Some more cookbooks for your shelves

We’ve had some lovely new cook books sent to us for perusal and these stood out the most, for content, design and brilliance of the recipes and writing. We hope you like them and order your copy from a local book seller. Where the book is yet to be published, we have indicated date of publication.

Home cooking by Laurie Colwin.

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Laurie Colwin died far too young in 1992, aged 48 and this re-packaged book, packed with recipes was the first of her food writing to be published in the USA where she is far better known, although her status among food writers and cooks is cemented- Nigella Lawson adores her. I first read it in my mid twenties when I had my own grown up kitchen and an American friend sent it to me as encouragement to cook. Suffused with love for her little daughter and a source of friendly advice with a familiar tone for the rest of us, this is, for me, the book to read when you feel in need of something other than a list of ingredients and what to do with them.

 “I love to eat out, but even more, I love to eat in.” said Colwin who published a few novels before beginning her (more) successful career in food writing that did not then have the status or respect it now does. Colwin excels in keeping the kitchen at the heart of the home whilst never slipping into a sub feminist subtext of ‘this is where you always belonged, you know’. An arch intelligence and wry, often self deprecating humour pervades her writing. You so want to be at her dinner parties whether they be plate on lap on a bed in a miniscule New York City apartment or something more formal. We can laugh at our culinary disasters because Colwin does at hers and lets us learn from them.

Never focused inwards, Colwin writes of the people she meets and the food they bring into her life- we meet her daughters babysitter from St Vincent who inducts her into the pleasures of Black Cake: “There was only a tiny scrap of the slice left and I was forced to share it with my child who said ‘More!’ in a loud voice” and also inducted me.  Her Black Cake has been our Christmas cake ever since. From dates and bosses to her husband and family, Colwin gives credit where credit is due and intersperses recipes and cooking tips with funny stories and winsome encounters against the backdrop of New York City.

Chapters are titled ‘How to fry Chicken’, ‘Bread Baking Without Agony’ and ‘Repulsive Dinners: a Memoir’. In the latter, Colwin talks of the triumph of a truly repellent meal and rejects her mothers advice that appalling cooks should live on filet mignon and have an excellent bakery on speed dial because “the rich complicated tapestry that is the human experience would be the poorer for it.” and she is right. She goes on to describe a casserole without fragrance as the lid is lifted to reveal partially cooked sausages, rice and pineapple rings in a sea of unidentifiable liquid. Beginner cooks are comforted by the fact that it is probably impossible to be that bad.

Yes the book is of its time and some of her advice shows that. We can now source good free range chickens and we don’t see the fondue as anything other than a retro delight. BUT the emotions that underpin her writing are timeless and universal. I love her.

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The Bloomsbury Cookbook

‘The Bloomsbury Cook Book- recipes for life, love and art’ by Jans Ondaatje Rolls

A book that is art, social history and cook book, feeding the mind alongside the body. With over 170 recipes from members of the Bloomsbury Group, including David and Angela Garnett, Helen Anrep and Frances Partridge and  illustrated with hundreds of paintings, sketches, quotations and photographs, it  is a window onto Bloomsbury via recipes, grocery lists, pantries, kitchens and, above all, its dining tables. We loved this book.

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The Bloomsbury Group fostered a fresh, creative and vital way of living that encouraged debate and communication (‘only connect’), as often as not across the dining table. Gathered at these tables were many of the most important figures in art, literature, politics and economics of the modern era: E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

The author, Jans Ondaatje Rolls invites us to dine with these enduringly fascinating individuals, taking us into the very centre of their world through the meals around which they argued, debated, laughed and loved. From the gastronomically prosaic- Leonard Woolf’s banana and fruit cake sent to him upon the occasion of his birthday by his mother, and his own recipe for haddock based fried fish and chips to the Glyndebourne ham roasted with orange juice, honey and carrots that they prepared for their pre opera feast in the grounds of this most august of British events, the recipes will both surprise and confirm our carefully held assumptions. There are intimate and astonishingly detailed portrait of the group, conjuring up the scents, colours and textures of breakfasts at Monk’s House, lunches at Charleston, tea in Tidmarsh, evening parties in Gordon Square and dinners in the south of France.

Beautifully illustrated, including original artwork by Cressida Bell, this is both a source of inspiration for the modern chef and a unique celebration of life, love and art at the heart of Bloomsbury.

‘Frites’ by Anna De La Forest

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The middle classes like to ‘slum it’, eating what they see as ‘working class foodstuffs’- chips, bacon sandwiches, cheese on toast and stews but cannot help meddling with them, ramping them up with high value ingredients, artisan this, foraged that until they are but a faint shadow of themselves. Is this book on chips (Frites) by Anna De La Forest yet another example of that?  We profess to a guilty love of fast food, the hot dogs and burgers, the chips and kebabs but wouldn’t want to to be caught at the roadside burger van unless it is parked under the arches at Waterloo serving haute dogs at ten quid a throw next to a sandwich board naming the farmer who supplied the pork. Unlike the Right Honourable John Gummer, we don’t feed mechanically recovered meat products to our children.

Chips are a universal indicator of Britishness despite their origins being most definitely not British one bit. Stories abound –  a 1781 family manuscript recounting the deep frying of potatoes prior to 1680 in what was then theSpanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), in the Meuse valley or the enduring belief that french fries were invented by street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1789, just before the outbreak of the French revolution. What is clear is that  deep-fried fish was first introduced into Britain during the 16th century by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain and is derived from pescado frito. In 1860, the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Joseph Malin.

Still, we digress-  all manner of people enjoy frites/chips but where they start to distinguish themselves is in the manner of their preparation and source of ingredients. No longer happy to eat them from newspaper or trays, from cardboard boxes supplied with tongue drying wooden forks to hunt and peck, we are triple frying, thick and super skinny-ing them, experimenting with frying a myriad of other vegetables and fruits and even coating the frites in all manner of odd ingredients. Much of this is driven by the new breed of celebrity cooks and chefs, all driven by a desperate need to stand out from the herd and develop that one signature dish that will give them a fast track to a feature in David Chang’s gastro magazine ‘Lucky Peach‘ and queues of bearded hipsters out the door.

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Very posh and skinny frites

Anne de la Forest, a French cook and food journalist has written a book that heralds and celebrates a trend for frites of many colours. Her book is divided into sections and starts with a handy guide to potatoes (the best types), how to prepare them via peeling, soaking and even the ways in which one might cut them. Seguing into recipe sections which were beautifully illustrated- Trendy Frites, including skinny chips; Creative Frites: made with assorted veg such as sweet potato; and Sweet Frites: desserts made from apples, bananas and pears, sliced into oblongs and deep-fried, we ended up liking the black radish and oregano and caramel and honey glazed variations the best. We were intrigued by the fried feta frites that were thickly coated in breadcrumbs although we cannot imagine what the state of the oil would be afterwards.

‘Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker’ by Justin Gellatly

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We’re not clear who decided that Gellatly is Britain’s best baker.  After twelve years as Head Baker and Pastry Chef at London foodie institution St John- alma mater of every architect, hipster and would be’s of the same, he found his new home in Borough Market, as co-founder of the Bread Ahead bakery and cookery school. Food fiends go on pilgrimage to Bread Ahead for artisan bread, cakes and Justin’s doughnuts, which sell out as fast as he can make them.

