The Circles in the Sky

The Circles in the Sky
Karl James Mountford
Walker Books

After reading this intensely powerful fable-like picture book I needed to sit quietly and just be for a while.

Having spent a night hunting, Fox is reluctant to leave his den, despite the disturbing chorus of birds outside; but follow the sound he must so strange and different does it sound. He follows the birds across the rushing river, past the forgotten house and through the old woodlands to a place where many kinds of flowers grow: an entirely new place for Fox. He also misses the birds huddled in a circle on the ground till they suddenly take to the air, but one is left there, lying quite still. Nothing Fox tries can make this broken Bird move but unbeknown to him his attempts have been watched by Moth.

Moth starts to talk to Fox; she talks of the moon reflecting the sun’s rays, even long after sundown. Fox remains puzzled until Moth explains that the bird is dead. “I was trying to be kind,” she tells Fox. “Sad things are hard to hear. They are pretty hard to say, too. They should be told in little pieces. Bird isn’t here any more … because … Bird is dead.” As the realisation dawns for Fox, Moth offers him comfort and the two sit and share their sadness for a while. Further understanding follows for Fox – like the moon always remembering the sun, he can remember Bird.

Yes, death is a confusing time for those left, as Mountford shows, but equally he offers through Moth a model of being there for the grievers, a simple ritual for saying goodbye and most important of all, hope.

Using earthy hues of the natural world that starkly contrast with the black of sinewy Fox, Moth and Bird, geometric shapes including circles aplenty, straight lines and angles, James’ art captures so wonderfully both the stillness of things gone and the movement of living things.

Not a single hint of talking down to children is there in this awesome book, just a beautiful message beautifully presented.

The Puffin Keeper

The Puffin Keeper
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Benji Davies
Puffin Books

National treasure and author Michael Morpurgo has written this story about puffins with Puffin Books’ 80th birthday in mind. Michael is the son-in-law of Allen Lane the founder of Puffin Books whose metaphorical lighthouse lamp definitely illuminated my childhood. Here he has interwoven his own family history, the Scilly Isles, a threatened bird and his fascination with lighthouses, to create a truly memorable read for all ages.

The extraordinary tale begins one dark stormy night just off the coast of the Scilly Isles when bound for Liverpool from New York, a four-masted schooner with its masts broken and sails in tatters, starts to sink with thirty passengers and crew aboard. The event is watched from high up in his lighthouse by the keeper, Benjamin Postlethwaite who risks life and limb to rescue everyone including the story’s narrator, then five years old, and his widowed French mother.

Making several journeys in his tiny rowing boat this brave man rows back and forth five times until everyone is safely on the island. Then in his lighthouse, he silently brews pot after pot of tea, ensuring that all the rescued were kept warm. The boy, an observant lad, is amazed by the paintings of boats done on cardboard scraps and bits of wood each one signed merely BEN, that adorn the walls. The following day when those from the ship are taken from the island, Benjamin gives the boy a painting of a four-masted schooner similar to that from which he’d been rescued.

The boy and his mother then go to live on Dartmoor with his mother’s dour in-laws. Among the horrors the lad has to cope with are Miss Duval (or Devil) a cruel nanny cum governess; following his ultra-strict grandfather’s regime, and at age eight being sent to boarding school where cross country running meted out as punishment becomes a pleasure

and then a medal-winning success. The boy also discovers the joys of painting and reading storybooks but never does he forget Benjamin Postlethwaite.

Having come across an article about the rescue in an old magazine, the boy writes to Benjamin asking if he’d mind a visit from him one day. Around the address he paints a copy of the picture he’s been given. But no reply does he receive.

One day, informing his mother that he’s going on a journey of exploration, he leaves (with her approval) on his bike.

Where is he going? …
That’s nowhere near the end of this wonderful tale but if you want to discover what happens, then get yourself a copy.

In Michael’s prose no matter what his subject, there’s a simple eloquence and perceptive pitch-perfect beauty; and this story with its soft-spoken conservation message and themes of hope and fresh beginnings is, ultimately, uplifting. I can think of no better artist for the book than Benji Davies, whose illustrations with their subtle shades, somewhat reminiscent of Ravilious, truly bring to life the characters, the various settings and the feelings evoked in the text.

A book to have, to hold, to share and, to treasure.

