The Puffin Keeper

The Puffin Keeper
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Benji Davies
Puffin Books

National treasure and author Michael Morpurgo has written this story about puffins with Puffin Books’ 80th birthday in mind. Michael is the son-in-law of Allen Lane the founder of Puffin Books whose metaphorical lighthouse lamp definitely illuminated my childhood. Here he has interwoven his own family history, the Scilly Isles, a threatened bird and his fascination with lighthouses, to create a truly memorable read for all ages.

The extraordinary tale begins one dark stormy night just off the coast of the Scilly Isles when bound for Liverpool from New York, a four-masted schooner with its masts broken and sails in tatters, starts to sink with thirty passengers and crew aboard. The event is watched from high up in his lighthouse by the keeper, Benjamin Postlethwaite who risks life and limb to rescue everyone including the story’s narrator, then five years old, and his widowed French mother.

Making several journeys in his tiny rowing boat this brave man rows back and forth five times until everyone is safely on the island. Then in his lighthouse, he silently brews pot after pot of tea, ensuring that all the rescued were kept warm. The boy, an observant lad, is amazed by the paintings of boats done on cardboard scraps and bits of wood each one signed merely BEN, that adorn the walls. The following day when those from the ship are taken from the island, Benjamin gives the boy a painting of a four-masted schooner similar to that from which he’d been rescued.

The boy and his mother then go to live on Dartmoor with his mother’s dour in-laws. Among the horrors the lad has to cope with are Miss Duval (or Devil) a cruel nanny cum governess; following his ultra-strict grandfather’s regime, and at age eight being sent to boarding school where cross country running meted out as punishment becomes a pleasure

and then a medal-winning success. The boy also discovers the joys of painting and reading storybooks but never does he forget Benjamin Postlethwaite.

Having come across an article about the rescue in an old magazine, the boy writes to Benjamin asking if he’d mind a visit from him one day. Around the address he paints a copy of the picture he’s been given. But no reply does he receive.

One day, informing his mother that he’s going on a journey of exploration, he leaves (with her approval) on his bike.

Where is he going? …
That’s nowhere near the end of this wonderful tale but if you want to discover what happens, then get yourself a copy.

In Michael’s prose no matter what his subject, there’s a simple eloquence and perceptive pitch-perfect beauty; and this story with its soft-spoken conservation message and themes of hope and fresh beginnings is, ultimately, uplifting. I can think of no better artist for the book than Benji Davies, whose illustrations with their subtle shades, somewhat reminiscent of Ravilious, truly bring to life the characters, the various settings and the feelings evoked in the text.

A book to have, to hold, to share and, to treasure.

Butterfly Brain

Butterfly Brain
Laura Dockrill and Gwen Millward
Piccadilly Press

Gwen Millward’s cover for this book is absolutely delightful; don’t be beguiled by this however. What’s inside is a story about a boy dealing with his grief. There’s even a warning on the first page informing readers that what follows is ‘rather strange and gory.’

Time and time again, Gus gets into trouble; he breaks the rules at school, is rude to his teachers, angry towards others and is always leaning back on his chair, taking not one scrap of notice of warnings about injury from those in school or at home whose anger he’s aroused.

Then one day, the inevitable happens …

CRACK! and that crack becomes a large gap through which Gus’s brains with his dreams, understandings, feelings and memories are exposed for all to see.

A butterfly appears – his very own brain butterfly – a guardian guiding light, it says, but that too flies away. There’s only one thing to do.

Out of the window and up into the night sky goes the pyjama clad boy in pursuit.

During their journey Gus learns how important memories are, be they good or bad, including those buried deep within. He revisits long gone, alarming dreams, learning of one that should not be left behind, and discovers the vital importance of the imagination.

Is he ready finally to own the secret and the painful fear of loss?

Enormously moving, forthright, and written in rhyme, this is a truly heart-rendingly incredible book that can speak to everyone, child and adult, through its words (Laura’s) and its powerful pictures (Gwen’s) rendered in mood-invoking hues.

A definite keeper this.

Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike
Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books

Rabbit lives in a field and dreams of leaving his safe haven one day, but this home-lover gets his adventures vicariously thanks to his friend Dog, an erstwhile motorcycle enthusiast who has spent much of his life riding his cycle all over the countryside.

One day though, Dog is gone and with it Rabbit’s daily adventure.

Dog has bequeathed his vehicle to his friend and it lies for many days abandoned in the field.

