Gaspard’s Christmas

Gaspard’s Christmas
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew
Graffeg

The enormously popular fox Gaspard returns in his fourth adventure, the proceeds from which will go to St. Martin-in-the-Fields Charity that helps the homeless.

When out hunting for food one bitterly cold night near to Christmas, Gaspard comes upon what he thinks is a bulky black bag in a bus shelter. On investigation he discovers an old man with a white beard wearing a black overcoat who is obviously freezing. He quickly realises that the man needs help and goes off in search of assistance, calling on his friends Flinty the dog and Peter the cat before returning and attempting to warm the man whose condition has clearly deteriorated.

The savvy creatures investigate and find that the old man’s name is Nikolas and off rushes Flinty to find her person. Then together Honey and Flinty struggle through the streets back to Nikolas and the other animals.

Eventually back in the church, the old man is given a meal, clean clothes and a warm shower, and later a special temporary role at the shelter party.

Despite being given a small reward each, Peter, Flinty and Gaspard understand that their true reward is the knowledge that their kind and speedy actions have saved someone’s life.

Such a vital message about selflessness and a thought-provoking story about the importance of showing kindness to those less well off than ourselves. I love James Mayhew’s painterly, detailed illustrations that, as always in this series, are infused with loving concern.

Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub

Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub
Zeb Soanes, illustrated by Anja Uhren
Graffeg

Fred is staying with her grandfather in the countryside for the summer holidays. Grandpa is a botanist who lives in a messy farmhouse around which are dilapidated greenhouses housing all manner of plants from all over the world. Imagine her surprise when one night she hears a banging sound outside and when she investigates, discovers her Grandpa attached to a sausage-shaped balloon.

Even more surprising is his announcement that this contraption is to take them to Papa Nupi a distant island whereon it’s said the rare Tub-Tub plant grows. This plant blooms just once every two hundred years when it is reputed to produce the most amazing music.The last time it bloomed was two hundred years ago the following week so time is of the essence and as Grandpa says, “There’s no time like the present.”

So begins a magical adventure that embraces the threat plastic pollution poses to wildlife as well as showing the transformative possibilities of music and the difference one small hand held device can make.

Which all goes to show that Grandpa was absolutely right when he said at the start of this unusual story, “Music is a language everyone can understand.”

The engaging tale had its origins in a project between the author Zeb Soanes and composer James Marangone. The latter wanted to create an inclusive narrated adventure that inspired children to explore sound no matter their musical ability. To go alongside the music, Zeb included in his story ‘audio clues’ that children can listen for in the text.

With the addition of Anja Uhren’s fantastic quirky illustrations, this became a tale told through illustration, music and writing. The orchestral performance, which includes narration of the story by Zeb alongside James Marangone’s music, will be premiered by Orchestra Sinfonia later this year.

(Related facts and some suggestions for reusing plastic are given at the back of the book.)

Gaspard’s Foxtrot

Gaspard’s Foxtrot
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew
Graffeg

Gaspard the Fox returns for a third adventure and it’s a totally unexpected one.

While chatting to his friends Peter the cat and Flinty the dog he learns from the latter that his owner Honey is taking him to a concert ‘about London’s wildlife’ in Hyde Park that very evening and suggests that Gaspard should come along.
So when Honey and Flinty head for the number 38 bus-stop Gaspard tags along behind.

As Honey boards the bus she drops her scarf. Gaspard catches it and jumps aboard intending to return it when they get off.
Then follows a journey through London – we’re given the fox’s eye view in James Mayhew’s exquisite illustrations- that takes them through Islington with its iconic war memorial,

past China Town, into the heart of theatre land, passing Piccadilly with its famous statue, all the while the recorded voice announcing where they are. Suddenly he hears “Hyde Park Corner’ and off pile the passengers. In the crowd, Gaspard almost loses sight of Honey and Flinty but just in time he makes his exit and follows the masses to the centre of the park

where he finds a suitable spot to stop, wait, hope and listen to the music.

Onto the stage walks a man Gaspard recognises as living close to his den and he’s holding what looks like a white stick. He tells the audience that the next piece of music is so new it’s yet to have a title.

What happens thereafter is truly amazing, but I won’t spoil this eventful, gently humorous story at the heart of which is friendship.

It’s full of lovely details about nature, London (Peter talking of his peregrinations makes me miss it all the more at present) and of course, the music; the map endpapers are terrific too.

How exciting to learn that the story has been adapted by composer Jonathan Dove and is due to be performed with Zeb narrating and James as illustrator.