On this page, I’ll be posting some of our favourite picture books, with comments from my eldest daughter (ED) and youngest daughter (YD), currently aged 7 and 5 – the best critics. Scroll down to see all the books we’ve reviewed so far. Happy reading!
Introducing two very determined characters, each with a dream to pursue: Sophia and Tina.
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail
ED: “Every time Sophia tries to persuade somebody to give her a giraffe for her birthday, they tell her that she has to use fewer words… so in the end she just uses one word – and it works! I like the way the pictures are quite splodgy.”
YD: “I’d like a giraffe to take me to my ballet class too. I love Sophia’s face when she’s saying: PLEASE! It looks like the pictures have just been painted.”
My verdict: The sophisticated humour and the language in this book (published in the US) make it more suitable for children who are 5+ (and even then some words will need explaining – hence the glossary in the back!), but every child will understand the power of the word ‘please,’ and delight in the idea of having your very own giraffe. Yasmeen Ismail’s illustrations are bold, fresh and full of life, and Sophia is a fantastic character.
The Cow Who Climbed a Tree by Gemma Merino
YD: “I feel a bit like Tina, because she’s adventurous and she wants to go to the moon, just like me. I like all the splodges of colour on the trees.”
ED: “Even if someone tries to tell you that your dreams are nonsense, you shouldn’t let them put you off. That’s a really good message. I like the way the pictures are sketched out, and then the colour is added.”
My verdict: A wonderful, empowering and gently humorous story about following your dreams. I love the way that Tina’s dream-crushing sisters are taken out of their comfort zone when they set off to try to bring her home, and end up undergoing a transformation themselves. Gemma Merino’s mono-printed line drawings perfectly capture the essence of each character in the story, and her watercolours add a richness and beauty to the pictures.
Today’s books share a sea theme.
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
ED: “We’ve both loved this book since we were babies, and we still love it now! My favourite is the twin fin-fin fish.”
YD: “The pictures are very colourful. I love the strawberry fish, the pineapple fish, the eye fish and the shy fish, the upside down fish and the 1 2 3 fish! I also like the ending when the little fish finds her mummy.”
My verdict: A playful, imaginative book that makes you smile with every page turn. There is so much to enjoy in the pictures, and children will love spotting all the different kinds of fish. Lucy Cousins’ bold and graphic style of illustration, with its bright colours, warmth and humour, creates a visual feast.
Can You Catch a Mermaid? by Jane Ray
ED: “This is a really good story. It shows that even if you’re very shy, like Eliza, you can still make a friend. In the end, Eliza feels confident enough to play with other children too. I love the way the characters are drawn.”
YD: “I love the pictures in this book, especially the colours in the sea, Freya’s tail, the seaweed and the starfish. The story shows us that if somebody really wants to go back home, you should let them go.”
My verdict: A subtle, thoughtful fable about a friendship between a human girl and a mermaid, this book will be particularly enjoyed by children aged 5 and over. The illustrations are atmospheric, evoking the elements to match the turn of the narrative. The story ends with a question that our girls love to answer, every time.
Two stories about things being lost today – thankfully, both end happily.
Dogger by Shirley Hughes
YD: “I like the pictures in Dogger because they’re colourful and old-fashioned. I feel relieved when Dave gets Dogger back!”
ED: “This is quite a sad story in the middle when Dave loses Dogger, but it has a very happy ending. Bella is a very kind big sister.”
My verdict: Shirley Hughes’ classic story about a boy who loses his beloved toy – twice – has just the right amount of drama and tension, some great twists and, of course, a satisfying resolution. Every child can relate to Dave’s predicament, which is why this book has endured as a favourite. Shirley Hughes understands the importance of apparently insignificant domestic crises, and all the detail of everyday life is lovingly recorded in the illustrations.
Beegu by Alexis Deacon
ED: “I like the way that Beegu tries to talk to trees and leaves, because she wants to make a friend. The pictures are beautiful.”
YD: “I feel sorry for Beegu when the man takes her away from the puppies, but happy when her Mum and Dad find her. I like the way she talks in little pictures at the end.”
