Having one’s head in the clouds; a face that clouds over; judgement that can be clouded … there are so many cloud-related idioms that explore feelings and dispositions and these so often float into literature, song lyrics and every-day parlance. Then there’s the idea of the ‘cloud’ – a digital entity that, seemingly, floats somewhere ‘up there’ but that which holds dreams, ambitions and ideas nonetheless. In days gone by, a child who strolled along, head in book and unaware of their surroundings was said to have had their ‘head in the clouds’ or be a ‘day-dreamer’… and this was viewed as a bad thing! Now this has given way to children (and adults!) with their heads in the digital cloud, strolling along with a device in their hand and quite unaware of their surroundings. So, while the last embers of summer glow and the turning of the leaves signals the shift in seasons, we’re wanting to snuggle up under a blanket and escape into dream-worlds ourselves through the power of the written word.
The Big Dreaming by Michael Rosen and Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 26th October 2023)
Michael Rosen, who was placed in a medically induced coma back in 2020 due to covid, has written a little of his experience of his own ‘big sleep’ into this beautiful book. Winter is closing in for the bears and Little Bear knows that soon they must begin the Big Sleep. He wonders if he will dream. Big Bear reassures him that he will, but Little Bear is worried: what if he runs out of dreams? What will there be then? A Big Nothing? So he sets off on a quest to collect dreams, just so he has enough to last. Squirrel’s dream of playing with siblings is the dream of Happiness Right Now. Rabbit’s dream is of being lost and then Skylark showing the way home: it is the dream of Coming Home Safe. And there’s Wolf’s dream of Always Having Hope. But will Little Bear manage to find his way back home through the ever-thickening snow in time? The pairing of Rosen’s gentle, rhythmic prose with Egnéus’ stunning illustrations is exquisite. Perfect for children in EYFS/Year 1.
Paperback Edition Picture Book
Lost by Mariajo Illustrajo (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 5th October 2023)
This is the second work of perfection from award-winning picture book-maker, Mariajo Ilustrajo. Polar Bear finds himself lost in the city. Surely someone will be able to point him in the direction of the North Pole? Trouble is, everyone seems too busy to help and even when they do stop, are they really listening? Or are they so caught up in what they’re doing (including being glued to their phones and the digital ‘cloud’) that they don't actually help? So begins a misadventure involving coffee (disgusting!); a tube ride North (the wrong North!) and then a fortuitous meeting. Can he be rescued by a book about Polar Bears? And will his rescuer’s plan work? The words and illustrations are gorgeous and we love the message that we can be lost but just one person with their feet firmly on the ground, quite without their head in the clouds, can be the one to find us and give us what we need. Perfect for children of any age, such are the opportunities for rich discussion.
Graphic novella for younger children
The Egg Incident by Ziggy Hanaor and Daisy Wynter (Cicada, 5th October 2023)
Now, whilst the idiom that could be applied to this brilliant new cautionary tale isn’t cloud-related, it is linked to the weather: throwing caution to the wind definitely springs to mind when we meet dear little Humphrey. Descendant of his infamous uncle, Humpty, Humphrey is never allowed to have his egg-head in the clouds. He is constantly being reminded about what happened to his uncle resulting in a suffocating existence where he must maintain hyper-vigilance at all times. But then that all changes when he meets PJ in the park. Playing isn’t all that fun as Humphrey is too scared of doing anything that could result in an accident. Imagine, then, his horror when he and PJ are locked in the park and the only way out is – yes, perhaps you guessed it – over the wall. Will history repeat itself? Or will Humphrey realise that if you’re too careful all the time, you miss out on all the fun? A cautionary tale with a twist, this is perfect for younger children.
Who Let the Words Out? by Joshua Seigal (Bloomsbury Education, 14th September 2023)
Joshua Seigal somehow manages to make his poetry laugh-out-loud funny without being puerile. His clever use of word-play come together with humour in an anthology that is tender and insightful. In ‘That dog’ the concept of fear is explored: What if we all are dogs like him, huddled up in the corners of our lives?... So let us turn upwards to the still space above that holds us tight, tickles behind our ears and, if it could, would tell us we’re good, we’re loved, that everything is all right. In ‘Gifted’, although the narrator acknowledges, I’m good with puzzles but I can’t decipher the rules of the playground…They call me ‘gifted’ but I can’t untie the bow that keeps me wrapped tight. And then we circle back to weather/cloud-related idioms in ‘Precipitation Problem’ where the weather has closed in, the mood is morose and the protagonist felt under the weather. Seigal has certainly unleashed the words making this perfect for vocabulary-rich discussions about all sorts of things with children in key stage 2.
Cotton Cloud Refuses to Rain by Elizabeth F. Hill, illustrated by Hannah George (Five Quills, 5th October 2023)
Cotton Cloud does not behave in the way that a cloud ought. All of the other clouds can teach her a thing or two: making shapes in the sky is Puffy Cumulus’ special talent; Cirrus trained Cotton to flick her wispy tail as she pranced across the sky but there is one cloud she never wants to be like: Nimbostratus. He rains and creates gloom. Nobody likes the gloom… but then when the earth becomes parched due to Cotton’s unwillingness to rain, the world becomes sad and worried. Will she do the right thing? Will Cotton realise her part in the water cycle and its effect on the eco-system? A brilliant book to support cross-curricular work on the water-cycle and ecology and perfect in lower key stage 2.
Bright Stars of Black British History by J.T. Williams, illustrated by Angela Vives (Thames & Hudson, 28th September 2023)
Everything that could be wished for in such a book has been included in this new, non-fiction offering from the brilliant J.T. Williams- author of the highly acclaimed Lizzie and Belle Mysteries. And - curiously enough - the page that this book fell open at on first-look here at Literacy Tree was none other than the section on Dido Elizabeth Belle herself: one of the eponymous stars of Williams’ fiction series. Then there’s the compelling story of African Princess Omoba Aina of Egbado heritage and the intriguing connection between her and Queen Victoria. Other stars in this sparkling line-up include composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, poet and - later - playwright Una Marson and football champion and war hero, Walter Tull. Every biography for each of these Bright Stars is intended to be a celebration, 'as the light of their legacies shines brightly to inspire us and give us hope for the future.’ In her stunning introduction, Williams says of the Stars: ‘When we look up at the night sky, some stars appear to shine more brightly than others. But look closely and you will catch a glimpse of other stars in between… There are always people, brave and bold, whose light may be hidden from us… move closer to a star and it will shine more brightly in your view.’ So careful and precise has the research for this book been, that it is a work of art in itself but the illustrations by award-winning Angela Vives add a stunning additional layer which truly brings these largely-untold stories to life. This is an essential book and one that we think should have a prominent place in every primary school.