Tag Archives: grief

A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill

Books can give us a window into a different life or show us that we’re not alone.  I had a pretty happy and comfortable childhood so it was books that showed me how other kids lived and some of the tough things that they have to live with.  I think it’s hugely important for kids to read books about all sorts of kids so that they see the world from different points of view.  Jo Cotterill’s new book, A Library of Lemons, gives us a window into Calypso’s life and the ways that her and her father deal with grief.

a-library-of-lemons-488x750Calypso’s mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can’t, or won’t, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there’s never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction.

When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls’ shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae’s friendship and her lively and chaotic home – where people argue and hug each other – make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus – and Calypso’s happiness starts to unravel.

A Library of Lemons is a beautiful, heart-breaking story about a family that has lost itself in books.  Jo Cotterill has perfectly captured a love of reading and books.  It’s almost like she has seen inside my head and my heart and put down on paper what it means to be a bibliophile.  Jo makes you feel for her characters, especially Calypso and the situation that she finds herself in.

This is a story of grief and how we all cope with it in different ways.  Both Calypso and her dad retreat into books, Calypso into her stories that take her far away and her dad into the book he is writing ‘A History of Lemons.’ Calypso misses her mum, who died five years ago, but her dad tells her to be strong and that they have ‘inner strength’ to get them through.  Calypso’s dad puts everything into writing his book and often forgets to eat and provide what Calypso needs.  When Calypso discovers what her father has been hiding in his library her anger and sadness comes exploding out of her and sets off a chain of events that will hopefully fix her broken family.

One of the things that Calypso holds on to is her mother’s books.  She knows that she can still be connected to her if she reads the books that her mother did.  This is one of my favourite quotes from the book:

‘Books give you more than stories.  Books can give you back people you’ve lost.’

Anyone who reads this book will wish that they had a friend like Mae.  Not only does she love books and writing like Calypso, but she is always there when Calypso needs her.  She absolutely trusts Mae and confides in her about how she is feeling and the situation at home.  Mae listens to Calypso and gets her mother’s help when she knows they need it.

The ending of the book is perfect.  It shows readers that there is no quick fix to the pain and grief that children and adults face, but over time, things will get better.  It feels very real rather than rose-tinted.

A Library of Lemons is perfect for anyone aged 9 and up who enjoys stories about families and friendship.  If you love books as much as I do you need to read it too because you’ll see a bit of yourself in Calypso.

 

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Back to Black Brick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Sometimes a story can come along at exactly the right time.  It can mirror something that is happening in your own life and really strike a chord with you.  Back to Black Brick is a story about a grandfather who has Alzheimer’s Disease and his grandson, Cosmo, who tries everything he can to stop him losing his memory.  My nan has early stage dementia so I can completely understand how Cosmo feels.  Cosmo, however, does something that I can’t do – he travels back in time to meet his grandfather as a young man.

Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in… Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?

Back to Black Brick is a captivating story about families, the secrets that they keep, and the pain they hold inside.  Sarah Moore Fitzgerald wraps this all up with plenty of mystery, a dash of history, and time travel.  It’s a time-slip story but quite different from similar stories I’ve read.  When time travel is involved the characters generally have to think about how their actions in the past will affect the future, but Cosmo does everything he can to try and change the future.  He wants to try and stop his grandfather’s memory from fading when he’s older, so he tells him about things that he’ll need to remember for later in life.

As soon as I heard Cosmo’s voice I knew I would really like this character.  Cosmo is a loner who has been affected by the death of his brother, the abandonment of his mother, and his grandfather’s worsening condition.  From the first few paragraphs you know how much Cosmo loves and admires his grandfather.  He wants to do everything he possibly can to help stop his grandfather losing his memory and would hate for him to have to go into a home.  So when Cosmo gets the chance to meet his grandfather as a young man he believes this is his chance to change the future and make things right.

There were several things that I really loved about Back to Black Brick.  I thought the characters were very well developed and you felt like you were part of their gang.  I especially liked the way that you could see the personality traits mirrored in both the young and old version of Cosmo’s grandfather, Kevin (like the ‘Ah, fantastic’ when he’d drink tea).  The other thing that I loved about the story is the way that Sarah explains how the time travel happened and the way that Cosmo’s visit to the past affected the future.  I like the way that this explanation rounds off the story but still leaves you with a sense of mystery.

4 out of 5 stars

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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

If you have read Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece you’ll know what an amazing writer she is.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite books of 2011 and I’ve been dying to read Ketchup Clouds ever since Annabel first started talking about it. Ketchup Clouds, is every bit as extraordinary as her first book and it will stay with you long after you reach the end.

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret – a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can – in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Ketchup Clouds is an utterly beautiful, heart-breaking story, told in an original and very clever way.  The whole book is a confession of what Zoe has done, to someone who she knows will understand, but won’t be able to do anything.  I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear that I’ll let some important detail slip. Annabel gives you enough detail that you know vaguely what has happened, but you just have to keep reading to find out exactly what happened and to who.  She leaves you hanging on every word and dreading what is inevitably going to happen.

There are several things that I really like about Annabel’s writing.  I really like the way that she ties up the story at the end, bringing everything together and showing you how the characters have turned out.  Like her first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you feel completely satisfied at the end and you’re left amazed at how her characters have developed over the course of the story.  I also like the way that Annabel portrays the parents in the story.  The parents have their own problems that they are dealing with in their own way, and they’re not always the best parents, but deep down they love and care for their children.  They are important parts of the story and Annabel portrays them as real people, not just characters in a book.

The main reason I loved Ketchup Clouds was the relationships between the characters.  The relationship between Zoe and Stuart was really interesting, because even though we never hear from Stuart, Zoe’s tone changes the more she writes to him.  At the beginning she calls him Mr Harris, and by the end she’s calling him Stu.  She seems to get more comfortable with Stuart as time goes by and becomes less formal with him.  Zoe and her sister Sophie have quite a close relationship and they talk quite openly with each other, especially when it comes to talking about their parents.  Zoe’s relationships with Max and Aaron are quite different and Annabel does an excellent job of portraying Zoe’s conflicting emotions and the tough decisions she has to make in their relationships.

Annabel Pitcher is one of those authors whose books I’ll read no matter what they’re about, and I certainly can’t wait to see what she will write next!  I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders if we’ll ever get to read Bizzle the Bazzlebog.  Grab a copy of Ketchup Clouds from your library or bookshop now.

5 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Edge of the World by Ian Trevaskis

Shaun Tan, Margaret Wild, and Chris Van Alsberg are some of the masters of sophisticated picture books.  Their stories are told through both words and pictures and they make us think and question.  Edge of the World is a stunning new sophisticated picture book by Ian Trevaskis and illustrated by Wayne Harris, about grief and the power of art to heal wounds.

Edge of the World is about a small fishing village near the edge of the world where ‘the wind shrieked and howled through the empty streets and women and children huddled closer to their hearths,’ and where nobody smiled.  While other fishermen talk about their adventures, Toby McPhee keeps to himself and tries to forget what has happened.  Everyone in the village gets on with their lives; the women pray for the boats’ safe return and the children trudge to school.  Everything changes one day when Toby McPhee hauls in his fishing net and discovers more than just fish.  Each time he returns home with tiny pots of paint, which he uses to bring colour back into his life and the lives of the villagers.

Edge of the World is a magical story full of colour and hope.  Ian Trevaskis’ writing style is very descriptive and paints a picture for the reader, even without Wayne Harris’ illustrations.  You can sense the sadness of the village and it’s inhabitants from the opening lines, but the tone lightens as more colour gets introduced to the village.  Wayne Harris‘ illustrations are absolutely beautiful and it’s hard to believe that they were created digitally.  Wayne’s use of colour is very important to the story and he has shown this in the change in colour palette throughout the story.  In the beginning the colours are very muted and dull, but they get progressively brighter as the mood of Toby and the villagers change.  I’ve read this book at least 5 times so far and have got something new from each reading and viewing of the story.  It is a perfect picture book to study as a class (especially Year 7/8) as there as so many different aspects of the story, from the use of descriptive language to symbolism of different colour, that you could explore.   Walker Books have even created Teacher’s Notes to use with the book.

4 out of 5 stars

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