Picture Book Reviews

Aife and Stray

Stevie Westgarth, illus. Emily Ford, pub. Troika Books

Gray and Grayer.  Doer, Sayer?  Party Slayers?  Aife and Stray are they, and even more, in Stevie Westgarth’s 60-page picture book vibrantly illustrated by Emily Ford.


The story of Aife and Stray starts when an envelope to Aife, the poor child of the class (and to his pet pig, Stray) arrives.  It’s an invitation from his “cool” classmate, Prunella Bonbon, to her “posh soiree.”  The nightmare for Aife now begins, because he has nothing trendy to wear to such an elegant event - cool children always have posh parties after all.  So, he panics!  But, his one-eyed pet pig, Stray, encourages – yes, Stray is a talking pig – him to go shopping in the “hottest” stores in town.  Bounding the streets and visiting seven boutiques, Aife (and Stray of course) choose something chic for the party.  But what?  And how does it rate at the soiree?  Is Aife a hero?  Is Aife a zero?  Are there jeers or cheers?


Aife and Stray (both really are painted grey) is a lengthy and large format picture book, delightfully rhymed, and punctuated by humorous situations; and, is accented by kooky and complementary illustrations.  The sing-songiness of the books’ words help move the story along.  The author juxtaposes 3 main topics: boy and pig, poor and rich, same and different.  Also, he incorporates the theme of being oneself, and loving those who differ.  A different book for all who feel different and even for those who don’t!

Patricia Ann Timbrook

Arabella and the Magic Pencil

Stephanie Ward, illus. Shaney Hyde, pub. EK Books (Exisle Publishing)

Gentle watercolours, a scene of happy sunflowers, royal birds, fairy tale houses and rose trees greet the reader of Arabella and the Magic Pencil as they explore the front cover - so much to see and so many questions already - who is the little girls with flowers in her hair, why do the swan and bird wear crowns and what is the magic pencil?  Shaney Hyde tantalises the reader.  Open the book and the end pages offer more clues and more questions, here we see what could indeed be that very magic pencil but where does its trail take us?


Time to begin the story and meet Arabella, only child of a doting duke and duchess.   From the outset the playful language with its alliterative sentences will appeal to readers/listeners (this is after all a picture books) as they hear the gently rolling sounds and the adults reading the book (particularly any teachers out there) may want to take note of this technique and demonstrate to children how and why it works well.  Now back to the story and to Arabella.


Every year a royal decree grants Arabella a wish.  Usually her wishes are for splendid things - who wouldn’t want a pink puppy their very own amusement park or even a faery?  When Arabella gets a baby brother her wish for a magic pencil is heartfelt - she wants all she draws to become real.  This is, at first, of course wonderful fun and whilst Stephanie Ward has clearly had fun inventing things for Arabella to draw Shaney Hyde has worked magic with his own pencil! 


As the story progresses we are soon introduced to the problems of wishing too hard.  Sibling rivalry may sometimes reach a head but some creativity can always put things right - can’t it?


A truly delightful book and princesses aside this is for both boys and girls an important message about learning to appreciate the gifts we are given for free, learning to understand one another and learning to tolerate as well as love.  An important message, a funny story, a beautiful book.

Louise Ellis-Barrett

The Bookworm

Debi Gliori, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What an adventure this lovely story takes you on!!  We had to read it a few times to really absorb it and understand the path it was taking us on.  It links perfectly with the imagination of young children and makes the world seem so magical! 


The Bookworm tells a story that most children can relate to - it is all about about asking ‘parents for a pet’ and the adventure it then takes him on with his imagination.  We loved reading this story together and talking about how the worm changes into a dragon and how they become best friends.  I enjoyed the little twist at the end about the goldfish having teeth (which doesn’t give anything away)!


The illustrations are fantastic, making the story come alive, especially with the vibrant colours and comical sketches.  This book is quite magical and holds a strong appeal … After the 4th or 5th time of reading the book in one seating my little boy and I found ourselves having to go through the book, looking at the pictures, discussing them in detail or I would  let my little boy try and re-tell the story using them.


The Bookworm also has educational aspects, from learning about what worms like to eat and where certain animals like to live to what they need to survive or be happy!


I would recommend this story, use it to let your (and your child’s)  imagination go wild!


