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.

 

 

 

 

It must be Christmas!

Well, for the last couple of months we have been showered by lists of books that we should be reading this Christmas and I thought that as in previous years I will pick a few of the ones that I have really enjoyed.  Yet again it has been quite a bumper year for Christmas stories and this year they cover a large range of genres as well as age ranges.  So let us start with those for what is now termed the ‘independent’ reader.

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Puffin, 978-0141369723

“Mistletoe and Murder” by Robin Stevens is the latest in her series about the two young sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  I have been an avid reader of all her works and this definitely lives up to the superb standard of the others.  Daisy and Hazel find themselves spending Christmas in a Cambridge college and then they become embroiled in a murder enquiry which really tests their skills.  Robin Stevens has used her love of ‘Golden Age’ crime to link this story to the works of Dorothy L Sayers and in particular to ‘Gaudy Night’ which is set in an Oxford College.  As the girls might say, this is a “really spiffing read”.

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Macmillan, 978-1509832583

“The Road to Ever After” by Moira Young is a total change from her earlier work and is for a slightly younger audience.  It is the story of young  Davy David who scrapes out a living in the  small  town of Brownvale and re-creates pictures of angels on the ground.  Life changes when the mysterious Miss Flint hires him to driver her to an unknown house on the coast, despite the fact that he is only 13 years and cannot drive.  What follows is a magical journey, with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of being on a quest as well as there being a nod in the direction of “A Wonderful Life”.  This is a story to re-read and treasure and I know it will be with me for a long time.

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Canongate, 978-1782118572

“The Girl who saved Christmas” by Matt Haig is the follow on to last year’s best seller “A Boy called Christmas”.  Whilst the central character  is still Father Christmas, this book is set at a later period.  People are beginning to not believe in Father Christmas and the magic is starting to disappear.  It needs someone who really believes, to save the day; but even she is beginning to have doubts.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857636386

“Murder in Midwinter” by Fleur Hitchcock.  When Maya thinks she might have seen a murderer, the police send her to stay with her aunt in Wales.  But the danger follows her in this exciting story.

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Puffin, 9780141373324

“The Christmasaurus” by Tom Fletcher is about a dinosaur searching for his identity and a young boy who loves dinosaurs and Christmas; add a nasty villain to the mix and get set for a fantastically magical adventure

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471159800

“Winter Magic” edited by Abi Elphinstone is a collection of seasonal stories curated by Abi.  the authors are a range of the top children’s writers that are in the UK today.  They include Piers Torday, Michelle Magorian, Jamila Gavin and Lauren St John.  There is bound to be something for everyone in this collection

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Hodder, 9781444926491

“Santa Claude” by Alex T. Smith.  When Claude accidentally locks Santa in handcuffs and can’t find the key (don’t ask)  he faces the problem of trying to deliver all of the presents himself.  This is a great story for those who are just beginning to read by themselves or who want to share with others.

 

With picture books we are always inundated by a host of new titles every year, however there are also some favourites that make a welcome re-appearance.  I have included some that have come back this year and which I have not written about on previous years.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781442496736

“Click Clack Ho! Ho! Ho!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.  This is the Christmas offering about the animals on farmer Brown’s farm and how they ‘cope’ with Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa. As usual it is extremely funny and will be a great read.

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Scholastic, 9781407109053

“The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.  This is a truly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story which really touches the heart.  A absolute classic of the future.

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Floris books, 9781782502944

“Mary’s Little Donkey” by Gunhild Sehlin and Helene Muller.  This is a story of the Nativity for younger Children.  It is translated from the Swedish and then it has been abridged.  The illustrations are sympathetic to the tale and evoke the feel of the occasion.  A lovely version to read to young children.

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Puffin, 9781780080116

“Otto the Book Bear in the Snow” by Katie Cleminson is the magical story of two book bears whose book is borrowed from the library and then left whilst the readers go on holiday.  But the bears need to get back to the library for the Christmas party, unfortunately things do not go as planned, so will they get back in time?

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Puffin, 9780141373706

“Dream Snow” by Eric Carle.  A delicious little lift the flap book about preparing for Christmas on a farm.  It is great for recognizing the animals and getting into the festive spirit.

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OUP, 9780192747372

“Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa” by  Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. When Santa gets stuck in Winnie’s chimney he asks her and Wilbur to help him deliver the rest of the presents.  They have a great adventure but also lots of problems, so in the end Winnie uses a bit of magic to make sure that all the presents are delivered.  As always the illustrations are sumptuous and this time there is a pop-up at the back, which is sure to be a great hit with everyone.  I particularly like the use of Greek for names etc in the pictures, I wonder how many children will recognize the language?

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Bloomsbury, 9781408859155

“Robin’s Winter Song” by Suzanne Barton is a beautiful story of the Robin discovering Winter for the first time and seeing what a great time he can have with his friends.  The illustrations are positively jewel-like and add to the sense of joy and excitement about the time of year.

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Walker books, 9781406365955

“The Christmas Eve Tree” by Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton is the story of a small and unloved Christmas tree that was saved from destruction by a young  homeless boy and of the joy at Christmas as people gather around the tree to sing carols and to forget the problems of their everyday life.  The ending shows that there is always hope and we need to believe in the goodness of people around us.  There are beautiful illustrations with a feel of the 1960s to them, which really adds to the atmosphere of the story.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471119989

“The Storm Whale in Winter” by Benji Davies is the second story about a young boy called Noi and the young Whale that he had rescued in the summer.  This is a winter’s tale and a wonderful coming together of man and nature to save one another.  It is a simple but very heart warming story.

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Red Fox, 9781782955504

“Lucy and Tom at Christmas” by Shirley Hughes have, together with “Alfie’s Christmas”, become symbols of what we might call a traditional Christmas.  It was first published in 1981 and the world has changed a great deal since then.  However the story gives a lovely sense of family, friendship and the meaning of the occasion.  Sometimes it is nice to wallow in nostalgia and think of the simple enjoyments of life.

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David Fickling, 9781910200803

“Coming Home” by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman (illust.)  is the story of a Robin as he migrates to his winter home, all the time thinking about his partner who should be waiting for him.  It is full of trials and tribulations but also kindness and hope.  Definitely a story full of the meaning of  Christmas.

 

I can’t believe it is only a week until the big day but I am sure that there is still time to do a bit of reading or to get some stocking fillers for the family.  I know I will be reading some of these stories to my grandson when he comes to visit and i might even treat myself to a re-read of one or two favourite stories.  The Christmas season has definitely started as I was telling Christmas stories in my local primary school last week and I have also been to a performance of Messiah.  There is just “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to go and then all will be ready.  Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and enjoy your reading.