Sun, Sand and Six Good Books.
Could six books satisfy a family of six bookaholics on a two week holiday?
The interesting aspect of The Summer Holiday Family Book Club was that we each read books for which we weren’t the target audience. There is much to benefit a grown-up in reading a children’s book. It is invigorating to be reminded of how youth felt and liberating to let loose the imagination. Grinny and The Girl Of Ink And Stars fit this bill nicely.
Never before have so many books been targeted towards young adults and most make palatable reading for exhausted parents. The Knife Of never Letting Go and Cinder proved that the quality of the book bore far more influence over our enjoyment than did the reader’s age.
More difficult to find are stories targeted towards adults but suitable for children. I wanted stories that might be told by a bearded bard around a bonfire after a midsummer feast while the grown-ups sip wine and their children listen with one ear cocked for the funny bits, books that could bridge the gap between childhood and adult reading. Neil Gaiman provided us with two such stories in The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and Stardust.
The sharing of books led to some parental debate on suitability. I’ve heard that film censorship in France is mostly based on the level of violence whereas in the US it is the sexual content which determines ratings. I feel that children are permitted to read scenes of extreme violence but parents get itchy about descriptions of intimacy. A child who has grown up in a loving home has, hopefully, witnessed little violence but has, perhaps, happened across their parents canoodling in the garden shed. Why shouldn’t a child’s reading material reflect this reality? Neil Gaiman’s books contains glimpses of sex. They are brief, smart and far from gratuitous. If you want to play it safe you can limit your children to books from the children’s section. As children reach their teens I like to pay them the compliment of passing on some adult books that I have read and approved.
Teenage Daughter opted out of the book club and spent her holiday in deep contemplation of French Vogue magazine leaving us one person down, or one book up.
Family Summer Holiday Book Club Results:
Read by me (44), Middle Girl (11) and Teenage Son (17).
First published in 1973, Grinny reminded me of the TV shows Outnumbered and Mork and Mindy. An alien knocks on the door of a regular family home calling herself Great Aunt Emma. The adults politely invite her in and make up the spare bed. The children, suspecting foul play, set out to save mankind. It’s a short book for children of nine upwards but it gave this middle-aged woman a good chuckle. Contains hilarious nudity!
The Girl Of Ink And Stars. Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Read by me, Husband, Teenage Son and Middle Girl.
In an even split, the boys were unimpressed and the girls liked it. It's a handsome, beautifully illustrated book that gave pleasure just to hold. It’s a story of pure imagination, in no way anchored to the real world. An eleven year old heroine battles a dark, hairy monster to set an island free. I like it because it’s a little bit different.
Read by me and Teenage Son.
Cinder is a futuristic re-telling of Cinderella. The cover is terrible. It looks tacky but I was suckered by a glowing review. I read this book first for fear I would be obliged to censor it. I got that wrong.
Teenage Son read it out of desperation when all that was left him was a choice between this and French Vogue. Twenty minutes into it, he predicted every twist. However, he continued reading and didn’t lift his head (other than to accept ice-creams) until he finished it five hours later with an exasperated, ‘Gah!’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The cyborg heroine is perfectly charming and I’m certain the dashing prince hasn’t had a dirty thought in his whole life. The predictable plot seemed a deliberate ploy to keep you reading. You want to know that you got it right. Neither of us is interested in reading the sequels. That said, it’s harmless fodder for younger teens.
Read, with gusto, by me, Husband and Teenage Son.
Did you ever wish you could really know what people are thinking? Todd Hewitt comes of age in a world where everyone can hear his thoughts. Original and exhilarating, this book will give you food for thought but no time to think because you, like Todd, have to keep moving forward. I could not put it down. I have already ordered the sequel. Contains scenes of graphic violence. I feel my eleven year old is too young to appreciate it so I won’t be encouraging her to read it just yet.
Read by me, by Teenage Son and by Husband, aloud, to Small Girl (nearly 5). Middle Girl is halfway through.
Stardust is a fairytale and a love story. A handsome young man sets out on a mission to catch a fallen star and secure true love. It is funny and sweet and enjoyable but not suitable for the youngest readers. Husband managed some hasty editing as this was somewhat more colourful than Small Girl’s usual bedtime stories. We find the phrase, ‘and they had a lovely cuddle’, useful.
Read by me, Teenage Son and Husband. This is another magical fairytale with good witches and an evil monster but far more satisfying than Stardust. This is fantasy that reads like the truth.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a book that feels familiar, that feels like home ground, that feels as though the writer saw inside your head. Gaiman’s writing is astonishing. He begins the story as an adult and then he carries you back with him, not just to his childhood but to your own. (I believed there was a trapdoor to fairyland in my back garden- it turned out to be the manhole cover to the cess pit, such is life). Then you, in your rediscovered youth, believe every word of the yarn he spins. This book is pure magic.
I’ve calculated that, between five of us, we got twenty reads from six books. It turned out to be twenty-two reads from seven books as Teenage Son smuggled Fahrenheit 451 aboard in the pocket of his cargo pants. I give him credit for an excellent choice of book for smuggling. He and his Dad were glad of a break from plucky heroines and I think my lesson was to include one meaty classic on the list.
The communal stack of books on our picnic table certainly added a literary je ne sais quoi to the holiday. We did compare books over dinner but comparisons of familial flatulence remained a popular subject. Middle Girl, in particular, enjoyed being part of a reading group.
The Book Club was deemed a success and all that remains is a family discussion on what to read next.
Leave your suggestions in the comment box, please.