Tag Archive for Vere Ed

Autumn 2018 Picture Book Round-up 1

The Best Sound in the World by Cindy Wume
A debut picture book that will strike a chord with readers, it tells a simpatico tale of a lion who wants to capture the best sound in the world. He tries to imitate the sounds he hears by reproducing them on his violin – but nothing sounds quite right, particularly with annoying neighbour Jemmy dancing, clapping or singing along to the music. Roy the lion leaves on a mission to find the most beautiful sound and explore the world, but realises in the end that the most beautiful sound is back home – the music he makes with his neighbour, and now, friend.

Wume’s gouache, coloured pencil and ink illustrations are detailed and wondrous, conveying precisely the mood of each page – from the monkeys leaping in the forest to the train rumble in the city. What’s more, her vocabulary pitches perfectly when pulling out each sound – from the pling of the rain to the chitter-chatter of the market. There is much to explore and disseminate here, from the mix of rural and urban, to the clever use of movement to convey dance and sound. The message of course, is that friendship wins out, and what you’re looking for is often within rather than in the outer world, but there are also subtler issues around observation and subjectivity. If nothing else, it will make the reader appreciate the sounds around him/her in the everyday world. Aesthetically astute, intelligently observed and warm. You can buy it here.

Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Even from the front cover, reality mixes with magical realism in this universally themed book of what to do on a rainy day. Ever since before The Cat in the Hat: “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day,” the weather has been a source of inspiration for writers. Used well, it can dictate mood, create atmosphere, and influence plot. This rainy day is during the rainy season in Uganda, and the source of inspiration for the child’s use of time is not a cat in a hat, but the child’s Jjajja – the grandfather.

This is a good introduction to Ugandan life. This child completes chores with his Jjajja, from packing peas to clearing the veranda, but all the while is engrossed with the tales his grandfather tells. The day passes quickly, and is filled with the dreams and stories of the past and the future.

Domestic detail sings from the pastel illustrations, but there are also wishes and dreams spun and illustrated as the boy thinks of the adventures he would take. The illustrative stickmen figures with large heads create a further dreamlike status, and the text rhymes in a rhythmic fashion, almost as if to the beat of the rain itself. Children will appreciate the mischievous white dog on each page – but I particularly enjoyed the descriptive language: ‘the clouds spread like a charcoal stain’, and ‘the drops…muddle the view’. Comforting and illuminating. You can buy it here.

The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros, illustrated by Julie Morstad
We are taken back in time in this lyrical story of immigration, which begins in a slightly idyllic Greece, with donkeys, blue skies and days of freedom at sea and in the fields. But these large vistas with their white buildings and flowered landscapes are not enough and the family long for change. The family immigrate to New York, and upon arrival the girl and her beloved dress are separated. Here, the dress takes on its own persona and searches for the girl. Years later, they are reunited and the dress fits the girl’s own daughter.

Nostalgic illustrations give good period detail, and tell a tale with their muted colours at Ellis Island. At the same time there is a clarity and sharpness to the drawings, as if they have been rendered with a precision that conjures months and years in small pen strokes.

This is not a refugee story of migration, but a desire for an easy passage and a better or even just different way of life, which makes an interesting contrast to recent picture books about modern migration, such as The Journey. The Dress and the Girl is worth examining for the opening and closing spreads and their theme of separation and reunion – a complete circle if you will, as well as an examination of memory and possession. You can buy it here.

Daddy Hairdo by Francis Martin and Claire Powell
A light-hearted look at hair in this delightful picture book about overlong hair and the passing of time. Amy doesn’t have much hair when she’s born, and her Dad has plenty. But then her hair grows, and her Daddy’s seems to disappear. After considerable searching for it, they settle on dealing with the problem of Amy’s hair, which is becoming inconvenient due to its length. Amy’s Dad comes up with some incredible solutions, before reason kicks in.

This is a wonderfully amusing book for anyone who’s ever de-tangled a web of hair, and a cool nod to crazy fashions. Francis Martin lets loose his inner child with some excellent wordplay – hair-raising of course, while Powell has immense fun illustrating hairstyles with aplomb – accentuated by wonderful facial expressions. This is a fun, giggling-inducing picture book, and one which also celebrates the father/daughter relationship with zest and affection. You can buy it here.

Fearless Mirabelle by Katie Haworth and Nila Aye
Perhaps it’s the celebration of individuality, or having confidence in your own unique skill set, or looking after your sibling, but this picture book appeals on so many levels. There’s the circus element, which is always a winner, and the attention to quirky detail, such as Mirabelle balancing on a galloping horse on one leg, whilst eating a bowl of cereal.

Mirabelle and Meg are identical twins, but although Mirabelle is fearless in the circus, Meg is scared of heights. When they realise that Meg’s asset is her ability to speak in front of a crowd (which terrifies Mirabelle), the girls realise that together they can be a supreme double act.