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts
Steve Smallman
Graffeg

This is exactly what we all need right now: a little book to have to hand when everything is getting on top of us, the pandemic news is getting worse day by day, and the thought of not seeing friends and relations looms large. It’s so easy to start feeling like Little Bunny at the start of this book – lost and alone, all at sea.

But as the little creature slowly, slowly discovers through mindfulness, that looking at things from a different perspective,

perhaps by something as seemingly simple as looking outwards instead of inwards, it’s possible to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Yes, better days will surely come and in the meantime, it’s wise to return to Bunny’s reminder as he shares his thoughts in a rhyming narrative, that ‘life’s not as bad as it seems’.

I was fascinated to read how this book of Steve’s developed as he was experimenting with a new technique using a soft pencil. The outcome is a pocket /handbag size book that is assuredly one to give and one to keep. I will certainly be doing both in the coming weeks.

All Because You Matter

All Because You Matter
Tami Charles and Bryan Collier
Orchard Books (Scholastic)

This wonderful, empowering celebration of young Black lives is for everyone, not just those with black or brown skin. Herein author Tami Charles’ lyrical prose poem, an ode to a ‘dear child’ spoken by a parent reads like a love letter to said infant whom we watch in Bryan Collier’s sequence of tender, mixed media portraits, grow from new born infant, to toddler taking his first steps, to story sharer,

to school child, mocked on occasion by cruel classmates.

The author uses ‘matter’ as both verb – ‘The words and pictures / coming together like / sweet jam on toast / … sun in blue sky … / all because you matter.’ And as noun: ‘But in galaxies far away, / it may seem that / light does not always reach / lonely planets, / covered moons, / stars unseen, / as if matter no longer exists.’

Ancestors are recalled – queens, chiefs, legends – but the focal point is always the child being addressed. Yet, this book reassures all youngsters that no matter what, they are loved and cherished ‘strength, power, and beauty lie within you’.

Affirming, awe-inspiring, and acknowledging and remembering those victimised by racial violence – teenager Trayvon (Martin), 12 year old Tamir (Rice) and young man Philando (Castile),

as well as for me, the not mentioned young Damilola Taylor who lost his life in the UK twenty years ago to the day as I write, when just short of eleven years old. What we have here is a great starting point for a conversation that puts forward the notion that Black Lives Matter, indeed, All Lives Matter at all times in their homes, in their community, in the entire universe.

Everyone is an amazing individual; everyone has something to offer whoever and wherever they are; but it starts with children … Parents know that, we teachers know that; it’s up to us to make sure youngsters know that. One way so to do is to share this book at home and in classrooms.

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows
Smriti Halls and David Litchfield
Walker Books

My first thought on seeing the amazing cover of this book was the first song that I learned to sign, the foundation stage favourite, Sing a Rainbow. As I turned the pages, I felt that both Smriti and David truly are singing a rainbow in this awesome book that was originally released as a free download during the summer in partnership with Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories campaign.

On the opening spread we’re in the company of a girl as she follows a fox through a rainstorm, ‘Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun,’ we read as Smriti’s lyrical rhyming text takes the child to the departing day as she pauses, illuminating the fox with her lantern under a star strewn sky.
The walking continues and we read of mountains to climb, ‘Journeys to take.’ …

until it’s time to rest under the now star-filled sky and dream hopeful dreams.

Yes, there are likely to be dark days when worries beset us; days when storms rage both within and without,

but somewhere there’s light and footsteps to follow, friends who care, to guide us all through troubled times, out of the dark and into the light where new life will always come, little by little seed by seed, flower by flower,

bringing hope and cheer, and the promise of better things beyond that darkness, under that rainbow …

Both author and illustrator have clearly put heart and soul into this breath-taking book. Smriti’s reverie of resilience is honest and reassuringly uplifting, while David’s dazzlingly spreads are out-of-this-world gorgeous. Every single one is a place to pause, reflect, imbibe its beauty (even the dark ones), and only then to move on, empowered and full of hope.

Poems to Save the World With

Poems to Save the World With
chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I fell head over heels with Chris Riddell’s Poems to Fall in Love With and now comes this third of his anthologies, published at a particularly challenging time for everyone, whoever and wherever they are. I received my copy on the day the announcement came of restrictions changing AGAIN, which has meant having to revise plans to visit relations with 3 young children. I felt I needed to dive straight into the book to look for some poetic solace, and headed first to the Lockdown section where unsurprisingly I found much that spoke to me immediately. First, Brian Bilson’s Serenity Prayer that begins ‘Send me a slow news day, / A quiet, subdued day, in which nothing much happens of note, / save for the passing of time ’.

Actually, every one is a gem, not least Chris’ own Lockdown that made me well up. In contrast, Roger McGough’s The Perfect Place that opens thus: ’The world is a perfect place to be born into. / Unless of course, you don’t like people / or trees, or stars, or baguettes.’ … and concludes ‘About the baguettes, / that was just me being silly.’ that end really made me chuckle.

New to me but already oft read are Nikita Gill’s Kindness that has four incredible illustrations by Chris and Neil Gaiman’s What You Need to be Warm written originally to support the 2019 UN Refugee Agency winter appeal with these final lines, ‘Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place, / to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say / we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest / season. // You have the right to be here.’

and also from the Everything is Going to be OK section, Rachel Rooney’s Battle Call that will surely spur readers into action.

Among the classical poems Wordsworth’s Travelling ‘This is the spot: how mildy does the sun / Shine in between the fading leaves! The air / In the habitual silence of this wood. / Is more than silent:’ illuminated my woodland walk with my partner the previous day. More than silent it surely was, as our peace was shattered by a very young boy (a modern day Max) out with, I think his dad and , both of whom were howling like wolves for several minutes – stress release I suspect – but very amusing to us in our previously silent wood.

In the same wood on that same walk there’s what I call a troll bridge (made of logs) so I loved finding A.F. Harrold’s wonderful Troll Song made even more so by Chris’ drawings of the troll narrator whose concluding thoughts include, ‘I read a lot of books. They contain other worlds. / For a time I can imagine I’m not living under a bridge.’ Books have certainly been key in keeping this reviewer sane during the challenges of the pandemic.

From the section The Elephant in the Room, is John Donne’s No Man Is an Island that seems even more ironic with this weekend’s announcement of the likelihood of a catastrophic BREXIT no-deal.

In one or more ways, every poem herein helps illuminate the huge challenges we all face, individually and collectively, if we are to make our world a better place for everyone; and what better way to conclude than with Nikita Gill’s uplifting, ‘This is me checking in / sending you the moon as a poem, praying and wishing for us all / a speedy recovery. // And if nothing else, / There will always be poetry/ We will always have poetry.’ from Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

Superbly presented, exquisitely, often intricately, illustrated and enormously uplifting, this is a must for sharing, for giving and for keeping.

The World Made a Rainbow

The World Made a Rainbow
Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What a gorgeous book this is, and it’s pitch perfect for children at the present time of continuing uncertainty when very little seems normal, and for youngsters a lot of what’s happening isn’t fully understood (and that’s only the children!)

Michelle and Emily’s story begins when everyone must stay at home and inevitably friends and relations are being missed – but only until ‘everything mends’ as the child narrator’s mum says unable to be more specific regarding time.

Meanwhile normal life is on hold but there are things that families can do and this one, like so many others during this 6 months of pandemic, have to carry on somehow, some way. And one way is to make a rainbow – that symbol of hope that so many of us have been displaying.

But mum has to work, so it’s down to dad to look after a little brother (‘who’s going berserk’) with the result that our narrator has to be extra creative.

As she works on her rainbow (aided by dad when he’s free ) the little girl finds each new colour stirs a memory or acts as a reminder of something

or somebody.

Eventually her creation is a truly special piece of art and one that she’s happy to put on display in her window so that everyone can enjoy it. And yes, things aren’t perfect but in the meantime there’s much she (and we) can be thankful for.

The story is so movingly and beautifully written and illustrated.

Thank you, Michelle and Emily and of course Bloomsbury Children’s Books for this touching, heartfelt book.

Yes, it’s one for now, but not just for now: it will surely act as a reminder to reflect on in the future, of that time in 2020 when, with ever more new challenges, we all pulled together as communities, showing what the mum in the book said, “All rainstorms must end, and this rainstorm will, too.”  As the little girl says in conclusion, “And we’ll still have each other when this rainstorm ends.’

(A percentage of the proceeds of sales will be donated to The Save the Children Fund.)

Hope

Hope
Corrinne Averiss and Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

Finn is a small boy with a very large dog called Comet. The two are best friends and do pretty much everything together.

One morning Comet isn’t his usual lively self: “He’s poorly,” Mum says, “he needs to go to the vet’s.”

