New review: Early Learning at the British Museum with Nosy Crow

Two more gorgeous board books are now available in the collaborative series between The British Museum and Nosy Crow.  Each book is inspired by the vast British Museum collection and celebrates cultures from all over the world.  As museums across the world are celebrated on International Museum Day, these books are a great way to introduce history to young children and perhaps even follow-up with a visit to the museum itself!

First Words celebrates amazing objects and simple first words and is sure to encourage children to engage with early learning concepts.  Animals brings to life creatures of all shapes and sizes from all over the world, and will inspire curiosity in the natural world.

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I think what I love about this series is the combination of history, culture and early language concepts brought together in a lovely format. There are so many fascinating objects to look at and its a great way to explore other cultures even with really young children.

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As with previous books in the series, there is a useful index along with QR codes that link to more information about each object.  For children who perhaps don’t have access to the museum this is a great way of bringing history to their homes.

Read my reviews of the previous books here.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.britishmuseum.org

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.

 

 

The Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist 2018

It was a huge excitement to be among those attending the ceremony at Foyles Bookshop last night for the announcement of the Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist.

The Klaus Flugge Prize honours publisher Klaus Flugge, a remarkable influence in picture books, and founder of Andersen Press. The Prize awards a published picture book by a debut illustrator with past winners including Nicholas John Frith and Francesca Sanna.

The award is run by some of the most prominent figures in children’s books including Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor of The Guardian, children’s director of the Hay Festival and Anne Marley MBE co-director of Authors Aloud UK. From an impressive longlist of fifteen picture books by debut illustrators, a panel of judges comprising Children’s Laureate and acclaimed illustrator Lauren Child; Francesca Sanna, 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize winner; leading art director Goldy Broad; and Charlotte Colwill, head of children’s books at Foyles, selected a shortlist of five.  Judging by the amazing books on the longlist it must have been a tough decision!

The evening began with a conversation between Julia Eccleshare and Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, who spoke about how she creates her brilliant books, her path to publication and generally inspired the audience about the art of illustration! “Illustration is like poetry….it’s an art form in it’s own right” she said.  It was really quite wonderful and every time I hear someone who creates children’s stories speak like this, I immediately want to put them in front of a crowd of children so they can inspire the next generation of story makers!  After the chat, Lauren went on to announce the shortlist spending a few moments to share why each book had been chosen and what had stood out for the judging panel:

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The Night Box, Ashling Lindsay (Egmont)
Written by Louise Greig, editor Melissa Fairley, art editor Tiffany Leeson. Ashling Lindsay is an illustrator with huge potential. This is very accomplished technically, beautifully evocative and the judges were struck by the skilful composition.

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My Name is Not Refugee, Kate Milner, (Barrington Stoke) Editor Emma Hargrave, art editor Julie-Ann Murray.  Mood and emotion are beautifully portrayed; Milner chooses to use a limited palette but avoids making it too dark; she draws really well and the book’s construction always leaves space for the reader.

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Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, Markus Motum, (Walker Studio) Editor Denise Johnstone-Burt, art editor Louise Jackson.  Motum is definitely an illustrator to watch. Though this is an information book, you feel there is a story being told, with pace and animation. His work reminded the judges of iconic Czech illustrator M Sasek.

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The Real Boat, Victoria Semykina, (Templar)
Written by Marina Aromshtam, editors Katie Howarth & Lisa Edwards, art editor Genevieve Webster and Maya Schleifer.  There are absolutely beautiful illustrations within the book, some of them exquisitely good, and the judges are excited to see what Semyinka will do next. They particularly admire the skilful change of scale that occurs throughout the little boat’s journey.

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Big Box, Little Box, Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) Editor Emma Blackburn. Colour and detail in Underwood’s book are both very pleasing indeed; graphically it is a stand-out picture book with superb use of colour and composition. There’s a slight sense of Lynley Dodd in the way the layout carries you through the story.

Chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare said: “Our expert judges were presented with a very varied set of picture books and have selected a shortlist that feels exciting and full of potential. Each artist, in their different way, successfully guides readers into and through the stories they are telling via their illustration. We were delighted once again to announce the list live at a special event; picture book illustration, as championed by Klaus Flugge throughout his career, deserves proper recognition as an important and vital art form.”

The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.  For more information about the award visit https://www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk/shortlist-2018/.

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New review: Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey

On International Nurses Day, it’s the perfect time to share this beautiful picture book.  Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey is the fourth and final picture book in their WW1 picture book series for children, published in the year of the Armistice Centenary marking the end of fighting. The book was published on International Women’s Day (8th March 2018) paying tribute to the contribution of women to the war effort.  

