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.

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.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

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It’s a big job being Santa. 

With Sleigh regulations and weather forecasting and present selection all coming under the job title, it takes more than a little training to pull off the Christmas Eve dash. Santa’s Christmas Handbook is available to help and, for the first time, he is sharing it with everyone else. 

Filled with fun facts and information about Santa’s job, this book quickly gets readers thinking and dreaming. How exactly does Santa avoid collisions with aeroplanes? Whereabouts in the Sleigh does he store his lunch – not to mention food for the reindeer? Knowing more about Santa’s work will soon get readers asking questions of their own, and chances are they can be answered by the handbook. 

With flaps, puzzles, games, and pop-ups, this is a beautiful gift-book. Just opening the front cover feels exciting. 

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Not only is this the perfect Christmas Eve book, it will give little – and big – people who are excited about Christmas a place to turn to during the build-up. This is especially handy for anyone who has explained for the tenth time that they just don’t know how all the presents fit in the sleigh.

Full-colour illustrations and backgrounds make this feel magical and interesting, while smaller black-and-white line-drawings are used to great effect to reproduce the information (details pictures of drinks to look out for in living rooms, for example). The range of illustration styles makes this a richer and more interesting book and the team of illustrators (Tim Hutchinson, Richard Johnson, Maggie Kneen, Sandy Nightingale, and Mike Phillips) have worked together to produce something special. 

This has been a big hit in my family (with not-so-little readers). I had barely taken it out of the delivery box before two other people had put in a bid for it. Although similar books have appeared before, the big draw here is in using a talented and established writer. Christopher Edge has got all the facts, and he has made the book not only informative but just plain fun. It would be a lovely book to share and enjoy together and it is the sort of title which will come out year after year. 

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.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

Alice would, I feel certain, approve of this edition of her tale. There are pictures and graphics and a wealth of patterns. The Mina Lima classics range has become something of a cult hit in the book community and they also make the most beautiful Christmas presents known to bookish kind. 

MinaLima is a design studio based in London. Best known for their contribution to the Harry Potter films (look out for the Daily Prophets and Quibblers and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logo), their iconic style and meticulous attention to detail make their work instantly recognisable to their many fans. My favourite aspect is their distincitve use of pattern. 

What makes their work so suited to Alice In Wonderland? 

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Anyone who is familiar with previous editions of Alice will be aware that – with several ntoable exceptions – it is often perceived as a mildly scary story. Think of Tim Burton’s films or the seminal work of Sir John Tenniel. While the book is never portrayed as a horror, the darker side of Wonderland often comes out in the artwork. MinaLima’s editon builds on this with a sharp-clawed Cheshire Cat, thorned plants and the scariest card people since Tenniel’s edition. 

Interactive elements include fold-outs and tabs and lavishly-illustrated game boards. This is not only a book but a fully immersive Wonderland experience. 

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It is always a pleasure to revisit classic texts. Too often we think we are familiar with these stories because they have been retold and animated and become part of our pop-culture. Going back to the original prose teaches us more about the world than anything else ever could and a beautiful gift edition is a perfect reason to dive back into the story. 

I own the MinaLima Peter Pan and spent Christmas 2015 enthralled by the detail, and drinking in the story as a result. Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass lives up to the high MinaLima standards and I expect it to be popular this holiday season. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy of Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass (Illustrated by MinaLima). Opinions my own. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

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Her name was Greta. She lived in a beautiful forest filled with animals. The giants had always been there, but they had stopped caring about the forest. They chopped down the trees and built cities to generate money. Luckily Greta wasn’t daunted by their size. 

 For years everyone has known that the climate is in terrible peril but too many people have found it easy to wave this fact away rather than sacrifice their own comfort. It took one voice to remain strong. One person to point out – regardless of the response she met – that saving our world was more important than capitalism. 

And suddenly other people felt bold enough to join in. 

That person was, of course, Greta Thunberg, and she has become an icon not only for her generation but of our times. She and other young eco-warriors have moved the conversation about the climate crisis to a new level. 

