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Paul Dowswell cemented his position as one-to-watch in the world of children’s historical fiction with his much-acclaimed WWII novel, Ausländer. Throughout all of his fiction, Paul weaves meticulous research into thrilling narrative that will engage young readers.
A former senior editor with Usborne Publishing, Paul Dowswell is now a full-time author. He has written many non-fiction titles, two of which were shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award. Powder Monkey, his first novel, was published to huge critical acclaim. Ausländer was shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Red House Children’s Book Award. He currently lives in Wolverhampton with his family.
The Cabinet of Curiosities is set in 16th Century Prague, during the reign of Rudolph II. Lukas Declercq, fleeing the Inquisition in his native Ghent, arrives in the city in 1598 to be apprentice to his Uncle, court physician Anselmus Declercq.
Seeking company away from the staid confines of the castle, Lukas is drawn to the excitement of the city’s darker side. He becomes an unwitting pawn in the battle to control what people are permitted to say and think. (Here the story shares some ground with my previous book Ausländer about a teenager in Berlin during the Second World War.) Ultimately, Lukas learns how to make his own choices between
right and wrong, and that the answer is rarely clear-cut.
The idea behind the story was inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s fruit ’n’ veg portrait Vertumnus, of Rudolph II. A culture which produced something so magnificently strange and original sparked further investigation.
I visited Prague and the Castle whilst researching the book. Woodcuts and engravings from the era show that much of the city remains from Rudolph’s time. The contents of his Cabinet of Curiosities – an extraordinary collection of mechanical and scientific instruments, specimens, paintings, and relics – are well documented. Four huge rooms contained everything from astrolabes and orrerys to Dürer’s famous watercolour of a young hare, and, supposedly, nails from Noah’s Ark and feathers from a phoenix. Much of the Cabinet was scattered to the four corners of Europe when the Castle was looted by Swedish Troops in 1648 during the 30 Years War. A fraction remains in Prague. The rest can be found in museums and art galleries around the world.
Rudolph was plagued throughout his life by severe depression – all the more reason to admire his open mindedness, tolerance, and passion for art and science. In a Europe haunted by the Inquisition, his Prague was an oasis of free-thinking where Catholics, Protestants and Jews lived side by side. Here, natural philosophers could investigate and share their knowledge of the newly-emerging sciences without fear of being executed as heretics. This was an age, after all, where an astronomer could be burned at the stake for stating that the Sun was at the centre of the Solar System rather than the Earth. In his patronage of alchemy and fascination with the world, Rudolph was an early champion of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century.
Photo credit David Rann
In a Nutshell: Survival and sacrifice in post-war Berlin A powerfully thought-provoking portrayal of life among the ruins of post-war Berlin, as experienced by sixteen-year-olds, Otto and Helene, and the younger children in their charge. Berlin, July, 1945. Hitler is dead, but the fight isn’t over for the band of parentless children at the heart of this hard-hitting novel. Otto and Helene live in an abandoned hospital, with responsibility for four younger children: Otto’s brother Ulrich, little Hanna, and twins Klaus and Erich. While everyday life is a fight for survival (food must be foraged and haggled; disease is rife), they all hope that ‘human decency’ will return now the Americans and British have arrived in the bombed-out city. All except Ulrich, that is, for he remains zealously devoted to the Nazis, and is determined to work for the Werewolf resistance. As the group battle on, some of them hoping their parents might be found, they must deal with many dangers and dilemmas, not least Ulrich who faces having to make the ultimate sacrifice. As also demonstrated in his previous novels (for example, see Bomber and Sektion 20), the author has real flair for making thoroughly researched historical fiction accessible, relevant and utterly gripping. Alongside being a perfectly plotted page-turner, Wolf Children will surely also provoke much debate and discussion. ~ Joanne Owen
July 2016 Book of the Month | Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 World War One didn’t just affect those involved in the fighting but those left at home, and subsequent generations too as this novel shows. Charlie joins up, underage, in a rush of excitement and tragically so does his even younger brother. His experience of the trenches and the Battle of the Somme is vividly described, though the facts are well known now this feels a very personal account. Charlie survives, but changed by his experiences. Two images stick in the mind: fruit cakes sent to the soldiers by mothers and wives at home; Charlie years later pacing the streets at night unable to escape the memories of the trenches. Charlie’s great-grandsons have a part to play too, and through them we see how even a century on, the effects of the war are still felt. ~ Andrea Reece Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers aged 12+ Barrington Stoke is the foremost publisher of super-readable short fiction by some of the very best children’s authors and illustrators in the UK. Each title has a host of unique accessibility features to offer cracking reads to more children including reluctant and struggling readers and those with dyslexia or visual stress. Here at Lovereading4kids we are constantly selecting the best of their new and backlist titles to recommend to you. Click here to view our current selection which is broken down by age range.
