EXPLORE THE WORLD – MY FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

With a new range of Ex Libris stamps celebrating exploration, I thought it would be good to share some of my favourite travel books, with something for all ages.

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Imperium– Ryzard Kapuscinski

Ryzard Kapuscinski is my favourite travel writer, possibly my favourite writer full stop. He manages to be both politically insightful and poetic at the same time. I also have an inexplicable fascination with Russia and the Soviet Union and so Imperium, which was written as the Soviet block was crumbling and visits every corner of the vast territory, combines both. A Polish journalist, he provides a different perspective here on the Soviet Union, and in his many other writings, particularly about Africa.  I have reread this one a couple of times, and it is more pertinent now in time of Putin than ever, and still exquisite to read as a work of literature.

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Around the World in Eighty Days – John Burningham

This book is simply my dream assignment – being commissioned to replicate Philleas Fogg’s famous journey around the world and document it through drawings (any commissioning editors reading, I’ll gladly replicate this!). Any fan of Burningham’s illustrations will delight in this book – images take the lead with brief notes on each destination like a travel diary. Published in 1972 there is a distinct hangover of the Empire feel to it, but it makes it no less charming or interesting and is perfect way for anyone of any age to spend an afternoon globetrotting and becoming absorbed in Burningham’s journey. It’s out of print, but well worth seeking out.

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The Songlines– Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin is another favourite writer and I could have picked any of his travel books. In The Songlines he attempts to grasp the totally alien culture of the Australian Aborigines (touching on other nomadic cultures too). Peppered with literary references from around the world on the nature of travel and the need for it, this probably isn’t a light or easy book, but I found it quite profound.

 

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Going to Extremes– Nick Middleton

Middleton sets out to find the coldest, hottest, driest and wettest inhabited places on earth and meet the people who live there. The results are evocative of landscape and climate and often very very funny. I still chuckle every time I think of his Siberian swimming adventures (and why NOT to wear swimming trunks). 

 

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My Granny Went to Market– Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr

If there is a granny in your life who is always on holiday in some far-flung destination, this will strike a chord. The vibrant illustrations by Christopher Corr set off Stella Blackstone’s counting rhyme to perfection, as we follow Granny around the globe on her shopping expedition. Both my children loved this book as toddlers and it sparks real interest in real places (and the souvenirs you can get there – very important for any child!).

 

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This is the World– M. Sasek

A compendium of his famous series of books for children. Despite being out of date (many destinations dating back to the 1950s – although corrections have been added) my 6 year old daughter and my husband are equally entranced by this huge book and it’s mid-century illustrations. A proper coffee table tome, highly recommended and would make a fantastic gift.

 

 

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Lots– Marc Martin

A new oversize gift book about world destinations seems to pop up for children every week. Marc Martin’s Lots rises to the top of the pile for it’s stunning illustrations, quirky facts and non-Eurocentric selection of destinations.  Closer to the recollections of a real traveller than a tourism leaflet, it's a treat.

 

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Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica– Sara Wheeler

Antarctica is another of my obsessions – and I’m not sure if this book created or compounded my fascination. Wheeler (on another dream assignment) spends 7 months on the frozen continent recounting the history of its exploration, her awe of the vast landscape, alongside the village-like community of scientists who live there. Beautiful writing based on an intense experience which leaves you feeling like you’ve been there and met the people - travel writing at its best.

Help! My child loves dinosaurs! - Some of the Best Dinosaur Picture Books

My 3 year old son loves dinosaurs - REALLY loves them. It was his obsession that inspired our new Personalised Dinosaur Ex Libris stamp.

It is rare bedtime that he will let us read him any story that doesn't feature a dino in some guise. For that reason that I have been searching high and low for some great picture books about dinosaurs - not really for his sake, but because reading the same one over and over again was driving us mad. I'm sharing them here as an act of mercy for any other families who are similarly afflicted.

