Songs for our Sons

Songs for our Sons
Ruth Doyle and Ashling Lindsay
Andersen Press

Here’s a rhyming celebration of a newborn child wherein the narrator shares her future hopes for the infant, encouraging the little one, oh so full of potential, to be the very best person possible. “So dance-up your dreams; / sing out your spirit-song / And let the light that’s inside you, / guide you along.’

Whether the baby grows up to be ‘a sequinned sparkler, a kaleidoscopic colour- catcher’ or ‘a … puddle-pouncing, soil-squelching mud sculptor’ …

the hopes are that they will be proud, free and happy, an appreciator of and wonderer at, the natural world, a ‘champion of change … and non-violent fighter.’

One who rejoices in differences and their own uniqueness. All this and more in the hope of building a gentler, brighter world. Something we all wish for, especially right now.

Whether we read Ruth’s entire text as being spoken directly to the new-born, or to us as readers, the message is potent – it’s fine to show your feelings, to cry, follow your heart – and cleverly organised so that it sits within, or alongside, Ashling’s gorgeous scenes of children exploring and making the most of whatever surrounds them, culminating in an enormously uplifting, whimsically portrayed , finale …

Gentle, hopeful and a perfect book to give a newborn, at a naming ceremony, or as a present at any time throughout childhood.

A companion book Dreams for our Daughters follows in 2021, though it’s only in the title of this one that there’s any mention of gender.

River Stories

River Stories
Timothy Knapman, Ashling Lindsay and Irene Montano
Red Shed (Egmont)

Prepare to immerse yourself in Timothy Knapman’s tales of five rivers.

Our travels begin on the African continent with a trip along the Nile, at 6,695 km. the world’s longest river. Rising in the African jungle it comprises two tributaries, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, and flows through forests, mountains, lakes and deserts before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

However its exact source is disputed. Timothy tells readers that one explorer John Hanning Speke declared the true source to be Lake Ukerewe (now called Lake Victoria).  During the trip we learn of festivals, historic events associated with the river, view some wildlife and visit the pyramids, tombs and temples of Egypt.

The second journey is along the Mississippi that extends the entire length of the US all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This river is home to over 1000 animal species and flows through the site, I was fascinated to learn, of Cahokia, a lost 12th C city.

We’re in Europe for the third journey that takes us from a glacier in the Swiss Alps to the Netherlands where the Rhine’s delta is located.

There are mentions of music and musicians, magic, myths and legends, and sightings of fairytale forests as well as castles, windmills and bulb fields.

High on a Tibetan plateau is where the Yangtze journey starts. We read of dragons and dolphins, glimpse pandas and if the timing is right, see the amazing Dragon Boat Festival.

The Amazon with its incredible rainforest flora and fauna is the river of the fifth trip. There’s so much to discover and I was astonished to learn of Ed Stafford’s walk along its entire length, making him the first person to do so, a journey of 6,992 km that took him 860 days – WOW! Awesome!

There’s much of interest whether yours is history ancient or modern, geography, mythology or something else Timothy includes, and illustrators Aisling Lindsay and Irene Montano show in the engrossing, vibrant spreads that unfold to show the entire length of each river journey.

World stories to wallow in for sure.

Neither of the rivers I’m personally familiar with – the Thames and the Ganges – are included in Timothy’s book; now’s that another story – or many.

The Tide

The Tide
Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay
Little Tiger

What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story Clare Helen Welsh’s little girl narrator tells as she talks of her beloved Grandad. ‘Mummy says that Grandad loves me very much but that sometimes he gets confused.’

We then spend a day with the family at the beach – the child, her mum and Grandpa set up camp and as Mum watches, child and Grandad build sand castles and forts, crown themselves ‘king and queen of net and shells’. They all share a picnic (Grandad gets confused and buries the sandwiches) and then they go rock pooling (Grandad and granddaughter) and watch the movement of the tide as it comes in.

Mum likens Grandad’s memories to the tide – ‘sometimes near and close and full of life. Other times, far away and distant.’

Their musings are broken by voices and the family proceed together to buy ice-creams and again child and grandfather watch the tide

before becoming ankle deep in sea-water.

All too soon it’s time to go home but first they must shake away and wash off the sand and salty water.

Then it’s back home to talk lovingly together about their shared day.

The likening of Grandad’s memory to the ebb and flow of the tide is both moving and enormously powerful: Clare has chosen the perfect figurative language to help children to begin to understand dementia and be at ease with the subject. And, I can think of no better illustrator than Ashling Lindsay whose work I’ve loved since seeing her very first picture book. Her warm colour palette here is just gorgeous, radiating the unconditional love that so clearly exists between family members, especially child and Grandad.

A must have for family collections and for primary schools to share and talk about together.

Between Tick and Tock

Between Tick and Tock
Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay
Egmont Publishing

Most of us lead frenetic lives, dashing from here to there, mostly doing rather than being; but what would you want to do if you were able to stop time?

Liesel, the little girl in this story does just that. Liesel lives in a city, a city of hustle and bustle, a city of Grey, of loneliness, where almost everyone is far too busy to notice the details.

Not so watchful Liesel. She knows what is needed. She must pause the clock – just for a short time –bringing everything to a halt. Then she quietly springs into action working her way through the city beautifying the Grey with deft strokes of colour and creativity, showing kindliness to humans and creatures alike

and restoring calm and happiness.

She knows though that she cannot hold back time for longer than a very little while: that tick must be allowed to become a tock, that stop must once gain become go. Only now a transformation has taken place: things will never be quite the same again;

but just in case they ever should, Liesel knows exactly what to do …

Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay’s enchanting day time story is every bit as beautiful as the nocturnal evocation they created in The Night Box, if not more so. Once again, lyrical words and pictures work in perfect accord to make a memorable, magical book.

The Night Box

The Night Box
Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay
Egmont Publishing
With his own special key, young Max is custodian of the night and having watched the sleepy day departing and bid his mother goodnight, he approaches The Night Box. It’s right there among his toys waiting for him to turn the key, lift the lid and let day slip inside. In its place comes darkness, tumbling, dancing and whirling around his room. It’s full of mischief as it chases all the colours out from every corner and away.

Then for a time all that’s left is the sounds: a plink, a tap, a tinkle and a purr, each one exaggerated by the darkness. After which Max becomes aware of the enormity of the night and all it holds.

Night is many things: the keeper of the stars that guide a lone swan to her home; the gentle protection of the sleeping fawn beside its mother; the caller out to play of the woodland creatures: badger, mole, owl and fox. It’s also the bestower of gifts: a moon to the pond, a mole to a goose; a fox to the rose; milk to the kitten; for the branch there’s an owl; for the wall a tree and for Max, a cosy bed and a bear to snuggle by.
Benevolent night remains but that too needs rest, so once it’s fast asleep it’s time for Max to wake, open the box once more and allow another exchange to happen …

What a beautiful evocation of the coming of night, its magical effects and its dawn departure, poet and debut picture book author Louise Greig and illustrator Ashling Lindsay have together created. Text and pictures work in perfect harmony. That Louise is a poet is clear from the way she weaves words together, creating cadences that are a delight to read aloud at any time; but as a bedtime story, have a gently soporific lilt. The unusual and shifting perspectives of Ashling Lindsay add to the allure of her scenes.

I’ve signed the charter