Children’s Book Room
Tirelessly and meticously cared for by Eve Barrett and stocked by Wendy, the complete overhaul and renovation of our CHILDREN’S ROOM is now complete. For those who fear this translates as ‘turned into a bland book room like book rooms anywhere and everywhere’ can rest assured that this is not the case, thanks in part to the great work carried out by Richard, who has rebuilt all the shelving and in large part to the efforts of two barmy local artists, KATY and CLAIRE (www.somecuriousfinds.org.uk) who have created the most amazing CEILING INSTALLATION as recounted below…
How the Children’s Bookroom was Transormed – a Fairy Story
Once upon a time there was a beautiful Bookseller’s Daughter called Sophie, with a very special father called David, who could do all sorts of things. One day, as Sophie was exploring the far floors of Scarthin Books she came upon a door that she had never noticed before. The security lock had stopped working and the door opened as soon as she touched the handle. Inside, sitting on an enormous pile of cardboard and torn-up books, was a strange old man, with a beard reaching down to his chin. “Who are you?”she asked?
“Why, child, surely you know, I am the KING OF THE BOOKSHOP. Many think I have abdicated or even died, but it is known that one day, in the hour of greatest need, I shall return to save Scarthin Books.”
Sophie was so shocked by the idea of this grumpy geriatric interfering in the running of her favourite shop that she blurted out the first silly thing that came into her head.
“My Dads a proper bookseller. He could even use all those old papers to, to … to transform the Children’s Bookroom overnight !”
Hearing this, the King thought how profitable it would be for the Children’s Bookroom to be transformed and so he sent for David, and, leading him to the Room, presented him with a mountain of waste paper – broken books, newspapers and unpaid bills.
“If you can recycle these papers and transform the Children’s Bookroom before morning, you can continue in the Bookshop, whiling away your working hours, idling indolently and lazing-about languidly, happily ever after. IF YOU FAIL, then you must return to being a TEACHER! I’ll leave the water heater on so you can make yourself a coffee. “And with these words, the King locked every door of the Bookshop and climbed the snow-covered hillside back to the luxuriously-appointed if inadequately-insulated RUIN in which he subsisted on fresh raw eggs and Brussels sprouts, the secret of his amazing youthfulness.
David looked at the heap of papers, and at the long-neglected Children’s Bookroom and he slumped to the floor (which needed vacuuming) in despair. He had no idea how to transform the room, and furthermore he hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had his dinner. Suddenly, wafted across the landing, came an aromatic aroma of baking accompanied by loud peals of laughter. There in the doorway were two outlandishly-dressed grinning girls, or women at any rate, and in their hands were THREE take-away pizzas.
“We are KATIE & CLAIRE, Guerrilla Installation Artists. The Turner Prize has failed to short-list us TWELVE TIMES! We can transform the Children’s Bookroom for you, after we’ve eaten the pizzas and laughed a lot more. But what can you give us in return?”
“I can’t promise you my first baby, but I could, er, make you a coffee, so long as it’s not a latte.
“It’s a deal – we’ve enough babies to be going on with.”
And so, Katie and Claire worked all night, save only for an eight hour sleep on the secret bed at the topmost top of the Shop. The Children’s Bookroom was transformed into a white wonderland! At daybreak they vanished, though not so suddenly as they had arrived, staying on for further coffees, pieces of millionaire shortbread and even more peals of laughter.
When the King returned to see what had happened, he said, “Well, I suppose that’s alright, for a while at any rate. I’ve got even more waste books and paper upstairs. How do you fancy being locked in Guy’s office tonight?”
Young Book Reviewers
If you would like to contribute book reviews to this page and/or to our New Book Forum Blog, then please write, e-mail or call in at the shop with your name (which can be a nom-de-plume or just a first name) and an address (or let us have a phone number we can ring if you come here frequently, ours is 01629-823272) to which we can send free books for reading and writing your own book review. As to what sort of comments to make – well – ask around and see if any two friends or adults agree!
A little more elbow room has been found in the Children’s Book Room by moving both study guides (GCSEand A Level,etc.) out onto theLanding, along with teachers’ resource books, Key Stage references, phot-copyable resources etc. This means that teachers and students have to grovel behind the Landing Island unit while parents and less currently academically hard-pressed children and tweenagers can browse among a slightly dense forest of some Nine Thousand Books.
Incidentally, try Googling hard-pressed children, or similar phrases. Has No-One Noticed?
The Children’s Book Room constitutes a complete shop within a shop. We can mount an awesome school book fair without apparently diminishing the stock. Hearing the pounding of both tiny and leaden feet up the stairs is one of our rewards. We stock both the highly-promoted junk your parents will forcibly encourage you to read and the brilliant books you can choose yourself.
We have all the old favorites and many new authors. PICTURE STORY BOOKS for young children are, as a genre, perhaps the greatest triumph of literature over the last fifty years. Once they were nearly all LADYBIRDS or PICTURE PUFFINS; now many publishers compete to produce a range of dazzling invention and beauty. Brilliant new authors and illustrators frequently emerge and naturally eclipse the many still wonderful classics. You will have your own favourites; one day I will list some of my greatest favourites, to which I (DJM) am still returning after more than a quarter of a century of fond fatherhood.
Trouble is Picture Books are a Menace for us to shelve and to keep in alpbetical order of author, especially as they have been lately afflicted with Britain’s characteristic Race to the Bottom in that they have been made bigger and bigger - Here, Look at Me! - the typical current book using about twice the paper and card of an old Picture Puffin, with their witty covers printed at right angles to each other so that the books could be stood portrait-or landscape-wiseon the shelf.
Round the Top Two shelves of the Children’s Book Room are kept most of our older out-of-print second-hand children’s books – adventure stories, annuals and the mostly unread and unreadable, but pretty Suinday School Prizes, which after a century or more on family shelves still arrive regulartly at our door. There is also one unit of good second-hand books for today’s generation, while rare and collectible volumes are hidden behind the desk downstairs or appear on our rare-books list.
Pooey to Harry Potter! – Big Boys and Girls read more serious stuff:
A Dæmon Writer: A Meeting with Philip Pullman
Interview supplied by Scholastic
His Dark Materials was described as the ‘most ambitious work since Lord of the Rings, as intellectually thrilling as it is magnificent’ in The New Statesman in 1997, and The Amber Spyglass is set to receive similarly raptuous reviews. Philip Pullman was born in Norwich in 1946, the son of an RAF serviceman. He read English at Oxford and later taught courses on the Victorian novel and on the folk tale, but he eventually left teaching in order to write full-time. Here he describes his work.
Did you have the whole story in your head when you began writing His Dark Materials?
Yes, in outline, though not in detail. I haven’t got enough RAM in my head to deal with 1300 pages of as yet-unwritten material. But any writer of stories has to have a certain architectural sense – I mean a feeling for large shapes, and an instinct for whether they’ll stand up safely, or need lots of propping up to make them steady, or whether they’ll just fall down whatever you do, and so on. And of course when you begin a large project like His Dark Materials, you make sure beforehand that the large shape is secure.
Did you write His Dark Materials as ‘fantasy’?
No. I think of it as stark realism. The trouble with pigeon-holing books by genre is that once they have a particular label attached, they only attract readers who like the sort of book that has that sort of label. Fantasy is particularly affected by this. I very much want to reach readers who don’t normally read fantasy – I want to reach readers who know very well that they don’t like fantasy at all. I don’t like fantasy. The only thing about fantasy that interested me when I was writing this was the freedom to invent imagery such as the dæmon; but that was only interesting because I could use it to say something truthful and realistic about human nature. If it was just picturesque or ornamental, I wouldn’t be interested.
How did you come up with the idea of dæmons?
When I first saw Lyra in my mind’s eye, there was someone or something close by, which I realised was an important part of her. When I wrote the first four words of Northern Lights – ‘Lyra and her dæmon’ – the relationship suddenly sprang into focus. One very important thing is that children’s dæmons can change shape, whereas they gradually lose the power to change during adolescence, and adults’ dæmons have one fixed animal shape which they keep for the rest of their lives. The dæmon, and especially the way it grows and develops with its person, expresses a truth about human nature which it would have been hard to show so vividly otherwise.
Why do you believe stories are so important?
Because they entertain and they teach; they help us both enjoy life and endure it. After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
What stance do the books take?
Underlying the trilogy there is a myth of creation and rebellion, of development and strife, and so on. I don’t make this myth explicit anywhere, but it was important for me to have it clear in my mind. It depicts a struggle: the old forces of control and ritual and authority, the forces which have been embodied throughout human history in such phenomena as the Inquisition, the witch-trials, the burning of heretics, and which are still strong today in the regions of the world where religious zealots of any faith have power, are on one side; and the forces that fight against them have as their guiding principle an idea which is summed up in the words The Republic of Heaven. It’s the Kingdom against the Republic. And everything follows from that. So, for instance, the book depicts the Temptation and Fall not as the source of all woe and misery, as in traditional Christian teaching, but as the beginning of true human freedom – something to be celebrated, not lamented. And the Tempter is not an evil being like Satan, prompted by malice and envy, but a figure who might stand for Wisdom. The myth has allowed me to link together many aspects of the story in a sort of invisible way which might not be apparent to the reader, but which I have found helpful. For example, it explains where dæmons come from, and what happens when we die, and why there are many universes. And if certain Christian critics are confused by this, and imagine I’m denying the difference between good and evil, then all I can say is that I shall pray for them.
Where and when do you write?
I write in my shed, at the bottom of the garden. It’s quite comfortable in there, but because of my superstition about not tidying it during the course of a book, it’s now an abominable tip. I write by hand, using a ballpoint pen on narrow lined A4 paper (with two holes, not four). I sit at a table covered with an old kilim rug, on a vastly expensive Danish orthopaedic chair, which has made a lot of difference to my back. The table is raised on wooden blocks so it’s a bit higher than normal.
How long does it take to write a book?
Northern Lights took two years, and so did The Subtle Knife. The Amber Spyglass has taken three. But they were all long books. Short books take less time, not surprisingly.
How do you come up with the characters’ names?
Some just appear. As soon as Lyra came to my mind, I knew what she was called. Others I have to make up. Lee Scoresby, for instance: the Lee part comes from the actor Lee Van Cleef, who appeared in the Dollar films with Clint Eastwood, because I thought my Lee would look like him, and the Scoresby comes from William Scoresby, who was a real Arctic explorer.
Are the characters based on people you know?
Not consciously. I just think of them.
Have you seen the northern lights?
No. They were one of the many things I had to read about and imagine.
Which children’s writers do you admire?
Lots. Peter Dickinson, Jan Mark, Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Janni Howker, Michael Morpurgo, Allan Ahlberg – too many to name, really.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding.
Which books have made a difference to your life?
The books which have made the most difference to my life have been Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, the Superman and Batman comics which were published when I was young – i.e. before they became ‘dark’ and self-consciously post-modernist, The Picture History of Painting by H.W. and D.J. Janson which I bought with a book token when I was fifteen, and Bernard Shaw’s Collected Letters.
Philip Pullman’s excellent website is here.
Not to mention the site for Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series that Michael Mitchell, a close relative, has powered through.
We also have an interview with Quentin Blake, the person behind all those light-footed, evocative illustrations and whimsical adventures.