Researching John Dee

Really looking forward to the talk at the Library at Willesden Green on 6 April!

will / write and talk

In advance of my talks on that Elizabethan man of mystery, Doctor John Dee, I’ve been on a real adventure of discovery. The surprising thing about retracing his distant life is how accessible he is to us today, how easy it is to walk where he walked and to see and even to touch his belongings. For a start we know exactly where he lived. The site of his house is now a modern block of flats called “John Dee House” in Mortlake, West London. But the tower of his parish church still stands, as does a section of his garden wall. At the British Museum, in the “Enlightenment” gallery is a recreation of the very first museum collection from the 1830s. This includes items attributed to John Dee, allegedly used in the summoning of angelic messengers. At the Royal College of Physicians, over 100 of John Dee’s books are available…

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Book Review: If You Go Away by Adele Parks

If you go away

I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books.  The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!

It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO).  I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).

The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period.  Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant.  Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship.  This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for.  Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory.  It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.

Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently.  He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him.  But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist.  There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war.  He returns to England just as conscription is introduced.  He becomes a contentious objector and is imprisoned because of this.

trenches

Howard witnesses the horrors of life in the trenches

At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son.  That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.

It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish.  I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere.  There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war.  The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotionally linked to their journeys.  I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)

I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this.  What is it about this that you liked so much?  Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!

2/5

Zoe

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Books to read to improve your health

As person who is trying to lead a more healthy more “organic” life (which I believe is a made up word for natural and before supermarkets and chemical engineers mess with perfectly good food) I can’t state how much I enjoy reading books by Dale Pinnock the Medicinal Chef. The recipes are easy to follow some use minimal ingredients but taste great for example the Kale chips. Also unlike some others there is no abuse of power words like revitalising and nourishing, instead he clearly explains the health benefits and goes into how different foods help skin, hair, digestion, respiratory system, immune system etc. His books even explain how food can be used to improve emotional health which included things like anxiety and depression.

Medicinal Chef

I highly recommend these books to anyone wanting to eat and live well.

 

James

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Inside a reader’s imaginings.

The books that have transform me into a fervent and determined reader are usually books that possess the key elements of a fierce and intense prose with real life encounters the novelist was subjected to. I like books with a strong and clear-cut story line along with effective and formidable characters.  I want to be able to imagine myself in the story, even if it is set in an unfamiliar time place or realm.  Books that challenge me with new ideas or lessons are the type I like, novels that may have an effect on my opinion because of the themes and subjects contained in the book.

Four years ago, I came across one of the most famous books published in the middle of the 20th century, it was not just any old book that you can just read once and return it upon the shelves, however it was a book that was not written by a shrewd or ardent writer, but rather a girl who underwent a war zone childhood to which the ordeal progressed through the most important and weighty period of her teenage years. As I mentioned before, the book was not just an ordinary narrative, written by a writer who had gained experienced in writing before, yet what clenches potential fans and supporters of this young writer is the fact that she kept a diary throughout the two years she hid in the secret annex, and had no intentions of publishing her private, secretive accounts.  She began her diary after listening to the radio one day to which the broadcaster mentioned that many publishing production companies, would be looking for relations and stories of living the daily life during the second world war, specifically declaring the proposals of letters and diaries holding narratives of the happenings during the dreadful and harrowing war.

Having heard this, the remarkable young writer, set to work. And she created something extraordinary, showing her beautiful and diligent disposition while undergoing unimaginable emotional turmoil.  Her character and writing skills lead to her becoming the most famous and inspiring writer of the 20th century as well as the first writer to be a young teenager.

By now, you must be wondering who this astonishing person is. Of course if you are familiar with the words ‘diary’, ‘secret annex’, the ‘Westertoren clock’, or even the infamous name ‘Kitty’, then you are pretty much aware of who I am writing about. The one and only talented, Anne Frank.

 

Anne’s dairy is noted for the bestselling piece of literacy and the writer who earned a respectable reputation, gained posthumously fame and acclaim. anne desk

To review a brief synopsis on this remarkable book, we firstly need to begin with the introduction that it is not a conventional, story- telling chronicle, it is a diary, written in first person, offering an insight of the daily life of Anne Frank during pre-war and the threatening times of the holocaust.

