Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Rundherum in meiner Stadt (All around in my town)

It's been a busy time around our house with the recent Thanksgiving holiday and I've got a stack of books waiting to review. I thought I'd start with one I unearthed at my local charity shop: Rundherum in meiner Stadt, or All Around in My Town. This book is already very popular with E and I had to wrangle it away from him at breakfast to have a closer look. It's a textless picture book so don't let the German title throw you. You do not need to speak or read German in order to enjoy this slightly oversized board book that's loaded with charming pictures and generous detail.

First published in 1968, Rundherum in meiner Stadt features seven double page spreads of uniquely German yet wholly universal scenes. It takes E a while to get past the cover due to the fire engine and city tram on the front, but once that first page is turned it's a feast for the eyes. A bit like Richard Scarry's Busy Town, the scenes unfold to reveal everyday comings and goings of town life.  Construction sites, industrial shipping docks, city parks and fair grounds are all given fair dues in this cheery picture book. If you look closely you can also follow the changing of the seasons and spy on the private lives of the town residents. There are layers of detail to be discovered in these illustrations and countless little conversations to be had around them too. Just this morning E and I've been talking about brick laying, ducks, swimming pools, band practice and carousels all in one breath.

German author Ali Mitgutsch has written a range of titles for children including several other board books in a similar style to Rundherum in meiner Stadt. Though this is a vintage title it looks to be available at all the big online book sellers and presumably though special order from smaller book stores.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Big days out and about: Potato Needs a Bath and Poppy Cat

photo by Douglas McBride

E and I had a big week last week and attended two events in London town. The first was a children’s play at the Southbank: Potato Needs a Bath. I just can’t get it out of my mind.

What a complete pleasure to sit cross legged on a little red carpet and join Shona Reppe on her journey in this one woman, many fruit and vegetable performance. I was amazed by the visual and textual cleverness of this production and E didn’t budge one inch the whole 35 minutes.

Potato is in dire need of a bath and the one human character in the show, Maris Piper (aka Shona Reppe), shows us exactly why as her fingers get muddier and muddier each time
she tries to coax Potato from the little dresser drawer he calls home. She spends her time readying the other fruits and veg for her party and one by one she introduces us to Plum, Onion, the naughty twin cherries, Peach and ‘Madam Aubergine’ amongst others. It’s completely brilliant and funny and just plain smart. Each piece of produce has its own personality and the props are realistic if not actually edible. There are no wimpy little faces drawn on them, nor does Reppe try to overly animate them, instead she treats them with respect and builds an entire make believe world that you long to stay in all day.

Potato finally does get his bath but as to what happens at the end, well, I won’t spoil the surprise. If you ever have a chance to see Shona Reppe perform then go, go, go. Don’t waste time reading about the production, just book your ticket and know you’re in for a treat. E adored it and his 4 year old companion loved it too.

Another highlight of our week was an invitation to join Poppy Cat for a special breakfast to celebrate the launch of two new books: All Aboard! and Blast Off!. Poppy Cat began as a character in a book series created by British author and illustrator Lara Jones. Poppy Cat is now also the main character of a television series and is quietly earning a reputation as a girl hero (albeit a feline one). She leads her troupe of animal friends on fantastical adventures, she wears pirate hats and she flies rocket ships. It’s not in your face and yet it’s a refreshing change to see a female character at the helm of a set of exciting stories. E was on his feet for most of the lively story time and clearly thought that this giant Poppy Cat (pictured) was the real deal. Who am I to spoil his fun? Poppy Cat's new books are published by Campbell Books.

Monday, 8 October 2012

I Love to Sing by Anna Walker

I Love to Sing is a wonderful introduction to Ollie, his little dog Fred and the cheery calm of Anna Walker's children's books. Her whimsical illustrations are a joy to behold and they bring Ollie and Fred to life without fuss or distraction. 

Ollie is one of those great characters that doesn't fit into any particular mold. He's kind of a zebra come rabbit that walks on two legs, has a soft sweet smile and like most children, loves to sing. He sings while sitting on the stairs with Fred, he sings in the park and he even sings in the bath while drinking a cup of tea. E finds this scene particularly hilarious and it's normally cause for a lot of shouting and pointing as he exclaims, 'teapot in the bath ... look, teapot in the bath mommy!'. 

Ollie's joy from singing in all sorts of places is the narrative thread that gives the story its flow. The text is refreshingly sparse and tinkles along with a gentle rhyme. The book is laid out in a series of scenes and ends with Ollie declaring that his most favorite place to sing is in his bed with Fred. It's a very handy ending for a bedtime story and the other books we have about Ollie follow the same pattern. 

I'm somewhat new to Anna Walker's work and was pleasantly surprised to find a whole treasure trove of books, illustrations and information on her website. The other stories about Ollie and Fred are part of the I Love series and include titles like: I Love Christmas, I Love Birthdays and I Love to Dance. I encourage you to get to know Ollie and maybe meet some of her other characters too:

Thursday, 27 September 2012

all things Oliver Jeffers

Living in London may have its challenges but it also has many perks, and famed artist/author Oliver Jeffers signing books at a local bookstore was a high point in my week.

