Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

Hello Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend peace you’ve hopefully been given.

Back at work for me now and exam season is fast approaching! With the pressures and strains of every day teaching life, it is so important to me that the weekends are all about relaxing and reading. Yesterday I went to the beautiful place of York and bought a number of amazing Harry Potter products from The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Then I spent some time in York Minster. However, one other little treat was that I’ve managed to get a front row seat to the RSC’s musical of The Boy in the Dress. I can not wait. There’s information about this here if you are interested. Matilda the musical was and still is awesome, so I expect the same from The Boy in the Dress. Therefore, it’s only fitting I review the first of David Walliams children’s books with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This life-affirming novel centres around 12 year old Dennis. He lives with his father and his older brother (14) John. Dennis loves football and watching Trisha on TV but has always felt a little different to his father and brother. Their mother left when Dennis was 7 following her divorce from his father. Their father, only known as Dad, reacts to the divorce by comfort eating which consequently results in him becoming quite large.

Dennis is a very contrasting character to his brother and father, who seem more alike. Despite being the best on the school football team, he desperately misses his mother. His father believed he burnt all the photos, but Dennis found one to keep. In that photo his mother is wearing a yellow dress which comforts him greatly. It’s the only way he can still see his mother.

One day, Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine. Dennis buys this magazine from Raj, the local shop owner. But when his father finds the copy of Vogue magazine, he is furious. His brother John starts to tease him, calling him “Denise”.

Are you sure you want this, Dennis?” asked Raj. “Vogue is mainly read by ladies, and your drama teacher Mr Howerd.

Things get worse for Dennis as he receives a detention at school the same day for kicking a football through a window. Something magical happens in detention because Dennis meets Lisa James. Lisa is the most amazing girl in school. She’s pretty and fashionable and popular. Lisa invites Dennis around to her house and shows him her drawing designs for different clothing. She persuades Dennis to dress up in girls’ clothing. After wearing an electric blue dress, Lisa convinces him to go out in public, under the alter ego of “Denise”, a French exchange student with limited English.

Their first stop is to Raj’s corner shop. Naturally, Dennis is worried that he will be recognised but amazingly, he isn’t! Raj completely believes that it is “Denise”. Because of their success here, Dennis is convinced to go to school with Lisa as “Denise”.

Rules don’t apply here,” laughed Lisa. “Dennis, you can be whoever you want to be!

The school day starts well and Dennis is unnoticed. However, Lisa forgot that she had a double French period. The sheer excitement from the French teacher means the narrative splits into French, not knowing that Dennis won’t understand a work. Rather than being found out, Denis accidentally upsets the teacher by criticising her accident. She is absolutely devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as during break time, a football is flying towards “Denise”, and naturally Dennis kicks it. Rather unfortunately, he slips and is revealed to be a boy. What feels like the whole school laughs at him. He’s sent to Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, and is expelled from school for cross dressing.

His Dad is absolutely furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis’s best friend comes round to see Dennis, to tell him that they’re still best friends regardless, but is sent him again by his Dad.

No more watching that show Small England or whatever it’s called where those two idiots dress up as ‘laydees’. It’s a bad influence.

Darvesh’s actions mean so much to Dennis that he decided to attend a very important football match against Maudlin Street, at school on the Saturday. He’s not allowed to play and can see that the team are going to suffer an almighty defeat.

Lisa has a plan and the whole team encourage Dennis to play in a dress, which he does. With Dennis back on the team, it is complete again and they come back from being 6-0 down to actually win the final.

Dennis’s Dad has never attended a football match before, much to his sadness. This time was different. It wasn’t just Darvesh’s mum cheering and hollering from the sidelines, it was Dennis’s dad too.

The following Sunday morning upon visiting the corner shop again, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey used to come and collect the Telegraph paper every Sunday at 7am. Although recently it has been his sister, Doris. What Raj found strange was that there was something peculiar about her.

Lisa and Dennis wake up ridiculously early to see what they could find out and as soon as the clock struck 7, Mr Hawtrey arrived at the shop dressed in a skirt and blouse! With this new knowledge, Lisa and Dennis threaten that unless Dennis is reinstated in school, they will tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey’s cross dressing. The next Monday Dennis is back in school, as normal.

By the end of the novel, Dennis, his Dad and his brother are able to talk about the wife and mother who left them. Dennis and Lisa remain the best of friends, as does Dennis and Darvesh. John even decides he needs to look out for his younger brother more. Harmony is restored.

Final thoughts

This book is everything you’d hope children’s books to be like. Honest, funny, understanding and accepting. We have all felt a time in our lives where we just feel like we don’t belong. The book is an anthem for that feeling and for the reality that that is actually ok. I really think this will be an awesome production too. Its cross dressing is actually a very Shakespearean element, meaning it will be right at home in Stratford upon Avon’s RSC theatre. Children’s books really lift the heart and Walliams has a way of making us all feel like we’re perfectly acceptable as we are. After all, we all belong whether we wear dresses and kick footballs or not.

