Picture books can make a difference. Not only for our youngest readers but for all age groups and all types. They can offer humour, entertainment and pleasure but also comfort, encouragement, information and inspiration. Over recent weeks I have read many fabulous picture books including re-issues, debuts, some from well-known authors, illustrators and publishers others from smaller independents. It is difficult to review them all but I wanted to highlight three new titles that I believe are both significant and rather special for different reasons. They are reviewed below in publication date order.
The Neighbourhood Surprise by Sarah van Dongen
This delightful and happy debut is a joyful celebration of community and friendship that also introduces young children to traditional foods from different cultures and different diets such as vegetarian and vegan.
Mrs Fig is popular with her neighbours and when they discover that she is moving to a retirement home they decide to host a special party to say goodbye to their dear friend. Everyone gets to work and families spend time creating delicious food for everyone to share and enjoy. The story culminates in a wonderful multi-racial and multi-generational celebration when everyone gathers together in a glorious street party.
Tiny Owl publishers have a lovely theme for many of their books, they are full of hope and kindness, and this charming book is no exception. From the opening double page spread the reader is invited to explore and to notice. We are able to follow individual characters throughout the story and watch how they come together to play, to cook, to talk and to share. What is striking is the connections between individuals, families and generations and the overriding feeling is one of acceptance and even of love. The illustrations are cheerful and detailed with so much to explore that this book deserves a lingering read rather than a rush through.
The final pages are devoted to an explanation by Sarah van Dongen of the different diets and the varying reasons for people choosing to be vegetarian or vegan. The endpapers depict a tempting selection of foods for young readers to identify which is a lovely touch. A happy celebration of what unites us rather than divides us, this is a picture book to delight in.
Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew
Picture book retellings of fairy tales are many and varied but this beautiful story, a modern adaptation of The Little Mermaid, has a special tenderness and hope at its heart.
Nen the merman lives deep beneath the waves exploring the seas and searching for true love, eventually ignoring his father’s warnings Nen starts to explore the world above the sea. One day his song reaches a lonely young fisherman named Ernest and when the two meet they feel a special connection. But Nen’s father, Pelagios, is not happy and creates a storm to separate them and Ernest is lost beneath the waves as Nen fights to save him.
This is a stunning book. The illustrations are gorgeous and convey both the special bond between Nen and Ernest and the beauty of the landscape. Inspired perhaps by the Suffolk coastline James Mayhew has captured the scale of the vast skies and horizons and these are a spectacular backdrop to the sensitively told story. The switch to vertical presentation empathising the depths of the sea is an inspired touch and the endpapers changing from the stormy seas at the start of the story to the rainbow above a calm horizon at the end reflect the changing circumstances of the characters beautifully. There is a subtle environmental message contained too and this is a picture book that leaves the reader with much to think about. The text is gentle and lyrical adding to the fairy tale quality of this thoughtful and kind story.
Published by Owlet Press to coincide with Pride month this lovely book encourages both understanding and empathy but also celebrates diversity and inclusion in a kind and appropriate way for its audience. The personal touch of its creators is apparent in every page and one can tell that this joint collaboration is important to them both. Thankfully this is a fairy tale retelling with a happy ending.
We Want Our Books by Jake Alexander
We Want Our Books is a debut picture book by Jake Alexander with an important message that even the smallest voice can make a difference when it is used for good.
Rosa has lots of questions and her Dad knows that the library is the place for her to find the answers. However the library is closed and not just for the day but for ever to be replaced by a restaurant. Rosa and her sister decide to put on a protest and and do everything they can to try to save their library. Although at first people are too busy or too preoccupied to join the girls Rosa and Maria persist and gradually other voices join theirs and united they can make a big difference.
We Want our Books is an inspiring story and a rallying cry to us all to save our libraries before it is too late. The tone is positive and stresses the power of communities to alter decisions that affect them all and the fact that this is started by two young girls is an empowering message for children. Jake Alexander has presented an important subject in a child friendly way. The text is short but conveys the message succinctly and the bold illustrations support the story with speech bubbles and placard messages. The front endpapers show empty shelves with just a few books scattered about whereas those at the end depict well stocked library shelves ready and waiting for users to borrow. It is lovely to see the wide range of people using the library when it reopens, a microcosm of society just as it should be. A picture book about books, libraries and the important role they play in communities is one to cherish.
I should like to thank the publishers, Tiny Owl Books, Owlet Press, Two Hoots and Catherine Ward for my review copies. All three books are available now and can be purchased online by clicking on the titles.
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