The limited colour palette of primary colours, with black and white, makes for a distinctive look – the characters look a little like friendly Coraline’s, and children will delight in the veneer of simplicity in the scribbled illustrations – they are stylish and endearing – like sugar candy with an edge. Different typefaces explore direct speech, capitals are used for emphasis. Much to look at, just like the circus. You can buy it here.

How to be a Lion by Ed Vere
Or how not to conform to type in this fairly new picture book from Vere. Here, Leonard the Lion isn’t a roary hunter but the sort of lion who likes to ponder upon his ‘thinking hill’, and write poetry. When bullied by the pride for not devouring a duck whom he has taken as a friend, Leonard and Marianne the duck collaborate on a poem to explore individuality.

It may sound whimsical but Vere’s thick black outlines convey a ruggedness to the story, and the book publishes at an apt time as society rethinks its stereotypical view of masculinity. It’s a call to not bend to peer pressure, and the tightness of the text brings the message home without sentimentality. A celebration of creativity and words too, and of the benefits of thinking rather than being the loudest voice in the room. Bold oranges and yellows bring to mind the African Savannah, and as always with Vere, there is abundant humour tucked in with the message, wit in both text and picture, and a great understanding of the rhythm of the language. A proud and majestic picture book. You can buy it here.

Can You See a Little Bear by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris
A new gift edition for 2018 with phenomenal production quality, this much-loved picture book first published in 2006. Aimed at younger children, with its delightful premise of ‘seeing’ not only the little bear in different imaginative landscapes, but also spying patterns and colours, contrasts and opposites within Morris’s exquisitely beautiful illustrations, this also feels relevant for older children and artwork students because of the theatrical and circus settings, and the sumptuousness of the watercolours.

The text rhymes, and its intent is to pull you into the pictures, leading the reader to spy and spot certain things, but it also captures the soporific tone that has affected the bear – this is a dreamscape after all. The incredible detail of the illustrations, depicting medieval scenes, wild landscapes and exotic buildlings, before gently falling back into the more domestic sphere of bathtime and bedtime under the moon, will entrance adult and child alike. You can buy it here.

Animal Picture Book Roundup

archie snuffle

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius by Katie Harnett
A few weeks ago my neighbours’ cat died. I don’t know the neighbours well, but their cat spent significantly more time in my garden than theirs – it was a neighbourhood cat. So this book held a particular resonance.

In Archie Snufflekins, the cat on Blossom Street is named something different by each neighbour and loved by all. When it goes missing, the neighbours are distraught, until they realise that there’s one household that isn’t out searching – and that maybe the neighbours need to visit number eleven themselves.

This book is about loneliness and community, and also about difference. Katie Harnett draws each individual on the street with wonderful uniqueness, exploring each’s personality in their portrait as well as what they are depicted doing and, of course, the name they bestow upon the cat. From the artist to the twins, from Madame Betty to the Hoskins – each family is as different as the next, and yet have love for the cat in common. It’s a simple tale, told exquisitely, and should be cherished by all those who love community, cats, the quietness of ordinary life, and conquering loneliness. A tempered colour palate, which shines with as much personality as the people it colours. You can purchase it here.

bison bouncing

There’s a Bison Bouncing on the Bed! By Paul Bright and Chris Chatterton
The other end of the scale of picture books – this is a bright, rhyming tale of silliness, which does exactly what it says on the cover. A group of animals bounce on the bed with delight, then discover it’s the bed of a Grizzly Bear and this might be troublesome, but at the end find out that the bear is anything but grizzly.

It’s bright and bold – the sound effects are as loud as the animals are large. This is a happy book for toddlers who think it’s funny to bounce on the bed and want a bedtime story with lots of spring in its tale.

There’s rhyming, counting, onomatopoeia, and a raucous assortment of animals from bison to aardvark. This will be a firm favourite, and one that’s easy to read over and again. From the artist behind Supermarket Gremlins (another household favourite), the element of fun and surprise is never far from his pen. Enjoy reading and bouncing. Buy it here.


Marcel by Eda Akaltun
Fluctuating again from the fun to the conceptual, Marcel is a difficult picture book for a child to adore. Marcel is a dog – the book is narrated in first person from Marcel’s point of view, but the key character is not so much Marcel, as New York City.

Marcel speaks of his ‘human’, a woman seen fragmented – at first hiding behind a New York Times, and then gradually in pieces; a mouth, a hand. The style is Lichtenstein-esque, a pop art, comic book collage of images mixed with the pastel shades of Marcel himself. They traipse New York, walking well-known streets; past typical brownstones, fire escapes snaking down buildings, Central Park and its entertainment – again collaged works of musicians in different collage textured pieces. There are some riffs on places within the city – a bagel place, the American Museum of Natural History with its bones, until Marcel reports that his human meets another human.

