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Book Review: Our Tower by Joseph Coelho (Frances Lincoln)

Illustrated by Richard Johnson


For ages 6+



I'd been saying it for ages... "Joseph Coelho needs to be our children's laureate!" Readers, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I heard the news that this superstar award-winning children's author and poet was named as the successor to Cressida Cowell earlier last month? Ecstatic! Thank you, universe (and the Waterstones judging panel).


"We are thrilled to welcome Joseph Coelho to the post of Waterstones Children’s Laureate. His passion for stories and poetry brings a hefty dose of sunshine to readers, inspiring all those who experience his work. It is exciting to think what the next two years will bring and our booksellers are eager to support his Laureate ambitions from the off; Joseph’s term will undoubtedly be one for the history books."

FLORENTYNA MARTIN, WATERSTONES HEAD OF CHILDREN'S (July 2022)



When Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys won the Independent Bookshop Week's Indie Book Award for 'My Beautiful Voice' (Frances Lincoln) back in June, I was thrilled to have been asked by Tamara Macfarlane, multi award winning Moon Lane founder to co-present Joseph Coelho with the award at the Moon Lane children's bookshop in Ramsgate, Kent. It was so lovely to have a catch up with Joe, he's always so humble, smiley and genuinely excited to be sharing his creativity with everyone whether it's through books, events, theatre adaptations and more. He's 100% a national treasure!


Joe has written many books for children and young adults, with his deepest passion being poetry. You may already have every book in your collection, but if not then perhaps you might already check out the 'Luna Loves....' picture books (illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, pub. Andersen Press), or the very popular collection of poems for young readers 'Poems Aloud' (illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett, pub. Wide Eyed), or even the middle grade 'Fairy Tales Gone Bad' series (illustrated by Freya Hartas, pub. Walker). Seriously, I could go on.... Plus, I am an advocate for children reading, writing and performing more poetry whether in or out of school.


About the story

'Our Tower' is a deeply personal reflective story for Joseph Coelho. He told me that Richard Johnson's illustrations of the Tower in the story are so close to his own childhood Tower block home it made him feel quite overwhelmed with emotion when he first saw the artwork. How touching is that to know? Bearing this in mind I set aside a very quiet afternoon to read this book. I know already from the beautiful cover artwork that this is going to be something extremely special.


The first full colour gouche painted double page spread of the story expresses it all... everything that comes to mind when I think about tower blocks when I was growing up... grey, high up to the sky, blocking out the light, cold, dull. I never lived in a tower block, although I stayed in them at friends' flats occasionally in London and Birmingham. Knowing now that Joseph Coelho lived in a Tower when he was a child, this is a story that is coming from deep within him; him telling us through his lyrical prose about how he found inspiration and hope to become the man he is today, an essential storytime book for the children of today who live in a Tower themselves - physically or metaphorically.


Three children live in their Tower. They live in different flats in this very high Tower - 1st, 2nd and 3rd from the top down. As they look out of their windows together, through the rain and gloom, they can make out "waves of green" in the distance. They're so high up that they can see above and beyond the buildings around them. They have a unique perspective on both the skycape and landscape, listening to the "rustles and whooshes" of the trees, leaves blowing past their windows. Children who don't live in such a home wouldn't ever experience this. Unlucky for them.


However, the 'unlucky' realities for children living in the Tower aren't lost in Coelho's narration nor Johnson's illustrative interpretation. The children's legs are aching - there are flights and flights of stairs, they're not taking the lift; neighbours can be overheard coughing and their dogs barking; there are bags of rubbish, bin chutes, satellite dishes.



The power of nature calls to the children through its "song" and "vibrations". The children pack some green apples, sandwiches and binoculars; all smiles, contentment and caring of each other, the friends set off out into the murky grey on a quest to find the tree whose song they could hear from the Tower. (I can't help thinking one of these plucky and joyful characters is young Joseph himself, with his backpack, journal and pencil - ready to record his observations at a moment's notice.)


