GREEK MYTHS by Ann Turnbull, illustrated by Sarah Young. Walker Books, hbk £15.00
If I hadn’t recently moved house from Manchester to Cambridge, I would have tried to post an illustration from this book here but at the moment I’m not going to risk trying to deal with pictures of any kind. So you will have to Google Sarah Young and see for yourselves how very beautiful her work is. There’s something in it of Jane Ray; something of Jackie Morris, but she’s her own artist and has a beautiful, dramatic and lyrical way of putting the images on the page to enhance the text and enchant the reader. I’d have thought that a Greenaway medal nomination should follow shortly, although it seems to me that this style of illustration isn’t as loved as it ought to be. It’s formal. The artist has learned how to draw. The colours are rich and strange and touched with gold. It’s opulent and lovely and you could simply turn the pages and that pleasure in itself would be well worth your £15.00
But you also have, of course, Ann Turnbull’s sensitive, elegant and characteristically honest retellings of the Greek myths. If ever there was a book to turn children on to these terrific stories, this is it. Walker Books have produced it in time for Christmas and I can’t think of a better gift. They are the supreme publishers of gorgeous volumes for the young and this is one of the most lavish and tempting I’ve seen. I’m not a fan of sans serif fonts and wondered at first whether I’d be bothered by the one used here, but have to confess that it worked very well with the content of the stories.
Readers of this blog and members of the SAS know Ann Turnbull and know what a good writer she is. She deserves to be far better known, and far more widely read. She’s written many excellent novels (I reviewed ALICE IN LOVE AND WAR on this blog) but with these retellings, she will, I hope, reach a far wider audience. Certainly children of any age from about 7 will love this book and the sophisticated style of the illustrations means that it’s perfect as a gift for teenage readers.
Some of the best-known stories are here: Persephone, the Minotaur, Pandora and her jar (not box, as in the original story), Perseus and the Gorgon’s Head and Orpheus and Eurydice. But lesser- known tales take their place alongside these and we read, among other things, about Arachne, the birth of Pan, and the Kalydonian boar hunt. I like the way Ann uses K instead of C for names like Kalydon. I did the same thing in my novel Ithaka and many people have asked me why. I don’t know Ann’s reason for doing this but I did it because (and there’s no rational basis for the feeling I have) it makes things feel/look a bit more classically Greek.
These are stories which deserve to be remembered and this is the book to ensure that their wonders are spread about among the young. If you’re a teacher then it ought to be in your school library. It’s a treasure on every level.
WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David Frances Lincoln pbks.£6.99
I was much relieved, when I came to the end of this début novel, to find the first chapter of the sequel, otherwise I’d have been really worried about Joe, (who isn’t really Joe at all but Ty) and his family and desperate to know how the whole story was going to pan out. The taster chapter of the next book, which is called ALMOST TRUE, is very dramatic indeed and leaves us with an even cliffier cliffhanger, but hey, it’s okay because we are sure that the second part is on its way and we’ll just wait till it appears. Making sure your readers want to turn the pages to find out what happens next, is arguably the most important talent any writer can have. I’ve put it in bold type because it’s so crucial. The most exquisite prose, the most carefully-wrought sentences, the most subtle of themes and the most intricate network of symbols count for nothing if people close the book before they’ve even properly got into it.
There's no chance of that here. David has written a really exciting thriller. It doesn’t dwell on violence but it doesn’t soft-pedal it either. It’s told in the first person by a fifteen- year- old boy who has witnessed a knifing and maybe has played a worse part in the incident than we at first realize. He and his family are taken into witness protection because their lives are at risk. Ty (or Joe as he becomes) is going to give evidence in the pending court case and there are those who are anxious for him not to say a word and who are moreover prepared to use any means to stop him: intimidation, arson, and in the taster chapter of the second book, fatal shooting.
As well as having to live an elaborate lie, Joe has to negotiate first love, school bullying, ambitions to be a sports star, absence of his beloved Gran, dealing with his at times flakey mother and with the police charged with his care. Towards the end of the book, Joe is moved again and has to become Jake....it’s a lot for a boy to deal with and the fact that we always care about our hero and always sympathize with him is to Keren David’s great credit. She writes with humour and understanding and we are always right in there in the thick of the action with Joe. Her fifteen-year-old boy’s voice is convincing. Her depiction of the mixture of boredom and fear is spot on and I’m sure this will be a very popular book with teenagers. I can’t wait to see what happens. Roll on the publication date of ALMOST TRUE, and meanwhile, do put this novel in front of anyone who is moaning that books are boring. This one is the very opposite: involving, fast-moving and full of surprises.