I'm Emily Reynolds.
Why do we Americans love the UK so much? What is it about Europe that's just so alluring? A thousand things--the accents, the languages, the phrasing and funny-isms, the history, the art, the culture, the food, the fascinating people, the Marmite. Well, okay, not so much the Marmite...But we all love--or would love--to travel overseas at the drop of a hat (or $5,000!!! Choke!), right?
Since not many of us have the budget, or the green flag for travel at present (to jump the pond this summer), how about we revel in a few fantastic children's books that all have English connections, shall we? Let's!
1) Clever Jack Takes the Cake,
Written by Candace Fleming,
Illustrated by Brian G. Karas
Don’t laugh, this first book isn't even written or illustrated by a creative from the UK. But…hold on to your seats...once you've read this one, you’ll gain a smacking of timelessness that generally comes from stories originating in dear Old England--a feeling, rather, or a conjuring-up of the old world, that usually comes from reading Grimm’s Fairytales.
And this story, has an ending that's so fresh, it could be cut straight from your own heavenly lilac bush.
The story is replete with details of sleeping woods--laced with whispering winds--and four-and-twenty-blackbirds who descend to pluck walnuts off the buttery icing on the cake that a young boy sacrificed his all to bake, as a birthday gift for the princess.
The prose of Clever Jack Takes the Cake uses onomatopoeia of the satisfying variety--like that of the “pfft!” sound that candles make when sputtering out.
Better yet, this is the type of book to spark luscious one-liners for all ages! In fact, phrases from this book just might pop up at the most wonderful moments.
Occasionally a body or two around our table in Maine has been known to select a perfectly gorgeous strawberry (possibly even from our own scraggily patch in the garden), and heard to say, just like Clever Jack,
The reddest, juiciest, most succulent strawberry in the land!”
For a fun run-down on the plot of Clever Jack Takes the Cake,
check out this link from the Children’s Book Review:
Other fantastic resources to enjoy, after sharing Clever Jack Takes the Cake with your kids, can be found here:
The illustrator’s website: https://www.gbriankaras.com/aboutme.html#top
The author’s website: https://www.candacefleming.com/video/video.html
2) That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown,
Written by Cressida Cowell,
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Likely, if you're reading this book review, you're already familiar with the first in the Emily Brown series. But on the slightest chance that you're not, I am writing this post JUST. FOR. YOU! This witty story is so cleverly-written, and so satisfying to read, that the only way to not slaughter its charm...is for you to experience it firsthand for yourself.
So, you absolutely must click on the link below to watch the author (a.k.a. Waterstones Children's Laureate [2019-2022]) read aloud from her "shed" in the bottom of her garden in London:
(Pssst...click on the link above, not the screenshot photo below, to watch. It's SOOOO fun! And talk about a dream studio for any artist...I will not covet. I will not covet. I will not covet...)
Cressida Cowell is not only fabulously endearing (as you saw above in her online reading of one of the most fun contemporary children's books available), but her stories are engaging enough, to keep parents wanting to read them again and again in their best goofy faux-British accents. (We all secretly-wish we spoke in a clean, crisp British dialect, don't we?
Admit it. I will. Our own American nasal tones are pretty blech.
I wonder if in heaven we'll be able to Britspeak, or perhaps sound like Aussies(?), if we so desire upon having lived a good life? I better start stepping things up...just in case. (Matt could speak with a Scottish brogue--he does play the bagpipes, after all--and I could speak like I grew up in the Lake District.
3) The Sherlock Files #1
The 100-Year-Old Secret,
Written by Tracy Barrett
Unusual in feel, this book is a pleasantly-innocuous, London-based mystery. My kids and I have listened to the audio version at least three or four times over the last decade.
With all that re-listening, how is it then, that I only recently noticed the "Book 1" part of the title?! Honestly, Einstein! After awakening to this fact last week, we just checked out numbers two, three, and four of the series from the library, and the kids are happily devouring them. Yay!
That being said, I did just come across reviews of the second book, warning that volume two smacks of “Scooby Doo.” (I admittedly adored Scooby Doo as a kid…but any reader in their right mind would deflate instantly upon finding out the swamp monster really was the unmasked butler of the old mansion for the twenty-third time—in a series of books that are totally unrelated with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon!) Still, I can hardly wait to read the whole series as I do love book one.
But, back to the first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, is written well enough that it can stand alone. Had I all the money for books I wanted, I would easily buy the hard copy to keep on the shelves for any age of my children to read. Nothing creepy, morbid, or crass in this book. Just a wholesome mystery to crack the case of a centuries-old missing painting. Oooh, ooh--art is involved. Yes!
The premise of the cute tweens, Xander and Xena (the matching names may be a bit cheesy, but hey…), picking up where their ancestor, Sherlock Holmes, left off—to solve the case of the missing painting of the girl in the purple hat, sucked me right in. (Perhaps because the first portrait for which I ever had someone pose, was when I was eleven years-old, and my neighbor buddy, Emo Snell Lloyd, humored me by sitting for me on my family’s back steps--wearing a wide brimmed Easter hat.) So this book just struck my soft spot--of wanting to be an artist as a little girl.
