Posts Tagged ‘Michael Morpurgo’

Animals at war

Sunday, 16 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011On Michael Morpurgo’s website he has a few different ways to look at subgroups of his books, including categories such as Animal Stories and War Stories. In Morpurgo’s catalogue, however, there’s a lot of overlap in these two categories, and it does seem to work, both to make the different wars more accessible to the child reader (who hopefully hasn’t been through such experiences themself) and to show how wars do affect entire communities, not just soldiers.

Cover of Toro! Toro!

Cover of Toro! Toro!

6.Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo

The slightly ironic thing about this book is that it’s about an animal bred to fight, who because of war (in this case the Spanish Civil War) ends up with a very different fate. The narrator is the little boy of the family who bred these bulls for the bullring, who makes a pet of this one bull, who he names Paco, and cannot bear to see killed.

I feel I know far less than I should about this particular war and the history around it. More good non-fiction to look into! Speaking of which, while my booklists don’t always show it, I am reading a fair bit of non-fiction. Unlike the novels, however, which I tend to devour quite quickly, I generally have several works of non-fiction on the go at any one time, and read them by chapter, page, or even paragraph at a time, meaning they take far longer to come through as finished, and sometimes never do, if I get too distracted. Something to be working on, I think.

Out of and Into Africa

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011For some reason (well, the Africa and animals connection is one obvious one, but there’s more) I tend to think of these two of Michael Morpurgo’s books together, so here they are, back-to-back.

4. The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo

Cover of The Butterfly Lion

Cover of The Butterfly Lion

This is a sweet tale, while still being a boy’s story. It’s one where hard things happen to the young and innocent, but where truth and reality aren’t always the same thing, nor easy to identify. Below the surface it seems to me today to be about friendship, caring and depending on others, but not parents. Both Bertie and Millie have parents who aren’t entirely there for them, through illness, emotional and/or physical distance (this last at least also applies to the narrator) or death (and this one also applies to the white lion. Each of them finds affection and support, from each other, but they go through some pretty harrowing events along the way. (These are not described in a harrowing way, and the story might be a good way into discussions of loss, mental illness, WWI and the trenches, and more.)

Cover of Dear Olly

Cover of Dear Olly

5. Dear Olly by Michael Morpurgo

Like Bertie and Millie, Olly and her older brother Matt lose a parent early (in their case their father). Differently, however, they have a large extended family around to support their mother (or at least give her advice). They also don’t grow up surrounded by the vast acres of Bertie’s African ranch or Millie’s English country estate. They do, however, make good use of the (sub)urban garden they have, with Matt building a hide in the garden to watch the nesting swallows.

I like this short book a lot, particularly in the way it can use a swallow as a point-of-view character without anthropomorphising the swallow. Hero has feelings like fear and determination that make perfect sense in context.

I suppose it just shows how well-written the book is that my main frustration is with character response to a particular situation – having grown up in Ireland, if a close relative of mine had gone off in the night and the first news was a postcard saying he was working in an orphanage in Rwanda run by Irish nuns and headed by one Sister Christina, but without giving an address to be able to contact him by, my reaction would be to phone the nearest Catholic priest or convent, on the assumption they would be able to find out at very least the address of the orphanage, given those details. Olly and Matt’s mother doesn’t do that. Knowing her son, she lets him take the path he’s chosen, and waits for him to get in touch again.

N.B. I have previously discussed both books (as well as Cool! from a few days ago).

Media types

Monday, 3 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I need to get to longer posts, but for now here’s another on a single children’s book.

Cover of Cool!

Cover of Cool!

2. Cool! by Michael Morpurgo

I don’t mean at all to detract from the readability and interest/attractiveness of this story by suggesting it seems perfectly tailored as a book to read in school – it’s short but has some fully developed storylines, interesting, uses a couple of different and unusual points of view, and has themes that would stereotypically appeal to boys (football, dogs) without ignoring or excluding the girls in the class. It also brings up several issues of greater and lesser difficulty for discussion and development (road safety, family dynamics, parental relationship difficulties, life support, medical ethics, celebrity and personal heroes, and more).

I like books that provide lots to talk about!

Where am I up to, again?

Monday, 5 January 2009

306. Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

Now this really is awhile ago, as it was one of Heather’s on Craftlit back at the end of November. It rounds out the youthful lives of the March girls and Teddy Lawrence. I still insist on classifying it as a separate book from Little Women, even though neither Heather nor Librivox agree, because that’s how I read them so many times as a child.

307. Long Way Home by Michael Morpurgo

This is by far the oldest of Morpurgo’s books I’ve come across, dating from 1975, and it’s interesting to see just how much of what happens would be rather implausible nowadays, if only because of the lack of apparent paperwork involved in transferring a young boy around the county (Devonshire, as it happens) to and from fostering.

