Tag Archives: magic

Picture Book Nook: The Great Orlando by Ben Brown and Helen Taylor

I’ve always loved Ben Brown and Helen Taylor’s books.  So far their books have been mostly about native New Zealand wildlife and they’re beautiful books.  Their latest book, The Great Orlando, is something completely different, but absolutely stunning.

From the very first page you know that this is not a happy story.  ‘The Great Orlando,’ otherwise known as Sunday Jones lives in a ‘rough, broken house with an unkempt lawn and a dead lemon tree in the front yard.’  His father is a cruel, miserable man, but his mother cares for him, protects him, and tells him bedtime stories of The Great Orlando.  When his mother dies, Sunday Jones is left with his father who makes his life a misery.  When he gets the chance to enter the school talent show, he transforms himself into The Great Orlando and is finally able to escape his miserable life.

The Great Orlando is a dark, multi-layered story about a boy who wants to escape.  Ben and Helen introduce us to Sunday Jones, a boy with a father who makes life hard for him, but holds onto the dreams his mother gave to him through her stories.   Ben Brown weaves his magic on the reader with his words and shows us a snapshot of Sunday’s life.  I particularly like the way Ben describes the mother’s love for her son.  This story also shows us how versatile Helen Taylor is.  It’s a completely different subject matter to her previous illustrations but they match the text perfectly and I really love them.  They’re quite dark and eerie, which matches the tone of the story, and I like the symbolism she’s used throughout the book (the shadow of the bull in the background and the butterfly).  The Great Orlando is the perfect picture book to share with older readers who will appreciate both the story and the illustrations.  I hope The Great Orlando sees some success outside of New Zealand for this talented duo.

4 out of 5 stars


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Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

Imagine living in a world where the sun hasn’t shone for many months.  Because there is no sun, the colour has gone out of the world so everything is grey and gloomy, plants and trees have withered and everyone is miserable.  There is still magic in the world though and this magic has the power to change everything.

Liesl hasn’t left her house in several months.  After her father died, her cruel stepmother locked her in the tiny bedroom in the attic and she’s never allowed out.  Her only friends are the shadows and the mice, until one night a ghost appears.  His name is Po and he comes from a place called the Other Side. Will is an alchemist’s apprentice, helping his mean master gather the ingredients for his strange magical experiments.  One night Will makes a dangerous mistake when he accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing Liesl’s father’s ashes. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws them together on an extraordinary journey.

Liesl and Po is one of the most unique and magical books I’ve read. Lauren Oliver’s writing is amazing and she transports you to this weird and wonderful world where the sun hasn’t shone for years and the colour has gone out of the world.  She writes in such a way that it makes you think she must have gone through the whole story picking out the perfect words to describe her characters and the world they live in.  Here’s her description of Will,

“He was wearing a large lumpy coat that came that came well past his knees and had, in fact, most recently belonged to someone twice his age and size.  He carried a wooden box – about the size of a loaf of bread – under one arm, and his hair was sticking up from his head at various odd angles and had in it the remains of hay and dried leaves…”

Lauren Oliver says in the authors note that she wrote Liesl and Po after the death of her best friend, so it is a bit dark in places.  She wrote it in two months and didn’t think it would be published, but I’m certainly glad it was.  If you like Kate DiCamillo’s books, like The Magician’s Elephant and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you’ll love Liesl and Po.

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Liesl and Po book trailer

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver is one of the fantastic books I’m reading at the moment.  It’s a really magical book and one of those stories that you can get lost in.  If you like books like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, I highly recommend it.  Reserve it at your library now.

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