Non-Fiction · Picture Books

Review: Amazing Women by Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green

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Temple Grandin

Amazing Women celebrates the lives and achievements of 101 great women. It features women from different fields and cultures. Modern-day to historical figures. Their lives are related in digestible fact-files which relate their stories as well as key dates. 

The thing I love most about this book is the design. When I saw the front cover I wanted to flick through and read about every one of those women, and the same thing happened when I looked inside. The book is high on ‘flickability’. It is the kind of book you want to thumb through, to flick backwards and forwards between the pages. The pastel colour palette and fantastic illustrations remind of a really modern blog or website. 

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The key message of the book is to be your true self. Every story in the book is inspiring, but the way to achieve great things is not to try to be someone else but to work hard in the areas where you excel. With a large number of books about inspirational women in the market place this is a really good message. A handy resources section at the back gives young readers some ideas of where to look next. This is a lovely addition. Young people with a new interest often don’t know where to turn for more information.

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My only criticism is that the book talks about some women in the present day – what they are doing now and how old they are. Unless new editions are printed this puts a lifespan on the book because this information will date. Nevertheless it is a great title and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of influential women.

 

 

 

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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.

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 · 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 Books

7 Picture Book Visitors

Controversy around the John Lewis advert has seen sales of Chris Riddell’s 1987 picture book Mr Underbed sell out. A new print run is expected in time for Christmas. Mr Underbed – the story of a boy who finds a monster under the bed – is set to be the hit of Christmas 2017.

I’m not so interested in the monster, as the fact the monster is a visitor. Visitors are nothing new in picture books. They come, and when they inevitably leave the child has changed as a result of their friendship. Here are seven of my favourite picture book visitors. bird1.) 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental The first penguin is cute, but every day another penguin is delivered. The family engage in a number of maths problems as they try to store the penguins in their small house. At the end, there is a great environmental message.

2.) The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr Perhaps the most famous visitor in the history of children’s literature. The book has been interpreted as a metaphor for Kerr’s childhood. Kerr grew up in Nazi Germany, where strangers came into Jewish households and robbed people of their property. 

3.) The Bear by Raymond Briggs One day, a great white bear comes to stay with Tilly. Is he real? Has she imagined him? *whispers* I love the book because I love the cartoon. I’m a huge Snowman fan. The Bear is more poignant in tone, and more beautiful. 

4.) Three By The Sea by Mini Grey  A stranger blows in, and tries to separate cat, dog and mouse with special gifts. Their life is almost wrecked when they come together and decide to ignore his gifts. 

5.) The Something by Rebecca Cob Is the Something a visitor? Anyway, there’s a hole in the garden, and something’s down there. Is it a troll? A dragon? Maybe it’s just a mouse? A book which encourages children to look at the world with imaginative eyes. 

6.) Can You Catch A Mermaid by Jane Ray Eliza’s Dad is a fisherman. She would rather he stayed at home and played with her. She waits for him instead of playing with the other children. The only reason she lets him go is he might bring home a mermaid. One day, Eliza befriends a mergirl on the beach. She wants to keep hold of Freya forever, but being on land makes Freya unwell. Eliza learns to let people go, and to interact with others. 

7.) Lost And Found by Oliver Jeffers A penguin arrives on the boy’s doorstep. The boy sets off to return the penguin to the South Pole. The South Pole isn’t what the penguin is looking for. A story about finding friendship. 

 

Do you have any favourite fictional visitors? Let me know in the comments below.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: You Choose In Space by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

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You Choose is a winning format which shows that stories do not need to stick to one format. It promotes speaking and listening, and encourages readers to make up the story themselves. You Choose in Space sees the format taken to intergalactic reaches on a journey through space which aims to inspire an endless number of stories.

img_3652Readers follow two characters on their travels, a boy and a girl. I love how we meet the characters at the title page. As a book which breaks with traditional formats, it is lovely to see more made of the title page and end-papers. Children are so often fascinated by the ‘non-story’ parts of a book, and I think this is an important part of book ownership, the familiarity with what makes something a book rather than a typed-manuscript. It is also great to see a wheelchair user in a book which is not about one person’s experience of a health condition. It is important for children to see disabled people as part of everyday life, not as people who only belong in stories about illness. 

My favourite thing about the book is encourages confidence in storytelling without anyimg_3657 instructions. Children are natural storytellers! The different choices act as a spring-board. It would be worth discussing with children that when we imagine things, we take ideas from the world around us. Challenge them to find something in the pictures which doesn’t exist in the world. When they point to a chocolate planet, or a bus made of jelly, discuss the fact the jelly and buses, chocolate and planets all exist! It is amazing how liberating this understanding is. We’ve all met somebody who says they have no imagination, but those people are usually happy to point and state, or to blend things they have observed into something new. 

I love the range of ways the choices are presented, from a cinema audience of potential characters to a conveyor belt of food. My favourite has to be the spaceship which looks as if it has endless rooms, although I also like the clothing choices, which remind me of the drag’n’drop dress-up games I played online in the days of early broadband.

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This book will appeal to a wide age range – from tots to pre-teens. There is a rhyming couplet on each double-page spread in large font, which makes it suitable for the youngest readers. Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are popular with older readers, as they are familiar from Jacqueline Wilson’s ever-popular titles. Like many people who grew up with Wilson’s novels, I remember trying to copy Sharratt’s drawings, which look deceptively simple. You Choose In Space will inspire budding artists and cartoonists as much as storytellers. 

I don’t use a star system, but if I did I would award You Choose in Space a galaxy full of stars. Only fair when it offers infinite possibilities. 

 

Huge thanks to Sarah Hastelow and Penguin Random House for sending a copy in exchange for review. This does not affect the honesty of this review.