Then one night Rabbit decides to bring the bike inside and in the absence of a story, they listen to the sounds of the highway.

Summer comes bringing with it not only new blooms but also for rabbit, a newfound courage that allows him to admit to his fears and to suggest to the bike, “Just down the road.” But as we know, and Rabbit discovers, roads have a way of going on and on and …

It’s an independent, greatly enriched Rabbit that eventually returns to his field, with his head full of memories and stories, ready for new friends and with a feel for the pull of the open road.

Lyrically told by Kate Hoefler and gorgeously illustrated in pastels and watercolour by Sarah Jacoby, whose delicate scenes bring out Rabbit’s changing emotions while also capturing the power of the profound silences surrounding his loss, and the contrasting roar of the bike when he finally takes to the road.

An exhilarating tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone.

Sea Glass Summer

Sea Glass Summer
Michelle Houts and Bagram Ibatoulline
Walker Books

‘Some years ago a boy named Thomas spent the summer at his grandmother’s island cottage.’ So begins a beautiful story set in Maine some time in the last century.

Early in his stay his grandmother gives the boy a magnifying glass that had belonged to his grandfather and Thomas uses this as he explores the rocky beach one morning.

When he shows Grandmother a piece of glass he’s discovered she tells him that “ … your grandfather used to say that each piece of sea glass has a story all of its own.”

That night Thomas places the sea glass beside his bed and dreams of a shipyard long ago. The routine continues with the boy discovering bits and pieces of glass each morning and dreaming each night. (The dream stories are depicted in greyscale serving both to separate them from the present events and to bring history alive again).

In contrast, Bagram Ibatoulline’s superbly moving, equally realistic, watercolour scenes show the sometimes glowing, sometimes shadowy shore whereon Thomas, aided by the magnifying glass, makes his discoveries of mysterious magical ocean gifts and lets his imagination soar.

All too soon the holiday ends: Thomas gathers together his treasures and boards a boat back to the mainland. However, a sudden lurch causes him to drop his magnifying glass and some of the pieces fall overboard.

The story then moves to recent times: a girl named Annie walks on the beach collecting treasures and comes upon a piece of sea glass. She shows it to her Papa Tom; you can anticipate what she’s told … The tale concludes having come full circle …

Michelle Houts’ lovely story of journeys, connections, possibilities and the power of the imagination has much to appeal to older picture book readers and is full of possibilities for exploring in a KS2 classroom.

(A final author’s note explains why there is much less sea glass nowadays: a big plus for the environment but children will have to find other treasures on the seashore to fuel their imaginations.)

Wisp

Wisp
Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky
Eric & Terry Fan
Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything about this, the second Fan Brothers picture book, is absolutely superb: the jacket, the cover, the endpapers, the paper used and of course, the story and illustrations.

It’s a magical tale of young Finn who, inspired by memories of his grandfather’s sayings, his voice, and his stories – stories of a far distant place where ocean and sky meet – on what would have been his ninetieth birthday, builds a boat in his honour.

Then, imagination fuelled by those stories, the boy sets off on an amazing dream of a voyage. A voyage aided by a huge golden fish that tells him it knows of the place he seeks: “It’s high and low … It’s up and down and very far.” and offers to show the way.

The journey takes Finn through such wondrous places as the Library Islands populated by bibliophile birds; (love that there’s a copy of The Night Gardener tucked in one of the piles of books)

then, after landing to explore an island of giant shells, they travel onwards crossing a sea of dancing jellyfish until eventually they reach their destination, perhaps,

whereupon the boat lifts towards the sky (or had the water fallen away?) and the boy drifts through starry, steampunkish spreads whereon hot air balloons, zeppelins, submarines, a giant whale, float following the fish towards the full moon. There, a transformation takes place.
Smiling back at him benevolently, illuminating his farewell, is a face Finn knows so well.

Then comes a voice summoning him home from his dreaming. It’s his mother calling him (with echoes of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) for dinner– Grandpa’s favourite dumplings.

The Finn Brothers vision of eternity is, in this affecting story, one that offers a bereft boy some healing from his sadness, leaving him able to face forwards, full of wonder. ‘It had been a good day for sailing.’

Elegant scenes grace every spread providing much to explore: observant readers/listeners will notice that an early picture of Grandpa’s room is filled with treasured objects that become part of the dream sequence.

