Harriet the Spy and more by Louise Fitzhugh

Last Friday, the library hosted a Secret Spy Spectacular. My favourite spy (by far) is Harriet the Spy, aka Harriet M. Welsch.  Harriet is a busy body who lives with her far-too-busy parents and her never-too-busy nanny. When I say “busy body”, I mean “snoop”. Harriet likes nothing more than an afternoon spent spying on the people in her neighbourhood then heading home with a notebook full of observations for a tomato sandwich.  I think books are better when the people aren’t perfect. None of the people in Louise Fitzhugh’s books are perfect: not the kids, not the teachers, not the neighbours and definitely not the parents: this is what makes her books so appealing.

Harriet the Spy is the story of a lonely girl who desperately wants to reveal something – something disturbing or astonishing or radical, just something – to break the façade of her boring and controlled life. Like lots of the more remarkable and angry characters in books, Harriet does not abide by phoneys and she is (unfortunately) not afraid to hurt feelings (including her own) if it means her life becomes more interesting, raw and real.

Lots of people have read Harriet the Spy and loved it, but not so many know about the two follow up books. Harriet returns in The Long Secret, which is a wonderful summer holiday story. The long Secret begins with a nasty (but sort-of funny) secret note and Harriet’s burning desire to find out who sent it. She enlists her mousy friend Beth Allen to reluctantly help her, and they have lots of odd  encounters along the way. I like the peculiar characters – like the family who are trying to get rich making toe medicine (EW), and Bunny (COOL NAME) the pyjama-wearing piano player. The Long Secret is two books in one really: on one hand it is a riveting mystery that involves a funny holiday township, but on the other hand it is a story about feeling left out and friendship and growing up and stuff. (That leaves no hands to hold biscuits, but it’s a summer book so maybe you could just slurp a milkshake instead?).

Harriet only plays a guest role in the third book which is set back in New York. Sport  focuses on Harriet’s friend Simon who is nicknamed Sport, and lives with his really nice but really hopeless Dad. There is not so much mystery in this one, but a lot of action. Poor Sport is really put through the wringer as his evil mother (no, not evil stepmother – just plain old evil mother) tries to gain custody of him so she can get her greedy mitts on his inheritance. This book is intense! Heaps of yelling and cussing and hiding and running and worrying and laughing. (Lots of laughing from me actually, especially when Sport and his friends get their own back against rich ladies and cops -ha-ha).

I would strongly recommend these books to anyone who is sick of children’s stories that are all sweet and fluffy and nice.  Louise Fitzhugh died at a young age and it’s a real shame because she is one of the few authors that seems to “get” kids. She doesn’t write about kids the way adults like to see kids: boring, stupid and polite – she writes about kids the way kids are: interesting, thoughtful and really cool.

A wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

I would quite like to go to Hobbiton in spring, maybe catch a quidditch game at Hogwarts, Oz looks like a bit of fun and I would love to travel through Narnia – but I am not so sure about the archipelago of islands that make up Earthsea. Earthsea is a realm surrounded by a different sort of magic – one that is deep and dark and knowing. A boy called Ged was born there though, and he has no choice but to stay and discover its secrets.

A Wizard of Earthsea is like a lot of other children’s fantasy novels in that it is about a boy growing up and travelling, going to a school for wizards, making friends and enemies, saving his village, learning and making mistakes. The thing that makes it different is the magic. This is not just an adventure tale, or a school story, or a friendship quest that happens to have some cool magic: this is a book about magic and a young wizard’s battle to find its balance within himself.

The magic isn’t all fun and games and biscuits either. It isn’t magic that makes a star at the end of a wand shine or turns your teacher into a toad. It is old magic with old rules, hidden traps and an all-knowing awareness. Sometimes the magic is dark and dreadful. I listened to A Wizard of Earthsea on audio book recently: I was walking through town with my headphones on – it was a windy, rainy day and I was very caught up in the story. Suddenly something TERRIBLE happened (I won’t tell you what, you might get a fright) and I SCREAMED right there in the middle of the footpath with the people in suits on their way to work staring at me and shaking their umbrellas.