“I think all those rules are boring. About what people can and can’t wear. Surely everyone should be able to wear whatever they like?

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, RSC

Picture Perfect Polaroids #9

April 15th 2019 – The day Notre Dame burnt before our very eyes.

It isn’t a lie to say I shed tears seeing the sights from Paris last night. Yet, whilst the cathedral was being engulfed with flames I had this deep feeling of hope. The media shared images of Parisians coming together to sing Ave Maria. Everyone is united. Therefore, it’s only fitting that my post today is filled with love for the Notre Dame.

Built in 1163. 200 years later it stands complete. It survived two world wars, revolutions and plagues. The morning after the night before shows the extent of the damage. There is always hope.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you France. Your loss is our loss. Your pain is out pain. Paris, je t’aime. 💖

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Filed under Photography, Picture Perfect Polaroids, Places

April – The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

March – If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch

Hi Lovely People!

I hope you’ve been basking in the beautiful sunshine today. It’s glorious out there! Spring is in the air and boy is it fabulous!

Time for my choice of book for the Waterstones Book of the Month. There was one book for March that just grabbed my attention which, as a result, meant that the others didn’t get a look in! That is If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch.

Unlike my other reviews, this won’t be as detailed and thorough with the plot. I wouldn’t want to give anything away and ruin it for you! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around the first person narration of Alex. Unfortunately for Alex, two years ago he was involved in a rock climbing accident. As a result, he is living in a permanent vegetative state. However, we as a reader get an insight into Alex’s internal dialogue. He goes through phases of utter despair, depression, frustration, positivity and everything in between.

“I’ve always been fighting, since the moment I woke up in hospital. But I haven’t always been on the same side of the battle lines.”

However, he does have access to some of his senses. He can see a little through the slits in his eyes. He can hear exceptionally well and can smell too. It’s his sense of smell that enables him to work out who is in his hospital room and when.

‘She only has to walk into my room and I feel a little bit better. For a start, she smells motherly and comforting, like marzipan -‘

Since Alex’s fall two years ago, he has remained in an unresponsive state, according to the doctors treating him. To begin with, because of the pain he could see his family going through, he decides it would be better to die. However, the more various family members and his girlfriend, Bea visits, the more he wants to show them he’s alive inside. He desperately tries to move, to focus on one point to get it moving, even if just for an inch.

As the novel progresses and time passes by, his family have to make the incomprehensible decision whether or not to turn off his life support machine. His parents, sister and girlfriend push for continuous medical tests. All the results show the same: nothing. Unresponsive. They continue to hold on.

Whilst everyone involved are in agony, Alex’s internal agony is so much worse. He can hear all the discussing about what decision to make regarding Alex’s current position. Eventually, they agree that it is time to move on and let him go. Alex knows that this will result in his life and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.

‘I must have exhausted myself after several hours of panic. I found I was asleep, trapped in the same visionwatching from the corner of our flat, trying to help her, trying to shout to her but realising that saline drip lines bound my wrists and ankles, and the sponges used to clean my mouth were stuffed into it, gagging me.

Whilst heating the conversations about his impending death, Alex doesn’t have the energy to communicate (or try to) that will make the doctors and his family pay attention.

Something is different though, Alex has got some new visitors: the police. Recently, they have been around Alex’s hospital trying to unearth clues and information regarding Alex’s rock climbing accident. It appears that accident isn’t quite the correct word to describe what had happened to him.

‘The question I would have asked myself back then, if I’d known what I know now, was: But what if it wasn’t fate that made you fall?’

Alex has all the time in the world lying there to try and work out what happened to him. Everything is a blur though. His memories are severely damaged, if not gone. Yet, he still tries. He has a unending sense that something bad is happening with Bea too. The two link together in his mind and we see utter frustration from Alex because there isn’t nothing he can do apart from think.

Alex knows that he needs to use the senses he does have to try and work out what happened to him. As the pages fly by, time is running out for Alex (and everyone else) to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to him. After all, murder is a crime and Alex‘s accident might not be an accident at all. Time is running out for them all. This needs solving before they can say their last goodbyes.

“And so, I hope if you can hear me, you will forgive me…After I read this to you, I’m going to talk to your dad. You know what I’m going to say to him.”

Final Thoughts

Everything Alex’s character felt, I felt. I desperately wanted to shout and scream and get people to see what I was reading. A novel like this makes me feel great allegiance with the tragic character. Emily Koch did an amazing job at giving someone in a vegetive state a voice. Every nuance, every feeling was well thought out. I was gripped until the very end. I don’t want to ruin this for you but I urge you strongly to go and read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Book review, Thriller, Waterstones Book of the Month