If all the world were …

If all the world were …
Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
Lincoln Children’s Books, First Editions

Be prepared to shed tears when you read this first person narration by a little girl who takes readers on a journey through four seasons and a whole life’s experiences shared with her beloved Grandad.
Starting with spring, she talks of long exploratory walks hand in hand and then takes a seasonal flight of fancy: ‘If all the world were springtime, / I would replant my grandad’s birthdays / so that he would never get old.

In summer Grandad buys a wooden racing track (second hand with bits missing) and together they play, sometimes zooming the cars up into space. This action triggers the narrator’s second imagined scenario to make her granddad happy.

I love the notebook with handmade paper, bound with Indian-leather string Grandpa makes for his granddaughter in autumn, wherein to write and draw her dreams with a special rainbow pencil.

That suggestion leads to her third loving musing:
If all the world were dreams, / I would mix my bright Grandad feelings / and paint them over sad places.

Come winter it’s time for cosying up by the fire and listening to Grandad’s tales of his boyhood of Indian sweets and homemade toys, and hear him tell of ships, snakes and tigers. Now though Grandad is ailing and the little girl supposes a world of stories and making her grandad better merely by listening to his every tale.

One day though his chair is empty; Grandad is no more. From the ephemera she finds in his room, the narrator creates a beautiful mandala of memories; memories she wishes could be rooms where she could visit her granddad.

On Grandad’s chair she finds a brand new notebook made by him with her name on the cover, the perfect thing in which to record all her precious memories.

I’m sure that like me, you’ll find yourself reaching for that box of tissues as you read this beautiful, lyrical book. Joseph’s Coelho’s poignant text in combination with Allison Colpoy’s tender illustrations infused with nostalgia and love, are a celebration of life as well as a perfect starting point for a conversation about loss and dying.

Soul music in a picture book, this.

Colorama

Colorama
Cruschiform
Prestel

As a child I was fascinated by a large Reeves paint-box belonging to my mother; I think it had been passed down to her. There were several layers of smallish rectangular colour blocks embossed with a dog. Each of the various hues had an exciting name, though some looked almost identical until used. I loved to take it out and about and find things to paint. It was those names that I loved as much as the paints themselves.
Now this beautifully produced book has taken me right back to that paintbox and my memories of same.
Compiled by illustrator and graphic designer, Marie Laure Cruschi, head of the French creative studio Cruschiform, it too is based on colour memories, her memories.

The colour palette is vast – over 130 hues and it takes us on a circular journey starting and ending with white, but surely white is just white isn’t it? Not quite; for a start it all depends on who is looking at it and what they are looking at. White can be all manner of things. Herein we have white snow, milk, peace symbol, albinos, alabaster, polar white, cotton flower, birch bark, white moth

and white powder and having come full circle, Aphrodite’s tears, flour of salt and moonlight. Each of these whites (and indeed the other colours) conjures up memories of objects, or things be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

So subtle is the difference that there is then an almost imperceptible change to pink (white powder is more pink than white to me).
The author provides a brief story connected with each image; sometimes this is the exact name of the colour – canary yellow – for instance or ivory.
The musings may be historical such as the synthetic dye ‘mauveine’ invented in 1856

elemental, artistic, relate to specific animals, flowers, trees, plants, fruits or vegetables, cloth and clothing,

machinery, and even objects out of this world.
Altogether a fascinating book for children and adults alike, it’s one to pore over and ponder upon.

The Weaver

The Weaver
Qian Shi
Andersen Press

The creator of this lovely debut picture book got her inspiration from a spider’s web she discovered with a piece of leaf caught in the middle.

Stanley spider is a weaver of webs; he’s a collector too. The things he collects – seeds, leaves, twigs and other ephemera are carefully woven into his webs.

Then disaster strikes in the form of a downpour that washes away both Stanley’s home and his precious collection, save for a single leaf.

Stanley attempts to secure this leaf but the wind whisks it away leaving Stanley with nothing.
Throughout the night he labours and come morning he’s fashioned something beautiful …

Yes, the web traces the memories, but with those treasures etched in his heart, it’s time for Stanley to move on …

Simply and beautifully told, but it’s the illustrations which embroider and add nuance to the text, furnishing the rich details of Stanley’s journey and his creativity.

A book that’s rich in potential in a nursery or classroom setting too where children might look first at real spider’s webs (a fine water spray will make the details of a web more visible) and then become web weavers like Stanley, adding their own special objects to their creations.