Amy Wall

Billy and the Dragon

Nadia Shareen, pub. Penguin Random House Children’s Books

Billy and her sidekick Fatcat are at a fancy dress party in the woods when fatcat is kidnapped or is he? Mummy Dragon is causing mayhem which ties into the story brilliantly.  Will Billy figure out what has happened? There is a lot of familiar woodland characters in the story.  And of course the happy ending. 


A beautifully written story ,with lovely illustrations.  The pictures are great and colourful, bold, and what I liked was that each page had a different coloured background.  The book is a great size for little hands. Lovely length book to be either read to or to read by yourself.  Ideal for a confident 6 year old reader.  The words are quite large and there isn't really a lot of hard words in the book.  It is one of those books that has a textured pattern on the cover.  It's a great sequel to Billy and the Beast.

Helen Byles

The Boy In The Big Blue Glasses

Susanne Gervay, illus. Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, pub. EK (Exisle Publishing)

Sammy imagines that he’s a superhero, building a pirate ship and flying through the air to save his friends from sharks.  In his red cape and superhero costume, he certainly looks the part. But one day Sammy has to wear glasses, and if there’s one thing he knows for sure, it’s that he doesn’t want to wear glasses.  


Adults know that children don’t want to wear glasses – it marks them out as being different from their friends, so they try their best to make them feel better about it.  Sammy’s parents tell him that the glasses make him look handsome.  He says they make his ears hurt.  Grandma and Grandpa take the same approach, asking who the handsome young man/superhero is in the glasses.  Sam feels sure no one recognises him now that he wears glasses (just like when Superman wears his). 


In school, Sammy’s teacher brings him to the front of the class and asks everyone if they can see anything different about him.  Sammy doesn’t feel different, he feels invisible has a sore tummy.  Luckily, Sammy’s best friend still recognises him and announces that “Sam’s got glasses.”  After declaring that Sammy’s glasses make him look handsome, his teacher also explains that they mean that he can “see everything really well now”. Sammy feels so sad that he doesn’t want to go to school anymore.  He tries his best to lose his glasses but people always find them for him.  Things seem even worse when his best friend isn’t at school the next day. Sammy hides himself away from the other children.  When some of them pull faces and make fun of him, he takes off his glasses to clean them suddenly sees everyone differently.  Sammy starts pulling faces at everyone and soon the whole class is laughing – not at him but with him.  Putting his glasses back on, everyone comes back into focus and he can see them clearly again – and the best thing of all is that they can see him. 


This book addresses an important issue that children can face and highlights the importance of having children’s vision checked and monitored as it can impact greatly on educational and social development.  The book has been beautifully illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.  A great picture book to read and look at, and one that will prove useful at home and in schools. 


Vicky Harvey

The Boy Who Knew Nothing

James Thorp, illus. Angus Mackinnon, pub. Templar Books

The Boy Who Knew Nothing is a challenging, rewarding read for any child, presenting as it does, the complex nature of knowledge and how it is only through the simple act of asking questions that we come to understand anything at all.  A great encouragement for those who feel left behind in the knowledge stakes.  


The book starts with a baby in a pram, who, in common with all babies, knows nothing.  No alphabet, no numbers, no idea of space, place or time but, sadly, as he grows, he feels he is still like the small baby he started as, knowing nothing, and this feeling is reinforced by the children in his class unkindly calling him a fool.


One day, he goes to play dress-up and finds a very odd creature.  He asks his parents what it is.  His Dad says everyone knows this odd animal is a sleepy giraffe.  And here’s that scornful statement, ‘Everyone knows,’ which haunts all those who are struggling to find out things.  But, actually, as we go through the book, it seems everyone knows something different. So our sleepy giraffe becomes a whispery owl, then a clumsy gnu and, finally, a giraffe.


The Boy Who Knew Nothing has his own ideas of what the creature is but having had enough of all the confusion, goes off to see all these animals for himself and finds his odd creature is a flamingo.  He takes the flamingo to school and, together, teach the children that if they want to know something, they must just ask.


The illustrations, startling and super-imaginative, with strong, gentle colours and sweeping, graceful lines, not only bring to vivid life the adventures of the boy and his world, but also underline the movement of the story, making it easy to follow.  The smooth, silky, fascinating pages of this book hold much for a child to think about.  

