Love

Love
Corrinne Averiss and Kirsti Beautyman
Words & Pictures

Young Tess is part of a loving family – love surrounds her like the ‘light inside one of Daddy’s little houses.’

However, when the time comes for her to start school, the worries creep in. School is big and scary – nothing like that warm scarf that she feels wrapping around her when she goes out with her parents. Will the love still find her?

Her mother tries reassuring her saying as they part by the gate, that love will still find her even when they’re apart “like a string between us – it can stretch as far as it needs to.”

Tess though isn’t sure. Her understanding teacher offers some comfort – ‘Tess noticed a little thread between them. That felt nice.’

Little by little she continues discovering new strings of connectedness, friendship and love throughout the day.

Come hometime though, the anxiety returns when her mother is late to collect her.: that string doesn’t appear to be connecting Tess to anything or anyone. Finally, however, there with an explanation and a string-fixing hand, stands Mummy and all is well once more.

Enormously reassuring for young children who experience separation anxiety, Corrinne cleverly uses the string trope to make tangible the bond between loved ones in her story. But she makes it all the more impactful – love connects us no matter the distance between us – with her own ‘candle house’, ‘warm scarf and other metaphors. Employing a limited colour palette to great effect, Kirsti Beautyman’s sequence of textured illustrations are full of feeling, be that love, tenderness, worry, or empathy.

The Secret Life of Trees

The Secret Life of Trees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

Oakheart the Brave, oldest tree in the forest wherein it stands, acts as narrator of this revealing look at what happens beneath the bark and ‘neath the branches, below the roots even, of trees –arguably THE most important life form on our planet. Some of what we read contains truth in the form of fiction, some is fact.

To begin this fascinating book, Oakheart tells of how a marauding mouse seizes the acorn containing the very seed from which emerges the little shoot that is to become our enormous narrator.

He goes on to regale readers with arboreal tales including a version of an Indian one, The Banyan Tree, as well as The Sky-High Tree from Hungary

and some season-related stories: from Scotland comes The Fairy Tree, from Norway, The Summer Storm and with its autumnal setting we have The Tree of Life from Persia, while the final tree tale Magic in the Forest comes from Britain and is a legend about the wizard , Merlin.

There’s plenty of science too, relating to photosynthesis;

facts and figures about the oak’s growth; information about its animal inhabitants – small and very small; how trees communicate; seasonal change is discussed and much more, concluding with the all-important How to be Tree-Happy that explains briefly how to care for our precious trees and how you might grow one yourself.

Moira’s mix of information and story works wonderfully so the book should have a wide appeal; every spread offers an exciting visual experience too. I love the different viewpoints and clever ways of presenting information such as that of Secrets Inside Us.

Thank you Oakheart for your special gift.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Thank You

Thank You
Joseph Coelho and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Inspired by the NHS Thursday 8pm Clap for Carers earlier in the pandemic, award-winning performance poet Joseph Coelho wrote this gorgeous story, to demonstrate to children how they, like the child in this book can show appreciation for, and celebrate the key workers, in their own lives.

The story tells of Tatenda, a thankful child who says thank you whenever he gets an opportunity: thank you to mum and dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favourite comic, to the teacher for marking his work and to the shop staff who stack the shelves.

Of late though, nobody seems to hear his words of thanks, they’re too bogged down in their fears and worries.
Consequently, the boy decides that a much bigger thank you is needed: here’s what he does …

Suddenly this thank you turns into something colourful, full of energy and movement. Out the front door it whizzes and off down the road, followed by his parents, the post lady whose smile makes the thank you ‘grow and glow’, all the way to school where’s it’s given further sparkle from the teacher’s eyes. Then off into the market it goes, with everyone touched by it in pursuit, spreading joy and colour till it reaches a massive oak tree. And there among the branches it sticks.

Eventually after a massive team effort, Tatenda is able to reach  and liberate the thank you, whereupon it continues on its way spreading colour and joy throughout the community and helping everyone feel better!

This wonderful, lyrical celebration of Joseph’s, superbly illustrated by Sam Usher, is a brilliant manifestation of the power of gratitude and of community strength.

For every book sold 3% of the retail price goes to Groundwork, a charity that helps some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic: another great way of showing appreciation is to get your own copy.

Poems Aloud

Poems Aloud
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

Joseph Coelho is a performance poet so it’s no surprise that the nineteen poems in this book are first and foremost, intended to be read aloud or performed. Through so doing children can have lots of fun and discover the pure pleasure of spoken words.

