Category Archives: Picture book

City Atlas

Travel the World with 30 City Maps. It’s Non-fiction November, and here is an atlas to inspire the reader to visit lots of cities all over the world. Or possibly ‘only’ read about them, which is equally fine.

Written by Georgia Cherry and illustrated by Martin Haake, this atlas is a little on the large side to actually travel with. It’s more for inspiration. The double page spread for each city is not so much an actual map, as a colourful sketch of the city, showing many of its most famous landmarks and pictures of people and possible activities. And for every city, if you look closely enough, you will find a small person saying hello, in the langauge of that country.

City Atlas

Sketch it might be, but looking at the cities I know, I feel it’s quite accurate. For Stockholm they’ve got Långholmen to the west and Gröna Lund to the east; just where they should be.

In London Henry VIII is skateboarding just where he always does… hang on, maybe not. But you get the right flavour for each city. (Not sure that fried fermented herring will tempt the Stockholm visitor, but it’s genuine.)

It can be quite tricky finding the small person greeting you, which is presumably intentional. That way you see everything there is to see while you search.

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

Mog lives again

Would you buy your brussels sprouts in a supermarket you don’t normally frequent just because it revived Mog?

I fail to see how normal people could be swayed by this. It’s one thing to advertise sweets and toys at children, or for that matter, wine and discounted sofas at adults. That way you are being sold a particular item that you might not need, but will develop a craving for.

But Sainsbury’s are not flogging a dead cat, however adorable and Christmassy. Well, they are. I understand that you can go to the supermarket and buy Judith Kerr’s latest book about Mog. (Anyone reading this, feel free to get me a copy..!) Other than that, though, they are either ‘merely’ hoping to win the Christmas television commercial war, or possibly also hoping that you will pop into one of their branches for your Christmas food. Whether or not you are already a customer.

So as a part time customer, I feel neither more or less of an urge to let them supply me with sprouts after the Mog ad.

It’s lovely, though. More so for those of us who have got used to the idea of Mog being dead and not expecting to see our darling cat again. But that little film of Mog’s nightmare and subsequent crazy accidental frenzied exit from the house has had many of us old cynics laugh and cry at the same time. And that is a most welcome feeling.

Thank you Judith Kerr for giving us some more Mog. And thank you Sainsbury’s for making Mog come to life again, in such a spectacular way. (I might be in later for sprouts. Or I might go to Lidl. I’ll see.)


Why did I never read Kipper to Offspring? This 25-year-old is very appealing, and the mother of Offspring’s friends down the road swore by Mick Inkpen. If he had anything to do with a book, she’d buy it for her little darlings. This was back when we organised bookselling parties, inviting the same parents over and over again to come and buy more and more books.

Kipper did invite me to his 18th birthday bash seven years ago. But still I didn’t really read.

Now that he is 25 there have been some re-issued older picture books, and even to me it’s like meeting up with old friends again. In Kipper’s Little Friends he learns he’s not a doglet or dogling, but a puppy. There are many other little animals who are -lets and -lings, though, and very cute they are too. And it’s not only the froglets and the ducklings that make me want to hug the book.

In Kipper’s Toybox his beloved Sock Thing appears to be at risk and he moves into his toybox to make sure all his little friends are safe [making me just want to hug the whole toybox…]. The answer is mice. Two to begin with and quite a few more after a while. And less toybox.

How well I remember wanting to collect cereal box freebies, as someone who wasn’t allowed to eat the most exciting cereal. Kipper finds a beach ball with his in Kipper’s Beach Ball. It smells nice and plasticky. And it suffers from being played with, the way inflatable toys generally do. And no matter how much cereal Kipper gets, he only ever finds the other, more boring, toys to collect.

But we did have fun, both with the ball while it lasted and the live and toy friends. Hugs all round!

Mick Inkpen, Kipper

The Bear and the Piano

The idea that given enough monkeys and typewriters you will end up with Shakespeare works for bears and pianos found in the woods, too.

In David Litchfield’s beautiful picture book The Bear and the Piano we meet a bear cub who encounters a piano in the woods one day. He has no idea what it is, but plonks a bit.

David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano

He keeps returning to the piano, plinking and plonking, and suddenly one day he finds he can play beautiful music, which makes him very happy. The other bears come and listen, and before long he’s discovered by the humans and carted off to perform in packed concert halls.

The bear enjoys his new life, but starts to miss the woods and his friends. The question is, can you go back? Will they remember you?

This is a nice little story, with gorgeous illustrations.

A Bookwitch interview

Only it’s the other way round. This time I have been interviewed, by the Swedish Book Review, in their autumn edition which is mainly about children’s and YA authors.

They have translated short pieces by several authors, and they have interviewed publisher and translator Julia Marshall. And me.

Swedish Book Review

The authors are Per Gustavsson, Annelis Johansson, Cilla Nauman, Frida Nilsson and Malte Persson. All good, honest Swedish names, and no, I don’t know much about these writers, either. But then they are not part of my area of expertise, and perhaps I don’t really belong in this illustrious company.

But there I am anyway.

It was fun to be included, although now I can see how hard it is to be on the other side, coming up with answers to what might not be the questions you’d imagined someone would ask.

Swedish Book Review

Swedish Book Review

This is Scotland

These two picture books – Tig and Tag, and The Little House by the Sea – are Scotland personified. Benedict Blathwayt has caught both the Scottish countryside and the seaside perfectly. As an older reader I don’t need the stories, although they are sweet and funny; I just crave the illustrations of this wishful-thinking style Scotland.

Benedict Blathwayt, Tig and Tag

Tig and Tag are two somewhat naughty sheep who prefer to live in comfort with the humans, and not with the other sheep. They cause problems wherever they go, but occasionally they can be good too. Like when they chase the dog that chased the other sheep. Or silly, like the time they ran away from home to avoid having their coats sheared.

In The Little House by the Sea we meet a decrepit and abandoned house. Well, not really abandoned, as the ruins give shelter to much wildlife. Until the day Finn the fisherman turns up and gives the old place a makeover, and then comes to live in the house he’s made. What will happen to all those who used to live there?

Benedict Blathwayt, The Little House by the Sea

You can find a solution to everything. And the books are very lovely.