Curiously Good Books from Around the World

TimelineGecko Press in New Zealand plays a phenomenal role in discovering, and then making accessible, outstanding children’s books from around the world. Their 2016 publications are from countries as diverse as Sweden, Mexico, Japan and Portugal.

One of the most impressive books I’ve seen for a long time is Timeline: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes (Belgium). It is appropriately oversized and I felt a frisson of recollection and excitement when I opened many of the pages, remembering my first encounters with aspects of ancient history all over again. Beginning life, dinosaurs, first people and settlements merge into fascinating cameos of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Ottoman, Chinese, Inca and North American histories are also covered. Modern history and world wars bring us to the present day. Australia’s claim to fame is the band ACDC.

France-based Stephanie Blake returns with the bold, bright colours and clear lines of her popular rabbit, Simon in Super Rabbit.

Don't CrossPortugal shines with Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho’s Don’t Cross the Line! This is an exceptional, innovative postmodern (mainly) visual representation of people who aren’t allowed to cross the line onto the next page due to a pointless rule. It is a telling fable.

What Dog Knows is a cleverly constructed mixture of fact and fiction by Sylvia Vanden Heede and Marije Tolman from the Netherlands, translated by Bill Nagelkerke. It is structured into four sections: Mummies and skeletons; Robots, knights and pirates; Dinosaurs and dragons; and Rockets and the moon.

The delightfully flawed but kind, Detective Gordon, a cake-loving frog, returns in Swedish creators Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee’s A Complicated Case. As we are reminded in the detective’s Book of Law, ‘It is permitted to be nice but forbidden to be nasty’.

DaniAlso from Sweden is the poignant story of Dani in Life According to Dani by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, both highly awarded children’s book creators. This chapter book continues Dani’s realistic life, here dealing with her response to her father’s new girlfriend.

From Mexico is Paula Bossio’s board book, The Pencil (also called The Line). Deliberate smudges create texture and dimension alongside the fascinating pencil line followed by a young girl.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a heartwarming, yet edgy tale of new friendships from Japan by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake. It’s unpredictable yet highly satisfying.

And we finish in Israel with Michal Shalev’s hilarious How to Be Famous. FamousThe pigeon is completely oblivious to her true level of fame.

Thanks for making these astounding books available to a wide readership, Gecko Books.

Review: Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

9780670918645Antony Beevor’s latest book completes his histories of the Eastern and Western Fronts of the Second World War. Beginning with the award winning Stalingrad then Berlin and concluding with D-Day and now Ardennes, Beevor takes his comprehensive eye for detail to Hitler’s last ditch gamble of the war in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.

I was really interested to read Beevor’s take of this battle having previously only read American accounts of specific engagements of the conflict, most notably Bastogne in Band of Brothers and The Hurtgen Forest, which directly preceded the German offensive. Beevor begins with Hurtgen Forest where American troops literally marched from the streets of Paris into what became know as “the meat-grinder” as a combination of over-the-top optimism about finishing the war before Christmas and new “green” troops resulted in massive casualties as the Allies met German forces on home soil for the first time. (If you are a fan of Band of Brothers then the HBO film When Trumpets Fade, which preceded it by three years, is worth seeing). Troops from The Hurtgen Forest were then redeployed  to the “quieter” area of The Ardennes just as Hitler launched his last offensive of the war.

Antony Beevor shows how the Allies were literally taken by surprise, not just by the offensive but also it size and scope. This was Hitler’s last throw of the dice and his plan was dependent on surprise but also a slow Allied reaction. Beevor shows, through extensive research, how the Allies’ ability to react quickly to the offensive was what won the battle. And although the Germans made great advances, inflicted massive casualties and cause wide spread panic, through infiltrations behind American lines, the quick response from Allied High Command meant reinforcements were deployed in time, supplies withdrawn before the Germans were able to capture them and key cross road towns defended in spite of encirclement. Even without air superiority, thanks to terrible winter conditions, the Allies were able to hold the Offensive back in time for supplies to be brought in and for support to breakthrough from the south.

As with Beevor’s previous books he also shows the full cost to the civilian population inside the battle zones. He also shows how the Battle of the Bulge was the closest the Allies came to the ferocity of the Eastern Front as they came up against veterans of those harsh campaigns. A series of prisoner atrocities on both sides also led to some of the most vicious fighting of the Western Front. Then there was the battle of the egos as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Montgomery (promoted to Field Marshall) all fought for control and press coverage, almost jeopardising the campaign in some instances. But nothing on the scale of what occurred on the German side as Hitler’s fully delusional command tried for one last push to salvage Germany from inevitable and total defeat.

Antony Beevor delivers a fascinating account of the decisive battle of the Western Front.

Buy the book here…