Cavegirl / It’s Too Scary / Manju’s Magic Wishes

Cavegirl
Abie Longstaff and Shane Crampton
It’s Too Scary!
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Sharon Davey
Manju’s Magic Wishes
Chitra Soundar and Verónica Montoya
Bloomsbury Education

These are three recent additions to Bloomsbury Education’s Young Readers series, which aims to help children take that important step into independent reading.

Each book has been written by a popular author, has short chapters providing suitable stopping points and full colour illustrations that make each book look inviting.

Cavegirl Aggie is an independent, creative little girl with a warm heart and a mission: to get a very special birthday present for her mum. She learns that one of the villagers, Gron, has found a piece of amber that glows like the sun and is certain it’s the right gift. She sets about her task, making several trades and finally she has something she thinks Gron will trade for the amber. Gron agrees but then on the way home disaster strikes in the shape of a boar and the amber disappears before her eyes. But Abbie isn’t one to give up and the satisfying story ends happily.

It’s Too Scary! is the story of a visit to the fair. Mum takes Jun and his sister Lin but while she’s eager to try all the rides, Jun who’s first visit to a fair this is, is fearful and wants to avoid anything scary. Can Lin, help her little brother overcome his fear of those ‘big rides’ so that he too can enjoy all the fun of the fair and make his experience one he’ll want to repeat?

Chitra’s Manju’s Magic Wishes is slightly longer in terms of words and like Cavegirl, has a little girl who is eager to give her mum a wonderful birthday gift. The story has plenty of action and excitement and of course magic – there’s a magic lamp, a genie and seven wishes, and an enormously tasty finale. Manju and her cat, Cumin discuss mum’s birthday present and Cumin suddenly becomes excited, rushing into Grandma’s room. It’s there that they accidentally discover Grandma’s magic lamp and by recalling Gran’s instructions Manju is able to call up a genie. He grants them seven wishes – more than Manju is expecting. Those will surely be sufficient to conjure up something very special. However the task isn’t quite as simple as they anticipate; indeed Manju almost runs out of wishes before that ‘just right’ gift is ready and waiting.

For adults sharing them with children, the inside covers of all three books have helpful tips, discussion points and creative ideas to extend the stories.

You’re Strong With Me

You’re Strong With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

For her third ‘With Me’ book Chitra Soundar sets her story on the scorched African grasslands and features a pair or giraffes – a mother one and her baby – taking for her repeat refrain ‘You’re strong with me’; and as with her previous titles, Chitra has done her background research.

Gently and reassuringly, the adult giraffe offers encouragement, advice and information as her little one begins to explore the world around.

There is so much to learn: the little one is unaware of the special symbiotic relationship between oxpeckers and giraffes and so attempts to shoo away the oxpecker that has landed on his mother’s back.

Mother giraffe explains its role (eating ‘itchy insects’ and cleaning her fur) and saying that what hurts her baby’s skin now will feel a mere tickle once her skin thickens. “Until then you’re strong with me” she comments.

The dangers of fire and its role in renewal are also explored,

as is the importance of being acutely aware of any sounds around; that way is to be forewarned of other animals be they foe or otherwise.

Further lessons follow as sunset comes and baby giraffe needs help reaching the water to quench her thirst

and then soon it’s time to stop for the night.

As always, intricately patterned composition and colour palette are key in Poonam’s illustrations. For You’re Strong With Me a multitude of brown and golden hues predominate, strongly evoking the arid landscapes of the setting (I have some curtains from India in a pattern and colour very similar to the endpapers.) and when appropriate she adds teal shades for the creek wherein the little giraffe encounters baby fish and is instructed how to quench her thirst, doing so safely under her mother’s watchful eyes.

The Chitra/Poonam partnership goes from strength to strength: whither next? I can’t wait to see.

You’re Snug With Me

You’re Snug With Me
Chitra Sounder and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

Chitra Soundar sets the follow up the You’re Safe With Me in the wintry wilds of the Arctic.

Her tale of care and protection begins in a den dug into a snowdrift by Mother Bear where she gives birth to two cubs.