The diary commences with Anne Frank’s details of the students in her class, beginning with the girls, she states in her diary to which she favours some and others she greatly criticizes and condemns and as stated in the diary narrated by Anne Frank about a girl she immensely despised, . . . “and you should see her closet! All clothes much too mature and sophisticated for an average school girl, oh! How I could write a whole book about her”. As readers, we flatteringly expect a conventional approach of a diary of a young girl, expecting effusively of the reports of Anne Frank’s dreams and her pursuit of happiness, the subjects being taught in the school she once used to attend, the many beaus she had the fortune to have held to her self- destructing self and the relationship she had with her family and close friends

 

What riveted myself personally, was the fact that, Anne Frank begins her diary through the establishment of her daily routine as a care free school girl, with many beaus and admirers then all of a sudden, the mood and tone of the diary unexpectedly and precipitously alters with Anne Frank, her family and her secret admirer, Peter Van Pels and his family are forced into hiding, to which they speedily seek shelter and protection through the company business of Otto Frank (father of Anne Frank), who indeed, sold spices.

As we continue to read the diary, we are now in hiding with Anne Frank located in the secret annex. Whether you are reading her account on your bed, or in the playground or on the bus, you somewhat begin to feel as if the world around you is not the year that you are active in but rather the year 1945, take for example, I first read the diary in the year 2013, but as I began to advance the headway of reading the special diary that Anne revealed, I slowly had my own world  fade away, I was no longer living the normal British life, a safe and unscathed lifestyle, I thought I was another Jewish girl living in Amsterdam, encountering the threats of Hitler and his ruthless ideologies and political imposing strategies.

Indeed, and naturally, the reader does not want Anne Frank and the other members of the secret annex to be caught. We begin to feel that we are walking on eggshells and the whole description and emotion becomes extremely leery,  every time Anne scribbles down the faintest of sounds during the night, or the chimes of the Westertoren clock, the gruelling sound of the lavatory being chained and flushed, the footsteps of the helpers and workers that were supposedly always made suspicious out of the fear and trepidation of the members of the secret annex, each sound or movement outside or inside of the annex, makes our skin crawl and the gnawing of our thumbs and lips intensified.

We do not want to read the words of the diary that ‘Anne Frank and the secret annex members are caught and forced into hard labour in the concentration camps’, we are sweetly engrossed and entertained by the new life that Anne has to abide by, the love story between Peter and Anne, and the jollifications between the two families.  This continuous narrations of the ‘normal’ yet chilling lifestyle inside the secret annex offers assurance that they will be safe from the dictator and his soldiers and that the secret annex members will eventually make it out alive and restore back to their former lives.

So I greatly thought. annex[2]

On the sunny afternoon of 4th August 1945, the last words that Anne noted down in her diary was, “Alas this is a small world”. The next page has an inscription that, “Anne’s diary ends here”. The members of the secret Annex were eventually discovered, the SA soldiers gathered Anne Frank, along with her parents and big sister Margot as well as her beloved beau Peter and his family , were all arrested and taken to the concentration camps to endure the long lasting pains of slave labour, imprisonment and torture.

I felt heartbroken and shaken that a moving account from the tales of Anne’s fascinating diary  so dedicated and full of quirky relations, ended in dismay and perturb.

The story was so final .

Madinah

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March 17, 2017 · 2:46 pm

Book Review: Heresy by S.J. Parris

Cityread starts next month and you may already know that Prophesy by S.J. Parris has been chosen as this year’s title.  Hope you are planning to read it next month!  It is part of a series so I thought I would take a look at the first book in the series in preparation (Prophesy is number two in the series).

Heresy

The sequence starts with Heresy, the first of five novels (so far) set in the late sixteenth century and following the story of Giordano Bruno, former monk turned travelling academic and part time sleuth!  Giordano Bruno was a real person and although all the novels are works of fiction they are littered with real characters and events.

The novel begins in Bruno’s youth as a monk in Italy and gives us a nice background into his character and situation.  Expelled from his monastery for reading banned books he has to go on the run and is then later excommunicated for his own controversial writings – making his existence even more perilous.

giordano-bruno

Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno

Despite his fugitive status he does find favour with some powerful people due to the brilliance of his philosophy and scientific ideas.  While this is a time of religious extremism and control it is also a time when learning and new ideas were embraced – these contradictions feature throughout the novels reflecting the confusing times he was living in.  After an exciting life on the run, including time spent working for the King of France, Bruno travels to England to a debate at Oxford University he is also hoping to locate a rare book he is eager to read – this is where the meat of this particular story begins.

Before travelling to Oxford Bruno is asked by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, to keep an eye out for Catholic Heretics while in Oxford.  Bruno admires Walsingham and also needs the money offered for the task!  He accepts with some reservations.

