Monday, May 28, 2012

Twelve great books for younger readers

'Ladder to the Moon' by Maya Soetoro-Ng, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Walker Books, 2011

From the opening line you just know this is a book that has deep metaphysical themes:

One cool new evening
Suhaila asked her mama.
"What was Grandma Anne like?"
"She was like the moon." her mother replied.
"Full, soft and curious..." 

The book written by Barack Obama's sister was inspired by Georgia O'Keefe's painting 'Ladder to the Moon'. It was an image on a postcard that Maya Soetoro-Ng was given by her mother as a child. Her book, by the same name as the painting, was a response to her longing for her mother who had died 10 years after the author's daughter Suhaila had been born. She writes in her 'Author Note', "More that anything, I wished that my mother and my daughter could have known and loved each other." Her response was the beautiful and rich story of a little girl - 'Suhaila' - who asks her mother one day, "What was Grandma Annie like?" Somehow, through the songs and stories that Suhaila's grandmother had shared with her mother, stories that were now her stories as well, she had a chance to meet her grandmother via a ladder to the moon. The author writes, via the ladder to the moon “grandmother and grandchild (unite) through a story in which my mother could meet one of her granddaughters and share the moon with her."

The experience of meeting her mother is overlaid with a chance to see the power of prayer and the peoples of the world united in spite of difference. The illustrator Yuyi Morales adds her own interpretation to these themes as she grapples with how to represent this multi-layered story. While for me, the integration of some of the complex themes seemed a little contrived in places, this is a haunting and mysterious picture book that manages to unite author and illustrator in a special way.

'FArTHER' by Grahame Baker-Smith, Templar Publishing, 2010

Grahame Baker-Smith won the 2011 Kate Greenaway Medal for this intriguing book (longer review HERE). A father who had always dreamed of flying went off to war and didn't return. His son decides to make his father's dreams come true. The book tells the moving story of how the boy tries to fulfil his father's unfulfilled dream of flying. The story demonstrates the power of love and ambition when faced with seemingly impossible goals.

Baker-Smith uses traditional media like watercolour, acrylic, pastel and ink, but he also uses fimo and other materials to create images. He then uses photography and Photoshop to create the unique images that make up this book. His special style will excite young readers.

You can read additional background on Grahame Baker-Smith and the book HERE.

'The Gift' by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan, Barefoot Books, 2010

Rob Ryan is famous for his amazing papercut art. This book is another fine example of the quality of his work. It is the story of one girl's life and the hopes and desires that shape it. One summer day a beautiful young girl visits the woods for a picnic. A wish forms in her mind and to her surprise a silver-haired woman appears; ready to grant it. The author, Carol Ann Duffy is the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, and is the first woman in the role in 300 years. The beautiful story touches on the wonder and mysteries of what it means to be human. In making the award, one of the judges commented:

The beautiful illustrations are not just decorative, they interpret the text for us and strengthen the story's impact. The frames and shadows perfectly reflect the fairy tale feel and the different emblems and details emphasise the message. A perfect depiction of the circle of life.

'There Was an Old Sailor' by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Cassandra Allen, Walker Books, 2010

This is a delightful new interpretation of the old story favourite 'There was an old who swallowed a fly'. This rather ravenous sailor 'swallowed a krill'. You guessed it, "It'll make him ill".

Then, he 'swallowed a jelly.
That wriggled and wriggled and jiggled his belly.
He swallowed the jelly to catch the krill.
I don't know why he swallowed the krill.
It'll make him ill.'

He then swallows a fish, squid, ray, seal, and shark, before finally,

'There was an old sailor
who swallowed a whale..
then with a burp..
set sail'

This is a delightful tale that is beautifully illustrated by Cassandra Allen. In its own way, as well as being a lot of fun, it offers young children a preliminary understanding of the food chain, complete with facts about each animal at the end. The book won the 2011 'Crystal Kite Award'.

'The Secret of the Swords' by Frances Watts, illustrated by Gregory Rogers, Allen & Unwin, 2012

The is the first book in an exciting series by award-winning author Frances Watt and Kate Greenaway Medal winner Gregory Rogers. This first story introduces us to Tommy (short for Thomasina), a kitchen hand who wants to be a knight. When Tommy is finally promoted to Keeper of the Blades, she feels that her life has taken an exciting new path. But will a missing sword ruin everything? The central character doesn't want to fit into the traditional mould for girls of the time.

The story introduces a feisty new character for girls (and their parents and teachers) who love adventure and want an alternative to traditionally gendered tales. Created by Frances Watts, a CBCA Award Winner and author of the huge bestseller 'Kisses for Daddy'.

'The Poison Plot' by Frances Watts, illustrated by Gregory Rogers, Allen & Unwin, 2012

This is the second adventure in the 'Sword Girl' series. Evil plans are stirring and it's up to Tommy to keep the peace at Flamant Castle! Tommy is on an errand to the smithy in the town, and overhears a plot to poison Sir Walter the Bald, the castle's bravest knight. It is to occur during a banquet and it is to look like the work of a neighbouring nobleman. Tommy must foil the plot or Flamant Castle will be at war. My 7 year old granddaughter loved these tow books. Ideal material for independent readers aged 7-9.

'Puffin Peter' by Petr Horáček, Walker Books, 2011

Peter and Paul are the best of friends, but Peter gets lost in a terrible storm. But with the help of a big blue whale, Puffin Peter sets off to find him. They find all kinds of birds that match Peter's description but none quite like Paul. Peter Horáček was born in Czechoslovakia but now lives in England (Worcestershire). He uses a variety of media in this book including collage. The judges describe this book as:

"A dramatically beautiful picture book full of movement. Layers of colour and texture capture the movement of water, and of light, and of Peter and Paul themselves. A thrilling visual adventure for children, with a tender message."

Shortlisted for the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal

'There are no cats in this book' by Viviane Schwarz, Walker Books, 2011

This is a delightful picture book that has fantastic pop-up and photographic features, and a very quirky story. It features lovable cats, Tiny, Moonpie and Andr. They set off to see the world. They pack their suitcases and are ready to leave, but they can't get out of the book. First, they try pushing their way out, then jumping, but nothing works. Finally they decide to wish themselves out. But they need to engage the reader's help. This is a very unusual concept for a book which some children seem to love it, while others find it all a bit of a puzzle. It is delightfully simple in terms of its images, and with the added paper sculpture will interest many children from the moment they pick it up.

'There are cats in this book' by Viviane Schwarz, Walker Books

Cats Tiny, Moonpie and André are filled with the spirit of adventure – they want to see the world but they can't seem to get out of the book. They try pushing their way out, and jumping their way out but nothing works. Finally they decide to WISH themselves out with your help, the reader! This is a companion book to 'There are Cats in this Book'. It has been nominated for the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal. The judges felt that this book:

"...perfectly expresses the power of the imagination! With an extraordinary sense of participation, this is book to play with as much as to read, and very much one to share. The illustrations are full of personality, the use of colour and blank space is brilliant. A book that works on lots of different levels."

'Diary of a Soccer Star' by Shamini Flint, illustrated by Sally Heinrich, Allen & Unwin, 2012

Marcus is a nine year-old Maths whiz, but he's not good at sport. His dad is a self-help author who thinks Marcus can achieve anything he sets his mind to. The outcome is very funny. It is presented with an illustrated diary format. Marcus manages to take a humorous look at his life. In spite of his Dad's efforts, he doesn't quite get the hang of soccer.

'I scored a goal today.
Unfortunately, it was an own goal.
It wasn't my fault.
Really, it wasn't!'

My granddaughter loved this book. She laughed along with the struggles of Marcus.

'Diary of a Cricket God' by Shamini Flint, illustrated by Sally Heinrich, Allen & Unwin, 2012

If you liked 'Diary of a Soccer Star' then you will like this, the second book in the series.  This time, Marcus Atkinson is pushed by his Dad to play cricket, and would you believe that he becomes a cricket god?

This Maths whiz is still not very good at sport, in spite of his Dad's wishful thinking and efforts. Children who struggle to be good at sport will be able to relate to this funny story
'A Bear and a Tree' by Stephen Michael King, Viking/Penguin, 2012

Ren knows that it's almost time for Bear's big sleep, but she needs just one more day with him. They have just one day to explore the winter together. This will be the last of the coloured leaves, which will give way soon to a blanket of snow and the final chance to catch the sun, the moon and the stars. Just one more day to play and dance and wonder. This is a story of friendship and the preciousness of time shared with friends.

Written and illustrated by the highly renowned Stephen Michael King,
who has previously illustrated The Magic Violin, Follow That Lion!, Duck Sounds and The Gorilla Suit. More recently he illustrated the Robin Klein classic story, The Princess Who Hated It. King has had several books shortlisted by the CBCA, and is frequently appear on children's book awards lists like YABBA.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

just tweeted this list- love the 1st few books especially!