New reviews: a picture book celebration!

Picture books offer brilliant opportunities to explore the world around us, how we see ourselves and how we interact with others.  Today I’m sharing a round up of some of the picture books that have made their way onto my TBR pile recently.  These books are a marvellous example of the variety of amazing illustrations that tell us stories and help us share the wonder of the world with children!

suitcaseThe Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a thought-provoking story of overcoming fears of the unknown and showing kindness to those in need. When a strange arrives, the animals are not sure how to greet him and are even mistrustful of him.  However, they realise just in time that the stranger needs their help not hostility and so they show him true kindness and help him make a new home.  Using colour contrasts to show the impact being kind can have and bringing the animals to life with quirky illustrations, this story will teach even the youngest of readers about the value of kindness and not being afraid of what is ‘different’.  Find out more at Nosy Crow.

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Oink by David Elliot is the softly drawn story of Pig who wants to have a nice relaxing bath. But his animal friends have other ideas and soon the bath is full.  Pig resorts to an unusual way to get rid of them so he can get his rest and relaxation. This amusing tale is told through expressive illustrations, almost wordless, and is on which many will identify with (although perhaps not the method of making his friends leave the bath!).   One for all the family to enjoy. Find out more at Gecko Press.

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The Green Giant by Katie Cottle highlights the importance of nature and how we can all make the world a bit more green. When Bea visits her grandfather for a summer holiday, she discovers a green giant in the greenhouse who tells her all about how he survived the grey city.  Bea realises the wonder of nature and when she returns home with a gift from the giant, Bea makes her grey city world become more green too. A timely tale, the vibrant illustrations and simple narrative create a magical feel to the power of nature to transform and shares how we can all make our world a better place. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

william beeWilliam Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes by William Bee is the delightful second in the series celebrating the wonders of transport.  Wonderful, full-colour illustrations bring to life all manner of trains, boats and aeroplanes taking the reader on a voyage of discovery that is sure to be enjoyed again and again by young readers.  William is accompanied again by his dog Sparky and the rather brilliant team of traffic cones, who add humour throughout.  Children will be fascinated and entertained – and so will their parents! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

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Big Cat by Emma Lazell is a hilarious story about Isobel and her Grandma and their discovery of a very Big Cat in the garden. Grandma is happy to have Big Cat to stay – afterall she has many cats already! But she and Isobel soon realise this cat is not all it seems. Told through brilliant, larger-than-life illustrations and text, the chaos Big Cat causes comes leaping off the page as do the very funny reactions of Grandma’s other cats.  Sure to delight readers and be a favourite at bedtime, this is definitely one to have on the bookshelf. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

flyFly Flies by Ziggy Hanaor illustrated by Alice Bowsher is a sweet story about being happy as you are. Fly is enjoying a day of wibbly wobbly flying all over the place.  Blackbird, Seagull, Starling and Hawk insist she’s doing it wrong – but she know she’s now even though she tries to be like them.  With bold black and white illustrations, our unexpected hero’s journey of trial and error is brilliantly depicted and her final outburst is spot-on! Leaving you with a warm feeling, this story celebrates the importance of being yourself, no matter what. Find out more at Cicada Books.

its your worldIt’s Your World Now by Barry Falls is a gorgeous celebration of the world we live in!  Encouraging youngsters to be bold and fearless despite setbacks, the narrative shows them what they might do in life, what they might experience – good and bad – and how they can overcome.  Through enchanting illustrations and a lyrical rhyming narrative, it really is an ode on how to live a wonderful life and make the most of our world. In this day and age of what can seem like endless gloom and doom, this story provides a celebration of the world of possibility. A great encouragement for young and old alike! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

With thanks to Cicada Books, Gecko Press, Nosy Crow and Pavilion Books for sending me these titles for 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 reviews: Tom Fletcher’s Book Club 2018: a bundle of brilliant summer reads!

tom fletcher logoTom Fletcher’s Book Club is a wonderful initiative aimed at encouraging a love of reading for pleasure and to help families discover exciting children’s books. Launched in early summer, the Book Club brings together ten titles selected by Tom, a member of the hugely successful band McFly, a parent himself and a best-selling children’s author.  Helping parents encourage their children to get into reading is a cause close to my heart, so I was delighted to be invited to read and review this fantastic collection of books. There is something wonderful about receiving a large box of books through the post – especially when they arrive in a set of gorgeous WHSmith stationery boxes!