Working in harmony, the children listen to and feel the bark of the trees as they wander through the woodland. Which one is it? The source of the song. They find it at last, a large, old tree with huge roots and wide twisty branches. The leaves match the ones swirling around the Tower. Magic lights guide the children down into the tree itself. Down, down, they tumble into a deep otherworld... to a world with a folklore majestic wisdom, no concrete here.



The story's colour palette changes from the contrasting greys and greens to an ethereal world of incredible creatures, flora, and, fauna with pink, green and purple twinkling dreamy hues. When I, myself, turned the page to the "mushroom glowing night"double spread for the first time, my heart ached with a longing to escape into this world too... to escape my own Tower.



At the heart of the tree, the children discover something truly breathtaking about this subterranean arboral fantasy world. I implore you to read this story to find out! I wish I could hear your gasps of delight, awe and wonder when you do! Illustrator, Richard Johnson, you are quite simply a genius, as are the people who paired you both to bring 'Our Tower' to life.


This is such an incredibly deep and meaningful story, personal to the author of course, but it is a story that we can all 'reflect' back into our own lives and the lives of the children we care for. Our Children. Through a different lens, we too can choose what we see around us, what we focus our attentions on, how we feed our senses for our own wellbeing - whether we are connecting with nature, exchanging smiles with our neighbours, swapping home-baked dishes, holding open a door, or helping someone with their shopping bags.


I'll leave you with Jospeh Coelho’s dedication at the start of the book:

“For the children past, present and future living in Towers everywhere. May you always be inspired by the heights of your homes, that reveal endless horizons.”


Joseph Coelho, through the magic of your children's books, you are truly an inspiration and guiding light for children, educators, librarians, parents and carers everywhere. I think you've found your tree.


If you'd like to watch/listen to Joseph Coelho talk more about the creation of this book and his other works, please check out my recent IG Live interview with him on catch up here:


About the creators


Joseph Coelho, Britain's Waterstones Children's Laureate 2022-2024 (author)

Joseph Coelho grew up on a council estate in Roehampton and started writing poems in secondary school. After studying archaeology at university, he spent some time in Peru and, returning to the UK, started doing performance poetry in schools. With extensive experience in running dynamic creative literacy sessions, Coelho’s multi-award winning work aims to inspire and empower children through stories and characters they can relate to, as well as help to explore feelings and celebrate inclusivity. His laureateship seeks to promote the power of poetry and build the nation’s library membership amongst other goals.

Coelho’s debut children’s poetry collection, Werewolf Club Rules, came out in 2014 and won the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) the same year. Since then, he has written several further lyrical children’s stories and poetry collections including Overheard in a Tower Block (2017), If All the World Were... (2019), the enchanting picture books series Luna Loves…,and the award-winning My Beautiful Voice (2022).



Richard Johnson (illustrator)

Richard Johnson is a freelance illustrator and designer with 19 years experience working within the creative industry. Johnson produces visual solutions for a range of clients and have designed imagery for packaging, poster, advertisement and editorial purposes. He specialises in children's book illustration with an emphasis on narrative, story-boarding and character development. He also writes and illustrates his own stories.




Key themes


Friendship

Community

Nature

Hope

Tower blocks

Trees

Folklore


Grab a copy


Buy here through my affiliate link at Bookshop.org or purchase from your local independent bookshop...

Publication date: 2 Augst 2022

Format: Hardback


Also available by Joseph Coelho:


For ages 4+

'Luna Loves Library Day' (2018, Andersen Press)

'If All The World Were' (2019, Frances Lincoln) - Winner of the 2019 Independent Bookshop Picture Book Award

'No Longer Alone' (2019, HarperCollins)

'Luna Loves Art' (2021, Andersen Press)

'Luna Loves Dance' (2022, Andersen Press)

'The Hairdo That Got Away' (2022, Andersen Press)

'My Beautiful Voice' (2022, Frances Lincoln) - Winner of the 2022 Independent Bookshop Picture Book Award


For ages 6+

'Smile Out Loud: 25 Happy Poems' (2022, Wide Eyed)


For ages 9+

'Overheard in a Tower Block: Poems' (2017, Otter-Barry Books)

'Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Zombierella' (2020, Walker Books)


*The Quarto Group provided me with a review copy of 'Our Tower'.


Please like this post and leave me a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts too!

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