Books to Give

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll illustrated by Minalima
Harper Design

Beautifully designed and arrestingly illustrated with interactive features is the award-winning design firm Mina Lima’s latest classic from Harper Design. It’s clear that Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima (best known for their visual graphics for the Harry Potter films), thoroughly enjoyed doing the visuals for this weird and wonderful world created by Lewis Carroll.

Some of their delights include Alice with extendable limbs for growing and shrinking; Tweedledum and Tweedledee have layers of interchangeable articles of attire – brilliant;

an unfolding chess board map to navigate one’s way through the world of the Looking Glass; the Cheshire Cat has a pull-tab so you can make it appear and disappear leaving only a grin.

Reading this story beloved from childhood in an interactive way, opens up new insights and every page turn brings fresh delight be it the tiny motifs surrounding the numbers, the ornate borders, the flamingo croquet club that swings to whack the hedgehog, or the richly patterned, deliciously quirky full page scenes – the portrayal of the card playing King and Queen of Hearts is out-of-this-world genius.

I could go on at length extolling its delights but let me just say, this is a book to treasure, to buy and to give; it deserves a place in everybody’s collection.

Seasons
Sam Usher
Templar Books

This super boxed set contains Sam Usher’s seasonal picture books Snow, Rain, Sun and Storm, all previously reviewed on this blog and now in a smaller format.

They portray the beautifully observed, very special relationship between a lively little boy and his Grandad (who likes to take his time), and the adventures they enjoy together

In each story Sam’s wonderful humorous ink and watercolour illustrations show the possibilities of the season to perfection.

What a cracking present this would make for any young child who doesn’t already own the full size editions of the tales.

The Story Orchestra: Swan Lake
illustrated by Jess Courtney-Tickle
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a short, look and listen retelling of a classic Tchaikovsky ballet, the listen element coming from the ten sound buttons – one per spread dropped into the scenes of the flock of swans as they fly past Siegfried; the lakeside at sunset where the four cygnets become dancers watched seemingly by deer, squirrels, birds, the trees even, and others. We see Odile dance with Prince Siegfried and dupe him into believing that she is Odette, the enchanted swan, watched we’re told by the wicked Rothbart who has placed the princess under a curse.

This version has a ‘happy ever after, on Earth’ ending.

At the back of the book, is a short biography of the composer, Tchaikovsky, with details about his composition of Swan Lake. Alongside you can replay the musical excerpts and read a discussion of each of the instruments, rhythms and musical techniques that make them so compellingly beautiful.
There’s also a glossary giving definitions of musical terms.

The Little Fir Tree

The Little Fir Tree
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Christopher Corr’s reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen classic story is a cautionary tale that ends rather differently from the original.

Christopher’s characteristic dazzling folk art style illustrations follow the little fir tree from its place deep in the forest where it stands feeling discontented with its lot, as other, bigger trees around are felled. Learning that they are to be used to build cabins and ships, the tree insists it too wants to “become a ship and sail on the sea.”

“Don’t wish your life away … Every moment is precious” is the sage advice from the birds that comment on its beauty, as do others – human and animals during the next couple of years.

But then comes the fir tree’s opportunity to have a sparkling adventure of its own. Having been cut down it’s taken into a grand house where children adorn its branches with festive decorations.

Its time of glory though is short-lived, although the fir tree does enjoy a sharing of The Snow Queen

before its branches are stripped of all its adornments by eager hands just before bedtime, leaving the tree eagerly anticipating their replacement the following day.

But it’s not to be, for next morning the tree is taken outside and put in the shed where it stays abandoned with nothing to do but reminisce about its life back in the forest – “It was the best place in the world … If only I’d known it then.”

Corr doesn’t leave the tree rueing its fate though, for come spring, the children drag it outside once more and there they give it a new persona; and thanks to its old friend Squirrel, there’s also an opportunity to create life anew.

Live in the moment and appreciate what you have is the gentle message that emerges from this fine book.

Greta and the Giants

Greta and the Giants
Zoë Tucker and Zoe Persico
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The impassioned 16 year old Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg is often in the headlines and here we have an allegorical picture book tale of a forest-dwelling Greta and the troubled animals whose beautiful home environment is threatened by thoughtless greedy giants.

The importance of conscious interaction with both the land and the animals that make its various environments their home, comes across powerfully through both Zoê Tucker’s words and Zoe Persico’s spirited illustrations.

One can’t help but wish that the real world culprits were as responsive and had consciences that made them respond as positively as the giants who, in this heartfelt fable, change their ways for the better.

Yes, this inspiring story has a happy ending but as its creators acknowledge, the real Greta is still fighting the Giants (industry and governments).However there are things that everyone, no matter how young, can do to make a difference where climate change and the climate crisis is concerned; if we all work together ‘we can change the world’. That in itself makes the book a must for all families and classrooms where there are young children.

(Thanks to the publishers, 3% of the cover price of every copy of the book, which in the UK is printed on 100% recycled paper, will go to Greenpeace UK.)

Lights on Cotton Rock

Lights on Cotton Rock
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Totally out of this world, breathtakingly brilliant is this science fiction picture book by David Litchfield.

