story suggested on the cover. The illustrations are lovely and it is easy to imagine this book being a turning point for independent readers, who are ready to have some independent thoughts. KC
The Enduring Ark HHHHH
Gita Wolf, ill. Joydeh Chitrakar, Tara Books, 32pp, 978 93 80340 18 0, hbk, £14.99
This striking retelling of the story of Noah and his wife (here Noah and Na’mah) is not actually a book. It comes in a slip case, and, although it has a hard cover and is so cleverly constructed that you can read it perfectly well as a book, it is in fact a double-sided concertina scroll, which, opened out, reveals the full glory of the spectacular illustrations. Although the text is fine as a retelling, it is the form of the book and the illustrations, in the traditional Bengal Patua style, which grab your attention. The scroll, produced here in a robust card, is an ancient form that could very well have more mileage in modern picturebook production; and Chitrakar’s folk naïf illustrations are bold and vivid, with colours that remind me of vegetable fabric dyes. It’s a work that is a thing of beauty in itself and should fascinate children with the ingenuity of its presentation, the culture that it reflects, and its par ticular way of representing the world. Anyone wanting to inspire children to create their own stories or just to think of the way in which narratives can unfold (to use a scroll inspired metaphor) should get hold of a copy.
Make Friends, Break Friends HHH
Julia Jarman, ill. Kate Punkhurst, Andersen Press, 96pp, 9781849395090, £4.99pbk,
Tension in girls’ friendships star ts young and Make Friends, Break Friends is a simple book for the young reader which acknowledges this fact. Daisy has two best friends, Phoebe and Erika, but they don’t get on with one another. Erika thinks Phoebe is feeble and Phoebe thinks Erika is a mean show-off. Daisy is caught in the middle and feels like she can’t keep either of them happy, so she sets out on a mission to get her two best friends to like each other. Naturally, this doesn’t go to plan and for a while it is Daisy herself that they both fall out with.
The book succeeds in providing a space to think and talk about the angst that young friendships can cause, while demonstrating that this is not necessarily anyone’s fault. With a different chapter for each girl’s point of view, we can see how each of them is partly responsible for the resulting fall out, as well as how well -intended actions can easily be misinterpreted. Young girls will find much to recognise in the dynamic of the characters’ relationships. While the book uses occasional humour and it all works out in the end, there is little sign of the real joy of great friendships. It could have benefited from some more light to balance the shade.
LF Tiger Tells All HHHH
Ann Cameron, ill. Lauren Castillo, Tamarind Books, 112pp, 978-1-848-53108-6, £4.99 pbk
Tiger is a rescue dog who has lived with the Bates family for two years. The family consists of the parents, Ralph and Michelle, and two boys, Huey and Julian. Huey is Tiger’s boy – his special person who knows him the best. Aside from the Bates family, Tiger’s two great loves are interesting smells and Chilli Flavoured Tortilla Crisps.
He has many adventures with the family, including chasing squirrels and eating Ralph’s socks. However, Tiger is continually frustrated because, although he understands the Bates, they never seem to understand him and always end up doing the opposite of what he wants. After Tiger has eaten Ralph’s socks, the family decides he needs a friend, and so they get Fiona, a beautiful white cat. This is not what Tiger wants at all. At first, Tiger and Fiona do not get on, but then gradually they grow to understand each other better. Tiger and Fiona finally realise how strong their friendship has become, when one day, Tiger uses all his intelligence and ingenuity to save Fiona’s life.
This is a gentle and humorous story narrated from the dog’s point of view. It is very suitable for newly confident readers, but on occasion the use of dog ancestors and the dog spirit world may be slightly confusing for readers at the younger end of the age range.
ARa Koala Calamity HHH
Jonathan Mere, ill. Neal Layton, Harper Collins, 192pp, 9780007490790, £5.99pbk
Koala Calamity is the fifth instalment in Harper Collins’ popular Awesome Animals series, each written by a different author. In this book, Jonathan Meres, best known for The World of Norm, takes on the crazy, lazy koala.
You might think that koalas are boring, just because all they do is eat eucalyptus leaves and sleep for 19 hours a day. But you’d be wrong – they’re not boring, just lazy. Meet Dude and Bro, the most chilled-out of wild animals, whose idea of exercise is stretching for another eucy branch. Kicking back in the treetops and catching some rays is their idea of a good time, but when they wake up to find they have missed their transfer to the big city zoo, the brothers must rally themselves to action. In fact, it is little brother Squirt that saves the day. He lacks the laziness of his elder brothers and is desperate to show them he isn’t just a baby brother.
This comic book offers some moments of great humour, as well as giving read-aloud parents the opportunity to try out their best Aussie accents. There is – perhaps inevitably for characters who nod off mid-sentence – plenty of repetition in the dialogue, which makes the book accessible to less-able readers. One thing is for sure, you will never look at a koala the same way again.
LF My Brother’s Book HHH
Maurice Sendak, HarperCollins Publishers, 32pp, 978-0-00-750916-4 £18.99 hbk.
I suppose that the only reason for reviewing My Brother’s Book in Books for Keeps rests on the author’s fame in Kiddiebookland (a term he loved to hate). Those adults engrossed by his virtuosity and his hermetic ramblings from the days of Kenny’s Window (1956) onwards will relish another challenge, but, as the publisher hints in a press release, the thing has hardly been conceived with child readers in mind. It may well be though that the inventive responses of the young will make more of the work’s eccentricities than does querulous age. This particular sclerotic reader is baffled by the whole affair. A star smashes into Earth separating Jack from his brother Guy and carrying him off to Arctic chill where ‘his poor nose froze’. Guy, for his part, swoops around in the air till he drops down to ‘soft Bohemia’ where, of course, one may be pursued by bears. Just such a one has a mystic riddling contest with Guy the result of which resolves the tension of the brothers’ parting. Guy bites ‘that nose – to be sure’ and Jack comes to sleep ‘safe in his brother’s arms’.
So what goes on, folks? Why are the brothers transformed into the heroes of We’re All in the Dumps to which no other reference is perceptible? Why is A Winter’s Tale invoked, which Stephen Greenblatt informs us in his Foreword haunted the author’s imagination in the last years of his life? Why do the rhythms of Sendak’s hieratic verse keep going wrong making ‘the story’ even harder to appreciate ( towards the end he awkwardly says ‘who’ when ‘whom’ is demanded by both grammar and euphony).
Puzzle as you may over the near-Blakean obscurities of these emanations, you ought nonetheless to admire the Blakean vision that informs the illuminations opposite each page of the text. True, the bear has a Sendakian magic about him, but the linear energy and the astonishing chromatic landscape of the brothers’ journeyings – rocks, spiky explosions of light, showers of vegetation – these will give you a narrative that satisfies more cogently than what the lame words say. Where WOULD Sendak have travelled next? BA
Magic Toyshop: The Naughty Croc
Jessie Little illus Penny Dann, Faber and Faber, 96pp 978 0 571 29457 2, £3.99 pbk
Willow and her little brother Freddie often stay with their Auntie Suzy, who owns a toyshop and makes stuffed animals from patchwork, known as Hoozles. They are gentle and charming, except for naughty old Croc. He always spoils everything. One day Jack enters the toyshop with his mum and requests an elephant Hoozle. Auntie Suzy agrees to make it, ready for collection by the end of the day. But Croc has other
ideas and runs off with Auntie Suzy’s sewing kit. Willow and her gallant group of Hoozles – a bear, a pony and a penguin – pursue Croc, falling into all sorts of adventures along the way. The story, one in a series, is charming and its anthropomorphic gentleness feeds happily into young children’s imagination. The text is set in large print and divided into chapters, each of which ends with a cliff-hanger and is interspersed with simple line drawings. AF
Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde HHHHH
Joyce Dunbar illus Jill Barton, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 9781847802170, £12.99 hbk
Most cat owners will instantly recognise Puss Jekyll and her nocturnal counterpart, Cat Hyde. The cat on the cover of this elegantly presented volume, looks out, enigmatically: which one is she? And the self-contained feline on the title page suggests that like most cats, it is she, not any human, who decides who and what she shall be. She’s black and white, two aspects of the same cat personality: in the daytime ‘Sleek, sweet Pusskins, so meek and mild’ and then, after sun down, ‘War torn, love worn, battered and tattered … so wicked and wild’.
Barton, on generous double-spreads, splendidly captures the dual aspects of this cat as she rolls over to play or stalks through the darkness, prowling, hunting, ready for the kill. Her palette is muted, allowing Pusscat Jekyll/Hyde to stand out on each page, and her grainy, crayony textured sur faces give substance to the cat and her backgrounds. This is matched by Dunbar’s descriptive word sequences, making this a lovely book for a child to look at alone, or even better, to share with a complicit cat-admiring adult.
Dog Loves Counting HHHHH
Louise Yates, Jonathan Cape, 32pp, 978 0 857 55015 6, £11.99 hbk
The delightful bibliophile Dog is back in his third adventure, this time searching for animals to count as alternatives to sheep, so that he can get to sleep. And what is the vehicle for this search? You’ve guessed it – a book. A very special one wherein he discovers all manner of creatures to enumerate, star ting with one baby dodo that emerges from a large egg. From there, the two of them continue through the book encountering in turn, a three-toed sloth, … a five-lined skink… to a ten legged (including pincers) crab and so on to an infinitely grained sandy desert whereupon they discover that number one is missing. Not for long however and we leave them all star gazing and still counting, of course, until a-a-a-a-a-h-h-h, it’s morning once again and the start of another day filled with books, friends and I hope, more adventures. Wonderfully imagined, so cleverly constructed and brilliantly conveyed both visually and verbally, this is another sure-fire winning flight of fancy from the kennel of Louise Yates. JB
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