Picture books for Summer – Part 1

“The Golden Cage” by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut can only be described as a stunning piece  of art, but it is also a salutatory lesson in how not to behave towards humans and birds.  The story itself is a cautionary tale of a very nasty princess who loves collecting birds, but kills off servants who don’t bring her exactly what she wants.  This is very much about what happens when there are no rules, because Princess Valentina is totally spoiled and no one tells her that there are limits on what is possible.  The illustrations are amazing; they are vibrant, sophisticated, full of emotion and bring the story to life.  There is a very limited colour palette and the strong use of the colour yellow highlights the title of the book and the importance of the ‘golden cage’ as the place where her most treasured acquisition will be held captive.  The ending of this fairy tale has been left open, so that we can imagine a variety of plots, to suit our mood.  Somehow this reminds me of the Brothers Grimm and I think it will be a great read with older children despite the small amount of text.

“Tomorrow” by Nadine Kaadan is a story about living in a war zone and there are moments when it is quite heartbreaking.  The young hero Yazan loves going to the park to play but life suddenly changes and he doesn’t know why.  He gets bored not going to school, not meeting his friends and not going out to play, so one day he decides to take his bike to the park; but nothing is as it should be and thankfully his father finds him before anything happens. The illustrations often have a darkness about them that reflects the reality of life that the family are living and Yazan is shown as being a very young child caught up in a dangerous world. This thought provoking book really adds to the collection that is developing and which helps young children understand what it has been like to live in some of the war zones around the world.  It will also hopefully help them develop their empathy with those who have lost their homes and had to move to another country.

“Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love is a delightful story about being true to yourself and about others accepting that we are all different.  When Julian is walking home with his grandma they see a group of ladies dress as mermaids and Julian decides that he want to be one too.  At home he finds an assortment of clothes to help in his transformation and even put on some make-up.  His Nana reacts in a very supportive way and gives him a bead necklace to finish his look and then they go off on a walk.  During this stroll they see a range of very individual and vibrantly dressed people and finally they start to see lots of mermaids; much to Julian’s delight.  This is actually a carnival and people are allowing themselves the pleasure of dressing up.It is a delightful way to show the way that a wide range of people can live in harmony and enjoy life.

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck is a very unusual but very relevant look at plastic waste and the effect on the sea.  Stanley is a striped plastic bag and he finds himself blown into the sea where he is in turn swallowed by a Whale, Seagulls and a Turtle; luckily they were able to free themselves, but the Turtle need the help of a young boy.  The boy then tells Stanley that he should not be in the sea, because creatures think he looks like a jellyfish.  The boy then turns Stanley into a kite which is much more appropriate.  This is a very simple story but it acts as a perfect introduction to looking at our environment as well as being a great story.

“Clem and Crab” by Fiona Lumbers is another story that helps us look at our environment and in particular the issues that we find along our beaches.  Clem loves visiting the beach with her sister and fishing around in the rock pools, searching for wildlife.  One day she finds a small crab and although she puts it back into the water, it somehow manages to get caught in her clothing and end off back in the city.  Clem would love to keep her new friend but knows it must be returned to the beach; but how can she help make that a safe place for the crab?  This is a lovely book at friendship and helping others and would be fantastic if you were planning on visiting the seaside.

“I am a Tiger” by Karl Newson and Ross Collins  is a delightful story of a mouse who wants everyone to believe that he is a tiger.  The absurdity of such a claim becomes apparent as he wanders along and meets a wide range of animals, none of which are correctly identified; this leads them to be sad and frustrated as they try and make this small creature understand who they are.  In some ways this has the feel of the Gruffalo as the mouse is walking though the landscape and is telling ‘stories’ to the animals he sees.  It is also a story about identity and perhaps about not being limited by our physical appearance.  Most of us know who we are but often like to imagine that we have a different persona.   I am delighted to find that a follow up called “I am not an Elephant” is scheduled to be published early in 2020, I can’t wait to read this as well.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Nicholas Oldland is the third in a series of adventures featuring Moose, Bear and Beaver.  In this story they decide to climb a mountain, but find that it is much harder than they had imagined.  After lots of danger and obstacles they discover that the only way to succeed is by helping each other, and then they finally achieve their objective.  I love these very simple, humorous stories that each give a very strong message and look forward to many more adventures for the intrepid trio.

