Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

Truth will out – a look at some new non-fiction

In the past non-fiction or information books have been rather ignored by reviewers, apart from educational and library journals.  They were seen as specialist books that were only judged for their curriculum suitability, rather than for any literary or artistic merit.  Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in producing non-fiction that is high quality, beautifully illustrated and well written.  An outstanding example of this is “Shackleton’s Journey” by  William Grill which won the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration.

“How Super Cool Stuff Works”  from Dorling Kindersley.  This is the latest in a very popular concept which shows a range of new and future technologies.  The book is printed in landscape and the page ends are coated in silver paint, so very high tech.  The book itself is divided into sections such as ‘move’, ‘play’, and ‘construct’ and although the information is fairly basic there are some amazing photographs which will keep the reader entranced.  Whilst there is a good contents list, index  and glossary there are no links to information elsewhere, probably because information on the ‘net’ goes out of date so rapidly.  This is one of those books that you just start browsing and then it sucks you in.

Wide Eyed, 9781847808240

“Destination: Space” by Dr Christoph Englert and Tom Clohosy Cole.  The author of this book is a lecturer in Physics and Astronomy and hence brings a huge amount of subject knowledge to the work as well as an ability to pass that on to his audience.  The information is provided in bite sized chunks, but they all link together and provide the groundwork on which to build your knowledge.  Illustrations totally fill each page and are vivid and often beautiful, with a slight nod towards the 1950s.  The highlight of the book is the fold out at the end which shows the stars in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  The only down side is the lack of a contents page and index

“Hello Mr Moon” by Lorna Gutierrez and Laura Watkins”.  This is a charming introduction to the cycles of the Moon, aimed at the youngest of readers.  It is told in rhyme and can be read as both a story and as a source of information.  Basically it is a conversation between the Moon and a small child who loves watching its changes.  The illustrations are beautiful and use the dark blue of the night sky to balance the brightness of the Moon.  This is brilliant for Foundation stage and beyond.

“88 1/2 Science Experiments” by Nick Arnold is a great addition to the primary school.  The author is well known in the education field and he has produced another clear and concise book about science.  The book is divided into  nine sections from magnetism to water and nature and there are a range of experiments within each area.  As you would expect, there is a good glossary and index, so that this is useful as a class text as well as a library book.  The pages are bright and clearly laid out.  the text is logical and understandable with the processes being explained in an effective way.  A lot of the ‘experiments’ do not require special equipment so they could be done in a classroom, or even at home.

“Get Coding” by Young Rewired State is one of the many books that have appeared over the last couple of years, ever since coding was placed on the curriculum.  this covers everything from learning HTML to building a website.  The book begins with the basics and then builds on these by creating various ‘Missions’, where the reader has to build pages and apps in order to move forward in their task.  This is not something you can just dip in to, although I am sure that members of a younger generation will find it easier to follow.  This is definitely one that my younger son would have loved in his youth, when he was just learning to program.

“How to be a Blogger and Vlogger” by Shane Birley.  Well, this is a book that I could have done with when I started this blog.  It is full of sensible and useful information  that is well laid out and actually understandable.  For young people who want to blog and vlog this is a very good place to start; of course it is also definitely for those older people who want to have a go at setting up a blog.  It lists the main blog sites but it might be useful for schools to know that WordPress have a separate blog host called Edublogs which is aimed specifically at those working in education and which has more safeguards that normal sites. Yes, that is what I am using as it is a very good and user friendly place to be.

“Tell me a Picture” by Quentin Blake is a reprint of a title that was originally published to go with an exhibition at the National gallery in 2001.  This contrasted the work of classical painters with the work of modern illustrators from around the world.  Blake uses his signature cartoon figures to inform and question what is going on in the paintings.  Unless the audience is knowledgeable about art they may well not differentiate between the two groups of artists.  There is a section at the back of the book which gives thumbnail  images and information about each piece of work.  It is an excellent introduction to some major artists across the centuries.

“Spot the Mummy in the Museum” by Sarah Khan is actually a beginner’s guide to visiting a museum and gives information about some of the major civilizations that you are likely to see there.  It is aimed at KS1 and asks the reader to search the pictures for hidden items that were important to various ancient cultures.  This is bright and cheerful; it is divided into the various sections you might find in a museum but there is no contents, index or glossary.

“50 things you should know about the Tudors” by Rupert Matthews is a history of this dynasty told in chronological order. It is part of a series ranging from WWI to Space and is a clear and informative introduction to each topic.  The book is full of fascinating image and facts about the Tudors and I particularly like the way it covers the broader aspects of each reign, for example the need to get government finances under control after the spending by Henry VIII.  There is an excellent contents page as well as an index and glossary.  One you start reading this you want to keep going, a very good introduction to the period.

“50 things you should know about Space” by Professor Raman Prinja is another in this excellent series and the format is the same as the others.  The contents page shows that the layout of the book and it starts with the history of the universe and how we have reached the state that exists today; then it looks at our solar system and each of the planets  before finally covering the technology that has developed to allow us to explore the space around us.  An excellent introduction to the subject.

Wayland, 9780750298209

The Great Fire of London” by Emma Adams, illustr. James Weston Lewis is a wonderful tribute to the 350th anniversary of this terrible catastrophe.  the front cover with its leaping flames and gold outlines really highlights the image and feel of the fire.  the inside illustrations are very ‘retro’ and take me back to my childhood in the late 1950s.  They appear to be wood or lino cuts and bring a clarity and atmosphere to the pictures that is very moving.  The colour palette is limited, using blues, rust, orange and yellow; however these are balanced throughout the book so that they reflect the different elements of the sad event.  The story is told chronologically and the inclusion of small quotes from Samuel Pepys’ Diary really add to the drama and poignancy.  I also like the way that the story talks about the consequences of the fire; there were new buildings, improving fire services and more awareness of the dangers to be found in a crowded city.  I absolutely love this book.

On your Bike” by Chris Hoy, illustr. Clare Elsom.  In contrast to the stories that he has co-written with Jo Nadin this book is actually a guide to looking after your bicycle, types of cycling and just enjoying the pastime.  The information is accuarate and deals with everything from maintenance and repair to choosing a bike and starting to race.  You really could not want for a better person to guide new riders than Chris Hoy and he has done a great job in encouraging children to take their cycling more seriously and to stay safe while they are doing so.

“The Busy Beaver” and “”Up the Creek” by Nicholas Oldland are two stories about a group of friends; they are Moose, Beaver and Bear.  Whilst the stories can be read just as picture books, they are also about friendship, sharing and also about the consequences to others when you do something without considering them.  The stories and illustrations are amusing, colourful and full of personality as well as providing a lesson for young readers.

“The Worm” by Dr Emma Lawrence is the first in a fairly new series from a small publisher, Brambleby Books.  The book itself is small (18cm square) and a comfortable size for young readers.  The illustrations are clear but almost childlike and there is an element of fun added by the cheeky and amusing worm that appears in all the pages.  the words are limited to only two lines of rhyming text per page but they explain the subject manner in a concise and understandable way.  You could read this as a story to young children, but the inclusion of an index allows for some degree of searching, although the information given is not always very obvious.  This is a nice addition to the mini-beast collections of Foundation and KS1 classes.

“Tickly Mini beast Adventures” and “Fluttering Mini beast Adventures” by Jess French.   The study of mini-beasts has long been the mainstay of the KSI curriculum and these two books look at different types of small and very crawly creatures.  The author is a zoologist and TV presenter, so she combines knowledge with the ability to connect with her audience.  The illustrations and photographs are clear and accurate, whilst the text  explains, without overwhelming the young reader.  Even the size of the books is aimed at being comfortable for the small person.  There is also a lovely surprise at the back of each book; one has a cut-out spider, whilst the other has a butterfly model.  Altogether a well thought out series.

“My little book of Tractors” by Rod Green is one of those books that my 3 year old grandson is going to love.  it is full of every kind of tractor and bulldozer that he could imagine.  The layout is by type of machine and where they are used so that you get a real idea of how the use has developed over the last 100 years.  The illustrations are up o date, bright and easily link to the small and concise blocks of text.  A great book for KS1 to read and for younger children to share with an adult.

“Amazing Animal Journeys” by Chris Packham is an introduction to the incredible journeys that animals make on a regular basis as they migrate to different parts of the world and then back again.  Chris Packham is a well know and respected naturalist and he has chosen 15 widely different species to act as examples.  Illustrations are used rather than photographs and this allows for some imagination to be added.  Most of the images include a group of three children and this links the reading audience with the actual migratory process.  Whilst there is not a huge amount of text it does give some fascinating information and acts as a springboard for those who want to go further in their research.  It is  a great book for KSI classes.

“100 most Awesome things on the Planet” by Anna Claybourne.  The author has been writing non-fiction for  considerable amount of time, so you can expect quality when you see her name on a book.  This is one of those books that you dip in to, although some avid non-fiction readers will devour it whole.  The subjects are given a page each and the book itself is divided into natural and man-made wonders.  I must admit that I found myself ticking off those items that I have seen, but I still have a very long way to go.  It is a very useful addition to the school or home library.

“British Wildlife” by Matthew Morgan and Laura Knowles  is one of those fascinating guides that provide a basic introduction to the world of nature for younger readers.  The book is divided into into ‘chapters’ which are just two pages long and consist of beautiful illustrations of various examples of each subject.  The text is limited to the names of the plant/animal and perhaps a short question for the reader to answer.  It is a lovely book for browsing, but you need additional resources to add to the information.

I hope that you have found some books that might be of interest but the main purpose of this blog is to remind us all that not everyone wants to read fiction and that there are a lot of very good information books out there.