#Review: Monster Mission by Eva Ibbtson #ChildrensFiction #Fantasy

This is the fourth of Ibbotson’s books that I’ve read and once again one for children featuring both eccentric characters and fantastical creatures. But even though it is a fun adventure story, and probably more unusual than her others, at its heart (like her others) it essentially is a comment on human beings and the ills we unleash on the world around us, on our greed, selfishness—things that make so many of us rather despicable.

In this one, we have three sisters living on an island with their old father. They have been there for years and have been looking after various creatures—fish and animals who suffer because of oil spills and such; but these ‘ordinary’ beings are not the only ones they look after—there are also selkies, mermaids, and the boobrie bird. But these sisters, the aunts, Eta, Coral and Myrtle are now growing old and begin to worry about their charges. So they decide to do something very unnatural for them—kidnap some children who they’ll train to take over. And so Minette, Fabio, and unfortunately Lambert find themselves on the island. While the aunts have in their opinion ‘chosen’ children whose parents/guardians don’t seem to care particularly for them, there are consequences and attempts are made to look for them. Also, among the children, unlike Minette and Fabio who seem perfectly cut out for the purpose the aunts brought them for, Lambert a nasty, spoilt and wealthy boy is not and is determined to escape (while one can’t exactly fault him for it, his presence portends trouble). Meanwhile on the island, the children begin to learn about the unusual creatures and all that is involved in taking care of them, and soon enough become part of life there. An unusual event is also taking place bringing a lot joy to the island and its inhabitants (human and others), but sadly to spoil it, a greedy and dangerous man is heading to the island. And once he discovers all the usual beings who live there, he begins to covet them to fill his coffers some more.

This is a fun yet crazy tale of the aunts who are looking for the right people to take over their mantle but sadly choose the wrong way of getting them to the island. The aunts are quite good fun, though also very eccentric (we meet two others who don’t live on the island), and yet the only one of these sisters who chose the ‘normal’ path in life ends up coming across as the odd one. Minette and Fabio are very likeable too, and expectedly Lambert is horrid as are Boo-Boo and the Little One, children of Betty, the ‘normal’ sister. The adventure itself of how the children come to the island, and how Minnette and Fabio not only prove that they were indeed the right choices to look after their new animal and unusual friends, but also turn out to be the ones who help their new friends escape the clutches and nefarious schemes of the evil Mr Sprott. There are a few twists and surprises along the way which I thought added to the fun.  And I also though the book did a good job of delivering its message on human failings and the terrible harm that were causing the world around us. Not only that, Ibbotson also manages to poke fun at many of our vanities and habits. May be not my favourite Ibbotson, but still good fun.

I read this one as part of my seasonal picks in October.

Have you read this one? Which are some of your favourite Ibbotson books? Looking forward to your thoughts!

#Review: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer #Childrensfiction #Magic #Fairies #mastercriminals

The first of the series of the same name, I read this the first time some years ago, but having more or less completely forgotten it, I decided to revisit. Picking this up again, just like previously, I loved the gold cover with the lock on it—the fairies’ book—with the mysterious writing in code.

Artemis Fowl is 12 but he is also a master criminal. Having taken over from his father, who was one too, but who had tried to legitimize his business and perished in the process, Artemis wishes to rebuild the family’s fortunes, and to do this in this one he has a dastardly plan up his sleeves (or rather his very sharp mind). The book opens in Ho Chi Minh city where Artemis and his faithful (and rather dangerous) butler, er… Butler (who’s family name was apparently the source of the word 🙂 ), where they are on the trail of a fairy who seems to have strayed on the wrong path, to obtain something precious she has, and getting hold of it marks the start of young Fowl’s scheme. On the other side, we met the LEPrecons, the police unit of the fairies who deal with all sorts of dangerous creatures every day. But Captain Holly Short, a fairy officer, who has neglected something that she should have done falls into Artemis’ trap. Thus begins a battle of wits, plans and counterplans between Fowl and the fairies, putting both sides in danger. Does Artemis succeed or do the fairies outsmart him?

