The Miracle of Hanukkah

The Miracle of Hanukkah
Malachy Doyle and Christopher Corr
Bloomsbury Education

The Jewish ‘festival of lights’, Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days and in 2019 begins of the night of December 22nd continuing until the 30th of the month.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means ‘dedication’ and in this picture book Malachy Doyle retells the story of the reclamation and rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees and their followers succeeded in driving the Greek army of King Antiochus back to their homeland.
Unable to find the golden menorah in the temple, Judah Maccabee and his men created a simple oil burner and managed to find only sufficient oil to last a single night.

Amazingly though, when they lit the burner it stayed alight for eight days and nights.

The story of the ‘Miracle of the Oil’ has since been passed down from one generation to the next and this is the festival that is commemorated at Hanukkah.

In Jewish homes a special menorah called a Hanukkiyah is brought out. The menorah holds nine candles, one of which is the Shamash (servant), which is used to light the other eight candles. On the first night, just one candle is lit. On the second night, an additional flame is lit and so on until by the eighth night all eight lights and the Shamash are burning.

Christopher Corr shows all this in his characteristic vibrant illustrations as well as the traditional sharing of fried latkes, and sufganiyot (sweet, jam-filled doughnuts), and the dreidel game that children play.

This is an ideal picture book to share with primary age children to introduce them to the Hanukkah story and associated traditions, either in RE or for an assembly.

The Little Fir Tree

The Little Fir Tree
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Christopher Corr’s reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen classic story is a cautionary tale that ends rather differently from the original.

Christopher’s characteristic dazzling folk art style illustrations follow the little fir tree from its place deep in the forest where it stands feeling discontented with its lot, as other, bigger trees around are felled. Learning that they are to be used to build cabins and ships, the tree insists it too wants to “become a ship and sail on the sea.”

“Don’t wish your life away … Every moment is precious” is the sage advice from the birds that comment on its beauty, as do others – human and animals during the next couple of years.

But then comes the fir tree’s opportunity to have a sparkling adventure of its own. Having been cut down it’s taken into a grand house where children adorn its branches with festive decorations.

Its time of glory though is short-lived, although the fir tree does enjoy a sharing of The Snow Queen

before its branches are stripped of all its adornments by eager hands just before bedtime, leaving the tree eagerly anticipating their replacement the following day.

But it’s not to be, for next morning the tree is taken outside and put in the shed where it stays abandoned with nothing to do but reminisce about its life back in the forest – “It was the best place in the world … If only I’d known it then.”

Corr doesn’t leave the tree rueing its fate though, for come spring, the children drag it outside once more and there they give it a new persona; and thanks to its old friend Squirrel, there’s also an opportunity to create life anew.

Live in the moment and appreciate what you have is the gentle message that emerges from this fine book.

Bloomsbury Young Readers

A Tiger for Breakfast
Narinder Dhami, illustrated by Christopher Corr
The Ugly Little Swan
James Riordan, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Jack and the Jungle
Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Happy Birthday, Sausage!
Michaela Morgan, illustrated by Felicity Sheldon
Bloomsbury Education

These are four newly illustrated stories published in Bloomsbury Young Readers series for children who, as well as reading picture books, want to extend their range. These stories still have colour illustrations breaking up the text on every page but have short chapters.
Those who are familiar with my background will probably be aware that I am no fan of reading schemes, controlled vocabularies or book bands and these stories are ‘levelled’. They are however, the work of established children’s book authors and illustrators and I’d happily include them in a classroom collection as books worth reading in their own right.

A Tiger for Breakfast has a folk tale feel to it and tells how farmer Ram’s wife, Reeta, tricks the hungry tiger intent on making a meal of the entire family. Christopher Corr’s richly coloured folk art style illustrations are an ideal complement to Narinder’s punchy text.

Turning the Hans Andersen classic tail up is James Riordan’s The Ugly Little Swan wherein one of a Mother swan’s hatchlings is ostracised by the others for being different. Herein, illustrator Brendan Kearney’s blend of humour and pathos speaks volumes.

Jack and the Jungle, tells what happens when young Jack kicks his ball over the wall of his new garden into Abbie’s next door. Could there really be snakes, a wolf and tigers living among all that vegetation, as she would have him believe?Young readers will enjoy the extended joke delivered through Malachy Doyle’s text and Paddy Donnelly’s equally lively pictures.

Happy Birthday, Sausage!, Michaela Morgan’s story extends over 48 rather than 32 pages. Herein poor dachshund, Sausage eagerly anticipates the ‘birthday’ party Elly, Jack and their gran are planning for him unaware that arrogant cats that share his home are intent on sabotaging it. Will their plot be discovered in time? This fun tale of subterfuge and assumptions will please readers, as will Felicity Sheldon’s scenes with their amusing details; her portrayal of the plotting felines and canine characters in particular is splendidly expressive.

