The Bandit Queen by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara

“O Bandit Queen!” the bandits cried.
“Little horror! Poison weed!
We’ll give you everything a queen could ever need…”

Just like its sister Hortense and the Shadow, this picture book is a treasure. An orphan girl is stolen by mischievous bandits and made their queen. But faced with the difficult and unavoidable task of growing up, she needs help– help she feels the bandits are too childish to give. Back at school, she soon realises that she misses her family, and they miss her. And the bandits promise once again to give her everything a growing queen could ever need.

“We know you felt mad,
And lonely and sad –
We’re sorry as sorry can be.
But whatever you do
We’ll always love you.
We’ll help you be all you can be.”

This is a gorgeous book about growing up and finding your tribe. The language is rich and full of rhythm and rhyme with a touch of hilarious potty humour. There’s a great contrast between some pages stuffed full of fabulous words and others with only three or four– each making a statement in their own way.

As always, the illustrations and colour palettes are stunning– vibrant and whimsical. This is a picture book aimed at small children but will definitely appeal to older ones as well– it has a ‘grown-up’ picture book feel.

Thank you to Natalia and Lauren for this beautiful copy– yet another success!

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara

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“Through the dark and wolfish woods,
through the white and silent snow,
lived a small girl called Hortense.
Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . .
Hortense hated her shadow.”

Hortense and the Shadow is a beautifully illustrated debut picture book written and illustrated by sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara. They tell the story of Hortense, a girl who hates her shadow so much that she decides it must go…until she realises just how small she is without it.

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This is a beautiful story of identity and self-acceptance. It shows us just how scary a shadow can be to small children and how they perceive themselves and the world around them. It’s not a rhyming picture book but the lyrical rhythm in which the story is told makes it seem like it is.

As she fell,

Hortense knew

her shadow hated her too.

The illustrations are stunning; whimsical yet very dark in places- a mix of pastel colours and black ink. The story seems to be set in a (perhaps Poland-inspired?) fairyland, with domed palaces and pink trees and ushanka-wearing bandits to be spotted throughout the book.

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Delciously dark but with a happy ending, Hortense and the Shadow is an utterly lovely picture book with an empowering message, and it reads like a classic fairytale.

Hortense and the Shadow will be published on the 5th of October. Thank you to Lucy at Penguin Random House for sending it so beautifully packaged!

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