Category Archives: Picture Books

Starting School!

Instead of a Back To School post for teens, here’s a First Time at School post on behalf of Bea, who is heading to Reception class next week! We didn’t intentionally read starting school stories but we snagged one from Walker (thanks Jo), were sent one by AlannaMax (thanks Fay), and picked a recently published Little Tiger title up at the library (thanks Stock Manager)!

Getting ready for school with The Pigeon, Lulu and Pirates!
The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

If you have never read one of Mo Willem’s Pigeon books then I envy the joy you will experience when you open one for the first time. I owned them all (that had been published so far obv.) before I even had a Bea, so imagine my excitement when I saw that this was being published at the most perfect time! I was at Walker for a YLG London evening and was allowed to snaffle it as an extra goody. Those of you who have read a Pigeon book might guess what mode of transport makes an appearance…

Lulu’s First Day by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
(apologies for the terrible photo but I didn’t notice until after bedtime!)

Those of you who follow me on twitter may already know how much I love Lulu (and her little brother Zeki). This is a wonderful addition to the collection of stories about her life. It is simply a step by step account of how a first day goes, but with fantastic little touches that bring it to life and make it so much more than just a ‘first experiences’ book. The family is gorgeous and ordinary, and the children she meets at preschool are diverse and adorable.

Pirates Don’t Go To School by Alan MacDonald and Magda Brol

Pirates Don’t Go To School is a very silly but great fun tale of a young pirate who persuades his family that he should go to school. They’re worried for him because there are too many rotten rules and scary teachers and nothing piratical, and his day starts off pretty badly as he accidentally releases his ship’s parrot into school, but things end up ok!

Little Rebels Prize

The Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) is delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction is Catherine Johnson for her book, Freedom (Scholastic 2018).

A short historical novel, Freedom tells the story of Nat, a young boy enslaved on a Jamaican plantation, brought over to England in the late eighteenth century. Hopeful that, once on UK soil, he will finally be free from bondage, Nat instead witnesses the pivotal role Britain played in building the slavery industry. Praising the winning title, the award judges commented:

“Freedom is radical in a number of ways. It tells a story of a young enslaved man in Britain. It explores the humanity of those whose humanity was denied through chattel slavery. It subtly examines the similarities and the differences between class oppression and a system of slavery rooted in racism. It tells a story of Britain that continues to be neglected. Johnson’s writing is a masterclass in the maxim ‘show don’t tell’ – through the point of view of her protagonist we are brought into his world and yet we are afforded space to emotionally engage with the story she offers us.”

Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow at UCL and contributor to The Good Immigrant.

“Catherine Johnson brings the horrific history of slavery to life in this important piece of historical fiction for a middle grade audience. A brilliant adventure story that shines a much-needed spotlight on the UK’s role [and which also introduces us to] real life people who should be more famous than they are, including former slave turned author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and Shadrack Furman, the first black army Pensioner. A well deserved win from one of the UK’s most fabulous storytellers.”

Emily Drabble, head of children’s books promotion and prizes at BookTrust
2018 winner Zanib Mian congratulates Catherine Johnson after the announcement

The winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2019 was announced at an event held in the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Literacy Library on Wednesday July 10th by Zanib Mian, the 2018 winner for The Muslims (now Planet Omar). This followed on from a panel discussion with the other shortlisted authors (all except Sarah MacIntyre) and a chance to have a look around the beautiful CLPE library.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now in its 7th year. The Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. It is run by booksellers Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB).

Quill Soup

Noko, the porcupine, is very hungry. On arriving at a village, he asks the other animals for some food and shelter. But, despite their full bellies, all the animals say they have nothing to spare. Never mind: he’ll just have to make do and cook a pot of soup from the quills off his back – a soup so tasty even the king likes it. Once the villagers hear of his plan they offer just enough ingredients to make a soup worthy of them all…
This African version of Stone Soup celebrates generosity and kindness – and the message that we can all benefit if we share our resources. It’s part of our One Story, Many Voices series, which explores well-known tales told from different cultural perspectives.

