illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Bad Day by Frann Preston-Gannon.

Review: The Bad Day by Frann Preston-Gannon.

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Squirrel is certain he is going to have a lovely day, until he gets stuck up a tree. The animals around him are having a terrible time too: Woodpecker is stuck in a tree, Snake is in knots, Tortoise has overturned, Fox has indigestion, and Mouse … well. Mouse is stuck in Fox’s stomach. 

When the other animals realise that Mouse is having the worst time of all, they band together in an attempt to help. Maybe working together and rescuing Mouse can turn their day into not such a bad one?

Illustrated in Frann Preston-Gannon’s beautiful style, with wide-eyed expressions and lots of texture, this will be a hit with young readers. 

Someone else is always worse off is a phrase beloved of my grandparent’s generation. Sometimes it is used unkindly, to stop a person from talking about their difficulties and experiences, such as grief or chronic illness. However, this story is about day-to-day problems (perhaps the young human equivalents might be not having anyone to play with, or tripping up over messy shoe laces). What can appear to make a day rubbish can be turned around with a little effort, and the help of the people around us.

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This would be a fantastic story for talking about interaction with others. We are so used to the idea of friendships that we sometimes forget to consider how we interact with people who we don’t know so well. The people we don’t like much, even. It is lovely to see a picture book about positive behaviour towards others, because understanding that we sometimes rely on people who we hardly know is important. I especially love the inclusion of Fox, whose guilty (and queasy) expressions betray the fact that he has done something very, very unkind. 

A wonderful double page spread in the middle of all the animals together allows the reader to predict how they might be able to help one another. This would be a wonderful point for an adult reader to pause and ask: what might happen next?

A fable-like story that readers will gain from with every read. This would be a great text for talking about working together as a team. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my copy of The Bad Day. Opinions my own.

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illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Tractors And Farm Machines by William Bee.

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Tractors And Farm Machines by William Bee. 

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William Bee is back. He loves machines as much as ever, and this time he is exploring the world of tractors and farm machinery. Get ready for a combine harvester, page after page of tractors, and the biggest wheels you have ever seen. 

Starting with modern day machinery, and then moving on to older farm equipment, this book follows William Bee as he gets behind the wheel of different vehicles. With retro-style pictures that give a detailed look at the workings of the different tractors and machines, the illustrations achieve the perfect balance between cheerful and informative. 

William is clearly in command of his world, but he works alongside a group of animated traffic cones. Although William appears to be allowed to try pretty much anything he wants, he does so reponsibly and shares the work with his traffic cone helpers.  

The text explores the reasons each machine exists, and is really informative on the subject of farming. Many younger children’s books about farms skirt over the reason that farms exist – for food production. There certainly isn’t any distressing information, and this side of the text focuses on crops. A page at the back of the book shows the cereal products produced from the crops on the farm. This is a clever way to approach the subject of food production – it doesn’t hide the truth, but it leaves meat out of the equation until children are ready to ask those questions for themselves. 

I am a shameless fan of the William Bee series. There are very few picture books with a single human character, and books like this offer comfort to readers who want to enjoy learning about their interests without stories about social development and interaction. Adults often forget the amount of information younger people collect about their interests and hobbies. Hands up who used to be able to rattle off all 151 original Pokemon, or recite the periodical table, or explain the workings of a steam train?

This series falls somewhere between fact and fiction. It celebrates all things machines and encourages readers to picture themselves in the driver’s seat. 

 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Tractors And Farm Machines. Opinions my own.  

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews

Review: Paolo Emperor Of Rome by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Claire Keane.

Review: Paolo Emperor Of Rome by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Claire Keane.

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Rome is a beautiful city of freedom – but not for Paolo. He is stuck inside a hair salon, and never ever allowed out. One day, when a customer leaves the door open, Paolo senses his opportunity and makes a bid for freedom.

