This might take some time. Both Toby and I have read books by Swedish authors, and neither one of us wanted to be lazy, and so we both chose to read something new.
Well, we can't write about "reading Sweden" and not mention Astrid Lindgren. Toby has read most of her books, but two stick out in particular. He first encountered "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter" when he was 5 years old, and this was our book review at the time (taken from when we first blogged it on Writing to the World):
Toby says: It was really good! Ronia lives in Matt's Fort, Matt is Ronia's Dad, and he is a robber chieftain. Birk Borkason is the son of Borka, and Matt and Borka are enemies. But Birk and Ronia are friends. Their Dads don't like that Ronia and Birk are friends, so Ronia and Birk secretly run away and live in a bear's cave. I liked it when Ronia and Birk made friends. I don't like that there are no more Ronia books, only one.
Mummy says: Ronia the Robber's Daughter was one of my favourite books as a child, and re-reading it with Toby has reminded me why I love it so much! Ronia is such a strong girl, and really, there are no "baddies" in this book (apart from wild harpies and other creatures of the forest) - it's full of essentially "good" people who just have to see each other's point of view a bit more.
About a year later, Toby and I read The Brothers Lionheart together. And then we read it again. And then he read it again, by himself. And to this day, it remains one of his favourite books. Toby says: "I can't decide which one is my favourite, but I think if you want to read two amazing books, or you only have time to read two books by Astrid Lindgren, then I think you should read these two."
For the challenge, however, we both read a book we hadn't read before (Sabine read two), and here are our reviews:
Toby: The Glass Children by Kristina Ohlsson
"I don't like this house", said Billie. "Well, cope with it", responded her Mum. Billie and her Mum have just moved into an old house, which used to be a children's home in the 1920s. Billie is convinced that there are ghosts in there, but her Mum doesn't believe her. But if there are no ghosts, why does the ceiling lamp keep coming loose, swinging without a breeze? Billie is determined to find out the secrets of the house!
This book is a very scary but exciting book. You always wonder what is happening, but for me, working out who the culprit was was not too difficult. My favourite part in the book is when Billie and her friends go to the library and try to work out the secrets of the house. In the book, it also mentioned brittle bones disease, and I think this is good, because it means that children reading the book can learn more about something that can affect adults and children in the real world.
Sabine: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend: Katarina Bivald
This book makes a lovely summer read - Sara, a young woman from Sweden, decides to throw caution into the wind and plan her first international journey, to visit Amy, an elderly lady from Broken Wheel, Iowa, with whom she has been exchanging letters. Unfortunately, when she arrives, there is nobody there to greet her, and when she finally makes her way to Amy's house, she discovers that Amy has passed away, having left instructions for Sara to make use of her house - and her books. What follows is a story about belonging, friendship, love, and, above all, books. Sara is quiet yet persistent, the inhabitants of Broken Wheel are detailed and individual (although how quite so many "characters" can fit into a sleepy tiny town remains a questions that is maybe best not asked), and the whole book is a thoroughly enjoyable way to while away a few hours.
Sabine: My grandmother sends her regards and apologises: Fredrik Backman
Without putting too fine a point on it: this book is a thing of beauty. This story about a nearly-eight-year-old girl, her grandmother, and the people around them, is written with such unbelievable tenderness and attention to detail, it is actually quite hard to review, because all you want to do it tell people to read it, with a kind of fervour that would probably make you look slightly odd in the eyes of the very people you are trying to convince. But if you like people who are a bit "different", and not afraid of being so, if you like seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and having magic seeping into the real world in the way that all our lives sometimes resemble fairy tales, and if it's okay with you to feel an awful lot of emotions across the time span it takes you to read the book...then (and I am writing this with as little "mad-sounding fervour" as I can) you might really, really want to read this book.
Elsa is nearly eight when her grandmother - her protector, her story-teller, her guide to the "Land-Of-Almost-Awake" - dies from cancer. Her grandmother, a former doctor who saved lives the world over in disaster areas, sends Elsa on a final quest, with a series of letters to apologise to the many people she feels the need to - posthumously - apologise to. The quest not only helps Elsa understand more about who her grandmother was before she became Elsa's grandmother, but also to learn more about the people around her.
Backman thanks Astrid Lindgren in the "Author's Thanks" at the end, and The Brothers Lionheart is mentioned several times throughout the book, tied in as only a lover of stories can. I can't remember feeling this touched about a grandparent/grandchild relationship since reading Peter Härtling's "Oma" ("Nan") as a child...which I don't think ever got translated into English. Thank you to Fredrik Backman for this book - and to Henning Koch, for a beautiful, beautiful translation!