Even as the First and Second World Wars get further away in history, they remain a subject of fascination for the young, and no wonder: the conflict brought out very best and the very worst in mankind. Paul Dowswell recounts some of the most dramatic events from the wars in this excellent collection, giving readers first-hand insight through the stories of the individuals involved. Some of those featured include Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson who in 1916 shot down a German airship, destroying for ever their myth of invincibility; Mata Hari, the Dutch born dancer who is remembered as one of the most famous spies ever; and Vasily Zaitsev, Stalingrad’s legendary Russian sniper. With maps, illustrations and photographs too, this is a fascinating book. ~ Andrea Reece
Julia Eccleshare's Pick of the Month May 2015 Young New York born US serviceman Harry Friedman signs up for the United States Army Air Force determined to fight for justice for fellow Jews. Still only 17 he is soon a member of the crew of a terrifying B-17 bomber. From the first moment he arrives at the UK base in August 1943, it is clear that the missions he will be on are deadly dangerous. And so they are. When Harry’s plane is shot down he is saved by those working in the French Resistance. Paul Dowswell brings the courage, the fear and above all the camaraderie of the young service personal engaged in the deadly missions of dropping bombs on Germany vividly to life. ~ Julia Eccleshare ***Find out more about the research and inspiration behind Bomber here. .................................................. Julia Eccleshare's Picks of the Month for May 2015 - Spotty Lottie and Me by Richard Byrne Bomber by Paul Dowswell The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge What the Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper Soon by Timothy Knapman
Kids who enjoy writing will find lots of practical and inspiring ideas in this excellent book, while those whose hearts sink at being asked to write a story will see just how much fun it can be. There are pages of activities to get you started, exercises to help you polish your writing skills with tips on everything from characters and dialogue to titles, and a great writing section with story ideas from prize-winning children’s author Paul Dowswell. The illustrations and very attractive layout make the neat lined write-in pages for your story look very tempting indeed, and are certain to get young imaginations flowing. ~ Andrea Reece
Epic encounters between titanic warships, battles involving thousands of men, and duels between lone snipers facing almost certain death are just some of the dramatic tales in this gripping collection of stories from the Second World War. This is one of three books included in a special boxset from Usborne called True Stories of the Second World War published in association with the Imperial War Museum to mark the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. You may also be interested in the companion books of this series, The Blitz and D-Day.
An excellent introductory history of the First World War told in short, accessible chapters, this describes some of the key moments of the conflict and some of the reasons why it was so much more devastating than had been anticipated. Opening with the then widespread belief at the time that it would be ‘over by Christmas’ key military moments such as the zeppelin campaign, the Battle of Jutland and the devastating battle of the Somme are described as well as the unlikely but true events including the famous football match on Christmas Day 1914.
A powerful combination of historic detail, timeless narrative and action-packed plot. The author places three teenagers, one American, one British and the other German at the centre of the story in the lead up to the 11th day of the 11th month at 11am. But can each of them find the strength, bravery and understanding within themselves in order to get back safely to their homelands? If you're on the look out for a nail-biting, page-turning thriller - a junior le Carre - then this is for you. .............................. There is a helpful reading guide to accompany this book which you can download through the link (right) with discussion topics, creative writing ideas and further reading suggestions.
There’s genuine terror at the heart of this gripping political thriller. Life in East Berlin is fraught with tension: the Stasi are everywhere and you have to watch you words to stay safe. Teenager Alex knows all of that and he tries to behave as a perfect East German boy. But, Alex has a secret and he only has to make one small slip up and everything he cares about will collapse around him. From the author of Auslander.
Interest age 11+ Reading age 8+.Joe's thrilled when Dan and his family invite him to join them on a sailing holiday in the Seychelles. But when some lost Somali pirates board the ship with AK-47s, he's the only one they don't notice - and the only one who can call for help - Thrilling adventure. Particularly suitable for dyslexic, relucatant and struggling readers.
A powerful historical drama full of political intrigue and rich in the trickery of alchemy, this is a fascinating and original story about one boy’s role in saving a great kingdom. Orphaned Lukas is summoned to Prague by his uncle, court physician to the great emperor, and keeper of the Cabinet of Curiosities, a vast collection of strange objects all of which have been gifts to the Emperor. Lukas is fascinated by the curiosities too and, as a result, soon finds himself drawn into the machinations of the Spanish envoy. Lukas needs to keep his wits about to save his life.
Intrigue and mystery lie at the heart of this story set long ago in Prague at the time of Rudolph 11. Lukas is summoned to the palace to be apprenticed to the physician of the Holy Roman Emperor. Following a gruelling journey, he arrives in Prague and is introduced to the extraordinary curiosities which the eccentric Emperor collects. But life in the court is not plain sailing and Lukas is soon caught up in deadly plot which places the whole city in danger.