Itch Scritch Scratch; All I Said Was


20140526-224651-82011172.jpgI love picture books: art and text combine to tell a story. However, sometimes the busy design can make it difficult for an adult with dyslexia to share the story with a child.

Enter the fantastic Red Squirrel Books imprint from Barrington Stoke. In collaboration with authors and illustrators, Red Squirrel Books has created two great new picture books which have the added bonus of clear text and uncluttered backgrounds.


Itch Scritch Scratch by Eleanor Updale is a fun, rhyming story about that dreaded childhood nuisance – nits! Witness one mother’s war against these fiends as she employs increasingly drastic methods including shampoos, chemicals, the vacuum cleaner, a jar of mayonnaise…Sarah Horne’s bright, cartoonish illustrations add to the fantastic sense of mayhem.

20140526-225550-82550791.jpgMichael Morpurgo’s All I Said Was is a wonderful tale about a bird and a boy that switch places. At first the boy is delighted to be able to fly but life as a bird is dangerous and he misses the safe freedom of reading in his room. Will the bird swap back or is the boy stuck? A clever story about the power of imagination is nicely accompanied by gorgeous watercolours by Ross Collins.

Red Squirrel Books tick all the boxes – imaginative stories, great artwork and accessibility. There really is nothing better than words and images coming together to help readers soar.


Itch Scritch Scratch by Eleanor Updale and Sarah Horne, and All I Said Was by Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins, published by Barrington Stoke, are available now.




Not Now, Bernard

imageBernard can’t seem to get the attention of his busy parents, even when he tries to tell them there is a monster in the garden.

As a child David McKee’s story terrified me – the idea that I might get eaten by a monster (as happens to poor Bernard) and, even worse, that my parents wouldn’t even notice.

This story is often interpreted as a cautionary tale for parents – neglect your children and they will become monsters – or a very clever allegory for monstrous childish emotion, in the vein of Where The Wild Things Are.

Re-reading as an adult, I see a lot of wisdom and humour in this classic story. David McKee is a master of eerie unpredictability (he is the creator of Mr Benn, King Rollo and the iconic Elmer the patchwork elephant series). Unlike Elmer, who is cursed with standing out, Bernard struggles to be noticed.


Children will enjoy the refrain of ‘Not now, Bernard’, and will delight at the sheer absurdity of the monster, tucked up in bed in place of Bernard, utterly bewildered.

‘But I’m a monster’.

‘Not now, Bernard’, Bernard’s mother says, as she turns off the light.


Not Now, Bernard, by David McKee, published by Andersen Press, is available now.

A Fish Named Glub

FishNamedGlubA_2217_spr2[1]I’m a big fan of diners, so was delighted to find this fantastic new picture book set in one. It also deals with some of the big, universal themes that I love to encounter in picture books.

A fish is left behind by his owner and is adopted by a friendly but lonely diner employee, Foster. The fish is given the name ‘Glub’ because this is the sound he makes. Foster identifies with Glub because he feels they are both on display without really being seen.

Glub is a blank canvas, and begins to shape his identity through what he learns from others. He asks himself some fundamental questions – who is he? Where does he belong? What is his purpose?

In the end, Glub acts as a catalyst and helps bring happiness into the lives of the people around him, including Foster. He finds answers to his questions and goes from being a fish with no name to having a home, a friend – a place to belong.

Author Dan Bar-El creates rich characters with hopes and dreams and the wonderful illustrations by Josée Bisaillon use mixed media collage to paint a world both familiar and magical.

A genuinely heartwarming and original tale for children aged 4 to 7 (with plenty to admire for interested adults too, of course). You’ll never look at your goldfish in the same way again.

A Fish Named Glub, by Dan Bar-el and Josée Bisaillon, published by Kids Can Press, is available now. 

Walk This World

A wonderful lift the flap book for older children – and adults!

20140316-213458.jpgA truly beautiful creation, Lotta Nieminen’s Walk This World features over eighty flaps, giving us an imagined glimpse of life across the globe. Each spread captures a different composite cityscape, from London to Paris to Rio.

Sometimes you lift a flap to peek through a door – there’s a visitor admiring a painting in the Guggenheim; other flaps reveal underground, into subway tunnels and the heart of a volcano. Other flaps fast forward the reader in time – we see a sunbathing woman and then under the flap we see her completely bronzed.

There are also visual stories. We witness a jewel thief’s break-in at the beginning of the book in New York, and then his eventual arrest on our return there at the end. This is just one small part of the tapestry.

It can be a challenge to work out each visited country but the rhyming text provides a clue, giving children plenty to talk about. With so many carefully constructed details and sturdy, integrated flaps, Walk This World really withstands repeated journeys.


Walk this World, by Lotta Niemenen, published by Big Picture Press, is available now.

This Is Not My Hat


With the recent announcement of the 2014 Caldecott honours, I got to thinking about last year’s Caldecott medal winner – and one of my all-time favourite books – This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen.

It’s kind of an underwater picture book version of No Country for Old Men. A small fish steals something that doesn’t belong to him and – without any fanfare – is on the run from the big fish. There are no overt messages, no judgements of any kind. Just the inevitability of actions having consequences.

imageSpare and suspenseful, this is a picture book par excellence and an amazing work of art. The underwater tableaux are reminiscent of the way painter Paul Klee creates surreal scenes from simple blocks of colour. And then there is Klassen’s sly humour, found in the counter play between words and images (we hear the little fish say he’s sure the sleeping big fish won’t wake up just as we see a large eye opening).

