Tag Archives: Jeanne Willis

Blue and yellow

Feeling quite inspired by two colourful picture books in nicely Swedish colours.

Bluebird by Bob Staake is a rather special book. Longer than average and wordless, it still tells a marvellous story. The illustrations are something else, and all in tones of blues and neutrals. I’d happily frame a page and put on my wall.

Bob Staake, Bluebird

Set in New York, by the look of things, it tells the story of a lonely boy, who is befriended by a small bird. There is bullying and a sad, but beautiful ending. Wonderful to look at, and if you can adapt your own words to your own child it should suit almost everybody.

In Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, we meet another little bird in this tremendously yellow book. The chicken pops into the farmhouse to use the farmer’s computer every night. She buys things, thus confusing the poor farmer.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Chicken Clicking

And then, then she makes an online friend. This is a cautionary tale about online safety. You just never know who will pretend to be your friend. Do you?

This chicken finds out…

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.

Families are where people love you

Jeanne Willis, ably assisted with lovely illustrations by Adrian Reynolds, mixes her families up in Upside Down Babies. Somehow the baby animals end up with the ‘wrong’ mummies, but that works, too. In some cases, anyway.

And then the world is put right again, even if some mums actually hang on to their ‘wrong’ babies. Very sweet, for all of us who have worried about separation.

Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds, Upside Down Babies

So, you’re different. Doesn’t mean you don’t belong, as very big mouse Enormouse finds out in Angie Morgan’s book. The others appear to be poking fun at him for his size, so he leaves to go and find the rats, who look just like him.

But the rats aren’t like him, and Enormouse decides to ‘go home’ again, where he has been badly missed. Home is where you belong, whatever your shape.

Angie Morgan, Enormouse

That could be in two homes, as Baby Bird finds in Two Nests by Laurence Anholt and Jim Coplestone. His parents fall in love, and Baby Bird is born and everything is fine.

No it’s not. Things get bad, until his parents do the sensible thing and build a second nest on another branch. Baby Bird has two homes, and two parents who love him.

Laurence Anholt and Jim Coplestone, Two Nests

Counting how much you love your Little Bear becomes hard work for Dad. Little Bear can’t sleep, because he needs to know his Dad loves him more than… They go on and on until Dad falls asleep. And suddenly Little Bear finds he can sleep as well. I Love You Too! is a sweet bedtime story by Michael Foreman. It’s as if you can’t ever have too many bedtime books. Especially about bears.

Michael Foreman, I Love You Too!

Ros Asquith is spot on – as always – in her It’s Not Fairy. The It’s Not Fairy has a hard job sorting everyone out. That’s everyone who moans and says ‘It’s Not Fair!’ and they needn’t be just children. Parents are as bad. Children squabble over ice cream treats, and parents disagree on who works the hardest.

Well, that would be the It’s Not Fairy. Eventually she falls into her own trap, because she just has so much to do.

Ros Asquith, It's Not Fairy

Stockport Schools Book Award 2013

Authors simply don’t look like they’re meant to! You google them and know ‘exactly’ who to look for and…

Great minds think alike. The only difference being that the representative from Stockport Library Services had printed out his cheat sheet of author photos to help him recognise the award winning authors he was at my neighbourhood hotel to greet, while I had tried to memorise people’s faces.

In the end we did equally well, I’d say. We even recognised each other.

Stockport Librarian and Jeanne Willis

Jeanne Willis

I obviously know what Jeanne Willis looks like; the glammest girl in the children’s books world. She also knows what I look like, but I will spare you a description.

She was the first one down, and it was purely because the bar made for a nice shiny background that I photographed her there. Jeanne has never set foot in a bar before Wednesday evening. And what a foot! I mean; what an ankle bracelet!

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Hippospotamus

Tony Ross

Tony Ross

Jeanne won the KS1 award with Tony Ross for their picture book Hippospotamus, and just to be fair, I allowed Tony to flash his shoe and calf as well, although it wasn’t quite as exciting as when Jeanne did it. Although Tony looked most debonair. The upper half, I mean. (Note the halo.)

Adrian Reynolds & Thomas Taylor, The Pets You Get!

Thomas Taylor was next to show up, and he won the Early Years award with Adrian Reynolds for The Pets You Get! I found this a little confusing, since Thomas is an illustrator,* but it seems he has written the words this time and Adrian did the illustrations.

Thomas Taylor and Matt Dickinson

With so much handshaking going on, Matt Dickinson appeared, brandishing a hand after hiding in a corner somewhere. He was freshly arrived from Spain, so Stockport might have seemed like a bit of a letdown. Unseasonably warm, but not that warm. Matt is the author of Mortal Chaos, which won him the KS3 award.

Matt Dickinson, Mortal Chaos

Someone who was in town, but not at the hotel, unfortunately, was Christopher Edge, who wrote the KS2 winning book Twelve Minutes to Midnight. (So, no picture.)

