complaining to the reader about how it all went wrong. The author sits in his shed working on a book that is recognisably Ahlberg: “Little ducks dreaming/Afternoon

steaming/Crocodile…Snap!” the

creative process

nap/Riverbank But run


smoothly. The cat interferes (chased by a fox), an unexpected holiday intervenes, and snails eat holes in a page. Then there’s friend Bruce, the illustrator, who thinks a hippo would be better than a crocodile: “too many crocodile

books”; then the editor,

who prefers a dinosaur; then the designer, who likes to experiment with different fonts; and, finally, the printer, whose helpful daughter mixes up the versions. The result, displayed on fold-out pages, feature both the author’s preferred version, Crocodile Snap, and the jumbled My Worst Book Ever; neither of which are the book that we hold in our hands. If there is some disappointment that Crocodile Snap itself is seen only in tiny scale, 22 mini pages on a double page, then the humour and imagination in surrounding book are a delight, not the least

in the voice of the

preoccupied, anxious, long-suffering author, facing an apparent conspiracy of

circumstance and well-meaning

interference in bringing his hard won story to life. Ahlberg also leaves the reader with a challenge. For, before the book ends, he begins what looks like a very unpromising tale of two spiders, and asks “What could possibly go wrong?” as if inviting us to produce not only a proper story from his beginning but also an alternative mangled version. CB

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories


Retold by Elli Woollard, ill. Marta Altés, Macmillan, 96pp, 978 1 5098 1474 9, £14.99, hbk

When I was a librarian, there was a purist school of thought that authors and publishers should not mess about with classic tales. Nursery versions of Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland were not acceptable. Abridgements of any kind were abhorrent. Disney was an abomination. Having cut my reading teeth on the long forgotten Regency classics which you could buy for half a crown in the local newsagents, I have never felt that precious about classic texts. So I am happy to consider this illustrated rhyming version of Kipling’s Just So Stories. It includes the five best known tales: about the whale,

the camel, the rhinoceros,

the elephant’s child, and the cat that walked by himself. And it’s not bad at all. Elli Woollard’s rhymes jog along smoothly, using some of


word coining, somehow gesturing towards the rhythms of his prose, and following his narratives closely. Marla

Alté’s illustrations are jolly and colourful. Some parents,

5 – 8 Infant/Junior continued grandparents

and teachers will

continue to prefer the tang of the real thing to tickle younger taste buds. After all, the stories were written to share with children and, even after a century, read aloud surprisingly well. But this is an acceptable low fat picture book alternative, which may be less intimidating to a modern reader in a familiar format, and which does away with much of the original’s deliberate archness, while retaining its relish for language. CB

Chalk Eagle HHHH

Mazli Tahvili, Tiny Owl, 32 pp, 978 1 90328 32 3, £10.99, pbk

This wordless picture book expresses a small boy’s love for an eagle that he sees circling his house and garden. Enraptured and inspired, he chalks the shape of an eagle on his roof. The chalk eagle seems to need a friend, so he draws a chalk boy like himself and imagines their feeling of oneness as they soar away together. With a reduced

white, blue and and with

twist and wonderful picture to stop them in their tracks. That picture really tickled all the children in assembly - so much so that they wanted to tell all the teachers in school about it too. The children were drawn to the rounded and fantastically expressive features of all the characters in the book- in assembly terms they are also bold enough to share the book. The speech bubbles and use


different font size add to the story by ensuring the children participate and think about how the characters would say these words. Repeating and adding to the language as the animal entourage expanded was worked really well – it’s a must for reading out loud and sharing. Sarah is well known in our school

for creating pesky sea monkeys but most of all for those popular ‘pugs of the frozen north’ but I think now there are some new favourites in school with Lettuce, Vern and friends (including rats!). SG

The Night Flower HHHHH

palette of predominantly green

shifting geometric shapes of houses and rooftop that hover between two and three dimensions, Tahvili creates a dreamscape between reality and imagination. Tiny Owl’s press release compares this book to Aaron Becker’s Journey trilogy, but Chalk Eagle is more about atmosphere than detail. CB

The New Neighbours HHHHH

Sarah McIntyre, David Fickling Books, 32pp, 978-1-9109-8901-2, £6.99 pbk

Ooh what a treat to receive a book telling us

more about Vern Lettuce. This is a colourful and story

featuring the aforementioned friends - a sheep and rabbit respectively - but even better we meet more of their friends in Sarah McIntyre’s distinctive rounded happy open drawings. The book basically passed

hardest 8 – 10 Junior/Middle Peace Lily HHHHH the test of a whole school

assembly. To explain, this means all ages are looking the right way and absorbed in the story. In this case they certainly were. The story begins with the news that

rats have moved in to the apartment. Lettuce and her fellow rabbits are very excited about this and eager to tell all the other flat owners so they start their journey from the top of the apartments and knock on Vern’s door. Vern is not quite as excited by the rats’ presence as the rabbits but joins them to go down the next set of stairs to tell the next set of neighbours. The feeling about the rats then starts to change and by the time the animals have managed to troop to the bottom of the apartment block they are well and truly worked about about the rats. As you can imagine there is a super

Hilary Robinson, ill. Martin Impey, Strauss House Productions, 30pp, 978 0 9571245 4, £8.99 pbk

Highlighting the role of women in the First World War, Peace Lily tells the story of a young girl who decides to become a nurse and tend the wounded at the frontline when her childhood friends are conscripted. With a gentle storytelling style we discover how Lily realises a badly wounded soldier is her own friend Ben. With her care he recovers enough to return home after peace is declared on November 11th 1918. The story ends happily with Lily marrying Ben and the family album on the end papers show a happy future together.

ending, this book does not

Despite the happy glorify

war however; Ben loses a limb in the conflict and we see other wounded comrades.

This is the fourth and final book

in a series of picturebooks by the same team which provide a sensitive introduction through individual stories to aspects of the First World War for children. Peace Lily is published in the centenary year of the Armistice and is written in rhyme acknowledging the contribution of the war poets. The gentle watercolour illustrations

are lovely, evoking different moods, from the sad sepia of the battle scenes to the joyous brightly coloured wedding. There is lots of extra detail to discover in the illustrations too, such as what happens to Ben and Ray when they join up. Perfectly timed for publication on International Women’s Day on March 8th Peace Lily is a great conclusion to a wonderful series of picturebooks. SMc

Lara Hawthorne, Big Picture Press, Bonnier Books, 978 1 78741 053 4, £11-99 hbk

An A4 sized book of amazing quality, The Night Flower cover is startlingly beautiful, with a huge, gorgeous white flower with background flowers and insects highlighted in gold. This is a non-fiction picture book that deserves to be in every home, every school, for it is a breathtakingly beautiful telling of an amazing natural phenomenon. Set in the Arizona desert, the tale is that of flowers that bloom on a tall cactus, lasting just one night. The sun

sets over the Arizona desert, where the magical flowers of the Saguaro cactus bloom. The pure white waxy blossoms of this cactus king of the desert, often over 12m high and with uplifted arms, attract mammals and

insects from miles around,

to celebrate the flowering and sip from the flowers.… “the thick, fruity fragrance fills the night sky,” as bob cats, pack rats, howling mice and ringtails, brown bats, birds and bees, moths and butterflies gather around this flowering wonder. Every page is a delight, full of birds, beasts and flowers; the rhyming text, four lines to a page, edges us slowly nearer and nearer to nightfall.

All through

the hours of darkness, the desert is alive with creature activity, till dawn breaks and the life of each flower is over. “Soon calm will resume and the desert will rest, but the busy saguaro is not finished yet. Its flowers will close and a red fruit will grow….. and soon there will be a brand new saguaro.” (SA-WAH-RO) Turn


final page of the story and there is information about the cactus itself, and a very clearly illustrated and annotated life-cycle,

followed by a

page of information and pictures of all the creatures mentioned in the text. Finally comes a glossary. Based on a real-life tale, this book sent me scurrying to research the saguaro and its history, it having been designated the state flower for Arizona in 1931. Having been selected to illustrate Carol Ann Duffy’s The King

Christmas, Lara Hawthorne is surely an illustrator bound for much acclaim, as well as being a talented writer. Do seek out this stunning book. GB.


Books for Keeps No.229 March 2018 23

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