Telegraph Book Club

We're halfway through the holidays, and if you're running out of ideas for things to do with your little ones then never fear, I have some great reading recommendations.These are all wonderful books that should buy you at least half an hour of peace and quiet. And there are more literary themed activities and events on at Grimm & Co in Rotherham. My read of the fortnight is the gothic classic and celebration of sisterly love We Have Always Lived In The Castle.

Friday, 17th August 2018, 16:31 pm
Updated Friday, 17th August 2018, 16:35 pm

READ OF THE FORTNIGHT - We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

Romantic love is the great preoccupation of art.

Certainly, it is the great preoccupation of much literature.

But I am a huge fan of books where other types of love - the relationships between friends and family - are represented in their full complexity and strength.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle is like a 1960s gothic forerunner of Disney’s Frozen, in that the central relationship, and the great love story in the book, is between two sisters.

This is the story of Merricat Blackwood, a girl with an undiagnosed and untreated mental health condition, and who lives in the crumbling old family seat and has only very little contact with the outside world beyond her sister Constance and their elderly uncle.

Merricat lives according to seemingly arbitrary rules and habits that many have interpreted as witchcraft.

The rest of the Blackwood family died many years before in a poisoning incident at dinner, and its remaining members are the objects of suspicion and fear from the neighbouring villagers.

Over the course of the book, we delve back into the past to discover the truth about the great Blackwood family tragedy.

I have two sisters. Over the years our relationships may not always have been easy, but I have known such great happiness when we are together watching James Bond films and drinking wine, going for walks in the beautiful Calder Valley, or just eating cheese and l aughing.

There is no doubt that our love for each other is powerful and yes, true.

And it is wonderful to read a book that celebrates sibling relationships in all their dysfunctional, hilarious glory. Albeit with lots of death.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle is famous as a classic of gothic literature.

But there is nothing supernatural in the story, and the threats Merricat and Constance face are all too real, in the form of everything from the boredom of civilised visits for tea, to marriage proposals, to violence and abuse.

It seems entirely rational to me that they would want to shut themselves away from the rest of the world and hide.

Far from finding this strange and unwholesome, as many critics of the book have done, I can imagine doing the same with my sisters perfectly happily.

Just as long as we had plenty of wine and the complete James Bond DVD box set.


We’re a good halfway through the children’s summer holidays now, and if you’re running out of steam for coming up with stimulating and interesting activities for them, never fear.

There is still plenty more happening at Rotherham’s Grimm & Co. From inventing and exploring the meanings of new words - recent examples include Happiluck, the feeling you get when you discover a long-lost cake recipe - to creating your

own illustrated mini stories, to finding out more about the mysterious Graham and Griselda Grimm, founders of the apothecary, there is a whole programme of exciting activities to get the creative juices flowing for children age six and above.

If you have visited the shop and creative writing wonderland before, you’ll be familiar with the Museum of Magical Artefacts it contains.

One of the activities you can join this summer is planning its expansion. What secret discoveries and magical inventions should be displayed in the museum?

Children have the opportunity to instruct the Grimm & Co travelling elves to go out and find the very best wonders for the museum.

There is also a Writer’s Cafe session, where you can drop in for help from one of the story mentors with something you are working on, or find inspiration to unleash your creative genius start something new.

All the summer activities are free to attend.

For more information about all the activities at Grimm & Co over the summer and beyond, go to or call 01709 829750.

READING MATTER - A Children’s book special

If you’re looking for some great reads to keep your children occupied in the summer holidays, then get your hands on one of these corkers.

They should buy you at least half an hour of peace and quiet, whether you’re at home or relaxing by the pool.

The Twits by Roald Dahl

This was the first book my son ever picked up and read to himself alone.

I strategically read to the part where Mrs Twit cooks her husband worms instead of spaghetti for tea, and then had to wander off to do something ‘very important’, leaving the book open next to him.

Lo and behold, my little boy, who usually has a concentration span of about three seconds, picked it up and finished it.

Yes, he did still walk around the house dangerously bumping into things as he did - he is yet to grasp that reading is best as a stationary activity - but it was a start. Suitable from age four or five.

The Illustrated Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling, illustrations by Jim Kay

I was excited when my son picked up The Philosopher’s Stone and starting reading, “The boy who lived…”

But he didn’t get very far; he hasn’t got his head round books with no pictures being worthy of his time, so we ordered a copy of this.

It’s a pricey one - we bought our copy with book tokens, but it could be one to get from the library.

Jim Kay’s superb illustrations make all the difference for young children who are ready to dip their toe into the world of the boy wizard. Suitable from age five or six.

The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom by Vicki Lockwood

The first of the Magnificent Lizzie Brown series set in nineteenth century London, this is an adventure tale of a girl with real psychic abilities who runs away to join the circus.

The whole series captured my daughter’s imagination so brilliantly that she is now obsessed with circuses and we are the proud owners of a goldfish called The Magnificent Lizzie Brown. Suitable from age 8.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This former read of the fortnight is worthy of another mention here.

The most gripping young adult book I have come across for a long time, it will have adults and teenagers alike whiling away the hours completely immersed. Starr Carter is a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the shooting of her best friend by a white police officer.

It might sound harrowing, but what blew me away about this book was how much hope it contains. A spectacular read. Suitable from age 11.