prefer the electronic. I am sure young readers will show more sense, realising one can enjoy both. This book is one designed to convince them. For a start the production values are very high - it is an object that demands to be held and felt; it attracts the eye. In this the artwork by Patrick Benson must be recognised. From the beautifully designed cover, to the carefully framed illustrations and the page decorations, the artist’s palette echoing and emphasising the desert landscape of the Road, the whole is a visual pleasure. This is a story to be shared, to be read aloud. The prose is unforced and direct. Together with the two previous titles by these authors this is a book to give and own. Recommended.
FH Sparky at Magic School HHH
Ruby Nash, ill Clare Elsom, Red Fox, 978-1-782-95298-5, 200pp £5.99, pbk
Sparky the puppy and his friend Sox the kitten are whisked away from the Green Meadow Rescue Centre in the middle of the night, by Mrs Mothwick, the head of the Magic Academy. Unfortunately while Sox has the requisite magic powers needed by a trainee witch or wizard, Sparky does not, but he longs for an owner to love him. So when he gets ‘picked’ by Carl Mothwick, the clumsy but warm-hearted son of the head teacher, it seems the pair are made for each other. Gentle adventures ensue, visiting woods in the darkness and slowly improving their magic skills together. Their real strength is their growing bond, pictured warmly in both text and illustrations, which are black and white and peppered throughout the text. A gentle story with content appropriate for readers of 5+, the text and length of the book may be daunting for less experienced readers at the younger end of the age group, but perfect for the slightly older and more confident reader. LR
Gillian McClure, Plaister Press, 978-0-9565108-5-3, 32pp, pbk £6.99
Three animals – two of whom are arch-enemies, the third merely disgruntled – are thrown together in a flood. Finding unexpected skills like steering, swimming and hanging on, they finally reach a small hillock and scramble onto it to wait for the water to subside, while contemplating their new found reliance on one another.
A simple, yet gratifying story demonstrating the need for cooperation in adversity, is beautifully illustrated with splashy textures and muted colours unfolding into exciting compositions which show the creatures from interesting new angles. Smaller creatures witness their struggle, adding gentle humour to the finely honed text. This is a good book for discussing the nature of reliance and teamwork.
The Scarecrows’ Wedding HHHH
Julia Donaldson, ill. Axel Scheffler, Alison Green Books (Scholastic), 978 1 407144 41 2, 32pp, £12.99 hbk
Standing side by side in the field, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay have become besotted with one another and plan to wed. And like all engaged couples they make a list – not a guest list but a list of things they will need on their special day.
With list in hand they set off around the farm in search of the five items thereon.
The geese oblige with feathers for the dress and a friendly spider offers her stitching skills – item one sorted. The cows agree to be the bell ringers, the crabs provide a shell necklace and a pair of curtain hoops discovered by the mice are just what’s required for the wedding rings and then all that is left to find are pink flowers for Betty’s bouquet. And that is where the trouble begins as Harry sets off alone in search of same. While he is away, the farmer makes a stand-in for him in the field, a cocky character by the name of Reginald Rake. He attempts to woo Betty with his driving and dancing prowess, not to mention his smoking skills. But playing with fire is a dangerous game and it takes some quick thinking and nifty footwork from the returning Harry to save his beloved from immolation. Fire doused and with a kiss and a cuddle, the final item is crossed off the list. Next day with all the farmyard guests duly assembled they celebrate,
‘… the best wedding ever, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget.’
As well as a stonking good story, this rhyming romp is a cautionary tale for would-be smokers and could perhaps serve as a starting point for a discussion on the dangers of lighting up. For me though, it’s Axel Scheffler’s artistic wizardry that brings the characters to life. His rainbow hued illustrations are crammed full of witty details and bit-part players and don’t miss that nod to the Gruffalo on the side of the tractor.
Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons
Eric Litwin, art, James Dean, Harper Collins, 978 0 00 755367 9, £6-99 pbk
Who doesn’t love groovy buttons? The award-winning character Pete the Cat certainly does, and in his latest adventure he keeps smiling and singing, ever with an optimistic view of life, staying positive despite losing his special buttons. The illustrations are bright with simple lines, encouraging a reader to draw their own pictures of Pete. He sings his groovy song about his groovy buttons. (Go to www.harpercollins.co.uk/petethecat
to hear this.) But POP! One button pops off and rolls away. How many buttons are left? Does Pete cry? Goodness, no! He keeps on singing his song, whilst we see another button fly off, Pete sailing happily down the road on his skateboard. For he believes that buttons come and buttons go. As the losses mount up, the numerals 4, 3, 2, 1… appear, super large, with their subtraction sum below. When Pete stops for an icecream, POP! Off goes his last groovy button. Surely now he will show some concern? But no! He looks down at his open, yellow shirt, and spies…his belly button! In our last view of Pete he is riding the waves on a surf board, belly button bared! Lots to discuss in this book, and readers may well want to find further adventures of Pete, the singing cat.
GB Mighty Mo HHH
Alison Brown, Little Tiger Press, 978 1 84895 896 8, £6-99 pbk
Welcome to Golden Dodo Zoo, where rhinos can skate on ice, gorillas bake spectacular cakes, but where a little raccoon called Mo is bored, bored. He too wants to be brilliant at SOMETHING. So he tries ice-cream-making and blowing up balloons, all things his friends can do well, but his attempts prove disastrous. The pictures tell us just how disastrous, and are worth searching. Finally he thinks he has found the perfect skill….. hairdressing! Mo the Majestic Hairdo Hero! But after Mo’s attempts the animals lose patience with him, and Mo declares he will never try anything again. Then panic breaks out as Penguin shouts, ‘HELP! BIG RON has stolen our Golden Dodo statue!’ It seems only Mo is super-fast enough and super-strong enough to catch thieving Ron. After a superb chase, Ron lands SPLAT in a pile of elephant poo, and he blubs that Mo is nothing but a rotten raccoon. ‘Oh no,’ declares our hero, ‘I’m the MARVELLOUS, the MAGNIFICENT, MIGHTY MO!’ Readers will enjoy hunting the pictures for early signs of Big Ron hiding, and discussing how important it is not to give up when the going
gets Following the Tractor HHHHH
Susan Steggall, Frances Lincoln, 978 1 84780 489 1, 40pp, £11-99, hbk
Many a reader will love this book, not just those who are fascinated by machinery. It is a tale of a tractor and the tasks it fulfils throughout the farming year. The collaged pictures are made from a variety of manufactured and handmade papers, the differences easily spotted on the end papers, and they reward close attention throughout the book. We follow the seasons, as the sparse yet telling text, partly rhyming, outlines how the tractor in turn pulls
the plough, the drill, the fertiliser, each to perform their special function in the fields. Come the spring, rains and warm sunshine result in germination and growth. Eventually the tractor, in turn, pulls the harvester to cut the crop, the baler, and lastly the trailer, to carry the bales back to the farm. Winter chills complete the year’s cycle, and the tractor rests temporarily in the barn. Keen searching of the delightful collages will reveal many sub-plots. There are two solo dog-walkers in spring, whereas by wintertime they appear to be an item! This is so much more than a book about a tractor. It is celebratory, following the seasons, the humans and the creatures that inhabit the farm, in both awe and wonder. Find a copy!
GB Bluebird HHHH
Bob Staake, Andersen Press, 978 1 78344 185 3, 40pp, £6.99 pbk
This wordless picture book, with a Manhattan setting portrays the developing friendship between a boy and the Bluebird of the title. The boy concerned is definitely a loner, either ignored by his classmates or taunted. After a particularly trying day at school, the bird, who has been watching through the classroom window, follows the boy on his way home, cheering him up and helping him to make a connection with some children sailing boats in the park. Thereafter, the story takes a much darker turn: the boy is set upon by a gang of bullies, a stick is hurled seemingly killing the bird and we see a tearful child clutching his feathered friend.
What happens next is left open to interpretation; suffice it to say though that what we see is a poignant affirmation of the boy’s love. A host of birds of all different colours raise the boy and bird upwards above the towering buildings where we see the bird released to fly on up, up and up.
Themes of loneliness, isolation, bullying, guilt and grief are part and parcel of this eloquent story but it is the feeling of hope that transcends the other emotions. Told entirely without words, the artist manages to control the pace of the story to allow readers the opportunity to stop and give their full attention to the boy’s changing emotions in the framed sequences he has so movingly constructed largely in hues of blue, grey and black and white. He also leaves it to individual readers to bring their own interpretations to the conclusion of this uplifting tale.
This is a book for individual readers to ponder over, wonder at and muse over its possibilities.
Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014 23
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