A Song in the Mist

A Song in the Mist
Fiona Woodcock and Corrine Averiss
Oxford Children’s Books

In this breathtakingly beautiful book we meet Chi, a shy panda that loves to listen. She’s never alone though for being silent and attentive brings all manner of sounds to her ears: the swishing of the bamboo, the chittering of tiny birds and on one particular day, something altogether different, a sound new, gentle, sweet and musical comes floating on the breeze. Following it, Chi is led close to a small house,

close enough to discover that the sound is emanating from a little boy’s length of bamboo.

The boy stops his playing and looks at Chi but she dashes away taking cover in the forest and the safety of her own tree where all is still. Until that is, she hears first a twig snap and then a voice that makes her heart beat faster.

Remaining hidden in the canopy, Chi follows the boy through the forest as the evening mist begins to descend.

Suddenly the boy trips sending his flute tumbling to the floor and shortly after comes a cry, ‘Grandpa, help! I’m lost!’
Picking up the bamboo, Chi now needs to summon up all her courage and overcome her shyness to use it …

Happily she does and thus begins an understanding that leads not only to the safety of the boy flute-player, but also to the forging of a wonderful friendship: a friendship that is sustained by bamboo, breath and of course, love and kindness.

Corrine’s lyrical narrative combined with Fiona’s gorgeous grainy scenes powerfully evoke the misty beauty of the bamboo and conifer forest setting through which you can almost hear those musical notes drawing the reader gently but urgently though the story.

The Long Way Home / Dirty Bertie: Bees!

These are 2 new Stripes Publishing books that are just right for newly independent readers: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them:

The Long Way Home
Corrinne Averiss and Kristyna Little

Baby elephant Otto likes nothing more than adventuring with Nanu and he’s thrilled when Nanu announces they are to spend a day climbing right to the top of Lion Mountain. Old she might be, but Nanu is extremely wise; she’s also brave and bold and shares Otto’s enthusiasm for exploration.

As they prepare to set out Nanu reminds the little elephant what an explorer needs to remember at all times but from the outset, Nanu seems to be having a forgetting kind of day. First she leaves the fruit out of the backpack and then she forgets the name of their destination and once they reach the top of the mountain it transpires that she’s actually left the backpack behind.

All those things are relatively easy to remedy but then as they start back down, it’s evident that Nanu has forgotten the way home and instead has been taking them into the depths of the forest.
Now it’s up to young Otto to remember everything his Nanu has taught him about being ‘a great elephant explorer’ and endeavour to get them safely back home.

Corrinne’s story is a wonderfully warm one that demonstrates pachyderm style, the importance of both family relationships and memories. A warmth that is brought out beautifully in Kristina Little’s gorgeous illustrations: who could resist falling for Otto and Nanu?

Dirty Bertie: Bees!
Alan MacDonald, illustrated by David Roberts

There’s never a dull moment when young Bertie is around and if you were to collect every one of the books regaling all his misdemeanours, they would fill an entire shelf.

This one presents three more. The first relates what happens when Bertie’s taste for the delicious honey he splurges onto his breakfast toast leads him to entertain ideas about becoming a bee keeper like his neighbour, Mr Monk with whom Bertie has previously had the odd run in. That sounds like trouble to me … and sure enough it is.

Story two sees Bertie and his Gran doing a spot of Great Aunt Morag sitting while his parents are otherwise engaged.

Surprises come thick and fast when the three of them head for the park where a nerve-wracking day unfolds.

In the third episode Bertie’s mum wins a journalism award with dinner and an overnight stay for two at a four-star hotel hotel as part of the prize. Just imagine the potential for trouble when Mum manages to bag another couple of tickets for Bertie and his sister Suzy to accompany them. But why does Bertie insist on taking his own duvet? A lively occasion really doesn’t describe it …

With its hilarious illustrations liberally scattered, new solo readers will devour this in a sitting; the episodes make fun short reads aloud too.

Love

Love
Corrinne Averiss and Kirsti Beautyman
Words & Pictures

Young Tess is part of a loving family – love surrounds her like the ‘light inside one of Daddy’s little houses.’

However, when the time comes for her to start school, the worries creep in. School is big and scary – nothing like that warm scarf that she feels wrapping around her when she goes out with her parents. Will the love still find her?

