The Name Game

The Name Game
Elizabeth Laird and Olivia Holden
Tiny Owl

The little girl narrator of this story is at home and bored without anybody to play with. Suddenly there comes a tap on her window: it’s a bird the name of which she doesn’t know. So she asks and the response is ‘I’m a magpie, darlin’ … ‘ On hearing that this bird is also a jewel thief and receiving an invitation to surprise him with another name, the child suggests Diamond Dodger. From its response she assumes the bird is pleased at this. What follows is a lovely imaginative game wherein the girl thinks up new names for in turn, a tall tree close by. Emerald Queen, that one becomes, followed by a butterfly that lands on the window sill – I wonder what you’d call it –

and a cat with a long swishy tail that thinks herself special.

By this time, the little girl, content in a world of her own creating, is no longer bored: as she ventures outside, she intends to continue her name game.

Cleverly combining the natural world and the power of the imagination Elizabeth Laird’s is a delightful story to share and I have no doubt that young listeners will after hearing it, want to emulate the little girl and create names for things they encounter in nature. Indeed the Name Game could be played with a focus on other settings such as a particular room at home, or in school. The potential is enormous, but most important is that you share the book taking time to enjoy Olivia Holden’s beautifully detailed illustrations of the narrator and her immediate environment.

Stop the Clock! / A Walk Through Nature

Stop the Clock!
Pippa Goodhart and Maria Christania
Tiny Owl

I do so appreciate young Joe’s frustration when everything he does has to be rushed. First it’s mum with a myriad of things on her mind, telling him to hurry up before they set off for school; then the walk itself is done at a run in case they’re late. Worse still, when he gets thoroughly immersed in the art topic Mr Khan has set the class, he’s told to stop and he’s nowhere near finished.

“STOP THE CLOCK!” he cries in sheer frustration. By now everybody else has complied with the instructions, but Joe – and who can blame him – adds his crying sister to his picture, picks it up and walks out. Now this is where readers, especially adults, will have to adopt that willing suspension of disbelief mode, for Joe leaves the school premises and heads to the street where he kneels down and continues drawing.

There is so much to see from ground level: so much to interpret about what’s going on and so many wonderful details to add to that picture of his. He even finds something that his sister must have dropped in the rush to reach school on time. Finally with picture complete to his satisfaction, Joe goes back to the classroom, leaves his picture with the others and gives instructions to the clock to restart.
Come home-time, after a slight pause, four happy people walk home together.

A heartfelt look at the busy lives that most of us live, often trying to do more than one thing at a time and in danger of missing out on those quality, slow moments we all need. In the past two years, the majority of adults at least, have come to appreciate the importance of time to stop and stare. With more and more people now back working full time as well as juggling child care and more, it’s crucial that everyone, young and not so young, has time to appreciate the world around without feeling guilty about doing so.
Author Pippa Goodhart and debut illustrator Maria Christania capture this need so beautifully in this picture book – it’s a wonderful example of how some good things have come from the lockdowns we’ve been subjected to.

Also showing the importance of taking time to appreciate the wonders of the natural world is:

A Walk Through Nature
Libby Walden and Clover Robin
Little Tiger (Caterpillar Books)

Through twelve, two verse poems and beautiful collage style illustrations with some facts tucked away behind flaps and die-cuts that allow readers to glimpse (or sometimes guess) what lies beneath, author Libby Walden and artist Clover Robin take us through the countryside presenting the numerous transformations that take place throughout the year.

No matter where one looks there’s much to wonder at. We visit a field in springtime as the flowers are starting to bloom in their myriad colours; look up high where birds fly seeking nesting places in the trees; stand at the edge of a peaceful pond wherein tadpoles are hatching and baby duckling are learning to swim.

Other habitats we visit are a woodland and a beach in summertime; a forest area and a mountainside through which a river flows in autumn, and, as winter arrives, swallows taking flight to warmer climes and foxes heading to their earths and as day turns to night, the emergence of nocturnal creatures ‘neath the silvery stars.

Containing a wealth of nature-related vocabulary, both gently educative and awe inspiring, this immersive book, now in paperback is a lovely introduction to nature poetry and nature itself.

We All Celebrate

We All Celebrate
Chitra Soundar and Jenny Bloomfield
Tiny Owl

Probably somewhere in the world, no matter the month or the date, there will be people celebrating something or somebody, a birthday perhaps. This insightful book acknowledges that and introduces young readers to some of the less often mentioned festivals and celebrations from around the world, as well as presenting some that are well known such as Deepavali and Christmas.

Chitra Soundar uses both a global and a seasonal approach that starts with people wishing one another ‘Happy New Year’. and perhaps if they’re living in parts of Canada, jumping into the chilly sea doing the ‘Polar Bear Plunge’. However not all calendars begin on January 1st. Nowruz – the Persian New Year – celebrated in many countries including Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan is in March.

