I was very excited when I read in The Bookseller that the Bodleian Library has launched a children’s imprint. Penguin’s Way and Whale’s Way will be the first to be released.
There has been a fashion in the children’s book industry to plunder out of print titles for the last few years – and many of them, and indeed I think most of them, deserve this resurrection. These books were heavy on the nostalgia – mainly targeted at grandparents – but that has definitely moved on. Books are being brought back to life because they are still relevant for the current generation – and this is definitely the case with these Johanna Johnston books.
Both of them offer facts about the way of life for the animals, and there were many things in both books that I didn’t know – for example, plankton meaning ‘wandering’. In Penguin’s Way we are taking through a year’s cycle, and it doesn’t focus on a particular penguin. There are no named characters in it, and yet it is most definitely a story – and a compelling one at that. Out of the two, it is definitely my favourite, but that is only because I really love penguins.
In Whale’s Way part of it does focus on a family – but again does so with this balance of neutrality of observation, the same kind of space you get between animal and narrator in a nature documentary, with enough carefully chosen words to get you to care about the animals. And luckily nothing bad happens to this family – though you know that it could have done, and that is enough to get the heart racing. It is extremely clever.
The illustrations, both done with a stripped back palette, are beautiful. I would love to see an exhibition of them some day – they are gorgeous works of art.
My two were transfixed throughout both. They would make perfect presents for any child interested in nature or these animals in particular – or if you want to get them something in between fact and fiction that you know they will read again and again.
These books really are forgotten gems and take the fashion of bring back out of print books to a new level. They both feel modern, they are engaging and fascinating and allow us to discover an author and illustrator team we might never have known about. I certainly didn’t.
I am delighted that with these choices – and look forward to seeing what will be discovered in the Bodleian archive in the future (and my goodness, who has that job? How much fun is that!!??).
Both books sent for review by Bodleian Children’s Books.
This is a fact book framed by a simple story. The story is about a little girl doesn’t like snakes but the rest of her family love them (and own a great many).
The girl lists all the reasons why she doesn’t like them – they are slimy, their eyes are stare-y and so on, and varying family members explain a bit about them (how in fact they aren’t slimy or that their eyes do seem to stare because they don’t have eyelids). Eventually she comes around to liking them – not even when her brother explains the ways they kill their prey. With new enthusiasm, she even finds things out about how snakes have their babies herself.
The kids really enjoyed this. The facts were fascinating and the story made it interesting and encouraged the kids to ask their own questions.
The illustrations are a mix of fun sketch-like pictures of the family and detailed ones of snakes.
The kids have re-read this book several times already this week. It’s nice to have a non-fiction book that works in picture book format. It’s a definite thumbs up from them about the book and about snakes.
I however did not know that snakes could fly until I read this book. Toby has explained that it really is just big leaping but OH DEAR ME. I did NOT want to know about this. I want to unlearn it. Desperately. I wasn’t fussed either way about snakes before but now, I’m really not keen. I definitely don’t like snakes.
After the glut of Dad-focussed books I thought I’d share this one (first out in May of this year).
It is aimed at young children, possibly just starting their childcare experience. However it’s useful for any children who have mums that go to work. Because it’s a very common thing to actually explain to your child what it is you do when you’re not with them. The work we do, the places we go, are often a complete mystery to children and they are very keen to know!
I realised this last year when my daughter told everyone in her class that I definitely did something with a computer some times and other times I talked about books in a bookshop. She didn’t mention the teaching I do or various other things and so I made a point of taking both kids to – or showing them photos of – my workplaces and explained a bit more about what I did. After that she always wanted to know – and still does – which job I’ve been doing and was I sitting in the chair I span her around in? And the fact that mummy needs to work – in order to pay for things – is something important for them to know too.
Anyway – this book does a lovely job of showing what children get up to in a nursery setting and also what the different mummies are doing. Ali’s mum, for example, is a teacher and reads a story to her class. She then helps them write their own stories and prepares for the next day.
It is similar to What Does Daddy Do? by Rachel Bright (Puffin) although that is a funny account – this is a gentle exploration of the adventures both the children and the parents have.
So if your children are about to start nursery – or are gearing themselves up for school – then keep this in mind.
Some kids are very chilled out and others – like my daughter – worry about everything. This is a book for the worriers of the world.
Sophie worries all the time but especially at night. Her family come up with all sorts of ideas to help – a glass of milk, a favourite toy (or in the case of the family cat, a mouse to play with – eek!). Nothing helps. Until her mum tells her not to think about purple elephants.
Sophie thinks that this is a very silly thing for her mum to say. But as soon as her eyes are closed images of purple elephants immediately pop up into her mind. They are very nice elephants too, doing all sorts of fun things, and do she is finally able to drift off into a happy slumber.
At the end of the book she has firmly decided to not think about purple elephants – she is going to not think about blue monkeys instead.
As a worrier myself, I know all about how they always come at night – when the world is quiet and your brain starts going crazy. Jess enjoyed this story without seeing it as issue focussed because it is tackled with a light approach. The illustrations are also lovely – and show how Sophie feels when she worries very successfully. The elephants are also extremely cute.
If you don’t worry, you’ll still enjoy it. But if you do worry, this is a good book to have around. We’ve taken to saying things like ‘I certainly won’t be thinking about green hedgehogs’ when I tuck the kids up at night. The idea has definitely caught on.
This would be a great book to use in schools too – sadly with things like SATs, kids are all too aware of feeling anxious these days. Young people need guidance about dealing with fears and worries, and I think this is a great book to choose.
(Kindly sent to us for review by EK Books)
The third offering this week, My Dinosaur Dad has a simple rhyming text very reminiscent of Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Stickland.
‘This Dad is tall, this Dad is squat, This Dad is huge, this Dad is not’ and so on.
For a toddler or a child with a short attention span this would be the book about Dads to get! It ends with an ‘ahhh’ moment:
‘This Dad is gentle, this Dad is kind, This Dad’s the best…this Dad is mine.’
No need to say anymore than that, is there?
Post number 3! This is another new book for this year reflecting on the nature of Dads. It is in rhyming text and brought to you by the creator of us all focusing on the urgent loo requirements of Father Christmas, knickers and nappies (Royal ones) and bottoms (this time, belonging to Cinderella)….
No bottoms on show here you may be relieved to know. And despite the cover, this is not a representation of Dad as superhero, but rather just as he is.
This looks at all the seemingly little things that Dads can do that in fact are really quite special. The boy in this story knows his Dads limitations, but sees the wonder in small actions. But although he can’t master magic tricks, he can conjure up a secret bar of chocolate or slice of cake from the fridge. He can’t fix a bike, but he can create wonders out of paper, sticks and glue.
There’s a lot of funny real moments too – how the Dad won’t spend money on what he thinks are expensive toy cars, but then drags the family around to look at real cars (toys still, in a sense) for ages. I really liked those moments – especially the Dad going into the women’s toilets by accident!
I guess there was a fleeting reference to all things ‘bottom’ after all…
The second book about Dads out this year and perfect for the forthcoming Father’s Day (though of course, good Dads should be celebrated every day of the year – much like Mums!)
This is a rhyming tale and looks at the superhero theme – a good theme to plunder when it comes to Dads.
This is about an ordinary kind of Dad (even though the boy says he isn’t). He can’t make breakfast properly (he sometimes produces toast, chocolate, jam, ice cream and cake!), but he can do lots of things. Being able to pick up the dog makes him super strong, he makes his son feel like he’s flying when he zooms him around. All these ordinary things are looked at through the son’s eyes and so the Dad does seem pretty Super.
And while he may not wear his pants over his trousers, when the little boy is scared of bumps and noises in the night he only has to whisper for his Dad, he is there. That, from the boy’s point of view, truly makes him a superhero.
Of course, the Dad doesn’t think he’s the superhero – but he knows who really is: his Superhero Son!
I love this reflection on a Dad’s skills and attributes and how amazing they can seem to a child.
My kids have requested that kind of breakfast…luckily Mum’s always make proper breakfasts, even when we are very tired.
It will be Father’s Day here in the UK on June 21 so I shall be focusing on new or recent books celebrating it (typically, I think I forgot to do this for Mother’s Day!!!). Here is the first one I’m looking at, newly out.
It is a very special day but Little Pip can’t remember why. He starts off thinking it is to do with his own birthday or Christmas (a nod to the previous books How Many Sleeps till My Birthday and How Many Sleeps till Christmas). Daddy Grizzle doesn’t mind and they go off on their planned woodland adventure. They have a lovely day together which includes toasted marshmallows at one point so I was very happy with that! Little Pip does remember and cleverly avoids saying Father’s Day – rather, it is the day ‘when all the woodland creatures give their daddies a special day to thank them for all the lovely things they do’. So this book could just be about quality father and son time. The text is quite long and I like that – if a father and son read this they would have to take their time over it, which would be rather wonderful.
Little Pip is very sad when he realizes what the day is all about because he hasn’t got a card or a present to give Daddy Grizzle. But Daddy Grizzle doesn’t mind at all because the best present is spending time with Little Pip. At the end Little Pip declares his love for his father and it is very touching. The pink marshmallow they are toasting has become heart shaped and a fly has drawn a heart in the sky too.
It is a lovely story and the idea of a person’s company being enough of a present is something that everyone should remember.
Ok….so the kids asked me to promote this. I’m still unsure of how I feel about it.
Essentially it’s a story for adults (or so I reckon) – it’s about when you have to grow up and abandon childish things, or at least think that you do.
The boy, who narrates the story, feels that he needs to give up his rabbit because it’s too boring and immature. So he abandons Floppy in the woods.
I mean – WHAT???????????? What a horrid thing to do!!!!!!!!
Pretty soon he realises that he might have made a mistake and returns to where he’s tied Floppy up (yes that’s right – he actually tied him to a tree and then left). But Floppy isn’t there. He’s in a hut being looked after by a little girl whose mission is to rescue animals. She kindly invites the boy to join them for tea and he, still in his insufferable nonchalant teenagey attitude outlook on life, casually agrees to it.
I have to say, this was the only bit that I found entertaining:
I thought about saying, “Nah, I’m busy.”
I thought about saying, “This isn’t tea, it’s just cold water.”
That made me laugh. But the boy is offering an adult perspective on that scene. It’s clever, but is it for children? Well weirdly my two liked it a lot – even Toby who, with his beloved giraffe Annabel, I thought would take against it. But they weren’t really shocked about the pet abandonment. Jess thought that he was OK once he realised (thanks to the little girl) that he owned a Lop Sided (and therefore special) rabbit and not a bunny.
But let me tell you though – I couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t forgive him for feeling the need to show his big kidness through such a silly action. Maybe because I’ve been through all that. Maybe the kids don’t really get what’s going on because they are kids. They certainly loved the illustrations though – and they are good. And the story has a nod to Little Red Riding Hood.
So. Kids liked it, I’m not so sure it’s really for kids. I guess you’ll have to read it and decide what you think yourself.