Balthazar the Great

Balthazar the Great
Kirsten Sims
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Balthazar, the polar bear is a violin player, the only remaining one left in all the circuses of the world. Until that is, he’s set free by a group of animal rights activists who leave him in the middle of he knows not where, to find his way home – so long as he can discover where to go.

On his journey he bids farewell to old friends …

and endeavours to make new ones.

He meets some kind-hearted souls but for much of his travels Balthazar is entirely alone – lonely, lost and overwhelmed by the enormity of what he’s attempting.
He even starts thinking about returning from whence he came;

but then all of a sudden he sees something. Could it possibly be who he thinks it is? The giver of Balthazar’s very first violin? …

In this, Kirsten Sims’ debut picture book, her spare text allows her eloquent gouache and ink  illustrations to carry much of the story, a story of the strength of family bonds and of journeying. Her colour palette is somewhat dark which seems to reflect the loneliness of the traveller.

The book’s creator resides in South Africa and that is where Balthazar starts his journey as is evident from the design on one of the mugs featured on the endpapers.

Do take a look at them all though.

Looking for Yesterday / Oh No! Where did Walter Go?

Looking for Yesterday
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books

It’s most often children who live their lives forward, eagerly anticipating what might come next, whereas adults tend to reminisce about what has already past.
In this story though, it’s the little boy narrator who is eager to turn the clock back: thinking nothing can ever be as good, he wants yesterday all over again.
Employing all his knowledge of science, he searches for a way to travel backwards in time …

and eventually turns to his grandad for help.
Instead, Grandad shares his own treasured memories of things he’s done;

but also shows the lad that there is much to look forward to, for every new day brings the possibility of exciting new adventures.
Although comparatively brief, Alison Jay’s text embraces notions of time and space, of hopes and memories, and of happiness.
Her illustrations add a surreal fantasy element to the story encouraging readers and listeners to embark upon their own flights of fancy. The whole book offers plenty to think about and discuss, especially to those teachers who have community of enquiry sessions with their children.

Oh No! Where Did Walter Go?
Joanna Boyle
Templar Publishing

Meet best friends and partners in crime, Olive aka Master of Mystery,  and the Duke of Daring, Walter her parakeet.
One day Walter goes missing and immediately Olive goes into detective mode following footprints, amassing evidence, interviewing the local residents and sticking up ‘Missing’ posters all over town.
Just when the whole search is becoming a tad overwhelming she receives a helpful pointer and off she speeds to the park: a very green place indeed.

How on earth is she to find her friend there among all those trees and bushes?
Undaunted Olive looks high and low but her search is fruitless: Walter is nowhere to be found and now she too is lost.

Will the two friends ever find one another again and if so, how will they manage to find the way back home?
Unless you look at the final page before embarking on the story, it’s not apparent that Walter is also searching for Olive and puts in an appearance on every spread; (although observant readers will probably spot him lurking somewhere as the narrative progresses). This adds a fun search and find element to the whole book and ensures that once the two characters are reunited, children will immediately want to go back and enjoy hunting for Walter all over again in Joanna Boyle’s stylish illustrations be they multi-framed strip sequences or expansive single scene spreads.

Snowflake in My Pocket

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Snowflake in My Pocket
Rachel Bright and Yu Rong
Walker Books
This is one of those stories that leaves you with a wonderful warm glow inside. It centres on the loving relationship between two woodland characters, a very old Bear and a very young Squirrel. Nothing the two do together is new to bear but doing it with Squirrel makes every experience ‘brand new’ for Bear.

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One night Bear feels the first chills of winter and as the friends stand looking at the moon, he forecasts snow is on its way.

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Next morning an excited Squirrel rushes to his window and having cleared a peephole through the frost looks out on a magical white world …

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Bear meanwhile has a very nasty chill and needs to stay snuggled up in bed. Off goes Squirrel alone but without Bear to share it with him, even his fun-filled morning is less than perfect. The little fellow decides to take a snowflake home to give his friend and having caught ‘the perfectest one’ he puts it into his pocket and heads home. Now youngsters who have done the same will already be anticipating the outcome; and sure enough, when Squirrel puts his paw into his pocket, there’s no snowflake.
No matter, Bear tells him. “Snow comes and snow goes … but one thing lasts forever.” And Squirrel knows exactly what he means …

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How beautifully author and artist capture that joy of experiencing snow for the very first time. Share this one with early years children particularly after a snowfall and let them try taking snow indoors. Share it at home snuggled up with a young listener or two, and follow with a mug of hot chocolate.

The Building Boy / Here Comes Mr Postman

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The Building Boy
Ross Montgomery and David Lichfield
Faber Children’s Books
This is a powerfully moving story at the heart of which lies the relationship between a boy and his Grandma who had once been an award-winning architect. Before bedtime in the house they shared, the two would snuggle together and Grandma would show her grandson photographs of buildings she’d designed.

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That was all in the past but now, she had plans for a wonderful new house she’d build with his help – a home the two would share.
Grandma, all the while is growing ever more frail and one day when he returns home, the boy finds she has died. The lad is overcome with grief.
Such is his love for his gran however, the boy is driven to carry on building. He works on a huge robotic-looking structure somewhat akin to The Iron Woman,

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a seeming reincarnation of his Gran; and she has plans … plans for an amazing journey the two will undertake together …

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Where that journey ultimately leads is to a deeply affecting finale – a place wherein the spirit of his beloved Grandma will forever reside …

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David Lichfield, who demonstrated his artistic brilliance in The Bear and the Piano imbues this enigmatic tale of love, loss and finding your calling with a sense of awe and wonder. His use of dark and light transports readers to that dreamlike place where anything is possible and the unbelievable becomes believable …

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What an inspired partnering of author/artist this was and the result is a book that will linger long in the mind.

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Here Comes the Postman
Marianne Dubuc
Book Island
It’s Monday morning and with cart loaded, Mr Postmouse sets off on his rounds. We join him as he delivers letters and parcels to all manner of unlikely animal recipients. The story itself is a straightforward description of the various stopping places but the illustrations are absolutely crammed with quirky details as we look into each home visited. It’s no easy round for Mr P has to scale heights …

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and dive deep …

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to complete his round and every stop provides readers an opportunity to peep inside the huge variety of residences and see for instance Dad Rabbit busy preparing a meal, a Crocodile languishing in the bath and another enjoying a book (and a nibble),and some bats – errr – dangling.
After all the hard work, there’s one package left in Mr Postmouse’s cart and it’s a very special delivery he has to make – to his small son, Pipsqueak whose birthday it is.
This is definitely a book to share and to pore over: I can see a fair bit of time being spent over each and every location Mr P delivers to. Terrific fun.

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The Lines on Nana’s Face

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The Lines on Nana’s Face
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books
Utterly divine was my instant reaction when I saw the cover of this: and so it continued with glorious endpapers and an, oh so beautiful narration by a small girl, of a conversation that takes place between herself and her Nana on the latter’s birthday. All the relations have come to celebrate the day but our narrator is slightly bemused: in addition to looking happy, why does her Nana appear as though ‘she might also be a bit sad, and a little surprised and slightly worried, all at the same time.’ she wonders. Nana suggests it might be due to her wrinkles, “ … it is in these lines that I keep all my memories!
What follows is a glorious exploration of those lines with the little girl leading the way.

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There’s a springtime mystery-solving memory line, a best seaside picnic ever line (or two) – definitely laughter lines those …

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and these are the result of a truly hair-raising first date encounter with Grandpa …

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Memories of a glorious wedding dress made by Nana for her sister are also present – right below Nana’s eyes and there’s a sadness place too – that’s for Nana’s first goodbye …

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Then comes our adorable narrator’s final question: “Nana! Do you remember the first time you saw me?” and Nana’s beatific smile says it all …

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Stunning illustrations grace each and every page of this treasure of a book. I particularly love the alternate ‘real’ (lines) and imaginative (memory) spreads pattern Ciraolo uses as she celebrates both youth with all its promise of times to come, and gradual aging with its memories of times past: essentially, life and living. I for one will never look upon my facial lines in quite the same way again. What a truly tender tale to share with young children, no matter whether you are or aren’t a grandparent though of course, it would be a wonderful present from one grandchild to grandma or vice-versa. And (I keep on saying this), yet another out of this world production from Flying Eye Books: oh that paper – I can almost feel those lines,  oh that spine, oh, oh … hmmm!

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Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

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Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird
Parviz Kalantari
Tiny Owl Publishing
We first meet young Tahmineh as she sits playing her flute and minding the family flocks high up on the grassy pastures. Suddenly she notices a beautiful bird singing the most beautiful song she has ever heard. A song that causes her to daydream in school the following day and to distract her as she tries to read her favourite storybook.

