The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish
Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

‘A boy and his grandpa sat drawing one afternoon.’ So begins Sang Miao’s first book as both author and illustrator in which at the start we see the two together as they share a conversation about a special kind of jellyfish and immortality.

Not long after, the boy learns that his beloved grandfather has died and that night he feels lost.

In a dream his grandfather returns and takes him along on his very last journey, beneath the ocean to a yellow door.

Beyond the door is his destination, The Life Transfer City.

This dream world is a place where those who have died choose a spirit creature to become that will live on in memory. There, after meeting some of the other choosers, boy and old man must part company.

Miao’s dream world is alive with spirit animals and strange-looking fungi illustrated in an arresting colour palette giving a surreal feel to the whole place, a place wherein the end of life offers a new beginning as something or someone altogether different.

Whether or not reincarnation fits into your worldview, with its themes of death and rebirth, this is a powerful, uplifting story, told with the utmost sensitivity that should be of great help to grieving children and their families.

The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns
Dr Temisa Seraphini and Sophie Robin
Flying Eye Books

Most people consider those much loved unicorns, that are all the rage just now, are imaginary; Dr Temisa Seraphini, author of this book and ‘leading expert’ so she says, on unicornology, would like to persuade readers to think otherwise.

She divides her fanciful presentation into three parts: the first being “What is a Unicorn?; the second provides examples of unicorns from various parts of the world and the third looks at the relationship between humans and unicorns. Her over-arching aim in all this is to encourage those magical creatures of yore back into our technological world of today.

In her introduction to the first part we read that unicorns are herbivorous but unlike their horse cousins, have magical properties; the author places them in the order Artiodactyla that includes, giraffes and goats among other even-toed ungulate creatures, assigning them to a separate family: Unicornus.

Then on the first spread we’re shown the six different species of the legendary creatures on a evolutionary timeline.

This is followed by a page detailing which parts of the unicorn’s anatomy have magical properties: Did you know that unicorn tears can apparently heal the sick and that the drinking of unicorn blood provides unimaginable strength. Hmmm!

The Horn is the next topic and there are supposedly three varieties – ridged, smooth and pearlescent; the latter so loved by some recent picture book creators; and if you believe it, in 1858 someone unearthed a skull that had once borne a unicorn’s horn. Uh-huh!

The second section takes us to six different habitats (with accompanying atlas), from the regions around Mount Everest

to the sandy African dunes and the moorlands of northern Europe. We learn  how different adaptations to climate have occurred over time  There’s an introduction to the winged variety and flight.

The final part talks of legendary unicorns; those who found their way into the annals of history or became subjects of artistic representation, as well as introducing some other unicornologists, giving guidance on tracking and communicating with the creatures.

Tongue in cheek though all this may be, it’s fun and rather enchanting. So too are Sophie Robin’s detailed illustrations that will definitely make readers smile as they peruse the pages and get lost in the spellbinding silliness.

A Mouse Called Julian

A Mouse Called Julian
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books

This is the tale of a rather reclusive rodent, one Julian, a mouse who invests a considerable amount of his time dodging other tunnelling animals, avoiding the farmer and her dog, and evading the clutches of the barn owl. So much so that he’s completely unaware of the watchful beady eyes of a fox.

One particular night said fox – a particularly cunning creature – creeps up to Julian’s cosy residence and smashes through the window.

Fortunately for the little mouse however, he’s unable to reach his intended prey and gets himself well and truly stuck.

The wily devil then has the audacity to ask for Julian’s assistance in extricating himself, claiming to be just popping in for a friendly social visit.

Now Julian has no desire to be stuck with this vulpine visitor so he does his best to free the beast; but no amount of pulling and pushing makes any difference, so come dinner time, Julian decides to share his meal and some nocturnal conversation with the intruder. During this time both parties realise things of significance.

The following morning Julian succeeds in releasing the fox who disappears off into the woods once more.

Things go back to normal for Julian until on his ramblings he finds himself confronted by one of his arch enemies.

Its eyes aren’t the only pair watching our furry friend though; who should come creeping along but a certain fox and can you believe,  he swallows Julian right in front of the owl.

Is that the end for the little mouse?

Not quite for there’s a surprising twist in the tale of this cracking story, which is best summed up in the words of the fox himself – ‘Wow we ware weven.”

I’ll leave you to work that one out and to relish Joe’s delicious finale when you bag yourself a copy of this enormously satisfying saga. Full of suspense, it’s a veritable visual and verbal feast.

Fanatical About Frogs

Fanatical About Frogs
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

For this fifth book in the series Owen Davey has chosen to focus on our amphibian friends the frogs.

Frogs in all their glory (and here Owen includes toads) can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Thus far about 7000 species have been discovered but that number is not static especially since many are very small and well camouflaged. All this and more we learn on the first spread.

On the second spread, (Warts and All) focusing on the northern leopard frog, the author discusses the particular abilities and features of Anurans – their eyes and eyelids, the tympanum, legs, feet (sometimes with sticky pads) and where appropriate, their warty bumps.

Other topics each given a spread concern the skin; feeding;

colours, pattern camouflage and other means of self-protection; ectothermic regulation (the means by which frogs regulate their temperature).

