Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

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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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

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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. 

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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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

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Alice wants to host the perfect tea party. Not a party with tricks and jokes. Not an upside down party with upside down cake. Just a perfectly ordinary perfect party. Unfortunately, Wonderland specialises in the extraordinary.

The tea party scene is one of the most famous from across Lewis Caroll’s works. With more than a little help from Walt Disney, whose Very Merry Unbirthday song is memorably catchy, the Hatter’s Tea Party has proved to be an enduring legend. What we often forget is Alice’s frustration as she searches frantically for the stable and ordinary.

Hosting a tea party in Wonderland is quite a challenge. With magic and mayhem around every corner, the residents must be a tricky bunch to impress. In this story, while Alice’s efforts are thwarted, the residents pull together to produce a party which nobody will forget. The book introduces some of our favourite Wonderland characters – from the Hatter and the Hare to characters from the original text like the Duchess. Alice In Wonderland is one of those stories which is so popular that readers are likely to know about it before they ever encounter the book and enjoyable picture books like this bring Wonderland to life. 

The themes will be relatable to many, especially at this time of year when sometimes we just want to organise things without other people and their not-so-great ideas getting in the way. Learning to compromise – and finding space to share our own ideas – can be a difficult balance. This story teaches us that, frustrating though other people can be, their ideas can bring a new and unexpected type of magic. 

The design is superb too, with flaps of every shape and size and cut-out details. The illustrations strike a balance between the quirky and the cute, making characters seem out of this world without being at all scary. Likewise, there is a mix of pastel and navy backgrounds. 

This will be a hit with fans of Wonderland and with anyone who has ever felt the frustration of other people being anything other than perfect. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.

Review: The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.

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‘It’s time to go,’ cried a voice, but nobody can find Hannah. That’s because Hannah has chosen to remain in the park. There’s just too much to do – collecting lost things and shooting at birds with her slingshot and drinking from the fountain. Hannah finds a home in the shrubs, makes a cape out of feathers and a bed out of leaves and befriends the Odd Furry Creature. Together they live, the tangled wilderness closing them off from the rest of the world until Hannah hears another call. 

A lyrical tale that will delight anybody who has ever hidden in the trees because it is too early to go home. 

I remember being that child. My sister and I had found a hideout miles and miles from the rest of the park. We’d set up camp, certain that nobody would ever find us. When I revisited that park in my early 20s, I was stunned to find out that it was quite small. In my memories, it was a vast space, with a patch of trees the size of a small forest. That is what The Hideout captures so beautifully – that sense of exploration and wonder which can only belong to a small child. 

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It also shows us that wild spaces can be found not so far from our ordinary lives. The park bustles with human activity, but just to the side are the shrubs and trees, and anything could be hidden between their branches. The Odd Furry Creature is metaphorical of any natural life which lives just within our sight. 

Felicita Sala is one of my top current-day illustrators. Her work is ethereal without being scary or strange. It feels to me like she finds the peace and wonder within the unknown, as she does in The Hideout when Hannah dresses in a cape of feathers. I especially love the colour palette of this book with its lilacs and olives and soft greens and blues. 

A modern-day fairy tale which reminds us of the magic of nature, and of the joys we can find in, ever so briefly, taking time away from the busy world. 

 

Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for my copy of The Hideout. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

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Uh-oh! Nibbles?

Nibbles the monster is on the loose again. There’s no stopping him. He’s eating his way through all the information books on the shelf, leaving great big monster-sized holes. The boy in the story has been here before. Except, this time, a dragon has awoken, and he’s hunting Nibbles through the pages.

Can the boy help Nibbles escape before he becomes a snack for a hungry dragon?

Nibbles the book munching monster is a popular character from recent illustrated fiction. Imagine a stack of five or six books, piled up on the floor. If Nibbles ate his way through book one, he would find himself at the cover of book two. Then climb inside that and carry on his way.  Younger readers will take Nibbles to heart because he is a rule-breaker. He is allowed wreck books – something they have hopefully been warned against! 

