Bookshelf Older Reads

Chinglish

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Jo Kwan is thirteen and has decided to start a dairy as she is convinced that ’good stuff’ is finally going to happen to her. Sadly, this is not the case as her family move to an even smaller home in Coventry- above a Chinese takeaway. In addition to this, she has to contend with a series of ill-fated pets, grandparents who speak no English, bullies at school and her dad’s increasingly erratic behaviour. Life is not easy… In spite of everything, she manages to find a new best friend and pursue her dream of being an artist.

Subtitled ‘an almost entirely true story’, ‘Chinglish’ is heartwarming, hilarious and deeply moving. Told through diary entries and doodles, the book offers an almost painful look at one woman’s experiences of growing up in a Chinese takeaway in 1980’s Coventry. In places, it is a very uncomfortable read as she tries desperately to fit in, yet is subjected to the most callous, casual racism. Yet, there are some genuinely hysterical moments in the story which add light to the darkness which often creeps in.

Jo’s spirit and determination to remove herself from the expectation that she will work in the takeaway until she marries the man of her parents’ choosing is inspiring and has the reader cheering her on every step of the way as she faces challenge after challenge.

‘Chinglish’ is a wonderful story of life ‘warts and all’, offering poignant insights into family life, being different and ultimately, discovering who you really are.

Chinglish Sue Cheung

Andersen ISBN: 978-1783448395

Published September 2019

Lampie and the Children of the Sea

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Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, must light the lamp every evening to warn ships of the dangers of the rocks. One night, she forgets to fetch the matches she needs to do this and disaster follows. With her father imprisoned in the lighthouse, Lampie is sent away to work off her debt at the Admiral’s Black House where rumour tells of a hideous monster trapped in the tower. Here she finds herself caught in a strange world full of mermaids and pirates where she needs to fight for friendship, acceptance and freedom.

A compelling, magical story, ‘Lampie and the Children of the Sea’ is an enchanting tale. Lampie herself is a wonderful character, full of determination and life in the face of difficult circumstances and she spreads joy to those around her. Martha, Fish, Lenny- each respond to the appearance in their lives of this unique little girl and each is engaging. The less pleasant characters are equally believable- and easy to dislike!

The layers of the plot are beautifully managed, keeping the reader wondering as the story evolves. The writing is atmospheric and lyrical, drawing on the traditions of storytelling and folklore and the illustrations are delightful.

Essential reading for those who enjoy something a little different, ‘Lampie and the Children of the Sea’ is a challenging story which reaches a satisfying conclusion which I hope will lead to more adventures for this endearing heroine and her friends.

Lampie and the Children of the Sea Annet Schaap, translated by Laura Watkinson

Pushkin Press ISBN: 978-1782692188

Published May 2019

The Skylark's War

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When Clarry is born, her mother dies and her indifferent father leaves her and her brother, Peter to be raised by a series of housekeepers and well-intentioned neighbours. They long for their summer holidays in Cornwall where, largely ignored by their grandparents, they roam free with their cousin, Rupert who they adore.

Back home, Peter shares all he learns at school with Clarry who is not considered worth a proper education until boarding school is forced upon him. As war approaches and Rupert leaves for France, their world changes forever.

This is an amazing story, destined to be a classic. Following Clarry from her birth to adulthood, the book explores family relationships against the backdrop of the first world war. Each character is beautifully developed, fully engaging the reader emotionally as their lives unfold. Clarry is delightful, remaining positive and caring in the face of neglect and indifference, devoted to her bother and cousin, and determined to succeed in the face of all adversity. Gentle, loyal Simon, Peter's school friend, adds great poignancy to the story, sensitively exploring social attitudes of the time.

'The Skylark's War' is a touching story, full of vivid description and historical detail. Excellent!

The Skylark’s War Hilary McKay

Macmillan ISBN: 978-1509894949

We were asked to review ‘The Skylark’s War’ for Reading Zone a while ago. It’s such a wonderful book we decided to share our review here too!