a person’s true name. There’s a brave young boy and an even braver young girl; there is the power of love between a young boy and his treasured teddy, the only thing he has managed to keep by his side all his life, and through which he has channelled all the love he should have been able to give his absent parents. There is awesome power, and nefarious criminals, and a cleverly evil plot. There are bumbling policemen.

There are wonderful illustrations.

This isn't one used in the book, but it gives an idea of the quality. The illustrator is Brandon Dorman. Image: fusenumber8.blogspot.com

This isn’t one used in the book, but it gives an idea of the quality. The illustrator is Brandon Dorman.
Image: fusenumber8.blogspot.com

There’s a talking tiger. I mean, what more could you possibly want? There’s a lot going on, and a complex plot, but it’s never too much for a reader (even a silly adult) to understand. There are no coincidences, and everything is logical, and the world never breaks its own rules. That, to me, is really important.

Most importantly of all, there is a wonderful ending which wraps up this story almost completely – yet, I’ve discovered since I read it, this book is part one of a trilogy. I have no idea how Jon Berkeley’s work passed me by – this book was first published in 2007, in my paperback edition – but I will be seeking out the sequels to Miles Wednesday’s story, and I will read them with great joy.

One of the best books I’ve read this year, I think. Heartily recommended.

Par-Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum…

It’s not Christmas without a bit of Bing and Bowie:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a wish for peace, and a new year filled with hope.

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

It’s almost time to hang my ‘Gone Fishin” sign on the front of this blog and take a short hiatus for the festive season. I am officially ‘on holiday’ from today; I’ve retreated to my parents’ house, I’m on commis chef duty in the galley, and all those last-minute things that always manage to slip your mind until it’s (almost) too late are starting to pile up.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but it sure is busy.

And also, stuff like this tends to happen. Image: staceygustafson.com

And also, stuff like this tends to happen.
Image: staceygustafson.com

In some ways, running around trying to get everything done at this time of year is a huge hassle, but in another it’s the best thing imaginable. This year, I think it’s a blessing in disguise for me. My brain needs a break from routine, and I’m glad to be able to give it a chance to refocus.

Maybe you’ll recall me saying that I had a task I wanted to complete before I declared myself off duty for Christmas; that task was to finish the first draft of ‘Emmeline.’ Sadly, however, I did not manage to complete that goal. Over the past few weeks I’ve been hit by two bouts of illness, which knocked me slightly sideways, and even though I’ve been doing my best to work through them I seem to have run out of steam, just a little. I have over 69,000 words of the book written – of course, that’s not to say 68,999 of them won’t be scrapped when it comes to editing time – and I’m happy with my progress, but I’m not happy to have fallen short of my aim. I really wanted to have a conclusion to ‘Emmeline’ written, saved and put away by the time Christmas rolled around, ready to be eviscerated by my editing brain come January.

Now, instead, I have to get myself back into writing mode as soon as my holiday period ends – and already I feel like I’m behind on next year’s work before it even begins.

I like to hit my targets, and I don’t like to make promises to myself – or other people – which I do not manage to keep. So, even though it feels silly to say so, I can’t shake the thought that my not getting ‘Emmeline’ completely finished is breaking my word, albeit only to myself. Having said that, I can honestly say I did my best to get the book finished. As well as that, ‘Emmeline’ has been tying up my mind for weeks now – which is why, in some ways, I think having to take a break from it is a good thing. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but I hope in the longer run it’ll pay off.

I reserve the right to look like this in the meantime, though:

Image: aspirekc.com

Image: aspirekc.com

I’ll probably be too busy over the next few days to even think about my little heroine and her bunch of erstwhile friends, and the fact that I’ve left her hanging in a perilous situation, and the fact that I’ll be sending off a new round of queries to agents in the new year, and entering another competition, and trying to plan my next project (already in the pipeline); at least, I hope so. I think I’d like my head to be filled with baking dilemmas and seating arrangements for Christmas dinner and parcel-wrapping and all those other seasonal disasters that one expects at this time of year. Maybe then going back to ‘Emmeline’ will seem like a welcome change, and the book will be the stronger for it.

