This week I’ve been reading Jackie Morris’s Greenaway 2018 nominated The White Fox – given the weather we’ve had this week, I couldn’t have hoped for a better book!
The day the fox comes, things begin to change for Sol. He’s adrift too, lost in the big city with his father, longing for the wild and frozen north. The fox offers a way back, a chance to reconnect, to find his way home.
Blue grey wintry tones set against the thick cream paper stock that is Barrington Stoke’s trademark make this the perfect book to curl up with on a wintry evening. Jackie Morris once again weaves words and pictures into a pocket sized work of beauty.
At only 84 pages long the story is deceptively deep. Sol, bullied at school and adrift in a big city, feels a natural affinity with the white fox which mysteriously turns up on Seattle’s docks. It offers him a way back home and a reconnection with both the wild landscape of Alaska and his family.
The whole book breathes: clutches of snowy birch trees offer punctuation to the text and a tiny fox rushes along the bottom corner whilst gloriously saturated double page spreads allow the reader a moment of quiet reflection to connect to the wider themes of the book.
Both Sol and the fox begin the story profoundly out of place – beautifully conveyed in the opening illustrations which show the fox lost among the dark and overwhelming man made structures. However, as Sol’s connection to the fox, and indeed his own family, develops the colour palette lightens and we progress through the shining snow of the forest and the emerald green backdrop of his grandmother’s house to culminate in the shimmering, gold spangled, blue of the night sky. There is a satisfying sense of a journey having taken place – both literal and emotional. A truly satisfying read.
Much Ado About Shakespeare – The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book by Donovan Bixley
April 23rd is Shakespeare Day so it seemed fitting that our ‘What We’re Reading Wednesday’ for this week should be Shakespearey. This is in fact a book that I wanted to nominate for this year’s Greenaway Award but the fact that it is a New Zealand import made it disappointingly ineligible. It is, however, a corker of a book that deserves some shouting about!
The subtitle says it all: ‘The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book’. Bixley says his aim is to offer a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s world: a play on words and pictures that attempts to draw back the curtain and shed light on the bright and exuberant world of Shakespeare’s life and times.
Double page spreads combine words from the plays and map them on to historical fact/context. The fact that the known details of Shakespeare’s life are pretty sparse allows Bixley some fun with his interpretations (Macbeth’s ‘double, double toil and trouble’ accompanies the birth of Shakespeare’s twins). It is a work of speculation but a joyous one at that that allows us a gateway to this world.
The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 shortlists have been announced today. It’s no surprise, given recent global events, to see Francesca Sanna’s spectacular The Journey in the illustrated books category but I really liked the idea that a ‘guiding light of optimism’ could be found in the rest of the shortlisted books. This certainly chimes with the fact that two of my favourite feel good picture books of last year were also nominated, so for this ‘What We’re Reading Wednesday’ we’re looking at Meg McLaren’s downright lovely Life is Magic and Lizzy Stewart’s bountiful and imaginative There’s A Tiger In The Garden (Both Greenaway nominated I should add!)
Life is Magic – Meg McLaren
Monsieur Lapin is on the hunt for a new assistant. Houdini the rabbit is the perfect choice: he loves magic and is a good sport. However, life in a magic show can bring with it its own surprises!
Naturally mayhem and backstage high jinks ensue. Though lively, the narrative is told with a simple economy which the bustle and pzazz of the illustrations expand upon deliciously. Shifting from full page spreads to frames and panels the illustrations are packed with detail and mischievous fun. The use of different typography and signage is a great hook to entice the younger reader and is truly showcased in the treasure trove of posters hidden beneath the dust jacket (A feature that’s thankfully been incorporated into the newly published paperback edition). The effect of McLaren’s muted palette is that of a big soft hug – you can’t help but share in the goodwill and bonhomie of Monsieur Lapin and his band of bunnies. It’s an utter pleasure to read with some strong messages of friendship and teamwork to boot.
I’m very much looking forward to reading Meg’s new book Pigeon PI (due 2nd March)
There’s A Tiger In The Garden – Lizzy Stewart
Nora is bored, ‘There’s nothing to do here’ she matter-of-factly complains but even as she utters the words the reader’s eye is drawn to the distinctly jungle-y looking garden glinting with promise behind her. All it takes are some well-chosen words from Grandma and the reluctant Nora finds herself amidst toy eating plants, running with dragonflies as big as birds, chatting with a VERY grumpy polar bear and finally face to face with the eponymous Tiger (beautifully revealed one ear, a tail and a head at a time).
This is a bountiful tale of the joys of the imagination. It takes the sceptical Nora, face screwed up in a scowl, resolute in the belief that she is too old for silly games, and shows her transformation to a child rosy cheeked with wonder and ready to teach Grandma a thing or two herself about imagination! As with all good books it works on several levels – for the very young the colour and vibrancy of the illustrations will captivate whilst the theme of imagination (and perhaps that opening premise of boredom) will resonate for slightly older readers. Add to that the whole existential encounter with the Tiger to mull over and there’s something for everyone. A joy of a book!