It is the human condition to have preferences, to enjoy predictability and routine but there is much to be said about leaving one’s comfort zone, trying new things and pushing boundaries. There have been numerous studies on ‘growth’ versus ‘fixed’ mindsets and perhaps we would all do well to try new things and travel outside our own comfort zones from time-to-time because you can never tell what adventures await. So, with the theme of thinking differently for this month’s literature review, we have for you the beautiful – and long-awaited – new picture book by David Litchfield, Grandad’s Secret Giant; adventure novel, The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens and gorgeous new non-fiction book Bugs by Simon Tyler.
Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 7th September 2017)
This is such a lovely, gentle book. Little Billy humours his granddad’s tales of The Secret Giant, who, without fuss, using his ‘legs as long as drainpipes’ and ‘hands the size of tables’, fixes high walls, repairs the town clock that has broken in a storm and pulls a struggling boat to safety. The giant can’t possibly be real, can he? And, if he is, Billy wants to know, then ‘why does he want to stay such a BIG secret’ if he ‘is so helpful and good’? Then, one night, Billy’s dog Murphy wakes early and won’t stop barking so Billy takes him for a walk. He decides to prove for once and for all that the secret giant isn’t real, except he is and when Billy runs away in fright he realises something rather profound: giants have feelings too and he has wrongly judged the giant through fear.
This would be a brilliant book for younger children to open up discussions around prejudice and that we need to open our minds to difference, different ways of being and different ways of thinking. The intricate illustrations would also be excellent for supporting the development of inference in reception and year 1.
The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens, based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd (Puffin, 3rd August 2017)
A novel that contains an author’s note beginning with the words, ‘It is strange to come to the end of a book and acknowledge that you wish you had not written it.’, is perhaps not what you would expect. However, the author – Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike series) goes on to quantify this by explaining the mixed feelings that must have been at play, being asked to write something that was originally commissioned for another author, Siobhan Dowd (London Eye Mystery, David Yearling Publishing, 2007). Dowd sadly passed away shortly after the London Eye Mystery was published. So we were anxious to get our hands on a copy of this – the sequel – and to see if Stevens was able to continue what Dowd had started in a similar vein. And we were in for a treat! Who doesn’t enjoy a whodunit? And who better to work out the perpetrator(s) of an art heist than Ted Spark: My name is Ted Spark. I am twelve years and 281 days old. I have seven friends. Ted is on the autistic spectrum with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. But it is the ‘different wiring’ of his brain that makes him so skilled at unraveling the complex mystery that we see unfold when Kandinsky’s painting, ‘In the Black Square’ disappears one morning from the Guggenheim. Whilst the museum is closed for refurbishment prior to the opening of the deliberately ironically-named Plain Sight Exhibition, and the main characters Ted, his sister Kat, their mother and their cousin Salim are being shown around by Salim’s mum, Gloria, who is one of the museum’s curators, fire breaks out…except, once the fire brigade have swept the building, they establish that there was no fire, only smoke from a pair of smoke bombs. When the staff and the 3 children are allowed back into the museum to resume their tour, they make a terrible discovery: someone has stolen the highly valuable painting. Things become even worse when Salim’s mum – Gloria – is framed for the heist. Held for questioning, unable to provide an alibi seeing as her bank- card was used to book the removal van seen speeding away from the scene, the three children set out to prove Gloria’s innocence and return the missing Kandinsky to its rightful home. But can they solve the mystery? And will Ted still manage to solve this mystery in the brilliant way that he solved The London Eye mystery in the first book of this series even though he feels very afraid and out of his comfort zone in such a strange city?
What we think is so lovely about Stevens’ portrayal of Ted is that the entire novel, written in first person and narrated by Ted, is written as a stream of consciousness where Ted is continually aware that he is a ‘different thinker’ and translates body language and idiom into something to which he can relate. He also has such self-awareness as a character, which carries a huge amount of charm: ‘…I could be a person who came to a new place and learned its pattern. I could change my plans, and still be Ted Spark’. And if we sometimes all tried to be spontaneous, change our plans and think differently, then who knows what we might achieve?
This would work well as a guided reading text for year 5/6’s especially for children who sometimes struggle with idioms/other vocabulary themselves as Ted translates these as the story unfolds. It would also be a brilliantly exciting whole-class reader where we think children would be begging for you to read ‘just one more chapter’ if you were to stop!
Bugs by Simon Tyler (Pavilion Children’s Books, 7th September 2017)
This is one of a few new-generation non-fiction books out there where the art-work is so beautiful that anyone – even those who aren’t keen on reading non-fiction, or those who really aren’t keen on bugs – will enjoy reading. The reason why this book also fits in with our review-theme of ‘Thinking Differently’? Well, ‘bugs’ are oft-bandied about as an incorrect term lumping together insects, arachnids, hoppers and flyers but in this book, Tyler acknowledges this in his introduction and then goes on to explain all of the different classifications of ‘bugs’ with their Latin terms, their scientific names and so forth but continues to refer to these creatures as ‘bugs’ throughout. Where he has put his own spin on things, he has made it clear: ‘The illustrations aren’t to scale. We’ve shown the insects larger than life so that you can see them in detail, but each is noted with its actual size’. The result of the author’s pairing of factual accuracy and artistry is that this book is beautifully engaging, accurate but not so ‘sciency’ as to be off-putting to readers who may not wish to be confronted with gory photographs of veiny translucent creatures or pulsating gloopy masses of larvae.
‘Bugs’ would make a very nice addition to book corners in classes across a school, topic boxes and reference sections in libraries but could also be added to a family coffee-table collection and used for home-projects or simply for dipping in and out of.
Posted in: Literature Review