“The New Neighbours” by Sarah McIntyre tells the story of the what happens when the residents of a block of apartments discover that a family of rats have moved in to their building.The bunny children are the first to find out and they are looking forward to going and meeting their new neighbours.  But as they tell more people, mainly adults,  we see attitudes change as people believe the stereotypes they have heard in the past.  Thankfully when they finally meet the neighbours they realize that they are just the same as everyone else.  This is a charming story with a strong and very important message about not listening to gossip and not judging people because of their backgrounds.  As always Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are colourful, energetic  and funny and it is a great story for reading aloud.

“Cyril and Pat” by Emily Gravett  tells the story of  Cyril, a grey squirrel who finds himself living alone in the park. Then one day he meets another ‘squirrel’ called Pat and suddenly he has a friend to share adventures with; however we can see that Pat is actually a rat, not a squirrel.  Eventually the other creatures tell Cyril the truth and Pat is forced to leave the park, leaving his friend alone again.  The story does have a happy ending and the two are able to resume their friendship despite being different.  Emily Gravett  has given us a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and empathy.  It is full of humour but also has its fair share of pathos; it is a wonderful tale.

“Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph was first published in the UK in 1968 and since then it has become a perennial favourite with young children.  They love the quirky and imaginative  story of a young boy who is squashed flat, but then goes on to have amazing adventures.  In this version Stanley saves the museum from robbers and is flown as a kite, however he has to cope with people being mean because he is different.  Luckily his brother comes up with a solution and Stanley is pumped back into shape with a bicycle pump.  This version of the story is illustrated by Rob Biddulph with his characteristic

“Sweep” by Louise Greig and Julia Sarda tells the story of Ed and what happens when he allows his dark and angry feelings to get out of control.  There is the wonderful analogy of sweeping up dead leaves, but what do we do when they become too many for us to cope with and begin to effect those around us?  Luckily a wind comes along and blows away his bad mood and he learns to think twice before allowing it to take over again.  This is a very dynamic book with energetic illustrations which really help us visualize the issues that Ed is facing. The  story is very simple but absolutely gets its message across; it will be great for helping young children come to terms with their own emotions as well as those of others around them.

“There’s Room for Everyone” by Anita Teymorian is a very thought provoking story about our world and about sharing the space that we have.  This is something of a philosophical look at our world and how we seem to always want more space, yet this book reminds us that there is always room for all of us; this includes humans and animals.  At a time when there are refugees across the globe, forests are  being cut down and housing seems to be at a premium, perhaps we need to remember some of the ideas in this story.  The illustrations are sophisticated and get also naive but manage to convey the meaning of the text in a way that we can readily relate to.  I am sure this will find its place in the discussions about our world and the way we all live.

 

There are so many amazing new picture books out there that this is just the beginning of my selection.  I am busily working on another collection and then there will be some brilliant books for Middle Grade that I hope to highlight in the near future.  I have not forgotten about information books and my collection to share with you is growing, so look out for the next selection.

 

 

 

 

Colours in our minds

Several years ago I became aware of a few books where colour was very much the central theme of the story.  It was used as a way of interpreting emotion as well as being the way that people can ‘see’ music.  Unfortunately I did not make a note of these titles (a lesson that I have hopefully learnt from).  Over the last year or so I have found quite a few of this type of book and decided that the only way to remember them is to write a post and let everyone else know that they are out there.  I would also be grateful for any other suggestions about titles that I can add to my list.

 

Simon & Schuster, 9781471169397

“Pencil Dog” by Leigh Hodgkinson  is one of those books that really touches the heart.  On the surface it is about a young girl and her pencil, or do we mean her dog?  They share lots of adventures and we see how drawing helps expand the girl’s imagination, but also about the friendship between the two characters.  We all know that pencils get smaller the more they are used and of course we reach that moment when pencil disappears and the girl is left alone.  However we also see that memory is a wonderful thing and that pencil dog will never truly disappear.  This book really work on several levels; from imagination and storytelling, to dealing with grief but above all it is a story about love and friendship.

Macmillan, 9781509871346

“Mixed” by Arree Chung is a delightfully simple but very effective way of looking at the world we live in today.  It is about equality and friendship; understanding that we all have our place in the world and that no one is better than those around them.  The story starts with the three prime colours red, yellow and blue living in harmony, until one of the reds decides that they are better than the others.  This leads to segregation but eventually a yellow and blue fall in love and get married; they then have a baby called green.  Thankfully this leads the others to realize the possibilities  and eventually a multi-coloured society is created.  The story works at several levels and can be about modern society, but it can also be used to explain the way that colours are created in art and how this reflects the reality of the natural world.

Chronicle, 9781452150147

“Hello, Hello” by Brendan Wenzel looks at the wide variation in visual experience that we see when we look at wildlife around us.  It begins with animals that are black and white and then moves on to a range of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.  The animals are wonderful and although some of them are commonly found, others are threatened or endangered species.  Because of this the books acts as an introduction to the ecology of our world and hopefully will spark an interest in young people.  This  is a great book to read with the very young and with small groups of pre-school children.

Abrams, 9781419728518

“They say Blue” by Jillian Tamaki  is a magical tale of looking at the world and seeing the beauty that surrounds us.  Colour is used as a way of adding feeling to the way that a young girl reacts to the world around her.  The is a sense of magic and mystery about the world which makes you want to understand the changes that we see throughout the year.

Pavilion, 9781843653950

“Arty, the greatest artist in the world” by William Bee is a whimsical and quirky look at how Arty (a frog) became the greatest artist in the world. However I think that many readers will feel that they can achieve the same results without resorting to the totally mad experiences that Arty has to undertake.  This funny story definitely seems to poke gentle fun at the art world, but I am sure that we can take away the message that with a lot of hard work we can all become artists.  It also shows that art is all a matter of taste.

Laurence King, 9781780677712

“Bob the artist” by Marion Deuchars brings us the story of Bob, a bird who is being teased by others because of his very thin legs.  He tries various solutions like exercise, eating and wearing clothes, but nothing works; but when he visits an art gallery he is inspired by the works of the modern artists that he sees.  Bob decides to ignore his legs and every day he paints his beak in a different style.  The other birds think this is fantastic and Bob gains in confidence, even keeping to his natural red beak on occasions; he becomes happy with his own looks.  The very sparse colour palette really highlights the small areas of modern design  and  allows the colours used there to really sing out.

Laurence King, 9781786270696

“Bob’s blue period” by Marion Deuchars follows Bob after his friend Bat has to go away for a while.  Bob finds it very difficult without his best friend and no longer feels the same about his paintings.  In fact every painting seems to be blue, which all of his other friends are worried by, but they don’t know how to try and make him feel better.  One evening they take him for a walk up a hill and he sees a wonderful technicolor sunset, something that reminds him that the world is full of colour.  the following day he gets a post card to say that Bat is coming home, after hibernating for the winter.  The celebration takes the form of a party for all their friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781126943

“Colour my days” by Ross Collins takes us on an energetic journey through the rainbow and how colour can make us feel.  When their world is black and white Emmy and Jeff feel dull and bored, but each colour adds a lively element to the way they feel.  Everything is OK when they just have one colour per day, but at the end of the week all the colours come out to play and it becomes overwhelming, so they are shown the door.  Thankfully Emmy and Jeff can have a quiet and relaxing weekend.  This is a brilliant way of showing how colour an affect our mood and the importance that it plays in our lives, both at home and definitely at school.  I wonder if they have ever considered this when choosing the colours for school uniforms?

