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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne.

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne. 

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Rabbit isn’t tired and he doesn’t want to go to bed. Then he has a clever idea: if the sky doesn’t get dark, he will never be forced to rest. So he gets out his biscuit tin, opens the lid, takes it outdoors and SNAP. The Dark is trapped inside a biscuit tin.

It seems like the perfect ending until the other animals are upset and Rabbit’s carrots begin to wilt in the sunlight. Eventually, Rabbit is forced to face up to his feelings and open the biscuit tin lid. To his great surprise, the Dark has some really very interesting lessons. 

A gentle and humorous story that encourages readers to think beyond their own feelings and fears.

Rabbit’s feelings about bedtime will be relatable to so many young readers, but this is also the perfect story about thinking about people other than ourselves. Rabbit’s action with the biscuit tin may solve his own problem but it creates sadness, mayhem and even hunger for the animals around him. Eventually he faces up to this and recognises that his own feelings don’t always come first. 

This would also make a lovely companion read to the great classic The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark. 

The illustrations drew me straight in and made me want to pick this title up. Rabbit’s facial expressions are strong and help to tell the story alongside the words. There is also a stunning fold-out feature where readers can open the biscuit tin for themselves and release the night sky. 

This story is gentle in just the right way. The character overcomes his fears and finds that this new way of looking at things is more beautiful than the old. The perfect bedtime story to read in the darkest nights of the year. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

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The Night Before Christmas, just as Santa is ready to set off in his sleigh, he receives a letter from the little Princess Of Hearts. She would like a Christmas present but her parents said no. Santa is her last hope. Ignoring warnings from his reindeer, Santa sets a course for Wonderland. 

It takes AGES to get to Wonderland by sleigh. (That’s why you need a rabbit hole). Still, Santa and his reindeer eventually arrive. The only trouble is they are greeted by utter mayhem. No stockings, no carrot, and a creepy semi-invisible cat that can pop up at will. Not to mention the Queen Of Hearts. She takes one look at Santa and issues an order for her guards to cut off his head. 

A chase ensues, in true Wonderland style. This is not only a witty take on The Night Before Christmas but it has truly thought about which story would be appropriate to tell if the rhyme was transferred over to Wonderland. It makes strong use of Lewis Carrol’s worldbuilding and characters to create something which Wonderland fans – and readers excited for Christmas – will love and enjoy. 

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This is high up among my Christmas picks of 2019. It has that quality which makes it lasting. This could be enjoyed again and again and, as well as being perfect for this time of year, has the additional draw of appealing to seasoned Wonderland fans. 

Kate Hindley’s style fits Wonderland to perfection. It has a touch of the strange and mysterious but it also finds the fun and friendly in Wonderland. This is especially important for the picture book market, and personally I think it is a more faithful interpretation of the original text than making Wonderland entirely scary. Yes, there’s all that stuff about chopping off heads, but what about the tea parties and races and neighbourhood friendly lizards?  

The illustrations are striking and will go down well with both children and adults. 

A return to a favourite setting combined with a super twist makes this a classic Christmas text. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland. 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.

Blogmas 2019 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

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Santa’s work doesn’t all happen in a single night. Long before he sets out on Christmas Eve he touches up the paintwork on his sleigh and checks the presents off on his modern, new-fangled Techno-Pad. With all this gadgetry to help him do the job, what could possibly go wrong? 

Quite a lot, it turns out. When the pad drops from the sky and the screen goes blank, Santa doesn’t have a clue how to get it working again. He does what any self-respecting adult does during such a crisis – he pokes the screen several times and then accepts the help of a young person. 

Jasmin knows exactly what she is doing and Santa rewards her with an early present. The trouble is, it leaves him nothing to deliver for Jasmin to open on Christmas day. Luckily Jasmin is two steps ahead as always …

A witty story that will gain laughs from children raised with smart technology at their fingertips. 

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Given that adults design the stuff, it is strange how, whether it is GameBoys in the 1990s or laptops in the noughties, or the latest smart technology today, children are, as a whole, always more fluent in the use of electronic gadgets. It helps, of course, when they have never known a world without them – so children born today learn to navigate their way around apps at the same time as learning the alphabet. Even so, I reckon this book will gain plenty of laughs over Christmas as adults hand their new gifts over to nearby young people for configuring.

This story of new-fangled things is illustrated with retro-style pictures. This contrast works beautifully because it hints at the idea that Santa himself has been around … you know … for quite some time. It suggests a nostalgia for days of earlier technology – except, of course, that this was revolutionary in its era. 

A new take on the Christmas Eve delivery story just perfect for anyone who loves their technology. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Santa’s High-Tech Christmas. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

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A shy girl called Mimi finds a baby dragon asleep in the woodpile. Everyone in the village is afraid of the great Mountain Dragon but Mimi decides that the baby must be returned. As soon as the bells ring and call the other villagers to church, Mimi sneaks out treks up the mountainside to take the baby dragon safely home.

The Mountain Dragon is huge. She breathes fire. She is also relieved to have her baby home. As a gesture of thanks, she keeps watch over Mimi’s village which, being situated under the snowy mountains, is in constant danger from avalanches. 

Get ready for television animation by sharing the story together. 

This story, which has been available in a smaller book format for many years, has been remade as a larger picture book. The form suits it beautifully. Looking at the double-page and full-page illustrations, I felt as if I was a part of the landscape – looking down on the village from the mountains or up the slopes with Mimi as she climbed. It also allows us to look at the smaller pictures in more detail, and the illustrations are so beautiful that this is fully-deserved. 

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The main themes are friendship and fear and the way we judge others. A person who comes across as terrifying – maybe because they shout too much, or maybe because their tone is blunt and to the point – but who is kind and generous and filled with empathy. The dragon in this story may have a reputation for being fierce, but she cares greatly for her child and wants to show thanks for the little dragon’s safe return. 

Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of our best-known storytellers. Reading his stories always feels more like being told the tale of something that happened by a witness. Often this is intentional. In Mimi And The Mountain Dragon, as in some of Morpurgo’s books, we meet the narrator and learn of their connection to the tale before we hear the story itself. This is so rarely done now in children’s literature and yet it reminds us that the narrator is a part of the story and that stories are, after all, about people and places and experiences worth sharing. Putting The Mountain Dragon down, it is hard to believe the story never happened. 

A touching and gentle story that teaches us not to judge other people on their temperaments so readily. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the animation over Christmas, or make some hot chocolate and read the story together. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for my copy of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Snail And The Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Review: The Snail And The Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

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A little snail who longs to see the world. A Whale who happens to be bound for a trip around the world. The pair make perfect partners and soon the snail is on the voyage of a lifetime. There is only one problem – the world is so vast and the mountains so high. The snail feels impossibly small. 

The Snail And The Whale is among my favourite of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture-books. Possibly my very favourite. It is coming to television this Christmas and I can’t wait to see it on-screen. 

What makes it so fantastic? In my opinion there are two things – the snail and the rhythm of the words. 

Julia Donaldson is one of the most incredible storytellers working today. Every aspiring writer should read her books because, in very few words, she demonstrates a wealth of knowledge. I appreciate that this isn’t why everybody buys the book – and excuse me if I am going off on a tangent – but whether you are buying the books to study them or to read to a very small child, there is one thing I am certain of – a well-crafted story stands the test of time. 

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The snail is a brilliant character. She wants to see the world desperately. She has a huge ambition. She also has a character flaw that gets in her way. The snail is certain that she is small and insignificant. Initially, it stops her from getting the most out of her trip. It is impossible not to root for this tiny character, whose journey demonstrates to the youngest of readers that characters must come back changed from their experiences. From the word go we want to know whether or not she will come back feeling bigger inside. 

The story also has a wonderful rhythm. In this book of all of Donaldson’s work – and it stands out among every picture book in print today – the words just flow. They sing and dance and fly free on the page and in the reader’s mouth. How can anybody not enjoy reading this story aloud? How can anybody read it and not subsequently find the chorus – the words repeated most often throughout the book – stuck in their minds? 

Scheffler’s illustrations are iconic but I look forward to seeing the story animated. These films have become a staple part of Christmas over the past decade and I wish you all fun and laughter as you watch the Snail and the Whale embark on their voyage. 

 

Thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of The Snail And The Whale. Opinions my own.