My verdict: When Beegu the alien finds herself lost on Earth, she seeks out friends – and discovers that while adults treat her with suspicion, the ‘small ones’ are ‘hopeful.’ With its pared back text, the illustrations – which are bold and unsentimental, yet affecting – fill in the gaps in this deceptively simple story.
Both of today’s stories have a fantastical element that seems very plausible; magic coexisting with everyday life. Incidentally, they also both feature two sisters going on an adventure together.
April Underhill, Tooth Fairy by Bob Graham
ED: “I like this book because it has two brave, independent sisters in it. They’re fairies, but they’re just like an ordinary family, really. I especially like the bit where Daniel thinks he dreamed that he saw them in the middle of the night (when he actually did!).”
YD: “I love looking at the pictures in this book. All their furniture is made from real things, like the milk jug bath, eggcup toilet, thimble basin and chess piece rocking horse!”
My verdict: Only Bob Graham could invent a family of tooth fairies as un-twee – and yet, endearing – as the Underhills. They are just like any other loving family, but in miniature. When April and Esme are given a chance to spread their wings – literally – and go on a tooth mission, they rise to the challenge, making their parents extremely proud. There is wonderful detail in the illustrations.
The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward
YD: “This story shows us that we should be kind to animals and do what is best for them. We should let them live the life they want. The girls want to keep the Bog Baby as a pet, but when he gets ill they have to take him back to his pond.”
ED: “I love the secret world the Bog Baby lives in, and I love the pictures – they are beautiful and shimmery.”
My verdict: Who wouldn’t want to find a Bog Baby as cute as this one in the woods? A gentle, sweet story about learning to do the best thing for those we love. The girls’ dilemma feels very real, and there is a lovely ending. The forest scenes have a magical quality to them.
Three heartwarming stories from the same series today, featuring a little boy called Peter. Though grounded in everyday life, Ezra Jack Keats’ stunning artwork lends these books a magical quality. Originally published in the 1960s, they remain fresh today.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
YD: “This story makes me want to go out and play in the snow. I like the way the snow angels, the snowflakes and the boy are painted. Peter doesn’t realise that if you put a snowball in your pocket, it will melt!”
ED: “I love the colours in this book. I wish we had snow like this to play in!”
My verdict: A deceptively simple, joyful story about a boy playing out on his street, transformed by snow into a new and exciting landscape. With the security of a warm home to come back to, he is free to explore this enticing new world. The graphic illustrations, with their bold colours and textures, have a contemporary feel.
Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
YD: “At first, Peter is cross because his parents are painting all his old furniture pink for his new baby sister. But in the end, he gives his sister his old chair when he sees that it’s too small for him.”
ED: “This is a story about learning to share with your little sister or brother. Even if you don’t get all the attention anymore, you have to be happy with what you have got.”
My verdict: A sweet story exploring Peter’s conflicting feelings towards his baby sister, and his desire to hang on to his own early childhood. This is something that many older siblings will identify with, and it is dealt with here in a sensitive, reassuring way.
A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats
YD: “I like the stormy skies in this book, and Peter’s mixed up reflection in the puddle. I feel sorry for Peter when he thinks that Amy’s not going to come to his party. I love the bit when Amy’s parrot copies her and says, ‘Haappy birrrthday, Peeeterrr!’”
ED: “This is a story for everyone. It shows how very good friendship can’t be lost easily. I really like the collage in the pictures.”
My verdict: In this story, Peter wants to send a letter to his special friend Amy to invite her to his birthday party, but a gust of wind complicates his plans. Children will empathise with Peter when he unintentionally upsets his friend, and delight in the ending. An emotionally complex story, beautifully told with vibrant, atmospheric artwork.
Girls, want to know a secret? It’s OK to be rebellious. In fact, it’s often a good thing! Two gloriously uplifting, empowering – and funny – stories today.
The Wild Washerwomen by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake
YD: “It’s really funny when the wild washerwomen push the pile of dirty washing on top of Mr Balthazar Tight and run out the door. I think that makes them feel happy and free.”
ED: “This is a ridiculously funny story. I especially like the part where the washerwomen dunk the woodcutters in the stream and wash them. This was NOT in the woodcutters’ plan! The pictures make me laugh a lot.”
