Category Archives: Picture book

Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Will he come, or not? That is the question. In this much longer than usual tale about Findus and his Pettson, it isn’t so much whether the Christmas (here known as Yule) Tomte exists, but whether he will come to visit Findus.

Findus very much wants to meet the Yule Tomte, but Pettson has not had much experience of him, for obvious reasons. But he’s a kind cantankerous old man who loves his occasionally annoying beyond words cat Findus and he wants him to be happy.

The problem – of course – is that he knows that the Tomte doesn’t really exist. And that is my problem too. Will this story work on British children who know for a fact that Father Christmas is real? There is little room for doubt.

This book comes with an explanatory page about what Christmas in Sweden is like; describing the Tomte, who is much smaller than Father Christmas, and who comes to your door, asking if you’ve been good. But the doubt is out there. And if it’s OK to doubt the Yule Tomte, can we be sure about Father Christmas?

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomtest-2

It’s a conundrum. And conundrum is precisely what poor Pettson suffers from. He needs to organise a live talking Tomte for Findus to meet on Christmas Eve. (I’d have asked the neighbour.)

Anyway, this lovely old man sets about building an automated Tomte, and as we all know who have tried making presents in secret in front of the recipients, this is not easy.

But there is some kind of magic out there, don’t you think? Who was that in the woods? And the gifts that turned up?

We can guess at what will happen. We can’t have Pettson fail, nor little Findus disappointed.

It’s sweet. And everyone is happy, if not exactly sure of what happened there…

(Sven Nordqvist has drawn many interesting inventions and little machines. Plenty to study for anyone with a keen eye. And then there are the tiny creatures that only Findus can see.
The translation by Nathan Large is very good.)

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte

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Mummy Time

I read Mummy Time with an amused smile, thinking myself so much better than the mummy in Judith Kerr’s new book. But we’re probably all a little too unaware of what our toddlers get [got] up to.

Judith Kerr, Mummy Time

The illustrations are so lovely; really sweet and traditional, showing us a small child going to the park with his – or her? – mummy. The thing is, mummies today are always on their mobile phones, aren’t they? This one certainly is.

She sits blithely on a park bench as her little darling gets up to all kinds of things, and what put that smile on my face was the way her toddler’s antics completely mirrors what she’s talking about. ‘…well, all I can say is, different people have different tastes…’ as the child happily munches on what an elderly man has just thrown on the ground for the pigeons to eat.

But all’s well that ends well. At least for today. That child could do with more, and proper, mummy time. And the pigeons want their bread back.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

You remember the piano-playing Bear? The Bear who couldn’t help but play the piano, and who became incredibly famous and successful?

He’s still big – he’s a bear, after all – and possibly taking so much of the attention that other musicians hang up their instruments. It’s what happens to Hector, a fiddle player, who’s never seen without his friend, Hugo the Dog. They go home, and Hector not only doesn’t play any more, but mopes. And sleeps. And with Hector’s back turned, Hugo starts taking an interest in the abandoned fiddle.

Hugo might be just a Dog, but he can play. And then he’s recruited by Bear, to join Bear’s Big Band.

As in many friendships, words are said, and Hector and Hugo part.

But because this is a children’s picture book, it’s not hard to work out what must happen. Tears everywhere.

David Litchfield, The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The illustrations in David Litchfield’s book are so gorgeous and so grown-up – by which I mean they appeal to adults – that you just have to love this book. For me it’s another instance of wanting to tear the pictures from the book and frame them.

10 reasons to love a lion

This picture book about lions, has a lion-shaped hole through its thick front cover. It makes you want to reach in and discover more about the lions inside the book.

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow, 10 reasons to love a lion

I especially like Hanako Clulow’s illustrations. There’s something satisfyingly classic about her lions which appeals to me.

But I do also find Catherine Barr’s facts about lions very interesting. There was much I didn’t know, like how the male leader of the pride can lose a fight against another male, and end up having to leave. (Made me sad.)

This book should provide a young child with plenty to look at, and plenty to learn about these dangerous, but impressive looking, large cats.

And that lion-shaped hole could get a lot of attention…

More handsome sitting down

Those were Michael Morpurgo’s words, but we would have loved him whatever he did. He decided he was most comfortable sitting down. His [event]chair, Alex Nye, grew so comfortable that she re-titled Michael’s book which he’d come to talk about, making it In the Mouth of the Lion, until Michael mildly said ‘I thought it was the Wolf..?’

You don’t get much past Michael Morpurgo. He must be a dream to ‘chair’ because he knows quite well what he’s going to be doing and he will go ahead and do it, no matter what. Never mind that he ‘mocked’ his illustrator for his Frenchness; you could tell there was much respect between the two of them, and he told us we must buy Barroux’s In the Line of Fire.

Michael Morpurgo, Alex Nye and Barroux

He began by reading to us, sitting down and being handsome, the first two chapters from In the Mouth of the Wolf. ‘They’re quite short. Don’t worry, it won’t be too boring.’ It wasn’t. And even those early chapters were enough to make us want to cry.

While Michael read, Barroux illustrated, showing us the views from [Michael’s uncle] Francis’s bedroom windows, saying he’s not a good illustrator. He prefers a bad drawing with a lot of emotion in it. Barroux also showed us his three different cover ideas for the book, explaining that it’s the publisher’s choice; not his.

