Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

5 illustrated books about the great outdoors.

5 illustrated books about the great outdoors.

Outdoor adventures are wonderful at any time of year, but with spring on the way there has never been a better time to put on those wellies or walking boots and embrace the great outdoors.

The books reviewed here are all about nature, but they all focus on a different lens. Which would be of most interest to you? If you were stepping outside today, what would you want to think about or see?


The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

img_8613Bea is visiting Grandad in the countryside. She loves his wild garden and sitting in the great outdoors. When her dog runs off, Bea discovers a greenhouse full of wild treasures and befriends the Green Giant.

One the Green Giant roamed the city, but it became too grey and difficult to breathe. He gives Bea some seeds in the hope that one day the city will become greener again.

A timely fairytale about the decreasing awareness of nature in urban populations.

img_8614It is not enough to know facts. It takes something more to move humans into action, and that is empathy. Care. As readers empathise with the giant, pushed away from the city by the inaction of humans, they take the first steps into caring about nature.

This is an irresistible book. I adore children’s stories about visitors, particularly ones like the giant whose plight makes us reconsider our own attitudes, but this one stands out with its gentle narrative and a colour-palette of greens and yellows taken straight from the natural world.

Katie Cottle’s publication deal came about after she won a prize, and she is a talent to watch.




A Walk Through Nature: A Clover Robin peek-through book. Written by Libby Walden. 

Nature is all around us. Over and under and beneath our feet. How often do we take the time to look at the natural world?

img_8596The format of this book allows us to pick a landscape or microhabitat – a beach, the nighttime sky or a single log – and to look closer at the life which might be found in that setting. The second page of every double-page spread has an extra flap. This opens out to reveal a second full-page illustration and a bank of information.

This would make a lovely book for less confident readers. With each fact limited to three or four sentences, it is less daunting than many non-fiction books. That the fact files can be ignored in favour of a rhyming text which runs through the book is another plus. This would make a lovely bedtime book, with the information introduced in little bursts.

I adore the illustrations. A muted background makes them stand out, and I love the visible brushstrokes and different textures. This would be a lovely book to look at ahead of painting, especially studies of leaves and fields.




When The Stars Come Out by Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright.

What is the night? Why does it even happen and how come the moon is there and why do stars appear? 

This book not only answers the questions commonly asked by children about the night, it goes beyond to explore the night time through different lenses. The book is divided into four sections: The Sky At Night, The Earth At Night, Animals At Night and Humans at Night. The chapter divisions work well, allowing the activity in different habits to be explored separately from biological facts about animals. There is also a short introductory section which deals with the physics of sunrise and sunset. 

What strikes me immediately about this volume is that it is visually stunning. Both the illustrations and the design are of the highest quality, and every double-page spread is a feast for the eye. It is the sort of book which you want to open at random and delve into. Leave it in a book corner or face out on a library shelf and it will be snapped up by curious readers. 

It would also be a lovely art prompt, especially because it celebrates the range of colours associated with nighttime. It goes well beyond the midnight black, celebrating lilacs and pale blues and light orange hues. 

There is just enough information on every topic, and what is there is insightful. It never scrimps on depth but challenges the reader with facts which will be new to many adult readers. I also adore the mixture of biology, physics, geography and myth.

A treat for younger and older readers, this will expand the reader’s worldview and encourage them to look harder at the night sky. 



Beneath The Waves by Helen Ahpornsiri


Journey through the world’s oceans and take a close up look at their inhabitants.

The art in this book is made from pressed seaweeds, coastal flowers and a smaller number of garden plants. The beauty of it struck me before I had turned a single page. The plants are brought to life, their colours and shapes working together to show animals from under the water and around the seashore.

img_8630The information in this book is divided into four sections: Coast, Open Ocean, Tropics and Polar Waters. These four chapters help readers to understand that, like the land, the waters have different climates depending on where they are in the world. 

Each animal or subject is given two or three paragraphs. Identifying features, diets, habitats and breeding are all introduced.

With STEM subjects sometimes receiving more attention than the arts, I am always delighted to find books which promote the two together. After all, where would science be if people hadn’t once spent time observing and drawing what they saw? Where would technology be if mankind hadn’t learned to imagine?

The illustrations in this book push the bounds of what has been done in children’s literature before. They are extraordinary and worthy of celebration.



The Lost Book Of Adventure by Unknown Adventurer.


Imagine getting out into the wilderness. Really getting out, beyond the bounds of the known, and living outdoors.

img_8522This is the ultimate compendium of outdoor survival knowledge, taken from the notebooks of an unknown adventurer. Starting with the basics, form how to pack for camp, this incredible volume offers insights on everything from first aid to rafting to panning for gold.

It is also a love letter. A nostalgia for adventures of the past and a reminder of the skills and knowledge which was once common-place.

Advice and diagrams are alternated with insights into outdoor adventures. This makes the volume friendly and accessible to dreamers as well as to serious explorers. Beautiful colour pictures allow the reader a snapshot of the world which awaits us if only we set foot out of the door.

I am shamelessly in love with this book, which offers me plenty of material and information as an aspiring writer. This would be a priceless resource for starting off adventure stories, and I love the tone of the book which claims to speak from direct experience.

If we as a society are to embrace nature and get back out into the wild, we need to remember the old skills which allowed expeditions in the past. The Lost Book Of Adventure will open new eyes to the outdoors.


Many thanks to Little Tiger Press, Quarto Books, Big Picture Press, Pavillion Children’s Books, Catherine Ward PR and Antonia Wilkinson PR for gifting the books reviewed in this feature. Opinions remain my own.




Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Superkitty by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles

Review: Superkitty by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles


There’s a supersized hero inside Kitty. She’d love to fight crime alongside the Sensational Superheroes, but they would rather Kitty remained in her place by the office phone. She’s just not big like them, or powerful, or showy. She doesn’t have the looks. 

When Kitty sneaks after the gang as they respond to a mission, she finds out their image may be worth more than their skills. 

It is left to Kitty to face Nefarious Norman the dog and rescue an ancient bone. 

A humorous book about heroes with a big heart. I fell in love with Kitty at the cover, and frankly, that kind of charm is a skill which every superhero should have. 

img_8567We live in an era where everybody is conscious of their appearance. Not just physical appearance, but the kind of messages we are selling to others about our lifestyles and work ethics and core beliefs. With so many images of apparently strong, wholesome and successful people everywhere we look, it can be difficult to believe we measure up. Kitty doesn’t look like a superhero, and she creeps around in the background, so she is quickly overlooked. The truth is she has far more ingenuity, daring and quick thinking than any of the Sensational Superheroes. 

This would also be a lovely book for talking about size. For example, just because someone is small or looks young for their age, it doesn’t make them any less brave. Please remember that tall people can feel equally self-conscious! I had a growth spurt at eleven and didn’t stop until my late teens. Lots of my friends were short and they used to get all kinds of encouragement that I just didn’t see. (They hated it. ‘Why are they talking like I’m a baby?’ was a common response). The message isn’t just about small. It is about not judging by what is on the outside. 

The design reminds me slightly of the original Powerpuff Girls, with buildings and rooms as backdrops. Certain objects are picked out while others are the same colour as the rest of the room. This draws the eye to what is important, creating a visual storytelling experience. (And yes, humming theme music as Kitty runs to the rescue is a good idea). 

A sensational story which reminds us that even if we feel overshadowed, we are capable of great things. 


Thanks to Simon & Schuster for my gifted copy of Superkitty. Opinions my own.


Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Winnie And Wilbur – Spectacular Spells by Valerie Thomas And Korky Paul

Review: Winnie And Wilbur – Spectacular Spells by Valerie Thomas And Korky Paul


A trip back to the time of the dinosaurs (and home again with a dinosaur in tow). 

A birthday party made extra-special by magic.

A knightly tournament and a banquet worthy of a witch. 

Three titles full of magic and mayhem from the ever popular Winnie The Witch series. 

I remember reading the very first book in this series when I was small. I chose it at a book fair and took it home for our evening reading session. Now, I had read and been read any number of books, but there was something different about Winnie. She fizzled with a kind of energy which just promised trouble. And laughter. 

Wilbur is also a superstar among picture book cats. He reacts to what is happening with hilarious results and has a huge range of expressions. 

Our brains can only register a certain number of things at any one time. If you look at a field for a second, you might see grass, a bench and some football goals. Sit for a few minutes and you will see huge amounts more. The tiny plants in the grass and the insects crawling up the bench legs and the way the light is filtered through the clouds. The illustrations in Winnie The Witch Books are like that. You could look for minutes and fail to spot everything. They are gems for sharing with one reader or a small group because there is so much to keep the readers interested. 

The illustations are also brilliant for encouraging smaller pen marks. Plenty of examples of lines and patterns used to build textures. 

This collection brings together three titles filled with adventure. it was lovely to revisit Winnie and Wilbur. Long may they entertain readers big and small. 


Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Is Owl by Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee

Review: This Is Owl by Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee


This is Owl, except Owl isn’t in the mood to interact with the reader. Tickle his tummy to wake him up, tilt the pages to help him catch an insect and flap the book to help him fly. Follow owl through the night and find out why he is too busy to play.

A delightful picture book which involves the reader in every part of the story.

