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: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

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An elderly lady visits the park every day to remember her childhood. 

She remembers walking through the park with Nanny Clementine. She remembers the carousel and statues, and the bullies who would poke fun at her on her way home. Most of all she remembers Scruffle-Nut – the little squirrel with the stumpy tail. 

In her mind, the elderly lady is a little girl again. She’s coping with bullies of her own, so when she sees the other squirrels ganging up on one who looks more vulnerable, she makes a special point of feeding him. Every day she returns until winter drives the squirrels out of the cold. 

A nostalgic and beautiful story about childhood, bullying and time. 

The idea that we might be elderly is a strange one to young children, as is the idea that elderly people were once small. Understanding that our formative years go a large way to making us the person we are helps young readers to relate to the elder people around them. It also helps to understand that the elderly once experineced the same things we are going through now. Adults can, unintentionally, trivialise the everyday experiences of the young, so it is important for young readers to see that adults understand younger lives on some level. 

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My favourite part of this story was the girl’s bond with Scrufffle-Nut. The bonds we make with animals in childhood are important and teach us so much about life. By watching Scruffle-Nut hold his head up around the stronger squirrels, the protagonist learns new approaches to her own situation. 

The illustrations remind me a little of Raymond Briggs. Not in style so much as in tone. The faint colours of the landscape and buildings make them appear as if they have blown in from the remote past, while the girl herself, and her immediate concerns, are bolder and brighter.

This story is a winner because people of all ages will find something in it and it will grow with readers in the same way as books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Grandpa by John Burningham. A beautiful book to share over the holidays and certainly a story to treasure. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Scruffle-Nut. Opinions my own.

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.

Non-Fiction

Review: Rebel Dogs! Heroic Tales Of Trusty Hounds by Kimberlie Hamilton.

 

Review: Rebel Dogs! Heroic Tales Of Trusty Hounds by Kimberlie Hamilton.

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Wow – bow-wow wow, in fact. This book is packed with tales of history’s most heroic hounds. You’ve heard about Rebel Girls. Now it is time to acknowledge the rebel dogs. 

Rebel Dogs follows on from the surge of interest in real-life stories, especially stories about the great and extraordinary. This year, tales about our animal friends have been added to the shelves. Rebel Dogs tells the stories of dogs such as Trakar, the 9/11 search and rescue hero, Aussie the penguin protector, and Mari, who helped an elderly man escape from an earthquake. 

From dogs whose faces are widely known (like Laika the space dog) to dogs whose stories have rarely been told, this book is filled with stories of our canine companions. I was particularly interested in the story about a dog called Robot who discovered a prehistoric cave. This was a tale I had never heard and it would be a rich source of inspiration for anyone looking to write something creative. 

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Our fellow animals are capable of more than some people know. Stories like these are reminders that our interactions with other animals can be moving and extraordinary, and that they deserve as much respsect on a daily basis as our human friends. 

The book is made extra-informative with timelines and snippets of information about other well-known dogs. It is also beautifully illustrated with contributions from an entire team of illustrators. These illustrators are credited at the back of the book with a little snippet about their careers and lives. 

Young readers are often especially inclined to pick up a book if it is about their favourite animal friends, so there is space for this kind of non-fiction any day of the year. The perfect present for a dog lover this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Scholastic LTD for my copy of Rebel Dogs! Heroic Tales Of Trusty Hounds. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

Alice would, I feel certain, approve of this edition of her tale. There are pictures and graphics and a wealth of patterns. The Mina Lima classics range has become something of a cult hit in the book community and they also make the most beautiful Christmas presents known to bookish kind. 

MinaLima is a design studio based in London. Best known for their contribution to the Harry Potter films (look out for the Daily Prophets and Quibblers and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logo), their iconic style and meticulous attention to detail make their work instantly recognisable to their many fans. My favourite aspect is their distincitve use of pattern. 

What makes their work so suited to Alice In Wonderland? 

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Anyone who is familiar with previous editions of Alice will be aware that – with several ntoable exceptions – it is often perceived as a mildly scary story. Think of Tim Burton’s films or the seminal work of Sir John Tenniel. While the book is never portrayed as a horror, the darker side of Wonderland often comes out in the artwork. MinaLima’s editon builds on this with a sharp-clawed Cheshire Cat, thorned plants and the scariest card people since Tenniel’s edition. 

Interactive elements include fold-outs and tabs and lavishly-illustrated game boards. This is not only a book but a fully immersive Wonderland experience. 

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It is always a pleasure to revisit classic texts. Too often we think we are familiar with these stories because they have been retold and animated and become part of our pop-culture. Going back to the original prose teaches us more about the world than anything else ever could and a beautiful gift edition is a perfect reason to dive back into the story. 

I own the MinaLima Peter Pan and spent Christmas 2015 enthralled by the detail, and drinking in the story as a result. Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass lives up to the high MinaLima standards and I expect it to be popular this holiday season. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy of Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass (Illustrated by MinaLima). Opinions my own. 

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. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

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‘…there is nothing – absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ 

So begins the meeting between Mole and the Water Rat and one of the most famous scenes in children’s literature. Kenneth Grahame captured something idyllic and many people assume the book is a bit of light-hearted escapism. However, there is a threat to Ratty and Mole’s world. The weasels from the wild woods are encroaching on the Riverbank and unless Ratty and Mole can get the eccentric landowner to behave the days of messing about in boats may be lost for good. 

And so the other best-known part of the story is introduced – Mr Toad. 

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Mr Toad’s escapades and misadventures with caravans and race cars are so well known that even people who have never touched a copy of the original text can describe them. They have been played out on stage and on television and on the big screen and in school halls up and down the country. Everyone believes they know the story even if they have never read the book – and yet Kenneth Grahame’s prose is so beautiful, so effortlessly descriptive and gentle in its rhythm –  that it is a book everybody deserves to read. 

Many talented illustrators have produced an edition of the story, most notably Arthur Rackham, but I jumped up and down in excitement when I heard about this edition. Grahame Baker-Smith is a Kate Greenaway Medal-winning illustrator and his work captures the magic and mystery in the everyday. This comes into its own in illustrations of the Wild Woods and the River itself. 

There are illustrations in different styles – full-page colour illustrations which look almost like film concept art in their energy and sense of movement and smaller, sepia and similarly muted colour pictures at the head of or to the side of the text. The design is glorious too, with the ripples and willow branches of the end pages repeating at the chapter headings. 

Both the high quality of the illustration and the way this has been presented make it an edition to treasure. A beautiful copy of a classic which would make a beautiful present this holiday season. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Grahame Baker-Smith, published by Templar Books, is available now. 

Thanks to Templar Books and Antonia Wilkinson PR for my copy of the book.