As they grow they become more curious: “What lies beyond here?” they ask. Their mother tells them of the frozen lands without, lands where, thanks to the hard snow, it’s safe for them to walk; but “only where the land will let us walk . .. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Longer nights bring restlessness to the growing cubs and a reassurance that “As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”

From then on, Mother Bear gently teaches her little ones about the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of nature: the ice will only melt “if we don’t take care of it.” …

“We should only take what we need.”

In between times she answers their questions, telling of the approaching spring; of Earth’s place in the cosmos and the other animals they share the land with. All the while punctuating her lessons with the reassuring refrain, “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

By the time there’s a whiff of spring in the air outside. Mother Bear has taught her cubs all she knows, thus preparing them for their independence.

Now it’s time to venture outside and welcome the new spring – Mother and cubs together.

The environmental message is soft spoken in Chitra’s mellifluous text but she adds a final page spelling out her hopes that readers will take on a stewardship role when it comes to caring for our precious planet. We’re also given some additional information about polar bears and I was surprised to learn that new- born cubs are only the size of guinea pigs.
Inspired, I think, by Indian folk art patterns and repetitive block print motifs, such is the mesmeric quality of Poonam’s intricately patterned images that you find yourself transfixed by every spread and her colour palette is absolutely gorgeous.
Picture books don’t get more beautiful than this.

A winter blanket, a hot chilli chocolate and Chitra and Poonam’s book – bliss on a chilly day.

Blog Tour : You’re Safe With Me

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for a truly stunning picture book; thank you Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate.

You’re Safe With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

It’s night-time deep in the Indian forest: the moon is high and the stars a-twinkle. Suddenly though the skies turn deepest dark as a storm brews. All the baby animals are wakeful and scared.
Fortunately for them, Mama Elephant – huge and wise – arrives on the scene and with her softly spoken “Hush … You’re safe with me.” rocks the little ones to sleep.
The wind causes them to whimper and Mama Elephant offers an explanation, “Don’t worry … He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.
Further explanations are provided concerning the clattering thunder, the zigzagging lightning and the rumbling river all of which are proffered in the manner of a lovely gentle lullaby that brings comfort and slumber to all the little animals.

Simply and memorably told with a repetitive structure, onomatopoeia and alliteration this tale is rich indeed.

I’ve been fortunate to visit India – the Keralan forests, coastal Kerala, Goa, Himachel Pradesh and Rajasthan – many times during the Indian monsoon season: it truly is an amazing multi-sensory experience, different in every location.
Both author, Chitra Soundar and artist, Poonam Mistry capture monsoon time so beautifully in their wonderful book.

I now hand over to Chitra to talk about her own monsoon memories that inspired her story …

You’re Safe With Me originates from the memories of the monsoon storms of my childhood. I grew up in the coastal city of Chennai, a port and a fishing hub. During the monsoon season, we got used to listening to the radio for news about the storm and we knew all the technical terms that define the ferocity of the storm.

Here is a sample of a video in Tamil that describes the storm that’s expected. We heard similar broadcasts, except on the radio. As kids of course we didn’t have TV until I was 15 (another long story).

My memories of rain are clearly etched with sound, the feeling of damp and wetness everywhere – clothes not drying, squishy doormat, wet clothes and the smell of damp clothes. As a 6-year old I remember climbing on to the top shelf of my cement cupboard because our flat was flooded. We waited the water out by sleeping on the top shelves.

As an 8-year old and later, I have sat by the radio listening to the news, waiting for my father to return from work. An hour’s journey would stretch into four as he waded through the streets, drenched in the rain. As a teenager, I have cycled in the rain to school, my book-bag wrapped in three sheets of plastic. I remember losing my expensive raincoat at school and having to cycle through the torrential downpour.

But all my memories of tropical thunderstorms are not scary or stressful. For a city that’s hot most of the year, rains are both a blessing and a curse. The first drops fall on the parched ground, evoking the fragrance of the earth. The rain is relentless, loud and full of promise. The good memories are always associated with the cool air, the sound of rain and a spicy Indian snack with a book by the window.

