Max at Night by Ed Vere
One of my favourite children’s illustrators, Ed Vere published Max the Brave in 2014. The story of a small kitten who is brave, if a little lacking in knowledge, was a huge success. Max at Night revisits Max, with nods to childhood favourite ‘Goodnight, Moon’, but with a sparkling twinkle of modernity in attitude and text. Vere is part of a cohort of modern children’s illustrators who opt for minimalism and yet succeed in making their characters both extraordinarily empathetic and expressive.
Max at Night is Max’s search for the moon so that he can say goodnight to it before he goes to bed. Anyone with young children will recognise the stalling of bedtime, with just one more task to be completed before bed – be it one drink, another story, or finding a toy. In Max’s case he needs to find the moon to say goodnight – and being the brave kitten that he is, will go to extreme effort to do so.
The colour palate of this latest picture book works well. There is a dark tone throughout the book, nodding to nighttime, with Max’s huge yellow eyes standing out against the background. The night sky shifts from a beautiful red to dark tones of blue and purple and nearly black, with the lovely orange and yellow of the inside of the house. Max’s huge eyes are adorable, the stark yellow – in contrast to the background of ‘night’ in all its forms- in shades of blue and red.
Max’s marvellous personality is apparent – his bravery comes through in this book, as does his determination, and his frustration when he screws his eyes up tightly and yells into the night. His exasperation:
“Now you tell me!”, when the moon explains he can hear Max from his bed, is both funny, and pitch perfect because it is the type of dialogue a youngster would pick up from his parent. There is wit apparent in the illustrations too as Max climbs “gracefully” over the sleeping dog.
Very attractive, very witty, very wise. A successful sequel. You can buy it here.
The Queen’s Handbag by Steve Antony
Another storming success in 2014 was Steve Antony’s The Queen’s Hat. Steve’s debut was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and has become a fine staple in any children’s library. The children in my library have an enormous soft spot for Please Mr Panda, which is in constant demand. However, this sequel about the Queen and her handbag will be a hot contender.
The Queen’s Hat looked at the London landmarks. The Queen’s Handbag features landmarks around the United Kingdom in trademark red, white and blue colours. When a swan steals her handbag from her arm, the Queen chases round the country looking for it, accompanied this time by blue policemen and policewomen rather than red guards. In a similar vein, Antony has gone to town on the detail, with swarms of the police, each with different apparel and expression.
The Queen’s modes of transport are spectacularly funny and enjoyable, from her red convertible, to her red motorbike, followed by the red arrows, her extraordinary bicycle, speedboat, train and horse. There’s even a union jack parachute – James Bond watch out.
Neat touches abound – from the policemen and women taking selfies on Snowdonia, to the policeman paddling his feet off the Giant’s Causeway, to the self-referential Mr Panda running in the London marathon. See if you can spot the policeman whose union jack boxer shorts are revealed when he loses his trousers!
There is so much to look at on each spread, and as one fellow reviewer said about The Queen’s Hat – it’d be a delight to have one of these pictures as a piece of artwork hanging on the wall. I’d like the London skyline – a muted pencil drawn backdrop behind the lamppost – as if London was drenched in a beautiful purple evening mist with a single lamppost standing out in the foreground.
Even the last page has a funny last line, and of course the endpapers are to be marvelled at. Rows and rows of policemen and women (plus a couple of other things dotted around too). A hugely successful sequel. Steve Antony’s website has a fun activity with 20 Things to Spot in the book. Visit it here., and buy the book here.
Lastly, a quick mention to One Thing by Lauren Child. A new Charlie and Lola book for those that follow them, this reviewer actually thought it was the best yet. The voices and thoughts of Lola and Charlie seem more authentic, more drawn from real life. The premise is well thought out. Lauren Child introduces numbers and the concept of time to Lola and her readers.
Charlie and Lola take a trip to the shops to buy just one thing – Charlie has to question his Mum to see if it’s one thing each, or one thing shared. Then there is basic addition as Charlie and Lola add up how many minutes it takes to get ready, as well as counting the animals they encounter on the way to the shops.
The cleverness lies in Lauren Child’s dismemberment of the concept of time. Lola has to do something before she leaves – saying she will be “half of a second”, and Mum says they are “leaving in one minute”, neither of which turns out to be correct of course, as these are common phrases rather than accurate times.
Child also wittily includes Lola’s bargaining with her mother and with Charlie, firstly over the number of things she can buy – compromising on one – and secondly over sharing Charlie’s badges with him – again settling for one.
Sums and numbers fall from the pages in an enticing way, the concept of time and numbers are wonderfully extrapolated. It goes on a little too long for my liking, but overall a great addition to the Charlie and Lola collection. Buy it here.