Retelling the Old Stories: Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan

from Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan; illustrations by Karen Vaughan

Our lives are full of the Old Stories; myths, legends and fairytales move through us as a ripple on the unseen and ancient river of our personal and collective histories. Whether we acknowledge it or not, they form us. That is their purpose. We retell them, again and again…as we must in order to understand ourselves and the places we have carved out of the world. With each new book of fairytales and myths that emerges, we find the stories change ever so slightly, so that the original intent remains but the story itself becomes more pertinent to where we are now. The changes in the story itself and in its’ emphasis take them out of the space where they are “written in stone” and allow them to flow once again; to submerge themselves back into that river of our being.

Sometimes, being an ardent reader of the Old Stories, the books that emerge give me that contented sense of satisfaction; ‘yes, that is a good retelling.’ But sometimes, book comes into my  hands that shifts the boundaries of ‘retelling the old stories’ and simply astounds me…

Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan; Little Island Books

SAVAGE HER REPLY

author: Deirdre Sullivan

illustrator: Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (1 October 2020)

ISBN: 9781912417643

The Children of Lir: Aife marries Lir, a king with a daughter and three sons by his previous wife. But Aifes’ jealousy of his love for the children, drives her to commit a terrible act. She casts a spell on the children, turning them into swans cursed to fly from one place to another for nine hundred years… But this is retold in Aifes’ voice. Taken far from the security of her home, Aife and her sisters are fostered by Bodhbh the Red, growing up in his court and used for whatever talents they may have; used as bargaining chips in ever ongoing negotiations. Aifes’ sister, Aebh is married off to Lir. She works hard to ensure his happiness and gives him four children. But not being strong, Aebh dies after the birth of the second set of twins. Lir needs a new wife and he will have Aife. She has no choice. Haunted by the early loss of her home and family, the overwhelming grief at the death of her sister and the constant mistreatment from Lir. Aife determines to carve a place for herself…or pour justice down upon Lir for taking everything from her. Her power grows and the heartless, vengeful curse is cast. But there is a terrible price…and Aife will pay it.

from Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan; illustrations by Karen Vaughan

Written in exquisite, flowing prose, this is not so much a retelling as it is a re-feeling of the pivotal Irish legend. All the original elements are there, but turned inside out and given a new voice that both cements the story firmly in the past while bringing it into the here and now as part of the fibre of who we are now. The book is strewn with bits of the original tale opening each new chapter. The forms of the Ogham alphabet characters placed as poems, thoughts, introductions add to the sense that what we are reading is something iconic…something essential.  It’s telling is positively mesmerising. It is solely through Aifes’ eyes that we follow the children/swans’ plight, herself having been cursed to wander the world as a dark spirit; the thing that causes that unexplained sense of doom. And we become part of the fabric of Aifes’  tale as we realise that the curse upon her is everlasting…and still present today. Enchanted into a new comprehension as if the very words of the text are a spell in and of themselves, we must stay with the myth. It cuts away any previous caricature of past tellings and scrapes down to the bones, revealing each character in their true nature; complex, conflicted, light and dark. Throughout, we find refined, delicate pen and ink renderings; illuminations, really by the deft, ingenious hand of Karen Vaughan. Always perfect to the tone of the action, these simple drawings add much to the story as a whole and to the beautiful presentation of the book, as it takes its’ place on the shelf as the classic that it is.

Throughout, we find refined, delicate pen and ink renderings; illuminations, really by the deft, ingenious hand of Karen Vaughan. Always perfect to the tone of the action, these simple drawings add much to the story as a whole and to the beautiful presentation of the book, as it takes its’ place on the shelf as the classic that it is.

Haunting, unsettling, exquisitely told, evocative and iconic; no one writes like Deirdre Sullivan. This is spell-working at its’ very finest. Simply extraordinary.

Many, many thanks to Little Island Books for sending me a review copy of Savage Her Reply. http://littleisland.ie/books/savage-her-reply/

“And so ends the fate of the Children of Lir”: illustration by Karen Vaughan/ Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan

Why Picturebooks Matter: The New Girl by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

from The New Girl by Nicola Davies; illustration by Cathy Fisher

As our world becomes smaller and smaller, we are all faced with new people and cultures. These may seem strange and unfamiliar to us, particularly to young children. Picturebooks can open our eyes to others, introduce us to their ideas and gifts and create a pathway to understanding. Let’s take a look at a new picturebook that in its’ quiet gentle pages do exactly that.

