Lionheart

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Lionheart
Richard Collingridge
David Fickling Books
We join small boy, Richard hugging his toy lion and attempting to convince himself “There’s no such thing as monsters.” So what is that sound that sends him dashing from his bedroom, running through the streets, over the hills, through the forest into the fields hotly pursued by something – of that he’s convinced himself. The landscape grows more menacing …

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so on he goes, leaving behind his dropped toy,

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until he emerges in a magical jungle where he finds himself surrounded by animals of all kinds …

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But that monster’s still in hot pursuit so Richard keeps running … and running … and then what’s this? Can it be Lionheart, a toy no longer?

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Protective, he certainly is and Richard climbs on his back and clutching his mane, the two set out fearlessly on an amazing journey, but the monster still lurks; Lionheart feels it and sees it looming large … coming … closer until a final confrontation occurs …
Massive in impact, there are faint echoes of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are in this dramatic tale about finding your inner courage – your inner roar. Collingridge’s cinematic paintings are alternately scarily tension filled and reassuringly comforting. A tremendous follow-up to When It Snows and well worth the long wait.

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Christmas is Coming part 2

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I Love You Father Christmas
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
A small child’s delight in the festive season is lovingly portrayed through Giles Andreae’s bouncy rhyme, which is actually a letter to Father Christmas, and Emma Dodd’s characteristically bright, bold pictures.

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The latter have enormous child appeal and her jolly scenes of a totally endearing character should reassure any young child who is slightly nervous about Santa.
One to give to the youngest children.
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Are You Ready For Christmas?
Helen Lang
Templar Publishing
It’s Christmas Eve and Reindeer meets and greets friends Mouse, Squirrel and Dove. Each tells him of their special last minute preparations but then Reindeer seems to have forgotten what his special role is. The final fold-out reveals all.

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This is actually in board book format but I think this rhyming story could be enjoyed by children beyond that stage too. With its bold, coloured lines, patterns and touches of sparkle, Helen Lang’s artwork is quirky and charming. The scenes set against the dark night sky are particularly striking.
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Lollipop and Grandpa and the Christmas Baby
Penelope Harper and Cate James
Phoenix Yard Books pbk
When Lollipop receives the news that there’s to be a new addition to her family and that it will arrive just in time for Christmas, she is far from enthusiastic. Crying, stinky and attention grabbing is what she thinks of babies. “Christmas is ruined!” she feels as the infant’s arrival time draws ever closer. Fortunately for Lollipop, Grandpa is on hand to involve her in all the festive preparations and when on Christmas Eve, Dad and Mum have to leave her to go to the hospital, he helps her hang up the stockings. But on Christmas morning, although Santa has left presents, her Mum and Dad still haven’t come back. It’s over to Grandpa once again – to do the Christmas dinner this time. And even if it’s not quite the conventional festive meal her parents might have expected, it does have that Wow factor. So too does the tiny Christmas Baby that Dad is holding all wrapped up and definitely NOT crying.
This, the fifth of the series, is as enjoyable as the others and Lollipop should win some new friends with this seasonal goodie.
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Belle and Boo and the Merry Christmas
Mandy Sutcliffe
Orchard Books
The fourth in this series about a little girl and her rabbit friend (toy or real?) sees the inseparable pair getting ready for Christmas. First they decorate the tree and Belle has to explain to Boo what Christmas entails and then together they put up paper-chains, make cards and Christmas cookies, hang up their stocking and finally snuggle up for the night. Then, next morning after opening their respective presents, Boo decides they should share the joys of Christmas with their animal friends outside in the garden.
A gentle, slightly whimsical story with an old-fashioned charm, illustrated in appropriately soft colours. with just a touch of festive sparkle on the cover.
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Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps!
Nicholas Allan
Red Fox pbk
A few years back, Father Christmas was in need of a wee; now he needs something much more explosive. It’s the result of his over indulgence in – wait for it – Brussels sprouts – on his final supper before departing on his Christmas Eve delivery round. With his wind-filled tum, it’s a good thing that Santa is accompanied by his helpful elf who is on hand to push him down chimneys and utter ‘Sssshhh!“ warnings when those bubbling, rumbling, gurgling sounds start to emanate from his explosive belly. Santa does his level best to keep his wind in but his utterance of “Ooooo! my tum – it’s going to start. This time I’m really going to f . . . !” signals that the effort has become just too much. Out comes a ‘cheep’ and its time to run from the stirring child. But, horror of horrors! His reindeers are totally zonked in the sleigh. Perhaps it’s as well then that the elf’s final exhortation goes unheeded: time to make use of that WIND power to launch the sleigh skywards and homewards. PWHOOOAH!
As before, this slightly risqué humour will have young children wriggling on their bottoms in delight especially, in anticipation of the final grand
F F A A A R R T T !
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A Letter for Bear
David Lucas
Flying Eye Books
Bear is a postman, painstakingly ensuring he delivers every letter in his sack to the correct address each day and then trudging back to his cave to drink soup and wonder what it would be like to get a letter himself. The trouble is Bear never sends any letters. One windy day when out on his round, the wind takes the mailbag scattering the contents all over the snow. Bear collects all the letters but the addresses are smudged so he conscientiously knocks on each door to ensure correct delivery. The recipients are thankful but Bear feels even lonelier as he returns to his cave. Time for a change, he thinks as he gazes out at the snowy night. He sets to work writing Christmas party invitations and next morning he delivers a whole snowstorm of letters to his new acquaintances.

