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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Non-Fiction

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

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There’s plenty of fun to be had when the sun’s gone down. Outside our windows, when the night sky is shining, a whole host of animals and plants are raising their heads. Grab a torch, a grown-up, and a jacket and explore the nighttime with this handy, pocket-sized book. 

With ideas about ways to have fun out in the garden and further beyond, this is a wonderful guide which encourages safety, respect for nature and a bucket load of curiosity. 

From traditional skills like identifying animal tracks and following scent trails, to instant fun like glow in the dark paint, there is bound to be a suitable suggestion for every occasion. 

As regular readers know, I am all for books which put us back in touch with nature. Over recent generations, we have lost touch with the natural world to the extent that knowledge is being forgotten and empathy for other species is at a low. My Granddad, for example, recognised bird songs by ear, a skill which few people today have. The great news is that between the young people who are fighting for our planet, and the wave of books which has come in the past year, there has never been a better time to discover the wildlife on our doorstep. 

This would be a lovely book to slip into a satchel, and it would also make a great stocking-filler for anyone who is getting ahead on the Christmas planning. A guide book, a torch and a compass and you’re all set to go (even if it isn’t beyond the front gate). 

The design is neat and attractive. The illustrations manage to be cute while not being sentimental, and examples are clear enough for the reader to follow. I love the rounded corners and elastic band, which make this feel like a journal or an adventurer’s log-book. 

With a focus on nighttime wildlife, this offers something different to other nature books I have seen, and it is clearly designed to encourage young people to get outdoors. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my gifted copy of Out And About – Night Explorer. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

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Maths can feel confusing. At times in my childhood, it felt like nothing more than memorising a string of processes, the use of each was more obscure than the last. Yet maths is the language of the universe. It is written into nature, into the laws of physics and into modern-day technology. 

This beautiful book introduces the places where maths can be found. It reminds us that maths is about more than examinations. It is a magical, complex language. One waiting to be explored. 

Four sections divide the book into topics: 

  • Maths In The Natural World
  • Physics, Chemistry and Engineering. 
  • Space. 
  • Technology. 

Within each section, different concepts are explored through beautiful double-page spreads. 

There are gems of information inside this book which will make you look at the world in a whole new way. Did you know that female pufferfish examine the patterns a male makes in the sand on the ocean floor? The female looks for the most geometrically perfect patterns when selecting a partner. And did you know that you could lift the Earth up and turn it (if only you were positioned with a lever billions of light-years long)? Fascinating facts like this make it impossible to not want to know the principles. 

The illustration and design is undoubtedly part of the attraction of this book. Pages are cleverly divided into different sections with shapes and colours which attract the eye. The retro-style pictures are attractive and fun and make spreads which deal with complex ideas feel more welcoming to novices. 

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What also makes the book fantastic is that is doesn’t once water down its subject matter. The book is certainly aimed at a younger audience, but it doesn’t ever give the impression that children might be reluctant to learn. Sections of text are kept short – one or two paragraphs at a time – but the principles are explained and illustrated in sensible and engaging language. The book takes its readers seriously, unlike so many books on complex subjects which resort to heavy-handed humour to engage readers. If information is presented in an engaging way, people are often eager to know more. 

A stunning introduction to the way mathematics underpins our world. Numbers are part of our history, of our make-up and of our communication. Books like this remind us that to study them is a great adventure. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of The Language Of The Universe. 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 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.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

Review: The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

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Extract:

The cat thing sunk down, deep and heavy on the bed. The night air from the window was cold, but the cat-thing was warm, and Louis found himself wishing it would purr. 

‘Iffen …’ he murmured, and found the cat-thing’s eyes on his, a direct golden gaze that went straight to his astonished, worshipping soul. 

(The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. P51.) 

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Synopsis:

Abi is happily growing up with Dad and Granny Grace. Then a chance accident brings Dad together with Polly. Granny Grace moves away, Dad and Polly marry and Abi is forced to share her life with stepbrothers.

Then the family moves to the ivy-covered house, and strange things start to happen.

Abi tumbles into books, Max notices strange things lurking in dark corners, and Louis summons a wild animal into his bedroom. Unless the children come together, they will be unable to change things. Can they figure out where the strange creature came from and send it back?

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Review:

Abi prefers life when it is quiet. She likes to hide away and read, which is pretty difficult with a small step-brother she never asked for grabbing at her stuff. But, over time, an understanding emerges between Abi and Louis. They’ve seen things in the strange new house. Things which should be impossible.

The ivy-covered house is up there among the most memorable of magical houses in children’s literature. It is subtle magic, yet it is one which reflects the children’s’ internal struggles and eventually brings them together. I was especially touched by Louis’s longing for a granny just like Granny Grace, and Abi’s difficulties in sharing the people in her life. Divorce narratives once read like tales of woe. This story is more subtle. It hints at hurt and anger but also shows love and new friendships and recognition which grows over time as new connections grow between the people involved.

The other star of the story is Iffen, the wild cat Louis summons into his bedroom. Exactly what species is he? Where does he come from? Readers will enjoy posing theories as the mystery grows.

Hilary McKay’s writing is a joy. The sentences and words are crafted to perfection so that it is impossible not to whisper certain parts aloud. The experience of reading was almost like listening to a storyteller because the words were beautiful and the story kept me hanging on at every twist and turn.

A gentle and lyrical story from a  master storyteller. This is a wonderful book about the bonds between families, and what it takes to shape them.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my gifted copy of A Time Of Green Magic. Opinions my own.