Category Archives: Picture book

Totte, or Thomas

Author and illustrator Gunilla Wolde died earlier this week. I realise that many of my English language readers won’t know her. On the other hand, you might. I was surprised, and delighted, to find that author Guy Bass made his parents read Thomas bakes a cake every night for two years. That’s the kind of tenacity that pays off eventually. (Or they try and have you adopted.)

Gunilla Wolde, Totte badar

As with many Swedish authors, Gunilla’s books came too late for the young Bookwitch to read at the appropriate age. But being classics, they were widely available when Offspring appeared on the scene. (I’m actually not sure, but I suspect I owned mine well before Offspring arrived. I think I just liked the look of the books.)

I tried searching for them now, so I could tell you more, but couldn’t find where I’ve stashed them. The one that has stayed in my memory the most, is when Totte – or Thomas, as he is in translation – goes to the doctor. There is something about toddlers facing injections, or putting plasters on their teddies, that makes a lasting impression on you. (Perhaps I didn’t dare show Offspring those injections, in case they thought that’s what happens when you go to the doctor’s.)

Looking for cover images you find so many, in several languages, which brings home to you quite how popular Gunilla’s books were. Are. And if you study the ‘Swedish’ images page carefully, you will find illustrations that might be too, well, too Scandinavian for readers in some countries.

So you’re probably safest with Thomas bakes a cake.

Thank you, Jackson

Being polite never hurt anyone. That is the lesson for the farmer who owns a donkey called Jackson.

The farmer needs Jackson to walk to market with him, carrying all the food the farmer has to sell. He does so, until the day when he’s had enough and refuses to move, no matter what the farmer says or does.

Niki and Jude Daly, Thank you, Jackson

His wife Beauty sends their son Goodwill after the pair to help. And she has truly brought up a lovely and thoughtful boy, because Goodwill knows what Jackson needs.

He wants his owner to be polite.

‘It’s the little things, like saying please and thank you, that make a big difference in the world.’

Good Colours

Aino-Maija Metsola’s Colours may well be the most perfect ‘educational’ boardbook in existence.

Let me make a confession here. I have a thing about colours. I like to load glasses and mugs and similar into the dishwasher in a pleasing way, colour-wise. Same with hanging the washing. If I can, I will put things that look good next to each other. Likewise wardrobe contents. And so on.

Aino-Maija Metsola, Colours

So it stands to reason that a book about colour, which has a double page for each colour is very near perfect. If things are to be orange, they are all orange together. The yellows are the pages before the oranges. Each double page also has one ‘wrong’ colour which doesn’t belong, for the young reader to find the odd one out.

I don’t mind this so much, as the cuckoos in the nest are fairly small and in no way ruin the beautiful arrangement of reds or blues or purples. And there are flaps to lift, which is always fun.

Aino-Maija is Finnish, with a Marimekko past, which explains the colour sorting. I don’t usually hang on to boardbooks once I’ve ‘read’ them, but this time I’m tempted. Orderly colours are really very soothing.


And for Easter Monday a replacement bunny in the shape of a sloth called Sparky.

You know how it is, a child wants a pet and the parent does not want a pet. In Jenny Offill’s book the narrator of the story wants either a bird or a bunny or a trained seal, but her mother says no to all three. But, she can have any pet she wants as long as it doesn’t need walking, bathing or feeding.

With the help of the school librarian, our heroine finds that a sloth will be perfect. (Mother had not expected that!) The girl names her pet Sparky.

Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans, Sparky!

Sparky sleeps well. All the time. His owner trains him, but he doesn’t train terribly well. Our heroine needs to prove what a good pet she has, so plans a Trained Sloth Extravaganza, offering ‘countless tricks.’

Well… at least Sparky is good at playing dead.

There is some lovely humour in this book, with atmospherically slothy illustrations by Chris Appelhans.

On withered carrots

Can you just imagine the sadness of writing a story with the title The Withered Carrot? No?

Well, our next Easter rabbit has done just that. Poor little Fuzz McFlops is a famous rabbit-writer, but he is rather depressed, so mainly produces sad stuff. One of his ears is shorter than the other and it has always caused him much anguish.

But all of a sudden he gets fan mail from someone who claims to both like what he writes, and who comes up with suggestions for improving the writing as well, which makes Fuzz very angry. And then – partly because this makes his short ear feels funny – he thinks that maybe there is something in these letters after all.

Eva Furnari, Fuzz McFlops

Romance, dear reader. After some correspondence, Fuzz meets up with his fan Charlotte. She’s very nice, and not at all beautiful.

And you know, there is love, and no more withered carrots. Very sweet.

(Translated from Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. We may not have heard of Eva Furnari before, but she’s big in Brazil.)

Two Alices

Continuing with the rabbit theme, here are two Alices and consequently two rabbits down two rabbit holes, and two Cheshire cats grinning away (a bit like those ‘catfish’ of yesterday). And so on.

150 years after Lewis Carroll published his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we seem to be celebrating like crazy, and there are lots of new Alice-related things out there, if you are so inclined.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Yelena Bryksenkova)

I’m not a mad Alice fan, but these two books are nice. Both are folded up, small versions of the story. From Frances Lincoln we get Alice as illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova, with the plot shown scene-by-scene, real quotes, a 30-second summary and a list of characters. (Personally I applaud this attractive and time efficient way of accessing an old classic.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Grahame Baker-Smith)

An even smaller, folded affair is the one from Walker Books, where they have based the story on the Royal Mail stamps by Grahame Baker-Smith. If you’re not fussy about having the whole original text, this is an excellent way of meeting and getting to know Alice. Briefly.

I like both of them, and reckon you can have a lot of fun folding and unfolding your Alice. And tucking her into the accompanying case. And taking her out again, and so on…

Alfie in the bath

Debi Gliori, Alfie in the Bath

A small Easter bunny for you, on this Good Friday. Debi Gliori’s Alfie is back, and this time it’s Alfie in the bath. Splash.

As with the first Alfie book, there are not many words. You have to love this tiny rabbit with the enormous imagination. His bath is not just any old bath. It has the most fantastic creatures in it and Alfie knows how to play with them. Not like his sensible old dad, who simply cleans his teeth.

And mops the floor afterwards…

Debi Gliori, Alfie in the Bath

I’m sure those are catfish, in there with Alfie.

Happy – splashy – Easter!