Review: Much Ado About Shakespeare – Shakespeare Day 23rd April

Much Ado About Shakespeare – The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book by Donovan Bixley

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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.

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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.

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Review: Welcome To Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird

In the winter of 2015, Elizabeth Laird travelled to Jordan to volunteer in two refugee camps where she was moved by the plight and the stories of the people she met –Welcome to Nowhere is the result of her experiences there.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

The book tells the story of twelve year old Omar and his family as they flee their home in the once beautiful city of Bosra. There are no heroes, no crusades, no grand plans being related here; despite his brother Musa’s clandestine political activities, Omar dryly observes that ‘being political was no part of my life plan’. Rather, this is a tale of a family cast upon the tides of civil war and simply reacting to it as best they can. It is a tale of everyday challenges, exasperations and privations as well as the instinctive acts of bravery, kindness and resilience that go hand in hand with them.welcome-to-nowhere

And my goodness what resilience is needed. I follow the news, I consider myself fairly well informed about what’s going on in the world, but reading Welcome To Nowhere has opened my eyes in a way that no news story could. This book has made me change the way I think. Elizabeth Laird’s writing is like opening a door into this world – she wraps the reader in the minutiae of daily life, and shows us the terrifying gradual slide into the most exceptional of circumstances.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

It is a tale told with integrity and incisiveness that, more than anything else I have read on the topic, succeeds in engendering empathy. A moving and extraordinary tale of bravery, resilience and families with an ending that feels like a stroke of genius. It feels especially important given the tone of global politics at the moment. Everyone should read this book.img_9020

Illustrated Books: The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize

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!)

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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)

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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!

 

A Child of Books

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston's 'A Child of Books'

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s ‘A Child of Books’.

 

Numerous picture books have tried to capture the fizz and sparkle with which words and pictures create and bring to life whole worlds, increasing the understanding and providing context for the life experiences that readers have.  Paradoxically these often feel a little flat, perhaps because the set of process that are set into motion are so personal and complex that it is difficult to do them adequate justice…

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Our journeys through the landscape of literature can be so powerful and personal that it is difficult to capture in words or illustrations.

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books is a tour de force and one that deserves a place on the bookshelves of every bibliophile throughout the land.  Taking as its central premise the idea of a child created from books – from the stories, invention, ideas and imagination that surround her – it provides a treatise on the way that books provide immersion, guidance and endless illumination throughout our lives.

A tour de force.

A tour de force, hyper-textual reference and typographic effects build a rich landscape that brilliantly showcases the way literature helps to shape our world and yet through its spare nature and muted palettes it skilfully avoids sentiment.

One of the major achievements of the book is the way that its story not only figuratively carries readers through this process, but also the means through which its method of illustration – it’s clever hyper-textual references and typographic effects, extracts from Heidi, Treasure Island, Robinson Cruesoe and many, many form the building blocks of oceans, mountains and clouds – literally form the embodiment of that.  Where Jeffers and Winston’s art succeeds so well is in its understated quality, the spare nature of both the text of its narration and illustration.  There are no weighted sentiments here, but instead, a range of poignant staccato statements and indelible images that readers are able to readily identify with and that make a lasting imprint and impression.

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There is an understated quality with staccato statements and indelible images, there is a brilliant sense of control in the use of colour and movement.

 

With the loving attention to detail and lavish production values, A Child of Books feels the perfect title to recommend on International Literacy Day and an ideal way to help share positive associations with books, stories and reading and one that might just form a portal to a good many other powerful and poignant stories and reads.

This is our world we’re made from stories…

Lavish production details and loving attention to detail

Lavish production details and loving attention to detail permeate the whole craft and design of the book as shown by the gilt foiled lettering and embossed images.


Jake Hope is a Reading Development and Children’s Book Consultant.  He has worked as the Reading and Learning Development Manager for Lancashire Libraries, one of the largest authorities in the United Kingdom.  Jake is an active member of the Youth Libraries Group both on the North West and National Committees.  He is an avid reader and commentator on reading and books for children and young people.
Twitter: @jake_hope

What We’re Reading Wednesday:Reading Around the Books – Shackleton’s Journey & The Snowman

This Wednesday we’ve taken a slightly different approach to our What We’re Reading post: It’s not so much the books themselves that we’ve been reading but articles and interviews based around them. Lizzie explains more…

This week I’ve been looking at wintry/icy activities to run with a weekly sketchbook group for teens that takes place in the Library. Inspired by the Five Point Plan outlined by Chris Riddell in his role as Children’s Laureate (which seeks to promote the joy of sketchbooks through daily doodling) we link a drawing/sketching activity to a book each week.

Shackleton's Journey

The need for something wintry, the desire to introduce colour into our thus far monochrome sketchbooks and the necessity of achieving this with limited resources (i.e a box of old pencil crayons!) were all pressing concerns as I began my search. Add to this the fact that we only have a 25 minute slot in which to achieve something meaningful and I was running out of ideas – that is until I happily alighted upon Will Grill’s Greenaway award winning Shackleton’s Journey . Continue reading