pirates

Peter Pan by JM Barrie, retold in rhyme by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

Peter PanI have a confession to make. I decided to read the worthy classic Peter Pan by JM Barrie to my first child at bedtime one year and picked out an exceptionally beautiful edition of the original. And yet a few pages in, I found myself précising the text, rewording it, changing sentences and skipping bits – the prose just wasn’t as captivating as I thought it should be. It had all the elements in the plot – removable shadows, pirates with hooks, crocodiles with clocks and fairies with attitude, yet it didn’t zing along.

So when this latest version came through the post, I wished that it had arrived years earlier, but settled for reading it to the youngest child instead. What a delight. Hart has used her extensive experience in rhyming picture books to retell the story in her own energetic style, and it is a joy to read aloud:

“Our tale begins in London
in a house on Bloomsbury Street.
Inside there lived a family,
the nicest you could meet.”

Hart not only retells the story, but imbues it with a narrator’s warmth, gently guiding the readers as Peter guides Wendy through the sky. There’s much plot and little description, but the setting is neatly filled in with Warburton’s filmic illustrations, rendering the mermaids mischievous with a flick of an eyebrow, the pirates both comedic and threatening with their sometime mean, sometime dozy expressions, and their excessive facial hair.

With pure pantomime timing, Hart executes all the finer details of the plot, and the familiar phrases – as children the land over clap their hands to save Tinkerbell, and there is much walking the plank, the introduction of the ‘Wendy’ house, and of course lots of fighting. But she also pulls out the dramatic pantomime hilarity of the story – Pan poking Hook from behind, then inciting him to climb the crow’s nest where he immediately feels dizzy. Child readers and listeners will be both engrossed with the fast-paced plot but also cheered with the numerous nods to win their humour. Hart also makes use of much onomatopoeia, building drama wherever possible with the ticks of the clock and the snaps of the crocodile, the canon’s boom and the water’s splosh.

The text is split neatly into four line verses, at times each illustrated separately, and sometimes illustrated with a full double page spread landscape. The production is superb – the pages are lush and thick, the colour bursting from the page in wondrous detail – the last spread has Peter almost silhouetted on a rock whilst in the foreground Tinkerbell literally shines and the flowers seem luminous in her wake. Other spreads delight with detail – the pirate ship, but also the lost boys’ underground home with its hammocks, swinging lanterns and shelves of curiosity. This is one you read to a child nestled in your arms – and with a ribbon bookmark and foiled jacket, you’ll both feel spoiled and all set for winter nights in – just keep the windows closed:

“They’d slipped out through the window,
quite ignoring Nana’s warning.
“Second to the right!” they cried.
“Then straight on until morning!”

Find your own way to Neverland here.

But A Mermaid Has No Tears…

girl who thought her mother was a mermaidThe Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid by Tania Unsworth, illustrated by Helen Crawford-White
Not out until 12th July, but well worth waiting for, this middle grade (junior fiction age 9+) mermaid book is another triumph from the dark pen of Tania Unsworth. A master at combining reality with tinges of dark fantasy, and beguiling the reader with intrigues of what is real and what is make believe, Unsworth’s new novel picks up beautifully on the current zeitgeist for mermaid stories.

Stella is terrified of water, yet has a penchant for the ocean and the huge picture of the sea that hangs in the back of her house. Her mother died when she was eight, and left Stella a necklace called ‘the word of the sea’, but no one seems to be able to give her more information on it. When her grandmother, suffering from a form of dementia, gives Stella a hint that her mother may have been a mermaid, Stella follows a series of clues that leads her to a place called Crystal Cove and a mermaid show, where things aren’t always as they seem.

Good, sparse yet engaging text leads the reader, with Stella, into a labyrinth of truths and untruths, as she investigates whether her mother was a mermaid. The book also investigates the nature of friendship – Stella finds this difficult but has made a friend in the flamboyant Cam. There is also a look at the reliance children place upon adults to keep them safe and reveal the truth to them, but in typical Unsworth style, there is a sharp twist, and a fearsome and chillingly real villain.

The book is great at its description of the real world, especially the seaside town to which Stella runs away, but it also has a wonderful handle on depicting Stella’s inner thoughts, fears and motivations. By adding her spin on magical realism in the way of mermaids, Unsworth allows Stella and the reader to ask the bigger questions in life too.

A hugely compulsive novel, with superb characterisation. You can pre-order it here.

the surface breaksThe Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
Almost all the current books about mermaids are influenced by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, whose protagonist sacrifices her world, tail, and voice for love, but none are quite as sharply or devastatingly reimagined as this feminist retelling. Bringing her trademark biting satirical agenda and fight for gender equality to the tale, O’Neill has written a gripping, terribly dark fairy tale for our times.

