New review: Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickael El Fathi

On the blog today, I’m delighted to share my review of a beautiful new book Peace and Me which celebrates the work of  Nobel Peace Prize winners and will be published later this month. The book from Lantana Publishing is written by Ali Winter, an experienced anthologist who is passionate about seeking out lessertold stories from around the world and illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi, an acclaimed French-Moroccan children’s book illustrator who helps children travel the world through his illustrations.

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This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf. Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

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From the first page this book is fascinating, beautiful and moving in equal measure.  It begins with a spread focused on Alfred Nobel and how the Nobel Prize came to be.  What follows are double-page spreads on some of the winners of the Peace Prize, charting their contribution to world peace and reflecting on what they did to be of “greatest benefit to mankind”.

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Some of the names are very familiar, some are not, but what they all have in common is their selfless and determined efforts to help their fellow man.  As a children’s book, there is just the right amount of information on each person and enough detail to bring them to life.  The narrative is accompanied by visually stunning artwork – I would be fascinated to hear how these beautiful illustrations were created.

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The book is endorsed by Amnesty International because “it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.” Each story reminds us that one person can make a difference. What a wonderful lesson to pass on to children and what a wonderful reminder to everyone that passion and perseverance and indeed, peace, can exist even in today’s turbulent times.  Peace and Me is a book to treasure, to share with young and old and to encourage us to consider what peace means to each of us.

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Peace and Me publishes on 21st September.

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review!

New reviews: Klaus Flugge Prize – A wondrous shortlist of picture books!

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I was very fortunate to be invited to review the incredible selection of books shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize.  The Prize will be awarded on 12th September to a debut illustrator of a published picture book. The five books on the shortlist will make judging the winner very difficult, such is the talent they demonstrate!

I enjoyed each of these very different titles and am delighted to share my reviews with you today.

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My Name is Not Refugee written and illustrated by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke) is a moving and sensitively portrayed journey of a refugee inviting young readers to think how they might feel if they had to leave their homes.  A mother explains to her son the journey that lies ahead, some of it scary and some of it exciting but above all hopeful. Muted colours, use of light and shadow and blank space encourage you to stop and think and ultimately understand that refugees are just like us. The narrative is simple and each spread holds a direct thought-provoking question.  A brilliant book to prompt discussion, particularly with (but not limited too) young children, this is a great example of how picture books and illustration can be used to aid understanding of important issues.

Big Box, Little Box illustrated by Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) written by Caryl Hart is a light-hearted tale of curiosity and an unusual friendship. If you’ve ever had a pet cat you’ll know how much they love to play inside, outside and all over the place with boxes!  The cat in this story is no different and has a wonderful time exploring all sorts of boxes, only to discover one is being in habited – by a mouse! Thankfully, the cat doesn’t respond as most cats would and a happy ending beckons.  The lyrical, rhyming narrative is perfectly reflected in the colourful images creating a really enjoyable story. I particularly love the movement and expressions of the cat! I can imagine this being a story youngsters will want to read again and again.

The Night Box illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont) written by Louise Grieg is an enchanting tale of day turning into night.  Little Max holds the key to the Night Box and as Day starts to wind down, it’s time to open the box! Night spreads across the land and out come the woodland animals, stars in the sky and of course, peaceful sleep.  This is such an evocative tale you can almost feel night time cover you!  Gorgeous illustrations, reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers in style, beautifully portray all the elements of night time from the animals to stars to the drip of a tap!  Warm colours wrap around you like a blanket and bring to life the peace that can be felt at night time.  This would be a wonderful story to allay young children’s fear of the dark and show them just how magical it can be.

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover written and illustrated by Markus Motum (Walker) tells the incredible journey of a real life mission to Mars.  A fine example of the amazing non-fiction books available for children today, Curiosity is full of fascinating facts that will have young readers on the edge of their seats. Told from the robot’s point of view, the narrative brilliantly sparks the imagination around the wonder of the universe. Amazing and detailed illustrations share the world of space exploration and show just how advanced it has become, with double page spreads that highlight just how vast the solar system is. A completely fascinating story and visually stunning book, this is a fantastic way to encourage youngsters to be curious about their world and beyond!

The Real Boat illustrated by Victoria Semykina, (Templar) written by Marina Aromshtam is a wonderful tale about a tiny paper boat venturing to the big wide ocean.  The paper boat wants to be a real boat and believes if he can get to the ocean his wish will come true.  He journeys along the river and meets many other boats along the way, from rowing boats to tug boats, fishing boats and once at the ocean, vast steam ships. The dangers of the seas overwhelm him, but even as he sinks to the ocean floor, all is not lost and a perfect and happy ending is reached. Beautiful, intricate illustrations bring the wonderful world of boats to life and portray just how vast and precious our waterways and oceans are. Full of heart, the narrative also shares insight into the many and varied activities around boats and water. I love the little boat’s wonder at the world around him and his fearlessness in realising his dream.  This is a lovely picture book story to share and the longer length makes it a really satisfying read.

