Category Archives: Picture Books

The Bear and the Piano

David Litchfield

Frances Lincoln

9781847807175

September 2015

hardback

I’m not surprised this book was selected as a Highlight of the Season in The Bookseller’s Children’s Autumn Buyers Guide. It’s rather special. And it’s Litchfield’s first picture book. He will be opening The Bookseller’s Children Conference later this month when he will be exhibting (alongside five other illustrators) original artwork from this title.

I recommend a visit to his website:

davidlitchfield

From the end papers and the opening spread, the artwork in this picture book is stunning. And I love the variation in page layout. The designers have done a wonderful job.

But well-presented artwork also needs an original and moving story and this book has that also.

A bear discovers an old piano abandoned in the wood. He plays on the piano every day, practising for months and years until he can play so well that other bears come to listen. One night his playing is overheard by a girl and her father, who ‘discover’ him and entice him away to the city, where he performs in public and becomes a star on Broadway. He wins awards, is lauded, and feted. But he misses his home and his friends.

He returns to the forest. The piano has gone. His friends aren’t there. He is forlorn. But it turns out the piano has simply been moved to a safe position. His friends have been following his career. They are his fans too. He sits down and plays a special concert set just for them.

Litchfield’s forest and city illustrations are equally strong. I love, in particular, the auditorium double spread. The hardback’s dustjacket tells us that he uses “a variety of traditional techniques, assembling the different elements together in Photoshop to create large-scale, dramatic scenes.” We’re also told that the book was inspired by The White Stripes short 50-second song ‘Little Room’.

Terry Perkins and his upside down smile

Felix Massie

Frances Lincoln

9781847806208

August 2015

hardback

I sat down this morning with my 11 o’clock espresso and spent some time browsing through the Autumn Catalogue of the Quarto Publishing Group. When I came to the section for Frances Lincoln Books I stopped on p80 and thought to myself, “Ooh, this looks interesting – hope I’ve been sent a review copy.” So up I get and look at my pile of recently received picture books. Yes! It was there. And what a wonderful debut it is.
Felix Massie is a London-based award-winning animator and illustrator. He designed the short, animated trailer for the book:

Massie’s illustration style is disarmingly simple, but perfectly suited to this rhyimng tale about a young boy who is fine, until he starts to speak, when all his words come out garbled, as if they have been written upside-down. The doctor recommends a straightforward remedy to Terry’s mother. Turn the boy himself upside-down and then the words should come out the right way. Which they do. But all is not well. Now he can talk. But can’t walk. He has to be pushed around in a trolley. He is teased mercillessly at playschool. Then a girl called Jenny befriends him at a playground. She is hanging upside down on the monkey bars, and when she means to say “Boo!” it comes out as “Poo!”and Terry finds himself laughing for the first time since being turned upside down.

It’s an amusing story about being different and will be especially helpful to parents of young children who have speech difficulties.

Massie is already signed up to create a second picture book for FL which will be called George Pearce and his Huge Massive Ears.

Daisy Saves The Day

Shirley Hughes

Walker Books

978140634899

September 2014

hardback

How lucky we are that Shirley Hughes is still producing such wonderfully written and illustrated picture books. Set at the time of the coronation of King George V, when the actual day of the procession comes round Daisy, working as a scullery maid in a big house, is left Cinderella-like alone. She ingeniously fabricates some bunting from red, white and blue laundry, including a pair of red bloomers belonging to one of the two old ladies Daisy is employed by. They are much annoyed about this, but fortunately an American niece, staying in the house at the time, helps to prevent Daisy from being dismissed. She stays on, but in disgrace, and is hardly spoken to by the other servants. Then, when a fire breaks out, it is Daisy who ‘saves the day’.

Here is Shirley Hughes herself, talking about the book:

The Promise

Nicola Davies, ill. Laura Carlin

Walker Books

9781406355598

September 2014

paperback

An affecting picture book for older children, well-received in hardback last year, and now in paperback.

The book is narrated by a boy growing up in a mean, hard and ugly city. He lives by stealing, usually pickpocketing on crowded streets. Then one night he tries to snatch a old woman’s handbag but she hangs on tight and will not let go until he has made a promise to “plant them”. He is expecting the fat bag to be full of coins. But when he opens it he finds only acorns. “I stared at them, so green, so perfect and so many, and understood The Promise I had made. I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed.”
He keeps his promise and travels from city to city, planting the acorns. Slowly they flourish and the cities become lively, colourful places once again.
Finally, on arriving in a new city where his planting was yet to start, “in a lonely alley, a young thief fought me for my sack of acorns. I smiled and made the old bargain, knowing how a heart can change, knowing that my planting will go on…”

Not a particularly seasonal book, but foll of genuine Christmas spirit. A book author, illustrator and publisher can be proud of.

