Category Archives: Picture book

Incredible Journeys

Because I am a bit of a fool I looked at Levison Wood’s book Incredible Journeys and decided it was one of those worthy, but slightly boring large, factual picture books. I.e. not for me. But I did that dutiful looking at it, nevertheless.

Good thing, too!

It actually seemed really rather nice. (Yes, thank you, Sam Brewster for the pictures.) And it was about exploring. Travelling. Learning about many people who had had visions and set about doing something.

For us old people there is less that is new, but for a reader who has not known about Edmund Hillary or Amelia Earhart or Captain Cook, this should be fun. Not to mention interesting. Actually, I’d never heard of Ibn Battuta. Have you?

It’s nicely written, and I’d like to think that there are many little future travellers and explorers who will enjoy this book. I kind of got the feeling I used to have with my beloved Junior Readers’ Digest (please don’t judge me! Or this excellent book) which I read and read until they almost fell apart. I hope children still do that, even with so much else available to them.

Levison Wood and Sam Brewster, Incredible Journeys

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Judith Kerr

With the death of Judith Kerr on Wednesday, we have lost another star in the children’s books world. When the great ones like Judith reach such a high age, I always want to wrap them in cotton wool, to protect them and make them last longer, while being very grateful they have made it this far.

But by all accounts Judith didn’t need the cotton wool, continuing to live life as she always had, getting about on her own. I first saw her in Edinburgh ten years ago, and found her seemingly frail, but most entertaining. Then when I discovered I was sitting behind her in the audience at Waterstones Piccadilly five years ago, I was astounded to realise that she was just like anybody else, going to events she wanted to go to and mixing with people.

Judith was one of the ‘older greats’ that I would have loved to meet and maybe interview, but somehow I never felt quite grown-up enough.

I hoped she would go on for much longer, but 95 is a respectable age. Especially if you’re not ill or needing looking after.

I very much hope her end was like that of Mog, and that they are together in some magical place.

Hugs all over

Hugs, love, and cuddles to all.

Today’s three picture books are adorable, each in their own way. Hugless Douglas is almost sensible. You can have a star for a pet. Sort of. And I’m sure you can really cuddle a crocodile, especially between shapeshifters.

Diana Hendry’s You Can’t Cuddle a Crocodile, about the boy with a sister who is always something else, be it a monkey or a bear or the uncuddleable crocodile, keeps the reader on his or her toes. But we can all pretend, can’t we? If it is pretend. Those parents do look a bit funny.

Diana Hendry and Ed Eaves, You Can't Cuddle a Crocodile

Whatever the situation is, the animals are nicely drawn by Ed Eaves.

In Corrinne Averiss’s My Pet Star, the tiny protagonist discovers a star one evening. It has fallen and hurt itself, but is picked up, cuddled and nursed back to health. The star is a lovely pet, apart from not being around in the daytime to eat ice creams in the park. The two grow close until the day comes when the little star needs to go where stars go.

Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw, My Pet Star

Sweet illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw. I could want my own pet star.

Hugless Douglas is attacked by a bird’s nest, when it falls out of its tree, with eggs in and everything. Doing some egg-sitting while mummy bird gets a new nest together, he finds he needs advice and help. But that’s what bunnies are for. You can cuddle eggs warm, and when you do, well…

David Melling, Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds

David Melling’s Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds seemed even more adorable than the usual Douglas. But at least he didn’t sit on the eggs!

All three books make you want babies and toddlers to read to.

Arnica, the Duck Princess

This newly translated fairy tale by Hungarian Ervin Lázár didn’t, in all honesty, attract me with its title (the princess sounded more like a homeopathic remedy) nor with the illustrations (which grew on me rather when I read the book), but that brief dip into the text that I like to do, made it look both fun and intelligent. And that’s how it turned out to be.

Ervin Lázár and Jacqueline Molnár, Arnica, the Duck Princess

The style of writing is refreshingly modern and amusing, and the plot does have a poor young man for the Princess Arnica, but there are no three* brothers, nor any stupid or unkind parents. The King is lovely, in fact. Very sensible and kind and fair. Arnica herself is apparently not all that beautiful, or at least not until Poor Johnny, as the hero is called, sees her and falls instantly in love, and that makes her beautiful. Poor Johnny is poor, but the King does not mind this.

All would be just great were it not for the wicked Witch,** who casts a spell making the young couple into ducks. But being so very much in love, they decide to take turns being a duck.

And eventually, after many charmingly different little adventures, the two leave their duck-ness behind and everyone lives happily ever after.

What’s so attractive, apart from the fun story, is the language. I have no way of knowing if this is the style of Ervin Lázár, capably translated by Anna Bentley, or if there is some magic happening in the translation. There is an unusual plot device in that in every chapter the author appears to be chatting to a child about how to proceed and what certain things mean, sometimes having new ideas or names introduced into the story, the way a child might come up with odd little things. It’s really very charming.

And as I said, the illustrations by Jacqueline Molnár turn out to be exactly what the book needs.

*You do get twelve of them at one point…

**The Witch, well, she’s really bad. Mostly.

Scottish and Friendly with Lauren Child

‘Hello,’ they say. Not ‘do you want to sign in,’ as they do in English schools. That’s what so friendly about Scotland, like this week’s Scottish Friendly tour, where Scottish Book Trust are driving Children’s Laureate Lauren Child (see how those words and her name sort of go together?) all over Central-ish Scotland. Same procedure as every tour; five days, one school in the morning and one in the afternoon. Apparently it can be hard to remember whether you just said what you just said, or if that was in the last place.

