Tag Archive for Mayhew James

Autumn 2018 Picture Book Round-up 1


The Best Sound in the World by Cindy Wume
A debut picture book that will strike a chord with readers, it tells a simpatico tale of a lion who wants to capture the best sound in the world. He tries to imitate the sounds he hears by reproducing them on his violin – but nothing sounds quite right, particularly with annoying neighbour Jemmy dancing, clapping or singing along to the music. Roy the lion leaves on a mission to find the most beautiful sound and explore the world, but realises in the end that the most beautiful sound is back home – the music he makes with his neighbour, and now, friend.

Wume’s gouache, coloured pencil and ink illustrations are detailed and wondrous, conveying precisely the mood of each page – from the monkeys leaping in the forest to the train rumble in the city. What’s more, her vocabulary pitches perfectly when pulling out each sound – from the pling of the rain to the chitter-chatter of the market. There is much to explore and disseminate here, from the mix of rural and urban, to the clever use of movement to convey dance and sound. The message of course, is that friendship wins out, and what you’re looking for is often within rather than in the outer world, but there are also subtler issues around observation and subjectivity. If nothing else, it will make the reader appreciate the sounds around him/her in the everyday world. Aesthetically astute, intelligently observed and warm. You can buy it here.


Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Even from the front cover, reality mixes with magical realism in this universally themed book of what to do on a rainy day. Ever since before The Cat in the Hat: “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day,” the weather has been a source of inspiration for writers. Used well, it can dictate mood, create atmosphere, and influence plot. This rainy day is during the rainy season in Uganda, and the source of inspiration for the child’s use of time is not a cat in a hat, but the child’s Jjajja – the grandfather.

This is a good introduction to Ugandan life. This child completes chores with his Jjajja, from packing peas to clearing the veranda, but all the while is engrossed with the tales his grandfather tells. The day passes quickly, and is filled with the dreams and stories of the past and the future.

Domestic detail sings from the pastel illustrations, but there are also wishes and dreams spun and illustrated as the boy thinks of the adventures he would take. The illustrative stickmen figures with large heads create a further dreamlike status, and the text rhymes in a rhythmic fashion, almost as if to the beat of the rain itself. Children will appreciate the mischievous white dog on each page – but I particularly enjoyed the descriptive language: ‘the clouds spread like a charcoal stain’, and ‘the drops…muddle the view’. Comforting and illuminating. You can buy it here.


The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros, illustrated by Julie Morstad
We are taken back in time in this lyrical story of immigration, which begins in a slightly idyllic Greece, with donkeys, blue skies and days of freedom at sea and in the fields. But these large vistas with their white buildings and flowered landscapes are not enough and the family long for change. The family immigrate to New York, and upon arrival the girl and her beloved dress are separated. Here, the dress takes on its own persona and searches for the girl. Years later, they are reunited and the dress fits the girl’s own daughter.

Nostalgic illustrations give good period detail, and tell a tale with their muted colours at Ellis Island. At the same time there is a clarity and sharpness to the drawings, as if they have been rendered with a precision that conjures months and years in small pen strokes.

This is not a refugee story of migration, but a desire for an easy passage and a better or even just different way of life, which makes an interesting contrast to recent picture books about modern migration, such as The Journey. The Dress and the Girl is worth examining for the opening and closing spreads and their theme of separation and reunion – a complete circle if you will, as well as an examination of memory and possession. You can buy it here.


Daddy Hairdo by Francis Martin and Claire Powell
A light-hearted look at hair in this delightful picture book about overlong hair and the passing of time. Amy doesn’t have much hair when she’s born, and her Dad has plenty. But then her hair grows, and her Daddy’s seems to disappear. After considerable searching for it, they settle on dealing with the problem of Amy’s hair, which is becoming inconvenient due to its length. Amy’s Dad comes up with some incredible solutions, before reason kicks in.

