The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots – Beatrix Potter

It’s today! It’s today!

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I was unbelievably excited to wake up this morning to an email informing me that The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots would be waiting for me when I returned from work. Obviously I would have preferred to wait by the front door for the postman, but somehow I managed to get through the day at work. I then tore home, dived into the book and had it finished before supper time.

I’ve always been a huge Beatrix Potter fan. My childhood box set was always a prized possession of mine and was subject to more than one show-and-tell session back in primary school. The Tailor of Gloucester was always my favourite and I still love to pull the book out and watch the BBC adaption around Christmas time. If there is anything more magical than animals behaving like humans it is animals behaving like humans in the snow. Simpkins in his snow boots is one of my favourite images of all time.

When I heard there was a new book by Beatrix Potter being published I was over the moon. To think that the manuscript remained hidden for over 100 years, only to emerge to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s death – it is almost as though she had planned it. I couldn’t wait to see what this story, written ten years after all her other much-loved tales, had in store for me.

The newest addition to the collection tells the tale of a very serious, well-behaved black cat by the name Catherine St. Quintin who likes nothing more than to sneak out at night and poach animals with her air gun. Like all of Beatrix Potter’s tales it is filled with funny escapades with the characters falling into one or two unfortunate scrapes, before ultimately learning a rather valuable lesson. Diehard fans of Beatrix Potter will be delighted to encounter a ‘stout buck rabbit in a blue coat’, who bares more than a striking resemblance to a mischievous young bunny once seen stealing radishes from Mr Macgregor’s garden – it looks like Mrs McGregor never did get her winter coat – as well as one or two other familiar faces and more than a few news ones.

Of course, half of the delight in a children’s book is in the illustrations and while I will admit I was slightly surprised when I saw that Quentin Blake was illustrating the book,  I think the result is absolutely stunning. Who better to illustrate a book by one of Britain’s most-loved children’s authors than one of Britain’s most loved children’s book illustrators? His drawings are nothing like Beatrix Potter’s, but I wouldn’t have liked to read a book where Beatrix Potter’s style was mimicked. Blake doesn’t attempt to fill Beatrix Potter’s shoes, he merely pays homage to her work, and does a remarkable job of it. The illustrations are perfect, wonderfully encapsulating the action and humour in Beatrix Potter’s latest tale.

What’s more Blake’s illustrator’s note, where he hopes that Beatrix potter would have approved of his work and speaks of his pride at being given the opportunity to illustrate such a book, is so sweet and endearing. I truly think he has done wonders with the text and brought the book to life in a way that none other than Beatrix Potter herself could have. My one slight disappointment is that the few drawings that Beatrix Potter did create to accompany the story could not be included in the publication.

Overall, however, I think this book is a real delight to read, filled with Beatrix Potter’s classical charm, but with slightly more adult escapades than the previous publications. There is also a subtle, perhaps satirical ribbon running through it which suggests that what is natural does not always come naturally.

There is no doubt that it was written by the Beatrix potter we all know and love, but the style is  different to her earlier works. Not worse, just different. Of course, we can’t know whether there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to change her writing style, or if the book was left in a somewhat unfinished state. Whatever the case may be, it is a truly charming read and I will happily place it alongside my other Beatrix Potter books, and no doubt look on it time and time again.

I know the publication is a couple of months too late, but happy birthday Beatrix, may you continue to delight us, and future generations for many, many years to come.

 

New year, new update!

Hi boys and girls!

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas and New Year with your loved ones.

I know, I know, I suck! I’ve been really rubbish the last month and haven’t posted a single update!

You see…

The run up to Christmas was insanely busy, what with 12-week reviews, gift shopping, chest infections, and preparing for a long-haul flight (which, it turns out, makes me rather anxious), and I very much needed to take a little time off – I do hope you will forgive my radio silence!

Excuses, excuses.

In other news, we’ve just come back from an amazing few weeks in Hong Kong!

In my time away I drank Champagne in the highest bar in the world, got purposely elbowed in the face by a Chinese woman, fell over – twice, saw a real life giant panda, and ate more strange things than I would care to admit (sea cucumber is definitely an acquired taste).

But you didn’t come here to read about my festive antics, did you?

You’ll be pleased to hear that in my absence I surmounted quite the pile of books to review, so I’m going to have a very busy start to the new year. It’s a good thing I am feeling so wonderfully refreshed 🙂

I also returned to some very welcome packages from my good friends Prudence and the Crow!

November’s box

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December’s box

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While I’m over the moon with both my books, I’ll be placing November’s choice on the bookshelf for now, purely because I reviewed all the Chronicles of Narnia not that long ago, but I can’t wait to get started on December’s choice:

Redwall – Brian Jacques

It is the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Redwall Abbey, the peaceful home of a community of mice slumbers in the warmth of a summer afternoon. The mice are busy preparing for the great Jubilee Feast. 

