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Grill Pan Eddy

I’m not completely convinced by the title or front cover of this book, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.  Whilst your curiosity is piqued by the image, combined with the title it seems too narrow a perspective on a book which has more to it than the cover suggests.

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Grill Pan Eddy is a maverick menace of a mouse.  He can do virtually anything, and if there’s an opportunity to steal something, create mess or make something dirty, you can bet he’s there.  The whole story of Grill Pan Eddy is told in rhyme, with occasional (and amusing) poetic licence to make things work.

There once was a very daring mouse

And his name was Grill Pan Eddy.

He lived in a box of porridge oats

In a crumpled cardboard beddy.

The rhyme maintains fluidity and liveliness throughout, with a contemporary feel that works well for this particular text.  Grill Pan Eddy is a sort of punk-ish rebel, who “skied down the butter in his bovver boots / And sneezed in the snottage cheese.”  The complex references and language, as well as the edgy content, mean that this is not a book for toddlers or preschoolers, but would make a good transition book for early readers in the first couple of years at primary school who are not yet ready for chapter books but who need a more grown up tone.

Not all of Eddy’s exploits are as funny as others, but Tony Ross’s illustrations keep both the drama and humour ticking along well.  The strength and cunning of Eddy makes him an appealingly rebellious hero, expecially when he routs the cat despite his long history of mouse supremacy.

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What gives this book more depth than it might otherwise have is the fact that it is not just a story of getting rid of an annoying mouse, but about learning to enjoy his exploits and even become friends with him.  In the end the family are quite attached to him, at which point (spoilers!) he sadly dies.

I love the miserable picture of the whole family mourning at the tiny grave; I think it’s beautifully pitched and works effectively as tragi-comedy.

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Of course they don’t leave the story there however, and with great control of her material Jeanne Willis teases out the final surprise with a subtle and enticing bit of writing.

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Could it be the ghost of Eddy

Tap-tapping on the old tin pan

So soft and sweet and steady?

I like this book. It’s good fun to read, and although I still think Grill Pan Eddy is not the greatest title in the world it’s worth ignoring that and reading the book itself.  Tony Ross illustrations always have an anarchic feel to them and here that fits well with the tone of the story.

Best for slightly older children, probably from Reception upwards.

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Enormouse

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Enormouse, by Angie Morgan, tells the story of a truly enormous mouse who lives with a family of much smaller mice.  He is of course not the same as everybody else, which although at times very useful:

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also leaves him feeling uncertain and different.  Eventually his friend Tinymouse works out that Enormouse is not in fact a mouse at all – he’s a rat!  The other mice all laugh at him. Poor Enormouse is shocked and upset, but decides he must go and live with his real family, who own a dirty lair filled with rotten banana skins and flies.

Filled with remorse, the other mice set off to go and find him and bring him home, but run into trouble on the way.  The question is whether Enormouse can decide in time who his real family are.

The illustrations in this book are fun and lively, conveying real character, and the touches of realism in the photographs in the rat book and the food in the rats den are reminiscent of Lauren Child.  Angie Morgan does a good job of pulling you into the story through the appeal of the illustrated characters.  The story is told clearly and sensitively with just enough detail to lift the language but not so much that the narrative is disrupted.

If I have a criticism it’s that the story is a bit predictable.  Perhaps it may be less so to young children who are not as familiar with how these things turn out, but it is clear from the beginning how the story will progress.  That said, it is a very encouraging story about difference and about feeling accepted, with a nice message about home not necessarily being with people who look most like you.  I could see it being useful to explore the issues surrounding adoption and what makes a family.

If you are specifically looking for a book about difference and fitting in, this could be a good example to use.

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The Black Rabbit

This is the first picture book by the freelance animator and illustrator Philippa Leathers.  It’s the story of a small white rabbit who is (literally) afraid of his own shadow. He tries running away from it but it sticks with him regardless.  Then when he runs into a dark wood the shadow disappears.  Unfortunately, there’s a far scarier creature lurking in the trees…

If I’m honest the central conceit of this story bothers me.  There’s no set-up to explain why the rabbit has only just noticed he has a shadow.  It seems a little unrealistic, and my awareness of that did colour my reading of the rest of the book.

However, I can forgive it to some extent because I think there is a nice metaphorical meaning here about being afraid of oneself and finding the strength to fight off threat.  The wolf who chases the rabbit out of the woods is frightened by the huge shadow, and the rabbit as a result comes to accept the black rabbit and to make friends with him.  If we take this far enough there’s even a suggestion here of using the things in yourself that you are most frightened of and coming to terms with them, even using them, to make yourself stronger and more powerful.

There are some quite clever points about the shadow as well; when he hides behind a tree the shadow disappears, and of course it does when he enters the darker wood as well.  The logic of the shadow is at least followed reasonably well – although I am still not quite sure how the handholding works in the final ‘scene’!

The illustrations are lovely.  The little white rabbit is particularly cute and looks throughout the book just as vulnerable as he feels.  The shadow is rendered effectively (if perhaps not consistently – there’s no time frame and the shadow doesn’t seem to grow or shrink as it should!)

Overall this is a decent book.  It’s not something I’d suggest you rush out and buy, but might be worth picking up at the library for a read.

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I Really Want to Eat a Child

The charmingly grumpy crocodile on the front of this book is young Achilles, who desperately wants to forgo his diet of bananas and eat a child instead. His Mum and Dad are concerned at his sudden loss of appetite and attempt to coax him into eating by providing him with a large sausage and an equally enormous chocolate cake.  To no avail, however.  Achilles will not be tricked into eating and stalks off to the river to find himself a child to eat.

Now to that point we have only seen Achilles in relation to members of his family.  To that point you are reading with a very small concern that there may actually be some child-eating involved in the story, and wondering quite how to broach the subject with a potentially concerned pre-schooler.  Then this happens.

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The shift in scale is well-handled and very funny.  Achilles’ attempts at self-aggrandisement come to nothing and the little girl tickles him on the tummy and throws him in the river, at which point an indignant little crocodile marches back to Mum and Dad and declares he is back on the bananas so he can get big… “Big enough to eat a child!”

The illustrations in the book are fun, bright and charismatic, with a lovely feel for the setting.  The book was originally written in French (under the title Je mangerais bien un enfant) and there is a very slight foreign edge to the rhythm of the language in translation, which actually works well for creating a ‘voice’ for the crocodile family.  The premise is funny, but straightforward, with the kind of ironic humour that appeals to children and adults alike.  There is also the subtext of a commentary on fussy eating; for those who are on the pickier side of the table, the message is clear enough – eat what your Mum and Dad tell you to so you can get big enough to eat what you like – but perhaps not dramatic enough to really engage the child on that particular level.  However, it could certainly provoke a conversation about nutrition and eating, and notwithstanding its status as a ‘message’ book, it is entertaining and enjoyable without even taking that into account.

Achilles is an appealing and memorable little crocodile; it’s certainly worth making his acquaintance if you get the chance.

 

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The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

I loved the first ‘pigeon’ book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and enjoyed the second, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, but this, if lacking in the same punch of originality you got with the first, possibly tops the lot.

The premise is the same: the bus driver/human figure asks the reader to help with the errant pigeon, and the book consists of the pigeon’s half of the conversation.  The reader (or listener, if articulate enough) has to provide the other half of the dialogue.  For a start, as I think I said on my previous review, this is a fantastic concept for a children’s book.  It’s interactive in the best sense of the word and encourages speech, develops persuasive language skills, requires tactical thinking, and on top of that adds an element of citizenship teaching – don’t be as obstructive as the pigeon is!  In this particular case the pigeon is filthy and needs a bath and comes up with the usual plethora of excuses as to why he doesn’t need one. “Clean, dirty – they’re just words, right?”

There are great moments during this excuse phase, one of which is the way that at every turn he realises his arguments are flawed.  The flies he claims are “purely coincidental” depart with an indignant instruction to “take a bath dude” (do it in a voice like you’ve swallowed helium and it’s even funnier). He even turns on the reader to deflect the issue and asks “When did you last have a bath?” only to coo despondently “Oh.  That was pretty recently.”  The quality of the language and the use of common phrases is even better than usual in this one and it is a real pleasure to read.

However the climax of this book is the inspired section when, having finally agreed to the bath, the pigeon tries to make it to his liking.  It’s too hot.  Too cold.  Too lukewarm.  Too few toys.  Too many toys.  Too hot. Read punctuated with the ‘pssst’ of the bath tap this reduces even my six-year-old to hysterical giggles.

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If I have a criticism, it’s that the replies the pigeon requires are more complicated than the original.  In the Bus version, usually only ‘No’ is required to shut the pigeon up, and this can be understood and said by children of a very young age.  In this you actually need to understand what the pigeon is implying and ‘no’ is not an adequate or appropriate response.  It means that to get most out of the book the adult reader needs to do more on both sides of the conversation and model possible answers to the child.  It’s not a bad thing, but it is an area in which this book falls down slightly compared to previous incarnations.

We’ve only had this a week and we’ve had to read it at least once every day, which is no hardship whatsoever.  It’s a great one to share, a great one to encourage children to speak and argue with the pigeon, and genuinely very, very funny.  Just go and buy it.  Go on.

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Time for Bed, Fred!

It’s 8 o’clock, and time for Fred to go to bed.  He, not unsurprisingly, has other ideas.

Published in 2013, this is one of those books that is worth having as a work of art if nothing else, but it also has a funny and engaging narrative.  The incorrigible Fred tries all manner of delaying tactics to avoid bedtime but ultimately gives in.  What lifts Yasmeem Ismail’s story though is that it’s written as one half of a dialogue; the other participant being a silent (and unco-operative) Fred.

That’s not your bed, Fred!

That’s not your bed, Fred!

That’s not YOUR bed, Fred!

Oh Fred, that’s MY bed!

The repetition and the rhyme will have young listeners in fits of giggles, intensified by the scruffy illustrations of the disobedient hound.

Reading this in a voice of increasing mock-irritation is great fun and although simple enough, children of a variety of ages would enjoy it. For the very young there is plenty of language practice to be had discussing all the things that Fred does instead of going to bed.

Excellent for toddlers and pre-schoolers and good for less confident young readers to read themselves.  A fun bedtime story if you trust your child not to emulate Fred’s behaviour!

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Seadog

Our dog is not a work dog,

A round-’em-bring-’em-home dog.

Our dog is a seadog.

Published last year in 2013, this beautifully illustrated book is an ode to a beach-loving, wave-chasing, “find-and-roll-in-fish” dog. A quick google reveals that Claire Saxby writes poetry as well as books, which makes sense because although it does have a sniff of a narrative Seadog reads like a poem, and is full of delicious nuggets of language.  Seadog is a “run-and-scatter-gulls” dog, a “jump-and-chase-the-waves” dog.  He isn’t a “sit-still-then-roll-over” dog. Those adjectival phrases will have Early Years teachers reaching for their literacy planners faster than Seadog can spook a gull.

The main message of this is of course accepting people as they are and celebrating the individual.  Sure he is scruffy and dirty and smelly, and he won’t bring back a stick, or do as he’s told, but Seadog is very much loved by his owners. And his irrepressible joi de vivre is reflected in Tom Jellett’s vibrant illustrations.

Like Seadog himself, this book reeks of personality.  It’s funny, touching and well-written and could be enjoyed on different levels by children of different ages.  A five-star find.