Friday, 23 March 2018

Being a Dyslexic Adult Reviewer of Children’s Books



A while ago a prolific book reviewer blogged about being an adult reviewer of children’s books, and I thought at the time I should do a post about being a dyslexic adult reviewer of children’s book, and so here it is.

I love stories. I love books. I love children’s books. I love reading. However I am also an adult, who happens to be dyslexic, who has two very (un-dyslexic) children who are avid readers. This is a set up for many awkward moments. Like, when my children read the book I’ve been reading and reviewing in a quarter of the time (which they like to point out – bless them). Or when I occasionally read out loud to them (they are quite old now, but even when they were small and I read to them daily) they would point out when I miss read something, (awe –sweet – bless them – GRRRR!)

However this awkward type of exchange is not exclusive to my own children (who after all are children and are still learning empathy) but is also present in people that should know better, but whom just scoff at the mention of children’s books, believing them to be inferior. Let me tell you a little story…

As a parent of two avid readers, I spend a lot of time in charity shops looking for reading material (I wish to point out here that I do support authors by buying new books via independent bookshops too, but when your kid read this much, you need to source reading at a lower cost too). So, one day I was perusing the bookshelves in a local charity shop, when a voice bellowed, “what do you like to read madam?”

Now I am not accustomed to being called madam, and I didn’t realise this question is directed to me until the voice repeated the question at a higher volume, and I looked around the shop to see that apart from the source of the voice, the mature lady at the till, I am the only person there.

SO I answered,Ohh, sorry. Erm, children’s books mostly.

I was not prepared for the response, she, scoffed. Cleared her throat. Then said; “What did you not learn to read? Can’t you read PROPER books?”

Now. At this point, I think it important to point out this shop was for a charity that specialises in getting venerable adults many with learning difficulties back out into the work place. I shall leave you with that thought as I admit I was dumbstruck, transported back to being an eight year old tormented in class. 



I should have said..

 “Children’s book are proper books, and are one of the biggest growth areas in publishing.” 

Or 

“Actually I review children’s books.” 

Or 

“I like to read children’s books so I can discuss them with my children and encourage them to read.” 

Or 

“It’s none of your business.” 

But I didn’t, I just left. 

Now this is something you get regularly from people who are unfamiliar with the industry, a kind of disapproving judgmental retort.

But being an adult children’s book reviewer can difficult for other reasons, like…

1. Everyone assumes I’ve read the classic children’s books. I haven’t. I struggle to learn to read so classics were for me as a child inaccessible.

2. I’m a slower reader than most people. This can be especially difficult when over at Space on the Bookshelf, we shadow the Carnegie. So I always hope that my books are small, but I most review the YA, so ultimately they’re not! 




3. I’m a REALLY bad speller, I try really hard to proof read my reviews, to get spelling and grammar correct, but sometimes I just can’t see the mistakes, and it can be embarrassing. Like the time i interviewed Charlie Higson and spelt his name wrong. He was charming and lovely, and corrected me, but still! 



4. I am not good at grammar. Once I did a tweet where I forgot to put an apostrophe in They’re and instantly another author tweeted saying: ‘I think people who describe themselves as writers in their profiles should know their grammar.’ I was mortified. Bashed. Crushed. My profile also reads, ‘dyslexic writer’ I could have responded but I didn’t. However now, I write every Tweet in word first to check the spelling and grammar before copying into to twitter and posting. This makes the, should be rapid nature of Twitter much more laborious and time consuming.

Now as I said I love stories. I love writing. I love reading. I love kids’ books. And I love reviewing. It is a privilege to read new books and be a small cog in the machine that gets books into the hands of children. To inspire and encourage children to read, it is also an honour to champion debut authors and illustrators to help get their books to the target audience. 



I love what I do. It’s not always easy having the dyslexic associated hindrances, but it fine, I work through them, I have mechanisms to cope. But if I make a mistake in a tweet or a review, please do let me know politely and I will rectify it, and I will truly be grateful and appreciate your effort. But please be empathetic, I am an adult, I will grumble sulk and pull, myself up, but children with these difficulties are much more tender, and spelling and grammar are not the end of the world.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The End is Near for One of my Favouritist Places in the World – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn.



In 2013 my family relocated. Everything was new. New House. New school. New Job. New clubs. And thanks to out trusty steed ‘Volvo’ biting the dust also a new car. To make matters worse I’d moved away from critique group (the much talented Oxford wing of SCBWI BI), and further away from closest writer friends, (Jo and Nicki –are your ear burning?) But also increasing the distance between me and my most favourite shop, Mostly Books in Abingdon which I frequented in many different guises; customer, helper, general loiterer, to name a few. So with our lives being almost unrecognisable, it was a real boost to discover a gem of a local bookshop, one that was the embodiment of every bookshop and library I had ever imagined – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn. 



Stepping into The Cottage Bookshop is like entering into the Bookshop in ‘The Neverending Story,’ the smell, the seeming endless labyrinth of bookcases, the promise of numerous other worlds and adventures lurking between thousands of covers. I fell in love with the place instantly. The tiny cottage I was to learn had been a bookshop for over sixty years and in that time had added bookcase after bookcase, and housing over sixty thousand titles of every type, genre and book imaginable. It had also featured in television shows and had many famous customers over the years, and was in fact believed to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Library. 



So, once discovered I would voyage to The Cottage Bookshop when I need a pick-me-up, or for specific things. On one occasion the whole family spent three hours looking for just the right book to help my daughter with a history project. She was studying Elizabeth I and wanted a book that was non-fiction but written more like a novel but at her level. Eventually we unearthed just the thing, a book about Elizabeth’s reign written as if a novel. It was the right age range and pitched perfectly. To our surprize we found that it had travelled a long way, Published in 1953 by a US publisher, but sold originally in Brazil, the original price label still attached. 



My children owe in part (at least) much gratitude to The Cottage Bookshop and the treasures we have found there for some of their best grades, across numerous subjects, including an art ‘Selfie Maze’ project. But, The Cottage Bookshop is more than a destination for educational purposes for our family. We have spent many a Saturday morning walking the few miles from our house in the middle of nowhere, through the woodlands and fields, to the shop, to each buy a stack of books that we lug home, after stopping at the pub for a well-deserved coffee and read of course! 



The Cottage Bookshop always has a community feel, we once met a elderly lady there who had been visiting the shop since her childhood, and other times we bumped in to visitor from overseas. It is a much loved place, by many from near and far. However all good things must come to an end, and it was announced last week that after almost 67 years, the owner has put the building up for sale and that the bookshop will therefore be closing. So with a sad heart, I bid a farewell to The Cottage Bookshop and it lovely staff, and say, that it was a pleasure to have been a customer and to have discovered it with enough time to enjoy it in all its bookish eccentricities!