Public Libraries Need Help

I am a huge fan of public libraries; I’ve had a library card since I was six. And, nowadays, they offer you far more than just books. With my various library cards, (I have library cards like other people have credit cards) I can access the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (the DNB) – really useful for research – with my library card number, or read The Times or The Guardian online, and much more. And libraries are currently suffering from ferocious budget cuts.

Library 2

Me and Tony Brown, the Stock and Reader Development Manager

So, when I became the UK Children’s/Young Adult Book Review Editor for the quarterly Historical Novel Society Review, I decided to offer the ex-review copies to my local library. Every few months, when my floor round my desk has once more disappeared under books, I email Tony Brown, the Stock and Reader Development Manager of my local library, label the email: Books looking for a good home, and send him a book list. Would he like any of them? So far, he has always said, ‘Yes, please,’ to the lot.

I always get far more books than I, or my wonderful stable of reviewers, can review; often because they are not actually historical (a dragon on the cover, for example, indicates fantasy, not history; or a recent book where Lady Jane Grey’s husband is a horse (!); or a book featuring jokey zebra gladiators) or where I’ve been sent two or more copies of the same book. So Tony gets an eclectic mix to choose from.

Here are six examples of recently reviewed Historicals which I hope others will now enjoy in my new list of books for Tony. And, of course, I hope it will help the authors’ PLR, too.


Yokki and the Parno Gry

Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby. This is a traditional Travellers’ tale with delightful pictures of their everyday lives. It is about the power of the imagination to help in times of hardship and it’s aimed at children of four plus.


And I Darken

And I Darken by Kiersten White. This can be described as The Hunger Games meets the Historical novel. The author turns Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century Transylvanian warlord, into a girl, Lada. Lada must fight to succeed her father and ruthlessness is the key to her survival. As the reviewer wrote: This is not a book for the squeamish. For girls, age fifteen plus.


Cover for Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection

Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection by Julia Lee is a murder mystery set in the 1920s and our heroine is a housemaid who can’t spell. I thoroughly enjoyed this lively story – and the amount of work poor Nancy has to do is 100% accurate for the period. For girls of ten plus.


Cover for Rugby Flyer

Rugby Flyer by Gerard Siggins. This well-respected Irish writer follows the adventures of the 21st century young rugby player, Eoin Madden, with a gift of seeing ghosts from Irish history. Rugby Flyer features real life Prince Alexander Obolensky who became an Irish football legend in the 1930s. A great read and boys of ten plus will love it.


Cover for These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly. New York, 1890. Young socialite, Jo Montfort, uncovers the truth about her father’s untimely death. The reviewer praised this book for depicting a realistic late 19th century New York, with a believable heroine struggling with the restrictions on a well-brought-up young lady’s behaviour. This is a young adult novel but my guess is that it will be a crossover book.


Cover for Hell and High Water

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman. The publisher’s publicity department actually sent me three copies! It’s a terrific book about a mixed-race boy in 18th century England, struggling to find his place in the world. Landman doesn’t pull her punches about the ignorance, corruption and bigotry of the time. Aimed at both sexes, age twelve plus.

What I enjoy about the Historical Novel Society is that I can keep up with what’s out there and what publishers are looking for. Children’s/YA novels are changing all the time; boundaries are being pushed; and difficult subjects, like race, are tackled openly which would previously have been mentioned more obliquely. Modern children’s Historicals can be challenging as well as terrific reads.

Today, children’s/YA novels are being published on a wide range of subjects – unlike adult novels, where publishers want them to fit into a genre. They say that this makes them easier to publicize. This is obviously not true for children’s novels so I don’t understand why adult novels have to be so confined.

Elizabeth Hawksley


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8 thoughts on “Public Libraries Need Help”

  1. I have always thought childfren’s/YA novels are so much more cutting edge than adult ones. Way more adventurous in scope and content.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jan. I agree. I can’t understand the rationale behind publishers demanding that adult novels must fit into a given genre – especially those written by women. Male authors seem to be given more leeway – or am I being biased?

  2. Thank you for sharing these novels with us.

    If they are available from Herts Libraries I shall borrow Diary of Detection and Rugy Flyer for three of my grandchildren. If not I shall buy them and stash them away as Christmas presents.

    1. I’m sure you’ll find a Julia Lee or two – she’s written a number of very entertaining books. Gerard Siggins’ Rugby Flyer is published by an Irish publisher: O’Brien Press, so it might be not available in a UK library. But I rate O’Brien Press highly and I’ve read several Gerard Siggins who specializes in books which appeal to boys who are interested in football – the background is usually a turbulent period of Irish history which he covers with sympathy and intelligence.

  3. What a thoroughly enjoyable post. We should fight tooth and nail to keep our libraries open – unfortunately, successive ‘austerity’ budgets have cut funding for local authorities so drastically that they struggle with bin collections andd road maintenance; libraries are seen as a luxury.

    When I was eight and living in India, I was passed a large box of books which had been discarded by the British Council. Until then I had specialised in books by Richmal Crompton and Enid Blyton, but these books were by lots of different authors, on wildly diverse subjects – history, science, a bit of French, some wild life, geography – my world opened up, and my love affair with books has never ended.

    So much delight is contained within the covers of a book.

    1. I do agree, Prem. With a book, you can travel anywhere, at any period of history, be somebody different and have adventures – all through the power of a skilful writers’ writing. Books can make you laugh, cry, thrill you and, emotionally speaking, save your life

  4. Interesting collection of books here. I like reading about Children’s and YA in Writing Magazine so this captured my interest too. I agree that children’s fiction appears much more eclectic and hard hitting than adult fiction. We are so hidebound by the PC society, aren’t we? But with children it’s considered educational, I suppose, so therefore acceptable. Strange times we live in.

    1. I think you’ve hit on something important, Elizabeth. I remember hearing Bernard Cornwell talk and he said that one of the reasons he loved writing historical novels was that you didn’t have to be politically correct! It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I was thinking of this when writing my recent post on ‘Mansfield Park’. Sir Thomas Bertram owns a slave plantation in the West Indies, yet we are supposed to admire his domestic virtues and his principled stand with regard to his erring married daughter, Maria, who runs off with Henry Crawford. It plainly doesn’t worry Jane Austen – but it certainly worries me!

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