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: 'Black & White' by Dahlov Ipcar

I recently discovered Dahlov Ipcar's books, when Flying Eye Press republished a selection of them, including 'Black & White'. Dating from 1963 the artwork has a real retro charm, and the story, about a black and a white dog who live next to each other in friendship was apparently inspired by the civil rights movement. Most of all though, this is a great book to read and share with kids with plenty to look at and learn.

The story centres on the dogs' adventures, and their dreams, introducing a miriad of black and white animals along the way as they venture into the dark jungle and the bright Arctic.

While Ipcar's style is bold and decorative and very appealing to children, the animals are accurately portrayed. The illustrations are very printerly with a limited colour pallette, and were made using a 4-colour process, which the staff at Flying Eye had to painstakingly recreate as the originals were lost. This might sound like boring technical information but the difference from modern digital full colour printing is obvious and intrinsic to this beautiful book.

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Importantly, this book is great to read aloud to young children, with a pleasing rhyme scheme. In addition to all the animals to point out, there are spreads covered in butterflies, birds and fish which my daughter always likes to count, and we always have to pick our favourite.

I love the final page and it's pleasing closing lines, perfect for the moments before sleep:

'And each told the other his dream
Of the arctic storm and the jungle stream
And of all the animals black and white,
White as snow, black as night'

I must also mention the endpapers which are just GORGEOUS.

Amazingly, Ipcar, at the age of 98, is still working from her house in Maine. If you'd like to find out more this article from 2014 provides a good potrait.

Visit Flying Eye here. They currently publish four Ipcar titles - and lot of other highly desirable picture books.

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'The Paper Dolls' by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

I'll admit that I wasn't at all sure about this one from the behemoth that is Julia Donaldson, but it's really grown on me and my four year old daughter loves it.

It's also one of those great books that can inspire an activity on a rainy winter afternoon, so would recommend it as one to take out of the library.

 

 

 

The little girl makes paper dolls and has some great adventures with them. Rebecca Cobb's illustrations deftly transform the everyday items in her home to rich imaginative landscapes – where the tiger slipper becomes a real tiger and the crocodile oven glove tries to crunch the paper characters. Her innocent use of line perfectly matches the story of a little girl's creativity.

There is a great refrain throughout which my daughter always joins in with – 'You can't catch us, oh no no no! We're holding hands and we won't let go...'

Then comes a boy with a pair of scissors, and you expect the dolls to escape again, but they don't. This is where I wasn't sure at first – it seemed very harsh, brutal even.

The paper dolls then fly into the little girls memory. I thought this was a bit twee - but actually, it's quite a good lesson about loss, and about the power of memory, and without sounding too deep 'the impermanence of things'.

The story ends with the little girl growing into a mother herself, and making paper dolls with her own daughter. And so the dolls live on.

I'm not sure how this would play with a boy, but it's a great jumping off point for creativity for mum and daughter. We made these dolls on rainy day last year and, although battered, they're still proudly on her bedroom wall (despite her baby brother doing his best to destroy them like in the book!).


7 great Alphabet books

To celebrate our new kids alphabet (available as Ex Libris book stamps or Birth Announcement stamps), I thought I'd share some of my favourite alphabet books.

I tried to get the list down to 5, but each of these has something special, so in the end there are 7...

 

1. Alphabet by Alison Jay
Large board book – Templar Publishing

Not only in this ABC packed with Alison Jay’s unique crackled illustrations, but it’s stuffed to the rafters with detail. On the surface ‘F is for Frog’, but the image reveals fish and flowers and a fence and a fishing rod and two kinds of fly and, if you look really closely, a fork. There are also references to images and characters on other pages and taken together the alphabet is a loose story (or journey). You and your child will get a lot out of this – highly recommended.

Jane Foster’s ABC
Board book – Templar Publishing

In terms of simple, eye-catching design that babies will love, you can’t beat Jane Foster’s alphabet. A satisfying object in itself. (And then you can buy the mugs and tea towels and everything else!)

Dahlov Ipcar’s Wild Animal Alphabet
Board book – Islandport Press 

I’ve recently discovered Ipcar’s books and am slightly besotted with her illustrations. I am usually a bit wary of alphabet books that just piece together images from the author’s existing work (lazy!), but I’ve made an exception in this case because the images are so appealing, and because she’s made a good effort at creating some interesting rhyming text that is good to read out loud. 

Lucy & Tom’s a.b.c. by Shirley Hughes
Puffin books (out of print)

I know I’m always harping on about Shirley Hughes books, but it’s only because they are so good. This one is out of print, but copies are available cheaply. (I notice some of the other Lucy and Tom titles have been reissued, so fingers crossed.)

What makes this alphabet book stand out is that it does what Hughes does so well, by relating back to real life. The book is full of little stories and vignettes from Lucy and Tom’s very normal life – exactly how children really learn their alphabet, by looking at the things around them. There is loads to look at and engage with for young children. This is a current favourite of my 3.5 year old and always results in lengthy conversations.

Quentin Blake’s ABC
Red Fox Picture Books

Quentin Blake’s alphabet is as anarchic, entertaining and poignant as his other work. The quality of the text and illustrations means I couldn’t miss it off.

Eating the Alphabet
Board Book - HMH Books for Young Readers (USA)

This one is from the USA and so despite the inevitable Aubergine/Eggplant problem I think it’s a great idea, executed well. Lovely bright illustrations and as it’s all fruit and vegetables, a subject that would make Jamie Oliver very happy indeed.

Beautiful Birds by J. Roussen & E. Walker
Flying Eye books   

This book showcases publisher Flying Eye’s production values to nth degree – it’s stunning! – Rich colours and amazing neon. No mention of an alphabet on the cover, but it’s a true ABC of avian delights inside. The text rhymes and so is great to read to little ones, but this book is so gorgeous, I doubt you’ll want to let them get their grubby little paws on it. This is an alphabet book for all ages, but mainly for you. Get and it and treasure it.

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone & Christopher Corr

 'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr

My Granny Went to Market   is the current favourite book in our house, it gets read at least 4 times a day (would be more, but I have limits...).  Purchased on the basis that (real) Grandma is a prollific long-haul traveller, it's actually a refreshing take on a counting book.

'My Granny Went to Market, to buy a flying carpet' and then she flies around the world collecting all sorts of interesting objects before handing over the flying carpet to the reader to carry on the journey (rather a nice idea about sharing experiences and opening up horizons).

'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr

My toddler loves it because it rhymes and because of the pictures which are fabulous (Christopher Corr, I'm jealous you did them and I didn't). Childishly bright and naive they're deceptively simple, packed with detail. There are so many distinctive things to point out in each country - from animals to buildings and modes of transport, plus there are the two cats Granny picks up in Thailand which then appear on each page (complete with coats in snowy Russia) that garner excited yelps. 

 'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr
 'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr
 'My Granny Went to Market' by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr

There's something quite clever in Stella Blackstone's use of souvenirs in the counting rhyme. I remember as a child that the highlight of someone going on a journey was what they might bring you back - the place itself wasn't really within comprehension, but the souvenir very much was. This book highlights the amazing places that go along with the things.

I can see this would be a great book for teachers as it's a really engaging way to introduce the idea of different countries and cultures - I can think of many many classroom projects that would easily stem from it.

This book is published by Barefoot Books who do some lovely (and unusual) titles with some super illustrators and are worth checking out. 

 

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett

 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett

I promised you something more contemporary this time, and so here is a marvellous hound-filled volume from Emily Gravett published in 2009 and very definitely still in print. It also lets me mention our new Doggie Ex Libris designs which are now available to order (sorry, the opportunity was irrisistable).

Dogs  is a celebration of all things canine, celebrating mutts of all shapes, sizes and dispositions with a simple rhyme. It was bought for my dog-mad daughter, but was also an indulgence for me as Gravett's illustrations are just divine. She uses a soft pencil line which creates sumptuous images which are still bold and striking, even strokable - on first reading baby Bloomfield stroked the great dane with an enormous grin on her face. 

