Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Haunted House by Kazuno Kohara

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The haunted house

A haunted house is made into a comfy home by its new owner, a young witch, and her helpful cat. The illustrations in this quietly hilarious and fear-banishing picture book are the star of the show, each composed of woodcut prints for a silhouetted effect in three colours.

Haunted house

The ghosts are overlaid in a tactile white, very suitable for their re-use (after being washed by the witch) as smiling sheets and curtains and tablecloths…”They were all very useful.” is my favourite line. Its original storyline makes it by far the best of the three books by this author, though the other two (Jack Frost and The Little Wizard) have equally charming woodcuts.

Milo and the Magical Stones by Marcus Pfister

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Milo and the Magical Stones

I have fond memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read as a child, in which some pages ended in a choice, leading you to different story strands and eventually, via further choices, different endings, usually dependent on a mixture of luck or your own clever predictions. This book is like that, but with only one choice and a blasting moral imperative. Show gratitude and conserve the world! Or die, miserable, cold and alone…This might sound annoying, yet it is charmingly told and illustrated, with the magical stones picked out in gold foil, an effect beloved of artists and viewers since the Middle Ages, and no less effective here. Mice on a pretty island live a reasonably pleasant subsistence lifestyle until one day a mouse discovers a magical stone in a tunnel, emitting light and heat. (Oh, what can the analogy be, dear reader?)

The other mice all want one too, to see them through the chilly nights, and an old wise mouse advises them to give something back to the earth for every stone, and to take only one each. In option one, that’s what they do…dutifully substituting handcrafted items for the stones and living happily and warmly in the glow of the stones forever after. In option two, of course, there’s a human-style free-for-all as the mice mine the f**k out of the island and end up with worse than nothing. I guess, if you would like to introduce your child to the ethics of using carbon fuels in an indirect way, this would be a good book to start with. Or, you could keep the moral to the idea of playground sharing, and simply enjoy the adorable mouse pictures and the fun of flipping the pages to different endings.

Frog and a Very Special Day by Max Veltuijs

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Frog and a very special day

In this heartless story, young Frog awakes one day remembering that his friend (Mole, was it?) had told him what a special day it would be, but not why. He spends the morning visiting some of his animal friends, each of whom shed no light on the matter in various annoying ways. One (Rat, I believe) even smugly says that every day is very special for him. Finally he discovers that Mole has gone out to a party. This shattering news crushes poor Frog, who dismally imagines how wonderful it would have been to attend the party too. Feeling alone, sad, uninvited and still puzzled, Frog returns home…where (no surprise even to very young readers) all his secretive pals have prepared Frog a birthday party, exactly as he’d imagined it.

Sad Frog

A happy tale, after all? I think not. Setting aside the strange idea that Frog wouldn’t remember his own birthday, I failed to see the humour in denying him the joys of anticipation, instead causing him to suffer a dreadful birthday morning. Other Frog tales by this author have interesting morals, in particular Frog and the Stranger, which deals with prejudice very clearly and engagingly, but if there’s one here, I’ve missed it. The usual pleasant, simple Frog illustrations adorn this book, and the level is possibly suitable for beginner readers.