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Springing You into New Books ...

New books for Spring –

– and in Monkeycat and his Fabulous Friends (Monkeycat Press) we get new animals too! In the first of a projected series, The Flying Dragon, Jon Wiltshire writes of a meteor falling on a Tasmanian zoo, and resulting in a total mix up of its inhabitants, with interesting and unexpected outcomes.

Wiltshire tells us that Donkeylion, Moledog, Elephantowl, Zebrapig and Monkeycat are transported from the zoo to their own special land and homes where they can live happily for ever, but in this first story we see that they have to learn to live together, respect each other, and establish some ground rules. Monkeycat is a bit mischievous, and when he and Zebrapig decide to fly a dragon kite, poor Donkeylion is terrified at the monster in the sky, and his ‘eeewwwroaring’ wakes Moledog from his underground snooze. Meanwhile, up in his tree, Elephantowl can see both sides of the story, and determines to find a way to reassure those who have been frightened without spoiling Monkeycat and Zebrapig’s fun.

This is an engaging way in which to encourage young readers to think about the impact of their behaviour on others, and Peter Hudspith’s bright, lively, funny and immensely imaginative illustrations add immeasurably to the story.

More of this twenty-first-century fantasy take on Aesop will surely be very welcome for carers to read to Early Years children and for secure KS1 readers to enjoy on their own.

Also new to UK readers is The Adventures of Miss Charlotte, a series by a well-known French Canadian author, Dominique Demers, translated by Sander Berg, and published by Alma Books.

Twenty years old now, this has been an immensely popular series in French-speaking countries, with more than half a dozen titles, and more to come, as well as two films based on them, but it has not been available for an English-speaking audience until the first in the series, The New Teacher, appeared here in 2016. Now the next, The Mysterious Librarian, has been published, both illustrated (as are the French originals) by Tony Ross.

Demers is a great fan of Mary Poppins and Pippi Longstocking, and this influence can clearly be traced in the character of Miss Charlotte. She is a mysterious, unconventional elderly lady, who at first seems quite mad, but who resolves familiar situations with her off-the-wall attitude to life, and allows insecure children to find inner strength and to succeed.

In her first appearance she demonstrates that to enjoy school, and therefore to learn, children should not be restricted by a boring, test-focussed curriculum. She guides, enthuses and thereby empowers the previously unengaged, unruly and often unkind Class 6 to carry on her regime once she has moved on to other things. Just as important, wherever she goes she eventually convinces adults that her ideas offer a better quality of life than their current one.

The second novel finds her in a different town, reorganizing an unused library, thereby encouraging the children to visit it, start to read, and opening for them an imaginative world previously unknown to them.

Once again Miss Charlotte also empowers the adult community to continue her work when she moves on. Within these short chapter books, amid the humour and often chaotic scenes, lie many deeply philosophical messages, probably the most important being to think for yourself and not to accept difficult, unhappy or unsatisfactory situations without questioning and trying to change them.

As well as their obvious value in English for use in PSHE, for those learning French the originals are available in the UK and, together with the translations, could provide a useful resource.

I hope very much that Demers’ books gain a wide new readership here, and that Mlle C’s adventures will continue in their excellent English translations.

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