Marcel initially feels excluded, until he comes to an acceptance of the new ‘man’ eventually; after a dazzling diamond appears on his human’s left hand. A book that may be used to promote inclusivity – extending families perhaps?

The pastel hues of blue, orange and yellow against white space give the book a distinctive texture, and the collage pop art, almost reminiscent of Mad Men opening graphics will delight some readers. The ending infers that a sequel will be set in Paris.

This seems less a picture book for young children, and more an artsy gift purchase or a stylised experiment for older students to study design. Intriguing nevertheless. You can buy your own piece of New York here.

max and bird

Max and Bird by Ed Vere
The third Max book, about the little kitten, following Max the Brave and Max at Night. There is an elegance retained in the simplicity of the Max books. Prior to this one, Max has always been fairly solitary – there are some lovely images in the earlier books of Max alone – saying goodnight to the buildings in Max at Night for example. Here, Max meets a bird, and decides on friendship, although he’s not quite sure what friendship entails because he’s conflicted: he would also like to chase and eat Bird.

The ensuing pages are probably the most comic of the three Max books, as Max decides to teach Bird how to fly – not that he has any idea how.

As always, the book feels like one of those colourful scrap books, each page a vivid background colour, each populated with drawings of Max as the book moves along. There is an abundance of understated humour in the drawings – from Max’s and Bird’s reluctance to ask the tall bird for help in reaching books in the library, to the expressions on the friends’ faces as they practise ‘flapping’ in order to fly.

The book is lively – the characters never stop moving or learning, and their eyes betray their emotions. Vere demonstrates enormous attention to detail – body language of the creatures, and titles of books in the illustrations of the library, and overall there’s a lesson of learning to do something – practising and persevering. Already a staple in this household. Get yours here.


Picture Book Sequels

max at night

Max at Night by Ed Vere
One of my favourite children’s illustrators, Ed Vere published Max the Brave in 2014. The story of a small kitten who is brave, if a little lacking in knowledge, was a huge success. Max at Night revisits Max, with nods to childhood favourite ‘Goodnight, Moon’, but with a sparkling twinkle of modernity in attitude and text. Vere is part of a cohort of modern children’s illustrators who opt for minimalism and yet succeed in making their characters both extraordinarily empathetic and expressive.

Max at Night is Max’s search for the moon so that he can say goodnight to it before he goes to bed. Anyone with young children will recognise the stalling of bedtime, with just one more task to be completed before bed – be it one drink, another story, or finding a toy. In Max’s case he needs to find the moon to say goodnight – and being the brave kitten that he is, will go to extreme effort to do so.

The colour palate of this latest picture book works well. There is a dark tone throughout the book, nodding to nighttime, with Max’s huge yellow eyes standing out against the background. The night sky shifts from a beautiful red to dark tones of blue and purple and nearly black, with the lovely orange and yellow of the inside of the house. Max’s huge eyes are adorable, the stark yellow – in contrast to the background of ‘night’ in all its forms- in shades of blue and red.

Max’s marvellous personality is apparent – his bravery comes through in this book, as does his determination, and his frustration when he screws his eyes up tightly and yells into the night. His exasperation:

“Now you tell me!”, when the moon explains he can hear Max from his bed, is both funny, and pitch perfect because it is the type of dialogue a youngster would pick up from his parent. There is wit apparent in the illustrations too as Max climbs “gracefully” over the sleeping dog.

Very attractive, very witty, very wise. A successful sequel. You can buy it here.

queens handbag

The Queen’s Handbag by Steve Antony
Another storming success in 2014 was Steve Antony’s The Queen’s Hat. Steve’s debut was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and has become a fine staple in any children’s library. The children in my library have an enormous soft spot for Please Mr Panda, which is in constant demand. However, this sequel about the Queen and her handbag will be a hot contender.

The Queen’s Hat looked at the London landmarks. The Queen’s Handbag features landmarks around the United Kingdom in trademark red, white and blue colours. When a swan steals her handbag from her arm, the Queen chases round the country looking for it, accompanied this time by blue policemen and policewomen rather than red guards. In a similar vein, Antony has gone to town on the detail, with swarms of the police, each with different apparel and expression.

The Queen’s modes of transport are spectacularly funny and enjoyable, from her red convertible, to her red motorbike, followed by the red arrows, her extraordinary bicycle, speedboat, train and horse. There’s even a union jack parachute – James Bond watch out.

Neat touches abound – from the policemen and women taking selfies on Snowdonia, to the policeman paddling his feet off the Giant’s Causeway, to the self-referential Mr Panda running in the London marathon. See if you can spot the policeman whose union jack boxer shorts are revealed when he loses his trousers!

