Tag Archives: Modern Fables

Primrose by Alex T. Smith

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children's Books, 2013)

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children’s Books, 2013)

This is one of those picture books that should be in every library, every nursery, every school and every bookshelf. I’m afraid there may be a large amount of gushing about to follow, but I’ll try to contain it.

Primrose is a pink princess; but she’s also the antithesis to the typical Pink Princess. She lives in a “pretty pink palace” and has “a pretty pink tiara, two prancing pink ponies and a plump little pug named Percy.” In many other hands, I might be running a mile by this point. But… Well, just look at the artwork for a start:

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

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Primrose is bored, bored, bored! So she tries to have some fun but everything she does is met with cries from her family to do something more princessy.

She’s not allowed to climb trees.

She’s not allowed to dress up in a monkey costume.

She’s not allowed to play board games.

She’s not allowed to to dig vegetables in the garden.

Princesses must dress in pretty pink dresses and sit decoratively. How utterly, wonderfully, subtly subversive this book is. All these activities are things that manufacturers and retailers would want to make you believe are not for girls. Don’t believe me? Look at the examples campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks find day after day after day. Science kits are for boys only; dressing up clothes for girls are all pink dresses and fairy wings; lego is for boys; kitchen play is for girls…

The messages that children are receiving daily in their everyday lives is disturbing and must be stopped. I battle constantly against the sexist drivel my six-year old brings home from school every day (and when she was five; and when she was four…) I have got somewhere in that Mighty-Girl now tells me that she’s the only person in her class who doesn’t think there are ‘boy’ colours and ‘girl’ colours.

My four year old used to love being a pirate and her favourite colour was orange. A year in pre-school and she wants to be a pink ballerina. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s peer pressure into pinkness that has forced this change, not her own opinion.

Primrose, a very pink princess book, is perfect. It starts with pink and frilly to lure in the princess-loving brigade, and then adds in all the other elements whilst remaining pink and frilly. Because, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with pink, it’s just the all-pervading non-choice that’s the problem.

Returning to the story… The royal family despair at Primrose’s lack of princessliness and decide there is “only one thing for it. Somebody must call Grandmama.” The introduction of Grandmama is perfection again. On one side we see the stern matronly visage of Her Royal Highness (Senior); on the opposite page Primrose and Percy are tiptoeing in mud, brightly clad and not a care in the world. Storm clouds are gathering, but whom are they for?

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But we really needn’t worry because Grandmama has the perfect solutions for every issue that the family have with their darling daughter and is soon bounding off again leaving everyone happy. The last double page spread showing Grandmama’s method of travel is, of course, sublime.

There are many other touches that add to this book. The copyright page ties in beautifully (“borrowed from The Royal Library”) and Percy bears an uncanny (intended) resemblance to the awesome Book Sniffer – toot toot! Overall, a sunny slice of perfection from the “royally talented” (hear hear!) Alex T. Smith.

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

Little Wizard by Kazuno Kohara

Little Wizard: Kazuno Kohara (Macmillan Children's Books, 2010)

Little Wizard: Kazuno Kohara (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2010)

I saw this book hidden on a shelf in a discount bookstore and pounced on it quickly. It drew me in with the vibrant colours and a quick flick through showed that we needed this book! I later realised that I had heard of other books by Kazuno Kohara and they are now all on my wish list.

This book is beautiful. The images are linocuts (that’s what they look like, I haven’t been able to find behind-the-scenes book creating for her work which is a shame as it’s so gorgeous) in two colours on purple paper. It works so wonderfully well. The black print lines stand out against the purple, and the only other colour is green for the dragon. Perfection.

The story is one of friendships in unlikely places, and the things that really matter not being what you originally thought. I have lost track of the number of times I have read this book today, DG has requested it over and over. It was one of DG’s Christmas present books and I’m so glad I found it. Hugely recommended, and well loved by DG and MG.