But don’t be scared: it is only a book, and it is really a very good one. I won’t tell you that it has a happy ending, or that it is sooo funny and cool and easy to read, but I will tell you that if you truly like fantasy you really ought to come down to your library and get A Wizard of Earthsea.

Image courtesy of Astrid Nielsch 

This painting is by Astrid Nielsch who was inspired by Ursula Le Guin’s writing. She is exhibiting her paintings next week; you should go and have a look. They will be showing at Thistle Hall in Wellington – Cuba Street corner Arthur Street from 17 to 22 August, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am – 8 pm and Sunday 11 am – 6 pm. The opening is on Tuesday the 17th of August from 6-9 pm, and Astrid says you can expect dragons, wizards and magic!

Learn to Speak Music

The three best things in life: Books (0bviously), Biscuits and Music. Reading books is the best way to pass the time, eating biscuits is the best way to pass the time and survive without fading away, and music is like the cherry on top. Music turns an ordinary experience into an extraordinary experience. Imagine how dull a film would be without the soundtrack. Does your life have a good soundtrack? The simple way to add music to your life would be to turn the radio on or the CD player or maybe watch some c4. But, what is the most interesting way to add music to your life? MAKE MUSIC YOURSELF.

John Crossingham has created a book to help you. Learn to Speak Music shows you how to become a musician, and honestly, it’s not hard. This book walks you through each step from learning an instrument to putting on performances and promoting your band. There are chapters featuring: Making Music (choosing instruments, learning to play), Forming a Band (finding members, choosing a name), Writing Lyrics and Music (song patterns, inspiration), Playing Live (covering costs, what gear you need, keeping your cool), Recording Your Music (Hi Fi vs. Lo Fi, basic recording gear) and Spreading the Word (How to make Do-It-Yourself band T-shirts, eye-catching posters).

You may be thinking ‘isn’t this a bit much for a kid?’ no way! Don’t underestimate yourself. You don’t have to be an expert to make music and have fun performing it. Lots of famous bands started out with very young members. Have you heard of: Kings of Leon, The Jonas Brothers, Radiohead, Paramore, Hanson, The Go Go’s, Napalm Death, The Runaways, Def Leppard, The Jackson 5, Kate Bush, Lil Wayne, Shonen Knife? Or New Zealand bands Shihad, Bressa Creting Cake, Ladieswear Landscapi, Bandicoot, TFF, Die! Die! Die!? All these bands have or had members that were still at school and there are many, many more.

Another cool book that will help you get rolling towards rock stardom is The Girls Guide To Rocking by Jessica Hopper. I recommend this even if you are not a girl. It is really in-depth and has interesting appendices to inspire you. If you need some audio-visual motivation check out Girls Rock! Some of the girls on this DVD can really scream.

Now, one other thing, you must cross your heart promise that if you do start a band you will let me know. I will be your biggest fan and I will bring biscuits.

The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

 

Okay, are you ready?

Close your eyes and think about the colour red, properly, no cheating, trust me on this one. What do you think of? Now close your eyes and think about blue – I said, no cheating. Do you think of the sky, the sea? What does yellow smell like? How does orange feel? What about black?

 

Okay, now keep your eyes closed, but open The Black Book of Colours; let your fingers travel over each page and your mind conjure the colours.

One day Menena Cottin asked herself “How would life be if I could not see?”, and this book is the product of that question. What would colour be like if you were blind? If you could not see green, what would green mean to you? To Thomas, who is blind, “green tastes like lemon ice cream and smells like grass that has just been cut”. To convey Thomas’s ideas to the reader Menena Cottin worked together with Rosansa Faria and created a book about colours using only black and white. Creeping out of each page are glossy black details crying out to be touched. Thomas describes each colour as he encounters it without sight: I particularly like the page on black which Thomas says is “the king of all colours”. In that case: Long live the king.

Here Kitty Kitty

What do cats do when we aren’t around?  Where do they prowl on those long summer days and moonlit nights? Some cats recline on the mat in that patch of sun, some sit by the food bowl patiently waiting for bis-cats, some shred your new curtains and some survey the world from the garden wall. Other cats though, according to Erin Hunter anyway, prowl in clans hunting, fighting and defending their territory against all odds.