This is a wonderfully amusing book for anyone who’s ever de-tangled a web of hair, and a cool nod to crazy fashions. Francis Martin lets loose his inner child with some excellent wordplay – hair-raising of course, while Powell has immense fun illustrating hairstyles with aplomb – accentuated by wonderful facial expressions. This is a fun, giggling-inducing picture book, and one which also celebrates the father/daughter relationship with zest and affection. You can buy it here.


Fearless Mirabelle by Katie Haworth and Nila Aye
Perhaps it’s the celebration of individuality, or having confidence in your own unique skill set, or looking after your sibling, but this picture book appeals on so many levels. There’s the circus element, which is always a winner, and the attention to quirky detail, such as Mirabelle balancing on a galloping horse on one leg, whilst eating a bowl of cereal.

Mirabelle and Meg are identical twins, but although Mirabelle is fearless in the circus, Meg is scared of heights. When they realise that Meg’s asset is her ability to speak in front of a crowd (which terrifies Mirabelle), the girls realise that together they can be a supreme double act.

The limited colour palette of primary colours, with black and white, makes for a distinctive look – the characters look a little like friendly Coraline’s, and children will delight in the veneer of simplicity in the scribbled illustrations – they are stylish and endearing – like sugar candy with an edge. Different typefaces explore direct speech, capitals are used for emphasis. Much to look at, just like the circus. You can buy it here.


How to be a Lion by Ed Vere
Or how not to conform to type in this fairly new picture book from Vere. Here, Leonard the Lion isn’t a roary hunter but the sort of lion who likes to ponder upon his ‘thinking hill’, and write poetry. When bullied by the pride for not devouring a duck whom he has taken as a friend, Leonard and Marianne the duck collaborate on a poem to explore individuality.

It may sound whimsical but Vere’s thick black outlines convey a ruggedness to the story, and the book publishes at an apt time as society rethinks its stereotypical view of masculinity. It’s a call to not bend to peer pressure, and the tightness of the text brings the message home without sentimentality. A celebration of creativity and words too, and of the benefits of thinking rather than being the loudest voice in the room. Bold oranges and yellows bring to mind the African Savannah, and as always with Vere, there is abundant humour tucked in with the message, wit in both text and picture, and a great understanding of the rhythm of the language. A proud and majestic picture book. You can buy it here.


Can You See a Little Bear by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris
A new gift edition for 2018 with phenomenal production quality, this much-loved picture book first published in 2006. Aimed at younger children, with its delightful premise of ‘seeing’ not only the little bear in different imaginative landscapes, but also spying patterns and colours, contrasts and opposites within Morris’s exquisitely beautiful illustrations, this also feels relevant for older children and artwork students because of the theatrical and circus settings, and the sumptuousness of the watercolours.

The text rhymes, and its intent is to pull you into the pictures, leading the reader to spy and spot certain things, but it also captures the soporific tone that has affected the bear – this is a dreamscape after all. The incredible detail of the illustrations, depicting medieval scenes, wild landscapes and exotic buildlings, before gently falling back into the more domestic sphere of bathtime and bedtime under the moon, will entrance adult and child alike. You can buy it here.

Back to School

The autumn always sees a mega haul of children’s nonfiction – the back to school collections, lists for National Non Fiction November, and of course the Christmas gift treasure troves. This year, unlike the wet harvest, has yielded a bumper crop.

We start the day with maths. Always a slog after the long summer holidays, this book aims to reverse that groan with a rather wonderful premise – from the front cover, the reader is a genius: This Book Thinks You’re a Maths Genius, by Dr Mike Goldsmith, illustrated by Harriet Russell. It aims to prove that if the reader likes patterns, colouring and puzzles, then actually they’re good at maths. Taking basic mathematical concepts, such as geometry, measurements, statistics, and number patterns, it gives the reader activities and games to enhance their knowledge. Most pages have a ‘Where’s the Math’s box’ at the bottom to explain the ‘science’ behind the activity. It feels more heavily weighted towards shapes and patterns than basic numbers, but it was certainly fun to fill in.

Geography next, with two books to explore. The first, Animazes, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon also combines the territory of activity book with non-fiction, as readers can trace the mazes on each page to learn about the migration patterns of different animals. There’s a vibrancy and exuberance to this book – set by the vivid colour palate, which lifts the knowledge from the page. Christmas Island red crabs, wildebeest of the Serengeti, Monarch butterflies, Mali elephants…There’s a wealth of phenomenal facts about these wonderful animals – for general use or project use. Maze answers are given at the back of the book.

For those wanting a more straightforward factual book, Starters: Rainforests by Nick Pierce and illustrated by Jean Claude ticks the box for little ones. Basic layouts and colourful simple illustrations lend this a modern textbook look, and it reads plainly, but overall gives information in a neat concise visual way, with glossary, and index. Great for Key Stage One, and will bring a dazzling intensity of colour to the topic.

After break, it’s biology, using Bugs by Simon Tyler for budding entomologists. With the first 32 pages devoted to dissecting insect life – from anatomy to taxonomy, life cycle to senses, and the rest given to large colourful illustrations of individual species with accompanying small details about size and habitat, this is a comprehensive look at the subject. However, it stands apart with its impressive use of blank space on the page, clean lines, and coloured backgrounds, which all give the book both a vivacity and a clinical feel. Rarely have insects looked quite so engaging, it could almost double as a coffee-table splendour. Inspirational for children, a minibeast triumph.

You can’t beat a good historical narrative for history lessons. Philip Ardagh’s new series sets out to dominate the market here with his ‘faction’ books, illustrated by Jamie Littler. The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge explores the life of a medieval knight with as much tongue-in-cheek humour as sword-in-hand fighting. Written in day-by-day diary form, with footnotes giving factual information or terminology, the next in the series is The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny, Victorian Housemaid.

The Histronauts series aims to mash activity, story and non-fiction in its first two titles, An Egyptian Adventure and A Roman Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke. A group of children dive back in time, and through the means of a comic strip, they illuminate facets of historical life. There are activities alongside the narrative, such as learning Roman numerals and how to play merellus, as well as mazes, recipes and a host of other factual information. Packed with detail, these are fun and educational.

For a more visual look, try Unfolding Journeys: Secrets of the Nile by Stewart Ross and Vanina Starkoff. More cross-curricula than anything, this geography/history hybrid aims to explore this part of the world with a fold-out, vividly yellow map of the Nile (not to scale), highly captioned with number points, which are then extrapolated on the reverse of the fold-out. A mixture of ancient and modern facts and points of information make this a tricky landscape for a child to navigate – a few more dates might have helped, (and I’m unsure about the James Bond reference inside) but it’s certainly an intriguing way to look at a place of interest.

After lunch, younger primary school children will be delighted to get their hands on Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System by Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman. A new title in this series, but firmly aimed at a younger age group, this is another gem from publishers Flying Eye. Fantastic, familiar cartoons, accompanied by Professor Astro Cat’s chatty and informative dialogue, this would be my go-to book for teaching KS1 children about space for the first time.

With our first day at school completed, we look forward to a trip out. The National Gallery have two phenomenal companion books to touring – Get Colouring with Katie by James Mayhew, and Picture This! By Paul Thurlby. The Katie books by James Mayhew have long been favourites for introducing the youngest children to art, and this is a great companion title that picks out paintings within the gallery and gives children space on the page to colour a detail in their own way. Katie gives hints and explanations along the way. Paul Thurlby’s spiral bound book explores more of the paintings by featuring a picture of them, and then a small explanation, with occasional questions to the readers. The paintings are grouped in different ways – both historical, but also those featuring children, times of day, fashions etc. It might be frustrating without a knowledge of which room each painting is in (which the book doesn’t give). But the questions it poses are pertinent and thoughtful. You can buy all these books from good local bookshops, or click the Waterstones link on the top left of the page.

