Tag Archives: books

The Children Who Loved Books

The Children Who Loved Books
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

The title alone made my heart sing: a story about book-loving children. What more can a book-mad reviewer of children’s books ask? Perhaps just that the book is as good as one hopes, and this one definitely lives up to my expectations.
It features a family of book lovers that have replaced almost everything else with books. There’s no car, no television, and they live in a caravan: no matter: everything they really need can be supplied by books.

There comes a day however, that their home just can’t accommodate any more books: it’s time to take things in hand …

Needless to say, things are NOT the same thereafter: the table is a tad unbalanced; Angus can’t see out of the window and the family, with so much space between them, begin to grow apart.
One day Lucy brings home a library book in her school bag and the magical experience of reading, with its power to enrich and unite, is rekindled, and with it comes a realisation that although it is wonderful to own books – lots of them – libraries have much to offer too.

The undisguised message at the heart of this is two-fold: the first concerns the powerful effects books and reading can have on a family; the second – one we adults need to keep reminding ourselves – is that a lot of material things are unnecessary for happiness.
With visual touches of Bob Graham, and a nod to Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room …

Peter Carnavas has created a wonderful celebration of the power of sharing books and of libraries with plenty to think about and discuss with both children and adults.
I’m delighted to see New Frontier Publishing making his enchanting picture books available in the UK.

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Otto the Book Bear in the Snow

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Otto the Book Bear in the Snow
Katie Cleminson
Jonathan Cape
If you didn’t meet library book residents Otto and his pal Ernest in their first adventure, then take the opportunity to do so now in this wintry one. Otto and all his library friends are getting ready for their annual winter party, an occasion Otto eagerly anticipates. But then Otto’s book is borrowed and the family doesn’t seem very eager to return it – worrying because that party date is looming ever closer. Even worse is to come though: the family departs for a holiday leaving Otto and Ernest all alone in the house, a house that’s right across the city from their library home –and a great distance for the two book bears to carry their book. Another strategy must be found and fast. All it needs is an envelope, some stamps and …

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That WAS the plan but things don’t quite go as they’d hoped. The postman drops the sack as he cycles along the snowy road and CRASH! The friends find themselves hurtling into the path of an on-coming car. Phew!

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Narrow escape but the library’s still a long, long walk away. Can they ever make it home, let alone in time for that party?
A real treat for lovers of books, reading, libraries and of course, bears. Katie Cleminson’s scenes, executed in pen and ink, watercolour and pencil, have something of a vintage feel to them.

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The Darkest Dark / Ludwig the Space Dog

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The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers
Macmillan Children’s Books
The dark is for dreams – and morning is for making them come true.’ So says Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut on whose childhood this book is based. Herein we meet him as a boy, a boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut, flying to the moon or Mars.
Chris however, was afraid of the dark. For him the darkness that filled his bedroom when the lights were turned out was a darkness filled with aliens, very scary aliens.

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One particular night, he has to overcome his fears and sleep in his own bed or miss the opportunity to visit a neighbour’s house the following evening to view the Apollo 11 lunar landing. So on the night of July 20th 1969, as he watches the TV (the only one on their island home) and sees the events unfolding, he realises just how dark space is – ‘the darkest dark ever’.
This is a turning point for the would-be astronaut. Chris has lost his fear and for the very first time he appreciates ‘the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.’ And in that dark your dreams await, dreams that can become your life, not tomorrow morning but some time …
The illustrators of this story really bring out both the mystery of darkness and the depth of young Chris’s nyctophobia when everything around him takes on a brooding, sinister appearance …

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Certainly this is an inspiring story to share with youngsters who fear the dark, as well as those with an interest in space, whether or not they aspire to become astronauts: one never knows. Stories can generate dreams and you’ve read what Chris Hadfield has to say about those …
There’s more for space lovers in

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Ludwig the Space Dog
Henning Löhlein
Templar Publishing
I guess if I had to choose an alternative world in which to live, I’d be pretty happy with the one wherein Ludwig and his five friends reside. It’s a world of books no less and unsurprisingly Ludwig loves to read, especially books about space. These books – as books generally do – generate dreams and ideas; and for Ludwig those ideas are about space and flying.
Try as he might though, Ludwig just cannot stay in the air for more than a very short time;

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but then something unexpected crash lands right before his eyes. From that something steps its pilot – a space explorer who is in urgent need of assistance. And that is the starting point for a whole new life for Ludwig. Having fixed the rocket’s engine, he accepts the explorer’s invitation and finally takes flight on an amazing exploration of space.
Children can enjoy entering the bookish world of Ludwig and his friends, and joining the dog on his space adventure through the 3D glasses provided in the pocket inside the book’s front cover.
I love those quirky collage style illustrations of Henning Löhlein, which, even without the glasses, have in places, a three-dimensional look.

Operation Bunny / Tally & Squill in a Sticky Situation

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Operation Bunny
Sally Gardner illustrated by David Roberts
Orion Children’s Books
Meet young Emily Vole, nine years old and, having been left abandoned in a hatbox believed to be ‘an explosive device’ at Stansted Airport, adopted by the Dashwoods, who subsequently had their own triplets. Emily is then relegated to the status of a servant and made to sleep on an ironing board in the laundry room. Fortunately for Emily however, kindly neighbour Miss String (a sort of fairy godmother figure) and her huge talking cat, Fidget, step in:

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(I was greatly amused to discover that Fidget liked nothing better than’ ironing while listening to cricket on the radio.’) and within a year, Emily has learned to read, write, do maths and speak both German and French, not to mention Old English. Not only that but her new friends introduce her to a whole new exciting life in a world of magic and danger, a world she’d never even dreamed about. But it’s Emily herself who inadvertently does something that results in her becoming the new Keeper of the Keys.
Subsequently Emily inherits a shop and, aided and abetted by Fidget and a pair of detectives, Buster – a grumpy individual, and James Cardwell – much more equable and sensible, turns detective herself and is determined to solve the mystery of Operation Bunny.
Sally Gardener’s writing style is delightfully quirky and contemporary: Mr Dashwood is a hedge fund manager and his wife has strawberry-blonde hair extensions and ‘trusted in her credit cards: silver, gold and platinum.’
This will make independent readers (not to mention adults) laugh out loud in places and David Roberts’ deliciously spiky illustrations are a real treat adding to the deliciousness of the whole experience. (That Harpella of his is enough to send shivers down your spine.)

