Little Frida

Little Frida
Anthony Browne
Walker Books

Who better than the inimitable, brilliant Anthony Browne to create a picture book about another brilliant artist, Frida Kahlo? And what a wonderful and surreal (it is Anthony Browne after all) story he tells. It was inspired by her ‘magic friendship’ and her “The Two Fridas’ self-portrait that she painted in 1939.

From the start our young narrator Frida says, her physical difference made her an outsider, often lonely but not unhappy at being ‘separate’, which she quite liked.
The wish to fly filled both her night-time dreams and her daydreams but her birthday dream of a toy plane is dashed when instead her parents give her a pair of wings. Rather than show her disappointment, alone in her room the young girl lets her imagination take flight.

She runs and runs and when all her energy is spent she stops by a dairy. Finding no way in, she’s about to return home, another door opens,

cascading her down, down to the earth’s depths and there she meets a strange but seemingly familiar girl.

This girl then begins a magnificent dance of life and while she does so, Frida shares with her, her own secret worries

and a close friendship is forged.

All too soon the time comes for Frida to bid farewell to her friend from the dairy and return to her own reality a much happier child than before, and ready to begin her artistry with a paintbrush.

Iconic Frida truly was, so too in his own way is, Anthony Browne. Allowing the imagination to take flight and soar so you become free is what Frida did and what Anthony has done here in his magnificent magical scenes, every one of which is packed with images that will inspire in readers further flights of their own fancy.

I’d love to show every single illustration but to see the rest, you will need to get your own copy of this stunning, out-of-this-world picture book.

Matisse’s Magical Trail

Matisse’s Magical Trail
Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matisse the snail confines his creative endeavours to the night-time when there’s nobody about; but during the day the world feels scary and much of his time is given over to preventing himself from being squashed by walkers.

One night in the middle of the city Matisse discovers the ideal place for some drawing and sets to work …

Come morning one of his creations is discovered by a little boy, Leo who adds his own marks to the design on the stone and showing it to Matisse, he introduces himself. Leo’s friends are impressed and eager to learn who the artist is; Matisse though has now disappeared.

Off go the children, returning later with many more items for Matisse to work his creative magic upon, and by the next morning our artistic snail has created a trail; a trail that leads to their school wall.

When their teacher sees what the children are looking at, it sparks a wonderful idea in her. Before you can say, ‘art’ the children are hard at work transforming the wall with their own creative endeavours

and they don’t stop at just a single wall. The school becomes a truly wonderful sight attracting great attention from passers by.

That night Matisse however, realises that his work in this particular place is done; it’s time to move elsewhere; first though he has one final piece of art to create for Leo and his fellow pupils. Teachers and other adults will be able to guess what that is.

Look out for snail magic on walls wherever you go; you might not find Matisse but it’s likely you’ll discover some snail magic.

A super story, beautifully told by Tim and illustrated by an exciting newcomer to the picture book scene, Sam Boughton, this book has SO much to offer. It demonstrates to children the importance of looking carefully and noticing small things – things that can lead to big changes. It also shows the importance of creativity and self-expression and is a smashing starting point for art at home or in schools. For imaginative teachers this could prove inspirational.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw / Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw
Elli Woodward and Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

‘Of course they don’t’, children will be thinking in response to hearing the title of this book, but they’re in for a surprise thanks to Picassaur and his strange find. Said find is a white object and it’s not long before the young dinosaur has transformed his surroundings.

His mother is less than impressed: “We’re fighters and biters, as fierce as can be!” is what she tells her dino. infant.

Far from being put off, Picassaur continues with his creative endeavours, in glorious technicolour this time, but his father’s reaction is the same as his mother’s.

Despite his amazing third artistic effort, Picassaur’s cousins too respond negatively, telling him to forget his drawing and do battle instead.

Then all of a sudden they get the surprise of their lives …

Is that the end for all the little dinosaurs?

It certainly seems likely they’ll be the next meal for that T-rex; but something even scarier than himself meets his eye when he turns around …

Whoever thought pictures could be that powerful … Three cheers for peaceful solutions rather than conflict and another three for Picassaur who dared to be different.

Elli Woodward’s zippy rhyming text flows nicely inviting audience participation and in tandem with Steven Lenton’s spirited scenes of dinosaurs and the artistic outpourings of one of their number, makes for a fun story-time read aloud.

