Another sterling month for children’s books – there aren’t enough weeks of the year to feature all the books of the week that I’d like. So here’s a roundup of some excellent early 2016 picture books. With illustrations that ooze charm.
What Will Danny Do Today? By Pippa Goodhart and illustrated by Sam Usher
Do your children pore over You Choose or Just Imagine? This wonderful new book from the same author allows the child to choose what Danny will do. It’s a normal day for Danny – he’s going to school, but the reader makes all those delicious decisions – everything from the small detail of what he should eat for breakfast to how he should travel to school.
The questions in the text aren’t boring either – not ‘Will he have toast or cereal?’ but exquisitely worded – ‘Will he pick a crunchy, chewy or wobbly breakfast?’ and my favourite ‘Which book will Danny take to bed?’. There’s wonderful empathy at play, as when his Dad comes to pick Danny up from school, there are no questions, just a simple ask for the reader to spot him (clue: he’s wearing a green jacket). It’s not too hard either – no worrying for Danny at the end of the school day.
Of course the choices are led by the pictures – Sam Usher’s illustrations feel old-fashioned, soft and familiar. The faces of his people are full of expression, reminiscent of children drawn by Quentin Blake (such as Sophie in The BFG), but more and more distinctive to Sam Usher too (particularly his older people). But it’s the attention to detail that shows off Sam’s craft. Choosing what to wear from Danny’s overflowing wardrobe, or what to eat from the jam-packed kitchen, or how to get to school (you could even choose the penny-farthing or the UFO! – one child is using a zip-wire to reach school). The depiction of teachers in the staffroom (yes, you can even choose Danny’s teacher) is hilarious – I’m still undecided between Shakespeare, the monkey, or the young lady with the tower of books (is that me, Sam?).
Simply hours of fun. This is one book I shan’t be giving away to any child. It’s all mine! Published this week, choose to buy it here.
Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson
Another book, in which for me, the illustrations MAKE the book. Rabbit loves carrots, to the extent that (rather like a certain someone with books) they are taking over his burrow. He collects them wherever he goes. One day he realises he needs somewhere else to sleep –there is simply no room left in his burrow. Each of his friends is most welcoming – until he overloads their houses with carrots too, and inadvertently breaks them (bird’s nest is particularly susceptible). So rabbit has to learn his lesson – with a stick rather than a carrot. He discovers that rather than collecting carrots – sharing is the way to go.
The depth of each illustration is marvellous – from the landscape of wild flowers behind rabbit’s carrot patch, to the mountain of his carrot collection to the terrible collapse from too many carrrots in beaver’s house. But it’s not just the detail and scope of each carrot horde in each setting – but the wonderful depiction of the animals and their reactions to events. The facial recognition of each emotion is there for the young reader – comfort, enjoyment, irritability, anger, discomfort, shame….it’s fabulous.
Pay particular attention to the title page (complete with Keep Calm and Carrot On sign, a few carroty books, and rabbit’s own to do list).
To teach sharing, to enjoy the artwork, or simply for a tight little story – this is a gem of a picture book. Buy your carrot (I mean book) here.
Little Why by Jonny Lambert
A fascinatingly feel-good title for young readers that carries two important messages without resorting to preaching. Little Why is a small elephant who is told by his parents to ‘keep in line’ on the way to the watering hole. This little toddler elephant is bursting with questions about the other animals he sees though, and strays more than once, only to find himself face to face with a hungry crocodile.
He learns important messages about the merits of his own species (loving oneself) – the other animals may have appealing features such as “long lofty leggy legs” like the giraffe, or “speedy-spotty fuzzy fur” like the cheetah, but Little Why discovers he is perfect the way he is – with his “flippy-flappy ears, and super-squirty trunk”. He also learns not to run off from his parents, for although there is a ferocious snappy crocodile on the loose, if his parents are near, then he can be swiped out of reach.
Jonny Lambert is a master of colour, pushing the boundaries with his use of white space around the images, and superbly giving context and texture to his grey elephants with strokes and lines – repeated in the other animals, but drafted to perfection on the elephants, who otherwise would be dull grey. Lambert uses the animals’ body language to convey as much emotion as their facial features – the trunk is a giveaway symbol for Little Why, but also the shape and angle of the birds throughout. It’s a touching little picture book, and could easily become a household favourite. You can buy it here.
Supermarket Gremlins by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Chris Chatterton
Can Adam and Charlotte do no wrong? I seem to be writing their names frequently in my recommendation lists. This is a small gamble, as readers of my generation have a special place in our hearts for gremlins (we know not to feed them after midnight, and never to get them wet), but will the next generation (the intended readership) be equally charmed?
Supermarket Gremlins is a lift-the-flap book with the cute variety of gremlins invading the shelves, and trolleys, and eventually the shopping bags so that they can come home with you. The beauty of the book is the mum’s complete obliviousness to their presence – it is the boy who notices their mayhem and mischievousness (and the reader by lifting the flap on the pictures). From submerging themselves in water in the cleaning bucket (the gremlin blows his cheeks out with endearing cuteness) to the naughty gremlins emptying out packets of cereal, burping in the cheese, eating all the chocolate spread (wait, are they gremlins or children!).
It’s a really fun title, with rhyming text, such as things you’ve “forgotten”, matching with finding a “gremlin’s bottom” – the Guillains have nailed this one. Chris Chatterton’s illustrations are slightly retro in feel – an old style supermarket with piles of tins, and a house at the end with a tyre swinging from a tree. But the main fun of course is finding all the gremlins – and the publishers have really gone to town here – there are numerous flaps on each page, varying in size, with lots of funny pictures hiding behind. Hugely enjoyable, the illustrations are both mischievous and compelling – just like children. Feed yours before midnight here.