Book Review: Dreamy Days and Random Naps

Dreamy Days and Random Naps is the third picture book for adults (although smaller people are also likely to enjoy the daily dilemmas they explore) published by Mawson, a writer bear who lives with his guardian and many furry friends in Perth, Australia. While Mawson sits quietly pondering the complexities of being, his friends: go travelling, play music, dream of heroic deeds, build inventions such as a Hope-Maker. All come to Mawson to share what they have been doing, seeking his wisdom when worries occur.

One thing all the bears understand is the importance of regular naps.

Mawson has wisdom to share in this, an area of particular expertise.

 

The bears nap and dream, dream and nap. They are not afraid to follow when dreams beckon. The travellers go out and then return. The inventors test their creations. Outcomes are not always what was envisaged.

Mawson understands that dreams can be important, offering hope and the chance to make life a little better.

He also understands the importance of not focusing too much on what might have been, or will be in the future, when there is so much to appreciate in the here and now.

There is a hint of melancholy in many of the bears’ ponders – a desire to be something just beyond what is possible. Mawson provides a fine reminder that what we all have – the ability to be in the moment – can be enough if recognised and permitted by each self.

Mawson’s true strength is in being there for his friends, to listen and support whatever their endeavours. Readers can take comfort in his ponders, and maybe strive to be a little more like Mawson themselves.

This is a delightful addition to a series that offers advice sprinkled with gentle humour. The pictures help bring the bears to life.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.


Across the globe in Wiltshire, my bears benefit from Mawson’s wise words.

Book Review: She Ran Away From Love

Mawson is a writer bear whose guardian helps him put his ponders into books, thereby helping other baffled beings navigate their lives. I reviewed his debut here.

In this, his second publication, Mawson tells the story of his good friend, Frilly, a small bear with a predilection for all things pink who goes on a brave quest to find herself. Frilly was frightened and ran away when love shone too brightly on her. She seeks happiness but isn’t sure where to look for it after love proved so scary.

The tale opens with Frilly consulting Mawson and asking some big questions. Frilly wants to be different, less afraid, so decides to boldly go out into the world and find the bear she wants to be.

Only a little bit daunted by obstacles along the way, she at last finds a place where she may be whatever she chooses. This doesn’t offer the satisfaction expected. Frilly returns home saddened and confused.

She asks Mawson how she can ever find happiness. After consulting his many books, Mawson has the answer, yet Frilly still feels sad. Some answers require a little more personal tailoring to be effective. They require effort and reaction.

Mawson doesn’t give up. He knows that Frilly must find her own way to address how she is feeling, but he has helpful suggestions as to things she might try. Between them they manage to work out what Frilly can do to cope with times that prove difficult. In better understanding what happiness is, Frilly is able to move forward and be more like the bear she aspires to be.

The joy of these books is their gentle approach to universal dilemmas. Mawson may not be a typical guru but he cares and has time for his friends. He understands the importance of a hug. He can sit quietly and listen, offering advice but only if requested. He shows no resentment when friends choose to leave him behind, even when staying at home may appear the safer option.

There is humour as well as wisdom in these pages. Readers, whatever their age, can empathise with a small bear whose life has its shadows that will at times make navigation a challenge.

Life advice from bears that is on point but never didactic. What’s not to love?

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

 

 


Mawson’s latest book being enjoyed by one of my small bears

Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series premiered in 1997 and has remained popular ever since. I came to it late and am still working my way through the DVD box set. It is my go to show when I need some light entertainment because watching a group of young people fighting the vampires, demons and forces of darkness that roam their neighbourhood gives me hope, even when it does get a bit silly. Our real world is full of forces of darkness in human form and maybe they too can be defeated by those brave enough to stand up to them.

While Buffy may remain popular with adults and young adults, the themes and depictions in the TV series may prove too scary and at times risqué for younger viewers. This picture book, then, provides an introduction to characters children may have heard of but not yet got to know.

In the story Buffy is eight years old and attending Sunnydale Elementary School, something purists may object to but let’s go with it anyway – continuity hasn’t always been adhered to within the wider Buffyverse. Giles is the school librarian. Willow and Xander are Buffy’s best friends.

Readers are introduced to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and told that before she knew she was the Chosen One of her generation, a slayer, Buffy was afraid of the dark.

At bedtime, after her mom turns out the light, young Buffy hears scratches and thumps coming from her closet. She decides to invite Willow and Xander over for a sleepover, but none of them are brave enough to open the closet door.

The next day they go to Giles for advice. He tells Buffy that she must appear brave even when she doesn’t feel it. She must face her fears.

