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.

Wild is the Wind

Wild is the Wind
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

This is a story of a journey or perhaps, several journeys – that of young Cassi in her hot air balloon, that of the little swift she has nursed until its wings are strong enough to take to the sky and join its fellows on their path across land and sea, a journey of eight thousand miles, that takes three months to complete; and of course, there’s the path of the wind.

As the morning sun rises in Southern Africa, the world is temporarily on hold until a breeze stirs the leaves and the seeds in the butterfly trees. Then with the strengthening of the wind, it’s time to let go of the tiny winged creature and allow it to join its fellow travellers on a prodigious migratory journey

as a cyclone swirls, spirals and howls, whipping the waves into wild white horses.

Then on over deserts and rocky terrain sculpted by windstorms until at last, the swifts are nearing their destination on the other side of the ocean. And there, without pausing once, Cassie’s little swift and the others are greeted in China by Kûn who has long awaited their appearance.

There too, will they build their nests and rear their young until, once again the wild wind calls them to make their return journey to that little girl so far, far away on distant shores.

With Grahame Baker-Smith’s spare lyrical prose in combination with his equally lyrical, breath taking, powerfully atmospheric, detailed illustrations, Wild is the Wind is narrative non-fiction at its memorable best.


Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

The Rhythm of the Rain

The Rhythm of the Rain
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing

We first meet Isaac playing in a mountain-side pool under a brooding sky. Down comes the rain; water flows in little rivulets from the pool becoming first a stream and then a river. Isaac empties his jar of water into the flow pondering its journey seawards.

We see it passing through country and town eventually joining the vast ocean. However, the journey doesn’t end there (although some of it is swallowed by a whale);

currents deep in the ocean draw water towards a distant shore.

Next morning the warm sun pulls the seawater upwards to form a cloud – a raincloud whose water falls on a village where Cassi lives, filling its pool with much needed water.

Still the water flows, forming a life-giving river

that eventually flows again into the sea and finally right back to Isaac.

Baker-Smith’s narrative documents the water-cycle from raindrops to ocean depths, outlining the importance of the life-giving properties of the element while letting his artwork show its beauty.
The magical and transformative power of water permeates every one of his illustrations be it the luminosity of the mountainside rivulet,

the efflorescence slip-steaming from the ocean dwelling whale, the sparkling spangled surface of the sun-soaked sea or the foaming, steaming spray plunging over an African waterfall.

This breathtakingly beautiful book would make a superb addition to a topic on water or as an introduction to the water-cycle.

Wintry Worlds


When Charley Met Granpa
Amy Hest and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
This is the second story from the transatlantic Hest/Oxenbury partnership to feature Henry and his dog, Charley. Now it’s a cold, snowy Sunday and Granpa is coming to visit. Henry sets out for the station dragging a sledge behind him for Granpa’s big suitcase, Charley frisking in front. Henry is apprehensive about Granpa’s reaction to his canine pal; he has never had a dog for a friend he tells Charley as they wait for the train to arrive. But, as readers of Charley’s First Night will already know, Charley is no ordinary pup, he’s an adorable, playful little chap. Granpa finally arrives and as the trio start to make their way back home, the wind whisks Granpa’s hat high into the air and with a swish of his tail, Charley is off chasing it into the whirling snow. Happily, he returns before long with the green cap between his teeth.
This small incident is lyrically portrayed through both words and pictures. Told from Henry’s viewpoint, Hest’s attention to detail in her narrative has a child-like simplicity while at the same time capturing the warmth between the characters. Oxenbury’s gorgeous illustrations too, glow with warmth despite the chilly landscape and as always, her attention to detail is impeccable.
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You Make Me Smile
Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press
One can almost feel the chill in the air as those first snowflakes fall, watched by a little girl from her bedroom window. Softly they cover the ground all around her house and she rushes down to join her waiting parent. In the hall she puts on her outdoor clothes and then it’s out into the snowy world to start making a snowman. As she works, the rosy-cheeked little girl talks to the ‘friend’ she is building; she even wraps her own scarf around his neck before adding the final, all-important smile.


