Breath­ing new life into old tropes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS -

snow. Fiona Wood­cock’s del­i­cate pointil­list images evoke the ethe­real magic of both the orig­i­nal story and its set­ting.

Shirley Hughes’ An­gel on the Roof (Walker Books, £12.99, 5+) also boasts a mir­a­cle. When an an­gel lands on the roof of Lewis Brown’s house, he is the only one who no­tices. How­ever, the si­lent ser­aph has a strange ef­fect on all the res­i­dents of Num­ber 32 Par­adise Street. The Sharples have stopped ar­gu­ing, teenager Dan has taken his head­phones out of his ears, and Miss Babs Ridezski has started singing, al­beit in a for­eign tongue. Here, Hughes’ gold and blue ink il­lus­tra­tions have a par­tic­u­lar kind of ur­gency that lends it­self well to the hal­lu­ci­na­tory lilt of this Christ­mas story. “Blurred like a quick-pose life draw­ing”, they cap­ture the move­ment of the an­gel as she brings Lewis on a jour­ney that re­minds him of the strength that can be found in dif­fer­ence.

Rory, the small­est rein­deer in Santa’s herd of helpers, is also cel­e­brated for his unique­ness in Natasha Mac a’Bháird’s Rein­deer Down! (O’Brien, ¤14.99, 3+). He might not be strong enough to pull the sleigh, but he can slip down a chim­ney quicker than even the Big Man him­self. When Dancer gets in­jured en route to Dublin and the sleigh is grounded, it is also Rory who finds a solution. He di­rects the trav­el­ling party to the Phoenix Park, where there are more than a few Ir­ish deer happy to help. Il­lus­tra­tor Au­drey Dowl­ing brings the reader on a visual jour­ney through the Ir­ish land­scape, of­fer­ing aerial views of The Gi­ant’s Cause­way, New­grange and Aras an Uachtaráin, as well as some very cute, smil­ing rein­deer.

Christ­mas is an es­pe­cially good time to share some of the best books of the year with young read­ers. 2019 saw the launch of Scal­ly­wag Press, who of­fered some gor­geous new ti­tles to book­shop shelves. These in­clude Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book (£12.99, 3+), which blends an ac­ces­si­ble mo­ral fa­ble about in­clu­sion with a per­ti­nent po­lit­i­cal sub­text that par­ents will en­joy, and Cori Do­er­rfeld’s The Rab­bit WhoLis­tened (£12.99, 3+), which boasts gen­tly ex­pres­sive images and a tem­plate of tools for res­o­lu­tion when faced with in­evitable dis­ap­point­ments. Pub­lisher Stripes also brought at­ten­tion to de­tail in their tex­tured hard-backed pub­li­ca­tion of Two Sides ( £7.99, 6+) by Polly Ho-Yen, which uses shared nar­ra­tion to tell the story of fall-out and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween best-friends Lulu and Lenka.

Felicita Sala’s Lunch at Num­ber 10 Pomegranat­e Street (Scribe, £16.99, all ages) shares the cul­tural tra­di­tions of an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, with a unique blend of pic­ture-book nar­ra­tion and recipes that chil­dren will en­joy test­ing with their par­ents. Mary Mur­phy’s

(Walker Books, £12.99, 2+) is also about fos­ter­ing the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship. The cho­rus per­fectly evokes the cir­cu­lar na­ture of the child’s imag­i­na­tion, while Zhu Cheng-Liang’s strik­ing, ro­man­tic paint­ings are full of amus­ing de­tail. So­phie Dahl’s Madame Badobe­dah (Walker Books, £12.99, 5+), with glorious wa­ter­colour il­lus­tra­tions from Lauren O’Hara, is full of ex­otic de­tail, as don­keylov­ing Ma­bel spies on the most mys­te­ri­ous res­i­dent at the Mer­maid Ho­tel.

Thomas Tay­lor’s at­mo­spheric Mala­man­der (Walker Books, £6.99, 9+) is also set in a ho­tel, where the chief Lost and Founder, Her­bert Lemon, is tasked with find­ing and killing the myth­i­cal sea-ser­pent who has been tor­ment­ing the town. Ben Clan­ton’s se­ries (Eg­mont, £5.99, 6+) also has an un­der­wa­ter emphasis, with its graphic form and comic con­tent prov­ing par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive for re­luc­tant read­ers.

It is also worth re­mem­ber­ing how at­trac­tive non-fic­tion ti­tles can be for bur­geon­ing bib­lio­philes who strug­gle with read­ing. Some of the year’s best in­clude The Great Ir­ish Science Book by Luke O’Neill (Gill Books, £24.99, 8+), which tra­verses vast gal­ax­ies and zooms in on mi­cro­scopic de­tails of the world around us, and John and Fatti Burke’s Count­ess Markievicz: The Rebel Count­ess and Brian Boru: The War­rior King (Gill Books, £9.99, 6+), which marry ac­ces­si­ble fact and dy­namic graphic imagery.

An illustrati­on by Fiona Wood­cock from Abi El­phin­stone’s The Snow Dragon

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