Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup.

Review: Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup.

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Sometimes a crack grows between people. Maybe it began with a mean word, or anger, or a selfish gesture. It doesn’t matter. The point is, sometimes in life we experience damaged relationships. It can be difficult to know how to go forward. 

Kindness Grows uses metaphors – the crack caused by unkind actions and a tree that grows and flourishes when it is nurtured with kindness – to consider and compare the effect our actions can have on our relationships with other people. It uses double-page spreads to compare the crack on the left-hand page with the tree on the right. The basic principle is that healing begins with a kind action. 

With cutaway details and striking illustrations, this would be a lovely book to introduce readers to the concept that actions have consequences and that our relationships with other people depend on thinking about the way our behaviour might make them feel. 

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This book offers a very visual way to approach conversations about hurt and making up. Sometimes it can be hard to understand why another person is upset with us, and getting back to the root of our words and actions can help us to empathise with how they might be feeling. The same pattern which creates the crack on the left-hand pages becomes a tree trunk on the right. This offers a lovely way to help younger people think about hurt. They might begin by asking questions such as ‘is there a crack?’ ‘how did it appear?’ and ‘how do I turn it into something beautiful again?’  

The book looks at different scenarios, from refusing to play together to not working as a team and offers possible solutions on the right-hand side. It also touches on the possibility of a crack that can’t be mended – this would make an interesting discussion about how we can be certain of our own kindness and redirect it towards other parts of our life. 

A lovely book to help in those moments when we can’t figure out how a divide has grown between ourselves and another person. Remembering that kindness is the way forward is a beautiful place to start. 

 

 Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Kindness Grows. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

The House Of Light

Extract:

He was shivering. His feet were bare. His clothes torn. She was sure he hadn’t eaten for a long time. But he seemed intent on moving the boat. He rocked it back and forth, loosening it from the snow and sand. He lifted it up from one end, and with a deft shove he flipped it right over. He must be much stronger than he looked. He began to push the boat away from the dunes, away from her, down the beach.

(The House Of Light by Julia Green. P32.)

 

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Synopsis:

Bonnie and Granda live quietly together, keeping to themselves and following their own interests in spite of all the regulations and rules from the authorities. One day, Bonnie finds a battered old boat on the beach. When news comes that the Border Guards are searching for a boy, Bonnie decides to find him first.

Ish has travelled a long way. He is cold and hungry and alone in the world. He needs shelter but keeping him safe is a criminal offence. As Bonnie and Ish talk about art and borders and people who pass through the island, Bonnie begins to wonder if there is a place out there where she can be free to live without fear of regulations. Would she be brave enough to search for such light?

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Review:

In a sea of divisions, hatred and narrow ideas, it can be difficult to know where to look for the light. Children are currently faced with news stories about global crises and politicians who shut these out to focus on their own agenda. I remember, as a child, being frightened about what 9/11 meant. Goodness knows how today’s children feel.

This masterful novel offers readers a safe space to think about these issues. It is also a story of empathy and friendship. From the moment I saw the boat, I wanted the owner to find shelter. To find people who cared. Julia Green creates powerful images which draw us in long before we know the details.

Bonnie is aptly named. She lives in a time of tight controls, where obedience and conformity are enforced, but she has been taught other values. About art and empathy and places far away. She drinks the world in, combing beaches and singing with Granda and dreaming of a time when people were free to see other parts of the world. She is a vessel of all the beautiful things which are less valued under the regime she lives in.

Her outlook is beautiful. It offers hope because so long as someone remembers these values, they are not lost. They can return.

This is a novel of our times, but it is also a novel of nature. Of outdoors. Julia Green’s books make me want to get out an explore as much as any nature biography. Her descriptions conjure the setting so well that becomes real, and the story is peppered with facts which would make anyone hungry to explore. Her books remind everyone that nature is miraculous and out there discover.

Although the themes of this story sound bleak, Julia Green is a masterful writer, and the main feelings which the reader would take away are hope. Hope and a sense of wonder at the beautiful things which are out there to find. At the difference one small person can make. This is children’s literary fiction at its finest. A beacon of light and a beautiful story.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The House Of Light. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

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A stranger arrives one day with nothing but a suitcase. When the animals ask what is inside, the stranger gives an impossible list. He says there is a broken teacup, a table and chair, and a hut on the mountainside. Tired from his journey, he falls asleep. The animals are so keen to find out the truth that they break open the suitcase. When they see what is inside, they question their behaviour and ask what they should do to make the exhausted stranger welcome. 

The Suitcase is, without question, my new favourite picture book about empathy and compassion. 

With the world in crisis and the number of displaced people rising, there have been a number of stories which explain the situation to very young children. There are some fantastic ones. The trouble is, below a certain age, how much can children understand about war? How much information is too much? 

The Suitcase pitches the story perfectly for children who are not yet ready to talk about war. It talks about a suitcase, a journey, and the reception at the other end. Should we greet exhausted people with hostility and suspicion, or should we greet them with a cup of tea and friendship? Even readers who don’t understand where ‘the stranger’  came from or why he is tired can understand the question posed by the text. 

