Tag Archive for Gliori Debi

Children’s Mental Health Week

Children’s Mental Health week in the UK runs from February 5th to the 11th. One publisher has sent me a story specifically for this week, and there’s a gathering number of voices who are publishing books that speak to children’s mental health issues.

But reading any good narrative enables the reader to step into someone else’s shoes, to experience their story, and hence gain some empathy on another’s state of mind. But as well as that, some books relate more directly to the reader’s own experience – if the characters are going through a situation that they too are experiencing, the reader can see how the characters react. How do they deal with the darker side of life, how do they overcome their obstacles? In turn, the reader may review their own situation. The book may not offer a solution, but it can show readers another way of thinking about things, perhaps a different way through their dark time.

Someone asked me recently what comes first – if readers learn resilience through books, or if they come to certain darker books with resilience, enabling them to read the books without fear. It’s a tricky one. Some resilience is innate – there are children who accept scary books quite readily, others who approach them with horror, but some resilience is garnered through the reading of difficult situations and issues.

Most of all, books offer a safe space in which to experience the darkness of life, and also show how others perceive a similar darkness. Reading, funnily enough, can be less isolating.


Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
, illustrated by Quentin Blake
is a great example. Rosen wrote the book as a reaction to the death of his son – which is stated within the first few pages. But he also talks about a general sadness that can come over any of us at any time.

The book also explores ways in which Rosen tries to overcome some of the sadness, by thinking about good things he has done that make him proud, or remembering that other people are sad sometimes too. It’s good not to be alone. Talking through the sadness helps him as well.

This is a deservedly award-winning book, which prompts all kinds of emotions, both through the simplicity of the book, but also through Quentin Blake’s astonishingly emotive illustrations.

The book takes the reader through the different layers and types of sadness, from that which settles like a weight, to the sadness at the edges of the happiest things. Emotions are not isolated – they come in a tangled heap, sad with angry, sad with frustration, and sad with happy.

But most of all, this is not a book to which a child needs to bring their resilience. They will find it in the pages within. You can buy it here.


One newer book on the scene is Night Shift by Debi Gliori. This small formatted picture book is targeted at a teenage audience. Even its size and beautiful production (fabric cover) give away this book’s topic – depression can make you feel small, and anything that relieves it can be beautiful.

Gliori draws on her own experience of depression to illustrate this book, showing the illness in the form of a dragon in her charcoal-like illustrations. At first the dragon’s steam is a fog rolling in at night, but soon it pervades the day. Gliori highlights the physical effect of this mental illness in all its debilitating forms, but all beautifully drawn onto the normal day of a teen girl.


Gliori then goes on to highlight different ways in which the girl tries to rid herself of the feeling, from talking about it, drawing it, living with it. One of the most startling pages is the one in which she addresses the platitudes that are given to her: “chin up”.

There is a resolution at the end – her own way of finding a small beauty that helps the fog to lift, the dragon to fly away. As in Rosen’s book, it’s the skill of the simplicity of the language to convey the feeling, and the essence of sharing and hopefulness despite the darkness. You can buy one here.


Another starkly compelling and moving picture book is Small Things by Mel Tregonning, completed posthumously by Shaun Tan. The title is ironic of course – what the protagonist deals with here is not small at all. This wordless black and white graphic novel deals with one small boy’s misery at school – excluded from sports and friendships. His schoolwork is suffering too, and slowly the reader starts to see strange shapes and shadows that invade and penetrate the boy’s world. These take over, keeping the boy up at night, eating away at who he is.

The illustrations are painful to take in sometimes – the small boy’s sadness manifested in his large head and eyes, the anxiety and angst all too clear, the shapes and his disintegration fairly horrific. But when he shares his feelings with his sister and then confides in his parents, things start to change. Finally, he sees that he is not alone in the strange creatures – gradually, the boy sees that others have the shapes to deal with too, and so feel as he does and a bond is formed. It’s not a complete resolution, but a path forward.

The book comes from a place of pain, but the idea is that it provides solace to those who otherwise may not have reached out. Wordless, it screams louder than most. It’s available here.

The last book is the one sent to me by a publisher for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week. It’s a book that aims to explore and teach mindfulness. Mind Hug: The First Story by Emily Arber and Vanessa Lovegrove shows a boy upset by the influx of noise inside his head, the buzziness of everyday life, but also the thoughts that can erupt from nowhere. Then his father shows him how to breathe and to dismiss the overcrowding. It doesn’t work at first go, but the boy tries again. In the end he shares it with a friend, who shares it again.

