Category Archives: Picture book

Launching those Kings and Queens

I was standing on the pavement outside the National Library of Scotland yesterday, waiting for Daughter to join me, when someone prodded the back of my arm. I couldn’t work out how she could have snuck up from behind, so turned round and discovered a very yellow Kirkland Ciccone. One could almost have imagined it was Easter. But he was a pleasure to behold.

Almost eight years to the day from when we first met, at a Theresa Breslin event, here we were, for a Theresa Breslin event. She spent lockdown writing about some of Scotland’s many Kings and Queens, and the time had come to launch this gorgeous, historical picture book, with illustrations by Liza Tretyakova.

We started off watching Kirkie having tea and half a strawberry tart. (I mean Daughter and me. Not the whole audience.) Then we launched ourselves at the drinks table for some water. Although it’s hard to event and handle a wineglass at the same time. Said hello to Mr B, who was wearing his latest book creation t-shirt and looking great as ever. It had been too long.

Were informed we were too old for a goodie bag, so settled for saying hello to all the involved publisher people, who we’d not seen for years, either. And there was the wineglass of water, living a precarious life among people who might need to applaud.

As always, Theresa had attracted a large crowd. She began by reading one of the stories in Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens. It was about Margaret in Dunfermline, and I was grateful to learn how Queensferry, both North and South, came about. This is the thing about Theresa and her many historical tales; you learn a bit of history in a very painless way. Nice story, and history.

After some Q&A it was time for book buying and book signing. Kirkie had already had to steal away to his train home, and Daughter and I crossed the George IV Bridge in search of almost invisible pizza.

It was all fine. But my foot hurt. And I managed to hurl my spectacles all over the pavement. (It seems to be all about glasses and pavements these days…) It’s very hard to see glasses on a dark pavement. Especially without your glasses on. But it all ended well, with no treading of feet on anything.

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Two weeks on, back at the book festival

With migraines rampaging quietly around Bookwitch Towers on Saturday morning, I decided to risk it and still travel through to Edinburgh where Daniel Hahn ‘was waiting’. Drugged and with enough nice sandwiches to last the afternoon, but perhaps not enough water, I got to the Edinburgh College of Art, and found Albertina’s where I interrupted Daniel mid-chat with director Nick Barley himself. He handed over the ‘goods’ and I left again.

Well, I did cast a quick look at the Spectacular Translation Machine Daniel was running with Sarah Ardizzone, asking non-French speakers to translate a picture book from French into English. Because that is so easy. I’ve seen them trying to trick people like this before.

Clutching my chairperson’s ticket for the day’s event [with Michael Rosen], I went over to the signing tent where I hoped to find most of the relevant books I’d been after. With hindsight I might have bought too few, but three are better than two. Or one. Ran into blogger Lizzy Siddall, Daniel’s ‘other stalker’ and we chatted a bit, about chairs* – as you do – and how to get rid of books.

Clutching my new ones, I went and sat in the ‘car park’ again, having developed a fondness for somewhere to picnic that’s level. Should have refilled my water bottle too, seeing as I was sitting right next to the tap.

After my sandwiches, it was time for Michael Rosen and his chair, Daniel Hahn. More about that tomorrow…

*Ones you sit on.

Tisha and the Blossom

I too am tired of hurrying up. Just like Tisha in Tisha and the Blossom, another gorgeous picture book by Wendy Meddour, with illustrations by Daniel Egnéus.

I’d just not thought very much about mindfulness, and now I realise it’s what we should do. I mean, if we want to. It’s this being pushed to hurry up and do this, not forget to do that, or be too late for that other thing.

We need to stop and sniff the flowers, ‘waste’ some time, be with each other.

Tisha is small, but she says stop, when she needs to. And that’s what her parents need, too.

Sometimes just sitting is the best. Staring into space, or being a little silly.

