Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani
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.
Lucy Christopher and Anastasia Suvorova
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
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
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
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
Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh
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
Stella Elia and Weberson Santiago
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
Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani
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.