September 2007Newsletter and reviews of children's literature are written by Dr. Andrea Deakin.
In the early Twentieth Century young Japanese girls were sent to British Columbia as “picture brides". Their future husbands had chosen them from a photograph.
Three sisters are sent away by their father. He cannot provide for them so he sends them to what he hopes will be a more prosperous life. Aki, the eldest, is named for the autumn, Fuyu for the winter, and the youngest, Haruko, for the spring. Each takes with them something to remind them of home; Aki a silk kimono in the rich shades of autumn, Fuyu, her violin, and Haruko, three sakura tree seeds.
The girls become separated when the ship docks, but each is found by her husband-to-be. They live happy lives, but they miss each other until, late one spring, petals from Haruko's cherry trees land on the doorsteps of the other two, and they find their way to Haruko's home, never to be separated again.
Carolyn McTighe's warm gentle story of the love and devotion of the three sisters is illustrated in soft-toned watercolour. Each sister is indicated by the colours of the clothing they wear; Aki with maple leaves and autumn colours, Fuyu, cool winter colours and snowflakes, and young Haruko, cherry blossoms.
A lonely old lady is sitting on a bench when she finds a stray puppy, and decides to take it home -so the text of this unusual and delightful tale of the need for companionship tells us. The pictures add the humour, for what she has found, turning over a trash can, is no puppy, but a baby elephant. We can guess what the end will be, which makes the relationship all the more poignant.
The puppy does not like dog food, loves peanuts, and is very good at watering plants. He does not enjoy dog delights, and we see him crouching away from tossed balls that the other dogs are fetching. Still Mildred loves him, until the inevitable visit from a man from the circus leaves her alone again; that is, until she finds a "kitten" - a large camel she decides to take home.
All good comedy has the essence of tragedy in it - for this companionship will end too, and Mildred will be alone again until her loneliness triggers her imagination and a buffalo comes along.
After My Mum and My Dad, Anthony Browne gives us a tribute to brothers. This brother is truly "cool", scores fantastic goals, weaving the ball in elaborate patterns, climbs walls, reads countless books, writes wonderful stories about other "cool" characters, and stands up to bullies much bigger than he. Finally this brother must be very understanding and kind, for his little brother ends up feeling that he is very "cool" too.
Anthony Browne has given us a witty book, a kind book, and a buoyant celebration of brotherhood.
I found this book impossible to read quietly, after a few lines I was declaiming it, for here is a book that begs to be read aloud. A rhythm and pace that felt delightfully traditional carried the story of Oliver Donnington
Rimington-Sneep who would not sleep. It was not that he was afraid of monsters, for there they are playing on his house and in his garden. No, there were too many activities far more interesting - like painting, and reading, and doing magic, and.... Ah, here the traditional blooms fully contemporary as he takes off in his rocket to explore far beyond cities, way up to the stars, until he finally lands on Mars.
This is a perfect marriage of lively text and bold illustration. Oliver's head of red curls, his wide-open eyes and broad excited grin are joined to a lively imagination until all the features of his play return to familiar toys and he finally, finally, finally, finally falls asleep. I can see this book being read and enjoyed over and over again and Oliver's adventures becoming part of the family bedtime tradition.
Wendy Cooling taught English for twenty years before she became head of the children's side of Booktrust (UK), an organisation devoted to promoting reading. From there she set up Bookstart, a British organisation that encourages parents and caregivers to read books to very young babies. With Love is a collection of stories and illustrations, donated to Bookstart by authors and illustrators.
It is a delightful collection of contemporary stories and poems for very young children starting off with Sally Grindley and Lindsey Gardiner's train, Catherine and Lawrence Arnholt's trip through a jungle, and Chris Riddell's loving Monster Dad. The Blue Kangaroo gets lost, Sarah Garland has a Happy Nappy Rhyme, Ian Beck offers a gently romantic Moon Song and Martin Waddell tackles buttons. From Jeanne Willis and Roger McGough, Nick Butterworth and Shirley Hughes, Ruth and Ken Brown, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman this collection offers stories and poems by sixty-seven outstanding authors and illustrators. It is a collection that parents and children will turn to again and again.
Ruth Brown is one of the outstanding author/illustrators in the world of children's picture books. Each title has its own power or imaginative interpretation. Each introduces children to a book that stimulates the imagination while it introduces the eye to the power of colour and shape to affect their interpretation of the tale. Each book offers its own power and charm while it imperceptibly educates the senses.
Available in paperback is Ruth Brown's Night-time Tale. A small child comes into his mother's bedroom because he has had a bad dream. As the dream progressed it became a mixture of fairy tales - the gingerbread house, a girl in a red cape, a giant's boot descending a tree... Finally his mother calms the child, “They’re just fairy tales, they can't hurt you," and we finally see that it is Mother Bear who cuddles Baby Bear, while next door, in his bedroom, Goldilocks is bouncing on his bed.
Nothing in Ruth Brown's world is exactly what it seems and youngsters can laugh as they absorb the bright colours of the nightmare and the rich dark hues that hide from us the real character of the little "boy".
Jeanne Willis' Killer Gorilla asks us, and a frightened little mouse, to make a judgment call. The mouse has lost her baby and is searching everywhere when “a great, big, hairy, scary ape" calls on her to stop.
Terrified by his size and fearsome appearance, the mouse runs all over the world, the gorilla following closely behind, until she is exhausted and can go no further. It is then that she discovers that the gorilla has found her baby and is trying to return him."....it's a big scary world out there," said the gorilla, “Let me carry you home. You will feel much safer."
Tony Ross' gorilla looms large and frightening on the pages as we see him through the eyes of the mouse mother, but perhaps that great gaping mouth is just him gasping for breath after a worldwide chase. A shift of mood, a change of expression, and Ross has tamed his beast into the most caring and careful of creatures.
In the last review I wrote about Mal Peet's powerful story, Tamar. The quality of that novel sent me in search of his first children's novel, Keeper, the winner of the Branford Boase Award. Keeper is now available in paperback. Mal Peet has said that the novel "...is an attempt to write magically about football," and that is exactly what this fine novel is.
The book begins as Faustino, a reporter who covers football, is interviewing El Gato (the Cat) who has just brought home the World Cup for his country and who is now acknowledged as the world's best goalkeeper. Faustino is expecting a conventional “poor boy makes good" interview, so he begins by asking where Gato grew up. He is faced with an extraordinary story.
Gato was a poor player, the local boys had given up on him and, at thirteen, he had, in turn, given up on playing and was looking forward to life in a logging camp, like his father. One day, as he is exploring in the forest, he comes upon a clearing, the ground turfed, a goal at one end. A figure comes from between the trees, the Keeper, a ghost-like figure who takes the lad in hand.
To say more would be to spoil the story of Gato and the Keeper, for this is no ordinary football tale. It is a story about believing in yourself, about commitment, about a gift nourished by the mysterious goalkeeper in the heart of the rainforest, above all it is a compelling story told by a superb storyteller.
Here is a rip-roaring, fast-paced adventure novel of danger, piracy, war and intrigue in 1800. It is the seventh year of Great Britain's struggle with revolutionary France. Napoleon has established himself as First Consul of the French Republic and thirteen-year-old Midshipman Peter Raven is joining his ship. His life is about to change dramatically.
Before long Peter is engaged in intrigue, has lost his vessel and friends, and is caught up in Napoleon's attempts to increase France's hold on North America. Napoleon is in communication with a pirate, a vicious and ghastly monster, Count Vallon, whom he has promised to make "King of America" and Peter has found himself under the command of a British secret agent, Commodore Beaumont, in an attempt to prevent French control of more of North America.
This is a well-researched, believable, and exciting adventure story, packed with detail about life at sea at the time and with a cast of vivid, interesting characters. The action can be violent and at times graphic, but not for the sake of that alone, but as a realistic presentation of life at sea, or the outcome of vicious battle. It is bound to capture the imagination of a young reader with a love of adventure.
Min has never had a family. There is no record she can turn to, no birth certificate, no pictures, nothing. She had been found abandoned at the Exhibition, “a tiny, almost bald girl with huge empty eyes". Since then she has been with four different foster families and now she has been deposited with Children's Aid the week before Christmas. As the voices rise behind the door as her last foster mother refuses to take her back, Min looks for salvation. Just then a doctor, who had cared for Min once in the hospital, comes in. Once herself a foster child, she ends by taking Min home with her. With this act of kindness and compassion the bitter circle ends, and Min's life begins to have meaning, relationships develop, discoveries are made, and Min, now encompassed by love, begins to give back to the world.
A thoughtful caring story, Dancing Through the Snow speaks about the need for affection and care to allow all things - young children and lost dogs, lonely adults and those who fear for loved ones, to flourish and find peace.
On November 29th 1975 six Boy Scouts and four adult leaders set up a weekend camp at Halape, a campground on the southern flank of Kilauea volcano. In the predawn a 7.2 earthquake caused the south coast of the Big Island of Hawaii to drop nearly twelve feet into the ocean. A following tsunami rushed inland over the campers for three hundred feet and reached fifty feet above the normal sea level. Graham Salisbury's cousin was one of the scout survivors.
Salisbury takes his cousin's experience and weaves a gripping tale of the suffering of a group of scouts, two adult leaders, and a group of cowboys who have ridden down to the campground to take advantage of the good fishing. Dylan, the lad who tells the story, has one problem with the trip. The Reverend Paia has brought a new potential scout with him, Louie Domingo. He and Dylan have a brief but telling history which seems set to sour the whole trip despite the beautiful campground, the beach and the swimming hole. Meanwhile Dylan, and the paniolos are aware of dogs howling, one a small white one, and one of the men whispers that the dog is Pele, and she is warning them.
In the predawn, with hardly any warning, the earthquake strikes and Salisbury's story becomes a realistic and tense struggle for personal survival, and then rescue. The description of the effect of the earthquake and tsunami is horrifyingly realistic. The lads' struggle to survive ultimately bonds Dylan and Louie, gripping and exciting.
We meet Alice Bennett's family at the very beginning, for here they come, the first out of the crematorium. Sam's sister Becky is holding tightly to their father and he clutches her back. The mourners are following them, so Becky takes Sam in care. Mum is dead, no doubt, but Mum had told Sam that she would still be alive in the Next World. Sam is convinced she will contact him, and when he finds a phone number in the kitchen in her handwriting he is sure this is the link. His text messages are answered. It must be her. Sam sets off to find her.
Sam is on a journey - a physical one to Knutsford Services, and a journey of the heart. On both journeys he is helped by everyday people whose casual appearance masks the richness and subtlety of their compassion and understanding.
Sam's text message has contacted Tony, a Portuguese truck driver who, although his English is limited, comprehends the pain and anguish in the messages and tries to understand them, eventually leading Sam to a resolution. A petty criminal, Paul Skinner, is also a clairvoyant who tries to help people through a Spiritualist church, and he uses his gifts to re-unite Sam's family. The staff in the hospice adds their compassion and understanding to help the young boy cope. This is at times a funny book, as the most sensitive tragedy needs a touch of comedy, and comedy a dark side. It is also always compassionate and moving, a book full of comfort and understanding.
Ms. Schlitz explains, in her introduction, that she wrote these "miniature plays" for students at a school where she was librarian. The students were studying the Middle Ages, building castles, baking bread, tending herbs. She wanted something for them to perform, but each wanted a big part, so her solution was the series of monologues which make up this highly attractive collection.
The setting is a mediaeval manor in England in 1255. One by one we meet people from every walk of life. Hugo, the Lord's nephew, skips Latin to run to the woods and ends up hunting a boar with his uncle. Edgar, the Falconer's son, risks his master's wrath to let loose a sparrowhawk he has trained. Simon, the knight's son, longs for adventure and honour, but there is no money. Mogg, the villain’s daughter, and her mother successfully cheat the lord, and so will survive the winter. Piers, the glassblower’s apprentice, struggles with the craft, but has a kind and patient master.
In all there are twenty-two characters whose tales give a vivid impression of their lives. Between each group there are accounts of mediaeval life-pilgrimage, towns and the chance of freedom, Jews and their place in Mediaeval society, falconry, all of these enriching the background of the stories.
The book is handsomely presented and illustrated richly with fine pen and ink drawings in the style of Thirteenth Century illuminated manuscripts. I would have seized on this book in the distant past when I taught English and History because for both disciplines, it is a rich, attractive, and valuable resource. I hope there will be schools far and wide taking advantage of this attractive book with its vigorous realistic portraits. Highly recommended.
David Nathan's father is a baker, struggling to keep his business alive in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen. It is early September 1943 and so far the Jewish population has not been touched, but, by the end of the month, the Danish authorities learn that the Nazis intend to deport all their Jewish neighbours to concentration camps.
In Honey Cake we see the incident through the eyes of young David and his friends. A very special errand that David's father sends him on, the safe delivery of a tray of chocolate eclairs, has its own part to play in the conspiracy in which the Danish people, rallying to the support of their Jewish neighbours, help many of them escape to Sweden. Lively David, brave Elsa and the warm-hearted and courageous Jensens bring alive, for younger readers, the fidelity and courage of the Danes and their almost miraculous rescue of so many.
Cynthia Nugent's lively energetic sketches suggest the apprehension of a street filled with people as Nazi planes fly overhead, the emotion as the king rides through the streets of Copenhagen to encourage his people, or the family's bustle to prepare for their escape to Sweden.
This is a valuable and attractive introduction to a difficult theme for young children, and David is a likeable and believable young hero.
On October 15th 1954 Hurricane Hazel developed off the coast of Grenada, made land in North Carolina, built power as it crossed Lake Ontario and became the largest storm to hit so far north. With wind speeds of between 100and 150 KMH it dumped almost 25 cms of rainfall in the Toronto area. Thousands were homeless and 81 died. This is the traumatic event which forms the background to Eric Walters' new novel, Safe as Houses.
Thirteen year old Lizzie Hardy picks up seven year old Suzie and her twelve year old brother David from school. She has agreed to baby-sit them for the evening. As they walk to the new house on the bank of the Humber River the rain is lashing down and it takes some time to get them warm and dry. Only then does Lizzie, seeing the river pouring over its banks into the backyard, realize just how bad the storm is. Then the McBrides phone to say the roads are flooded and they are having trouble getting back. The lights go out and the phone goes dead. Not long afterwards the water has flooded into the house and is rising fast.
In one of his most gripping stories Eric Walters details the children's struggle to reach the rooftop of the house, only to have to try and escape from there as the house is torn from its foundations and swirled into the raging waters. The tension never lessens and the reader is carried along with the force of the water. Only later do we begin to realise how not only the courage, but also the resourcefulness of the three, working together, has saved them. There is no one hero here, but it is the personality of Lizzie that first draws the group together and allows then to face their fear of danger and find a totally believable way out of disaster. Eric Walters has given us three sympathetic, courageous and believable young people and a powerful recreation of the 1954 flood.
K.M. Peyton's Snowfall, now available in paperback, is set in late Victorian England. Charlotte is sixteen, the orphan granddaughter of a vicar. She knows little of the world beyond the vicarage and the village; but she does know that she does not want to marry the curate. Her grandfather is pushing her into this in the hope of protecting and providing for the granddaughter he loves so much.
Charlotte's brother, Ben, is home from Oxford and about to set out with some friends on a mountain climbing vacation in Switzerland. A few white lies and the promise that he will guard and protect his sister, and that she will be in the care of the ladies in the group, and Charlotte is on her way.
The group of friends turns out to be far more diverse and stimulating than she could have imagined, amongst them the wealthy and titled Milo who, as the group is disoriented by a tragedy and already uncertain about their futures, makes an offer to them all which they accept. It is Charlotte's opportunity to run away from home, respectably and still with her brother's support. They all set up house in a dilapidated mansion that belongs to Milo, each finding an opportunity to explore their interests.
As the novel progresses the group of friends mature. Affected by each other's problems and needs, and supportive of each other as more accomplished and more adult, K.M.Peyton gives them a twist of fate, and careless youth has vanished.
The final chapter draws the story ahead fifty years when a discovery brings all of them together again. We see how friendships have developed and some turned to love, and we understand now that their early experiences drew all to live more fully and become more complete and worthy people. K.M. Peyton is an accomplished storyteller who develops her characters into richly detailed human beings. She can blend a sense of the limits faced by young women of the time, a love of horse racing, the exotic pull of mountain climbing, and the desire of the young people to live free of the demands of their society and their search for affection into a tale which understands youth so well.
This introduction to the insect kingdom is written and designed for elementary age children, and the cover, with them in mind, has some areas to push that reproduce insect sounds so effectively that family members were off in pursuit of the mosquito they were sure had penetrated our defenses.
Dorling Kindersley is very good at catching and holding the attention, and this guide to arthropods, which make up at least 90% of animal species on earth, is vividly presented and clearly, and often dramatically, illustrated. Children can see powerful illustration of how strong and well adapted to survival the insects portrayed are. However "revenge" is also documented. People eat cooked insects and spiders in many parts of the world, and the writers include recipes for dishes; like crispy mealworm stir fry and bee grubs in coconut cream.
Whatever children would like to know about insects and their destructive – the weevil and the locust, engaging – the butterfly, and creative – the silkworm, effect on our lives is detailed here, along with pages packed with engaging illustration and hard facts.
Dorling Kindersley's excellent Eyewitness Series has four new volumes.
Oil by John Farndon gives a succinct and clear explanation of the importance of oil to modern economies and follows with a history of the use of oil until the present day. How oil is formed, the geologic formations which can produce oil, and how it is found, the problems of extracting oil, these are all covered. Off shore rigs, piped oil, refining oil and extraction from difficult locations are all discussed, as are the possible substitutes and other alternative energy resources.
Dr. R.F. Symes and Dr. R.R. Harding's Crystal and Gem is a re-issue of the very good volume first published in 1991, and re-issued in 2004. For those unfamiliar with the title, it is a clear, very well illustrated, account of crystals and their form, how they developed their striking colours, how to identify various ones and how crystals grow, can be worked for jewelry and other creative forms, and even how they have been used in healing. There is a detailed account of their use as gemstones accompanied by some striking illustrations.
Jacqueline Fortey's Great Scientists covers the lives and discoveries of thirty scientists ranging from Aristotle and Archimedes to Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking. Unfortunately, in the case of Charles Babbage, only a very short paragraph gives any indication of the valuable part Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter), a natural mathematician, played in the development of his Analytical Machine. The text gives an outline of each scientist's life and the results of his work - all clearly set out in text and illustration.
Between the Tigris and the Euphrates was, in ancient time, a fertile area - The Fertile Crescent. The ancient Greeks called it Mesopotamia (between the rivers) and the area is considered the cradle of western civilization. Here grew and prospered the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations, and here writing and other inventions were developed.
Philip Steele's book is richly illustrated with carvings, pottery and paintings from the period (it was a pity that Queen Puabi's magnificent headdress had to be split between two pages, where the book's fold spoils the effect). He gives a clear description of what we know, and manages to convey the power of those civilizations, their creative genius and the influence of the inventors, scribes, craftsmen, architects and artists that were part of that period. He includes an outline of the Epic of Gilgamesh and describes the achievements of the rulers until Alexander brought an end to the rule of Darius. This is a thoroughly engaging and effective text, packed with striking illustrations.
Available now in paperback, these two notable books for younger children are introductions to different wildlife environments. The cumulative text is accessible and attractive for young readers who will have met the style already in nursery rhymes and early poetry and will be comfortable with it. It cleverly sets out the interdependence of the species depicted.
So, in Here is the Wetland, ”Here is the snake who preys on the frog that leaps from the heron which stalks the bass....." Each brief rhythmic entry is accompanied by very attractive watercolour paintings which depict the species and their environment with simplicity and clarity.
Here is the Arctic Winter also has the cumulative text which builds from Here is the Arctic Winter to a stark landscape now peopled with hare, caribou, wolf and bear. Alan James Robinson builds up his harsh landscape with its frozen moon until you can almost feel the biting cold. Both books are striking introductions for young children to the interdependence of creatures within their natural environments.
Look! Zoom in on Art! is available in paperback. In it Ms. Wolfe encourages children to explore the images the artist has given them. In a painting of acrobats she suggests they consider how the artist has created an effect- you are looking UP in the tent, yet you seem to be looking DOWN at the top figure. Why? Piet Mondrian's “Broadway Boogie Woogie” suggests an attempt at "bird's eye view" drawing. Jan Steen's “The Poultry Yard” would have children look "through" the obvious scene to what lies behind, and she challenges her young readers to look, if they can, at Bridget Riley's Cataract 3. The book encourages children to really look, and look in different ways, at the great paintings they meet. It is an introduction to the subtle creativity of the artist and an examination of their message.
Look! Body Language in Art is an introduction to understanding the different ways artists depict the characters of those they paint, advance their commentary on individuals or stories or promote their message through the way they use the body language of their subjects.
In discussing Picasso's “Weeping Woman” she draws on a child's experience. “Have you noticed that when people are desperately upset their faces seem to crumple into strange shapes?" In a portrait by Briton Riviere the artist expresses the closeness and sympathy between a child and a pet by the sad but calm expression on the little girl's face as a dog nestles his head comfortingly on her shoulder. A painting that will sum up many a child's own experience is Norman Rockwell's “Going and Coming”, and here children have a wide variety of changes to observe between the family taking off and the family returning from a trip. The dog says it all.
In this book Ms. Wolfe asks children to look at faces, look at hands, look at the body pose, and then look for the message the artist has given us.
The latest in the series is Look! Seeing the Light in Art. Here Ms. Wolfe examines the different ways in which light has been used to add to the mood of eighteen great paintings. The strange quality of the moon's light, its face barely expressed, suggests a dream or vision in Rousseau's “The Sleeping Gypsy”. Renoir's “The Swing” suggests its place in the shade as dappled hazy light splashes the girl's dress. Turner's “Snow Storm-Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth” has swirls of light that draw the storm clouds surrounding a small steam boat, itself barely discerned except by following the dark swirl around it - steam from its funnel, dark light. The light throws scattered patterns from the window screen onto the wall in angled and changed strips of light that play against the elaborate patterns of the girls' dresses in John Frederick Lewis's “Indoor Gossip, Cairo”. In Henry Moore's “Pink and Green Sleepers” it is the way lines of light wrap around the sleepers in the underground station that makes the figures stand out. As a sculptor, Moore was intensely aware of form. Finally Fra Angelico uses rays of golden light to bring the light of understanding to his vision of Paradise. These and other examples help children to understand how important the use of light is to create the physical reality of a painting, or suggest its emotional or spiritual content.
Oxford First Book of Art, now in paperback, is an introduction to Art for young children. A series of images, from painting and tapestry to sculpture and illumination are grouped into themes like Autumn and Winter, Shapes and Faces, and a simple text explains the work very briefly and encourages children to see, enjoy, and think about each. For every theme there is an Art activity, like drawing a face using only circles or squares, joining with friends to make a long picture, or make a picture in rich autumn/fall colours, maybe adding real richly-coloured leaves. It is a book made to engage children in the pleasure and creation of Art.
In 1984 Gillian Wolfe joined the Dulwich Picture Gallery (founded in 1811). In her position as head of education at the gallery she established an innovative educational program that brought disadvantaged elementary school age students from London's Inner City to the gallery. Queen Elizabeth II honoured her work with an MBE and then a CBE. She has received over fifteen awards for her work in art education and her books have won awards in the field. My First Art Book (Oxford) won the US Parent's Choice Silver Award, Look! Zoom in on Art won the English Association's Award for the best children's non-fiction book- this was the first time it had been given to an art book.
Shirley Hughes will be 80 years old this month. This announcement from the award website shows that her book, Dogger, was voted as the favourite picture book award winner over the lifetime of the award so far.
“Why Michael Rosen will relish being the Children’s Laureate”
The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards public winners of ALL TIME are: