Old Man of the Sea

Old Man of the Sea
Stella Elia and Weberson Santiago
Lantana Publishing

Grandpa and the boy narrator of the story share a special relationship: sometimes they just sit in silence and on other days Grandpa wants to talk.

On one such day he starts the conversation thus: “Every line on my skin tells the story of my life.”

He then begins to recount his life story to the lad beginning each tale with “All aboard!”

Driven by Elia’s wondrous telling, Santiago’s impressive illustrations executed in a vibrant palette, show Grandpa’s travels from his days as a young sailor when he visited first Europe where he ‘wandered through fairy tale castles and ate picnics in groves of olives’, and then to Africa where he ‘danced to the rhythm of drums’.

Later his wanderlust took him to Asia where he ate tongue burning spices and visited ancient temples before travelling to Oceana

and finally, after a stormy voyage, to America.

It was there that he fell in love, married, settled and raised a family. No longer was the call of the sea pulling him to the oceans where earlier it was the only place he felt truly happy and at peace, at one with the world, able to watch the stars as he slept under a moonlit sky.

Grandpa’s love for the places he visited is palpable, radiating from the spreads of the continents mentioned in the narrative.

Are all the stories true, wonders his grandson at the end; so too probably, will readers; but no matter what, they’ll be absorbed in the telling and that’s what really counts in this beautiful book.

Mira’s Curly Hair

Mira’s Curly Hair
Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani
Lantana Publishing

How many of us are satisfied with our natural hair? We often deem it too straight or too curly and spend countless hours styling it and making it look different. I for one have given up on the straighteners other than on very rare occasions but like Mira, the main protagonist in this story, would really like effortlessly straight and smooth hair.

Like Mira too I’ve tried pulling it down to get rid of the kinks and I know from my daily yoga practice that headstanding has absolutely no effect when it comes to hair straightening.

Mira even goes to the lengths of piling books on her hair but inevitably once she moves those curls spring up as if to say, we told you so.

The child covets her mother’s long, smooth straight locks but then one day while out walking with her it starts to rain heavily. They run for shelter ‘neath a palm tree but as they wait, Mira notices to her amazement, something different about her mother’s long locks. They’re straight no more; thanks to the moisture her hair is curling and curling … and Mira loves it.

Thereafter there’s only one hairstyle for both Mira and her mum; it’s natural and it’s curly.

With its theme of self-acceptance, this simple story is beautifully told by debut picture book author, Maryam al Serkal

Prize-winning Argentine illustrator Rebeca Luciani’s scenes executed in jewel-like acrylic colours and digitally worked are superb. I especially love the way items such as toy soldiers and hair styling tools are woven into one illustration,

while others feature modern and traditional Islamic style architecture, as well as richly patterned clothing both traditional and modern.

Another wonderful addition to the culturally enriching picture book list that is Lantana Publishing.

Maisie’s Scrapbook


Maisie’s Scrapbook
Samuel Narh and Jo Loring-Fisher
Lantana Publishing

Five-year-old Maisie is the narrator of this celebration of unconditional parental love. In the end papers she shows us her scrapbook: her Dada shares tales of the spider she saves the world from (aka Ananse), while her Mama tells her ‘a bull is not a pet’.

In between, the main narrative compares and contrasts the differing parenting styles of her Dada and Mama.

Steeped in folklore, the former nurtures Maisie’s flights of fancy

while her Mama endeavours to keep her grounded with games such as hide and seek, and protects her from the bull she imagines herself riding.

As the seasons pass we see examples of the all encompassing parental love this fortunate child receives – Mama’s arms surround her as she’s frightened by the bull;

Dada ‘shows her clouds painting pictures of the ancient worlds in the sky’.

Mama cooks risotto whereas Dada’s speciality is jolof rice; Mama plays a viola, Dada the marimba, but they both nag her in the same way and love her in the same way;  The result of this parenting is a spirited child who appreciates what she has: two loving parents, a rich, mixed cultural heritage and a bundle of self-confidence.  Above all, love is what matters most in Samuel Narh’s beautifully expressed, moving tale.

Reflecting the different heritages of her parents, there’s a wealth of cultural references in Jo Loring-Fisher’s mixed-media illustrations of Maisie’s life both in the expansive outdoors and the more confining walls of her home: the Ghanian Sankofa bird on the window-sill, the framed Gye Nyame (supreme being) symbol; the ancient buildings painted in the sky.

Positive in every respect this is a book to share, share, share again and then to talk about within the family and in school or nursery.

You’re Snug With Me

You’re Snug With Me
Chitra Sounder and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

Chitra Soundar sets the follow up the You’re Safe With Me in the wintry wilds of the Arctic.

Her tale of care and protection begins in a den dug into a snowdrift by Mother Bear where she gives birth to two cubs.

As they grow they become more curious: “What lies beyond here?” they ask. Their mother tells them of the frozen lands without, lands where, thanks to the hard snow, it’s safe for them to walk; but “only where the land will let us walk . .. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Longer nights bring restlessness to the growing cubs and a reassurance that “As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”

From then on, Mother Bear gently teaches her little ones about the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of nature: the ice will only melt “if we don’t take care of it.” …

“We should only take what we need.”

In between times she answers their questions, telling of the approaching spring; of Earth’s place in the cosmos and the other animals they share the land with. All the while punctuating her lessons with the reassuring refrain, “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

By the time there’s a whiff of spring in the air outside. Mother Bear has taught her cubs all she knows, thus preparing them for their independence.

Now it’s time to venture outside and welcome the new spring – Mother and cubs together.

The environmental message is soft spoken in Chitra’s mellifluous text but she adds a final page spelling out her hopes that readers will take on a stewardship role when it comes to caring for our precious planet. We’re also given some additional information about polar bears and I was surprised to learn that new- born cubs are only the size of guinea pigs.
Inspired, I think, by Indian folk art patterns and repetitive block print motifs, such is the mesmeric quality of Poonam’s intricately patterned images that you find yourself transfixed by every spread and her colour palette is absolutely gorgeous.
Picture books don’t get more beautiful than this.

A winter blanket, a hot chilli chocolate and Chitra and Poonam’s book – bliss on a chilly day.

Sing to the Moon

Sing to the Moon
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing

A Ugandan boy relates one unexpectedly magical day spent at his grandfather’s house.

When he awakes it’s to the sound of the rain’s patter and the sight of dark, brooding clouds. He anticipates that none of those wishes he shared at the outset: the flight to the stars; the ocean crossing aboard a dhow to the old spice markets of Zanzibar or the flight on the back of a crested crane culminating in a wonderful forest feast, will come true.

“Sing to the moon” his Jjajja always tells him if he wants a wish granted.

Instead, there’s nothing for it but to go and join his Jjajja in the kitchen as he sips his morning tea, and together they break their fast on porridge.

The boy’s intention is to return to his room and mope but his grandfather has other ideas. Taking the boy by the hand he leads him to the storeroom …

and that’s where the magic begins as Jjajja starts to reminisce about his boyhood days.

As they pack away the peas he talks of his best friend Kirobo with the enormous smile.
Then they move to the veranda where the boy hears of Jjajja’s guava tree climbing, something his grandson also loves.

At sundown, they prepare the ingredients for a fish stew supper while the boy’s grandfather shares tales of fishing expeditions.

By now darkness has descended and then their ‘night adventures’ commence.
Jjajja has a huge stack of books, a veritable tower containing tales of brave kings and crooks; fables of long gone cities full of gold and African kingdoms. He talks of how the sky once rose and fell, as thunder raged.

Then outside they go and to the sound of echoing drums and grasshoppers’ song the lad is reminded that no matter what he’s always loved.
Now all that’s left is to savour the sweetness of the day; the boy safe in the knowledge that nothing could possibly have been as wonderful as their rainy day together, a day rounded off perfectly with Jjajja’s soft goodnight bidding, “Sing to the moon.”

