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.

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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.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

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Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Rumple Buttercup by Matthew Gray Gubler

Review: Rumple Buttercup by Matthew Gray Gubler

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Rumple Buttercup is afraid to take part in the world because he doesn’t look like other people. Ashamed of his crooked teeth and weird feet and green skin, he hides away underground. Not wanting to be lonely, he makes a friend out of sweets and watches the world on special occasions. 

When a couple of boys come to find him on the day of a parade, Rumple learns that most people are insecure about some parts of themselves. 

A gentle and funny story about insecurity and self-confidence. 

I was moved by this story. It is the book I needed as a young teenager, even as a pre-teen when I stood out a little for my wild hair and braces and persistent acne. A few comments made me certain that the whole world was looking. Insecurity begins from the silliest of places but it can destroy people’s ability to function as normal. 

The saddest part is that those things we dislike about ourselves are rarely that noticeable. 

Rumple’s story is like the little message which lots of people need. I love that the book has been produced in small format because it would make a lovely gift for people to carry around when they need that reminder that they don’t stand out in a crowd. If you know somebody with self-confidence issues, or someone who has been affected too much by one comment, pass them a copy of this book. Suggesting that people need to pick themselves up, when they are feeling insecure about themselves already, only comes across as additional criticism, so give them a fictional friend and let them work the rest out for themselves. 

Sketchy, cartoonlike illustrations give the book the same feel as a series of motivational doodles. Humour in the pictures gently suggests that Rumple, with his underground hideaway and tin can chandelier, might have taken things too far. 

This is a beautiful story about self-confidence that people of all ages will relate to and embrace.

 

Thanks to Penguin Books UK for my copy of Rumple Buttercup. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

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Mira doesn’t like her curly hair. She wants it to be beautiful and straight like her mama’s. One day, Mira and Mama go for a walk and the rain comes down. Little by little, the curls return to Mama’s hair and Mira sees how beautiful curls really are. 

A touching book about the relationship between appearance and identity. 

Mira’s issue is one which lots of children will relate to, from an early age right through to teens. Images of perceived beauty are everywhere and they can result in peer pressure to look one particular way. When I was a pre-teen is was all about very straight hair. Very straight and blonde was better. There was also lots of discussion about straight noses and facial symmetry.  What I didn’t understand at the time was that this idea which was rife in my school began with Hollywood. With the catwalks. With the narrow images of beauty available to young people at the time. 

This is particularly damaging when children aren’t seeing people from their own culture or people of many cultures and the many kinds of beautiful in the world. Thankfully, social media, for all its faults, is helping to fight this because suddenly there are photographs and hashtags which celebrate curly hair and fuller figures and people of every kind. It is also important that books reflect the diversity of the world from an early age. Mira’s Curly Hair shows how important it is not to look for the kind of beauty we see elsewhere, but to celebrate the things which are beautiful about ourselves.

Bright blocks of colour and beautiful patterns bring this to life and add to the feeling that this is all about celebration. 

A book which offers readers a new way to define and search for beauty. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Books for my gifted copy of Mira’s Curly Hair. Opinions my own.