November 2005Newsletter and reviews written by Dr. Andrea Deakin.
Austrian writer Werner Thuswaldner tells the story of how the well-loved carol came to be written. He explains simply how much the village of Oberndorf had suffered, smashed by cannonballs, its citizens killed when foreign troops looted the village. The winter had been severe, and when the ice melted the area was flooded and people were cold and starving. In the village were two men, no strangers to poverty, the young priest Joseph Mohr, and the organist Franz Xavier Gruber. They decided to give Oberndorf a Christmas gift, a song to cheer them. Mohr wrote a poem, Gruber set it to music, and they performed the new song after midnight mass. The church was crowded, and as the men sang the new hymn, the people began to join in.
The story of a carol, shared by enemies in the trenches of World War 1, that has traveled worldwide, is gently and thoughtfully retold. Robert Ingpen brings dramatically to life the greyed colours of suffering, the warm glow of the village church, portraits of the two men, and colourful scenes of Christmas celebration. This is a moving and very beautiful addition to the books available at this season.
It is a cold winter's night and Martha, the cow, is searching for shelter. She is close to her time and she wants to make her way to a safe warm place for the birth. As the snow eases she spots a bright star in the sky and makes her way towards it. She comes to a farm, but there is no sign of life and the barn door is locked. At the end of the field is a small shed, perhaps she will find helter there. The door is open, she can smell warmth and hay and humans who, she knows, would help her. A woman lies on the hay; a man comes to help Martha, easing her. Then the woman calls, "Joseph! Come if you can. Come quick!" The baby is born, and so is Martha's calf. The woman says, "It is over", and the man replies, "And just beginning."
The elegant spare text is matched in its tenderness by Leo and Diane Dillon's illustrations. Here the story of Martha's journey is illustrated with two sets of illustrations, the story of the cow presented in natural form and colour, and the journey of Mary and Joseph depicted as if they were a series of woodcuts that become realistic when Martha joins them in the shed for the birth, only to be re-realized in the depiction of the forest animals approaching the shed and three shadowing figures on camels.
One Winter's Night is an unusual representation of the story, but a very gentle and reverent one, beautifully presented in text and illustration.
One wintry night a young boy wakes to find a white owl on a window ledge. Enchanted by the bird with " eyes as dark as chocolate", he follows it through forests and across farmers' fields, along the bay and to a long-forgotten place, Owl Ridge. Here hundreds of owls fly, twisting and turning in the moonlight.
Whether it is a dream or fantastical reality does not matter, the result, in lyrical text and haunting detailed illustration, is pure magic, a delightful picture book to share.
Anna's great-great Aunt Olga is ninety-five, and much beloved, especially by her niece, Anna. When Aunt Olga phones to invite her niece on the Saturday before Christmas Day, her parents give her permission to refuse, "Things are not just the same", whispers her mother, the only indication that Aunt Olga's memory may be failing. This does not stop Anna- there is still gingerbread, even if it is not iced this year, and there is the box. Card by card the old postcards come out with their stories, ready to be shared. Memories spur little jokes and poetry competitions between the two until it is time to go home. It is a loving and gentle parting with Anna tucking a blanket around her tired aunt as she leaves.
Kevin Major has given us a tender and loving afternoon, a family portrait graced by cards from his own collection and insightful lively sketches by Bruce Roberts. It is an unusual, thoughtful and colourful celebration of family and the Christmas spirit.
A gargoyle is an unexpected hero. Ugly and lonely, the only one of his kind alive on the roof of old house, he is attracted to the human who has just moved into the great place. He just does not know how to approach the elderly lady, and so he mischievously throws acorns and twigs in her tea.
Apparently unaware of his existence, Mrs.Goodhearth makes remarks about the high wind, but Wendy Bailey makes her eyes twinkle over her tea. Mrs. Goodhearth is aware of more than the gargoyle realizes. A silver spoon, left on a balcony's edge, is the invitation to friendship that each hesitantly offers, until, at last, they connect. A gently told and subtly-developed story about communication and friendship is illustrated by thoughtful pictures that capture the spirit of the text well. The portrait of the unhappy gargoyle in the rain works beautifully.
One Red Dot consists of ten pop-up sculptures, each form concealing a red dot for children to discover. From a puzzle box sprouting dots and twirly gigs that really twirl, to eight intertwined orbs and ten coiling curly cues, this highly creative introduction to both numbers and observation will give hours of stimulating play.
Robert Sabuda has left his bright colours behind in a restricted but scintillating winter palette with Winter's Tale. A restrained text describes a winter walk, from an encounter with a great white owl that soars from the page, and foxes emerging from their lair, to a great moose wading through a swamp and a cabin amongst the trees whose lights flicker on icy ground. Each major scene is accompanied by a smaller pop-up, to be unclipped and freed by its side- squirrels in a tree, fish in a brook, and so on. The use of white for the animals and birds, glitter for the frosty ground, and muted icy blues, greens and browns all enhance the winter landscapes.
Since Jan Pienkowski won a Kate Greenaway Medal in 1979 for The Haunted House, more and more inventive and stimulating "pop-up" books have been created. The quality of the more recent titles has taken the genre from being considered merely “play books" to creative introductions to form for young children.
Geraldine McCaughrean produces one fine book after another, each unexpected, gripping, and capable of drawing the reader into another place, another time, another life. The White Darkness takes us literally to the ends of the earth, the Antarctic, in a tale that lives up to its title in every way. Sym's father is dead and Sym, intelligent and enquiring, is out of step in the social round of friends and school. She has one friend, but, unfortunately, he is dead; yet Sym carries on long conversations with him in her mind. He is so fully expressed by the author that we are almost convinced of his corporeal presence. He is Sym's rock, and very useful in Antarctica, for he is the spirit of Titus Oates who, on the Scott Expedition, left the tent when he felt he was holding up the Party, saying that he would be some little time.
Uncle Victor, Sym's "hero", a friend of her father's who has taken the family under his wing, particularly Sym, says that he will take Sym and her mother on a trip to Paris. Somehow they lose Sym's mother on the way and Sym finds herself not in Paris, but on a trip to the South Pole on board Penwings, a charter airline. There they meet up with a group of wealthy Antarctic tourists, and before long the expedition begins to break down. There is dark in the whiteness, dark implied, expanded, embroidered, chilling.
The book is part adventure, part legend, part survival story (physical and emotional). It can be tense and exciting, mysterious, and often funny. It is a remarkable book that will appeal to young adults and adults alike, and can only add to Geraldine McCaughrean's reputation as one of the finest writers working today.
The first book in Michelle Paver's series about prehistoric times, Wolf Brother, was not only one of the best children's novels in English in 2004, it reached deep into our instincts and dreams, inheritance from our distant past. Set in the early times of mankind, it explores the power of primitive belief, the development of clans, and the close association between man and beast.
Wolf Brother expressed the companionship and trust between Wolf and the boy, Torak, and told of their journey as both sought for their place in the land. It spoke of the forest and the people of the forest, their respect for all life, including trees and plants, the social structure of the clans and their interaction. Spirit Walker finds Torak and Wolf still separated. Torak lives with the Raven clan, but a strange sickness is attacking the clans and Torak leaves the Ravens and the girl Renn to seek for a cure. The search brings him to the sea, a whole new world for him, alive with a dangerous Hunter, a place where the clans are hostile and Torak must prove his kinship with the Seal Clan in order to save his life, and acquire from the Seal mage a cure for the mysterious sickness.
This is a gripping story with a powerful climax, a story that draws the reader so completely into its prehistoric world that finishing it requires a real readjustment to the reality outside the book. The film rights for the series have been acquired by Ridley Scott.
It is twenty years since Diana Wynne Jones gave us the last Chrestomanci novel; twenty years during which her influence has affected the whole range of fantasy writing for young people in the United Kingdom.
