Librarian’s Choice: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

This blog comes from Ross, a Librarian Manager based in Local and Family History at Centeral Library.

Darken your summer with a little ‘gloomth’!

I like to imagine Horace Walpole as the Tim Burton of the eighteenth century. An author and art expert, he was obsessed with an aesthetic he called ‘gloomth’ – a mixture of gothic doom and mouldy bliss which, while fanciful, he approached with intelligence and a certain sense of mischief. Embracing gloomth with the kind of fervour today’s librarians reserve for hygge, he spent his early twenties swooning around the ruined cathedrals of Europe, before coming back with a truckload of cobwebby trinkets in 1741 to regale dinner guests with tales of castles and curses, probably on the darkest and stormiest of nights.

His infatuation with gloomth eventually inspired him to design the outrageous but stunning Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham in 1749, which is part English villa, part Hammer horror, and all Horace Walpole. The idea of someone remodelling a country home on a literary whim might not go down too well in these austere times (especially if that someone were the son of a Prime Minister, as Walpole was) but he at least had the artistic integrity to follow up his folly with a really good book – one that was published on Christmas Eve in 1764. (He wasn’t one for doing things by halves.)

Gothic The castle of OtrantoThe book was The Castle of Otranto, and Walpole went the full ‘found footage’ route by pretending it was a translation of a manuscript discovered in ‘the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. Not only that, but it was purportedly originally based on a story traced back to Italy in the High Middle Ages. Whether the ruse was designed to whip up maximum interest from the gloomth community – or simply give Walpole something to hide behind if the book was a critical disaster – isn’t entirely clear but, in any case, Otranto was deservedly well received, and Walpole was happy to take full credit as the author of the second edition.

Truth is, he’d actually dreamt up the basis of the novel at Strawberry Hill, during a nightmare he experienced involving a giant armoured fist and a spooky staircase. In The Castle of Otranto, this translates into the surreal scene that starts the story, where an enormous helmet inexplicably falls from the sky, crushing the son and heir of the main character, Prince Manfred. It’s also the moment at which you’ll probably become gripped if you decide to read the book yourself. From this point on, the plot descends into a tangle of family secrets, manifested by the actual labyrinths Manfred’s relatives and servants spend the book blundering into – from the dark catacombs beneath the castle, to the deadly network of caves beyond its walls. There are murders (some accidental); there is madness (lots of madness); and, looming in the background throughout, the monstrous owner of the giant armour threatens to make an appearance of its own…

The text is a little dense, and Walpole packs more secret passages and moving portraits into one paragraph than J.K. Rowling manages in an entire term at Hogwarts, but otherwise this is a refreshing read, with a lightness of style that contrasts humorously with the ominous trappings. This being the very first gothic horror novel, you’re also never safe from a shiver of true fear… Mario Praz explains the sensation perfectly in his introduction to the edition I borrowed from Armley Library: ‘what begins as an arabesque, in time breeds teeth and nails, and after having pleasurably tickled this skin, gnaws through the very vitals’ (from Three Gothic Novels, Penguin Classics, 2006).

It’s a disconcerting description of a novel inspired by a dream inspired by a house – and about the warmest invitation you’ll ever receive into the velvety, vicious world of gloomth.

If this has whetted your appetite for Gothic fiction try some of these other classics from our catalogue:-

Gothic The MonkThe Monk: a romance by M.G. Lewis

Ambrosio, a pious monk, finds himself drawn to his pupil, Matilda, a young woman in disguise. Unable to control himself, he sates his lust, and soon tires of her. But Matilda has more than her body to offer. As his desperate acts become more and more depraved, it becomes clear that Matilda is not everything she seems.

Gothic Mysteries of UdolphoThe mysteries of Udolpho: a romance by Ann Radcliffe

With The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe raised the Gothic romance to a new level and inspired a long line of imitators. Portraying her heroine’s inner life, creating a thick atmosphere of fear, and providing a gripping plot that continues to thrill readers today, The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of orphan Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself separated from the man she loves and confined within the medieval castle of her aunt’s new husband, Montoni. Inside the castle, she must cope with an unwanted suitor, Montoni’s threats, and the wild imaginings and terrors that threaten to overwhelm her.