There are poems for a range of moods and for each one, Joseph provides a helpful introductory line or so about reading it out loud.

There are some short playful alliterative Tongue Twisters to start with, including the sibilant The Slime Takeover that children will definitely delight in:
‘Slipping, shimmering, stinking slime, / sloppy cerise or shades of scarlet sublime. / It sticks and sucks and spits and spools, snaking slime slumping several school walls./ The slime swells and stretches, and starts to sprout, … ‘

They’ll also relish The Chilly Chilli with its homophones. Here’s the second verse telling how it feels since being ‘shipped to store’:
‘A little chilly chilli / feeling cold and in a knot. / Not a happy, chilly chilli. / In fact, this chilli feels quite ill / like it’s caught the flu. / It flew all this way / packed in a plane / to add heat to otherwise plain food.’
It sounds as though the poet had as much fun composing this as youngsters will when they read it, emphasising the bold words as he suggests.

As I write today the following are my favourites  (although they might well be different on another day): This Bear with its figurative language such as is used in the opening verse:
‘This lumbering bear is old / This lumbering bumbling bear / has shuffled over rugged imagined mountains. / Urged his bulk, slow and strong. / Slow as geography. / Strong as tree growth / through the forests of his mind.’
What a wonderful picture that paints in the reader’s mind even without the splendid illustration.

I love too the short Animals offerings that include Lion: ‘I am meat-licker, / bone-cruncher, / big–meower. / I cat walk with pride. / My mane is a hairdo of envy. / My roar is a rumble of mountains. / My claws, a savannah of pain.‘ Superb!

Next is the fantastically fanciful Something Wondrous, the first line of which urges:
‘Peer from your window in the deep of night.’ You might spy these, for its second verse goes thus:
‘A unicorn nibbles the gold leaf tree, / hobgoblins fist-fight in every flower. Mermaids flop from a luminescing sea. / Earth giants show-off their hidden powers.’ Joseph’s  power with poem creating is certainly not hidden and I really like the use of silhouettes in Daniel Grey-Barnett’s illustration.

The final one of today’s favourites conjures up a place whose sights, sounds and smells I’m familiar with. Even if you’ve never been On the Streets of New Delhi this poem will make readers feel that they’re experiencing the place. Here’s how it begins:
‘On the streets of New Delhi / a small brown dog yawns. / The morning light is golden / on the new streets of barking New Delhi.’
It concludes, thanks to the cumulative nature of the last line of each verse: ‘on the new streets of barking, selling, thrumming, chuckling New Delhi.’
Get hold of this cracking book to discover what causes the thrumming and chuckling referred to. Or you could cheat and look carefully at the action-capturing illustration  below;

but buy the book anyway – it’s a smasher!

The Incredible Hotel

The Incredible Hotel
Kate Davies and Isabelle Follath
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Stefan the understairs porter has a rather mundane life working in the kitchen of The Incredible Hotel situated in the great city of Delaunay. He spends much of his time fetching and carrying, mopping and chopping and doing the washing up; but Stefan dreams of cake making.

One morning early, a meeting of all staff is called. Mr Starch announces that the hotel is celebrating its centenary with a grand ball, the guest of honour being none other than the Duchess of Delaunay, an incredibly royal, particularly picky person with a penchant for closing down hotels. Uh – uh!

In her honour Chef Zagat is asked to make her favourite delicacy – a profiterole tower – the tallest, creamiest, ‘most profiteroley’ one ever.

The bakers set to work right away with Stefan acting as coffee maker; however he is an observant fellow and can see why the chef’s efforts are not a success, so he offers a suggestion.

All he gets for this is a tongue lashing from the chef and he’s banished from the kitchen.

That night Stefan leaves the hotel and sets to work profiterole creating in his own domain.

Come the morning of the ball, without Stefan’s input, the hotel’s usual clockwork routine breaks down. Indeed disaster strikes and a call for Stefan’s help comes from the chef.

He of course isn’t there to hear.

Meanwhile upstairs the guests start arriving, including the Duchess. She’s far from happy to be stalled by Mr Starch and insists on entering the grand ballroom … She’s even more unhappy at what follows and is about to stomp out … until a wonderful aroma wafts into the room.

The rest, shall we say is mystery – until you get your hands on a copy of this truly delectable treat of a book cooked up by Kate Davies whose words are superbly selected, and Isabelle Follath, whose illustrations are a splendid mix of nostalgic delight, rich detail and fun. (Keep your eyes open for the bit part players, the cat and mouse that appear on every page.)

Don’t miss this one! Satisfaction assured!