The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

By C.S. Lewis

Rating: 4 stars

I read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe several times as a child, but it wasn’t until I went to university, that I heard about its religious subtext, which surprised me (not growing up in a Christian household). This was the first time that I’ve re-read it as an adult and the religious subtext is pretty blatant coming to it now (I especially liked the mention of Jadis as being a Daughter of Lilith, rather than Eve), but it’s still a very enjoyable read. Despite the allegory, I still felt the pain of the temptation of Edmund and the humiliation and death of Aslan just as much as I did as a child.

It reads very much of its time, in terms of language and assumptions, not to mention style. I pretty much grew up on Lewis and Enid Blyton, so it was all very familiar to me, and comforting, in a way, but it does make assumptions about gender, class and status that would be more challenged today. The voice of the narrator talking directly to the reader is also something that has fallen out of favour in modern writing. It definitely feels, not exactly ‘dated’, but recognisable as not being a modern story (even setting aside the contents).

Even so, I still think it holds up well as a children’s book that draws the reader in and holds their attention well. Characters such as Mr Tumnus, the beavers and, of course, Aslan will live long in the memory and affection of readers for a long time to come.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006716631
Publisher: Fontana Lions
Year of publication: 1980

The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Riffing off the story of the Pied Piper, here Pratchett has more animals become intelligent after hanging around Unseen University too long. First it’s the rats, and then Maurice, a cat. The rats may be clever, but Maurice is streetwise. They band together, along with a stupid-looking-kid™ to do the old plague of rats trick on unsuspecting towns, but in Bad Blintz, they find something very unexpected, and very dark.

Maurice is a fun character. While I’m not their biggest fan, Pratchett really gets cats and he writes a good one. The rat Dangerous Beans, on the other hand, is at least partially well named. As Darktan realises, he makes maps of the earth, while Dangerous Beans makes maps for the mind. He thinks the thoughts that the others don’t. He’s an idealist, and a visionary and a naive young thing. He’s a wonderful creation.

In the character of Malicia, Pratchett takes another swipe at those who get too carried away by stories and storytelling. This was a central theme of Witches Abroad and while it’s somewhat less subtle here than it was in that book, the point is well made, and the character is very fun to read.

I think this was the first Discworld novel “for younger readers”, preceding the Tiffany Aching books. I’ve put ‘for younger readers’ in quotes since at times this book can feel very dark, covering, as it does, topics including faith, its gaining and loss, ageing, hate and man’s inhumanity to anything it considers ‘other’. Despite this, it retains Pratchett’s trademark lightness of touch and humour. An older (or less sensitive younger) child will devour this, as will adults.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552546935
Publisher: Corgi Books
Year of publication: 2001


By Roald Dahl

Rating: 5 stars

Matilda was always one of my favourite Roald Dahl books as a child, and after seeing the musical recently (which is rather marvellous, by the way, and if you get the chance, you should go and see it), I was inspired to re-read the book. I’m very pleased that it holds up very well to adult reading, and still made me laugh as much as it did when I was young. It’s got the trademark Roald Dahl darkness as well, which is just delicious, most obviously in the character of Miss Trunchbull, but also in Matilda’s neglectful parents, who think that books are pointless and who fail to see anything special in Matilda herself.

A fantastic book, that well deserves its place in the canon.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140327595
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1988

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Another world is colliding with this one and nobody can or will do anything about it. Nobody, that is, except Tiffany Aching. Tiffany Aching who makes good cheese; who hits monsters in the face with a frying pan; and who has the First Sight and the Second Thoughts (much more useful than the other way around). With the help of the Nac Mac Feegle and a book on sheep diseases, Tiffany ventures into the other world to stop the Queen and to save her baby brother.

It’s been years since I first read this book and I had forgotten just how ‘witchy’ that Tiffany is right from the start of the series that begins with this book. A sensible girl who does what needs doing and who stands up to Granny Weatherwax.

For me, the Feegle are as much stars of this book as Tiffany. They could be a parody but in Pratchett’s hands they become more than that. They’re a wonderful creation (especially the swords that glow blue in the presence of lawyers) and a lot of fun.

There’s one line in particular that stands out as totemic of what Pratchett tries to invoke in all of us and which brought a lump to my throat: “Them as can do, has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.” Pratchett reminds us with this single line what we’re like when we’re at our best and what we should strive to be.

Book details

Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2003

Mister Clip-Clop: Intergalactic Space Unicorn (EDGE: Bandit Graphics)

By Tony Lee, Neil Slorance

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been a fan of Neil Slorance for a while now, so when I saw on his Twitter that he had a limited number of this fun little comic back in stock, I snapped it up. It’s a slight little thing, coming in at 32 pages, but 32 pages of pure delight. Neil says it’s suitable for ages 7 and up, and I’m definitely up! It’s drawn in his trademark cutesy style, and is a lot of fun, as the titular space unicorn falls to Earth and has to team up with a couple of young girls to save the world from invisible Ooze monsters.