So you can see he’s in a bit of a pickle before he even begins!  He’s hated by some in Protestant England because of his Catholic background.  Hated by others because he has been excommunicated.  People tend not to trust him because he’s a foreigner.  He is eager to impress in a prestigious academic debate even though he doesn’t know the English debating style.  He wants to find a book, but can’t ask openly about it as it concerns elements of sorcery and could see him accused of witchcraft.  He has been told to look out for Catholics and report them to the authorities but his own instinct is for religious tolerance.  As soon as he arrives in Oxford he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and clever daughter of the University Rector – and she is very much out of bounds to a foreign former Catholic!

There is enough here for an exciting novel already…but then there is a grisly murder!

I won’t go into too much detail about the crime as this is basically a plot driven whodunit and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

I do definitely think it is worth a read.  The novel really immerses you in this fascinating era and the plot is pacey and exciting.  I suppose my only criticism is that, now I have also read Prophesy, the second novel is considerably better!  But this is a good sign as it hopefully means the series will develop and improve as it goes on.  In Hersey, while the ideas and feelings of the era seem well described, I often found it difficult to imagine the physical surroundings as S.J. Parris describes them (whereas in Prophesy the setting of Elizabethan London is extremely vivid).

3.5/5

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Boys Can Read Too!

Great readers eventually become great writers. Anyone can become a celebrated and remarkable poet, novelists, essayists, script writer or dramatist. But you only get there by reading first!  People who enjoy reading for leisure, just for sheer entertainment and pleasure, gain great insight into the world which helps them become great writers.  After all a reader will experience (albeit second hand) more than a non-reader could experience in a lifetime;  wars, alterations in society, new monarchs,  new eras, societal disputes, journeys, falling in love, rejection and loneliness, fear, depression and suicide – can all be experienced through books.

But many boys are missing out on these benefits of reading as study after study shows that boys just don’t read as much as girls do. It’s a regular concern for parents and teachers, but what can be done about it?

Firstly, parents and teachers should identify what genres of books boys most enjoy. Boys tend to appreciate books that are full of adventure; chronicles of pirates and rigorous bandits, Sci-Fi books, the tales of the discovery of new life forms on other plants, crime and detective books.  These books can unleash the creativity and innovation of a boy’s mind, as he feeds into the excitement, tension and captivation.  These are the sort of books that can attract a boy to reading.

Parents and teachers should also be careful about denting a boy’s confidence by trying to push him toward more difficult novels at a young age. If he finds himself struggling to understand the grammar and the language it may put him off reading for life!  Reading should be fun!  Focus on finding something he will enjoy and greater reading skills will follow in time.

Lastly I, would like to suggest that boys could become great readers if they had role models in their own homes, if they witness their fathers and other male relatives reading, they would start to think that reading is not just for women and girls. Boys often thrive on competition so a family a race of who can read the most books, with fathers and older brothers taking part, could be a brilliant incentive to get them reading.

Whatever boys enjoy reading, should not be seen as nonsensical or childish, whatever their age. Enjoyment is key and whether they find that in learned tomes, graphic novels or sci-fi fantasies they should be encouraged.  Boys should be encourage to find the books they enjoy and this is an important step in building an emotional connection with books and not just seeing reading as something they are forced to do by parents or school.

So there are my top tips for getting the reluctant to read boys in your life to fall in love with books. Try to persuade them!  They have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Madinah Usama

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#LovetoRead

Over the weekend on November 5-6, libraries all over Britain took part in a twitter hash tag called #LoveToRead, which involved workers and customers to take a picture of themselves and upload it onto Twitter. As the event was organised by the BBC, they put on various events across the country, one being a talk about books with singer Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music and another being various BBC television personalities taking part in the event, well mainly the news team. The BBC website also had interviews with famous authors about what books shaped them over the years. Of course, Brent Libraries took part in the event and you can see a selection on the @BrentCulture twitter.

 

 

Kieran from Willesden Green Library’s favourite book is Christopher Hitchens ‘Diary of a Young Contrarian’ The book by the noted Vanity Fair writer and essayist explains his views in greater detail and details his life and politics.

Kieran from the Library at Willesden Green’s favourite book is Christopher Hitchens ‘Diary of a Young Contrarian’
The book by the noted Vanity Fair writer and essayist explains his views in greater detail and details his life and politics.

