The Path / Why?

These are two thought-provoking picture books from minedition – thanks to GMC Distribution for sending them for review

The Path
Bob Staake

As we follow a small character walking along on a winding path, we soon realise that this path is a metaphor for life’s journey and its challenges. ‘You will walk along a well-worn path that many others have taken before you.” we read at the outset. To start with the walk is easy; but inevitably there will be bumps and obstacles along the way, perhaps a dark forest will replace those valleys of wildflowers bathed in sunlight. You may even get lost, face terrifying dangers or encounter what seems to be a dead end. Prepare to be surprised.

Like the character, you will emerge elated and ready to forge a path of your own making head held high.
Poetic and to the point, the thoughtful narrative has a gentle lyricism but for me the real show stealers are Staake’s digitally created illustrations of the ever changing landscape through which the character journeys.

A wonderful conversation starter that could be used at various stages in a child or young person’s life from moving to KS2 in a primary school right up to a new graduate. Essentially this is a book of possibilities, perspective and an individual’s outlook on life: the message is that it’s the journey not the destination that matters.

Nikolai Popov

As this wordless story begins a frog sits peaceably atop a rock holding a flower, a serene expression on his face. Suddenly, from a hole very close up pops a mouse clutching an umbrella. They look expectantly at one another. Could Frog be anticipating making a new friend of mouse. It certainly doesn’t happen: the mouse has designs on the frog’s flower, leaps at the creature and steals it. Up come two well built frogs and see the mouse off. Very soon more frogs and mice enter the battle, the tools of which become increasingly powerful

and eventually the conflict escalates into a full-scale war; the result being the entire terrain lies wasted,: there are no winners in this war, just total devastation all round.

All this we see in the the artist’s delicate watercolour scenes with their droll animal characters against the backdrop of blasting guns and explosions that make the reality of the situation even harsher. Then there’s that final spread.

Why? Oh why? we ask ourselves. Why indeed.

With what is happening with the increasingly ugly war in Ukraine, this question and indeed Popov’s powerful condemnation of war in this allegory is particularly pertinent. Why, oh why can’t a certain despot see the utter futility of war?

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers
Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery, illustrated by Rebecca Green

This is the debut book for authors Uma Mishra-Newbery and Lina AlHathloul, both human rights activists; Lina being the sister of Loujain AlHathloul, the women’s rights activist formerly imprisoned by the Saudi government for advocating women’s right to drive.

Many readers, adults at least, will be familiar with Icarus and his flight but fewer I suspect, will know of LouJain AlHathloul, the inspiration for this story. The Loujain in this story is a young girl who longs to fly like her father who talks of what her baba describes as a ‘carpet of a million sunflowers’. It’s this that fills the girl’s dreams while in the daytime she dons her father’s wings and pretends she can soar high into the sky. The problem is a big one however: girls are not allowed to fly. Nevertheless despite the taunting from her peers, she holds fast to her dream and baba’s assertion, “the only way to see the sunflowers is to fly over to where they are.”

Eventually baba relents and in the garden as he has done with his boys, he teaches her to fly. Now the possibility of reaching those ever beckoning fields of sunflowers is more than just a dream and one day the two – baba and Loujain spread their wings and …

Her baba takes a photo of his daughter in flight and next morning on the way to school Lulu is in the news.

What a wonderfully empowering story for children; they need to know that it’s important to dream big, to believe in yourself and to reach for the stars; that way will they see life’s wonders as they fly for peace of mind, for freedom and for their rights. Rebecca Green’s illustrations, with their warm hues and powerful images are show-stopping – a perfect backdrop for the words.
(Backmatter provides further information about Loujain AlHathloul and her work in the Saudi Women’s Rights movement and an inspiring letter from the authors.)

Fish, Llamas and a Visit to the Zoo

1 2 3 Fish in the Sea
Luna Parks, illustrated by Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

There’s tactile fun along with the counting and number recognition between the covers of this brightly coloured, textured, rhyming board book. We start with one three coloured little fishy swimming in the ocean, that one meets a speedy friend, and then another. The three explore inside a cave where they meet fishy number four, followed soon after as they dash around by fishy number 5. But then as they swim 5 abreast a scary shark gives chase. Time to hide little fishes …

Be Calmer, Llama!
Rosamund Lloyd and Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

In her rhyming, counting down narrative, Rosamund Lloyd starts with five llamas frenetically rushing around. They decide that it’s time to slow down for that way lies more greater happiness so they hope. Each one finds a different way to become calmer: the first does so by means of water, the next gives himself a bit of self-love, leaving three giddy creatures. A wise one does some relaxing exercises, leaving two females; one undertakes some deep exhalations and as the last is anticipating some solo relaxation, back bounce the others. I wonder what happens …
Counting fun set against Gareth Lucas’ five calm-inducing natural backgrounds, each bursting with wildlife that adults and toddlers can talk about together, in addition to trying out some of the llamas’ ways to slow down.