My verdict: One of my favourite books, this has a totally original, off the wall plot about a group of washerwomen who rebel against their mean employer and go on the rampage. Chaos ensues, joyously illustrated by Quentin Blake. A hilarious, subversive story for girls and boys alike.
Sally and the Limpet by Simon James
YD: “This story shows us that we should let living things do what they want, and leave them in peace. I like it when Sally puts the limpet back in its rock at the end, where it belongs, and I like the pictures.”
ED: “I understand how Sally feels when it all gets too much for her and she runs out the hospital, after she accidentally gets a limpet stuck to her finger. It makes me laugh when she runs over the big man on the beach! The pictures are funny.”
My verdict: A lovely story with an important message about how we treat our fellow creatures (and people), delivered with humour and a lightness of touch by Simon James. Sally is a great protagonist: independent, curious and strong willed. And, of course, she does the right thing by her limpet in the end.
Fantastical creatures and rhyming text make both these books fun read-alouds for young children.
The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear and Helen Oxenbury
YD: “I love the colourful animals and I like the way the Quangle Wangle’s hat is designed. My favourite creature is the Pobble who has no toes.”
ED: “I like how more and more animals keep coming, and I like the rhymes in this story.”
My verdict: This is a joyful book that celebrates generosity; the Quangle Wangle shares his hat with everyone who turns up. It’s full of strange and wonderful imaginary creatures, and beautiful early illustrations by Helen Oxenbury.
The Nickle Nackle Tree by Lynley Dodd
ED: “I like all the different birds – some are sweet, some are funny, some are grumpy – and I love the ending!”
YD: “It’s really funny and I like the silly names of all the birds. I feel sorry for the tiny Tweek birds when all the birds fall in a big heap at the end!”
My verdict: A brilliantly inventive counting book, with striking, contemporary looking illustrations (although it was originally published in 1976!). The rhymes are full of witty alliteration and all the birds have very distinct characters. It has a great last line, as well.
Feeling peckish? Both of today’s books will leave you hungry for more.
I really Want to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio and Dorothée de Monfried
YD: “Achilles wants to eat a child, but he’s too little – so he decides to eat his bananas after all! This book makes me laugh, and it’s got cool pictures.”
ED: “My favourite bit is when the girl he wanted to eat picks him up, tickles his tummy and throws him in the river. It’s really funny.”
My verdict: A highly original story with a clever twist, delivered with dry humour. The illustrations are fresh and vivid, and all the characters have great expressions.
The Runaway Dinner by Alan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
YD: “This is a really funny book. It makes me laugh when all the food runs away, and when the French fries escape in a boat! I like it when the boiled egg runs away from a picnic, when it sees what’s going on.”
ED: “I think the funniest thing is that all the food has names. The ending is very funny, too. Also, it says that it’s all true, but it’s not really!”
My verdict: When Melvin the sausage decides to run away, everyone – and everything – takes off after him. Another brilliant pairing of the combined talents of Ahlberg and Ingman, this is a fantastic, zany read aloud. The chatty style of the narrator and the clever illustrations enhance the humour.
Two wonderful books featuring whales today.
The Snow Whale by Caroline Pitcher and Jackie Morris
ED: “This is a beautiful story. The pictures make me feel cold and warm, and the words are magical. It shows you that different people know different things.”
YD: “The snow whale looks almost real, and friendly. I like it when the boy says that the snow whale’s gone home to the sea at the end.”
My verdict: A lyrical story with a realistic and touching dynamic between siblings, and a satisfying ending with echoes of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman (but more upbeat!). Jackie Morris’s detailed illustrations help bring the magnificent snow whale to life.
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
YD: “I like the way the snail saves the day, because even though she’s so small, she’s brave and very good at writing. I love the rhymes in this book too.”
ED: “I feel a bit like the snail sometimes; like I want to go out and explore the world. It’s a very exciting adventure with colourful pictures.”
My verdict: This is one of my favourite Julia Donaldson books; possibly because I love the sea, possibly because I identify with the snail (small, female, with an itchy foot – or at least, I did have). It’s a cleverly told story with a rich use of language and evocative illustrations.
Both of today’s books have brilliant characters in them: the first is a series of stories about two friends; the second is a story about loyalty.
