A Story About Afiya

A Story About Afiya
James Berry and Anna Cunha
Lantana Publishing

Oh my goodness, Lantana publish such beautiful books and here’s another one written by Jamaican poet James Berry and illustrated by Anna Cunha.

The text is almost 30 years old and now Anna Cunha has created some stunningly gorgeous illustrations to accompany James’ lyrical prose.

The story is of Afiya, whose Swahili name means health. She’s described as having ‘fine black skin that shows off her white clothes and big brown eyes that laugh and long limbs that play.’

Young Afiya has a very special white summer dress that she wears every day, washing it every night. It’s a very special garment that picks up and collects images of things Afiya experiences – sunflowers, red roses,

grasses, butterflies, wild animals from the zoo, or fishes from the seaside.

Strangely, by night the imprint remains when she washes her dress but the following morning it’s always hanging ‘white as new paper’ once more, ready for a new design to imprint itself upon it. – boulders or autumn leaves for instance.

Each one is a source of amazement to Afiya; equally readers will be amazed at Anna Cunha’s crafting of same. Her magical matt illustrations are as lyrical as James’ text and provide the ideal complement – a perfectly seamless, unique fusion of two kinds of artistry to set the imagination soaring sky high.

Taking Time

Taking Time
Jo Loring-Fisher
Lantana Publishing

This is simply exquisite. In eleven different parts of the world, children savour the moment: on each double spread there is a gorgeous, mixed media scene showing a young boy or girl in an everyday setting relishing the beauty of the surroundings.

A little girl somewhere in India pauses to listen to the song of a bird;

a boy collects pink blossoms as they fall from a tree: ‘ Taking time to listen to / a bird’s song on the breeze. // Taking time to gather up the blossom dancing free.’ (I love Jo’s use of rhyming couplets on consecutive spreads here and throughout the book).

Far away in Alaska a child snuggles in the soft fur of a husky dog; indoors another child feels a soft cat, ‘taking time to feel the beat’ of its ‘rhythmic purr’.

A spider spins its web watched in awe by a little girl in Nepal, while in the Egyptian desert, clutched by a loving adult, a small child contemplates their journey.

The immensity of the evening sky, a passing flock of colourful birds,

the kind, reflecting eyes of a grandparent, soft snowflakes as they float gently down, the imagined sounds of the sea echoing in a shell – all these too are cherished moments for those who take time for awareness of the here and now.

On the final spread all the children come together in a verdant green field to share their wonderings as they play harmoniously with their special keepsakes: ‘Taking time to cherish you, / and also cherish me.’

Both sets of endpapers show details from the illustrations, the front ones annotating a world map marking the children’s homelands – Alaska, Ecuador, the U.K., Norway, Russia, Egypt, Tanzania, India, Nepal, China, and Japan;  the back ones depicting just the keepsakes, cleverly creating a matching game for readers to play.

If you have, or work with, young children, I urge you to share Jo’s beautiful book, showing similar slow mindfulness to that demonstrated by her characters in Taking Time.

I’ll Believe You When …

I’ll Believe You When …
Susan Schubert and Raquel Bonita
Lantana Publishing

Subtitled ‘Unbelievable idioms from around the world’ this is such a clever and fun book that begins on the title page with a child asking “Do you see the dragon?”

What follows is the response –, “ I’ll believe you … “ “… when pigs fly!” and it then goes on to show that nine other countries each has its own unique version of the idiom.

There are frogs growing hair from Spain, chickens with teeth in Nigeria,

herons turning black in the Philippines, summer snow in Germany.

The Netherlands offer cows dancing on ice and India, ‘when crows fly upside down!’

It’s impossible to choose a favourite but I wouldn’t mind betting that you or someone you share this book with will adopt some of these. And imagine what fun you might have if you challenge a class of six or seven year olds to come up with their own ideas and illustrate them.

It’s a terrific way to introduce the notion of idioms and the idea that they’ve been passed on from ages back as well as across the globe. There’s an explanation at the end of the book as well as a world map showing where each expression comes from and the language it’s spoken in.

Raquel Bonita’s illustrations are absolutely super: inclusive and funny at the same time.