Justin shares his doughnut recipe, along with over 100 others, in his brand new recipe book,Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. A useful new guide for bakers, traditional recipes and techniques including madeleines, croquembouche and sourdough bread – and the inventive. including Justin’s signature salted caramel custard doughnuts and fennel blossom ice cream make harmonious bedfellows  all in one volume. Like all chefs, Justin cannot resist reinventing the wheel and his versions are not necessarily better; they are just different and add a modern edge that is intriguing and an alternative to the original recipes, not replacements. From the trad Poor Knights of Windsor to a even trad-er Syllabub made with the less usual Cider we found the instructions had clarity and the twists made sense- none of the ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ nonsense that has turned great chefs like Heston Blumnethal into parodies of themselves. We particularly liked the Apple and Calvados Cake with ‘Mist’, so named because before taking to table, Gellatly would spray it with Calvados. This version is a serve alongside sauce although there’s nothing to stop you spraying it too and we suspect bearded earnest hipster cooks will be doing just that in the hope that some of that Gellatly magic rubs off on them.

Blue Plate Special by Kate Christansen

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A literary memoir by novelist Kate Christensen in which food, (eating, cooking, thinking about it) is used as a vehicle to drive the story of her life. In the classic manner of a Laurie Colwin or M.F.K Fisher, the authors narrative becomes a way of re-examining and telling a life, starting with her unconventional childhood as the daughter of a Berkeley legal activist who ruled the house with “an iron fist” through diets, the world of men, travel and adult life writing books.

Beautifully designed with a hipster- in-mind cover, the writing is easy, intelligent and rammed with gastronomic jumping off points for readers- we were sent into reveries of our our foodie pasts on nearly every page.

Rosewater and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood

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Growing up a Lebanese-American means Maureen Abood gets to take the lush and exotic flavours of her Lebanese past and meld them with the stories of her adult life in Harbor Springs, Michigan in first a blog and now this book. The list of ingredients in her recipes alone will make your head swoon- pomegranates and sweetly scented sherberts, pistachios, flower waters, citrus sharp spices infusing meat, fish and vegetables. They are incorporated into mouthwatering meals:  thick yogurt in olive oil, lamb with spices and herbs, warm dates, pomegranate and rose sorbet…

Maureen takes us through the recipes and meals she was brought up with, paying tribute to the generations of her family through the retelling of their stories. That focus on ingredients means readers are gently encouraged to take a seasonal approach and to use what is local when possible. There is nothing provincial here though and Maureens culinary school training will ensure that you remain grounded in technique whilst your imagination and taste buds soar.

1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton

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Mimi Sheraton—award-winning cookbook author, grande dame of food journalism, and former restaurant critic for The New York Times jumps on the perennially popular theme of the book of lists and whilst this breaks no new ground, it is an amusing enough and swift read for those who like to aggregate themselves against other food lovers.

1,000 Foods selects some of the best cuisines around the world (French, Italian, Chinese, Senegalese, Lebanese, Mongolian, Peruvian) and from there homes in on rhe tastes, ingredients, dishes, and restaurants that every reader should experience and dream about, whether it’s dinner at Chicago’s Alinea or the perfect empanada. In more than 1,000 pages and over 550 full-color photographs, it celebrates haute and snack, comforting and exotic, hyper-local and the universally enjoyed: a Tuscan plate of Fritto Misto. Saffron Buns for breakfast in downtown Stockholm. Bird’s Nest Soup. A frozen Milky Way. Black truffles from Le Périgord.

Mimi Sheraton has an opinion and no fear of sharing it, reinforced by her 6 decade pedigree of professional gustatory critiquing and her book ranges from continent to continent identifying dishes, restaurants and experiences in each place- those considered by her to be seminal. She is no snob though.Bon Appetempts by Amelia Morris Take the Canadian and American section with their everywoman focus landing on frozen Milky Ways, southern Ambrosia and MoonPies (also from the Deep South), the former “an ecstatic rush of contrasts’ from the childhood memories of this New Yorker and the latter from trips away from the frozen north. Mimi does icons and nostalgia the best and they come together in a glorious paen to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station: “The famed oyster stew (oysters poached in cream and butter) is a thin, milky, slurp-worthy delight. The oyster pan roast is thicker, the aforementioned ingredients spiked with hot paprika and chile sauce and lovingly ladled, usually by a hassled yet generous waiter, over a slice of good toast. They’re dishes that work thanks to the juxtaposition of the oysters’ sharp sea saltiness with the milk’s neutrality.”

Bon Appetempts by Amelia Morris

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When Amelia Morris found a beautiful chocolate cake in Bon Appétit and took the recipe home to recreate it for a Christmas day brunch she was hosting, it collapsed into a terrible (but delicious) mess that had to be served in an oversized bowl. It also paralleled the interesting and never-quite-predictable, situations she’s gotten herself into throughout her life, from her one-day career as a six-year-old lady wrestler to her ill-fated job at the School of Rock in Los Angeles. As she gets older, the kitchen is where she finds that even if some of her attempts fall short of the standard set by a food magazine, they can still bring satisfaction to her and her family and friends. Full of witty and snarky observations about food, family, unemployment, romance, and the excesses of modern L.A., and incorporating recipes as basic as Toasted Cheerios and as advanced as gâteau de crêpe, Amelia’s book is sure to ring bells with those of us who try really hard and do not always succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling it like it is’ -Saint Audry’s + the story of an asylum

“No restraint can be employed which is so powerful as tenderness.” Dr John Kirkman, Medical Superintendent (1829-1876)

ST AUDRY’S PROJECT- TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

 

The St Audry’s project is a Comic Relief funded project exploring the history of St Audry’s Hospital and it draws upon contemporary experiences in a consideration of how attitudes to mental health have changed. Artist Juliet Lockhart has worked on the St Audry’s project alongside local people to depict the hospital, its history and attitudes towards mental illness both yesterday and today.

St Audry’s Hospital, situated in rural Suffolk, closed its doors in 1993.  Originally a workhouse, it became the Suffolk County Asylum in 1832.  Countless people passed though the hospital, for many it became home, and they left behind their stories, some of which are recorded, the majority lost. Sadly the nature of mental health means that patients historically have been voiceless both politically and culturally- how many people today know that a person under a section of the Mental Health Act legally cannot vote? In addition, data protection and privacy laws means that a hundred years must pass from the death of the last patient before any personal details can be released into the public realm. 

In 2012, a project was set up by the Museum of East Anglian Life to explore the hidden history of St Audry’s. The Museum, alongside Felixstowe Museum and the Suffolk Record Office, were recipients of the hospital museum collection and archive when it closed.  ‘Telling it like is: the story of a psychiatric hospital in Suffolk’ collaborated with mental health service users to create work to accompany a permanent display in Abbot’s Hall, part of the Museum. The project also explored and recorded people’s emotional connections with the St Audry’s site.

Artist Juliet Lockhart worked alongside the Museum to deliver a series of textile, stitching and creative writing workshops.  From these workshops came a wealth of material that informed two artworks, now on display in Abbot’s Hall.

The workshops were designed so that people could participate in as many as they wanted to.  Some came just once, others were regulars throughout the project.

Using the collection housed at the Museum as a starting point, people began to explore issues around mental health through art and writing.  Words such as ‘lunatic’ and ‘asylum’ were discussed and ideas sprang from associated thoughts about the values and judgements society (and the individuals who make this up)  ascribe to people and therefore the words they choose to describe them with;

     “lunatic should be accepted as a word     

          from history that is

          now outdated”.  F.M.

 The first textile pieces produced were a series of images and texts using cyanotype fabric prints.  These distinctive blue and white prints were created by designs drawn onto acetate which were then used in a similar way to a photographic negative.  The acetate was placed onto the chemically treated fabric, exposed for a few minutes in sunlight and then rinsed in plain water.  During the process the fabric undergoes several colourchanges before the original image appears in white against a blue background.

The images produced were emotional responses to objects in the Museum.  The Black Shuck is part of the folklore of East Anglia.  A ghostly black dog is said to roam the highways and byways.  A terrifying sight, a beast associated with the Devil and a harbinger of disaster.  For the artist of this piece, The Black Shuck represents her depression, sometimes it is overwhelming, at times it shrinks but it is always there hovering, ever present and interestingly, the ‘Black Dog’ is a common metaphor for depressive disorder, Winston Churchill famously called his depression the very same name. 