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That evening having waited for ages and ages, Bear is about to give up when he hears voices outside. It’s party time after all and even better, the following morning guess who gets a whole sackful of letters of his very own.
The real strength of this book is Lucas’ intricately patterned illustrations. Almost every double spread has a geometric border of patterned triangles, rectangles, diamonds or scallops and set into some of the scenes, we view Bear’s lonely world through circular peephole vignettes. His use of limited colours – shades of blue, orange, purple, russet, pink and orange and his use of geometric shapes for, or to pattern, trees, buildings, flowers and more, add to the impact. Then there are angled viewpoints, interrupted borders and beautiful snowscapes . This book is a small masterpiece of design.
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The Smallest Gift of Christmas
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
Having eagerly anticipated the great day, Roland is less than impressed when he dashes downstairs on Christmas morning to discover a very small parcel awaiting him. So, he wishes for a larger one again and again and … Still not satisfied he storms off and eventually launches himself in a rocket to search the whole universe. It’s not until he glimpses Earth as a tiny dot growing ever smaller through his telescope, that Roland begins to realize that bigger isn’t always better, unless of course, it’s your home and you are heading back towards it.
A simple message amusingly rendered through Reynolds’ comic scenes. This author/artist has the unfailing knack of getting right to the nub of things every time and, he clearly demonstrates with all his books, that small things can often be among the very best.
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Alfie’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Bodley Head
Making cards and decorations, counting down the days with an advent calendar featuring a nativity scene, Christmas cooking, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, choosing and wrapping presents, writing to Santa, carol singing, hanging up Christmas stockings and a family Christmas dinner with visiting relatives:

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these are just some of the ingredients of four-year old Alfie’s Christmas so lovingly told and illustrated in Shirley Hughes incomparable style.
This is a traditional family Christmas full of warmth, friendship, love, bustle and excitement, and some secrets too. It’s Christmas as we would wish it to be for everyone, before Christmas started in October and consumerism took over.
A book to buy and cherish year after year.
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Don’t forget:
Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish
Rebecca Harry Nosy Crow pbk
Lonely Snow Bunny’s Christmas wish is for a friend so she writes to Santa with her request.
For full review of this lovely story, now in paperback, see Seasonal Selection: Christmas Books 2012

Also reviewed there and now in paperback is :
When It Snows
Richard Collingridge
David Fickling Books pbk
A small boy’s favourite book transports him on a magical snowy Christmas adventure .

