Oliver Jeffers is the award-winning creator of children’s picture books which have been bestsellers around the world. Recently, he arrived back from hospital carrying his new baby son. He wanted to introduce the wonders of the world to the tiny new arrival and the result was his first non-fiction picture book.
With glowing colours, he illustrates different views of planet earth. There is the glorious mystery of the expansive night sky, filled with glowing constellations. The amazing range of animals on the land, birds flying through the sky and the wondrous creatures living in the watery world beneath the surface of the sea.
Alongside these pictures is a simple, straightforward, almost matter of fact commentary, introducing the magnificent richness of life on earth and the diversity of people who live here. Throughout runs the gentle message that the best approach to nature and to other people is respect and kindness.
In an uncertain age this is a beautifully optimistic book with a tender heart.
Well known historian, author and TV presenter, Mary Beard has been very public about the sexist abuse and trolling she has been victim of on social media. In this short but powerful book she calmly traces the gender agenda back to classical times showing ‘how deeply embedded in western culture are the mechanisms that silence women’
She starts with Homer’s Odyssey, written 3,000 years ago. Telemarchus, son of Odysseus, while still a young lad, sends his mother, Penelope, upstairs to her quarters and to her weaving loom, saying ‘speech will be the business of men’. Then there is Io who is turned into a cow and can say nothing but ‘moo,’ and the nymph, Echo, is punished so that her voice only ever repeats the words of others.
It is a pattern of male dominance of the public political arena that has persisted ever since.
Looking at strong women in history from Elizabeth 1st to Margaret Thatcher, Mary Beard analyses how far we have come and what still needs to change for women to be free to claim full equality.
Penguin, Hardback £7.99.
Frank’s Dad, Gilbert, is a racing car driver. But it’s not a Ferrari he drives. He races a battered, old, souped up mini in special races for old bangers. Known as ‘King of the Track’ for his fearless driving, Gilbert is a local hero, winning race after race and young Frank worships his Dad. One night there is a crash on the race track, Gilbert is badly injured and when finally leaves hospital three months later it is with a wooden leg.
With his racing days are over, the money stops coming in and month by month, debt collectors strip the house of TV, toys and even Frank’s bed.
Gilbert falls in with the local crime boss, Mr Big, who is actually pretty small, smokes a fat cigar and wears silk pyjamas whatever the time of day or night. Eventually, Frank and his Dad join forces in a dangerous game to expose the dastardly villain.
Told with his usual verve and humour this is another winning tale from the pen of David Walliams, now the country’s bestselling children’s writer.
HarperCollins, Hardback, £12.99
Fans of Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, have been waiting for this for over fifteen years and they won’t be disappointed.
The epic tale opens at ‘The Trout’, a rambling stone-built Inn on the banks of the Thames outside Oxford. There, the landlord’s son, eleven-year-old Michael Polstead, enjoys his life, helping look after the guests and exploring the river in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage.
Across the river stands a Priory where Michael runs errands for the kindly nuns who are also looking after a six-month old baby girl. Her name is Lyra, heroine of the earlier books.
But behind the scenes the power of a sinister religious organization is growing and Michael’s school falls under the influence of the fascist movement’s youth wing.
When a plot is uncovered that endangers Lyra, it falls to Michael and his friend Alice to protect the baby. Drawn deep into a world of danger and intrigue, they set off in Michael’s canoe to save Lyra.
As dark forces build power and influence, they face a giant, ghosts and witches in this exciting adventure.
Penguin, Hardback, £20.00
It is 1865 and all seems well for Elsie when she marries a wealthy businessman. But a month later her new husband is dead and she is pregnant. She heads out to his family’s country estate to rest …. but rest is not what she finds!
The house turns out to be a crumbling Jacobean mansion, perpetually shrouded with mist. The servants are distrustful and the local villagers are scared of the place, believing it to be cursed.
Hidden away in a locked room, up little used flight of stairs, Elsie discover a two-hundred-year-old diary and a strangely unsettling life size painted wooden figure with an uncanny resemblance to Elsie herself. The diary tells of the mysterious origins of the figure – and others like it that have been gathering dust since the time of Charles 1st.
A sense of foreboding pervades this novel as mysteries multiply and the wooden figures – the ‘silent companions’ appear to have a life of their own.
This spooky tale is by a bright new Colchester author.
Hardback, Raven Books, £12.99
‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ has been voted the country’s favourite poem. But what kind of person was this man who wrote such wonderfully eccentric verses?
Born in 1812, the same year as Charles Dickens, Edward Lear had 17 brothers and sisters yet grew up as a loner who never seemed to fit in. Suffering from epilepsy and with terrible eyesight he struggled to feel at ease. And as he grew up the realisation that he was gay in a world where that was not accepted, added to his retreat into secrecy.
But Lear also developed into an exceptionally talented artist, particularly of animals, birds and nature and it was whilst employed to paint Lord Denby’s animal collection that he began to compose limericks and nonsense verse for the many children of the household.
So, while Lear developed an outer life as an artist and a cheerful, funny plump man, his tormented inner life was filled with deep sadness.
Marvellously illustrated with Lear’s paintings and sketches, this books really gets under the skin of this supremely gifted but troubled artist and writer.