I have a soft spot for WHSmith; my local branch being the first place I ever bought a book and where I used to spend many an afternoon browsing the bookshelves planning which book I was going to spend my pocket money on next!  Here I discovered Mrs Pepperpot, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume and then Flowers in the Attic, Maeve Binchy and many others.  Today, there are so many fantastic titles on offer with so many brilliant authors writing for children, it can be really hard to know what to choose – for both children and their parents.  Tom’s Book Club provides a great antidote to not knowing where to start and sets children on the path to discovering brilliant books, all the while giving much needed support to parents and teachers including online resources, reviews and author interviews.

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Instantly attractive, with colourful jackets and a range of genres, the books are a brilliant selection of some of the most talented authors and illustrators in children’s books today. Some already familiar to me and some I hadn’t yet read, today I’m sharing a brief review  of each title – all available from WHSmith and as a bundle with a helpful discount.

The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell illustrated by Clare Powell I loved this story – full of adventure, magic, sweets and much more. A brilliant combination of fun and fantasy with some great characters, the mystery of Honeystone Hall is great entertainment. Review available here.

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow illustrated by Sheena Dempsey I literally laughed out loud at this delightful and daft tale of two pigeons.  They are quite simply hilarious, doing their best to escape the clutches of a very mean cat. Expect lots of comedy, some feather-brained ideas (pardon the pun!) and some delicious baking!

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins One of my earliest reviews, this tale tells of bloodthirsty pirate, strange creatures, dear little nose-picking Mabel and of course, treasure.  It’s a rip-roaring adventure and will have readers gasping and giggling at the same time!

The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steve Butler illustrated by Steven Lenton A marvellous, madcap adventure with a very likeable hero and a weird and wonderful cast of characters you want to see to believe!  If creepy critters, ghoulish goblins and hungry garden lawns are your thing, this is the perfect book for you – I shall definitely be looking for this hotel next time I’m in Brighton!

I Swapped my Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons illustrated by Nathan Reed Ah we’ve all been there – that terrible moment where you wish away your irritating sibling! But you should be careful what you wish for as Jonny discovers on receiving an unusual array of ‘swaps’ for his brother, creating mayhem, chaos and lots and lots of laughs in this very funny tale of sibling rivalry gone awry! Review available here.

The Travels of Ermine Trouble in New York by Jennifer Gray illustrated by Elisa Paganelli  You have to love the gorgeous Ermine the very determined and full-of-character travelling stoat!  And you’ll love her fabulous New York adventure complete with sight-seeing, diamond thieves and a near-miss with hungry alligators.  Young readers will be eagerly awaiting her next adventure and will delight in making their own travel scrapbook as featured at the end of the book.

Iguana Boy by James Bishop and illustrated by Rikin Parekh Superheroes lookout – you’re about to be upstaged by Iguana Boy!  It may not be the coolest superpower but talking to iguanas can be surprisingly useful – especially when you have to save the world.  This story is full of madcap ideas and very funny moments with comic strip humour readers will love.

Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis A detective agency with an over-confident detective who never quite gets it right? A polar bear sidekick? Brilliantly drawn quirky illustrations?  It’s a recipe for success and this story features hilarious observations throughout making Timmy Failure a very funny and at some points quite touching read.

My Magical Life by Zach King illustrated by Beverly Arce My Magical Life features Zach, a boy with yet to be discovered magical powers facing all the perils of secondary school. Hugely colourful with zany cartoon illustrations the story keeps you thoroughly entertained. I didn’t read it with the app, but am sure this will be a hit with young readers, especially those who are more reluctant to put down their screens and pick up a book.

The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton The most incredible (and slightly bonkers) treehouse ever to exist is brilliantly brought to life in this story. Inventive with everything you could possibly imagine happening at once, the story is bursting with adventure, larger than life characters and lively illustrations leaping off the page.

Find out more about Tom Fletcher’s Book Club 2018 #TomsBookClub

With thanks to the organisers for sending me these fantastic books to review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Month: BUGS by Simon Tyler

book of the monthSimon Tyler is an author illustrator and graphic designer with a passion for presenting facts and information in accessible and aesthetically pleasing ways.  He has absolutely succeeded in doing that with Book of the Month, Bugs, which he wrote and illustrated in association with the Buglife conservation charity. Published by Pavilion Books, Bugs is simply one of the most gorgeous books I’ve seen this year so a very suitable choice for Book of the Month, in celebration of National Non Fiction November!

 

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BUGS written and illustrated Simon Tyler

Enter the fascinating world of bugs with this book which will introduce you to some of the strangest, scariest, biggest and smallest insects around.  Discover the bug with a 30cm tongue, get to know the insect that east dung for dinner, and meet the ant that can paralyse with a single sting. 

What strikes you instantly about this glorious book are the stunning illustrations and incredible use of colour.  Each image is beautifully detailed allowing you to get up close to some amazing life forms.

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Bursting with fascinating facts there are over 50 bugs featured, with all types of information about the wonderful world of insects; their habits, senses, defences, what they eat and where they live.

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The presentation and production quality is really special, making this a wonderful book to give as a gift to any insect enthusiast – or indeed anyone curious about the world around them.

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There’s a helpful glossary to decipher the scientific terms used and the first few pages give a brilliant introduction to insects in general. With an attractive font and accessible layout, Bugs is a lovely book for all the family to share and even if you’re not fond of creepy crawlies, I think this book could convert you!

Find out more at www.simontyler.co.uk 

With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me this book to review.

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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.

Scoop at the Bookchat Roadshow!

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Two of the fantastic team behind Scoop magazine will be sharing their passion for stories with parents and carers at the Bookchat Roadshow!
Clementine Macmillan-Scott and Kate Manning will no doubt inspire the audience and encourage them to “Dig into the Story”:
“Scoop is a new magazine for children aged 8+. Launched in September 2016 and created by a small Hackney-based team, we boast some of the biggest names in children’s literature amongst our contributors – including  Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman, Catherine Johnson, Jacqueline Wilson, Raymond Briggs, Celia Rees, Tom Stoppard, Joan Aiken and Diana Wynne Jones. Each issue includes short stories, poetry and graphic fiction that will excite and entertain.
We offer our readers the opportunity to explore everything from history and science to art and the unexplained through a vibrant range of amazing stories – and on top of that there are comic strips, activities, puzzles and jokes in every issue. We offer different types of stories for different types of readers.  And it’s this love of getting different types of stories to different types of readers that means we want to be part of the roadshow.”
They will also be exhibiting at the event giving parents and carers the opportunity to find out more about Scoop.

The Bookchat Roadshow is an event designed especially for parents and carers bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Read all about our last event here.

For more information about the Bookchat Roadshow visit www.thebookactivist.com.

New review: The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu illustrated by Manuela Adreani

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A stunning new picture book, The Wooden Camel is out today from Lantana Publishing written by Wanuri Kahiu and illustrated by Manuela Adreani.  Born in Nairobi, Wanuri Kahiu is a hugely successful African filmmaker. Her films have received international acclaim and have screened in over 100 film festivals around the world.  The Wooden Camel is her first picture book. Manuela Adreani lives in Turin, Italy. After taking a diploma in Illustration, she worked as a graphic artist and then animator.  She was one of the winners of the illustration contest organised for the 130th anniversary of the creation of Pinocchio.

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The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu, illustrated by Manuela Adreani.

For those who keep on believing, even when it seems impossible….Etabo dreams of being a camel racer.  One day he might even beat his older brother when they race. But with the price of water rising, Etabo’s father must sell the camels. What will Etabo do now?

Etabo’s heart’s desire is to be a camel racer and he dreams every day of winning camel races.  Sadly his family have to sell their herd of camels but Etabo doesn’t stop dreaming. Along with his brother and sister, he helps looks after the family’s farm animals – and even tries to race on them, without success! Etabo prays to the Sky God Akuj, who whispers to him “Your dreams are enough”. And one day, he discovers with the help of his older sister, that his dreams are indeed enough.

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I loved this story. Beautifully told with a gentle narrative, it’s a simple tale of a young boy and his dream.   Set against the backdrop of the Turkana people in North Africa, who farm the land and care for their livestock; a sometimes difficult life. All the family help to earn a living and make the best of what they have – a lesson we can all learn from. Their day to day life is not so different from our own; we all experience moments of worry, sibling rivalry and changes in circumstances. And we all have dreams.

When Etabo turns to his faith to help him, we see that through the love of family and the talents people are blessed with, you can achieve even your dreams.  The stunning illustrations evoke the spirit of the tale, and beautifully bring to life the Turkana people and the landscape they live in. I particularly love the depiction of Etabo’s sister making him his gift; a beautiful portrayal of kindness and showing that our dreams are often achieved in a totally unexpected way.

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The Wooden Camel is an inspiring story of the power of dreams, belief and holding on to hope even when something seems impossible. The reader is uplifted by the wonderful messages portrayed by the narrative and the gentle humour throughout. I would highly recommend The Wooden Camel as an insight into a different culture but also to demonstrate that wherever and whoever we are in the world, we all have hopes and dreams.

Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com. With thanks to Lantana for sending me a copy of this book to review.