The Past

So I’m back online! And I’ve so much to tell you about…

So yes, I was offline because I was away visiting family in the Netherlands. This is where we were for most of the time:

This is the haul of books I brought back:

My favourite book of all those I brought back is Overzee (literally “Oversea”) by Annemarie van Haeringen, Tonke Dragt, and Sjoerd Kuyper. It’s a collection of three very short, modern myths, each linked by the sea. The first is about a pelican who rescues a boy lost in a storm, the second is about Noah’s ark, unicorns and narwhals, and the third is about the source of the sea – where indeed does it begin? Each story is magical and word perfect. You won’t be able to finish this book without your heart contracting a little at its verbal and visual beauty. I do hope that one day it will be translated into English. The stories are timeless.

On holiday M fell deeply in love with the Belgian comic series Suske and Wiske (variously translated in to English as Bob and Bobette, Wanda and Willy and, most recently Spike and Suzy). This strip was created by Willy Vandersteen and first published in 1945 (there are now over 300 books!). It features two children who get up to all sorts of adventures, some fantasy, some historical, some science fiction, and has a look not dissimilar to the most famous comic from Belgium – Tintin.

Whilst away I read a brilliant Dutch children’s book Crusade in Jeans, by Thea Beckman. M and her dad had read this at Christmas ( in Dutch), and it was such a hit, I had to read it for myself. It’s a historical novel, set in 1212 about a children’s crusade, or rather an attempt by a large band of children to reach Jerusalem, to play their part in the Crusades. It’s a fascinating read, with lots of opportunities to reflect on how life was very different back in the 13th century; a 20th century (Dutch) boy gets transported back to 13th century “Germany” and “Italy” and gets mixed up in this travelling band of children. It’s a great novel for getting readers to think about what they take for granted nowadays and how childhood has changed and I highly recommend it if you are interested in historical fiction, or if you have an 8-14 year old who likes knights, castles, adventure, brave children who can survive without adults or simply having their horizons expanded.

Back at Christmastime Crusade in Jeans inspired a lot of play based around the time machine which features (very briefly) in the book:

Our time machine was M’s bedroom – we covered her door in silver foil and created and switch for the airlock and a dial for setting the historical destination. Then several days were spent travelling through the centuries…

After finishing Crusade in Jeans in just over 24 hours I read in a bit of a French vein and first romped through Nicholas and the Gang by René Goscinny, with illustrations by Jean-Jacques Sempé – perfect for 5-8 year olds who like school stories about impish children getting up to tricks.

Although some of the stories feel a little dated, their humour and charm carries them through. I’d love to be able to read the Nicholas books to M’s year at school – I think they would go down a storm!

Next up was Toby and the Secrets of the Tree by Timothee de Fombelle, a book full of love and ingenuity, and delight and wonder, and which is now on my personal list of top ten children’s novels. If you haven’t read Toby Alone (the 1st book in the two part series, of which the Toby and the Secrets of the Tree is the follow up), please treat yourself to them. You will not regret it for an instance. It’s a story of miniature people who live in a tree. It’s full of adventure, loyal friendship, terrible betrayal, and love to the very core. Imagine the miniature world of The Borrowers, with the integrity of Ronia The Robber’s Daughter (Astrid Lindgren), all infused with a passionate defence for the natural world. It’s written so well – with many sentences who want to roll around in your mouth and savour again and again.

I haven’t yet read either Toby book with M, but they are next on my list, as soon as it is my turn to read at bedtime with her (currently she’s reading a Dutch novel with her Dad). I couldn’t wait to play though… so I’ve been setting up little scenes in the garden for the kids to find as they play. They will make sense when they finally get to read the book!

So that was my Past two weeks or so… next up will be The Present and then The Future here on Playing by the book… I do hope you’ll stay tuned 🙂

16 Responses

  1. Polly

    and welcome back! Feeling rather sad about my inability to read Dutch but will definitely seek out the Toby books. Have you read your ‘Hunger Games’ purchase yet? I’m just speeding through them and feeling full of ambivalence (whilst being unable to stop turning the pages). Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
    Polly recently posted..Holiday diversions part 1

  2. Damyanti

    I spy a Barbapapa 😉 I enjoyed reading the Toby books, nearly picked them up at a charity shop today, but decided I’d wait a few years till I can actually read them to son, may have enough space on our book shelves by then. Am sure your girls will have great fun discovering the little folk in the trees
    Damyanti recently posted..Seven Stories Museum

  3. Zoe

    Hi Polly, no, Hunger games should be next on my list (I just finished a book last night, but it too had lots of violence in it, so am wondering whether to allow myself something a little sweeter in between!) I’ll keep you posted…
    Zoe recently posted..The Past

  4. Zoe

    Hi Damyanti,Yes, we didn’t come home barbapapa-less…. Reading between the lines it seems like the Toby books didn’t impress you as much as they did me…(?) – if I saw copies in a 2nd hand book shop I’d snap them up to give to friends. If I’m right, do let me know more about what you though of the Toby books.
    Zoe recently posted..The Past

  5. griselda heppel

    What a superb selection of books! I hope some get translated into English. You have an unfailing eye for what’s best in illustration and design, as well as content. When my children were small I despaired of about 75% of picture books in book shops – few could stand up to the test of being read over and over again! Classics could, like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Morris’s Disappearing Bag, anything by John Burningham – and my guess is that Overzee would be on that list. And Le Petit Nicholas – my (and my sons’) favourite!

    • Zoe

      Griselda, I am ashamed (but also a little bit excited) to say that I don’t know Morris’s Disappearing Bag…. so off to start an adventure now! I love it when something really new to me pops up. Thankyou 🙂

  6. choxbox

    Awesome! Will look out for the Toby books – thanks!

    and yes what do you think of The Hunger Games – I think it is okay for maybe a 14 or 15 year old, that is the book. Movie definitely for a 16+ year old.

    Actually I dont quite get the whole YA tag – most of them are too much for anyone under 15 or 16, but they are menat for 12+.

    • Zoe

      Choxbox – go go go NOW and get the Toby books 🙂 If you are disappointed I will eat my words. Will keep you posted on The Hunger Games…

  7. Ayesha

    You sure brought back some awesome books! Accompanied with beautiful photos at the beach. 🙂
    Do you guys have a lot of Dutch books? Could the staff of the bookstore give you some tips for ‘new classics’?? Or do you need some more? 😉

    I couldn’t read the title on the Tonke Dragt-book; which one of her books did you buy?

    • Zoe

      Hey Ayesha, do you read Dutch? Would be great to find someone else who knows about Dutch children’s literature.. Do you know Mevrouw Kinderboek? – I just discovered her when i was in the Netherlands as she had a big article in on the newspapers. This time we bought Torenhoog en mijlenbreed (we have De brief voor de koning, Geheimen van het Wilde Woud and De zevensprong (and Wat niemand weet which is in Overzee, although we have it as a stand alone book from book week too). I wish she was translated into English!

      But yes, always happy to have suggestions for great new books to read… (she writes in anticipation!)

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