It’s been a busy summer and, therefore, things have been a little quiet at Childtastic Towers. However, I have been receiving some lovely books in the post and I thought, before we get stuck in to the busyness of term time, that I’d post a round-up of some of the new picture books that have been sent my way. I shall do some more posts of this type over the next week or so, too, especially with some unique non-fiction books on offer.
Fearless Mirabelle, by Katie Haworth and Nila Aye, published by Templar
Identical twins Mirabelle and Meg (I do wonder why she’s not given a mention in the title?) are not totally identical. Mirabelle follows in her parents’ footsteps and does daring circus deeds as soon as she’s able, while her sister Meg prefers words to action. This is not a problem until the girls accompany their parents to work, and Mirabelle takes to the trapeze like an acrobat to … the trapeze but Meg is paralysed with fear. Ashamed of her reaction, and the fact that she is different to the rest of her family, she hides away until she is called upon to prove her mettle.
Like most of the books in this round-up this one focuses on the acceptability of being different to others and how we all have our own talents and gifts. I feel this could perhaps have been more aptly shown if Meg had been included in the title, but the message comes out clearly in the reading of the book.
Long Dog, by James Davies, published by Templar
The narrator of the story, who is also called James, is proud of his pet Long Dog, who was given this suitable name because the dog in question – a sausage dog – never stopped growing horizontally as a puppy and has now become the world’s longest potential draught excluder. Unfortunately, Long Dog becomes upset because other people and their pets laugh at his unique appearance … until they are in need what makes him unusual. Long Dog, not at all bitter it seems from their previous callousness, gets a chance to prove to the others that what makes him ‘odd’ also makes him very special indeed.
As with Fearless Mirabelle, Long Dog has at its heart the message that what makes us different doesn’t make us any less special or amazing – in fact it can be incredibly helpful. Humans are shown to be tricky individuals, unsettled by the unknown or unfamiliar, but they learn their lesson at the end of these two books when the characters can help in ways no other person or animal can.
Girls Can Do Anything, by Caryl Hart and Ali Pye, published by Scholastic
This picture book is the latest in a relatively new trend to convince today’s young girls (and boys) that girls can aspire to achieve more than becoming a pretty princess or having their very own pony. Told in rhyming verse, girls are informed that they can be pretty AND tough, and they can carry out jobs that are traditionally thought of as belonging to the male domain, such as carpenter or plumber. For proof, there is a gallery in the final pages of the book of famous women who have achieved great things. However, I would have liked to have seen illustrations that reflect the reality a little more convincingly – the inclusion of a female detective solving a mystery of a cute puppy nicking a piece of cake still, for me, tied in with a cuddly image of girls that the book, it would appear, wanted to crack. Of course, you can’t have a young child capturing a hardened criminal, but it just felt a touch twee.
I will happily add this to the collection of picture books in my library but I doubt I will read it aloud to the classes as I am a librarian in a mixed school and it unsettles me how boys might be feeling left out in the latest slew of books such as these. As far as I can see, the boys don’t have a problem with the girls becoming prime ministers or doctors, which is a good thing. They do, however, roll their eyes at the make-believe pony games and princess drawings which makes me wonder: will girls ever not be interested in these so-called female domains despite all the attempts to banish this direction? With the plethora of reading material proving that women can choose different career paths than Disney princesses, this aspiration is still proving popular with the very young and I wonder, short of banning certain books (which is never an equitable solution, whether this brief infatuation with pink and pretty is just that: a brief obsession that most (but not all) girls undergo and move on from?
How to Fly Like an Elephant, by Kyoko Nemoto, published by Puffin
This picture book is as delightfully quirky as its title suggests and shows children that there’s definite pay-off in remaining true to your dream and never giving up. The proof is in the animals chosen to illustrate this message. Elephants are hardly the lightest creatures to launch into air, yet the ones in Kyoko’s book are cheerfully resilient and determined to achieve their heartfelt desire to fly. Young children will love this book – the pictures, of course, but also the interactive nature of the pages, with opportunities to lift flaps and bend page corners. Permission to vandalise a book for the sake of helping its characters is a pretty novel and exciting thing to do!