Wonderful nonsense yes, but equally the classroom potential is huge, especially if you involve families. Emmanuelle (7) contributed “I’ll believe you when ponies grow scales” and her mum from Hungary told me that there they say, “I will believe you when it’s snowing red snowflakes.”

I Am Brown

I Am Brown
Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat
Lantana Publishing

Internationally acclaimed author but debuting as picture book writer Ashok Banker, and illustrator/animator Sandhya Prabhat have together created a wonderful celebration of loving the skin you’re in – brown skin, that is.

Merely reading the title of their book took me back to a time when I was visiting the Ranakpur Jain Temple in Rajasthan. Standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to it I was stopped by three young women wanting to take photos. One put her arm against mine and commented “You are so beautiful with your light skin and fair hair.” I was extremely embarrassed when another of them said, “Yes white skin beautiful, brown skin not beautiful.” She then invited me to her wedding soon to be celebrated. I hastened to say to these stunning girls that they were beautiful but I felt I hadn’t convinced them when we parted. If only somebody had given them a book that turns the whole skin colour question on its head like I Am Brown  when they were younger.

After its terrific front endpaper, the book begins with one lively child announcing ‘I am brown / I am beautiful / I am perfect’, then showing herself as the epitome of love, friendship and happiness.

We see a wide variety of occupations from astronaut to actor, writer to doctor and more, as well as …

The question of diversity is addressed in a multitude of ways – country of origin by a group of children around a globe with continents named (every one except Antarctica); that nineteen different languages are spoken – several Indian ones as well as Urdu, Turkish, German, English, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Swahili and Japanese. We see a wide variety of clothing,

food – tacos, noodles, vindaloo, places where ‘I pray’ including everywhere and nowhere.

Fizzing high spirits and happiness prevail in a book that makes readers feel good about themselves, concluding ‘I am brown / I am amazing/ I am YOU’.

What better way to end this thoroughly uplifting, cover to cover, ode – verbal and visual – to being brown, of being you, and of being whatever you want to be.

An absolute MUST for early years setting and classrooms everywhere.

Boundless Sky

Boundless Sky
Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani
Lantana Publishing

It’s almost impossible to imagine how a bird tiny enough to fit into your hand could undertake a flight halfway round the world and back. One cool September morning however, as Alfie stands in his garden a little bird pays a brief visit before flying off over the fields towards the sea.

A mother on board one of the fishing boats comments to her son, “Off they go, flying south for the wintertime!”

The journey continues over snowy mountains where village children spy the home seeking flock. Then as Bird undertakes the hardest part of the journey over the desert, a little girl Leila calls, “Bird! Welcome to my home” offering a welcome drink to the visitor.

Having flown above the jungle to the river, over the plains and grasslands, Bird finally has a view of an African lake. Home at last.

Summer passes quickly and it’s time to start the return journey but when Bird stops at Leila’s oasis home, she receives no reply from the little girl.

As she crosses the ocean once again a storm blows up

and it’s an exhausted Bird that rests in a mountain village before continuing her flight back to a garden in a town from where she started her flight, and where Spring it on its way.

A delighted reunion takes place there …

Some things are left unsaid – but readers are shown so much more – in this beautiful, moving, tenderly illustrated story of flight, searching, and finding a home; and the story’s poignant homecoming finale will really touch your heart.

Shadow

Shadow
Lucy Christopher and Anastasia Suvorova
Lantana Publishing

A little girl and her mother move into a new house. The girl narrator discovers a shadowy boy under her bed whom she names Shadow. They spend time together while the mother who seems completely distracted fails, despite his shape shifting, to see the boy, allowing the two freedom to wander together all through the almost dark house.

One day they go outside and into the woods where the girl is left alone.

After a very long time the girl’s mother finally leaves the house, comes searching for her daughter and the two are reunited.

They return home and then it’s time for mother and daughter to get to know one another again, and for the mother to start letting other people, and the light, back into her world.

There’s a distinct eeriness to Lucy Christopher’s enigmatic story; is it a metaphor for grief, depression or fear perhaps? No matter what, it ends happily as the facial expressions of mother and child on the final page show.

Anastasia Suvorova’s textured digital illustrations are a perfect complement for this rather dark tale for adults and children to share and discuss together.

