Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Shadow by Lucy Christopher and Anastasia Suvorova.

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In the old house, there was nothing to be afraid of. No monsters under the bed. Nothing hiding in the dark. In the new house, Shadow appeared.

With vibes of The Bridge To Terabithia, The Snow Lion, and Skellig, this book was going to win my heart. Superficially dark and scary, it actually sees a little girl work her way through a period of unhappiness in her family. It is not explicitly stated what that is. Others have read this book as a narrative of depression, and how a parent’s illness can affect a child, but I thought the illustrations hinted at grief. Of course, we all bring ourselves to a story, and I am currently grieving the loss of my Mum, but there are pictures on the wall of the house which hint at it being the old family home, and Ma in the story is seen with her head bent over two pictures later on.

Anyway. While this is going on, a little girl is waiting. The house is dark, the world feels dark, and she’s all alone. Except for Shadow.

Is he imaginary? Is he a projection of her feelings? He leads the little girl deeper and deeper away from her ordinary life until she can’t cope anymore. She cries like never before, and suddenly she is able to tell Ma what she is feeling. From then on, the light comes back, and eventually the house is filled with a new life and a new happiness.

Sometimes before the light comes back in, we have to acknowledge the dark.

The illustrations in this story have a beautiful, ethereal quality. The gentle snowy landscapes contrast with the darkness and ensure it isn’t too frightening for the young audience. Somehow it conveys without words that this is about emotions and not about a terrible danger from the outside. At times – like times of grief or depression – it can be difficult to put emotions into words. Shadow puts them into images and promises a lighter, brighter future.

Lucy Christopher is a talented story writer, and her words together with these beautiful illustrations have created something special. The perfect reminder that when darkness strikes, the light can be found by hugging our loved ones.

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my gifted copy of Shadow. Opinions my own.

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fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

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Every tale in this book is centuries old. So explains the introduction by Michael Morpurgo which explains that even before we had books, we had stories. 

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a passion for folk tales and legends. They are the stuff on which our dreams are built. They are the place from which other forms of storytelling evolved. It is lovely to see this collection of ten tales about well-known figures like Icarus and Robin Hood. 

This is the perfect introductory book to myths and legends. It looks a challenging size, but the text is large and the illustrations take up most of the page, so it is actually limited to one or two paragraphs per page. This makes it brilliant for less-confident readers, or for sharing aloud in shorter time-spaces, such as bedtime or the gap between lessons and play. 

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It also has a good range of origins – Greek Myths, and English folk tales, and Viking legends among them – and the stories are told and illustrated by different creators. I was particularly charmed, as a Millenial, that many of these the storytellers of my childhood. It felt like something I might have picked up in my childhood library (albeit in the fresher, prettier publishing style of today). Perhaps myths and folk-tales feel like this anyway, but reading words by Tony Bradman and Jeanne Willis added to this effect. These are some of the most established and practiced children’s authors working today. 

The range of illustration styles makes each story feel distinctive. Readers will soon have their favourites, and it is impossible to pick this up without flicking through to pick. 

I am impressed with this as an early collection of folk tales, and as stories that can be shared between people of all ages. This is the perfect book for reading out loud. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Magical Myths And Legends. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

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Uh-oh! Nibbles?

Nibbles the monster is on the loose again. There’s no stopping him. He’s eating his way through all the information books on the shelf, leaving great big monster-sized holes. The boy in the story has been here before. Except, this time, a dragon has awoken, and he’s hunting Nibbles through the pages.

Can the boy help Nibbles escape before he becomes a snack for a hungry dragon?

Nibbles the book munching monster is a popular character from recent illustrated fiction. Imagine a stack of five or six books, piled up on the floor. If Nibbles ate his way through book one, he would find himself at the cover of book two. Then climb inside that and carry on his way.  Younger readers will take Nibbles to heart because he is a rule-breaker. He is allowed wreck books – something they have hopefully been warned against! 

Along the way, we get to peek at the books Nibbles himself is reading. This time, he is in a pile of information books. Real facts are illustrated – about the sun, the moon, and colours, and a counting book – introducing the idea of non-fiction to newer readers. 

This title is especially fun because Nibbles is not the only monster around. The other title I reviewed saw him munch his way through a book relatively unchallenged. This time, he is in trouble and must use his wit to escape the books without being eaten by a dragon. This adds some tension and gives the reader a solid reason to side with Nibbles. Nibbles only eats pages. The dragon eats little monsters like Nibbles. 

The illustrations use blocks of primary colours, but they are nicely shaded and coordinated with other colours in the pictures. I love Emma Yarlett’s style – things are bouncy and might have looked innocent, except that characters like Nibbles have a cheeky glint in their eyes. 

Another successful book in the series. This is a story with a strong reread factor. It is just impossible to resist chasing Nibbles through the holes for another round. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Nibbles The Monster Hunt. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

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Princesses and enchanters and giants. Dragons and polar bears and hags. Enter a world of icy magic with this beautiful anthology of traditional Nordic Tales. 

This collection contains 17 stories, each with a full-page illustration by Ulla Thynell. Her artwork is so beautiful and atmospheric that just looking at them brings an imaginary breeze into the room. They conjure up a world carpeted in white snow, where anything and everything could be waiting beyond the window. Although there are no further illustrations or decorative borders within the text, the pictures are so rich and detailed that they set the scene and draw the reader into the story. 

Tales include East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, The Forest Bride and The Magician’s Pupil. They are categorised by events, so those which contain stories of transformation are together. The three categories are Transformation, Wit and Journeys. This was interesting as a writer because it allowed me to see similarities between stories in each category.

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The stories come from different sources and were rewritten by various translators. A section at the back explains their origin, and credits all involved. 

