Tag Archive for Frost Daniel

Top Ten(ish) Books Published 2015

I’m not convinced on the end of year lists thing. MinervaReads raison d’etre being that one list of ten books would not suit any two children – different books suit different children. However, this being the time of year when we all go crazy and make top ten lists of absolutely everything, here are the top ten children’s books of MINE for 2015 – simply the books I most enjoyed reading (for review purposes). And by the way, this was ridiculously tricky (which is why I kind of cheated and mentioned 16).

bear on chairplease mr pandaBear and the Piano

There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
I first saw a copy of this book pre-publication in April when a sample was thrust upon me at a conference. I agreed with the publisher that this was bound to be a hit and subsequently reviewed on publication in June. For me, I like picture books that, as a parent, you are happy to read over and over – as that’s what a child demands. I also like inference – when you have to work out a bit of the story for yourself – and illustrations that elicit a wry smile or an outright guffaw. The text is reminiscent of Dr Seuss, the pictures humorous and warm. This ticked all the boxes and it’s my picture book of the year. A small mention to Please Mr Panda – which just crept into 2015 books, and is probably my joint favourite – Steve Antony is proving to be a master of his trade – and the panda is one of my favourite modern picture book characters, demanding politeness from children in the simplest yet most exquisite way. I can’t wait for him to demand patience from them, as he will be doing in 2016 with I’ll Wait, Mr Panda. One other picture book I’d recommend as a startling debut and one to not be missed from the 2015 publications list is The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield. The messages within the story, and the way the illustrations capture light, make this a totally exquisite book.


Tree by Britta Teekentrup and Patricia Hegarty
Non-fiction is being packaged more and more effectively by clever children’s publishers, and for me Tree stood out as one of the best cross-overs between fiction and non-fiction this year. The text is poetic (it also rhymes) and fictional – but through its illustrations, Tree shows the changing of the seasons, making clever use of die-cuts so that the reader can see inside the tree too. The colour palate in this book is a treasure in itself – as the same tree morphs from season to season – the leaves, creatures and surrounding atmosphere changing, the basic trunk stays the same. This was a book that was pounced on by all children as soon as they saw it, and held wonders within.

the school of art

School of Art by Teal Triggs, illustrated by Daniel Frost
This features as my non-fiction title of the year, as never has a book managed to explain complicated concepts and high-art techniques and subjects to me in such a simple way. Knowing nothing about the subject, I came to this as a child would and was entranced with the wonderful explanations – the introduction of professors who taught different knowledge bases, and the fantastic examples and try-it-at-home sequences – all of which worked exceptionally well. The design of the book was different too – clean, tidy and neatly colourful. In my initial review I found some of the text quite dense, but actually have since dipped in and out very successfully, and love that the book is so comprehensive. A rich overarching story within which the separate sections operate well on their own or as part of a whole. The book imparts great knowledge.

completely cassidy

Completely Cassidy: Accidental Genius by Tamsyn Murray
I have to admit, many books purporting to tell a story from a 9-13 year old contemporary girl’s point of view about her family/friends/school/boys, crop up on my radar. This one stood out for me because I simply couldn’t put it down. Cassidy rang so true, her character was so alive – I demolished this book in a sitting and was laughing out loud. With random doodles, fun graphics and capital letters, this was the most fun I had reading this year.

Mango and Bambang

Mango and Bambang by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
This is the year for me in which illustrated stories piqued the attention like no other category within children’s books – from the phenomenal duo of Philip Reeve and Sarah Macintyre with Pugs of the Frozen North to Squishy McFluff by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad , to Dave McKean’s Illustrations of Phoenix by SF Said, to the ongoing success of Claude by Alex T Smith and Tom Gates by Liz Pichon, and of course our children’s laureate’s wonderful Ottoline. However, Mango and Bambang was like a breath of fresh air in the genre – a tidal wave of happiness – with its two tone colour perfection – its stripes, its worldly setting, its characters. This first book contains four individual stories about a girl who discovers a lost tapir. It is gentle, yet alluring.