Oscar Seeks a Friend

Oscar Seeks a Friend
Pawel Pawlak
Lantana Publishing

How is a self-confessed ugly looking skeleton to make friends, especially so since he’s lost a front tooth? At least it doesn’t deter his skeleton dog Tag from playing with him.

One day he comes upon a little girl who is burying a tooth in the ground and asks her if perhaps she might give him the tooth.

Her response is that she needs it to help her dreams come true but then she changes her mind, gives him the tooth and taking his hand leads him away on an adventure.

Together, the two visit a meadow, smell the scent of wet grass, visit her home and see a rainbow.

Then they enjoy a seaside romp …

and share their secrets and dreams.

Oscar in return takes the girl’s hand and leads her to some of the places he likes best: the park, the library

and a leafy tree among whose branches butterflies sleep.

The story ends with the girl expressing hope that the two will meet the following day and the skeleton narrator handing back the girl’s tooth, safe in the knowledge that a friendship has been forged.

In contrast to the bright backgrounds of the girl’s world, those of the skeleton are predominantly black with occasional details in reds, pinks and orange. I’d love to have seen Pawel Pawlek’s original 3D paper collage art for this book; it must have been truly magnificent. Instead I and other readers will have to be satisfied with the richly textured, cleverly composed digital renderings in this unusual picture book with friendship at its heart.

You’re Strong With Me

You’re Strong With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

For her third ‘With Me’ book Chitra Soundar sets her story on the scorched African grasslands and features a pair or giraffes – a mother one and her baby – taking for her repeat refrain ‘You’re strong with me’; and as with her previous titles, Chitra has done her background research.

Gently and reassuringly, the adult giraffe offers encouragement, advice and information as her little one begins to explore the world around.

There is so much to learn: the little one is unaware of the special symbiotic relationship between oxpeckers and giraffes and so attempts to shoo away the oxpecker that has landed on his mother’s back.

Mother giraffe explains its role (eating ‘itchy insects’ and cleaning her fur) and saying that what hurts her baby’s skin now will feel a mere tickle once her skin thickens. “Until then you’re strong with me” she comments.

The dangers of fire and its role in renewal are also explored,

as is the importance of being acutely aware of any sounds around; that way is to be forewarned of other animals be they foe or otherwise.

Further lessons follow as sunset comes and baby giraffe needs help reaching the water to quench her thirst

and then soon it’s time to stop for the night.

As always, intricately patterned composition and colour palette are key in Poonam’s illustrations. For You’re Strong With Me a multitude of brown and golden hues predominate, strongly evoking the arid landscapes of the setting (I have some curtains from India in a pattern and colour very similar to the endpapers.) and when appropriate she adds teal shades for the creek wherein the little giraffe encounters baby fish and is instructed how to quench her thirst, doing so safely under her mother’s watchful eyes.

The Chitra/Poonam partnership goes from strength to strength: whither next? I can’t wait to see.

The Pirate Tree

The Pirate Tree
Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh
Lantana Publishing

Inspired by a weathered tree in which she sits, young captain Sam sails the high seas on her pirate ship.
Suddenly though, she’s approached by another ‘sailor’ who asks to play.

“I don’t know you. You’re not from my street” comes her reply and she carries on sailing her ship solo and talking of plundering ships;

she mentions ‘diamonds from Nigeria’. At this Agu feels bound to correct her, for it’s his home country and he tells her so, talking of sailing on a ship too.

Sam then invites the newcomer aboard, albeit somewhat hesitantly but she discovers that her co-sailor knows a fair bit about how to sail and together they voyage to a deserted island and defeat pirates from a rival boat.

When Sam’s Dad calls ‘dinner time!’

it’s a rather more reluctant buccaneer who leaves her companion, having first asked his name and invited him to become her fellow crew member again.

Agu’s longing for a friend is palpable in this story and I have to say that Sam’s initial treatment of the newcomer shocked me. Happily though, the time spent together has shown Sam that friendship is the way to go, just as Agu had hoped.

Jennie Poh’s mixed media and natural textures were digitally combined and her illustrations seem to have a deliberate static feel until such time as Sam invites Agu aboard her ship, after which there’s a satisfying flow about them.

Brigita Orel’s story shows children how it’s important to be open to new friendships that can be mutually rewarding, enriching our own life and those of others.

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.

Blog Tour : You’re Safe With Me

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for a truly stunning picture book; thank you Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate.

