Tag Archives: music

The Cranky Caterpillar

The Cranky Caterpillar
Richard Graham
Thames & Hudson

Here’s an uber-stylish debut picture book from Richard Graham based on an utterly ingenious notion and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before:
It revolves round a little girl, Ezra by name and a caterpillar. Nothing very unusual about that, you might be thinking but wait. This particular caterpillar resides inside the piano in Ezra’s home and is anything but happy.

In fact, when the girl discovers the creature, it couldn’t look more woebegone and she resoles to try and improve its lot. After all who could blame the thing having been stuck inside a piano, going round and round, churning out just one sad tune for what feels like an eternity.
Fresh air, a tasty meal …

and a new hat all fail to help the caterpillar change its tune, but then a brainwave strikes Ezra.
She invites her friends Pablo Tuba, Gary Gee-tar and Wassily over one afternoon and along with the house cat, they form a band; a band that fills the room with wonderfully uplifting rainbow colours: imagine the effect upon the caterpillar.
Suddenly from within the piano there comes a resounding ‘BOOM’ and when Ezra looks inside the piano, there’s no sign of its erstwhile resident.
An amazing transformation has occurred …

Irresistibly quirky, this funky tale will enchant readers of all ages especially those with a musical bent.

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Say Zoop!

Say Zoop!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Before you’ve finished reading this latest offering from the inimitable Tullet you and your listeners will have said a whole lot more than ‘Zoop’ and had an absolutely brilliant time to boot. Herein the artist takes pointillism and imbues it with his puckish genius.
It begins with a simple blue dot and an invitation to say ‘OH!’ A bigger dot appears demanding an appropriately ‘HUGE OH!’ and so on … Whoppee! We’re starting to make music – soft soft loud soft soft loud and so on; but that’s not all – how about a crescendo or the reverse …
We can also do a spot of dot counting or try some beats in dots and … wait for it, dive in dot sounds, rising up and … down;

then swim dot style, shiver and even cry.
Enter red dot – say ‘AH!’ And off we go again – double the possibilities: a dot dialogue or better still a robot dot dialogue – amazing! Then a spot of tickle induced laughter, dot style of course; or maybe a song and even a walk.
Oh no! Now there’s a very noisy argument … Phew! They’ve made up.
Oh my goodness, now there’s a sunny looking yellow dot WAAHOO! And off we go again, trampolining, zooming car style or singing like birds …

A whole new language perhaps?

Superbly creative: this absolutely cries out for performance over and over – first vocal, then perhaps with paint and after that, what about both together: WAAHOOAHTCHONKOHPLUCKZIKZOOPWHISHHH!! What are you waiting for?
The possibilities are endless and no reading will be the same as any other.
Zooper-dooper fun!

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Follow Your Dreams: The Wooden Camel & Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band

The Wooden Camel
Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani
Lantana Publishing
Despite his youth and lack of stature, Etabo dreams of becoming a camel racer, much to the amusement of his older siblings. But the lad’s dreams are not destroyed, even when his father announces that they have to sell the family’s camels to buy water. He asks the Sky God, Akuj for help but receives the response: “Your dreams are enough.” Surely this cannot be so, but it looks increasingly likely as Etabo and his brother and sister are sent out to mind the goats …

and eventually his siblings too have to find paid work so the task is left entirely to Etabo.
He continues to dream of racing camels; but his dreams are not enough. He begs to ride one of the horses in big sister, Akiru’s care but receives a firm refusal; even the cats, chickens and his favourite goat won’t let him ride on their backs.
Once again, the boy prays to Akuj but receives the same “Your dreams are enough” response.
Akiru, saddened by her brother’s increasing unhappiness, sets to work on a project that keeps those dreams of Etabo’s alive,

and for the time being, they have to be enough. Hold fast to those dreams Etabo.

Adreani’s scenes of the Turkana people of Kenya set against the harsh landscapes are truly beautiful and perfectly complement the soft, sympathetic humour of Kahiu’s text. A book to cherish, to share, ponder upon and discuss widely.

Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing
Jimmy Finnigan has a dream: he wants to start a band. He has something of a problem though – his place of residence has an award for ‘the prettiest village ever’ and seemingly each and every other resident is protective or at least wants to keep their particular place ‘nice’. Every place except the woods that is: they’re a pretty wild spot and the subject of adult warnings to keep away. Jimmy’s parents are no exception and send him to the attic in search of a quiet, indoor pursuit. What he finds though, results, with a bit of help from Dad, in this …

Pretty soon, this musical interest has become an obsession, Posters appear, but there are no takers …

until Jimmy remembers a place that might just prove fruitful; but when he forays into the forest, even that one is nowhere to be seen.
The lad is on the point of giving up the whole enterprise when he hears a distant crashing, bleeping, booshing, boinging, doofing, plonking and crashing. Hardly able to contain his excitement, he follows the sounds to their source and discovers a wild trio busy practising.
A conversation, some shenanigans and a search ensue; a search resulting in something altogether unexpected and beyond Jimmy’s wildest dreams. And after that nothing is ever quite the same again …
Suitably zany, action-packed, wilder than wild, illustrations accompany Tom Knight’s boogying extravaganza. Get your ear plugs ready, your bodies bopping and join the fun. Some of those spirited scenes certainly got me going.

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling
Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books
Full of heart and wonderfully quirky is Ering’s lastest tale. Herein we meet Captain Alfred on board his little sailing boat on his way home to his wife. On board with him are a whole lot of ducks for his farmyard, his dog and, nestling inside his violin case, an almost ready to hatch, duck egg for his wife. The Captain has already decided upon a name for the soon to be born duckling: Alfred Fiddleduckling.

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As Capt. Alfred fiddles, a storm is blowing up unexpectedly – a big one and such is its might that for hours the boat is tossed and buffeted and engulfed by a silent blanket of fog. Captain Alfred, his ducks and his violin are cast overboard and all that appears drifting far offshore towards an anxiously awaiting Captain’s wife fretting on the porch, is the just hatching Alfred Fiddleduckling in the fiddle case.
The newborn creature emerges into a solitary, mist-swirling world and his first quack is directed towards an inanimate object floating close by. And ‘Alfred embraced the object with all of his heart. And he caressed it so it would not feel lonely as he did..
Albert’s caresses are rewarded by another unexpected happening: the object makes the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard: the sound of friendship – sweet solace for his solitude.

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Alfred loved the object! And, by the sound of its beautiful music, the object loved Alfred, too.
And as the sounds continue to drift and waft through the swirling fog and duckling and violin drift likewise, they come to ground in a mysterious place and those sounds drifted on until they reach the ears of a lonely beast. It’s Captain Alfred’s dog and soon he too is swept up in the music and ‘in just a twinkle of an eye, the duckling and the dog were best of buddies.
Eventually, thanks to the music, duckling and dog and the Captain’s wife are drawn together.

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We’re not told though, of the Captain’s safe return home; rather we’re led to believe in it through both the final words ‘And you can guess what will happen if Alfred Puddleduck just keeps on playing!’ and the final scene wherein music and the missing are drifting closer together.

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Such are the quality of Ering’s prose and his paintings with their thick brush-strokes and delicate pen/ink lines, that one can almost hear the sounds of the beautiful, swirling music and feel the eddying fog.
An enchantingly lovely, life-affirming book that resonates long after its covers have been closed, and even those with that tactile spine and embossed lettering and images, are alluring.

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Ossiri and the Bala Mengro

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Ossiri and the Bala Mengro
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Hannah Tolson
Child’s Play
Travellers have a rich folklore, that I know having taught many traveller children, as a primary teacher in an outer London borough school close to which was a traveller site. They are also fiercely proud and eager to learn and to prove themselves. These characteristics are demonstrated in this story told by a Romani storyteller and a picture book author. Its heroine is traveller girl, Ossiri who lived with her family who earned their living as ‘Tattin Folki’ (rag-and-bone people) and were wonderful recyclers. Ossiri loved to help her father and grandfather loading, looking after the horses and making things to be used in the recycling of items the grown ups collected.
The entire family were music lovers and Ossiri longs to play an instrument herself. Despite her father’s explanation as to why this can’t happen, the young girl holds fast to her dream and decides to make an instrument for herself. Thus the Tattin Django comes into being.

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The sounds Ossiri makes on it however, are anything but music according to her family and even the birds take flight. Undaunted, Ossiri resolves to keep practising and improve her skill before her next performance.
Then comes the time for the whole family to take to the road again, destination Lancashire. “ … leave your Tattin Django here, ” her father advises but grandfather suggests otherwise and so the instrument goes with them. And that’s when Ossiri first hears mention (from a farmer’s daughter) of a huge hairy ogre said to reside in a cave near to where they’ve set up camp: An ogre who loves to sleep and woe betide anyone who should wake him.
Ossiri does wake the dreaded Bala Mengro though, with her playing; but his reaction is not what she expects.

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Rather he demands she play again and what’s more, he sings and dances to the sounds she creates, handsomely rewarding her for so doing.
The tale doesn’t end there though, for the instrument is stolen: is that to be the end of Ossiri’s fame and fortune? Happily, not, for we’re told on the final spread that ‘she played from the heart …’ And so she does, until this day,

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in very shiny leather boots!’

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The Food of Love

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Playing From the Heart
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
There’s a whole lot of heart in this, the latest Peter H. Reynolds story. Herein we meet young Raj who, as a small child, starts as a piano plunker, delighting in every sound …

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and without lessons develops into a creative player making up his own music. Impressed, his father hires a piano teacher who teaches him the skills and techniques …

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but despite his accomplishments, there’s no joy and eventually Raj stops playing altogether.

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Raj grows up, leaves home and goes to work in the city. His father grows older and notices the silence left by the absence of his son. Time passes and then Raj hears that his father is not well. He hurries home and his father has a special request: he asks his son to play him a song, not one he’d been taught but that one of his own making – the one that flows straight from his heart.

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Like his protagonist’s playing, Reynolds surely creates this from the heart. It’s a plea to nurture, rather than stifle children’s natural creativity: to let imagination and enjoyment thereof, not precision and preoccupation with the ‘perfect form’ to lead the way.
Everything about this book is a delight: the hand-lettered text which somehow serves to heighten the intensity of the telling, the mixed media (pen and ink, watercolour, gouache and tea) illustrations. Reynolds’ use of colour too speaks volumes: his palette is limited to browns, greys and blues with a touch of gold and purple except where Raj is in creative mode; then the notes flowing from the piano are brightly coloured ‘whispery and sweet’.
A beautiful and timeless tale, (for parents, almost a cautionary one) that will resonate long after the covers have been closed and the book set aside.

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Jack’s Worry
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Jack loves to play his trumpet and eagerly anticipates his ‘first-ever concert’ with his mum in the audience. On the big day however, the lad awakes with ‘a Worry’. And no matter what he does and where he goes, the Worry is right there with him.

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So overwhelming is the wretched Worry that Jack finds even playing his trumpet doesn’t shift the thing: seemingly it’s there to stay. Then comes the time to leave for the concert and that’s when the poor boy feels completely overwhelmed …

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Eventually he confronts the THING and explains to his mum: “I don’t want to play in the concert … I’m worried I’ll make a mistake and you won’t love me anymore!
Fortunately he has an understanding mum whose reassuring words Jack takes on board and later, even passes on to his classmates: “The concert isn’t about playing perfectly. It’s about having fun and sharing something you love with people who love you.”
By the time Jack gets to school, the Worry has shrunk to tiny proportions and he and his friends  all enjoy their performance tremendously.

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Brilliantly empowering: a cracking book to share with children faced with any potentially tricky situation; and in particular one to help youngsters understand and deal with their anxieties. It’s sympathetic without being sentimental and Zuppardi’s whimsical style illustrations really do capture the intensity of Jack’s emotions superbly well.

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If Music Be the Food of Love

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Heartsong
Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray
Orchard Books
Antonio Vivaldi and his music, and stories of orphan girls who grew up in an orphanage/music school, the Ospedale della Pietà (in Venice) were the inspiration for this powerfully told and beautifully illustrated book.
The young Vivaldi was director of music at the institution and wrote many pieces for the girls in his choir.

 

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One of these was the foundling child Laura whose name Jane Ray came upon on a visit to the Vivaldi Museum in a list, written in an old ledger, of the foundling babies left at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Abandoned as a baby, Laura who is mute, narrates her own story telling of her musical education, her daily duties,

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her friendships and how music, in particular her flute playing, finally becomes her redemption.

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Jane Ray’s evocative illustrations have a powerful haunting quality that resonates with the text: Crossley-Holland wastes not a single word as he gives voice to Laura – ‘In the watches of the night. Like a cradle, rocking. Sometimes I think I hear you. Do you love music too? / The drops of water falling onto my stone floor are minims and crotchets, quavers and semi-quavers. Like a song I almost think I know. Like a song you sang to me.’

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Flyaway
Lesley Barnes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The young princess in this lift-the-flap story keeps a bird caged and every morning demands that it should sing for her. One day though, she forgets to lock the cage. The bird escapes and so begins a chase through the entire castle …

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and out into the grounds. There, the princess traps the bird in a net and so is happy once more. Not for long however, for she soon notices that the bird no longer sings. Realising that it longs to be free, she releases it once more and is later delighted to discover that her kindness is rewarded by not one, but a whole host of birds that come and sing for her every night.

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With stylish illustrations, ten things to find and a flap to lift on every spread (some revealing the encouraging “Fly, birdie, fly away!” to the escapee),

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to add to the enjoyment, this book for young readers and listeners embodies an important message about freedom.

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 Exciting event: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition, Piccadilly, 23rd-29th October

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