 

 

Erin Hunter is actually a group of three writers who write the Warriors series using the pseudonym Erin Hunter. I have just read the first book of the Warriors series called Into the Wild. This book follows the story of Rusty – a pet cat or “kitty-pet”, and his transition into a member of the Thunder Clan. Lots of kids really like these books, Mehrbano from Tawa has even written reviews on this blog. I think the clan crests are cool and there are interesting descriptions of human life seen through wildcat eyes. The books in the first Warriors series are:

Into the Wild

Fire and Ice

Forest of Secrets

Rising Storm

A Dangerous Path

The Darkest Hour

 

 

Another fantasy book about cats is Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin. If I could purr I would purr each time I think about this book. It is a short tale about four sibling cats that are mysteriously born with wings. The story is beautifully illustrated by S. D. Schindler and as you read you can imagine yourself flying along side Harriet, James, Roger and Thelma as they try to find a safe home away from the dangers of the city. If you like cats and you have kind hands I strongly recommend you read Catwings.

Graphic-Novels and Comics Part Three:

Other Recommended Graphic-Novels and Comic Books

 

Some people have been asking me, what is the difference between a comic and a graphic-novel? I think this is a good explanation:

 

Novels: These are books that you will find in the fiction section. In novels the words are the important part, and what you focus on while you read. They might have some illustrations too, but these are there to support the words.

 

Comics: These are books you will find in the comics section. Sometimes they are bound books, but sometimes they are just paper like magazines. In comics the pictures are the important part, and what you focus on while you read. They often have words too, but the words are there to support the pictures.

 

Graphic- Novels: These are books you will find in the fiction section, in the picture book section and in the comics section. In Graphic-Novels the words and the pictures are equally important. The pictures support the words and the words support the pictures.

 

You should check out some of the Comics and Graphic-Novels we have at the library – I think you would really like them. Comics and Graphic-Novels can be delicious snacks in between your novel meals. Try these:

 

Calvin and Hobbes: Humorous stories about an impish boy, Calvin, and his debonair toy tiger, Hobbes.

Tintin: Lots of people love Tintin and have read them all. One really cool thing about the Tintin books is the attention to detail. The creator Herge never travelled from Europe but he researched everything very carefully, so his pictures are like exploring a new place through the page.

Peanuts: I love it when Snoopy dresses up as Joe Cool.

The Arrival: This is a work of art. Shaun Tan uses just pictures to tell a tale about arriving in a new place and the feelings involved.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Clocks, Runaways, Trains, The man on the moon and automatons… Automatons!

Moomin: I haven’t read these but lots of my friends like them. This is what they said: “I really like them”, “I like the daddy one”, “They have cool illustrations”.

 

Also check out:

The Adventures of Polo

Babymouse Burns Rubber

The Midnight Circus and The Tooth Fairy

Sticky Burr

Owly

Glister

 

The list could go on and on, there are so many excellent books. Which comics or graphic-novels do you like? Which comic do you think is better: Asterix or Tintin? Have you ever tried making one yourself? Making them is really fun; if you make one would you please send me a copy? I would really like to see one about pandas, and biscuits, and books. Oh, and Automatons!

Graphic-Novels and Comics Part Two:

Spotlight on Raymond Briggs

 

Raymond Briggs is the godfather of children’s graphic novels. He is a quiet, eccentric man who lives in Sussex and collects jigsaw puzzles of The Queen Mother. I collect playing cards I find on the ground (one day I will have a whole set), and I really like Raymond Briggs books.

The book I like the most is The Bear which is a story about a young red headed girl who thinks her teddy knows everything (he might) and the polar bear that comes to live with her. The bear is immense, and fills her room and the pages with white. He is terrifying but deliciously cuddly.

Another book about an unexpected visitor is The Man. This time a red headed boy has to deal with a seven-inch-tall man who barges into his room and demands toast and sanctuary.

