Blog Tour: Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb / Reasons to Read Children’s Classics

Blog Tour: Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb / 5 Reasons to Read Children's ClassicsWelcome to my stop on the Return the Secret Garden blog tour!

Scholastic published a pretty new edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden this month alongside a 1930s sequel, Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb.

It’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…

As I run the 2015 Classics Challenge and have thoroughly enjoyed delving into children’s classics, I thought it’d be lovely for Holly Webb to share with us why it’s important to read classics.

Why read a classic, when there are so many amazing new books published every year? Looking back, I read a lot of ‘classics’ when I was a child – my favourites were Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (unsurprisingly…) and A Little Princess, but I also worked my way through Arthur Ransome, E. Nesbit, especially The Treasure Seekers and The Would-Be-Goods, all of the Anne books, and as much Louisa M. Alcott as I could find. What Katy Did, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, all the Narnia books, plus any number of classic school stories and horse books – it goes on. I even had an ancient copy of The Wide, Wide World by Elizabeth Wetherall, published in 1850, and I loved it, but then I really was a sucker for anything old, and I skipped a lot of the moralising…

Trying to pin down what I love about all these books (which are only vaguely defined as classics, and were published over a long period, nearly a hundred years) is fascinating and frustrating. I keep coming up with more and more thoughts which don’t tie neatly into any argument. So…

The main thing, for me. All these books are led by strong child characters, often suffering great adversity (and your Victorian adversity could be pretty horrific). Mary Lennox comes to Misselthwaite after her entire household in India has died from cholera, and she’s been left alone in the family bungalow, eating the food from an abandoned dinner party. She’s then sent to a strange, ancient house full of servants, with a guardian who’s hardly ever there. It’s possibly the most dramatic way to leave a child to find for herself ever… I love her strange, cold, stubborn ways at the beginning of the book, and the way the garden changes her is so believable.

I’m fascinated by the details of everyday life from the time these books were written. It’s even better because these are things which the authors weren’t including to be interesting at all. It’s all just as it was. Some of this makes events tricky to understand, but that’s all the more intriguing. It gives you a real appreciation of modern medicine, too. I had pneumonia at about 10, and I remember thinking this was a very dramatic, storybook thing, and being very grateful that I wasn’t going to die!

Sense of place
Fabulous recreations of landscape – Dickon’s stories about the moor and its creatures in The Secret Garden are spellbinding, Frances Hodgson Burnett created the most amazing word pictures. And think of the descriptions of woods and walk in Anne of Green Gables (even if I do want to kick Anne for being a complete drip, some of the time…)

Continuity – sharing something special
Often, these books are bought for children by parents or grandparents, wanting to share their own love of the stories. While I was writing Return to the Secret Garden, so many people told me that The Secret Garden was one of their favourite books. It’s great to be able to talk about the books you love with the people you love!

Thank you for joining me on the blog, Holly! The Secret Garden and Return to the Secret Garden are out now. Go here to enter to win copies!

Blog Tour: Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb / 5 Reasons to Read Children's Classics Continue reading

Book Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Book Review: Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I reviewed Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours in August and put Asking For It straight on the top of my TBR. I knew it was going to be difficult, powerful and much-needed even before I started. It’s the perfect choice for my book club because we’re all sure to have a lot to say.

Asking For It is about what happens to eighteen-year-old student Emma O’Donovan after she is raped at a party by a group of boys on the school football team. She doesn’t understand what’s happened to her, until photos of that night are shared on Facebook. I thought Asking For It was going to be straightforward, but Louise O’Neill makes Emma an unlikeable character. She’s vain, self-centred, hurtful and judgemental. She’s not someone you would want to know, let alone be friends with. Most – sadly, not all – people would be outraged to discover that a boy had attacked an ‘innocent’ young girl on her way home, especially if she was in a private school uniform; if she was covered up. But what if she was wearing a short dress? What if she was drunk? What if she was over 18? What if she made a move first? Would we say she was asking for it? This is what Louise O’Neill wants to fight against.