The master plan was to get a copy of Stuck signed for E along with two copies of Jeffers' new book, This Moose Belongs to Me, for a friend and a cousin. A very rambunctious E was accompanied by his friend Olivia. I settled down on the floor to read 'Stuck' to them while we waited, and we were soon joined by a slightly older and much cooler Jeffers admirer who plopped down beside them to patiently listen to the story with the little ones.  This little dude was so excited to meet Jeffers that I almost felt like an imposter. He had a stack of his favorite titles and proceeded to talk about why he liked them and which bits were best. He really liked Stuck but preferred his copy with an orangutan on the back to our new paperback. I neglected to get his name but his recommendations included: The Incredible Book Eating Boy, Hueys - The New Jumper, and Up and Down. I'd take this kid's word for it. He definitely knew his stuff.

E was oddly still and quiet when Jeffers signed his copy of Stuck.  I tried to explain that this was the person who wrote it but that fell on deaf ears. Jeffers was quick to remind me that he illustrated it too and then proceeded to draw lovely creatures next to the names in each book. I think E understood that this was something special ... not least because I wasn't scolding the guy for drawing all over the book!

If you're new to Jeffers' work then Stuck and How to Catch a Star are great titles to get started with.  This Moose Belongs to Me is probably for a slightly older audience but worth getting your hands on a copy just to swoon at the illustrations. I also hear that there's a great app based on his book titled The Heart and the Bottle. And if that's not enough, Jeffers is  currently releasing and promoting a new fine art book about his work, Neither Here Nor There.  Read about all this and more at Oliver Jeffers.

Happy reading and a big thank you to Oliver Jeffers and Watersones!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

I wish Dan Yaccarino would write a book for every day of the week. I came across this title on our summer trip to the US and the 'Friday book' is still a nightly request on E's reading list.

This is a book about a Dad and his son and their weekly ritual of breakfast at the diner. The story is focused and the illustrations are fun, interesting and cool.  1960's design and characters meet minimalist line drawings and urban references. It works brilliantly in this context and manages to give the story an enviable vintage look and feel.

E and his Pop read this book a lot together. He points to the boy on the cover and says it's him.  We have yet to identify the Beatnik on page twenty but I'll come back you. 

A boy and his Dad take a walk from their apartment to the diner.  It's gloriously simple and also significant as their walk is the same every Friday.  They make their way past the shop keepers and street vendors as the city is waking up to the day. They both know where they're going and there's never a need for deviation.  Just a boy and his Dad and a little extra time together on a Friday morning. They make their way to the diner, order their usual from their favorite waitress and sit down to chat and chew until it's time for them to get on with their day.

Was this book written in the 1960's or the 21st century? Sometimes it's hard to tell ... and this is a good thing.  There's a telling contrast as the boy notices all the other people rushing while he and his Dad take their time. After all, it's Friday and this is their day together.

Yaccarino includes a lovely author's note about his own diner breakfast tradition with his son. The sincerity of his experience rings true in this loving little story.

Every Friday is a 2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year and a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year. You can learn lots more from the publisher's website:  Macmillan (US). Dan Yaccarino has a great website as well where you can learn about his other books, characters and countless creative projects:Yaccarino Studio.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

London ABC by Ben Hawkes

London's magical landmarks and layered cityscapes are in safe hands with illustrator Ben Hawkes.  London ABC uses familiar scenes to teach the alphabet and even includes a slightly mischievous penguin as a tour guide.  There is no narrative text and instead the penguin provides the link as he pops up on each page. Sometimes he's central to the scene like when he's wearing an I Love London t-shirt while eating an ice cream cone.  And in other pictures he's part of the background like when he's riding the London Eye and is a tiny figure inside one of the many capsules.  One of my favorite scenes is the Jubilee party he crashes.  He's sitting very still next to a granny and waving his Union Jack as if he owned the place. Each picture is loaded with detail and E and I've been talking about the buses, boats, fire engine, horses, trains, underground signage and of course the zoo where the penguin finally returns after his adventures in the Big Smoke.

The illustrations are impressive in their own right but look closely and you'll see just how clever they really are in terms of the ABC's.  One letter is featured across each spread along with a text phrase such as 'O is for Oxford Circus'.  However, in the background you'll also spot other objects beginning with the same letter. The Oxford Circus page includes an Octopus, Onion and an Ostrich. There's a handy list of illustrations in the back just in case you miss something along the way.  I especially like the 'Pear' store on the 'P' page and anyone familiar with an Apple (Mac) store will quickly recognize the reference.