It is what the politicians and major broadcasters and other giants of our world failed to do. 

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What Greta Thunberg proved was that if every small voice speaks a bit louder the world starts to listen. Her school strike hit adults where it hurt because they had to admit that, while the loss of education was a serious issue, the children had a valid and urgent message. Books like this one, aimed at young readers, remind us that no voice is too small to make a difference. Stand a little higher, shout a little louder and someone somewhere will listen. 

I am delighted to see books and media for children about environmental issues. I was fascinated by these issues at twelve or thirteen but there was nothing aimed at children or teenagers. It was too easy for my peers to dismiss something they only heard about in a couple of science or PSHE lessons. If children grow up with books that reflect what is happening, they will respond in a more positive and informed way than any previous generation. 

 The illustrations in this book are like a modern take on a traditional fairy tale anthology. With cooking pots and leafy forests and little people taking on the giants, this could be a tale as old as time. Except that it is happening here and now and there are some cities and bright modern raincoats to prove it. 

This story could be told over and over again until readers are familiar with its morals and that is what makes it stand out amongst the sudden rush of books about the environment. It is relatable and memorable and, although it is quick to tell, it raises some big issues which will take a lifetime to learn about. 

 

Thanks to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (in association with Greenpeace) for my copy of Greta And The Giants. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

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‘…there is nothing – absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ 

So begins the meeting between Mole and the Water Rat and one of the most famous scenes in children’s literature. Kenneth Grahame captured something idyllic and many people assume the book is a bit of light-hearted escapism. However, there is a threat to Ratty and Mole’s world. The weasels from the wild woods are encroaching on the Riverbank and unless Ratty and Mole can get the eccentric landowner to behave the days of messing about in boats may be lost for good. 

And so the other best-known part of the story is introduced – Mr Toad. 

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Mr Toad’s escapades and misadventures with caravans and race cars are so well known that even people who have never touched a copy of the original text can describe them. They have been played out on stage and on television and on the big screen and in school halls up and down the country. Everyone believes they know the story even if they have never read the book – and yet Kenneth Grahame’s prose is so beautiful, so effortlessly descriptive and gentle in its rhythm –  that it is a book everybody deserves to read. 

Many talented illustrators have produced an edition of the story, most notably Arthur Rackham, but I jumped up and down in excitement when I heard about this edition. Grahame Baker-Smith is a Kate Greenaway Medal-winning illustrator and his work captures the magic and mystery in the everyday. This comes into its own in illustrations of the Wild Woods and the River itself. 

There are illustrations in different styles – full-page colour illustrations which look almost like film concept art in their energy and sense of movement and smaller, sepia and similarly muted colour pictures at the head of or to the side of the text. The design is glorious too, with the ripples and willow branches of the end pages repeating at the chapter headings. 

Both the high quality of the illustration and the way this has been presented make it an edition to treasure. A beautiful copy of a classic which would make a beautiful present this holiday season. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Grahame Baker-Smith, published by Templar Books, is available now. 

Thanks to Templar Books and Antonia Wilkinson PR for my copy of the book. 

Non-Fiction

Review: Remarkable Trees by Christina Harrison and Tony Kirkham.

Review: Remarkable Trees by Christina Harrison and Tony Kirkham.

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Trees are remarkable. As the introduction to this beautiful book notes, they are central to our existence, providing, food, shelter, resins, and materials which we use to support our everyday life. Trees are also incredible examples of evolution. You only have to compare the trees of one climate to another to see that they have adapted to survive in their habitat. 

Over 8000 species are currently under threat and yet too often we are unaware of trees, treating them as scenery instead of as living, breathing plants. 

This wonderful book, written by two experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, details the lives and plights of over sixty trees. 

