Picture Book Reviews
The Boy and the Sea
Camille Andros, illus. Amy Bates, pub. Abrams Books for Young Readers
Summer is here and I am immersed in this poetic representation of life in sync with the tides of the sea. Each page, quiet like time, cool blue, sea green, each shade intermingling like the perfect match of art and words.
The Boy and the Sea is a tranquil creation for any aged above 7-8. Author, health science graduate and ballet dancer Camille Andros, along with artist and illustrator Amy Bates has instilled a sense of curiosity for the voice of the heart which always resonates with that of nature. Here it is the great, mysterious, turbulent, soothing and wise sea. It is the sea which answers his metaphysical and existential questions, the little boy puts his ears to the conch and hears the loving and encouraging call of the sea. At times, in the book, it is Dream, on others it is Love, and sometimes it is just Be.
The beach is the setting for time's play - the boy who resonates so much with the sea is present with his grandfather, intrigued about the messages given by the sea - which changes moods throughout the year just like the boy. It teaches him through the different phases of his life and in the end when he's become the grandfather, the sea welcomes another budding soul to impart its wisdom.
Definitely recommended as a beautiful and soothing summer read for anyone who loves the sea and wants to instil a sense of aesthetics, connection with the natural world and curiosity for life in kids going through their developmental phases.
Georgie Grows A Dragon
Emma Lazell, pub. Pavilion Children’s Books
Georgie loves growing plants and looking after them. She is fortunate (and green fingered), she can grow absolutely anything. Anything … as we see when one night, after finishing her planting, she goes to bed only to wake up the next morning to find she has grown a dragon!
Thinking she has grown a flower Georgie tries to water it, re pot it, then bring it indoors as a house plant. The trouble is all this makes the dragon angry. Then he gets angrier and angrier still. Georgie tries everything she can think of to make the dragon happy.
When Georgie realizes that the dragon is a dragon and not a flower the fun begins. She learns that dragons don’t want to stay forever, they want to spread their wings. So, she wonders would a unicorn want to stay …?
I really enjoyed this charming book. The story was interesting and it gently highlights the need to look after the environment, giving readers tips about how to look after it. This book was also about my two of my favourite creatures - dragons and unicorns. The illustrations are beautifully drawn and packed with details intricate and also complementing, helping to tell the story.
This is a lovely book about friendship and also one that is ideal for animal and nature lovers.
Grandma’s House of Rules
Henry Blackshaw, pub. Cicada Books
Love Grandma as he does, our narrator has a tough time navigating all her rules. Some are just annoying, like not leaving your toys on the floor, others are quite random, for example not sitting on a chair that’s just for looking at. In this house, which is somewhat full of nick-nacks of the heirloom variety, there is a mighty blue and white vase, epic and Grecian, balanced on a tiny table in the middle of the room. Grandma’s most important rule is to never ever touch it. Enough said: our hapless narrator never stood a chance!
Cuddled up with his Grandma in the armchair, the narrator asks Grandma why she has so many rules. It turns out that the rules are family heirlooms too, and Grandma has never questioned them before. When the inevitable happens, the guilty party is distraught. But that’s when they both find out a thing or two: Grandma discovers that change isn’t necessarily bad, and the narrator learns that his Grandma, with her folded arms and her pursed lips, has a heart of gold.
The illustrations are full of colour, pattern and detail. The characters’ expressions are entertaining – my young reader was particularly taken by the commentary given by Grandma’s cat, via hilarious non-verbal communication. New readers can participate by reading the speech bubbles.
This is a sweet, funny story of forgiveness and recognizing what is really valuable in life.
Grandpa Across the Ocean
Hyewon Yum, pub. Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ah! Did I just read one of the most adorable books ever! Summers are a time for vacations, trips to the beaches, reuniting with family and friends for sweet moments together. Here is a young child visiting his grandfather in Korea, his grandpa from across the ocean, and forming a bond which he’ll never forget.
Replete with warm and cute illustrations by the award-winning author and illustrator Hyewon Yum, Grandpa Across the Ocean celebrates the sweet connection children form with their grandparents, one which becomes an exchange of wisdom, curiosity, connection and building of beautiful moments together.
