Archive for the ‘Books at Bedtime’ Category

Books at Bedtime: two watery Australian titles illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft – plus an extra!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

For me, it was a case of love at first sight, the first time I came across Bronwyn Bancroft‘s artwork. So in this Books at Bedtime post I’m going to highlight three titles all by different authors but illustrated by Bronwyn. The first two fit neatly into our current Water in Multicultural Children’s Books theme; and the third provides an accent to it with its Alice Springs desert setting – no, not a lot of water there…

First up is Big Rain Coming, written by Katrina Germein (Clarion Books, 1999). The text is snappy and there’s plenty of expansive detail in the illustrations to pore over with a child. Everyone, but everyone is waiting for the rain to come, from Old Stephen, to the kids; from the dogs to the frogs. The clouds gather, and still they wait, right through each day of the week, until finally, on Saturday, it rains. It won’t be long till the child you share this book with knows the words by heart and is jubilantly shouting out the last couple of pages before you get a look in! My favorite illustration: the children swimming in the blue/green billabong, surrounded by tall pink flowers – gorgeous!

Next is Malu Kangaroo: How the First Children Learnt to Surf written by Judith Morecroft (Little Hare, 2007), which again is a finely tuned synthesis of word and image. Malu the Kangaroo boldly tells the people, “I will show you how to play with the ocean.” And then he shapes and polishes a piece of wood into a surf-board. As he tells them how it will feel to surf, Bronwyn’s illustrations underscore the joyous lyricism of Malu Kangaroo’s words, with birds soaring and dipping into the surf, fish flying, and dolphins leaping. The patterns and swirls that have their roots in aboriginal art, coupled with Bronwyn’s characteristic bright pallette are simply (yes I am going to use that words agian!) gorgeous. My favorite illustration: the birds that ‘sweep and fly’, breaking up the horizontal bands of sand, surf and sky.

And lastly, Ready to Dream written by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2009). Young artist Ally’s Mamma is taking her to Australia for the first time. At Alice Springs, Ally meets Pauline, an artist who, with just a few gentle words each time, teaches Ally to get closer in her art to the animals and nature she sees and experiences on her excursions. In their last meeting they draw together in the sandy earth, and Ally’s reaction shows that, in Pauline’s culminating words, she is “ready to dream”. There is much for young people to ponder in this gentle story that will appeal especially to budding artists – and there’s no doubt that they could be trying their hand at something in Bronwyn’s style as a result. My favourite illustration: Ally throwing high the stone on which she has painted a kangaroo, so that it can hop free.

Books at Bedtime: David’s Trip to Paraguay

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

David’s Trip to Paraguay: The Land of Amazing Colours by Miriam Rudolph (CMU Press, 2011) is a recently published children’s book that tells the story of young David who recounts a long and arduous journey from a small southern Manitoba farm to the Chaco region of Paraguay in 1927.   A bilingual book — text is in German and in English —  the book is also colorfully illustrated with Rudolph’s vibrant images, cleverly ‘stitched’ as it were, by all the various modes of transport David takes to get to his final destination.  My daughter enjoyed connecting each illustrated page to the previous one by finding the travel image — whether railroad, or boat — unique to both.  In the front of the book, the entire set of travel images are united in a long band showing the journey.

How did David come to take this trip?  In 1927, a group of Mennonites in southern Manitoba, disheartened by the province’s ruling against the presence of German schools in certain immigrant communities like theirs, left Canada for the remote Chaco area in Paraguay.  David’s parents were of these Mennonites.  This long trip left a deep impression on a young boy, and later David would recount his memories of this trip to his grandchildren, one of them, being the author and illustrator of this book, Miriam Rudolph.

My daughter and I enjoyed reading this colorful book together, and maybe, some day she can read it with her Oma in German!

Books at Bedtime: Three Monks, No Water

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Author Ting-Xing Ye’s mother used to say, “It’s typical! Three Monks, no water!”  whenever she or her brothers and sisters tried to get out of doing something.  Three Monks, No Water (Annick Press, 1997) is the story behind that enigmatic expression – and since reading it, I can see it becoming a useful phrase in our home!

