Robinson

Robinson
Peter Sis
Thames & Hudson

Drawing on an episode from his childhood as well as the Robinson Crusoe story that he loved as a boy, award-winning author/illustrator, Peter Sis has created an absolute dream of a picture book.

The narrator and his pals’ favourite game is pirates so when their school announces a costume party it seems as though everyone will go in pirate gear. Until that is, Peter’s mum suggests he should go as Robinson Crusoe and he does.

His excitement as he walks to school is quickly shattered when his classmates make fun of him for having the confidence to be different. (Presumably they aren’t familiar with the Crusoe story.)

Peter’s mum takes him home, tucks him up in bed and at this point in a feverish state, Peter’s imagination takes over.

There follows a dream-like sequence where, in stages, his bed is transformed into a three-masted sailing ship heading towards an island.

On the next spread Sis seems to be paying homage to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are when he says, ‘I float in and out of hours, or maybe days, until I am cast upon an island.

On this island, Peter encounters verdant tropical landscapes, one a maze comprising amazing flora and fauna.

He builds himself a protective shelter, makes his own clothes, finds food and becomes friends with the resident animals;

and all the while the lad is growing in self-confidence, though he still keeps his eyes open for pirates.

Finally, with new-found fortitude, the boy does connect once more with his friends and the story ends in a wonderfully satisfying way.

Sis experiments with several artistic styles in his pen, ink and watercolour illustrations and this serves to intensify the fantastic quality of his island landscapes and his whole journey, both inner and outer.

Thoroughly immersive: this is a book to linger over, read and re-read, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of literature to shape and expand the imagination.

Sail Away Dragon

 

Sail Away Dragon
Barbara Joosse and Randy Cecil
Walker Books

The twosome from Lovabye Dragon and Evermore Dragon return as the friends sally forth, with wicker basket, spyglass, banner, box of ‘goodie gumdrops’ and horn, for an adventure on the ocean.

As they sail towards the far-est Far Away they encounter dolphins, spouting whales, Bad Hats …

from whom they acquire a cat and thus sail on in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ style for a year and a day till they begin to despair they’ll ever reach their Far Away destination.

They do however; and thereon they consume the goodie gumdrops, dance, sound their horn and write a note which they place in a bottle and cast upon the ocean.

Thereafter they sleep and dream beneath the stars.

Like all magical adventures though, home calls through their dreams and so homewards they sail, passing wondrous sights

until each returns to separate slumbering quarters – Girl to her ‘pluffy little eiderdown bed’ and Dragon to lie curled above the castle door ‘guarding Girl, his friend forevermore.’

The combination of Joosse’s dreamy lilting text and Cecil’s beautiful, textured scenes is magical. The whole thing has the lingering, haunting quality of a dream one doesn’t want to end.

If you’ve yet to meet this enchanting pair, do try their latest adventure.

I Am Peace / The Two Doves

I Am Peace
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This is a companion book to yoga teacher, Verde, and illustrator, Reynolds’ I Am Yoga.
Here, a worried child narrator, feeling “like a boat with no anchor” …

shares with readers how focussing on the here and now helps to calm all those worries and troubling emotions, allowing them to dissipate and disappear. Inwardly watching the breath enables the child to feel centred and then, through acts of kindness, by connecting with nature and fully using the senses, feelings of at oneness with the world, inner peace pervades and can be shared with all those who need it.

With today’s increasingly fast-paced, pressurised and stressful world, this is a lovely gently joyful reminder to children, and also adults of the importance of cultivating the habit of mindfulness. That (along with yoga), can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just 3 to 5 minutes a day with no distractions, no doing, merely being.
Peter Reynolds’ ink, watercolour and gouache illustrations reinforce the mindfulness message and add a delightful touch of whimsy as he portrays the child, peace symbols and all, balancing, cloud watching, feeding the birds and meditating.
(A guided meditation is included at the end of the book.)

 

The Two Doves
Géraldine Elschner and Zaū
Prestel

In search of a safe place to rest, a white dove lands on a deserted island; deserted save for another dove, a blue one that has been badly injured.

The white dove tends to the blue one until after a few days, it’s sufficiently recovered to take flight,
Together the two birds take wing eventually landing in – or rather in the case of the blue dove, falling – into a large garden where, under an olive tree, a man was painting, while around him some children played.
The man is the artist Picasso. The children see the wounded dove and want to care for it. Soon though both man and children are busy creating pictures of the bird,

pictures that Picasso tells them as their images are borne aloft by a gust of wind, will “go to countries all around the world.
Soon after, the white dove takes flight once more leaving the blue one safe in the children’s care.

