The House of Madame M

The House of Madame M
Clotilde Perrin (translated by Daniel Hann)
Gecko Press

Following on from Clotilde Perrin’s super-sized Inside the Villains comes another large format lift-the-flap picture book.
Once again this one immediately snares the reader’s attention as they’re invited to enter and explore the residence of Madame B by an extremely strange-looking being.

Enter if you dare for she doesn’t, so we’re told, live alone in this strange house. There too dwell creepy creatures aplenty, hiding in unexpected places to fill you with the frights.

As you peek inside each room you’ll likely be brushed by cobwebs, scuttled over by spiders, grimaced at by alarming monsters and your nostrils will be assaulted by smells of mould and decay; you’ll feel icy winds and hear creaks as you open doors, lift flaps, and come upon jokes of the weirdest kinds.

Hilariously creepy details abound – lurking in the cupboards, in the pots and pans, even beneath the loo seat, in this veritable treasure trove of frights and giggles for chilly nights.

Assuredly a book to relish far beyond the night of Halloween; this is one to enjoy snuggled in a warm place with a comforting hot chocolate and cosy slippers.

I still have a much treasured copy of Jan Pieńkowski’s awesome Haunted House on my shelves. This slightly more macabre offering will sit alongside it as a 21st century complement.

The Gobbledegook Book

The Gobbledegook Book
Joy Cowley illustrated by Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is an a smashing anthology that brings together twenty of New Zealand author Joy Cowley’s much-loved stories, poems and nonsense rhymes, newly illustrated by Giselle Clarkson whose witty, energetic art is full of fun – a kind of visual poetry.

Open the book anywhere and you’ll find something to love be it the bizarre Nicketty-Nacketty, Noo-Noo-Noo that begins thus;
‘There once was an ogre called Gobbler Magoo / who lived in a swamp where the wild weeds grew. Nicketty-naketty, noo-noo-noo.’

It continues in this sing-song fashion for a further 13 verses, each spread with a splendid illustration.

Or perhaps The Tiny Woman’s Coat about an old woman in need of a coat who is helped by the kindly animals she encounters will tickle your fancy: I love the swirl of rustling autumn leaves and the happy snug-as-a-bug final scene.

How many young listeners will know what a singlet is but they surely will having encountered Uncle Andy and his multi-purpose garment.’Uncle Andy bought the singlet / from an army surplus store. It was the only upper garment / Uncle Andy ever wore. That’s as maybe but it also doubles as a foot warmer, a carrying pouch, a wire substitute, a fire extinguisher and a tea towel. This item has one snag though but to discover what, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book for book yourself.

You’ll also meet several felines including Greedy Cat,

Grandma who owns not spectacles but Goggly Gookers and gives other crazy answers to children’s questions, an exploding pumpkin

and The Jumbaroo that gets a pain in its woggly and more.

Everything about this book is perfect. For those who love to read aloud and those who listen, it’s an absolute cracker: utter zany joyfulness – a treasure for family and school collections. Buy it to keep and buy it to give.

Read it here, read it there, read it pretty much anywhere.

Two for Me, One for You / Otto Goes North / Cornelia and the Jungle Machine

Here are three recent picture books from Gecko Press each of which has friendship at its heart

Two for Me, One for You
Jörg Mühle
Gecko Press

In this fable-like tale two hungry friends, Bear and Weasel find themselves disagreeing over how to share the three mushrooms the former discovers on her way home through the forest.

Weasel cooks them for dinner

but at the table, Bear lays claim to the extra one on account of her bulk; Weasel counters that with a demand for mushroom number three saying, “I’m small, and I still have to grow”

From that small beginning grows a fully-blown fight: Bear found the mushrooms, Weasel cooked them perfectly; it was Bear’s recipe but Weasel’s favourite food and his tummy is rumbling; Bear’s stomach is bigger and with it her hunger; Weasel mentioned a rumbly tummy first; Bear wanted the extra mushroom first, she says and insults start flying. This prompts Weasel to procure mushroom number three and wave it aloft just as a fox happens to be passing by with its eye on the tasty tidbit.

Shared shock horror on the part of Bear and Weasel after which the two wish one another ‘bon appetit’ and tuck in.
Then comes dessert – uh-oh!

Comic timing combined with droll mixed media scenes of the escalating situation (I love the forest setting with the kitchen set-up) make for a fun way to introduce youngsters to the notion of sharing: how might they solve the ‘afters’ issue?

