Picture Book Reviews

The Adventures of Moose & Mr Brown

Paul Smith, illus. Sam Usher, pub. Pavilion Books

In a chance meeting, Mr Brown, an international fashion designer, and Moose, a visitor from Alaska with an eye for fashion, become fast friends. But Moose has been separated from his twin brother, Monty. The two decide to travel the world to look for Monty and are inspired to help the animals they meet in each country with inventive new apparel – parkas for penguins and scarves for giraffes to name just two. Eventually they end up back in the fashion capital of the world, and what a surprise they have waiting for them at Mr Brown’s fashion show in Paris.  

 

From the moment I glanced at the bright orange cover, debossed title text and shiny foil stamped details, I knew this book was something special. Then I noticed that the author was none other than Sir Paul Smith. Yes, that Paul Smith. With illustrations by the renowned Sam Usher, this gorgeously designed picture book is truly a feast for the eyes. Readers will recognize Paul Smith’s iconic, colourful designs lurking in the details on each page. From a striped phone to flower-patterned dungarees and a bright, happy colour palette, there is no doubt that this is a Paul Smith creation expertly crafted by a talented illustrator.

 

Readers follow the design duo of Mr Brown and Moose around the world as they meet and are inspired by a wonderful array of animals. While their ever-changing environment inspires the designers, it’s the designers who in turn provide thoughtful (and colourful) solutions to their animal friends. A skunk is chuffed with his perfumed pants. Go-faster slippers are just the thing for too-slow sloths. And panda has never seen so clearly since Mr Brown designed a stylish pair of red specs.

 

This fun story full of imagination and inspiration is packed full of images for both little and big eyes to devour. The pages illustrating the office of Mr Brown are especially enticing with bright bits and bobs covering the spread. It offers a little peek into the real world of design that is sure to mesmerise readers.

 

The Adventures of Moose & Mr Brown is an entertaining romp around the world – both the animal world and the world of fashion. A mashup of colours, kindness and comradery all wrapped up in the unmistakable style of Paul Smith.

 

Stephanie Ward

Be More Bernard

Simon Philip, illus. Kate Hindley, pub. Simon & Schuster

Bernard isn’t like all the other rabbits in his warren: his dreams don’t involve carrots, he doesn’t enjoy eating lots of lettuce, and he draws the line at bunny poo baps. (Some explanation on the eating habits of rabbits may be necessary to explain this last item!) He enjoys being different from all the other dungaree-clad builder rabbits; he hops when they bounce, and bounces when they hop.  Then he starts sneaking out at night with his huge radio, practising roller dancing. He reveals his new talent at the Bunny Ball, jiving, grooving and glittering, and most of the other rabbits are shocked, as they think they should all be the same, but Betsy likes it, because it is different. Betsy joins in, and gradually more rabbits dance differently in their own ways. Finally, Bernard asks if they all really dream of carrots, and of course they don’t- they dream of all sorts of things. So, even though in some ways they are all the same, they can all agree that “being yourself is the best thing a bunny can be”.

 

Both author and illustrator are experienced in the world of picture books, and previously collaborated on “You must bring a hat”. Kate Hindley’s quirky illustrations are very expressive, and the story is fun, so this is likely to be popular for sharing, and for young readers.

 

Diana Barnes

The Child of Dreams

Irena Brignull, illus. Richard Jones, pub. Walker Books

The protagonist of this poignant tale, ‘a young girl with bluebell eyes and hair that shone like chestnuts’, lives alone with her mother in the countryside but she observes that all the animals have two parents. She asks her mother where she came from and her mother tries to explain how she was created from her dreams, but the girl doesn’t understand. She embarks on a long journey to trace where exactly she came from. She travels through the woods, up the river and over the hills, guided by the animals who brought her to her mother in the first place. Eventually a fox takes her to the orphanage where she was abandoned, and she speaks to a young boy who is still waiting to be found. Finally, she understands that is better to have been found than to know exactly where she came from, and she returns to her mother's arms. 

