Lou Rhodes / Tori Elliot
Readers who have fond memories of Manchester trip-hop duo Lamb may suddenly feel old at the thought of this, but singer Lou Rhodes is now writing children's picture books. This is her first, which introduces the Phlunk, an extraordinary cosmic cat-like creature from a spoon-shaped moon, who can hear every single thing that anybody does from out in space. It's a warm, reassuring, almost spiritual tale which ends up with the Phlunk holding the Earth in his planet-sized paws. The central message – that the Phlunks always listening to you, even if no-one else seems to be – is a fittingly gentle message of harmony for a little one's bedtime. (There's perhaps just an echo here, too, of the good old extraterrestrial Clangers and their good-natured fascination with sounds and music. And that's no bad thing.)
Rhodes' ultra-simple narrative rhyme is, as you might imagine, rather lyrical, while Tori Elliott's collage-based illustrations are rather unconventional, in the best possible way. They're colourful and distinctive, but with a lot more style and panache than your average picture book. As a whole it's an unusual and pleasantly refreshing package.
Atticus Claw Settles a Score
Atticus Grammaticus Cattypus Claw isn't exactly your average pet. For one thing, he had a previous life as a prolific globe-trotting cat burglar. Now he's turned his back on all that and signed up as a police cat instead, lodging with the hapless Inspector Cheddar and his family. But on a family trip to London, it transpires that some furry characters from Atticus' criminal past are back on the streets, with plans for outlandishly grand larceny. Atticus will need to work hard to foil their scheme, and to prove to the Cheddars that he's genuinely turned over a new leaf. For one thing, he's destined to meet the Queen...
The follow-up to last year's Atticus Claw Breaks the Law, this is chock-full of humour and action, always delivered in accessible language and mottled through with nifty illustrations. Atticus' dual nature – cute and fluffy when humans are about, canny and jaded in the company of cats – is irresistible. And while his exploits are full of thrills, they're never outright scary, so they're just right for new readers with a taste for barmy animal-centric fun.
The Weight of Water
Young Kasienka and her mother are leaving Poland, but with a definite mission: to find Kasienka's father. They know that he left for England two years before, but they don't have much more to go on. Soon they fetch up in Coventry, having to share a bed in a unprepossessing single room. It's not much of a life, and Kasienka's often brutal experience of English school certainly doesn't help.
Eventually though there's a chink of hope. At the local swimming pool where she spends so much of her time, Kasienka meets a young man called William. Having a good friend makes all the difference – especially when the full truth about her father comes to light, and makes life even more complicated.
This might sound potentially heavy-going, but rest assured that Crossan handles the issues involved with real delicacy. Unusually, the novel is told entirely in the form of blank verse, which strips out the extraneous detail and gets right to the spirit of the story. Essentially it's a series of long, powerfully expressive poems from Kasienka's viewpoint. It's subtle, multi-layered material, with deftly drawn characters, but in the telling it's pared right down. It doesn't hurt that less confident readers would find this style so accessible.
Complete with a cover by picture book superstar Oliver Jeffers, this an astonishingly poignant coming-of-age tale brimming over with emotion – a good deal of it, ultimately, inspiring and uplifting. Kasienka's story is eventful and engrossing, and it's impossible not to root for her. For (slightly more mature) young readers seeking something different, this could fit the bill perfectly.
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