Mixed Ramblings

Summer Fun at the Library

I'm ashamed to admit that I spent 25 years ignoring the British public library system. Although I loved going to the library as a child, they later became places of study rather than sources of entertainment. Moreover, I like to be able to refer back to books and that means buying your own copy. I grew to love trawling through secondhand bookshops and libraries were forgotten.

Sometime in May 2018, an advert calling for reading champions to encourage children to take part in the 2018 Summer Reading Challenge in Lewisham caught my eye. Since I'd enjoyed visiting schools to talk about newspapers and journalism and volunteered as a school poetry workshop leader I thought it sounded interesting. At the very least, it would give me a chance to find out what kind of books kids are currently enjoying and maybe give me some ideas for my own writing.

Run by the Reading Agency and delivered through the UK's library network, the Summer Reading Challenge calls on children of primary school age to borrow and read six books from their local library during the long summer break. It's essentially an incentive for children to continue using their literacy skills away from school. As participants work through their six books, they visit the library and talk about each book with a librarian or reading champion. Once a satisfactory account of the book has been provided, prizes are awarded for each stage and, on completion of the final book, they walk away with a medal and personalised certificate.

The experience proved to be a lot more fun than I'd ever anticipated. The kids really seemed to enjoy describing the characters and plot twists and showed a real pride in their achievement. I made an effort to read recently published books in order to make suggestions for further reading.

I read 17 books during the course of the challenge and really enjoyed myself. My personal favourites, in no particular order, were as follows:

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Inspired by Russian folk tales, the story follows a young girl who lives in a magical house that happens to have a pair of chicken legs and a mind of its own. This curious dwelling frequently decides to get up and run off to a new location, taking its occupants with it. In addition, the heroine and her aged grandmother have a curious role in the world - they guide the souls of the recently dead safely through to the afterlife. It's hard to make friends or get to understand much about the world that our herione is so curious to experience...

The Goldfish Boy and The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson. Two very different stories about coping with isolation, solving mysterious puzzles and coming to terms with relationships and inner demons. The issues are tough but the young heroes are engaging and highly likeable and the situations they find themselves in very intriguing. Very highly recommended.

I Swapped My Brother On The Internet by Jo Simmons. A mad story exploring sibling rivalry, learning to appreciate what you've got and understanding that nobody is perfect. The morals are serious but the tone of the storytelling is wild, the characters are curious and the whole book generally very funny.

Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles) by MG Leonard. A boy's father goes missing, forcing him to move in with an eccentric but good-natured uncle and start at a new school. An encounter with an over-sized but highly intelligent beetle leads our hero and two new friends into a mysterious world of scientific skullduggery where they encounter an army of intelligent insects that helps them to fight a handful of villans - some evil, some idiotic but all entertaining. Beetle Boy is the lively start to a trilogy - I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Where Do You Go, Birdy Jones? by Joanna Nadin. An intriguing story of a girl who believes she doesn't belong with her family and doesn't want to face the prospect of moving to a new home, which means being separated from her beloved racing pigeons. In a bid to find the truth about her roots, she runs away and makes some startling discoveries about herself. The narrative is written in a clever imitation of Leeds vernacular that takes a little bit of getting used to but takes the reader into the heroine's mind. Strongly recommended.

The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steven Butler. A mad story strongly recommended to me by a very enthusiastic nine-year-old. Our guide is Frankie, whose parents own a mysterious hotel in Brighton. To normal eyes, it looks like somewhere best avoided but that's the whole idea - normal people aren't encouraged to enter, they might upset the curious cast of magical creatures who work in or visit the crazy hotel. On the day of our story a very important guest turns up, only to prove that royalty may not be the most pleasant people to have around - especially when it turns out they're mixed up in dodgy dealings with pirates hungry for revenge... Very silly, highly entertaining.

Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens and Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees (Bee Boy 2) by Tony De Saulles. Melvin Meadly is a young boy living in a tower block with his detective mum. A friendly neighbour tells him about bees and sets up a hive on the tower roof. Melvin lends a hand and soon becomes immersed in caring for his new charges. Then there's a huge surprise - Melvin suddenly finds himself a lot closer to the bees than he ever anticipated. Two adventures exploring the plight of the world's bees with exciting plot twists and some engaging characters.

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