Here’s a link to the Looking Glass Review to give you a more thorough synopsis of beloved book one in the series:
4) Kat, Incorrigible,
Written by Stephanie Burgis,
Illustrated by Annette Marnat
If you’re always longing for more of the lusciously-satisfying details of JK Rowling’s world-building, and bask in the fast-paced repartee of sisterly banter in Jane Austen’s works...then Stephanie Burgis’s Kat, Incorrigible series is the perfect intersection for you. And the three of my kids who’ve read this series LOVED it—including one son.
This is a book I've seen those three fans pick up multiple times.
Really, how could one resist a trilogy set in the (Regency Era) English countryside, taking place in a parsonage with three sisters who squabble so realistically, that one almost remembers her own childhood quarrels?
But the genius of these books is that even though the siblings bicker, they ALWAYS stick up for each other when the chips are down. They have each other's backs. This family is so life-like, the reader lives on the page through Kat and her wiser (Elissa), and sassier (Angeline), older sisters.
But Kat's personality has enough grit and spunk that she ends up helping her older sisters to extract themselves from a dodgy betrothal and loads of mischief. As a reviewer named Leslie D. says, Kat can be "frightfully intuitive and woefully ignorant" enough to keep us turning pages at lightning speed.
Not to mention that the details of the Regency era magic (think a magic reticule bag) make a great escape. If you have a reader who loved Harry Potter, and will some day get lost in Jane Austen, this book will probably be a hit.
Here’s Goodreads’ spiel on the plot:
And if you’d like to read a really fantastic take on the book, go to School Library Journal’s Fuse 8 Book Review at:
5) The Giants and the Joneses,
Written by Super Star Julia Donaldson,
Illustrated by Greg Swearingen
After my oldest daughters gobbled up this book years ago, it sat on the shelves for years, waiting...waiting...for my youngest two girls, ages six and nine. They just discovered it, and it makes my heart twirl!
Fair Warning: This book teaches kids how to speak in Groilish, or Giantese. Be aware that after a few days of reading, your child may begin to substitute in a few words of Groilish for their own language, and look at you slyly for signs of feeling out whether or not you know of the language they speak also. It's highly entertaining to watch a six year-old speak a foreign language to you with an empowered, savvy smile! I know something my parents don't! (Oh, just wait kids, after you surpass my educational knowledge in the fifth grade--you'll everything know everything I don't!)
This book has a few sweet lessons about doing unto others what you would have them do unto you. Julia Donaldson has a good mind for slipping a moral or two into her books to educate the next generation.
And if you're not previously familiar with the work of Ms. Donaldson, these are my personal favorite of hers:
• Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book
• Tabby McTat
• The Room on the Broom
• The Highway Rat (a nod to the old poem, "The Highway Man"--yes, the very one that Anne Shirley recites in Anne of Green Gables. AND...the prose in the picture book can be sung with your kids to the melody of Loreena McKennitt's "The Highway Man" song from the album below. Fun, fun, fun!
Here are a few other collaborations between Ms. Donaldson and Axel Scheffler:
• A Gold Start for Zog
• The Gruffalo
• The Gruffalo’s Child
And Ms. Donaldson's latest books (The last on the list, The Smeds and the Smoos, sounds like it was heavily influenced by Dr. Seuss--in creative word usage, rhyme, and the fact that it carries an agenda--think The Lorax, but about discrimination and blind prejudice):
• The Scarecrow’s Wedding
• The Smeds and the Smoos
• Zog and the Flying Doctors
The video below of Zog and the Flying Doctors is read by the most adorable young British voice (worth watching with a little person if you can't find the book):
6) Malala's Magic Pencil
Written by Malala Yousafzai,
Illustrated by Kerascoët
This relevant picture book biography of everyone's young Pakistani heroine, Malala Yousafzai (who still seeks refuge in England), brings a potent message of hope. Her words share with young children everywhere, that one person standing up for what they believe in, can sweep the world with change.
I spoke for all the girls in my valley who couldn't speak for themselves. My voice became so powerful, that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.
Malala captures the imaginations of children right out of the gate--with her real-life childhood longing to have a magic pen that could draw up a bowl of rice, or erase the smell of the garbage heap outside her window.
You know the story. Later, as Malala grows, and sees the tyrannical leaders of her home town prevent girls from attending school, she begins to understand that she doesn't need a magic pen to make a change, she just needs to write with the one she already has--of her beliefs that all human beings deserve the right to an education.
For a read-aloud of this powerfully poignant and hopeful picture book,
enjoy this with your family below:
And to see Malala's beautifully-sincere acceptance speech as the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 22, go here:
"I'm pretty certain, that I'm also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. I want there to be peace everywhere. But my brothers and I are still working on that."
Well, every month, I say to myself, "This month, I'm going to write the quickest, simplest book review yet." And then I proceed to blether on absolutely far too much until you're completely gob-smacked by my barminess.
Did you like my use of fun words from the UK? I know. I'm a geek. Even more so, I hope you enjoy the books from the review.
Now, return the favor by going to the comments below, and please tell me which books about British characters, or written by English authors you love the most? Children's books, or adult, I'd love to hear from you about your favorite titles...
So, go be a bookworm, not unlike this slug enjoying his breakfast. Curl up and devour some of the best books! "Shloouuuup!"
Have a glorious summer, friends!