Shamanka and Jacky Daydream

Shamanka Jacky_daydreamJenny is currently entirely absorbed by two books. She bought Shamanka by Jeanne Willis after some considerable thought, on World Book Day – we were in W H Smith where she was exchanging her £1 voucher (as given to every schoolchild in the land) for a specially written Caroline Lawrence "Roman mystery", when she saw the third of Julia Golding’s "Companions" quartet. She just had to buy this, but as it was on a "buy one get one half price" offer, she also , after yet more considerable thought, chose the beautifully presented Shamanka from the various (enticing, I thought) options available. She dashed through the Golding, not as keen on it as she was the first volume in the series (the second also not as popular as the first) and then embarked on Shamanka. She has been glued to the book ever since. She spent a long time on Saturday morning telling me all about the plot, but it is so fearsomely convoluted that I’ll simply reproduce the synopsis from Amazon:  "What is magic? What is illusion? What is real? Step into the extraordinary world of Sam Khaan, who has just discovered a witch doctor’s notebook in her attic. Convinced that it belongs to her long-lost father – the son of a witch doctor – she sets out on a journey to discover the answers to these questions. In her encounters with diviners and healers, conjurers and mystics, Sam learns the truth about magic the hard way. Here is your chance to take a far easier route." The paperback book has a loose cover with all sorts of mysterious puzzles and drawings on it.

On our W H Smith outing, Jenny was not interested in buying "Jacky Daydream", Jacqueline Wilson’s autobiography. Although Jenny was very keen on all JW’s books until a couple of years ago, she lost interest (unlike Cathy, who continued into all the "Girls in Love" secondary school stories).  However, last week Jenny found out that "everyone" in her class is reading Jacky Daydream, so she just had to have it too.  Never being shy to buy a book, I immediately bought it for her, whereupon she started in right away. She’s now reading both books in tandem, occasionally looking up to ask "what’s an eiderdown?" and "what’s an ottoman?". (This is from the Jacky Daydream book: Shamanka presents no such anachronistic challenges, it seems.)

Jacqueline Wilson is not only the most borrowed author in UK libraries, but is a fantastic woman who happens to live near us. She spends so much time and energy going round all the local schools, reading festivals and other events,  to read from her books and talk to children about her inspiration and her life as a novelist.  I have attended several of these packed-out events with each of my daughters (in series rather than in parallel), and am impressed with the intelligent and keen questions from the audience of (mainly) girls familiar with the minutiae of the books, and with the accessible and open style of the speaker. Many of the books have been made into plays and TV movies/series, so we get to learn a lot about that process too.

Shamanka — I thought I had not heard of the author before: it is her first book for the teen/pre-teen readership.  However, after the end of Jenny’s marathon plot description I glanced at the author’s bibliography and see that she wrote one of the most screamingly funny young children’s picture books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading 23,699 times:  Dr Xargle’s book of Earthlets. It is priceless for anyone with a baby (Don’t bother too much about the sequels).

Incidentally, Jenny was dismissive of the Caroline Lawrence Roman mystery "taster" for its lack of historical accuracy. I suppose that is one series of books she won’t be reading, then, even though it is currently being filmed as a TV series.