Tag Archive for Hirst Daisy

Spring 2018 Picture Books

Picture books is a genre that groups books together because of their format rather than their content. The books reviewed below are all strikingly different – some we may think of as traditional picture books in that they’re aimed for younger readers and impart a funny story using animals as characters, and often deliver a message while doing so. But I’ve also covered some books for the slightly older reader in my ten picture books picks of this season, in no particular order:

a bear is a bear
A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not) by Karl Newson and Anuska Allepuz
A wonderfully simpatico book about a tired bear who forgets who and what he is until a good sleep sees him wake up refreshed and knowledgeable. He tries to be all kinds of animals, from a bird to a fox, but the other animals’ habitats, behaviours and eating habits do not suit his skills and sensibility. After hibernating, he rediscovers the truth and finds his appetite. This is a warm and humorous book with rhyming text, a delightful exploration of the seasons through illustration, and the introduction of woodland creatures, including a moose. The text is written in an invitingly read-aloud style, as if the reader is a narrator talking to the bear. Endearing, friendly and colourful. You can buy it here.

i do not like books anymore
I Do Not Like Books Anymore! by Daisy Hirst
Another one for the fairly young, this will also be a favourite among teachers trying to encourage first time readers to push through. Characters Natalie and Alphonse first appeared in Alphonse, That is Not Okay To Do, primarily about sibling relationships, but this story takes these two little monsters through the course of learning to read. Although they adore books and stories, Natalie starts to struggle to learn to read and in the process, becomes disillusioned about books. With some help from her little brother, Alphonse, Natalie comes up with a strategy to rebuild her confidence, and before long stories and books are favourites again. A fantastic tale about perseverance that is close to home for many readers. Hirst is particularly clever in portraying a familiar domestic environment, with the monsters in typical childlike poses – be it on a swing or reading with legs in the air, sitting on a bus or playing in the bathroom. Look out for the wider cast of characters – a simple but effective way of drawing our modern world. You can buy it here.

almost anything
Almost Anything by Sophy Henn
On a similar theme, although not so specifically on reading, this is Henn’s message that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. George is a rabbit with somewhat downcast ears. Everyone else in the woods is busy (birds who play chess, a squirrel who reads, a mouse who knits), but George doesn’t feel confident doing anything, and so does nothing. It is only when Bear comes up with a simple yet cunning plan that George finds the confidence to attempt everything and stop at nothing. Despite Bear’s scruffy looking appearance, she comes up trumps with wisdom, ensuring and inspiring self-belief in others. With Henn’s gentle colour palette, and deceptively simple plot and illustrations, this is a clever, inspirational little picture book that captures the essence of finding confidence, having a go, and importantly, enjoying oneself too (as well as, may I suggest, respecting the wisdom of elders). You can buy it here.

dinosaur juniors
Dinosaur Juniors Happy Hatchday by Rob Biddulph
Long a fan of Biddulph’s simple, almost monosyllabic, rhymes, it seems this author/illustrator can do no wrong. With this first of a brand new series, he has now turned his attention to that perennial love of pre-schoolers – dinosaurs. The illustrations are trademark Biddulph – simple shapes with almost three-dimensional texture, and a bold colour palette – dominated by green in this tree-filled landscape of our green protagonist dinosaur. Biddulph brings a range of topics to this ostensibly simple text about a group of dinosaurs hatching – from counting, to fitting in, to naming dinosaurs, to friendship. Greg is the last to hatch, but is shown to be equally loved and appreciated by the end of the book. Biddulph’s bright colours and stylish illustrations will delight a whole truckload of wannabe palaeontologists. You can buy it here.

Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh and Mehrdokht Amini
Taking a more complicated route with illustration is this dynamic and interesting new picture book about imagination. Nimesh is an Indian boy in London who uses his imagination to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, from crossing the road to walking through the park on his way home from school. His school corridor is fairly nondescript: a range of notices upon the wall, a few cupboards and chairs, and a wall display of a hammerhead shark as part of shark week. But the following page leads the reader into Nimesh’s imagination, as he sees the corridor as an underwater labyrinth, a school door sprouting from the sea bed, sharks, plants and fish layered upon the school floor with the staircase and fire exit in the distance. The illustrations are collage – a remarkable letting loose of the illustrator to use their imagination as they envisage what Nimesh sees in his vivid mind. The entire book is related in dialogue too – as if the voice of reason is in conversation with the voice of imagination. Children will delight in finding the clue in each ‘ordinary’ picture of the ‘extraordinary’ to come. London becomes magical in this richly layered, diverse and fascinating tale. Extraordinarily different. You can buy it here.