I knew Asking For It was going to be a difficult read, but I also knew that it was extremely important that I read it. Asking For It addresses so many aspects of our lives that are often left unquestioned. It tackles how awful and judgemental people can be  towards each other, even when we as readers can see who’s in the right and feel it should be evident. How people struggle to understand consent and what exactly constitutes rape, especially as Emma herself doesn’t realise she’s been raped until the teacher suggests it. I thought it was interesting to see the portrayal of social media and traditional media, both shown as a tool for abuse and as a tool to give people a voice. Support for rape victims on social media seems wonderful and essential. But if you’re the victim, it can be intrusive having people tell your story for you, and this isn’t something that had ever occurred to me. Would I want everyone talking about me, even if what they were saying was supportive?

Asking For It will make you angry, and rightly so. Louise O’Neill doesn’t shy away from reality and, as with Only Ever Yours, doesn’t tie up Asking For It with a happily ever after. Perhaps, instead of arguing about which classics should be taught in schools, we should be arguing that Asking For It should be taught alongside them. Even after so many years of education – from school to college to university – I have never within education participated in a conversation about rape. This must change. Let’s talk.

“I cannot remember, so those photos and those comments have become my memories”.

Published: 3rd September 2015 (UK) 5th April 2016 (US)
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 352

Books On My TBR / Autumn 2015

Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I borrowed My Heart and Other Black Holes from my lovely friend Daphne. I didn’t actually know too much about it until I saw a lot of people chatting about it on social media earlier in the year. As it turns out, it’s one of the most honest contemporary novels I’ve read so far.

Aysel is depressed. And suicidal. And through looking for a suicide partner on a forum, she finds Roman aka Frozen Robot. Both of them have had a tragedy occur in their lives; something that has torn their families apart. Aysel and Roman cannot cope with the grief and so decide to kill themselves. They pick a specific day in April, a day that is incredibly significant to Roman. And so – morbidly and poignantly – the countdown begins.

I have read some young adult contemporary novels where the characters have depression or anxiety – or another mental health issue – but I don’t think I’ve come across characters as honest as Aysel and Roman. It’s difficult for people to admit they’re depressed and even more so to admit that they no longer want to live. For Aysel and Roman, it’s something to work towards. Jasmine Warga treats depression sensitively and respectfully, recognising that what the characters feel is true for them. Neither can understand the other’s sadness, but they accept that it’s there. It’s an unusual friendship and it was fascinating watching both Aysel and Roman get to know each other more.

“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood. If I know anything about it, this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape.”

Even though friendship is not a cure for depression, it was great to see Aysel and Roman help each other in other ways. I enjoyed that they constantly questioned each other, teased each other. I also thought the way Aysel articulated how she felt was incredibly powerful and is something we need to see more in YA. It’s one thing for a character to say they’re depressed, it’s another to make the reader believe it. It goes without saying that Aysel and Roman go from suicide partners to something more. My Heart and Other Black Holes went the way I expected it to, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate the journey.

“Life can seem awful and unfixable until the universe shifts a little and the observation point is altered, and then suddenly, everything seems more bearable.”

Published: February 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Pages: 309

Danny the Champion of the World written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #9)

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #9)

Shelved: Classic (children’s, humour)
Published: 1975 by Jonathan Cape
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #9
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my ninth post for the 2015 Classics Challenge! It’s not too late to join me (and 200+ other people) in reading one classic per month.

“A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY”.

