With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Du Iz Tak?

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Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Walker Books
Google translate often comes to the rescue when one is confronted with a piece of text in an unfamiliar language. I doubt it would be of help here though for the characters in this story speak ‘insect’. It’s delivered in dialogue – nonsense dialogue unless of course, you happen to be a damselfly or another insect.
Du iz tak?” one asks the other as a pair of damselflies gaze upon an unfurling shoot. “Ma nazoot.” comes the reply. Now, as this brief exchange is contextualised by the picture we can take a guess at its meaning ‘What is that?’ and ‘I don’t know.’ in the same way somebody learning English as an additional language might.
Time passes: The shoot continues to grow and to the left, the dangling caterpillar has become a pupa. More bugs discuss the ‘thing’ -a plant, but what kind? They need something:“Ru badda unk ribble.” We need a ladder – context again.
They call on Icky who lives, conveniently, close by …

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A ladder is produced, a cricket serenades the moon …

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and work on building a ‘furt’ starts. Then danger presents itself in the form of an ominous arachnid

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that soon starts enveloping their enterprise in a large web, until that is, along comes a large bird putting paid to that. Happily the gladdenboot remains intact and eventually, fully unfurled delights both the whole insect community and readers.

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That however is not quite the end of the story for the cycle of nature must take its course with further transformations – plant and animal – so the whole thing can start over … and over and …
By this time readers will most likely be fluent readers of ‘insectspeak’, but whether or not this is so matters not: the superbly whimsical story visuals carry you through with their own spectacular grammar.
I do wonder whether despite being from the US, Carson Ellis could be having a satirical dig at the nonsense words six year olds are asked to read in that ridiculous phonics test they’re faced with towards the end of Y1; the one that many who read for meaning come unstuck with; the one the government insists is assessing reading. It’s not. At best, it’s merely assessing one aspect – decoding. Rant over: this extraordinary book is a total delight.