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Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey

Ever since she was small, Lily wanted to be a nurse.  Her dream becomes real when she takes the brave decision to follow her childhood friends to the battlefield of Western France. Will she ever see them again?

The story begins with young Lily being born and spending her days growing up with her friends Ben and Ray, enjoying the countryside and playing games in the brook.  Beautiful illustrations portray the sunshine and happiness; who could imagine the dark clouds of war looming?  But when war does arrive, Lily has to say goodbye to her friends as they go off to fight and she is soon compelled to join the war effort herself as a nurse.

Told in a lyrical rhyming narrative, we quickly see the stark realities of the battlefields and how brave Lily must be to help the wounded soldiers. Working in a field hospital, the conditions are dire with bombed out buildings all around. And then suddenly Lily realises her dear friend Ben is one of the wounded, and keeps a bedside vigil until he is better.  Nursing him back to health, the war finally ends and Ray, Ben and Lily are reunited at home.  The final scene thankfully tells of a very happy ending, radiantly depicted through Martin Impey’s illustrations.

Peace Lily is a lovely picture book sensitively telling the story of a young girl, her friends and their bravery in the face of war.  Muted pastel illustrations with hints of colour throughout perfectly capture the heart of the narrative.  This would be a wonderful story to read aloud, gently introducing young children aged 4 and above to the ideas around conflict.  Written in rhyme as a tribute to the war poets, Peace Lily and indeed the other titles in the series, are an important and moving commemoration and will help ensure younger generations never forget the sacrifices made by so many.  The story also recognises the huge contribution by women in wartime, nursing those fighting for our freedom.

“Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, it requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work.”

Florence Nightingale 1820-1910

Find out more at www.strausshouseproductions.com

With thanks to Strauss House Productions for sending me this book to review.

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Blog Tour: You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar illustrated by Poonam Mistry

I’m delighted to be hosting this stop on the blog tour for You’re Safe with Me, a stunning picture book which celebrates the wonder of nature. I think we can all remember being frightened of thunder storms when we were little and this story captures that feeling and how a little bit of comfort and wisdom can allay our fears.  The beautiful, intricate illustrations will mesmerise young readers and the poetic narrative will calm their minds, making this a perfect bedtime story.

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You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry

When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can’t sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them. “You’re safe with me.”

 

You’re Safe with Me is written by Chitra Soundar, an Indian-born British writer and storyteller who is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India. She has published over 30 well-loved picture books in India and the UK.  The story is stunningly interpreted with artwork by Poonam Mistry who is a UK-based illustrator of Indian heritage. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art.

Today, author Chitra Soundar will be sharing her insights and inspiration for You’re Safe with Me.  Welcome to the blog! The story is a wonderful celebration of nature and nurture.  Can you tell us the inspiration and influences behind it? This story was inspired by my training as a storyteller. I wanted to tell a story about thunderstorms – that’s both real and poetic. I wanted to evoke the beauty of nature and at the same put little children at ease about thunderstorms. Secondly I wanted to have an elephant in the story – I love watching elephants. Their gentle nature, their family relationships and how they look after their young makes them ideal storytellers too. These two things came together to bring this story to life.

The narrative text and artwork come together seamlessly; how did you work with the illustrator to make this happen? You might not be aware but writers and illustrators are not always introduced to each other while they’re working. This is because a picture book text is re-imagined by an illustrator. Poonam read the story and came up with the illustrations with some guidance from the publisher. She then incorporated my text into the pictures as if they were moulded together. So hats off to Poonam Mistry for this!

‘You’re safe with me’ makes a wonderful bedtime story. What were your favourite bedtime stories when you were young? I’m not sure we were read to during bedtime. Growing up in India, bedtime was random and late. We also lived in a tiny apartment with our grandparents, aunt and uncle. So I slept on the living room floor on a straw mat, next to my grandmother and listened to the radio. Sometimes she’d tell us stories after the lights were switched off and they were mostly stories from the epics or trickster folktales.

The story has the feel of a folktale; what do you think children can learn from folktales? Folktales carry universal truths. As a child I was heavily influenced by folktales – from ghost stories to trickster tales, most stories that were told were passed down orally. As an oral storyteller, I find that some stories have travelled the world and are available in many different cultures in different forms and shapes. Children learn about truth and justice, what’s right and wrong and more importantly life lessons from folktales. Whether they are Aesop fables or Anansi stories or Native American tales, Mulla stories or Panchatantra stories from India, folktales give us a funny view of the world and puts a lesson in it for those who can find it.

Of all the many books you’ve written which are you most proud of and why? That perhaps is the hardest question to ask any writer! Every book has achieved a milestone in my life as a writer and storyteller. I’m proud of You’re Safe With Me because it was an original story that came from my experience as a storyteller and I believed in the story. It waited over two years for a publisher to find it. But it has been worth the wait. And more importantly my two nephews have an advance copy and want to read it over and over again. And that to me, is my proudest moment of all.

