Tag Archives: companionship

Never Take a Bear to School

Never Take a Bear to School
Mark Sperring and Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books
The creators of the gorgeous Your Hand in My Hand have teamed up again for this starting school or nursery story; and according to the two of them, there is only one rule: ‘you just cannot take your bear into school.’ As if!
After all he’d scare everyone silly with that huge bulk and gigantic paws;

he’d sabotage the child-sized furniture and fill the room with ill-timed growls and grizzles. Then, come lunchtime, nobody else would get a look in …

Imagine his crushing capacity in a PE session; and he’d completely trash your role-play area: his havoc wreaking potential just makes the whole idea a complete no-no. And anyhow you’ll be far too busy getting to know the ropes, making friends, even making a picture of your favourite thing …

Much better then, to have that ursine pal waiting by the school gates at the end of the day, when he’ll welcome you with open arms; and you can walk home together talking about that important first day. Then once at home well, you can do whatever you want – just you and YOUR BEAR!
The possibilities entertained in Mark Sperring’s funny rhyming narrative lend themselves so beautifully to Britta’s picture making. Her scenes of chaos and consternation among the children are a treat for those around the age of the little boy and his classmates; equally so, the fun times boy and bear have together at the end of that first school day. Yes it’s a lovely starting school story but too much fun to keep just for those run up to it days, or those in the little boy’s situation: it’s a wonderful ‘what if ’ story for foundation stage audiences no matter when or who.

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Norton and Alpha


Norton and Alpha
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster
From the creator of Blue & Bertie comes a wonderfully whimsical tale of robot, Norton. Norton is an inveterate collector of ‘interesting things’; things that he used in the construction of his amazing inventions. Then one day he comes upon a small nameless item that he employs in what he calls Project Alpha and from then on, Norton has a constant companion to help with his collecting. Alpha has a nose for digging deep and unearthing all manner of marvellous things, such as the baffling object he discovers one Tuesday morning …


Determined to learn more about it, the two eventually manage to extricate it from the ground and take IT home to Norton’s abode.


Exhaustive tests prove fruitless and finally Norton tosses the object – now distinctly the worse for wear – out of the window. All that remains of their experiments is one very tiny round thing, something Norton decides to keep just in case …
Several days pass and on Friday the conditions are right for another treasure hunting foray. They run to open the doors and the sight that meets their eyes is truly …


You need little imagination to decide what they spent that day collecting and it mattered not that they knew not what IT was.
What a joyful story, what endearing characters; and Kristyna Litten’s restricted colour palette is altogether apt for her otherworldly story.

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The White Cat and the Monk


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 …


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 …


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


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


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.


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 …


and the monk’s final words


” … 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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