Shy Ones

Shy Ones
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books

We first officially meet flapjack octopus Maurice, the story’s main character, on the front endpapers. Said creature is extremely shy, hiding behind his mum, under his desk at school and among the seaweed fronds in the playground. ‘Unless you were looking for him, you wouldn’t know he’s missing,’ says the narrator.

‘Right about now, you’re probably thinking “What a bore!” But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions’ we read but then we see the little cephalopod on his way to Deep Blue Dance Hall where, surrounded by a host of glowing creatures and looking as though he’s blissfully happy, he performs a solo dance.

Then comes an invitation to a party, which Maurice somewhat reluctantly turns up to with a handy disguise; then the omniscient narrator steps in again with some revealing comments …

and a friendship is forged. Finally on the back endpapers we discover the narrator’s identity is Lucy the Box Fish another reclusive marine creature.

Observant readers/listeners may just have noticed that said fish has been lurking in the background in several of the early spreads and those who haven’t can enjoy looking back and discovering her whereabouts in Simona Ciraolo’s wryly humorous sub aquatic scenes full of charming, jewel bright sea creatures.

A gentle delight to share with many little humans – introverted or extroverted – or perhaps, just one little shy one.

Can’t Catch Me!

Can’t Catch Me!
Timothy Knapman and Simona Ciraolo
Walker Books
Meet Jake, the fastest mouse in the world so we’re told, and Old Tom Cat – he looks pretty formidable, at least in Simona Ciraolo’s opening portrait of him. Tom has designs on Jake as his next tasty tidbit; but however many knots the old moggy ties himself into to that end, Jake manages to elude him. All poor Tom succeeds in geting is a rumbly tum and a thinner body, and a whole lot of taunting from a certain mouse as he runs off out of the garden and into the fields beyond.
Pretty soon Jake encounters a fox. That too has hunger pangs and a space in his tummy for a little mouse.

Can’t catch me!” brags Jake as he dashes through the cornfield and on into a wood leaving the pursuing fox far behind.
In the wood, lives a wolf and guess what? It too fancies a “juicy young mouse” to eat. Despite the fact it ‘sprinted and sprang’, that wolf just could not catch the boastful Jake.

Nor could the roaring bear he next comes across, even though it lunges and leaps at the rodent who manages to spring right across a chasm and end up (after going all around the world) right back where he started …

Now there’s an old saying, ‘everything comes to he who waits’ and so it is here; I’ll say no more.
There are echoes of the Gingerbread Man in this stonker of a story; but Timothy Knapman has taken the bones of the traditional tale and created a snappy spin-off that is certain to go down well with young listeners (if mine are anything to go by) who will relish its denouement. Simona Ciraolo’s scenes of showing off, sprinting and strutting speak even louder than all Knapman’s wonderful dialogue. This is another genius author/illustrator pairing.

I’ve signed the charter

The Lines on Nana’s Face

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The Lines on Nana’s Face
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books
Utterly divine was my instant reaction when I saw the cover of this: and so it continued with glorious endpapers and an, oh so beautiful narration by a small girl, of a conversation that takes place between herself and her Nana on the latter’s birthday. All the relations have come to celebrate the day but our narrator is slightly bemused: in addition to looking happy, why does her Nana appear as though ‘she might also be a bit sad, and a little surprised and slightly worried, all at the same time.’ she wonders. Nana suggests it might be due to her wrinkles, “ … it is in these lines that I keep all my memories!
What follows is a glorious exploration of those lines with the little girl leading the way.

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There’s a springtime mystery-solving memory line, a best seaside picnic ever line (or two) – definitely laughter lines those …

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and these are the result of a truly hair-raising first date encounter with Grandpa …

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Memories of a glorious wedding dress made by Nana for her sister are also present – right below Nana’s eyes and there’s a sadness place too – that’s for Nana’s first goodbye …

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Then comes our adorable narrator’s final question: “Nana! Do you remember the first time you saw me?” and Nana’s beatific smile says it all …

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Stunning illustrations grace each and every page of this treasure of a book. I particularly love the alternate ‘real’ (lines) and imaginative (memory) spreads pattern Ciraolo uses as she celebrates both youth with all its promise of times to come, and gradual aging with its memories of times past: essentially, life and living. I for one will never look upon my facial lines in quite the same way again. What a truly tender tale to share with young children, no matter whether you are or aren’t a grandparent though of course, it would be a wonderful present from one grandchild to grandma or vice-versa. And (I keep on saying this), yet another out of this world production from Flying Eye Books: oh that paper – I can almost feel those lines,  oh that spine, oh, oh … hmmm!

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Hug Me

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Hug Me
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books
It’s difficult to imagine many things less huggable than a cactus but Simona Ciraolo has made the central character of her delightful book a very spiky yet totally adorable creature. Young Felipe, who longs for a hug, has the misfortune to be a member of a very uptight family so, realizing that his longed-for embrace will definitely not be forthcoming from his un-touchy-feely kin, decides to try his luck outside the family circle. However, when he strikes up a friendship with an outsider, poor Felipe ends up feeling more unloved than ever. So, is he destined to spend the rest of his days alone and unhugged?
Despite being a tale of loneliness and a longing to belong, there is subtle humour here in abundance, largely conveyed through the expression-filled pencil and pen pictures, and the relationship between them, the understated text and what is left unsaid. We are never told that Felipe is actually a cactus and we are only shown the nature of his bouncy first friend; and that newspaper report is priceless.

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The manner in which scale is manipulated further adds to the power of Felipe’s feelings of desolation and isolation. We see for instance, his completely dwarfed, diminutive form reaching out longingly to a family member –

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your heart really goes out to him.
I love the way too that the predominantly arid earthy tones give way to a burst of brighter pinks and purples as Felipe emerges from his isolation, and that the story continues onto the final endpapers leaving child audiences space to co-create an extended narrative and possibly their own books. The front endpapers are great too – a family tree cactus style.
A great debut from Simona Ciraolo and a classy production from Flying Eye.

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