The Can Caravan

The Can Caravan
Richard O’Neill and Cindy Kang
Child’s Play

What a wonderfully uplifting and affirming contemporary story is the latest one by Romani storyteller Richard O’Neill.
Janie, an imaginative child, lives on a travellers’ site with her mother and her grandfather. Also living among them is her grandfather’s friend Mrs Tolen, whose caravan has seen better days.

At school one day Janie’s teacher announces that the class are to visit a can recycling plant and Janie is able to respond to his question about the history of recycling by relating it to what members of the travelling community have done for centuries. Back on the site, she’s eager to tell Mrs Tolen about the visit only to discover that she’s had a fall and is in hospital with a broken hip.

A couple of days later, Janie goes to see Mrs Tolen in the hospital and hears that environmental health inspectors have deemed her caravan unfit for living in. She is determined that rather than the old lady having to move out, she, her friends and other members of her community will restore her old caravan.
The visit to the can recycling plant further motivates and inspires Janie

and back home she can hardly contain herself with excitement as she tells her Mum and grandfather about her plans. The same thing happens at school next day where she receives many offers of help from her classmates on behalf of family members. The recycling plant agrees to donate recycled metal sheets and the community collect cans to raise the rest of the money needed. Then under Janie’s leadership everybody sets to work rebuilding the caravan.

Eventually Mrs Tolen has a wonderful surprise when she is able to move into her recycled trailer – her “Can Caravan” as she names it joyfully.

What this community achieves is an inspiration to us all: the loyalty, determination, resilience and ability to adapt inherent in the Traveller peoples should make those of us who are all too ready to rush out and buy new things, ashamed of such consumerist attitudes. Cindy Kang’s bright, realistic illustrations underline the community spirit and there’s a final aluminium recycling flow chart that also includes some interesting facts about this metal.

The Fox and the Forest Fire

The Fox and the Forest Fire
Danny Popovici
Chronicle Books

We’ve heard a lot about the ravages of forest fires in various parts of the world in recent months and here debuting as a picture book author-illustrator, Danny Popovici, a former firefighter who recently had to flee from a forest fire in the region of his home, writes from the heart.

His story is narrated by a boy who has just moved from the city with his mum to a new home in the country. Initially he misses the hustle and bustle of city life, and on a hike with his mum, watched by a fox, declares country life is not for him. Little by little though the lad comes to appreciate his new surroundings as we (and the fox) are witness to his change of heart. “I feel welcome in my new home” he says.

Then one morning, there’s a strange quiet everywhere and in the distance the boy sights a tower of smoke rising up: the forest is on fire. He dashes back home to warn his mother and as the surroundings turn a fiery red, the two are forced to flee their home. The forest animals do likewise.

Eventually rain comes though it’s a long time before mother and child are allowed to return, but when they do, their house is no more. Happily however, safe and secure they begin to plan their new home, the boy stating ‘While things don’t look like they did before, the forest knows what to do after a fire.” and the final spread shows new beginnings for both displaced humans and forest creatures.

Told and illustrated with a sensitivity that comes from a deep understanding and love of nature, Popovici shows ( and after the story ends tells in a note ,) ‘naturally occurring’ forest fires can benefit a forest, while also emphasising the danger of those caused by careless humans, and global warming, as well as the need to protect our environment.

A book that offers a powerful starting point for talking about the affects of wildfires.

I Am Courage

I Am Courage
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

The sixth in the I Am series looks at the topic of inner strength and resilience, things we’ve all needed to draw on in the past eighteen months or so.

This book is presented by a child narrator on a bike ride. The ride (like life) is full of challenges, but despite being faced by such obstacles as a dark path, a bridge across a deep gorge, even meeting with a frightening dog,

the child believes in their own strength and resilience, drawing on it to keep going. This sometimes entails asking for support from other people and sometimes it means giving support to others. Resilience is shown first on the child’s T-shirt, then as a bonfire and then on flags that the narrator gives to others, each time taking the form of an iconic flame symbol that helps them to find their own inner strength. 

That friends are key in the whole process of keeping the flame alive no matter what, is shown in the final two spreads where we see the narrator and friends creating a large sail and sailing off on a raft with the symbol hoisted aloft.

Peter H. Reynolds uses different colour backgrounds, each one vibrant, in keeping with the range of feelings the characters show on their faces during the course of the journey.

After Susan Verde’s first person narrative, she offers an author’s note wherein she suggests some yoga poses and breathing techniques that should help youngsters in affirming the brave, confident and courageous humans that they are.

Tom’s Magnificent Machines

Tom’s Magnificent Machines
Linda Sarah and Ben Mantle
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

This is a totally awesome picture book that celebrates the very special relationship between young Tom and his father. It also celebrates their inventiveness and resilience in the face of difficulties.

We first meet the two as they zip around their lakeside home with dad pulling his son in a small, simple vehicle they’ve fashioned from bits and pieces.

Gradually however their inventiveness escalates and their home becomes chock full of weird and wonderful whizzy, whirry, hovering machines: life is peachy.

Then unexpectedly, Dad loses his job and with it, so Tom thinks, his smile and his propensity for inventiveness.
Gloom descends and the old machines lie forgotten. Then comes even worse news: they can’t afford to keep their home. Tom is devastated. Taking his trolley-bike he sets off to do some thinking.

Suddenly he has an enormous, hope-filled idea. Back home Dad appears relatively uninterested but finally Tom gets his message across and Dad smiles for the first time in many days.

A great deal of creating, testing, fixing and more ensue until beyond anything anyone could have imagined, they’re ready to open ‘The Museum of Vehicles Made From Things Not Usually Used For Making Vehicles.’
Visitors pour in, and wonder and laughter fill their establishment. Life is once again peachy as Dad says they can stay in their home.

Life does sometimes have a way of throwing disasters in the way of some unlucky people, and so it is for Tom and his Dad.
One night a whirlwind destroys their dream house, scattering its contents and leaving just rubble.

Despite his ‘badly-hidden sad’ Dad however mentions rebuilding;

Tom has other ideas. Off he goes once again on his bike; and returns with a brilliant new suggestion. It’s pure genius and one that will work no matter what the elements throw their way.

Linda Sarah has such an amazing way with words; her story is sheer delight to read aloud: coupled with Ben Mantle’s stupendous scenes of the highs and lows of life as shared by Tom and his dad, the result is a terrific book to share, and share and …

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Snugglewump / Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day

The Snugglewump
Lou Treleaven and Kate Chappell
Maverick Arts Publishing
Molly has a host of toys and sitting side-by side awaiting her arrival one day, each claims to have pride of place in her affections. There’s Ted, an antique doll, Alien, Robot and Action Andy …

all strutting their stuff so to speak. It’s no wonder that Snugglewump lies forgotten on the floor feeling less than confident about his lot. But then, having seen and heard the others showing off, it ups and snugglewumps away through the catflap and off down the road.
Thanks to a free ride on a postman’s shoe, it ends up spending the night, damp and virtually shapeless contemplating the possibilities offered by having limbs and a countenance, or batteries, and generally rueing its lot.
Is it Snugglewump’s fate to be cast so it thinks, into the dump or could there perhaps be an alternative ending for this brightly coloured, albeit amorphous thing which, thanks to a couple of pigeons is, as the sun rises, hanging across the branch of a tree in the park?

Told through Lou Treleaven’s jaunty rhyming text with its fun descriptive phrases, and Kate Chappell’s beautifully expressive, quirky illustrations (she even manages to imbue that Snugglewump with a personality) this is great fun to share with young listeners either at home or in an early years setting.

Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day
Rochel Lieberman and Lloyd Jones
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Ten year old Pearla likes nothing better on Sundays than to help her father in his bakery. She’s something of an expert herself, cooking up perfect cupcakes and cookies that people come from far and wide to buy.
One Sunday however, having so she thinks whisked up the usual perfect mix for her cookies and cupcakes, and put them into the oven to bake, she realises that she’s left out a vital ingredient. Disaster for one used to a perfect baking outcome.

But then as she paces up and down, Pearla starts out on what is to be a huge learning curve: “I’m a person, People are not perfect. I did my best. I know I will be helped with the rest,” she tells herself.
Out come the far from perfect confections some time later and rather than throwing the whole lot in the bin, Pearla decides to sell them at half-price.
What happens thereafter is a big surprise for the girl and after the odd sales setback, every single item is sold. Thank goodness Pearla managed to stay calm and turn her mistake into something positive. Even more important she learned the crucial life-lesson: that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process; something all teachers worth their salt would agree with, and that all youngsters need to take on board early on in their education. That way lies success.
Full of important and empowering lessons. Written by a speech and language specialist, this is a book to share with all young learners, especially those who, for whatever reason, are averse to risk-taking. Lloyd Jones’ illustrations add gentle humour to Pearla’s plight.

I’ve signed the charter