The Miracle of Hanukkah

The Miracle of Hanukkah
Malachy Doyle and Christopher Corr
Bloomsbury Education

The Jewish ‘festival of lights’, Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days and in 2019 begins of the night of December 22nd continuing until the 30th of the month.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means ‘dedication’ and in this picture book Malachy Doyle retells the story of the reclamation and rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees and their followers succeeded in driving the Greek army of King Antiochus back to their homeland.
Unable to find the golden menorah in the temple, Judah Maccabee and his men created a simple oil burner and managed to find only sufficient oil to last a single night.

Amazingly though, when they lit the burner it stayed alight for eight days and nights.

The story of the ‘Miracle of the Oil’ has since been passed down from one generation to the next and this is the festival that is commemorated at Hanukkah.

In Jewish homes a special menorah called a Hanukkiyah is brought out. The menorah holds nine candles, one of which is the Shamash (servant), which is used to light the other eight candles. On the first night, just one candle is lit. On the second night, an additional flame is lit and so on until by the eighth night all eight lights and the Shamash are burning.

Christopher Corr shows all this in his characteristic vibrant illustrations as well as the traditional sharing of fried latkes, and sufganiyot (sweet, jam-filled doughnuts), and the dreidel game that children play.

This is an ideal picture book to share with primary age children to introduce them to the Hanukkah story and associated traditions, either in RE or for an assembly.

Bloomsbury Young Readers

A Tiger for Breakfast
Narinder Dhami, illustrated by Christopher Corr
The Ugly Little Swan
James Riordan, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Jack and the Jungle
Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Happy Birthday, Sausage!
Michaela Morgan, illustrated by Felicity Sheldon
Bloomsbury Education

These are four newly illustrated stories published in Bloomsbury Young Readers series for children who, as well as reading picture books, want to extend their range. These stories still have colour illustrations breaking up the text on every page but have short chapters.
Those who are familiar with my background will probably be aware that I am no fan of reading schemes, controlled vocabularies or book bands and these stories are ‘levelled’. They are however, the work of established children’s book authors and illustrators and I’d happily include them in a classroom collection as books worth reading in their own right.

A Tiger for Breakfast has a folk tale feel to it and tells how farmer Ram’s wife, Reeta, tricks the hungry tiger intent on making a meal of the entire family. Christopher Corr’s richly coloured folk art style illustrations are an ideal complement to Narinder’s punchy text.

Turning the Hans Andersen classic tail up is James Riordan’s The Ugly Little Swan wherein one of a Mother swan’s hatchlings is ostracised by the others for being different. Herein, illustrator Brendan Kearney’s blend of humour and pathos speaks volumes.

Jack and the Jungle, tells what happens when young Jack kicks his ball over the wall of his new garden into Abbie’s next door. Could there really be snakes, a wolf and tigers living among all that vegetation, as she would have him believe?Young readers will enjoy the extended joke delivered through Malachy Doyle’s text and Paddy Donnelly’s equally lively pictures.

Happy Birthday, Sausage!, Michaela Morgan’s story extends over 48 rather than 32 pages. Herein poor dachshund, Sausage eagerly anticipates the ‘birthday’ party Elly, Jack and their gran are planning for him unaware that arrogant cats that share his home are intent on sabotaging it. Will their plot be discovered in time? This fun tale of subterfuge and assumptions will please readers, as will Felicity Sheldon’s scenes with their amusing details; her portrayal of the plotting felines and canine characters in particular is splendidly expressive.

Molly and the Whale

Molly and the Whale
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

Following a stormy night, Molly and Dylan go down to the seashore in search of interesting items that might have been washed up. What they find however is not what they’d been anticipating.

“Daddy! Daddy! … There’s an enormous whale on the beach!” comes Molly’s cry.

Loading up the barrow with buckets and spades, the father and children head for the beach again where it’s now low tide.

There, with the help of their friends, Molly and Dylan keep the whale’s skin cool and her dad digs a trench around the huge creature.

Then they wait the long wait for the tide to come in, which they hope, will be sufficiently high to enable the whale to free itself and swim away. Molly sings to the massive creature in an effort to calm her own nerves although her heartfelt song cannot cool the increasingly unhappy whale.

Disappointment comes when the high tide proves insufficiently deep to enable the creature to swim off.

Molly is distraught: her father sends her home promising to wait on the beach for the full moon tide. Perhaps that will be higher … and happily, so it proves.

This is the second story to feature island-dwelling Molly, her family and friends. I quickly found myself drawn to the young girl, her empathy with the whale and her determination to save it.

I’m sure young listeners will be too as they hear Malachy’s tale and see Andrew Whitson’s quirky, richly coloured, patterned illustrations of teamwork set against beautiful sea and landscapes .

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita
Malachy Doyle and Christopher Corr
Bloomsbury Education

Every autumn term countless teachers in primary schools share the story of Diwali with their classes. This retelling with Christopher Corr’s vibrant folk art style illustrations and Malachy Doyle’s straightforward narrative is an ideal introduction that really brings to life the ancient Hindu tale of the victory of light over dark.

It recounts how living in exile Rama and his wife Sita are tricked by the demon king Ravanna who wants Sita for himself. He sends a deer into the forest and Rama follows it at his wife’s request leaving Sita alone.

In his absence, Ravanna kidnaps Sita and takes her away to his island kingdom.

When Rama realises he’s been duped, he resolves to rescue his beloved wife and as luck would have it Hanuman the monkey king comes to his assistance.

With the help of Hanuman and his monkey army, who build a bridge across from the mainland, Rama rescues Sita from the island whereon Ravanna is holding her prisoner. First though, a terrible battle is fought on that island between the monkey army and the wicked demon army until finally an arrow from Rama’s bow pierces the chest of the ten-headed demon Ravanna who falls down dead.

