1st Jun 2017
As always, we have been spoilt for choice in selecting texts for this month’s review and were delighted to find, among the many newly-published children’s books, that two authors we already adore have new works on the bookshop shelves: Neil Gaiman, with Cinnamon and Peter Bunzl, with Moonlocket. The third book we’ve selected is by Matt Sewell - alleged ‘Banksy of the Bird World’ who has written and illustrated his first book specifically for children: The Big Bird Spot.
We are always excited when Neil Gaiman publishes new work and this book that has been beautifully illustrated by Divya Srinivasan is exceptionally good. Princess Cinnamon is beautiful but she cannot see and does not talk. Her parents decide to offer a reward – several, in fact – to any person who can get Cinnamon to talk. People – few but from afar - arrive to attempt to get the girl to speak but silent she remains until one day arrives a tiger. The tiger is ‘huge and fierce, a nightmare in black and orange’ and, naturally, everyone is afraid. But the tiger, who can speak, takes on the challenge of teaching the ‘girl cub’ to speak. And so it transpires that it wasn’t inability to speak that kept her silent, rather an ennui and apathy that has left the girl feeling bored and without anything to say. With Gaiman’s characteristic, slightly sarcastic asides, this is a story of simple beauty that would be perfect for full-coverage of all reading strands for children in year 3 and 4 and we feel it would work especially well as a guided reading text.
Reading a sequel to a stunning first novel always makes us a little nervy: how on earth will it measure-up? Will we like it? And if we don’t, will it somehow sully our memories of the first novel? Well, rest-assured, Moonlocket has proven to be just as spell-binding and as exciting a read as Cogheart. And the bonus is that reading it feels like re-connecting with old friends. The re-cap of events in Cogheart is managed well and the reader is rapidly sucked into the action. In the prologue, we are introduced to a new, rather unsavoury yet clever criminal mastermind called Jack, whose escape from Pentonville prison is in progress. He successfully steals off into the night, becoming the first prisoner to ever escape ‘the ‘ville’ and adding to his perceived glory of being The World’s Greatest Escapologist an additional title of The World’s Most Infamous Jailbreaker which, we think, is the same as being The World’s Greatest Escapologist but this just goes to show how full of self-aggrandisment Jack is. And this is important information early on in the novel as the plot then centres around his detection and capture. But what connection has he to Lily and Robert, the two friends who, together, out-witted terrible greed and evil in Cogheart? What does Jack want with them? We feel that this would work very well as a year 4-6 class-reader and would also be highly-effective if used for guided reading in year 5-6, especially for exploring the author’s use of language for effect and the themes which pertain to the story.
This is such a delightful take on the traditional bird book! The author’s introduction invites readers to ‘travel with this book – from meadows and woodlands to deserts and mountains…and start spotting our feathered friends!’ The illustrations are vibrant and ever so slightly kookie: the birds (and animals) all appear to have mischievous smiles playing upon their beaks, as if they know something that we don’t. Each stunning page is a riot of colour with a beautifully-written section of information about the bird featured yet this bird must first be spotted as they are all expertly camouflaged. Readers are challenged to spot and count a specified number of birds on each double-page, making the book delightfully interactive. We took a peek at Matt’s website, which you may like to do too. https://www.mattsewell.co.uk/books/ Here, there are many gorgeous books for sale (including ‘A Charm of Goldfinches & Other Collective Nouns’, Ebury Press 2016) as well as prints, a t-shirt and even a collection of stamps that he was asked to design for the Isle of Man Post Office. He is artist and author in equally successful measures and it is exactly the sort of quality illustration interspersed with well-written text that makes The Big Bird Spot a must-have for any classroom and any home.