Snow Ghost / Snow Woman

Here are two super snowy picture books – the first new, the second, a reissue:

Snow Ghost
Tony Mitton and Diana Mayo
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In a lyrical tale of hoping and searching, Snow Ghost flies through the snow-filled sky seeking a place that she can call home.
She swoops first towards a town all a-twinkle with its lights in shops and houses; but it doesn’t feel right, so it’s on through the darkness and into the woods. There though she meets shadowy darkness and that too feels unwelcoming.

Windblown to a hilltop it’s impossible to rest with those hostile murmurs telling her to go, the Snow Ghost drifts towards a small moorland farm.

There in the fields are a boy and a girl playing snowballs and seeming full of joy. Now here’s a place which might just afford the welcome that can end the Snow Ghost’s long search …

– a place she can finally call home.

Tony Mitton’s rhyming narrative flows with the grace and beauty of his subject, gliding perfectly off the tongue as you read it aloud. Diana Mayo’s equally lyrical illustrations that almost float over the pages are mesmerising; the colour palette pervades every spread with an ethereal quality, and oh wow! those endpapers are exquisite.

A memorable magical wintry book from cover to cover that’s destined to become a seasonal treasure.

Snow Woman
David McKee
Andersen Press

David’s wry look at the question of gender, Snow Woman, has recently been reissued. It tells of Rupert who informs his dad that he’s building a snowman, only to have his terminology corrected to ‘snow person” by dad. And of Rupert’s sister Kate who before embarking on her snow construction, tells her mum, it’s to be a snow woman. Mum accepts this.

The completed snow people stand side by side duly dressed and are photographed along with their creators, by Mum.

The following morning the snow twosome have vanished, along with their clothes. Kate makes a thoughtful observation about a possible reason and the two decide a to build instead, a snow bear – not a man or a lady -merely a bear, Rupert suggests.

Playful and pertinent still, McKee’s deadpan humour shines out of his illustrations all the way through to that seeming throwaway final line of Rupert’s. Make sure you study all the household décor and other ephemera lying around indoors, particularly the art adorning the walls; it’s hilarious.
This book will surely appeal to both children and adults.

A Christmas Carol / A Cat’s Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
retold by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Mike Redman
Orchard Books

In faultless rhyme, poet and author Tony Mitton tells the story – albeit a somewhat shortened one – of the Charles Dickens Christmas classic that begins on Christmas Eve with the miserly Scrooge responding to his clerk Bob Cratchit’s Merry Christmas wishes thus “Christmas? Humbug … A feast for foolish men.”

Then back in his room, come the ghosts – first that of Marley and later in turn, those of the Ghost of Christmas Past,

the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future, each one eerily portrayed in Mike Redman’s atmospheric filmic spreads.

As you’ll know, the vision of Bob’s invalid son looking so frail and ill, and that of all the working poor toiling to earn but a pittance, result in a change of heart in old Scrooge who instead of Scrooge the Miser is transformed into ‘Scrooge, the Man / who keeps as kind a Christmas / as any person can.’

This book offers a highly accessible introduction to the famous seasonal classic for children.

A Cat’s Christmas Carol
Sam Hay & Helen Shoesmith
Simon & Schuster

It’s Christmas Eve and closing time in the large department store. The shoppers have gone and the staff are on their way out bidding each other a “Merry Christmas”.

That leaves just Clawdia the security guard’s cat and a trio of mice that have come in out of the cold. Clawdia attempts to apprehend them but they lead her on a merry chase all round the store, stopping from time to time to point out things that make her ponder on the past, present and future,

and begin to question her “Christmas is for sillybillies” attitude.

But then she receives an unexpectedly kind invitation from the tiny rodents she’s been chasing. That’s not quite the end of the kindness though: there’s an even bigger surprise in store and it’s one that results in a wonderful family Christmas Day for the moggy, the mice and the warm-hearted, welcoming humans with whom she gets into proper festive mood.

Helen Shoesmith’s hilarious scenes of the chase around the store

and the superbly expressed feelings of both animal and human characters bring out the warmth and humour of Say Hay’s story: just right for spreading some seasonal cheer at home or in the classroom.

