Tag Archives: children’s books

My Porridge & Cream read: RV Biggs

Today I’m delighted to welcome mystery writer RV Biggs. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

“I first read the book as a child, which is a very long time ago, so would be in the 1960s. I’d hazard a guess at 1966 when I was nine or ten years old and probably as a book we were given to read at school. I recall having my own hardbound copy a little later, given to me as a present, but one of my uncles borrowed it to read to my cousin. After a while I never saw it again. Many, many years later my sister-in-law brought me a new hardbound copy as a birthday present and this is the copy I still have. RV Biggs

“I’ve read Wind in the Willows many times over the years and mostly when nothing else seems to appeal. It draws me in because of the childhood magic of it… animals having adventures… the Wild Wood… but also because of the setting and style. Kenneth Grahame describes the landscapes with exquisite perfection, setting the scenes of the seasons so that I’m there… inside his world. I believe that the description of Mole’s utter grief in chapter 5, Dulce Domum, when he rediscovers his home, and the ethereal magic within chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, when Mole and Ratty go in search of the baby Otter, may well be partly responsible for my own need to build description into my own writing when setting a scene.

“All in all Wind if the Willows is a magic childhood world into which I think I’ll lose myself once more very soon.”

Rob’s Elevator Pitch for Wind if the Willows: Along the margins of the river, and deep within the trackless woods, a hidden world of magic unfolds.

RV Biggs’ Bio
RV Biggs lives in the West Midlands, England. His heart however lies north of the border, where the world becomes wide and wild and less turbulent. Robert’s imagination was shaped in childhood by such stories as The Wind in the Willows and Lord of the Rings, but only turned to creativity decades later when in the quiet moments before sleep, song lyrics triggered an idea which turned into an obsession. The result was his first novel Song of the Robin, a tale of destiny and family. A sequel is scheduled to be released during 2018. Working within the telecommunications industry for thirty five years, Robert now works for a children’s hospital helping to provide Mental Health services.

RV Biggs’ links

RV Biggs’ latest book
RV BiggsSong of the Robin is a tale of destiny and love, tragedy and joy. The story of a young woman’s weeklong struggle for survival amidst whispered voices, unsettling dreams and disturbing visions.
‘Song of the Robin’ by RV Biggs [UK: RV Biggs]

What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects ‘Love in A Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message here.

RV Biggs


‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame [UK: Oxford Children’s Classics]

Discover the ‘Porridge & Cream’ books of these authors:-
Laura Wilkinson
JG Harlond
Shelley Weiner

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Book review: The Outsiders

Michelle PaverI came to this Michelle Paver series late, years after reading the award-winning ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series which starts with the wonderful Wolf Brother. Doubtful that any character could be as admirable as Torak, it was a joy to read about Hylas who, like Torak, is an outsider.

The Outsiders starts at a run from the first page and doesn’t slow up. Hylas has been attacked, his dog is dead, his sister missing and a fellow goatherd killed. And the killers are after him. Adrift at sea, disorientated, Hylas fears he must die. And then there follows a glorious section about dolphins. I won’t give away any more of the plot. The narrative is a shape familiar from Wolf Brother – wild boy in trouble, on the run, not sure who is friend or foe, sets off on a quest where he makes new alliances – but that doesn’t mean this is not an entertaining read with new characters, a new setting, and different myths and gods.

Michelle Paver’s books for children and young adults are set in mystical places but are based on solid research about the way our ancestors lived and survived in wild lands, the animals they hunted, the gods they worshipped and the monsters they feared. The Outsiders is set in the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age.

All the outdoors things inaccessible to today’s children – unsupervised by adults, expected to be self-sufficient at the age of twelve, adventuring to unfamiliar places, making a den, lighting a fire, navigating, foraging, analysing geography, weather and threats. Her child characters have respect for their world, they are brave, adventurous and learn quickly from their mistakes. If they don’t, they will die: these are not gentle stories but they are a preparation for the real world where children must learn for themselves how to survive.

Read here about how Michelle Paver researches her ancient worlds.

