Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Moon River by Tim Hopgood. [Based on the song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini].

Review: Moon River by Tim Hopgood. [Based on the song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini].

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Moon  River, wider than a mile,  I’m crossing you in style, someday.

Good song lyrics draw in the listener. They raise questions and images in our mind. Where is this river? Who is this dreamer and will he or she ever cross the river? Why can’t they do so now?

Moon River was written for the score of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and won an Oscar for best original song in 1961, although possibly the best-known version is sung by Andy Williams. This will be familiar to anyone, like me, whose grandparents came of age and were in their 20s during an era jazz music and rock and roll.

Tim Hopgood’s picture book interprets the song as a dreamy lullaby. It is a gentle tune about big dreams and journeys and taking in the magic of life along the way. The images of the moon on the river and the rainbow’s end lend themselves beautifully to Hopgood’s interpretation. This is the perfect book to read before bedtime.

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It follows a girl whose toys come to life and take her down the river. Teddy and Horse navigate their course while pointing out the beautiful scenery. I love particularly how this focuses on details – the light on the water and the other boats ahead. It is important to appreciate the small moments of beauty in the world.

An accompanying CD includes both the Andy Williams version of the song and a guided read-along track. This would be a lovely activity to share with a young reader and the perfect way to wind down for bed. It might also give huge amounts of pleasure to elderly people with dementia who were young when the song was released.

Tim Hopgood’s illustrations are soft and colourful, with lots of attention given to the light and water and the drifting clouds.

A dreamy story, and a beautiful interpretation of the original lyrics.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Moon River. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

Review: In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

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A little frog sings his song one night in the swamp by the light of the moon. It is very lonely singing by himself, and one voice doesn’t carry far. Frog sets off in search of others to join his song, and eventually, he has formed a whole band to sing together in the swamp. 

A gentle tale about companionship and music. 

I love how this story could be taken at face value, or read on a deeper level. It could be about music, and how different instruments make a richer song. The different animals make different sounds, which could be used to explore complimentary rhythms. 

This could also be a metaphor for companionship, and how different voices and opinions make a richer environment. We may look different, and sound different, and move to different rhythms, but that’s what makes our world a rich and wonderful place. 

The setting and characters share total Princess And The Frog vibes. Anyone who was in love with the swamp setting and the animal friendships in the Disney film will adore this beautiful picture book. 

The colours are rich but subtly mixed to bring the nighttime swamp to life. I adore the animals’ expressions too. Their wide eyes and open mouths somehow convey huge amounts through apparently simple expressions.

Frann Preston-Gannon was the talent behind I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree, an anthology of poems about nature. Her style won my heart over for both showing the natural world and being accessible and attractive to very young children. 

This is a winner both in the story and in illustration. Pick it up and join in the tune. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon. Opinions my own.

Disney

Disney: Favourite Villain Songs

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Think of your favourite Disney songs and odds are at least one of them is a villain song. Disney are brilliant at exploring the darker side of human experience. Most of the songs here are as equally about the protagonist’s temptations as they are about the villain. A good villain song should be catchy, it should tap into the dissastisfaction most of us feel at some point and it should give us a clue about how the story is going to pan out. The songs I’ve chosen, without fail, tell us about the villain’s agenda. I love the music, the animation and how they reveal more about the characters. 

Here are my five favourite Disney villain songs.

 

  • Poor Unfortunate Souls

Sea Witch Ursula agrees to give mermaid Ariel legs so she can live ashore with her prince. End of the story? It’s only the beginning. Poor Unfortunate Souls is where Ursula reveals the catch. Ariel must give up her voice and get true love’s kiss within three days, or forfeit her soul to Ursula for all eternity. This is one of the best Disney villain songs. It is totally relatable – who hasn’t felt they will waste away if they don’t achieve their greatest desires? The more Ursula insists her service is practically sainthood, the more obvious is becomes she knows exactly what she is doing. She is the archetypal snake-oil merchant, profiting from other people’s misery.

 

  • Be Prepared

Scar plans to overthrow his brother King Mufasa and murder his young nephew Simba. He raises an army of hyenas, promising they will never go hungry if they help with his plan. In this song he incites the hyenas into actions. It is pretty dark as Disney goes, not least because it shows how a political leader can rouse the masses into action. Scar doesn’t respect his hyena army – he openly insults them – but he knows they are integral to his campaign.

 

  • Friends On The Other Side

The theme of the song is very similar to Poor Unfortunate Souls. Prince Naveen believes his problems will be solved by money and connections. He wants to marry a rich girl. Dr Facilier offers Naveen a transformation, but the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. Instead of making him wealthy, Facilier and his demonic friends turn Naveen into a frog.

While trippy animation introduces us to the demonic friends, Dr Facilier’s voice remains steady. He manipulates Naveen in the same easy way Ursula manipulates Ariel.

 

  • We Are Siamese

A pair of cats cause trouble and are only prevented from disturbing a baby by puppy Lady. This song is the epitome of understatement. The cats sing about their finer qualities in the same breath as they plan trouble. Their refined manners act as a perfect mask. When Lady chases the cats away from the baby, the cats pretend to be victims and Lady is sent out in disgrace.

