Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel.

Review: A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel.

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What is a stone? How does time change our perspective? 

One stone sits in the world. It is dark in the evening shade, but light to an owl. It is loud when a snail shell smashes off its surface, but a snake curls up on it for a moment of quiet reflection. Time changes the landscape until the stone sits in the water. Time and perspective alter the way the stone is seen. It is just as it always was – and yet different every moment. 

A reassuring narrative about perspective and finding a constant in a world of change. 

img_9785This is one of the most thought-provoking picture books I have read this year. It comes at the right time – at a time when so much on the news is about devastation and change and anger. This book is about a quiet moment in the natural world. The stone is constant. It has been there for hundreds of years and will be there for hundreds of years more. This sense of connectivity is reassuring when there is so much talk about division. 

Is it a book about climate change? Not quite, but it reminds us of our connections to other living beings. However much we deny or ignore it, we are only one of many creatures on this planet. The book reminds us that other lives are meaningful and extraordinary too. 

Pale wash backgrounds contrast with detailed texture. The effect is something like being outside and zooming in on several details. We can’t notice everything in a vast landscape, but what we do notice should grab our attention. Vibrant colours, too, show the changing seasons, and the whole thing is something like a lullaby sung to us by the world. 

A beautiful picture book which poses questions and offers us a space to reflect in a hectic and sometimes disspiriting world. This text reassures us that the world is a miraculous place. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my gifted copy of A Stone Sat Still. Opinions my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Moon River by Tim Hopgood. [Based on the song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini].

Review: Moon River by Tim Hopgood. [Based on the song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini].

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Moon  River, wider than a mile,  I’m crossing you in style, someday.

Good song lyrics draw in the listener. They raise questions and images in our mind. Where is this river? Who is this dreamer and will he or she ever cross the river? Why can’t they do so now?

Moon River was written for the score of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and won an Oscar for best original song in 1961, although possibly the best-known version is sung by Andy Williams. This will be familiar to anyone, like me, whose grandparents came of age and were in their 20s during an era jazz music and rock and roll.

Tim Hopgood’s picture book interprets the song as a dreamy lullaby. It is a gentle tune about big dreams and journeys and taking in the magic of life along the way. The images of the moon on the river and the rainbow’s end lend themselves beautifully to Hopgood’s interpretation. This is the perfect book to read before bedtime.

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It follows a girl whose toys come to life and take her down the river. Teddy and Horse navigate their course while pointing out the beautiful scenery. I love particularly how this focuses on details – the light on the water and the other boats ahead. It is important to appreciate the small moments of beauty in the world.

An accompanying CD includes both the Andy Williams version of the song and a guided read-along track. This would be a lovely activity to share with a young reader and the perfect way to wind down for bed. It might also give huge amounts of pleasure to elderly people with dementia who were young when the song was released.

Tim Hopgood’s illustrations are soft and colourful, with lots of attention given to the light and water and the drifting clouds.

A dreamy story, and a beautiful interpretation of the original lyrics.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Moon River. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice In Wonderland – A Puzzle Adventure by Aleksandra Artymowska.

Review: Alice In Wonderland – A Puzzle Adventure by Aleksandra Artymowska.

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Fall down the rabbit hole and puzzle your way through Wonderland. This beautiful volume presents Wonderland as it has never been seen before. Familiar characters and settings remain, but instead of telling the story it is up to the ready to work through the puzzles and on to the next page.

From counting games to mazes, spotting challenges to pairing games, there is something for everyone. Some of the puzzles are more difficult than others, which ensures that everyone solves something and feels rewarded. Details from the book are cleverly incorporated into the game: finding a key to escape the rabbit hole, spotting a lizard inside the White Rabbit’s house, and spotting the differences between Tweedledum and Tweedledee are among many examples. Part of the delight is in recognising favourite scenes from the story.

Put this on a coffee table or in a book corner and it is bound to be poured over.

img_9790Aleksandra Artymowska has previously constructed puzzle adventures based on the work of Jules Verne, and her experience shows. The pages draw the reader in and maintain their attention, with additional mini-tasks to keep everyone going even when the main puzzle is proving hard.

Minimalist, modern characters are contrasted with a wealth of pattern and detail. The important parts of the illustration – the puzzle – draw the eye while the backgrounds are clean and simple. This ensures the focus remains on the important details, but it also creates a unique and attractive style.

This has proved a big hit in my household, both with Wonderland devotees and people who can’t rest until they figure out the answer. It is a perfect gift for fans of Alice In Wonderland. It is also one of those books which attracts anyone who sees the cover.

 

Thanks to Big Picture Books for my gifted copy of Alice In Wonderland – A Puzzle Adventure. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes.

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes

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From millions of years ago, when the island was inhabited by wildlife, to the thriving metropolis we know today, this is the story of Manhattan. It’s geography, it’s history and it’s people. With maps to show how the island would have looked and illustrations of the different eras, this beautiful book is the story of one place through time. 

And what a place. Manhattan isn’t somewhere I have visited, but even so I feel I know its streets. Not only from the photo shows of my sister’s visits but from the multitude of films and television programmes which are set in New York. Before reading this, I knew little of its history, but I recognise so many of the best-known locations. 

Manhattan moves through the earliest settlements, to the American Revolution and then to the Grid Plan of 1811 and the great skyscrapers of the 20th Century. Every era is brought to life through the illustrations, which show not only the place but the people who lived there. History is easier to understand when we realise it is about people like us. Relating to another person’s story makes the past more accessible. 

img_9800The maps are so detailed, and it is fascinating to see how the city built over time, and how different areas were joined together as a result of the grid plan and subway and bridges. With double-page spreads covering different topics, this book manages to provide a detailed account of the area’s growth without overwhelming the reader. There is plenty of breathing space to look at the maps and illustrations. 

