Children’s Book Blog – books for July: Eric, the Boy Who Lost His Gravity, The Moomins and Tape
Once a month, I pick out three of the best children’s books I’ve been reading over the past few weeks, from picture books to Young Adult novels, old classics to new favourites. My recommendations for July are Eric, the Boy Who Lost His Gravity by Jenni Desmond, The Moomins by Tove Jansson and Tape by Steven Camden.
This recommendation may be quite timely for Reception-age children facing a long summer at home with their younger siblings. The hero of the story is a little boy called Eric, who gets so angry with his little sister Alice for ruining all of his games that he ‘loses his gravity’ and floats out of the window. Of course he soon learns that being on his own in the clouds isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and gladly comes back down to earth and his family – even if that means being nice to Alice.
There’s so much going on on each page that you’re likely to spot new details with every read (see if you can pinpoint the moment when Alice loses her toy bunny, with tantrum-inducing results). Kids will identify with the characters’ semi-scribbled features which look almost like a five-year-old could have drawn them. Parents, meanwhile, can have a guilty chuckle at the mum and dad in the story who sometimes play a greater role in the siblings’ rivalry than they might like to admit.
I’m cheating a bit this month and actually recommending a whole series of books, but following a visit to a very special exhibition at the Ateneum Museum in Helsinki, I just couldn’t resist. The exhibition in question was a retrospective of the life and work of Finnish artist Tove Jansson, best known as the creator of the Moomins, who would have been 100 years old this year.
If, like me, you first discovered the Moomins in one of their TV incarnations (there have been three), you may be surprised that many of their stories are as creepy as they are cosy. The Valley of the Moomins is a place where ‘very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had to be bored’. This is deemed by the author to be a good thing, though it can certainly be quite unsettling at times. Characters like the silent, ghost-like Hattifatteners and the menacing Groke are the stuff of nightmares, though of course all the Moomins’ adventures resolve happily in the end.
Although not the first book in the series (that would be The Moomins and the Great Flood), Finn Family Moomintroll provides one of the best introductions to the Moomin family and their weird and wonderful friends. But my personal favourite is the rather existential Moominpappa at Sea, in which the father of the Moomin family goes through a bit of a Nietzschean phase and relocates the family to a lighthouse on a desolate island.
Jansson’s distinctive pen and ink illustrations, peppered throughout the pages of each book, help to bring the stories to life. If you want to see some of her original drawings but can’t make the trek to Helsinki, the ICA will also be displaying a selection between July 15 and August 24.
Sometimes you hear an idea for a book that’s so intriguing you just can’t help but read it. This is certainly the case with Tape, the debut novel by spoken-word artist and writer Steven Camden. It tells the story of a father and daughter separated by time, space and even death, but mysteriously – and perhaps even supernaturally – connected by a long lost cassette tape.
The plot cleverly interweaves two separate, jumbled-up timelines, which follow the ups and downs of two troubled but likeable 13-year-olds. But this book is more than just a good idea. The prose is vibrant and witty. The dialogue in particular perfectly captures the excitement and energy of teenage conversation. The conclusion, meanwhile, will leave you feeling emotionally satisfied and just a little bit sad.
Incidentally, although the protagonists are in their early teens, this is much more likely to appeal to readers in their mid to late teens and also to anyone who was a teenager in the 1990s. It might even inspire you to dig those old Nirvana and Busta Rhymes tapes out of the attic. Or perhaps just download them on Spotify.
I’m taking a little break from the Children’s Book Blog while I try to get some of my own writing done and also go away on a very long holiday. I’ll be back in the autumn, though, with more book recommendations, author interviews and anything else children’s book-related that takes my fancy. I’ll also, no doubt, still be on Twitter more than I should be @RebeccaDavies__
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