The Last Tiger

The Last Tiger
Petr Horáček
Otter-Barry Books

Animal freedom and conservation are the themes underlying Petr Horáček’s stunningly illustrated, ominously titled new book that begins in the jungle where there dwells a fearless tiger, the strongest, most powerful creature of all.

When a group of hunters come to the jungle, the other animals are alarmed and flee into hiding, urging the tiger to do likewise.

Undaunted the tiger ignores their warning and he’s spotted by the men who are determined to capture the beautiful creature.

Back to the city they go only to return with more men and a plan.
Luring the tiger into a net, they catch him, and he’s taken away and put in a cage for all to see.

In captivity, the unhappy tiger dreams only of running free in the jungle and gradually wastes away. The humans lose interest in him

and one night he’s able to slip between the bars of his cage.

Free once more, the tiger regains his strength and stature while always remembering that what he values most is being free.

Very much a modern fable, this thought provoking book with its vibrant, richly patterned art invites readers of all ages to consider the fragility of freedom itself.

Caged

Caged
Duncan Annand
Tiny Owl

Wordless books say so much without uttering a single syllable. They challenge us, move us – sometimes to tears, make us laugh or make us feel joyful; they offer us a different way of looking at the world; sometimes they make us feel hurt or anger.

Duncan Annand’s picture book does all these, certainly for me.

Herein we see, simultaneously two threads of interwoven visual narrative, one constructive, the other, in its way destructive, although a construction project is under way. The latter is the work of two eccentric-looking architects.

As the story opens we see the two men busy in the process of destroying what looks like virtually the last remaining tree; a bonfire is ablaze close by and on a branch, a bluebird perches with a twig.

While the men work at bringing cages of brightly coloured parrots and using them to build a circular-based edifice, the bird flies hither and thither building a nest of twigs.

As the construction takes shape its architects perform some perilous climbing and precarious dangling feats to secure the cages in place.

All the while the bird keeps a watchful eye on the process.

By the time the dome is atop the enormous aviary – for that is what is being built – the bird has laid her eggs.
Job done all round. The men certainly appear to think so as they enter their edifice.

Not so the bird however; she has one final act to perform and it’s one of both liberation and entrapment …

Like the architects in his story, Duncan Annand has set the bar incredibly high for his debut picture book that tells a cleverly constructed, enormously satisfying story of environmental vandalism, just desserts and freedom.

This is most definitely a book for all ages and all people in all places. Like those parrots on the final spread, it’s one to make both hearts and imaginations take flight, particularly, the final denouement.

Priceless!

Grandad Mandela

Grandad Mandela
Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela and Sean Qualls
Lincoln Children’s Books

Nelson Mandela is my all time hero and I was thrilled to see this picture book published in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth (July 18th 1918).

It takes the form of a dialogue between Mandela’s great grandchildren Zazi and Ziwelene and their Grandma Zindzi – his daughter, after the children discover a photograph of Grandad Mandela.
Can you tell us about him again?” they ask and a discussion ensues with Zindzi Mandela answering the children’s questions.

It’s an earnest discussion during which we, and the children, learn of South Africa’s recent history, about what it was like to be a child of apartheid (“But why did the white people start making everybody’s lives sad?” … “Did they make your lives sad too?”)

and about the role the family and in particular Mandela played in ending the apartheid regime. “Grandad was fighting for us all to be equal.” she says in response to Zazi’s “Why did Grandad go to jail?

The fight was one that continued throughout the 27 long years Mandela was a prisoner, both by himself and others who carried on the fight for the equality he believed in, and for freedom.

The penultimate question “Do you know what ubuntu means?” comes from Grandma Zindzi who goes on to explain “It means ‘I am because we all are’.
A powerful unifying thought that encapsulates Mandela’s legacy to us all wherever we are, a legacy that embodies service to his people and forgiveness.

Qualls’ illustrations rendered in acrylics, collage and pencil are absolutely superb embodying in turn, love,

hope, brutality (by the police), protest, joy,

family pride, diplomacy and more.

Powerful, inspiring, intensely moving and a wonderful tribute to an amazing man; (it brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer), this is a book for everyone who wants to pay tribute to the icon of equality and peace that is Nelson Mandela and surely that is all of us, young and not so young.

Beyond the Fence

Beyond the Fence
Maria Gulemetova
Child’s Play

Thomas and Piggy live together in a large country house. Thomas always takes the lead when it comes to decision making, no matter what ‘He just knew.’

When Thomas’s cousin visits, the boy is preoccupied with her and that’s when Piggy decides to venture outside the confines of the house.

On his walk he encounters Wild Pig.

