Monday, 16 May 2016

Barnes Children's Literature Festival

It was a glorious two days at the the second annual Barnes Children's Literature Festival and I'm not just talking about the weather.  It seemed that every available nook and cranny in the idyllic village of Barnes was dedicated to children's lit this past weekend.  And with so many of my favourites on the bill I was never going to take it all in. Word is they were laughing out of their seats listening to Ed Vere, and Anthony Browne's family of musicians brought Willy the Wimp magically to life. I was privileged to be volunteering in the marquee while Jacqueline Wilson won over the crowd with her charm, honesty and engaging personal anecdotes.
The Booktop marquee
 The picturesque Barnes Common was on show and it delivered. The place simply buzzed with books: strangers meeting and talking about books, people eating burgers and talking about books under the trees, children lying on the ground reading books, authors chatting with fellow authors about books. It was a treat to spot Judith Kerr in the audience for Lauren Child/David Mackintosh and in turn spot Axel Scheffler in the audience for Judith Keer. These are all the kinds of positive exchanges that the festival prides itself on and the weekend passed in a flash leaving a trail of sheer delight.

The OSO community arts centre on Barnes Common

For all the wonderful moments and new books discovered I think my lasting memory will be Judith Kerr in conversation.  It was a grown up interview and her sense of fun was evident from the start. She spoke with quiet conviction about her need to draw and create and the limitations imposed on women of her day. She spoke in detail of her family's escape from Berlin and the new home that she eventually made in London, in Barnes with the cat she'd always wanted.  I really could have listened to her cat stories for the entirety of the interview but the gems were in her description of her drawings, the motivations for her stories, her personal anecdotes and her drive to continue working.  I think she summed it up best when commenting about her hip replacement she remarked: 'I'm not decrepit, I'm just someone who used to dance the can can.'

Bring on Barnes Children's Literature Festival 2017!

Swans by Barnes pond ... probably the only ones not reading books.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Albert's Tree by Jenni Desmond

Writer and illustrator Jenni Desmond is the creator of a treasure trove of books and her latest title, Albert's Tree, introduces us to a sweet young bear and an unlikely friendship. 

Albert's just woken up from a long winter and cannot wait to reacquaint himself with his favourite tree. He climbs up, assumes his springtime position on the familiar branch, but to his surprise the tree suddenly begins to cry.  It looks alright to Albert, in fact it looks the same as always but clearly something is making it very upset.

Rabbit and Caribou both offer to help and share what makes them feel better (digging holes and eating grass respectively), but Albert has no luck comforting his tree. Finally, in a last ditch attempt to soothe his special tree he climbs further up, gives it a hug and speaks to it in a gentle voice. And boy is he surprised to hear the tree answer back. A case of mistaken identities is later discovered as Albert meets tiny Owl who's been living in the tree over the winter.  The two quickly become friends and the tree becomes twice as special. 

A story about friendship and a a story about feeling sad and feeling better that's lovingly illustrated with adorable forest animals ... and a particularly beautiful tree.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

For the love of reading...

Well, I do declare, a certain someone in my house has discovered that he loves to read by himself and Roald Dahl is suddenly sharing a pedestal with Luke Skywalker. It's a joy to behold and a crash course in mixed metaphors as much of the Star Wars Lego has been dismantled to form a large chocolate factory. Even Yoda's legs have been transformed and are now part of an oompa loompa - this is getting serious folks.

E can't get enough of Roald Dahl at the moment and it's been an absolute pleasure to watch him devour the stories and grab hold of the magic. And while Roald Dahl's genius is not news to any of us, it's been such fun to discover it anew with my primary school aged partner in crime.

And because we live in London we are spoiled for choice when it comes to add-on book related activities. If you've not yet been then make sure to experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl at the Southbank Centre; on until 3 July 2016. It's a mighty exhibition and I'm holding out until we finish the BFG before we go.

The Wondercrump

 And don't miss the Imagination Seekers and their interactive theatrical experience that explores Dahl's stories. You can catch them this spring at the the marvelous Barnes Children's Literature Festival on 14-15 May.

