I Am Love / The Golden Rule

I Am Love
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Showing love and compassion towards others is one of the most powerful things we can do for our fellow human beings.

What’s more it doesn’t cost us anything; we just need open hearts and the willingness to give some of our time.

That is what the child narrator in Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s latest ‘I Am … ‘ book demonstrates.

When we discover somebody is going through a tough time, perhaps something has happened to make them feel hurt, sad or angry, something unfair maybe; if a person is fearful and it seems as though darkness is all around, a listening ear may be all that is required … or a loving hug and some softly spoken, reassuring words like “Everything will be alright.”

Love is also gratitude: being thankful for what we have; it’s taking care of our minds and bodies.

Understanding is key and on occasion love is expressed creatively and takes effort.

Remembering is another way of showing love – remembering those who have died or are no longer with us for other reasons, perhaps a friend has moved away but they still need our love.

Small gestures can mean so much; they’re a way of demonstrating our connectedness to every living thing in the world, no matter what life brings.

The book concludes with an author’s note, a few heart-opening yoga poses and a final heart meditation.

Add this to your foundation stage PSHE class collection.

The Golden Rule
Ilene Cooper and Gabi Swiatkowska
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In a city street a boy and his grandfather stand together looking at a sign that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The boy asks what it says. Grandpa reads and explains that the world over it’s called the Golden Rule.

As they walk further they talk about its meaning and for whom it’s applicable. Grandpa says it’s for “Everyone, everywhere”.

No matter the religion, the same basic tenet – essentially the cross cultural, universal reciprocity principle – is found in the holy book of the six examples he cites – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Shawnee tribe.

On a park bench the discussion turns both more realistic and philosophical, as the old man asks the boy to imagine himself in certain situations and asking how he would react. It then moves on to embrace countries as well as individuals – … “maybe there wouldn’t be wars,” comments the lad

before coming right back to the notion that, as Grandpa states in conclusion, you can’t make others practice the Golden Rule, … “It begins with you.”

Somewhat didactic yes, but the message also holds good for those of no religious faith such as this reviewer and Ilene Cooper’s text offers a good starting point for discussion with primary school children.

Incorporating both traditional religious symbolism and floral, avian and animal imagery Gabi Swiatkowska’s richly pattered, painterly illustrations, have an old fashioned look about them that feels just right for the book.

Love You Always / Mama’s Work Shoes

Love You Always
Frances Stickley and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow

There’s a definite autumnal feel to this book portraying the loving bond between a mother hedgehog and her son Hoglet but despite the little hedgehog’s occasional shivers as the two creatures wander home through the woods, this is a warm-hearted tale.

Hoglet notices the season changing and his mother explains that … change makes nature lovlier with every passing day.’ Hoglet then asks, “Mummy … / would you love me more…if I changed?”

As they encounter other mother-child animals – dashing squirrels, fluttering dragonflies, bouncing frogs, fluffy rabbits,

Hoglet asks his question again and on each occasion gets the same response ’I couldn’t love you more’.

Just before they reach home, Hoglet raises the all important “But, Mummy… will love always last forever, / even if I change just like the seasons or the weather?” And as little humans will be eagerly anticipating, her “Always” promise of unchanging love acts as sufficient reassurance to allow her offspring to curl up and having repeated her final ‘Always’ to fall fast asleep.

With its combination of Frances Stickley’s soft-spoken, pleasingly constructed rhyming narrative that mostly works, and Migy Blanco’s richly hued scenes of the autumnal countryside, this is a lovely bedtime story for parent humans and their little ones to snuggle up together with and share just before bedtime.

Mama’s Work Shoes
Caron Lewis and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Little Perry’s mum has a plethora of shoes, a pair for every occasion and Perry knows them well: the ‘swish-swush’ ones for indoors, the ‘zip-zup’ ones for running and skipping, ‘flip-flop’ ones for sunny days and those that go ‘pat put’ in puddles.

