Tag Archive for Merritt Richard

Spring Picture Book Round-Up

mole in a black and white hole
Seldom has a picture book quite embraced how I feel right now as
Mole in a Black and White Hole by Tereza Sediva. With a die-cut hole on the cover into the mole’s black and white house, it feels like the perfect lockdown book. Mole is first seen deep underground in his hole with a television and a book for comfort. He’s clearly been in lockdown for as long as I have. His consolation is a bright pink chandelier – represented here by a vivid neon orange blob – representative in fact of a root vegetable, plugging the gap between the outside world and Mole’s hole.

During the course of the book, the ‘chandelier’ tells Mole of all the wondrous (neon and brightly colourful) happenings above ground, until one day, the ‘chandelier’ disappears. Initially, it leaves a hole in Mole’s heart too, as he misses his friend and the world is blacker than ever, despite the sunbeam reaching through the gap. But then Mole ventures forth, and life becomes not so black and white.

This is a beautifully executed picture book – with Mole as the expressive centrepiece to a world that proves to be full of fascination, friendship, and of course colour. Readers will take enormous pleasure from the contrast between the world below and that above – cleverly using the centrefold horizontally to draw the difference – but also from the careful layering of colour images, which interweave and seem almost transparent in their rendering. A wonderful spring awakening, and a cheerful reminder for the light at the end of every tunnel. Available for pre-order here but not published until June, I hope I can leave my black hole before then. In the meantime…

what about me said the flea
Children have found plenty of inspiration for writing during lockdowns, despite the world essentially shrinking on them, and What About Me? Said the Flea by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt is a great antidote to the idea that stories have to be about huge, powerful forces. Sometimes, the most exquisite inspiration is in the small everyday things.

This really is one of the most exciting and endearing picture books I’ve seen in some time. It happily marries text and pictures, with the pictures expressing beyond the story most eloquently. Sophia is trying to write a story, and looking for inspiration. All sorts of things present themselves as perfect protagonists: a bear (all good books have one apparently), a lion, a unicorn, a dinosaur, but there is also one who is jumping and squeaking to make itself heard and Sophia just can’t see it. Working on both a literal and metaphorical level, this is a great idea for a picture book , allowing readers to explore the ideas of inspiration, creativity, inclusion and so much more, but it is also just extraordinarily fun.

The pictures give the game away – at first the flea is fairly well hidden, but eventually the illustrator illuminates the flea with flashing lights and arrows. And Sophia still misses it! A clever reader will also see where the flea originated!

But the pictures do more than point out the flea – they give a real testament to each animal and its personality. The animals are shown in a whole helter-skelter of scenes, from a comedy stage to a swimming pool, the ocean, a boxing ring and more. Each is also imbued with a raft of humorous elements, including a bears’ picnic, and even Sophia’s desk itself (which gives more than a clue as to where inspiration comes from…anywhere!)

The ending is great fun. Poor flea. Although you’ll be delighted to hear that this author/illustrator pairing aren’t the first to focus on a flea. Samson the Mighty Flea by Angela McAllister and Nathan Reed would make a delightful companion book. There is a use to fleas after all. And What About Me? Said the Flea, available here, is a triumph.

luna loves art
Perhaps when children do go back to school, they’ll once again go on school trips. If not, then at least they can relive one in Luna Loves Art by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers. We first met Luna in Luna Loves Library Day but this picture book nicely captures a school trip to an art gallery with our exuberant, enthusiastic protagonist.

Luna is joyful to be in the art gallery, but classmate Finn doesn’t seem sure. In fact, he seems sad. Can Luna have an excellent day out, but also make Finn smile?

The illustrations here are observational and meticulously crafted – each child with their own unique personality, each person reacting differently to each painting in the art gallery, and cleverly, the paintings are all neat picture book reproductions of real art from Malevich’s Black Square to Moore’s sculpture to Henri Rousseau. Luna feels as if the sunflowers in the Van Gogh painting are alive because the painting is so thick – and the flowers burst out of the frame in Lumbers’ rendering. Luna warns Finn not to touch, and this is a wonderful evocation of the visceral quality of the paintings, as well as the very human reaction of Luna – wanting to do no wrong.

