Non-Fiction

Review: Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum.

Review: Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum.

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Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ is an iconic image of our era. For the first time ever the British Museum has put together a major exhibition of his work, which is also the largest show of his prints in 45 years. The accompanying book, Edvard Munch Love And Angst, examines the society and times in which his works were produced and how they influenced his work. 

Munch grew up in 19th-Century Europe. Industrial advance and high mortality existed hand in hand. Munch’s own sister and mother both died from tuberculosis, which meant he was familiar as a child with blood-stained handkerchiefs and agonizing decline. Great theories about the world were in their infancy, and a sense of the uncanny was born from the possibilities about the world which were opening up but not yet confirmed.

The scene is set in an opening chapter, then Munch’s career is examined in chronological order.

Munch had a conviction from early on that art should show more than the surface. Inner secrets and turmoil were at the heart of his work, and the trauma of watching his mother and sister die from tuberculosis left him with a terrible fear that he too would succumb to the illness. Today such complex grief would be recognised and aided, but Munch’s obsessions are apparent even in work from his later life. 

Seeing this collection of images gave me a broader context to ‘The Scream’. Even a person with no interest in art can associate the image with inner-turmoil, but seeing it alongside Munch’s images of sick beds and dying children helps relate that famous image to the time in which it was created. Looking at the full-colour pictures in the book, I got the sense of a time when death was so normal it was continually on the mind. 

Another thing the book taught me is the number of mediums Munch worked in. Woodcut, oil, etching and printing are represented among others, and Munch’s experimentation with medium is as fascinating as his subjects and life story. Later chapters are dedicated to his process and I was particularly interested to see different works which had come from the same printing moulds. 

Although this book was produced to accompany a museum exhibition, it is possible to appreciate it without attending (and I am now desperate to see the exhibition which runs until 21st July). 

A fine study which gets behind the popular image to reveal the human story. 

 

Munch Love And Angst runs at The British Museum from 11th April – 21st July 2019.

Thanks to Thames and Hudson in association with The British Museum for my gifted book. Opinions my own.

 

 

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Activity Book · Non-Fiction

Review: The Unworry Book by Alice James

Review: The Unworry Book by Alice James

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Let go of your worries and identify your emotions. This brilliant activity book is on hand to help everyone deal with worries, fears, and bad memories. 

Unlike standard activity books, this has a range of different pages. There are advice sheets, spaces to write and identify worries, drawing pages, puzzles and games for mindfulness and distraction, diary pages and places to figure out what is most important to the reader. It is not only a fun space. It is a toolkit and helping hand. 

The Unworry Book came at a brilliant time. I was able to test it out not only in the spirit of a good reviewer but as a place to help me deal with my own emotions and fears. Although I am an adult, and this is targeted at younger readers, I found it a brilliant way to try out new management techniques. For example, I would never have thought of using a dot-to-dot for mindfulness or of drawing a creature to represent my feelings, but both activities have their place. Following on from this it would be possible to build a worry kit based on the activities which worked best for me. 

Worries lead to so many places. To a sleepless night, to a shouting session, to sheer desperation. The Unworry Book has a technique for every occurrence. It encourages the reader to manage their emotions and keep their fears in proportion. 

The design mixes calming colours with happy ones. Pale blues and greys with bright yellow. A round, friendly-looking guide follows the reader through the book. Not only does this provide a friendly face, but we see a different range of facial expressions which might prompt the reader to think about how they are feeling. 

This book is a big hit in so many ways. Unlike conventional books about emotions, which can feel heavy on the lectures, this leaves the reader to find the right page for the moment. 

A section of numbers and advice at the back suggests places where young readers can go if things get too much. 

A treasure trove of ideas for dealing with stress and unhappiness. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Books for my gifted copy of The Unworry Book. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

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William Bee loves trains and boats and planes. He has a massive collection of engineering marvels from across time and he likes to play with them all. Join him as he travels through his collection, laying tracks and flying rescue planes and blasting off into space. 

A joyful celebration of vehicles. 

The illustrations in this story are a visual feast. The colour pallette and detailed drawings remind me of the Haynes instruction manuals which are instantly recognisable as a brand. Although they are vibrantly coloured and full of little quirks which will delight small readers (such as the smiling traffic-cones) the illustrations fully respect how even the very youngest of children can be hungry to know how something works.

The language, too, is challenging and never once underestimates its readers. It talks about gravity, about streamlined design and cylinders and pistons and supercharged engines. It takes readers who have fallen in love with vehicles straight to the heart of their design. 

With shelves and television programmes filled with talking trains and animal pilots and imaginary trips to space, it is refreshing to see a book which shows that vehicles are designed and built to fulfill a purpose. This simple understanding is the first step to an interest in engineering, and it can’t come too early in life. Playful vehicles have their place but it is great to see a book which acknowledges that some children take their trains seriously. 

William is the only human in the story. He is helped along the way by animals and walking, living traffic cones. This style will be appealing to children who enjoy their own company. My one thought is that it would be great to see some titles in the series lead by a girl. With uptake of STEM subjects far lower among girls, it is pivotal that all children see these subjects as something they might play a role in from an early age. That’s not a criticism of the book as it stands – I firmly think it is important to show people enjoying solitary activities as well as social ones – but I would love to see a girl in the series.  

A wonderful book which will make readers of all ages curious to learn more about vehicles and engines. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

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The aliens watch while a group of children is guided around the moon. They stick together for safety … all except one boy who slips away to draw pictures of what he sees. When he gets left behind, the aliens creep out to watch him, and together they add some colour to the moon. 

A story of friendship, exploration and caring for the places we visit. 

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July 2019, a whole spate of books has been published, from fact files to real-life stories of space scientists to stories set in outer space. This book falls into the latter category, imaging what a school trip or day out might look like if we could travel en-masse into space. 

The story is told in rhyme and balances both the gravitas of major exploration and the light excitement of a day trip. The one child who does their own thing will be familiar to anybody who has lead a group of children outdoors (or been a child on a school trip) and I was pleased to see the story showing that this can be lead by curiosity rather than trouble. Although the boy is in the wrong, he is the only person who takes enough time to look back and admire the view of the earth. 

When the aliens come out, the real fun begins. 

Their world is grey, and they have never seen so many colours as the boy holds in his crayon packet. A new game begins and soon the boy is less frightened about being left behind. 

The illustrations have a futuristic feel to them, and the reader is always looking forwards on to the moon landscape as if they were standing up close to the boy. This sense of being right there makes the story even more exciting. 

This would be a lovely story to get readers interested in the Moon anniversary and to help them imagine where the future of space travel might lie. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Suffragette by David Roberts [Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award]

Review: Suffragette by David Roberts [Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award]

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The battle for the vote was one of the most important campaigns fought in the vote for gender equality. Who were the women who raised their voices against the injustices of the political system? How did they change the law and give women a voice? 

Suffragette begins in the 1800s and follows their story from the formation of campaign groups through to the Equal Franchise Act of 1928.

With chapters of one or two pages and beautiful illustrations, this book takes one of the most exciting parts of history away from dull textbooks and turns it into something which everyone wants to read about. 

img_9143David Robert’s illustrations are filled with character. The people look as if they could march off the pages and enact their stories in front of our eyes. From the Bryant And May match girls, whose faces are full of stoical determination, to the women fending off police officers in the Black Friday protests, the action and facial expressions combine to make the reader feel that history is coming alive. 

The book is packed with information. It would make a lovely reference book, suitable for an older reader looking to improve their understanding of history, but it is also a great introduction to the topic. Read chronologically, it charts a story of political change. 

With the anniversary of the 1918 victory (when some women in the UK were granted the vote for the first time) over, the question is what relevance do the suffragettes hold in our lives today. The book’s answers are solid. Their campaigns did not, as so many people believe, end inequality among genders. We still need to question our ideas of what it means to be a man, a woman or of any gender at all. The book also shows how hard women fought for their victory, and to have their opinions acknowledged. Rights are difficult to win. 

The book’s place on the CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlist couldn’t come at a more relevant time. With political views at the front of the news, it is encouraging to know that previous generations have won hard battles. 

A wonderful introduction to an important topic, which deserves a place on every shelf. 

 

Louise Nettleton

 

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The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books and Riot Communications for my gifted copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo and Diana Sudyka

Review: When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo and Diana Sudyka

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Sue Hendrickson was born to find things. From the moment she was a little girl, she was on the lookout for curious objects to take home and study. The shy, intelligent child grew into an explorer, and in 1990 Sue Hendrickson found a whole T-Rex skeleton in the cliffs of South Dakota. Her team decided that the fossil should be named after Sue. 

A real-life story about a woman who lived her passions.

The first thing I loved about When Sue Found Sue was it didn’t push the inspirational narrative. Recently there have been such a number of books about inspirational lives that the phrase has lost all meaning. When Sue Found Sue begins with a shy, studious kid who found a way to follow her interests as an adult. I prefer these authentic life stories because the whole reason to tell them is to show that great things start with passion and drive. 

The illustrations hint at Sue’s love for the outdoors. Even when she is inside, there are trees and birds visible through the windows, and when she is outdoors she appears to be part of the great sweeping landscapes and underwater worlds. A double spread picture of the fossil brings to live the enormity of what Sue Hendrickson found. 

A note at the back puts the story into context and discusses the ethical questions raised by the fossil’s ‘discovery’. My favourite quote says simply that, at one point, only Sue Hendrickson didn’t believe she owned Sue [the fossil]. Regardless of how other people behaved, Sue  Hendrickson respected the world’s treasures. 

A wonderful introduction to Sue’s story and the kind of book which makes readers want to get up and follow their own passion. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Books for my gifted copy of When Sue Found Sue. Opinions my own.