With Sita safe once more, the fighting is called to a halt and the reunited couple return to a huge welcome in their homeland

where divas are lit everywhere in honour of their homecoming.

During my time as a teacher I’ve collected several beautiful picture book tellings of the Diwali story that are now sadly out of print, so it’s great to see this new one.

Ootch Cootch

Ootch Cootch
Malachy Doyle and Hannah Doyle
Graffeg

Author Malachy Doyle has collaborated with his daughter, illustrator Hannah Doyle to create this timely thought-provoking book.

How would you feel if you landed up alone in a place where nobody else speaks the same language as you? Terrified probably, and so it is for Little Skunk who is left behind on a railway platform when the train taking his family has departed.

The other animals are reluctant to respond to the tannoy message for help from the stationmaster for anyone speaking Skunk to come to his aid. Little Bel Badger doesn’t want to assist because, so she tells her Mum, “He smells”. Mum explains it’s on account of him being frightened and then Bel offers to try.

The little skunk is clutching a photo as Bel listens to what he has to say and does her very best to make sense of his words.

With Hare and Rabbit’s help, she works out that it’s a family photo and that they’ve gone off in a train accidentally leaving him behind in the loo.

Words of reassurance follow and a promise from the stationmaster that he’ll ring through to the next station and get the train halted there.

When the next train arrives all the animals climb aboard with Little Skunk and en route change their minds about him.
After a journey of anxiety on Bel and Little Skunk’s part they reach their destination and ‘Hurrah!’ The skunk family is re-united.

But there’s a pleasant surprise awaiting Bel too. “Ootch Cootch!’ Good on Bel for standing against prejudice.

This tale has much to say to us all, child and adult, in these troubled times when all too many people are quick to form judgements about anyone at all ‘different’. After all we’re all different and we all need to embrace that difference, accommodate others, learn about and from them. That way lies the route to making not just our own country but others, a better place; a hopeful place with better times to come.

Told and illustrated as it is, with gentle, warm-hearted humour, a topical picture book like Malachy and Hannah’s is a good place to start. (By the way ‘Ootch cootch’ is Skunk for ‘hug’).

Cinderfella

Cinderfella
Malachy Doyle and Matt Hunt
Walker Books

I do love a fractured fairy tale and Malachy Doyle has smashed the Cinderella story well and truly with this funky, bang up-to-date rendition.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Cinderfella himself but he has two thoroughly undesirable, enormously lazy, extremely bossy older brothers named Gareth and Gus.

You can just imagine their reaction when an invitation arrives announcing junior karate champion Kayleigh’s birthday bash. Cinders is most definitely not on the guest list, they inform him.
However, once the two have scooted off to strut their stuff at the dance, Ruff comes upon the invitation and all is revealed …

With his brothers out of the way, there’s nothing to prevent Cinderfella from raiding their wardrobe and sure enough, therein he finds the perfect gear to disguise and make himself look the height of cool. Ruff too discovers something that’s just the ticket. Now all they need to do is make sure they get home before Gus and Gareth. Gear and carriage sorted and it’s off they go.

At the party, Kayleigh is singularly unimpressed at the preponderance of Groovy Chicken dancers but then she catches sight of somebody whose moves are altogether different: he and his canine pal are doing the Funky Monkey and she wants to join them …
They dance the night away – well almost

– but then Cinderfella’s watch reminds him that it’s time to scoot and off he and Ruff dash, Cinders dropping his sunglasses in his wake.

No prizes for guessing who picks up those shades and then the search is on.

Will the ace disco boppers be reunited and live as far-out friends ever after.

Matt Hunt is the perfect illustrative partner for Malachy Doyle here: his hip guys and gals are a wonderfully inclusive cast of characters and those party scenes are certain to make you want to get up and swing your hips to and fro, swing those hips and go, go, go as you too join in with that Funky Monkey. You might even be tempted to try a few karate kicks too.
Utterly irresistible.

Fairy Tales Old, Fairy Tales New

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The Orchard Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Savoiur Pirotta and Emma Chichester Clark
Orchard Books
Readers and listeners enter a world full of enchantments, mystery and a scattering of frights when they open the covers of this re-incarnation of ‘The Sleeping Princess” first published in the early 2000s. The magic still holds good though as each of the ten stories is visited or revisited through Pirotta’s appropriately direct retellings of favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Snow White and Rose Red.

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Emma Chichester Clark’s wonderful jewel-like illustrations – large and small – bring an extra glow, an occasional frisson of fear;

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and in many cases, a degree of gentle humour …

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to the verbal renditions.

Equally full of enchantment, occasional scares and sadness, and plenty of Celtic humour is:

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Magic!
edited by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers’ this collection of stories has many of the same ingredients: princesses, (one features in a tale by John Boyne), frogs – ‘the other’ one gloriously named Hildegard. I love this story with its princess who wears a red cloak and happens upon a wolf as she walks in the forest;

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it comes from the pen of Ireland’s first laureate for children’s literature, Siobhán Parkinson.
Then there’s an ogre – gruesomely green although he, Finbar the Furious, is capable of no wrongdoing.

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Every one of the seven stories reads aloud beautifully and Olwyn Whelan’s gorgeous watercolours delight at every turn of the page. Here’s one from Darragh Martin’s ‘The Sky-Snake and the Pot of Gold’

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This wickedly funny story had my audience in fits of giggles, especially over the stripe-stretching Síle transforming himself into what young Nora refers to ‘GIANT’S STICKY SNOT’
A book to treasure alongside other fairytale collections.

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