Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

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Sunny the meerkat of Meerkat Mail fame is back on another globe-trotting adventure.

A magazine arrives at the meerkat burrow advertising the most perfect Christmas ever. It comes complete with a checklist of what is essential to day. Dissatisfied with his family plans, Sunny packs his case and sets out into the wide world.

This story follows a similar format to the original book, with Sunny sending cards home from the different places he visits, except that this time they are Christmas cards. Emily Gravett’s books are always stellar on design and detail and this is no exception. Every Christmas card is a pleasure to open and half the excitement is in seeing what kind of card Sunny will send next. There are cracker jokes littered around the pages (on those white and red slips which seem to be so universal). I love books like this where the main illustrations are complimented by a jigsaw puzzle of things to spot.

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As for the story, I can’t think of a better theme for 2019. Aren’t we all feeling a little mediocre? Social media has given us many good things but we have also fallen prey to measuring ourselves up to posed Instagram pictures and planned out blog posts. Never mind that it took over an hour to set up the photograph. Sometimes it feels like everyone around us has neater bookselves and more beautiful homes and the picture-perfect Christmas.

Sunny finds out that what makes Christmas perfect isn’t the decorations or wrapping paper.

This book is a joy, from Sunny’s Christmas jumper to the excitement of opening the little cards. A fitting follow-up to a popular book and a timely reminder that sometimes we have to look a little closer to home – at what matters to us – to find perfection.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s UK for my copy of Meerkat Christmas. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

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Do you know what my Naughty Little Sister did? 

This refrain is known and cherished by four generations of readers. The My Naughty Little Sister books, originally published in the 1950s, are very much of their era but they are still loved for two reasons – they are short but witty stories perfect for bedtime and they hold a certain nostalgia for childhood as it actually was. Not where everything went perfectly and everyone had a lovely time but where any given day was almost bound to end in tears and tantrums. And that was OK because everyone made up again by teatime. 

The narrator of My Naughty Little Sister gives nothing away about her own misdemeanors. Instead, she focuses on the highs and lows of living with a younger sibling. Perhaps that is a third reason that the books are so popular because elder children who have outgrown their pre-school tantrums need somewhere to turn to feel that they are not alone. I wouldn’t know. You would have to ask my own big sister. 

Naughty is a word which is, today, thankfully used only to describe behaviour and not individual children. That is the big twist in the tale – the younger child here isn’t naughty at all. She is just prone to moments of naughtiness which add drama to every outing. In My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas, for example, her worst actions stem from a fear of Father Christmas. He is the big unknown, told to her in stories, and meeting him in person proves too much. 

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At least for a little while. Father Christmas turns out to be as lovely as everybody always said and the story ends happily ever after. 

What makes the story work so well is how beautifully behaved the little sister is through most of the tale. She smiles and claps and sings more beautifully than any of the other children. With her little pig-tails and rosy cheeks, it is hard to imagine her capable of a bad thought. The reader, knowing how these stories go, waits in anticipation for the big moment when her behaviour slides. Just how terrible can a small child be?

These long-treasured books are made more popular by Shirly Hughes’s illustrations. Hughes is a legendary artist best-known for her pictures of everyday life in all its happy mayhem and warmth. Her pictures are relatable across a class-divide which is her other big draw. The children playing out or singing together could be from any neighborhood. 

A classic loved by parents and grandparents is now available in picturebook format. This will be gifted straight to my sister, who listened to the stories with me over and over … and remembered my own misdemeanors more than hers. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my copy of My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

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It’s a big job being Santa. 

With Sleigh regulations and weather forecasting and present selection all coming under the job title, it takes more than a little training to pull off the Christmas Eve dash. Santa’s Christmas Handbook is available to help and, for the first time, he is sharing it with everyone else. 

Filled with fun facts and information about Santa’s job, this book quickly gets readers thinking and dreaming. How exactly does Santa avoid collisions with aeroplanes? Whereabouts in the Sleigh does he store his lunch – not to mention food for the reindeer? Knowing more about Santa’s work will soon get readers asking questions of their own, and chances are they can be answered by the handbook. 

With flaps, puzzles, games, and pop-ups, this is a beautiful gift-book. Just opening the front cover feels exciting. 

