Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

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William Bee loves trains and boats and planes. He has a massive collection of engineering marvels from across time and he likes to play with them all. Join him as he travels through his collection, laying tracks and flying rescue planes and blasting off into space. 

A joyful celebration of vehicles. 

The illustrations in this story are a visual feast. The colour pallette and detailed drawings remind me of the Haynes instruction manuals which are instantly recognisable as a brand. Although they are vibrantly coloured and full of little quirks which will delight small readers (such as the smiling traffic-cones) the illustrations fully respect how even the very youngest of children can be hungry to know how something works.

The language, too, is challenging and never once underestimates its readers. It talks about gravity, about streamlined design and cylinders and pistons and supercharged engines. It takes readers who have fallen in love with vehicles straight to the heart of their design. 

With shelves and television programmes filled with talking trains and animal pilots and imaginary trips to space, it is refreshing to see a book which shows that vehicles are designed and built to fulfill a purpose. This simple understanding is the first step to an interest in engineering, and it can’t come too early in life. Playful vehicles have their place but it is great to see a book which acknowledges that some children take their trains seriously. 

William is the only human in the story. He is helped along the way by animals and walking, living traffic cones. This style will be appealing to children who enjoy their own company. My one thought is that it would be great to see some titles in the series lead by a girl. With uptake of STEM subjects far lower among girls, it is pivotal that all children see these subjects as something they might play a role in from an early age. That’s not a criticism of the book as it stands – I firmly think it is important to show people enjoying solitary activities as well as social ones – but I would love to see a girl in the series.  

A wonderful book which will make readers of all ages curious to learn more about vehicles and engines. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

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When Nell’s chicken friend runs away, it leads her to the circus of her dreams.

A circus family welcomes Nell and introduces her to the lights and music and magic tricks of their show. After the circus packs up and Nell goes home, the circus fades from her memory like a dream, but all through the summer and into the summers beyond she plays her own circus games in the back garden.

Partly based on the memories of Nell Gifford, from Gifford’s circus, the setting brings to life the magic of a traditional circus. Being among the animals and the music and the traditional caravans are enough to bring anyone’s imagination to life. In this story, a young girl’s games are given a new lease of life after visiting the circus.

There is something folksy and beautiful about the illustrations, from the field of wildflowers to the circle of wooden caravans. It invokes a strange kind of nostalgia – a nostalgia for a life most of us have never lived. Of course, this can make us yearn for a different world, and Nell does exactly this when the circus goes. She finds it in little pockets, though. In her games and in her back garden.

The illustrations are full of a golden light and beautiful textures. They bring back romanticised memories of childhood summers and remind us of the magic of our dreams. A double-page spread of the circus in action is so beautiful, it is possible to stare at it for hours. These are pictures which bring to life all our senses. I could hear the music and feel the soap bubbles popping beside my cheeks.

A real treat of a story and one of those books which demands to be reread and treasured.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Nell And The Circus Of Dreams. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

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The aliens watch while a group of children is guided around the moon. They stick together for safety … all except one boy who slips away to draw pictures of what he sees. When he gets left behind, the aliens creep out to watch him, and together they add some colour to the moon. 

A story of friendship, exploration and caring for the places we visit. 

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July 2019, a whole spate of books has been published, from fact files to real-life stories of space scientists to stories set in outer space. This book falls into the latter category, imaging what a school trip or day out might look like if we could travel en-masse into space. 

The story is told in rhyme and balances both the gravitas of major exploration and the light excitement of a day trip. The one child who does their own thing will be familiar to anybody who has lead a group of children outdoors (or been a child on a school trip) and I was pleased to see the story showing that this can be lead by curiosity rather than trouble. Although the boy is in the wrong, he is the only person who takes enough time to look back and admire the view of the earth. 

When the aliens come out, the real fun begins. 

Their world is grey, and they have never seen so many colours as the boy holds in his crayon packet. A new game begins and soon the boy is less frightened about being left behind. 

The illustrations have a futuristic feel to them, and the reader is always looking forwards on to the moon landscape as if they were standing up close to the boy. This sense of being right there makes the story even more exciting. 

This would be a lovely story to get readers interested in the Moon anniversary and to help them imagine where the future of space travel might lie. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Suffragette by David Roberts [Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award]

Review: Suffragette by David Roberts [Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award]

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The battle for the vote was one of the most important campaigns fought in the vote for gender equality. Who were the women who raised their voices against the injustices of the political system? How did they change the law and give women a voice? 

