22 December 2009

Book of the Week (43): "Snow White" by Jane Ray

This one is for all you late shoppers, running around like headless chickens, tearing your hair out, trying to find those last few elusive Christmas presents. Well, if you happen to have a 3-7 year old on your list, or even an adult with an appreciative eye and a taste for fairytales, you are in luck. Walker books just published a new edition of Snow White, retold and illustrated by one of their top artists – Jane Ray. This edition is subtitled “A Three Dimensional Fairy-Tale Theatre” and includes 6 scenes, all framed by dramatic red curtains, behind which hides the story itself, told simply and elegantly, with no frills to distract from the main event: the outstanding illustrations. Exquisitely detailed, coloured in a warm palette, and with Ray’s signature patterns, these illustrations, inspired by folk art from various locations, are especially suited to this classic fairytale. Each scene is delicately layered, bringing the characters and their surroundings to life. Rich and vibrant, it is bound to impress any child, and quite a few adults, who will be delighted to find it under their tree. A truly special gift, if you can bear to part with it.

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

  • Jane Ray has illustrated a beautiful edition of Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Berlie Doherty and including twelve stories.
  • Jan Pienkowski’s Fairy Tales is another beautiful edition illustrated with his stylish silhouettes to a truly magical effect.

17 December 2009

Book of the Week (42): "Ernest" by Catherine Rayner

This is a very simple, one-idea book. But it's such a good idea, and so well executed, that it's a really pleasing, satisfying read even for those of us who aren't two years old...

Ernest is very large. A very large moose. So large, indeed, is Ernest the moose that he can't even fit into this book! You can see bits of him on each spread, but he can't quite squeeze himself fully in, however hard he tries - which is very, very sad... But Ernest has a persistent little friend, and together they devise a brilliant solution, leading to a final fold-out quadruple-size page, and there he is!

Catherine Rayner's pictures are gorgeous (she won the Greenaway Medal this year for Harris Finds His Feet), making Ernest so much more than just a good joke, but a sweet, lovely book all-round. Just delightful.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

07 December 2009

Book of the Week (41): "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by John Lawrence

A horse dashing through the night, a deadly black spot… Prepare for the adventure of your life. The wild, whispering sea dominates the book, as it did illustrator John Lawrence’s childhood, and he portrays it in all its moods; you can hear the rolling waves, and the cabins creak and experience the wonder and cruelty of sea life. We accompany the pirates' approach to the Admiral Benbow inn, the rowdy bustle of harbour life. The cast of unforgettable characters leap from the page; Lawrence’s vibrant woodcut engravings convey the rough-hewn, vivid lives of Jim and his pirates, and portrays the extraordinary Long John Silver, Jim’s nemesis and saviour, and one of the greatest characters you’ll ever meet, just as I imagined him, leaving him haunting you long after you close the book. Rarely have I seen illustrations that match more closely to my own ideal image of the story and its characters; they amplify the key scenes like the best music does in a film, so we feel we are peering over brave Jim Hawkins's shoulder as he writes. We creep through trees of the mysterious island itself, catching glimpses of shocking scenes, and stumbling upon the castaway Ben Gunn, who reveals an extraordinary secret. The text itself is beautiful; but the illustrations make is something special. A fantastic gift, perfect for pirates of all ages.

The Walker Illustrated Classics series of which this is a part is an amazing project, and they have matched artists to the texts perfectly, with each artist responding imaginatively to the text in a way that opens up new ways of seeing. Particular favourites so far are Chris Riddell’s rendering of Gulliver’s Travels, Inga Moore’s wonderfully evocative drawings for The Secret Garden, and the witty paintings and collages of Sara Fanelli that capture the mischevious spirit of Pinocchio. The series is hugely collectable, and gives both new readers and those familiar with the classics an ideal opportunity to discover some of the greatest children’s stories ever told, in beautiful editions that make turning each page a surprise and delight.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

01 December 2009

Book of the Week (40): "Crocodile Tears" by Anthony Horowitz

Alex is in Scotland for New Year’s Eve enjoying normal life for once. Until he meets Desmond McCain who is head of a charity called First Aid. He starts a simple card game that slowly becomes a duel to the death. This all gets worse when he meets a journalist who plans to reveal the truth about Alex being a spy. Alex is forced to ask MI6 for protection, but this sends him on a new mission that could lead to the deaths of millions of people in East Africa. Will he be able to save millions of African people or not? You have to read the book to find out!

This is the 8th book in the Alex Rider series and probably the best one because it really keeps you gripped. My favourite character is, without doubt, Alex - because he’s curious, clever and strong (I could probably go on forever...).

Recommended by Jeremy Assouly, age 11