Not only is this a wonderful introduction to the power and beauty of art, and the excitement of a school trip (although both I and my test audience were very worried that the children in the story didn’t stop for lunch or a toilet break, key features of our own school trips), but it is also a lovely story of both family and friend dynamics.

The art installation page is glorious, but full marks to Luna’s teacher, who lets the class loose in the gift shop! You can buy your own gift here.

the perfect fit
Lastly, and by no means least – all four of these picture books are worth purchasing immediately – is The Perfect Fit by Naomi and James Jones. For the youngest children, beginning to make sense of the world and their place within it, and also beginning to recognise first shapes, colours and patterns, this is a pleasing story about a winsome triangle attempting to fit in with others.

Triangle has fun with the circles, but she doesn’t roll with them. She likes the squares but stacking is hard. So, she sets off to find others more like her. By the end, of course, she realises that being in a diverse group of shapes is actually the most fun.

The Jones pairing make a fabulous fit in this book, consolidating the ideas in both text and image, placing single sentences in a variety of spaces, slanting up and down or centred in the middle of the page, to fit with the images that tell the story too. And the images are simple – shapes coloured in primary and secondary colours, either coming together, or leaving white spaces between to explore what fits and what doesn’t.

Just as children make images from geometric shapes, so does the illustrator here. My children and I used to do this with felt shapes. Here, a boat is made from two squares, a simple black line, and a triangle sail. An ice cream is formed from a hexagon on top of an upside-down triangle, the flake drawn in simple black lines.

Of course, there are various underlying messages. We might be individual shapes, but we all want to come together as a group – it’s more fun. (From lockdown, we now know how much we are missing other people in all their shapes and sizes). But also, this is about inclusion. An array of shapes makes for a more diverse and interesting set of patterns. Four yellow triangles aren’t nearly as fun to play with as a green hexagon, a blue circle, a red square and a yellow triangle. Looking and acting the same aren’t always necessary.

But also, and more subliminally, is the message of a shared sense of purpose. The different shapes need to work together to collectively create a new shape, to form an image, to play.

This is a simply executed, yet positive and clever book. A narrative story running through, personifying a shape who’s lost their tribe, but then the welcoming spirit of other tribes, and the coming together of all. You can buy it here.

With thanks to Thames and Hudson, Buster Books, OUP, and Andersen Press for the review copies. 

Picture Book Round Up Spring 2019: Animals

the big race
The Big Race by David Barrow
Never normally one to agree with awarding certificates simply for taking part, this book may have changed my mind.

Aardvark is small and doesn’t have the skillset of the other animals, the crocodile, cheetah, buffalo and African hoopoe, taking part in the race. And stamina, strength and speed are required in this ‘great race’, which involves running, cycling, diving off a waterfall, swimming, tightrope walking, rope swinging and parachuting from a hot air balloon – all in the natural African landscape.

Aardvark doesn’t give up, showing resilience all the way through – battling on her scooter against the other animals’ bikes, using armbands to swim underwater – never succumbing to her tiredness and misfortune.  She’s the only one whose parachute goes awry, for example. And she shows immense pleasure at her medal – simply being rewarded for taking part (as she should, this is one tough race!).

Barrow’s illustrations throughout are a delight. Any animal race will be reminiscent of The Hare and the Tortoise, but Barrow’s vision is modern and fresh, with relentless movement and humour in the pictures. You can buy it here.

kiss the crocodile
Kiss the Crocodile by Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
This playful, happy book also features a group of animals, this time as friends, a monkey, a tortoise and an anteater, playing in their natural habitat, splashing in rivers, making up monsters, doing silly dancing. They are a little intimidated to play with Little Crocodile though, with his many teeth and sharp claws. The naughty Crocodile mother (and adult readers will laugh inwardly here) suggests a game of ‘Kiss the Crocodile’, a sort of daring game.

