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.

I Love You With All My Heart / The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth

I Love You With All My Heart
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger

When Little Bear’s exuberant music making very close to where his mother is tending her sunflower plant results in a catastrophe, the little creature is worried that his mother will be angry with her offspring – and even worse that she’ll stop loving her.

Admirably, Little Bear owns up right away and happily, Mummy is equally quick in her response. She scoops the cub up in her arms and reassuringly says “I’ll ALWAYS love you,” and proceeds to soothe her by asking that she place her paw on her heart to “feel my love beating on and on for ever”. She goes on to tell Little Bear that a similar “Ba ba boom” beats within her little one’s heart.

Next day at preschool, the little cub draws on that knowledge when she’s upset about losing a race, and then later back in the garden when her new kite is whisked away by an unexpected gust of wind. Seemingly, no matter what upsets life throws at Little Bear, she can draw strength from that never-ending motherly love.

There’s a lovely final twist when Mother Bear’s cake baking is interrupted by her cub’s enthusiastic, mud-splashing announcement about her kite rescue …

Would that all little humans had a mother as understanding and unconditionally loving as Little Bear who is brought to life along with Mother Bear in Jane Chapman’s splendidly expressive illustrations that show just how full of love they are, and how comforting the feel of a heartbeat can be to someone needing a bit of TLC. Yes, this book is brimming over with love but it never becomes sentimental.

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth
Ellie Hattie and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger

Now out in paperback is this wonderful magical adventure that unfolds inside The Curious Museum wherein Oscar, clad in his night attire, and mammoth Timothy search for Timothy’s baby brother, Teddy, intent on finding him before the clock strikes one. The hardback version was reviewed on the blog but if you’ve missed the book, it’s definitely worth seeking out the paperback to share with youngsters. There’s SO much to explore in the illustrations and there’s a wealth of information and more to discover behind the flaps.

The Moonlight Zoo

The Moonlight Zoo
Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger

With an arresting die-cut cover like the one on this book, from the creators of Space Train, who could resist plunging in to join young Eva as she undertakes a nocturnal search for her missing moggy Luna.

It all begins when Eva hears strange sounds coming from beneath her bed, dives underneath and finds herself at the gates of The Moonlight Zoo.

The guard wolf informs her that it’s a safe night haven for lost animals and with the helpful creature as guide she begins to hunt for Luna.

They look in various possible locations, find some clues – Luna’s collar and a lump of cat fur – but not that which they seek.

Time is running out for the zoo closes at dawn; then Eva hears a rumbly sound; could it possibly be Luna? …

Animal lovers especially will relish this adventure wherein they can explore the nocturnal world Karl James Mountford has created in his fantastical zoo populated by penguins, monkeys, guinea pigs, dogs, wolves, elephants and other lost creatures.The cutaway peep-through pages add to the visual delights of Maudie Powell-Tuck’s enchanting story wherein determination is key.

The Space Train

The Space Train
Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger

Light years from Earth in a space station live Jakob, his robot chicken named Derek and his granny.

Jakob has made a discovery: in hangar 19 is, so he thinks, a huge abandoned rocket.
Granny knows otherwise. “It’s the Space Train,” she tells her grandson … “When I was little, the Space Train criss-crossed the universe on tracks of stardust visiting station after station –“.

Jakob’s excitement mounts as he thinks about all the places they might visit and potential friends he could discover if they fixed the train.

After a week of hard work,

riveting, welding, fixing and cleaning the train was finally ready. Tomorrow they would launch it.
Next morning however didn’t quite go to plan. A resounding BANG and sooty faces were the only outcomes when Jakob pulls the launch lever.

Jakob and Derek are ready to give up: not so Granny, so it’s back to look at the plans again.

Soon, they’re ready to give it another go and this time …

With its space setting, quirky characters, problem-solving, a plethora of flaps to explore as well as Jakob’s logs to study, this unusual story should please young readers, especially those with a liking for things mechanical. Karl’s zany, illustrations are packed with other-worldly paraphernalia, mechanical bits and pieces and the occasional alien. Love the colour palette and the nuts and bolts laying Derek.

Last Stop on the Reindeer Express

Last Stop On the Reindeer Express
Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger Press

Christmas is often said to be about wishes.
For most people what makes Christmas really special isn’t presents or festive food, it’s family. For Martha though, an important part of her family won’t be at home for Christmas: her dad is far away and can’t make it back.
For this little girl, the Christmas sparkle feeling suddenly plummets when she hears that the card she’s made him won’t get to him in time. If only he weren’t so far away, she wishes.
As she walks dejectedly home through the Christmas market she comes upon a strange-looking post box with a door but no posting slot.

Suddenly she finds herself embarking on a trip aboard the Reindeer Express being whisked away through forests; then over chilly seas, a city whose streets are lit by paper stars …

and snowy mountains, to a small snow-covered lodge.
What will she discover within?
Can she deliver that card in time for Christmas?

With mentions of cinnamon, sugar and smoky wood,  Maudie Powell-Tuck evokes traditional sensory seasonal delights while also showing the importance of family love, a love that transcends time and place and is always there.
Karl James Mountford’s mellow colour palette, his attention to detail, those fabulous scenes both indoors and out, cutaway peep-through pages and flaps, all contribute to the enchantment of this Christmas jewel of a book.
From cover to cover, a real winter-warmer: perfect for the chilly days in the lead up to Christmas at home or in school.

I’ve signed the charter

Maurice the Unbeastly

Maurice the Unbeastly
Amy Dixon and Karl James Mountford
Sterling Children’s Books

Oh, I do love a divergent character and vegetarian beast Maurice, sweet of voice, gentle of nature and a delight to look upon, certainly fits the bill. In fact his parents are so despairing of his peaceable ways that they send him off to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts to learn to be more beastly.
Now although alfalfa fritters may be his favoured food, Maurice does not want to be a failure so off he goes, determined to do his best.

After just a few days though, the new pupil is close to being ejected from this educational establishment for singing instead of roaring, unsuitable eating habits in a disorderly dining hall;

dancing dashingly when he’s supposed to be havoc wreaking; and his school photo is positively glamorous despite his best efforts to be hideous.
When a strange creature invades the classroom causing teacher and Beastly students considerable consternation, Maurice steps in with his winsome ways and a timely offering, taming the animal …

and earning himself accolades and a new title from the Head.
That however is not the only new thing Maurice is responsible for at the Academy, but for the rest, you’ll have to get your hands on a copy of this enormously enticing offering.
Remain true to yourself Maurice; long may you prevail.
What a delicious cast of characters Mountford has conjured up using a colour palette of black, sage, olive, rust, mustard and coral tones. I’m sorely tempted to make a puppet or soft toy Maurice.
Meanwhile I’m going to be enthusiastically sharing his story with a whole lot more little beasties.