• Children's & Young Adult Books

    School fun: two picture books for littlies

    School – big school – is a Big Thing in a little one’s life. For their parents, too. So picture books that help prepare and excite very young children about the prospect of starting or returning to school are always welcome.

    From the ABC Books ‘Mindfully Me’ series comes Ready, Set, Big School, (Jan Stradling and Jedda Robaard) featuring the beloved characters from ABC’s ‘Play School’ TV shows. Humpty, Jemima, Little Ted, Kiya and friends practice putting on their school uniform, packing their lunchbox, and making new friends, all ready for the big day.

    When the first day arrives, Big Ted is surprised to find that he also has a funny feeling in his tummy.
    (Parents will relate to that bit.)

    The Crayons Go Back to School (Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers) allows youngsters who are old hands at the school thing to recognise that the end of the holidays means back-to-school. The colourful crayons throw themselves into the routine of school: deciding what to wear, greeting old friends, drawing, writing, doing maths.

    Two books to share and read aloud, perfect to soothe Big School nerves.

    Ready, Set, Big School and The Crayons Go Back to School are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publisher for review copies.

  • Books and reading

    Philosophy for all – in pictures: ‘Begin Again’ by Oliver Jeffers

    As I began to read this book, news of the renewal of appalling violence in Israel and Gaza was on TV screens and online. It made the message in this, Oliver Jeffers’ first picture book for adults and children, feel very timely indeed.

    In Jeffers’ inimitable style, the pictures and pared back words in this lovely book are his plea to humanity: surely, given how far we have come as a species, and the amazing leaps in knowledge and technology we have achieved, surely…we can find a way to ‘begin again’ with our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with our planet?

    He traces our beginnings as humans: the way we discovered walking upright, using fire, making tools, creating beauty…all the way to the invention of phones and space rockets.

    But oh dear, we took a wrong turn somewhere early on, when humans began to

    draw imaginary lines, so we know who we are and who we are not,
    where we belong and where we do not,
    taking what we want when we want it.
    The kings in our castles
    on our islands of isolation.
    Admired by strangers
    (safe from those strangers)…

    Though, when we look from far enough
    it is clear that we all come from Earth.
    There is only Us.

    We all love stories and sharing them, because stories:

    gave us safe harbour and an idea
    of where we fit in the long line of time.

    Jeffers explore what, why and how things went wrong for us as humans, and suggests how we might correct our course:

    By slowing down.
    By creating better stories.
    Bigger ones
    where we all fit
    inside the same powerful plot.

    In his Author’s Note, he explains the changes in his thinking that began after his son was born, and how this book is a culmination of ‘observation and optimism.’

    I’d suggest that humanity as a whole, no matter who we are or where we live, needs a hefty dose of optimism right now, and also awareness and compassion.

    This book is one that can be shared by adults with children of all ages, and might just help provide some of those essential ingredients for a happier and safer world.

    Begin Again is published by HarperCollins in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Out of this world: ‘Meanwhile Back on Earth’ by Oliver Jeffers

    Oliver Jeffers’ is back in his inimitable style, this time exploring time, space and human history for young readers. This colourful picture book has such a clever premise: Dad takes his two kids, prone to squabbling as humans do, on a car trip. Suddenly they are space bound, heading for the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto…while looking into the ‘year-view mirror’ to see what was happening on Earth in each time period.

    Sadly, of course, in every one, humans are still squabbling, warring, building huge walls to keep other humans out, travelling to new places to find other people to fight…

    The story combines a gallop through the history of humanity and its conflicts, with a guide to the universe, and a plea for all people to consider the fragility of our existence in the vastness of our universe and join together rather than continue to battle each other.

    It’s not a ‘downer’ of a story, because of the kind and witty way in which it is told, the deceptively simple illustrations, and because at the end, the children are invited to return home and after all, as Neil Armstrong apparently said:

    No matter where you travel, it’s always nice to get home.

    Here is Oliver Jeffers talking about where the idea for the book came from.

    Meanwhile Back on Earth is another of Jeffers’ surprising, quirky and beautiful picture books for young readers, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2022.

    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    We’re not scared: ‘There’s a Ghost in this House’ by Oliver Jeffers

    Oliver Jeffers’ new picture book, like an earlier one of his I reviewed on this blog (What We’ll Build), is an ode to the rich creative and imaginative world of childhood. It takes what could be a bit scary for some youngsters (the idea of ghosts) and turns it into a fun hide-and-seek game where kids play ‘spot the ghost’ as pages are turned.

    Each double page spread is a scene from a grand old house. We go with the heroine, a small girl, as she wanders from room to room, upstairs and down, seeking out the ghost she is sure inhabits the place – it’s just that she has never seen it! Over each page fits another, translucent one, on which the ghost (and friends) can be seen, playing their own hide-and-seek with our little girl.

    Children will quickly be in on the joke as they spot the ghosts, behaving in mischievous ways – but not at all scary. The ghosts are portrayed in the stereotypical ‘white sheet’ variety which adds to the humour.

    The book is gorgeously presented – a tall hardback cover with the old house on the front. Jeffers has used sepia photography of the house and added his own signature quirky characters. Simple text makes it an accessible story for very young readers, while others can enjoy the pictures which invite engagement and fun.

    There’s a Ghost in this House is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2021.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.