Umbrella

Umbrella
Elena Arevalo Melville
Scallywag Press

Imagine a world where everyone is kind and forgiving, and where anything is possible. How wonderful would that be. That is the world Elena Arevalo Melville creates in this uplifting story that begins one morning with Clara without anybody to play with in the park.

But then she comes upon an umbrella, albeit somewhat worn, but Clara picks it up and places it gently on a bench close by. To her surprise the umbrella thanks her and goes on to say, “Look inside me. Anything is possible!”

And so it is, for when she opens it up she finds herself face to face with a splendid playmate. Now for Clara at least, the park is quite simply perfect as it had been to near neighbour, old Mr Roberts when he was a boy.

But from his wheel chair he can only look up towards those tasty-looking apples in the tree and think, ‘if only’. Not for long though for Clara is there telling him ‘anything is possible’, with the umbrella urging him, “Look inside me.”

Before long, not only has Mr Roberts got an umbrella full of the yummy fruit, but he’s asking his helper to pick enough for everyone.

And so it goes on until the park is alive with magic and music courtesy of the butterfly band. Everyone joins the dance

except one rather unsavoury character watching from the side with his eyes firmly on that umbrella; a foxy gentleman with only one thing in mind – a very selfish thing.

Can that umbrella work its own special magic yet again and perhaps enable a state of perfection to pervade the entire park?

Debut author/illustrator Elena Arevalo Melville’s use of a minimal colour palette until the penultimate spread serves to make that illustration all the more perfect too. Her somewhat surreal tale of empathy, kindness and community is one to share and discuss at every opportunity.

Then I’d suggest asking listeners to make their own wishes. Perhaps they could write them down and drop them into a partially open umbrella safely secured in a strategic spot.

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Storyteller Sean gives the impression he’s spent time standing behind the heads of young children, observing carefully, so he knows what they’d do should a playful pachyderm burst through the door of their playgroup.
That is just what happens in this book and straightaway the children attempt to accommodate him in their play, be it dressing up, hairstylists …

hide and seek or something more energetic. No matter how hard they try though, things keep ending in disaster.

The children then change tack asking Humperdink what he likes to play and before you can say, ‘come outside’ he’s led the little ones outside for some exceedingly satisfying elephant-stomping, stamping and stumping,

followed by elephant riding right into a jungly place that’s perfect for …

After all that romping Humbert is ready to settle down into something equally creative but rather less energetic; though of course, he and his new friends are always up for a jungle foray.

The joyful exuberance inherent in Sean’s telling is wonderfully echoed in Claire Alexander’s scenes of the characters’ imaginative play. Clearly she too spends time observing little ones – their joie de vivre, their intense concentration on whatever they’re engaged in, and the way their open hearts are sensitive to the feelings of one another, empathetic and full of love.

Perfect for story time in a playgroup or nursery and at home with little ones, this is a book that’s bound to be requested over and over.

There’s Room for Everyone

There’s Room For Everyone
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl

The narrator of this book, whom we first meet in his mother’s womb, takes us through his growing understanding of the notion that no matter how small or large, space can always be shared, so long as those involved are empathetic, understanding and willing to accommodate others.

The boy observes the plethora of toys that fit into his bedroom, the sky that contains all the stars and the moon, the garden that has room for all the birds and the library that can hold all the books he wants to read and more.

As a grown-up, he takes to the sea exploring the world. On his travels he sees the plethora of fish (and whales) the sea can contain; the places on land that are home to vast numbers of animals.

Sadly however, he also observes humans fighting for space – on public transport,

at places of work, in loos even; and much worse, fighting wars over territory.

However, his travels have, as travels do, widened his horizons and his understanding of the best way to live, and it’s that crucial understanding he shares on the final spread.

I read this book on a lovely sunny morning, having just returned from Waitrose where I observed in the car park an interaction between two car owners. One belonging to an elderly couple, who had parked their car in one of the comparatively few spaces allocated for those with infants and pushchairs. (The rest were already in use). The other was a large estate car driven by a man (presumably with a child on board, though I couldn’t see). He was blocking the access to all the parking spaces while in the process of being extremely verbally abusive to the couple just getting into their car: the language he hurled at them isn’t fit to be included here. The car park had plenty of other empty spaces. I thought to myself how ridiculous and unthinking the guy was being, swearing horribly at the two, who were just getting back into their car anyway. Yes, perhaps technically they were in the wrong; but surely it was a demonstration of what the essence of Anahita Teymorian’s heart-warming, and oh so true picture book is showing us and what its narrator shares on the final spread: ‘If we are kinder, and if we love each other then, in this beautiful world, there’s room for everyone.’