Stonebird by Mike Revell
Although published early in 2015, and one of the first books I reviewed, this story still sticks fast in my memory – its poignant storytelling with a touch of magic about a boy who moves house, so that his mother can be nearer his grandmother who suffers from dementia, both engages and enthralls. The book deals sensitively with the consequences of the move, including the bullying Liam experiences at his new school, as well as the effect on his mother. Liam overcomes some of his problems by seeking the help of responsible grown-ups, and using the magic of storytelling. It deserves to be in every school library, and I hope for more from this author. Later in the year, reading In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll, I was also smitten with a protagonist dealing with the fallout from illness in the family, and some magic in the surroundings – both these titles, for age 9+ yrs struck me as being brilliantly evocative.

An Island Of Our Own

An Island Of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
I was gearing up to interview Sally Nichols for #YASHot in September (although this didn’t quite happen as Sally had her baby – congrats!) but in preparation I read all of Sally’s books. This one stands out for several reasons. Beautifully short chapters that enable even the most reluctant reader to sample small delectable portions of Sally’s writing, and wonderful characterisation – Sally definitely wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Cast, as her secondary characters are so wonderfully defined I know I’m not the only reviewer to have fallen for Jonathan, the protagonist’s big brother. She also weaves a neat mystery plot. Sally incorporates great use of setting from the flat the children live in, to the island they visit, as well as introducing exciting extra information into her books, in this one, the MakerSpace organisation. A great book.

demolition dad

Demolition Dad by Phil Earle, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Phil Earle has been writing for a while, but mainly for slightly older children, so it was a blessing that he decided to reach down the age ladder slightly with this terrifically funny, yet also poignant, well-crafted novel. A great plot, sense of community, carefully dealt with emotion, an insight into father/son relationships – this book has so much. The humour is intensified by Phil’s self-referential jokes, as well as Sara Ogilvie’s amazing illustrations. A gem (and also more to come focussing on the same community next year).

The Dreamsnatcher cover FINAL

The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
Another book I stumbled across pre-publication, and adored. Dark fantasy with such dense imagery, but led by a forcefield in the shape of Moll, our protagonist. Brave, feisty, impetuous, like a younger contemporary Northern Lights Lyra mixed with the determination of Sara Crewe from A Little Princess, and Wonderland Alice’s curiosity, and Elphinstone has drawn quite a heroine. With the darkest prologue I’ve read for a while (I like dark), and a vigorous plot, this was an influential read. Looking forward to reviewing the sequel The Shadow Keeper next year (with some more deliciously dark scenes from Abi Elphinstone’s wild imagination).

The Boy Who Drew the Future

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory
This was such an enjoyable read, it was another I consumed in a day. Told from a dual narrative point of view, one set historically, the contemporary, the themes and settings danced between the two – Ivory cleverly dropping clues in each to build to a dramatic climax. The characters were intensely loveable, there was clear anguish and conflict, and some brilliantly spooky coincidences. Simple, compelling storytelling.


Young Teens
Two books that stood out for me in the highest age range I cater for, were One by Sarah Crossan, and Railhead by Philip Reeve. The former for Crossan’s stunning use of free verse to tell her story of conjoined twins – packed with beautiful memorable language, and strung with emotion. The latter for its uncompromising science fiction world-building, to the extent that the reader is pulled in without any misgiving. Intriguing characters, tense, grotesque (I will never forget the hive monks), exciting, scintillating – and the sort of book you wouldn’t just thrust upon your young teen, but also share with all the grown-ups too.

Wolf Wilder

Lastly, (I know I’m already well over ten), my award for most stunning writing goes to Katherine Rundell. I imagine her as a kind of Elsa from Frozen – words flung from her fingertips onto the page with magnificent magical majesty, just as ice flies from Elsa’s fingertips. She writes with meticulous precision – every word well placed, every phrase constructed like dainty decorations on a wedding cake. It is clear, crisp, attractive, easy to read, and highly perceptive.

Long before publication of her 2015 novel, The Wolf Wilder, the enchantment of the first line was on everyone’s lips “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl” and the images of the snowy landscape, the descriptions of the soldiers, the telling of the life of the wolves suck the reader into the story. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

A New Term, New Knowledge

the school of art

It’s apt that as we go back to school, my first blog of the new term is about a non-fiction book that is laid out in the style of a three term learning process – a school of art. Wide Eyed Publishing have published a unique teaching tool for young readers, which explores basic principles of art in a refreshingly clean, tidy and easy to understand way. The School of Art by Teal Triggs, illustrated by Daniel Frost, isn’t like previous art titles I’ve reviewed in which a child is shown how to draw an object or character line by line. It isn’t presented, as many children’s art books are, almost recipe style, in presenting a craft idea and showing step-by-step how to create it. This is very different. It aims to teach the tools behind the art so that a reader goes away completely equipped with a skillset, and most importantly, an understanding of art. And yet it still remains incredibly child-friendly.

At first glance, the title is rather staid, The School of Art, and the contents page almost academic and rather daunting. The first few pages introduce five imaginary professors, who are going to teach throughout the book, but the bulk of the book is split into three terms of learning – each double page spread, or in some cases individual pages, assigned a different lesson. The contents page is text heavy, as is the introduction. As first impressions go, this reviewer was reluctant to plough through the book.

Yet on closer inspection, perversely the detail serves the purpose of making the lessons simpler, like a Chagall painting that tells a narrative, the details of the individual sections pull together to give a wonderfully rich overarching story. The book aims to teach the principles of art, and does so deftly, clearly and without patronising. If there was ever an advert for the kind of teacher one should have, this is it. Far from ploughing through it, I was motivated throughout reading it and have learnt more about art from this book than any other – in a refreshingly simple way.

The five professors represent the five tenets of art – ideas, form, senses, making, and the planet or environment. They are introduced in a particularly child-friendly way, exploring their appearance, their studios, and their character traits. For example, the Professor of Form is illustrated intelligently by Daniel Frost as being composed almost of shapes – a triangular beard, rectangular legs, and with an unmistakeable symmetry. The Professor of Senses is partial to ice creams in pointy sugary cones and the Professor of the Planet’s studio is a greenhouse.

The lessons are strikingly simple and yet impart great knowledge, building from complete basics up through to technical applications, but always adding in activities, which are easy to do, and demonstrate the lessons magnificently. Although this is not a history of artists, names of famous artists are dropped in when their work helps to demonstrate a lesson – which all helps to build a rounded knowledge.


For example, one of my favourite sections in term one is about colour. The lessons stem from the colour wheel to making colours lighter and darker, to how they work in harmony, to contrast, and then fascinating lessons on seeing colours that aren’t there, when the same colour looks different, and when different colours look the same. Lesson 14 on seeing colours that aren’t there gives a stunningly simply activity – which works magnificently – creating an illusion called an ‘after-image’ by painting a circle with three wedges, red, green and blue – that meet in the middle. The reader is asked to take a long look at the centre, and then look to a white sheet of paper. Which colours do you then see?

All the activities that I tried were simple and worked, proving their lesson. The book instructs how art encompasses maths and science, and talks about using art to be useful as well as aesthetic. The illustrations are both informative and witty. The text is far from dry – it is light and entertaining. There’s a glossary of terms at the back, and space to add the reader’s artwork to the final exhibition. Once I started this book, it was utterly compelling.

Recommended for all children interested in art from age nine upwards, as well as to all teachers, and educators as a brilliant tool for demonstrating basic art principles in the classroom. The author and illustrator have dedicated the book to all art and design students everywhere. I would say for those students, it is essential reading, but the author has drawn attention to the fact that the book aims to show the ways in which art can make a difference in people’s lives – adding that it doesn’t matter what age you are for that to be relevant. I would agree – I will be loath to relinquish this book – it’s a surprising masterpiece.


It is worth noting that the author is a Professor at the Royal College of Art. I was kindly provided a copy of this book for review from the publishers as part of a mumsnet review panel. To buy a copy of this book from Waterstones, please click here.