Gwen Grant

The Bug Collector

Alex G. Griffiths, pub. Andersen Press

This has been a real favourite in our household! Hui ( my 2 year old son) asked for it every evening for about 3 weeks.  The story took us on a journey of emotions from the excitement of an adventure with Grandad to the sadness that all the bugs were in bottles to the happiness and relief that they were free and the garden felt alive again! 


We talked about how the bugs love being in their natural habitat!  It was wonderful to see how excited Hui was to get to the page when the bugs were all set free.  Additionally Hui loved looking at all the illustrations of the animals, we often spent time discussing them in detail, the illustrations really brought the story alive.  They are vibrant, plentiful and in some places comical!


We loved the learning behind the story and taking to Hui about how special the bees, ladybirds, dung beetles and other insects are. So much so that on a walk he spotted a ‘dung beetle ‘ and then told us all about them ... he is 2!


We would highly recommend this book, what a great way to start learning about the wonderful nature around us!  It inspired us to go on our own bug hunt.


Amy Wall

Clem and Crab

Fiona Lumbers, pub. Andersen Press

Clem, the little girl whose story this is, discovers a crab at the beach; and, sadly, she also discovers a lot of junk left behind by her species, humans.  What she does with the collected trash isn’t unique — making a collage — what happens in her classroom is.


Mention the words, sea, surf, and sand to someone, and often, what follows is a smile.  Why?  Because the experience of being by an ocean with its repetitive waves lapping onto the shores, where its daily gifts from beneath the water come forth, is memorable.  Many children experience this ocean thing at early ages, perhaps when they were first introduced to the water and sand, with a bucket and a spade. 


In this 32-page picture book, Clem and Crab, author and illustrator, Fiona Lumbers, shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of one particular beach story.  Through the use of pastel colours and simple text, she tells a story that displays true sensitivity to the environment – and points out to all readers that children, like parents, teachers, and others, can help improve the made-messy-by-people beaches, even if it is, one… beach…at a… time.


Patricia Ann Timbrook

Don’t Mess with a Princess

Rachel Valentine, illus. Rebecca Bagley, pub. Puffin Books

An awful ogre is terrorising the land and the king wants his precious princess granddaughters to stay safe. But the princesses have other ideas.  So, off they go on an adventure involving danger, dancing and a daring rescue. Can they stop the ogre in time?


In a fairy tale land, three diverse princesses and a conservative king disagree on how to stop an ogre who is wreaking havoc across the kingdom.  While the king sends his bumbling knights – with giggle-inducing names like Sir Clatter-Bottom – to do the job, the princesses sneak out of their room to help.  With original techniques, including dancing through the dangerous forest, the princesses find the ogre.  But instead of jumping to conclusions and banishing the unfortunate ogre, they find out what the problem is and help him solve it.  In an ending filled with kindness (and the hilariously common mistake solved), the king and his modern-day granddaughters agree to disagree on proper protocol for princesses. 


Aimed at children aged 3-6, this picture book seamlessly blends the old with the new.  While the setting may be traditional, the princesses are anything but.  Ballet-dancing girls can still go on adventures after all.  The colourful illustrations are full of detail and convey both darkness and danger as well as action and antics of a wonderful cast of characters.  


This contemporary book will likely ring true with children that enjoy adventure stories and fractured fairy tales.  It offers loads of opportunities for discussions about assumptions and challenging stereotypes.  Above all, it’s an engaging read that will keep young eyes glued to the pages as they watch the princess heroes save the day. 


Stephanie Ward

Don’t Worry, Little Crab

Chris Haughton, pub. Walker Books

A new picture book by Chris Haughton is a treat to be savoured, and this one does not disappoint.  Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny rockpool, and one day they set off to the sea.  Little Crab says ‘This is going to be so great’,  and they go tic-a-tic, tic-a-tic over the rocks, splosh splash across the pools, and squelch, squelch through the slippery seaweed. 


The reality of the sea is, however, a bit daunting, and Little Crab suggests they don’t go in, but Very Big Crab is reassuring.  The waves whoosh onto their rock, and Little Crab thinks that is enough of the sea, but Very Big Crab is still encouraging, and they go a bit further, and further, until finally they are in the sea.  Little Crab is entranced by the fish, and they all play together.  They play and have fun, and Little Crab decides ’I love the sea!’ – but then it’s time to go home, and, after an initial protest, they decide to take the long way.