Bust not for long. Cluny is coming! The evil one-eyed rat warlord is advancing with his battle-scarred mob. And Cluny wants Redwall. 

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the prospect of another vintage children’s book to sink my teeth into – especially as it comes with a personal recommendation from Prudence.

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Here’s wishing you all the Happiest of New Years 🙂

There will be many, many reviews to follow.

The Mouse and His Child – Russell Hoban

“A clockwork heart can’t replace the real thing.” ― Dru Pagliassotti

I received this book in my August Prudence and the Crow box, the book selection was a fantastic bit of luck, as I’d been really craving classic children’s literature – between you and me I’m becoming more and more convinced that Prudence and the Crow are able to read my mind. From the a quick look at the front cover and the name alone – I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover, right? – I was expecting story about a mouse that fell in love with a windup mouseling. I’m sure you get the idea, something similar to Pinocchio, but English – so, perhaps with afternoons spent playing in dolls’ houses pretending to drink tea. I could not have been more mistaken, but, far from being disappointed, I absolutely loved it.

The Mouse and His Child – Russell Hoban

“Where are we?” the mouse child asked his father. His voice was tiny in the stillness of the night.
“I don’t know” the father replied.
What are we, Papa?”
“I don’t know. We must wait and see.” 

the-mouse-and-his-childOn a cold winter’s evening a tin father and son emerge from a box to stand on display in a toy shop window. Outside the cold wind blows and tramp passes by, momentarily taken by the sight of the toys. Brand new, and confused, the mouse and his child struggle to comprehend what it means to be windup toys and the thought of the life that lays before them makes the poor child cry.

It is not long before they are swept away, bought by a family, destined for a life spent dancing beneath the Christmas tree – the life of a windup. It is a simple life, spent quietly fulfilling their duties; until they break the ancient clock-work rules and must face the consequences.

Discarded in the snow the mouse and his child begin a wholly different journey than the one written for them. They are rescued, repaired by a tramp, and chased by a terrible force that would see all windup toys turned to slaves. Through all that they endure the mouse and the child wish for only one thing, a place to call their own – a magnificent house, a mother, and a sister.

I wish I could say that I had read this book as a child. This is definitely a tale that will take on an entirely different meaning, and gain resonance as a person grows older. I spoke about the book with a colleague when I had just started reading it, and he said that he loved it as a child, but upon revisiting it as an adult realised, quite simply ‘wow, this is really deep stuff’. I could try and say it more eloquently, but that is the bare bones of it. The Mouse and his Child is an incredible tale of quest and determination for children, and when viewed with an adult’s mind it is absolutely brimming with philosophical thoughts, lessons, analogies, and big, gaping questions about life.

“All roads, whether long or short, are hard,” said Frog. “Come, you have begun your journey, and all else necessarily follows from that act. Be of good cheer. The sun is bright. The sky is blue. The world lies before you.” 

The humanity of Hoban’s characters is truly incredible. The authors has taken windup toys and elevated them to the next level. Each toy, however minor their role in the tale, has its own unique drive and personality: the once-proud elephant, now plushless, and with the missing ear and eye patch; the tin seal, long separated from her colourful ball; the sweet child, forever asking questions, always looking, and understanding; and even the donkey – the poor, poor, donkey – who once dared to complain. These creatures may be made of clockwork, but they are no less human than you and I. They are exhausted, frightened, frustrated, despondent, sentimental, joyous, hopeful, and forever working towards their goals. Life throws its hurdles, and each one is tackled, even if it does take a short lifetime. Can you imagine what it would be like to spends years at the bottom on a pond? Through all this, they grow stronger, never losing sight of their aims, growing, learning and interacting with all whom cross their path. Just one more step, they will get there in the end.

The mouse and his child, who had learned so much and had prevailed against such overwhelming odds, never could be persuaded to teach a success course… The whole secret of the thing, they insisted, was simply and at all costs to move steadily ahead, and that, they said, could not be taught. 

The Mouse and his Child is a truly phenomenal children’s book, which has just as much, if not more, to offer to adult readers. I feel really thankful to have discovered this book, and look forward, truthfully, to a time when I can share it with the children in my life.

Myths of the Norsemen – Roger Lancelyn Green

“The reading eye must do the work to make them live, and so it did, again and again, never the same life twice, as the artist had intended.” ― A.S. Byat

Myths of the Norsemen – Roger Lancelyn Green

I received this book in my second Prudence and the Crow box. I’ve never read much in the way of Norse mythology, so I was eager to see what the book had in store for me. I signed up to Prudence and the Crow hoping to expand my reading list, so really I couldn’t ask for a better book choice.

