Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Red Dread by Tom Morgan-Jones

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Thump, thump, thump. The Red Dread is on the loose. Is anyone safe?

img_4849A group of animals are afraid of the strange creature known as ‘the red dread’. They huddle together as it thumps around, before realising that it is  their own terrified heartbeats. The story uses few words, but captures the experience of fear and panic. Tension is relieved with silly comments and questions such as ‘has anyone seen my shoes?’ and ‘Rabbit did have smelly feet’. These unexpected lines are sure to raise a laugh from young readers. 

The story relies as much on the illustration as it does on words. It uses a small vocabulary to great effect, and would be a lovely book to help a reader gain confidence. Words such as ‘thump’ and ‘gulp’ are repeated many times. Once a word is learned the child is rewarded with many chances for reuse, meaning the reader gets the satisfaction which comes with word-recognition. Speech bubbles and bubble-text make the experience more cartoon-like, and hopefully less intimidating for reluctant readers. 

This apparently simple story is told in such a way that you are right there with the animals, holding your breath for the moment the Red Dread attacks. The illustrations add to this immersive experience. 

img_4847The illustrations are explosive! They are full of energy and character. Textured backgrounds contrast with vivid pictures in the same reds, oranges and yellows. The animals gain lots of character from their expressions, which tell the story of their fear as much as the words. This would be a lovely book to encourage collage and drawing – make the background first, then draw and stick-on pictures of animals. 

This will undoubtedly become one of those books which is read and reread for the pleasure of hearing a favourite line or word. Excellent for building excitement about reading. 

The Red Dread

Tom Morgan-Jones

Barrington Stoke

Many thanks to Barrington Stoke and Kirsten Lamb for my copy. Opinions remain my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann

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A strange, white creature is swept ashore and makes its home in the abandoned cave. Is he a ghost? A monster? Every day the bear gathers leaves from the forest. The other animals name him Leaf, and they want him to leave. Nobody dares approach the bear, until one day the crows save him from drowning and listen to his story. 

A beautiful story about tolerance and environmental damage

img_4793Leaf washes up on foreign shores, and the resident animals are slow to accept him and offer him help. It is difficult not to see parallels to the refugee crisis, especially with the pictures of Leaf washed up on the beach. It would be a lovely book to discuss these issues as it focuses on the reaction of the other animals as equally as it does upon Leaf’s arrival. 

It is also a book about environmental damage. Leaf’s home is melting and the damage caused him to drift across the sea. If children empathise with Leaf and care about his home, it would be a great opening to talk about environmental issues. The first step to making a change is empathy, and this book is about empathising with other people and the plight of our world

The art is stunning. It is intricately detailed and full of texture, from the leaves img_4792which build up the forest floor to the feathered birds. Colour is used to convey the mood. This is particularly striking in the picture where the dark blue sea churns behind Leaf, and the helpful birds rest on the golden sand. 

If you read closely, you will see a new bird appears on every double page spread. This makes a fun counting game, and conveys a sense of the animals coming together one-by-one to help Leaf. It only takes one person to listen for others to change their minds. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones

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New starts are difficult. When Caro and her Mum move to a new house, they start with a blank canvas. New home, new neighbours, new friends. At first Caro is afraid, but then she meets the Snow Lion. They play together until Caro is settled into the neighbourhood.

img_4784I love how the house reflects Caro’s situation. When they arrive, its walls are white and its rooms bare. As they meet people and get settled, they add colour to the walls. There is a lovely scene where Caro’s new friends are invited to help paint the walls. Meeting people may seem scary at first, but friendship and company bring colour to our lives. 

The Snow Lion himself is slightly ethereal, in a way which reminds me of Raymond Briggs’s characters. The Snow Lion is not here to stay. Lions belong outdoors, but they might pay a visit to give us courage. That doesn’t mean he won’t be close-by. Throughout the book the Lion can be spotted in the clouds, and snow. This makes a lovely hide-and-seek game for young readers, and also suggests that courage is always on the edge of fear. 

img_4788No adults are shown in the illustrations, and Mum is the only adult mentioned. This is a child’s eye view of the world. Mum is there to help and instruct. Otherwise the things of note are other children, animals and play. It shows a very young person’s world in a very realistic way, and it reminded me what it was really like to be knee-high. 