little mole
Little Mole is a Whirlwind by Anna Llenas
Another story revealed in collage illustrations is this interestingly busy book about a little mole with ADHD. Mole can’t stop – the book is full of distraction and interaction as Mole moves through his school day at pace, fidgeting, forgetting, and playing the fool. Unfortunately, his peers find him irritating rather than funny, and his mole parents try to find a way of helping their whirlwind son. Serena the bunny gives Mole the space to experiment and explore, to talk and to listen, and finally Mole and his classmates accept who he is. This may be an unsubtle way of dealing with an issue – Mole at one point is illustrated with luggage labels ‘labelling’ him, but the overall premise is dealt with wonderfully in the busy collage style – pencil and cardboard drawings cut out and layered on top of each other. It creates a busy landscape and shows Mole’s world well. Frenzied but enjoyable. You can buy it here.

forever or a day
Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby
In complete contrast, this magically calm picture book for older readers tries to explore the concept of time. Taking subtlety to an extreme, the book reads as a poetic meditation, alluding to the subject matter rather than addressing it directly. Both picture and text combine to explore the elasticity of time – the calm pictures of seaside days contrast with the rushing for a train. There is musing on ageing and how time stretches back and seems far away, as well as added humour in the time spent waiting for a bus. There is the mindfulness of being in the present and appreciating the time now. With a mixture of striking landscapes from afar and up close domestic scenes, this is a thoughtful and somewhat wistful look at how we live and what we lose as we move through life. Clever parallel images appear throughout the book, letting the reader make connections between things and people, between time when young, and time when old. A sandcastle washes away to nothing, a train recedes into the distance, days turn to night. This is a complex, powerful book about one day, and how in memory a day may last forever. You can buy it here.

red bottomed robber
The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber by Richard Byrne
Master of the playful picture book, Byrne returns with this old-school tale about chalk who love to draw but get upset when their drawings are erased while they are out at play. In true mystery style, they investigate the ‘theft’ of their drawings, weighing up the evidence, which is chalk dust, and rounding up suspicious characters, including the scissors, glue and ruler. When they finally catch the robber red-handed, or rather ‘bottomed’, he feels unjustly accused – after all rubbing out is his raison d’etre. A funny tale, well told on black backgrounds representative of the chalkboard, children will delight in the ‘bottom’ tale, as well as the use of chalk with expressive personalities. Not too far removed from The Day the Crayons Quit, this picture book is shorter, and perfect for exploring a first mystery case, or just enjoying the colourful mess chalks can make. You can buy it here.

glassmakers daughter
The Glassmaker’s Daughter by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Jane Ray
Far more long-lasting than chalk is coloured glass, in this exquisitely beautiful fairy tale of Daniela, the daughter of a 16th century Venetian glassmaker. Daniela is miserable, and her father offers a glass palace to the first person to make her smile. In true fairy tale trope, many try, including jugglers, mask makers and trumpet players, but only the last glassmaker manages, by making Daniela a mirror in which she can laugh at the sad miserable face she shows to the world. Although it feels like a classic princess tale, there is no ‘happy marriage’ at the end, and indeed those of both genders who try to make her smile are not motivated by thoughts of a wedding. This is about finding happiness within oneself rather than with another person – and how laughter is catching. But more than this, the picture book gives historical detail about glassmaking in Venice, and shows originality and immense detail in the exquisite illustrations – and a sparkle of glass when it shatters in the middle. An intriguing, historical, luxurious picture book that explores European culture. You can buy it here.

out out away from here
Out, Out, Away From Here by Rachel Woodworth and Sang Miao
A completely different illustrative style, but also in a book lavishly produced, is Woodworth’s tale of exploring emotion and escape. The red-haired narrator of this book acknowledges in very few words that sometimes she feels happy, but sometimes mad and sad, and sometimes all at once. When things are particularly overwhelming, she seeks escape in her imagination, a wild place populated by nature, with faces in the shapes, and strange creatures, with domestic objects inserted in wild landscapes, where the domestic merges with the wild. But at the end, she always comes back to her fully domestic family scene. Miao has had fun with the scant text, letting her own imagination create crazy landscapes within the mind. The fusing of the familiar with the strange and the dreamlike colours are particularly effective – from orange skies to flying fish, vivid blue seas and unidentifiable shapes in greys and greens. The domesticity is well executed too, from the yellow mac on rainy days to the zoomed in picture of the girl with her hands in her hair as she listens to the baby scream. This is another well thought out book of emotion and intensity, with just the right balance of darkness and depth to create a wonderful narrative to promote discussion of our emotions and how we respond to them. Excellent. You can buy it here.



New Siblings

The source of so much angst and so much delight. So much has been written about siblings, probably because children under 11 spend more time with their siblings than with anyone else. Research has been done into how one’s placement in a family affects health, opportunities, intelligence – of course being the youngest I’m sure that makes me the best (sibling are you reading this?). What’s for sure though, is that having a sibling affects you in some way, so it’s best to have a picture book on hand to help navigate children through the chopping waters of sibling rivalry.


Alphonse, That is Not Ok to Do by Daisy Hirst (creator of the much acclaimed The Girl with the Parrot on her Head) was published this month, and has a stand-out brightly coloured cover. The siblings in question are friendly endearing monsters (in look, not necessarily behaviour). Natalie starts out alone – as all older siblings do, revelling in the undivided attention she receives from her parents (represented by two hands she is holding), but then inevitably along comes a sibling (in this case, Alphonse – a blue monster in a buggy, looking already incredibly cheeky). The reader will expect Natalie to feel glum about this – indeed she is pictured as such, but actually the text reveals that most of the time she doesn’t mind.

Then of course, Alphonse does things that are “Not OK to Do” to Natalie’s things, and Alphonse isn’t so welcome.

The ending is uplifting – showing Natalie’s care and protection for her little sibling, and good emotional understanding of his level of ability, and what they can do together. It’s a clever illustration of how siblings are with each other, and the emotions they feel.

What’s more the book is delightfully coloured mainly in the three primary colours, with fairly childish warm-looking illustrations (although sophisticatedly implying much more than the text), which makes the book very child-friendly. Purchase it here.

wolfie the bunny

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora was also published very recently, but unlike the universal feel of the monsters in Alphonse, this is a truly American tale. And certainly quirky. The cute Bunny family return to their New York home to discover a bundle left outside their door. The parents fall in love with the baby ‘Wolfie’, but older child Dot is terrified that “He’s going to eat us all up”. The reader immediately empathises with Dot, and realises that yes, wolves do tend to eat rabbits.

Dot isn’t convinced even when Wolfie starts to venerate Dot, by following and dribbling on her, and she remains frustrated that her parents don’t listen despite his growing size. When Dot and Wolfie bump into an even larger predator at the co-op, things take a surprising turn, and Dot learns to accept her ‘little’ brother.

With thick acrylics in muted pinks, mustards and greens, this is a very different book visually. It feels retro – the featured cameras certainly look so, although this is hipster New York where vintage is all the rage – and the clothes of the characters also old-school, and yet it feels modern in tone.

It answers all the emotions on new siblings – their ability to change the family dynamic, the animalistic tendencies of drooling babies, the attention lavished upon them by the parents – and yet remains distinctive and leftfield. You can buy it here.

arent you lucky

If you’re looking for something far more traditional in tone and illustration, then Aren’t You Lucky! by Catherine and Laurence Anholt, well-trusted authors on families, will do the trick. This has a beautiful colour palate with incredibly detailed pictures of family life, which really give the reader the opportunity to linger. There is initially “just Mummy and Daddy and me”, me being a female pre-schooler.

The time of pregnancy is documented over double pages in small illustrations of each month – so that children can track the changes in weather and settings through the seasons. This is a portrayal of a happy family and a happy childhood. When baby brother comes along, the child is told “Aren’t you lucky!” but she is not so sure.

As in the books above, the emotions are set out – the pre-schooler feels neglected for attention, wants to be the baby again, and doesn’t understand the simplicity of a baby’s needs and desires.

There’s a simplistic but beautiful twist to the text of “Aren’t you lucky!” at the end, as the pre-schooler accepts her baby brother, particularly as he grows. For me, the familiarity and reassurance of the illustrations wins the day. Re-published recently with updated cover. You can purchase it here.

we just had a baby

We Just Had a Baby by Stephen Krensky, illustrations by Amelie Graux wins in the humour awards. It portrays the older sibling (this time a boy) as frustrated and irritated by the new arrival – by how long she has taken to arrive, by her size, by the attention she gets (notice a familiar theme!).

But the faces in this book are exquisite – the expressions the mother’s friends pull when they look at the baby – the baby’s stare at her toy…and the little boy’s face as he practises both smiling and frowning at the baby and the responses they elicit.

The text too pulls in humour:

“We both have ten fingers and ten toes. I counted to make sure.
Mine are bigger.”

Understated jealousy, and incredulity that the baby is getting more attention, when she’s obviously not as good. But of course, as always, this big brother comes round to accept that this little sister will probably make a good playmate:

“I have BIG plans for us!”

It’s cute, and quite adorable, and would be on my list if I were doing the baby thing all over again. If you are, pre-order it here. This baby will be born very soon!