A selection for young readers

Selecting 10 illustrated books for young readers, we were drawn to works with striking illustrations, a mixture of words and music or a new twist on the world. Fairy tales have always helped young readers make sense of experience – some in this group reflect the worries of childhood and the darker side of contemporary life, while others sing life’s joys. In «The Song of the Angels» (Hestia) by Kathryn Hunter, illustrated by Markos Hadzipateras, charmingly surreal pictures of hybrid creatures, such as a elephant plane, convey a gentle message. Some rowdy creatures can’t hear the song of the angels for their own racket. On a blue mountain, their heads resting on the clouds, they quieten down at last and hear the superb music. «Robin Redbreast and the Fir Tree» (Ellinika Grammata) by Stelios Pelasgos, illustrated by Christos Dimos, tells the story of the first autumn and winter on earth. The natural events of winter – wind, rain and snow – are related as experienced by a robin that searches for shelter in the freezing cold and is rejected by all but the fir tree, which reaps a double reward for its kindness. It’s early December and the elves are alarmed to see that Father Christmas hasn’t wrapped a single present in «Father Christmas Wants to Lose Weight» by Athanassia Ambarioti, illustrated by Michalis Kasapis (Kedros). All he does is sit and mope because he hasn’t managed to lose weight. Only last Christmas, he got stuck in a chimney in Pendeli and one year he flew so low children took him for one of the earthbound Santas that stand outside shops. He heard one exclaim: «Wow! That Santa is really fat!» Luckily the elves manage to persuade Santa that children love him as he is – roly-poly and jolly. Santa’s adventures bring a very different message in «Father Christmas Goes to War» by Argyro Kokoreli, illustrated by Nikolas Andrikopoulos (Ellinika Grammata). Laden with computers, play stations, mobile phones and war toys, Santa distributes gifts to lucky children. On his way home, he gets lost and strays into a war zone where his gifts are of no use to a hungry child. There is no happy end, just reason for reflection. Oscar Wilde’s classic children’s tale «The Selfish Giant» (Kedros/Chroma Musika), adapted and with verses in Greek by Maria Bourani and illustrated by Katerina Veroutsou, comes with a CD of the narrative and wonderful music by Nikos Xanthoulis, performed by Chroma Musika Sinfonietta and recorded at Concordia University, Montreal. A perfect combination of music, language and theater. Two more books with CDs come from Ellinika Grammata: Argyro Kokorelis’s «Game with Dreams,» illustrated by Fotini Stefanidi, and «Game with the Wolf,» illustrated by Vassilis Papatsarouchas, with music by Vassilis Rota. In the first, Anastassia awakes from a dream of a multicolored bird that takes her to the moon and asks her mother to have the rest of her dream because she has to rush off to school. In the second, Anastassia plays Wolf – almost too realistically for her – with her godfather. An imaginative treatment of everyday events with zany illustrations. The words to the songs on the CDs appear at the back of the book. «Christmas is Coming,» published by Kedros, combines the talents of writer Yiannis Kontos and artist Alekos Fassianos. As Yiannakis enjoys the treats leading up to Christmas, the kallikantzaroi – mischievous goblins – are at work underground, cooking up trouble. «The Garden with the Grays,» written and illustrated by Theofanos Kaloyiannis, tells the story of what happens to a garden as lush as the Amazon, that has flourished in the space surrounding an apartment block and is patrolled by a tribe of seemingly gray cats, when plans are made to destroy it. A tale of modern magic. A country that keeps taking over other countries «for their own good» meets an unexpected fate in «The Conquerors,» written and illustrated by David McKee, published by Hestia in a Greek translation by Kelly Dimopoulou. Taking over a country so small it doesn’t have an army and puts up no resistance, the invaders, with nothing else to do, adopt civilian life. Their outraged commander replaces them, but the substitutes go native too. Most are sent home, taking with them new customs that the general thinks of with a smile as the «spoils of war.» He even puts his own son to bed with foreign lullabies, conquered himself by that small peace-loving country.