Tuesday 9 February 2010

LOB by Linda Newbery; A Review and an Interview

When Random House Children’s books offered me a free copy of Linda Newbery’s new book ‘LOB’, to review I was thrilled. I will readily admit to being a big fan of fiction for young adults and older children and I was already familiar with some of Newbery’s previous novels. LOB is aimed at the slightly younger audience of age 5-7, however this did not put me off as I knew from past experience the quality of Newbery’s writing. LOB did not disappointment and it is a genuine pleasure to be able to share the book with you.

LOB tells the story of Lucy, a young girl who has a special relationship with her grandfather, from whom she learns her love of gardening. She also shares a secret with her grandfather; Lob. Lob is a green man who helps out in the garden, filling up watering cans and removing slugs and snails. He stays where he is needed the most and is glimpsed but not fully seen, only by those exceptional few who really believe. Lucy and her Grandfather are just two of these people. When Lob is no longer needed he wanders the roads, scattering seeds and helping things grow as he searches for his next special place to stay.

LOB is a gentle, effortless read, yet despite this, the story is intertwined with some difficult issues for young children, which Newbery deals with very sensitively and appropriately for the intended audience, including the death of a loved relation and the destruction of our green spaces through urban development. Whilst driving the story forward these issues however do not in any way mask the main thread of the book, which is the story of Lob, the magical Green Man. It is an enchanting story which engaged me from the outset and despite the sometimes sad elements, it is an uplifting book, beautifully written and accompanied by the charming illustrations of Pam Smy.

You do not have to be between the ages of 5-7 to read and enjoy it. It is for anyone and although some of the issues would have been too much for my three year old I did share with her, in my own words, the story of Lob, the Green Man, an idea she was enchanted by. So if you are looking for a book to inspire you before spring and give you a little nudge back out into the garden, this will have you shaking out your gardening gloves and rushing to the garden centre for a packet of seeds.

Linda Newbery was also kind enough to answer some of my questions about LOB, the answers to which you can read below.
  • The idea of a magical green man helping out in the garden is very appealing. What inspired you to create the character of Lob?
The idea came partly from a poem by Edward Thomas called LOB, and partly from a man I used to see walking along a main road, with his belongings in a carrier bag. In the days when I worked part-time as a teacher, I used to drive down an A-road several times each week, and quite often passed an old man walking along the verge. He wore boots, shabby trousers and an old hooded raincoat, and all he had with him was a carrier-bag; I assumed he was a gentleman of the road, to use an old term, or a tramp, and that he had all his possessions in that bag. He always walked at the same unhurried pace, whatever the weather. He wasn’t hitching a lift; he took no interest in the passing traffic. He was walking. Where was he heading? Where did he sleep? How did he find food? I didn’t know, and I still don’t.

In my mind this man became associated with a poem by Edward Thomas which I knew well: LOB, in which the Lob-figure is a conflation of traditional figures – Herne the Hunter, Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Man, Lob-lie-by-the-fire – walking through the countryside in various guises throughout time. The man I saw seemed to be a kind of emblem of the slow pace of country life, growth, the rhythm of the seasons, alongside the rush and busyness of workday traffic; he might have walked like that a hundred years ago, or six hundred, or hundreds of years into the future. Soon I began dreaming about Lob, and knew that a story was on its way.
  • The book raises a number of difficult issues for young readers in a very sensitive way, from dealing with the death of a loved relation, to looking at how our green areas are being destroyed by urban development. Had you decided to write a book which touches on these issues before you developed the story or did they arise as you wrote the story?
No, I hadn’t decided to write about these issues – I don’t like to think of my books as issues-dominated.  I just started with the idea of Lob as a garden helper, and then about the people who are special to him. And of course there had to be a separation of some kind.
  • You are obviously a keen gardener yourself. Is this a passion developed in your childhood or is it something you came to later?
I did enjoy gardening as a child – though rather spasmodically! At one time I had a little patch of garden of my own, and later I remember being absorbed in a gardening book, wanting to make a rock garden and saving up for alpine plants. But really it’s taken off since I had my own home, and garden. Gardening is a great accompaniment to writing, too – many a time I’ve worked out a plot details while pruning or potting.
  • What is your favourite place in your garden?
There’s an arbour where I can sit reading or writing – in the top corner of the garden, out of sight of the house. On the fence there I have a Green Man carving. I promised myself that if I got a contract for LOB I would commission a carving from a local stonemason, and I found the perfect craftsman – Bernard Johnson – to make it for me. I can look at my Green Man from the desk in my hut, and he’s acquired a superstitious importance to my writing.
  • The relationship between Lucy and her Grandfather is an important one in the book. Is this reflective of your own relationship with a Grandparent?
Grandpa in the story isn’t based on either of my grandfathers, but I did have very good relationships with all my grandparents, as I think a lot of children do. Christmas at my Nan’s house was part of my childhood, and I also liked it when I stayed on my own with either set of grandparents. I very clearly remember playing in the garden of my maternal grandparents, which had a shed and a swing seat – the garden must have been very small, but it seemed enormous to me as a child.
  • I love the idea of someone walking along the roads, scattering seeds as they go. Have you ever sprinkled seeds or planted something somewhere secretly to cheer up a roadside or bring a bit of greenery into an otherwise grey area?
Yes, I used to do something which I now know was irresponsible – pinching the seed-pods of Himalayan Balsam (or Policeman’s Helmet, as I knew it) to make them spray seeds into the air, or sometimes putting the pods in my pocket to burst them later, in the garden at home. It’s widely known now that this plant, attractive though it may be, is invasive, especially along the banks of streams and rivers. So I don’t do it any more – even though the seed-pods are hard to resist.
  • Although Lucy’s story and the loss of her Grandfather was too old to share with my three year old daughter I did share the story of Lob with her and she was enchanted with the idea. With the lovely illustrations of Pam Smy I think the more simplified story of Lob could easily capture the imagination of toddlers and be turned into a beautiful picture book. Is this something you would consider in the future?
That is a lovely idea. Picture books are so fascinating, and it’s an aspect of writing I’ve only just begun to explore. It’s a far more difficult challenge than a lot of people realise – but I certainly do like the idea of another story about Lob, in this form.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post Garden mum, a lovely review of what sounds to be a worthy book and a well written interview, I'm in awe.

    Loved all, onwards and upwards, thumbs up :)