Category Archives: Picture book

The Red Tree

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

It has a rather Finnish, Tove Jansson kind of feel to it. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a book I’d not read before, and I was struck by how Finnish it seemed. Not surprising, but still.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

I can’t make my mind up whether it is sad or not. It deals with feeling sad. Days that start bad and get worse. Shaun’s pictures show pretty vividly how bad you can feel; lonely and dark, and unsure of who you are, even.

Reading this book and discovering you are not alone in feeling alone, ought to be a good thing. Finding you can share your thoughts and feelings with someone who has been there.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

And then there is the ending…

A very beautiful book.

The Lost Thing

I’d like to be found by someone like the boy in Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. If I was lost, I mean. To be found by someone who seems to care that you are lost. Someone who will look after you, while recognising you need something else, and who will then attempt to find what you need. Deep down.

A bottle-top collector might not be your first choice of saviour – unless you are a bottle-top – but it is someone who is used to finding things, and then doing something about them. You could do worse.

I don’t think he has a name. The finder. Or the lost thing, for that matter.

But, anyway, the finder finds a large and lost looking thing on the beach. He takes it home when it becomes obvious no one else is going to claim it. His parents object, but soon forget again. He feeds the thing and leaves it in the shed.

Recognising it needs more than he can give it, he tries The Federal Department of Odds & Ends, but is warned that it’s a bit of a dead end for things. He takes the thing somewhere else, and finally it seems to have got to a place where it belongs, where there are other equally odd things.

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing

It is an odd little story, but a good one. And Shaun’s illustrations are out of this world, as always. I was gripped by a desire to tear the pages out of the book and frame them for my walls.

So far I’ve managed to resist.


I have been reliably informed that little boys get a lot less coverage in picture books. It’s those pesky, pretty pink girls who get in the way.

Claire Harrison and Felicity McElroy, William

So here is William, to make up for all that. He is brown. (He’s a monkey.) And he is everywhere. If he can, he will.

And no matter what he does, his mum points out that she loves him. (I never realised I had to do that. I felt that my love would be obvious. Although Son never swung from trees, as far as I can recall.)

Claire Harrison’s book, with pictures by Felicity McElroy, is very colourful. I was going to say no pink at all, but there are dots of pink here and there. But it’s mostly ‘all the other colours.’

And that of course, is what is missing from so many toys and clothes. Pink is not the only colour. And boys get a raw deal, with more boring colours, and not much to match pink. Boy-pink, so to speak.

Let’s hear it for boys!

Long and narrow

Three picture books, all about animals who are long and narrow.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Boa's Bad Birthday

It’s poor Boa’s birthday and all he wants is a nice present or two. But can he play the piano? No. Or wear mittens? Sunglasses? It’s the thought that counts, according to his mum. But he’s still disappointed. Until one friend gives him something… Boa’s Bad Birthday by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross is as enjoyable as you’d expect. Jeanne knows how to convey feelings with just a few words. And a boa with tears in his eyes? Well.

Sofie Laguna and Craig Smith, Where Are You, Banana?

In Where Are You, Banana? Roddy somehow loses his dog called Banana (dachshund, I’d say). The family look everywhere, but no Banana. Not until Roddy hears a noise and looks more closely so he can see where Banana has disappeared. How to get Banana back, though? Lovely story by Sofie Laguna, and great illustrations by Craig Smith, which convey a boy’s love for what is actually a fairly ugly dog.

Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray, Zeraffa Giraffa

Finally we have the true story of the giraffe in Africa who became a gift for the King of France. The book follows Zeraffa’s journey from Egypt to Paris, a trip where everyone comes to see this strange animal as it passes through. They all love Zeraffa, and none more than the Princess in Paris. And on warm evenings, if he looked south, Zeraffa could almost imagine himself back in Egypt.

Rather sad, really, and so strange you would barely believe it actually happened. Exotic illustrations by Jane Ray accompany Dianne Hofmeyr’s words.

Wendy Quill Tries to Grow a Pet

Growing a pet is something I have to admit to never having tried. There are limits. But Wendy Quill – and I believe Wendy Meddour’s alter ego – will always start crazy schemes like that.

Wendy (the Quill Wendy) wants to be a vet, and having a couple of pets already counts for nothing. She needs more. Her parents say no. The invisible dog isn’t much use, so Wendy starts growing some alternate pets. Nits, frogs, whatever will come.

With the help of her best friend and no direct hindrance from her family, she sows the seeds, so to speak. And she’s more successful than you might imagine.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May, Wendy Quill Tries to Grow a Pet

This is a totally crazy story, made all the more fun for the illustrations by Mina May, age 12 (see, she’s a year older this time). It’s a quick read, but the time you need to study all the pictures means you could be a while.

Barbro Lindgren

Is any author/illustrator worth an award of five million Swedish kronor (approximately £500,000)? It seems like a lot of money, and if one author is worth it, why not most of them? Except very few people stand the chance of winning the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. And when you think about it, what can you hope to buy with that sort of money? In my neighbourhood you can - possibly – purchase a house. It’s not going to allow you to leave lots of money to your children when you die.

