Monthly Archives: December 2014

Daisy Saves The Day

Shirley Hughes

Walker Books


September 2014


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


September 2014


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


September 2014


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!

Noah’s Ark

Francesca Crespi

Frances Lincoln


September 2014


A delightfully traditional pop-up book from Francesca Crespi, whose earlier pop-up version of the Nativity has sold 200,000 worldwide.
Crespi’s background is in Italian theatre design, and it shows in the wonderful backdrops she provides for her pop-up scenes.

The Conversation Train

Joel Shaul

Jessica Kingsley


February 2014


This is a really clever and helpful book aimed at giving autistic children a better understanding of how everyday conversations work, using the analogy of a steam train.
The engine or locomotive starts the conversation up with a greeting. The tender provides some locomotive power with a ‘How are you?’ or similar. And then, using illustrations of the freight wagons, the author shows how important turn-taking is in conversation, and how a non-sequitur remark can potentially derail things.
It’s very appealingly done, and there are photocopiable worksheets at the back for reinforcement and assessment.
This is a very high-quality resource, confidently recommended.
It was first published in America in 2010 by Autism Teaching Strategies.

The Asperkid’s Game Plan

Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Jessica Kingsley


April 2014


Jessica Kingsley is an independent publisher known for its strength in publishing books about mental health and autism. The author of this title was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in adulthood and is the mother of three children with Aspergers.
Her book explains in very practical detail how to structure play that engages Asperkids in a way that will reinforce ASD strengths whilst also addressing ASD weaknesses.
It’s a substantial very well-produced hardback, plentifully illustrated with colour photos.
Recommended both for parents and educational settings.

Malala – The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Changed The World

Mamalal Yousafzai, with Patricia McCormick



August 2014


When I was young (pre-teen), reading biographies and memoirs of famous and inspiring individuals was commonplace. I had a particular penchant for reading about explorers and adventurers. When I visited the children’s section of the public library there was no shortage of such books. But individual biographical subjects no longer feature so prominently on children’s publishing lists.
The subject of this book has, of course, just been presented with the Nobel Peace Prize. Back in the summer Orion published her memoir on their teenage Indigo list. Although the book has all the appearance of an adult hardback biography (with inset coloured photos) it has been co-written with Patricia McCormick in a manner that makes it eminently accessible to children of older primary age, and would make an excellent present for anyone aged 10+.
It’s thought-provoking and engaging. Malala herself comes across as extraordinarily well-balanced and rounded.
At the end there is a very useful Timeline of Important Events, but also a set of Discussion Notes which give the book an unnecessarily overt educational agenda.

Night Runner

Tim Bowler



July 2014


Gripping and engrossing from the very first chapter this is atmospheric teen thriller writing of the very highest order. Bowler gets the first-person voice of Zinny, his teenaged main character exactly right. Not too overdone, just sufficiently gritty and edgy.
Bowler has always had a marked talent for creating mood and atmosphere. What’s particularly impressive about Night Runner is the sense of being hounded and watched by an evil presence and, in terms of the book’s title, firstly being on the run from it, and then having to be a runner for it.
Bowler’s writing is also a model of compression – a demonstration that you simply do not need to overegg writing with ‘powerful’ adjectives and adverbs to create vivid scenes for the reader. One of the reasons Night Runner makes such an impact is, counter-intuitively, due to a limitation on visual descriptions of character and place. At just under 200 pages the book is almost entirely composed of action and dialogue. And this makes the reader supply their own visualisations, so that reading the book is a bit like having a nightmare.
The author gives the reader just enough and then is happy to let imagination do the rest.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the Pinkie-Brown-like character of the book’s villain.

“He’s got dark hair,” I go on, “slick, clean-shaven, smooth-looking guy, about thirty, and he’s got this flash coat.”

That’s Zinny, early on in the book, while calling the police. After that, ‘Flash Coat’ is all that’s required to convey the character’s presence.
The book is an especially pleasing read because it is not pure thriller. There is an affecting backstory here, regarding Zinny’s parents.
It’s a dark book, and at times unflinchingly violent. But a motif of light and hope keeps trying to break through, embodied by a library book of nature photography that Zinny has had out on extended loan.
Compelled to keep turning the pages from one exciting chapter to the next, I kept wondering how this motif might play out at the end. I won’t reveal how, just say that it does.

One of the best YA novels of 2014 for sure.

This book just ate my dog!

Richard Byrne



Sep 2014


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!


I don’t want to go to school

Stephanie Blake

Gecko Press


August 2014


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.