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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Diabolical Mr Tiddles

Author and Illustrator: Tom McLaughlin
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2012

This book made my eyebrow ache, as it was arched to one side throughout, trying to guess where the goof-ball story was going next. The Diabolical Mr Tiddles is a delightful story of loyalty, friendship and...the benevolence of Her Royal Majesty the Queen?! Birthday boy Harry gets his dream gift, a cat, whom he comically names Mr Tiddles. Harry lavishes Mr Tiddles with affection, and Mr Tiddles wants to repay the friendship. Initially, as cats do, Mr Tiddles brings Harry and mouse, but after this receives a reaction he wasn't expecting, increasingly exciting and expensive gifts start arriving in Harry's room, but where are they from? 
In a fun twist to the story, it turns out that the rotund, ginger, stripey cat Mr Tiddles, has been on some jaunty night escapades stealing items to fulfil all boyhood dreams; a horse from a cowboy, a pogo stick, rockstar guitars; there's a great picture about half way through the book showing this extensive and growing collection, great fun. 

Tom McLaughin then spins the story upside down again, when Harry follows the perpetrator in this nightly wanderings, ending up face-to-face with the Queen, in her bedroom, of all places! 

When reading this to Bert (5) and Edie (3) in the week, Bert immediately spotted that the queen slept with her crown on her head. Little details in the book, like this, are plentiful- comedy treats abound for eager eyes. I really liked the way the queen was presented, as this austere bossy mother character. The message in the book, you can't by love, nor friendship, and that true friends look out for each other, is sweet, a tiny bit lost on the nearly four year old, but well understood by the five year old I felt. The endnote illustration of the queen is amusing, and the cheekiness and neediness of Tiddles throughout, raises a calamitous beat. A great read for settling trading card fractions in the playground, or more generally to read to preschool and reception children navigating new friendships. 

If you like this, you'll also undoubtedly like 'Love Monster':

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Author: C.S.Lewis
Publisher: First published 1950 by Geoffrey Bles, First published by Lions,  Collins Publishing Group, 1980, edition featured 1988

I read this to my 5 year old and 7 year old boys a couple of months ago, to mixed success. I set The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe up as a nostalgia trip for myself, I thought I 
remembered soldier queens and exhilarating battles, but some of this memory was 
implanted from watching the Children's BBC series adaptation from the 1980s. I wasn't disappointed by re-reading the book, just resolute by how 'of its time' the book was, and how adaptations since had skewed the book's ideological stance so much, I had no recollection of how stiff the writing comes across. Enid Blyton eat your heart out, and I'm really not a fan of Blyton and don't buy in to any of this, new wave Blyton fandom popular with the mums at school. 
As my children proved though, ideology is clearly an aside to adventure when you're young. The boys followed the chase chapters excitedly, particularly when the beavers were helping hide the children, and loved the deception of Edmund, his lust for the Turkish Delight ( though I had to refer to these as 'sweets', as the kids had no idea what Turkish Delight might mean). While as an adult I was aghast at the sexism In the book, particularly the moment Peter saves his sister Susan from baying wolves as she climbs a tree; she does a great job at defending herself and younger sister but when Peter is then preparing for battle, he tells Susan the battle is no place for a girl. ( I edited this slightly as I read aloud, but there was no need as the boys were too busy anticipating some sword fighting and didn't really care who'd be involved!) 

What I also found as an adult, was how obvious the 'Aslan as Jesus' parallel is, while I remember this being pointed out to me as a child, and feeling it was clever and subtle. The whole moment of sacrifice on the stone table, the witch's long laboured torture scene, then the breaking of the table in half like Jesus's tomb, was long winded while the battle scene itself, was anticlimactic, short, lacked description of 'one-one' combat. There were also these strange intervals in the book where CS Lewis indulges in encyclopaedic paragraphs about the flora and fauna of the forest, which made my two quite restless and bored. 

Positives though, finishing reading and watching the 2002 film the following day, what a treat that film is! Well paced, well told and beautiful cinematography, particularly the long shots; vast, eerie, magical. I hate to say it, but in this exceptional circumstance, the film is better than the book ( eek! did I say that?)Maybe I'm feeling brave like Susan! 