This was a fun enough read, but still, like the impression I had of it from my first reading, it wasn’t something exceptional for me (even though our ‘hero’ is a ‘villain’). Even though the setting of the opening in Ho Chi Minh city was something that intrigued me, there was really not much of the city in it, and more so, I felt our first introduction to Artemis and establishment of his extraordinary intelligence was not all that well done. The story does however pick up as we go along and are introduced to our fairy characters and once Artemis’ actual plans start to be put into action. There is a fair bit of magic, some magical creatures including a troll reminiscent of the one from Harry Potter (and the Philosopher’s Stone), and a kleptomaniac dwarf (with a rather weird trait, other than pinching things I mean), as well as two somewhat comic police officers, besides the Commander Root, and the squad’s ‘Q’ (or something on those lines), Foaly. There’s plenty of action, a bit of magic and some hi-tech gadgetry, but what I liked was that at the end it isn’t again or magic that solves things but the good old mind. Also great fun is the code in the fairy script that runs through the book, which I still haven’t deciphered (just being lazy, I know). I started, worked out some letters as I had done last time but didn’t continue. But I will before I put it away again!

Overall, this was good fun, but I still didn’t find I enjoy it as much as many other readers seem to have.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image: Goodreads

Shelf Control #109: The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson #Childrensfiction

Wednesday, the 14th of October, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, where you got it and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Eva Ibbotson is an author I discovered only after joining Shelfari, and so far I’ve read a few of her children’s books which are fun ones featuring ghosts and monsters and such but they are usually nice while the two-legged humans are the true monsters. In them she also brings up themes like everyone needing to have a home, a place where they can live without fear, ones that are probably close to her heart with his own background of having to escape the Nazi regime with her mother. Yesterday in fact I picked up another of hers Monster Mission (which I’ve featured in an earlier shelf control post-here), which seemed a good spooky read for the season. And so when I thought of this post, I was reminded of another of hers waiting on my TBR, one from a slightly different genre. This is The Dragonfly Pool.

First published in 2008, this one tells the story of Tally Hamilton, a young girl who does not wish to go to boarding school and is furious that this is to be so because of the war. But though she is being sent from London to the countryside, Delderton Hall is not an ordinary boarding school but a gateway to adventure. Here she meets the mysterious Matteo who speaks five languages and belongs to the troubled kingdom of Bergania. Tally finds herself organising a school trip to Bergania. There Prince Karil who hates his life at the palace has only one place where he comes to for comfort–the dragonfly pool in the forests of Bergania. At the pool the two meet, and find themselves in an adventure that involves saving the kingdom itself!

What fun this sounds. Not set in the fantasy worlds (o fantasy versions of our world) that Ibbotson’s others that I’ve read so far are set in, still the school Delderton Hall, described as ‘eccentric, crazy and inspiring’ which sounds like a very interesting place indeed. As does the whole plot of travelling to an interesting new country, and falling into the adventure of a lifetime. I’m certainly looking forward to reading this one.

Have you read Ibbotson before, this one or her monster ones, or even her romances for older reads? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image as always is from Goodreads (here) and the book description from Goodreads and the blurb at the back of my copy (Macmillan, 2008).

Lisa’s pick this week is also an interesting but weird sounding one: Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll (find her post here).

Shelf Control #105: The Mystery of the Locked Room by Carolyn Keene #Mystery #ChildrensFiction

Wednesday, the 26th of August, and time again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, where you got it from, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Like last week, when I featured a ‘new’ to me book from a favourite author from my childhood (here), this week too has one such pick: The Mystery of the Locked Room by Carolyn Keene.

First published in 1938, this is book 7 of the first set of Dana Girls Mysteries. This is another of the series published by the Stratemeyer syndicate, who published various successful children’s book series including Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and others. (A couple of years ago I read this very interesting book via NetGalley, Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up, which was a fictionalised telling of the story of the Stratemeyer syndicate and how the Nancy Drew books were written–if you’ve enjoyed Nancy Drew or any of the others, you might enjoy this as well; review here) I especially read Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins books a lot as a child. And it was in the library back then that I first came across the Dana Girls: Jean and Louise Dana (one blond and one a brunette) are twins who attend the Starhurst School for Girls (unlike Nancy who never seems to go to school or college except in one newer spin-off series); and mostly while at school, solve various mysteries. The girls are orphans and spend the holidays with their Uncle, a ship captain, and spinster aunt (Find more about them on Wikipedia here).