Tiny Owl blurb
Quill Soup, written by Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar

I’m sure many readers of this blog are aware of the tale Stone Soup, and there will be well thumbed versions of it in most libraries. This is an African version, with the same message : that we can all benefit if we share resources, and an exhortation to open our arms to strangers (something that desperately needs encouraging in these times).

Quill Soup was retold by British author Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar, a full time illustrator from South Africa. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, there is so much going on in each spread while the animals (such a range of animals) try to put off the newcomer, the colours are bold and captivating, and the text is great to read aloud.

Tiny Owl are a new(ish), small independent publisher of books for children with one aim: to promote under-represented voices and cultures in beautiful picture books. Quill Soup is part of a series they have called One Story, Many Voices, exploring “well-known stories told from different cultural perspectives from all over the world, pairing authors and illustrators from different countries and different backgrounds.”. Also already published, and also wonderful and different, are Cinderella of the Nile and The Phoenix of Persia.

Thankyou Tiny Owl for sending me a copy of Quill Soup to review, it is available to buy now!

What Can We Be?

What Can We Be? is a brand new picture book where girls’ imaginations run riot and incredible stories are told!
Pirates, Wizards, Astronauts and more! What Can We Be? is a delightfully playful daddy and daughter story.

Tiny Tree Books
What Can We Be is illustrated by Kayla Coombs

Ryan Crawford very kindly sent me a copy of this book, I love the premise of daughters playing with their dads and the way Kayla Coombs has illustrated the ideas really brings them to life, and he agreed to answer some questions about the process of creating it.

Hi Ryan, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

I see from your blog that you already have a few books under your belt but this is your first picturebook, did you find it it easier or harder to write?

Coming up with the ideas for this picture book was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, since so much of it is based on my life. But actually scripting the rhymes was SO much more difficult than regular prose. I spent forever wondering if things rhyme correctly or if I was actually forcing them to. Then making sure they had the right amount of syllables. And on top of that trying not to change the story just to fit the rhymes. I’ve learnt a lot about rhyming, let’s put it that way! But I had a clear idea of how I wanted the book to look and be structured, so that made things easier too.

It is all about imagination and daughters playing games with their dads, which of the roles do you play with your children?

Superheroes! I’m a huge comic book fan, so superheroes have always been big on my radar. Luckily my daughter inherited the trait and loves to throw on a cape and a mask with me.

Was it a conscious decision to put Mille on the front cover and Rochelle, who you have said looks like your daughter, on the back?

Yes and No. There’s no doubt that Rochelle looks like my daughter and means a lot to me. But I also didn’t want to force the book to be about my personal story. I wanted this book to be for everyone and about everyone. Also my daughter is already overconfident at the age of 4 and I don’t want to inflate her ego any further! On top of that, Millie was always the main character. From the moment I started writing the book, it was about her and her journey with her friends and, most importantly, her dad. So that was the relationship I wanted to showcase on the front.

Have you and Kayla (the illustrator) met in real life or is it all email communication?

Kayla and I talk over emails and Skype pretty frequently. We haven’t met in person yet, but we’re planning too. Because we’ve been through a lot together making this book, and there are some personal stories in there for both of us. So you can’t help but bond when you work on a project like that together.

Have you shared the book with many children? What kind of reaction have you had?

I put together a focus group full of friends and family so that I could share the book with them and their kids. They loved it from the start, but also gave a lot of valuable feedback on how to improve it along the way. There is one particular scene that we added to the book to help make things clearer after reading it with them and their kids. But needless to say, they’re big fans now and can’t wait to get their hands on the physical copies. 

What are your kids’ favourite books at the moment?

My daughter Kiara, who is nearly 5 now, is really into books she can start to read herself at the moment. So we’re reading a lot of things like Oi Frog, where she can recognize the small repeating words and sound them out herself. Plus she finds it hilarious.

My son Cassius, who is 2, is obsessed with nothing but Dinosaurs. So all we ever read is Ten Little Dinosaurs and Dinosaurs Don’t Draw. Which is actually fine since I love both of those!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just finished reading Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. Sci-Fi is always my go-to genre, and there’s something about the characters in this one, blended with the great world-building he is always known for that had me hooked from the start. Anyone who likes a sci-fi set in the far-future or is looking for a quirky cast of characters should check this one out. 

Are you planning to do another picture book or is it back to shoot-em-up sci-fi?

Both, actually! I’d definitely like to do something that targets Mums and Sons to follow What Can We Be. And Kayla and I are always talking about how we would do that next, so watch this space! And I rarely ever work on one book at a time, probably to my own detriment. So there are more entries in my PULSE series on the way, as well as my first stab at a fantasy novel. Plenty to look forward to!

Thanks for the great questions!

WHAT CAN WE BE? is out now!

Ryan Crawford, the author of What Can We Be?

The 2019 Little Rebels Award Shortlist: Propaganda, War and Autocrats

The Little Rebels awards shortlist was released whilst I was away, and it is a fantastic bunch of titles for children (aged 0-12) which “promotes social justice or social equality, challenges stereotypes or is informed by anti-discriminatory concerns.”

Government propaganda, militarization, misjudged Western ‘aid’ and the UK’s participation in the slave trade are just some of the themes highlighted by this year’s shortlist for the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction.

Small, independent publishers figure strongly on the shortlist, including titles from HopeRoad and Lantana Publishing. Anne Booth makes her second Little Rebels Award appearance (Girl With A White Dog was shortlisted in 2015) and former Little Rebels Award judge, Catherine Johnson, is shortlisted for her historical fiction novel, Freedom, an account of the UK’s role in the slave trade which takes the 1781 Zong Massacre as its cue.
 
The full Little Rebels Award 2019 shortlist (for books published in 2018) is:
Across the Divide by Anne Booth – Catnip Publishing
Freedom by Catherine Johnson – Scholastic
The Ghost and Jamal by Bridget Blankley – Hope Road Publishing
The King Who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth – Pavilion Children’s Books
The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre – David Fickling Books
Running on Empty by S E Durrant – Nosy Crow
Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadaan – Lantana Publishing

 
War and conflict are recurrent themes while receiving very different treatments: Across the Divide explores the pacifist movement and the militarization of local communities; picture book, Tomorrow (by Nadine Kaadan who moved to London following the onset of the Syrian conflict), portrays civil war through the eyes of a family forced to stay indoors; The Ghost and Jamal exposes young people as the real casualties of wars and critiques Western charitable ‘interventions’ in conflict zones. Two of the shortlisted titles foreground disabled characters as significant voices and agents: The Ghost and Jamal’s protagonist has epilepsy and AJ’s parents in Running on Empty have learning disabilities. Durrant’s novel, set in Stratford (London), stars a working-class family struggling under the pressure of financial hardship and a welfare system ill-equipped to support them. Picture book, The New Neighbours, hints at themes very familiar to previous Little Rebels Award shortlists -the treatment of refugees and pre-conceptions about new arrivals- while the protagonist of the third picture book on the list, The King Who Banned the Dark, is an autocrat who instills obedience in his citizens through imagined fears.
Fen Coles, Co-Director of Letterbox Library, said of the shortlist: “From a king who bans the dark to a tower block community fearful of the ratty (!) newcomers, the Little Rebels Award shortlist demonstrates again that weighty topical themes can be brought to the youngest minds in ways which are playful, provocative, thoughtful and fun. Social divisions, conflict, the rise in far right parties and ideologies, threats to democratic rule as well as very home-grown human rights abuses such as the Windrush scandal are all ‘live’ topics which children are hearing about through ubiquitous social medias. The Little Rebels titles continue to offer young people and children texts to help them navigate, question and make sense of the fractured world which surrounds them”.

From the press release

I’ve seen all except 2 of these so will have to seek them out, what I’ve seen/read though is fantastic. Do have a browse of the award’s site for the history, past winners, and current judges! The winner will be announced on 10th July.

