I love interactive picture books that make the reader a part of the story. It’s clear that kids love them too because it’s these kind of books that are the most popular in my school library. I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien is an absolutely brilliant recent example of an interactive story where the reader talks directly to the purple monster who stars in the story.
You start off asking Little Monster what he wants to do today. He wants to be in a story, but not just any story – a scary story. You then set up an idea for a scary story and in Little Monster goes. However, it’s a little too scary for Little Monster, so you try again. It is still too scary. You keep trying until Little Monster decides maybe a funny story might be best. Just when you think you’ve got the perfect story for Little Monster, he disappears, only to surprise you at the end.
I Want To Be in a Scary Story is a hilarious picture book that you have to read aloud. You are guaranteed to have your young audience in fits of laughter. It’s the sort of picture book that would almost be better if you read it in a pair, with one person being the reader and the other being the monster. If you’re reading it yourself though you need to come up with a great Little Monster voice.
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien are a winning combination for this book. Sean Taylor’s text makes the story perfect for performing as there are two distinct voices, with different fonts and different colours. You could even just read the text and get the children to draw what you think Little Monster’s scary story might look like. Jean Jullien’s illustrations are bold, colourful and full of expression. Little Monster’s face changes from an expression of pure joy to one of fear and shock.
I can’t wait to read I Want To Be in a Scary Story to all of the kids at my school. I know this is going to be one of those books that the kids ask for again and again but will never be on the shelf because it’s so popular.
I love Brian Selznick’s books because of the way that he tells his story using the combination of text and wordless illustrations. His books make you think because you have to interpret the story from the illustrations. Thanks to Twitter I’ve discovered another author who also very effectively tells a story using these same techniques. Pam Smy uses a combination of diary entries and black and white illustrations to tell a spine-tingling tale of two girls connected across time. It is a story that will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.
2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.
Thornhill is a tense, chilling mystery that captivated me from the first page. The story alternates between the diary entries of Mary, an orphan at Thornhill in 1982 and a girl in 2017, who we find out is called Ella. Pam Smy tells Ella’s story through atmospheric black and white wordless illustrations. From the first page we know that Mary is living in fear, being tormented by someone at Thornhill. She hears a thumping on the walls and her door at night and she sounds miserable. We also learn that Ella is unhappy as her mother has recently died and her father is often not around. As the story progresses Mary and Ella’s stories weave together and the tension in the story grows.
Pam’s illustrations are powerful and portray so much emotion. She shows the reader details of Ella’s life and how she is feeling through the illustrations. In one of the first glimpses of Ella’s life we know that she is from the present day because the calendar on her wall says 2017. There are photos of Ella with a woman, who we assume is her mother, but it is not until later in the story that we find out more about her. We only see snapshots of Ella’s life but some of these send shivers down your spine. Pam paints an imposing picture of Thornhill Institute For Children and gives us glimpses of what happened within its walls. When Pam switches perspective between Ella and Mary there are two black pages which are like a break for the reader to take in what has just happened.
Thornhill is a beautifully produced book. It feels like you are holding a work of art in your hands. It is a solid hardback with a cover illustration that looks like it has been etched in the cover. The page edges are black, adding to the sense that this is dark story. The illustrations are an incredibly important part of the story so the binding is of high quality, meaning that you can lay the book down open on a table or your lap.
The ending of Thornhill made me shiver and it still does when I think of it. It’s a perfect book for anyone wanting a spooky read. I’ll be recommending it to all the kids at my school because I know there will be lots of them who will love it. There are a group of 10 and 11 year old girls who love urban legends and ghost stories and I just know they will gobble up Thornhill. This is a book to own and reread so go out and buy a copy now.
Check out the Thornhill website to read an extract and watch this video of Pam Smy talking about her book:
I love reading translated fiction, especially for children. Some of my favourite stories were not originally published in English – Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was originally published in German and The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was originally published in Spanish. Thank goodness for publishers like the wonderful Gecko Press who translate the best books in to English for children to enjoy here in New Zealand. Gecko Press’ latest translated gem is The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson. This wonderful story brought back memories of the first time I read my favourite book, Inkheart, as it took me on an adventure that swept me away.
Siri lives on a small island with her younger sister, Miki, and her old, tired father. An outing on a nearby island to collect berries ends in tragedy as Miki is taken by pirates. These are not just any pirates, but those from the Snow Raven, a ship from the stories that Siri tells her sister. The Snow Raven is captained by the most wicked pirate in all the seas, Captain Whitehead, a pirate with hair white as snow and a heart as empty as an ice cave. Children who are taken by Whitehead are never seen again as they get sent to work in his mines until their bodies and minds are broken. Siri knows that she is the only person who can save her sister and so sets out to get her back by any means.
The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart. It is a story about an incredibly brave girl who never gives up on her search for her sister. Frida Nilsson, and her skilled translator, Robert Graves, transport the reader to the unforgiving Ice Sea and make you feel that you are right there beside Siri the whole way. You feel the biting, icy wind, feel Siri’s gnawing hunger and her heartache for the friends she makes along the way, and hear the creaking and groaning of the frozen sea. The writing is beautiful. Some of the descriptions of the characters and places were so perfect that I had to reread them several times.
Siri is one of those characters that becomes your best friend. You are right there beside her and get inside her head. She goes through so much on her journey to find her sister – she leaves home by herself to rescue her sister, faces down white wolves, stows away on boats with angry men, and stands up to vicious pirates – but she never gives up. She is determined to find her sister, rescue her friend and protect those who cannot protect themselves.
I loved The Ice Sea Pirates and I know that Siri and her story will stay with me for a long time. It is the perfect read aloud for ages 9 and up and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves adventure stories with a touch of magic and wonder.