Category Archives: Picture book

Tibs the Post Office Cat

From a clever dog to a clever cat, whose ‘nearly true story’ Joyce Dunbar tells, with admirably Post Office catty illustrations by Claire Fletcher. Being an old Post Office hand myself, I feel strongly about this.

Joyce Dunbar and Claire Fletcher, Tibs the Post Office Cat

Whatever the truth might have been regarding what happens in this book, Tibs himself was real, born in a Post Office in 1950, and it was his job to keep the mice away. In this story the mice are blamed for eating the letters and licking the glue off the stamps.

Which is why Tibs had to leave his mother and go to the London sorting office to sort (sorry!) the mice out before the Coronation. He even got paid.

The thing about [fictional Tibs] is that his way with mice was rather un-conventional, even allowing for his good manners. So what you expect to happen might not actually have happened, even fictionally, but the mice were certainly not a nuisance for long after Tibs moved in.

And that’s what counts.

This is a very nice little story, and I do love the Post Office connection!

Bunnies

Here are two lovely little picture books with Easter vibes. The covers are certainly lovely and spring-like. And there are bunnies.

And, erm, a fox.

Ellie Sandall, Everybunny Dance!

Ellie Sandall sends her little bunnies out into a clearing in the woods in Everybunny Dance! and they decide to make the most of being alone and unwatched. They will dance, and sing. So they dance, and sing. And then they discover the fox watching them, and…

Oh help.

But are all foxes bad? What if this one is lonely and needing friends?

Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Alison Friend, My Hand to Hold

In Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ story My Hand to Hold, with illustrations by Alison Friend, we meet a young bunny and his or her adult; probably a parent. The mother – or is it the father? – keeps saying how they will always love the little bunny, through mud and shouting and all kinds of weather. In short, they will always love them and offer a Hand To Hold.

Both books show us that we all need someone. Mostly we need a bunny, or several. And sunny meadows with flowers are never wrong.

From ALMA laureate to ALMA laureate

My immediate reaction this week when the new Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner was announced, was the usual one; that the members of the jury are really good at picking obscure people. But then, I dare say others thought that about my favourite, last year’s winner Meg Rosoff. We can’t all have heard of everyone. Besides, I’d been expecting an organisation to be chosen this year. I felt it was time.

So Wolf Erlbruch was a completely new name to me. Except, the mention of tulips rang a vague bell in the deepest corners of my memory. And Meg was so happy about the winner. She clearly knew Wolf.

And I Googled, as I tend to do. Yes, she had definitely mentioned Wolf Erlbruch in the past, and the tulip. And apart from her review in the Guardian of his book Duck, Death and the Tulip, I am fairly certain she had enthused about it privately to me as well.* As I said, it rang a bell, and the ringing got louder the more I thought.

My next memory was that I had read it. Except, I don’t believe I have. I’d have reviewed it myself if I’d read the book, and I hadn’t. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) But I distinctly recall being sent a book that supposedly was the one Meg loved so much, and me reading it. Because I remember the publisher and where they are based.

I am so confused. I obviously must make amends and get on and read something, and tulips seem like a Bookwitchy place to start.

This award winning is like a relay; one winner absolutely adoring the next one, and so on…

*Yeah, looked it up. She did, and perhaps I happened to ignore her advice.

What Do You Do?

When young blackbird Pip wants to learn what he can do, he first meets a heron, and has a go at standing (sinking) in the river, waiting for fish.

I’ve done that. Not so much the standing in a river, waiting for fish, as being a bit like Pip, trying to do stuff I was never intended for.

Because that’s what you find out in Kate McLelland’s lovely picture book Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? Pip leaves his nest and discovers what other birds do, and he has a go at staying up all night (I tried that too), pecking at seeds, waddling (no comment) and so on.

Surely it can’t be that Pip is no good at anything?

It’s not. Pip does what blackbirds do. It just takes a while for him to realise. And perhaps for the kindness of the other birds telling him that singing is what he’s good at. We don’t always work these things out on our own. The generosity of others will help. (My fairy blogmother saved me from a life of standing in rivers, trying to be a heron.)

Kate McLelland, Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do?

The Book of the Howlat

I’m not much of a bird person, but The Book of the Howlat is gorgeously birdie. Illustrated by Kate Leiper, you could simply sit and marvel at the pictures of the many birds.

James Robertson and Kate Leiper, The Book of the Howlat

James Robertson is responsible for this re-telling of ‘one of Scotland’s oldest poetic gems’ and I must admit I’d never heard of it. The story is about an owl who thinks he’s dreadfully ugly and who wishes to look like the peacock. As sometimes happens in fiction, his wish comes true, but after this he’s not only peacock-like but quite unbearable.

Something has to be done.

It’s really that old tale about how you should learn to appreciate what you have, or in this case, what you are.

Hopefully the moral will go down well with young readers. And then there are all those beautiful bird illustrations!

Melling and Murray

I know. They sound like solicitors, don’t they?  But they’re not. At least, I don’t believe they are. Unusual combination; picture book illustrator/author and solicitor.

For some time now I’ve been casting my eyes on David Melling’s D is for Duck! which is just as loveable an ABC picture book that you’d expect from Hugless Douglas’s Dad.

