The Three Wishes

The Three Wishes
Alan Snow
Pavilion Books

Rooted in a northern folk tale, this is a story of hope and kindness about the origins of Father Christmas. It tells of some nomadic people (Sami perhaps) living in the far north. The adults mostly forage and hunt while the children’s role (alongside playing) is to tend the deer.

One winter as the solstice approaches, in one particular family, the task of feeding the deer falls on the elder boy. A job he does reluctantly on account of his fear of the dark, until one day he discovers that all the deer are gone: without them how will his family survive?

Out into the silent forest runs the boy searching but it’s not long before as the snow falls ever faster, he realises that he’s lost. He struggles on until he’s near exhaustion but as he lays on the snow with sleep coming on him, he hears a sound. It’s a reindeer bell; the boy struggles to his feet and follows the sound until he finds the reindeer clustered around a cave entrance. The boy follows the deer inside the cave and suddenly finds himself in a timeless summer world where he’s confronted by three creatures.

They explain that he can never return to his home as this place must be kept secret. They grant him three wishes. He chooses freedom, happiness, and time. At the end of the year, they offer him a reward for his good work.

He’s then allowed to return to the outer world to visit his family, but only in the dead of winter each year, and on each visit, he leaves them a gift.
After three years, the bird, impressed by the boy’s love for his folks, offers him four feathers from its tail, tying them to the harness of the deer.

Their magic allows the deer to fly and one year, anticipating his visit, the family leaves a special set of new red clothes for their visitor …

The author has cleverly structured his story with the elements of gift giving, flying reindeer and a red suit being gradually interwoven into the enchanting narrative,

until we eventually realise where it’s all going. Snow’s illustrations are superb – beautifully designed and composed be they contained within intricate borders or not. I love the colour palette contrast between the eternal summer world and the chilly winter outside.

This is a delightful book to share over the festive season, perhaps sitting by a fire on a cold evening sipping a favourite hot drink.

The Worry Box

The Worry Box
Suzanne Chiew and Sean Julian
Little Tiger Press

It must surely be a symptom of our troubled times that there’s been a spate of recent picture books on the theme of anxiety, and the mental health of young people is constantly under discussion, due in no small part to the prevalent pressurised education regime, a legacy of a certain politician currently championing the dreaded BREXIT.

The most recent of such books to come my way is The Worry Box wherein we meet the worrisome Murray Bear along with his big sister, Milly.

It’s waterfalls with their potential for ‘bigness’ and loudness that present the first of Murray’s worrying possibilities. Fortunately though, his fears in this respect are allayed by Milly as they make their way home.

Back inside Milly introduces her coping tool, a worry box, to her sibling, explaining how it works. They make one for Murray and they head off to meet their friends at that waterfall.

Once there Murray remembers to use his special box when he starts feeling worried about climbing a tall tree.

After a fun-filled afternoon, the mislaying of Milly’s backpack delays the friends and they’re not ready to leave until sunset. It’s then that Lara reveals her worries about the dark. Now it’s Murray’s turn to offer reassurance, a helping paw and co-use of his special box until they’re safely home,

after which the sibling bears stand in the moonlight contemplating their amazing day together.

Enormously reassuring for all little worriers is Suzanne Chiew’s story while Sean Julian’s gorgeous illustrations of the verdant natural landscape setting make you want to pause on the dragonfly littered riverbank, refreshing waterfall and scale the tree along with the animal characters so beautifully portrayed herein.

When I taught KS1 children we’d often have a worry tree (branches standing in a container) in the classroom. Children wrote their worries on leaf-shaped coloured paper, hung them from the twigs and then every day or so, those that wanted to shared what they’d written with the class. A discussion could arise or the mere act of hanging up the leaf often worked on its own. After sharing this book, children might create their own worry box for use at home or the class could make a communal one that is used in a similar way.

No matter what, a shared reading will help listeners let go of their concerns and enjoy embracing new challenges.

On the Night of the Shooting Star

On the Night of the Shooting Star
Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

Bunny and Dog are neighbours living on opposite sides of the fence in homes that match their owners. Bunny’s house is blue and is furnished in suitable bunny style (look for the bed’s rabbit-eared headboard and the chair’s fluffy white tail):

Dog has a red house with red furnishings. (I love the rug border and fireplace tiles.) Both have lake views and signs indicating they want to be left alone as they go about their solo activities.
However first thing every morning Bunny looks through the fence at Dog and Dog looks through the fence at Bunny: neither says so much as hello. They also take the odd peek at one another during the course of the day and at bedtime each checks the light in the window of the house opposite.
Time passes and one moonlit night, unable to sleep, both animals are drawn outside to watch the stars and each decides the other is in need of a friend.
The sudden appearance of a shooting star provides a shared experience:

could this be the catalyst for their friendship to develop at last?

