It’s the little details about this book that make me happy. The idea of a month-by-month review of the year is no new one within the world of children’s publishing. I recently have been spending several very happy hours with similar titles from the fifties, that show children how to press flowers and make pinhole cameras, and a more modern version of these books is a great and lovely thing. And as ever with Nosy Crow, it’s produced with an absolute finesse that makes the book nerd inside me very satisfied. The book has rounded edges (perfect for stuffing in a rucksack and not getting damaged), and a little ribbon (and books with ribbon are always welcome in the world), and it’s sturdily and robustly put together. This is a book that wants to be used, and should be.
Published in collaboration with The National Trust, this almanac wears its affiliation lightly. It’s not asking children to visit their nearest stately home which was something I wondered about (it’s always a worry in content of this nature). Rather the book works towards a different goal where children of all ethnicities, genders and background work to enjoy the wild world. The artwork is lovely; round and rich and stylised, and full of fun. This is the work of Elly Jahnz who’s done something very beautiful here. It’s hard to make, say, a seashell collectors guide a particularly dynamic spread, but she manages to do so. Working alongside Anna Wilson who wrote this, the two of them produce something kind of delightful. And nice. More books should be nice and talk about everything from making April Fool to how to go wild swimming.
I’m reviewing this towards the end of January for a deliberate reason. It’s about this time that the post-Christmas blues hit in. Everyone’s back at school, back at work, and the weather isn’t perhaps the best. Perhaps it’s even snowing a little bit (she says, with a look at the camera and a gesture outside her window). Books like this offer a way to navigate those blues and to pull the outside in, and to do so as a family. They deserve a spotlight of their very own.
Something very good has been happening in children’s non-fiction over the past few years. This is something to add to that realm of good things. Big, bold and rather deliciously put together, Egyptomania is a look at several key aspects of Ancient Egypt. Where this book differs is that it’s a hybrid of fact and papercraft; nearly every page has a fold out or a tag to explore further.
It’s a beautiful book. Giuliani’s artwork is wonderful; clean, big and rather wonderful, ranging over topics such as temples, pharoahs and the ever-appealing mummification rituals. The mummification page in fact is one of the best in this book, and allows the reader to quite literally peel back the layers of the mummy and discover the processes which have helped to create it. It’s very nicely done, and one of those spreads that makes you realise the benefit of papercraft in a non-fiction book like this.
I would have welcomed a slightly more robust paper quality here, but I do recognise that there’s a balance to be made between the level of engineering that’s gone into making this work and the final price point. Having said that however, in the hands of a careful reader this book’s a gem. It’s distinct, it’s interesting, and it’s genuinely very beautifully done.
The latest step on my Carnegie / Kate Greenaway catch up is Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun. Genuinely a little bit breathtaking, this is something rather special.The conceit is simple and easy to grasp: Braun lists a selection of the wild animals to be found across a series of regions in The North. This can cover anything from killer whales in the Arctic through to pandas in Asia. And, as I said, it is something.
It’s hard to quite do justice to Braun’s big, bare, stylish artwork so instead I’ll direct you to a gallery of images. This is remarkable work, genuinely. One of the big points about this book is its size. It’s maybe a little difficult to wield for tinier hands, but that gamble pays off as it allows the artwork to breathe. There’s something rather special about just going big and bare with your work and it’s a gamble that pays off. Some of the images are genuinely breathtaking. All of them would be perfect as pictures on the wall.
Each image of an animal is labelled both with its English and Latin names. Some of them come with extra paragraphs of information, a little eccentrically formed, but still rather charming. What gives this book its strength is that sense of individuality about it. The weight of the paper. The texture of that front cover. The nuanced picking of detail in those paragraphs. I learnt things! (Learning things from a book – who’d imagine such a thing?!)
I loved this. It’s inspiring, distinct and fiercely unique work.
