With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Traditional Art, Traditional Tales

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Alone in the Forest
Bhajju Shyam, Gita Wolf and Andrea Anastasio
Tara Books
Gond tribal art has a distinctive style characterised by two dimensional patterned forms intricately detailed with dots, dashes and lines. According to The All India Artisans and Craftworkers website artists use colours extracted from natural materials: colored soil, charcoal, plant sap, rice paste, cow dung and leaves. Colours are used to convey emotions and character. Red is said to depict fear and green is associated with nature. Originally the paintings were done on the mud walls of houses.
Here, one Gond artist, Bhajju Shyam has used his talent to provide a powerful and striking visual interpretation of a story about a boy, Musa who ventures off alone into the forest to find firewood when his mother is sick. Wandering and humming to himself, he hears a loud noise and lets his imagination run riot.

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As he hides in the hollow of a tree, Musa visualizes first one and then a whole herd of wild boars close by. After what feels like a very long time, Musa emerges from his hiding place to find that the source of the noise that gave rise to his escalating fear was in fact a friendly cow. The same animal leads him safely back to the village – albeit without any firewood but with a story to tell.
An unusual story that draws readers into what for Western audiences is largely, a completely unfamiliar world. It offers an opportunity to look at, discuss and perhaps try experimenting with this particular style of aboriginal art.
A beautifully designed book; recommended for primary school libraries and for anyone interested in art.
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Breaking the Spell
Lari Don illustrated by Cate James
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Lari Don is an accomplished storyteller so each of the ten stories in this collection is a pleasure to read aloud. She has included some traditional tales that are specific to Scotland and others such as Whuppity Stoorie, which are Scottish tales that have variants the world over. You can find witches, giants, monsters, royalty, warriors and more herein.
It’s impossible to pick a favourite; each one weaves its own enchantment. I particularly liked The Monster of Raasay wherein we are shown that true monsters are not always the ones billed as such.

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Then of course, the teacher part of me found The Three Questions great fun. It was so good to see that horrible bully of a teacher get his just deserts and to learn why ‘nowadays all teachers are clever and kind and very good at riddles, and none of them ever shout. Do they?’
All the stories are quite short especially The Ring of Brodgar (though if you felt adventurous, its duration could be extended by some giant dancing, or rather stomping, thumping, jumping and yelling).
If you are familiar with the Lollipop and Grandpa picture books series you will recognize Cate James’ illustrative style. She layers ink drawing and textures digitally to create whimsical, witty illustrations and here they range from small vignettes to whole page pictures.
This would certainly make a very worthwhile addition to any family or primary school collection.
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Beauty and the Beast
Ursula Jones and Sarah Gibb
Orchard Books pbk.
Ursula Jones infuses her spirited retelling of the classic fairy tale with gentle humour: ‘The two older sisters were horrified by the countryside. It was full of plants! And not a clothes shop in sight!’ …
’boom! – in a split second the pretty clothes turned into silly knickers and the sisters had to cover themselves up in Beauty’s sheets.’ Here we seem to have up to the minute language in what looks like a regency setting.
Sarah Gibb’s delicately patterned illustrations are gorgeous. Her fine silhouettes remind me not a little of some of Jan Pienkowski’s work which in turn was influenced by Lotte Reiniger.
Altogether an interesting edition, well worth exploring. One to invest in.
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