blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. Opinions my own.

 

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

Review: The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

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Charlie is a mouse with a big love of cheese, and he will go to any lengths to nibble the best. Parmesan, Roquefort, Camembert. Charlie’s stolen them all. Now his aspirations have increased as he sets his sights on The Stinker – a world-famous sculpture held at the Museum Of Cheese. 

Officer Rita is on the trail and she has a cat’s nose for criminals. 

Can Charlie turn his life around and find a way to sustain his cheese-nibbling? 

A laugh-out-loud story where the humour is all in the details. I love this book. As in the very best of heist fiction, the reader is on Charlie’s side. He may be a criminal, there may be no justification for his actions, but his dedication to cheese and daring antics win us around. Oh, and it helps that he is so ridiculously cute. Just look at those ears. I’d forgive him anything.

When he steals The Stinker – a parody of Rodin’s The Thinker – we are left on tenterhooks. Will he nibble it? Will there be a single crumb left?

Cheesy versions of famous artworks and hilarious locations on the detective’s board add humour, but they are background details. The humour is subtle and is also relevant to Charlie’s world. 

The characters are all friendly, round-faced animals who will appeal to readers brought up in the age of emojis. I love the variation in the illustrations between small vignettes and double-page spreads which detail the background. They look almost like little worlds made in cardboard boxes. It would be fun to use this book to inspire art, and to reenact parts of the story in a cardboard hideout or cheese museum. 

A cat and mouse story which will make you smile. This is a big hit and I will be looking out for more work by Lucy Freegard. 

 

Thanks to Catherine Ward PR and Pavillion Books for my gifted copy of The Big Stink. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

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Everyone knows about the grumpy little mouse who lives in a tree. Everyone except Mouse, who doesn’t think of herself as at all grumpy. One day, she wakes to find a baby badger blocking her front door. Baby Badger is upset because he’s lost and he’s trying to find his mummy. Together the pair set off in search of the baby badger’s home. They join up with other animals, who discover that there is more to Mouse than her legendary temper.

A cute story about friendship, bravery and looking beyond the surface.

The grumpy woman down the road. That mean man who walks his dog near school. Such characters are part of the landscape of childhood and everyone can reference at least one person from their own childhoods. A running theme with these stories is how little is actually known about the person in question. They were horrible. We avoided them.

That’s how the story usually goes. Mouse is such a character and her temper is legend. However, she has a good heart and her determination is exactly what is needed to get Baby Badger safely home through the forest. 

The other animals learn to look past Mouse’s temper, and once she has been given a chance to make friends, Mouse feels much less grumpy than before. 

Gentle woodland greens and different leaves and flowers provide a peaceful backdrop to a story which has moments of real drama. Like all the best fictional forests, there is a sense that something could be lurking unseen on the edges and as more animals join the mission we feel happier about their chances of getting through safely. 

The characters are painted with such relatable facial expressions. There is never any doubt about how they are feeling and this opens up lots of conversation about what is going on inside their minds. 

A brilliant story which reminds us that the best of friendships don’t always start with a friendly face. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of I’m Not Grumpy. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

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Sometimes Grandad forgets things. Like what the sandwiches are for or who he is with. His memories are like the tide. Sometimes they are far away and distant. Other times they come crashing in.

Grandad still loves everybody just as much. And when the tide is in, everyone celebrates.

A beautiful and reflective story about observing the changes in a loved one with dementia.

Dementia is an unforgiving condition and there is currently no cure. Watching a loved one change and struggle is equally unforgiving. The suffer’s behaviour might seem perplexing, and correcting someone with dementia when they are certain of a fact is futile. Even for a small child who isn’t in a caring role, this can be frustrating. The Tide acknowledges this, yet also shows a protagonist move from bewilderment and fear into a state of acceptance.

Grandad loves everybody just as much as he always did. His memories just happen to ebb and flow, and he behaves differently at times. 

The tone of this story is beautiful. As someone who has seen dementia in the family, I know how frustrating it is when people get too upbeat. The book gently explores what might change and what remains the same, and how the good moments become more precious. It doesn’t suggest that the changes are good, only that the love between everyone concerned remains the same. And that there will be good times. 

A gentle colour-pallette is broken up with bright details. These stand out in the pale pictures like the brighter moments in the story. There is a poignant picture where the protagonist stands alone against a blank background. She looks tiny in a double-page spread of nothingness. The text explores her fear the everything about Granddad is going. A later spread shows herself and Granddad dancing in the waves, like an answer to the first spread. The tide will come in again. And then everything will feel brighter for a while. 

An outstanding story which not only teaches the reader about dementia but encourages them to empathise with both the sufferer and their loved ones. This is the best picture book about dementia I have seen and I highly recommend it to everyone. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger UK for my gifted copy of The Tide. Opinions my own.

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

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William Bee loves trains and boats and planes. He has a massive collection of engineering marvels from across time and he likes to play with them all. Join him as he travels through his collection, laying tracks and flying rescue planes and blasting off into space. 

A joyful celebration of vehicles. 

The illustrations in this story are a visual feast. The colour pallette and detailed drawings remind me of the Haynes instruction manuals which are instantly recognisable as a brand. Although they are vibrantly coloured and full of little quirks which will delight small readers (such as the smiling traffic-cones) the illustrations fully respect how even the very youngest of children can be hungry to know how something works.

The language, too, is challenging and never once underestimates its readers. It talks about gravity, about streamlined design and cylinders and pistons and supercharged engines. It takes readers who have fallen in love with vehicles straight to the heart of their design. 

With shelves and television programmes filled with talking trains and animal pilots and imaginary trips to space, it is refreshing to see a book which shows that vehicles are designed and built to fulfill a purpose. This simple understanding is the first step to an interest in engineering, and it can’t come too early in life. Playful vehicles have their place but it is great to see a book which acknowledges that some children take their trains seriously. 

William is the only human in the story. He is helped along the way by animals and walking, living traffic cones. This style will be appealing to children who enjoy their own company. My one thought is that it would be great to see some titles in the series lead by a girl. With uptake of STEM subjects far lower among girls, it is pivotal that all children see these subjects as something they might play a role in from an early age. That’s not a criticism of the book as it stands – I firmly think it is important to show people enjoying solitary activities as well as social ones – but I would love to see a girl in the series.  

A wonderful book which will make readers of all ages curious to learn more about vehicles and engines. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

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When Nell’s chicken friend runs away, it leads her to the circus of her dreams.

A circus family welcomes Nell and introduces her to the lights and music and magic tricks of their show. After the circus packs up and Nell goes home, the circus fades from her memory like a dream, but all through the summer and into the summers beyond she plays her own circus games in the back garden.

Partly based on the memories of Nell Gifford, from Gifford’s circus, the setting brings to life the magic of a traditional circus. Being among the animals and the music and the traditional caravans are enough to bring anyone’s imagination to life. In this story, a young girl’s games are given a new lease of life after visiting the circus.

There is something folksy and beautiful about the illustrations, from the field of wildflowers to the circle of wooden caravans. It invokes a strange kind of nostalgia – a nostalgia for a life most of us have never lived. Of course, this can make us yearn for a different world, and Nell does exactly this when the circus goes. She finds it in little pockets, though. In her games and in her back garden.

The illustrations are full of a golden light and beautiful textures. They bring back romanticised memories of childhood summers and remind us of the magic of our dreams. A double-page spread of the circus in action is so beautiful, it is possible to stare at it for hours. These are pictures which bring to life all our senses. I could hear the music and feel the soap bubbles popping beside my cheeks.

A real treat of a story and one of those books which demands to be reread and treasured.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Nell And The Circus Of Dreams. Opinions my own.