When it was time for questions, the first was about Kensuke’s Kingdom. Michael was a little startled by this, but gave a long, considered answer, and then asked for the remaining questions to be about his new book. Because what authors need is to sell books, so they can have new socks, and J K Rowling has many many cupboards full of socks.

Barroux ‘hates fairies and unicorns’ because he can’t draw them, and he’s only recently learned to do dolphins. As Michael answered a question on freedom for his characters – who, of course, are not characters, but were real people – Barroux stealthily began to draw a dolphin. When discovered in the act, he was told that the whole entente cordiale was just then in danger.

Michael pointed out to his audience that in WWII, and for centuries before that, Britain was never occupied, while Europe was. In fact, not since William the Conqueror a thousand years ago… And we know where he came from.

Barroux

Asked about his passion for books, Michael said he’s more passionate about the reading of books. You should catch fire when reading, to reach those who never read. Currently he is working on several things; translating Le Petit Prince, putting words to The Snowman, and writing a new version of Gulliver’s Travels with Michael Foreman illustrating. He’s portraying Gulliver as a recent refugee, washing up somewhere new.

By then we’d overrun by at least five minutes, but Michael said he was going to sing for Barroux. There is a film being made of Waiting for Anya, and in it there is a song Michael likes very much. He sings it in the bath.

And ignoring his suggestion that we think of him in the bath – or not – or that he pretended the theatre’s doors would have to be locked to prevent us escaping, Michael stood up, still handsome, and he sang to us, and to Barroux.

It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful event, and to our book festival.

Quite early on a Sunday, or Day 5 of the EIBF

I never book tickets for events starting at ten on a Sunday, having discovered in our first year that you can’t get there that early. So this year I decided we’d go and see Michael Morpurgo and Barroux at ten, on a Sunday, just because Alex Nye was doing the chairing. And she clearly wouldn’t get there on time either. We came up with various solutions, wondering if we’d have to hoist Alex over the gate so she’d get in, but she ended up being all right, and so were we.

My Photographer and I were so all right we even had a second breakfast, which sort of helps you keep going when you have events at meal times and such like. In fact, as I rushed in to collect tickets I found a relaxed Michael Morpurgo being done by Chris Close, before the rain. I’d wanted to meet Michael properly this time, and when he saw me he said hello, so I must have looked like a hello kind of witch. I was pleased to discover he was being looked after by Vicki, one of my long-standing publicists.

Barroux

We ran on to Michael’s event in the Main theatre, which was worth every one of those early minutes of trying to get to Edinburgh in time. He didn’t do a signing afterwards, but we watched Barroux painting his way through his part of the signing.

‘Backstage’ we found Ade Adepitan being photographed, in the rain, and I was introduced to Mrs Morpurgo, who had not been expecting a Bookwitch to be thrust on her.

Frances Hardinge

Marcus Sedgwick

Before going to the Moomin event with Philip Ardagh, we called at the children’s bookshop where I had estimated we’d find Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge signing after their event, and as a lovely bonus we got a Blue Peter Gold Badge winner, aka former children’s laureate Chris Riddell. He claimed he had only sneaked into the event, but there he was, at the signing table. A chair for a chair?

Chris Riddell and Marcus Sedgwick

It was time for us to go on to the Corner theatre for Philip Ardagh’s event on the Moomins, before returning to the same corner in the bookshop to chat with him as he signed his rather lovely looking book on his favourite creatures. It is expensive, though, which will be why it was wrapped in plastic, until my Photographer helped by getting her Swiss Army knife out and slashing the wrapping for Philip and his publicist, who was wishing she had sharper nails.

Philip Ardagh

Back to the yurt for a photocall with Ehsan Abdollahi, except he needed an umbrella and we decided it was too wet to snap. (You know, first he doesn’t get a visa, and then we treat him to cold rain. What a host country!)

I thought we could go and catch him at the Story Box where he was drawing, but it was busy, and we left him in peace. I’m glad so many children dropped in for some art with the book festival’s resident artist.

Our early start required us to miss a lot of people we had wanted to see, but who were on much later. And Judith Kerr had been unable to travel, leaving us with more afternoon than expected.

Cressida Cowell

Before leaving for Bookwitch Towers, we made a detour to Cressida Cowell’s signing. Her queue went a long way round Charlotte Square.

By some miracle, the Photographer and I hadn’t quite killed each other by the end of our day.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Michael Morpurgo’s latest book, In the Mouth of the Wolf, is beautiful in every way. Based on the lives of his two uncles, we learn what it was like for them in WWII, as well as their lives leading up to that dreadful time. Illustrated by Barroux, this is a gorgeous volume, and I would advise you to be equipped with tissues so you don’t ruin the book when you cry. Because there will be tears.

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Francis was a pacifist who worked on a farm, while his younger brother Pieter enlisted and joined the Air Force. Instead of merely being told this as a fact, we get to know them as they grow up, and that helps our understanding of why they acted as they did. And also why Francis ended up joining the fighting after all.

Seen through his eyes as an old man, we learn much about his family and about the war. While nothing is truly surprising, we still see things in a new light, and it leaves you humbled to learn what others went through, so that we can live the way we do now.

(And I’m not going to say more about that.)

I obviously thought this book would be good. I just underestimated quite how wonderful it would turn out to be. Michael can still make me cry, and Barroux’s pictures are very special.