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
ED: “These stories are really funny. I like the pictures and I like the characters of Frog and Toad – they are like opposites, but they’re still friends. Toad is the funniest.”
YD: “This book makes me laugh out loud.”
My verdict: The dynamic between Frog and Toad is beautifully developed in these stories, which are all about character. The humour is perfectly pitched, and they are also deeply touching. Wonderful illustrations, too.
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
YD: “I love this story because Horton keeps his promise, and you should keep your promises. When the egg hatches, it’s his baby because he sat on the egg for so long.”
ED: “I like the fact that the story rhymes, and I feel happy for Horton at the end. The pictures are funny.”
My verdict: One of my favourite books by Dr. Seuss – actually, one of my favourite books, full stop. The rhyming is so clever, but it never gets in the way of the story of brave, faithful Horton and the egg he has been left in charge of. The ending is fantastic: dramatic, surprising and moving, all at once.
It’s all about feathers today.
Ahmed and the Feather Girl by Jane Ray
ED: “This is a beautiful book. I like the pictures of the girl and boy.”
YD: “This story shows that you should be nice to people. I feel sorry for Aurelia and Ahmed when Madame Saleem is mean to them. I love the pictures, especially the feather cloaks.”
My verdict: A highly imaginative, moving fairy tale which is a little scary in parts (so probably best suited for children who are 5+), but has a happy ending. The illustrations are richly detailed, and the colours are stunning.
Cockatoos by Quentin Blake
YD: “This book makes me laugh. I like finding and counting all the cockatoos in the pictures.”
ED: “This is a really funny book. When Professor Dupont gets up the morning after he couldn’t find the cockatoos, he looks all messy. I feel sorry for him, but I don’t blame the cockatoos for running away again at the end!”
My verdict: A brilliant book for sharing with children who are learning to count. As Professor Dupont fails to find his missing cockatoos (who are hiding on each page), they will love pointing them out. As always, Quentin’s Blake’s illustrations are guaranteed to make everyone smile.
Three books today that celebrate the imagination and daring to be different; two are illustrated by the wonderful Satoshi Kitamura.
Millie’s Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura
ED: “I like it when Millie imagines all the hats that other people are wearing. The hats suit all the different people, like the giraffe hat on the really tall lady.”
YD: “I love the peacock hat and the cake hat! The little cake right at the top would be mine.”
My verdict: A fantastic, unpredictable story about a girl who ‘buys’ an invisible hat that can be anything she wishes, drawing inspiration from the things she sees around her and from her own imagination. The illustrations are bright, bold and magical.
Ish by Peter H Reynolds
YD: “Sometimes I feel like Ramon and I want to give up when I’m doing work. I love this book because I feel like it’s about me, and because I like drawing too.”
ED: “It’s a shame that you can’t do ish-work for your teachers in school!”
My verdict: Ramon is about to give up drawing, when he discovers that his little sister has saved all his abandoned attempts and hung them on her walls. A lovely story with an empowering message about allowing your own creativity to flourish and not being afraid to experiment.
Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton and Satoshi Kitamura
ED: “This is one of my favourite books, because it’s true that even when days seem quite ordinary, they can become extraordinary. I like how the pictures change from grey into colour.”
YD: “I like Mr Gee – it’s like he’s magic. He does look quite strange! Music gives me ideas, too.”
My verdict: The humour in McNaughton’s text finds its perfect match here in Kitamura’s quirky illustrations, especially of the inspirational Mr Gee. A drab day is transformed by an eccentric new teacher who plays music to his class as a way into writing, unleashing their imaginations.
Today’s books feature two very different houses.
The Snail House by Allan Ahlberg and Gillian Tyler
YD: “I’d like to live in a snail house, as long as our cat was there to chase any birds away! The pictures in this book are amazing. The flowers look luminous in the moonlight.”
ED: “I love all the adventures in this book, and the fact that the Grandma makes up stories with her grandchildren in them. I like the way that little things look gigantic in the pictures once the children have shrunk, like giant bugs, flowers, raspberries and apples.”
My verdict: A story – or to be more accurate, three stories – within a story, beautifully told by Ahlberg. The dialogue between the Grandma and her children is particularly lovely, and the evocative illustrations contain a wealth of detail to pore over together.
