Book Review: The Yark, by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_yark.jpgAs if there weren’t enough child-hungry monsters lurking in the shadows for children to be wary of, The Yark introduces us to a blood-thirsty monster to join them. In this humorous and slightly dark children’s chapter book it doesn’t pay to be a good little girl or boy, because those are exactly the type of children the Yark craves in the dead of the night.

But the Yark isn’t like his fellow monsters. He doesn’t enjoy gobbling up innocent, wide-eyed children. In fact, he feels great sympathy for his meals, but alas, the Yark must continue the battle with his conscience as he has done since the beginning of time… or must he? Can a unusual friendship with a young but wise, little girl help him to make a change – or is his need to feast on children’s flesh too great?

Alongside his ever-growing conscience, the Yark also faces starvation as the number of good children left on earth is dwindling. This is a huge problem for the Yark, as the taste of bad children causes his stomach to churn and his skin to erupt in painful boils.

I ended up feeling compassion for the poor Yark as he seems to live a very sad existence full of misfortune and self-doubt. Santini does an excellent job of imagining the inner-turmoil and struggles that a monster like this may be faced with, as he desperately scours the earth for his next meal in order to survive. His brilliant use of words will expose young readers to an enriching array of language and gives the book it’s darkly humorous quality. The descriptions of what are considered to be “bad” children are quite irreverent, which gives you a shocking insight into what other intelligent creatures may think of human society. The Yark has enough twists and elements of suspense to keep readers hooked and includes the perfect amount fart jokes to lighten the story and make children giggle.

I thought Gapaillard’s gothic illustrations complimented the story beautifully. He did an excellent job of bringing the Yark to life with his terrifying jaws filled with huge pointed teeth which are juxtaposed by his soft, round eyes and fuzzy body and ridiculously tiny wings.

The Yark puts a twist on traditional monster stories and readers will find it hard not to side with the furry and somewhat melancholy beast in this quirky tale. The Yark is a surprisingly deep story that explores moral dilemmas, and any young reader who enjoys monsters, wicked humour, and rich language will appreciate this book.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Yark
by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571727

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Book Review: See You When I See You, by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Erikksson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_see_you_when_I_see_youSee You When I See You is the fifth book in the Dani series, about a girl starting the second year of school. The previous four books set the scene for Dani, a girl whose mother is dead and whose Dad spent a long time in hospital recently recovering from an accident. Understanding this context is useful, as without it the story seems oddly complex.

Dani has a bad start to a special day when her Dad asks her if it is OK for his friend Sadie to come over and cook dinner. It is clear from the story that Dani is not happy about this.

That day it is time for Dani’s annual school trip to the Skansen Zoo. The children go on a bus to the zoo, get a lecture about what to do if they are lost and happily have close encounters with some animals. Sadly, two of Dani’s classmates are mean to her, and in her distress she runs away. She remembers to follow the instructions of her teacher, and returns to the last place she saw her class. Suddenly she comes across her best friend, Ella. Ella is at a different school and the children make the most of the happy chance to go off and play.

The books are designed for children aged 5-7 and the publisher, Gecko Press, notes that ‘The series fills a gap of good reading for five- to seven-year-olds. It gives them a proper grown-up reading experience that is accessible but also has emotional weight.’

My seven-year-old daughter very much enjoyed the book, and I could hear the voice of seven-year-old’s in the story. With a seven-year-old’s understanding, not everything in the story is explained. We both enjoyed the illustrations, which show a child’s view of the action.

Books from this series would make a great gift for young readers, particularly those who would enjoy reading their own chapter books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford.

See You When I See You
by Rose Lagercrantz
Illustrated by Eva Erikksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571307

Book Review: The Longest Breakfast, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_longest_breakfastI loved this. It’s just delightful, and the language is great.

The baby wakes his father with the word “Toot” and dad tries had to find the toy train, but decides that breakfast should come first.

The somewhat frazzled father manages to cope with all the (apparently unexpected!) guests and their wishes for what to eat, but the baby almost gets the better of him with his constant tooting, and then a bit later he starts saying “Bzzzz” and poor Malcolm, the harassed dad, just can’t see a bee anywhere!

By the time all the neighbourhood kids have arrived and contributed their ideas on what’s good for breakfast, it all becomes quite chaotic but you’ll be happy to know that, at the end, everyone gets breakfast!

It’s a whole lot of fun. I found it interesting that the two primary school teachers to whom I showed it were unimpressed. Clearly its target audience is preschoolers and those who read to them. I can see it going over very well, and will test it on the next pre-schooler I happen upon!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Longest Breakfast 
by Jenny Bornholdt & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571673

 

Book Review – Follow Finn: a search-and-find maze book, by Peter Goes

Available in bookshops nationwide from today.

FollowFinn_Cover-450x600Finn wakes up one morning to find that the goblins are on the loose and the house is in chaos. When the goblins run off, Finn’s dog Sep gives chase, so Finn of course has to follow to see what’s happening. By the time Finn (and the reader) finds his clothes, Sep is long gone to the middle of the next page.

The clues on each page for what to find are in tiny writing, black on dark background, so some adult help may well be necessary in deciphering the clues – but I found that was part of the charm, and two heads were certainly better than one for searching. Sep of course is a great addition, and if you are hunting goblins it’s probably wise to take your dog so that he can scent home just when it’s all getting a bit much!

This is a lovely book. The use of one colour and black and white on each double-page spread is unusual, and makes it more challenging to find the clues, but my 7-year-old niece hung in there and we found 99.9% of what we should have found.

Peter Goes has a great imagination, and I think it is great to have a book about goblins, which is my personal favourite kind of magic creature.

It’s a big step up from Where’s Wally! Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Follow Finn: A search-and-find book
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571857

Book Review: Wolfy, by Gregoire Solotareff

cv_wolfyAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

After the sudden death of his old uncle, Wolfy has found himself in somewhat dire circumstances and he has too figure out what to do. Seeking help, he comes upon the very chilled Tom, a rabbit who had never seen a wolf before. United in a sense of adventure, the most gorgeous friendship between the pair develops, each having something to offer the other. Until things hit a speed bump when Tom and Wolfy play ‘Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’ Fear takes over and Tom decides that the friendship is over. But is it?

This book hooks you in from the cover onwards, and uses vibrant, colourful illustrations to great effect, complementing the text and engaging the reader in the story. The story is well paced with a great dollop of humour that will make both adult and child reader alike laugh. It is poignant in it’s emotions but never heavy.

This is a great book for the 4 year old upward reader. I suspect older children will enjoy it and as a shared reader it leaves a lot of scope for interaction. A focal point is the need for understanding in friendships and this book could easily lend itself to teachable moments.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Wolfy
by Gregoire Solotareff
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571567

Book Review: I Can’t Sleep, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_cant_sleepMy son has recently re-discovered Simon the rabbit (or is that Poo Bum?) and all six of the books that we have are currently on the ‘read every night’ list. Alex likes them because they have the words poo and fart in them, and because Simon is a little bit like him. Set in his ways, prone to stubborn fits of determination, but ultimately brave and clever!

This year’s instalment in the series is I Can’t Sleep, and it is a sweet story of sibling dependence. Simon’s brother’s name has changed from Gaspard to Caspar, which made doubt my memory, but other than that, this is one of my favourite books in the series.

Simon and Caspar have played all day, building a ‘STUPENDOUS’ hut, and they are settling down to sleep, but suddenly… Caspar recalls that he has left his toy rabbit outside! Oh no! Simon tries to explain why blanky needs to stay out there overnight, but Caspar gets more and more upset. This is shown in a comic-book style of illustration, with several frames showing the build-up of frustration. Finally, Simon gets his Super-Rabbit cape and goes outside to get it.

Will the blanky be there? Will the monster get Simon before he gets back inside? Will their parents hear him as he is going out the front door? You’ll have to read this one to find out.

I like this instalment in the Simon series for its empathy. Simon is forced to think of somebody other than himself for a change, and manages to work it to his advantage, with Caspar left in awe of Simon’s bravery. The sort of ‘face your fears and do it anyway’ theme is frequently seen in picture books, but empathy isn’t as prominent as a theme, so well done to Blake for doing it so relatably.

ICan'tSleep_TreeAlex & I also realised that the design of this book is very clever. He likes to select his favourite pages by colour, which as the reader I hadn’t noticed was different for each page. Something that kids who aren’t focused on the words will see, of course. Then, we spotted that the words on most pages are in the shape of a tree or bush – in my favourite spread (above), mimicking the illustration on the right-hand side. Clever!

The son who loves them is off to school for his first visit next week: he has been reading and reading I don’t want to go to School, and I think he might be ready.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I Can’t Sleep!
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571642

Book Review: The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

Available from bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_ice_sea_piratesAre you ready for an adventure on the high seas (without Captain Feathersword?) Pick up The Ice Sea Pirates, and you are in for a treat: Siri’s adventure holds drama, unexpected sub-plots and exotic frozen worlds at every turn.

The Ice Sea Pirates is a sea opera, if you will. It has big, crazy plotlines writ larger than life that all coalesce to tell a story of essential humanity, within the bounds of a classic adventure story. Siri and Miki live with their Dad on a small island in the far North, where the sea freezes in winter. Their Dad is elderly and still suffers from the impact of a fishing accident many years earlier, so the girls need to help to get food. When they are searching for berries on another island, they are separated, and so starts Siri’s wild adventures across the wilds of the Northern Seas.

Siri knows exactly who has Miki: the Ice Sea Pirates, lead by Captain Whitehead, who shares his loot but captures young children wherever he sails. Everybody knows the stories, and most know somebody who has been lost to the Captain. But it takes a 10-year-old with a heart of gold (or at least guilt) and a mind of steel, to decide to go after them and get her sister back. She gets hired to work in the galley of the Pole Star, befriending Fredrik, the chef on the ship.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the complex way in which friendships and relationships are described convincingly from the point of view of a 10-year-old. Fredrik’s sister was taken a decade or more ago by the Captain, and so after laying his story on Siri, he throws his lot in with her. But there is calumny, and they are separated, Siri being locked in a storehouse to ensure she misses the ship as it sails. She cautiously accepts help from a wolf-hunter of dubious moral integrity, before ending up back on the sea, then ashore again, this time becoming a surrogate mother to a merchild. Her next friendship is with the lonely boy Einar, who just wants to feed his family.

Siri’s inner life grows with every encounter, and she learns about herself and humanity through her adventures through the world. She learns to identify nastiness without a word spoken, and learns the way in which adults build up their stories to protect themselves from the truth. She also, once we reach our final destination through sheer bloody-minded tenacity, learns how quickly children can be taught through cruelty to do the same.

The illustrations from David Barrow are just perfect, and well-placed to enhance the mood of the story. The book bears quite a commercial cover for Gecko, but one that matches well the tone of the plot inside. It is dark, in tone and plot – the ice cracks with every page – so keep that in mind as you purchase.

This is an invigorating read, which delivers all the tenets of excellent story-telling, and the final scenes are unexpected and well-paced. I highly recommend it as a family read for older kids, and as a wonderful read to extend children aged 9+ with the appropriate emotional maturity. I reckon we’ll see this translation winning prizes worldwide.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Ice Sea Pirates
by Frida Nilsson
Illustrated by David Barrow
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571468