Friday, 28 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classics - Editor Interview - Robin Stevens - Assistant Editor at Egmont - Robin Stevens

How did you come to be working on Egmont Classics? 

I work across the Fiction department, supporting all of the editors in a variety of projects – but helping to revamp our Classics range has become a favourite project for me. We published the first six books in the series – Treasure Island, A Little Princess, Peter Pan, Just So Stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows – this month, and plan to publish six Modern Classics (The Animals of Farthing Wood, The Snow Spider, You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!, Kensuke’s Kingdom and Whispers in the Graveyard) next spring.

What is involved with editing classic books, and how does it differ from editing new fiction? 

Because Classic texts are extremely well-known and beloved, there isn’t really any editing involved! It’s more of a project management role, although I did create the back material in each of the first six books in the series. The really stand-out part of the books are their covers, and that was all down to our Design team and the illustrators, who did amazing work on them.

When editing a classic, do you encounter difficulties as everyone already has nostalgic views about the books? 

You have to be very respectful with Classic texts – there have to be very good reasons for any edits, and so we’ve chosen to add in extra material instead.

When planning the publication of new-editions of Classics, do you ever look for ways to make them more appealing/relevant to younger readers? 

Absolutely, and that was why we decided to add in the back material that we did – most Classics are written using language that children will be unfamiliar with, so we created glossaries to help them understand the text, and short sections explaining aspects of each book.

There have been so many editions of the staple Classic titles released by numerous publishers over many years, plus many are available without cost in electronic book form, why do you think it is that so many new editions are still brought out today? 

It’s important to have a reason to republish – a lovely new cover, special extra material, an introduction and so on – but I think that there will always be room for new editions of Classics. The stories are so good that they demand good presentation, and the new Egmont editions do them justice.

Now for the ultimate question: What do you think it is that makes a book a Classic? 

Working on the range gave me a chance to re-read each one, often for the first time since I was a child (the perks of the job!) and I was reminded of just how good they all are. They’re Classics because they’re genuinely great stories that stick in people’s heads. They’re fast-paced, funny, exciting, heart-breaking and wildly imaginative, and they all absolutely deserve their Classic label. It’s the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland this year, and I’m fairly convinced that it and the other books on our list will be around for another 150 years at least!

Robin is also the author of the Wells and Wongs Detective Society books. 

Robin will be back tomorrow sharing with us her favourite children's classic! 

Summer of Children's Classics - My Favourite Classic by Robin Stevens - Just So Stories

Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite children’s classic is, the choice is easy: it has to be Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. There’s something a bit marvellous about the Just So Stories. They’re funny, they’re vivid and they’re just a little bit magical. They’re creation myths, and like any creation myth they exude certainty and rightness.

When you’re little (or when you’re human) all you really want is for someone to tell you that everything will be OK, and that’s what you get in the Just So Stories. One of my favourite passages is from ‘The Crab That Played With the Sea’, one of the many places in the Just So Stories where a god comes down to earth to congratulate everyone on being delightfully good and nice, and I think it sums up the wonderful feeling the Stories give:

‘He went North, Best Beloved, and he found All-the-Elephant-there-was digging with his tusks and stamping with his feet in the nice new clean earth that had been made ready for him.
'Kun?' said All-the-Elephant-there-was, meaning, 'Is this right?' 
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician, meaning, 'That is quite right'; and he breathed upon the great rocks and lumps of earth that All-the-Elephant-there-was had thrown up, and they became the great Himalayan Mountains, and you can look them out on the map.
He went East, and he found All-the-Cow there-was feeding in the field that had been made ready for her, and she licked her tongue round a whole forest at a time, and swallowed it and sat down to chew her cud.
'Kun?' said All-the-Cow-there-was. 
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician; and he breathed upon the bare patch where she had eaten, and upon the place where she had sat down, and one became the great Indian Desert, and the other became the Desert of Sahara, and you can look them out on the map.

Just So Stories are filled with things like that – simple, lovely words that are built up and repeated into reassuring chants that refuse to leave your head. It’s hard to really appreciate the Stories until you’ve spoken them out loud, or heard them spoken. Try it (it’s hard not to try it – they’re begging to be spoken) and you’ll find the rhythm rolling off of your tongue.

When I was little I had a marvellous tape (in the high and far off times, O my best beloveds, children had tapes) of the Stories, read by an old man who did all of the voices (his cry of ‘BUBBLES?!’ in ‘How the Camel Got his Hump’ was particularly impressive). That’s how I learned them (I played them until the tape snapped), and that’s how I remember them, as something closer to a song than a story. Just listen to yourself speaking the following sentence out loud, and tell me it doesn’t seem like music:

‘In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel.’

When I’m not being an author, I work for Egmont Publishing, and (in the strange, fortuitous way that life sometimes works) I was recently asked to work on a revamp of our children’s Classics range. And of the six titles in the first set, one was the Just So Stories. I got to help create a new edition of my all-time favourite book, and when I came to read through it I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. The words are still in my head, and they’re just as wonderful as I remembered – none of the magic has gone. It’s as perfect now as it was when it was first published in 1902, and I think it’ll carry on being perfect for another hundred years at least.

Robin Stevens was born in California and grew up in an Oxford college, across the road from the house where Alice in Wonderland lived. She has been making up stories all her life.

When she was twelve, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she realised that she wanted to be either Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie when she grew up. When it occurred to her that she was never going to be able to grow her own spectacular walrus moustache, she decided that Agatha Christie was the more achieveable option.