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
YD: “I like the two little pigs in this book. The end of the story makes me feel cosy.”
ED: “I feel happy for the animals when they’ve built a house to live in.”
My verdict: A gently told, unusual story with more than a hint of Grand Designs for animals, but there’s a positive message about working together – and the last few pages perfectly capture that lovely feeling of sleepiness after a long day’s work.
Just one word to introduce today’s stories: WILD.
Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
YD: “No one is colourful in this book, except for Mr Tiger! He’s more fun than the others.”
ED: “It’s funny when Mr Tiger goes wild in the city. I like it at the end of the story, when all the other animals are starting to go a bit wild too. It shows that sometimes, if you know that you have change something to be happy, you should just do it.”
My verdict: I love the retro Edwardian setting for this story, with its cast of uptight animals. There’s a lot of humour here for adults to enjoy, as well as children. The illustrations are bold and contemporary.
Wild by Emily Hughes
YD: “I love the pictures in this book. I like the way she draws all the flowers and leaves, and the bear’s face is so cute.”
ED: “I think this book shows that we shouldn’t lock up wild animals or try to tame them. I feel sorry for the girl when she gets caught.”
My verdict: The illustrations in this book perfectly express the joyously wild nature of its protagonist, while the humans who capture her are depicted with savage irony. All ends well when she returns to her home, among the wild animals.
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
ED: “I like this book because it’s a colourful adventure.”
YD: “I really like it when Max’s room grows into a jungle, and when he comes home at the end and his supper is still hot.”
My verdict: Sendak’s classic is as fresh today as it was when it was first published, over 50 years ago. The text is lyrical and unsentimental, and the wonderfully expressive illustrations still look bold and daring.
Today’s stories use the power of imagination to transform a potentially dismal day into a joyous one.
Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells
YD: “I love this book. The pictures are amazing. I like it when Janet makes the children’s days better, after a horrible start. The stories make me feel happy and calm. I like the rhyming too.”
ED: “I like this book because it’s different. Even if you have a really bad day, dreams can make it better. The pictures are beautiful.”
My verdict: This is actually three separate (but related) stories in one book. Voyage to the Bunny Planet is well loved in the US, and deserves to be better known here in the UK. The stories are written and illustrated with humour and tremendous empathy, and the ‘Bunny Planet’ days are so comforting, they make you want to climb inside the book.
Supposing… by Frances Thomas and Ross Collins
ED: “Little monster is so worried that all these terrible things are going to happen, but it all turns out OK. This book shows that days can be really nice!”
YD: “This is a really lovely story.”
My verdict: Mother Monster diffuses Little’s Monster’s fears by a imagining a day of delights instead. This is a wonderfully reassuring story with fun, quirky illustrations.
Two poignant and lovely stories about losing things today.
A Balloon for Grandad by Nigel Gray and Jane Ray
YD: “I like this story because it tells me that if your grandparents live far away, it’s good to send them something. When Sam sends his balloon to Grandad Abdulla, he’s really sending his love.”
ED: “This story shows that however far away, grandparents and grandchildren love each other. I like the pictures because they have a lot of detail in them.”
My verdict: A touching, poetic story that turns a lost balloon into an adventurous journey and a chance to connect with a grandparent who lives in another country. The illustrations are colourful and absorbing.
The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
ED: “This book shows that as people grow up, they lose things – and even people – but they all go into their memory. The pictures are magical.”
YD: “I really like the picture at the end of the girl’s memories, because all the things she’s loved but lost are in it now. It looks so beautiful, it makes me want to go there.”
My verdict: This is probably my favourite Julia Donaldson picture book; a sweet, playful story that becomes something much more profound, yet still completely accessible to children. It made me cry the first time I read it. The illustrations are deceptively simple, with a lightness of touch that perfectly complements the text.
Today’s books explore how it feels to be the youngest – or the oldest – sibling in the family, and the feelings of frustration or jealousy that can arise from this. Both stories have great resolutions.
Jacob’s Tree (Jakobs Träd – we have the Swedish version, but the book was originally published in English) by Holly Keller
YD: “I don’t like waiting to get bigger either, so I know how Jacob feels. I really like it when he grows a bit at the end. The pictures are bright.”
ED: “It’s like a wish come true for Jacob at the end. I like the colours in this book.”
My verdict: This is a gentle, reassuring story; Jacob’s parents deal with his impatience to grow in a kind, understanding way. The illustrations sit well with the story and the colour palette is warm.
A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
ED: “You really should be kind to your little sister, but I understand how Frances feels. This is a very funny story, especially when she tries to spell words out loud.
“YD: “This story shows that you need to be nice to people, especially if it’s their birthday. It makes me laugh when Frances puts the bubble gum in her mouth without even realising.”
My verdict: One of my favourites from my own childhood, this is a longer read that can be enjoyed with children of different ages (or read independently by an older child). The characters are brilliantly drawn and the dialogue is often hilarious. Frances’s parents are wise mediators of the less-is-more school, but ultimately Frances must decide for herself whether she’s going to give little sister Gloria a birthday present.
Two very different books about babies today – both very popular with our girls.
The World is Full of Babies by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
ED: “This book tells us about all different kinds of babies: human babies and animal babies. It’s really interesting.”
YD: “It shows you what babies are like and what they do. I like the pictures because the mums and babies look real.”
My verdict: All children love talking about what they did when they were a baby, and this book gives them the opportunity to do that, tracing human babies’ development alongside that of different animals. It’s full of interesting animal facts – did you know that shrews hold tails, instead of hands? NB: The first two pages depict human and animal babies in the womb (though it doesn’t go into how they got there or how they are born). I don’t have a problem with this at all, but every family is different.
Baby Brains by Simon James
ED: “This is a really funny story. Baby Brains is the opposite of what babies are normally like! It makes me laugh out loud and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
YD: “I like Baby Brains because he’s very clever. The pictures of Baby Brains in space look 3D to me. When he shouts out “I want my Mummy!” I feel sorry for him.
My verdict: Just brilliant. Simon James takes an idea to its logical conclusion and produces a story that is very funny, and also touching. His illustrations are deceptively simple; full of detail and emotion.
Three stories set at night today – perfect for bedtime (or anytime).
And if the Moon Could Talk by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben
ED: “The pictures are really colourful and bright. It’s like two stories in one: a child gong to bed, and lots of different adventures happening in other places.”
YD: “This is a really gentle story. I like it because it’s like a poem. I like the pictures because it looks like they’re painted with the kind of paints that children use.”
My verdict: This a lyrical, original story which doesn’t follow a traditional narrative; instead, it offers glimpses of other worlds and stimulates the imagination. It’s beautifully painted, and the colours are stunning.
The Way Home by Judith Benet Richardson and Salley Mavor
YD: “The pictures are amazing because someone has actually knitted and sewn them. I feel sorry for Savi the elephant when she gets left behind, but happy when she sees her Mum again.”
ED: “A sweet, lovely story. I like it because the pictures are photos of real little elephant toys.”
My verdict: A comforting story well told, with humour too (no, the moon is NOT a banana!). The illustrations are lovingly crafted and wonderful to look at.
The Night Iceberg by Helen Stephens
ED: “This book has a good message about sharing. I like how Tofta changes after her adventure.”
YD: “This story makes me feel calm. I like the way the girl is drawn with short hair. It’s funny when she tells the penguins a story about themselves and her, and all the things they’ve done.”
My verdict: A touching story (inspired by a Tove Jansson short story about an iceberg), which explores – and resolves – an older sibling’s feelings of jealousy towards her baby brother. Beautifully illustrated.
Today’s books – both for young children – take us on a colourful, nostalgic journey through the year.
Out and About by Shirley Hughes
YD: “I love the pictures in this book because they take you through all the seasons. There are lots of things to look at and find in the pictures. I like the poems too.”
ED: “This book makes me feel cosy. It reminds me of when I was little. The pictures look like real life.”
My verdict: Possibly my favourite book to snuggle down with, this book evokes such a strong feeling of childhood, of moments lived and time passing, that I find it almost unbearably poignant (but maybe that’s just me). The illustrations are full of carefully observed detail – we all particularly like the spring street scene – and the verse is lyrical, fresh and always true.
Oh, What a Busy Day by Gyo Fujikawa
YD: “I love this book because it shows you all the things that could happen in a whole day. The pictures make me think of olden days.”
