BfK 5 – 8 Infant/Junior HOM HHHHH

Jeanne Willis, ill. Paddy Donnelly, Andersen Press, 32pp, 978-1-78344-995-8, £12.99 hbk

Shipwrecked on a tropical island, a boy discovers that he’s not alone. Observing him from the vegetation fringing the beach is a strange, green child with ears like leaves. ‘I’m not sure who was more scared

– me or him! We laughed about that later,’ says the boy, setting the scene in a way that invites us close and fast-forwards this most unusual of friendships. The green


can’t speak, but cave-drawings and empathy tell our castaway about his history and character. The boy sends a message in a bottle, as shipwrecked sailors often do, but when a rescue boat appears, he takes the curious step of hiding in the jungle. This tale of disaster and survival is

a rattlingly good read, but there are ideas, too, that give it depth and edge. Why does Hom need protecting? Is this story happening now, or long ago? Does our narrator ever leave the island? HOM raises


questions, but they don’t impede the action and can be addressed or not, as readers choose. Jeanne

Willis really does know

how to tell a satisfying, multilayered story in picturebook form, and visually HOM is also a delight. The island’s lush vegetation and changing light creates stunning backdrops for Paddy Donnelly’s characters, and his dramatic instinct is evident throughout. There is always somewhere for our eyes (and minds) to travel in these spreads, and plenty of detail to engage us once we’re there. A gorgeously

thoughtful tale of

high adventure that will find a place in many hearts, HOM creates a whole new world of fun and reflection that is spot-on for its target audience.CFH

usually is on these monthly Sunday train rides and his sister is the same, ‘Excitement stacked on top of worry/ on top of confusion/ on top of love.’ To stay calm, Milo observes his fellow passengers, imagining their lives and drawing scenes in his sketchbook. The whiskered man next to him he depicts going home to a flat empty but for ‘mewling cats and burrowing rats’, sipping ‘tepid soup’ on his own. When a young boy in spotless white Nikes gets on with his father, Milo imagines him in a castle with a butler and maids to serve him lunch. He wonders what people think about him – can they see him reciting his volcano poem, or listening as his mum reads him bedtime stories over the phone? When they reach their stop, Milo is surprised to see the boy in the Nikes getting off too; they’re both going to the same place. As they go through the metal detector at the women’s prison, Milo realises you can’t really know anyone just by looking at their face and reimagines the pictures he’s drawn, giving the people happier lives.

Milo, and readers with him,

have seen and learned so much. Milo’s fellow passengers are as

rich a mix as you’d expect to find on a New York subway and, at the book’s end, everyone will want to go back, look at them again and imagine for themselves the lives they could be living. Milo’s story too will open up another world of wonder and understanding and the experiences of a child with a parent in prison are depicted with huge skill and insight. Matt de la Pena’s text is concise but lyrical and Christian Robinson’s illustrations detailed, immediate but full of space for readers to fill in. An exceptional picture book. LS

What Did the Tree See? HHHH

Charlotte Guillan, ill. Sam Usher, Welbeck Children’s, 32pp., 978-191351-901-8, £12.99 hbk

Milo Imagines the World HHHHH

Matt de la Pena, Christian Robinson, Two Hoots, 40pp, 978-1529066319, £12.99 hbk

‘What begins as a slow, distant

glow/ grows and grows/ into a tired train that clatters down the tracks.’ Milo and his big sister board the train and their journey begins.

small, bespectacled, feet dangling in mid-air, is a ‘shook-up soda’, as he


10p from each sale of this book goes to the National Forest, which is right in the heart of this country, embracing 200 miles of former industrial areas in the Midlands, covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, and aiming to link the two ancient forests of Charnwood and Needwood. (www. The organization plants trees and enables people to connect with nature, so this book is a good way for young children to start to understand the importance of trees. In rhyming verse, it tells the story of

one oak tree over hundreds of years, growing from an acorn to a sapling in a park in medieval times, seeing a village appear in a clearing, and the gradual expansion of the village, with farms spreading all around, then watching as some trees are cut down in Tudor times to build mighty ships. In Georgian times the village becomes a