Gaia’s world is dominated by men, none more so than her powerful and controlling father. When she spies a human boy on a boat, she falls for him and decides to sacrifice her world, and mutilate her body, in order to be with him. Unfortunately, she has gambled on his looks alone, and the reader becomes more swiftly aware than Gaia how reckless this is. The reader’s awareness of the palpable horror of her situation, a description of her ever-shredding feet that is almost too painful to read, and a mounting frustration at the treatment of women throughout, and Gaia’s hopes in particular which are so much pinned on frivolity and appearance, make this an engaging but demanding read.

O’Neill goes to great lengths here to subvert the original fairy tale so that she can pose an exploration of women as more than just a stereotype – more than just erotic objects, or manipulative shrews, but as multi-layered beings – fallible, abused, powerful, exotic, all at once. The Sea Witch is shown as feisty and motivated, not just a Disney character of pure evil revelling in her own wickedness, but in fact a believable and sumptuous character who is the most free of all the women, by vaunt of being most comfortable with who she is.

In fact, in some places it brings to mind what was really embedded in Christian Andersen’s text, which has been lost to the images in our minds of red-headed Ariel with her big blue eyes. It’s astonishing that so much of the misogynistic cruelty and darkness resides in the original story, and to find that O’Neill hasn’t deviated as much as we might think.

The book also gives a beautiful twist to women above the sea’s surface. They are not as free as Gaia imagines, and the prince is preoccupied and ungrateful – not the fairy tale beau of generosity and unparalleled power. Layers of lust and love, sibling rivalry and power dynamics ebb and flow throughout the book. It doesn’t smash the patriarchy so much as stimulate young women to think about who they are and their position in life. Clever, thoughtful and raging – this is not a soothing or subtle tale. For YA readership. Take a dip here.

bad mermaids on the rocksBad Mermaids: On the Rocks by Sibeal Pounder, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft.
For much younger readers – those aged about seven and up, Sibeal Pounder is an absolute joy to read. Her Witch Wars series is wacky and zany and never fails to raise a smile, and the Bad Mermaids series elicits the same response. On the Rocks is the second in the series about three mermaids accompanied by a talking seahorse.

Pounder’s ultimate strength is her exquisite world-building, in this case, the undersea kingdoms of the mer people. The vocabulary is broad ranging, with many plays on words and satirical digs at our normal world, (Pounder is inventive with transport and fashion) and conjures a playful fun underwater plot that keeps the reader absorbed and extremely entertained. She makes fun of the world as she writes and makes subtle winks to a feminist agenda – mermaids happily burp bubbles, which turns upside down the idea that mermaids are just aesthetic beauties, and give each other plenty of sass in their dialogue. Each mermaid has her own particular and distinctive character traits and it makes for a diverse and fascinating story.

In On the Rocks, the three mermaid heroines from book one are stuck aboard a spooky ship, but a human, Paris Silkensocks, discovers a plot to destroy the mermaid world. Paris must find the mermaids in time and avert a crabtastrophe. Fun and frolicks. With scattered black and white illustrations from Jason Cockcroft. Swim with mermaids here.

LoraliLorali by Laura Dockrill
From zany to zanier, Dockrill’s writing style can be a bit of an acquired taste – veering towards the wacky and unpredictable, so tackling mermaids and the fantastical seems like a good fit. Dockrill has two books published in her mermaid series, the first of which, Lorali, was published in 2015.

Rory finds a naked girl washed up under Hastings pier during a storm on his sixteenth birthday. But even more surprising is where she comes from. Lorali has to get used to some strange things in the ‘walking’ world, but it’s Rory’s gradual awakening to Lorali’s world and why she’s running from the sea that becomes the centrepiece of this intriguing novel.

Dockrill deals cleverly with her convoluted plot, telling the story from three points of view: Rory, Lorali, and the sea – the last of which provides the reader with the background to the world of the mermaids.

But it’s Dockrill’s handling of the teen world that is where she is most adept. The mermaid’s newness to the world is not unlike that of a teenager, exploring themselves and their surroundings for the first time as realisation dawns of the sort of adult they might turn into, and the choices they make.

There is a raw darkness to the book too, jumping from the realism of a seaside town to a world in which strange weather and pirates rule. Dockrill’s words tumble over like the crashing of the waves, and her nod away from fairy tale and to modernity lies in the way in which she addresses feminism and misogyny, but not always in the way in which the reader expects. For a YA audience. You can buy it here.

There are a few adult novels published in the past year or so that also feature mermaids, creatures that speak to our times. Mermaids are regarded as freaks, albeit beautiful ones, and in today’s society, when we are constantly alert to ‘otherness’ and ‘diversity’, the concept of mer-people on land or humans at sea is all about how we fit in, and the similarities and differences between us. Happy swimming.

