The Great Race: the story of the Chinese Zodiac


Christopher Corr, Lincoln Children’s Books, 32pp, 978-1-7860-3065-8, £11.99 hbk

Christopher Corr tells the story of the Jade Emperor, who, realising that he didn’t know how old he was, decided that there was a need to mark the passage of time. He challenged all the animals in the kingdom to a race, in which the first twelve to cross the river would have a year named after them. In vibrant colour, the animals make their attempts, and all sorts of co-operation or sabotage ensue. The cat and the rat used to be great friends and had curled up together, but the rat leaves the cat sleeping, hitches a ride on the ox and jumps off his back to be the first to land on the riverbank, with the ox second. The tiger is weighed down by water in his fur, but manages to be third, and the rabbit, who doesn’t like getting his feet wet, is lucky enough to find enough floating objects to get across, so he is fourth, and it turns out that the dragon had blown a log in his direction- dragon is fifth. So it continues, with all the animals featured getting their place, except for the cat, who is furious with the rat for not waking him - rats have fled from cats ever since. The animals are all male, but that is probably how the story was told originally. The colour is wonderful, bold and

glowing, and the style is simple and effective. Christopher Corr specialises in folk art, has researched Chinese painting and ceramics and travelled extensively in Asia, so his illustrations look authentically Chinese: the tiger and the dragon are particularly good, and the Jade Emperor is magnificent. His other books include one of folk tales

from around the world with

Angela McAllister, and My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone, as well as two of Indian legends, for which his style also matches the texts well. This is a book to pore over, and will also be fun to read aloud and share. DB

Mrs Noah’s Pockets HHHHH

Jackie Morris, ill. James Mayhew, Otter-Barry Books, 32pp, 978 1 91095 909 1, £11.99, hbk

Here’s an entirely original rendition of the Noah’s Ark story that will surprise and delight, especially those who love a subversive character for we surely have one in Jackie Morris’ Mrs Noah. As her husband is busily constructing an ark and making plans to rid the world of some of the ‘more troublesome creatures’ thereon, Mrs Noah, aware of his lists of condemned creatures, is not as her husband thinks, stitching curtains for the ark;

rather she’s

tacking, tucking and stitching herself a coat of many pockets: pockets in which to hide all those creatures her husband intends to leave behind when they set sail. And set sail they do, eventually

finding a safe landing place where Mr Noah could allow his chosen animals to spill out and Mrs Noah too, could release her animals, those magical stowaways which are the stuff of fantastical tales of their own. The whole book is superb:


overall design; Jackie Morris’ perfectly crafted, at times poetic, prose; and James Mayhew’s dramatically eye- catching, new style illustrations both large and small – a mix of collage and print-making. Together they make for what must surely become a classic picture book. JB

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace


Harris J, ill. Ward Jenkins, Simon & Schuster, 32pp, 978 1 4814 8938 6, (no UK price) hbk

Harris J, a young Muslim from London, has become known for his faith- inspired music, and this picture book – all about peace and love and inspiring others to be caring in their relationships – has as its text one of his songs. We have an explanation of both the formal and informal ways of saying Salam Alaikum or ‘peace be with you’, and both are used in the book. Perfectly matched with exciting pictures that enhance the whole greatly,

it is a

happy and joyous production that will encourage children to join the chain of people being nice to each other. The story begins on a grey and rainy day in a big city. Surrounded by grey people looking sad and damp is a boy carrying a red umbrella and a tin of paint, the only colourful person in the picture. He sees a woman without an umbrella and gives his to her, and this brings on a wonderful transformation. Clouds begin to lift, and the young woman buys a red balloon for a little girl; she in turn gives the balloon to a poor-looking boy who gives an apple to an old lady. The chain continues until the weather is the brightest of bright, the kind thought each time being accompanied by a big splash of yellow. A kitten is rescued, a car is repaired, and through all the activity we see the original boy with his paint tin collecting the people who have been kind behind him as he goes. The final pictures see everyone, all ages, races and colours, helping to paint a wall and then holding hands in unity and joy. It’s a wonderful way of expressing the way humanity should live together. It will make children (and adults) happy and ready to change the world! ES