Everyone needs a friend: sometimes we need the courage to reach out and be that friend. This timely message is at the heart of Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond’s softly spoken, captivatingly illustrated book.

I Am Peace / The Two Doves

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

This is a companion book to yoga teacher, Verde, and illustrator, Reynolds’ I Am Yoga.
Here, a worried child narrator, feeling “like a boat with no anchor” …

shares with readers how focussing on the here and now helps to calm all those worries and troubling emotions, allowing them to dissipate and disappear. Inwardly watching the breath enables the child to feel centred and then, through acts of kindness, by connecting with nature and fully using the senses, feelings of at oneness with the world, inner peace pervades and can be shared with all those who need it.

With today’s increasingly fast-paced, pressurised and stressful world, this is a lovely gently joyful reminder to children, and also adults of the importance of cultivating the habit of mindfulness. That (along with yoga), can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just 3 to 5 minutes a day with no distractions, no doing, merely being.
Peter Reynolds’ ink, watercolour and gouache illustrations reinforce the mindfulness message and add a delightful touch of whimsy as he portrays the child, peace symbols and all, balancing, cloud watching, feeding the birds and meditating.
(A guided meditation is included at the end of the book.)

 

The Two Doves
Géraldine Elschner and Zaū
Prestel

In search of a safe place to rest, a white dove lands on a deserted island; deserted save for another dove, a blue one that has been badly injured.

The white dove tends to the blue one until after a few days, it’s sufficiently recovered to take flight,
Together the two birds take wing eventually landing in – or rather in the case of the blue dove, falling – into a large garden where, under an olive tree, a man was painting, while around him some children played.
The man is the artist Picasso. The children see the wounded dove and want to care for it. Soon though both man and children are busy creating pictures of the bird,

pictures that Picasso tells them as their images are borne aloft by a gust of wind, will “go to countries all around the world.
Soon after, the white dove takes flight once more leaving the blue one safe in the children’s care.

This lovely story of Géraldine Elschner’s, inspired by Picasso’s iconic work, The Dove of Peace, is beautifully illustrated by Zaü whose ink drawings filled mostly with greys, greens and blue give a strong sense of both the desolation of the war struck third island and the stark beauty of its countryside.
Adults using the book with primary age children may well need to fill in with a little information about the Spanish Civil War and on the visual references from Picasso paintings that the book’s illustrator mentions in a note at the end of the book.

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
Old Barn Books

A mother and baby, a little boy and a dog are fleeing for their lives. They board a small boat and set sail across the vast ocean.

Soon after, they’re joined by a bird.
Some days later, they espy a polar bear adrift on what appears to be a fridge-freezer. The huge bear clambers aboard their small boat and after their initial apprehension, the passengers make him welcome,

sharing what little they have with the creature as they journey onwards through wind and rain.
Their ursine passenger disembarks upon an ice floe where three cubs are waiting; and the boat sails on through night and day until wind-borne leaves herald their own landfall.

King’s eloquent watercolour and ink tapestry-like strip sequences punctuated by large, full-page spreads chronicle a journey from danger to safety. In combination with Glenda Millard’s prayerful poem (the two worked in close collaboration throughout on an art gallery wall project), the result is a powerfully affecting, deeply moving book that speaks to people of all ages.
It’s a poem for survival: survival of the homeless and displaced, for refugees especially (and sadly there are ever increasing numbers seeking safety in countries other than their own); for the survival of endangered animals too.
This sublime picture book offers a heartfelt message of caring, connectedness, love and hope; it’s one to treasure.

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree / Ollie’s Treasure

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Maura Finn and Aura Parker
New Frontier Publishing
Get ready for a spot of taste bud tingling when you read this enchanting tale.
It’s told by a young boy narrator who ponders the mouth-watering possibilities of planting and nurturing a single jelly bean till it grows into a fine fruit-bearing tree. Not possible say some, but this lad knows better.

Such care does he lavish on his tiny bean that not only does he have a ‘slurping, dribbly goo’ inducing crop of plump juicy beans, but the tree is sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a tree house built in its branches; one with a twisty twirling slide for rapid descent.

All kinds of creatures, both feathered and furry, will naturally be attracted to the fruits of his labours, but the lad can deal with those and then crown himself jelly Bean King: a sovereign who can dance naked in the rain,

shampoo himself with bean juice and even find time to invite family members to come and visit.
Having the imagination to entertain possibilities, a strong determination to succeed and a caring nature are the requirements for making the bean dream come true: so it is with one small child.
Those are some of the dispositions we need to foster in all children. This mouth-watering debut picture book from Finn and Parker can help spark that imagination. Rhyming text and whimsical, patterned illustrations together weave a lovely read aloud.

Ollie’s Treasure
Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan
EKBooks
Young Ollie loves treasure hunts, something his grandma is well aware of, so she sends him a map. Thrilled to bits, Ollie embarks on discovering what the treasure might be. He follows each of the instructions ‘… Skip to the tree with the biggest green leaves … wriggle your toes and feel the grass under your feet … ‘ and so on.

When he reaches the end of the trail he’s more than a little disappointed to discover not the truck or the game he’d eagerly anticipated but a piece of card.

He tosses the card away but as it falls he sees the side he’d not bothered to read. It reminds him of his senses and ends by asking ‘How did you feel?’
Only then does Ollie stop to reflect on the sensory delights of the rose’s fragrance, the tickliness of the grass and more; and in so doing, realises that within himself is the capacity for happiness.
Wise gran: she’s enabled her grandson to begin to appreciate that there’s more to life than material rewards.
Essentially this is mindfulness for young children, the book’s author Lynn Jenkins, being a clinical psychologist. Illustrator Kirrili Lonergan characterises Ollie – a young mouse – as full of energy and thoroughly enjoying his engagement with the natural world. Yes, with its focus on attention, attitude and gratitude, it is a touch didactic but as part of a programme for young children’s mental health and well-being, it offers a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Thing

The Thing
Simon Puttock and Daniel Egnéus
Egmont
Among the picture books I like most are those that leave me with unanswered questions: this is such a one.
A Thing falls from the sky causing passers by to stop and puzzle over it: one asks, “What is it?” Another, “What does it do?” while a third merely suggests, “Maybe it just is.” A fourth thinks it beautiful.
Investigations as to whether or not it’s alive ensue. Tummler is unsure; Hummly – the third of the creatures wonders if it might be lonely and Roop, the fourth of their number, suggests they stay and keep it company. All four lie beside the Thing and fall asleep.

Next morning nothing has changed; various greetings are proffered, and the appropriateness of each commented upon; and all the while, the Thing remains, silent and unmoving. A shelter is planned and duly built for the four, but also for the visitor.

People come to view; and to question; some want one like it.
Before long, the Thing has become a visitor attraction and a theme park springs up; its fame goes worldwide and viral.

But then, almost inevitably, its presence proves controversial and divisive; some deem it ‘too strange’, others ‘worrisome’; some suspect it could be dangerous: it doesn’t belong so, they want it gone …
Then one day, gone it is – ‘un-fallen’ – completely vanished. Again opinions are split – some are sad, others pleased to see the back of it. Without the Thing, everything goes back to how it was; or rather, not quite everything.
Hummly never did identify it; Cobbler remains puzzled: Tummler and Roop are more upbeat and focus on the friendship that has formed between the four of them. The sun sets, the friends go their separate ways – albeit with promises to get together again soon; and that’s it.
Themes of caring for strangers and friendship emerge; but this multi-layered, enigmatic, thought-provoking picture book poses rather than answers questions. It is perfect for a community of enquiry style discussion with any age group from nursery up. Daniel Egnéus’ slightly Miróesque illustrations of a fantasy world, populated by whimsical, almost recognisable creatures leave further space for free thinking and speculation.
One to add to any book collection, I suggest.

