All the World’s a Page: Summer Reading for Kids
(Published in The Sunday Business Post on the 21st of June 2015. They did a brilliant job on production, but it is behind a paywall. Have included some pics though!)
The summer holidays offer a perfect opportunity to school children in the art of reading for pleasure. As text books are packed away, prepare yourself to fight any protestations of boredom with a stack of scintillating picture-books and novels, like the new releases listed below. If you are still stuck for inspiration, local libraries are more than happy to offer recommendations. This year thirteen Irish library catchments have come together to provide incentives for young readers under the umbrella of the Summer Reading Buzz. There is a catalogue of recommended titles, and special cards are issued to young readers, who get stickers for each book they complete. Further rewards are issued after ten books, with a certificate of completion once summer is over and entry into a grand prize draw. See www.summerreadingbuzz.ie If you are keen to expand literary engagement beyond the page, most of the major arts festivals that run throughout the summer offer ancillary literary events for young audiences, with opportunities for young readers to create their own books, meet their favourite writers and, occassionally, their favourite characters too. www.childrensbooksireland.ie is a good resource for keeping an eye on literary events for children taking place in your locale. Reading does not always have to be a solitary activity.
By Aino-Maija Metsola
Lift-the-flap books are popular with very young readers as they provide a tactile as well as a visual experience. Aino-Maija’s sturdy board-book is brilliantly pitched. It explores each colour over a double-page spread, creating effective contrast within colour schemes by using black and white object boxes. The wide variety of objects is complemented by clear text that encourages vocabulary building and letter recognition. The lift-the-flap element adds a nice nod to interactivity too: the flaps hide even more surprises and contrasting hues to reinforce colour recognition. It offers more to first readers than the usual board-book. (1+)
Shh! We Have a Plan
By Chris Haughton
Three wily hunters and a little one set out at twilight with their nets to catch a bird. They have not anticipated the wiliness of their prey, who manage to evade them at each encounter. Haughton uses several shades of blue to create a deep texture that is perfect for disguising figures and animals in the forest nightscape, and the birds add a vivid splash of colour against the blues. The text is minimal and this gives the book a slow steady pace that underscores the stealthy nature of the hunters’ quest. The use of repetition is effective, and the open-ended final page invites improvisation at home, with teddies and fishing nets. Re-issued in paperback by Walker Books this year, it is a classic picture-book of the future. (2+)
Sir Scallywag and the Battle for Stinky Bottom
By Giles Andreae
His work as greeting-card guru Purple Ronnie is probably better known to parents, but Giles Andreae has a parallel life as children’s author and his Sir Scallywag series thrusts a six-year-old knight on quests for the kindly/fearsome King Colin that involve golden underpants, dragon poo, and, now, a golden sausage. Andreae writes with great awareness of the young reader’s appreciation of absurdity and gross-out-humour, and Sir Scallywag’s triumph over giants and trolls will excite and delight, though perhaps a little too much for bedtime. (3+)
I Am Henry Finch
By Alexis Deacon; illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
Henry Finch is a little bird with a big story to tell. He breaks away from the flock to make a stride for greatness, but it all goes a little bit wrong when he is swallowed by the Beast, who is always hungry. Deacon explores themes of individuality and self-expression with drama and humour, and Henry’s eventual triumph will be a comfort to young children trying to figure out their place among their peers. Schwarz’ thumbprint illustrations are great inspiration for a painting session to further discuss the themes. (3+)
Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats
By Alicia Potter; illustrated by Brigitta Sif
Miss Hazeltine’s home is a sanctuary for timid tabbies; those like Crumb, who are afraid of birds, climbing, and night-time noises, not to mention Miss Hazeltine’s broom. Miss Hazeltine has her own fears – mushrooms, owls and pitch-dark places – and when she disappears one night, her rescue cats set out to rescue her. This a charming tale of standing tall in the face of fears and Brigitta Sif’s illustrations create vivid personalities for each of Miss Hazeltine’s feline friends. Younger children will enjoy the story, but this is the perfect book for a new reader to explore on their own.
Ace Dragon Limited
By Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake
This a welcome reissue of sci-fi writer Russell Hoban’s magnificent tale of a boy who liberates a dragon from his limitations when he rescues him from his underground lair. Hoban was a terrifically witty writer, and here he plays with puns that every parent will love. John and his fiery friend have swordfights, do stunts and skywriting, before they run out of petrol and take refuge on the moon. Quentin Blake’s illustrations are a seminal part of the scene-setting, elaborating on plot points with his unmistakeable watercolour palette. The large font makes for easy letter-recognition. A highly recommended collaboration between two classic children’s writers.
Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest
By Anna Bradford
Two friends become accidental environmentalists when a pair of park-keepers reveal their plan to chop down their favourite oak tree, site of so many shared secrets and countless acorn hauls. They decide to stage a protest: “One, two, two and a half, three. Please do not chop down our tree.” Pocket Protest is just one in a series of books in which the imaginative heroine and her best friend Rose negotiate their way through the obstacles that adult life presents them with. With Sam Wilson’s wistful sketches enlivening the short chapters, it is worth investing in a few of these slim volumes. (5+)
The Complete Alice
By Lewis Carroll
Macmillan were the original publishers of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, featuring drawings by the infamous Punch cartoonist John Tenniel. This year marks the 150th anniversary of that collaboration, and Macmillan have responded by issuing a sumptuous new edition, introduced by Philip Pullman. It includes an unabridged version of the original Alice and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, colour reproductions of Tenniel’s illustrations, and historical context in language accessible to young readers. Its’ price probably makes it a special occasion/gift book, but if it is just the story you are interested in celebrating with a child, any other version will do. (8+)
The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones
By Will Mabbitt
My 3 year-old son recently told me that girls can’t be pirates. Yes they can, and Mabel Jones cuts the mustard. When she is kidnapped by the strange crew of the Feroshus Magott, she decides to help them find the treasure they have been seeking on the high seas. There are dozens of dangerous ways to die and dimensions to fall through in Will Mabbitt’s tale of dastardly animals who will punish nose-pickers like Mabel. Mabbitt’s outrageous characterisations and oddball humour give the well-worn nautical genre a distinctive lift. Perfect read-aloud material for older children. (8+)
Whistling in the Dark
By Shirley Hughes
Best known for her Alfie and Annie-Rose picture-book series, Shirley Hughes writes a wartime adventure for older readers. Set during the 1940 Liverpool Blitz, it follows 13 year-old Joan through the bombed city as she encounters a deserter who claims to need her help. She would prefer to be at the pictures, but the cinemas are closed, and so she is forced to become a hero. There are small illustrations at the start of every chapter, but Hughes lets language do the work in this stirring tale of two friends fighting a war of their own. (10+)
My Secret War Diary by Flossie Williams
By Marcia Williams
With her distinctive comic-strip style, Marcia Williams has brought new life to classic tales, from the Greeks to Shakespeare to Robin Hood. Here she animates the landscape of World War Two with the fictional diary of Flossie Williams, who is just nine years old when the war begins. As her father heads off to war, Flossie is forced to accept new responsibilities. Each page offers a mixture of handwritten diary entries and visual imagery, and Flossie’s own drawings offer deeper insight into her emotional world. This is a beautifully produced and moving book. A welcome addition to the canon of historical fiction for kids. (8+)
By Sarah Bannan
Sarah Bannan’s debut was not conceived as a Young Adult title, but the sensitive exploration of social media and suicide have made Weightless a sleeper hit with older teen readers. When Carolyn Lessing arrives in Adamsville, Alabama she disrupts the established social order at her high-school. With her exotic accent, designer clothes and perfect looks, everybody wants to be her friend, but when she starts dating the wrong guy, the popular girls gang up on her and Carolyn finds her fortunes irreparably changed. Bannan perfectly captures the insularity and self-absorption of adolescents struggling to define themselves against their peers. A page-turner that raises important issues. (14+)
Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox
By Nigel Quinlan
Neil and Lizzie Maloney’s dad is a sort of superhero. When he is not helping to run the family B and B, he is out in the telephone box changing the seasons. When the phone fails to ring to usher in Autumn, the Maloney’s band together to try to discover who has been messing with the weather. This is a delightfully barmy fantasy-cum-folk-tale, which will be particularly enjoyed by young Irish readers over a summer that is still threatening to never start.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here
By Patrick Ness
Another high school drama is offered up by Patrick Ness, whose Chaos Walking trilogy has gained cult status among teenage readers, particularly teen boys. In The Rest of Us Live Here, Ness joins the indie kids in the weeks before Prom. Mikey doesn’t want to win any popularity contests or, for that matter, save the world from zombies, killer viruses or soul-eating ghosts. But as all teenagers must learn, we can not always be the architects of our own destiny. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is not released until August, but it is one of the most highly anticipated YA titles of the year. (13+)
Only Ever Yours
By Louise O’Neill
Louise O’Neill’s disturbing dystopian debut imagines a world where young women are worth no more than their wombs. Artificially bred and trained exclusively in the art of pleasing men, two best friends await their future as concubines. Louise O’Neill’s high-school drama is a dark allegorical tale that will have young female readers considering their role in conforming to social values. You are never too young to be a feminist. (16+)
Up and Away: Literary Activities and Apps for the Airplane
Although tablets and smart-phones have got many a parent out of a tight spot, never underestimate the diverting powers of sticker-sheets and activity books to facilitate an hours peace when travelling. Usborne are leaders in content-driven sticker book production, and their sticker-book series offer options as fanciful as fairies and pirates, and as educational as Vikings and World War Two. They are widely available in airport bookshops, which makes them perfect emergency entertainment in more than ways than one. Perennial favourite Where’s Wally? (Walker Books) and the Irish equivalent Where’s Larry? (O’Brien Press) offer potential of hours of eye-spy fun, even in the mono-visual environment of an airplane cabin. The recently published Migloo’s Day by William Bee (Walker Books) is similarly inspired, although a loose narrative accompanies Bee’s busy Japanese-inspired visual spreads, which allows it to work as a storybook too.
If young travelling companions still need diverting and only electronic devices will do, Nosy Crow’s interactive fairytale e-books offer various levels of reading for kids from 3-10. Nosy Crow are, without doubt, the leader’s in e-reading for young children. With read-aloud and read-along options, rich and imaginative illustration and interaction, the apps build on well-known stories and allow users to become shared author of the tales. Snow White in particular is excellent, but all of their titles are highly recommended, and their app bundles offer pretty good value.
For older readers, trick them into reading fifteenth-century poetry with Seamus Heaney: Five Fables, an app from Touchpress that presents five of Aesop’s fables in animation and traditional metered form. With readings by Billy Connolly and video footage of Heaney talking about the modern translation, this is an edifying as well as entertaining digital tome. Two Lewis Carroll inspired apps by Atomic Antelope offer a similar approach to the classics, with a little bit more fun. Alice for the I-pad animates Carroll’s adventures in sepia-tinged Steampunk-inspired pages, bringing life to John Tenniel’s original illustrations. Alice in New York, meanwhile, updates the sequel Through the Looking-glass by placing the English heroine in modern-day New York. Finally, the digital version of Michael Morpurgo’s Warhorse from Touchpress provides a brilliant audio-recording of the book alongside its e-pages, and tons of historical context about the tragic World War One tale. ‘Screen Time’ need not be a waste of time.