Guest blog: Margrete Lamond on The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear

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The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Heather Vallance is a quirky, bittersweet tale of friendship.  It stands out for its slightly darker tone and not necessarily happy ‘ending’ rather like one of Aesop’s fables – but perhaps give a more lifelike picture of how some friendships really can be.  In this story accompanied by stunning charcoal illustrations, Fox and Bear fall out, with Fox being a cunning trickster and Bear falling for his ploys – again and again. Bear realises he too can play the trickster and he sets about to teach Fox a lesson. Hare and Rooster join in with their opinions on Fox’s trickery giving Bear even more desire to get back at Fox.  But as you might imagine, Bear doesn’t feel quite so good afterwards and wonders if he made the right decision…..

Children are often far more intelligent and resilient than they’re given credit for and I can imagine many heartfelt and heated opinions if you read this aloud to your class. The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear takes off the rose-tinted glasses and shows how sometimes ‘friends’ can be mean, sometimes they can let us down and sometimes we can let our friends down. Perhaps the point about being friends is accepting friendship won’t always be perfect and that forgiveness is central to ensure its longevity.  Margrete Lamond

Today to share more insight into to the inspiration behind this story, I’m really pleased to welcome to the blog author Margrete Lamond, who I am sure will have you reaching for your copy to re read or ordering one from the bookshop immediately! Welcome to the blog Margrete!

“The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear is an aggregate of several Norwegian folk-tales. It is also a mash-up of scenarios, an introduction of unrelated characters and relationships, and a reinvention of the motivations of the main players Bear, Fox, Rooster and Hare. Each borrowed tale, and each character, has been twisted, moulded, pummelled and reshaped. Even so, the original sources remain clear.

I can’t resist retelling a folk tale. Retelling, for me, is the ultimate writerly indulgence. The bones of the story have been established and much of the brain-grinding groundwork has already been done. All I need do is sit down and play with language, sentences, patterns and rhythms and sounds, invest the story with an uneasy voice, suggest a disturbing undertow and – O ultimate joy – craft an ambiguous ending. Not to mention play around with the hopes, desires and motivations of the characters. All this, without once having to agonise over fundamental plotting. Tweaking, yes. Retelling, yes. Giving the original tales a thoroughgoing structural edit, yes. Starting with a blank page, no.

At this level of indulgence – where I sport in a sandbox full of toys I didn’t pay for – any folk tale is fun to retell, no matter how well-known, well worn, or even worn out it may be. I will happily find ways to retell Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Little Hare 2015), for example, so that the protagonists’ motivations are a little more twisted and the endings a little more dissonant than the originals were intended to be. But I am most happy when I play with tales that are less well-known. Lesser-known tales offer adventures into the complete unknown, into scenarios that often are decidedly peculiar, and acquaint us with erratic, eccentric and psychopathic characters whose behaviours require not a little agility of invention to render them narratively plausible, at least to the contemporary reader.

Most importantly of all, lesser-known traditional tales offer ranges and nuances of emotion rarely encountered in the accepted folk-tale canon. Self-delusion, psychosis, braggadocio, falsehood, vaulting ambition, errant foolishness, unassuageable guilt … such riches for those who care to dig them out! When Einstein declared that if we wanted more intelligent children we should read them more fairy tales, he must surely have been talking about this breadth and depth and richness of emotional experience that traditional tales offer.

It was in this vein of seeking emotional breadth that I sourced the stories for The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear. They are decidedly gritty, if not downright harsh and violent. The bad guys sometimes win, the good guys are sometimes bad, and the really bad guys are really bad in cruel, underhanded and unpunished ways. These elements remain in my retelling. They are perhaps even highlighted, as a result of being woven into a theme of psychological danger in friendship. I’ve deliberately drawn a dark, dark world, but also hope I have suggested the warmth of sun gleaming through the clouds. Bear’s deep and simple wisdom, Fox’s contrition and fundamental loyalty, the unspoken love that reverberates between them even in estrangement … each of these, and more, suggests that even in our own confusing world, forgiveness, love and loyalty offer ongoing understanding and hope.”

Margrete Lamond © 2018

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Margrete Lamond is a publisher of Little Hare Books in Australia, author of many modern re-tellings of traditional tales.  She is passionate believer in quality artwork in books for young readers.

Heather Vallance is a studio artist who has taught in remote communities in Australia and regional schools and galleries.

If you would like to find out more visit www.oldbarnbooks.com With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review and Liz Scott for organising this guest blog.

New reviews: Beautiful picture books to warm the heart..!