 

Richard Jones’ illustrations are achingly beautiful, and the layered, textured images and autumnal palette perfectly complement the lyrical narrative. The setting is an homage to nature and the outdoor lifestyle but the portrayal of the wonderful relationship between the mother and the daughter is the warm heart of this book. 

 

The Child of Dreams could be a helpful metaphor or a guide to start up a conversation with a child about adoption or about having a single parent. It could also be enjoyed purely as a story, though the issues raised are quite complex and might be upsetting for a younger child. Overall, an incredibly moving, gorgeously illustrated tale about the love between parent and child—highly recommended.

 

Rebecca Rouillard

A Dragon on the Roof: A Children's Book Inspired by Antoní Gaudí

Cécile Alix, illus. Fred Sochard, pub. Prestel Children’s Books

Paloma might just be the bravest girl that ever lived. As her nanny dozes, she decides to take on a dragon! Together with her little bat friend, Paloma chases the dragon through her house as he tries to gobble up everything in his wake. Unafraid of being devoured, when she finds him she gives him a stroke (doesn’t she know dragons are ticklish?). The dragon explodes with laughter and unleashes the sea, complete with waves, crabs and even a seahorse! Her home being turned into a giant aquarium doesn’t stop our brave heroine and when she finds the interloper on the roof, she gives him a piece of her mind. Finding out that all the dragon wants is somewhere to sleep, Paloma eventually settles him on the roof. Her house will never be the same…

 

Set in Casa Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s most celebrated buildings, each step of Cécile Alix’s quirky story introduces the reader to an element of the house’s architecture; a stairway that twists like an animal’s spine; elephant shaped columns; tiles like fish scales and a dragon on the roof! Fred Sochard beautifully illustrates the story with pictures that are bold, colourful and full of joy and wonder – just like the house that inspired them. 

 

This is a book unlike anything I’ve read before. Alix and Sochard bring Gaudi’s exuberant, work to life in a way that is just perfect for younger readers. At the end of the book there is information about Gaudi’s life as well as details about what inspired the author and illustrator. This is a fantastic introduction to Gaudi and a wonderful picture book - I highly recommend it!

 

Abby Mellor

Fair Shares

Pippa Goodhart, illus. Anna Doherty, pub. Tiny Owl

Bear and Hare are trying to reach a tree of pears. They both want to eat some of the juicy fruit. Neither can reach the pears. Hare comes up with a solution. They can stand on chairs. There are three chairs available. Hare gives one to Bear and takes two for himself. Bear objects that this is not fair. 

 

The message of the book, an important message for early readers between the ages of 4 and 7, is that fair and equal are not always the same thing. Bear and Hare finally reach the pears. When they have picked the pears they meet Beetle. They offer him a pear. Beetle does not like eating pears. But he does like eating chairs. It is, says the book, OK to be different. 

 

Anna Doherty’s illustrations are bright and expressive. The autumnal colour tones are glorious. 

 

Rebecca Butler

Free

Sam Usher, pub. Templar Books

One morning a boy wakes up to find a poorly bird on his windowsill. His grandad helps him to give the bird some water and it recovers fast, but then it doesn’t want to leave. The boy and his grandad go about their normal day, but the bird keeps returning. Eventually they decided to go on an expedition to a special tree at the top of a mountain to return the bird to his natural habitat. They make it to the tree, the bird is reunited with his friends, and all the birds sing to the boy and his grandad. The story slips into the realm of the imagination, the boy and his grandad sit at the top of the tree with all the birds, having a midnight feast of giant fruit, and then fly back down the mountain again, escorted by all the birds.

 

Sam Usher’s cheerful illustrations are full of enticing details, but the high point is a brilliantly chaotic image of the tree cloaked in a multitude of vividly coloured birds, all singing together.

 

Free is a sunny and touching story about the relationship between a boy and his grandad.  It has many of the elements of a traditional, Shirley Hughes-style picture book, with the additional of some bright sparks of colour and imagination. Free is a charming picture book, suitable for all ages. 

 

Rebecca Rouillard

The Girl and the Dinosaur

Hollie Hughes, illus. Sarah Massini, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In a town not far from here, a little girl named Marianne is digging for a dinosaur. Beside the sea, she patiently digs in the sand and, eventually, begins to uncover her new friend ‘stony bone by stony bone’. As she falls asleep that night, she sends a special wish into the starry sky; she hopes for her new dinosaur friend to come to life and come find her.

 

In a world that is thick with dreams, Marianne’s dinosaur wakes from his slumber and her wish comes true. Through sea and magical forests, past giants, unicorns and fairies, together the two friends journey to a moonlit island where ‘anything is possible and nothing’s as it seems’.

 

Hollie Hughes is a master story-teller. Her gentle rhyme captivated us from the first page as it transported us through the pages of this enchanting tale. It’s so gorgeously written, the words themselves feel like magic. Massini’s exquisite illustrations in muted tones add to the whimsical, dreamlike feel.  

 

This beautiful story is a celebration of childhood imagination. A special find to be shared and treasured; read it and you will be transported to a dream world where anything is possible.

 

Abby Mellor

The Golden Cage or The True Story of the Blood Princess

Anna Castagnoli, illus. Carll Cneut, trans. Laura Watkinson, pub. Book Island

This beautifully produced unusual picture book is a dark mysterious otherworldly fairy tale following in the footsteps of the Grimm Brothers. First published in Europe in 2014 with an Italian author and renowned award-winning Belgian illustrator it has taken a while to get to British readers but with an English translator, here it is.  Various reviewers have implied that the reason for the delay is the unsettling content at its heart; however, I think it sits neatly alongside the works of Carroll or Dahl. 

 

Valentina is the ten-year-old Emperor’s daughter and we are immediately told she is “a nightmare”; she is spoilt, unhappy, owns 390 pairs of shoes, 812 hats and 50 snakeskin belts but her most beloved belongings are the birds and the 101 very large birdcages that they inhabit. Valentina has a castle brimming with servants who she dispatches across the globe to find and retrieve rare and exotic birds for her to put into the cages. However, Valentina often invents these unusual birds and so when the servants return with the closest specimen they can find to her unrealistic demands she keeps the birds but beheads the servants. Like Carroll’s Queen of Hearts her bloodthirst knows no abounds and skulls are scattered around the castle and its grounds. She even sits on piles of them as she instructs her remaining terrified staff and just as “off with their heads” is heard all around Wonderland “CHOP” echoes around Valentina’s world.

 

One night Valentina dreams of a talking bird who “was such good company … saying such sweet things, and saying them only to her” that she orders the servants to find it for her to place inside her most special birdcage, the golden one that her father had given to her for her birthday.  Valentina is depicted as being a sullen, lonely, miserable child and her desperation for this imaginary bird amplifies this. She needs somebody to talk to and it is no coincidence that the bird of her dreams is remarkably similar to the soft toy she is seen holding. As the months and seasons go by she beheads an average of 100 servants a month but nobody can find a true talking bird, just birds that pale in comparison due to their ability to just repeat the same old things.

 

Her unhindered murderous frustration leads to “the palace [becoming] the colour of blood” hence the book’s subtitle and results in her selling her possessions including her birds and the castle becoming a ruin. That is until one day, an unknown servant boy approaches her saying he can resolve her seemingly impossible quest but only if she promises to not chop anybody’s head off again and be patient.  Valentina unhappily agrees and after waiting eleven months she is presented with an egg. She waits so long for the egg to hatch that her hair grows from a scruffy bob into very long wild tendrils that stretch across the floor like the branches and roots of the trees surrounding her.

 

Then quite abruptly, so much so that I was jolted out of Valentina’s world, there is a sudden gear change. The final two pages are just writing, the longest block of words within the book, and there are no images at all. Additionally, the narrator is talking directly to the reader, saying that the story is a true one but never has it had the same ending each time it is told and gives three different versions they have heard. Each one implies Valentina never got her talking bird but nothing else. On one hand I felt this ending was a shame as it sort of felt like the author wasn’t quite sure how to resolve the story but on the other hand I felt that it fits within the fairy tale style and builds on the sense of uncertainty garnered throughout. It also opens up class discussions on who the narrator is, how true is the story, and what did happen to Valentina.

