Category Archives: Picture book

The Bear, the Piano, and Little Bear’s Concert

I read this to Daughter the other evening, when it was time for bed. It went down well. She’s a recent convert to these lovely books by David Litchfield about the piano-playing bear. I’m sure much younger children will also love this last instalment featuring the piano in the woods.

It’s a bit sad. Well, it has to be, so it can get better. I’m sure young readers instinctively understand this.

Bear continues playing the piano in front of audiences, until, well, until he doesn’t, and instead goes home to the forest. But he misses his old life and his friends, and he is sad.

Things improve when he has Little Bear to bring up and teach things. She is a lovely young bear, and when she comes across the piano in amongst the trees, she wants to know what it is. And then she hatches a plan…

It’s lovely. For an older reader like me, it’s easy to predict how it will work out, and probably also for a younger reader. But it is just as satisfying. Very beautiful, as are David’s gorgeous illustrations.

Starting school

Where do the years go? It feels like mere months since Boy Tollarp came to the Resident IT Consultant’s and my 60th birthday lunch. He was five weeks old at the time. Now on social media I see him wearing a blazer and tie and – admittedly – school shorts, as he starts school this week.

He’s not alone in this. Even a year like 2020 has children going to school for the first time. And it can be scary. I remember my first day, and I remember Offspring’s first days. Also scary. At least to me.

So books on what to expect and how to deal with any little problems are a useful thing. The two picture books I’ve just read will probably not become long term classics, but if they help a few children now, that’s enough to make me happy. It’s often impossible for the adults to guess which books will turn out to make a real impact on their small child. These are both lovely and might do the job.

Today I’m Strong, by Nadiya Hussain and her illustrator Ella Bailey, shows us a child who is often happy going into school. But not always. Some days she is bullied at school and would rather stay at home. She talks to her [toy?] tiger, who looks pretty much like Judith Kerr’s tiger, except less likely to eat you up. And Tiger provides her with the solution, and one day she goes in and deals with the bully, firmly and maturely.

So that’s that.

In My School Unicorn, by Willow Evans and Tom Knight, we meet another young girl, about to buy her first school uniform, and feeling worried about her life changing. In what looks like a magic uniform shop, the proprietor slips her a unicorn to keep with her at school. It’s a little thing, but it helps. School turns out to be fine, and one day that unicorn can go on to some other child.

Both books are diverse, and there is a [single?] dad looking after the unicorn girl. I’m hoping these books will help many young children as they begin the rest of their lives. And the usefulness of tigers and unicorns should not be ignored.

The Worry (Less) Book

This is a very useful little book on anxiety. The kind of thing that more of us are admitting to having around in our lives, especially in Covid times. Although author and illustrator Rachel Brian probably didn’t know what kind of world her book was going to arrive in.

It’s a little bit American, but I often think that when it comes to doing worrying, a little bit American can be reassuring, somehow. Try it.

I was actually going to put it aside, but one small glimpse of the innards of this book – which will make you ‘feel strong, find calm and tame your anxiety’ – made me change my mind completely. This is good stuff. I mean, a book where you learn to tell your anxiety that you don’t have time for it today, but maybe tomorrow? That’s such a common sense bit of advice.

We need common sense. We are all, mostly, worried about something in life, be it farting in company or anything else.

It’s a small cartoon style book, with humorous but sensible advice on how to deal with being scared of dogs, and avoiding swimming with sharks. It’s attractive, in grey and black with only yellow as colour accent. I know, when anxious, I should not concern myself with style. But it helps.

The cartoon aspect might make you think it’s for really young children, but my guess is young school age children. The age when you meet life head on for the first time, and worry about the dog, the other children and, yes, farting.

But we don’t really change much, do we? We grow bigger and older and still we worry. We’re probably capable of reading longer, more learned books on dealing with anxiety, but this one will do quite nicely.

You are good enough. You just need to learn that. And to remember it. (That brain of yours can be your worst enemy.)

Sensory Stories and Crafts

I reckoned I was old enough to dispense with the dish cloth and lidded saucepan, as I settled down to listen to Ailie Finlay tell stories, and watch Kate Leiper illustrate them. This was a rather different event, with storytelling, rather than reading from a book. Ailie clearly has a lot of experience doing this, as I discovered by her lack of [picture] focus. She was so into her telling the story about the old woman who went berry picking, that she waved and blurred and smiled all over the place.

Kate, on the other hand, was calm itself with her red lentil path and ‘swishy’ grass as she showed the audience how they too could make a book to go with Ailie’s story. You can do a lot with lentils, and bark and kitchen foil, and if you have no large stapler you can stitch your pages together.

The next tale was about their recent trip to the beach, going barefoot, collecting shells and seagull feathers. And Ailie sent her fast runner, a teddy called Wilf, over to Kate’s house with some shells she’d forgotten to give her.

That teddy got a lot of exercise, because later on he had to take a pie up to Kate. Not only had they eaten ice cream, but they’d made pie with the old woman’s berries. Ailie eats hers with cream but Kate prefers custard.

And perhaps viewers could make a special memory book after seeing this inspiring event. Possibly making it a concertina book, where you can see everything at once, should you want to. Tactile books can be fun.

At least if not too many red lentils end up on the floor, crunching as you walk.

Gruffalos, Conjurors and Teeny Weeny Genies

I caught most of Nick Sharratt’s post-breakfast drawing session this morning. It was seahorses and jellyfish and catfish and dogfish. He – and his red and white shirtsleeves – made it look really easy to draw.

It is the kind of thing you get online with the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. And yes, it’s online, so not ‘real’, but you only have to crawl out of bed and make it as far as the computer…

Then I backtracked to a watch-again event from Saturday morning, Gruffalos, Conjurors and Teeny Weeny Genies, with Julia Donaldson, Nick Sharratt, and Axel Scheffler.