In the very beginning of time, so the Norsemen believed, there was no Earth as we know it now: there was only Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void. In this moved strange mists which at length drew apart leaving an even deeper Gap, with Muspelheim, the Land of Fire, to the south of it, and Nifelheim, the Land of Mist, to the north of it.

norseIn Myths of the Norsemen, Roger Lancelyn Green has taken the surviving Norse myths, collected from Old Norse poems and tales, and retold them as a single, continuous narrative. The entire Norse timeline is covered, offering a complete and concise history of the Aesir and their dealings with the Giants of Utgard, from the planting of The World Tree, Yggdrasill, right up to the last great battle Ragnarok.

This book is serves as more than just a story; it is a journey through the Norse lands, from beginning to end. Along the way the reader is introduced to famed Norse figures: the great God Odin, who wandered Norse lands seducing and impregnating women; the all-powerful Thor, just one of Odin’s many children; the mischievous, shape-shifting Loki; as well as brutal giants, scheming trolls, and bizarre creatures lurking in far corners of the Earth. With each passing saga the pressure in the book increases, signifying the approach of Ragnarok, and mirroring the battles fought by gods of Asgard. With each passing story the spirit of Ragnarok grows stronger, and the great serpent Jormungand begins to tremble, signalling the beginning of the end.

The tale stood out for me amongst all others was ‘Thor’s Visit to Utgard’, when the great god was challenged by the giants to prove his strength. Before the watchful eyes of the giants Thor failed to drink even a small amount from the king’s horn of ale, could lift only a single paw of the king’s pet cat, and fell to his knees at the hands of the king’s old nursemaid. While Thor lay ridden with shame at his failings, the giants sat in deadly peril, having witnessed the mighty Aesir drink so deeply from the sea as to cause the first ebb tide, come close to raising the Mitgard serpent, and refuse to fall before Old Age herself. This tale is so full of passion and emotion – the giants’ diabolical treachery, the ingrained fear, not just of the giants, but Thor himself, and the sheer power exhibited by the Aesir simply radiated from the pages. I couldn’t help but tremble at the thought of Thor unknowingly lifting the Mitgard serpent and bringing about Ragnarok.

The 15 tales in Myths of the Norseman will each speak to different readers. While I was moved most of all by one in particular, each separate saga has its own intrinsic appeal. I was fascinated by the -tale of beautiful Iduna and her basket of strength-giving apples, devastated by the death of Balfur at the hands of his blind brother, and increasingly infuriated by the impish yet malicious traitor Loki. There is so much to love about this book, and each of the tales nestled within its pages.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Myths of the Norseman. The book is entertaining, enlightening, and exceptional readable, as a whole, and on a story by story basis. The tales collected and retold by Lancelyn Green present an excellent introduction to the ancient Norse myths, and a deeper understanding of how such tales helped to shape modern literature.

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

I’ve just returned from a brief visit with friends down in Cornwall and am feeling wonderfully refreshed and recouped. There’s nothing quite like a stay in the country to help clear your mind and recharge your batteries.

During our stay we spent a couple of days in Falmouth checking out the many vintage boutiques and used-book shops, while stopping for an occasional ‘snifter’ in one of the local watering-holes. One such stop found us in a cosy little public house nestled down an alley behind the bustling main street. Now, each of the pubs we visited in Falmouth had its own special charm but this one was by far my favourite.

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Beerwolf Books is not like any old boozer – it is a bookshop and public house combined, and consequently one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. Every pub should be like this one. I know a lot of pubs these days have bookshelves in them, but I’m not talking about a Wetherspoons with a dusty collection of random texts that no one has ever so much as glanced at – Beerwolf Books is just as much a bookshop with beer as it is a pub with books.

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Upon entering the building, a steep central staircase brings you to a small room with shelves crammed full of books, which are available to buy from the bar, or simply to read during your stay. While there is a definite nautical/Cornish theme to a lot of the books there are also contemporary texts, classic literature and a great selection of children’s books and graphic novels. Spend a little time perusing the shelves and you are bound to find something to tickle your fancy.

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Outside of the book shop, the cosy bar provides the perfect atmosphere to unwind with your choice of tipple and literature. If you are feeling less than boozy you can curl up with a cup of tea, but the bookshop/coffee-shop combo has been done many a time before, and it seems a shame not to take advantage of the array of ales and ciders on tap.

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Obviously I couldn’t walk away empty handed. I’m not sure how I could I possibly justify NOT buying a book from a place like this. I was drawn, as is often the case, towards the children’s section and spent a while leafing through the local gems that were on offer before settling on this stunning hardback.

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A fairytale weekend

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

After being treated to these beautiful books by a good friend I spent an otherwise dismal weekend holed up in my new reading room indulging my inner child.

