Kites

Kites
Simon Mole and Oamul Lu
Frances Lincoln First Editions

Young David has just moved to Fivehills and the very first thing that he notices is the abundance of kites in the sky: seemingly he’s the only person without one.

Using bits and pieces from things he already has, the boy fashions a kite and cannot wait to launch it from the hill whereon the others are flying theirs.

Then one by one, well-intentioned girls and a boy alter David’s own design.

By the time they’ve finished the kite is totally different and certainly doesn’t feel right. Moreover when it comes to ‘breeze-busting’ and ‘gale-sailing’ the thing is a total flop.

Back in his bedroom David takes hold of Grandpa’s lucky feather and remembers his words, “Let’s see what we’ve already got. More often than not, we’ll find the answer inside.” And then he knows.

Back to the kite he goes and once again makes it his own.  Will it fly this time?

David though, has learned about more than just kite-making that day: he’s made an important discovery concerning himself.

Simon Mole’s reflective narrative is poetic which isn’t surprising as he’s a performance poet. In this, his first picture book he captures so well those feelings of displacement and desperately wanting to belong that children especially experience when moving to a new community: feelings that Oamul Lu mirrors in his distinctive eloquent digital paintings.

All About Ben / The Giant from Nowhere

All About Ben
Dorothy Markham & Aileen O’Donnell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a little book for children from around five to the age of Ben, the narrator who is eight, particularly those who have attachment issues, but equally for children who have a Ben character in their lives either as a friend, member of their peer group or relation. It aims to help children like Ben understand their feelings and emotions and how these cause them to behave in certain ways; and to develop the confidence to open up to an adult who can help them manage all their different parts.

Ben introduces himself, part by part: his action parts and nine feeling parts.

He goes on to talk about and give examples of, how different situations cause him to feel different parts – when playing with friends he feels his happy part whereas falling out with a friend brings his hurt part into play;

when he helps others he feels his caring part; and it’s the combination of all these different parts that makes him who he is.

Readers are then asked about their own feeling parts to add to Ben’s lists and we learn how feeling parts affect action parts (cause and effect) – which is important for children’s self understanding.

The final pages are devoted to the crucial roles of talking and listening (including the role of a trusted adult) in the development of a secure, integrated, happy and confident person able to understand and manage his/her emotions.

Reassuring and helpful, this is a useful book to have in primary school classrooms.

The Giant from Nowhere
Frances Dickens and Peter Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When the Giant from Nowhere sets out to find a place with some company, little does he know that his sheer size is going to cause him problems. So it is in the little village of Somewhere. Its residents are terrified when he appears in their midst, and tell him in no uncertain terms to go away. His angry response causes damage to their homes and the Giant departs.

The villagers then decide to hunt him down and put him on trial. After a newspaper report and a police search, the Giant is found and eventually a little boy succeeds in getting him to answer some questions.

A trial follows and the defendant pleads guilty. The boy speaks up for him and the judge decides on a community sentence.

To reveal what happens thereafter would spoil the ending but suffice it to say all ends happily for everybody.

This is an insiders and outsiders story that should encourage plenty of discussion on such themes as empathy, mutual understanding and inclusivity.

A class of primary children could have fun acting it out in addition to participating in some of the activities included at the back of the book.

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

I’ve signed the charter  

Samson the Mighty Flea

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Samson the Mighty Flea
Angela McAllister and Nathan Reed
Andersen Press
Samson the Mighty Flea is top of the bill at Fleabag’s Circus, which is no surprise: he can lift a match, a pea and, the lovely Amelie – all at once. Despite this, he’s not satisfied; Samson longs for the big time so he bids farewell to fellow Fleabag performers and off he goes determined to be “the biggest star in the world“.

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But the world is a very big place and he’s such a small flea: “Go back where you belong,” a bug tells him. There’s no going back for Samson though, not until he’s performed before a huge audience. That does eventually happen …

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but so does something else: Samson realises that however much he’d longed for fame, it’s worth nothing without his old friends and one in particular.
Meanwhile back at Fleabag’s that particular friend is about to give the performance of her life too …

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Thought provoking and funny, this circus romp moves in and out of rhyme and so requires careful perusal by an adult reader aloud before public performance. I loved the offbeat nature of the whole thing: its unlikely characters are portrayed with finesse by Nathan Reed, who provides visual delight at every turn of the page.

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat

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Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books
For an ailurophobic reviewer (the creatures make me wheezy and sneezy) to admit to being in love with a moggy means he must be something special; and Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius (I’ll henceforward call him ASOVCT), resident of Blossom Street, is surely that. The thing is this animal has a place in well nigh every residence on the street: belonging to everybody and nobody, he strolls from home to home, seemingly assuming a different guise for each friend he calls upon. Indeed this feline character has acquired a different name at each house: hence he’s Archie at breakfast time with Mr Green at number three …

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Snufflekins and more at number thirteen, Madame Betty’s residence …

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Moreover, he participates in a whole gamut of activities in one single busy day.

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However, there is one house ASOVCT never visits, in fact no one ever visits number eleven, residence of the lonely Mrs Murray. Her life is far from busy; she passes her time knitting, watching TV and warming her feet by the fire.
Then, one day our moggy decides to pay Mrs Murray a visit …

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and from that day on, everything begins to change on Blossom Street …

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Perfectly pitched and paced in its telling, inhabited by a host of wonderful characters, not least our enormously endearing hero ASOVCT; and warmly illustrated with gentle humour and touches of pathos, this is a book that will certainly resonate with children and adults – young or not so young. In addition to being a wonderful story, the book speaks volumes in this age of smartphones and social media about the importance of face-to-face human interactions, a sense of community and belonging.
Let’s hear it for Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius, his creator Katie Harnett, and for Flying Eye Books for yet another glorious picture book.

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There is a Tribe of Kids

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There is a Tribe of Kids
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
Connectedness is a longing that we all feel and it’s this need to belong that starts Lane Smith’s child protagonist off on a journey exploring the natural world through a day and a night, as he searches for that vital connectness. He begins on a craggy mountainside where we see him in the swirling snow, almost completely concealed among the TRIBE of KIDS. The kids leave him one after the other and our protagonist moves on and soon finds himself face to face with a penguin. This penguin takes him to a COLONY of PENGUINS that lead the lad in a merry dance and more

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until he finds himself plunging beneath the ocean where he mirrors the movements of a SMACK of JELLYFISH before being rescued by a POD of WHALES, seized by an UNKINDNESS of RAVENS and left alone on a FORMATION of ROCKS. Rocks from which he tumbles into a rubbish pile and thence, by some acrobatic manoeuvring, into a jungly GROWTH of PLANTS. There he has encounters with a whole array of marchers and musicians large and small …

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until a sudden torrential downpour halts him temporarily and he comes nose to nose with a caterpillar,

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and then …

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His wanting to connect however, drives him further until at nightfall we see him standing on a moonlit shore and thereon he sleeps till morning, discovers a trail of shells that lead him at last, to the where place he knows he should stay.

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A Place where he can be and belong: and there, let the wild dance begin …
Here, in this celebration of playfulness, acceptance, belonging and sharing is Lane Smith at his creative best and the whole thing is ingeniously built around collective nouns.
I urge you to get hold of a copy of this wonderful book and look, look and look again and then keep on looking. With its puns – visual and verbal – this is most definitely one to savour.

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