Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood

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Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: A modern fairy tale about loss and forgetting, with words and images beautifully matched. Warm, touching and memorable. Buy it and share it with a special child - you'll both love it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 40 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1407107073

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The empty space where her mother's face had been was like a pain, a giant unhappiness that Siobhán carried with her everywhere. In Roddy Doyle's first picture book, we meet Siobhán, who lives with her father in a large house full of nooks and crannies, boxes and old toys. Her mother is dead, and although Siobhán can remember her mother's hands, her voice, her lifting her up to collect conkers, she can't remember her face. Her father is loving but sad and silent. She feels her loss keenly, and one day, something magical happens when she sit beneath the tree in the park where she used to collect conkers with her mother. A beautiful lady listens to her woes and tells her to look in the mirror to see her mother's face, and Siobhán is cheered.

Time passes, and the adult Siobhán sees her mother smiling back at her in the bathroom mirror. She tells her father something the beautiful lady in the park said to her years before, and her father finally opens up and shares stories of her mother to Siobhán and her little girl Ellen. Colour and laughter returns to all their lives.

This simple story begins like a fairy tale There was once this girl and her name was Siobhán and follows a classic format – Siobhán is searching, searching to remember her dead mother, who eventually appears to her magically when she is at her lowest point. Doyle's words are spare and well-judged; Siobhán's sadness is perfectly conveyed, but coolly expressed and highly readable.

What takes this book to another level, though, is the combination of Doyle's simple story with Freya Blackwood's tender, expressive illustrations. Blackwood's watercolours are evocative, warm and touching. It's partly her mastery of colour to evoke a mood – Siobhán is warmly but subtly realised in soft pinks, browns, reds and greens, while her house is almost monochrome, with her father faded and grey. The details tell so many stories, too. There are so many beautiful touches in these pictures – the kitten showing the passing of time by appearing as a grown cat, the tiny illustrations of children and their mothers which bring such pain to Siobhán, the delightful image of Siobhán's mother and father's humorous reactions as their wedding cake falls off the table when they try to cut it. The artwork is what makes this book shine, and once read, parents and children can use the drawings to tell their own version of the story, and its mini-stories, by using the pictures.

This volume would make a splendid addition to any school library as well as the home, and I can see it being a perennial favourite. There's so much to talk about, not just about loss, but about talking about loss, forgetting, celebrating life and sharing precious memories.

Thanks to the kind publisher, Scholastic, for providing the Bookbag with this truly lovely book on a sensitive subject. When teaching, I was always a huge fan of Scholastic publications, and with the combination of Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood, they have come up with something very special.

If you want another sensitive children's story about loss, told somewhat more robustly, you'll love Gilbert the Great by Jane Clarke. If you'd like a book that will help children understand the passing of time, which is touched on in Her Mother's Face, try Forever Young by Bob Dylan, which is also beautifully illustrated by another artist with a distinctive style, Paul Rogers.

Buy Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood at Amazon.com.

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