The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar
(Flying Eye)

A sumptuous book from a picture book master. Flying Eye have lovingly recreated this edition by labouriously recreating the original colour separations used to print back in the 1960s, and this attention to detail really pays off in the print quality and colours. These details will please the design-savvy parent and the simple story, introducing all kinds of dinosaurs big and small will delight little ones. The 'science' might be a bit dated and pedants may protest, but I think it's a lovely way to introduce the concept of evolution.

If the Dinosaurs Came Back by Bernard Most (Houghton Mifflin)

A great hit with my son, this book imagines how dinosaurs would help us in the modern world if they came back. A refreshing change from the usual emphasis on roaring and scaring people, and pleasingly whimsical in places.

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Byron Barton (HarperFestival)

Perfect for little ones with bright naive artwork, this introduces different dinosaur characteristics with text that is easy and quick to read at bedtime. My son loves the 'white poos' at the beginning (a triceratops laying eggs).

Gnash, Gnaw, Dinosaur by Tony Mitton & Lynne Chapman (Kingfisher)

A book of dino poems with a real WOW factor when it comes to the fold out pages, creating BIG dinosaurs, generating lots of 'Ooooh's. This one seems to be out of print, but is definitely worth seeking out.

 

    

Pop-Up Dinosaur abc by Robert Crowther (Candlewick Press)

I have fond memories of Crowther's animal abc book from my childhood so was thrilled to find this dinosaur version. The pop-ups and design are simple but effective, and the abc format means you're introduced to some less common dinosaurs.

Dino (a pet unlike any other) by Diego Vaisberg (Templar Publishing)

Print-enthusiast parents will definitely want to get their hands on Dino, with it's spectacular Risograph artwork. (Speaking as a picturebook geek this has one of my favourite page-turns ever).  The story about the problem of having a pet dinosaur is sure to please young ones too.  From googling I can see that this title started out as a risographed zine and am glad to say the energy has transferred to conventional book - LOVE IT!
(For those who don't know, a Risograph is like a cross between a photocopy and a screen print).

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What the Dinosaurs did Last Night by Refe & Susan Tuma (Little, Brown Young Readers, US)

From skimming (the excessively long and self indulgent introduction) this book was born out of two parents messing around with toy dinosaurs so that every morning their children discovered new mischief around their home. The photos are very amusing, as are the captions (which young children won't get at all, but good for the grown ups). We tend to just look at the pictures and talk about them.
Whenever this one is chosen I briefly flirt with having a go at doing this myself with our toy dinosaurs... then realise how much time and effort that would take and revert to sitting on the sofa in a post-bedtime exhausted haze.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart

I include this one with the caveat that it is not for small children - unless under very strict supervision. But I had to include it because it is the most spectacular pop-up book you can imagine, with multiple pop-ups per spread (35 in total) and packed with information. It's now out of print, unsurprising as I have no idea how such a piece of complex paper engineering was ever made for under £25. You can get functioning second hand copies for about £35 and I think this still represents excellent value.

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham

'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham

This time it's another one from my own childhood, something of a classic from one of my favourite illustrators, John Burningham.

'Mr Gumpy's Outing' tells the simple tale of a day on the river with a menagerie of friends who, one by one, ask to come along.  With satisfying rhythm, 'The goat kicked, The calf trampled, The chickens flapped... the boat tipped..." and to the delight of any young reader they all end up in the river. Luckily Mr Gumpy is a forgiving soul and asks them all to 'Come for a ride another day' (this bit always outrages Mr B who see's their disobedience as beyond the pale).

It's the illustrations which I remember vividly though. Simple pen and ink combined with experimental mixed media - washes, resists, ink, crayon, line, texture - an enviable looseness that gives real personality to all the characters,  and renders an idyllic picture of a carefree day out in the untamed (but unthreatening) English countryside. 

'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham
'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham
'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham
'Mr Gumpy's Outing' by John Burningham