 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett  

Gravett also has a great talent for facial expressions and all her dogs are characters even in this slim volume.

 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett
 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett
 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett
 'Dogs' by Emily Gravett

Highly recommended for dog-loving tots.    Monkey & Me  is also full of wonderful animals, and she also illustrated Julia Donaldson's Cave Baby  which is equally sumptuous.

And if you're interested, here are our Dog Ex Libris stamps. A copy of Dogs   with one of these personalised stamps would be a fabulous gift!

 

 

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'But Where is the Green Parrot?' ​by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias

But Where is the Green Parrot?  by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias

I know, I know, so many of the books I review are out of print and/or from my childhood, but it's a testimony to the impact picture books have on a young mind.  

I rediscovered 'But Where is the Green Parrot?' by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias in a pile of books in my teens and although I didn't know the story, and couldn't recollect ever having seen the book before (unlike others in the pile) I was eerily familiar with all the pictures within which I'd obviously studied and subconsciously absorbed as an infant. Quite a creepy feeling. I can only be thankful my mum picked good books.

It's a glorious little volume with super-naive drawings and a simple narrative teaching colours, shapes and objects; and of course there's the green parrot to look for (a sort of avian 'Where's Wally?'). I really love the black lines used for texture, on the waves, tree bark, grass - and that curly smoke! With the distorted perspective the pages are like really really good kids drawings, those that probably happen by fluke if you're 8, but with honed skill when you're grown up.

From a user persepective my 19 month old daughter is now adept at picking out the parrot and the fact there isn't really a story to speak of doesn't bother her a jot - she's excited that there's a big red ball!  I'm hoping she'll remember this one when she's older too.

But Where is the Green Parrot?  by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias
But Where is the Green Parrot?  by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias
But Where is the Green Parrot?  by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias
But Where is the Green Parrot?  by Thomas and Wanda Zacharias

Next time, I promise, I'll review something that is so new, fresh and contemporary, the ink will barely be dry!

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'I Wish I Were A Dog' by Lydia Monks

Transient

Cats and dogs tend to predominate in children's picture books but ' Wish I Were A Dog written and illustrated by Lydia Monks is one of my favourites (and one I know off by heart, enabling me to quote confidently even though I'm on a train and don't have it to hand!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

An expressive ginger cat bemoans his existence comparing it to the exciting lives of dogs who 'can even be film stars'!

Transient
Transient

Of course, once his feline freedoms are pointed out Kitty is suitably reassured and the 'stupid' dog looks on enviously - Wonderfully observed and a great celebration of individuality with bold and entertaining illustrations and excellent facial expressions from the cat and the dog.

Transient

'And of course, cats can sleep anywhere!' (plenty of cats to spot!)

Transient

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Listen Listen' by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay

Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay

In 'Listen Listen' Phillis Gershator's text takes us with rhythm and rhyme through the cycle and sounds of the seasons. it sounds wonderful read aloud and is  great for lulling little ones to sleep at bedtime; but this is only the half of it because the amount of detail in the images mean there are almost endless points of discussion and the last few pages even contain extra images with lists of things to spot.

Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay

Alison Jay's illustrations are totally original. Not only are the ways she depicts people and animals all her own, but she applies some kind of varnish on top to create a crackled antique look.

Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay
Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay

The images are non geometric panels which look like decorations from an old and lovingly created piece of furniture.

Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay
Listen Listen  by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay

And I must also speak up for the format - a large (11 inch square) board book. Although I bought it in the most inappropriate place given it's heft (FAO Schwarz, New York at the beginning of a holiday) I wish more board books were this size... none of the detail is lost and it is stands up to constant thumbing wonderfully.

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'A Lion in the Meadow' by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

First an apology - the edition I'm talking about here is out of print and apparently the original swirly, summer-of-love, 60s illustrations are lost and so it will never be resurrected. There is an edition available with new illustrations also by Jenny Williams, but compared to the original and judging by the cover, it is looks very average. My copy is from the mid-70s and is one of those slight Puffin volumes barely more than a pamphlet. Having seen the current asking price on Amazon Marketplace I shall take good care of it. 

A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

So, another review, another Lion-based Odyssey.  Baby Bloomfield can spot an illustrated  lion at a hundred paces - we're working on the remaining 99.99% of the animal kingdom.

 
A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

'A Lion in a Meadow' is a simple (cautionary) tale (to parents) of how not to manipulate a child's imagination. Terrified of a lion in the meadow, a little boy seeks the assistance of mother, who gives him a matchbox with a tiny dragon inside to scare the lion away. But the tiny dragon turns into an enourmous dragon the little boy is even more terrified. 

A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

The mother, looking suitably exhausted, explains,
'But there wasn't a real dragon...It was just a story I made up.'
'It turned out to be true after all,' said the little boy. 'You should have looked in the match box first.' 
'That is how it is,' said the lion.'Some storied are true, and some aren't....'

A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams
A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

It's all quite conceptually complex for a kids book - it concludes with mother and son reading a book, open at the letter 'L' with the lion sitting on the rug next to them (the little boy and lion having become allies against the dragon) - but all the more satisfying for it. And the illustrations capture this slightly trippy vibe. Bold swirls and pinks, oranges and purples reflect the little boy's imaginings (and are mirrored by the mother's clothes and interior decor): really beautiful. 

A Lion in the Meadow  by Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'The Happy Lion' by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

The Happy Lion is a Gallic joy: the titular lion has a contented life in the zoo where friends come to see him every day. When his door is left open and he goes for a walk around the town he discovers that the same people behave very differently. Bemused, he tries to find a friend.

The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

In a limited palate (from the time before full colour digital printing), Roger Duvoisin's illustrations are so 'French' in all the right ways - maybe it's the use of line and texture to render all the wrought iron railings on the balconies. Sketchy, loose and full of character. Just lovely.

I have a hardback copy from the 80s but I was heartened to dicover in Waterstones the other day that it's back in print. I should also mention that listening to Mr B's French accent when reading the character names gets it an additional thumbs up. Hilarious.

The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
 The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Rosie's Walk' by Pat Hutchins

Rosie's Walk  by Pat Hutchins

Another classic! Mr B doesn't like this book because it doesn't have many words. He's obviously missing the point. Everything you need to know is in the images as Rosie the hen unknowingly foils the nameless fox time after time on her afternoon constitutional.  I remember finding it genuinely funny in my childhood.

The illustrations are iconic and comic - and surely beg to be licenced widely for merchandise a la Eric Carle. First published in 1968 it drips 60s/70s cool with a colour scheme mirroring every pair of curtains in the land in this era.

R  osie's Walk   by Pat Hutchins

I love the animals and Rosie's haughty expression, I love the way Hutchins does trees and I love the simplicity. Every child should have a copy.

R  osie's Walk   by Pat Hutchins

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Counting Birds' by Alice Melvin

As a relatively new parent I have been appalled by the quality of some children's books. It seems people will buy anything if it says 'counting' or 'alphabet' on the front. You might have decent illustrations (although not necessarily, a travesty given the talent that exists in the world), but the text often smacks of being knocked up without thought on a Friday afternoon, often dull and engaging neither child nor parent.

Stunning endpapers!

Stunning endpapers!

Counting Birds  by Alice Melvin

Which is why Counting Birds by Alice Melvin is such a revelation. I picked it up in the Tate bookshop last summer, seduced by the illustrations and subject matter (Bloomfield's bird obsession again!). The images are beautiful - and the endpapers exquisite - but, less expected, the text is brilliant.

For once an author has had an idea and executed it with aplomb - I applaud her for it. Melvin takes us from a one solitary cockerel at dawn, through the day, to twenty birds on a pair of red patterned curtains shutting out the night; imaginatively weaving accounts of real birds with the images of birds that surround us. 

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

'The China's been laid out for afternoon tea.
Look - there are ten bids on the white crockery!

