Realistic fiction for girls : Series Spotlight “The Casson Family” by Hillary Mckay

A while back I set myself a goal of blogging about any wonderful series or authors I was discovering or rediscovering to meet the seemingly insatiable desire of some of my 10+ students for books similar to Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy. These girls love realistic fiction with heart, that talk about families, friendships and relationships. They prefer realism to fantasy and don’t mind if things get a bit gritty – in fact if the lives of the characters are totally different to their own then all the better.

Sadly blogging has been hard work this term and although I have read books that fit this bill perfectly, up until now I hadn’t had any free time to reflect on them let alone write something. My school and library has upgraded our Library Management System and implemented an ebook lending platform. Both things took a lot of time but more importantly…energy!

Last night I had the pleasure of finishing the 5th book in a wonderful series by English Author Hilary Mckay. The series is the Casson Family.

When I read the first book Saffy’s Angel I really did not know what to expect, however I was completely swept away with these stories and have thought about the characters and their family dynamic long after I closed each book. There are so many layers to the relationships between the members of this family and their friends. The characters in these books feel so real that after reading each book you feel like you have been a part of their lives, sitting in their kitchen with a cup of tea listening in to their conversations, and you wish you could spend more time with them. As I read these books, I could imagine girls of 10 enjoying them now – perhaps not understanding everything but this wouldn’t affect their reading pleasure. These are the sort of books that deserve to be owned, loved and reread often as the owner grows up. I can see that many subtle ideas and feelings will become apparent to the reader as she matures and has experiences of her own. In fact I can almost guarantee that in re-reading these, a year or so apart, the reader will have new insights into the feelings of the characters and what is going on behind the scenes. Reading the stories reminded me of all sorts of things I felt growing up but the book felt just as real looking at it from the Mother’s point of view at this other end of my life (I felt I had a lot in common with her and not just because she calls everyone Darling!).

It will be interesting to see how my students find these. They are eccentrically English and it takes  a little bit to get into the groove. These books deserve to be savoured in a long sitting (by the fire in winter on a rainy afternoon or under a tree in a gentle breeze in summer…definitely not to be read in a rush or in snatches!) One of my students has read Saffy’s Angel on my recommendation and loved it. Somehow I knew she was the kind of girl that would – she is 10, quite mature, a bit of a thinker and passionate about what she likes. This is more a thinking/feeling girls series than JW in my opinion. I now need to read Hillary’s other series The Exiles.

The Casson Family books in order:

  1. Saffy’s Angel, 2001
  2. Indigo’s star, 2003
  3. Permanent Rose, 2005
  4. Caddy ever after, 2006
  5. Forever Rose, 2007
  6.  Caddy’s world, 2011 (This is a prequel).

The stories are self contained and although there is a lovely feeling of familiarity from having read them in order, it isn’t absolutely necessary to do so. Book synopsis for each book taken from Goodreads.com

Saffy’s Angel:

saffy

Goodreads: Saffron’s two sisters, Cadmium and Rose, and her brother Indigo were all named from a color chart by their mother Eve, a fine-arts painter. When Saffron, known as Saffy, discovers that her name is not on the chart, it soon leads to another discovery. She has been adopted.

Life in the Banana House, as their home is called, is never dull. Caddy, the eldest, is taking driving lessons from an instructor who happens to be a very attractive young man. Indigo dreams up ways, sometimes quite dangerous, to conquer fear. Rose, the youngest, has learned how to get her own way without upsetting the other. As for Saffy, all she remembers from when she was very small is a stone angel in a garden in Italy. With the help of a newfound friend, Saffy sets out on an adventurous and sometimes hilarious search for her angel.

Indigo’s star:

indigo

Goodreads: Indigo, having just recovered from a bout of [glandular fever], must return to school after missing an entire [term]. Only his younger sister and loyal sidekick, Rose, knows why he’s dreading it so much. As it turns out, the school bullies are eagerly awaiting Indigo’s return so that they can pick up where they left off—flushing his head in the toilet. But Indigo hasn’t counted on meeting Tom, an American student who is staying with his grandmother in England for the year. With his couldn’t-care-less attitude and rock-and-roll lifestyle, Tom becomes Indigo’s ally, and together they work to take back the school.

Meanwhile, eight-year-old Rose is desperately trying to avoid wearing horrible glasses, nineteen-year-old Caddy is agonizing over her many suitors, Saffy is working overtime with her best friend, Sarah, to protect Indigo from the gang, and with their father, Bill, in London at his art studio, their mother, Eve, is just trying to stay on top of it all!.

Permanent Rose:

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Goodreads:Feisty Rose takes center stage as the highly original Casson family faces a long, hot summer. As usual, things are a bit chaotic. Eldest daughter Caddy is now engaged to darling Michael, and she’s not altogether sure she likes it. Saffy and Sarah are on a mission to find Saffy’s biological father (while cultivating hearts of stone). Indigo is cautiously beginning a friendship with a reformed bully, who desparately wants to feel like part of the Casson family. Rose, while missing Tom (who none of them have heard from) dreadfully, enters into a life of petty crime, shoplifting small items until her misadventures nearly bring disaster. An accidental trip to London and a visit with Rose’s father lead to a startling revelation, but through it all Rose’s single-minded determination to find Tom remains as fierce as it is hopeless. Or is it?

Caddy ever after:

caddy

Goodreads: Love is in the air for the Casson family! Four hilarious, endearing tales unfold as Rose, Indigo, Saffy, and Caddy each tell their intertwining stories. Rose begins by showing how she does special with her Valentine’s card for Tom in New York. Not to be outdone, Indigo has his own surprise in store for the Valentine,s Day disco at school. For her part, Saffy has an unusual date in a very, very dark graveyard, and is haunted by a balloon that almost costs her her best friend.

But it is Caddy who dares everything — as she tells all about love at first sight when you have found the Real Thing. Unfortunately the Real Thing is not darling Michael. What is Rose going to do?

Forever Rose:

foreverrose

Author website: As Christmas approaches, eleven-year-old Rose, the youngest member of the eccentric Casson family, discovers that life is filled with both catastrophic problems and wonderful surprises.

Caddys world:

caddysworld

Go back in time… Caddy is 12, grappling with school, best friends, first boy friends, younger siblings and the unexpected arrival of one baby Permanent Rose, a little sooner than expected. While baby Rose lies in critical condition in hospital, life goes on in the unpredictable, colourful Casson household. {I haven’t read this one yet, I’m saving it!}.

Author website: www.hillarymckay.co.uk

RELATED POSTS:

New series for younger readers…The cryptic casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta

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The perplexing pineapple. Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, with puzzles and illustrations by Terry Denton. (The cryptical casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta; book 1). Published by Allen and Unwin, May 2013. Paperback, 84 pages. ISBN:9781743312575 NZ$15.99

OTHER TITLES IN THE SERIES 

The Looming Lamplight – June 2013

The Missing Mongoose – July 2013

Synopsis:

Buenos Aires’ Chief of Police, Coco Carlomagno, is sure his office high in the Obelisco is haunted. Every day at the same time he sees a floating pineapple and every day he hears a terrible noise. What could it mean? Who could it be? There’s only one guinea pig Coco can turn to to help him in his hour of need: his logic-loving cousin Alberta. Can Alberta help him unravel the mysteries of the perplexing pineapple?

Ursula Dubosarsky has created a fun mystery series for younger readers (6-8 year olds) featuring what she says are three of her favourite things…”They often tell you in writing classes – write about something you love. Well, three things I love are guinea pigs, detective stories and the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I’m happy to say in this series of books, the three loves have come together.”

The books are short, divided into 6 chapters and interwoven with hand drawn illustrations. Throughout the text there are small word puzzles (rebus puzzles) for the reader to solve. Some of the younger readers may need help with these, especially with spelling. If children seem interested after completing these, a simple google search for Rebus Puzzles would find more that could be printed off and completed. Lots of fun to be had, especially if children are encouraged to make up their own puzzles and clues to share with their friends and siblings.

Cryptic-Casebook-activity

The story also features sporadic words in Spanish, enough to lend an exotic feel to the story in context and not too difficult to work out the meaning. The definitions and a brief description of the meaning is included on each page where the Spanish word appears. I like this simple introduction to footnotes for this age group.

