Sometime last year (she says, shamefully, knowing she’s taken farrrrrrrrrrr to long to get this post written) I was sent two utterly gorgeous books by a new-to-me publisher – Book Island. They are based in New Zealand and focus on publishing children’s books in translation, as well as extending their readers’ enjoyment of their books by organising activities inspired by them. This approach is something that really fits with the kind of thing I’d like to somehow work into my future career if possible, so they already had me on side even before I’d seen the sort of brilliant books they are sending out into the world.
The first one we read together was ‘Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich‘ by Lorraine Francis, illustrated by Pieter Gaudesaboos.
It’s hard to put into words how scrumptious this book is… For a start, it’s larger than a usual picture book and in addition to this it’s a board book, which is a novelty for C and H who now predominantly read books with paper pages. This sturdiness makes it very easy to hold when reading aloud, especially as it allows the book to be held in place while each page is hungrily pored over (come to think of it, the wipe-clean pages come in handy when getting rid of the dribbles as well – this book is good enough to eat!).
Basically, the story revolves around a little boy called Sammy, who is so ravenous he thinks he could eat the world’s biggest sandwich, which is exactly what he then sets out to make. Along the way, family members, friends and neighbours comment on the sheer scale of his endeavour but all Sammy is focused on is finishing.
It’s such fun watching the sandwich grow and grow, though the different storeys of Sammy’s house and then out through the roof. The idea of making the world’s biggest / tallest / heaviest / etc. anything holds great appeal for C and H and they loved reading about the various ingredients that Sammy was adding at each stage. The book also earned serious engineering cool points when Sammy decided that the bread needed bolstering and we were shown him setting up a series of ropes and pulleys.
There is a lovely twist at the end which makes us all giggle every time and is just the parsley (icing) on the sandwich (cake) for this delicious book. The illustrations are bold and colourful and in a highly appealing retro style and the food-based subject matter is a sure to be a hit with virtually everyone, particularly as it’s combined with Sammy’s potentially record breaking challenge. This is a book that makes me itch to set up more story sessions somewhere – anywhere – simply so I can share it with as many children as possible 🙂
The other Book Island book we read was ‘Sir Mouse to the Rescue‘ by Dirk Nielandt and translated by Laura Watkinson, illustrated by Marjolein Pottie.
This is a longer book than the first and one which had me jumping for joy from the very first page. Just feast your eyes on this and revel in how many stereotypes are blown out of the water within these three paragraphs:
“Mouse has a sword. She wears a suit of armour. She is a knight. She is bold Sir Mouse.
Dragon does not have a sword. She does not wear a suit of armour. She is just Dragon.
Knights fight dragons. But Mouse and Dragon never fight each other. Mouse and Dragon are best friends.”
There are two female main characters! One of them is a knight and one of them is a dragon! They don’t fight ! HURRAH!
Since he started school, C has become ever more aware of gender stereotypes that just didn’t seem to impinge on his consciousness before. Suddenly, I find myself explaining on an almost daily basis that pink *isn’t* just a colour for girls and that girls *can* like more than just playing princesses. The funny thing is that he does like playing with girls as well as boys and one of his very best known-her-since-she-was-a-baby friends is a gloriously well-rounded person who likes princesses, songs from musicals, climbing trees in her bare feet and playing in her tree house. She likes pink, but wears clothes in plenty of other colours as well. C knows all this, but will still repeat almost on autopilot that ‘girls only like pink’, etc.,etc. It really is as though he doesn’t actually believe it and knows it doesn’t reflect what he’s experiencing, but he’s repeating it because he thinks that’s what he ‘should’ think and it frustrates me no end that so many of the subconscious messages he’s getting from society are reinforcing this message.
Anyway, to get back to the book, it was just brilliant that on the very first page we were able to set the scene with the introduction of Mouse and Dragon, but the awesomeness only increased as we read through the rest of the book.
Each little adventure (the book is split up into quite a few of them and they are all connected) gives us more of an insight into Mouse and Dragon as characters and into their relationship, which the front cover so appropriately describes as, “an unusual friendship”. With each adventure they also manage to show us how easy it can be to think you have to conform to what’s expected of you, but even better, how exciting it can be if you don’t…
(Just to digress slightly, I have to mention here that in addition to the full-page illustrations shown above, the book also features some paper-cut pictures as well, of which I’m a huge fan. Another point in its favour!)
The overall message is one of valuing your own thoughts and feelings along with those of the people you care about and not going against your instincts simply because you’re trying to fit in with what’s ‘normal’. There are some tearjerkingly tender moments in this book and it has been so special seeing the boys refer back to it when we’re discussing real life situations they’ve encountered. I highly recommend it not only to anyone who likes a quirky, fun story with endearing characters, but also to those who like to know there’s the added bonus of perhaps helping young minds to question the status quo a little as well.
Onwards and upwards, Book Island – on the basis of these two books, you are destined for dizzying heights!
Disclaimer: I received my copies of these books from the publisher. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the review represents my own honest opinion.