Colin Meloy returns to the Impassable Wilderness in the second instalment of the brilliant Wildwood Chronicles.
All seemed well in Wildwood after Prue and Curtis rescued her baby brother from the clutches of the Dowager Governess. Prue returned home while Curtis stayed behind to learn how to be a bandit. But the peace Prue and Curtis won for Wildwood is on shaky ground.
They are many levels on which this story could be read when you know of Eva’s escape from Europe with her family but children will enjoy a good rollicking tale.
My Nanna wasn’t your regular nanna. There were no cakes baking in the oven, no large rounded figure that swept down at you for hugs when you visited and no soft purple hair that was very much the rage when I was a kid. My nanna was wiry, short and loved to tell me stories.
‘Do you want to hear a story?’ she would ask.
‘Yes,’ I would always answer.
‘Well sit down I’ll tell you a story.’
I would spend part of my holidays with my nanna in Warragamba, NSW, a town with identical fibro houses built especially for the men who were working on the famous dam. I used to sleep in a feather bed that was so tall, I had to step on a suitcase to climb into it and it was from there that my nanna used to tell me stories about ghosts.
My nanna could see ghosts, like many of the women in her family over generations. She would tell me about cousins who had passed away that she could see down the street, long-dead sisters sipping tea and men fishing in boats late at night whose hair turned stark white at meeting ghosts in the middle of lakes in the early hours while fishing.
I would sit frozen solid in fascination at her stories and never want her to stop. These nights with nanna, fired in me a life-long love of ghost stories.
I was fascinated by people who could see ghosts and weren’t in the last fazed by it. I’d also been playing with the idea of fear, what causes it and wondered whether the things we were afraid of were worthy of our terror. For this I needed a young girl who was initially afraid of something but in getting to know this thing better, found it wasn’t nearly as frightening as she thought it was. I then had to search for that other great ingredient of all stories….location. Where would I like to live if I were a 12 year-old-girl? I had it! An amusement park. The one I invented was very much inspired by Brighton Pier in England. These were the beginnings of The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, a story about a girl whose family ran an amusement park and who, on her twelfth birthday, spies something very unusual and after a few more curious sightings, is told that her family has a one-hundred-year-old secret….and it has something to do with ghosts.
But there was someone else who furthered my love of ghost stories.
This year was the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens and whilst idly ambling through research about this remarkable author and social reformer, I discovered he shared a love of ghost stories too. It was started by his nanny, Mary Weller, who used to frighten the six-year-old Charlie with penny-dreadful-style gore-fests like those in “Captain Murderer and the Devil’s Bargain”. Of his nanny he would say, “…Her name was Mercy, though she had none on me.”
I also discovered he not only claimed to see ghosts like my nanna but he was the founding member of a club called Ghost Club. One hundred and fifty years later, the club still meets today to talk about and investigate ghostly happenings in the UK. This would be the inspiration for my next book where I would create my own ghost club and have as its most successful ghost catchers, two 11-year-old twins called Angeline and Edgar Usher. Like the real clubsters, they would go to haunted sites, track down ghosts and convince them to stop their haunting ways. So in this way it would be more Scooby Doo than Ghostbusters and my Ghost Club was born.
As much as I loved my feisty, no-nonsense nanna and her lack of fear around ghosts, I always thought if I ever saw one, I’d go running scared.
But I didn’t.
I’ve only ever seen one ghost and it was late at night when I’d climbed onto another high bed that I had when I lived in an old warehouse. I’d knelt at the top of the bed, grabbed the curtains on either side of my window and was about to pull them closed when I saw the face of my nanna. She never said anything, simply stared straight at me. I didn’t run, I didn’t scream and I wasn’t the least bit scared. After a few minutes, she faded away. I calmly drew the curtains shut, feeling as if Nanna was still looking out for me and had a deep and restful sleep. Which was probably one more peaceful sleep than Dickens had after Mary Wellar paid him a visit and began his love of ghost stories almost two hundred years ago.
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I was attracted to this book because it is also illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark which really does add to this marvellous novel for 8 year olds. It would also make a wonderful book to read aloud as there is plenty of tension and some very funny parts. One day Lucie’s uncle comes to visit with an unusual birthday gift, a wolf! Actually a talking wolf but that is a secret. Everyone thinks it is a dog with some wolfish characterstics. Like sharp teeth and a hungry look and loves to eat raw meat. There is quite a tense scene with the rabbit next door but all ends well. So Lucie continues pretending the wolf is a dog until one day the wolf saves a child from crossing the road and a picture of the wolf gets into the local newspapers. So although the wolf has done a good thing everyone is frightened as it is obviously not a dog. When you think about it wolves have quite a bad name in lots of children’s books so it is nice to balance that out a bit with this extremely imaginative and wild tale.
Lets start with names and you might get a sense of this amazing novel. The main character is called Georges, yes an ‘s’ but it is silent. He is named after a famous painter Georges Seurat. This is important to the story as one of his paintings is about small things becoming part of a larger world. Georges meets Safer who starts the spy club. He has a sister Candy and a brother Pigeon. All these names are important to the story. But you have to read it to find out.
Now lets look at the title. There are lies but there is a good reason for them, sort of. The spying part is hilarious as Safer introduces Georges to the finer art of observation and picking locks. But why doesn’t Safer ever go out? What does his name mean?
One other thing, at school Georges is studying taste in his science class, another way into this wise and throughly enjoyable book. Sweet, sour, bitter, salty, bittersweet and umami… umami!
Peter Nimbles is an orphan which is a good beginning for a children’s book, kids seem to love books about orphans. However he is also blind which seems to help make him the best thief, and picker of locks in the business but unfortunately because he is blind and nobody to care for him he falls into bad company. Upto this point the story could be another take on Oliver Twist but this is just the beginning. He meets a mysterious traveller who gives him a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. You can imagine when he first opened the box and felt three eggs and then broke them. Remember he cannot see!
These eyes take him on the most wonderful and magical adventures.
The cover of this book is dotted with awards, one in each corner. When you read this book you will understand why. This historical novel is set in 1968, Oakland, California at the time of the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers. It tells the story of three young girls who have been living with their grandparents and are now seeing their mother for almost the first time. She is a poet and involved with the Black Panthers and children were not part of that scene.
What makes this such a good novel? What makes a really good historical novel?
I learnt a lot. I laughed and cried a lot. But most of all I wanted those girls to be alright.
That is the way to bring history alive.