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I couldn’t pick a winner; they’re all brilliant! The judging panel has a difficult task ahead; the panel comprises Children’s Laureate and acclaimed illustrator Lauren Child; Francesca Sanna, 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize winner; leading art director Goldy Broad; and Charlotte Colwill, head of children’s books at Foyles, selected a shortlist of five.  The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.

With thanks to the award organisers for sending me these books to review! For more information visit www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk

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New review: Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey

On International Nurses Day, it’s the perfect time to share this beautiful picture book.  Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey is the fourth and final picture book in their WW1 picture book series for children, published in the year of the Armistice Centenary marking the end of fighting. The book was published on International Women’s Day (8th March 2018) paying tribute to the contribution of women to the war effort.  

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Continue reading

New review: The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine

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The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts.

Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes emperor of China and soon, his three advisers take advantage of the young emperor by stealing his rice, gold and precious stones. But Ming Da has a plan. With the help of his tailors, he comes up with a clever idea to outsmart his devious advisors: He asks his tailors to make “magical” new clothes for him. Anyone how is dishonest, the young emperor explains, will see the clothes’ true splendour, but anyone who is dishonest will only see burlap sacks.  The emperor dons a burlap sack and the ministers can’t help fall for his cunning trick….

This is a fabulous retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes that was inspired by the award-winning author’s childhood and growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, at a time when Western fairy tales were banned.  As a child the author got her hands on a dog-eared translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale and it sparked her own version of the story, now published in this beautifully illustrated picture book.

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The Chinese twist gives a glimpse into the beautiful culture of China and David Robert’s gorgeous artwork brings this all to life. Full of humour and a wonderful example of generosity and courage in Ming Da the young emperor, it is very satisfying to see him win the day!   Readers are invited to make their own Chinese New Year Robe with step by step instructions at the back of the book.  The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes introduces this classic fairytale and the lessons that can be learned from it to a new generation.

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Find out more at www.yingc.com and www.davidrobertsillustration.tumblr.com/

With thanks to Abrams & Chronicle for sending me this book to review.

 

Bookchat: Alison Jay, author and illustrator

banner newThe wonder of books is that there is always something new to discover.  So when Old Barn Books who publish simply gorgeous titles, sent me two books by Alison Jay, I found a new favourite author and illustrator! How I’ve missed her all this time, I have no idea.  I absolutely love Alison’s artwork; her illustrations are beautiful as is her storytelling – whether through pictures, words or both.

In Bee & Me, the story of a little girls’ friendship with a bee is told through pictures. We go on a wonderful journey of discovery, not just of finding new friends but also of seeing the importance of bees to nature. The detail in the drawings is stunning and totally immersive, making you feel you too could fly on the back of a bee!  We learn how crucial these tiny creatures are to our world, and at the end of the story there’s a helpful guide on how we can ‘Bee Aware’.

Looking for Yesterday is quite simply one of the most beautiful picture books I have encountered and it pulls gently at your heart strings.  A little boy wants to get back to yesterday, for that was the best day ever. Touching on thoughts of time and space, the boy tries all sorts of things to get back to the past.  But his grandfather has other ideas and gently shows him how every day gives the opportunity for new adventures! For anyone who has ever been blessed enough to have an inspirational person in their lives, you will appreciate the nostalgia explored in this story; whilst memories are so important, it’s today that matters most!  I just loved it.

I am thrilled to introduce Alison to the blog for a Bookchat today.  Thank you so much for joining us Alison!

Congratulations on the publication of Looking for Yesterday – an absolutely beautiful story. I love the nostalgia of the story but also the message of making the most of today. Can you tell us the why you wrote it? The idea for Looking for Yesterday came to me after listening to a radio programme about the universe and stars. They also talked about wormholes and time travel. I really don’t understand quantum physics but the theory that it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time I think is fascinating to both adults and children.

You capture the relationship between Boy and his Grandad so well. Was this inspired by your own family? I never met either of my Grandads unfortunately,  but the Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is a bit like my Dad. He was an engineer and worked for an aeronautical company for a few years. He didn’t ride a classic motor bike but he was always busy making and mending things, including  old cars . The boy in the book is like my brother Mark as a child: he loved everything to do with space and the universe. He was given a telescope one Christmas  when he was about 8 years old and is still fascinated with the universe. He  read The Theory of Everything a few years ago and was even lucky enough to meet Professor Steven Hawking very briefly.

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Your illustrations have a beautiful timeless quality to them. How has your distinctive style developed over time and what has influenced you, if anything/one?My style has developed quite a lot since my college days. I used to work in a much simpler childlike way. I used to make strange 3D figures out of paper and glue. I would paint them then make background sets so they could be photographed. I also worked in pen and ink. When I left college I was told the work was not commercial enough to be published, so after working for a few years in animation studios I gradually developed a new style with paint and varnish and started to get commissions in the new style. I love all sorts of different artists from Breughel to Jean-Michel Basquiat and lots of others in between. I think probably,  like most illustrators and artists, I have developed my style from lots of different influences which sort of melt down and hopefully produce a style which is unique to the individual.

