Review of a Review

sidewalk flowersI’ve definitely been guilty of device distraction before now and will be again.  The 10-strong group of silent teenagers walking down Takapuna Beach last weekend all staring at their devices were guilty of it too but that’s a generational phenomenon I can only begin to comprehend.  Together alone.  It’s disturbing to witness any time but it’s particularly jarring in the context of parenting and caring for our very young.

This excellent Brain Pickings review by Maria Popova of the newly released picture book Sidewalk Flowers by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (illustrator) is titled “An illustrated ode to presence and the everyday art of noticing in a culture of productivity and distraction”.

Must finish now and go and get down to floor-level with my children..

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Review – The Day No One Was Angry by Toon Tellegen and Marc Boutavant (Illustrator)

TDNOWA_Cover

Couldn’t resist sharing this unique little book published by Gecko Press 2014 written by Dutch author Toon Tellegen and illustrated by Marc Boutavant (France).

Twelve short philosophical tales with one thing in common – anger.  These are fables but there’s no moralising here.  There’s almost a flatness to the telling – a dozen vignettes that simply tell it like it is – be it sad, ridiculous or hilarious.  And don’t expect resolution or explanation either.  In fact, these tales gently and humorously explore anger – how it feels, what it is (and isn’t), how it comes and goes, its simplicity, its complexity, its futility.

The delightful cast of creatures variously encounter and experience anger in one form or another.  Every evening at sunset the hyrax climbs his hill and shouts at the sun “Don’t set!”  and wonders why the sun doesn’t listen.  He cries with anger and wastes hours obsessing about it but nothing changes, leading the hyrax to the big question – “does anyone ever listen?”  There’s an elephant who chastises himself about his desire to climb a tree.  His negative self-censure goes on as he climbs, then he gets so excited about transcending it that when he actually reaches the top he loses his balance and crashes to earth.

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Beetle and earthworm fight about who is angrier with catastrophic results.  The hours pass and their anger abates they decide to celebrate the successful angry episode by going (most agreeably) to earthworm’s house for a bite to eat.  In another story, shrew visits squirrel and tests their friendship to the extremes by trying to rouse him to anger.  Even shrew’s threat of leaving doesn’t make squirrel angry but instead, as shrew indeed “vanishes into the forest”, ends up leaving both in emptiness and isolation.  Hedgehog tries writing “I am angry” down on a piece of bark to try and make himself feel angry with lukewarm results but indeed ends up cross when the wind snatches the bark from his paws.

Marc Boutavant (Around the World With Mouk) has created a beautiful woodland world with his incredible illustrations.  The palette is muted primaries and lots of black.  The detail in the characters’ expressions is perfectly captured, the woodland world is vibrant and alive.

This is the perfect read-aloud for early-middle graders and their grown-ups.  My seven-year old loves this book and carries it about. Her father isn’t so sure.  Either way, it’s been a good conversation starter about feelings and emotions but, more than that, this delightful book is a meditation on human emotion.  That anger is okay – it’s essential.  It’s how we know we’re alive.   And if that all sounds a little heavy – trust me, there’s nothing heavy about the simplicity of these creatures’ stories, the delightful and intricate illustrations and hand-feel of this book.  It’s a beauty.

Beginning

This blog is borne of my passion for children’s books.  I collect vicariously, buying myself children’s books in the guise of buying them for my children – I unashamedly declare that re-discovering children’s books is one of the best things about becoming a parent.  My children’s book-shelves are groaning with glorious finds both old and new – some are from my own childhood, there are classics and contemporaries, mistakes and delightful discoveries.

Our books come from all over;  the library, small independent booksellers like the fabulous Children’s Bookshop in Wellington, big commercial retailers, second-hand stores and on-line. I’m the one under the book-stall trestle table at the school fair, scrabbling in the dusty boxes.  I’ve made crazy Ebay purchases of titles withdrawn from a U.S. Mid-Western library for a buck and paid ten times that in air-freight.  I give judiciously and receive with joy.  I’m constantly asked to recommend titles and there’s nothing I enjoy more than having a good think about the age, reading ability and interests of the child and coming up with a potential hit.

I’m delighted that the challenge of finding books for my own little readers constantly changes – not only as they grow in maturity and reading ability, but also as their interests and personalities develop. To read with my children is a time for closeness and sharing, to see them curl up and read alone for the first (and second and third..) time is a gratifying rush.  And their choices aren’t always what I consider “good” books.  In the end – it’s about finding delight and solace in books.  I want my children to enjoy reading.  Anything.  Yes we all know that reading and writing go hand in hand and the many and varied positive impacts that reading has on children from an educational perspective.  But more than that, books are reliable companions throughout life’s ups and downs.  We all remember the great books of our childhoods.  Sometimes we carry a part of them with us for life.  Whether a comic, an e-book, a picture book, an audio book, a series – a book is a place to learn, a place to hide, a part of the ancient human tradition of storytelling; a drum, a shell, a bonfire on a hill-top.

I’ve been wondering how best to approach this blog.  I thought of categories by age groups, gender, reading challenges and setbacks, new books, old books.  But I think I like the feel of something more random – just where my head’s at, what’s piqued my interest or provoked thought.  So bear with this blog newbie and be rewarded with insightful reviews, musings, recommendations and conversation about all things kid-lit.  I can’t promise it won’t be a little New Zealand-centric.  I’m so proud of our writers and publishers who champion stories for children – particularly the fabulous Gecko Press who consistently treat us to “curiously good books from around the world.”

Gah – this is starting to sound like advertorial.  So enough blather and onto the books.

Best, Louise