#RivetingReviews: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp reviews new picture books translated from French

INSIDE THE VILLAINS by Clotilde Perrin

Recommended for confident readers aged 6+ or for the junior school (key stage 2) classroom.

In a large, tactile format, this guide to the villains of classic folk tales – the Wolf, the Giant and the Witch – is an unusual blend of fact and fiction, with delightful, funny illustrations labelled with pun-filled descriptions.

Each of the three triple spreads has a supersized portrait with flaps and pull-out paper accessories. Open up and find that the Wolf is wearing Grandma’s nightgown under his fur, and you can unstitch his belly to reveal his poor victims quivering in his ‘misery-guts’. Even before you get on to the story you can spend ages discussing fairy tales featuring these baddies, as you unpeel the layers, revealing the villains’ underpants, secret weapons, darkest thoughts and captives hidden in pockets.

Each spread has one classic story featuring said villain and a page of ‘more about me’ for the reference-book lovers out there. The fairy tales have a good rhythm to them and enough new details (‘I smell fresh meat!’ shouts the Giant; none of your fee-fi-fo-fum here) to feel that they’re familiar stories livened up with a new perspective. I found it a little hard to keep my place in the newspaper-style format, but I enjoyed the repetitive language (‘started to climb from branch to branch, leaf to leaf’), which held the narrative together.

The Slavic child-snatching witch Baba Yaga may be less familiar in the UK, but with its echoes of Hansel and Gretel we loved this tale of defiant little Alyoshka outwitting creepy Baba Yaga.

Reviewed by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp


Written by Clotilde Perrin

Translated from the French by Daniel Hahn

Published by Gecko (2018)

IT’S MY POND by Claire Garralon

Recommended for ages 3-7

This is a sweet and brightly coloured picture book that invites young children to consider a fresh take on sharing and playing together. The colourful rubber ducks who one by one discover a pond are more like sheep as they follow the lead, dividing up the pond into boring territorial plots, thinking that the important thing is to have an equal piece.

It takes a black sheep – I mean a black duck – to shake them out of their delusion and make them realise there are more fun ways to share. Personally I thought the ducks could have been more expressive – the illustrations are simple and pared back – but perhaps that’s the point. The expression is in the text and the contrast comes when the enormous smiley hippos get wind of the pond idea. Good comic timing and a funny ending!

Reviewed by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp


Written by Claire Garralon

Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone

Published by Book Island (2017)

UP THE MOUNTAIN by Marianne Dubuc

This is a beautiful story of friendship between the old and the young, and of how time spent together can nurture a young person’s confidence, enabling them to follow their heart and find their own route in life.

For a nature lover, it’s a delight to explore a beautifully illustrated Canadian forest world with the kinds of local species that rarely find their way onto English-language picture books: chaffinches, white-throat bunting birds and redheaded buzzards are some of the characters elderly Mrs Badger says hello to on her weekly Sunday walk up the mountain. These make a refreshing change from the weary menagerie of jungle and savannah animals that mostly populate kid lit for small readers. Another novelty is the way Mrs Badger introduces us to edible nature – sumac leaves, the scent of apple blossom, the dos and don’ts of mushroom picking.

The narrative is pleasantly terse, scattered across the page, amid the very physical illustrations, which are full of movement. The simplicity of the images makes for some very poignant vignettes: as Leo the Cat grows more confident and Mrs Badger grows tired, there is a lovely image of them resting on rocks by the lake, a reflection of a previous image but with their positions reversed. Death is present in the book but not stated. Leo doesn’t forget his aging friend Mrs Badger but with the self-confidence he has learned from her, he makes new friends to share the mountain view with.

This is my favourite eco-loving picture book about nature and the cycles of life since Britta Teckentrupp’s The Memory Tree.

Reviewed by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp


Written by Marianne Dubuc

Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone

Published by Book Island (2018)

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator working from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She graduated from Oxford University and completed an MA in Translation and Interpreting at Bath University. She most of all loves translating fiction, nonfiction (particularly history, travel and nature) and children’s books.

Category: ReviewsSept 2018


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