For her 22nd bookfest Julia sat at home and read from her books, which included a reading in the garden, assisted by her physically distanced grandchildren.

Nick, wearing a fetching lilac-starred shirt this time, read one of his own books, before teaching the audience to draw a book like that themselves. I think I could do that! A carrot shape here, and a butterbean shape there. It’s not hard. And then he put on his conjuror’s hat.

Over to Axel Scheffler, Julia’s mostest illustrator, in his sunny garden, with what looked suspiciously like bird poo on the table he was using. He showed us how he drew Zog and the Flying Doctors, who right now have to wear PPE. We got to see the doctors both with and without their protective clothing. Zog, being a dragon, apparently is not believed to need protection, even against a virus.

And to finish off, Julia got out her Gruffalo, which she has acted at countless events for over twenty years. This time her sweet-singing husband Malcolm was roped in to act all the parts except the mouse which was played by Julia. They were in the woods. Well, you would be with a Gruffalo, wouldn’t you?

It was actually quite fun. This is the advantage with online filmed events; because in Charlotte Square you can’t suddenly go out into any woods, nor can Malcolm switch so seamlessly between being a fox or an owl or a snake. That mouse really saw him off.

So yes, this was quite entertaining, even for old witches. (But the four minute wait at the beginning, primarily seeing the names of the – very important – sponsors, was possibly on the long side for your typical three-year-old?)

Where’s the Toilet Roll?

I can easily say that this is one book I never imagined I’d be ‘reviewing’. Mostly because I don’t think I could ever have imagined a picture book about toilet paper. Very important stuff, but still.

Based on a similar premise to the books where you search for Wally, here you have rolls of toilet paper to find. It’s a fairly poo-based book, and good if you like that kind of thing. Should keep the little ones busy.

Or as my 27-year-old said after she’d snatched it from my hands, ‘this is an excellent book. A brilliant excellent book.’

It would seem some people just don’t grow out of poo books.


There was obviously a hidden agenda when I gave the Resident IT Consultant three graphic autobiographies for Christmas. I wanted to read them myself.

I loved George Takei, as I said.

Then I went for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’d seen the film years ago and really enjoyed it. But I have to admit to having struggled to like the book. I am currently ‘resting’ between book one and book two.

This is about a period in Iranian history that I have lived through, and I read about it in the papers at the time. I felt I understood it reasonably, but Persepolis has me confused. I don’t know what side the girl’s parents are on. Neither does she. Or she doesn’t even know there are sides. I think.

After much confusion on both our parts, the Shah is gone and she has at least one dead uncle and most of her peers have escaped abroad. Her well-off parents are getting worried, and are sending her to Austria. That’s as far as I got.

I can see they are upset, and that the girl is confused and worried. And I remember feeling worked up on her behalf when she was in Vienna in the film. She looked so alone.

I’m not sure I will return to the book. We shall see.

Medals for ‘my’ boys

It’s good to know the witch senses are working just fine. I could simply not see any other outcome regarding the Carnegie Medal than that Anthony McGowan would be awarded it for Lark. It could have happened sooner, but this way we got all four books of the trilogy in.

(And I’m saying this even keeping in mind the competition Tony was up against.)

For the Kate Greenaway medal it was Shaun Tan for his Tales From the Inner City (which I’ve yet to read). One of my most favourite illustrators, and I’m more than satisfied.

This year the proceedings were short and on Radio 4, on Front Row. They interviewed both Tony and Shaun and both read from their books, and explained the background to what they’d written. Tony got so excited he had to be interrupted in the middle of his ‘terrific’ answer…

According to Shaun ‘painting is really a way of exploring anxiety’. Plenty of that around.

Yep, very satisfied with this.

Anthony McGowan, Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 from CILIP CKG Children’s Book Awards on Vimeo.

Music to your bears

Remember David Litchfield’s gorgeous picture book, The Bear and the Piano? It’s one of my long term favourites; one that needed no reminding when I heard of the new musically enhanced picture book video, with the story read by Joanna Lumley, and score by Daniel Whibley.

Here’s the trailer:

And now you’ll want to buy it. I know you will. First, because it’s a really lovely story. Second, because the music adds a certain something to this really lovely story. And third, because by buying this really lovely story you will help the World Health Organisation’s Covid 19 Solidarity Response Fund. Download the video from here.

In all fairness, I required Daughter’s assistance with the technical stuff (but that’s probably because they let me watch for free).

And when we’d caught the musical bear, we decided to move him over to the TV for some bear size enjoyment. The gorgeous illustrations were even better on a bigger screen. And the music was just right, as was Joanna’s reading. Daughter, who had not read the book, watched with rapt attention – and it’s not as if she’s a toddler – loving the music and getting caught up in the story of the bear who finds a piano in the woods. Almost crying when it looked a bit too sad, and then not, when it didn’t.

We ended up having to read the sequel as a bedtime read…

So why don’t you have a go, too?

Illustrations © David Litchfield, Joanna Lumley photo © Rankin 2020.

The Stone Giant

Literature is full of clever little girls and stupid monsters. The Stone Giant by Anna Höglund, and translated by Julia Marshall, is one example.

There is a young girl, living on an isolated island with her brave father. One day he leaves her alone to go and sort out some calamity happening elsewhere, involving people being turned into stone. And of course he fails to return.

The girl – we don’t learn her name – goes off in search of her father, wearing a red dress reminiscent of another red-dressed heroine.

On the way, she meets a wise old woman, who gives her some advice on how to deal with the giant. So with the help of an umbrella and a mirror, the girl fools the dreaded giant and all the stony people become real people again.

Power to little girls!