For my two year old this compact title (it's approx 13 x 10 cm) is more about looking at pictures and name recognition than learning the alphabet.  However, I feel there's room to grow and even more of a story to be told as he gets older and the letters take on more meaning.  It's also a great way to commemorate the big summer of London 2012 and I hope it will become a keepsake. And it's not just for Londoners -- I think it will appeal to any kid charmed by lovely pictures and a slightly naughty penguin. You can have a closer look via the Random House website: RandomHouse.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Dear Zoo & It's Mine by Rod Campbell

E and I had were fortunate to attend a special birthday party recently to celebrate 30 years of Rod Campbell's classic children's book, Dear Zoo. E's favorite things from the afternoon were the special edition Dear Zoo m&m's and the generous goody bag from Macmillan Publishers (thanks again!).  I was thrilled to meet the man of the hour and hear him speak a bit about his experiences as an author/illustrator. 

Rod Campbell Q & A
My burning question for him was about the importance of repetition in his books. His sound response was that it was vital for building confidence. He sees repetition as an important learning tool and I took that to mean not just individual words but repeated concepts and phrases.  In Dear Zoo the narrator asks the zoo to send them a pet - a series of unsuitable pets arrive and each is in turn sent back to the zoo until finally a puppy arrives and is deemed 'perfect.' There is a pattern to the action repeated throughout the book and many children learn to recite the words within a few reads. If there is a young child in your life then Dear Zoo is a must - the app is great for slightly older kids too.  

Dear Zoo is a faultless title though E is equally fond of another board book by Rod Campbell, It's Mine. It's Mine introduces the reader to a series of jungle animals and comes with a roaring surprise at the end. In each picture there's a clue to the animal hiding on the next page: a green bit of tail is actually a large crocodile lounging in the river, a big furry paw poking out from behind the tree reveals a bear on the next page. It's great for encouraging children to notice the detail, it begs you to ask them questions and it allows them to build up suspense before the fantastic pop-up surprise at the end. This one is still going strong in our house and our copy is a much loved rag tag version of the original ... and it now has a special signature on the inside page from a very special author.  

Happy Birthday Dear Zoo and many thanks to Rod Campbell!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Trains, Trains, Trains and more Trains

Trains are big business in our house. E pretty much woke up one morning and decided that trains were the center of his universe and there was no going back. I've embraced it for the most part and the result is a bumper selection of train books on his shelf. Here is a round up of four of our favorites (scroll down to see each title):

Trains by Byron Barton
This little board book is the ultimate starter train book and perhaps the very source of E's devotion to the rails.  The drawings are modern, simple and clear and the text is very short and precise.  'On the track' is the opening line and that's all it takes for E to be instantly hooked.  He's been looking at it since he was about 12 months old and still finds it interesting over a year later. Barton highlights a variety of trains doing all the wonderful things that trains do - going in and out of tunnels, stopping at stations, driving at night and ultimately speeding away.

The Little Red Caboose
The is one of my very favorite vintage children's books (first published in 1953). It tells the story of the little red caboose at the back of train who saves the day by keeping the giant steam train from sliding backwards down the mountain. Up until this point the caboose has spent its days unnoticed while the children lavish their attention on all the larger (read more important) cars at the front of the train.  Much like the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the caboose finds itself an instant hero and proves to everyone that it's deserving of their attention despite its size and despite coming last. We spend a lot of time talking about the 'boose' at our house and I still hold out hope that in time we can discuss the moral of the story. 

The Little Engine That Could
This is another classic train book that is a must for your little reader - train lover or not. It again tells the triumphant story of the underdog saving the day. A train full of toys and candy is stranded on the track and trying desperately to reach the anxious children on the other side of the mountain.  Various engines pass by but they're either too important, too busy or too feeble to help.  Finally a little blue engine appears and agrees to give it a try.  She's the most unlikely candidate to pull this big train but by believing in herself and repeating that legendary mantra, 'I think I can, I think I can', she manages the unthinkable and pulls the train safely over the mountain.

Riding the Rails from A to Z
This is a beautiful title from Chronicle Books and I was pleasantly surprised that E choose it. It's an ABC book that uses a combination of bright illustrations and archive photographs to teach the alphabet through train lingo and vocabulary.  A is for all aboard, E is for Engineer, U is for underground and so on. I've found it to be a great book for keeping the train obsession fed and E's interest piqued, while also challenging him to engage with different types of pictures and to learn new words and phrases. It's not a story book but it still manages get him talking and I've learned a few new facts as well.

Please leave me a comment if you have favorite train books to recommend!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Girl Who Loved Wellies by Zehra Hicks

It's been a flip flop and wellies sort of summer for E and me between the American heatwave and the sodden playgrounds of London.  With that in mind there was only ever going to be one book to talk about this week, The Girl Who Loved Wellies by Zehra Hicks (aka the wellie book).

True to the title, this story is about a girl named Molly who loves her wellies.  She loves them so much that she won't take them off for love nor money, and that includes wearing them to bed and to ballet class.  She gets away with it until she has an itch, an itch between her toes that just won't go away.  But there's just one problem - Molly's worn her wellies for so long that they're stuck to her feet! After a herculean effort by friends, family and dog the wellies finally come off and Molly is reunited with her toes.  It's after this 'a ha' moment that she decides she'll only wear flip flops ... even in the snow.

There's so much for kids to engage with in this book.  I've found it to be ideal for the 2-4 year old range.  It will appeal to kids who love wellies, kids who love jumping in puddles, kids who might enjoy being that little bit mischievous and kids with their own ideas.  That pretty much covers every kid I've ever met.

