reviews 5&#x2013;8 Infant/Junior
cruelty, imprisonment and a yearning for love. But there&#x2019;s also hope, dreams and the splendour of flying to freedom. JNH
Even Monsters Need Haircuts
Matthew McElligott, Bloomsbury, 40pp, 978 1 4088 1393 5, &#xA3;5.99 pbk
Cactus Annie HHH
Melanie Williamson, Hodder, 32pp, 978 0 340 98141 2, &#xA3;10.99 hbk
Cactus Annie&#x2019;s first day at Cowgirl school couldn&#x2019;t have been much worse and her teacher tells her she will need to start believing in herself if things are going to get any better. When Annie learns that there will be no more school because the rat rustlers have stolen all the cattle, she is secretly delighted and skips happily home. But wouldn&#x2019;t you just know it, on her way home she discovers the stolen cattle and has to test all her cowgirl bravery and courage to save the day and defeat those pesky rat rustlers.
This is a lively, funny picture book which deals in a very light-hearted way with starting school and believing in yourself. The story reads aloud well, with plenty of &#x2018;Yee-haa&#x2019;s&#x2019; for joining in with and the illustrations create great characters and some splendid inventions. All in all a fun book that will be much enjoyed by a wide age range.
Ahmed and the Feather Girl HHHH
Jane Ray, Janetta Otter-Barry Books, 32pp, 978 1 84507 988 8, &#xA3;11.99 hbk
When an unloved orphan boy from the circus finds a golden egg, it hatches into a beautiful feathered child whom the wicked circus owner imprisons for money. Despite his fears, the orphan boy recognises the bird-child&#x2019;s need to fly, and sacrifices his own happiness to set her free. But each night, in his dreams, the bird-child returns to give a feather, until joined together, the feathers become the boy&#x2019;s cloak of freedom.
Sometimes the best person to write a story is the illustrator and this is a case in point, for Jane Ray has allowed herself free rein to decorate and embellish magical pictures in her own whimsical way. Each complete in itself, the images tell the story in a gentle unfolding fashion. There&#x2019;s a haunting pathos in the pictures and the words, a sadness which is steeped in the folk tale tradition, and the story touches us on a deeply emotional level. Like many folk tales there&#x2019;s
By day a little boy watches his father at work in the family barber shop, but once a month at midnight the customers are monstrously different.
Here is a non-scary monster book which will still have plenty of appeal. There is lots of humour in the pictures and children will enjoy spotting the different monsters in the story. Each of the monsters has individual style and character and, like humans, some will try out new hairstyles, whilst others have the same thing every time. The &#x2018;scary human&#x2019; who enters the shop turns out to be playing a joke, so nothing at all to worry about in this quirkily original story.
DF Little Frog HHH
Jakob Martin Strid, Alanna Books, 32pp, 978 0 9551998 6 8, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
When Little Frog arrives unexpectedly from a meteor that falls through the roof, the frog family are delighted. How nice to have a new member! However, Little Frog soon proves to be quite the naughtiest frog imaginable &#x2013; so naughty that coping with his antics proves almost impossible. He bakes the telephone, washes all the books in hot, soapy water, sets fire to the school counsellor&#x2019;s hair, and pees in his briefcase. Mum and Dad frog are at their wits end and after they have shouted at Little Frog, he decides to leave home. After a long journey (during which his behaviour does not improve), he is found by the frog family and gathered lovingly to their collective bosom. He is their little frog, and they love him.
The theme of loving a naughty child is so universal as to be unremarkable, but this child&#x2019;s behaviour is so extreme and bizarre that one must suspect there is more to the intention of the book than the usual scenario. Is this a fostered or adopted child whose behaviour causes real concern? Does the meeting with the counsellor, who is planning to phone a specialist (until Little Frog cuts the phone line), indicate serious worries? He does not seem to realise the mayhem he is causing &#x2013; perhaps he is on the autistic spectrum. Whatever his problems are, his family love him, and we are told in the end that he becomes famous and all the naughty things he has done are put on display. Whatever the reasons behind the story, it can be enjoyed purely from its over- the-top humour and the wonderful
detail in the illustrations. Translated from the Danish, this is a unique production.
