The Suitcase


The Suitcase

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

One day there comes a weary, wan and dusty looking stranger dragging behind him a large suitcase. Challenged by a watching bird as to the contents of his suitcase, the creature answers, ’Well, there’s a teacup.’

Another animal arrives on the scene expressing surprise at the size of the case in relation to a teacup and is told that it also contains a table for the cup and a wooden chair for the stranger to sit on. Up rocks a fox and on hearing what’s being said, implies the stranger is lying.

This prompts him to fill in further details about a wooden cabin with a kitchen or making tea and to describe its surrounding landscape too.

By now the creature is so exhausted he begs to be left alone to rest and falls asleep right away.

The other three creatures discuss things and fox is determined to discover the veracity or not of the information the stranger has given. His friends are less sure that breaking into the case is acceptable but fox goes ahead and the contents of the suitcase is revealed …

The damage is done: still fox insists the stranger lied to them whereas the other two are showing concern.

Meanwhile the slumberer dreams …

And when he wakes up he’s totally surprised at what the others have done …

Audiences will go through the whole gamut of emotions when this heart-rending story is shared, as did this reviewer.

It’s a totally brilliant, brilliantly simple and compelling way of opening up and discussing with little ones the idea of kindness and how we should treat those in need. I love the way the animals and what they say are colour matched and Chris’s portrayal of the characters is superb.

What better book could there be to share with a nursery or foundation stage class during refugee week than this one, offering as it does, hope and the possibility of new friendship.

Paper Planes

Paper Planes
Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

Following his The Snow Lion, Jim Helmore has written another  beautifully observed, enormously moving story.
Mia and Ben are best friends; they do everything together, their favourite activity being making paper planes. In winter, they race them against the geese and hope one day to make a plane that will fly right across the lake.

Then comes some devastating news: Ben and his family are moving to a new home in the city. How will they sustain their friendship when they’re so far apart?

The two exchange planes and vow never to forget one another.

Winter comes; the days are hard for both of them and in her frustration and anger, Mia smashes the plane Ben’s given her.

That night something stirs Mia during her slumbers. The plane in the garden, appears whole once more; and then she’s flying with the geese, high in the sky. Suddenly she spies another plane: could it possibly be?

The next morning she receives a parcel from Ben. Inside is a model plane but it isn’t complete: Ben knows of only one person who can add the wings …

The friendship isn’t broken after all; the connection is still there, and the hope.

Richard Jones’ captures the changing emotions to perfection in his richly textured illustrations. They contain plenty of details, and like the words, a powerful poignancy that is impossible to forget. I love the subtlety of the STEM element especially the way Mia uses both her knowledge from her observations and her creativity to complete her task.

Readers and listeners too will need to use their observational skills to read Richard’s pictures carefully to get the most from this quietly powerful picture book.

Brave Molly

Brave Molly
Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Chronicle Books

This virtually wordless picture book follows young Molly from her window seat where she sits reading and observing three young passers by, out from her house and down the street. But what is constantly lurking close by, sometimes waiting, sometimes following, sometimes stopping to watch?

It’s the monster that bears a strong resemblance to her own drawing tossed into the rubbish bin before she left home. Said monster, so we assume, is a representation of Molly’s own fear of interacting with others.

The three children leave behind a book on the seat they’d stopped on; Molly puts it in her backpack and sets off after them, with the monster not far behind.

Her shyness escalates and with it the number of monsters as she runs, crawls through a tunnel

and climbs trees until she feels almost completely overwhelmed. Somehow though, she summons up the courage to confront the terrors and seemingly they vanish, or almost.

One returns as she attempts to overcome her shyness and return the book: can she manage to get the better of it?

Could a simple word perhaps be all that’s required?

Make sure to check out the endpapers – this moving, empowering story starts and concludes thereon. It’s a great book to open up discussions with youngsters, about overcoming shyness or other fears.

Wordless books leave room for readers’ own interpretations – to ask and answer their own questions, and perhaps draw their own conclusions. Brooke Boynton-Hughes’ softly coloured pencil, ink and watercolour illustrations leave plenty of space for them to do just that, not least just how much inner courage Molly had to summon up to step outside and make that journey into the anxiety-inducing world beyond the safety of her home.

Field Trip to the Moon

Field Trip to the Moon
John Hare and Jeanne Willis
Macmillan Children’s Books

A class goes on a field trip to the moon and almost all the visitors follow their teacher, one particularly curious member of the group lags behind. This student is carrying drawing materials and decides to sit down and make use of them, watched by the residents, one of which narrates the rhyming story.

The student ‘Earthling’ drops off to sleep and wakes up to discover that the spaceship on which the party came has departed. I don’t know what the irresponsible person in charge was thinking of, not doing a head count first. The now sad-looking Earthling starts drawing again as the lunar inhabitants cautiously approach.

The initial surprise of a face-to-face encounter rapidly gives way to a creative session with human and lunar dwellers brightening up each other,

sheets of paper and the moonscape with colourful designs.

 

Meanwhile back comes the spaceship prompting the lunarians to hide themselves away though they re-emerge to wave a fond farewell to the departing young earthling who has been rather unfairly chastised, I think, by the group leader.
An experience neither side will forget, for sure.

The child’s body language, and that of the host populace in Jeanne Willis’ lunar scenes speak as loud as Hare’s verbal narrative of this expedition. Were the illustrations created using 3d models one wonders; they’re highly effective and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts – perhaps to create their own group lunar landscape. There’s much potential for classroom activities, as well as for individuals after a sharing of this unusual book.

If you missed it the first time around, coming in June from Macmillan, is a special 50th Anniversary Moon Landing paperback edition of a book previously reviewed on this blog:

The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers

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.

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map / Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map
Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Max Low
Graffeg

These are the latest titles featuring best friends Deri the Dog and Ceri the cat that introduce young children to specific concepts/skills through fun stories. (Here it’s orientation and design.)

The Treasure Map in the former is an old one that once belonged to Ceri’s nan, an erstwhile pirate, so the stripy feline claims. Ceri’s story of said nan sailing the high seas inspires Deri and the two set off excitedly, map in paws, to find treasure.

En route they are joined by the equally enthusiastic Gardener Glesni, Owain the Optician and Farmer Ffion who are more than willing to leave their respective allotment, spectacle selling, and vegetables to join the search.

Eventually the map leads them within smelling distance of the sea.

But is that treasure buried on the sandy beach as they’d been led to believe by the X, and if so just what will they discover when they dig?

The Bird House tells how the friends come upon a curious little bird while out walking together in town. Clearly it cannot remain on Deri’s head so the two decide to build it a house.

They think carefully about the design – a hallway with telephone for making ‘bird calls’ and ‘a place for all its shoes,” they decide; a kitchen with a plethora of bird seed, flowers, a sink; a balloon-filled dining room , amazing tree-patterned wallpaper, a record player (for listening to bird songs) a bathroom complete with bird bath entered by waterslide

and (obviously) a wave machine. The friends get even more carried away with their elaborate plans; but, tools and materials assembled, can they actually put them into action: I wonder?

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, it’s so sweetly silly and I’m happy to report that despite Ceri’s feline-ness, the bird has found two new friends.

If you’re yet to meet Ceri and Deri, I suggest you start here. The friends are a delight and Max Low’s stories are full of charm and engagingly illustrated.