The three friends, acting in character with the young adults developed in the TV series, enter the closet after dark. What they learn is that kindness can lead to extraordinary alliances that benefit all.

The pictures are clear and bright with just the necessary words to move the story along. The monsters introduced are recognisable so enjoyable for existing fans. I particularly liked the way pronunciation of certain names were explained.

This is a sweet and gently spooky story that was fun to read. It offers a fine introduction to Buffy for the next generation.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk.

Book Review: It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In

Today I review a book that is a little different to my normal fare. Sent to me all the way from Australia, although available to buy in the UK, It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In is a 50 page picture book suitable for anyone who sometimes feels confused and lonely in our beautiful world.

Narrated by a sleuth of teddy bears, led by the fluffy author, Mawson, it ponders how one’s importance to a special Some One can change over time. It accepts the pain of loss, makes suggestions about how to cope, and offers hope for future happiness.

The opening premise is that everyone wants to be loved and to have their love appreciated. There is still so much love on offer in our big, bright world.

The problem can be finding that special Some One when the world is so big. We can be primed and ready to give but still have to wait, and time passes slowly when waiting.

The bears remember days of fun and adventure when they explored and played with their Some One, before that Some One chose to go out into the wider world without them.

They ponder how hard it is to keep playing the games that had been such fun, and the difficulty of caring for a Some One who isn’t there.

The bears do their best to occupy themselves but life is so much better when their Some One returns.

The story explores the possibility that one day this won’t happen, that their Some One will be gone, and life must still go on.

The context, of course, is wider than a lonely teddy bear. The story progression offers a reminder to make the most of Some One’s company, be they family, friend or partner, to enjoy each day for what it is. Mawson and his furry friends appreciate the happy days and are perplexed when they end.

If Some One goes, although it will hurt, there is the possibility of one day being found by Some One else. Until that time there are games to be played, even if they aren’t quite as enjoyable as before.

The book could offer solace for anyone in need of company for their adventures, a child who has been let down or an adult who has been left behind or lost a loved one.

The reasons for change may be baffling, but ultimately there is hope.

I admit that I have a soft spot for teddy bears. This little story made me well up, made me want to hug every one of the bears in my (ahem) extensive collection. It also made me appreciate the humans who join me on my adventures. It is a lovely, poignant story with delightful illustrations. It would make a thoughtful gift, including for yourself.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the furry author’s Some One.

My own little bears enjoyed reading it too.

 

 

Book Review: Ginger is a Hero

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Ginger is a Hero, by Beth Webb, is the first in a new series of books, Page Turners, to be published by Beyond Words. I wrote about Beyond Words here; do give the post a read to better understand why these books are important.

The story is told entirely in pictures, drawn by the author, who is an established writer and illustrator of children’s and YA fiction. Each page turn offers one picture, designed to clearly convey what is happening with gentle colours and uncluttered design. This style of storytelling has been tested on the target audience to ensure that they will understand and enjoy reading the story.

The tale opens by introducing us to a young lady, we will call her Mary, who is obviously a cat lover. There is no cat in the first picture so the reader is left to decide for themselves why this may be. I consider this a strength of the book, and is one of its purposes, that each reader may create their own version of the story in their head.

Mary has an elderly neighbour who does not like her. The neighbour’s cat, the adorable Ginger of the title, is pleased to see Mary but their interactions make the neighbour angry. Again, there is much to consider in these scenes.

It starts to rain and night falls. Mary notices that Ginger cannot get into his house and feels sad. The next day, with Ginger still scratching at his front door, Mary goes to investigate. When nobody answers the door she peers through a window and sees her neighbour collapsed on the floor. She phones for help.

Police and medics arrive and Mary comforts Ginger, offering to care for him. She understands that her neighbour will worry about her cat’s well-being so, on another day, Mary visits her neighbour in hospital to reassure her. The story has a happy ending.

The aim of this book is to make reading fun for those who have difficulty with words, and it is a lovely story offering plenty to think about and to discuss. There are lessons that can be learned about friendship, dealing with a crisis, or the reader may simply enjoy the tale of a cat who, by being a hero, ensured that he was fed.

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At the end of the book the plot is briefly put into words for the benefit of those, perhaps supporters of the reader, who want some ideas about one possible story. It is explained that most readers make up their own.

When I pick up a work of fiction I am also interpreting the story in my head based on my experiences. As Edmund Wilson said, “No two persons ever read the same book”. I love the idea that, with this new series, adults with learning difficulties may enjoy reading stories, just for pleasure, as the rest of us do.

