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

The Enormous Crocodile

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 4 stars

A fun little romp about an enormous crocodile who wants to eat little children and the other animals who thwart him. One for the younger reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141311524
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1978

Moonfleet (Wordsworth Children’s Classics)

By John Meade Falkner

Rating: 3 stars

This is a children’s adventure story that reminded me somewhat of Treasure Island. It’s the story of John Trenchard, an orphan who takes up with a gang of smugglers (or ‘gentlemen of the Contraband’, as the book puts it) in his home village of Moonfleet and his search for the legendary lost treasure of ‘Blackbeard’ Mohune. I first read this story in English class at school and when I saw it going cheap, I picked it up, having forgotten everything whatsoever about it.

It’s a fairly simple story all in, with a strong message of love and family bonds, while its sympathetic treatment of the smugglers and general derring do made me smile. The protagonist was generally sympathetic and fairly believable most of the way through the book, but the events that led to the climax of the book had me shaking my head at his stupidity, although this may have been intentional and intended to link in to the idea that Mohune’s treasure was cursed and would bring misfortune on those who bore it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781840221695
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Year of publication: 1898

Finn Family Moomintroll

By Tove Jansson

Rating: 3 stars

This is a simple book in which Moomintroll and his friends have lots of little adventures, often to do with the Hobgoblin’s hat, which they find one day in their valley. It’s a fairly simple children’s story which I expect I would have loved as a child, but coming to it for the first time as an adult, I appreciated it but found it a little twee. I read it as much because I’ve never read any Moomin books before as anything else.

Book details

Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1948


By Rudyard Kipling

Rating: 4 stars

Kipling gets a bit of a bad rep these days but I enjoyed this collection of children’s stories. The stories all come from Kipling’s other work, including both Jungle Books and The Just-So Stories and often have a moral at the end. I’ve not read much Kipling so I hadn’t encountered that many of these before (only the ones from the first Jungle Book). There is also some poetry in the book, including His Apologies, a lovely, sad poem about a dog.

I think Kipling needs to be seen in the context of his time and I get the impression from the stories set in India that he really loved that country, and had learned about the people and its history. I can’t see the arrogance and condescension that is often attributed to him.

Book details

ISBN: 9780060587857
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1894

The Boy, The Wolf, The Sheep And The Lettuce

By Allan Ahlberg

Rating: 2 stars

This is a short kids’ book, wrapping a ‘mystery’ narrative around the old puzzle of the boy who has to cross a river with a wolf, sheep and lettuce in a boat only big enough for one item at a time. There’s not much to it and I found the narrator incredibly annoying, but at least it was mercifully short.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141380698
Year of publication: 2004

Cart and Cwidder (The Dalemark Quartet, #1)

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

Moril is a young boy who plays a stringed instrument called the cwidder in a family of travelling musicians, but when he is caught in a web of politics and murder he must discover the secret of his family’s ancient cwidder passed down the generations and his own magic.

This is a fairly slow book to get going and the action happens mostly in the last quarter but it’s also enjoyable, sketching a world in more detail than you would expect from this slim children’s volume. The characters, including Moril, his sister Brid and Kialan, the young man the family picks up to take north with them, are all interesting characters and the whole story has more depth than I’d really expect in what appears, at first glance, to be a simple children’s book. An enjoyable read but it doesn’t immediately make me jump up and down to find the sequels.

Book details

ISBN: 9780192752796
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year of publication: 1975

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