When I Was a Child

When I Was a Child
Andy Stanton & David Litchfield
Hodder Children’s Books

You’re swept away with this enormously heart-warming book right from Andy Stanton’s opening lines, ‘ “Back in the days before you were born, “ said Grandma, / “when the world was a rose’s dream … “ / There was butterfly-and-daffodil ice cream.‘

Back in the day, so she tells her grandchild, the world was ‘a crystal jewel’ full of beauty and magical events: ‘… in the summers of long ago, / when the world married the sun, / there was music in everyone.’

Now though that magic has gone, thinks the world-weary gran. But perhaps it hasn’t.

It’s down (or rather up) to young Emily to re-awaken the ability in her grandmother to see the world as that place of magic, with its beauty and hope once more: ‘ I can show you how to see.” Take my hand and come with me … she gently urges her gran as they embark on further flights of fancy, this time under the child’s guidance.

If you’re not brimming over with the joy it exudes having read this book once, then start over and soak up the transformative power of young Emily’s imagination as she finds magic, wonder and awe even in the most seemingly ordinary things such as  flowers and raindrops.

‘The world is a spinning star … no matter how old you are’ is what’s said on the book’s final spread.

A child’s wisdom is as fresh and young, and as old as the world itself; that is something we all need to remember especially in these troubled times of ours.

Totally immersive, tender and uplifting, this stunning creative collaboration between two  favourite book creators is also a celebration of a special intergenerational bond.

Verbal and visual poetry both: Awesome!

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle
David Litchfield
Lincoln Children’s Books

In a glorious sequel to the  The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield introduces two new characters, busker Hector and his best pal Hugo.

When we first meet the two, life is no longer what it used to be; Hector’s act is, so he says, “yesterday’s news” partly on account of that world-renowned piano-playing bear. The violinist decides it’s time to call it a day and pack away his fiddle not just for the night, but forever.

Now he spends much of his time watching TV, listening to music and sleeping – lots of sleeping.

Hector’s neighbours were prone to be noisy so the old man would keep his windows closed at night; but one night he forgets and his sleep is disturbed by an unusual sound. Out of bed he gets and following the sound, steps out onto his roof to discover …

Hector decides to pass on his wealth of musical know-how to Hugo and soon crowds gather to hear the fiddle-playing dog.
Then one day an extremely famous ursine pianist joins the watchers. He is eager to sign Hugo up for his new band and go on tour.

He gets Hector’s reluctant backing until it’s time for the dog to depart. Then however, jealous feelings strike and the old man says some unkind words. Words he quickly regrets but by then; it’s too late …

Time passes, Hugo’s tour is a sell-out success wherever they play and he’s the star of the show, being accompanied by some amazing animals – Bear on piano, Big G on drums and groovy Clint ‘The Wolfman’ Jones on double bass.

Hector watches them play on his TV and greatly misses not only playing the fiddle himself, but particularly his now famous pal.

Months later, the show comes to perform in his city; but what will Hugo think if his erstwhile best friend is in the audience?

As Hector sits spellbound by the awesome music, he’s suddenly seized by security guards. Is he to be thrown out?

What happens next will make your heart leap with joy: suffice it to say, it’s a maestro performance all round, for as the author so rightly says, there are two things that last a lifetime – good music and good friendship.

Like its predecessor, this story is brilliantly orchestrated throughout. Pitch-perfect, it reads aloud like a dream, is filled with poignant moments; it’s gloriously illustrated with spreads and vignettes that really make for pulse racing and pulse slowing moments of delight and poignancy.

Another show-stopping performance, not only from the musicians, but also from their creator, David Litchfield.

The Spectacular City

The Spectacular City
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Puffin Books (Red Fox)

Safely back from their moon trip in The Marvellous Moon Map, friends Mouse and Bear are off on a new adventure.

Dazzled by the bright lights, sparkle, shine and glitter, Mouse is eager to leave the dark woods and head for Spectacular City. Ever loyal, Bear agrees to accompany him. “I’ve got you and you’ve got me,” he reminds Mouse as they sally forth.

It’s not long before there appears from an alleyway, a character introducing herself as Cat and offering to show them around the city.

With Cat in the lead, they roam all over the city, through its neon-lit alleys and kaleidoscope streets

but Mouse’s appetite for the bright lights seems insatiable; “More light!” he requests, whereupon Cat invites him to the Glitz – a restaurant atop a skyscraper.

It’s a place that doesn’t admit bears and so having checked with his best pal, Mouse leaves him at the door. Bear reminds him once again “… just call and I’ll come.”

As they sit admiring the glowing river of light down below, Mouse is ready to order his meal almost immediately: Cheese Special is his choice. But what perfectly seasoned meal, on or perhaps off the menu, does Cat have in mind?

Perhaps it’s time for Mouse to bring to mind those “ … just call, and I’ll come.” words of Bear’s before it’s too late …

One cannot help admiring both Mouse’s insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure as well as Bear’s unfailing friendship and warm-heartedness, both of which radiate from the pages of Teresa’s wonderful story and shine forth out of David’s dazzlingly gorgeous, expansive scenes and vignettes.