If you like ‘The Outsiders’, try these other YA [young adult] series:-
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series by Michelle Paver
The ‘Harry Potter’ series by JK Rowling
The ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series by Arthur Ransome

‘The Outsiders’ by Michelle Paver, #1Gods & Warriors [UK: Puffin] Buy at Amazon

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Book review: The Roundabout Man

Clare MorrallA clever and involved story by Clare Morrall about a man, his real mother, father and triplet sisters, and the seemingly identical fictional family created by his author mother in her popular series The Triplets and Quinn. It is a gentle story which reels you in.

At the age of 60 Quinn is living in a caravan parked in the middle of a wooded roundabout. He enjoys the quiet and the solitude. He forages for items to reuse, and scavenges for leftover food at the nearby Primrose Valley service station. We learn he fled the family home, The Cedars, the setting for The Triplets and Quinn series, after spending his adult years there caring for his eccentric widowed mother and showing fans of her stories around the house. The real story of this family has been subsumed by his mother’s fiction, easy answers to inquisitive fans who spout fiction as if it is reality, and his unwillingness to face up to unpalatable truths.

As real life and his mother’s fiction merge in Quinn’s head, it is a while before Quinn (and we) start to piece together the real story. Meanwhile real life intrudes at the roundabout and Quinn is forced to socialise with the service station employees. When, individually, his sisters visit him, he ends up with no answers and more questions. Why did his parents foster so many disadvantaged children, and then seem not to care about them? Was the story about the fictional Quinn’s kidnap as a baby based on a true event? And are the casseroles, left anonymously on his caravan doorstep, left there by foster child Annie of whom Quinn has fond memories?

Yet again, another delightful novel from Clare Morrall. She is so good at delving into human nature, family connections and the unintended misunderstandings and mis-firings which can affect a person’s life. Is it too late for Quinn? With his parents, Mumski and the Professor dead, is the truth out of reach?

Click here for my reviews of three other novels by Clare Morrall:-
The Man Who Disappeared
After the Bombing
The Language of Others

If you like The Roundabout Man, try:-
‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
‘The Signature of All Things’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin

‘The Roundabout Man’ by Clare Morrall [UK: Sceptre] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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First Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Surely every child and adult knows the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or has seen a film version. I remember receiving the LP [below] of a musical production for Christmas as a child and being enchanted. Perhaps it is a story we think we know, but re-reading may surprise us. Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandListen to my British musical version of the story, featuring Dirk Bogarde, Tommy Cooper, Beryl Reid and Frankie Howerd, at You Tube.

The story
Bored and drowsy one afternoon, a young girl called Alice notices a white rabbit, wearing a waistcoat. She follows him and falls down a rabbit hole, entering a fantasy world where she encounters fantastical creatures. She is questioned by a caterpillar smoking a hookah, plays croquet using a live flamingo, and attends the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. When Alice awakes, it seems that Wonderland was a dream.

The American first edition 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

[photo: peterharrington.co.uk]

This is a first edition, second issue book featuring 41 illustrations by John Tenniel and published in New York by D Appleton and Co in 1866. The issue consisted of 1,000 copies. The selling price is $9750.

The current UK edition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll’s Alice has been enchanting children for 150 years. Curious Alice, the bossy White Rabbit, the formidable Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter are among the best-loved, most iconic literary creations of all time. Macmillan was the original publisher of Alice in 1865, this hardback edition is illustrated with the original line drawings by John Tenniel, plates coloured by John Macfarlane, a ribbon marker and a foreword by award-winning children’s author Hilary McKay.

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll [UK: MacMillan] Buy at Amazon

If you like old books, check out these:-
Watership Down‘ by Richard Adams
‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles
‘The Hobbit’ by JRR Tolkein

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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First Edition: Watership Down

It is a book which begun as a tale told by a father to his two daughters. Surely everyone has read Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Watership Down

[photo: Wikipedia]

The story
In Southern England lives at Sandleford Warren, a community of rabbits. They live in their natural environment but anthropomorphized so they have their own voices, culture, language, proverbs and mythology. This is a book which rewards re-reading. Fiver, the runt of the litter, is also a seer. When he forsees the destruction of their warren, Fiver and and his brother Hazel try to convince the other rabbits to flee with them. Unsuccessful, they set out on their own with 11 other rabbits to search for a new home. Hazel, previously an unimportant member of the warren, finds himself leader of the group. Fiver has visions about a safe place to settle, and so they find Watership Down. But still, they are not safe.