Hyewon Yum is from South Korea and now resides in New York with her family. This book is also a dedication to the memories of her own summer holiday trips to South Korea. In this book with its soft and cozy illustrations you'll see and understand how the boy develops an emotional repertoire with his grandfather and realizes just how his grandpa participates in the development of memories with him in. This is an example of one such beautiful exchange-
"He teaches me his Korean words and I teach him how to say them in English."
There are many other instances where the little one enjoys the day with his grandfather and these make it into an adorable rendition of familial love. Definitely recommended for children above 7 years of age developing their emotional intelligence and connecting with the world around them on a deeper level.
Home of the Wild
Louise Grieg, illus. Júlia Moscardó, pub. Floris Books
Home of the Wild by Louise Grieg and Júlia Moscardó is a powerful, heart-felt story about a nature-loving young boy and the orphan fawn he rescues. The boy is immediately likeable. He has “mended tails and patched up wings” and clearly has a strong connection with animals and nature.
The boy falls in love with a fawn he finds alone and hungry. He wants to keep her, but his mother gently reminds him that a “house is not a home for wild things; Wild things need to run, and soar, and swim.” Once the fawn has grown strong, the boy must say goodbye. He is heart-broken as his dear friend departs. So it is that when a storm threatens, he runs into the wild filled with worry for his fawn. But this time, it’s the boy who is in trouble and we are shown the wonders of nature as the fawn comes to his rescue. The story ends with the boy accepting that the wild is indeed where his fawn belongs and saying a very tender goodbye.
The illustrations show stunning Scottish landscapes in spring and are a delight to study as the story unfolds. The elements feel like another character in the story as we encounter sunshine, wind, rain, and the storm itself.
The writing is lyrical and makes for a soothing read. The dual messages of connecting with nature, and learning when to let go of those we love, endure long after the story ends. The reader can take comfort in knowing that the boy and the fawn will always “hear each other’s heartbeat on the wind.”
A highly recommended read all animal and nature lovers.
Rachel Bright, illus. Chris Chatterton, pub. Hachette Children’s Books
The power of a hug has never been more talked about or so universally desired, and this book sums it up perfectly. After all we all need them and children perhaps more than anyone else. A hug, the hug, can make all the difference on some many levels and for so many reasons. The hug to say well done, the hug for comfort the hug for joy … the list could go on.
Everyone will have experienced the journey the Hugasaurus goes on; it is a simple but beautiful exploration of how it feels to go out into the world on your own for the first time, how to navigate friendships, and how to negotiate difficulties when they come (oh, and the wisdom of parents too!). These expressed experiences combine to make the book relatable, timeless and one to be shared over and over again.
The gentle but strong message of this book is that kindness saves the day, and it will surely be a real boost to any children learning to find their feet in the big wide world. Accompanying this wonderful story arc are the endearing illustrations in bold, vibrant colours, and satisfying rhymes which sing off the page. This is the perfect book for Hugasauruses of all sizes to cuddle up with!
I’m Not (very) Afraid of Being Alone
Anna Milbourne, illus. Sandra de la Prada, pub. Usborne
This book could not have come out at a better time! We have all felt that little bit of loneliness, during these past few months, when we have had to stay away from each other, so we can empathize when the little girl develops a fear of being alone.
Anna Milbourne’s book tells the story from the perspective of the little girl and, although aloneness is the backdrop to it, the overriding emotion explored is worry and anxiety. When children become nervous, they do not always understand it nor have the vocabulary to express it and, in this story, the behaviour of the little girl is one of clinginess to her father, who is blissfully unaware that there is a problem at all!
However, there are little hints, throughout the book, of the beautiful, reassuring relationship the little girl has with her father – check out the little hearts and stars that wisp about the two of them and form and magical link between them, when they are apart. These increase throughout the book, as the little girl’s worries starts to fade away. By the end of the story, they are everywhere, representing happiness and contentment.