One morning Mum puts on a new pair of shoes that go ‘click-clack, click-clack’. They sound interesting but what could they be for, wonders Perry.
When she discovers they signal the start of a new routine that means she and her Mum are to spend time away from one another, Perry is not happy.

Left with her Nan, the child lets her feelings out with a tantrum.

Eventually of course, Mum comes to collect her and back home they go where eventually Mum’s explanation finally reassures her little one that yes those clickity-clack shoe sounds will take her to work but they’ll always bring her back as fast as ever she can.

With Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s bright mixed media illustrations capturing Perry’s changing emotions, Caron Levis’ story will reassure the very young who like little Perry are faced with a parent returning to work.

How Do You Dance?

How Do You Dance?
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers

How Do You Dance? That question is posed on the title page followed by some responsive ‘like this’ moves, while there’s a little boy shown opposite sitting reading.

Turn over and some adults have joined the fun ‘like this’ they say, while the same boy, now standing digs his heels in: “I don’t”.

Out from behind him leaps a girl “I do” she counters indicating a cleaner …

Others take up the beat, the joy of each one being beautifully captured in Heder’s watercolour and pencil illustrations, as they beckon, bop, flit, scrunch, pull faces, swirl and twirl.

The same small girl then shows a series of moves

before leading readers to assorted locations wherein to continue the dance – the kitchen for shimmying on account of your delicious cooking;

or outdoors

and sometimes you just need to cheer yourself up with some floppy steps; there are just so many possibilities.
(A chart is provided should readers feel like experimenting).

This dance thing is just SO infectious that Dads and even animals kick up their heels and eventually they all (bar one) come together in a wonderful climactic celebration of dancing …

But what of our naysayer – does he ever dance? He insists he wants to be left alone …

If this utterly joyful book doesn’t get you on your feet and trying out some new moves, I’ll hang up my dancing shoes.

The Hideout

The Hideout
Susanna Mattiangeli and Felicita Sala
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This truly is a book of surprises.
It begins with a call, “Where are you? Hurry up, we have to go!” But Hannah is nowhere to be found and all we see is her bedroom …

We then see Hannah in a park and it seems she’s not leaving any time soon (she’s heard the voice, we learn).

In fact she’s made herself a feather cape, a bed of leaves, a bow and arrow and we see her accompanied by an ‘Odd Furry Creature’ for which she has fashioned another feather cape – a much larger one to accommodate its huge bulk – and a bed of leaves beside her own. Together they forage for food, which they share, but nobody else enters their secret hideout.

After some while Hannah hears a voice. “Where are you?” it asks and she decides it’s time to venture out and show the Odd Furry Creature things he’s never before seen out in the world beyond.

Pretending to hear an affirmative response, she takes off its cloak, placing it beside her own, extinguishes the fire and the two leave their secret hideaway and paw in hand, walk around the park.

“Hurry up!” comes the distant call, “We have to go!”

Then a page turn reveals the unexpected: Hannah sitting busy creating a scene: all the while she has been drawing the story …

From the outset (there’s the soft toy in her bedroom basket on the first spread), there have been allusions to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are – a visit to a dreamlike wild place, safe yet without parental interference, from which she’s called back from her imaginary journey – the journey that she has all the while been drawing on her paper; even Sala’s colour palette is similar to Sendak’s.

Mattiangeli’s telling is enigmatic and powerful; I love her concluding lines: “From the outside, no-one would have imagined that deep within the drawing, at the end of a long road made of brown and green pencil marks, a little girl had lived for a very long time. “

How perfectly she shows the way in which children’s art can, if they’re left alone, take them completely out of themselves into flow mode where they do indeed become as one with their creations.

Sala’s largely muted illustrations are the perfect complement for the author’s words, richly detailed and having the power to pull the reader right in to every scene, so that they too feel almost a part of the story – a story in which imagination and creation are inseparable.

Small World

Small World
Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Quietly powerful is Ishta Mercurio’s lyrical story of Nanda.
Her life starts as a tiny baby, wrapped safely in the ‘circle of her mother’s arms.’

As she grows, so too does her world; it grows to encompass the ‘circle of her loving family’ and spreads outwards and outwards to become ‘a sway of branches …’

… ‘a sun-kissed maze of wheat … Pinecone-prickled mountains and the microscopic elegance of fractals in the snow.’

As a young woman her interest in flight takes her to the skies, piloting a plane and then as an astronaut, clad in a spacesuit far out into space, the culmination of her pushing out the edges of her world.

Standing among ‘A sea of stars’, gazing into ‘ink-black space’ viewing Earth from afar she realises that she’s come full circle;

for what she sees is a distant place ‘safe, and warm and small’, as it was when she was that tiny baby in her mother’s arms all ‘those years ago.

The author’s richly detailed narrative paints a gorgeously meditative picture of the girl’s life and this is beautifully visualised in Jen Corace’s gouache, ink, and acrylic, richly patterned spreads that have a quiet, graceful serenity.
The empowering message that emerges from both is that the combination of learning and of the imagination has the potential to open up the entire world.

All in all it’s an elegant celebration of dreaming big, working hard and the joys of discovery especially in things STEAM.
This is a book that should work with older readers/listeners rather than little ones.

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees
Vincent X. Kirsch
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Saying goodbye to a close friend is always hard especially when they’re moving away as Adelia is in this story.

She however, has planned a special farewell gift for Roger, which she delivers before she departs. It’s a lesson in how to climb a tree and, since Roger is a worrier, how to fall out safely.

She starts by collecting all kinds of memorabilia: leaves, feathers, abandoned nests,

rugs and cushions, favourite toys,

boxes and clothing.

All these memory-laden articles are shown on the verso of the spreads while on each recto, we see the two sharing their remaining time together with Amelia instructing her friend and demonstrating how to get up into the tree’s branches: “Shimmy up the trunk and don’t turn back” … “Hang on tight with both hands” … “take it one branch at a time” and as we’d expect, finally, “Letting go will be the hardest part!’

When the time comes for Roger to make that solo climb just after his friend’s departure, he scales up easily

but then inevitably … falls.

Thanks to Amelia’s carefully and lovingly compiled construction though, he does so beaming from ear to ear.

Kirsh’s story is as carefully constructed as Amelia’s landing pile while the expressive illustrations are nicely detailed: and the girl’s instructions to her friend could equally well be what she needs to tell herself too.

Leyla

Leyla
Galia Bernstein
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Young hamadryas baboon Leyla finds her large family overwhelming with their constant noise, grooming and snuggling.

She just wants some peace so decides to run away in search of a quiet space of her own.

Having run sufficiently far, so she thinks, for there to be nothing around, she stubs her foot on a sharp rock

and then comes upon a lizard; a very still, quiet creature “very busy doing nothing” so he says.

At her request, the lizard teaches Layla to do the same: they sit peacefully in meditative mode feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the rustling of the leaves, the buzzing of insects.

Some time later, Layla opens her eyes and realises that she now misses her family and is ready to go back to them. She does so however, safe in the knowledge that she can always return to doing nothing with her new friend for “I’m always around,” he assures her.
As a result she finds herself better able to cope with all the attention she receives from her welcoming family, partly because true to his word, that lizard was ‘always there.’ And she certainly enjoys talking about her adventure.

As someone who practises meditation (and yoga) daily, I can attest to the benefits of what that lizard offered Layla.

The author’s warm story, we learn was inspired by watching hamadryas baboons, in particular a very young one, in a Brooklyn zoo. Her expressive illustrations created digitally with the addition of hand-painted textures, say plenty about Layla’s feelings be they overwhelmed, angry, in pain, scared, peaceful, happy or excited.

In our ever busy, pressurised lives, we all, young and not so young, need to become more mindful; this book is a fun demonstration of the importance of mindfulness.