Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

95. Penguins & Puffins…

95. Penguins & Puffins…

One of my proudest moments in life was when a friend asked me what she could do to get her baby to read as much as me. From what I have experienced, and have read on the topic, the only answer I could give was: read to him growing up, and hopefully he will stay interested and start reading on his own. If this was true for me, it was down to two things: my parents reading to me and buying me books, and Puffin Books.

For those of you who don’t know, Puffin is the children’s branch of Penguin Books, founded in 1940 and still going strong. Probably the strongest memory I have of junior school, (ages 8-11), was the day when, once a term, the Puffin Book Club magazine would arrive. This was a catalogue of the best of books for kids, and students (at least, those who loved reading), would take it home, peruse it, and pester their parents into writing them out a cheque or money order, (for any readers under the age of about 30, click here for details).


Puffin Club badge and certificate photo, courtesy of Thin Puffin

This was the second most exciting day of the term, but it didn’t even come close to the day, maybe a month later, (actually, it could have been three days, I don’t think my temporal perception was so hot when I was an eight-year-old), when the often grey-haired teacher would struggle into the classroom under several shrink-wrapped bundles of those Puffin-logo’d books from a range of genres and authors, the only one of whom I remember clearly being the ubiquitous and incredible Roald Dahl.

(Heartbreakingly, I learned in my research for this blog entry that the Puffin Book Club recently closed down. Sniff).

I grew up knowing that I was going to enjoy pretty much anything printed by Puffin, and it proved to be genius advertising and branding, since as an ‘adult’ I smoothly transferred my loyalty to the slightly more grown up sibling bird, Penguin. I recently bought and devoured two gorgeous, illustrated histories of the two companies, ‘Penguin By Design: a cover story 1935-2005′ and ‘Puffin By Design: 70 years of imagination 1940-2010,’ both by Phil Baines, and learned an awful lot about design and imagination.


From Penguin’s innovative use of colour-coordination on covers to inform the reader of the genre contained therein, to the evolution of the instantly recognisable Penguin and Puffin logos over the years, I was most excited to get to my era and recognise so many of the books which constituted my most formative years.

There were also sections on the different offshoots and box sets which, as a completist collector, I have become so addicted to. My favourite is the recent Penguin Great Ideas series, which has grown to feature 100 beautifully designed ‘best of’ works from some of the greatest and most influential authors of all time, and which I hope to eventually own all of. Those of you who have been with me since the start of this blog may remember my excitement at finding the first box set of twenty books way back in entry 12, and the photos I took of them.


If you were to create a personal ‘Brand Awareness’ survey just for me, my number one wouldn’t be Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or Marlboro, (none of which I partake in), but the book logos which surround me. No prizes for guessing which the most prevalent would be.





Posted by on December 24, 2013 in BOOKS


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84. ‘The Rights Of The Reader,’ Daniel Pennac…

‘The Rights Of The Reader,’ Daniel Pennac

In a bookshop containing thousands of books, how does one manage to arrest my roving eye? There are several effective tactics, but featuring illustrations by the legendary Quentin Blake, (and, indeed, just his unmistakeable font on the spine), is a good one. I had recently discovered a few unknown Roald Dahl’s and bought my first from his successor, David Walliams, and today I unearthed, bought, and read in swift succession this gem of a teacher’s/parent’s/reader’s manifesto from Frencman Daniel Pennac, excellently translated by Sarah Adams.


Pennac presents a four-part presentation of reading, and how children go from seeing it as something magical to something dreadful and drudgeful. The first part was my favourite: a tour of childhood, and how books at bedtime lead to the joy of reading for oneself which left me quite misty-eyed and nostalgic. Part Two sees students sinking beneath the weight of books which have become bricks, books chosen for them by their teachers, and these students learning to repeat what every teacher wants to hear: that ‘reading matters,’ even if they don’t really perfumebelieve it. Part Three sees a solution: read aloud to students and children, no matter how old they are, epitomised by the image of the wonderfully pungent opening chapter of Patrick Süskind’s ‘Perfume’ being read to a class of wary students. Finally, we are presented in Part Four with Ten Commandments for readers:

“1. The right not to read.

2. The right to skip.

3. The right not to finish a book.

4. The right to read it again.

5. The right to mistake a book for real life.

6. The right to mistake a book for real life.

7. The right to read anywhere.

8. The right to dip in.

9. The right to read out loud.

10. The right to be quiet.”

The book is small, sharp and funny, (Pennac subtitles ‘The right to mistake a book for real life’ as “A Textually Transmitted Disease”), and perfectly accompanied by Blake’s scribblings. The magic of childhood reading is beautifully evoked, and points are supported by quotations on reading and education by authors as varied as Roussea, Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. It’s not surprising the book is now over two decades old: keep an eye out for it.