This is, in essence, a simple and oft-repeated message about letting everyone join in, but the illustrations are so impossibly endearing, the monkey so impish, the crocodile so self-assured, that it makes reading an absolute pleasure. Even more pleasure if you read it aloud (with its repetition and suspense). Well executed and great fun. Kissable. You can buy it here.

dinosaur department store
The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt
Looking for something more ferocious than a crocodile – how about a dinosaur? The pictures tell the reader that Eliza Jane (a human girl) is obsessed with dinosaurs, from dressing up as one, to the shape of her cuddly toy, to the pictures adorning her walls. So when, rather delightfully, she tells her parents that now she is four she wants a real dinosaur (rhyming is throughout), there is only one place to visit – the dinosaur department store.

Here, with flourish and eccentricity, the department store owner shows Eliza Jane all the different types of dinosaurs, only to be annoyed that his time has been wasted when she declares at the end that she no longer wants a dinosaur pet. Why not? The clues have been in the pictures all along. An excellent rhyming picture book that’s vibrant, exuberant and fun, with pictures telling the other half of the story. Highly recommend. You can buy it here.

lots of frogs
Lots of Frogs by Howard Calvert and Claudia Boldt
More fun and frolics and rhymes in this jumping book about frogs. Tommy brings his box of frogs into school, and unfortunately for the staff, they don’t remain in the box for long. Calvert has great fun exploring the different places around the school that the frogs might inhabit (including the Headteacher’s hair), and also ways in which Tommy might capture them again.

What’s more Calvert, and illustrator Boldt, imbue the frogs with lots of personality – they are as cheeky as monkeys. Lots to admire here – the frogs almost seem to be like schoolchildren themselves – very human, and Calvert introduces numbers, eating habits and so on. One slightly dodgy rhyme, but on the whole a great fun read that will have the class clamouring to bring in their own pets. Or certainly to be read the story again. You can buy it here.

five more minutes
Five More Minutes by Marta Altes
Anthropomorphic foxes in this sympathetic look at how children and parents view the concept of time differently. Reminiscent of some of the Jill Murphy picture books, this representation of a sprightly family and their everyday lives is both wise and heartwarming. Five more minutes means something very different for the child or adult as they view the various moments in their lives. For Dad (the primary caregiver), five more minutes at a children’s party feels long whereas five more minutes in bed feels short.

On the way to school, fox is doubtful of his father’s protestations that there is no time – they need to hurry – but the young fox makes time for jumping in puddles, watching the birds and more. Conversely, for the young fox, waiting for a cake to bake takes ages: there is too much time. The illustrations are kind and forgiving, the Dad always attentive and loving, the house ordinary and familiar, the expressions well-articulated. Take a particular look at the little foxes’ faces when eating the cupcakes. Some things are worth waiting for. Pre-order your picture book here now.

what clara saw
What Clara Saw by Jessica Meserve
Meserve has a way with illustration. Her child characters are hugely differentiated, personalities zinging from the page, and she holds an astounding attention to detail – the shoelaces of the children like little wings, the crafting of the teacher, Mr Biggity, as condescending, before the reader has even read a word. Is it his long nose, his large nostril, the upturn of his toe, his hand positioning, the way his eye glances back at the children. He’s going to be tricky.

And thus it proves, on an outing to a wildlife park, Mr Biggity dismisses the animals as being vastly inferior, when Clara, with the red coat, notices that animals are rather good at communicating and feeling. The reader will notice how observant Clara is, and if they too are observant, they’ll witness a whole other story just by ‘reading the pictures’ rather than listening to the text. A book that encourages thought and debate about how much animals feel, and perhaps even about how much we should stand up for what we believe to be true rather than being mindlessly fed false information. Exquisite illustrations. You can buy it here.

rhino neil
Rhino Neil by Mini Goss
A simpler message in this animal book about not judging someone from the way they look. Rhino Neil is huge and the other animals stay away from him. After all, he has a huge horn that might spike, fearsome feet that trample, and a tremendous tummy that can fit lots in it, as well as a big bottom that could squash everyone.

When an even bigger animal arrives by truck, the animals are all scared – except for Rhino Neil, who accepts the new elephant as his friend – and sometimes even feels small next to him. It’s not fully explained where the animals are – a wildlife park perhaps – and it’s a shame that all the animals aren’t accepting and make friends with the rhino and elephant at the end, despite their size, but this is an interesting take on the idea of size and may entertain some. Bright images and close-ups of body parts. You can buy it here.