Tinies and Monsters

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Very Little Red Riding Hood
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
David Fickling Books
With Red Teddy in hand and blanket, tea-set and a box of cakes safely stowed in her pull along bag, Very Little Red Riding Hood sets out to her Grandmama’s for a sleepover. Before long, what should she meet but a Wolf. “A Foxie!” she cries in delight giving him a big hug. More than a little put out at her lack of fear and her refusal to give him a cake, the Wolf suggests gathering a bouquet for Grandmama. Red – insists our feisty young heroine, inviting ‘Foxie’ to a game of chase all the way to Grandmama’s and a ‘cuppatea’ when they get there. But is this a step too far? Well, there’s a rib-tickling ending but if you want to find out what happens, then get your hands on this sweetly funny variation of the traditional story.
With her toddler talk and winning smile, Very Little Red Riding Hood is an absolute charmer.

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Rosa and Nina sharing Little Red’s exploits

The end papers show the route she took to her Grandmama’s house but also a number of other homes occupied by ‘Very Little’ fairy tale characters. Is this then the start of a series? I do hope so. Certainly this first time collaboration between Heapy and Heap is a whole heap of fun.
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The Tiny King
Taro Miura
Walker Books
In a castle far away lived a king. But the castle was very, very big and the king was a very, very Tiny King. The Tiny King had a big army and a big, big table for his meals but delicious food isn’t much fun if you’re all alone. It’s a good thing then, that the Tiny King fell head over heels in love with a princess, albeit a Big Princess and she agreed to be his wife. Before long, the Tiny King and the Big Queen had lots of children and what seemed like a very big castle for one Tiny King now felt just right with ten children playing and laughing the whole day.
Of course, big families mean lots of sharing: sharing meals, sharing the space on the big white horse’s back and sharing a riotous bath time; and what comes of sharing? Happiness; certainly that’s so in the case of the Tiny King.
Japanese artist and author, Taro Muira uses precision, patterned cut-outs in bold, bright colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes, which stand out dramatically against flat black backgrounds. These scenes remind me of scenes from young children’s small world and construction play.

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Told in a straightforward manner, this simple neo fairy tale is a delight to share with under fives.
(Quite apart from the story, there is a wealth of learning opportunities here: talking about sharing, counting, identifying shapes, mathematical language and concepts relating to size, pattern making, block play, collage and small world castle play.)
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
There is a lovely twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mothers. What is Mummy Camel to do when confronted with a baby Polar Bear in the middle of the desert and baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.
With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round, and a text that trips off the tongue, this is one to share  with the under sixes and will prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Enormouse
Angie Morgan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Enormouse was big; much, much bigger than all the other mice in Mouse House. But being big had its advantages. Enormouse could lift REALLY heavy cheese, reach high up things and give lifts to tired-legged little mice. One day while out exploring he and his best friend Tinymouse find a large book with pictures of furry animals. That’s when Tinymouse concludes that his pal is actually A RAT. How the other mice laugh at poor Enormouse. Off he goes to find a new home with the rats but, what a shock he gets on arriving at ‘Rats’ House’; there’s mess everywhere. His offer to clean up is laughed at and once again Enormouse feels at odds with his housemates. In the meantime, his mouse friends have seen the error of their ways and set off in the hope of bringing their absent friend back home. But it’s now dark and they don’t know where to go…
From the mouse photo portrait endpapers, every turn of the page brings much to talk about and explore in the mixed media illustrations. The squalor of the rats’ house is truly disgusting with the grubby rodents lolling amongst half eaten fruit, discarded chips, over-turned cans, fish bones, filth and flies. You can almost smell the pong.

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Rosa couldn’t resist coming to see what we were so disgusted at.

The story too offers plenty of food for thought with its themes of not judging by appearances, self-belief, friendship and finding ones place in the world.
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Here Be Monsters
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
With the fiercest pirate crew and the fastest pirate ship, fearless Captain Cut-Throat is the meanest pirate to sail the seas. So, when he hears of an island strewn with giant gemstones he is determined to set sail straight away. His crew members though are far from happy; monsters are hiding in the mist, so the legend tells. At first all goes well but then they reach the MIST from which emanates all manner of alarming sounds. “Sail on!” commands the Captain and they do – into the swirling white. ‘ “Here be monsters!” cried the lookout…
‘ “Nonsense!” growled the Captain. “Monsters simply don’t exist.” ‘