The Mystery of the Locked Room was written by Mildred Wirt Benson (who wrote several of the Nancy Drew books) also under the Carolyn Keene pseudonym. In the book, Mrs Crandall, the principal at Starhurst is getting set to purchase a piece of land at Moon Lake for a camp for the girls. Five of the girls including the twins, and their nemesis, Lettie Briggs accompany Mrs Crandall for the weekend. At the campsite is a house, and of course, it is one that appears to be haunted. Someone is certainly in the locked attic and only comes out at night. The girls convince Mrs Crandall to stay longer so that they can solve the mystery and prove that the property is safe to be bought for the school.

While I mostly read the Dana Girls books back in middle school and didn’t have any of my own, a few years ago I did find one old title in a second-hand shop–Riddle of the Frozen Fountain, which was fun enough but not one I enjoyed as much as I did back as a child. Still having pleasant memories of this series, I did want to read more, so I am looking forward to giving this one a try. Though I read a lot of them then, I don’t really remember any, so they will be pretty much like new.

Have you read this one or any of the others in the Dana Girls series? Which ones and how did you like them? As much as Nancy Drew or not so much so? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image as always from Goodreads, as also the book info: here.

Shelf Control #104: Well, Really Mr Twiddle by Enid Blyton #Children’sBooks #TBR #EnidBlyton

Wednesday, the 19th of August, and time once again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This week my pick is a children’s book by one of my favourite authors (this you’ve probably noticed by now) Enid Blyton. Well, Really Mr Twiddle, first published in 1953, is one of three books featuring the character Mr Twiddle (according to the Goodreads listing), though I know that some short stories featuring him also appear in other, mixed short-story collections, which is where I first came across him. The stories are of course, intended for younger readers!

Mr Twiddle is not a magical creature like some of Blyton’s other such characters (like Mr Meddle the pixie, or Mr Pink Whistle who is half brownie), but a man. He is in fact a very kind old man, with the best of intentions, but he is also very absent-minded which gets him into a series of scrapes, and he ends up doing some very silly things indeed. The story that I remember him from (one I read as a child) was one where his wife is ill in bed with the flu, and asks him to do the errands including fetching and cooking some fish for dinner and picking up her shoes (from the cobbler perhaps?-this I don’t remember exactly). But as things turn out, he fetches and puts away the fish in the cupboard (the cat keeps trying to get at it, and poor Mrs Twiddle can’t work out why) and cooks the shoe for dinner!

Well, Really Mr Twiddle is a short story collection like the other books featuring him, and has fifteen stories, each of which were individually published in Sunny Stories magazine between 1945 and 1952. From the names, the stories involve Mr Twiddle cutting grass, going for a walk, going shopping, making a ‘Christmas mistake’, and getting a surprise among other things, which will very likely involve a fair share of new scrapes. From the sound of these, and my experience of having ‘met’ Mr Twiddle before, I’m sure these will turn out to be pleasant, silly fun, and I’m very much looking forward to reading them.

Do you enjoy rereading old childhood favourites like these? Or rather more stories featuring characters whom you liked as a child? Or were they best enjoyed back then? Which ones are some of you favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image as always from Goodreads; and the older one from the Enid Blyton Society (here)

Shelf Control #103: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome #TBR

Wednesday, the 12th of August, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is the first of a very well-known series of adventure books, but one which I haven’t yet read. Swallows and Amazons, first published in 1930, is the first of a series of the name name by English author and journalist Arthur Ransome. Early in his writing career, he wrote the Nature Books for Children, and in 1907 Bohemia in London, introducing the Bohemian literary and artistic communities. During the First World War, Ransome served as war correspondent. He also went on a yachting adventure which he also wrote about. In 1920, he settled in the Lake District, and in 1929, wrote Swallows and Amazons, which is set there.

The book tells the story of two families of children who have adventures sailing, camping, fishing, and exploring. The Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) who live on a farm in the Lake District during their school holidays, hire a dinghy named Swallow. They meet the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy) who sail the Amazon. The two groups of children join forces against Jim Turner, the Blacketts’ uncle who (usually a friend and ally of the two girls) has withdrawn from company to write his memoirs. There are mock battles, attempts to seize the others’ boat and such. The series has 12 books, relating further adventures of the two sets of children, who are later joined by other characters as well.

