Category Archives: Picture book

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.


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.

The White Fox

I know, and you know, that Jackie Morris makes gorgeous picture books. She can paint real and imaginary animals in a way to make most adults actively CRAVE the art in her books. But I must admit to liking her new book for Barrington Stoke much, much more.

The White Fox is – obviously – about a fox and Jackie captures the arctic fox that finds itself in Seattle absolutely perfectly. What made me even happier were the industrial cityscape illustrations, which is the kind of thing I go for, and I adore the way they appear in this book. If there is to be any tearing out and hanging on walls, this is it.

Jackie Morris, The White Fox

The story is simply wonderful. It’s about a young boy called Sol, who lives in Seattle with his father, but he is not happy. He hears about, and then finds, the fox down in the docks, and the two feel as though they belong together. Sol dreams of going back to Alaska, to meet his grandparents after many years apart.

And in the way of stories, especially those about children and animals, something magical happens. It’s also quite ordinary, in a way, but so beautiful. Considering this is a Barrington Stoke Conkers book, aimed at those who don’t read so easily, it becomes even more poignant. Small and perfectly shaped, with purple silk bookmark and everything.

(I hardly ever mention the word stocking filler, but The White Fox is definitely one of those.)

The Night the Stars Went Out

I’ve been waiting months to tell you about this picture book! The Night the Stars Went Out is just so beautiful and has such a heart warming message at its core, that you have to love it.

Suz Hughes, The Night the Stars Went Out

Suz Hughes has been published before, but this is her first picture book as both author and illustrator. The story is about Alien who looks after the stars, and that is a huge job. And then one night all the stars go out. It is pitch black and Alien doesn’t know what to do.

Luckily he has the Star Helpline, and they point him in the direction of Earth, and off he goes.

You can learn a lot from unexpected trips and the people you meet. And that’s what Alien finds, too. Cooperation and friendship are both very important. Feeling happy. Remember this, and long may your stars shine.

(I never believed in those cleaning products anyway.)

Just right

Goldilocks had her porridge. Or, to be more precise, she had porridge belonging to the three bears. And one of the porridges was just right.

The last books I read about Goldilocks and her pal Jack, of beanstalk fame, were the new boardbooks by Tony Ross earlier this year. Boardbooks are hard to review, and fairly hard to pass on to a suitable reader. When you’re my age you don’t know many boardbook-aged people.

Or perhaps that’s just me.

The other day I went out to lunch. It was a free lunch; pea soup followed by pancakes with cream and jam, Swedish style, all eaten in good company. I actually remembered to bring the books, and after a happy coincidence of chatting about books, I even remembered to get them out of my bag, to hand them to Baby Tollarp.

This lovely child threw himself over the books, and immediately started to gnaw the edges and the corners. Most gratifying.

It was lunch, after all. And whereas he was allowed to sample a sliver of pancake, this six-month-old only had literature to satisfy that empty feeling.

2016 Book Week Scotland launch

Remember the smell?

I must clarify that that is not a severed head you can see on top of the contraption of unidentifiable stuff [not whisky, either, as I thought]. Launching Book Week Scotland is not that gruesome. It’s much more at the civilised end, which is how I came to eat gluten free grey cake and drink iced coffee from a jam jar.

(The severed head, or not, was part of a smelling toy, where you would go round and sniff the various smells bottled in the contraption.)


Earlier yesterday morning Scottish Book Trust had driven ten authors somewhere out towards the back of Arthur’s Seat in a double decker bus, and photographers were invited to traipse round for fun photographs. It all seemed too complicated of a morning for me, which is why I am using the official pictures. You can tell they had fun.

Pamela Butchart

After that I failed to take a single usable photo of all the speakers who had interesting things to say about reading and books and Book Week Scotland. But Pamela Butchart’s dress is so fantastic that here she is anyway, only slightly blurred. Her challenge to us – I think – was to read a picture book a day. And, it’s actually something that is fully doable, and I will consider it.

Book Week Scotland 2016 launch

Graeme Macrae Burnet does not recommend giving people a copy of the biography of Dostoyevsky (1000p+) which he was given last year. Instead he read us three – extremely short – novels. He wants us to go up to perfect strangers and read them something we like. As if!

And Caro Ramsay is thoroughly into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I can’t disapprove of in the slightest. Let’s not panic.

The cakes

Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust spoke and so did Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop. It’s good when Governments support books and reading, and as in previous years (I think they said this is the fifth) there is a lot of programme waiting for Book Week Scotland to break out, which it will do on November 21st. For a week, obviously.

Really famous people like Jodi Picoult, Alexander McCall Smith  and Alan Cumming will be taking part, as will countless others, some not yet household names. But you never know…

Key to Book Week Scotland beer

My party bag contained a book beer, and a chocolate key, so not even the Resident IT Consultant will have to go without.


Fair Haughton

I’d forgotten how nicely Irish Chris Haughton sounds. I wasn’t surprised that this wonderful picture books author and illustrator had been invited to the Gothenburg book fair. Swedes love their picture books, after all.

But they’d added another aspect to Chris, by calling his event something like Fair Trade Picture Creator, and that is even more of a Swedish thing. So I don’t know if the ladies flocked to his event because they like sweet picture books, or they enjoy beautiful rugs, or they just like nice Irishmen.

Chris Haughton

That was the thing when I saw Chris in Edinburgh last year; I didn’t quite get the bit about making rugs. And appearing with Chris Riddell and Oliver Jeffers, maybe there wasn’t room for the rugs. But now I do, and I love them. They even had some at the fair to look at. (I had sort of imagined him at a loom, making rag rugs, when in actual fact Chris makes beautiful designs, which are then tied in the traditional way by professionals in India, and they look marvellous.)

Anyway, Chris started off his event talking about his picture books, with a slide show, and reading selected bits from a couple of books, showing us how he had developed his ideas. The young Chris had gone from being told he could work as a graphic designer, to enjoying making caricatures, and then discovering the use of computers at college.

The next stage was collaborating with The People Tree, designing various goods for them and being paid in t-shirts, which Chris liked. He travelled in India, and saw things he found interesting, and only got on to the rugs by accident when being shown yarn dyeing and felt he had to be polite about it. He quickly worked out where the rug makers were going wrong; making good quality rugs depicting the Manchester United logo. It was this that made him come up with attractive alternatives.

Chris’s next venture was making an app called Hat Monkey. This is for young children to do fun things, like dancing and singing. Great pictures as with all his stuff.

In Shh! We Have a Plan Chris solved his illustration problems by making it as a collage, and showed us a photo of him playing on his kitchen floor, putting the pieces together. He read us his new book Goodnight Everyone (featuring a beautiful sky at night) where basically everyone falls asleep. So many picture books are about falling asleep…

For school visits Chris has put together a shape kit, which allows young children to play with his characteristic shapes and colours, making new pictures every time.

Chris Haughton

As well as having a display of his rugs and some dolls down on the market stall level, there were books for signing outside. Amazingly all his picture books have been translated into Swedish, and the audience clustered around, eagerly awaiting a doodle or two in each book. I’d have liked to linger, but had another event to run to, so left Chris to ‘his’ ladies.