 

There is so much to talk about regarding this large size picture book, that it is impossible to mention everything here. I have so many notes jotted down of things that occurred to me that this review could easily be double the length it is!

 

However, the illustrations must be mentioned for their exquisite vibrancy and rich detail, you can get lost in them quite easily, especially as there are numerous pages that are just Cneut’s work. This is one reason why I felt the sudden change in direction at the end so sharply.  The images of the birds reminded me of historical ornithological illustrations and those in the palace have an absurdity and creepiness about them that you can’t help but be absorbed by them. There is also a resemblance to John Tenniel with the uncanny nature of Cneut’s style.

 

This is not so much a cautionary fairy tale with a nice moral but I think one that purposely puts you on edge and unbalances you by transporting you into an enigmatic world with a petulant complicated lonely child at its centre.  As cautioned by those reviewers I mentioned earlier, the macabre nature of the story may need to be considered but this is a brilliant book for sophisticated readers who want a challenge or as a class read and a perfect contemporary story to study alongside more traditional ones in the fairy tale canon. 

 

Natalie McChrystal Plimmer

The Hairdo that Got Away

Joseph Coelho, illus. Fiona Lumbers, pub. Andersen Press

This is a wonderful story about a young boy and what happens when he doesn’t get his haircut. Every month he goes to the barber’s with his father, but then his father disappears from the family home and things start to fall apart. The situation becomes so bad that he is no longer recognizable and his behavior starts to suffer. After many months his father re-appears and as a sign of reconciliation the whole family goes off to get their hair cut. 

 

From one perspective this is a very simple story about hair, but of course there is a greater depth to this story; we are actually being shown the potential breakdown of a family and how tangled lives and emotions can become when they are not looked after. In the story we see that the irritation caused by the long hair is a reflection of the hurt and anger that the child feels over his missing father; even his mother cannot help because her hair is also growing and prevents her hearing her son’s concerns. 

 

This is a very thought provoking book that can be read both as a good read but also as a story to encourage empathy and questioning.

 

Margaret Pemberton

Herring Hotel

Didier Levy, illus. Serge Bloch, pub. Thames & Hudson

First published in France, Herring Hotel, written by French author Didier Levy and illustrated by Serge Bloch is set in a grand old hotel full of quirky characters. The Herring Hotel, once known as the Sherrington Hotel (until some of the letters fell off) is home to Gabriel and his Mum and Dad. There are holes in the roof where the rain pours in and bits of the old building fall off from time to time, but Gabriel loves it and Mum and Dad are very good at looking after their strange guests. 

 

Gabriel tells us how he takes tea and coffee to all of the guests in the breakfast room each morning before going to school – and in doing so introduces us to the guests themselves, most of whom have been living there for years. Each of the guests is a little stranger than the last, but the strangest of all is Mrs Kettle, who tells young Gabriel that she is really ‘Tina the 23rd, exiled Queen of Kettlippia’, and rewards his services with chocolate medals. She tells Gabriel how her country was invaded and she was forced into exile. He loves hearing her stories but his parents warn him that, even though they too like Mrs Kettle, he shouldn’t always believe what she tells him as she’s ‘a little bit crazy.’

 

When the Herring Hotel falls apart and Gabriel, his parents and all the guests are all left with nowhere to live they are sad thinking that they will all have to say goodbye to each other. At the last moment, a long line of cars appear carrying the people of Kettlippia – come to take their queen back home. The remains of the hotel are carried back and the hotel is rebuilt next to the Queen’s Palace where they all live happily ever after.

 

A very different, quirky picture book for older children to enjoy. In the classroom children could have lots of fun creating their own hotel and filling it with their own odd and unusual characters. 

 

Vicky Harvey

It's a No Money Day

Kate Milner, pub. Barrington Stoke

The book tells the story of a little girl who lives with her mum. Mum works really hard but they never have enough money. One day mum goes to the cupboard only to find it empty so is forced to visit the food bank, mum is ashamed of this. The little girl  enjoys the simple things in life a visit to the local library, a shopping trip to the charity shop, playing dressing up, pretending mum's dressing gown is the kitten she's always wanted. She even enjoys a trip to the local food bank. She is always happy. Maybe one day things will be brighter for them but now they make the best of what they have got.

 

This is a beautifully written and thought provoking story, a story that every adult and child should read. It's a No Money Day is a powerful, poignant story about life below the poverty line in Britain, and shows the sad rise in the use of food banks.

 

The illustrations are beautifully drawn and simply done  and even without any words l believe the reader would be able to understand the story. The book is a nice size and ideal for little hands.

 

This is one of my favourite books of the year, it is perfect for children of all ages, and I think it's important for all children to understand how other people live and that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to afford basics such as food. It's also important to see that you don't need money to  be happy, some of the best things in life can be free.

 

Helen Byles

The King and the Gifts of Gold

Georg Dreissig, illus. Maren Briswalter, pub. Floris Books

The King and the Gifts of Gold re-imagines the story of King Melchoir, one of the three wise men of the nativity story, following his journey onwards after his gift of gold to baby Jesus. 

 

Melchoir is known as the King of Gold, because he is so rich. But after seeing baby Jesus, his perspective is changed. For the first time, he notices a beggar, and gives him gold too. Omar, the king’s advisor, is worried that King Melchoir’s generosity will result in them both becoming penniless and powerless. Omar drugs the king with a sleeping draught and takes his fine clothes and his crown for himself – Omar convinces the people of the kingdom that he is the King of Gold. 

Melchoir wanders through towns and villages barefoot, sharing the story of baby Jesus. The women who hear the tale see the light of the wonderous star shining in his eyes. The men ask for the tale over and over, feeling that they too have shared the journey to Bethlehem. Melchoir, though penniless, feels as rich as a King of Gold, realising his story is more valuable than any treasure. Omar, meanwhile, has been killed in a sandstorm, and is never seen again. King Melchoir’s son reigns on the throne, and Melchoir spends the rest of his days sharing his gift with the people, a gift worth more than gold - the story of the greatest king of all.

The King and the Gifts of Gold is written by a Christian Community priest, Georg Dreissig, and the heart of the story is clearly Christian, yet its broader message offers Christmas wisdom to all readers: true wealth comes not from what we own, but from how we share our gifts.

Briswalter’s detailed illustrations give readers a glimpse of the traditional clothing, desert landscapes and bustling bazaars of the Holy Land.

 

Dawn Casey

Little Pearl

Martin Widmark, illus. Emilia Dziubak, pub. Floris Books

Little Pearl is the most beautiful picture book both in words and illustrations. It brought back memories of Alice in Wonderland - in the story, Grace (also known as Little Pearl) falls down an icy tunnel and into a world where she is as tiny as the insects, and the insects are most interested in her – no White Rabbit, but there is a beetle with a top hat.

 

It is a wonderfully, uplifting book as we follow Grace from a time of sadness (her brother has disappeared), to a time and place where she almost forgets her loss because this new magical world is so incredible; flying on the back of a dragonfly would shake off even the most hurtful of times in all probability! But Grace, or as the insects have named her – Little Pearl – discovers more than she ever thought possible in this hidden place: Her brother. 

 

This is a story told within a story. Grace, now older, tells this tale to the little boy she is babysitting, which gives the reader a sense of security so as to be able to enjoy the adventure – and still feel the highs and lows – whilst knowing that Little Pearl will be okay.  For those worried about this structure, I can honestly say don’t be – it works and is done with such subtly that it is the adventure and the journey in the tiny world of insects that is the heart and soul of the book. And there are still surprises - some good, and some a bit scary.

 

Martin Widmark is a well known Swedish Author who has also written The House of Lost and Found, partnering then too with illustrator Emilia Dziubak. They make an incredible team as each illustration vividly captures the magical weirdness of the journey Little Pearl is on. It has the feel of a classic from many years ago but – through both words and pictures – it shines with enough modernity for the tale to not feel old.  

 

A beautiful book that you will want to look at again and again; ideal for 5 – 7 year-olds, being read to or, for older children in this bracket, reading alone.

 

Anja Stobbart

The Little Island

Smriti Prasadam-Halls, illus. Robert Starling, pub. Andersen Press

This is a book that thinks Brexit is a bad idea. That’s an issue we have to get past right at the start; your feelings on Brexit will colour your feelings towards the book. We get why Brexit happened – the geese resented the rest of the farm, and there were more of them than there was of the ducks on the island in the pond. We get what happens after the bridge to the rest of the farm gets taken away – it’s all bad. When predatory foxes turn up and the other farm animals chase them away, the geese reconsider and the bridge is reinstated.

 

This isn’t a subtle book. In all other ways it’s very well written. Word choices are great, there’s a good rhythm underpinning the sentences, phrases sit nicely in your mouth. The story skips along dynamically but, and I write this as someone who believes nothing was ever made any better by putting up a barrier, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. It’s possible and preferable to make the same key points without so thinly cloaking recent and bitter events in animal skins. Would I suggest you avoid this book? No. In many ways it’s a classy piece of work, but by predicting post-Brexit failure there is that propagandist aspect to it that will make it divisive and ironically self-limiting.

 

I’ve not mentioned the art. It delighted me. It’s colourful, emotive, characterful, fluid. For this readership, it’s some of the most engaging story-telling that I’ve seen in quite a while. Typically, I’ll look at a book for the first time and my read will be dragged back by an awkward or ambiguous visual; not so this time.

 

So, how do I feel overall? It’s a lovely book to look at, and technically the story is well-told. Brexit is an issue that needs to be explained, but I feel it’s simplistic to say that it’s all the fault of the geese: in Britain the sentiment powering Brexit started being fed thirty years ago, there’s no sense of process here. This’ll be a good book to read with Years 2 and 3, if it’s read smartly.

 

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

Madame Badobedah

Sophie Dahl, illus. Lauren O’Hara, pub. Walker Books

Madame Badobedah is such an interesting story, it instantly captures the imagination. A child would find themselves willingly drawn into this fast moving adventure, identifying with Mabel, who lives with her Mum, (‘Good grief, all this..stuff,’) and Dad, (‘Whatever you say, Mabel,’) in a bed and breakfast at the seaside, a seaside that is so beautifully illustrated, it feels as if touching the ‘old-men trees’ will actually prickle your fingers.

 

Mabel considers herself a proper spy, one who knows every room in The Mermaid Hotel, and especially Room 32 where the newest guest, Madame Badobedah who has taken up residence with piles of luggage, two dogs, two cats, a tortoise, crunchy red hair and smells of old roses. Exactly the sort of fascinating person a child would always hope to meet. Mabel, however, is convinced Madame is an ancient supervillain on the run from the Police. 

 

Mabel and Madame Badobedah become friends and this older woman, tentative and a little fearful, joins with Mabel in her imaginative tales of pirates sailing the seven seas, later sharing with her stories from when she was a child, skating with her cousin, Olga. It becomes clear that Madame Badobedah is an immigrant who has lost her entire life in her flight for peace and safety. Such a sorrowful story for her, made happier with Mabel’s kindness and empathy and the sharing of the secret hidden in Room 32.

 

An absolutely lovely book with wonderful illustrations. Look at the illustration of the ship sailing away from a war with thunder clouds overhead. All the horror of war is in this picture.

 

The lovely illustrations of The Mermaid Hotel; of Madame Badobedah; of Mabel herself dressed as a spy. The physical book has a smooth, colourful and enticing cover that any child will want to pick up and hold.