Towards the back of the book is a wonderful double-page spread which shows the island in four different eras right next to each other. As I looked over this page, it really seemed to grow before my eyes. There is also a useful timeline which allows the reader to look over the history without reading the whole book. 

As an introduction to or visual history of an area, this is fantastic. The level of detail is impeccable and it is difficult to resist flicking through and comparing the different eras. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Books For Young Readers for my gifted copy of Manhattan. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Unicorn Club by Suzy Senior and Leire Martín.

Review: Unicorn Club by Suzy Senior and Leire Martín.

Unicorn Club

Amy is disappointed when no other children arrive for unicorn club. Then she sees a swishy tail and a sparkly horn. Real unicorns have come instead. Out come the glitter and the sparkly disco ball for a magical session of fun. 

A beautiful story about turning disappointment around and finding new friends. 

Disappointment can be a big blow to small people. When an anticipated activity or trip is cancelled, it can be difficult to stay happy. In the story, Amy not only meets a heard of unicorns, she also gets out her paint and crayons and glitter. She has cupcakes. People often equate cancelled fun with a boring day, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Turning to our own creativity and imagination can lead to hours of entertainment. 

The unicorns are also new friends. A cancelled playdate doesn’t mean there is nobody to play with. Not if a trip to the local park or play area is possible. Amy’s easy acceptance of the unicorns could encourage children to think about how they might respond to playing with groups other than their closest friends. 

This book will also be popular with fans of pastels, glitter and all things pink. 

What I liked about the illustration was it didn’t go overboard on the cute. There was a nice balance between sparkle and everyday. Amy likes pink, but she dresses in practical clothes. She likes glitter, but she also likes climbing into her treehouse. Certain things have, for too long, been associated with one gender, and this balance allows them to be included without sending stereotyped messages about what it means to be a girl. 

There is so much joy in this book. From the big, unicorn smiles to the sparkly rainbows, the story reassures readers that a disappointment can turn into a whole new kind of fun. 

 

Many thanks to Little Tiger UK for my gifted copy of Unicorn Club. Opinions my own.

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

Nutmeg and Celery love making Moo-grass music. Farmer Joni loves their music too, even though she would like them to include the sheep and donkey and other animals once in a while. But Moo-sic is a cow thing. When the barn roof is damaged, a bit of moo-sic seems the perfect way to raise some money for the farm. 

Spotting Nutmeg and Celery’s potential, a music producer comes along and insists they switch their sound to dis-cow. Will the new sound give Nutmeg and Celery everything they have ever dreamed of, or will they need to rethink their plan?

A witty story about friendship, sticking to your roots and hogging the spotlight. 

Nutmeg and Celery begin with confidence in their own sound. Country music is the obvious choice for a pair of cows and the duo has an established audience. Their plan is to raise enough money for the barn roof and to carry on as normal. Their encounter with a music producer may raise more money, but the barn roof doesn’t appear to be his priority. 

This story offered an entertaining range of cow puns and wordplay. Moo-sic, Discow (that’s disco to us humans) and mootiny spring to mind. It would be a lovely book to encourage wordplay and introduces a range of animal sounds to young readers. 

Themes of sharing and taking turns are explored. Other animals have big ideas about how to raise money for the barn and how the farmyard should sound, but it always comes back to Nutmeg and Celery. Learning to put ideas together and reach an agreed outcome is a big skill and this would be a lovely book to read ahead of group work or a shared project. 

A fun, friendly story where there is as much enjoyment in the language as there is in the story. A picture book which is especially suited to a young audience. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of The Moosic Makers. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

No Longer Alone

The young protagonist of this story is used to being spoken about. People say how quiet she is. And shy. How she doesn’t like to run about. Everyone gets it wrong. Sometimes it is easier to talk and talk when nobody else is listening and to run riot through the landscapes of her imagination. People don’t understand that the other things are what she did before. 

Before she felt alone. 

Together with her Dad and her little sisters, the young girl in this story explores her feelings and emotions, and bit by bit they start to heal. To find a new normal. Nothing will ever replace the loved one they have lost, but together they start to feel less alone. 

A beautiful book which explores the thoughts and feelings of a grieving child. 

The extraordinary thing about this story is how it shows grief through things which are apparently normal. That is what happens when we lose people we love. We have to act out the old things, the things we did before, and it can feel frustrating and hurtful that the everyday itinerary has changed so very little when everything has changed so much. How can it be possible to get up without that special person to say good morning? Many picture books about grief show the huge, the overwhelming, but No Longer Alone captures that unfairness and wonder of life going on. 

First, our protagonist finds it impossible. She has been left alone and however normal and quiet she looks, there’s a whole world going on inside her head. Then she talks and talks with her family, and together they manage to feel together again. 

This is a story about a child who has lost a parent, although the relations aren’t made clear until the end. This is a clever way of examining feelings of grief which might be universal. It also encourages readers to empathise and question what might be going on. When I was a child, stories about grief were pretty much labeled on the front. They were rarely read to children who weren’t going through it at the time. This encouraged a generation to think of grief as something which belonged in a neat box. Beautiful books like No Longer Alone encourage everyone to know and recognise and empathise with those emotions. 

Certain images have become stock pictures for grief – calm landscapes, pale flowers, and the tide far out from the beach. No Longer Alone turns this on its head. There may be landscapes and oceans but they are brimming with all the energy of a young child’s imagination. There are different types of noise, as the girl in this story is well aware, and it is only when she opens up about her feelings that things become truly still. 

A beautiful, poetic look at grief which has taken the time to imagine and reflect the real experience. This book will encourage readers to empathise with those who are grieving and to go deeper than how things appear on the surface. 

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing for my copy of No Longer Alone. Opinions my own.