My Nana’s Garden

My Nana’s Garden
Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Templar Books

This is one of the most beautiful picture books about love and loss I’ve seen in a long time.

The little girl narrator visits her beloved grandmother through the different seasons of the year. Together they savour the joys of the tangly weeds or ‘wild flowers’ as Nana insists; harvest the bounties of fruit trees and wonder at the wealth of minibeasts and small animals that find their way among the jungle of brightly coloured flora.

There’s a crooked tree that’s home for an owl and a multitude of other creatures.

Evening is a lovely time too with both starlight and light from their bonfire to illuminate them as the two snuggle up together and bask in the warmth.

In late summer there’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables and seeds to collect,

but with the onset of autumn Nana starts to look frail.

Come winter it’s clear that like her garden, Nana is fading, letting go her hold on life and by the time her garden is clad in snow, only a robin sits on her chair. (A nod to John Burningham by Jessica perhaps there.)

The wheel of life never stops turning and eventually a tiny snowdrop peeps through. The little girl realises, that along with that revolving circle, her precious memories go on and on. Grandma is still there in the blossom on the trees, the smiling faces of the flowers, the starlit bonfire and in the wild abundance of all that flourishes in her garden. A garden that is now a refuge too, and a place wherein we see evidence of other changes in the narrator’s family.

Tremendous sensitivity is inherent in both Dawn’s lyrical rhyming text and the rich tapestry of flora and fauna and the Nana/child relationship shown in Jessica’s illustrations, which together epitomise that ‘a garden is a lovesome thing’.

The New Baby / Marigold & Daisy

The New Baby
Lisa Stickley
Pavilion Books
In her third book, big sister Edith – not very big but bigger than she was last year – gives readers a month-by-month account of the first year with her baby brother Albert.

He arrived, so she tells us, in a basket one January day, very tiny and making his presence felt with loud, I’m hungry ‘Waaaaaaa’ sounds followed sometime later by ‘teeny windy pops’.

As the year progresses Albert takes pleasure in watching the movement of a home-made mobile dangling above his cot; befriends the rattly Gerald Giraffe;

increases the volume of his bottom sounds and produces lots of very stinky nappies; and adds raspberry blowing and ‘slurpy sloppy’ to his repertoire.

By the summer he’s beginning to sit up and in August begins the messy process of eating baby food.

Big sis. gives him a very gentle go on the swings in September; then in October he becomes a fast crawler and in November an ever faster one especially when he’s set his sights on there’s a tower to demolish.

December sees Albert take his first tottering steps, wobbling his way around penguin style.
Then it’s time to celebrate his first birthday. Who wouldn’t love this special little brother with all his funny noises? Edith most certainly does.

I’m sure there were times when our young narrator felt jealous of the attention others were giving baby Albert but she doesn’t tell readers about it; rather Edith concentrates on the fun side of having a new sibling keeping her chronicle up-beat and accompanying it with a plethora of sound effects along the way.

As with previous Edith stories, Lisa Stickley’s collage style illustrations have a fresh child-like quality that makes them entirely appropriate to accompany her young narrator’s voice.

An enchanting book: it’s perfect for sharing with early years audiences and likely to spark off lots of my little brother/sister discussion.

That transition from only child in the family to big brother or sister can be a difficult time for young children so if you want something portraying that you might try:

Marigold & Daisy
Andrea Zuill
Sterling

Life is pretty good for Marigold until the birth of baby snail sister Daisy.

Daisy is a real pain, stealing the limelight and following her older sibling everywhere. Marigold feels left out and resentful,

particularly when Daisy ruins her favourite toy and goes off to be on her own.

However when she finds herself in a sticky situation, guess who comes to her rescue. Perhaps having a little sis. isn’t so bad after all.

Wonderfully expressive pen-and-ink and watercolour illustrations document this quirky story with a gentle humour. The plethora of speech bubbles add to the fun.

