Tag Archive for Sarah Linda

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

 

Ten Picture Books Published in 2014

I wasn’t writing my blog in 2014 (well not until the very end), so in order to catch up with the new brilliance emerging in picture books, here are some of my favourites from last year. The good news is that now it’s 2015 they should all be appearing in paperback sometime soon if not already. Note that many of these are not just for 4-6 years, many 8 year olds have enjoyed these equally, if not more, and teachers will love the rhyming language, clever plot devices and nuances of some of them. Others can be studied for style alone.

Oi Frog

Oi Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field
Top billing for this book in which a disdainful cat explains to a frog where he ought to sit. This book is totally hilarious – worth reading over and over again, particularly if you can get the tone of voice right for the cat. It’s a rhyming book, inspiring children to shout out the punchlines before you get to them. The beauty of the book is the extreme simplicity of the concept –which animal sits on which object? The cartoon-like illustrations of the animals will have everyone in fits of laughter from the beginning endpapers of the frog to the lambs sitting on jams, the bees sitting on keys, the pumas sitting on ….. – no, I shan’t give it away. Buy the book!

you are not small

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
This is a picture book where the pictures are everything (and no wonder as the illustrator is none other than the New Yorker illustrator Christopher Weyant). You Are (Not) Small attempts to explain relativity to children. Not a detailed theory of Einstein, but simply that everything is relative depending on your standpoint. Two hairy nondescript creatures argue over whether one is small or one is big until a bigger creature comes along, and some much smaller ones too – and suddenly big is not big but smaller, and small is not small but bigger. Confused? Without pictures it’s easy to be, but with pictures it’s not only clear but also hilarious. Two astute punchlines at the end make this a giggle for the children, as well as an interesting lesson.

little elliot

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Another picture book on the topic of size, and with amazing illustrations – but this is quite different from You Are (Not) Small. Little Elliot is an overwhelmingly cute elephant, but small of size. He lives in a big city – Mike Curato has drawn almost Edward Hopper-like New York cityscapes – old fashioned with towering city blocks and a bustling subway packed with people in hats. Elliot can’t manage in the big city, even struggling to reach the counter to buy a prized cupcake in a pink cake box. Then he bumps into someone smaller than him (a mouse), and by doing this mouse a good deed, feels as if he is the tallest elephant in the world. The landscape changes abruptly to reflect his mood. This is a highly stylized depiction of size, with a huge emotional impact, especially when we discover that Elliot has not only gained confidence, but gained a friend.

on sudden hill

On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies
Far, far from the city, this picture book also packs a punch emotionally, but the setting couldn’t be more different. On Sudden Hill is set in a deliberately unrecognisable everyman’s countryside, where rabbits and chickens frolic in the long grass. Birt and Etho are two boys who climb up Sudden Hill to play their imaginary games with each other. Then one day a third boy arrives, but his arrival has difficult consequences for Birt, who seems to have lost his “two-by-two rhythm”. He shows his frustration in anger, and then withdraws, and it takes a while before the boys can find their new “three-by-three rhythm.” The illustrations are almost whimsical in the way they hark to a childhood time of freedom, of swinging in trees, larking with discarded materials, and seemingly having all day to play under the sunshine. As in Little Elliot, the drawings are of an American landscape and the story delivers a fine message.

sam and dave

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
A definite two-by-two rhythm here as Sam and Dave are two small boys working towards a goal together. There’s a camaraderie between the two that one imagines is shared between author and illustrator, as the text and images play off each other to make the jokes. The images are in muted colours in the same way as the boys’ conversation is sparse and unembellished. As On Sudden Hill it relates to a childhood where all day could be spend digging a hole just for the sake of doing it. The reader is let in on certain jokes from the illustrator while the boys dig deeper and deeper. The whole text, images and pages from the very beginning to the very end need exploring for the reader to fully understand the whole context, the in-jokes and where Sam and Dave get to with their hole. Nothing to be given away here – you’ll have to buy it.

the something

The Something by Rebecca Cobb
Another hole, but this one is a complete mystery. Rebecca Cobb’s protagonist (described as a boy on the publisher’s website although to me the cleverness is that the child could be a boy or a girl) loses his ball down a hole in the garden, and spends the rest of the book imagining (with the help of friends and family) what could be down the hole. The book comes alive with the small deft touches at which Rebecca Cobb is so brilliant, the cowardice of the father figure, the imaginary mouse house beyond the hole, the diverse group of friends, the animals whose actions mimic those of the grandparents. This is a surprising and wonderful picture book, which, like On Sudden Hill, captures the power of imagination, and the beautiful landscape of the outside.

shh we have a plan

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
The power of colour screams from this blue book. This deserves a slow read – the text is almost a by-product, as all the action, characterisation and plot occurs through pictures alone. It’s a clever device, and if savoured, will result in your children clutching themselves in laughter. It did mine. Four hunters attempt to capture a bird, and fail every time. It’s a classic convention, yet executed in a stunning format. Each page is tones of blue – both hunters and landscape – the only extra colour being the hunted bird. Chris Haughton has a very distinctive style and he uses it to aplomb here.

teacher monster

My Teacher is a Monster (No I am Not) by Peter Brown
Again, an interesting use of colour for Peter Brown’s book, which as in Shh! We Have a Plan shows plot development through picture rather than text. The colours throughout are shades of brown and green – slowly turning to some turquoise and blue, and like Chris Haughton, Peter Brown’s style is truly distinctive. Initially Ms Kirby, the teacher, is portrayed as quite a monster. She roars in class, and stomps about with threatening behaviour. But then Bobby, from class, bumps into his teacher in the park at the weekend, and gradually they get to know each other. Bobby rescues Ms Kirby’s hat when it’s whipped away in the wind – and Ms Kirby suggests they fly paper aeroplanes – the same deed for which she had scolded her class earlier in the week. Then before his and our eyes, gradually her monster features are softened, and then disappear altogether through Peter Brown’s clever drawings, until in the end we see that she’s an ordinary lady. Peter Brown is showing us how we fear the unfamiliar, but if we overcome the otherness, then no fear remains.

ralfy rabbit

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar by Emily MacKenzie
Reminiscent of many other books that demonstrate a character’s intense love for books (see Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark, and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty), Ralfy Rabbit is another addition to the book lover’s library. However, Ralfy Rabbit stands apart for the massive attention to detail in the pictures and text. His lists of books will have adults chortling (The Rabbit with the Dandelion Tattoo), just as much as the children will be oohing after the cute rabbit pictures. Ralfy Rabbit loves books so much that he starts stealing them. Arthur is a little boy who discovers who is stealing all the books, but no one will believe him. His teacher’s attitude is astute and funny: “I want you to go away and have a long, hard think about what you are saying”, as is the bunny line-up when Ralfy Rabbit is eventually caught. The punchline – that a place exists from which you can borrow books – the library – is truly apt for our times. Let’s hope Ralfy Rabbit and public libraries have the longevity they deserve.

sloth slept

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon
Another picture book that explores the value of books is Sloth Slept On. When two children discover a sloth in their garden, they attempt to find out where it comes from – of course it doesn’t tell them – it’s always asleep. After coming up with a myriad of possibilities using their wild imaginations, they discover the answer by looking in a book and on a globe. Then the children need to work out how to get the sloth home – with interesting consequences, and a particularly funny punchline, which is alluded to throughout if you pay attention. The illustrations are adorable – from the sloth’s upturned mouth while it sleeps to the two playful and curious children. A winner for younger children.