Seasons and naturePosted by Max 03 Feb, 2016 08:26PM
Lionheart by Richard Collingridge, published by David Fickling Books
At a craft sale in our local park museum, our then one year old daughter chose as a treat a small, peach and white, knitted lion. Recently, thanks to Lionheart, the wondrous new picturebook from Richard Collingridge (author and illustrator of When it Snows, a book we've loved from our daughter's first months) our now three year old daughter has taught her "Lioney" to roar.
Learning to find our inner roar is the central theme of this stunning, cinematic triumph. When a small boy senses the presence of a monster in his bedroom, he runs, clutching his Lionheart cuddly toy. As he flees through the town, illuminated by the moon, he reaches its outskirts.
Then, in a scene reminiscent of the opening to Where the Wild Things Are, he wanders into grasses that grow thicker and taller. He emerges into a magical and mysterious forest. Believing the monster to be close by, he rushes to an opening, dropping his Lionheart. There, suddenly, he is surrounded - by a menagerie of creatures. They can sense the monster too, and they are afraid.
They all take flight, but the boy runs straight into "something, or someone" - a huge Lionheart, towering above the boy - majestic, strong, fearless and protective. Riding high, nestled in Lionheart's mane, they set off on thrilling adventures, leaping rocks, diving under water, and joining the animals to explore ancient ruins. But their fun cannot last - still they feel the imminent danger of the monster. Finally the boy, his Lionheart and the animals see the monster looming over them.
To reveal the book's ending here would spoil the impact of its extraordinary denouement, and we hope others will discover for themselves its final pages, among which is one of the most dramatic double page illustrations we've ever seen.
Despite (or perhaps because of) Lionheart's generous pinch of mild peril, our daughter requested a reading of it six days in a row - sometimes a few times each day. Equaling our love for Collingridges's 'When it Snows' will be a tough task, but Lionheart is quickly finding a place among our favourite reads.
Seasons and naturePosted by Max 10 Nov, 2015 10:18PMApple Pigs
by Ruth Orbach, published by The National Trust and Pavilion Books
When we moved to our house a few years ago, we inherited a very old apple tree at the end of the garden. Crooked and weather beaten, it didn't look very happy at all. Its branches were tangled with no sign of buds, let alone fruit.
We arranged for a tree surgeon to have a look, and he cut its branches back almost to the trunk. A year later, there was little sign of life, except for a few smaller branches developing from the stumps that remained.
The next spring, however, green shoots appeared, soon followed by a sprinkling of tiny apples. At the end of summer, a hundred or so apples hung from the tree. Apart from a couple of apple cakes and some apple sauce, most of the apples became windfall and were donated to as many relatives, friends and neighbours as would take them.
Each year since, the tree has produced more and more apples. This year was the largest crop yet - more than 200 apples - resulting in a flurry of apple chutney. Our daughter proved herself a very helpful windfall collector and enjoyed helping wash them and dispose of their peel.
Recently, just as the lawn has been cleared of the last apple of the year, we read Apple Pigs for the first time. Reprinted in 2015 by the National Trust and Pavilion Books, this delightful tale of apple abundance is available afresh to a new generation, nearly 40 years after its debut.
When a girl tends to an old apple tree in her garden, clearing its roots of rubbish and promising to look after it, the tree agrees to start producing its fruit once more. At first, the girl is pleased to benefit from its annual crop. But soon, she and her family can't bear to eat another apple: "apples for dinner, apples for tea - too many apples, we all agreed".
As more and more apples appear, they are increasingly at a loss at what to do with all this fruit and where to keep it: "We packed them in baskets, in boxes, in trunks. We stuffed them in cupboards and up in the bunks". Even their bath, sink, grand piano and pram are filled with them, yet the tree gives more and more.
When there is simply nowhere else to store them, the family decides to hold an Apple Feast and invite not just the neighbours but a local menagerie of birds and beasts too - with dancing, songs and, of course, apples (in every form!): "Apple fritters, apple-ade, apple custard father made. Apple strudel, apples dried, apple pigs were mother's pride".
Many of the guests, such as the hippos, giraffes, camels and elephants, are too big to get into the house and have to eat outside, while in the house bears, monkeys, goats and mice enjoy everything an apple has to offer: "Some ate cores, some ate peelings, some ate apples from the ceiling".
As well as being fun to read aloud, Apple Pigs is also a great choice for helping children connect their everyday lives with nature, build an appreciation for the value of food, and learn about how apples grow. Told with a gentle rhyme alongside sparse yet pleasing illustrations, doused in Royal Gala red, this is a joyful tale of apples and the sweetness of sharing with others.
Seasons and naturePosted by Max 28 Sep, 2015 08:50PMStanley the Farmer
by William Bee, Published by Jonathan Cape (Random House)
Not far from where we live is a small petting farm that specialises in hands on activities for the under 5s. Toddlers are encouraged to wander around, feed carrot cubes to rabbits, and scatter seeds for happy chickens. There are mini John Deeres to ride and an old tractor to climb on. Next to a picnic area is a grumpy llama, of which our daughter does a masterful impression.
The first time we went there our daughter was particularly excited as she had just been given a copy of Stanley the farmer, one of a series of Stanley books by William Bee. These books are highly distinctive, colourful and wholesome, with an array of cute characters led by Stanley the hamster, a most diligent protagonist.
In each, our daughter loves spotting and naming great displays of objects associated with the book's title. Here, Stanley the farmer begins with a wonderful double page spread of rural accoutrement (another favourite, Stanley's Cafe, showcases culinary cornucopia from a 1960s-style diner).
This book follows Stanley through a working day on the farm, including spreading manure, sowing crops and bailing hay. He has help from friends, including Shamus the shrew and his small shrew child - Little Woo - one of our daughter's most adored picturebook characters.
After a long day Stanley has dinner, a bath and is last seen tucked up in bed, making this an ideal choice to read as part of a bedtime routine.
Seasons and naturePosted by Max 14 Sep, 2015 08:39AM
WOW! Said the Owl, by Tim Hopgood, published by MacMillan Children's Books
When our daughter was about 14 months old, we took her on her first visit to the Lake District. One gloriously sunny day, the sky was full of colour and the trees of spring were at their most green. It was the kind of Cumbrian day that makes up for the grey mizzle that is equally prevalent.
We decided to take a ferry ride around Lake Windermere, which stops at various points along the way, including the nouveau Wray Castle, built on a hill with wonderful views, making it a lovely picnic spot. As we enjoyed our lunch, our daughter looked out at the water sparkling in the sunlight and the fells shimmering in the haze, and declared: "Nature!"
Tim Hopgood's 'WOW! Said the Owl' is a gorgeous celebration of nature at its most vibrant. When a little owl over-sleeps through the night, she wakes to a new world of light and colour, with the rising glow of the morning sun - "WOW! Said the owl".
As the little owl's day goes on, there are new wonders to behold: The bluest of skies and the yellowest sun. At each new visage we all join in with the little owl's astonishment and repeat: "WOW! Said the owl". When the clouds arrive the little owl sees the most wondrous vision yet - a rainbow! Our daughter loves this page, and it's fun to name all the colours together.
As the sun sets, and dusk arrives, the little owl reflects on his awe-inspiring day. Slowly, as the stars begin to appear, the little owl remembers why owls sleep during the day and awake when it's dark - for a clear, starry, moonlit sky is the most beautiful sight of all.
Seasons and naturePosted by Max 21 Aug, 2015 01:45PM
The Dawn Chorus
, by Suzanne Barton, published by Bloomsbury Children's
Our toddler has been a keen singer for at least as long as she's been able to talk. The first songs we can remember her singing include her take on ABC that occasionally broke into Twinkle Twinkle, and the Sesame Street version of 'We All Sing with the Same Voice'
Lately, she's become proficient at delivering the words and accompanying actions of the washing up song from CBeebies show 'I can cook'
. While we're reassured that she responds well to accomplished singers such Aretha Franklin and Buena Vista Social Club, she adores accompanying Elsa and Ana to melodies centred on 'frozen fractals' and other seemingly unlikely subjects.
The Dawn Chorus, Suzanne Barton's debut picturebook, is a celebration of singing and song, set among the trees, flowers and riverbanks of a forest. Its pages are adorned by an array of poppies, autumnal leaves and musical notes. It is also, we think, a new iteration of the tale of the ugly duckling, promoting the important message that we can all find a place for our innate talents if we practice hard and keep trying after a set back.
When the wonderfully-named young bird, Peep, wakes to the sound of a beautiful tune, we join him as he seeks out its source. On discovering the forest's Dawn Chorus, Peep asks to join them. He is invited to attend an audition before their next morning's recital. Peep practices all evening, before falling asleep, waking too late.
He's given one more chance, and returns home to practice, singing "so sweetly that all of the forest animals stopped to listen". Not wanting to miss his big moment, he keeps himself awake all night, but is too tired to perform when morning comes. "Perhaps you're just not meant to sing", says the conductor, and a despondent Peep walks away.
As the sun sets, Peep starts to sing again, but this time hears the song of a bird that looks just like him. Asking his new friend why it is that he can only sing in the evening he is told: "Because you're a nightingale, just like me".
As this sweet, reflective and wonderfully illustrated book draws to a close, the moon shines and the forest sleeps, and the nightingales sing their duet in perfect harmony.