Lore of the Wild

Lore of the Wild
Claire Cock-Starkey and Aitch
Wide Eyed Editions

A thing of beauty is this nature based collection of traditional tales, stories of creation and legends and more. Grouped under six themes: Animals, Birds, Insects, Flowers, plants and trees, Weather lore and Omens, each category begins with a story. That of Animals is a Welsh legend The Faithful Hound Gelert, telling how a prince’s favourite hound saves his baby son and heir from the clutches of a wolf, losing his own life in so doing.
Then follow five further spreads with short paragraphs of information on related topics, in this instance dogs and cats, farm animals, horses and donkeys, countryside animals (Brer Rabbit finds his way into this one)

and, reptiles. Each includes a wide variety of ideas from cultures, principles and belief systems from around the world both ancient and relatively recent.

Birds begins with the Celtic folktale The King of the Birds and then presents spreads on various bird groups including those found in the farmyard and at sea.

An amusing Twana tale Ant and Bear relating how light and dark came about opens the Insects section that also includes spiders. I was surprised to learn that in British folklore damselflies are known as the Devil’s knitting needle on account of their body shape and it was thought that should you fall asleep beside a stream these insects would stitch your eyelids shut.

I tend to be more of a plant than an animal person but hadn’t before come upon the Estonian folktale, Why The Trees Whisper that opens the oddly named Flowers, Plants and Trees section.

Should they so wish, readers can find legends/anecdotes relating to a single item on one spread: thus we read that in Japan the chrysanthemum is associated with royalty and is the symbol of the Japanese emperor, whereas in ancient China these flowers were linked to life and vitality because of their autumnal flowering when other blooms are fading.

No matter where you open this engaging, informative book, you’ll discover an elegantly designed layout with Aitch’s gorgeous folk-art style illustrations, making the entire thing a visual feast, as well as one to dip in and out of time and again. I was fascinated to see so many examples of the ways in which we humans search for meaning in the natural world.

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra
James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

You can tell a story with words, you can tell a story with pictures and you can tell a story with music; you might perhaps use them all. In tandem with his book creating, that is the way of life for James Mayhew.

The six stories in this book are tales that were the inspiration for some of the best known classical music in the world and each one is illustrated and told with James’s consummate skill and artistry.

What better way to introduce Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice music than to share the story of the broom that the young apprentice brought to life and in so doing caused a flood? Or maybe youngsters would enjoy doing battle with a host of hungry trolls, they of the scary eyes and crooked teeth conjured up In The Hall of the Mountain King.

How about visiting Tuonela, the realm of the dead underworld in Finnish mythology and there encountering The Swan of Tuonela, the sacred bird that swims on the black river? I found myself searching out Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s rendition of Sibelius’ symphonic poem after reading the story and being so moved by the mother’s search for her son.

A wonderful precursor to hearing Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is to get to know the tale of the prince who morphs into a bumblebee to find his true love.

Switzerland’s most famous folk hero William Tell, the brave archer who risked his life to stand against an evil tyrant for the sake of his fellow Swiss countryfolk, may well be familiar to readers: Rossini based his opera on a play by German poet Friedrich von Schiller and that story too is retold herein. It’s almost impossible to keep still if you hear the finale to The William Tell Overture.

Another famous Rimsky-Korsakov masterpiece, Scheherazade was inspired by the remaining tale, wherein we meet Sinbad the Sailor who was swept from a ship by the flick of a terrible sea monster’s tail when working aboard. Just one of the stories told to the Sultan by the titular Scheherazade..

I love so many things about this book, not least being the clever way in which snippets of musical notation form part of the stunning illustrations on every spread.

(Backmatter includes a paragraph about each work and its composer as well as recommended sources of recordings of the music.)

This is a book that surely deserves a place on family bookshelves and in classroom collections.

Fearless Fairy Tales

Fearless Fairy Tales
Konnie Huq & James Kay, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Piccadilly Press

If like me you’re fond of fractured fairy tales, then this subversive collection of seventeen is a must have. Even the titles made this reviewer splutter with giggles and as for the important note before the contents page, I’ll say no more.

On closer reading it’s probably true to say the stories have been not so much fractured as entirely pulverised, pounded and then reconstituted adding new magic to the mangled mores of old, replacing them with modern reinventions for a more demanding, “I can change the world” generation.

I couldn’t resist turning first to Trumplestiltskin and sure enough there is the easily identifiable ‘Trumple’ hailing from the United States of Kraziness. Said little man is obsessed with gold and power mad. No need for me to regale the whole sorry story – it had me in stitches throughout – but having thrown the king and his daughter, Princess Marla into a dark dungeon, an aide lets slip that Marla can spin straw into gold.

