“Ceri is a cat, and Deri is a dog. Ceri has stripes and Deri has spots. They live in a small town near a big hill and they do everything together. They are best friends.”
So begins each of the four Ceri and Deri books by Max Low – an opening reminiscent of the comforting familiarity of Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola series. Across the four books, Max, a graduate of Hereford School of Art, ensures that friendship and fun is at the heart of the duo’s adventures. The latest two titles have just been published by Graffeg and they are beautifully produced.
There is an immediacy and vibrancy to Max’s illustrations that radiates so much joy and youthful energy I want to hang the pages on every wall in the house. It’s fresh and fun and I love the way Max plays with shape and line and limits his palette to shades of the same colours. He makes some bold choices too – a favourite page has to be the illustration of the sea in The Treasure Map.
The stories have an educational edge too – not that these are text books, but reading these books with young children will support their understanding of directions (Treasure Map), time (No Time for Clocks), counting, sharing and design. The emphasis, though, is most definitely on fun.
In The Treasure Map, the two friends follow directions in search of pirate treasure, helped along the way by their companions. In Build a Birdhouse, we see Max at his imaginative and creative best as Ceri and Deri design a perfect (read: wacky and wonderfully weird) house for a homeless bird. It’s in this book that Max hits on a universal truth: “No one actually uses dining rooms do they? So let’s fill it full of balloons!”
Playful, engaging and full of humour, the Ceri and Deri books are fabulous picture books made for sharing. Max Low is an extremely talented illustrator and we can’t wait to see what comes next – which is another book, ‘My Friends’ due to be published by Otter Barry in July!
Last weekend saw the start of this year’s Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival and we were delighted to make the journey south to see a few events. The programme for the book-fest is brilliant, with a mix of new and established authors and illustrators appealing to a range of ages. It’s fantastic that the festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates Welsh authors and illustrators so strongly – and yet it has nationwide appeal. Taking place in a number of the city’s iconic buildings, this young festival is well-supported and feels prestigious.
Over the course of the weekend we saw four of Wales’ finest – starting with the wonderful Catherine Fisher who spoke at length to a keen audience of avid readers. Her latest book, The Clockwork Crow (Firefly Press) was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and has recently been nominated for the Tir-na-nOg Award, for books with an authentic Welsh background. In the plush surroundings of Cardiff Central Library, Catherine spoke with passion about her love of fantasy; memories of her father reading Alice in Wonderland aloud; and her discovery of Tolkien.
She also told the enraptured gathering not to ask her about plotting or where she gets her ideas, or even why she writes for children! She writes what she writes, and what comes out are children’s books. Her ideas “just appear”, and she has “no idea” what is going to happen in the story when she sits down to write it. She doesn’t plan – but feels the thrill of the reader as the story forms on the page. Later, we asked Catherine if this meant that there was more focus on editing her books, and she told us that she does this as she writes. She tends to go through the book twice more, “fine-tuning the language” and making details crisp.
After reading from The Clockwork Crow, Catherine Fisher revealed that it would now be the start of a trilogy. The Velvet Fox is currently being written and will hopefully be published around October 2019. In that book, the crow will not be returned to his normal form and so a third book will be required to make that happen.
The Clockwork Crow has already been a big success and both author and publisher are hopeful that there is more to come. Thank you to Catherine for granting a private audience for a short time to ask a few questions, the final one of which was “If you could have any super-power, what would it be?” This led to much discussion and a book recommendation for Noah to read HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’. In the end, Catherine decided that, provided she could avoid the difficulties that The Invisible Man had (not being able to hide his clothes, or disguise his drink from descending his food pipe) she would like to have that magical quality.
Next up was Gavin Puckett and his wonderful “Fables from the Stables” session at Cardiff City Hall. Gavin spoke about how having a child gave him the impetus to write. Several years ago, whilst driving, Gavin had heard a radio show posing the question, “Which sports are carried out backwards?” Puzzling this over, Gavin had driven past a lone horse in a field and thought to himself, “What could make a horse walk backwards?” Fables from the Stables was born!