Her mother tries reassuring her saying as they part by the gate, that love will still find her even when they’re apart “like a string between us – it can stretch as far as it needs to.”

Tess though isn’t sure. Her understanding teacher offers some comfort – ‘Tess noticed a little thread between them. That felt nice.’

Little by little she continues discovering new strings of connectedness, friendship and love throughout the day.

Come hometime though, the anxiety returns when her mother is late to collect her.: that string doesn’t appear to be connecting Tess to anything or anyone. Finally, however, there with an explanation and a string-fixing hand, stands Mummy and all is well once more.

Enormously reassuring for young children who experience separation anxiety, Corrinne cleverly uses the string trope to make tangible the bond between loved ones in her story. But she makes it all the more impactful – love connects us no matter the distance between us – with her own ‘candle house’, ‘warm scarf and other metaphors. Employing a limited colour palette to great effect, Kirsti Beautyman’s sequence of textured illustrations are full of feeling, be that love, tenderness, worry, or empathy.

Hope

Hope
Corrinne Averiss and Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

Finn is a small boy with a very large dog called Comet. The two are best friends and do pretty much everything together.

One morning Comet isn’t his usual lively self: “He’s poorly,” Mum says, “he needs to go to the vet’s.”

Off go Dad, Finn and the dog in the car. The vet is uncertain about Comet’s recovery but promises to do his best.

Alone in his den on their return, Ben lets his tears flow.

Dad comes into the boy’s room with a torch offering advice. “All we can do is hope, … Hope is keeping a little light on however dark things seem,’ he tells the boy.

That night Finn lies in bed, torch on for Comet and unable to sleep.

Suddenly he notices another light: it’s the bright moon shining right into his room as if it too is hoping.

Eventually Finn does fall asleep and outside the sky is alight with hopes – big and small, old and new, some shining right down on the vet’s.

Next morning it’s an anxious boy who rushes downstairs just in time for a wonderful surprise …

A powerful, positive message shines forth both from Corrinne’s appropriately direct telling and Sébastien Pelon’s illustrations. His effective use of dark, light and shadow serves to intensify the emotional power of the story showing little ones that even in dark times, you should never give up hope.

My Pet Star / Little Fish

My Pet Star
Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw
Orchard Books

Beneath a tree one night, a little girl discovers a star. The star has been hurt by its fall and its glow has gone, so she takes him home.

There she acts as a ‘cosmic super vet’ tenderly nurturing her ‘pet’ star, sharing books with him

and cuddling up with him at bedtime.

The days go by and the young narrator finds out a great deal about her star and his habits and all the while, the star glows brighter. She misses him during the day when he sleeps a lot; and he eschews her games merely looking on silently and benevolently.

At night though, he comes to life, his sparkle preventing the girl from sleeping as he twinkles above her bed – until she makes a decision.

Leaping from her bed she opens wide her window and … whoosh! Away flies her astral friend, fully restored, back into the dark sky where he belongs, from there to brighten up the sky and his new friend’s life from afar.

Corrinne’s magical story demonstrates the importance of kindness, altruism and friendship; it’s beautifully illuminated by Ros. Beardshaw in her mixed media scenes. Her narrator is shown as an adorable child who seems to live alone in a shepherd’s hut or travellers’ caravan.

Little Fish
Emily Rand
Thames & Hudson

Five vibrant, layered neon scenes of life beneath the ocean waves pop out of this book, the covers of which can be tied back to create a standing carousel.

A short rhyming narrative introduces two orange goby fish playing among the corals. The duo become separated when a large shoal swims past sweeping one of them with it, into a dark patch of kelp in which rests a friendly-looking turtle.

Less friendly though is the hungry grouper that lurks in the cave nearby eyeing the little goby. Then, even more scarifying are the white teeth of a marauding shark that appears on the scene snapping its jaws threateningly.

Happily though, the little fish finally makes it back home where it re-joins its playmate on the reef.

A lovely way to introduce your little ones to marine life, but equally this would be great as part of an early years display for a sea-related theme.

The Boy on the Bench

The Boy on the Bench
Corrinne Averiss and Gabriel Alborozo
Egmont

Observe young children in a playground, be that at school or in a park: there are many who love to be at the centre of the action and others who lack the confidence and linger on the sidelines watching and wondering how they might join in. That author Corrinne Averiss has done so is evident in her story of Tom, who is one of the watchers.