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddel

23301545The Sleeper and the Spindle is a great example of a children’s book made for an adult audience. Think Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty, with some dark magic thrown in. I love modern twists on traditional fairy tales, almost as much as I love traditional fairy tales, so this book was always going to go down well.

High in a tower in a kingdom far, far away a beautiful princess lies enchanted in her bed. Lately, the spell which keeps her slumbering has begun to spread, and the people of neighbouring villages have fallen victim to the sickness. Many brave souls have tried to reach the tower in the hopes of breaking the enchantment only to lose their lives, impaled on an impenetrable fortress of rose thorns. On what is to be the eve of her wedding, a young queen decides to set aside her matrimonial plans to rescue the sleeping princess. Accompanied by a team of crass dwarves, the queen takes up her sword and chain mail and travels deep into the mountains to reach the sleeping kingdom.

The Sleeper and the Spindle combines the traditional themes we all know and love with an exciting modern twist, to create an enchanting, yet ominous tale – as delicately unsettling as it is deliciously captivating.

Oh and the illustrations are nothing short of spectacular.

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Russian Fairy Tales – Alexander Afanasyev, with illustrations by Ivan Bilibin

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If you saw my post about Children’s Stories from Japanese Fairy Tales and Legends you’ll no doubt be familiar with my fascination with foreign fairy tales. In fact, this interest does not apply just to fairy tales – myths, legends and ghost stories are also high up my list of interests. I find it really interesting to see how stories from different nations compare to those I grew up with and know so well.

This collection of tales was written, or rather, recorded by renowned Russian folklorist Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev in the mid-19th century. The book contains some of the best-known Russian folktales, including: Vasilisa the BeautifulThe Feather of Finist the Falcon; The Frog-Tsarevna; and Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf.

Of all the characters I came across in this volume, and there are a few who feature in more than one tale, I was particularly taken by Baba Yaga.

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Baba Yaga is a cannibalistic witch who lives in a small wooden hut at the edge of the forest. Now, this description may not seem so different from a lot of other witches in children’s stories, but Baba Yaga has so many fantastic quirks, the likes of which I would never have imagined.  Her hut stands on hen’s legs, and will only lower itself to permit entry when in receipt of a certain rhyme. It is also surrounded by a picket fence adorned with the skulls of Baba Yaga’s victims, the eye sockets of which glow in the night.  Instead of a broomstick, Baba Yaga travels through the forest in a giant mortar, driving herself forward with a pestle in her right hand, while sweeping the forest floor with a broom in her left hand. Oh and she is also often followed by spirits.

I love her.

Having no familiarity with Russian folklore prior to this, I feel the collection gave a good introduction to some of the most famous characters in Russian folk literature. It’s a beautiful volume, and some of the illustrations are so elaborate I feel I could have spent hours studying them.

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Billy’s Tenth Birthday – James Minter

 “If you’re horrible to me, I’m going to write a song about it, and you won’t like it. That’s how I operate.” ― Taylor Swift

21685402-256-k269886Billy’s Tenth Birthday is the first volume in James Minter’s new Life Learning Series. The story follows Billy, a young boy who turns ten on the tenth October – 10, 10, 10 – a once in a lifetime occasion. Billy’s excitement at his ‘big’ birthday perfectly encapsulates that of a child who is bordering on adolescence – each birthday seems so much more important than the last, and the move from single to double figures is one of the greatest of all.

On Billy’s birthday he is over the moon to be given a £20 note by his granddad. No more silly children’s toys, he can finally buy what he wants. At the age of ten this must seem like a huge amount of money – possibly more than Billy has ever owned. The options available to him seem countless. But things take an unpleasant turn when the local bully hears about Billy’s birthday present, and forces him to give it up – or else. Billy, like many other children his ages, agrees to the bully’s demands.

Billy is devastated to have lost his special birthday present, but he attempts to keep the situation a secret from his mum and granddad. He has nothing to be ashamed of but has convinced himself that the adults in his life will be cross if they find out what has happened. Like many bullied children he feels he cannot turn to anyone for help. Fortunately, luck is on Billy’s side, and a little bird finds out about the Bully and tells Billy’s granddad. Together they are able to hatch a plan to get the note back and to ensure the bully gets what’s coming to him!

Billy’s Tenth Birthday is a wonderful example of a story that young children can enjoy reading together with their parents. The book carries Minter’s trademark wit, and is well written and accessible, but it also deals with a serious issue that will affect many children as they grow up. Bullying can be a difficult subject for children to talk about, many may feel frightened or embarrassed if they fall victim to bullying. Minter’s book acts as the perfect icebreaker for adults and children to begin discussing these issues.

The message in Minter’s book is clear – you can’t rid the world of bullies but you can do something about how you deal with them.