I am a huge fan of Richard Jones’s art, and am delighted to see the nature books he has produced which will be released in 2018. His style is understated and mature, but also gentle and warm. The contrast between the fear in the narrative and the warmth in his illustrations is striking. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Picture Book Reviews

Petra by Marianna Coppo

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Petra is a rock and this is how she rolls.

img_4772Petra is the story of a rock who is underestimated by the people around her. Set in the plants she is a mountain. In the pond she is an island. She’s full of potential, but people keep telling her she’s a rock. A pebble. They send her flying. After every setback Petra reinvents herself to fit her new surroundings. 

Petra is about perspective. It is also about life’s ups and downs.

I loved Petra from the cover. Her smile is impossible to resist. This is a feel-good book, and Coppo’s art creates those positive vibes. 

I wish I could give a copy of this book to anyone who has ever experienced a setback. Petra’s personality shines through every situation. Whether she is a rock, an elephant or an island she is upbeat little Petra, with her smile and rosy cheeks. People are not the sum of their successes and failures. Our true friends are the ones who see us for who we are. The ones who cheer us on every time we find our feet. It doesn’t matter that people tell Petra she is only a rock. Who are they to say what she might be, or how her life will pan out? 

img_4769The book offers plenty of discussion for child readers. It is difficult for young children to understand that life changes, and that unexpected things happen. Discuss Petra’s reaction – does she give-up, or does she find new things to do? This would also be a great book for introducing the concepts of past, present and future. (‘Petra was a mountain in the past, but now she is an egg. What do you think she might be in the future?’) 

With its soothing colour palette and upbeat protagonist, Petra would make a lovely bedtime story. It would be a lovely book for promoting life skills. With its mature art style and upbeat messages, it is a suitable book to gift to adult friends in need of encouragement. 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Feather by Cao Wexuan

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A single white feather wishes she knew which bird she belonged to. She sets off to the skies on a journey of self-discovery. A philosphical refelction on the ultimate questions in life: who am I? Where do I belong? Feather sets off certain she belongs high in the sky, but learns that there is plenty to love on the ground.

It is interesting that this book comes from a culture where asiprations can be high. Its ultimate message is that security and happiness are more important than great achievements. This is a nice narrative to turn to when children feel pressured by modern life and the pressure to achieve.

img_4279The illustrations are a work of art. I would happily have these individually on my walls. This is the sort of book I would pick up and drool over in an art-gallery shop. The design is as much a part of the book as the story. The early pages are shorter than the end pages. All the way along we have a sneak-preview of a page where the feather floats towards a bird, and we think we know which bird feather belongs to. Life is not predictable, and nor are stories, as we discover when we reach the page.

I love the calm colour-palette and the alternating colours of the pages.

Feather would make a lovely bedtime story for a young child, but it is also the sort of book you might choose as a special gift. The book is a beautiful object and I can see it being thumbed through many times for the pleasure of looking at the pages.

 

Huge thanks to Sarah Mather and Turnaround UK for my copy of Feather. Opinions remain my own.

Picture Book Reviews

Review: Real Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker

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Real-Life Mysteries is a fantastic book which has been nominated for the Blue Peter Award. It is the ideal book for helping young children understand the topic of 2017: Fake News. Real-Life Mysteries works on two layers. 

  • It is a factual book about unsolved mysteries 
  • It teaches children skills to decide for themselves where the facts lie in a piece of information

img_4739Real Life Mysteries turns unsolved historical stories into a detective’s casebook, and leaves the reader in charge. It encourages them to approach stories objectively, and carefully, and to work through all the facts before they draw a conclusion. A page at the front explains these skills, including the meaning of the word objectively. After that the mysteries are presented. A double page spread gives the story context (eg. historical and geographical) then a further double page spread presents a ‘case file’ where the evidence is layed out. 

img_4743What I love most as an adult reader is that the book does not patronise its readers, nor tell them when something is not fact. Aside from a friendly warning on the cover that not all writing is true, it lets readers make up their own minds. This is hugely important. Arguing with a young child about the existence of Bigfoot is like arguing with a tabloid reader about political misinformation. Nobody likes to be corrected, being corrected can make people more stubborn and it can make them less willing to engage in reasoned argument. 