Speaking of time (!) if you could go back to ‘yesterday’ where would you go and why? I think if I could go back to any time in history it would just be to meet members of my family that are long gone. It would be interesting to meet them  but I would just pop back for a few hours. I think I wouldn’t want to stay. I am happy living today. It is more exciting not knowing what is going to happen which is what the book tries to say.

Bee & Me made me want to have a pet bee and plant a garden full of bee friendly flowers! It’s a gorgeous story – I love all the tiny detail in your illustrations. Do you find it easier to tell the story with or without words? Yes, much easier without words. I find writing very difficult. I think my wordless books are more like storyboards for films which probably comes from my days working in animation. In Bee andMe I had the chance to add all the  different peoples lives going on in the windows of the tower blocks. I put a writer, an artist, a cake-maker and lots more. It was really fun to make up little narratives and how things changed through the seasons.

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You have illustrated some wonderful stories. If you could choose to illustrate any story ever written (!), which would it be and why? I have always loved James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, so I would really like to illustrate that book. I have a mad love of painting absurdly large fruit and vegetables for some reason. I also like painting insects even though I am the first to scream if something crawls on me.

What do you most enjoy about telling stories through illustration? I think I love that you can communicate narratives, ideas and emotions with or without words. Visual art  is  very immediate but  with lots of detail it can take a bit longer to look and find other narratives within the pictures. I like the idea that the child or adult notices little things they missed at first. I think it make you want to keep looking through the book  again and again to find new  little stories .

Finally, if you could tell a budding illustrator/author just one thing to help them what would it be? I think my advice would be to find the subject matter and way of working you enjoy most. It will always show in the work and the enjoyment will keep you going for ever.

Thank you Alison for giving us an insight into your work and sharing your inspiration with us.

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For more information visit www.oldbarnbooks.com.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Just in time for Spring: The Book of Me by Adam Frost illustrated by Sarah Ray

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The Book of Me by Adam Frost, illustrated by Sarah Ray

If you ran your school what would your rules be? What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?  Would you rather talk to animals or speak every language in the world? Answer these questions and much much more, with real life comparisons – how do you compare to an animal, another human, or even your parents? Collect your own data and enjoy ridiculous facts, hilarious quizzes and scribbling activities?

From the winner of the Best Book with Facts in the Blue Peter Book Award, comes this fantastically fun activity book.  The Book of Me is much more than your average activity book; it gets the reader thinking about all sorts of things from fame to superpowers, from school to what kind of dad dancing goes on at home!  With loads of facts about life on Earth, the universe and the ideal holiday destination (did you know 22.5 million people visit Niagara Falls every year?!) readers will learn all about the world around them – and best of all, it encourages them to think about how they feel about it too.


The book is full of quirky and often funny illustrations which are the ideal accompaniment to the text.  With so many jokes and funny ideas, it’s sure to be a hit.  It’s also a great way to get even the most reluctant reader on board with books.  I have to say I laughed out loud at the bad dad jokes (for example: “Two goldfish are in a tank. One says to the other: Do you know how to drive this thing?!”). There’s opportunities for colouring, drawing and testing your knowledge with quizzes and is a great book to keep kids entertained on the go, so very well-timed for the Easter holidays.  But watch out – with a Dad quiz test and a method of measuring how embarrassing mums are, parents will be kept on their toes too! The Book of Me is published today by Bloomsbury.

Find out more at www.adam-frost.com and www.sarahray.co.uk.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to review.

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day by Jim Stoten

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day written & illustrated by Jim Stoten

When Mr Tweed sets out on his afternoon stroll, he soon finds some friends in need of help. Can you come to their aid and find what they are looking for? 

Mr Tweed is a dog who wears a suit and a very tall hat and who loves to help people.  The story begins with Mr Tweed going for his usual afternoon walk and coming across various friends who are in some kind of predicament, each having lost something which could be anything from balloons to pineapples!  The reader then must help find what has been lost in the spread on the next page, with the number of things to find increasing each time.

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I love that this book combines reading with a seek and find element, as well as counting. It may draw comparisons with other well known seek and find books, but what I liked about this was there is a great story narrative to follow.  For those children who are more reluctant to pick up a book, this is a perfect combination of words and images as well as the ‘game’ element of finding the lost things.

The fantastic characters include Colin Rocodile, Mrs Fluffycuddle and Little Penny Paws, to name a few.  The illustrations themselves are quirky, inventive, colourful and full of detail with lots of different animal characters as well as humans.  They reminded me of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, which I loved when I was young. I am sure children will love Mr Tweed and will enjoy the challenge of locating the missing items!

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And with the added moral of being kind and helping people, this is a great book to have on the shelf.

You can read an interview with the author and illustrator Jim Stoten on the Reading Zone. And find out more at www.jimtheillustrator.co.uk. or on Twitter @jimtillustrator

With thanks to Flying Eye Books for sending me this book to review.