Category Archives: Picture book

The Gruffalo is 20

Offspring were always too old for the Gruffalo. I’m quite relieved to discover this fact, as I tended to worry about why we didn’t read Julia Donaldson’s book. What was I missing?

I learned to recognise Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, and I fondly believed the Gruffalo wasn’t so much a monster; more an ugly, but otherwise really friendly creature.

Instead it seems there is a clever little mouse who really knows how to look after himself in many a tight corner. First he scares his neighbourhood bullies – the dangerous animals in the forest – by making up the dreadful Gruffalo. And when the Gruffalo turns out to be real, he avoids being eaten by fooling this monster, while ‘proving’ to the other animals he was telling the truth.

So, that was a surprise.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo

There is now a 20th anniversary special edition, with a forest play scene and cutout animals and everything. You could have lot of fun with that. Because judging by the queues for Julia Donaldson wherever she appears, her books remain extremely popular, and the Gruffalo is very well known. Look at me, I knew it without knowing it, or even being right about the book. We all know something.

(I still think he looks adorable, and that mouse is a sneaky little thing.)

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Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

The Legend of Sally Jones

This is all about where you belong. It needn’t be the place you were born, although you will probably always miss it, while still being happy – or not – somewhere else.

Serendipity – and Pushkin Press – brought me Sally Jones, the ‘prequel’ to Jakob Wegelius’ The Murderer’s Ape. It’s not, really. But for those of us who came to Sally Jones in her second book, it will feel like a prequel. For the English language market it is a new book, just published, translated by Peter Graves. The Swedes had the original ten years ago, awarding it prizes.

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones

Jakob Wegelius did all the illustrations for his recent novel, but here he has really excelled. The Legend of Sally Jones is picture book; each page a work of art. Especially the back cover is gorgeous. And the story is lovely and really tugs at your heartstrings. Now we know what made Sally Jones who she is, and why she is so loyal to her friend the Chief.

Because all through The Murderer’s Ape you have to take it on trust that he deserves all the love Sally Jones shows as she searches for a way to prove he’s no murderer. When you’ve read The Legend of Sally Jones you know.

Sally Jones met some quite bad people when she grew up, but also a few lovely ones. Even her worst humans proved useful as they taught her some of the many skills she later on puts to good use. If you want your gorilla to be your slave, don’t teach them to drive.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

It is rather sweet. Even people who know nothing about Christmas, can get it right, completely by accident. In this case the people are the Moomin family. They hibernate, so tend not to be awake or aware of Christmas, unlike their friends and neighbours. But this time the Hemulen comes and wakes them up, because he’s fed up with all the preparations for Christmas.

Aren’t we all?

But knowing nothing, the poor Moomins are alarmed at first, worrying about this unknown monster coming for them. It needs a tree. The tree needs to be dressed. It needs food. And on top of that it requires presents.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

Were it not for a tiny, shy creature drawn to their house by the kindness of Moominmamma, they’d know very little. With its help, they find pretty things to put on the tree, and they wrap presents, and Moominmamma gets busy in the kitchen.

After all that they do the most sensible thing of all and go back to bed.


I seem to know the story from a long time ago. However, it has been ‘adapted from the Tove Jansson classic,’ with words by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson – translated by A A Prime – and illustrations by Filippa Widlund. So I’m not sure what it is I remember.

But it is a lovely story, with pretty pictures, and who needs a star at the top of the tree when you can have a rose?

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

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.