Overall, I thought this a sweet series, nothing too onerous or challenging for the target audience and pitched at the right level – there is nothing scary about the mystery. I will be adding these to the collection of early chapter books I have in my library. These will also be useful for the struggling readers at age 8-9 who enjoy humorous animal stories and are looking for new stories to help them with reading mileage.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for supplying me with an advance copy for review. I was delighted to find that this book is included in this months Scholastic Junior Chapter Book standing order.

A story can be a dangerous thing….Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt

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Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013.  Paperback, 324 pp. ISBN: 9781743313589. rrp NZ$19.99 (Also available on Overdrive ebook platform for libraries).

From the publisher:

The fantastic story of a young girl who must run for her life because she has brought bad luck to her village…Classic adventure-fantasy by an author with a fabulous and original storytelling voice.

Once, long ago and far from here, there were endless marshes, and in the marshes lived a marsh auntie, and that marsh auntie wore a coat with a thousand pockets, and in the pocket of that coat was a pouch, and inside that pouch was a nail, and that nail had the power to open a treacherous story…

Peat is on the run – forced to flee for her life when she’s blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another – and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek – a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

‘A gripping tale…Both magical and superbly true, this new world draws us into universal struggles of survival, loyalty and freedom, as secrets build and break around us like weather.’ ANNA FIENBERG

Book trailer:

About the author:

Julie Hunt lives on a farm in southern Tasmania and is fascinated by landscapes and the stories they inspire. This interest has taken her from the rugged west coast of Ireland to the ice caves of Romania. She loves poetry, storytelling and traditional folktales, and her own stories combine other-worldly elements with down-to-earth humour. Her picture books include The Coat (ill. Ron Brooks) and Precious Little (ill. Gaye Chapman). She’s written a three-book series called Little Else about a plucky young cowgirl (ill. Beth Norling), and a graphic novel called KidGlovz (ill. by Dale Newman, who did the Scarlet Runner cover).
In Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie explores an idea that occurs in many traditional stories throughout the world – the ‘external soul’. A person’s spirit is taken from their body and hidden away so they can never be killed, but eventually time and the laws of nature catch up with them.

What did I think about Song for a scarlet runner?

I found this a highly original tale – it is beautifully written and children that love fantasy where the reader is totally immersed in a different world will love this. In many ways it reads like historical fiction, the story could easily be describing life in the dark ages, the fantasy element is gradually introduced.

Peat and her older sister Marlie live in isolation at the Overhang, a barren desolate place where three roads meet but no one ever travels along them. The nearest village or collection of dwellings is Skerrick from where they were banished on the day of Peat’s birth. Peat was born with flaming red hair and one brown eye and one green. Her father disowned her and banished her mother and sister along with her. The two girls have lived very simply, tending cattle, making cheeses and the only thing they have to look forward to is the infrequent visits from their Aunt Wim. Wim brings supplies and takes the cheeses back to Skerrick.

One day a stranger comes along the road and tells them about his part of the world, and although it is close to Skerrick Peat and Marlie had no idea it existed. Peat is curious and asks lots of questions. Unfortunately the stranger is suffering from  a plague like illness and after traveling on further to Skerrick, he infects the residents. This causes the wrath of Peat’s father to fall upon her again. Even though she has always longed for an adventure she is forced to go on the run into the badlands, leaving her sister behind. Peat meets a strange creature that she calls a Sleek. Despite the Sleek sometimes biting and hurting her and stealing the little food she has, he also helps her and becomes her traveling companion. Peat meets people along the way but she is unable to stay anywhere and has to keep moving further on, eventually into the marshes.

Once in the marshes Peat is fortunate to meet the Marsh Aunties, a group of strange, gifted women.  Eadie is a larger than life character, wearing an organic living coat with 1000 pockets, all containing the herbs and other materials she needs for healing and making remedies. Eadie, rescues Peat and encourages her to be her apprentice and pass on to her, the skill of storytelling. While the reader is being coaxed lovingly into this story by the warm characters and delicious prose, the characters are telling us about the power and magic of oral storytelling. Unfortunately Peat is tricked and without spoiling the story, let me just say that Peat has to use the power of story telling herself in order to escape and rescue her friend Stiltboy.

The whole book is a very satisfying, rich fantasy read without the usual layers of props (dragons, wizards and the rest!). I believe that both girls and boys 9+ should love this book. It would be great read aloud.

My thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending an advance copy of this book for review.