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?
Nicola Byrne
Walker Books

Evie Bear and her Dad are moving home and Evie feels full of doubts – ‘heavy’ in fact. “How will I make new friends?” she wants to know. She doesn’t understand why they need to move at all but eventually everything is loaded and it’s time to say goodbye to their city life and set off into the unknown.

As they drive further from everything familiar Evie’s worries continue. “Dad, what if I don’t like my new home?” she asks.
Where am I from now?” Evie wonders aloud when they stop for blueberry pancakes.

All the way Dad does his best to reassure the little bear with carefully considered words of comfort and activities to distract her from her worries.

When they stop for the night, tucked up together in a hammock they continue their discussion about home

and Dad tells his little Bear that he considers home is more about feelings and not really things at all.

After what seems like a very long drive next day, father and daughter finally reach their new abode

and as they start to unpack Evie comes to her own conclusion about what home means for her: no matter where they live, so long as her dad is with her, she will always feel at home.

Rich in detail both domestic and of the natural world, Nicola Byrne’s illustrations have plenty to pore over and enjoy, not least being the two tiny mice that move house along with the bears and appear in several scenes along the way with their suitcase. On the penultimate picture attentive readers will see them moving into a hole in the skirting board, a scene that also shows The Great Dragon Bake Off among Evie’s books.

The expressions on the bears’ faces say much about the loving bond between father and Evie and also about the emotional upheaval involved in their move.

Why this is happening, especially as their new home appears to be in the middle of nowhere, is left for audiences to ponder upon and draw their own conclusions as is the question of what has happened to Mother Bear; but then, gaps for the reader to fill are part and parcel of a good picture book.

The Squirrels’ Busy Year

The Squirrels’ Busy Year
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

From the creators of Fox in the Night is a new addition to the Science Storybook series, this time about the seasons and changes in the weather.

We start in winter and just like today when I’m writing this, it’s very cold, the pond is frozen and snow covers the ground. The animals are tucked away in warm places until they have to go out and search for food.

Spring brings warmer weather with bird song, croaking frogs, scampering squirrels hoping to find juicy maple buds on the trees or bulbs they can unearth; but they’ll have to be quick for there’s an owl on the prowl.
With the summer come hotter days, the need for shade, and longer hours of daylight with a chance of thundery weather.

Come autumn and the frogs have gone to the bottom of the pond to sleep in the mud;

many birds have flown to warmer climes and the squirrels start collecting for their winter store in preparation for hibernating.
All this is presented through an engaging, at times poetic, text, together with some basic scientific facts, and in Richard Jones’ textured illustrations.
His beautifully crafted scenes work in perfect harmony with Jenkins’ descriptions, his colour palette mirroring the seasonal hues superbly.
Look how perfectly this embodies the hushed arrival of winter’s snow …

A fine example of non-fiction for the very young.

The Snowman and the Sun/Dandelions

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The Snowman and the Sun
Susan Tahdis and Ali Mafakheri
Tiny Owl Publishing
Even very young children know that when the sun shines on a snowman it melts. Some know that means he becomes water but most will not know what happens thereafter. Now, thanks to this gorgeous picture book told from the snowman’s viewpoint, they can become aware of the whole water cycle through a charming story. In this way they are more likely to remember the facts – if that’s all you want.

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However, the publishers’ blurb tells us that it’s a ‘modern-day fable about how our attachments to people and things live on, though they change and sometimes disappear; this demonstrates how a good book can be read, interpreted and appreciated in many ways at different levels. The telling is gently humorous and in places, poetic: ‘The snowman ran as water over the ground. The ground tickled him. “What warm ground!” said the watery snowman.’
With both a science background and latterly a spiritual (though not religious) one I’d put the latter (fable) interpretation first but would happily share it with early years children after a snowy day when it could also lead to a science discussion.
Throughout the circular whole runs a delightfully playful visual subtext involving a cat, some fish, an ice-cream,

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a bee on a bike (that one is a hoot)

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and the boy builder of the snowman – love those odd shoes.

