Holiday reading for the kids

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It’s that time when school holidays start to pepper the calendar and the terms seem to grow shorter and shorter in inverse relationship to the lengthening days. The Millers Tale has compiled a selection of brilliant activity books covering all manner of subjects from fossils, doodling and colouring books filled with magical forests to the most exquisitely illustrated encyclopaedia of animals that will enthrall adults, let alone their kids. Finally, there’s a few story books too for when they are eventually poured into bed (check out the jazz rat!) plus a great looking guide to growing up specially written for teenage boys on the autism spectrum. Enjoy!

642 Places to Draw by Chronicle Books.

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A follow-up to the hugely popular 642 Things to Draw, this esoteric assortment of locations to sketch will send casual doodlers and serious artists on a creative adventure, be it to remote locations (Mt. Fuji wrapped in mist), just down the hall (under your bed), or to the height of their imaginations (over the moon). One for the older child and a little bird tells me that adults are obsessed with it too. Yours won’t be the first kid to come down in the morning and find their parents have already ‘contributed’.

Maps Poster Book by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska

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Quite simply one of the loveliest designed map books I have ever seen, the large-format maps printed on gorgeous textured paper will bring the world alive. The authors and designers, Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 2007 and were nominated for the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2010. Previously available as a best-selling children’s style atlas simply called ‘Maps‘, this new compilation includes detailed maps of countries, along with a map of the world too that will brighten the bedroom (and indeed any room) of your child’s home. Twenty eight maps cover national costume and monuments, natural features and food; right down to the tiniest of insects.

Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom

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Marketed in the blurb as a ‘stunning colouring book for adults’, I’d happily give this to a child aged from 10+ who likes intricate and finely wrought patterns, is patient and able to cope with not finishing in one day. Millie Marotta is a very popular illustrator and here she offers delicate outlines of forest scenes, birds and jellyfish trailing intricate tentacles printed on thick pages although I would avoid alcohol based felt pens to minimise bleeding through. There are composites of flowers that add up to a giant grizzly bear and other outlines that aren’t all they seem with ! A non prescriptive approach allows the artist to make the designs their own in what could turn out to be one heck of a trippy book with authorial suggestions for things to add when your own imagination starts to fade.

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Superbook for Superheroes by Jason Ford

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Here we have a ‘compendium of ideas’ from simple drawing and colouring to activities that allows you to create your own crusaders for justice who do battle with super villains and unravel their crazed schemes for taking over the world. Children will learn to draw villains such as the Mad Scientist, Bog Creature and Evil Robot, while also creating superheroes, their sidekicks, secret hideouts, outfits and super gadgets. And there are superpowers to discover such as invisibility, super strength, speed, flight, heat vision, teleportation and X-ray vision. A brilliant primer for the child who finds existing superheroes lacking and wants to invent their own.

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman

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There are no words for how much I would have wished for a book like this as a child, both in design and contents (my tastes haven’t changed that much).  A collection of best-loved animals from all over the world are chosen for their special talents and characteristics, made vivid and characterful in the illustrations by the author. Divided into witty and inventive categories such as ‘the architects’, the ‘noisy neighbours’, the ‘homebodies’, the ‘forever faithfuls’, the ‘champions of forgetfulness’ and more, including animals ordered through colour and habit too, this fact stuffed book will keep young explorers busy for hours.

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Usborne Step by Step Drawing Animals

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All these beautiful books packed with critters means your kids will want to learn how to draw them, an exercise that can often lead to frustration when the creatures in their minds eye do not match those they put down on paper. This book can help bridge that gap with its clear, easy to follow tricks and techniques that help kids create a lively and personality filled sketch.  The double colourful pages have step-by-step drawing instructions, space to practise and doodle in, and ideas for colouring in or adding backgrounds to help develop imagination- a useful counterbalance if your child baulks at following too many instructions. This is part of a series of books; others have mermaids, people, comics etc.

My Pop Up Body Book by Jennie Maizels and Will Petty

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A bright and bold interactive book that shows kids how it all works and takes them on a journey of discovery right from the very start- conception. There are pull tabs, lift flaps, turn wheels and pop ups plus tiny windows that show what happens internally, including the journey food makes along your alimentary tract in all its wonderful, kid friendly grossness. Useful as a visual guide for tinies and a jumping off point for more detailed explanation to the olders, the book is fun and funny, versatile and relatively hard wearing compared to a lot of interactive books which can make the mistake of sacrificing sturdiness for a design that sadly appeals more to a parent than it does to a child. This book doesn’t make this error.

Holiday Pocket Puzzle Book by Alex Frith

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Costing less than £1,50, these little portable books are ideal for backpacks and jacket pockets. Even the meanest of airplane carry on allowances shouldn’t preclude taking one of these for kids aged 6+. Featuring mazes and logic problems to solve, wordsearches, codes to crack, number puzzles and more, this book is a boredom-buster, ready to use any time you have a spare few moments.

Pirates Maze: Maze Craze Boon by Don- Oliver Matthies

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Priced at less than a fiver, this maze and puzzle has been very well received by the five and overs. Taking readers on a pirate themed fantasy where they board Captain Silver’s pirate ship, encounters with fish, mice, an octopus, a map in a bottle, and a super treasure hunt in an ancient Incan pyramid will keep them interested. Finding the lost gold and jewels whilst negotiating barriers and blocks to bewilder you and your gang of pirates challenges in a safe and non frustrating manner- handy if you need a few child free moments yourself.

Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt & Colouring Book by Joanna Basford

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An absolutely divine book that most adults would covet. Tumble down the rabbit hole and find yourself in an inky black-and-white wonderland where interactive tasks take you on a ramble through a secret garden created in beautifully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations. The pages beg to be brought to life through colouring and reward the child who is prepared to explore and pore over each page as each drawing also shelters all kinds of tiny creatures just waiting to be found. And there are also bits of the garden that still need to be completed by you. Appealing to older children and YA’s, the intricately-realized world of the Secret Garden is both beautiful and inspirational and pretty much a modern day meditative activity.

Minecraft: the Official Construction Handbook

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Again, costing only a few pounds, this is the handbook to expand Minecraft addicts abilities. This official handbook is packed with tips and step-by-step instructions from master build team FyreUK. You’ll learn how to construct houses, bridges, ships, floating islands and rollercoasters of the highest quality. There are guides to wooden houses, n impressive tower bridge build, a Nordic hall, palace gardens, mage city walls but whilst some designs have some step by step instructions (galleon ship, fortified wall, rollercoaster), others such as the Steampunk City serve a more inspirational role and don’t have instructions.

