Saturday, 9 October 2010

Review: Sarah Clements - Rosie's Unicorn

Sarah Clements: Rosie's Unicorn
Olympia Publishing, £5.99

Sarah Clement's website

Thanks to Sarah Clements for sending me a copy of this book.

Sarah Clements runs the Cam Valley pony rescue centre near Paulton, which specialises in rescuing and rehabilitating British native ponies. You can read plenty more about the centre's work on their website, which includes lots of detail on the ponies and their histories. If you'd like to support the rescue, there is a facility to donate via the website.


If you want to support the rescue, buying this book isn't the best way to do it. I am possibly one of the worst people to have been asked to review this book as I have a bit of a thing about punctuation. I want my children to learn to write properly. If children read something that's been professionally published, they assume it's right. In this book, unfortunately, it is not. The author has not been well served by Olympia Publishing's copy editors, who did a very poor job indeed. The errors of punctuation are legion. Here's a sample:

"The corner board had been loose for as long as she could remember, if you pulled it up there was a little secret hidden compartment. This is where I can hide the box, thought Rosie to herself, placing it carefully down and then lowering the plank back into place."

Comma splicing is what's going on here. Sentences which can stand on their own are joined by a comma. Yes, it's a common mistake (shatteringly and alarmingly common) but it's wrong, wrong, wrong. It makes the text read jerkily, rather than flow, which last I suspect was the author's intention, and it happens all the way through the book. (Another minor point: for a reason I can't fathom, thought processes are never, as you'll have spotted in the example above, in quotation marks.)

I don't normally sound off about the importance of correct punctuation and grammar. Some fine writers have needed the services of a team of copy editors before their writing is fit to be published. Not everyone is as fortunate as me, who had a solid grounding in punctuation and grammar at her very old fashioned State Junior School in the 1970s. Children nowadays are fighting a loosing battle with teachers who do not know that what they themselves write is wrong.

Maybe someone who wasn't brought up having the rights and wrongs of punctuation bashed into them can read this book and enjoy it, but it was completely beyond me. I did make a huge effort to look past the multitude of errors and the awkward writing to try and get something out of the story, but I failed there too.

The book opens with the god Unus creating the world: everything is beautiful and new, and Unus creates a beautiful new being as a last gift:

"This is the beast of perfection, the essence of my soul, my endless love for you all...."

You know what's coming, don't you? Yes, it's a unicorn. And like just about every other fictional unicorn shimmering through 21st century children's books, it is perfect, bright and beautiful. It is not that I mind unicorns: to prove this, I am going to review Alan Garner's Elidor just to show I have no anti-unicorn prejudice. It's just that all that perfection is a little wearing to read.

Everything very soon goes wrong in Unus' new world, because of Man and his Greed. However, the unicorn can return to earth again through a child without greed and selfishness, and that's where Rosie comes in. The heroine, Rosie-May is a perfect little girl. She almost never does anything wrong, and even when she lies for the sake of the unicron she feels terribly, terribly bad about it. I realise that this might have a certain charm if you like your child characters full of sweetness and light: Rosie certainly is, but I just can't swallow all that Victorian child-as-innocent stuff, having seen Original Sin alive and well in my own two.

Rosie is pony mad but doesn't have one of her own, so she helps Mr and Mrs Trugg with their horses. Rosie's best friend Milly (Mils) is being bullied by fellow pupils Emma and Flick. Mr and Mrs Trugg's farm is threatened by Digby Fox, who wants the farmland for housing. Through the influence of Rosie, and the unicorn Image, everything works out, as you would imagine it would.

The book is not well written; the author has little ear for dialogue or characterisation and the plot is predictable. I do, however, like the cover very much, which is probably cold comfort.

17 comments:

Rachael said...

I can't bear comma splicing either. My daughter is unicorn mad, but the last thing she needs is to be reading badly edited writing.

Oh, Elidor. I'd forgotten about that book. Think we may need to have a rummage in the attic. It's up there, somewhere.

Moggypie said...

Oh dear. I agree wholeheartedly with your concern about punctuation. It's very distracting to read a book that is poorly copy-edited (especially if one has worked as a copy-editor). Sadly, many books I read nowadays clearly didn't get the copy-editing touch they would've gotten back in the "old days" of, say, 20 years ago. If the punctuation is distracting the reader, then it's not doing its job as punctuation!

Never heard of "Elidor"--will have to seek that out. Looking forward to your review of the new "Secretariat" movie, just released today in the U.S.!

susannaforrest said...

I've worked on books that don't appear to have been proofread, let alone copyedited. Economies that began long before E-books and the Credit Crunch, alas.

Jane Badger said...

Rachael, Linda Chapman writes good unicorns. She's about the only modern writer, who does, I think.

Moggypie, I did work (and still do occasionally) as a copy editor and proofreader so I don't know if that's why it particularly grates but I found it almost a physical trial to read this book. I read a bit, I put it down. I walked about a bit. I read a bit more. I gathered myself, and went on again.

If you've never read Elidor, you have a treat in store. Alan Garner is a brilliant children's fantasy author, and Elidor is IMO one of his best. He's written another two fantasy novels: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moonstone of Gomrath.

Susanna - yes. It makes me want to beat my head against the wall.

dorianegray said...

Olympia Publishers are a vanity outfit. The author has to take care of copy-editing (among many other tasks)...and evidently didn't.

Sue Howes said...

Oh dear, I just had a quick look at the website. It's very pink and sparkly.
Worse comes though, when you click on the bit about the ponies she has rescued. there is no punctuation at all. I had to leave the site before I started throwing things at my screen. Yes, I am a nitpicker and I'm not ashamed of it. Anyone can make a mistake or a typo in a place like this but published material should be right. If you are making a website/book/newspaper/sign and you don't know the rules then for goodness sake, get someone who does know to check it.
I have in the past complained to a certain publisher about the standard of English in a series of books for teenagers. They aren't a vanity publisher either which made it doubly shocking.What's more, I told all the other school librarians in our district about it too so they will also not buy those books. Hah!

Jane Badger said...

Dorian - ah, yes, that makes sense. When you look at their webpage, they look like bona fide publishers, which is why I didn't hold back (well actually I did, a bit).

Sue: go, school librarians, go!

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to say that after reading through this post and comments below it - you have all gone too far.

I find your post to be in very poor taste.

A review is one thing but to totally over-insult everything about a person and their private 'business',(in this case a rescue) is actually shocking.

Whilst your comment about punctuation may be valid - there are effective ways to say things. I have seen similar punctuation issues with very well known writers such as Stephen King.

To go so far as to inform libraries not to buy her book is just tacky.

I would suggest that you think twice about what is refected both with your post and the comments that follow and moderate them accordingly.

Jane Badger said...

Anonymous - do please say where I have insulted "everything about a person and their private business." This book was sent to me (I didn't ask for it) to review. I reviewed it, and I stand by my comments. I have not commented in any negative way at all about the Rescue; I have suggested that people might like to donate. I absolutely stand by my comments that if people wish to support the Rescue they do so by donating directly. The Rescue will receive far more that way than if people buy this book.

jayne smith said...

reading all the reviews for rosies unicorn,it makes me presume its only for uneducated people like me,i loved the book and am looking forward to the sequel,and i no i cant spell but that dosnt mean i cant read,the story is fantasy so the children in it can be nice and good....as for the pony rescue site,its not a bad site,it tells of the rescue ponies and good hard work sarah puts into helping these unfortunate animals,any way,i thaught the book was brill.

jayne smith said...

i must say most of these comments discust me,one of you said you told schools and liberaries not to stock the book,what right do you have,the procedes from this book go to the pony rescue,not the auther,in other words,you are taking the food out of these animals mouths,another of you said you liked the pic on the front,let me tell you about that pic,its actualy one of the rescued ponies,it would have been dead,proberly in the most horrable way if it hadnt been for sarah,and once again i apoligise 4 my spelling,i no its rubbish,bein romany what can u expect .i thaught a review was about the story,my review about the story is,its a great story and i loved it !!!!!

john mcdougal said...

Jane,



After reading your blog I looked at the lady’s site it looks sweet and something nourishing for children which is not something that could be said for your comments, it seems this lady running the rescue and writing books is at least trying to do some good in the world, also does it matter if the person is educated? Or is it more important they try and achieve?



I did note your comment about you being, and I quote “Not everyone is as fortunate as me, who had a solid grounding in punctuation and grammar at her very old fashioned State Junior School in the 1970s.” well, jane I am glad you had a fortunate educational grounding, incidentally Unicorn is not spelt Unicron.



After reading your comments the children will not be allowed to log into your site again as we teach values such as kindness we simply don’t want children reading bitter reviews, reading your comments it’s almost like you have something personal against the author.

haffyfan said...

If you send a book to be reviewed you cannot automatically expect rave reviews (not to mention the the publicity and sales generation clearly you hoped for).
To review anything the critics hat needs to be placed on and the book taken at face value...if you cannot (as is clearly the case here) accept that well I would suggest you don't send anymore copies out for review.

Jane has done and said nothing wrong so I don't understand the attack that is being launched. Reagrding other comments everyone is entitled to their opinion and people who work in 'positions of influence to young people' have a responsibility towards them to uphold! At no point were these comments actually directed in any way to your publication...it was quite clearly stated it was in the past and also the publisher not the individual titles whose names were passed around with warnings about.

Sue Howes said...

I am the person who made the comment about libraries. I was talking about a series of books which is completely unconnected to Rosie's Unicorn. I am sorry if this wasn't made plain enough.

Neither my comment, nor Jane's review, have said that libraries should not buy this book, hence I feel that the accusation of 'taking food from the ponies' mouths' is a little excessive.

Jane Badger said...

Comments on this post are now closed: I think all points of view have been made well enough.

Anonymous said...
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Jane Badger said...

Sorry - comments are closed. If you'd like to get in touch with me directly, please do.