The Gruffalo has been the most popular children’s picture book over the last twenty years. It is a collaboration between English writer Julia Donaldson and German illustrator Axel Scheffler, who originally came to the UK as a student and has made his home here for 36 years. With Brexit, his future here is uncertain. He realised that without easy movement of people across Europe’s borders the world-famous Gruffalo might never have been born. Scheffler has invited children’s book illustrators from across Europe to draw a picture that expresses their thoughts and feeling about Europe.
One shows a group of children all playing together……. except one who plays alone in the corner. Another has a baby dinosaur asking its parent, ‘Do grown up dinosaurs always know what is best for little dinosaurs?’ This is a collection of 45 pictures, touchingly simple but with a powerful and passionate message.
PanMacmillan Hardback, £12.99
This is a big book. It is long. It has a vast gallery of characters and spans centuries. But most importantly is big in ambition. The novel opens with introductions to a range of separate characters. There is a family of Iowan farmers who, over generations, tend a single giant chestnut growing in the middle of the treeless plains. There is a soldier in Vietnam whose life is saved when, falling with a twisted parachute, he lands in a Banyan tree. There is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who inherits a jade ring with a delicately carved image of a mulberry tree.
The lives of these characters and others eventually converge as they join forces as eco-warrios to save the last virgin forests from commercial logging.
Throughout this sprawling novel the most important presence is really the trees themselves. The complex interconnected forest community exerts its influence over all the characters and over us as readers in this powerful ecological fable.
Heineman, Hardback £18.99
Homelessness in Colchester is nothing new. At the turn of the 20th century two of our town’s most well-known residents were Emma and Grimes, an inseparable couple, devoted to each other though famous for their bickering, who slept in ditches and toured the streets scrounging for food.
This book describes itself as ‘an anthology of new poetry in aid of Colchester’s homeless’, but it is so much more. It contains a wide, varied and endlessly interesting collection of poems all on the theme of Colchester and its history by poets both well-known and unknown. But interleaved are many fine paintings and drawings by local artists as well as photographs that complement the poems. Added to that are fascinating articles on Colchester’s history and on homelessness and vagrancy over time, making this a book that really does have something for everyone. Author and historian, Alice Goss has done a splendid job in shaping poems, pictures and history into a coherent themed anthology to raise funds to help Colchester’s homeless people.
Anyone who has spent much time in Colchester has quite likely encountered an elderly chap with flowing white hair and moustache, sitting beside his easel with paintbrush in hand. Charles Debenham was born and raised in Colchester and has been painting the buildings and street scenes around the town for most of his life – as well as straying over the border to Sudbury.
He doesn’t seek out just the pretty buildings and he doesn’t wait for the sun to shine before he paints – always with his distinctive palette of muted colours. Here are pictures of corner shops, pubs, tattoo parlours and simple terraces with wheelie bins. For Charles Debenham, painting a building is like painting a portrait – each one has a story to tell, but it can take the fresh eyes of an artist to reveal that character. And some also record the life of people in the streets. Buskers and mothers pushing buggies; shoppers and friends talking at the roadside. Together these pictures form a portrait gallery of the people and buildings of Colchester and Sudbury.
Author and TV broadcaster, Neil Oliver never seems to stay long in one place. It is possible that he has seen more of our islands in a shorter time than anyone else. In this book he explores the history of the British Isles by describing 100 places that highlight the changing patterns of human development. Starting with ancient footprints exposed in the mud on the Norfolk coast he covers the invasions of Romans, Vikings, and others as he moves forward in history. He skips around the country describing finely polished stone axes in Cumbria and their likely ceremonial purpose or the artistry of the Anglo Saxons as demonstrated by the Alfred jewel in Oxford. Each chapter, just a few pages long, can be read alone illuminating one time and place. Taken together they build a multi-facetted picture of our rich and varied history.
Harry Potter author, J K Rowling’s plan to publish crime fiction under a pseudonym was blown within three months when the ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ was published back in 2013.
But private eye, Cormoran Strike, the boozing, one legged, war veteran, is a wonderful creation and the developing relationship with his female assistant Robin, becomes more intriguing with each case they investigate together.
Set in London 2012, a city gripped by Olympic fever, two cases land on Strike’s desk. A disturbed and damaged young man is convinced he witnessed a murder as a child and then there is an aristocratic Tory cabinet minister who is being blackmailed by some unsavoury far left activists. There are false trails and red herrings on all sides as crime fiction’s newest odd couple set out to uncover the truth. As the two investigations link up, corruption is revealed in Westminster and Robin has to go undercover into the Houses of Parliament.