As we reach the halfway point of the year I have been prompted to look back at the books I have read and enjoyed over the last six months. As the year began I was savouring a beautiful illustrated book, a present from my sister, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. This bestselling book probably requires little introduction and over the weeks that followed it was a book I returned to often as it comforts and reassures through its text and art. By March it became clear that we all needed comfort and reassurance and I have been grateful for the many lovely children’s picture books that have in their own way lifted my spirits and provided hope. So I am sharing some of my favourites; kind books, hopeful books, thoughtful books, cheering books. I hope they work their magic for the children you share them with and maybe for the adults who are doing the sharing too.
Paris Cat by Dianne Hofmeyer and Piet Grobler
This is cheating a little as this stylish book is to be published on 9th July but I was lucky enough to receive an early free review copy from Tiny Owl Publishers. A book to lift the spirits, this is charming, entertaining and full of fun. From the wonderful endpapers where we are treated to a cat’s eye view of Paris to the biographies of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker at the end of the story this is a picturebook with a difference. Paris Cat is no fluffy, docile pet cat, this is a cat with attitude, frankly rather like several cats of my acquaintance. Cat believes she is different to the alley cats, she knows she can do anything she sets her mind to so leaving her family behind she sets off to Paris to find her destiny. But perhaps living the high life is not what she really wants and Cat learns some life lessons during her adventures. Text and illustrations combine beautifully in this story crammed with joie de vivre. I enjoyed the clever touches such as the fish bone feathers and cigarette holder and the slinky style of the cats closely resembling the nightclub dancers. This is also a wonderful way of introducing children to well known historical figures with just enough information provided in the biographical details to encourage readers to investigate further. An enjoyable and happy story.
Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew
I grew fond of Mrs Noah and her quiet wisdom in Mrs Noah’s Pockets and in this second book she once again shows her kindness, creativity and nurturing nature. This beautiful story combined with simply stunning illustrations is a sumptuous and wonderful, joyous read, perfect for now. A book to savour and linger over. When the Ark reaches land Mr Noah sets about building a house. Mrs Noah meanwhile plants seeds, seeds of hope, helped by children and the magical creatures she has saved. In time new life of different types flourishes and the new world she has created is full of hope and gentle kindness. The wisdom of the story coupled with the vibrant collage style illustrations displaying inclusivity and celebrating flora, fauna and music result in this being a book of optimism. We need optimism, kindness and hope especially now and I am so glad that this beautiful book is available to share with children. Mrs Noah’s Garden was published by Otter-Barry Books in May.
Bloom written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Robyn Wilson- Owen
This is a lovely story tenderly told which ensures young children will be comforted and reassured. Each day a little girl admires a pretty flower that flourishes in a garden she passes on the way to school. She talks to it and appreciates its beauty; every morning it cheers her as she walks past. Unfortunately the man who lives in the house is possessive of his garden and shouts angrily at the small girl to stay away. Over the coming days without the little girl’s visits the flower droops and its beautiful petals no longer open. The furious man tries everything but he is unable to make the flower grow. This is thoughtful picture book conveying ideas and themes that matter. Bloom confirms for us the importance of appreciating what we have, sharing our good fortune with others and showing kindness even to those who may not be kind to us, These can be difficult lessons to learn sometimes but this gorgeous story encourages readers to nurture one another. You can read my full review here. Bloom was published by Tiny Owl earlier this month.
Felix After the Rain written and illustrated by Dunja Jogan translated by Olivia Hellewell
This is such a beautiful book. Wonderful illustrations which encourage the reader to linger combine with a rich text to create something that will comfort and reassure. Felix is unhappy. He carries a large black suitcase around with him everywhere. Although he does not really understand what is in the suitcase it contains grief, hurt and worry. All these feeling are locked away in the case. Until one day a little boy opens the suitcase while Felix sleeps and releases the sorrow, fears and troubles that have been hidden inside. Felix is uplifted and, full of joy, he rejoins the world around him and discovers that he is welcomed. This is a wonderful book to prompt discussion with children about emotions and how to handle feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety. The story ends with Felix being gently embraced by those around him. I think this is perfect. Felix is being treated with care, he will not be overwhelmed by others as he rejoins the world he had cut himself off from. This will, I think, reassure children that should they be brave enough to communicate their worries and not hide them away they too will be treated with gentleness and care. Sadly this could be a useful book to have in the classroom to help children who may be feeling overwhelmed by recent events or bereavement. My full review contains a link to a video trailer from Tiny Owl.
Perdu by Richard Jones
I have a soft spot for this lovely picturebook. Perdu, the little lost dog is all alone with no place to call home. Captivated by a fluttering leaf that floats down the stream alongside him he follows it in the hope that he will find ‘a place to be’. We follow his journey as he travels through forests and fields, the stream gradually becomes a river and he slowly makes his way to the large city in the distance. This is the first picture book that Richard Jones has both written and illustrated and it is a gem. In addition to the small lost dog, there are parallels to others who may be trying to find a place where they can belong be that those displaced from their own countries or people struggling to fit in with others. This is a soothing book to read and a celebration of the power of kindness. Its hopeful theme will empower little ones as they listen or read. They can see that even the smallest voices can make a big difference when they are used to be kind. Just lovely. A more detailed review is available here. Perdu was published in April by Simon and Schuster Children’s Books.
The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth
Another picture book in which children display thoughtful understanding and the ability to make a difference. The trees stand proud in a forest where a group of friends choose to make their home. The community is protected by the forest. However gradually the adults chop down more and more of the trees to make shelters and larger dwellings and eventually an enormous wall to keep them secure. The adults grow distrustful and fearful of what lies beyond the wall and it is the children who venture outside the boundary for more wood. Once on the other side the children discover a small tree, it is the very last tree and they decide that they must save it. This is a thought provoking story which captures the concern for our environment which children readily relate to. This book celebrates community and conveys an important message of hope for the future. It is children and young people who often appear the most committed to protecting our natural world and this picture book portrays that positivity beautifully. The Last Tree was published in February by Pavilion Children’s Books.
The Bird Within Me by Sarah Lundberg
This beautiful book, inspired by the life and childhood of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, is a story about finding courage and being true to yourself. Although ‘being true to yourself’ is a description used on many books in this particular case it is both fitting and ultimately moving. The story is set in 1920s Sweden and young Berta is a girl who notices the world around her and has an urge to create. She doesn’t fit in with the expectations of her father and her local community. Berta is a little different to those around her and rather than conforming she follows her own path in the belief that in that way she will live a happier life. This takes courage. Children and young people, possibly adults too, will find this an uplifting read despite the grief experienced by young Berta early in the story. The art is wonderful. This is one of those books where each time I return to it I discover more, learn more and therefore gain more enjoyment from this special book. I can see this working well with a wide age group. The Bird Within Me has won prestigious awards in Sweden when it was first published and the English version was published earlier this year in the UK by Book Island.
Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager
This poignant picture book takes the reader on a journey through the world of ideas and looks at the deeper meaning of the everyday things that we may often take for granted. Children ask questions all the time. Some of those questions are easier for parents and teachers to answer than others and some may even be ones that adults are searching for answers to themselves. This beautiful picture book is a lyrical look at life’s biggest questions that will gently reassure while at the same time encouraging children to celebrate the joy of life. Both the text and the illustrations could have many interpretations and although described as a book for aged 3+ I envisage this being used with much older children to prompt thoughtful discussion. You can can find out more in my review. Child of Galaxies was published in May by Flying Eye Books.
This stunning and poignant book was originally published in 2013 and then unfortunately went out out print. Following a successful crowdfunding appeal it was republished this year by Book Island. It is difficult to convey the impact of this book in a few sentences. The story centres around the enduring and loving relationship between a small child and her grandmother. As we journey alongside these characters we experience ageing, loss, illness and grief yet despite the sadness there is a quiet beauty to the story. The illustrations are beautiful and capture Maia’s joyful spirit and her deep love of her grandmother. Moving without being sentimental this picture book is the first I have encountered that deals with the subject of stroke. For many reasons this is a book that will be of value in schools encouraging thoughtful response and discussion.
So there we are, not quite a Top Ten but very nearly! When I read these books I was able to imagine them making a difference to the children for whom they are intended. Prompting smiles, soothing worries, encouraging, entertaining and nurturing just like all the very best picture books do.