Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Things That Go!
Pavilion Books

This book brings together three of William Bee’s much-loved titles – Trucks, Trains and Boats and Planes, and Tractors and Farm Machines, in one bumper volume. I’ve already reviewed each of them on this blog so I won’t repeat myself; rather I’ll suggest that if you have a young child with an interest in things mechanical (or perhaps even yummy sounding breakfast cereals such as those sold down on William’s farm), then unless they already own the individual books, a copy of this totally immersive publication narrated in William Bee’s chatty style with his detailed, gently humorous illustrations, would make a smashing present.

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford Children’s Books

This large format, beautifully produced new edition of a classic has been brought up-to-date with terrific contemporary illustrations from Lauren Child and a new translation by Susan Beard.

We follow Pippi Longstocking on her amazing adventures as she moves, sans parents, into Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase of gold coins. Despite well-meaning adult villagers’ attempts to guide Pippi, she’d far rather be a wild spirit. She meets Tommy and Annika who very soon become her best friends. These new friends join her on her amusing escapades – leading the police a merry dance, going to school – briefly, joining the circus taking on a strong man and wowing the crowd, dancing a polka with thieves and celebrating her birthday.

Young readers and listeners will delight in their encounters with this intrepid, sometimes outrageous heroine while older ones and adults will rekindle their love of her with this bumper book that would make a super Christmas present.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll & Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

It’s always interesting to see new visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and although for me none can outdo those of Tenniel, assuredly Grahame Baker-Smith’s distinctive illustrations, breathe a different kind of life into Carroll’s story.

Every chapter has full page, richly coloured detailed spreads as well as several smaller pictures executed either in blues or sepia. 

One I lingered long over was the double page colour spread of the Mad Tea-Party and an amazing spread it assuredly is. There’s a large iced cake, the upper surface of which is crammed full of liquorice all sorts and what look to be those flying saucer sweets that contain sherbet. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of an egg cup containing an egg and peeking through the crack in its shell is the face of a chick. It’s details such as those that the new generation of readers who go down the rabbit hole , as well as those familiar with the story taking the descent again, will remember.

With illustrations full of mystery and magic and a superb design, this is a terrific gift book.

The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales
edited & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
NYR Children’s Collection

This anthology contains a dozen ‘literary’ fairytales selected by the husband and wife team to illustrate with their own whimsical touches.

Among those included are Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Oscar Wilde’s literary The Happy Prince, The Three Wishes told by Barbara Leonie Picard, Arthur Rackham’s classic version of Beauty and the Beast, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Prince and the Goose Girl, a reworking of Grimm’s Goose Girl, Parker Fillmore’s retelling of the Finnish story The Forest Bride, and a tale new to me, A.A. Milne’s Prince Rabbit. With an unexpected final twist, this is an amusing story of a childless king who is urged to name an heir. To that end the king arranges a series of contests for would-be heirs who meet certain criteria; one of which is a rabbit.

I found it fascinating to have such a variety of storytellers side by side in one volume, with the Provensens’ humorous, sometimes dark illustrations and I suspect this is a book that will appeal more to book collectors and older readers with a particular interest in fairy tales, than to child readers.

Let’s pay a visit to Noisy Village

The Children of Noisy Village
Happy Times in Noisy Village
Nothing But Fun in Noisy Village

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford Children’s Books


I was intrigued to learn of this series written many decades ago and now newly illustrated by Mini Grey who brings the village and its inhabitants to life for a new generation of readers. I seem to recall the first book from childhood but didn’t realise there were others.

The stories are narrated by one of the young characters, soon to be eight, Lisa and the first book introduces us to the village that comprises three farms side-by-side, set in the middle of the countryside. The village got its name on account of the six children who are exceedingly noisy: There’s Lisa and her two brothers Bosse and Lasse, from Middle Farmhouse, Ollie lives in South farmhouse and the third, North Farm is home to two sisters Anna and Britta. We share their adventures told in brief chapters, including Lisa’s birthday celebrations; being caught barefoot in a hail and thunderstorm resulting in frozen feet, a visit to an old lady named Kristin and a kitten a-piece for each of the three farmhouses.

The children’s Happy Times include Lasse skating close to a hole in the frozen lake and ending up falling backwards right in though happily not being ‘drownded’; a search for a water spirit and hunting for treasure.

By the third book Lisa is nine and the children are still having Nothing But Fun. Fun such s taking a lamb to school (that’s Lisa’s idea); the extraction of Ollie’s tooth; and the capture of a supposed prehistoric ox, and an adventure involving crayfish and the possibility of trolls.

The books are full of high-spirited fun, fuelled sometimes by some rather ridiculous ideas on behalf of one or other of the children, and just right for either solo reading or story sharing sessions.