This lovely story of Géraldine Elschner’s, inspired by Picasso’s iconic work, The Dove of Peace, is beautifully illustrated by Zaü whose ink drawings filled mostly with greys, greens and blue give a strong sense of both the desolation of the war struck third island and the stark beauty of its countryside.
Adults using the book with primary age children may well need to fill in with a little information about the Spanish Civil War and on the visual references from Picasso paintings that the book’s illustrator mentions in a note at the end of the book.

Balthazar the Great

Balthazar the Great
Kirsten Sims
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Balthazar, the polar bear is a violin player, the only remaining one left in all the circuses of the world. Until that is, he’s set free by a group of animal rights activists who leave him in the middle of he knows not where, to find his way home – so long as he can discover where to go.

On his journey he bids farewell to old friends …

and endeavours to make new ones.

He meets some kind-hearted souls but for much of his travels Balthazar is entirely alone – lonely, lost and overwhelmed by the enormity of what he’s attempting.
He even starts thinking about returning from whence he came;

but then all of a sudden he sees something. Could it possibly be who he thinks it is? The giver of Balthazar’s very first violin? …

In this, Kirsten Sims’ debut picture book, her spare text allows her eloquent gouache and ink  illustrations to carry much of the story, a story of the strength of family bonds and of journeying. Her colour palette is somewhat dark which seems to reflect the loneliness of the traveller.

The book’s creator resides in South Africa and that is where Balthazar starts his journey as is evident from the design on one of the mugs featured on the endpapers.

Do take a look at them all though.

The Marvellous Moon Map

The Marvellous Moon Map
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Red Fox

Mouse and Bear share a house in the big, dark woods, so when Mouse announces that he’s off to find the moon, accompanied only by a the Moon Map he’s in the process of making, Bear offers to accompany him.
Mouse turns him down: “I don’t need your help – I’m the Moon map inventor!” he tells his friend; and once the map is complete, off he goes.

He tunnels, climbs and clambers up into the blackness of the woods. Suddenly, as he’s urging himself forwards who should emerge from the shadows but his ursine pal. Once again his help is refused, although Mouse cannot, so he admits, see his map in the darkness: but Bear responds with “I know, Mouse, … But I’ve got you, and you’ve got me – so we’ll be all right.
The two proceed with Mouse leading the way, until they reach a stretch of water; a stretch far too wide for them to swim across.

Once again Bear is reassuring. He then takes the map and to Mouse’s consternation, starts folding it.

Eventually, after some manipulation, and the odd bit of grumbling from Mouse, there before them is …

But in such a tiny craft, against such high waves, will they ever manage to find the moon?
Teresa’s lovely story with its two endearing characters, the reassuring repetition of Bear’s words of encouragement and the delightful surprise finale find, combined with David Litchfield’s entrancing illustrations make for what I’m sure will become a storytime favourite.

A Child of Books

A Child of Books
Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Walker Books
I always thought I was the original ‘Child of Books’: certainly – thanks to my Dad – mine was a book-filled childhood. But it’s not so, and here’s the reason why: it’s a totally innovative and absolutely unique exploration of the power of story and storytelling that begins thus: ‘I am a child of Books. I come from a WORLD of stories.’ And thereafter, we are taken on an amazing journey of discovery that is also a celebration of classic tales from children’s literature.
Making up the waves of imagination upon which the girl and her raft float, are words from The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Count of Monte Cristo, Kidnapped, Gulliver’s Travels, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Pinocchio

Assuredly the girl has already sailed across a sea of words but she has an invitation to join her in further journeying, an invitation taken up by a boy who goes with her into a host of magical story worlds; worlds fashioned through the
combination of Jeffers’ powerful images and signature handwriting, and Winston’s masterful typographic word wizardry.
Together the two children scale mountains …

and explore dark places, treasure seeking; they get lost in a forest whose trees (leaves aside) are all fairytales …

and then have to escape from a monstrous word beast, resident of a haunted castle.
As the journey progresses through imaginary lands, the scenes become brighter until the children’s shouts from outer space herald a riot of story-comprised colour.

Everything about this wonderful volume is so carefully considered by this inspired pairing; for instance there’s the stark contrast between Jeffers’ hand-written, lyrical narrative and Winston’s digitally manipulated lines from the classics. Talking of classics, this ground-breaking book is surely destined to become a modern classic. One wonders whether its creators might have read Tom Phillips’ A Humument.
I could go on waxing lyrical about this intertextual wonder but let me merely urge you to get hold of a copy of your own (and some to give). Free your mind, be enchanted and also see how many of the 42 classics you can discover for yourself between its awesome pages. It’s truly a work of art and a celebration of the imagination.

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