 

Nine New Picture Books Begging to be Read

little red reading hood
Little Red Reading Hood by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle
‘Why didn’t I think of that play on words?’, is the first thing I thought upon reading the title, but when I perused the insides, I realised I couldn’t have done it better myself. This is a captivating and entrancing picture book – the sort a child treasures and rereads. Little Red Reading Hood loves books and in a twist, doesn’t visit her grandma, but rather, the library. When Little Red Reading Hood and the tenacious librarian impress the wolf with their literary knowledge and analysis, the wolf turns to stories instead of eating people.

The twist here, is that instead of straying from the physical path through the woods, it’s better to stray from the all-too-predictable ending of a story, and instead, reinvent it.

The story is told in rhyme, with pitch perfect rhythm, but it’s also the little touches that enhance this picture book so wonderfully. From the endpapers with Little Red Reading and the wolf having fun mixing up fairy stories, to the beautiful ethereal golden-hued illustrated imagination that soars through the book, to the nature depicted in the woods. This is a fabulous new picture book and my top choice. You can buy it here.

pirates of scurvy sands
The Pirates of Scurvy Sands by Jonny Duddle
The Pirates Next Door is an immensely popular read, and this sequel keeps equal pace and humour with the original. In fact, just one reading of it inspired my little tester to find and read ALL of Duddle’s back catalogue. This time round, Matilda is going on holiday with her pirate friends, the Jolly-Rogers. Their destination – Scurvy Sands – like a sort of Butlins for pirates. The only trouble is that Matilda, with her squeaky clean demeanour, doesn’t quite fit in.

This is a totally luscious affair for pirate fans. Also told in rhyme, it’s simply packed with swashbuckling vocabulary and pirate allusions, with a busy backdrop on every page – telescopes, pirate paraphernalia, characters and more. Duddle has gone to town (or sea) and had lots of fun in the process. There’s even a treasure map on the reverse of the book jacket. Gold coins all round. You can buy it here.

cat and dog
Cat and Dog by Helen Oswald and Zoe Waring
For younger children comes this exquisitely illustrated lesson on getting on with others. A nocturnal cat and a diurnal dog love to scrap, but when they fail to see eye to eye on their different routines, and Dog insults Cat, it looks like a beautiful friendship is over. By the end, of course, they learn to say sorry and accept each other’s differences.

It’s the illustrations in this simple story that bring it to life, two hugely endearing and familiar animals, drawn so that they look good enough to stroke. The crayon-led illustrations add to the familiarity of the chosen pets, and the last page of their ‘scrapping’ together is a clever childish mess. Too cute to miss, this is a lovely publication from new publisher on the block, Willow Tree Books. You can buy it here.


I Say Ooh You Say Ahh by John Kane
One for reading out loud to a willing audience, this reminded me of those old-time party entertainers, but here, the silliness is executed with modern panache and an element of complete childhood joy.

This is a traditional call and response book – the author asks the reader to say or do something every time they read or see something. The result has an hilarious effect, leading to the children shouting underpants quite often. The reader has also to remember which action goes with which command, so it’s stimulating too. Great for classroom fun, and the colours are bold, bright and all-encompassing. The author used to work in advertising – and it shows in the block colours – easy to look at, easy to understand. You can buy it here.


Ten Fat Sausages by Michelle Robinson and Tor Freeman
It’s often remarked how translated fiction can go further and push more boundaries than our home-grown picture books, but here’s one that takes the ten protagonists and really gives them a raw (cooked) deal.

A play on the song, Ten Fat Sausages Sizzling in a Pan, here Michelle Robinson shows what happens when they try to save themselves. Unfortunately, sausages don’t appear to be very clever. Whether it’s leaping from the pan into the blender, or even into a ceiling fan, it seems that no sausage is safe.

The illustrations from Tor Freeman match the madness of the concept – from blueberries with their eyes covered, to weeping sausages, hoola hooping onion rings, and an almost retro comic feel to the lot – this is a crazy sausage adventure. Sure to bring out the giggles in little ones. You can buy it here.


The Strongest Mum by Nicola Kent
Being a mum, and having a great mum myself, I’m always touched by the portrayal of fabulous mothers in picture books – be it giving Sophie a fabulous tea when the tiger arrives, or returning to the Owl Babies at the end of the night. The mum in this delightfully sweet picture book amasses belongings and carries them all as if she were weightlifting for England.

Dealing with a familiar issue (carrying everything!) – and why giving up the buggy too early and having to schlep all the shopping by hand can be a mistake – this is a wonderfully exaggerated portrayal of a super mum. From carrying some treasure found in the garden at the beginning, Little Bear’s Mum ends up carrying everything including Zebra’s shopping, Lion’s laundry, and then…a piano. It all comes crashing down though, and Little Bear realises he has to help.

The illustrations are undeniably child-friendly, in a multitude of jewel colours, with an aerial view of Mum’s bag, each item labelled! With oodles of white space, the book doesn’t feel slight because every illustration is packed with texture, pattern and colour, despite a slight transparency to it all. An intriguing new style and a good pick for Mother’s Day. You can buy it here.


Lionel and the Lion’s Share by Lou Peacock and Lisa Sheehan
Another for a slightly younger readership, giving a moral story, this encourages children to share. Lionel the Lion is bigger than most of his friends, and good at snatching. So whenever they see something they want, Lionel always gets there first. When Lionel goes a bit too far at Chloe the Cat’s birthday party, he realises that he’s angry and sad, and needs friends most. Sharing is best.

Drawn with tender pencil strokes, Lionel himself is phenomenally vibrant, with a large orange and brown mane, and his animal friends are equally detailed. They are vastly anthropomorphised with clothes as well as human behaviours, but it is the colourfulness and fun of the backgrounds that enhance this picture book. A detailed musical instrument shop, a hat shop, and the village green – this storybook world looks timeless and appealing. You can buy it here.


Robinson by Peter Sis
A bit of a love letter to Robinson Crusoe, this picture book takes a look at the meaning of being bullied for liking something different, and also a whimsical approach to solitariness. It also shows what happens when a child or adult finds inspiration, solace and adventure in a storybook and use it within their own lives.

In fact, author Peter Sis researched the flora and fauna of Martinique, the inspirational island behind Defoe’s novel, and used his knowledge to illustrate the book. Sis’s fine art background gives some insight into the illustrations in these structured and intriguing pictures. He plays with point of view and light and shadow to create an utterly unique look to the book. The colour palette tells the plot just as much as the narrative itself.

Typeset in uppercase letters, the whole book feels like a stream of consciousness, a message in a bottle, as the colours blossom and bloom with the boy’s discovery of his own island in the imagination.

The book aims to deliver a paean to the act of adventuring and exploration, even that which happens in the mind rather than in actuality. A great discovery. You can buy it here.


My Worst Book Ever by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Last, but definitely not least, if you’re wondering how all those authors and illustrators featured so far produced their books, then you’d best read My Worst Book Ever. Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman are no strangers to the picture book trade, and here they’ve created a humorous look at what can go wrong when writing a book.

A classic book within a book scenario, as Ahlberg explores how he is writing a picture book about crocodiles, the text of which is hinted at within this book, but then things start to go wrong – the illustrator has different ideas, as does the publisher, and then a naughty girl at the printers messes it up even further. Added to this are all the various procrastinations that writers bow to – distractions out the window, family interruptions etc.

For children this is a fun and humorous look at the publishing trade. For writers, it’s a mirror. Illustrated cheerfully, this will bring a wry smile to many a face. You can buy it here.

 

The Ice Sea Pirates: A Sneak Peak at Illustrations

I’m delighted to showcase The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson, illustrated by David Barrow, on the blog today. Nilsson’s latest book, The Ice Sea Pirates, is a classic children’s adventure story about a girl called Siri who dares to trek the ice seas and face down fearsome leader of pirates Captain Whitehead, in order to rescue her sister. This is a survival story set in a wild landscape of our dreams and nightmares – seas that freeze over with extreme cold and lash ships to pieces with their ice shards – a troop of pirates who capture children to work down a mine – ferocious wolves who wander the ice looking for prey.

But above all, this is a hugely compelling read with a sympathetic, staggeringly brave and wholesome main character, and a gripping narrative. It’s no wonder the book has been nominated for five Swedish book awards, and won three of them. Now, available in English, translated by Peter Graves, and softly and warmly illustrated by David Barrow, this is really a sumptuous read.

Nilsson draws clever parallels between wolf cubs and children, explores boundaries of nature and nurture and protection of the young. She also shows the ability of children to see the larger picture, as well as delving into themes of family loyalty, and the wonder of mythical sea creatures. This is a daring and intelligent tale, sprinkled with humour. More than anything though, it is the imaginary harsh Arctic landscape of small islands dotted in the freezing sea that dominates, and creates an adventure that’s both beautiful and challenging. Frida Nilsson explains the role of nature in the novel:

“The scenery is very important I think, in order to convince the reader that I am “telling the truth”. That doesn’t mean that the description of the scenery most be very long. In fact, I heard a Swedish writer say once: the longer and more thorough the scenery is, the surer you can be that the writer was never there for real. To describe the scenery in a short and vigorous manner is not easy.