It is also a fabulous story for older readers. Clues in the text hint tell some of the backstory and the reader can use their own knowledge to question where the stranger came from. 

The way the animals behave, combing over the items in the suitcase, could be metaphorical of the way people’s life stories are questioned and examined upon their arrival in a new country. It opens some gentle conversation about whether this is fair. How much information should people be forced to share and what might they want to keep private? Why might the few belongings they have left be precious? The story helps the reader to empathise by introducing different questions about how somebody might feel in this situation. 

The other interesting point is how the lizard [I think the new arrival is a lizard] is called ‘the stranger’ by the narrator. Stranger is a word we use to mean person we don’t know but at the same time it automatically implies suspicion and hesitation on our part. Is the new arrival a stranger? How else could he be seen? By questioning their own behaviour, the animals in the story discover a whole new way to think about the new arrival. 

With different coloured fonts for every animal in the story, this would be a lovely book to act out. The illustrations are wonderful too, with the animals’ facial expressions changing over the course of the story as they question their own reactions and become better friends to the new arrival. 

A wonderful story which encourages empathy and compassion to displaced people. This apparently simple tale about a suitcase, a journey and a group of friends deserves to become a classic.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted copy of The Suitcase. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Q Raúf

Review: The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Q Raúf

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Extract:

Then in the third week, something happened which was so surprising, and made everyone so curious, that even Mrs Khan couldn’t make us focus on our lessons properly. And it all began with the empty chair. 

(The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Q Raúf. P8.) 

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Synopsis:

First there was an empy chair at the back of the class. Then there was a boy sitting in it. 

Ahmet is quiet. He never talks, never smiles and doesn’t like lemon sherbets. That’s not stopping our narrator, who makes it a personal quest to welcome Ahmet and make him a friend. Ahmet is a refugee whose family escaped war. As his story comes out, it turns out there are things he still doesn’t know himself. Like where his family are and if they are safe. 

It’s a big thing to learn. Sometimes it feels impossible to solve something so big, but maybe there are ways to help Ahmet. 

A story of friendship and empathy and seeing past labels. 

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Review:

A book with a voice so strong that, although we don’t know everything about our narrator for a large part of the book, it is as though they are sitting right beside us in the living room. This book has taken readers, and especially young readers, by heart. It won The Blue Peter Book Award and was longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It is a story about empathy which grabs readers from the first page. 

Our narrator is missing family in a different way. Dad died and life changed in more ways than one. Grief and a sense of loss allow our narrator to empathise with Ahmet. Although it is a very different situation, they share an irreparable loss. 

This is the main theme of the book. Seeing past cultural differences and recognising shared humanity. 

Not everybody at school reacts kindly to Ahmet. It begins with adults – some parents and carers and even teachers suggest that refugees are a drain on the country who are out to trick honest people out of jobs. And so on and so forth. And the children listen, although some challenge those views. Some children have one parent who thinks one thing and one who thinks another. The key point is that somehow Ahmet becomes a debate instead of a child. Our narrator and her friends break away from this debate and begin to offer Ahmet sweets. And someone to play with. 

The most powerful part of this story is that. It challenges the reader to stop debating and show empathy in any way they can. 

Many stories about the refugee crisis are told in a way which, while informative, contains information which might upset children. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be told, but too many details about the reality of war too early can be upsetting. The information in this book is explained in a voice which young children can understand. The narrator’s Mum, for example, explains about Syria by getting out an atlas and talking about the fruits which grow there. There is just enough information about the crisis – no lies, but not enough to overwhelm a younger reader. 

A true story about empathy and friendship which shows that what we have in common is far more important than any difference. 

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Orion Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Boy At The Back Of The Class. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture books: 4 books about Friendship and Harmony (March 2019)

Picture books: 4 books about Friendship and Harmony (March 2019)

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Lubna And Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus.

When Lubna arrives in the camp a long way from home, she finds the pebble. She draws a face on it, and it becomes her friend through all the time she spends in the tent. Pebble listens to her stories about home and the war. She befriends a little boy called Amir who is very unhappy when it is time to say goodbye. Perhaps Pebble could keep him company too?

A story about the power of friendship in desperate circumstances. 

As Lubna talks to Pebble, letting out all the bad memories of the war-torn country she has fled, we realise that Pebble listens without judgement and is reliably there. These are lessons we can take into our lives even though Pebble is not a human being. 

Lubna puts Amir first when it is time to leave and sees what he needs. There are so positive messages about friendship in this story, and it allows us a small insight into the emotional side of displacement. 

This story only uses the word war once. It is implied that Lubna has lost or become separated from her brothers. Younger readers will only understand as much about her situation as they already know. This would be a lovely story for readers who are just starting to question why terrible things happen, but still need some distance from the horrific details of war.

The illustrations are extraordinary, making much of the tents and arms and sleeping-bags where Lubna finds shelter. In other pictures, we see open grey skies and endless lines of washing. There is a sense that she is lost in the big world and searching for a safe place all at the same time. 

A special book which reminds us that a good friend can make the world feel that tiny bit safer. 

 

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Cyril The Lonely Cloud by Tim Hopgood

It’s a bright and lovely day, the perfect day for a picnic, until Cyril the lonely cloud shows up. Everybody agrees he is a bore and a spoilsport and that things are just plain gloomier with him around. 

Cyril drifts away, floating for miles and miles until he comes to a baking hot land. The animals and people are so pleased to see him, to feel his raindrops and to see the rainbow he casts with the help of the sun. 

A beautiful story about perspective and kindness. Sometimes an apparently gloomy person is just a happy person in need of encouragement. 

We’re not all social butterflies. It is daunting and depressing to constantly be the one who fails to get a laugh at parties. Whose words stumble out in the wrong order. Whose lengthy stories bore others to tears. I saw Cyril as the person who has so much to give and share, who struggles to show that in social situations. This would be a beautiful book to promote inclusion. We all have different strengths and difficulties, and being that bit kinder can bring out the best in other people. 

The story also showed how behaviour isn’t about one person in isolation. We all bounce off each other. When managing our own behaviour, we should think about what kind of climate will encourage others to manage their own. When Cyril is welcomed instead of shunned, he shows his dazzling colours. 

The landscapes in this book remind me of Madeline. We first look side to side, then at all the details crowded into the background. The pictures use an uplifting range of colours and the textures in the backgrounds would be brilliant for inspiring pastel drawings. 

It is impossible not to love Cyril and I adore this uplifting book about empathy and kindness. 

 

 

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This Love by Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas.

Love doesn’t need words. It is a special language which is understood by all. 

Do you nestle down with a parent or guardian? Share a quiet moment of reflection? Do you have an animal who stays by your side? Has your grandparent taught you a new skill? Love takes many shapes and forms but we all know it when it hits us. 

Love is worldwide and this beautiful picture book takes us in a tour of different loving moments. 

With the news featuring ever more division, it can feel at times as if the world is drifting further apart. This story reminds us of what we have in common and it is also a celebration of those special moments we share with family, friends and companions. 

I was delighted to see bonds with other animals recognised and celebrated. Empathy and love should go beyond our own species and learning to communicate with other animals (and trust me, you learn so many of their signals and gestures) is a precious experience. 

This would also be a lovely book to look at for early geography. Different landscapes and buildings, plants and animal life are shown on this tour of love around the world. 

The illustrations are bright and accessible and I love the many patterns which are used to show different plants and clothes and weather. 

A book which allows us to talk about different types of love: the love we share we our close ones, and the love and harmony we might feel with human beings around the world. A precious and beautiful message. 

 

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Rhino Neil by Mini Goss

Rhino Neil lives in a safari zoo with lots of other animals. The other animals are afraid of him. Everything from his horn to his feet to his huge tummy scares them away, so Rhino Neil is lonely. Then one day an even bigger animal arrives. Elephant Tuscany and Rhino Neil strike up a friendship and are able to keep each other company. 

A story about social exclusion, friendship and the ability to see past our differences.

The reader is rooting for Rhino Neil all the way along. He has never done anything wrong, exactly, but still the other animals are afraid of him. Maybe the reader can think of someone like that in real life. Someone taller or louder or bossier or just plain not like everyone else. The animals who are unable to see past these differences lose out on the friendship of two perfectly kind animals. 

The close-up animal pictures will be a hit with anyone who has ever watched funny animal videos. For all the zebras are shrieking in terror, they look a bit ridiculous and this will gain lots of laughs. 

A wonderful story which allows the reader to question how they treat their peers. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger Press and New Frontier Publishing for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions remain my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Kiss by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle

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Review: The Kiss by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle

When Edwyn blows Grandma a kiss, she spreads the love and fills other people with joy. A rich man hears about this and decides he wants the kiss for himself. When Grandma won’t give it up, the man steals the kiss. A charming fairytale about the power of kindness and love.

Some books just sparkle with magic. This story spreads warmth and smiles which will make the world a brighter place.

Sometimes we are angry. Or upset. Sometimes we say or do miserable things. Grandma spreads warmth to people who maybe others would condemn. That’s one of the special things about this story. Instead of showing people as just plain nasty it goes deeper.  Maybe they need a little warmth and affection. Grandma spreads that love. I love the idea that this begins with the kiss from her grandchild. Grandma is feeling loved and cherished so she is able to empathise with others and spread kindness.

The story promotes loves over greed. Love over condemnation. Love over hate.

The illustrations have the same magic. I adore the use of brush strokes and patterns to make the background. Many of the pictures show trees and flowers, grass and rainwater and foliage. The effect is like taking a walk through a beautiful meadow. The skies remind me of the time between dawn and the start of the day. Between dusk and night. Lanterns and stars and the kiss itself brighten the darkest of scenes. 

I would recommend this as a bedtime story or to anyone who loves fairytales. It would also be a great book to promote discussion about kindness and empathy. A big hit. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger UK for my copy of The Kiss. Opinions my own.