It begins with star-grazing Heather whose chosen place to contemplate the universe is Cotton Rock. Here she sits and with torch directed up, sets her sights towards the star spangled sky in the hope that someone in the inky black of space will see her light.

Believing that there are others somewhere in outer space she flashes her torch off on, off on … until lo and behold, it looks as though her wish has been answered for into the forest glade there appears …

Sadly the ensuing awesome encounter is over all too soon

and the spacecraft departs.

Is this to be a once in a lifetime experience?

Heather certainly hopes not for she goes back to Cotton Rock at intervals hoping that her alien friend will return and transport her far away.

As she grows older Heather’s visits to her rock become less and less frequent but she never loses that hope …Could it happen?

Or could it be that what we most yearn for isn’t in fact what will ultimately come to mean most to us; maybe what we are truly looking for is just so close we can’t see it …

With every book David creates, I think to myself, he just can’t better that, but then he goes and proves me wrong. I can think of very few illustrators whose use of dark and light comes anywhere near what is between the covers of this book, at every single turn of the page; it’s utter genius.

I keep on going back to it and gaining new insights but then that’s what happens with the very best picture books.

The Mole and the Hole

The Mole and the Hole
Brayden Kowalczuk
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

It’s kind of dark and boring being Mole if you’re stuck inside your dark hole, never seeing a fellow creature or the light of day.

Try as he might, our Mole narrator finds that however much he digs, there’s always something blocking his exit to the great outside.

“No moles above ground!” comes the cry from the rocks doing the blocking.

Mole muses on the problem: thus far his time spent above ground has always been devoted to playing with friends, basking in the sun and doing his business,

whereafter down he’d go again. A good neighbour most certainly – or is he?

No matter what clever ideas he comes up with – disguise, joke telling or downright lying – nothing succeeds in shifting the determination of those rocks to keep him down under..

Is he now destined to be forever sub terra, he wonders.

Suddenly though there is light at the end of the tunnel and Mole finds himself face to face with …

He beats a hasty retreat but not long after our friend is heard extolling the virtues of his new living place.

What about his new neighbours though: are they equally enthusiastic about their new neighbour? Um …

Disney character artist and now debut picture book author-illustrator Kowlaczuk’s digitally created scenes of Mole’s totally inappropriate, un-neighbourly behaviour and what his neighbours think of it, are depicted with a deliciously dry humour that will delight young listeners. Listeners who will enjoy the fact that no matter what, no matter where, Mole is always accompanied by his best friend and silent participant Grub..
At the same time, the story wherein showing not telling is key, wryly demonstrates the importance of being a good neighbour for all concerned.

A thought-provoking addition to the FL First Editions list.

Flock

Flock
Gemma Koomen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is the latest in the Frances Lincoln First Editions series of debut picture books and introduces readers to thumb-sized people called the Treekeepers, and in particular one named Sylvia.

Sylvia is something of a loner and despite her role as a nurturer and mender, gatherer and tender, she is almost unnoticeable as she goes about searching for just the right twig or petal to take back to her special secret tree hollow to use in her play.

One spring day, a very windy one, Sylvia discovers a bird in her special hideaway and she decides to look after it. She names it Scruff and soon the creature has found its way into her affections.

She even wants to fly like Scruff and so mustering her courage, Sylvia holds on tightly as the two soar skywards on a journey of discovery.

They spend the day together exploring and encountering new things until as the light fades, Scruff suddenly takes to the wing again

for he’s spied a flock of birds looking just like him. Scruff is lost no longer.

Scruff and Sylvia return to the secret tree hole but Sylvia knows she must bid her new friend farewell.

That though isn’t the end of the story: rather it’s the start of a new chapter, for soon afterwards Sylvia accepts the invitation of another girl keeper to join her and her friends in their play; and as you would expect they love to hear her stories of her adventure in the sky.

Seemingly, Sylvia will never be a loner again.

Wonderfully whimsical and with a slightly Scandinavian feel, Gemma Koomen’s story is enchanting. I love discovering new authors and illustrators so was thrilled to receive a copy of this book. The wildlife details are a delight, making every spread something to become immersed in and I’m sure I’ll be discovering new quirky Tree Keeper activities on each re-reading. It’s certainly the case so far and I’m sure young listeners will want to spend ages pouring over the pages too.

‘A tree keeper adventure’ announces the cover so let’s hope further adventures are to come.

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an absolutely beautiful, gentle but powerful story of love and of loss.

Umpa’s garden is the young child narrator’s favourite place, filled as it is with flowers and fruit trees. Umpa shows his grandchild how to plant seeds and watch them grow. He also plants stories in her mind, stories of imagined worlds – wonderful new places they can travel to together; places that, fuelled by the imagination can stay with you forever.

Time passes; Umpa grows older

and eventually he dies.

His distraught grandchild grieves, “The clouds had swallowed me whole’ she tells us.

Then one day, she remembers: his legacy lives on …

and he will always be there in her heart and in her memories of those treasured experiences they shared together.

Books and stories have transformative powers: Victoria’s new book is a wonderful reminder of that, showing some of the myriad ways those powers can help to heal, to bond people together, as well as to fuel the imagination. The softness of the story is evoked in her beautiful pastel colour palette, her graceful lines and the fluidity of her images. Do spend time on every spread; there is so much to see and feel.

A book to share and to cherish.