Simple printmaking techniques were also explored during these sessions and some of the thoughts that came from discussions around mental health were incorporated onto the fabric pieces.

The textile sessions went on to inspire the creative writing workshops and through a series of writing prompts and visual images, a selection of poems emerged.

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS 

This tree has no root system.

 The branches are fragmented

much like my existence.

 On a road to nowhere.

 Leaves on branches that bear no fruit or future,

malnourished waiting to fail and die.

 The leaves shake as if nervous with a gentle breeze.

The branches sway as a large feather

to the white clouds above.

 

Clearing a passage to the sky

so I can finally rest in pieces .

 After the ten workshops had ended there was pile of images, words, paper and fabric that needed to be brought together somehow but from the outset of the project, the work produced was always driven by the individual. No set rules meant that each person could respond to the themes however they wished with the guidance of Juliet Lockhart.   The finished pieces differed in size, content and execution as a consequence; an important metaphor for people so often defined amorphously when in fact they are as unique as any other societal group.  Ruth Gillan, the project manager took inspiration from a photograph of a ward in St Audry’s when it was first opened.

A replica of part of the room divider shown in the photograph was commissioned with the idea that the panes of glass would be replaced by a series of fabric panels. 

 

A series of sewing workshops took place in the splendid dining room in Abbot’s Hall.

The various pieces of text and images were stitched, appliqued and embroidered before being joined together as crazy patchwork.  Crazy patchwork uses irregular piece of fabric combined to create a haphazard design.  Crazy patchwork is usually embellished with embroidery, as well as  buttons, lace and ribbons.  It is extremely creative and free flowing and so fitted in with the ethos behind the artwork.

 Many of the panels were worked on by more than one person.  Pieces of fabric were passed around for someone to stitch words on, someone else to add a border and someone else to embroider.  Some of the pieces went home to be worked on and some to Woodlands, the mental health unit at Ipswich Hospital.  Fabric and threads were confined to a blue palette to create unity.

Finally the crazy patchwork was mounted onto wooden frames and fixed into the wooden door frame.

Juliet Lockhart worked on the second artwork to be installed.   Ruth Gillan had sourced an original metal hospital screen, the kind that was used to provide a modicum of privacy in a crowded ward.

 She began her research by visiting the Suffolk Records Office to look at some of the old 19th century admissions records from St Audry’s. On some of the pages staff had clipped photographs of patients.

Juliet wanted to give these patients a presence in the collection at the Museum.  She used two of these images to create shadow figures, which she cut out of muslin and bonded onto a muslin panel.

Further inspiration was a comment made by a participant during one of the creative writing workshops.

 ‘I would like labels in life to become a thing of the past’

 Juliet made white labels and printed them with a variety of diagnoses and slang words connected with mental health.  Some of these were sourced from the admissions records, others more up to date.

The aim of this artwork was to stimulate a discussion around the use of labels.  She asked a series of questions, Should a label define who we are?  Who creates these labels and why?  Do we treat people differently if we know that they are labeled as having a mental illness?  Does a label such as ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘psychotic’ actually provide help to a person?  Do we know what that label means or do we just take a guess?  Does that label undermine the humanity of a person?  Do labels become our identity?  Are labels positive or negative?  Do we try to see the person behind the label?  Should labels become a thing of the past?

The artwork seen and text reproduced in this report were created by Juliet Lockhart, Melissa, J.A.M., Richard and Fred.

Thanks go to Comic Relief for funding this project.

 

Summer Reads – Our recommendations

Our holidays are in sight and with a deliberately enforced policy of no WiFi, we will make the time to read. Pure bliss. Here’s some books we’ve enjoyed in the past and a few that we’ll be taking with us. There’s something for most of you here and we’ll be adding to it as time (and reading) moves on.

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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

A wonderful and heartbreaking novel set in post-World War I rural Mississippi. It deals with issues of racial tension, love and betrayal .  Having been unable to put it down the first time I read it, I simply re-read it once again.

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The Almond Picker By Simonetta Agnello Hornby

This novel is set in Sicily in 1963 and the author successfully evokes the mood of a small Sicilian town in the throes of a family crisis. It traces the history of one of the town’s most prominent families – unveiling all of their secrets and mysteries. The author is brilliant at describing all of the nuances of life in this town. You feel the heat, smell the air, crave the gossip and feel transported to Sicily. If you’ve been there you will appreciate the authenticity of the description, and if you haven’t you will want to go.

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

 The best journeys can be those you didn’t know you needed to take and this is one of those rare children’s novels that both delights the adult reader and returns them to a child’s perspective. Beloved since I first encountered it via my American primary school mistress aged eight, it wasn’t as popular in Britain as it was/is in the USA. Thankfully this parlous state of literary affairs has now been rectified and it has become much loved over here too.

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Ruby by Cynthia Bond

This is not just the tale of a young woman clawing her way to survival in a world that seems hellbent on destroying her. It is also a story evolved from the author’s personal history.  When she was a girl, Bond heard the stories of how her aunt, a young black woman, was believed to have been murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen in the 1930s for her relationship with a white man. The crime went unpunished. And Bond herself was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Hence, Ruby is born of the pain of women as unwilling and unwitting victims. Scenes of raw violence and pain are mitigated by the sheer beauty of the prose, but not an easy read all the same.

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Pilgrimage to Dollywood by Helen Morales

How could we NOT want to take this as part balm and consolation for our lack of tickets to see Dolly do Glasto this summer of ’14.  Asides her colossally successful musical career, Dolly is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans.

In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade”. Morales’s adventure allows her to compare the imaginary Tennessee of Parton’s lyrics with the real Tennessee where the singer grew up, looking at essential connections between country music, the land, and a way of life. It’s also a personal pilgrimage for Morales. Accompanied by her partner, Tony, and their nine-year-old daughter, Athena (who respectively prefer Mozart and Miley Cyrus), Morales, a recent transplant from England, seeks to understand America and American values through the celebrity sites and attractions of Tennessee. This celebration of Dolly and Americana is for anyone with an old country soul who relies on music to help understand the world, and it is guaranteed to make a Dolly Parton fan of anyone who has not yet fallen for her music or charisma.

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My Ideal Bookshelf by Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force

A good book for the bookshelf voyeurist whose first action upon going to a persons house is to nose through their book collection.. Find out what cool people like Patti Smith, Roseanne Cash, Alice Waters and Judd Apatow stock on their shelves, through interviews and Jane Mount’s book spine paintings.

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The book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

“We’re the unknown Americans,” says a character in Cristina Henríquez’s second novel, “the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them.”

That declaration bluntly explains the theme of “The Book of Unknown Americans,” as does the novel’s choral structure — made up of first-person reminiscences from an array of characters from Latin American countries including Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Paraguay, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of whom talk to us directly about their reasons for coming to the United States.

Central to the book is the account of the lives of its two central characters: a beautiful Mexican teenager named Maribel Rivera and her admiring friend and neighbor, Mayor Toro. Maribel has learning difficulties as a result of an accident, the details of which slowly become apparent in much the same way as one learns about the back stories of new friends.

Homesickness, dislocution and displacement; a yearning to belong and a yearning to preserve that which makes them different characterises the immigrant experience, something that is enhanced by the stories being set in Delaware- a state that is not the first to come to mind when one thinks of a destination. Very clever. Reading this book on holiday at my brothers home in Germany, listening to his own account of his loneliness and linguistic alienation, watching how he is now assimilated to the point of forgetting some of his native English enhanced the reading, ramming home the brutal reality of being a stranger in a land that represents so much to them prior to their arrival whilst appearing confusingly familiar too.

