Tag Archives: children’s books

Making Monsters of Men

Imagine a world where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, every hour and minute of every day. From a cacophony of voices to an interminable buzz in the background, it’s always there, inescapable. How would people react if they had to live in a world like this, where privacy, solitude, and even silence were mere abstract and utopian notions? It is with such a scene that Patrick Ness opens the first book of his Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Continue reading

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Swallows, Spies and Secretaries: the strange story of Arthur Ransome

The books we read as children often leave an indelible impression. All of us can remember those much loved authors and books, which we read over and over again, the characters we met, and the places we travelled too. We rarely, however, think too much about the people who spun these stories. Our favourite authors could often be identified only by the long list of other books still to read (more annoying still were those who only wrote one book, or worse still wrote grown up books!), or else by author photographs on the back cover, or dust jacket. These often portrayed a particular image, for male authors they were avuncular old men with a slight twinkle in their eye; think here of Roald Dahl or C.S Lewis. Their female counterparts were often more than slightly bookish, and often pictured with a pet. The overall impression, certainly of writers of a particular generation was one of safe, even staid, respectability, whose only adventures were those presented to us on the page!

One such avuncular looking favourite of my childhood was Arthur Ransome, author of the celebrated and still read (just about) Swallows and Amazons series set in the rural idyll of the Lake District. His author photograph, illustrations and most importantly, stories, gave the impression of a quiet life, given over to inventing tales about the fictional Walker and Blackett children. Ransome’s own life was, however, far from quiet. He had written his first and most famous children’s book, Swallows and Amazons, in 1930 at the age of 45, but as his latest biographer Roland Chambers points out, the most interesting episode of his life was already over by this point. Continue reading

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