She spent her teenage years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, reading a lot of murder mysteries and hoping that she’d get the chance to do some detecting herself (she didn’t). She then went to university, where she studied crime fiction, and now she works at a children’s publisher, which is pretty much the best day job she can imagine.

Robin is the author of The Wells and Wong Mysteries, Murder Most Unladylike (which won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize - The winner of best young fiction), Arsenic for Tea and First Class Murder.

We are continuing our Summer of Children's Classics throughout August, so do come back to see our other posts!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classics - Children’s Classics - appealing to readers of today?

This year sees the 150th anniversary of when Lewis Carroll, on a now famous boating journey in Oxford, made up the story that was to become ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.

This has become a true classic – often imitated, and so deep in our culture many people can tell you story or recognise characters without having actually read the book.

You might find publishers today defining a classic as something that has been in print for far less time than this, maybe only twenty years these days makes a classic.

But what makes some stories the ones successive generations want to return to? It is possible to define that elusive enduring quality to stay in print?

And with so much now published exclusively for children – are they still reading the classics?

Oxford University Press is currently relaunching fourteen titles on its children’s classics list by the fresh idea of finding children who have loved them to champion the books.

The publisher ran a competition in February last year asking children to write a short review for their favourite classic story, and selected ‘Classics Champions’ from the best entries. These winners will then see their reviews appearing in the new editions of classic titles – and get their name in a book!

The new range have a new, contemporary look and feel which appeal to modern young readers, and are full of extra materials that help readers get an idea of why these books have been in print for so long.

The reader of the two Alice adventures, Steffan Nicholas, recommends Asterix and ‘Going Solo’ by Roald Dahl as similar adventures, and the book contains quizzes and background information, such as pointing out that Lewis Carroll made up words in his stories, such as ‘chortle’. It’s an imaginative way for children to approach the classics.

Sally’s very own Beatriz Poyton won the competition to see her review of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ published, along with her recommendations of books its readers might enjoy.

She review s it as ‘an exciting story, with lots of twists and turns and entertaining characters in an extraordinarily colourful world. Even if you have watched the film you should read this book, and discover the secrets of Oz in more detail and see what Dorothy’s slippers are actually made from!’

‘The Wizard of Oz’ was the best-selling children’s book for two years after initial publication in 1900 and was followed by 17 sequels – none of which were as successful as the original.

Interview with Beatriz about Children's Classics...

I really like your Wizard of Oz review and I wondered what prompted you to read it in the first place?

I had watched the film, and I wanted to compare the book to film and see the extra details that aren’t in the film. I was very pleased when my aunty brought me a Kindle for Christmas to find a copy of the book on it, so I read it. I discovered that the book is much better than the film.

I also wonder do you approach reading classics any differently to when you picks up something that has been written for a modern audience?

Erm, yes, I don’t believe that classics are better just because I’m told they are. Usually I start reading them, believing that they won’t be as good as the more modern fantasy books I usually read, however, I usually find that the classic books are more engaging and are better than the usual books I read.

What, for you, is the biggest draw about reading classics?

I think that if the blurb is really catchy, I’ll open up and start reading, and usually continue to read them. Also I like to read the actual story to see if it is like the story I already know, from films and cartoons.

What, if anything, do you feel might stop children reading or enjoying classics?

Possibly that the title doesn't really fit the book, and seems duller than the story actually is. Sometimes it is the cover, as a lot of Classic Books have old fashioned covers, so they are not as attractive and don’t appeal to children as much as newer books. Also I think some people think they already know the stories.

Post Written by Nicki.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classic – Peter Pan –Hook’s Daughter by Heidi Schulz

As part of the last week of our Summer of Children’s Classics, we are back in Neverland with a recently published Peter Pan sequel, ‘Hook’s Daughter’ by Heidi Schulz.

Hook’s Daughter is a delight, a funny swashbuckling yarn, told by a cantankerous narrator who tells the tale of great Captain Hook’s daughter, Jocelyn. As daughter and heir of the most feared pirate ever to sail the Seven Seas, Jocelyn isn’t shaping up to be the daughter her grandfather wishes her to be. After numerous governesses and failed attempts at teaching Jocelyn to be lady destined for a good match and future prospects, The girl is shipped off to ‘Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s finishing School for Young Ladies. ‘

But Jocelyn is determined to follow her own path, to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a pirate. Despite Jocelyn’s aptitude for breaking governesses, she finds that school is much more difficult than she anticipated, her scruffy appearance, lack of manners and defiant attitude landing her trouble from the onset. It is only her newfound secret friend, Roger the cook’s servant, who gives her any joy as the pair escape to the store rooms, and read adventures stories and plan their own expedition. Yet her joy is short-lived, when her friendship is exposed, Roger is sent away and Jocelyn makes a wish upon her star for an adventure.

One should never wish upon a star unless they are prepared for the wish to be granted. The moment the wish is made, an oversized black bird by the name of ‘Edgar Allen’, appears and delivers to the girl a letter, one that is essentially the last will and testament of the late great Captain Hook.

“Dear female offspring,
Since you are now reading this epistle, the thing I fear has most assuredly happened. I am dead… 
…the crocodile has sent me to my doom… 
…You are my only heir. As such you must avenge my death. I lay this charge upon you; Come to Neverland. Hunt the beast and destroy it in my name… 
…PS. you must consider this quest your inheritance, along with a few personal effects and a small bag of coins left with my bo’sun, Mr Smee. I may not be able to take my riches into the afterlife, but that is no reason to give them away.”

