Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Waiting for Anya

Waiting for Anya
Michael Morpurgo

This month Egmont publishes Michael Morpurgo’s superbly plotted, totally gripping story Waiting for Anya with a film tie-in cover.

It’s set in France, in the mountain village of Lescun during World War 11.

A twelve year old shepherd boy, Jo whose father is a prisoner of war, is alerted by Rouf, his dog, to the presence of a bear. Now wide-awake, Jo dashes to warn the other villagers and the creature is hunted down and killed.

In search of Rouf, Jo returns to where he saw the bear;he encounters a man whom he discovers is reclusive Widow Horcarda’s son-in-law, Benjamin and that he’s in hiding.

Watching him through the widow’s home window, Jo recalls that he’s seen the man the previous summer holding tightly to the hand of a little girl.

He then learns that Benjamin has become separated from his daughter, Anya and that he believes that eventually they will be reunited.

As a trust grows between the widow and her son-in-law, and Jo, it’s revealed that Benjamin is Jewish and while he waits for that hoped for re-union, he is involved in a dangerous mission – leading other Jewish children away from the Nazis over the mountains, across the border to safety in Spain.

Jo is determined to help and starts bringing supplies to Benjamin’s hideout.
But then war makes itself well and truly felt in Lescun with the arrival of Nazi soldiers in the village: their eyes and ears are everywhere, and it’s announced that anyone helping fugitives will be shot. A curfew is imposed.

Jo is surprised to learn that not all the German soldiers are totally evil when he develops an unlikely friendship with a German Corporal through their shared interest in bird-watching.

Then despite the dire warnings the villagers plan to help another group of twelve children hidden away in a cave.

Just one slight slip up and lives will be lost …

There certainly isn’t a happy ever after ending to this tale; it’s tense, not everything goes well and there is one poignant final surprise. What for me resonates especially though, is the way the author shows the French villagers living alongside the Germans, not all of whom are bad. In the final pages we’re told, Jo ‘had come at last to see him (the Corporal) as a man in the uniform of the enemy, a good and kindly man … but nonetheless an enemy too’ – a ‘confusion he did not wish to confront.’

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon / On Angel Wings

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon
Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens

I’d not until now come across this story, despite it originally being published five years ago and subsequently made into a musical play. It’s said to be inspired by the author’s visit to a village in Switzerland some years earlier and tells of a fearsome dragon that lives in her castle lair high in the mountains, and a little girl, Mimi who lives in the village below.

One snowy Christmas morning Mimi discovers a baby dragon in the woodshed.

As the entire village population, her father among them, had been chanting ‘Death to the Mountain Dragon!’ the previous day, she knows she must keep him a secret and get him back to his mother as soon as possible.

Waiting until everyone else is safely inside the church for the Christmas service, she bravely sets out alone up the mountain.
Once at the castle, Mimi almost decides to flee when she finds herself face to face with the terrifying Mountain Dragon; but before she can move, the baby launches himself towards his mother and the two are reunited.

With mother and baby dragon now back together, Mimi is no longer scared but she knows she must get back down to the village. She also knows that the disaster that happens thereafter has nothing to do with the Mountain Dragon as the villagers suppose.

All ends happily thanks in fact, to the dragon …

With the folk style feel to Michael Morpurgo’s Christmassy telling and Helen’s equally folksy illustrations, this is a timeless book that can be enjoyed and revisited year after year.

On Angel Wings
Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake

Created by dream team erstwhile Children’s Laureates Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake, this is a beautiful reworking of the nativity story for older readers/listeners.

Imbued throughout with warmth and humour, Michael Morpurgo’s telling captivates from its opening lines, ‘The truth is that once we weren’t children anymore, we never did believe Grandpa’s story, not really—as much as we might have wanted to…. We still loved listening to it, though. Christmas nights would never have been the same without it.’ This sets the scene for Grandpa, then a young shepherd boy, to tell his tale of what happened on the night Christ was born.

A family of shepherds is visited by the angel Gabriel: “Oh dear … I can see you are going to need some convincing,“ he says in response to their questions but convince them he does (with the aid of a host of angels).

Off they set towards Bethlehem leaving the far from happy youngest among them to mind the sheep, despairing of the unfairness of his situation.

But then Gabriel appears before the boy

saying “So I’ve had this idea, to make it a little fairer. I could fly you there and back, lickety-split, and no one would ever know you’d been gone.” (I love that use of colloquial language.) And so he does with the result that the lad is the first visitor to the stable.

He leaves the infant his very own shepherd’s crook before Gabriel wings him back to the flock of sheep, though that isn’t quite the end …

Quentin Blake’s distinctive ink and watercolour illustrations deepen both the wit and poignancy of Morpurgo’s telling making this a book to cherish.

Grandpa Christmas

Grandpa Christmas
Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

When one of my very favourite authors and favourite illustrators come together in a seasonal collaboration, the result is, so I anticipated, something special. And this is truly something very special; it’s not just a Christmas book, but one for all times.

Herein, narrator mum Mia tells how every Christmas she shares with her family a letter from her Grandpa, (sent one year instead of a Christmas card or present) kept safe in her diary. The reading of this letter, inspired by visits to his home from a much younger Mia that brought him joy, has become part and parcel of their family day.