Not only does this beautiful book portray that very special intergenerational relationship, the spellbinding tale also evokes the natural world and life of a distant land that most of us won’t ever visit for real, both through Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl’s rhyming narrative that’s a real joy to read aloud, and Sandra van Doorn’s absolutely stunning illustrations. I’d love to include every single one but hopefully those included here will inspire readers sufficiently to seek out their own copy of the book. It’s a must.

Peace and Me

Peace and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

Inspired by a dozen winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Ali Winter and illustrator Mickaël El Fathi celebrate the lives of these amazing people, allocating a double spread each to the recipients.

The first award was made in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel himself who designated five categories for the award he instigated; and brief background information is provided about him at the outset.

We then embark on a chronological journey of the inspiring prize-winners, starting in 1901 with Jean Henry Dunant who founded the organisation that became the Red Cross,

and ending with Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 winner who stood up to the Taliban in the cause of girls’ education. (There’s a visual time line at the beginning, and a world map at the end showing in which country the recipients live/d.)

We meet familiar names including Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu

and my all time hero Nelson Mandela, as well as some perhaps, lesser known recipients, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Fridtjof Nansen and Wangari Maathia to name three.

Information about the life and times of each is provided, along with an outline of their contribution to peace.

Mickaël El Fathi illustrates the characters beautifully using textured, patterned digital artwork, cleverly embodying the essence of the recipient’s life’s work into his portrayal of each one, and incorporated into which is an appropriate catchphrase.

The book concludes with a list of actions that together might form a definition of peace and a final question to readers: ‘What does peace mean to you?’
These provide a great starting point for discussion with a class or group as well, one hopes, as an encouragement to lead a peaceful life. After all, peace begins with me.
From small beginnings, great things grow: that is what each of the wonderful exemplars featured herein demonstrates.

I’d like to see a copy of this book (it’s endorsed by Amnesty International) in every primary classroom collection and in every home.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow
Nadine Kaadan
Lantana Publishing

Over the past couple of years there have been several excellent picture books featuring families or individuals fleeing a war-torn home country and seeking refuge in another, often far distant land. But what of those who remain in such a place, a country such as Syria say, where war is all around?

This is the way of life for Yazan and his mother and father.

Yazan no longer sees his next door neighbour and friend, nor does he go to the park. In addition, school has stopped and surprisingly, Yazan misses it.

Artistically inclined, Yazan’s mother used to spend a considerable time painting, sometimes with her son watching, sometimes painting alonlgside.

It’s the news on TV that occupies much of her time and attention nowadays though, and his father is also preoccupied.

Yazan meanwhile does his best to keep busy himself; but how much doodling, pillow building and paper aeroplane making can you do before boredom sets in?

Going stir crazy he yells his ”I want to go to the park NOWWWWWWWW!!” request to his parents.
Then, ignoring his mum’s “Not today,” response, the boy ponders and then the temptation of his shiny bike is just too much.

Once outside however, nothing looks the same: no stall holder, no playmates, only alarming explosions all around. What should he do: continue his journey or return home?

Suddenly, catching sight of another person, his mind is made up. Then Yazan and his dad walk back quietly hand in hand.
Once home, what his mother does after giving him a huge hug and a warning about going out alone again, makes his heart soar. If he can’t go to the park, then at least she can bring one to him …

And that, for the foreseeable future, will have to suffice.

Over the years I have taught a good many young children who, with their parent(s), have fled conflict in various countries including Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and more recently, Syria; and although one never questioned them about their experiences, in time some did open up, often through their art, about what they had been through.

At that time there were no picture books such as this one for me to draw upon and it’s impossible to imagine what life for a young child must have been like.

Originally published in Arabic in 2012, Nadine Kaadan’s spare, matter of fact telling, in combination with her sometimes sombre, colour palette, create a powerful portrayal of the stark reality that expresses something of what she has witnessed. Towards the end, her watercolour and pencil scenes bring the light into the darkness of a child’s initial confusion, and one family’s near imprisonment within their loving own home.

I close by quoting the author’s final sentence in her letter to readers at the back of this moving book: ‘Today, we wait for a time when “tomorrow” can be a better day for all Syrian children.’ This is surely something we all hope for.
In the meantime, let’s share Nadine’s story as widely as possible.