ED: “I really like the pictures in this book.”
My Verdict: I had this book as a child and I adored some of the pictures (for example, of children diving into a huge muddy puddle, or riding on wild animals) – they evoked wonderful fantasies. Although slightly dated now, it’s still a charming, engaging book to share with young children.
Two books from our local library today, both for younger children.
I’ll Catch You if You Fall by Mark Sperring and Layn Marlow
ED: “A beautiful, short story.”
YD: “I like this book because it’s true that you need to keep everyone safe.”
My verdict: This is a new book that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a lyrical story told in few words, with a reassuring message and a lovely ending. The illustrations are sweet, and I particularly like the dramatic skies.
When an Elephant Comes to School by Jan Omerod
YD: “This book is about what happens when you go to school. It shows that it’s important to make friends, share, and be kind.”
ED: “The pictures are funny. I think it’s really about how you should treat children when they start school, not elephants.”
My verdict: We’d borrowed this one from the library before, when YD had just started school herself. It’s a sweet, engaging book, filled with scenarios that children can readily identify with. YD loves the Post-It note ‘advice’ on each page.
What would you do if a REAL tiger came to live in your house (disguised as a rug)? Or if four million wasps flew into your town?
The Tiger-Skin Rug by Gerald Rose
ED: “I like the style of pictures. They’re really colourful and funny. The story shows that you should be kind to animals.”
YD: “I feel sorry for the tiger at the start, when the monkeys are throwing nuts at him. It’s an exciting story.”
My verdict: This is a highly original book: a kind of Indian fairy tale with a delightfully off the wall plot and vivid, beautiful illustrations. The story is well paced and skilfully told.
The Giant Jam Sandwich by Janet Burroway and John Vernon Lord
YD: “I like this story because it rhymes. I like it when they spread the jam to trap the wasps – I want to help them do it! But I wouldn’t like it if four million wasps flew into MY town.”
ED: “It’s a funny story and I love the pictures.”
My verdict: Another favourite from my own childhood, and great fun to read aloud. There is so much to look at in the pictures; everything is larger than life, and there is much silliness.
Today’s theme: bears. Two great stories to read aloud.
Big Bear Hug by Nicholas Oldland
ED: “This book is really funny.”
YD: “The story shows that you need to give love to everyone, even people who aren’t very nice and do things like cut down trees.”
My Verdict: This book was a gift from Canada, and we all really like it. The story is simple, but it has a good message and wonderful dead-pan humour. The ending makes our girls laugh out loud every time.
The Bear’s Winter House by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake
ED: “The pictures in this book are amazing. They really make you feel cold – or warm and cosy. The bear is very kind, even though the other animals are quite annoying and keep him awake all winter.”
YD: “I like the colours in this book. I’m glad when the bear gets to have a proper sleep at the end!”
My verdict: Another of our favourite books from childhood. The story is perfectly crafted, with a fable-like quality. There is plenty of humour, both in the text and in Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations.
Two very different stories about friendship today.
Leon and Bob by Simon James
ED: “This is a very clever, funny story with great pictures.”
YD: “The ending makes me feel happy every time.”
My verdict: This a faultless book in my opinion; the pacing is perfect, and the story of Leon (who misses his Dad) and his imaginary friend is incredibly poignant, but in an understated way. The illustrations capture every subtle emotion, and the ending is a joy.
Anna Banana and Me by Lenore and Erik Blegvad
YD: “Anna Banana is a very funny name. I’d like to be her friend.”
ED: “This is a story about friendship and learning to be brave. I really like the pictures.”
My verdict: Anna Banana is a free spirit, brave and spontaneous: everything the boy narrator is not. But through their friendship, he learns to be a little braver. An original story told from a child’s perspective.
Today’s stories are both road trips – with a twist - set in colourful, magic-realist landscapes.
NB: Vita Streck (White Lines) is by the very talented Swedish author-illustrator, Sara Lundberg. We are lucky enough to have a number of Swedish books on our shelves (my brother and his family live in Sweden; every time we visit, we come home with books!). There is a rich and thriving children’s book industry in Sweden – I wish more of their books were available in English.
