Category Archives: Picture book

Overseas medal winners

This year’s Carnegie Medal has gone to Jason Reynolds; someone I only heard about four years ago, from a fervent admirer. I have since seen Jason at an event, and I reckon he’s OK. His winning book, Look Both Ways, sounds interesting, so I know what I have to do…

The Kate Greenaway Medal winner is Canadian Sydney Smith with Small in the City, where one ‘small’ illustration has me in raptures, and I definitely know what I have to do.

And I could be wrong, not having read either book, but they seem to have something in common. Besides medals, I mean.


You know when you oversleep? You wake up disoriented, maybe disgusted with yourself, and everyone is already somewhere else?

This is what happens to the mammoth in this picture book by Anna Kemp, with really very mammothy illustrations by Adam Beer. He is quite late waking up. Where is his herd? And what are all those odd things he can see everywhere?

Well you can tell what’s happened. Modern life is here and his herd is no more.

Slowly our mammoth gets used to this strange new world, and he tries really hard to fit in, but also to find a new herd for himself.

There is one. There nearly always is one, if you look hard enough. Not the same as before, but creatures you can hang out with. This goes for most of us.

Love, friendship and nature

It was the flamingoes that convinced me. And I suppose it’s always lovely to read about creatures looking for love. Especially the male gentoo penguin, who woos his chosen partner by offering her a smooth and round stone. This is from Dancing Birds and Singing Apes, How Animals Say I Love You, by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, and illustrations by Florence Weiser.

In Rachel Bright’s little story about The Whale Who Wanted More, with very whaley pictures by Jim Field, we learn that amassing stuff does not make you happy. Happier. If you feel you need something, it’s probably something else. Friendship, maybe. Respect to Crystal who knew how to stop Humphrey the whale’s bad behaviour.

And finally to Benjamin Zephaniah’s Nature Trail, illustrated by Nila Aye, where we follow a bright-eyed little girl through her garden, looking at everything beautiful. When ‘we’ got to the night time garden, sleeping among the petals, I was caught. It’s as if I’d been there before.

The Book of Bok

To a Swede this is a very odd title, The Book of Bok. But why not? Bok is, apparently, a lump of rock. One of the ones dug up and taken ‘home’ by Neil Armstrong when he visited the Moon in 1969. Neil has written the words to this picture book about Bok, and Grahame Baker Smith illustrated.

It’s a mix of the history of the Earth and the Moon, as well as that of Neil Armstrong. If I’ve understood correctly, the words Neil wrote are mostly musings about what happened when Bok was out there, and which Grahame has adapted into pictures, showing what it might have looked like.

Space is always interesting and this story and its spacey pictures will suit budding astronomers.

The one thing I missed was the last line of the accompanying press release, where it usually offers the press the opportunity of interviewing the author. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have?

The decency boundary

I suppose we all know that the stories coming from the Brothers Grimm were really pretty grim on occasion. But after reading them as children, we can agree that they are not truly children’s stories, but more for adults. And that excuses the content.

I suppose.

I believe that Swedish children, today and back in my time, are exposed to more questionable literary content when they read. There is more gate-keeping in Britain.

I don’t really know what’s OK. I seem to be more delicate now than I ever was before.

Anyway, a few evenings ago Daughter read me another Swedish story. It was probably about the last eligible book we had, and to be honest, I had already sort of decided against it, on account of it being boring.

I misremembered. And Daughter is aghast. When she realised where Kattresan by Ivar Arosenius was heading, she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. And I suppose I didn’t help by pointing out that Arosenius wrote and illustrated the book for his own little girl, many years ago. 1909 seems to have been the date.

They were made of stronger stuff in those days.

In case it works as a spoiler, or you really are so tender-hearted that you don’t want to see what she saw, I will just leave the link – to Swedish Bookwitch – here. Then you can click on it and feast your eyes on what happened to the cat.

In fairness, the very young Bookwitch used to be somewhat disgusted/puzzled/disturbed as well.


Free-Range or average?

I have here two lovely picture books, and I’m trying to decide if they are ‘the same’ or the complete opposite of each other.

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright, and with the brightest pictures by Izzy Evans, tells the tale of Freddy, who is anything but average. He pops out of his egg – I believe he is a chicken – all blue and rainbow coloured, and the proportions of his body are not exactly the same as everyone else’s.