 

 

 

Brent Eleigh and its pub, the Cock Inn

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The chance to hear unplugged live music played by local musicians in a small traditional Suffolk pub drew us to The Cock Inn located in the tiny village of Brent Eleigh. Formerly known as Brent-Ely, it  was once a market town under a grant by Henry III and is now part of the parish of Cosford. Typically Suffolk in its character, there’s a village green and a row of red brick alms houses dating back to 1731 and an even more ancient timbered hall; lots of Germolene pink and ochre plaster, thatch and studwork; a white weatherboard mill style building and a pub, clustered deep within a fold of land near the river Bret, seven miles from Sudbury.

According to Eilert Ekwall, the possible meaning of the village name is Ilega’s meadow, which was burnt before 1254 and the village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, at which time it and neighbouring Monks Eleigh had a population of 61. The two settlements, Brent and Monks Eleigh reached their peak of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries through the cloth and wool trades which endowed the region with great wealth resulting in some magnificent churches, guildhalls and other public buildings- nearby Lavenham is the best known example. The church at Brent Eleigh is of typical Norman structure with perpendicular tower and dedicated to St. Mary. Inside its chancel can be found a parochial library of 1,500 volumes, founded by Dr. Colman, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

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Parlose screen

The church of St Mary was built in the 13th century on a steep-sided hill beside Brent Eleigh Hall, of flint and stone construction and internal fittings that span several centuries and architectural periods. You will find benches from the fifteenth century, Jacobean box pews and some additions from the nineteenth century too. A font dated to the early part of the fourteenth century has a Jacobean cover and a carved pulpit from the same period whilst the manorial pew, enclosed by a parclose screen with tall panelled walls has been dated as the oldest screen of its kind in the county, sit or kneel in prayer and the rest of the congregation disappear from view. Walking over to the chancel we admired a monument to Edward Colman (d. 1739) and crafted by Thomas Dunn, who worked with Nicholas Hawksmoor, the renowned architect. Colman is draped dramatically in carved, folded bedcloths, surmounted by a cherubic angel bearing a crown.

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The jewel in the crown of the church though is the series of early medieval wall paintings on the east wall, next to and underneath the large east window. Discovered in 1960 under a coat of whitewash, they have been restored by Eve Barker and have been described as one of the finest collections of wall paintings in England and together probably span the years 1270-1330 . One painting features a pair of censing angels flanking a now no longer there statue of the Virgin Mary against a brilliant blue and gold starry background. Beneath the east window, directly behind the high altar, is a horizontal strip depicting the Crucifixion in a vibrant and fluid depiction. This probably dates to the early 14th century and has  the figure of Christ on the cross flanked by figures of Mary and St John. Finally on the south side of the altar is a scene depicting the Harrowing of Hell and despite the harrowing of time upon it- rendering it badly faded- it is arguably the most important of the Brent Eleigh paintings, dating to the latter half of the 13th century. The figure of Christ is positioned next to a kneeling Adam and a smaller figure bearing a tonsure kneels below and to the right, looking up at Christ. This ‘priest’ may well be the donor or patron responsible for the painting and this figure is accompanied by a Lombardic inscription ‘+RICA’.

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The Harrowing

Come out of the church, walk over the bridge and along meandering banked hilly roads and you will come to the Cock Inn, alongside a signpost directing you back to the village proper along the A1141, the old Lavenham Road. In the latter half of the 19th century, the inn was owned and run by five successive generations of the Underwood family and the first quarter of the 20th century, the landlord was appropriately named Walter Beere.

With its thatched hairstyle and Suffolk Pink plaster, two tiny bars, log fire warming stone floors and small yet well stocked bar, the village pub is a convivial space, the epitome of what a village pub should be. Three resident cats complete the setting- on our visit the Tortoiseshell was sat behind the bar with face and ears peering between the pumps – a small and hairy bartender. Entering into the pub is to go back in time to 1982 and the pubs of my late teenage hood; all lock ins and lack of pretense: Suffolk friendliness and a contemplative walk home (stagger) at the end of the evening through country lanes bounded by hedgerows frilled with Cow Parsley, ghostly in the moonlight. You really do see those big starry Suffolk skies out in this part of the county with minimal light pollution and a sense of being a traveller back in time, following well worn paths home as thousands of travellers must have done over the centuries.

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Glorious Brent Eleigh countryside

The Cock is praised for its food, offering Sunday roasts and traditional puddings (Spotted Dick, Jam Roly Poly), ploughmans, sandwiches, soups and jacket potatoes for not a lot of money and a nut roast for non meat eaters. The menu is not extensive- for such a tiny place it will never be- and that is a strong point because large menus generally indicate bought in catered frozen food. We had a ploughmans and a simple cheese and pickle sandwich, the latter made with doorstop fresh local bread and a good nose clearing Cheddar.

Tuesday evenings are known as’ Cheese Night’ where locals bring cheese, bread and other foods, laying them out on the bar for all visitors to eat. We were initially a bit bemused as to whether that included us (strangers) but apparently it does so next time we will bring a contribution. One of the regulars had brought his own home made sheep’s cheeses and was also an expert water dowser happy to show us his skills- potentially very useful in dry East Anglia, parts of which get some of England’s lowest recorded rainfalls.

 

The left hand bar comfortably holds twenty people no more and last night many of them had brought their instruments including a stunning Double Bass. Three hours of Roots, blues and folk ensued interspersed with cheese eating and cig breaks for some of the musicians. The pub regularly hosts bands in a small marquee in its small roadside raised garden with enough room for a few wooden benches, the band and the audience. We have seen the bluegrass band Blind Fever play here, the music drifting out across fields and lanes as locals sprawl across the grassy banks outside the pub, pints at their side, or dance in the marquee during the warmer months. All you can see and hear as you walk up the lane is the red tipped glow of cigarettes as people sit outside, the low murmur of their Suffolk inflected voices and the lamplight from the pub shining out of the open top half of the stable door. The pub is not lit with bright electric lights of an evening and there no overhead harshness to offend the eyes and pollute the night sky, just low watt wall lamps.

Pubs like these need our support but in a manner that doesn’t destroy their essential self- the pub as village hub where older residents can come and sit in company with others and the noticeboard serves as a model of pre-internet community information . The last thing small authentic places like this need is an influx of tourists come to visit the ‘Locals in their natural habitat’, but if you love music or play it (and cheese) or want a decent home cooked roast, this pub is perfect.

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The Second Air Division Memorial Library – a Norfolk Treasure

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During the Second World War the United States Eighth Air Force despatched 3,000 bombers and fighters on a day’s operations involving more than 20,000 airmen, flying from airfields in East Anglia; the largest air strike force ever committed to battle. At full strength the Second Air Division, one of the Eighth’s three divisions, controlled fourteen heavy bomber airfields in Norfolk and northeast Suffolk, and five fighter airfields. Ketteringham Hall served as the Division’s headquarters. Nearly 7,000 young Americans, in the Second Air Division lost their lives in the line of duty.

With the end of the war and the coming of peace, the Second Air Division honours its casualties through this unique library in Norwich, a ‘living memorial’, not only a tribute to those Americans ‘who flying from bases in these parts gave their lives defending freedom’, but also an educational and friendship bridge between two nations

 Located in the landmark Forum building in the centre of Norwich, we have a lending collection of over 4,000 books covering all aspects of American life and culture, and a specialist collection devoted to the history of the 2nd Air Division.

The Memorial Library remains an enduring and developing connection to the United States with a lending collection of over 4,000 books covering all aspects of American life and culture, and a specialist collection devoted to the history of the 2nd Air Division. 

In our Books and reading section we highlight some of the books we have in our collection, with suggestions and recommendations for reading from our UEA American Scholars. You can also find out about our “Reading Across the Pond” book group, and check out some of the titles they’ve been reading.