Vita Streck (White Lines) by Sara Lundberg
Vita Streck is the girl who paints the white lines in the middle of the road ( as well as zebra crossings).
YD: “I like the pictures in this book and the song in the middle. It’s funny when the car has to wait for Vita to paint the zebra crossing, and it gets really mad.”
ED: “I like the bit at the end, when she goes to meet the person whose job it is to turn all the street lights on at night. It’s really beautiful.”
My verdict: A completely original, imaginative story, told with humour. Sara Lundberg’s illustrations are gorgeous and unique.
The Hundred Decker Bus by Mike Smith
YD: “I love looking at the pictures in this book, and I like the way the bus grows and grows. I like following the bus’s journey on the map too.”
ED: “This is a really fun adventure.”
My verdict: A fantastic premise taken to its logical conclusion, with a great fold-out page at the end. The story is fun and liberating, and there is so much wonderful detail in the illustrations.
Two books about love today, both tried and tested favourites in our home.
Mama, Do You love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee
YD: “This books makes me laugh and makes me feel happy. I like the way the people and animals are drawn.”
ED: “The pictures are really beautiful and dramatic. The story shows that mothers do love their children a lot!”
My verdict: Bright, evocative illustrations and a warm, reassuring message. There is plenty of humour in the way the girl keeps testing her mum’s love with ever more far-fetched hypothetical situations.
So Much! by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury
YD: “This book shows you what love is all about. I love this book! It makes me feel happy.”
ED: “I like the pictures because they’re funny and colourful. You don’t know why everyone keeps arriving at their house, but in the end you find out it’s because there’s a surprise party for the Dad.”
My verdict: A brilliantly told story with well observed characters. This is a delight to read out loud, and a real celebration of family life and love.
Today’s books share a common theme: a tyrannical and ridiculous captain who is outwitted by a child. And quite right too.
The Gardening Pirates by Ruth Morgan and Chris Glynn
YD: “There’s only one girl pirate in this story, but she’s the best. And she ends up being captain!”
ED: “I like this book because it shows that you should treat people well if you want them to be nice to you. Captain Cranc is a very silly man. The pictures are funny.”
My verdict: This is a lovely, original read with a clever twist and fun illustrations. The pirate ship has a great Welsh name, too: the Ych-a-Fi (meaning ‘yuck’ – but it doesn’t sound as good in English!). Our girls love this one.
How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake
ED: “This book is very funny. Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong is like an iron lady. I wouldn’t like to have to eat cabbage and potato sog or greasy bloaters…whatever they are!”
My verdict: Sheer genius – you can see how much fun they had with this. The text and illustrations complement each other perfectly and the characterization is amazing. A fantastic longer read for children who are 5+. This was a favourite of both mine and Tom’s when we were kids!
Today’s books include two written by Allan Ahlberg (but published many years apart, and with different illustrators). All three books make you think in some way about time passing: Previously tells a whole series of stories in reverse; Silver Buttons focuses on one moment in time, and Starting School chronicles a group of children’s first term at school.
Previously by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
ED: “This story makes me feel like I’m going back in time. It makes you think about how everybody was a baby once, even our grandparents!”
YD: “It’s got people from lots of different stories in it, like Goldilocks and Jack and Jill. I like the page at the end where I can guess who all the different babies are going to be.”
My verdict: Thought-provoking, funny and ultimately very moving (for me at least!). The illustrations have a childlike charm to them and work wonderfully with the text. I love the bold colours.
Silver Buttons by Bob Graham
ED: “This story shows what’s happening to lots of different people, all at the same time. It makes me feel calm and happy.”
YD: “It starts in one little room, then it grows bigger and bigger until you can see the whole city.”
My verdict: All life condensed into one moment in time, this is a classic Bob Graham: humane, understated, funny, thought-provoking and poignant all at the same time. Beautifully observed.
Starting School by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
ED: “This is a really good book because it gives you a good idea of what school is like. The pictures add a lot to the story.”
YD: “I like that all the kids in the story are different. It’s funny, and I love looking at all the pictures. This book helped me when I started school.”
My verdict: Packed with wonderful, lifelike detail and humour, both in the text and the illustrations. Perfect for building children’s confidence.