Reading and review round-up 1

Every week I wish I could tell more people about more great books. And so, one of my goals for 2017 is to write an a reading and review round-up every week, of books I’ve read in the previous few days, commenting on some, simply drawing your attention to others. These won’t be “full” Playing by the Book posts with associated activities and music, but will enable me to write more and share more. The books will be a mixture of ones yet to be published and some already published.

The Fire Horse: Children’s Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam and Daniil Kharms, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky (publishing March 2017)

When did your family reading diet last feature translated children’s poetry? We’re huge fans of poetry and of books in translation and yet translated poetry rarely gets a look in so this mini collection of just three poems by Russian poets from the first half of the twentieth century caught my attention.

I was immediately struck by how well it has been well curated; 21st century children a world away from Soviet Russia will still recognise the delights of sticking and gluing and creating a toy together (the topic of the first poem) whilst the anthropomorphised vehicles of the second poem, like sleeker, more modern and stylised versions of Chuggington or Thomas the Tank engine and friends, will appeal to machinery-mad kids. My favourite poem is the final one of the collection, celebrating the imagination of children as they pretend to be boats, cars and planes (just like I pretended to be a horse many years ago) flying down pavements and across their neighbourhoods, not hesitating for a moment when reality collides with their day dreaming, but taking it all in their stride.

These poems, which delightfully capture children’s experience and passions, are matched with original illustrations by three Soviet artists; Lidia Popova, Boris Ender and Vladimir Konashevich. Despite being the best part of 100 years old, they are bold and eye-catching; these highly stylized, graphic design led illustrations wouldn’t look out of place in many an original 21st century picture book, yet they allow us glimpse into another time and place, with the original Russian text appearing in many of them.

Brief biographies of the writers and artists complete the book, an unusual and intriguing one to add into the reading mix for any curious family.

Bathtime for Little Rabbit by Jörg Mϋhle, translated by Catherine Chidgey (Published January 2017)

I think it could be argued that Herve Tullet was instrumental in nurturing a delight in a new type of picture book; one which demands physical reader interaction even though there isn’t a flap or fold or a pop-up anywhere in sight.

Such a book is one full of a series of instructions, which – when carried out – appear to have a tangible impact on the events in the book. Suddenly the reader/listener is hugely powerful and can make things happen. Not with a swipe of a finger, not with the turn of a dial, but simply through the power of belief.

Jörg Mϋhle uses this construct to explore settings and life experiences familiar to the youngest of children in his Little Rabbit series, giving toddlers a sense of power and control over their lives they perhaps don’t often experience at that age. This funny, sweet, reassuring and empowering little board book about bathtime is perfection.

Edie by Sophy Henn (published February 2017)

A sleeker, more fashionable version of Lauren Child’s Lola (perhaps ideal for fans of the Belle and Boo aesthetic), Edie is a girl with a gloriously joyful outlook on life, full of self-assurance and positivity. She hops and skips through life, finding all sorts of people to help, even when they didn’t quite realise they needed Edie’s assistance. Giggle-inducing and full of feel-good vibes, with just the right smattering of reality to ensure believability, this is the ideal pick-me-up in picture book format.

The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (originally published in 2008)

I had no idea what to expect when I ordered this up from the library; it was part of a mass-reservation of all the books by illustrator Floyd Cooper I could lay may hands on because I was exploring children’s book illustrations which used oil paints – an uncommon medium for children’s book illustration.

The Blacker the Berry is a collection of poetry exploring and celebrating the wide variety of shade and tone of black skin. There are poems about children with deep black skin, golden brown skin, and many shades in between. There’s also one about a child who self-identifies as black but perhaps doesn’t look that way to others because she has very pale skin. Several of the children who feature are of dual heritage; at all times the richness of real life is respected. This books will help some children to find themselves and others (adults included) to learn or remind themselves about variety and diversity within a given community.

Gorgeously rich and nuanced illustrations (paintings made using a technique Cooper identifies as “oil erasure” i.e. the use of a rubber to remove some of the paint) draw on the evocative and lush nature imagery in the poetry. Full of happy and thoughtful children surrounded by friends, family and the great outdoors this is a powerful and positive read, whatever your shade of skin.

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth by Ellie Hattie, illustrated by Karl James Mountford (publishing February 2017)

This one had me itching to lead a creative writing class at a local museum or gallery, encouraging young authors to imagine what might happen in the museum after dark!

There’s a mammoth on the loose and he’s got to be home safe and sound before the clock strikes one.

But there’s so much to see, explore and discover as a furry ball of energy runs through a whole host of museum galleries. Will you let yourself stop to learn ocean facts or read biographies of painters? Can you resist finding out about dinosaur details or heroes in the history of aviation? Which exhibits would you hide behind if you were playing Catch-Me in the vaults of a place packed with amazing objects and wonderful finds?

Lots of tiny flaps pepper the pages of this beautifully produced book, which mixes fantasy, facts and fun. With detailed and quirky illustrations, richly patterned and packed with famous and sometimes surprising cameos. this is a book that invites repeated reads, taking time to explore it time and again once the thrill of the chase is done.

What have you enjoyed reading this week?

Disclosure: I was sent copies of all these books by their respective publishers, with the exception of The Blacker the Berry.

My thanks go to Catherine Johnson for helping me explore issues around language, labels and colour whilst I wrote this piece.

4 Responses

  1. Anamaria

    I love this idea, Zoe. Thanks especially for pointing me to The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth this week (for obvious reasons!), and be sure to check out Paul Zelinsky’s work in oils (I’m sure he’s on your list! Bagram Ibatoulline, too).

  2. Rebecca Stonehill

    Some great recommendations here. Like Anamaria, LOVE the sound of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth. You should definitely go for a creative writing session for kids in a museum, that sounds like so much fun. Wish I could do something similar with my club here, but Nairobi traffic makes it impossible! Also love the sound of the vintage poetry book, The Fire Horse. Have you heard of Under the Spell of the Moon? This is a book of translated poems we enjoy in our house.
    Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..You HAVE to read this book!

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