Try it! I’m going to have to pop out into the garden, and try not to mind the pigeons…

The Friendship Bench

It’s just typical You get to the friendship bench and there is already someone sitting on it!

Although, as we learn in Wendy Meddour’s picture book The Friendship Bench, that’s the whole point. You need a friend? You go and sit on that bench, and see what happens.

In this case it’s Tilly who has no one to play with at her new school. And guess what? Neither has Flint. That’s him, on the bench, when Tilly turns up. They suspect the bench might be broken, until, well, until it becomes clear it’s not.

This is precisely the kind of really kind picture book many of us need today. Wendy’s words are wise, and the pictures by Daniel Egnéus are rather beautiful.

I really want a friendship bench myself, now, and the kind of kind teacher who will suggest I go and sit on it.

But at least we have the book.

‘Blistering barnacles!’

I’d never really thought about it. The translating of ‘comics’, by which I mean pages with pictures and speech bubbles. You take out the original words and find something suitable, in both senses; so that it means roughly the same, and so that it fits in physically.

I find the ‘Other Lives’ obituaries in the Guardian fascinating. Often much more so than the ‘real’ obituaries of the people they have on their own list. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper sounds like an interesting woman, with a career starting in WWII and taking her to the Open University as a rights specialist, until she retired 35 years ago…

What gripped me the most was that she, along with Michael Turner, spent thirty years translating Tintin, coming up with phrases like ‘blistering barnacles’, to fit snugly in those speech bubbles left by Hergé. (I haven’t read much Tintin in English, which makes me wonder what happened in Swedish. Which, of course, I don’t remember.)

There is so much that is important, and interesting, and fun to learn about, and as always my main gripe is that one doesn’t find out about these people while they are still alive.

‘Leslie was especially proud of their invented Tintinian oaths.’ I should think so!

This Is My Dad

A dead dad is sad. But at least you know. Not having one and never having known him can be really hard. Or, not hard at all. It depends.

I recall when at primary school my teacher set the class to draw Father’s Day cards, and how she knew her children well enough to put two of us aside, doing other things. Because we didn’t have fathers.

In Dimity Powell’s and Nicky Johnston’s picture book This Is My Dad, Leo’s teacher seems oblivious when she introduces a Tell Us About Your Dad Day. Leo doesn’t know what to do. And at home, his mum is rather busy, so he can’t ask her about it.

But he comes up with a solution. For his presentation at school, Leo tells the class about his mum. Because to him, she is his dad.

It’s so simple. But it’s also really difficult, until you work out who does what and why. In my case I worked something else out, and once I’d done it, all the pieces fell into place. The important thing is to have someone. It doesn’t matter who they are, as long as they are somebody to you.

Fifteen and counting

Apart from a few years in my late teens, when I erroneously believed I had to read grown-up books – because I could, and because others did – I have not been too concerned with worthiness. I mean the worth others, who are not as wise as they think they are, put on certain books.

I read because I want to read, and I read what I want to read. Mostly.

One of the things I get to read these days is The Bookseller, which arrives second-hand in a pink envelope every week. A month ago I was struck by what Philip Jones said in his editor’s letter, in regard to The Official UK Top 50 list, which they published that week. He wrote ‘to view the Top 50 is to witness the trade as it is, rather than how it would like to be seen’.

The trade, and maybe us readers, like to think of this book business as something much worthier than some people might think of this Top 50 as being. But it is what it is. People buy books and the fifty most bought ones are the Top 50. The list is full of titles and authors I, and many other people, or so I imagine, have heard of. It’s not a list of inaccessible works. It’s light and fun, and I say this despite a certain DW having two books in the top 15. Because it’s what people buy.

Richard Osman tops the list, and somewhere towards the bottom we find Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, but as this is a list of everything, there is no shame in that.

In fact, if we can move on to the Top 30 Children’s Illustrators of 2021, also in the Bookseller, I was pleased to see that Axel Scheffler tops it, with Tony Ross merely in second place. Now, I don’t mind Tony at all. It’s just the company he keeps, which is why I’d rather see Axel selling better.

