Doctor De Soto William Steig, Puffin, 978-0141374697, £6.99 pbk


For a laugh, this book is a reliable tonic, with its charming, yet restrained and understated illustrations, a great companion to the sly humour of the words. When a fox with toothache begs for help from the diminutive Doctor De Soto, the kindly mouse- dentist takes pity. Will the wily fox outwit Doctor De Soto and his wife?

Or will they win the day? I love that Mrs De Soto is absolutely an equal partner in the tale, which embraces humanity, kindness, deception, wit, moral consciousness, low animal cunning, and sweet revenge. Brilliant!

Beauty & The Beast Max Eilenberg & Angela Barrett, O/P Folk-lore,

fairy tales, myths

and legends, are such an important part of the cultural heritage of the world, and ALL children should read tales from many lands, preferably in illustrated editions. I’m choosing this single tale purely because of the extraordinary illustrations

by Angela Barrett, surely one of our finest living book artists. The immersive atmosphere, detail, and emotion imbued in these lavish paintings are a thing of true wonderment. Intelligently retold, in both word and art, with enough mystery and magic to set the imagination racing.

Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love, Walker Books, 978-1406386424, £7.99 pbk

The spare text in this modern classic leaves just enough ambiguity for conversation and thoughtfulness,


spaces filled with gloriously free, confident drawing,

and beautiful

liquid painting. An uplifting tale of a boy, who is so struck by the beauty of women in mermaid costumes, that he decides he, too, wants to be a mermaid. It takes his Grandmother a while to realise that he should be free to express himself however he wants, and the book ends with acceptance, kindness and colour!

The Arrival Shaun Tan, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-0734415868, £10.99 pbk

Upheaval, separation, migration, loss and longing. The themes in this wordless masterpiece will fascinate and intrigue even the most fluent ‘reader’ of words, for deciphering and interpreting The Arrival becomes very much a personal reaction to the beautifully drawn sequences. Anxiety, trepidation, fear, as well as hope, empathy, beauty

and humour, are captured to perfection in the strange shadowy creatures and brave new worlds. An astonishing, and moving, literary/art experience.

If All the World Were Joseph Coelho & Allison Colpoys, Lincoln Children’s Books, 978-1786036513, £6.99 pbk This is a book that stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it. The exquisite, free, and colourful illustrations are full of emotion and expression. This lyrical poem of loss, and remembrance, is perfect for any child experiencing these, or needing to empathise with

others who are. A really moving, tender book, with an uplifting message – that love lives on.

Moominland Midwinter Tove Jansson, Sort of Books, 978-1908745668, £10.99 hbk

The race to get children reading longer books is often at the expense of illustrations. Yet a continued appreciation of art as a communicator is every bit as valuable as language. A good midway point is the Moomin series, books which becomes increasingly sophisticated, but are always full of fabulous drawings. Halfway through the series is my favourite, Moominland

Midwinter, where Jansson’s lonely, melancholic tale of Moomintroll, who unexpectedly awakes from hibernation, is matched with unforgettable, astonishingly atmospheric line drawings, full of haunting shadows and bewitched beauty, as Moomintroll yearns for Spring, but learns to respect Winter. A beautiful, magical, timeless book about resilience and independence.

James Mayhew is the creator of many acclaimed and much-loved books, including the Katie and Ella Bella Ballerina series, the Gaspard the Fox books, with Zeb Soanes, Koshka’s Tales, Miranda the Explorer and Boy. He’s also an ambassador of art, music and culture for children, travelling all over the world, as a speaker and educator.

Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020 9

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