Children who have been reluctant to try a new experience that they eventually love will recognize this scenario, and the relationship between the crabs, both of indeterminate gender, is delightful.  Chris Haughton’s bright blocks of colour, big eyes and text in wobbly white writing are familiar now, and his use of language is fun as ever.  This is another winner which will be fun to share and to read aloud.


Diana Barnes

Grandad’s Island

Benji Davies, pub. Simon & Schuster

When Syd goes through the gate at the bottom of his garden and lets himself into his grandad’s house, Grandad is strangely nowhere to be found.  Eventually Syd finds him in the attic where, together, they go through a mysterious door onto a tall ship which is sat in “an ocean of rooftops”.  Following a long voyage across the seas Syd and his grandad arrive at an island, where with the help of the local animals, they build a home and explore its “wonders.”  After a while, Grandad announces to Syd that he is staying on the island by himself so after one last hug Syd travels home alone.  When he next goes into Grandad’s house everything is still the same apart from Grandad not being there, he ventures into the attic once more, but the magical door is not there either; “its as if it had never been there at all”.  Syd does find, however, an envelope addressed to him containing a photograph of a smiling Grandad stood alongside his new island friends.


Benji Davies, the creator of The Storm Whale, has produced a gentle, charming, multi-layered story, which could be used as a way of talking about death with a young child, in fact Davies describes it has his death book*.  There is no religious context to the book, no medical or other direct reference to death or dying is made but it is easy to make the conclusion that Grandad is now in a better place, albeit one where he and Syd cannot be together again.  The appearance of the letter could be viewed as a spiritualist connection between the worlds or maybe it is just an extension of the imaginative game that Syd is playing.  Grandad isn’t really gone because Syd has his memories, letters, pictures etc.  Grandad is happy in his vibrant, busy, colourful new home, has many friends, does exciting things like sliding down waterfalls, and significantly has no need for his walking stick anymore.  He is better, is not in pain, does not struggle anymore, although his clothing does not change – his wearing pyjama trousers with a jumper, shirt, tie, and hat denote his vulnerability and possible confusion.  He also has many of his favourite personal items with him.


Personally, I get the impression that this world could have been one that was the focus of Granddad and Syd’s recent games together.  That Grandad has been planting this idea of a different, better world into Syd’s mind, to help ease his loss, using his household objects for inspiration.  The easel shown at the beginning of the book when Syd is searching for him portrays the ship that they sail upon.  The orangutan and tortoise that are significant characters in the new world are notable objects in the attic and are absent when Syd returns to the room at the end of the book.  The string of yellow and red bows are very similar to the birds inhabiting the island as are the plants which originally appear in the house and the gramophone is an important feature of his jungle life. 


This story, I think, is an introductory talking point about death, to initiate the ideas of loss, missing somebody, the confusion of where the loved one has gone.  Further questions and discussions around death can then be engaged through books such as Michael Rosen’s Sad Book and Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy, which both focus on death in more direct but still gentle ways.  


However, it is possible to read the book and not consider death at all: the journey from house to a mysterious jungle island is reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and the relationship between Syd and his Grandad reminded me of other books celebrating a grandfather/grandchild relationship, notably, Michael Morpurgo’s Grandpa Christmas, Penelope Harper’s Lollipop and Grandpa series, and Lane Smith’s gorgeous Grandpa Green.  All celebrate the imagination and play as well, just as Benji Davies does.


The cheerful and bright illustrations and the chunky boardbook style of format make this an appealing book and there is plenty to get from it whichever level you choose to read it on.


Natalie McChrystal Plimmer


*    An interesting article by Davies about how he developed his ideas for this book on the Pictus Picturebook Makers blog


Fiona Woodcock, pub. Harper Collins Children’s Books

This exquisitely illustrated book tells, in ice-cream sundae colours, the tale of a brother and sister who go on their holidays by the sea.  It does so entirely through words which contain the letter pair ‘ll’.  Beginning with ‘Hello’, we see children ‘collide’, ‘yell’ and ‘gallop’ at a funfair, play ‘ball’ on the beach, swim with ‘jellyfish’ and finally ‘collapse’ on their ‘pillows’ after an evening of campfires, ‘lullabies’ and ‘marshmallows’.