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And so he maintains, heading on, unaware of the diminishing crew numbers, until an island comes into view. Once ashore, the penny finally drops but undaunted, the greedy Captain has his mind only on those giant jewels littering the shore. Oh foolish one!
Emmett’s riotous rollicking rhyme rattles along apace and when read aloud, it will have delighted audiences joining in with the repeated refrain of the fearless captain, as they see what he does not – his crew disappearing one by one.
Poly Bernatene draws his inspiration for the dastardly crew from the less attractive members of the animal kingdom with crow, rat, crocodile and blue-bottomed baboon all featuring. The almost filmic quality of his arresting illustrations adds to the dramatic impact of the story.
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Tales of Old Retold

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Gobble You Up!
Sunita and Gita Wolf
Tara Books
The wily jackal is hungry but he’s far too lazy to search for his own food. Instead he tricks his friend crane into catching some fish. Crane obliges but not only does jackal eat the lot, he gobbles up crane as well. He then goes on to consume tortoise, squirrel and cat. “My, you’ve put on weight!” peacock remarks and meets the same fate. Then along comes a huge elephant. Surely jackal won’t manage to fit an elephant into his now enormous tum but …
Time for a drink of water he thinks. But even jackal’s tummy cannot go on stretching for ever: SQUEE! BLEAH! BLAM! BURST and out tumble all the animals safe and sound.

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And what about jackal? Considerably deflated, he goes off in search of the tailor bird for a large repair job.
This lively retelling of an old Rajasthani folk tale will perhaps remind European readers of the Danish story The Fat Cat or the Russian tale of The Clay Pot Boy. Readers aloud and their young audiences will enjoy the cumulative rhyming refrains and the latter will want to join in this part of the telling.
The illustrations are done by a Meena artist, Sunita, who was taught Mandana art by her mother. (In the Meena villages of Rajasthan women paint the floors and walls of their homes as well as communal areas to mark festivals, such as Diwali, celebrations and the passing seasons using this decorative form. Designs and images are made using cloth soaked in a chalk and lime paste that is squeezed through the fingers of the artist.)
As a frequent visitor to Rajasthan I was particularly interested to see, what is to me a familiar art form, being used to illustrate a story. In order to create this beautiful and unusual book, the artist’s original images (made with diluted acrylic paint squeezed through her fingers) were photographed, converted into graphic images and silkscreen printed – with the jackal rendered in black and the animals he consumes in white – onto specially made paper and hand bound. Truly a work of both art and craft.
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Even quite young children can try out this technique using white acrylic paint on brown sugar paper or better, large sheets of paper painted over with household size brushes in terracotta colour paint and left to dry before the design is added. This can be applied using a variety of tools – fingers, cotton buds, twisted rag, small plastic bottles with nozzles such as those from hair colour, etc.

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Wayland
Tony Mitton and John Lawrence
David Fickling Books
Tony Mitton seems to get better and better. For me this spell-binding reimagining of a northern legend, brought to these shores by the Vikings, is his best yet. Essentially it is a tale of greed, revenge, hope and above all, love. It tells how three brothers, two warriors and Wayland, a smith, take three Swan Sisters as their brides having seized and hidden their swan capes to prevent their escape. Only Wayland’s wife loves him and when the three discover the whereabouts of their capes and plan their escape, she alone hopes to see her husband again. After the wives flee, Wayland’s life gets harder and harder. More and more terrible events occur but eventually, in this version at least, he and his beloved are reunited.
Tony Mitton’s beautifully crafted, lyrical verses are a joy to read aloud, and to get the best out of this book, it really must be read aloud.
‘From out of the dark spring stories
to banish both drear and cold.
So gather you near, come, listen and hear,
Where the fire burns red and gold.’
Equally beautifully crafted and the perfect complement to the poetry, are John Lawrence’s exquisite woodcut illustrations. These really draw you even deeper into the story making you want to linger long over each one.

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There are some allusions of sex in the story so parents/teachers should read this themselves before offering it to under elevens.
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