Classics to cherish – Old tale picture book reviews

Don’t you love that emphatic certainty a below-twelve year-old has whenever they hear a remix of a song dating from the golden oldie era? ‘They got that song from such and such movie, Mum!’ Um well, no actually it was around way before me…Stories evoke similar conviction.

Alice in Wonderland 150thModern retellings of classic children’s stories might seem like a cheeky waste of time, but timeless tales and parables reclothed in sleek modern attire have an astonishing way of finding hanging space in a child’s heart. After all, they are encountering these tales for the first time. Sharing golden oldies with them is a sure fire way of rekindling your love for favourite tales as well. Here are a handful of ‘new’ classics to curl up with together.

We begin our journey with Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole. This is a large substantial picture book retelling of Lewis Carroll’s spectacularly well-known fantasy tale from the late eighteen hundreds.

Alice in Illo spreadLoud and outlandish like the very bizarre world Alice plummets unexpectedly into, this re-telling commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Alice’s journey. Many of the most famous phrases are included in a parred down text, which showcases some of Carroll’s most notable characters: Alice, the White Rabbit, and The blue Caterpillar.

Ever changing, yet strangely familiar and forever charming, Eric Puybaret’s dashingly abstract illustrations establish just the right amount of plausibility for our wide-eyed, take-it-as-it-comes adverturine, Alice. An excellent pre-emptive introduction for littlies before they embark on the original version.

Retold by Joseph Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg

Koala Books February 2015

The Velveteen RabbitIn keeping with le Lapin theme, The Velveteen Rabbit is a sublime re-release of the 1922 classic children’s story by Margery Williams Bianco. Lovers of the Toy Story notion that toys have their own very real wants and needs just like to their young owners will coo with delight over this bedside tale. The Velveteen Rabbit will melt the strongest of hearts with its ‘nursery magic is strange and wonderful’ credence.

Velveteen illo spread Bianco’s original text is faithfully reproduced and swathed in the softest, silken images befitting this dreamy tale by first time picture book illustrator, Helen Magisson. Subtle and sweet enough to want to take up and cuddle, the charm of The Velveteen Rabbit will ‘last for always’. Read our full Boomerang review and interview with Helene Magisson, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

The Ugly DucklingSlipping a CD into a picture book is a natty little bonus that enlivens a tale and adds extra dimension to its delivery. Justine Clarke is no stranger to delivering entertaining songs and stories to children and it’s her interpretation of this song adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale classic, The Ugly Duckling, that youngsters are going to warm to.

Written by Frank Loesser, this rendition is the same snappy paced version sung by the late Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie, Hans Christian Anderson.

The illustrations of Nathaniel Eckstrom are visually enchanting and bring to life the tale of a socially ousted signet that matures into the most beautiful and noble of all the creatures on the pond.

Justine ClarkeA timeless tale enhanced and best appreciated with the accompanying CD performance.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Henny PennySpeaking of timeless tales, The Once Upon a Timeless Tale collection by Little Hare Books gives children several fairy-tale titles to choose from in handy-to-hold sized, hard covered picture books with plenty of child and bookshelf appeal.

Hugely collectable, stories of yesteryear are retold in a simply laid out style, which confident readers can easily tackle themselves. Pre-schoolers will appreciate snuggling up with a new tale each night and get a kick of the beguilingly beautiful artwork accompanying each tale by various well-known illustrators such as Tamsin Ainslie, Ann Walker and Anna Pignataro to name but a few.

Henny Penny, the tale of an apprehensive hen who predicted the end of the world when she felt a bit of the sky fall on her tail, is one in a list of many familiar stories; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea and Jack and the Beanstalk amongst many many Timeless Tales Collectionothers. They come in CD audio versions as well. Find your favourites and please don’t forget to share them!

Little Hare Books, HGE 2014


School. What Is It Good For?

Animal FarmWhile I was one of those studious types who, for the most part, enjoyed her time at school, I have in recent years come to realise an extra school bonus. That is that school potentially offers us that key, almost once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to read some of the great books of our time.

I’m talking about the 1984s, The Great Gatsbys, the Brave New Worlds, the Animal Farms, the Pride and Prejudices, the Catcher in the Ryes, the To Kill A Mockingbirds, the A Clockwork Oranges, The Princess Brides, and The Crucibles. The books that are cultural touchstones and that are bywords for capturing or interpreting events or experiences.

These days we describe a perceived as intrusive use of technology as ‘very 1984’, bleak, dog-eat-dog situations as ‘lord of the flies’ in style, and many women hope to meet their very own dashing ‘Mr Darcy’. There are lines of dialogue that are regularly quoted—‘Two legs good. Four legs bad.’ and ‘My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ And who could forget the characters whose names—Boo Radley or Atticus Finch or Holden Caulfield—conjure up very distinct memories and meanings?

The Princess BrideOf course, when you’re forced to write critical essays under exam conditions or give oral presentations about a character or particular theme from one of these books, it’s understandable that you don’t necessarily appreciate you’re on to a good thing. But while the memories of the specific assessment tasks that surround them fade away (I mean, I can’t remember which assessment I completed for which book), the overall memory of that book doesn’t.

Some of us revisit those texts as adults, with many swearing by the grown-up pass. It’s a way of both returning to a happy reading time and of appreciating the writers’ subtleties and sophistication that may have gone over one’s younger reading head. What I’ve realised is that although revisiting is excellent, if school didn’t give you that initial reading introduction, it is very, very difficult to get round to reading these modern classics as an adult.

I’m puzzled why this is so. My guess is that adulthood brings with it greater time pressures, more distractions, and less reading time, and that reading the modern classics is, much like housework, something you know you should do but you keep putting off until later. Me? I’m also distracted by the bright, shiny new releases and am less likely to get back to the classics—they’ve always been around and will always be, but this brand, spanking new title with an uncracked spine? That’s cutting edge and uber tempting.

A Clockwork OrangeIt’s in this blog that I should probably fess up that I only recently managed to read 1984 (although I loved, loved, loved Animal Farm when I read it at school). I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye (and I can’t right now, because, like, everyone’s reading it after his death and I don’t want to seem like a mainstreaming groupie). Nor have I read The Lord of The Flies, A Clockwork Orange, or Brave New World. I bought a shiny new copy of the latter about a year ago with the determination to gain insight into our near future and to catch myself up on the Aldus Huxley references, but even that new copy keeps gathering dust on the shelf as it gets prioritised as a book ‘for later’.

Bizarrely, it was an attempt to read Fahrenheit 451 because I hadn’t been made to read it at school that saw the freshly purchased copy disappear from my bookshelf before I’d even cracked the spine. My family would argue that all the accusations and mystery could have been avoided were it a set text during high school. And they have a point.

The Catcher in the RyeAlthough I read some fantastic books during school, there are so many I also missed out on. I would give anything now to have read Fahrenheit 451, as well as Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, and The Catcher in the Rye, because I’m not sure when or how I’ll find the time to now. Which books did you miss during that first pass stage at school? Have you managed to read them now? If so, how?