The book that I’m reading at the moment has become a true classic in our house. Published back in 2012, Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld’s A First Book of Nature, has become a staple of our reading year. The forerunner of this year’s Greenaway longlisted First Book of Animals (illustrated by Petr Horacek), the book journeys through the four seasons in a mix of poetry and lyrical prose, offering scraps of recipes, facts, fragments and observations to remind us of the wonder and diversity of the natural world.
I’m blown away each time I return to it by the richness of the illustrations – colour simply floods the page (no white margins here) perfectly capturing the essence of each season. Mark Hearld’s collages are vibrant and evocative: a mixture of direct observation and characteristic nostalgia. I’m a fan anyway but they seem to me to perfectly capture the essence and experiences being related in Nicola Davies’ words.
The book deals with each season in turn but it is always ‘Spring’ which holds the greatest draw for me. I can’t see the buds opening on the cherry blossom without thinking of this book: ‘Last week the twigs were just twigs, Bare and black and boring, But now – blossom!’.
I think that this is essentially the root of its enduring appeal: no matter the time of year, no matter the location you will find an image or a phrase that totally encapsulates your experience of the natural world. The nature that it records is universal and recognisable for children everywhere. It takes us through urban landscapes, woodlands, back gardens fields and beaches so that in a single page turn we can jump from the garden pond to the rockpool.
The book excels by not simply describing the season but rather the experience of it. Davies tells us that Lamb’s tails wiggle when they’re happy…you’ll see it when a lamb is feeding. It butts its mum and starts to suck, Then watch the tail go!’ but she also tells us that we’ll see them and want to smile. How true! It’s this beguiling mix of the practical and the poetical that has ensured that we keep returning to it year after year.
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.