Adina, also from Willesden Green Library, chose Youth without Youth by Mircea Belidem, which was made into a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring Tim Roth

Adina, also from Willesden Green Library, chose Youth without Youth by Mircea Belidem, which was made into a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring Tim Roth

 

 

And finally (as we don’t want this to be all about selfies) Development Officer Kate chose two Charles Dickens classics that are not A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickelby and A Tale of Two Cities

And finally (as we don’t want this to be all about selfies) Development Officer Kate chose two Charles Dickens classics that are not A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickelby and A Tale of Two Cities

 

Well done to everyone in Brent who took part in the event during the weekend, it was a pleasure seeing the amazing variety of tastes and books on display there. The weekend shown that the library is a magical place in which anything can happen if you let your imagination wonder in it and choose a book that will make it flourish. The library is the only place (besides the internet, of course) where you do not have to pay for knowledge. Unlike the internet, in the library you can touch the knowledge, and no the iPad does not count!

I did not take part myself in the event due to intense selfie phobia but I do have a number of books that I would have liked to pose with if not for my various ailments. First is the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It is famous in two ways: one for winning the Pulitzer Prize and secondly for being Seth Cohen’s favourite book in the O.C. The book centres on the two protagonists in the title over 16 years of their lives in pre and post war America. The book tackles a wide range of subjects from war, religion, immigration and sexual identity. Plus it’s about comics. Comics are fun.

The second is a book I discovered in highschool and would have loved to study but it’s of French origin and my French is bad. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas is a story about one man seeking revenge for the deeds his friends did to him years ago. He gets sent down and then discovers gold. Jackpot. Guess what happens next?

I must end it there but now I ask you: Did you take part in #LoveToRead? Do you have a book you love to pose with?

 

BY SOLMAZ

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Halloween Blog- 3 Favourite Witches and Wizards of Literature

Of all the monsters and heroes that people often dress up as at Halloween, the favourite for everyone are witches and wizards. They both appear in literature sometimes as protagonists and support characters, but most often they are the villains of the story, witches more often than wizards. The rabble of characters I have selected for my list are all the stars of their respective stories and all have a thing in common with each other, see if you can spot it in the list!

worst-witch

  1. Mildred Hubble – The Worst Witch Series – Jill Murphy

My personal favourite character on this list, Mildred is presented to us in Jill Murphy’s 80’s book of the same name as a bumbling, accident prone girl, a “worst witch” as you will. Everything seems to not go to her favour, from messing up in Potions class to not getting a black cat like the other girls but instead a grey coloured cat she calls ‘Tabby’. Mildred’s bumbling is actually her greatest strength in the books as she (unknowingly) saves the day in each one, with accidental consequences of course! What made Mildred my favourite over the years is that she was very gloriously average. Most characters I have read about up until then were Greek in their ways, flawless and ones to model ourselves after. Mildred in a way was us, and we were following her journey with her. I also thanks to Mildred, grew quite fond of tabby cats and used to always carry a beanie baby tabby cat with me and pretend I was Mildred, in fact I was her for Halloween three times in my life! Re-create the look by getting a black pinafore, thin scarf, blue shirt and witches hat. And don’t forget those famous plaits!

  1. Wizard Howl – Howl Series – Diana Wynne Jones

I admit I did not know who Diana Wynne Jones was as a child and I first came across her as
a teenage anime fan, seeing the movie adaptation of her book Howl’s Moving Castle. But we are not here to talk about the movie version as this is a library blog. Howl is somewhat of a mysterious character when you are first introduced to him. Although the book is called ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ you are seeing the events through the eyes off a milliner called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is turned into an old woman for much of the story, and her meeting Howl is a happy accident. Howl is presented to us as a vain if quirky wizard who is supposed to be this ‘heart eating demon’. Throughout the book, you see (through Sophie) Howls personality change from that to a selfless hero who is a powerful wizard. Complete the look for Halloween by finding the dandiest suit you can find and putting a blond wig on.

  1. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series- J.K Rowling

This series does not need any waffling from me to introduce it does it? Even though Harry is the main star of the series, it was his clever friend Hermione Granger that I always was in awe of. She was the straight woman of the 3 Man Band of Harry, Ron and herself. She would always use her cunning intelligence to get Harry and Ron out of trouble and lets face it, she was the real hero of the stories. Get the look by purchasing a Harry Potter Hogwarts uniform set from any fancy dress shop and letting you hair go wild.

 

Brent libraries are running Halloween events all half term so check brent.org/events for more details.

 

By Solmaz

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Wildlife in the library?!

Autumn has arrived in full force which means falling leaves, bonfires, Halloween and the growing fascination with everything pumpkin spiced. But one little animal is as much autumn as the other things mentioned and is the topic of this blog. They are cute, spikey and some go fast! Out if ideas?