I think we all welcome the arrival of spring when we can begin to cast off our heavy winter clothes and blossoms start to burst forth. Blossoms – in particular those of the cherry trees or sakura – are a cause for celebration in Japan where people gather together for Hanami under the trees all pink with delicate sakura.

In contrast in India, the spring festival of Holi is anything but a quiet occasion to appreciate nature; it’s a time to join the throngs in the streets throwing coloured powder and water, and dancing to loud music. When in India at Holi, I hide away as I break out in a rash if I get the powder on my skin.

Summer, especially midsummer is another cause for celebration; I learned from this book that in Sweden families get together in the countryside and parks where they make garlands of flowers, adorn a maypole and dance around it, as well as feasting.
Sometimes the first day when Muslims celebrate the breaking of their Ramadan fast, Eid-al-Fitr, falls in the summer: Chitra devotes a double spread to fasting. giving brief details of some other fast days for other religious traditions.

No matter the time of year, food, music and dancing often play a big part in celebrations. It’s certainly true for carnivals and for some Pacific Ocean island festivals.

Autumn seems to be a time for honouring dead ancestors; people do so in South East Asia and in Mexico.

Strangely for UK readers, people in Peru celebrate the winter solstice (Inti Raymi) in mid June. Much more associated with winter is the Jewish festival of Chanukah celebrated over eight days and nights.

It’s important to remember, as Chitra reminds readers on the final spread, that like humans, celebrations change and evolve over time, but despite our differences, everybody celebrates.

Debuting as a picture book illustrator, Jenny Bloomfield’s vibrant, detailed spreads really do evoke the spirit of the celebrations.

Definitely a book for school collections and topic boxes.

Sorry, Mrs Cake!

Sorry, Mrs Cake!
Kate Milner
Tiny Owl

It’s the day of the fair and Mrs Cake, a kindly woman, has assembled a delicious spread for all her friends. One little boy is hugely appreciative of what she’s done but everyone else is far too preoccupied to pay any attention to her efforts.

The boy and his cat accompany Mrs Cake around the venue site attempting to generate some interest in the yummy offerings laid out in the tent. They try in turn the dads, the mums, ‘the big kids’

and the grandparents, all to no avail: nobody has paid them any attention. The feast remains untouched.

As the little lad expresses disappointment in the fact that not a single person has listened, the cat has a brilliant idea and … Hurrah!

Finally with apologies proffered and thanks given to Mrs Cake, everybody partakes of the goodies she’s so painstakingly prepared.

With an unconventional witty style that mixes comic strip and full spread, highly detailed single illustrations, award-winning Kate Milner needs just a few words to convey her story showing how we need to listen to everyone, rather than only those who speak the loudest. (Apparently the stimulus for the book was the rowdy behaviour of politicians in the European parliament.)

Best shared one to one or in smallish groups to allow listeners to pore over the wealth of quirky, sometimes surreal, detail at almost every page turn.

Unlocked: Stories of hope from Tiny Owl artists in lockdown

Unlocked: Stories of hope from Tiny Owl artists in lockdown
Tiny Owl

During the pandemic I’m sure most of us have tried to remain as upbeat as possible, looking for the things that despite everything, make us feel uplifted and this is what all the contributing illustrators to this book have done.
During lockdown, Delaram co-founder of Tiny Owl asked fifteen of their artists from various parts of the world to reflect on their experiences, ‘focusing on what filled them with hope and joy’ during this difficult time. The result is an absolutely superb book of memories published as we draw close to the final step out of what for many, has been an exceedingly hard year to cope with.

It’s a treasure of a compilation full of wonderfully different pictures each accompanied by some descriptive text.
Like this reviewer, several of the contributors – Jenny Bloomfield, Piet Grobler, Hazel Terry, Catell Ronca

and Nicola Davies – have found solace in the natural world, walking, taking time to be still, observing with all their senses and delighting in spring with its burgeoning wildlife.

Some took to baking – Kate Milner’s family sampled her sweet treats

whereas Maria Chrisiana Winardi made an abundance of kimchi.

Kindness is a thread running through the entire book, manifesting itself in a variety of ways: Ehsan Abdollahi shared it with dog Fido; Sarah van Dongen and her partner used their imaginations; Jenny Duke found new ways to communicate; Ken Wilson-Max spent a lot of time talking on-screen and Anna Doherty participated in several celebrations on-line. Nahid Kazemi worked exceedingly hard both at her art and fitness regime; Dunja Jogan and her neighbours helped one another.

Thinking outside the box, Dale Blankenaar ‘made a box for you to hide with lines to keep you safe. Inside there is a flowering field and, eventually, an escape.’ – how cool is that?

I’d love to show you every single spread but hopefully the examples will send you out to your nearest bookshop for your own copy to share with youngsters.

Educators, this a fantastic starting point for children to share their own experiences in a similar way, with classes or school making their own editions of ‘Unlocked’.

The Neighbourhood Surprise

The Neighbourhood Surprise
Sarah van Dongen
Tiny Owl

Redbird Road, where both Koya and Mrs Fig live, appears to have a strong community feel, with Koya and her friends, Hassan and Alex often visiting their elderly neighbour, and friend, Mrs Fig. She enjoys telling them stories of days gone by, creating costumes for dressing up and sharing the yummy cookies she bakes.

Needless to say, when they hear that Mrs Fig is moving away, the children are very upset and decide to organise a ‘going away party’ to show how much they’ll miss her. Dad suggests involving the entire street and so they do.

Kaya decides that the cake she and her dad bake must make allowances for the fact that Hassan is vegan. Hassan and his mum’s offering is falafel and a spicy curry,

while taking into account Mrs Fig being vegetarian, Alex and her family make a vegetable pie.

The afternoon of the party is a sunny one so Mrs Fig’s surprise party is to be held outside. She can hardly believe her eyes when she opens her door to discover …

A wonderful time is had by all, made all the more so when Mrs Fig announces that her new home is very close by, near enough for regular visits and another party the following year …

Rich in pattern and detail, Sarah van Dongen’s illustrations for her wonderfully warm-hearted story are a joy to contemplate. She also includes a final spread explaining vegetarianism and veganism. I was concerned to read there that honey is on the ‘no’ list for vegans so I’ll have to reclassify myself.

Last: The story of a White Rhino

Last: The story of a White Rhino
Nicola Davies
Tiny Owl

This story of Nicola Davies’ is a fine example of how a relatively few, carefully chosen words can have a very powerful impact.

Nicola’s tale, narrated by a rhino was inspired by Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino from Africa that died in 2018. From his captive state in a zoo situated in a grey city, the rhino talks of looking for another animal like himself before remembering his earlier life that was full of colour. A place where other rhinos roamed free and he stayed close to his mother by day and night

until the fateful day when a hunter came and shot her dead. The young rhino was captured, put in ‘a box’ and transported to a dreary place without flora and where ‘Even the rain smelled empty’.

There he speaks of being among many other ‘lasts’ that spend their days cooped up pondering upon their plight

and the state of the world where this is allowed to happen.

Then one day something wonderful happens; something that seems almost too good to be true for the rhino is taken back to his life in the wild and joy of joys, he’s no longer alone.

This is the first book Nicola has illustrated herself and her illustrations too are enormously potent, particularly the stark contrast between the captive grey environment and the colour-filled homeland and the finale.

There’s a page about the illustrations at the front of the book, which I won’t re-iterate in full but just mention the inspirational quote from environmentalist, Paul Hawken and endorse Nicola’s own “I believe that the world can change for the better, but it will change one heart at a time. Change your heart, change the world.’

I truly hope that this story will move others as it did this reviewer, to be part of that change.

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 Orange House

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The Orange House
Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl Publishing
Down at the end of the alley lined by tall buildings Sky, Star, Sea and Moonlight, stands the Orange House and Orange is far from happy. The reason being she is the only remaining old house, and while the other buildings all watch and comment on the nearby, as yet nameless new building,

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single storeyed Orange House stays silent. She doesn’t have a lift, nor amazing plumbing or even beautiful bricks or windows as the others have commented. Puzzled by her continued silence,

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Turquoise, the first of the more recent buildings, continues speaking, recalling when like Orange, other houses in the alley had gardens with trees, ponds, birds and fish. The rest join the conversation, reminiscing about the lost beauty and gradually realising the impact they themselves have had on the locality, Turquoise commenting on the quality of the air (cleaner and easier to breathe back then).
Suddenly Orange notices workmen approaching with picks and shovels; but then so do the others. Deciding it’s time to make a stand against further development, the tall buildings form a barricade around the Orange House making her invisible to those would-be destructive humans who give up their search and walk away.

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And thus stands Orange House, smiling and happy surrounded by her new friends and protectors.
This is a powerful fable of our time, when thoughtless, money-grabbing developers are often too ready to knock down buildings and destroy open spaces in the name of progress.
With its naive perspectives, Nahid Kazemi’s quirky, offbeat illustrative style delivers the message with a punchy panache.

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The Jackal Who Thought He Was a Peacock

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The Jackal Who Thought He Was a Peacock
Firoozeh Golmohammadi
Tiny Owl Publishing
Coming to terms with and accepting one’s own identity is at the heart of this striking reworking of a Rumi fable.
Dissatisfied with his dull grey and brown fur, a jackal longs to stand out from the crowd like a colourful peacock and to this end, adorns himself with bright objects he comes across, and spends much of his time observing those stunning birds, further strengthening his desire to become one.
One night the jackal has a dream wherein his wish has finally come true: he has become a beautiful peacock waited on hand and foot by the other creatures, so dazzled are they by his beauty.

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Until that is, the loudness of his bossy orders wakes him from his slumbers bringing him firmly back to his grey-brown reality.
However, the desire remains stronger than ever, and thus it is that the jackal pays a visit to the dyer’s house where, dazzling in the moonlight stand vats of wonderful coloured paint into which of course, one by one, the jackal leaps.
The result is spectacular, the dyer furious and the jackal? He’s cock-a-hoop.

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But we know – and jackal is soon to discover – pride comes before a fall; and fall he does, pretty hard. So, has that would-be peacock finally come to terms with his ‘jackalness’? Well, yes … and no.
Firoozeh Golmohammadi’s portraits of the animal characters and the landscape and townscape settings are executed in a painterly style which is at once absorbing and arresting .
As with all Tiny Owl publications, the book’s design and the quality of the production are superb.

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Winter/A Bird Like Himself

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David A. Carter
Abrams & Chronicle
This small pop-up is full of wintry delights. As the sun goes down and snow begins to fall one chilly day, we see a white-tailed deer and follow deer tracks across the white covering and there’s a cardinal perching in a pine tree. Turn the page and make the snowflakes dance in the air, the snow geese too, take to the air while from behind a fir tree peeps a bear…

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yes there’s something to see at every level on each spread thereafter.
Turn over once again: holly berries deck the tree, a stoat stands stark with its tail aloft, a snowshoe hare hops by and mice are snuggling together to keep warm.
Next we see long-eared owls perching on an oak, long-tailed weasels as they are herein named, face us looking startled and red foxes are huddling from the cold (look behind the sandstone).

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Look on the next moonlit spread and find Orion above, a bobcat, snowberries glowing and creatures peeking and finally …

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Everything is still, everything is waiting under the milky way …

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One year old Jenson investigating the delights of WINTER

Some of the creatures are American but this adds interest for non-US readers rather than detracting from the charm of the book.

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A Bird Like Himself
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl Publishing
When a chick emerges from a seemingly parentless egg, the animals living around take on the role of carers.

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They do their very best and if nothing else they give their new infant plenty of love.

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With such a variety of carers though, it’s not surprising that Baby – so called because he became everyone’s baby – has something of an identity crisis.
But with the winter fast approaching, it’s time for birds like Baby to be flying south to warmer climes and try as they might, none of the animals is able to demonstrate the techniques of flying …

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So what will be the fate of Baby who as yet isn’t really like those other birds? Can he finally spread those wings of his and take flight? Perhaps, with the help of a special friend …

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With its inherent themes of acceptance, parenting and caring, friendship and finding a place to fit in, this lovely book will resonate with adults as well as the many children I hope it will be shared with especially  with refugees from Syria being made to feel welcome in the UK as I write.
Author/illustrator Anahita Teymorian’s densely daubed illustrations are sheer delight. I absolutely love the final double spread whereon is revealed the significance of the chequer board design that appears on every spread – brilliant!

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Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

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Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird
Parviz Kalantari
Tiny Owl Publishing
We first meet young Tahmineh as she sits playing her flute and minding the family flocks high up on the grassy pastures. Suddenly she notices a beautiful bird singing the most beautiful song she has ever heard. A song that causes her to daydream in school the following day and to distract her as she tries to read her favourite storybook.

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Wanting to capture the beautiful bird so she can enjoy its song whenever she wishes, Tahmineh tells her father of her desire.
A bird would be unhappy to be trapped, and an unhappy bird won’t sing.” is his wise response. Equally wise, her mother says, “Even if you can’t catch the bird, you can catch the memory of it.” thus sparking an idea in Tahmineh’s mind.


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Inspired by her mother’s words, she weaves an image of the beautiful bird into a “chanteh”. – her finest ever. (A chanteh is a small bag, one of the artefacts woven by female members of the Qashqai tribe of which Tahmineh and her family are members.)
As summer draws to an end, and the tribe makes ready to descend to lower pastures, Tahmineh’s father gives her a letter asking her to go to the carpet fair in the big city.
It’s there that she wins first prize with her bag that is truly magical, for the bird still sings that glorious song.

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This allegorical tale can be interpreted in several ways: as a straightforward story of a young girl using her imagination and skill to get what she wants, as an illustration of mankind’s desire to capture something and use it for pleasure-giving purposes of his/her own and, peel off another layer to reveal an anti assimilation parable on behalf of the Qashqai people many of whom have had to give up their traditional free lifestyle and resettle in towns and cities.
Beautifully illustrated in striking colours, the scenes depict a culture virtually unknown to most Western readers and listeners. A fascinating and enriching book for primary audiences (and adults interested in ‘artistic anthropology’).

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