Without hesitation Jocelyn returns with Edgar to Neverland, meets Mr Smee and purchases herself a small vessel that she names, ‘Hooks Revenge’. All seems to be progressing to her plan until she hires a crew, sadly not the best Neverland has to offer, or second or third best, try sixteenth! The young crew are all afflicted with one aliment or another. One-Armed Jack only has one arm, despite actually having a full quota of limbs, Jim McCraig with a Wooden leg which is actually skin and bone. Or the lookout Blind Bart who has patches over both his functioning eyes.

“Begging your pardon, miss, but your men have some…how shall we put this Jonny? Some unusual characteristics. You see, they’ve not had much experience. Not like your regular crews. None of them have been in a real battle, but that doesn’t stop them wishing they had, so they, ah, pretend.

To make matters worse, her crew seem to have no discipline, preferring to play and for some obscure reason they refer to her as ‘Mother!’

Catching the enormous red-eyed ticking reptile, is tougher than Jocelyn imagined, made increasingly more difficult, by Neverland and its strange inhabitants, not least a very silly flying boy, and his volatile flying fairy.

“’Aren’t you here to be a mother to me and the lost boys? Mothers tell stories, and they do the washing and the mending and the scolding. Although if you want to forget the scolding, I won’t mind. But mothers must tell stories…if you don’t tell me a story right now, I shan’t take my medicine and you will be sorry!

Incensed by the silly flying boy, Jocelyn agrees to wage war with him and lost boys once she has killed the crocodile. After an attack from another vessel with a much more seasoned crew, Jocelyn finds herself on her own, and survives the dangers of Neverland by softening the heart of a mermaid, outwitting cannibals and saving a fairy prince who becomes her loyal friend. Yet despite her victories, the crocodile taunts her it’s ticking fraying her nerves, feeding on fear and doubt. Her doubts are magnified when she bumps into the lost boys and comes face to face with Roger who has no recollection of his life before Neverland and no memories of their friendship. The loss of her friends makes it all the more difficult when the time comes and it is Jocelyn or the crocodile, as she must be believe in herself and quell her fears in order to slay the beast.

Hook’s Daughter is a jolly, funny riveting read, she has taken Neverland and imitated and yet made it her own at the same time. One of the delights of Neverland is its character, the fact the world has a personality of its own and will wield its lands to suit its own agenda, Heidi Schulz has made every advantage of this in her book, having the land remould and reshape itself to create challenges and hurdles for Jocelyn to overcome. Another triumph is the inhabitants of Neverland, with all the expected characters we know; the ice-blooded Mermaids, the lost-boys, Peter, Tink, and Smee, who all seem exactly how they were in the original text. But Schulz, has also developed characters like the banished lost-boys, now young men turned pirates, or the crocodile who had mutated into a fierce beast poisoned by its last meal. Then Schulz has created her own characters, drawing on Neverland’s ever changing state dreamed up slumbering children, she has let her imagination run free creating colourful and delectable characters like The Karnapinae, the feathered-nosed cannibals with an obsession with England with ambition to fly there and dine on the population, or her expanded fairy realm, which also draws on fairy-lore.

The book is a great story, with adventure which emulates the voice of the original, with a perhaps more cranky narrator, who is himself very amusing, but she has also laid waste to the now antiquated view of the role of women and mother, as she is most adamantly not a fine lady, or destined to wash and mend clothes. Hook’s Daughter takes the best of Barrie’s Neverland and has used it to create a charming tale of self-discovery and swashbuckling adventure.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics – Peter Pan – J.M.Barrie

Throughout the month we have been looking at children’s classics, delving into their often strange and curious path to publication, the cultural impact that they have created, and trying to work out exactly what it is that makes them classic. Today we journey to place between consciousness and sleep, as we put Neverland and it’s most famous inhabitant, Peter Pan, under the microscope.

J.M.Barrie’s novel telling the adventures of one very cocky and mischievous leaf clad boy, Peter Pan, is another undisputed classic. Like many classic’s, Peter Pan had meandering course to publication and it may surprise you to learn that Peter‘s debut was actually in a novel Barrie penned for adults, ‘The Little White Bird’ published in 1902. It is more widely known that the story which is adored by millions of people today was originally a play; Barrie used his creation of the boy who lived in Kensington garden as the main character of the 1904 production; Peter Pan or The Boy Wouldn’t Grow Up. The play was a success, and soon Barrie’s publishers re-printed the chapter of ‘The Little White Bird’ which featured Peter as its own book ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’ accompanied by the delightful illustration my Arthur Rackham. With gaining popularity Barrie adapted the play to novel form and ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ was published in 1911.

The genius of Peter Pan is that it written solely for the entertainment of children. The magical dream-realm, with, mermaids, ticking crocodiles, Indians tribes, where you can fly and play all day but return to the waiting arms of devoting parents appeals to children’s imaginations. It is freedom personified, and even comes with a safety net, if anything goes wrong, and you find yourself at the end of a plank, then Peter is always there to save you. This is a world where children will always been drawn to as, it is free and safe, and thereby the story is as relevant today as it were a century ago.

