Friday, 19 April 2013

When fashion is the f-word

I live in the house of testosterone. I have two very boysy boys, a super-sporty husband, even our guinea pigs are male. That's not to say I don't like it. I've often thought that one of the advantages of having children of the opposite gender to my own, is the opportunity to experience vicariously life as a young boy. Of course, there's a lot of chat about food, football and farting and most of the time I'm fine with that. But I do sometimes crave a little more talk about female things; fashion is pretty much the f-word in our house.

So imagine my delight when I came across David Walliams' The boy in the dress at my local library - and my kids wanted to read it. Of course, it helped that they'd just read Walliams' Billionaire Boy - a story about a lad whose family makes a stash off the butt of a product called Bumfresh.

The blurb for The boy in the dress says the story: "is about a boy named Dennis. He lives in a boring house in a boring street in a boring town, and he doesn't have much to look forward to."

In truth, we found Dennis anything but boring. He's an ace football player, has a great sense of humour  - and misses his mum. When she walked out on the family Dennis's dad burned all the photographs of her. Dennis manages to rescue a solitary photo from the flames:
"One solitary photograph escaped the flames, dancing up into the air from the heat of the fire, before floating through the smoke and onto the hedge. As dusk fell, Dennis snuck out and retrieved the photo. It was charred and blackened around the edges and at first his heart sank, but when he turned it to the light he saw that the image was as bright and clear as ever.
"It showed a joyful scene: a younger John and Dennis with Mum at the beach, Mum wearing a lovely yellow dress with flowers on it. Dennis loved that dress; it was full of colour and life, and soft to the touch. When Mum put it on it meant that summer had arrived."
I wouldn't dream of spoiling the story for you, but I loved this book. It's sad, funny and heart-warming - but written with the lightest of touches. When I realised David Walliams is best-known for his work on the multi-award winning TV show Little Brittain, I was surprised. Don't let it put you off. This is a smart, sensitive book that made me, and my boys, laugh out loud. Quentin Blake's illustrations are the icing on the cake.

Whether you live in Testosterone Towers or on Oestrogen St, this is a great book to read with primary-school-age kids. I'd love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

5 great reasons to join a book group

Nobody could accuse me of being a party animal. I like getting dressed up, love drinking champagne but want to be home in bed by 10 and can turn into a very grumpy pumpkin if I'm not. So imagine my joy at being invited to a book club that meets during the day, over coffee and cake, where no-one is competing to prove how young at heart and groovy they are by staying out past their bedtime.

My book club read: not your average thriller

I had a great morning with my fellow book clubbers and am already looking forward to our next meet. I've been a member of book groups in London and in Sydney and this morning reminded me why joining one is such a smart thing to do:

1. It encourages you to read
This sounds like a no-brainer but life is so busy that it can be all too easy to let the joy of reading pass us by. Being a member of a book club makes it more likely you will embed this simple pleasure in your routine.

2.  You'll read books you might not otherwise have considered
This can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. I bitterly resent the claim on my time if I feel I 'have' to finish something I'm not enjoying and might otherwise put down. On the plus side, and this happens much more often, I read something I wouldn't have chosen myself, and am all the better for it.

3. You get more out of the book
Knowing you'll be sharing your thoughts and opinions usually makes you consider them more carefully. This analysis, no matter how casual, can enhance your understanding of the book and make you appreciate it more. Listening to other people's opinions can also help you see things you hadn't noticed yourself, another plus.

4.  It's a great way to build friendships
It might be counter intuitive but joining a group where you know only one or two people can be best.  Meeting new people is always a bonus and you're likely to get more from your reading if you're sharing  ideas and views with people who have a different perspective.

5.  You understand readers better
This one is probably just for writers. Now that I'm writing fiction, I'm very keen to understand what other readers are looking for. Not just what they love but also what turns them off about a book. It might make for challenging listening but I really want to know what makes a reading audience tick.

How about you? Are you in a book group? And what do you love/hate about it?