The idea, like mindfulness, is relatively simple, and the premise good. Unfortunately the text is a little all over the place, with some rhyming, some not, and a rhythm that comes and goes. You can buy it here.

But it’s not just picture books that bring awareness of mental health, and I’ve highlighted a couple of others here.

Like so many other ‘issues’, sometimes the best books are those that nudge a child towards the issue rather than focus the entire book on it. Flour Babies by Anne Fine is an excellent example – when the children in school have to look after their own ‘flour sacks’ as babies, and learn many things in the process. Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare talks about the difficult subject of parental depression all wrapped within a beautiful nature adventure story, Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho Yen and A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill also deal with depressive parents, but again, next to well-told stories. The protagonist in The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson has OCD, but the book reads as a mystery.

By opening up a book with a fictional cast of characters but with very real problems, it’s hoped that children can find a way through, discover a path they may not have thought of, see a light in the dark. Have a look at The Empathy Lab here, for more ideas.

 

National Share a Story Month: Dragons

May is National Share-a-Story Month and the 2015 theme is dragons. To celebrate, I’m using the Tuesday Top Ten Bloggers’ Meme created by The Broke and the Bookish writers to list my top ten dragon picture books. In no particular order:

Doughnuts for a Dragon

Doughnuts for a Dragon by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish
I love that dragon books tend to have protagonists called George, seeing as they are following the old legends of George and the Dragon. This George decides to go in search of a dragon. To do this he builds himself a time machine and packs lots of snacks, including doughnuts. On his way to meet the dragon he bumps into all sorts of strange and horrid creatures, such as a witch, and an ogre, but pacifies them all with tasty treats. When he finally meets the dragon, he discovers that it’s not as ferocious as he thought, and together with a lonely princess they feast on doughnuts. The text rhymes well, and the illustrations are fantastically fun – right from the opening pages in George’s bedroom with its puns on modern culture, and the characters depicted cheerfully and colourfully. The language is great, from the very incidental time machine, to the whooshing, click clacking and squeaking. There are others in the series, including Pizza for Pirates, Spaghetti with the Yeti, and my personal favourite, Marshmallows for Martians. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

george and the dragon

George and the Dragon by Chris Wormell
Admitting a slight bias here, as Chris Wormell kindly opened my school library and did some amazing illustrations for our walls, but I loved this book before I met him. It’s a subversive take on the typical legend, and shows great humour. George here is a mouse, not a knight, although this is only revealed halfway through the story. Before this, we have magnificent illustrations and fierce text on how powerful and mighty the dragon is, although he has a secret. He is scared of mice. When our unknowing hero George moves into the cave next door to the dragon, he inadvertently rescues the princess, and is rewarded with a fine meal and a new home. The illustrations are dramatic and vivid, and drawn to incredible detail. Chris Wormell is the illustrator of the cover for the 2014 Samuel Johnson winner H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald– his illustrations are truly a cut above. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

the trouble with dragons
The Trouble With Dragons by Debi Gliori

A much-loved and re-read text, this is a warning about our environment and how we treat the world, told simply, elegantly and cleverly in a dragon tale. The dragons use up all the resources on earth by building houses, taking up space, eating all the food, leaving a mess, and blowing hot air which melts the snow and turns the ice to water. The rest of the animals ask the dragons to think about what they are doing before it is only dragons left on the planet, to reduce their hot air, to reuse and recycle. The end stanza has a telling tone:
“So – if you know a Dragon (and most of us do)
ask it if it thinks that this story is true.
For if we can’t see that our stories are linked
then sadly, like Dragons, we’ll soon be extinct.”
It’s not subtle, and it’s not a picture book for pre-schoolers, but occasionally it’s good to hear to get a message across directly. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

zog

Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
I can’t not feature Zog in my list – this quintessential book all about dragons at a dragon school and the various lessons they undertake each year from learning to fly to blowing fire and capturing princesses, but it did feature heavily in my Brave Girls feature a week ago, so click the link to read more about it.

where did all the dragons go

Where Did All the Dragons Go? By Fay Robinson, illustrated by Victor Lee
This is like reading a lyrical poem with accompanying dreamy illustrations. It’s for older children and it’s not lighthearted and funny like Zog, but is a beautiful picture book, and one worth cherishing. When reading aloud, it’s wonderful to watch the faces of children as they hear the rhymes, savour the language and look at the impressive illustrations. Older children will appreciate the dark artwork of dragons swooping through the air, lit by the illuminated balls of treasure in their claws, and other artworks with dragons, wings outspread, lit from beneath as if flying above the sun. The vocabulary is stretching:
“Gentle dragons, young and old,
hoarding gemstones, guarding gold,
gathering in dragon crowds,
breathing fire, making clouds.”
Sadly, it appears to be out of print. I suggest borrowing from a library or seeking second hand through online retailers.

that pesky dragon

That Pesky Dragon by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Melanie Williamson
Lightening the tone once more, this is another picture book for younger readers. I chose this almost entirely for the page that shows the dragon with a tear in his eye. A female protagonist here, Izzy lives on a farm with lots of farm animals, and a dragon! Although over the next hill, its roars can be heard by everyone on the farm, and the adults deem it too dangerous to go near it. Not only that, but they blame the pesky dragon for the eggs being hard, the milk turning to yogurt and for burning all the wheat in the field. Izzy decides to be brave and go to see the dragon, and discovers that it is trapped:
“I’ve been shouting for help for days,” the dragon cried.
The illustrations are so tender and heart-warming, so bright and colourful, that no child can be scared or upset reading this book. It teaches that you don’t have to be afraid of something that is ‘other’, as the unfamiliar can always look scary until you know what it is. It also implies that it can be good to be brave. It’s a happy ending. Sadly not available everywhere, but you can buy it from online marketplaces or borrow from your local library.

there's a dragon downstairs

There’s a Dragon Downstairs by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Amanda Harvey
This too, I’ve written about before, as it exemplifies our fear of the dark and also, like That Pesky Dragon, our fears about what’s unknown or unfamiliar. Click here to read my review of it, in terms of books about the dark. I’ll also admit that it’s slightly cheating, because as you’ll discover – there’s really no dragon in this book at all!

paper bag princess
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

A feminist tale about a smart princess who outwits a dragon and then decides that she won’t marry her prince because he wants an archetypal fairy tale princess, and she is certainly not one of those. In a fairy tale twist, an extremely powerful and dangerous dragon comes along and destroys the princess’s castle and captures the prince. It is left up to the princess to rescue him, but the dragon has burnt all her possessions so the only thing she can wear is a paper bag. She follows the dragon to his lair, outwits him and sets the prince free. The last page sees her skipping off into the sunset on her own, but happy. There are some faults with this text, but kudos must be given for a feminist tale published as long ago as 1980 and still in print. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

mirrorbelle and dragon pox

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Julia Donaldson’s mirror princess started life in chapter books, but has recently made the transition to picture books, which is fabulous because Lydia Monks’ drawings are exquisite, and the added sparkle on each page is quite irresistible. With Julia Donaldson you know you’re going to read quality text, even if it’s slightly longer here than in her more well-known picture books, and also isn’t in verse, but in simple prose. The story is about Ellen who has chicken pox, and her mirror princess, Princess Mirror-Belle who climbs out of her bathroom mirror, announces she has dragon pox and that she knows the cure. Before long the princess has the bathroom in completely disarray, but of course disappears back into the mirror before Ellen’s Mum discovers her. It’s a simple story, beautifully told and illustrated and will charm any child affected (or not) by the pox. And yes, I’ve cheated here – there’s no dragon. Just dragon pox. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar

george dragon fire station

George’s Dragon at the Fire Station by Claire Freedman and Russell Julian
My last dragon story is for younger readers (probably the youngest for whom I cater), but again is written by such a picture book talent, that it would be sad to miss her out. This series starts with George’s Dragon about a boy who has to convince his parents that a dragon is a viable pet, and now includes George’s Dragon Goes to School, and this latest addition published last year. An open day at a fire station should be perfect for a dragon, after all there’s a whole crew to extinguish any unwanted dragon fire, but it turns out George’s dragon can be quite a liability. He is clumsy and large, and gets in the way, until a real call to the fire station warrants a helping hand from a creature who can fly, and in steps George’s dragon. This is narrative prose, but with nice touches of typeface, such as larger letters, and nee naars and dings all over the place. Added to that, Russell Julian’s purple dragon has the friendliest features of all. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar

Just for fun, learn how to draw a dragon with children’s illustrator Emily Gravett here or how to make a dragon (out of paper!) with Lydia Monks here.

 

 

 

Red House Children’s Book Awards 2015

RedHouse Logo

It’s awards season. Sandwiched between the BAFTAs and the Oscars, and following hot on the Costa Book Award, was yesterday’s Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Red House Children’s Book Awards 2015. There were no designer frocks, no red carpet, and a distinct lack of paparazzi, but the event was a warm embracing ceremony, with excited children lining up to have a chat with their favourite authors, and to get their much cherished books signed. For the authors, not only were they shortlisted for the national prize voted for by children, but they were also presented with a portfolio of feedback – pictures, poems, reviews and letters all from their readers. I’m sure these are just as precious as any metal trophies.

The shortlist was as follows, for Younger Children: Dragon Loves Penguin by Debi Gliori (review here), The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (review here), Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard by Steve Cole, illustrated by Bruce Ingman, and That Is Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems. The winner is The Day the Crayons Quit.
crayons

For Younger Readers, the shortlist was Baby Aliens Got My Teacher! By Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham, The Bomber Dog by Megan Rix, and Demon Dentist by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross. The winner is Demon Dentist.

Demon Dentist

For Older Readers, the shortlist was Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman, Prince of the Icemark by Stuart Hill and Split Second by Sophie McKenzie. The winner is Split Second.

Split Second

The overall winner is The Day the Crayons Quit

Day Crayons Quit winner

And this all made me think. What are awards ceremonies for? Why do we do it? Of course, there is massive attention paid to the books/films/artworks which win awards, all of which drive value or sales, and so it’s a marketing person’s passion to be on the shortlisted or winning team. But for an author, what does it say? For how do we judge a good work of fiction? Being in a bookgroup, or chatting to anyone else who reads, it’s clear that what suits one doesn’t suit another. I love the Bronte sisters but I don’t love Dickens. Reading fiction is obviously completely subjective. On what criteria is it that we judge books when we give them awards? Similarly, what criteria makes a child’s piece of creative writing deserve an A rather than a B grade? There might be a checklist, but it’s totally dependent on the judges isn’t it?

One of those million dollar questions bandied about by authors and such, is ‘Would you rather write a bestseller or win the Booker prize?’ Of course winning the Booker might make you a best seller, but how about the Nobel Prize for Literature? Ie. would you rather be read by millions, or read and judged to be best by a few?

The Red House Children’s Book Award is great because it’s voted for by the readers – so it kind of ticks both boxes. Even then, pitting books against each other in an age range is hard. Whether it’s fantasy against contemporary, or funny against historical, are we right to rate them against each other, when some children don’t even like one of those genres?

The author SF Said recently raised the question of whether children’s books should be considered for the top book awards too – not just judged for the Carnegie Medal. Is it right that there’s a women author only prize? (Bailey’s, previously the Orange). The Booker has just started accepting novelists from the US as entrants as well as the original Commonwealth-only criteria, but should it even be judging different genre books against each other at all. It aims to judge ‘the best novel in the opinion of the judges’. Therein lies the rub. The judges.

In conclusion, we each make a judgement when we read a book, so why not celebrate our opinions with award ceremonies. They grab that elusive media attention – they pull people in to reading books, they drive sales of books. We’ve been telling stories since the Bible and before, and we will continue to do so. And if the RHCBA brings together children’s authors and their readers and celebrates children’s books, as the culmination of the Imagine Children’s Literature Festival, then I’m all for it.

Judge away. Tell everyone which are your favourite children’s books. The children who accompanied me had a fantastic time meeting authors they admired, and hearing readings and seeing live drawings. I came away from the event with recommendations for even more great children’s literature. And some beautiful autographs too.

Blackman and HillStuart Hill and Malorie Blackman pose laughing for a photograph

Pamela Butchart and Thomas FlinthamThomas Flintham and Pamela Butchart show off their shortlisted book

Penguin or Owl?

So first there was snow – and then there were penguins. I’m not sure when penguins became synonymous with Christmas, but this year they certainly have – from the John Lewis advert to the Penguins of Madagascar, Penguins have arrived in London in time for Christmas.

owl or penguin
When I was little I had a small soft toy called Owly. It was loved and cherished (see its somewhat battered state now), but it was only recently that someone pointed out that maybe it’s a penguin. So I thought – that’s a great premise for a book – the penguin with the mistaken identity. In the meantime, here are some books that have already been written:

