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.

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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.

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