Suffragette begins in the 1800s and follows their story from the formation of campaign groups through to the Equal Franchise Act of 1928.

With chapters of one or two pages and beautiful illustrations, this book takes one of the most exciting parts of history away from dull textbooks and turns it into something which everyone wants to read about. 

img_9143David Robert’s illustrations are filled with character. The people look as if they could march off the pages and enact their stories in front of our eyes. From the Bryant And May match girls, whose faces are full of stoical determination, to the women fending off police officers in the Black Friday protests, the action and facial expressions combine to make the reader feel that history is coming alive. 

The book is packed with information. It would make a lovely reference book, suitable for an older reader looking to improve their understanding of history, but it is also a great introduction to the topic. Read chronologically, it charts a story of political change. 

With the anniversary of the 1918 victory (when some women in the UK were granted the vote for the first time) over, the question is what relevance do the suffragettes hold in our lives today. The book’s answers are solid. Their campaigns did not, as so many people believe, end inequality among genders. We still need to question our ideas of what it means to be a man, a woman or of any gender at all. The book also shows how hard women fought for their victory, and to have their opinions acknowledged. Rights are difficult to win. 

The book’s place on the CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlist couldn’t come at a more relevant time. With political views at the front of the news, it is encouraging to know that previous generations have won hard battles. 

A wonderful introduction to an important topic, which deserves a place on every shelf. 

 

Louise Nettleton

 

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The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books and Riot Communications for my gifted copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb

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Then after lunch war came. 

A little girl from a happy family is having an ordinary day at school when her world is torn apart. Her town is turned to rubble and she is left alone. She runs, then joins a group of people to walk for miles and miles, and to travel over the sea in a dangerous boat. 

She’s supposed to have left the war behind but it is everywhere. In the stares people give her. In the closed doors. In the teacher who won’t let her join in with the local school. 

This book was inspired by a true story of a child refused entry to a school because there wasn’t a chair for her to sit on. In the days after this story broke, people posted pictures of empty chairs in solidarity with the children who had been refused an education. The book ends on a happier note, with the children carrying their chairs out in protest and setting up school in a space where anyone was welcome to join in. In the book as in life, the younger generation offers hope from the prejudices of the adult world. 

Where many picture books about the current crisis tell the story in a way which allows children to fill the gaps with their own knowledge, this book doesn’t shy away from the realities of war. It shows explosions, loss and dangerous journeys across the sea. It would be a brilliant book to read with older children and young adults, as it is very visual but ends on a note of hope that the rest of the world might open its hearts. 

The illustrations show how, although she walks through some leafy and beautiful places, the little girl falls back into places of darkness and despair. The dark corner she makes a bed in later in the book mirrors the darkness of the initial explosion. This touching story reminds us that war starts in one place but its effects last long after. 

This book is on the CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlist and it is a title which is both relevant to this year and likely to encourage empathy. As well as the extraordinary illustrations and moving text, it is a tale of our times. 

A book which shows how compassion and open arms can make a difference to people in desperate situations. 

 

Louise Nettleton

 

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The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.

 

Thanks to Walker Books and Riot Communications for my gifted copy of The Day War Came. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Lamb Who Came For Dinner and The Wolves Who Came For Dinner by Steve Smallman and Joélle Dreidemy

Review: The Lamb Who Came For Dinner and The Wolves Who Came For Dinner by Steve Smallman and Joélle Dreidemy

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One night a wolf is hungry and he fancies a nice hotpot. Just at that moment, a lamb knocks at the door. 

img_8611So begins the tale of Wolf and his friend, who wins over his heart and takes the name Hotpot. It is a story of unexpected friendship, and Wolf finds himself overcome with the same love and affection of any new parent. At times he looks baffled by his own feelings. 

The second story sees a group of forest creatures ganging up on the wolves when they are certain Hotpot must be in danger. Their preconceived ideas about how wolves behave turn them into vigilantes who are eventually faced down and invited in for a hot drink and storytime. 

The books turn the fairytale obvious on its head and challenge the reader to think a bit harder about how we expect certain characters to behave. 

Hotpot is a ridiculously irresistible character with her big round eyes and fluffy fleece. Like many tiny people, she is filled with a big determination and is unafraid to face down adults who have it all wrong. 

The characters’ expressions are very realistic and at times theatrical, making this a fun read as we know their feelings first and predict how they might act next.

Hotpot and Wolf are as memorable as Mouse and Gruffalo. They are one of those picturebook duos whose contrast makes them brilliant in a story. Looking forward to more from this world. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted books. Opinions my own.