An Artist’s Alphabet

An Artist’s Alphabet
Norman Messenger
Walker Studio

This is really way beyond a mere alphabet book: it’s a stunningly beautiful art book, extraordinarily clever, playful, sophisticated and nigh on irreverent where the ABC is concerned, being based more on the shape and form of letters than their sound quality.

There are some surreal offerings, letters inspired by works of art such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. (C for curves maybe); mythology,

botany,

zoology,

landscape features including clouds and mountains, tools; but every single one of Messenger’s pages is itself a work of art. Some of them might challenge you: it took me some while to appreciate his use of negative space in R; but once you see it you think, how come I didn’t see it immediately, especially as it’s obvious on the cover.

I’d love to share every single letter with you but rather, I urge you to get your own copy of this book if you have an interest in art, design, and / or language and its components,

An absolute treasure to behold, to pore over and to spark the imagination: I see it being enjoyed by individuals of all ages, used in art and design courses in schools and colleges, and much more.

Mr Brown’s Bad Day / Bunnies on the Bus

Mr Brown’s Bad Day
Lou Peacock and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow

Mr Brown is a Very Important Businessman with a Very  Important Briefcase that he takes to his Very Important Office where he spends his time signing Very Important Letters and attending Very Important Meetings.

Every lunchtime clutching his Very Important Briefcase he leaves his office to eat his lunch in the park.

One Tuesday however, a baby elephant snatches the briefcase while Mr B is busy thinking important thoughts.

There follows a frantic chase on foot and by tricycle as said briefcase is passed relay style onto the back of an ice-cream trolley and then in the possession of a group of children, onto the fairground’s big wheel, and the bus back through the town to school.

Mr Brown finally catches up with it when the bus stops to disgorge the passengers.

Eventually with darkness falling it’s a very weary tiger that heads home clutching his briefcase. Once there he checks to make sure the contents are safe before heading up to bed for a well-earned rest and some more ‘Very Important Business’ …

But what was inside that briefcase? Now that would be telling and I’m no story spoiler.

Great fun with a wonderful final surprise revelation. Alison Friend’s illustrations are a treat too with plenty of detail and action to engage your little ones as they listen to Lou Peacock’s tongue-in-cheek tale.

Bunnies on the Bus
Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

TOOT! TOOT HONK! HONK! Madness and mayhem abound as the bunnies take to the bus one summer’s day in Sunny Town, so the rest of us drivers and pedestrians had better steer well clear as the bunny driver has clearly gone rogue, careering past the bus stops narrowly avoiding the other animals going about their daily business.

The bunnies meanwhile are having a ball aboard FLUFF 1, cavorting down the aisle; there’s even one up on the roof.
Where is this vehicle bound for you may well be wondering as it suddenly leaves the road completely.

No matter, for at the next stop, those bunny passengers instantly set their sights on another mode of transport as they make their exit and err … where one journey ends another begins so to speak …

Anarchic fun for your bouncy little ones created by the terrific Ardagh/ Mantle team whose combination of energetic rhyme (Philip) and cracking illustrations jam-packed with gigglesome details (Ben) is perfect cheering up material.

Once Upon An Atom

Once Upon an Atom
James Carter, illustrated by William Santiago
Little Tiger

James Carter successfully wears several hats: he’s a much loved, award-winning poet, a musician and a non-fiction writer; how he manages to fit in all his performances at schools and festivals too, is pretty amazing.

In this latest book, James fuses his poetry and non-fiction writing, this time to explore some of the really BIG questions that fascinate both children and adults alike; and they’re all of a scientific nature.

Starting with a mention of the Big Bang and tiny atoms, the poet wonders, ‘WHY do leaves turn red and gold? / WHY do fireworks explode. // WHAT are whizzes, bangs expansions? / They’re all CHEMICAL REACTIONS!’
That assertion certainly makes chemistry begin to sound exciting.

Next on the scientific agenda are electricity, followed by gravity,

both aspects of physics – for as we hear, ‘We live on one great universe / and PHYSICS tells us how that works.’

Evolution, medicine come next, followed by my favourite of the sciences – botany, all of which are aspects of BIOLOGY.

The final stanzas talk of the work of scientists, their experimenting and inventing, ending with the exciting thoughts: ‘Now WHO knows what / the FUTURE is? // Find out … / become a SCIENTIST!’ Now there’s a possibility.

On the last spread is one of James’ acrostics entitled It’s all a question of SCIENCE.

A fizzingly, zinging addition to James’ non-fiction poetry series, this one is a clever fusion of playful entertainment and STEM information. With each spread being embellished with William Santiago’s arresting, zippy art, the book becomes a STEAM title that is great to share in the classroom or at home.

