The Runaways

The Runaways
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

As a result of a fall, Gottfried Junior’s much loved, curmudgeonly grandfather is in hospital with a broken leg. His son hates visiting him but in his grandson Grandpa has a kindred spirit.

Pretending to be at football training Gottfried Junior visits Grandpa and suggests running away.

The following week having told his parents he has a football camp requiring an overnight stay, Gottfried, armed with meatballs his mother has made, persuades Adam aka Ronny to help with transport and thus begins operation breakout.

The destination is Grandpa’s island home where he’d lived with Grandma till she died. It takes Grandpa two hours to walk up the hill to the front door but it’s worth every laborious step

and once there the old man dons his old clothes, resumes his place at the table and savours some of grandma’s last ever jar of lingonberry jam. (The remainder has to last the rest of his life and part of Grandma “is still in it.”).

The next morning it’s time to leave but first Grandpa needs to do one or two things. Finally they do though, young Gottfried with his head full of questions about what his parents, especially his dad, will say when they discover his deception as well as others about whether or not Grandpa can keep his promise about no longer swearing in preparation for a possible meeting with Grandma in another life.

Eventually, acceptance and peace come for all, Grandpa, his son, and the young narrator Gottfried; and the end is powerfully affecting.

With occasional touches of musicality, Ulf Stark’s gently humorous story is told, for the most part, in a straightforward manner that adds to its impact while Kitty Crowther’s colour pencil illustrations have their own power that perfectly complements the honesty of the first person narration.

Stories of the Night

Stories of the Night
Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

Here’s a gorgeous little book to share at bedtime that reminded me a tad of one of Arnold Lobel’s stories in Mouse Tales. It begins with Little Bear requesting three stories from his Mother as she tucks him into bed and she’s happy to oblige; seemingly this is part and parcel of their usual bedtime routine.

The first tale is “The one that says it’s time to go to sleep,” as Little Bear describes it and features a Night Guardian – an oldish, long haired woman who goes about the forest banging her gong and announcing to all the forest animals that they must cease what they’re doing for bedtime has arrived and they must sleep.

Then having put all the creatures to bed, she returns home and she too sleeps, but not before she’s banged her gong (very gently) just one more time.

The second story is of a sword-carrying child, Zhora who gets lost in the forest while out picking blackberries and is given shelter for the night by her bat friend, Jacko Mollo.

The third is also seemingly a familiar story, “The one with the man in a big coat who never sleeps!” as Little Bear describes it. This character, Bo, keeps his coat on all the time and has in exchange for his silver watch, been allowed to take up residence in a nest that once belonged to a grumpy old owl. An absolute delight, this tells how the sleepless Bo is persuaded by Otto otter to go for a swim in his overcoat, gives away his hat and finally gets himself a wonderful night’s sleep.

Kitty Crowther uses some beautiful sleep inducing recitations such as “The sky is all black now. But we can count on the stars to lead us into tomorrow.” and “Choose a star to lead you into tomorrow” that I can envisage being used with little humans as well as Little Bear.

Crowther’s pink glowing, textured scenes are an absolute delight, infused as they are with warmth and love, be that between Mother Bear and her infant, or the other characters in the tales she tells.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of stories, this is a small gem.