May 04, 2021
From boys forging strong friendships to confused mammoths waking up in New York, these illustrated tales gently unlock young emotions
Picture books that can bring tears to the eyes even after repeated reads are few and far between. John Burningham mastered the skill with Granpa, as did Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb with The Paper Dolls. But it’s particularly impressive that debut author Lauren Ace and illustrator Jenny Løvlie achieved the feat while fresh to the game with The Girls, about four schoolgirls whose friendship and lives blossom under an old apple tree. The tale won the illustrated book category of the 2019 Waterstones children’s book prize, and the pair have since received messages from readers worldwide thanking them for reflecting their own friendships and inspiring the next generation.
Ace agonised over whether a male-focused follow-up was appropriate, feeling that the lives of boys are so well documented in children’s literature. Thankfully she persisted. The Boys (Little Tiger) centres again on four children of different races and family backgrounds – Rey, Nattie, Bobby and Tam – but here the seaside replaces the tree, becoming both the setting and a symbol of uncontrollable emotions. Continue reading...
Feb 09, 2021
From bonding over bees and a deft exploration of race to a lipstick-loving toddler, the latest illustrated stories are a joy
The acclaimed children’s author Tom Percival grew up in a caravan in Shropshire with no electricity or heating. Drinking water came from a spring in the garden and on cold mornings, he says, ice sparkled on the bedposts. While his latest book, The Invisible (Simon & Schuster), isn’t a memoir, his own experiences of being poor are clearly etched throughout this tale about a child whose parents can’t pay the bills – from the beautifully observed frost patterns on the opening pages to the way the pictures glow when the family are together.
Relocated to a grey, depressing neighbourhood after her family have to give up their home, Isabel notices that people look through her. She starts to fade away. But upon encountering others left behind by society – whether old, homeless or refugees – she starts invigorating the community from within, and colour begins to seep back into the washed-out illustrations. In the endnote, Percival says of his own childhood: “there were two things that I had plenty of – love and books”, and while Isabel’s story is a valuable look at the heartbreakingly relevant issue of poverty today, its focus is also on love, family and society. Continue reading...
Dec 13, 2020
From Covid-19 to Black Lives Matter, children’s books tackled the world-changing events of 2020. Here, Fiona Noble looks back on the year and, below, our picks in each age group
As Covid-19 tightened its grip in March, forcing schools, bookshops and libraries to close, so the children’s book world responded in characteristically generous style, producing an explosion of free online content to educate, entertain and support children and families. Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler created a series of Covid-related cartoons featuring beloved characters (“The Gruffalos stayed in the Gruffalo cave’”) and children’s laureate Cressida Cowell read daily chapters of How to Train Your Dragon. Picture book creator Rob Biddulph became a viral phenomenon thanks to his Draw With Rob videos, culminating in no less than a Guinness world record for the largest online art class when 45,611 people joined him in drawing a whale. A whole new Covid category of children’s books was born, both instructional and inspirational. There was Coronavirus: A Book for Children about Covid-19 (Nosy Crow), While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar (Faber), and a slew of rainbow-hued picture books. Health workers were celebrated in The Hospital Dog by Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie (Macmillan) while Captain Tom Moore’s record-breaking fundraiser for the NHS became the One Hundred Steps picture book (Puffin), illustrated by Adam Larkum. And although not written in response to the pandemic, Maggie O’Farrell weaves resilience and bravery into her elegant debut picture book, Where Snow Angels Go (Walker), an unforgettable winter adventure with illustratrions by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. Continue reading...
Oct 20, 2020
Three bears have a terrible night’s sleep, a pug has a pet human, and a veggie patch goes raving
As winter looms and the pandemic drags on, children’s publishers are bringing out their big players to keep spirits lifted, from Julia Donaldson and Lauren Child to Benji Davies and Rob Biddulph. In Just One of Those Days (Macmillan), there’s even the welcome return of Jill Murphy’s lovable Bear family, 40 years since Mr Bear yawned his way through the classic Peace at Last.
Deceptively simple, this tender new tale finds the three bears tackling a tricky day after a rotten night’s sleep. Mum breaks her glasses, Dad spills coffee over his work, and everything is unsettling at nursery for poor Baby Bear. “‘How was work?’ asked Mr Bear… ‘Not brilliant,’ said Mrs Bear.” But, returning home, they all get cosy on the sofa with pizza. Murphy is terrific at observing daily life and gently reflecting on the healing power of familial love. It’s all very relatable – right down to the cover image of the three bears uncomfortably asleep on the parents’ bed, baby spreadeagled, adults squashed and grimacing. Continue reading...
May 05, 2020
A dazzling plant compendium, Axel Scheffler’s crucial guide to coronavirus and a bear in Bermuda shorts lift the spirits in lockdown
No sooner were the words “school closure” uttered than the children’s publishing world rallied. Who would have predicted that when a pandemic hit some heroes would take the form of children’s authors on livestreams? Draw-alongs from the likes of Mo Willems or Rob Biddulph (whose wildly popular twice weekly #DrawWithRob sessions have landed him a new activity book deal), and readings from makeshift studios by major authors including Julia Donaldson, Oliver Jeffers and Benji Davies (frequently upstaged by his pre-schooler, Esther), have quickly become timetable essentials, soothing and fun (and cherished by parents trying to work).
Arguably the most vital contribution so far has come from The Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler with his free digital information title, Coronavirus: A Book for Children. Essentially a calming, explanatory pamphlet about the virus and the impact it’s having, it features Scheffler’s familiar, saucer-eyed characters (mostly humans but there is a Gruffalo to be spotted) and is aimed at primary school-age kids. Written by staff members Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson and Nia Roberts at Scheffler’s publisher, Nosy Crow, with expert input from Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, two headteachers and a child psychologist, by late April it had been translated into 46 languages and downloaded more than a million times. Continue reading...