Looking further outwards though, the book is also a pertinent reminder of our sad, for some, inward-looking BREXIT times, as well as of the way our country now appears a hostile place for those looking to live here, be that as refugees and asylum seekers, those with medical skills, seasonal workers, musicians, artists or whatever.

Beautifully illustrated with a quirky humour, its messages of kindness, peace and understanding, of altruism and sharing what we have, are crucial reminders for all who care about humanity at large, rather than just their own little niche.

Let’s break down boundaries, not only here but in other parts of the world where barriers, real and virtual, are set up for selfish, inward-looking reasons.

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.

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star
Maria Farrer, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford University Press

Mister P is back and now he’s dropped into young Ruby’s already packed life. With absent father, a mother and a little brother Leo to take care of, let alone attending school, her days and nights are pretty jam-packed and there certainly isn’t room in it, or their not very big flat, for a large white furry polar bear.

He’s certainly not what she had in mind when she made that wish for a birthday surprise. The trouble is, having drifted down in a hot-air balloon and landed in the nearby park, it doesn’t look as though he’s going anywhere in a hurry.
Thank goodness then for kindly neighbour, Mrs Moresby, who’s not averse to supplying the odd packet or so of fish fingers.

Activities as diverse as busking (to raise money to repay Mrs Moresby), and skateboarding (Ruby is a fan on account of her father and eager to improve her skills; Mr P. needs four skateboards and he’s pretty inept but determined) feature large and very large.

‘Perseverance, guts, determination, friends’ those are the requisites for Connor to be a skateboarder. They’re also what Ruby deems she needs to survive.

Survive she does and much more, emerging by the end, emotionally stronger, with a greater self understanding and generally an all round better person, thanks in no small part to Mister P. a character that utters not a word throughout the whole story, but also thanks to Mrs Moresby, an understanding headteacher and new friend Connor.

This fine book encompasses a number of themes including empathy, tolerance, acceptance and diversity, all of which are subtly woven into the story that also includes the needs of young carers. It’s beautifully illustrated by Daniel Rieley.

Mouse House

Mouse House
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape

John Burningham returns to the theme of mice for the first time since his 1964 classic, Troubloff: the mouse who wanted to play the balalaika.
The mouse, or rather family of mice in this story has no musical inclinations; rather they desire only to live peaceably alongside the human family whose house they share.
The mice are fully aware of the humans, keeping well out of their way and only emerging at night once the humans have retired to bed.
The humans in contrast, are completely ignorant of their co-residents.
One evening though, on his way to bed, the boy spies a small furry creature …

Before you can say, “Look, there is a mouse,” his father has called the rodent exterminator.
The children are firmly on the side of the mice insisting they’re harmless. They have just until morning to alert them; so they write a note warning them of the imminent danger.
Exit one mouse family …

The following morning the mouse catcher comes: job done, so he says.
The children know otherwise and watch the mice at play from their bedroom window, even making things for them to play on.

But, with the coming of winter, their playthings and the mice are nowhere to be seen. Where can they have gone, without even leaving a note, the children want to know.
I wonder …
In this exploration of the secret world of mice and children, Burningham’s work is as fresh as ever, yet has that enduring, timeless appeal for both youngsters and adults. The former will revel in sharing the children’s secret and the artist’s delicate touch; the latter will delight in the detail, including the copy of Borka, (an early Burningham classic), being clutched by the boy on his way to bed. And who wouldn’t be charmed by the sight of the mouse child holding his cuddly toy …

I’ve signed the charter  

 

 

Everybody’s Welcome

Everybody’s Welcome
Patricia Hegarty and Greg Abbott
Caterpillar Books
In our increasingly troubled times, picture books such as this, with its strong inclusivity message, are more important than ever.
It came about as the result of a strong desire on the part of Tom Truong of Caterpillar Books in reaction to the shattering news that the UK had voted to leave the EU, to produce a book for parents like himself to share with young children that embodied ‘ideals of refuge, inclusivity and friendship’.
Currently living in Stroud, a town that since the Syrian crisis, has adopted the catchphrase ‘Everyone welcome in Stroud’ I felt immediately drawn to this poignant, political tale of empathy, acceptance and collaboration.
We start the story with mouse standing in a forest clearing, dreaming of building ‘a great big happy house’.

It’s not long before mouse is joined by a frog who has lost his pond and has nowhere to go. Together they start constructing and before long are joined by some runaway rabbits fleeing from an eagle; they are only too willing to help with the project. Next to come is a misunderstood brown bear; he has much to offer the enterprise and is welcomed with open arms.

Building continues apace with more and more animals coming to join in and a spirit of co-operation rules throughout.
What this allegorical rhyming story shows so clearly is that despite superficial differences, we all have much to offer one another. With open arms, open minds and open hearts we can embrace our fellow humans in a spirit of co-operation and unity.

Greg Abbott’s animal illustrations, with his use of cut down pages, really do bring out both the woefulness of the displaced animals, and the spirit of collaborative bonhomie as each one is welcomed, accepted and a new open community is formed.

A thoughtful Emmanuelle whose final comment on Everybody’s Welcome was  “We all need to be kind.”

I’ve signed the charter  

Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

Counting with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Tiny Cat is an energetic bundle of mischief with a particular penchant for red wool. At the outset there isn’t any but then yippee! A ball of the red stuff rolls right along. That quickly becomes TWO! THREE! FOUR! Which is all the creature can really juggle; but still they keep coming.

Clearly Tiny Cat’s counting skills have yet to develop further, though oddly the feline’s vocabulary encompasses ‘ABOUT A DOZEN– emphasis on the about here I should add.

Still though, the creature’s appetite for the red stuff isn’t satisfied: ‘LOTS’ leads to a very greedy ‘AS MANY AS YOU CAN GET’ but even that isn’t sufficient. SOME EXTRA gives way to …

Will the frisky thing ever realise that enough is enough?
A wonderful visual comedy with a delightfully playful star: Tiny Cat most definitely commands the performance, and viewers will definitely demand instant encores.

The Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books
A small girl – the narrator – and her younger brother return to the playground in search of the skipping rope left behind earlier. There’s no sign of their rope but they follow some sounds of laughter and in the clearing, come upon, not the friends they’d anticipated. but a group of foxes enjoying a skipping game.

Doxy, foxy, / touch the ground. / Doxy, foxy, / turn around. / Turn to the east, / and turn to the west, / and choose the one that / you like best.
The children decide the foxes are less adept skippers than they on account of their tails and Luke lets out a giggle. Fortunately the foxes aren’t offended: instead they approach the children and ask for some coaching. Soon animals and humans are playing together happily, taking turns to hold the rope ends. When the little girl’s turn comes to do so, she notices the name, painted on the handle.

It’s her name, but also happens to be that of one of the foxes; and, the little creature has assumed it now belongs to her because of a wish she’d made.
Does the little fox’s wish come true: what does the little girl decide to do?
A wonderful, slightly whimsical tale of empathy, altruism and kindness, and a delightful portrayal of the way young children so easily slip between fantasy and reality, told with sensitivity that is captured equally in Sakai’s glowing illustrations and Aman’s words, which in their direct simplicity, echo the voice of a child. Such exquisite observation.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Elephant’s Umbrella

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The Elephant’s Umbrella
Laleh Jaffari and Ali Khodai (translated by Azita Rassi)
Tiny Owl
Elephant, a kindly pachyderm, is always ready and willing to share his prized possession, a brightly coloured umbrella, with his fellow animals whenever the need should arise.
One day though while the elephant is taking a nap, the wind whisks his umbrella away and it ‘gives’ it to the leopard.

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There’s a proviso however issued by the umbrella: ‘If I become yours … Where will you take me when it rains?’ Leopard’s far from satisfactory response causes the umbrella to continue on its wind- born journey … towards a bear. Bear too wants to take possession …

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but his “I’ll take you to the bees … I’ll take their honey. And then I’ll sit under you and eat all that honey by myself.” response to the same question, has the umbrella again chasing the wind.
It begins to rain …

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and the umbrella searches for the elephant, finds him and the two are re-united. You can no doubt imagine what happens next …
This seemingly simple, mild tale has much to say to us all; themes of selfless concern for others, humanitarianism, compassion, empathy and kindness spring to mind immediately. No doubt readers and listeners will come up with more suggestions. As ever, Tiny Owl has provided a beautiful and thought-provoking book that deserves a place on family bookshelves; and it’s a gift for discussion in early years and primary school departments, particularly those that have “Community of Enquiry’ sessions on the curriculum.
Ali Khodai’s use of a lush palette in his illustrations is perfect for the jungly, rainy setting of the tale.

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