Eleven small chaffinches fly down to find
the raisins and crumbs that have been left behind.'

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

In a word it is 'charming' and not in a 'nice', dull sense of the word.  The language is flowing, satisfying to read and has real substance: Melvin doesn't shy from using 'big' words (Lynley Dodd's books share this trait) and has real way with a rhyming couplet.

'Nineteen black rooks flock in tumbling flight,
returning to roost in the darkening night.'

( I love this page)

Many many children's books end with a 'good night' page, often with promise of the new day to come, but this is my favourite to read aloud at bedtime:

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

'All are asleep now, so none of them see
the solitary barn owl awake in the tree.
With soft silent wings he slips into the night,
while the house waits once more for the dawn's half-light'

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

Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Zoo-ology' by Joelle Jolivet

Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet
Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet
Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet

This choice isn't a story book, but it's MAGNIFICENT. Standing an impressive 46cm tall - 'standing' is the right word because this book begs to be displayed - this is a book for everyone, packed to the rafters with beasts strange and familiar which are divided into imaginative categories like 'In the trees', 'In the Seas' or 'Spots and Stripes'. Ever wondered what a Cuscus was? It's in here, beautifully illustrated by Joelle Jolivet in a bold woodcut style. My daughter stared in rapture at the 'Black and White' pages when she was only weeks old; my zoo-ologically encyclopedic step-father in law found a fish he'd never heard of, asking 'is it real?' (details are given in the index for the curious-minded).  It sounds cliched, but this is the perfect volume to explore together (rainy afternoon optional). I found this in the Salts Mill bookshop last year and snapped it up - only £12.99 full price - I've bought several as gifts and they've gone down a storm. 

Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet

Jenny's picture book review: 'Lucy & Tom's Christmas' by Shirley Hughes

I don't know whether there is some intrinsic to Shirley Hughes' figure drawings that exudes familiarity, or if I just spent a lot of my childhood looking at them. It is at least partly the latter as when I rediscovered my collection of Lucy and Tom books, probably about 25 years after they were put aside, I was overwhelmed - I knew every page inside out.  I still think however, with all the tiny details, she captures something special about childhood we can all recognise.

Lucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes

Lucy and Tom's Christmas is my favourite and to me IS Christmas (even though Christmas never really resembled what it depicts, it seems like a very feasible  and achievable Christmas). It's a low key Christmas - there are no feasts or giant Christmas trees or extravagant gifts - they make paper chains and hand made Christmas cards and stir the Christmas pudding. Kirstie Allsopp should take note - if you want a true 'vintage' Christmas, you'd do well to imitate this book (no inherited country pile or £100 ham required, nor 'experts' who do it all for you).

Lucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes

(There is something about the paint box on this page that makes me feel so warm and fuzzy ; perhaps it's because when I was this age painting Christmas cards was my idea of heaven... still is to some extent!)

Various family come to lunch, including 'Granny's old friend Mrs Barlow who lives all by herself' and everyone is happy with their small, thoughtful gifts - who hasn't presented a handmade calendar to an elderly relative in a wing back arm chair? (the detail of the little stick-on calendar at the bottom places this book firmly in the pre-computer era - we all proudly brought them home! And those pencils that changed colour!).

Lucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes

Hughes is particularly strong at capturing the relationship between generations which is maybe why it is so infused with Christmas spirit.

Lucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes
L  ucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes
Lucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes

My favourite part is when Tom, half eaten chocolate in hand, gets 'cross' and has to go out for a walk with Grandpa. The sun is orange, there's snow under foot; even though this is a 'perfect' Christmas scene poor Tom can't quite cope with it all. As the youngest child I remember being accused a lot of being 'overtired' (was there ever any accusation more infuriating?) and Tom helped me understand something about this and the fact that even when you're really looking forward to something you can still end up in tears.


Sadly this book is out of print, but I highly recommend tracking down a copy: It celebrates what Christmas is really all about with not a little nostalgia. Merry Christmas everyone!

L  ucy & Tom's Christmas  by Shirley Hughes