A young Buddhist monk lived alone at the top of a mountain.  Every day he had to fetch water from the foot of the mountain, using a yoke and two buckets.  That provided him with enough water for his personal needs and to water his small vegetable garden.  One day, he was joined by an older monk.  Their attempts to bring water up the mountain together, stringing a single bucket on a pole carried between them, were not very successful; and each felt it was the other’s task to fetch more water, so neither went.  The vegetables in the garden began to die.  Then a third monk arrived, and the situation worsened.  As each monk refused to give way, or compromise his stance in any way, the outlook became bleaker, and certainly none of them was composed enough to meditate or pray.  Then one day, disaster struck… Would they be able to let go of their antagonism and work together to put things right?

Three Monks, No Water is just the kind of fable that will appeal to young children with a strong sense of right and wrong.  The narrative certainly makes no excuses for the monks’ unreasonable behaviour, but leaves plenty of scope for young listeners to react.  Illustrator Harvey Chan’s background of acrylic on gessoed board gives the illustrations an interesting texture for the colored pencil drawings in soft, muted colors; and I love the monks’ facial expressions.  And on every page, like a heavy watermark, a line of calligraphy conveys the expression of the title.  Plus there’s a specially designed seal inside the front and back cover, with a short explanatory note, and together these add a nice extra touch.

This is a great story for conveying the importance of dialogue and reciprocity, giving as well as expecting and taking – and it can be applied to a directly parallel scenario of three individuals, or on a global level, or anywhere in between…

Books at Bedtime: The Mouse and His Child

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Late 2011 marked the passing of writer, Russell Hoban.  I was familiar with Hoban’s childrens’ books, mostly the Frances ones, but when I read his obituary I discovered he’d written a novel for children called The Mouse and His Child (text, 1967, illustrations by David Small, 2001, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.)  Curious about this book, I went to the library and got it out.  The novel is about a wind-up mouse and his child bought from a shop, enjoyed for a few Christmas’ and then abandoned.  It is at the point of the toys’ abandonment that the story really begins — the toys’ must fend for themselves in a rather cruel and forbidding environment outdoors.

The Mouse and His Child  (previously reviewed by Marjorie a few years ago) is one of those novels that operates on several levels at once.  For my daughter, listening to the story as I read it aloud on our long drive westwards for our Christmas holidays, the story was essentially about a toy mouse and his child, trying to reunite with the original ‘family’ of their toy shop days and evading the devious trickery of one particularly villainous rat.  This basic plot kept my daughter engaged in listening even as other tempting devices like the IPad and the portable DVD player vied for her attention.  For my husband and I, the story was so much more.   Irresistibly existential in its peregrinations, unpredictable in its outcome, brilliant in its characterization, The Mouse and His Child was a deeply satisfying read-aloud for us.  It’s one of those books ostensibly for children, but also very much for adults.  It’s a book well worth re-reading perhaps at different stages in a child’s life.  I’d certainly be willing to revisit its pages again.   The book was made into a movie in 1977 but I’d try the novel first before going to its film version.  The Mouse and His Child is a true children’s literature classic and I highly recommend it.


Books at Bedtime: Winnie the Bear

Monday, December 12th, 2011

This past week, our bedtime read has been of a local author, M. A. Appleby‘s recently published book, Winnie the Bear (Dominion Street Publishing, 2011).  Many of you are probably  familiar with the Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne, but did you know that the original inspiration behind Milne’s creation was an actual bear called Winnie who lived in the London Zoo?  Winnie, moreover, was named after the city of Winnipeg, home of the Canadian veterinary officer Harry Colebourn, who bought the bear cub from a trapper at a train station in White River, Ontario in 1914.

In Winnie the Bear, Appleby recounts the story of Colebourn’s encounter with the bear and how he came to bring this cub over to England at the advent of the first world war.  Eventually, Winnie was donated to the London Zoo where she became the inspiration for A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard’s Winnie the Pooh stories.  Meticulously researched and illustrated with vintage style drawings by P.R. Hayes, Winnie the Bear is a wonderful book.  Appleby has worked on this book for over six years but the germ of the story goes back even further in Appleby’s own life; her father was a good friend of Harry Colebourn’s son, Fred.   My daughter and I are enjoying this book very much and we hope this wonderfully local story (for us!) might find readers all over the world as Milne’s books certainly have.

Books at Bedtime: The Phantom Tollbooth

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Right now for our bedtime reading, my daughter and I are revisiting an old classic — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer), Yearling Books, 1961.   I encountered this novel when I was in grade five;  it was recommended to me by a friend.  I remembered reading it and loving it.  It’s a witty and clever book by halves, and I don’t think I ‘got’ everything in it at the time I read it, but following the adventures of this idle and bored schoolboy protagonist Milo “who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always”  was compelling.   In reading it now with my daughter, I am enjoying the story again with so much more gusto — this time getting, of course, all the many puns and double entendres throughout the book.  My daughter is less enthusiastic.  As she puts it herself, “I like listening to it because it puts me to sleep.”   (Mind you, this fact alone makes it a worthy bedtime read for the parent!)  But while she dozes off, I often continue reading aloud for the sheer pleasure of the story — a pleasure which speaks to the book’s attractive charm and longevity.

The Phantom Tollbooth celebrated the 50th anniversary of its publication this year.   There’s a Youtube video I watched recently of Norton Juster and Jules Pfeiffer talking about the genesis of the book.   A commemorative annotated edition of the book is now available, and a  documentary film, The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50, is currently being produced, set for release in 2012.   I didn’t discover all this information, until after I’d selected this book for our bedtime reading ritual, so I was quite surprised by the serendipity of my choice and hope that my daughter might remember this book fondly herself when she begins reading to her children in the future.  (If she doesn’t, Grandma certainly will!)

Books at Bedtime: The Ogre of Oglefort

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Since we are just around the corner from Halloween on the calendar, I’ve chosen a monster-related title from Eva Ibbotson for my Books at Bedtime post this week.  My daughter and I have been reading the Ogre of Oglefort by the late Eva Ibbotson (MacMillan, 2010.)  Perennial fans of Ibbotson, we were quite happy to have stumbled on this book in Japan at a bookstore in Osaka when we were there this spring.  And only now have we been working our way through this funny and rather unpredictable book.  The joy of reading Ibbotson is in how she turns all your stereotypical expectations of ogres and princesses on their ear similar to how the Shrek series of movies has parodied the fairytale.

In The Ogre of Oglefort, a motley crew of supernatural creatures – a hag whose familiar has refused her, a troll who works as a hospital porter, and a Mama’s boy wizard along with a young human boy, Ivo  – set out on a task appointed to them by the Norns.  The Norns are three wizened old women that are like the Fates who reside in a gigantic bed from which they issue the yearly task to the annual Summer Meeting of Unusual Creatures.  This year’s task is to slay the terrible Ogre of Oglefort and free the imprisoned princess.  Can this unseemly and bumbling crew manage?  Will they succeed?  But on the other hand, what does it matter?  Is the Ogre really that bad?  And what if the princess doesn’t really need rescuing so much as an understanding ear as to why she’d rather live with an Ogre than her parents?  Ibbotson comes up with some rather surprising turns in this story that will keep you reading (as well as having a good laugh now and then!)   The cover of my copy of The Ogre of Oglefort notes that the book was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Roald Dahl Funny prize; such shortlisting is well warranted.  Although my daughter claims Ibbotson’s earlier title Which Witch as her favorite, I do think this title is just as witty and charming (in the antithetical sense) as her earlier comic novels for children – all very good reading, whether for Halloween or any time.

Books at Bedtime: Chee-Lin by James Rumford

Monday, October 10th, 2011

A chee-lin is a Chinese mythological creature, “a horned beast with the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, and the hooves of a horse”. When a giraffe was brought to China from Africa in the 15th century it was considered to be a chee-lin, bringing good fortune. We learn this at the beginning of James Rumford’s beautiful picture-book Chee Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey, alongside a beautiful ink drawing by Shen Du (1357-1434) showing a contemporary portrayal of the chee-lin/giraffe. What follows is Rumford’s interpretation of Tweega the giraffe’s story, from his birth in East Africa, through his incredible journey to China and his long life in the imperial palace gardens, including the visiting artist painting his portrait, to his mysterious disappearance on a summer’s day.

You can read more about the book in Charlotte’s review for PaperTigers- I totally concur with her concluding words: “Chee-lin is superb.”  The book is visually stunning, with bordered paintings in casein on the right hand page and text on the left, set against a rich array of backgrounds reproducing “African baskets and cloth, Persian tiles and India rugs, Chinese brocades, porcelain, and cloisonné.”  At the end, there is a fabulous map showing Tweega’s journey, and an Author’s Note giving more information about Shen Du’s painting and poem, including Rumford’s own calligraphy and translation.