The Ice Sea Pirates is a fictional world with, of course, strong impressions from the Arctic. I went to Tromsö (northern Norway) with my mother once. She worked at the hospital there and I had the days all to myself to wander about and go to the local museum, where they had exhibitions about whale- and walrus-hunting. A lot of my ideas for the book come from that trip.

My home town of Mörkö, Sweden, wasn’t a direct influence for this book, but the beautiful scenery is an inspiration for me and my writing.”

Frida’s text is complemented by the softly drawn, mesmeric images from illustrator David Barrow. Below is a selection of the images, which Gecko Press have been kind enough to let me share.




You can buy The Ice Sea Pirates here.

Pirates in the Supermarket by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

There are a great number of issues that surface in the children’s books I review, from identity and loss, to refugees and politics. There are stories that teach confidence-building, stories that build grit and resilience, stories that show adversity can be overcome, and much much more, but sometimes you want a book that’s pure escapism, and just fun. For me, there’s little that’s more exhilarating than to see a class of six year olds hooting with laughter as you read them a story.

Timothy Knapman has written more than 50 picture books and has a flair for what works and what doesn’t. I’ve read Dinosaurs in the Supermarket to many children many times, and was delighted to see that Pirates are there now too.

The premise is simple – there are pirates hiding in the supermarket that only the small narrator can see – and when he tells his Mum about them, she tells him not to be silly. It’s only when the pirates wheel out their cannons that the supermarket staff take notice.

The text rhymes with ease, the rhythm flows, and of course there are some dastardly puns – ‘eggs mark the spot’ for example, and Knapman often turns his text towards the reader, asking ‘you’ to spot the pirates too. And of course that’s half the fun of the illustrations…whether it’s a pirate in the deep freeze, carrier bags dangling uneasily from a hook hand, or a head wearing a skull and crossbones headscarf masquerading as a bouncy ball, there is lots to spy.

But there’s also the marvellous colour, and detail – tremendous scope in a supermarket, of course, with fruit and vegetables, clothes and packets, and ability to sow mayhem with trolleys, and foodfights. Add in some pirates, and there are anchors, parrots, and flags too!

The ending is a sweet twist – the supermarket staff look rather suspicious at the new enormous ship-shaped fish counter.

With plenty to look at – hide and seek within a book – and delicious language to roll your tongue around, this is a heartily enjoyable swashbuckling read. (Watch out for the different pirates colourfully illustrated and named on the endpapers too). I’m determined to pay more attention next time I’m grocery shopping. You can buy it here.

Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody by Roland Chambers, illustrated by Ella Okstad

nelly and the quest for captain peabody

Leaping onto the bandwagon of highly illustrated texts for young readers (in the vein of Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre), comes a new title about a voyage on the seas. It’s not as wacky as Philip Reeve’s tales, but this story is told with such beautiful writing, that it had to be my book of the week.

Nelly is determined to set sail and search for her father, who promised to return after a year, but has been missing at sea for a long time. Leaving behind her mother, who seems to do little except sit and knit, Nelly roams the seas with just her pet turtle, Columbus for company.

Nelly is a plucky and resourceful heroine, just like her contemporaries, Ottoline by Chris Riddell and Violet by Harriet Whitehorn, and following in the footsteps of Pippi Longstocking. When Nelly says she is going to do something she sticks to it. She knits new sails for her ship, stocks it with provisions, and while sailing the high seas she learns to juggle china cups and eats lemons for a month. She may be a solitary child, but she is never bored.

The author’s knowledge of seas (he wrote a biography of Authur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons) comes into its own here with lavish descriptions of boats and sailing, from storms at sea to the tasks of maintaining a ship. The story contains a rich vocabulary of sailing terminology. But that is not all, Chamber’s descriptions are simply sumptuous:

“When Nelly sailed into her first storm it was as though a thousand shouting mouths had opened in the water.”
and things take off spectacularly when Nelly reaches a surprising volcano in the northern seas, inside which her father might be residing:
“And all the time the drums sounded louder-lub-dub, lub-dub-like Nelly’s own heart beating, so that it was hard to tell what was inside and what was outside.”

The story veers off into fantasy (as if it wasn’t fantasy enough with a girl sailing with knitted sails across the world on her own), as she delves into a hidden volcano at the top of the world, inside which is a jungle where her father and his crew are living quite happily.

Despite being fantastical, and a delight to read, there are patches of extraordinary darkness – her parent’s inconceivable neglect, scary moments at sea, the frightening trek through the jungle, and her complicated reunion with her father.

Some critics have alluded to the lack of female characters – Nelly is the only female in the entire book (the mother is notable by her absence), but I would think there is scope for this to be rectified in further stories of Nelly. Moreover, her strength, intelligence and integrity stand out against the lack of qualities in the male characters. And it is superbly tongue-in-cheek that she is granted ‘honorary gentleman status’.

