Monday, 25 November 2013

The nation's favourite children's book?

Last month, I wrote about my choices for Booktrust's vote on 100 books to read before you're 14. The winners were announced today - and the most popular title is probably not a surprise: JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Read the full top 10 and more information about the books on Booktrust's site. How did I do? Well, only one of my choices made it onto the list, Philip Pullman's Northern Lights at number 9.

There's a short, but sweet, video of the choices on Youtube:

Friday, 22 November 2013

Pop-ups on display at the National Library of Scotland is definitely on my to-do list; an exhibition of pop-up books from the 19th to the 21st centuries has opened this week at the National Library of Scotland.  The Library's website gives a historical over-view with some illustrations to whet your appetite, and STV's news report has a short video showing one of the books opening out - into a paper model of Hogwarts! I think my favourite pop-ups are Jan Pienkowski's, Haunted House for example, though I don't know if there are any in the exhibition. I'll be popping over to Edinburgh soon to find out.

PS January 2014: I visited this exhibition last week and, yes, Haunted House is there.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Picture book update: the latest Picture Kelpies

I was delighted to win copies of three Picture Kelpies via a Twitter competition from Scottish publisher, Floris Books, who also produce Young Kelpies for 6-9s and Kelpies for 8-12 year-olds.) There are child-friendly websites to go with the books - Discover Kelpies (including Young Kelpies) and Picture Kelpies - and Floris also sponsors the Kelpies Prize and the Kelpie's Design and Illustration Prize. I bought many Kelpies when I was responsible for a children's literature collection and generally found them to be high quality. However, I was not asked to write a review, favourable or otherwise, and these are my personal opinions on the three books:

Kate Davies: N is for Nessie : A Scottish Alphabet for Kids

This bright, colourful book gets well away from the "A for Apple" clich├ęs. My favourite page is Puffins, because they are so cute, and the one that made me laugh out loud was the double page spread for U and V - Umbrella and Very, very wet! The clouds of Midges ran that a close second though. I wondered how X would fare - cleverly, there is no word, but a beautiful blue Saltire fills the page. However, non-Scottish children need not be confused: there is an explanation for every letter at the back of the book.

Lari Don and Claire Keay: The Magic Word
Despite the passing of decades, I can still remember the frustration of having to write thank you letters as a child. The first one was easy, but, oh dear, the repetition! It seems nothing has changed as Lari Don's Catriona despairs at having to finish her letters before Granny will let her play with her birthday gifts. Her attempts to make the task quicker are amusing, and become disastrous when she tries to use a spell (the magic word is, of course, please). Children will enjoy laughing at the mess she makes, but all ends well - the magic word reverses everything and she settles down to write the letters herself. And, guess what? It doesn't take nearly as long as she thinks. Some lessons in perseverance and politeness here, as well as a whole lot of fun.

Janis Mackay and Gabby Grant: The Wee Seal

This book has a beautiful island setting which very much reminded me of the illustrations in the Katie Morag books, so they might appeal to the same children. It tells the story of a fluffy, white baby seal and the efforts of Jamie to protect it from tourists who think it has been abandoned. They don't know that its mother goes hunting in the sea in the morning but always comes back at night. Eventually, the baby seal grows up, loses its fluffy coat and the two seals swim away together. A nice way to learn about the lives of seals - and the right way to treat nature.

I enjoyed all three books and will now be donating them to my local library so that lots of children can enjoy them too.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Winter's child
Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith: Winter's child.

The weather has changed, and as we hurtle towards winter it's time for the seasonal books to come out. When I bought children's books for a library I was very sparing in my purchases of anything that would only be used once a year. It would have to be a very special book to get onto my list. This one wouldn't have made it, but it's an attractive book nonetheless and comes with a good pedigree: author and illustrator are both award-winning. Angela McAllister won the Red House Children's Book Award in 2011 and Grahame Baker-Smith won the Greenaway Medal in the same year for Farther. Their first book together, Leon and the Place Between, was short-listed for the Greenaway Medal in 2010.

Tom wishes that winter would never end, but the cold is having a terrible effect on his elderly grandmother. While Tom enjoys playing with a new-found friend who shares his love of snow and ice, his grandmother gets sicker. Eventually, Tom realises that his friend is Winter's Child, and for the seasons to go on they must say goodbye until next year. After pages of wintry illustrations (I feel cold just looking at them) the final spread is of Spring in all its glorious colour.

So - not an essential, but a pleasant modern fable on winter if you are looking to add to your collection of stories about seasons.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Boys, birds and beasts: a trio of picture books

And what do the boys, birds and beast have in common? Well, all three books have a theme of escape - from home or from hunters, including the human kind. Let's start with the birds.
Gareth Edwards and Elina Ellis: The littlest bird.

Seven green birds share a beautiful nest at the top of a tree, but the littlest one is not happy. The nest is cramped and it's crowded and she doesn't get enough attention, so she packs her bag and sets off to find a better place. Eventually, she finds a nest which is empty apart from one large egg - but what's that loud cracking sound? Suffice it to say that Little Bird gets a very big surprise and decides that home is best after all - where, of course, everyone has missed her.

This would be a comforting read for any child who occasionally feels crowded out by the rest of the family (i.e. all of them at some point.) I liked the little birds whose chubby bodies reminded me of the Twitter bird or a more benign version of Angry Birds.
Adam Stower: Troll and the Oliver.

A boy and a mythical beast now. Troll and the Oliver (yes, that is the right way round) start off as enemies. Troll is determined to catch and eat the Oliver who is usually too quick and clever for him. Finally, Troll succeeds in catching him, only to find that, actually, Olivers taste REVOLTING and Troll spits him right back out. Fortunately, the Oliver is a nifty baker, they discover together that all trolls love cake and harmony ensues. There's even a recipe from Trolliver's Cookbook on the back endpapers in case you ever need to feed a passing troll.

I liked big, blue Troll with his marvellously expressive eyebrows, but was less fond of the Oliver with his teasing, self-satisfied ways. The book is beautifully produced with one half-page "reveal" and a cutaway cover. I'm afraid I always look at those with the eyes of a librarian though. Where are we supposed to stick the labels, for goodness sake?
Nahta Noj and Jenny Broom: The lion and the mouse.

More paper engineering in this retelling of Aesop's well-known fable. A lion helps a mouse reach her favourite food, but scoffs at the idea that the favour can ever be repaid. How could a tiny mouse help a mighty lion? He finds out when the hunters catch him in their nets....

Every page is die-cut so that the reader makes the story happen by turning the page which, for example, lifts the nibbled nets from the lion. (There is also a hole in the cover, but plenty of room for labels, hurrah!) The illustrations are colourful and cheerful, but I found the brightness and the lack of an outline to the figures detracted from clarity, so that sometimes I just seemed to be looking at a big pattern. Maybe that's just me and a child would do better!

I was sent these books by Templar Publishing, but was not required to write a review, favourable or otherwise. The books will soon be on their way to a local library and will, I hope, be enjoyed by many children.