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Wanting to capture the beautiful bird so she can enjoy its song whenever she wishes, Tahmineh tells her father of her desire.
A bird would be unhappy to be trapped, and an unhappy bird won’t sing.” is his wise response. Equally wise, her mother says, “Even if you can’t catch the bird, you can catch the memory of it.” thus sparking an idea in Tahmineh’s mind.

 

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Inspired by her mother’s words, she weaves an image of the beautiful bird into a “chanteh”. – her finest ever. (A chanteh is a small bag, one of the artefacts woven by female members of the Qashqai tribe of which Tahmineh and her family are members.)
As summer draws to an end, and the tribe makes ready to descend to lower pastures, Tahmineh’s father gives her a letter asking her to go to the carpet fair in the big city.
It’s there that she wins first prize with her bag that is truly magical, for the bird still sings that glorious song.

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This allegorical tale can be interpreted in several ways: as a straightforward story of a young girl using her imagination and skill to get what she wants, as an illustration of mankind’s desire to capture something and use it for pleasure-giving purposes of his/her own and, peel off another layer to reveal an anti assimilation parable on behalf of the Qashqai people many of whom have had to give up their traditional free lifestyle and resettle in towns and cities.
Beautifully illustrated in striking colours, the scenes depict a culture virtually unknown to most Western readers and listeners. A fascinating and enriching book for primary audiences (and adults interested in ‘artistic anthropology’).

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Loss and Leaving: Shine & Double Happiness

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Shine
Trace Balla
Allen & Unwin
Most writers of books about death for children use fiction as a vehicle and in so doing, provide a ‘space apart’ wherein youngsters can explore this disturbing and difficult experience. As we know however, all story grows out of life, indeed all life is story and Trace Balla’s story was written for her sister’s children shortly after the death of their father and is, so we are told, based on the great love shared between their parents and the love they in turn shared with their children.
“We all come from the stars, we all go back to the stars…” so said Granny Hitchcock, grandmother of the author and her bereaved sister and it’s this saying that is at the heart of Trace Balla’s story.
Shine , so called because his kindness made him sparkly and shimmery, was a young horse that grew to become an amazing one that loved to gallop among the golden stars with the other horses. One day Shine notices some hoofprints in the sand belonging to another horse, the lovely Glitter and together they raise a family. Their little ones are called Shimmer and Sparky and there grows a great bond of love between all the family members.
But then, one day Shine learns that it’s his turn to return to his star. “… my time has come. I love you all so much,” he tells his family as he leaves them to join the other stars in the beautiful night sky.

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That night a heart-broken Glitter and her offspring cry and cry creating an ocean of golden tears. They together then climb a high mountain – a mountain of grief – from the top of which they are able to see and come to understand the enormity of the love they shared.

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And, as they curl up together, far above them shines the brightest of all the stars, their daddy’s star glowing golden and bringing them a sense of peace.
Trace Balla’s use of mythical horse characters that have no solidity works well as signifiers of life’s transient nature whereas the dark solidity of the huge mountain is perhaps, a metaphor of the process of grieving itself: a process that is likely to be very hard and take an enormous amount of time to climb, but which can ultimately be transcended by joy and the power of love in the world.
Yes, this is a book about loss but it also offers children an invitation to think about the possibility of light emerging from darkness, an idea that should fit with any world view. Indeed the restricted colour palette – shades of blue plus white and yellow are effectively used to symbolise the opposing concepts light/dark, life/death, love/loss, happiness/sadness.
In addition to being a book to offer young children who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent, this powerfully affecting story has enormous potential for opening up discussions on a number of topics with a whole class or group.

Moving home can also be a very sad time especially for children who have to leave behind their friends and perhaps relations too. Here is a book in which two children cope with the transition helped by their loving family.

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Double Happiness
Nancy Tuper Ling and Alina Chau
Chronicle Books
The book takes the form of a series of twenty four poems relating to moving from a city (San Francisco) to a new rural home. Sister and brother Gracie and Jack both give voice to their feelings as they search for special things to place in their happiness boxes intended to help with the move:
Find four treasures each/leading from this home/to your new.”says their grandmother(Nai Nai) who has given them to boxes
Gracie’s first treasure is donated by Nai Nai, her panda toy – he too is to have a new home.