This is the genius way that Sandra de le Prada demonstrates the reassuring bond between father and daughter. This story is about finding the courage to talk about your worries and that this brave step is the beginning of making things better.
It is wonderfully written, with humour, and the illustrations are bright and colourful. It is such a joy to read, and I am sure it will help many children overcome any worries of separation.
Just Being Ted
Lisa Sheehan, pub. Buster Books
Ted the dragon wants to make friends, but the problem is that the other animals are all frightened of him. All they see is his smoky breath and scary claws. So the beautiful gifts he makes – cakes, paper boats and bird houses – are never appreciated and he is always alone. On a trip to town he discovers that a Bears’ Picnic Party is about to take place. Can he use his sewing skills to make a disguise and join in with the fun?
Readers cannot fail to love Ted. He is such a generous and loving character, only alone because the other creatures never hang around long enough to find out what he is really like. But, as determined Ted says, “There has to be a way.”
Ted’s journey from outcast to being welcomed is an important one for children to understand: the need to look beyond surface appearances and discover the real person inside. With its mixture of poignancy, humour and action, this book will provide the perfect opportunity for a wider discussion about this whether in the home or classroom.
Lisa Sheehan’s storytelling flair is complemented by her gorgeous illustrations. Each page brims with colour, energy and movement and is filled with lots of things to amuse and discover. This is particularly true of the double-page spreads that the reader can almost step into.
Just Being Ted bursts with wisdom, love and empathy, encouraging children to understand that we may not all look the same or act in the same way, but that we are all worthy of kindness and friendship. That the book does so in such a charming and heart-warming way, will ensure its longevity – both as a beautifully illustrated story and through its enduring message. A wonderful book.
The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness
Christian Trimmer, illus. Kaylani Juanita, pub. Abrams Children’s Books
On the day after a mighty storm, a little girl, who likes the feel of the sand between her toes and to have her hair in 3 bunches, finds thousands of sea stars (starfish to British children) stranded on the shore, and returns as many as she can to the sea.
An old man, who also likes the feel of the sand between his toes, is puzzled, as she can’t save them all, but she explains that she can save these, and he follows her example and saves some. On the next day, he takes his grandson with him to rescue a dog. The boy tells his grandpa that he can’t rescue them all, but grandpa explains that he’s making a difference to this one. The boy helps an elderly lady whose garden has been messed up by the storm with garbage strewn around, and a teenage girl passing by asks what he’s doing. He explains, and the lady says he has done more than clear her garden: he has lifted her spirits. The teenager packs an extra lunch and gives it to a homeless man … and is observed by another family, and so the cycle of good deeds continues. After yet another storm, the little girl rushes to the beach to find- lots of people, including the old man, helping to put the damage right. “Now do you get it?” she asks him, and the old man does.
It’s rather nice that every person has a short descriptive sentence explaining something they do or like: the boy likes butter on his noodles and multi-coloured laces, and the fact that the lady is elderly doesn’t stop her doing pliés, as she was a professional dancer.
Christian Trimmer really does try to do at least one act of kindness every day from his home in New York, and the illustrations by Californian Kaylani Juanita fit with her mission “to support the stories of the underrepresented while creating new ways for people to imagine themselves”, as they show a wide range of people and children.
This all sounds very worthy, but the lesson is pointed out gently. The setting is American, and although we may not have such mighty storms in this country, it is a charming, relatable story.
My Dad is a Grizzly Bear
Swapna Haddow, illus. Dapo Adeola, pub. Macmillan Children’s Books
The first page shows a picture on the wall of the whole family, so we see his real dad. Real dad is also the real reflection in the mirror, but in his son’s imagination he is a bear, as he’s very hairy, and very fond of honey. It is as a bear that we see him in subsequent pages. He is liable to doze off anywhere, especially in the cinema, much to the boy’s embarrassment, and stomps around at home looking for food, as he is always hungry. He never gets cold on “loooong family walks”, is great at climbing trees, and has the loudest growl.