Christopher Edge, Twelve Minutes to Midnight

Apparently the unspoken theme for the evening was the Oscars. I can believe that. Jeanne Willis in black and diamonds looked every centimetre the part. And then Katie Dale walked in, looking more like a fairy princess than any author I’ve ever seen (and I’ve met a few by now). It was definitely a Wow! kind of moment.

Katie Dale

Katie won the KS4 award for Someone Else’s Life, and I suspect the sight of That Dress could have rendered hordes of her fans speechless. Or perhaps they merely screamed.

Katie Dale, Someone Else's Life

If you are thinking that I am being shallow, going on about clothes, then you are quite correct. Reading is important, and the children of Stockport have read and voted. But there comes a time when glitter and glamour rule. Like Wednesday night at The Plaza.

For more down to earth-ness we discussed the difficulty of leaving Clacton (now that I’ve been warned, I will never go), and as the time came for the assembled beauties to leave for the award ceremony, there was a major taxi fail. None of the pre-booked pumpkins turned up, so wands had to be waved again, and again, before a successful leaving could be executed. (Katie’s dress obviously needed a whole backseat of its own…)

Katie Dale and handsome escort

And you know, after last week’s income reveal, and the number of authors who pay to go to awards, I had forgotten one aspect. Just think of the money spent on dazzling the fans with outfits like these! Utterly selfless.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

*If you think you don’t know Thomas or his work; think again. He’s responsible for the image on the right. A few of us will have seen it somewhere, despite it being the cover of a first novel by someone totally unknown.

(It’s my favourite of the HPs. I hadn’t realised they were done by different people. Now I know.)

Royal children

There’s no end to the royal picture books!

Following on from The Queen’s Knickers Nicholas Allan has taken his interest in royal bottom garments a step further, and we can now read all about The Royal Nappy.

Nicholas Allan, The Royal Nappy

Luckily there is a Nanny who keeps track of all nappy related aspects in a royal baby’s life. Helicopters come with a pooey nappy ejector. There are shiny nappies on which a baby can skid the length of the palace floors.

And I gather even old Henry VIII wore nappies once.

I sense this book might be a hit. Royal nappies feel topical, somehow.

Let’s hope the nappy-wearer will not be like Jeanne Willis’s and Tony Ross’s Prince Charmless. He’s a spoilt little thing. Nothing is ever good enough, despite the palace staff working very hard.

So one day everyone leaves and the King and the Queen don’t know what to do, because they have to rule the country. In the end they let the Prince do things for himself.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Prince Charmless

And what do you know? Prince Charmless discovers it’s fun to do things, and by the end he has – almost – turned into a Prince Charming. Plenty of lessons here for all of us who mollycoddle our children. We should all busy ourselves with ruling the country, allowing the children to discover the world. Within reason.

Hippospotamus

I love Jeanne Willis’s books! Hippospotamus, which unsurprisingly has illustrations by Tony Ross, is quite a mature picture book for small children.

You could easily take it at face value; that it’s about a Hippo who discovers a puzzling spot on her behind. Hippo goes round listening to the advice of her friends, who all ‘know’ what the spot is. Except it isn’t.

But if you happen to spot (sorry) the dedication, ‘may all our lumps and bumps be this benign’ the adult reader will start looking at the book in a different light. Because most of us have probably been there, in some form or other. The worry is real, and not just for laughs. Friends are good, but not always right.

‘Hippopotamus had a spotamus… on her bottomus.’

It’s wonderful. The rhymes are most poetic, and this would be a fun book to read out loud, as long as you don’t have a worrying spotamus on your body.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Hippospotamus

Take it as red

You don’t really want to know about my red shoes. But, I have to own up to sometimes wearing them, if only to cheer me up. Red does that, but it’s a hell of a colour to carry off further north.

In case anyone needs cheering up today, here is Jeanne Willis, and she is very red.

Jeanne Willis

I know full well this is no fashion column, but here is someone who gets away with red. Can you see why I very nearly stopped Jeanne outside her Edinburgh hotel for an immediate photo session?

Red means stop, anyway. And luckily we waited for a more appropriate time and place.

(Photo Helen Giles)

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.

VTAs and VTBs

Outside the hotel where we were meeting with one author, we ran into another. Jeanne Willis arrived at the same time as we did, and it was all I could do not to ask her to pose for a photo there and then. Managed to contain myself.

Simmone Howell

Ever since reading that Simmone Howell was coming to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d been wanting to meet up. So I’ve probably stalked her a little by email for a few months, but Simmone of the two Ms gamely turned up at the suggested spot for some tea on Tuesday afternoon. Well, not much of a tea, seeing as we could probably have sat there for hours having a good time, but not much to drink. Service wasn’t slow so much as not really there. At all.

