Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 22 Jan, 2018 11:50AM
Snow Penguin by Tony Mitton (words) and Alison Brown (illustrations), published by Bloomsbury Children's Books
This is a beautiful Antarctic adventure, with a pacey rhyme and wonderfully depicted by a favourite illustrator, Alison Brown (see our review of her I Love You Night and Day here).
The story follows Little Penguin on a trip aboard an ice floe where he meets several Antarctic creatures. First it’s the “huge flappy tail” of a “massive blue whale”, a speedy school of orca with their “whistle and click” noises, a great elephant seal and a cuddly sea lion cub having a “nuzzle, a nudge and a rub” with its mother.
Little Penguin is initially excited to meet these new creatures, but soon realises he has drifted a little too far from the warmth of his penguin family. “How will he find them? What will he do? For now the sea’s looking more black than it’s blue...”.
Alison Brown’s clever use of the whole palette of blues, from the pale white-blue of the ice and of Little Penguin’s tummy to the darkest navy of the deepest depths of the sea, makes each double page a delight.
There is a happy ending to Little Penguin’s intrepid exploration and he is soon reunited in the warm embrace of his mother. He regales the other penguins with his adventures as they huddle around him. At this point our two year old daughter always giggles at the brown fluffy hair of the younger penguin chicks. This use of clever illustrative detail brings each character to life. A delightful read.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 09 May, 2017 08:49PM
Two of our favourite picturebooks are about what lies beneath our feet - specifically, what we might find down a hole in the ground. Where did the hole come from? Where does it lead? What might be living down there? What treasures might we find?
The Something (by Rebecca Cobb, published by MacMillan Children's Books) wondrous celebration of a child's imagination. This is a tale that starts when a ball doesn't bounce back - disappearing into a small hole besides a tree adorned by the green buds of Spring, in a boy's back garden. As the boy and his dog look down, we look up at them from the hole.
At first, the boy just waits and wonders. As the tree blooms into colour, the boy begins to ask others what they think might be down there. In the top half of the pages that follow, we see the boy, his family and his friends each taking a turn at guessing what might be below - and in the lower half of each page we see his imagination come to life - a mouse's house, a troll, a snoozing fox, even a dragon. In each scene, the boy's lost ball can be found.
As the pages turn, so do the leaves on the tree as autumn arrives, and finally the tree is bare. The boy is not upset that he doesn't have the answer - rather, he is "pleased that something has chosen our garden to live in".
Rebecca Cobb's beautiful and distinctive illustrations bring her first person narrative to life. There are charming and touching details to be discovered. When the boy's grandparents suggest that if something does live down there it is most likely a mole or a badger, the boy imagines the creatures knitting and doing the crossword - just like his Granny and Grandad are above ground. The diversity of the boy's friends is worth a particular mention.
We adore Rebecca Cobb's books and highly recommend others she's written and illustrated (including The Paper Dolls; Lunchtime; Aunt Amelia and There's an Owl in My Towel - all reviewed on our site).
In Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books) we meet two determined diggers on a mission, who vow that they "won't stop digging until we find something spectacular".
Setting out with their spades into a barren field next to a farmhouse and a single apple tree, Sam and Dave begin to dig. Here we see clear looks of determination from the pair, and their dog. Their cat looks sceptical and watches from the porch step. Jon Klassen's use of 'side-eye' in his characters' faces is second to none for illustrating a huge range of emotions.
They begin to dig down, and then across, at each turn narrowly missing increasingly huge diamonds buried in the earth. They stop for a rest and animal biscuits. When they fall asleep, their dog digs a little further, and opens up a hole in the bottom of the page. They all fall, landing with a bump on the earth below. "That was pretty spectacular" they say. But are they home?
Mac Barnett's sparse narrative is perfectly matched to Klassen's deadpan illustrations. The minimalist style enables readers to focus in on details, and notice new aspects of the story on each reading - it wasn't until recently we realised that the dog is always trying in vain to indicate where the gems are buried.
If you are looking for more books featuring holes in the ground, check out these two (reviewed previously): A New House for Mouse by Petr Horacek; and Rabbityness by Jo Empson.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 19 Sep, 2016 11:27AM
Mayday Mouse by Seb Braun, published by Child's Play
This is a tale of brave Captain Mouse who sets off across the sea determined to get a birthday gift to her brother on the other side. Her journey begins on a lovely day, perfect for a cruise in her walnut shell boat with its toothpick mast. As she departs, two of her friends, a frog and dragonfly, remind her that if she needs help they'll be there for her.
Dark clouds descend and the sea becomes choppy, and before long great 'watery perils' appear, depicted with extraordinary movement and colour by Sebastian Braun's wonderful illustrations.
Crashing waves hurl her and her small craft towards a narrow miss with rocks and a dark cave, before she lands, stranded, on a small island. With the water closing in she calls upon her friends for aid with a cry of "Mayday!" They arrive just in time, bringing her materials for a new cork boat, which sees her on her way. Finally she reaches the shore and embraces her brother on the other side with a sigh of relief.
For the final spread we zoom out from her level to a bird's eye view, and a surprising reveal, which always causes our three year old to laugh out loud in delight, showing us her world in a very different way. A lovely bonus is a final scene on the inside cover where we see the mice siblings sharing the gift that Captain mouse so determinedly clung to during her various ordeals.
This is terrific tale of determination, overcoming adversity, friendship and the importance of perspective.
Claude All at Sea by Alex T Smith, published by Hodder Children's Books
This is Claude's first adventure in picture book format and it certainly lives up to the reputation of the popular Claude series for young readers.
It's a fun-filled frolic of a read following Claude on a bath-time expedition on the high seas where he encounters all kinds of characters from Captain Poopdeck, Cindy Seaweed, Nigel the not-so terrifying sea monster and of course, Claude's faithful sidekick, Sir Bobblysock.
Alex T Smith's witty prose combines brilliantly with distinctive, predominantly red and white illustrations. The illustrations themselves are full of life and movement - two particularly memorable double page spreads being the moment when the bath tub escapes along the street with a "whoosh" and lands in the ocean with a "splash".
This is a great introduction for a younger audience to the Claude series and will have little ones laughing out loud.
This pair of picturebook adventures on the high seas would form a lovely trio alongside Puffin Peter
by Petr Horacek, reviewed previously and in full here
Petr Horacek's distinctive, colourful and full of life animals and birds are vivid wonders to behold. Here, his illustration is combined with a charming story of Peter, a small puffin, separated by a storm from his best friend. After the storm passes, Peter sets out to look for Paul with the help of a kind whale. This is a sweeping and satisfying adventure, filled with vistas of bold colours, and a sweet, happy ending. It's a perfect depiction of the value of friendship and persistence and a great book to introduce young children to useful adjectives through scenes from nature.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 25 Aug, 2016 06:14PM
Mortimer's Picnic by Nick Ward, published by Troika Books
Several of our three year old daughter's favourite U certificate films state on the box that they contain 'mild peril'. Picturebooks can also provide a safe place for children to tentatively experience what it means to be a little bit frightened, to help them to ask questions about things that may concern them, and to support discussion about real life emotion and feelings.
Ancient myths and classic fairy tales remain adored across generations because they deliver mild peril so well. There are many excellent recent additions to this genre, including one of our daughter's favourite and most requested picturebooks 'Mortimer's Picnic'.
Mortimer mouse is preparing a hamper to take on a picnic with his best friend Oggy, when a letter from Oggy arrives. Sadly, he is not well and won't be able to make it. Undeterred, Mortimer makes a home made get well soon card and sets off to Oggy's house where he plans to nurse him back to good health.
As well as his basket of food Mortimer carries an anthology of adventure stories, which before the story proper has begun, Mortimer is seen reading intently on a page inside the front cover. This is certainly a clue to how the story is set to develop from here, as author/illustrator Nick Ward cleverly weaves together a host of classic fairy tales to create this innovative iteration.
Just as Mortimer sets off on his journey, ominous rain clouds form overhead. This is just the start - to reach his friend, Mortimer has to face many perils along the way, including a rushing river and a (really quite) scary forest, as well as using the contents of his hamper to save himself by placating a series of baddies that would otherwise gobble him up.
There are lots of enjoyable details, such as the touch of pantomime when a gnarling crocodile hot on Mortimer's heels breaks through the 'fourth wall' and turns to the reader, finger to its mouth to tell us to "shhhh", as it creeps up behind our furry protagonist.
The book gives a clear nod, we think, to classic tales of mild peril including Little Red Riding Hood, Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gruffalo. Mortimer's Picnic certainly brings something new to the genre, not least through Nick Ward's distinctive Brothers' Grimm meets Punch-and-Judy style illustration (we were already fans of his work from reading his illustrated chapter-book, Superbot, reviewed earlier).
Just when all seems lost, as Mortimer's foes close in, a 'deus ex machina' intervenes to ensure an unexpectedly sweet and pleasantly surprising ending (not to be revealed here), which simultaneously reassures and delights.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 08 Jun, 2016 04:25PM
Five weeks ago, two ducks swooped into our garden as we were
playing with our daughter on the swing, one almost touching the top of her head
as he landed on the lawn, quacking loudly. The next day, after the male had
patrolled up and down the grass, we saw that the female was resting in our
flowerbed. When she got up briefly to change position we saw several pale blue
eggs under her in what was clearly a nest.
For four weeks our resident duck sat in the flowerbed. We
became something of experts in mallard nesting, including the rules on what not
to do, and kept our garden time to a minimum so as not to disturb her.
Two days ago, ten fluffy ducklings emerged from their
shells, and yesterday they completed a daring departure - crossing under our
hedge to next door, then beneath a fence on the other side and on into a garden
beyond where we think a pond awaits. At one point, one duckling was left behind
by its mother and nine siblings, only for them to all return when they heard
its plaintive cries for rescue (this high drama observed by our transfixed
three year old from her bedroom window).
Unsurprisingly, stories featuring eggs and ducks have become
popular choices in recent days. Below is a review of one of our favourites.
Hattie Peck by Emma Levey, published by Top That Publishing
This is a delightful and heartwarming tale of nurture,
family and the value of overcoming adversity. Hattie Peck is a chicken who
loves eggs. She had laid just one egg herself, which hadn't hatched. She was
sad, longing for more eggs. One day she decides she will make it her mission to
rescue as many abandoned eggs as she can.
So begins a perilous journey, over crashing waves, up
mountains, across rooftops and even through a blazing fire. In one very
memorable scene she appears soaring in a hang glider over a Manhattan-esque
skyline in search of lonely and left behind eggs.
Finally, with eggs of all sizes and colours piled high on a
raft she gets a tow from an ocean liner and heads for home. The final page
reveals an astonishing array of hatchlings that have emerged, including a
flamingo, a platypus, a crocodile and a snake, all of whom receive Hattie
Peck's unequivocal love. Adorably, she is busy knitting, with most of the brood
already wrapped up warm in bobble hats, jumpers and scarves, made to fit their
many shapes and sizes.
Emma Levey's illustrations form a colourful tapestry of high
energy pages, accompanied by a strong narrative packed with verbs and
adjectives that match the scale of her adventure. Her use of alliteration works
very effectively ("Hattie Peck decided it was time to return her colossal
clutch back to the coop", "she dived to the deepest depths").
We'll be sure to seek out the next instalment, 'Hattie Peck: The Journey Home'
which was published earlier this year.
P.S. Another 'egg-cellent' picturebook we've reviewed already is Emily Gravett's 'The Odd Egg'.