Fair shares by Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty
A heartwarming, fun and colourful picture book, with an important message about sharing. A bear and a hare both want a pear, but neither can reach them. In their attempt to do so they learn that ‘being fair’ doesn’t always mean ‘getting the same’. I can see this being really popular with children aged 2 to 6 years and their parents/carers. The later whom will really appreciated the way it gives the reader more than one way to look at sharing. Great rhyming language, told in a way that young children will really be able to relate too, and an great twist at the end.
The pictures are vibrant and colourful, making great use of orange, green and yellow. Ann Doherty the illustrator explains at the back page that that the art work was produced digitally, but she scanned textures she had made in pen and ink for the animals fur. The contrast between the two works brilliantly. There are also the most delightful end-pages.
You can find out more about publisher Tiny Owl the publisher and buy the book here.
Thank you to Tiny Owl for a free copy of this book to review.
Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
A truly wonderful story about a friendship between a little girl and a Skeleton. The story has a delightful opening where a Skeleton has lost a tooth and is worried how he looks, then he finds a girl burying a tooth. It gently introduces the characters concerns and worries. As the story progresses they share experiences and show each other their worlds. The story is brought to life and transformed into a unique book by the colourful collage like pictures on every page. There are plenty of possibilities for children to be inspired to do their own art from these pictures. This book will help to open up conversations about friendship and encourage children to have the courage to reach out and ask someone for something or to do something. I am so glad that Lantana Publishing chose to translate this book from Polish so that English children can enjoy it too.
The book is published on 10th October. You can find out more about Lantana Publishing and buy the book here.
Also check out: Library Girl and Book Boys podcast interview with translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones. In which Antonia tells us that author and graphic artist Pawel Pawlak starts his ideas with the character and then the scene and the pictures usually come first before the words. And Antonia talks about some of the challenges she faced translating the puns and hidden assumptions about Skeletons from Polish, and coming up with a new name for the character that would work in English.
Thank you to Lantana Publishing for a free copy this book to review,
Thank Goodness for Bob by Mathew Morgan and Gabriel Aborozo
A story about a boy called Max, who has lot’s of worries and his dog Bob. In a way children will really relate to the story explores some of the things kids worry about. It makes imaginative use of bubbles to put worries in. One day Max discovered Bob the dog is great at listening. And that by talking about his worries to someone that listens they do not feel as big anymore. My favourites pages of the story is where the boy and the dog pop the worry bubbles together. A great book to open up conversations about feelings and worries, but also great for a child to read alone, helping them to realise they are not the only one with worries and that sharing them with someone can help.
All the books are available from me at Readers that Care. And Oscar Seeks a friend is one of the hardback books available to my £40 a term members in my 2 for £10 termly offer.
When a child reaches turquoise level on school banded schemes, often they have mastered decoding but still need to work on fluency or comprehension or both. However, there doesn’t seem to be the same awareness of the need for some children at this point to be able to make meaningful connections with the story or book they are reading if they are going to be motivated to keep practising their reading. If you take a look at many turquoise levelled readers you will notice they are really boring. The good news is that we discovered somewhat by accident when my son was learning to read, that there are some books at this level that really stand out from the rest. Later, this led me to seek out other books, including the fantastic early readers from Maverick publishing and more recently the Bloomsbury Young Readers collection.
Having made good progress with his reading since the spring-term of reception my son seemed to get ‘stuck’ on Turquoise level towards the end of year 1. One of the reasons for this was he had lost his motivation he needed a new reason to read. Two books he really liked were: Aston (Oxford University Press) and Skara Brae (Collins Big Cats). Below are mini-reviews of these and some other readers which have since been published. Each offers children of different interests various ways to connect with the story or non-fiction topic and would be great choices for any early reader collection.