Since then, Peter, the Darling siblings, The Lost Boys and Captain Hook, have become ingrained in modern culture. Everyone knows the story, even if they haven’t actually read the book. It has been adapted into films and animations, by the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers, and the hugely successful all-star sequel ‘Hook’ with Steven Spielberg at the helm.

As a child I LOVED the stories of Neverland, I was introduced to them firstly by the Disney animation, and then panto and I even won the role of Wendy in a school play. I read the book (despite the difficult language and the heavy narration), and found myself amazed by both the story and the exquisite illustrations (although I did feel the need to enhance the pictures by self-colouring them, after all Neverland shouldn’t be monochrome!) Both my children, adore the book, but one thing I did find whilst reading it them, is that through adult’s eyes it reads very different.

I was shocked at how much darker Neverland from an adult’s perspective. Nowhere does it say that Neverland is a place where children don’t grow up, but merely a place where Peter doesn’t age, in fact Peter’s rule that growing up is forbidden has rather sinister connotations especially in regards to the implied enforcement.

“The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which against the rules, Peter thins them out.”

As a grown up Peter becomes less appealing, his self-assured personality, and his butterfly nature makes him less of a reliable captain, and hero, making the whole Neverland seem like a much darker and dangerous place. Whether these dark undertones are picked up my children, I don’t know, and I do wonder if it really matters. After all fairy-tales aren’t exactly fluffy and light and children tend to let their imaginations to venture as dark as they want to go.

These undertones, of course are picked up on my adults and have on many occasions been put to great use, for instance the Peter Pan and indeed the Neverland with the Disney ABC television’s ‘Once Upon a Time’ are exquisitely dark and terrifying. Or the 1987 vampire movie ‘The Lost Boys’ where the bloodthirsty runaways are looking for a mother.

So Peter Pan is a truly integrated into modern culture its appeal being multi-layered; the surface a place of freedom and play for children that sparks their imagination and the bottom, being a darker world that stirs the shadowy parts of adults imaginations.

Staying in The Neverland, our next post is a review of the recently published Heidi Schulz penned sequel to Peter Pan, Hook’s Daughter!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classic's - My Favourite Classic by Dawn Finch - Back in the Jug Agane

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and librarian and is Vice President of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), so we expected something good, and we were right, she has chosen...

Back in the Jug Agane by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle 

As a small child I was lucky enuff to have a librarian with a sense of humour. He was large and hirsute man with breath that could fell an ox at a hundred paces, but he loved books and loved sharing his favourites. Once, towards the close of a particularly long and hot summer school holiday, I was getting my books stamped and he leant his vast bulk over the desk and said “here, you’re a smart kid, I think you’ll like this,” and he stamped an extra book and gave it over to me.

I didn’t argue (small piece of advice – never argue with a librarian, they always win) and in any case I was thrilled to have an extra book on my meagre six books allowance. I tucked the thin paperback in the pile and shuffled out of the library like a freshly informed spy.

The book in question was the final volume in Willans’ and Searle’s superb Molesworth quartet, but it was my first meeting with the erstwhile Custardian, Nigel Molesworth. On the surface I had absolutely nothing in common with Nigel socially; he was the boy at the cripplingly posh St Custards prep school, and I was the poor kid at the crammed and noisy primary on the edge of the council estate – but underneath we had everything in common.

I wasn’t really the kind of gurl who read those “what ho, jolly japes” boarding school books, but I larffed and larffed at Nigel’s superbly phonetic tales of his exploits at St Custards. Geoffrey Willans’ writing has peppered my speech with Molesworth-isms (it shall forever be “peotry” and “luvley” and I’m prone to a little “hullo clouds, hullo sky” now and then) but the hilarious addition of Ronald Searle’s brilliantly funny illustrations really made the books.

As the summer holidays whizz by like atoms I have chosen Back in the Jug Agane, in which N Molesworth (“goriller of 3B”) returns to St Custards to complete his “50000000 years hard laber sentence.” So it’s back to skool with swots, snekes, masters, kanes, lessons, wizard wheezes* and various other chizzes.

I have since managed to collect first editions of the original books, and I still have my jumble sale copy of Back In The Jug Agane, but Puffin has helpfully reprinted all four books in one volume with all of the original illustrations. Now, if only I could remember who has borrowed my first edition of How To Be Topp (chiz chiz)

*It’s worth a mention that in the volume How To Be Topp, we are introduced to Marcus Plautus Molesworth as he pens his Latin (ahem) masterpiece entitled “The Hogwarts” – it seems I’m not the only writer who is a fan….

To find out more about Dawn, and her writing vist her website: or follow her on twitter@dawnafinch

Friday, 21 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classics - My Favourite Classic by Nicki - Solving mysteries, finding clues and meeting the five find-outers

My favourite classics are probably the Mystery Series by Enid Blyton, particularly as I have been reading and enjoying them all over again with my own children very recently.

I loved Enid Blyton. I loved those epic friendships of Darrell Rivers in Malory Towers with its sea-bathing and midnight feasts, I got caught up in the adventures of the Famous Five and Secret Seven. But my favourites, the ones I loved most, were the slightly lesser-known, but utterly brilliant, Mystery stories.

The first was published in 1943, with around one a year published until 1957. The final mystery ‘The Mystery of Banshee Towers’ appeared in 1961, just seven years before Blyton’s death.

I loved the fact that the mysteries were straightforward, yet always supremely clever. None of your murders and international espionage here. They were about friends being accused of stealing, of investigating why a room should be fully furnished in an empty house, of locked room puzzles and stolen pets. The sort of mysteries you could definitely picture yourself stumbling upon in real life (and solving of course).

