Thursday, 29 September 2011

Mummy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole

How I've managed to get to my age without having read this book (particularly since I used to work in the children's department of a book shop) I'll never know, but I'm so glad I finally did.

A couple of weeks ago, my 7-year-old, Harry, asked me "How did you make Joe?" "Same way as I made you," I replied, dodging the question since we were in the queue at M&S at the time. "But how?" he said. "Well it's a bit of Daddy and a bit of Mummy and that makes a baby." "Yes, but HOW?"

Eep. I told him it was complicated and we'd look it up when we got home. I use the wonderful BrainPOP for the many and varied questions I can't answer, but BrainPOP didn't have the answer for me this time either. There's a video supporting the 'bit of mummy and daddy' concept, but - perhaps unsurprisingly - not the HOW.

Probably as a result of my panic at having been asked the question, I completely failed to consider a book on the subject, but thankfully my friends are a lot smarter than me and instantly recommended Mummy Laid an Egg. After reading the reviews I could hardly wait to read it myself, never mind Harry.

And I wasn't disappointed. It's WONDERFUL. The premise is that the parents decide it's time to tell the children how babies are made. They tell them that babies can be grown from seeds, hatched out of eggs, squeezed out of tubes and a few other entertaining suggestions. The children think this is hilarious and say, "You were nearly right about the SEEDS, the TUBE and the EGG." And then they do some drawings to show their parents how babies are really made.

The drawings show where the seeds come from and how they get from daddy to mummy ("Here are some ways mummies and daddies fit together") in the most hilarious - and hilariously unrealistic* - way. I think it's a perfect way to introduce the idea of sex to children - it's not graphic or scary, it's joyful and funny. I laughed out loud when I first saw these two pages and totally expected Harry would too. He did not. I got to the end of the book and said, "So. What do you think?" "That's crazy talk," he said. Fair enough.

* At least I'm pretty sure doing it on a Spacehopper or skateboard is unrealistic. Unless I've been missing out all these years.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

I've been aware of Oliver Jeffers books for a while - I drooled over the beautiful iPad app for The Heart and the Bottle (and then I cried when I read the actual book... in Asda), and both my boys love Lost and Found, but for some reason I'd never seen The Incredible Book Eating Boy. Another parent recommended it to me in the library and I'm so glad she did because we all loved it.

Henry loves books, but he loves to eat them rather than read them. But he soon finds that he's literally ingesting knowledge and getting smarter and smarter the more books he reads. But then he eats so many books it makes him sick. And he realises that he's not been digesting the books properly and all the knowledge is getting mixed up in his head. So he stops eating books and, eventually, decides to try reading them instead.

I love everything about this book. I wasn't sure at first if my 7-year-old would like the fairly dark illustrations, but he loved them - particularly the one of Henry throwing up (typical). I love the message of the book, which manages to be both blindingly obvious and oddly subtle at the same time. This is a book all book lovers should own (but not eat).

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Bridget Fidget Hold on Tight by Joe Berger

Bridget Fidget is in a FIX. She forgot to hold on tight to her beloved toy, Captain Cat, and lost him in a shop - disaster! Luckily, her friend Billy is there to save the day AND Captain Cat with his brand-new Superzoom 500 car. Quick, everyone, hold on tight!

With overtones of Shirley Hughes's classic Dogger, this is a hilarious comic caper from Joe Berger, World Book Day Illustrator 2010.

With lovely bright artwork and larger than life drawings, Joe Berger's Bridget Fidget is a great little picture book full of humour and a quest. Quests are 100% my favourite thing.

When Bridget Fidget dashes through the Absolutely Best Shop in the World for Spending Shiny Coins (can someone please make a shop called this for real!?) clutching her backpack and shiny coin from the tooth fairy, she pays far less attention to Captain Cat and he bounces straight out of her backpack into the basket of another little girl strolling past.

When her friend Billy points out that Captain Cat is gone, poor Bridget Fidget goes into serious panic mode. She starts hunting for him everywhere but there is no sign of her special one and only. Fortunately Billy comes to the rescue but in the end it is Bridget Fidget who ends up saving the day overall in a great turn of generosity and kindness.

I enjoyed this - it's a very subtle way to teach younger folk (3 - 5 y/o) the value of sharing with those who may not have as much. Also, the language use was a bit reminiscent of Charlie and Lola, so for readers who are starting out, this is a great primer. And, as I said, wonderfully illustrated with Bridget Fidget being a very cute character whom I really liked. I too want to have a Captain Cat and fully expect that mine would be arriving from Dingle Bang's Universe of Toys at any moment.

