Picture Book Reviews

The Book No One Wants to Read

Beth Bacon, pub. Pushkin Children’s Books

This one catches the moment in a young and reluctant reader’s life when they’re struggling to find value in books and may be about to give up on them. Readers who read books because they have to, who are perhaps intimidated by books or disengaged. It reboots a reluctant reader’s relationship with books.

 

The book is alive and bored with sitting on the shelf. It talks to the person who picks it up, conspires with them. If the reader pretends to read, if the book pretends to be worth reading, it gets to stay off the shelf, the reader doesn’t have to pick up a real book. It’s cute and cheesy. Each new page gives what the book says next in carefully designed typography and simple graphics. The design is effective. Design is key. The reader must be convinced and kept interested. That part works, the book has an exaggerated, teasing persona that’s aptly expressed. There’s a definite through line in the book, the book is trying to make a point, but I think its Americanism makes it miss the most appropriate tone, it feels a less engaged experience than it could be. There are vocabulary connotations to watch out for. It’s why, I feel, the book finishes a bit weakly. That apart, it is a professional piece of work, and it is provocative.

 

It’s not fiction per se, it’s more an intervention, to be used in a supportive way, and that’s how it needs to be judged. I expect an adult to use the book with a reader and not leave them to it. For those readers who need it, it is possibly game changing. For those who don’t it is an amusing diversion. Likely to be passed from family to family and be a school library cornerstone.

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

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Frindleswylde

Natalia O’Hara, illus. Lauren O’Hara, pub. Walker Books

This is a beautifully produced book set in a magical wintry atmosphere, which children of all ages can enjoy, but those particularly between the age of five and nine. Gorgeous illustrations appear on each page to illuminate the text and to open a further enchanting dimension for the readers. The prose is enhanced by a poetic sensitivity that never lets the rhythm of narration slow down. In fact, this is a fast-paced tale written in a fresh and direct style that reminds of a morning snowfall.

 

The story follows Cora in the search for her grandmother’s lamplight, stolen by a mysterious little boy called Frindleswylde who has ‘snow-white hair and eyes like the Arctic Sea’. Frindleswylde is a memorable character with a distinct voice. His fabulous trickster nature is revealed by the numerous plot twists which hook the reader in. My absolute favourite is the moment when Frindleswylde crowns Cora ‘Queen of Winter’. I do not want to spoil anyone’s read but I thought that it was a very clever turning point which truly surprised me.

 

If I were to find a somewhat less convincing moment of the story, I would point to the solution to three impossible tasks set for Cora. I felt that the way she is portrayed to overcome the tasks was slightly rushed. However, this shows how the story is never indulgent or sentimental; it carries you from point to point with precision. I believe this is a feature from which younger readers will benefit.  Despite the story being longer than a traditional picture book, once you start reading it, or listening to it, you will want to get to the very end – and this is how my children felt too!

 

A must buy for this winter!

Francesca Magnabosco

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Look Up at The Stars

Katie Cotton, illus. Miren Asiain Lora, pub. Frances Lincoln

This charming, heart-warming and beautiful book holds wonders that the cover can only touch on. From the first look at the cute characters holding hands and looking up at the stars we can tell just what kind of story will be inside. The first words that come to mind are warm, loving, family, winter, cosy.

 

The perfect mood is created for snuggling into a warm bed on a winter night, reading with your loved ones. The story is cute, focused on emotions of love between parent and child main characters. The parent bear uses words like ‘sweet child’ and ‘my darling, my love’ - that could be cheesy if not executed correctly, but this simple story about how far a parent’s love will go to provide wonder and love for their curious child is not cheesy at all. It is a rhythmic, easy to read story that introduces emotions very well.

 

I found the story, despite its wholesomeness, a little bland. The characters travel through the woods, snow and mountains to get close to the stars, but that’s really all that happens. They return home empty handed to realize the glowing lights in their house were their own star all along, but the comforting conclusion isn’t as climatic as I wanted. The illustrations really do carry this book. The style suits the text perfectly - soft, painterly and with beautiful mixes of colours and brush strokes. The use of space and text is well thought out and bringing all these elements together is a sure way to create a great book to look at and read.

 

Personally, I don’t think I’ll be reading it repeatedly, but as a Christmas present or a book to read while wrapped in blankets when it is snowing outside - that it is perfectly suited for.