I think that’s what I loved about them – that and the clues. The clues were brilliant. Usually the oddest and most obscure one that no-one take seriously and no-one can figure out is the one that cracks the case wide open.

I also loved all the detective tips. Possibly my favourite is ‘The Mystery of the Secret Room’ because the lead detective, Fatty, gets captured by the crooks and has to hope the other find-outers will be clever enough to spot he has written a secret note in invisible ink to save them all walking into a trap. Plus, they learn how to get out of a locked room, something else I remember trying myself when I was thrilled to eventually find the right sort of door (basically big key and no carpet – I can show you how).

There is something about going to back to an old favourite book that can make you approach with jitters. One of the great joys of reading surely has to be that we always put something of ourselves into the activity of reading, so we definitely get different things out of books at different times. Perhaps that is why some books simply fail to have that same impact when we go back to them.

So I was really relieved when I started to read the Mystery stories to my own children that not only have they absolutely loved them, but I have enjoyed reading them again as well and I’ve appreciated them all over again as an adult.

What I had forgotten was the humour. So much of the story isn’t about a mystery at all – it is all about the children’s relationship with the awful Mr Goon, the local bobby, who hates the children and always wants to solve any mysteries first (but fails, of course).

Fatty puts on disguises to fool him and the children are not above leaving false clues and trails, and sending him up terribly and in return he locks them up and reports them to their parents at every opportunity. But of course the children always ultimately get the better of him.

So they are funny, clever and exciting all at the same time and definitely stand up to being read again, particularly if you like mystery/adventure stories.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics - Treasure Island – Skulduggery

This week we’ve been talking pirates, or more specifically the legacy that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has left in its wake since it first was published way back in the 1880’s. So now, we look at a more recently published of book inspired by the world and characters of the swashbuckling classic.

Interest Age: 5-8
Reading Age: 6+

Skulduggery is a quirky comic adventure following a boy on his first day at a new school, “Squire Trelawneys School for Young Sea Dogs.’ The enthusiastic ‘sea-pup’ who is dressed in full pirate regalia becomes downhearted to discover that (due to the pressures of the modern education system) that the school is not what he expected, and is just like any other ordinary school.

After a running with two of the school scoundrels ‘Billy Bones’ and ‘Black Dog’, he makes friends with the charming, ‘Short John Silver’ who helps him stash away his treasure chest. Like any good pirate yarn, the treasure disappears and it turns out that John has a sliver tongue and is in fact at pirate captain. As the new sea pup, ‘Ben Gunn’ embarks on an adventure on the high seas to save the school he pounders; can he trust Short John Silver?

Sir Tony Robinson has produced a quirky humorous book for younger readers bringing in the themes and characters of, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s, Treasure Island. It is a funny age appropriate introduction to the classic for younger readers, which is enhanced by Jamie Smith’s lively illustrations.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics – Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the last few weeks we at Space on The Bookshelf have been looking at Children’s Classics and discussing what makes them classic. One thing is clear, classics are loved, and have proven themselves to have endured, to stay loved and crucially remain in print for a substantial period of time.

One thing that we have discovered over these posts is that not all the classics were originally novels, for example; ‘Peter Pan’ was originally a stage play, and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was originally penned not for publication but purely for the pleasure of the real Alice and her sisters. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ is yet another classic which started out as something quite different. Originally titled ‘The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys’ it was serialized in the children's periodical ‘Young Folks’ between 1881 and 1882 in seventeen instalments. The story was renamed and published in its now iconic format as a novel in November 1883.

Treasure Island was loved instantly by children and adults alike (including renowned political figures) from the outset. Its adventure, mystery, and array of colourful morally ambiguous characters set it on course to become a classic. At the same time it changed people’s perceptions of pirates, setting down the stereotypes that have been imitated countless times. Every child knows that pirates have wooden legs, eye patches, treasure maps, buried loot and pet parrots, many of which were the creative vison of Stevenson. Along with the creative flare that Stevenson added to his story, he also mixed in references to notorious actual pirates creating depth and credibility. 


Stevenson’s bloodthirsty rum drinking sea dogs; Long John Silver, Billy Bones, and Captain Flint became household names, and has therefore seen many an interpretations across the numerous film, television, radio and animated adaptions, who can forget Tim Curry’s Silver and Billy Connolly’s Bones in the Muppets version? The characters also provide inspiration for many other books, directly or indirectly, like the recent series ‘Black Sails’ (made for adults by Amazon) , a prequel to Treasure Island, following Silver (younger with a full complement of limbs), Flint and the crew as they acquire the loot. Plus it is hard to imagine the other infamous pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow ever having existed if it weren’t for Treasure Island.

It’s a testament to the power of the story and engaging characters that has given Treasure Island longevity, that these are strong enough that children will sit down and read a book which is written in older English, stretching their vocabulary and comprehension. My eldest, was instructed by her teacher when she was in year three (age 7-8), to read Treasure Island, despite it being out of her usual comfort zone by way of genre, and proving to be a challenging read, she loved it, and it really progressed her reading ability. 

Treasure Island has remained in print for over 130 years, and has altered culture with its characters becoming archetypal pirates inspiring hundreds of stories whether they be written, drawn, or on a screen, and it’s merry rhymes being synonymous with pirate culture, ‘ Yo-ho-ho-, and a bottle of rum!’ It really is a bona fide classic!

