Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.
Bob is back and this time there is a rival artist in town.
Bob’s success has turned his head. He is certain he is the best artist in town, but then everyone’s attention turns to a rather smug-looking blue parrot called Roy. Roy is a sculptor … except he recreates everyday objects in sculpture form. Bob isn’t impressed. He isn’t happy that Roy is getting all the attention. So Bob tries his feathers at sculpture to very poor success.
Then he decides to copy. The two birds are daggers with each other and it seems nothing can ever be mended.
A brilliant story about jealousy, rivalry and sharing ideas.
The modern art in the story is at first viewed with scepticism. The titles are all ridiculous – think BoatyMcBoatFace – and many readers, like Bob, will be certain that a replica of a lollipop or a rubber duck can’t possibly be art. Then Bob tries to create something for himself and finds that it is harder than it looks.
The themes in this story work on two levels. Cast your mind back to childhood – say between about 6 and 12. Think of the phrases you heard most frequently. She’s copying me comes in at the top of my mind. Every child encounters a moment where someone else’s work looks suspiciously like their own. In the story, Roy reacts with anger, and Bob with hostility, and this leads to disaster. The bird have to question whether there isn’t a better solution and in the end they work together on a joint project.
The story also looks at jealousy and rivalry. Bob is used to being admired as an artist and he reacts badly when someone else enjoys a moment of fame. It can be frustrating for anyone to feel as if they aren’t measuring up, but Bob’s great quest to better Roy is an example of how not to behave in this situation. Bob’s work is not up to its usual standard because all his energy is going into being the best. He nearly misses the opportunity to befriend Roy because the pair fall out. There are plenty of opportunities for readers to reflect on which outcome they would want in the same situation.
Bob’s Blue Period was one of my favourite picture books in 2019 for its arty illustrations and lighthearted approach. Bob Goes Pop is equally attractive and relatable. This is a wonderful book which offers children a look at the art world whilst being about their own experiences. Fabulous.
Thanks to Laurence King Publishing LTD for my copy of Bob Goes Pop. Opinions my own.
Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.
One little girl flies in a hot air balloon and floats downriver and rides on the back of a polar bear beneath the Arctic Lights. Tuck up in bed. Close your eyes. Anything is possible, anything at all, inside your dreams.
This book is a lullaby, but inside of focusing solely on encouraging the reader to sleep it is filled with positive messages about living an active life and believing that anything is possible. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, it is helpful to remember that there is one place that belongs entirely to us. Good dreams make us stronger and braver during waking hours.
Each double-page spread is accompanied by a single stanza. Most lines describe the world’s wonders, from cresting waves to stars and waterfalls, but occasionally this is broken up with empowering statements and questions that are echoed in the end:
You are safe.
You are lovely.
You are loved.
Books offer young people a space to feel safe. The world can be confusing even at the best of times and rhymes like this mean that readers can always find a kind and reassuring place to escape to for a little while.
The illustrations magic up a strong sense of adventure. My favourite page is definitely the Polar Bear, which is reminiscent of Lyra from Northern Lights but there are so many pictures that could be used as story or conversation starters. Best of all, they capture that sense of wonder that can only be found in childhood. Those times where a young person is so deep in a story or game that they lose all sense of the world around them. Muted blues and purples, and silhouetted details, support the idea that everything is happening within a dream.
Children, especially young children, spend about half their lives asleep. Reminding them that sleep is a magical and adventurous place is important and this rhyme is not only reassuring but also empowering. A fabulous text with beautiful illustrations.
Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy of What Will You Dream Of Tonight? Opinions my own.
Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.
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.
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.
Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne.
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.
Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.
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.
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.
Review: Follow The Star (A Pop-Up Christmas Journey) by Andy Mansfield.
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.
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.
Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.
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.
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.