Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an absolutely beautiful, gentle but powerful story of love and of loss.

Umpa’s garden is the young child narrator’s favourite place, filled as it is with flowers and fruit trees. Umpa shows his grandchild how to plant seeds and watch them grow. He also plants stories in her mind, stories of imagined worlds – wonderful new places they can travel to together; places that, fuelled by the imagination can stay with you forever.

Time passes; Umpa grows older

and eventually he dies.

His distraught grandchild grieves, “The clouds had swallowed me whole’ she tells us.

Then one day, she remembers: his legacy lives on …

and he will always be there in her heart and in her memories of those treasured experiences they shared together.

Books and stories have transformative powers: Victoria’s new book is a wonderful reminder of that, showing some of the myriad ways those powers can help to heal, to bond people together, as well as to fuel the imagination. The softness of the story is evoked in her beautiful pastel colour palette, her graceful lines and the fluidity of her images. Do spend time on every spread; there is so much to see and feel.

A book to share and to cherish.

Nell & the Circus of Dreams

Nell & the Circus of Dreams
Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith
Oxford University Press

Circuses hold a tremendous fascination for many children and so it is with young Nell although she doesn’t know it when the story begins. What she does know though is that she feels sad on account of her mother being ill and then, when she discovers a tiny chick in the farmyard, very happy.

Nell and the lost chick – she names it Rosebud – become almost inseparable.

One night Rosebud disappears from the end of her bed and when Nell wakes next morning her feathered friend is nowhere to be seen. Dashing outside she leaves the farmyard and heads through the still dewy meadows till she finds herself surrounded by enormous wooden wheels.

There’s an intoxicating aroma of coffee, toast and hedgerow flora, and she hears hammers striking metal. Lo and behold, she’s walked right into a circus.

Up goes the huge tent and Nell sees girls busy adding adornments inside and out. She helps and is invited into one of the wheeled homes where she joins a large family meal. She endeavours to communicate that she’s searching for her lost chick but suddenly the music starts and everyone rushes out and into the big tent.

Nell is mesmerised by the performances she sees …

but even better a wonderful surprise awaits her in the ring: there’s something feathery standing in a circle of light.
From then on, although sadly the circus has to depart, remembering doesn’t;

Nell carries the memories always in her heart and relives them in her own way.

Beautifully and movingly told by Nell, founder of Giffords Circus that has its home on the outskirts of Stroud, near to where I currently live much of the time, her words really capture the magic of all things wonderful about a circus community such as theirs.

I can think of nobody better than Briony to illustrate the story. Her jewel-like scenes are out-of-this-world wonderful, be they of Nell’s farmhouse home and yard, the temporary homes of the circus community or of the performance.

A must have picture book, this.

Out, Out, Away From Here

Out, Out, Away From Here
Rachel Woodworth and Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

An exploration of emotions comes first hand from the red haired girl narrator of this picture book.

Sometimes she feels mad, sometimes she’s sad; on some days, ‘smiling-ear-to-ear GLAD’; on others ‘MAD SAD SMILING-EAR-TO-EAR GLAD.’ There are good and bad days, quiet ones and noisy ones. But on those ‘MAD SAD NOISY days’ she seeks solace in a place far off in the wild of her imagination.

That’s a place to watch the swishing, swooshing, rustling roaring trees with their whispery leaves, waving branches and grumbling trunks until both watched and watcher break into smiles and everything begins to change.

Finally it’s time to return, calm once more, to the everyday world of domestic reality.

Sang Miao’s superb illustrations show what is not said: there’s a baby sibling in the home that clearly puts the parents under strain at times. Here she uses dark silhouettes and dull hues …

in stark contrast to her richly coloured scenes of the narrator’s imaginary world, which are lush and fantastical with surreal images.

A fabulous book to start a primary classroom discussion on negative emotions – how they can affect us, and how we might respond to them.

Chalk Eagle

Chalk Eagle
Nazli Tahvili
Tiny Owl

The power of the imagination is crucial for so many reasons. I’ve spoken and written about its importance in education in many places and on numerous occasions, including from time to time, on this blog. Sadly however, the education policy writers in our government seem not to place much value upon it.

However, one never gives up on something so vital and it is wonderful to have Tiny Owl’s on-going championing of wordless books as one means of promoting the education of the imagination. Equally it was exciting to hear on a recent The Life Scientific programme, a woman mathematician, Eugenia Cheng, speaking about the importance of the imagination in maths.

This wordless picture book by Iranian artist Nazli Tahvili is the perfect vehicle to get the imagination soaring and for me the eagle in flight is a wonderful symbol of creativity unleashed.
A rooftop vantage point is just the place to broaden one’s horizons and make free with chalk on tiles, which is what the young protagonist does herein having watched an eagle flying overhead.

Boy and eagle join forces

and soar over town and country, sea and mountain in his imagination and in Nazli Tahvili’s screen-print illustrations.

The colours she has used are, so we’re told, influenced by the blue skies, and green rice fields that surround her northern Iranian home.

A book to open up and let your mind go free with child and eagle: in particular, I’d like to give it to a group of teachers or teachers in training and see where their discussions/imaginations fly.

The Stone Bird

The Stone Bird
Jenny McCartney and Patrick Benson
Andersen Press

Here’s a magical tale full of wonder and the power of the imagination.
It begins one hot summer’s day when Eliza discovers a smooth, egg-shaped stone in the sand and knows it’s something special. “It’s a heavy egg,” she tells her sceptical mother.
At bedtime the child places her treasure beside her on the bedside table and later is woken by a cracking sound: a transformation has occurred.

Eliza takes her stone bird everywhere until autumn comes and with it school: Eliza’s bird remains on her bedside table.
Another object – a small grey oval stone appears beside it one morning.
Winter comes bringing frost. Eliza nestles her treasures in a pair of socks.

By spring she’s almost given up waiting but then something extraordinary happens: there are two stone birds in that nest, one big, one tiny.
Then one day, Eliza’s mother opens the bedroom window and that night Eliza’s dream is the sound of beating wings …

Next morning the nest is empty: will Eliza ever see her precious birds again?
A book that celebrates a child’s imagination is one to cheer. I’d hate to think the little girl’s imagination is dampened as she goes through school: perhaps though, the soaring birds on the penultimate spread are symbolic of her imaginative spirit spreading its wings.

Daisy Doodles / Ella Who?

Daisy Doodles
Michelle Robinson, Irene Dickson & Tom Weller
Oxford University Press
Get ready to go doodle crazy with Daisy.
One rainy day the little girl is stuck indoors and almost before she can say ‘Pipsqueak’ her drawing has upped off the page and is helping the child adorn the entire house with doodles of all shapes and sizes.
The rain stops but that is not the end of the adventure; in fact it’s the beginning of a whole exciting experience,

as dragons and dragonflies, castles and carousels, mermaids and much more are conjured into being, which culminates in the claw-wielding, jaw-snapping Battle of Crayon Creek.
All good things have to end though and end they do when the tickly octopus chases everyone back home and mum appears on the scene …

although that is not quite the end of the story …
In this lovely celebration of children’s creativity and imagination, the book’s creators cleverly use the device of a mirror to transport the little girl and her companion into their fantasy world of make-believe and back again: a world created by a variety of doodle-appropriate media.
With all the exciting visuals, it would be easy to overlook Michelle’s manner of telling, which, with its sprinklings of alliteration, and interjections of dialogue, is also a delight and allows plenty of space for Irene Dickson’s illustrations to create their magic.

Ella Who?
Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez
Sterling
There’s a touch or two of the Not Now Bernard’s about this story of a family moving day. The parents of the young narrator are far too busy to take notice of their daughter’s talk of the presence of an elephant in the living room of the home they’re moving in to.
While mum, dad …

and grandma are engaged in getting their new abode into some kind of order, the little girl, having ensured that her baby brother is soundly asleep, engages in some elephant-shared activities, first in her new bedroom and then, outside in the garden. And that is where our narrator notices a man coming to the front door: a man inquiring about a missing baby elephant going by the name of Fiona and having – so it says in the flier he leaves – a particular penchant for apples, . Surely it couldn’t be … could it?

Much of the humour of this book is in the interplay of words and pictures: It’s the little elephant that hands dad a tool as he struggles to fix the shower – a fact he’s completely oblivious to as he utters the story’s “Ella WHO?” catch phrase. As are the other family members, throughout the book: even on the penultimate spread, having told her mum she’s just been bidding the elephant farewell, she gets this same “Ella WHO?” response from her dad.
An extended joke that works well enough to engage young children who will be amused at the adults who don’t listen and delight in joining in with the repeat question.

I’ve signed the charter  

Me and My Dad

Me and My Dad
Robin Shaw
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s small wonder that the little girl narrator of this wonderful book has such a powerful imagination: it’s due in no small measure to the fact that, ‘the best bit’s at the end’ Not the end of the book although that is also true; the end referred to in the story is at the end of the road, the end of their journey; the place where a father and daughter are heading when they set out together. That though is getting ahead of the story.
To reach their destination, they walk through an alleyway with a puddle that might well have crocodiles in; then continue beneath the brick viaduct carrying the railway line with its rumbling, roaring trains; past the castle-like house wherein dwells a sleeping princess just waiting for her prince to come.

Mrs Pot’s plant shop causes the walkers to halt briefly for a sneaky peep inside …

and then come the pet shop and the ironmongers with its old metal bins on sale – perfect for blasting off into space … In fact every single place father and daughter pass sends the little girl off on another flight of fancy until at last, the end IS in sight – Buntings Bookshop and Café awaits. Hurray! Now it’s time for a delicious hot chocolate and a snuggle-up read together: what better way to end a walk.

With it’s irresistible join in phrase this is an utterly enchanting read and one of the very best father and child books I’ve seen in a long time. Animator, Robin Shaw’s detailed scenes have a soft luminescence about them, which is perfect for the fusion of the real and the imagined he conjures up.

I’ve signed the charter