#20BooksOfSummer Review: Old Tabby Brontë The Servant’s Tale by Hilary Robinson

e-book, Published by Strauss House Publications

The second of my #20(10)BooksOfSummer challenge is somewhat different from my usual reading material and was bought on the strength of my admiration for Hilary Robinson’s writing.

This gem of a monologue expresses the righteous indignation felt by a loyal servant, in defence of a master whom she feels has been unjustly portrayed by a biographer. The servant in question is Tabitha Aykroyd who devoted many years to the service of the Brontë family, after the Reverend Patrick Brontë lost his wife and was left to care for six young children.

Hilary Robinson has used her exquisite writing talent, and I presume her experience as a radio producer, to conjure a wonderfully nuanced portrait of family life at Howarth Parsonage through the authentic voice of Tabby. The perfectly executed monologue is written in six parts, entirely in Yorkshire dialect. Thanks to the inclusion of an explanation of the use of the > symbol to indicate a glottal stop and a glossary of Yorkshire dialect, I could hear Tabby’s voice in my head throughout, despite my southern origins! I really felt as if I was sitting at the kitchen table sharing a pot of Yorkshire tea with an old servant and hanging on her every word as she refuted the inaccuracies in Mrs Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

The tale is written as a repudiation of the negative impression that Mrs Gaskell gave, of the Reverend Brontë’s care for his offspring, in her publication. As a household employee of the family for many years, Tabby is incensed that her master’s reputation has been besmirched and her irritation is palpable as she sets the record straight. As her narrative unfolds, many biographical details of the Brontë’s lives and personalities, and the way that these informed their works of fiction, are revealed quite naturally; the author’s meticulous research manifests completely organically throughout. A tale of devoted family love and support, beset by constant tragedies, emerges in this short but moving monologue.

I adored this monologue and I would imagine that it will have huge appeal to those who love Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s writing. It is also likely to be a great companion piece to students who have to read one of the Brontë sisters’ novels for GCSE or A level. Furthermore, as one of the rare readers who is actually not a big fan of the Brontë’s novels, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this monologue and learning some of the background to a uniquely talented family. It is only available as an e-book at present, although I believe that an audiobook might be planned, which is excellent news for dyslexic readers. I actually listened to the excellent Audible reading of Jane Eyre by Juliet Stevenson in preparation for reading Old Tabby Brontë, the first time that I have managed to get to the end of that story, after three failed attempts to read it! I was certainly intrigued to learn about some of the experiences that influenced that classic novel.

This is my second post for this year’s #20BooksOfSummer challenge which is kindly hosted by Cathy Brown on her amazing 746Books.com blog. Do check out the other bloggers who are taking part in the challenge, it’s a great way to broaden your reading range.

image created by Cathy Brown 746books.com

Encouraging Exploration 1: Gregory Goose Adventures by Hilary Robinson, Illustrated by Mandy Stanley

Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Star
Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Sta

With so much evidence based research pointing to the positive benefits of reading on mental health, educational outcomes and development of empathy it is so important to encourage a love of books in children from a young age. These two latest titles in the Gregory Goose series are perfect for sharing with toddlers and pre-schoolers to help develop an intrinsic love of books. As with everything from Catch a Star/New Frontier Publishing they are made with the highest production values; printed on quality thick card, with eye-catching shiny highlights on the covers and made to a perfect size for a pre-schooler to hold comfortably.

I had the privilege to meet both the author Hilary Robinson and illustrator, Mandy Stanley earlier this year and I know how much effort they put into their collaboration to perfectly combine the simple rhyming text and pictures so that they perfectly complement each other. Hilary’s text is written with precise rhyme and rhythm and I love the way that she does not compromise on vocabulary so that children are introduced to words such as chalet, clinging and zooming. Mandy’s illustrations are full of colour and energy and feature the most sartorially elegant fowl in fiction! The end result are books which will give endless hours of pleasure to children and adult readers alike.

The pictures are full of detail, in stunningly vibrant colours blending simple shapes with more detailed artwork. For example in Gregory Goose is on the Loose Up the Mountain the pine trees are portrayed as both simple green triangles and also as beautifully detailed branches of pine needles and pine cones. Triangles are in evidence throughout this book, as flags on the ski slopes, the rooftops of chalets and of course Gregory’s beak. This gives opportunities for discussing shape and number as well as the huge opportunities for chat about the action taking place on every page. In Gregory Goose is on the Loose At the Fair the pictures are full of circles: lights on the rides and attractions, round windows on the rocket ship ride, toffee apples and the Hoopla hoops. Finally, I should mention that these are “seek and find” books with the challenge to discover Gregory’s whereabouts on every page – there are hints in the text, but it is not always easy! With so much detail to observe, Gregory Goose certainly encourages children to concentrate on the page, thus building a stamina which will be required to develop reading skills.

If you are the parent, grandparent, Godparent or in any way related to pre-school children, do put these on your Christmas/birthday shopping list, you will be making a hugely positive contribution to the future of any child with whom you share these books.

For my reviews of other books in the Gregory Goose is on the Loose series, please click here.

I am grateful to New Frontier Publishing/Catch a Star for sending me copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Humble Mayor of Grumble by Hilary Robinson and Steven Johnson

Illustration by Steven Johnson, used with permission.

Since the earliest days humans felt the need to create stories to make sense of the world around them. Hilary Robinson has taken up the baton and written a modern-day fable to help children understand what is going on during this strange period of Covid-19 lockdown. The story, The Humble Mayor of Grumble, beautifully illustrated by Steven Johnson has been made available at no charge for use in classrooms and homes across the world. It downloads in the form of a pdf poster, which is perfect to display on a classroom whiteboard to enable a class discussion of the text.

As with anything written by Hilary Robinson, the story has been produced with great attention to detail, in a style which will reassure children now, but will also be something to look back at from a future time and remind us of this (hopefully) unique period of existence. In keeping with the style, there is no discussion of the science here, just the depiction of the virus as a “silent visitor” which changes the lives of the inhabitants of the town of Grumble.

She encapsulates the gradual realisation, that many have experienced, of gratitude for the natural world and the simpler joys of life that we have been too busy to appreciate for many years. Without the after-school sports, dancing, drama and music activities we have turned to gardening, feeding the birds, appreciating the wildlife and whilst indoors, baking or drawing or being creative in a multitude of ways. Her words express a yearning that we will be able to hold onto these pleasures and maintain the environmental improvements once life returns to an approximation of normal.

I hope that when this fable is read in future years we won’t need to be reminded to be grateful to the selfless essential workers who have kept us going by providing the services we require and I applaud her inclusive list of the workers we clap for on a Thursday evening.

I think The Humble Mayor of Grumble is a wonderful addition to the free resources that are being generously provided for children. I love it and only wish that we had a genuine “humble mayor” running the show; that is the beauty of great children’s literature – it shows us the world as it should and could be.

You can download your FREE copy of The Humble Mayor of Grumble here.

To find out more about Hilary Robinson and her wonderful children’s books, you can visit the Hilary Robinson website here.

You can view some of Steven Johnson’s amazing illustrations for children’s books on his website here.

For previous reviews of Hilary Robinson titles on this blog, click here for Jasper Viking Dog and Space Dog and here for Gregory Goose Board Books.

Review:Jasper Dog Books by Hilary Robinson

What a joy to discover the utterly charming, funny and informative Jasper series! These books have colourful and engaging covers, are illustrated throughout with delightful black and white drawings, and most wonderfully have been printed on off-white paper using the Open Dyslexic font. I am passionate about finding books which make reading pleasurable for dyslexic readers and firmly believe that what is good for dyslexics is good for all readers. Some young dyslexic readers have told me that they found the spacing between lines to be really helpful in allowing them to read these books easily.

 

Review: Jasper Space Dog by Hilary Robinson

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The first book in the series was published in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It is cleverly structured as a series of letters written between eight-and-a-half year old Charlie Tanner, on behalf of his dog Jasper, to a rocket scientist Dr Isabella Starr (girl power ). Jasper would like to become a space dog! He already has his moon boots and enjoys strutting around the local park in them, but he requires Charlie to ask a rib-tickling range of questions on his behalf before he ventures to the moon. This is such an engaging device as Jasper’s questions definitely reflect the hugely imaginative ideas that spring from the minds of young children. As I read the increasingly funny questions with a big smile I was delighted that the eminent scientist’s replies to Charlie acknowledged the humour in the enquiries, especially the suggestion to explore explosive chocolate as rocket fuel.

So much care has been taken in the compilation of this book, right down to the final chapters summarising the information discovered so far and then expanding on factual information about moon expeditions. Books which entertain and educate seamlessly are to be greatly valued and I highly recommend this to all schools and to any family looking for a book to engage a reluctant reader and help them discover the joy of books.

 

Jasper Viking Dog by Hilary Robinson

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The second book in the Jasper series follows the same pattern as book one, this time Charlie’s letters are addressed to Astrid the Curator of the local Viking Museum. Jasper has heard that actors are required for the Viking exhibits and believing that he might have Viking roots would like to volunteer as a Viking dog! The humorous letters from Charlie yet again had me snorting with laughter, in particular Jasper’s rapid increase in age, as he convinces himself that he is indeed a Viking dog, and his theory that his friend Bruce descends from a line of Viking Berserker dogs! Each of Charlie’s outlandish questions are answered with great attention to detail by Astrid, thus presenting a host of fascinating Viking facts in easy to assimilate chunks.

Another highlight of these books is the care taken (by Lewis James, under the mentorship of experienced children’s book illustrator, Mandy Stanley) to design the illustrations.  Throughout the text there are intricately detailed drawings of artefacts or appealing cartoon-ish representations of Charlie and Jasper’s ideas, perfectly placed for children whose eyes need a break from reading at regular intervals. The illustrations in these books are .

I hugely recommend these books to any school classroom or library collection, and only wish they had been available when a certain member of my own family was of primary-school-age.

 

My copies of Jasper Space Dog and Jasper Viking Dog were gifted to me from the publisher, I am planning to order further copies for the library collection.