Different page sizes bring an extra dimension to this book. See owl in the tree then turn the smaller pages to look at the details. Insects on the branches and other birds hidden in the leaves. 

Bright illustrations stand out against a dark background. I love how apparently simple shapes are made striking with shading and texture. It reminds me of a fuzzy-felt world brought to life by vivid imagination. This is the sort of book I would pour over in an art-gallery bookshop. It is modern and playful and full of character. 

As a story, it is very conscious of its narrator, its character and its audience. It would be a brilliant story for introducing readers to the different people involved in a story and to talk about the difference between a narrator and a character. It is also a great read aloud. Stories were once told around the fire, and storytellers were aware of the need to keep their audiences engaged. This would be lovely to share as a bedtime story or to enact with a larger group of children. The actions could be adapted to suit the size of the group. For example, one or two children can draw a circle on the page, but a larger group could draw circles in the air.

I am always a fan of Libby Walden’s work, and it is interesting to see her working with Jacqui Lee. The result is a wonderful book which will bring storytime to life, and I would love to see more from this author/illustrator pairing. 


Many thanks to Little Tiger Press UK for my gifted copy of This Is Owl. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture books: 4 books about Friendship and Harmony (March 2019)

Picture books: 4 books about Friendship and Harmony (March 2019)


Lubna And Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus.

When Lubna arrives in the camp a long way from home, she finds the pebble. She draws a face on it, and it becomes her friend through all the time she spends in the tent. Pebble listens to her stories about home and the war. She befriends a little boy called Amir who is very unhappy when it is time to say goodbye. Perhaps Pebble could keep him company too?

A story about the power of friendship in desperate circumstances. 

As Lubna talks to Pebble, letting out all the bad memories of the war-torn country she has fled, we realise that Pebble listens without judgement and is reliably there. These are lessons we can take into our lives even though Pebble is not a human being. 

Lubna puts Amir first when it is time to leave and sees what he needs. There are so positive messages about friendship in this story, and it allows us a small insight into the emotional side of displacement. 

This story only uses the word war once. It is implied that Lubna has lost or become separated from her brothers. Younger readers will only understand as much about her situation as they already know. This would be a lovely story for readers who are just starting to question why terrible things happen, but still need some distance from the horrific details of war.

The illustrations are extraordinary, making much of the tents and arms and sleeping-bags where Lubna finds shelter. In other pictures, we see open grey skies and endless lines of washing. There is a sense that she is lost in the big world and searching for a safe place all at the same time. 

A special book which reminds us that a good friend can make the world feel that tiny bit safer. 



Cyril The Lonely Cloud by Tim Hopgood

It’s a bright and lovely day, the perfect day for a picnic, until Cyril the lonely cloud shows up. Everybody agrees he is a bore and a spoilsport and that things are just plain gloomier with him around. 

Cyril drifts away, floating for miles and miles until he comes to a baking hot land. The animals and people are so pleased to see him, to feel his raindrops and to see the rainbow he casts with the help of the sun. 

A beautiful story about perspective and kindness. Sometimes an apparently gloomy person is just a happy person in need of encouragement. 

We’re not all social butterflies. It is daunting and depressing to constantly be the one who fails to get a laugh at parties. Whose words stumble out in the wrong order. Whose lengthy stories bore others to tears. I saw Cyril as the person who has so much to give and share, who struggles to show that in social situations. This would be a beautiful book to promote inclusion. We all have different strengths and difficulties, and being that bit kinder can bring out the best in other people. 

The story also showed how behaviour isn’t about one person in isolation. We all bounce off each other. When managing our own behaviour, we should think about what kind of climate will encourage others to manage their own. When Cyril is welcomed instead of shunned, he shows his dazzling colours. 

The landscapes in this book remind me of Madeline. We first look side to side, then at all the details crowded into the background. The pictures use an uplifting range of colours and the textures in the backgrounds would be brilliant for inspiring pastel drawings. 

It is impossible not to love Cyril and I adore this uplifting book about empathy and kindness. 




This Love by Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas.

Love doesn’t need words. It is a special language which is understood by all. 

Do you nestle down with a parent or guardian? Share a quiet moment of reflection? Do you have an animal who stays by your side? Has your grandparent taught you a new skill? Love takes many shapes and forms but we all know it when it hits us. 

Love is worldwide and this beautiful picture book takes us in a tour of different loving moments. 

With the news featuring ever more division, it can feel at times as if the world is drifting further apart. This story reminds us of what we have in common and it is also a celebration of those special moments we share with family, friends and companions. 

I was delighted to see bonds with other animals recognised and celebrated. Empathy and love should go beyond our own species and learning to communicate with other animals (and trust me, you learn so many of their signals and gestures) is a precious experience. 

This would also be a lovely book to look at for early geography. Different landscapes and buildings, plants and animal life are shown on this tour of love around the world. 

The illustrations are bright and accessible and I love the many patterns which are used to show different plants and clothes and weather. 

A book which allows us to talk about different types of love: the love we share we our close ones, and the love and harmony we might feel with human beings around the world. A precious and beautiful message. 



Rhino Neil by Mini Goss

Rhino Neil lives in a safari zoo with lots of other animals. The other animals are afraid of him. Everything from his horn to his feet to his huge tummy scares them away, so Rhino Neil is lonely. Then one day an even bigger animal arrives. Elephant Tuscany and Rhino Neil strike up a friendship and are able to keep each other company. 

A story about social exclusion, friendship and the ability to see past our differences.

The reader is rooting for Rhino Neil all the way along. He has never done anything wrong, exactly, but still the other animals are afraid of him. Maybe the reader can think of someone like that in real life. Someone taller or louder or bossier or just plain not like everyone else. The animals who are unable to see past these differences lose out on the friendship of two perfectly kind animals. 

The close-up animal pictures will be a hit with anyone who has ever watched funny animal videos. For all the zebras are shrieking in terror, they look a bit ridiculous and this will gain lots of laughs. 

A wonderful story which allows the reader to question how they treat their peers. 


Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger Press and New Frontier Publishing for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions remain my own.


Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Tiny T. Rex And The Impossible Hug by Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck

Review: Tiny T. Rex And The Impossible Hug Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck


Tiny has little arms. He wants to give his friend a proper hug, but Tiny’s arms aren’t big enough. He sets off in search of advice to learn how to give Pointy a proper hug. Along the way, Tiny tries being mathematical, philosophical and even exercising his arms. When the moment comes, it turns out that the best hugs come straight from the heart.

A humorous and warm story about a little dinosaur with a lot of love.

Have you ever been in that moment? The one where you’re meeting somebody special, somebody you know, but you’re not certain whether they are a hugger, a handshaker or someone who would rather you greeted them without any kind of contact at all? Social interactions can be confusing at the best of times, and Tiny the dinosaur delves deep into the theory behind giving his friend a hug.

Unfortunately, there is also such a thing as overthinking.

What makes this book entertaining is that every new way Tiny finds to think about hugs makes a sense of its own. Hugs could be measured in equations. Hugs are physical actions, and therefore physical exercise could help us perfect a hug. Hugs come from emotion so mindful reflection could make them better. These new ways of looking at hugging are both ridiculous and true at the same time.

The final message is that hugs are spontaneous gestures which come from the heart. I think this message is just right for Tiny and will reassure readers that they don’t have to work these actions out ahead.

I adore the modern art style, with its contrasting colours and bright backgrounds. These dinosaurs live in a totally modern world, with books and exercise routines and table tennis, but occasional palm fronds in the foreground remind us of the dinosaur’s natural habitat. For a story with a cute theme, the art style keeps firmly away from the sugary. The endpapers are a treat too and would inspire potato printing or similar activities. 

A story about a tiny dinosaur which will make a huge impact. Hugger or not, this one will make you smile. 


Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle UK for my gifted copy of Tiny T. Rex And The Impossible Hug. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt

Review: The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt


Eliza Jane has been given plenty of labels. Wilful. Wild. It comes as no surprise to her parents when, on Eliza Jane’s fourth birthday, she asks for a dinosaur as a pet. Off they go to the Dinosaur Department Store where Mr Magisaurus gives them a tour. 

A vibrant, lively story filled with humour and action. 

img_8515It must be the dream of many small children to own a real dinosaur. Dinosaurs are staples with under eights. They are on television programmes and in films. Toys and video games. They are on clothes and stationery and in wonderful stories like The Dinosaur Department Store. Whether the reader is interested in the history and science of dinosaurs, or simply in the characters, they will enjoy this one. It is the ultimate in wish fulfillment. 

Like Eliza Jane, the dinosaurs in this story are filled with energy. They swish their tails and crunch bones and make spectacular noises. Eliza Jane is filled with empathy for the dinosaurs stuck in their cages … and so she comes up with a plan. I love how tiny she looks beside the dinosaurs. It makes it more difficult to notice what she is up to. Readers are encouraged to look elsewhere and will be excited to see that there is more going on than the words let on. 

The illustrations are a riot of colour and pattern, balanced out with gentle green fronds and the white wallpaper of the department store. The reader feels up close to the dinosaurs and I just love how much we read about Mr Magisaurus’s smug personality from his face. 

A real treasure which will go down will with dinosaur lovers and makers of mischief. This will raise laugher and excitement and would make a wonderful bedtime read. 


Thanks to Buster Books for my gifted copy of The Dinosaur Department Store. Opinions remain my own.