Not really a board book but offering a wealth of language possibilities is

Lola Loves Animals

In this wordless picture book illustrated with brightly coloured digital art, readers join young Lola and her mum on a trip to the zoo. Its clever concertina construction shows the red path they take against a white background on the walk to the zoo and as Lola enjoys her encounters with in turn an elephant, a gorilla, a moose, giraffes and a hippo. (I love the changing emotions on the faces of the characters). Her toy duck meanwhile enjoys making a new friend. 

During this time the weather has changed from sunny to rainy, and as they head homewards, it’s dark.

At the end is a lift the flap door; this gives readers entry to the second part of Lola’s adventure on the other side of the page. Here, a black background shows her dream of flying through the air and having an exciting adventure with the animals she met at the zoo.

The clever accordion fold means that the book stands up easily enabling it to act as a backdrop for a child’s imaginative play (thus fulfilling the cover boast: ‘Book & Playset in one!’) There’s a wealth of storytelling potential between the covers of this clever book, especially if you add some small world characters and objects.

Hazelnut Days

Hazelnut Days
Emmanuel Bourdier and Zaü

The boy narrator sees his father just once a week, when he visits him in prison. We know not why he’s there but we do discover that it’s for a long stretch and we learn a lot about him and about the complex relationship the narrator has with his Dad or “Cave Bear” as the boy and his mother call him in their conversations. Conversations with school friends are tricky for the boy who never reveals that his Dad is in prison. Instead he tells them, “He’s a ‘cloud sculptor, a mole tamer, an inventor of dirty words.”

During his son’s visits Dad smells of cigarettes along with peppermint or hazelnut on account of the two bottles of cologne Grandma once gave him. He has a gold tooth, a short temper, a good sense of humour, he’s strong and likes to copy bird sounds and imitate people. The boy blames his Dad for the anguish and sadness – the ‘fog – in his Mum’s eyes, hating him for that,

and fearing his fury over the lad’s school reports.

However, when visiting time is over and Dad cries, the narrator’s love is reawakened and he leaves with thoughts of retaining that special Dad smell till the following week, as well as bringing him a supply of hazelnuts.

This is a powerful evocation of a situation seldom presented in picture books. Both words (elegantly translated from Bourdier’s original French) and Zaü’s (André Langevin) charcoal, sepia-toned illustrations are empathetic and full of emotion, working perfectly together to produce an unforgettable book for older picture book audiences.

One Boy’s Choice

One Boy’s Choice
Sueli Menezes (translated by Kathryn Bishop) and Annika Siems

Set in the Amazon jungle, this is a story about a boy who goes out in a canoe to spend a day fishing with his grandad. The boy is eager to catch a really big fish to take home and show his friends. Grandad navigates the boat around the huge water-lilies while the boy peers into the water, watching and waiting for that fish. They wait and wait and wait, then move on and cast the net instead of a line. Still nothing, and while they wait Grandad tells stories about the various fish that live beneath the water-lilies.

Hours later lo and behold to the boy’s delight, there’s a water-lily fish – an Arowana – in the net. However, his delight quickly disappears when Grandad says they must release the fish – and then he shows the lad this male Arowana, has a mouth full of tiny fish and explains that for a month that’s where the little fish live safely, as well as telling him of the Arowana’s importance in eating mosquitos that can make humans ill. Grandad puts the choice in his grandson’s hands: keep the huge fish and impress his friends or let it go free so male and children can continue living safely in the river. The decision the boy makes pleases his Grandad who remarks, “I am very proud of you. Today you have become a really grown-up boy.”

Showing how our actions affect wildlife, Sueli Menezes’ thought-provoking story becomes even more so in tandem with Annika Siems’ richly hued portrayals of the beautiful Amazon forest in which it’s set.