Chee-Lin is also one of those precious picture books written for older children.  It would make a perfect bedtime book for sharing, where children and grown-ups are taking it in turns to read; or if you’re looking for a longer readaloud to last a few days but don’t want to forgo quality illustrations: each double-page is like a chapter with its own heading and separate episode in the story. It’s also just the kind of book that children will then pick up to read again on their own.  That’s what’s just happened in our home!

Another of Rumford’s books, Rain School has recently been selected as one of our 2011 Spirit of PaperTigers book set.  Do also read our wonderful interview, in which you can find out more about Chee-Lin, and find some of the illustrations in our Gallery.

Books at Bedtime: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

My Books at Bedtime read this week probably needs little to no introduction.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2007) has won the Caldecott Medal and has received wide acclaim for its ground-breaking style of presentation of text mixed with graphic novel style illustration.   I’d been lent the book sometime ago by a teacher friend, and it was only recently that my daughter and I embarked on a reading of it.  The book completely charmed her.  A recalcitrant reader at the best of times, she enjoyed the fact that some of the narrative was entirely pictures, but on the other hand, the story in print was so engaging, she would read aloud the pages with text without her usual grumbling.  (We take turns reading aloud the pages — I read one page, she reads another.)  In fact, I think she crossed a major threshold in her reading ability with this book insofar as she was now actually comprehending what she was reading textually rather than reading aloud to get  the right pronunciation of the words (only!) without fundamentally understanding the content of what she had read.   No doubt having the narrative driven by the cinematic series and sequences of drawings between textual portions helped this process along.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret for those unfamiliar with the book is about an orphaned boy, Hugo, who lives in Paris of the 1930’s in a train station where he fixes the station’s clocks.   Hugo is fascinated by all things mechanical and in particular, is in possession of a notebook containing a curious drawing of an automaton.  One day while attempting to steal a mechanical mouse at the train station toy shop, he is caught by the old man proprietor who makes Hugo surrender his precious notebook to him.  However, the proprietor’s god-daughter Isabelle saves the notebook in exchange for finding out a little more about the mysterious boy hiding and living in the train station.  Thus begins an awkward friendship and relationship between these three characters who have more in common than they know.   The story, as I noted before, is told in a combination of words and pictures, and really is a paean to the days of early cinema.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful, cross-genre book and I do recommend it highly as an innovative bedtime read for your middle-years child.


Books at Bedtime: Shakespeare’s Storybook

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

I’ve written a few posts about Shakespeare for PaperTigers and have been much enlightened on how the Bard’s work can be transmitted to children.  I was therefore quite happy to be presented with a copy of Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard by Patrick Ryan and James Mayhew (Barefoot Books, 2001) by my local university’s (University of Manitoba) Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture.  Patrick Ryan, co-author of this book, is this year’s Storyteller-in-Residence at the Centre.

Shakespeare’s Storybook tells the tales that were likely the precursors to the stories of his plays.  As is commonly known, Shakespeare did not ‘invent’ the stories of his plays — they often came from various sources which Shakespeare then ‘played’ with in order to create his own version of the story suitable for the stage.

I launched into a reading of Shakespeare’s Storybook as soon as I got it, and played the CD of the first story “The Devil’s Bet”  to my daughter.  She was immediately hooked.  And why shouldn’t she be?  The first story — the precursor to The Taming of the Shrew — was about a nasty girl named Nora who through an encounter with a gentle but spirited husband and through her own wits, manages to reform herself and rid her household of the Nicky Nicky Nye, a pestilent water devil.   Although my daughter condemned Nora’s nastiness, she did perceive rather sagely that the husband, Jamie, was effectively ‘training’ Nora to be a better woman.  Nothing like a wayward character to get a child interested in a story, that’s for sure!

Equally compelling were some of the other stories like “Ashboy” (Hamlet) and “The Hill of Roses” (Romeo and Juliet.)   My daughter, whose first Shakespeare play was Twelfth Night, was a little disappointed that the story behind that play wasn’t in the book, but she did enjoy the others.  We had an entertaining few bedtime nights of listening to the CDs and going through the book together.  If you enjoy Shakespeare, I’d certainly recommend this book  as an engaging introduction to the master playwright’s work.