The illustrations give us a second chance to enjoy Hicks' line drawings and fun colours (she's also the author of The Boy Who Hated Toothbrushes). It takes a whole village to get Molly's wellies off her feet and there's a joyful two page spread where everyone pulls together in one long conga line to remove said wellies. E loves this moment and recites the line 'everybody pulled' over and over again.

He also loves the two page spread where Molly greets her toes.  He insists on taking off his socks at this moment and placing his feet over the brightly colored illustration of Molly's bare feet. It's a nightly ritual that we've all come to look forward to.

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about her debut book, The Boy Who Hated Toothbrushes.  If you liked Billy then I have a hunch you'll be fond of Molly too.  Zehra Hicks has a wonderful website The Girl Who Loved Wellies is out now.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis MN, USA

I've spent part of the summer catching up with friends and family in America. Anyone travelling with me knows that a road trip is incomplete without an exploration of the local indie children's book store. This dream of a bookstore, Wild Rumpus, is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood in Minneapolis, MN and was worth the entire trip.

The entrance is a passage to an enchanting world with a small purple door for smaller people built within the larger one for grown ups. Inside not one but four lazy cats drape themselves across shelves, counters and comfy chairs. There's an iguana named Spike, several ferrets and a free range chicken who peeks out at you from behind the stacks. And all of this excitement is before you even have a chance to marvel at the stock of children's book titles.

I've never seen so many Maurice Sendak and Leo Lionni titles in one place except maybe online. Oh the joy to peruse them in the flesh! The vintage picture book collection was incredibly impressive and the range of current titles and new authors was equally exciting. Some of the authors I hope to feature in upcoming posts include David Mackintosh, Alison McGhee and Eva Muggenthaler.

A trip to Wild Rumpus is like getting a big hug from a book. The set up of the whole shop encourages you to browse, pet the animals and bounce a little to the music. I particularly like the books set aside for visitors. Instead of the throw away basket of forgotten titles they have entire shelves of books designated just for reading in store. The new books for sale are grouped by author in some sections and by an endless list of subjects in others.  How inviting so see a shelf full of 'cars', 'trains', 'cats', 'dragons' and so on.

If you find yourself anywhere near the Twin Cities then make sure to save some time for a visit to Wild Rumpus. And for the rest of you at least check it out online

Be back soon! Mrs B.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Frederick by Leo Lionni

Step aside modern picture book writer/illustrators and pay homage to one of the masters, Leo Lionni. Lionni was an ad man (pre Mad Men era) who in 1959 gave up his New York City career and turned his hand to creating children's books.  He's quoted about this move saying, I reached the conviction that all human acts have social and political consequences....You must feel responsible for every line you draw, for every decision you make.  His strong conviction is a clue to the nature of the characters he created and the gentle, wildly imaginative and abstract books that he wrote for children. One of my favorites has always been 'Frederick' and I'm happy that this title is now known as the second mouse book in our house. 

Frederick lives in a large family of field mice who make their home in an abandoned farm and granary.  They are busy storing food for the winter and we meet Frederick in the midst of this activity.  While the rest of the family is working to gather nuts, grain and corn, Frederick can be found sitting on his own - still, quiet and pensive. The other mice are working their little tails off and naturally question Frederick about his idleness. Frederick responds by saying, 'I do work ... I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.'  His family remains unconvinced and ask again what he's doing sitting on his own.  Frederick replies with one of the most beautifully simple lines I've read in a children's book, 'I gather colors.' This response is wholly unsatisfactory and his family continue to press him to explain himself.

When winter comes the mice eat through their stores of food and it's only when resources are depleted that they remember Frederick's contribution.  They ask him to recall the things that he had gathered and he talks them through an imaginative process to feel the warmth of the sun and visualize all the colors of spring.  Lastly, he recites a poem to relieve their minds of the winter boredom and finally he receives the approval he'd been denied but never sought.

To accompany the tale is a collection of marvellous illustrations and collages from Lionni. They feel almost storyboard style in how they capture the action across each two page spread. The shapes are simple yet effective and the use of color captures the essence of each season.

Frederick is a story about being different, being yourself and being accepted for who you are.  It's about nature, imagination and looking at the word that little bit differently from the rest of the crowd.  I'd like to find Frederick a patron or an Arts Council grant and let him get on with following his passions.  He's a very loveable little mouse.

I could go on and on about the merits of Leo Lionni but instead I'll direct you to the Random House website that's packed with information and discoveries Go now!  

'Frederick' was first published in 1967 and is a Caldecott Honor Book.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray

I give credit to the Book Nook in Hove for turning me on to Apple Pie ABC and the ever so lovely creations of Alison Murray. Murray has adapted a traditional ABC verse for the story and the result is a modern picture book with a vintage feel. She uses a natural color palette and a clever narrative to make this title stand out from the crowd of more obvious alphabet books available.