20 Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021

town, and later a steam train thunders past the factories as, by the time we reach the Industrial Revolution, the tree is the last on the hill. Children still play in its branches while more, taller, buildings appear and a motorway is built. The very old and gnarled oak tree watches an acorn fall from its branches, and wonders what that young tree will see… We

then spread have a showing a timeline

double-page from

1000, when the Viking Leif Erikson sailed on a voyage to North America, to 2020, when Covid-19 spread across the world - we are right up to date. Another

double-page shows

the stages of a tree, from seedling to senescence, (a wonderful word!) and the book finishes with ideas for being a history detective, e.g. looking at old buildings, finding photographs of how your area used to look, and talking to older people; then how to be a friend to trees, looking at what lives in a tree, doing bark rubbings, possibly planting trees, and knowing how important they are. Charlotte Guillan has written over

100 books, including the excellent non-fiction picture book, The Street Beneath My Feet. Sam Usher is a very experienced and accomplished illustrator,

clearly the various clothes worn by people


his illustrations the

ages, and his

simple style, slightly reminiscent of Quentin Blake or Tim Archbold, gives each one character. Together they make a good team, and this lovely book will be very useful in the infant classroom. DB

‘What About Me’ Said the Flea HHHH

Lily Murray, ill. Richard Merritt, Buster Books, 32pp, 978 1 78055 701 4, £6.99 pbk

Sophia loves to write stories, and the more imaginative, the better. She has a fund of ideas, all about animals and the exciting things they do. One day, when trying to find something to write about, all the animals parade in front of her, trying to convince her to choose them. There is a sparkly unicorn, cuddly bears, a lion who dresses in the brightest of clothes, colourful llamas and a very blue sloth, ten squeaky penguins, and, finally, a huge green dinosaur who frightens everyone else away. Meanwhile, there is something tiny trying to get Sophia’s attention, a something so small that it takes quite a lot of looking to find him. He’s been on her desk all along, waiting for an opportunity to give his side of the story: ‘I know that I’m small and I haven’t got style. I can’t do magic or give a dazzling smile. But I try to be brave and try to be bold. Doesn’t my story deserve to be told?’ And so Sophia begins to write. The rhyming couplets as well as the brilliantly psychedelic procession of


animals will appeal, and the thought that the most interesting ideas come in small packages is an unusual one for children’s books – as is a flea! ES

My Sneezes Are Perfect HHH

Rackshan Rizwan with Yusuf Samee, ill. Benjamin Phillips, The Emma Press, 112pp, 978 1 9129 15682, £8.99, pbk

The main interest in this collection is that it is written jointly by an adult, Rakshan Rizwan, and her six-year-old son, Yusuf Samee. The poems, all in Yusuf’s voice, are in free verse, so rely on the concision of their language and the significance of the experience they describe rather than the more obvious characteristics of wordplay, rhyme or rhythm. In one sense they are a record of Yusuf’s personal experience and aspects of his emotional biography as mediated by the adult poet, but they are also, inevitably, an unacknowledged record of how she perceives Yusuf’s life and interests. There is a range of preoccupations

here: from Yusuf’s

distaste of bananas to the singular discomfort of a school ‘intruder drill’, when the children practice for that moment when a killer roams the corridors. For the most part, Rizwan convinces us that we are meeting and hearing Yusuf himself, telling us about his pet passions and hates, about his move from Holland to California and about the fun and frustrations of life on Zoom in the Covid lockdown. Just occasionally the adult input is rather more obvious with openings like ‘Trees are natural storytellers’ or ‘Squirrels are furry little bandits’ but readers of Yusuf’s age will probably find in Yusuf not only someone very much like themselves but also someone who has his own personality and take on the world. And that says a great deal for the observation and perceptiveness of the adult side of this intriguing writing partnership. CB

Alone! HHHH

Barry Falls, Pavilion Books, 40pp, 978 1 84365 467 4, £6.99 pbk

‘There once was a boy called Billy McGill who lived by himself on the top of a hill.’ He not only lives alone, but he prefers it. He doesn’t like the frantic pace of the town, and he loves peace and quiet, so…when a noise interrupts


peace, he doesn’t

like it. A search produces a mouse, and he acquires a cat to get rid of the mouse. The cat likes the mouse and they play together, so then there must be a dog to chase the cat, only he doesn’t.

Instead they all play

happily. A bear and a tiger join the fray, and soon a vet (for the tiger) and a hairdresser to clip a sheep (who has appeared on the scene) come along too, a further problem being that the hairdresser brings a rather

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