Category Archives: Picture book

Room on the Broom

When I wrote about Axel Scheffler and Brexit yesterday, I decided to look for my review of Room on the Broom, the picture book I bought almost ten years ago, and it was ‘old’ even then. It’s also my only signed Julia Donaldson. I chose Room on the Broom because it was about a witch, and I am no Gruffalo.

But it would seem I never reviewed it. I wrote about the bookshop event, and how keen the little children there were to hear more stories, and less of this boring signing business. They were young enough to have their priorities right.

I reread Room on the Broom yesterday. It is a lovely book; the pictures, the message, everything. And as Axel said, it’s about generally being nice to your fellow living beings, even if they are frogs or dogs. We all matter.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Room on the Broom

What the witch did – sharing what she had, which was room on her broom, until it broke – came back to help her in her hour of need. Karma. (Any future brooms I may have, will definitely feature the comfortable seats this witch conjures up for her friends.)

As Axel said, ‘beware, Brexit Britain – if you have no friends in a hostile environment – the dragons may come and get you.’

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No room on the broom?

Axel Scheffler was awarded the inaugural Nibbie for illustration this week. He was ‘very grateful’ that the judges ‘chose me, a foreign EU citizen in Brexit times – that’s a nice gesture.’

I have had many thoughts about Brexit, and I have shared some of them with you. But I am always extra grateful when someone more important can say it for me, using better words. Axel is one such person. And this gifted man felt the award might be ‘a consolation prize. Or even a farewell gift.’

And there is that thing; a let’s be kind to this minority figure, just to show we mean well.

He points out that ‘it’s just ten months until “Freedom Day” – next March – and I – and my fellow EU citizens, many working in the UK book industry – are still living in uncertainty. We have, so far, no guarantee that we can still live and work here in the future. In a worst-case scenario, I might not be allowed to stay here by the time my next book with Julia Donaldson is launched.’

He quotes Michael Morpurgo who said,'”My uncles fought for peace, not for Brexit,” that Britain doesn’t really like the rest of Europe. And he’s right. That hurts, and it makes me angry every day.’

Axel goes on to mention someone I have often thought of in the last year, ‘my friend, Judith Kerr. Here, in this room, you have a refugee from the Nazis. — But after the Brexit vote it feels, despite our contribution, as if this country is saying, “It was all a mistake! We don’t really want you after all.”‘

Axel Scheffler

And he’s concerned for the country’s children. Did the adults who read Room on the Broom to them miss its ‘message of the importance of solidarity, partnership, friendship and kindness? The book wasn’t called No Room on the Broom.’

Well said, Axel, and thank you.

The full speech is here.

Board books and sex

OK, so this isn’t as bad as you think.

Remember the board books I told you about a few weeks ago? There were some tiny board books about pioneering women, and then there were those ‘Quantum’ board books on physics and maths and all that.

I was wondering what actual parents, and other adults, who buy books for their little ones, will choose, depending on the sex of the baby/toddler/preschooler.

I think we know, don’t we? No boys will be given the female pioneering role model books. People will feel there is no need. Boys lead, and they won’t need to be encouraged to think that girls can. They do need that, of course, but I suspect adults won’t think like that. Until it’s too late.

Probably a few more girls will receive the quantum books. By the time you’d think of getting a book like that for someone, I dare say adults can tell that girls might be minded ‘that way’ too.

I would like to be wrong.

Changing what we like

We are all mostly set in our ways, and we don’t want to change. Do we?

Fussy Freda in Julia Jarman’s book, with illustrations by Fred Blunt, certainly knows what she likes. I mean, what she doesn’t like. There is rather a lot Freda doesn’t eat. At all.

Julia Jarman and Fred Blunt, Fussy Freda

And if you don’t eat, then… Told in rhyme, we see Freda’s family trying to tempt her to eat, until the day when… well it’s too horrible to tell.

Let’s just say that common sense has something to do with it.

In Steve Antony’s Unplugged, a black and white tale about Blip who likes her screen time a little too much, it takes another drastic interruption to sort her out. It’s amazing what ‘no power’ will do to someone addicted to screen play.

Steve Antony, Unplugged

You might even be forced to go out there and do normal stuff. You might even like it.

Fresh air, and friends, and suddenly colour enters your life.

Let’s hope these two cautionary tales will give parents hope when it looks as if nothing will make their little ones change.

A Bottle of Happiness

This is, well, it’s a story that will go round and round. I’m not sure how else to describe it.

Pippa Goodhart and Ehsan Abdollahi, A Bottle of Happiness

Pippa Goodhart’s story tells of the happy but poor people on one side of the mountain, and also the much more commercially minded people on the other side. There they buy things, but does it make them happy?

Maybe not.

The question is what happens when the two sides meet. Also, can you really bottle happiness?

Ehsan Abdollahi’s illustrations would not have surprised me fifty years ago. And still they are not retro as such, but the colourful and angular people in this book take me back to my childhood in some way.

Happiness is contagious. Maybe that’s it.

Pleasing people

Aunt Scarborough was back in town over the weekend. She came with her daughter Alloa, and we ‘all’ went to have a look at a building site, before having afternoon tea. As you do.

Over tea Alloa thanked me much more profusely than there was a need for, for the book Please Mr Panda, which was one of the books I sent along when Scarborough moved away from here a couple of years ago. I’ve enjoyed other Steve Antony books, but never got round to reviewing the panda one. I was merely glad to be able to pass it on.

Steve Antony, Please Mr Panda

Alloa has several grandchildren, so I reckoned someone would be the right age for the various books. It seems her youngest grandchild, aged three, absolutely loves Mr Panda. It sounded like it’s the kind of book we’ve probably all known, where a child reads the same book over and over again.

It appears he was so keen that he even dressed up as Panda for [I think] World Book Day. And the lucky young man, being the great grandchild of a woman who knits doughnuts, even had the doughnuts to complete his dressing-up.

All this makes me very happy.

The Great Big Book of Friends

How I love these Great Big Books of… with words by Mary Hoffman and those loveable illustrations by Ros Asquith! Here is their latest one, The Great Big Book of Friends.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Friends are so important, but unlike family, or bodies, say, you might feel you don’t have any. But don’t worry, Mary explains that you probably do, anyway. And if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

You can be friends with your grandma. Or with the cat. You can have an imaginary friend, or a special blanket, or book. Or you can have friends all over the world; maybe lots that you’ve never met. Yet.

Here is advice on how to get a friend, and on keeping your friend. They point out that even when you’re really old, like your parents, you can stay friends with someone you’ve known all your life. Maybe because your parents were friends.

There are so many possibilities.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Both the words and the pictures in this book are so encouraging. They make you feel normal when maybe you believe you are the odd one out, who will never be like everyone else.

Go on, chat up the human being over there! Could be the best thing you ever did. And maybe they like frogs as much as you do.

I do hope there will be more Great Big Books.