5 – 8 Infant/Junior Grandad’s Secret Giant

snipping, threading, HHHHH

David Litchfield, Lincoln Children’s Books, 40pp, 978-1847808479, £11.99, hbk

Grandad’s Secret Giant is David

Litchfield’s enchanting follow-up to his prizewinning debut, The Bear and the Piano. According to Billy’s grandad,

there’s a giant living

secretly in the town who spends his time doing good deeds for the people who live there. So far, he has mended the town clock, stopped trees from falling during storms and rescued dogs trapped on roofs. However, Billy takes a lot of convincing that the giant is real as he can’t understand why he would want to keep his existence a secret. His grandad explains that when people see the giant they get scared because he is different. When Billy eventually encounters the giant, he initially runs away but then quickly realises that the giant is feeling lonely and only wants a friend. This picturebook is an absolute joy

from start to finish. The story is simple and

accessible with some lovely

figurative language (He has hands the size of tables, legs as long as drainpipes and feet as big as rowing boats…). The contrast between the atmospheres created in the opening and closing endpapers would provide a great basis for a discussion. David Litchfield’s use of colour throughout the vibrant illustrations is excellent, as is the way that he uses body language to show the different emotions of the main characters. There is so much to see in the pictures that it is a book that requires repeated reading. The main themes of

the story

are prejudice and loneliness and it provides a thought-provoking lesson about how we all need to look beyond the obvious before making judgments about

people. Although aimed at

younger children, older children will also enjoy discussing the messages contained within, as well being swept into the stunning artwork. JB

The Grotlyn HHHH

Benji Davies, Harper Collins, 32pp, 978-0-00-821275-9, £12.99, hbk

In this striking picturebook we travel back in time to a grimy cityscape with oil lamps, night caps and organ grinders. Since hearing an organ tune, young Rubi has had a strange rhyme in her head about a Grotlyn visiting houses at night. Is that what she can hear scuttling across her floor as she lies in bed, or is it just a mouse? Soon others in the town report hearing strange

noises too, and objects

mysteriously disappearing. Rumours about a Grotlyn in the

town are

spreading. Readers feeling nervous can be reassured with the words: ‘But don’t be afraid to sleep – to dream! For things are not quite what

24 Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018

they seem.’ And indeed the mystery is eventually solved with a surprise ending; the night time thief turns out to be the organ grinder’s monkey collecting what he needs to make a daring escape from his master. This is a mysterious rhyming

picturebook, with just the right balance of spookiness and reassurance, from the talented creator of The Storm Whale and Grandad’s Island. The illustrations are atmospheric, rich and detailed with lots to spot, including wonderful double page spreads before the title page and after the story ends. A perfect story to share on a dark night. SMc

The Bad Mood and the Stick HHHHH

Lemony Snicket, ill. Matt Forsythe, Andersen Press, 40pp, 978 1 78344 642 1, £11.99 hbk

Young Curly is two hours into a bad mood and it’s all on account of missing out on an ice cream. She chooses to take it out on her little brother Matt by means of a stick she finds on the ground as she walks along with her mum and small sibling. Her mum chastises her, telling her to get rid of the stick which Curly tosses away and with it goes her bad mood. That however is now resting with her mother. And the stick? That has been found

by a racoon, but the creature plus stick manages to alarm old Lou causing him to trip and plop right into a muddy puddle. Curly’s mum finds this hilarious and thus her bad mood shifts right on to Lou. He takes himself off to the dry cleaners forthwith where, despite protestations from proprietor Mrs Durham, he strips off to his undies to wait while she deals with his muddy dungarees. Surprisingly the bad mood misses her thanks to Lou’s appearance, and goes off down the road. The stick meanwhile has become the carrier of cheer. On its next appearance it is colourfully adorned with a cocoon that, discovered by one, Bert, has become an exhibit in his ice cream shop window. The very shop window outside which Curly’s mum stops, attracted by the window display and then it’s a case of ice creams all round. Bert too pops into the ice cream shop, sporting his now clean dungarees, and his purchase leads in time to a surprise wedding with the entire cast of characters – human and animal - in attendance. And what of the bad mood and

the stick? The former has done a trip around the world and the latter has stayed put, though not exactly as it was for we all know what happens when a cocoon opens … Snicket’s deliciously off beat tale twists and turns in unexpected ways – it’s a veritable concatenation of surprises. For Matt Forsythe’s retro-style illustrations he uses a colour palette that gives the impression one is peering

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