Friday, 29 August 2014

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th August 2014 - "On Sudden Hill" by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

On Sudden Hill

Written by Linda Sarah

Illustrated by Benji Davies

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

It was love at first sight, at first read.

Often with the "Book of the Week" books, we know they're going to slide into our hallowed and honoured slot with ease the moment we lay eyes on them. In some cases, a book that looks gorgeous and glossy can sometimes disappoint once you dive into it, but that was definitely not the case with "On Sudden Hill" by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies.

The story of two (and then eventually three) little boys who spend idyllic summers playing and using their imaginations. Birt and Etho's favourite game is to drag their huge cardboard boxes up to the top of Sudden Hill and use those boxes for all sorts of fun games. Boxes can become anything. A medieval castle, a spaceship or just a great place for two friends to hang out and chatter long into the summer evenings until the light grows dim.

Then something unexpected happens. Shu sees Birt and Etho playing and wants to join in. He's even got his own box, and at first Shu is most welcome. But Shu and Etho spend more and more time together, and poor Birt feels pushed out, isolated. Birt smashes his box to bits and starts playing on his own, or staying in and drawing and while Shu and Etho still call on their friend, Birt no longer wants to play with them.

Can Shu and Etho win Birt round?

Children's books often evoke an atmosphere that's unique, making us recall our own childhood, or even (as is the case here) our own friendships as kids and how sometimes even the most simple dynamic could change irreparably if someone new came around and two became three. This is lovingly examined with Linda Sarah's gorgeously written story that dances with whimsy and melancholy in equal measure.

For any writer to be paired with Benji Davies must feel like winning the lottery too. Benji's artwork is utterly enchanting and fits the story like the most comfortable pair of slippers. It's ironic that the book is called "On Sudden Hill" when it really reminds me of the same carefree atmosphere that a lot of Hayao Mizayaki's movies evoke.

When the questions followed, it was another unexpected bonus. Questions from Charlotte on why Birt does the things he does when a new friend joins in, and why he smashed his beloved box. Children's books that spark questions like these obviously make adults think long and hard about taking their own relationships for granted too and that's no bad thing.

A stunning book, every single bit as good as it looks.

Charlotte's best bit: Shu and Etho's amazing way of 'winning' Birt round.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Heart warming, touching, melancholy in places, deep and complex. If anyone ever asks you why you - as an adult - read children's books, slap a copy of this across their lap and make them read it. Maybe then they'll understand.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books