Thank you Chitra for your inspiring words and we wish you every success with You’re Safe With Me!

Find out more www.lantanapublishing.com, www.chitrasoundar.comwww.poonam-mistry.com

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!

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BLOG TOUR! The Wardrobe Monster by Bryony Thomson.

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I’m so pleased to be participating in the blog tour today for The Wardrobe Monster, especially as it’s my current Book of the Month!

The Wardrobe Monster is a delightful story written and illustrated by Bryony Thomson, published by Old Barn Books.  The tale features a young girl Dora and her three toy friends who’ve been unable to sleep at night due to the strange and scary sound coming from the wardrobe.  No matter how much they try to ignore it they simply can’t and eventually Dora plucks up the courage, with the help of her friends, to find out just exactly who or what is making all the noise….

I absolutely loved this story. It’s childlike appeal creates a gentle narrative accompanied by beautifully drawn, unique illustrations. With utterly endearing characters, the enduring theme of being scared of the dark and imagining monsters in the wardrobe is one we can all relate too. The reassurance as we discover that what’s in the wardrobe isn’t scary at all is palpable and little ones will be delighted with the gorgeous green and pink Wardrobe Monster who topples out!  The best stories are ones we can identify with and I’m sure many will be pleased to know they are not alone in their night time fears and feel much relieved to see things are never as scary as we imagine. The Wardrobe Monster is a warm-hearted story, great to read aloud and sure to become a firm bedtime favourite.

I’m delighted to host a guest post today for the blog tour by Bryony, sharing more about the inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster.  Bryony studied fine art and completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Her work has already achieved critical acclaim in the form of a High Commended award in the MacMillan Prize and being shortlisted for the Bridgeman Studio Award.  Definitely one to watch!

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“The basic idea for The Wardrobe Monster was floating around in my head for a long time before I managed to get it down on paper – I think perhaps it needed to stew like a good cup of tea! Most of my stories are based on my own life or things I have seen, overheard or experienced and so it takes a little while to figure out how to turn them into a more universal story that can hopefully be enjoyed by everyone.

The inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster came quite directly from my own experiences. I went away to boarding school when I was eight years old which was a little scary and daunting. The school was in a very old stately home in Norfolk and we slept in these huge Georgian dormitories which had enormous looming wardrobes and somewhat temperamental plumbing. The result was that once you were tucked up in bed and the lights went out there were a lot of dark shadows lurking in the corners and strange clanking and banging noises throughout the night. I can remember lying there under the duvet much like Dora with my rather overactive imagination running wild, picturing all the different, unpleasant and scary things that could be making these noises!WM Spd1.jpg

I remember feeling silly for being frightened and so through the story of The Wardrobe Monster I wanted to show that it is OK to be scared – everyone is at one point or another, even those who put on a good facade. But also that if you can summon up the courage to be brave you will often discover that the thing you were afraid of isn’t nearly as bad as you thought. I’m not sure this is a lesson I’ve learnt yet, but it’s something I remind myself of fairly frequently! Ultimately in The Wardrobe Monster I was aiming to create the kind of story that would have made my eight year old self feel better.

Just as the story was inspired by my experiences, the characters are also based on real people. For me this is a really helpful approach as it means that I already know how they will react to certain situations and the kind of mannerisms they will use. Bear is very much my Mum, always taking the rational approach and trying to calm everyone down; Penguin is a bit like my Dad, especially in his sense of foreboding and slight tendency to melodrama, and Lion is definitely my husband getting a little bit over-excited and keen to dive in head first. The only character not based on anyone is Wardrobe Monster himself but I think this is because his character was always ‘other’, he was the scary unknown and so couldn’t be based on anything I was familiar with. In the end though it turns out he’s just a big cuddly monster who’s no less scared than anyone else!”

Thank you Bryony for sharing this insight with us – it’s great to hear where your ideas came from and how this story is rooted in your desire to reassure young readers and encourage them to be brave!

With thanks to Old Barn Books and Liz Scott for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and sending me a copy of The Wardrobe Monster to review.

Find out more at www.bryonythomson.com and www.oldbarnbooks.com

Check out the next stop on the blog tour at https://jillrbennett.wordpress.com

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Blog Tour: Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for fantastic picture book Nimesh the Adventurer, a debut for author Ranjit Singh who is a British children’s book author of East Indian heritage. Nimesh the Adventurer is a wonderful story about a little boy with a BIG imagination. Featuring striking illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, the story begins when the school day has finished and it’s time for Nimesh to walk home from school.  But this is no ordinary walk home – for there are dragons and sharks and all manner of adventures to be had by little Nimesh, bringing the world around him to life in the most fantastical way!  It’s a wonderful celebration of the places our imagination can take us, and how magical the world can be through a child’s eyes.nimesh 1

It’s with great pleasure I am talking to Mehrdokht Amini today, an Iranian-born illustrator who has won the Children’s Africana Best Book Award and been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal. Her illustrations bring Nimesh and his adventures virtually leaping off the page!