Gavin’s session was fun and interactive, geared towards his 5-9 audience. The children and adults enjoyed the quizzes and were treated to a reading from Gavin’s latest book, Hayley, The Hairy Horse. Having been educated on the varied uses of horse hair, we were left on the proverbial cliff with the reading ending enigmatically: “Would the lovely, hairy Hayley lose her whole tail?!”
Mummy found herself volunteered (thanks to Nina and Kit) to represent a rock star in the Hendrix the Rocking Horse music round. Standing in front of a room full of children and adults, holding an inflatable guitar, with stripy socks on her wrists and red knickers on her head, was not how we had imagined our weekend to run. By the 5th tune Mummy became more accustomed to her role and rocked out with a reasonable amount of energy to “Peppa Pig” and “Old McDonald”.
Thanks to Gavin for a really fun and engaging session. The books have all been hits for the younger bookworms and the grown-ups found plenty to chortle at too!
Saturday afternoon was given over to The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie. This session had a distinctively chilled out flavour with the audience encouraged to snuggle up with the fabulously enticing pile of cushions covering the front of the room. Girls made chairs, beds, cars and lounged comfortably whilst Lauren and Jenny spoke of their inspirations and ideas behind the illustrated story.
The importance of friendship was at the core of the session. The illustrations are beautiful, complimenting and enhancing the impact of the deceptively simple text. One of the great joys of The Girls is its ability to engage readers, regardless of age. Certainly the Mums in our session had as much to talk about as their daughters. Both Lauren and Jenny spoke of their own friendships and how growing up – either in a busy world of family and friends, or in a remote Nordic village (being the first child born in 12 years, amongst a population of 30!) – is shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. We were all delighted with the prospect of a follow-up, The Boys.
Nina and I enjoyed drawing our own best friends and the whole group were delighted to share names and descriptions of friends, who were then turned into perfect little drawings before our eyes. Løvlie’s talent is in her ability to translate human spirit into art and her humble “I’m an illustrator, it’s what I do,” understates her great talent. Løvlie delights in her work, describing how her soul lifts as she enters her workplace, where she is surrounded by what sounds like a remarkable hub of creatives. Lauren has started writing more recently and finds the outdoors to be the best location for harvesting her ideas.
The two women have an obvious bond, derived from this first collaboration. We were lucky enough to have a chance to speak with them both after the session and their warmth and enthusiasm for life in general was pretty intoxicating.
Following a well deserved rest (and a visit to a few Cardiff cafes, bookstores and record shops), and a good sleep, we returned the next day to meet Karin Celestine and her tribe of felted creatures. It was a real pleasure to meet Karin and spend some time with her afterwards, but none of us (Daddy worm especially) could contain our joy at meeting Bert, Bertram, Granny Dandelion, Grandpa Burdock and the gang. There was so much adoration in the room for these creatures, who under Karin’s leadership bring kindness, compassion, love and understanding in a world often blighted by worry, intolerance and cruelty.
Karin read from Bert’s Garden (Graffeg), a simply wonderful tale about the über-kind Bert who loves having a sit in the garden, with tea and biscuits, and welcoming visitors with beautiful produce. He is caring towards all creatures in his garden, including the slugs and snails and the bugs that wake him in the night. In the story, he provides a new home for some beetles who are enormously grateful for somewhere cosy and dry to live. The assembled group of 4-7 year olds were then encouraged to get stuck in to making bug houses, and were all delighted to take them home with a sticker and a packet of seeds.
The ninth book from Celestine and the Hare, Helping Hedgehog Home, is due for publication later this month and completes the Tribe ennealogy (yes, we looked that up – it’s an art work in nine parts). We had a wonderful chat with Karin* after the event and asked her a bit more about Hedgehog. She told us, “There is more humour in this one, but still with an ecological message.”
“A lot of the environmental issues can be too big and too frightening for young children – as a child you can feel completely helpless to do anything about it. I remember the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign from when I was younger, and short of buying a membership to the WWF there was nothing I could do – and for me, that’s not very positive. I want anybody to be able to do something to help. Similar to today’s event – anyone can make a bug house and make a difference and that’s what we did.”
*We’ll publish a full interview with Karin later this month to coincide with Helping Hedgehog Home.