Fifty Shades of Feminism is a collection of short, bitesize pieces from a range of “some of the most significant feminists of our time”. The list is impressive, juxtaposing Alison Bechdel with Elaine Showalter with Sandi Toksvig and Kathy Lette amongst many other equally talented writers and voices. The editors are overt in acknowledging that limiting the book to fifty was a struggle; and there’s something in me that’s both proud and sad of that. A struggle because the voices are out there and demanding to be heard, and yet, the options for them to be heard are so limited, so tight –
There are omissions, naturally, as with every compendium of this nature. I’d have welcomed some more diversely formatted entries; illustration features, and yet, I want more, somehow, always.
Of the many entries that left me staring and breathless, Laura Dockrill’s entry captivated me. It’s a handwritten piece sprawling across two pages and yet, I didn’t somehow figure this out until I was halfway down one page and loving the free, blank verse. Sentences that ran together as fluid, questioning prose across both pages, broke up and became direct, wonderful things: “that’s your job handing out / purpose. Become a woman”. A wilful misreading, yes, but one that left me breathless.
Maybe that’s the thing about compilations of this nature. There will always be omissions but there will always be space. And that’s what we need to find, need to occupy, need to own –
Shelve this with Louise O’Neill, with Holly Bourne, and allow the questions to be formed –
It was when I saw the recipe for ‘St Clare’s Eclairs’ that I knew something very clear about this book. I am going to marry it. I am in such love with Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that I can scarcely cope with reviewing it. I shall try though, but do forgive me if every now and then I punctuate a sentence with an increasingly breathless cry of – Chalet School Apple Cake!
I’ve heard about Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer for a long time and had it recommended to me several times on Twitter. Thank you if you’re one of the people who mentioned it to me. I love it. God, I love this book – Amy’s Pickled Lines!
Brocket’s approach is simple, rich and heartfelt (The Borrowers’ Potted Shrimps!). She works her way through a range of chapters which loosely group the recipes together under headings such as Picnic Treats, School Food and Proper Elevenses. And oh, God, they’re brilliant. Every page reveals something new. Something delicious. I want to make St Clare’s Eclairs. I don’t even like Eclairs. I want to make Pollyanna’s Calf’s Foot Jelly even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a calf’s foot in the shop. I want to make Miss Heliotrope’s Preferred Nice Plain Junket even though I’m still not 100% certain on what Junket is. I love this book. I love the thick, fat love that Brocket has for her subject, and the way she pulls references from all of the right books: The Little White Horse, Ballet Shoes (Doctor Jakes’ Heavenly Hot Ginger Drink!) , The Faraway Tree and so many more.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Grill’s masterpiece; whether to talk about the palette of clear and clean colours, or his use of space on the page and that conscious decision to let the visuals work for his story to their utmost, or the vivid little marks of humanity dotted in each scene – the men dotted across the white expanse of the page, or huddled together for warmth under the curve of a broken up boat held together by oil paints.
Perhaps it’s best to start with the facts: Shackleton’s Journey details one of the expeditions of Ernest Shackleton to the Arctic. Grill’s love and knowledge of his topic shines in his awareness of the detail and the human nuances he gives every illustration. The crew of the expedition range one page, looking out at us, with captions ranging from Able Seaman through to Stowaway. (A quick sidebar: more stories on stowaways please, I am intrigued so much by them).
Grill follows this journey from start to end and details every step of it with such graceful and poetic illustrations, that this book starts to ache with perfection. I hope that Shackleton’s Journey endures for a long while and becomes considered as a classic alongside some of the great canonical titles of children’s literature. It’s already stating its case for classic status with ease; spreads of the ice-floe breaking up swallow the page with their magnitude, dwarfing the expedition with their immense, jaw-dropping scale, whilst other spreads speak of a warmth and humour that pays tribute to the bravery of these men. This in particular is a vital touch. (Google: Frank Hurley and Endurance to see some of the photographs from the expedition – they’re almost unreal).
Shackleton’s Journey is perfect, really, and it is one of those books that feels a little bit like a landmark point for the sector. I am in love.
As ever with me and Enid Blyton, the idea of ‘rating’ one of her books is something quite different than rating another. So four stars, yes, definitely, but they are four Blyton-shaped stars and thus of a very different ilk to those that I would give something else. Continue reading →