We have a very special reason to find out more about Zambia - in just under a month's time, we will be heading off to volunteer with the amazing charity Book Bus, to work in local primary schools for two weeks. Thanks to a briefing day in London and following the work the Book Bus does for the past two years, we have a pretty good idea what to expect...in theory. Theory is a wonderful thing, but it is not the same as practice, and it will certainly be the first experience of this kind for Toby. As always with our projects, the idea for volunteering originated with him, and he is, as you would say in England "well up for it". When we tried to find books to prepare, we found a few suitable candidates - fewer for children than for adults. Our copy of "Wandi's Little Voice", a battered second-hand copy, took no fewer than 7 weeks to arrive. Still, it did arrive, and in time for Toby to read it!
Toby: Wandi's Little Voice, by Ellen Banda-Aaku
Wandi has a horrible life, or has she? Wandi is playing on the streets, but her mother is about to strike. She grabs. Wandi screams. She pulls Wandi’s ear all the way home whilst saying “Aunt Betty is coming to visit, get yourself looking beautiful!” Wandi’s mother thinks looking beautiful is very important. Wandi is not allowed to play with children she wants to play with, because they are not “right”, her mother says. Her mother is always about fashion. She always has lipstick or lip gloss on, things Wandi doesn’t care about.
Now, you might be asking yourselves: Where is Wandi’s father? Wandi’s father and mother had a massive argument a few years ago, so Wandi’s father doesn’t come to visit any more, except for one day, when her father takes Wandi out for the day, and they have lots of fun, but something bad is about to happen in their family. Wandi’s father is very busy, because he is a doctor, but the family still don’t have a lot of money, they have a guitar with two broken strings fixed with sticky tape.
Throughout the whole book, Wandi feels never listened to – she only has a “little voice”, but she has to learn to be confident and courageous as she grows up.
This story is interesting and exciting. This book can catch probably anybody’s attention with its amazing front cover and brilliant blurb. The style of the writing that says “Wandi’s Little Voice” is an interesting font. My favourite part was at the end, so I don’t want to tell you and give it away – you’ll have to read it to find out!
Sabine: A Cowrie of Hope, by Binwell Sinyangwe
The lengths a mother will go through to provide for her child is the main premise of this moving short novel. Everything Nasula does revolves around her daughter - even her name, Nasula, means "Mother of Sula", and the reader does not discover her given name until the final pages of the book. Sula, the daughter, is the "Cowrie of Hope", hope for a way out of poverty in the Zambia of the '90s, where droughts and politics have made it difficult to eke a living in the countryside. The bag of beans Nasula is looking to sell is "the hope for the hope". If Nasula can sell the beans, she will be able to fund her daughter's continued education - consequences for Sula and alternative future pathways without an education are hinted at not so subtly, both in the city and in the village. Although the mother's own future is uncertain if she sells her beans, rather than eating them, she does not hesitate. But can she navigate Lusaka's market and its people to bring the desired outcome?
Sinyangwe takes on a female perspective in his second novel - a widow, shunned by her husband's family, sole provider for her daughter, who has to overcome incredible odds to enable her daughter to access education. Nasula is shown as a strong and resourceful woman, her many tears shed are never for herself, they are tears of desperation and helplessness. First forced to overcome her pride when she sets off to ask her husband's family for help, then setting off to sell what was meant to be her own food source, the story is in turns heart-wrenching and uplifting, when Nasula meets kind souls along her journey.
The book is quite short (150 pages), but the journey it describes is a long one - emotional, powerful, and well worth reading.
Sabine: Patchwork, by Ellen Banda-Aaku
Toby enjoyed his book by Ellen Banda-Aaku so much that we looked out additional books by her. "Patchwork" won the Penguin Prize for African Writing and was short-listed for the 2012 Commonwealth Book prize. The book follows "Pumpkin", a Zambian girl, first as a 9-year-old girl, then as a grown woman. Daughter of a mistress of a well-to-do man, Pumpkin is used to "Tata" arriving and leaving intermittently. When her mother's problems with alcohol become too obvious to conceal, Tata takes his daughter away, to live on his farm with his wife and their sons. "Mama T" is as cold as Tata is warm and generous, and Pumpkin struggles to find a way to fit in, especially as she realises that her mother was not Tata's first mistress, and won't be his last.
