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identi-features. A final chapter puts all in a seasonal context, showing, valuably, that winter is not just the end of this year but the start of next.

The whole concept and design of this book is a triumph. Brita’s hand-lettered captions draw the eye to each of Mick’s highly naturalistic pictures – many to a page – and her young explorers are sympathetic and real. The text is poetic in its expressive spareness.

It’s a remarkable thing that, although sharp and accurate colour photography has never been done better than now, the essence of a living thing – animal or vegetable – is always captured more completely by an expert wildlife artist. This is why, when trying to identify a find we always end up consulting Thorborn, Tunnicliffe, Keble Mar tin, Bernard Venables or Edmund Sandars after finding ambiguous photos on Google. The Manningströms are fit company to join this firmament as this delightful book – all done by hand – shows. No growing family should go without it, for with it you can have a nature adventure every day.

TP Naughty Toes HHH

Ann Bonwill, ill. Teresa Murfin, Oxford, 32pp, 978 0 1927 2852 4, 5.99 pbk

Trixie and her sister Belinda both attend ballet classes but while Belinda is a prima ballerina in the making, Trixie definitely is not. When Madame Mina gives the command ‘point’ everyone’s toes turn out – except for Trixie whose naughty toes persist in going in the opposite direction – and when everyone is floating like graceful clouds, Trixie spins like a dust storm.

Trixie has her own style, it just isn’t that of a ballerina and vibrant illustrations capture her character and inability to conform. Delightful collage and scratchy-style depictions of characters provide a note of quirkiness suited to Trixie and her mishaps as she bounces around well-designed pages.

It does seem hard that Trixie is cast as a rock in the ballet show. However, Madame Mina, who no doubt needed to keep her out of harm’s way, makes up for Trixie’s inactive role by presenting her with the right shoes for her naughty toes – and Trixie discovers she is really a tap dancer. An entertaining look at not fitting in but eventually finding where talent and inclination lies. VC

My Ballet Dream HHHH

Adèle Geras, ill. Shelagh McNicholas, Orchard, 32pp, 978 1 4083 0981 0, £10.99 hbk

Little Tilly Tutu – so called because she ‘loves ballet SO much’ – is getting ready for her ballet studio’s annual show. Her class are all baby swans –

we are left to guess the ballet, but since this book is definitely, and only, for ballet-mad little girls, that shouldn’t be difficult. The lead-up to the big performance is charted: practising the steps, learning to keep time with everyone else, getting ready for the dress rehearsal, watching the big girls who are also in the recital. The only dramas are minor: the costumes that arrive for the show are found to be blue instead of pink and after the performance Tilly forgets to take her curtsey. But of course, all is well; the girls look just as cute in blue and Tutu Tilly has a curtsey all to herself.

The illustrations are realistic and true to the textual narrative, picking up on Geras’s words and embellishing them – a touch of the Helen Oxenbury’s here. Plenty of page space is given to the young performers, and there is a lovely sense of being in a ballet studio during rehearsals. The spread depicting Tilly’s dream of swans is the only one in the book that doesn’t ring true and why the book is titled My Ballet Dream is a bit baffling. Its strength is the realism of the little girls, their enthusiasm, and reactions to the various very minor

8 – 10 Junior/Middle

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick


Chris Van Allsburg, Andersen Press, 32pp, 978 1 84939 279 2, £5.99 pbk

The brief introduction to this unique picture book explains that Harris Burdick vanished, taking a sheaf of

stories with him but leaving behind one illustration from each tagged with an elusive caption. Sure enough, the chemistry of Chris Van Allsburg’s writing and illustration make it impossible not to get drawn into imagining the tales behind these rich double page spreads. Story stimuli can be written and illustrations can engage – witness the work of James Carter sparking the creative thinking of young writers. However, it’s the nature of these four teen power ful black and white pencil illustrations that unsettle the reader into entering into what might be their back story. The scenarios are amazing, but, within them, it is the contortions of face, the play of light and dark, the details that require a closer look – these are what stimulate in a book that will be viewed again and again. Beautiful, inspiring, disturbing and stimulating – a masterpiece of engaging literature.


Monacello: The Little Monk HHHH

Geraldine McCaughrean, ill. Jana Diemberger, Phoenix Yard, 64pp,

978 1 90799912 03 0, £7.99, pbk

Monacello: The Little Monk brings together the only author to have won the Whitbread/Costa three times, an illustrator whose work for the book was her graduate show piece, and an innovative publisher of children’s books founded in 2009. Phoenix Yard claim they are ‘not afraid of pushing boundaries, particularly in design and illustrative style’. Their press release also tells us, for good measure, that Jana Diemberger is a tattoo enthusiast and a medal winning boxer.

Monacello is a foundling, abandoned in a straw-filled crate at the door of a convent in Naples, perhaps in medieval times. Only Sister Clementa offers him any compassion. For the other nuns, the tiny ‘snuffling, scuttling, scuffling little creature’, wrapped in his oversized monk’s habit, is an ugly pest, a goblin, a devil, a gremlin. When Monacello hears stories of Mary and Jesus, another who started life in ‘a box of straw’, he longs to find his own mother. His search takes him into the streets and around the stalls of the city. At first the Neapolitans see him as an

omen, the Bad Luck Boy. Their curses and blows drive Monacello into the labyrinthine Undercity, where the ‘centuries have piled one city on top of the one before’. Here, he sets up his own kingdom with his friends, the hundreds of cats which range the watery passageways beneath the streets. Before long, he shares his new domain with the homeless Napolina, a girl whose ragged clothes include a patch of sky blue over her hear t. Through an impulsive act of kindness towards Napolina and the strong spirit which beats beneath her wretchedness, Monacello’s fortunes change. In time, he becomes the citizens’ Good Luck Boy.

McCaughrean’s reworking of a classic Italian folk story reads aloud wonder fully with its tale-teller’s seeming simplicity and its frequent alliterations and internal rhymes. The menacing illustrations of Jana Diemberger, an ar tist of Italian/Austrian upbringing, will also invite shared talk between listener and reader. Her choice of viewpoint is often star tling and dramatic. The dark, crater-eyes set in the pale moon of the

Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 23

mishaps during the dress rehearsal. This book will be loved by little ballerinas. Previous Tilly Tutu titles are Little Ballet Star and The Ballet Class. VC

This Book Totally Makes Stuff Grow NON-FICTION

Maggie Bolger, ill. Nik Afia, Walker, 32pp, 978 1 4063 2678 9, £5.99 pbk

This ‘activity’ picture book appears to be a by-product of the ‘hugely successful’ Maggie & Rose club which, to quote the publishers ‘now has over 500 families on their member books’. Such careless grammar makes me suspect the soundness of the work, which attempts to interest young folks in the practice and ecology of horticulture. Maggie, Rose and Oscar learn that you can make compost in three months – and this without activator and no inkling of what it’s like when it’s ready. That takes some believing.

The author – rightly too modest to be named either on title page or in bibliographical details – is very, and rightly, reverent of soil but then proceeds to call it ‘dir t’; this Americanism is not only confusing, it sounds disrespectful.

And those creatures which, 40 years ago, we all learned to call ‘minibeasts’, are here called ‘bugs’. This is not helpful when the United Kingdom is experiencing a huge increase in its bedbug population…


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