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Spells

This is an unusual and interesting book that may attract children who are not normally into reading.

A frog finds a book of spells, torn into pieces.  First he imagines it is about boats, and then about castles (an excuse for some beautiful illustrations made of cut-out pieces of spell-book) and that he can kiss a beautiful princess.

Eventually he decides to try to find a spell to turn himself into a handsome prince.  At this point the pages in the book split into horizontal halves such that they can be mix and matched in different ways.  On the left is the pieced-together spell, and on the right are the top and bottom halves of particular animals, together with part of their names.

Some bizarre and entertaining creatures can be made, such as the Fabbit, the Snewt, the Brog, the Rake… and eventually the various combinations that lead to the Prince.  The pages can be turned and combined in any order, so young children could have some autonomy here which may well suit those who usually dislike being read to.  The large letters and the portmanteau creature names are an excellent way of breaking down language as an introduction for reading – although it is annoying that they are all in capitals which makes it much harder for children to read themselves.

The Prince is comically bare-bottomed, and although he does find his princess there is a little twist in the tale at the end.

As usual Emily Gravett’s illustrations are delicate, stylish and beautiful, and although this story lacks a strong narrative and as a result any sense of real purpose, it is nonetheless fun to read and experience and is an excellent book for discussing and interacting over.  A quirky little treat.

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Meerkat Mail

Emily Gravett’s first book Wolves was published in 2005 and since then she has established herself as one of the most talented author-illustrators working today.  Her drawings are stylish and beautiful and brimming with character.  Meerkat Mail was longlisted for the Kate Greenaway award in 2007 and is a visual delight.

Sunny the meerkat lives with his family in the Kalahari desert.  They do everything together.  Their family motto is ‘stay safe stay together’, an effective protection against jackals, but frustrating for Sunny who dreams of escaping from the constant company.  So one day he packs his bags and sets off to visit his cousins around the world.  But will he find anywhere to fit in?

The book is set up as a series of postcards that Sunny sends home.  He stays with a variety of species from the mongoose and meerkat families, all of which live in slightly different ways – some are nocturnal, some live in a marsh, some in stony dens, some on a farm – not all of which suit Sunny!  His increasingly miserable postcards are very funny and there is a wealth of information on each one about the different mongooses, including their Latin names and eating habits.  In the end of course Sunny finds that perhaps the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere after all…

Meerkat Mail is packed with detail, from the parcel-like front cover to the rendering on each postcard as Sunny writes it.  His writing wriggles over the page as he is tickled by termites, and the wet splodges on his card from the marsh echo his dismal mood.  It  has a lovely focus on community, and affords opportunity for discussion on family relationships and feeling at home.

Witty, pretty, and engaging.