I’ve signed the charter  

Pandora

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Pandora
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
I have to admit to doing a little dance when I saw this. I’ve loved all Victoria Turnbull’s books so far, but this one, with its tactile, satin, gold-sheened cover, is sublime. It takes picture book perfection to another level as it draws readers into Pandora’s lone world of broken things …

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where she spends her time collecting, mending and recycling whatever she can.
Into that world one day crashes a small creature. That too needs fixing, but Pandora’s mending skills are, she feels, inadequate. Clearly not her caring though, for she nurses it with tenderness …

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as it gradually gains strength and is able to fly once more. Pandora’s kindness is rewarded with small treasures …

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But then one day she is faced with an empty box.
The emotional turmoil this creates is as devastatingly heart-wrenching for the reader as for Pandora. Alone once more she nurses her broken heart and, as it slowly grows back together,

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other things start to grow in that box until one morning, the sun shines into her room drawing her outdoors to the best of all possible surprises …

 

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The spare text means that every turn of the page is part of an exquisite contemplative experience that has you in its thrall throughout Pandora’s highs and lows, as you linger to explore every delicate detail of this ultimately, uplifting, fable of transformation; for as Alexander Pope said, ‘Hope springs eternal …’

Oscar the Guardian Cat

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Oscar the Guardian Cat
Chiara Valentina Segré and Paolo Domeniconi
Ragged Bears
This is a story of a cat, a very special one and it’s based on the true story of Oscar the cat that lives in a Rhode Island care home. Here in this lovely book, Oscar takes the role of narrator and he describes how he carries out his many, important guardian duties visiting each and every one of the home’s residents every morning; and after his afternoon nap, he spends the evenings, keeping watch in the dining room. Oscar introduces several of the home’s residents – ‘grandparents’ Oscar calls them assigning them names according to the traits he sees in them: there’s the silent Lady Lisa and Mr Weakhead, ‘a real chatterbox’ and some of the staff – there’s the slightly scary but kind hearted head nurse, Dolores …

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and Doctor Goodhelp.
Oscar has a special ability – a kind of tacit knowing of ‘the right time’ when one of the residents is about to die. Then he jumps up onto the bed purring, comforting and signalling to the staff to contact relatives, letting them know the end is imminent.
The practicalities of death are dealt with by assigning to it a metaphorical presence, Mewt, seen only by Oscar: Mewt takes a different form for each visit. For Mr Weakhead, it is a blonde haired girl …

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who looks very like the photograph on the bedside table. Oscar stands guard watching as, hand in hand with Mewt, a smiling Mr Weakhead, rises from the bed, flies out of the window and off towards the setting sun.

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Written and illustrated with great sensitivity and the occasional touch of humour, this is a book that will offer comfort to children who have a grandparent close to the end, or has recently died. It is likely to provide a way to talk about a particular loss as well as death in general. The softly textured illustrations have both a luminescence and a three dimensional quality, the combination of which makes them powerfully affecting.

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Winter/A Bird Like Himself

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Winter
David A. Carter
Abrams & Chronicle
This small pop-up is full of wintry delights. As the sun goes down and snow begins to fall one chilly day, we see a white-tailed deer and follow deer tracks across the white covering and there’s a cardinal perching in a pine tree. Turn the page and make the snowflakes dance in the air, the snow geese too, take to the air while from behind a fir tree peeps a bear…

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yes there’s something to see at every level on each spread thereafter.
Turn over once again: holly berries deck the tree, a stoat stands stark with its tail aloft, a snowshoe hare hops by and mice are snuggling together to keep warm.
Next we see long-eared owls perching on an oak, long-tailed weasels as they are herein named, face us looking startled and red foxes are huddling from the cold (look behind the sandstone).

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Look on the next moonlit spread and find Orion above, a bobcat, snowberries glowing and creatures peeking and finally …

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Everything is still, everything is waiting under the milky way …

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One year old Jenson investigating the delights of WINTER

Some of the creatures are American but this adds interest for non-US readers rather than detracting from the charm of the book.

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A Bird Like Himself
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl Publishing
When a chick emerges from a seemingly parentless egg, the animals living around take on the role of carers.

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They do their very best and if nothing else they give their new infant plenty of love.

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With such a variety of carers though, it’s not surprising that Baby – so called because he became everyone’s baby – has something of an identity crisis.
But with the winter fast approaching, it’s time for birds like Baby to be flying south to warmer climes and try as they might, none of the animals is able to demonstrate the techniques of flying …

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So what will be the fate of Baby who as yet isn’t really like those other birds? Can he finally spread those wings of his and take flight? Perhaps, with the help of a special friend …

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With its inherent themes of acceptance, parenting and caring, friendship and finding a place to fit in, this lovely book will resonate with adults as well as the many children I hope it will be shared with especially  with refugees from Syria being made to feel welcome in the UK as I write.
Author/illustrator Anahita Teymorian’s densely daubed illustrations are sheer delight. I absolutely love the final double spread whereon is revealed the significance of the chequer board design that appears on every spread – brilliant!

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