Maisie’s Scrapbook – review

As the seasons turn, Maisie rides her bull in and out of Dada’s
tall tales. Her Mama wears linen and plays the viola. Her
Dada wears kente cloth and plays the marimba. They come
from different places, but they hug her in the same way. And
most of all, they love her just the same. A joyful celebration
of a mixed-race family and the love that binds us all together.

You all know what a big fan I am of Lantana and their books, so I was delighted when Katrina offered to send me a copy of ‘Maisie’s Scrapbook‘ to review. I was even more delighted when I read it and saw that it really is a beautiful tale, of loving parents bringing features from their heritages together to create a wonderful environment for their daughter to grow up in. As the blurb says, “they come from different places, but they hug her in the same way“. No two parents have identical backgrounds, but it is important to show (mirrors and windows) that parents with even the most obvious cultural differences cannot disagree on how much they love and support their child, and I can only imagine how amazing it must feel for a mixed race child to see a family similar to theirs portrayed (huge respect to single parents who, for whatever reason, don’t have the support of a partner).

Samuel Narh’s words, featuring Dada’s tall tales and Mama’s comfort through the seasons, are from Maisie’s perspective. Simply stated observations on small and big things. They are so effective because of the emotive illustrations by Jo Loring-Fisher bringing those tales to life, making the reader feel how she’s feeling, and showing the affection the family feels for one another. Look out for it when it is published on 7th March!


CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards 2019

It is finally here! The biggest ever (again) nominations list for the best ever children’s books awards.

For those of you who don’t know, the Carnegie medal is awarded to the author of an outstanding piece of literature for children and young people while the Kate Greenaway medal recognises the illustrator of an outstandingly illustrated book for children and young people (the 2019 awards are for titles published in the UK between September 2017 and August 2018). Most nominations come from members of CILIP and so for a book to be nominated it must have been read and loved by at least one individual…hopefully, before nominating, that individual will have also considered whether the book meets the criteria that the judges then use to whittle the huge nominations list down to a long list of (up to) 20 each to a shortlist of (up to) 8 each to the eventual winners. Some of us (lucky us) get sent books by publishers, sometimes with a “we’d like this to be considered for CKG” note, but the nominations are all made by people with an interest in libraries for children and young people.

This summer a report was published into the diversity review (Matt blogged about it here) bringing a few changes to the process to ensure that it is as diverse and inclusive as possible:

This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books are in the running for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Books have been put forward by a record number of nominators which, alongside CILIP members, includes several external bodies − BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB − invited to nominate as part of CILIP’s diversity and inclusion action plan for the Awards.

As part of this action plan, this year also sees:

o   an expanded judging panel of librarians, bringing a broad range of lived experiences and perspectives

o   enhanced diversity training for the judges

o   an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process

o   a new prize voted for by children and young people

o   and a quarterly publication of Top 10 New Voices eligible for the upcoming Medals.

Scanning the lists, some favourites are there along with a few that I keep meaning to read. In the years before my judging tenure I read the full nominations list every year, and then obviously while judging I read everything (some things many times over), but as the list grows ever longer and more and more books continue to be published that will be eligible for 2020 (…2020! Wishing my life away in CKGs…) this year I’m going to alternate one book from the list with one new book and see how far I get. So far, I’ve only read 1/3 of the Carnegies (clearly spent too much time re-reading Pratchett) and nearly half the Kate Greenaways (will have to raid the public library for the rest).

What do I love that I’ve read so far? Oooh, it is fab to be able to think about favourites and not just about criteria. Every year I guarantee you every one of the judges will have to lose at least one of their favourites to those that the panel agree best meet the criteria. Judges can’t say “I loved this book because…”, they have to say “it meets this criteria because…”.

  • So my top 10 Carnegie favourites so far are: David Almond Colour of the Sun, Jo Cotterill Jelly, S.E. Durrant Running on Empty, Candy Gourlay Bone Talk, Frances Hardinge A Skinful of Shadows, Catherine Johnson Freedom, Zanib Mian The Muslims, Philip Reeve Station Zero, Jason Reynolds Long Way Down, Dave Shelton The Book Case.
  • Top 10 Kate Greenaway that I love, so far, are: Mehrdokht Amini Nimesh the Adventurer, Francesca Chessa Is it a Mermaid?, Rebecca Cobb The Day War Came, Ruth Hearson Zeki Gets a Checkup, Jean Jullien I Want to be in a Scary Story, Fiona Lumbers Luna Loves Library Day, Poonam Mistry You’re Safe With Me, Jackie Morris The Lost Words, Chris Priestly Long Way Down, Catell Ronca The Drum.

It was hard to whittle it down to 10 each and I’ve got so many left to read! I’m certain they won’t all be longlisted, but that’s the joy of picking favourites. It seems to me that the Kate Greenaway list has far fewer titles for older children than in the last few years, but of course that may well just be because half the ones I’ve not read yet are for teenagers and (having a 3 year old) I’ve gravitated more towards classic picture books! The Carnegie list seems to have something for everyone in there, I don’t envy the judges having to make those decisions*!

(*who am I kidding, of course I do, those judging meetings are intense but absolutely brilliant)

You’re Snug With Me – picture book review

 


At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

You’re Snug With Me is the second time Lantana have paired Chitra Soundar with Poonam Mistry, after You’re Safe With Me, and they are a fabulous team. It is not quite a sequel, but they are both environmentally minded and each have some factual science behind the lyrical stories. My favourite example of that from this book, is:

“As the snow fell harder, the cubs grew curious. “Will it always be dark?” they asked.

“It is dark because we are far from the sun during the winter months.”

The cubs trembled.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mama Bear. “The Earth dances on her toes and when she tilts, our nights will get shorter and spring will return.”

While the style of drawing remains consistent between the two books, the minimal colour palette in this chilly tale is completely different to that of You’re Safe With Me:  blue, white, and yellow. It is perfect for the snow filled setting, just as green, red, and yellow was perfect for the rainforest setting of Safe. The illustrations are anything but minimal though, taking up all the space with beautiful patterns making up stylised animals in breathtaking scenes. The view changes depending on how close you are to the book, with so much detail to take in.

Although Lantana are small, their growing list of picture books is extremely impressive, some of my absolute favourite titles of recent years have come from them, so do take a look at their catalogue. They make a point of working with authors and illustrators from a wide range of cultures and nationalities to ensure that every child has a chance to see themselves in stories; ‘a publishing house with inclusivity at its heart’

How to be a Lion by Ed Vere

Meet Leonard – a lion like no other. Leonard doesn’t like to raw and chomp. Leonard likes to read and daydream on his thinking hill.

Leonard’s best friend is Marianne, a duck. But lions chomp ducks, don’t they? But Leonard doesn’t want to chomp Marianne!
 
Leonard and Marianne work together to write a special poem to show the other fierce lions that just because lions are supposed to be fierce, it doesn’t mean they have to be.

How to be a Lion is beautiful – this should come as no surprise as Ed Vere is always a phenomenal artist, but his words can stand on their own and they form a beautiful meditation on the power of being different, ignoring the herd (in this case the pride) and being true to your beliefs, yourself and your friends; and in knowing that tough decisions do not have to be faced alone.

As the cool, young kids of today say this book gave me all the feels!

It is usually extremely hard to find a picture book of the year but for me, I think, it may be How to be a Lion!

How to be a Lion is written and illustrated by Ed Vere, published by Puffin Books and will be available in all good bookshops on the 28th June.

Boo! by Ben Newman

Ok this book is aimed at younger readers but it gets a review as I am a bit of a Ben Newman fan! Mostly down to his illustrations of the Professor Astrocat books!

boo

No one is as brave as me and nothing, I mean nothing, scares me… YOU’LL SEE!

How anyone can pick up a book that he has illustrated and fail to be impressed by his artwork I will never know (mainly because everyone I have met that has also read his works are also fans)!

Boo! is a circular tale of terror and how even those that think they are the bravest ever have something that will make them jump!

Perfect for reading out loud to groups of small children or just on a one to one basis Boo! is a story that can inspire fright or audience interaction during reads and rereads.