There is so much to look at on each spread, and as one fellow reviewer said about The Queen’s Hat – it’d be a delight to have one of these pictures as a piece of artwork hanging on the wall. I’d like the London skyline – a muted pencil drawn backdrop behind the lamppost – as if London was drenched in a beautiful purple evening mist with a single lamppost standing out in the foreground.

Even the last page has a funny last line, and of course the endpapers are to be marvelled at. Rows and rows of policemen and women (plus a couple of other things dotted around too). A hugely successful sequel. Steve Antony’s website has a fun activity with 20 Things to Spot in the book. Visit it here., and buy the book here.

one thing

Lastly, a quick mention to One Thing by Lauren Child. A new Charlie and Lola book for those that follow them, this reviewer actually thought it was the best yet. The voices and thoughts of Lola and Charlie seem more authentic, more drawn from real life. The premise is well thought out. Lauren Child introduces numbers and the concept of time to Lola and her readers.

Charlie and Lola take a trip to the shops to buy just one thing – Charlie has to question his Mum to see if it’s one thing each, or one thing shared. Then there is basic addition as Charlie and Lola add up how many minutes it takes to get ready, as well as counting the animals they encounter on the way to the shops.

The cleverness lies in Lauren Child’s dismemberment of the concept of time. Lola has to do something before she leaves – saying she will be “half of a second”, and Mum says they are “leaving in one minute”, neither of which turns out to be correct of course, as these are common phrases rather than accurate times.

Child also wittily includes Lola’s bargaining with her mother and with Charlie, firstly over the number of things she can buy – compromising on one – and secondly over sharing Charlie’s badges with him – again settling for one.

Sums and numbers fall from the pages in an enticing way, the concept of time and numbers are wonderfully extrapolated. It goes on a little too long for my liking, but overall a great addition to the Charlie and Lola collection. Buy it here.




Lili by Wen Dee Tan: The Book Blog Tour

Today I am pleased to be part of the Lili book blog tour. This is a stunningly beautiful picture book with exquisite artworks, but is also a book about how our actions can change other people’s perceptions of us.


Lili’s hair is not only fiery red, it is as hot as fire itself. Lili struggles to make friends with anyone because they are frightened of her fiery hair, and is generally shunned. Until the day comes when her hair proves useful in saving some village children, and Lili’s courage shines through. From that day onwards, the other children and people of the village accept and include her.

The magic of this picture book is Wen Dee Tan’s amazingly powerful illustrations. Each spread is like a painting on the wall, simple charcoal lines depicting the whole story, bar Lili’s hair, which is a raging fire of orange burning through each page. Not only does it appear fiery, it truly looks like hair – the reader is enticed to touch it, although knows that it is fiery hot. It’s challenging, and yet simple and enriching for a young reader. There is simplicity in the drawings throughout – both in the faces of the children, but also in the implied terror when the village children are lost in the woods.

Lili spread

Author and illustrator Wen Dee Tan won third place in the Macmillan Prize 2013 for her Lili illustrations and on her blog talks about the joy of holding a pencil and making marks on paper. She’ll certainly be making her mark on the children’s picture book scene with Lili.

You can visit Wen Dee Tan’s blog here.

Two other visually arresting (yet in a completely different way) picture books in which the opinion of someone is changed based on their actions are Mr Big by Ed Vere and How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens.

Mr Big

Mr Big tells the story of a gorilla who is big. So big that
“anywhere he went, all everyone saw was someone big and scary.”
Mr Big buys a piano because it looks alone, like himself, and his sadness inspires him to play beautiful music. Everyone else in the city can hear the music and recognises its beauty but they don’t know who is playing. They invite the ‘mystery pianist’ to join a band, which he does, and subsequently he becomes hugely popular. It’s a lovely story that explains that friends come in all shapes and sizes. Ed Vere’s book explores emotions in a simple way for picture book readers, and his use of bright colours in his unique style make this book stand out. I haven’t yet read it to a child who didn’t love it and ask for a re-read.

How to Hide a Lion

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens is very different although the underlying principle is the same. Just because something is ‘other’, doesn’t mean it has negative attributes, and somebody’s actions can change our perceptions of them. A lion strolls into town to buy a hat, but the townspeople shy away in horror. In fact Helen Stephens depicts a rowdy mob chasing the poor misunderstood lion with brooms and rolling pins. A small girl called Iris is not scared and takes him in, hiding him from her parents as apparently “mums and dads can be funny about having a lion in the house”. In the end the lion is discovered and runs away again, only to foil burglars at the town hall. His good deed is rewarded – he is hailed the town’s hero and given what he came for the in first place. It’s a clever little story with endearing illustrations.

With thanks to Fat Fox Books for the sneak preview of Lili.

Fat Foxblogtourlili