Paolo fights a gang of cats, visits the opera, and wins the support of the street dogs. He becomes bigger and braver, proving himself to be imperial and wise. Soon the whole city is in awe of Paolo, but such attention comes at a cost.

A thumping good animal adventure. Face-offs with tough cats and a nighttime parade through the city are contrasted with images of Paolo curled tight, and looking desperately from a window at the outside world. He’s vulnerable, and he wants his freedom so much, that we root for him from the start.

The narrative and illustrations both remind me of the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans, with fly-on-the-wall style reporting of Paolo’s movements and short, exaggerated statements from Paolo himself. Some of the double-page spreads are divided into multiple, short illustrations that give the reader a tour of the setting as Paolo’s adventures begin. Key scenes are given full double-page illustrations, heightening the drama without using a single word. The style of illustration, too, is also reminiscent of Bemelmans’s work, with a muted colour palette and sparing use of line.

Not only is this a beautiful story, but it is also a wonderful introduction to the history of Rome. Paolo’s walking tour takes in The Colosseum, the opera houses and the Trevi Fountain among other notable locations. Alongside the historical buildings and monuments, the illustrations include the contemporary tourists and citizens of Rome. 

This story reminds us that, while comfort is important, it should never come at the cost of personal freedom. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Books For Young Readers for my copy of Paolo Emperor Of Rome. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

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The Vikings gained a reputation as fearsome and bloodthirsty warriors, but their contributions in other areas deserve equal attention. This book offers a more rounded picture of the Vikings as a voyager civilization. 

An account of the Viking era – which spanned more than 300 years and various countries – is presented alongside information about the Viking myths and legends. That history is given together with mythology offers the reader a rich picture – after all, the stories we tell most often offer clues to who we are as people. The book is divided into six chapters, covering everything from mythology and seafaring to home life, legends and an overview of the earlier and later parts of the Viking era. I was particularly pleased with how the book situated the Vikings within a context of world geography – by showing a world map marked with Viking travel routes, the book makes clear that other parts of the world were home to different people. 

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Illustration brings to life the Norse myths and the day-to-day life within a Viking settlement. Showing the two side by side makes plain how the stories we tell grow out of our geography and our lived experiences. Seeing the same mountains in pictures of the Gods as in the picture of a small farmstead made this plain in a way that no words can. Not only will readers of this book learn about history, but they can begin to think about the links between mythology and life. 

As well as larger, double-page spread illustrations, smaller groups of pictures are labelled clearly such as the food the Vikings might have eaten or the names of the lesser deities. Seeing pictures with labels enables children to learn and test their memories, and readers will soon return to their favourite spreads to find their favourite images. 

Fold-out spreads offer even more to look at. I was particularly impressed with the spread on the Bayeux Tapestry – it looks more modern than replicas of the real thing but maintains a faithful style, engaging younger readers and allowing them to browse and ask questions about what is going on at their leisure. 

This is the kind of book that encourages children to engage their own creativity. The drawing style invites readers to copy or to put the characters and images into scenes of their own. I can see this being hugely popular in classrooms where the topic is being studied for its engaging and intelligent content. It maintains a serious tone whilst offering readers plenty to look at if they aren’t up for a long read. Some spreads have very short sections that are a few sentences long, yet they are all informative and interesting. 

A winner both with adults and young readers. Viking Voyagers offers a rounded perspective and beautiful content to bring to life a favourite topic. 

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner.

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About The Bat Book. 

What is a bat? What do bats look like, and what do they eat, and how do they fly? Whereabouts in the world do bats live? 

This fantastic volume answers every question a reader could have about bats. Additionally, it is informative about the threat bats face today from deforestation, demolition of old buildings, and pesticides. A helpful section at the back advises readers on how to keep a bat-friendly garden. 

With pages divided into short sections – the text is in chunks from a couple of simple sentences to a paragraph – this book is perfect for less confident readers, and for children under 7. The bold, close-up pictures make it easy to visualise the topic in question. 