Lotta Says ‘No!’ / Lotta Makes a Mess

Lotta Says ‘No!”
Lotta Makes a Mess

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

The Astrid Lindgren reissues continue with two books starring young Lotta who is four in the first book. The episodes in the first are told from the viewpoint of her elder sister, Mary-Lou and seemingly, Lotta is a spirited child with a large personality who’s never far from trouble.

Lotta Says, ‘No!’ has nine brief chapters and in the first we see that really what Lotta wants is to make sense of the world she’s growing up in – “What’s it raining for?” she asks one wet day and later, “What’s dung for?” and her response that afternoon is to stand out in the middle of a dung heap in the pouring rain getting soaked. When asked what on earth she’s doing, she replies, “So I’ll grown and be as big as Joe and Mary-Lou.”

Other adventures in this book include a visit to the dentist for a tooth extraction; a crinkly wool incident while visiting neighbour, Mrs Berg,

a kind of honorary grandmother to Lotta and her siblings; and the occasion when Lotta adorns the tree in which they’re picnicking with pancakes. The others too are full of charm and gentle humour: Mini Grey’s black and white illustrations are really fun and highlight Lotta’s endearing nature as they do in Lotta Makes a Mess.

Now, our young protagonist has turned five and appropriately there are five stories herein, each one as convincing as the previous escapades. In the first, Lotta (having woken in a bad mood) has a disagreement with her mother over what she should wear, cutting up her itchy, scratchy sweater and decides to move out.

The second chapter sees her installed in Mrs Berg’s junk-loft where she remains until she discovers just how dark it gets at night. That’s the end of her stay forever plans and she’s more than a tad relieved when she hears her Daddy’s voice saying how unhappy her Mummy is without her – the perfect excuse to reassess her situation, the consequence of which is that what’s been a truly terrible day ends on an upbeat note.

Both books are ideal read-aloud material for pre-schoolers and those in the foundation stage who will assuredly fall under Lotta’s charms and relish her misdemeanours.

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales / Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard

These are two special gift editions with Christmas in mind

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales
written by Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books

This sumptuous edition brings together three of the brother and sister team’s fairy tales previously published as separate books, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Lynn’s texts written with enormous verve and David’s magnificent illustrations that set each of the stories in a different era combine to re-energise tales from way back making readers experience them with fresh eyes, ears and hearts.

For Cinderella we’re transported to the art deco 1920s, age of flapper girls and glamour, where Greta’s (aka Cinderella) stepsisters, are Elvira (the wicked one) and Ermintrude (she’s exceedingly dim).

Her fairy godmother is a fashionista and her stepmother is a stone cold-hearted bullying female who immediately evicts Greta from her room giving it to her own offspring instead.

Rapunzel is set in the 1970s when platform shoes were all the rage. The beautiful miss in this version has a red-haired stunner as its star and she resides in a tower block flat, (or rather is imprisoned by her Aunt Edna who owns a ghastly pet crow).

Edna insists that safety is the reason for her niece’s current incarceration, and she uses occasional gifts of second-hand records and magazines to placate the girl, promising to show her the city sights once she’s older. Said aunt is employed as a school dinner lady, one who almost force feeds her charges with such ghastly fare as lumpy custard. Enter stage left, young Roger, lead singer of the school band. Could he be the one to rescue the red-haired damsel?

Sleeping Beauty has an entirely female cast, a 1950s vibe and a science fiction loving young lady Annabel who on her first birthday, falls under the evil spell of spiteful witch Morwenna, and wakes many more years later than the sixteen she’d first thought.

If you know somebody (or several people) who love fairy tales, then buy them this totally brilliant book: I’m going to have to invest in several copies this season. And, KS2 teachers just think of the potential this offers in the classroom.

Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford University Press

This bumper book with superbly spirited, full-colour illustrations by Lauren Child (who better to illustrate this Pippi 75th anniversary edition?) is an ideal present for a lively child with an inquiring mind, and a cracking way to bring Pippi, fellow residents of Villa Villekulla, monkey, Mr Nilsson and her horse – the one she can lift with her super strength – (strictly speaking he lives on the veranda), and her next-door friends, Annika and Tommy, alive to a new generation of readers and listeners.

The episodes herein include that where Pippi gets a trifle carried away when she goes on a shopping spree with a pocketful of golden coins. The consequences are pretty unlikely (unless you’re Pippi) with a bit of bother over a false arm and whether or not the particular shop is self-service. She also gets carried away in the sweet shop buying rather an excessive amount of sugary confectionery, and uses her common sense in the pharmacy.

Another time there’s an addition to the school role, though only briefly; Pippi also livens up the school outing;

has an encounter with a rather large ’kitty’, she gets shipwrecked and almost leaves her ‘more organised’ Villa Villekulla life and sails away with her father to live a thoroughly disorganised one.

Hours of pleasure visual and verbal, lie between the two covers of this gift edition.