Inventive, witty and highly imaginative, her novels have won awards and opened new worlds. Conrad's Fate is the first new Chrestomanci novel, a look at the enchanter as a teenager working at the manor as a footman. Conrad, who lives in a bookshop with his mother, a writer, and his uncle, a wizard, befriends Christopher, with extraordinary results. Conrad is a good soul, doomed by terrible karma. Christopher has nine lives and moves between parallel worlds, all the elements for Diana Wynne Jones' active and intriguing imagination.
Farmer Pandolfo puts a scarecrow in his field. A violent thunderstorm, a flash of lightning "fizzing its way through his turnip and down his broomstick" and the scarecrow looks around at the world he has entered. A small boy, all alone in the world, hides from the storm and, when he emerges, finds himself hailed by the scarecrow. So it is that the turnip-headed scarecrow, with a small pea for his brain, takes as his servant a poor, intelligent, and quick-witted lad called Jack. Philip Pullman joins this pair together, each supporting the other, through a series of adventures and misadventures. The pleasure is in seeing them make things up as they go along, and yet succeed. At one point, marooned on a desert island, poor Jack is starving when the Scarecrow offers him his head, a turnip of course, and, having eaten, Jack replaces the turnip with a coconut.
Supporting and caring for each other, the two muddle delightfully along in this funny and compassionate account of the age-old relationship between master and man, a situation that continues from Greek comedy, Shakespeare and Cervantes to My Man Godfrey or Sir John Gielgud's manservant and Arthur. The text shows Pullman's meticulous craftsmanship, the carefully constructed form carrying a wildly convoluted plot.
Mella lives a long time ago, a time when Zimbabwe was only known as The Land of the People. Her land is in deep distress, for the King, her father, is ill, and with his ebbing strength the vitality of the land itself ebbs too. From Rangarirai, the Senior Sister, a tribal elder, Mella learns the forbidden song that will call on the Great N'anga. She tells Mella that the only way to restore the king's health is to go to the terrifying Python Healer for help.
Mella's offer to go is spurned by her arrogant and ambitious brother, the warrior Dikita; but when he and his friend fail, Mella sets out on the journey. Gail Nyoka gives us an engaging heroine and strong interesting characters. The rhythm of her prose conjures up not only the place and culture, but also the sense of the storyteller capturing his audience with the imagination of his tale and the poetry of his telling. Ms. Nyoka is a born storyteller and this is a completely engrossing tale.
Mella and the N'anga has been shortlisted for the Governor-General's Award this November.
Sally Gardner's own story is worth telling before a discussion of I, Coriander. As a child she was dismissed from school after school, considered unteachable, and ended up in a school for maladjusted children. No one could understand why such a clever girl who loved stories could not read. It was thought that she was lazy.
Despite this she achieved a degree with honours from a leading London art school followed by a scholarship to theatre school. It was at art school that she discovered that her problem had a positive side - she could visualize her work, that she could "see" a clear image of what she wanted to create. The truth was that she was severely dyslexic. She had already become a very successful costume designer when the birth of her children led her to illustrate, and then write, picture books. I, Coriander is her first novel and it is the creative weaving together of fairy tale and history. Set in the Commonwealth period, the time just after the Civil War when Cromwell was governing England as Lord Protector, it is the story of Coriander, the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant and his fairy wife. Eleanor has taught Coriander some of her secrets - how to diagnose and heal the sick or injured with simples and herbs.
Tragically, Coriander's mother falls victim to a fairy plot, her father remarries an acid-tongued Puritan zealot who brings a drunken preacher, Fell, into their lives. In hazard because of his sympathies for the exiled young king, Coriander's father has to flee England. As conditions become worse in Coriander's human world she begins to move between the world of faerie and the world of pre-Restoration London.
These worlds are spun convincingly to life in an absorbing, cleverly woven, almost visual novel in which the reader, firmly involved with Coriander, feels fully a part of both worlds.
Susan Jeffers' illustrated edition of Hans Andersen's Thumbelina was first published in 1979. This new reprint offers another generation her meticulously detailed illustrations with their fine sense of texture.
