Tag Archive for Chapman Jane

Seasonal Books for Younger Readers Part 1

My next couple of blogposts feature my selection of Christmas books: firstly four books for the youngest readers. Another four follow on Wednesday.

is it christmas yet

Is it Christmas Yet? by Jane Chapman

Sometimes the simplest titles are the best. Jane Chapman has a wonderfully sympathetic drawing style when tackling bears, and this depiction of an over-excited cub and his weary parent is no exception. Produced this year in a padded board book for the smallest child with an enticing glittery cover – even if it goes in the toddler’s mouth, it shouldn’t get too damaged!

It depicts the bears’ preparation for Christmas Day – wrapping presents and finding a tree, although the cub has a little more enthusiasm than the parent. The illustrations caused this book to end up in my list of Christmas picks – the cub’s playfulness is irresistible, while the parent bear goes through all the emotions that parents do in the run up to make a perfect Christmas – from growling to sighing to mumbling to huffing and moaning. But in the end, Christmas arrives, and it looks fairly perfect to me. You can purchase it here.

socks for santa

Socks for Santa by Adam and Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish
There’s always room on my bookshelves for another ‘George’ picture book. After the success of Spaghetti with the Yeti, Marshmallows for Martians and the other titles in the series, I was excited to hear there would be Socks for Santa. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it’s one of the best. Generous and thoughtful George decides to take Santa some presents at Christmas in return for him giving them out every year. However, there are of course some hitches along the way – the elves need help with wrapping, Rudolph has a cold, and the reindeers open Santa’s presents. The rhyming text skips happily along telling the story, but the true delight of this title lies in Wildish’s illustrations.

From puffins sliding on ice and pulling a sleigh to the wonderful snowball fight with bears to my favourite of all – the reindeer playing connect four. There is so much detail and glee in all the illustrations, that no child could be unhappy opening this under the tree. Wholeheartedly recommended – and illustrations I want for my illustrators’ wall! Click here to buy.

one snowy rescue

One Snowy Rescue by M Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton
This is one busy hedgehog. The ninth little hedgehog book won me over with the furry red hat. (Yes, I’m that easy!). Advertised on the front as a touch and feel book, the reader can trace their fingers over the felt red hat on every page. It’s quite alluring.

Little Hedgehog finds it difficult to navigate the snow, and relies on his friends to pull him out of various hitches, including a snow drift and some icy water. Each time his bright red hat signals to his friends that he is in danger, and he is rescued. However, the whole point of his trek through the snow is to rescue someone even smaller than him, which he succeeds in doing in the end. It’s a lovely little tale for small children – about helping each other, in a lovingly drawn winter landscape. You can buy it here from Waterstones.

magical snow garden

The Magical Snow Garden by Tracey Corderoy and Jane Chapman
Most people have a penchant for penguins (in picture books). Not in reality of course, as they smell, but in picture books they tend to be drawn as slightly more fluffy and cutesy. This is definitely the case here. Wellington the Penguin enjoys reading books, but when he spies a garden in one of his picture books he sets out to recreate it. Despite his friends’ lack of enthusiasm he does build a garden out of recycled rubbish (there are no seeds available and things won’t grow in the snow.)

Once all the sweet wrappers have been shaped and twisted, the garden looks fabulous, but then overnight the magical snow garden is blown away by a nasty storm wind. This time his friends help him to recreate the garden, and it is so magical that creatures come from all over the world to see it.

This completely fantastical story is drawn beautifully by Jane Chapman – glitter on the cover of course, but a garden reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with fountains and flowers and cuckoos – all made from wrappers. A reference to recycling – or just a clever way to add colour to the snow – either way, it makes for a fine addition to the ‘snow’ picture book flurry. Purchase here from Waterstones.

