Category Archives: Picture book

Polly and the Puffin – The Happy Christmas

Much as I adored Jenny Colgan’s first books about Polly and her puffin, this Christmas story beats them. Illustrated by Thomas Docherty, both have caught the spirit of Polly and her Christmas wishes exactly.

There will – of course – be a Christmas baby. Every good seasonal story needs one.

Jenny Colgan and Thomas Docherty, The Happy Christmas

But before that, Polly just can’t wait. Her poor mum isn’t ready for Christmas quite as early as Polly and Neil are. The two of them make lists. But when mum finally takes Polly to see Father Christmas at the big shop in Edinburgh, she’s not allowed to take Neil.

(Anyway, he’s got a ‘pregnant’ wife to be with.)

Unfortunately, what Polly does take – apart from Wrong Puffin – is the wrong list. She’s got Neil’s list, and ends up having to ask Father Christmas for fish and things. Very embarrassing, and so upsetting.

But all’s well that ends well.

This is so lovely.

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Christmases and snow flakes

Christmas is less red, and more pale blue with white dots.

All three picture books in front of me share this colour scheme, and it’s one I like a lot. Red is shouty. This is more wintry, and cold.

Rachel Bright’s All I Want for Christmas, about little penguin who thinks mostly about the Christmas shopping, is really just a version of Mother-of-witch. All she ever wanted for Christmas, no matter how often I asked, was a good little girl. And big penguin in this book is just the same. It’s all about love.

Rachel Bright, All I Want for Christmas

David Melling’s Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas, brings us our favourite silly bear. He builds a snowman, accidentally incorporating most of his friends. And he finds a reindeer with a shiny nose. There are hugs. Lots of snow. And a sledge, just like little penguin’s.

David Melling, Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

In The Snowbear by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, two children build a snowman. And then they too go sledging. It’s very slippery, and they go very fast, and the woods are full of wolves. But with a faithful snowbear you need not worry for long, even if it is too slippery to go uphill.

Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, The Snowbear

Help yourself, why don’t you?

It’s really simple. You have a Christmas ad to make. You look around at books aimed at young children and find something suitably sweet. You contact the author/illustrator and ask them to work with you in return for money.*

I’ve heard there is a fair amount of it available for the people who think up and subsequently make Christmas ads. I feel it’d be a nice Christmas touch to pay the author for their work.

It’s not quite so nice to steal someone’s creation and pass it on as your own, by saying that monsters under beds are so commonplace that no one, not even a former children’s laureate, can claim it’s actually theirs.

And when found out, it’d look a lot better if you admitted to making a mistake and offered a belated payment for the stuff you took.

Or, you could not. A bit like John Lewis and the monster under the bed, ‘inspired’ by Chris Riddell’s Mr Underbed.

If the Christmas ad was intended to spread goodwill and all those other things, I’d say it failed this year. If John Lewis wanted us to think nice thoughts about them, they also failed.

I’ll go and watch Mog’s Christmas again. That was a nice one. Judith Kerr was credited for her work. I suspect she might even have been paid for it.

*I’d be happy to make suggestions.

Here We Are

Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers – the picture book he wrote and illustrated as an introduction to the world we live in, when his son was born a couple of years ago – is truly inspiring. I sort of wish I’d thought to do something of the kind, if only I could draw pictures the way Oliver can.

He has long been among my favourite illustrators, and this book proves how good he is.

Starting with Ursas Major and Minor, and moving on to our solar system, and then Earth, Oliver moves ‘down a level’ for each page spread. Our planet is dry and wet, hot, cold, flat, sharp, and so on. Fish and treasure in the sea in one direction, and breathable air, the stratosthingy and outer space in the opposite direction.

Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are

Then there’s people, all different, but all the same, too. We should look after our bodies as not all parts grow back if detached. Animals; quite a few kinds of them. Day and night, taking it easy and being busy.

And to remember to ask Oliver any questions (although that might only be an invitation to Master Jeffers, and not all of us), and if he’s not here, there are quite a few others on Earth.

I’d really have liked having this book to hand 25 years ago. Life can be so abstract and hard to explain, when there isn’t as much shared language as you tend to have later.

The Carnegie/Kate Greenaway nominations

Some I’ve read. Others I would have wanted to read.

I haven’t counted how many books were nominated for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, but a quick search through the two lists suggests I have read maybe thirty of the books in total. Which is not much.

The wonderful news is that Barrington Stoke have ten books on those lists, and I have read nine of them. I was never sent the tenth one, so have a slight excuse there. It’s so good to see both that dyslexia-friendly books aren’t overlooked when it comes to list-making, and also that there are so many competitively great books written for those who find reading challenging.

Carnegie Barrington Stoke nominated books

As for the books I’ve not read, a few have arrived here at Bookwitch Towers, but most haven’t. And based on what I wrote about the other day, I now feel quite disinclined to request any of them.

But it’s good to know I’ve had the opportunity to read so many potential prize-winners from Barrington Stoke. I should know. One – The White Fox – was on my best of 2016 list.

Pandora

Many years on, I am no nearer to understanding the other mothers in the school playground. I had mentioned mending. Ooh, they don’t do that! I could tell. Hems falling down, and worse. I am fine with others not repairing clothes, and buying new instead. When I get stressed with life, I do too. Wasteful though it is. But I see no reason for looking down on the mend/repair/recycle efforts of others.

Our world needs a bit more re-use.

Having got this off my chest, I want to introduce you to Pandora. She is a lovely, but lonely, little fox in Victoria Turnbull’s new picture book.

Pandora lives ‘in a land of broken things.’ Rubbish dump, really. But she has made a home there out of all the things discarded by people. She collects and lovingly restores what she finds. But she has no friends. No one comes to visit.

One day an injured bird comes. Pandora nurses it back to health, enjoying the company, until the day the bird leaves again, and she is alone once more.

Victoria Turnbull, Pandora

But as this is a story for children there is a happy reunion.

I hope there will be a little more recycling in this world as well. Pandora is a sweet and inspiring picture book.

Benny’s Hat

I cried, simply on leafing through this picture book, the way I often do as I want to see what it’s like, even when I’m sure it will be good. And I knew that already, because Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray had posted a brief video online, about their picture book about dying.

And reading Benny’s Hat, I thought my heart would break.

This is not a bad sign, however, and I’d urge everyone to read the book, whether or not you need help right now on grieving or explaining serious illness or what a hospice does, and more.

Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray, Benny's Hat

Juliet Clare Bell has written such a tender story about Friz and her older brother Benny, who is terminally ill. And in this instance, I can’t imagine an illustrator other than Dave Gray, to provide the pictures to Juliet Clare’s words.

There might be one scene of normal life at the beginning, when we see Benny and Friz playing, but from then on the adult reader can see that Benny is unwell, where perhaps the child reader will learn along with Friz that he is ill, and that it’s a bad illness, and an illness where Benny can’t get better. And then we follow the family as Benny’s condition deteriorates, seeing how sad the parents are, how hard they are trying, and the sweet friendship between the siblings.

Until Benny dies, which is handled beautifully, and we see how all three are struggling with their grief. And how there can be better days, and maybe something good again.

And I’m sorry, but I need to go and find a tissue.