A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan

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The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey in Cornwall, were, for many years, very much lost. Once a thriving kitchen and flower garden run by a large team of staff, they became neglected and overgrown to such a degree that they were left hidden. In 1990 the gardens were rediscovered and thankfully brought back to life, and you can now visit and view them as they used to be.

The reason for the gardens becoming lost, forms the basis of this story A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan, written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914, most of the garden staff were enlisted to fight, and tragically, many of them never returned. Their names were scratched into the toilet wall of the gardens, and the discovery of these names led to much work tracking down old photos, documents and relations of those who used to work in the gardens. One such name, was Will, a kind and gentle soul who is at the very heart of this rather beautiful book.

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I recently posted on Twitter that A Song for Will was the book that broke the blogger. It’s completely true. It is quite rare that I’m ever stuck for words, particularly when it comes to books! Yet, this one, has been a struggle to write about. Bear with me, let me, hopefully, show you why.

Hilary and Martin have been producing war based books since 2015, with Where the Poppies Now Grow, The Christmas Truce and Flo of the Somme. All stunning books which you must take a look at if you haven’t already.

We have shelves of war based books in our library as it’s an incredibly important topic, and Hilary and Martin’s books all stand out as a unique way of addressing it. This is because the combination of Hilary’s beautifully poetic writing, along with Martin’s soft and gentle, yet evocative, illustrations put the heart right back into the story. The tales of this harrowing time suddenly become all the more human, emotional and heartfelt. Facts and figures are of course very important, but for children to really understand the sacrifices made by our ancestors we need to go deeper, and this is where Hilary and Martin get it so very right every single time.

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A Song for Will continues this pattern of expertly produced non-fiction, yet it is slightly different to the duo’s previous books.

Firstly, if you order now you can received the special, first edition of A Song for Will, and to begin with, before we even delve into the story, I have to say that this is a beautifully crafted book. It has a gorgeous vintage feel to it, and oozes quality with its royal blue colour and Martin’s stunning illustration on the cover, elements of which have been embossed to give a really luxurious feel. This book has been created with care and attention to the very last detail.

Whereas Hilary and Martin’s previous books were written in a poem style, A Song for Will is a more substantial read, and has been written in the form of letters between young gardener Alfie and his friend and fellow gardener, Fred, who has been enlisted, along with Will and other gardeners, to fight in the First World War.

This was such a clever way of approaching the storytelling in this book, as it provides the story from two, very different, points of view. We have Alfie and other staff members, who remain at home, struggling with the not insignificant effects of war upon their daily life, while remaining stoically optimistic. Missing their loved ones and colleagues, rationing, maintaining life with very little, and, of course, the fear. It’s a side of the war not always addressed very effectively in children’s books particularly.

From Fred’s point of view we see how things are for him out on the front line and all the difficulties he faces along with Will. Not just fighting on front lines, but dealing with other risks such as illness due to the poor living conditions, missing family and the effects of the war upon him and his dear friend Will, which are sensitively shown through Hilary’s delicate and subtle writing:- I noticed that Will’s hand was shaking – he must have been excited to be back.” (Alfie)

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The writing has been perfectly pitchedfor children to allow openings for discussion about how the soldiers and loved ones felt during this time. The story is so carefully developed through the letter writing to show the stress that the soldiers must have experienced in a subtle way, through the eyes of a naive young gardener. The soldiers would come home and want to be the best for their loved ones, put on a brave face, yet all the while struggling to cope with PTSD and the trauma of what they may have seen and experienced. It is really quite heartbreaking to read between the superbly written lines of this story.

As for Martin Impey’s illustrations. I’m not entirely sure how to do them justice. Gently weaving through the written pages of letters, Martin has brought a world to life. A world that did actually exist at one time and suddenly, by reading through this book, you’re taken into the heart of. Each setting and location has its own distinctive atmosphere, the gardens bright and colourful, full of love and life and yet gradually changing as the war develops. Then the war scenes, startlingly different, stark and muted, the bravery and yet the fear crying out from the pages. Each character in A Song for Will is a little creation of character. I fell in love with every person in this story through Hilary’s words and Martin’s drawings, you quickly feel involved with everyone in the story as it plays out in your imagination.

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I will happily admit to stroking my hand across many of the illustrations in A Song for Will, and I’m not sure why. In an attempt to bring the people back, to feel their emotions, to connect with them in some way? I really don’t know. I just know that this book took me by the hand into the intimate lives of some incredibly special people, including kind and gentle Will, who sadly never made it back from the war, and yet left a lasting impression on many people, least of all, thanks to this book, myself.

A Song for Will is perfect for the classroom, there is huge scope for discussion and project work. It’s perfect for libraries, for bookshelves at home, it is for children and adults, teachers, book lovers, illustration and art lovers, historians. A Song for Will is for everyone and anyone.

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When Hilary and Martin get together on a book, magic happens every time, but A Song for Will is different again for the duo. It is incredibly apparent that this is a labour of love. Hilary and Martin are intensely passionate about this subject, they immerse themselves in the stories of the people they write about, and Will’s story, in particular, was no exception. This passion is reflected in every single page, every word written and every line drawn of this precious and emotional book. That is what makes it special. A Song for Will is a book with its very own heartbeat created by this astonishing writing and illustrating team.

A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan is available now from all good book shops and libraries now. Please get it, read it and love it even half as much as I do.

Thank you for reading this Book Monster Review.