There’s a Lion in the Library!

There’s a Lion in the Library!
Dave Skinner and Aurélie Guillerey
Orchard Books

Here’s a simply delicious reworking of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable starring a little girl named Lucy Lupin. Lucy might appear a little sweetie but in fact she’s a holy terror whose favourite thing is to tell lies – absolute whoppers!

It all begins one Monday morning when this young miss makes the titular announcement to the librarian, claiming the creature is chomping through the history books.

An emergency is declared and the library evacuated while a search takes place.

A similar thing happens on the Tuesday when our mischief-maker informs the caretaker that the lion is devouring books in the romance section. Then come Wednesday the announcement is made to the coffee shop manager who insists all library visitors run for their lives.

For the third time the search for said creature proves fruitless.

The three library workers have a meeting to consider this mysterious visiting creature. Could it perhaps be that when it comes to sweet-looking little girls, appearances can be deceptive?

A day or two later, young Lucy Lupin returns to the library. On this particular day however, things go a little differently …

I’m a terrific enthusiast when it comes to fractured fairy tales and fables, and this one is a cracker to read aloud. Aurélie Guillerey’s illustrations have a slightly retro look reminiscent of Roger Duvoisin and her characters both human and leonine are splendid.

The Extraordinary Gardener / The Five of Us / Incredible You

Celebrating the paperback editions of 3 Tate Publishing titles:somehow they all speak a similar message to us in this current crisis:

The Extraordinary Gardener
Sam Boughton

Wildly imaginative, Joe lives in an ordinary apartment in an ordinary city but in his inner world, plants flourish growing taller than skyscrapers and wondrous animals abound.
Then thanks to reading one night in bed, a seed of an idea is planted in his mind; it’s colourful, aromatic and joyful sounding. The following morning he sets about transforming that idea into reality, starting with an apple seed and some basic tools.

His idea seems to take ages and ages, almost forever; so much so that Joe forgets his seed and returns to imagining colour into his grey existence. But then one daydreaming day Joe spies something outside, colourful and REAL!

Tender care and new seedlings turn that single tree into a stunningly beautiful garden; a garden admired by his neighbours and that ignites his imagination once again.

More seed gathering ensues and gradually the entire neighbourhood is totally transformed into a riot of colour. Just the kind of awesome moment we all need in our lives just now, and the message too about reaching out to neighbours and strangers.

The more you look at this book, the more you see – the detail is awesome; and Sam Broughton’s way of using greyness and gradually bringing more and more colour into her scenes is wonderful, culminating in a glorious fold-out.

Time to get yourself some seeds, go into your garden (or failing that grab some containers), and begin growing something amazing …

The Five of Us
Quentin Blake

This is an enormously powerful story about how five friends, set out for a picnic into the countryside, in a big yellow bus driven by Big Eddie. Now what we’re told about the five is that each of them has a special, amazing ability: Angie can see things miles away; Ollie’s hearing is supersensitive; Simona and Mario are extraordinarily strong and as for Eric – he’s not yet aware of his superpower, but of that  … more later.

During the picnic Eddie starts feeling “ a bit peculiar’ and suddenly the children have an emergency on their hands. Now more than ever they need to work together

but which of them is going to end up saving the day – or will it be a wonderful collective problem-solving effort.

Quentin Blake’s genius shines forth in every way in this book; his characters are wonderfully portrayed and he leaves plenty of space for readers to bring their own interpretations to the story, though one thing is absolutely clear: do whatever you can – a crisis situation can bring out the most awesome talents in every single one of us.
Written 6 years ago, this is just as timely now – or perhaps even more so.

Incredible You
Rhys Brisenden and Nathan Reed

We all have a bad day from time to time and perhaps like the boy protagonist in this book, on especially bad ones, we might wish to be someone or something else.

This boy however, having run through the gamut of ordinary

and less ordinary animals and the possibilities offered by so being, comes back round to the senses that he himself possesses and the wonderful wealth of possibilities these can generate.

In short everyone is uniquely AMAZING!

Amazing too is the combination of Rhys Brisenden’s rhyming text and Nathan Reed’s colourful scenes of upbeat characters, animal and human, demonstrating the multitude of ways of being yourself.

Hours of visual stimulus and an abundance of potential talk herein.

Only a Tree Knows How To Be a Tree/ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons

Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree
Mary Murphy
Otter-Barry Books

There are SO many things about a tree to appreciate and take delight in. First and foremost is its inherent and unique beauty, but it also provides shelter for all manner of insects, birds,

and other small animals, for as the author says ‘Only a Tree knows / how to be a tree.’