A young girl and her canine sidekick are baking an apple pie.  An apple pie so tempting and tantalizing that the pup risks some serious scolding as he sniffs, tastes and finally gobbles the whole thing. We follow him through each menacing moment until, exhausted, he collapses in his bed providing the necessary 'zzzs' to conclude the story.

Part of the real success of this book is the integration of the alphabet lesson and the story.  Each letter of the alphabet drives the story forward without overpowering it.  Some letters are linked to just one word, such as 'M' for 'miserable' when the pup is scolded, and other letters are linked to complete phrases such as 'F' for 'find a crumb of it.' By varying the patten the story has a rhythm of its own and stands up well alongside the alphabet lesson.

There is plenty of space within the pages to pause and talk to your reader about what's happening in the pictures.  It's also very successful in its pacing.  First time around I wondered if E would actually sit through the whole alphabet.  Thanks to Alison Murray the answer was a resounding yes.

Apple Pie ABC is published by Orchard Books in the UK.  Alison Murray has a fantastic website for this book and another great website for her other creations

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Aminal by Lorna & Lecia Balian

Originally published in 1972, The Aminal is a much loved title from my childhood. I think the copy in our house actually belonged to my older sisters but I remember it distinctively because of the funny title.  Oddly, the twist at the end (we'll come that later) is not the part that stuck with me.  It was the build up that I can recall most and I think that's really the key to this book.

Patrick is having a picnic alone in a field when he befriends a creature to keep him company.  There are no illustrations of his friend so we can only guess what Patrick has found.  He calls it an 'Aminal' and decides to take it home in his lunch sack.  On his way home Patrick runs into his friend Molly and tells her that he's caught an Aminal. It's 'round and green and blinky-eyed with lots of pricky toenails' he tells her. And so begins the rumor mill that makes up the crux of this story.

Molly then runs into another friend, who in turn runs into another friend and another until the story of Patrick's Animal has been retold several times over. Each child has their own idea of what the creature looks like and the Aminal grows bigger and scarier with each page. By the time the rumor has made its rounds the unidentified creature is thought to be over 100 feet long with green fur and snakes on its tail!

Patrick's friends convince themselves that he's in real danger as clearly a little boy shouldn't be left on his own with a giant, hungry, green monster. They run to rescue him and at first the Aminal is nowhere to be seen. The collective panic rises as the children wonder where it's escaped to.  Patrick, however, remains calm and crawls under his porch to find the Aminal and show it to everyone else.  I won't spoil the end completely but it turns out he's brought something home that indeed is green with pricky toenails...only it's not scary at all.

The target reading age for this title is indicated as 4 years and older.  E was happy to flip through the pages with me and enjoyed looking at all the different pictures, but the story is too long for this 2 year old's attention span.  I found a great suggested reading exercise online to accompany this story: describe an unnamed object or an event with a limited amount of detail and ask each child to draw their impression of it.  It will prompt them to listen and use their imaginations whilst also learning about differences.

One note, if you can find a copy of the original edition then it's well worth the money.  The illustrations in the re-issue (2005) have been colored in and it looks and feels less mysterious than the original.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Big Plans by Bob Shea & Lane Smith

In Big Plans one young boy sets out to conquer the world with a stinky hat, a myna bird and some awfully big ideas.  This young narrator is unashamedly confident and I'm inclined to call this book an all American read. It's set in the US and loaded with American references from the White House to the St Louis arch, yet it's a universal tale of just how far your imagination can take you.

We meet our narrator at the end of a fraught school day where he's banished to sit in the corner and stare at the wall.  But on closer investigation there's not much staring going on. Instead, in his mind this little dude has already fled the classroom and is racing across the country like a frenzied politician who's got big ideas that he's about to action.  He reminds me of Ferris Bueller. His touch is like gold dust, people line up to get his attention, and no rules, government, parents or other boundaries are going to stand in his way! He's going to climb a mountain, paint the town red, become the mayor ... and the president ... then fly to the moon.  You see, he's got big plans.

This picture book has more text than many of the others I've featured and it's aimed at an older age group of 4 years plus.  However, you know it's a successful read when a two year old is happy to follow along from start to finish and gets caught up in the frenzy along the way.

It's all BIG; big format, big text and big illustrations.  I envision groups of kids shouting 'big plans' in unison as they read along to this book. From the board room to a football game and all the way to outer space, this kid is unstoppable. He shouts directions left and right and uses fantastic phrases like 'talk turkey' and 'big shots, big wigs and muckety-mucks'. There are telling details layered throughout the text and illustrations (have a look at the chalkboard and his rocket ship), which provide multiple opportunities for discussion when read aloud.  One of my favorite bits is at the beginning where our narrator decides that all he needs is a pair of his Dad's fanciest shoes and one of his shiniest ties in order to set forth and take over the world.  This one may make you sit back and wonder how the young people in your life really see you.

Big Plans is written by Bob Shea with illustrations by Lane Smith.  The publisher is Hyperion.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Little Mouse's Big Secret by Éric Battut

Meet Little Mouse.  He has a big secret and he doesn't want to share it - not with me, not with you and especially not with his menagerie of forest friends. He hides his 'secret' in the ground and slowly over several pages and several conversations the secret takes on a life of its own and everyone finds out what he was hiding!

E and I've had fun reading this book and as you might guess it's known as the 'mouse book' in our house. Little Mouse's big secret is actually a shiny red apple. He immediately decides that it's so unique that he must hide it and keep it for himself.  The key point here is that he hides it by burying it in the ground.

Each of his friends knows that he's up to something and they take it in turns to approach him about his secret.  A parade of characters follows and Squirrel, Bird, Turtle, Hedgehog, Rabbit and Frog each ask Little Mouse the same question and each receive the same response.

The repetition of their questions works well and gives the young reader time and space to focus on each animal and the accompanying picture on the facing page.  For in each picture Little Mouse's big secret is growing up and out of the ground behind him.  Little Mouse can't see it, but his buried apple soon sprouts and begins to shoot up first as a young sapling, then as a luscious green tree and finally as an apple tree in full bloom, laden with red apples. When the apples fall to the ground and surround Little Mouse he comes to the realization that maybe secrets (like apples) are better off being shared.

This is a lovingly simple book that gives you lots to talk about with your little one.  The idea of a secret, the growing cycle in nature and the importance of friends are all themes brought together by this Little Mouse. This book was published in France under the title Le Secret. My English version was published in 2011 by Sterling Children's Books.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

In celebration of the work of Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012)

I saw this quote online from legendary children's book author/illustrator Maurice Sendak and wanted to share it: 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Big Dog ... Little Dog by P.D. Eastman

I think the time has come to highlight P.D. Eastman's popular canine duo, Fred and Ted. This cover image is as familiar to me as the back of my hand so it was with some trepidation that I slipped it into E's book pile.  I would have been a bit crushed had he tossed it aside, but E patiently accompanied me on my trip down memory lane and became fast friends with both the big dog and the little dog.

Fred and Ted's adventures are often referred to as stories about opposites but I think of them as stories about differences. Fred is big and Ted is little. One plays the flute and the other the tuba. One likes beets and one likes spinach.

Eastman plays on these differences to form the theme of the story and it all comes to a head when Fred and Ted take a  trip together - one in a red car and one in a green car. They arrive in the mountains and all goes along swimmingly until they check into a small hotel for a night.  Fred sleeps in a little bed and Ted sleeps in a big bed.  Neither bed fits correctly and both dogs toss and turn all night.  Eastman's illustrations take on a comic strip quality here and the pictures are a flurry of dog legs, blankets and tangled sheets.  E loves this page and normally shouts and points 'oh no, bed' at this stage (read last week's post for the origin of that phrasing).

The next day both dogs sit to discuss their predicament.  Slowly, at a gentle childlike pace and with the help of an all knowing bird, they realize that the big one should be in the big bed and the little one in the little bed.  They zoom back to their new rooms in true cartoon fashion and sleep peacefully. This problem solving moment is perhaps my most favorite part.  Rather than dwell on the issue they communicate to one another, come up with a solution and then action it.  Two dogs sitting on a log put their little world to right - it's a lesson for us all.

Big Dog ... Little Dog was published in 1973 by Random House, Inc. P.D. Eastman wrote a number of books about Fred and Ted in addition to numerous other titles for children. I find it particularly interesting that during his military service he crossed paths with Ted Geisel, known to most of us as Dr. Seuss. For more details about P.D. Eastman, Fred or Ted visit

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton

In our house all of E's favorite books are assigned nicknames. It's no surprise that Chris Haughton's second picture book was renamed almost immediately and is now affectionately known as Oh No, Cake! These days any mention of cake gets a shout out along these lines.  I brought this book home several weeks ago and E took one look and said 'owl book' (his nickname for Haughton's first book).  It was clear to me that we were on to a winner when E made the connection.

Oh No, George! is about a dog - a hound I suspect - and the mishaps and messes that he gets into while his owner, Harris, is out.  George tries to do the right thing but despite all his best efforts he just can't help himself.  George's issues begin when he sees a cake on the table and can't resist chomping into the whole thing.  E thinks this is just fantastic and sometimes it's hard for us to move past the cake incident and onto the rest of George's adventures.

By the time Harris comes home George has managed to dig up all the potted plans and chase the cat away.  George is contrite and offers Harris his favorite toy duck to make amends.  Lucky for George his owner is kind and takes him out on a walk instead. George encounters more temptations but manages to resist them this time around.  That is until he smells the rubbish.

This book is just plain fun and there's a lesson to be learned about owning up to the things that you do and trusting adults with the truth. It looks marvelous as well with Haughton's unique illustrations and vibrant colors.

I'm still struck by the similarities between my son and George.  They'd both eat a whole cake if you left them to it, they both dig up the flowers and they both chase the cat.  E even has a thing for the rubbish.  Should I be worried? No wonder he loves this book.

