A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?
Well, you should know by now because this year marks the 20th anniversary of The Gruffalo. Alongside Harry Potter, The Gruffalo is one of the best-known books of our generation. And what’s remarkable about that is it shows the power of great storytelling and strong illustration.
This edition features some extras, which makes it worth buying for old fans as well as being a little bit special for the next generation. There is an information section about how the book came together, a section which teaches us how to say ‘Gruffalo’ is multiple languages, a quiz, some ideas about hosting a play and the words to the Gruffalo song.
The sections about the story and the illustration were my favourite. I was delighted to read that the story was inspired by an old tale about a girl who tricks a tiger. What I love about Donaldson’s work more than anything is you can see her knowledge of plot. The way her stories are set-up and resolved is a delight and it is no wonder they have captivated audiences around the world.
The dust jacket also doubles up as a play scene. Take it off, set it up and press out the puppets which are included in the book. (NB. I recommend that an adult does this. It is perfectly safe for children but the puppets can tear. Take extra care with details like mouse’s tail.) I love this idea because I am all children learning that story goes beyond words on a page. I think young children have a very instinctive understanding of this and that they will enjoy taking the characters from The Gruffalo into whole new adventures.
As for the story itself – it is timeless. I can see two readings to the story, one more subversive than the other. The is that an innocent mouse is saved from a hoard of animals and monsters by his quick thinking. The second reading is more subversive. Mouse starts off as a liar, but he’s not so good at it. If he carries on this way we know he will eventually get caught out and eaten. When the Gruffalo comes along, we think the game is up. Mouse, however, defies all expectations. He tells a new story with such flourish and bravado that he sees off all his predators. The second reading of the story says that if you are going to tell a lie, you’ll need to tell it well. I think this is one of the huge attractions of the story and one which is too often forgotten. The very best characters in children’s fiction aren’t the innocent ones. They are the witty ones. The ones who escape on their own cunning.
Now is a great time to buy a copy of The Gruffalo and this edition will appeal to fans old and new. Twenty years is nothing. This one will be around in a hundred and twenty.
Thanks to Macmillain Children’s UK for my copy of The Gruffalo. Opinions my own.
Review: When Sadness Comes To Call by Eva Eland
Sadness may arrive unexpectedly. It may follow you around and it may not want to leave. This touching picture book shows Sadness as a physical being who turns up out of the blue. It also looks at a mindful approach to emotions. When you let sadness in, you may discover that this guest is less unwelcome than you first thought.
There is a growing awareness of emotional literacy, and it is lovely to see books which offer readers a language to describe their feelings and the tool-kit to respond to them.
This book has a strong narratorial voice. Rather than being a story, it is a list of suggestions for ways to cope with feeling sad. Drawing, sitting quietly with your feelings, time outdoors or drinking hot chocolate. The main suggestion is that instead of trying to change your feelings you should change your response to them.
What I love about this book is it begins and ends with the endpapers. If you have ever seen Inside Out, where one girl’s emotions are shown as little people inside her head, you will recall that during the end credits the principal is applied to other people. Even to animals. This is a similar concept. Although the story is about one boy’s adventure with sadness, the endpapers show that everyone meets sadness. An elderly woman sits alone in a chair. A small child creeps around. A middle-aged woman slouches on the soda. A small boy looks ready to shout. We all experience sadness and we all experience it differently. In the opening papers, sadness is ignored. By the end, the same people have learned to acknowledge their feelings and to deal with them. Prayer, exercise, play and company. Everyone finds a different way to deal with their sadness.
I also love the art style – the minimal line drawings mean that we focus on the colour – at first, sadness takes all our attention but by the end the boy and his world are brought back into colour and we notice them too.
I am all in support of books which talk about emotions and I think this one is not only relatable, it is one which will promote important discussions.
Thanks to Andersen Press for my copy of When Sadness Comes To Call. Opinions my own.
Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Mia wants to see Daddy this Christmas, but he works far away in the North Pole. When Mia goes to post a card, she finds a magic post box which takes her to the Reindeer Express and all the way to the North Pole. A story about family love – families together and families apart.
The themes make this a good read for children whose loved ones are away at Christmas -either on the day itself or during the build-up. The message gently reassures the reader that their loved ones think about them even when they can’t be together.
The design is so beautiful that reading the book is as magical as riding a reindeer to the North Pole. Peek through the post box, lift flaps and doors and peek through the papercut trees to the page beyond.
I love the colour-palette – the muted colours and geometric patterns produce an effect which is as cosy as a patchwork quilt. The scenes alternate between snowy mountains, Christmas street markets and snug interiors. There is a hygge-like vibe about the book which makes it an attractive read on dark winter nights. A map at the back adds to this with pictures of arctic animals, reindeer and warm campsites.
A lovely read for young children and a book which is so beautifully festive it would appeal to the young-at-heart. This is a real snuggle-up-and-share story with just enough magic to build excitement ahead of the big day itself.
Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Last Stop On The Reindeer Express. Opinions my own.
Review: How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith
Christmas is coming everywhere, but not for Winston. As the world goes mad with music and bright lights and shopping-fever, Winston can only watch from his place at the side of the street. Then, when a little boy’s letter to Father Christmas goes missing, Winston takes it upon himself to see the letter all the way to The North Pole.
Told in 24 sections – one a day for every day of advent – and accompanied by Christmas activities, games and trivia, How Winston Delivered Christmas will leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Take one lonely boy, a letter to Father Christmas and an adventurous mouse and you have a new Christmas classic. Winston’s adventures take him into doll’s houses and travel agents, department stores and nativity-scenes as he works out how to deliver the letter to the North Pole. Just flicking through the book will make you nostalgic. Every thing you imagine when you picture the ideal Christmas is here. Paper chains and mince-pies and brass bands.
I love the book’s retro-feel, especially the activity pages which look so like the pieces of paper you find in crackers. While the book could easily be read alone, this would be the perfect one to share. Five minutes of story and a bit of fun time. If you’re buying this for a child, maybe look ahead through the book and get some of the bits and pieces together so you can try the activities. Imagine if those craft supplies or baking ingredients were wrapped in numbered boxes. It could add an extra dimension if your child had to guess what they were for ahead of reading the book.
From the front cover through to the final page, this book captures the warmth of Christmas. It also offers us a reminder that for every person having a good time, there is someone else going without basic needs. This message isn’t hammered in, but just wanting to see Winston get the happy ending he deserves enables readers to think further and understand that there are people in real-life who need shelter and clothing and food too.
I will be taking this book out year after year. Advent books have been seen before, but this one is a favourite. A strong story, magical illustrations and all the ingredients of a Happy Christmas. What more could you ask for?
Thanks to Clare Hall-Craggs and Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of How Winston Delivered Christmas. Opinions my own.
Review: Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree by Axel Scheffler
Pip and Posy are decorating their Christmas Tree. First the biscuits disappear, then the chocolate bells, and then the candy canes. Posy begins to have her suspicions about where they have gone when Pip is hit with a stomach ache. Can the pair find a solution which won’t cause so much temptation?
A cute and highly relatable story about excess at Christmas. We’re all guilty of it. Maybe we’ve never eaten as many decorations at Posy, but many of us have fallen into the trap of over-indulgence. For tiny children, this can be a big learning experience. Which child wouldn’t like to choose how many sweets they eat for themselves?
Reading this ahead of Christmas would be a lovely way to remember that a moment’s pleasure can come with a cost.
I love the format and the big, bold illustrations. Axel Scheffler is a star of children’s illustration and his style is immediately recognisable. Pip and Posy are gentle, everyday characters perfect for the pre-school and early years market. The book has paper pages, but its cover is soft and chunky – perfect for smaller hands.
The story introduces activities which would be fun to try out after reading – from making biscuit decorations to paper chains and lanterns, and playing in a cardboard box like Pip does on the final page.
A charming and festive story which will get laughs of recognition from young readers and their big people.
Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree. Opinions my own.
Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field
Mia’s all grown up and she has a family of her own, but every year at Christmas she takes out the letter her grandfather wrote when she was a little girl. Grandpa had one big wish for his little grandchild – that she would love the earth and learn to respect it. That she would inherit a world of clean air and water. A world where people take only what they need, a world where no-one ever goes hungry again and where animals have nothing to fear from humans.
It’s quite a big wish but every year Mia and her family remember Grandpa and his letter.
A gentle and touching narrative about caring for our planet, which captures the love we feel at Christmas towards people who are no longer with us.
Mia remembers the time she and her grandfather spent together in the garden, planting seeds and digging for words and looking at frogs. This gentle and loving introduction shows the reminds the reader the ways in which they may have experienced the joys of nature. This is a clever way to make the environmental narrative accessible. It may be a difficult subject but it relevant to everyone – even the smallest child.
This section also shows us the relationship Mia held with her Grandpa. They spent time together when she was young. One of the most poignant parts of Christmas is the feeling that some of our loved ones are missing. Nothing brings that loss back like a missing Christmas card. This story gently reminds us that, although people are gone, we may have messages that they gave us in life. Mia’s routine of reading Grandpa’s letter to her children shows us that, although grief never goes, we find ways to keep those people close to our hearts.
Jim Field’s illustrations capture the warm memories, big thoughts and poignant emotions Mia experiences as she reads Grandpa’s letter. Seeing the contrast between the environmental damage and Grandpa’s dream world helps us understand exactly what we’re doing – and how different it could be. I love the landscapes. Every leaf and every blade of grass is full of life and movement.
Certainly one which will make older readers emotional. It moved me to tears as swiftly as the end of The Snowman. I think it is important to acknowledge Christmas as a time of reflection and change, and this picture book does it so beautifully it deserves to be a classic read by many generations.
Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of Grandpa Christmas. Opinions my own.
Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian
Though seasons may turn,
bringing sights new and strange,
My love is the one thing,
that won’t ever change.
A polar bear guides a cub out of the den and across the landscape, from winter to spring and through the first year of life. All along, adult bear reassures the cub of unending love.
A gentle rhyme to share with the very smallest children.
Reading is about so much more than language acquisition. It is a bonding time, and books like this give children the space to ask very big questions. Will you always love me? Even when I’m grown up? As adults, we take these things for granted but children need the space to ask these questions.
Little bear gains confidence, exploring for himself and straying further from the adult but at the end of the book, the bears are cuddled back together. This gives the reader an important message – even when they spend time away from their loved ones, the bond is never broken.
The bears are not gendered or named as parent and child. This makes the book accessible to all sorts of family units. It would be a lovely book to gift to a new baby or to give to a child on the edge of a new milestone who is nervous about the changes.
This is also a lovely story for talking about seasons. Winter turns to spring, and then summer. Big polar bear introduces different features of the seasons – snowflakes, blossom, migratory birds and golden leaves indicate that the seasons are changing. The soft colour-pallette and gentle brush strokes match the tone of the rhyme. This is a safe landscape. A landscape ready to explore.
A warm and comforting narrative which will make a beautiful gift for small children. A must-have for any early bookshelf.
Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of I’ll Love You Forever. Opinions my own.