For me, and the small children who formed my mini research panel, the visuals of this book were an instant point of engagement.  Woodcock, according to the notes, uses ‘a mix of BLO pens, hand-cut stencils and printing techniques to create her images’.  There is a nursery like charm to her predominantly pink, blue and yellow palette, which varies in shade to represent different times and environments; and there are things to spot; colours to talk about; faces to analyse.  The illustrations stand alone to create a narrative that, like Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman renders words unnecessary.  As such, the use of ‘ll’ theme felt laboured and gimmicky.  The single word on each page could, perhaps, provide a springboard for wider discussion, and could, perhaps, allow a young reader to consolidate their understanding of the ‘ll’ letter pair in words, but they are very much second fiddle to images themselves.  For me, however, they create an enforced limitation which needlessly restricts the story.


I would recommend this book for very young pre-reading children who will enjoy the pictures and building the story through interaction, or for budding artists who might like to try creating similar images through Woodcock’s techniques.  If readers put the ‘ll’ premise to one side, they will derive far more enjoyment from the other aspects that this book has to offer.


Laura Myatt

Is 2 a Lot?

Annie Watson, illus. Rebecca Evans, pub. Tilbury House Publishers

Every parent knows that answering a child’s questions in a creative way whilst driving can be challenging, but in this spirited story, Joey’s resourceful mother has it in the bag! 


Is 2 a Lot? written by Annie Watson, is a clever and insightful approach to learning about value and numbers whilst entertaining young children with whimsy and humour.  During an ordinary car trip, the imaginative Joey asks his mother a succession of number-related questions and with each inventive response his mother gives, their car trip takes an unusual turn.  We begin to see an adventure unfold through Joey’s imagination which is so beautifully captured and illustrated by Rebecca Evans. 


Text and illustrations meld skilfully to create many layers to this picture book.  Both children and parents will delight in discovering all manner of details in the lively illustrations that carry the adventure forward.  This is not a typical counting book, however, the host of diverse characters and creatures that Joey and his mother meet along the way – from skunks to cowboys and dinosaurs – provide plenty of scope for counting and learning about numbers.  Throughout the text, numbers are written numerically as well as in words which provides a further learning strategy.


This is a handsome picture book with its vibrant colours and glossy pages and is brimming with vivid imagery that invites interaction with its readers.  The attentiveness shared by Joey and his mother creates a positive, feel-good experience making this book suitable for school libraries and gifts as well as being a perfect bedtime story for ages 4-6. 


Is 2 a Lot? will ignite discussion and inspire children to mimic Joey and formulate their own mathematical questions.  And in turn, will inspire parents to have clever answers at the ready.


Kathryn Adams

Just Read!

Lori Degman, illus. Victoria Tentler-Krylov, pub. Sterling Books

This is a frustrating read because it’s very close to being great, but has these moments where it missteps.  It is in its best moments so excellent that I end up wondering what happened in-between the creators’ first draft and the finished book.


I’ll start with the positives.  This is a book about the joy of reading that in its intention looks to encourage the very young that struggling to learn to read is worth it, and the slightly older that continuing to read is a fantastic experience.  I’m glad someone’s said it, and said it so elegantly.  I’ll guess if you’re reading this, that you’ll feel the same way.  And there are points where the book captures this perfectly.  Page 16, pages 20/21, pages 24/25 – you will not see better anywhere.


The book makes its argument in rhyming verse, each couplet supported with a single full-page image (or two couplets and a double-page spread).  I’d feel comfortable reading it with/to children all the way up to Year 3, though by Year 3 you’d need to think carefully about how you’re using the book.  The writing is great. So often with books like this it’s either boring and clunky, or it’s showing off and inaccessible. Degman’s writing is neither, it’s warm and urgent and feels like a real person talking.  There’s only one reason I have any misgivings about it, and unfortunately it’s on the first page.  She begins by saying “Hooray! I know how to read on my own!” – for me it’s off-tone, and a bit patronizing to the older readers.  I am really disappointed because the rest of the writing is so good.


The art is sensational with moments of awkwardness.  I’m terrible at media, but to me it looks like brush and ink.  It’s colourful, lively, flowing, impactful, beautifully-composed.  It has a real 1960s/1970s feel to it – those translations of Italian books of folk tales and history that you sometimes used to see.  It hits that same lovely, Utopian subtext of positivity. Tentler-Krylov does sometimes fall down in the detail of depicting people.  I infer that’s her background as an architect: her figures are full of movement and interaction with their environment, but sometimes a limb is a little odd, or a face too elfin.