QED, 9781784939670

“The colours of history” by Clive Gifford and Marc-Etienne Peintre is a fascinating information book about the differing versions of colours and their importance throughout history.  The author is one of the best known and widely regarded writers of non-fiction and this is a very different look at major periods in history.  He looks at reds, yellows, purples, blues and greens and explains how some of the shades were created and how important items such as saffron, lapiz lazuli, indigo and purple were in society.  The illustrations for this book are sophisticated and beautiful; they compliment the text and add so much to the feel of the book.

Andersen Press, 978-1842707319

“Elmer” by David McKee is probably the epitome of a book about colour.  The story of this beloved patchwork elephant has been with us for a quarter of a century and he still has a profound effect on his young readers.  It is all about being different and being accepted for who you are and that is a message that has lost none of its importance over the years.  I have always loved telling these stories in schools and libraries and the children have great fun in creating their own versions of Elmer and his friends.

HarperCollins, 978-0007513765

“The day the Crayons quit” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers has become something of a modern classic.  It tells the story of Duncan and how he copes when all of his crayons send him letters complaining about the way that he uses them.   It is a fascinating look at how we see different types of colour, or people and  what impact that has on their self esteem.  This book, together with its follow on “The day the crayons came home” has become something of a must read for young readers.

 

Red Fox, 978-0099266594

“My many coloured days” by Dr Seuss, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher  is not a title by this prolific author that I had come across.  So of course I just had to order it.  It is unusual in that it was not illustrated by Dr Seuss and  was not published immediately it was written; in fact it took 20 years for the right illustrators to come along.  This is a book about feelings, moods and emotions and how colour can reflect these, both in humans and in the natural world around us.

 

Candlewick Press, 978-0763623456

“Sky Color” by Peter H Reynolds is part of a series of picture books that look at art and whether we should be put off by the comments of those around us.  This particular book is the final part of the ‘Creatrilogy’ (consisting of “Dot” and “Ish”)and is about Marisol and how she finds inspiration when asked to paint a mural for the school wall.  The art  is very reminiscent of Quentin Blake, with some beautiful line work, but the fact that the story is told in a series of small images brings it close to feeling like a graphic/comic book.  The colour palette is extremely limited, mainly line drawings with some shading, but it brings a lot of feeling to the story and helps us focus on the activities as they unfold.

Chronicle, 978-1452141213

“Golden Domes and Silver lanterns” by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini was a book that I came across completely by chance.  It is a beautifully illustrated look at various colours and how they relate to various aspects of the moslem faith.  It gives the appearance of being set in the USA, based of scenes in the street and other characters in the pictures, but it the focus is on the important aspects of  dress, the mosque and especially writing text from the Koran.  This makes for a very simple and yet positive introduction to the ways that other people might have questions about and would be good to use in a primary school or nursery.

I hope that I will keep on finding more titles that fit within this category as it works so well with people of all ages and can often act as a spark to ignite their own creativity.  Please let me know if you can think of some other amazing stories.

A basket of Autumn delight

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Scholastic, 9781407158549

“Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s curse” by Laura Wood is an exciting mix of school story, circuses and Egyptian curses.  We have a delightful heroine who is sent off to school having been brought up in a circus.  However something does not seem quite right at the school and when it hosts an exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts strange things happen, not least the theft of one of the treasures.  How Poppy and her circus family, as well as her new friends at school, solve the mystery makes for a great start to this new series.

2015-07-01 12.56.05

OUP, 9780192742759

“Railhead” by Philip Reeve has been eagerly awaited by his many fans who loved his earlier steam punk and dystopian novels.  This new work is set in future worlds which are connected by the railways that can traverse time and space.  It is a truly fantastic concept and allows for the hero Zen to be a flawed character who is just aiming to get through life as a small time thief.  His big love is riding the rails and keeping one step ahead of the law, wherever he finds it, but then one day the mysterious raven asks him to steal an object that will put them and the worlds they inhabit in great danger.

