Monday, 12 May 2014

Rebecca Recommends: 'My Name Is Mina' By David Almond

‘My Name is Mina’ is the journal of a girl called Mina. It cannot be defined as a simple day to day recording of her life but is instead, a vibrant mash of thoughts, dreams, stories, poems, scribblings and nonsense! The book is wild and unpredictable, just like Mina herself. She likes to write down strange words that she loves, poems of being an owl in the night, stories of her journey to the “underworld”, extraordinary facts about the earth we live on and her thoughts on the people she watches from high up in her tree. 

Although joyful and enthusiastic, Mina is a loner who is considered to be strange and while this can be confusing to her at times, she also takes great pride in it. Her journal is about seeing things from a different perspective and Mina encourages the reader to break out of their thinking with her suggestions for ‘extraordinary activities.’ Touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb to make a ring, look through it to the night sky and consider all the unimaginable space within it! Fly in your sleep! Stare at the dust that dances in the light! Write a page of nonsense! 

Mina encourages her mind to be free and rich and messy for she knows that is what the world is. She sees in all things, a wild and chaotic beauty. While she likes to get wonderfully lost in her imagination, I found her to be more grounded in reality than those characters who think they are. She is a young rebel and a free spirit and so is baffled by the rigidity and order that is enforced in her schooling and in the adult world. 

Although just an imaginary character, Mina felt real to me. This speaks volumes of the talent of David Almond who manages to capture not only the spirit of a child but of a young girl. I recognised so much of myself in her, parts of myself that I’ve misplaced and am now frantically searching for in the dusty corners of my mind, for in my adulthood, I see just how precious they are. I was overjoyed to find her again for Mina is the inner child, the irrepressible spirit that we were all suppose to hold on to tightly from our childhood and that somehow, we often lose sight of through the years. 

‘My Name is Mina’ is a creative, uplifting and moving read that celebrates the wild and glorious experience of life through the wide open eyes of a child. I could not recommend it more highly, not only for children but for adults too.
Hodder Children's Books (2010)
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Monday, 17 February 2014

Rebecca Recommends: 'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman

This story tells of the adventurous Coraline (not Caroline, as others mistakenly call her) as she moves into a strange house with her mother and father. Coraline loves exploring. But after a couple of weeks of playing in the house and the surrounding grounds, she becomes rather restless and tired of feeling ignored. She has played with all her toys and read all her books. She has counted all the windows and she has counted all the doors. Her parents are boringly busy and there seems like nothing else to do! Not even her eccentric neighbours can satisfy her curiosity.

But...there is a peculiar door. Situated in the drawing room, it oddly opens on to a brick wall. When bizarre dreams and strange signs occur, Coraline finds that the unusual door leads to the world of her ‘Other Mother’. A magical alternate reality, the ‘Other Mother’ supplies Coraline with all the wonderful food and fun she could ever want. Enchanted, Coraline keeps returning but Coraline should quickly take heed. For the ‘Other Mother’, a taller, thinner version of her real mother with paper white skin and black buttons for eyes, has sinister plans in mind…

‘Coraline’ is a fantastically thrilling and spooky read, perfectly exhibiting Neil Gaiman’s marvellously strange imagination and is accompanied by illustrations by Chris Riddell (which I must admit, made me jump on several occasions!) ‘Coraline’ is a horror book for children and while parts are quite scary and adrenaline- filled, it is not needlessly frightening.

What I loved most about ‘Coraline’ was its wonderful message about being brave. There is a common misconception that those who are brave are fearless. Coraline finds herself in a situation where she must defeat evil or else face losing everything and although she does not feel very brave inside, she does what she has to, regardless of her fears. She is terrified yet she still takes action. THIS is what makes her brave.

When I finished the last page, I realised that I often tell myself that I will conquer all my fears when I 'become brave.' Unfortunately, although I can try to convince myself, I, like Coraline, have no time to wait. It is very easy in life to become your own ‘Other Mother,’ insisting and persuading yourself you are better off in your own little bubble, when in fact, there is often more to lose if you stay. It is said that in life you should 'feel the fear and do it anyway' and Coraline is a inspiring example of this.

A wonderfully exhilarating and inventively scary story, ‘Coraline’ encourages its young readers to be brave in life and that, like our heroine, shows that anyone is capable of showing remarkable strength and courage, even when they are afraid.

Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Bloomsbury (2012)
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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Rebecca Recommends: 'My Yellow Umbrella' By Chris Robertson

‘My Yellow Umbrella’ is like a little ray of sunshine. A vibrant picture book, set in sunny San Francisco, each page is filled with pure joy, wonderful freedom and the elation of feeling truly alive. It tells the story of a young girl and her dog exploring the city as she declares her love of her bright yellow umbrella, a symbol of happiness, hope and contentment. Perfectly matching the optimistic mood of the book, the story’s illustrations are bold, colourful and expressive. My favourite is that of the little girl, in a meadow filled with daffodils and canaries, swinging on the side of a tram with her yellow umbrella in hand, just like Gene Kelly. (The book definitely captures that joyful ‘Singing in the Rain’ feeling!) Sharing the same spirit of its inspirations, Albert Lamorisse’s enchanting short film ‘The Red Balloon’ and the wonderful Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s project ‘Beckoning of Lovely,’ ‘My Yellow Umbrella’ expresses the delight of simple pleasures and the act of rejoicing in the beauty of life.

A blissful and inspiring read for young children, it contains a message of joy and love of life that we often forget and one that should be treasured always.

Illustrated by Chris Robertson. Xist Publishing (2013)
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Friday, 22 November 2013

Rebecca Recommends: 'Fright Forest: Elf Girl and Raven Boy' by Marcus Sedgwick

This is the story of Elf Girl and Raven Boy. They are not their real names of course. In fact, they do not even know each other’s real name. For some strange reason, they adamantly won’t tell each other. There is no time to get the truth out though, as they are thrown together and must navigate their way through the spooky 'Fright Forest', full of trolls, witches and ogres in order to find both family and home.

If you are looking for quirky characters with endearing awkwardness and humour, this is a wonderfully whimsical children’s series to delve into. Elf Girl and Raven Boy have been created with brilliant chemistry and it is enthralling to watch them bumble their way through their perilous adventure. As with all thrilling quests, ‘Fright Forest’ is littered with adrenaline filled reveals and tempting answers in the shadows. Author Marcus Sedgwick has formed leads with plenty of personality but also with a touch of mystery. Enticing reading therefore can be found, not only from its exhilarating plot but by a driving fascination, as you follow them through the strange and creepy forest, of discovering who Elf Girl and Raven Boy really are.

I was drawn to this great find by spotting the work of illustrator Pete Williamson. Found in the previously recommended ‘To be a Cat’ by Matt Haig, his gangly wide eyed character style fits perfectly with the offbeat and charming story telling found in both books. Illustrations adorn almost every page, whether it is a spooky portrait, a moment of slapstick action or thorny branches curling its way around the page, creating visual appeal and enticement for a growing reader.

Elf Girl and Raven Boy’s adventure continues so keep an eye out for a future posts as they make their way to 'Monster Mountains'. I can’t wait! 

Illustrated by Pete Williamson. Orion Children's Books (2012)
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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rebecca Recommends: 'The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 1 The Field Guide' by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

I was intrigued by a vague recollection of ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ name as I reached for its dark spine on the rather colourful children’s bookshelf. The front cover is rich in detailing, from its variation of glossed and grooved surface to the spindly, curl trimmed typeface of its title. Holding the petite hardback I felt drawn into the illusion and excitement of possessing a secret journal, a theme continued inside with a map and two letters, one written on a typewriter and one by hand. Both mysterious and cautionary.

The story follows the spooky discoveries of Jared Grace who moves into the creepy dilapidated Spiderwick Estate along with his mother, his twin Simon and his sister Mallory. His siblings are high achieving (Mallory being skilled at fencing) and seemingly at peace with themselves (Simon busily caught up in thoughts of his growing animal collection.) His recent achievement being a bruised eye from a fight, Jared is left as the black sheep of the family.  He is not best pleased to be moving into the decrepit building but soon strange goings on ignite his curiosity. A secret room, some frightening pranks and a mysterious journal lead the Graces together to uncover an alarming discovery.  And this is only the beginning.

I was entranced by this little book and thoroughly look forward to reading the subsequent sequels. The characters are intriguing and eccentric, the plot has a growing sense of suspense and mystery and it conjures an imaginary environment that is both fascinating and spooky.  I loved the pen and ink illustrations. Scratchy yet meticulous sketches, which in my imagination feels as if they were created in the moment with the greatest of precision and study, in order to document what would turn out to be a strange unraveling of events. The story is one of a series with its bite size format leaving you with more than enough pleasure to make it addictively collectable. Keep an eye out for future posts on The Spiderwick Chronicle series!

Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Simon & Schuster (2003)
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Rebecca Recommends: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ by Cressida Cowell.

This is the story of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a 12 year old Viking and our unlikely hero. Despite being the laughing stock of the village, Hiccup is set to one day take over the very silly Hairy Hooligan tribe from his father, Stoick the Vast. To stay in the tribe, Hiccup must prove himself and survive the ‘Dragon Initiation Programme’ or face expulsion, or more likely, death. Against some terrifying dragons and some rather scary odds, our clumsy but clever Hiccup goes against time-honoured traditions in order to become the legendary ‘Dragon Whisperer’ and the last of the great Viking heroes. This book is part of a fantasy adventure series, recommended for ages 8 and up.

It all begins with poor Hiccup caught up in a hazardous lesson in dragon catching. Led by the formidable Gobber the Belch, the group of boys (who are all too eager) must creep into the dragons’ cave and claim a dragon for their own or else face exile. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Hiccup must trust his instincts and his acquired dragon knowledge in order to survive, not only this challenge but the many challenges to come.

‘I was not the sort of boy who could train a dragon with the mere lifting of an eyebrow. I was not a natural at the Heroism business. I had to work at it. This is the story of becoming a Hero the Hard Way.’ – Hiccup. © Cressida Cowell (2003)

 I loved all the characters of the book, with the foolishly fearless Vikings, the cunning cat-like dragons and Hiccup (one of the few with any common sense) complementing each other to create great comedy. The story definitely keys in to the fact that humour can be found in everything going ridiculously wrong.    
© Cressida Cowell

The illustrations by the author are great scrawling scribbly ones, a style that almost creates a sense of animation and one that fits perfectly with portraying the loud gruff Hairy Hooligans, the blustering storms and the sly sneaky dragons. 

While the story is written in the third person, the prologue and epilogue are written by the ‘author’ Hiccup and add a wonderful illusion of reality to this fantastical tale. Despite the perilousness of his past and the warnings for the future, it’s of great comfort to hear an older Hiccup reflecting on the adventures of his youth. It is encouraging to know that this unlucky boy will one day be recognised as a legend among his people and that perhaps, with a little luck and bravery, it might be possible for anyone to be a hero too.

This is a book I would highly recommend. Cowell’s comedic characters and descriptive slapstick action coalesce into an enormously humorous and exhilarating read that will appeal to children and parents alike. (This book is only Hiccup’s first memoir. To discover his full story of his journey to becoming a Viking hero, check out the full series!*) 

Illustrated by Cressida Cowell. Hodder Children’s Books (2003)
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*The eleventh book, published this year, is ‘How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero.’ The twelfth, which is yet to be published, will be the last in the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Rebecca Recommends: ‘The Dinosaur That Pooped A Planet!’ By Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter

This is the story of Danny and Dinosaur and their adventure to space, where Dinosaur manages to poop a planet. Yes, that’s right. A dinosaur that poops a planet! It’s a lucky thing that you can’t smell in space. This is a funny picture book for young children.

The story begins with Danny and Dinosaur who are desperate for some fun, when Danny comes up with a wonderful plan. Why not go to space today? So, after their mummy packs them a delicious lunch, they are off to the Science Museum. The museum is full of huge shiny rockets and Danny and Dinosaur can’t resist going inside a big orange spaceship, conveniently ready for launch. With buttons everywhere inside, what child could resist pressing them all? Before Danny and Dinosaur know it, they are shot into space on an exciting intergalactic space mission. But what will happen when Dinosaur’s belly starts rumbling and Danny realises that they've left their packed lunches back on earth? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

© Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter. Illustrations by Garry Parsons 

With inventive and charming rhymes in the style of Dr. Seuss, this is an irresistibly funny book, perfect to read out loud to children at bedtime. It was a lovely surprise to find my edition came with a page of stickers of the characters (I discovered I still get excited by stickers) as well as a QR code to view a video clip of the authors Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter (who I also discovered are two of the guys from the band, McFly).

The illustrations by Garry Parsons are wonderfully vibrant and humorous and the depictions of Dinosaur are particularly endearing. I’m certain that children will find this story a joy and I am sure that little boys in particular will find the poo references particularly hilarious. 
With colourful illustrations, a silly story and lots of funny poop, it’s hard to find fault with this very entertaining picture book. 

Illustrated by Garry Parsons. Red Fox (2013)
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