I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year despite the clouds of Covid hanging over all of us. Being in Tier 2 we were able to see some family on Christmas Day. It was a very odd feeling, waving goodbye to them in the evening, none of us knowing when we will get together like that again. Big Dreamer booked tickets for Treasure Island at a local theatre, and took the children on one of the days I was working. The show was a humourous and bawdy take on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel which terrified me as a child. Our kids thought the show was hilarious and loved every minute. The one eyebrow-raising moment came from Captain Birds-Eye mincing a captive pirate for fishfingers. Big Dreamer wondered if Wren would ever eat fishfingers again, but after a brief moment of alarm she seemed to get over it, and for the other two, I think it will only make fishfingers more appealing! Seated in bubbles Big Dreamer said it was actually a more pleasurable theatre experience: less distractions from other people’s coughing, rustling sweet packets, and wriggling children (unfortunately he still had to put up with his own), so perhaps, one good thing about all this social distancing malarkey.
Anyhoo, onto my traditional annual round-up of picture books we have borrowed, bought, or been bought, and LOVED!
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson has been around for a little while now, and has a real classic quality to it. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town to help at the city’s soup kitchen. As little children so often do, CJ asks difficult questions about the differences he spots in the people around him, and the places they pass. Each question is met with an encouraging answer by his grandma, who helps him spot the beauty in the world around him. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the loving tone of CJ’s grandma really does bring a lump to your throat.
Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett is a follow up to Tidy, which we adored last year. Set in the same wood as Pete the Badger’s story, this book centres around Meg and Ash, two magpies. With chicks on the way, Meg and Ash can’t resist collecting all sorts of odds and ends for their new family, but it soon gets out of hand! This is such a charming story, with a light touch anti-consumption message. Emily Gravett’s illustrations are full of loads of fun details my lot love to spot.
The Perfect Shelter was written by my fabulous friend, Clare Helen Welsh, and is illustrated by Asa Gilland. I have raved about Clare’s picture books on this blog before, and this is another wonderful one. Clare is able to deal with difficult topics in such a lyrical and sensitive way. This time she explores a serious childhood illness within a family. The background to the writing of this book is very personal to Clare so I’d highly recommend reading this interview with her about it here. I think this will be such an important book for many families living through the reality of the situation she describes. To get the most out of it for my children, I found it useful to read this book together in a quiet space where we could talk the topic through and explore what the implications of the story might be for how we treat people.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is another picture book that has been around for a while but this year was the year it seemed to capture Wren’s imagination. Annabelle finds a box in the snow filled with colourful yarn so she starts knitting jumpers for everyone. Annabelle’s knitting brings joy and happiness to all those around her, and incredibly the yarn never seems to run out. But the magical knitting soon attracts the attention of a sinister Arch-duke who wants the yarn all for himself.
My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna is more a beautiful illustrated poem about the wonder of planet Earth than a story exactly. The words are thoughtful and lyrical, but the real treat of this book is the illustrations. The stunning, flowing imagery has little cut-outs giving you sneak peeks through to the next pages, and attracting your eye to details that draw you through the story. Too delicate for very small children, but Wren at four has been the perfect age for it.
We read Alison Murray’s Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten endlessly so Alison’s book, Dino Duckling, has been on our hit-list for a while. This is a quirky take on the old Ugly Duckling fable. One of the eggs in a brood of ducklings is a dinosaur. Mother Duckling is determined to appreciate the differences in her family but the real test of their bond will come when the ducks start to fly south for the winter. All about love and the strength of family, this is such a heart-warming tale.
Finch will be seven this spring and his relationship with picture books is on the wan (cue me bursting into floods of tears!). Obsessive About Octopuses by Owen Davey has been one of his favourites this year. Highly illustrated non-fiction titles like this one and Yuval Zommer’s books, are working as a great bridge for Finch into older books. Full of fantastic facts, and sumptuously designed illustrations, he has spent hours pouring over this book.
Last by not least, How Billy Hippo Learned his Colours, words by Vivian French and illustrations by me! I couldn’t leave it out could I? Billy Hippo is trying to find the perfect present in the perfect colour for his dad’s birthday. The problem is, he doesn’t know red from green, or blue from pink! Probably best suited for little children, I’m just a bit proud of it 🙂
My last bit of news for this blog is also book-related. On Christmas Eve my advance copy of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle landed on the doormat. It was such a wonderful moment, I can’t tell you. My story, in real physical form! I had to sit down for quite a while. Here’s the gist of it for any of you who might know a 9-12 year old (or anyone else really!) who likes this sort of thing:
Avery Buckle has always been different: part-girl, part-cat, and entirely confused about where she really belongs. But it turns out her tail isn’t her biggest secret…
Plunged into an extraordinary world of witches, enchanted libraries and fantastical creatures, Avery discovers only she can stop a dark force from being unleashed.
But with a powerful enemy on her tail, can Avery save the magical world AND find out who she really is?
I may have mentioned this once or twice (!), but anyway… it’s out on March 18th and is available to pre-order now from all good bookshops. Here are a few I can heartily recommend (and they do online/over-the-phone shopping and can arrange delivery too!):