The mysteries examined are wide-ranging, from Bigfoot to curses to superpowers and spontaneous combustion. The selection might encourage children to remain objective. If they are certain one idea is true, what do they think about Bigfoot? If the only answer is ‘it says so here and I think this is true’ they might be reminded about objectivity. 

img_4745This is an attractive book for young readers. The theme of detectives is created with the notice board background. Notes and diagrams are pinned to the board. It is just serious enough that the child might think it is something more than play, while bright splashes of colour and cartoon-style pictures keep things safely in the realm of fun. I like how much thought has been given to the child reader – they need to feel they are taken seriously, but may need reassurance if the stories get overwhelming. 

The text is broken into small chunks. It would be a great book for reluctant readers, as the theme encourages lots of breaks for discussion, and it can be made into an activity where the child is encouraged to make their own case file with diagrams and pictures. If a child connected with this book, they might search out others linked to their favourite stories. 

Real-Life Mysteries is an attractive book which puts the child reader first. As well as being a good fact-file on historical mysteries it identifies a concept which children need to learn. The need for objectivity to be taught at a young age has never been more apparent, and this would be a great place to start. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Bounce Marketing for my wonderful prize. All opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews

Goodnight Mr Clutterbuck by Mauri Kunnas

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‘Goodnight, Gus buddy! Sleep tight!’ says Mr. Clutterbuck. He turns off the light and falls asleep instantly.

‘Goodnight, Clutterbuck,’ answers Gus.

But what’s this? Mr. Clutterbuck bolts upright in bed. Sound asleep, he trots out into the street. Mr. Clutterbuck is the town’s busiest slweepwalker, although he himself doesn’t know it.’

‘BzzzPSHAW … ha ha … BzzPSHAW!’ snores Mr Clutterbuck.

(Goodnight Mr Clutterbuck by Mauri Kunnas)bird

img_4304Mr Clutterbuck has got a reputation. Every night he sleepwalks, persued frantically by guinea-pig gus. Every night, Mr Clutterbuck causes lots of trouble. Noisy, messy trouble. Motor bike gangs end up tangled in washing lines. The sausage factory is eaten out of stock when Mr Clutterbuck lets the local dogs in. Every morning he wakes up to hear about what has happened on the breakfast news, with no idea he is the cause! 

The big joke is that Mr Clutterbuck appears to cause lots of trouble, but actually he puts lots of problems to rights. The motor bike gangs make peace, the sausage factory has its best custom in years and is saved from going bust … and the mystery of the Christening Spoon thief, which runs through the story, is solved thanks to Mr Clutterbuck. 

Mr Clutterbuck is an institution in Finland. He even has his own tourist attraction, The House Of Mr Clutterbuck, where children can reenact his adventures. Mauri Kunnas is a leading Finnish illustrator. I was pleased to have a chance to see her work. Reading books in translation is the first step to curiosity about and empathy with people in other parts of the world. 

img_4305.jpgChildren aged 4 -7 will be addicted to Mr Clutterbuck’s antics, and want the story read over and over again. It is visually busy, and there are liberal doses of naughty words like ‘butt’ and ‘poo’ to satisfy young readers. (Pretend to be shocked. It makes the satisfaction of hearing the word greater.) The text is broken into small chunks, which makes it rewarding for less confident readers, and it follows a familiar pattern. Repeated jokes cement this pattern, so we know there will be a big misunderstanding on the morning news, and that Gus the Guinea-Pig will be exhausted when Mr Clutterbuck wakes up. I can see children picking a favourite part, with the familiar pattern building anticipation before it comes. 

img_4303The book is almost like a graphic novel in that there is as much to read in the illustrations as there is in a text. As well as being visually imaginative (what would it look like if a snake played the drums?) there is a hunt for Mr Clutterbuck in the larger pictures. Children can compete to find him in a Where’s-Wally fashion. The reward is that he usually looks ridiculous, as he gathers more and more trouble on his way through town. When you reach the end, you realise the same is true of the spoon thief. 

If you know any reluctant readers, give this a try. It’s a low-pressue/high-reward read. 

 

Huge thanks to Sarah Mather and Turnaround Books who sent a copy in exchange for honest review.