Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen [Shortlisted for CILIP Kate Greenaway Award 2019]

Review: The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen [Shortlisted for CILIP Kate Greenaway Award 2019]


One day a mouse meets a wolf and the mouse is quickly gobbled up. 

At first the mouse thinks it is the end of the world, but inside the wolf’s tummy he meets a duck. Duck used to worry about being eaten, but once it actually happened that was the end of his woes. Life inside the wolf isn’t so bad. Soon the two are firm friends, feasting and dancing together in their new home. 

When the wolf is chased by a hunter, the mouse and the duck know they must do everything they can to save their lives. 

A fable about seeing things from a different perspective and a funny tale about why wolves howl every night. 

This begins like many timeless stories, with one animal swallowed by another, but the familiar story is turned on its head. Mouse and duck make wolf’s tummy their happy home. Everything about this story, from the language to the familiar cast of a hunter and a wolf, feels like a fairytale. It has the same qualities as those bedtime stories we all know and offers us a message to take away into our lives. 

With illustrations created in different shades of dark, we begin the story feeling as if we are walking into the unknown. Only when the two friends meet and a candle sheds some light on their setting do we see some brighter colours – a tablecloth here, some vegetables there. This clever use of colour creates an unforgettable mood. 

Mouse and duck’s rescue mission picture is a joy. Having taken up a small part of every double-page spread, we suddenly see them as if they are the largest characters in the story. Determination is written all over their faces as they go to take on the hunter with a hockey stick, and a pan for a helmet. 

The ending is made memorable by pictures which contrast the joy of mouse and duck, and the wolf’s agonised howls. 

This story has been shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. It is certainly a timeless book and Jon Klassen is no stranger to major awards. His work draws people of all ages and makes me think of John Birnigham (if he ran out of all the brighter colours). 

A tale to read together, and then to retell from memory. A true classic. 


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 Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse. Opinions my own.

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]


Piggy lives in a large house with Thomas. Thomas chooses the games. And what Piggy wears. And whether or not Piggy should go outdoors. This is the only world Piggy has ever known, until one day a wild pig appears in the garden and tells Piggy about the world beyond the fence. 

A gentle story about freedom and friendship, and what it looks like when friendship goes wrong. 

Toxic-friendship is a difficult subject to explain to young children, whose worlds are neatly divided into best friends, friends, nice people to play with and bullies. How do you explain that these aren’t character types? That someone who plays fun games and makes you feel special can also be controlling?

Story is a powerful thing and reading this would be a lovely way to introduce questions about why Piggy feels trapped in the big house where he appears to have everything. Is giving people nice things friendship? Why does Piggy feel free when he bounds away from Thomas and makes friends with the wild pig instead? By talking over the story, readers can learn to recognise controlling behaviour. 

Every word used in the story counts and the illustrations speak volumes. Thomas, with his greying pallor, is a less attractive friend than the wild pig. The house, although filled with luxuries, is a box-like space of straight lines. The doors are closed and we only see windows when Piggy is looking out at the wild spaces. Otherwise the rooms close him in. The hills, on the other hand, roll in every direction. They are painted in different brush strokes and different hues. 

Beyond The Fence is shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. To me, it appears to be the quiet contender, up against big names from big publishing houses. Yet this is a story which matures with every reading. What looked like simple pictures the first time I picked it up now seem rich with detail. It isn’t a big and riotous story. It is a solid story told in a way which makes the reader pick up on big themes. I can see it lasting for years and being used to open discussions about friendship.

A winner by every count and story which stays in the mind. 

A story about toxic friendship which gets bigger and better with every nuance the reader picks up. 


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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 Riot Communications and Child’s Play for my copy of Beyond The Fence. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].


Finn misses a grandfather, a man who loved the sea and told stories about the place where the ocean meets the sky. To honour grandfather’s memory, Finn builds a boat on the beach and falls asleep beneath the decks. The boat comes to life and takes Finn on a voyage. Through floating whales and magical ships the boat sails, until Finn is able to say goodbye to his grandfather. 

A touching story about grief and life’s big adventures. 

These are the sort of pictures it is possible to look at for hours. They are so magical, so impossible but yet so real, that feel more like they have been breathed into life than painted. Every cloud floats by and every air balloon seems filled with real oxygen. If you love illustrations by David Wiesner or Shaun Tan you will understand what I mean about being absorbed in the scene. 

Many writers are told from an early age never, ever to end a story with it was all a dream. While I think it is a cliche that early writers fall back on, I believe there is room for experienced creators to take us into dreamscapes and explore how the experiences in our dreams change our lives. The same goes for play or daydreams. Huge part of our lives are spent dreaming and it would be a pity if that was never reflected in stories or art. 

Looking at the illustrations – at cloud castles in the sky and birds roosting among stacks of books – reminds us that there are places where anything is possible. 

As a Kate Greenaway contender, I think the book’s power is in it’s strength to inspire readers to venture into their own magical places. I can see the pictures inspiring play, art and whole new stories. 

The ultimate message is that we can find our loved ones in our minds. If we can conjure up cloud castles and flying whales we will always be able to revisit our memories and explore our love for that person. 

A work of art which takes readers into the powerful landscape of creativity. Magical. 


Thanks to Riot Communications and Quarto Books for my gifted copy of Ocean Meets Sky. Opinions my own. 

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Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

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Looking for a great way to celebrate children’s literature? Get yourself behind the Carnegie awards.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are judged by children’s librarians. What makes them unique is that this never changes. The only people who have ever judged them are qualified librarians. Those magical people who work with books on a daily basis and put them into children’s hands. They have the double-expertise of qualifications and regular contact with young readers.

The medal is also uniquely brilliant at identifying books which we will still be reading in 50 years time.

Look at the list of past winners. The Little White Horse, The Borrowers, Tom’s  Midnight Garden. Many of the earliest winners are still beloved reads. Still in circulation and read by the current generation of children. The medal has spotted debut authors who have gone on to be some of the biggest names in children’s storytelling (David Almond’s Skellig, for example, was awarded the medal). 

Every year people in my Twittersphere debate whether children should have a say in the judging process. This conversation can get heated because there are people who are rightly passionate about children having a say in their own literature. 

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It is also important to recognise children’s writing as a craft. An art. Too often children’s literature loses press space and attention and literary critics have made comments which dismiss children’s fiction as something inferior to the adult literary canon. To stand against this and say we recognise the artists at work in children’s literature today, we need awards run by professionals. That’s not to dismiss children’s voices. In fact, the awards feature a very popular shadowing scheme, where school and library groups work their way through the shortlist, and for the first time this year has introduced the Shadowers’ Choice Award to celebrate the shortlisted book most popular with young people.

I support the Carnegie then because it champions children’s literature as an art, it has a great track record of picking future classics and it gives dedicated authors and illustrators the recognition they deserve.

With this year’s list on my bookshelf, I am already exploring a great range of literature and illustration and making notes about the merits and qualities of every book.

I look forward to reviewing the shortlisted titles and sharing my thoughts over the coming weeks. Join in the discussion: let me know your predictions on this year’s medal, your favourite past winner or who you would like to see nominated in the future.

The most wonderful thing about the Carnegie of all is it gets us talking about books.


(Images from CILIP Carenegie and Kate Greenaway website.)