Pumpkin Soup

It was truly joyous to see the Halloween book display in the window of my local independent bookshop today. A lot of the books were familiar – and there were some new additions, bedecked in orange foil, spooky and fun – but there was one book I hadn’t seen before: Pumpkin Soup.

The story is the kind that might not get past an editor at a modern publishing house – a different brand of quirky, harder to categorise – and features a squirrel, a cat and a duck that live together in an old white cabin and share all the domestic tasks – including the making of the daily pumpkin soup. One day, when Duck wants to stir the soup and the others won’t let him – not his part of the job, you understand – he gets in a huff and runs off. When he doesn’t return in time for soup the next day – which tastes horrible as only Duck knows the right amount of salt to add – the two animals go looking for their friend, imagining what might have become of him, on the way. Happily they all reconcile back at the cabin, and Duck is allowed to stir the soup. And he then plays bagpipes at the end. See, told you it was strange!

I am glad I finally discovered this gem (published in 1998) – the colour palette is rich and autumnal and the illustrations are truly stunning and evocative. Enjoy some pumpkin soup this Halloween!

Pumpkin Soup, published by Corgi, is available now.

Where The Wild Things Are

Some children’s books feel like they are written for adults. In Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak speaks directly to the child.

Deemed controversial when it first came out, Where The Wild Things Are is a feral romp through the intense feelings of childhood, telling the story of Max – in his now iconic animal suit and crown – who sails off in a strop to the land of the wild things after he is punished for naughty behaviour by his mother.

Sendak was not one to sugarcoat childhood. Born in 1928 to Polish Jewish parents who had emigrated to America, he grew up with the devastating impact of The Holocaust on his extended family. As a young child he nearly succumbed to Scarlet Fever – fear and mortality were part of his formative years.

Throughout his career Sendak railed against the notion that childhood was a sun-kissed period of innocence and insouciance and should be depicted as such – in In The Night Kitchen his protagonist’s dream wanderings land him naked in cake batter and Outside Over There features child abduction and goblins. In an interview with The New York Times, a year before he died, he bemoaned the fact that children’s books had ceased being “truthful” about the authentic experience of children.

In a time of such uncertainty, with a deadly virus lurking, schools closed and an economic crash brewing that could affect generations to come, we need Wild Things and Sendak more than ever, to give children a bedtime story that reassures them, not with sweetness and light, but the message that we implicitly understand the untamed frustrations and anxieties within which they cannot explain.

Maurice Sendak’s “mission statement”.

What If…?


Joe has been invited to a party but he has lost the invitation with the address. He walks down the road with his mum, looking for the right house, all the while wondering aloud if he even wants to get there.

What If…? really struck a chord with me, as one of those kids whose first reaction to something ‘fun’ was invariably one of anxiety. Anthony Browne is such a master in his surreal rendering of familiar things, and the scale of his illustrations reflect the disproportionate worry that can affect children experiencing something unknown.


What If?…, by Anthony Browne, published by Picture Corgi, is available now.

Feminist Baby

I love everything about these glorious board books. The diversity, the humour, the art, their feminist manifesto. Seriously, what’s not to love?!

It’s never too early to teach your little ones about equality and they’re also a breath of fresh air for parents besieged with gendered ideas around parenthood, including the clothes and toys (and books) you buy for your baby or toddler.

Feminist Baby and Feminist Baby: He’s a Feminist Too!, by Loryn Brantz, published by Disney Press, available now. 

Knighthood for Beginners



From Elys Dolan, the creator of brilliant picture books such as Weasels, comes a very funny new fiction series for young readers.

Dave is no good at being a dragon. He doesn’t like to eat villages or hoard gold and his knitting is terrible (the skills required to achieve full dragonhood). But Dave loves to read. Having failed his dragon test, he turns to his favourite book, Knighthood for Beginners. With the help of German wunder-goat Albrecht – trusty steed and life coach – can he become a knight despite the teeny, tiny problem that as a dragon, he is their sworn enemy?

Packed with madcap humour in both text and illustration, fun sight gags and a handy German glossary at the back (!), this is joyful storytelling perfect for reading aloud with the opportunity for lots of voices and fun accents!

If writing for this age group requires an endless supply of brilliant, barmy creativity then this series should run and run. Hurrah!

Knighthood for Beginners and Wizarding for Beginners, by Elys Dolan, published by Oxford University Press, are out now.







Picture book makers Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen go back to basics – the elemental shape of a story – in Triangle.

Triangle sets out one day to play a trick on his friend, Square. But does Square have a plan of his own?

Triangle is the first book in a trilogy so it does feel quite open-ended but like the best picture books you can look for your own answers (I personally don’t believe Square).

In a board casing with thick paper pages that feel saturated with Klassen’s colours the book has an iconic look and is a joy to handle.

Triangle, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, published by Walker, is out now.


imageThis is a mopoke.

A small owl native to Australia, Philip Bunting’s imagined mopoke is a sardonic little character who’d like to be left alone, but unfortunately, no matter how high your branch, you can’t always get what you want.

Mopoke is an absolute hoot. In its earthy palette and visual humour it is Klassen-esque (a description I do not use lightly). It is perfectly paced for sharing with children of any age and as you turn the pages the inventive wordplay builds to a satisfying, crashing crescendo.

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting, published by Scholastic, is available in September.

Gift Books for Christmas

From children’s treasuries to ornate gift editions of much-loved tales, Christmas is the time of the gorgeously illustrated hardback. Here are some original titles to mix with the old favourites.

the-fox-and-the-starThe Fox and the Star – Waterstones’ Book of the Year no less – is a shining example of this genre. The debut work of books designer Coralie Bickford-Smith, this is a modern day fable about a fox that befriends a star in the sky, and how he copes when his friend disappears. The intricacy of the illustrations and the interplay of the spreads is exquisite. A treat for all ages.


The ImaginaryContinuing the theme of unconventional friendships, The Imaginary is a fantastical story by A.F. Harrold about a young girl and her imaginary friend, Rudger. The real and imagined worlds they inhabit are fully realised and the storytelling is confident, madcap and affecting, but it’s the extraordinary illustrations by Emily Gravett that really pulled me in.


Martin-Haake-City-AtlasFollowing on from the success of stand-out non-fiction books such as Big Picture Press’ Maps, we have Martin Haake’s vibrant City Atlas. Children are invited to jump in and explore 30 cities through lavishly illustrated maps that pick out key landmarks, prominent citizens and lots of other fun details to search and find.


 The Fox and the Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith, published by Penguin, is available now.

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, published by Bloomsbury, is available now.

City Atlas, by Martin Haake, published by Wide-Eyed Editions, is available now.

Grandad’s Island


Benji Davies, award-winning author and illustrator of The Storm Whale, has created a vibrant and thoughtful tale about losing someone you love.

Syd goes to visit his grandad one day and finds him in the attic. They go through a magical door and from there they set sail for a tropical island. After an adventure exploring the island together, Syd is ready to go home, but Grandad decides to stay behind…

The depiction of the flora and fauna of the paradisiacal island is gloriously colourful and the fun, loving relationship between Syd and his grandad makes their parting genuinely emotional.


The story doesn’t deal with the subject of bereavement as overtly as some other books on this theme – two of my favourites are Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle and the stark, unsentimental Duck, Death and Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch – but it’s a heartfelt, gentle introduction to saying goodbye.

Grandad’s Island, by Benji Davies, published by Simon and Schuster, is available now.

Five Great Books for Autumn

Autumn is my favourite season. The evenings are getting darker and colder and all the better to snuggle up to a book with (ideally clutching a mug of hot chocolate). Here are five top picks to fire the imagination and celebrate this wonderful time of year.

The days may be shorter but this fantastic themed sticker activity book will help you get the most out of them. Go on a walk through the leaves with The Gruffalo Autumn Nature Trail and explore the changing colours of the season.

The Gruffalo Autumn Nature Trail, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan, is available now.

 A veritable classic about a skeleton family – Big Skeleton, Little Skeleton and Dog Skeleton – who live in a dark, dark house on a dark, dark hill and set out to scare on a dark, dark night…The first in the much-loved series by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, Funnybones is a fantastic book for a fun Halloween.

Funnybones by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, published by Puffin, is available now.

Another perfect character for revelling in Halloween’s rituals and superstitions is Winnie the Witch. In this instalment of the hilarious, long-running series, Winnie casts a spell to change the colour of her black cat Wilbur, so she can stop falling over him in her black house…But, of course, things don’t quite go to plan.

Winnie the Witch, by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, published by Oxford University Press, is available now.

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, is a very special picture book to discover at any time of year but even more so now, as our imaginations are sparked by tales of ghosts and ghouls. An inspired story about a little boy confronting his fear of the dark, this is perfect for reading under a blanket with a trusty torch.

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, published by Orchard Books, is available now.

Last but not least we come to a gorgeous retelling of Hansel and Gretel, the ultimate frightening fairytale with evil witches and children lost in the forest. The story is a familiar one, but the atmospheric use of paper cut-outs and transparent paper will dazzle you.

Hansel and Gretel, by Sybille Schenker, published by Minedition, is available now.