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November Literature Review

What if thoughts really do become things? What if the power of the human mind could be used to summon that which we needed? And what if our imagination could save us in the most unexpected of situations? It’s not news that quality literature can provide inspiration and courage for readers and also be the vehicle through which sensitive subjects might be broached. So, with that in mind, this month's theme is the golden thread that is The Power of Thought with courage, acceptance, loss and a bit of magic thrown in for good measure as we explore delightful new picture book, A Dog With Nice Ears by Lauren Child, stunning new novel from Piers Torday: There May be a Castle and much talked-about ‘spell’ book, The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris.

Picture Book

A Dog With Nice Ears by Lauren Child (Orchard Books, 28th September 2017) 

With Lauren Child as our newly appointed Children’s Laureate, we were keen to get our hands (or should that be paws?) on her latest Charlie and Lola book and we were not disappointed. Now, we should point out that Lauren herself almost laments the fact that many ‘Charlie and Lola’ books are not what they originally were intended to be seeing as they are based on the children’s TV series that took its inspiration from Child’s characters. But this book has been 100% written by Lauren herself and we think it’s gorgeous!

Lola is desperate for a pet dog and each page is devoted to Lola and her brother Charlie talking about what sort of dog Lola imagines she might choose were their parents to allow one: what the dog might look like, what they might call the dog, … and the fact that whichever dog Lola would choose, it would need to have nice ears, a puffy tail, sniff instead of bark and ‘be a hopping dog.’ Now, Charlie and Lola’s parents, being fairly reasonable people, have already said that they’re more than happy to get Lola a rabbit (you may see, at this point, where the story is going) and Lola agrees to this. But when Charlie says, ‘But, Lola, you do NOT want a rabbit.’ she simply replies: ‘Don’t worry, I WILL choose a dog’. Will Lola get her much longed-for dog or will she accept something else in its stead? A charming read that will delight children aged 3-6 and would actually be brilliant for supporting the development of skills of inference and prediction in young children.


There May be a Castle by Piers Torday (Quercus Children’s Books, 5th October 2017)

Imagine a world where everything is linked to your thoughts. This is the world Mouse Mallory found himself in following a devastating car crash on Christmas Eve: a strange, yet in some ways, familiar world where he realises he can use the power of thought to steer his story:  'If you wanted something badly enough, like a horse or a sheep running to your rescue, they appeared.’ And likewise, if you acted like you weren't scared, nothing bad would happen.' But dressed as a knight, his trusty steed Nonky at his service (sort of) and his new friend 'Bar' they must try to get to the castle to beat the predatory dragon. But there's something else too. Something following Mouse.

His sisters Violet and Esme are trapped in the wreckage of the car along with their unconscious mother who is alive but badly hurt and barely breathing. But Violet has her imagination too and, dressed as Irish pirate, Grainne O'Malley, takes courage from a heroine who has gone before her and sets about trying to get the help that all three- trapped in the car-need. But it's Christmas Eve, they're on the snowy moors and nightfall is upon them: will help come before it's too late? And where is Mouse? The reader is left wondering if he is unconscious, having been thrown from the car upon impact or something more unthinkable: has he died?

Torday has created in this novel such a beautiful tapestry of love, loss, adventure and courage woven with delightful elements of humour: a moving yet sensitively brave foray into broaching a highly emotive subject through literature. Whilst we wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, it did move us to tears and we feel that this book, handled carefully, would work for children from year 4 (age 8/9) and up, as a whole-class reader or for the teaching of whole-class reading. The novel would be especially good for supporting the development of children’s understanding of Language for Effect not least because the story splits between two worlds: one real and the other imaginary in the time of knights, jesters and jousting. Rich in language, Torday also deploys a number of sophisticated authorial devices that add so much to an already profound piece of literature. This line from p179 is a prime example of Torday’s prowess: ‘…there were two armies silently pitched on opposite slopes…’, where the dissonance (if one can call it that – the use of the long and short /i_e/, /i/, /o/,o_i/, /o_e/ pattern of vowels) perfectly complements the use of the words ‘pitched’ and ‘opposite’. This novel really is quite something!



The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton, 5th October 2017)

This self-proclaimed spell-book has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing hard-back books that we have ever seen. And what’s more, the ‘spells’ are actually in the form of acrostic poems, arranged in alphabetical order from ‘acorn’ to ‘wren’, with each poem defining and detailing a number of ‘forgotten’ species native to the British Isles. In the introduction, Macfarlane begins: ‘Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone.’ He then goes on to write: ‘You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words…and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just…summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye’. And whilst Morris’ illustrations are exquisite so too are the actual poems. Acrostics are often stilted ‘quick- choose any word that fits with the noun that the poem describes’ affairs but these: these are stunningly-written. This book could, should, be used in so many different ways: to support topics on habitats, the UK, to support children learning about using alphabetical order, to support the exploration of poetic devices, to exalt at the pacy-ness created by the use of hyphenated words, to simply enjoy experiencing some new nouns … we could go on but think that you ought to see for yourself. But, above all, the author and illustrator have set out to use the power of thought to remind us of and teach us and our children about that which may be forgotten lest we not hold it in our minds: the beauty of nature. And references to the modern-day and technological developments that may detract from developing a love for nature and knowledge about the bountiful nouns are a stark reminder of the loss we face if we do not rejoice in and preserve all that we have. A very evocative read that we think will be delighted in by people of all ages.

Posted in: Literature Review

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