Is There A Dog In This Book?

Viviane Schwarz

Walker Books

9781406345612

September 2014

hardback

Hooray, a lift-the-flap book that is actually fun and clever and in which the flaps are used meaningfully.
We open the book and immediately meet three cats, Tiny, Moonpie and Andre – identified by the names on their foodbowls.
On the next page they are looking disgruntled. Someone has drunk up all their milk. Someone has chewed Tiny’s tiny toy. And Andre reckons that mean there’s a ‘dog in this book’.
Cue for some hide-and-seek.
They hide behind the sofa. Then inside the piano. Next in a wardrobe. Finally in a suitcase, which is where the dog sniffs them out.
My favourite spread is coming up. The three cats recoil, but then notice the dog looks friendly. Tiny decides to reach out and… (turn the flap) touch. Moonpie, from looking terrified, reaches out and says, “Ooh! It is… so soft.” Andre goes next and agrees.
The reader is ionvited to stretch out a hand and stroke the dog.
But the dog gets frightened and runs off.
Now we need to lift the flaps to find the dog.

This is Viviane Schwarz’s (in 2011 she was a winner of Booktrust’s Ten Best New Illustrators Award) third Cats book. It’s fab!

This book just ate my dog!

Richard Byrne

Oxford

9780192737281

Sep 2014

hardback

This title has to be one of the most visually inventive of 2014. Bella is taking a dog for a stroll and all appears well on the opening spread.
But turn the page and the dog has begun to disappear down into the page gutter. Turn the page again and the dog has completely disappeared.
The friend Ben and a number of emergency vehicles also disappear.
Bella decides to cross back over to the left-hand side of the spread to find them all.
She disappears too!
A note is sent to the reader, who is instructed to turn the book on its side and Shake It.

Well done, Richard Byrne!

thisbookjustatemydog_looped

I don’t want to go to school

Stephanie Blake

Gecko Press

9781877579042

August 2014

hardback

Stephanie Blake (born in America but now living and publishing in France, where this book first appeared in 2007 as ‘Je veux pas aller a le’ecole) has now published four books about Simon, the cheeky little rabbit, who made his UK debut in 2011, in Poo Bum.
Huge print, clever repetition and simple blocked-colour illustration combine to make Blake’s titles sure-fire hits with their audience. Great for group read-alouds, because the pages are easily appreciated from a dfistance.

Where Is Rusty?

Sieb Posthuma

Gecko Press

9781927271452

Sep 2014

hardback

Sieb Posthuma, a Dutch author/illustrator, has produced a highly likeable story about a family excursion to a large department store. It’s instantly apparent from the opening page that we are in a world peopled by dogs. The bus driver in the first illustration is a dog. The car driver is a dog. The passengers are dogs. And rusty is one of three young dogs travelling to the department store with their mother.
“It’s very busy inside,” [mom] says. “So what do we do?”
“We all stay together!” chant Rusty, Henrietta and Toby.
But of course they don’t.
Rusty is led astray by the smell coming from a customer whose basket shows that they have just come from the food department. He follows her into a lift and the adventure begins.
One of those picture books that works almost entirely because of the lively light-hearted illustrations.

Traditional Scottish Tales: The Tale of Tam Linn

retold by Lari Donn, ill. Philip Longson

Floris

9781782501343

Sep 2014

paperback

Published in Floris book’s Picture Kelpies: Traditional Tale series, this is a very satisfactory retelling, sumptuously illustrated, handsomely presented and attractively priced. Recommended for all children’s and school libraries but also as an individual gift.

Another equally good title in the same series:
The Dragon Stoorworm, retold by Theresa Breslin, ill. Matthew Land

And here is a video showing Philip Longson at work on the illustrations for Tam Linn:

Bluebird

Bob Staake

Andersen Press

9781783441853

July 2014

paperback

I’ve got very mixed feelings about this one. I love wordless picture books and Staake has put together the narrative really well using a limited palette and a variety of page framings. But NOWHERE is the extent of the book’s debt to Albert Lamorisse’s beautiful silent French film Le Ballon Rouge acknowledged. All Staake has done is change the red balloon into a blue bird who befriends and follows a child. In the picture book as in the film, bullies intervene and the bird apparently dies. At the climax of the French film balloons from all over Paris come to lift up the boy into the sky. Here, a multicoloured flock of birds does exactly the same thing. “Like nothing else you have seen before” said Kirkus Reviews. Huh!