Bridget Fidget Hold on Tight has been out since 2010 from Puffin. Find Joe Berger's website here.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Me and You by Anthony Browne

One day, a girl came into our house, ate my porridge, broke my chair and fell asleep in my bed. I wonder who she was?

This is a thoughtful retelling of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story.

It left me with a sense of peculiar sadness and I'm not sure why. Actually, I think I know. I think it's because of the artwork - it has a peculiar quality to it. Unlike most picture books where the artwork truly invites you in with vibrant colours and over the top drawings, Me and You has made use of subtler tones.

On the one hand we have the pages illustrating the young girl leaving her home with her mum. The artwork is quiet, grey, dull. She's dressed in a hoodie and the area does not look very nice.

Contrasted wildly with the greyness of the young girl's world, we have the home of the bears. A wonderfully large home, far brighter and more interesting. There is also a cohesion in the family in that it has a mum, dad and boy bear - a family unit. They go out and do things together.

The girl spots a balloon whilst she's standing in front of a shop window with her mum and she runs off to catch it. She doesn't pay attention where it's going and before she knows it, she's lost and the balloon is entirely out of her reach.

She wanders around and finds the wonderfully large and beautiful home of the bears. She does exactly what Goldilocks is meant to do - basically invades their home and privacy and eventually falls asleep in the bear junior's bed. The bears return home after a lovely stroll out and discover their house broken in to. They sneak around and find the girl asleep. They confront her and she runs away.

Soon the artwork changes again to reflect the greyness of the girl's surroundings and as she flees the bears and their neighbourhood, she runs deeper into the darkness. But it ends well, with a great blast of colour.

I think that this one is by far the most subtle picture book I've read in ages. I think young folk would like it for the obvious Goldilocks story but I think slightly older, more advanced readers, would notice the contrast between the girl's drab life and that of the bears and it will make them wonder.

It's a beautiful book but it's definitely one that makes me feel melancholy.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road by Joel Stewart

Today's Picture Book Saturday features Joel Stewart's fabulous Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road.

The book opens with this great image of Dexter and the Beastie standing on the roofs of a town, hooting and tooting on their horns. It is night time and the stars and half moon is out. They are kicking up a racket and an angry speech bubble from a garret tells them to Be Quiet!

By refusing to Be Quiet and To Behave, Dexter and the Beastie get thrown out of town. Straight out, into the deep dark scary forest. They don't stay frightened for very long. They walk along, tooting and hooting on their horns and trumpets when they unexpectedly come across the tremendously charing Sir Percy Pecket who loves their hooting and asks them to assist in waking up his Beloved, the Princess Philippina. The Princess awakes and like Sir Percy she adores the hooting and joins in with her flute. But then the Princess asks Sir Percy if he's taken care of that pesky dragon problem. Sadly, he did not and so Dexter, the Princess and Beastie all set off to give the Frightful Dragon what for. Only, it turns out the Dragon is actually quite cool and he learns to tapdance to their tunes.

Well, the story continues apace, with the Princess, Dexter and Beastie and the Dragon giving performance here there and everywhere. Until they realise they just cannot stop!

Needless to say, this is a great picture book. The language is wonderful and the illustrations are quirky and fun and I quite would love a Big Blue Beastie of my own. Now, please? Their adventures are over the top, loud and funny and they meet unexpected characters who act in charming and eccentric ways. It's a book about friendship and music, packed with comedy and giggles. I loved it and can highly recommend it to readers both very small and very old.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

FArTHER by Grahame Baker-Smith

When a father who dreams of flying goes off to war and does not return, his son decides to make the dream come true. Grahame Baker-Smith’s moving story, with stunning illustrations, shows how, with love and a bit of ambition, you can reach seemingly impossible goals.
For our sixth Picture Book Saturday we received FArTHER and I am very grateful to Templar for sending me a copy to review and to hold and love.

This gorgeous book won the Kate Greenaway Award 2011 and a more worthy winner would be hard to find.

Not only are the illustrations whimsical and creative and beautiful, the story is wonderfully touching.

It is completely from our main character's point of view. In a few words he explains his father's obsession with flying. He is always thinking about it, puttering around in his workroom making fantastical flying contraptions that somehow just just lack the ability to fly. The boy says how he then crawls into his father's lap until his father remembers that he's there. Then his father would grab him, and run with him and they would spend time on the beach, laughing and playing and flying kites. But that is until his father gets that look in his eye. And once again the boy is left to his own devices as his father starts tinkering with his creations yet again.