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny / Sweet Dreams, Bruno

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny
Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright
Nosy Crow

Little bunny Yo-Yo finds it impossible to keep still and going to bed at night, she just can’t sleep. One day Grandpa has a bright idea: he’s going to teach them some yoga he tells the little ones. Roxy and Flo soon manage the bridge and mountain poses; not so Yo-Yo who waggles, wiggles and jiggles. And when it comes to trying tree, two little bunnies can do the breathing and the balancing whereas their sibling is distracted by a passing butterfly which she just has to follow.

Before long she’s lost in a shadowy forest and starts to panic. But then having flopped to the floor she begins to recall some of the things her Grandpa has taught her. First comes the slow breathing and as she calms down she recalls the yoga shapes she’s been shown

and with her thoughts no longer whizzing, she’s able to imagine the route that will take her all the way home. Once there she finds the others still doing yoga. Can she join them and this time, stay calm and still?

Following debut author Emily Ann Davison’s sweet story, are instructions and demonstrations by Yo-Yo of six yoga poses, to help young children breathe, stretch and feel calm. Deborah Allwright’s amusing illustrations made the yoga teacher part of me giggle as I recalled some of the Yo-Yos I’ve encountered in classes over the years.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, there’s a QR code inside the front cover of the book which if scanned with a mobile provides a free reading of the book.

Sweet Dreams, Bruno
Knister and Eve Tharlet

Despite it being that time of year, young marmot, Bruno is reluctant to settle down for a long winter sleep. Various other of the animals offer alternatives: goat suggests spending winter climbing on
the slippery rocks; jackdaw says he can share her nest high up in a tree; he could brave the moggies in the farmhouse and move in with mouse, join hare and romp in the snow or even accompany the swallows and winter in Africa. However none of these are feasible for the little creature and with a yawn and a sigh, Bruno decides, “I guess everyone spends winter in their own way. For a marmot hibernation’s the best.” Bidding a temporary farewell to his friends, he settles down in his cosy den and falls fast asleep.

His dreams provide Bruno with the action and exciting adventures he eschewed in real life as he leaps from mountain top to mountain top – ‘Hooray!’, floats up to join jackdaw in her nest – ‘Amazing!’ and even accompanies mouse on a cat hunt – ‘Woo-hoo!’

There’s further fun too, lasting until voices break into his dreamworld as his friends call him to action for a long summer of togetherness.

Eve Tharlet’s seasonal scenes are at once naturalistic and whimsical adding gentle humour to Knister’s straightforward telling. A story for bedtime sharing or KS1 story sessions.

Little Chick Grows Up / Little Rabbit Has Friends

Little Chick Grows Up
Yu Hongcheng

Presented from the viewpoint of Little Chick we follow him from the time he emerges from his shell in spring and takes those first cheeps through the months until autumn when he’s a full-sized rooster.
Soon after hatching he, along with lots of siblings is ready – under his mother hen’s watchful eye and guidance – to start finding food and standing up for himself, always alert for ‘bad’ animals around the farmyard.
Eventually Mum decides it’s time to leave the chicks to look after themselves; are the youngsters ready? Will they find somewhere safe to sleep? And what about finding the right things to eat without her guidance?

Will they be able to stand up to bullies and stay alert for danger. What happens when Boss Rooster shows up to challenge them?

From endpaper to endpaper, Yu Hongcheng’s superb illustrations, which accompany her first person narrative are a wonder to behold in this book that will be enjoyed by children and adults.

Little Rabbit Has Friends
Marcus Herrenberger (translated by Kathryn Bishop)

It’s not always peace and harmony in the forest for it’s a place where predators live; predators such as the fox. The very fox that, a raven informs Wren, is planning on eating his friend, Little Rabbit that day.
Wren immediately hurries off to tell Mouse and then the two proceed to tell a hedgehog, a nuthatch, a squirrel, and a mother pig. All the while their worries about Little Rabbit are mixed with concerns about their own safety but nonetheless they feel they must do something to help.

However when wild pig refuses to help, the five friends go to visit Little Rabbit to say farewell.

The terrified creatures know he’s about to become the fox’s next meal, but that’s not quite what happens after all …

Striking watercolour illustrations of the forest inhabitants show how when the less strong work together, their combined power can work wonders. Somehow at the same time both realistic and full of feeling, they make readers and listeners feel part of the unfolding drama.

