By Sam Usher, Templar Books
When it’s too hot for Boy and Grandad to sleep, there’s only one thing for it and they head up on to the roof to cool down. Through their telescope, Boy sees a planet, and on it a space module and astronauts – in trouble! They blast off in their homemade rocket to help and on to a space adventure. It’s a delightful story, with subtle science and engineering facts dotted throughout, that celebrates creativity and resourcefulness. Boy and Grandad are such endearing characters: they say yes to adventure and problems never phase them. Everything can be mended in Boy and Grandad’s world, often with cardboard, sticky tape, pompoms and glue. The watercolour illustrations are fabulous, depicting both the warmth between Boy and Grandad, and the marvels of space.
Secrets of the Forest: 15 Bedtime Stories Inspired by Nature
By Alicia Klepeis, illustrated by Kristen Adam, Neon Squid
This illustrated anthology of stories is a wonderful way to discover more about 15 species – 14 animals and 1 tree – living in forests across the world. From the elephant to the monarch butterfly, the reindeer to the southern river otter, the badger to the pangolin, forest habitats provide a home for a vast array of life. The stories are informed by the behaviours of each species or the challenges they face, and the information imparted is powerful and memorable for being told as fiction. We learn about habit loss, for example, in the story of the southern river otter family, who travel along their dried-up river in search of food. Although sometimes raising questions, each story is one of hope, striking just the right tone for bedtime. Double-page spreads of “the science behind the story” offer more facts about each species featured.
The Storm and the Minotaur
By Lucy Strange, illustrated by Pam Smy, Barrington Stoke
Inspired by the Huskar Pit disaster of 1838 and drawing on the myth of the minotaur, this is a tense and atmospheric story. George is starting down the mine where his father works. He had hoped to carry on his education, but money is tight and he needs to support his family. George is dreading it. No one really talks about it, but his father’s brother – Uncle Mal – died down the pit some time ago. George discovers a book, Myths and Legends, belonging to Mal. After George reads about the minotaur – half-human, half-bull – his uncle becomes entwined with this mythical beast, who appears to George in the shadows as he works down the mine. When a flash flood traps George and the other children underground, can he trust the ghostly figure to lead them to safety, or will they suffer the same fate as his longlost uncle? This gripping and heartfelt book confronts the reality of child labour during the Industrial Revolution, and weaves history and mythology together to great effect. Published by Barrington Stoke, The Storm and the Minotaur has been written and published to be accessible for both confident readers, and those who have to work harder.
The Mermaid Moon
By Briony May Smith, Walker Books
Merrin, a mermaid, and Molly, a girl, are best friends who usually can only dip a toe into the other’s world. But then comes the night of the Mermaid Moon, when a special magic allows sea creatures to fly through the air. Merrin visits the town for the first time, and she and Molly explore Merporth’s Mermaid Moon festival together. The magic of the story is captivating, and I love the Cinderella-esque peril when it seems Merrin might not make it back to the sea before the magic wears off at midnight. Briony May Smith’s illustrations conjure the fishing village beautifully, above and below the water. An enchanting tale for children.
This Is My Treehouse
By Guillaume Guéraud, illustrated by Alfred, Floris Books
This is a quiet, lyrical book, about a child and their treehouse, built in the branches of a tall tree in the forest behind their grandparents’ house. Written in the first person, it feels as if the child is inviting us into their special place, and we share with them the wonderful ways in which their imagination transforms the space – into a ship, a helicopter, a kingdom. It’s an ode to solitary play, but there is no sense of loneliness. The child tells us how they made the treehouse with Grandpa, who “knows how to make really strong knots”, and how they used Grandma’s parasol to cover the roof. However, left to their own devices, the child creates a world of endless adventure. Like the text, the stunning illustrations evoke the wonder of nature and the imagination.
Creative Nature Play: Imaginative Crafting, Games, Stories and Adventures
By Nadezhda Ostretsova, Hawthorn Press
This is a magical book of nature play, which we’re guided through by two children, Poppy and Noah. Friends with the animals and the forest elves, witches and trolls, Poppy and Noah tell us stories of the games they play and things they craft in nature. Using pine cones, acorns and twigs, wool, beeswax and clay, they show us how to make toys, jewellery, bags, candles, bubble blowers and more. The projects are simple and achievable for children, sometimes with a bit of help from an adult. Creative Nature Play is more than a crafting book. The stories, rhymes and games nurture an emotional connection to nature. There is so much here to help you while away a wonderful childhood in the forest.
Reviews by Alice Ellerby
We feature a range of book reviews for adults, teens and children in each issue of JUNO, published bi-monthly.
First published in Issue 86 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.