 

A book to read, reread and keep forever.    

 

Gwen Grant

Mum’s Jumper

Jayne Perkin, pub. Book Island

Losing someone close to you is painful no matter how much of a brave face you may try to put on it or what their relationship to you is, bereavement is a difficult time.  This sympathetic, warm and loving picture book addresses the loss of a mother for one little girl. It does not dwell on the circumstances of the loss but with simple language and expressive illustration we learn that Mum was unwell, in hospital and sadly the illness took her away.  Sad as this is and sad as her daughter and husband are we see all around them the memories of happiness and moments of light. From the very first page there are flowers - mum’s favourite - all around. Then there are friends, there are family, there are teachers. We soon see how many people there are in our lives who love and care about us in very many different and important ways.  We learn also that despite all the love surrounding us the loss of someone close is very difficult to deal with, it can create in us feelings we do not understand and that we find it hard to explain - here is where Jayne Perkin’s illustrations come into their own.

 

See here the black cloud of grief and then there the bright red jumper that used to belong to mum.  Find the little girl and her father swimming without being able to find the shore and also pouring over happy memories bringing smiles to their faces.  The colour palette is strong and in keeping with the theme it is slightly muted too. The words are sparse, the language simple but the message could not be stronger.  There is light, there will be moments of utter upset and grief but there will also be moments of joy. Memory is the most important aspect of grieving, keep the memories alive and the person will be with you always.

 

This is a most sensitive and yet uplifting picture book for readers of all ages but in particular children who may have experienced or been witness to others around them experiencing grief.  

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

My Hair

Hannah Lee, illus. Allen Fatimaharan, pub. Faber & Faber

Rich in diversity, humour and warmth, Hannah Lee’s debut children’s picture book, My Hair, explores individuality, inclusiveness and acceptance through a little girl’s quest for the perfect hairstyle in readiness for her upcoming birthday.

 

With this pressing decision to make, the central character in this engaging story ponders the many and varied hairstyles worn by her friends and family members—'Michael has a mohawk’, ‘my brothers both have cornrows’, ‘Grandma’s hair is short and cropped’, ‘Mummy has the most dazzling dreadlocks’—and based on these observations, contemplates what her own choice of hairstyle will be. We meet a spirited bunch of characters along the way, all with glorious hairstyles that say much about the people who choose to wear them.

 

Complementing the rhyming text, are the vibrant illustrations by Allen Fatimaharan. Using a warm palette of colours, Allen Fatimaharan’s characters ooze charm, fun and energy, and give the book a bold confidence. The illustrations work to entertain as well as bolster the message and push the narrative along. Both Hannah Lee and Allen Fatimaharan are FAB (Faber Andlyn BAME) prize-winners, and the coming together of the two to collaborate on My Hair is indeed fortuitous.

 

Unfortunately, the rhyme and rhythm of the text is a little awkward and jarring at times, and noticeable when reading aloud, however this doesn’t take away from the sentiment at the heart of this story. 

 

Tastefully presented with glossy pages and a dedicated space for young readers to add a picture of their own hairstyle, this book would make a perfect gift for children aged 3 – 8. It would be a valuable addition to any library and a stimulus for classroom discussions about identity, choice and creativity.

 

Kathryn Adams

Read this Book if You Don’t Want A Story

Richard Phillips, illus. Eric Zelz, pub. Tilbury House

I bonkers well love this book. I want to hold its hand and go out with it for pizza and dancing and a screwball comedy film starring Nia Vardalos or Lisa Kudrow, or maybe both. You’ll understand I’m not typically this effusive.

 

What we have is an argument, an arch, funny, inventive and thoroughly meta argument, between a book and its pages. The book is resolutely refusing to have a story told within its covers; the pages work together to coax the book to relent. It does. The book overcomes its performance anxiety, gains confidence, breaks its writers block and ends in an uplifting moment – the sort it swore never to have – where it encourages its readers to launch their own epics off of its musings, ponderings and stated dislikes. To create the sorts of stories it promised never to.