 

What could be better on a cold winter’s day than two beautiful picture books to warm the heart?  Old Barn Books publish some stunning titles and these two are no exception, both having been nominated for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal.  They would make lovely gifts for little ones and budding readers to enjoy.

 

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Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

This is a beautiful lyrical lullaby putting into a very few words just how important we can be to each other, especially during times of great need. A family – mother, baby, boy and dog – are escaping danger across the sea in a tiny boat, through wind and rain.

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During their journey they come across a stranded polar bear, who too needs help. Together they cross the ocean and eventually both the family and the polar bear find a place of safety.

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The stunning illustrations depict the many wondrous ways we can help each other – shelter, reassurance, food, light, acceptance, love.  The words are perfectly and lovingly placed to appear just at the right moment as your eyes travel over the pages. Pea Pod Lullaby is a wonderful example of how words and pictures can effortlessly communicate a truly heartfelt message – a message that can speak to any and every situation where we might find ourselves in need.

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Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner

A beautifully illustrated exhilarating tale, Storm Whale tells of three sisters who visit the beach one windy day and find a whale washed up on the shore.  Their family day at the seaside is transformed; they battle the wind and waves all day to save the whale seemingly to no avail. As night closes in, they have no choice but to return home.  In the morning they rush to the beach only to find no sign of the stranded whale….for with their help and the power of the storm, he has returned to the sea.

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The poetic narrative in Storm Whale reads like an ancient tale and captures the enormity of the task in front of the girls, from which they do not falter. Amazing scenic illustrations, each like a canvas in its own right, bring to life the wildness of the sea, the sound of the wind, the awe of waves and the bravery of the three sisters.

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There is something other worldly about the sea and the creatures who live in it and Storm Whale creates a wonderful connection between ‘our’ world and theirs.   It also depicts a sense of family and warmth between the sisters which I loved.  Despite the danger and the incredible force of nature, their bravery and determination wins through, showing how even though a problem may seem insurmountable it is possible to make a difference.

Both of these picture books would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf to be enjoyed by readers young and old!

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Find out more at: 

https://sarahbrennanblog.com/category/storm-whale/

http://www.janetanner.com.au/Home.html

https://glendamillard.com/

https://www.stephenmichaelking.com/books/

 

 

 

 

 

Bookchat: Alison Jay, author and illustrator

banner newThe wonder of books is that there is always something new to discover.  So when Old Barn Books who publish simply gorgeous titles, sent me two books by Alison Jay, I found a new favourite author and illustrator! How I’ve missed her all this time, I have no idea.  I absolutely love Alison’s artwork; her illustrations are beautiful as is her storytelling – whether through pictures, words or both.

In Bee & Me, the story of a little girls’ friendship with a bee is told through pictures. We go on a wonderful journey of discovery, not just of finding new friends but also of seeing the importance of bees to nature. The detail in the drawings is stunning and totally immersive, making you feel you too could fly on the back of a bee!  We learn how crucial these tiny creatures are to our world, and at the end of the story there’s a helpful guide on how we can ‘Bee Aware’.

Looking for Yesterday is quite simply one of the most beautiful picture books I have encountered and it pulls gently at your heart strings.  A little boy wants to get back to yesterday, for that was the best day ever. Touching on thoughts of time and space, the boy tries all sorts of things to get back to the past.  But his grandfather has other ideas and gently shows him how every day gives the opportunity for new adventures! For anyone who has ever been blessed enough to have an inspirational person in their lives, you will appreciate the nostalgia explored in this story; whilst memories are so important, it’s today that matters most!  I just loved it.

I am thrilled to introduce Alison to the blog for a Bookchat today.  Thank you so much for joining us Alison!

Congratulations on the publication of Looking for Yesterday – an absolutely beautiful story. I love the nostalgia of the story but also the message of making the most of today. Can you tell us the why you wrote it? The idea for Looking for Yesterday came to me after listening to a radio programme about the universe and stars. They also talked about wormholes and time travel. I really don’t understand quantum physics but the theory that it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time I think is fascinating to both adults and children.

You capture the relationship between Boy and his Grandad so well. Was this inspired by your own family? I never met either of my Grandads unfortunately,  but the Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is a bit like my Dad. He was an engineer and worked for an aeronautical company for a few years. He didn’t ride a classic motor bike but he was always busy making and mending things, including  old cars . The boy in the book is like my brother Mark as a child: he loved everything to do with space and the universe. He was given a telescope one Christmas  when he was about 8 years old and is still fascinated with the universe. He  read The Theory of Everything a few years ago and was even lucky enough to meet Professor Steven Hawking very briefly.

