The Thing with Feathers that Sings Without Words

Kate DiCamillo introduced her Bath Literature Festival audience to her latest title, ‘La La La’ last week. She said this book, like all her titles, is ‘a search for connection, the radiant connection, the story I keep telling in every book.’

Last week included Super Thursday, the first of three days in October when publishing houses release a majority of new, Christmas trade titles. We’ve been looking these through cautiously, to make sure every book we select is one we have loved reading and want Bookwagon readers to enjoy too.

La La La was one of our first choices. The title of only three words, or rather, one phrase – ‘la la la’- is the only text. Kate Di Camillo turned in a storyboard of circles to her publisher, including different mouth shapes and variations of ‘la la la’. The circles represented her main character, later developed by her illustrator Jaime Kim, into the ‘story of hope’ that Kate DiCamillo had visualised.

We need these stories of hope, or radiance, of affirmation. When I complete reading my Saturday newspaper I feel wrung out, saddened and hopeless. Television viewing leaves me feeling cold and hopeless, frequently. On Saturday night, we struggled to find any new movie that did not leave me feeling threatened or disheartened. It may be the weather, the time of year, or the state of the world, but I feel an increasing need for ‘stories of hope’, ‘feelings of radiance.’

Recent Harvard research found that those who feel goosebumps when listening to music ‘may be special’, i.e., with ‘an emotional and physical attachment to music that suggests a different brain structure’ with ‘denser volumes connecting auditory cortex and emotional processing.’ I suggest, without Harvard research, that some, especially those with a strong reading habit, are able to ‘feel’ or make emotional and physical attachments in other areas of the arts, e.g., a connection to a character, a story, a scene, an experience. Being read to is a necessary foundation to inspiring this reaction (46% of British children suggest that they wish their parents had read aloud to them for longer, incidentally).

Bookwagon includes a strong complement of ‘radiant’ stories, stories that offer hope, inspiration, an avenue or direction. These are enabling for readers – the power of suggestion to a reader is like a drink in the desert. Stories of radiance were included in Super Thursday’s releases, amongst other titles we recommend.

Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray’s The Glassmaker’s Daughter is one such radiant light. It enables through a suggestion that happiness may be within our individual grasp, our own hands. Encouragement and space enable the hero of Jabari Jumps to succeed beyond his fears. Mrs Noah knows that survival is not only due to species rescue, but sprinkles of magic, wisdom and hope in Mrs Noah’s Pockets. The comfort, wisdom and wonder conveyed in Under the Same Sky are like the sort of warm, winter coat Lucie Goose meets in Lucie Goose. Our heroine in that story, sorts out her would-be foes through a combination of naivety, courtesy and humour that is inspiring and refreshing. 

Series that offer hope include the wonderful Jasmine Green books by Helen Peters, which we’ve been racing through with relish. Readers with a fresher reading pace and vivacity will feel the same way about these farm animal, family-centred stories, starting with A Piglet Called Truffle. 

I was delighted to receive the latest of the Mary Plain reprisals on Super Thursday. For all fans of Paddington Bear, Teddy Robinson, Goscinny and Sempe’s ‘Nicolas’ and good, funny series of their childhoods, I recommend this wonderful outing with the bear of the ‘white rosette and gold medal with her picture upon it’:- Mary in America.

Laughs, considerations and curiosities abound in the poems of Frantz Wittkamp, translated by Roger McGough and imagined by Axel Scheffler, Fish Dream of Trees. Poet Joseph Coelho has moved beyond poetry to create his first picture book, beautifully supported by illustrator Fiona Lumbers, Luna Loves Library Day. This title includes a book within a book and a message about love and families in all their different versions. 

There is a suggestion that Princess Anya’s quest will continue, despite her evocation of a magic lip salve in Frogkisser! a very funny, inspiring, audacious title for older readers. The quest of Ebo, developed from real life testimony of refugees seeking asylum and safety, is recreated movingly in Illegal. Despite the trauma and uncertainty of the story, Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin offer hope, a sense of radiance in this outstanding graphic novel. Petula, the main character of Susin Neilsen’s latest title, Optimists Die First learns her constant guilt and watchfulness cannot prepare her for love, heartbreak or- hope.

Thank heaven for the prospect of Italian week on ‘The Great British Bake Off’,  new music from Gregory Porter, forthcoming live performances by Michael Kiwanuka (to rattle the goosebumps),  but especially, wonderful children’s books that offer the sort of radiance and hope that we all seek.

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