Izzy Bean

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My Mindful A to Zen: 26 Wellbeing Haiku for Happy Little Minds

Krina Patel-Sage, pub. Lantana Publishing

I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing this book. It is a beautifully designed, colourful and clearly written exploration of the A-Z of Mindfulness and Wellbeing told through a series of poems, a picture book that could fit just as well on a non-fiction shelf.

 

The illustrations link exceptionally well to the A-Z of words. It breaks down the understanding for children on how to make themselves better people without preaching.

 

It shows how important it is to take time for ourselves and would be good to read one letter a day or even try and get children to take notice of those actions that they follow at school. A great talking point for adults and children as well as being used as a tool for engaging with children who find explaining how they feel, or if they are worried and concerned about something.

 

It is also a great resource for children with autism who find understanding their feelings tricky. Having worked with SEN children I found that this book explains feelings brilliantly. On the other hand, it is also great a source for discussing feelings with all ages as many hold worries inside and we all hope children can express themselves better. I would say this book would be a great starting point. I enjoyed reading through it and have taken heed with some of the suggestions as well as finding I already participate in some of them.

 

A lovely book to have on the shelf and one where you can see the author has first-hand first enabling her to explain the topics clearly.

Helen Finch

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My Pet Goldfish

Catherine Rayner, pub. Walker Books

WOW! Another fantastic book out by the amazing Catherine Rayner, jam packed with fun, kind-hearted empathy, heart-warming sentiment, fantastic facts and as always gorgeous illustrations all about a cute little goldfish named Richard. This book is great for goldfish enthusiasts and all-round animal lovers alike, however if for some wild reason you are not it is still an extremely enjoyable read. The age rating I would give would be about 3 or 4+ with its mesmerising illustrations it will captivate your child into picking up this book in a library or bookshop.

 

The story itself is about a young 4-year-old who gets her first pet, a goldfish named Richard who swims up to her and dances when she comes to his tank. One day her friend Sandy came to visit and said that when Richard is too big for her tank he can live in his pond. Sure enough Richard gets too big and goes to live in Sandy’s pond where the girl still comes and visits him every day and he still remembers her.

 

To conclude, the main things I love about this book are the colourful illustrations, lovely sentiment and meaning of memory and the cool facts about keeping a goldfish on every page. So I would give this book a 9/10, a lovely read and will fill your little ones bedtime with fun and joy.

Archie, aged 11

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The Planet in A Pickle Jar

Martin Stanev, pub. Flying Eye Books

The Planet in a Pickle Jar is a heart-felt story about a loving grandmother and her rather unusual way of protecting the wonders of the natural world for her two Grandchildren.

 

The story opens with Grandma, seen through the eyes of her visiting Grandchildren as boring and dull. The children are too busy picking on each other and playing with their devices to be able to find anything fun in grandma’s world.

 

But when Grandma tells a story about the need to preserve the planet, for once they listen. That night, everything changes for all of them. The children look outside themselves and discover a whole world of adventure that was right under their noses all along. The children cannot believe their eyes when they discover that Grandma had been secretly preserving all her favourite things, from nature, to history, to smells – in her pickle jars. Suddenly Grandma doesn’t seem boring at all. When the children are called to save Grandma from danger, they begin to appreciate how dear she is to them and promise to help her preserve “the wonders of our planet, one pickle jar at a time.”

 

The text is sparse in parts and a number of different interpretations could be made of what is to be done with the treasures in Grandma’s jars. This gives young reader’s the power to decide for themselves. The illustrations are bright and colourful and full of delights for children to discover. The dual messages of preserving the natural world, and cherishing those we love, endure long after the story ends. The reader can take comfort in knowing that the children will carry on Grandma’s work long after she can no longer do it herself.

 

A recommended read for all nature lovers and those who know the true magic of grandmothers.

Evelyn Bookless

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The Pooka Party

Shona Shirley Macdonald, pub. The O’Brien Press

An ethereal little story about the mystical Pooka who has neglected its friends. Pooka is content to live on its own high up in the mountains. Pooka sings, does gardening, makes soup and dances along with lots of other things, all at the same time! But like most folks there comes a time when you do need to see your friends again.

 

Pooka disappears into its snail shell to consider its options, as a magical shapeshifter would do, for a long time. A party is revealed to be the answer. Arrangements are made and what happens next I will leave you to find out. As a result of this party Pooka acknowledges its need to stay more regularly in contact with its friends. Even though Pooka loves its own company too. It begins planning the next party as it contentedly drifts off to sleep. Sequels to this story are endless, and I feel sure this will not be the last we hear about the captivating Pooka.