Pop back later in the week, when we’ll be looking at some of the recently published Treasure Island inspired books for children.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classics - My Favourite Classic Children’s Book by Benjamin Scott

“Mr Hawlings will give you a much older version of the Punch and Judy play, which his grandfather used to play upon the roads.”

As for many readers these days, I can’t remember if I read the book or saw the amazing BBC adaption first, but my children’s classic of choice is The Box of Delights by John Masefield. My yellow Puffin paperback version of the book was probably a little battered when I first got it, but I’ve poured over it many times since including, one December, reading it aloud with my wife.

Of the tales about Kay Harker, The Box of Delights, a sequel to The Midnight Folk, is the more successful of the two books. It’s a faster paced and a more exciting story with higher stakes. Mr Cole Hawlings entrusts the magical Box of Delights to Kay Hawker to stop the box falling into the hands of Abner Brown and the ‘wolves’ that are after it. Kay must use the box’s powers, which allows the owner to shrink, fly and enter the past, to save the Punch and Judy man and defeat the evil gang who are ‘scrobbling’ the clergy of Tatchester Cathedral threatening the Millennial Christmas Service.

Even though the story is rooted in the era between the wars, with delightful 1930s words and phrases, its universal message makes it a classic worth keeping. Known as a quintessential Christmas story, really it is more of tale for midwinter. Despite the present of clergymen and cathedrals, Masefield’s story stretches back into the misty pagan past, featuring such heralds of good as Herne the Hunter. As daylight begins to lose ground, then rapidly retreat between now and the winter solstice, here is a tale that tells us that light will triumph over darkness, that there is hope even as winter closes in. Kay, an ordinary schoolboy, shows that anyone can play a part in keeping light in the world.

It’s time to lay your hands on a copy of The Box of Delights and sometime after Halloween start reading it. You won’t regret it.

Benjamin Scott is the ghost-author of eight books (including five books in the Star Fighters series by Max Chase). A creative writing tutor, he’s taught at a range of schools and organisations, including the Oxford University Continuing Education Department and Swanwick, the Writers’ Summer School. He also mentors other writers through his critiquing and editorial service. His agent is Gillie Russell at Aitken Alexander Associates. 

Ben can be found on Twitter: @Benjamin_Scott
His web site is:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics – The Wonderful Wizard of OZ- Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Welcome to the world of Amy Gumm; a teenage product of a broken home, whose Dad left for a younger wife and better life, and whose Mum after a nasty accident is left with a substance abuse problem, addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Amy, child with ‘un-tapped potential’ has become a target for the girls with stable homes (with one and a half bathrooms) who relish in getting her in trouble, whilst taunting her about her ‘Salvation Army’ clothes and tin home with wheels (well blocks anyway! Amy dreams of a new exciting life and escaping the humdrum Kansas behind.

After an altercation at school resulting in her suspension, Amy ends up at home in the ‘Dusty Acres’ trailer park with a tornado heading her way. That is when Amy’s dream comes true; as she, Star (her mother’s pet rat) and the trailer are picked up by the tornado and put down in a very different world.

“Welcome to Oz,” the boy [Pete] said, nodding, like he expected I’d figured that out already. It came out sounding almost apologetic, like, Hate to break the bad news. ‘

Being from Kansas, Amy knows all the trials and tribulations that befell Dorothy according to the book and film, but nothing prepares her for Oz. The land in the stories is a vast contrast to what she discovers when she arrives in the Magical realm.

‘ …a vast field of decaying grass stretched into the distance. It was grey and patchy and sickly, with the faintest tinge of blue. On the far side of the pit was a dark, sinister-looking forest, black and deep. Everything around here seemed to have that tint to it, actually. The air, the clouds, even the sun, which was shining bright, all had the faded, washed-out quality to them. There was something dead about all of it. ‘

It’s not long before Amy discovers that Oz is dying, with magic being mined out of the ground, by enslaved Munchkin children, under the watchful eye of Glinda and the ruling hand of Dorothy.

She [Dorothy] was wearing the dress, but it wasn’t the dress exactly- it was as if someone had cut the familiar blue-checked jumper into a million little pieces and put it back together again, only better. Better and, okay, a lot more revealing. Actually, more than a little bit… Instead of Farm-girl cotton it was silk and chiffon. The cut was somewhere between haute couture and French hooker.”

As world wise as Amy may be at home in ‘The Other Place’ her lack of knowledge about Oz and the strict rules and laws imposed by Dorothy and enforced by The Tin Woodman and his fearless metal army soon get her captured. At Dorothy’s mercy, Amy is put to trial with her fellow Kansassian serving as judge and jury and she soon learns of her imminent execution.

But Amy isn’t without allies and a visit from the mysterious Pete is quickly followed by jail break instigated by the powerful witch Mombi. Amy is taken to one of Oz’s remaining magical havens and introduced to the ‘The Revolutionary Order of The Wicked.’ The Order comprises of the remnants of Oz’s Wicked witches, who have formed an alliance to protect Oz with one goal; to kill Dorothy. Mombi, Gert, and Glinda’s twin sister Glamora along with teenage wizard/warrior Nox, enlist Amy and train her in the arts of magic, etiquette and combat, creating their own assassin from Kansas.

The mission is simple; Amy must kill Dorothy. Yet despite the evil that Amy has witnessed Dorothy inflict on others it isn’t until she infiltrates the palace at The Emerald City under the guise of a maid, that she really sees Dorothy’s cruelty first hand easing any concerns about the morality of her mission. But Oz is always changing and nothing is as it seems. Dorothy and her entourage are formidable.

There’s Glinda, the witch who enslaves children, and reaps the land of magic, letting nothing stand in her way even her twin, who she disfigured. The Lion, a mutated mussel bound creature who commands an army of savage beasts, who feed on peoples fear and toys with people mauling them for entertainment. The Scarecrow, and evil scientist who experiments on living beings, grafting people and metal to make the tin-man’s legions and draining the brains of others to inject into his own to further increase his intelligence. And the Tin Man, a vastly ungraded efficient killing machine, with a warped obsession with Dorothy.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, Oz’s true ruler, the fairy princess Ozma, sees through Amy’s disguise, and the infamous ‘Wizard of Oz’ seems to know her true identity too. Will Amy have what it takes to stick to the task at hand? Or will one of Dorothy’s subjects betray her?

‘Dorothy Must Die’ is a fast paced, mysterious tale that has dark undercurrents.

This book has effectively used the darker elements of Baum’s world to create a yarn with depth and intrigue. Paige has taken great care to imitate Baum’s world of Oz in accurate details and draws from the extensive set of characters from his original series of books. The main antagonist in Baum’s Oz Sequels is the witch Mombi, she is a driving force in The Revolutionary Order of The Wicked, and Oz’s creator and ruler, the fairy queen Ozma, is also present as Dorothy’s subservient co-throne-bearer. The Gnome King gets a mention and Paige makes great use of the Flying Monkeys. But it is Dorothy and her friends that are truly spectacular, as they are a darker, twisted take on Baum’s originals, familiar enough to be instantly recognisable but being so mutated they are truly terrifying.


Amy is a plucky and sympathetic protagonist, coming from a humble and troubled beginning but with an inherent moral sense that creates personal conflict as she battles the morality of her mission. She develops throughout the book from wanting to escape her mother to missing her, along with becoming a strong independent young woman, but with just the right amount of teenage angst especially when it comes to the strong and attractive romantic interest Nox.

‘Dorothy Must Die’ is an exquisitely written and intricately plotted story that effectively recreates the world of Oz in a refreshing and modern way.

However, this is a YA, and unlike Baum in his own words wrote the book to be..
 ‘a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmare are left out.’ 
Dorothy Must Die has lashings of both heartache and nightmares!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

‘The Wonderful Wizard’ of Oz by L. Frank Baum is an indisputable Children’s Classic. First published in May 1900, then adapted into a Broadway musical two years later and hitting the silver screen in the now iconic The Wizard of Oz in 1939. It has stood the test of time, being reprinted numerous times, and is now ingrained in western culture.

Lines from both the book and the original film are used in daily life…

Follow the yellow brick Road” becoming a metaphor for travelling to somewhere which you don’t know what to expect when you reach the destination.

“We’re not in Kansas any more.” Being an expression used when you are in a settling or place which is unfamiliar.

“Fly my pretty's!” Being an expression used when releasing something; dog off their leads, children into the playground – or is that just me?

Then there are the visual stimulations; who can look at a pair of silver or red sparkly shoes without instantly thinking about Dorothy tapping her heals? Has a witch ever been more imitated then the Wicked Witch of the west?

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is classic, through and through. It’s had two more, big screen adaptations, the 1985 terrifying ‘Return to Oz,’ where Dorothy is saved from a psychiatric institution and taken back to Oz to save it from a Nome King. Then the more recent 2013 ‘Oz the Great and Powerful,’ a prequel following the ‘Wizard’, Oz’s, journey to the colourful land and his battles when he arrives. Another amazing famous prequel is the musical ‘Wicked ‘based on the Gregory Maguire novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,’ which has been running on Broadway and the Westend since 2003. Not to mention the Muppets version or the slightly strange Jackson Five one! 

I first read/listened to The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, as it was serialised in the Storyteller Magazine when I was a child. Monthly I would get a new edition of the magazine through the post with a cassette tape, and I’d look at the beautiful pictures and follow the printed words whilst I listened to someone read the story. I can remember been absolutely transfixed, and mesmerised by the magical world. The magical world of talking animals and strange people seemed so fresh and unique when I listed and read the magazine, (I’d never seen the film, and actually I didn’t see it until I was in my twenties). I have often wondered if the book would get the same kind of reaction with my own children today, what with it being so ingrained in culture. Would they still get the same feeling reading the pages as I did, when they had seen the film and already know about Dorothy’s magic slippers, and had won competitions for Wizard of Oz inspired scarecrows? I actually didn’t even have to prompt them to get the answer as they both choose to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on their Kindles.

And so here is my youngests review on his own cover design…

The answer was yes, both children were totally enthralled by Dorothy adventures in spite of all the cultural references and bits of the stories that they had heard and watched they loved it.

So the main reason that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a children’s classic, is because it still entertains children today. Despite the passage of time, and the changes to the world since its publication 115 years ago, it still has the capability to capture children’s’ imaginations for them to read it to the end.

In fact Baum sums up what makes a classic a classic in the introduction to the book he writes…

Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvellous and manifestly unreal. “

It is these qualities that he strived to put into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which has ensured that it is still loved and cherished by children today. Sadly less can be said about Baum Oz sequels, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz, which very few people have heard of, let alone read.

