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.

Nell & the Circus of Dreams

Nell & the Circus of Dreams
Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith
Oxford University Press

Circuses hold a tremendous fascination for many children and so it is with young Nell although she doesn’t know it when the story begins. What she does know though is that she feels sad on account of her mother being ill and then, when she discovers a tiny chick in the farmyard, very happy.

Nell and the lost chick – she names it Rosebud – become almost inseparable.

One night Rosebud disappears from the end of her bed and when Nell wakes next morning her feathered friend is nowhere to be seen. Dashing outside she leaves the farmyard and heads through the still dewy meadows till she finds herself surrounded by enormous wooden wheels.

There’s an intoxicating aroma of coffee, toast and hedgerow flora, and she hears hammers striking metal. Lo and behold, she’s walked right into a circus.

Up goes the huge tent and Nell sees girls busy adding adornments inside and out. She helps and is invited into one of the wheeled homes where she joins a large family meal. She endeavours to communicate that she’s searching for her lost chick but suddenly the music starts and everyone rushes out and into the big tent.

Nell is mesmerised by the performances she sees …

but even better a wonderful surprise awaits her in the ring: there’s something feathery standing in a circle of light.
From then on, although sadly the circus has to depart, remembering doesn’t;

Nell carries the memories always in her heart and relives them in her own way.

Beautifully and movingly told by Nell, founder of Giffords Circus that has its home on the outskirts of Stroud, near to where I currently live much of the time, her words really capture the magic of all things wonderful about a circus community such as theirs.

I can think of nobody better than Briony to illustrate the story. Her jewel-like scenes are out-of-this-world wonderful, be they of Nell’s farmhouse home and yard, the temporary homes of the circus community or of the performance.

A must have picture book, this.

The Climbers

The Climbers
Ali Standish, illustrated by Alette Straathof
Stripes Publishing

This new title in Stripes full-colour fiction books for new solo readers stars young Alma who lives with her overbearing uncle in a town bordering a forest, a forest in and beyond which young Alma longs to explore. “The forest is full of fearsome beasts. That’s why only hunters are allowed there,” her uncle insists when he discovers she’s climbed a tree. And as for the mountains beyond, they are populated by settlers as bad as the beasts.

Nevertheless Alma feels drawn to the world beyond her narrow hometown and that night she ventures out into the darkness determined to see the forest for herself.

As she walks deeper among the trees, the bird song seems to be welcoming her and suddenly, hearing a cry, she comes upon a frightened – looking bear cub. Unable to leave it alone but unable to take it home, she carries him gently to a disused shed on the edge of town; then she creeps back indoors and falls fast asleep.

Every night thereafter, Alma and the cub – she calls it Star Bear – slip out and explore the forest together.

The cub as bear cubs do, grows bigger and one day rumours of a bear sighting are spreading in the town’s market square. Fears escalate: a giant sharp-toothed beast brought by the mountain settlers, they decide. Anna keeps her knowledge to herself, while the mayor decides a wall round the town is to be erected to keep outsiders from entering and a search for the ‘beast’ begun.

She takes Star Bear back into the forest, fearing that what the townsfolk are doing will shortly prevent them from meeting.

More and more trees are felled to build the stockade and lack of food in the dwindling forest results in empty-bellied townsfolk. Should Alma now reveal the truth? She does and soon finds herself on Star Bear’s back as they flee for safety into the deepest depths of the forest. Before them are the mountains. There’s only one way to go …

On the mountainside the two come upon a boy riding a tiger; the boy’s not scary or furry and introduces himself as Tully. The friendship that forms between them changes everything.

Without being a story spoiler I’ll say little more except that it’s a case of onwards and upwards, as the two children, and others they meet, (together with their animals) finally see the light: love and courage conquer and connect us all.

As in this powerful, moving story, so it is in our increasingly troubled times: it’s children who show the way when it comes to optimism, open minds and open hearts.

Beautifully told by Ali and dramatically illustrated by Alette Straathof, be it read alone or read aloud, this is a must read..

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 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.

Joy

Joy
Corrinne Averiss and Isabelle Follath
Words & Pictures

Where can you find joy, and once found, how can you capture it? That’s the conundrum young Fern sets herself in this gorgeous story.
Fern’s Nanna has not been her usual self recently; her sparkle’s gone and with it her love of cake baking and even worse, her smile. That’s what upsets Fern most.
It’s like the joy has gone out of her life.” is what her Mum says when Fern asks what’s wrong with Nanna.
Once she’s understood that joy involves experiences that generate a ‘whooosh!’ factor, Fern packs her catching kit into her bag

and sets out for the park to catch some and bring them back for her Nanna.

Sure enough, the park is brimming with joyful moments, but try as she might, those whooshes refuse to be caught in her various receptacles …

and she trudges sadly home.

Now it’s Nanna’s turn to notice how sad her granddaughter is. As Fern recounts her abortive attempts to bring home some joy for her, lo and behold, Nanna’s face breaks into the ‘BIGGEST, WIDEST WHOOOSH! of a smile’ and next day they’re off to the park together.

Corrine Averiss’s empathetic tale showing that unique bond between grandparent and child, is in itself elevating and a gentle demonstration that love is the true generator of joy however manifested: coupled with debut picture book illustrator Isabelle Follath’s tender, mixed media scenes of both sadness and jubilation, this very special book makes one want to break into WHOOOSH-induced handsprings of delight.

Jane Foster’s Summertime / Whose Boat? / Who?

Jane Foster’s Summertime
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

What things spring to mind when someone says the word summertime?
Delicious, lip-smacking ice cream? Sunglasses and a floppy hat? Cool juice and some fruit? Flip-flops? Swimming? Sunflowers?

All of those sprang into mine before I opened this delicious slice of the summer season from designer/illustrator Jane Foster. And lo and behold, there they all were plus several others each one being stylishly presented in the artist’s pattern rich style, one per spread,

while the final opening reveals all eleven of the summery icons together.

Her chosen, uplifting colour palette absolutely sings out the joys of the summer season in this cracker of a board book that will delight adult sharers as much as toddlers.

Whose Boat?
Toni Buzzeo and Tom Froese
Abrams Appleseed

This board book is essentially a boat-centric guessing game featuring half a dozen workers and their respective craft.

There’s a patrol boat controlled by the harbourmaster, a tugboat with its pilot,

a car ferry and captain, a fishing boat with a ‘lobsterperson’ (that wording is a little clumsy, I think), a lifeboat and coxswain, a fire boat and firefighter.

An image of each boat with clear labels of parts, is placed on the outside of a gatefold which opens to show the answer to the question, ‘Whose boat is that? Do you know?’’

There’s a fair bit of detail, perhaps more than one might expect for the usual board book audience, but for the vehicle curious young child that’s a plus; for those not ready for all those labels, Tom Froese’s bright, stylised nautical scenes are a good starting point from which little ones can absorb whatever they’re ready for.

A good bet for either home or an early years setting.

For even younger infants is:

Who?
Robie Harris and Natascha Rosenberg
Abrams Appleseed
Diversity is key in this engaging look at babies – ten in all – and the relationships they form.

Babies themselves will enjoy the rhythm of Harris’ playful, repetitive question and answer text, and slightly older infants can participate in the guessing game, joining in with, and responding to, the ‘Who? / Who’s that? ‘ as they become familiar with the various relations – Dada, Mama, Gramma,

and Grampa, as well as the animals and inanimate item.

Natascha Rosennberg’s endearing, but not sickly sweet, portrayals of the loving twos should captivate infants while pleasing adult sharers.

A playful board book that is  likely to be used over and over.