I was interested in this title because of my love of folklore. I grew up on my Dad’s collection of folk-rock, which led me, in turn, to seek out folk stories as a teenager. The books I found were primarily British or Celtic, although I also read some Greek mythology. It was later that I started to look wider, and discovered stories from so many other places. 

Anthologies like this are magical. The beautiful pictures make the dark nights seem bearable, and possibly even a bit special. Reading this every evening made me want to curl up in front of a log fire and sink deeper into the words. The perfect present for a winter celebration, or the perfect treat to ease yourself into the cold weather. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Nordic Tales. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Boy Who Knew Nothing by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon.

Review: The Boy Who Knew Nothing by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon.

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Once there was a boy who knew nothing, nothing at all. When he went to school, all the other children pointed at him and made fun until the boy didn’t want to learn. Then, one day at home, he found something strange in the attic. A pink, feathery something with a long neck and a beak. 

The boy sets off with his new friend in tow, in search of answers, and a journey of learning and discovery begins …

A beautiful, imaginative tale about the joys and challenges of learning. 

The most difficult thing about learning a new subject – at any age – is accepting that you know very little to begin with. This is difficult enough for children if they feel behind their peers. It causes adults no end of bother. They think they left learning behind years ago, that they should be able to write or paint or do whatever it is like an adult. When it turns out they are still beginners, they become frustrated or embarrassed. Which is a pity, because every hour of learning builds their skills. 

This book follows a child who is afraid to learn. It looks at the causes – the teasing and self-consciousness he encounters when he gets things wrong – and then at what sets him on his way. When he finds something in the attic, a question forms in the boy’s mind, and he can’t stop until he understands. 

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When we remember our education, we too often recall trying to get things right. But the most exciting moments, surely, were when we got so interested in something that we couldn’t stop trying until we learned more. The Boy Who Knew Nothing celebrates the joy and excitement of gaining new knowledge, and remind us not to be afraid of trying. 

The story is told in a cheery rhyme which reminds me of Dr Seuss. It introduces us to an everyday child in the everyday world, then everything turns upside-down as fantastical things happen in the boy’s life. 

The illustrations are striking. They remind me of Art Nouveau, except for the vibrant pinks and greens. The style is certainly unique and special among picture books, and it would be lovely to have some colouring pages to accompany this title. I imagine lots of readers will have a go at their own drawings. 

The perfect story for anybody who is nervous to learn. It is joyful and clever and filled with optimism. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my copy of The Boy Who Knew Nothing. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Lost Fairytales by Isabel Otter and Ana Sender.

Review: The Lost Fairytales by Isabel Otter and Ana Sender.

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Once upon a time, there was a girl at the centre of the story who didn’t need rescuing … 

If you’ve ever fancied a fairy tale with a strong heroine, look no further. This anthology contains 20. Better than that, these stories haven’t been rewritten to change the roles of the characters. They always featured strong females. 

The range of stories is brilliant, with tales from different cultures around the world. I loved seeing the range of influences, and also similarities between the tales – bold eagles, special presents and magic wells recur in stories from all over the world. 

IMG_E9890It also contains an old favourite of mine. Tam Lin, here known as The Company Of Elves, is about a girl called Janet who rides out at Halloween to prevent her love Tam Lin from being paid as a tithe to hell. She’s up against another strong woman, the Fairy Queen. And we’re not talking innocent fairies here. This Queen turns Tam into a series of animals which turn on Janet, but she holds tight. I’ve heard this in folk music many times, but rarely see it included in fairytale anthologies. 

A section at the back contains some thinking points about each story. These are designed to motivate young readers and to encourage readers to think about what makes the heroines so strong. There are also some useful summaries to each story which explain its background and origins. 

The book is illustrated in a way which makes it irresistible. I particularly love how details and colours are used to give an impression of the different landscapes, and how the page colours coordinate with the illustrations. This apparently tiny thing makes each tale feel unique and separate from the others. 

This beautiful anthology stands out for its range of world fiction, and for the heroines who prove that there are different ways to be strong and brave. It would make a lovely addition to any bookshelf and is going on my list of Christmas gift recommendations. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my gifted copy of The Lost Fairytales. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh.

Review: The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh.

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Sam is a fearless captain, who plays all day on the tree at the top of the hill. It turns into a pirate ship under her command, and she sails the world alone. One day, a boy approaches. He reckons Sam would do a better job of exploring with a partner. 

Can the two children combine their knowledge to create a better game? 

This beautiful story looks at the compromise and sharing which make up a friendship. Specifically, it looks at how the knowledge and ideas of two people can change a game – a story – to make it better. When the children meet, Sam is off hunting for diamonds in Nigeria. Agu isn’t convinced this would work. He used to live in Nigeria and he knows what is really there to be found. 

At first, Sam isn’t convinced about playing with a newcomer, but when Agu tells his stories, Sam realises there are whole other adventures to be had when you listen to different people. 

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about whether we should tell stories aside from our own. Wherever you stand in this debate, the key point is that stories are about real, lived experience. If you want to tell other stories, first you need to listen. To learn. Although this book is about friendship and sharing, it gently explores this idea. Sam’s world becomes richer for opening herself to new ideas. 

This would also be a lovely book to use in discussions about sharing, and listening to our friends. Sam could have kept the Pirate Tree to herself, but she would have missed out on all those new games. We might love a toy or make-believe, but by opening it up to others and sharing we will gain more from it. 

The real-world backgrounds are pale and washed out in comparison to the imagined worlds. This makes the games and stories the thing we remember when we close the book. 

A delightful and thought-provoking story that will make readers want to explore and start some adventure games of their own. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my gifted copy of The Pirate Tree. Opinions my own.