In the back of each of Karin’s books there are some suggested craft activities that readers can engage with – such as making a bug house. In the new book, as the Hedgehog tries to find her way home by making a hot air balloon, readers can try their hand at making one from papier mâché. Do not worry too much about Hedgehog’s escapades, because as Karin revealed to us, “Granny saves the day in a very simple and sensible way.”
It’s fair to say that we had a brilliant weekend in Cardiff thanks to the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. A truly fabulous festival with a wide variety of events for all ages. The second weekend continues to feature amazing authors and we’re sad that we can’t get there ourselves. If you get the opportunity, do take a look at their website, even just to keep yourself in the loop for next year.
We received complimentary tickets to the above events thanks to Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. They also helped us to arrange conversations with the authors.
The Storm Child by Gill Lewis has been shortlisted for the Tir na nOg Award 2019. The retelling is part of the ‘Treetops Greatest Stories’ series produced by Oxford as part of its reading scheme. Aimed at Year 5 children, The Storm Child is one of 35 stories designed to extend children’s reading experiences and introduce them to some classic storytellers and the joy of fiction.
It’s fair to say then that the Tir na nOg Award will bring this book to the attention of a wider audience. And it really does deserve your attention. It focusses on the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, an ancient kingdom between Bardsey Island and Ramsey Island, protected from the rising tides by a sea wall. In this story, the fisher-folk are threatened by a “seven raven” gale and when the warnings of the Wall Guard go unheeded it’s up to the storm child to save the kingdom.
Gill Lewis is a glorious storyteller and The Storm Child is skillful, entertaining and fast-paced. The tale of forgotten kingdoms, forbidden love, banished princesses, betrayal and heroic escapes has a fairy-tale quality mixed in with the feel of a legend and morality tale.
This version of the story is different to the most popular versions we know – in those versions the sluice gates are neglected by either Mererid or the drunken Prince Setheillion. In Gill Lewis’ story, Mererid is the heroine; a girl of unknown parentage who, as a baby, was rescued from the seas during a torrential storm by Angelos the Wall Guard. The Storm Child senses that the kingdom’s defences are about to be breached, but will the king take heed?
Interestingly, Cantre’r Gwaelod has inspired many shortlisted titles in the Tir na n-Og Award’s history, including winners A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond (1977), The Silver Tree by Susan Cooper (1978) and Cities in the Sea by Siân Lewis and Jackie Morris (1997). Will 2019 bring another winner? Either way, The Storm Child is a great story that celebrates the rich heritage of Welsh folklore. This is a beautifully produced and skillfully crafted retelling, with illustrations by James Gifford adding real atmosphere. We’d really love to see Gill take on a host of other Welsh legends and produce a volume of tales – that would make for a fabulous book. For now, this one is a complete pleasure.
Storm Hound is Claire Fayers’ fourth novel following two award-winning books in The Accidental Pirates series and last year’s riveting Mirror Magic. A Hound from Odin’s Hunt has fallen to Earth as he seemingly couldn’t keep up with the pack. The thunderous skies break open and the beast lands on the A40 just outside Abergavenny. On falling to the realm of humans he transforms from a wild beast to a small puppy and is taken in by Jessica Price, her brother Ben and their father.
The torrential weather causes Jess to name the puppy Storm and he immediately gets the attention of several suspicious characters who sense his magic. The three professors display dubious demeanours and have questionable motives for being “seconded” to Jessica’s new school. Meanwhile her new friend David’s behaviour is often shrouded in mystery, especially when he’s around his peculiar Aunt. For the sake of Storm, Jess has to work out who she can trust.
Storm Hound is fast-paced and highly engaging – the narrative is driven and satisfying. There is a lot of humour in the book, derived from the relationship between man and dog (and who is the boss); with the interplay between cat and dog, and sheep and dog giving much cause for the giggles. There’s no humour amongst dogs though – Storm may be little but when he gets angry his shadow suggests his true status – and other dogs are in no doubt of his power.
The book is indebted to Welsh mythology and legend with Claire putting her own spin on the Hounds of Annwn and borrowing Welsh enchantress Ceridwen and her son Morfran for her characters. The whole book is firmly rooted in the Welsh landscape too with the story unfolding in the shadow of Mount Skirrid – an oddly profiled Black Mountain allegedly flattened by the foot of the devil.