Posted by on October 1, 2013 in BOOKS


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77. Books Bought: Hay 2013 Edition!…

77. Books Bought: Hay 2013 Edition!…

Books Bought

On Fiction,’ Sebastian Faulks

All The President’s Men,’ Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Bad Blood,’ Colm Tóibín

The Brief And Frightening Reign Of Phil,’ George Saunders

The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ Michael Pollan

Trainspotting,’ Irvine Welsh

Noah Barleywater Runs Away,’ John Boyne

Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think?ed. John Brockman

Breaking The Spell,’ Daniel.C.Dennett

Creating A World Without Poverty,’ Muhammad Yunus

Expo 58,’ Jonathan Coe

Mr.Lynch’s Holiday,’ Catherine O’Flynn

The Braindead Megaphone,’ George Saunders

The Hunters,’ James Salter

Jerusalem,’ Simon Sebag Montefiore

Titans Of History,’ Simon Sebag Montefiore

Skullduggery Pleasant,’ Derek Landy

Philosophy Of Life,’ Jules Evans

Mack The Life,’ Lee Mack (x2)

The Shape Game,’ Anthony Browne

The Looking Glass War,’ John Le Carré

Maggot Moon,’ Sally Gardner

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain,’ Barbara Arrowsmith-Young

Finding Moonshine,’ Marcus du Sautoy

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas,’ John Boyne

A Delicate Truth,’ John Le Carré

A Little Book Of Language,’ David Crystal

The Yellow Birds,’ Kevin Powers

If I am anywhere in or around the continent of Europe in late May, I do my darnedest to end up at the Hay noah+barleywaterLiterature Festival, and this year I had the good fortune of accidentally booking my return flight from Guatemala to coincide with the opening day of the book-bonanza on the Welsh/English border. The fact that I only had time to read one book in the week I was there, (John Boyne‘s beautiful ‘Noah Barleywater Runs Away‘), will tell you how busy I was there.

Mornings began in a small B&B a 7am before I dashed off to the venue site to don my luminous yellow stewards jacket, knock back some croissants and muesli for breakfast, and spend the next 10-14 hours tearing tickets, seating citizens, marshalling microphones around various venues and generally sitting on the sidelines whilst dozens, possibly hundreds of authors, poets, illustrators, entertainers, comedians, statesmen, Nobel laureates and musicians filled my mind, (and the minds of apparently 250,000 ticket buyers).

$(KGrHqMOKi0E0n2hln(iBNdbk7zUNg~~_35 This year’s line-up wasn’t quite as star-studded as previous years, (and my arrival direct imagesfrom Heathrow airport via train, rain, bus and foot was an hour too late to catch one of my planned highlights, childhood hero illustrator Quentin Blake, most famous for his collaborations with Roald Dahl). But with a dozen hours a day of people presenting their ideas, this merely meant that there were more new novelists to discover, (as if I didn’t have enough to read already): highlights included former Children’s Laureate, Anthony Browne, whose ‘Shape Game‘ allows children to be artists whatever their level, (and provided the perfect birthday present for my hilarious niece); George Saunders, (‘the new David Foster Wallace‘ and one of the nicest people I have ever had the fortune to meet at the fest); and the Iraq war modern classic, ‘The Yellow Birds‘ by Kevin Powers, the book which came garlanded with the most recommendations by friends working at the festival and which proved to be up to the praise, as I had finished it by the time I had returned home.


There was the chance to meet a few authors of books I have long loved, such as the ‘Trainspotting‘s wonderfully Scottish Irvine Welsh; and to learn a little more about music, (being treated to an incredible hour-long performance from minimalist composer Philip Glass); meet legends of journalism like ‘All The President’s Men‘s Carl Bernstein, and food campaigner Michael Pollan; and hear a fascinating talk on consciousness by New Atheist philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel C.Dennett.

But as often happens, the show was stolen by new ‘young adult’ authors who had been recommended by friends working at the festival: firstly I was introduced to John Boyne, whose occasional collaborations with illustrator Oliver Jeffers makes his books as beautiful as they are deep and un-childlike, (hence me refusing to label them ‘kids’ books’): he is most famous for the excellent ‘The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas,’ the story of a Nazi concentration camp told from the point of view of the innocent young son of a Nazi Commandant. Even more powerful was the masterful ‘Maggot Moon,’ by Sally Gardener, the tale of a dystopian 1950’s dictatorship, part Nazi part Communist part ‘1984‘, which hopes to convince the world that…well, read it for yourself, due to the author’s childhood English teachers forcing her to read a certain number of chapters each day, she keeps them wonderfully short, making this an eminently readable parable.


So, a couple dozen more signed books consigned to the depths of The Cupboard, (although, as you’ll see in the forthcoming Books Bought & Read, June 2013 entry, I managed to knock a fair few of them off before I fled the grey UK shores again), and another incredible ten days spent in the world capital of books, Hay-on-Wye. Join me there next year?


Posted by on July 31, 2013 in BOOKS


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