 

Gothic The Fall of the house of usherThe fall of the House of Usher and other stories by Edgar Allan Poe

The eerie tales of Edgar Allan Poe remain among the most brilliant and influential works in American literature. Some of the celebrated tales contained in this unique volume include: the world’s first two detective stories — “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”; and three stories sure to make a reader’s hair stand on end — “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”.

Gothic DraculaDracula By Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker’s novel became one of the masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a world of vampires and vampire hunters whilst simultaneously exposing the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and frustrated desire.

 

 

Finnish Books

The Finnish Institute in London is celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence by highlighting the importance of literacy, literature and libraries. ‘10×10 Stories from Finland’ campaign has collected 100 books written by Finnish authors, translated into English, in cooperation with British publishing houses. The books are being donated to 10 different libraries around the UK during 2017.
Leeds Central Library was delighted to be part of this campaign and to be selected to receive 10 books. These books are now available for loan in our Lending Library.

 

A HAPPY LITTLE ISLAND cover final.inddA Happy Little Island by Lars Sund

Lars Sund is a Finnish writer from the Swedish speaking town of Jakobstad. He has written 8 novels and ‘A Happy Little Island’ is the first book translated into English. A scribe shapes the world into an island which he names Fagero, and populated it with an assortment of characters. The people of Fagero were often divided against each other but united in their appreciation of their happy little island. Then the dead bodies began to arrive, washing ashore with no identification and no one to claim them. Fagero’s inhabitants are forced to confront the truth that, even on their remote island, the world’s horrors and injustices could not be ignored.

Finnish Summer BookThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is best known for her Moomin stories which were first published in English over 60 years ago. Jansson then produced a dozen novels for adults including the Summer Book which was a best seller in Finland. An elderly artist and her six year old granddaughter spend the summer together, on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, their solitude disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, foibles and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that engulfs not only the summer inhabitants, but the very island itself. Tove Jansson writes with a special toughness, and with a quiet, dry sense of humour, about a small girl and her grandmother, who as kindred spirits share the long days together.

Finnish Daisy DarlingDaisy Darling, Lets read a Story by Markus Majaluoma

The collection of 10 stories also includes this children’s book by award winning children’s author Markus Majaluoma.
At the end of the day, a story is calming for children and adults alike. Daisy and Daddy start by choosing a book. What should they read? Where does the tale lead them? Daisy has her own favorite, and a wonderful journey begins.

Finnish One EveningOne evening in October I rowed out on the lake by Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström is a visionary Finland-Swedish poet who has become Finland’s most celebrated contemporary poet. Her poetry draws its sonorous and plangent music from the landscapes of Finland, seeking harmony between the troubled human heart and the threatened natural world.

 

Finnish CompartmentThe Compartment No. 6 by Rosa Liksom

A sad young woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to leave a broken relationship as far behind her as she can. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment – no. 6. Her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated and foul-mouthed ex-soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colourful stories, recounting his sexual conquests and violent fights in lurid detail.

Finnish IceIce by Ulla-Lena Lundberg

In the summer of 1947, a young priest, Petter, his wife and baby daughter, arrive by mail boat on a tiny island. They are to take over a drafty homestead from where Petter is to minister to the scattered community. In this evocative tale, we are drawn into the minutiae of an austere yet purposeful life where the demands of self-sufficiency – cows to milk and sheep to graze – are tempered by the kindness of neighbours. With each season, the family’s love of the island grows and when the winter brings ice, a new and tentative link is created.

Finnish BicyclingBicycling to the moon by Timo Parvela

Purdy the cat and Barker the dog live together in a sky-blue house on top of a hill. Barker likes to potter in the garden. But Purdy has big dreams. One day Purdy decides that if he could just get a bicycle and ride it to the moon, he will come back the happiest cat in the world, and never want anything else again.

