Tag Archive for Brazier DJ

Children’s Book Fictional Personality of the Year

The newspapers have been packed with end of year lists since the beginning of December. In my final post of 2016, here is my personal end of year awards list.

Fictional Character Personality of the Year:
So many great characters this year, including bully Betty Glengarry in Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, but the most memorable for me has to be Sam from Alone by DJ Brazier. It’s a brave author who sustains a book for children with only one character throughout, and forgoes the device of having animals talk so that there really isn’t any dialogue, other than the conversations Sam has with himself.

Stranded after a plane crash near the Amazon River, Sam has to summon all his strength and resilience to survive. This gives Brazier the ultimate excuse to show Sam’s development – he starts as a boy just like any other, but by the end Sam has had to grapple with loneliness, despair, injury and failure.

Brazier doesn’t hold back with gruesome detail, but there is also a surprising amount of humour, and lashings of emotion – Sam is a great kid and one I’d love to meet in real life.

Picture Book Character of the Year:

I could easily have plumped for Alison Hubble who doubles and doubles, but instead, my character of the year has to be Nibbles, the Book Monster by Emma Yarlett. This isn’t because I was bribed with a plush toy of Nibbles, but because the character is easy for children to draw, adorable in his mischievousness, and an original book-eating monster with a bursting personality, despite looking like a glorified m&m! The book has been paper-engineered to a high production finish, with lots of interactivity, references to fairy tales, and a wonderful hide and seek of Nibbles in a bookcase.

Cleverest Use of Colour: The Great Fire of London by Emma Adams, illustrated by James Weston Lewis. Finally given the treatment it deserves, this seminal point of British history is given an illustrative makeover in this sumptuous book that absolutely illustrates history to life. No child will find history ‘boring’ with this book glowing into their face.

Most Satisfaction Gained from an Activity Book: Pinball Science (Build Your Own) by Ian Graham, Nick Arnold and Owen Davey. I was never one for paper engineering – when I worked at Dorling Kindersley my absolute nightmare was being involved in the paper model project of the Millennium Dome. However, I made this Pinball Machine one Saturday afternoon, and it gave hours of pleasure to the kids, plus we learned some sciencey stuff.

Most Successful Publicity Campaign (aka bribery): King Flashypants by Andy Riley Not only did this book have me rolling about in stitches, but the kind team at Hodder sent me chocolate, activity sheets, an advent calendar and a bag to accompany my enjoyment (please note this was all sent after I had reviewed the book!). But buy it, because it also wins Funniest Book of the Year. I still read chapter 12 to perk me up during sad frustrating times.

Most Likely to Give Nightmares: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Jon Klassen. I haven’t recovered from this nightmarish yet masterfully written young teen read. Merging dreams and reality, wasps and angels, this wasn’t a book even sent to me for review, but ended up being a book of the week for its lithe ability to sting the mind with thoughts and feelings.

Most Shocking Ending of the Year: Piers Torday rips up all the rules of children’s books with his ending in There May be a Castle. No spoilers here, but tissues at the ready. It’ll make adults think twice too.

Most prevalent animal this year: I’d like to say foxes or wolves, seeing as they have cropped up in so many children’s books from The Wolf Wilder, Wolf Hollow, The Wolves of Currumpaw to Maybe a Fox, The Fox and the Wild, and Finding the Fox, following in the tradition of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Call of the Wild and Fantastic Mr Fox, but actually it’s dogs. There are dogs dotted all around the chidren’s book market at the moment, The Detective Dog, Dogs on Trains, Oi Dogs, Days with Dogs, just Dogs, Claude, Spot, Odd Dog Out, The Great Fire Dogs, Spy Dog, Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog, Space Dog, not to mention secondary dog characters in stories. However, seeing as dogs, foxes and wolves all belong in the large taxonomic family called Canidae – we’ll leave it at that. Perhaps next year will be the turn of the cats. See you in 2017.

 

Alone by D J Brazier

alone

There have been many survival books about being alone in the jungle, being stranded, being a castaway. Robinson Crusoe, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Running Wild, even The Jungle Book in its own way. But DJ Brazier has written his with such raw passion, such gruesomeness, such a sense of grit and determination that it stands out as one of the most visual books for young teens this year.

Sam wakes up in hot sand near the Amazon River. The small plane that was carrying him and his father home from the holiday of a lifetime has crashed in the jungle, and Sam is left alone, and terrified. He has to recall all the survival techniques he learned watching Bear Grylls, as well as using a fair bit of common sense and instinct to survive – and as the days move past and no one comes to rescue him, Sam has to make some terrifying decisions to make it back to human civilisation alive.

Brazier’s text never lets up for a second. As if the reader too is stuck in the jungle, alert to every slight insect scratching, every rustle of leaf, every movement of the river. It is raw, and visceral and gripping. Some of the scenes are not for the faint-hearted – Brazier describes the fauna of the jungle in incredible detail – from the leeches to the ants. Popping a spot in the jungle and seeing worms crawling out is just one of the many highly memorable episodes in this gruesome tale – but it doesn’t feel superfluous – just real, and highly visual.

There is no sentimentality either – Sam has to show bravery beyond the normal to survive each day, let alone to reach human contact. There is a huge amount of detail, including how to make a fire without matches, but it never bores for a second – the reader roots for Sam as they would their favourite football team. His character grows during his adventure, as he finds incredible inner strength, but it’s also a sign of great writing strength on the part of Brazier to have just one character throughout the whole book and no dialogue with another, and yet still remain gripping and tense. Sam expresses his emotions, sometimes with swearing, which again isn’t gratuitous because I think he really would in the situation, and also with such pathos that the reader feels a real affinity with him. In fact, quite often throughout the book he fails in his attempts to do things – he can’t make fire easily (who could, without matches), and he has to learn new ways to eat – fishing isn’t as natural for humans as for a heron. What’s more this failure brings out his self-deprecating humour.

During the book he makes friends with a baby otter, and builds a relationship that gives him the comfort of contact with another living creature, and this too is not trite but handled well.

It’s a completely engrossing book, with great detail about animals and survival, which will appeal also to non-fiction fans. It’s the sort of book that you pull out the bag and wave at those students who don’t think they like reading. They won’t put this one down.

Above all, it ends in precisely the right place.

Age 12+ years. You can buy it here.