First UK edition Watership DownThe first UK edition was published in November 1972 by Rex Collings. At the time, Collings famously wrote to an associate, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?”

The book took Adams two years to write and went on to win two children’s fiction awards for Adams – the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, one of only six authors to do the double.

The film Watership DownIn 1978 there was an animated film, well-known for two things: Hazel, voiced by John Hurt, and Art Garfunkel’s hit single Bright Eyes. Watch the trailer here.

The current UK edition
The current UK edition, published by Puffin Books in 2014, features illustrations by David Parkins. This [below] is the original 1973 Puffin paperback edition. Watership DownOther books by Richard Adams
Tales from Watership Down – the sequel, published 25 years later.

The Plague Dogs [1977] – about two dogs which escape animal testing. The first edition features location maps  by Alfred Wainwright, fellwalker and author.

Shardik [1974] – Kelderek is a young hunter who pursues a bear believing it to be Shardik, the giant bear god. Hunter and bear are unwillingly drawn into the politics of the Beklan Empire. Shardik, the height of two men, has curved claws longer than a man’s head.

Watership Down


‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams [UK: Puffin] Buy here

If you like old books, check out these:-
‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll

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Favourite Lines from Favourite Books: Swallows and Amazons

page - swallows and amazons 27-7-15“I should have been sorry to lose the old box, because it’s been with me all over the world. And I should have lost the book I’ve been writing all summer in spite of the efforts of Nancy and Peggy to make any writing impossible. Never any of you start writing books. It isn’t worth it. This summer has been harder work for me than all the thirty years of knocking up and down that went before it. And if those scoundrels had got away with the box I could never have done it again.”

Captain Flint, on the return of his manuscript Mixed Moss [excerpt from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome]

To see why my old copy of Swallows and Amazons [below] is important to me, click hereSwallows and Amazons - book cover 13-3-14

Swallows and Amazons


‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome [UK: Vintage Children’s Classics] Buy now

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Book review: The Cardturner

the cardturner by louis sachar 6-5-14This is a book about bridge. The card game. And it’s also a book about relationships. Alton, a seventeen-year-old is tasked by his mother of ‘keeping in’ with his rich blind uncle Lester Trapp by driving him to bridge club in the hope that Trapp will remember their family in his will. What starts as an arduous weekly task becomes a new hobby for Alton as he is caught up by the game of bridge, his uncle and the mysteries of his life.

It is a story about friendship between the generations, all brought together by the game of bridge. Alton doesn’t care about his uncle’s will, he just wants to play bridge better. And get to know his cousin Toni better too. Alton is his uncle’s cardturner, he sits beside him at the bridge table and plays the cards his uncle tells him to.

I am not a card player and I have to say I skipped some bits, but Louis Sachar [below] allows you to do this: he bookends ‘bridge technique’ sections with a line drawing of a whale so you know you are safe to skip a bit and won’t miss the plot. For this reason, this novel is more suitable for older teens than the younger teens who like Holes.

[photo: louissachar.com]

[photo: louissachar.com]

Like Holes, it is a charming book. It shows that your assumptions about things you do not know can be way wrong; Alton soon finds out that bridge is not a game played just by old people. He also discovers that old people can be cool, that they were young once and had their own romances and challenges. Just when Alton starts to understand Trapp, to appreciate him, and to get better at bridge, the plot takes a twist which forces Alton and Toni to make a choice.

