Caspian Finds a Friend

Caspian Finds a Friend
Jacqueline Veissid and Merrilees Brown
Chronicle Books

In a lighthouse lives a boy named Caspian whose loneliness we feel right from the opening spread that reveals the stark beauty of his location.

How does someone find a friend whose every night is spent casting light into the darkness waiting for someone to arrive, but nobody does.

Then one day Caspian decides to write a message and use his flower jug to cast it into the ocean.

Weeks pass, then months as the boy waits and waits. Eventually he discovers something ‘a glistening nestled in the rocks.’ It’s his bottle and inside is a single word response.

He rushes to his little boat and under the night sky with its shimmering constellations he rows on the gentle sea until he falls asleep.

Waking next morning now in icy waters, Caspian finally meets that which he’s longed for …

and together they journey back to the lighthouse.

The combination of Jacqueline Veissid’s lyrical text and debut illustrator, Merrilees Brown’s beautiful art, which is a mixture of oil paints, relief print and charcoal digitally combined, creates an almost dreamlike gentle adventure story to delight and perhaps to encourage little ones to realise that within themselves they have the power to make changes happen.

The Hike / What John Marco Saw

The Hike
Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

In this smashing book we share an outdoor adventure with three lively young human protagonists and dog Bean whose favourite thing is hiking.

With Wren seemingly, acting as narrator, we see them setting off together up Buck Mountain running ‘like maniacs’ through the forest until a patch of ripe berries slows them down and having gorged themselves, El teaches the others how to make leaf baskets.

Continuing on up a steep narrow trail, they get lost. But thanks to Hattie’s map- reading skills, they find the way back onto the trail.

Taking delight in the fauna and flora they pass – the tiny snail, the fleetingly-there deer, the birds, the fish, the wild flowers (each one labelled) – eventually the girls reach the summit.
There, under a beautiful yellowish-pink sky they celebrate by waving a flag (Wren), reading a poem (El) and releasing feathers into the wind (Hattie).

Celebration over, they head back home beneath a starry sky.
There’s SO much to love about this uplifting story: the children’s determination and perseverance, their camaraderie and above all, their joie-de-vivre and the pleasure each in her own way, takes in the natural world.

Within the pleasingly designed gouache, ink and pencil spreads the hikers share with readers, comments via speech bubbles, additional details courtesy of Wren’s sketchbook and after the story eight further pages of illustrated, more detailed notes from the sketchbook.

Immersive, exciting, and hopes this reviewer, a book that will motivate youngsters to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature whatever the weather.

What John Marco Saw
Annie Barrows and Nancy Lemon
Chronicle Books

In contrast to his family and neighbours who are preoccupied with their own private worlds, young John Marco notices the world around him.

But nobody’s interested in the big green grasshopper with black bulging eyes chewing grass,

the worms or the fossil in the rock, not even the big old orange cat with her stomach ‘almost dragging on the ground she was so fat’ that went ‘prr-rrup’ when he sat close by.

Surely though when he reports that there’s a tree falling down in the front yard – albeit slowly – somebody will pay attention. But despite Mum’s ‘Trees don’t just fall down” – yes, she does finally come and look – fall it does just like he’d said several times before.

Could this event herald the start of John Marco receiving what he and the things he reports on, deserve – the attention of everyone around. Maybe, just maybe …

An unusual, wryly observed demonstration that it’s wise to listen to what children have to say, and a reminder to us all to slow down and take note of the small things in life.

Kindness Grows / Get Up, Stand Up

Kindness Grows
Britta Teckentrup
Caterpillar Books

Within her signature style collage scenes, Britta Teckentrup cleverly uses the growing die-cut image to represent on the verso spreads an ever widening crack or rift caused by bad feelings towards others or unkindness of some sort, while on the recto the same shape grows to become something positive – a beautiful tree nurtured by acts of loving kindness towards others be they words spoken or actions such as sharing, forging a new friendship, working or playing together.

Little by little though, as the rhyming narrative says, from a small beginning – a simple seed of kindness like a smile or reaching out …

even a seemingly enormous rift can be repaired.
If only …

Get Up, Stand Up
Cedella Marley and John Jay Cabuay
Chronicle Books

The daughter of reggae artist and social activist Bob Marley has taken one of her father’s most popular songs and used it to create a powerful picture book message for young readers and listeners.

That message is clear and unequivocal – don’t let anyone bully you or other people – and we’re witness, thanks to Cabuay’s bold, bright scenes rendered in pencil and digitally, to a school day wherein when such bullying happens, the other children don’t just stand by and watch. Instead, they stand up and rally round be it in the playground,

at the bus stop, on the school bus, in the street or the park.

The final spreads show the youngsters hoisting a huge flag depicting Bob Marley and his anthem One Love above the stage whereon they then dance and sing for all they’re worth.

This is a book to have in primary classrooms to open up discussion on themes such as standing up for yourself and others in the face of injustice, no matter what that may be. Certainly in the UK right now, it’s a message that needs saying over and over. Of course it isn’t always easy to do but it’s never too early to start learning the appropriate ways to respond to discrimination, abuse, inequality, prejudice or any kind of wrong doing.

