The Way to Impossible Island

The Way to Impossible Island
Sophie Kirtley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a sequel to The Wild Way Home and features some of the same characters, in particular Dara who is now twelve years old and has been waiting for what feels like forever for the BIG heart operation he hopes will change his life. 

In the meantime he has to put up with the challenges and frustrations of living life in the slow lane, feeling ill frequently and not being able to do things he so wants to, those things his parents say are ‘not a good idea’. In particular rowing out to Lathrin Island in search of the legendary Golden Hare. 

When he learns that the op. promised for this summer has been postponed, good idea or not, Dara decides that it’s his life and that he’ll row out to the island. So off he sneaks.

What follows is a wondrous, totally enthralling, life-affirming tale of adventure and the fight for survival wherein two worlds collide for, hiding in the boat shed Dara meets a girl clad in animal skins. Can this Mothgirl really be from the Stone Age. She has a wolf, ByMySide, and like Dara (she’s of a similar age) faces challenges – an ailing father, a missing brother and expectations to become a person she most definitely doesn’t want to be.

Despite coming from different eras, the two understand one another and form a strong bond enabling them to confront tremendous dangers together.

Truly a tale of exceeding your own expectations, finding yourself and owning who you are. What and who is normal (‘nor-mill’ as Mothgirl calls it) are two of the questions Sophie Kirtley weaves into her narrative

Immensely powerful, indeed unputdownable: I just HAD to read the entire book in a sitting. It was so good to see that by the end both Dara and Mothgirl are ready to face the future and able to love themselves as they are.
I just can’t recommend this enough – utterly brilliant.

I Don’t Want To Be Small

I Don’t Want To Be Small
Laura Ellen Anderson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The little boy narrator of this rhyming tale rues his lack of stature; “It’s not fair,” he says. Frequently overlooked, he’s the smallest among his friends and big bro’s castoffs are way too large.

In a fit of pique the lad tosses his Teddy Bear skywards only to get it stuck in a tree out of reach.
Nothing he tries succeeds in getting Ted down;

superfast consumption of green veggies merely serve to give him wind and attempting to become flower-like is let’s say, a damp squib.

His “I JUST WANT MY BEAR” shout causes a tall girl to come and offer her assistance; but not even she can reach Teddy.

Light bulb moment: teamwork might just do it suggests our narrator, and … hurrah! Success; but much more important, is what  ensues.

Laura’s spirited illustrations abound with humour and pathos, and her seemingly simple, funny story with its powerful messages about self-acceptance and the importance of co-operation, will resonate with all those who feel inferior for whatever reason.

Rumple Buttercup

Rumple Buttercup
Matthew Gray Gubler
Puffin Books

Just a quick look at green-skinned Rumple Buttercup with his wonky teeth, odd sized feet and just three strands of hair might indicate that this creature is something out of the ordinary – weird – so the author tells us at the outset of his immediate interest snarer.

Convinced that his unusual appearance with scare people, his residence is a sewer  – albeit nicely decorated,

where he listens in to conversations of passers-by, longing to be a participant but making do with pretence.

The one time Rumple feels safe to sally forth as part of the community, is his favourite event, the Annual Pajama Jam Cotton Candy Pancake Parade; a day nobody will, he thinks, notice him amid the carnival revels.

Having eagerly anticipated the day all year, his excitement rises but then on the morning of the event, there’s a distinct lack of banana peel in the bin beside his home.

Devastated and deciding he must stay below ground and miss all the fun, the creature suddenly hears a voice calling down the drain to him.

What he discovers is that he’s not quite as strange as he’s always thought – unique perhaps, but then we’re all strangely different in our own ways.

So let’s join him in a celebratory wave and an acknowledgement that self-acceptance, flaws and all, is the way to go and that there are others out there who will celebrate our individuality, no matter what.

This delectably quirky, slightly surreal offering – a blend of picture book and chapter book – is one that will appeal to a wide readership, young and not so young.

Mira’s Curly Hair

Mira’s Curly Hair
Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani
Lantana Publishing

How many of us are satisfied with our natural hair? We often deem it too straight or too curly and spend countless hours styling it and making it look different. I for one have given up on the straighteners other than on very rare occasions but like Mira, the main protagonist in this story, would really like effortlessly straight and smooth hair.

Like Mira too I’ve tried pulling it down to get rid of the kinks and I know from my daily yoga practice that headstanding has absolutely no effect when it comes to hair straightening.

Mira even goes to the lengths of piling books on her hair but inevitably once she moves those curls spring up as if to say, we told you so.

The child covets her mother’s long, smooth straight locks but then one day while out walking with her it starts to rain heavily. They run for shelter ‘neath a palm tree but as they wait, Mira notices to her amazement, something different about her mother’s long locks. They’re straight no more; thanks to the moisture her hair is curling and curling … and Mira loves it.

Thereafter there’s only one hairstyle for both Mira and her mum; it’s natural and it’s curly.

With its theme of self-acceptance, this simple story is beautifully told by debut picture book author, Maryam al Serkal

Prize-winning Argentine illustrator Rebeca Luciani’s scenes executed in jewel-like acrylic colours and digitally worked are superb. I especially love the way items such as toy soldiers and hair styling tools are woven into one illustration,

while others feature modern and traditional Islamic style architecture, as well as richly patterned clothing both traditional and modern.

Another wonderful addition to the culturally enriching picture book list that is Lantana Publishing.

Jungle Jamboree

Jungle Jamboree
Jo Empson
Puffin Books

The jungle is alive with anticipation. The coming of dusk is the opportunity for all the animals, great and small, to show off their beauty; but which one will be judged the most beautiful of all?

One after another the creatures dismiss their natural beauty: Lion says his mane is too dull; bird’s legs are too short; zebra’s stripes are too boring; leopard’s spots too spotty and hippo’s bottom is well, just too big.

None of them expects to win the crown.

A passing fly is interested only in his lunch and while the other creatures all set about getting themselves ready for the jamboree, he happily sates his appetite.

At last all are ready but they’re hardly recognisable with their fancy adornments and new-found confidence.

The fly, in contrast talks only of the beauty of the day’s ending.

Finally the long-awaited hour of dusk arrives. Judges and creatures assemble ready to strut their stuff; but all of a sudden the clouds gather and a storm bursts upon them.

The animals are stripped of their flamboyant accoutrements and left standing in darkness as the storm finally blows itself out. Now it’s impossible for the judges to see who should receive that crown of glory.

Then the little fly speaks out, offering light, for this is no ordinary fly.

How wonderfully one little firefly illuminates all the creatures, now clad only in their natural beauty; but which will be declared the most beautiful of them all?

Jo’s story is funny, thought provoking and a superb celebration of kindness, self-acceptance and every individual’s unique beauty: her electrifying illustrations are a riot of colour and pattern and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts.

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

Come with me to Coral Reef City, home to the most flashy, dashy array of fish you could imagine. It’s also home to Terry. Terry has no dazzling scales or funky fins to flaunt. He does however have two good friends, Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail with whom he lives and plays.

The three and their games of Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish are shunned by the tropical fish on account of their drabness. Terry’s pals try to cheer him up but he still hankers after that dashing, flashing life.

A plan is needed and next day, with the help of his friends, operation transformation Terry is put into action.

Now he verily outshines everything else in Tropical City.
At last he’s one of the fishy dazzlers and much too busy with his new acquaintances to bother with Steve and Cilla.

One day however, Eddie the Eel arrives on the scene and Terry’s life in is great danger. What can he do to escape becoming an eel’s next meal?

There’s only one way to find out: get your fins on a copy of Jarvis’ tale of friendship and sea changes and read the rest of this piscine picture book.

Jarvis never fails to delight: his deep-sea adventure is certainly one to dive into.

Frank the Seven-Legged Spider

Frank the Seven-Legged Spider
Michaele Razi
Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch)

Frank the spider enjoys spinning beautiful webs;

he also enjoys scaring humans; most of all though he likes his eight ‘beautiful, glorious legs.’

One day though, Frank wakes up minus one of his prized limbs: with only seven legs, is he still a spider?

Once he’s got the hang of being a tad lop-sided, Frank sets off in search of his missing leg. He tries several likely spots including a dark, warm cave

but no matter where he searches there isn’t any sign of his lost leg.

Fortunately just when everything seems totally dismal some ants come along and what they tell him makes Frank realise that all the things that make him spidery – web spinning, leg wiggling and scurrying – are still on his can do list.
Hurrah! Identity crisis averted; bring on self-acceptance; for sure, despite his physical disability, Frank’s lost none of his capacity for pranks.

That final spread doesn’t quite hold the last laugh though. After it come a credits page showing another spider holding something that might just belong to our protagonist …

Michaele Razi’s straightforward text and abundance of speech bubbles, in combination with her uncluttered illustrations executed in a carefully considered colour palette, present the physically challenged arachnid as a positive character ready to take on whatever life throws at him. Pretty cool!

Baby Bird

Baby Bird
Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka
First Editions
First Editions is a new ‘sub-imprint’ of Lincoln Children’s Books that is entirely devoted to debuts and this book is one of its first.

‘Birds are born to fly’, thinks Baby Bird but this little bird was born with one misshapen wing that fails to develop fully and so when the other hatchlings are ready to leave the nest Baby watches them take flight but, try as s/he might, Baby’s efforts to follow them end in disaster.

Determined to learn to swoop and soar like the others, the little creature keeps practising, refusing to give up until suddenly a monstrous face appears from the shadows and there is, not a monster but another bird calling itself Cooter.

Cooter offers to assist Baby by becoming a buddy and the two spend the afternoon endeavouring to get Baby airborne, all to no avail and although Cooter tells Baby that he’s having fun, the fledgling most definitely is not.

The friendship is further tested when Cooter tells Baby something exceedingly distressing that precipitates a fall, a rescue and a revelation.

What follows changes the entire mood; it’s something called Coot Scooting and from then on, Baby’s outlook on life and flying is altogether different.

Baby Bird embodies the spirit of determination against all the odds in this tale of friendship, self-acceptance and inclusivity.
Both author (who sadly did not live to see the book’s publication) and illustrator’s portrayal of the fledgling is uplifting and inspiring.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Butterfly Dance

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The Butterfly Dance
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The butterflies weren’t the only ones dancing: I joined them as I opened the parcel containing this alluring book. My dance though, fell far short of the dazzling show of the exquisitely patterned, winged creatures herein. It’s good to see Susanne Barton adding a book starring ‘flyers’ different from those in The Dawn Chorus and Robin’s Winter Song to her repertoire.
Two caterpillars, Dotty and Stripe share everything. Then Stripe pupates leaving Dotty feeling lonely, but soon she too makes a cosy bed and falls asleep. Dotty is first to emerge and cannot wait to show her wonderful wings to Stripe. He however, is already flying towards her, resplendent with his outstretched wings.
Then begins a dazzling gliding, looping, soaring, whirling, fluttering and chasing dance, which is interrupted by an untimely rain shower. Taking cover, the butterflies encounter a bee that tells them of a meadow full of flowers, and sends them on their way. Their route takes them through the woods where dragonflies dip and dart around a puddle

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and there they learn of other butterflies the colour of Stripe. Further on though, Dotty discovers that there are also butterflies of her own blue colour and the two wonder if they should be playing with those that look like they do.
The best friends have a dilemma: should they seek their fellow look-alikes or stay together? They decide to part: Stripe plays with red butterflies, Dotty with blue. They miss each other. Can they remain friends but stay true to themselves at the same time? And, equally important, can they find one another again?

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Inherent in this enchanting rendition are themes of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, friendship, reaching out to others, similarities and differences, and change. Every spread, be it a single scene stretching across the whole double page, one page, or a sequence of small vignettes,

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is made visually captivating by Suzanne Barton’s kaleidoscopically coloured, signature mixed media, collage style art.

Will & Nill / Donkey Donkey

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Will & Nill
Farhad Hasanzadeh and Atieh Markazi
Tiny Owl Publishing
Will and Nill are two alley cats, both very hungry. That’s about their only similarity though, for while Will is up and about at cock-crow, Nill yawns and continues to doze. Having tried unsuccessfully to persuade his friend to join him, off goes Will alone. Not to forage first though, for he accepts the invitation to play hide-and-seek with a passing sparrow –

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at least it provides a distraction from an empty tummy. Not only that but he is eventually rewarded by a half-eaten fish he discovers poking out from the top of the sparrow’s third hiding place.

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Then having promised another game the following day, Will sets about sating his appetite on the tasty treat that awaits him before returning to an even hungrier Nill, and a contented sleep.
This fable playfully demonstrates that making just a little effort can make a big difference. There are probably elements of both Nill and Will in all of us, but unexpected good fortune seldom comes to those who do nothing: serendipity seems to favour those that have a bit of get up and go.
The flat, almost perspectiveless renditions of both cats and cityscapes are at once arresting and wryly winsome; and despite Nill’s somnolence, Atieh Markazi really does manage to bring both characters to life in her cat portraits.

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Donkey Donkey
Roger Duvoisin
The New York Review Children’s Collection
Meet Donkey-donkey (or maybe reacquaint yourself with same, as this story was first published over sixty years ago). He has plenty of friends and a very kind master …

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and plenty of his favourite food to eat. Everything is as it should be – yes? No actually; for as having caught sight of his reflection in the stream, our Donkey becomes dissatisfied with his appearance, his long ears being the particular cause for a sudden attack of self ridicule. Off goes the tearful creature to seek advice from various other animals as to how best to sport those super-sized sound receptors of his.

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Having consulted all the farmyard animals and done his utmost to alter his appearance with some very amusing and sometimes painful results …

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Donkey-donkey eventually comes around to accepting his ears as the beautiful appendages they truly are.
Self-acceptance and appreciating our own uniqueness are oft-explored themes in picture books but, with its direct narrative and delightfully droll watercolour illustrations, this golden oldie still packs a punch.

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