But despite the other tales of Oz being less known, they have been used to inspire many writers in their own adventures set in wonderland, or as raw material for films and other adaptions. Later in the week we’ll be looking at one such book, the recently published YA fantasy, ‘Dorothy Must Die’.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Summer of Children's Classics - My Favourite Classic Children’s Book - By Mo O’Hara

Throughout August we at Space on the Bookshelf will be posting interviews and features celebrating Children's Classics. So to kick of our Summer of Children's Classic's interviews we have My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish author Mo O'Hara sharing with us her favourite Classic Children's book.

What is my favourite classic children’s book?  Wow. There are so many.  Ones that made me laugh and made me cry. Ones that made me want to read and ones that made me want to write. There is one book though that made me want to read out loud and that is the book I’ve chosen. The Velveteen Rabbit (Or How Toys Become Real) written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson was the book I most loved to hear read aloud.  The sound of the words was entrancing. It was kind of English, kind of old fashioned, and it captured a world that was very distant to me as  1970s suburban Pennsylvanian kid. The idea of a ‘nursery’ that wasn’t a school room full of kids crying as they’re dropped off by their parents sounded amazing to me.  That was stranger than toys that could talk and feel (which of course was completely normal).  

There were lots of words I wondered about.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what on earth ‘bracken’ could be and  I had no idea what ‘playing brigands’ was either.  The boy’s life was so different to mine.
The voice of the book though, the softness and wisdom and humour of the narration still gets me. 
It was the book that I would read aloud to myself.  I loved the sound of it.  I felt the drama of it as I read on.  I even remember getting an old cassette recorder and taping myself reading sections of the book.  It is a book that just demands to be read out loud (again, and again and again).  At college I had a record of the George Winston and Meryl Streep recording of the book and played it in my dorm. So I guess I never grew out of that.  

(I may have to hunt that out online and download it soon to hear it again.)

It’s a hugely sentimental book but it’s always seemed genuine to me.  I guess I always believed in the nursery magic.  I still  have some of my ‘real’ childhood toys that look down at me from my shelf on my desk as I write and I often think, ‘What do they say when I’m not here? And do they wonder about ‘bracken’ too? ’ 

Originally from America, Mo moved to London because she wanted to live abroad but spoke no foreign languages. After a brief and unsuccessful stint as a serving wench at the Tower of London Mo found work as an actress and comedy performer. It was when she toured the UK as a storyteller that she started writing for kids.   Mo’s debut novel, “My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish” was published by Macmillan in the UK, the USA in 2013.  It’s follow up “My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish the Sea-quel” came out later that year in the UK and in 2014 in the USA. “My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish- Fins of Fury” and “My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish- Any Fin is Possible” both came out in the UK in 2014. ‘Live and Let Swim’ and ‘Jurassic Carp’ are out in 2015.  The series is now published in 12 languages worldwide.  Mo is currently working on two picture books to be published by Macmillan in 2015 and 2016. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics! What Makes a Classic?

Here at Space on the Bookshelf we celebrate all kinds of Children’s Literature, but predominantly we feature newly published books with our 3D Reviews and competition shadowing. SO when we were thinking of a summer feature to follow on from last year’s successful ‘WOW! Let’s Celebrate; Comics, Graphic Novels and Magazines!’ we decided to look back to the Classics and create our ‘Summer of Children’s Classics!’ posts. Throughout August we will be posting reviews and features about Children’s Classics as well as treating you to some interviews with writers who are going to tell us about their favourite children’s classic book, and share with us what the books mean to them.

To kick off our celebrations of all things classic we thought we’d start with a little ponder on what makes a classic. What it is that promotes a book up to this prestigious title?

The definition of classic in the English dictionary is:


1. Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind: a classic novel, a classic car

So, a Classic book is one which has withstood the pasting of time and fashions, and continues to be relevant, loved, read and most importantly remain in print. Many of the books we instantly think of as Classic’s are old, published long enough ago that they are no-longer have the constrictions of Copyright imposed on them; the likes of Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book. These are the daddies of the Children’s Classic Books, as they really have been judged over a substantial period of time; The Grimm’s Fairy Tales, are pushing 203 years since its original publication in 1812, and Alice and the Wonderland residents celebrate their 150th Anniversary come November 26th. Many of these Classics had rocky starts, Alice wasn't received well by critics upon publication, and Peter Pan which was originally a play that almost didn't hit the stage, which would have seriously hindered it’s evolution to novel form. So these titles have definitely won the right to their Classic status.

But it’s not only older works that earn the classic status. Puffin Books publish ‘Modern Classics’ and even though many of the classics on this list have been in print for a long period of time, like; Ursula Moray Williams’s, ‘Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat’ that was first published in 1942, or ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L'Engle originally realised in 1963, there are the much younger titles on its list too, like Dick Kings Smith’s 1989’s ‘The Hodgeheg’, or even Eion Colfer’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ that hit bookshelves in 2001.

So what makes a classic? An instant embracing of a book by a large audience? Or is it something more? Whatever it is, I believe that most of us have an opinion on which titles are classics even if we don’t quite understand what the elusive ingredients are that they possess that makes them classic! One thing we can be certain of is that Children’s Classic Books are all much loved by both young readers and readers that are young of heart!

Over August we will be celebrating classics in an array of features and will continue to deliberate over what it is that makes them so, but we would really love to hear what you think defines a book as a classic, please tell us by commenting below!