BfK Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant
sincerity. The fact that the children cheered rather than laughed at Superfrog’s emissions seems the key to this story, for when something children are readily able to do becomes a serious defence against a ruined world it can make them feel less powerless. This method of tackling greed and pollution with humour seemed somewhat forced to me. However, I am assured it would be a big hit with kids, so bring it on, Superfrog!
JNH Swing HHHH
Robert Louis Stevenson illus Julie Morstad, Simply Read, 16pp, 9781897476482, £7.99 board
Delightful illustrations animate
Stevenson’s little poem, asking a child how she would like to go up in a swing. The things seen from the swing are described in images and words: ‘rivers and trees and cattle and all’ and ‘the garden green’ and ‘the roof so brown’.
Gently evocative of bygone times, the visuals, nevertheless, impart a more up-to-date yet timeless air to the joys of a simple activity, and also provide things to talk about, such as what the child has seen and what it is like to fly through the air. Small enough and sturdy enough to withstand the impact of little hands, this is a good gift book for a new baby or small child.
Scruffy Bear and the Lost Ball
Chris Wormell, Jonathan Cape, 32pp, 978 0 8575 5011 8, £10.99 hbk
When a red ball comes flying through the air towards Scruffy Bear, he gives it a kick sending it high up into the branches of a tree. But when four rabbits looking for a red ball turn up, it’s up to Scruffy Bear to find out why it hasn’t fallen from the branches yet. Feeling guilty about kicking it in the first place, Scruffy Bear proclaims himself
to be an ‘excellent tree-climber’, despite having never climbed a tree at all. As the ground gets further away, Scruffy Bear has some surprising encounters, but will he solve the mystery of the missing ball before he falls down himself?
Scruffy Bear is back in the follow-up to the award-winning Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice and in his own scruffy way, he’s helping the smaller animals of the wood again. Wormell keeps a traditional illustration style and Scruffy Bear looks friendly and familiar. The scenery is clean and focussed on the action in the tree and the double-spread layout makes good use of the extended beaks and branches. The change in orientation at the finale is a nice surprise and the ending is resolved swiftly and sweetly. A gentle story, perfect for bedtime.
Let’s Find Mimi! In the City HHH
Katherine Lodge, Hodder Children’s Books, 32pp, 978-1444909715, £11.99
A precursor to the Where’s Wally 5 – 8 Infant/Junior
The Girl with a Brave Heart HHHH
Rita Jahanforuz, illus Vali Mintzi, Barefoot Books, 40pp, 978-1846869303 £5.99
Subtitled ‘a tale from Tehran’, this story is the work of an Israeli author and illustrator. The writer, Rita Jahanforuz, is better known as the Israeli Madonna (as in pop diva). She lived in Tehran as a young child, and has reworked a tale she heard first from her mother. Its folk tale roots are readily apparent. Orphaned Shiraz is treated as a drudge by her step-mother until, losing a ball of wool given to her by her dead mother, she follows it to the house of an old woman, who gives her three tasks. The old woman is smelly, unkempt and mean-looking. She instructs Shiraz to smash up the neglected and untidy kitchen with a hammer, cut down and uproot the overgrown garden and cut off the old woman’s tangled long white hair. Completing these tasks in her own
way, Shiraz returns home so radiantly transformed that neither her step-mother nor step-sister recognises her. Monir, her step-sister, is then sent to the old woman’s house so that she may share in her sister’s good fortune, but such is her behaviour towards the old woman that she returns not radiant but hideous. The twist in the tale is that it is Shiraz’s disobedience that causes her transformation. She cleans and tidies the kitchen, replants and waters the garden and carefully washes, combs and plaits the old woman’s hair. She has seen beyond the old woman’s appearance and listened to the sad silent pleading of the old woman’s heart rather the cruelty and madness of her words. The unfor tunate Monir, lacking her sister’s insight, does only what she is told to do. Jahanforuz tells her tale in a calm, quiet prose, adding no comment at the time about Shiraz’s decision to gently defy the old woman’s expressed wishes, and leaving it to the end to explain the significance of each sister’s actions. Vali Mintzi’s illustrations, inspired by the work of Bonnard, Matisse and Hockney, are warm and vibrant, lovingly detailing the idiosyncratic architecture and domestic life of a bygone small Middle Eastern town. Although the story takes place over two days, the illustration seems to move through a single day, with Monir wreaking havoc in the old woman’s house and garden as the light fades and returning home in the twilight. These are gorgeous pictures that bring tenderness to the story. However, attentive readers may very well wonder why, when the story claims that, after visiting the old woman, one girl is unrecognisably beautiful and the other unrecognisably hideous,
illustrations show only a more confident Shiraz and a crest-fallen Monir, both clearly recognisable in the same
22 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013
clothes that they left the house. Here Mintzi seems to be substituting psychological realism – the warmth of someone’s personality causes us to perceive them as beautiful – for the typical magical transformation of the folk tale. It creates opportunity for discussion.
CB Anton and the Battle HHH
Ole Konnecke, Gecko Press, 32pp, 978 1877579 26 4, £11.99, hbk
Swedish-born Ole Konnecke works as an illustrator in Germany. This is the second of his books about Anton to be published in English. Anton is a small boy in a large floppy cavalier’s hat with a feather who meets his friend Luke, who is in Viking headgear. They begin a boasting contest about who is the strongest, which gradually escalates from who can lift the biggest stone to threatening one another with huge bombs. But before the reader can conclude that this is a parable about the human propensity for conflict, a small dog chases them both up a tree, where, having been there for some time, they compete about who is hungriest and thirstiest. Released from the tree, they test who is fastest at running home.
observational comedy in the style of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts car toon; indeed, so much in the style that it could be easily mistaken for Schulz. Like stills from an animation, the pictures tell the story, making the text, which provides the dialogue between the boys, largely redundant. It has charm, but I found the pictures did produce some uncer tainty in the narrative. The imaginary instruments of the boys’ competition are usually indicated by being shown only in
outline, but the bombs have a full colour fill, giving them substance and reality which is not, I believe, intended and providing a kind of false coda in the tale.
My Funny Family on Holiday HHH
Chris Higgins, ill. Lee Wildish, Hodder, 140pp. 978 0 340 98985 2, £4.99 pbk
Nine old Mattie is a worrier. A ‘Wendy Worry-worm, Franny Fret-a-while, Brenda Brood-a-bit’...so
when her funny family pack themselves off on a two week camping holiday to Cornwall, Mattie finds a whole new world of things to worry about. There is train trauma and doggy drama all before they even get to Cornwall, the ‘bunion’ on the ‘big toe’ of England. The fact that they are holidaying on what is effectively the edge of the country is a pretty scary idea for Mattie, but her fears are soon forgotten when she discovers that camping on the beach with her family is absolutely great! Ted, the farmer is on hand to teach her all about the area, and frighten her with local legends but when Mattie makes friends with the mysterious boy on the beach she learns that not all scary stories are worth worrying about.
This is the second book in Higgins’ My Funny Family series and it is both sweet and surprising. Mattie’s voice is fresh and funny. The short chapters and simple sentences are interspersed with some more challenging words, making this a perfect book for confident younger readers. Mattie is a sensitive heroine and her jumbled family are immediately appealing but a strange turn of events and unusual ending gives this little book a bit more than meets the eye, and could raise some confusing questions for readers expecting the straight forward
books, Let’s find Mimi is aimed at younger children, and probably girls in particular, as Mimi is quite a girly sort of mouse. We are invited to visit the city for a party with Mimi and her family and to locate her among the crowds as she arrives by train, shops for a dress, visits a café, more shops and stalls in search of a gift, flowers and a card, goes to a park and takes a trip on a river boat. She is not too hard to find on the bright, primary colours of each page, but it should pose an appropriate challenge for the intended age-group. There is plenty to look at apart from Mimi and to talk about with other children or a friendly adult.
The end papers carry a simple dice and counters (not supplied) board game. My only caveat is that this is centred on a shopping trip with Mimi – perhaps the author/publisher might have considered something a bit less consumer oriented instead, for example, based on Mimi’s visit to the park. But the shopping game does include a visit to a book shop!
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