The past year has been a crazy one, for me. I started it in the throes of a book which will now never be read by anyone – neither human nor machine – and I finish it with (almost) three other books to my credit, and some encouraging feedback from a few very knowledgeable sources. I started it in a total panic – and I’m pretty much ending it the same way – but I do feel like I have a slightly better handle on the terror now than I did this time last year. I started 2013 wondering if I had the gumption and the grit to see it through, and I finish it safe in the knowledge that I have, and I did, and I will (one day, somehow) prevail. I guess that’s progress, by anyone’s measure.

And so, as I pull the shutters down over ‘Clockwatching…’ for a few days of rest, I want to say ‘thank you’ for reading, commenting, following my faltering progress, and cheering me on. If you’re celebrating Christmas, I hope you and your family have a wonderful time; if you’re not celebrating, I hope you have a fantastic Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I’ll see you all again next week when I’ll be back to the drawing board, and (hopefully) the Muse won’t have forgotten about me over the Christmas break.

Image: justhappyquotes.com

Image: justhappyquotes.com

And who knows – perhaps Santa Claus will bring me representation and a publishing deal for Christmas… I’ve hung my stocking up, just in case.

Have a peaceful, happy and joyful Christmas, and let’s hope a bright New Year awaits us all.

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Twistrose Key’

Aha, the lure of a gorgeous cover. It snared me again with ‘The Twistrose Key.’ But before you judge me, just look at it. Wouldn’t it have snared you, too?

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

‘The Twistrose Key’ is the début novel of Tone Almhjell, a Norwegian writer, and the love of the North is inscribed all over this book. It is set partly in a wintry magical Otherworld known as Sylver, where the snow and ice is not seen (hurrah!) as a symptom of evil magic, but merely is, and the creatures who live there exist quite happily within it. The central concept of the story is lovely – Sylver is a place where creatures who were, in life, loved by a human child go when they die – and there are some moments of gorgeous writing and wonderful scene-setting. There are some memorable characters, and lots of juicy mythological/fairytale references for nerds like me to pick up on, but… But.

Is it possible for a book to try to do too much? If so, then I think ‘The Twistrose Key’ falls into that trap, just a little.

Our central (human) character is Lin Rosenquist, who has just moved into a new rented home with her parents after her mother is asked to come and work in a large, prestigious university. Thrillingly, her mother is employed as a sort of musicologist – or, at least, she examines folk and traditional music for its larger, wider meaning, which is important as the story unfolds – and I found that interesting, and different, and just up my alley. The book’s opening sentence is: ‘The grave that Lin had made for her friend could not be touched by wind’, and once we’ve been thoroughly sucked into the story by this gripping image (what grave? What friend? How can a child make a grave?) we gradually work out that ‘the friend’ is her late, lamented pet Rufus, who was (or is?) a vole of remarkable fortitude.

She returns to the house in order to eat with her parents, who give her some bad news – softened somewhat by offering her her favourite dessert of rice pudding (another thing we had in common, Lin and I) – and notices someone giving her a message through the window. When she rushes to the front door to find out who this strange messenger is, all she finds is a mysterious parcel addressed to her – but not using her given name. The parcel is addressed to ‘Twistrose’ – a name she has given herself, but which she has not told anyone else about. How can this be?

Inside the package, Lin finds a pair of keys. One opens the door to the cellar, entry to which had been forbidden by their landlady, but Lin ignores that and goes down there anyway. The second key, shaped like a rose complete with thorns, opens up a passageway through the wall of her cellar into a different world entirely. Lin finds herself in the land of Sylver – and reunited with her beloved Rufus, who is now as tall as she is, and able to speak.

Lin is a Twistrose, or a special child with power to pass between our world and that of Sylver. She is not the first – several others have been there before her, and all of them have succeeded in carrying out a special, vital task, something which only they can do. Lin’s task is perhaps the most important of all. In order for Sylver’s magic to continue, it depends on the gate which leads to the ‘real’ world being kept open – but a special boy, a Winterfyrst, with the power to do just this, is missing. Lin must find him before the night is out, or Sylver will die – and her passage back home will be closed forever.

