Some of Lindsey Fraser's Favourite Children's Books
I wouldn't necessarily label these my favourite books by writers living in Scotland – another day might throw up another ten. But they're certainly all books that I'd recommend as representing the best writing for young people today – from any country.
Written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick
I could have chosen any of these stories, set on the fictional island of Struay, but this collection includes Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers, which is probably my favourite because although Katie Morag is her usual wilful self, there is some bad behaviour amongst the adults too. All the books remind me of happy days spent scampering around seashores wearing a warm jumper and welly boots.
Written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
Every single book by this dauntingly talented East Lothian-based writer and artist packs an emotional punch. Debi believes in telling powerful stories, tempered by wit and a kindness with which she coats the toughest of subjects. No Matter What, perhaps her best–known book, dips into life's big philosophical questions through the eyes of a young fox in a bad mood. Flora's concerns are less capacious, but nonetheless universal.
Written by Margaret Ryan
Margaret combines a delightful sense of humour with superb comic timing in books that welcome newly fluent readers with open arms. In this book of three stories about a thrawn fairy, Margaret revels in the ridiculous, but never oversteps the mark so that her readership knows that she is laughing with them, not at them. That's a fine line to tread when you are writing for this tricky, but important age-group. Margaret is one of Scotland's quietly prolific writers – and she writes as successfully for older readers too.
Blair the Winner
Written by Theresa Breslin
Theresa is probably better known for such outstanding older novels as Remembrance, The Divided City and Kezzie. Whispers in the Graveyard, one of the first books to tell the story of the terrible effect of illiteracy, won the Carnegie Medal, the UK's most prestigious award for a book for young people. She loves history of all kinds, and her novels are always meticulously researched. Families also offer a central theme in most of her writing, and no more elegantly or wittily than in these stories about Blair and his family. These deceptively simple stories for younger readers reflect Theresa's experience in raising her own children, and, perhaps, in being a wife, daughter and sibling herself. They are miniature marvels.
Written by Joan Lingard
Joan Lingard made her name with the Kevin and Sadie series set in Northern Ireland. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but it was the Maggie series that had my circle of friends gripped in the mid 70s. Joan has continued to write books which speak very directly to young people and Natasha's Will is amongst my favourites. It's a splendid story, linking contemporary Scotland with St Petersburg in the early part of the 20th Century, into which she has stitched a literary puzzle.
Written by Jackie Kay
This was my first introduction to Jackie's poetry for young people – although there really isn't an age-limit to enjoyment of these poems. I often hear her reading them in the middle of the night on the World Service. She has a very distinctive rhythm to her voice, but her writing is wonderfully accessible and attractive, often funny, sometimes sad, occasionally fearful and more often robust. Her poems tell Jackie's stories, but they also tell our own.
Written by Catherine MacPhail
This was Cathy's first book, the winner of the Kathleen Fidler Prize. Unashamedly inspired by the bullying experienced by her younger daughter, it has a rawness to it which reflects the passion which drove a mother to try and make sense of the horror story in which her child was struggling. Cathy has gone on to write many more books, and to win many more prizes. Her characterisation is outstanding, and her plotting fearless.
Written by Julie Bertagna
With Exodus, Julie deservedly moved into the big time as a writer for teenagers. It is an ambitious, wide-ranging and demanding novel, the kind that readers never forget. The earlier Soundtrack is painted on a smaller canvass, but still explores and illuminates big ideas. Finn, the hero, doesn't fit in to the fishing community into which he's been born, and the process of handling and assimilating that realisation is harrowing. Any novel by this outstanding writer is an invaluable emotional and intellectual investment.
Written by Nicola Morgan
Brace yourself for the opening chapter of this book in which a woman undergoes surgery in 18th century Edinburgh, before any sense of pain control or hygiene had been introduced, and in front of an audience. It was this true story that launched Nicola into a book which sank deep foundations into the real Edinburgh of the time, with its dark, seamy dangerous side, only a step away from rooms in which staggering medical advances were taking place. Enter the two children of that poor woman, the elder of whom can't forget what happened and, crazed with grief, is determined to have his revenge. But Nicola never trails after linear stories and just as with The Passionflower Massacre, Mondays are Red and Sleepwalking, the reader is left with a whole array of impressions and memories.
Written by Keith Gray
This was Keith's first novel, about a daredevil game played by a group of lads. It's the structure of the gang which provides the heart of this story – their loyalty, faith in each other, and courage. Creeping could be any game played on the fringes of legitimacy by kids anywhere, which is why it strikes such a chord with Keith's readers. He has gone on to write such novels as Malarkey, Warehouse, Happy and The Fearful, each of which has that same ability to reflect our own experiences, enthusiasms and fears in a manner which is as unsettling as it is compelling.
- Add to BasketAiry Fairy's Book Of Magic - - Paperback
In these three magical stories, Airy Fairy causes a fuss at the Fairy Olympics, tries to tidy up her bedroom (but makes a mess of her spelling), and gets trapped on top of a very prickly Christmas tree!
- Add to BasketCreepers - - Paperback
Derwent Drive was known as the Speed Creep - 25 houses all in a row, no bends, no kinks. No Creeper had ever done the lot. Jamie and I reckoned we could do it. Jamie was the best Creeper around and the best buddie you could have.
- Add to BasketFleshmarket - - Paperback
Set in 1820s in Edinburgh, a city of cruel contrasts between the lives of the rich and poor, and home to the Resurrectionists - the notorious body-snatchers Burke and Hare, this is the story of a boy who must survive the pain of his mother's death, at the hands of the famous surgeon Doctor Knox.
- Add to BasketNatasha's Will - - Paperback
Natasha's story is set against the background of the Russian Revolution as she and her family flee persecution. Her story is linked with the present as her heirs search for her will.
- Add to BasketRun, Zan, Run - - Paperback
By helping Katie, Zan draws attention to herself from a menacing private investigator. It becomes clear that he is a criminal out to get Zan, as she's the witness to his arson on her parents' house. This is a fast-paced thriller from Catherine MacPhail.
Blair The Winner and Two's Company are currently out of print and not listed on BooksfromScotland.com.
Lindsey Fraser is one half of the Fraser Ross Literacy Consultancy.