Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

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A shy girl called Mimi finds a baby dragon asleep in the woodpile. Everyone in the village is afraid of the great Mountain Dragon but Mimi decides that the baby must be returned. As soon as the bells ring and call the other villagers to church, Mimi sneaks out treks up the mountainside to take the baby dragon safely home.

The Mountain Dragon is huge. She breathes fire. She is also relieved to have her baby home. As a gesture of thanks, she keeps watch over Mimi’s village which, being situated under the snowy mountains, is in constant danger from avalanches. 

Get ready for television animation by sharing the story together. 

This story, which has been available in a smaller book format for many years, has been remade as a larger picture book. The form suits it beautifully. Looking at the double-page and full-page illustrations, I felt as if I was a part of the landscape – looking down on the village from the mountains or up the slopes with Mimi as she climbed. It also allows us to look at the smaller pictures in more detail, and the illustrations are so beautiful that this is fully-deserved. 

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The main themes are friendship and fear and the way we judge others. A person who comes across as terrifying – maybe because they shout too much, or maybe because their tone is blunt and to the point – but who is kind and generous and filled with empathy. The dragon in this story may have a reputation for being fierce, but she cares greatly for her child and wants to show thanks for the little dragon’s safe return. 

Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of our best-known storytellers. Reading his stories always feels more like being told the tale of something that happened by a witness. Often this is intentional. In Mimi And The Mountain Dragon, as in some of Morpurgo’s books, we meet the narrator and learn of their connection to the tale before we hear the story itself. This is so rarely done now in children’s literature and yet it reminds us that the narrator is a part of the story and that stories are, after all, about people and places and experiences worth sharing. Putting The Mountain Dragon down, it is hard to believe the story never happened. 

A touching and gentle story that teaches us not to judge other people on their temperaments so readily. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the animation over Christmas, or make some hot chocolate and read the story together. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for my copy of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. Opinions my own.

 

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.

 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

grandpachristmasMia’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.

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Middle Grade

Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo. Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.

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Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo (Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.) 

Once upon a Christmas, a little boy called James and his Grandma snuggle up together and wish for snow. When that snow comes, there is one thing James wants most of all – to build a snowman. 

When that snowman comes to life and takes James on an adventure he will never forget, he returns home desperate to share the magic with his Grandma. 

The Snowman is a staple of British Christmas, and this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original picture book by Raymond Briggs. For many adults, there has never been a Christmas without The Snowman. There are several things which make the story so successful, and I think one of those things is it speaks equally to people watching together as to those watching alone. Its poignancy makes it effective even for those who are not having the happiest of Christmases. Its key message is about how short and precious time is – Christmas comes, it melts away, and it comes around again, except we can never be children again. 

This adaptation is a short chapter book suitable for children of all ages. It is extraordinarily faithful to the original story, changing very little, but it develops the characters. James is a modern-day child who lives on a farm. He has a stutter and wants a bike just like cool-kid Paul. 

The other key change is the relationship with Grandma. In the original story, James’s family know very little about his adventures but in this adaptation, Grandma is well aware of what James is up to. I don’t want to spoil the plot – this is a book which lots of families will want to read together -but I thought it was a heartwarming addition. Children can get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and the story reminds us that memories created with grandparents are precious. 

 The illustrations are equally faithful to the original, picking out moments which we all recognise such as the flight and the circle of snow-people. I loved the pictures of a rural childhood, where a garden might have views of the mountains and hills beyond.

This is a story which never loses its magic. It works for every generation and the new adaptation will bring it to a young audience. Whether you share it with someone special or cuddle up alone, I think this will be a favourite this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Puffin Books for my proof-copy of The Snowman. Opinions my own.