Wills’ new book is well worth considering

VALERIE WATT looks at three books on offer this Christmas for younger readers.

Wilma Widdershins an da Muckle Tree by Jonathan Wills, illustrated by Gurli Feilberg. Published by The Shetland Times Ltd at £7.99.

WILMA Widdershins certainly looks the better for a bit of colour in her cheeks. Jonathan Wills first published her story in black in white in 1991. Gurli Feilberg has added colour to her original illustrations which has really brought them to life and makes the book far more modern.

I settled down with my five-year-old son Magnus to get reacquainted with Wilma. We learnt about her fanatical beachcombing and the night she witnesses a Russian steam­ship being torpedoed during World War Two.

It is the wreck of this ship that delivers to the shores the biggest piece of driftwood Wilma Widder­shins has ever seen. With her block-and-tackle and the help of her horse she hoists da muckle tree up the cliff and impressed Magnus immensely. Her ability to get it from the cliff face to her doorstep impressed him even more so. Wilma certainly deserved her hearty supper.

So it was with some shock that Magnus discovered that the next morning Wilma Widdershins “had gone to meet the Holy Maker”. He wanted to go to bed. Anyone with a five-year-old knows this is unusual. “If she is dead the story is finished,” he insisted. I explained the rest was about da muckle tree but without the heroine he wouldn’t read on.

So I had to learn about the sad decline of Wilma’s croft alone. Thankfully Da Huppies arrive with “their long hair and funny clothes.” They bring life back to the croft and when they face crisis they come to depend on da muckle tree. Da Huppies are a likeable bunch but it would have been nice to have a strong character amongst them to help the reader get over the loss of the wonderful Wilma Widdershins.

Well worth considering when Christmas shopping for bairns. And perhaps for councillors too. Dr Wills could get them all out searching for a muckle tree. If one could be used to prop up the new Anderson High School, surely that would save some money?

Dodie’s Phenomenal Pheesic. A Translation of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine into Shetland dialect by Christine De Luca. Priced at £5.99.

GEORGE’S Marvellous Medicine is a hilarious book. Dare I say, Christine De Luca’s translation is even funnier. She really demonstrates how descriptive and humorous our dialect can be. On speaking to a few youngsters that have read both books, this is the one thing they all agree on.

Roald Dahl refers to George’s Grandma as “a miserable old grouch”. Christine De Luca describes Dodie’s Granny as “a nearbigyaain, nipsiccar aald nyaa”. Poor Dodie. He definitely has the worst one to put up with.

Dodie is so irritated by his Granny he decides a good dose of medicine, or pheesic, will sort her out. He sets to creating a concoction no pharmaceutical company would touch with a barge pole.

Morven Davies, 11, told me this was her favourite part of the book. She particularly liked Dodie’s recipe that begins: “Sae, gie me a bug an a jimpin flea, Gie me twa snails an lizards tree, An a slooby squiggler fae da sea, An da pooshinous swee fae a drummiebee.”

For Megan Nicolson, 12, it is Granny’s consumption of the pheesic that is her favourite part of the book. “Up shö gud laek a jack-i-da-box . . . and shö didna come doon . . . shö bade dere . . . hingin i mid air . . . aboot twa fit up . . . as if shö wis still sittin . . . but as stiff as a board . . . stivvenin . . . pipperin . . . da een spootin . . . da hair staandin straicht up on end.” This startling predica­ment is brought to life further by Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustra­tions from Dahl’s original book.

All primary four to seven pupils in Shetland were generously given a free copy of this book when Christine De Luca recently toured schools. So keep this in mind if you are considering this one when Christmas shopping. An excellent choice for family away from home, or anyone interested in dialect. Just don’t buy it for your Granny if she can be described as an “aald nyaag”.

Tarantula Tide by Sharon Tregenza. Published by Floris Books at £5.99.

THIS is Enid Blyton with iPods and lashings of Coke. Sharon Tregenza takes all that is good about classic action books for children and gives us a modern version set in Shetland. I couldn’t help wonder why we haven’t heard more about this book?

Tarantula Tide was published in October as a result of winning the Kelpies Prize. The prize is open to unpublished books set in contemporary Scotland that are suited to boys or girls aged eight to 12. The author, originally from Cornwall, now lives on the Welsh Border. She chose to set her book in Shetland after her husband’s work brought them here to visit. Jack and his mother visit Shetland to move on from a traumatic time in their lives. But Jack doesn’t want to talk. Instead he spends his time with his new friend, local lass Izzy. With Izzy, Jack gets to know the locals, an unusual mix of characters who all seem to know each other so well. But do they really? The origins of Izzy’s pet tarantula leads them to unravelling an unexpected side to this community. One of danger and criminal activity where it is least expected.

Shetlanders buy books set here as we love to judge how well the author has captured the place and people we know so well.

At first I thought Tregenza’s references to Shetland were a little touristy and tedious. Lots of facts about wildlife and history are woven into conversation. But after an energetic visit to the Clickimin Broch and dinner at a hotel described as “a white, modern rectangle from the outside and red-carpet posh on the inside”, it was all very recognisable. The more Jack learns about Shetland, the more realistic Tregenza’s descriptions of the place and people become. She captures a progression that every tourist makes.

At only £5.99 this is great stocking filler for bookworms. And if any teachers are writing to Santa, this would make a great class text too. Nothing would get a class discussing a text more so than the familiarity found in Tarantula Tide.


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