A family camping trip is very much Dad’s idea, (and it always rains), but when Dad has wandered off into the woods, maybe, the boy thinks, to find his friends, Mum tells such a scary story that the two children shout for Dad and are delighted to have, as a result, “the biggest, warmest, best ever bear hug.” Then, just when the reader thinks that’s the end, there is another double-page spread where the boy says that there are scarier things than bears: “Wait until you hear my Mum ROAR!”
Dapo Adeola, born in Britain of Nigerian heritage, won awards for Look up, and his Clean Up, which followed last June, was well received, considering the situation. He actively encourages inner city children of various ethnicities to consider a career in illustration, and the pictures in this book of a happy and loving mixed-race family are an excellent example of representation of our multi-cultural country: Mum is black, Dad is white with ginger hair, and the two children are slightly differently brown, with ginger hair for the little sister. Dad’s brightly-coloured clothing, with fabrics covered in bananas or pineapples, is echoed in the end-pages. This is a lovely colourful book and a nice story to share.
Pear of Hope
Wenda Shurety, illus. Deb Hudson, pub. E K Books
Pear of Hope begins with Anna and her friends playing around the much-loved pear tree at the bottom of her garden. The tree is a source of life, adventure, and solace. This joyful beginning is interrupted as we turn the page and find dark clouds and storms have taken over. Anna stands alone by the tree as it is buffeted by the wind.
Through the subtle interplay of text and illustrations we learn that Anna is dealing with serious illness. Cancer is hinted at but never explicitly named. Anna’s suffering is mirrored by the changes the tree goes through. As it loses its leaves Anna is also at her lowest point. The tree is both a reflection of Anna’s journey and a source of comfort and support. The seasons change and colour and hope return and Anna grows in strength. The tree becomes a symbol of resilience and renewal. As the tree endures so does Anna.
Pear of Hope is published by E K Books who specialize in books covering challenging issues for children in an engaging and accessible way. The book is a sensitive portrayal of a difficult subject and provides a message of comfort and hope. Complex conversations could be prompted by Anna’s story. It would be a valuable book for children affected by the issues. It also provides a good starting point for developing empathy and understanding of the challenges some children face. Suitable for children 4 upwards, it would make an excellent addition to a school library.
Meg McLaren, pub. Andersen Press
This is a nicely illustrated picture book that my 4-year-old boy and I enjoyed reading together. The pictures convey a sense of safety, even when the unexpected happens, which I thought was an important feature for little readers. The shades of colour revolve around bright greens, light blues, beige, light red and pink, all contributing to set a reassuring and familiar atmosphere depicting the garden, the park, the sky, dogs and toys.
The protagonists of the story are a dog called Dot and his favourite squeaky toy, a purple elephant called Peep. My son startled when Peep got stolen by another dog, as if his own favourite cuddly were stolen. The story encourages such empathy addresses the theme of the relationship between a child and his surrounding world, mirrored in Dot’s fears. Words and pictures tell the story in a complementary way. This is a very successful aspect of the book. I liked watching a crack in Dot’s garden fence gradually widen until it made the whole panel collapse, so that the boundary between Dot’s garden and the park disappear. The pictures stand out more than the writing does, as I found some sentences not flowing perfectly while reading aloud.
Children will love the tenderness between Dot and Peep, together with the playfulness manifested by the other dogs by which Dot feel threatened, at first, but who finally become her playmates. The book is beautifully presented and benefits from having a hardcover. It would make a brilliant gift for dog loving children.
Rain Before Rainbows
Smriti Hall, illus. David Litchfield, pub. Walker Books
A captivating picture book for 3–7-year-olds created by two stars of the children’s book world working together for the first time. Walker Books have also published an e-book version to raise awareness for Save The Children’s “Save with Stories” campaign to support the most vulnerable children affected by the coronavirus pandemic. By donating to this cause you can fund early learning packs, supermarket vouchers, essential household items and virus protection. To donate go to www.savethechildren.org.uk.
The bewitching illustrations accompanied by the lilting prose entice you to follow the interaction of a girl and her friend the fox as they cope with tough times following a fire in the castle where they lived. The essence of the book is summed up at the beginning by a quotation from Psalm 30:5; “Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning.” Although this is equally a phrase that will most likely, I guess, be lost on the average 3–7-year-olds, without detailed explanation.