Wild Pig asks Piggy some thought-provoking questions about his way of life and Piggy returns home.

Thereafter he makes frequent visits to the great outdoors in the hope of seeing his new friend but he never appears.

One evening however, there he is full of apologies and an explanation. He invites Piggy to accompany him into the forest. Piggy declines on account of it being out of bounds although he promises to meet with Wild Pig the following evening.

Thomas’s cousin goes home the next day and the boy is surprised and scornful when he discovers that Piggy has chosen his own way of playing …

Not for long though, for Thomas soon has the upper hand (or trotter) once again.

Will Piggy ever make that decisive break for true freedom? I wonder …

Watch young children playing. There are lots of Thomases but happily there are also plenty of Piggys and that’s what makes life so fascinating.

Maria Gulemetova’s picture book is softly spoken but embodies strong messages about being your own person, standing up for yourself, and what true friendship really means. Her watercolour illustrations (which put me in mind somewhat of the work of Ron Brooks) echo the sparseness of her text and that is what makes the impact of the whole so strong.
It’s a lovely one to share and discuss with people of all ages.

The Lonely Giant

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The Lonely Giant
Sophie Ambrose
Walker Books
My initial reaction before reading this beautiful book was that it’s ‘a selfish giant version’ but I was wrong. The giant in this story is a troglodyte whose cave is in the middle of a large forest. He spends his days uprooting trees and hurling them, spear like into the distance, and destroying mountains boulder by boulder. Inevitably over the years his actions lead to a gradual dwindling of the forest and consequently the loss of the birds and animals dwelling therein till ‘the songs of the forest had gone.’
The giant would then pass the nights alone in his cold cave, pondering on the silence and remembering the erstwhile forest – full of birdsong and provider of wood for his fire.

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These thoughts don’t stop his destructive habits though and one day while busy uprooting trees a little yellow bird flies down and follows the giant the whole day, singing to him. Delighted by her songs, the giant captures the bird and puts her in a cage; but the bird becomes sadder and sadder, her singing diminishing as her sadness grows until she’s too sad to sing at all.

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Seeing the error of his ways, the giant apologises and releases the bird, who flies away. Next day the giant sets off in search of the bird; he doesn’t find her, but notices a complete lack of anything live: no trees, no plants and no little yellow bird. Straightway he begins to rebuild the forest, sowing, mending and planting …

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and then waiting …
Eventually, the forest does grow back and with it gradually, come the animals, until the whole place is full of life once more …

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and the giant is happier than he’s ever been, not least because a certain little friend is there to fill his days with song .
A wonderful debut picture book by Sophie Ambrose: I shall watch with great interest for what’s to follow. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous (I’d like to have shown every one of them) and the end made not only the giant’s heart sing, but mine too.

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If Music Be the Food of Love

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Heartsong
Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray
Orchard Books
Antonio Vivaldi and his music, and stories of orphan girls who grew up in an orphanage/music school, the Ospedale della Pietà (in Venice) were the inspiration for this powerfully told and beautifully illustrated book.
The young Vivaldi was director of music at the institution and wrote many pieces for the girls in his choir.

 

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One of these was the foundling child Laura whose name Jane Ray came upon on a visit to the Vivaldi Museum in a list, written in an old ledger, of the foundling babies left at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Abandoned as a baby, Laura who is mute, narrates her own story telling of her musical education, her daily duties,

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her friendships and how music, in particular her flute playing, finally becomes her redemption.

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Jane Ray’s evocative illustrations have a powerful haunting quality that resonates with the text: Crossley-Holland wastes not a single word as he gives voice to Laura – ‘In the watches of the night. Like a cradle, rocking. Sometimes I think I hear you. Do you love music too? / The drops of water falling onto my stone floor are minims and crotchets, quavers and semi-quavers. Like a song I almost think I know. Like a song you sang to me.’

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Flyaway
Lesley Barnes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The young princess in this lift-the-flap story keeps a bird caged and every morning demands that it should sing for her. One day though, she forgets to lock the cage. The bird escapes and so begins a chase through the entire castle …

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and out into the grounds. There, the princess traps the bird in a net and so is happy once more. Not for long however, for she soon notices that the bird no longer sings. Realising that it longs to be free, she releases it once more and is later delighted to discover that her kindness is rewarded by not one, but a whole host of birds that come and sing for her every night.

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With stylish illustrations, ten things to find and a flap to lift on every spread (some revealing the encouraging “Fly, birdie, fly away!” to the escapee),

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to add to the enjoyment, this book for young readers and listeners embodies an important message about freedom.

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 Exciting event: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition, Piccadilly, 23rd-29th October

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