I was lucky enough to be given a chance to put some questions to author and illustrator Charlotte Milner. Her responses tell us not only about bats but about her approach to nature writing. 

Thanks to Charlotte Milner for your time and answers. 

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Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Q: Your books deal with environmental conservation issues and facts about the natural world. Please can you tell us about your approach to the subject?
A: My aim with each of the books is to inspire a love of nature by offering children an understanding of the amazing ways that animals survive within the context of different ecosystems.
When we understand how plants and animals interact with each other, we can understand why certain problems like climate change or habitat loss have an effect on them and what can be done to help. I try to make the books as simple and as visual as I can, and I hope that the books can be used as a tool for parents and children to have a conversation about conservation issues while enjoying learning about animals.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about bats?
A: I think generally a lot of people see bats as either being scary or as vermin, I’ve heard them being described as ‘flying mice’ before. But bats are not even closely genetically related to rodents, they belong to their own order, Chiroptera, and as the only mammals that can fly, there really are no other animals like them. While it is important never to touch a bat, they are also no more likely to carry a disease than other wild animals.
As a common Halloween symbol, I can also understand why people might think of bats as spooky but bats keep to themselves and are unlikely to fly anywhere near a human. As nocturnal animals, most of the time we don’t even know they are around. I hope that The Bat Book will give a more in-depth understanding of how bats live, and how, as pollinators and important seed dispersers, they have a really important ecological role.
Q: What sort of experiences did you have with bats whilst researching the book?
A; I went on a fantastic bat walk in Hyde Park. I’d really recommend a bat walk, it’s a great way to see the different bat species that live around you, which you might not have even known were there. You also get to use a bat detector, which is a very exciting gadget that detects the high-pitched calls of bats and translates them into sounds we can hear. This is a really useful for understanding echolocation- the way that bats use sound to ‘see’ what is around them so accurately that they can catch tiny-fast flying insects.
 
Q: Please can you share your favourite facts about bats? (I think if you can share just the one, that would be great as these are featuring in a different blog post I think!)
A: My favourite bat fact has to be that bats pollinate over 500 species of plant, including plants that grow tropical fruits such as bananas. Many of the plants that bats visit for nectar from have evolved to attract their nocturnal pollinators. The flowers will often bloom at night, and have white petals to stand out in the dark. Unlike the sweet-smelling flowers that bees love, bat-pollinated flowers often have a rotten smell that attracts bats during the night-time.
 
Q: How can humans help bats? What can everybody do to make the world a friendlier place for bats?
A: Yes they can! The main problem that bats face is habitat loss which means that there aren’t enough places for bats to roost and find food. If you have a garden you can make it more wildlife-friendly by adding certain plants. Plants such as borage, cornflower, night-scented stock and evening primrose release their scent in the night-time which attracts moths and flies that bats love to eat. Putting a bat box up is also great for giving bats a place to roost.
 
Q: Any hints about which areas of the natural world you are currently writing about?
A: I’m having a lot of fun writing the next book which is all about a part of the world that feels a million miles away from my London home. It’s a place where there are endless animal species to write about that have all evolved in the most fascinating ways to survive in an environment that is wildly dense!
The Bat Book is available from Dorling Kindersley Books. RRP. £12.99.
Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR for organising this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.
illustrated · Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

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Count from one through to twenty with the help of some animal friends. 

1 fox in a pair of socks. 

2 gorrillas looking in mirrors. 

On we go through llamas in pyjamas, dogs with frogs and moles making holes, all the way to 20 birds who have the last words. Counting animals works on so many different levels. It helps the reader to visualise and compare different quantities, it allows them to compare on quantity to another and it encourages them to look at realistic drawings of animals. 

At the end of the book, over two double page spreads, the animals are lined up together in rows. This helps the reader to understand some basic numerical princples. For example, there is only one fox, but there is one gorilla and another one gorilla, and that makes two. Children encounter numbers in different contexts. The number 2 bus, for example, uses the number as a label but it is only one bus. This is a nominal use of the number 2. It can be terribly confusing to understand that the number two can also be broken down into 2×1 or 1+1. The number 2 can represent a quantity. 

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Chanting the names of numbers is only the beginning. By looking at the illustrations, readers will gain a deeper understanding of numbers as a quantity. 

For all the whimsy of the rhymes, the illustrations show animals in realistic poses. Certainly, most foxes don’t wear socks but aside from the knee-high stripey socks the illustration is realistic and clearly informed by observation. Later on in the book, different species of dog, cat and bird are clearly labelled. As well as introducing readers to basic numeracy, this increases their vocabulary about the natural world. This gives an added advantage. Books like this are read over and over across a number of years – say from toddlerhood through to the end of Infant’s School. The adult reader is less likely to get bored if they enjoy the artwork. 

A beautiful and intelligently designed introduction to animals and numbers .

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing for my copy of 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

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Night is falling on the hillside. The moon has risen and the world is calm and peaceful. Across the landscape and over towards Sleepy Hill, the animals are ready to sleep.

This gentle, rhyming text reassures the reader that everything is well as the day draws to an end. 

The pages have large cutaway sections that draw the eye naturally towards the animals sitting in the foreground. At first these sections are like large windows, and we peek through them towards the distant hills, but as we get further into the book the windows disappear and the pages get smaller still. We are guided through clearings and mountain plains until we finally reach Sleepy Hills, bathed in silvery moonlight and blanketed by stars. 

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As a metaphor for bedtime, this couldn’t be more reassuring. Instead of suggesting that there is anything to fear, the book guides us from a place where Sleepy Hills seem distant and impossibly far away through to the place of sleep itself. Along the way we see lots of animals having their last play or tucking in for the night. If they can settle down, then surely the reader can too. 

A gentle colour palette of lilacs and blues and silvery-greens completes the effect of night drawing in. 

Although this is a book about bedtime, it also promotes walks through nature. The cut-away pages layer together like a landscape and remind us one place is not separate from another. Forests and clearings and foothills and mountains roll into one another, and there is always somewhere else on the horizon. This book recreates the feeling of being outdoors. 

On Sleepy Hill brings nature and bedtime together beautifully and reassures the reader that sleep is a lovely place to be. A perfect bedtime read. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Group) for my copy of On Sleepy Hill. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Follow The Star (A Pop-Up Christmas Journey) by Andy Mansfield.

Review: Follow The Star (A Pop-Up Christmas Journey) by Andy Mansfield.

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Long ago, a star shone in the sky to announce that the Son Of God had come to Earth. So the Christian story goes. Now every year a star shines in the sky – over great cities and little houses and snowy, North Pole Skies, to remind us that Christmas is here that it is a time of love. 

With stunning pop-up decorations and a shining star on every page, this beautiful book is short but it is designed to be read over and over so that the reader can enjoy the pop-up experience once again. 

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Gentle books are underrated. A short text with a sweet message will be remembered beyond childhood and many adults can think of one such text that they can still recite many years down the line. However, with competition for anybody’s attention fierce in a world of smartphones and computers and many many stories, it can take extraordinary illustration or design for such a text to be discovered. 

Follow The Star comes under that category. From the introduction where the hills of ancient Bethlehem, so familiar from Christmas cards, spring up between the first pages, it is impossible not to be impressed by the craft. The book is held differently to usual, with the back cover acting as a base. By holding the front cover up at 90 degrees, the pop-up is seen to its best advantage. It is lovely to find books like this because it is important to question whether there are ‘rules’ about reading (like holding a book in two hands and putting the pictures one way up) or whether we can design stories and pictures any way we like. 

The message is gently religious, but in a way that can be shared by people of other and no faiths. This is to say that, as well as reading it to say Christians believe that, the message of finding love and peace at Christmas time is made widely applicable. Whether you believe that is God’s love for mankind or our wider sense of love for one another, the message is in the story. It is lovely to find books like this because, too often, religious books are made in such a way that it can be hard to relate to them if you are not of a faith. Sharing and exploring different world beliefs, and being open to multiple views, is important for everyone. 

This book would make a beautiful gift to share this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my copy of Follow The Star. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Memoir Reviews · Non-Fiction

Review: Ada Lovelace Cracks The Code and Madam C.J. Walker Builds A Business (Rebel Girls).

Review: Ada Lovelace Cracks The Code and Madam C.J. Walker Builds A Business (Rebel Girls).

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Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls shook the world and made readers everywhere demand more stories about girls and women. Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2 was met with equal applause. Now the stories of individual Rebel Girls have been published for the first time. 

Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, has a keen mind but she feels stiffled by a string of boring governesses. Then Miss Stamp arrives and introduces Ada to engineering and mathematics. Her mind comes to life with the amazing possibilities and she sets to work making wings of her own. She is opposed by her mother who believes that all this flying stuff is a load of nonsense and that girls should remain in their places. Other influences persuade Ada that she can have both a marriage and an intellectual life and slowly Ada finds the confidence to continue her work. 

Sarah Breedlove (aka Madam CJ Walker) is her family’s hope. She is the first of her family not to be born into slavery and that means she can attend school. However, life is still hard for Sarah because she has to work in the house where she is staying as well as washing for money and picking cotton. Her hair becomes crunchy and itchy and falls out. Years later she invents a product to help it better than any shampoo she has tried. She starts to sell her product and demand grows so quickly that she is able to set up a manufacturing company. 

Two inspiring stories set in different times and places prove that women can do extraordinary things even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

It is lovely to see books that go deeper into the life stories of women from around the world who have done extraordinary things. These stories prove that extraordinary isn’t something people are born with but a combination of effort and daring and hope. 

The new format fits nicely on a shelf with chapter books and the stories are short enough for younger readers, but pitched nicely so that they might still be of interest to teenagers and adults. 

The illustration and design is as striking as the two Rebel Girls anthologies and each book has patterns and a colour-scheme to make each story feel unique when it is placed among the others. 

Perfect for bookshelves, libraries and rebel stockings everywhere. 

 

Thanks to Riot Comms. and Rebel Girls for my books. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

Alice would, I feel certain, approve of this edition of her tale. There are pictures and graphics and a wealth of patterns. The Mina Lima classics range has become something of a cult hit in the book community and they also make the most beautiful Christmas presents known to bookish kind. 

MinaLima is a design studio based in London. Best known for their contribution to the Harry Potter films (look out for the Daily Prophets and Quibblers and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logo), their iconic style and meticulous attention to detail make their work instantly recognisable to their many fans. My favourite aspect is their distincitve use of pattern. 

What makes their work so suited to Alice In Wonderland? 

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Anyone who is familiar with previous editions of Alice will be aware that – with several ntoable exceptions – it is often perceived as a mildly scary story. Think of Tim Burton’s films or the seminal work of Sir John Tenniel. While the book is never portrayed as a horror, the darker side of Wonderland often comes out in the artwork. MinaLima’s editon builds on this with a sharp-clawed Cheshire Cat, thorned plants and the scariest card people since Tenniel’s edition. 

Interactive elements include fold-outs and tabs and lavishly-illustrated game boards. This is not only a book but a fully immersive Wonderland experience. 

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It is always a pleasure to revisit classic texts. Too often we think we are familiar with these stories because they have been retold and animated and become part of our pop-culture. Going back to the original prose teaches us more about the world than anything else ever could and a beautiful gift edition is a perfect reason to dive back into the story. 

I own the MinaLima Peter Pan and spent Christmas 2015 enthralled by the detail, and drinking in the story as a result. Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass lives up to the high MinaLima standards and I expect it to be popular this holiday season. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy of Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass (Illustrated by MinaLima). Opinions my own.