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Michael Morpurgo on July children's book hit list

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July's pick by children's book reviewer CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Interesting research by Sleepseeker has looked into what children most like to hear before going to the Land of Nod. The Gruffalo came out top in Berkshire, with The Very Hungry Caterpillar coming in second.

What I found surprising was that, according to the survey, the most popular bedtime story all over the world is the centuries old Little Red Riding Hood, which goes to prove that children enjoy just a bit of scariness, even if it’s just before going to sleep. (It came in third place for Berkshire children.) As a country we can give ourselves a pat on the back since the UK read the most children’s books – you can see the full research on www.sleepseeker.co.uk/blog/bedtime-stories

Meanwhile, and thinking of Red Riding Hood, I wondered which was the oldest fairy story still told. The internet turned up a wonderful potpourri of facts about children’s stories, including the fact that Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin are both around 4,000 years old, while Little Red Riding Hood first went to visit that wolf in her Granny’s bed in the 17th century.

I learned that Snow White’s dwarf friends represented earth, air, fire, water, light, shadow and magic and the only dwarf it is said Snow White never spoke to was Happy. Why? I have no idea.

If you are interested in how some of our favourite tales evolved, there is a wealth of information to be found. I will not spoil your surprise by mentioning that you may discover that Cinderella’s fairy godmother was a tree in some tales, nor the drastic measures which her stepsisters went to to get their feet into that glass slipper. Fascinating stuff and, in many cases, it is very clear why Mr Disney had to make certain alterations before creating his very popular fairy tale films.

A Song of Gladness
A Song of Gladness
The Friendship Bench
The Friendship Bench

However, we are concerned with the new stories of today, beginning with the wonderful Giant by Nicola Skinner.

It concerns Minna, a small disabled child living on an island subject to earthquakes. Each child is given a giant to look after them until they reach the age of 12 when they must kiss their giant and this has the effect of turning him or her to stone – thus helping to rebuild the damaged buildings.

Although each child is told they must not get fond of their own giant, Minna dreads the day, fast approaching, when she must turn Speck to stone and runs away so the ceremony cannot take place.

What follows makes for exciting and absorbing reading as Minna faces challenge after challenge and finds herself in a part of the island where she is told ‘the nasty giants’ live. It is hard to see how there can be a happy ending, but readers of nine-plus will thoroughly enjoy finding out. A glorious feast of imagination – surely this is a book which will find itself listed for an award.

Published by Harper Collins at £12.99 (HB)

Two well-known names come together in A Song of Gladness. The combination of Michael Morpurgo and Emily Gravett in what is described as ‘a story of hope for us and our planet’ began with a blackbird singing in Morpurgo’s garden.

The author listened and felt that the bird was telling him something very important – a story which required every living creature to sing the song of gladness.

The result is a charming book with Emily Gravett bringing to her illustrations of animals not only beauty but more than a touch of humour as the news travels the world that what is needed is for everyone to have a good sing. Not just us humans, but all the animals, insects, birds and sea creatures, from bears, gorillas and crocodiles to plankton and crabs – even camels who ‘never join in with anything’. And the singing banishes the sadness.

A Song of Gladness is a big beautiful picture book which the very young aged three and upwards will love to look and laugh at.

Published by Two Hoots at £12.99 (HB)

The Friendship Bench is a story with a gentle, delightful message for the very young about making friends.

When Tilly starts school she has to leave her dog, who is her very best friend, behind and no matter how nice people are to her, she is lonely.

Then a teacher suggests she tries sitting on the friendship bench of the title, but there is someone already on it. “Try again,” says the teacher. Tilly does and, of course, all ends happily.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a story which children aged three or so will enjoy, even without the important message.

Published by Oxford University Press at £6.99 (PB)

The Secrets of the Universe
The Secrets of the Universe
The Secret of Haven Point
The Secret of Haven Point

The Secrets of the Universe may be a small book, but it has an enormous number of facts about the universe revealed in a way which will fascinate young minds – and older minds, too.

Have you ever heard about lost stars? Do you know the difference between red and brown dwarfs (no, not the Snow White kind)?

The start of the book tells that ‘an awful lot happened in the universe’s first three minutes’ and by the end of this colourful picture-packed, fun little book, the reader will know a whole lot more about what happened – and what followed.

Inspiring, brain-expanding and knowledge-exploding – Dr Mike Goldsmith’s book is one for the whole family to dip into.

Published by Oxford University Press at £7.99 (PB)

You can’t help liking Clarice Bean and here she is back again, just in time for summer reading in Scram!

It’s the holidays, her parents are away for the weekend and the long hot summer stretches ahead of Clarice with nothing exciting on the horizon. Then what begins as a ‘nothing day’ turns out to be nothing of the sort, for that day Clarice comes across a dog. Or rather, the dog comes across Clarice and doesn’t seem to want to go away again.

Keeping Dog a secret is not easy – especially when you’ve got a nosy neighbour and a small brother who thinks he’s seen a ghost in a cupboard – actually Dog with a white cardigan over him. And what will happen when her parents get back – they who have never allowed a dog in the house?

Of course it all goes well and Lauren Child’s popular young heroine makes the day turn out well for everyone, including the dog. Scram! is a funny, gentle take on family life and Clarice fans aged seven or so will love it.

Published by Harper Collins at £12.99 (HB)

Haven Point and the old lighthouse which stands there have become a refuge for children who have disabilities and no one to turn to.

The wrecklings, as they are called, are washed up on the shore and make a living, with the help of mermaids, from getting goods from passing ships.

Alpha is found by the lighthouse keeper (who goes about with a kitten in his beard) washed up in an old Lux soap flakes box.

In Lisette Auton’s The Secret of Haven Point all goes on as normal as it can be – until the day when Alpha sees a glint in an old pillbox on the cliff.

What she finds there disrupts life on Haven Point, bringing a threat to the mermaids and the wrecklings have to decide how they can help them – and what kind of future they want in the long days ahead.

Extraordinarily imaginative and magical, this is a charming and absorbing story for children aged nine and over.

Published by Penguin at £7.99 (PB)

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