I have a few issues to mention.


Just Read! really has a go at proving the adage about books and their covers: this one does its interiors no justice at all, the book is far better than the cover would lead you to suppose, and does nothing to embrace the book’s message.  Likewise the title, which sounds too irritated to be properly welcoming.  It’s a shame that in a book encouraging the young to read, that the publisher has done so little to include the promotional copy, author biographies and so forth in its agenda.


The book is conspicuously American.  For example, ‘armour’ is spelled ‘armor’, the astronaut has a USA on their chest, that’s not how a clown looks around here these days.  It doesn’t reflect diversity in the same way we do in Britain, either.  This isn’t to say that the book’s white and male, far from it, but it’s American diversity.  So where does that leave us?  I’m firmly on the side of ‘recommended’, it’s a joyous book.  Ignore the cover, understand it comes from a parallel sensibility, and Just Read!


Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

Little Red Riding Hood

Beatrix Potter, illus. Helen Oxenbury, pub. Frederick Warne

In Beatrix Potter’s original version of this story by Charles Perrault, her language is very much of its time, and of the countryside.  Red Riding Hood’s mother ‘was fair silly about her’ and instructs her to 'put on thy little red hood, and trot away to thy granny’s…’ and we are told that ‘her grandmother dwelt in another village’.  The woodcutters sing joyfully, and the wolf ‘was afraid of them.  He durst not go home to his bed in the thicket’.  Red Riding Hood’s innocence, as she tells the wolf exactly where she is going, encourages him to challenge her to ‘try which road is shortest’, and he cheats, of course, by running to ensure that he gets there first, while Red Riding Hood dawdles and picks flowers, collects nuts, and finds ‘by the brae, little scarlet wild strawberries, as red as her hood’, which she gathers, with great concentration, into a dock leaf and puts in her basket. 


In her foreword to this picture book, Helen Oxenbury describes how much she enjoyed portraying the wicked wolf, in much the same way as actors relish a villainous part, and so he starts off scheming and scrawny, not having eaten for three days, but very elegant in his plus-fours and two-tone shoes, with his walking stick.  She explains that, although the wolf has eaten Red Riding Hood and her grandmother in this version, she shows him on the last page with a belly so fat that he can’t fasten his trousers, and looking unlikely to outrun the woodcutters closely pursuing him…  Even though the words do not indicate a rescue, the illustration hints that all will be well.


Helen Oxenbury evidently delighted in illustrating the wolf hiding in the pea sticks in grandmother’s garden, and showing him dressing, with some difficulty, in grandmother’s clothes.  There is much to enjoy in the language of this version, though some explanations may be necessary: Grandma, and the wolf imitating her, tell callers to “Pull the bobbin and the latch will go up”, but it is possible to work out what happens.


Red Riding Hood’s questions are not quite the same as in most versions: she asks about grandma’s hairy arms, her hairy ears, the fact that her eyes have turned yellow, and only then doesn’t get very far in enquiring about the big white teeth before she is eaten.  She is a sweet Oxenbury child, with dark curls peeping out from her hood, and her innocent face is very much contrasted with the half-closed and cunning eyes of the wolf.  This is a very beautiful book, one to treasure along with the tiny books in the Potter collection. 


Diana Barnes

Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street

Felicita Sala, pub. Scribblekidsbooks

Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street is bound to be a favourite in every child’s house, giving, as it does, ten recipes for delicious food to cook and share.  It’s a beautifully illustrated book and the pleasure starts immediately you open the cover with its soft gentle coloured squares already promising delightful things inside.


The illustrations, mouth-watering, detailed and appealing, range far and wide, from Italy, Turkey, China, Greece, right through to those countries whose food we not only want to eat but also to cook.  This is the book that will help a child, or indeed an adult, to do just that. The recipes, varied and exciting, are so clear that if followed, success is bound to follow.


On one side of the double spread used for each recipe are the ingredients required for the given dish.  Each ingredient has its own picture and description, making it super clear what is needed.  Below this, is the method used to make the Strawberry Crumble or the Green Rice, or Baba Ganoush, or any one of the other excellent dishes we wish to eat and enjoy.


The illustrations are wonderful.  We are making the Peanut butter and Choc Chip cookies with Jeremiah, who, we are told, cannot seem to remember the words to his favourite song.  So friendly and inviting, any child will gladly accept the invitation to bake with Jeremiah. Or cooking Okayo Don with Miss Ishida, reaching, with her, for a bottle of Mirin to add to her Chicken and Egg Rice.