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And, with Emily and her friends now running a detective agency, those who enjoy the slightly dark-edged humour in this can look forward to further cases of the magical kind.
The story would also make a great read aloud to share with those not yet confident to read it solo.

A servant girl is also the heroine of another new series, the first of which is:

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Tally & Squill In a Sticky Situation
Abie Longstaff illustrated by James Brown
Little Brown
This story features orphan and kitchen maid Tallulah (aka Tally) and her pet squirrel, Squill. Tally’s home is Mollett Manor, an old mansion; but she’s only to be found below stairs, so to speak in the scullery where she sleeps in a sink. However, Tally’s a very bright young thing and when she discovers first a plethora of spiders, some mysterious ancient carved cubes, an ancient tapestry and then a secret, magical library beneath the manor – a library wherein the books come to life, she’s in her element.
When Mollett Manor is burgled it offers a challenge to Tally who determines to catch the thieves; but can she do it? Well, she has Squill and those magic books …

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plus Lord Mollett’s endorsement, “You’re the most sensible person we have around here.” And what of those flashes of seeming recognition she keeps having: where do they fit in to all this?
Using plenty of short sentences, Abie Longstaff weaves a good tale; and this one’s likely to draw newly independent readers into its web and hold them spellbound throughout. There are touches of humour and James Brown’s illustrations plus the various lists, pages of rules,

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notes and other written items add to the fun of this magical book.

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The White Cat and the Monk

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The White Cat and the Monk
Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith
Walker Books
Having been totally bowled over by Sydney Smith’s Footpath Flowers, I knew I wanted to review this book despite not being familiar with any of its author’s work. (In her note at the back she tells us ‘In Irish, the word bán means white. Pangur has been said to refer to the word fuller, a person who fluffed and whitened cloth. We might think, then, that Pangur Bán was a cat with brilliantly white fur. Perhaps she even glowed in the candlelight.’) In Sidney Smith’s spread here, she surely does so …

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In fact in all his glorious illustrations herein, I detect the portrayal of a similar reverence for life and learning shown by the two characters , the monk and the cat, as those of the adult and child in Footpath Flowers.
Essentially, this is an interpretation of a medieval Irish poem penned by a Benedictine monk and it’s through the monk’s lenses that we view his solitary world. The scholarly monk shares his cell with the white cat of the title and with readers, his meditation on life with Pangur and with his ‘peaceful pursuit of knowledge’ through his books. While he does this the cat in its turn is busy with his own pursuits in the spartan abode: he stalks a mouse …

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Each is content with his lot and both are completely absorbed in what they do.

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There is actually within this story, another story for one of the monk’s manuscripts shows this –

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an even more ancient portrayal of another monk and cat. And we’re treated to a marvellous illuminated manuscript spread which in itself opens up a wonderful opportunity to discuss the art created by medieval monks.

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My first encounter with the poem was through the W.H. Auden adaption wherein the monk addresses the cat and begins:
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
Alone together, Scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me, study.
This second, thanks to Bogart and Smith is for me, more beautiful, more wondrous. Towards the end, Smith’s ink and watercolour frames take us towards the window …

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and the monk’s final words

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” … and I find light in the darkness.” Pangur seemingly, is the light in more than one sense. Both monk and cat can delight in and celebrate each other’s good fortune : so too can we if only we choose to view the world through similar lenses.
Like the partnership between monk and cat, that between author, Jo Ellen Bogart and artist Sydney Smith is totally in harmony; and the outcome of their collaboration is so much more than the sum of its parts.

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The Detective Dog

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The Detective Dog
Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie
Macmillan Children’s Books
There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.
Sniff, sniff, sniff. Time after time,
Nell the Detective solved crime after crime.’

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but this is much more than a crime-solver, which we’ll discover as the story progresses and we meet some of the other characters, in particular her scatty carer, six-year–old Peter and on a particular weekday, (Nell doesn’t do detecting on that day of the week: she devotes Mondays to hearing children read at Peter’s school) his classmates and teacher …

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The smells of the school delight Nell, in particular that of the books. But then, one Monday, the aroma emanating from the school isn’t quite right: something seems to be different. And it is. Mr Jones is distraught: all the books have gone missing.
Immediately Nell is hot on the trail, following her nose out the school, through the town …

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and out into the countryside. And it’s there the thief is unmasked …

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I know I’ve been bad. … I only meant to borrow. I was planning to give all the books back tomorrow.” is his explanation. Can you guess where this one’s going yet? Nell certainly knows … and off everyone races at full pelt right back to town and into …

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Ted cannot believe his eyes at the sight of such wonders, enrols himself immediately and all ends happily with the school books returned to their rightful place just waiting for those regular Monday visits by Detective Dog Nell. And there’s a new story awaiting her there too …
Nell knows best! Long may she continue, but more importantly, long may that particular library and all our libraries continue – what a wonderful ode to our precious libraries this is. It’s also a brilliant new partnership between two amazing talents.

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