Whilst the book is full of Claire’s trademark magic, enchantments and fantasy, Storm Hound stands out because it is the most human story Claire has told. Jess’ parents have just split up and she is having to deal with a move away from her established friends – a new house, neighbourhood and school. She has to look after her younger brother in this transition and cope with being away from her mother. Despite the downpours and tempest in the weather, the largest storm is reserved for her internal struggle. There are many parallels throughout the book between the puppy and Jessica: the puppy does not belong; he finds it hard to communicate; he worries that he cannot protect. Huge credit to Claire for including these realities, and credence also for not trying to resolve them all (sorry – slight spoiler!).
For us (the book has been enjoyed by Mummy, Daddy and Noah), this is Claire’s most accomplished book yet. It’s funny and fast-paced and the layers of subtext allow for a wide age range to enjoy. This perfect Storm comes highly recommended.
Thank you to Macmillan for sending us a proof copy of Storm Hound in exchange for a review. Storm Hound is available now from your local bookshop or direct from Macmillan. You can visit Claire’s website here or follow her on Twitter.
Two girls, a century apart. Together they’ll find freedom.
Gill Lewis’ new novel is a compelling and powerful story that moved me to tears. The empathetic writing and emotive narrative is delivered with conviction by a writer of rare quality. It’s a wonderful story that manages to encompass so much, leaving you slightly dazed.
The story centres on Semira, a young refugee from Eritrea. There is little in the story about her journey to London; instead, the focus is on her struggle, several years since her arrival, to escape the clutches of the man who brought her to the UK. He is manipulative and overpowering, forcing Semira’s mum to work to earn him money; denying them food, stability and the freedom they have sought. Robel is an ugly piece of work.
He is furious when Semira buys an old hat on a market stall for a few pounds. She is attracted by a memory triggered by the small bird mounted on the brim. Semira discovers the diary of a Victorian girl and a connection is made that spans the century. Now look again at the cover of the book, and the amazing artwork of Paola Escobar – there is a symmetry to these girls’ lives – their stories seem to be reflections of each other as they find inspiration in a kindred spirit. They are linked by the hat, by their experiences and by their motivations and desires.
Hen’s lifestyle is a complete contrast to Semira – she is the daughter of a well-heeled businessman and his wife (who keeps the social diary). But this lifestyle, like Semira’s, is stifling and Hen finds hope and ambition in her Aunt Katherine. Dealing with votes for women and animal rights, the overarching theme of the novel is finding your place, knowing your worth, and having the freedom to be yourself.
Gill says, “The Closest Thing to Flying is a story about friendship and loyalty and standing up for others, and is set against a backdrop of women’s rights. Henrietta’s story made me question how far we have come since Victorian times. Women still face discrimination in many aspects of life. I wanted to write a story about the empowerment of women and celebrate those people, both female and male, who help to make it happen. I wanted Henrietta to reach through time to a modern girl and share her story. I needed to connect the two girls across a whole century, and find something that could link them both.
That something became a bird. A small green bird. All the way, from the Horn of Africa.”
Gill writes with such intensity that you can often hear her voice and feel her passion for these subjects. The Closest Thing to Flying is most definitely from the heart. Stunning.
Thank you to OUP for sending us a copy of The Closest Thing to Flying in exchange for a review. The Closest Thing to Flying is available now from your local bookshop or direct from OUP. You can visit Gill’s website here or follow her on Twitter.
We’ve already had a number of exciting releases to devour in 2019. The Colour of Happy by Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar (Hodder) is a beautiful exploration of feelings for young children – allowing them to interpret and acknowledge their own emotions and develop empathy for others. The Girls (Caterpillar), by Lauren Ace & Jenny Lovlie is a celebration of individuality and friendship. It follows the journey of four girls who meet under an apple tree and they form a bond that lasts a lifetime. The girls grow and follow their individual paths but know that they always have the love and friendship to share the good times and get them through the bad. Meet The Pirates and Meet The Greeks by James Davies (Big Picture Press) are superb non-fiction hardbacks that everyone needs. Filled with hi-res humour these are perfect for any age and should be in every school library in the land.
Three MG novels of real quality are on offer this month. The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell (Usborne) gets a paperback release. It deserves your attention as it’s one of the most inventive books we’ve read recently. Suzie is a bold heroine seeking justice as she traverses the Impossible Places on a train piloted by trolls. We’d say it’s best suited to ages 8 to 11. Buy it, you won’t regret it. The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis (OUP) manages to cover so much ground with an incredible deftness. Topics covered include refugees, votes for women and the ethical treatment of animals, making this book a feast for the mind (and a treasure-trove for teachers’ planning). It’s highly emotive, engaging and intelligently written – but then if you’ve read any of Gill’s other books, you’d be expecting that. We’ve just received our copy of Storm Hound, the new novel from Claire Fayers (Macmillan) that has already received a collection of favourable first reviews. We’re looking forward to reading this funny and fast-paced story of the mythical young bloodhound who falls to earth. Claire does magical adventure extremely well so we can’t wait to get stuck in.
The Wonder of Trees is published in March. Non-fiction expert Nicola Davies explores the extraordinary diversity of trees and forests with illustrations by Lorna Scobie (Hodder). This is the same duo who produced The Variety of Life last year, a gorgeous large-format celebration of biodiversity that we often goggle at for hours at a time. We are very excited about Lubna and Pebble, written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egneus (OUP). A picture book addressing the refugee crisis, it follows the story of Lubna who’s best friend is a pebble she finds on the beach when she arrives in the night. It’s a story that celebrates the human spirit, hope and friendship. We know that Daniel Egneus is a quality illustrator – and the images promise to be both sensitive and skillful. Walker is a new story from Shoo Rayner (Firefly) about a boy who can talk to dogs. Shoo’s well-loved firefly trilogy about Dragons came to a close in 2017, and we’re excited to read this new story aimed at 8-10 year olds.
Several Welsh picture book authors seem to have found a happy home with Little Tiger – and there are two being published in April. We’re very lucky to have seen an early proof of Stefano the Squid, by Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie (Little Tiger). The illustrations are top-notch – bold and bright underwater scenes compliment Wendy’s funny and sensitive text about finding the heroic in the ordinary. Stefano lacks confidence in his own appearance – the other creatures seem far more interesting, colourful, amazing even. When disaster strikes, Stefano steps into the limelight. The One Stop Story Shop by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal (Little Tiger) is a fun frolic through the magical world of storytelling. We don’t have much more information about this one at the moment, but it’s another quality pairing with a great track record. Graffeg have a number of books scheduled for release in April – the brilliant country tales series from Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher continues with Mountain Lamb (Graffeg); Ceri and Deri Build a Birdhouse in Max Low’s third installment of the vibrant duo’s adventures; and Helping Hedgehog Home, by Celestine and the Hare (Graffeg) is the 9th little book with a big heart featuring the Tribe. Grandpa Burdock and Granny Dandelion must help Hedgehog get home when a new fence traps her outside the garden. The Sea House (Firefly) written by newsreader Lucy Owen has an intriguing and striking premise. Grieving nine-year old Coral cries so much, she fills her house with tears and wakes to find a magical underwater world. This fantasy story has a focus on the magic of being able to swim through your own house. Rebecca Harry’s illustrations (her 40th book!) make this a fantasy story with a big heart that will appeal to children aged 5+. A Little House in a Big Place (Kids Can Press) by Alison Acheson is illustrated by French-born, Aberystwyth-based Valeriane Leblond. A nominee for last year’s Tir na-nOg Award with Tudur Dylan Jones, Valeriane’s images are compassionate, soulful and beautiful. The ‘big place’ in the title is the prairie, where a little girl stands in a window waving to the engineer on a passing train. Canadian author Alison Acheson has written a deceptively simple book which deals with growing up and what may lie beyond our own familiar surroundings.
Another exciting pairing of author and illustrator will be seen with the release of Hummingbird (Walker) by Nicola Davies and Jane Ray. This promises to be a spellbinding nature book. These tiny birds travel huge distances (from wintertime in Mexico to a spring nesting as far north as Alaska and Canada) and this book follow’s one bird’s migration. Jane Ray is a talented and distinctive illustrator, regularly shortlisted for major prizes – a worthy partner for the incredible Nicola Davies.
The hysterical Fables from the Stables get a new addition in Hayley the Hairy Horse, by Gavin Puckett and Tor Freeman (Faber & Faber). These rhyming tales are perfect for the 5 – 7 year olds who are after a chapter book of their own. We’ve loved every edition so far, and can’t wait for more.
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal release their second book of the year with Little Tiger entitled Sneaky Beak, a warning fable about materialism. Ant Clancy Games Detective is new from Ruth Morgan (Firefly). Her last novel Alien Rain was nominated for the Tir na-nOg and was a sophisticated, well-crafted, compelling story, so we’re naturally including this new story in our ‘ones to watch’. Race-Chase is the new virtual reality game that everyone’s playing but gamers are starting to get hurt. Could the problem identified by the game’s creators turn out to be something deadlier? Ant Clancy and his friends set out to investigate. Ariki and the Island of Wonders is the follow-up to last year’s Ariki and the Giant Shark by Nicola Davies and Nicola Kinnear (Walker). We loved this informative fiction – with descriptions of the reef, the wildlife and the geography of the pacific island featured – but it’s the feisty heroine who will get young readers hooked. It’s well-suited to 8 to 10 year olds, but the joy of nature will not be lost on any age.
And in the second half of the year…
There’s a lot more to come from the authors and illustrators of Wales in the second half of the year. News of the following publications is floating our boat at the moment:
The Last Spell Breather, Julie Pike; Every Child a Song, Nicola Davies & Marc Martin; The Princess Who Flew with Dragons, Stephanie Burgis (Bloomsbury); Max Low publishes a book with Otter Barry; a second Grace-Ella story is due from Sharon Marie-Jones (Firefly); a third (and final?) Aubrey book from Horatio Clare (Firefly); a second novel from Sophie Anderson; Peril en Pointe from Helen Lipscombe (Chicken House); there may be a new book from Wendy White, and new books from Dan Anthony and Ruth Morgan will be published with Gomer; a follow up to Through the Eyes of Me by Jon Robinson (Graffeg); Teach Your Cat Welsh and Find the Dragon from Lolfa; and a new Max the Detective book from Sarah Todd Taylor (Nosy Crow).
These two hardback non-fiction releases follow in the footsteps of Meet The Ancient Romans and Meet The Ancient Egyptians. In our house these books are beloved by 6 year old Kit and Mum and Dad too. The same should be true in the rest of the world as they have wide appeal.
Funny, engaging and stylish, their primary aim is surely to entertain and inform. But this is no fuddy-duddy school textbook – James Davies brings new life to well-worn topics, and finds quirky extras to amuse, shock and surprise (Kit’s favourite part of Ancient Egyptians is the mummification of pets!) The factual information is delivered concisely and backed up with the most amazing illustrations. So in Meet The Pirates, we learn who they were, where they came from, parts of the ship, how they navigated and so on. In Ancient Greeks, we are taken through the buildings, the myths, education, art, games and more – both volumes stretch to around 64 pages.
The illustrations (I said they were amazing), add humour and humanity to each page – so we get Homer writing an epic blog; pirates claiming “This looks nothing like the brochure”; Athens’ Got Talent; parrots squawking “Who’s a pretty boy then?” to pirates on a catwalk; Alexander the Great sticking Post-It notes all over the countries of a map claiming ‘Mine’; oh, and some cat references (follow James on Twitter for updates on his own cat, Audrey). Sometimes the humour is hysterically childish, sometimes it makes you laugh out loud, but it will always bring a smile to your face, no matter how old you are.
Within the books we particularly enjoyed the cartoon retellings of historical sagas. Here James really excels with a traditional-looking cartoon format for Pandora’s Box (Ancient Greeks) or The Strange Case of Alexander Selkirk (Pirates). We’d love to see James get the opportunity to work on a comic or graphic novel.
We should also mention the design of this series which has been very well-considered. Olivia Cook and Marty Cleary get the credit at the front of the books – James has designed his own font, and it’s clear that the whole book, from endpapers to maps, timelines, subheadings and page edges, have been thought about in great detail.
Perfect for all ages; from inquisitive 5 year olds, fact-seeking 8 year olds, eager 12 year olds, unashamed 43 year olds and older – we can’t live without these books at the moment, and don’t think you should have to either.