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Not since they brought me the last Laureate – Chris Riddell – have I been so pleased that I didn’t have to travel anywhere to meet Lauren Child, but they brought her to me. This time there was no need to break into any schools, even if they did have our local primary school on the itinerary, as I managed to insinuate myself to join them for ‘the daily pizza.’

Except it wasn’t pizza this time. And the Burgh Coffee House was full, even with Scottish Book Trust’s Tom & Co looking pointedly at the table-hoggers there, so they repaired to the new place across the street, where I joined them, having a latte as they worked their way through avocado toast with whipped cream. Ah, no, it was actually poached eggs. Looked like cream. And Lauren Child took to having a random witch join her like the professional she is.

We started by agreeing how strange it was that after all these years, we’d never been in the same place at the same time before. A witch should always aspire to someone new. Her Charlie and Lola books, and subsequent television series, were too late for Offspring [and me]. I had perused Lauren’s website before the meeting and discovered that I am not the only one to believe she’s American.

She’s not. I deduced from her description of a very long radio interview she’d done with someone once, that she might be from Wiltshire. Apparently it matters where you come from, as it does which part of London you live in now.

I’d been hoping to ask a really good question, but Lauren beat me to it and asked one of me instead… ‘Who do you still hope to meet?’ My answer should have been, ‘after you, no one.’ But I wasn’t that alert at that moment.

Lauren Child

Lauren has done what she wanted to do as Children’s Laureate, which is great. She’s at ‘the end’ now, and reckons she managed her goal by not setting such a crazy pace as her predecessor did. In fact, Lauren said it’d be better if the Laureate could stay on for longer than the two years, making it easier to have bigger goals, and for them to be successful.

She can also think of who might be good to take over after her, but is far too discreet to mention names. Although, she did say she feels it would be better not to choose the really big names, as someone slightly less famous could have more time to do the work.

I asked if it helps being known from television when she goes into schools, and it does. Sometimes children can take time to decide that an author is worth listening to, so if they already know about them, that helps.

Lauren’s entourage this week consists of three helpers, making her look terribly important. Scottish Book Trust’s Tom had managed to get two assistants to carry the books for him, which is good going for someone who drank Choconana two and a half years ago. Yesterday he had what looked suspiciously like some kind of coffee. And the café gave them two free slices of chocolate and beetroot cake. Because it was Wednesday.

As always, I stayed for far longer than I should have. (I blame the nice company.) And I turned down their kind offer to smuggle me into that afternoon’s primary school. It was good to have met Lauren, after so much time. And she looked lovely, dressed for spring, and far too sensible in a London and Wiltshire kind of way to even contemplate milkshakes. I’d say some sort of green tea?

Adventure Duck vs Power Pug

Did I really want to read about a duck struck by a meteorite? It promised to be quite a silly book. But then, Adventure Duck vs Power Pug is by Steve Cole, and we like Steve Cole.

Steve Cole and Aleksei Bitskoff, Adventure Duck vs Power Pug

So they all came with me to the GP’s waiting room yesterday, and luckily the nurse was distracted by her friends over lunch and was late, allowing me to read on. By page 39 we’d just got to the cool secret camp the meteorite-stricken egg (yes, really) had organised for himself and Adventure Duck – who, between you and me is a silly duck – and I didn’t particularly want to get up from my reading.

As you will have gathered I have yet again fallen under the super-powers of Steve Cole, and you wouldn’t know I am really an adult.

It’s a good sign when even old people can enjoy rather silly books intended for much younger readers. I suspect that 6-8 year-olds will really really like Adventure Duck, and Yoki the egg and Ziggy the not-sidekick. As for Apocalypse Cow, well…

Steve Cole and Aleksei Bitskoff, Adventure Duck vs Power Pug

There will be more instalments of the meteorite-induced adventures, and knowing the speed with which Steve writes, I would imagine the second book will be here weeks ago. (I don’t mean that. Even this one is only out next week. But we are talking meteorite time.)

The illustrations by Aleksei Bitskoff are suitably crazy too.

To Tobermory

The Resident IT Consultant went to Tobermory the other week. ScotRail was offering a deal – for ‘old’ people – of a return anywhere in Scotland for £17, I think it was. To be fair, he struggled a bit. Many destinations can be reached for less, anyway. At least if you are old. And some trips he’d already done.

So, Tobermory it was. He started early and returned late, and managed something like two actual hours in Tobermory. Trains, ferries and buses took most of his time.

I meant to tell him (=suggest) to go to the bookshop, but I forgot. And then I wasn’t awake when he left.

But it seems a Resident IT Consultant can be trusted to find, and visit, bookshops anywhere. Not surprising really.

Halfway through the day a photo arrived by email, showing me the interior of the bookshop and a table laden with Debi Gliori’s Tobermory Cat books, and a ‘cat’ and lots of other great books to do with Tobermory, and Scotland.

Bookshop in Tobermory

I was also out and about, at the other end of Scotland, and isn’t it amazing how two old people can share photos across the country like that?

Apparently it’s a very nice little bookshop, with a nice selection of interesting books.

And yes, he did buy a book.