Category Archives: Picture book

The Queen’s Present

Even Queens can encounter problems when it comes to buying Christmas presents for their little ones.

Steve Antony, The Queen's Present

In Steve Antony’s latest picture book, his very active Queen embarks on some serious world travelling to find the perfect gifts for the Prince and the Princess. She has some help from the man in red, who just happens to call in at Buckingham Palace, and who lets her come with him as he crosses the globe.

This way the reader can see many of the world’s most famous landmarks as the Queen and Father Christmas fly past. But no matter how grand the place, it seems she will never find the right thing.

If you look carefully, you will see that Her Majesty starts her travels sitting at the back of the sleigh. But as they go, she ends up closer and closer to the front, until she finally has the reins in her hands.

That doesn’t help, though, and she has to give up the hunt, and Father Christmas sends her on her way in the same manner he himself enters most houses. Hence the Queen’s sooty appearance at Sandringham, where the Prince and Princess get the best gift from Grandma.

(I’m still pondering whether a generation has been lost, or if Steve is merely ‘Grandma-ing’ the Queen for the sake of simplicity?)

Don’t Worry, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas and I are both feeling the chill. The difference is he’s got a new knitted hat to wear, while I haven’t. (Too vain.)

David Melling, Don't Worry, Hugless Douglas

But then something happens to his lovely hat. While showing off to his friends, it sort of becomes unravelled, and there is very little hat left and quite a lot of ‘string and fluffy clouds’ all over the place.

Many of his friends discover alternative uses for the hat as they find it, and this hardly improves matters. It’s certainly not a Rabbit burrow hole plug, nor should it be used to line any birds’ nests.

Douglas is very sad and also worried what his dad who gave him the hat will say, but as Rabbit points out, his dad is nice, and Douglas should tell him the truth.

That’s always good advice. There will be a solution to most things, as David Melling shows us. It’s my first Hugless Douglas. Might not be my last.

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.

Threadbear

Occasionally I feel a little threadbear myself, not to mention washed out. But I’ve never featured in a Mick Inkpen book.

Here, 25 years on from his first appearance, we have Threadbear again, the slightly worn bear with no squeak. It is very sad. I’m not sure who is saddest, Threadbear himself for not squeaking, or his owner Ben who keeps squeezing and thumping and doing all sorts just to get a noise out of his bear.

Mick Inkpen, Threadbear

It’s probably Threadbear, because who wants to be a disappointment, let alone fail in what their purpose in life is? He has the squeaker; it just doesn’t squeak.

And then, it is Christmas, and that jolly fat man in red rides past. And Threadbear is suddenly full of hope. But still no squeak.

Oh bear!

Don’t give up on the man in red’s powers just yet. You might get that lovely shrunken feeling.

Squeak.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

If you are looking for a classic Christmas present for a child, look no further. This retelling of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson is rather nice, and with the illustrations by Olivier Latyk, including some intricate card cut-outs, you won’t find anything more beautiful. (Make sure the child isn’t of the destructive kind, though.)

Kochka and Olivier Latyk, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Kochka, who has adapted Selma’s old classic, probably knows the story in French. I say probably, as there is no translator credited, nor is there one for the translation from French into English. (I’m on a translation track here, and would have liked the people who made it all possible to be present.) But apart from that, and a few of the expected misspellings of Swedish place names, it is very nice.

Snowy, even if it doesn’t all happen in snow, but it adds to the Christmassy feel. As a Swede I am also aware of the dangers to geese around this time of year. Watch out, or you are dinner.

Nils is a naughty little boy, but one who is surprisingly fast at recognising what he has to do, once an elf has shrunk him to miniature size. He needs to improve his behaviour and be kinder to all, especially animals, and he needs to help where help is wanted.

To be truthful, I no longer recall how much geography there was in the original, and how much adventure and improvement of Nils. But as Selma wrote the story to assist in teaching children about their country, I’d say the adaptation has mainly lost this part, and probably for the better. Not many small foreign children will want to hear about ancient Swedish landscapes. They will want the adventures, and – perhaps – the story of how one little boy learned a lesson.

My lesson will have to be that I had no idea the geese were given names from the Finnish one to six. But it’s sort of fun to discover now.

This is beautiful fantasy, i.e. perfectly normal stuff for today’s readers. And there is a happy ending for the dinner.

Covering Christmas

Daughter and I went into Waterstones the other day, went straight upstairs and looked for what I’d seen when I was last there a few weeks ago. No luck. So I descended again and walked up to the man at the till and explained I’d been sitting next to some lovely diaries last time, and where were they now???

Right inside the front door, apparently…

Mairi Hedderwick, Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017

Well, I didn’t need a diary as such, but there was no way I wasn’t going to own Mairi Hedderwick’s Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017. It’s gorgeous. It has Mairi’s Hebridean illustrations on every spread! (And it seemed Daughter was unlikely to get it for me for Christmas.) So I bought it.

And there was so much that one doesn’t strictly speaking need, but could easily develop a craving for. The diaries were next to the extra special editions of well known books with new beautiful covers, aimed at those who need to buy gifts. Had I not been a sensible Witch, I’d have come out of there with an empty credit card.

So yes, I bought myself a present. Nothing for the rest of you. Sorry.

But they – whoever they are – are fiendishly clever in thinking up new desirable book covers. The kind that would make you buy a book again, just because it was wearing new clothes.

I’d better not go into town again for a few months.

NY is for New York

Blast that Paul Thurlby! I didn’t need more marvellous picture books right now. And here he is with a new alphabet picture book based on New York. It’s one for Christmas, although there is no need to wait that long. Neither is there any need to possess a child, because you will want this book for yourself.

If I could tear out a couple of pages and stick them on my wall – which I can’t because I am too well behaved, and besides my walls are full – I would tear out B for Brooklyn Bridge. I have a thing for that bridge, and I quite like what Paul Thurlby has done with it, too.

n2-2

Most of the other letters also provide perfectly gorgeous pictures, but none are like the letter B. Paul has had his work cut out to come up with suitable places in New York to fit every letter of the alphabet, but he’s done well. Central Park for P, and so on, but that’s fine. We know our alphabet and only want the art.

I was about to say there is a monkey on every page, but reading Paul’s notes I see it’s a gorilla on every spread. Close enough.

Anyway, Christmas is here.