Category Archives: Children

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Unlike many others, I did not see the promotional picture of two girls kissing for the release of The Sleeper and the Spindle. Instead, being so out of the loop with blogging and new books, I saw this title appear in the top 20 sold books on Bookdepository one day, and decided to buy it. “New Neil Gaiman and a fairy tale at that,” I thought, “I will probably like this”. Not having seen the promo, I was probably saved a lot of disappointment. Instead, I got what I expected: a fairy tale Neil Gaiman-style, with twists that I did not expect, and lovely illustrations by Chris Riddell to boot.

The Sleeper and the Spindle - Neil Gaiman // Illustrated by Chris Riddell // Bloomsbury, 2014

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman // Illustrated by Chris Riddell // Bloomsbury, 2014

But sometimes, getting what you expected may not feel like enough. And I realise this sounds spoiled. And let’s be honest: it is. But for the first half of the book, it was a thought that flashed through my mind. We’ve come to expect great tales from Gaiman. And upon seeing that cover (WOW!) the idea of wonderful images might be taken for granted.

And so it took a while to realise exactly what joys The Sleeper and the Spindle provides.

Take this quote at the beginning, which plays with gender expectations and “the happily ever after” right there (before playing with it some more throughout the book):

It seemed both unlikely and extremely final. She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman. It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices. In a week from now, she would have no choices. She would reign over her people. She would have children. Perhaps she would die in childbirth, perhaps she would die as an old woman, or in battle. But the path to her death, heartbeat by heartbeat, would be inevitable.

And then there’s the moment when realisation first hit (and yes, I am sloooow), that this were fairytales intertwined, with a lead that is Snow White an her dwarfs, mixed up in the tale of Sleeping Beauty. And I started to love the book a little more.

As we near the end I first realise that here’s a wonderful girl protagonist, who is allowed the possibility of a death in battle (see the quote above), and moreover, to make her own choices (there’s quite some gender role reversal when she tells the prince she will leave on a mission), and take such a large part in the action.

And then there is the very end. With a twist on traditional fairy tale expectations about beauty and age that I loooooved. And by then I cannot help but conclude that yes, I was spoiled to even think that getting what one expects of an author may not be enough.

I ended up really enjoying The Sleeper and the Spindle. But I do understand some of the disappointment out there. For this is not a LGTB take on a fairytale. The kiss itself is beautifully pictured but of very little importance in the story as a whole.

Reading Next: The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz (and still reading Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim).

Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine

I began my journey into the world of 1001 Children’s Books by selecting the very last title listed. Finding Violet Park had been lingering on my shelves for a few years, bought at a this-bookshop-is-bankrupt sale years before. I never quite knew whether I should read it or discard it, until I saw it listed here. Yay for persuading me to pick up a long-forgotten book from my TBR shelves.

Dutch version of Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine // Published in English by Harper Collins in 2007 (Also published as "Me, the Missing, and the Dead")

Dutch version of Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine // Published in English by Harper Collins in 2007 (Also published as “Me, the Missing, and the Dead”)

In Finding Violet Park Lucas Swain goes on a journey of self-discovery in which he comes to terms with his broken family and learns to face the imperfect nature of his missing father, after finding the abandoned urn of concert pianist Violet Park at a taxi stand.

I did not think Finding Violet Park was extraordinary. But it was a lovely read nonetheless. Lucas Swain is entirely realistic and easy to relate to. The style of the book is humorous. The short chapters ensured that I rushed through the book without feeling hurried or inattentive. There is a bit of suspension of disbelief required for the many coincidental relations between events and characters, but at the same time this might be explained by Lucas’ conviction that Violet Park wanted him to find her urn for a reason.

In short: I really enjoyed Finding Violet Park, and I am glad I did not toss the book out when I moved. At the same time, I find I have very little to say about it. (Hah, and here I thought I was going to get back to blogging full-swing).

Finding Violet Park counts towards the Children’s Books Project. It also counts as first book down (1/37) for my personal 2015 TBR challenge.