308. The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

While also set among Devon’s farming communities, this one was written far more recently (2005) and set longer ago (during World War II). I felt I wanted more of Adolphus Tips (the cat), but it’s very good.

309. Escape from Shangri-La by Michael Morpurgo

Generational angst. I really liked this one.

I shouldn’t have read so many light/short books back to back. A month later I have nothing to say about them.

310. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Librivox allowed me to revisit the younger generation at and around Plumfield, but I still haven’t finished Jo’s Boys. They’re as good as they ever were (if not necessarily as good as the original) but I wasn’t so much in the mood. More Nat and less Dan would be good.

311. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

We were comparing all of these over at the Craftlit group on Ravelry, so I thought I should revisit them. Here I think more challenges happen in the sequel (Rose in Bloom) but I haven’t revisited that one yet.

312. Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I think all this reversion to childhood favourites while between computers must have gone along with the avoidance of doing any useful study or work at home. No wonder I was feeling down (and I now have days to do months of assignment work…)!

313. Gifts to Treasure by Tehilla Greenberger

I’d never read this before, but it’s a kid’s book through and through, and kept making me think of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (that I didn’t have to hand), although it shares little but the setting with them, so doesn’t get me off the hook.

The rest really were new to me, but it’s late and I have to go back to work in the morning, so they’ll have to wait (as will the links). Good night!

Multiple Morpurgos

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Only the one Michael Morpurgo, but five more books by him! (They’re short, and came boxed together, so there are still some more I haven’t read…) Every single one of these (although not necessarily all of the books of his I’ve read) has its climax with an animal or group of animals having a life-changing impact upon a child. In all but the first, this is a named and known invidual animal with whom the child or young person has an ongoing caring relationship. Still, they are distinct books, about quite different places, times and people.

301. Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo

I have read another book Morpurgo wrote about the Scilly Isles, which I believe was inspired by the research he did for this one, so I shall have to refresh my memory on that one. (It wasn’t this year.)

There are lots of animals here, but it is Grace and Daniel’s relationship with the otherwise shunned ‘Birdman’ – who only otherwise interacts with his dog, goats and hens, and the wild birds who flock to him – that is the crux of this novel. As the lone survivor of the cursed neighbouring island of Samson, the close-knit community on Bryher keep themselves and their children well away from him, but in doing so they also remove from themselves the knowledge of what went wrong there, and how to prevent it from happening to themselves.

302. Cool! by Michael Morpurgo

I’ll admit to finding the POV (point of view) the most fascinating part of this book (I guessed early on what the climax would be). Robbie, the narrator, lies in a coma in a hospital bed, often but not always hearing what is happening in his room, who is visiting and speaking to him, but although the book is illustrated, he himself cannot see – as he doesn’t open his eyes – what the new people look like, or tell how time is passing. (This is got around by the use of clippings about his progress from the local newspaper.)

303. Dear Olly by Michael Morpurgo

A tale in three parts: first that of Olly, whose big brother Matt teaches her to watch and watch over the swallows nesting in their garden, and then goes off to Rwanda to work with the orphaned children there; then of Hero, a young swallow Olly had watched from the egg, rescued from danger and sent off on his own journey to Africa; and finally that of Matt, who finds his destiny challenged in a way that will affect the rest of his life.

304. The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo

These last two have framing stories: a caring older adult tells a young boy in trouble about something much bigger and scarier that happened to them, allowing the boy to face his own trials.

Can a tamed lion ever be truly tame, or can he ever be truly wild again either? As in so many of Morpurgo’s books, some war or other is in the background, tearing families and communities apart, but rarely is that the point of the book, and it isn’t here either, although it can become a point of recontact, as well as of separation.

305. Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo

Just as in the last book, a boy hand-rears and then cannot fully give back to the wild an animal meant for other things. Here, though, the bull is saved from the ring, and takes his own place in the raging war.


Friday, 28 November 2008

Well, I’ve made it, and any more books I add to the list are now bonuses. Maybe we can aim for 365 (not a leap year) in 2009. Or perhaps I should just do a bit more work on the masters instead…

I haven’t even told you that Reginald and Holzmichel (the latest Travelling Teddies) have been here a week already, because I can’t show them to you. I’d be less frustrated by this if there were actually something wrong with the camera, and it wasn’t that I’ve still not found the charging cable…

Anyway, this is about the books:

296. Into the Fire by Miriam Walfish

In World War I East End London, a group of Orthodox Jewish boys about to be conscripted decide to join up together as a group of Pals, who could thus stay together and support each other religiously through their training and service. We are reminded that these are just boys by the other plot about an orphaned child in Salonika, who despite the war wants to make his way to England where his only surviving relatives live.

297. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

I was actually disappointed by this classic. One of my main childhood memories of the long car journies to and from my grandparents during the December school holidays is always stopping in the same village, and going to the same craft shop, where they always had a video of Disney’s film of Pinocchio playing, over and over again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it from start to finish, but I must have seen all of the scenes many times. So, I thought it would be good to read the original now. (To be fair, the original is in Italian, and this edition doesn’t even say who their translator was, so it’s possible the adaptation is responsible for some of the faults I’m about to describe. If I’d enjoyed it more, I might try reading one of the English translations on Project Gutenberg, but I amn’t inspired enough to do that now.)

I think the main thing that annoyed me is the lack of continuity. The first example of this I noted (and one of the slightest) is that near the beginning we’re told Pinocchio doesn’t have ears; a few pages later his smile is so wide it reaches his ears, and then a few chapters later he’s being pulled along by his ears. The timeframes mentioned don’t match up either. I suppose a lot of this has to do with Collodi having (according to the Wikipedia link about him above) originally published this as a newspaper serial, and honestly, it reads like an oral saga, where the individual tales all concern the same characters, and interrelate, but were never really meant to all be told together, or be held to each other’s details.

But this may be a rare case of the film being better than the original book, and I don’t plan on seeing the film to check does it live up to my memories!

298. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

This book, about the quiet indoor son of two very outdoorsy parents, who is sent to stay on his aunt and uncle’s farm while his parents go on a cycling holiday, and hates it until he comes across a rare black fox, made me think of another childhood memory, but this time a book I read over and over. A Family of Foxes, by Eilís Dillon, first taught me that foxes come in colours other than red and tells of some far more hardy island boys from a place where the phrase “cute as a fox” is only negative (meaning “cunning”, not “sweet”!). In both books the boys attempt to protect the unusual foxes from adult detection and thus slaughter, and have to overcome moral quandaries to do so. I think I still prefer my childhood read, but this one is good too.

299. A World of a Difference by Elisheva Mintzburg

This is a really well-written autobiography (although I believe the names have been changed for privacy), and a very interesting tale. The author describes her life, and how she came to convert to Judaism, with the steps along the way. She explains the steps and qualms along the way, and how this was right for her, with the help and the hindrances she received.

300. King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo

And number 300. I had always thought of Morpurgo as a writer of realist fiction, but here he verges onto the fantastic, and perhaps because it isn’t what I had expected from him, I wasn’t as convinced as I might have been. The beginning made me expect one set of issues, but then that really wasn’t what the book ended up being about at all. So not my favourite of his canon, but it won’t put me off reading others.

Ridiculous Avoidance

Friday, 7 November 2008

Still no camera charger, so I can’t show you the handbag I’m making, or the matching corsage (both from Erika Knight’s Essential Crochet, seeing as my flatmate gave me the book and the yarn – both deep purple! – at the same time. to put on my coat when I go out with it. I’m really quite happy with both, although there is some finishing up to do. I’ve bought lining material for the bag, and a friend has offered to sew it all up, so I basically need to decide what to do about a handle for it, and attach a safety pin to the corsage. I did the large size of the pattern for the latter, with a chunky wook (instead of crochet cotton!) so it will perhaps make more of a statement than I meant it to, but I think the pair of items are going to use the two skeins I was given quite well.

There are no visiting teddies here just at the moment, which gives me a few days to sort out charging the camera…

In the meantime, I have been reading a decent amount, although I’m still a couple of weeks behind the book-per-day aim.

276. Foul Play by Tom Palmer

Football fan and wannabe detective who doesn’t mind skipping school for a good clue to the current mystery, Danny is basically a good kid who squabbles with his older sister but gets on well with his father. He gets a bit too personally involved with the strange events happening at the local football stadium one night, however…

This book is absolutely calculated to appeal to reluctant boy readers, but it’s not bad for all that!

277. Akiva by Rabbi Meir Marcus Lehmann

I said a bit about this book last week, in comparing it to And Rachel Was His Wife. I think the main thing I’d add is that the latter is character driven, while this has imparting information and a point of view as its objective. It’s very good for all that.

278. Artist Trading Cards by Leonie Pujol

Maybe when I finish the Masters I could take up ATCs…

279. Graphic Biographies: Martin Luther King Jr by Gary Jeffrey & Chris Forsey

Any other day [than Wednesday – the rest of this post has taken me awhile] I’d ignore the current Politics (with a big ‘P’ – I don’t think one ever can fully ignore small ‘p’ politics), and focus on the ones discussed in this and the following few books, but I think every (American, but not only) politician who mentions dreams in a speech knows their listeners will think of Martin Luther King Jr (and the ‘American Dream’ too), and I am pretty sure Barack Obama wouldn’t mind that today.

280. Graphic Biographies: Harriet Tubman by Rob Shone & Anita Ganeri

It’s rather longer since Harriet Tubman escaped slavery, and helped others both in the journey and the life after slavery. America has had a long struggle towards full equality of all its communities, as has every country out there. I’d be interested to know of some that have really got there, even if only in law. While the explicit (and legal) inequalities Tubman (and King, and Mandela) fought against are now much diminished and more subtle, in many ways that makes them harder to fix.

281. Graphic Biographies: Nelson Mandela by Rob Shone & Neil Reed

So, after all the politics, the series of books is a good one! The graphic story is well told and drawn, and each book has a couple of standard non-fiction style pages before and after it, to give context. I haven’t read the ones on entertainers, many of whose stories, like Mandela’s, have not come to an end yet.

282. Who Was Mary Seacole? by Paul Harrison

Seacole was a visionary front line nurse. More front-line than Florence Nightingale, and well known in her day.

Still wading through all the books to be discussed in this post by Friday, and today’s Sheldon tickled me. (Although it’s now got me thinking that I have no good excuse for not having finished the Braille Primer yet…)

283. Natural Disasters: Forest Fires by Laura Purdie Salas
284. Blazing Bush and Forest Fires by Louise and Richard Spilsbury

Yes, these two are on the same topic. Both are good, and I can’t decide which one to recommend over the other. The first tends to briefly tell the story of a particular memorable fire in history, and from there give facts, whereas the second gives information and then shows example pictures and tales, so it really depends which approach suits your purpose, taste or child.

285. You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Victorian Miner! by John Malam

Quite true, you wouldn’t, especially as a child! This is a most informative, well done series. It’s also reminded me of a film I saw (on television) as a child, but that I can’t find on IMDB. It was about a small mining village in England (or possibly Wales) where the mine was to be modernised, or closed, or something, and the pit ponies were to be killed rather than bringing them back above ground, I think. The local children get very upset about this, and after their protests get them nowhere they go through one of the old unused mine shafts (?) and kidnap the ponies. Being a children’s film it all ends happily, of course, with the ponies allowed a field to retire into. I can’t remember the title or other details, so if anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate it.

286. I Wonder Why Volcanoes Blow Their Tops and other questions about natural disasters by Rosie Greenwood

The focus here (which surprised me) is not volcanoes, but natural disasters, but all are interestingly described, with bright clear pictures.

287. Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo

My plan is to gradually read my way through Morpurgo’s canon, because he presents big historical (and other) issues in affecting and enthralling stories that children and adults like. This one is set in a French village on the Spanish border during WWII. The adult men went to fight and many are now prisoners of war, including Jo’s father, so the women, children and older or disabled men are getting on with looking after each other and the sheep without them. Apart from this absence the war has stayed away from the village for three years, until a unit of German soldiers is billeted upon them to guard the border, and Jo discovers there are more impacts than he realised.

288. Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

So, Scarlett is a very troubled twelve-year old who has just been kicked out of her fifth school since her parents split up three years previously. People do seem to recognise that counselling might help, or have helped, but since they only ever threaten her with it (rather than offering it to her) that isn’t going to happen. After cycling through living with her mother, her grandmother, her uncle and her mother again, this city girl’s latest ‘last chance’ is to be sent to her father, his new wife and stepdaughter in a cottage in rural Ireland, and she doesn’t want to go.

289. My Special Brother by Rena Schiff

Far better than I thought it would be (I have to admit to letting the garish cover put me off over the years), this is the slightly fictionalised story of a 1960s Orthodox Jewish family in New York who buck the expectation that disabled babies will be left at the hospital to go straight into care, and bring their youngest son (who has Downs) home to be a beloved member of the family. Thankfully most of these explicit expectations have now been overcome, and there is ever more provision and support for children and adults with disabilities to receive extensive education and live as productive respected members of the community [although there is a lot more for us all to do] but this family worked their way through the prejudices and ignorance, and then allowed their story to be told to explain things to the rest of us. I’m making it sound very worthy – really it’s a good story too.

290. Just Between Friends by Sara Wiederblank

A definite relationships novel, this has four friends in their mid twenties dealing with how their expectations have either not been met, or have been met but still don’t entirely satisfy. One of those frustrating (but often frustratingly real) tales where the reader wants to just make the characters sit down and talk to their spouses or other loved ones!

291. Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age by Raymond Briggs

Fungus the Bogeyman remains my favourite Briggs protagonist, but this is amusing. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t know a bit about the Stone Age already, as most of the story revolves around the anachronisms within our understanding of it.

Telling Tales

Thursday, 31 January 2008

33. Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: a story-maker’s journey by Michael Morpurgo

I haven’t read as much Morpurgo as I’d like, especially after reading this self-annotated anthology/memoir of his writing. I cried several times at his stories (and doing so made me forget a small bit of physical pain) and got a real sense of the author, man and boy. While it could easily be dipped into, this is certainly an anthology that rewards being read cover to cover.