A lot of Raymond Brigg’s books are about magical friends. In The Snowman (which is a book without any words at all) a boy (yes, a red head) makes himself a friend from snow and has a winter adventure.

The Puddleman is a magical friend too. I never thought about how the water got put into puddles and how the wavy reflections relate to our world. Luckily, this book explains it all.

 

Briggs can be really, really funny too, like an old granddad with biscuits in his beard making you laugh until your milk snorts up and out of your nose.

Fungus the Bogeyman is a hilariously revolting book. Bogeymen revel in all things slimy and disgusting. It is a good book to read on a damp, smelly day when you have no clean pants left.

There are lots more Raymond Briggs books too, like Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and his search for soft trousers, and the stories about cantankerous Father Christmas. You should have a look. Some of them will be in the picture books, some in the fiction, and some in the comics section. Have a hunt around – they are well worth it.

I am jealous of Raymond Briggs because he tells such amazing stories and he has the ability to put the little people in his head down on the page for us to see so we can share the story as he knows it. I am also jealous of Raymond Briggs’ friends: I would love to sit and chat with him, maybe tell some bogey jokes, have a fruit mince pie, do a jigsaw. It would be lovely.

Graphic-Novels and Comics Part One:

Two Brilliant new Graphic-Novels for Children:

 

The Clouds Above by Jordan Crane

My favourite weather is mist. My second favourite weather is rain. It has been very rainy in Wellington recently. I love it.

Have you ever heard people say that rain is the clouds crying? My sister used to say that, and this book proves she was right.

“The Clouds Above” is a graphic-novel with wonderful pictures that recounts “the terribly terrific and tremendously true travels of Simon and Jack”. Simon is a boy with a wicked teacher, Jack is a cat with a long tail; they are best friends. Simon and Jack arrive at school late; instead of facing the wrath of Simon’s teacher Missus Poe, they risk a trip up a flight of stairs and into the clouds. “We should go back down- you’re missing school” meows Jack, “but I don’t miss it at all!” Simon replies. Missus Poe might be scary but so is some of the stuff above: mean birds, thunder, fear of heights, mean birds again, cold and an evil storm with (dun, dun, dun) a heart of darkness. Remember though, they are best friends and with the help of a sad and lonely cloud they find their way back to clearer skies. Apparently “a rained on cat is no cat at all” but Jack is the best kind of cat, and I would love to go on adventures in the sky with a friend like that.

 

This is a beautiful, short book which is nice to hold.

 

Reflections of a Solitary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin

cover courtesy of Amazon

My favourite food is Ice Cream. Hamster’s favourite food is waffles. Hamster is a very selfish Hamster and he never shares his waffles. Lucky for Hamster he has lovely friends: Mole, Hedgehog, Snail, Squirrel and Rabbit, and they like him even though he is selfish, lazy and a bit arrogant.

 

“Reflections of a Solitary Hamster” is another graphic-novel about friendship. Astrid Desbordes- the author – and Pauline Martin- the illustrator- work together to reveal snippets of life on a pretty, big sky prairie. Sometimes I wonder what my friends do at the end of the day, when the party is over, when there are no more biscuits and when they tuck themselves into bed. What do they think about? This hilarious book shows you. The animals ponder their lives, their anxieties and walnuts as they get ready for; (drum roll please): Hamster’s birthday! However odd and imperfect they may be, this book is still very funny and full of kindness:

“Hedgehog, will you dance with me?”

“With me? Oh, yes please, Mole. No one has ever asked me to dance before, because of my prickles”

“And no one asks me because I step on my partners paws”

“Then let’s fingertip dance, okay?”

Okay.

“Chuck Dugan is AWOL” by Eric Chase Anderson

“Chuck Dugan is AWOL: a novel with maps” by Eric Chase Anderson

 

Do you like video games?

Would you sometimes rather play video games than read a book?

Yeah?

Oh well, I like books so I am going to wah on to you about them.

 

BUT, pull your eyes away from your games for just a minute because… this book is a lot like a video game. Not a very flash one mind, maybe one from the 90’s, but it’s fast paced, it’s adventurous and it’s addictive. You’ll want to keep reading and reading until you get to the next level – I mean, um, chapter.

 

Player One: Chuck Dugan is AWOL. AWOL means Absent With Out Leave. Chuck is AWOL because he powers up and escapes in the night from his fancy pants navy school. Wagging school is a bit of a cheat but he has very good reasons. Lots of books are about evil stepmothers – well, Chuck is about to upload an evil stepfather called The Admiral, who is a rogue and a scoundrel and a meany. Chuck has to insert all his coins to stop his mother marrying, and find his real father’s secret treasure before The Admiral and his sons/goons can get their greedy mitts on it (and clock the game). Chuck encounters knifes, pistols, drowning, beatings, fireworks (yes, fireworks in the eye! Yow!) And all the other nasty tricks in the brothers’ inventory.

 

Chuck is always an optimist though, even when he is down to one life and hardly any strength bar. He is a brave boy with big ears who has seen “snakebite, fear, and a man shot in the knee”. Chuck is always willing to beat his own high score.

 

Are you a junior inventor? A master of disguise? A red head? Chuck is, and these mad skills – maybe not the red hair – help him to defeat the baddies. This multileveled adventure includes boats, flying bicycles (the popcycle), pirates, boats, spy gadgets, deep sea diving, butlers, secret passages and more boats.

 

Oh and I almost forgot to tell you: BONUS POINTS! This book has MAPS. Eric Chase Anderson is a brilliant illustrator and he has decorated his book with cool maps of all sorts of things. (If you have drawn a map please show me, I love maps but alas I am hopeless with a ruler).

 

Trivia: Eric Chase Anderson is Wes Anderson’s brother. Wes Anderson made the film “Fantastic Mr Fox”, based on the Roald Dahl book. Have you seen it? It is rad. Eric Chase Anderson is the voice of Kristofferson Silverfox in the film.

 

I really liked “Chuck Dugan is AWOL” and I hope you will put down your controller and pick this book up soon.

 

 “Chuck Dugan is AWOL: a novel with maps” by Eric Chase Anderson

 

GAME OVER……. DO YOU WISH TO CONTINUE?…….yes please.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

 

Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking is one of my most favourite book characters because she is awesome. She is called Pippi for short, and Pippi is awesome for many reasons. I will tell you some of them now.

 

One reason Pippi Longstocking is awesome is that she lives life by her own rules. Pippi is nine years old and lives alone at Villa Villekulla, a house on the outskirts of a small town. Well, actually, she doesn’t live alone, she lives with her monkey Mr. Nilsson and her horse Old Man. She doesn’t live with her parents though, so Pippi runs the show. This means no one to tell her to go to school, no one to tell her how to dress and no one to tell her when to go to bed! How would you like that?

 

Pippi likes it a lot and she spends her days having picnics in the woods, going treasure hunting and convincing her friends next door to try new and exciting things. That’s another reason Pippi is awesome, she loves life and can make fun for herself, her friends and anyone else just trying to mind their own beeswax.

 

A nine year old living alone and causing ruckus doesn’t go unnoticed even in make believe book world. Pippi faces lots of challenges. You can read about the time some policemen come to her house – it’s a bizarre little tale that ends with Pippi holding a kicking and complaining police officer over her head (that’s how strong she is!). She is always up for the challenge, Pippi, and extremely brave – another reason she is awesome.

 

Sometimes Pippi is just silly and rude, and maybe you wouldn’t want her around all the time, I think she could be quite annoying if you were trying to sit quietly and read a book with your cat and a biscuit. Also, I wouldn’t advise you do some of the things Pippi does. Please, never eat a mushroom you find in the bush (it could be deadly!). Sometimes though, Pippi is lovely and fun, and when you read books about her she makes you feel fun too. That is the most awesome thing about Pippi.

 

You can read about Pippi in Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Goes Aboard and Pippi in the South Seas.

 

 

 

 

 Astrid Lindgren told the Pippi stories to her daughter Karin when she was sick. She also wrote lots of other books. The library has heaps, so check them out and tell me what you think.

Dressed up for a school book fair.

Lucy Longstocking age 8 dressed up for a school book fair.