Once Upon a Fairytale

Once Upon a Fairytale
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the fourth collaboration between the O’Hara sisters, author Natalia and Lauren, illustrator.
It’s a ‘choose you own fairytale adventure’ that really does put child readers centre stage as they decide the direction in which the story goes at almost every turn of the page.

Things start peacefully enough in fairyland with the land being ruled by a wise, kind Queen; but then comes a messenger to the door of the first character of the reader’s choice with some terrible news. “A villain has put a curse on the realm and done something outrageous: you might choose turning ‘all the babies into pigs’, ‘the mums and dads into rocks’, ‘the Queen and court to birds and bugs’ or ‘our dinners into socks’. Her royal highness needs a hero to set forth, fight and defeat the villain and break the curse.
Now’s the time for whichever character the reader selected – maybe a friendly gingerbread man, a kindly farm girl or a jolly woodcutter’s son – to sally forth clad in a scarlet cloak.

Thereafter said character has the opportunity to dine with gnomes upon gold bars sprinkled with rubies, or indulge in roast stars, mashed snow cloud and fresh-buttered sunbeams at the fairies’ table.

You’ll plunge into rivers, climb mountains, fly through the air and creep through a dark wood to reach the villain’s abode; but what about defeating that villain – I wonder …

Superbly interactive with hundreds of possible combinations, this captivating magical book is an empowering springboard to encourage young readers to let their imaginations soar off to that once upon a time world of fairyland, creating a new and exciting adventure every time they pick up this book.

Alongside those exciting words of Natalia are Lauren’s bold, exquisitely detailed illustrations making the whole experience sheer joy. Perhaps later with creative juices flowing, children will want to start writing/drawing their own fairytales. You never know they might even be so inspired that one day, like the O’Hara sisters, they will start delving into the works of Joseph Campbell and Vladimir Propp. Till then, happy story-creating from this latest spellbinding O’Hara offering.


Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is the third book by the O’Hara sisters, Natalia who writes and Lauren who illustrates and what utter delight it is.

When Frindleswylde an eerie shapeshifter gains entry to the home of Cora and her Granny he steals the light and thus the house is plunged into darkness.

Cora sets off to try and get back the light so that her Granny is able to find her way home. She journeys beneath the pond to Frindleswylde’s frozen kingdom where she is at his mercy and is made Queen of Winter.

However he agrees to return the light so long as she can complete three Impossible Tasks, either that or remain forever captive in his realm.

Cora is determined to complete the three increasingly difficult tasks but can she succeed? Assuredly the thought of her Granny lost in the woods spurs her on try her utmost to outwit the deceitful captor.

This compelling, multi-layered tale has echoes of classic folk and fairy tales – Rumplestiltskin, The Snow Queen, The Six Servants for instance. Present too are those timeless fairytale themes of good versus evil, the all conquering power of love, a quest, and the loss of innocence.

Both the telling and the illustrations are magical: the former with its rich rhythmic flow of words and the latter, things of exquisite beauty in their own right: together they make for a wondrous read aloud fable that will utterly enchant younger listeners; and its themes will speak to older readers and adults showing that, among other things, we should continue to strive for what is right in today’s troubled world.

Madame Badobedah / A Sea of Stories / Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost

Madame Badobedah
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is a rather longer than usual picture book story of an unusual older woman and the young narrator, Mabel.

Mabel lives at The Mermaid Hotel an establishment managed by her parents. She’s an only child with a fertile imagination and a thirst for adventure and here she acts as narrator of the tale of what happens when a certain rather unusual guest arrives. Not only does the woman have twenty-three bags, two large trunks, lots of jewels and a dressing table but also two cats, two dogs and a tortoise, oh! and a penchant for toffees too.

So high-handed is her manner that Mabel takes an instant dislike to her, naming her Madame Badobedah and deciding she’s a villain. Donning her large raincoat, hat and sunglasses the girl becomes Mabel the Spy.

One Saturday morning the strange guest invites Mabel into her room for tea.

We learn that Madame Badobedah had long ago come across the sea on a big ship to escape war and had once been a ballerina – hence the jewelled tiara.

Gradually as this rather unlikely friendship blossoms we learn more about Madame Badobedah – she’s ready to apologise when she thinks it’s due, enjoys visiting the mermaids,

and also has some secrets that she wants to keep to herself. I love the way Sophie Dahl’s narrative gradually reveals things about the lonely Irena (as we discover is her real name) but leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill in for themselves.

Lauren O’Hara captures the inherent warmth of the story in her deliciously whimsical illustrations that are just perfect for the quirky telling.

Another story about an intergenerational friendship is:

A Sea of Stories
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Stripes Publishing

Young Roo loves to visit her grandpa who lives in a cottage beside the sea with Bathsheba, his ancient cat and a large collection of Bits-and-Pieces he’s accumulated over the years.

Grandpa has a garden that has become overgrown and wild, the ideal place for a game of hide-and-seek when she goes to stay for a few days. When he gets tired there’s nothing he likes better than to sit in his favourite armchair and tell stories to Roo; stories inspired by the objects in his collection.

They all relate to the hidden cove at the bottom of the cliff, a place that Grandpa’s legs won’t carry him to any longer on account of the ‘rambly-scrambly path’ that leads down there.

On her final night at Grandpa’s Roo turns her wish for a way to bring Grandpa and his favourite cove back together into a plan; a plan that the following day is brought to fruition.

Highlighting the importance of sharing stories, this unusual story is both warm and infused with a delightful quirkiness.

Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost
Alex Rühle, trans. Rachel Ward, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

One day after the holidays Paul returns home from school and gets the surprise of his life: a voice comes from the keyhole when he inserts his key and it turns out to be a tiny ghost claiming he lives in the keyhole.

He names the being Zippel; but later on that same day he learns that the lock on the front door is to be replaced in just three days.

Later that evening Paul’s parents leave him alone and go to a meeting. Immediately the lad informs Zippel and the race is on to find the enormously inquisitive ghost (with an interest in everything including toilets) a new home before the three days are out.

With smashing Axel Scheffler colour illustrations and absolutely full of delicious wordplay and puns, not to mention Zippel’s rhymes, this warm-hearted story about discovering friends in the strangest of places is fun around Halloween especially, but worth reading any time.

Hortense and the Shadow

Hortense and the Shadow
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Puffin Books

Combining elements of dark and light, the O’Hara sisters’ debut picture book has a haunting, fairytale quality that will have a wide appeal.
A little girl Hortense, who lives in an ornate mansion deep in the woods, is a kind, brave, caring child. However there’s one thing she hates: her own shadow. It follows her no matter where she goes or what she does; and when night falls, it grows ‘tall and dark and crooked.’
She tries hiding her shadow … to no avail:

she and her shadow remain locked in mutual hatred.
Then one evening Hortense manages to escape from its clutches: she feels liberated, happy and safe; although just occasionally it feels like she’s being watched.

One black night some bandits arrive and it seems all is lost; but then Hortense’s shadow appears and saves her.

That’s when the girl realises that, rather than being something to hate, her shadow is a part of what she is, ‘sometimes dark, cross, strange, silly, jagged or blue,‘ – the perfect ending for this highly original, allegorical fairytale.
Natalia O’Hara’s lyrical prose and Lauren’s delicate, muted illustrations, sometimes ornate, sometimes stark and looming, together make for a multi-layered story to have you tingling with delight. Absolutely beautiful.