And is a well known author a more worthy winner than the one neither you nor I had ever heard of before the award announcement? As you see I have lots of questions, and they tend to surface at this time of year when the new ALMA winner has been chosen. Also, is it OK to give the award to one of your own? Swedes like their authors, so will probably say yes. How often can you award that sort of money to a homegrown author? Why does it seem better to give the prize to a foreigner? As long as we have heard of him or her.

I gather that this year’s lucky author is actually the first Swede to win the ALMA, so I suppose it’s all right. She is one whose name I can never quite remember, and seeing as Barbro Lindgren shares her surname with Astrid herself, that’s rather stupid of me. I’ll blame my shortcomings on the fact that her first book appeared in 1965, when I was too old to be her target audience.

Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson, The Wild Baby

Although, some of her more recent books are ones I have bought specifically for myself, despite them being picture books. Not for Offspring, but for me. I allowed Offspring to read them – a little – but they are mine. (Unfortunately, at this very moment they are safely packed inside some box or other, and I can’t get at them.)

The thing is, I got them for the pictures, by Eva Eriksson. I like the stories, but it’s the illustrations I adore. And I am guessing Eva doesn’t get any of the five million.

The Wild Baby’s Dog is a very sweet little story, and so are the other Wild Baby books. It’d be very hard to dislike the Wild Baby, and you feel for his poor mother.

Then there is Max, and his potty or his teddy or ball or bowl, or whatever. Short, basic picture books for the toddler beginner. Absolutely adorable.

Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson, Max Nalle

I just don’t know if they are worth five million. Well, they are. Of course they are. But then so are many other books.

Do the people in the jury realise quite how much money they are handing over, in one fell swoop?

JJ and Sammy

I think Malorie Blackman would like these two picture books by Odette Elliott. They feature small family dramas, of the everyday kind. What makes them ‘different’ is that they are about black families. That shouldn’t make them stand out, but as there are still not enough such books, they do.

They are published by Tamarind, the imprint that publishes black and other ‘foreign’ minority books. It’s good that they do, but I don’t know why you need a special publisher for non-white books. It’s like clothes in larger sizes. They have to be bought from separate shops. Enough with this discrimination!

Rant over.

Odette Elliott and Patrice Aggs, My Big Brother JJ

My Big Brother JJ is about Jasmine and her big brother, as JJ finds out what it’s like to be a mother. Their mum still has her job to go to when it’s half term, so JJ is in charge. And that is hard work. A few hours is fine, but the whole week?

Anyway, JJ rises to the challenge, and arranges all sorts of activities for Jasmine. And to finish the week with a big statement for their mother, they… Well, let’s say they have a few mishaps on the road to family happiness, and ‘horrid, horrid’ words are uttered.

Odette Elliott and Georgina McIntyre, Sammy Goes Flying

In Sammy Goes Flying, little Sammy’s older siblings get to go on an exciting school trip. He wants to go too, so to stop the tears, his parents arrange for a special Sammy day out. This involves his Grandma and a balloon.

Sammy really does get to fly, and after a while neither he nor Teddy are scared. And they have something to tell the three older children when they get home.

Penguin in Love

I’m a sucker for cute penguins and their loveable little adventures. Here, in Salina Yoon’s Penguin in Love, there is a lot of knitting going on. Unrealistically much, and fast, knitting. But knitting is cute, too.

Salina Yoon, Penguin in Love

Penguin looks for love, but all he finds are people to knit for, to keep them warm. Because he has a big warm heart and he cares.

That’s why, when he has found and then lost his love, they help him find her again.

There is a lot more knitting happening while the search is going on. So in the end everyone is warm, and loved, and happy.

Listen to the little one!

In Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton, we meet three bigger characters and one smaller one. The large ones ‘know best’ and they hatch a plan to catch first a bird and later on, a squirrel.

Chris Haughton, Shh! We Have a Plan

Their plans are rubbish, but they ‘know best.’

The little one has other ideas, like being friendly, rather than using force, and he is quite successful. But the bigger ones are stupid.

Very simple idea to what happens in this picture book, but the best is the artwork, which is strikingly individual and fantastic to look at. (You know, you could cut it up and put some of the pages on the wall… Just saying.)

Chris Haughton, Shh! We Have a Plan

Papa Chagall

I knew less about Marc Chagall than I wanted to admit. Sometimes the names of these big artists just blend together and you know they are great, but who painted what, exactly?

Now I know, because I have been properly introduced to Marc Chagall and his paintings and his life story, all in one fell swoop through the medium of a children’s picture book. They are often the best.

In Tell Us a Story, Papa Chagall, Laurence Anholt paints pictures of Chagall and of his paintings, with ‘real’ paintings used every now and then to illustrate parts of Chagall’s life. They are truly weird, but very appealing in a childish kind of way. What’s not to like about beautiful women and flying cows? In the same painting.

Laurence Anholt, Papa Chagall

His grandchildren come and see the great artist in his studio, and like children do, they insist on being told a story. And he tells them about his life, about his childhood in Russia, about how he met their grandmother and what happened in the war (WWII).

They are touching stories, and help you understand him and sympathise with how his life turned out. But no matter how hard it was, Papa Chagall has time for his grandchildren, and time for one more story.

Rather wonderful.