Over recent weeks I have read and enjoyed some simply beautiful picture books for children that feature themes of friendship, collaboration, kindness, joy, nurture and nature, protection of our environment and family love and relationships. These are just some of my favourites that I would like to recommend.
Best Test by Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty published by Tiny Owl
Best Test is a gorgeous book full of kindness, understanding, friendship and smiles. A little bird finds a strawberry but Frog wants to eat it too, so does little Shrew so they have to decide how to solve the problem. A race! However each animal wants the race to suit their individual skills best so it must involve hopping, jumping and colouring-in. As they progress around the obstacle course they learn that helping each other and becoming friends is the best possible outcome.
This delightful story is perfect for sharing with young children as they learn to accommodate each other’s needs as they now spend time together after many months apart. Even the very youngest child will be able to empathise with the creatures. The fact they all have different skills is recognised and I love the way in which they help each other even when in competition. The text has a wonderful rhythm lending itself to being read aloud and the illustrations are a joy to explore. The animals’ individual personalities are evident and there are some lovely little touches such as Frog’s tongue sticking out of his mouth in earnest concentration and the funny faces section is a treat. A kind and thoughtful book encouraging children to value their own unique talents and to work together with others.
There are some enjoyable activities suggested on the Tiny Owl website.
The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra published by Scallywag Press
The Tale of the Whale is a poetic story of a friendship between a child and a whale but it is also a plea to protect our seas from plastic pollution and to come together with others to do so. The writing is beautiful with the repeated emphasis on the pairing of the child and the whale in their actions and responses highlighting the bond between them.
“I watched with the whale and the whale watched with me”
The illustrations are stunning bringing the diverse life found in our oceans to life for the reader; there is a sense of wonder and exploration on every page. I particularly like the subtle use of the image of the whale on the title page encouraging us to look and examine more closely. The child, the gender is never specified, grows increasingly close to the whale as the story progresses and there is a poignancy to the dawning realisation and understanding of the message the whale is conveying. The observant reader will already have spotted the plastic bottles on the seabed before it is mentioned in the text. The story builds to a climax and the promise made by the child to help the whale before it is too late and the request to the reader to help too. This and the beautiful endpapers bring home the idea that every tiny act each individual does to protect our natural world will make a difference which is an important and empowering message for children to hear.
This special picture book would work across a wide age range offering scope for cross- curricular work too. Scallywag Press also have some helpful activities and teacher resources available on their website
A Smile by Raoul Follereau illustrated by Hoda Hadad published by Pikku Publishing
The poem “A Smile”, attributed to the philanthropist and writer Raoul Follereau and first appearing in his book ‘Le Livre d’Amour’ in 1920, is a wonderful celebration of the power of something small that has a unique value. His beautiful words are worth a slow and careful read. Each line of this thoughtful poem recognises the difference that a smile given can make to the receiver and the emotional impact of this simple human message that costs nothing to share.
“No one is so rich that they can live without a smile.
No one is so poor that they do not deserve a smile.”
The words are full of compassion, understanding and tenderness to those who may be struggling and have particular resonance at the moment as we emerge from lockdown and are able to share smiles more readily.
The words are accompanied by the most joyous illustrations by Hoda Hadadi that provide a storyline missing from the poem itself. The cover depicting a trio of smiling children beneath a beaming sun and jolly smiling clouds instantly lifts your spirits and the endpapers continue the theme with a garden of flowers each of them smiling happily. The reader follows the children as they spread their smiles among the people they meet; the rich man with his downcast face, the young unemployed man lost in sadness and the little girl with the burst balloon. As we turn the pages we watch as their days are transformed by this small act of kindness. We also witness those who were previously sad in turn spreading the joy to others that they meet and this domino effect of a simple smile is heartening to witness.
A beautiful book to share with children this would be excellent to use in the classroom and for assemblies as its message and themes are conveyed in a way that has an impact for any age. A Smile is available to purchase from 19th April.
As Strong As The River by Sarah Noble published by Flying Eye Books
An accomplished debut from Sarah Noble published last month this is a lovely, comforting story combining family love and relationships with an introduction to the wonder of nature. Mama Bear is teaching her cub important life lessons from how to find and catch food to the importance of the perfect tree for scratching that irritating itch on your back.
The text and the beautiful illustrations work in tandem telling the story of the bears’ day as Mama and cub travel through their habitat, Mama gently guiding and advising and cub curious and eager. It is not only the practicalities that the little cub learns but also the importance of patience, not to be in too much of a hurry to grow up, and respect for the natural world. The river is central to the theme of the story being both strong and nurturing and this is mirrored in the role of Mama Bear. The illustrations are gorgeous; the grandeur of the mountains and the powerful torrents of the river acting as a backdrop to the bears’ adventures. I loved the bears themselves being just the right balance of being true to their real appearance and having a child-friendly appeal. The links between the nurturing of nature and the nurturing of family are subtly and gently portrayed and this would be a lovely story to share at bedtime.
Finally, last week I reviewed a rather special picture book, Unlocked: Stories of Hope from Tiny Owl Artists in Lockdown which I would also highly recommend.
I should like to thank Tiny Owl Publishing, Scallywag Press, Pikku Publishing and Flying Eye Books for providing my review copies.
From your descriptions I can see why you’ve lavished fulsome praise on these, and they’re evidently the kind of picture books that emanate positivity at a time when it’s so important for all of us, whatever age we happen to be.
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There’s a vast number of picture books being published at the moment and I receive many review copies, these particular ones stood out for both their optimism and their kindness so I wanted to highlight them. Even though I’m not the target audience they lifted my mood.
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