What is interesting about this book is the sections it is divided into are all about the human relationship with trees. Building And Creating, Feasting And Celebrating, Healers And Killers, Body And Soul, Wonders Of The World, Threatened and Endangered – nearly all of these headings are about our existing knowledge of trees. That the Caco tree creates chocolate, or that Mahogany was once popular for furniture is relatively common knowledge. However, once you reach the pages on the individual trees, you learn not only about the human relationship to the tree but about the plant itself. This is something like moving a lens away from the close-by towards the distance and the unknown. 

Even the trees we walk past every day have hidden lives of their own. 

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Each fact file is three or four pages long and accompanied by full-colour pictures. Headed with the common and Latin name, there is also a single fact away from the main text which stands out to a reader flicking through the book. This not only makes it a great coffee table book, but it is also a wonderful way to hook a reader. I found myself drawn in by these snippets and had to read more.  

It is fascinating how much of human history we can learn through the lens of trees. Remarkable Trees touched on trade and diet, literature and religion, all by studying human interaction with trees.

The illustrations are detailed, both the full page botanical drawings and pictures which show the tree in situ, as it were, which help us to build an idea of how trees differ across the world’s habitats. The muted colours and exquisite detail make this the sort of book which you can’t help but pick up. 

A stunning non-fiction title or coffee table book. This would make a beautiful gift for anyone with a growing interest in the natural world and reading it reminds us that we live in a truly remarkable world. 

 

Thanks to Thames & Hudson in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for my copy of Remarkable Trees. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Is A Dog by Ross Collins

Review: This Is A Dog by Ross Collins

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This is a cat. But wait a second – what is that dog doing in the pictures? And why is he scribbling all the words out with a black crayon?

First animal books are great sources of information for early readers … but Dog reckons they could be improved. What if he posed on every page? It could all be about him instead. And everyone loves a dog.

The other animals aren’t so certain, and eventually they rebel. The result is a chase, but don’t worry. Dog has more than one trick up his sleeve.

A hilarious take on a first animal book from the award-winning picture book creature behind There’s A Bear On My Chair. 

First dog jumps into the picture. Then he rolls around like a giddy, playful puppy. Then he dresses up as an elephant. Excitement builds up as the reader is left wondering what he will do next. 

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Picture books have a very tight word limit and one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that they have to cram as much information as possible on to the page. Then there are genius books like this, which seem to get straight into the mindset of their very young readers. Ross Collins has mastered the art of creating as much fun as possible with very few words. This is a book that makes great use of the unexpected.

First word books are fabulous. Early readers need to soak up a huge amount of vocabulary before they can decode stories for themselves. However, like an adult presented with a list or a factual document, sometimes there is great joy in seeing all the rules broken. Dog is a maverick and it is clear from his joyous facial expressions that he knows he is being cheeky. Like all the best picture books there is a slightly subversive message: breaking the rules is fun …. but only for as long as you get away with it. 

This book is delightful in its energy and humour. It uses very few words, as I said, but I can guarantee you will read them over and over. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of This Is A Dog. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

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Remember the chills you had when you read The Lost Words for the first time? Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World has the same effect. Using only one word per illustration, it presents the reader with all the wonderous places in our world. 

A Tiger travels through beautifully coloured landscapes, taking in jewel-bright seas and massive skies. She sits and stares and takes in the world around her. It is enough to give any reader the urge to travel. Throughout the book she carries a chair on her back. This presents the reader with a question – why? Where is she going and what is the chair for? This question will keep younger readers hooked as they take in the words and pictures. 

Unless people get outdoors and develop a connection to the natural world, certain worlds will be lost. Gorge. Foothills. Isthmus. Perhaps the best way to tempt people outdoors is to introduce them to these magical features. Readers will soon have favourites, whether it is the space-like badlands or the bubbling lagoon. 

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There is something enigmatic about the illustrations. By simply presenting nature in all its glorious colours, Eggers and Chang have conjured up the mystery and wonder of our world. 

One of those books which presents a simple concept in the most beautiful manner. Striking in its simplicity and memorable for the glory of its subject, Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World deserves a place on every bookshelf. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World. Opinions my own.