Danny thinks his dad is the most marvellous and exciting father a boy could wish for. Life is happy and peaceful in their gipsy caravan, until one day Danny discovers his dad has been breaking the law. What’s more, soon Danny has to join his father as they attempt to pull off a daring and devilish plot against their horrible, greedy neighbour, Mr Victor Hazell.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
It came in my lovely Roald Dahl box set, full of 15 wonderful Dahl novels. I didn’t know anything about it at all, except that it was my friend Caitlin’s favourite Dahl story.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I’ve enjoyed reading Roald Dahl novels over the past couple of years. I haven’t read one this year, so I thought it was about time. I chose Danny the Champion of the World because it’s one that a lot of people seem to adore and yet is completely new to me, compared to some of the previous stories I’ve read, like The Witches and Matilda. I also haven’t read any classics with illustrations this year, so I was looking forward to spending time with Quentin Blake’s brilliant pictures.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Roald Dahl’s stories are like being inside a child’s brain. They’re full of humour and adventure. They’re full of incompetent adults and loving adults. They’re full of wonderful things to remember, like the quote at the top of this review. As I discovered when I first read Matilda, Roald Dahl’s stories can also be enjoyed immensely by adults.

“Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn’t be exciting if they didn’t”.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
It’s different to Roald Dahl’s other stories in that it feels more contemporary compared to the fun and whimsical stories I’ve come across so far. I adored that Danny’s father would tell him stories, referencing Roald Dahl’s other work, like The BFG and Witches. As I’ve read both of these, I enjoyed it very much. I remember there being a lot of chat about fictional fathers this year on Father’s Day, and Danny’s popped up as being one of the best dads in fiction. I can see why – he’s a brilliant father. He’s protective and yet will send Danny on exciting adventures. He tells wonderful stories and is incredibly intelligent. Danny’s a happy child. His life isn’t full of expensive things or luxury, but it’s full of interesting and fulfilling experiences, and a lot of love, all down to his dad. Although Danny the Champion of the World isn’t one of my Dahl favourites, it was a joy to read. I was ready for awful Mr Hazell to get his comeuppance!

WILL It Stay A Classic
I think it’ll be a terrible year, the year that Roald Dahl’s novels stop being read. I cannot imagine that this will ever happen.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love children’s stories, funny stories and heartwarming stories. People who haven’t yet read a Roald Dahl novel and are a little wary about delving into the more eccentric stories. People who are young at heart.

Books On My TBR / Autumn 2015

Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Challenge: Hooray! It’s Summer – #5

Morgan Matson is one of my favourite authors and so Since You’ve Been Gone was one of the summer reads I was most looking forward to – and she didn’t let me down. It confirmed that I’d read everything and anything that Morgan Matson writes. Ever.

Since You’ve Been Gone is the perfect YA contemporary novel, especially as it isn’t all about the romance. Emily and Sloane are the best of friends and are incredibly close, so Emily is left lonely and confused when Sloane disappears without a trace. She’s not answering her phone, her house is empty, and no one knows where she is. She’s too embarrassed to tell her family that her best friend has left her. She doesn’t have anyone else, but then Emily discovers a list of tasks that Sloane compiled for her. If she does everything on the list – from dancing until dawn to kissing a stranger – maybe it’ll lead her back to Sloane?

I adored Since You’ve Been Gone because it’s a wonderful combination of friendship, family and romance. Even though the romance with Frank Porter – the boy who offers to help Emily find her best friend and complete the list – is slow and really lovely, it’s not the main focus of the story. It’s all about Emily discovering who she is without the person she’s spent the most time with, and who knows her better than anyone. It’s about doing things that are outside your comfort zone, and making new friends in the process. Emily’s new-found friends make the story what it is, a cosy and wonderful summer trip. And Emily’s relationship with her little brother is a delight. Although some of the things that Sloane has set Emily to do may not seem life-changing, as a fellow introvert, I can see that they would’ve made Emily feel accomplished – I’ve never gone skinny-dipping myself! And as for Frank Porter, I’d go running with him and swap music playlists any time!

Since You’ve Been Gone is another perfect contemporary story from Morgan Matson. If you’re a fan of the genre and you haven’t read one of her books, you’re really missing out.

Published: 6th May 2014 (US) 3rd July 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 496

Hooray! It's Summer!