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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Days Out

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

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Material from David Almond’s notebooks

About Seven Stories

Imagine a place which celebrates children’s literature, illustration and all forms of creativity.

Seven Stories in Newcastle is home to the biggest archive of material related to children’s literature in the UK. It also has a visitor centre which host exhibitions, author visits and creative activity of all kinds.

Exhibitions 

My reason for visiting was to see the exhibition about David Almond’s work, Where Your Wings Were. I’ve loved Almond’s work since childhood, and every time I return to one of his stories I gain something new about creativity and humankind. His talks on art and the creative process have also influenced my writing and encouraged me to think deeper about the role writing plays in my life.

The exhibition explored different elements of Almond’s work, including the magic which exists alongside the everyday and the different settings around Newcastle.

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Artwork by David McKee

I was delighted to find that an exhibition of David McKee’s artwork was on display at the same time. Elmer is another childhood favourite. My mum, sister and I read the stories together at bedtime. Seeing so many of the original illustrations on display made me think about McKee’s use of colour and space. The exhibition explored this, and also looked at McKee’s recurring themes of tolerance and letting everyone be free to be themselves.

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A further gallery was dedicated to Aliens Love Underpants. This was very much a play space and we were impressed by the different elements of the book which had been picked out and recreated for visitors to explore and reenact. 

Thoughts after visiting 

Seven Stories is also a place where everybody is welcome. Sensory trails run alongside ordinary exhibitions. Adult dressing-up clothes hang alongside those for children. Quiet spaces are clearly signposted. Most especially, this is a space where families of all shapes and sizes are welcome. Seven Stories is the one place I have visited where it feels like nobody needs to explain themselves. Everyone can join in and everyone is welcome.

The centre understands how writing, drawing, dressing-up and play are connected. How one form of creativity leads to another. It is special to be in a place which encourages all kinds of art and expression.

I came away feeling as if my batteries had been recharged. Not only was I excited to return to my writing projects, but I also wanted to play with different types of art.

Look forward to a return visit at the first opportunity.

 

Louise Nettleton

 

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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

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Samson the sloth is slow. He is invited to a lot of parties, but the trouble is by the time he gets there he is hours too late. He misses out on everything. Sorry to always miss his friends, he becomes unhappy, but Samson’s friends have a plan. The next time there is a party, they put the wrong time on his invite to give him an extra two hours to get there. 

A lovely story about friendship and the benefits of adjusting to meet everyone’s needs. 

Too often, when we plan, we plan for the majority. The able. What about the people who just can’t meet certain criteria? Be it a tricky time, an inaccessible place or a set of instructions which someone finds difficult to follow, there are so many reasons why one or two people in a group might be left behind. 

When we ask them to fulfill the same criteria as the majority, they end up exhausted. Poor Samson tries and tries to get to those parties, and sometimes he even makes the end, but he’s tired out from the dash, miserable to have failed yet again and out of the loop with what’s happening. What should we do? Accuse him of not trying? But Samson does try. Tirelessly. 

Samson’s friends know better. They tweak his invitation so that he gives himself extra time to get there. 

The ending shows how happy the group is to be together. All together. No exclusion.  

A cute story about a slow sloth and a string of parties also shows us that it can take a bit of extra thinking to meet the needs of a whole group. 

Use of colour shows how miserable Samson feels on his own, and how happy everyone is to enjoy the party at the end.

 A lovely story with a big heart. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of Slow Samson. 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.