Archive for August, 2016

Top 5 books from school that we didn’t appreciate as children

Do you remember the books you read at school? At the time, some of them could not have been less appreciated, if we’re honest, but looking back now they provided us with our first exposure to some of the world’s finest, most celebrated fiction. And as the new school year is fast approaching for all of our children, we thought it would be fun to run through the books from our school days that we REALLY should have appreciated more at the time.

best books from school


Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men book

Written by the great John Steinbeck and published in 1937, Of Mice and Men tells the story of migrant ranch workers George and Lennie, who move from place to place through California in search of work during the United States’ Great Depression.

Way back when we were reading Of Mice and Men at school, we likely couldn’t see past the early 20th century setting, dead puppies and that strange glove that Curley wore, but the book is a compelling and captivating exploration of dreams, loneliness, companionship and oppression – themes you might not appreciate fully until you’re a little older, like we are.




Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies book

Written by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding in 1954, Lord of the Flies tells the tale of a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island during a nuclear war, who attempt to govern themselves with truly dire results.

When we were reading Lord of the Flies at school, most of us would have likely been distracted by passing notes (notes – those were the days!) and carving our names into the desk with a protractor, but Lord of the Flies is a fascinating parable about civilisation, innocence and the universality of human nature – if only we’d known at the time.





To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird book

Published in 1960, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most celebrated works of modern literature. The book, too, takes place during the Great Depression of the United States and tells the story of Atticus Finch, an attorney appointed to defend a black man who has been accused of raping a young white woman, narrated by his daughter, Scout.

While some of the racial epithets used were a bit distracting and shocking to us as younger readers, To Kill a Mockingbird remains a warm and humorous juxtaposing examination of very serious issues including rape and racial inequality.





Frankenstein book

Written by author Mary Shelley and published in 1818, Frankenstein tells the story of a young Genevan scientist who creates a creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment, told as a final correspondence between a ship’s captain and his sister.

As young whipper-snappers, we were likely preoccupied with whatever was going to go on at lunchtime rather than taking in the themes of the book. While Frankenstein’s language may have been a bit difficult to digest during our school years, too, looking back it’s a fine example of both gothic and romantic fiction, and is considered by many the catalyst for the creation of the science fiction genre.




The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby book

Penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, The Great Gatsby tells the story of the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, who has passionate obsession for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan.

A bit of a depressing read for younger readers and, if we’re honest, a bit of a slow burner that lacks in the form of monstrous characters to keep our at-the-time short attention focussed on its pages, The Great Gatsby is a curious and glamorous tale that explores human aspiration and the depraved side of the American dream.





The Baddest Book Characters

Including tales of adventure, magic and true childhood wonder, there’s something brilliant about an engaging children’s book. But do you ever remember having to put a book down for being too scared of a certain baddy? Or having to sleep with the light on for fear of story-induced nightmares?

Everyone has that one character that sticks out in their heads as having sparked a couple of nightmares as a child. Whether it’s the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s The Witches, or the Child Catcher from Ian Flemming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a novel’s baddy is often the one that evokes the biggest reaction among readers, especially younger ones.

But how much fright is too much? We’ve been thinking about the baddest story book characters recently, and after surveying a bunch of parents, we discovered that a third of them wouldn’t read their children a book with a scary villain in. However despite this, a large proportion of parents (84%) said that baddies are important in children’s books.

Baddest Book Characters

In some cases, reading about a bad character can be one of the most descriptive, imaginative parts of a children’s book, but to get a clearer picture, we decided to chat to child psychologist Emma Kenny to find out her views on whether fear is important in a child’s development. You can find the full interview below:

Do you think fear is an important emotion for children to experience? 

“Absolutely! In fact fear is imperative in realising courage. Essentially when we learn to cope with our fears, it enables us to take healthy risks, and positive risk taking is associated with a whole host of positive traits. These include resilience, a sense of agency, great communication and a willingness to try new things.”

What role do you think fear plays in children’s literature and what can children learn from it? 

“There are lots of positives that can be drawn from the role of fear in children’s literature, these include engaging a moral conscience, so learning to take sides with the forces of good for example. Fear is something that we encounter in lots of situations, so understanding what it is and enabling a child to have a fear ‘compass’ is an equipping experience for a child.”

Do you think children can learn important life lessons from ‘bad’ or scary characters in children’s books? 

“Scary characters are great in helping children ‘hook’ into stories, being tucked up safely in bed, whilst vicariously experiencing a sense of manageable fear through the pages of a book, helps children self-regulate their anxiety.

Bad characters can also help children safely explore the dark side of humanity and in doing so helps teach them about their own strengths and weaknesses.

There are some clear life lessons that the negative characters help to translate. Fairy tales often offer main characters consequences when they fail to take advice, this can help children realise consequential thinking.”

Were there any literary characters that particularly scared you as a child and what lessons did you learn from them? 

“I used to get freaked out by the ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff”, which sounds ridiculous. I love animals and am a vegetarian, so the idea that this big troll was just waiting to pounce on a goat really upset me. It didn’t matter how many times I read it, I always thought that one day the troll would get lucky and gobble one of the goats up. On reflection I can see that this related to not wanting anything bad to happen to my family and also the fact that I had a fair few wooden bridges that me and my friends used to play on seemed to bring the story to life for me.”

Is it a bad thing for parents to actively shelter their children from children’s books that may frighten them?

“Children will be exposed to fear in their lives and whilst it’s understandable that parents wish to shield their children from negative emotions, the truth is that it’s healthy to enable kids to have a wide emotional vocabulary.

Life isn’t always fair, people are not always kind and we lose people we love. This is all part of life and trying to protect children from these issues means they will have a rude awakening should the find themselves dealing with an unsavoury experience.”

Are there any signs to watch for when your child has become too fearful of a particular experience?

“Children are pretty capable of letting you know when they feel unhappy or scared and if they are asking you to stop reading then it’s best to do so. However in such a circumstance it is also healthy to promote a discussion about how they feel so that you can reassure them.

If your child starts having nightmares, or suddenly wants to sleep with the light on then it may be worth changing the book to one with a happier tone, returning to the scary story when they are feeling less spooked.”

The secret to academic success? Colouring in!

New research that we at Book People have conducted has identified the UK’s biggest colouring-in hot spots – and it looks like it’s a university affair, with Oxford and Cambridge residents top the list of crayon wielding adults.


The findings, based on how many adult colouring books were purchased on average per person over the past eight months, found that the battle of universities is not only restricted to league tables or boat races, but crayoning too. With Oxford topping the list of colouring in cities, closely followed by Newcastle and their mortal opponents, Cambridge.

Over the past year we’ve been amazed by the rapid growth in popularity of adult colouring books. With recent reports showing that a shortage in colouring pencils could be on the horizon, it seems the trend for colouring in is only getting bigger. It’s surprising to see Oxbridge so high in the colouring rankings, we can only assume the next Stephen Hawking is colour coding their crayons in between their theoretical cosmology lectures!


Of the types of adult colouring books the public are purchasing, patterns, animals and nature were the most popular niches, with two thirds (66%) of people choosing one of those genres.

It also seems the popularity of The Great British Bake Off has had an impact on our colouring preferences, particularly in Cardiff where 12% of all colouring books purchased were cake related.

In Cambridge, it looks like academic types could be busy shading in Brad Pitt’s cheekbones, with 10% of all colouring books bought on the topic of famous faces.

Speaking of why Oxbridge may have come so high in the colouring rankings, Dr Nick Smith, courses director and founder of Oxford Open Learning Trust, commented: “For students in a high pressured academic environment such as Oxford or Cambridge colouring is the perfect means of relaxation.

“Adult colouring books are not only a great way to engage your creative side, but they encourage users to take a break from technology and the stresses of daily life – so we couldn’t recommend them more highly for any students needing some ‘me-time’.”

Mali Lewis, a postgraduate from Leeds Beckett University, used colouring books as a means of relaxation in her final year of university: “Studying for my finals was an intense time, with dissertation hand-in just around the corner, I often turned to colouring as a way to detach myself from work and unwind. I love any of the books by Millie Marotta – her illustrations are so calming, you can get lost in them for hours.”



All figures based on sales data from Book People, from July 2015 to March 2016.

The UK’s top ten colouring cities:

Newcastle upon Tyne


Most popular colouring in genres:

Genre Percentage of people who’ve bought this genre of colouring book from Book People
Patterns 23%
Animals 23%
Nature 20%
Urban 10%
Cake 5%
Famous Faces 4%


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Book Review

Harry Potter Cursed Child

The wait is over. The time is finally now upon us muggles to don our cloaks, ready our wands, hop aboard the Hogwarts Express and embark on the next magical adventure in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We love Harry Potter books here at Book People, and so we decided we should put together a review (a spoiler-free review!!!) of the exciting new chapter of the best-loved series.

The first Harry Potter story since 2007’s amazing, heart-breaking, thrilling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes readers by the hand and dives straight back into the Wizarding World we all know and love, 19 years later. While not a novel (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the script for the West End stage play written by Jack Thorne), the book acts in a way like the eighth part of the Harry Potter series but with cross-medium appeal, enabling both fans of the films or books (or both!) to join in the magic and enjoy it with equal awe and wonder.


For the first few pages it really would have been useful to have had some kind of ‘get your head around anything’ potion from Professor Slughorn – if you’re a fan of the books (like we are), the script formatting really does take a few pages to get used to. That being said, once you’ve gone through a few pages and taken in some of Thorne’s hypnotically poetic stage directions, you really do feel like you’re zipping through pages of Rowling’s story-led prose.

While this review is spoiler-free, we will have to go over some of the plot points a little. If you don’t want to know anything regarding the plot to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, skip this section and scroll down to the ‘it’s safe, you can look now!’ section below…

The story begins right where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows epilogue left off – with Harry and Ginny saying goodbye to their son Albus at Platform 9 ¾. Albus soon meets the son of his father’s old school foe Draco Malfoy, Scorpius, and the pair strike up a friendship. This friendship, forged in part by the pair wanting to escape the shadow of their famous parents, is played out against the backdrop of magic and mystery we have all come to love – with a refreshing twist of time travel thrown in for good measure.

Harry Potter’s son, Albus, wants to right one of Harry’s failures by going back in time to save Cedric Diggory from being murdered by the evil Lord Voldemort, played out in the fourth Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But in doing so, Albus and Scorpius trigger a sequence of calamitous alternate realities which puts the lives of everyone they know and love in jeopardy.

hogwarts school

It’s safe, you can look now!

Right, back to reviewing the book – we won’t discuss the plot at all now, promise!!!

If you’re not familiar with the original books, or at least the characters from the Harry Potter films, you might struggle reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Though, if you haven’t read them, you can catch up by binge reading through the Complete Harry Potter Collection and save £30 off RRP. There are no recaps at all, so we definitely recommend you read all the stories before you embark on the Boy Who Lived’s next adventure.

If you are familiar with the Harry Potter stories already, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a delightful combination of witty dialogue and pacy storytelling which really feels as though it’s not only following on from but resurrecting J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories.

If you haven’t seen the show, the first thing we’ll say is that you really, REALLY should. The most successful thing about it, apart from bringing the Harry Potter stories to the stage, is the spellbinding stage effects. And seeing these effects in the flesh will better prepare readers for envisioning how the spells looks and what transforming objects look like: stage directions do not a novel make. Though, like we said, Jack Thorne’s stage directions are no ordinary stage directions…

While it might not satisfy all fans (the time travel element in particular is a huge departure from the mythology of the original Harry Potter books), the climax of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is as touching, brutal and crushing, yet all the while thoroughly moving and ultimately tender as J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter novels. We definitely recommend reading it; there is no magic like the magic of Harry Potter!

Harry Potter review

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