collated by Lynndy Bennett
Celebrate with us the second Australian annual National Bookshop Day. Serendipitously it coincides with the beginning of our sale, which this time features some exceptionally good offerings amongst the children’s bargains. Any purchase during the day from our children’s section at Glebe entitles you to chance our lucky dip, with surprises for preschoolers to mid-teens. Gleebooks will donate a percentage of the day’s sales to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation—a cause that is dear to us and vital in improving the future for marginalised communities. What better time to get a head start on Christmas and upcoming birthday presents upstairs in our Glebe shop, plus benefitting indigenous people and earning a bonus gift when you buy from the children’s shop downstairs! See you there. Lynndy
This month’s guest preschooler is Tom Beaumont who at 20 months is already an avid bibliophile with very definite literary tastes and a habit that must be accommodated, frequently, each day.
Sounds Around Town by Maria Carluccio ($11, PB)
Tom loves all the sounds endemic to the busy cityscape in this book which has become such a favourite that he pre-empts the text by making the noises for the bus, truck, and other hooting, parping vehicles. This is a longterm favourite on high reading rotation due to repeated demand.
Guess What? by Jeannette Rowe ($12.95, BD)
A vivid palette and simple text introducing colours have engaged Tom’s interest; even more so the flaps which he’s yet to tire of lifting to reveal the secrets beneath.
Play with Elmo! ($24.95, BD)
The beloved Sesame Street’s character has another book devoted to him, and in this one it’s the distinctive red hand puppet with actual hands (paws) to grab that enchants Tom, who happily interacts with it at length. This makes it a tad difficult to simultaneously read the story, a factor that doubles the value of this book—a story and a favoured toy! Thanks Tom. I’m sure Harper is happy to share his bookshelf corner with you, and Eleanor from our July’s selection. Lynndy
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier ($11, PB)
Peter Nimble, blind & orphaned since earliest infancy, has had to develop the talents he has available to him. And what talents they are! Without sight, Peter is possessed of subtle abilities to tune into the feel, sound, smell & taste of the world around him. Talent and necessity have made him a master of his trade, that is to say, a very adept thief. If an emphasis on Peter’s ‘other’ senses sounds obvious, it doesn’t read that way. Peter’s world is strange & magical, and feels both like being immersed in a Victorian novel and completely fresh. After years of serving the dreaded Mr Seamus—an awful amalgam of Dickens’ Bill Sikes & assorted Dahl villains—Peter steals from a stranger a box containing three ‘yolks’. The ‘yolks’ feel at once familiar & unfamiliar, potent & magical… Through trial, error, & deep instinct Peter is able to discern that they are in fact three pairs of eyes, a tremendously exciting moment and the beginning of his adventure proper. Magicked via a dangerous good deed from his normal life, Peter encounters a great many eccentric characters on his quest. First and foremost Sir Tode, a knight until he was cursed by a hag, and now an unfortunate hybrid of human, horse & cat. Impetuous, volatile & inclined to take offence, yet also tremendously loyal, he becomes boon companion and sidekick on the journey that follows. There is so much in this book to like that I hardly know where to begin. Mr Auxier handles the interesting vocabulary—often Victorian or Edwardian terms—with a sure hand. The many references to books by Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Robert Louis Stevenson, L Frank Baum, J M Barrie, Jules Verne, Cervantes and more, will add to the enjoyment of those readers familiar with any of their books. Cleverly though, Mr Auxier writes this picaresque tale vividly enough to ensure that those who don’t get these references won’t feel they’re missing out on anything. A great read for lovers of The Children of Ashton Place series, The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events or anyone who enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux a year or two ago. I love that this looks and reads like something fresh and adventurous and might easily open the world of classics to anyone not previously keen on them. Fantastic, in every sense of the world. Liesel
Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes ($24.95, HB)