Anyone who has a Norfolk Library and Information Service membership card may borrow Memorial Library books. These can be requested and sent to any library in Norfolk. Search for Memorial Library books by accessing  our website

In addition to the book stock we have collections of material in other formats, including periodicals and newsletters, films, audio recordings, photographs, microforms, airfield maps, and a memorabilia collection.

We also hold the 2nd Air Division’s Roll of Honor, and a copy of this is available to browse online. 

The Memorial Library’s film collection is almost entirely about the 2nd Air Division or the Second World War. Our film catalogue lists the videos and DVDs held in the collection.

The films are not available for loan.

Patrons may watch films from the collection in Memorial Library Meeting Room during library opening hours (9am – 5pm, Mon- Sat). Because this room can be booked for meetings, school visits, and for the use of the flight simulator, it is recommended that patrons wishing to view films reserve the room in advance.

 

 

A diverse world of reading for children

Finding books that reflect different cultures can be a challenge but after having a rummage through the book shelves, we’ve unearthed some really cool books for kids, showing life in all its diversity and range. Here they are.

 Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland

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A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge and shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions and risk involved in reaching refuge. Azzi and her parents are in danger. They have to leave their home and escape to another country on a frightening journey by car and boat. In the new country they must learn to speak a new language, find a new home and Azzi must start a new school. With a kind helper at the school, Azzi begins to learn English and understand that she is not the only one who has had to flee her home. She makes a new friend, and with courage and resourcefulness, begins to adapt to her new life. But Grandma has been left behind and Azzi misses her more than anything. Will Azzi ever see her grandma again? Drawing on her own experience of working among refugee families, renowned author and illustrator Sarah Garland has produced an exciting adventure story to be enjoyed by readers of all ages in a fresh and modern format.

Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez

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A multi lingual mouse and his family live upstairs inside an old theatre. They love going to the plays and shouting ‘Bravo!’ when the curtain falls. But when Gato-Gato, the theatre cat finds them, Chico Canta must use his gift for languages to save his family. Bi and tri lingual conversations fall naturally into place in this book and the child will absorb them with no awareness that he is being ‘taught’.

“Let’s form a line,’ un fila por favour’- Mrs Canta who was as round as a top, liked to sing and speak many languages- English, Spanish and Italian. Mrs Canta spoke to animals too. She could speak cricket, spider and moth.”

 Umbrella by Taro Yashima

51gpsZmkP1L._AA160_Momo can’t wait for a rainy day so she can enjoy and use her birthday presents — red rain boots and an umbrella. Bright and colorful, with bold illustrations that will have your children impatient for rain and the beautiful, rhythmic song of the rain falling on Momo’s umbrella –  Pon polo, pon polo, polo polo pon polo. In addition to telling a story of a preschooler’s impatience and eagerness, the story also tells of a child’s growing independence. With the rain comes an opportunity for Momo to grow and mature. “The street was crowded and noisy, but she whispered to herself, `I must walk straight, like a grown-up lady!'” Momo also shows signs of becoming more responsible, “She did not forget her umbrella when her father came to take her home. She used to forget her mittens or her scarf so easily — but not her umbrella” The story concludes with this memorable note, “It was not only the first day in her life that she used her umbrella, it was also the first day in her life that she walked alone, without holding either her mother’s or her father’s hand”- a bittersweet moment for parents.

Yo? Yes? by Chris Yaschka

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This short children’s book is about two lonely boys, one Caucasian the other African-American, who meet on a street and become friends, speaking with only monosyllabic words. It’s a story that has happened to all of us at one time or another. The book was a 1994 Caldecott Honor book (i.e., a runner-up to the Medal winner) for best illustrations in a book for children.  Inflection is fundamental in this story and it’s something babies are attuned to even before they know words- all babies are born with the ability to make every sound in every language so childhood is sadly a process of forgetting as well as learning. The story is meant for an older (pre-school) audience, but the fun-with-language aspect of this book makes it great for even the smallest of babies.

 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

415eaw+jY1L._SP160,160,0,T_This classic picture book, published in 1963, was the first to feature a young black hero — a small boy enjoying his urban neighborhood. No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever. The author Keats grew up in Brooklyn and changed his name from Katz to Keats after World War II. Because of the discrimination he faced, he became the first American picture book maker to give a black child a major role in children’s books and literature.

Keats was inspired to write this book and develop the central character of Peter (a boy in this book about four) because he had become spellbound by a photograph of a small boy in Life magazine. He cut out these pictures and pinned them on his studio walls. This boy in the magazine developed into Keat’s character named Peter who would go on to become the main character in six more books until he was portrayed as a young adolescent in “Pet Show”.

This is a lovely book which has Peter waking up to a “world of snowy white” delighted with the new snow and his day of playing with snowballs, making snowmen and angels and dreaming of another new day (although he feared that the snow would have melted over night). To Peter’s delight, he woke up on the second day to even more new snow. The book is delightful. I loved the part where Peter, just being filled with the joy of being a little boy, tried to capture the day and the snow by putting it in his pocket so that he could take it inside when he has to go into his house. In this way, Peter learns about the power of the moment and impermanence.

Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

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Ruby is determined to go to university, just like her brothers. But in turn-of-the-century China, this is an unprecedented move, something pretty much beyond the experience of Ruby’s family. This story reveals Ruby’s tenacity, passion and dedication as she works her way toward an education.  It is a beautiful book in every way, from its vibrant illustrations to its messages of respect — for oneself, for one’s elders, for one’s culture and for the never-ending gift of learning. As hard as Ruby works, she is aware that tradition will soon force her to give up her studies and marry. When her grandfather becomes aware of her unhappiness and asks her to explain, he listens but says nothing. What will happen next may not be a surprise, but the twist at the end is sure to bring a smile to the face of every reader.

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Sumptuous illustrations in the book ‘Ruby’s Wish’ and based upon the real life of the authors Grandmother

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

51Uo-AorKtL._SX342_Immigrant kids recognize that hesitation during the calling of the morning register when a new teacher gets to their name but the experience depends on how adults handle these confrontations with what is unfamiliar to them. If only all teachers (and immigrant parents) were as wise and compassionate as the ones in this book. Recorvits’ poetic, lyrical, spare text and Swiatkowska’s imaginative paintings explore this part of feeling “foreign” — an immigrant child’s name. In a new language and a new alphabet, Yoon’s beautiful Korean name seems foreign even to herself. Are you still “Yoon” when people outside the family pronounce your name differently? When they don’t know that it means “shining wisdom?” For a child to feel at home in a new country, she needs a non judgemental group of teachers, parents, and classmates, as well as self belief and courage.

 Day of Tears by Julius Lester

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On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in the history of America was held in Savannah, Georgia with over 400 slaves being traded. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days and ended as the slave sale stopped. These simultaneous events- of the rain storm and the auction led to these two days being called “the weeping time.” Storyteller Julius Lester has taken this footnote of history and written this upsetting and incredible young adults book. Julius Lester tells the story of several characters including Emma, a slave owned by Pierce Butler and caretaker of his two daughters, and Pierce, a man with an ever growing gambling debt and household to watch over. Emma wants to teach his daughters-one who opposes slavery and one who supports it-to have kind hearts. Meanwhile, in a bid to survive, Pierce decides to take advantage of his “assets” and host the largest slave auction in American history. And on that day, the skies open up and weep endlessly on the proceedings below in a powerful masterclass on the use of the pathetic fallacy in fiction. Using the multiple voices of enslaved Africans and their owners, Julius Lester has taken a little-known, all-true event in American history and transformed it into a heartbreaking and powerfully dramatic pronouncement on slavery, and the struggle to regain ones humanity in the midst of it.

Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children

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Appealing photos of babies from seventeen cultures around the globe are woven together by simple narration. GLOBAL BABIES presents children in their cultural contexts. Diverse settings highlight specific differences in clothing, daily life, and traditions, as well as demonstrate that babies around the world are nurtured by the love, caring, and joy that surround them. What our babies will love the most is the focus upon the faces, the often bright colours and the simple presentation of the images. They adore looking at photos of other babies, are drawn to them (heck I haven’t grown out of looking at photos of babies!) and this is a wonderful book.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

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Anna Hibiscus lives in the continent of Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow. This is a lovely, simple book that does what it does very well ideed and engages readers immediately. The four chapters stand alone as stories of a child’s life too so it can be used as a chapter book also. It is not exactly easy to find English-language children’s stories set in Africa that avoid treating it as something exotic  but this is funny, sweet, and interesting whilst normalising the story and existence of the characters. What would improve it? Naming within it, a more specific African location to challenge the oft held idea of Africa as one amorphous blob of a place where national boundaries, individual cultures and differences tend to be skated over or eliminated entirely.

 Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa

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Zomo the rabbit, a trickster from West Africa, wants wisdom. But he must accomplish three apparently impossible tasks before Sky God will give him what he wants. Is he clever enough to do as Sky God asks? The tale moves along with the swift concision of a good joke, right down to its satisfying punch line and the repeating of ‘Zomo, Zomo, Zomo’ is very satisfying to parent and child when read aloud.  “Wildly exuberant, full of slapstick and mischief, this version of an enduring Nigerian trickster tale, featuring a clever rabbit, is a storyteller’s delight.”–Booklist. With vivid and detailed illustrations including Zomo the Rabbit whose cultural heritage can be seen in his garb, from his dashiki (brightly colored shirt) to his kufi (hat), even very young children will be drawn to this book.

Biblioburro- a True Story from Colombia by Jeannette Winter

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Luis loves to read, but soon his house in Colombia is so full of books there’s barely room for the family. What to do? Then he comes up with the perfect solution–a traveling library! He buys two donkeys–Alfa and Beto–and travels with them throughout the land, bringing books and reading to the children in faraway villages. Beautiful! Based upon the life of Luis Soriana who is still delivering his books via Donkey transport, we are told his story-A Columbian school teacher that loved to read. He traveled with two burros (mules) to deliver his extra books to children high up in the mountains of Columbia. Monica Brown uses vivid detail that is strong but also simple enough for children to read and understand. An example of this is when Brown writes, ” “Deep in the jungles of Colombia, there lives a man who loves books. His name is Luis. As soon as he reads one book, he brings home another. Soon the house is filled with books. His wife, Diana, grumbles.” The language is so strong, but is clean and simple for children. The story is so much fun and it is great for children to read and begin to understand other people’s cultures and lifestyles.

 When I Close My Eyes by Ty Allan Jackson

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This picture book is about a little girl named Dot with a vivid imagination which takes her away to faraway places. Filled with vivid colored pictures and wonderful rhyming words that will make children and adult smile making this is a great daytime or bedtime story for children from 2-6 years old. The message?  Imagination is the key that unlocks the door to unlimited possibilities.

Big Moon Tortilla by Joy Cowley

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I’m afraid Anglo children too often learn a part of our culture that says ‘Do something, even if it’s wrong.’ Of course, we too often do the wrong thing. For many USA residing Southwestern Indians, chldren are taught patience as a prime virtue, even as a way of solving problems. Big Moon Tortilla illustrates in an exemplary way for non-Indian children this alternate way to face a problem. A contemporary child gets help from an old story in this bright picture book set in a small desert village on the Papago reservation in southern Arizona near the Mexican border. Marta Enos’ day is ruined when the wind blows her papers out the window and the dogs chew her homework into trash; then she trips and breaks her glasses. Grandmother comforts Marta Enos, repairs the glasses, bakes her some warm tortillas, and tells her a traditional tale about how to deal with a problem. Sometimes it is good to be a tree and look all ways at once; sometimes it is best to be a rock or a fierce mountain lion; but Marta Enos chooses to be an eagle, who can fly high and see how small the problem is. Strongbow’s watercolor paintings set the story in wide desert landscapes as the sun sets and the full moon rises, and warm portraits show the loving bond across generations.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

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So what happens when you don’t want to go along with the flow? What happens when you don’t approve of something that is very important in your cultural background? A true classic with a timeless message, The Story of Ferdinand has enchanted readers since it was first published in 1936. All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when our pacifist hero is picked for the bullfights in Madrid? Capturing the spirit of Spain perfectly we also have gentle humour, from Ferdinands rampaging after he is stung by a beel to his placid, under the tree sitting. The realization that even small events and our reactions to them can have a huge impact on our lives, and everything else that surrounds us in this world, is beautifully presented in this story. How Ferdinand chooses to deal with his plight at being taken away to fight is, of course, the heart and significance of this tale. His choice of poetic action is a pitch perfect and non moralising morality tale and provides the lasting appeal for this book.

The Goggle Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies

The Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davie

Children love a kindred naughty spirit and in Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats, they have plenty of them. These goats gobble and gulp through whatever they find in a typical goat fashion from pumpkins to mats. Al Haji’s seven children adore the goats but to keep his wives happy he takes the goats to sell at the market but this proves to be less simple than he thought. This vibrant tongue twister of a read aloud book is joyous.

Tales from India by Jamila Gavin.

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Imagination unbounded in these tales of magic, mystery and  creation from the elephant-headed Ganesha and monkey god Hanuman to the blue-skinned Krishna.Lessons are taught lightly about love and respect for the world, framed in the context of centuries old stories that allow the natural leap and range of a child’s minds eye. How can you churn an ocean with a snake? How can Parvati make a real baby out of mud? Glorious illustrations make this a book to hand down and treasure.

Over the Hills and Far Away  By Elizabeth Hammill

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Illustrated by over 77 artists, this stunning collection of 150 rhymes from all over the world includes rhymes from First Nation people, Inuit and Maori, Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean. The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also newer discoveries in a lively, dip in and out of book.

Ramadan Moon By Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adl

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Ramadan, the month of fasting, Doesn’t begin all at once. It begins with a whisper And a prayer And a wish. Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan and the joyful days of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of fasting as the most special time of year. This lyrical and inspiring picture book captures the wonder and joy of this great annual event, from the perspective of a child. Accompanied by Iranian inspired illustrations, the story follows the waxing of the moon from the first new crescent to full moon and waning until Eid is heralded by the first sighting of the second new moon. Written and illustrated by Muslims, this is a book for all children who celebrate Ramadan and those in the wider communities who want to understand why this is such a special experience for Muslims.

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

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One of the new tiger cubs has escaped from the reserve!” This brand new book is set on an isolated West Bengali island,taking readers to a setting far removed from their own.

When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, the rangers and villagers hurry to find her before the cub’s anxious mother follows suit and endangers them all. Mr. Gupta, a rich newcomer to the island, is also searching–he wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market. Neel and his sister, Rupa, resolve to find the cub first and bring her back to the reserve where she belongs.

The hunt for the cub interrupts Neel’s preparations for an exam to win a prestigious scholarship at a boarding school far from home. Neel doesn’t mind–he dreads the exam and would rather stay on his beloved island with his family and friends. But through his encounter with the cub, Neil learns that sometimes you have to take risks to preserve what you love. And sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the chance to improve the future. Ages 7+.

Juneteeneth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

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Published in February 2015 to coincide with Black History Month, this book by Coretta Scott King award winning illustrator, Floyd Cooper celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation via Mazie, who is ready to commemorate liberty and the day her ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.This beautiful story by award-winning author and illustrator Floyd Cooper will captivate both children and adults.

For ages 6-9.

Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard

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Covering a rarely encountered topic, the issue of racial diversity, native origins and exclusion from a Hawaiian/White perspective, Peggy Sue Moves from Texas to Hawaii in 1960 and faces a difficult transition when she is bulled as one of the fewhaole (white) students in her school.

Her cat, Howdy, is stuck in animal quarantine, and she’s baffled by Hawaiian customs and words. Worst of all, eighth grader Kiki Kahana targets Peggy Sue because she is haole–white–warning her that unless she does what Kiki wants, she will be a victim on “killhaole day,” the last day of school. Peggy Sue’s home ec teacher insists that she help Kiki with her sewing project or risk failing and life looks bleak until Peggy Sue meets Malina, whose mother gives hula lessons. But when her parents take a trip to Hilo, leaving Peggy Sue at Malina’s, life takes an unexpected twist in the form of a tsunami. Peggy Sue is knocked unconscious and wakes to learn that her parents safety and whereabouts are unknown. Peggy Sue has to summon all her courage to have hope that they will return safely.

Ages 10 & up.

Not my Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Gabrielle Grimard

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Margaret can’t wait to see her family, but her homecoming is not what she expected.

Addressing cultural identity, the influence of the outside world upon indigenous cultures and the pressures involved in bridging these, this is a poignant and inspiring book about Margaret’s struggle to belong. Two years ago, Margaret left her Arctic home for the outsiders’ school. Now she has returned and can barely contain her excitement as she rushes towards her waiting family — but her mother stands still as a stone. This strange, skinny child, with her hair cropped short, can’t be her daughter. “Not my girl!” she says angrily.

Margaret’s years at school have changed her. Now ten years old, she has forgotten her language and the skills to hunt and fish. She can’t even stomach her mother’s food. Her only comfort is in the books she learned to read at school.  Gradually, Margaret relearns the words and ways of her people. With time, she earns her father’s trust enough to be given a dogsled of her own. As her family watches with pride, Margaret knows she has found her place once more.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by evocative illustrations,Not My Girl makes the original, award-winning memoir, A Stranger at Home, accessible to younger children. It is also a sequel to the picture book When I Was Eight.

Schooldays Around the World by Margriet Ruurs

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As a child I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of children all over the world getting up and going off to school and curious about what form that schooling took. Author Margriet Ruurs begins this engaging informational picture book by posing an intriguing question: “What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?” The fascinating stories that follow will expand how young readers think of school, as they learn about the experiences of real children in thirteen different countries around the world. From Marta in Azezo, Ethiopia, and Luciano in M?rida, Venezuela, to Alina in Taraz, Kazakhstan, and Lu in Shanghai, China, the children who are profiled live in places that truly span the globe. Alice Feagan’s charming cut-paper collage artwork further enhances the idea of a global community by featuring smiling, enthusiastic children’s faces, which are equally joyous and filled with life in every situation. As with all the titles in the popular Around the World series, using a familiar concept such as going to school is a perfect way to introduce children to other cultures and places.

A world map at the beginning of the book shows the location of each of the countries, and a glossary contains definitions of the foreign words. These, along with a table of contents, make useful tools for familiarizing young readers with book navigation.

The Red Bicycle- the Extraordinary Story of One Bicycle by Jude Isabella

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In this unique nonfiction picture book, the main character is a bicycle that starts its life like so many bicycles in North America, being owned and ridden by a young boy. The boy, Leo, treasures his bicycle so much he gives it a name — Big Red. But eventually Leo outgrows Big Red, and this is where the bicycle’s story takes a turn from the everyday, because Leo decides to donate it to an organization that ships bicycles to Africa. Big Red is sent to Burkina Faso, in West Africa, where it finds a home with Alisetta, who uses it to gain quicker access to her family’s sorghum field and to the market. Then, over time, it finds its way to a young woman named Haridata, who has a new purpose for the bicycle — renamed Le Grand Rouge — delivering medications and bringing sick people to the hospital. This book makes an excellent choice for cultural studies classes; author Jude Isabella has provided several terrific suggestions in the back of the book for projects large and small, while a map shows the distance the bicycle traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. Award-winning illustrator Simone Shin’s digitally composed artwork includes evocative depictions of Alisetta’s and Haridata’s communities in rural Africa, creating vivid comparisons between Leo’s life and their lives. Youngsters will learn how different the world is for those who rely on bicycles as a mode of transportation, and how one ordinary bicycle — and a child’s desire to make a difference — can change lives across the world.

Fly Eagle Fly! By Christopher Gregorowski

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With a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this is a tale of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens after being blown out of his nest and discovered by a local farmer. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to “lift off and soar” in expressive, evocatively  illustrated pages by Niki Daly, an internationally known artist.

Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman

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Sometimes to save the people you love, you have to go overboard”

‘Overboard,’ says Yusuf’s grandfather, ‘is an English word meaning to do something that is bold, wild, dangerous and crazy.’” Jamal’s decision to ‘go overboard’ stems from his experiences growing up in a war-torn land. He wants to change the world, his world anyway, and he has a grand plan. His passion for soccer will be the means to turn around his government, his country, and life for his family. But Jamal is about to embark upon an adventure more ‘bold, wild, dangerous and crazy’ than he could ever imagine that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

Jamal’s narration of the tale highlights his incredible strength – be it drawn from his knowledge of his ancestors or his belief in the ‘secret of soccer’ – ‘Never give up, even when things are looking hopeless’. Optimism, perseverance, courage and tenacity are the tools of survival for Jamal, his feisty younger sister Bibi and the friends they make on their journey, Rashida and Omar. These things, together with a rich fantasy life focussed on soccer and how great Australia is going to be, sustain Jamal through horrendous and heart-breaking experiences.

One question Morris Gleitzman leaves unanswered is whether Jamal’s faith and hope will be rewarded. After all Jamal and his family go through, will they be recognised and welcomed? Just how ‘overboard’ does a boy have to go?

(Un)arranged Marriage by By Bali Rai

Unarranged marriage

Unusual in its point of view- that of a Punjabi boy called Manny who doesn’t want to go through with the marriage that his father has arranged for him, we explore the issue of arranged or forced marriages from his unique perspective . Set in present day England and partly in the Punjab, it follows Manny from the age of 13 as he tries to balance the demands of his family with his own desires for his future.

An exploration of generation conflict, culture clash and the universal theme of teenagers rebelling against their parents, this book incorporates issues such as inter ethnic racism, peer pressure, violence and lighter issues around school and first love. An important book and a powerful voice that reminds us that whilst the position of women in arranged or forced marriages remains the less empowered, this doesn’t mean that the men aren’t sometimes victims too.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown_Girl_Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a unique autobiographical poetry book where Woodson shares true stories of her childhood — growing up as an African American during the Civil Rights movement — in mesmerizing verse. Woodson shares emotionally charged yet accessible snapshots of growing up in both South Carolina and New York, sensing remnants of Jim Crow laws. This book won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Amy McCulloch on why children’s literary heroes need to be less white. 

‘We need diverse books’ calls for more representative writing for children

Piet Groblers top ten multicultural books for children

We meet Emma Healey – author of ‘Elizabeth is Missing’

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In her debut novel ‘Elizabeth is missing’, author Emma Healey subverts the commonly held tenet of writing – ‘Write about what you know’ because the central theme of her book, Dementia, is unknowable to all except the person living with it. The condition all too often renders a person unable to adequately express their lived experiences and the essential mystery that lies within the heart of every human becomes ever more so.

Beautiful, painful and rich, ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ defies easy categorisation based as it is on Maud, an older woman with a fading memory who is convinced that her friend has gone missing and whose concerns are not taken seriously. Echoes of the long unsolved disappearance of Maud’s sister seventy years ago soon merge with the present as Maud refuses to be thwarted in her search for answers and we move back and forth in time alongside her.

At just twenty nine years of age, Emma’s ability to capture the essence of dementia is haunting and masterful, even more so for this reader, having had experience of working with people affected by the disease and its patterns of thought and behaviour; the restless searching, dislocution and their polar opposites- a determined fixation upon things or places or events that are all vividly captured along with the awful awareness that something is wrong but the person knows not what.

“I loved writing from the point of view of an older person” says Emma. “I have been writing since I was young but I never finished any of it and it felt boring – writing about my age and experiences. Writing about Maud was freeing because it isn’t about my life or my experiences but I am exploring and seeing her life from my point of view alongside the reader” The original idea of the book grew from a car journey on an ordinary sort of day when Emma ‘s own grandmother expressed a fear that her friend had gone missing. Emma’s gran has Multi Infarct Dementia and at that point was able to be mollified by the reassurances of her granddaughter and retain the information that her friend was only staying with her daughter- “I thought about this over the next year as Gran deteriorated- what would happen if and when a person couldn’t retain an explanation and I looked for ways to explain this condition; it was an excuse to explore it and then my other Grandmother died. She had been the family story teller and before she died I wrote down all the stories of her life. And they went into Maud’s story.”

Initially the idea of writing about something as intimate and painful as this might appear to be a form of catharsis but the end results proved to be more complex than that- “I thought it would be cathartic, there is a lot of Dementia in my family but I have found it quite frightening;  ‘It will be my fate’ and it can be quite terrifying. The misconceptions about the illness upset me more than anything, the idea that you can be less than pleasant to somebody with Dementia ‘because they won’t remember’ whereas in fact the feelings evoked are residual. They know something is wrong, that something bad has happened and they don’t always forget that”

For Emma, part of the process of trying to understand her Grandmothers condition involved learning about it, reading textbooks, dry journals, going to visit her gran and the relative of another friend  in hospital and it was then that the dearth of variety in writing about it became obvious- “A lot of the textbooks were quite boring and didn’t really give any feeling for what it might be like to live with the condition. What it is like for family and for everyone around and this is where fiction is important. Giving the feeling that people with dementia, the elderly, are part of the community and books can reflect that”

The otherness of getting old, of confronting the changes and failings of the body, of having dementia is beautifully depicted. We see a variety of reactions to Maud from the cruel, dismissive mickey taking of the police officer who deals with Maud every time she comes to the station to try to report the disappearance of her friend (and forgets she has been there already) to the kindness of the receptionist at the local paper who tries to help Maud fill out a missing person notice, mistakenly believes a cat is missing, releases she has misunderstood and shows humanity in her attempts to normalise Maud’s forgetfulness and her own attempts to decipher what Maud wants. The scene is amusing at times through Mauds own bewilderment at the receptionists apparent confusion -“She asks if Elizabeth has a collar and it seems like an odd question” but they get there in the end.  The over riding impression is that we all need to be more patient, to be familiar with the small acts of kindness that help make the world less confusing and stressful for many of us, let alone a person with cognitive problems. “People blame the person for not being able to remember” Emma says ” although there is humour in life and I wanted to reflect that people with Dementia use that humour too. It mustn’t be left out but I didn’t want the humour to be related to Maud’s distress, about that distress. I didn’t want people laughing at her and i didn’t want it to be cruel.”

Much is left for the reader to surmise, often in retrospect too. Maud forgot that she had made multiple trips to the police station in her attempts to discover Elizabeth’s whereabouts, making this far more effective a surprise to us because the reader isn’t aware of these visits as they happen. We think ‘oh’ when the officer cruelly points out the truth and we see where his frustration comes from and then recoil from his scathing humour. It is NOT funny. We never lose our place on Maud’s side but we can also empathise with Maud’s daughter, Helen as she tries so hard to retain her patience as she retrieves her mother from yet another wandering off or muddled and failed mission to find Elizabeth. Rich with the imagery of ageing- events and things obscured, buried and obfuscated, becoming faded and dulled but then what was lost returning slowly to the surface.

From the discovery of her sisters buried compact to the memories in her own mind, Maud nonetheless lives a rich sensory life with senses still sharp and the ability to feel emotions connected to smell, feel and sounds. From the vividly tactile description of Maud trailing her fingers along a moss covered wall. peeling away clots of moss to the collections of objects Maud accumulates- seeds, discarded fingernail clippings, stones and feathers and the way the smell of nylon evokes memories of her younger days, we are given a real insight into the world of Maud and a great way in; a way of relating.

Responding to the underlying feelings as opposed to what is being said or done can help relatives and carers to cope with some of the more challenging aspects of the persons behaviour. Maud gets ‘grumpy’ as Emma describes it but we never lose sympathy for her. We see what has gone into building Maud throughout her life and as Maud loses the ability to explain herself and as her personality starts to shatter, we see Maud distilled through her senses. “I am a sensory person, I have always kept a diary of the senses, I suppose you could call it, rather than a day to day diary of what has happened in my life” said Emma. “You can add more meaning to a scene if you add sensory detail, the motives and character can be explained in this way. It is so easy to be pulled out of a book as a reader when much is going on around us. Adding this detail, these little descriptions helps to pull people back in again” Maud is anchored in the natural world and we are anchored too, especially when the reader feels distress and adrift in empathy with Maud. Emma herself is a bit of a gatherer too, describing her collection of ‘bits and bobs’ from her grandmothers’- seeds that are too old to germinate but she is loathe to throw away, bits of costume jewellery, pebbles from beaches and little photos slotted away of nothing in particular.

Realising how Emma shares some of these traits and her previous studies in book art (Emma read for a degree in book arts) we wondered how hard it was for her to hand over creative control to her publishers with regards to the books design and the editing process overall- ” I didn’t have a lot of input with the cover and design. Because of my book binding studies, I knew that a book has to be filled with good content and it is not enough to just produce something that looks beautiful. I couldn’t just adopt a ‘let’s get the plot done’ attitude, it had to be vivid and rich and I had that to get on with”

Publishers were justified in their attempts to win Emma’s heart (and signature on a book contract). From the would be publisher who filled a room with Forget- me -Nots, played Maud’s music and posted ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ posters all over their building to the eventual victor, Penguin who gave her hand-written notes from staff members who had read and loved her book, a fierce bidding war led to a good contract and a very bemused and modestly appreciative Emma who hadn’t quite factored in this level of interest.

What made her choose Penguin? “Karolina Sutton (my editor) had a vision of the book that lay closest to mine. I needed someone who would be strict with me especially during the final draft when I couldn’t see the book anymore. Karolina’s feelings about the book mirror my own” The television rights have already been sold and we predict no end of interest should it get made- Maud is a dream of a role for any actor and the other characters are as finely drawn as she is. As women and men choose to have their own families later in life, we will see more and more parents having to simultaneously cope with children still at home and the needs of ageing and maybe infirm parents. A book and programme that reflects this is of immense value.

What would be Emma’s dream cast and how does she think she will react to a dramatisation of her book? “That is SO difficult to answer when you have lived with the characters for so long. It is hard to imagine your characters embodied in another persons ideas about how they might look or be and even harder to imagine Maud on screen. So much of her is within her own head, showing her from the inside, whereas television is much more about the external, not the inner life and it shows that from the outside in”

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Emma Healey -Photo by Tristan Conor Holden

Emma will be appearing at Jarrold’s book department in Norwich on Tuesday, June 17 at 6pm. Tickets are £3, including a glass of wine, with £3 redeemable off purchases of her book and at the Festival read at Literary Ipswich on Monday 30th June between 7-9 pm at Waterstones in Ipswich. Lesley Dolphin, the BBC Radio Suffolk presenter will be joining in the discussion and featuring ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ in her afternoon book club, BBC Radio Suffolk, 30 June  Thank you so much to Emma Healey for this interview and to Lija Kresowaty at Penguin for arranging it.  Find Emma’s Website here