This book took several unexpected turns - Pumpkin herself is not your typical blameless, hard-done-by heroine, she lies and steals, then feels sorry, but unable to help herself. Her small acts of rebellion are ways to fell some sense of power in a world where everything is decided by grown-ups around her. At some point, Pumpkin remarks that, on television, grown-ups apologise to children. "I have never had an adult apologise to me", she muses. Pumpkin has a temper, and she doesn't lose it as an adult. She struggles to trust the people around her, including her husband in the second part of the book. Her flaws make her much more real, caught in a world between customary beliefs, religion, and science, drawn out in stark detail when her mother gets sick.
The "Patchwork" in the title refers to lies people tell, and hurt they cause each other - even if you mend the hurt, a scar remains, and the more often you cause pain, the harder it is to mend, until your life resembles a patchwork of hurt and apologies. I am very glad I found the author through Toby's book, and will be reading more of her work.
This is the first of our joint posts, based on Toby's new challenge, to read a book from or about every country in the world. This time, he has not just picked the challenge himself, but also challenged me (Sabine/Mum) to do the same with grown-up books. We are not the first to read our way around the world, and we won't be the last. Just like with his letter-writing project, Toby came up with the rules:
"I want to read lots of books, and they should either be from an author from that country, or set in that country, or they can be non-fiction books, too. It's okay to read a book by an author from that country, even if the book is a fantasy or made-up story, because it helps you understand what kind of stories people come up with from different countries!"
So, Toby's definition is very flexible, and doubtlessly, we will on occasion choose a book which some people feel is not "representative" of a specific country. That will be true, no matter which book we choose, because no single book can ever hope to "represent" a country, just like the people Toby writes letters to can never "represent" all the people in that country.
For each country, each of us will choose at least one book to read, and we will share our reviews. Some of the books, Toby had already read and reviewed for his role as book reviewer for the amazing website "LoveReading4Kids", and so we are starting off with India, because we both read and reviewed books for LoveReading/LoveReading4Kids respectively, and launching with them in the month this wonderful website announced its closure seems a suitable way to thank them for the amazing joy they have brought us and many other people. We will miss them greatly.
Toby: "The Wildings" by Nilanjana Roy (read and reviewed when he was 8)
The Wildings is about cats which have amazing but scary lives in Delhi in India. All the characters are cats, and humans are called Bigfeet. Some cats live with the Bigfeet, but some are wild. A kitten's mother and a kitten were chased by Bigfeet, but the kitten just about got away, and ends up in the Nizamuddin clan. There is a war between two cat clans, one is the Nizamuddin clan, the main clan in the book. The author uses lots of adjectives to help you get the pictures in your head, which is really useful if you're not used to reading, and it helped build the story. The story was fast-paced, but not too much - it was exciting to find out what happens next.
I'd give this book 9 out of 10, it maybe just about squeezes in as my 4th-favourite book, because I like how it is set a real country and it helps your imagination to grow. It has inspired me to go to Delhi and see the country for myself one day. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.
Sabine: "The Bureau of Second Chances" by Sheena Kalayil
Recently widowed, Thomas returns to India after 30 years in London. Estranged from his grown-up daughter, he agrees to look after a friend's store, only to discover that the young assistant appears to be running an illicit side business from the premises. Her "Bureau of Second Chances" provides opportunities for divorcees to find love again, and Thomas finds himself becoming more and more connected to the people around him, while at the same time feeling disconnected from life in Kerala.
This book is about so many things - tenderly and artfully hinted at by Kalayil - so that every reader will find something for themselves. The book questions where we belong - whether our roots stay truly rooted, and what our own roots may mean to our children. The storyline has a beautiful balance of the familiar and the strange - not all words are translated, not all customs explained, making a reader unfamiliar with the circumstances remain ever a stranger, and the characters' choices sometimes difficult to understand. This is not an easy book - it doesn't take easy routes through familiar territory, and it doesn't shy away from exploring complex relationships. In the beginning, I found it hard to persevere at times, as I was getting used to the pace and the characters. There are several surprises in this book, but they don't come with a fanfare, they creep up on you, unsuspectingly, and pull you in.
You can read about Toby's letters and responses to/from India here.
Edited to add: Nilanjana Roy saw our Twitter post about the project and responded - how kind!!!! Thank you!!!!!!
My name is Toby, and I am 9 years old. I have written letters to every country in the world - you can read about that adventure at my other website, Writing to the World. Some letters are published in a book called "Dear World, How Are You?". In order to learn more about the countries I am writing to, I am reading books, and I am reviewing them here. I also reviewed books for LoveReading4Kids, and those reviews are on here, too. I am trying to find one book set in each country, or by an author from that country. My Mum is doing the same for grown-up books, and I am reviewing mine, and she is reviewing hers. So whether you are a child or a grown-up, you can explore the world with us :)