Reading Beauty

Reading Beauty
Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
Chronicle Books

If, like this reviewer, you enjoy fractured fairy tales of the feminist kind, then this latest one from the Interstellar Cinderella team, Deborah Underwood, who supplies the pacey rhyming narrative and Meg Hunt, the illustrator, will surely appeal.

Princess Lex, along with the majority of inhabitants of the planetoid, is a bibliophile. Lex’s room is bursting with books and she reads at every hour of the day and night. She’s even trained Prince her puppy to acquire reading material for her.

On her fifteenth birthday however, she wakes to discover all her books have disappeared.

Her parents explain that when she was born there was a birthday celebration but one fairy was convinced she’d not been invited. Furious: she’d uttered a curse to take effect on Lex’s fifteenth birthday;

the princess would get a paper cut causing her to fall into a death-like sleep.

A life without books? It doesn’t bear thinking about so Lex resolves to find the fairy and make her lift the curse.

With the assistance of Prince and a bot, she acquires and reads appropriate books to help her find the fairy’s lair, and another to be able to land. But that fairy isn’t finished yet: she’s determined to have one more try.

Happily though Lex outsmarts the fairy but the plot takes a surprise twist or two before reaching its satisfying ’happily ever after’ that will especially please book lovers. So too will Meg Hunt’s lively, futuristic, patterned, mixed media illustrations – love those end papers.

A good one to add to any primary class fairy tale collection.

Three Cheers for Kid McGear! / Crane Truck’s Opposites

Three Cheers for Kid McGear!
Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford
Chronicle Books

There’s a new addition to the ‘Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site’ crew; she’s small and a lot younger than the other five trucks, clean and shiny in fact and sporting ‘cool attachments’.

The rest of the trucks are concerned about her lack of size but she’s willing to learn and ready and eager to prove her worth as a team member.

First though, at their suggestion, she waits and watches as the big trucks work on clearing the ground. Suddenly however, she receives a call for help as Excavator and Bulldozer find themselves trapped at the bottom of a steep hill.

Now it’s the time for the fast moving little Kid McGear to act

and so she does, masterminding a solution and directing operations so that the rescue becomes a team effort facilitated in no small way by her quick-thinking and agility.

Toot! Toot! Hurrah! A female truck in the team and already she’s shown her worth, demonstrating that, in this rhyming rendition with its golden glowing AG Ford illustrations of the familiar construction yard inhabitants, size doesn’t matter that much.

Crane Truck’s Opposites
Sherri Duskey and Ethan Long
Chronicle Books

Crane Truck is hard at work at the construction site and with Excavator’s help he not only spends a busy day lifting and shifting, but in so doing introduces little humans to a host of opposites. In/out, fast/slow, above/below, near/far, lifts/lowers, heavy/light, dull/bright, big/small, tall/short, clean/dirty, day/night and finally open/closed are all woven into the short narrative that takes us through from sunrise to darkness.

Gently educational rhyming fun made all the more so by Ethan Long’s friendly vehicles from Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Grown-ups Never Do That / What’s Going On Here?

Grown-ups Never Do That
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

‘Adults never misbehave.’ So says the opening line of well-known collaborators Cali and Chaud’s latest offering.
But there’s a team of young sleuths at work who might just disprove the veracity of that statement and we then accompany them through the book.

Of course, they’re absolute paragons of virtue these mature people. So much so that following Cali’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Adults are always good’ on the penultimate spread he concludes with the sound advice, ‘So you really should be just like them.’

However those youngsters who have been spying on the yelling, bad temperedness, cheating, sulking, messiness, lateness,

bad manners, time wasting and the other grown-up behaviours they’ve witnessed, may well think otherwise.

The brevity of Cali’s ironic narrative is countered by Chaud’s detailed comical visuals

making for a diverting book that will please readers young and not so young.

What’s Going On Here?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books

This is a mix-and-match book wherein Tallec, in his typical skittish manner, invites readers to engage in storying with a weird and wonderful cast of characters – animal and a couple of human ones – all of which are sporting rather ridiculous headwear.
You can smile at the attire of each, as you read the related plot piece and ponder the question posed before flipping to and fro to try the plethora of possible permutations that the split pages offer.

I’ve used similarly designed books (three-way split pages) with under-confident readers of all ages needing a morale boost, and I’d do the same with this somewhat more sophisticated one.

Draw Here

Draw Here
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Full on fun as only Tullet can offer comes in the form of this brilliantly dotty activity book.

On the inside front cover is a flap of die-cut holes of various sizes folded over onto a set of patterns. This is followed by around 140 pages to adorn as per the author’s instructions; but let me make it clear, there’s plenty of scope for interpretation and creativity.

The two opening spreads are blank and thereafter users are presented with some pages littered with dots, some have relatively few or a single dot, while others have squiggly shapes, circles or a mix of dots and other shapes in Tullet’s signature primary colours.

The user is then invited to add more dots, adorn the dots in various ways,

colour carefully inside lines, add dots to loops, loop around dots, complete circles, connect dots related by colour, find a path across an entire spread without touching a single dot. Then what about creating some fruit, fish, cars, trees, flowers or people using dots as starting points.

Both fine motor skills and imaginations are stretched during the course of the pages and I can see a child getting carried away with this. All that’s needed is a few pens, pencils or crayons and a young mind ready for hours of creative pleasure.

Perfect for screen free entertainment, especially on rainy days or during holidays.