On that note, here's a link to the superb 2005 Chronicles of Narnia film:

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Edwina the Emu

Author: Sheena Knowles
Illustrator: Rod Clement
Publisher: Angus Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 1996

I was passed this book on a bookstall at a school fayre; 'here'said the bookstall mum, 'you'll like this one, it's about a feminist emu, and it's pretty funny'. And she was right, it's really funny, Australian dry humour funny, and a 'feminist emu', why of course!
With loud, brash and garish illustrations, we meet Edwina and Edward, emus in love and expecting a brood of ten. On realising the news Edward shouts, 'YEEK!' and so starts the catchphrase of the book: 'he seemed to be choking, 'Ten litttle emus? you've got to be joking.' being the more collected of the pair, Edwina offers to leave the nest and go and seek work, in order to afford the brood. Edwina tries several jobs, as a ballerina, a chimney sweep and as a waitress. As each ends in an emu related drama, Edwina realises her calling is to sit on the nest (part time only, in a job share with Edward!)  I love this portrayal of a strong, independent thinking, progressive female, and the turn the story takes without compromising the central protagonist's empowerment. 

The bawdy carictures of other job seekers fit well with the laugh-out-loud storyline, an emu being equal to man in a queue at the bus stop, for example. The text is fun also, with simple rhyming couplets ( Some times the rhyme itself is a little over worked and tenuous, but again, this adds to the amusement!) The book looks and feels very Australian, with this loud swaggering humour and moments of irony, such as Edwina gettting a job as a chimney sweep and using her body to sweep the the whole chimney. 

My daughter dislikes Rod Clements' use of starring, googly and bloodshot eyes, which do, I think, put young people off the book. The faces of shock in the book, just aren't the more refined British interpretation of 'shocked face', they're too confrontational. The messages in the book are, however, hugely welcome, insighting a positive sense of womanhood, and promoting shared roles and duties as parents. I like that when Edwina returns to the nest, partner Edward is exhausted; a commment on the stresses of running a home for either gender. 
All in all, an uplifting read, embracing working women and equality in relationships.

Friday, 30 June 2017


Author and Illustrator: David Wiesner
Publisher: Andersen Press, 2012, first published by Clarion Books, 2006

I can't put this book down, and I keep putting off it's inevitable return to the library. It's made it to my 'books to buy' list, and thus to this blog. 
A wordless book that tells a gripping story, this masterpiece of modern children's fiction, nay, art, is captivating. When an inquisitive boy finds a barnacle encrusted and battered old camera washed up on the beach, he runs to a 24 hour reprographics shop to develop the film inside the camera case. To his surprise the photographic film shows a whole underwater world, portrayed by Wiesner in these delightfully surreal watercolours that raised curious eyebrows with my children. The story then takes another inexplicable turn, as the developed photos reveal that the camera has been found many times before, bearing a photo in a photo in a photo. Now determined to add himself for posterity, the boy sets up his old fashioned selfie on the sand, with the waves crashing behind him, ready to reclaim the camera. 

While the story is beautiful, taking many exciting and unexpected twists and turns, the pictures that tell of this enchantment are simply enthralling. Deep, detailed, shadow rich, colour rich, sumptuous. My daughter literally tried to reach into the page to inspect the turtles. 

This is the sort of book that I normally pick up sceptically thinking 'all style and no substance' but with Flotsam, far from it, I was truly taken. The book says a huge amount, wordlessly. Much respect to David Weisner, I'll look out for more books by him. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Love Monster

Author and Illustrator: Rachel Bright
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2012

You can't help but smile as you read Love Monster; it has wit and charm in equal measure, and dips in and out of first, second and third person, addressing and positioning the audience in a way that feels quiet original and fun for this age children's lit. 
My daughter (3) certainly likes the directed sympathy for poor 'funny-looking' monster, with 'This is a monster' (hello, monster) leading her to wave frantically at the page as the book opens. 
The book has a sardonic narrative, a monster (incidentally very cute looking itself in illustration, with teddy under his arm), finding it hard to fit in within a 'world of cute, fluffy things.' Monster has had enough of being shunned so decides to 'set out and find someone who'll love him, just the way he was.' Unravelling then, as a classic British underdog story for preschoolers, monster endures a tough and fruitless journey on the search for this true love. Just as he gives up, as the well known narrative goes, when life has beaten him down so low, monster finds his love, 'just when he was least expecting.

The book is funny on many levels, from the serendipitous twist in the storyline, to the inconsequential moments in the illustrations, pencil behind monster's ear, all very clever. The hyperbolic cartoon-like incidents, such as the rain cloud exacting over monster's head, monster's downcast eyes and list of crossed off preposition orientated places to search for love, 'high, low, middleish' etc, make this a real chuckling treat to read as a parent. Children seem to cope with the more abstract or knowledge dependent humour in the book quite well, so for example, my daughter understands that the monster mistakes a new person for a costume in shop, his shadow and his reflection in the water, quite readily. She's less au fair with the tongue-in-cheek names for places, such as 'Cutesville', and so some aspects of the book are going over her head (but there's no harm in this, they're just adult jokes, parent pleasers). 