Needless to say, Trumple cannot resist making the girl an offer and the princess being a pretty savvy person, eventually manages to out-trumple the Trumple. (Love the postscript.)
Rumplestiltskin has been my favourite fairy tale since as a youngster, I heard the late Sara Corrin tell it at a book event. She’s in my head narrating this new one even now.

There’s also Sleeping Brainy (‘a flipping genius!’) who aspires to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and does so – against all the odds.

Absolutely cracking is Mouldysocks and the Three Bears in which he of the stinky foot attire is computer crazy. This almost causes his complete undoing when Mummy Bear, Other Mummy Bear and the little baby bear return from their forest foray –

that and the disgusting pong emanating from a certain pair of socks bad enough to put Baby Bear off his porridge. All ends happily however with everyone, including Mouldysocks (newly named) living spotlessly ever after.

It’s impossible to talk about every story in this review but I must  mention that The Princess and the Snog is written entirely in verse. Herein we meet pink-haired Pandora and the frog that catches her punchball when it lands in his boggy residence. Does she want to grant him a kiss – err … not quite and the outcome is, ‘A very wise rule for a mister or miss: / You choose who you / hug and you choose / who you kiss.” No coercive control for this wily young miss.

Finally, another princess – Zareen by name – is only a princess because that’s what her stepmother Tania (a goodie rather than the usual kind) calls her. Actually she’s a normal girl residing in the ‘magical suburb of Crystal Palace and dead keen to follow the latest school playground craze and get a Zoom Peashooter (basically just an overpriced paper straw). Hence the title The Princess and the Peashooter.

She ends up having got her mitts on one, with a rather funky eyepatch due to an errant flying shot – not hers – and being the leader of the anti-peashooter side for the next school debate. Bring on the Zoom Bands, say I. Much less dangerous, or maybe not …

Make sure you read this corker of a book right past THE END, including the small print. I’m wondering who would score higher on the enjoyment scale, team Konnie and James and illustrator Rikin, or readers who guffaw their way through its pages, relishing every satirical story,

Tales from the Forest

Tales from the Forest
Emily Hibbs, illustrated by Erin Brown
Stripes Publishing

This collection of twenty stories – five for each season – takes readers close up to creatures great and small from various habitats in the forest.

There’s a wishful caterpillar discovering its own metamorphosis, an adder that sheds its beautiful patterned scaly skin and the woodpeckers searching for a new tree in which to nest and rear chicks in spring.

Bees busy performing their various roles in and around their hive;

fireflies lighting up the forest at twilight “The stars of the forest, burning bright”; competitive boars that end up wallowing side by side in the mud; bats, and tadpoles turning into frogs,

we meet them all in summertime.

Autumn presents beavers building a dam; the subterranean mole; a little mouse that has a narrow escape from a marauding hawk to tiny ladybird ready to join its fellows huddling close inside a log and a fawn whose spots vanish and his antlers grow.

In chilly winter Spider’s new web holds her pouch of tiny eggs while she finds a warmer place to spend her days till spring;

Black Wolf finds a white female companion to share his days; Squirrel remembers where she’s stashed her nuts; a little fox and his siblings lose their way and finally, an owlet listens to the sounds of the other forest animals before she and her father add their own voice to the nocturnal song.

Amazing animals all, as the author acknowledges in her final factual paragraphs – one each for the twenty featured. Her stories are packed with detailed, description and information in a highly accessible form so that readers/listeners will come away from each one having learned a lot without realising it. And, each story ends with a 4-line verse.

Erin Brown’s finely detailed, painterly illustrations at every turn of the page are an absolute delight adding further atmosphere and detail to each telling.

Early Years Bookshelf: Moon and Me / All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood

Moon and Me
Andrew Davenport and Mariko Umeda
Scholastic

Not being familiar with the TV programmes I watched an episode and with its generous sprinkling of ‘tiddle toddle’s, it certainly does have some of the magic of the Teletubbies and In the Night Garden.

What we have in this book is a sequence of episodes starting with Pepi Nana’s sending of a magical letter to the moon that results in a visit from Moon Baby and his magical kalimba; and thus she makes a new friend.