She’s been in the UK for a few months, but is going back to Melbourne later this week. We talked Melbourne a little (not that I know it, you understand), and sex in Y A books, and how the Australian school year is arranged. She doesn’t know Adrian McKinty (yet), nor Sonya Hartnett, though they share a teacher in their pasts. Simmone was getting ready to do an event on making zines, which we didn’t have tickets for. Will see her this morning instead.

Had been going to see Andrew Sachs talking to Alexander McCall Smith, but Manuel cancelled, so I did too. At this rate my events with Mma Ramotswe’s author aren’t going too well.

Marcus Sedgwick

So in the event the day’s only event was this VTB hearing a VTA talk about ravens. And rabbits and de-iced squirrels. (Barry Hutchison should look out.) Marcus Sedgwick did a talk on the Raven Mysteries, and he explained he was a VTA, very tired author. Courtesy of Ry****r he had flown over from Sweden where he’s been busy writing a book, and what the maneater* jellyfish didn’t manage to do, the airline did. Marcus had had two hours of sleep, he was having a bad hair day (or so he claimed), and he’d allowed himself wine with lunch, which resulted in the purchase of new boots. (Footwear purchases do happen so easily…)

Marcus proceeded to perform literary cruelty to an amphibian. He read a bit, and talked some nonsense about peanut butter, and then he made some of the assembled children take part in a short play on the stage. He even had a raven glove-puppet which had passed muster as handluggage. It seems that we are able to enjoy the Raven Mysteries, which are great fun, due to a very early graveyard encounter for young Marcus.

Sarah McIntyre

Sarah McIntyre, of cartoons fame, was signing at the table next to Marcus, and then the photographer persuaded Marcus to jump into the Charlotte Square mud with his new boots. Never mind. He can always buy new new boots.

Attempted to wait around for Seamus Heaney, but this photo-shy man took his time to turn up, so we sloped off to another poet. Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross had finished their event and were signing books until we took them out and asked them (reasonably politely) to pose. I suspect Tony missed the lesson on not sticking his tongue out at people.

Tony Ross

I feel we got the better looking poet. Jeanne had warned me she’d be the one covered in tomatoes. Some tomatoes…

Jeanne Willis

*Jellyfish in Swedish is maneter, and Marcus’s pun was very bad. But then, the jellyfish probably did something not very nice to him first.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Vamoose, elk, älg, whatever, and other books

Funny how it’s almost possible to miss a new book by Meg Rosoff. When you’re me, that is. And I know the rest of you aren’t me. But, you know… And it is funny. The book. Vamoose, as it’s called. It’s about a young couple who become pregnant, and the baby turns out to be an elk. (Now, I absolutely refuse to refer to it as a moose, except I know the title sort of loses it’s pun factor this way.) And because that’s impossible in the first place, it’s obviously not true. Is it?

But it’s funny, with Meg’s sense of humour.

Infinity by Sarah Dessen is another of Puffin’s pocket money books. It’s all about roundabouts, and at first I thought it was the fun kind, but it turned out to be the road kind. Although the story does have a ferris wheel, so it all comes round, in a manner of speaking. As a big Sarah Dessen fan, I was a little disappointed in this tale, to be frank.

Roald Dahl has not been writing a new piece for the Puffin series, so what you get in Spotty Powder and other Splendiferous Secrets is a previously un-published chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, plus a sort of annual diary by Roald and lots of snippets about him and Quentin Blake. So, not a lot of new stuff, but if you know what you’re getting, then it’s a must for the Dahl collector.

The Cathy Cassidy contribution to the series has yet to arrive, as it is being reprinted. I presume that means it’s a great hit already.

From the small selection I have been sampling, the best by far is Jeanne Willis’s Silly Cecil and Clever Cubs, for younger readers. But you don’t have to be young to enjoy this silly cat tail. It’s about posh cat Cecil, who is very grand, and the distinctly un-posh Cubby who simply moves in with Cecil and all his lovely food. At first Cubby isn’t good enough for Cecil, and then Cecil the crazy fat cat wants Cubby to kill him. And that’s when things get to be really amusing. Highly recommended.

To live up to the label ‘Pocket Money Puffin’ these books could have done with being cheaper than £3.99. I know children are given a lot of pocket money these days, but whereas Jeanne’s book is well worth the money, it’s not something I see a child of seven going out to buy on their own or with their own money. But as a regular book bought by an adult it’s fine.

The Dahl is OK as long as the child spending his pocket money knows it’s not new fiction. Whereas Vamoose is only half the book, with the rest of the 95 pages extracts from Just In Case and What I Was. Same but worse with Infinity, where only a third of the book is new, and 61 pages are extracts from two previous Puffin Sarah Dessen novels. For someone coming fresh to Sarah and Meg it could serve as Puffin must have intended, and is an OK introduction to some great books. For the avid fan who already owns these books, they’ve spent £2 on something they didn’t need. And I reckon that matters, especially for children.