Dave The Lonely Monster

Dave the Lonely Monster
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Dave lives all alone in a retirement cave; his only companion is his guitar.

Back in the day – the bad old days to be precise – Dave had been a huge pest rampaging and roaring wherever he went.

Until that is, the townsfolk, tired of his mess making, exiled him to Echo Rock where he spends the next sixty years, just him, his knitting, the odd poetry book and his old instrument upon which he strummed the night away.
By day the local knights would taunt him and try to engage him in combat, but of fighting Dave would have no part.

One day his slumbers are disturbed, first by a flying cabbage that hits his nose, then a beetroot biffs him in the eye and an aubergine whizzes past.
Out from behind a bush emerges a tiny knight wielding a carrot. “Prepare to meet your doom!” he cries.

Somewhat nonplussed, Dave challenges this lad who calls him a fiendish monster, pointing out that proper knights do not speak so, and that monstrous beasts, like others, also have feelings.
Realising the error of his ways, Percy apologies, a pledge is taken and a firm friendship forged.
The two have the time of their lives

while back in town, on account of the lack of exciting action, boredom and grumpiness have set in. Monster-bashing is what they need, the townsfolk decide.

Can young Percy persuade them otherwise, armed as they are with fistfuls of mouldy fruit and veg.?
Surely there must be a better way to liven things up and bring fun back for those would-be assailants of Dave’s. He certainly thinks so …

Rollicking rhyme that beats out a heart-warming tale of music and friendship – that’s Anna Kemp’s – and delicious olde-worlde scenes of bygone times that might have been but never were, on account of the crazy mix of knights of yore, Dave’s 60s style bass guitar, mini-skirts and dance moves, not to mention a hells angels wooden Harley style bike complete with side car (those are all part and parcel the super scenes created by Sara Ogilvie)  – combine to make a super read-aloud romp with an important message.

Out with rebel-rousing and war; long live love and peace.

This book will have to be one of my ‘secret story-teller’ choices for the autumn term.

The Old Man

The Old Man
Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois
Gecko Press

Softly spoken and compassionate, this little book has amazing power to move.

In the city, morning has come; it’s time for everyone to begin the day. The children set off for school and beneath a blanket, an oldish man, a rough sleeper stirs, slowly and reluctantly. Anonymous, he’s freezing cold, in need of coffee and very hungry. He walks and as he does so his hunger increases.

As he grows wearier, he slows and stops for a rest and watches the passers by; memories of his past drift into his mind until he’s suddenly awoken and told to move on.

Belly rumbling, he heads for the shelter in the hope of sustenance but when his turn comes he cannot even recall his name so leaves – empty.

A bus affords a brief shelter from the wet and cold but his sleep is interrupted by unkind words from which he flees as soon as possible.

His loneliness is pervasive as he wanders on and through a park until towards the end of the day, when he’s wrapped himself in his blanket once more, a little girl approaches him smiling; she offers him her sandwich

and likening him to a teddy bear, walks on. No sandwich has ever tasted so good.

Fuelled by her kindness the man heads back to the shelter once again. When asked his name this time, “Teddy” comes his response.

A wonderful demonstration of how it often takes a young child to take notice, to see beyond the surface, to show empathy, reach out and make that vital connection.

Claude Dubois’ soft watercolour pencil sketches with their loose imagery underline the mood and the chill of this drifting tale of our times. Entirely unsentimental yet enormously heart-warming, this is a book that needs to be shared and discussed everywhere, not least by policy makers in government who have, dare I say, been instrumental in creating the circumstances like those of this homeless man.

Mr Pegg’s Post

Mr Pegg’s Post
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

This is a really sweet story about a lonely girl who lives with her parents in a lighthouse just a little out to sea.
The only other ‘person’ she sees is Mr Pegg the postie pelican when he drops off her parents’ mail.
One day a terrible storm blows up and with it comes a loud THUMP! at the door Anna is safely behind. It’s poor Mr Pegg with a wing injured in the storm.
Kind-hearted Anna, tends his wound, makes him tea and as they chat, an offer: using her rowing boat she’ll help him deliver the mail.

Anna is a wonderful worker and Mr Pegg asks her to help until his wing heals.

During the course of her work Anna makes lots of new friends and that makes her feel happy;

but this happiness quickly starts to dissipate when Mr Pegg announces that his wing is healed sufficiently for him to deliver the post on his own again.

Back home, she feels more lonely than ever, but one morning not long after, a loud THUMP at the door announces Mr Pegg and with him two wonderful surprise deliveries both of which restore her feelings of happiness.

I love the way young Anna is instrumental in elevating her own sense of self worth, as well as the way the story gently reminds readers of the importance of face-to-face contact and real letters in this age of e-mails and social media. Elena Topouzoglou’s digitally finished watercolour and ink scenes really capture the inherent warmth and friendship of her story.

The Knight Who Said “No!”

The Knight Who Said “No!”
Lucy Rowland and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Ned had always been a biddable, obedient little knight complying with each and every one of his parents’ wishes,

and always come nightfall running indoors to hide from the dragon as she swept through the sky. One night as he watches the dragon from the safety of his bedroom window, Ned wonders if, like himself, the dragon is lonely.

Next morning – the day of the tournament – a change has come over the lad. A firm “No” is his response to every request from his parents and the townsfolk alike. When the dragon whooshes through the sky and lands at Ned’s feet, he accosts the creature, inquiring about her lack of roar.

The dragon’s response brings about a mood shift in Ned …

and thereafter, an unlikely new friendship is forged.

Lucy Rowlands’ rhyming text bounces merrily and faultlessly along, providing join-in ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ opportunities for listeners who will delight in Ned’s sudden attack of recalcitrance and its final outcome. Kate Hindley documents the whole saga with wonderful scenes of days of yore village life capturing not only Ned’s mood changes, but also the dragon’s and the bit part players’ characters, absolutely splendidly.

A potential storytime favourite, methinks.

La La La

La La La
Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

A small girl stands alone and opens her mouth; “La” she sings followed by a few more “La, La La … La”. No response. She stomps across the page and outside.
There she begins chasing and singing to the falling maple leaves, but even her shouts are answered merely with silence.

She continues addressing her ‘Las’ to the pond and the reeds; still nothing comes back.
Dejectedly she returns home, sits and ponders. Later on she sallies forth into the purple, starry night. Once again she begins her singing, directing her vocals towards the moon.

Nothing.
Back she goes and returns with a ladder. So desperate is she for a mere response that she climbs right up to the top … Will the moon finally hear her song?
It does, but not for a longish time and then begins a wonderful moonlit duet.

Virtually wordless, this eloquent symphony of sound, light and colour offers an inspiring message of determination and hope. The whole thing unfolds like a silent movie with the little girl’s body language saying so much about her emotions.

This book is twice the length of a normal 32 page picture book, so in addition to recognising the virtuoso performance of Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim, it was a brave publisher who allowed them room for their duet to be heard in full.

Leaf

Leaf
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books
Sandra Dieckmann’s love of the natural world shines right out at you from the arresting cover of her debut picture book.
It opens with a ‘strange white creature’ on an ice floe drifting shoreward upon dark and brooding waters, watched by a large black crow. Once ashore, the polar bear makes its home in a deserted hillside cave: an outsider watched and distrusted by the forest animals. It forages for leaves, watchful, wary; and the residents bestow upon it the name Leaf on account of its strange behaviour, but equally because they want rid of him. They all talk about Leaf but none dares talk to him.

And so it goes on until one day leaf- clad, the bear charges through the forest astonishing all that see, and launches himself, from the hillside and plunges into the lake below.
While the soaking creature hides once more in his cave, the other animals meet to discuss what to do. Conflicting opinions emerge, (only the crows speak for him) with the result that they do nothing.
Leaf meanwhile renews his determination to take flight, this time from a cliff …

and once he’s safely back on shore, the crows – intelligent beings that they are – finally allow him to speak. And speak he does – to them all – about melting ice and his desire to return to his family.
As conveyors of mood and movement, Sandra Dieckmann’s illustrations are impressive.

Executed in black, white, greys, blues and teals with occasional stand out splashes of red, orange, rust, yellow and the greens of the patterned leaves and flowering plants, the landscape portrayed is at once beautiful and at times, hostile.
It’s said in folklore that crows are harbingers of change: I’d like to think that those in Leaf’s story might act as symbols of a positive change in the way outsiders are viewed by too many of us. With themes that include global warming, outsiders, prejudice, loneliness and reaching out to others, this poignantly beautiful book is both topical and timely.

I’ve signed the charter  

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle
Matt Hunt
Scholastic Children’s Books
Town life doesn’t suit Lion: he dreams of clear sunny skies, wind in his mane, sand in his paws and, his guitar. Nothing more. So when he spies a ‘beach house for sale’ advert he cannot believe his luck. That very evening he packs the necessities – mostly strawberry smoothies – and heads off over land, air and sea until he reaches the island of his dreams. There, he takes up residence and thus, his perfect existence commences …

What joy to wake to the sounds of parrots and splashing waves, to breakfast on succulent coconuts and strum a guitar to your heart’s content. Soon though, unsurprisingly, Lion begins to feel lonely; but how can he communicate his need for a pal without a phone or mail service?

Sunlight moment! Lion decides to write a message, pop it in one of the many bottles he has (sans smoothie of course) and drop it into the sea. No response. Lion writes more messages, puts them into more empty bottles – many bottles, tosses them into the sea, watches them disappear, and sleeps …
What happens thereafter, is not exactly what Lion had hoped;

but suffice it to say without giving the whole thing away, all ends happily and … rather noisily. Which all goes to show that you don’t always know what will make you happy; and that stepping out of your comfort zone, embracing difference and welcoming new arrivals can work wonders.
A timely, important message for readers and, a tumultuous one for Lion. Matt Hunt delivers both with verve and humour.

I’ve signed the charter