We’re Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

Animals. They hold a fascination for children like nothing else – stuffed animals, real animals, extinct animals, underwater animals. We have them all over the house – plastic sharks in the bath, stuffed bears on the bed, a real cat in the garden, and animal books in every room in the house. So many of our favourite picture books feature animals: Tigers who eat tea, lions that must be hidden, caterpillars that are very hungry. Here are some wonderful new picture books featuring ANIMALS:

Poo in the zoo

Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Ada Grey
Children find poo funny. There’s no escaping it – they like jokes about farts and underpants and burping and all those things which we, as adults, grow inhibitions about (well most of us anyway). Poo in the Zoo goes that little bit further – rather than just dropping in a few harmless defecating jokes, Steve Smallman goes all the way and has written an entire book about animal droppings:
“There was tiger poo, lion poo, prickly porcupine poo
Plummeting giraffe poop that landed with a splat
Dollops of gnu poo, bouncy kangaroo poo
A trail of dripping droppings from a fat wombat!”
The marvellous thing about Steve’s text is the sparkling rhythm – it bounces along with barely a pause for breath – you could almost sing it (actually he does, when reading it aloud). The pictures to accompany it are lovingly drawn (despite the subject matter!). The animals expressive, the colours vibrant. Also, and this is Steve’s cleverest accomplishment – there is a whole narrative behind the poo joke. The story follows zookeeper Little Bob McGrew who has to clean up after the animals, but then discovers a poo he doesn’t recognise as being from one of his animals, and thinks it’s from outer space. He sells it to Hector Gloop, owner of Gloop’s Poo Museum, and with the money buys a robot pooper scooper to pick up all the animal poo for him. The last page shows our zookeeper and all the animals relaxing while the robot does the work – see if you can spot which animals opt for ice cream and which a cup of tea. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

no more cuddles

No More Cuddles! By Jane Chapman
Of course picture books are more likely to take the lovable aspects of animals rather than the pooey ones. This particular gem features Barry, who is one of the cuddliest 2D illustrations I have encountered. A bigfoot, he is so squishy and fluffy and loveable, that all the creatures in the wood want to huggle Barry. He, however, would just like some time alone. He advertises for a replacement cuddly creature, and finds a bear, but the woodland animals still gravitate to the bigfoot instead. In the end their enthusiasm to cuddle Barry topples them all into a swamp – and suddenly, covered in squelchy boggy mud, he’s not so cuddly after all. This is a book that would be meaningless without its sympathetic and enticing illustrations. From Barry’s self-effacing adorableness to the rabbits’ delight in cuddling him, to the bear’s suitability for the role of new cuddle monster – all the illustrations are worthy of hanging as loveable paintings in a child’s bedroom. For anyone who sometimes craves a little ounce of privacy, or perhaps for a parent who wishes to explain that they want a little time in the bathroom without being clung to, this book fits the bill. The animals are adorable – it’s as comforting as a familiar toy, or a snuggly bed. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

how to be a dog

How to be a Dog by Jo Williamson
Another one that leads by illustration, with text to complement. This is a guide written as if by a cheeky dog to all his dog friends. It’s a picture book debut from Jo, and she is definitely one for my future radar – the humour emanates from every page, the dogs all exhibit character and exuberance, and the premise is fresh and exciting…and I don’t even particularly like dogs! It’s written in a tongue-in-cheek style, but with enough zest and simplicity that children will understand the irony of what’s being suggested. The dog’s tips include:
‘To get extra treats, pretend that you have not been fed’,
as well as hilarious illustrations of suggestions of a game other than ‘ball’, to play with your owner, which shows the dog and his owner playing chess: the dog with ambitious intent and drive, and the girl with a sad, defeated look. The other wry illustration which particularly tickled me was that of the dog comfortably under the duvet, taking up most of the bed, whilst the boy sleeps, half hanging off the bed, and the teddy bear lies awake on the floor, clearly having been ousted. Jo Williamson certainly knows how to do expression. Her dog is slightly reminiscent of an old favourite, the illustrations of Margaret Bloy Graham in Harry, the Dirty Dog. Other mentions must be made of the endpapers – all different types of dogs – and the colours – mainly a turquoise blue dotted with expressive deep red. It gives the book a style reminiscent of a manual. A witty new read, which I’m longing to take for walks in the park! You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.


Whoops! By Suzi Moore, illustrated by Russell Ayto
The experienced award-winning illustrator Russell Ayto brings his distinctive style to this zany book by Suzi Moore. Three animals: dog, cat, and mouse, can’t seem to utter noises correctly. An owl sends the animals to see an old lady who he thinks can help. From the title, Whoops!, it’s clear that there are mishaps along the way, and even at the end! This is a good book for reading aloud or introducing toddlers to a story narrative. The initial page presents a problem, which is eventually solved, although there is a twist at the end. There is lots of repetition – as the old lady doesn’t quite get it right first time – so plenty to join in with, and also the entire text rhymes. In fact there’s a good solid rhythm to the text here – it reminded me a little of Room on the Broom, one of my favourite read-aloud treats. Moreover, it’s a beautifully produced book – each page has its own distinguishing background colour from vivid blue to magenta pink, some darker, some lighter – they give the book a clean feel. The formation of the text is played with too – some wiggles, some in speech bubbles, but it’s never hard to read. Russell’s simple line drawings also lend a minimalism to the story – the house in the woods is stark and peculiar, the animals themselves sharp-edged and repetitive too – their expressions and body language seldom change – but this complements the text. These are not cuddly animals! I must admit I reviewed the hardback copy of this title – but this book deserves to be read in this format. I also liked that the animals chosen were three of the most basic and simplest animals with knowable noises; the irony lying in the fact that although natural predators of each smaller animal, they seem to be in this together! You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

two beasts

A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton
One of the main reasons we thrust stories and books upon children is that they teach empathy. This picture book is a story in two parts – each part told from a different point of view. For this reason it immediately calls to mind Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne, but this is for a younger age group than that – it’s much more unsubtle, but works precisely for this reason. My other motive for picking this book was that it features an unidentifiable animal, ‘the beast’. Part squirrel, part chipmunk, part skunk, it could be any woodland creature, slightly cute, but slightly menacing. It is up to the reader to identify what it could be. I like the ambiguity as it matches the ambiguity in the rest of the story. Part one is told from the girl’s point of view, and describes how she finds a creature in the woods and rescues it – taking it home and looking after it, but it escapes, then returns, and the girl and the creature become friends. Then the story is told again, but from the creature’s point of view. Fiona has kindly inserted a couple of well-known quotes in the book to give us a clue as to what she is trying to do, one of which:
‘There are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth’ Mark Twain
The colour palate works well here – some beautiful autumnal oranges, muted reds and browns, and a blue/purple tinge to the night-time vista. It feels fresh and sharp. It’s particularly interesting to spot the small differences in the illustrations in the two parts of the book too – although similar, there are some lovely differences in expression. A great teaching tool, and rather lovely visually too.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

A huge thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending me a collection of their new picture books, and inviting me to their Tigers’ Day Out at London Zoo. You can visit their web site here and see their fantastic range of children’s books for yourselves too.


Penguin or Owl?

So first there was snow – and then there were penguins. I’m not sure when penguins became synonymous with Christmas, but this year they certainly have – from the John Lewis advert to the Penguins of Madagascar, Penguins have arrived in London in time for Christmas.

owl or penguin
When I was little I had a small soft toy called Owly. It was loved and cherished (see its somewhat battered state now), but it was only recently that someone pointed out that maybe it’s a penguin. So I thought – that’s a great premise for a book – the penguin with the mistaken identity. In the meantime, here are some books that have already been written:

Penguin Polly DunbarPouting Boy
Penguin by Polly Dunbar
My overall abiding love for this book is one illustration that depicts a facial expression, in which a close member of my family is THE expert. Penguin tells the story of a boy called Ben who receives a penguin as a present, but the penguin will not communicate with him, no matter what Ben does. Finally Ben is eaten by a lion, the penguin saves him, and the penguin suddenly has a great deal to say. The book is packed with witty illustrations, a zany storyline and a winning outcome. An old favourite. Penguins are often used as a way to explore and develop friendships in picture books – I wonder if that’s because they are often depicted huddling together? Two perfect examples of penguin friends are Fluff and Billy Do Everything Together by Nicola Killen and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

Fluff and BillyLost and Found
Fluff and Billy tells the tale of when play between friends gets rough leading to hurt and falling out – before there is forgiveness and friendship again. It works well to read aloud to a small child because the book is littered with repetition. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers is fast becoming a children’s classic. The book tells the story of a boy who opens the door one day to see a penguin standing on his doorstep. He spends much of the book grappling with what to do with the penguin – until realising at the end that the penguin just wants a friend. Jeffers’ illustrations are beguilingly simple – less is more in fact. Jeffers said that the illustrations are deliberately simple so that children, wherever they are, can fill in the gaps with their own individual landscapes. Characters too – the penguin is a few simple lines – it almost seems as if the characters of the boy and the penguin are more expressive the less detail they have. Jeffers’ text also shines with a simple clarity – basic plotlines mixed with truisms and pathos:
“He ran down to the harbour and asked a big ship to take them to the South Pole. But his voice was much too small to be heard over the ship’s horn.”
So much expressed so simply – the vastness of the ship and the world as compared to a small boy asking for help.

Blown Away
The new addition to the ‘penguin’ canon of literature, and published in August of this year is Blown Away by Rob Biddulph. I implore you to find and read a copy. Rob Biddulph’s blue penguin may be more ‘Hampstead Heath’ inspired than normal Antarctic penguins, but, like Jeffers, his penguin is simply drawn – Biddulph too remarking that children can put their own emotions into the animals, so simple black dots for eyes work best. With rhyming text, Biddulph explores what happens when Blue the penguin gets blown away on his kite, picking up cargo along the way, and finally setting down onto a jungle island. But does he want to stay?
“’How nice,” says Blue,
A lovely spot,
Although it is
a bit too hot.”
The beauty of this book lies in the small details. Every page is lovingly created so that your eyes pick up the story and the animals’ emotions almost by osmosis – the rhyming text is lovely to read aloud, but the extra touches on the illustrations won me over. A charming Christmas present that’s not just for Christmas!

Dragon Loves Penguin
My last picture book is Dragon Loves Penguin by Debi Gliori, shortlisted for the 2015 Red House Children’s Book Awards. I coordinate the testing in my area for this award, so know very well how popular this book has proved with young children. It celebrates diversity, and is even relevant for those attempting to explain adoption to the very young – in essence it’s about mother’s love. When an egg is abandoned, a dragon without its own egg adopts it, but when it hatches it’s a penguin! Despite the differences, the mother dragon loves the penguin as her own, and the love makes the little penguin brave enough to see off her dragon peers who can’t accept her differences, and also to escape an erupting volcano. Yes, this little picture book is packed full of action – and has adorable illustrations – rarely has a penguin chick looked quite so cute.

The Penguin Who Wanted to Find Out
For slightly older readers, in the Jill Tomlinson series of animal books is The Penguin Who Wanted to Find Out. Beautifully told so that the reader learns about penguins at the same time as digesting the story. Jill Tomlinson’s strength is her ability to weave fiction and non-fiction seamlessly here, with some magical lines:
“The trouble was, not all adults were good at answering questions, or would try.”

The Emperors EggUsborne Beginners Penguin
For those children who want to find out even more, and for adults who can’t tell the difference between an owl and a penguin here are two great non-fiction titles for early learners.The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Jane Chapman, is part of the Nature Storybooks series – telling the story of the Emperor penguins. It’s an excellent starting point for a young child wishing to find out more information. It’s not patronising, but is written as if the child is having a conversation with the writer about penguins. Asking questions of the young reader, particularly ones that make them think, is a lovely way to write a non-fiction book. No wonder this won the TES Junior Information Book Award. The Usborne Beginners series has a book on penguins; I like this series for their gentle introduction to non-fiction. Helpfully containing a glossary and an index, and with short chunks of text throughout for easily digestible facts. It also covers many different types of penguins. Usborne have also had their facts checked by experts in the field, which sadly, is not true of all children’s non-fiction in the marketplace.