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita
Malachy Doyle and Christopher Corr
Bloomsbury Education

Every autumn term countless teachers in primary schools share the story of Diwali with their classes. This retelling with Christopher Corr’s vibrant folk art style illustrations and Malachy Doyle’s straightforward narrative is an ideal introduction that really brings to life the ancient Hindu tale of the victory of light over dark.

It recounts how living in exile Rama and his wife Sita are tricked by the demon king Ravanna who wants Sita for himself. He sends a deer into the forest and Rama follows it at his wife’s request leaving Sita alone.

In his absence, Ravanna kidnaps Sita and takes her away to his island kingdom.

When Rama realises he’s been duped, he resolves to rescue his beloved wife and as luck would have it Hanuman the monkey king comes to his assistance.

With the help of Hanuman and his monkey army, who build a bridge across from the mainland, Rama rescues Sita from the island whereon Ravanna is holding her prisoner. First though, a terrible battle is fought on that island between the monkey army and the wicked demon army until finally an arrow from Rama’s bow pierces the chest of the ten-headed demon Ravanna who falls down dead.

With Sita safe once more, the fighting is called to a halt and the reunited couple return to a huge welcome in their homeland

where divas are lit everywhere in honour of their homecoming.

During my time as a teacher I’ve collected several beautiful picture book tellings of the Diwali story that are now sadly out of print, so it’s great to see this new one.

Travels with My Granny

Travels with My Granny
Juliet Rix and Christopher Corr
Otter-Barry Books

Granny is a traveller; she’s visited such distant places as China, Russia, Egypt and Peru. She’s traversed rivers, scaled mountains, and explored jungles and cities.

Now though her legs can do little more than get her to the door, though in her mind she still visits places far afield, sometimes with her grandchild narrator.

Together they travel to see the sights of Rome, London, New York and Jerusalem.

Granny, so the grown-ups say, really doesn’t know where she is; she’s confused.
Not so, thinks our narrator recalling other exciting places they’ve visited and things they’ve done together.

On occasion gran gets ahead of herself, leaving her companion waiting for her to return.
Her memory is only for things long past; she can’t recall what she did yesterday but it doesn’t matter, for the narrator can; without her Gran though, she cannot have wonderful world-travelling adventures. Bring on the next one.

The story doesn’t mention that the child’s Granny has dementia. However the child allows her beloved grandparent to be happy in her mind travels and enjoys joining her therein whenever possible.

Told with warmth and understanding by Juliet Rix and beautifully illustrated in glowing colours by Christopher Corr, whose gouache art of distant lands will be familiar to many adult readers; this is an important and welcome book.
It’s for families whether or not they have a relation affected by dementia as well as to share and discuss in primary schools.

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I was wowed by Christopher Corr’s Deep in the Woods and now he’s turned his amazing artistry to another folktale, the Chinese story of how the years were named.
It’s a fuller version than any I’ve seen and used in schools over the years and is in my view set to become the ‘go to’ book for celebrating Chinese New Year from now on. (16th February this year).
For those who don’t know the folktale it’s set in an ancient China when there was no way of knowing how much time had passed and consequently the Jade Emperor having no idea how old he was, decided it was about time he knew.
He called together all the animals of his kingdom and announced that on the next day a Great Race was to be held and the first twelve creatures to cross the river would each have a year named after them. Needless to say, all the animals were eager to win.
Two in particular were good friends and planned to become joint winners so long as the rat could wake his cat friend from sleep, that is.
Next day however, the rat did his utmost to rouse his slumbering pal but was forced to leave him to dream and head towards the river.
En route he met an ox and they team up – the rat as passenger and thankful singer on the ox’s back. The double-dealing rat though, jumped forwards at the last stroke to land first at the emperor’s feet and thus claim the first year, which henceforth became The Year of the Rat, with Ox giving his name to the second year.
Tiger …

and Rabbit claim the next two years and then in fifth place, comes a dazzling dragon with a tale to tell of how he assisted the rabbit on his journey.
Horse arrives to claim the next place and he too has a passenger – wily snake who sneakily claims sixth position instead.
In contrast, goat, monkey and rooster employ teamwork …

and the Emperor rewards them by assigning the next three years to Goat, Monkey and Rooster respectively.
Both dog and pig …

have  wasted time during the swim and thus are allocated the eleventh and twelfth years. Then it’s time to celebrate.
Suddenly though, a small cat makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms as he emerges from the water and proceeds to shout in fury at Rat for failing to wake him, causing the little creature to flee for his life, then and for ever on …
This finale adds a pourquoi element to the whole tale.
Everything, from the tactile cover is splendid. Steeped in folk art tradition, Corr’s beautifully patterned illustrations are truly captivating and offer a powerful stimulus for children’s own artistic creations.
His telling too is terrific, focusing on the animal characters themselves – some sneaky, some helpful and others co-operative.
Fab-ul-ous!

