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.

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 · 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 Christmas Unicorn by Anna Currey.

Review: The Christmas Unicorn by Anna Currey.

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Milly and her parents are spending Christmas with Grandpa. Dad hasn’t arrived yet, and not only that but Grandpa’s is away from home and Milly doesn’t know anyone. Then, one snowy night when everyone is asleep, a unicorn called Florian appears at her bedroom window. He and Milly become firm friends, and he helps in his own way to prepare for Christmas.

When Florian disappears, it seems Christmas is cancelled, except there may be an even better surprise around the corner. 

A warm-hearted tale about friendship and company. 

Going away for Christmas is something that lots of children will be familiar with, and it can be something that they have no say in. It isn’t that they don’t like to be there, not exactly, but it takes them away from their friendship circles. That means missing out on parties and events as well as having nobody to play with over Christmas. This gentle tale reminds us that to make new friends we have to accept a separation from our existing ones.

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Snowy-white Florian with his beautiful horn embodies everything that is magical about the snow-covered countryside. It is easy to imagine that the place where Milly is staying is a little wilder and a little more open than her home. Getting to know new areas is important and spending time outdoors can, in itself, be a reason to leave home behind for a little while. 

This story also reminds adult readers that, if they make arrangements over Christmas, their small people might need help to settle into a new environment and to find ideas about how to spend their time. After all, five days is forever when you are very small. 

The illustrations show just how many blues and whites can be found in a winter’s sky and they also capture Florian’s expressions and movements as if he was a playful young pony. This is the kind of story that should be read with a nice mug of hot chocolate to hand. 

A comforting read that lots of young people will relate to over the holiday period. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of The Christmas Unicorn. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Round-Up

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

 

Anatomicum by Katy Wiedemann and Jennifer Z Paxton. 

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Welcome to Anatomicum – a museum that is open 24 hours a day with displays about the anatomy of the human body. 

Have you ever wondered what you look like inside? What you really look like, with nothing held back? This book examines the different systems inside the body in fine detail with pictures of everything from veins and connective tissues to the different chambers of the heart.

The illustrations are drawn in the style of Victorian anatomy pictures but the style of the book feels fresh and modern. What I like most about this is that the book not only has broad appeal but it treats its younger readers as serious students. 

With the biggest museums in the UK mainly in London, a large number of people are shut out of accessing one of the most incredible forms of education. Putting some of those facts into books in a very visual format brings knowledge to people who might not otherwise access it. 

This series has been a big favourite for its high-quality production and serious approach to different disciplines. A book like this will remain a favourite for years and would make a wonderful gift this Christmas. 

 

Colossus by Colin Hynson. Illustrated by Giulia Lombardo. 

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Colossus explores some of the most amazing engineering and architecture in human history. From the Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt through to the Eiffel Tower and the artificial islands of the modern-day, this book studies a range of buildings, bridges, and structures and celebrates the ingenuity behind their designs. 

Take a tour around the world to admire the greatest structures and feats of engineering – from the ancient to the futuristic. With lots of books suddenly available about travel and exploration it is lovely to see one that looks at the world through this lens. 

Nothing is missed out here. I was delighted to read pages about building for specific needs, such as earthquakes. There are facts here that most people would never know and it is wonderful to see a book for young readers that doesn’t underestimate its audience. It was also lovely to see a book about engineering in context. This shows so clearly how engineering is tied up with design and imagination and that art and creativity can be related to STEM subjects. 

With some double-page spreads dedicated to one structure and others exploring a specific area – such as canals – this book is an eye-opening tour of the world that will encourage readers to question whether they too could become an engineer and create amazing things. 

With striking illustrations and design, this will be a real favourite with young readers. 

 

Darwin’s Voyage Of Discovery by Jake Williams. 

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Step on board HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin and learn about the voyage that led to his theories about evolution. From the invitation to join a warship to the return home five years later, learn about the events that lead to one of the most famous and groundbreaking scientific theories of all time. 

With beautiful full-colour pages and illustrations, this book is one to treasure. 