Off go Dad, Finn and the dog in the car. The vet is uncertain about Comet’s recovery but promises to do his best.

Alone in his den on their return, Ben lets his tears flow.

Dad comes into the boy’s room with a torch offering advice. “All we can do is hope, … Hope is keeping a little light on however dark things seem,’ he tells the boy.

That night Finn lies in bed, torch on for Comet and unable to sleep.

Suddenly he notices another light: it’s the bright moon shining right into his room as if it too is hoping.

Eventually Finn does fall asleep and outside the sky is alight with hopes – big and small, old and new, some shining right down on the vet’s.

Next morning it’s an anxious boy who rushes downstairs just in time for a wonderful surprise …

A powerful, positive message shines forth both from Corrinne’s appropriately direct telling and Sébastien Pelon’s illustrations. His effective use of dark, light and shadow serves to intensify the emotional power of the story showing little ones that even in dark times, you should never give up hope.

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.

Wisp

Wisp
Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

The Wildest Cowboy

The Wildest Cowboy
Garth Jennings and Sara Ogilvie
Macmillan Children’s Books

If you’re looking for adventure, saddle up and head west to a town called Fear, home to the roughest and toughest, wildest folk imaginable; those who sport rattlesnake socks and dine upon rocks.

Into town rolls Bingo B. Brown with his enormous grin, his dog and his wagon full of goodies …

but his cries of “Roll up! Roll up!” are met with a stony silence. Seemingly this is the wrong place for his playful pitch: this town is completely joyless, but also downright dangerous.

Alarmed to learn of the wildest scariest cowboy who rides in at nightfall: (so scary is he that even the townsfolk fear him) Bingo decides to leave forthwith and boards the next train.
Suddenly though, who should come hurtling through the carriage window but the dreaded terroriser himself

and the next thing he knows, Bingo himself is hurtling out of the train and through the air, leaving his dog alone with the cowboy.

Time for the entertainer to muster all his courage. Could his collection of fancy bits and pieces, those bow ties and braces, and waterproof suits, finally come into their own?

Jennings’ riotous rollicking rhyme is action-packed and designed to thrill – a treat of a tale in itself, but its combination with Sara Ogilvie’s rumbustious renderings of the action takes the enjoyment to a whole new level.

La La La

La La La
Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

A small girl stands alone and opens her mouth; “La” she sings followed by a few more “La, La La … La”. No response. She stomps across the page and outside.
There she begins chasing and singing to the falling maple leaves, but even her shouts are answered merely with silence.

She continues addressing her ‘Las’ to the pond and the reeds; still nothing comes back.
Dejectedly she returns home, sits and ponders. Later on she sallies forth into the purple, starry night. Once again she begins her singing, directing her vocals towards the moon.

Nothing.
Back she goes and returns with a ladder. So desperate is she for a mere response that she climbs right up to the top … Will the moon finally hear her song?
It does, but not for a longish time and then begins a wonderful moonlit duet.

Virtually wordless, this eloquent symphony of sound, light and colour offers an inspiring message of determination and hope. The whole thing unfolds like a silent movie with the little girl’s body language saying so much about her emotions.

This book is twice the length of a normal 32 page picture book, so in addition to recognising the virtuoso performance of Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim, it was a brave publisher who allowed them room for their duet to be heard in full.

King of the Sky

King of the Sky
Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin
Walker Books
Peter is starting a new life in a new country and what he feels overwhelmingly is a sense of disorientation and disconnection. Only old Mr Evans’ pigeons bring him any reminders of his former, Italian home.

Those pigeons are Mr Evans’ pride and joy, his raison d’être almost, after a life spent underground in the mines, a life that has left him with a manner of speaking sufficiently soft and slow for the boy narrator to comprehend.
There is one pigeon in particular, so Mr Evans says, that he’s training to be a champ. This pigeon he gives to Peter who names him “Re del cielo! King of the Sky!” Together the two share in the training, not only of Peter’s bird, but the entire flock; but after each flight, Peter’s bird with its milk-white head, is always the last to return. Nevertheless the old man continues to assure the lad of its winning potential. “Just you wait and see!” he’d say.
As the old man weakens, Peter takes over the whole training regime and eventually Mr Evans gives him an entry form for a race – a race of over a thousand miles back home from Rome where his pigeon is sent by train.
With the bird duly dispatched and with it Peter thinks, a part of his own heart, the wait is on.

For two days and nights Peter worries and waits, but of his special bird there is no sign. Could the aroma of vanilla ice-cream, and those sunlit squares with fountains playing have made him stay? From his bed, Mr Evans is reassuring, sending Peter straight back outside; and eventually through clouds …

Not only is the pigeon home at last, but Peter too, finally knows something very important …
Drawing on the history of South Wales, when large numbers of immigrants came from Italy early in the last century, Nicola Davies tells a poignant tale of friendship and love, of displacement and loss, of hope and home. Powerfully affecting, eloquent and ultimately elevating, her compelling text has, as with The Promise, its perfect illustrator in Laura Carlin. She is as softly spoken as Mr Evans, her pictures beautifully evoking the smoky, mining community setting. The skyscapes of pit-head chimneys, smoke and surrounding hills, and the pigeons in flight have a mesmeric haunting quality.
A truly wonderful book that will appeal to all ages.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Story Like the Wind

A Story Like the Wind
Gill Lewis and Jo Weaver
Oxford University Press
Gill Lewis has woven a wonderful novella with an up-to-the-minute feel to it. Stories of the refugee crisis continue to feature in the news with desperate people continuing to attempt seemingly impossible journeys in inflatable boats: this fable is such a one and this particular boat is filled with hopeful passengers young and old, ‘clutching the remains of their lives in small bags of belongings.’ The boat’s engine has failed and the boat is adrift on the Mediterranean; but the passengers, their resources dwindling minute by minute, are alive. Even so, they are willing to share what they have. Among them is fourteen year old Rami: he has no food to share so he refuses what the others offer him. What he does have though, is his precious violin: fragile; intricate; beautiful.

I took the only thing I could not leave behind,” he tells the others when asked why he refuses their offers.
Tell us a story to see us through the night,” requests mother of two young children, Nor.
What Rami performs for those beleaguered passengers is, so he tells them a story of Freedom, a story like the wind, a story that begins on the highest plains of the Mongolian desert, known as the ‘land of a million horses’. His story – essentially a Mongolian folktale about a young shepherd and a white stallion that he rescues as a foal, – is powerful, drawing in each and every listener (and readers) and as it progresses part by part, the passengers make connections with their own lives. Carpet seller, Mohammad tells of trying to sell a flying carpet to the woman who is now his wife. Others too have stories to tell but eventually, Rafi’s magical telling is done. It’s brought his audience together in a shared bond of happy memories, of sadness for those they’ve loved and lost, but most of all, of freedom and hope.

With what I fear is an increase in overt racism, in hate crimes and fascism, not only here in the UK, but also in many other parts of the world, this affecting book deserves, (I’d like to say needs), to be shared widely and discussed anywhere people come together in groups.
Music has the power to transform – that is clear from the story;

and it’s something many of us know from experience: so too do words. Let’s hope Gill Lewis’s poignant words here can work the same magic as those of Rami. They certainly moved me to tears several times as I read. But let’s not forget the power of pictures: they too can bring us together, sometimes in shared understanding, sometimes, shared appreciation or awe. Seamlessly integrated into the story, and adding to the sense of connectedness, Jo Weaver’s illustrations rendered in blue-grey shades are at once atmospheric, evocative and intensely moving, as befits the telling.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Ammuchi Puchi

The Ammuchi Puchi
Sharanya Manivanna and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing
To visit India, no matter which part, is an assault on the senses, especially that first time: the sights, sounds, smells, the sheer seeming chaos that surrounds you is almost, though not quite, overwhelming. But somehow, for me at least, there is something about it that gets right into your spirit and doesn’t want to let go; so, you keep on going back again and again and … then, you realise that you’ve fallen in love with the place. This picture book evokes some of the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the country.
Now one of the most striking things about India, particularly the southern part is the dazzling, dancing array of butterflies and it’s something my partner and I both appreciate every time we go. I happen to have picked up a few words of Malayalam and thought I recognised Ammuchi as mother but then realised that word is ‘ummachi’ ; I know grandmother, or rather maternal grandmother as ‘ammacci’ in Tamil (having taught some Tamil speaking 5 year olds in my reception classes) and my Hindi, which is much better, tells me that ‘puchi’ means kiss. So, before even opening this gorgeous book, I was making lots of connections and deciding the title means ‘grandmother’s kiss’.
Let’s get to the story then: the setting, I think, is rural south India; and its narrator is Aditya who lives with his younger sister, Anjali, their parents (Amma and Appa) and grandmother, Ammuchi.