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But it’s Jack who is first to fill his box, his last object being a blue and green marble.

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Alina Chau’s delicate, detailed watercolour paintings grace the pages, serving to bring the whole thing together into a bitter-sweet account of the family’s transition from old home to new and all that it entails: a looking back and a looking forward – memory and anticipation …

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Exciting event at Piccadilly Waterstones 23rd-29th October – don’t miss it if you are in London: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition            C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]

A book to make you laugh, a book to make you cry, a book to make you sing

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Monkey Business
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and David Wojtowycz
Orchard Books
We had the story of Major Trump’s missing knickers: now from the same partnership comes another of those books that quickly reduces early years audiences to uncontrolled giggles. Once again we are on board the ark and Mr Noah has been woken by cries from young monkey, Charlie Chatter who is in desperate need of a wee and has lost his potty. What group of under fives will be able to resist his opening speech?
“ Oh, bother my botty!
            Where,
          oh where,
          oh where
        is my potty?”
The thought of sitting on the toilet is too distressing for young Charlie so Mr Noah calls upon the other animals for some loo loving anecdotes. These win him over but when he finally heads for his bathroom, the door’s stuck fast. Will the result be a puddle on the floor? Fortunately not for it’s Mrs Noah on the other side doing a spot of DIY on the bathroom roof and guess what she had been using to catch all the drips… All’s well that ends well though and Charlie finally enters the little room for some very important and by then very urgent business.
David Wojtowycz’s bright exuberant illustrations are a real hoot and the perfect complement to the rib-tickling, rhyming text; I especially like the story-reading snakes sitting with their heads in books from the bathroom library; they won’t be out in a hurry then.
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The Memory Tree
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books
Fox has lived a long, happy life with his friends in the forest but one day he is tired and it is time for him to fall asleep – for ever. He goes to his favourite clearing and as the snow falls and slowly covers him, the other animals gather to remember him.

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Owl is the first to share his most precious memory of Fox and then, one by one, Squirrel, Weasel, Bear, Deer, Bird, Rabbit, Mouse and others talk of their favourite memories about Fox. As they do so, a little orange plant begins to peep through the snow and as each animals adds to the story telling, it grows bigger and stronger till in the morning it has become a small tree; and Fox’s friends know in their hearts he is still a part of them. Time passes, the tree grows with each new memory and finally it is large enough to shelter all the animals that had loved Fox: a strength-giving tree of memories and love.
Beautifully told without sentimentality, this book celebrates life, love and friendship. Teckentrup’s  illustrations in suitably subdued colours perfectly capture the sadness of the animals at the loss of their friend and their warmth as they  recount their memories of him. Every turn of the page is a delight.
A tearjerker? Yes if like me you are a bit of a softie but ultimately this is an uplifting book.
Recommended for family reading and a must buy for all primary schools and nursery settings. A lovely book to sit alongside Badger’s Parting Gifts.
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Octopus’s Garden
Ringo Starr and Ben Cort
Simon and Schuster
I defy you to read this book and listen to the accompanying CD without getting the classic number stuck in your brain. Apparently, Ringo Starr wrote it in 1968 when holidaying in Sardinia after a sea captain told him about how octopuses move around the seabed collecting objects. Ringo was taking time out from the Beatles and wanted to escape somewhere; what better place than under the sea?
Back to the book. Here we find a little boy gazing at his goldfish bowl from whence he is transported, along with four of his friends, to a wondrous sub- marine garden. There they ride on turtles, share a story read by their cephalopod host,

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cavort on the pillars of an ancient temple and much more.

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These joyous scenarios and others are brought into being in ‘Aliens Love Underpants’ artist, Ben Cort’s wonderful illustrations. These absolutely bubble over with the kind of exuberant fun that young children take delight in.
Share the story, listen to the song, listen again and your children will be joining in. Then they can follow the story with the book as it’s read aloud by Ringo. There are opportunities for movement too, when the tune is played over at the end.
Everyone loves the idea of a special place where they can take time out from the real world, away from any worries or niggles they might have and away from watchful adult eyes. This book offers an opportunity for you to invite children to think about and discuss the kind of place they would like to escape to.
I’d definitely include this in an early years sea theme collection and possibly leave a copy in an undersea role-play area for children to enjoy once they have had the book read to them. They (and you) will have to be adept at turning the book around on a couple of occasions, as the page layout becomes portrait to deepen the undersea experiences.
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