If you've not read this one yet then treat yourself to a little time in the company of Chris Haughton's irresistible cast of characters.  And if you're new to his work then see my archived post for a review of his first book, A Bit Lost.  Chris Haughton is published by Walker Books and his website is:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

How Little Lori Visited Times Square

I received this beautiful little gem of a hardback in the post last week. Originally published in 1963, the author is Amos Vogel and the pictures are by Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame. E knows that this one is 'mommy's book' and it requires sitting down with an adult in order to read it. We'll see how long that lasts.

Little Lori is a young boy in New York City who decides he wants to visit Times Square.  He goes uptown and downtown on subways and trains but never gets to the right stop. He rides a helicopter, jumps on a boat and even tries to take a taxi in hope of reaching Times Square.  All of his adventures are in vain, however, and after his final attempt via an elevator at Macy's he collapses in a heap of tears.  It's a turtle who comes to his rescue.  A turtle who talks very slowly (one word per page at this point), a turtle who for some reason makes me think of Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece.  The turtle kindly offers to take Lori, at last, to Times Square.  Lori hops on his back and they start making their way to Times Square ... v e r y  s l o w l y.

There is a fair amount of text on some pages and potentially more details than a toddler will fully understand.  However, E seems to grasp that there's a journey and a series of adventures and basically he loves looking at the boats, trains and the general wonderfulness of Sendak's illustrations of New York City scenes.  Thankfully he's happy to sit still while I read this book cover to cover (with a little pace admittedly).  And maybe that's why he seems to really hone in when we meet the turtle.  Up until that point there's a flurry of text and illustrations and time moving quickly and Lori covering lots of blocks and miles and suddenly it all comes to a dramatic halt and the turtle speaks.

E seems to be as fond of this book as I am and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I should just let him get his hands on it.  One more read for me and I'll consider it.

You may have to hunt around for this one or ask your local bookshop to order it.  It's published by HarperCollins and my copy has a renewed copyright date of 1991. Amos Vogler is much written about for his role as a film historian and especially for founding Cinema 16, a film society in the USA. Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

To the Beach by Thomas Docherty

This is known as the 'beach book' in our house and it's our collective introduction to the magical world of Thomas Docherty.  

The story begins with a little boy staring out his window at a rainy day. From there our little friend takes you on a series of wild imaginary rides by air, sea and land to finally reach a wondrous beach with a camel as a playmate.  And when it's time to come home there's an equally exciting return journey and a promise of more adventure to come.  E happily settles in to read this book with me, turning the pages in a bit of a frenzy while shouting joyously as he encounters so many of his favorite things: airplanes, tractors, boats, monkeys, helicopters, bicycles... it can get rowdy by the final page. 
The text is simple and the action is in the illustrations.  I think this is what makes it exceptionally popular for the two year old in my life.  I particularly like Docherty's technique for allowing each adventure to dovetail into the next by interweaving the illustrations. While you're in the air riding the helicopter you see a bicycle on the road below ... turn the page and suddenly you're zooming down the hill on the bike and there's a tractor in the distance. It's a pattern that's followed throughout the book and it encourages E to look closely at the illustrations and pick out the details.  

Visit the author's website to see more of his magical offerings:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Country Bunny by DuBose Heyward

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes is the full title of this Easter classic. This was one of my all time favorite books as a child but a straw poll of friends and peers reveals that it's a little known title, especially in the UK. I think it's time we change that! 

Originally published in 1939, this little book tells the story of a very brave mother bunny who just happens to be a fine feminist heroine. Despite her age, gender and circumstances, Mother Cottontail earns the noble and prestigious honor to take up a place as one of THE five Easter bunnies.  And she does this while still maintaining a happy home with twenty one young bunnies.  It's no wonder that I keep finding new things to like about this book!

'Wise, and kind, and swift' are the traits that every chosen Easter bunny must exhibit and Mother Cottontail does so in spades. These are important life living qualities to talk about with your little reader and I hope to do so with E one day.  I say one day because at this stage The Country Bunny is not part of our daily or nightly reading ritual ... and this is despite my best efforts to talk up the bunnies, the eggs and anything remotely related to commercial ideas about Easter. 

It's a meaningful story with gloriously nostalgic illustrations and it's found a permanent place in our home.  Hopefully it will soon move from my bedside table to E's shelf but I'll try to be wise and let him move at his own pace.  Have a read of this title even if it's just for your own pleasure.  I think you'll find it time well spent.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

I saw the cover of this book online and decided I really had to have it.  This was more about me than E. I fell in love with the lettering, the illustrations and the general style of Frank Viva's work. Clearly I'm a little slow to the game as I've since learned that he's a designer and also a cover illustrator for the The New Yorker ... now it all starts to make sense.

Like a number of the books I've featured, this one uses the illustrations to propel the story forward and the text is an integrated part of the design rather than the focus of the book.  It's pretty abstract as far as children's books go, but lo and behold E cannot put it down. I think it's the bike, the recognizable landscapes and the joyous shiny yellow road that runs from start to finish and urges you back to begin again.

