How to recog­nise a good pic­ture book? Well, The Thing is . . .

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS&BOOKS - Claire Hen­nessy

Adults with­out small chil­dren in their lives at a given time of­ten for­get how sad and melan­cholic pic­ture books can be. Si­mon Put­tock and Daniel Egnéus’s

(Eg­mont, £6.99) at first seems sim­ply quirky and de­light­ful. A brightly-coloured “Thing” brings four strangers to­gether, even­tu­ally lead­ing to a fun­fair be­ing set up around it and in­ter­na­tional de­bates about whether “the Thing” should stay or go.

Beau­ti­ful, smudgy il­lus­tra­tions and vari­a­tions in text size en­rich this ac­count of a mys­te­ri­ous ob­ject which in­vites ques­tions about what be­longs where, and how mean­ing is made. But the bit­ter­sweet fi­nale – in which the new­found friends go their sep­a­rate ways – does make this adult reader yearn for an­other “Thing” to bring them back to­gether again.

Also from Eg­mont is by Louise Greig and Ash­ling Lind­say (£6.99),

The Thing The Night Box

a rhyming-verse ac­count of how night takes over from day and what it does. “Night turns tiny sounds up LOUD. Just a plink! That’s all. Just a drip, not a wa­ter­fall.” Night seems both mag­i­cal and com­fort­ing, and the im­age of night as “kind”, “silent and strong all night long, to hold in its arms a bear and a boy” is sure to soothe any young lis­ten­ers anx­ious about the dark. Sam Bishop and Fiona Lun­ders’s

(Faber & Faber, £6.99) is far more of a day­time read. In­ter­ac­tive rather than nar­ra­tive, it fea­tures a di­verse range of chil­dren and what they do like – and don’t. At var­i­ous points the reader is asked what they like and dis­like, with space at the end for them to fill in their own speech bub­bles. It is most em­phat­i­cally a use­ful class­room tool rather than a great work of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, but cer­tainly one for teach­ers to keep in mind for the new school year.

Kidlit pow­er­houses Drew Day­walt and Adam Rex team up for

( HarperCollins, £12.99), in which the ori­gins of the game – or bat­tle – are re­vealed in zany prose and dra­matic il­lus­tra­tions that ex­plode over the page. Rock, Paper and Scis­sors have emerged from var­i­ous realms – Paper hails from Desk Moun­tain, for ex­am­ple – to find wor­thy op­po­nents.

Along the way each has de­feated var­i­ous foes, com­plete with witty ban­ter: “Let us do bat­tle, you tacky and vaguely round mon­stros­ity!” Scis­sors de­clares to a roll of

Bees, I Don’t Like Honey! I Like The Le­gend of Rock Paper Scis­sors

sticky-tape, who re­sponds with, “I will bat­tle you, and I will leave you beaten and con­fused with my ad­he­sive and tan­gling pow­ers!” Pic­ture books are of­ten viewed as the do­main of the very young only, but this holds up as a most pleas­ing read for ages five to nine as well.

For older read­ers, the reign­ing queen of Bri­tish chil­dren’s fic­tion, Jac­que­line Wil­son, turns to the sec­ond World War with

(Doubleday, £12.99), a

Wave Me Good­bye

de­pic­tion of be­ing evac­u­ated to the coun­try­side told from the point of view of book­worm and dreamer Shirley. Com­plete with il­lus­tra­tions by Nick Shar­ratt, the story han­dles the bal­ance of big wor­ries – the war – with the smaller de­tails of what it means to be sep­a­rated from one’s fam­ily while life still goes on.

As with most of Wil­son’s heroines, Shirley is im­per­fect but very be­liev­able and en­dear­ing. “I liked the idea of be­ing sen­si­tive,” she muses at one point. “It made me sound in­ter­est­ing and in­tel­li­gent and spe­cial.” She imag­ines her­self com­fort­ing the smaller evac­uees, or danc­ing bal­let ex­pertly like her fic­tional idols, but the re­al­ity proves quite dif­fer­ent. Tak­ing place be­fore the worst hor­rors of the war, this novel is mostly a hope­ful one.

AP Win­ter’s (Chicken House, £6.99) of­fers up an in­trigu­ing premise – a steam­punk world with­out magic (and where “go­ing magic” is an in­sult), or at least ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial ac­counts, and a small boy who gets caught up in the mid­dle of it all. Alas, Bert, the hero, is not as en­gag­ing as he might be, and de­spite a neat twist about one of the char­ac­ters, many of the fan­tasy tropes here have not had an in­ter­est­ing slant put on them. The end re­sult feels cliched – not least be­cause (whether fair or not) hav­ing any redeemed vil­lain de­clare to an or­phan hero, “You have your mother’s eyes”, im­me­di­ately calls JK Rowl­ing to mind.

A more vivid and orig­i­nal voice for the

The Boy Who Went Magic

9-12s can be found in Ja­cob Sager We­in­stein’s (Walker, £9.99), in which Hy­acinth Hay­ward moves to England and dis­cov­ers the se­cret world of Lon­don’s sew­ers. De­spite the fan­tas­tic el­e­ments, Hy­acinth im­me­di­ately feels real, ob­serv­ing both dif­fer­ences be­tween Bri­tish and Amer­i­can cul­ture (“The whole coun­try is ly­ing to me,” she de­cides when hear­ing that the “first floor” and “ground floor” are dif­fer­ent things) and is­sues per­tain­ing to big­ger, chaotic mag­i­cal mat­ters. Fi­nally, Ali Stan­dish’s

(Or­chard, £6.99) of­fers up pure re­al­ity for the nine-plus crew, even though at times it seems there may be a ghost. But from very early on we learn that the nar­ra­tor, Ethan, is far more haunted by an in­ci­dent that harmed his best friend than any­thing su­per­nat­u­ral. Mov­ing to a new town with his fam­ily, he quickly be­friends Co­ralee, whose ex­cit­ing sto­ries pull him in – but are they re­ally hers?

The por­trayal of chil­dren deal­ing with grief and loss is sub­tle and be­liev­able, with class­room politics por­trayed painfully ac­cu­rately. Touches of wry hu­mour through­out, as well as Co­ralee’s en­er­getic and of­ten self- drama­tis­ing di­a­logue – “Ev­ery­one needs a friend, new kid,” she de­clares. “Even weirdos like you.” – keep the novel from get­ting overly maudlin. Not too grim for a sum­mer read, af­ter all.

The City of Se­cret Rivers Be­fore The Ethan I Was

Claire Hen­nessy’s lat­est young adult novel is Like Other Girls (Hot Key Books)

‘The Le­gend of Rock Paper Scis­sors’ re­veals the ori­gins of the game – or bat­tle – in zany prose and dra­matic il­lus­tra­tions that ex­plode over the page

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