In similar enthusiastic fashion, Mary talks of and celebrates other things in the natural world – birds, dogs, water with its plethora of fish,

Earth whereon all the things mentioned have their homes, but also for its turning that brings both night and day, and the seasons; and there’s the universe with its multitude of planets … “But Earth is our home / and only Earth knows how to be Earth.’

There are people too of all kinds to celebrate every one special and different: these are represented by a host of joyful children

playing, talking, pretending, one even meditates. Indeed children feature in all but one spread. I love Mary’s inclusive, brightly hued, detailed pictures of them all. These alone offer plenty to look at, enjoy and talk about.

Nothing is too insignificant to celebrate here from the tiniest creature to the entire universe. Share, pause, reflect and feel awe.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons
illustrations by Max Williams/ Bear Hunt Films Ltd. Susanna Chapman
Walker Entertainment

No matter the weather or the season, youngsters will find something of interest in this interactive seasonal guide. There are a number of weather related investigations some of which can be done at home, others will involve going out doors. You might make your own rain gauge; or perhaps find a good spot for some cloud spotting.

On a clear wintry night, what about some moon spotting or looking at the stars? Or on a fine spring day, why not take the opportunity to get outside and look for signs of new life – there might be baby animals around.

Then once back indoors you can adorn a field with spring flowers using some of the stickers provided at the back of the book.

There are also seasonal recipes, crafts and I particularly like the idea of ‘Go green lucky dip’ where you can use the discs provided but also add you own counters.

With plenty of fun, learning opportunities, certainly this is a sticker activity book and much more.

Patricia’s Vision / Hosea Plays On

Here are a couple of books about enormously inspiring people from Sterling Books

Patricia’s Vision
Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris
Sterling Children’s Books

Here’s a super STEM picture book biography by Michelle Lord, of an inspiring African American woman, Dr. Patricia Bath, who followed both her passion and her vision to become a doctor and change other people’s lives by restoring their eyesight by means of tools that she herself had invented, tools that included lasers to remove cataracts.

From her childhood, (as a young child having seen a blind man begging on the street in Harlem in the 1940s, and pondered on how and why it could have happened), Patricia was a girl with a great and growing curiosity. After qualifying as a doctor, she “decided to get the training, education, skills set so I could achieve miracles” and that is precisely what she did, believing that “eye sight is a basic human right”.

She always looked for possibilities where others saw only insurmountable walls, and through her tenacity and determination managed to do what had never been done before often against her naysaying fellow doctors who hadn’t the imagination she possessed to look beyond the information given.

Through her entire life, even in retirement, this awesome woman kept her goal firmly in her sights and when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, she visited a school classroom wherein blind children received their education in a classroom without braille books. On her return home she sent computers to that Tanzanian school so that the pupils could use their fingertips to read braille computer keyboards; this she called “Computer Vision”.

What an incredible woman and what an awe-inspiring book, made all the more so by the inclusion of direct quotations from Dr Bath and animated illustrations that show both emotion and scientific details. A terrific tribute, and a splendid way to introduce young readers from all over the globe, to this medical hero who died last year.
(There’s also a timeline, a note from the author, a further page about Dr Bath and a bibliography.)

Hosea Plays On
Kathleen M. Blasi and Shane W. Evans
Sterling Children’s Books

Both author Kathleen Blasi and illustrator Shane Evans celebrate the street musician Hosea Missouri Taylor Jr. in their fictional homage of a story of a day in his life, when he boards the bus and goes to his favourite spot, Rochester Public Market.
There he would take out his saxophone and play amid the hustle and bustle. On this particular day we see him passing a boy raking leaves who pauses in his work to pretend play using his rake.

Once in the market passers by are entranced by his music and some drop money into his saxophone case; one girl is moved to dance,

their harmonious double act continuing until the rain comes down when she and the watchers, head for cover leaving Hosea to play alone.

At the end of the day, Hosea is thrilled to discover he has earned ‘enough money’ which we understand is the means to buy another instrument – a trumpet –

and in so doing, spread the love by donating it to the lad Nate, he’d spoken to in the morning. Then they play a lovely surprise finale duet.

The vibrant artwork is wonderfully uplifting: Hosea’s passion for music and its power shines out and the story is enormously, joyously heart-warming.

An author’s note explains how the musician’s goal was to keep the neighbourhood children in positive ways. To this end he bought instruments for youngsters and offered them free music lessons: a true advocate for learning through music.

Recommended for all who want to share, or inspire others with the joys of music and of giving.