It is important to learn the links between disciplines and this book reminds us that there is a history in science. How did Charles Darwin come to be on a ship and how were his studies carried out? What kind of kit did he have? The fact that the book follows Darwin’s progress in chronological order allows the reader to imagine themselves inside the story. The detailed pictures of the kit he handled, too, make the story feel more real because by thinking about what kind of objects Darwin might have handled we can think of him as a real person. 

My favourite pages are about the animals Darwin saw. There are clear links between natural science and geography and each section begins with a map of the location. 

Darwin’s voyage is one of the great adventures and as such, it is a favourite story among aspiring scientists and explorers. This wonderful volume brings the story to life and makes studies of the science richer. 

 

Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour Of The Solar System by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

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Get set for an adventure in the solar system with space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

What is space? How do humans get there? What are the conditions like on the different planets? These questions and so many more are answered in this fantastic guidebook to the world beyond our planet. Layed out like a guidebook, this not only offers readers a chance to learn about the solar system but it encourages them to believe in themselves as future space scientists. 

With photographs and clear diagrams, this dispells so many common myths about the solar system. Hands up who once saw a picture of all the planets in a neat row when learning about the relative distances of planets from the sun? (Hand right up). Hands up who heard vague descriptions about gas planets that made it sound as if one was very much like another? Now that so much has been discovered about our solar system, and that so many fantastic images have been taken from space, it makes sense for readers to learn about space with photographs of the real thing alongside non-confusing images. 

Many of the pages are broken into bitesize chunks of text in boxes. This allows readers to digest one fact at a time on a very big subject, but the levels of both the information and language never underestimate the audience. 

The perfect introduction to space for aspiring scientists. 

 

Explorers by Nellie Huang. Illustrated by Jessamy Hawke. 

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Tales of sea and ice are not for the faint-hearted. 

With so much information available now at the touch of a button, it is difficult to imagine that, not so long ago, people had to set off on great voyages to learn about other parts of the world. Presented like an inspirational people book, Explorers delves deeper into the stories of people who set out to learn more about our world. 

With beautiful illustrations and clear colour photographs, this is a great book for readers who are interested in the history of natural science. 

There are different definitions of ‘exploration’ and I like that different kinds of explorers are represented. From space scientists to sea navigators to all-out chancers, this book takes us back to a time when there was everything to learn about the science and geography of our world. 

Exploration has been tied up with colonialism. This book only touches on the realities of this when it talks about a couple of artifacts that have been returned to other countries. However, it does at least acknowledge this somewhere and this offers adults a chance to open important conversations with younger readers about whether or not ‘discovered’ artifacts belonged to the explorers who stole them from their homelands. 

 

Heroes by Jonny Marx. Illustrated by Gerhard Van Wyx. 

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Not all heroes wear capes. Some are ordinary, everyday people. The kind you might pass on the streets, like firefighters and engineers and artists. This book showcases different kinds of heroes and looks at the work they do. 

With the number of books about inspirational people on the shelves, it is important to see that not every kind of heroic or amazing job is newsworthy. Not every hero goes down in history (although some people who start such a job find they do almost by accident). This book showcases historical and well-known figures alongside names that are never mentioned or heard. 

Although I have seen more inspirational people books in the past 18 months than I can count, this one stands out because it introduces different fields and the events that stand out within their history before giving profiles of people. This shows readers that being inspirational isn’t only about individual actions, but that learning from other people and belonging to a field comes first. Even self-taught people learn from books and conversations and following work that has come first. 

The other thing I like about this is the striking design. It is part comic-book and part retro-style poster and, with the orange, black and green colour scheme, it really makes a strong impact.

This achieves the tricky balance of allowing readers to reach for the heights whilst being grounded in the everyday work that involves. This is why I would recommend it of all the inspirational tales books this Christmas. 

 

Inventor Lab by Jack Challoner. With a foreword from Dr Lucy Rogers.

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Do you know anybody who pulls everything apart to see how it works?  Are you looking for a gift for a young engineer or inventor? This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to makes things work for themselves.

From nightlights to a door alarm to a wire buzzer game, this book is packed with ideas for things to create and explore.

