Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Plucky Young Duck

The Highway Rat, by Julia Donaldson

The Highway Rat is everything we love about Julia Donaldson:  the rhymes, the Axel Scheffler illustrations, the cameo from the Gruffalo (as a cake, nom). Based on the Alfred Noyes Poem, The Highwayman, the Highway Rat is a ruthless thief, stealing from the creatures of the forest, even stealing the hay from his own horse.
The hero of the day is a little duck, who having nothing to steal, is faced with being eaten by the by now rather portly Highway Rat. She uses his greed to lure him away and tricks him into getting lost in a cave. He ends up on the other side of the hill, where he has to reform his ways and get himself a job, and the duck returns all the stolen food to the hungry forest animals
What I thought was particularly positive about this book is that it shows children how to deal with conflict without resorting to punishments or humiliation, and teaches them that they can solve problems by themselves. It's a lesson in natural consequences for the Rat, who is so overcome by his own greed that he loses everything, including his bad attitude and his ever-growing waistline, while gaining some humility. This Julia Davidson is worth its weight in gold.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Elliott, by Tobin Sprout.

Elliott is a carnival rabbit, the magic rabbit in a hat. He loves his life, and is loved by a little girl called April who comes to watch him every day at the carnival. Then one day, everything changes. Walter Wiggins, who owns the carnival decides it is time to retire. He has taught Elliott to be strong and brave, and because real magic is inside, Elliott will know what to do to cope with the change that is coming. Elliott is heartbroken, and sinks into a depression. He imagines what life would be like if he could escape and travel the world like a fish, or be brave like a champion boxer; but instead of setting out into the world, he sinks into a depression where his hat becomes his world. Not even April, the little orphan girl, can get him to leave his hat. She tries to help him, even to shake him out of his hat (how often do we hear people being told to 'snap out of it'? Such a true to life moment) but leaves defeated. Then Elliott hits rock bottom in a gut-wrenching moment: he felt as if he were shrinking inside the only world he had known. The sides of the hat were growing taller, making it harder for Elliott to see beyond them. It's hard not to well up at this point with the little rabbit sitting in the dark, his little ears flopped down and his sad, sad little face. Thankfully all is not lost. Elliott finally finds something he finds some meaning in and sets out to find April. They find the strength together to move on from the loss of the carnival and start a new life together; Elliott has finally found the magic inside.

I was really struck by the depth of the themes in this book: change, loss, depression; all in a book for kids. And for small children. As a sufferer for depression, I have really struggled to explain this to Abigail (who is 4), so this book really struck a chord with me. We were able to talk about how Elliott was feeling, how his world had shrunk down. The illustrations go a long way to show just how empty someone can feel which Abigail really related to when I talked about it with her. It also reinforces a positive message that things can get better, and just how important the support of a good friend is. There are many different circumstances which could be approached with this book - a parent leaving, the death of a family member, or just moving far, far away from where a child knows as home. Abigail loved it equally and was able to relate to some very  difficult subjects with ease and has asked for it several times at bed time. Which is, of course, the mark of a wonderful book.

Thanks to the wonderful No Alibis for having this book for me to find. It really made my day x

Sunday, 25 November 2012

No Alibis

I was walking past  No Alibis bookstore on Botanic last week with the tiddler, when she spotted a book in the window and dragged me over to have a look. I'm not a big crime fiction fan, so I'd always assumed that I had no reason to pop in. Not so. Emily had spotted the cover of a new children's book, Lemon Baked Cookies, and wanted to go in. Being a two year old, she immediately headed for the (breakable) Tiger Who Came to Tea tea-set and made me a cuppa. I was a bit on edge in case she broke it and eventually consigned it to 'the kitchen' (otherwise known as a really high shelf) to get washed and we got on with exploring the books.
Emily was delighted to find herself a Justin Fletcher joke book while I was pleased to spot a huge stack of Liz Weir's When Dad Went Away, some books on evolution, lots of Oliver Jeffers and a Julia Donaldson book I'd not come across yet. Liz and Justin went in the basket and I gave a wildcard to Elliott by Tobin Sprout because I liked the pictures... I'm a sucker for nice pictures. We were kindly given a small discount and Emily a by-ball for picking up a book and trying to leg it out the shop hoping she wouldn't be spotted. The books have really hit the spot and will be spending quite a few hours in here in time to come.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Plenty story, hardly any words.

Alphabet books, on the whole are quite dull -  'A is for apple, B is for ball', illustrated by a generic picture of said item. Dull, and really just learning by rote with very little interaction with the child. Alison Jay's Alphabet is something quite different, with the 2 year old regularly bashing me about the head with it in a demand to have it read to her. Why? Because it's not just an alphabet, it's an exploration of the alphabet and an exercise in observation and memory for children.
Alison Jay's illustrations are never just of  'A is for apple, B is for ball'. Yes, there's an apple, but there's an aeroplane, an ant and an artist painting an apple. There's also a clue in each picture as to what's in the next; a key next to the Jack-in-the-box waiting to unlock K's keyhole. Images recur as well - through the keyhole you can see G's giraffe as well as H's horse rider and L's lion. Emily loves flicking back and forward through the pages finding new links, and it's really helping her vocabulary too.
Jay's illustrations have a really calming tone to them with their crackled glaze and muted tones and are a bit like a warm snuggle under a blanket (which is where I like to read them best). Her world is reassuringly the carried through all her work, with instantly recogniseable landscapes, and always packed with so much more than the words will ever tell you.

I can't go without sharing some of her other books, because she's just so talented it would be a crime not to!
I Took the Moon for a Walk