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Book Band: Grey (Ideal for ages 8+) | This is a modern twist on a lesser-known Irish folktale. A story of realised dreams and the perseverance of one little Shepherd boy. It tells the story of Setanta who wants to be a Red Branch Knight. The young warriors are great hurlers and Setanta knows his skills are every bit as good as theirs. The early chapters are set in the home with Setanta’s parents, where his dreams are not recognised. His mother thinks they are too poor and lowly for their son to be recognised by the King and his Knights, and when Setanta wants to travel with his father to the town of Emain Macha, to try his luck with the trainee warriors, his father produces a plethora of reasons why not. (A lot like many parents faced with a pleading child.) However, he not only wins over his father, but also the King who witnesses his skills and finally the warriors, who after much bullying and rejection of an interloper to their group, recognise both his ability but also his bravery. Throughout the book there is a feeling of hope of success, but there are also some exciting twists and encounters. This is an exciting adventure story, but also a story with some important themes and areas for discussion: Setanta’s pride and belief in himself, bullying and its consequences, and the bravery and determination, in one so young.
Of all Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, the Emperor’s New Clothes is the one that feels the most relevant, and naughty. In Peter Bentley’s retelling, King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third is a dandy with a passion for the most outrageous outfits, changing them throughout the day – he even changes outfits to go to the loo. His obsession and his vanity leave him wide open to being conned by the two ‘fashion designers’ who turn up to make a special suit for his birthday, one so special that only the wisest and cleverest can see it. Whether you are familiar with the story or not, it’s hilarious and oh so satisfying to see the king exposed to all in his birthday suit. Bentley’s rhyming text is as smooth as the king’s bottom, and Claire Powell has great fun illustrating the designers and the king’s courtiers and staff, not to mention those fabulous clothes. This will have everyone in stitches.
Enter a world of wonder with the bestselling new novel from actor, comedian and author, Ben Miller - out in paperback 1st April. Lana loves stories. Especially the ones she and her brother, Harrison, share in their make-believe games. But when Harrison decides he's too grown-up to play with Lana she finds herself feeling lonely. Until something magical happens . . . Hidden in the strange new supermarket in town, Lana discovers a portal to a fairytale world! But these aren't the happy-ever-after fairytales that Lana knows, they are darker and more dangerous, and the characters need Lana's help to defeat an evil witch. But she can't do it alone. Can she convince Harrison to believe in stories again and journey to the world with her . . . before it's too late? Fall into this bestselling classic adventure about the power of stories, with beautiful illustrations throughout from Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.
15-year-old Yūki Hara Jones is only ¼ Japanese, but she has a deep bond with the country and her beloved grandpa there. Suffering badly from anxiety she feels she will be helped by a visit to see him. Her grandpa, a renowned Manga artist, feels she can be helped by rediscovering the small girl who loved to draw, but just as they are opening her old albums, the earthquake hits and although she survives he does not. Trying to recuperate back in England she can still feel there is unfinished business in Japan and is determined to try to understand it. Helped by her friend Taka, who has also lost everything in the disaster and has his own demons to follow, they take their quest illegally back into the disaster zone. This is an incredibly intense and atmospheric read- the prose descriptions of the disaster and its aftermath are breathtakingly powerful. But it is also a story suffused with Japanese legend and modern-day ghost stories. Manga is an important theme throughout the book - Yūki’s recovery is bound up with the creation of her own manga story and manga is so important to the character of her grandpa and her own love of Japan and so it is entirely appropriate that manga is used to tell the story. The superb drawings seamlessly reveal the other worldly and spiritual nature of Yūki and Taka’s story and the multi-layered whole becomes a truly immersive and compulsive reading experience that will linger long in a reader’s thoughts. Highly recommended.
'Beyond the Forest Floor: Forest Tales' by Joanne McFall is a collection of 13 short stories inspired by nature, folklore and Celtic mythology. The dark and troubling tales are illustrated by Ruth O'Kelly with monochrome line drawings, which add to the brooding atmosphere, so reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm. Like all fairy stories, they are timeless and designed to appeal to all ages. Also true to tradition, the characters, both human and animal, embark on journeys which transform them, as they discover they possess qualities, strengths and powers to carry out whatever is required of them whilst the forest remains the same and eternal. This is a very evocative and immersive set of stories, slightly disturbing but rewarding. I particularly liked 'Other Moon', which has all the elements of a good fairy tale...a prince, a castle, a wolf, a woodcutter, a magic seed, a wish granted but also the unexpected appearance of an angel, who shows the prince how to prove himself by helping the poor. A very interesting read.
December 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | In the best traditions of mythology, The Three Wishes is a tough but ultimately lyrical version of the story that explains how Father Christmas can visit so many children in one night and why he has a red coat. Set long ago in a country that is far off in the frozen north where there is a strong community of families who live by hunting and foraging while their children look after the reindeer, it tells how a young boy, lost in deep snow in the forest, is saved from death by finding a mysterious cave full of magic and wonder from another world. Once a year the boy returns to his own world, checking on his family and taking them presents. One year, he arrives on a magical flying sleigh and his family give him a beautiful red outfit all lined with fun. From that day on, on one night of the year he rides around the world taking gifts to children everywhere. Evocative, timeless illustrations bring this imaginative story vividly to life. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
What if Wonderland was in peril and Alice was very, very late? In the latest book from the hugely-popular Twisted Tales series, eighteen-year-old Alice returns to the place of nonsense from her childhood. Eighteen-year-old Alice is very different to the other ladies in Kexford. She enjoys spending afternoons with her trusty camera, ignoring pressure from her sister to become a 'respectable' member of society. But when the familiar faces of the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar begin appearing in her photographs, Alice finds herself returning to the place of nonsense from her childhood to stop the Queen's tyrannical rule before the End of Time.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is as much a part of the festive season as sleigh bells jingling and Lara Hawthorne brings the song alive in this gorgeous picture book, filling beautiful scenes with the cavalcade of gifts and giving it all a sense of movement, joy and celebration. The trappings of Christmas are present in each spread – spot the holly, the paper hats, and the Christmas baubles on each page amongst the birds and leaping musicians – but the background outdoor scenes are green fields, particularly suited to her folk-art style illustrations. There’s so much to look at and each turn of the page presents a completely different scene – I particularly liked the ten lords, who go a-leaping right across the roof of a house, so that they’re almost flying across the page. The full lyrics are repeated in the final pages along with a special author’s note about the poem too. A Christmas book to be enjoyed all year round. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
An Anthology of Modern Russian Folk Tales | Hot on the stylish heels of Gamayun Tales I, this second anthology of Alexander Utkin’s stunning Gamayun Tales series of graphic novels is feast for all the senses - the artwork is bold and evocative, the storytelling thrillingly energetic as Gamayun, an all-seeing, all-knowing magical human-faced bird, recounts three fantastical Slavic folktales. This anthology opens with an enthralling version of one of my all-time favourite folk-tales, Vasilisa and the Doll, in which young Vasilisa falls into the clutches of Baba Yaga (the mother of all witches) due to the talisman doll her mother gave her on her deathbed. Vasilisa’s fear on sighting Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house, illuminated by glowing skulls, is palpable, with an ingeniously effective shift in colour palette and perspective. Then we move to epic two-parter, The Golden Apples - “take a bite of an apple and it will bring relief from any sickness or injury. Eat the whole apple and any illness will be cured.” The question (and adventure) is, can these magical fruits cure an old king of his illness? Alongside presenting an epic visual story-telling experience on every page, the book is also packed with witty quips, making it every bit as entertaining as it is thrilling (and fearsome too, in places).
Shortlisted for CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2021 | Starbird is an original fable about love, freedom, and the wisdom of children, who are able to see more clearly than the adults around them, and Sharon King-Chai's intricate illustrations of plants and animals are utterly beautiful.
Bethan Woollvin won the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition with her first book Little Red and has since produced some wonderfully engaging picture books all looking at elements of traditional fairy tales. I Can Catch a Monster is the story of Erik, Ivar and Bo who live in a land of forests and monsters. Erik and Ivar set off to catch some monsters for themselves, leaving their sister Bo behind as she is ‘too small’. Bo knows she is smart and brave, so she sets off to hunt her own monster. The monsters Bo meets are varied and include a Griffin, a Kraken and a dragon – but rather than fight them (as she knows her brothers will try) she learns something from each of them and becomes the centre of humanity in the book. This picture book tells the story in a series of illustrations which give the impression of being made in old printmaking techniques using a limited palette of colours which emphasizes the bold, simple illustrations used throughout. As one might hope– Bo turns out to be bold, to have more understanding of the natural world – and to be a brave female role model for the readers. This simple take on traditional quest tales will be a favourite – and provides a lovely counterpoint for the old tales with all their slaying and death! Bethan was once asked to describe her books in three words – she chose ‘bold, dark and sneaky’ *– this is most definitely all of those but also delightful and endearing – do read it!
Each year Grandpa Figgyworth has continued his tradition of leaving notes and trinkets for the villagers of the North Pole on a special day that has come to be known as The Festival of the Elves. When Holly Figgyworth and her brother Noel decide to spread the custom elsewhere, they are advised to seek permission from the Elder Elf Council. Having done so, they are granted permission to visit one family and they chance upon the family Puddington. Each day leading up to Christmas they leave themed notes for the family, who enter into the fun with great joy, and continue to do so each year, reminding each other of Grandpa's words: "The magic around you is the magic you make." This is the type of book that I would have adored when I was a child as it really does capture the spirit and magic of Christmas. It would be perfect to share as a family each Christmas Eve and to be passed down to future generations. It actually seems quite relevant this year of the pandemic as it shows how much fun the family can have together inventing things to do. The illustrations are charming as they match the text well and contain lots of detail so that the reader wants to keep on looking. I especially liked the little map of the North Pole at the beginning and end of the book. A delightful Christmas story. Val Rowe, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
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