Events have made it hard for me to write my blog recently. Nothing dramatic – just work, life, work, life and work and life. But the brilliant Oi Frog! and the sequel, Oi Dog!, purchased recently as a pair, have spurred me back into action.
Oi Frog! all starts from a wonderfully absurd premise; a pompous, stick-to-the-rules cat and a rebellious, rule-busting frog arguing about what animals should or should not sit on. Cat – yellow-eyed, condescending, severe – tells frog to sit on a log. Frog doesn’t want to – he wants to sit on a mat, or a stool, or even a sofa. But, no. Mats are for cats, stools are for mules and sofas – oh so clever, this one – are for gophers.
And on they go, cat and frog bickering their way back and forth through ever more inventive and preposterous couplets, brought to life by brilliant illustrations of gorillas perched on pillars and pumas balanced on satsumas. The first books ends with a delightful image of poor frog being sat on by a dog…which leads perfectly into the second book Oi Dog! where, this time, frog is in charge and re-writes the rules and gets to sit where he likes. Continue reading
Over the years I’ve placed many things on a pedestal – footballers, musicians, artists and authors. Norman Whiteside, for anyone with a recollection of football in the early eighties, was the first – his posters adorned my bedroom walls, and everything he did was majestic, a colossus in the midfield of an otherwise mediocre team.
While Norman always had a blu-tacked space in my room – he’d still be up there if I had my way – others soon joined him. Almost every heavy metal band of note was pinned up at some point, poodle hair and all. Then, as I moved through those deeply serious teenage years, black and whites of Dylan appeared, as well as whatever French impressionist was in the bargain bucket in Athena (whatever happened to Athena!). Later, it was prints of Hemingway front covers and probably a Sartre too, just to show how damn clever I was.
One of the challenges of writing a blog about children’s books is to avoid overuse of words like ‘charming’ and ‘delightful’, particularly when you read a book like Giraffe on a Bicyle which is exactly those things – it is charming and it is delightful. No other words will do.
Julia Woolf’s debut picture book starts off with a monkey finding a bicycle (the not-to-be-skipped wordless endpapers tell you how this came to be – a clever little touch). Giraffe then pedals off through the jungle, gathering monkeys, tigers, flamingos and snakes on the bike. They hurtle along in their increasingly precarious journey, until…crash! The bike is in ruins – can the jungle buddies put it back together?
Like Jack and super hero Stan, the brothers in this excellent debut picture book from Matt Robertson, my brother and I had a somewhat strained relationship. It’s hard to say who was the super hero in my house – neither of us could fly, and I don’t recall slipping into a lycra all-in-one (although it was a while ago, admittedly). But the truth is that we never quite clicked, not in the way brothers should. Things may have been different if we’d had Super Stan to read.
In the book, Stan steals every moment and saves the day; poor Jack is fed up with always being second, always overlooked in favour of his cape-wearing sibling. Eventually, when Jack is pushed to his limits, the relationship is redeemed when Stan realises he needs Jack after all.
Nibbles the Book Monster, in my house at least, has managed to achieve something quite spectacularly tricky. It appealed to and delighted both my youngest boy, who is a solid super-hero-loving-three-year-old and my oldest girl, who is five-turning-six-quite-soon-my-goodness-where-do-all-the-years-go?
Now, that might not sound all that much. There is, after all, only a couple of years between them. But the truth is that these days their literary tastes rarely converge. Bedtime used to be a wonderful, wriggling pile of a half-dozen elbows, arms and legs, as one parent lay in the middle while each child gazed upon a favourite picture book. Chaotic and far from comfortable, but fun.
But now, my eldest (my-goodness-where-do-all-the-years-go!) often prefers to read Flat Stanley on her own. On occasion, she takes herself off all together for what she calls ‘private time’ which, from what I can gather, involves marshalling her teddies and giving them some quite severe orders about lining up and sitting nicely.
I thought those shared bedtime moments had passed. But Nibbles the Book Monster, I’m very happy to say, has brought us all back together, elbows and all.
I wrote earlier about a picture book I’ve been working on with Elena Bolado, a friend who also happens to be an excellent illustrator. This is her first picture book, and mine too.
We’ve nearly finished. We both have young children (Elena’s daughter and my daughter were born around the same time) so we’ve worked on this in between the endless churn of work, life and children. The plan is to self publish the book in the next few weeks.
The book is called Little Mo and it tells the story of a teddy who sees a firework from his bedroom window and inadvertently goes on a journey to explore the bright lights, hurtling through a dark autumn night on the backs and the wings of some nocturnal friends.
The Bear and the Piano is one of those picture books that just begs to be plucked from the shelves and taken home. The title entices – a bear? a piano? – but the real draw is the powerful image of a tuxedo-wearing, ivory-tinkling bear, framed by lush velvet theatrical curtains. The eye is led to the bear, the piano and then to the intriguing background – not a stage, as you might expect, but a flower-filled meadow and the faint images of tree trunks, fading as they grow higher. So much in one image; a story in itself.
After that, the inside pages have a lot to live up to. They succeed brilliantly, revealing a charming tale of a bear who discovers a ‘strange thing’ in the woods and, after much practice, begins to play the piano. Later he leaves his kith and kin to share his talent on Broadway. Away from the woods and far from home, the bear must decide – fame or friendship? Continue reading
When does a book cease to be a book? When does a collection of words and pictures on a page become something approaching high art, to be placed on a pedestal with the finest of paintings or the most beautiful pieces of classical music? Where the line is drawn is a matter of taste and predilection but, one thing’s for sure, The Wonder by Francesca Sanna has crossed the boundary. This is more than a book. By any measure, it’s a work of art.
Much credit must go to the publishers, Flying Eye Books, who have produced a book of tremendous quality – it begs to be held and treasured. The hardback cover is fringed with a thumb-width of fabric; the paper is free of tacky gloss and has a texture more like cartridge paper; the font sits serenely on the page, allowing the illustrations to come to the fore. There’s the kind of detail that tells you The Journey has been designed by people who have love in their hearts. I want to meet them, hug them, and say ‘thank you’. Continue reading
I am Doodle Cat got the thumbs up in my house, appealing to both of my little people (aged 3 and 6).
The illustrations steal the show, with just simple repeated phrases throughout the book – each page recounts what Doodle Cat ‘loves’. There’s a clever mix of detailed drawings and simpler, almost half-finished pictures. Most pages are in bold primary colours on a white background. This works well, particularly when the odd page has much more to pick through. The contrast is engaging; it kept my older child interested.
The best sketches express movement (Doodle Cat’s arms whirl brilliantly as he pounds the drums on the ‘I love noise’ page and the cat becomes a painted blur when he says ‘I love going fast’) or humour (the ‘I love baths’ show Doodle in a typically cat-like pose, leg cocked in the air while his hidden face cleans his private parts; the ‘I love farts’ page is guaranteed to raise a giggle, complete with an autograph-signing gassy product).