Every leaf and flower, every bird's wing and fish's scales is so carefully and exactly represented that you feel you could touch them on the page. As spiders weave the lace of her wedding gown, the web growing between the reader and Thumbelina powerfully expresses her entrapment. Her tenderness and compassion for the swallow (which leads to her triumphant flight on her wedding day) is caught firstly in a hesitant approach to the seemingly dead bird and an upward soaring energy in the bird's eventual flight, with wedding bouquet and slippers falling down on the mole and the fieldmouse. This is a version to engage child and parent alike. There is so much here to be observed and appreciated.
This encyclopedia is linked to a website created by Dorling Kindersley and Google. With this connection young people can access links that expand on the information given in the book. For example, following through on butterflies leads to more detail including a video of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. The introduction to the animal kingdom discusses ecology and evolution, adaption and extinction. Further chapters show how various animals use their senses, communicate, and care for their young. The over 300 pages and their website link, copiously illustrated with photographs - I think of the basilisk lizard running across water- give a full and fascinating introduction to the subject.
The book would be invaluable in the classroom, and an exciting and stimulating source of information for any child interested in natural history.
Zahi Hawass is an Egyptian archaeologist and the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. In Tutankhamun he has given an account of the finding of the tomb and current information about the life and possible death of the young pharaoh. Zahi Hawass is a skilful communicator. This account is bound to excite the interest of any young reader interested in the past, and may well be responsible for a career choice, he makes the discovery and the magic of exploration so appealing. There is enough here to excite the imagination of any youngster.
The book is generously illustrated with photographs and diagrams - here are Tutankhamen's sandals, their inner soles engraved with pictures of Egypt's enemies so that the pharoah can crush them at every step. Here also is the crown found on the king's mummified body, decorated with the royal insignia of a vulture and a serpent, emblems of the two kingdoms, and here the photographs of the young pharoah, brought back to life by modern technology. Zahi Hawass has given us an engaging and detailed account of our knowledge to date.
Diane Silvey is a member of the Sechelt Band (Coast Salish) who graduated from the University of British Columbia's Native Indian Teacher Education Programme and has taught in British Columbia for 23 years. She explores, in this book, the traditional cultures of seven major groups of Aboriginal people - Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, Arctic, Subarctic, Eastern Woodlands Iroquoians and Eastern Woodlands Algonquians. She looks into how the culture was influenced by accessibility to forest, rivers and oceans, how housing was developed, the gathering of food, traditional clothing, ceremonies and society. Finally she considers the effect on the people of first contact with European traders and settlers. The last chapter discusses present relationships and future hopes.
Diane Silvey has given young readers a great deal of information in a clear, very readable and interesting text; and John Mantha has enriched that text with detailed, informative, and attractive illustrations.
Reading is Fundamental is a U.S. non-profit literacy organization dedicated to helping young people discover the joy of reading. To commemorate its 40th Anniversary it approached forty of the best-loved illustrators and asked them to re-imagine a book from their childhood.
If you think back to your own favourite books in childhood, it is hard to think of any other illustrator depicting the characters, the pictures have become in memory so entangled with the words. I find it had to imagine Wind in the Willows without Kenneth Grahame. Yet there are editions when the illustrator offers a new perspective and is granted our acceptance. It is in their new interpretation that they win us over. Often, old or new illustration, the vision is in the detail.
This book is of interest and value to everyone concerned with the field of children's literature, and I am sure it will capture much young interest too. The short essays that accompany the illustrations, give us another insight into the texts we loved -- a new way of looking at them. A few of the essays skirt the issue, but the majority make the link for us. Eric Rohmann's huge cat, licking its paws, suggests a final illustration for Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats. Paul Meisel loved one of my favourites, Thurber's The 13 Clocks, and here is the evil Duke's grim castle. Robert Sabuda springs The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to life in an elaborate pop-up Emerald City, and Loren Lang's Little Engine that Could sports a cheeky monocle on one eye. Tony Di Talizzi has an interesting reflection on Winnie-the-Pooh, and gives us such a mournful Eeyore that he can be forgiven for treading on Ernest Shepard's toes.