I liked the basic plot of this book, as I’ve outlined it above. However, there was far more to the book than just this. We also had plots and counter-plots, intrigue and skulduggery from some of the animal characters; we had a whole subplot involving the boy (Isvan Winterfyrst) and his mother, who is also missing; we had the land of Nightmare, kept separate from Sylver by the Palisade which is also at the risk of failing and, thereby, wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of this pet-afterlife. We had the ‘baddie’, named the Margrave, who is mentioned throughout the book but who only appears very briefly near the end. In short, there was a lot going on.

Perhaps it’s as a result of this packed narrative, and maybe also a certain coolness and compactness of phrase which is common to a lot of Scandinavian authors, but I never really felt I got a sense of Lin. I was far more emotionally invested in Rufus, her pet, who is more roundly described and more engagingly realised than his human. I liked the fact that we have a character named Teodor – a fox, fittingly – who we’re never quite sure of; is he good, or bad? What are his motivations? I liked the writing, which – very regularly – had me nodding my head or smiling at a particularly well-turned phrase. However, there were a lot of coincidences in this story, and things popping up just when they’re needed, like a magical sled with a personality which just happens to have the power to do exactly what’s needed, right when it’s needed, which I just couldn’t buy. Also, the phrase ‘by an incredible stroke of luck’ appears at least twice. If you’re relying on ‘incredible strokes of luck’ more than once in a book, then something isn’t quite right with your plotting, I feel.

I had worked out who the Margrave was long before ‘the reveal’, and I should think any child who has read the Harry Potter books would be able to do the same. This isn’t a problem, as such – but what I wish is that there had been more time devoted to this character. Almhjell could have written a whole book based solely on the Margrave, and she could have written another based solely on Isvan Winterfyrst. This means ‘The Twistrose Key’ is complex and layered, but also frustrating in its lack of character development. The book is not short, but there’s just so much going on that some of the wonderful elements in it don’t have the room they need to breathe.

I did enjoy the book, but it wasn’t – for me – a patch on Philip Pullman or Garth Nix or J.K. Rowling or C.S. Lewis, or any of the other authors whom Almhjell seems to be modelling herself on. I will look out for her future work, and hope she doesn’t throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into her next novel.

 

Hobbitting On

So the other day, we decided to go to see ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in the actual cinema.

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee! Image: firefox.org

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee!
Image: firefox.org

I was hoping we’d get a chance to catch it on the big screen, because let’s be honest here. ‘The Hobbit’ is the sort of movie you need to see splashed all over a massive canvas. I really enjoyed the first Hobbit movie, even though I only saw it on DVD, and I’ve been fangirling about the sequel now for quite some time.

Oh, and before I carry on, I’d better clarify something: I was one of those mumble-grumble ‘The Hobbit shouldn’t be three movies, what on earth is Peter Jackson thinking?’ purists when I first heard about the plan to turn this tiny book into a trilogy of blockbusters. Now, however, I have eaten my words with a side order of humble pie, to go. Peter Jackson is a genius, and I cannot wait for the final movie.

**Please note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but consider yourself warned…**

‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is brilliant. I can only sum it up by recounting the fact that my husband remarked ‘that didn’t feel like three hours, did it?’ as we were leaving; he is – as he is in most things, of course – entirely correct. This epic movie zoomed along so quickly that by the end I was left clawing for more, let alone thinking ‘Man. What a painfully obvious money-grabbing, story-padding exercise that was.’

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Things I thought would annoy me, like the creation of an entirely new character, Tauriel – who is more important to the plot of the movie than some of the characters from the original book – didn’t end up bothering me at all. Tauriel herself was, I thought, a brilliant character, skilfully portrayed. Tolkien, much as I love him, wasn’t too big on the whole ‘writing parts for women’ thing, so I have no problem with Peter Jackson trying to even up the balance a bit. Tolkien, as a medievalist, wrote his stories in the same vein as the epics – wherein the important thing is the comitatus, or the group of (male) warriors who fight together and the bond between them, not the relationships between men and women – and so it’s to be expected that women don’t do a lot in his canon. Tauriel fights as well as any of the male characters, she’s brave enough to make a choice that genuinely feels conflicted and challenging during the course of the story, and she (potentially) sacrifices something very precious to her in order to remain true to who she is.

