Well, I must have done something right with my book reviews, because just before we went away for a few days holiday last week, another fat parcel of lovely books to review came through the post from Barrington Stoke.
Hooray! Hoorah! and Huzzah!
I thought I’d start with The Smile by Michelle Magorian. I only know Michelle Magorian from her classic children’s novel, Goodnight Mr. Tom. Goodnight Mr. Tom was another book that everyone else but me seemed to have read when they were a child. I only read it a few years ago when I started making a concerted effort to fill in some of the gaps in my reading of both adult and children’s books.
Interestingly I often wrestle with adult classics, not quite understanding why they’ve been labelled as such, but don’t often disagree with people’s lists of children’s classics. Goodnight Mr. Tom is a superb piece of writing and if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. I will warn you that it’s a real tear jerker, and definitely a book for older readers, aged 8 plus.
The Smile, on the other hand is for much younger readers, and if you’re interested in getting started with Michelle Magorian, but don’t fancy sobbing your way through an entire box of tissues, you could do worse than start here. Barrington Stoke recommend it for children with a reading age of 6 plus and give it an interest age of 5 to 8 years. I’d say that it would work beautifully for younger readers as an introduction to getting a new sibling and would make a great bedtime story over a few nights used this way.
The Smile tells the story of Josh, whose life is pretty much ruined by the arrival of his brother Charlie. Charlie has only been in the world for the past 17 days, but on one long, sleepless night, Josh pretty much decides that Charlie is responsible for every ill that has befallen him in his own young life so far, including the hideous wall paper in his new bedroom, and it will be a miracle if Charlie lives to be 18 days old at this rate.
I really liked the fact that the action in the book takes place over the course of one, long night. The short chapters in the book give a real sense of the time passing and how the long night drags on so wearily for Josh and his parents. Usually, books where a child becomes reconciled to his sibling take place over a time span of weeks or months, and this shorter time span really gave the story a fresh feel to what can be a pretty laden market in terms of these kind of books.
The book is very sweet, gently funny and rather sentimental. You will know, from my previous review of Lauren Child’s; A New Small Person, which tackles the same subject from a different perspective, that sweet and sentimental are not necessarily what I would look for in a book about reconciling yourself to the fate of a new sibling. On the other hand, there is definitely a market for a more loving, gentle approach to these things, and Magorian is a past master at tugging on the heart strings. Josh’s unfurling of love for his new brother is pretty delicious, even to a hard bitten old cynic like me.
The gentleness of the book is reinforced by the lush illustrations by Sam Usher, an illustrator who, although unknown to me until now, is bound for great things. His book Can You See Sassoon? has already been long listed for the Kate Greenaway prize so I’m not the only one who has been entranced by his work.
In this book the soft wash of watercolour and pen illustrations perfectly complement the subject matter. His mastery of line reminds me a little of Bob Graham, who I rate highly, and on occasion there’s a bit of Quentin Blake emerging. I love the way the painting style has been kept by the publisher and the blurred edges of each painting become an important part of the whole feel of the book, and reinforce this idea of the long, hazy, winter night that seems to go on forever.
As ever, Barrington Stoke have done a bang up job of making the work dyslexia friendly:
Clear, easily decipherable text.
Good font size and decent line spacing with plenty of room on the page.
Cream pages making it easier to read
Achievable chapters for the solo reader.
Gorgeous end pages with puzzles and games, and an integral book mark.
Easily manageable book size for small hands to manipulate.
There’s not much more you could ask for really.