It’s quite interesting really, as the list has many illustrators I know [of], but also a few I don’t. And many of them are classics, so not exactly new for 2021, but proving that a good picture book will sell and sell.

That’s what we like here at Bookwitch Towers. I was given a picture book for Christmas. I have read very few of the Top 50, but I believe I can say I have a relationship with a good number of the books and their authors, one way or another. And I’m in good company. Lots of people bought these books, despite snobs wanting us to want other books.

It’s February 6th again. Bookwitch continues slowly on her way. She’s fifteen today, and unlike that other teenager she was many years ago, she knows what she likes.

And, this is quite embarrassing; I knew I needed cream for something today – which caused some concern when Waitrose turned out to have no cream whatsoever on Saturday – but I couldn’t remember why. I do now. It was for a celebratory something or other on this birthday. It will taste better with cream. Luckily M&S had some.

a Boy his Bear and a Bully

Be brave.

That’s not easy, I know.

In a Boy his Bear and a Bully, Katie Flannigan writes about Scott who takes his teddy to school with him. He’s not alone, as Rosie brings her unicorn to school too. But Duncan, he’s the mean one, bullying Scott every day.

And then Buttons – that’s the teddy – disappears.

I think we all know what happened. But how to sort it? Well, it’s Dress Up Day, and wearing his dinosaur suit, Scott finally knows what he has to do. It still takes courage.

I hope readers of this book will be able to be braver than I would be.

Illustrations by P J Reece.

Catch that baby!

Old people are said to return to thinking much more of their early days. Well, permit an ancient Bookwitch to look back on her early witch days.

I was fairly pleased about this; him learning to read, and felt that seven was a fine age, and all that. I’d obviously read to him and Daughter before this, at bedtime, and even at other times. I think.

But just as I have told myself that ‘next time round when I’m forty again, I shall do things differently’, as though that was even possible, I am feeling that next time Offspring are babies I will start their literary education much sooner.

A bit like Anne Rooney. She’s blogging on ABBA about her grandchildren. Her children too. She’s clearly someone who has been terribly ambitious and who has been able to carry through with her plans on building bookworms. I kind of envy her. Both for her stamina and her general knowledge of all that is worth bringing to a very young child. You must read her post. Because I will not steal that adorable photo of MB and her baby brother NB reading a pdf of Anne’s next book, where the older sister entertains her minuscule brother to the extent that his little eyes almost pop.

That’s early reading for you!

I did not read to Offspring before they were born. I should have. Although, there was a bath book, which got a lot of use. And board books. I hope I did all right. They can read now, if that helps. Write too.

Charcoal magic

Debi Gliori’s short event was just the right thing to appear online. Live is fine, but here we could see every last picture of her book A Cat Called Waverley, close up, and with an explanation for every image. And Debi reads so softly, that to have the whole story read to us, with extra explanations as to what we were seeing, or what might be going on, was pure bliss.

This is the way to help young readers understand that the world can be rather different from what we think, or want it to be, but without being too scary. Some scary is necessary, and personally I believe it’s best demonstrated by my favourite illustration from the book. It has everything; the sad cat left behind, the train disappearing into the tunnel, and the sheer beauty of the railway station itself.

The sentence ‘home was where Donald was’ is enough to make anyone a bit teary. It describes what most of us feel at some time or other. It’s only home if our someone is there.

Debi wrote this story about Darren – Donald in the book – who became ‘the man who belongs to Waverley’. He used to sit at the top of the very high, and the almost impossible to draw, station steps. But as Debi put it, we don’t care if she got the steps right. All we wanted was the cat and its man. They are both there.

And I’ll leave you with this view of Waverley [the station], its station hotel [as was] and the exit from the park across the road. All this is Very Edinburgh to so many of us.