A Year in Books Family

One for them and one for me: Books for June

06/06/2016

One for them: Dr Xargle’s Books of Earthlets

Kitty came home with another new book from school the other day.  But this time it wasn’t her weekly library book or yet another edition of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but this:

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

It’s a present from her headmaster to the Reception class, to share around and enjoy together, and being my daughter, when faced with a new story she made an unassailable bid to be the first to take it home.  And I’m so glad she did because it is to be frank, hilariously funny.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

And funny in that very specific way that means that Kitty thinks it’s absolutely brilliant and very silly, and H and I as veterans of the baby years can see so much that is absolutely logical and a very believable conclusion if aliens did land on earth. It’s so right, and yet at the same time, utterly wrong.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

Well OK, this one might be true, we tried it out on Pip just to check and he did genuinely say “Hee hee here!”; at least he did right up until the point when I stopped and then he fixed me with the sort of glare that would freeze a volcano until I continued through the rest of the story.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

The unravelling of the sheep though is just brilliant; would that I was that productive with the knitting needles though!!

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

And the baby cover in cat hair, mud, scrambled egg and banana by the end of the day …well we don’t have a cat, but Pip has spent much of his life putting in serious efforts on rest.

It’s all presented as Dr Xargle giving a lesson to a class of school age aliens, just before they come on a field trip to check us out in person and it’s such a lovely book I think we may have to make it a permanent addition to our library – as it is Kitty loved it so much she bargained to keep it for an extra two days!

One for me: The Shepherd’s Life, A Tale of the Lake District: James Rebanks

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Credit for this one must go to the lovely lady on the till in Waterstones in Birmingham.  I’d gone in to buy Freya, and, as you do, collected up enough of a handful of other lovely stories that I was very eligible for the buy one get one half price deal. Did I want any of the offer books? she asked. I looked at the pile in my hand, considered how long it was going to take to read even those, and shook my head.

“Are you sure? This one’s really good” she replied, and pushed the gentle green cover towards me.

I added it to the pile.  It’s taken me a little while to get around to reading it but it was the book that I started reading in the bath, kept reading while the children ran around the garden, and was still reading with one hand while stirring the supper with the other.  It is an utterly compelling and utterly unromantic account of life as a Lake District fell shepherd, told as part memoir, and part yearly cycle of life on the farm; the two woven together into one cohesive story.

And in some ways an uncomfortable read, but in a good way. I might be related to people who farm, and even some who’ve farmed sheep, and growing up in rural Devon the yearly rhythm of the farming community was certainly on our radar, but from the perspective of James Redbanks and his colleagues I’m definitely in the “thinks the Lake District is a pretty place to come and play Swallows and Amazons” camp.  He writes about being in a school assembly, listening to a teacher, who saw in these “farm boys” only a lack of ambition, describe the untamed wild that surrounded them and how it should be preserved for the nation, and feeling the disconnect between the place she knew and was describing, and the land that his family and countless others had worked for centuries; this is his account of the other side of the story, the story of families who have lived and breathed sheep for so long that what the teacher saw as settling for a low end career, is more of a calling to carry on their way of life.

The Lakes were far enough north, and wild enough to escape much of the impact of centuries of political infighting further south and so it evolved into a community all of its own, until the invention of tourism, and his potted history covers both the emergence of tourism as the majority economy, just as it took over from farming and fishing in Devon, and the impact on the community, largely, as in Devon, when it comes to a lack of affordable housing.  And there are parts of the story that are heartbreaking; the loss of generations of work as flocks were culled during the foot and mouth crisis in particular.

But riding through the whole book is a sense of determination, a clear and certain belief that whatever might get thrown at them, the fell shepherds and their sheep will be there for the centuries to come, because it’s not a career, nor are the farms soulless businesses simply looking for profit; it is a vocation, and it is founded on love.

I’m loving watching my reading list expand and expand again each month so please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts, and if’ve you’ve been reading something good, please come and link up below – happy reading!


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  • Gin plus Tonic 06/06/2016 at 9:32 am

    Oh my goodness! I love the Shepherds life. And the book cover isn’t in fabulous.

    • Carie 07/06/2016 at 9:40 pm

      It’s gorgeous isn’t it!!

  • sustainablemum 06/06/2016 at 10:01 am

    I have yet to read James Rebanks, he farms not far from where I live. There are many farming families in my village, families like his who have been farming for generations. There was funding available for Cumbrian children to go to university a while back (doubt it is still available now) as it was felt there was ‘not enough’ Cumbrian graduates I think a lot of that funding was applied for and given to incomer families, ironic really. Whatever people feel about tourism, I have mixed emotions, it does provide income in this part of the world and is probably a necessity.

