All’s Happy that Ends Happy

All’s Happy that Ends Happy
Rose Lagercranz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

I suspect that a great many young readers will be sad to learn that this, the 7th book, concludes the My Happy Life series featuring Dani, her family and friends, in particular, her bestie Ella.

The story opens at the start of the Easter holiday without Dani. She’s been off school for seven weeks. But where is she?

Certainly not at home, as visiting classmates discover; nor has she as others assume, gone to stay with Ella. Even she doesn’t know where Dani is, though she’s determined to find out. To that end, Ella writes a letter which she puts in a bottle and despite having been left in charge of little sister Miranda, runs to the cliff to toss her message into the sea. Having done so she goes back to the house but there’s no Miranda.

Frightened of the consequences when her mother returns, Ella goes into hiding too.

Dani herself eventually appears in the seventh chapter; she’s in hospital still recovering from the pheumonia that was a result of her failed attempt to visit Ella in the previous book.

In the eighth chapter there’s a lovely proposal attempt from Danis’ dad to Sadie, leading into much ado about a wedding in Dani’s head.

The real thing does happen though not quite in the same way as she’d imagined but still in Rome; it’s only to be a small affair and without Ella as a guest.

Meanwhile the Italian side of Dani’s family are eager to introduce her to the sights of the city

Once the wedding celebrations are over, there’s more exciting news. But will Dani ever get to see Ella; that always seems to be uppermost in her mind, no matter what.

There are more surprises in store before the end, but as readers know, Dani is determined, resilient and has a firm belief in happiness.

This book is longer than any of the previous ones but Rose Lagercrantz’s terrific, gently humorous text is conveniently broken up into seven parts, each comprising short chapters with plenty of Eva Eriksson’s utterly charming, splendidly expressive black-and-white illustrations throughout.

A smashing solo read, but also a lovely read aloud.

All the Dear Little Animals

All the Dear Little Animals
Ulf Nilsson (trans. Julia Marshall) and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

Told without a vestige of sentimentality is All the Dear Little Animals, a story from Swedish author Ulf Nilsson and illustrator Eva Eriksson. The first person narrative voice is that of one of the participant founders of an unlikely and short-lived enterprise.

It all begins when Esther, another of the founders, discovers a dead bumblebee. Having nothing better to do, she decides to dig a grave for it. Her companion – the narrator – offers to compose an appropriate death poem and they bury the bee in a secret clearing in the woods.

The team of two becomes three when Puttie, Esther’s little brother gets involved. He finds the whole procedure of the next burial – that of a mouse – extremely sad, but soon overcomes his greatest concerns and thus Funerals Ltd. is up and running. Esther digs, the narrator pens poems and Puttie cries.

A suitcase containing a shovel, various sized boxes and other funeral accoutrements (including ‘’ice-cream sticks for small crosses/ Big sticks for big crosses) is packed and the three spend the day providing a service for the pets and domestic animals of family and friends.

By the time darkness falls, all manner of creatures including finally a blackbird

have been duly interred before he children decide to call it a day.

‘Another blackbird sang a beautiful song. I got a frog in my throat when I read. Esther cried. We all felt very reverent. Sadness lay like a black quilt over the clearing. And Puttie went to sleep.’

That’s not quite all though, for after the closing verse of the narrator’s poem comes an absolutely wonderful throw away finale: ‘The next day we found something else to do. Something completely different.’

Both playful and sad, with a touch of whimsy, the combination of text and illustration is just right for those starting out as solo readers, as well as for sharing. More importantly though, the book offers a way to talk about death with young children from any faith tradition or none, that should help them transcend feelings of sadness.

Although written from a child with a Christian world view’s perspective of death, if shared in an education setting, the book could open up a whole topic on religious rituals.

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows / Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall / Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows
Rose Lagerercrantz and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is my first encounter with the delightful Dani whose adventures began with My Happy Life.In this, her sixth instalment the girl is spending the winter break staying with her grandparents because her father has again become sad and is now spending time with his mother and brother in his home city, Rome to ‘think about his life’.

While out ski-ing, the normally cheerful Dani gets that gloomy feeling but then she suddenly thinks of her best friend Ella and remembers that it’s almost her birthday. What better birthday present than an experience – a surprise visit from Dani?

There’s a slight snag though: Ella lives miles away in Northbrook. Of course, being the positive child she is Dani’s sure one of her grandparents will drive her: maybe she doesn’t have a problem after all.

After consideration Grandma asks her if she dares go from Stockholm to Northbrook on the train by herself so long as Ella’s mum collects her at the station. Granpa needs a fair bit of convincing but eventually Dani is on the train bound for her destination.

When she arrives at Northbrook however things start to go wrong; the station is covered in snow and there’s nobody there to meet her. That however is only the first bad thing that happens …

With her near indomitable spirit, Dani is an adorable character. In this book, in a very short space of time she emerges with a lot more understanding of the adult world with its ramifications and frailties.

With its bitter-sweetness, Rose Lagererantz’s writing really rings true and her characterisation is superb.

Eva Eriksson’s splendidly empathetic black and white illustrations are a delight and add an extra touch of piquancy to the book.I will definitely seek out the earlier titles in this series.

Wholeheartedly recommended for solo reading and as a class read aloud for KS1 and early KS2.

Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall
Astrid Foss, illustrated by Monique Dong
Nosy Crow

This is the 4th and final magical adventure of the three sisters, with special powers to enchant, who reside in a castle on the mystical island of Nordovia.

Now Magda, Hanna and Ida must draw on all their strength and bravery to undertake their final quest in this battle of good versus evil, for it’s the Day of the Midnight Sun and the nefarious Shadow Witch is absolutely determined to do whatever she must to obtain the power of the Everchanging Lights and make the skies forever dark.

As always the combination of magical fantasy, highly engaging characters (some animal), a powerful plot with just the right amount of darkness, and plenty of Monique Dong’s lovely black and white illustrations will ensure that early chapter book readers will lose themselves in the adventure.

And do the sisters succeed in ensuring that the Everchanging Lights are in their rightful place by the time the clock strikes the midnight hour? Let’s just say that where’s there’s light and love, there is hope.

For roughly the same age group, there’s more magic in:

Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

This series for the countless young unicorn lovers out there takes us yet again to Lakeside Unicorn Academy for another instalment of magical unicorn delight.

The pupil in question herein is Rose and her unicorn partner is Crystal and after just a month at the school the two are off on a rule-breaking adventure in search of the magical map. It’s not all down to the twosome however, teamwork is involved and they both have to learn what being a member of a team entails.

Engaging, undemanding fun.