Too Big or Too Small? / Pompon

Too Big or Too Small?
Catherine Leblanc and Eve Tharlet

Where his parents are concerned, little bear, Martin just can’t win with his actions. “Don’t be silly, Martin” says Mama when the cub sees his baby sister drinking from a bottle and asks for a bottle, too – “you’re far too big for a bottle!” (Is she aware of sibling jealousy one wonders.) Shortly after when the cub tries using a knife to cut his food, she insists on doing it for him. (Why not show him how to help himself?).

Then his father chastises him for dragging his favourite soft toy animal around all the time – apparently he’s too big to take him out; but then he won’t allow him to use his mobile “No Martin. you’re still too small … you might break it.”

Now Martin isn’t one to be completely dominated and tries to find some ways of his own to show his parents how he feels about what’s been happening.

He also makes the occasional comments about what his parents are attempting to do: “Mama, aren’t you too big to do that?” is his comment on seeing her taking a fingerful of chocolate frosting while baking. Eventually both Mama and Papa come to realise they need to give more importance to doing things they can all enjoy together as a family.

It’s great that Catherine Leblanc makes Martin himself instrumental in changing his mum and dad’s parenting in this fun demonstration of child activism. Throughout the story, Eve Tharlet’s droll scenes are sure to amuse adults as well as young listeners: her portrayal of the bears’ body language and facial expressions are superbly done, especially when the adults are at odds with Martin.

Géraldine Elschner and Joanna Boillat

This story was inspired by a famous real statue almost seven feet long created by French sculptor François Pompon.
The titular Pompon is a large white bear statue in a museum, a statue that fascinates young Leo when he visits one day. Mesmerised Leo stands staring for ages, taking in its shape and enormity, its smooth texture and the curve of its ears. (This we see in Joanna Boillat’s close-ups that extend over half a dozen spreads.) Now Leo has a special magical look in his eyes and cannot resist reaching up and stroking Pompon’s cheek. The museum guard, initially angry,

then softens towards the boy, seemingly understanding how he felt but asking him to promise it was a one time only touch. A touch however that sets off a transformation in the ursine statue; wings appear on its back and Pompon is free and he takes flight, far, far away … Could it perhaps be that he becomes the constellation shown in the final illustration.

A magical tale engagingly and poetically told and even more magically illustrated, particularly on account of the artist’s clever use of the white space of the bear’s form; that, and the contrast with Leo and his red scarf. A book to encourage youngsters to imagine, to dream and to look long at art in all its forms.

This Tree Is Just For Me! / The Longest Storm

This Tree Is Just For Me!
Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s impossible for Jack to find a quiet place in which to settle down with his brand new book in the garden so he decides to search for a tree of his very own. Having discovered the perfect one and made the titular declaration, up the boy climbs and begins to read. Before long though the branches start to shake heralding the arrival of tiger wanting a chat. Jack politely explains and sends the big cat on its way.
However said tiger is only the first of a series of visitors to the tree: an alligator, a snake, a couple of monkeys, a sloth and others follow in quick succession until one wonders how Jack’s chosen tree can possibly stand all that weight.

Enough is enough decides the boy now shouting the title sentence and discombobulating the visitors, all of which hastily descend. Peace at last.
Jack finishes his book

but then a realisation dawns …

I love this story that celebrates the joy of reading, be it solo or with others. Far-fetched as it is, Lucy’s rhyming text is a terrific read aloud that really works and Laura’s scenes of that idyllic reading location and its visitors – human and otherwise – are hugely expressive and highly amusing.

The Longest Storm
Dan Yaccarino

‘A storm came to our town. It was unlike any storm we’d ever seen. No one knew how long it would last. We would have to stay inside maybe for a long while.’ So begins this story wherein three children, a Dad and a dog find themselves stuck inside with not enough to do and too much time to fill. Inevitably things start to deteriorate: frustration , boredom and anger become the norm and eventually Dad loses his temper completely.

Everyone goes their own way until one night comes a huge flash of lightning that shakes the house. This causes them to come back together. Apologies ensue and come the morning something has changed. The storm still rages outside but little by little things within improve and eventually the storm abates, the sun appears

and the task of rebuilding begins.

They’ve all undergone an emotional upheaval like no other and one suspects that Yaccarino’s story is a metaphor of the pandemic lockdowns we’ve all endured in the past couple of years. It will definitely resonate with families and offers a useful starting point to open discussions either at home or in the classroom as we start to emerge from our restricted lifestyles once more.