Technically I bought this for my niece, but since she’s not seven yet, I’ll just have to *cough* “take care” of it for her for a while…

Book details

ISBN: 9781445157061
Publisher: Franklin Watts

The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Doctor Dolittle, #1)

By Hugh Lofting

Rating: 3 stars

I can’t remember what format I first encountered Doctor Doolittle in, whether it was a film or possibly a cartoon featuring the good doctor. Whatever it was, I’m fairly sure it didn’t have the racism of the original book. It’s a shame as otherwise it’s a fun little kids’ book. The titular Doctor learns the language of animals, and goes off to Africa to cure a plague amongst the monkeys. But the subplot about the Africans he encounters (especially the very sad one about their prince) are cringeworthy to a modern audience, and the language used mean that I’d be very hesitant about giving this as a present to my young niece, as I’d originally intended.

Apart from that, it’s quite a charming story, with a very kind-hearted protagonist who saves animals and fights pirates. Ultimately, as an adult, I’m able to put it in context and do the whole product-of-its-time thing, but I definitely wouldn’t want to give it to a child without having A Talk with them first.

Book details

Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 1920

Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

These are stories written by Pratchett when he was a young man, working for his local paper. The Young Pratchett wrote a children’s story for them every week, which is what makes up this collection, and is, according to the foreword, mostly unaltered from that time. They’re very definitely written by an author still finding his way and don’t have the polish of later Pratchett. We do get a couple of stories set on the Carpet, which would go on to become The Carpet People (which I’ve read, but so long ago I don’t remember anything about it and was BG [Before GoodReads]) and some fun stories (my favourite being the one about the time-travelling bus), but I didn’t really get an awful lot out of this one. I think this may be passed to my sister as bedtime story material for my nephlings.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552572804
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2014

The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 5 stars

It’s difficult to know what to say about The Hobbit that hasn’t already been said. I don’t remember now, to be honest, if I read it before I read The Lord of the Rings. I vaguely seem to recall that I did, but that could just be my faulty memory. Certainly, for me, it’s a much simpler, more straightforward tale than its illustrious successor but there’s still a lot to enjoy. Between Bilbo’s hasty departure from Bag End, without even a handkerchief, to the adventure in Mirkwood, the dealings with Smaug and the way that he handles the Dwarven obsession over gold, the story flows swiftly and cleanly. And, of course, the famous ‘riddles in the dark’ with Gollum. Reading it, with the full knowledge of what is to come, that chapter was an especially enjoyable read.

It’s a shame the Dwarves don’t get much in the way of characterisation, or things to differentiate them from each other. I haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s films of the book, but I imagine that must have been a fairly major challenge to fill out thirteen characters. The lack of characterisation is certainly something that’s repeatedly levelled against Tolkien, but it’s not really something that bothers me. Bilbo is our hero and our protagonist. We see the world through his eyes, as he grows and develops during the course of his adventure and I’m happy to leave it at that.

It’s always fun to look out for hints of things to come in the deeper, more complex works as well. Even though it’s only a couple of sentences, there was a thrill to be had in reading about the White Council expelling the Necromancer from Mirkwood, mentions of the fathers of men and the doings of the Dwarves and of Moria.

Definitely a great introduction to Tolkien’s world and one that I shall be distributing amongst my nephlings and children of my friends over the next few years.

Book details

ISBN: 9780395873465
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of publication: 1937

Mike at Wrykin

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 2 stars

While I’m a huge fan of Wodehouse’s work, I didn’t hugely enjoy this. It’s one of his juveniles, in his ‘school’ series and I didn’t find much in the way of his trademark humour or his fine control of language. Normally the upper-class nature of Wodehouse protagonists doesn’t bother me, but this public school setting really rubbed me up the wrong way.

It’s loosely about the titular Mike Jackson, starting at Wrykyn public school and mostly playing cricket. Oddly, despite my dislike of sport in general, cricket is the one sport that I retain some fondness for, so the cricket in the book doesn’t bother me, but the public school smugness and disdain for civic authority stuck in the craw. And, most disappointingly, even the marvellous characterisation that we know Wodehouse for is missing, with all the characters here being quite bland and nothing memorable about it.

An interesting early oddity but not a patch on his later work.

Book details

Publisher: Armada Books
Year of publication: 1953

Lauren Ipsum

By Carlos Bueno

Rating: 4 stars

This is a quite sweet fairy tale about a girl who gets lost and has to find her way home, going through the traditional quests and challenges. It also just happens to be a lovely little primer on some of the fundamental concepts and problems of computing science (without any mention of computers).

It’s short and I was able to read it in an afternoon. It was nice to see a lot of concepts that I’m familiar with as a CS graduate and software engineer by trade be introduced here so subtly that (hopefully!) any child reading it won’t realise that they’re learning. There are also lots of lovely puns for adults or those who have a CS background to admire/groan at (delete as appropriate).

This is going to go on my bookshelf until my niece is a few years older, at which point I’ll pass it on to her to try and begin her indoctrination to computing.

Oh, and a nice little touch for a C-style programmer such as myself is that the page numbering started from page 0 :-).

Book details

ISBN: 9781461178187
Publisher: Createspace
Year of publication: 2011

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