Watch Louis Sachar talk here about The Cardturner and how his daughter thought her dad was just like Trapp.
To visit Louis Sachar’s website, click here.
Click here to read The Guardian’s review of The Cardturner.
For the basics on how to play bridge, click here.
To read my review of Holes, click here.
 ‘The Cardturner’ by Louis Sachar [pub by Bloomsbury]

Book review: The Mysterious Beach Hut

the mysterious beach hut by jacky atkins 20-12-13This is a traditional children’s tale centred on a beach hut on the seafront at Brighton which is the doorway to another world. The Mysterious Beach Hut by Jacky Atkins is a time-travel tale in which sisters Holly and Beth find themselves on Brighton beach as England stands on the brink of the Great War. Brighton today is recognizable, but as soon as the girls step back into 1914 it is a radically different place. The costumes, the games, the speech, the West Pier in all its glory, the things that people are talking about. The sisters struggle to come to terms with what their eyes are seeing but their brains can’t process.

“Something had changed. The light was different. Just for a moment, it felt as if they were looking at a heat mirage when the bottom of the picture you see becomes slightly waxy and hazy. It was almost as if, for a split second, time had stood still.”

The sisters meet Marjorie who becomes their new best friend and guide to this strange world. But being a time-traveller is difficult. Holly, the older sister, knows something of the history of World War One from school, and finds it painful not to tell her new friends how the war turns out. Curious about Marjorie’s life, Holly and Beth go with their mother in their own time to Brighton Museum. where they meet Mr Edwards, who has a time travel tale of his own to tell.

This is a charming novel for ages 10+ which is really a detective tale involving a misplaced letter, war, death and old age, all sensitively handled. The overall message is one of hope.

To order The Mysterious Beach Hut from Amazon, click here.

‘The Mysterious Beach Hut’ by Jacky Atkins WW1 centenary logo 14-12-13


Book review: Holes

holes by louis sachar 12-12-13This book has been sitting on my shelf forever but I picked it up this week when I exhausted my Kindle’s battery. How lovely to hold an actual book again. I know this is a book for tweens, but I’d heard such good things about it that I wanted to see for myself. I loved the premise: that Stanley is wrongly found guilty of stealing a pair of trainers and is sent to a juvenile correction camp where the punishment is to dig a hole a day. Five feet deep and five feet wide. Every day. It is supposed to be character-building, but Stanley thinks there is another agenda.

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.”

It is a story about finding out who you are, standing up to bullies and finding your bravery.

“Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.”

Woven in with the day-to-day tale of hole-digging is the background to Stanley’s unlucky family; unluckiness blamed on his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. Stanley is a kind of every-boy, who helps a boy worse off than himself and ends up challenging the system.  And Sachar ties up the loose-ends brilliantly.

Not just for kids.

Click here to hear Louis Sachar talk about the book and how he chose the characters’ names.
Click here to watch the movie trailer, starring Shia LaBeouf as Stanley.
‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar

#BookReview ‘Stay Where You Are & Then Leave’ by @john_boyne #WW1

I’m sure this will be the first of many books about the First World War which I will read over the next two years [written in 2013], and what a one to start with. Written by John Boyne, probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a touching story of a boy’s determination to help his soldier father. John BoyneDestined to become a children’s classic, it is a tough tale with a tender touch. Boyne doesn’t shy away from the difficult subjects of enemy aliens, conscientious objectors, loss, injury, death and fear. On July 28th 1914, war is declared. It is also Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday. His biggest wish is to go one morning with his father Georgie on the milk cart with his horse Mr Asquith. Life changes for Alfie and his mother without Georgie. As the years pass, Alfie stops believing the grown-ups who say the war ‘will be over by Christmas’. Then his father’s letters stop arriving. Alfie’s mother says Georgie is ‘on a special mission and cannot write’ but Alfie doesn’t believe her. He doesn’t like being treated as a child, so he decides to do something about it.
This is a story about belief, empowerment, and the strength of children in adversity.

Read my reviews of these other novels by John Boyne:-

If you like this, try these other novels set in Ireland:-
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd
‘Ghost Moth’ by Michele Forbes
‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín

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STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND THEN LEAVE by @john_boyne #bookreview by @SandraDanby https://wp.me/p2ZHJe-4bh