You’re Safe With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

It’s night-time deep in the Indian forest: the moon is high and the stars a-twinkle. Suddenly though the skies turn deepest dark as a storm brews. All the baby animals are wakeful and scared.
Fortunately for them, Mama Elephant – huge and wise – arrives on the scene and with her softly spoken “Hush … You’re safe with me.” rocks the little ones to sleep.
The wind causes them to whimper and Mama Elephant offers an explanation, “Don’t worry … He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.
Further explanations are provided concerning the clattering thunder, the zigzagging lightning and the rumbling river all of which are proffered in the manner of a lovely gentle lullaby that brings comfort and slumber to all the little animals.

Simply and memorably told with a repetitive structure, onomatopoeia and alliteration this tale is rich indeed.

I’ve been fortunate to visit India – the Keralan forests, coastal Kerala, Goa, Himachel Pradesh and Rajasthan – many times during the Indian monsoon season: it truly is an amazing multi-sensory experience, different in every location.
Both author, Chitra Soundar and artist, Poonam Mistry capture monsoon time so beautifully in their wonderful book.

I now hand over to Chitra to talk about her own monsoon memories that inspired her story …

You’re Safe With Me originates from the memories of the monsoon storms of my childhood. I grew up in the coastal city of Chennai, a port and a fishing hub. During the monsoon season, we got used to listening to the radio for news about the storm and we knew all the technical terms that define the ferocity of the storm.

Here is a sample of a video in Tamil that describes the storm that’s expected. We heard similar broadcasts, except on the radio. As kids of course we didn’t have TV until I was 15 (another long story).

My memories of rain are clearly etched with sound, the feeling of damp and wetness everywhere – clothes not drying, squishy doormat, wet clothes and the smell of damp clothes. As a 6-year old I remember climbing on to the top shelf of my cement cupboard because our flat was flooded. We waited the water out by sleeping on the top shelves.

As an 8-year old and later, I have sat by the radio listening to the news, waiting for my father to return from work. An hour’s journey would stretch into four as he waded through the streets, drenched in the rain. As a teenager, I have cycled in the rain to school, my book-bag wrapped in three sheets of plastic. I remember losing my expensive raincoat at school and having to cycle through the torrential downpour.

But all my memories of tropical thunderstorms are not scary or stressful. For a city that’s hot most of the year, rains are both a blessing and a curse. The first drops fall on the parched ground, evoking the fragrance of the earth. The rain is relentless, loud and full of promise. The good memories are always associated with the cool air, the sound of rain and a spicy Indian snack with a book by the window.

I’ve returned to the topic of the thunderstorm often and in various ways. Long ago when I was just starting out, I wrote a story that was inspired by a real life incident during the monsoon rains called Afraid of Dogs.

And of course my love for flood stories led me to the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, which is again set during the torrential downpour of the monsoon season.

You’re Safe With Me is a storyteller’s take on the thunderstorm. Monsoon rains and thunderstorms are dramatic elements of this beautiful earth. Clouds gather over the ocean, they create low pressure and they bring rain and storm. I wanted children not to be afraid of its ferocity.

But this is also a book about perspectives. I wanted young readers to look at anything loud or bright or scary from a different viewpoint. Something unfamiliar might terrify us. Once we understand an unknown, it’s familiar, it can be fun or perhaps it needs to be respected.

I had no expectation of how the illustrations would turn out. I knew Poonam Mistry will and should interpret the story the way she sees it and she would bring her own experience of the storm to the story. And she has done it wonderfully, hasn’t she?

Her art inspired by India has brightened the pages and created a third dimension to the story.

Thunderstorms are a necessary part of living near the ocean. And we’re just a small part of how things work on this planet. And therefore, we should do our part to protect the nature around us, lest we should one day be deprived of its beauty and kindness.

Thank you Chitra.
For more guest posts and reviews, I hope readers will follow the rest of this blog tour.

Kaya’s Heart Song

Kaya’s Heart Song
Diwa Tharan Sanders and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing

From the cover illustration it’s evident that the little girl – her name is Kaya and she lives in the Malaysian rainforest– is truly savouring the moment.

As the story begins Kaya observes her mother sitting yoga style and humming. “Mama, what are you singing?” Kaya wants to know.

Her mother explains that it’s her heart song and that having a heart song makes anything possible. Kaya’s response is that she doesn’t know hers: her Mama encourages her to learn to listen for it and sends her daughter off to play outdoors.

Maya follows a butterfly into the jungle and it leads her to an unfamiliar spot but there she discovers someone who is familiar – her friend Pak.

Pak is the guardian of a gate behind which, nestling among thick foliage, is a broken elephant carousel.

Intrigued, Kaya decides to investigate and as she untangles the vines from around one of the elephants her mind begins to quieten and become still. A soft rhythmic beat sounds in her ear as with a Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shak shook / Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shack shook’ the carousel begins to rotate and the elephants move in time with the music.

Suddenly Kaya understands that she has found her own heart song and then, just as her mama had told her, magic happens …

Grounded in the practice of mindfulness – being fully in the present moment – this is a truly mesmerising picture book.

With a lush colour palette Nerina Canzi depicts Kaya’s magical world, creating a truly immersive place both for the main protagonist and for the reader. Her spreads work in perfect harmony with the author’s words and to lose yourself between the covers of the book is to be, like Kaya, in the here and now throughout the experience.

The final page explains simply the practice of mindfulness, linking it with yoga and meditation, and also reminding the reader what brought Kaya to a mindful state.

From the time they start school children today live in an ever more pressurised and often stressful world and this beautiful book demonstrates to both children and adults the benefits of cultivating the mindfulness habit. It can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just a few minutes a day: no distractions; just being fully present in the here and now.

It’s a state of being that young children absorbed in their play (especially with creative materials) reach when adults stand back and watch without interrupting or trying to guide what they’re doing: watch that total concentration, nothing else matters – that’s mindfulness. When I taught 4 and 5 year olds I saw it many times every day; it wan’t taught to them, it’s just how they were.

Sleep Well Siba & Saba / The Frog in the Well

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing
Sisters, Siba and Saba are inveterate losers of things, be it sweaters – seven of them; silver sandals ‘on sandy beaches at Ssese islands’ ; even their bedroom slippers go missing.
Strangely though, they never manage to lose one another; and when their papa had sung them to off sleep, “Sula bulungi, Siba and Saba,”, the sisters would find their lost possessions in their dreams.

One night though, their dreams are of things not lost – a silver shilling for Siba and a ‘stiffly starched school uniform’ for Saba.

Sisters as close as these two share everything, so when they wake from their slumbers, Siba and Saba share their dreamtime sorties. The following day two very unexpected things happen: I expect you can guess what they are: rather than be a story-spoiler though I’ll just say that from that day forward, those sisters always set their sights firmly on the future and what it might bring …

Such eloquence of words and pictures; this simply sparkles with brilliance.
Isdahl’s sibilant text combines with stunningly beautiful scenes of the sisters both inside and outdoors in the African landscapes.

The Frog in the Well
Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin
New York Review Books
An oldie but goodie: I think I may somewhere have a very old edition of this enchanting book from way back when I used to visit the USA fairly frequently. Now it’s been given a new lease of life by the New York Review. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it centres on a well-residing frog who leads a contented life thinking his well is the whole world; “The world is nothing but moss-covered rocks … with a pool of water at the bottom.” is what he tells himself. But then the well-water dries up and the frog is forced to emerge into “the end of the world”

Deciding to take a look around, he discovers all kinds of ‘end-of-the-world’ creatures, learns a few things and eventually becomes a very wise, wide world-loving frog ready to take the longest leap he’s ever made …

For, “A foolish frog can be happy all alone at the bottom of a well, but a clever frog can be much happier out here.”
With its supremely brilliant visual perspectives and thought-provoking words, this still has much to offer 21st century readers and listeners, who will bring to the story an entirely different perspective from that of audiences when it was published in 1958.
More classic Duvoisin comes in:

The House of Four Seasons
Roger Duvoisin
New York Review Books
A wonderful celebration of colour, the seasons and endeavour: and built into this uplifting story are lessons on colour mixing, and a demonstration of how to create a colour wheel.
Both books offer a great opportunity to discover or re-discover some vintage gems from over 60 years ago.