Astron – Turquoise fiction reader
Oxford University Press (Story Sparks)
Author and illustrator: John Dougherty and Louise Pigott
At the start of the story an alien gets separated from his parents. A brilliant story opener you really want to know what happens next. The Alien comes across a space ship, and through it’s special thought web it can listen to the little girl’s thoughts. My son was intrigued by this idea. The story encourages the reader to think about what the characters are feeling really helping young readers to engage with the story. My son loved reading this when he was a developing reader, and so did his sister who is almost 3 years older. There aren’t many readers that can do that! It also left plenty to talk about and revisit.
The Lost Village of Skara Brae – Turquoise non-fiction reader
Collins Big Cat
This non-fiction book about the Stone Age village of Skara Brae on the Orkney islands in Scotland really grabbed my son’s attention. With a map and annotated photographs of this ancient site, there was plenty to spark his curiosity. The text explained how the site was discovered after a storm, explored the site and how people might have lived. He’s been interested in the Stone Age ever since.
Woah What’s the Weather – Turquoise non-fiction reader
My son from an early age was fascinated by weather this is just the kind of book he would have loved as an emerging reader. The non-fiction topic is introduced by two Aliens, adding both commentary and humour. The text is also broken up in a number of ways, great for kids who get bored easily by large chunks of text. The story would especially appeal to budding scientists, with pictures and explanations which include: rain gauges, thermometers and weather vanes, which could inspire kids to make their own weather observation. A great book for readers of all ages. There is a short quiz at the back, as in all the Maverick early readers from this level upwards.
Slugs in Space – Turquoise fiction reader
Lou Treleaven and David Creighton-Pester
This book should be chosen for the picture below alone! A snail with an acorn for a space helmet a what a great idea. My son loves space and collects acorns when ever he finds them so this would have definitely got him interested. I love how this story takes a topic that many children love, space and turn it on it’s head.. First the main character is a snail and secondly, he doesn’t actually go to space but dreams of doing so, and in a great twist to tale has an unexpected encounter with aliens of a different kind. The story could also be used to explore distance in Maths and perspective. For example when granddad snail talks about how long it would take to get to the top of a lamppost, and compares that to how long it would take to get to the moon.
The Ugly Little Swan – Turquoise fiction reader and AR
Bloomsbury Young Reader
Author and illustrator: James Riordon and Brendon Kearney
When my son was in year 1 and year 2 he got interested in a small number of traditional tales, one of which was the ‘Ugly Duckling’. This is a fantastic re-telling with a twist of this this traditional tale, with a duck instead of a Swan. Bright colourful and engaging pictures really help the reader to understand what the duck is feeling. With a great scene on the last page of a two children feeding the ducks, connecting it to children’s own experiences.
Cavegirl – Turquoise fiction reader and AR
Abie Longstaff and Shane Crampton
The front cover caught my attention, a fictional story with a black girl in the Stone Age. Inside I found a delightful story and really engaging pictures. This book follows a girl who lives in the Stone Age who is looking for something special for her mum’s birthday. She sees something she wants and hatches a plan to make and trade things to get it. Well developed stories as good as this are unusual at the reading level. The reader is helped to predict and make sense of the story through the clever use of diagrams drawn on a stone slab. Like in other Bloomsbury young readers there are tips for grown-ups (inside cover front) and suggestions for fun activities (inside cover back).
Each of these books are unique in their own way and provide many opportunities for children to engage with them. There is a strong empathy core to most of them, helping children connect with how the characters are feeling. If you want to inspire children to become motivated readers unique and engaging early readers like these will definitely help them on their journey. Publishers please take note we need more books like these especially at this reading level.
Note for educators
If you are a school that asks children to change their readers every couple of days. You may want to review this policy once they reach this reading level. These books are so great that children would really benefit from reading them more than once, and the chances are they will want to too.
Thank you to Maverick publishing for a free copy of ‘Woah What’s the Weather?’. The other books were ones I bought myself.
Further information – click on the links to find out more
Some of these books are available on my Abe books site: Readers that Care
Already a fan of the illustrator and author Nadine Kaadan I was delighted to receive a copy of her new book Tomorrow to review from Lantana Publishing. I have a particular interest in picture books that help children understand others experience of war and about refugees. This story is unique in a number of ways. Instead of focusing on people fleeing their country it focuses on the experience of a boy in his home as it is besieged by war.
Tomorrow tells the story of a small boy called Yazan who lives in war torn Syria. It is told from a unique perspective as you don’t actually see the war. Instead you get to feel what the immediate effects are for Yazan, as everything changes around him. Changes include no more trips to the park, not being able to see his friends, no school (which he actually begins to miss) and his mother becomes withdrawn. The boys experience is sensitively portrayed and great attention is given to gradually building up all the small things Yazan is not able to do because of the war.
The message of the story is beautifully supported by the authors own drawings, which help to convey powerful emotions and to reflect the boys feelings and experiences in a way that is meaningful to children. A simple colour palette of black, yellow and read is very effective. Black for sadness, fear and anxiety, red for happy memories and red and yellow for hope.
There are some lovely messages in this story. It is a powerful story of a family supporting each other in the most difficult of circumstances and in the power of imagination and art to bring hope to the darkest of moments. Towards the end of the story Yazan’s mother draws a picture of the park he can not play in and says:
“But let’s paint a park in your bedroom – an amazing park with everything you’ve ever dreamed of. And soon you’ll be able to go outside and play again.”
In some ways the messages in this story are very simple, helping readers of all ages to build empathy with the young boys experience of living through war. Yet the pictures convey some powerful emotions that some children may find upsetting and need help to understand. When using with a group of children I would be tempted to start with the last picture first and ask, what they liked about their local park and how would they feel if they could not go to it. My 7 year old son initially found some of the pages ‘quite dark’. But when we explored the use of red and yellow colours in the story he could also see there was hope in the story too.
Whilst not shying away from powerful emotions it protects the reader from the worst of the war in several ways. For example: Whilst, his mum does become sad and withdrawn at the beginning, Yazan doesn’t loose either of his parents in the story, they are still together at the end. Another example is you learn about the war outside from a little distance, through a TV Screen, which I thought was really clever.
I would highly recommend this for children aged 6+ and young people and adults. It is a great story which encourages empathy and offers multiple opportunities as springboard for discussion.
Another of Nadine Kaadan’s wonderful picture books Jasmine Sneeze, would make a great contrast to this story as it is set in a peaceful Syria. You can read my review here.
The book can be published direct from the Lantana publishers here.
It is also available from me through Readers that Care
The subject of grief in a picture book can be a tricky one, as there is an assumption amongst some parents that a picture book should have a ‘happy story’. However, a children’s story about grief and loss told well is a valuable resource for all. In this story told by Sharanya Manivannan you get both an insight into Indian culture and beliefs and a well balanced story about two children coming to terms with the loss of their grandmother. The stunning illustrations by Nerina Canzi are vibrant and detailed and bring to life the richness of India as well as helping to effectively convey feeling and emotions, such as sadness, loss and hope which are universal to people of many culture and backgrounds.
I love that the story begins with the children playing with their grandmother, and then it talks about how this changes as they grow up. For some when dealing with grief it can be important to remember the good times with a loved one, but adults are sometimes afraid to talk about them for the fear of upsetting someone. The feelings and emotions of playing with Ammuchi are beautifully captured in the illustrations. The page pictured below left is my 6 year old son’s favourite page in the story, he especially likes the Mangos (he loves fruit).
The day that their grandma dies, is the only grey picture in the book, and contrasts with the vibrant colours of the other pages. This is really effective in conveying feeling. I really like how, as the story unfolds, it acknowledges that both parents and children can be sad, and it is possible to be both happy and sad at the same time.
After their grandmother died the children find a butterfly. It is like the one on a brooch that Anjali was given for her seventh birthday. Her older broth Aditya explains to his class:
“Ammuchi is our grandmother, puchi is an insect. Ammuchi Puchi is an insect who is our grandmother.”
This butterfly then follows them around wherever they go. There are several ways that this can be interpreted and children will understand it in different ways. This is one of the clever things about the story, there are many levels to it, so children (and adults) will take different things from it.
As the children get used to life without Ammuchi the story sensitively portrays their feelings of sadness and loss. Whilst also offering hope through it’s belief that if given space and support children can find their own way through. It also ends with hope, when one rainy day the children are stuck in doors, the butterfly leads them to what was once their grandmother’s room, which is now full of her possessions. Then they find a very special object which helps the children and adults share their grief and offers hope for the future.
One note of caution; there is a lot going on in this book in both the writing and pictures. In some ways the grief and loss of the two children is the easiest part to grasp. But, for the observant child there is a lot more to get their head’s around. This may lead to mixed emotions for some children. I see this as a good thing as in life it’s not always easy to separate one emotion from the other. The many cultural layers of the book give the opportunity to be culturally specific if you choose. Some children may need further explanation of parts of the story, this will depend on the age of the child, their experiences and cultural background. For example both my children were uncomfortable about the picture of the grandmother in the garden on the second page, where she has her lips stained with betelnut juice. I feel this story would be best read one to one or in a small group. I would recommend it for children aged 6/7+. Although it may be more suited to slightly older children.
This book was kindly donated by the Lantana Publishing, a company committed to producing diverse and multicultural picture books. The pictures in the story give a very strong sense of India. The story sensitively portrays the children’s journey of sadness and loss and effectively conveys the idea of a person (or their spirit) coming back as another living thing, which many may find useful
You can find some fabulous teacher resources by Lantana Publishing on their website
The book is available to buy from me at Readers that Care for £7.99 including postage ( mainland United Kingdom only)
These are two children’s books that really make you think. One is set in British Colonial India just before Independence. The other in rural Sudan, where it begins during the civil war in the mid 1980’s. The style and the way they are written are very different. They both presented me with a problem in reviewing them because the later parts of both these stories make them truly special. So if you notice there something is missing that’s because there is! To find out what you will need to read them!
Dindy and the Elephant is one of the best books I have read. It’s the first story I have read by Elizabeth Laird. I will be reading more! It has all the elements of a great story: adventure, pace, surprise and family drama, whilst seamlessly integrating this with it’s setting in British Colonial India. Beautifully written it makes you feel like you are right there both in the tea plantations and in the house. The illustrations by Peter Bailey perfectly capture the story and the glossary at the end is a great addition.
The story is written from the perspective of a 9 year old girl called Dindy. When she and her younger brother go outside their home and into the tea planation, they get more than they bargained for. Nikhil their Aya’s son and a few others come to their rescue. Some of my favorite parts of the story are the conversation between Nikhil and Dindy. In which Dindy begins to discover there is more to her beloved India than she realized. Then her brother starts shouting, and puts his foot in it, in the way small children do. Yet in the tensions in pre-Independence India there is more at stake. During the story Dindy manages to apologies for her brother and tries to let Nikhil know she respects him and doesn’t think like ‘other’ British.
Whilst reading this story I had a sense of déjà vu, as if I had been there before. Then I realized it reminded me of watching the film Gandhi as a teenager, and more significantly the BBC Drama Jewel in the Crown. Elizabeth Laird’s book vividly conjures up the world so well captured by this drama. It is a masterful piece of story telling which also gives valuable insights into British Colonial India. It has also occurred to me post the EU Referendum in Britain that there are some very interesting conversations this book could prompt about ‘Independence’ and attitudes to ‘others’.
‘” Let him fight his own battles’….’Look at him! He can’t wait to grow up and be like his daddy…He can’t wait to take all our money out of our country!’ “
A Long Walk to Sudan by Linda Sue Park is written in dual narrative from the perspective of 2 children. Part of the book tells the story of Nya, her daily trips to fetch water and her families struggle to get by. Her story opens in 2008. A larger part of the book is the story of Salva. It begins in 1985 during the civil war in Sudan. One day war comes to Salava’s village whilst he and the other boys are at school, they are forced to flee for their lives. The story then follows his long walk across Sudan to the Ethiopian border and safety. Along the way he makes friends and connections and together they keep each other alive. Along the journey he wonders whether he will ever see his parents or brothers and sisters again. It is at times both heart wrenching and brutal, but ultimately hopeful.
