Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Adventures of Shola

Last Thursday was apparently 'Super Thursday' in the world of publishing; the day when many of the books expected to be heavy hitters for the Christmas gift market were released. In reality this turned out to be just about adult titles; particularly celebrity memoirs and cookery tomes, Super Thursday for children's books happened a week or two earlier.

Having just spent a small but significant fortune on glorious hardbacks for Eddie's birthday I can confirm that bookshops are full of their most irresistible candy  at the moment: Pretty books, stroke-able, substantial, tempting gifty books.

One bidding for a slot on Father Christmas's sleigh is a smart small yellow hardback from new imprint Pushkin Children's Books. This small publishers is carving out a rather classy niche in translating a few interesting and handsome European children's titles and wafting them under our perhaps  less cultured noses.

'The Adventures of Shola' by Bernardo Atxaga was thus originally published in Basque in the late 90s, before being translated into Spanish and now finally reaching us.

It's a curious book but a charming one. It seems relevant to the market divisions of Super Thursday because actually I think this is a 'gift' book which might be as much appreciated in an adult dog-lover's stocking as a child's.

The book has four stories about Shola, a small white dog with healthy self-esteem and ways of getting what she wants from life (mostly food and sleep). Much will ring true to any one who has ever (in Dodie Smith parlance) been 'owned by' a dog. The strongest and funniest story in the book is the first in which Shola becomes convinced she has been wrongly categorised and is in fact a lion.

'Shola, who had been dozing in the armchair, pricked up her ears. What sort of beast was this lion, so like herself in so many ways? She too was strong, powerful and noble. Although she had never actually fought with anyone or seen a hunter, she was sure they would all be afraid of her; she was sure that all animals and all hunters were aware- painfully aware- that she could strike them dead with the last beat of her heart.'

Shola's personality is completely convincing and her encounters on the streets of the city in full lion mode made me chuckle out loud. The mismatch between Shola's indomitable self-belief and the reality of say, coming face to face with a tusked and angry wild boar, provide the book's best moments. She's well served by the book's cartoon illustrations by Mikel Valverde too. He has a good line in doggy eyes of determination and confusion.

There are some translation issues though possibly. This feels like a foreign book and though that's not a bad thing obviously, it's a pretty sophisticated read for the child audience it might be bought for. The last two stories rely on quite a lot of word play in places and perhaps an adult sensibility which I suspect would work better in the original text. I'm all for vocabulary stretching as I've said before but I think Bill would struggle with this on his own.

I think it will work best as a family read aloud. A perfect Sunday afternoon, snuggle by the fire Christmas choice to share. Especially if you have a small, egotistical dog of your own at your feet with one ear cocked listening too.

'The Adventures of Shola' by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde, pub. Pushkin Children's, isbn 978-1-78269-009-2

With thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy. Our opinions are our own.


  1. I am going to buy it for my 15 year old son! I think he will really appreciate it! It sounds lovely. I will, of course, borrow it from him too!

    1. Thanks Anne- I'm sure Ben and Timmy will be inspired too.

  2. Hi Polly you are right there certainly seem to be a lot of books in from Europe finding their way over at the moment - I'm loving that!
    Shola looks fabulous, beautiful illustrations.
    I love your idea of snuggling up to read it on a Sunday afternoon as Christmas approaches. *turns on the fire*