Penguin Polly DunbarPouting Boy
Penguin by Polly Dunbar
My overall abiding love for this book is one illustration that depicts a facial expression, in which a close member of my family is THE expert. Penguin tells the story of a boy called Ben who receives a penguin as a present, but the penguin will not communicate with him, no matter what Ben does. Finally Ben is eaten by a lion, the penguin saves him, and the penguin suddenly has a great deal to say. The book is packed with witty illustrations, a zany storyline and a winning outcome. An old favourite. Penguins are often used as a way to explore and develop friendships in picture books – I wonder if that’s because they are often depicted huddling together? Two perfect examples of penguin friends are Fluff and Billy Do Everything Together by Nicola Killen and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

Fluff and BillyLost and Found
Fluff and Billy tells the tale of when play between friends gets rough leading to hurt and falling out – before there is forgiveness and friendship again. It works well to read aloud to a small child because the book is littered with repetition. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers is fast becoming a children’s classic. The book tells the story of a boy who opens the door one day to see a penguin standing on his doorstep. He spends much of the book grappling with what to do with the penguin – until realising at the end that the penguin just wants a friend. Jeffers’ illustrations are beguilingly simple – less is more in fact. Jeffers said that the illustrations are deliberately simple so that children, wherever they are, can fill in the gaps with their own individual landscapes. Characters too – the penguin is a few simple lines – it almost seems as if the characters of the boy and the penguin are more expressive the less detail they have. Jeffers’ text also shines with a simple clarity – basic plotlines mixed with truisms and pathos:
“He ran down to the harbour and asked a big ship to take them to the South Pole. But his voice was much too small to be heard over the ship’s horn.”
So much expressed so simply – the vastness of the ship and the world as compared to a small boy asking for help.

Blown Away
The new addition to the ‘penguin’ canon of literature, and published in August of this year is Blown Away by Rob Biddulph. I implore you to find and read a copy. Rob Biddulph’s blue penguin may be more ‘Hampstead Heath’ inspired than normal Antarctic penguins, but, like Jeffers, his penguin is simply drawn – Biddulph too remarking that children can put their own emotions into the animals, so simple black dots for eyes work best. With rhyming text, Biddulph explores what happens when Blue the penguin gets blown away on his kite, picking up cargo along the way, and finally setting down onto a jungle island. But does he want to stay?
“’How nice,” says Blue,
A lovely spot,
Although it is
a bit too hot.”
The beauty of this book lies in the small details. Every page is lovingly created so that your eyes pick up the story and the animals’ emotions almost by osmosis – the rhyming text is lovely to read aloud, but the extra touches on the illustrations won me over. A charming Christmas present that’s not just for Christmas!

Dragon Loves Penguin
My last picture book is Dragon Loves Penguin by Debi Gliori, shortlisted for the 2015 Red House Children’s Book Awards. I coordinate the testing in my area for this award, so know very well how popular this book has proved with young children. It celebrates diversity, and is even relevant for those attempting to explain adoption to the very young – in essence it’s about mother’s love. When an egg is abandoned, a dragon without its own egg adopts it, but when it hatches it’s a penguin! Despite the differences, the mother dragon loves the penguin as her own, and the love makes the little penguin brave enough to see off her dragon peers who can’t accept her differences, and also to escape an erupting volcano. Yes, this little picture book is packed full of action – and has adorable illustrations – rarely has a penguin chick looked quite so cute.

The Penguin Who Wanted to Find Out
For slightly older readers, in the Jill Tomlinson series of animal books is The Penguin Who Wanted to Find Out. Beautifully told so that the reader learns about penguins at the same time as digesting the story. Jill Tomlinson’s strength is her ability to weave fiction and non-fiction seamlessly here, with some magical lines:
“The trouble was, not all adults were good at answering questions, or would try.”

The Emperors EggUsborne Beginners Penguin
For those children who want to find out even more, and for adults who can’t tell the difference between an owl and a penguin here are two great non-fiction titles for early learners.The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Jane Chapman, is part of the Nature Storybooks series – telling the story of the Emperor penguins. It’s an excellent starting point for a young child wishing to find out more information. It’s not patronising, but is written as if the child is having a conversation with the writer about penguins. Asking questions of the young reader, particularly ones that make them think, is a lovely way to write a non-fiction book. No wonder this won the TES Junior Information Book Award. The Usborne Beginners series has a book on penguins; I like this series for their gentle introduction to non-fiction. Helpfully containing a glossary and an index, and with short chunks of text throughout for easily digestible facts. It also covers many different types of penguins. Usborne have also had their facts checked by experts in the field, which sadly, is not true of all children’s non-fiction in the marketplace.