The only irritating thing about her is that she is, to an extent, defined by the men in her life – but I don’t want to get too spoilery here.

Well, that's not the *only* irritating thing about her. She's also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren't they?  Image: totalfilm.com

Well, that’s not the *only* irritating thing about her. She’s also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren’t they?
Image: totalfilm.com

I was, admittedly, slightly annoyed by another thing, which was the pronunciation of ‘Smaug’. I have been saying this word inside my head for over twenty years now, and I’ve always said it like a Bostonian saying ‘smog’, with a long vowel sound in the middle of the word. Apparently, however, that’s wrong. It should be ‘Smowg,’ according to these guys. Luckily, I got used to it fairly quickly – but he’ll always be ‘Smawwwwwwg’ to me.

Howaya. Image: lotr.wikia.org

Howaya.
Image: lotr.wikia.org

The film also drew a lot of criticism for featuring a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ who doesn’t appear (as far as I remember, though it has been many years since I last read ‘The Hobbit’) in the original book – I’m talking, of course, about Legolas.

I actually had no problem with this character making a reappearance, mainly because he was always my favourite character anyway – and, yes, this goes back to my reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a twelve-year-old, and has nothing to do with the movies – and I think his portrayal in ‘The Hobbit’ gives a fascinating layer to the character. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Legolas is a preternaturally skilled fighter, of course, and a vital member of the Fellowship, but he seems detached and cool and always utterly, remarkably calm. He’s an elf, of course, so this isn’t unusual – they’re not given to huge explosions of emotion – but even so, Legolas seemed a little too graceful and perfect to be relatable or real.

This is not so in ‘The Hobbit.’ In this newer movie, we see a different Legolas – we see him as he originally was, the Prince of Mirkwood, an important character in the ‘LOTR’ universe in his own right. He is rash, impetuous, angry, even arrogant, and I thought that was amazing. He still fights like a whirlwind, but in one excellent scene he comes up against a foe who does not bow before him like a blade of grass in a stiff wind. It was nice, in a strange way, to see Legolas not have everything his own way for once – it’s hard to get behind a hero when all they touch turns to gold. Seeing Legolas struggle made him a far more sympathetic character, and I really enjoyed his portrayal in this film.

Then, of course, there were the dwarves (to use Tolkien’s own spelling!), who are the best part of the movie. Bombur, in particular, was my favourite.

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Bumbling but brilliant, and brave to his bones, old Bombur stole the show for me. The dwarves aren’t exactly how I pictured them as a reader of Tolkien – some of them are far too handsome, for a start! – but they work flawlessly in the movie all the same. The scene where they are attempting to escape from Mirkwood by floating down a river hidden in barrels is one of the best things I’ve seen on a cinema screen, ever.

So, anyway. If you do one thing this weekend, yada yada. Check out ‘The Hobbit.’ I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s a slice of cinematic wonder.

Happy Friday!

A Golden Age?

Here’s a question. Do you think children’s books these days are better than they used to be?

Image: allsorts.typepad.com

Image: allsorts.typepad.com

Recently, I was looking through one of my bookshelves, just browsing – as you do – through some reading memories. I came upon a book I owned as an eleven-year-old, and I remembered loving it passionately, thinking of it for a long time as one of my favourite books. It’s an Irish book – Irish author, Irish publisher – and uses Irish mythology as the basis for its plot. It reimagines the story of the fairy woman Niamh Cinn-Óir (Niamh of the Golden Hair), and her human husband Oisín, whom she takes away to Tír Na n-Óg, the Land of Youth. It has beautiful illustrations, and an amazingly designed cover, and the sight of it brought back a lot of good memories. Best of all, the author of the book is still writing – he has published a prodigious amount of stories for children over the course of the last twenty or thirty years, most recently a fantastically imagined series about witchcraft and alchemy which I really enjoy – and so I grabbed it up and immediately started re-reading it, perhaps in an attempt to relive some of my childhood love for it.