Then it’s time for a photo-shoot with her new friend; and the two smile together – a smile that can last the whole year through.
A special event in the life of a small child, captured to perfection in Layn Marlow’s spare text and heart-warming pictures – simply beautiful.
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Up & Down
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Perched atop a large ice-block, Little Penguin thinks about his friend far away on another iceberg; he misses her. So off he goes to meet her, launching himself high in the air,


then diving low under the waves,


up towards a tunnel, down through seaweed, inside the tunnel, first pausing bravely outside … and reaching the end of that small tunnel, then out into the big ocean… There he negotiates various marine creatures moving in turn in front, behind, above, below, over or under them before finally catching sight of his destination. His once sad friend, having spotted Little Penguin is now happy as she watches him walking from the bottom of the slope to the top, where they are finally together.
As this brief synopsis shows, Little Penguin’s journey is filled with opposites. The opposing pairs being completed by opening the series of flaps (one per spread) as he moves through the grey murky seascape to his destination atop the distant iceberg.
As well as being a fun book to share with the very young, this straightforward story of friendship has lots of potential for language development with young children especially those for whom English is an additional language.
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After reading the story you can use either puppets or small world toy penguins for the characters, and marine small world creatures. Then with children’s help, build up an Antarctic scene with a short drain-pipe for the tunnel, murky coloured ‘water’ (screwed up tissue paper works well) and small pieces of white fabric draped over shoe boxes or similar. First you and then individual children can then move ‘Little Penguin’ at your instructions, following the route taken in the story. As they gain confidence, the children can tell you where Penguin is and then at a later stage, take over the activity themselves.


red sledge
Lita Judge
Andersen Press pbk.
This near wordless picture book story is sheer delight.
A small child leaves a red sledge propped up outside the house one chilly night. It is found by a large bear who decides to take a joyride. On the way he accumulates a whole host of other woodland creatures and soon they are all enjoying a moonlit descent,


which ends in a glorious eeeeeeeeeee fluoomp …….. ft as the sledge takes flight, crash lands and the riders come tumbling off to land in a huge heap. And what a wonderful sight that is; both bear and rabbit at least, look totally blissed out; Bear spread-eagled on his stomach and white rabbit peering over his head. Bear then picks up the sledge and returns it to the place he found it. Next morning the child notices animal footprints outside leading away from his house. That night, animals and child enjoy another ride – together this time. Wheeeeeeeeee
The whole exhilarating story is told with wonderfully dynamic watercolour illustrations and a sequence of glorious onomatopaeaic sounds. Scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch is just the perfect sound for bear’s footsteps in the snow. But my favourite of all accompanies moose crouching dog style on the sledge with rabbit between his hooves and bear – open mouthed – spread eagled atop moose’s antlers as the sledge bounces
Gadung  Gadung  Gadung  Gadung
down the snowy hillside.
So clever, so spot on for young listeners and beginning readers. Who could possibly want to use dull boring contrived phonic ‘reading’ books when there are brilliant real books like this one?
Destined to be read over and over and …
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Winter’s Child
Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing
Tom loves the winter days: he spends them skating and sledging. His Nana in contrast is old and feels the cold badly. Out playing one day, Tom meets a pale boy with ice-blue eyes and they become friends. His new playmate tells Tom he wishes winter could last forever.  At their parting, Tom asks the blue-eyed boy where he lives; “Everywhere and nowhere,” is the reply. That night Tom is unable to dry his wet clothes and he gives his blankets to a now ashen Nana . In the morning it’s a heavy-hearted Tom who goes out to play . He tells his friend about his ailing Nana who is in desperate need of some warm spring sun.
Now both boys have a dilemma.
The winter is long and cold. Tom loves it, but each day the boys play, his Nana grows weaker.


Little does Tom know, when he meets his new friend, that the two of them are prolonging winter. As their friendship blossoms, Tom’s mother uses up all the logs, so he sacrifices his skis and his treehouse ladder for fuel. But there is a much greater sacrifice to be made if Nana, who is becoming increasingly ashen and wasted, is to survive to see another spring. For, unbeknown to Tom, his friend is Winter’s Child and unless he heeds his father’s call to rejoin him and sleep, Spring cannot wake.
This is a magical modern fairy tale of friendship, hardships and difficult decisions. It is wondrously illustrated in shades of blue, white and grey. Baker-Smith’s snow is truly brilliant; he achieves dazzling effects without a single touch of added glitter and his small framed  scenes of the potential human tragedy and the dilemma inherent in the boys’ friendship, set into the snowy landscapes, are a stark contrast to the beauty of the landscapes surrounding them. Hauntingly memorable; a book for all ages and one to return to again and again.
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