Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Come and meet the Gruffalo! Help celebrate Independent Bookshop Week 2016!

To help us celebrate Independent Bookshop Week 2016 - and as part of our tenth birthday celebration - the Gruffalo is coming! And we'd love you to come too!

The Gruffalo last visited Mostly Books in 2014 and because he had such a lot of fun, he's coming back!

We will be running two special Gruffalo Storytimes at 10am and 3.30pm on Wednesday, June 22.

The storytimes are free, but space is limited so you must book!

We will be reading the Gruffalo, and you may even be able to have your picture taken with him!

Pop into the shop - or email us to reserve a place. And help us celebrate!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Living in Interesting Times: Buy Dad A Real Book for Father's Day 2016

This year's 'Buy Dad A Real Book' campaign might be slightly overshadowed by "events, dear boy, events" but that still doesn't mean, amongst the swirling chaos and uncertainty of the next few weeks (and that's just the football) we still can't carve out a moment of calmness and sanity, and treat Dad to a special book.

Yes, if ever there was a moment to pull the plug on the 24/7 world of news, punditry, opinions, trolling, tweets and status updates, Sunday June 19 might just be that day...

As has become customary over the past few years, here's our selection of books for you to choose from. We have many more recommends for you to pick in the shop, so why not come in and ask for a special recommendation for the Dad in your life.

And - as has also become customary, and with inclusion uppermost in our minds - we offer this piece of wonderful wisdom told us in the shop by a lady who remembers her Dad every year by reading a book she knows he would have enjoyed. Kudos.

Abingdon's ATOM Science Festival kicks off at the end of June, and ‘Atoms under the Floorboards’ is a light-hearted science read that gets down to the things around us and looks at them at an atomic level. Chris Woodford takes us on a fun and fascinating journey that will answer questions such as 'why dust never blows away' and 'why ice is slippery', to 'how you can split an atom in your living room'. Focusing on our daily lives, yet choosing imaginative subject matter, this will interest those curious about the scientific underpinnings of the modern world.

Anatomy of a Soldier’ is the riveting story of the everyday life of a soldier and coming to terms with a life-changing injury. Harry Parker tells the brave tale in an unusual but effective style, using objects around the soldier to demonstrate and explore the extremes both of boredom and danger. How does a solder deal with the ever-present threat, yet have to face and try to understand the enemy? How does he or she cope with the thoughts of those at home? A thought-provoking, at times chaotic book that looks set to become one of the must-reads of 2016.

A whole plethora of picture books has been published aimed at little ones, and celebrating the father-child relationship (bizarrely, many of them seem to feature animals - go figure). We appreciate that a title that seems unbearably cute to one chap might represent the epitome of saccharine queasiness to another - so our bookseller Imogen has hunted through the titles for the best of the bunch.

In ‘School for Dads’ the talented writing partnership of Adam and Charlotte Guillain (who wrote the brilliant 'Socks for Santa' and 'Treats for T-Rex') come up trumps with a great, inclusive celebration and an imaginative and respectful twist on the 'clueless Dad' character who seems to crop up a lot in contemporary culture.

All the dads that are late to pick up their children are sent to school for the day, where the children teach them everything from play time to ‘being fair’. The dads are made to do P.E. and are not allowed sweets for lunch, and the children begin to realise that it might be pretty difficult to be an adult sometimes. A sweet, funny story perfect for dad that will remind them of their own days at school, and the cold floor they had to sit on in assembly...

Little Monster can’t wait to grow up like his dad in When I’m a Monster like you, Dad’ by David O'Connell. Little Monster can be big and scary, but Dad knows there is also fun in staying small and young, and playing games.

Thanks to big, bold illustration by illustrator Francesca Gambatesa, this is a really fun story about how dads and their little monsters can mess around like children and enjoy their time together.

If that dose of cutesiness has got you gasping for something a bit more in the way of good old British sarcastic humour (!), then look no further than 'How It Works: The Dad'. Another in the genius 'Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups' series, it's another brilliantly funny gem, featuring genuine artwork from the original Ladybird books.

It's a fine celebration of the institution of fatherhood. So if your Dad has superpowers (such as the ability to turn invisible whilst picking his nose in traffic) then we reckon he'd love to get a copy of this book...

There's no denying the boom in lycra-clad men on bikes in recent years, but cycling is most definitely booming, and we're extremely lucky in Abingdon to have arguably one of the country's most dynamic and exciting cycle shops, Outdoor Traders (they even have their own race team who won the Oxfordshire Road Race League in 2015).

So if you know someone who dreams of doing legendary Tour de France climbs but perhaps needs a bit of motivation to get there, we reckon they will love 'Tour de France Legendary Climbs on Google Earth' by Richard Abraham. They feature 20 notorious 'Hors Categorie' Tour de France Climbs, which you can follow through the power of Google Earth. From the dizzying heights of the 2,715-metre ascent of Col de la Bonette to the historic Great St Bernard Pass, this is a book to inspire (albeit from the safety of the living room and a laptop).

One of our favourite bike books of the last ten years was Robert Penn's 'It's All About the Bike' - about as infectious and inspirational exhortation of a life on two wheels as it's possible to get. But in the course of writing that book - partly from meeting artisan bike builders in California - Robert's latest book is 'The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees'.

With his trademark passion and enthusiasm, he travels across Europe and the USA looking at people who still use ancient techniques with the tree that has been used the most over thousands of years to make everything from wheels and arrows to furniture and baseball bats. With ash trees facing extinction on both sides of the Atlantic, this is also a poignant cri de coeur about keeping our connections with our environment.

As well as bike books, we're currently living through a golden age of sublime 'football literature'. Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' and David Peace's 'The Damned United' come to mind, but also Jonathan Wilson's history of football tactics 'Inverting the Pyramid' (so gripping and readable, it's like a thriller) and Lynne Truss' 'Get Her Off The Pitch' (about how sport in general can take over your life).

Football arouses such passion amongst the British (from a hatred of football culture right the way through to a kind of religious passion) and right at the top of the pile sits 1966. We thoroughly recommend Peter Chapman's tour-de-force look at the wider context of England's last major football triumph in 'Out of Time: 1966 and the End of Old-Fashioned Britain'. It's a highly personal - and unflinching - look at both the exciting opportunities and grim realities of a country on the cusp of social change over the Summer of the 1966 World Cup. From cruel teachers, low expectations, industrial disasters and the London music scene, it's our big recommend for anyone who wants a corrective to the myth behind *that* football match and *that* legendary piece of commentary...

Moving from 1966 to 1666, we've loved introducing readers to Andrew Taylor's 'The Ashes of London'. An historical thriller, set in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, it involves the son of a Cromwell supporter, jailed for treason, who is investigating a murder victim discovered in the ashes of the fire. Anyone looking for a new 'Matthew Shardlake' are not going to be disappointed, with Taylor pulling off CJ Sansom's trick of a cracking mystery with excellent period detail. We're already looking forward to a sequel.

Just out in paperback, one of Julia's favourite books of last year, 'Arcadia' by Iain Pears. It's a story of three worlds: One present (1970's), one future and the third an invention from the mind of a writer called Henry Lytten. When these worlds collide a whole heap of trouble occurs. A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies and Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity. This is an eclectic mix of fantasy, history, science fiction and dystopian future which together make an engrossing - and brilliantly original - read.

The 1966 players became rock stars in their day, and Neil Gaiman is the closest thing to a literary rock star (a 'ledge' as the kids might say). Whilst the author of 'American Gods' is viewed as a God by most of his fans, this collection of the best of his non-fiction writing allows you to get inside the head (and heart) of one of our most celebrated writers.

Read 'The View from the Cheap Seats' cover to cover or dip in, you'll find essays on everything from 'How to make good art' to working with Terry Pratchett, from the comic creations of Jack Kirby to the songs of Lou Reed. And if you fancy a treat on how good Gaiman's writing can be, take a look at possibly the finest advice ever offered to authors on how to write. Seriously, utter genius...

We reckon Neil Gaiman likes a drink (although perhaps he's teetotal. Or perhaps he just *says* he's teetotal to gullible journalists?). Anyway, if he *does* drink, we reckon he'd love 'Craft Spirits' by Eric Grossman.

Whilst the 'Craft Beer' movement has taken the world by storm, Craft Spirits is the next big thing, and Grossman is an enthusiastic guide through the international range of craft spirits, with the names to watch and spirits to try with new recipes for cocktails and the stories behind the spirits.

There we go - a dozen recommends for Father's Day inspiration. But don't forget that we are all about recommending for anyone you are buying for. Why not pop into the shop and we can put together your very own shortlist of titles to choose the perfect gift!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

All children can and should read! Barrington Stoke, Anthony McGowan and an evening spent cracking reading

Last Thursday we spent a wonderful day in the company of Mairi Kidd, MD of publisher Barrington Stoke, and Anthony McGowan, award-winning author of many books including 'Brock' and 'Pike'.
Anthony spoke to students from Larkmead School and Thameside School in the afternoon - and in the evening we welcomed teachers and parents to the Larkmead LRC to discover how they can help their children to 'crack' reading.

It was an inspirational evening, one brought alive by Mairi's passion, enthusiasm and courage in the face of the mass of traditionally published children's books which often let down swathes of children by erecting unnecessary barriers to the way words get into a child's brain.

Mairi started off explaining how children read, and then used examples of both the good and the bad in children's books. 

Ultimately it was a plea for diversity in publishing, and to give all children the chance to discover books which allow them enter the world of storytelling off the page - something that has proven benefits in everything from improved maths skills, to reducing stress and improving wellbeing.

Anthony spoke about his route to becoming a writer, reading the opening extract of his novel 'Pike' and talking about the nature of inclusive stories, and the importance of stories to convey 'truth' not necessarily fact.

We made notes on the top issues that would open the door to more children reading for pleasure. This list wasn't exclusive:

1. Books themselves can be the problem. The publishing industry in general does not always think about being inclusive and how making even small changes to how books are presented would actually expanding the pool of readers.

2. Around 7-10% of people are dyslexic and will have physical, neurological reasons why they find reading books difficult.  Small changes, mostly to the way text is traditionally presented on the page would actually remove most of these barriers and make these people able to read books more easily, eg using a font where you can tell the difference between letters (eg a capital I and the letter l looks identical in some fonts).

3. The way children learn to read is often driven by getting them to recognise particular words, or phonics sounds, repeating the same sounds without there being any sense to the sentence, any story worth reading or any point or enjoyment to what is being read. Children can quickly not see the point of reading, particularly children who don’t have books at home or have role models of adults who see reading as enjoyable.

4. Having picture content is viewed as being for young children, yet the internet is full of adults sharing images. If adults find images such good ways of communicating, why do so few books use images?

5. Books are often written in a particular literary style which does not reflect the way people speak. It is more difficult for children to decode meaning. It can take a while to work out what a sentence means. When we speak, we tend to use subject, object and verb in a logical order, but this isn’t always reflected in books.

6. Reading for pleasure should be about magazines, comics, even audio books – anything that opens a door to taking pleasure in the written word or in stories.

7. There seems to be a perception that as teenagers get older, they want longer books. But the teenage years are often where there is most study pressure and competition from other areas of life and many stop reading altogether. Shorter books can help.

8. There is a prejudice against short books – very few ever make it onto prize lists. Yet research has shown that teenage boys would most like to read books of 100 pages or less. So this is the norm, yet almost no books this short are published.

9. We have a thriving publishing sector for young adult fiction, but figures show that 80% of YA of this is bought by adults. So why do we congratulate ourselves on publishing marvellous fiction for teenagers?

10. Everyone can feel daunted by the challenge of reading. One of the barriers to reading for pleasure is fear of failure. It’s a bit like if an adult wants to be recommended a good book to read and is presented with ‘War and Peace’. People’s perceptions of the value of a good book are very different. It is also easy to ‘dumb down’ to reluctant readers and think they will only read books about football or simple topics.

On the Barrington Stoke website, you can read 'Mairi's 10 Laws' which include a suggestion that we think is absolutely fantastic - a National Reading Day. A day to go to work and school as normal, but one where everyone puts their feet up and reads for the whole day. We know several teachers who would love to do this at their schools - so I reckon we should try to make it happen.

Mairi suggests calling it 'Terry Pratchett Day' and we wouldn't disagree with that either...

We have always been very proud of our association with Barrington Stoke, so if you have any concerns about your children reading - whatever their age and ability - please come in and ask our advice.

We always say 'one mountain, many paths' (which we may have cribbed from someone else!) as far as reading goes, and this isn't a one-shot deal to 'solve' your child's reading issues. It's definitely a journey, there may be a few false starts, but we know that there are books out there that can really open the door to reading - and Barrington Stoke titles (written as they are by many of our most well-known children's authors) is a great place to start.

Thanks to Linda Stone at the Larkmead LRC for doing such a fabulous job of hosting the event, and also to Sally Poyton who helped with the author event in the afternoon - and ran the bookstall for us in the evening.

Having an author to ourselves for most of the day was also a bit of a luxury, so we managed to ask Mr McGowan a few questions about his writing life, and any tips he might have had...

Five questions with . . . Anthony McGowan's writing life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a teenage horror/Sci-fi mash-up called "The Wrath" (working title!) set in the future. It centres on a school in a desolate, barely-functioning town, and specifically in an exclusion unit within the school. When a train accident involving a battlefield chemical agent spills into the schools, it turns out the kids in the unit - by way of a medication they have been taking - are unaffected. I like to think it's horror in the way that Stephen King writes horror, aside from the idea and setting, what drives the story forward is following the individual characters that you invest in. I'm also hoping there will be a 'Battle Royale' feel to it (the Japanese novel some cite as an influence on The Hunger Games).

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

I wasn't really given any writing tips as such starting out - I just started writing and made loads of mistakes along the way. But the one thing I did do is read a lot, so I guess I passively absorbed a lot of great writing. After that it's just trial and error as you find your own writing style.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

When you are writing for teens, you are writing for readers who are at the most intense phase of their life - their friends represent the strongest friendships they will ever have, they have enemies that want to do them actual harm. But above all they are incredibly open to ideas, which means they will go with you on whatever direction you want with the story. They are open to challenging - and sometimes upsetting - subject matter in a way that isn't the case once you get into your 20s. I've talked to students who have walked out because of the subject matter in my books, but teens would never do that.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?

I have a study - the smallest, ugliest room in the house with a window you can't really see out of. And that's where I write, because it's the room with the least distractions. But sometimes I want a place which is a bit more 'active' and I head to the British Library. It's only a half hour bike ride away, but it feels like I'm definitely heading out to work like a proper job (rather than sitting at my desk in my pyjamas!)

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

That's a really interesting question (*think hard*). I did a PhD, and that required me to write 100,000 words, and actually *finish* something, so I knew I was capable of writing a physical book. I then found myself working in a pretty dull job, and one day I had an idea for a story, and I started writing it down, and the words just flowed out. So I knew I could *write* (getting the words out and down) but I think - creatively - the breakthrough was when I realised that what I was writing was funny, and then I showed it to someone, and they thought it was funny. If you can use humour, you know you can engage the reader. That book went on to be 'Hellbent' my first novel.

(Much more about Anthony McGowan on his website here)