Day 46 (Week 7, Day 4) - Wednesday 15th February 2017
I'm so, SO far behind as I write up these reviews. Everything seems to have gotten so busy lately that I'm putting a few weeks' worth of reviews together in a random order, so that I'll write up books not in the order that we read them, but in the order that I happen to pluck them from the ever-growing pile and manage to convince Josh or Xander to pose for a picture holding them. I've finished this page (eventually) before I have Sunday 12th February (though that's mainly because the write up that I DID do for it didn't save, and it's always tricky to feel motivated to go back and re-write something that you've unfairly lost).
The important thing is that we've tried to keep reading three books a day where we can, and that we know we can always catch up on the mini-reviews with time (and I do think we're getting closer!). Apologies if there doesn't happen to be anyone who was enjoying getting a daily report when the Picture Book Challenge was fresh! Hopefully we'll reach that stage again soon.
Anyway, for now, on with the reviews...
1) Life is Magic - Meg McLaren
A magic show is turned upside down as the great magician Houdini's rabbit turns the wizard himself into another rabbit, in a magic trick gone wrong! Can the rabbit keep the magic show going, or will he need to turn his mentor back into a human again> Well, it's great fun finding out!
It's a story of warmth, as the rabbit realises that despite being proficient at putting on a show himself, he preferred things how they were before, and he's certain that Houdini did too. It's a great story of friendship and doing the right thing to make your friends happy, and that's a very positive message to share before bedtime! It's illustrated superbly, with a cartoony and almost magical feel to the pictures, and the expressions that all the bunnies wear particularly made me smile.
A magical bedtime story that's guaranteed to make everyone feel good inside!
Chris says: I thought the fact that the rabbit turned his back being the main magician so that Houdini would be happy again was an excellent message to send to children, both about being selfless for your friends, and also about doing the right thing for a project, even if you cease to have the starring role.
Josh says: I liked when the magician turned into a rabbit
Xander says: I liked the turning around (N.B. Not exactly certain which bit he meant by this...)
2) There's a Tiger in the Garden - Lizzy Stewart
I'm sure there'll be a point where Josh decides he's too old for certain games, but this story is an excellent reminder for children of why you're never too old to let your imagination run wild. Nora might not believe there's a tiger in her grandmother's garden, but her grandmother thinks she should go outside and play there anyway, just to find out. Sure enough, when Nora gets to the garden she finds out there's plenty of exciting animals to find there when she lets her imagination takeover, and perhaps at least might have made its way inside the house by the end, too...
It's a really beautifully drawn book, full of creativity as Nora explores her grandmother's garden, and it's the type of story that gets kids excited for going and exploring the outdoors (which is always a good thing!) - it was a pity, therefore, that we read it before bed and couldn't actually immediately go out on an adventure! Pretty certain we'll go hunting in the woods for animals the next chance we get though!
A great one for reminding those slightly older children that you don't have to grow up too soon.
Chris says: I think what I like best is just how vast this garden gets as Nora explores it - maybe her grandmother just has a big garden, but I feel like we get deeper into a never-ending garden the more Nora unleashes her imagination. And I love the mermaid in the bath at the end, showing that Nora has forgotten all about being too old for games!
Josh says: I liked the mermaid in the bath.
Xander says: Tiger!
3) The Journey - Francesca Sanna
If you feel deeply saddened by the plight of refugees in the world at the moment then have a box of tissues handy when you read this, because it's one of the most emotional picture books that I've ever read. It's about a mother and two children, forced to flee their war-torn country when the father/husband is taken, and their endless struggle to find a new place in the world to live. And the saddest thing of all? There ISN'T a resolution at the end of the book. Just like all those refugees currently displaced in the world from Syria and other countries, many of them are still searching for a home that will welcome them and look after them.
The family face danger throughout the journey, and you're genuinely unsure whether they'll survive it, because picture of not, this isn't a book that want's to hide the harsh reality from those reading it, though it does so in subtle (rather than in-your-face) ways. This is done primarily through it's astonishingly beautiful, and at the same time haunting, illustrations, which often contradict the slightly more hopeful narration by one of the children, allowing us to see the much darker truth. On one page, for example, a border guards stands ten times their size, highlighting their mammoth struggle to find a way over a border wall; later, the mother cries while the children sleep, in stark contrast to the child's narration which claims she is never scared. Earlier, a friend's breath becomes a literal picture of a far off land, using the canvas in inventive and unusual ways that make this an ever-more impressive work of art.
It's a stunning combination of text and illustration, showcasing the perfect way in which each can tell a different story and layer the tale in so many different ways.
When I asked Josh what he liked, he said (rather quietly), 'Nothing'. When I asked why, he said, 'It made me sad'. With a tale like this, I think that's an understandable response from a four year old child. It made me sad, too. It broke my heart to be truthful. It also left me in no doubt about how beautifully this tragic story is told, whilst at the same time being so utterly haunting that I've thought about it many times since.
A timely reminder of the pain and suffering that innocent families suffer when we deem it prudent to close our offers of help to them, and leave them to continue their painful journey with no real hope of resolution.
Chris says: I've not read many picture books this stunningly emotional. The pairing of text to illustration and the conflict between what is narrated and what is actually happening is just exquisite, and I'm not ashamed to say that I had tears in my eyes at the end. Josh's reaction of saying he felt sad is exactly the reaction I think he should have had, and I talked it through with him afterwards to reassure him that it was fine to feel that way. I'd be stunned if this doesn't win awards.
Josh says: It made me feel sad.
Xander says: I liked the birds.
So, to summarise Day 46...
We were treated to a magical tale with Life is Magic, and the joy of not growing up too quickly in There's a Tiger in the Garden, but what stays with me most (and I have no doubt will be one of the most memorable books we read this year) is the breathtaking The Journey by Francesca Sanna. It's beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure, and is far more than a children's story about refugees. It deserves to be read by anyone and everyone, and I'll be championing this as often as possible.
A lovely evening of picture books to share with you all!