The style of this book took a bit of getting used to. For some children the dual narrative may make it more difficult to follow. It is not as descriptive as Elizabeth Laird’s story. You get a partial picture of the landscape and what it was like to live in the respective time periods. Having said that some of what it describes is etched in my memory. For example the night they spent on an island in the middle of the Nile. At dusk the fisherman that lived there disappeared into the protection of their nets:
“only a few moments later, mosquito’s rose up from the water….Huge dark clouds of them appeared, their high-pitched whining filling the air.”
This part of the story is made eve more poignant by what proceeds and follows it.
The power of this story is as much in what it leaves out as in what it says. As a child you do not see or understand everything and that is cleverly captured. For educators this book offers some interesting writing possibilities. For example: in telling the story the children do not tell or the story of other characters or by finding out about the landscape features of Sudan and describing them or even mapping them.
The Journey is an amazing and important picture book by author and illustrator Francesca Sanna. It tells from a refugee story from a chid’s perspective. A girl and her family are forced to flee their homes by war. The story tells of their difficult journey to safety. The honesty with which it portrays the darkness of their experience and emotions such as: loss, despair, fear is breathtaking. It deals with a theme which is all around us, and has such a huge significance today.
It makes clever use of colour and illustrations to reflect changing emotions and circumstances. Orange hues are used for hope, and they are the colour of the car at the start of their journey and the train towards the end. Blackness represents the darkest of moments. And there is none darker than:
And one day the war took my father
The blackness conveys what words alone could not, and the orange of hope on subsequent pages propels you forward.
I had an interesting discussion with a friend about The Journey. We were in agreement that it is a book that should be in every school library. But, we could not quite decide if there was a little too much darkness. The darkness in the first part of this story is what makes it so powerful and I would not have it any other way. Then they arrive at the sea and colour comes back into the pictures and there is hope. Then on their boat journey fear comes back again. It was the picture below that got us thinking.
Some questions we asked were:
What is the effect on the reader from going from a place of darkness to hope and then to be plunged back into darkness again? Would this be too much for some children? What would have been the effect on the reader if instead this page was mainly light and warm hopeful colours with a smaller amount of black? Would the story be the same?
These are questions worth thinking about when sharing this book with children. The recent events of the EU referendum vote in Britain have sharpened my focus. Having thought about the picture I realised it would have been odd if Francesca Sanna had represented this part of the journey in any other way. The sad reality is that refugee journeys on boats are dangerous and they must have many fears both real and imagined of what they may face at the other end. Furthermore some children will have heard in the news about these difficult boat crossings and children dying. I think the breathtaking honesty of this story will resonate with many children, and especially older children who are beginning to take note of the world we live in. Aside from its key theme of refugees: a families flight from war to safety, there are also many powerful life messages. The journey from an awful place to somewhere that has the potential to be good can be difficult and up and down (get better then worse again) but ultimately hopeful.
There is also a second and beautiful story in this book. Where in the later stages of the story the girl and her family are joined by migratory birds flying alongside them. Then there is a beautiful scene at the end of them flying with these birds, into a new and more hopeful future. This last page opens up so many other topics that could be explored.
How we interact with the world around us has always been something which has interested me. Political events in Britain in 2016 and their aftermath have made me realise not everyone understands the migrant or immigrant experience and that children’s books can have an important role in building global empathy and understanding. Featured below are 5 books that can help children and adults explore these issues. Each is written from a child’s perspective. The stories deal with complex issues, and are not afraid to deal with traumatic and difficult situation’s, but in a sensitive way that the very best of children’s authors know how to do. Despite the sometimes difficulties circumstances the children and their families face they provide hope of the ability for children to survive, and the capacity for humans to adapt and change, such a vital message.
This selection of children’s books to help build global empathy and understanding about refugees experiences and other ways we are all connected include: a picture book, a story written in prose and chapter books at different reading levels. They are all shorter stories, proving that stories that really make you think don’t have to be long ones!