    • Carie 07/06/2016 at 9:40 pm

      Tourism is a necessity in Devon too now – there’s no way it could survive on fishing, farming and the Navy any more; having grown up with it I don’t mind it so much but the description of the empty Cumbrian villages that are holiday homes is very familiar – I love that St Ives in Cornwall decided that new build properties have to be sold to local residents, and I suspect it’s an idea that will be adopted elsewhere where locals are priced out of housing.

  • Ross Mountney 07/06/2016 at 5:03 pm

    I loved The shepherd’s Life too – very thought provoking and unpredictable – the sort I love. Am onto ‘The Outrun’ now by Amy Liptrot – I just love narrative biographies – you may have guessed! Partly I suppose because I know what it takes to write one!

    • Carie 07/06/2016 at 9:33 pm

      Ooh I shall have to go and look that one up – thank you for the recommendation!

  • Louise | Squished Blueberries 07/06/2016 at 8:35 pm

    I remember Dr Xargel from when I was a kid! It was always one of my favourites too, I remember thinking it was absolutely hilarious. I will have to hunt it out now for our bookcase. What a lovely idea for a post, I adore children’s books. I would join in but I never get a chance to read myself these days, perhaps I should try harder.

    • Carie 07/06/2016 at 9:32 pm

      Come and join us – the whole impetus behind this project was because I realised that I’d read very few books for myself – now I definitely have to read one a month at least!

  • Nicola Young 08/06/2016 at 9:07 am

    Two very different books there! Love the illustrations in the first one and the second sounds interesting. I have all the James Heriot books about life in the Dales and found them fascinating. People who lived on remote farms back then spoke their own dialect and had very little contact with the outside world. It’s weird to think people lived like that.

    • Carie 08/06/2016 at 11:29 pm

      It is isn’t it, especially in our very connected world – but it’s changed so much even since I was a child!

  • suz 08/06/2016 at 5:16 pm

    Ooh, both these books sound great. Will have to add them to my tbr list 🙂

    • Carie 08/06/2016 at 11:30 pm

      Yay – enjoy!

  • Turning Up In Devon 08/06/2016 at 8:41 pm

    Dr Xargles book of Earthlets is really clever and Tony Ross’ illustrations never disappoint -he’s so talented. I haven’t read the other one The Shepherd’s life but i’ll look out for it now #whatimwriting

    • Carie 08/06/2016 at 11:30 pm

      It is isn’t it – apparently there’s a whole series of Dr Xargle that we now need to look out for!

  • Bex @ The Mummy Adventure 08/06/2016 at 9:15 pm

    The children’s book looks great and a nice break from Biff and Chip (who I am quite frankly rather bored of already!) I love the illustrations

    • Carie 08/06/2016 at 11:31 pm

      You and me both – poor Biff and Chip and Kipper need a holiday as much as the rest of us!

  • Maddy@writingbubble 08/06/2016 at 10:36 pm

    That kids book looks fab – really funny! Will have to track it down. The James Rebanks book isn’t something I’d normally go for but I’ve read a few books recently that fit that description and enjoyed them all. It’s good to try out new stuff sometimes isn’t it? Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xx

    • Carie 08/06/2016 at 11:32 pm

      Oh do try it – it’s a really good read just for enjoying it as well as for making you think!

  • Alice @ The Filling Glass 12/06/2016 at 8:43 pm

    I’ve heard of that James Rebanks book before and another that’s similar. I am from an entirely urban background and I find the different rural life fascinating. I know I romantacise it but I also think it’s where we are from even if it is a distant past. I don’t often buy books these days but I’ll look out for this one. Xx

  • Sophie Lovett 13/06/2016 at 6:36 pm

    These books both sound fab! And this is the second #whatimwriting post this week that is making me REALLY want to do more reading… x

  • Claire @ Clarina's Contemplations 18/06/2016 at 12:43 am

    They both sound fabulous… The children’s book sounds like a hoot and a pretty dead cert to be right up my girls’ street! “The Sheherds Life” sounds utterly fascinating! Must check out! Thanks for tips!

  • sally 04/07/2016 at 2:36 pm

    Dr Xargle is definitely brilliant, and yours sounds very interesting too, a different perspective, I suspect a few teachers have similar attitudes down here to the one in the book.