Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

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Mira doesn’t like her curly hair. She wants it to be beautiful and straight like her mama’s. One day, Mira and Mama go for a walk and the rain comes down. Little by little, the curls return to Mama’s hair and Mira sees how beautiful curls really are. 

A touching book about the relationship between appearance and identity. 

Mira’s issue is one which lots of children will relate to, from an early age right through to teens. Images of perceived beauty are everywhere and they can result in peer pressure to look one particular way. When I was a pre-teen is was all about very straight hair. Very straight and blonde was better. There was also lots of discussion about straight noses and facial symmetry.  What I didn’t understand at the time was that this idea which was rife in my school began with Hollywood. With the catwalks. With the narrow images of beauty available to young people at the time. 

This is particularly damaging when children aren’t seeing people from their own culture or people of many cultures and the many kinds of beautiful in the world. Thankfully, social media, for all its faults, is helping to fight this because suddenly there are photographs and hashtags which celebrate curly hair and fuller figures and people of every kind. It is also important that books reflect the diversity of the world from an early age. Mira’s Curly Hair shows how important it is not to look for the kind of beauty we see elsewhere, but to celebrate the things which are beautiful about ourselves.

Bright blocks of colour and beautiful patterns bring this to life and add to the feeling that this is all about celebration. 

A book which offers readers a new way to define and search for beauty. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Books for my gifted copy of Mira’s Curly Hair. Opinions my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

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Finn misses a grandfather, a man who loved the sea and told stories about the place where the ocean meets the sky. To honour grandfather’s memory, Finn builds a boat on the beach and falls asleep beneath the decks. The boat comes to life and takes Finn on a voyage. Through floating whales and magical ships the boat sails, until Finn is able to say goodbye to his grandfather. 

A touching story about grief and life’s big adventures. 

These are the sort of pictures it is possible to look at for hours. They are so magical, so impossible but yet so real, that feel more like they have been breathed into life than painted. Every cloud floats by and every air balloon seems filled with real oxygen. If you love illustrations by David Wiesner or Shaun Tan you will understand what I mean about being absorbed in the scene. 

Many writers are told from an early age never, ever to end a story with it was all a dream. While I think it is a cliche that early writers fall back on, I believe there is room for experienced creators to take us into dreamscapes and explore how the experiences in our dreams change our lives. The same goes for play or daydreams. Huge part of our lives are spent dreaming and it would be a pity if that was never reflected in stories or art. 

Looking at the illustrations – at cloud castles in the sky and birds roosting among stacks of books – reminds us that there are places where anything is possible. 

As a Kate Greenaway contender, I think the book’s power is in it’s strength to inspire readers to venture into their own magical places. I can see the pictures inspiring play, art and whole new stories. 

The ultimate message is that we can find our loved ones in our minds. If we can conjure up cloud castles and flying whales we will always be able to revisit our memories and explore our love for that person. 

A work of art which takes readers into the powerful landscape of creativity. Magical. 

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Quarto Books for my gifted copy of Ocean Meets Sky. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Big Cat by Emma Lazell

Review: Big Cat by Emma Lazell

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Grandma’s house is full of cats. When a new cat turns up, she is certain he must belong to one of the neighbours but nobody recognises him. Big Cat is a bit different from Grandma’s other cats. He’s huge, he’s stripey and he lets people ride on his back. When a family of tigers turns up searching for their missing son, it is the start of a new friendship.

A tiger who comes to tea and eats up everything in sight? This is a delightful homage to a favourite picture book. There’s even a moment when The Tiger Who Comes To Tea appears in the illustrations and the art style, although not the same, is reminiscent of older picture books. It is a whole new story about a friendship between humans and tigers.

I loved Grandma’s house. She is that person I want to be when I am old. The one whose house is filled with cats. Unfortunately her band of moggies isn’t keen on the new intruder. This was absolutely spot-on. Cats have enough trouble accepting their companians in their own territory. Although I have seen cats who don’t live together make a bond, the usual reaction involves hissing. And possibly claws.

There is so much to see in the illustrations and looking all over the page rewards the reader with rich detail. The familiar, everyday setting is made more real by its little details, and more exciting by those quirky things which made the home unique to Grandma. 

A delightful story which compliments a very favourite tale. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books for my gifted copy of Big Cat. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

3 books for Mothers’ Day

3 books for Mothers’ Day

 

How To Say I Love You In Five Languages by Kenard Pak

img_8403The most important thing to say on Mothers’ Day is I Love You. Why say it once when you can say it in five different languages?

Five different children are introduced and they each speak a different language. English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin are all featured. As well as saying ‘I love you’, the children say hello and use one short phrase to introduce the person they are speaking to.

Buttons to the right of the book allow the reader to listen to voices saying ‘I love you’ in different languages. The best way to learn pronunciation is through imitation and this is the easiest way to start.

As adults, when we set out to learn a new language, it is often easy to forget that native speakers begin with board books and simple content. Learning one new phrase at a time and trying it out is a great way to improve confidence.

With Mothers’ Day books promoted in bookshops often looking a bit sameish and sugary, why not try an authentic approach? Tell your special person or people that you love them. Tell them five times over.

 

Held In Love by Dawn Casey and Oamul Lu

img_8404A mother holds her baby in her arms and recites a blessing. She imagines her child growing over the years, and wishes for them all the things they will need to live a good and loving life.

From working hands to listening ears. The silence and music. The comforts of the universe. This book uses the word ‘blessing’ but not ‘God’ or any other specific religious vocabulary. The arms of the universe could easily mean God, but it could also be a phrase to refer to the children’s protection and safety. This makes the book suitable for different readers, and would particularly suit families where carers hold different religious opinions.

The pictures alternate wide landscapes with closed arms, wide mountains with tight groups. This is about fellowship and being alone to explore. Being loved while being free.

A gentle recitation and a lovely book to share. As well as being a wish from mother to child, it celebrates everything mothers want and wish for their children from the word go. This does very specifically reference one mother, although the sentiments apply to all carers.

 

What Matters Most by Emma Dodd.

What Matter Most to you? What Matters most to me? 

img_8621A mother horse and her foal gallop around the wild world and question what is most important in life. Is it going out or staying in? Having lots of stuff or not having very much at all? At the very end they conclude that wherever you happen to be in life at one moment, the most important thing of all is being loved.

Silver foil effect gives the landscape extra sparkle without ever overwhelming the page. Rainwater and grassy blades and birds in flight are all emphasised with shine.

A beautiful book both in sentiment and style. I admire that instead of wishing one thing for the child, the mother puts forward the idea that we go through different periods in life and experience different things at different stages. Our wants and ambitions also change. With so many children under pressure from an early age, this book is a welcome narrative.

A total celebration of the diversity of life and different things which define us.

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books and Templar Publishing for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Work It, Girl Boss The Bestseller Like J.K. Rowling and Work It Girl RunThe Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey

Review: Work It, Girl Boss The Bestseller List Like J.K. Rowling and Work It Girl RunThe Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey

Introducing a new series of biographies about modern women who have risen to the top of their game and demonstrated admirable qualities and mindsets. 

img_8758These books do not cherry pick the best of their subjects’ lives. The title about J.K. Rowling (Referred to as Jom) speaks about how she didn’t always focus on her schoolwork, and how her attitude towards other jobs wasn’t always positive. The book then shows how with more positive approaches, Jo Rowling worked away at the thing she has always wanted to achieve until she found success. Books about successful people too often paint an unrealistic narrative. By understanding that they were up against the same human failings as the rest of us, it is easier to picture ourselves emulating their hard work and achievement. 

This focus on mindset sets the books apart from other recent books about successful women. 

Oprah’s life story focuses on rising above challenges and seeing opportunities even when they appear not to exist. Jo Rowling’s story looks at determination and single-mindedness and knowing that we can make things happen which seem impossible. If the biographies are correct, neither woman defined herself by her circumstances even when life appeared not to be working out. 

The books follow the subjects’ lives in chronological order, in chapters which are two or three pages long. These short chapters make it easier to dip in and out of the books. They would be lovely additions to a classroom book corner because the chapters can be read in five or ten minutes bursts. 

Inspirational quotes and captions are picked out and decorated so beautifully they could be made into posters. With the rise and rise of motivational quotes online, these books have found a format which is relevant and interesting to the latest generation of readers. This is the other thing which stands out about the series. It is right up to date and appealing to today’s young readers. 

These attractive books challenge the reader to look at their own dreams with a different mindset. They are excellent additions to the canon of life stories about successful women. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books for gifting the books reviewed in this feature. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

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Shampooch is the cleanest, prettiest, most pampered dog in the park. She declines all invites to roll in the mud and riffle through bins because she’s got an image to maintain. Then Sampooch chases after some beautiful kites and all chaos ensues.

A light-hearted and witty story about the price of maintaining a perfect image. 

With young people under increasing pressure to maintain an image online, it is important that children learn from an early age not to prioritise appearance over living. Shampooch misses out on friendship and fun because she is so concerned about her fur and her hair. When she is sucked into the doggy fray, she finds it liberating. 

There are extra laughs in the illustrations, especially in the contrast between aristocratic-looking Shampooch and the smelly dustbins and muddy puddles around her. We just know at some point that the two are going to meet and this keeps the reader waiting. The joke is obvious but we have to know how and when it will happen. 

Maverick Arts Publishing always produces books which are friendly to the youngest picture book readers. Their books appear to be produced with a strong knowledge of what amuses and captivates children. 

Move over Aristocats – Shampooch is here and she’s throwing off her collar. A lovely message and a great read. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my gifted copy of Shampooch. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

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What will you choose at the British Museum? Will it be a red toy car or a hot air balloon? A king with a sword or a lady in a gown? Written in a similar style to Pippa Goodhart’s ever popular ‘You Choose’ books, This Or That allows readers a first look at some of the artefacts held by The British Museum. 

The double page spreads are themed by categories familiar to young children including transport, animals, clothes, and toys. These pages are laid out in an attractive format of squares and rectangles, which reminded me of a modern blog layout. 

As well as picking their favourite items, readers can engage in spotting games which are suggested in the text. An index at the back offers readers the names of the objects featured in the book, and a QR code leads to more in-depth information about the artefacts. 

With London an increasingly expensive place to live or visit, it is important that people in all areas have access to information about its museum collections. This early introduction too is inspired. Not only does it allow conversations about what a visit to a museum might involve, but it also allows readers to play their own games of curation. As an additional challenge, it might be nice to challenge readers to come up with a theme and pick objects which would fit that exhibition (ideas for themes include childhood, the great outdoors and entertainment). 

I often say on my blog that reading is about so much more than the words. Or pictures. Time spent feeling rewarded by books, time spent enjoying books as a social activity, only makes us more enthusiastic to engage with reading again. 

The popular format of You Choose is adapted to great effect to introduce a museum collection. Big thumbs-up to this playful approach to non-fiction. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of This Or That? Opinions my own.