James Davies is from Wales, now living in Bristol. You can see more of his bold, graphic style at his website. You can also follow him on Twitter.
The Meet The… series is published by Big Picture Press and can be bought from your local independent bookshop or direct from the publisher.
Y Lolfa celebrated 50 years in publishing in 2017. The Tal-y-bont-based company publishes books in English and Welsh for adults and children. Their 2018 releases are dominated by sports biographies by the likes of headline-makers Geraint Thomas and referee Nigel Owens. We’ll now take a look at Y Lolfa’s 2018 books in English for children, and there are some gems here:
Little Honey Bee by Caryl Lewis; Valériane Leblond (£5.99)
This is a tale of hope and healing, about looking forward to a brighter and warmer future.
Elsi is left to the care of her grandmother who tends her broken heart with patience, kindness and understanding.
When Grandmother shows a collection of beehives at the bottom of the garden, Elsi’s curiosity is awakened and so too, a desire and interest that sparks her into being.
Accompanied by the compassionate and beautiful illustrations of Valériane Leblond, Caryl Lewis’ story is educational too, as Grandmother teaches Elsi the names of the flowers.
Originally written in Welsh, Caryl’s own translation encourages children to take notice of their surroundings and to appreciate what matters.
Echoing the sentiments of The Lost Words (Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane), Caryl explained, “I wrote the book partly to teach children about the seasons and the names of things in the countryside around them, words like foxgloves, bluebells, catkins. Children don’t get to learn the names of trees and flowers these days.”
This is reiterated by Valériane, “It’s so important to be aware of what’s around us, and children as well as adults should know and understand more about nature and its relationship with everything.”
Moonbeam’s Arctic Adventure, David Morgan Williams, Molly Holborn; Maria Moss (£5.99)
This hardback sees established author David Morgan Williams collaborate with his granddaughter Molly Holborn on a picture book with an essential environmental message. It features two bottle-nosed dolphins, Moonbeam and Sunbeam from Cardigan Bay who answer the distress signals from other creatures.
On their journey to the Northern ice caps, they meet a variety of species – and David and Molly take the opportunity to educate young readers on arctic terns, fin whales, polar bears and others.
Molly said “My grandfather and I have a mutual concern for endangered species and global warming. We wrote this book for young children to make them aware of the issues. Hopefully, by raising awareness, they can help prevent drastic environmental changes.”
Ultimately, the book is about doing what you can to make a difference, as Moonbeam and Sunbeam exert themselves to support and help others.
Teach Your Dog Welsh, Anne Cakebread (£4.99)
Here is a colourful, cleverly-designed book for Welsh learners – which works equally well for children and adults. We should know, as soon as it arrived, the Worms were using it to command our Tedi to Sit, Come, Stay and Fetch.
Each double page has a dynamic illustration on one side with the English and Welsh command on the other, together with a phonetic pronunciation guide.
The inspiration for the book came to Anne Cakebread when she rehomed Frieda, a rescue whippet. Frieda previous owner spoke Welsh to her, so Anne realised she would only respond to Welsh commands. Anne found the process of speaking Welsh to her dog helped her overcome her nerves about speaking Welsh aloud and recognised that her Welsh was improving.
Largely, the phrases are universal and are useful in many situations – lots about the weather and time of day – we’ve certainly had hours of fun and I can say that pronunciations are improving.
This would make a great stocking filler for Christmas!
When Ravens Screamed Over Blood, Williams Vaughan (£4.99)
When Ravens Screamed Over Blood, a novella for teenagers has its foundations in the magic and violence of the Welsh Mabinogion. As the author explains, “One of the main characters, The Prince, was inspired by a character and certain magical events in the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogion. The story also draws upon Irish mythology. The title is taken from a poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen, one of the icons of Welsh literature.”
The novella deals with issues such as sexuality, the joys of love and dealing with conflict. We have not read the book yet but it has garnered high praise from Phil Carradice for its lyrical quality and for handling some complex issues carefully and delicately.