No matter how you imagine the story plays out in the dense foliage of the final spreads, I think we can all agree the fish looked pretty darn sharp in that hat.


This is Not my Hat, by Jon Klassen, published by Walker books, is available now.

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Layout 1As a kid, who didn’t spend at least one ambitious afternoon trying to build something amazing out of toilet roll holders, tin foil and whatever else could be found lying around the house?

Rosie Revere likes collecting rubbish to construct her weird and wonderful inventions. She creates a pair of helium trousers and a hot dog dispenser complete with wired-up doll arms that squeeze out the mustard. But when her favourite zookeeper uncle laughs at one of her inventions – a thoughtful cheese-dispensing hat to keep snakes away – Rosie loses her confidence and stops sharing her ideas.

She doesn’t stop building in secret however, and it’s not until her great-great-aunt Rose comes to visit – herself an erstwhile builder of aeroplanes – that our plucky young heroine learns that a flop isn’t a failure, and mistakes shouldn’t hold you back.

RosieQuite aside from this encouraging message, the book is beautifully illustrated by David Roberts (characters and wacky inventions are depicted with equal flair) and Andrea Beaty’s rhymes are highly imaginative. As you might expect from a story celebrating engineering and innovation, the book is lovingly crafted: I love the use of graph paper, and take a peek under the book jacket for a riot of colourful illustrations!

A wonderful, genuinely funny book that takes the sting out of so-called failure and reframes it as an essential part of innovation. If at first you don’t succeed, persevere like Rosie Revere!

Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beatty and David Roberts, published by Abrams books, is available now.

The Snatchabook

Snatchabook_With Text-3This is a delightful tale about the joyful ritual of the bedtime story, written and illustrated by husband and wife team, Helen and Thomas Docherty.

Every night in subterranean homes and treetops across Burrows Down, rabbits, hedgehogs, badgers and owls read a bedtime story to their young. But then one night the books start to disappear – stolen in the blink of an eye. Who is responsible for disrupting story time? One young rabbit, Eliza Brown, decides to get to the bottom of the mystery…and meets a very strange creature indeed.

Snatchabook Jacket

This is a really fantastic story to read aloud. The pace and the lively, rhyming text keep the momentum going, and there are plenty of fun opportunities for changes of tone and voice. The illustrations are charmingly detailed and each animal home evokes a distinct atmosphere. The little Snatchabook himself is a particularly wonderful creation. There are shades of Dr Seuss about his ungainly cuteness and journey from (gentle) villain to hero. Snatch a copy whilst you can (or if you have a copy, make sure you hold on to it).

The Snatchabook, by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, published by Alison Green books (Scholastic), is available now.

The House that Sailed Away

71JlUHc1AZL__SL1143_This is a whimsical classic I remember very fondly from childhood. It’s about a house that unmoors from a quiet London street after weeks of rain, carrying Mother, Father, Granny, Morgan, Baby and Tailcat out to sea. There they encounter pirates, cannibals and Mr and Mrs Bruce…who started off on a paddle cruiser in Hull and ended up in the Pacific Ocean.

With witty prose by Pat Hutchins and lively illustrations by Laurence Hutchins there is plenty of fun to be had in each action-packed chapter, perfect for reading aloud to children. I was eight when my mother read this story to my sister and I.

We loved this story so much that we even named our cat after the fearsome pirate, One-Eyed Jake. Not that our cat had only one eye, but there was something swashbuckling about him. On rainy days when he couldn’t get outside he would sit staring at the window wondering perhaps if maybe, just maybe, today would be the day the house sailed away.

The House that Sailed Away, by Pat Hutchins, published by The Bodley Head, is available now.

The Day the Crayons Quit


Last month I was lucky enough to meet Oliver Jeffers in London at a signing for The Day the Crayons Quit, his fabulous collaboration with author Drew Daywalt.


Jeffers (much-loved author and illustrator of Lost and Found, The Incredible Book Eating Boy and Heart in a Jar) supplies the illustrations for what is a very clever and funny look at a boy dealing with a crayon box rebellion. The crayons express their dissatisfaction with their lot through a series of letters.

Pink feels underused; Black is sick of only being used as an outline – ‘How about a black beach ball sometime?’ – and Orange and Yellow are quibbling over who is the real colour of the sun.

All of the crayons have their own voices – Green is boisterous and happy, Purple is neat and writes on unlined paper, whereas Red is bold and sprawls over the lines. I’m most sympathetic to the plight of poor Peach. Having lost his paper coat, he is shamefully naked, hiding away in the crayon box.

The unique concept, the detail in the illustrations (all in crayon of course) and the ‘epistolary’ approach are really refreshing and lots of fun. This book made me seriously nostalgic for my crayons and reminded me of how much I used to love colouring in.

There’s a really nice message about thinking outside of the crayola box. For a girl who used to get into trouble from her Primary School teacher for using the wrong colours for things (pink petals on a daisy for example) the final spread was a joyful vindication of creative freedom.

The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, published by HarperCollins, is available now.