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.

Where The Free Things Are


‘Free admission’ is always a welcome phrase, but especially so in cash-strapped January. Well, you have permission to go wild this month with not one, but two fantastic free exhibitions highlighting the best work in children’s book illustration.

The Illustration Cupboard – a magical Aladdin’s cave of a gallery – is hosting it’s annual winter exhibition until the end of January. There is wonderful stuff on view – a silk-screen The Tiger Who Came to Tea caught my eye as well as, of course, original sketches from Where The Wild Things Are. There is also plenty of work on display from modern illustrators such as Shaun Tan. All the work is for sale but I quite happily ignored the price tags on the prints and just let my retinas soak it all in.

Elsewhere, at the British Library, Picture This looks at ten perennial children’s classics which have been re-imagined over the decades by various illustrators. I especially loved Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child’s work for The Secret Garden, perhaps because it summed up the cloistered wonder of this compact but dense selection of work.

The exhibition ends 26th January, so don’t miss your chance to explore the history of these classic stories. And if you like a cheeky photo op, have your picture taken alongside the life-sized Iron Man (made out of card – well, it is free after all).

Illustration Cupboard Winter Exhibition

Picture This, British Library

Make Your Mark on a BookBench!


Ever curled up on a good book? The National Literacy Trust – the charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK – is inviting artists to send in designs for an exciting new public art project: ‘Books about Town’.

The project, to be unveiled this summer, will feature a series of ‘BookBenches’, seats boasting illustrations inspired by literary works with a connection to London.

The aim is to promote reading for pleasure, and encourage visitors to discover the BookBenches by following literary trails around the city. One of the benches already complete (by artist Mik Richardson) is inspired by children’s classic The Wind in the Willows. It will sit beside the Bank of England (where Kenneth Grahame worked as a secretary).

So if you are an artist and would like to submit a design for the project – run in partnership with arts and education company Wild in Art – you can download the artist’s information and apply here.

Some suggestions of books with links to London can be found here. Artists are free to choose a title from this list (which includes Paddington Bear) or create a BookBench design inspired by another piece of work altogether.

If are interested in submitting a design don’t dally! The deadline for entries is 5pm on Monday 20 January 2014.

For more information, contact Aimee Faunt: aimee.faunt@literacytrust.org.uk.
For general information about the National Literacy Trust, contact Jo Franks: jo.franks@literacytrust.org.uk.

Get the latest news on this exciting venture at http://www.literacytrust.org.uk or follow the Trust on Facebook or Twitter.

Interview: Helen and Thomas Docherty

untitledHelen and Thomas Docherty, the creative duo behind The Snatchabook, talk about ambiguity and suspense in picture books, the joy of bedtime stories, and future projects…

Helen, I know you wanted to be writer when you were younger, but you went on to have a career as a language teacher. Did you always know you would go back to writing? 

No, I didn’t. Despite being sure I would become a writer until about 14, I lost conviction in my own attempts as I became more aware of the competition. As much as I loved teaching – especially the more creative side of it – I always felt that in some way I had strayed from my original path. I met Thomas and was reintroduced to the world of children’s literature through his books. I think I knew from the day we met we would end up working together at some point, and a few years later we co-wrote Ruby Nettleship and the Ice-Lolly Adventure in 2010.  However, it wasn’t until my job was at risk that, with Thomas’s encouragement, I made a real effort to start writing myself again. That was the summer of 2011 – I wrote The Snatchabook, and I haven’t looked back!

Thomas, I loved Big Scary Monster, which you wrote and illustrated yourself. How is the process of collaboration with Helen different?

Big Scary Monster - Layouts UK

When I write and illustrate a story I often develop the words and the pictures at the same time, letting them influence each other. Big Scary Monster started off with me thinking about how everything looks small when you are high up. It was a lot of fun working on The Snatchabook with Helen. Illustrating, like writing, can be quite a solitary profession and it’s always nice to have someone else’s ideas and input. I often ask Helen for her opinion on my pictures and it was exciting for us to be able to watch the world she had created come to life.

The Snatchabook starts off stealing from other animals. I like it when the character is morally ambiguous and introduces uncertainty in some way. Is this something that interests you both?

Helen: I’ve always been drawn to characters that transgress in some way – flawed, but not beyond redemption. Dr Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas has always been one of my favourites, and was definitely an influence in the creation of the Snatchabook. I wanted to set up a whodunit with a slightly film noir-like atmosphere and to create a dastardly thief…A certain amount of suspense can work really well in a picture book, as long as there’s a happy ending. Of course, once Eliza has caught the Snatchabook, we realize he is just a pitiful little creature who only steals books because he has no-one to read to him; and this gives Eliza the chance to demonstrate compassion and to find a solution, and gives the Snatchabook what he really wanted all along. In my experience, children are fascinated by wrong-doing and have a keen sense of justice.


Thomas: Deep down, like most people, (the Snatchabook) just wants to do the right thing and be loved. It was fun to create the contrast between the creepy autumn landscapes and the cosy burrows. It is that contrast and how the animals react to it that helps create the suspense in the illustrations. One of my favourite books is Moominpappa at Sea. It’s full of ambiguous characters in an elemental world.

How important was the ritual of the bedtime story when you were growing up, and how important is it with your own children? 

Helen: I was very lucky to have parents who were keen readers and always read to me. I have clear memories of my Dad reading me the Winnie the Pooh stories at bedtime, and both of us being convulsed with laughter. It’s an obvious thing to say, but the more you read to your kids, the more enjoyment they will get out of books for the rest of their lives. I love reading to our own daughters now – it’s the best part of the day.

Thomas: I’m dyslexic and it took me years to get reading properly so bedtime stories were very important to me. If I hadn’t been read to, I might never have developed the love of stories that I have today.

Any future projects you’re working on, together or separately?

Helen: Tom is working on the final illustrations of our next book together, Abracazebra (Alison Green Books, early 2015), about a zebra who arrives in a sleepy backwater with her travelling magic show, and a jealous goat who feels that she’s stolen his pitch. I also have another picture book with Faber (due in 2015), called Do You Remember?

Thomas: I also have some black and white pictures to do for a junior fiction title about a riding school. And I have a new picture book with Templar called The Driftwood Ball (pictured above), written and illustrated by myself, coming out in January. It’s a take on West Side Story with badgers and otters. And of course, a less tragic ending.

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.

Book Week Scotland – read all about it!

???????????????Scottish Book Trust – Scotland’s national agency tasked with promoting literacy and a love of reading – will be delivering a programme of book-related activities across Scotland from 25 November to 1 December. The diverse events on offer will encourage people of all ages to get involved. The programme for children will feature free books and live link-ups with their favourite authors.

Three free picture books (try saying that three times fast) will be gifted to every primary 1 pupil in Scotland – Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, What’s the Time Mr Wolf by Debi Gliori and Jumblebum by Chae Strathie and Ben Cort.

608[1]Another highlight of the programme will see children’s illustrator and author Mairi Hedderwick bring her beloved creation, Katie Morag, to life for children across Scotland during a special ‘authors live’ broadcast in partnership with the BBC on 28 November.

Prior to the beginning of Scottish Book Week Mairi will also be appearing at the first Tarbert Book Festival on 23 November. She will show kids how to put a story together, followed with a storytelling and book signing session.

To learn more about Book Week Scotland, visit www.bookweekscotland.com or follow @Bookweekscot on Twitter. For more information on Tarbert Book Festival you can visit their facebook page.