David Melling, D is for Duck

Duck is a magician and he magics lots of little animal friends out of his hat for his ABC, with himself as D. All goes well until he happens to magic up a Lion. A Lion that might want to eat his A to I. (J is Jungle and K is King.) Duck quickly needs to think of something, so he does…

In my Bookbug conference bag I found Alison Murray’s Apple Pie ABC, which I enjoyed a lot. I’m less used to ABCs that use short phrases to get round the problem of what you choose as your your letters, while also managing to tell a story, because there is more to work with.

Alison Murray, Apple Pie ABC

Here we have a dog who is plotting to eat the Apple Pie, which is being Baked and Cooled and Dished Out, and so on. The dog is both clever and surprisingly obedient until, well, until something happens to the pie.

Both books have gorgeous pictures and both have rather charming, if not perfectly behaved, main animal characters. We’re yet again in the situation when I need someone to read aloud to.

The Power of Picture Books: Building Communities, Families and Futures – 2017 Bookbug Conference

Arriving slightly late to the 2017 Bookbug Conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, I was shown to a chair. Unfortunately it was the Chair’s chair, so I went to sit on the side, which suits me best, and Chair Jenny Niven kept her chair.

My arrival coincided nicely with the start of Dr Vivienne Smith’s talk on Reading as a Playful Act, which was one of the best talks! Ever. The slides might have ‘gone bananas’ as Vivienne put it, but her research on young children’s reading was so interesting. I chanced upon super-librarian Yvonne Manning in the break and we both agreed on how great it had been.

Vivienne Smith

Basically, reading should be like playing, and none of this sounding out words letter by letter, which will not give the young reader the right experience. In one experiment, even the keen readers from bookish families chose the Lego and the dinosaurs before the book. But from another group, a couple of young children were so taken by the toy version of book character Beegu that one of them invited him to her birthday party, and the other wrote him a letter, two years later.

There is little emotion in the reading that happens at school. Reading can help your well-being, like disappearing into Pride & Prejudice every time you move house. You learn empathy from reading, and more so if you read ‘worthier’ books, where you are forced to think more. They make you likelier to vote, to volunteer, to recycle for the good of the environment, and so on.

You learn that life can be changed, made better. As Flaubert said, ‘read in order to live.’ For the well-being of society we need children who read!

I could have listened to Vivienne all day, but we had to take a break and drink tea and eat banoffee tarts and chat to people. Which was nice too.

A panel on The Power of Picture Books followed, with Vivienne again, and illustrator Alison Murray, Dr Evelyn Arizpe from University of Glasgow, Rowena Seabrook from Amnesty International and Nicholas Dowdall of the Mikhulu Trust (South Africa), chaired by Jenny Niven.

Picture books panel

They started by choosing a picture book each, one that meant something special to them. Nicholas showed us a short video of a tiny boy in South Africa reading with an adult, and his surprised and delighted reactions to what happened in the book. Evelyn mentioned a Mexican, version of Red Riding Hood, which led Vivienne to say that for this to work well, you first need to know the basic version, which is ‘cultural capital.’

Alison likes a balance between the sexes of her characters, and Vivienne said how we are ‘all so flipping middle class’ making assumptions and taking things for granted. Rowena mentioned a description of a book with an ungendered character, which still contrived to gender the character (male). Nicholas pointed out that in the townships they need books which are not about things that readers won’t know. To make picture books work well, you must read them out and read them well.

Replying to a question Vivienne said that it’s fine to be disturbed by the content of a book. It makes you think. And you have to remember that children can only take on what they understand, so a lot would simply go over their heads.

This panel discussion could also have gone on for much longer, but there was lunch to be eaten.

Mark McDonald, minister for Childcare & Early Years started the afternoon session. He didn’t have long, as his work in Parliament was ‘pressing’ this week, but he mentioned the First Minister’s reading challenge, and how reading takes you to magical places. 80% of a child’s development comes from what they do outside of school.

Mark McDonald

He talked about his children and their reading. The daughter likes Fairy Ponies, and next time Mark needs to vent about their quality he has learned not to do it to the publisher in question. Oops. His son, who is on the autistic spectrum, finally became interested in books via Nick Sharratt’s illustrations, so he is their god. (I know that feeling!)

Mark appreciates what we (that will be the teachers, librarians and other community workers) do, and ‘his door is always open’ if we want to speak to him. A yellow party bag saw Mark back off to Parliament.

Sabine Bonewitz

The next session was a talk by Sabine Bonewitz from Stiftung Lesen, the German Reading Foundation. She talked about encouraging parents to read with their children, spreading the joy of reading. Sabine had statistics to show us, she talked about their bookbags which feature a kangaroo (big steps) and finished by astounding everyone with German McDonald’s collaboration for reading, offering books with their Happy Meals.

Following this Happy idea, we all went our separate ways to different workshops. I had chosen to hear Alison Murray talk about Navigating the Story Arc. Important facts about reading picture books is that you do it in company, and that the paper can be tactile, and you might even want to sniff it. Boardbooks you can ‘eat.’

Alison Murray

Alison showed us a sketch of John Dewey’s shape of stories, showing how it fits almost every book; reading us her own Hare and Tortoise. Before finishing she read us her new picture book, Dino Duckling, a kinder version of The Ugly Duckling. It was lovely.

All in all, delegates will have gone home with much to think about, and lots to try on their own small ‘customers.’ As for me, I went in search of eldest Offspring, who was once much smaller than he is now.