A rather different dino. character stars in:

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Zachariah OHora
Abrams Appleseed

We all know that tyrannosaurs are renowned for their destructive ways and so it is for young Tyrannosaurus rex here. This young terror is not intentionally bad but his lack of awareness and over-exuberance results in a pre-school setting of angry-faced characters whose creative activities are ruined,

and whose quiet endeavours are disturbed.

Eventually thoroughly infuriated by all this wrecking, his classmates have had enough. “Tyrannosaurus – go!” comes the cry.

This causes contrition on the part of the antihero but even then his attempts to make amends flounder due to his ungainliness, at which point his fellow dinos. muck in, overseeing and facilitating the reparation.

However, just when harmony seems about to be restored we see that the little Tyro.dino. isn’t the only one capable of precipitating a disaster …

Zachariah OHora’s stand-out bright scenes of the classroom will attract pre-school humans but also include the occasional visual joke such as the Styracosaurus writing ‘climate change’ over and over on the chalk board to amuse adult readers aloud.
With its fun rhythm and rhyme, this stomping romp invites noisy audience participation.

Rosa Draws

Rosa Draws
Jordan Wray
Words & Pictures

Rosa is happiest when using her drawing pencils and letting her imagination run wild and that’s what this story is all about.

Seemingly her favourite subjects are animals, fairly ordinary ones, but what happens to them is anything but ordinary.

For when Rosa adorns her fuzzy black cat with a ‘RIDONKULOUS’ hat, it triggers an increasingly crazy concatenation of events involving a hat-eating bear with GLAM-U-LICIOUS long hair (yes the whole thing is recounted in rhyme with only the occasional slight creak).

Said bear has its hair sat upon by a moose that takes tea with a la-dee-dah goose and so on until the ants – a zillion of them – board a train and plunge Rose into darkness, cutting off her train of thought and completely stifling her imagination.

Only temporarily though, for the tugging on a light switch cord puts her back ‘on track’ and her ideas flow freely once more until suddenly who should arrive on the scene but Rosa’s mum.

Apologies are immediately forthcoming but it turns out that young Rosa isn’t the only one with an artistic bent …

Packed with zany details – look out for the peacock sporting jazzy socks – Wray’s illustrations will amuse both children and adults and the former will enjoy the invented words and the surprise finale.

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much
Kenneth & Sarah Jane Wright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Lola Dutch has big ideas; no, make that, grand ideas. They’re the kind of ideas that sometimes, just sometimes, her friends Bear, Croc, Pig and Crane think are ‘a bit much’. There’s one particular day that she’s set on making the very best ever.
Take breakfast for instance …

Or the trip to the library for ‘a little light reading’, an excursion which leads to the discovery of books about famous artists that send young Lola’s imagination into overdrive.

Before you can say ‘creativity’ the young miss has adorned not only the walls, but also the ceilings, with her very own works of art. And even then her creative juices are still flowing; Lola decides their sleeping arrangements need some alterations.
This last project though, isn’t quite as successful as her previous ones. Exhausted by the day’s frenetic activities, her friends quickly fall fast asleep; but somehow, sleep eludes young Lola.

That’s when nothing other than a big hug from Bear will do.
Lola is one of those characters you immediately warm to; she’s bursting with creative ideas, full of energy and her enthusiasm seems limitless. One imagines she could well be a bit of a nightmare to live with, but the kind of child you’d love to have in your class.
Sarah Jane Wright’s watercolour and gouache illustrations really do capture Lola’s spirit of joie de vie while her flirtation with ‘the great artists’ including the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, Klint and Monet reflected in her own creations will be of interest to both adult readers aloud and young listeners.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Weaver

The Weaver
Qian Shi
Andersen Press

The creator of this lovely debut picture book got her inspiration from a spider’s web she discovered with a piece of leaf caught in the middle.

Stanley spider is a weaver of webs; he’s a collector too. The things he collects – seeds, leaves, twigs and other ephemera are carefully woven into his webs.

Then disaster strikes in the form of a downpour that washes away both Stanley’s home and his precious collection, save for a single leaf.

Stanley attempts to secure this leaf but the wind whisks it away leaving Stanley with nothing.
Throughout the night he labours and come morning he’s fashioned something beautiful …

Yes, the web traces the memories, but with those treasures etched in his heart, it’s time for Stanley to move on …

Simply and beautifully told, but it’s the illustrations which embroider and add nuance to the text, furnishing the rich details of Stanley’s journey and his creativity.

A book that’s rich in potential in a nursery or classroom setting too where children might look first at real spider’s webs (a fine water spray will make the details of a web more visible) and then become web weavers like Stanley, adding their own special objects to their creations.