Jigsaw: A Puzzle in the Post

Jigsaw: A Puzzle in the Post
Bob Graham
Walker Books

Such is the excitement at the arrival of a parcel containing a jigsaw puzzle of a beautiful African sunrise that the entire Kelly family is eager to get started on it right away. Dad declares, “I’ve got time on my hands …” and setting his watch to Late Autumn, they begin sorting the pieces. Unbeknown to them however is the fact that in Dad’s haste to get out all the pieces, he’s sent one flying;. it’s landed on the dog’s back and … 

As Winter comes, with Kitty and Katie’s help (and perhaps a bit from Lucy the dog), they finished the edges. Through Spring and Summer Dad is the only person working on the jigsaw: the girls preferring to play outside, but come the approach of Autumn, Dad makes an announcement: “The hippo’s swim shorts …” Disaster that piece is missing.

A thorough search ensues and then Mum has an idea about what might have happened to the vital piece. Unwilling to give up, off they go to the rubbish tip … 

where a near exhaustive search yields all kinds of interesting items but not that which they seek and eventually they make a wish and sadly return home.

That though is not quite the end of this wonderful story, but story spoiler I won’t be; it’s well worth getting hold of a copy of any book that Bob Graham creates in his signature style and this one demonstrating the power of positive thinking is absolutely enchanting.

Ellie’s Dragon

Ellie’s Dragon
Bob Graham
Walker Books

Bob Graham has created yet another gorgeous picture book, one that celebrates the imagination of young children.

It features Ellie who when quite young discovers a multi-hued, newly hatched baby dragon atop an egg box in the supermarket. She names him Scratch and takes him home with her.
There she accommodates the tiny creature in her doll’s house feeding him on such fare as nasturtiums, chillies and burnt toast. All the while her mother sees nothing unusual.

As she grows and changes, Ellie’s love for the dragon remains constant: she takes him to nursery

on outings and even to the cinema.

Like Ellie though, Scratch grows and changes. When Ellie turns eleven, her dragon begins to fade away until for the teenage girl, he finally disappears.

It’s time for Scratch to find a new child …

As always, Bob Graham’s illustrations are suffused with his own brand of gentle humour and full of wonderfully whimsical details, as he documents this poignant portrayal of growing up and losing that sense of awe and wonder, that boundless imagination that sadly, so many children have ‘educated’ out of them.

The Underhills: A Tooth Fairy Story

The Underhills: A Tooth Fairy Story
Bob Graham
Walker Books

This is the wonderful Bob Graham’s second story about Esme and April. Herein while their parents work, they are to spend a whole day and night with their Grandma and Grandpa in the teapot house by the airport fence. What joy!

As they’re just settling in Grandma’s phone rings. It’s Mum about a job: Akuba, a small girl shortly arriving from Ghana by plane has lost a tooth and it needs collecting.

With Mum’s permission it’s decided that Grandad will remain behind to look after baby Vincent, and Esme, April and Grandma will get the tooth, taking great care not to be seen.
Off they go to the ‘terminable’ as Esme calls it to await Akuba’s arrival.

There follows an exciting time as they fly around in the terminal among angels and cupids some of whom they actually meet and learn about their jobs.

Then the Ghana flight’s arrival is announced; can the tooth fairies locate Akuba’s tooth and get hold of a coin with which to replace it without Akuba catching sight of them?

What a gorgeously whimsical, magical tale of determination, hoping and believing. Bob Graham’s telling is absolutely full of delicious moments. For instance Grandad’s reading ‘A Poem for Every Day of the Year’ as the tooth collectors depart and is still so doing ‘with Vincent’s sweet breath in his ear’ on their return and what’s more he’d managed to read four months in that single sitting.

Equally wonderful are Graham’s distinctive illustrations – I just love the scene where Grandad has tethered himself to Vincent so that should he drop off while reading, the baby can’t float away like a balloon.

Totally adorable from start to finish.

Want To Play Trucks?

Want To Play Trucks?
Ann Stott and Bob Graham
Walker Books

It’s autumn: Alex and Jack meet at the playground sandpit nearly every morning.
Alex enjoys playing with dolls of the pink sparkly clothed variety; Jack enjoys playing with trucks, especially the wrecking kind.

So what happens when Jack invites Alex to play trucks? A compromise ensues as Alex suggests, “Let’s play dolls that drive trucks.”

While their carers – parents one presumes- sit chatting, the boys play amicably together until Jack’s “You can’t wear a tutu and drive a crane,” announcement, halts things.Tempers flare briefly

but fizzle out when Alex realises that all that’s required is a quick outfit change for the truck driver.

The wonderful details in Bob Graham’s watercolour scenes that pan in and out of the play action, add much to Ann Stott’s light, spare telling. The latter relies on the story’s premise resting on what, one hopes, is a completely out-dated sexist viewpoint about who should play with what.

Be sure to take time over the interaction between the two seated adults; there’s much to wonder about there too,

in addition to thinking about what’s going on between the two main characters, the denouement of which is based on their shared passion for large, dribblesome ice-cream cones.

With messages concerning the importance of allowing children free rein in their imaginative play, compromise and inclusivity, this is a book to share and discuss either at home or in an early years classroom.

