Recently in Picture Books Category

The Flute

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Rachna Gilmore ill,. Pulak Biswas
Tradewind
9781896580579
June 2011
32 pp
Whole book read
Read On? n/a
Movingly told, simply but effectively illustrated by one of India's best-known illustrators, this is a lovely short story by Governor General Award-winning author, Rachna Gilmore. Set in a countryside prone to flooding, it tells the story of Chandra who is left an orphan after her parents are swept away by floodwater. All she has to remember them by is the wooden flute that her mother used to play so beautifully. Taken in by a cruel and merciless aunt and uncle, Chandra is treated as a slave. The flute is the only object of comforrt in her world. Even after she loses it (swept away by swollen river waters) the flute is able to perform its magic, filling her spirit with hope, and even feeding her body. Finally, after another flood, Chandra is taken in by a kind couple, who treat her not as a slave but as their own daughter. Pleasingly designed and printed, this is a picture book to keep in a home library for many a year. Warmly recommended.




Again!

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Emily Gravett
Macmillan
9780230745360
October 2011
24 pp
Whole book read
Read On? n/a
Emily Gravett is already a two-times winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her new picture book is another class act. The book-within-a-book tells the tale - in splendidly executed, easy to read aloud rhyme - of Cedric the Dragon, whose end of day refrain is "Tomorrow I'll do it all over again." The young dragon who is being read to by parent dragon also shouts "Again" on every alternate double spread. But in his case it is the storybook he wants to hear again.

In a clever twist at the end, dragon fire burns a big hole in the final page and right through the back cover of the book. The fly-leaf carries the message DO NOT BLOCK FIRE EXIT.

I like the way the jacket designers have continued to play the game and aid suspension of disbelief by making this "fire exit" obscure a big chunk of the back page blurb. One thing is for sure, young children will want to share this book Again and Again even if it's just to poke their fingers through that hole.




Me And You

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Anthony Browne
Doubleday
9780385614894
April 2010
Anthony Browne's wonderful riff on Goldilocks and the Three Bears has the dedication "For all underdogs". Goldilocks is no fairytale character in this version, but a modern little girl in hoodie living in a dull grey terrace. She goes out shopping with her mum. Their gloomy expressions speak of a desolate home atmosphere. Whilst her mother browses longingly in a butcher shop window - you get the impression she is too poor to buy the fresh meat on display - the girl goes chasing a stray balloon. All this takes place on the left-hand page of each spread. Meanwhile, on page right the bear family wake up and go for a stroll. They look like bears but dress and talk like ordinary people. "Daddy talked about his work and Mummy talked about her work. I just messed about," baby bear tells us.

After the girl has entered the bears' house, and they duly return, the tale follows its traditional course but Browne has created a version that will get children thinking and talking and reacting to the clever artistry.

Five achukachicks, of course!



Guji-Guji

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Chih-Yuan Chen
Gecko Press
9780958278706
May 2010
Still in his mid-thirties, Taiwanese picture book artist, Chih-Yuan Chen has produced several notable titles, including this amusing tale of a baby crocodile brought up imagining he is a duck. Chen's artwork is marvelously loose and free-flowing, and the book has been extremely well produced (on thick paper with buff page backgrounds) by Gecko Press , a New Zealand publishing house that prides itself on translating and publishing award-winning, "curiously good" children's books from around the world. Guji-Guji was first published in Taiwan in 2003 and then in this edition in New Zealand in 2006. I don't remember seeing it till now, so I am guessing this is its first UK distribution. On their website, Gecko Press claim to "choose books strong in story, illustration and design, with a big 'heart factor'." They certainly did that in this case.