Welcome to the blog! And congratulations on the publication of Nimesh the Adventurer. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to illustrate this story. Many thanks for having me here! I spent the best moments of my childhood in a small garden in a small city surrounded by glorious mountains in a far away land. I used to imagine that behind the mountains there was a magical land where fairies and jinns lived. Years passed by and I never set foot in the magical land behind the mountains. I grew up and learned that adults have more serious matters to deal with. That is, until the day I decided to become a children’s book illustrator. Once again I found myself in the parallel world of dreams and magic and now I had an excuse to be there. So I guess the reason I became a book illustrator is the sheer enjoyment I get from living in the world of fantasy. I still like to think that maybe somewhere in the darkest place in the world a dragon is fast asleep in a cave or maybe fairies are flapping their wings around my head right now.

As for how I came to illustrate Nimesh the Adventurer, this is my second collaboration with Lantana. I had worked on another book with them, which is called Chicken in The Kitchen in 2013, which won Best Book at the Children’s Africana Book Awards and was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. So when Alice Curry the founder of Lantana contacted me to do this book for them, I was overjoyed by the possibility of working with them again.

The illustrations are striking; a mix of media, wonderful colour and pattern. Can you tell us about the methods you used? Thank you! For this book I tried to explore new techniques and adopt my style to match the playful mood of the story. It was really exciting because for years I had worked solely with digital software and this project allowed me to discover new ways of expressing myself through hand painting and collage. I have to thank Lantana for letting me explore the boundaries that I hadn’t crossed before.

As for my method, let me explain it through one of the pictures of the book. After brooding over the overall composition in my mind for some time, I started with some quick sketching with a UNI PIN pen just to make sure the composition worked for the spread. This is usually the most important part of the work for me because it is the foundation of the work and the basic ideas and overall composition is hardly changed in the next stages.

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Then I started to work on each element of the picture separately and scanned the whole thing into digital files. image2.jpgSometimes I shoot some photos or use my own photo archive for some details. Looking at some related pictures and doing an intense research also helps me to come up with ideas. For this spread I looked at lots of images from the Indian and Persian miniatures.

 

After taking all the materials into Photoshop I assembled them and finalised the sketch and then sent it to my editor for approval. image5.jpgAfter approval I started all over again going through each element on separate layers in Photoshop.image6.jpgIn a detailed picture like this one sometimes I have to work on twenty to thirty layers, which is a complex process. But I also have to add here that after the approval of the sketch the rest of the process is really fun to do. image7.jpg

What an incredible process. Thank you for your sharing this with us! Nimesh the Adventurer is Ranjit Singh’s debut picture book. It must have been exciting to work on this with him and also quite a responsibility.  Do you have a particular process when you are illustrating another author’s work? I don’t have a particular process but I prefer not to meet the author before the sketching stage because I worry about being influenced by the way the writer imagines the story. Once a picture is formed in my mind, whether it is coming from the writer/editor or my own, it is difficult for me to shake it off so I would rather feel free to imagine the story as I like in this stage. Occasionally I have worked with authors who have tried to control the visual aspects of the work and I have found it a bit difficult. In the case of Nimesh I really felt at ease with Ranjit and although we discussed some imagery through the editors we trusted in each other’s ability from the start.

Do you have a favourite scene in the story? Mine is the princess scene. I had a vivid picture in my mind for this spread from the beginning and the fact that its orientation is different from the rest of the images makes it more interesting for me.

I love your dedication at the beginning to all the “little ones with big imaginations”! How important is it to celebrate and encourage this in children? I think that childhood is a stage for imagination to flourish because children still don’t know about the laws of nature and fantasising about their surroundings often satisfies their curiosity. In a child’s mind it is easy to make a ladder and go to the moon, get into a serious discussion with a toy, and wait for the arrival of Santa. Sadly we lose this ability gradually when we start to learn about the facts of life and the law of causality.  In my view this period of imagination and fantasy is vital for a child’s mental development because the richer and more colourful it is the more creative the child becomes later in life. Books play a pivotal role in enriching this period of life for children.

I couldn’t agree more and I wish you every success with Nimesh the Adventurer! Thank you for sharing your inspiration and insight with us today.

Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com. With thanks to Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  Hear more about this wonderful story on the rest of the blog tour:

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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.