Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray
Walker Books

Nicola Davies is a champion of wildlife; and the creature she has chosen here is a tiny one, smaller than a thumb and lighter than a penny, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Using the framework of the loving relationship between a Mexican grandmother and her granddaughter, we experience the migration pattern of such birds that are soon to depart, bound for the north, perhaps as the grandmother tells the child, “they’ll visit you in New York City?”
Seated in her Grandmother’s lap, the girl is asked to “Keep still” as they proffer bowls of water to the birds; and come they do ‘Tz-unun! Tz-unun!’ flashing their feathers and beating their wings.

We then follow the birds’ migration route over several double spreads all the way from over the Gulf of Mexico,

through the USA and all the way to Canada. And there they set up home and later in the summer,

a little girl walking towards the park spies on the grassy verge, evidence of ‘a visitor from Granny’s garden’.

The days get shorter and it’s time once more for the hummingbirds to fly south though not all will make it safely to their destination. Granny however is anticipating their arrival as she sits in her garden reading a special letter from her granddaughter now far away, while in her lap is a tiny eggshell wrapped in cotton wool and a newspaper cutting telling of hummingbirds nesting in Central Park for the first time.

Jane Ray’s, stunning – as jewel-like as her subjects – detailed watercolour pictures almost vibrate with the Tz-unun! Tz-unun! of the hummingbirds’ wings, while tiny lines in her illustrations inject movement into the flight path of their long journey, 3000 kilometres northwards, and back.
Dropped into the spreads are such facts as what hummingbirds feed on; their nest size, and other details of their journey; and there’s a final page on which Nicola explains in detail how ornithologists have ringed and tracked hummingbirds over the years. I was intrigued to learn that they can live to be nine years old – incredible!

Altogether a fascinating book.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

The Glassmaker’s Daughter

The Glassmaker’s Daughter
Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Daniela is the daughter of a glassmaker living in Venice in the 16th century. So full of melancholy is she that her despairing father offers a glass palace as reward to the first person who can make his daughter smile. The palace is duly fashioned and people come from near and far to try and bring on that smile.
A flame swallower, a mask maker, a lion-tamer followed by ‘Glove makers, tart bakers, trumpet players, dragon slayers, monkey trickers, pocket pickers, bell ringers, opera singers, even sausage stringers‘ all fail miserably.

Then along comes young glassmaker, Angelo with the looking glass he’s carefully fashioned as a gift for Daniela. Now the girl has never seen such a thing before, nor has she seen the sight that meets her eyes when she looks into it as Angelo instructs. At first it’s her cross face that stares back, then as she begins to smile, so too does the mirror;

and when her smile gives way to laughter, the effect is truly dramatic in more ways than one …

And before long, the entire city of Venice is one laughing, dancing, ringing celebration of joyfulness.
Diane Hofmeyer takes a familiar fairytale theme and like Angelo in her story, fashions it into something new and special. We all know that true happiness lies within but it’s good to be reminded sometimes, especially in such a captivating way as this. (An introductory note gives some information about historic Venetian glassmaking.)
Jane Ray’s intricate images and vibrant scenes conjure up the fairy story-like Venice of the setting making every turn of the page both magical and memorable.

Jane Ray’s The Nutcracker

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Dolci is entranced by the story.

The Nutcracker
Jane Ray
Orchard Books
From its peep around the curtain opening I was totally captivated by Jane Ray’s rendition of the well-known Nutcracker story. With one breathtakingly beautiful spread after another she turns it into something truly magical – a must have book for this Christmas season (and all year round).
The tale of Clara and her unusual gift – the toy soldier Nutcracker from her toymaker godfather – is tenderly and eye-wateringly rendered as readers are treated to first, the anticipation of things to come in the welcoming guests to the party…

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the gathering around the tree scene and the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyr. Then follows Clara’s sadness at the accidentally broken arm of her Nutcracker, followed by another happy gathering – around the dinner table this time.
Possibly my favourite view of all comes next: the one Clara sees having crept downstairs from her bed when ‘The house was shadowy in the moonlight. The candles were all snuffed out and the fire had burnt down to a heap of glowing embers. The only sounds were the ticking of the grandfather clock, and an owl calling from the snowy garden. ‘ (How beautifully the prose flows.)
In a dark corner by the tree, Clara could just make out tiny lights glowing.’

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Next come scenes of the mouse army and the toy soldiers rallying and the challenge of the Mouse King by a transformed Nutcracker who, aided and abetted by Clara, sees off the attackers. Thereafter comes the voyage of Clara and the Nutcracker to his realm, the Kingdom of Sweets, to see the Sugar Plum Fairy …

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and the other amazing dancing delights from every land. This, as adults know, culminates in an invitation for Clara and the Nutcracker to join the dazzling dance …

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and the dream fades … to Christmas morning.
The awed silence of my audience, quickly followed by “again, again” requests, speaks for itself.

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If Music Be the Food of Love

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Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray
Orchard Books
Antonio Vivaldi and his music, and stories of orphan girls who grew up in an orphanage/music school, the Ospedale della Pietà (in Venice) were the inspiration for this powerfully told and beautifully illustrated book.
The young Vivaldi was director of music at the institution and wrote many pieces for the girls in his choir.


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One of these was the foundling child Laura whose name Jane Ray came upon on a visit to the Vivaldi Museum in a list, written in an old ledger, of the foundling babies left at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Abandoned as a baby, Laura who is mute, narrates her own story telling of her musical education, her daily duties,

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her friendships and how music, in particular her flute playing, finally becomes her redemption.

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Jane Ray’s evocative illustrations have a powerful haunting quality that resonates with the text: Crossley-Holland wastes not a single word as he gives voice to Laura – ‘In the watches of the night. Like a cradle, rocking. Sometimes I think I hear you. Do you love music too? / The drops of water falling onto my stone floor are minims and crotchets, quavers and semi-quavers. Like a song I almost think I know. Like a song you sang to me.’

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Lesley Barnes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The young princess in this lift-the-flap story keeps a bird caged and every morning demands that it should sing for her. One day though, she forgets to lock the cage. The bird escapes and so begins a chase through the entire castle …

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and out into the grounds. There, the princess traps the bird in a net and so is happy once more. Not for long however, for she soon notices that the bird no longer sings. Realising that it longs to be free, she releases it once more and is later delighted to discover that her kindness is rewarded by not one, but a whole host of birds that come and sing for her every night.

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With stylish illustrations, ten things to find and a flap to lift on every spread (some revealing the encouraging “Fly, birdie, fly away!” to the escapee),

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to add to the enjoyment, this book for young readers and listeners embodies an important message about freedom.

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 Exciting event: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition, Piccadilly, 23rd-29th October


Amazing Myths


A-Maze-Ing Minotaur
Juliet Rix and Juliet Snape
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The Greek myth wherein Theseus, the young Prince of Athens, enters the labyrinthine maze where waits the terrible Minotaur for his next young human feast, is retold for young readers and listeners in this beautifully illustrated picture book.
We follow Theseus as he journeys to Crete, meets the task-master King Minos and encounters his beautiful daughter, Ariadne who falls immediately in love with him,


promising to help him in his quest to kill the monstrous Minotaur. She gives him a ball of golden thread and a small sword, and her word that she’ll wait for him on his return.
Next morning young Theseus, having anchored one end of the thread to the door of the Labyrinth, sets forth into the dark maze, unravelling the thread as he walks.


On he goes then suddenly encounters the beast towering over him. Out comes the sword and Theseus lashes at his foe, killing the Minotaur but losing his ball of thread. The latter he eventually finds, and retraces his steps. Finally, thanks to Ariadne, he and the thirteen others who were to have accompanied him into the maze, board a ship and sail away to safety in the knowledge that young Athenians need no longer fear the terrible Minotaur.
The ever-popular tale is told in a straightforward direct manner but it is Juliet Snape’s detailed scenes  with their subterranean passageways that, with their resemblance to ancient Minoan art, convey much of the feeling of the story and create the atmosphere. Young audiences will particularly enjoy spotting the monster’s whereabouts as they turn the pages taking Theseus closer and closer to the deadly creature.
This book has been selected for the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge.It may well act as starting point to further exploration of Greek mythology.
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Offering a next step is:


Greek Myths
Sally Pomme Clayton and Jane Ray
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled Stories of Sun, Stone and Sea this beautifully produced book contains ten tales, crafted essentially for reading aloud, including a creation myth, Pegasus (The Flying Horse), Orpheus and Eurydice (Journey to the Underworld)


and Pandora – The Girl of All Gifts. Drama, suspense, sorrow, mortal danger and humour are all present and each tale is powerfully illustrated by Jane Ray. There are full page and smaller paintings each with its own beauty or in the case of Medusa, scarey nightmarish quality.


In addition to the stories themselves, there is a map of ancient Greece and at the end of each story is a short cultural or archaeological snippet.At the end of the book are an index of Gods and heroes and information on the story sources.

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