ES The Ice Bear HHH
Jackie Morris, Frances Lincoln, 40pp, 978 1 84507 968 0, &#xA3;11.99 hbk
Meant for older readers, this is an unusual story linking the lives of animal and human Arctic dwellers. One of a polar bear&#x2019;s newborn cubs is stolen and carried away by a raven. Later the hunter (human) finds that a bundle set down by the raven is actually a baby boy. The overjoyed couple bring him up lovingly for seven years while the raven, we are told, always keeps watch. In his seventh year the boy strays away from where his parents are busy gathering food for winter. A shard of amber has caught his eye and as he follows a trail of shining amber pieces in the snow, he gets further and further away. Just before he gets to the brightest shard yet, the raven swoops in to snatch it, dropping it at a distance for him to follow. So continues the pursuit until he is lost in the cold white wilderness. He wakes surrounded by polar bears and feels strangely at home, with memories of a polar bear family flooding back to him. When his hunter father finally finds him, he is faced with choosing which family to belong to. He chooses to stay with the bears in winter and the humans in summer. While the illustrations are lovely, the reader may struggle at times to follow the narrative and make sense of it. Clearer textual connections would help draw us in, especially at the beginning. The language is at times lyrical, at times stilted and the text is quite small on the full colour double page spreads &#x2013; a larger font would add visual appeal. A slightly disappointing read given the dramatic illustrations.
UC Olivia Goes to Venice HHHHH
Ian Falconer, Simon & Schuster, 48pp, 978 1 84738 835 3, &#xA3;12.99 hbk
Olivia is a fine role model: a female who makes her own choices and views the world very much from her own perspective. Those of us who know the other Olivia books are not surprised at her decisiveness right from the first page of Olivia goes to Venice: &#x2018;Olivia decided that she and her family ought to spend a few days in Venice.&#x2019; The illustrations are works of art: cartoons and line drawings of the family&#x2019;s activities are superimposed on familiar classic representations of Venice&#x2019;s fine views and buildings. A more down- to-earth enjoyment is indulgence in the gelato which Olivia in particular consumes with gusto. The fun and enter tainment come from sharing Olivia&#x2019;s personal and sometimes eccentric response to all the new
experiences. But there are moments when the sheer beauty of Venice is appreciated. On their last day the family return to San Marco, savouring the sight of the basilica &#x2013; &#x2018;all peach and gold in the late afternoon light&#x2019;. Then Olivia shows her startled family the stone she has taken from the bell tower as her &#x2018;perfect souvenir&#x2019;. As the family hasten to the airport Mother looks back in horror at a post-modern fantasy: the tower, minus a keystone thanks to Olivia, is collapsing dramatically. Children and older readers will find reading and looking at this book with its boundary breaking, its excess and its humour an exhilarating experience.
MM Dragon Feathers HHHH
Retold by Arnica Esterl, ill. Andrei Dugin and Olga Dugina, Floris, 32pp, 978 0 86315 774 5, &#xA3;9.99 hbk
This story is perhaps better known in its Grimms&#x2019; version as &#x2018;The Tale of the Giant with the Three Golden Hairs&#x2019;. A brave and innocent young man is sent off by a murderous father-figure on a quest designed to lead to a certain and horrible death. The youth meets three afflicted people or communities on the way, who beg for his help, and he promises to try to discover the source of their woes so that he can advise them on his return journey.
In this version, the youth has been sent out to fetch three feathers from the back of a man-eating dragon, a feat he accomplishes with the help of the dragon&#x2019;s gentle wife, who also coaxes the three solutions from her husband, ensuring that the youth returns not only healthy but wealthy.
The text here is brisk and rather bland, lacking the extreme menace which haunts my earliest memories of listening to the Grimms&#x2019; version more than 50 years ago. The dragon doesn&#x2019;t seem as dangerous as the giant, and the plights of the people aren&#x2019;t as abject. The illustrations, however, are splendidly bizarre. The double page spreads present the romantically embellished medieval fairy world of traditional illustration, but the rural
Books for Keeps No.184 September 2010 23
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