Imagination Seekers

Happy reading all!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

I've had this book for a few years and I plucked it off the shelf today in honour of International Women's Day. I expected E to protest (as he's inclined to do with many of my suggestions lately), but today there were no gripes and together we enjoyed reading about the life of Jane Goodall.

Created by the much revered author/illustrator Jeanette Winter, this book works as a biography on a child's level and it works as a story plain and simple. The illustrations are wondrous and together with the text they lure you into Jane's world. Immediately you care about Jane, her work, the chimpanzees and the environment.  Time passes quite peacefully at first which is why the arrival of the hunters towards the end, and the dose of reality they bring with them, is that much more startling.

I think this is a hugely important book and it's prompted numerous conversations between E and me.  Many at fist were understandably about the hunters but today it was also about watching, how we define home and what it's like for a little girl to work hard and make a dream come true. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The pursuit of friendship in picture books

My post this week is inspired by E's homework assignment to make a poster describing what friendship means to him. As we got to talking and I tried to turn the abstract into something tangible, our faithful picture books saved the day once again.  We started talking about all of our favourite book friends and I quickly realised how many stories are indeed about the pursuit of friendship.  Here's a list of some of our favourite 'friends' starting with a new book called The Adventures of Beekle an Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

Beekle is one of the first books in a while that E picked up as soon as he saw it.  It's that sweet little face and the uncertain smile from Beekle - the little white unimaginary friend wearing a crown.  Beekle just wants to find a friend, his special friend and we follow him on an adventure from the imaginary world to the real world where his dream and his destiny finally come together. 

More of our favourite picture book friends in no particular order:

Willy and Hugh by Anthony Browne
Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson
Corduroy by Don Freeman
The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge
On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies
Bubble and Squeak by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy

Do you have favourite book friends? Let us know - we'd love to hear from you!


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Winnie's Big Bad Robot by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

If you've not yet met Winnie the Witch then you're in for a treat.  Winnie's a loveable, slightly accident prone witch who's not afraid to try new things with the help of some magic and her trusty cat Wilbur. E discovered her books in his school library and is devouring the series on a nightly basis.

In our latest title, Winnie's Big Bad Robot, Winnie uses her magic wand to bring her art project robot to life.  Almost immediately Winnie realises this was a bad move as he steals her wand and starts turning the garden creatures into robot frogs and ducks.  No one is safe and before you can say 'Abracadabra' the robot turns Winnie into a robot witch!  Wilbur quickly realises that he's the only one who can save the day ... and so he does.

With order safely restored and the robot reduced to a pile of junk, Winnie sits back in her deckchair to enjoy one of her special drinks and a little downtime with Wilbur.

E absolutely loves the illustrations and when I asked him why he liked the Winnie books so much he simply said, "Because they're funny".

A big bonus in this book are the sheets of stickers in the back perfect for making your own robot.  We had a great time with ours and I hope you will too!  Learn more from the website dedicated to all things Winnie.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Standing in for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh

David Mackintosh is an author/illustrator/graphic designer with a distinctive style that gives his main character, Lincoln Green, an energy and sass that's well deserved and reminds me just a bit too much of the little guy in my house.

So who is Lincoln Green and why does he need a stand-in?  He's a kid who fancies himself a bit of a cowboy but behind this bravado Lincoln Green just wants to avoid all the boring things in life like chores and dental appointments. Preferring to spend his time drinking fizzy sarsaparilla and eating hotdogs, Lincoln Green invents a 'stand-in' to take care of his dirty work. All seems to go swimmingly until his 'stand-in' decides he wants to have fun too.

Standing in for Lincoln Green is full of humour, an engaging main character double act and superb illustrations and design.  I just can't get enough so expect to see more of David Mackintosh's books popping up here again soon.

For more of Mackintosh's work visit his website Profusely Illustrated. He also made a fun short film about Standing in for Lincoln Green that you can watch here: