Interplay in ‘the yes’ by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura

I have been aching to do another picture book in depth post for a while now. Whilst I know picture books aren’t the main focus of this blog, they are one of my great and genuine joys and they are something very, very important. Picture books are our introduction to literacy. They’re read by us in so many ways as our reading ability develops, and as such they have to work on a ridiculous amount of levels. They have to reward the adult reader. The child pre-literate. The child emerging literate. The child literate. And quite often they do that with maybe a handful of words, or none.

Picture books are extraordinary.

Front cover of 'the yes'

A) Front cover of ‘the yes’

And I think that the yes stands proud up there with the best of them. Continue reading

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Open Very Carefully : Nicola O’Byrne & Nick Bromley

Open Very Carefully: A Book with BiteOpen Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am thinking about Christmas and whether I focus on it on the blog a little with it being, well, the run up towards Christmas. The problem I have is that I think there’s not really any specific book I would reccomend you purchase as a present (for, I hope, if it were worth featuring, I would feature it irrespective of it’s present potential and of the time of year) and I’m not particularly timely with my reccomendations at times (what with being wed to my library and their purchasing patterns). So I think, perhaps, what I can and will do is this.

I will feature books like Open Very Carefully : A Book With Bite and I shall feature them because of what they do. And in a way, it’s through that ‘what they do’ that they earn their worth. One of the greatest things I could ask you to think about and to give to others if you can or want to, is a confidence with reading. I think sometimes we are afraid of reading, wrapping it up in an inapproachable mysticism and books full of dull and worthy ‘let’s learn to read today, kids!’. I learnt to read a long time ago, but I did not learn the difference between active and passive reading until fairly recently.

And that difference is embodied in books like this. Open Very Carefully is an imprint from the increasingly impressive Nosy Crow publishing house and it is, at first, a very simple looking picture book. The paper is weighty, the art fairly straightforward and as we go in, it appears we’ll be reading a book called ‘The Ugly Duckling’. But that title’s been scribbled across and the words: OPEN VERY CAREFULLY are scrawled across the double page spread.

(This is perhaps my only issue with Open Very Carefully in that it flirts on the edge of brilliance. I almost want it to go one step beyond – to have this ‘The Ugly Duckling’ as the front page spread instead of the actual cover. It’s a little bit back to front, with a front cover telling us what the book is inside and then we step back to read what it was and then we read what it is. I long for that front cover to be this spread with the wording wrapped around it like police hazard tape and daring us to go inside. It is so close to brilliant this book).

Once we start reading, we discover that the innocent story of The Ugly Duckling has been invaded. There is a CROCODILE in this book: “A Really big scary one!” This is when Open Very Carefully starts to make my heart sing. We have the Crocodile eating letters (“I think his favourite letters to eat are O and S”) which means that we have moments like: “St p! / Mr Cr c dile!” / Y u can’t eat the letter !”). We have to rock the book: “backwards and forwards” to rock the crocodile to sleep. This level of audience participation continues throughout: “Maybe if you shake the book he’ll / fall / out.” It’s glorious stuff – and it’s through this level of interactive reading, this, for want of a better phrase, of getting up close and personal with the book, that makes readers confident. You’re showing them the power of words – and what’s more important is that you’re showing them that they – that they, themselves can do this. They can make it happen!

Now that I think about it, Open Very Carefully really is a bit of a gift. Through clever storytelling and beautiful construction (the ‘cut-outs’ towards the end are very nicely done), and some very subtly provocative text, we have something rather special. It’s not Christmasy at all (perhaps the bobble hat on the duckling gives it a Winter flavour?) but it is one of the cleverest picture books I’ve read for a long time. Reminiscent of the great, great “Who’s afraid of the big bad book”, Open Very Carefully is very close to perfect.

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Book covers, oh my!

a

Cover A

Design’s a pretty amazing thing in the world of children’s literature. I don’t think I’ve seen an ugly book for a long time. You know what I mean; the sort of book that looks at you and dares you to touch it. The sort of book that doesn’t, quite genuinely doesn’t want to be read.

I’ve talked before how I think we’re living in a golden age of children’s literature. About how the books that are coming out these days are rich, vivid, wild things that demand to be read. And I think it’s worthwhile to recognise the role that book covers play in that. So.

Cover B

A book cover is a brilliant thing. It’s the first part of the story that we, in a way, read. It’s the first thing we see and quite often our first interaction with the actual text.  And as such a thing, it needs to be something quite special.

It needs to stand out. It needs to be palpably of its book. There needs to be something there, on that cover, that says, quite irrevocably, you are about to read this book and I am part of that reading.

Cover C

Cover C

And I think, that sometimes, somehow, that the best ones don’t even need words. There’s an element, of course, of familarity to them – you understand the front covers because you’ve bought into that series. You are committed to the reading. But I think in a way that a good front cover is still identifiable without that actual reading of the book itself. It is an appetiser, if you will, the hors d’ouevres of what’s about about to come. And then, once you’ve experienced the world, it is the dessert, the icing on the cake, the sealing of the parcel. It’s got to be everything to everyone, before, after, and during the reading.So here’s a test for you and a bit of a nerdishly exciting experimentat for myself. Can you identify all of these covers in this post? And if you don’t know them – what do they suggest to you? What sort of book do they belong to?

(And if you do know them, are they the covers you’d have chosen?)

The answers are here. In Invisotext! (select and highlight from this point on). Cover A: The Kindle edition of the Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins), Cover B: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Hard Luck (Jeff Kinney), Cover C: The Hesperus Press reprint of The Railway Children (Edith Nesbit) 

Rabbityness : Jo Empson

RabbitynessRabbityness by Jo Empson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have several children’s literature reading lists on my blog, one of which is titles which feature bereavement / grieving / loss. You can view the actual list here (and it’s crowd-editable, so please feel free to add to it!). One of the titles which often crops up in talk of titles of this nature is Rabbityness.

And last night I read it and I tweeted this: “So I just read ‘Rabbityness’ by Jo Empson. Dear sweet God. *bawls at everything* *eats all the chocolate* *bawls some more* (It’s amazing)”

That, dear reader, sums up my instant emotional reaction to this brilliant, perfect book. It’s one to go into blind in a way (though if you are working / reading it with children, read it first and have a think about your reactions to it beforehand), and it’s one that is just stunning.

Rabbit is a ‘very special rabbit’ who enjoys doing rabbity things such as jumping and running and un-rabbity things such as painting and dancing and making music. One day Rabbit disappears and the other rabbits are heartbroken with his loss. But then they discover what Rabbit left behind for them…

There seems to be a ploy between Empson and Richard Adams to make me bawl at the sight of rabbits. Empson’s so smart and subtle here, and quiet, almost, in her work. The endpapers are a delight, a graphic and quite moving repeated pattern of rabbits doing rabbity things against a vivid green background. And even the title page is a joy, the title scrawled in childish letters and being studied by three silhouetted rabbits whilst another races across the copyright page leaving footprints (or leaves?) behind him in a spectrum of autumn colours.

Once you’re into the book itself, there is a lot of white space centred around the central activities of rabbit. There’s also possibly one of the best uses of a splash page I’ve ever seen which I won’t spoil, but it did make me gasp with utter joy.

Empson is a gift in this book and Rabbityness is one of the best things I’ve read in a long while.

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