Stone Bone Girl: the Story of Mary Anning of Lyme Regis by Laurence Anholt

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History is not littered with tales of great female derring do and not because women (and girls) didn’t actually do anything. Here, the story of Mary Anning, who is probably the worlds best known fossil hunter, acts as useful counterbalance and is a well loved heroine of mine as a result. As a little girl, she found a fossilised sea monster, the most important prehistoric discovery of its time and in this lovely book, best-selling author Laurence Anholt turns her fascinating life into a beautiful story, ideal for reading aloud. Sheila Moxley’s luscious pictures vividly evoke the coastal setting and the real-life dramas of this spectacular tale. Mary Anning is a role model, inspirational especially because she came, not from a wealthy family that could afford to indulge its cossetted offspring, but from a family that actually had to live off her earnings from her beachcombing finds.

Sticker Activity: Fantastic Fossils

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Packed with over 250 easy-peel, re-usable full-colour stickers, this inexpensive book costing less than £4 takes you around the world to unearth the weird and wonderful creatures of the past and offers lots of fun activities. Become a fossil hunter: discover the most famous fossil finds, put together an Ichthyosaur, build a museum exhibit, match the fossil to the animal, go collecting fossils and put them on display. This is a book I’d recommend buying in conjunction with the story of Mary Anning featured above.

 Big Top Burning by Laura A Woollett (pub 15 June 2015)

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Big Top Burning investigates the 1944 Hartford circus fire and invites readers to take part in a critical evaluation of the evidence, helping develop their ability to pay attention and detect from the evidence presented. On July 6, 1944, thousands of fans made their way to Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut, to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus performance. Not long after the start, a fire broke out and spread as panicked circus-goers scrambled to escape. Within 10 minutes the entire big top had burned to the ground, and 167 people died. The book recounts the true story and follows the tragic stories of the Cook family—including children Donald, Eleanor, and Edward, who were in the audience that day—and 15-year-old Robert Segee, a circus employee with an incendiary past. Drawing on primary sources and interviews with survivors, author Laura Woollett guides readers through several decades of investigations and asks, Was the unidentified body of a little girl nicknamed “Little Miss 1565” Eleanor Cook? Was the fire itself an act of arson—and did Robert Segee set it? Young readers are invited to evaluate the evidence and draw their own conclusions. Combining a gripping disaster story, an ongoing detective and forensics saga, and vivid details about life in World War II–era America, Big Top Burning is sure to intrigue any history or real-life mystery fan.

The Growing Up Book for Boys: what boys on the autism spectrum need to know! by David Hartman

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The Growing Up Book for Boys explains the facts behind the growth spurts, body changes and mood swings of adolescence for boys aged 9-14 on the autism spectrum, a time which can be very confusing for all adolesecents. Using direct literal language and cool colour illustrations, this book tells boys all they need to know about growing hair in new places, shaving, wet dreams and unexpected erections. It’s full of great advice on what makes a real friend, how to keep spots away, and how to stay safe online. Most importantly, it explains that every body is amazing and unique and encourages young boys with autism to celebrate difference!

The Black Dog Mystery by Ellery Quenn Jr

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A gang of young sleuths and a trusty terrier put their noses to a bank robbers’ trail in this adventure packed with thrills, danger and suspense.  Ellery Queen’s young apprentice, Djuna, is preparing for an afternoon of fishing when a stranger leans out of his car window and asks for directions to Canada. A few minutes later, Djuna watches as the man’s friends come running out of the local bank and into the getaway car, guns blazing, before taking off for the Canadian border. It is a mystery that could baffle even Djuna’s famous boss, but with the help of a ferocious black Scottie named Champ and a few crime-solving friends, he will find the culprits. It will be the greatest adventure of his life.

The Hungry Toilet by Jason Hall

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Not a new release but who cares when a book is so witty and perfect for scatologically inclined children?  There’s rhymes, gruesome-ness and a few questions at the end plus a mystery to ponder…There is a mystery surrounding Cresington Town. People are going missing and no one knows how or why. Your will meet some fantastic and hilarious characters on your way to solving the mystery. Includes the bonus story – Going on a Bat Hunt.  The Hungry Toilet is a Top 10 Best Selling book with the author being described as the “New Roald Dahl of Rhyming.” If your children enjoy Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and David Walliams they will love this book too!

Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss

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Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a wonderfully wise and joyous ode to finding one’s path through the maze of life. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, this classic bestseller has been transformed into a popup book by master paper engineer David A. Carter. Filled with glorious pop-ups, detailed pop-up booklets, special effects, and the complete original text, this classic bursts with vibrant new energy. It’s the perfect gift for kids of all ages, and an ideal gift for anyone starting out on a new adventure- why not buy for a child embarking on his first overnight school trip or as preparation for a first holiday?

Kids Made Modern by Todd Oldham

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Fashion designer Todd brings us a thoroughly up to date take on children’s crafts books, weaving in examples of grest design such as Mid-Century Modern as a point of inspiration. Packed with craft ideas such as decoupage, the book assumes that no child is too young to have their own aesthetic. Crafts are integrated with a first rate modern art education but kids can shoot straight to crafting if that doesn’t interest them so much.

Cool Daddy Rat by Kristyn Crow

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Bursting with potential for parental scat accompaniment, in this divinely cool story a young rat hides in his father’s bass case and tags along as he plays and scats around the big city. A celebration of NYC, of fatherhood and jazz,  the lively rhythmic text is perfect for young kids and fabulous illustrations give that cool cat (or rat!) feel that lends itself so well to the slow winding down that a bedtime should be. Accompanied by some slow bluesy jazz, what better way to send them off to sleep?

Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar

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I recently interviewed the author for The Bury Spy books page and having read this wonderful book, I came away feeling educated and entertained,  Young readers will find the books sixteen year old heroine, Nan, a relatable character and one who offers an important alternative to some of the inane role models they are currently exposed to. Fans of books such as ‘The Hunger Games’ with its dominant female heroine will also find interesting parallels in Nan- parallels that transcend time and remind us that human emotions and motivations have remained fairly constant. It is 1536. The north of England has boiled over into rebellion against Henry VIII. Sixteen year old Nan Ellerton must choose – help the rebels, even though it could mean paying the brutal penalty for treason, or betray her beliefs and risk eternal damnation. A stunning historical novel for teenagers from debut author Katharine Edgar, Five Wounds tells a story of adventure, passion and courage, set against the background of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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This was hugely popular in the sixties and has stood the test of time as a wacky tale of childhood boredom and a boy who ends up in a fantasy land of words and numbers. It operates as both corrective to and depiction of adult boredom and through alliterative rhyme and gentle wit, it encourages readers to reconnect with the wonders that exist in our world.