 


To find out more about the Gardens of Heligan please visit their website here:
– http://heligan.com

Author Hilary Robinson resides on the internet right here:
– https://www.hilaryrobinson.co.uk

And illustrator Martin Impey can be found here:
– http://www.martinimpey.com

 

Allyspoppy

Lost Magic – The Very Best of Brian Moses

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I’m a big fan of poetry, for young and old, and we are fortunate enough to have some fantastic and talented poets around to inspire and entertain children and adults. One such poet is the fantastic Brian Moses who has been writing poetry incredibly successfully for many years. I was very fortunate that Brian offered to send me a copy of his latest anthology Lost Magic The Very Best of Brian Moses, Cover illustration by Ed Boxall and inside illustrations by Chris Garbutt and published by Macmillan Children’s Books.

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Mum…

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There has recently been a resurgence and reinvention of some much loved classic children’s books, specifically for adults as gifts. The Ladybird books and now Famous Five. Brilliant gifts, that adults can identify with and enjoy.

Mum … created by Morty Sey and Scott Chegg is a read for children first and foremost, but, the special thing about this little picture book is what a brilliant gift for adults it would make.

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Book Monster’s Best Bites of 2015!

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We have reached the end of 2015! And what a year it has been for children’s publishing, some truly fantastic books out there for all ages, abilities and interests! Book Monsters is new to the blogging World, only starting in September, so I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s out there this year, however, I know what I have seen has been really truly spectacular, and I wanted to write a post to recognise some of the wonderful books I’ve seen and share my Book Monster top reads with you.

This has been a huge challenge to write only because I don’t really know where to begin. I’ve seen and read so many fantastic books this year, and they all deserve a mention, every single one, but then we’d be here all day and I’m sure you want to eat and maybe sleep too, at some point.

SO, first up, my top picture books of 2015 (and a shout out to some other amazing picture books below)!

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Grrrrr! by Rob Biddulph – “It is so nice to have a book which focuses on doing something nice, just to be nice, with no other agenda or motive. The little animals in this book, come together to help Fred out, just because.!”

Captain Falsebeard in a Very Fishy Tale by Fred Blunt – “This book is right up there with my favourites of 2015 and is a must own. A beautifully illustrated pirate adventure, with laughs and non-stop action. Honestly a joyous read that all the family can get pleasure from!”

Please Mr Panda by Steve Antony – “The limited text allows room for lots of discussion about what’s happening in the story and why the panda may not be happy. For teaching about manners at home or in a classroom environment you just could not find better than this book.”

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield – “The writing is stunning, and pulls you gently headfirst into this enchanting story, but the illustrations are something else altogether! I truly believe this to be the most beautifully put together picture book I have seen for many years.”

Little Bell and the Moon by Giles Paley-Phillips and Iris Deppe – “Giles, Iris and Fat Fox Books have created a real gem here. An emotional heart gripping, quality book that I know will be recommending to people in years to come.”

 

Of course I couldn’t include every book in this list, and so would like to give an extra mention to the wonderful Ruth Thorpe (and Sarah Mahfoudh who wrote Lily Mae) for her series of books The Squawkers, Lily Mae and Squiggle Bee, a set of books with wonderful storytelling and graphic style illustrations. Perfect as a gift set and not to be missed.RuthThorp

We can’t forget course gorgeous The Zoomers’ Handbook, a really quirky treat from husband and wife team Ana and Thiago De Moraes.

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And finally, a picture book specifically for adults out there, the fantastic Beautiful Trees by Nik Perring. A special treasure of a book which will have you intrigued and emotional in equal measure.

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Next up, our fiction novels category. Again a wide variety of brilliant books to choose from. Here our our Book Monster Top for 2015!

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Mango & Bambang the Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy – “I know many of our little library visitors who will love to read this gorgeous book and do look forward to more in the future as I feel Mango and Bambang are a duo that could become a very much loved series of books!”

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre – “Pugs of the Frozen North is funny, not just a bit funny, but really really funny. It tickled bones I didn’t know I had. The humour is in the words and pictures together in equal measure. However don’t be fooled by this, it’s a light, fun read, but it’s also a tale full of heart and feeling.”

The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair by Lara Williamson – “The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair is an incredibly emotional read, all because of Lara’s perfectly crafted characters, writing and storytelling. A story of friendship, love, loss and so much more, touching on subjects rarely addressed.”

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould – “It’s poignant, filled with tragedy, kindness, love and profound moments that will make your heart ache. Matt Haig is the master at this. But from the sadness and heartbreak comes something quite special and magical … the impossible.”


Last, but certainly not least, Book Monster non-fiction favourites for 2015.Non-Fiction

 

Things you Find in a Poet’s Beard by A.F. Harrold and Chris Riddell – “This book is a joy from the beardy front cover to the final sleepy rhyme. Packed full of a wide variety of poems, it would be a perfect book for school use, performance poetry and also to read just because!”

Never Nudge a Budgie! by Colin West – “Colin is a genius at taking every day situations that we all identify with, and slipping in a little element of silly! This is an ideal read for the family, children young and old, completely daft, completely brilliant.”

Shakleton’s Journey by William Grill – “Shackleton’s Journey is not only a fascinating tale of adventure and history but it is an poignant one of comradeship and survival.”

Flo of the Somme by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey – “I think every library and every school should hold this series of charming books by Hilary and Martin. They are exquisitely written and illustrated, and educate about a really important part of our history.”


There you have it, our Book Monster Best Bites for 2015!! There were so many delightful books to to pick from, and next year is sure to be even more wonderful! In the meantime, while you wait, why not tuck into these little beauties.

Thank you so much for all your support in 2015, and see you next year. :)

Over and out….

NewYearAlly

Beautiful Trees

 

BeautifulTreesBook Monsters is primarily a children’s book blog it’s true but today we are giving some space among the pages to munch on a book for adults for a change (although not completely unrelated as you’ll see when you hopefully read on). This is Beautiful Trees written by Nik Perring, illustrated by Miranda Sofroniou and published by Roast Books.

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