All of these titles are available to purchase direct from Y Lolfa online. We are extremely grateful to them for providing review copies and would especially like to thank them for supporting our Little Honey Bee giveaway. (See Twitter)
Catherine Fisher is an author of great talent who’s skillful writing draws praise for its ability to entrance the reader with its atmospheric prose. Often mysterious, sometimes dark, continually gripping, the publication of a new Catherine Fisher novel is always something to look forward to. Since hearing of the book deal last year, and revealing the cover to The Clockwork Crow in May, we have been guessing what lay beyond the gorgeous colours of the jacket.
We’re pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint! Whilst The Clockwork Crow is lighter than Catherine’s other books – it’s aimed at the blossoming 9-12 MG market – it is no less thrilling. It’s actually a perfect introduction to our national treasure for this age group. Noah (aged 11) loved the book and is already seeking out other books to devour. He calls it a “banger” – borrowed from the description of a fresh new song, unbelievably awesome and destined to become a popular, well-loved hit.
The story follows Seren, an orphan girl dreaming of a beautiful home and a loving, happy family. As she waits in the train station a nervous stranger asks her to guard a mysterious package. He doesn’t return and Seren feels compelled to take the package with her to Plas y Fran, the large manor house belonging to her new guardians, Captain Jones and Lady Mair. However, when she arrives, the grand house is shrouded in mystery – all furniture covered, minimal (and seemingly unfriendly) staff, and no sign of the loving family she was hoping for. A cold, bare residence brings her back down to earth with a bump and her dreams are shattered. The young boy she had wanted to befriend and play with has gone, and in time Seren learns that Tomos has been missing for a year and a day and the house is in mourning.
With the aid of the eponymous talking, walking, humorously irritable Clockwork Crow (who very nearly steals the show), Seren sets out to solve the mystery and put things right. In doing so, we learn that she is a determined and gutsy heroine, not afraid to stand up to the grown-ups, nor afraid to put her own security and future happiness at risk.
The world described by Catherine is beautifully wintry – filled with snow and stars, it sparkles like an ice-capped marvel. Featuring a cast of endearing characters, it reminded me of a wonderfully warm and entertaining Christmas period drama for all the family. Drawing on Welsh folklore, the story is magical and fantastic and such a great read. It’s got to be one of THE books of 2018.
Whilst reading and digesting, one constantly feels that this is a book that entertains and inspires in bucketloads.
Thank you to Firefly Press for the copy of Clockwork Crow, given in exchange for this review. Note that the cover has been designed by Anne Glenn. If you’d like to visit Catherine Fisher’s website, click here. If you want to follow her on Twitter, click here. If you want to buy The Clockwork Crow from Firefly, click here. That’s enough clicking.
Originally published in 2009, Tell Me A Dragon was recently re-released by Graffeg in a larger artist format. Following in the footsteps of The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard, the book shows off the illustrations to the max (on art paper) and allows the freshly formatted words space to breathe.
On her website, Jackie says “One day someone asked me, if I had a dragon, what would it be like. I realized that almost every day it would be different. Some days I would like a big dragon to fight battles for me, sometimes a small dragon to curl around my ear and tell me stories. Each day a different dragon, but each one mine. And so I wrote Tell Me a Dragon.” And so each double page spread documents a different type of dragon – from one as large as a village to a tiny dragon with whisper-thin wings, and from a snaggle-toothed dragon to a sea-dragon which races dolphins on the waves. Many teachers will be familiar with the book as it is used up, down and across the land to spark imagination and as an amazing stimulus for creative work in schools. Indeed, it was recently chosen as an essential picture book for Year 3 by Simon Smith (@smithsmm), Headteacher and Picture Book enthusiast (visit his blog). If you’re thinking of using it in the classroom then you should also seek out Pie Corbett’s teaching notes to accompany the book.
Otherwise, open the pages and drink in the gloriousness. Soak in the vibrancy of the colours and be washed by the words as they meander from the paper to your mind. Kit pored over the endpapers for hours imagining what would be borne of the eggs – radiant, rich and varied in shape and size. Nina sat and talked about her dragon, telling me of the adventures through the mountains, the snacks they would share, the parties they would hold. Noah took himself off to draw his own creations – an imagination in full flight, an awareness awoken.
Without a doubt this is a fabulous book with the power to invoke curiosity, creativity and comfort in all who pick her up.