Book Review: A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_child_of_booksWhat a remarkable piece of creativity this book is. I have admired Oliver Jeffers since I read the Crayons books [The Day the Crayons Quit, and The Day the Crayons Came Home], and think his work is wonderful.

However I could NEVER have imagined something like this. It’s a picture book, but it’s not. It’s maybe for kids, but really not. It’s really for adults, but also for kids…. The storyline is deceptively simple, and will appeal to all those who know just how important stories are in our lives, from birth to our final destination whatever that is.

But it’s in the actualisation of the words of the story on each page that the magic lies. Every two page spread is illustrated – it’s a picture book, after all – but beside, over, under, around the child of books, part of every page is composed of text from wonderful stories. Gulliver’s Travels, the Swiss Family Robinson, Peter Pan and Wendy, fairy tales and many more are woven, drawn, imagined into amazing backgrounds. It’s a delight. It’s also nearly impossible (for my eyes, any way) to read the background illustrations, but I think it’s the effect of these illustrations which is so wonderful. They support the text of the storyline brilliantly and I really, really hope that Jeffers and Winston create other books together.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to buy this book, borrow it from your library, give it to your teenagers and your granny – it’s indeed a book for all ages.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

A Child of Books
by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406358315

Book Review: Azizi and the Little Blue Bird, by Laïla Koubaa and Mattias De Leeuw

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_azizi_and_the_little_blue_birdAzizi and the Little Blue Bird is a modern-day fairytale, based on very recent current events. Inspired by the Arab Spring, and in particular the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, author Koubaa and illustrator De Leeuw weave an allegorical tale that has layers of meaning that are not always obvious to the reader

Tih and Reni are dictators, living off the fat of the land in a huge palace and making their presence felt with obligatory photos in the nation’s living rooms. The walls have ears, and free speech is not safe. They are obsessed with capturing all the blue birds in a giant cage. The blue birds are representative of Twitter, and the widespread censorship of the internet by various governments during the revolutions – when I worked this out, suddenly the story made a whole lot more sense, and became more than just a poetic tale. (You can read more about the internet censorship here.)

One of the blue birds escapes, and helps Azizi to rescue the other blue birds, and put an end to the rule of the greedy rulers. Free from oppression, “The people were able to breathe again, and they grew like lentils, danced like palm trees, and curled like calligraphy”. I really loved the use of language within the story, which has been translated from Flemish by David Colmer.

De Leeuw is widely regarded as a Flemish Quentin Blake, and his illustrations certainly capture the energy of the story in the same way that Blake does. The illustrations look simple at first, but are deserving of a second, closer look – there’s lots going on.

I would share this story with children from about 8 years old upwards. As a teacher, it would be a really interesting discussion piece when talking about social media with students at an intermediate or high school. So often social media is portrayed as something for children to be very wary of, with internet bullies, etc; Azizi and the Little Blue Bird gives readers a different perspective on the value of social media. It is also interesting to compare such modern story with traditional fairy tales such as those by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Publishers, Book Island, have helpfully produced some teaching notes, which you find here.

Recommended for readers who like thinking!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird
by Laïla Koubaa and Mattias De Leeuw
Published by Book Island Publishers
ISBN 9780994109866