Why? / It Isn’t Rude to be Nude

Billy Dunne and Rhys Jeffreys
Maverick Publishing

Young children are innately curious about the world around them, always asking questions and wanting to discover new things. So it is here with the girl who is out walking with her dad when he points out a rainbow in the sky saying, “You get them when the rain has passed and the sunshine comes instead.”
“Why?” comes the girl’s softly spoken response. This precipitates a sequence of further questions “Why?” followed by explanations from Dad who speaks first of colours in a light beam being split when they pass through rainy weather;

then the fact that blue light bends a little more than red.
The next “Why” invokes an explanation of this fact. The girl’s whys intensify and Dad moves on to more sophisticated talk. After which the poor fellow is feeling somewhat frazzled and in need of a rest. But still comes another “Why?”

What the guy says in response gets right to the crux of the complex matter but story spoiler I won’t be, so I’ll leave you to wonder or ponder upon this – unless of course you’ve sufficient knowledge of physics to answer for yourself. Whatever the case, his daughter is delighted, and all ends satisfactorily – just about!
Just right for youngsters eager to find out about their world (rainbows in particular) and their weary adult responders.

Billy Dunne’s rhyming narrative making accessible some tricky science, is easy to read aloud (great final throwaway comment from the daughter) and is well complemented by Rhys Jefferys’ illustrations. I love the way he shows the changing expressions of the father as he does his utmost to keep up with and ahead of, his daughter’s “Why”s and his wordless spread showing ‘The complex composition of the photon field’ is a complete contrast to the relatively spare previous ones.

It Isn’t Rude to be Nude
Rosie Haine
Tate Publishing

Open this debut book of Rosie Haines and almost immediately you’re faced with this spread with bums

after which we see nipples (normal things), ‘willies’ (not silly) and vulvas. Thereafter come changes to some parts – boobs might grow, and hair (don’t be scared).
On view too are bodies of all kinds and a variety of body colours and markings

as well as hair (or lack of it). We’re shown people whose bodies stand, sit, or leap and dance, and sometimes strut across the spreads

all with one object in mind – to promote body positivity and to show how bodies change over time as we grow and get older.

Children for the most part do have a positive and healthy attitude to nudity; it’s often the attitudes of adults that trigger those feelings of shame about the naked form and being naked. So, it’s three rousing cheers for Rosie’s book illustrated with a wonderfully warm colour palette and a pleasing fluidity of line.

Everything is Mine

Everything is Mine
Andrea D’Aquino
Tate Publishing

Meet Marcello Von Cauliflower Bonaparte Jackson, usually called Marcello by friends. He is, so he says, kind, clever and very loyal. There’s one snag however, out narrator pooch considers that everything belongs to him – yes everything.

A pink fluffy slipper? Definitely his – one’s surely enough for his ‘mum’. The pork chop on that plate? His assuredly (there’s no label saying it’s Leo’s after all.)

Ditto Squirrel’s acorn and even that tree. That’s sticks for the rest of Marcello’s life sorted. Indeed, the whole park is his so it’s his rules that must be followed.

So what about the entire universe? You guessed: that’s Marcello’s too. It’s on his ‘my stuff’ list.

It looks as though Marcello and his acquisitive nature are totally out of control.

Is there any chance that Leo might, just might show him what truly matters?

Perhaps owning ever more things isn’t really THE most important thing in life after all. This is definitely something that so many of us have worked out for ourselves during the on-going pandemic. Whether this fun story with its vital message was conceived pre-covid I’m not sure, but it’s certainly a timely one. The funky collage illustrations are superb, brilliantly expressive and I love the various footnotes – oops sorry paw notes – asides and comments by the bit part players. Great endpapers too.

The Museum of Me / Like A Giant

Here are two picture books kindly sent for review by Tate Publishing:

The Museum of Me
Emma Lewis

‘Everyone says I’m going to love the museums,’ so says the little girl narrator in this delightfully quirky book as we accompany her on a journey wherein she travels by bus, to a variety of museums, showing us what they are, and what each has to offer.