All Aboard …

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All Aboard for the Bobo Road
Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr
Andersen Press
A riot of colour and pattern abounds in this travelling tale of a minibus as it leaves the Banfora bus station bound for Bobo station with Big Ali at the wheel and Fatima and Galo, his children aboard for the ride …

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First stop is Lake Tengréla where as hippos wallow in the water, passengers board and luggage is loaded and secured; then it’s BEEP, BEEP! and off they go again bound for Karfiguéla Falls. More passengers get on, oil and rice are loaded …

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and the journey continues towards the Domes of Fabedougou. Here, in the shadows of the old rocky domes additional travellers join them and produce is loaded. The final stop before the big city is in the forest and here livestock is added to the ever-increasing load and then at last their destination is in sight. Then comes operation unload …

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the passengers go off to do their business and, as the sun sets, it’s time for a well earned rest for Big Ali, Fatima and Galo, not to mention a tasty meal of fried fish, beans and rice.

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Before reading this picture book, I knew very little about Burkina Faso save that it is one of West Africa’s poorest countries. Thanks to its author Stephen Davies who has lived and worked there, I just had to find out more. And, thanks to Christopher Corr’s bold naïve style gouache scenes, one really gets a feeling of travelling through a vibrant cultural landscape as we board the minibus along with Big Ali’s passengers.
A lovely book to help expand the horizons of young listeners and readers of all ages.

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The Royal Baby’s Big Red Bus Tour of London
Martha Mumford and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The Royal Family are relaxing in the palace garden when there’s a ‘BEEEEEP’ trumpeting the arrival of the Big Red Bus and the driver announces “All aboard for the … Tour of London!” After a whole lot of scurrying around, everything is finally ready and ‘DING-A-LING-LING!’ off they go. First stop is The Natural History Museum where the young prince revels in being a T.Rex alarming little sis with his fearsome roars.

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From there they go on to London Zoo and thence for a picnic lunch in Regent’s Park. Then, having visited The British Museum the bus makes its way down to the Thames where the family boards a water taxi down to Greenwich …

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and then back to take a turn on the London Eye.
As the trip has to cater for all, including aunties, the next stop is the popular stores including – just for the Royal Babies – a visit to Hamleys.
On the subject of toys, however, come teatime back at the palace, a certain young Prince suddenly bursts into tears; his toy dinosaur hasn’t returned from the outing.
Off zooms the Duchess on her trusty vehicle to save the day, or rather, the night …

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Fans of the series will undoubtedly enjoy this latest instalment in the Royal Baby series and if you’re heading for London with very young children this might well be a good pre-visit starting point. Ada Grey’s scenes provide plenty to smile over and as always, those Royal corgis are very much in evidence.

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Deep in the Woods

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Deep in the Woods
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Deep in the woods is a small white wooden house with nine neat windows and a red front door; empty until a little mouse happens upon it. The perfect place for a home, thinks the mouse and he soon has it looking spick and span.
Before long though, other woodland creatures notice the house; they too want to make it their home

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and the kindly mouse makes them welcome. Eventually a dozen animals have taken up residence in the little house, which resounds with their happy dancing and music.

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Those happy sounds attract the attention of a brown bear and he too wants to move in. So determined is he to squeeze his huge bulk into (or onto) the house that disaster occurs – the whole thing begins to collapse beneath him.

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Feeling sad at the destruction of the animals’ home, the bear sets to work to make recompense for their loss; and with hard work and the help of them all, the story ends happily, in celebratory style.

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This dazzlingly beautiful book is a twist on Teremok, a Russian folk tale. Here the intense colour palette, delicious folksy, yet modern illustrative style and stunning endpapers, make the whole thing  a veritable visual feast. Oh, and the cover has a gorgeous retro feel to it too.

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We might  read this story as a parable of our times and only hope that all the countries involved could be as open-hearted as mouse and take in their fair share of those needing a new safe place to live.