Grandpa’s letter tells of his deep concerns about our fragile planet and its wildlife. He talks of the rapid rate at which its precious resources are being depleted and makes a prayerful plea for a new world and time where ‘we grow and eat only what we need … and learn to share all we have, so that no-one anywhere goes hungry again’; a world without pollution

and global warming,

where wild animals live free, and war and waste are no more.

Morpurgo’s poignant words are a powerful antidote to the gross consumerism and waste that the Christmas season has become, and a stark reminder of the original message of goodwill and giving.

Jim Field’s illustrations echo the deep sadness inherent in the text but at the same time bring out both the hopefulness in Grandpa’s heartfelt litany

and the loving bond between Mia and her grandfather.

This treasure of a book is, I think, my favourite Christmas publication of the year.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty


Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Plants and Animals: Fact & Fiction


How Plants Work
Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young
Templar Publishing
A sequence of questions is used to introduce nine topics relating to the world of plants in this book that’s jam-packed with information. Each question is explored in a stylishly illustrated double spread, the first being ‘Why do plants have flowers?’ However an even more fundamental consideration: What is a plant?’ is discussed on the fold-out flap on the side of this spread.
This is followed by how plants grow from seeds, what plants feed on and how, defence, habitats and the importance of trees …


We’re then introduced to some of the ‘weirdest’ plants, the edible ones and the final spread focuses on some of the uses of plants including some ideas that have come from observation of particular plants such as that by Swiss engineer George de Mistral who got his idea for Velcro from the burrs that attached themselves to the fur of his dog.
There are lots of flaps and tabs to explore; and the superb paper-engineering from Andy Mansfield really brings the whole thing to life. (Some of the tabs are not very robust and may not stand up to the enthusiastic handling of classroom use so it may be better to give this to individual readers.)


Knowledge Encyclopedia ANIMAL!
written by John Woodward
Dorling Kindersley
This truly is a weighty, although not a heavyweight, tome. After the contents page, introductory ‘What is an Animal?’, discussions on ‘Evolution and Extinction‘ and a classification diagram, the book is divided into six sections: Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and finally, Mammals.


The first spread of each section explains the meaning of the class as well as providing some general information.
I learned a fair bit (even with zoology as part of first degree studies) from this fascinating book including meeting some new animals such as the Sugar Glider and the Blue-Tongued Skink (note the helpful thumbnail picture, beside a human hand to give an indication of real size).


The 3D photographic illustrations are very impressive and many of the animals appear to be leaping right out of the pages, and the textual information has been authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution for accuracy.
A book for the family, for animal lovers young and not so young, and a worthwhile addition to the primary or secondary school library.
For those who prefer animals in stories take a look at:


Greatest Animal Stories
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press
Author, former Children’s Laureate and co-founder of the children’s charity Farms for City Children, Michael Morpurgo has selected seventeen of his favourite animals tales from various parts of the world for this anthology.
These traditional tales are retold by ten different authors and illustrated by a dozen different artists.
Some of the stories can be read in a few minutes, others such as Pippa Goodheart’s lively telling of Puss in Boots


Puss in Boots is confronted by the ogre – a   Thomas Radcliffe illustration

and Morpurgo’s compelling rendering of Peter and the Wolf take a fair bit longer. No matter which story you choose to share at any particular time, make sure you allow time to explore the illustrations – every story has superb illustrations at every turn of the page.
All manner of animals from tricksters such as Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, and Baboon to talking cows and cats are featured and Morpurgo provides a brief introduction to each of the tales outlining its origin, underlying message and something to ponder upon.
One for the family bookshelf or classroom library, or to give as a present perhaps.

Red Squirrels

These two stories are part of a new series for Barrington Stoke specially designed to be as the publishers say, ‘dyslexia-friendly’ ie care has been taken to make each one easy to read in terms of story syntax, legibility/clarity – choice of font and print size with black print text set against a plain background. The intention is to provide support for those who find reading a challenge be they child or adult as well as any less confident readers such as those learning English as an additional language.


All I Said Was
Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins
Red Squirrel Books pbk
A boy narrator shares what happens when, looking up from his book, he spies a bird and tells it his wish – to be able to fly anywhere.


Amazingly, the bird has a desire to read a book and so the pair swop places. Flying is fantastic, thinks the boy (now bird) until he encounters a flock of antagonistic-looking gulls near the beach. Changing course results in a mobbing by crows and then a fracas with a furious farmer.


Books are a much better option decides the frightened flier; reading about being a bird is preferable to the actuality. Time to return to the safety of his bedroom but on arriving, he discovers that the bird has taken on his human form and he remains avian


and worse is to come – if the words of the story in the book are to be believed anyway…
The essential Morpurgo magic is retained here despite textual tweakings, in a testament to the imagination and the power of books to transport their readers wheresoever they wish. Ross Collins’ aerial and earthbound watercolour paintings add to the story’s potency.
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Itch Scritch Scratch
Eleanor Updale and Sarah Horne
Red Squirrel pbk
A rhyming story wherein a boy gives a hilarious account of the days when nits invade and take-over his head: Close encounters of the lousy kind are what we get in this one.


Comical illustrations in rainbow colours portray the itch-making creatures and, one particular mum’s fight, to rid her offspring of their accursed visitors.


Those crazy little creatures are enough to get you reaching for that lavender oil right away, even if you won’t get the day off school proposed here.
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