Friday, 6 June 2014

Two Perfect Picture Books: ‘Snowy’ by Berlie Doherty and ‘Lord of the Forest’ by Caroline Pitcher, reviewed by Pauline Chandler

I love picture books, but there are so many these days that it is hard to choose which to add to my collection. The two I've chosen here are superlative examples, very different from each other, but both sharing that loving attention to the needs of children, which the best children's writers share. 

Both books are out in new editions for 2014: ‘Snowy’ is out now and ‘Lord of the Forest will be available in a mini version, from August 7th.  

‘Snowy’  by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Keith Bowen

Rachel lives with her mum and dad on a narrowboat, on the canal. She loves living on the boat, but what Rachel loves most is Snowy, the boat horse. When her teacher invites the children to take their pets to school, Rachel is distraught when Mum says no, she may not take Snowy. Snowy has to work, pulling the barge along the canal. Rachel is miserable when she tries to tell her classmates about Snowy. They laugh at her descriptions and don’t believe in her beautiful pet.

In a happy turnabout, Rachel’s teacher organises a school visit to the canal, where the children can see Rachel’s home, the narrowboat, and meet Snowy for themselves.

There is so much to enjoy in this outstanding picture book. First, it’s a story about real children, delightfully observed, who might wobble a loose tooth or poke a finger through a button hole, and sometimes cruelly tease a classmate, whom they think is telling a tall tale. As you might expect from Berlie Doherty, a supreme storyteller, the text is made to work hard, painting the rich details of barge life, in clear but lyrical language, and not shying away from the challenge of some hard words, the boat’s name for instance, Betelgeuse, with the pronunciation kindly explained as Beetle Juice, or ‘swingle tree’, the name for the stick used to attach the horse to the long barge rope.

This is a gem of a picture book, though, because of the story. It has all the elements of the best stories: a hero wronged, who is finally redeemed and justified, an unusual  setting, full of interest, and characters who behave as real people do. Writing a picture book of this quality is difficult. It’s a pleasure to see it so perfectly realised. 

Highly recommended for children aged 6+

‘Lord of the Forest’ by Caroline Pitcher, illustrated by Jackie Morris

Tiger has his eyes tight shut when he’s just born, but he can hear all the sounds of the forest: the slither of snakes and the whooping of monkeys. His mother says, ‘When you can’t hear the sounds, be ready. The Lord of the Forest is on his way.’

As Tiger grows up, he plays and explores, and still hears every sound: the creep of crabs, the flip of fish: then as an adult, seeing everything, his eyes are ‘worlds of wildness’.

Still he waits for the Lord of the Forest to come. Peacock, Rhino and Elephant all make their claim, but Tiger knows it is none of them.

When he meets his mate and raises his own cubs, he climbs to the highest ridge and roars his name across the forest: TIGER!  And finally he hears – SILENCE.
It’s his mate who shows him the truth, by inviting him to look at his reflection in the lake: ‘The Lord of the Forest is here.’  

As we’ve come to expect from Caroline Pitcher’s magical picture books, this is a superlative story, beautifully unfolded, at a pace that suits young children. ‘Lord of the Forest’ is a feast for the ears and eyes, and could be described as a poem in honour of tigers, with a wonderfully spare and lyrical text, powerfully illustrated by Jackie Morris.

Highly recommended for children aged 6+  

Pauline Chandler       



Penny Dolan said...

So good to hear of such fine - and finely illustrated - picture books being re-issued.

Ann Turnbull said...

Lovely! And on my 'to buy' list now...

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