Day 26 (Week 4, Day 5)
I'm not expecting the Picture Book Challenge to attract thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter (currently we're on 36!), but it's been lovely to see so many of the authors that we've read talking to us about what we're doing, and obviously pleased that we're enjoying their stories! We'll keep our fingers crossed that we attract plenty of attention by the end of 2017 to help spread our love of reading, and also to hopefully maximise our chances of raising lots of money for the Book Trust!
That's one of the great things about doing this challenge; even if we don't raise a great amount when we've finished, at least we know that what we DO raise will help some families, and we'll have had an amazing time doing it!
Xander refused to sit down and read the stories with us tonight so comments are just from Josh, though Xander was in the room the whole time so I like to think he just enjoyed my soft storytelling tones as a background accompaniment to his playtime!
1) The Little Adventurers, and Leafy the Pet Leaf - Philip Ardagh & Elissa Elwick
When Sprat, member of the Little Adventurers, can't find his cat for Bring in a Pet Day, he does the next best thing and makes a new pet from a leaf, determined to prove that a leaf can be just as fun as a pet than a real animal. What follows is a day of fun activities that you could easily join in with as a family yourselves, as rest of the club slowly come around to the realisation that you can indeed have a great time playing make believe with a pet leaf!
The sense of this being the genuine record of what an exciting children's club has been up to is brilliantly done (there's even a list of club rules at the beginning!), and what better way to encourage children to meet up together to have their own little adventures in nature? We have a wonderful set of friends we have met through our own children's friendships that we love to do similar things with, so it might just inspire us to turn it into our own little club with a list of rules the children can create!
It's so delightfully illustrated by Elissa Elwick too, bringing across the fun and joy that you imagine your own kids would feel at Bring in a Pet Day just perfectly. The little details like Finnegan's little teeth sticking over his lip, and Sprat's cat Shadow hiding just behind him whenever he looks for her are great, particularly as the latter provides plenty of opportunity for giggles as Sprat just misses her each time.
Really can't wait to see the next book in this series - I hope there is one! Philip Ardagh is such a fantastic advocate for libraries and reading, and I'm happy to promote how wonderful this fantastic story is just as much as he promotes how wonderful libraries and reading are!
Chris says: I love a book with lots of little extra things that make it stand out a bit from the norm, and this is a fine example. The fact it gives you a genuine idea for an activity with your children with 'Bring in a Pet Day' is great, as are all the special facts about animals and trees at the end. It also does a wonderful job of making it genuinely feel like it's the latest diary entry for a club of adventurers, something which I haven't seen before in picture books but which reminds me heavily of how I used to spend time with friends when I was younger.
Josh says: I like how the cat was hiding in the back of the pictures when the boy was looking for her.
2) Frog and Beaver - Simon James (Author & Illustrator)
When Beaver comes to live on the river, he is welcomed with open arms. But when his dam building leads to the river drying up and forcing the other animals to leave their homes, can they find a solution so that everyone is happy?
Ah, a book with an important message so we can learn whilst having fun - I can't resist! The message itself, that you must be aware of how your actions impact on others and the environment, is a powerful one, but told in such easy-to-understand terms here that it's impossible to fault. Beaver has every right to build his dam, but he doesn't have the right to put everyone else's lives at an inconvenience by doing so; everyone else, on the other hand, has a right to live as they have been doing, but also to recognise that someone else needs a home and might have slightly different needs. It's a wonderful message about finding a way to compromise and live together so that everyone else is happy, and that's a message that a lot of people in the world at the moment could do with paying attention to.
I love the illustrations (i'm guessing watercolour? I'm useless at that sort of thing but I think they're watercolour!), particularly the wide shots of the river with woodland around them, and I think that Simon James has combined these with such a strong message that this could easily become an essential book for primary schools to read when talking about similar topics in school.
Chris says: As a parent I love to read a book with a message that is easy to understand without being too overtly preachy, and what a perfect example of that this is! I'm determined that Josh and Xander are raised to understand that people have different needs but that you can compromise to make things work, particularly with some of the awful things that have been occurring with intolerance lately, so books like this are fantastic to help illustrate this.
Josh says: I liked frogs new home that Beaver built for him.
3) The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem 'Pangur Bán' - Jo Ellen Bogart (Author) & Sydney Smith (Illustrator)
I'm not in the slightest bit familiar with the poem Pangur Bán, so I really can't say how this compares to the original, but I found an interesting and reflective story about two characters (the cat and the monk) both searching for a prize, and succeeding in those searches as the light of morning appears. It's got lovely symbolism in that respect, and we were perfectly transported into the mind of monk in the 9th Century, with the thought-provoking text, though I have no chance of succeeding in analysing a poem that was written over a thousand years ago in such a small review, compared to the many articles that must have been written about it by much more learned people, so I shall simply say that if you want an absolutely beautifully illustrated story about the joy one finds in succeeding in the pursuit of knowledge, then you'll enjoy this greatly.
I feel that it's difficult to overplay just how beautiful the illustrations are, with the darker tones giving way to brighter ones as the light comes in the morning, and the recreation of illuminated manuscripts making me think delightfully of so many trips to the British Library to see similar. If I'm going to hold up a book to showcase why picture book art can be as stunning as art in any other form, this would be a prime candidate. I'm definitely seeking out more of Sydney Smith's illustrated books when I'm next in the library!
Chris says: Stunning, STUNNING illustrations that I want to show to everyone! I'm not one for getting hidden meaning in poetry to be totally truthful, but I do like the duel meaning of the light coming in the morning contrasted with a breakthrough in ones search for an answer. I don't know whether that's the same interpretation that Josh made of it, but I don't think that matters, as long as he enjoyed the story as a whole!
Josh says: I like the pictures of the cat.
So, to summarise Day 26...
A fantastic day for stories that bring something a little extra! There's the Little Adventurers club that have given us ideas for our own special pet day with friends; a fantastic story about the importance of working together to help ensure everyone is happy and the environment is respected; and a beautifully illustrated retelling of an old poem that has symbolism for anyone who wants to seek it.
Picture books can offer incredible depth that I'm sure they wouldn't be given credit for by a lot of people, but they can be such a valuable tool for helping fire children's imaginations from a young age, and helping to teach them important messages in gentle ways. We love our picture books, and we can't wait to read so many more this year!