Children’s books for summer

With books galore available, how do you choose which ones will please your children? As usual at summer holiday time, Kathimerini English Edition has sampled some recent Greek releases and come up with four suggestions – two picture books to read with little ones, and two novels for independent readers. «Otan i bala oneirevetai trela» («When the Ball Has Wild Dreams»), by Christos Boulotis and illustrated by Fotini Stefanidi, is just out from Estia and does everything a picture book should. The concept is a simple one – a ball imagines it is something else, and a game of transformation begins. The text, a series of short verses in half rhymes, spells out the tale as the ball morphs successively into a piglet, then a poppy, a teddy bear’s coat, a kite, a fish, a girl in a red dress, a watermelon, a mouse who has eaten too much melon, and from that back into a ball. The transformations appear in half-page segments, where part of one incarnation merges into the next, giving readers the fun of guessing what it will be. Simple yet enchanting, because the book has just the right mix of the recognizable and the unlikely – it is the perfect food for a child’s imagination. Fantasy is set free and the maddest desires are satisfied when the ball has wild dreams. Secret of the sea Two islanders, author Costas Magos, born on Mytilene, and illustrator Michalis Kountouris, born on Rhodes, share their love of the sea in «To mystiko tis thalassas» («The Secret of the Sea»), a picture book published this year by Patakis. The illustrations, always viewed from a child’s perspective – looking up into a tall lighthouse, at waves or a tiny island on the horizon – depict the broad expanse of sky and the uncluttered lines of the islet in the Aegean where Pantelis, the story’s hero, lives. The island is «a small rock in the great sea, a toy amid the sand, stone and sea.» Once home to many, it now has few residents, of whom Pantelis is the only child. He dreams of becoming a ship’s captain and he asks Nikolas the sailor how he can become a captain. The sailor tells him he has to know the secret of the sea, which he can only find out by searching. When Pantelis starts asking the people he knows about the secret of the sea, he gets a different answer from each of them, colored by their own viewpoint. «It’s loneliness,» says his father with a sigh «It’s the colors,» says his mother, who does superb embroidery. «It’s the pirates’ treasures» says the policeman, with a sly wink. One by one, he hears their responses but they don’t really answer his question. Frustrated, he shouts his question at the sea, this little boy who one day does become a captain. Sage sleuth There’s good news for fans of Petros Hatzopoulos’s novel, «The Disappearance of Dorothy Snot,» which won the state award for children’s literature in 2004. The author has written another Cornelius Crick mystery in «O stoicheiomenos pyrgos tis Ursula de Fluff» («The Haunted Tower of Ursula de Fluff»). Once again, half the fun comes from the friendly friction between the sage sleuth Cornelius and his good-hearted but air-headed assistant, Martha the firefly. The duo are about to set out on a well-earned holiday to Easter Island when a call for help comes from an acquaintance in need. Martha is indignant, not only because she feels their vacation has been hijacked, but because they will be spending December in a cold, damp and reputedly haunted tower in a forest on the outskirts of Glasgow instead of soaking up the sun in the Southern Hemisphere. It is only by hinting that any unusual events occurring to someone as well-connected as de Fluff will probably get television coverage that Crick finally persuades Martha to accompany him to Scotland. «Good heavens!’ she flutters, her objections instantly forgotten: «What shall I wear?» Ursula, an elderly female hare, is alarmed because her family’s ancestral tower has been afflicted by horrible noises in the attic, levitating objects and sudden, inexplicable movements by coats of armor. In the surrounding forest, animals share rumors of a great wolf said to howl at night like a creature from another world. The detective and his assistant unravel the mystery, with both help and hindrance from Hortensia Nosy, the ferret, an archetypally intrusive, scandalmongering TV reporter, forever trying to keep one step ahead of her rival, Sneaky, from the Super Confusion channel. Hatzopoulos has a talent for naming his characters: This time they include Poison, an odoriferous badger who is de Fluff’s butler; Darius Arf, a large Dalmatian with a counter-tenor voice, and Sneezy McPo, a shortsighted cat with an allergy. Delightful illustrations by Despina Karapanou reflect the gentle wit of the story. For children of 8 and over, «The Haunted Tower of Ursula de Fluff» is published by Patakis. Future imperfect? Eleni Diakou tackles a more serious subject in «I koilada me tis petaloudes» («The Valley with the Butterflies»), recently published by Patakis. Aimed at children aged 9 and over, the novel is set in the near future, where certain developments already in process in today’s world have been taken to the next stage, projected into a future that seems far from perfect. Cities are encased in protective glass domes, as the natural environment has become so degraded, while artificial reproductive technologies have taken over from nature. Zois, the hero, has just acquired a little brother, Zois 2, who was made to order from his parents’ genetic material and delivered after some years of rearing by child carers. He looks angelic, just as he was meant to be, but his brother finds him to chillingly perfect, like «a little robot.» One of Zois’s textbooks describes how planning and education will combine to make humans of the future who are in perfect harmony with the environment that they themselves have created in past decades: «An environment where everything has a specific role and reason for being. Everything must obey certain rules.» In this new world, feelings are seen as a remnant of past ages. People order new anatomical parts and everyone communicates by screen. Time spent on unplanned activities is considered wasted. But something is changing in this orderly, controlled world. Rain has started falling on the arid land on the city’s outskirts that was once used for agriculture. Zois and his friend Cora venture beyond the glass dome to play a game that turns out to have consequences they never imagined. Absorbing and thought-provoking, «The Valley with the Butterflies» raises question parents might like to think about too.

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