Naughtiness, fairy-tale geology, yetis and being deaf

Blue John by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis (published February 2017)

An enchanted tale of love, loyalty and longing, sparkling with diamond-cut language and framed with atmospheric illustrations, Blue John by Berlie Doherty (@BerlieDoherty), illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis (@Beavs) is a mesmerising addition to my favourite book series, the Little Gems by Barrington Stoke.

In this Grimm-like fairy-tale we fall under the spell of The Queen of Darkness and the child she created from the purple blue heart of a glacier and the gold of the sun to keep herself from loneliness. Following a sleep of 1000 years, Blue John wakes and is curious about the world outside the deep cave system where he and his mother live. Rippling birdsong and shimmying wind gusts mingle with ‘the bird-cries of children playing‘ just outside the cave’s entrance. Blue John is torn between the bond he feels with his mother and the possibilities, beauty and friendship which the outside world tantalisingly offers.

Scintillating language is matched with moody prismatic illustrations, perfectly conjuring up the dark but magical atmosphere of a cave full of crystals; Doherty’s story was partly inspired by a type of rock mined in Derbyshire, and Neonakis’ illustrations kept reminding me of this amazing crystal cave.

A moving story which helps us learn that the risk of making friends with ‘outsiders’ may be worth taking, changing us for ever, even if there is no happy ever after.

Daisy and Ted’s Awesome Adventures by Alex Naidoo (published October 2016)

Daisy and Ted’s Awesome Adventures begin the day a new family moves into the community. Ted is keen to make friends with the new kid on the block but when he calls over garden fence, Daisy doesn’t respond; it turns out she’s deaf and simply doesn’t hear Ted’s friendly approach. Despite this false start the next-door neighbours do later get talking and soon Ted discovers that deafness is (of course) no barrier to imaginative play, adventures and friendship.

Through encounters with swashbuckling pirates, alien roller discos and wizarding school cookery classes Ted also picks up lots of practical tips which help when talking with someone who has hearing loss. For example, he discovers the importance of facing the person you want to chat with, of not covering your mouth with your hands or trying to talk whilst eating.

Helpful information, presented playfully but clearly, makes this a practical book that will be very helpful for young children and their grown ups welcoming new friends-to-be who are deaf. It will build empathy, as well as equipping hearing children with some simple tools to help their deaf friends. For children who themselves deaf, it’ great to find a book with with a deaf lead character who is not only practical, confident and empowered but also playful and imaginative – in other words, just like them (or at least, how we hope a book might help them feel).

Definitely a useful book for schools and libraries, what I’d love to see next is a book with similar themes that could break into the mass market, to reach all sorts of people not just those looking for a particular book / “when a book might help”. Published by The National Deaf Children’s Society, rather than a mainstream publisher, this book may have a hard time breaking out of the inclusivity pigeon-hole that it could easily end up being filed away in.

The Naughty Naughty Baddies by Mark Sperring, illustrated by David Tazzyman (publishing March 2017)

Just before my little sister was born I decide to do the naughtiest thing I could imagine; I tipped lots of pepper into my mother’s orange juice. On the basis of my attempt at poisoning, I don’t think the North Korean secret service will be hiring me any time soon!

But that naughtiness gave me a sense of power I relished. Never has an orange juice-pepper combo cause so much licking of lips! Qh what a delicious way to assert myself and make (or so I believed) my world sit up and notice!

Being naughty also causes extreme delight for the band of baddies in Mark Sperry and David Tazzyman’s forthcoming picture book, The Naughty Naughty Baddies. These super-hero super-baddies dream of – SHOCK HORROR – sticking their tongues out! Jumping in puddles! All going on the trampoline at once!

One day the four friends hatch a plot to carry of their most dastardly plan yet: to steal the spots off the backs of the dogs dozing in the royal palace. Will they succeed and make a safe get away in their badmobile [sic 🙂 ] ? Or will they end up in a right spot of bother?

Wickedly funny, this book is one which will bring out gleams in the eyes of readers and listeners. Innocent determination to shake things up a little has rarely been so persuasively presented. Sperring’s rich language bursting with energy and excitement (achieved partly through a combination of playful alliteration , giggle inducing puns and playful type and design) opens lots of possibilities for riotously enjoyable reading aloud, whilst Tazzyman’s rambunctiously comedic characters full are full of spunk and joy. With their free flowing, curling, bouncing pencil lines you get the sense that these illustrations could only have been created with a big smile on the illustrator’s face.

With robust, exciting and playful language this book could be used as an inspiring model for creative writing. It could form an off-the-wall staring point for a hilarious PE lesson with the book’s jumping, tiptoeing, parachuting, zooming , creeping, roly-polying and twirling all screaming out for re-enactment. Spot activities like this or this could be tied into reading the book, or perhaps you could reimagine the Wide Game to steal spots. I see lots of Playing by the book potential with this one!

Henry and the Yeti by Russell Ayto (published February 2017)

Despite the lack of evidence, young Henry is convinced yetis exist; he sets out to find one and prove the nay-sayers wrong. There is no way he’s going to let anyone put him off following his dream of finding the so-called mythical creatures he loves.

Henry give his all and… is rewarded with discovering the friend he’s had faith in for so long. But will anybody believe Henry’s stories when he returns home?

A light-touch, reassuring read about how hopes, dreams and faith in others can live outside, or at last parallel to a system that requires proof and hard evidence to validate it, Henry and the Yeti by Russel Ayto (@RussellAyto) is a beautifully simply and uplifting 21st century version of Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed, a 20th century American classic.

Henry’s quiet determination is discretely reinforced by the illustrations’ clean, crisp lines and simple, hugely effective use of colour to introduce perspective and reflect changing emotions. This is a subtle, understated and solid dose of quietly reassuring encouragement. A lovely book to end the day with.

Don’t miss this activity pack to go with Henry and the Yeti.

Disclosure: I was sent copies of all these books by their respective publishers: Barrington Stoke, The National Deaf Children’s Society and Bloomsbury.

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