Emil and the Great Escape, Emil and the Sneaky Rat and Emil’s Clever Pig

Emil and the Great Escape
Emil and the Sneaky Rat
Emil’s Clever Pig

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press are gradually re-issuing Astrid Lindgren’s books for a new generation of children to enjoy and now it’s the turn of the high-spirited young Emil who lives with his family on Katthult farm in the Swedish village of Lönneberga.

In the first book of stories Emil gets up to all manner of mischief and derring-do – he manages to get his head well and truly stuck in a soup tureen; then he hoists his younger sister Ida up the flagpole,

and disobeys parental instructions by riding an old mare to the village fete.

In the second, Emil continues to drive his parents and others in the neighbourhood crazy with further scrapes. There’s the time he attempts to snare a rat in a trap and something else gets caught instead. Then having somehow managed to get through the whole of Christmas Day without misbehaving, Emil decides to hold a Boxing Day party, which turns out to be a party like no other.

There are six more Emil adventures in Emil’s Clever Pig including those on one fateful Sunday in June when he makes three disastrous attempts to pull the ‘maidservant’ Lina’s tooth out and decides to give Ida a dose of typhus by means of blue paint.

Then there’s that frog in the picnic basket episode one hardly dares to mention; followed by several days when the lad does some good things but can’t manage to sustain this goodness, for he gets carried away with locking doors and unthinkingly locks his father up in the Trisse hut (aka the old privy).

Finally, it’s almost Christmas again and Emil does something very brave and quite dangerous to save the life of farmworker, Alfred.

Mini Grey’s spirited illustrations are just right for bringing these stories to a new audience of young listeners and readers.

Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard & Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

I absolutely loved these stories as a child more years ago than I care to remember, and thanks to these new editions splendidly illustrated by Mini Grey and translated by Susan Beard, I find that red-headed rule-breaking Pippi – the ‘strongest girl in the world’ –clad still in her odd (one black and one brown) stockings, has lost none of her wildness and charm.

Nine-year old Pippi lives sans parents in Villa Villekulla – mum is an angel and dad a South Sea Island king she proudly announces. With Pippi lives her monkey Mr Nilsson (a present from her dad), while on her veranda lives her very own horse.

In the first book Pippi meets and makes friends with neighbours Tommy and Annika, gets the better of some bully boys, outthinks some police who come a visiting, is persuaded to go to school (briefly) and gets a bit carried away with her drawing, does some entertaining up an oak tree,

rides bareback at the circus and more.

The second book sees Pippi joining school again – but only to provide the ‘jollification’ on an outing. Other adventures include a face-to-face encounter with a tiger and a surprise visit from Pippi’s dad. Finally Pippi has the chance to accompany her father on his travels. Will she bid farewell to Annika and Tommy and sail away or remain at Villa Villekulla? It’s a difficult choice to make …

The third title is the last of the original Pippi books. Herein Pippi organises a quiz

and then as autumn turns to winter, she invites Tommy and Annika, (both recovering from measles), to accompany her on a trip to the island where her father is king.

As always there are escapades galore including when Pippi seizes a shark, gives it a good telling off and then hurls it back into the ocean. She also manages to protect the island pearls from a pair of would-be thieves and generally have a wonderful time – until Tommy and Annika decide they want to go home for Christmas. They don’t actually make it in time but as always, Pippi finds a way and they don’t miss out altogether on the festivities.

(Happily the mention of cannibals from the original tales has gone but the anarchic Pippi – celebrating her 75th anniversary this year – will surely never lose her power to delight.)

Meet Pippi Longstocking / Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt

Meet Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman
Oxford University Press

2020 sees the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first Pippi Longstocking book and as part of the celebrations OUP is releasing six new early reader, illustrated editions with Ingrid Vang Nymans’s illustrations rendered in two colours in each book, using adaptations of the original text by Astrid Lindgren.
The first two are Meet Pippi Longstocking, which introduces youngsters to the inimitable Pippi and her world and that in which Pippi invents the wonderful-sounding word “snirkle’ the meaning of which she tells her friends Tommy and Annika, she has no idea except that it’s not dustbin lid. Thus we have the second title, Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt.

Clearly Pippi needs to discover what this brand new word of hers means and that’s exactly what, after a few moments of contemplation she sets out to do.

It proves not to be the sound made when you trample in mud making it come up between your toes: that she decides is SHBLURP and heads off, gold coin in hand, riding her horse Mr Nillson, to the shops with her friends, to see if it’s something that can be bought.
Several unsuccessful shop visits later,

she heads to the doctor’s but that yields nothing helpful.

Nor does the intrusion she makes upon two ladies sitting chatting over a cuppa up in a flat.

Will the determined young miss ever solve her snirkle conundrum? Perhaps it’s closer to home than she thinks …

For the adult me, nine year old Pippi, with her mismatched stockings, carroty-coloured hair and freckles, has lost none of the allure she had in my childhood – an unstoppable self-belief, determination, resilience and kindness and lots of terrific adventures.

I can’t wait to introduce her, through these smashing little books to a new generation of young readers.  Long live Pippi!