I’ve signed the charter  

It’s My Pond / Looking for Lord Ganesh


It’s My Pond
Claire Garralon, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Book Island
There is a pond and a duck – a yellow one that comes upon same. “Wow, nice pond – it’s my pond!” it declares and plunges in. Bliss. Enter stage right another duck, white this time. It too wants the pond. Its “Why don’t we split it in two?” suggestion seems ideal. Another duck appears, a red one …

but that’s no problem: divide the pond three ways. And so it goes on: more and more ducks of all colours of the rainbow appear one by one, and the pond is split into ‘tiny bits and pieces.’ Then … consternation on the part of the in-the-pond ducks … none of them, it transpires, is actually having any fun at all.
“We don’t swim” says green duck. “We just stay put.” “We’re bored, “ says pink duck “and we can’t move!
Leave it to black duck though: it has the perfect solution.

But then what should happen along but a huge hippo: uh-oh!
Wonderful wit on the part of the book’s creator is evident in both words and pictures. Young listeners will have a good laugh over the lovely lessons on negotiating and sharing; and they’ll delight in the notion of what look like the kind of ducks they’ve seen at the fair or school fete being characters in a picture book.

Looking for Lord Ganesh
Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer
Lantana Publishing
I have a fairly large collection of Ganesha images both 3D and 2D so was more than a little amused by the title of this book. A friend asked me the other day, ’Why do you collect them?’ My response that Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, was all that was needed. Herein it’s Anika’s grandmother who had always told her to ask ‘Lord Ganesh’ for help when the girl is anxious over something. Anika has recently emigrated with her family and now is missing her home city Mumbai greatly. However she has made a friend, Hadiya and now has a dilemma.

Anika has the opportunity to join a soccer team but without her new friend, so, she borrows her mum’s tablet and e-mails the god of wisdom asking for advice.
What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of soul searching on Anika’s part, a wise choice (without the help of a response to her mail) and ultimately, an outcome that works for all would-be players, every one of them.

Sonja Wimmer’s vibrant, richly patterned illustrations convey beautifully, both Anika’s and her friend’s thoughts and emotions in this touchingly different story about friendship, inclusiveness, finding your feet in a new environment and discovering your own inner strength to hold fast to what you believe to be right. It offers an excellent starting point for discussion and explorations of a cultural and/or, religious nature.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Ammuchi Puchi

The Ammuchi Puchi
Sharanya Manivanna and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing
To visit India, no matter which part, is an assault on the senses, especially that first time: the sights, sounds, smells, the sheer seeming chaos that surrounds you is almost, though not quite, overwhelming. But somehow, for me at least, there is something about it that gets right into your spirit and doesn’t want to let go; so, you keep on going back again and again and … then, you realise that you’ve fallen in love with the place. This picture book evokes some of the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the country.
Now one of the most striking things about India, particularly the southern part is the dazzling, dancing array of butterflies and it’s something my partner and I both appreciate every time we go. I happen to have picked up a few words of Malayalam and thought I recognised Ammuchi as mother but then realised that word is ‘ummachi’ ; I know grandmother, or rather maternal grandmother as ‘ammacci’ in Tamil (having taught some Tamil speaking 5 year olds in my reception classes) and my Hindi, which is much better, tells me that ‘puchi’ means kiss. So, before even opening this gorgeous book, I was making lots of connections and deciding the title means ‘grandmother’s kiss’.
Let’s get to the story then: the setting, I think, is rural south India; and its narrator is Aditya who lives with his younger sister, Anjali, their parents (Amma and Appa) and grandmother, Ammuchi.

The two children adore their paan-chewing grandmother, despite being somewhat scared by her ghost stories – “Don’t you see it sitting there, with eyes big-big like two moons?” until that is, they grow out of being spooked and join in with her tales of ghost sightings, furnishing their own details to add to her descriptions of the mango-tree dwelling manifestation.

Just as Aditya’s tenth birthday approaches, Ammuchi gets ill, has to go into hospital and dies. The two youngsters, like their parents, grieve and the children in particular struggle to come to terms with their loss: that constant ray of sunshine no more illuminates their lives …

But then one evening a beautiful butterfly flies down and settles on Anjali’s head. It’s “Ammuchi Puchi,” she tells her brother. Next day at school, he tells his classmates of the event, saying, “Ammuchi Puchi is an insect who is our grandmother.” Despite their ambivalence, back home that evening, Aditya ponders further and becomes convinced that the butterfly is in fact his grandmother. His parents’ response and seeming lack of understanding, result in the Ammuchi Puchi becoming the children’s secret. It turns out though, that it’s not only the children who have a secret: the Ammuchi Puchi has one too: one that she reveals to the brother and sister one rainy night;

and so begins the healing and the understanding that Ammuchi’s love will always permeate their lives, no matter what.
Grandmothers have a very special place in Indian families in particular, but grief is a universal phenomenon. What Sharanya Manivannan’s moving, thought-provoking narrative offers for all readers is, ‘a place from which to become aware’. Yes, it’s deeply sad in part; but ultimately it’s about much more than heart-breaking loss and grief: this is a joyous celebration of love, of a very special person who relished life; of family; of the beauty of the natural world; and of the power of the imagination. No matter your feelings about, or understanding of, reincarnation, the author’s symbolising of the grandmother as a butterfly both comforts the child characters and allows for open-ended responses from readers everywhere.
Nerina Canzi’s illustrations complement the telling beautifully. The predominance of vibrant hues in the lush flora and fauna, the fabrics of the clothing, the kolam design on the school floor, the carpets and rugs, underscores the Indian setting while at the same time, reinforcing the message that the story is essentially, about abiding love and the way children have a propensity to transcend deeply upsetting events. In contrast, almost all colour is leeched from the spread dealing with Ammuchi’s dying, reflecting the palpable desolation her death brings to the whole family, and rendering it all the more affecting for readers, not least this reviewer.
A must have book for all family bookshelves and primary classroom collections.

I’ve signed the charter  

Follow Your Dreams: The Wooden Camel & Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band

The Wooden Camel
Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani
Lantana Publishing
Despite his youth and lack of stature, Etabo dreams of becoming a camel racer, much to the amusement of his older siblings. But the lad’s dreams are not destroyed, even when his father announces that they have to sell the family’s camels to buy water. He asks the Sky God, Akuj for help but receives the response: “Your dreams are enough.” Surely this cannot be so, but it looks increasingly likely as Etabo and his brother and sister are sent out to mind the goats …

and eventually his siblings too have to find paid work so the task is left entirely to Etabo.
He continues to dream of racing camels; but his dreams are not enough. He begs to ride one of the horses in big sister, Akiru’s care but receives a firm refusal; even the cats, chickens and his favourite goat won’t let him ride on their backs.
Once again, the boy prays to Akuj but receives the same “Your dreams are enough” response.
Akiru, saddened by her brother’s increasing unhappiness, sets to work on a project that keeps those dreams of Etabo’s alive,

and for the time being, they have to be enough. Hold fast to those dreams Etabo.

Adreani’s scenes of the Turkana people of Kenya set against the harsh landscapes are truly beautiful and perfectly complement the soft, sympathetic humour of Kahiu’s text. A book to cherish, to share, ponder upon and discuss widely.

Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing
Jimmy Finnigan has a dream: he wants to start a band. He has something of a problem though – his place of residence has an award for ‘the prettiest village ever’ and seemingly each and every other resident is protective or at least wants to keep their particular place ‘nice’. Every place except the woods that is: they’re a pretty wild spot and the subject of adult warnings to keep away. Jimmy’s parents are no exception and send him to the attic in search of a quiet, indoor pursuit. What he finds though, results, with a bit of help from Dad, in this …

Pretty soon, this musical interest has become an obsession, Posters appear, but there are no takers …

until Jimmy remembers a place that might just prove fruitful; but when he forays into the forest, even that one is nowhere to be seen.
The lad is on the point of giving up the whole enterprise when he hears a distant crashing, bleeping, booshing, boinging, doofing, plonking and crashing. Hardly able to contain his excitement, he follows the sounds to their source and discovers a wild trio busy practising.
A conversation, some shenanigans and a search ensue; a search resulting in something altogether unexpected and beyond Jimmy’s wildest dreams. And after that nothing is ever quite the same again …
Suitably zany, action-packed, wilder than wild, illustrations accompany Tom Knight’s boogying extravaganza. Get your ear plugs ready, your bodies bopping and join the fun. Some of those spirited scenes certainly got me going.

I’ve signed the charter