Set in Florence at the end of the Nazi occupation, this beautifully written novel tells the story of an 11 year old boy, Paolo, his 17 year old sister Constanza, and their English born mother Rosemary, waiting out the war while their Italian father, and husband, has vanished. The partisans are gaining ground, and the Nazis are desperately capturing prisoners of war, when the family finds themselves in a dangerous position. One of the many outstanding things about this book is its moral position—there’s no definitive right or wrong—all the Nazis aren’t evil, all the allies aren’t saints, and even the collaborators are also written about with a certain amount of compassion. Heroism and cowardice are often a matter of circumstance, and Shirley Hughes makes this very clear, without proselytising in any way. She explains in the foreword that she went to Florence soon after the war when she was a young woman, and met real people on whom the story was loosely based. Well known as an illustrator of picture books, this is Shirley Hughes’ first novel, and I think it’s a triumph. She writes with a lightness and warmth, while never descending to mawkishness, and she has recreated an extraordinary time and place that children today are not aware of. Each chapter is headed with a pen and ink sketch and the endpapers depict a hand drawn map of the area in the hills of Florence where the story is set. There’s even a website to visit, with more background to the story, and a wonderful YouTube clip with Shirley Hughes showing her sketches. Louise
One of the best things about working in Gleebooks (apart from the books) is working with people of so many different generations. We have Gen Y, Gen X, the Me Gen, and rather a lot of Baby Boomers. With Vintage releasing a selection of children’s titles in their Vintage Classics range, I thought I’d take a survey of everyone’s favourite books when they were children. Most people found it impossible to mention just one, and the answers were very interesting, and (unsurprisingly) very generational (and gender based—but that’s a whole other story).
The Baby Boomers, and by that I mean mid 50s and over, nearly all mentioned books that could also have been favourites of their parents, and mainly English. Just William (Richmal Crompton), Treasure Island (RL Stevenson), the novels of PG Wodehouse, Capt Johns’ Biggles books, and the mysteries of Agatha Christie were all cited; The Twins books by Lucy Fitch Perkins, Heidi (Johanna Spyri), Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), Little Women (LM Alcott), being other than English, and with only the books of Ion Idriess and Norman Lindsay’s Magic Pudding being Australian. The Me Gen (mid 40s to mid 50s) had a fairly similar reading childhood—also mainly English novels—Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome), The Silver Sword (Ian Seraillier), with Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby being the only (much loved) Australian book. No picture books were mentioned, of course, story books used to be far more illustrated with black and white illustrations; perhaps the lack of picture books for this generation was compensated by the brilliant illustrators of the time—Garth Williams, Ernest Shepard, Mary Shepard, Edward Ardizzone, to name a few.
The Gen X readers had a completely different reading experience. Roald Dahl was writing books for children of this generation, and James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were the favourite books of several people, with the magical Finnish Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson) being a seminal book for one future bookseller. Gen Y staff had a different experience again. They fondly remembered far more picture books (it’s a visual generation), far fewer classics, and lots of Australian books. The Princess Who Hated It (Robin Klein), Anthony Browne’s Willy the Wimp, All We Know by Simon French, There’s a Sea in My Bedroom (Margaret Wild and Jane Tanner), Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park, the Ahlbergs’ wonderful Jolly Postman, and for one staff member, anything by Judy Blume. The Tripods Trilogy (John Christopher), Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), The Great Gatsby ( F S Fitzgerald), The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) and Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did were also favourites.
There are some books loved by everyone, regardless of birth order in the shop. The books of Beatrix Potter, the books of May Gibbs (scary as they were in parts), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), many lovers of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books by CS Lewis, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and of course Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. However, the books that were mentioned more than any other, and in every age group, were the books of Enid Blyton, particularly The Famous Five—despite every literary criticism one can level against the author, they were great bridging books, and loved by millions of children. Many animal books were favourites—White Fang (Jack London), My Friend Flicka (Mary O’Hara), Dr Dolittle (Hugh Lofting), Marmaduke the Possum (Pixie O’Harris) and The Good Master (by Kate Seredy) were all mentioned.
We are being told that the physical book is an endangered species, but I don’t think so. Apart from the very odd one, nearly every single one of these books is still in print, or being reprinted. Not only that, but when I look around the shelves in this shop, and our second hand shop, I can see at least one, and in many cases many more, editions of all these books that we so loved as children. Louise Pfanner