Therein she finds all manner of objects that fascinate her such as ancient toys very similar to her own, pottery,

strange birds and giant bugs, contemporary artworks and lots more besides.

Then there are museums outdoors too, sometimes in gardens,

and our narrator even contemplates the possibilities of a museum in space.
Finally, she takes us to see The Museum of Me – her very own collection of favourite things.
Now that’s a fantastic starting point, once you’ve shared with youngsters this smashing look at the delights that museums have to offer. I love the distinctive, collage style illustrations that imbue the entire book with a sense of the importance of individual responses to museums, indeed to the whole of life.

Why not suggest children create and curate their own personal museums featuring items from their lives and experiences? Such an activity offers both a personal response and a demonstration of the way in which museums the world over have often been created out of the lives and experiences of ordinary as well as extraordinary people. For now I’m going to start thinking of items for my museum of me, restricting it to (desert island discs style) ten.

Like A Giant
Marc Daniau and Yvan Duque

Take a giant – just awoken, a city child – ready and waiting, and a journey; those are the key elements of this picture book that is a wonderful celebration of the power of childhood imagination. Said journey takes the adventurers across the ocean, then moving at high speed beside a railway track, on up towards a wonderful mountainous region abundantly green where it’s time to slow down, stop and relish the serenity of the scene spreading out before them.

Then comes a soaring ride through the skies – snow softly falling – to see deserts, islands, hills and valleys, lakes and more. There’s a place to sate the travellers’ hunger, wonderous verdant gardens and woodlands to enchant and delight.

They’ll travel through all kinds of weather

and through a whole day and night, but though that entire trip has lasted just a short time, it has been an unforgettable, life-enhancing experience for the hero large and the hero small.

With incredibly powerful scenes by Yvan Duque and a travelogue commentary in the imagination of a small child by Marc Daniau, this is an awe-inspiring book to share slowly and meditatively, perhaps at bedtime.

Count On Me

Count On Me
Miguel Tanco
Tate Publishing

The little girl in this story wherein every one of her family members has a passion, struggles to find hers – at first that is. Her dad loves to paint, her mum loves entomology, her brother is a budding musician but none of these find favour with our young narrator.
Nor do those activities she tries – dancing, cooking, singing or sports, for instance:

not a single one arouses passion in her, worthy though they might be.

All else has failed but what about maths? Now there’s something that really fuels her enthusiasm – a passion at last! Yes maths is amazing

and it’s everywhere once you start looking: there’s an abundance of geometric shapes in the playground, at the lake,

in the block buildings she constructs. There are perfect curves to be discovered; number conundrums to solve over a family meal; then there’s symmetry in making a paper plane, as well as the excitement of launching and tracking its trajectory once complete.

As the girl reminds us, being passionate about maths can be strange to some people – hard to comprehend in fact – but as she says in conclusion, ‘ there are infinite ways to see the world … And maths is one of them.’
Seeing the world through the lens of a mathematical mind can most certainly seem well-nigh incomprehensible. It certainly was to this reviewer whose amazing dad (a Cambridge mathematician), maths puzzle solver extraordinaire, and for whom maths was inherent in his job, failed to understand how it was my least favourite subject at secondary school, and one I couldn’t wait to drop after O-level.

It’s great for those with a maths aversion as well as to demonstrate the power and importance of passions, whatever they are. I love the way in which Tanco shows readers the world through that mathematic lens, illustrating so many different concepts in his watercolour spreads of everyday activities, while also introducing mathematical vocabulary in the girl’s narrative. I love too the final ‘My Maths’ notebook that explains and illustrates the mathematical terms and concepts that are part and parcel of the story. Perhaps if I’d had this gem of a picture book as a child who knows …

The Big Trip

The Big Trip
Alex Willmore
Tate Publishing

In these days of physical distancing, self important Bear would most definitely be in serious trouble from the powers that be.

Said creature was anything but a respecter of personal space,  showing no concern for other animals as he perambulated around the forest barging and trampling his way wherever he chose to go.

