fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

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Every tale in this book is centuries old. So explains the introduction by Michael Morpurgo which explains that even before we had books, we had stories. 

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a passion for folk tales and legends. They are the stuff on which our dreams are built. They are the place from which other forms of storytelling evolved. It is lovely to see this collection of ten tales about well-known figures like Icarus and Robin Hood. 

This is the perfect introductory book to myths and legends. It looks a challenging size, but the text is large and the illustrations take up most of the page, so it is actually limited to one or two paragraphs per page. This makes it brilliant for less-confident readers, or for sharing aloud in shorter time-spaces, such as bedtime or the gap between lessons and play. 

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It also has a good range of origins – Greek Myths, and English folk tales, and Viking legends among them – and the stories are told and illustrated by different creators. I was particularly charmed, as a Millenial, that many of these the storytellers of my childhood. It felt like something I might have picked up in my childhood library (albeit in the fresher, prettier publishing style of today). Perhaps myths and folk-tales feel like this anyway, but reading words by Tony Bradman and Jeanne Willis added to this effect. These are some of the most established and practiced children’s authors working today. 

The range of illustration styles makes each story feel distinctive. Readers will soon have their favourites, and it is impossible to pick this up without flicking through to pick. 

I am impressed with this as an early collection of folk tales, and as stories that can be shared between people of all ages. This is the perfect book for reading out loud. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Magical Myths And Legends. Opinions my own.

 

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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

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Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

Red’s Mum asks her to take a cake to Grandma in the city. She tells Red to follow the heart flowers and stay on the path. The city has many distractions – shops to browse and food to eat, adverts to read and people to talk to. Red finds herself swallowed up by the temptations of the city. 

A timely narrative about modern life and a fresh take on a traditional tale. 

I moved from London to the countryside, and find this story extremely relatable. Even on the edge of London, even with a forest practically on my doorstep, I strayed too often into the shops. Even when I had no money, even when I had better things to do. If I went looking for one thing, I popped into other places along the way. I can’t imagine living that way now. Now I walk under an open sky and use my time to get a bit more writing done. 

img_8238Does this book criticise the city? Not at all. The ending makes that very clear when Red and Gran talk about all the lovely things they might do together in the city. Cities have museums and galleries, libraries and theatres, and you know what? Even shops. If your intention is to spend half a day shopping, that’s all good. This book is about how many distractions we meet along the way. It challenges us to stick to our original intentions. 

As well as being a brilliant story about city life, it could be used as a metaphor for online behaviour. How often do we come online to look up one thing, or to do a specific job, and end up scrolling? Or flicking through our regular pages? 

The Red Riding Hood narrative is echoed in the choice of language (‘Oh city, what shiny toys you have …’) and also in the illustrations. The wolf is everywhere, hiding behind every distraction. He is disguised as an advert and a bus stop and a fast-food restaurant. 

The colour palette of greys, black and white is so dystopian and the effect is stunning. It isn’t scary, but like a fairy-tale, there is a hint of darkness at the edges. Little Red, in her bright coat, is in danger of being lost to the enormity of the city. 

A clever take on the traditional tale and a narrative which needs to be told. This will be popular in classrooms and libraries, and it would also make a wonderful bedtime story to open a discussion about the activities which are really important to us. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Red And The City. Opinions 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.

fairytales

Review: Through The Water Curtain & Other Tales From Around the World. Selected by Cornelia Funke.

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Fairytales can get a bit same-old. The handsome prince rescues the girl in the tower, who is glad to become his wife. There is a place in the world for every kind of story, and if you dig a little deeper there are stories of all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Stories with endings you may not know or expect. 

Through The Water Curtain takes thirteen stories from around the world and looks a little deeper into their origins. Insightful commentary at the end of each tale helps us to think about how stories come to be written in the first place. 

Cornelia Funke, bestselling author of series such as Inkheart and Dragon Rider, is the perfect person to edit a collection of fairytales. Over the course of her career, she has travelled the globe in search of stories, something which she refers to in this collection. Her commentaries offer insight both into the stories themselves and into Funke’s experience as a storyteller. 

These stories certainly aren’t Disneyfied. Character meet brutal endings, such as the girls in Kotura, Lord Of The Winds who freeze to death when they fail to heed instructions. They remind us that fairy tales can be dark and unknowable. 

The book is beautifully desinged. The cover demands that you pick it up and I love the detailed design of the pictures. Each story has a title page with an illustration like those on the front cover. 

If you are looking to treat yourself to a fairytale collection, this is a beautiful and insightful introduction. It is also a lovely size to read and reread until the tales are known by heart. 

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of Through The Water Curtain. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl, The Cat And The Navigator by Matilda Woods

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Extract:

It was a big decision: four whole months at sea. It would be dangerous and wet. It would be cold and windy. And maybe she would fall overboard and drown. But it would, without a doubt, be an adventure, and she had always wanted to go on one of those. 

(The Girl, The Cat And The Navigator by Matilda Woods. P72.) 

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Oona Britt dreams of a life at sea. She has always wanted to join a ship’s crew and go in search of a mysterious and mythical creature called the Nardoo. Only one thing stops Oona from joining her father’s ship.

Girls don’t go to sea.

It was a major disappointment that Oona was a girl – her father had hoped for a strong and adventurous boy. Oona is desperate to prove herself to her father. She stows away on a ship and sets sail for an adventure, where she proves time and again that she can handle anything the world throws at her.

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Meet Oona – she’s bright, she’s bold and she can do anything she sets her mind to. Oona’s whole future is altered in one instant, the moment when she is born and turns out to be a girl. Her father ends the celebrations and mourns for the child who would have sailed beside him.

This may be a fairytale world of Nardoos and cats with nine lives, but it tells a story which is very real. Studies have shown that even those of us who think we are liberal differentiate by gender. We speak to babies in different tones, offer them different toys and talk about different subjects with them. By the time they are old enough to think for themselves, their idea of gender-roles is entrenched.

Yet girls can have adventures too.

I loved the tone of the story – it reads like a fairytale or a bedtime story, yet the adventure is solid and it leads to a satisfying conclusion. The prose is so beautiful it demands to be read out loud and the world is so magical and so unique that it is conjured in our minds. Welcome to a place where wrecked ships are turned into buildings and sea-shells are used to tell fortunes. Where mythical sea-creatures have been known to fly. Where cats hold memories of the ships they sailed in their previous nine lives.

Oona is a brilliant heroine who sees through the nonsense she is told. She’s a great role model and will hopefully give readers the courage to question the messages they receive – conscious and subconscious messages.

The adventure already feels like an old-favourite. There is something timeless about the story, except it says something which relates to the present and the future. Set sail and see how wide the world can be.

Feminist/Gender Equality · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

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Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

Stories retold by – Julia Bruce 

Illustrators – Olga Baumert, Molley May, Kerry Hyndman, Hannah Tolson, Hannah Peck and Holly Hatam, 

 

Once upon a time there was a girl … 

Join six girls from around the world, in six separate stories, as they set off on an adventure and use their courage, strength, and intelligence to return safely home. 

This collection of bedtime stories features familiar tales, such as the Snow Queen, but the stories are told with a difference. Every story has a girl at the centre. Hansel and Gretel? Try Gretel and Hansel. It was Gretel who pushed the witch in the oven and saved her brother. Without spelling it out, the stories show readers that girls can be intelligent, brave and resourceful. 

It also features girls from around the world. It is so important for young readers to see that people from different cultures can encounter the same feelings and demonstrate the same skills. 

The book is a beautiful collection of fairy tales. It would make a lovely present for a younger child or a less-confident reader – the stories are short enough that nobody will lose patience and there is a full-colour illustration on every other page. 

A different illustrator was chosen to work on each story. This adds to the experience because without reading a single word each story has a unique feel. Every story has a decorative title spread and beautiful full-page illustrations. 

Not only is this a wonderful collection of fairy tales, it puts girls at the centre and shows how much they can do. This would be a wonderful book to keep on a bedside table or to share with a class in KS1/Lower KS2. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for my copy of Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls. Opinions my own.