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This is a reinvention of the most radiant, vital kind; an inspirational re-working of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to devour over and over, and to share aloud. Following the death of his wife, Queen Laurelia, King Alberto “became the sort of person who ate a whole cake without offering anyone else a slice, and who punished his girls for things that weren’t their fault at all.” While Queen Laurelia had “been the one watching them, nurturing their imaginations, their educations”, the King takes away his daughters’ freedoms in the name of keeping them safe. The palace is transformed into a tomb, and “only melancholy was allowed to illuminate the girls’ days”. But brave, clever Frida stands up to her father. “This isn’t fair, and you know it,” she protests. “You cannot tell us how to grieve”. And then, with the grace and strength of a lioness and the potency of her imagination, Frida leads her sisters in a fight to re-find life. The writing pirouettes with the lithe power of a devoted dancer, with Angela Barrett’s elegant illustrations in perfect accord. What a sumptuous, stirring celebration of sisterhood this is. For more books with a feminist feel check out Work it Girl - Inspiring and Informative Books on Feminism.
Bethan Woollvin won the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition with her first book Little Red and has since produced some wonderfully engaging picture books all looking at elements of traditional fairy tales. I Can Catch a Monster is the story of Erik, Ivar and Bo who live in a land of forests and monsters. Erik and Ivar set off to catch some monsters for themselves, leaving their sister Bo behind as she is ‘too small’. Bo knows she is smart and brave, so she sets off to hunt her own monster. The monsters Bo meets are varied and include a Griffin, a Kraken and a dragon – but rather than fight them (as she knows her brothers will try) she learns something from each of them and becomes the centre of humanity in the book. This picture book tells the story in a series of illustrations which give the impression of being made in old printmaking techniques using a limited palette of colours which emphasizes the bold, simple illustrations used throughout. As one might hope– Bo turns out to be bold, to have more understanding of the natural world – and to be a brave female role model for the readers. This simple take on traditional quest tales will be a favourite – and provides a lovely counterpoint for the old tales with all their slaying and death! Bethan was once asked to describe her books in three words – she chose ‘bold, dark and sneaky’ *– this is most definitely all of those but also delightful and endearing – do read it!
May 2020 Debut of the Month | There have been many versions of the moral tale of the crow and the peacock and this one from debut picture-book artist Jo Fernihough is particularly attractive. The vibrant mixed media and collage images are full of movement and expression and immediately catch the reader’s attention. Crow is living happily and contentedly until he starts to compare his feathers and his song with other birds. From the dove to the nightingale, to the cockerel to the swan, each bird seems more magnificent than the last and crow is sure each one must be the happiest bird alive, but each in turn direct him to a bird they are envious of. But when he finally reaches the magnificent peacock he learns that he himself is the subject of envy. He is free to sing and fly free compared to the caged peacock. Crow and the reader learn the lesson about what is really important in life and that one must count your own blessings. A strong message for the current situation and beautifully conveyed in nicely repetitive text and imaginative use of typography as well glorious colour. A really worthwhile addition to the library.
Translated by Rachel Ward | The world needs a smart, resilient, lucky little hero right now, and Nibbles the mouse fits the bill perfectly. At the opening of the story, Nibbles is living quietly but happily with his family in Munich but redevelopment means they have to move somewhere a lot less comfortable and when Nibbles gets the chance to hop on a train to Switzerland (aka mouse heaven) he takes it. All sorts of adventures follow – he even finds himself performing in a circus – and his travels take him to France and England too before he makes his way home to his family. Nibbles is a great storyteller and his adventures are both comic and thrilling, while he meets some wonderful characters on the way. The telling is enlivened further by Axel Scheffler’s colour illustrations which are a perfect match for Nibbles’ plain but heartfelt narrative. Thoroughly charming, this is a great little book and perfect for shared or solo reading.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | | Jeanne Willis is a latter-day Hilaire Belloc creating cautionary tales for modern youth that are both hilarious and full of sensible advice. Desperate to win more ‘likes’ for her posts, Goldilocks is driven to find ever more daring activities to share, which is why she takes a selfie breaking in to the bears’ cottage, and - #pipinghot! – one of her eating their porridge. It all ends in tears of course, and community service, but what’s worse for Goldilocks is that her posts are there forever, depicting her as a horrid porridge thief and leading to the moral: ‘So please, think twice before you send!’ Tony Ross’s illustrations, sharp and full of life and wit, are the perfect complement to the rhyme. Brilliance all round!
Although the original tale of the wild wolf and proud girl is known to have a sad ending this has been retold for this version giving a hopeful outcome. Wild Wolf is the guardian spirit to his people, wise in knowing that people can be very proud and cruel in their actions. When Proud Girl refuses many suitors one, Bravest Warrior, seeks revenge by making her fall in love with a creature built from ice and scraps.As Proud Girl follows Ice Man, she is separated from all she knows, until Ice Man melts in the sun. Proud Girl might also perish, except for the care of the spirit wolf who helps keep her warm until Bravest Warrior finds her and keeps her alive, ultimately winning her hand, though they had both gone through many changes.A simple but very tough story of revenge, pride and forgiveness told in bold pictures with bright, vibrant colours. Each double spread has few words and big illustrations with bold blocks of colour filling the page. The wolf has an almost hypnotic stare, you could imagine him as a truly great guardian spirit in a harsh natural world. A moral fable for our times.
The latest novel from Newbery medal winning novelist Kelly is inspired by Filipino folktales but is set upon the entirely fictional island of Sangalita where people live under foreboding Mount Kahna and the strict control of the all-powerful menyoro. Generations of men, including twelve-year-old Lalani Sarita’s father, have tried to sail across the Veiled Sea to reach the legendary paradise of Mount Isa but none have returned. Lalani is just an ordinary girl who is desperate to help the drought-stricken islanders. When she ventures up the forbidden mountain to pray for rain, she discovers the pitfalls of magic and trickery of magical creatures and the deluge which follows causes a terrible landslide. Blaming herself for the death and destruction and seeking a remedy for her fatally ill mother she feels that she has no choice but to set off for Mount Isa to seek the flower that could save everyone. Her epic journey is full of danger and mystery, but it is her pure motives and the faith and hope that she carries that just might see her through. Although Lalani is the worthy protagonist, a strong cast of secondary characters, particularly her best friend Veyda and Veyda’s brother Hetsbi, are crucial to the story, making the novel more complex as characters deal with bullying, abuse of power, and other problems which are clearly relevant to the real world too. The story is skilfully constructed with short, beautifully illustrated vignettes allowing readers into the minds of the mythical creatures Lalani encounters, adding yet another layer of depth and fantasy to this triumphant tale about fighting for the people one loves and staying true to oneself.
Winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2016 | Award-winning Neil Gaiman shows all his story telling skills in this gripping fusion of familiar fairy tales told in a dark-hearted version with some original characters. Especially a bold-hearted queen. Not far from where the queen lives, a princess is under the spell of an enchantress who has put a whole country to sleep. Despite it being the eve of her wedding day, the bold queen decides to take action. Slipping into her mail shirt she arms herself with her sword and sets off out of the palace accompanied by the three dwarves who will lead her through the tunnels…The dark magic, great courage and spell-binding imagination that power this story is perfectly realised in Chris Riddell’s awesome illustrations.
This is a simple circular tale, full of drama and threat, as Rider sets out on a quest tasked him by the Ancient One. Throughout the wonderful bold illustrations, the Rider appears small against impossible, scary, huge foes. The story is told in rhyming couplets, in large easy to read text; some couplets are on one double page spread, others have one line on each spread with the rest of the space filled with large, striking black and red images against plain coloured backgrounds. A limited colour palette is used with consummate skill to convey so much. This book is a gem – an artistic tour de force – one which children will love for the adventure and the change in every page turn. An epic tale through a mythical fantasy land that will engage children and adults alike.
Edith Pattou’s epic story is partly inspired by the old Norwegian fairy tale ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, though readers will also recognise elements of the more familiar ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Though the story is told from the different perspectives of its main characters, at its heart is a young girl, Rose, the child born facing North and therefore full of dreams of travel and adventure, and who is saved from death by a great white bear. When later Rose betrays of the bear, it is her quest to make good the harm she has caused that drives the plot. Filled with magical scenes and unforgettable characters, this is a rich and rewarding read, filled too with fascinating research into map-making, Viking ships and Inuit life, all of which play an essential part in Rose’s journey to find the land of the Troll Queen and her true love. As spell-binding and mysterious as the best folk-tales always are.
The fourteenth instalment of the Tales of Ramion fantasy series leaps right into the baffling action of a new adventure: “Now that he was free from the rules of the Land of Lost Hair, Cloud 9 was bored.” Fortunately (for him, at least) while wandering “through Ramion looking for creatures to soak,” Cloud 9 is struck by a tedium-quelling idea. He will suck in the ocean and soak a castle. However, in so doing, Cloud 9 unwittingly releases the Blizzard Wizard (“evil touch, heart of ice”) who’s incarcerated in said castle. With Blizzard Wizard free, the realm turns to ice and it takes a strange assortment of characters to try to put things right, among them the Lion of Icing. And then there’s the sudden involvement of the Venomous Vampires, Globerous Ghosts, Mystic Mummies, Racing Racoons, Hero Hedgehogs, and so on. While the author’s alliteration game is pretty high here with such zany character names, the zigzagging story lacks cohesion.
The nineteenth book in the Tales of Ramion series, penned by a QC. | Sir Tancred Grunch might be dead and “preserved in a special fluid” but, “as with other members of the Grunch family to be dead was not to be completely dead: there was always a chance of coming back to life.” In Sir Tancred’s case, he wants an heir and to that end he claims his soon-to-be-born granddaughter, Griselda, who quickly grows into a petulant child with potential for evil. Regrettably women fare unfavourably in this world. “Girlie” is used as an insult, there’s mention of men being “blinded by a woman’s beauty”, and the tired trope of women with outer beauty belying inner evil looms large too, with child-witch Griselda described as looking like an angel but given to being drawn “towards the path of evil”. And this is all in the context of a story world in which “there was not a single good woman amongst them”, with “them” being all females in the Grunch family line. Still, there are touches of droll humour, a tangled plot stuffed with strange magic, a little light swearing (“Bloody crystal ball!”) and a cast of curious characters.