The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish
Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

‘A boy and his grandpa sat drawing one afternoon.’ So begins Sang Miao’s first book as both author and illustrator in which at the start we see the two together as they share a conversation about a special kind of jellyfish and immortality.

Not long after, the boy learns that his beloved grandfather has died and that night he feels lost.

In a dream his grandfather returns and takes him along on his very last journey, beneath the ocean to a yellow door.

Beyond the door is his destination, The Life Transfer City.

This dream world is a place where those who have died choose a spirit creature to become that will live on in memory. There, after meeting some of the other choosers, boy and old man must part company.

Miao’s dream world is alive with spirit animals and strange-looking fungi illustrated in an arresting colour palette giving a surreal feel to the whole place, a place wherein the end of life offers a new beginning as something or someone altogether different.

Whether or not reincarnation fits into your worldview, with its themes of death and rebirth, this is a powerful, uplifting story, told with the utmost sensitivity that should be of great help to grieving children and their families.

No Longer Alone

No Longer Alone
Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Egmont

My heart really went out to the so-called shy, quiet little girl narrator of this beautiful story.
Actually however, those who’ve called her either of these are wrong; it’s just that due to events that have gone before she just doesn’t feel like talking or being noisy.

Nor does she feel like running around in the park with her siblings;

instead she wants to be alone, even though her loving, understanding Dad encourages her to try and find the “old you, the get-up-and-go you. The loud –and-active you, the happy you, the you, you used to be,”

Dad’s comments open the floodgates  for an outpouring of feelings as his little daughter opens up about the things that worry her, upset her and make her feel alone.

As the two sit together something shifts inside our narrator and things begin to feel a bit different.

Then slowly, slowly she finds that she can be that chatty self with others as well as when she’s alone; and she can play with her sisters again, sharing feelings and imaginings, alone no more.

Joseph’s beautiful heartfelt, poetic telling is full of poignancy and Robyn Wilson-Owen captures the inherent turmoil and tenderness in the tale with her beautifully textured illustrations of a family whose loss is palpable.

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an absolutely beautiful, gentle but powerful story of love and of loss.

Umpa’s garden is the young child narrator’s favourite place, filled as it is with flowers and fruit trees. Umpa shows his grandchild how to plant seeds and watch them grow. He also plants stories in her mind, stories of imagined worlds – wonderful new places they can travel to together; places that, fuelled by the imagination can stay with you forever.

Time passes; Umpa grows older

and eventually he dies.

His distraught grandchild grieves, “The clouds had swallowed me whole’ she tells us.

Then one day, she remembers: his legacy lives on …

and he will always be there in her heart and in her memories of those treasured experiences they shared together.

Books and stories have transformative powers: Victoria’s new book is a wonderful reminder of that, showing some of the myriad ways those powers can help to heal, to bond people together, as well as to fuel the imagination. The softness of the story is evoked in her beautiful pastel colour palette, her graceful lines and the fluidity of her images. Do spend time on every spread; there is so much to see and feel.

A book to share and to cherish.

The Sea Saw

 

The Sea Saw
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster

Tom Percival always hits the sweet spot with his picture books and with this one he’s truly aced it – again.

When Sofia, on a visit to the seaside with her dad, loses her beloved teddy bear she’s totally distraught. The old, tatty object has been passed from her grandfather to her mother (whom one presumes is dead) and then to little Sofia and she’d thought of it more as a friend than a soft toy. In their dash out of the rainstorm said bear falls from an open bag and is left alone on the beach, unseen except by the Sea.

The Sea takes on the role of guardian of the bear, and the search for Sofia begins.

Meanwhile at home, Sofia’s father makes exhaustive enquiries and the two of them return to the beach but all to no avail; all that remains of Sofia’s precious bear apart from memories, is his blue scarf from which she snips a tiny piece to keep in her locket.

Back with the Sea, the hunt continues in earnest with Bear being borne through the water with the aid of marine creatures, surviving hazardous conditions and enjoying more restful periods too. All this takes years and eventually the bear is carried along rivers and a stream,

where it’s spied floating along by a young girl; a young girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter.

Finally a joyful reunion takes place and as Tom tells us almost at the close, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

I doubt many readers will be able to finish this book without having tears in their eyes, a lump in their throat and a happy smile; it’s so moving and SO beautifully constructed. What a wonderful, heart-warming way to think about loss while never completely losing sight of the possibility of reunion.

Such sublime illustrations; every one is to linger over and return to; some send shivers down your spine. Absolutely awesome: another must have book from local-to-me, author/artist, Tom.

The Afterwards

The Afterwards
A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Let me say at the outset, this is a remarkable book; intensely moving and quite unlike anything else, even the author’s previous stories, The Imaginary and The Song From Somewhere Else.

The story starts with best friends Ember and Ness who are pretty much inseparable but then comes an announcement in school assembly. There’s been an accident in the park and one of the pupils has died; it’s Ness.

For Ember, the world is unimaginable without her bestest buddy. Then, through another grieving person, she becomes aware of a strange grey afterworld and there she finds Ness again. Can she bring her back? That is Ember’s plan but should she fail, it seems she too will have to remain in that eerie place, leaving behind her Dad and Penny, his partner.

The push and pull between the two worlds presents Ember with a dilemma that is unbearable, especially when she discovers that Ness is not the only one of those she loves in the netherworld.

I’ll say no more about the story itself except that I urge you to read it.

A.F. Harrold’s writing is totally gripping, dark, profound, occasionally scary, and suffused with grief; but it’s also full of love and tenderness, and there’s hope too. There’s also a cat that keeps putting in an appearance. Does that sound a little familiar?

Emily Gravett’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text, making one’s reading experience of The Afterwards feel like a seamless whole.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope
Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse
Caterpillar Books

Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse have created a touchingly beautiful picture book story of loss, love, sadness, hope, transformation and beauty.

Maya’s mum is no longer on the scene (we’re not told if she has died or absent from the family home). Those remaining though – Dad, Maya and dog Pip are feeling bad and seem surrounded by desolation; that’s certainly so in the now overgrown garden.

Dad struggles to keep things going; Maya’s loneliness is in part compensated by Pip’s company but still she feels the loss, despite Dad’s stories.

One day when Maya feels particularly sad he tells her a story about Mum, relating how her remedy for down days was to go outside, plant seeds and wait for them to grow, by which time her worries would be replaced by something of beauty.

On the table are some packets of seeds.

A decision is made: it’s time to transform that neglected garden.

Little by little Maya prepares the ground for planting, her first seeds being Mum’s favourite sunflowers. Gradually along with the burgeoning plants, gardening releases something in Maya, allowing calming thoughts to grow.

From time to time, Dad too takes comfort in gardening alongside his little girl. Lightness grows and with it some happiness. The flowers bloom attracting tiny creatures,

then larger ones until the entire garden is alive with hums, buzzes, flutters, flowers and, the first bursting of transcendent hope and … joy.

In a similar way Mum’s absence has left gaps in the family’s life, the author leaves gaps in the story for readers to fill. Her heart-stirring telling has a quiet power that is echoed in Katie Rewse’s graceful scenes.

Poignant, powerful: an understated gem.