This book will get you talking with your little reader as you pass through the city, the seaside and the countryside and deal with the small matter of running into apples on your bike.  I recommend this one as some serious kids' lit eye candy with real substance. To see more of Frank Viva's designs and creations visit his website:

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tumble Bee by Laura Veirs (audio cd)

This cd is such a big hit at my house right now that I thought it worth making an exception to champion a music selection instead of a book this week.

Laura Veirs is one of my new children's music heroines.  Tumble Bee is her first release specifically for children (inspired by the birth of her son), and it's a great album in its own rite. Beautifully arranged and lovingly produced, it brings together a melodic collection of American folk songs that appeal to both kids and adults. 

I've been known to play this on a loop for over an hour in the car while E naps. It's my soundtrack of the moment and when I lost it last week inside a Luna cd case I had a slight panic, but all is now right with the world again and Tumble Bee is back in the car.  It features a healthy mix of recognizable folk melodies -- some get E dancing and shouting 'Quack, quack, quack' along with the lyrics -- and others are soothing background music for reading. 

If you like American folk music then you really have to check her out ( And if you like Veirs then have a look at the multiple releases for children by another one of my music heroines, Elizabeth Mitchell (

Thursday, 15 March 2012

I-SPY London's Transport

These I-SPY guides from Michelin are a great find even for toddlers.  A good friend gave us the London Transport edition for E's birthday and he's been clutching it in his hands ever since. The miniature packaging is great for toddlers and they're lightweight and easy to carry.

The guides are intended to be interactive in the sense that kids collect points each time they spot something while they're out.  I imagine that it's a great way to get older kids interested in their surroundings and I was pleasantly surprised to see what a big hit it is with toddlers interested in trains, boats and buses.

In an odd way it's an ideal children's book as it stimulates conversation with your child and encourages them to remember objects and details that they see during the day.  E likes to flip through the pages pointing to the things he recognizes and it gives me a chance to ask him simple questions about our days out in the city.  He's learned the word for clock thanks to the section on tube station time pieces and he now finds it very exciting that he has a wall clock in his bedroom (he never noticed it until now). My child may still be learning to master his speech and numbers but he can spot a tube station from a mile away! These little books are available at WHSmith and on Amazon.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Boy Who Hated Toothbrushes by Zehra Hicks

Hooray for author/illustrator Zehra Hicks and her debut book published by Macmillan.  Hicks' funky designs, unique illustrations and classic theme make this title an ideal contemporary children's book. 

Billy's got some attitude and we like him all the more for it.  He hates brushing his teeth and gets easily distracted by much more important things like playing with trains and flying paper airplanes.

His world is turned on its head when the tooth fairy refuses to leave him any money for his nasty tooth. Instead, she gives him an awesome new tooth sparkler (aka a new toothbrush) that does all kinds of things he could have never imagined.  In the end, Billy decides that brushing his teeth is pretty great and soon he has the cleanest teeth in town.  What I like best is that somehow Billy manages to keep just the right amount of attitude to stay cool even when he's got clean teeth.

E may not fully understand the clever twist in the story but we find lots to talk about in the different illustrations.  It serves a dual purpose by giving me a good excuse to make teeth brushing sound like fun (at the moment he's neck and neck with Billy for the toothbrush attitude award). The text is wonderfully uncluttered which is partly why I think it holds E's attention so well.  A four year old I know also loved the book and enjoyed it on a whole different level.  What kid wouldn't get a kick out of a picture of Billy hiding in the toilet!  I look forward to the next release from Hicks, The Girl Who Loved Wellies.  In the meantime, check out her website which is just as fun and clever as her book:

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

This picture book feels like such a classic that I was a little surprised to see that it was first published in 2007. E's been enjoying this one since he was about 12 months old and finds new bits to delight in as he gets older. It started out as just a quiet read and it's escalated to a boisterous story time favorite as he shouts 'monkey' and anticipates the animals behind each page.

The story is about a little girl with her monkey friend, and their adventures before tea time.  They encounter a range of animals from penguins to elephants and of course, monkeys. Like most of the stories I find successful for the younger age group, it works in its simplicity.  The narrator doesn't need a name, nor does her monkey.  Instead, the engaging drawings and mantra like text draw you in so it becomes your adventure too.  Beautifully imagined and succinctly written, I foresee this one as a favorite on E's shelf for some time to come.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Illustrator Chris Haughton has created a book that reads as beautifully as it looks.  The vibrant, soothing colors are a welcome departure from your average primary reader, and the text is magically sparse.  E's been pulling this one off the shelf since he was about 18 months old and I'm always relieved when it makes into the nightly reading rotation.

Little Owl has lost his mom and squirrel tries to help him find her.  His descriptions of what she looks like (big, pointy ears, big eyes), result in squirrel presenting him with a succession of forest animals (bear, rabbit, frog), but not his Mom.  Frog manages to save the day in his offhand manner (I tend to read his big line in an exaggerated southern drawl) and there's a tearful reunion between little owl and his mom.

Sweet and simple but with plenty to talk about around the story and illustrations - this is a great one to keep and to give as a gift. I can't wait for the release of Haughton's upcoming book about a dog (Oh No, George!), due out in the UK in March 2012. Learn more about the author at his website: