0

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.

IMG_0281

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.

IMG_0282

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.

IMG_0283

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.

IMG_0285

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.

0

Enormouse

IMG_0279

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:

IMG_0280

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.

0

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.

0

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.

IMG_20150101_223422

 

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.

 

0

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.

IMG_20150101_215637

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.

0

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!

1

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.

0

Sally and the Limpet

Sally goes for a trip to the beach and finds a limpet attached to a rock.  She pulls and pulls at it, and eventually it comes loose – and attaches itself to her finger.  The story follows Sally’s travails as she and everyone else she knows tries to remove the limpet from her finger.

Simon James is not a writer I was familiar with until I picked this up in the library; and in fact I only picked it up because it was about a girl called Sally.  However, as you can see from the picture above, this a very pretty book and well worth a read. The watercolour illustrations are beautifully drawn and capture the naivety of its young character.

The story does the pictures justice.  Sally has to go home from the beach with the limpet still stuck on her finger, as her (rather macho looking!) father can’t get it off.

People try everything to remove the creature but to no avail.  At school, her teacher tells her that limpets live for years and spend all that time on the same rock.  I love that that information is delivered to us as readers with no comment and no emphasis, it’s just put there on the page and left.  Which means that when Sally begins to feel rather upset at the doctor’s increasingly aggressive attempts to remove it and makes a run for it, it is for once not immediately obvious what she is doing and why.

Sally, without direct adult involvement, returns the limpet to his rock, and the contrast between the dramatic attempts to get it off and the simple way it eventually leaves – “the limpet, feeling at home once more, made a little squelching noise and wiggled off her finger” – is very effective.  It is a straightforward but very moving lesson in personal responsibility and in not interfering with things that are nothing to do with you.

An entertaining story with a meaningful subtext, this is writing for children at its best.  It has potential as a text for early years study and could easily fuel a discussion about sea creatures, or what’s right and wrong and responsible when you find an animal at the beach.

Look out for more Simon James reviews as they are clearly worth exploring further!

0

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth

This catchily-titled offering by Michelle Robinson and Kate Hindley is great fun.  There are a few things I don’t think work, but overall it’s a creative, original book which will appeal to a wide range of ages.

The premise is simple: washing a woolly mammoth is a real challenge, among other reasons because “wool is notoriously tricky to clean.”  (You will know from experience that I approve of any book that doesn’t talk down to young readers and this one maintains a mock-serious ‘instruction manual’ style which is quite sophisticated and adds to the humour of the story.  There are even diagrams labelled ‘fig 1’ and ‘fig 2’.)  The book is presented as the title suggests as a ‘how-to’ guide, except that we are also given a sense of the failures likely to occur when tackling this ‘mammoth’ task.

The illustrations are quirky and attractive, and the manner in which the mammoth fills most pages is very effective in implying his size and weight.

Linguistically the mock-imperative style works well and is deliberately set alongside and occasionally against the illustrations.  There are several funny moments, especially when the mammoth accidentally gets soap in his eyes, and the next instruction: “to get a wet woolly mammoth down from a tree you need a very strong trampoline” will give you a sense of the appealingly absurd flavour of the book.

Funnily enough, after all that he isn’t that clean any more…

However although there is undeniably humour here and even profound wisdom (“if all else fails, there is always cake”) there are a few jokes which fall flat.  One of these is the grid picture showing the mammoth’s different hairstyles.  For one thing these aren’t really distinct enough to be funny, but more significantly the style ‘names’ are way beyond the understanding of a small child – and in some cases even an adult.  One particular quiff is nicknamed ‘The King’, a reference that was lost on both my children. Sillier, clearer pictures here would have been much more effective; as it is I always feel this page falls flat.

My favourite aspect of this was actually the back cover, and my five year old very much enjoyed reading the labels of the products to herself.

The end is neatly done and quite a cosy, cuddly finish, making this actually a surprisingly effective bedtime story.

Overall, this was very popular with its target audience, but disappointing from an adult perspective.  It promises much, but the best jokes shouldn’t be the ones on the back page.

0

Cats Ahoy!

Books about cats are good.  Books about pirates are good.  A book about cats being pirates – well, where can it go wrong?

Alfonso the cat overhears some old fisherman talking about a huge haul of haddock due to pull into harbour at first light.  He dashes off to round up an unlikely crew of moggies with the promise of all the fish they can eat.

“There’s a ship standing empty,

A three masted clipper.

Meet there at midnight.

Her name is The Kipper.”

In the dead of night the cats cast off from the shore and The Kipper makes its way to the ocean.  The skipper of the trawler, Trelawney P. Craddock, is smugly sailing home with his pile of fish when, out of the mist, a horrendous howling is heard and an apparently empty ship sails out of the haze.  In a panic, the humans abandon their ship, to the delight of the piratical cats.

“In a small sheltered cove out of sight of the land

The sea-mogs scoffed haddock and danced on the sand.

As the bright rays of dawn were beginning to gleam

They sang “Yo-ho-ho and a carton of cream!” “

This excellent book by Peter Bently won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011.  It surfs along nicely in rollicking verse and with a delightfully anarchic sense of triumph when the cats get their prize.  The vocabulary is slightly more sophisticated than your average picture book (probably on a par with the longer Julia Donaldson books)  and so this should appeal to a fairly large age-range including the first couple of years of primary school.   The illustrations, by Jim Field, are lively and full of character.

What I particularly like is the fact that the story does not end with the cats purloining the fish but with their return home some weeks later, and with a clever (if probably not original) pun.

This is a great book that both adults and children will enjoy reading.