Finnish Winter WarThe Winter War by Philip Teir

On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class Scandinavian dream. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katriina has a well-paid job in the public sector. They live in an airy apartment in the centre of Helsinki. But look closer and the cracks start to show. As he approaches his 60th birthday, the certainties of Max’s life begin to dissolve. He hasn’t produced any work of note for decades. His wife no longer loves him. His grown-up daughters – one in London, one in Helsinki – have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back.

Finnish The MineThe Mine by Antti Tuomainen

In the dead of winter investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in rural Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.

Kalevala

Among the collection is a copy of the country’s beloved book Kalevala, a collection of epic poetry and one of Finland’s most culturally significant texts.
Compiled in the 19th Century, Kalevala explores the traditional Finnish creation myth, including the fantastic story of the Earth being created from the shards of a duck egg and a string of fantastical quests and adventures. It grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. The poetry was brought together in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lönnrot. Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius’s greatest works.

 

 

Librarian’s Choice: Gripped from the start

This blog is from Louise a library assistant working in Morley Library.

Something that often comes up between us readers are our reading style or habits. On the counter I love to hear about when and where people read. Right before bed, only on the bus, over a lazy breakfast or in the evenings instead of the television. For others it is only ever on holiday or any moment snatched to oneself, in the middle of a crowded break room, or the middle of the night while the rest of the house breathes gently.

It would also seem that there are two distinct camps of readers, those who will diligently finish anything they begin, no matter how terrible and arduous, the sense of completion perhaps being the biggest reward and those who try on novels like dresses, knowing before the left arm is fully in whether or not this will be a keeper.
I am definitely in the latter. Two pages in and I want to be swept away, I have to have that complete immersion to invest my time in the world in between those pages.

In this way you kiss a lot of frogs, start out on a lot of journeys, sometimes go a little while without really getting anywhere but I feel strongly that reading is a passionate pursuit that requires total belief in the voice of the author.

Three such stories that I stumbled upon recently are:

Louise EncirclingEncircling by Carl Frode Tiller

David has lost his memory, a newspaper advert invites his friends and families to write in with stories, memories of their own to help him remember who he is. Those who respond begin to talk about David, about his family but most urgently themselves, very subtly the whole community is painted into the narrative. Set in rural Norway, with an absolute dynasty of characters, this is the beginning of a trilogy that spans generations and has enough room and depth to show the complexity of our relationships with others and with ourselves. With such a range of voices, Tiller has given us the chance to really explore what makes a story from every perspective.
Despite its scale this reads like a dream, these characters became my family for a time. Book Two is also available to borrow and Book Three is in the pipeline for translation in the near future.

Louise Post Office GirlThe Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Set in Austria at the end of World War 1, a country utterly wracked with financial ruin, Christine works without cease in her lonely role in a post office. Just about getting by, every day the same, following mechanical routines, she is unaware of the scale of her unhappiness until one day she receives a surprise invitation from her wealthy American Aunt to join them in a Swiss resort.

Arriving at the fashionable Hotel with her simple garments mended, and luggage borrowed she is struck with awe and a burning sense of shame at her poverty. As in the fairytale Cinderella she is transformed becoming for the first time truly aware of a sense of herself, surrounded by wealth, beauty, freedom, frivolity, she blossoms into the society around her. Then without warning she is sent away, back to her old life. Left with only dreams of the life she has been allowed to glimpse.

This novel is completely astonishing, so very moving, and timeless in it’s messages of futility and hope.

louise Plot 29PLOT 29 by Allan Jenkins

Part garden diary, part memoir, Allan Jenkins (Journalist and Editor of Observer Food Monthly) shares with us a year in the life of his allotment, the beautiful details of sowing seeds, tending young plants, making good the soil and at times hacking it all back and starting again. He starts to unfold the story of his beginnings, rescued from his mother and placed in a Banardos children home, his brother Christopher who has always needed protection, and their new life with a brand new mum and dad. Plot 29 begins as a place to expand, to grow more and becomes a place of stability and healing.