The story moves on from there, but to tell it here would be unfair. FArTher is meant to be read by parents to their children. It is meant to be read by adults so that they can remember where they come from. It is meant to be read by teens to remember that once upon a time, not so long ago, they were that small and that confused by their parents lives and that following your dreams may not be a bad thing.

I adored FArTher (a lovely play on the words further and father that you will understand once you've read the book) and it made me really miss my own dad with his own crazy ideas and whimsical dreams. But even more important is the core central message of "never stop dreaming" and I heartily approve.

I think that FArTHER has become my picture book of the year thus far and I will definitely want some of the whimsical pieces of art by Mr. Baker-Smith for my walls here at home. Do visit here, for a look at some of his illustrations.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Barry the Fish with Fingers - Gets An Animation Deal!

Press Release

Simon & Schuster Children’s Books today announced that animation rights have been optioned for their bestselling preschool brand Barry the Fish with Fingers, written and illustrated by Sue Hendra.

Wish Films have secured the option for television animation rights on two titles: Barry the Fish with Fingers and Barry the Fish with Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster.

Sue Hendra is a rising star on the S&S picture book list with four further titles already signed up for 2012 and beyond.

Her first title for S&S, Barry the Fish with Fingers, was published in 2010, and became an instant hit, selling more than 105k copies to date, with several foreign rights deals secured.

Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell (January 2011) was the bestselling new picture book for the first four months of this year and continues to be one of the top selling picture books of 2011.

Little Monster Did It by Helen Cooper

Everything was quiet and peaceful in the house until Little Monster arrived.

Little Monster loves Amy, but he hates the new baby. Soon he starts doing some very naughty things and Amy gets the blame...

Little Monster Did It by Helen Cooper is a wonderfully illustrated picture book for younger readers. I would say under six's would get most enjoyment out of it, and of course, us older folk too. Especially in the fine detail of the artwork which is not intensely coloured, but instead, by using muted hues, their impact is quite striking and...thoughtful. It's difficult to explain. The colours used throughout made me want to pause in my consideration of them, they drew me in, which I really liked.

Amy loves her mum and dad and loves the time they spend together. She likes that it's only the 3 of them. But when her mum goes to hospital, after giving Amy a large Little Monster as a present, and she comes back with a new baby, needless to say, Amy is not best pleased. And Little Monster is deeply upset. He throws tantrums and makes a noise when the baby wants to sleep. When they all cuddle in with mum and dad and the new baby, Little Monster spitefully opens the hot water bottle in the bed and empties it all out. Of course, all his naughty actions are blamed on Amy.

It is a very fast read, mostly because the pictures themselves tell most of the story - the prose is light and clever, but not as clever as seeing Amy's naughty face peer out from behind the tv watching Little Monster push donuts into the VCR. The expression is surprisingly sly and naughty and works so well.

I know exactly what Amy was going through and although I didn't have Little Monster, I acted very badly towards my nieces and nephews until I realised that they would become my best friends forever. All I had to do was give them a chance.

Little Monster Did It is a clever book for young readers struggling to cope with a new addition to the family or an upcoming new addition to the family. It makes them stop and think and it made me, as a reader, feel very nostalgic for my own overly busy childhood with hordes of nieces, nephews and cousins underfoot.

Find Helen Cooper's website here. A bit thanks goes to Random House who have listened so kindly to my pleas for more picture books to be sent. They give me immense enjoyment and I find my wishlist of picture books growing and growing!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Who Wants to be a Poodle? I don't by Lauren Child

I adore Lauren Child's books. From Charlie and Lola to That Pesky Rat to Clarice Bean, I love them all. So when I spotted Who Wants to be a Poodle in the library, I pounced on it.

It's the story Trixie Twinkle Toes Trot-a-lot Delight - a poodle who doesn't want to be primped and pampered, but instead yearns to splash in puddles and be a Dazzlingly Dangerous Daring Dog!

I loved this book and so did my 7-year-old (and his toy dog Buster who wagged his tail throughout - with a little help from Harry, obviously). It's written in Child's usual quirky style and has some laugh out loud moments for both children and adults. (Harry loved that Trixie gave the pet psychic fleas, I loved the pet psychiatrist.)

It's illustrated in Child's usual collage style with fabulous attention to detail.

I also loved the message of this story - that you don't have to be who or what people expect you to be. Or, as the back cover says, "Don't you ever yearn just to be YOU?"

One extra detail I enjoyed - despite the fact she hates being pampered and wants to be daring, Trixie is a girl dog. When the vet comes to check on her, the vet is a woman. I appreciate the non-traditional gender representations - I'm always on the look out for that in picture books.