Currently reading: Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim.
Next up in the Children’s Books Challenge: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

The Secret of Platform 13 was my first read of 2014 and the first book for #LARmonth

The Secret of Platform 13 – Eva Ibbotson
Macmillan Children’s Books, 1994

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

By the beginning of January, I needed a good comfort read. And if anyone can provide comfort reads, it is Eva Ibbotson. Happily diving into the Ibbotson novel I received as a holiday present those first days of the year, I cannot say I was disappointed.

In The Secret of Platform 13 said platform at King’s Cross Station provides a portal between our world and an island for 9 days every 9 years. When the son of the king and the queen of the island disappears in the world and is unable to return to the island, the queen is devastated. A rescue party is organised nine years later to bring back the prince, among which are a wizard, an ogre, a fey, and the young hag Odge. Can they bring back the prince before the portal closes for another 9 years?

When the rescue party arrives in London, they find that the boy they are told is the prince, Raymond Trottle, is not what they expected. He is a spoilt boy who is given everything he desires by the rich lady who calls herself his mother. Meanwhile, Ben, who helps in the Trottle’s household, does all in his power to help the rescuers, and even if he wishes he could join the rescuers in going to the island he stand by his dying grandmother who he does not want to leave alone.

Admittedly, the story in The Secret of Platform 13 has its predictable qualities. There is a clear set up where the reader finds himself rooting for Ben, while Raymond is portrayed as horrible from the beginning. I find myself agreeing with Ana’s observation that she would have liked it better if the ending had been a little different. Moreover,after reading more of Eva Ibbotson’s book, particularly One Dog and His Boy, I wonder if selfish rich people are a bit of a trope in Ibbotson’s work? She has a definite view of who is “good” and “bad”, and while some privileged people (for example the king and the queen in this story) are portrayed as lovely people, it is clear that Ibbotson did not have much sympathy for rich people who become spoilt and selfish. On the one hand, who can blame her? On the other, it would be nice to see a little more shades of grey built into the narrative at times. Ana’s suggestions for an ending where inheritance is less prominent than upbringing would work wonderfully in that case, I think.

These criticisms aside, I did very much enjoy The Secret of Platform 13. It is always a joy to read Ibbotson’s work. At least part of the reason being that she integrates fantasy with our contemporary world seamlessly. There is no needless explaining; instead the world building simply is, which is something I really appreciate. Another thing I love about Ibbotson is her portrayal of children: with agency, with good intentions, and yet their slight faults.

All in all, The Secret of Platform 13 was a lovely start of the year and of this year’s Long-Awaited Reads Month.

Other Opinions: Things Mean a Lot, Yours?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Black Maria by Diana Wynne Jones

Black Maria - Diana Wynne JonesBlack Maria – Diana Wynne Jones
Published as Aunt Maria in the US

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2000
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

In Black Maria, Mig, her brother Chris, and her mother visit their aunt Maria in a seaside town. On the surface, Maria is everything one may expect of an elderly aunt in fiction: she is a little stiff and boring, she upholds the social conventions, and the children are not particularly fond of her.

Quickly, however, Mig and Chris discover that something more and entirely different is going on beneath the surface. With her polite correctness, aunt Maria seems to control an awful lot of people in their life, stifling them with correctness, so to say. The men, meanwhile, all appear to be grey-suited zombies without a will of their own. When Chris rebels against her aunt, she turns him into a wolf. It is now left to Mig to try to turn her brother back into a human, and to do so, she has to go against her aunt and the social mores of the town..

As always, I turned to Ana for advice on what to read next by Diana Wynne Jones. She recommended Black Maria since she knows I am interested in gender. I admit, I was a little sceptical. I don’t particularly like the cover for this one (I admit I like it a lot better in retrospect) and I don’t know.. I just had trouble to look past that. But of course I should have known better. Ana knows what she recommends, and Diana Wynne Jones was too smart to merely have this be the cutesy tale that I somehow expected from the cover.

What makes Black Maria such a great read is the combination of Jones’ utterly engaging writing style and storytelling with a very smart and layered commentary on gender relations. To be more precise, through Aunt Maria’s particular position and the social conventions of the town, Diana Wynne Jones magnifies the power relations and consequences of a strict interpretation of a “natural” gender divide. Moreover, by turning this divide on its head, by having women as naturally belonging to the domestic sphere, but also giving them the control of the village instead of the men, she also questions emancipatory ideas that use the “natural spheres of men and women” argument to argue that women are actually more capable of ruling. She then counters those experiences with the arguments of a few men who fight Maria’s regime, who also use the idea of “natural” gender competences in their effort to gain power. All this is preceded by small comments of Maria on how Mig should behave more in a manner that befits a girl, thus leading up to the larger themes underlying the novel.

In the midst of this fictional and very well-executed world that always remains subtle in its references to the critique below the surface, it is a joy to follow Mig in her navigation of all these claims and power relations. To see her waver, but also find her own path.

[insert contented sigh here]

What more can I say? This is Diana Wynne Jones, everyone: of course you should read it. As for me, I am happy that I still have so many of her books left to explore. And yet, with every new treasure I find, I am also saddened knowing that it means I have one book less to look forward to.

Other Opinions: Things Mean a Lot, We Be Reading, Shelf Love, Yours?

Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden

Thursday's Children - Rumer GoddenThursday’s Children – Rumer Godden
Virago Modern Classics, April 2013 (
First published 1984)
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Thursday’s Children is about the Penny family. Mother concentrates all her hopes on Crystal, the fifth child and longer-for girl after four boys. Crystal is to be a ballet dancer, groomed by her mother who was once a chorus girl and longs to see her former dreams realised through her only daughter. Doone, sixth child and clearly an “accident”, has to accompany his sister to ballet class when there is no one to watch over him at home. There, he secretly becomes fascinated by dancing, and he starts practising in the hallway so that no one will see him. Doone has his reasons to keep his dancing a secret. His mother would not understand, focused as her attention is on Crystal, who is her one and all. His father thinks dancing is not suitable for boys. And his brothers never really seem to bother much about him. Nevertheless, Doone is willing to do everything he can to become a ballet dancer.

As many of you predicted in the comments of my library loot post, I really really enjoyed Thursday’s Children. What’s not to love? There’s ballet! And a child overcoming obstacles! There’s heartfelt writing! And social commentary! Basically, I wanted to travel back in time while reading this, and push the book into the hands of my childhood self. The hours I spent dreaming of being a professional dancer back then! The hours I spent dancing in the living room, the bedroom, on the street while walking somewhere, even on my bike.. Godden does a really good job at capturing the fascination for music and movements, the emotions it can evoke, and all the romantic feelings associated with dance. But she also highlights the difficult aspects of pursuing a career in dance: the rivalry and ugliness between children and parents that are all part of this world as well.

However, if you do not care much for ballet yourself, I think this book might still be of interest. The thing is, it really is about pursuing the things you love, the sacrifices you have to make in the process, but also the importance of love and family relations.

I was reminded of Eva Ibbotson when I read Thursday’s Children, although perhaps they are not that much alike. Like Ibbotson, Godden highlights the ugliness of classicism through the interactions of, particularly mother and Crystal with other girls in class.  Perhaps more than Ibbotson, Godden portrays extremes of hurt and ugliness, particularly towards the end of Crystal’s storyline. And in Doone’s portrayal, the sympathy evoked for him, and the overall sympathetic outlook on the world, she occasionally seems to share Ibbotson’s rose-coloured glasses. I somehow feel I am being unfair to both authors by comparing their work, because I think the strength of their writing is that it is so recognisable and individual. I guess what I meant to say is that I felt the same warmth and feeling radiate from Thursday’s Children as I do in Ibbotson’s novels.

Most of all, I think Godden shines in portraying the family interactions between the Pennys. It is hurtful and difficult to read about the treatment of Doone sometimes. Godden walks a fine line between invoking stereotypes of parents pursuing their own hopes and dreams through their children and forgetting about the other children in the family. However, she manages to remain realistic, I think, and handles these storylines really well. Even more so because, especially towards the end, she manages to complicate them: she shows both the hurt and the love that is part of so many families, she shows how every family member might stand up for other things, fight for some while forgetting about others, and how in their effort to do right all of them make mistakes.

Colour me impressed. And a little regretful that I did not discover Rumer Godden earlier. So.. which book should I read next?

Other Opinions: Jenny’s Books, Yours?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.