Everyone should have access to books they can read. If my enjoyment of this book is anything to go by, Ginger should become a firm favourite with his target audience.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Beyond Words.

 

 

Books Beyond Words

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Today I received a very special book in the post, Ginger is a Hero, by Beth Webb. I plan to review it in the next couple of days but first wished to talk about its provenance.

It tells a story but there are no words, only pictures. People who cannot read, or who don’t like written words, are often very good at reading pictures. This book is published by a small, not for profit organisation called Beyond Words who publish books and provide services for adults with learning disabilities.

Each of their books tells a story, but they also let the reader tell their own story – the one they see in the pictures. This can tell a lot about a person’s inner world and their understanding of situations. There is plenty to talk about and each story explores feelings and reactions as well as giving information.

For someone who struggles with words there are barriers to getting the right health or social care and support. Even when a person with a problem reaches someone who can help, like a doctor, a social worker or a therapist, there can be communication problems and anxieties on both sides. By telling the story in pictures, each Beyond Words title gives people the chance to work together to explore different types of situations.

Ginger is a Hero is the first in a new Beyond Words series called Page Turners. These stories are designed to be read for fun, alone or with others. Ginger is a cat who befriends a young neighbour, much to the annoyance of the elderly lady Ginger lives with. Who wouldn’t want to read a story about a typically obdurate but adorable cat?

Everyone should have a right to read and enjoy books. With this new Beyond Words series readers who struggle with words are offered the opportunity to enjoy stories, as those of us avid readers of words can do.

As we celebrate the joy provided by books through initiatives such as Books Are My Bag, Super Thursday and National Poetry Day, may we remember that our education and abilities are privileges.

beyondwords

https://www.booksbeyondwords.co.uk/

Book Review: Absolute Mayhem

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Absolute Mayhem, by Kelly Suellentrop, is a gloriously illustrated children’s book that celebrates the joy of imagination.

It follows two young children, Lulu and Milo, as they work their way through a week of school, chores and rules. This dull life is illustrated in black and white with just the tentacles of colourful daydreams teasing on the periphery of each page.

It is at the weekend that the children’s days (and the book’s illustrations) become full of colour as they transform into pirates, royalty, intrepid explorers and rock stars. Toys come to life and their environment undergoes a metamorphosis, becoming whatever suitable setting is required for their games.

The illustrations are entertaining and appealing with plenty of little details to generate interest and discussion. I particularly liked the inclusion of the pet dog on every double page spread, and searching out the aspects of the black and white illustrations that took on new life when exploded into the colour of the children’s play.

There are lessons to be learned throughout the book but these are subtle. The cadence of the rhyming text and some of the words used may be a challenge to younger readers, but this is a fun story for an adult to enjoy with their child. It is the mayhem of a happy childhood and one that parents can approve.

Book Review: The Pigeon Needs a Bath

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The Pigeon Needs a Bath, by Mo Willems, is an adorable picture book from the ever reliable Walker Books. Beautifully put together with entertaining illustrations and simple text it tells the tale of a decidedly dirty and rather stinky pigeon who is determined that he does not need a bath.

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Pigeon’s intransigence when faced with a seemingly simple request will be familiar to parents of young children everywhere, as will his procrastination when he finally faces up to the prospect of climbing into the water. Eventually he discovers what fun can be had in a bathtub and a new challenge needs to be faced – how to get him out.

This is a very appealing book with an amusing message that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike. It is gender neutral and should help to encourage all young readers to take that much needed bath, eventually.

Author Interview: Elli Woollard

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Elli Woollard writes picture books for young children, poems for the young at heart, and other things, most of them silly. I first discovered her work when I chanced across a poem about cheese on her blog. Finding her in this way was quite ironic as, apparently, she dislikes cheese.

She does, however, like words and is very clever in the way she uses them. Her blog is aptly named Taking Words for a Stroll, and on it she publishes her original poems. Although a great many of these are just for fun, sometimes she will be inspired to write about a serious subject. Her light touch can convey a message with a hefty impact.

She uses her words deftly and they invariably make me smile. I cheered when I read that she is having her first book published later this year as more people will now read her work. In our far too serious lives, getting people to smile and cheer has got to be a good thing.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Elli Woollard.

Oo, thank you! This is my first ever author interview, so it’s all very exciting!

Where do you typically write?

That depends what you mean by ‘writing’. I do most of my actual typing on my computer, which sits on my kitchen table, along with lots of other mess (at the moment I can see a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of ketchup, a toy train, a newspaper, a clothes peg, some candles, and lots and lots of crumbs). But most of my ideas I ‘write’ in my head before setting down. The inside of my head is just as messy as my table, but without quite so much ketchup. I get ideas at all times and in all places, but they have an annoying habit of popping into my head really late at night when I should be fast asleep. It’s very inconsiderate of them.

Tell us about your writing process.

A lot of my stories and poems begin with a certain phrase appearing in my head out of nowhere. On my blog I describe my work as ‘taking words for a stroll’ (after the artist Paul Klee’s idea of ‘taking lines for a walk’), as what I often do is start with a phrase and then see where it takes me. It’s a bit like having a dog though; I’m not always sure whether I’m taking the words for a walk, or if they’re taking me. At least they don’t leave hairs on the sofa.

I love words and the way they sound, so as well as walking with the words I play with them. I juggle them, try to fit them together like jigsaw puzzles. There’s something about writing in verse that’s immensely satisfying in this respect (especially as I’m extremely clumsy and can’t do actual juggling for toffee).

Tell us about your publishing experience.

I actually wrote my first picture book aged four, and still have a copy. It’s a tragic little tale of how I was trying to teach my best friend to ride a tricycle, but she fell off and cracked her head open. I think I probably wrote it because my friend could ride a tricycle and I couldn’t, and I was very, very jealous!

Beyond that I’ve been hugely lucky. I started off writing just poems, around two years ago, but soon realised that it’s very difficult to break into the market as an unknown children’s poet; there’s not a big demand for children’s poetry, and publishing companies don’t want to take the risk. I’ve also noticed that most established children’s poets seem to have beards, which sort of rules me out.

So that’s when I started writing picture books in verse too. My first attempts were fairly dire, but I received some brilliant advice from a couple of published authors, and eventually started submitting to publishers. One of my stories caught the attention of a publisher, and on the back of that I was able to get an agent. I didn’t know much about Eve White when I signed with her, but I did know that she represented Andy Stanton (author of the Mr Gum books, possibly among the most snortle-inducing books in the universe) so I knew I was in good hands. Eve and her assistant are not only brilliant as agents but are also two of the loveliest people I know, so I’ve really struck gold there.

I don’t think I’m allowed to reveal all my publishing news yet, but what I can say is that I’ve got three books coming out with Faber, about a rather hapless old wizard called Woozy whose spells keep going wrong (aimed at the 4+ age group) and a picture book coming out with Nosy Crow. The first Woozy book is out in October this year; the others come out in 2015. None of them feature children falling off their tricycles and smashing their heads in, although there are some in which children very nearly get eaten.

In what ways do you promote your work?

When I first started writing poems I just kept them on my computer for my own private consumption, and didn’t mean to share them at all. But then my youngest son spilled water all over my laptop, the computer suffered a fast but painful death, and suddenly all my hard work was gone. That’s when I started putting the poems up on a blog, so even if one of my children (I’ve got four) trained a hosepipe on my computer at least my work would still be there.

For me my blog is a little bit like an artist’s sketchbook; it shows what I’m working on, rather than anything particularly polished. According to my daughter my website is rubbish, so I will get a more professional-looking one for my published books.

I post links to my blog on Twitter, otherwise known as the Bane of My Life, because messing about on Twitter is an endless source of distraoo, that was an interesting tweet! I really am terrible. I guess my publishers will have publicity plans too. I hate blowing my own trumpet (my metaphorical trumpet just makes farty noises at the moment), but I think it’s something all authors have to get used to.

What are some of your current projects?

At the moment I’m just having fun scribbling poems, but I’ve also got a couple of story ideas in my head, waiting to be committed to my computer.

Where can my readers find you?

Follow Elli on Twitter (@Elli_fant)

Follow her blog on WordPress Taking Words for a Stroll | Original poems for the young at heart.

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Elli Woollard grew up in London, where she attended a large comprehensive school and wrote silly poems when she was supposed to be learning about Wordsworth. She spent half of her childhood playing the piano and the other half reading anything she could lay her hands on (in particular she loved reading the dictionary, she was possibly a little weird), and these twin interests in music and literature inspired her love of verse. She even came eventually to almost appreciate Wordsworth.

After degrees in social anthropology from Cambridge and SOAS her itchy feet got the better of her and she moved out to Thailand, where she lived for six years. She has worked variously as a teacher of English as a foreign language, a translator (from Thai), a copywriter and an editorial assistant for an academic publisher. She now lives back in London with her four children, her husband and various pets, including a cat that doesn’t seem to realise that it officially belongs to someone two blocks away.

When she is not writing, reading or herding children she plays the piano and sings. The neighbours haven’t yet complained.

Her first book, Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, is published by Faber in October 2014.