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Love too, the graph paper background, in fact pretty much everything about this unassuming book.

Also showing the circular nature of things is:

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Dandelions
Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan
EK Books
What is a weed? A flower growing in the wrong place, perhaps. That would certainly seem to be the case in this uplifting, understated debut picture book. At least it’s the view of the little girl narrator’s father who as the story opens has just mowed the grass, cutting down the dandelion puffballs she was wanting to blow. His daughter however loves the dandelions – the fuzziness of their petals, the delicate frailty of those parachute seeds. And she knows that although her favourite flowers have been mown down, they will come back. “I just have to wait now!” she says to her Dad. Yes that may be so but first there is a wonderful surprise awaiting her …

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Immediately forgiving, the girl disperses the seeds blowing with her Dad, sending them drifting and spinning far out of reach …

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chased for a while by father and child. Then the two of them lie down and imagine those parachutes (here the narrator’s voice loses some of its direct child-like simplicity) ‘swirling in the wind’ past the roses in the yard, the poppies lining the street, over the sunflowers in the park

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and on, whirling round the weeping willows beside the river, beneath the oaks and out of town, twirling above the countryside eventually to be ‘collected by the sun.’ Here that child voice simplicity has returned.’ “Where do they really go, Dad?” I ask.’ And Dad himself completes the dandelion life cycle explaining how once dispersed, new plants will grow from the seeds, flower again and …

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Magic? To a young child who hasn’t lost that innocence, yes perhaps. Certainly children retain their capacity to find beauty in, and treasure, simple things in the natural world, so long as we adults allow them time so slow down and be in the moment.

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The warmth of the bond between father and daughter is beautifully portrayed in Kirrilli Lonergan’s soft, watercolour scenes, that have just a touch of whimsy to their summeriness.

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Exploring Big Ideas: Grandad’s Island & Alive Again

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Grandad’s Island
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books pbk
Sometimes along comes a book that moves me to tears; this is such a one. It really tugs at the heartstrings as it tells how young Syd accompanies his beloved Grandad on a final journey. With Grandad at the helm,

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the two of them set forth on a tall ship across the ocean and its rolling waves to a far distant island. Abandoning his stick, Grandad leads Syd into the thick jungle where they come upon an old shack.

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Having made everything ‘shipshape’, the two of them sally forth to explore and come upon a perfect resting spot.

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It’s there that Grandad breaks the news to Syd that he is going to remain on the island, assuring him that he won’t feel lonely.
So, after a loving farewell, Syd returns home alone. It’s a lonesome journey and a long one and when Syd returns to Grandad’s house, there’s nobody there. But then he hears a tapping at the window and there, sent by special mail is …

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Poignantly beautiful both visually and verbally: Benji Davies has done it again.

 

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Alive Again
Ahmadreza Ahmadi and Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl
The well-regarded Iranian poet Ahmadi is the author of this seemingly simple, thought-provoking tale.
One by one, things that a boy loves disappear from his life: are they gone forever, he wonders. Can blossom, rain and wheat come back?

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They can and will, but each in its own good time.
The author’s spare prose allows children to create their own interpretations and fill the gaps left in the telling. Ahmadi gives the impression of being close to young children and the kinds of ideas that preoccupy them from time to time. Themes of change, loss, death, rebirth and renewal, and the cycles of nature

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are all possible ideas to explore having shared the reassuring book with young listeners.
As with all the Tiny Owl titles, the production is excellent and the illustrations superb. The collage style illustrator Nahid Kazemi used here has a child-like quality about it and is likely to inspire children’s own creative endeavours.

 

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A box of interesting fabrics, some decent backing paper, fine-line pens and glue is all that’s required.
A wonderful book for primary teachers looking to further children’s spiritual and imaginative development.

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