Stylistically, funky typefont used, simple illustrations, big brassy backgrounds, even some filmic conventions, such as the close up of monster searching the letterbox in a classic body fragmentation shot...very funny for us film buffs. Simple storytelling voice and plenty of colloquial, so for example, 'having lost all his umpf', which makes the book very endearing and pleasurable, amusing to read. 
All in all, a lovely, fun, uplifting book for bedtime.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Badger's Parting Gifts

Author and Illustrator: Susan Varley
Publisher: Collins Picture Lions, HarperCollins, 1984,edition featured 1992

This children's picturebook is a gentle, honest book about death, and coming to terms with grief. There's a sensible narrative about an old badger, quietly preparing himself for parting by readying a letter to his friends. Badger is presented as happy, ready and willing to pass away, watching his friends Frog and Mole run spiritly down a hill, while he feels old and tired. Full of appropriate simple adjectives about aging, the book steers away from gloominess, though at the same time is open about the grief that those left behind then feel.

The death 'scene' itself describes badger 'falling out his body' and running down a long tunnel, which, while somewhat cliched, is a useful, comprehendable anology for young children. One of Badger's friends, Mole, takes the news of Badger's death, harder than the others. Winter then sets in, passing into spring, which is a nice way of indicating to children that an amount of time suspended in this sadness has passed. The creatures then individually have memories of Badger teaching them to do things, so Mole remembers Badger teaching him how to make a paper chain, Frog remembers Badger teaching him to ice skate for example. These memories and teachings are of course, 'Badger's parting gifts', and the book ends with Mole on a warm spring day, on the hillside, looking up at the sky and thanking Badger for these gifts ( and we're reassured that Badger can hear him).

Sensitive and warm then, the narrative is reassuring rather than worrying and dwelling. Yes, there are slightly sugary moments of cliche, tunnels, clouds, seasonal change and the illustrations are soft and floaty, ink and water colour, not necessarily memorable. But all in all quite a helpful book for illiciting thoughts on death, discussion about death with preschoolers and young children. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Hiro - Thomas and Friends

Based on The Railway Series by the Rev.W.Awdry
Illustrations: Robin Davies
Publisher: Egmont, 2010

I'm afraid I don't have the will power to write much; I've included this title on my 'celebration' of Children's Literature blog under duress! 
I thought my days of having to read titles from this cheap and dull modernisation of The Thomas the Tank Engine series were over, but then tonight, George, my toddler, came bounding in with 'Thomas!' (the generic name for all engine related literature). What I can say in the series' favour though, each book is a guaranteed adult sleep inducer! These are the only books in British Literature that I am physically able to read, while mentally switching off. This state of 'reading auto pilot' has its benefits- its like having a nanny attend the children while you ( Internet ) shop- lovely! 

Another positive, from a scant supply here- this particular title , 'Hiro', is the very best of a very bad bunch. Hiro is a less precocious snotty engine than all the others, and brings a bit of the vulnerable and mystique to Thomasland (oh sorry, that's just the up-selling theme park, I mean The Isle of Sodor.)
Other notable points, for when your toddler inevitably navigates to these depressingly formulaic Egmont books, the written text is big and clear (so hard to conveniently 'loose your place' and skip once the child can read themselves). The illustrations are notable for the ridiculously sinister expressions, the picture of alarm on the faces of Annie and Clarabel get my toddler going every time, other than that, dull - cheapo computer graphics I think. I think the extensive 50 book series could always double up as a 'baby names' book box set if all else fails, as traditional PC mid 1990s names will surely make a come back again soon, surely?! My particular favourite crowd pleasers are Jack, Spencer and Harvey - surprise surprise, I don't recall the stories! 
And as for Thomas himself, I'm so fed up with him gloating, and being all saccharine. I wish he'd gone off on the wrong track, discovered Hiro and then got himself lost for all eternity in a siding. But turning back to Hiro, 'The Master of the Railway' as he's described over and over in this edition, how can such cultural stereotypes not be condoned? I doubt the Rev W Awdry would approve; I had the misfournate of reading the vintage editions of these...not enough stuffy pomp for his eyes I feel! Yawn, yawn. 

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