Once at Pepi Nana’s Toy House he wakes her friends with his music: for the uninitiated they are Mr Onion, Colly Wobble, Sleepy Dibillo, Little Nana, Lambkin and Lily Plant. They create tissue paper flowers from the resources in the curiosity box and one ends up looking like a seed that becomes the inspiration for the next Storyland tale wherein ‘Tiddle toddle’ Pepi Nana’s magical seed grows into a large beanstalk which everybody climbs

and there they see something wonderful.

And so it continues until finally, it’s time for sleep and for their visitor to return to the moon.

There are songs to learn and the repeated “And I think she was right about that’ to join in with, as well as a lot of playing of Moon Baby’s magical kalimba.

If your little ones enjoy the Moon and Me CBeebies series then I suspect they’ll love this attractively presented, whimsical picture book.

All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Putting together five previously published books, this is the most delightful children’s collection of basic concepts done with genius as only Shirley Hughes can.

Enormous fun and wonderfully engaging for little ones, we’re shown the world of childhood through the eyes of Katie and her smaller brother, Olly.

Whether it’s the rhyming look at Opposites; the story of an outing (Grandpa and Katie) to the park that provides a superb opportunity for Counting; Colours identified through wondrous scenes and accompanying rhymes;

the enchanting visual presentation of All Shapes and Sizes, again with accompanying rhymes; or cacophonous Sounds alongside some gentler ones, each section offers sheer pleasure (and some gentle learning) at every page turn.

If you have a little one or know others who have, then this is for you. Equally it’s a classic to add to a nursery or playschool collection.

The Gobbledegook Book

The Gobbledegook Book
Joy Cowley illustrated by Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is an a smashing anthology that brings together twenty of New Zealand author Joy Cowley’s much-loved stories, poems and nonsense rhymes, newly illustrated by Giselle Clarkson whose witty, energetic art is full of fun – a kind of visual poetry.

Open the book anywhere and you’ll find something to love be it the bizarre Nicketty-Nacketty, Noo-Noo-Noo that begins thus;
‘There once was an ogre called Gobbler Magoo / who lived in a swamp where the wild weeds grew. Nicketty-naketty, noo-noo-noo.’

It continues in this sing-song fashion for a further 13 verses, each spread with a splendid illustration.

Or perhaps The Tiny Woman’s Coat about an old woman in need of a coat who is helped by the kindly animals she encounters will tickle your fancy: I love the swirl of rustling autumn leaves and the happy snug-as-a-bug final scene.

How many young listeners will know what a singlet is but they surely will having encountered Uncle Andy and his multi-purpose garment.’Uncle Andy bought the singlet / from an army surplus store. It was the only upper garment / Uncle Andy ever wore. That’s as maybe but it also doubles as a foot warmer, a carrying pouch, a wire substitute, a fire extinguisher and a tea towel. This item has one snag though but to discover what, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book for book yourself.

You’ll also meet several felines including Greedy Cat,

Grandma who owns not spectacles but Goggly Gookers and gives other crazy answers to children’s questions, an exploding pumpkin

and The Jumbaroo that gets a pain in its woggly and more.

Everything about this book is perfect. For those who love to read aloud and those who listen, it’s an absolute cracker: utter zany joyfulness – a treasure for family and school collections. Buy it to keep and buy it to give.

Read it here, read it there, read it pretty much anywhere.

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia
James Mayhew
Graffeg

Immediately engaging from the outset is James Mayhew’s deft weaving together of a handful of Russian folktales using Koshka the story-spinning feline of the title as narrator.

We meet this cat at the end of the first tale in which Tsar Saltan marries one of three sisters, Militrissa, who promises to bear him seven sons, and is tricked several times by her jealous siblings.

As a result he has her tossed into the sea in a casket but Militrissa, along with one baby son whom she has hidden up her sleeve, do not perish and eventually end up on the far distant island of Buyan. And it’s there they meet the wise Koshka and before long she begins to tell the new arrivals The Tale of the Snowmaiden.

Thereafter comes another story telling of an encounter with a merchant who acts as a link between Tsar Saltan and his wife on the island.

The merchant returns taking back on subsequent trips each of Koshka’s tales, the others being The Tale of Sadko the Minstrel,

the Tale of Ivan, the Grey Wolf and the Firebird,

The Tale of Vassilisa the Fair and Baba-Yaga, to the Tsar until eventually he is convinced to set sail himself and find his wife.

James’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. I love the ornamental folklore inspired motifs that border the text and the beautiful richly coloured side panels and full-page illustrations that make every page turn a delight.

A terrific way to introduce youngsters to the riches of Russian folklore; this book would make a great present and is perfect for sharing on chilly wintry days and nights.