But that’s just the beginning. Freddy also has ideas of what to do and when, and he is a bit noisy and generally very colourful in his behaviour. But you know what? The hens and the other animals get used to him after a while, and then they realise he’s bringing the best out in them. And everyone’s happy.

Whereas Wendy Meddour’s Howard the Average Gecko, with un-average illustrations by Carmen Saldaña, is about Howard who rather fancies himself as special; really unusual. Because he blends in with his surroundings, and he has never seen anyone else doing that.

Until his surroundings make themselves noticed when they tell Howard he’s merely average and that the world is full of creatures looking like what they are next to. That’s why he’s never seen them. But if Howard’s not special, then who will be able to like him? Howard is in crisis mode when…

So, yes, they are different. But also the same. Both are sure of themselves, and one is unique and one isn’t. Or at least, not in the way he’d imagined.

A little night reading

For some reason Daughter felt she wanted to start reading aloud in Swedish. It’s generally helpful to start light, so not the Bible, or The Times. I gave her my childhood Elsa Beskow, but that really was quite short.

After two of Barbro Lindgren’s and Eva Eriksson’s Vilda Bebin books, which were confusing because they are ‘poetry’ she moved on to Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordqvist. She has now read me all the ones we have in the original language.

That is just as well. I have enjoyed the reading, or maybe I mean the listening. But, it sends me to sleep. I know, I know. Bedtime stories are supposed to do just that, but I am old and had not intended to go to bed so soon.

Members of the Resident IT Consultant’s family are well known, or should I say notorious, for always falling asleep. You sit there being all sociable, and sooner or later one of them nods off.

That’s what I did.

I came to, and became aware that Daughter was looking at me in a horrified sort of way. Apparently I had done that nodding off, right there in my armchair.

I’m not quite ready for the reading to take place with me in bed, but I suppose it will have to come to that.

(Findus is an annoying little cat. But quite kind, not to mention intelligent, all the same.)

The Last Garden

We’ve been gardening. By that I mean that I sit comfortably in my rattan chair and keep the Resident IT Consultant appraised of what I think he should do to the garden. It’s quite nice, especially now that the weather has been warm enough and dry enough, and we’ve been longing to be out there, in the fresh air and sunshine.

This picture book by Rachel Ip and illustrated by Anneli Bray is about a garden in a country about to be overrun by a war. I wasn’t eager to read it, feeling I knew what it would be like.

Except it wasn’t.

Zara has a garden in the city in this country, where before the war there were green things growing everywhere. When things get bad, people still come to Zara’s garden, where they can feel good about what’s there, and the flowers and the fruit help make others feel better too.

In the end it becomes too dangerous to stay in the city, and Zara even has to close her garden. It looks like everything is broken or ruined and the plants dead.

But when the war is over, people return, and slowly, over time, the garden heals and so do the people and the city. A beautiful message and beautiful pictures.

The 2021 shortlists

It’s shortlist time. Here are the Kate Greenaway Medal hopefuls:

And the Carnegie Medal shortlisted books:

There are eight in each category, so it will still be a difficult choice to make. I’ve only read one, but can already tell that I would have wanted to have read many more than that.

Not In That Dress, Princess!

Dresses can be annoying things. Especially to men. I mean, how can any woman even begin to believe that she can do things while wearing a dress? Especially ‘men’ things.

I have mentioned this new picture book from Wendy Meddour before, but now it is finally out, and with Princessy illustrations by Cindy Wume. It’s a story I could see coming, ever since Wendy’s surprising discovery that a woman wearing a dress is not suited to changing the oil in her car. Men upset so easily.

(Between you and me, I reckon Wendy can do anything.)

Anyway, here is the story about the Princess who always wanted to do stuff, while wearing a dress, and always being told, ‘not in that dress, Princess!’ by some adult, the Queen, or the governess or someone.

But oddly enough, her brothers the princes could do anything they wanted.

Here we have a princess who actually wants to do lots of fun things. But isn’t allowed to. In the end something snaps, and our princess sets out to do exactly all the things she wants to do, in her dress. And you know, she really can do all those things, dress notwithstanding.

In the end, the parents see sense, and the princes beg to be like their sister.

(This review was written by a Bookwitch wearing a dress. Yeah, that hardly ever happens. But it can happen.)