Robin Stevens has brought us another sizzling escapade from her sleuthing duo Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  Entitled “First Class Murder” this is a true ‘homage’ to Agatha Christie and in particular ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.  The duo find themselves on board the famed train, together with Hazel’s father, who is not impressed by their detecting,  The mix of 1930s style and the fascinating cast of characters make this a brilliant read as we try and unravel the motives and opportunities for murder.  these are rapidly becoming new classics of the genre.

Another new addition to the detective genre is Katherine Woodfine with her tale of “The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow”, based in a new London department store as it opens its doors to the public at the height of the Edwardian period.  The heroine Sophie comes from a well-to-do background but has fallen on hard times, luckily she has got a job as a shop assistant at the brand new “Sinclair’s”.  She and some new found friends soon find themselves mixed up in mystery and adventure with plots surrounding the fantastic jewelled sparrow owned by Mr Sinclair and also deeper political goings on in the lead up to the first world war.  This is the first in the series and I look forward to the next offering.

“The Potion Diaries” by Amy Alward (with thanks to Netgalley).  this is a great story of potion makers and dark magic, where the heroine is joined by the handsome son of her greatest rival in trying to source the ingredients to save the princess from a terrible fate.  There  is lots of action, great characters and lessons to be learnt in this really excellent story.

Terry Pratchett’s “The Shepherd’s Crown” is the final volume in the sequence following the life of Tiffany Aching, but it is also the long awaited final work from the greatly loved author who died earlier this year.  It is difficult to go too deeply into the plot without spoiling it for someone who has not read the book, however I will try and give some details.  For those who are fans, it is lovely to see so many favourite characters, from the “Wee Free Men” and  Granny Weatherwax to Nanny Ogg and Ridcully(the Arch chancellor).  This is about Tiffany coming of age as a witch and about major changes that are happening both in the Discworld and in the Faerie land; these mean great challenges for our heroine and she has to make some momentous decisions.  As always there are plenty of things to make us think in this story and it is a fitting finale to our love affair with Discworld.  I will just have to read them all over again.

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Nosy Crow, 9780857634245

“Witchmyth” by Emma Fischel and Chris Riddell, is the second in the series starring young Flo, a thoroughly modern witch who uses modern methods of witchcraft.  However her grandmother, who has moved in with the family likes to do everything in the old fashioned way, which of course leads to lots of interesting situations.  In this book Flo begins to think that the Hagfiend (a character from folk tales) might be real and she might just be trying to make a come back.

2015-09-04 12.20.36

Usborne, 9781409580379

“Knitbone Pepper: ghost dog” by Claire Barker and Ross Collins.  this is a really brilliant little book for the younger confident reader.  It is the story of Winnie and her parents who own Starcross Hall, but who look as if they are about to lose it because of trickery and evil doing by a council official and a ghost hunter.  Knitbone is the beloved pet dog who has died but finds himself still at the hall because of his intense loyalty and love for Winnie and the family.  How they and their other ghostly friends prevent disaster makes for a fun filled story.

2015-08-21 15.42.25

OUP, 980192734570

“Pugs of the frozen north” by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.  this is yet another hysterical story by the collaborating duo of Reeve and McIntyre (sounds a bit like a comedy duo).  this time we have ship’s boy Shen and his new friend Sika trying to take part in a race to the far north in order to win a promise from the Snow Father.  The problem is that they only have 66 pugs to pull their sleigh and the other competitors have much stronger animals. However this is a story with a little bit of magic and it is amazing what you can do with the right spirit.  As always the mix of pictures and story make this a really superb book for the 7+ age group.

“The rest of us just live here” by Patrick Ness.  Well what is there to say about another book by this award wining author.  I was lucky enough to go to the launch and have written a separate post about the event and the book.  I just want to say that it is a “must read” for all of you out there.  It is full of drama, adventure and yet strong feelings about family and friendship.

Walker, 9781406367478

Walker, 9781406367478

2015-09-24 11.43.12