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.

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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 his command, and he sails the world alone. One day, a new boy approaches. He reckons Sam would do a better job of exploring with a partner. 

Can the two boys 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 boys 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 himself 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 himself, but he 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 which 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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Colour Monster Goes To School by Anna Llenas.

Review: The Colour Monster Goes To School by Anna Llenas.

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What do little monsters get up to at school? 

The colour monster is nervous. It’s his first day at school, except nobody has explained what school really is. What happens there? Is it a spooky castle or a scary jungle? Luckily he has a friend to hold his hand. Together they meet the class, play some music and eat lunch in the hall. With his friend and guide to help him, the colour monster realises school is a happy place after all. 

A bright and witty story which introduces a typical school day to young readers. 

Do you remember being three or four? If you were anything like me, you probably saw children in school uniform, but what they did all day? Well, that isn’t always so clear to little people. I had a sister close in age, which was a big help because I’d been alongside her as she was prepared for the transition, and listened to her stories beyond that. Without that, I imagine it would all have been a mystery. Books like The Colour Monster Goes To School prevent children from imagining the worst. They can be read through over and over, and offer a safe space for children to ask questions and raise fears. 

The monster himself is a delight. At first he is a nervous tangle of colours, even a slightly murky mess of greens and blacks which suggest he feels sick, but as he settles down he runs through solid shades of love and delight. 

It would be interesting to use colour to explore feelings and might offer another way for young readers to explore how they feel about school. 

A reassuring narrative which introduces friends, kind teachers and all kinds of wonderful lessons. The perfect book for little monsters – and children – who are off to school for the first time. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of The Colour Monster Goes To School. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Old Man Of The Sea by Stella Elia and Weberson Santiago.

Review: Old Man Of The Sea by Stella Elia and Weberson Santiago.

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Every line on Grandpa’s face tells a story. One day, he starts to talk about the time he spent at sea. 

From the fairytale castles of Europe to watching the sun in Africa, Grandpa talks his way around the world. Every place has its own magic, and all the world is bound together by the endless seas. 

Even when his tales get a little tall, our protagonist loves to hear them. They set in his heart a desire to travel and explore. 

img_9619This story is accompanied by maps of the continents Grandpa visits, but unlike ordinary map books, these do more than introduce the shapes and boundaries of land. The book is like a whisper in the ear, calling readers to learn navigational skills and to explore the world around them – whether it be the high seas or the land outside the front door. 

Grandpa’s stories also celebrate the guiding voice of a grandparent. He isn’t strictly truthful in the sense that children are taught, but Grandpa’s words contain wisdom. A different kind of truth. Grandparents are often taken for granted when children are small, but not only do they have more life experience, they often have time for games and creativity which working parents are unable to give. 

The illustrated maps and pictures of the sea get steadily more fantastical, but every one is filled with a different kind of magic. The kind which reminds us that maps are more than lines and coloured spaces. That visiting the places they represent enriches our lives. The merfolk and dragons remind me of maps drawn when travel was less common, and details of what might be there was left to the imagination. 

A magical book which fills the mind with seas and ships and mythical creatures. Listen closely enough and you can almost hear the waves. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my gifted copy of Old Man Of The Sea. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

Review: The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

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Kathryn and her father set out into the Kielder Valley, a place with a history of music and story. Everything they see – every planet, building and animal – is on borrowed time. A great dam is under construction and the valley will soon be flooded. Only the ghosts remain, and memories of the people who once lived in the valley.

The father breaks entry into a deserted house. Kathryn plays her fiddle, her father dances and sings and the room fills with spirits. It is alive with the stories and music of long ago. Kathryn and her father move from building to building, filling each one with music for the last time.

Based on a true story told by Mike and Kathryn Tickell, this story brings to life a beautiful piece of history from Northumberland. It is a story of loss and hope. The buildings in the valley will go, but the music lives on. Art of any form is how we record our experiences, and the little girl in the story grew into a famous folk musician who has played the songs of Northumberland to international audiences.

As someone who is currently grieving, I found reassurance in the story. Places and people are taken away but we can recall their voices and messages through art.

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Levi Pinfold’s illustrations have a dream-like quality to them. They capture the illusory quality of memories alongside the vast reality of the dam. I especially love the colours in the skies. I could stare at them in the same way as real clouds.

The final pictures, of Kielder Water and the forest in the distance, are filled with life and joy and colour. It is impossible not to want to visit the area, or at the very least to find a wide, outdoor space. To explore and laugh and play.

I was lucky enough to see David Almond perform alongside Kathryn Tickell and accordionist Amy Thatcher in 2017. The performance brought music and words together to celebrate creativity and the beauty of Northern England. I left enthused. Touched. It is an evening I think of often because I felt so in tune with its messages. The Dam, too, is impossible to forget. There is something new in every reread and it offers a beautiful starting point for conversations about the past and memories and loss.

A haunting and beautiful story about the triumph of art over change.

 

Thanks to Walker Books for my gifted copy of The Dam. Opinions my own.

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.

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.