I may have mentioned before that I’m in a book club for grown-ups (and every time I write that it reminds that I still need to get my act together when it comes to creating a local children’s book group with the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, but that’s another post altogether) where in addition to the main book that’s chosen each time, we also read a children’s book.
C and H both really like ‘Stanley’s Stick‘, by John Hegley (published by Orchard Books), which is also illustrated by Neal Layton – therefore we had a pretty good feeling that we’d at least like this book.
How wrong we were (cue dramatic ‘X Factor’ type music…). We LOVED this book. We loved it so much that we rushed out and brought the other three in the series and we’ve been recommending them to friends and strangers ever since.
Each book is based on an adventurous, intelligent and all-round-darn-good-fun little girl called Emily Brown. She is accompanied at all times by her trusty soft toy sidekick, Stanley. It’s refreshing to come across a book with a female main character with such guts and gusto and we all adored Emily Brown from the start. I’m really pleased that C and H remain unaffected by the gender of a book’s protagonist as long as the story draws them in, but even if they did show a preference for male characters in general there would be no way they couldn’t get on board with Emily Brown.
Cressida Cowell has created a character with whom all young children can identify – Emily Brown loves her teddy bear, is up for exploring anything and everything, stands up for herself and her friends and has no time for overprotective parents 🙂
Neal Layton’s illustrative style is one to which I’m finding myself consistently drawn to at the moment, with sketchy lines and a mixture of textures and layers that give each spread a sort of collage-y feel. (I’m a complete art novice, so I heartily apologise if I haven’t described that correctly. I just mean that I love the way he composes each picture – they feel as though they have depth and have been built up from a range of different elements, plus I’m always a fan of the imaginative use of fonts within a book).
Our favourite page in the first book shows Emily Brown and Stanley swinging their way through the Amazonian rainforest and in each story it’s wonderful how these adventures are presented as ‘real life’ happenings rather than just a game. I think it’s very important to take children’s ideas seriously and to fully immerse yourself in their play, so for me it’s great that the text says that, “…they were just climbing through the Amazonian rainforest…” rather than that they ‘imagined’ they were, or that they were ‘pretending’ to do so.
Anyway, PLEASE do seek these books. You don’t need to read them sequentially as each stands up as a great story in its own right, but if you harbour similar geekish tendencies to my own and you like to have the ‘full set’ of things, then this is a series in which it’s definitely worth investing.
The first story covers the love Emily Brown has for Stanley and how all the toys in the world (offered to her by a very jealous queen in exchange for Stanley) can’t steal the place your favourite plaything has in your heart.
The second book is called, ‘Emily Brown and the Thing‘, in which Emily Brown and Stanley discover how even hairy, scary Things need some help getting to sleep sometimes. A lovely one for discussing night-time worries in a non-threatening way.
Our favourite spread:
Next up we have, ‘Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency‘, which sees Emily Brown and Stanley accompanied on their travels by their great friend, Matilda the elephant. In a twist on the fable about the boy who cried wolf, this story sees Matilda’s mummy calling the explorers a LOT with worries about whether Matilda is warm enough, has had enough to eat, etc. Emily Brown dismisses her with increasing firmness, until the point at which they really *do* need her help and they can’t get hold of her! I can see a lot of myself in Matilda’s mummy and this book made me realise how I probably need to work harder to reign myself in sometimes.
Our favourite spread from this book – check out the wellingtons and lunchbox combo:
Finally, we have, ‘Cheer Up Your Teddy Bear, Emily Brown!‘, where Emily Brown and Stanley have their work cut out for them cheering up a very woebegone little chap. Their patience and resourcefulness are wonderful to see and the way they gently but firmly help the teddy bear to buck up at the end is beautifully handled and rings so true for little ones learning to cope with life’s ups and downs.
Our favourite spread from this book:
If you’ve read any or all of these books (or if you do so as a result of this post) then please let me know what you think!