Hailed with a chorus of five star reviews when published last year, Five Children on the Western Front really does deserve all accolades thrown at it. Kate Saunders has taken E Nesbit’s story of the sand fairy, the psammead, from Five Children and It, and moved it gently into the era of the First World War. The book works as a stand-alone novel, but those with prior knowledge of the psammead won’t be in any way disappointed with the update. It’s as if E Nesbit herself had written it. The children, despite some having reached young adulthood, stay divinely in character, as does the psammead – and the period details of the time are lovingly rendered. The manners, the setting, the dialogue are all completely convincing and beautifully crafted. What struck me most however, was that Kate Saunders manages to convey the horror of the war injuries, the devastation of the deaths, and the immense change that the war wrought on the world without scaring any young child reading the book. I enjoyed it fully as an adult read, but have no qualms reading this war literature piece to the eight year olds and older with whom I read (although reading aloud may be difficult as I was reduced to tears on more than one occasion!) I couldn’t recommend a book more highly – a perfect example of how a children’s book should be.
Purportedly inspired by looking at portraits hanging in galleries, Katie May Green’s stunning picture book contains some of the most ‘alive’ illustrations I have seen in a while. It tells the story of the children of Shiverhawk Hall who climb out of their portraits at night and run riot in the huge house. The mischievousness of the children builds throughout the book, from their slow descent from their picture frames, and climaxing with their pillow fight in the bedroom. Each illustration is worth looking at for quite some time to pick up all the detail and nuance within, our favourite definitely being the children running down the wood-panelled corridor. The look in the children’s eyes throughout the book is quite priceless. The small children with whom I read the book found the language a little difficult and so I’m suggesting that this is a picture book aimed at slightly older children (5+). However, the language matches the imagery; the rhythm reflects the children’s race around the house, and ends with the delightful quiet of them back in their picture frames:
“They stay still and sweet and good,
just like children should.”
An exquisite book to treasure, and one which would make a beautiful gift this Christmas.
Although Lucy Cousins is best known for her Maisie series of books, amongst others, my favourite Lucy Cousins’ book is Hooray for Fish! Pretty much learnt off by heart from when one of my children was little, this is a great example of where pictures and words combine to create the perfect partnership. Less is more leads the way in both pictures and text, with just a few words on each page and delightfully simple drawings to match the adjective: Spotty fish, stripy fish, happy fish, and grumpy fish. There are interactive spreads too “How many can you see?” in which the page suddenly comes alive with a multitude of different shapes/colours/sizes of fish. Always something new to look at and admire, and always something to smile at for the pre-schoolers in the family. We never tire of this book. Hooray for Fish!
Trying to make sense of our world is tricky for today’s youngsters. They might know about penguins, but where could you go to see them? What if your seven year old was planning your holiday in Europe – what would they choose to do? This beautifully cloth-bound pictorial atlas introduces a new illustrator to the children’s book world, with incredibly detailed, yet humorous illustrations for each adventure. Follow two child adventurers through the continents of the world to see what adventures they have – from playing football in Senegal to riding with cowboys in Northern Patagonia. Each page throws up interesting facts, and a small round globe hones in on the area in discussion. For me, I wanted to buy it for the endpapers alone. A great edition from a new publishing venture, Wide Eyed publishing.