BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle Ed’s Choice The Pond HHHHH

Nicola Davies, illu Cathy Fisher, Graffeg, 32pp, 978-1-9120-5070- 3, £11.99 hbk

How to deal with death and grief? This is the theme of Nicola Davies’ latest book. There is nothing mawkish or sentimental. The

young narrator

does not hide the anger that grief can bring, both in young and old. The death of the father leaves a terrible hole in the family, symbolised by the muddy messy hole in the garden where the pond should have been. Then a duck arrives – the turning of the world and the seasons, the life to be found as the pond is resurrected allows the family to move on with their good memories; the pond had been their father’s idea. While the link between life, death

and the natural world is a common theme, there is freshness brought to it by Davies’ prose. It is a simple story, told clearly and elegantly.

Travels with My Sketchbook HHHH

Michael Foreman, Templar Publishing, 94pp, 978 1 78370 472 9, £17.99 hbk

That Michael Foreman is an

enormously well-travelled author and illustrator is evident from his many beautiful picture books wherein he draws upon his wealth of experiences. This however is something altogether different:

herein the nearly

octogenarian takes readers – not necessarily children – on an amazing journey both through his career and around the world. We start with the young boy at the end of WW2 in the village shop run by his mother, contemplating the wonders of places such as those where the palms grew that were shown on the date boxes sold. Unsurprisingly Foreman jumped at the chance of a travel scholarship to the USA on graduating from the RCA and after that seemingly, he’s never stopped being a globe-trotter. His career has seen him visiting such far-flung destinations as Siberia, Japan, the Arctic Circle and the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, China, India, Nigeria and Bali. Essentially this is a memoir of some

of his epic journeys that features sketches,

drawings and anecdotal

jottings from the sketchbooks that always accompanied the artist on his travels; and new writing done specially for this book which is presented in a different font from the original notes. The author talks of his life-long passion for football, which he calls ‘the most egalitarian of sports’ and there are several scenes of the game

Enriching and adding both visual and emotional depth to a familiar story are Cathy Fisher’s illustrations. Filling each double page spread with rich, saturated colours she captures both the uncompromising desolation of the uncared for hole in the garden, the teeming life of the pond, the excitement of the discoveries to be made – and the perfection of the water lily flower. It too will die – but by then a new pond will have been created. This is a beautiful book in more senses than one and deserves to have a prominent place on any bookshelf. FH

being played in such unlikely places and settings as the Golan Heights and Sikkim. Seeing children enjoying the game inspired Foreman’s book Wonder Goal, the endpapers of which include the sketchbook scenes from troubled regions as far afield as the Berlin Wall and the Golan Heights from 1970 to the foot of Mt. Fuji in 1997 and Marseille in 1999, as well as an amusing picture of a 1972 game in a school yard in Northern China where a dozen children are firing several balls at once at Foreman whom they’ve put in goal. Every single gorgeous colour wash illustration though has a story to tell: take the various mountainous scenes: there’s Sikkim: ‘The mountains are like layer cakes of different climates’ and Kashmir where ‘Outside toilets were

built facing the roads to

encourage passerbys to contribute personal manure. I was happy to oblige – frequently’; juxtaposed with ‘deep snowfields running upwards towards peaks plumed in cloud … Been where the Gods live.’ Foreman talks

of his desire to

walk a lot wherever he goes: ‘You are open to the sounds and smells of the place, and you can leave the roads and follow tracks across country. I like experiencing these walks alone … days here and there. So it’s just you and the place.’ However, it is, so he says, a case

of east, west, home’s best for he concludes ‘Of all the journeys, the journey home is always the sweetest particularly when it ends in our home in Cornwall. …’

28 Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017 One of the things this absorbing

and powerfully evocative book did was to send me back with a more acute vision, to my much-loved collection of Foreman’s picture books and other volumes he’s illustrated. This is a book to lose yourself in, and to rediscover and

more deeply appreciate,

Foreman’s life-time’s work. JB King of the Sky


Nicola Davies, ill. Laura Carlin, Walker Books, 48pp, 978-1-4063-4861-3, £12.99 hbk

This poignant story is narrated by a boy Peter, who has come from Italy to live in a Welsh mining town. Yearning for the ‘sunlight, fountains and the vanilla smell

of ice-cream’ have been replaced chimneys, clanking metal which

by smoking towers,

streets smelling of mutton soup and coal dust, the lad is feeling an almost overwhelming sense of disconnection and disorientation. The only saving grace is elderly Mr Evans with his soft, slow manner of speaking, and his racing pigeons kept in a loft behind Peter’s house. The kindly man gives the boy one

of his pigeons – the one he predicts will become a champion racer – and Peter names him ‘Re del cielo! King of the Sky!’ During training flights, Peter’s

white-headed bird fails to prove itself, always coming in behind the others: ‘Just you wait and see!’ is Mr Evans’ response, likening him to the heroic message-carrying pigeons of wartime depicted in a particularly affecting scene

of the

carrying troops. As

almost old

ghost-like man

gun- becomes

increasingly frail, his assistant takes on the role of chief trainer and then comes the day when Mr Evans gives him an entry form for a race; a race of more than a thousand miles, starting in Rome. The bird is duly dispatched by train, along with, so Peter feels, a part of himself. Then comes the wait. For two whole days and nights of

storms a fretful boy watches in vain for a sighting of his bird with the milk- white head; could he perhaps have been beguiled by the sunlit fountains and aroma of vanilla ice-cream? Mr Evans won’t hear of such things and sends Peter back out to await the return. Finally out of the clouds comes not only a champion bird, but with him, a very important realisation on Peter’s part. For her compelling tale of friendship,

love, displacement, loss, hope and home,

the author draws upon a

time of steam trains and hay carts pulled by horses in the fairly recent history of South Wales, when large numbers of immigrants came from Italy. Illustrator, Laura Carlin’s smudgy, soft-focus illustrations evoke that era perfectly. Many spread across entire

double pages stretching the narrative and giving a pigeon-eyed perspective to the expansive and atmospheric landscapes and skyscapes. In our troubled times of seemingly

ever increasing numbers of people having to leave their home countries and seek safety in other parts, often completely

unlike their this eloquent and affecting The Dictionary of Dads HHHH

Justin Coe, ill. Steve Wells, Otter- Barry, 112pp, 978-1-9109-5916-9, £6.99,pbk

Sometimes written from the child’s perspective and sometimes a father’s, we meet a wide range of dads in the fifty poems in this dictionary, more than one for each letter of the alphabet. There are playful, scary and even angrily exploding dads. There are stay at home and working dads, storytelling and sleepy dads, falling asleep to a lullaby or competing in a ‘synchronised with the baby.

snoring’ competition

homeland, book

is ideal for opening up discussions about what that might feel like. JB

There’s a military feel in Cadet Dad

(about a soon-to-be father) revisited in Sergeant Major Dad who lays down the law: ‘do as I say not as I do’ with a call and response marching drill. The idea of a father with the same old sayings is repeated in Jukebox Dad. There is a range of mood here

from comical verses such as Daddy Disaster to the wistful Iron Dad, whose children

yearn for a hug.

Loneliness is explored in Prison Dad ‘the only time I feel close to you is in these rhymes’. Different families are represented, with older fathers, single parents, families with two dads, even animal dads. It is good to see a single mum applauded in Mum-Dad. Step- Dad recognises relationships can be measured in books read and footballs kicked not just genes shared. There is reassurance

for readers who

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