by Maddy Smith
Welcome to March! The first of this month marks my one-year anniversary as a columnist for Island Parent, and before I go on I’d like to take a moment to thank you for reading—it’s been a pleasure writing for you. Also, as I’m sure many of you are aware, March 8 is International Women’s Day, when we acknowledge and celebrate the hundreds and millions of amazing women in history and in our lives: this article is dedicated to them.
Over the past 12 months I’ve reviewed works by 25 female authors, from Diana Wynne Jones, Polly Horvath and Mairi Hedderiwick, to Susan Cooper, Tove Jansson and E. Nesbit. This month, I’m going to talk about three more, beginning with the delightful, mischievous Lauren Child. Author and illustrator of over a dozen books, she’s most famous for her immensely popular Charlie and Lola series, which fans will be thrilled to hear has a new title. Slightly Invisible (Orchard Books, 2010) sees Charlie and his friend Marv experimenting with an invisibility potion in an attempt to shake off a rather too-persistent Lola. But once the potion is mixed, things don’t quite go as planned. Child has also illustrated works such as Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (the ultimate female role model), and has created and chronicled the marvellous adventures of Clarice Bean. Originally a series of picture books which began with Clarice Bean, That’s Me! (Orchard Books, 2000), Child has continued to record the escapades of her indomitable character through a series for 8+, featuring her distinctive illustration style: words pop out of toasters, curl out of the washing machine, and sprawl across the swimming pool. The series begins with Utterly Me, Clarice Bean (Candlewick, 2005) and carries on with Clarice Bean Spells Trouble (Candlewick, 2006) and Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now (Candlewick, 2008), in which our feisty female hero takes on everything from tyrannical teachers to utterly irritating older siblings—all with her own very special flair.
Speaking of flair…have you tried Rebecca Barnhouse? A teacher, a writer, and an avid historian, Barnhouse conveys her passion for the Mediaeval ages in her superbly written historical novels for young adults, in the first of which, The Book of the Maidservant (Random House, 2009), she deftly weaves the story conveyed in The Book of Margery Kempe—the first English autobiography, written in the 15th century—with the timeless yet contemporary coming-of-age of Johanna, Margery’s ill-treated maidservant. Resourceful and intelligent, Johanna speaks with an eloquent voice that spans the centuries: an excellent choice for 12+. Barnhouse’s newest novel, The Coming of the Dragon (Random House, 2010), is a thrilling adventure based in the world of the poem Beowulf—the most famous epic in the English language. History and heroism, fantasy and fate, all play a part in the life of Rune, a young boy with a mysterious past and an uncertain future. A brilliant read for 11+.
Another great place to look for inspiration and eloquence is in the writing of the next generation. Catherine Banner began writing Eyes of a King (Random House, 2008), a stellar choice for 14+, when she was 14 years old. Pick it up and enter the war-torn world of Malonia, a country torn apart by disease and rebellion, and where the only slim hope of redemption lies in the hands of 15-year-old Leo, and a mysterious black leather book, in which writing appears that speaks of the mythical land of England, where the missing heir to the Malonian throne is still alive, and waiting for an opportunity to return. Powerfully written, with elegant, well-drawn characters, the book showcases Banner’s evocative prose and a skill and grace that outstrip many writers twice her age. Her second book, Voices in the Dark (Random House, 2009), picks up the threads of the story 15 years later, where everything and nothing has changed in Malonia, and the next generation of heroes is coming of age. This March, take time to appreciate and celebrate the amazing women in your life—your family, your friends, your teachers, and your heroes—and take the chance to look at the world through new eyes. You never know what you’ll see.
Maddy Smith is a children’s bookseller and an Islander born and bred; she reads, writes, and believes in the magic of a great book.