Ella Okstad’s illustrations enhance the text; there are maps, portraits, fabulous depictions of Nelly’s turtle, and great pictures of the ship to assist any reader struggling with the rich language. Although the interest level is 7+yrs, the reading level is slightly higher because of the language – but this is a treat – it means it’s ripe for reading aloud to your children – and more enjoyment for all.

I reviewed a proof copy of this book, which sadly didn’t contain all the finished illustrations. You can buy your own copy here, and enjoy all the illustrations fully.

 

Pieces of Eight

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question children ask themselves a great deal – I discussed it with some Year 1s recently. Many of them wanted to be teachers (they must have great role models), and none wanted to be librarians. (I am working on this!) Some wanted to be pirates. Although I don’t condone criminal behaviour, it was an opportunity to discuss what sort of person could be a pirate, which skills they would need, and most importantly what would pirates wear, and eat?

flinn

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto
An old favourite of ours – even as an eight month old baby one of our children knew when the ‘roar’ was coming in the text. Flinn is an ordinary boy who falls into a world of dinosaurs and pirates through his school art cupboard. He takes his friends with him, and before long they are fighting on behalf of Captain Stubble to rescue his beloved ship from the roaring Pirate Dinosaurs. The humour that infuses this text makes it loveable and readable – from the cowardice of Captain Stubble to the references to dinosaurs liking tomato ketchup and a dual which lasts for precisely two hours and twenty-five minutes, exhausting the T-Rex. It is a flowing adventure story packed neatly into a picture book with phenomenally rendered illustrations of pirate ships, ferocious dinosaurs, and on the final pages, a typical school room with the gentle Miss Pie. A great mix of content that children of this age devour. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

rufus goes to sea

Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim T Griswell, illustrated by Valerie Gorbachev
Can anyone be a pirate? Rufus, a young book-loving pig, inspired by adventure stories he reads, decides to be a pirate for his summer holiday. The stereotypical pirates on board the ship, including Captain Wibblyshins with his wooden leg, and First Mate Scratchwhiskers with his eye patch, have their doubts that a pig has the right skillset to be a pirate. Finally Rufus demonstrates his one very useful skill – the ability to read – not only books but treasure maps – and is accepted on board. Packed with pirate references from yardarms to crow’s nests, Jolly Rogers to quarter decks, this will not only invigorate your child’s seafaring vocabulary, but endear them to a little pink pig who is ruthless in pursuit of his own destiny. Perseverance and reading pay off! There’s a lovely twist at the end too – the treasure it not quite what you’d expect. A lovely little story from the US. Look out too for the very colourful, detailed illustrations. Buy it here from Waterstones, or click through to Amazon.

pirates in pyjamas

Pirates in Pyjamas by Caroline Crowe and Tom Knight
So pirates come in all shapes and sizes, and need to be able to read, but what do they wear? Caroline Crowe wonders what pirates wear when they sleep in this playful new rhyming picture book.  The book leads the reader rather merrily to bed, describing which pyjamas the pirates might wear, what they do in the bath (make shark fins with the shampoo in their hair), what a pirate pyjama party might look like, and how they finally get to sleep. The last rhyme is rather cute, for smaller pirates everywhere:
“So if you want to be a pirate,
you don’t need a patch or sword.
You just need your best pyjamas,
and a bed to climb aboard.”
The illustrations are touchingly sentimental – two young friends or siblings sharing a bedroom, decorated with pirate paraphernalia – even the teddy has an eye patch. The pirates come in all shapes and sizes – bearded, thin, fat, large and small, pale, dark, exotic, and with different facial expressions too – a source of wonder and excitement for little readers. It’s colourful and fun. This book publishes in mid August 2015. You can buy it here.

pizza for pirates

Pizza for Pirates by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish
Lastly, what pirates eat! Part of the ongoing picture book series about George, including Spaghetti with the Yeti and Marshmallows for Martians, the authors continue their foody adventures. George sets off armed with a pizza to win over a pirate crew. He takes some time to find the crew, firstly being swallowed by a whale, whose stomach contents suggest that it too has had dalliance with pirates, and then landing on an island. Along with a helpful parrot, George finally finds his pirate crew, digs up some treasure, and saves them from a sea monster (with the assistance of his now soggy pizza). Also, as above, using a bed to represent a boat, the authors have used home props to make the adventure familiar. George’s bedroom also has a teddy with an eye patch, pirate dress up props and some themed lamps and curtains. There is no end to the brightness here – mermaids, fish, cartoon crabs and starfish, and an ending that looks like the most terrific pool party. Lots to look at, I can imagine this being a firm bedtime favourite. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

As I recently pointed out, much of our ‘pirate’ cultural heritage stems from Treasure Island. Stevenson’s inspiration for the story was a map drawn by a child, and ever since there have been a plethora of fictional references to treasure maps, x marking the spot, and dastardly pirates, all descended from the ever-lasting Long John Silver and his search for treasure. (Note: Robert Louis Stevenson first called the story The Sea Cook – one has to wonder if the story would have endured in the same way with this flat alternative title).

Picture Book Bonanza

So many fantastic picture books have been published so far this year – I wanted to tell you about a few of my tried and tested favourites.

princess daisy and nincompoop

Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights by Steven Lenton (5 Feb)
Any book that has nincompoop in the title is a winner for me – but subsequently I was blown away by the content inside. From an ironic beginning about how all fairy tales are the same, right to the end with our feisty heroine proving her father wrong, this is an absolute rhyming delight. When a roaring dragon disturbs the peace of the town, the king sends for some knights to tackle his problem. They turn out to be complete nincompoops, and it’s his daughter with a brain who solves the issue. So much of the text here is worth quoting because the rhyming is spot on and totally hilarious – both for children and their parents:
Then everybody cheered, “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books!
And doesn’t it just go to show you mustn’t judge on looks?”
The pictures are bold and fun and colourful. A great twist on stereotypes, and characters with impeccably drawn expressions. I had to read again and again! A storming success. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Beastly Pirates

The Beastly Pirates by John Kelly (12 Feb)
Another rhyming tale, but this one with extremely complex vocabulary. Don’t let that put you off though, we adored exploration of the new sounds and meanings, from colossal to rogue to halitosis! Oh yes, these are revolting pirates, but they get their comeuppance at the end, thanks to a clever child and savvy use of shadows. Many different types of pirates are depicted here, from Wicked Cass the Pirate Lass to Admiral Archibald the Angry – John Kelly plays with language with great ease – but these aren’t even the beastly pirates. The beastly pirates gobble up the others with glee, led by Captain Snapper. The pictures are as intricate as the text – packed with detail, colour and daring. Lots to look at – lots to take in. One to be savoured. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Follow that car

Follow That Car by Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp (1 April)
Another one that packs in the detail, but in pictures this time, is Follow That Car. This is a completely different type of picture book – in which the idea is that the reader traces a path through the different landscapes to help the police mouse on the motorbike chase the gorilla in the yellow car. Slightly reminiscent of Richard Scarry, this is another triumph for Nosy Crow publishers. The text is merely to help the reader find a pathway through each page; the roads are as messy as spaghetti junction. The mouse has to avoid road blocks, train tracks, fallen trees, sheep and ducks on the road – there are endless dead-ends. This is another highly colourful book, bursting with animals and transport. Each page is a feast for the eyes. Loved by every reader to whom I showed it – from age 5-20!!! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

little red and the very hungry lion

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith (7 May)
This super twist on Little Red Riding Hood, by the clever writer and illustrator Alex T Smith, should be in every school library. Little Red Riding Hood has always been depicted as being fairly nifty and astute, from the first tellings to Roald Dahl’s protagonist who ‘whips a pistol from her knickers’. In this version, nicely transplanted into a jungle region rather than the woods, the wolf becomes a lion, and Little Red sees through his tricks immediately. Rather than conquering him, she tames him instead (after doing his hair and teeth and changing his clothes), and on the last page she is silhouetted playing skipping with the lion, her father and her poorly aunt (replacing the grandmother). Alex T Smith has had great fun depicting both Little Red’s jaunt through the jungle to reach her aunt, but also the lion’s descent into grumpiness as his plan fails and Little Red gets carried away doing his hair! It’s fun, subversive, and inspiring, showing children how to twist a tale, and use imagination to recreate old classics. Thoroughly enjoyable. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

daddy's sandwich

Daddy’s Sandwich by Pip Jones, illustrated by Laura Hughes (7 May)
For slightly younger children, but probably one of the most adorable books I’ve spied this year. Pip Jones has captured the little girl’s language expertly, from the moment she calls ‘Daaaadddddy’ on the opening pages to her vocabulary such as ‘teeny’, and the varying sizes of text emphasising words such as ‘ages’ and ‘not’! The little girl attempts to make her Daddy a sandwich with everything in it that he likes – except this little girl is putting in EVERYTHING that Daddy likes, from his camera to his bike helmet. This is one very large sandwich! Laura Hughes’ illustrations are just the right mixture of cute and vivacious, the perfect ingredients for a picture book that any child will want to read again and again. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

ten little dinos

Ten Little Dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow, illustrated by Simon Rickerty (7 May)
One of Huffington Post’s summer picture book picks and for good reason. This is good old fashioned fun, in a stylish and accessible book. Even the cover is great fun. It provides a rhyming poem to teach counting to anyone who has any love for dinosaurs – especially when they’re illustrated in such an endearing way. Ten fairly similar baby dinosaurs, differing in colour and the number of spikes each one has – gradually get diminished in number until the end when they are all reunited with Mummy dinosaur. It follows a similar pattern to many counting books, the ending rhyming number being always just over the page:
“Nine little dinosaurs think the world smells great!
“Slurp!” goes a hungry plant. Now there are….”
The slight apprehension that these dinosaurs might be disappearing because of some danger gives the book edge, and Simon Rickerty has plumped for simplicity in the drawings – every page is a delight of simple patterns and rainbow colours – which makes it stand out and appeal massively to the target audience. Much enjoyed…Roar! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

 

 

A Steampunk Pirates Extract

Steampunk pirates

Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders by Gareth P Jones

Do you know what steampunk is? I didn’t, and nor did my huge Collins dictionary. Turns out neither of us is very hip, because steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction that brings together technology from steam-powered machinery and conjoins it with mere mortals. Gareth has rather cunningly exploited this sub-genre, given it a twist by applying it to pirates, and concocted a neat little adventure series that has piracy, machines and humour all tied up together.

I stepped into the book a little jaded of ye olde piratey tales with their pieces of eight and swashbuckling sea dogs and landlubbers, but was won over within pages. Not only is this a tight plot well told, but it also zips along with innovation and irony – after all who else other than Gareth P Jones would create sea-journeying pirates made out of metal machines, a material that sinks and rusts, and machines that rely on a fire inside to work! So for little ones reaching for their plastic dastardly daggers, this will go down a treat.

Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders portrays our Steampunk Pirates (led by Captain Clockheart with a (yep you guessed it!) clock for a heart), looking to land some treasure by spying on some French enemies. But when they set sail with Captain Inkybeard on board, they might be in for more than they bargained for. Not only does he turn against them, but it turns out the French are making giant sea spiders to serve as their army. Will the Steampunk Pirates be able to get away with all their clockwork and machinery intact?

There are many devices that delight here including the author’s penchant for interrupting the story and referring to himself in the third person (just for fun), the chapter headings, which all summarize what’s to follow in true Winnie the Pooh style, eg. “In which our heroes set off on their secret mission…secretly” rather like an amuse-bouche before the main meal; and of course, the odd pirate ditty thrown in for good measure.

For a newly independent reader, or any youngster looking for an inventive fun book, this delivers in style. Chapters are short and well-contained, the action and dialogue is fast-paced and witty, there are numerous well-crafted illustrations, and of course pirate banter a-plenty. Lastly, it’s a series! And, here, in a MinervaReads exclusive, is an extract.

Extract from the middle of Chapter One: In which we find our heroes, the Steampunk Pirates in Barbary Bay, a famous hideout for scallywags, scoundrels and salty sea dogs.

A black-bearded man entered the alehouse. He wore a large three-cornered hat with two small holes cut into the material, as though he had a pair of eyes on top of his head. He glanced around the bar, brandished his cutlass and shouted, “Good news, you washed-up sea dogs! Old Inkybeard and Nancy are recruiting again. If you want adventure and riches, step forward now and join us.”

 “Join you?” shouted one drinker. “I heard you set fire to your last ship.”

“It wasn’t even yours to sink,” said another.

“And your crew was still on board when it went down,” said a third man.

“Now, Nancy, don’t listen to the nasty men.” The pirate removed his hat to reveal a squid sitting on his head, with its tentacles wrapped around his neck and shoulders. “For those of you who are unfamiliar with my wife, this is Nancy.”

            The squid blinked.

            “Evening, Inkybeard,” said Mrs Smellgrove. “A bowl of mussels for Nancy, is it?”

“That’d be smashing, Mrs Smellgrove,” he replied. “But it’s the Dread Captain Inkybeard, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yes, of course. Sorry,” said Mrs Smellgrove.

“Hey, laddie, why have you got a squid on your head?” asked Gadge.

            Inkybeard caressed a tentacle draped over his right shoulder. “Old Nancy’s black ink helps keep my beard from going grey, don’t it, girl? Now, we don’t need to ask who you are. The ocean is awash with rumours of you metallic marauders. What will they think of next, Nancy?” Inkybeard walked around the Steampunk Pirates, inspecting them carefully.

Highly recommended for ages 6+. If your landlubber likes the sound of this one, you can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar, and also treat yourself to the first in the series here, Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: The Leaky Battery Sets Sail.

leaky battery sets sail

Number three: Clash of the Rival Robots publishes August 2015. With thanks to Little Tiger Press for providing the review copy and giving permission for the extract.