 

This surreal mix of fantastical goings on is accompanied by dreamy illustrations. Young children from the earliest ages will happily be transported to Pooka’s land even if they don’t understand the text. The pictures tell the story. Older children will enjoy the moral of the tale. An ideal bedtime story for all. A delightful little tale.

Abby Mellor

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Scissorella: The Paper Princess

Clare Helen Welsh, illus. Laura Barrett, pub. Andersen Press

This is a truly magical re-telling of the tale of Cinderella, but with the twist in this story being that the main character is an amazing paper artist. The art is inspired by the creative work of Lottie Reiniger, a German born artist who had a great influence on the development of film animation. The story also reflects the way that Lottie’s life developed as she honed her paper skills and how she was helped by her future husband, Carl Koch to extend her scope.

 

The story has an art deco setting, with the costumes harking back to the 1920s; in fact, it reminds me in many ways, of the marvellous version by Shirley Hughes Ella’s Big Chance.  However, we have the added beauty of the paper cutting in this book which gives a very lace like feel to many of the images. Lotte does not think life has happy endings, living with her horrible bossy sisters her only friends are her cut-out paper puppets made by the light of the moon. What Lotte does not yet know is that her life is about to change forever with the delivery of an invitation to the Palace Spring Ball. This is a truly beautiful book, which shows a determined female character, who is determined to succeed in life and demonstrates that it is not all about fairy tale magic but also about talent.

 

A truly wonderful addition to the Cinderella canon of books, brilliant for a primary setting.

Margaret Pemberton

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Shoo!

Susie Bower, illus. Francesca Gambatesa, pub. Pushkin Children’s Books

The concept behind this book is by no means original, but it is entertainingly done by this new partnership.

 

Mrs Golightly doesn’t like animals, and we see her shooing away cats and squirrels from her garden. She is appalled when a zoo moves in next door, and even more horrified that evening to see animals dancing about on her lawn. They ignore her shooing, and she stamps up to bed in a very bad mood. In the days following, she finds a kangaroo on the loo (with details which children may well enjoy), a giraffe in her bath, an alligator on the radiator, llamas in her pyjamas- you get the idea. To every animal she sounds “Shoo! Shoo! I don’t like you! Go back to the zoo!” Finally, she shoos them all away, puts bolts and locks on every entrance and signs on the gate, and peace reigns. There is no kangaroo on the loo, and so on, but she finds that she misses them, and when she sees animals dancing on her lawn- what does she do? She joins in!

 

This will be terrific fun to read out loud, with multiple opportunities for children to shout “Shoo!”, join in with the animal noises and the rhymes, and imagine what they think might happen next. Susie Bower has written two exciting children’s novels (Pushkin), but this is her first picture book, and she has chosen some great rhymes, (“a jellyfish in her satellite dish”!).  Francesca Gambatesa is an experienced illustrator, and she has a very distinctive style: her animals are charming, but her depiction of Mrs Golightly is wonderfully exuberant.

 

Definitely recommended.

Diana Barnes

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Two Bears: An Epic Journey of Hope

Patricia Hegarty, illus. Totem Teplow, pub. Little Tiger

Two Bears is a gentle picture book with a powerful message for our times. The two bears in question appear to be polar opposites, both living many miles apart in lands that are totally different from each other. Polar Bear lives in the frozen arctic and swims beneath the icy waters in search of food. Grizzly Bear lives in the forests and hunts in the woods and the rivers. Despite their differences, it soon becomes clear that these two bears have a lot in common.

 

Due to changes in their habitat brought about by humans – global warming for Polar Bear and raging forest fire for Grizzly Bear - both bears leave their homelands and are forced to search for somewhere new to live. One bear heads north while the other heads south and, inevitably they meet up somewhere in the middle. The two bears quickly discover that they have a lot in common, “despite the different colour of their fur.” And it’s the things that they share and want that are more important, including a place to live ‘their lives in peace and harmony.”

 

This delightful picture book, which has been beautifully illustrated by Totem Teplow, works on many levels. Children will love the story of two bears finding each other and raising a family together, but it also provides a great introduction to current environmental issues and concerns for young children -without ever being preachy or heavy handed. It will work well in a classroom to link in with environmental topics such as global warming and loss of habitat. The final informative spread in the book, entitled ‘Bears on the Brink,’ gives information on Polar Bears, Grizzly Bears (and the offspring of a mixed coupling). A few simple suggestions for what we can do to help are also offered.

Vicky Harvey