The Dower library is always bursting with books and prints in the summer, and so will my friends at the Mac Barnett Reader’s Club as well. This year, Books About Time and Space was on the suggested book list because of its accessibility and eye-catching size.
We were initially inspired by the story of George Mason, who was ridiculed for wanting to visit Mars when he was four, and then sent to a girls’ school where “too much pink causes headaches”, so it was our honour to meet him in Birmingham. George was excited to see one of his favourite planetarium programmes and a reworking of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. We loved the little boys who were mischievous and bold: the Mars boy was the handsiest of the bunch, while the Venus boy had a lazy personality. Mac’s was the one with the best memory of the winter sun: “I was far from home when the boys were there, but I remembered how the leaves rippled together.”
Also on the suggested book list this year was Jane Aldred’s The Snake Hill (searching for the roots of a conspiracy of the upper class), explaining that there is more to time and space than astronomy, which is “only one angle of the universe”. It was well suited to the book club, because it focused on an intriguing yet unsubstantiated theory. Mac’s talked about space travel, but he often mentioned The Balance and the Dark Pool, another Cambridge adventure book. “Children’s spaceships are pretty ordinary in their design,” he said, and so are its characters.
Mac believed that children’s books about time and space must be diverse. One of Mac’s favourites was Michael Sheldrake’s The Robots and the Cats, which focused on the challenges encountered when two chimpanzees share the same house.
“Mars is a tricky one,” Mac says, “but Pluto isn’t very interesting, either.” Mac admires Laura Hillenbrand’s book Seabird, which was recommended by one of our member children: “It’s a great story, and the best of the government droning on about its plans.”
We were all deeply impressed by Alice Dale’s illustrated books and party animal ideas: her volumes around Christmas, for example, and her original novels based on Matilda, The Wasp Factory and Miss Polly’s Castle. Our final recommendation was the excitingly named Trespass by Rosy Murray (published in 2015). It’s about a fourth-generation sailor, the only child of coal miners. She wants to find the moment when she stopped fearing the sea, and so sets out on a search for her father’s ship. It tells of Rosy’s battles with love, courage and independence, and Mac thought its message was “all too pertinent today, at a time when so many of us are stressed about climate change”.
We are looking forward to the next edition of Mac’s Newsletter, which will feature a perenially requested book on the London metropolitan area. We’ll hope you’ll come along to one of our book club meetings.