Alone Together by Clayton Junior offers a most original approach to that key early years concept – opposites. Junior has chosen his intensely coloured illustrations from the animal kingdom and they are bound to lead to lively conversation between child and sharing adult. There is so much to inquire about and comment on – not least the different sizes, colours and shapes of the creatures. Children will be amused when they see a predatory fox approaching a noisy cockerel in the ‘loud’ and ‘quiet’ spread. Many of the pictures are dynamic, capturing creatures in motion – as in ‘moving’ and ‘still’ which contrasts leaping, swinging monkeys with a still, sedate stork. There is a good mix of words likely to be familiar to the very young – the ‘big’ and ‘small’ spread shows a tiny mouse perched on the end of one of a huge elephant’s horns -and more unusual ones like ‘fancy’ and ‘sober’ picturing a magnificently feathered peacock looking down at a small black crow. It took me a little while to appreciate the ‘sleepy’ and ‘awake’ spread. You need to turn the book upside down and see that the shapes are resting bats. Then, after gazing at the little orange triangles on one bat’s face, suddenly the eyes open. I found the ‘captive’ and ‘free’ spread rather affecting: a glum looking green parrot in a cage contrasts with a colourful, exuberant one in full flight. Perhaps the colourful parrot is the caged one’s dream- like memory of flying free?
, also created by Clayton Junior, like all the best wordless picture books, supports children’s developing visual literacy. The sequence of events is dramatic and will lead to their own story telling as they ‘read’ the pictures. These show a small cat on a fishing expedition coping well with the elements. But then a huge trawler starts to gather up all the fish. What should the little feline fisherman do? Children love to problem solve and there are many possible ways of telling this story. The book has huge aesthetic appeal achieved partly by sticking to a restricted palette: intense aquamarine for the background of sea and sky, sharp white for lines on the fish and jet black for the enormous, page filling, threatening trawler. Thick, black, polluting smoke alerts young readers to environmental dangers and this is another focus for discussion.
How does a tiny seed become a large tree with vast roots and branches, asks It Starts with a Seed? This kind of wondering starts early and young children will find much inspiration for thinking and talking in this quite exceptionally fine picturebook. It is structured round a delightful narrative poem tracing the development of a small sycamore seed into a sapling, then growing into a small slender tree and finally becoming old, mature and very beautiful. Jennie Webber’s illustrations are created by specialised and painstaking etching and drawing. The subtle colours of earth, tree branches and roots and the creatures that live in them at each stage of the tree’s growth make the pictures captivating. This is such a good starting point to learn about insects, squirrels and owls. Children will also learn about the seasons, about growth and change and marvel at how prolific nature is – there are plenteous sycamore seeds but only a few will result in trees. The pullout pages at the end of the book show that ‘The seeds are now ready to float in the breeze, and some of them might just grow into…new trees.’
is a shortened version of the acclaimed folk tale written by Selma Lagerlof after her researches into Swedish folklore. Kochka’s adaptation uses a lot of direct speech to put energy into the story of the transformation of rather a lazy boy who, after an exciting journey, turns into someone his parents can be proud of. Changed into a little Tom Thumb by the elf he has foolishly mocked, he is carried across Sweden on the back of a wild goose flying with his friends to their summer home in the far north. How does Nils gain the respect and affection of the geese before coming home? He learns to be a loyal and resourceful friend to his companions. Olivier Latyk’s illustrations are delightfully playful and the imaginative die-cuts add atmosphere and sometimes a three dimensional effect. I particularly like the one showing bears in a wood looking up to see Nils on the goose’s back flying through a star lit sky. This is a wonderful fantasy to be enjoyed for its own sake. But is also helps young readers to learn about Sweden’s geography, traditions and folk lore. I see why some have suggested the tale has a flavour of Hans Andersen’s fairy tales. The dream-like atmosphere of the story gives it considerable imaginative appeal.
Margaret Mallett taught in primary schools and in the Education Department of Goldsmiths College. She writes books on all aspects of Primary English and is Emeritus Fellow of The English Association.
Alone Together, Clayton Junior, 24pp., 978-1-7849-3627-3, £11.99 hbk
Free the Lines, Clayton Junior, 32pp, 978-1-7849-3626-6, £11.99 hbk
It Starts with a Seed, Laura Knowles, illus Jennie Webber, 36pp. 978-1-91027-717-1, £12.99 hbk
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, adapted by Kochka from Selma Lagerlof’s story, illus Olivier Latyk, 64pp., 978- 1027-718-8, £12.99 hbk