The Land of Long Ago

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Elsa Beskow
Floris
978086315771
September 2010
This is one of a large selection of titles by Swedish author-illustrator, Elsa Beskow, made available in English translation by Floris Books. According to the publishing details page this title has not been previously available in English. It was first published in 1923 as Resan Till Landet Langesen. The name of the translator is for some reason not given.
At first sight Beskow's artwork may come across as somewhat naive and dated, but it is undeniably charming and very simply accessible, as is the story. Two children are playing imaginatively on a dead tree trunk. They use a broken umbrella as dragon wings. While they are riding the pretend dragon a mischievous gnome makes it real, and away they actually fly. Floris Books certainly champion this author, calling her 'the Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia'. They even publish an Elsa Beskow calendar. If you haven't heard of Beskow before, visit this website: http://kampanj.bonniercarlsen.se/beskow/meny1.htm



Dragon Feathers

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illustrated by Olga Dugina & Andrei Dugin, retold by Arnica Esterl
Floris
9780863157745
September 2010
The well-known traditional tale about a woodcutter's son on a mission to pluck three feathers from a dragon's back. The book was first published in German as Die Drachenfederen in 1993, and Floris Books is to be congratulated for bringing it to an English reading audience (translation by Polly Dawson) because the illustrations by the husband-and-wife illustrating team are exceptionally good and, on some of the spreads at least, medieval in their attention to detail.


The Heart And The Bottle

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Oliver Jeffers
HarperCollins
9780007182305
March 2010
Top marks to HarperCollins for the way they have designed and produced this fine work of art (guided by the artist himself, no doubt). Jeffers is exactly that, an artist who works in many formats, picture books being just one of them. A visit to his website - www.oliverjeffers.com - is recommended.

As for this particular title, I believe I love every single thing about it, from the shade of yellow on the book jacket, to the hand-written author/illustrator name, to the charming opening endpaper drawings, to the opening spread with its high horizon, wide treetrunked landscape with thinly growing flowers, a man with a walking-stick looking on as a young girl bends inquisitively towards the flower in the foreground... all the way though to the final endpapers and their biology-lesson-style drawings of a human heart.

This is an impressively moving story about the loss of childhood wonder and its eventual rediscovery. We see the girl, never named, taking delight in all she encounters, until one day she comes upon an emblematically empty chair. Suddenly her whole world becomes empty and heartless. She shuts her heart away in a bottle, lives safely but unfeelingly in a humdrum world.

I like particularly the two pages that Jeffers creates to show us how hard it is for the girl to get her heart back. She is shown at a workshop table, all possible tools at hand, but none of them will smash the bottle and free the heart. She is shown atop a high brick wall, dropping the bottle from a great height, but it just bounces.

It takes another girl, as alive and full of wonder as she once was, to help her free the heart and put it back where it belongs. She ends the book sitting in the high-backed emblematic chair, reading, a pile of books at her side, and a big thought cloud rising above her, teeming with a splatter of differing images.

This is a very fine book, ready to be enjoyed on many different levels, by many diferent ages.



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Monster Day At Work

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Sarah Dyer
Frances Lincoln
9781847800695
February 2010
Wonderfully amusing illustrations in this join-dad-at-work-day story. Rush hour has everyone skating to work in a double-page-spread that will have children lingering over each of the different scooters. The 'morning meeting' spread is fun too, with dad's arm around Monster and the table festooned with an assortment of memos, coffee cups and plates of biscuits and cakes. To be frank, not a lot happens during the rest of the day, so the trick to enjoying this picture book will be in savouring the pictures and improvising the telling. The ending teeters on a working-dad housewife-mum stereotype, perhaps not sufficiently compensated for by the irony of the final words, accompanying the picture of mum, broom in one arm, hoover in the other: "Who has it easy too."


The Biggest Kiss

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Joanna Walsh & Judi Abbott
Simon & Schuster
9781847384362
January 2010
Joanna Walsh's verse text and Judi Abbot's [Giuditta Gaviraghi's) illustrations combine very satisfyingly in a book that will appeal to both very young children and, I suspect, smoochily sentimental adults looking for a Valentine gift that doesn't cost much more than a card.

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Caryl Hart
Orchard Books
9781408304976
October 2009
When I first picked up this picture book and flipped through its pages I was ready to dismiss it as a blatant Lauren Child ripoff, but then I realised the illustrator is Leigh Hodgkinson, creative director of the first Charlie and Lola animation and the stylistic presentation of Caryl Hart's rhyming story about table manners made sense. I like Hodgkinson's 'Colin' titles, but here the ambivalent storyline strikes a rather strange note with Hart's verse being neither funny nor rhythmically assured enough to carry conviction. Worth looking out for if you want a picture book about table manners.