The two children adore their paan-chewing grandmother, despite being somewhat scared by her ghost stories – “Don’t you see it sitting there, with eyes big-big like two moons?” until that is, they grow out of being spooked and join in with her tales of ghost sightings, furnishing their own details to add to her descriptions of the mango-tree dwelling manifestation.

Just as Aditya’s tenth birthday approaches, Ammuchi gets ill, has to go into hospital and dies. The two youngsters, like their parents, grieve and the children in particular struggle to come to terms with their loss: that constant ray of sunshine no more illuminates their lives …

But then one evening a beautiful butterfly flies down and settles on Anjali’s head. It’s “Ammuchi Puchi,” she tells her brother. Next day at school, he tells his classmates of the event, saying, “Ammuchi Puchi is an insect who is our grandmother.” Despite their ambivalence, back home that evening, Aditya ponders further and becomes convinced that the butterfly is in fact his grandmother. His parents’ response and seeming lack of understanding, result in the Ammuchi Puchi becoming the children’s secret. It turns out though, that it’s not only the children who have a secret: the Ammuchi Puchi has one too: one that she reveals to the brother and sister one rainy night;

and so begins the healing and the understanding that Ammuchi’s love will always permeate their lives, no matter what.
Grandmothers have a very special place in Indian families in particular, but grief is a universal phenomenon. What Sharanya Manivannan’s moving, thought-provoking narrative offers for all readers is, ‘a place from which to become aware’. Yes, it’s deeply sad in part; but ultimately it’s about much more than heart-breaking loss and grief: this is a joyous celebration of love, of a very special person who relished life; of family; of the beauty of the natural world; and of the power of the imagination. No matter your feelings about, or understanding of, reincarnation, the author’s symbolising of the grandmother as a butterfly both comforts the child characters and allows for open-ended responses from readers everywhere.
Nerina Canzi’s illustrations complement the telling beautifully. The predominance of vibrant hues in the lush flora and fauna, the fabrics of the clothing, the kolam design on the school floor, the carpets and rugs, underscores the Indian setting while at the same time, reinforcing the message that the story is essentially, about abiding love and the way children have a propensity to transcend deeply upsetting events. In contrast, almost all colour is leeched from the spread dealing with Ammuchi’s dying, reflecting the palpable desolation her death brings to the whole family, and rendering it all the more affecting for readers, not least this reviewer.
A must have book for all family bookshelves and primary classroom collections.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Journey

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The Journey
Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books
Having worked in several London schools where asylum seekers and refugee families are part and parcel of the school community, I was privileged to hear some of their moving stories first hand. The author of this book has also heard and indeed collected such stories from people who have, for one reason or another, been forced to flee their homes and undertake long and dangerous journeys in search of safety. Her book is the result of that collection of personal stories and its author/illustrator has done the tellers proud. It focuses on one particular family of four that very quickly becomes three as the narrator’s father is killed in the war, leaving a frightened mother and her two children. It is their story  we share as they prepare to leave their home and undertake a perilous journey – the mother calls it a ‘great adventure’ – towards a ‘safe place’ where they can live free from fear and from constant danger.
Leaving at night so as not to draw attention to themselves, the family is on the move for days, gradually shedding material things as they go …

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and eventually reach the border. Here though, surrounded by forest and blocked by an enormous wall, they are stopped and told they cannot proceed.

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Sleep overtakes them and next morning having eluded the guards, they are approached by a man whom they pay to get them across and on to the next stage of the journey.
After a perilous boat voyage during which stories of monsters give way to stories of magic and kindness …

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finally land is reached once more and the three board a train, a train that crosses borders, heading they hope for a new place – a safe haven – where, like the birds that they watch from the train, they can start afresh  where a new story can begin.
It’s impossible to read this without having tears in your eyes, it’s so beautifully told; part of its power being in the simplicity of the telling; but it is the outstanding illustrations that hold such potence. There is that border guard towering menacingly over them and the trafficker shown as only an enormous silhouette …

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both in stark contrast to the loving mother enfolding her children within her protective arms in the border forest –

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such eloquence.
This truly is a story of our time and one that deserves a place on the shelves of every family, every educational establishment, every library, every place where people come together to talk and to share stories, Beautifully produced though one has now come to expect that from Flying Eye Books; however this one doesn’t shout quality, it embodies quality.

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