Well it is none other than the humble hedgehog! This bundle of spikes is a quaint autumn sight but numbers have been declining over the years. Here are a few tips to keep them safe and warm in the coming months:

  • Check any bonfires you set up to see if there is a hedgehog sleeping there underneath. Bonfire piles attract hedgehogs because it is warm and away from danger but many get killed each year due to the bonfire so before you celebrate, always check your bonfire pile!
  • Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs do not like milk as they are lactose intolerant. That means their bodies cannot process the enzymes that are in milk and it makes them very sick indeed. Instead, give them water and any cooked meat you have lying around as it goes down a treat with the ‘hogs. Even better, if you keep pets that require them yourself, live mealworms are perfect as they are similar to what hedgehogs eat in the wild.
  • You can always try building your own ‘hedgehog house’ out of leaves, sticks, moss and anything else that you can find in the garden. They must be well hidden as hedgehogs have quite a few predators lurking about ready to pounce. You can also include a blanket but it is preferred if you have any natural insulation, like feathers.

hedgehog-in-leaves

Some even keep hedgehogs as pets but it is not recommended that you pick one up from the streets. There are many licensed breeders online or better yet check if your local animal shelter or hedgehog re-homer have any looking for a home if you want to commit to having one as a pet. If not those tips will have a rabble of little hogs coming to you. Hedgehogs do not like us as much as we like them but they are fun to watch from afar.

Our Libraries have many books on hedgehogs, from fiction books in the Children’s section to hedgehog care and animal books in the Non Fiction section. One of the more popular hedgehog books is The Hodgeheg, By Dick King-Smith which is about a young hedgehog who decides to become a road safety hero to his family and other hedgehogs.

Brent Libraries are also having a Green Cities Arts and Crafts session this October and the theme is you guessed it, hedgehogs! Children can make their own paper hedgie out of paper and dried leaves. A tip is to bring your own dried leaves from your garden at home. You can colour your hedgehog’s ‘leaf spikes’ in all the colours of the autumn leaves. The next session in time of writing is at the Library at Willesden Green, Saturday 22nd October at 2.30m,-4pm.

By Solmaz

Make your own hedgehog as our craft event!

Make your own hedgehog as our craft event!

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150 Years of Beatrix Potter

beatrix-potter

2016 marks the 150th birthday of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter, famous for her whimsy tales of animals doing everyday things that had that English charm about them. Each tale featured a titular animal, often in clothes having many adventures in the countryside, in which Potter was most fond. Most of her stories contained rabbits, in which the two most famous ones, Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit were modelled after two rabbits Potter had as a child. She loved her rabbits, often taking them on family holidays to Scotland and walking the, on leashes.

The most famous book and the one that launched her to national (and later worldwide) famepeterrabbit was of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The story begins which our plucky hero Peter wanting to explore the world around him. His mother warns him that Mr. Macgregor’s vegetable patch is dangerous. His sisters, The Cottontails, obey but Peter’s thirst for adventure gets the better of him. He sneaks into the garden and starts to eat all the vegetables he could find. Not before long the garden owner Mr. Macgregor catches sight of Peter and tries to capture him. Peter quickly makes a run for it but gets stuck in the fence. Lucky for Peter he gets saved by Benjamin Bunny and then promises his mother never to wander far again.

Today, Peter Rabbit has an empire, from books, games, décor and even his own animated series!

foxy-gentlemanMy personal favourite Beatrix Potter tale was the one of Jemima Puddle Duck. I do not know what drew me to this what some might see at first glance a melancholy tale of a duck desperately wanting to have a family. Nevertheless, I watched the video every day and carried around a plush of her everywhere I went. As I grew older, I came to look at Beatrix Potter’s tales with new eyes and when I started working here at Brent Libraries, re-discovered the books I read in my youth. The charm of her books is that all ages can enjoy and take away their own views of the tales. Throughout her life, Beatrix Potter wrote 23 of them, each featuring animals that she would see on her walks across the countryside and later on at her very own farm, Hill Top.

Brent Libraries will be holding a number of events this autumn to mark her 150th birthday. We will have a selection of her books out on display, including her “lost” tale, The Tale of Kitty in Boots, illustrated by Roald Dahl’s favourite, Quentin Blake. The Children’s Libraries across Brent will also be hosting craft sessions to celebrate, so why don’t you come along with your children and make their favourite character from the tales including the famous Peter Rabbit and my favourite always, Jemima Puddle Duck. The events will be on at the end of October so please check www.brent.gov.uk/events for your nearest library.

What is your favourite Beatrix Potter tale? Do you wish she made a tale from your favourite British animal? Please comment with your views.

 

By Solmaz

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