Communication,

metamorphosis; a focus on the Red-eyed tree frog, some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ varieties each occupy a spread. Next there’s a look at size – the biggest and smallest species – and a gallery showing the actual shape and size of 19 different frogs, each one having its own unique beauty.

Then, as in all Owen’s titles in this series comes ‘And the award goes to …’ show-casing the most transparent frog, the loudest, the best impersonator, the creepiest, the best jumper and the most dangerous frog. Hmm, I wouldn’t like to encounter that golden poison arrow frog; it exudes a lethal poison 20 times more deadly than any other frog.

Also characteristic of the books, along with the playful topic and paragraph headings, is a spread of associated mythology that gives paragraphs on four folklore frogs. The vital topic of conservation is the final focus and there’s a concluding index.

Informative, fascinating, absorbing and as always, stupendously well illustrated and enormously enjoyable, is this excellent non-fiction book for home or school.

Monty and the Poodles

Monty and the Poodles
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books

Whether or not you’re a dog lover, you’ll find it hard not to be enchanted by Monty and Ginger, stars of Katie Harnett’s new picture book.

Monty is a stray living on the north side of town, Ginger a pampered poodle residing at Poodle Mansions on the opposite side.

One day the two meet in an art gallery, and thus begins an unlikely friendship.

When Monty sees Ginger’s home he really wants to live there too.

Ginger likes the idea but there’s a problem in the form of Miss Lillabet. This battle-axe enforces a strict ‘Poodles Only’ policy at the Mansions.

Ginger enlists her fellow poodles in operation transformation,

but will their crafty canine ruse have the desired effect?

Poodle Mansions certainly does gain a new resident …

but perhaps a rule governed life, albeit a peachy one, isn’t for everyone, or rather, every dog.

Is there maybe another way for the two friends to be together …

Told in a direct manner, celebrating difference and inclusiveness are at the heart of Katie Harnett’s humorous story.

Rich in pattern and with a flattened perspective, her playful pictures, which range from full double spread to vignette, give a cinematic feel to the book.

Katie has created another winner with this one.

Pip and the Bamboo Path

Pip and the Bamboo Path
Jesse Hodgson
Flying Eye Books

Thanks to deforestation, poaching, an illegal pet trade and accidental trapping the red panda population is critically endangered.

It’s on account of deforestation that little red panda Pip and her mother have to leave their Himalayan forest home and go in search of a new nesting place.

“Find the bamboo path on the other side of the mountain. It connects all the forests together and will lead you to safety.” So says an eagle, and the two pandas set off on a trek through the mountains in search of the path.

Their long, perilous journey takes them high into the cold shadowy mountain regions

and across a rocky ravine until eventually they reach the edge of a brightly lit city.

It’s a chaotic place but is it somewhere they can make a nest? And what of that bamboo path: do the fireflies know something about that? …

The spare telling of Jesse Hodgson’s story of endangered animals serves to highlight their plight and her illustrations are superb.

From the early scene of sinister silhouettes of the tools of destruction,

shadows and inky darkness powerfully amplify Jesse’s portrayal of Pip and her mother’s journey in search of safety.

Hello, Mister Cold

Hello, Mister Cold
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

The opening paragraph from The second in the Tales from the Hidden Valley sequence repeats that used in the first book before plunging readers into deepest winter. This one however starts not in the winter-engulfed valley but in a distant town.
Enter one Maximillan Cold, ‘child of the richest, most ambitious, coldest family in town.’ To his family’s shock horror, the lad wants to be a musician and so the family disowns the boy trumpeter who joins a band.
Its leader however doesn’t appreciate his TINC-BLIN-TUT improvisations and so fires him instantly.

Maxi boards a train but is soon ejected by some travelling musicians and thereafter lost, he finds shelter in a cave, the floor of which gives way sending him cascading down between precious stones and fossils.
The chilly world in which he finds himself is that inhabited by Yula, just off for her music practice with Sara, and the other assorted characters we met in The Artists.

It’s the tiny, onion-headed ballerina who finds Maximillan lying flat out in the snow. Concerned at his inappropriate garb she opens his suitcase and dresses him in swathes of clothes, making him look like a ‘giant’ Thing.

This Thing accidentally alarms the hurrying Sara, causing her to start and fall down in a faint.

Concerned, Maxi resolves to find a safe place to take her and thus allows himself to be led to a dead tree wherein he deposits her and wraps her up warmly. Meanwhile, a watching raven, alarmed by seeing the little wolf carried away, flies off to inform Sara, thereby starting a rumour that Yula has been kidnapped by a monster.

Sara and her friends then devise a decidedly crazy plan with the intention of hounding out monster Maxi.

After another monster encounter – not Maxi but a totally weird giant worm thing that he himself comes upon, some magical music, the unpacking of Maxi’s suitcase, a realisation on the trumpeter’s part and a further musical rendition,

all ends happily and readers are left to draw the satisfying conclusion that a new friend has been added to the residents of Hidden Valley just in time for the arrival of spring …

Delectably droll narrative drives the plot, which, together with Portas’s quirky portrayal of the fanciful friends in a wonderful mix of scenes large and small, makes for another enormously engaging Hidden Valley flight of fancy. Roll on Book 3.

These stories surely have the makings of a wonderful children’s TV series.