Tag Archive for Poh Jennie

Friendship Picture Books

How has the first half term of school been? Has your child made lots of new friends? It’s a perpetual anxiety for a parent – whether their child has made friends at school, and the tricky dynamics of friendship continue long into adulthood. From sharing toys in reception, to peer pressure in the teen years, to sociability as adults, our ability to befriend others can be an ongoing worry:
“Why haven’t they texted me back?”

A plethora of recent picture books show us some of the pitfalls of making friends, some of the benefits of friendship, and the fun to be had in another’s company.

misadventures of frederickThe Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark
There is so much to love about this book. Emma Chichester Clark has long been a favourite illustrator of mine, ever since Blue Kangaroo got lost on the bus, and this new book shows off Clark’s wonderful depth of expression in her characters, her warming and familiar use of colour, and the positivity that flows through scenes of childhood joy. Add to this a wonderful yet somewhat subversive story about a quirky boy called Frederick who lies in a mansion but is very bored. Emily invites him (in a series of letters) to play outside with her, but he is reticent – what if he gets hurt? Emily’s perseverance pays off, and before long the thrills of nature have made themselves abundantly apparent.

There’s a skill in a good picture book, and this one excels in every way. The growing sense of adventure and wonder of nature creeps slowly into the mansion, poking Frederick with tendrils that seek to disturb and tempt him. Emily lives the idyll of childhood – leaping freely into water (shown mid-air), riding a bike, climbing a tree.

Frederick lives surrounded by stuff, yet in much more muted colours, and all the time his wallpaper, his TV shows, his toys, remind him of what might lie outdoors. The possible bond between the children is the stream of letters (shown in text and illustration) that flow between the two like a rushing stream. There’s even a funny ending. You can buy it here.

the pirate tree
The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh
This slightly more lyrical text reminded me of On Sudden Hill with its imaginative children who turn a simple tree into a pirate ship. At first rejected because he is new to the area, Agu is quickly permitted onto the boat when Sam realises that Agu has useful knowledge, borne from his experience of leaving Nigeria. By the end, the girl and boy have sailed the seas, discovered a deserted island, reefed the mainsail, sparred with rival pirates, and made friends.

A large amount of white space on each page allows the reader to absorb the poetical prose and textured neat illustrations, as well as fill the gaps with their own musings and imagination. Beautiful, with a stunning vocabulary. You can buy it here.

my friends

My Friends by Max Low
With a title as blatant as that, it’s clear what this book is about, but it mainly appealed to me because the illustrations reminded me of Heathcliff and Henry’s Cat (1980’s cartoons). Each page introduces a new character and their characteristics or hobbies, all with a massive dollop of humour. Pepper cooks yummy food, Olga listens to music. The trick is that on each page, the first person narrator describes how he gets involved with this new friend through this shared hobby. There’s even an imaginary friend, and also the virtues of having some time to oneself. Simple, bright and illuminating the benefit of having lots of friends who like different things. You can buy it here.

golden acorn
The Golden Acorn by Katy Hudson
A more pointed message in this longer animal story about teamwork; the book sits firmly in the ‘autumn’ canon of children’s books. The third in the series about Squirrel, Rabbit, Beaver and Tortoise, following Too Many Carrots and A Loud Winter’s Nap, this book highlights Squirrel’s desire to win The Golden Nut Hunt for the ninth time. But this year, the tournament has been turned into a team event, and so she reluctantly drags in her friends – they just don’t have the skillset to win. Of course, in the end she puts her friends before trophies. Great illustrative vignettes showing the myriad of different obstacles in the race make this a winning title – the characters’ expressions match the energy of the race.

Flock by Gemma Koomen
Another celebration of nature in this whimsical picture book from a new author. Sylvia is a Tree Keeper, one of a tiny community of little people who live in trees (their heads are the size of hazelnuts). They ‘nurture and mend, gather and tend.’ Sylvia is a loner, but a chance encounter with a baby bird encourages her to rejoin her flock and find comfort in friendship. The book celebrates community spirit, and will be loved by youngsters who like their picture books full of tiny people from old-fashioned magical lands – the Tree Keepers are pictured playing musical instruments, dancing around the maypole, and celebrating with wholesome homemade food. The main illustrative treat comes not from the Tree Keepers though, but from the flock of birds, the ‘thousands of wings beating as one’. A good guide to nature as well as to neighbourliness. You can buy it here.

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Clare Alexander
The illustrations in this young picture book are less intricate, slightly vaguer and more haphazard, which lends well to the playgroup setting. With black outlines and careful choice of colour, the playgroup feels authentic and familiar – a yellow rug on the floor, coloured building blocks, and much role play; the children hail from a variety of different backgrounds. Weirdly enough, the new kid isn’t a kid at all, but an elephant. And he fits in as well as a bull in a china shop, despite the children’s best efforts. In the end of course, they discover how he can contribute to the group.