Dragons, battles, worries, darkness, dreams, crashing seas and adverse weather conditions are courageously contended with. And despite these setbacks, the girl and the fox with their new friends’ assistance and natures’ signposts search for a better life. The reader is drawn through the book by the mesmerising graphics which are spine-tinglingly good.
Follow as the girl and the fox leave the darker, gloomier first half of the book and progress towards the lighter, more inspirational second half. A positive message unfolds along their path urging the reader to hang on in there. Try not to give in to your fears, keep going forwards, make friends, be observant, resourceful, resilient.
This book will appeal to a variety of ages. Children will love it for the pictures and the prose that could easily be learnt and recited. Adults will recognise its appeal to their inner child. Some may find it just a bit too oversimplified to be meaningful whilst others will find it fits the bill nicely. A good resource for use at home or in school. The poetic “epic’ style story would make an excellent class recital on the progression of the coronavirus. All in all, a wicked little story progressing from great sadness, aided by hope and determination to reach a happy ending.
Sometimes: A Book of Feelings
Stephanie Stansbie, illus. Elisa Paganelli, pub. Little Tiger Press
How do you explain, to a small child what feelings are and their consequences? Well, Stephanie Stansbie’s book Sometimes: A Book of Feelings, does just that! This book uses rhyme, and other poetic devices, to relate feelings to things that we are already familiar with, such as:
‘Your body’s full of feelings: like the tide they ebb and flow. Sometimes they lift you high and sometimes they bring you low.’
It’s a wonderful introduction, for little people, to understand how to manage their feelings, through a story of two siblings exploring how their feelings can change over time. The reader can indulge in the magnificently colourful illustrations of Elisa Paganelli, whose style creates such energy that captures the mood of each feeling wonderfully, from the different tones of grey that mimics bored and glum, to the many different hues of blue for sadness. The illustrations, in this book, really do compliment the story telling and the rhyme gives a playful quality too, capturing the essence of the children in the book.
The book concludes with the idea that, through all the ups and downs and rollercoaster of emotions, all will be well, in the end, because of the feeling of love. The added bonus of this book is the self-help page, at the back, that gives simple strategies to deal and cope with each feeling and emotion.
This is a book for sharing and reading aloud and can be enjoyed by young and old alike. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m sure you will too.
The Whale Who Wanted More
Rachel Bright, illus. Jim Field, pub. Orchard Books
A very welcome addition to the growing collection of new takes on traditional fables, The Whale Who Wanted More is another brainchild of the outstanding partnership of author Rachel Bright and illustrator Jim Field. With four other animal-related titles already under their super talented belts, they turn their attention to that largest of marine mammals, the sperm whale. Funnily enough, the sperm whale used to be called the ‘cachalot’, and our hero, Humphrey, certainly does catch and cache a lot of things.
Humphrey is a great gentle giant, who cruises round the oceans, always on a quest. But for what? He doesn’t really know, so he just collects anything that catches his eye, and that he hasn’t already got. Every day there are new things to be spotted, things he just MUST have, but somehow by the next day they don’t seem quite so exciting. Until one day… but that would be telling! And Humphrey isn’t the only dissatisfied creature in the deep ocean, there are plenty of argumentative and selfish beasts, large and small, who need something to change their behaviour!
This is a book which is carefully correct in its rhyming text, with the right number of syllables and clues to allow young readers to predict, remember and accurately supply the rhymes. It just cries out for an audience, at home, in a small group, a whole class, even a whole collection of classes via video call. We even know when to whisper and when to shout by the size of the print! The moral of the story, like all the best fables, is actually a simple one, which allows something to come to light within our own abilities, something that we don’t recognize but which is essential to our happiness. In Humphrey’s case he rediscovers something that he always knew he had, but just hadn’t considered important enough to satisfy his sense of wellbeing. The illustrations are splendid, especially on the dark backgrounds of the deep ocean, with plenty to search for amongst the images. An absolutely perfect integration with the text, making it an unmissable picture-book!