Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.
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The Hare With the Amber Eyes transported us to the rarefied world of the unimaginably wealthy Ephrussi family. Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal follows another Jewish family, the Camondos, neighbours of the Ephrussis and, eventually, family by marriage. In 1936, following the death of Count de Camondo’s only son, their grand residence was donated to Paris as museum and remains untouched to this day. This is their story.
The 15th of March 2019 was an extraordinary day in history, marking as it did, the very first global school strike for climate. Raising their collective voice, more than a million and a half school children across the world took to the streets, demanding immediate action on climate change. How to Change Everything by Naomi Klein is inspired by this new wave of bold, young campaigners. Aimed at teenagers who wish to understand the history, science and politics of climate change, while also acquiring the tools for activism, the renowned social activist and writer shares her decades of accumulated wisdom.
Named one of The New York Times best children’s books of 2020, There Must Be More Than That by Shinsuke Yoshitake provides a welcome antidote to anxiety for our youngest readers, particularly during these Covid dominated days. Fans of Yoshitake’s marvellously offbeat books will know his gift for unpicking knotty issues in a humorously philosophical way, and in this sweet new picture book we meet a young girl beset by fears of a disastrous and doom-laden future.
I think we can all agree that 2020 hasn’t been the greatest year, but at least books, unlike theatre, cinema and exhibitions, have been available throughout. When you can’t go places, books can take you away. Here at Bookstoker we have been to a stormy Scottish loch, the poop deck of a 17th century tall ship, a senator’s mansion in Tennessee and the alehouses of 16th century Stratford-upon-Avon and many other places. As always, our annual Christmas list have fantastic fiction, interesting non-fiction, mind-bending poetry and loads of wonderful children’s books. So this year, more than ever, books really are the best gift. When you do buy them, please consider sacrificing the convenience and slightly lower prices of Amazon to make sure your local bookshop will still be there on the other side of Corona. Most local bookshops have good online or phone ordering systems now and if not Bookshop.org, an online bookshop supporting the local bookshop of your choice, is here to help.
As 2020 heads into autumn with no sign whatsoever of Covid relaxing its destructive grip on all that we know, this little-known novel provided me with a welcome distraction from the bombardment of grim headlines about Corona and Brexit. The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff was first published in 1931. Sherriff was the author of Journey’s End; a First World War play that is often hailed as one of the greatest of its time. The Fortnight in September is vastly different in subject matter but shares its emphasis on real people living real lives. It charmed and delighted me with its simple yet moving narrative.
September finds us back in the classroom and dusting off the perennial Stretch and Challenge school reading lists. As part of our own ongoing Read With Your Teen series, we’re leaping to your literary assistance by selecting one of the lesser known prescribed texts for you to share and brainstorm. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes tells the intriguing story of Charlie Gordon, the first person in the world to have their intelligence increased by surgery. From ‘dimwit’ to dazzling genius, Charlie’s experimental quest is to have devastating unforeseen consequences.
‘I googled if it’s normal to hallucinate manifestations of your grief. Unsurprisingly it’s not. ‘Owen’s dad died four months ago, since when he’s been haunted by visions of ominous skeletal birds. Struggling at a new school, Owen feels overwhelmed by grief. Until fellow student, Duncan Cyman, comes into his life. In the striking and unusual Grief Angels by David Owen, we visit the domain of the male teen psyche, interwoven with an intriguing strand of magical realism.
11-year-old Margaret Simon is fairly sure that deodorant is unnecessary until at least the age of twelve, when the advent of body odour will also shoo in periods, bras and with any luck, first kisses. As if looming adolescence wasn’t taking up enough of her waking thoughts, Margaret is also caught in a whirl of moving house, changing school and wondering if she’ll fit into this new suburban world. 50 years since publication, the candid and perceptive Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret byJudy Blume remains the quintessential pre-teen read.
Is it true that there are unwritten rules for girls? Star student, Marin, concludes that it is. Having seemingly coasted her way to academic excellence, Marin has never considered that her life may have been influenced by tacit societal codes. Realisation is swift and brutal, when targeted by a sexually predatory teacher, Marin’s attempts to hold him to account see her collide with both academia and her peers. Rules For Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno is a great conversation starter for any young feminists in your life.