Fox in the Night / Snow Penguin

Fox in the Night
Martin Jenkins and Richard Smythe
Walker Books

Billed as ‘A science storybook about light and dark’, this is a narrative non-fiction picture book with a sprinkling of additional facts.
We join Fox as she wakes, sees it’s still daylight outside and so goes back to sleep for a while. Later, at sundown, she leaves the safety of her den and, guided by the moon and street lights, sallies forth across the park towards the town in search of food.

A mouse eludes her so she keeps looking; perhaps something static will be easier prey.
A bumped nose and a near miss from a car later, she’s still searching. Then, turning down an alley, her nose leads her towards something more promising – a barbecue in progress – and it’s here that she’s finally rewarded with a tasty treat to take back to her den.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a good starting point for a topic on light and dark with early years children. I’d suggest reading the story first and then returning to discuss the additional, smaller print, possibly using it as pointers to get youngsters thinking for themselves about why for instance, Fox bumps her nose on the shop window.

Snow Penguin
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Far away in the icy Antarctic, a curious little penguin is restless: he wants to find out more about the chilly sea and the snow. Off he goes alone to explore, unaware that the ice on which he’s standing as he gazes seawards has become detached from the mainland.
On his trip afloat on his little ice floe he sees blue whales, orcas,

an elephant seal and a sea lion with her cub. Suddenly he feels alone and scared adrift on the darkening waters. How will he find his way back to where he most wants to be, back with his family and friends?

Mitton’s assured rhyming couplets in combination with Alison Brown’s engaging depictions of the frozen Arctic seascapes and landscapes make for a gentle cuddle-up adventure for the very young.

A Minibeast Bop & A Crunching Munching Pirate

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Twist and Hop Minibeast Bop
Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Come, come, come with me, to the stump of a fallen tree, there’s something there you really must see: minibeasts both large and small, are gathering to have a ball. Actually it’s a bop but hey, it’s loads of fun and you’re sure to see tiny creatures in all their glory gathering to dance till they drop. There are ants, shiny-shelled beetles, slithery slugs, head-turning ladybirds and dazzling butterflies to wow us all.

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But, as the band strikes up and the dancing starts, someone is notable by their absence: snail is missing all the wiggly rumba, cha-cha-cha and jittery jiving fun. Will he arrive before the final grand boogie? Suddenly from the rim there comes ‘a RUMBLING sound’ … and ‘a rolling rock that SHAKES the ground’; now what could that be?

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WHOPPEE!! It’s that slow-coach at last and he’s about to prove himself …

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Wonderfully exuberant rhythmic, rhyming fun: you really must join the dance-along, shout-along, clap-along romp BOP composed by Tony Mitton, master of rhyme, and depicted by Parker-Rees in wonderfully upbeat style.
Wherever you are home or school, your feet just won’t be able to keep from moving; for sheer exuberance, it’s hard to beat.

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Munch, Crunch, Pirate Lunch!
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Pirate leader, Heartless Bart is a pretty fearsome-looking character and when he discovers that one more of his crew has been consumed by the Beastly Pirates, he is determined to take on his dastardly enemies, and has an evil plan up his sleeve to boot. A few days later the ‘good ship’ Beastly Pirate looms into view and this cry is heard “A Jolly Roger! Dead ahead! It’s time for dinner. Beastlies. GET THE OVEN ON!” When the Beastlies have made their capture, it seems they might have bitten off more than they can chew for who should leap aboard their vessel but …

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and he’s making a challenge rightaway: “I’ve come to end the terror of your culinary reign. You’ve had your last pirate repast. You shan’t eat us again.
A fearful battle ensues with charging, biting, whacking and worse but nothing is a match for Bart, not even the unleashing of a cannon ball …

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As Snapper and Bart are about to embark on a frontal attack, there’s a thunder crack and a storm blows up. The two assailants fight tooth and nail and it begins to look as though Bart might just be the victor: then down comes a huge iron hook and up goes a certain metal-clad bully and down comes a thunderbolt – one hundred thousand volts of it.
To discover who is finally victorious, you’ll need to beg, borrow, or preferably buy a copy of this mock-scary story and read it for yourself but here’s a clue …

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Told in appropriately rollicking rhyme, with a bunch of deliciously hideous-looking characters engaging in alarming and awful antics, this is likely to send shivers of delight down the spines of young audiences and have them cheering at the finale.

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Snowstorm Sorties

 

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Snow Bear
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
From my first view of the cover, I fell for Snow Bear in a big way; he’s adorable but this is no sentimental story and Snow Bear is one determined character. He’s seeking a home, somewhere warm where he can snuggle up away from the raging icy blizzard. His forest wanderings take him to a fox’s den,

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and an owl’s nest up in a tree …

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but both are fully occupied, so lonely and shivering, Snow Bear trudges onwards till finally he comes upon somewhere that looks more promising – a small farmhouse.

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‘A chilly breeze ruffles the fur on his cheek,/ so Bear tiptoes in as the door gives a creak. / Inside it is warm, for the fire burns bright./ and Snow Bear can see by its flickering light.’
In sneaks Bear and there he comes upon a small girl, equally alone and in need of someone to hug. Having shared same, they snuggle up for a story, a fireside snooze …

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and eventually, head upstairs, for a ‘midwinter nap’ – friends together.
Tony Mitton’s rhyming tale has just the right degree of pathos and reads aloud well; and Alison Brown’s illustrations rendered in acrylics and I think, pencil, are sheer delight. Shaggy cushion-like Bear (thumb-sucking in the final spread), in particular, but also Fox with that pointy nose that to me, resembles the front of a jet plane, and startled-looking ‘tufty gruff Owl’ are splendid.
With the contrasting themes of loneliness and friendship at its heart, this tender, timeless story is just the thing to bring a warm glow to a chilly winter’s day or night.

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One Snowy Rescue
M Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton
Little Tiger Press
Little Hedgehog has a whole series of stories all his own, his friends are there too of course. Here he stars in another snow-filled adventure – more and deeper snow in fact than our prickly pal has ever seen before. So much that a snowdrift surrounds his house and he has to dig himself out. Exhausted having done so, the kind-hearted creature’s first thoughts are of his friend Mouse and off he goes to see how she’s faring. But despite his careful tread, he soon finds himself tumbling …

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into a huge snowdrift.
It’s fortunate for him then that Little Hedgehog happens to be wearing his floppy red hat –

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just the thing for a rescue-wanted signal. And equally fortunately, who should happen along at just the right moment but Rabbit who heaves him out …

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and the two continue together but get lost. Fox comes to the rescue this time, but even that is not the end of the story for soon, another rescue is needed. Badger joins the team having been alerted by that trusty red hat again and finally, led by Badger, the object of their search – Mouse and offspring – together with the friendly entourage, head home for supper in the silvery moonlight. How versatile that hat is …

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A warm-hearted tale about putting the needs of others first, with the spiky hero, bold and resourceful as ever heading the cast of characters in a finely paced, festive foray that is delightfully depicted in Tina Mcnaughton’s bold, bright snowscapes.
Also from Little Tiger Press, newly in paperback and reviewed last year is:
The Magical Snow Garden
Tracey Corderoy and Jane Chapman
Here is Emmanuelle lost in the wonderful magic of a determined penguin, Wellington, and his snowy garden.

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Feather, Frogs and Fur

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Woooo!
Gerry Turley
Hutchinson
Squeak”, “Meep” two baby owls wait hungrily for their mother owl to return with some nourishment before they take their first flight. Then it’s a case of ‘flap your wings and swoosh’ or rather flop and flump, swump, and swoosh.

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One ‘whoa’ … follows the mother into the wild woods; the other remains on the branch, “waaa”, stuck. All around other animal sounds come closer, “gnash gnash” and “nosssssssshh” …
Just in time, with an almighty “Screeeeeeeeech!” comes father owl and oops. Time to get those wings moving little one… flap flap off he goes –

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just – up and away, even as high as the moon …

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Beautifully simple, beautifully told, this tale of a maiden flight is rendered through a brief text comprising brief sentences and animal noises together with illustrations crafted with deft strokes of pen, brush and crayon.
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Tiger on a Tree
Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas
Tara Books pbk,
A baby tiger wanders off, crosses the river, encounters a goat that causes him to dash up a tree and there he surprises the village men who now have a dilemma: what to do with the animal. They confer on the tiger’s fate and fortunately for all, the decision is in its favour … Satisfyingly circular in nature – the opening ‘Tiger , tiger on the shore’ is the book’s finale too.
Told in slightly erratic rhyme, that swerves across the pages, this tale is full of drama and tension: Armed with an enormous net the men cry

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Get him! Net him! Tie him tight!’… ‘He’s caught. He’s got. Now what?
The tiger colour illustrations around which the author wove her tale are wonderfully expressive and abound with energy; Biswas was one of India’s leading illustrators, so this paperback edition will surely one hopes, help keep him in the public eye.
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Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble
Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press
Little Frog was happy being the only offspring of Mummy and Daddy Frog. So, when he learns of new additions to the family – nine no less – he is far from impressed. Can tadpoles build with blocks, play drums, jump even? Oh dear no. Moreover their doing nothing commands all of his parent’s time so,

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no bedtime story, no goodnight kiss, just one thoroughly fed-up Little Frog.
But as we all know, tadpoles quickly grow into little frogs and soon …

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One big, happy family.
As with her two previous titles, Tatyana Feeney’s limited use of colour and brief text combine to great effect producing a charming whole that, despite the small size of its main character, is much greater than the sum of its parts.
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More about new additions to the family in:

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Miffy and the New Baby
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster
Once again, Tony Mitton has created a new translation, in rhyme, of the original story wherein Miffy is thrilled to learn of a forthcoming addition to her family and straightway gets to work making treats for her new sibling to be.

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And, what a proud big sister she is when she finally holds the baby bunny and when she takes that special ‘Welcome Baby’ cake to school to share with all her friends.
Full of charm, as ever.
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RABBIT, RABBIT, RABBIT!

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Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs!
Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bored with his lonely, dark burrow life, Rupert the rabbit hears happy farm sounds beyond the wall and decides to seek a new home there. He tunnels under the fence and POPS up just as Dora duck has finished her new nest, ruining her precious creation. Less than pleased, Dora endeavours to find Rupert something useful to do on the farm, no easy task despite Rupert’s confidence and enthusiasm.

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Such enthusiasm even leads him to believe he can lay an egg. He doesn’t, but after considerable straining and pushing, something else does pop out from his nether regions.

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So, what can Rupert do to earn his right to stay on the farm? Well, what are rabbits expert at? Getting under things that others cannot – like fences between hungry animals and fields of delicious juicy carrots. Now, there’s a job that will please his new friends, Dora included, so long as she thinks he’s ace layer of all those tasty vegetables… hmmmmm!

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Young audiences will love Rupert’s misunderstandings, the shared joke between the author, Rupert and themselves. And, like Rupert’s new-found friends, they’ll relish the visual treats supplied by the bold, bright pictures of Cally Johnson-Isaacs whose scenes, be they full spread or smaller vignette style, are both funny and full of charm, in this farmyard romp.
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The Spring Rabbit
Joyce Dunbar and Susan Varley
Andersen Press pbk
I cannot believe this book is twenty years old. It’s a story I’ve always treasured since it first was published and kept as a special one to share, with fours to sixes especially, towards the end of the Easter term. It tells of young rabbit Smudge who lives with his parents in the woods and is the only one not to have a sister or brother. “Wait until the spring,” is his mother’s response when he asks why he has no siblings. Spring however seems a long way away. So, in autumn Smudge makes a leaf rabbit to be a brother but leaf rabbits cannot play chase, neither can the snow rabbit he makes for a sister in winter, join in a game of snowballs, nor the mud rabbit brother he builds as the snow melts, enjoy splashing in puddles with Smudge;

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in fact it is soon washed away by the rain.
At the first signs of spring, Smudge begins his search for his new sibling but he finds only baby mice, speckled eggs in a robin’s nest and frogspawn in the pond. Sadly he returns home to tell his mother but there awaiting him is a wonderful surprise;

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not just one baby brother but two … and a baby sister as well. Then it’s not long before they can all enjoy Smudge’s specially built, great big moss rabbit.
Smudge and his friends remain as adorable as ever. Susan Varley’s water colour pictures are infused with tenderness and just a hint of gentle humour making them the perfect complement for Joyce Dunbar’s sensitively told story of longing and new life.
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Miffy’s Play Date
Illustrations by Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It was something of a relief to discover that thoroughly modern Miffy, who has a play date with her friend Grunty, looks almost the same adorable rabbit she’s always been, despite this new and very now, experience and her slightly broader, digitally rendered mouth. The two pals have fun building a block castle, playing hide and seek, role-playing and much more. All too soon, it’s time to tidy away and Miffy bids farewell to her friend.
Simple, cute and just the thing for the very young to enjoy with an older family member or friend who can not only read the story but also share the instructions to the sticker finding activities. I am at a loss though to understand why the publishers feel a need to flag up this as ‘Practise fine motor skills’ alongside, ‘Relate to a child’s first experiences’. Books should be allowed to speak for themselves – surely the instructions are sufficient anyway but to use ‘early years’ jargon as a sales tactic is, in my opinion, wrong and diminishes the prime purpose of such books, which should be enjoyed for their own sake.
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Miffy at the Zoo
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
Thankfully there is no such message on the new edition of this old favourite. Herein, Miffy and her Daddy take a train ride to the zoo where Miffy encounters animals large and small. Poet Tony Mitton has reworked the original texts with his consummate skill as a writer of verse, giving them a modern, yet timeless appeal that remains true to Bruna’s original voice. Personally, I’d start with this one and of course, Miffy.
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Tales of Old Retold

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Gobble You Up!
Sunita and Gita Wolf
Tara Books
The wily jackal is hungry but he’s far too lazy to search for his own food. Instead he tricks his friend crane into catching some fish. Crane obliges but not only does jackal eat the lot, he gobbles up crane as well. He then goes on to consume tortoise, squirrel and cat. “My, you’ve put on weight!” peacock remarks and meets the same fate. Then along comes a huge elephant. Surely jackal won’t manage to fit an elephant into his now enormous tum but …
Time for a drink of water he thinks. But even jackal’s tummy cannot go on stretching for ever: SQUEE! BLEAH! BLAM! BURST and out tumble all the animals safe and sound.

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And what about jackal? Considerably deflated, he goes off in search of the tailor bird for a large repair job.
This lively retelling of an old Rajasthani folk tale will perhaps remind European readers of the Danish story The Fat Cat or the Russian tale of The Clay Pot Boy. Readers aloud and their young audiences will enjoy the cumulative rhyming refrains and the latter will want to join in this part of the telling.
The illustrations are done by a Meena artist, Sunita, who was taught Mandana art by her mother. (In the Meena villages of Rajasthan women paint the floors and walls of their homes as well as communal areas to mark festivals, such as Diwali, celebrations and the passing seasons using this decorative form. Designs and images are made using cloth soaked in a chalk and lime paste that is squeezed through the fingers of the artist.)
As a frequent visitor to Rajasthan I was particularly interested to see, what is to me a familiar art form, being used to illustrate a story. In order to create this beautiful and unusual book, the artist’s original images (made with diluted acrylic paint squeezed through her fingers) were photographed, converted into graphic images and silkscreen printed – with the jackal rendered in black and the animals he consumes in white – onto specially made paper and hand bound. Truly a work of both art and craft.
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Even quite young children can try out this technique using white acrylic paint on brown sugar paper or better, large sheets of paper painted over with household size brushes in terracotta colour paint and left to dry before the design is added. This can be applied using a variety of tools – fingers, cotton buds, twisted rag, small plastic bottles with nozzles such as those from hair colour, etc.

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Wayland
Tony Mitton and John Lawrence
David Fickling Books
Tony Mitton seems to get better and better. For me this spell-binding reimagining of a northern legend, brought to these shores by the Vikings, is his best yet. Essentially it is a tale of greed, revenge, hope and above all, love. It tells how three brothers, two warriors and Wayland, a smith, take three Swan Sisters as their brides having seized and hidden their swan capes to prevent their escape. Only Wayland’s wife loves him and when the three discover the whereabouts of their capes and plan their escape, she alone hopes to see her husband again. After the wives flee, Wayland’s life gets harder and harder. More and more terrible events occur but eventually, in this version at least, he and his beloved are reunited.
Tony Mitton’s beautifully crafted, lyrical verses are a joy to read aloud, and to get the best out of this book, it really must be read aloud.
‘From out of the dark spring stories
to banish both drear and cold.
So gather you near, come, listen and hear,
Where the fire burns red and gold.’
Equally beautifully crafted and the perfect complement to the poetry, are John Lawrence’s exquisite woodcut illustrations. These really draw you even deeper into the story making you want to linger long over each one.

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There are some allusions of sex in the story so parents/teachers should read this themselves before offering it to under elevens.
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