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.

 

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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.

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 Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur by Richard Byrne

Review: The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur by Richard Byrne

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Finlay wants to keep some jellybeans to share with his friend but a big dinosaur has other ideas. Fortunately, Finlay knows a really, really, really big dinosaur. He just needs to keep talking long enough for him to come along. 

A story about sharing, size and not getting too big for our boots. 

Bold shapes and jelly-bean colours make fun illustrations which are impossible not to smile at. 

Finlay the little dinosaur has something about The Gruffalo’s Mouse about him. He’s little but he’s brave. The archetypal small character faced with a bigger threat. Every time the big dinosaur comes at him, Finlay comes back smarter. Quicker. Braver. 

I liked the ending of this book because it turns the story on its head. The big dinosaur might be a bully but the really, really, really big dinosaur is a nice guy. He helps his friend out once then helps to divide the jelly-beans into three piles. He sets a good example to the dinosaur with a big personality. Showing off and getting above ourselves is unattractive regardless of size. 

This came as a refreshing change from the ending where the big guy runs away, a narrative which fails get to any meaningful truth. At nine or ten I got small for my age. Sat down in the class photograph and wore clothes for children two or three years younger. Then I turned eleven and grew. And grew. And grew. In that time I noticed a change. Things which got my short friends into trouble got me into bigger trouble. Adults expected more responsibility of me because I was of adult height. A friend’s parent once spent a whole game making me stand in different places so I didn’t put the others at a disadvantage. (Disadvantage, woman from dim and distant past? I couldn’t have aimed the ball straight if I tried). The strangest thing was I was young for my age and not very self-confident. These judgments were made on the grounds of height. Meanwhile, some of the short kids had massive personalities. 

This story is a reminder to the adults reading the book, as well as to the younger readers, that we have two sizes. A literal size and a metaphorical one. It would be lovely to draw charts showing where we think we fall in terms of height, then where we feel we fall in terms of personality. Have we ever had moments where we get above ourselves? Does this happen for a reason? (Some of those small kids from my childhood? Their big personalities were a defence against being treated like babies). 

A fun story which shows the difference between our height and our personality … and reminds us that sharing is more fun than showing-off. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

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A stranger arrives one day with nothing but a suitcase. When the animals ask what is inside, the stranger gives an impossible list. He says there is a broken teacup, a table and chair, and a hut on the mountainside. Tired from his journey, he falls asleep. The animals are so keen to find out the truth that they break open the suitcase. When they see what is inside, they question their behaviour and ask what they should do to make the exhausted stranger welcome. 

The Suitcase is, without question, my new favourite picture book about empathy and compassion. 

With the world in crisis and the number of displaced people rising, there have been a number of stories which explain the situation to very young children. There are some fantastic ones. The trouble is, below a certain age, how much can children understand about war? How much information is too much? 

The Suitcase pitches the story perfectly for children who are not yet ready to talk about war. It talks about a suitcase, a journey, and the reception at the other end. Should we greet exhausted people with hostility and suspicion, or should we greet them with a cup of tea and friendship? Even readers who don’t understand where ‘the stranger’  came from or why he is tired can understand the question posed by the text. 

It is also a fabulous story for older readers. Clues in the text hint tell some of the backstory and the reader can use their own knowledge to question where the stranger came from. 

The way the animals behave, combing over the items in the suitcase, could be metaphorical of the way people’s life stories are questioned and examined upon their arrival in a new country. It opens some gentle conversation about whether this is fair. How much information should people be forced to share and what might they want to keep private? Why might the few belongings they have left be precious? The story helps the reader to empathise by introducing different questions about how somebody might feel in this situation. 

The other interesting point is how the lizard [I think the new arrival is a lizard] is called ‘the stranger’ by the narrator. Stranger is a word we use to mean person we don’t know but at the same time it automatically implies suspicion and hesitation on our part. Is the new arrival a stranger? How else could he be seen? By questioning their own behaviour, the animals in the story discover a whole new way to think about the new arrival. 

With different coloured fonts for every animal in the story, this would be a lovely book to act out. The illustrations are wonderful too, with the animals’ facial expressions changing over the course of the story as they question their own reactions and become better friends to the new arrival. 

A wonderful story which encourages empathy and compassion to displaced people. This apparently simple tale about a suitcase, a journey and a group of friends deserves to become a classic.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted copy of The Suitcase. Opinions my own.

Picture Books · Uncategorized

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein

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Leyla has a big family. A huge one. They’re always around, making noise and fussing over each other and generally getting in the way. One day Leyla’s has enough. She heads outside and goes off on a big adventure. She meets a lizard who teaches her to find a quiet space inside herself, and to enjoy the outdoors. 

A cute and relatable picturebook about large families and small living spaces. 

Leyla has a huge family, but it doesn’t take a big family to get on top of each other. With young families struggling for space, especially in cities, many children today will be familiar with the difficulties of not having enough personal space. 

Leyla discovers three things during the same adventure. She finds the quiet of outdoor space which is open to everyone. She learns to meditate or to enjoy her own inner peace. Finally, when she returns home with a minor injury, she learns that it is always better to have family and be loved, even if it means struggling for space. 

The baboons in the story have such extraordinary facial expressions and poses that I feel certain Galia Bernstein has spent lots of time observing them in life and learning their mannerisms. The early pages show Leyla squashed in with her family, with no other background, but when she gains a new perspective we see the baboons life close to a large outdoor space. I love the contrast between Leyla squashed in among her family and the next pages where she explores the outdoors. 

A story which appears to be written from the heart, with a lovable cast of characters. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Kids for my gifted copy of Leyla. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

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A school of little fish swim through the coral sea. It is a magical world of jellyfish and whales, lionfish and seahorses and great white sharks. Follow them on their journey through one of the world’s great treasures. 

Britta Teekentrup is one of my favourite illustrators, and sea is no exception. Her jewel-bright colours build to a great visual experience. Cut through pages, with different fish recurring through the story, create continuity in the narrative and add fun to the reading experience. 

The prose is written in rhyme. Although it follows a group of fish, it is more non-fiction than story, introducing different species which live in the Coral Sea. The concept of predators and prey is also explored, but don’t worry – no fish are captured. It is important for readers to understand that every animal needs to eat and to begin to think about how this happens. 

The rhyme ends on an environmental note, with a plea to the readers to keep the sea clear and clean. There is no mention of plastic and the damage it causes, but if young readers love the sea and its inhabitants, they will want to explore how they can help. 

This book is the next best thing to a scuba-diving trip down to the reef. It brings the magic of the underwater world into readers hands and gently explains that they have a responsibility towards the ocean’s inhabitants. A lovely introduction to the coral reef and another hit from Britta Teekentrup.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of Sea. Opinions my own.