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For those of you reading this in Suffolk and Norfolk and surrounding counties, here are a selection of local book shops who, if they don’t stock these books, will be happy to order them in. Shop local, shop in real time as there’s nothing like stepping through the door of a book shop.

Harris & Harris books, Clare

Landers Books in Long Melford

Kestrel Bookshop in Friars St, Sudbury (no website)

Ketts Community Bookshop in Wymondham

The Holt Bookshop

Aldeburgh Bookshop

Waterstones in The Arc, Bury St Eds (and there is also a Buttermarket branch too with cafe)

Norfolk Children’s Book Centre

Jarrold Books, Norwich

Book Hive, Norwich

Beccles Books

Topping Books, Ely

Bertram A Watts, Sheringham

Diss Publishing Bookshop 

Browsers, Woodbridge

Heffers, Cambridge

The Angel Bookshop, Cambridge (no website)

 

 

 

Cambric tea and turkish delight- food in children’s literature.

Books we love as children can date and grow out of kilter with our modern mores and beliefs – we still enjoy them, albeit with a more knowing heart and mind. We haven’t checked the Law of Books as to what delineates a classic as of late but these are some of our candidates- both niche and mainstream, for kids which feature fulsome or whimsical descriptions of food in their pages. Some are based around food and others use it to enhance the narrative or as a theme or metaphor but they are all compelling and have stood the test of time, ready to be rediscovered by each new generation of children.

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Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

The moral of this story is “Be careful what you wish for.” Frances loves bread and jam so much she wants to eat it every day. Frances is a fussy eater too. She won’t touch her squishy soft-boiled egg. She trades away her chicken salad sandwich at lunch. She turns up her nose at boring veal cutlets. Unless Mother can come up with a plan, Frances just might go on eating bread and jam forever! Mum Badger in her infinite parental wisdom knows the best way to deal with this is to let Frances learn that some things are made less special by over familiarity. Adventures with food and fussy eating is addressed with a light non moralising hand as Frances learns to try new things to eat and more importantly, works this out for herself. Richly descriptive in word and illustration, Hoban creates a prose masterpiece about a childhood life experience.

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Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss

“Not in a box. 
Not with a fox. 
Not in a house. 
Not with a mouse. 
I would not eat them here or there. 
I would not eat them anywhere. 
I would not eat green eggs and ham. 
I do not like them, Sam-I-am”

(From Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss)

Do you like green eggs and ham?” asks Sam-I-am  and Sam keeps asking persistently (like very young child we have ever met). With distinctive characters and unmistakable rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s beloved books have earned a place in the cannon of children’s classics. Growing cumulatively longer and longer, the list of places to enjoy green eggs and ham, and friends to enjoy them with, grows. Follow Sam-I-am as he insists that this unusual treat is indeed a delectable snack to be savored everywhere and in every way then cook Nigella’s famous riff on the meal- Green Eggs and Ham.

“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.”

 This description of Turkish Delight by CS Lewis in the ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ is the one that tantalised, confused and ultimately disappointed me the most when I finally got to try it for myself. Bouncy, jellified and perfumed, the texture and taste of Turkish Delight was so far removed from the candy of my imagination that to this day I wonder if CS Lewis actually muddled it with some other, lovelier candy. The magical description allied itself with a magical world during my childhood- a time when I so very desperately needed to be taken out of my own unloving and bleak home and my disappointment after trying Turkish Delight for the first time was bitter indeed.

How to make Turkish Delight

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi & Ron Barratt

Once upon a time there was a town called Chewandswallow, devoid of grocery stores. Food is provided by the weather and comes three times a day. It snows mashed potatoes, has split pea soup fog, and rains orange juice. It begins to storm and flood making the food become giant. This forces residents to build boats made out of bread and sail away in search of a safer place. Imagine super sized donuts rolling down the streets and wondering if a pancake could really be bigger than a house? It’s a great story that opens up questions about the weather and how fun the imagination can be, facilitating mind bending feats of creative thought. Read this with your children, get them drawing their own imaginary foods then click here for some surreal Cloudy inspired recipes to make with them.

Matron: “You are suffering from Midnight Feast Illness! Aha! You needn’t pretend to me! If you will feast on pork-pies and sardines, chocolate and ginger-beer in the middle of the night, you can expect a dose of medicine from me the next day.” (From the Malory Towers series of books)

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One of my very favourite things to read as a child was any of the Enid Blyton boarding school tales from the cliff top Malory Towers to the less striking St Claires, attended by the O’Sullivan twins. Despite being set around the time that war would have resulted in serious privation, we are kept insulated from the vagaries of this and other historical event- indeed Clive of India was one of the only historical figures I recall being mentioned (as the groan-worthy subject of revision). Despite the broadest of plot and character brushstrokes, I still read them as an adult. As Jane Brocket writes in ‘Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer’, a Proustian revisiting of the world of food in children’s literature with its recreations of famous meals and recipes, Blyton is especially gifted at depicting amazing scenes of food. Consider that these books were written during a time of rationing, surely Blyton must have been gripped by the throes of wish fulfilment as she wrote? Either that or she had great contacts in the world of black-market foodstuffs.

Think of the writing skill it takes to make sardines pressed into slices of ginger cake sound tempting. That is what some of the girls ate during one midnight feast, as they sat by a cliff-top swimming pool carved from Cornish cliffs wearing tennis shoes and sturdy utilitarian flannel and wool dressing gowns. Then there were the unctuous sounding match tea ‘Jammy Buns’ to celebrate their Malory Towers fifth form Lacrosse win. So much more desirable than their Greggs equivalent! We read the account of the midnight feast in a St Clare music room where Isobel and Pat fry mini-sausages on a purloined camping stove and rail against the sneakiness of Erica who subsequently ratted then out to their schoolmistress. To this day I can smell those sausages…and I don’t even like them. Even the description of Elizabeth’s peppermint creams in ‘The Naughtiest Girl in the School’ books made me long to try what are actually pretty average tasting candies.

In fact this love of celebrating the food in children’s books from an adult perspective leads me onto my next book discovery, the ‘Little House Cookbook’ by Barbara Mi Walker who discovered the “Little House” series when her daughter, Anna, was four. Eight further years of intermittent reading, writing, and testing produced The Little House Cookbook, a lovingly detailed exploration of just about every foodstuff mentioned in the entire series, including the appetites of the seemingly gluttonous Almanzo- Laura’s future husband.

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 The authors bibliography is four and a half pages long and in each chapter, she locates recipes within their historical context and explains every ingredient. Did you know that at in Laura Ingalls’s day, the tomatoes available were not sweet in the manner that they are now?  There were no chemical raising agents (egg whites would be stiffly beaten and ipes to the modern day kitchen.

Take the recipe for Stewed Jack rabbit with Dumplings, “If you can’t find a hunter to give you a skinned rabbit (he will want the pelt), look for a farm-raised rabbit at a German butcher shop. (Hasenpfeffer is a favorite German dish).” There is the Mittel European influence upon American migrant cooking right there.

Horehound candy, vinegar pie, parched corn and Johnny Cakes; fried apples ‘n onions, (the favourite birthday treat of Almanzo); green tomatoes or pumpkins were used for pie when apples were not available. They ate Vanity cakes at a Plum Creek birthday, the cakes’ puffed up emptiness serving as analogy for the hated Nellie Olsen  and savoured salt-pork melting into pans of baked beans: even the loaves made from wheat hand-ground in a little coffee grinder during the blizzard racked Long Winter are researched and written about. I was obsessed with trying Wintergreen Berries, something that Almanzo (again!) and his sister Alice went ‘pawing for’ on the snow-frozen slopes of New York State where their father had a prosperous farm. The description of crunchy berries gushing aromatic icy juices into their mouths was more than I could bear. The fact that I live in an area with chalky alkaline soil, ill suited to growing the plant that bears these berries, Gaultheria procumbens is a further torture.

I have never drunk tea and detest milk but I got my grandmother to make me a Cambric tea just like little Grace drank- basically hot water flavoured with milk and a smidgeon of tea, so comforting during the cold and a hint of just how poor the family often were. I basically spent my childhood pretending to be Laura and named my first born after her too. “At noon Ma sliced bread and filled bowls with the hot bean broth and they all ate where they were, close to the stove. They all drank cups of strong, hot tea. Ma even gave Grace a cup of cambric tea. Cambric tea was hot water and milk, with only a taste of tea in it, but little girls felt grown-up when their mothers let them drink cambric tea”. (The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder).

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Another fantasy figure from my childhood (I begged for a hay filled mattress that would smell clean and sweet), Heidi lived the kind of simple life that even as a young child, I recognised as something of an unattainable fantasy. The contrast between this unctuous piece of cheese on toast and the hard rolls with the knot on top served at the formal dinners in Clara’s frigid and cold city home was painful to me. The author, Johanna Spyri was actually a resident of Zürich and thought of the story of the simple Alpine girl while she was convalescing from an illness in the Grisons, which is in the eastern part of the country and a biographical parallel with Clara’s illness:

 “Meanwhile the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire, turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side … the old man filled her bowl again to the brim and set it before the child, who was now hungrily beginning her bread having first spread it with the cheese, which after being toasted was soft as butter” (from ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri)

Finding out what type of cheese this was turned out to be no easy task when you consider that goats cheese was actually not eaten that often in Switzerland then, even though Uncle Alp was a goat farmer who made cheese from his own animals. Cheese toasting over a fire was not restricted to people living in huts on the side of an Alpine mountain though; this method using toasting forks was also written about by Enid Blyton and by Robert Louis Stevenson in ‘Treasure Island’ but none comes close to Spyri’s description. It is THE uber cheese on toast but unlike Proust I have yet to rediscover my Heidi Temps Perdu. I Still don’t know what type of cheese it was although Raclette is the likeliest candidate, being an excellent melting cheese.

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As a young girl I read and re-read Susan Coolidge’s ‘What Katy Did’ series of books and was intrigued by the bottle of shrub they took to drink on one of their rainy day picnics in the loft at the very start of the book. Although Cece later admitted that the ‘Shrub’ was little more than vinegar and water, I was determined to both try it and enjoy it <shudder> and took a glass of what we had, Sarsons, mixed with tap water down to the orchard at the bottom of my grandparents garden and tentatively forced myself to drink it. Illusions firmly shattered and deciding that American vinegar was clearly superior to ours (or they had the stomach and constitution of goats) I shelved any ideas about this becoming my new go to summer refreshment.
 Until the latest post from the Bojon Gourmet landed in my in box that is. One of my favourite food writing bloggers from San Francisco, her Shrub recipe has about as much in common with my (and Cece’s) version as the saintly and slightly sanctimonious Cousin Helen from the books had with Mae West. Lavender, Kumquat, honey and apple cider vinegar all add a mellifluous depth that cancels out any tendency towards the tongue-sucking rasp of vinegar. The colour is amazing, the floral and citrus sophisticated enough for parties. Go on, try it. Even Katie would have been made good by this drink and would thus have avoided the back injury this, in part, morality tale visited upon her to show us what happens to naughty girls.

The ‘What Katy Did’ series are liberally scattered with references to food and to the occasions surrounding it. Here is the picnic in their version of Paradise where they built a rose bower to eat under;

“Katy, who sat in the middle, untied and lifted the lid of the largest basket, while all the rest peeped eagerly to see what was inside.First came a great many ginger cakes. These were carefully laid on the grass to keep till wanted; buttered biscuit came next – three a piece, with slices of cold lamb laid in between; and last of all were a dozen hard-boiled eggs, and a layer of thick bread and butter sandwiched with corned-beef. Aunt Izzie had put up lunches for Paradise before, you see, and knew pretty well what to expect in the way of appetite.Oh, how good everything tasted in that bower, with the fresh wind rustling the poplar leaves, sunshine and sweet wood-smells about them, and birds singing overhead! No grown-up dinner party ever had half so much fun. Each mouthful was a pleasure; and when the last crumb had vanished, Katy produced the second basket, and there, oh, delightful surprise! were seven little pies – molasses pies, baked in saucers – each with a brown top and crisp, candified edge, which tasted like toffy and lemon-peel, and all sorts of good things mixed up together”

And who recalls Debbie’s Jumbles sent in the boarding school Christmas hamper to end all hampers? I found the books faintly torturous; even the ‘thick pale slices of pudding with a thin sugary sauce’ served by the new headteacher on one of her weird food fad regimes for school lunch tempted me. What on earth was this pudding?

Katy’s trip to Europe with its ill fated expeditions to various locations associated with her favourite novels had her gravely disillusioned with our food, showing particular distaste for some disagreeable flannel blanket-textured muffins, which she described as ‘scorched and tough’. Little pan fried fish reminiscent of what she called ‘Scup’, commonly known now as ‘Porgy’ with its fine light flavour, and a light gooseberry preserve both met with her approval in what she called ‘Storybook England’.
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An old, little known book, ‘Girl of the Limberlost’ by Gene Stratton Porter, is a story of a girl of the mid western woods; a buoyant, loveable self-reliant American with a philosophy of love and kindness towards all things; her hope is never dimmed. The story and romance of Elnora growing up in the wetlands of northern Indiana is also a cautionary tale for ecology-lovers.

 Gene Stratton-Porter paints a picture of coming industry destroying nature and those who try to save what can be saved for future generations. My sigh of relief when Elenora’s mother turned her life around and started acting like a good mother as opposed to her original not so good one, was immense and of course that meant that food = love with glorious descriptions of the goodies placed in Elnora’s lunchbox- spice cookies, raisin turtles, candied pears, popcorn balls, haws, doughnuts, and hazelnuts to share with friends or feast on alone.

Turtles brand candy were developed by Johnson’s Candy Company (which became DeMet’s Candy Company in 1923) in 1918, after a salesman came into the commissary’s dipping room and showed a candy to one of the dippers, who pointed out that the candy looked like a turtle. Soon after, Johnson’s Candy Company was making the same kind of candy and selling it under the name “Turtles.” Commonly made in the American South, they are now a classic of the candymaker- as a child without the internet to do my research, my mind ran in ignorant riot over their name. You can imagine what I thought they were made from.

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Less a children’s book and more of a book that I read as a child, ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn‘ by Betty Smith beat Jamie Oliver to the post regarding the mythologizing of Cuisina Povera with its delicious description of mother figure Katie Nolan’s pitiful attempts to make a bone with scraps of meat on it, an onion and some stale bread into what she called Frikadellen.

Frying scraps of stale bread, sending the children to cajole that bone from a butcher who would give them the one with the most meat attached (in exchange for a ‘pinch on their cheeks’), making nothing stretch to something because of her marriage to a charming yet feckless Irish singing waiter, Katie is a true heroine. Jack Monroe and her campaign against food poverty with a blog offering inexpensive ways to feed a family, comes to mind when I read this book and as an adult, fully cognizant of the hardships faced by many families, it makes me weep. Read this and see what I am referring to:

“The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread and what amazing things Katie could make from it! She’d take a loaf of stale bread, pour boiling water over it, work it up into a paste, flavor it with salt, pepper, thyme, minced onion and an egg (if eggs were cheap), and bake it in the oven. When it was good and brown, she made a sauce from half a cup of ketchup, two cups of boiling water, seasoning, a dash of strong coffee, thickened it with flour and poured it over the baked stuff. It was good, hot, tasty and staying. What was left over was sliced thin the next day and fried in hot bacon fat.

 “Mama made a very fine bread pudding from slices of stale bread, sugar, cinnamon and a penny apple sliced thin. When this was baked brown, sugar was melted and poured over the top. Sometimes she made what she had named Weg Geschnissen, which laboriously translated meant something made with bread bits that usually would be thrown away. Bits of bread were dipped into a batter made from flour, water, salt and an egg and then fried in deep hot fat. While they were frying, Francie ran down to the candy store and bought a penny’s worth of brown rock candy. This was crushed with a rolling pin and sprinkled on top of the fried bits just before eating. The crystals didn’t quite melt and that made it wonderful.
 “Saturday supper was a red letter meal. The Nolans had fried meat! A loaf of stale bread was made into pulp with hot water and mixed with a dime’s worth of chopped meat into which an onion had been cleavered. Salt and a penny’s worth of minced parsley were added for flavor. This was made up into little balls, fried and served with hot ketchup. These meat balls had a name, fricadellen, which was a great joke with Francie and Neeley.

They lived mostly on these things made from stale bread, and condensed milk and coffee, onions, potatoes, and always the penny’s worth of something bought at the last minute, added for fillip”

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The most memorable banquets aren’t necessarily the most palatable or convivial: take the very adult Oscar Wildes black banquet in ‘Portrait of Dorian Gray’ with charcoal pathways, basalt-edged ponds and baskets of purple-black violets adorning the black-clothed table. Feasting on dark olives and Russian rye bread, slices of black puddings turgid with clotted blood shipped over from Frankfurt and wild game served in puddles of liquorice-dark sauces, the guests wore black and ate off black-edged flatware whilst mourning the passing of the protagonist’s sexual potency. Not one for children although the pepper laden meal that Cruella De Vil invites the dogs owners the Dearlys. to is just as forboding and sinister. Taking place in a Dalmatian-inspired room with its black marble walls and white marble table, reminiscent of a sarcophagus or grand tomb, Dodie Smith tells us:

‘The soup was dark purple. And what did it taste of?

Pepper! The fish was bright green. And what did it taste of? Pepper! The meat was pale blue. And what did that taste of? Pepper! Everything tasted of pepper, even the ice cream – which was black. (The Hundred and One Dalmatians)

The meal become entrenched in our minds eye in a far more potent manner as it takes the staff of life- food, and marries it with death in that tomb -like room.

 

 

A diverse world of reading for children

Finding books that reflect different cultures can be a challenge but after having a rummage through the book shelves, we’ve unearthed some really cool books for kids, showing life in all its diversity and range. Here they are.

 Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland

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A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge and shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions and risk involved in reaching refuge. Azzi and her parents are in danger. They have to leave their home and escape to another country on a frightening journey by car and boat. In the new country they must learn to speak a new language, find a new home and Azzi must start a new school. With a kind helper at the school, Azzi begins to learn English and understand that she is not the only one who has had to flee her home. She makes a new friend, and with courage and resourcefulness, begins to adapt to her new life. But Grandma has been left behind and Azzi misses her more than anything. Will Azzi ever see her grandma again? Drawing on her own experience of working among refugee families, renowned author and illustrator Sarah Garland has produced an exciting adventure story to be enjoyed by readers of all ages in a fresh and modern format.

Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez

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A multi lingual mouse and his family live upstairs inside an old theatre. They love going to the plays and shouting ‘Bravo!’ when the curtain falls. But when Gato-Gato, the theatre cat finds them, Chico Canta must use his gift for languages to save his family. Bi and tri lingual conversations fall naturally into place in this book and the child will absorb them with no awareness that he is being ‘taught’.

“Let’s form a line,’ un fila por favour’- Mrs Canta who was as round as a top, liked to sing and speak many languages- English, Spanish and Italian. Mrs Canta spoke to animals too. She could speak cricket, spider and moth.”

 Umbrella by Taro Yashima

51gpsZmkP1L._AA160_Momo can’t wait for a rainy day so she can enjoy and use her birthday presents — red rain boots and an umbrella. Bright and colorful, with bold illustrations that will have your children impatient for rain and the beautiful, rhythmic song of the rain falling on Momo’s umbrella –  Pon polo, pon polo, polo polo pon polo. In addition to telling a story of a preschooler’s impatience and eagerness, the story also tells of a child’s growing independence. With the rain comes an opportunity for Momo to grow and mature. “The street was crowded and noisy, but she whispered to herself, `I must walk straight, like a grown-up lady!'” Momo also shows signs of becoming more responsible, “She did not forget her umbrella when her father came to take her home. She used to forget her mittens or her scarf so easily — but not her umbrella” The story concludes with this memorable note, “It was not only the first day in her life that she used her umbrella, it was also the first day in her life that she walked alone, without holding either her mother’s or her father’s hand”- a bittersweet moment for parents.

Yo? Yes? by Chris Yaschka

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This short children’s book is about two lonely boys, one Caucasian the other African-American, who meet on a street and become friends, speaking with only monosyllabic words. It’s a story that has happened to all of us at one time or another. The book was a 1994 Caldecott Honor book (i.e., a runner-up to the Medal winner) for best illustrations in a book for children.  Inflection is fundamental in this story and it’s something babies are attuned to even before they know words- all babies are born with the ability to make every sound in every language so childhood is sadly a process of forgetting as well as learning. The story is meant for an older (pre-school) audience, but the fun-with-language aspect of this book makes it great for even the smallest of babies.

 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

415eaw+jY1L._SP160,160,0,T_This classic picture book, published in 1963, was the first to feature a young black hero — a small boy enjoying his urban neighborhood. No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever. The author Keats grew up in Brooklyn and changed his name from Katz to Keats after World War II. Because of the discrimination he faced, he became the first American picture book maker to give a black child a major role in children’s books and literature.

Keats was inspired to write this book and develop the central character of Peter (a boy in this book about four) because he had become spellbound by a photograph of a small boy in Life magazine. He cut out these pictures and pinned them on his studio walls. This boy in the magazine developed into Keat’s character named Peter who would go on to become the main character in six more books until he was portrayed as a young adolescent in “Pet Show”.

This is a lovely book which has Peter waking up to a “world of snowy white” delighted with the new snow and his day of playing with snowballs, making snowmen and angels and dreaming of another new day (although he feared that the snow would have melted over night). To Peter’s delight, he woke up on the second day to even more new snow. The book is delightful. I loved the part where Peter, just being filled with the joy of being a little boy, tried to capture the day and the snow by putting it in his pocket so that he could take it inside when he has to go into his house. In this way, Peter learns about the power of the moment and impermanence.

Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

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Ruby is determined to go to university, just like her brothers. But in turn-of-the-century China, this is an unprecedented move, something pretty much beyond the experience of Ruby’s family. This story reveals Ruby’s tenacity, passion and dedication as she works her way toward an education.  It is a beautiful book in every way, from its vibrant illustrations to its messages of respect — for oneself, for one’s elders, for one’s culture and for the never-ending gift of learning. As hard as Ruby works, she is aware that tradition will soon force her to give up her studies and marry. When her grandfather becomes aware of her unhappiness and asks her to explain, he listens but says nothing. What will happen next may not be a surprise, but the twist at the end is sure to bring a smile to the face of every reader.

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Sumptuous illustrations in the book ‘Ruby’s Wish’ and based upon the real life of the authors Grandmother

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

51Uo-AorKtL._SX342_Immigrant kids recognize that hesitation during the calling of the morning register when a new teacher gets to their name but the experience depends on how adults handle these confrontations with what is unfamiliar to them. If only all teachers (and immigrant parents) were as wise and compassionate as the ones in this book. Recorvits’ poetic, lyrical, spare text and Swiatkowska’s imaginative paintings explore this part of feeling “foreign” — an immigrant child’s name. In a new language and a new alphabet, Yoon’s beautiful Korean name seems foreign even to herself. Are you still “Yoon” when people outside the family pronounce your name differently? When they don’t know that it means “shining wisdom?” For a child to feel at home in a new country, she needs a non judgemental group of teachers, parents, and classmates, as well as self belief and courage.

 Day of Tears by Julius Lester

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On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in the history of America was held in Savannah, Georgia with over 400 slaves being traded. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days and ended as the slave sale stopped. These simultaneous events- of the rain storm and the auction led to these two days being called “the weeping time.” Storyteller Julius Lester has taken this footnote of history and written this upsetting and incredible young adults book. Julius Lester tells the story of several characters including Emma, a slave owned by Pierce Butler and caretaker of his two daughters, and Pierce, a man with an ever growing gambling debt and household to watch over. Emma wants to teach his daughters-one who opposes slavery and one who supports it-to have kind hearts. Meanwhile, in a bid to survive, Pierce decides to take advantage of his “assets” and host the largest slave auction in American history. And on that day, the skies open up and weep endlessly on the proceedings below in a powerful masterclass on the use of the pathetic fallacy in fiction. Using the multiple voices of enslaved Africans and their owners, Julius Lester has taken a little-known, all-true event in American history and transformed it into a heartbreaking and powerfully dramatic pronouncement on slavery, and the struggle to regain ones humanity in the midst of it.

Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children

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Appealing photos of babies from seventeen cultures around the globe are woven together by simple narration. GLOBAL BABIES presents children in their cultural contexts. Diverse settings highlight specific differences in clothing, daily life, and traditions, as well as demonstrate that babies around the world are nurtured by the love, caring, and joy that surround them. What our babies will love the most is the focus upon the faces, the often bright colours and the simple presentation of the images. They adore looking at photos of other babies, are drawn to them (heck I haven’t grown out of looking at photos of babies!) and this is a wonderful book.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

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Anna Hibiscus lives in the continent of Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow. This is a lovely, simple book that does what it does very well ideed and engages readers immediately. The four chapters stand alone as stories of a child’s life too so it can be used as a chapter book also. It is not exactly easy to find English-language children’s stories set in Africa that avoid treating it as something exotic  but this is funny, sweet, and interesting whilst normalising the story and existence of the characters. What would improve it? Naming within it, a more specific African location to challenge the oft held idea of Africa as one amorphous blob of a place where national boundaries, individual cultures and differences tend to be skated over or eliminated entirely.

 Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa

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Zomo the rabbit, a trickster from West Africa, wants wisdom. But he must accomplish three apparently impossible tasks before Sky God will give him what he wants. Is he clever enough to do as Sky God asks? The tale moves along with the swift concision of a good joke, right down to its satisfying punch line and the repeating of ‘Zomo, Zomo, Zomo’ is very satisfying to parent and child when read aloud.  “Wildly exuberant, full of slapstick and mischief, this version of an enduring Nigerian trickster tale, featuring a clever rabbit, is a storyteller’s delight.”–Booklist. With vivid and detailed illustrations including Zomo the Rabbit whose cultural heritage can be seen in his garb, from his dashiki (brightly colored shirt) to his kufi (hat), even very young children will be drawn to this book.

Biblioburro- a True Story from Colombia by Jeannette Winter

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Luis loves to read, but soon his house in Colombia is so full of books there’s barely room for the family. What to do? Then he comes up with the perfect solution–a traveling library! He buys two donkeys–Alfa and Beto–and travels with them throughout the land, bringing books and reading to the children in faraway villages. Beautiful! Based upon the life of Luis Soriana who is still delivering his books via Donkey transport, we are told his story-A Columbian school teacher that loved to read. He traveled with two burros (mules) to deliver his extra books to children high up in the mountains of Columbia. Monica Brown uses vivid detail that is strong but also simple enough for children to read and understand. An example of this is when Brown writes, ” “Deep in the jungles of Colombia, there lives a man who loves books. His name is Luis. As soon as he reads one book, he brings home another. Soon the house is filled with books. His wife, Diana, grumbles.” The language is so strong, but is clean and simple for children. The story is so much fun and it is great for children to read and begin to understand other people’s cultures and lifestyles.

 When I Close My Eyes by Ty Allan Jackson

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This picture book is about a little girl named Dot with a vivid imagination which takes her away to faraway places. Filled with vivid colored pictures and wonderful rhyming words that will make children and adult smile making this is a great daytime or bedtime story for children from 2-6 years old. The message?  Imagination is the key that unlocks the door to unlimited possibilities.

Big Moon Tortilla by Joy Cowley

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I’m afraid Anglo children too often learn a part of our culture that says ‘Do something, even if it’s wrong.’ Of course, we too often do the wrong thing. For many USA residing Southwestern Indians, chldren are taught patience as a prime virtue, even as a way of solving problems. Big Moon Tortilla illustrates in an exemplary way for non-Indian children this alternate way to face a problem. A contemporary child gets help from an old story in this bright picture book set in a small desert village on the Papago reservation in southern Arizona near the Mexican border. Marta Enos’ day is ruined when the wind blows her papers out the window and the dogs chew her homework into trash; then she trips and breaks her glasses. Grandmother comforts Marta Enos, repairs the glasses, bakes her some warm tortillas, and tells her a traditional tale about how to deal with a problem. Sometimes it is good to be a tree and look all ways at once; sometimes it is best to be a rock or a fierce mountain lion; but Marta Enos chooses to be an eagle, who can fly high and see how small the problem is. Strongbow’s watercolor paintings set the story in wide desert landscapes as the sun sets and the full moon rises, and warm portraits show the loving bond across generations.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

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So what happens when you don’t want to go along with the flow? What happens when you don’t approve of something that is very important in your cultural background? A true classic with a timeless message, The Story of Ferdinand has enchanted readers since it was first published in 1936. All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when our pacifist hero is picked for the bullfights in Madrid? Capturing the spirit of Spain perfectly we also have gentle humour, from Ferdinands rampaging after he is stung by a beel to his placid, under the tree sitting. The realization that even small events and our reactions to them can have a huge impact on our lives, and everything else that surrounds us in this world, is beautifully presented in this story. How Ferdinand chooses to deal with his plight at being taken away to fight is, of course, the heart and significance of this tale. His choice of poetic action is a pitch perfect and non moralising morality tale and provides the lasting appeal for this book.

The Goggle Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies

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Children love a kindred naughty spirit and in Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats, they have plenty of them. These goats gobble and gulp through whatever they find in a typical goat fashion from pumpkins to mats. Al Haji’s seven children adore the goats but to keep his wives happy he takes the goats to sell at the market but this proves to be less simple than he thought. This vibrant tongue twister of a read aloud book is joyous.

Tales from India by Jamila Gavin.

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Imagination unbounded in these tales of magic, mystery and  creation from the elephant-headed Ganesha and monkey god Hanuman to the blue-skinned Krishna.Lessons are taught lightly about love and respect for the world, framed in the context of centuries old stories that allow the natural leap and range of a child’s minds eye. How can you churn an ocean with a snake? How can Parvati make a real baby out of mud? Glorious illustrations make this a book to hand down and treasure.

Over the Hills and Far Away  By Elizabeth Hammill

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Illustrated by over 77 artists, this stunning collection of 150 rhymes from all over the world includes rhymes from First Nation people, Inuit and Maori, Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean. The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also newer discoveries in a lively, dip in and out of book.

Ramadan Moon By Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adl

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Ramadan, the month of fasting, Doesn’t begin all at once. It begins with a whisper And a prayer And a wish. Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan and the joyful days of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of fasting as the most special time of year. This lyrical and inspiring picture book captures the wonder and joy of this great annual event, from the perspective of a child. Accompanied by Iranian inspired illustrations, the story follows the waxing of the moon from the first new crescent to full moon and waning until Eid is heralded by the first sighting of the second new moon. Written and illustrated by Muslims, this is a book for all children who celebrate Ramadan and those in the wider communities who want to understand why this is such a special experience for Muslims.

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

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One of the new tiger cubs has escaped from the reserve!” This brand new book is set on an isolated West Bengali island,taking readers to a setting far removed from their own.

When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, the rangers and villagers hurry to find her before the cub’s anxious mother follows suit and endangers them all. Mr. Gupta, a rich newcomer to the island, is also searching–he wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market. Neel and his sister, Rupa, resolve to find the cub first and bring her back to the reserve where she belongs.

The hunt for the cub interrupts Neel’s preparations for an exam to win a prestigious scholarship at a boarding school far from home. Neel doesn’t mind–he dreads the exam and would rather stay on his beloved island with his family and friends. But through his encounter with the cub, Neil learns that sometimes you have to take risks to preserve what you love. And sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the chance to improve the future. Ages 7+.

Juneteeneth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

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Published in February 2015 to coincide with Black History Month, this book by Coretta Scott King award winning illustrator, Floyd Cooper celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation via Mazie, who is ready to commemorate liberty and the day her ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.This beautiful story by award-winning author and illustrator Floyd Cooper will captivate both children and adults.

For ages 6-9.

Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard

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Covering a rarely encountered topic, the issue of racial diversity, native origins and exclusion from a Hawaiian/White perspective, Peggy Sue Moves from Texas to Hawaii in 1960 and faces a difficult transition when she is bulled as one of the fewhaole (white) students in her school.

Her cat, Howdy, is stuck in animal quarantine, and she’s baffled by Hawaiian customs and words. Worst of all, eighth grader Kiki Kahana targets Peggy Sue because she is haole–white–warning her that unless she does what Kiki wants, she will be a victim on “killhaole day,” the last day of school. Peggy Sue’s home ec teacher insists that she help Kiki with her sewing project or risk failing and life looks bleak until Peggy Sue meets Malina, whose mother gives hula lessons. But when her parents take a trip to Hilo, leaving Peggy Sue at Malina’s, life takes an unexpected twist in the form of a tsunami. Peggy Sue is knocked unconscious and wakes to learn that her parents safety and whereabouts are unknown. Peggy Sue has to summon all her courage to have hope that they will return safely.

Ages 10 & up.

Not my Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Gabrielle Grimard

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Margaret can’t wait to see her family, but her homecoming is not what she expected.

Addressing cultural identity, the influence of the outside world upon indigenous cultures and the pressures involved in bridging these, this is a poignant and inspiring book about Margaret’s struggle to belong. Two years ago, Margaret left her Arctic home for the outsiders’ school. Now she has returned and can barely contain her excitement as she rushes towards her waiting family — but her mother stands still as a stone. This strange, skinny child, with her hair cropped short, can’t be her daughter. “Not my girl!” she says angrily.

Margaret’s years at school have changed her. Now ten years old, she has forgotten her language and the skills to hunt and fish. She can’t even stomach her mother’s food. Her only comfort is in the books she learned to read at school.  Gradually, Margaret relearns the words and ways of her people. With time, she earns her father’s trust enough to be given a dogsled of her own. As her family watches with pride, Margaret knows she has found her place once more.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by evocative illustrations,Not My Girl makes the original, award-winning memoir, A Stranger at Home, accessible to younger children. It is also a sequel to the picture book When I Was Eight.

Schooldays Around the World by Margriet Ruurs

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As a child I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of children all over the world getting up and going off to school and curious about what form that schooling took. Author Margriet Ruurs begins this engaging informational picture book by posing an intriguing question: “What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?” The fascinating stories that follow will expand how young readers think of school, as they learn about the experiences of real children in thirteen different countries around the world. From Marta in Azezo, Ethiopia, and Luciano in M?rida, Venezuela, to Alina in Taraz, Kazakhstan, and Lu in Shanghai, China, the children who are profiled live in places that truly span the globe. Alice Feagan’s charming cut-paper collage artwork further enhances the idea of a global community by featuring smiling, enthusiastic children’s faces, which are equally joyous and filled with life in every situation. As with all the titles in the popular Around the World series, using a familiar concept such as going to school is a perfect way to introduce children to other cultures and places.

A world map at the beginning of the book shows the location of each of the countries, and a glossary contains definitions of the foreign words. These, along with a table of contents, make useful tools for familiarizing young readers with book navigation.

The Red Bicycle- the Extraordinary Story of One Bicycle by Jude Isabella

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In this unique nonfiction picture book, the main character is a bicycle that starts its life like so many bicycles in North America, being owned and ridden by a young boy. The boy, Leo, treasures his bicycle so much he gives it a name — Big Red. But eventually Leo outgrows Big Red, and this is where the bicycle’s story takes a turn from the everyday, because Leo decides to donate it to an organization that ships bicycles to Africa. Big Red is sent to Burkina Faso, in West Africa, where it finds a home with Alisetta, who uses it to gain quicker access to her family’s sorghum field and to the market. Then, over time, it finds its way to a young woman named Haridata, who has a new purpose for the bicycle — renamed Le Grand Rouge — delivering medications and bringing sick people to the hospital. This book makes an excellent choice for cultural studies classes; author Jude Isabella has provided several terrific suggestions in the back of the book for projects large and small, while a map shows the distance the bicycle traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. Award-winning illustrator Simone Shin’s digitally composed artwork includes evocative depictions of Alisetta’s and Haridata’s communities in rural Africa, creating vivid comparisons between Leo’s life and their lives. Youngsters will learn how different the world is for those who rely on bicycles as a mode of transportation, and how one ordinary bicycle — and a child’s desire to make a difference — can change lives across the world.

Fly Eagle Fly! By Christopher Gregorowski

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With a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this is a tale of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens after being blown out of his nest and discovered by a local farmer. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to “lift off and soar” in expressive, evocatively  illustrated pages by Niki Daly, an internationally known artist.

Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman

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Sometimes to save the people you love, you have to go overboard”

‘Overboard,’ says Yusuf’s grandfather, ‘is an English word meaning to do something that is bold, wild, dangerous and crazy.’” Jamal’s decision to ‘go overboard’ stems from his experiences growing up in a war-torn land. He wants to change the world, his world anyway, and he has a grand plan. His passion for soccer will be the means to turn around his government, his country, and life for his family. But Jamal is about to embark upon an adventure more ‘bold, wild, dangerous and crazy’ than he could ever imagine that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

Jamal’s narration of the tale highlights his incredible strength – be it drawn from his knowledge of his ancestors or his belief in the ‘secret of soccer’ – ‘Never give up, even when things are looking hopeless’. Optimism, perseverance, courage and tenacity are the tools of survival for Jamal, his feisty younger sister Bibi and the friends they make on their journey, Rashida and Omar. These things, together with a rich fantasy life focussed on soccer and how great Australia is going to be, sustain Jamal through horrendous and heart-breaking experiences.

One question Morris Gleitzman leaves unanswered is whether Jamal’s faith and hope will be rewarded. After all Jamal and his family go through, will they be recognised and welcomed? Just how ‘overboard’ does a boy have to go?

(Un)arranged Marriage by By Bali Rai

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Unusual in its point of view- that of a Punjabi boy called Manny who doesn’t want to go through with the marriage that his father has arranged for him, we explore the issue of arranged or forced marriages from his unique perspective . Set in present day England and partly in the Punjab, it follows Manny from the age of 13 as he tries to balance the demands of his family with his own desires for his future.

An exploration of generation conflict, culture clash and the universal theme of teenagers rebelling against their parents, this book incorporates issues such as inter ethnic racism, peer pressure, violence and lighter issues around school and first love. An important book and a powerful voice that reminds us that whilst the position of women in arranged or forced marriages remains the less empowered, this doesn’t mean that the men aren’t sometimes victims too.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a unique autobiographical poetry book where Woodson shares true stories of her childhood — growing up as an African American during the Civil Rights movement — in mesmerizing verse. Woodson shares emotionally charged yet accessible snapshots of growing up in both South Carolina and New York, sensing remnants of Jim Crow laws. This book won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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