Otto Goes North
Ulrika Kestere
Gecko Press

Otto is a lemur friend of Lisa the lynx and Nils, a little bear. He has cycled many months, years perhaps, to visit the two northerners and to paint the famous northern lights to hang on his wall back home in the south.

But when he sallies forth with paints and brushes he quickly discovers that it’s so freezing cold that painting anything but zigzags is well nigh impossible. His friends are surprised since he like them is covered with fur, but they take him to the sauna along with a bowl of warming soup, instructing him to spend the night there.

Lisa and Nils consult their books – all two of them – and as luck would have it one is about wool. Even more fortunate is that the book is illustrated, for Lisa has forgotten how to read. The two make use of the pictures, together with initiative and set about combing their own fur, spinning it into wool, using vegetable leftovers to dye it and knitting a wonderful sweater – a true work of art. (Followers of a certain Scandi detective series will know of the Scandinavian predilection for fancy sweaters).

When Otto eventually emerges, somewhat recovered, from the sauna, they present him with the splendid gift.

Then, snugly clad in same, he is able to spend several hours painting outside.

The three then pass many contented days together before their visitor sets off home with happy memories and a wonderful item to add to the arty pieces already hanging on his wall.

A wonderfully heart warming story portraying the spirit of friendship that goes the extra mile, some amusing banter between the main characters and whimsical illustrations of the chilly Nordic setting (love the green roof) make for a satisfying book to share.

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine
Nora Brech
Gecko Press

Cornelia dislikes the large, gloomy home she’s moved into. There’s nobody to play with and since it’s clear she’s not going to help unpack, her parents send her outside to look around.

She sallies forth into the surrounding forest accompanied by her scruffy-looking dog and thus begins an incredible adventure.
Up, up, up a ladder that descends from one of the trees she climbs and encounters a boy named Fredrik who invites her into his treetop abode to view his many inventions, in particular his jungle machine.

Wheels are turned and buttons pressed whereupon tropical plants appear from what look like vintage gramophone horns and morph into a fully-fledged tropical jungle wherein lush fruits abound. A huge bird descends to take the children flying before dropping them beside a winding river where a sailing boat awaits.

After an incredible adventure, Cornelia bids her new friend farewell, knowing that henceforward, she’ll have any number of further rendezvous to look forward to.

This gothic style fantasy unfolds in little over a hundred words of dialogue and intricately detailed sequences of Edward Gorey-like illustrated spreads showing Cornelia’s magical mystery experiences that will draw in readers, helping to ensure that like the girl, they will be eager to immerse themselves in the make believe world of the imagination. The vertical orientation of the pages heightens the aerial nature of the tree top story.

The Runaways

The Runaways
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

As a result of a fall, Gottfried Junior’s much loved, curmudgeonly grandfather is in hospital with a broken leg. His son hates visiting him but in his grandson Grandpa has a kindred spirit.

Pretending to be at football training Gottfried Junior visits Grandpa and suggests running away.

The following week having told his parents he has a football camp requiring an overnight stay, Gottfried, armed with meatballs his mother has made, persuades Adam aka Ronny to help with transport and thus begins operation breakout.

The destination is Grandpa’s island home where he’d lived with Grandma till she died. It takes Grandpa two hours to walk up the hill to the front door but it’s worth every laborious step

and once there the old man dons his old clothes, resumes his place at the table and savours some of grandma’s last ever jar of lingonberry jam. (The remainder has to last the rest of his life and part of Grandma “is still in it.”).

The next morning it’s time to leave but first Grandpa needs to do one or two things. Finally they do though, young Gottfried with his head full of questions about what his parents, especially his dad, will say when they discover his deception as well as others about whether or not Grandpa can keep his promise about no longer swearing in preparation for a possible meeting with Grandma in another life.

Eventually, acceptance and peace come for all, Grandpa, his son, and the young narrator Gottfried; and the end is powerfully affecting.

With occasional touches of musicality, Ulf Stark’s gently humorous story is told, for the most part, in a straightforward manner that adds to its impact while Kitty Crowther’s colour pencil illustrations have their own power that perfectly complements the honesty of the first person narration.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar
Catharina Valckx
Gecko Press

Zanzibar the crow wants to be in the newspaper but can he impress special correspondent Achille LeBlab who comes knocking on his door? Seemingly not, for his talk of mushroom omelettes does nothing to inspire The Voice of the Forest lizard reporter, who leaves him his business card, just in case.

Dented though his ego might be, Zanzibar isn’t entirely deflated when he retires to bed that night. The lizard’s visit has set him thinking and the crow’s thoughts turn to a rather bizarre possibility. “I’m going to lift a camel in the air with just one wing!” he resolves.

Then comes the task of locating a camel but thanks to seagull mail deliverer, Zanzibar is soon on his way, heading south to find the desert and therein hopefully, a small skinny dromedary.

Further help comes courtesy of Sidi, a fennec fox that leads our traveller to a tent wherein resides the object of his desire.

When the task seems doomed, Zanzibar’s new friends come up trumps and then it’s back to the forest for the crow.

His mole pal, Paulette believes his astonishing story but what about Achille LeBlab?

Let’s just say that the power of friendship (not forgetting that of mushroom omelette) works wonders in this enormously engaging story that demonstrates that within us all lies something extraordinary. Also working wonders are Catharina Valckx’s charmingly droll, three colour drawings.

Song of the River

Song of the River
Joy Cowley and Kimberly Andrews
Gecko Press

In this new illustrated Joy Cowley story first published 25 years ago, Kimberly Andrews re-imagines a journey of a little boy, Cam and his adventure as he follows a river from its trickling source all the way to the sea.

One spring morning the lad decides not to wait for his grandfather’s promise to take him to the sea but instead he listens to the watery voice of the first trickle, the waterfall, the leaping trout, the green and gold frogs as the stream becomes a river

that widens, deepens and joins other rivers. Then its voice is that of ‘big brass engines soaked in oil’,

growing louder at the wharves to become ‘the voice of salty wind and crying birds and deep, secret places where whales swim with their young.’ And all the while the river urges Cam to continue his journey until eventually there before him, ‘wild and blue and beautiful … and going on forever’ is …

A sea whose song is deep and wide and truly wonderful.

Back home again, the boy tells his grandfather of his adventure and once again receives the ‘One day we will go there,” response.

No matter whether the boy’s travels were real or imagined, his journey was filled with wonder.

Joy Cowley’s poetic narrative truly sings throughout and is made all the more powerful in the company of Kimberly Andrews’ superb landscapes executed in muted, natural earthy hues.

An awe-inspiring tribute to the natural world and to storytelling itself.

Nits! / Encyclopedia of Grannies

Here are two picture books from New Zealand publisher Gecko Press

Nits!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

In the latest Simon story, Sephanie Blake brings her own brand of humour to nits, the dreaded little creatures that make your scalp itch.

Simon decides he loves his classmate Lou, but she loves another named Mamadou.

Then Lou gets nits.  Where might they have come from?

Now Simon is in with a chance … The outpouring of affection he receives from Lou isn’t the only thing she bestows upon her new love however.

Nits are part and parcel of foundation stage classrooms nowadays, so much so that the mere mention of them from a parent or carer gives we teachers itchy heads too; (even reading this book made me start scratching).

This simple, funny story provides a good opportunity to reassure everyone how it’s not shameful to have those ‘little visitors’ and to talk about how they can be treated.

Share at home or at nursery or playgroup.

Encyclopedia of Grannies
Eric Veillé (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Gecko Press

Here’s a modern and amusing take on grannies that starts with a focus on the different kinds of grannies you might come across, followed by a look at age: ‘Some grannies are 58 … some are 69 … and some are even 87!’ (Perhaps it should span an even wider age range. I once taught a five year old whose granny was 35 although she called her ‘mummy’; her actual birth mother was then 18 but the child had been told she was her big sister.)

Veillé employs questions to explore inside a granny;

and out: ‘Why do grannies have creases?’; the mystery of why grannies travel on buses –we don’t learn the answers to the last two however; and ‘Do grannies only knit cardigans? – definitely not.

Other scenarios look at flexibility; time – grannies appear to have more of it at their disposal than others;

what a good rummage in a granny’s bed might yield, hairstyles, travels and more.

In reference book style, the book includes a contents page (of sorts), a glossary and a list of suggested further reading (all tongue in cheek of course) and the illustrations are a quirky delight. There’s one snag though, apart from the “Green Gran’ included in the reading list, every single one is white.

Sturdily built to withstand the frequent reads this book might have; but don’t be deceived into thinking it’s for the very young; the droll humour requires a degree of sophistication.