I’ve returned to the topic of the thunderstorm often and in various ways. Long ago when I was just starting out, I wrote a story that was inspired by a real life incident during the monsoon rains called Afraid of Dogs.

And of course my love for flood stories led me to the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, which is again set during the torrential downpour of the monsoon season.

You’re Safe With Me is a storyteller’s take on the thunderstorm. Monsoon rains and thunderstorms are dramatic elements of this beautiful earth. Clouds gather over the ocean, they create low pressure and they bring rain and storm. I wanted children not to be afraid of its ferocity.

But this is also a book about perspectives. I wanted young readers to look at anything loud or bright or scary from a different viewpoint. Something unfamiliar might terrify us. Once we understand an unknown, it’s familiar, it can be fun or perhaps it needs to be respected.

I had no expectation of how the illustrations would turn out. I knew Poonam Mistry will and should interpret the story the way she sees it and she would bring her own experience of the storm to the story. And she has done it wonderfully, hasn’t she?

Her art inspired by India has brightened the pages and created a third dimension to the story.

Thunderstorms are a necessary part of living near the ocean. And we’re just a small part of how things work on this planet. And therefore, we should do our part to protect the nature around us, lest we should one day be deprived of its beauty and kindness.

Thank you Chitra.
For more guest posts and reviews, I hope readers will follow the rest of this blog tour.

Pattan’s Pumpkin / Prince Ribbit

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Pattan’s Pumpkin
Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac
Otter-Barry Books
Subtitled ‘An India Flood Story’ it seemed highly appropriate to be opening the parcel containing this book on the day of my return from a trip to India during a very wet monsoon season. Essentially it is a retelling of a tale from the Irular tribe of the southern state of Kerala. It relates how a man called Pattan finds and nurtures an ailing plant …

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until it grows and thrives becoming an enormous pumpkin (a bottle gourd in the original). One day Pattan awakes to a furious storm raging outside his hut and so worried is he about the fate of the animals and plants that he lays awake all the next night: he knows he and his wife must leave their mountain home but how can they take so many creatures with them? Looking out through his window he sees the pumpkin lit up by lightning and an idea strikes him. Next morning he grabs his axe and sets to work on the pumpkin, hollowing it from within.

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Eventually all is ready and having rolled down the mountain with animals and humans inside, the pumpkin sails off on the rushing river. Having sailed for many nights and days, the pumpkin and contents reach the plains and out come Pattan, his wife, Kanni, and all the animals safe and ready to continue their lives …
Frané Lessac’s naïve style illustrations are a kaleidoscope of colour and the playful expressions of the animals inject humour into the straightforward, direct narrative. A must for primary classrooms; why not try sharing it around harvest time.

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Prince Ribbit
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
The author/artist team in this funny picture book put a fresh spin on the traditional Frog Prince fairy tale. The frog herein is a cunning fellow who happens to overhear a conversation between Princess Martha and her sisters. Arabella and Lucinda who have just read the story of the Princess and the Frog. The latter two are romantic tale enthusiasts whereas Martha prefers facts and real frogs to fairy tales and what’s more she’s heard a real frog croaking in the royal pool.
Now all the while, a clever little frog has been listening to the princesses discussing fairy tales, in particular those featuring princes; indeed a princely kind of life-style has great appeal for him, and this gives him an idea. The thing is he needs to convince those princesses that he is indeed Prince Ribbit and then maybe, he’ll come in for some right royal treatment. He’s certainly pretty determined but Princess Martha is going to take a lot of convincing …

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The others however are ready to indulge …

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So who is right? There’s one point that all parties make use of, including Prince Ribbit but can the answer really lie in one of those books …

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Or is there another, more practical way to find out for sure: “True Love’s Kiss” no less.
Author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Polly Bernatene bring their own brands of magic to this spin on the classic Frog Prince fairy tale. The illustrations are vibrant, funny and full of dotty details. Young audiences will delight in spotting all the visitors from other classic tales in this scene …

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Emmett’s telling is also full of fun and I particularly like the use of “Just because it’s in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s true.” by the various characters. Wise words indeed.