The Singapore National Library constantly outdoes itself in bringing in good books. This time, we stumbled upon not 1 but three Michael Morpurgo books, prominently displayed on its shelves. Few can tell a story as well as Morpurgo, so it is not surprising that he was a Children’s Laureate, and constantly wins awards.
Amongst the three books we borrowed, the kids’ favourite was Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey, illustrated by Helen Stephens, rather in the style of Quentin Blake.
The story is heartwarming and subtly instructive, on how a lovely melon-loving princess chooses a plain old donkey (with flies, no less) over the finest steeds of Venice. And how the donkey wished and wished that he could become as beautiful as one of the golden horses looking over St Mark’s Square, but realised that through his bravery, he would be no less esteemed than the shiniest golden stallion.
The last book we borrowed contained an anthology of four stories, ostensibly packaged to milk the ‘Christmas present’ market. More in the vein of The Kites Are Flying, the stories here were slightly more involved ones. 7 year old K enjoyed The Goose is Getting Fat, a charming farm story of a boy and his goose, which shows a child how their parents usually care more than they let on.
As the bottom left photo lists, the illustrations in all four stories are by illustrators who are award-winning in their own right. I loved Sophie Allsopp’s illustration for the first story the best, followed by Emma Clark’s for the war story, then Michael Foreman’s and lastly Quentin Blake’s, which were a tad too abstract for me this time.
It is not the first time Morpurgo’s stories have elicited tears from me, so it wasn’t surprising that “The Best Christmas Present in the World“, a war story of love, loss and a measure of restoration, had the ending in particular, had me in a puddle.
The Best of Times sounds Dickensian, but is really not. I loved the opening page of the story, which then unfolds to a tale of devoted love, depression (not depressing though) and help from unexpected quarters.
On Angel Wings was most meaningful to me, and is probably a wonderful story to read aloud at Christmastime. It tells the tale of a little shepherd boy, who was left behind as his elders and betters followed the star to find baby Jesus. There is some poetic license taken with the Christmas Story, but as a tale, it will definitely fascinate a child’s heart and mind.
Gentle Giant was another interesting story of a misfit who had been misunderstood all his life. The illustrations by Michael Foreman in this book were less captivating to me as compared to his illustrations for The Best of Times though. I enjoyed the brief epilogue – “There’s truth in every fairy tale”, Morpurgo writes, and this time, children learn about how mats of straw can indeed clean up murky green ponds.
One of the best aspects of school holidays are the vastly expanded borrowing limits at the NLB. From 28 May 2016 to 31 July 2016, each basic membership card allows for borrowing 16 books; I have a partner membership card, so we can borrow 20 each, wheeee! 4 cards in our family translates to 80 books for 42 days (with one-time renewal). If that’s not the most awesome thing, I don’t know what is.
If you’d like to spend a lazy afternoon in air-conditioned comfort, instead of strolling aimlessly at a mall, why not lose yourself amidst thousands of books at any branch of the National Library? (Which is exactly what we are going to do today, given the inclement weather for outdoor fun.)
Incidentally, there’s an NLB event in collaboration with AMK Hub this weekend. There will be story-telling sessions by NLB, and a mass borrowing event to encourage more children to read. A good effort to bring the library to kids, if those kids are not yet in the library!