Having just spend the weekend with visitors including two enthusiastic paper-plane making boys, (I’m still finding their creations around the house), I’m somewhat glad they left before this smashing book arrived. I’m sure its final spread – courtesy of bear – would have prompted a whole lot more paper folding and planes whizzing about the place.

The Marvellous Moon Map

The Marvellous Moon Map
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Red Fox

Mouse and Bear share a house in the big, dark woods, so when Mouse announces that he’s off to find the moon, accompanied only by a the Moon Map he’s in the process of making, Bear offers to accompany him.
Mouse turns him down: “I don’t need your help – I’m the Moon map inventor!” he tells his friend; and once the map is complete, off he goes.

He tunnels, climbs and clambers up into the blackness of the woods. Suddenly, as he’s urging himself forwards who should emerge from the shadows but his ursine pal. Once again his help is refused, although Mouse cannot, so he admits, see his map in the darkness: but Bear responds with “I know, Mouse, … But I’ve got you, and you’ve got me – so we’ll be all right.
The two proceed with Mouse leading the way, until they reach a stretch of water; a stretch far too wide for them to swim across.

Once again Bear is reassuring. He then takes the map and to Mouse’s consternation, starts folding it.

Eventually, after some manipulation, and the odd bit of grumbling from Mouse, there before them is …

But in such a tiny craft, against such high waves, will they ever manage to find the moon?
Teresa’s lovely story with its two endearing characters, the reassuring repetition of Bear’s words of encouragement and the delightful surprise finale find, combined with David Litchfield’s entrancing illustrations make for what I’m sure will become a storytime favourite.

Grandad’s Secret Giant

Grandad’s Secret Giant
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Imagine having a giant in your town, one with “hands the size of tables, legs as long as drainpipes, and feet as big as rowing boats.” There is such a one residing where young Billy lives, or so his Grandad tells him: Billy however doesn’t believe it. Especially when Grandad claims he can fix anything such as mend the broken town clock; push the boat stranded in a storm to safety on the shore; and even help cars cross a bridge that’s partly fallen down.

Moreover, the reason Billy can’t see this wonderful being is, so Grandad says, that the giant keeps himself secret “because people are scared of things that are different”.
The trouble is that if nobody can reach to the top of the wall upon which the townsfolk are painting a mural, it will remain unfinished. So, Billy has a dilemma: should he get up at dawn, go to the mural, hope to see the giant and enlist his help, or continue in his disbelief and leave the wall as it is? The former wins out but only so the lad can prove Grandad wrong about the whole giant business. Off Billy goes accompanied by his dog, Murphy.
Who should be waiting right beside the mural but the …

real … HUMUNGOUS and … TERRIFYING!
Billy beats a hasty retreat but then, having put a considerable distance between himself and the giant, pauses for thought. Could Grandpa be right about people being scared of difference? Back he goes to tell Grandad about his experience. Was it a mistake to run away, he wonders?
Perhaps; but perhaps too, there is a way for Billy, with Grandad’s help, to show the giant he’s sorry. A plan is conceived and executed; then comes the waiting …

Will the giant accept the apologetic offering? Will he rescue Murphy for a second time, and … ?
I got home from a few days in London to find this book waiting for me. After the tragedy that had just happened there, its messages concerning reaching out, embracing difference and friendship resonated all the more.
Heart-wrenchingly beautiful and ultimately, uplifting, this stunning book for me, out- plays even The Bear and the Piano.

I’e signed the charter 

The Bear and the Piano & Little Bear

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The Bear and the Piano
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
There are some amazing picture book debuts this season: here’s one from David Litchfield that absolutely oozes style and panache.
A young bear cub discovers something unexpected in the forest one day and it’s something that, once he gets his paws on it, draws him back again and again and again for days,

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weeks, months and years as his plinking and plonking slowly becomes beautiful music with a power to transport him to magical places far away from his arboreal home.
Now a large grizzly, his musical prowess attracts other bears and then, some talent spotting humans. Thus, he leaves home and heads for the bright city lights of Manhattan …

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and stardom …

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What price fame and fortune though without your friends? Time to head for home thinks the bear and back he goes bursting with tales of life as a celebrity. But all he finds when he reaches the forest clearing is …

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Surely it can’t all have been for nothing, can it?
Executed with remarkable finesse, a fine virtuoso performance all round. It has all the qualities of a classic in the making.

Here’s one that’s already established itself as such:

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Little Bear
Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Red Fox pbk
Many moons ago in an edition of Learning to Read with Picture Books I featured this book in its previous I Can Read incarnation. It was the first of my key ‘Taking Off’ titles and I said of it, ‘a classic whose literary quality is indisputable.’
With four short stories in which Little Bear discovers the value of his own fur coat, makes birthday soup, visits the moon, and makes some wishes, together with its wonderfully warm illustrations by Maurice Sendak, this remains a book that all young children should encounter on their journey as readers. It’s great to see this Red Fox publication of a very special book.

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