Sabrina Wright, Michelle Nicholson and Penny Slater share a little of what they have been reading and enjoying recently.
The Street Beneath My Feet
By Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures, 2017
There is nothing I enjoy more than walking through the front door with a new book to share with my children. Sharing ‘The Street Beneath My Feet’ was an opportunity not to be missed with my two girls. This beautifully illustrated concertina book immediately grabbed their attention as the three of us sprawled on the kitchen floor, poring over each section as we unfolded it.
This book takes the reader on a fascinating journey down through to the centre of the Earth and back out again. One side begins with an urban setting and the other side ends with a woodland setting. The underground scenes include creatures’ burrows, the sewers, pipework, an underground railway, layers of rock, the planet’s molten core, as well as the remains of older civilisations, caves, underground rivers and even the centre of the earth itself.
Inside the back cover, is the typical cross-section of the planet, showing the depth of the various layers in proportion, and once you have re-folded the whole thing you are left with ten landscape panels that you can dip into individually. This book boasts continuous illustrations that seamlessly provide a full map of the layers of the earth. The painted, stencilled, and collaged illustrations are charming and the tones change from light colours at the surface of the Earth to rich pinks, yellows, and oranges as readers near the Earth’s core.
Each detailed picture is accompanied by a snippet of narrative non-fiction to bring it to life and to help children to really imagine what is going on deep in the ground under their feet. The text itself has an informal sort of tone to it, making it accessible to young readers. Looking at the Science and Geography National Curriculum 2014), I can see how this book could be used a starting point for many of the aspects that are covered, or even as a stimulus for children to create their own concertina information text.
– Sabrina Wright
Two Hoots Books, 2016
Tidy is the latest gem from popular author and illustrator Emily Gravett. If you fell in love- as I did- with previous offerings such as Meerkat Mail (2006), The Rabbit Problem (2009) or Wolf Won’t Bite (2011), then Tidy won’t disappoint. It features a rather obsessive tidier, Pete, and portrays his relationship with his loyal and hugely patient woodland friends. Pete takes sole responsibility for keeping the forest- and its bemused inhabitants- absolutely spotless. Not only does he clear away litter and collect up fallen leaves, but he even polishes rocks! Events take a worrying turn, however, when Pete gets a little carried away with his passion for neatness. Exasperated by leaf fall, he decides to pull up all the trees and then concretes over the entire forest in an effort to get rid of mud. Can the woodland creatures help to put things right? And does Pete learn to appreciate that nature is sometimes disorderly and unkempt, but nonetheless always beautiful?
The text is set out in a comfortable, familiar rhyme, which – from the outset- will have young listeners chiming in with predictions for the final word in each couplet:
“Deep in the forest lived a badger called Pete
Who tidied and cleaned and kept everything _____.”
The illustrations are delightful as always, and add another dimension to the simple narrative. There is a subtle humour in Gravett’s drawings which even the youngest reader cannot fail to grasp, and the level of detail means that you spot something else to make you smile upon each re-read. On a wall of the badger sett, for example, hangs a newspaper cutting with the headline: “Badger Wins Tidy Forest Award”. Accompanying the line: “He tidied the fox by grooming his fur…” is an image of Badger using a perplexed hedgehog to untangle fox’s brush! Do we think Pete will change his ways? The children might infer their answer from the details of the pictures. Not surprisingly, Gravett’s cheeky humour persists until the very last page where Badger is vacuuming up the …. well, why don’t you read it yourself and see what he’s doing!
This book will enthral readers from five years upwards, and even brought a smile to the lips of my fifty year-old husband!
– Michelle Nicholson
The Song from Somewhere Else
This is a book that fights against being pigeon-holed. The main character, Frank, echoed my sentiments when, after a particularly unexpected episode in the story, the narrator tells us that ‘she felt like she’d fallen through a hole in the floor of the normal world and into a spy film. Or was it a science fiction film? It certainly didn’t feel like a comedy.’ Like our protagonist, I too struggled to categorise this text into a particular genre. But, is that such a bad thing?
I have to say that I wasn’t too enamoured with this book at first, thinking it to be just another tale about a misfit of a girl who struggles to stand up to her tormentors. But on reflection, there were hints from the outset that this was no ordinary tale. And so, soon enough, the plot thickened – strange things were afoot, and from then on in, I was gripped. Frank soon forms an unlikely friendship with the school odd-ball, Nicholas Underbridge and without giving too much away, this is where things start to get very strange indeed, for Nick holds a secret that sets this book apart from other books about finding friendship and over-coming bullies – Nick really is different!
Reading this book took me right back to the time when I first read another puzzling tale – now an absolute classic and stalwart of the Y6 classroom collection: Skellig. I am aware that this is a lofty comparison, but there are clear parallels for the reader: the sense of other-worldliness which is so incongruous against the backdrop of normality that A.F. Harrold conveys in the first few chapters; the challenge for the reader in trying to decide if this is a book about real-life or make-believe and whether that matters; the journey of growth that the main character goes on throughout the text, ultimately coming out the side a stronger, more worldly-wise and open-minded individual. With this in mind, I would urge Year 6 class teachers to give this text a go as a class read-aloud. It would be interesting to watch the children tousle with the incongruous tendrils of this original tale.
Personally, I think one sign of a good book is one that leaves you thinking long after you have finished the final page. This book certainly did that, and for that reason – and many more – it has found its way onto my list of ‘must-reads’!