Essayist and newspaper columnist Elizabeth Farrelly recently wrote a piece about how university libraries in rich countries are getting rid of books in their catalogues and becoming increasingly bookless. She observed, too, that public libraries are either disappearing or becoming internet centres. She wondered if future historians will see ours as a time of biblio-plague, when the world was swept by a strange libriform ebola that causes institutions to haemorrhage books before dying horribly from their lack.
But she concludes her lamentation with an optimistic observation. She says that today’s kids, who could be the first bookless generation since Gutenberg, tell her that they like books. The touch, the texture, the smell, the fact. They’re bored with screen-everythings. This, she intimates, could be why the children’s book market is the least e-dominated sector… and that this is a small flame of hope flickering over the e-tide.
So in a mood of optimism for the future of actual books, we asked a group of kids who frequently visit the Bookworm to tell us about their favourite stories on our shelves.
Detective Mice and a Pig Named Sausage
One precocious pre-school critic, who looks as though he’s going to be a fan of crime fiction when he grows up, is mad about Hermelin the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey. In this illustrated book, the detective mouse decides to find all the lost items on a communal notice board where he lives. Our critic declared that he was not at all uncomfortable with the darker aspects of the plots.
Our seven-year-old critic is completely oinkers about The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp. It’s written in the Wimpy Kid format that attracts kids, especially boys, in a particular age frame. It’s a very funny story about a pig who suddenly latches onto why the friendly farmer is so affectionate towards him and calls him loveable nicknames like Sausage. When the penny drops the pig has to recruit all the farmyard help he can muster, even from those he’s previously made enemies of, like the evil chickens and silly sheep. The critic said that her parents also think that the book is hilarious.
The Heavier Stuff
Two 11-year-old Bookworm regulars are totally infatuated with Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis. It’s a very heartbreaking story about a 12-year-old girl named Scarlet Ibis McKenzie who lives high up in a tower block of flats in a single-parent family. The mother suffers from severe depression, and Scarlett has to take care of the flat, her mother and her eight-year-old half-brother Red, who is autistic and can only be calmed down by birds and feathers. The children’s life together is shattered when officialdom finds out about them after an accident and they are separated. Scarlet goes to a foster home and the boy into special institutionalized care. It’s a book, says our critics, that makes you feel as though you are in the middle of events with Scarlett and Red. It’s as though you are fighting their battles and feeling their pain.
If Scarlett Ibis makes some helicopter parents a bit iffy, then More Than This by Patrick Ness is a definite no-go zone. The book’s opening sentence is likely to get young adult readers hooked and helicopter moms and dads palpitating: “Here is the boy, drowning.”
Seth, the teenage protagonist who tries to commit suicide by walking into the sea, has a number of things weighing him down. The biggie is that his mother hates the fact that he is gay, and blames him for a terrible thing that happened to his little brother.
Successful young adult author John Green has this to say: “Books are often described as ‘mind-blowing’, but this is one of the few books in which, while reading it, I have exclaimed aloud, ‘Oh. My. God.’ on multiple occasions… Just read it.”
Digitally savvy YA readers, like our 15-year-old guest book chooser, will have no problems coming to terms with the book’s existentialist aspects. Ness, a two-time Carnegie Medal winner for children’s literature, is controversial because he declares that kids’ books don’t always have to have happy endings. His often don’t — which may be why a lot of young adult readers go for them in a big way.
For more information on Bookworm go to bookwormhanoi.com. Besides their original store on Chau Long, Bookworm have a second, smaller shop in Nghi Tam Village in the West Lake area. Located behind the Sheraton, it can be found at Lane 1/28 Au Co, Lang Nghi Tam, Tay Ho