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Not only is this the perfect Christmas Eve book, it will give little – and big – people who are excited about Christmas a place to turn to during the build-up. This is especially handy for anyone who has explained for the tenth time that they just don’t know how all the presents fit in the sleigh.

Full-colour illustrations and backgrounds make this feel magical and interesting, while smaller black-and-white line-drawings are used to great effect to reproduce the information (details pictures of drinks to look out for in living rooms, for example). The range of illustration styles makes this a richer and more interesting book and the team of illustrators (Tim Hutchinson, Richard Johnson, Maggie Kneen, Sandy Nightingale, and Mike Phillips) have worked together to produce something special. 

This has been a big hit in my family (with not-so-little readers). I had barely taken it out of the delivery box before two other people had put in a bid for it. Although similar books have appeared before, the big draw here is in using a talented and established writer. Christopher Edge has got all the facts, and he has made the book not only informative but just plain fun. It would be a lovely book to share and enjoy together and it is the sort of title which will come out year after year. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Flip Flap Frozen by Axel Scheffler.

Review: Flip Flap Frozen by Axel Scheffler.

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What kind of creatures will you find today?

Could it be a reindeer with two antlers on its head? Or might it be a narwhal with mottled white skin? Or could it be a reinwhal with antlers and mottled white skin? Flip the flaps to make whole new animals and giggle along to the rhymes. The wonderful series that is Flip Flap is back, and this time it has a frozen theme. 

The premise is simple. Every double-page spread has an illustration, a rhyme, and a name running horizontally down the side of the left-hand page. Each of these is split over two flaps so that they can be changed with other animals. 

Polar Bears and Penguins. Wolverines and Walruses. You never know who you might meet in the snow. 

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I first encountered Flip Flap Farm as a bookseller in 2014. It was a mega-hit with younger children and won a smile from people of all ages. Then Flip Flap Jungle appeared and it got exactly the same reaction. From that experience I can tell you that the books win on several counts – the animals are drawn with Axel Scheffler’s usual attention to expression, the mix-up of names and illustrations causes great amusement and the books are just lovely things to hold. Both the flaps and the book size have been designed with smaller hands in mind. 

It is no wonder this series has had a big success. 

Attention to detail makes this even more user-friendly. The animal illustrations and names down the sides of the page share the same colour background. This means that readers who are looking to find real animals can flip through very easily even if they don’t know the word they are looking for. 

Funny, brilliant to share and a great introduction to new animals, Flip Flap Frozen will be loved by many this Christmas. Just look out for that Wolverfin – he can chase you over water as well as on land. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy of Flip Flap Frozen. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

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Alice wants to host the perfect tea party. Not a party with tricks and jokes. Not an upside down party with upside down cake. Just a perfectly ordinary perfect party. Unfortunately, Wonderland specialises in the extraordinary.

The tea party scene is one of the most famous from across Lewis Caroll’s works. With more than a little help from Walt Disney, whose Very Merry Unbirthday song is memorably catchy, the Hatter’s Tea Party has proved to be an enduring legend. What we often forget is Alice’s frustration as she searches frantically for the stable and ordinary.

Hosting a tea party in Wonderland is quite a challenge. With magic and mayhem around every corner, the residents must be a tricky bunch to impress. In this story, while Alice’s efforts are thwarted, the residents pull together to produce a party which nobody will forget. The book introduces some of our favourite Wonderland characters – from the Hatter and the Hare to characters from the original text like the Duchess. Alice In Wonderland is one of those stories which is so popular that readers are likely to know about it before they ever encounter the book and enjoyable picture books like this bring Wonderland to life. 

The themes will be relatable to many, especially at this time of year when sometimes we just want to organise things without other people and their not-so-great ideas getting in the way. Learning to compromise – and finding space to share our own ideas – can be a difficult balance. This story teaches us that, frustrating though other people can be, their ideas can bring a new and unexpected type of magic. 

The design is superb too, with flaps of every shape and size and cut-out details. The illustrations strike a balance between the quirky and the cute, making characters seem out of this world without being at all scary. Likewise, there is a mix of pastel and navy backgrounds. 

This will be a hit with fans of Wonderland and with anyone who has ever felt the frustration of other people being anything other than perfect. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party. Opinions my own.