At the end, when everything has been cooked, the friends of 10 Pomegranate Street have a party, with all the delicious food set out on a big white table and, there is Mister Singh, looking over the wall, inviting everyone to come and join them for there is plenty of food for all.


The deep, soft colours, the wonderful faces and rooms, are so detailed and interesting, it’s almost as if each picture is just waiting to be walked into.  Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street is a book to be kept.     


Gwen Grant

Mr Nogginbody gets a Hammer

David Shannon, pub. Norton Young Readers

The characters in this picture book are rather like walking eggs, with hands and legs, and Mr Nogginbody has a bowler hat perched on top.  The story starts with him sliding in his socks, and stubbing his toe on a nail. 


At Dan’s Hardware Store (and Dan seems to have dungaree buttons as eyes), he is advised to buy a hammer, and he duly tries to bang the nail in, only to see it bounce out.  He says ‘ I better really whack this baby!’ and holds it in position with his fingers.  The outcome is predictable: ‘ That really smarts!’ With gentler taps this time, he manages to knock the nail in: ‘I fixed it!’ and sets off with his hammer in search of another nail.  That one goes wonky, and he realizes what the other end of the hammer is for, but in clawing it out, he wrecks the floor.  ‘Well, lookie there’, he says, as he spies a crooked picture nail, but he smashes the glass on the picture.  More mayhem ensues, as he mistakes a lamp switch, a shower head, a flower and a fly, among other things, for nails, until he realizes that not everything is a nail, drops the hammer, and ‘fixes’ the flower by watering it. 


The setting is American: there are fire hydrants and letter boxes on posts, and although some of this may be familiar from American films, the very American language is rather more off-putting, this doesn’t always work for the English reader but give it a try.


David Shannon’s books, especially the David series, in which David gets up to all sorts of mischief but is still loved, have won awards, including the Caldecott Honor Medal, over the last 20 years, and some have been animated for American television and Youtube.


Diana Barnes

Naughty Narwhal

Emma Adams, illus. Katy Halford, pub. Scholastic Children’s Books

My first impressions of this book are glee and delight: the big, bright book is adorned with holographic lettering and glittery lines on the illustrations, making it instantly dazzle in the light and catch my attention.  This gives the impression that a lot of money and time has gone into this book, and along with the cute illustrations of the character on the front, this book will stand out in a line up or on a shelf.


The book is about a naughty narwhal who realizes it’s better to be nice and have friends then be naughty and alone.  It’s a nice story to teach kids something they already know and are told quite often.  Nothing new or exciting in the premise but a nice story all the same.  At first, I thought the narwhal on the front was not really recognizable as a narwhal.  While I appreciate the book isn’t going for ‘realistic’ animals in the pictures, it’s such a far throw that without the title it would be hard to tell what the character was.  It’s sort of like a pink blob with a unicorn horn.  I would like children to be able to learn a bit about the sea creatures in the book, but they’re just there for fun and not really essential to the story.


The illustrations are of a very high quality.  They’re beautiful, colourful and bright.  They have a great level of detail without being overcrowded and are a delight to look at on every page.  Each little character has a unique expression even in the very corners of the book, and I can see little children enjoying hunting for creatures as a carer or parent reads the book to them.  I tried to find something critical to say about the illustrations but I really couldn’t find much at all – they are fantastic!


The text is in a simple font that is easy to read for all ages, although there are some additional text in the illustrations (for example, signs and character noises) that are in a similar font which I found a bit distracting.  For early readers it may be confusing to understand what is to be read and what is part of the illustration.  One way of combatting this would be to have the signs and illustration text in another colour other than black, or an obviously different font.  This is made a little worse by the way the text splits and bends around the pages.  A younger child would miss parts of the text.  That said, keeping the text in one place is quite restrictive and boring, so I like that they have tried to keep to keep the book fluent and fun.  Perhaps the text should be a little bigger, or more obvious in placement.  It’s not a deal breaker for me, but the best books are often the ones that children can follow along with the adult and eventually read themselves, whereas I think the text might put off early readers.