Need more suggestions for your children’s reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

The Poesy Ring

The Poesy Ring
Bob Graham
Walker Books

Subtitled ‘a love story’ this truly is, visual poetry.
It tells of a poesy ring engraved with the message ‘Love never dies’. (Such objects have been given since the Middle Ages as symbols of love and friendship.)

We follow the ring from 1830 when it’s tossed away into a meadow by a tearful young horsewoman in County Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland.

Seasons come and go, and the years pass as the ring is once again tossed, by a deer this time.
It gets reburied and eventually picked up by a starling, becomes airborne and then dropped into the ocean depths where a fish swallows it.

Trawlermen retrieve it from the fish’s belly and it’s sold for cash.

We’re now in New York City 1967 where, after a day’s work, two subway buskers with love in their hearts and a pocket full of money, make a very special purchase …

There’s symbolism aplenty in this exquisitely crafted story – a story of history, of life and most importantly, of love.
Graham shows the passing of time masterfully: an acorn becomes a vast oak tree shedding its own acorns, for example;

and through all the changing decades – almost two centuries – one thing remains constant: the ring never loses its shine, for true to its message, ‘Love never dies’; it’s always there if you know how to look for it.
Each of his illustrations is simply exquisite and is worth careful attention to appreciate the fine detail; indeed there’s a whole story in each spread.

A book to return to over and over, to share, to discuss and most of all, to treasure.

Home in the Rain & Home and Dry


Home in the Rain
Bob Graham
Walker Books
How does pouring rain make you feel? I must admit it doesn’t fill me with feelings of joy, far from it, but when I read John Updike’s quote below the dedication in this wonderfully warm story, I felt I was being chided somewhat. Here it is and it’s key to the story I feel: ‘Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
A drive home from Grandma’s in pouring rain is the backdrop for Bob Graham’s warm-hearted story. In the little red car are Francie, her mum, and ‘her baby sister’ making her presence very much felt in Mum’s tum. The drive is long and the rain ceaseless; the car makes its way in the stream of traffic and as it does so we see the minutiae of life unfolding around: the baby rabbit diving for cover, the tiny mouse narrowly escaping becoming a kestrel’s next meal …


the fishermen hunched in a line


and the duck family just being, we even see a tiny snail and down below two men out of their cars arguing over a shunt.
The little car pulls off the road: Francie writes on the misted windows to help pass the time; she writes family names and then pauses; her little sister is yet to be named. They eat their picnic lunch and Francie snuggles. On they go and stop again to fill up with petrol: small events unfold: Francie sploshes in rainbow puddles,


an old man feeds his dog, a small girl loses her sweets and suddenly Francie’s Mum has a name for the new sister. The journey continues, the world moves on; the sun appears.
Bob Graham provides plenty to pore over and to discuss in his tender depictions of everyday life. It’s a lovely book to share, especially in those families where a new baby is imminent.
Also with a rainy backdrop is:


Home and Dry
Sarah L.Smith
Child’s Play
I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of living where the Paddling family does – on a small island underneath a large black cloud. A large black cloud from which for much of the year, heavy rain falls. This lifestyle seems to suit the Paddlings – Dad, Albert, a swimming teacher, Mum, Sally, who spends her time fishing, and their young son.


Come summer though, the rain ceases, the water dries up and the family home is now atop a hill. Life changes for the Paddlings who no longer receive their regular ferry delivery of food and mail. Off in search of a place to picnic, they’re unaware that another Paddling – Mr B. Paddling has set out to visit his nephew.
Uncle B. as he’s known, duly arrives to find an empty house so he decides to go back to the station. Down comes the rain, up comes the water …
It takes a rescue to bring Mr Paddling A. and Mr Paddling B. together at last and a celebratory fish supper is served by Albert.
There are echoes of both Sarah Garland and Mairi Hedderwick in Sarah L.Smith’s illustrations in this unusual family story. Much is shown in the watery paintings that isn’t told: most notably that the Paddling family grows from three to four during the story, and that’s before Uncle B. arrives on the scene.

Vanilla Ice Cream

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Vanilla Ice Cream
Bob Graham
Walker Books
A truck has stopped at a dhaba (tea stall) for the driver to partake of some refreshments.

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Overhead flies a curious young cock sparrow – bold and free. Down he comes to join the feast but the trucker is having none of it. Off flies our young sparrow across to his truck, a truck that happens to be carrying a cargo of rice to the port. What a feast.

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So of course, that ‘truck-stop’ sparrow stows himself safely inside one of the rice sacks, following, or rather, accompanying the food over land and then sea until finally, he finds himself in a park in a vast city where there just happens to be a small girl with her grandparents who just happen to be heading to the café for some refreshment. And that’s where our erstwhile traveller alights to partake of the crumbs on the table. In so doing he agitates the dog,

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which jerks Grandpa’s arm sending his ice-cream cone flying, thus, changing the life of little Edie in an unexpected, and, as she discovers the taste of vanilla ice-cream, a delicious, way.

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Through a spare text of carefully chosen words, the author’s small sparrow subtly demonstrates how we are all inextricably linked and how small incidents and moments can yield much pleasure if we are open to the possibilities therein: just look at those gorgeous watercolours and you will see.
This lovely, gently humorous book is endorsed by Amnesty International UK because, as it says, ‘ it reminds us that we should all enjoy life, freedom and safety. These are some of our human rights.’ If only …

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