One day while out strutting his stuff as usual he encounters Moose blocking his path. Unlike the smaller creatures, Moose stands his ground

forcing the arrogant Bear to divert from his chosen way and causing him to take an extremely uncomfortable downhill tumble … YEOUCH! … and land unceremoniously in stinky subterranean surroundings.

Pride most definitely came before a fall in Bear’s case.

Talk about humiliation: the other animals are hugely amused but then Moose speaks out.

Perhaps it’s time for every one to pull together, but will that self-aggrandising Bear finally come to see the error of his ways and start to become a bit more community minded?

Alex’s modern cautionary tale is a timely reminder of the power of co-operation especially now when it seems to be the only way forward.

The Weed

The Weed
Quentin Blake
Tate Publishing

When the Meadowsweet family find themselves at the bottom of a huge crack that’s formed in the earth they decide to set free their mynah bird Octavia.

This proves to be a wise move for it’s not long before she’s back with a seed.

This seed becomes their means of escape from a very tricky situation as little by little then ever more rapidly it grows towards the earth’s surface eventually bursting through.

Up, up, up climb the Meadowsweets through the increasingly lush foliage working up an appetite in so doing. “I hope there’s something left to eat when we get up there. I’m starving,” comments Mr Meadowsweet.

Happily though, they don’t have to wait that long, for the profligate plant puts forth fruits aplenty, as well as foliage, as Mrs Meadowsweet discovers tucking in enthusiastically; but in her eagerness she slips and falls.

Fortuitously, a large comfy leaf cushions her fall and the tendrils of the remarkable plant reunite her with the rest of her family.

The journey of people and plant to the surface is finally accomplished and at the surface the luxuriant and verdant world of a garden of Eden surrounds them after their Jack and the Beanstalk style climb.

We probably all feel like we’re at the bottom of a deep hole just now and we are all looking forward to those green shoots of recovery. So, this fable could be read as a message of hope during these difficult times. Remarkable as its creator Quentin Blake is though, he is not an oracle and one suspects he was merely creating a fun and fantastical story for us all to enjoy.

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.

How the Stars Came to Be

How the Stars Came to Be
Poonam Mistry
Tate Publishing

I’ve loved Poonam’s art since I saw her first collaboration with Chitra Soundar, so was totally thrilled to learn of her new solo picture book.

Perhaps like most people you’ve wondered how the stars came to be in the sky and this story offers one possibility.

Way back in time the only light came from the sun and the moon.

A fisherman’s daughter loved feeling the Sun’s rays on her during the daytime while at night she would lie in her bed thinking of her father on his boat out at sea with only the light of the Moon to guide him.

That’s fine, other than for the few nights every month there’s no visible Moon at all, leaving the fisherman to work in total darkness. This troubles the Girl so much that one morning the Sun discovers her shedding tears and asks what’s upsetting her.

On hearing the girl’s concern and pondering upon it, the Sun takes one if its golden rays and throws it down to earth where it breaks into a million glowing fragments.

“Gather together all the shining pieces,” the Sun tells the Girl,  “…Then tonight when I drop beneath the horizon … place each of them into the sky. … We will call them stars.”

The Girl does as she’s bid, naming the brightest Polaris; then continues her task creating wonderful images with her positioning of the pieces.

Week after week she works on her skyscape but months later her bag still seems full of stars. How will she ever complete her work?

Meanwhile a Monkey has been watching the Girl and while she’s distracted he descends, seizes the bag and dashes back up into the tree.

A tussle follows,

and out of the bag tumble all the remaining stars, spoiling the work of the Fisherman’s daughter.

Or perhaps not; for sometimes accidents have happy outcomes …

This is an incredibly beautiful book – let’s call it a neo pourquoi tale – where every spread stuns you with its awesomeness. Poonam’s art is inspired by her love of nature, and her gorgeous, intricately patterned work, is based on Indian designs and colours that I as a frequent visitor to India appreciate all the more.

I wish I could show you every single illustration but for that you’ll have to get hold of a copy for yourself.