The words are fun to read out loud.  They rhyme well and make a fast, playful rhythm which an advanced reader could read almost like a song!  However, I come back to the same point as above, that someone who wasn’t as good at reading might struggle a bit and trip over their words.  I tried reading it aloud several times and it was only by the third read through did I not make any mistakes as I had a better idea of where the words were placed.  The sound when you do get it right though, creates a really enjoyable melody that would even help some readers enjoy books more.


The main character, a naughty narwhal, is obviously female.  A lot of books still sway to male main characters even with animals, so that is nice to see without it being a main focal point.  I get the impression she is a young, confident little girl (narwhal) who is a bit young and self-centred, almost like a spoiled 5-year-old who is used to getting their own way.  In that sense, I didn’t really like her character so much. She appeared a bit mean and brat-like.  Not something I would advertise to children as being funny or acceptable.  When she is mean to her friends, she hits one of them on the head at one point.  It’s played down in the book as a ‘bop’ on the head, but I dislike the blasé attitude to physical violence, albeit not serious.


While mean and rude, the narwhal soon finds herself alone and scared and facing a shark.  It’s something that children can relate to; be mean and your friends will leave, and the positive message is wholesome, although a little obvious.  I wanted there to be something more to the story.  Some action or turning point that created a build-up of energy, yet I felt like it never really led anywhere and once she came back to apologise to her friends, I was a bit unsatisfied.  I think that the brilliant illustrations made up for this lack of content, they almost carried the whole story along better than the text which is what good illustrations should do.  I have read so many books like this now, that I find them predictable and crave to see a bit more creativity or some straying from the default ‘be nice or you’ll be lonely.’  Even depicting the shark as a scary bad guy is old news and has been overdone.  A real Narwhal’s main predators are whales and polar bears; yet the whale is one of her friends in the beginning.  I appreciate it’s not a real-life educational book, but it might have added some new element if the enemy was a polar bear or she had something more exciting happen to her which made her decide to need her friends.


Overall, I felt like the story didn’t really live up to the high expectations I had when I first saw the book, but it was still a good experience and I wouldn’t regret buying it for a child.  The lovely illustrations are worth it alone, and while I don’t think the words will be ones you remember fondly and carry with a child to adulthood, the book could easily become a favourite for reading time with small children.


Izzy Bean

One Fox

Kate Read, pub. Two Hoots

There are many, many counting books out there, but I have not seen one quite like this before!  It is far from being just another counting book and I think it is a real treat.


Kate Read is both the author and illustrator of this, her debut offering and what a way to start.  She has shown real originality and provides an exciting farmyard adventure to help children learn to count from one to ten.  The numbers are shown in both text and numerals to help children make the link.  Accompanying this are big, bright and bold picture, full of detail, with something different to count in each one.  The colours and illustrations are as vibrant as the story and give a modern feel to the book.


It states on the cover that  One Fox is ‘a counting book thriller,’ and this is no exaggeration, as a sly fox makes his way through the farmyard, searching for the chicken coop.  Will he succeed or will the chickens triumph?  The wording is fantastic, using many examples of alliteration that children will appreciate.  This is definitely a book that adults will also appreciate and it had me laughing out loud.  I can’t wait for Kate Read’s next book if this is anything to go by.


Victoria Wharam

Prudence and her Amazing Adventure

Charlotte Gastaut, pub. Thames and Hudson

This is a totally magical story of Prudence and her parents’ efforts to get her ready to go visiting with them.  The problem is that Prudence is caught up in her own imaginary world and ignores all the calls that are going on around her.  Whilst most of the book is wordless there are three double page spreads filled with the increasingly desperate calls from her mother telling her to ‘brush your teeth’ and ‘find your shoes’; all to no avail.  Prudence’s day dreaming starts out in her bedroom but in the company of her small (and very bright pink) bird she visits the deepest oceans, rainforests, outer space and places that are full of extraordinary and mystical creatures.


This is a truly stunning evocation of how imagination can inspire young, and not so young, people.  The whole book is a delight both in the images and in the physical structure of the book. The author has used a range of techniques to draw us into the pages.  There are cutouts in many of the pages, but they are created to reflect the actual pictures on the page, so they are quirky and very individual.  The central 8 pages are created from a silicone type paper, which gives a translucent feel to the images.  This really is an amazing piece of art and a book that is both sophisticated and yet very accessible to the intended audience.  It would act as a tremendous starting point for getting children to create their own works and I really loved it.


Margaret Pemberton

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© 2019 by Armadillo

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