Time Now to Dream

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Time Now to Dream
Timothy Knapman and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
Alice and younger brother Jack are playing ball when they hear what sounds to them like ‘Ocka by hay bees unna da reeees’. They stop playing and follow the sound into the nearby forest – Jack more than a little reluctantly for he’s worried it might be the Wicked Wolf. Hand in hand they go and soon hear another sound …

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which troubles Jack all the more: he’s now thinking about the waiting claws of that Wicked Wolf. “Shhh, … Everything is going to be all right.” comes Alice’s assurance as on they go, creeping now. More sounds … Jack’s convinced they’re lost and is talking of ‘snap-trap jaws’, and his warm snuggly pyjamas.

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The sound gets closer and now it’s Alice who’s frightened …

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Jack however is rooted to the spot, transfixed by what he sees and hears: not a wicked wolf but a motherly one. To reveal what she’s doing would spoil the story but try saying slowly out loud those words that drew the children into the forest at the start.

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Timothy Knapman controls the pace of his story with supreme skill; not a word is redundant in his narrative. Helen Oxenbury’s painterly watercolours of the forest capture the essence of its fairy tale spirit at once mysterious, misty, shadowy and sun-dappled …

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and of the children, Jack and Alice, the timeless joys of childhood and the power of the imagination. This surely is bedtime picture book perfection.

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The Wolf Who Cried Boy!

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The Wolf Who Cried Boy!
James O’Neill and Russell Ayto
Picture Corgi
I doubt there are many readers who aren’t familiar with the classic The Boy Who Cried Wolf story but what happens when someone turns the tale clean upside down? Well, in this instance, it’s something utterly delightful and funny to boot.
On opposite sides of a river live two communities – one human, the other, the forest dwelling wolves. Now these particular wolves, despite what the human elders have told their children …

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are soft, fun-loving friendly creatures. However, they do live in fear of those across the water. Hmm!
Let’s focus now on one of their number, a very small wolf cub who has some very big ideas (and very mistaken) about himself for indeed he is an extremely fearful little fellow, not brave at all and given to crying “Boy” at the slightest shadow shape, rustle of a bush or hint of a breeze. So frequent were his cries that soon nobody took the slightest scrap of notice.
Now one particular sunny morning this cub decides to take a cooling dip in the river and what should he spy but a scruffily clad, sticky faced …

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This particular little lad had much in common with the cub in that he was wont to cry out at the slightest rattle of a bin lid, moo from a cow or waft of the wind. Naturally nobody took heed – well you know that part of old.
Their face-to-face encounter results in a torrent of outpourings …

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all rather protracted and exhausting too. And totally ignored by both humans and wolves thus leaving the two infants to frolic the afternoon away together until …

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It looked as if their fun was over.

So hereafter, is it to be a case of never the twain shall meet or could there be other possibilities?
James O’Neill’s background in comic drama is evident in his droll telling of this head-on collision between two worlds; and combined with Russell Ayto’s priceless comic-strip style rendering of same, the result is picture book theatre of the first order. Read into it what you will …

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Wolfish Stew

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Wolfish Stew
Suzi Moore and Erica Salcedo
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
We all agree, wolves in stories are generally the baddies that get their just desserts, don’t we? Now you might just find yourself showing a little bit of sympathy for the particular wolf character in this treat of a tale, which certainly has a spicy final twist to it. Let’s get back to the start though with this:
There once was a rabbit/whose name was Grey. And he went to the woods/to pick berries one day.’
Now of course, where there are woods – and certainly in stories – there are also frequently, something else beginning with w and so too, is it in this instance. In fact here is one in particular, going by the name of Blue, a cunning, mean, sneaky creature with an enormous tail and a overwhelming desire for a special ingredient for his wolfish stew. No prizes for guessing what that might be …

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Hence all these warnings uttered to Grey as he makes his way on his foraging expedition through those woods …

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woods wherein lurks a pair of hairy, slightly nobbly knees, a massive appendage attached to a hairy posterior, wellie –shod feet and a very protruding snout. Hmm. Did I just see a knife and fork being brandished there too?

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It’s as well then that our little Grey pal is a wily creature with more than his fair share of tricks tucked in his fur – not to mention useful devices stashed in his burrow.

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Oh! What was that I just heard? Surely not Blue singing Grey’s song, was it? Yes it was.
Could it possibly be that, there’s a character even more ruthless than he residing in this particular story, one that’s been planning for an extra special ingredient to make his suppertime repast even more of a delicious concoction than usual? Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it.
What can be said however, is that this is destined to be wolfed down with delighted squeals of “More please!” and “Again, again!’ and that the rather dark wolfalicious outcome may not meet with everyone’s approval: it’s all a matter of taste.
Erica Salcedo’s utterly scrummy illustrations are brimming over with tasty tidbits and moreish humour, providing the perfect accompaniment to Suzi Moore’s.truly toothsome text.

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Forays into Fairytale

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The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book
Thierry Robberecht and Grégoire Mabire
Ragged Bears Publishing
An overcrowded bookshelf in Zoe’s room precipitates an adventure for the black wolf that spills out of a falling book as it hits the floor. With his pointy teeth, said wolf, in his own environment is a scary creature but once out of the book he becomes something else altogether – a frightened creature anxious to escape from the resident moggy. In some desperate attempts to keep himself out of the cat’s clutches he gets into all manner of testing situations

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and tries to escape into other story books. None of the first few he tries can furnish a safe hiding place

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but our lupine friend isn’t giving up which is a good thing because on entering the next one he finds himself in a large forest wherein he meets …

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This little character is much more welcoming: in fact it turns out the wolf is just what she needs by way of a shoulder to cry on and of course, he’s more than happy to offer a helping paw to ensure a safe passage through the forest to Grandmother’s house.
Superbly subversive and with its sprinkling of fairy tale references and such a beguiling main character this is enormous fun to read with under 7s and a great book to spark off children’s own wolf adventures. Grégoire Mabire’s comic rendering of that toothy wolf and his larger than life feline adversary are both hilarious and wonderfully dramatic.

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Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch
Greg Gormley and Steven Lenton
Orchard Books
I like a book with a twist to the tale: with its plethora of fairytale characters and diverting illustrations this playful modern story certainly has one or two.
Frankie is a fairytale fanatic and one morning as she’s enjoying a peaceful read in her bedroom, a princess bursts in asking for a hiding place and thus begins a visitation from a whole chain of unlikely intruders large

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and small …

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all asking for somewhere to hide from the witch.
When Frankie realizes she too should take cover, the witch bursts in demanding to know where the other characters are. Frankie doesn’t let on so the witch has to resort to more drastic measures to discover their whereabouts before uttering some words that finally cause the confused Frankie to understand what is going on.

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Help!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books
From the partnership that created Shhh! and Keep Out! is another playful foray into the world of traditional tales. This time there’s a big bad wolf at large and three porcine characters are rather keen to apprehend him and they’ve enlisted the reader to assist in the search, not to mention a teddy bear and a whole drove of their fellow swine.
There are so many possible hiding places to check out and lots of false starts although plenty of evidence that the BBW isn’t far away.

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So it’s on with the search and the poster pinning …

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until they discover more evidence of tricky doings.
But the creature’s still at large and the search continues till the seekers come upon a sturdy-looking house that might just be THE place.
Engaging, entertaining and from the opening lines, totally involving. There’s even a pair of mouse observers/commentators to add to the fun.

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