Everybody has seen a recipe book but this is the first time I have seen a book about simple engineering laid out in a similar way. The unwritten message of this book, unlike so many other STEM titles, is that inventing and putting together is something to do on a day-to-day basis, instead of something that happens in a secret laboratory in a faraway place. This is the very best part of this title because it shows readers that engineering is for everyone.

The book begins with introductory sections that show clear pictures of tools and components that might be used. It runs through basic safety and also some simple skills that might come in handy. I like that this has been done over a good number of pages and that everything is backed up by clear pictures. This is so important when readers might not know how something is supposed to look.

Every step of the project is pictured and labelled clearly too and it is impossible to flick through without wanting to have a go.

The perfect book for young inventors as well as for the insatiably curious.

Tyrannosaurus Rex – A Pop-Up Guide To Anatomy by Dougal Dixon. Illustrated by Rachel Caldwell.

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Have you ever wondered what a T-Rex looks like underneath its skin? Now you can lift the flaps up on 3D illustrations and study the anatomy of the world’s most famous dinosaur.

The first thing everyone has said in response to this book is ‘Wow’. Think pop-ups. Think beautifully designed pop-ups. Then throw in some interaction. This is learning through play at its greatest. It is impossible not to be amazed when a realistic-looking dinosaur model forms seamlessly out of the pages.

This book explores different areas of the tyrannosaurus rex’s body, from its skull to its abdomen. It also introduces us to what tyrannosaurus rex eggs look like and to the kind of habitat it might have lived in. Text around the diagrams explains how different features would have been an advantage to the dinosaur, which is a wonderful early introduction to ideas about adaptation and evolution.

Dougal Dixon is a paleontologist and educator who has written previous children’s titles on dinosaurs. This idea – of turning readers into scientists who can see and deduce things for themselves, proves that he knows his stuff. Combined with Rachel Caldwell’s striking illustrations – both the pop-ups and the line drawings – this is bound to be a hit with young dinosaur explorers.

 

Weather by Isabel Otter. Illustrated by Hannah Tolson. 

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Snow, rain, wind, sun, and thunder. Weather is everywhere and there is so much to find out about what makes it happen and change. 

It is a beautiful introduction not only to naming different types of weather but to the science behind them. What I like about this is it is divided into five double-page spreads, like mini-chapters on Sun, Rain, Wind, Snow, and Ice, and Thunder and Lightning. Young children are often introduced to weather as one big list of names but this means they have to be separated out again when children come to study the science. By keeping things in like groups from the start, this allows children to think of weather as a series of different but related systems. 

The big attraction here is undoubtedly the sliders. Each spread has two illustrations that are merged together. One can be changed for another by pulling the slider across. The very best of these is the slider about the water cycle, which lends itself perfectly as a subject to this format. 

As well as the sliders, the spreads are broken up into little boxes and each box is beautifully illustrated. This will go down beautifully with readers who are used to seeing tablet and smart-phone screens as each box is like a separate window. 

 An impressively designed book with just the right amount of facts for a new reader or to share with younger children. 

 

When We Walked On The Moon by David Long and Sam Kalda. 

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Getting humans to the moon and back began long before 1969. It was a tremendous feat of human engineering and it took the greatest intelligence and resources of the day to achieve. This book looks at the story behind the 1969 moon landing and at missions to the moon before and since. 

With the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing celebrated this summer, the moon will be a hot topic amongst readers of all ages, and especially amongst young readers who learned all about it during the build-up. When We Walked On The Moon is a great book to give this holiday season because it looks at the wider picture of missions to the moon. 

This covers both history and science. It is told in chronological order, beginning with the Space Race and working through to the present day. It looks at the science needed both to build the space crafts and then to get them from the Earth to the Moon’s surface and back again. Later parts of the book detail the kind of work scientists have done on the moon and in space from collecting samples to repairing spacecraft and working on the International Space Station. 

With the Appollo Mission patches reproduced beautifully on the chapter page and pictures of the missions in progress, this book will recall an era of hope and excitement in human progress. 

 

With thanks to Big Picture Books, Templar Publishing, Pavillion Books, Buster Books, Dorling Kindersley, Little Tiger Press and Quarto Publishing Group UK for the titles supplied for review featured in this title.

Opinions remain my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! Opinions my own.