 

There won’t be many children who at some point in their reading careers find this book funny, properly funny, I’m sure of that. It’s a fantastic change of pace, it’s a light-hearted reassurance, it’s a giggle. Smaller readers having it read to them will be tripped by a book that turns around and addresses them like a person; somewhat older readers used to narrators who know that they’re there will likewise have their expectations kicked when it’s the book and not the characters doing the talking. Me as an adult, I just loved the cheeky playfulness of it. I liked that the book visualised itself as a sulking Western hero; was subverted and poked fun at.

 

I think there’s a risk you won’t pick this up. The art isn’t sumptuous and schooled referencing Alma Tadema and Rousseau; the words don’t dance lyrically, but its apparent mainstreamness adds to its naughtiness, the sense that perhaps this tension exists in every book; that at any moment any book might speak. That’s why I’m here really: to make sure you won’t pass it over. Each year I’ll see two or three books that make me want to thrust them into the faces of all the parents, teachers and children I know. This year, this is one of those.

 

For all children from three to seven and the adults who read with them.

 

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

The Sand Elephant

Rinna Hermann, illus. Sanne Dufft, pub. Floris Books

Paul has no one to play with and feels very lonely. He draws himself a companion in the sand, an elephant, and cuddles up underneath its trunk. Feeling sleepy he dozes off with his elephant, but is woken when the creature he has created shakes off the sand and stands before him. The elephant curls his great grainy trunk around Paul and lifts him up onto his back, together they kick up a sandstorm that brings a world of other sand animals to life.

 

My first thoughts on this book were that it does tread familiar ground, but the story is quite charming enough to earn this one a place on the bedtime bookshelves. I tried reading it aloud and Rinna Hermann’s text is a satisfying read with plenty of description, but it never gets too flowery and alienating. This would be a lovely book for class storytimes and Sanne Dufft’s illustrations will easily capture the eye. The pages almost feel sandy and speckly and they seem to have an inner warmth that brings the book to life. A sweet picture book about friendship, loyalty and imagination that I suspect many children would want read to them again and again.

 

Dawn Finch

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Jackie Morris, illus. Ehsan Abdollahi, pub. Tiny Owl

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes is part of publisher Tiny Owl’s One Story, Many Voices series of books. Tiny Owl was set up in response to the lack of children’s books that reflected the culture of founder Delaram Ghanimifard. Delaram wanted her sons to experience stories from home and appreciate the beautiful and diverse artistic heritage of Iran. Since 2015, Tiny Owl has published 17 books that celebrate the rich literary heritage of Persian culture, and its collaboration with contemporary artists from Iran showcases the unique illustrative styles coming from the region. Tiny Owl now also publishes books from around the world.

 

Jackie Morris, herself an acclaimed illustrator, here re-tells the Grimm’s fairy-tale of Twelve Dancing Princesses, who, though their bedroom is locked each night, are found by the king each morning with worn out dancing shoes. 

 

In Grimm’s original, a soldier travelling through the forest is given a cloak of invisibility, which helps him discover that the princesses escape through a trapdoor, to dance with twelve princes. The king rewards the soldier by inviting him to choose one of the princesses to be his wife. In Morris’ re-imagining of the ending, the soldier allows the princesses to explain their own story to the king, and to choose their own future. He himself returns to the mysterious forest-woman who gifted him the cloak, to see if she will dance with him. I enjoyed the way that Morris’ re-telling balances rich sensuous detail with spare, clear language.

 

Ehsan Abdollahi’s unique illustrative style is luxurious with texture and pattern. Shapes within shapes, feathers on birds, leaves on trees, gowns on princesses, are filled with hatched lines. Translucent hand-made papers create gossamer gowns for the princesses. Fantastic tulips are shaped from cut peacock feathers. Roses are petalled with tulle. Through-out, gold foiling highlights plump fruit, candle-flames and crowns.

 

The book is sumptuously produced with a red cloth spine. A beautiful gift-book.

 

Dawn Casey

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© 2019 by Armadillo

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