The Totally Terrifying Three by Hiawyn Oram & David Melling

The Totally Terrifying Three: Hiawyn Oram & David Melling (Hodder Children's Books, 2011)

The Totally Terrifying Three: Hiawyn Oram & David Melling
(Hodder Children’s Books, 2011)

It’s paperback publication day on Thursday (1st November), but I’m amazed we haven’t reviewed this book yet as we’ve had it since hardback publication a year ago. You can often find books before the official publication date and as it’s slightly Halloween-y, here’s the review to perhaps send you to your nearest bookshop searching for a copy…

Once there was a Dragon who was convinced he was TOTALLY TERRIFYING. One look at himself in the mirror and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

If you’re a regular reader you may be shocked to know that I am a huge David Melling fan… Yeah, okay, it’s somewhat obvious (Hugless Douglas Week for example…) This book is full of my favourite things David draws: Dragons! Witches! Trees! Everything! 😉

The Totally Terrifying Three: Hiawyn Oram & David Melling (Hodder Children's Books, 2011)

I could easily take the double spread above and frame it, it’s so wonderful. That is, if I could get past the sacrilege of destroying a book… It also neatly summarises everything in the story: the dragon, the witch, the giant, the toddler, and of course long-suffering Wiggles the dog.

The story follows a Dragon, who thinks he is too terrifying, so he leaves his neighbours and finds… A Witch, who thinks she is too terrifying (but neither the Dragon or Witch are terrified), so they leave together and find… A Giant, who thinks he is too terrifying (but none of the three are terrified), so they leave together and find… A Toddler, who also isn’t terrified… Which leads to some rethinking of their totally terrifying status, and a new three set out to scare… “absolutely NOBODY!”

It wasn't long before they came upon a Wich scaring herself silly in her magic mirror.

MG particularly loves humour in words like “scar[ing] the pants off people” and the fact that all the characters are basically just very silly and not at all scary. DG likes the brave toddler (and all the scary looking bits!) I love the details, as ever: look at what the dog and cat are doing in each picture; the trees (they need their own book); two bats near the witch’s hat at all times; the giant’s car and what happens when he stands up…

Hiyawyn Oram and David Melling are both deservedly acclaimed and this collaboration is a fine example of both their work. Other Halloween-suitable books by the totally terrific two (although not as collaborations) that we’ve already reviewed: The Ghost Library & Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons.

Fiction Fridays #22: The Tale of Jack Frost

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The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (2003)

There was once a group of trees who were fed up of living in a deep, dark and crowded valley. So they decided to move to the brow of a nearby hill.

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Extra Info:
At Christmas 2009 (and probably since, but we recorded it then), the animated version of The Tale of Jack Frost (originally made 2004) was shown on television. MG was nearly three at the time and loved it so we watched it again, and again, and again…

I dutifully went to my local independent bookstore and asked if they could get a signed copy of the book for MG’s birthday (because they’re good like that) but the book was out of print! And wouldn’t be republished until the end of the year! Did I mention how fantastic my local independent bookstore and David Melling are? The shop asked, and got, one of his own copies of the book signed for MG in time for her February birthday. She even got a fantastic goblin sketch in the book just for her.

I had a problem with reading this book originally because I’d seen the animated version (several times) before reading so had that ingrained into my brain which meant the book didn’t seem ‘right’ at first (I know, terrible!) I still can’t read it without hearing Hugh Laurrie in my head…

Fortunately no such problem existed with MG (or DG, but she was only 9 months old when we bought it so didn’t really take much notice of the TV version) who took to the book instantly. Especially with the dedication. It is still one of her ‘special’ books and she takes very good care of it.

There are some great videos at davidmelling.co.uk, including the creation of this book and the Bing-Bong Bandylegs. Well worth watching for a behind the scenes look at the creation of a picture book and to see the amount of work that went into the pictures. There are lots of large paintings that have gone into this book, and the detail is wonderful.

The story is about a boy called Jack who is found in the enchanted forest, and about the goblins who think he knows the forest’s secrets so try to steal the magic from him. The goblins are smelly and not particularly bright and a bit scary but they get their comeuppance and Jack… Well, you might still see some of Jack’s work at winter, protecting you from the smell of boiled cabbage.

This is a lovely original work of fantasy, with imaginative creatures who deserve more books to themselves: beezles, bing-bong bangylegs, snow-beetles, Woodwind, Waffle and Cowslip… Lovely for curling up with on cold winter evenings, but also a great read all year round.