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Your illustrations have a beautiful timeless quality to them. How has your distinctive style developed over time and what has influenced you, if anything/one?My style has developed quite a lot since my college days. I used to work in a much simpler childlike way. I used to make strange 3D figures out of paper and glue. I would paint them then make background sets so they could be photographed. I also worked in pen and ink. When I left college I was told the work was not commercial enough to be published, so after working for a few years in animation studios I gradually developed a new style with paint and varnish and started to get commissions in the new style. I love all sorts of different artists from Breughel to Jean-Michel Basquiat and lots of others in between. I think probably,  like most illustrators and artists, I have developed my style from lots of different influences which sort of melt down and hopefully produce a style which is unique to the individual.

Speaking of time (!) if you could go back to ‘yesterday’ where would you go and why? I think if I could go back to any time in history it would just be to meet members of my family that are long gone. It would be interesting to meet them  but I would just pop back for a few hours. I think I wouldn’t want to stay. I am happy living today. It is more exciting not knowing what is going to happen which is what the book tries to say.

Bee & Me made me want to have a pet bee and plant a garden full of bee friendly flowers! It’s a gorgeous story – I love all the tiny detail in your illustrations. Do you find it easier to tell the story with or without words? Yes, much easier without words. I find writing very difficult. I think my wordless books are more like storyboards for films which probably comes from my days working in animation. In Bee andMe I had the chance to add all the  different peoples lives going on in the windows of the tower blocks. I put a writer, an artist, a cake-maker and lots more. It was really fun to make up little narratives and how things changed through the seasons.

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You have illustrated some wonderful stories. If you could choose to illustrate any story ever written (!), which would it be and why? I have always loved James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, so I would really like to illustrate that book. I have a mad love of painting absurdly large fruit and vegetables for some reason. I also like painting insects even though I am the first to scream if something crawls on me.

What do you most enjoy about telling stories through illustration? I think I love that you can communicate narratives, ideas and emotions with or without words. Visual art  is  very immediate but  with lots of detail it can take a bit longer to look and find other narratives within the pictures. I like the idea that the child or adult notices little things they missed at first. I think it make you want to keep looking through the book  again and again to find new  little stories .

Finally, if you could tell a budding illustrator/author just one thing to help them what would it be? I think my advice would be to find the subject matter and way of working you enjoy most. It will always show in the work and the enjoyment will keep you going for ever.

Thank you Alison for giving us an insight into your work and sharing your inspiration with us.

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For more information visit www.oldbarnbooks.com.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Bookchat: Adam Hargreaves

 

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I am so very excited to say that Adam Hargreaves is on the blog today! I think if someone had told me when I was young that one day I’d be talking to one of the creators of the Mr Men, I would never have believed them!

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Adam is the son of original Mr Men creator, Roger Hargreaves.  Not only has he continued the work of his father, Adam is also a painter, creating beautiful oil on canvas landscapes.  I was delighted to be invited to interview Adam following the publication of his first book from his very own series, Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet!  The adventures of Molly are bound to delight young and old alike. I read the story aloud with my five year old niece who laughed out loud and announced that Molly was exactly like her!

Molly is a wonderful character – full of life, mischief and mayhem – exactly what an inquisitive little girl should be.  Her first adventure centres on a trip to the zoo, where Molly becomes inspired to find a pet more perfect than her own little mouse, Polka.  The antics that follow as Molly tries to find her ‘perfect’ pet are very funny and utterly endearing.  Try as she might, none of the animals she ‘borrows’ from the zoo quite fit at home, from a hippo to a giraffe to an elephant.  Eventually she realises that maybe her pet mouse, Polka, is more perfect than anything else – much to the relief of her family (except maybe her brother…!).  Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet is exactly what a children’s story should be – funny, full of imagination, with a valuable lesson to be learned. And perfect for sharing!

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Welcome to the blog Adam and congratulations on the publication of Molly Mischief!  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it – as did my five year old niece who said ‘Molly reminds me of me!”. It’s a wonderful story and feels like an absolute classic. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing it? The inspiration for Molly comes from the wonderful ability that children have to imagine something and for that to also be real for them. I particularly remember this when my kids were young. My son Jacob would dress up as Batman and then we would have these surreal conversations about what Jacob was doing in another room in the house. I wanted to capture this power of imagination in a character. Molly can be or do anything she wishes.

This is your first children’s book outside of the Mr Men. Was creating Molly a very different experience from working on the Mr MenThe creation of the idea for Molly Mischief was obviously quite different, but writing and illustrating Mr Men books has given me a lot of experience which I have been able to apply to writing Molly. Over the years I have developed a sort of process that fits to anything I am trying to write.

Can you tell us about the creative process behind Molly? I hand draw everything and then scan the black line drawing into my computer where I colour the illustration as I like the flat finish I can achieve that way. I have a pretty good idea of the page layouts from the start, so don’t often need to make any major changes to composition later on. It took a while and a few variations to pin down exactly who I wanted Molly to be (and she went through various name changes before Molly Mischief, but now she is a Molly I can’t think of her in any other way), but once I had given her a mischievous nature then everything fell into place. Strangely, even for lots of different versions of drawing her, she has always had the same outfit.

When I was young, my sister and I would literally spend hours drawing the Mr Men; some drawings were more successful than others!  Molly Mischief is wonderfully drawn and I particularly love her mischievous expressions. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators and artists to help them develop their creative talent – particularly when it comes to storytelling? The more you draw the better you get, so keep practising and then, as you get better, the more fun it becomes. Drawing is all about observation, so it is important to look at things very hard when you are trying to draw them.

What adventures can we expect from Molly in the future? I am writing a second story about Molly which explores the advantages and pitfalls of being a superhero. And her superpowers, of course, involve a lot of chaos and mayhem for her family.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m looking forward to reading Molly’s next adventure (and so is my niece!)

Adam Hargreaves will be introducing Molly Mischief, including a live draw-along, at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. Sunday 1stOctober, 1.30pm.

For more information visit www.pavilionbooks.com.  With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

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Just in time for Spring: Tasso by Papas

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The spring read for today is a book first printed in 1966: Tasso by William Papas. Tasso is a heart-warming, timeless fable of tradition versus change and this stunning new edition will be published by Pikku on 9th April 2017. Papas received numerous nominations for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals throughout his career – including for his lifetime’s work. He was also a renowned political cartoonist as well as a children’s book illustrator.  His work is held in collections around the world, as well as at the V&A Museum in London.

Tasso by William Papas

The Trocadero café is the lively centre of a Greek fishing village, thanks to Tasso and his bouzouki. But one day the proprietor installs a juke box, and Tasso is no longer needed. At first everyone is happy with the uninterrupted music, but gradually the noise becomes unbearable and the Chief of Police must take control.  Will Tasso and his bouzouki be welcomed back to the café once more?

In this zesty and humorous depiction of Greek Island life, Papas’ timeless take continues to speak to us about the values of tradition, simplicity and shared experience.

Tasso and his sister Athena work in The Trocadero to help their father, a fisherman, support the family.  It is hard work but they enjoy it.  However Tasso sometimes get tired and has to rest, so the restaurant owner decides to solve the problem by getting a jukebox which will play all day and all night.  Tasso is no longer needed. But the change of music changes everything else too, and The Trocadero is not what it once was.  Athena, the villagers and even the Chief of Police are all affected and the proprietor must decide how he can restore The Trocadero, and indeed the village, to its usual happy self.

My first instinct when I read this book was that I love it – it’s totally unique and the story is timeless. I travelled to the Greek islands when I was younger and fell in love with them, so perhaps this helps! Tasso is full of character and what strikes you instantly is the vibrancy of the illustrations, immediately bringing to life the Greek village; you can virtually smell the sea air and hear the voices of the eye-catching villagers.  Each drawing is a piece of artwork in itself and it is no surprise the story leaps off the page.

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It’s a lovely tale and so indicative of the inevitable change that we all sometimes face; it might be 40 years old but its totally applicable to our lives today.  In this case, the modernisation of the cafe’s music has the opposite effect planned by the proprietor – instead of making people spend more time at the café, it eventually alienates them.

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Lovely Tasso and his sister Athena, who are from a hard-working Greek family, immediately feel the effects of this more than anyone else.  And not only this, it causes problems across the whole village – even affecting the donkeys and goats! Very soon the villagers all come to realise the beauty of traditional ways of life.  I’m sure this is something we can all relate to in today’s world of constant change and this story would make a great addition to any school library or classroom book corner.  I also love that it is Tasso, with his bouzouki and beautiful traditional music, that ultimately brings the village back to life again! Tasso shows that even good intentions can have unwanted side effects and that sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are best – something I wholeheartedly agree with!

Find out more at www.pikkupublishing.com.

With thanks to Catherine Ward and Pikku for sending me this book and background information.

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A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

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A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time…

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents. Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead. The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

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This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan. The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail. The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative. The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.

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The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness. The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.

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A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in. A must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Find out more about the author and illustrator at www.robryanstudio.com and on Twitter at@RobRyan_Art. A Sky Full of Kindness is published by Chronicle Books.

Review can also be found at Discover & Be.