As the story opens he sits with his dad on a bench in the busy playground.

When Dad suggests that with dinnertime approaching he should take the opportunity to use the equipment, “In a minute …” is Tom’s response as he looks for somewhere he might find a space he can fit into.

One of the children starts playing at being a fireman, soaking the others as they come down the slide.

Tom is amused and clearly would like to join in the fun but still lacks the courage to do so.

It’s only when a little girl’s teddy is stranded atop the climbing frame as a result of the rescue game suddenly switching focus

that Tom leaves the bench and little by little, starts climbing until …

At last Tom has found a friend and that makes all the difference.

So much so that when his dad tells him it’s time to go home, he’s so comfortable in the Tom-shaped space he’s finally found, that his “In a minute!’ reply signifies something totally different.

Gabriel Alborozo too must have been an avid playground watcher judging from his beautifully observed scenes detailing Tom’s transition from nervous watcher to confident participant in the playground activities.

Sorrell and the Sleepover

Sorrell and the Sleepover
Corrinne Averiss and Susan Varley
Andersen Press

Have you ever kept something about yourself or family a secret from a best friend so as not to feel inferior? That’s what one  of the main characters in this lovely story decides to do.

It revolves around best friends Sage and Sorrel (squirrels). Pretty much everything about the two is the same: they like the same games, sing the same songs and say the same things at the same time. Even their tails have identical stripes.

Sorrel is thrilled when Sage invites her to stay at her house for a sleepover; rather than feeling nervous about her first night away from home, Sorrel is excited as she packs her overnight nutshell.

Sage’s home is impressive, a huge branching conifer that includes nests for her aunties and her cousins as well as Sage’s immediate family. But as the two friends snuggle up for the night, Sage’s comment about looking forward to a reciprocal visit causes Sorrel to worry so much about the difference between the two homes that she decides not to invite her friend back. Best friends don’t have differences, she tells herself.

Sage however is persistent and so Sorrel invents a series of excuses: a poorly mum, a burst pipe; the painting of their home resulting in the newly pink leaves being too wet for visitors to stay.

It’s this pinkness however that finally puts paid to further inventive excuses on Sorrel’s part. It also results in the truth being revealed about her home.

Sage, being a true and empathetic friend, isn’t at all concerned about their difference; to her it’s a cause for celebration.

Telling it with tenderness and understanding, Corrinne Averiss has created a story of two trees and two squirrels that will particularly resonate with under confident children who have done the same as Sorrel, but it’s a book that needs to be shared and discussed widely in schools and early years settings.

Susan Varley echoes the warmth of the telling in her beautiful illustrations. I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since Badger’s Parting Gifts: her art never fails to delight and so it is here: delicate, detailed and utterly enchanting, every spread.

Joy

Joy
Corrinne Averiss and Isabelle Follath
Words & Pictures

Where can you find joy, and once found, how can you capture it? That’s the conundrum young Fern sets herself in this gorgeous story.
Fern’s Nanna has not been her usual self recently; her sparkle’s gone and with it her love of cake baking and even worse, her smile. That’s what upsets Fern most.
It’s like the joy has gone out of her life.” is what her Mum says when Fern asks what’s wrong with Nanna.
Once she’s understood that joy involves experiences that generate a ‘whooosh!’ factor, Fern packs her catching kit into her bag

and sets out for the park to catch some and bring them back for her Nanna.

Sure enough, the park is brimming with joyful moments, but try as she might, those whooshes refuse to be caught in her various receptacles …

and she trudges sadly home.

Now it’s Nanna’s turn to notice how sad her granddaughter is. As Fern recounts her abortive attempts to bring home some joy for her, lo and behold, Nanna’s face breaks into the ‘BIGGEST, WIDEST WHOOOSH! of a smile’ and next day they’re off to the park together.

Corrine Averiss’s empathetic tale showing that unique bond between grandparent and child, is in itself elevating and a gentle demonstration that love is the true generator of joy however manifested: coupled with debut picture book illustrator Isabelle Follath’s tender, mixed media scenes of both sadness and jubilation, this very special book makes one want to break into WHOOOSH-induced handsprings of delight.