Hello. Today we’ve got a writer who is far removed from our usual noiry niche, and she’s bringing something very different. Jordan Bell – Aunt Jodie to some of you – is a psychologist and educator who is all about science communication. She has a PhD in Educational Resilience, but is also a nerdy parent who loves reading to her daughter. When she couldn’t find enough children’s fiction with a strong STEM message to help her daughter learn about the world, she wrote Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution. She believes that understanding the theory of evolution is an important key to scientific literacy for our developing citizens. Jordan prefers writing in her local café with a pot of strong tea, so the COVID19 lockdown was a challenge, but she’s adapted her writing routines for the moment. She loves reading science fiction and long walks in nature. Jordan is currently working on her second book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change. Over to her now for her selections:
As a children’s author, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the books which had a profound impact on me through my childhood, and which have shaped my view on “what books should be” for this age group.
Out of This World: The Complete Book of Fantasy – written by Michael Page and illustrated by Robert Ingpen
I was gifted this enormous book for Christmas when I was ten, and I immediately inscribed my name on the title page with the calligraphy pen I’d also received as a gift that day. I read this book for hours, alphabetically, paging through the hundreds of gorgeously illustrated entries about fantastical creatures, myths, legends and science fictional entities that form the backdrop to European culture (as well as many entries from other cultural traditions around the world).
It’s organised by category: ‘Of the Cosmos,’ ‘Of the Ground and Underground,’ ‘Of Wonderland,’ ‘Of Magic, Science, and Invention,’ ‘Of Water, Sky, and Air,’ and ‘Of the Night’. A great deal of what I now know about mythology, folklore and the imaginative heritage of thousands of years of civilisation, had its seeds in this fabulous book. It was a huge influence on my view of the world and my knowledge of story. Now I use fiction to share factual information, and I’m sure the roots of this approach lie, in part, with this book.
When I learned, as an 18 year old, that my mother had GIVEN THIS BOOK AWAY, I was distraught, and searched for it widely. I found a much-reduced later version of it, published as The Encyclopaedia of Things That Never Were, but it was a poor shadow of the original. A happy accident at a Bookseller’s table in a market meant I obtained another copy for a trivial sum ($5!) when I was about 23, and I have kept it ever since. It’s now out of print but copies can be had from online booksellers if you search.
The Never-ending Story by Michael Ende (original in German, but translated into English)
I came to this book after being obsessed with the movie as a child; my father capitalised on my interest by buying me a hardback copy of the original English pressing. Fascinatingly for me as a young reader, it was printed in red and green ink, with illustrated capitals at the start of each chapter. Discovering that the book went so far beyond the story of the movie, and learning about the risks inherent in getting everything that you wish for, carved some difficult lessons into my young heart. This was another book that my well-meaning parents eventually passed on to other readers (WHHYYYYYY????), but happily my husband gifted me a copy of this same edition some years ago, so it is back on my shelves where it belongs.
Sarum by Edward Rutherford
This enormous historical fiction novel covers the history of the Salisbury Plain in England from Neolithic times to the modern era, and encompasses such cultural touchstones as the building of Stonehenge and the construction of the Salisbury Cathedral. To the extent that a book can make a place sacred to you, before you’ve even visited it, Sarum did this for me. I must have read it four or five times as a young teenager, and while certain aspects of the storyline are a little pulp-y on reflection, Rutherford’s ability to translate research into engaging prose meant that I learned a lot about British history through reading the story. Once again, the idea that you can teach people real information by embedding it in a narrative seems to have been built into my foundations as an author. I don’t think I currently have a copy of this book, as I loaned it to a young man I was infatuated with, some 20 years ago, and never got it back; but I can picture its dog-eared, creamy-yellow cover so clearly. Rutherford went on to write a long series of similar books (London, Paris, The Forest, etc), all based around similarly iconic locations, but none were ever as excellent as Sarum, for me.
Note that the links to The Never-Ending Story and Sarum are affiliate links.