I do confess I am not a great reader of sea-faring adventures. I have read Treasure Island which I enjoyed very much but wasn’t all that thrilled with either The Sea Wolf or Captain’s Courageous. This isn’t quite the same, but is one where the children try to recreate these adventures. Still since this is a series I’ve heard so much about, and from so long, I do want to give it a try–it might well turn out to be one I end up enjoying! This is also by the way, the basis for a 2016 film of the same name (which makes some plot changes), which I only discovered existed when writing this.

Have you read this one and others in the series? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Was it something you read as a child or only as an adult? Have you seen the film? Did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image from Goodreads as always; author info from Wikipedia (here), and book info also from Wikipedia (here)

Children’s Book of the Month: The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle by #BeatrixPotter

I haven’t picked a children’s book to read or talk about for a while now. Since I have been mostly rereading books lately, my children’s book pick this time is a reread as well, and I chose this short charming Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. Published in 1905, this the sixth (seventh according to Wikipedia) of her twenty three (twenty four) stories of various animals. This is a very sweet little tale and as I have written once before (here), is one of the few I have read (I haven’t read them all, yet) in which none of the characters is spanked or eaten (or nearly eaten) or had their tails yanked off or any such (though many of these make an appearance or are mentioned).

Littletown via Wikimedia Commons
Mick Knapton / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The story open with a little girl Lucie who lives in Little-town and has lost ‘three pocket handkins and a pinny’. Looking for these she goes about asking first the kitten, then Sally Henny-Penny and the cock robin, finally finding herself walking away from town where she finds a trail of small foot-marks. Following these, she eventually finds herself in a very tiny house, spick and span, where she meets a little washerwoman, in a print gown and apron, a striped petticoat, and prickles in place of golden curls, who introduces herself as ‘an excellent clear-starcher’. The little washerwoman’s black nose goes ‘sniffle sniffle snuffle’ and eyes ‘twinkle twinkle’. Lucie mentions the things she’s lost and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle begins to go through her laundry, the various different items that she has in her basket, and finally locates Lucie’s things while alongside also doing some ironing.

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Iron by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

In the laundry are some rather fun things, from the tabby kitten’s mittens which she ‘washes … herself’ but sends down for ironing to some lambs’ woolly coats to Mrs Rabbit’s handkerchief to things that other Potter characters we know and love have sent in–like Peter Rabbit’s blue jacket and Squirrel Nutkin’s red tail coat, minus the tail (yanked off, just like his tail, one imagines). Reading these descriptions is just so sweet and delightful!

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Washing by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

Little Lucie then joins Mrs Tiggy-Winkle for a cup of tea before walking back with her to deliver the clean laundry, and once only Lucie’s bundle is left and handed over, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle seems to run away, and something rather strange happens. Was Mrs Tiggy-Winkle real, or merely Lucie’s dream?

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Basket by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

This is a delightful and pleasant tale that brings a smile to one’s face. Perhaps it is set in a time long past, but still the reader can happily walk along with little Lucie tracing her small lost things and spend a little time watching the tiny washer-hedgehog as she goes about her business washing, ironing, and handing back the little items of laundry, tied in neat bundles. With Potter’s gorgeous illustrations, imagining them isn’t too hard either. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and the other animals that is. Lucie on the other hand, is seen as an ‘artistic failure’ which is explained by Porter’s difficulty in illustrating people (again from Wikipedia: here).

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was apparently inspired by Potter’s own hedgehog of the name name and the Scottish washerwoman, Kitty MacDonald who worked for their family, while Lucie is based on little Lucie Carr one of the daughters of the vicar at Lingholm where Potter went on holiday (here)! This isn’t one of the Potter tales I read as a child. In fact I first read it only well into college, but it is one I love very much, all the same.

Have you read Mrs Tiggy-Winkle? Is she among the Potter characters you like? Which others are your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Dumbledore Humour #Humour #Quotes #HarryPotter

Albus Dumbledore, Order of Merlin First Class, Grand Sorc., Chief Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. Of Wizards, Headmaster of Hogwarts, school of Witchcraft and Wizardry is one of the greatest wizards there is. Dumbledore could have been Minister of Magic but preferred to be at Hogwarts. He is the only one He-who-must-not-be-named is afraid of, and throughout the books guides Harry (in his own way, sometimes telling him only some things but never all) to defeat Voldemort. He is powerful, wise (‘My brain surprises even me, sometimes’), perhaps not always straightforward and of course, a central character in the Harry Potter books.

Reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the ???th time last week and this week, I realised consciously though, how little we encounter him in the first book. We first meet him in the book when he comes with Prof McGonagall and Hagrid to drop baby Harry off at the Dursleys, and then only come across his name when Harry gets his letter (or rather the one he can finally read after the many many letters that the owls bring to him),  and find out who he is (other than that he is magic, and a professor, perhaps), and then we learn a little more when Harry gets his first Famous Witches and Wizards card—which also turns out to hold an important clue to a mystery Harry, Ron, and Hermione are faced with later. After that, Dumbledore only makes brief appearances and says very little as well (some of it to help Harry with what’s coming). But what I also noticed in this read was the humorous outpourings that seem to come from Dumbledore pretty much every time we meet him in the book (except perhaps when he is present at the famous Quidditch match refereed by Severus Snape—he says nothing there at all). From downright senseless-ridiculous to very funny, Dumbledore certainly has some rather remarkable lines in this book. And here are the ones that I noticed!

When he comes to drop Harry off:

Scars can come in useful. I have one myself above my left knee which is a perfect map of the London Underground.

The welcome banquet at Hogwarts

‘Welcome! He said, ‘Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts’. Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!’

At the mirror of Erisid

Harry: What do you see when you look in the mirror?’

Dumbledore: I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.

Harry stared. ‘One can never have enough socks, said Dumbledore. ‘And Christams has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books’.

And in the hospital wing, where Harry is recovering from his first major face-off with Vodemort

‘What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so naturally the whole school knows!’

Still at the hospital wing…

Ah! Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavoured one, and since then I’m afraid I’ve rather lost my liking for them—but I think I’ll be safe with a nice toffee, don’t you?

He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, ‘Alas! Earwax!’

Did you notice all of these when you read the book? Which one/s are your favourites? Any that I’ve missed that you can recall? Looking forward to your thoughts!  

Review: #TheDeadWorldofLanthorneGhules by Gerald Killingworth #NetGalley

My thanks to Pushkin Children’s Books and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

I hadn’t been requesting or reading books from NetGalley for the last few months as I wanted to tackle my own TBR pile. But browsing through NetGalley some days ago I came across this one, and reading the description made me think this was something on the lines of Eva Ibbotson’s books which I very much enjoy so I decided to put in a request, and this did turn out to be a great deal of fun. 

Twelve-year-old Edwin Robbins lives with his parents, and they are planning to have a small swimming pool to which he dreams of inviting his friends. But these dreams are shattered when he learns that not only is there going to be no pool, the family must move to another house and he is going to have a sibling. To add to his woes (he is certainly not ‘thrilled to bits’ as his parents claim), his baby sister is named Mandoline. On one house-hunting trip with his father, Edwin comes across a strange advertisement for a pen pal, and decides for fun to answer and places the reply (as called for by the notice) in a chimney. To his horror, it goes up and some weeks later he even receives a response. The writer (and he who placed the ad) is another young boy, Lanthorne Ghules but he lives not in Edwin’s world but a strange parallel world where everything is dark, grey and rotten, and the inhabitants are more or less, ghouls.  After a letter or two which expectedly scares Edwin, Lanthorne comes for a short visit, and before he knows it, Edwin finds himself pulled into Lanthorne’s world—here Edwin is a shiner, someone who stands out in a grey, dark space and who is a curiosity not much liked. After encountering some rather strange creatures, and almost running into Lanthorne’s rather dangerous aunt Necra, Edwin manages to escape only to find that his little sister, who he claimed to not like has been kidnapped and taken to Lanthorne’s world, and it is only him (with Lanthorne’s help) who can rescue and bring her back.

The world that the author has created in the book is dark and creepy but still I think a good bit of fun (to read about, at any rate). Lanthorne’s world lies parallel to the human world and Lanthorne, Edwin and others go back and forth through ‘doors’. In Lanthorne’s world, not only are people grey skinned, but the general atmosphere is grey and musty too, as are people clothes—the world is devoid of any light or colour, and their food habits are equally strange for they allow things to ‘ripen’ before they eat them. Things here have reflections of the human world (such as celebrating Nollig not Christmas, and in Dikembra not December) but are still as different as can be, and the ways of the ‘traditionalists’ here are stranger still. The animals who live here are no less peculiar, and some positively deadly. I did like the Snarghe though. The author has created an imaginative and fairly scary place, where one certainly wouldn’t want to be trapped–ever.

The plot itself I enjoyed a lot—a fun adventure where young Edwin finds himself having to undertake a rescue mission that he alone can (having been in Lanthorne’s world before, and being the only one who knows of it). Lanthorne stands by and helps Edwin like a true friend but with the others in his world, one can never be sure for everyone and everything is strange, and one doesn’t know whom to trust (Of course, as events unfold we find that just as in the human world, there are kind-hearted people as well as evil ones). Still the boys go on, helped by one person or another but find themselves in danger more than once, at times with little hope of escape.

Of the characters, Edwin himself I didn’t take to too much—he came across as a bit of a brat, not grateful for the help he gets or those going out of their way for him. One does feel for him since he is trapped in a frightening place for little fault of his own, but at the same time, his attitude towards things was off-putting. Lanthorne on the other hand, I did like—he is genuinely looking to make friends, and takes trouble to help Edwin as far as he can from lending him things and helping him return the first time to being by his side, supporting him throughout the trip to rescue Mandoline. The villains are nice and creepy, their actions at times giving one chills down the spine.

Despite not liking Edwin all that much, I did enjoy the book—imaginative and entertaining, though with a definitely dark touch! The ending had a rather fun little touch that I liked very much indeed!  

The book comes out in Mid-September by the way, so well in time for a Halloween read!

Squares, Bears, and Some Gentle Fun #Poetry #AAMilne

Bears–cute teddy bears to scary grizzlies–often make an appearance in children’s stories–from Goldilocks who came upon the three bears’ house in the forest (subject of a topsy turvy version by Roald Dahl) to Baloo in the Jungle Book, to Winnie-the-Pooh, and their relationship with ‘literary children’ has been described as rather ‘ambivalent’.* Some are friendly like Pooh and Baloo, but others well kept at a distance. One such instance, where bears’ ‘scary’ image is relied on is A.A. Milne’s poem, ‘Lines and Squares’, which ‘tries to make a poetic game map onto a child’s game, and vice versa’.* The poem first appeared in his collection When We Were Young, published in 1924, and illustrated (or rather, ‘decorated’) by E.H. Shepard. This book also has another famous poem ‘Teddy Bear’, said to be the first appearance of his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.

In the poem, Milne plays with the children’s game of walking in squares without stepping on the lines. As one does in the game of hopscotch, where one must jump through the shapes, and recover the stone or other object thrown inside without, among other things, stepping on a line, in which case you end up losing your turn.

Hopscotch

But in Milne’s poem, stepping on a line or across a square doesn’t simply put you ‘out’ of the game, for here, at the edges of the squares, lurk ‘masses of bears’ lying in wait ‘all ready to eat’, who else but ‘the sillies who tread on the lines of the street’. But our narrator (I don’t think it is Christopher Robin in Shepard’s illustration), knows better and tells the bears, ‘Just see how I’m walking in all the squares’. The bears here are cunning, and pretend that all they’re doing is ‘looking for a friend’, and don’t care in the least whether you step on a line or don’t walk within a square. But of course, they’re only growling to each other, of which of them will get him when he steps on a line. Our narrator isn’t fooled though, unlike the ‘sillies’ who might believe what the creatures say, and tells the bears, that they can ‘just watch [him] walking in all the squares’!

This is a sweet little poem, reminding one of the games one played as children, but of course adding a gentle touch of fun (well, may not that gentle since it does involve the possibility of getting eaten by bears). A lovely little read!

Have you read this one before? What did you think of it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

  • *James Williams, ‘Children’s Poetry at Play’, in Katherine Wakeley-Mulroney and Louise Joy (eds), The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry: A Study of Children’s verse in English (Routeledge, 2018).
  • When We Were Young, Wikipedia (here)
  • The Three Bears Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Hopscotch Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Full poem here