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May Miscellany

Don’t Spill the Milk!
Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr
Andersen Press
From a tiny village in Africa one rainy season, young Penda sets out to take her daddy a bowl of milk as he tends the sheep in the grasslands some distance from their home. With her mother’s words ‘Try not to spill any on the way’ ringing in her ears as she walks, bowl on her head across the dunes, through the cavorting beasties of the mask dance, crossing the River Niger aboard a fishing boat, then travelling on among the giraffes on the plains and finally up the high mountain all the while balancing the bowl perfectly without spilling a drop. Then as she approaches her dad sitting under the mango tree, disaster strikes as a fat mango drops from above, SPLOSH! spilling the milk everywhere. But all is not lost as her father explains: in that bowl there remains something even more important, Penda’s love, not to mention some juicy mango.
A riot of colour and pattern abound in this heartwarming story of determination and family love: a splendid follow-up to The Goggle-Eyed Goats.
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J&D Owl 2

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf
Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press
Little Owl is a creature with definite tastes: he is fond of maths, ice-cream, scooter riding and especially surprises, well usually. However, the new orange scarf lovingly knitted by his mother is one surprise he does not like at all. Despite his most determined efforts, Little Owl just cannot get rid of that long, itchy accessory until that is, his class visits the zoo from where he returns sans scarf at last. After a fruitless call to the zoo, Mummy Owl determines a new scarf is called for and this time, the joint endeavor is much more to the little owlet’s liking and just the thing to wear on return trips to the zoo.
Delightfully minimalist in style (unlike that orange scarf), this cute story has warmth to match the new soft jade green wrap-around Mummy Owl lovingly knits for her little one.
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The Book of Dreams
Shirin Adl
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
By nocturnal journeying readers are invited to enter into a whole variety of dream worlds narrated in short explanatory sentences and gloriously illustrated in Shirin Adl’s magical collage illustrations. We are transported to a jungle landscape, a perplexing riverside location, confront a dinosaur, find the ability to breathe underwater, to fly and even to gather clouds from atop a mountain. We can swing from star to star, time travel and hold dream-related conversations with animals large and small. Such exciting possibilities come in dreams of many forms if only you can remember them.
This unusual picture book offers a multitude of possibilities for discussion, art work, movement, music making and of course, for dreaming, either at home or school.
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Bubble & Squeak
James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy
Orchard Books
With her amazing Pyramid of Peril act, Bubble the elephant is the star of Mr Magnifico’s travelling circus. People come from far and wide to see the amazing feat wherein Bubble’s balancing atop the pyramid is assisted only by her bouquet of flowers. The trouble is, being constantly on the move, Bubble never manages to make a real friend; in short, she is lonely. One night however, a tiny mouse seeking a place to shelter comes upon the circus tent and once inside, is mesmerized by Bubble’s performance. Full of admiration, he watches her night after night but hasn’t the courage to tell her; instead he stows away when the circus moves on and is eventually discovered. There follows a search, which ends when he is chased out of the big top. Fortunately he hasn’t got far when he discovers that Bubble is in terrible danger. So, being a brave little fellow he returns to save his heroine and become not only a hero but also a friend and named co-star in the famous show.
This new partnership of two already established creative talents has resulted in a charming book. Much of the charm comes from Clara Vulliamy’s retro-style illustrations in striking colours which are at once funny and tender, capturing the gentle humour and warmth of Mayhew’s tale of an unlikely friendship beautifully.
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The Hundred Decker Bus
Mike Smith
Macmillan pbk
Bored with his dull routine wherein the same people board the bus at the same place at the same time, day in day out, the bus driver decides to do something different. Rather than following his normal route he takes an alternative road, a small one he’d not noticed before. So begins an amazing adventure over days, weeks and months with the double decker bus growing ever taller as it travels over land and sea, taking on an ever-increasing number of passengers until, CLUNK! CLUNK disaster strikes and then there is only one way to go…
With an enormous fold-out page (one snag here: the perforations do tear rather easily), bright pictures packed full of interesting and amusing details, not to mention counting opportunities galore, Mike Smith’s debut offering is sure to win votes with young audiences. Long live co-operation, a sense of fun and imagination.
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The Wheels on the Bus
Jan Ormerod and Lindsey Gardiner
Oxford University Press
We start with the opening lines of the favourite song and then it’s the action off the bus rather than on it that is the focus of attention, for the bus (sporting its zebra stripes) is heading for a wildlife park. Therein we and the passengers can see (and join in the action of) springing gazelles, singing, ringing birds in the trees,  howling, yowling wolf cubs, tumbling, bouncing, baboons, splashing pouncing otters, mud-loving hippos  wallowing and rolling, dashing leaping cheetahs, trot trotting llamas, slow moving sloths beaming in the trees and last of all as the sun goes down, leaping lemurs … as the wheels of the bus just keep on turning all day long.  Despite the sleepy looking passengers on the final spread, the whole emphasis is on movement and sound; both of which young audiences will delight in joining in with.
A lovely variation on the early years favourite for nurseries and playgroups in particular, it’s great for both language and physical development.
Why not try adding a basket of musical instruments alongside and letting children choose which ones to use to represent each animal and its antics.
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