Last month, we reflected upon the power of literature that explores the darker side of life and how important this can be for children in supporting them to develop resilience to, and understanding of, their world. We shared Matt de la Pena’s views on the subject and then eagerly awaited the publication of his latest book, which is simply named Love. And so, the power of love is the central theme to this month’s literature review. How could it not be, given that we’ve just celebrated St Valentine’s Day? As sentient beings, we have the power to make our worlds full of love. But with this power comes responsibility and these themes of power and responsibility are explored in this month’s choice of texts too: Love by Matt de la Pena; Tin by Padraig Kenny and Politics for Beginners by Alex Frith, Rosie Hore and Louie Stowell.
Picture Book: Love by Matt de la Pena (G.P Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 1st 2018)
This glorious new picture book, Love, is quite simply ‘truth’. The whole concept of the book is that love comes in many shapes and forms and is found in many different places and experiences. It explores where love is: ‘in the smell of crashing waves’, ‘in the echo of your laughter’. It can be found in our parents, our relatives, in the overlooked acts of love such as the parent who leaves before dawn for work. Love’s there from the moment we are born to the day our parents wave us off in order that we can begin our lives as independent adults. And love is in our soul; the soul that looks back at us from the mirror. Whilst it is unsaid, the golden thread is that we must love ourselves, each other and our precious world.
In its many guises, love is there ready to envelop us even in the form of a piece of burnt toast that has been made with the best of intentions. But even with the best of intentions, sometimes the love goes: ‘But it’s not only stars that flame out, you discover. It’s summers too. And friendships. And people.’ Sometimes there might be sadness attached to love and love to sadness. And it’s this concept of imperfection that makes this text all the more beguiling, we feel.
The sumptuous illustrations by Loren Long are strikingly simple with soft edges and, it would seem, an outpouring of love. What is so special is that there are subtleties to the illustrations that make this text relevant to anyone, anywhere in the world and in any circumstances. And is that not right given that ‘love makes the world go round’, or so they say?
Such a lovely gift for someone special but would also work well as a read-aloud in the primary class ‘just because’ or even to stimulate discussion for PSHE or a P4C session.
Novel: Tin by Padraig Kenny (Chicken House, 1st February date 2018)
Set in a world of mechanicals and humans, Tin explores the concept of sentience as well as other huge ideas such as verisimilitude, which we had to look up as, beyond the Teenage Fanclub song of the same name, this isn’t something we knew much about. The Popperian theory of verisimilitude (or ‘truthlikeness’) is the idea that one false theory can be closer to the truth than another. And this adventure is full of false theories and misconceptions.
One of the first characters we meet is Absalom- the Biblical derivative being father of peace – an engineer of mechanical children. And thus Absalom could be considered to be a father of sorts but we’re not sure of the peace he has brought, if any. In fact, he has a haphazard approach to his work and clearly lacks integrity. We also meet Christopher and Estelle – Absalom’s assistants. They are ‘proper’ in the eyes of the mechanicals as they have feelings. The mechanicals, whilst having the ability to think, cannot feel. And think they do: evidently, they think that Absalom isn’t up to much: Rob hasn’t been properly finished and as a result, longs for respectable –looking eyebrows; Manda has legs of odd lengths. But the engineer harbors a dangerous secret and, when Christopher is involved in a terrible accident, it would seem that Absalom’s cover has been blown. Christopher is taken away by two men claiming to be from The Agency and the friends leave Absalom and set out on a quest to rescue their beloved Christopher, for the mechanicals think in a kind way and behave in a kind way even if they cannot feel kindness. But when they track down the famous mechanical engineer, Philip Cromier, they are not prepared for what they are about to discover.
A fast-paced and, at times, moving adventure that really explores the depths of love that beings – sentient ones or otherwise - can have for one another as well as the idea that knowledge is power and that, sometimes, just because we have the knowledge to do something it isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Watch out for the emotionally charged moment when one of the characters carries out the ultimate sacrifice borne out of love.
Lovers of Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart books and Malorie Blackman’s Robot Girl are bound to enjoy this exciting and dangerous fantasy adventure which we feel would work well as a reading teaching text or as a read-aloud for year 5 and up.
Non-fiction: Politics for Beginners by Alex Frith, Rosie Hore and Louie Stowell (Usborne, 8th February 2018)
This is a work of genius, in our opinion. A book about politics for the younger reader is not on a subject that would appear all that accessible for children but the trio of authors have managed to skillfully craft something that is completely relevant yet not in any way patronising or so infantalised that it has no meaningful content.
The detail in this is so thorough that it’s a brilliant read to get children to understand not ‘politics’ in the way it’s banded about as in House of Commons, Whitehall, scandal, money, peers etc etc but in the truer sense of the word that politics is for everyone and that it’s essential that everyone understands the basics. Indeed the book’s introduction states: ‘... politics actually covers the way people make decisions about how to work together in all kinds of groups, big or small’ and then goes on to exemplify this through the use of an analogous scenario featuring a sports team and likening this to a society. Key facts are cleverly interspersed with cartoon-style illustrations complete with speech bubbles. This is helpful as it is clear which bits are fact and which are opinion.
Included is information about politics through history from the viewpoints of political philosophers such as Arendt to revolutionaries such as Zapata. Types of voting systems, governing structures, the need for and processes of law and order and why people might choose to protest are all covered too.
The final chapter is given over to ‘Big Questions’ and it is this that brings us back to our themes of love, power and the power of love. One of the most powerful sections in this chapter is on the subject of ‘Immigration’ where refugees are clearly explained as people who have no choice but to leave their country and not just for reasons of war but also persecution due to being gay or having differing ideologies to a country that is operating under a dictatorship. And then we are led to a brief yet powerful explanation of racism. And whilst all of this is factual, the message is clear: politics isn’t just about ‘sides’ and ‘being in charge’ but it is also (providing that one lives in a democracy) about what is right, keeping societies safe and well cared-for. Essentially, we need politics in order that we can love and care for one another. Otherwise anarchy would prevail.
What’s so refreshing about this is that it has real substance: it’s detailed and suitably ‘highbrow’ yet entirely accessible for children of aged 9 and up provided that they were reading it with an adult/older child. We can see this being a brilliant family dinner-time conversation- starter and of huge value in supporting work in many curriculum areas.
Posted in: Literature Review