Except – well. It wasn’t as good, not nearly as good, as I remembered.

Niamh and Oisin on horseback. This is not an illustration from the book in question - just in case! Image: celticanamcara.blogspot.com

Niamh and Oisin on horseback. This is not an illustration from the book in question – just in case!
Image: celticanamcara.blogspot.com

I do realise that many years have passed and lots of water has flowed under the bridge of my youth, and all that – but I’m the sort of person for whom that sort of thing doesn’t matter. I love children’s books, and I’d like to think I always will, even when my eyesight’s failing so badly that I need to get the Large Print editions of my favourite stories. I loved this story as a little girl, and I could see why – it had all the things I adored at the time, and which I’m still partial to now. Mythology, love, adventure, horses, monsters, and a brave little boy who faces his fears. So why didn’t I love it any more?

It was because of how the book was written, I think.

Reading this book reminded me of the stereotypical ‘bad’ essay: ‘And then this happened, and then that happened, and then, and then, and then…’ – it was, pretty much, a list of things happening, without any tension or subplots or dynamism. There was no characterisation – the brave little boy was brave at the beginning of the story, and he was brave at the end. Niamh and Oisín were unchanging throughout. Oisín, at one point, takes his leave of Niamh and she fears she’ll never see him again, but there is no emotion in their goodbye. I wasn’t expecting a lingering kissing scene, or anything of that ilk, but something would have been good. Children’s books are emotional, and one of the most significant things in a child’s life is learning about what it means to say goodbye – so this emotionless, businesslike farewell was puzzling to me. There is an encounter with a terrifying monster near the end of the book – or, at least, a monster who would be terrifying, if the author had allowed any sort of tension to creep into the story. The whole thing is told like a medieval chronicle. It’s essentially a list of things, a shopping list of children’s fantasy literature essentials all piled into one book.

I’m not trying to say that the person who wrote this book is not talented – his list of writing accomplishments is mighty, and I admire him very much for what he has brought to children’s literature – but what I mean is, perhaps the requirements for a good, gripping children’s book have changed radically since the days in which this one was published. What made a magical children’s story then seems to have morphed into a different beast, these days.

I’m reading a children’s book at the moment, Sarah Prineas’ ‘The Magic Thief.’ I adore her use of dialogue, her creation of interesting and three-dimensional characters, and the ways in which things like letters between the players in the story are interspersed with the narrative to create all the things I love in a book – intrigue, suspense, and interest.

Image: bellaonbooks.wordpress.com

Image: bellaonbooks.wordpress.com

I am not yet finished the book, but I’m hopeful that these things will be maintained throughout, and that I’ll be left breathless with admiration and thirsty for more by the end of the story. Importantly, I feel that ‘The Magic Thief’ is the sort of book I’ll come back to in five, ten, twenty years’ time and still enjoy, much the same way as I still enjoy the books of Alan Garner, which I first read when I was eight years old. Those stories have the same power over my mind now as they did when I was a mere slip of a girl. However, a lot of the books I loved as a kid have slipped beneath the murk of memory, at this stage. I have a feeling a lot of them were written like this story of Niamh and her Oisín – paint-by-numbers type tales which don’t weave the same sort of spell over a reader once childhood is over.

‘The Magic Thief’ is a good book, not just a good children’s book. I have also been lucky enough to read another good children’s book in recent weeks, which I’ll be reviewing next Saturday. Rich, and detailed, and complex, and interesting, these books couldn’t be more different from my childhood favourite. I hesitate to say that the simplicity inherent in the story of Niamh and Oisín was common to all books of that time, because of course one cannot draw a conclusion like that based on a single example – and, of course, there are good children’s books from generations back which are now deserved classics. But still, I wonder whether children’s books have become better over the past twenty years or so, in terms of the reading challenge they offer to children and the richness and skill of their storytelling. Perhaps it’s that readers have become more demanding, and perhaps it’s also true that there has been an explosion of interest in children’s books, and in publishing for young people, and – as in every walk of life – competition can raise standards.

If so, it’s a great time to be a reader.