‘When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don’t want to talk I turn to Plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As Allan digs deeper into his past, sends away for care records, gets nearer to the haunting truth of the the violence lurking in his past, his commitment to his Plot becomes what keeps him upright and able to move forward.

If you are a gardener or grower you will love the simple, enriching day to day description of life on Plot 29, the power of earth and seeds and of hard work to heal. Theres a real, brave, unflinching story here too, of identity, of family, of what makes us who we are, and what we become.

Celebrating Helen Dunmore

We are so sad to hear that poet, novelist and children’s author Helen Dunmore, died of cancer yesterday (5th June), aged 64.

Helen’s fiction in particular was a firm favourite with our readers which her publisher, Penguin Random House characterised as “rich and intricate, yet narrated with a deceptive simplicity that made all her writing accessible and heartfelt”. Dunmore’s writing stood out for the “fluidity and lyricism of her prose, and how well constructed all her narratives were”.

Penguin Random House, which published Dunmore for over two decades, said it was “devastated by the loss of one of our best-loved authors”. A spokesperson said she had been “an inspirational and generous author, championing emerging voices and other established authors” as well as “a very dear friend” to many at the company and the wider literary community.

Here are a few of our favourite books from our catalogue.

Dunmore The LieThe Lie

Cornwall, 1920, early spring. A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family. Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life. Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him. He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

Dunmore Birdcage WalkBirdcage Walk

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzy Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the 200ft drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Dunmore The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat

In the winter of 1952, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. One cold night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in.

Dunmore ExposureExposure

London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

Dunmore The BetrayalThe Betrayal

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you.

Dunmore IngoIngo

In this magical adventure, storyteller Helen Dunmore writes the story of Sapphire and her brother Conor, and their discovery of Ingo, a powerful and exciting world under the sea.

Dunmore StormsweptStormswept

Morveren lives with her parents and twin sister Jenna on an island off the coast of Cornwall – an island that in the long distant past was devastated by a tidal wave. Only some of those taken by the sea may not have been lost at all. Morveren’s life changes when she finds a beautiful teenage boy in a rock pool after a storm.

 

 

 

Books That Predicted the Future

This blog is from Rhian, the Collections Manager at Central Library.

On the 6 June we will be taking part in the UK’s first ever start-to-finish reading of George Orwell’s 1984 by screening it live from Senate House, London (the inspiration behind Orwell’s Ministry of Truth) into Central Library. And if that wasn’t quite enough dystopia for one week, we will also be showing the film adaptation starring Richard Burton and John Hurt on the 7 June, alongside our own ‘Room 101 experience’.

Orwell’s nightmarish totalitarian future seems in many ways completely different from the society we live in now but in other ways the novel, with its telescreens and doublespeak seems scarily prescient.

Writers of futuristic fiction are not really aiming to try and prophesise what might happen in the future but are always trying to comment on their own society, like Orwell’s critique of Stalinist communism in 1984, but this doesn’t stop us looking out for what things may actually have come true.

19841984 by George Orwell

1984 hit the bestseller list again in January 2017 a week after Trump was elected American president when his advisor Kellyanne Conway used the phrase ‘alternative facts’ in a CNN interview.  Many people commented that this phrase reminded them of Orwell’s 1984 world where history is continuously being rewritten and language and thoughts are controlled through ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’. In a world of fast moving social media and information online that can be deleted or edited as quickly as it is published, alternative facts can be spread quicker via the internet than Orwell could have ever imagined.

Facts MatterThis is where libraries can really shout about their amazing role as champions of facts and accurate, verified information. The Library and Information Association CILIP is running a Facts Matter campaign for the General Election, have a look at their webpage for more info and to see how you can support.

Orwell imagined a world full of telescreens, that could watch your every move but could he have imagined that we would carry our very own telescreens in our pockets? Although we can’t be watched through our smartphones yet our every moves are being tracked by various apps, designed to make our lives easier but it is not too far-fetched to see how this could be used for more sinister purposes. And of course, our computers can easily be hacked and our actions traced online, it might not be Big Brother yet but we can certainly feel like we are being watched!

NeuromancerNeuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson is regularly called a prophetic writer, he coined the term ‘cyberspace’ when the concept of the internet barely existed and he didn’t even own a computer himself. His novel Neuromancer, written in 1984, defined the cyperpunk genre and has had such a massive influence on popular culture, inspiring film such as The Matrix. Even Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be seen as a doppelganger of Molly Millions the female techno-assassin in Gibson’s novel. I loved this book when I first read it, over 20 years after it was published, and I would recommend all his other works, especially his most recent book The Peripheral that again takes the reader into a dystopic future.

Although always asked how he makes his predictions he says,

‘What I think I do is not predict what’s going to happen, but allow people momentarily to see how totally weird the present is. And I think that’s what people actually get from my work. To look up and see how the world really is and go, agh! But then they’ll duck back into where they live, which is where I live, too. It’s like I’m trying to expose our unthinkable present.

But the cultural assumption about what I do is that I’m predicting things. So I go through the motions. And sometimes I get it right. But really, often I don’t get it right.’

So although it is amazing how much of the tech stuff has come true, there are a few things that are missing. For example, you won’t find a mention of mobile phones and even though virtual reality is often hailed as the next big thing (facebook recently paid $2.3 billion for the Oculus Rift headset system) it has yet to reach the immersive, sensory experience envisioned in Gibson’s novels. However, with every new hacking scam, global corporate takeover, new social media network or online game we are coming one step closer to the exhilarating yet terrifying world described in Neuromancer.

oryx and crakeOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

One of Margaret Atwood’s other dystopian novels The Handmaid’s Tale has finally arrived on our TV screens, hooray! Lots of people have drawn comparisons between the book and modern events. The Guardian wrote an interesting article about how feminist science fiction has predicted the future which talks about Handmaid’s Tale amongst other important books.

signed oryx and crakeHowever, I am going to talk about my favourite Margaret Atwood book, Oryx and Crake. I am always re-reading this novel and I was lucky to get my copy signed when she visited the Ilkley Literature Festival a few years ago.

It describes a world, where humanity has become nearly extinct due to a mysterious plague, before which powerful corporations have performed increasingly extreme genetic experiments, the rich barricade themselves within gated communities, business is conducted through hacking and espionage and the environment remains an afterthought which has disastrous consequences.

Atwood has said that ‘For MaddAddam, [the series which Oryx and Crake is part of] I relied on initiatives that were already under way or contemplated, or that–given the other breakthroughs being made–could actually be done. Biotech is not only a game changer, but potentially a planet changer as well.’

And since the publication of the trilogy some of the stranger ideas have become a reality. The highly intelligent genetically engineered pigs called ‘pigoons’ who roam the post-apocalyptic earth were originally designed to grow bespoke organs for humans. Although this sounds far-fetched scientists in the US announced in June last year that they were attempting to grow human organs in pigs with the intention to transplant them into people (initial trials looking to do this were halted in the 1990s amidst fears of pig viruses infecting humans but modern science has eliminated this possibility).

Of course other topics covered in the book like species extinction and fears around the environment are increasingly relevant today and Atwood’s book serves as a warning about possible threats to the planet.

As a final note, I thought it was more than a coincidence that this article about Margaret Atwood’s call to defend libraries, popped up on my twitter feed, whilst I was writing this post. In it Atwood says

‘There are an infinite variety of tyrannies and dystopias, but they all share one trait: the ferocious opposition to free thought, open minds and access to information…This is why the library matters so much. It is a democratizing and liberating force like none other…It is a place for minds to meet minds and hearts to move hearts’.

I thought this was a fantastic statement and amazing to think that every time we go to a library, learn something new or do something creative and individual we are doing our bit to ensure the horrible futures depicted in some futuristic fiction don’t ever come true.

Librarian’s Choice: Cat Books

This blog comes from Julia, a community librarian based in the south of the city.

Cats. Beautiful, noble, fascinating, independent and enigmatic. Domesticated around 4000 years ago, they now rank highly amongst our most popular pets. Cats are everywhere, having taken social media and YouTube by storm and the word on the street is that Leeds is to get its own Cat Café later this year! It seems appropriate and timely, then, to have a look at just a few of the fabulous felines who feature as favourites in our selection of fiction (and non-fiction) for all ages. Of course, I’m mindful that in writing this blog, I may be perpetuating the ‘cat lady’ Librarian stereotype but, as those who know me will testify, I AM a ‘cat lady’ Librarian, so here goes!

The association of cats and libraries is not a modern phenomenon: apparently, cats were used in the libraries of Egyptian temples and in medieval monasteries to safeguard precious manuscripts, by keeping rodents at bay! One of the most famous library cats of more recent times was Dewey, who lived at the Spencer Public Library, Iowa, USA, having been abandoned there as a kitten, so the first book on my list is:

Julia DeweyDewey’s nine lives: the legacy of the small-town library cat who inspired millions by Vicki Myron

In addition to the story of Dewey himself, Librarian, Vicki Myron, shares a selection of other true-life tales of incredible cats and the people whose lives they enriched. These heart-warming and uplifting stories capture the amazing ability of animals to touch and enrich human lives.

julia street catA street cat named Bob by James Bowen

Another famous feline (now a movie star, no less!) to be found lurking in the non-fiction is Street Cat Bob. Homeless and in dire streets, Bob arrives on the doorstep of James, a busker and former drug-addict who has recently moved from the streets to supported housing, in London. And so begins an incredible friendship, as James gives Bob a home; but that small act of kindness has the most amazing repercussions for both their lives! The incredible story of the amazing relationship enjoyed by the pair has generated a series of inspiring books beginning with this one.

julia guest catThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Over on the fiction shelves, The Guest Cat is a beautiful little book (140 pages) recommended to me by a cat-loving friend. The cover alone is a delight to behold, the captivating cat’s eyes conveying something of the enigmatic, other-worldliness of the tale within. The writer is a poet, which is most evident in the gentle, graceful prose. As with the true-stories, this book also explores the unique and incredible impact that interaction with a cat can have on human lives. Cats are ‘free spirits’ and this one is no exception, subtly inviting herself into the home of a couple living in a quiet part of Tokyo, despite having a home of her own! As the visits become more frequent, the couple find themselves increasingly affected by their little guest.

Julia molly cat cafeMolly and the cat café by Melissa Daley

If you’re interested in the growing popularity of cat cafés in the UK, you might enjoy this lovely story told from the viewpoint of two-year-old tabby, Molly, who finds herself rehomed in a house with three cat-hating dogs, after her first owner becomes ill. Desperately unhappy, Molly runs away and so begins her journey through the streets as she searches for her forever home. A delightful, easy read, there are tears and laughter along the way and beautifully imaginative descriptions of feline ways!

julia cat cafeThe home-made cat café by Katrina Charman

Continuing the cat café theme, this book is the first in series of stories written especially for children (9 years+). Isla is desperate for a cat, but although her mum works as a nurse for a local vet, Isla is not allowed a pet of her own, so she must make do with visiting the animals at the vetinary surgery. She is particularly fond of a homeless cat, she sees there, so when Isla’s lonely grandmother comes to stay with the family for the summer, Isla has an idea …and then the idea just snowballs! Immediately engaging with fun characters and cute illustrations, this book will purr-fectly appeal to children who love animals.

julia paractical catsOld Possum’s book of practical cats by T.S. Eliot

This collection of delightful cat poems, takes me back to my own school days when my recitation of ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ earned me a prize in the High School Reading Aloud competition! Eliot originally wrote the poems in the 1930s to amuse his godchildren and friends; then in the 1980s they were adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his West End musical, Cats! These colourful characters created and so exquisitely described by T S Eliot are utterly captivating. Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Mr. Mistoffelees… each cat has his/her own fascinating story which will delight readers of all ages. These all-time literary favourites are available from Leeds Libraries in a variety of publications.

julia adolphus tipsThe amazing story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

One of Britain’s best loved story-tellers, Michael Morpurgo is well known for a whole host of children’s books, many of which feature animals among the central characters. The main part of this story is set during the Second World War, the impact of which, on a family and community, is explored through the diaries of schoolgirl, Lily Tregenza. Lily has a cat called Tips whom she loves ‘more than anyone or anything’ but just as the family and their neighbours face evacuation from their homes, Tips goes missing. A tear-jerking, heart-warming tale of love and friendship, with a brilliant surprise ending, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is recommended for children aged 9 years and above.

julia mogMog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

Mog, the loveable family pet, around whom Judith Kerr created a whole series of books, was a firm favourite in our household when our children were young. And these charming, timeless stories with gentle humour and beautiful illustrations are just as enjoyable today. Mog’s comical antics are based on Judith’s observations of her own cats and the series of engaging stories takes us on a journey through Mog’s life with her loving family (tissues at the ready for the final instalment!) Whether you’re meeting Mog for the first time or sharing your own childhood favourite with the next generation of youngsters, this tale of the forgetful tabby who saves the day, will not disappoint.

julia i love catsI love cats by Emma Dodd

This picture book is perfect for pre-schoolers who will delight in the lyrical rhythm and abundance of adjectives as a little girl searches for her ideal pet cat. How can she possibly choose from the many and varied kitties of every shape, size and personality? Colourful pictures, giggles aplenty and a heart-warming ending make this story just right for sharing at bedtime or anytime!

julia cat in the hatThe Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

And finally, no blog about literary cats would be complete without the instantly recognisable feline favourite from the pen of Dr Seuss. The Cat in the Hat is now 60 years old, but his unique brand of moggy mayhem and tomfoolery still has youngsters chuckling to this day. The simple rhyming words with colourful illustrations to assist understanding, encourage children to read this classic for themselves – the very purpose for which the book was written! So, hold on to your own hats as you join the mischievous cat and his crazy companions, Thing 1 and Thing 2, on their riotous adventure in the home of Sally and her brother.

Leeds Book Awards

LBALeeds Book Awards started in 2009 and has evolved into a successful city wide initiative, run jointly between Leeds School Library Service and Leeds Public Libraries. The Award is now a fantastic opportunity for pupils aged 9- 11, 11-14 and 14-16 to take part and vote for the best children’s and young people’s books published in the last year.

The Primary 9-11 age group Awards Ceremony was held at Pudsey Civic Hall in May, and once again proved to be a big hit with 500 children from 75 primary schools.

LBA primary 17

The hall full of young readers. 

The Ceremony is the culmination for the children of months of reading and reviewing the 6 shortlisted titles, and then voting for their favourite. It is entirely the children’s choice which book wins the Award.

murder in midwinterThis year’s winner was Fleur Hitchcock with Murder in Midwinter. It was her first award and her book is a thriller, which isn’t a genre most people think of as suitable for children. Obviously, not the case here!

LBA 17 Curtis Jobling

Author Curtis Jobling meeting a fan. 

With many of the authors in attendance the children were then given the fantastic opportunity to meet their favourite author and have their books signed. Organised chaos and bedlam reigns at this point in the ceremony, but it is so amazing to see so many children buzzing with excitement at meeting their favourite authors. A never to be forgotten moment!

One of the authors Jo Cotterill wrote this brilliant blog about her memory of a super day…
https://jocotterill.com/2017/05/17/lovely-leeds-book-awards/

Information about the Awards and the reviews submitted by the school children can be read along with the information about all the shortlisted authors on www.leedsbookawards.co.uk