Like some of the other picture books here, the book has a gentle nod towards the benefits of nature – the children venturing into the jungle with the elephant and finding a plethora of fun activities there. It’s a magical title, adding huge excitement to normal tales of playgroup friendship, and of course giving the message that inclusivity is key. There’s a wonderful exuberance to the illustrations here – children love slides! You can buy it here.

we are together

We Are Together by Britta Teckentrup
Teckentrup has a distinctive style all of her own, and it is easy to spot her books in the library. Inside, the books all sing with a similar rhythm, a lovely rhyming poetry. And many tend to have cutouts within, giving an extra physical dimension to the book. We Are Together has all of these, and here they work particularly well. The message is unity and teamwork – the power of a group, particularly a diverse group who are supportive of each other. With references to needing support in unhappy or difficult times, with an understanding that we are small in comparison to the big world, and an absolute appreciation of nature all the way through, this is a neatly told message. The cutouts provide endless amusement and bring a smile – each page reveals the group to be larger and larger – lots of small people eventually making a circle. It reminded me of the Coca Cola advert of old, teaching the world to sing. You can buy it here.

With thanks to Two Hoots, Lantana Press, Otter-Barry Books, Curious Fox, Frances Lincoln, Words&Pictures and Little Tiger Press for the review copies.

Superfairies: A Guest Post by Janey Louise Jones

SF Dancer the Wild Pony SF Basil the Bear Cub cover

This week an exciting new series, Superfairies, is published by the author of Princess Poppy – Janey Louise Jones.The books feature a team of superfairies who use their skills and magic to save animals in trouble. Each book has full-colour illustrations by Jennie Poh, a neat story divided into easy chapters, the fairy song and a small interactive quiz about the fairies. The books are delightful – like little collectors’ items, and full of the beauty of nature. I’m delighted to have Janey Louise Jones guest blog for me today about her favourite wildflowers – a huge part of the landscape of the Superfairies.

My Favourite Wildflowers by Janey Louise Jones

Whilst writing my new series, Superfairies, for girls from 6-8 years, I’ve been reflecting on my lifelong love of nature, woodlands and the delicate wildflowers which grow in woods, hedgerows and meadows. All of this fires my imagination and informs all my stories, and is linked to my passion for fairies! And it’s a passion which began at the age of my readers. The Superfairies get their powers from their respect for nature, and they wear floral head-dresses and gowns inspired by flowers.

The colour palette of the flowers in the natural world informs all my thoughts about colour and delicacy in general. What could be more perfectly designed than an exquisite flower head, skirted with dainty, silky petals, as sheer as gossamer – how perfect as a dress for a fairy!

I am not the first to feel this way about wildflowers and I’m sure I won’t be the last. As a child, I fell in love with Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, collecting the books and china plates. Yes, they are idealised, dreamy, maybe even ‘chocolate box’, but they are much more wholesome and enchanting than many of the garish images fed to children these days.

For me, flowers which grow wild in meadows and tangled through the hedgerows of country lanes, peeking out like sparkling rubies, amethysts and sapphires, are more beautiful than perfect glasshouse blooms forced on for the commercial market.

When I was a child, a great friend once told me that she didn’t believe flowers should be cut, that it was like killing them, and although I do love vases of flowers indoors, it seems more natural and correct that they should grow in the wild, wherever they please, in ill-disciplined, rebellious gaggles.  I would never dream of plucking a wildflower from its roots, and indeed they do not survive for long if one does.

I also think that the names of wildflowers make the prettiest names for girls and have populated my stories with characters named, Poppy, Daisy, Marigold, Lavender and Sweetpea.

I have always had a love affair with wild, red poppies. A simple, herbaceous flower, I think they are bold, powerful, simple, emotive and divine. Perhaps the paintings by impressionist painters such as Claude Monet first caught my eye as a child, as well as fields of poppies in my local area of East Lothian. I based my first series of books on a character named ‘Poppy’, and in fact, for many years in my childhood, insisted on being called Poppy. It’s still my favourite girls’ name – but I have three sons!

These flowers spend most of the year underground as bulbs and emerge from April onwards. I love the way they dance and nod in the spring after the colourless, barren months of winter. I would never pick a bluebell – they look just right beneath trees and along riverbanks, and furthermore, they are a protected species! Over half of the world’s bluebells are in the UK.  Sometimes they can looks like a hypnotic haze of purple-blue mist – too beautiful for words.

Like many little girls, I adored making a daisy chain, considering it one of the skills I must achieve, along with telling the time, tying shoe laces and baking cakes. Daisies represent purity and innocence, and I find there is something unspoilt about their humble simplicity. What can be a better marker of summer, than daisies on the lawn? As for the name, many people think it comes from ‘day’s eye. Now, Daisy is another girl’s name that I adore!

Bright blue cornflowers are so cheerful and pretty. They got their name from growing in fields of corn (as well as barley, oats, wheat and rye.) I first noticed them when my father started to grow them in our garden. He was interested in attracting butterflies and bumblebees. It’s a pity that so many gardens now are mainly paved with some tubs and shrubs, because these kinds of wildflowers definitely do attract bumblebees and butterflies. I am also passionate about bees and ladybirds…but that’s a whole other topic!

Sometimes I look at flowers which are so cool and trendy, and available all year round, and hardly look like flowers at all, and I think, I’d rather have wildflowers – even if it is just for a few precious weeks of the year. Everything should have its season – its time in the sun.

You can buy SuperfairiesDancer the Wild Pony here, and Superfairies: Basil the Bear Cub here.