 

  • Mother Knows Best

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower. Mother sings a nursey-rhyme style song about all the terrible things which might happen outside the tower. This is another relatable song – every young person is forced to confront the fact that their parents can’t solve everything. The song shows us what happens if we don’t get past those feelings. Mother is loving and protective to an extent which is creepy. The sickly-sweet tune contrasts with clips which make mother look totally spooky. 

 

Do you have a favourite Disney villain song? Any characters without an anthem who totally need one? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: I Was Born For This By Alice Oseman

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I Was Born For This is the latest novel by Alice Oseman, whose contemporary YA novels have attracted a dedicated following. It is the story of two teenagers, Angel and Jimmy, who are brought together by their dedication to a pop-rock trio. 

Alice Oseman has shared her favourite tracks across the blog tour, and I am delighted to share one of my own favourite songs. 

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Alice Oseman: Friends (feat. Bon Iver) – Francis and the Lights

This is such a pure song and really captures some of the warmer elements of I Was Born for This – the deep friendships between The Ark boys and the somewhat rocky but genuinely supportive friendship between Angel and Juliet. This song has such happy vibes but there’s also something ethereal about all the electronic sounds and voices layered over each other. Plus, Bon Iver is my all-time favourite band, so I had to have them in the playlist somewhere.

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Louise (Book Murmuration): The Northstar Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny

How can you not love it with a title like that?

Folk music is something I share with my Dad. It is my musical inheritance and plays a part in some of my nicest memories – outdoor concerts and festivals, and running through Dad’s collection on 8-hour car journeys. 

TNGatR is enigmatic. Both the music and the lyrics conjure images of escape and adventure and mystery.

All upon the shore for to wonder why the sailor goes/All to close their eyes and wonder what the sailor knows. 

It is music to dream to. 

 

Big thanks to Alice Oseman for your content, and to Nina Douglas for organising the blog tour. I Was Born For This is out now.

Guest Post

Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour

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Matt Killeen author photo.jpgToday is my stop on the Orphan Monster Spy blog tour. Protaganist Sarah is a good example of a female character who knows her own mind and makes her own decisions. Matt has written about his female heroes and today he celebrates singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. 

I’m so excited to welcome Matt to my blog. 

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 Alanis was not the first female artist to swear and tell it like it was. She wasn’t the first to complain about abuse in the music business in song. She wasn’t the first to scream and talk explicitly about sex and heartache. She wasn’t even the first person to play the harmonica that badly in a professional setting.

 Yet there was something about her that sounded genuinely new. There was virtually no analogy, metaphor or simile at work in most of her lyrics. She hopes that her ex-boyfriend feels her having sex with someone else. So that’s what she says.

 Again, it was not unique, but it was the moment when 33 million people stumped up £12 for Jagged Little Pill to hear her go for it over and over again. It was the point when the entire world decided it wanted to hear a woman speak, without any filter whatsoever, from the darkest and most transgressive of her desires and hatreds, to the wildest of her dreams and the most heinous of her wounds. All in so many words.

 Figuratively and lyrically she managed to exist simultaneously as “beautiful” and “ugly”, good and bad, equally comfortable with either, equally dismissive of both. She seemed so triumphant and so lost, so powerful and yet so vulnerable. Even her descriptions of sex manage to be detailed without being pornographic. And all this rendered complexity, all this terrifying, deep and murky raucousness was melodic, accessible and catchy. Perfect pop. It played the game, changed the rules and won.

 One of the few obfuscations on the album, using similes throughout, is the track that’s most dubiously derided. No, her examples aren’t ironic – but in fact, she doesn’t insist these things are ironic, she just asks us if that’s what we’d call them. It took me years to realise that it was all about meeting the man of her dreams and then meeting his wife…an event that left her lost for words. It’s an admission of weakness, so embarrassing that it can only have been true. What it probably was for a supposed former infatuation junkie, was typical.

 It was an album released by a woman – it appeared on Madonna’s Maverick label – when every other company had passed on it. It outsold her boss, the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses and even Adele hasn’t done better. It remains the 13th highest selling album of all time, the second best-selling album by any woman. That may not be meaningful – Shania Twain is number one after all – but it was the Wonder Woman of its day, proving conclusively that the public would stump up cash to hear a woman speak for herself.

 She suffered through all this to an extent and took a sharp turn in style in its aftermath. She became ever more introspective and concentrated on self-care to the detriment of her sales and arguably the quality and importance of her music. Certainly, her work no longer resonated with the numbers of people it had done.

 As a music journalist, I might bemoan the reasons behind her later choices. She once said of her change in intensity, that singing Jagged Little Pill live, night after night, hadn’t resolved anything for her but made her more angry. This suggests that she thought that it was supposed to be cathartic for her. She was the shaman, she was there to heal the tribe, not herself. Of course, there speaks that part of us all that likes our rock-stars to burn bright and then be a bit dead.

 As a fan, I could talk about the crushing disappointment of her meditative later material, or the fact that the 2005 acoustic version appeared to show someone who didn’t know what made her greatest achievement worth listening to.

 But as a feminist, she decided she was done. So that has to be good enough for me. Maybe what she gave us of herself should be enough for everyone. She was just a singer. She was not a spokesperson or shaman. She was just a woman. But wow, what a woman.

 

Thanks to Matt for your wonderful piece. Tomorrow’s stop is at Be My Anchor.