Category Archives: Picture book

The Wolf’s Secret

The Wolf’s Secret by Myriam Dahman and Nicolas Digard, beautifully illustrated in autumnal colours by Júlia Sarda, is a romantically traditional tale.

It’s about love, and loss, and about being different. There is a wolf who isn’t exactly like wolves are meant to be, and we find out how he changes when he sees a beautiful young woman in the woods.

He can think about nothing but her singing. Then the day comes when she no longer sings, and he knows he has to do something. But what if she might be scared of him?

Well, you know the drill, something magical helps our wolf to get close, and eventually they both see each other for what they are.

The Robin and the Reindeer

The time has come to mention books for Christmas. I’ve been sitting on this one for some time, and it is Very Sweet. The Robin and the Reindeer by Rosa Bailey and illustrated by Carmen Saldaña is the very thing you need if you want to feel good about the approaching festive season.

A young reindeer is moving through her first snow with the herd with all the other reindeer, heading south before the weather gets too cold. It’s a bit Bambi, in a way, except mother stays alive and the large male lead reindeer is not her father, but the feeling is quite similar.

She gets lost. But she stays safe because she actually remembers what her mother told her. And then she meets a friendly robin. He is very red, and he agrees to show her the way, and does so by sitting on her nose, shining in a tremendously red sort of way.

Is it real? Or does our little reindeer magically turn into a temporary Rudolf?

Anyway, our reindeer finds her herd again and all is fine. Lovely and wintery and will lead the way to Christmas.

Bookwitch bites #148

The trip to Spain might have been fake – fake Spain with rain, not so much fake trip – but this week Kirkland Ciccone went to Sweden. Only in cyberspace, but it’s hard to travel these days, so it will have to do. I’ve been itching to have a photo published on Boktugg, and when Kirkie ended up on my television screen last Thursday, I decided to send in my picture of the occasion, and they’ve printed not only the photo, but my words about him, including the murderous porridge.

I must think before I press send…

This week gave us the long nominations lists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals for 2021, and as always, they are good lists. They give pleasure and hope to those on them, and I feel considerable guilt for having read only a few. But those few were Very Good. I’m sure they will make the longlists and maybe the shortlists too. Even if only one – in each category – can win.

Somewhere you can win a bit more easily is when it comes to pay. Equal pay. I had kept a link to something from absolutely ages ago, but ended up never getting to it to comment, so deleted it. Now in The Bokseller I see that the gender pay gap at PRH – Penguin Random House – has widened. That’s what I would call going in the wrong direction. If you really, really want to improve pay equality, you do. More money to the women, and not necessarily less to the men, but not increasing their salaries disproportionately. Pay is something you can determine in an office. No need to wait for pandemics to end or for politicians to grow sensible.

And the same goes for reviews of children’s books. Last year The Bookseller reports only 4.9% of book reviews were for children’s books, and a year later this had managed to slide down to 4.3%. 50% is too much to hope for, I suppose, but maybe a little more than barely 5%? I forget who said this in the last few days, but children’s books matter more, because they shape their readers into the kind of people they will grow up to be. I do my best, but as you well know, that is not a lot, and my viral reading has plummeted.

My local newspaper has launched this year’s charitable collection for Christmas presents for children who might not get any. I am gearing up to give them books again. Especially with the above in mind, but also with that in mind, I fear that plastic toys in primary colours will be more welcome. At least by the adults sorting the gifts. Except I know there are children who don’t actually own any books, and who would be happy to be given one.

And finally, thirty years on, we are looking at the last book by Jacqueline Wilson to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Not that we have been wanting this to end, but as they say, the time has come for Nick to concentrate on his own work. Here at Bookwitch Towers we will be forever grateful for the way he has captured Jacqueline’s characters and made so many children want to read her books. I have on occasion wanted to simply sit there and stroke the gorgeous covers, especially that pink one over fifteen years ago. And who can beat Tracy Beaker?

Zooming in on Linda Bondestam

This evening the Anglo-Swedish Society hosted Linda Bondestam on Zoom, all the way from Finland. Hers is the kind of name I know really well, except when I start thinking about it and I realise I know nothing.

Linda is a Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator of, mostly, children’s books. She has more recently taken to writing a couple as well. When telling us about one of those books, which was about death, Linda described how she’d had to decide which character to kill, to bring the message home to the young reader, but deciding that killing the main character might be too harsh.

In the beginning there were political pushchairs. Or something like that. Ulf Stark, whom she admired greatly, asked her to illustrate a piece he’d written, and it seems to have taken off and started some trend to do with armed tank style pushchairs in Eastern Europe.

The Anglo-Swedish chair person suggested she could be the next Tove Jansson, and possibly also Maurice Sendak. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek Linda agreed.

There was a short clip of Ulf Stark reading his own words, and later on Linda read some of her words, translated into English.

Linda’s pictures are wonderfully quirky and colourful, and to prove that good art goes anywhere, she also puts it on fabric, showing us shirts and stuff made from her designs. (Contact Linda if you want anything like that. The website is not here yet.) I said to Daughter that maybe she could order a duvet cover, and no sooner had I mentioned it when someone on Zoom suggested sheets…

One very young viewer was so inspired that she/he produced some of their own art while watching, which we all got to admire. Such is the power of the internet.

And Linda keeps winning awards.

An Engineer Like Me

I’m the first person to be in favour of more science for girls.

So this new picture book about a young girl asking her gran a lot of questions about science, is just right. Zara does seem to notice absolutely everything, but then, her gran has answers for all of it as well. She’s a useful gran to have.

They go for an outing, and they come past all sorts of things that need questions asked and answered. Personally I’m not sure I trust the ideas behind loop-the-loops, but I have no intention of looping anything anymore.

And I have always been fascinated by Hedy Lamarr, who despite being a beautiful actress could do serious and useful science. It just goes to show how prejudiced I am. I shouldn’t be more impressed by her than, say, by gran.

Gran has all the answers, because she is, of course, an engineer.

Just One of Those Days

One of those days when things go, not exactly wrong, perhaps, but not exactly right either. You know them. We all have them at times.

Jill Murphy’s new picture book about the Bear family shows you a scenario you’ve most likely experienced. You sleep badly and wake up late and get to work or school a bit later than you should have and once there, things are not as smooth as usual, or the way you’d rather they were.

But at the end of a day when something broke or got spilled, or someone else played with your dinosaur, maybe you can go home and change into pyjamas and sit down with pizza in front of the TV, and

you just start over tomorrow.

Captain Tom Moore

Most adults will be aware of Captain Tom Moore who walked 100 laps round his garden for the NHS Charities Together. Some children will too. Here he is in one of the Little People, BIG DREAMS books by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Christophe Jacques.

Tom hoped to raise a couple of thousand pounds, but ended up raising £30 million. It’s the kind of story we all need, to help us through the next hurdles in life, or to cheer us up when life seems a little bad.

100 laps might not seem much, even for a man just short of his 100th birthday, but perhaps that is why he was so successful. Traipsing round your garden is something almost anyone can manage. Donating a few pounds is also a manageable task, and if enough people do it, there could eventually be a big sum of money.

This book provides a simple, sweet background to this man, who was knighted by the Queen and who was celebrated with a flyover by the RAF for his birthday. I was particularly taken by the  group of men he worked with in WWII, and with whom he had regular get-togethers for 65 years until in the end he was the only one left.

And then there is the photo of Sir Captain Tom Moore with the Queen; two old people who were both in the war, and who are still here today.

Some of the price of this book will go to Sir Tom’s NHS Charities Together.

The Bear, the Piano, and Little Bear’s Concert

I read this to Daughter the other evening, when it was time for bed. It went down well. She’s a recent convert to these lovely books by David Litchfield about the piano-playing bear. I’m sure much younger children will also love this last instalment featuring the piano in the woods.

It’s a bit sad. Well, it has to be, so it can get better. I’m sure young readers instinctively understand this.

Bear continues playing the piano in front of audiences, until, well, until he doesn’t, and instead goes home to the forest. But he misses his old life and his friends, and he is sad.

Things improve when he has Little Bear to bring up and teach things. She is a lovely young bear, and when she comes across the piano in amongst the trees, she wants to know what it is. And then she hatches a plan…

It’s lovely. For an older reader like me, it’s easy to predict how it will work out, and probably also for a younger reader. But it is just as satisfying. Very beautiful, as are David’s gorgeous illustrations.

Starting school

Where do the years go? It feels like mere months since Boy Tollarp came to the Resident IT Consultant’s and my 60th birthday lunch. He was five weeks old at the time. Now on social media I see him wearing a blazer and tie and – admittedly – school shorts, as he starts school this week.

He’s not alone in this. Even a year like 2020 has children going to school for the first time. And it can be scary. I remember my first day, and I remember Offspring’s first days. Also scary. At least to me.

So books on what to expect and how to deal with any little problems are a useful thing. The two picture books I’ve just read will probably not become long term classics, but if they help a few children now, that’s enough to make me happy. It’s often impossible for the adults to guess which books will turn out to make a real impact on their small child. These are both lovely and might do the job.

Today I’m Strong, by Nadiya Hussain and her illustrator Ella Bailey, shows us a child who is often happy going into school. But not always. Some days she is bullied at school and would rather stay at home. She talks to her [toy?] tiger, who looks pretty much like Judith Kerr’s tiger, except less likely to eat you up. And Tiger provides her with the solution, and one day she goes in and deals with the bully, firmly and maturely.

So that’s that.

In My School Unicorn, by Willow Evans and Tom Knight, we meet another young girl, about to buy her first school uniform, and feeling worried about her life changing. In what looks like a magic uniform shop, the proprietor slips her a unicorn to keep with her at school. It’s a little thing, but it helps. School turns out to be fine, and one day that unicorn can go on to some other child.

Both books are diverse, and there is a [single?] dad looking after the unicorn girl. I’m hoping these books will help many young children as they begin the rest of their lives. And the usefulness of tigers and unicorns should not be ignored.

The Worry (Less) Book

This is a very useful little book on anxiety. The kind of thing that more of us are admitting to having around in our lives, especially in Covid times. Although author and illustrator Rachel Brian probably didn’t know what kind of world her book was going to arrive in.

It’s a little bit American, but I often think that when it comes to doing worrying, a little bit American can be reassuring, somehow. Try it.

I was actually going to put it aside, but one small glimpse of the innards of this book – which will make you ‘feel strong, find calm and tame your anxiety’ – made me change my mind completely. This is good stuff. I mean, a book where you learn to tell your anxiety that you don’t have time for it today, but maybe tomorrow? That’s such a common sense bit of advice.

We need common sense. We are all, mostly, worried about something in life, be it farting in company or anything else.

It’s a small cartoon style book, with humorous but sensible advice on how to deal with being scared of dogs, and avoiding swimming with sharks. It’s attractive, in grey and black with only yellow as colour accent. I know, when anxious, I should not concern myself with style. But it helps.

The cartoon aspect might make you think it’s for really young children, but my guess is young school age children. The age when you meet life head on for the first time, and worry about the dog, the other children and, yes, farting.

But we don’t really change much, do we? We grow bigger and older and still we worry. We’re probably capable of reading longer, more learned books on dealing with anxiety, but this one will do quite nicely.

You are good enough. You just need to learn that. And to remember it. (That brain of yours can be your worst enemy.)