George and His Nighttime Friends

George and His Nighttime Friends
Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Princeton Architectural Press

George, the lonely child protagonist in this nocturnal tale lies awake unable to sleep on account of his fear of the dark. “I wish I had a nighttime friend, even a small one,” he says one night. Surprised to hear a voice responding in the darkness, the boy sees beneath his bed a tiny mouse offering to help.

The mouse leads George downstairs and into a wonderful adventure in his very own house. The two explorers’ first encounter is with book guardian Mole,

then an elegant, piano-playing rabbit with stage fright, followed in the bathroom by a little penguin with a fear of the water and lots of other things. The four friends plunge into a warm bath to help Penguin with his frights and then during their search for towels they discover in the dryer a panda.

Said Panda is in need of a badminton opponent to help fulfil an ambition. There follows a crazy badminton game which fuels their hunger

and results in a new encounter in the kitchen and the making of another nighttime friend.

At last, surrounded by the host of new friends, George realises that night isn’t so scary as he’d supposed. A cosy bed calls and now it’s time to bid farewell to his friends and …. zzzzz …

Wonderfully whimsical, and wondrously illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned trademark fashion, this book is a perfect bedtime treat for youngsters and adults to read together. Both will savour the magical scenes – sometimes comforting and reassuring, sometimes playful – with their unusual perspectives, wealth of detail and superb use of light and shadow, throughout. Be prepared for an extended bedtime experience as youngsters will want to spend ages poring over every spread.

Beautiful Day! / Take Off Your Brave

Beautiful Day!
Rodoula Pappa and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Cameron Kids

In the company of a small child we experience the seasons’ riches through a sequence of twenty haiku-like poems. Rodoula Pappa’s words are as if spoken by said child, whose activities we follow starting with Spring: ’Beautiful day! / Teach me, too, how to fly, / mother swallow.’ are illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned scenes beautifully crafted as if from Japanese washi paper. 

There’s much to enjoy no matter the season: Summer offers lush peaches, somnolent-sounding music and ‘Among the reeds, / a new galaxy – / fireflies.’ as well as days by the sea.

Come autumn there’s an abundance of busy chipmunks and dahlias bloom prolifically and its time for the wild geese to travel. 

With winter soft snow falls and there are preparations for Christmas, while ‘In the rock’s crack, / deep green, full of light – / winter blossom.’

There’s a feeling of serenity about the entire book; it’s as though the words are asking us to slow down, stand and stare, imbibing the beauty of the natural world so wonderfully depicted, no matter what time of year.

What a lovely starting point for children’s own seasonal reflections this book would make in a primary classroom.

Take Off Your Brave
Nadim, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books

The Russian writer, storyteller and poet Kornei Chukovsky talked of young children as ‘linguistic geniuses’ playful and creative users of language and this book of poems by four year old, Nadim is a wonderful demonstration of this.

Responding to prompts from his mother, with the initial guidance of poetry teacher, Kate Clanchy (who has written an insightful foreword to this book) the little boy shared his thoughts about a variety of things from his feelings on returning home from nursery school, his best friend,

his mum, doing something scary, his wish. To read each of these is to share in something of how a four or five year old sees the world (something that I as a nursery and reception teacher for many years particularly enjoy); there’s no attempt at emulating adult poetry, rather, this is a child’s voice capturing those moments of happiness, joy, love, loneliness, peacefulness, togetherness, hopes, fears and dreams.

‘You always have sad moments / Happy moments / Nice moments / Angry moments // And when you smush those moments together / They make a great feeling / Called: / ABRACADABRADOCUOUS.’

And rest assured everyone has indestructible love to share for ‘Baddies love their baddie friends / Even very baddie ones. // Nothing can make love disappear / Not spells / Not magic / Not mermaids / Not anything. … ‘

Accompanied by Yasmeen Ismail’s illustrations – who better to capture young children being themselves – this is a lovely demonstration that poetry is for everybody.

Patience, Miyuki

Patience, Miyuki
Roxane Marie Galliez and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Princeton Architectural Press

I’ve not met Miyuki before although this book is a follow up to Time for Bed, Miyuki and it seems slightly strange to receive for review as summer gives way to autumn, a story about the magic of spring. Nonetheless it’s a beauty and so worth drawing attention to.

Miyuki is excited at the arrival of spring and cannot wait to revel in the joys it brings. On her walk with her Grandfather she notices a flower that is yet to open. “Be patient” she’s told, this delicate little flower needs the purest water.

At these words she’s off on a mission to find that water to make the flower burst into bloom.

Her quest leads to an encounter with a toad in a well, a pretty cloud, a beautiful waterfall

and a boy watering his garden who does provide her with what she seeks.

In her haste to return however she trips, hurts her leg and spills the water.

As a result she has to stop and in the silence of the moment she hears the song of the river. “Be patient,” it says promising to take her home.

Lulled by the water, she falls asleep and the river keeps its promise carrying her home, borne by an origami swan to her Grandfather.

Next morning, the second day of spring, Grandfather is able to get her to be still

so that she can observe the wonderful surprise that awaits.

There’s a dream-like quality to this sweet, soft-spoken story that is reflected in Seng Soun Ratanavan’s beautiful jewel-coloured, occasionally playful, illustrations of the natural world, some of which include traditional Japanese objects.

Enjoy the moment is the message of this book, and it’s one we could all do with paying heed to in our increasingly busy times, whatever the season.

My Island

My Island
Stephanie Demasse-Pottier and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Princeton Architectural Press

“To dream and to invent allows you to discover yourself,” So said Stephanie Demasse-Pottier, the author of this book that she wrote as a tribute to the inventiveness of her two young daughters. Hurrah for her flagging up the link between the imagination and the power to be inventive – in whatever field.
The little girl narrator of the story conjures up an imaginary island world filled with flying fish, birds, constantly blooming flowers, and animals aplenty.

In this place she has tea parties for the animals, she reads, makes coffee, interacts with snails, arranges flowers – all in her own little house.

We too can share in the riches of this place, so long as we know ‘how to sing’, ‘how to share’

and ‘how to dream’.


What adult wouldn’t want their child/ren to gain access to such a place – this extraordinary and wonderful world created by the imagination of the intense, creative little girl. A place where they too can wander, or pause awhile, letting their imaginations soar, further fuelled by the vivid scenes conjured by Seng Soun Ratanavanh in her watercolours, coloured pencils, and red thread stitched illustrations (which serve both to link together what the narrator imagines and to leave gaps for readers’ imaginations to enter).

Not only is this a tribute to two little girls, it’s a tribute to the power of the imagination itself.
Remove all technology and let youngsters take that leap and linger long. Who knows what might happen …