Along the way, we get to peek at the books Nibbles himself is reading. This time, he is in a pile of information books. Real facts are illustrated – about the sun, the moon, and colours, and a counting book – introducing the idea of non-fiction to newer readers. 

This title is especially fun because Nibbles is not the only monster around. The other title I reviewed saw him munch his way through a book relatively unchallenged. This time, he is in trouble and must use his wit to escape the books without being eaten by a dragon. This adds some tension and gives the reader a solid reason to side with Nibbles. Nibbles only eats pages. The dragon eats little monsters like Nibbles. 

The illustrations use blocks of primary colours, but they are nicely shaded and coordinated with other colours in the pictures. I love Emma Yarlett’s style – things are bouncy and might have looked innocent, except that characters like Nibbles have a cheeky glint in their eyes. 

Another successful book in the series. This is a story with a strong reread factor. It is just impossible to resist chasing Nibbles through the holes for another round. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Nibbles The Monster Hunt. Opinions my own.

Board Book

Review: Apple by Nikki McClure.

Review: Apple by Nikki McClure.

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An apple is picked from the tree. It is forgotten, thrown on the ground, buried, and in time a shoot grows from the earth. This beautiful board-book uses papercuts and minimal words to explore the life-cycle of the apple. 

The perfect book to read as the Harvest comes around. 

Early autumn is my favourite time of year, with fruit on the trees, sunshine and cool breezes which make it perfect for walking. Our village has a large number of apple trees and previous years have brought apple-pie, apple and blackberry crumble and fresh apples in the fruit bowl. Since living here, I have felt more in touch with where our food comes from, and this book is the perfect introduction to exactly that. 

It’s generous, full-page illustrations open lots of conversation about the harvest, composting and growing. 

The illustration is not only beautiful, it is also attractive to the adult reader. Board books begin as a supervised activity, and it is lovely to see one with art that the adults can engage with. Not that the book is aimed at them, but this might encourage big readers to look closer and point out details to the young listener. It would also be lovely to make apple pictures together with black and red crayons. 

At the back, there is an explanation of life-cycles and seasons which would be lovely for older siblings who share in the reading. 

An attractive and engaging book to introduce the science behind food growth. 

 

Thanks to AbramsAppleseed for my gifted copy of Apple. Opinions my own.

Guest Post

Guest post by Daniel Gray-Barnett, author of ‘Grandma Z’.

Guest post by Daniel Gray-Barnett, author of ‘Grandma Z’.

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About Grandma Z

Albert wants to feel special on his birthday. Nothing ordinary will do. He blows out his candles, makes a wish … and then there is a knock at the door. His Grandma Z has arrived, and she knows how to turn an ordinary day into something magical. 

Grandma Z caught my attention because it celebrates the relationships between young people and their grandparents. Grandparents too often go unacknowledged and underappreciated, but the time we spend with them stays in our memories for a lifetime. 

Grandma Z has raised children. She’s lived her own life, developed her personality, and she has so much to share with Albert. 

I am delighted to share a guest post from creator Daniel Gray-Barnett which discusses his own three beloved grandmothers. Thanks to Daniel for your time, and to Catherine Ward PR for organising. 

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My Grandmothers as inspiration for my debut picture book

By Daniel Gray-Barnett

When I wrote Grandma Z, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have three women in mind when I created the title character. Yes, three! I’m lucky enough to have had three grandmothers, though sadly one has now passed away.

My father’s father divorced and remarried before I was born, so on my dad’s side, I’ve always had my Nanna, my Grandma and, on my mum’s side (she’s of Chinese background), my Poh-Poh.

Whilst none of my grandmothers wear a radiant blue coat, sport bright orange hair, nor ride a motorbike, what they did do in terms of writing this story was inspire it with their stories, their spirit and the love I have felt from them. Grandma Z herself is a gregarious force-of-nature – her zest for life is hard to contain. In a way, she represents the inner-grandmother I see inside each of my own grandmothers. They are kind, strong women who have each faced challenging lives and never lost the twinkle in their eyes. I always felt loved and safe with them.

I remember as a young child growing up in Sydney, Australia, my Nanna stayed with us a few days most weeks to help care for us and take some pressure off my mum. I’m one of triplets, with 2 other younger siblings – there were 5 kids under the age of 6 so I’m sure it was a challenge, no matter how well behaved we were!

Nanna had a room at the end of the hall, right next to the bedroom I shared with my triplet brother. I have fond memories of creeping into her room and watching Eastenders and The Bill with her, whilst she knitted. If I couldn’t sleep, or I was upset, or needed somewhere to be quiet, I could cuddle up with my Nanna in there. She was a quiet, sweet woman who taught me how to knit and make pikelets. She raised my father as a single mother and her strength is an inspiration. She used to wear lovely felt hats and coats and I think she’d approve of Grandma Z’s sartorial choices.

My Poh-Poh is even quieter than my Nanna was – she speaks English but uses it less and less the older she gets. I was very fortunate that she lived with my grandfather in a house across the road from ours. I can still picture many afternoons after school spent sitting at the bench of her kitchen, watching her as she cooked. She fled China together with my grandfather when the Japanese invaded in WWII, raising her young family in Malaysia then Singapore before settling in Australia. As a result, the Chinese food I grew up with had a very South-East Asian flavour. Char Kway Teow noodles, curry puffs and steamed BBQ pork buns were some of my favourite things she would make. She may have been – and still is – a woman of few words, but she showed me how love can be communicated equally as strongly in non-verbal ways.

Grandma is probably the grandmother who is most similar to Grandma Z in mannerisms. I call her every couple of weeks and she never fails to make me smile with her cackling laugh. She’s a little frail nowadays, but when she was younger she was an avid ballroom dancer. She has a large china cabinet proudly displaying her porcelain figurine collection. These are not dolls, they are elegant women in their finery – ruffled flowing dresses, parasols or flowers in their hands. Every time we would visit, I would scan the shelves of glass and choose a new favourite.

Sometimes during school holidays, we would stay with my grandparents for a few days. I have memories of dressing up and playing witches, turning the living room into a cubby house and collecting macadamia nuts from the tree in the garden. Grandma was the one who would let us sprinkle a spoon of sugar on our cereal and always let us have ice-cream for dessert. There would always be at least several different toppings we could choose from and one of them would always be a new flavour. She was the grandmother who indulged and spoilt us. With her, we had room to just be kids and know there was little we couldn’t get away with. The warmth and joy I get just from speaking to her is nearly tangible. We’re not related by blood, but the bond we share is just as strong as any familial bond. Our relationship has shown me that family can be a choice, that it’s not just about who you are related to, but who you choose to connect with and love.

There’s something to be said for the special, unique relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Each grandparent brings their own history and talents to the table. Sometimes, that relationship is stronger with one grandchild more than the others. Often freed of the boundaries of parental discipline, the relationship can become a true friendship – a child seeking a confidante or acceptance, a grandparent who has a chance to explore their inner-child. There is an exchange of wisdom and perspective, from both parties. In the case of complicated or damaged relationships between grandparents and a parent, a grandchild can be a bridge, an opportunity to reconnect.

Grandma Z is as much about celebrating this intergenerational connection as it is about celebrating the imagination and connecting with someone who allows you to just be yourself. Often, these things go hand in hand. The relationship between Albert and Grandma Z is a representation of that love and freedom I felt with each of my grandmothers.

Sometimes, ‘on an ordinary day, in an ordinary town’, a child just wants to feel unordinary. And sometimes, spending time with a grandparent is the quickest way to do just that.

 

Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is out now, published by Scribe, £6.99 paperback.