 

Summer Holiday

What are you doing this summer? Even if you’re not going anywhere – you can travel the whole world in a book. Firstly, my favourite books about key world cities:

walk in paris

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino
Quite rightly winning the IBW children’s picture book award 2015, this is a stunning example of travelling from your armchair. A grandfather takes his granddaughter on a whirlwind trip of Paris, taking in everything in sight from the Metro to the markets, the Seine and Notre Dame to the shops on the Right Bank, a bistro to the Marais, the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Tuileries. He explains, in that grandfatherly way, what things are called and points out interesting details to his granddaughter. Each spread is lushly illustrated with minute details – it’s like standing in the middle of a Parisian painting – the reader feels as if he is in an illustrated city.
Incidentals on each page are labelled in a slightly different font to give extra information to the reader, such as
‘Paris has two water systems. Water for drinking and water for cleaning run through separate pipes.’
This is in contrast to the friendly tones of the grandfather and his narrator granddaughter in the main text:
“I’ve just seen a street cleaner turn a big key. Now there’s water gushing out of the kerb! Mind your feet, Grandad! I say”.
The illustrations are incredible – the colours lend a distinctive feel to the city – mustard yellows, tarpaulin greens, leather browns. Each view deserves its own mention – from the illustration drawn as if looking out over Paris from the top of Notre Dame (with the back of the heads of the grandfather and granddaughter and the close-up of the gargoyles, to the Seine stretching out into the distance with the proportionally correct distances of the Sacre Coeur and Les Invalides (all labelled).) The characters have personality too – the granddaughter holds her pigtail aloft when admiring a coiffured lady stepping from a salon, but also sips her drink through a straw with no hands – capturing her childlike ways magnificently. From bicycles to window boxes, street artists to the bookstall-lined river – this made me want to revisit Paris, or at least the book, over and over again. Moreover, you can actually trace the ‘walk’ if you’re in the city – with instructions on the back of where to start and finish and how long it takes. (There’s also a fold-out Eiffel Tower). Dazzle your children (and yourselves) with this. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

(also available A Walk in London, A Walk in New York)

pop up new york

Pop Up New York by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson
If ever a book could prepare you for the excitement of seeing The Big Apple for the first time, this is it. Pop-up books for children rarely appeal to me, largely because of their inability to refold back to how they were before the book opened, and their susceptibility to be torn by eager hands too early in the day, thus rendering them fairly obsolete, which seems such a pity. However, the paper engineering here is an accomplished success – each page did fold back successfully upon closing, and it does appear to be fairly sturdy. Each page is also overwhelmingly packed with pop-ups – the buildings jump out at you and stand tall – just as they do in the real city. There is a surprising array of information and interactivity laid out here, with facts about all the major districts, buildings, history, sports, and culture, including recent developments such as the regeneration of the High Line. The cleverness of the book is that it works equally well if you read it upside-down, as there is a host of information on the back of the pop-up buildlings. For those of us who know New York fairly well it appears comprehensive and modern – for those who are new to New York it’s compelling and inspiring. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

(also available pop-up London)

katie in london

Katie in London by James Mayhew
Not a new title by any means, although granted a new cover in 2014, but for a Londoner born and bred, still one of the finest and most inspiring picture books about London. James Mayhew takes his character Katie on a whirlwind tour through London, with pictures of iconic London symbols, starting with the first page, which manages to encompass red buses, red telephone boxes, the tube signs, the London taxis and the sense of London stretching for some way into the distance. He also pictures rain – a horde of people with grey umbrellas, but which isn’t Edward Hopper-depressing, but another symbol of the particularity of the glinting reflections of the London streets. London in the rain can be magical and fun. James Mayhew draws in magic, by making a lion in Trafalgar Square come to life, and taking Katie and her brother Jack on a tour of London. The magical warmth of the book lies in the small details – the astonishment on the faces as they see the live lion, the thoughts of the lion as he ponders how cold his tummy gets lying on a stone plinth, and the magnificent detail in every picture – including balustrades, lampposts, and joggers in the park. The tour encompasses the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Globe, Hyde Park, St Paul’s, and the Tower of London. It leaves Katie exhausted, but the reader exhilarated. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

hare and tortoise israel

Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel by Laura Gehl, illustrations by Sarah Goodreau
Now, an exotic location. I love the idea of taking the fable of the Hare and Tortoise and making the race track somewhere different – something children love to see is a tale reinvented. This hare and tortoise live in Tel Aviv and decide to race across Israel to the Dead Sea. Along the way they take in the sights of Israel – the tortoise more slowly, although as is always the moral, slow and steady wins the race. The book encourages children to look around as they travel and to soak in the sights. Covering the museums and entertainment in Tel Aviv, to the different types of food available, to the olive groves and persimmon trees in the countryside to the shuk in Jerusalem, this is a nicely comprehensive first look at Israel. The cultural melting pot of people is also depicted (although the main characters are animals, the extras are both human and animal, which is a little strange), from religious Jews in Jerusalem to Bedouins in the desert, footballers in the park to commuters at the train station. A good cultural summation of an exotic country. You can buy the book here or on the Amazon sidebar.

eddies tent

Eddie’s Tent and How to Go Camping by Sarah Garland
Of course sometimes holidays are about the experience rather than the location. This new book from the super talented Sarah Garland explores what it’s like to go camping, with a simple story of Eddie and his family on a camping trip. This is a stand-out picture book, because both text and pictures convey the complicated nuances within a family, especially on a holiday, and also what’s going on in Eddie’s head. Sarah Garland employs the well-known phrase – are we there yet? from the two little sisters, but the picture bears out more strongly how the family feel whilst stuck in traffic, not to mention the second picture on that spread, in which the adults exchange a glance without the children seeing. This family is not a stereotypical family either, the adult male is referred to by his name, rather than as ‘Dad’, and one of the children is of a different ethnic origin – so there is diversity and complexity in their family make up, which is refreshing to see in a picture book. Eddie is well-depicted – like many small boys he is meticulous about what he packs for the trip, and not only do we see what he imagines in his head whilst day-dreaming in the tent, but we also admire his propensity to throw himself into the trip and demonstrate his growing independence in fetching driftwood, and making his own tent. Food is a major detail in the book – as it should be on all camping trips, and a nice gentle story runs alongside the painstaking detail of camping. At the back of the book is guidance on camping including knots, cooking and first aid. This book is part of a series featuring Eddie, including his garden, his kitchen and his toolbox, which may also be well worth exploring for teaching those essential life skills to children. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

mi and museum city

Mi and Museum City by Linda Sarah
Lastly, a wacky book for any child who’s been dragged around a museum or place of ‘interest’, which they actually didn’t find that interesting at all. This book is completely leftfield, but with such great intentions, so much detail and interest and such a good idea at its heart, that I have to include it. Mi inhabits museum city, in which every building, other than Mi’s house, is a museum, but they are all dull, including such museums as the Museum of (extreme) Politeness, The Museum of One Million Completely Boring Things Belonging to King Bore, and my favourite, the Museum of One Man Walking Very Slowly. Then Mi meets Yu, a busker, and they come up with an idea to build two very different and interesting museums that make them happy. They finally secure the mayor’s approval, and before long all sorts of bizarre and unusual museums are opening, making Museum City fun and bright. This book distinguishes itself by being filled with maps of museum city, each intricately detailed and with miniscule annotation. This reminded me so much of children’s drawings themselves, when they write something in barely legible tiny writing, or doodle on paper. It’s a fun book to explore and has a detachable A-Z museum fold out map at the back. It works well as a jumping off point from which to engage children in coming up with their own museum ideas. Even the bar code on the back cover has been incorporated into the artwork – becoming a Museum of the Bar Code beep Choir. If that doesn’t entice you, then nothing will. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

Tweet me @minervamoan if you have your own favourite  ‘travel’ picture book.

With thanks to Kar-Ben publishers for the copy of Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel