Picture Book Reviews

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A Quokka for the Queen

Huw Lewis Jones, illus. Fred Blunt, pub. Happy Yak

When the Queen has a birthday, she is inundated with presents and in this very special year, our Queen’s platinum year, her 70th on the throne, it is even more true. However, the present given to the Queen in this story, the present from Australia is very different and leads to some interesting events; what after all is a Quokka?

 

We soon find out and the discovery makes the Queen decide to give presents to people for her birthday. Having gone through a list of all those who will get gifts we are left with the Quokka, but he just wants more of his friends. Children will love all the ideas that the author comes up with; I particularly like the Llamas for Librarians, Tarantulas for Teachers and Pigeons for the Prime Minister and what a wonderful way to show children the different ways we see alliteration.

 

This is also an opportunity to learn about wildlife in Australia, especially this cute little creature that on lives on one small island (Rottnest), off the coast near Perth. A Quokka for the Queen is full of fun and exuberance and will make a great addition to classrooms and libraries.

Margaret Pemberton

A Walk in the Woods

Flora Martyn, illus. Hannah Tolson, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Published in conjunction with The Woodland Trust A Walk in the Woods really encourages children to go out into the woods and find out about what they see.

 

Oscar and Lucy take Jasper the dog for a walk every day, whatever the weather, and make a point of dressing appropriately: will they need a scarf, or sunglasses? In the spring, they might see young creatures exploring their new world: animals, birds and blossoming trees are pictured and named. At night, which animals might be sleeping? There are plenty of flowers in the summer, and we are shown a few to recognise. There are birds and insects around the pond in the park, and we learn about tadpoles becoming froglets. Summer nights bring different creatures out, and the stars are more easily seen. Autumn brings falling leaves in lots of colours, fruit, possibly rain- and puddles! There are leaf shapes to match to the trees. Some creatures disappear during winter: where do they sleep? Some trees stay green, and sometimes it snows. A small flower pokes through the snow, and the cycle begins again.

At the end, there is a double-page spread with pictures of some of the creatures, plants and items that have been illustrated, to refresh our memories. Perhaps a child could try to identify the season to which each belongs?

 

Oscar has brown skin and tight dark curls, and Lucy has a long plait, so they could be African and Indian, or maybe not, the intention seems to be to give every reader the opportunity to identity. This is a lovely book, with lots of detail in bright colours. Hannah Tolson is an experienced illustrator, and this seems to be Flora Martyn’s first picturebook, but the pairing works well.

Diana Barnes

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Be Wild Little One

Olivia Hope, illus. Daniel Egnéus, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Be Wild Little One makes a real impact with the stunningly beautiful front cover, featuring a child riding on the back of a swan in flight, soaring through the air with other birds. It sets the tone for a wonderful, nature inspired story.

 

Each page follows suit and is equally as stunning. Delicate illustrations of the child hiding in flowers amongst butterflies, swinging on vines with chimpanzees, dancing with fireflies and running with wolves, to name a few, accompany the short, yet poignant text by Olivia Hope. It leaves the reader, young and young at heart alike, with a deep appreciation of the wondrous world we live in and all the tiny details we can find in nature.

 

I enjoyed every minute of reading this with my youngest son, who loves wildlife and nature. We adored looking at the pictures by Daniel Egnéus together and talking about where we might see the different scenes depicted throughout the book. An ideal book for bedtime and to inspire wonderful dreams. The book is very well produced by Bloomsbury. The colours are vibrant and the story stays with you long after the covers are closed and the stars are out. A book that will adorn our shelves for many years to come.

Sarah Thompson

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Bork

Rhys Kitson, pub. Sunbird Books

Do all dogs speak the same language, and can they understand each other?  This is a delightfully humorous picture book that asks this very question, and it does so in the most obvious way possible, with dogs talking to one another, or trying to – oh and let us not miss the token cat too! As the various dogs that Rhys Kitson portrays meet each other, they bark to one another, but they bark in their own way, so that we are presented with a range of ‘language’ that might not be understood.

 

This is virtually a wordless picture book, but one that allows, encourages, us to realize the importance of trying to understand others, even if the language is different. It is a lesson for us as humans and helps us to understand non-verbal methods of communication.

 

The humour between the dogs is delightful and the illustrations fully expand and develop the ‘text’. I love the way that we get a list of the various names given in many countries for the word ‘bark’ and this would be a wonderful addition to a school with a range of languages being spoken.

Margaret Pemberton

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The Enormous Morning

Louise Greig, illus. Lizzy Stewart, pub. Farshore

Louise Greig is an award-winning poet and children’s author, and her poetic style clearly shines through in The Enormous Morning. It’s morning and Pia is in her bedroom with her cuddly toy, Rabbit. The morning seems small and there isn’t much else in it – until that is, Pia opens her curtains and lets in more colours, shadows, and sounds. Next, Pia opens her wardrobe doors, and more shapes and colours spill out.

 

The book follows Pia as she and her papa leave the house with a picnic and explore the countryside around them – all the time delighting in the sights and sounds of the world around them.

 

The Enormous Morning is a delightful picture book that encourages readers to see, think, and talk about what they see around them, and about the relationship between things in the world to each other, in different ways. This line is a beautiful example of the text and the way it encourages the reader to see things differently - ‘Pia knows when a mouse sits on a stone a stone is not alone.’ The book is beautifully illustrated by Lizzy Stewart in a way that compliments and highlights Louise Greig’s thoughtful text.

 

As well as being an interesting book to share, it also provides lots of food for thought for young children, and adults, encouraging us all to look carefully at what is around us.

Vicky Harvey

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Winter

If I had a Kangaroo

Gabby Dawnay, illus. Alex Barrow, pub. Thames & Hudson

I am sure we all have great ideas about what we would do if we had a kangaroo, or any bouncy pet come to think of it. How much fun would it be to be able to jump around, to have a pet that could jump around. Well not just jump, but in the case of Kangaroo leap AND as Kangaroos have pouches if we were small enough, we may even be able to get in there and hop around with our pet. Many may be familiar with the adorable Kanga and Roo from the Winnie-The-Pooh stories but here is a brand-new picture book with a brand-new kangaroo and a fantastic imagination…

 

The writing and illustrating duo of Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow have written a previous book straight from the imagination of a child and in that one they imagined having a dinosaur. Now they are back with yet more wonderment, fantastic rhyming text and vibrant, action-packed illustrations. When we open the book, we are not greeted immediately with our narrator but with a list of all the animals that our narrator does not want to have as a pet! Snakes – too scary; platypus – too shy; koala – too clingy. Kangaroo however is just right for it is so much easier to get to places with a giant leap. It would be fun doing daily jumps with them on the trampoline, feeding them, going shoe shopping, maybe even having a game of cricket. So, it goes on. There is no end to the number of things this amazing jumpy pet and its owner could do. What better way to prompt your very own young readers’ imagination than by imagining what they might do with their very own extraordinary pet.

 

A marvellous, hilarious, heart-warming, imaginative celebration of pets. A must-read!

Dawn Jonas

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Monkey Bedtime

Alex English, illus. Pauline Gregory, pub. Faber Children’s Books

When a boy spots a monkey tapping at his window as he gets ready for bed, he thinks to himself that his mum won’t mind if he lets it in…surely one little monkey can’t do much harm? However, chaos ensues when the monkey’s friends arrive. From mandrills and tamarins to baboons and gibbons, all descend on the home and seem intent on causing as much carnage as possible. Will he ever get to bed with all this monkeying around?

 

A humorous tale, perfect for fans of The Cat in the Hat and other young readers who will delight in spotting hilarious details in the illustrations such as the dog wearing a banana skin as a hat; underpants being used as tree decorations; and a monkey trying on lipstick. The rhyming prose makes this an enjoyable and engaging read-aloud, with the added bonus that listening to it will contribute towards children’s literacy skills.

 

Monkey Bedtime is a funny and inclusive read. I loved the important little details in this picturebook that contribute towards reflecting the diversity we see in society. For example, although nothing is specifically mentioned in the written text, the family depicted appear to be a single-parent family. The illustrations support this as all family photos included throughout the book are only of the mum and the two children featured in the story. Additionally, the mum appears to be wearing a hearing aid. Again, this is not referenced but it is wonderful to see this clear commitment to inclusivity without the plot focusing on this.

 

A hilarious rhyming text which is sure to be a hit with children who enjoy a little monkeying around!

Pauline Bird

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Our Fort

Marie Dorleans, trans. Alyson Waters, pub. The New York Review of Books

Marie Dorleans is a celebrated French illustrator and Alyson Waters an equally successful American translator. The book offers evocative countryside themes within the role of friendship in challenging and happy times, along with shared dreams. The story is about a journey of three friends through this countryside as a storm begins to set in. Ultimately, they arrive at their secret hideout. The plot is minimal, hinging on pastoral scenes, and the characters even more so. The children do not have identities they are just three friends anticipating the arrival at their den enroute across the fields. Marie Dorlean’s skill as an artist draws you through this bucolic adventure to the fort. The fort is the end goal, the story is about this journey.

 

The book is recommended for ages 4 - 8. Confusion could occur over just who the implied reader is. Is it the adult rather than the child perhaps? The pictures are dreamy, nostalgic, and uncomplicated. They possibly lack enough detail to captivate a child who cannot appreciate all the text and conversation without further prompting. The dialogue between the three characters lacks spontaneity and does not allow the audience to relate to the individual speaking. 8-year-olds might describe the story as lacking in interest. However the title reflects a child’s imaginative play and is full of creative potential. Listeners may be a little disappointed at the sudden ending having just located their eagerly awaited fort. But then of course their imaginations can do the rest.

Elizabeth Negus

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PANTemonium

Peter Bently, illus. Becka Moor, pub. Andersen Press

Peter Bently has a knack for brilliantly funny and rollicking rhyming stories. This newest one will certainly have readers, quite literally, hooked as they join in the adventure with Fred the Giant. Fred is going fishing and on his walk to the seafront, his rod has become caught on his favourite undies off the washing line which then go fishing themselves!

 

As he walks through the town, his knickers gather people, pets, diggers and trains! These super stretchy pants get heavier and heavier as new items get thrown in along the way. Fred notes the change in weight but doesn’t stop to question why! Readers will love getting involved and giggling as they imagine each item in Fred’s underpants adding to the weight he carries all the while Fred is completely unaware of the chaos caused by his walk to the seaside.

 

Becka Moor’s amazing illustrative style captures the humour of this story perfectly and readers will be giggling and laughing out loud! Will Fred figure it all out before the end of the story? Will the items in the pants be safe? Reading this will lighten any mood and have even the grown-ups laughing.

Erin Hamilton

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Rainbow Hands

Mamta Nainy, illus. Jo Loring-Fisher, pub. Lantana Books

Rainbow Hands is a story about a little boy who likes to paint his nails with his mother’s nail polish. He uses the different colours to express his moods and feelings.

 

It is easy to visualise the boy’s thoughts and feelings as Rainbow Hands is a book full of vibrant, bold colour. Every page depicts a different environment, including landscapes, dreams and cityscapes, all bursting with texture and in some instances look almost like a collage.

 

It is a story that celebrates what it means to be yourself and to do what makes you happy, even if others don’t always approve. Everything experienced by the little boy is turned into something that is beautiful, pretty and magnificent. This positive story encourages the reader to consider acceptance and kindness as it subtly introduces to the young audience the challenges of gender stereotypes.

Victoria & Oliver F (age 12)

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Strong

Clara Anaganuzzi, pub. Little Tiger Group

When I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure I would actually open it, so absorbed was I by the cover, its raised artwork with its vibrant colours and its beautiful white dragon are captivating. I did open it however and what a treat it was. A book about what it feels like to be the odd one out and how to ensure that remains a positive in your life. A book about discovering there are many ways to be strong.

 

Let us begin with what we know about dragons – so the book begins – we know they are mighty and ferocious, powerful and they may even growl. Then we meet Maurice. Maurice adores flowers. He is small, gentle and quiet. None of the other dragons are like this, they all love ‘dragony’ things, competitions to see who is the fiercest (Maurice’s brother always wins) while all Maurice can do is puff out flowers. In fact, every time the other dragons do something that is ‘dragony’ Maurice does something the absolute opposite, something gentle. He tries to look like the other dragons too but even his horns are not real. No matter what Maurice tries it seems he is just not going to be able to fit in. When Maurice’s brother takes flight in bad weather so he can win the competition he is soon lost, and it is Maurice who forms a plan to come to the rescue.

 

Maurice’s plan helps the other dragons see him for who he is, they see that he is as strong as they are because he is true to himself. Not only do we see, though Clara Anganuzzi’s words but also her stunning, vibrant pictures, just how important it is to be true to ourselves and to be just that little bit (or big bit) different.

Louise Ellis-Barrett

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Through The Forest

Yijing Li, pub. Lantana Books

Do you ever find yourself feeling a bit lost and alone? Perhaps you’re searching for something… but you don’t know what. These are the feelings experienced by the young protagonist in Through the Forest.

 

Written in first person narrative, the reader travels through a forest with a young boy where he encounters Emptiness - a large translucent creature, who helps the child rediscover the memories he had once forgotten.  This beautiful picturebook continues to utilise pathetic fallacy throughout the text which helps guide the reader along the emotional journey experienced by the main character, the colours used by the creator to represent the landscape and weather change from dark shades, through to more muted tones, before we finally see much brighter hues exploding across the pages as the character’s mood transitions to an increasingly more positive one.

 

A visually stunning text, the digitally enhanced artwork was originally created using watercolour and ink, giving the illustrations a whimsical feel, which complement the story perfectly. I loved the message of this book. As the boy finds various artefacts, he relates the memories he associates with them and remembers the people who helped shape these memories. He realises that these memories, both happy and sad, are what shapes him and will always be there for him should he feel lost again.

 

A powerful and touching book which may help children to navigate big feelings.

Pauline Bird

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Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day

Davina Bell, illus. Allison Colpoys, pub. Scribble

From its tactile cover to the rainbow swirls that make up the end pages this book was a hit from the moment we picked it up, how could we not be drawn into a story which tells us there is always hope. Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is a message of hope, the story is a story of joy, of possibilities, with rhyming text and illustrations that are a masterpiece of fluorescent wonder!

 

What did you do today that you maybe, just maybe, by the end of the day regretted? Perhaps regret is too strong a word, maybe you just wonder why you cut your hair, or your dogs for that matter. Perhaps something happened which made you mad or did you make a mistake? There are so many things that can happen in one day that we may wonder over but the way they are portrayed by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys doesn’t make us want to regret them, they are shown with such curiosity and wonder that we know we have all done these things and that tomorrow maybe we will do them again or maybe we will do things differently.

 

The story doesn’t only look at what we do, it also helps us to think about how we feel, what made us feel that way and how we can change these things. Our words, feelings, and actions on any given day, we are reminded, are not permanent and there are lots of things we can all do to make things better, to change things. This book has such a positive uplifting vibe, it is so full of joy and hope that we read it and knew not only would we be coming back for more but that its message would be staying with us, comforting, and encouraging.

Colin Paterson

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The Vanishing Lake

Paddy Donnelly, pub. O’Brien Press

Ready for an Irish adventure? This book is set in Ireland, but it could be anywhere in the world, and it gives us plenty of rich ideas for our imaginations to take flight with too. Paddy Donnelly is a very talented author and illustrator, he finds the perfect words for this gentle story and his illustrations are simply stunning, so very vibrant and pulsing with life, follow the story and find yourself immersed in a world of peculiar adventure.

 

Meara’s Granddad lives by a lake, not just any lake but the mysterious lake of Loughareema. This lake is deep in the countryside and granddad lives here with his pet otter Cara. Most of the time it acts as any normal lake should. It has water in it, it is wet, bigger than a pong and they can take their boat out to the little island in the middle of it (we can even see, if we look closely, the name of the boat and Cara the otter too). When the lake is full of water it shimmers, magically but then there are other days, strange days, when the lake is completely empty, all that is left is the red mud and some stones.

 

Of course, grandad has plenty of stories about the vanishing lake but Meara is determined to find out for herself just what is going on – is it the mermaids? Maybe it is a narwhal or perhaps the giants? Someone or something is taking all the water and they will find out once and for all the answer.

 

The Vanishing Lake is a beautiful, lyrical adventure story, it brings traditional Irish myths to life and instils its reader with a sense of wonder and mystery.

May Marks

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Who Jumped into the Bed?

Joe Rhatigan, illus. Julia Seal, pub. Sunbird Kids Books

This well written story follows lots of sneaky different animals and children wanting to share the bed with Mummy and Daddy. It’s written in such a way, by Joe Rhatigan, that children will fall into the easy pattern of the words and the repetition of the special strain of the title, and will know when to join in on “who jumped into bed?” As you get towards the end of the book you will actually start to feel sorry for the dad who is kicked out of bed because there’s no room left for him! This is very comical to children and very relatable for parents.

 

The children I read this with loved to pretend to be and re-enact the actions of the animals and of Dad falling out of bed. The children loved the story and were trying to guess who was coming to bed next. They were sad that the story had to end!

 

This short story is beautifully illustrated over double page spreads which keep the sing song story flowing from one part to the next. It is a very enjoyable book to read as an adult and to children. This simple story will be loved and enjoyed from the first time reading and the multiple times after! Who will jump into your bed?

Natalie Stanford

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