The New Girl by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

THE NEW GIRL

author: Nicola Davies

illustrator: Cathy Fisher

Graffeg Ltd (29 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781913733605

When a new girl starts school in a strange new town; a strange new country, the children in her class are not friendly or welcoming…not at all. She has odd-looking clothes and strange food packed in her lunches. The new girl doesn’t even understand their language. The other children enter a spiral of meanness and bullying. They think the new girl doesn’t belong and they isolate her from the rest of them. But when beautiful paper flowers start to appear in the classroom, things start to change. The children are enchanted by them and soon realise that the new girl is the creator of these wondrous blossoms. Despite the unkindness the children have shown her, she is willing to help them learn to make their own flowers, teaching them the names in her language. Day by day, her ‘strangeness’ disappears and friendship and understanding bloom.

The New Girl; Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

In this gentle story, issues of diversity, bullying, acceptance and growing friendship are explored as the narrator (one of the ‘bullies’) explains what happens when a new girl from another part of the world joins their class. Faced with the unknown, she and her classmates react with misunderstanding and cruelty. They isolate the new girl, taunting her difference, making her sit apart from them; not wanting to have anything to do with this strange new person. The text is written simply, but eloquently and with beautiful language use that reveals not just the words, but the battery of feeling behind them. It becomes easy to see how they fall quickly into this pattern. And easy to feel how things change when their eyes are opened via a simple, wondrous gift of beauty. Though the paper flowers may still be strange to them, and frustrating when they try to make their own, the quiet guidance of the new girl creates a bond of acceptance and friendship.

Apart from being stunning, the illustrations, with a colour palette that evokes the changing emotions and mood of the story, are used in a most clever way. While the words of the story are given to us from the point of view of the bully, the illustrations show us the tale from the perspective of the new girl. The new girl doesn’t speak English and we do not hear her words throughout the entire book. But these glorious, evocative illustrations give us her voice with pinpoint accuracy. We know how she feels; we know what she is thinking; we understand her cleverness. And we feel her quiet triumph as she brings the gift of paper flowers, and herself into the classroom. This moment of acceptance and friendship is echoed in the words of the narrator and bring the story to a heart-warming resolution. In every way, this is an insightful, loving, extraordinary book.

from The New Girl by Nicola Davies, illustrations by Cathy Fisher

Nicola Davies in award-winning children’s author. Underlying all Nicola’s writing is the belief that a relationship with nature is essential to every human being, and that now, more than ever, we need to renew that relationship.

Cathy Fisher has been a teacher and practising artist all her life, living and working in the Seychelles and Australia for many years. Art is Cathy’s first language. As a child she scribbled on the walls of her bedroom and ever since has felt a sense of urgency to paint and draw stories and feelings which she believes need to be heard and expressed.

I want to thank Graffeg Publishing for sending this outstanding, important new picture to me. It is an absolute pleasure to read and review…and to share. https://www.graffeg.com/product/the-new-girl/

Bringing Gold Home: Gold by Geraldine Mills

In July, I was contacted by Geraldine Mills. She asked permission to share my review of her middle-grade novel, Gold )Little Island; 2016) in Live Encounters, the free online magazine from Village Earth. Of course I agreed! It was an honour to be asked; and to be asked to be included in this stunning online publication with some of the most amazing authors, poets and other contributors I have ever come across.

I was also delighted to give more attention to this wonderful work of speculative (dystopian) fiction for young people. It is adventurous, dynamic and filled with issues that are currently having great impact and shaping the conceivable future directions our world may venture towards. With extraordinary use of language and storytelling and thought-provoking scenarios, it is also simply a fantastic read. I thought I’d share with you again…

cover image: Lauren O’Neill

GOLD
author: Geraldine MIlls
Little Island (30 June 2016)
ISBN: 9781910411551
Twins Starn and Esper are growing up in a world made dark and silent by massive volcanic explosions. Ash now covers the planet and every aspect of life is controlled by the government, policed by the strict, heavy-handed Sagittars. They long for sunshine, fresh air and the freedom of a life only vaguely remembered by a few. But a game of dares leads them to discover an ancient book written by their great-great aunt, filled with strange writing and a treasure map. This propels them headlong into a journey across the darkened skies in a hand-built glider, in search of the gold that will vastly improve their lives and…could it be possible…expose the governments’ lies and save a dying planet.
With exceptional crafting and a delicate hand, Mills has created a portrait of an unnerving future world while environmental calamity has stripped all light, save from that that exists in the lives of two young boys. Through their dreams, imagination and daring, the reader is taken on a marvelous journey. Gripping and compelling, the boys venture from a world of darkness, regulation enforced by fear and mere survival to one of light, possibility, growth and freedom. The juxtaposition of the two is explored and balanced perfectly through use rhythm and cadence in the text. The use and invention, or rather evolution of language plays both on myths and legends of old as well as a contemporary understanding of how words and communication change on ever-changing times. The characters are tangible and textural and the relations ring true. Starn and Esper are two sides of the same coin, and must follow their own wisdom and hearts while working together to create a wonderful dichotomy. When one twin loses all memory, we see the struggle of the other to regain a sense of grounding and stability in this brave new world; something he can only do with the help of the other, creating a powerful statement about the true nature of inter-dependency. And while there are environmental and social messages in the story, these take a back seat to the purpose of the tale; an imaginative and wondrous adventure in the vein of such classics as Treasure Island and The Swiss Family Robinson. Never too heavy or dark, it is interspersed with humour and child-like wonder. It is exciting, dramatic and filled with nuance and beauty. Written with clarity, compassion and purpose, Gold is open enough to allow the reader to fulling engage; come to his or her own conclusions; paint his or her own pictures in the realms of imagination. An amazing story, filled with life, Gold is a story to be treasured. This book simply sings!

Geraldine Mills is a native of Galway, Ireland. A poet and a fiction writer, she has published numerous collections of poetry, three short stories and Gold, her first novel for young people. She has won numerous awards for her fiction and poetry, including The Hennessy New Irish Writer Award, a Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship and has been awarded two Arts Council bursaries. Her fiction and poetry are taught on Contemporary Irish Literature courses in the USA. She is a mentor with NUI and a member of Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools’ Scheme.

If you want to know more about Live Encounters, just follow the link: https://liveencounters.net/

If you’re looking for Gold by Geraldine Mills, check your local independent bookshop or you can directly order it from Little Island Books: http://littleisland.ie/books/gold/

Fairytales Gone Bad: Zombierella Blog Tour

Zombierella by Joseph Coelho; illustrated by Freya Hartas

Welcome to my stop on the Zombierella Blog Tour! I love a good fairytale, but when good fairytales go bad….they’re even better! So join me as I dip into this hilariously dark and twisted retelling of our old favourite by a wordsmith who is a master at turning tales on their head; Joseph Coelho.

ZOMBIERELLA: Fairy Tales Gone Bad

author: Joseph Coelho

illustrator: Freya Hartas

Walker Books (3 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781406389661

In the cold, dark night, the Prince arrives at the eerie mansion in Grimmsville. He never stays long in one place; three nights only; three glorious balls; just long enough to meet the locals and see if they are to his taste (quite literally.) As the night of the first ball arrives and a yellow moon hangs in a satin sky, while her three Fake Sisters rush off, Cinderella stays at home locked in the drudgery of scrubbing and cleaning. Until fate intervenes! Cinderella slips on a stinky, slimy pile of goo…..and falls down the stairs and dies. But not for long. The Fairy of Death appears, breathing life (sort of) into her for three nights only. ZOMBIERELLA will go to the ball!

Zombierella: Freya Hartas

Her bones are cracked back into place, her skin is smooth and icy and her faithful (dead) horse Lumpkin is by her side. As Zombierella rises from the foot of the stairs, puts on her spectacular ballgown of autumn leaves and hops into her enchanted mushroom carriage, she is a breath-taking sight. But can she take revenge on her three cruel, Fake Sisters once and for all? Will they all live (or die, as the case may be) happily ever after? If you’re looking for a lovely little rags-to-riches, one-day-my-prince-will-come fairytale…this isn’t it. It’s a fairy tale gone bad!

Written in free-style verse, with loads of deliciously twisted humour (think Roald Dahls’ Revolting Rhymes) this books is an absolute hoot! Expect lots of skeletal remains, squished pets, sawn off limbs, blood-sucking vampires and clueless villagers, all told in a very tongue-in-cheek and frankly, “ewww-gross!” style that children love. It’s irreverent and bold and very, very funny. But there is a warmth and sincerity to the story, as well. The charming poetic language is put to good use and matches well with the sassy, sharp take on the traditional fairytale. Peppered with wonderfully detailed black and white illustrations on each page that lend a sense of atmosphere, this book is beautifully presented and a joy to hold.  And with a Prologue and Epilogue by “the Librarian” (who, on a slow day in the library discover a huge stack of aged, gone-off books,) it is set up nicely for future Fairytales Gone Bad…and I, for one, can’t wait.

from Zombierella: illustrations by Freya Hartas

The first in a series of fractured fairytale classics by the amazing, award-winning team of poet Joseph Coelho and illustrator Freya Hartas, Zombierella is a real wonder….and just perfect for this spooky season.

I want to thank those wonderful folk at Walker Books (especially Kirsten Cozens, senior press officer) for sending me a review copy of Zombierella, and for all the goodies enclosed with it.

FairyTales Gone Bad: Freya Hartas

For more information on Walker Books, Zombierella and all the other brilliant books they have to offer, Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas, just follow the links:

https://www.walker.co.uk/

https://www.walker.co.uk/Zombierella-Fairy-Tales-Gone-Bad-9781406389661.aspx

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Congratulations to David McKee!

David McKee

I’m just taking a quick moment to send heartfelt congratulations to David McKee, who has today won BookTrusts’ annual Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary contribution to childrens’ books.

In case you don’t know David, he started his picture book career in 1964 with his first book, Two Can Toucan published by Klaus Flugge. Since then, in a career that spans more than 60 years, he has published over 50 picture books with Andersen Press. Most of these are now considered classics. That includes the wonderful Elmer books, which have sold over 10 million copies worldwide since the first in the series was published in 1989. David McKee is now 85 years old and is still going strong. The latest Elmer book; Elmer and the Lost Treasure; has just been published. (Review below)

Warm and wonderful congratulations, David McKee…and thank you for all the wonderful stories you have given children worldwide. Especially for Elmer…I love him.

ELMER and the LOST TREASURE

author/illustrator: David McKee

Andersen Press (3 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781783449484

Elmer, the patchwork elephant; his cousin, Wilbur and three of their elephant friends are off on a long, exploring walk. They are sharing the hard job of pushing their way through a dark, tangled part of the jungle they have never seen before, when suddenly…they come across the entrance to a mysterious kind of palace. Could this be the palace that houses the famous Lost Treasure of the jungle? It must be hidden here somewhere! As the elephants race around searching, only Elmer and Wilbur notice what the real treasure is….

A fun-filled and exciting trek through the jungle with Elmer and his friends is told with warmth and heart. As with all the others, this story is a wondrous journey of discovery, focusing on friendship, sharing and understanding. Elmer shines through with his happy, welcoming personality and fun-loving sense of humour. The whole book is light, bright and filled with joy. A welcome addition to any childs’ library; if you haven’t met Elmer as his friends yet, now is the time! I know you’ll love Elmer.

Seeking Bookish Treasure: Pirate Nells’ Tale To Tell Blog Tour

Since I first discovered a copy of The Snatchabook on the bookshop shelves, I have been positively smitten with the picture books of Helen and Thomas Docherty. Each lilting, rhyming story coupled with the wonderful, expressive illustrations melt my heart and take me to a place of warm, contented happiness.

So when I was invited to join the blog tour for their latest book, Pirate Nells’ Tale To Tell, I jumped at the chance! And I’d like to invite you to join me now on an epic pirate adventure wrapped up in a captivating picture book….

PIRATE NELLS’ TALE TO TELL

author: Helen Docherty

illustrator: Thomas Docherty

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (15 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781492698678

When Nell joins a pirate crew, she is so full of hope and joy! Her dream has finally come true and her big adventure is beginning. Nell packs her trusty Pirates’ Almanac, full of all the information she needs and has taught her everything about a pirate life. Unfortunately greedy, mean Captain Gnash doesn’t like books on his boat. There will be no time for reading, as far as he’s concerned. But one day, the seas get rough and Captain Gnash is in big trouble. It’s up to Nell and her pirate knowledge to save the day and lead the crew to the greatest buried treasure of all.

Written in rhyming verse with a steady rhythm and exciting use of language, Pirate Nells’ Tale To Tell follows plucky, adventurous, book-loving Nell as she follows her dream of becoming a pirate. Even though the work is hard, discouraging and tedious and her captain is selfish, mean and allows no reading on his ship, Nell stays strong, brave and happy. She keeps up her spirits and those of the crew with her tales of pirate daring and treasure. And throughout, there is a positive, dynamic message about reading and the power of books. It is such fun to read!

The illustrations are wondrous! Filled with colour and vibrancy, they create a feeling of sailing across the seas. The expressions on all the characters’ faces and the postures and stances of their bodies give a sense of individual personalities and moods. The attention to detail on each and every page make sure there’s always something surprising to notice and ensuring the reader will spend time, reaping new rewards with every read.

I can’t praise this picture book enough!  Exciting, fantastic, warm and happy, this is a story that encourages and revels in the joy of reading. A pirates’ treasure chest of delights!

I want to thank Amber Choudary/Midas PR for providing me with the review copy for this wonderful, wonderful book.

And to Helen and Thomas Docherty, thank you so very much for writing this, and all their other brilliant picture books that give me so much joy…not to mention the joy of all the school children I get to share them with.

#PirateNellsTaleToTell | https://www.helendocherty.com/ | @docherty_helen https://www.thomasdocherty.co.uk/ @TDillustration

http://www.sourcebookskids.com

Farewell, Sam McBratney: We Love You To The Moon…..And Back

Sam McBratney: 1943-2020

It was with the greatest sadness that I learned of the passing of Sam McBratney today. He died on 18 September at the age of 77.

McBratney was a prolific writer from Northern Ireland, penning more than 50 books for children and young adults beginning with his first novel, Mark Time in 1969, which was not actually published until 1976 by Alebard-Schuman. By the time he retired from teaching in 1990, he had written 23 books, most of them targeted at young adult readers. His novel, The Chieftains’ Daughter was published in 1993 and went on to read the Bisto Book of the Year Merit Award in 1994. And the bibliography continued to grow in leaps and bounds, right up to this year.

But it was with his first picture book, Guess How Much I Love You (illustrated by Anita Jeram) that McBratneys’ writing hit iconic status. First published in 1994, the story of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare engaging in a game of larger and larger quantities as Little Nutbrown Hare asks the question, “Guess how much I love you?” Since its’ publication, this book is probably familiar to everyone on the planet; it’s sold over 47 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 57 languages. This is one of those perfect, rare picture books that has made its’ way into the hearts and minds of us all. And, of course, it gave us the much uttered phrase, “I love you to the moon…..and back.” A “sequel” to Guess How Much I Love You is due for publication globally 29 September 2020. The title is Will You Be My Friend?….and the story of the Nutbrown Hares continues.

Farewell, Sam McBratney. You will be greatly missed. And thank you for the wondrous legacy you have left behind. We love you to the moon…..and back.

Having a look Behind Childrens Books: Backstories and Revelations by Jerry Griswold

Feeling Like A Kid (2006); Behind Childrens Books (2020); Audacious Kids (1992/2014)

When I first came across Feeling Like A Kid: Childhood and Childrens’ Literature by Jerry Griswold, I felt like I had been given the most amazing gift. As an obsessive reader of childrens books, this exploration of childhood experiences and how they are reflected in the books we read as children opened new doors; gave unique insight. And it brought back memories, feelings and the textures of my own childhood. As a result of this book, and of meeting and spending a bit of time with Jerry in (always) lively, entertaining and fascinating conversation (about childrens books, journeys and life in general), when Jerry Griswold speaks, I listen. So when he published his new book, I knew it was something I had to read…and most likely be prepared to refer to often.)

Here we have:

Behind Childrens Books: Backstories and Revelations

author: Jerry Griswold

Independently Published (14 May 2020)

ISBN: 9798634656724

Drawing on his vast expertise as a childrens literature professor, critic, reviewer, prolific essayist  and avid reader, this collection of Jerry Griswolds’ essays offers up the backstories behind many cherished childrens books. From hundreds of published works in the likes of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, online publications and many, many others, 60 or so brief essays have been selected, revised and included, along with 10 new pieces that allow us to peer behind the curtain and discover the stories once again. With careful consideration new points of view on each,  J.M. Barrie, Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter, Hans Christian Andersen and others’ backstories and how their lives are reflected in their books, opening our eyes to a more personal understanding when we read them again.

There are fascinating suggestions on ‘how things work’ , like picture books, fables, nonsense in childrens’ books and maps. (The essay on maps is glorious! And far too short.) We explore different topics (why are bears so popular in childrens’ stories?), are given advice on calendar considerations and travel tips and sit alongside Griswold in his meetings and conversations with the likes of Maurice Sendak, Bruno Bettelheim and find out what PL Travers really thought of Disneys’ Mary Poppins film. And of course, there are his personal favourite books.

Every single page, every essay in Behind Childrens Books offers something unique, intrinsic to childrens literature. The purpose here is to examine childrens’ books in a more meaningful way, to add depth and consideration to them. And it succeeds brilliantly. But it feels more like a conversation (or rather, many conversations) between friends. While the friend we are talking to is clearly an academic, the conversations are not. Their depth is exposed through anecdotes, through humour and good fun. These words are meant for general readers; anyone and everyone who loves childrens books, who wants to revisit them again and again and who wants to be inspired, amused and entertained.

I understand that this post is getting a bit “wordy”, but I can’t leave it without saying a little something more about Jerrys’ previous book; Feeling Like A Kid: Childhood and Childrens’ Literature. This is a remarkable book that fully expresses the unique qualities that thrive in childrens’ lives and how these are reflected in childrens’ books. It addresses the way children think and feel in an honest, forthright manner with no sentimentality or idealised view. It asserts and demonstrates that the most treasured childrens’ authors were/are so incredibly successful because they have not forgotten what it’s like to genuinely feel like a kid and to completely engage with childrens’ culture. It does so in a way that is easy to read, offering insight and research in a user-friendly manner. If you love childrens’ books, have children in your life and want to encourage a love of reading, I think this is one of the most important books you could ever read.

Blog Tour: Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister by Chitra Soundar

Welcome to my stop on the SONA SHARMA: VERY BEST BIG SISTER Blog Tour. This week, 14 different and wonderful book bloggers will be all about this delightful new chapter book for young readers, 6 years +. (So after you’ve visited me, please have a look at what all the others have to say.) This is the story of young Sona Sharma preparing to welcome a new baby into her family. Let’s get started…

SONA SHARMA: VERY BEST BIG SISTER

author: Chitra Soundar

illustrator: Jen Khatun

Walker Books (3 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781406391756

Sona Sharma has a big, noisy, loving family full of people who smile and laugh and argue sometimes. Her house is always full of relatives and friends and ringing telephones. Sona is an only child and she likes it just like that. Then…one day Amma tells Sona she is going to have a baby. Sona will be a big sister! That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Sona’s not so sure. She and her best friend, Elephant will have to have a talk about this. She knows her life is about to change forever and she doesn’t quite know how she feels about sharing everything with her new baby brother or sister. And everyone…including Amma and Appa and her beloved grandparents. But when Sona learns that there’s going to be a naming ceremony, she wants to find the perfect name to give the new baby.  Sona Sharma is determined to be the very best big sister ever.

Bringing a new baby into a family can be a daunting experience, especially for a child. Here, all the conflicting thoughts and feelings are expressed from a childs’ eye view with understanding a simple eloquence. The story is wrapped up in tradition, giving a glimpse into how simple rituals ground us culturally and as a family and how they can help bring resolution when change is afoot.

Sona is a marvelous character. Clever and curious, she really thinks about the situation; how she feels, what will happen next, how she will fit in this new family dynamic; and this is expressed through her conversations with Elephant, who does give excellent feedback. The black and white drawings strewn throughout the book reveal Sonas’ emerging emotions, and give visual ebb and flow, adding texture and motion as the story unfolds. The inter-generational nature of her family, the different roles and personalities are shown from Sonas’ perspective and shine through to create a sense of unity, respect and love.

A warm and thoughtful chapter book lending a view into the heart and mind of a child, filled with heart and humour and with moving detail to tradition and ritual. This is perfect for anyone expecting a new addition to the family.

I want to thank Walker Books for inviting along on the wonderful blog tour and for sending me the review copy of Sona Sharma: Very Best Big Sister.

To Chitra Soundar; what a beautiful story! To Jen Khutun; the pictures are perfect! Thank you both.

https://www.walker.co.uk/Sona-Sharma-Very-Best-Big-Sister-9781406391756.aspx

A Little Magic Can Take You A Long Way: Roald Dahl Day

I don’t think anyone can argue that Roald Dahl is the worlds’ best-known and most beloved story-teller. His catalogue of childrens’ books has reached into our hearts and minds for decades and given us laughs, tears, unbelievable adventures with most iconic characters…and incredibly important life lessons.

Roald Dahls’ biography is so well documented, it almost doesn’t bear repeating any more. (If you want to know who he was, how he became the person he was, I suggest you read Boy and Going Solo.) Born on 13 September, 1916 in Llandaff, Wales to Norwegian parents, Dahl went on to become a fighter pilot, a spy, a chocolate historian, a medical inventor, a poet, a screen writer and, of course, the childrens’ author we all know so well. His kindness and consideration to children was legendary. Due to a rare form of blood cancer, he passed away on 23 November, 1990 at the age of 74. But he left us a legacy that will live on for generations.

But what is it about Roald Dahls’ books that make them so appealing, timeless and important?

I think it was because he never lost the understanding of what it meant to live as a child in a world run by adults; how, in our busy adult world with all the nonsense we prescribe as being “normal” and “effective”, we actually forget how children see things, feel things and know things. All you have to do is read any of his childrens’ books to catch, not just a glimpse, but a full picture of what it means to be a child living in that world. It is true that in some of these books there is awful violence and the adults don’t come off very well. The children in his stories are the heroes. Through use of their innate cleverness, determination, imagination and boundless energy, they triumph over unkindness and unfairness again and again. Dahl was genuinely interested in children and was extremely adept in expressing their perspectives. To read a Roald Dahl book is to enter a childs’ world.

Dahl understood story-telling. He knew exactly who he was speaking to and how to relay the story in a voice that would be heard and acknowledged. He brought to the page the urgency of books in a childs’ life; how they help shape the comprehension of the world and how it works. But, more than that, he brought the assurance that children had control in how they needed things to be, in finding the good people to help them and in being able to influence the path of their life. Dahl gave children a love of books, of reading, along with the imagination and ability to read themselves into the books in a way that gives both pleasure and a striking bit of autonomy.

The relationships between adults and children in his books are never simple, never caricatured, but they are clear. Whether good or bad, the complexity of relationship is built into each story; the things we see, the things that have to be revealed slowly. And it is the children in his stories that make the decisions about the nature of their relationships with the world and its’ grown-up people. They decide what to keep and what to get rid of. My favourite Roald Dahl book is Danny the Champion of the World, because of this very feature. When Danny comes to the shocking revelation about who/what/why his father really is and their relationship makes that shift…well, I just find it so moving. And so real.

And then, there is the humour, much of it quite dark, that speaks to a childs’ sense of fantasy. You may cringe a bit when reading it as an adult, but honestly, these books weren’t written for adults. Children are really taken by this humour. They get it. They know its’ “not right”; they know it’s not real, but it is hilariously funny. This added to the word-play and the invention of words create a winning combination that stretches our imagination and our language skills. So much of it has entered use now. Who doesn’t know what a whizz-popper is? (If you don’t, can I suggest the Roald Dahl Dictionary?)

And finally…the magic! Whether it is magic of the most mundane, everyday kind or the magic born of a different world, every single book is infused with it. It creates a sense of possibility, of near-miraculous occurrence, of belief and belonging…it is a magic of dreams come true. Oh! What’s that? You don’t believe in magic? Well…let me leave you with a quote from The Minpins….

I think 2020 has been a year in which we NEED a bit of magic. You can visit the website (link below) to find a bit more. Happy Roald Dahl Day!

https://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl-story-day