How To Light Your Dragon

How To Light Your Dragon
Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia
Thames & Hudson

What do you do when you discover that your much-loved pet dragon’s spark has gone out? This delicious book with its exciting amalgam of words and pictures offers a range of possible curative strategies.

The dragon belonging to a child owner emits not a single flicker when first we encounter it but the child remains upbeat as ideas are put forward one by one in the manner of an instruction guide.

What about lifting his rear legs and giving him a ‘good shake’? Nothing doing?

Maybe use his tummy as a trampoline. No? A feather duster toe-tickle, underarm feathery feel or a nasal nudge duster-style maybe. Uh-uh, no go!

Make him really, really angry by cheating at cards or make a large cake complete with candles – irresistible surely? Actually no; and even the oven shop with its jealousy-inducing latest models pointed out fails to spark a response.

By now said dragon appears decidedly downcast and even consumes the false flames stuck on his snout then flops down defeated and immobile.

Perhaps the time has come for an entirely different approach; unconditional love – now there’s an idea … recollections of good times shared, a big smacking kiss right on his nostrils and … TA-DA!

The fusion of near show-stopping typography, arresting design, and wildly bright colours is powerful enough; but even that is eclipsed by the message that someone or here, something, is loved no matter what, gives the book its hottest, most radiant magic.

Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia most definitely lit my fire with this one.


Sylvia Liang
Thames & Hudson

Is there such a thing as normal? The narrator – Normal or Norm for short – of Sylvia Liang’s debut picture book certainly thinks so and he epitomises that normal, he and his friends Plain and Simple. These individuals live in an extremely orderly village, made so because its residents spend much of their time measuring themselves and everything around them, and merely hiding or turning away from wrongly sized items be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

Life with this uniformity is, so we hear, pretty peachy with its set shapes, sizes and times for doing things like partaking of afternoon tea from matching crockery.

One day into this utter normality bursts a yellow bird that leads Norm to meet Odd(ette), a very friendly little lass who lives in a town of boot houses.

Norm’s foray into her far from normal environment is shall we say, shocking, but altogether friendly and in fact, enchanting. With such characters as Clouded Apple sweet maker Eddie with his recipe of apple, sugar and imagination in equal measures; milliner Lady Lily whose hats are adorned with marine animals

as well as Mr King, musical maths teacher and messy Professor John whose stories cause the world to melt away.

It’s young Odd though who has something important to convey to her guest: ‘ if you focus on your ruler all the time … you’ll miss the things that will amaze you in this world.’ And when Norm sets aside his ruler, he discovers to his surprise that it’s true.

But what about his friends back home? Are they open to the possibility of the new and surprising; do they too have the potential to accept the odd change?

This reviewer has always been a rule challenger/subverter, so Sylvia Long’s book really spoke to me, for who can measure the freedom one finds when one loosens the hold on the strictures rules impose.

Let’s celebrate all who find the courage to be a little freer in the way they live their lives.

Has Anybody Seen A Story?

Has Anybody Seen a Story?
Mandana Sadat
Thames & Hudson

‘Once upon a time, there were three Thingummies called Sadie, Spike and Smudge. They lived in the middle of Nowhere in a place called Floatyfish, surrounded by soft fluffy clouds. The Thingummies had everything they needed – plenty of water, plenty of fresh air, and plenty of flutterberries, a delicious kind of flying fruit that you catch with a net.’

So begins Mandana Sadat’s wonderfully quirky meta-fictive picture book wherein we join the Thingummies in their search for adventure.
Three days of walking leads the threesome to a crossorads and they choose first to follow the Fairytale Trail. This foray finds them coming face to face with the exceedingly ugly, very old and mighty frightening ZOMBEAST.

Its threat to erase them entirely sends the friends fleeing for their lives back to the crossroads.

Next they select The Future Freeway, a bright shiny, ‘whizzy and busy and bright’ sort of place where a friendly-seeming robot makes them feel welcome and refreshed but not for long. When the mechanical monster starts unloading its own woes, the three Ss decide to beat a hasty retreat before it’s too late.

The Poetry Path sounds entirely promising so off they go again, discovering a place, the air of which is enriched by beautiful thoughts and wonderful words: Now who wouldn’t want to spend time there imbibing such delights.

Alluring though this location is, Spike decides they should try the final road, so having returned to the crossroads they proceed deep below ground to Bedtime Boulevard. Therein resides famous storyteller, Madame Mole and she’s happy to help the story searchers. So soothing is her voice that it has a soporific effect on the three seekers and they soon drop off to sleep,

only to find themselves next morning back at the crossroads.

There they make a startling discovery when they come upon a signpost they’d not seen previously. It’s a discovery that relates to the true nature of story, those ‘what ifs’ and the power of the imagination. That however is not quite the end of their tale for the three decide to follow the road into the Maze of Mumblings and … and … and … ultimately they do discover a story that is worth the telling …

Let the celebratory party begin!

Absolutely bursting with diverting details (verbal and visual) to relish, Mandana’s story quest world is likely to entrap readers for a considerable time, and having escaped once, they’ll find themselves drawn back for further flights of fanciful fun and new revelations.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare –

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.

Stay, Benson!


Stay, Benson!
Thereza Rowe
Thames & Hudson

Benson is, so owner Flick believes, the ideal dog. When she leaves home and heads off to school, he stays minding the house and of course, he always obeys her “You stay … No chasing!” command. Flick is confident of that but should she be?

What about the day when no sooner has she bid him farewell, than he’s sneaking off through the back door and teasing a black and white moggy in the garden.

Furthermore, under the impression, so he’d have us believe, Flick’s instruction was “Play Benson!” he begins chasing the cat.

The feline creature leaps over the fence but Benson digs beneath it and then the chase is well and truly on.

No matter what we tell him he insists he’s been told to “Play Benson!” and after scaring the cat out of its wits, he proceeds to chase a squirrel and then goes charging off into the playground after a ball.

Oh my goodness, now what? He certainly is in a playful mood. He’s soaked himself going after that ball

and it appears he’s a bit peckish too.

It’s as well he obeys the picnickers “GO HOME, BENSON!” command however. He makes it back just in the nick of time, for who should come through the door but Flick with a cheerful greeting and a couple of questions to which only we the readers (along with a few characters in the story) know the answers.

It’s impossible not to love this mischievous dog with his zest for life and playfulness portrayed in Thereza’s eye-catchingly bold, retro-style art with its occasional die-cuts and cutaway pages. Offering plenty of audience participation opportunities, her story is a fun read aloud and the built in repetition makes it ideal for those in the early stages of becoming a reader.

The Ear

The Ear
Piret Raud
Thames & Hudson

Suppose you are an ear and wake one morning to find you are no longer attached to a head. Then what? Do you any longer have purpose or meaning? “I am no one,” weeps the headless Ear contemplating possibilities – ear mushroom. fish. butterfly.

There follows an encounter with a gloomy frog that asks if he can sing for her and the result is a positive outcome for both parties.

Thereafter the Ear listens to an elephant’s tale, followed by a confession from a hare that’s consumed a snowman’s nose. Gradually the Ear gains a reputation as the ‘best listener in the land’: A purpose at last.

Then along comes a spider, one with a honey-sweet voice and an evil intent that entraps the Ear in a web of unkindness.

With no head to come to the rescue how can the listening organ escape this entrapment? Could it be that those she’s helped can in turn help her?

This story is somewhat surreal to say the least. We never discover how the ear/head separation came about although at the outset we’re shown clues to it‘s identity. There’s a bearded man, then a wooden chair with cane seat and a vase of sunflowers which many adult readers and children will associate with van Gogh.

Raud’s soft colour illustrations of the characters are strange indeed: there’s Ear with her slightly unnerving eyes while those she encounters are, with their swirly interiors, weirdly complex creatures.

With the importance of listening and feeling empathy at its heart, this story is certainly one to get listeners pondering and would work particularly well as the starting point for a community of enquiry.

Pop-up Moon

Pop-up Moon
Anne Jankeliowitch, Olivier Charbonnel and Annabelle Buxton
Thames & Hudson

Earth’s moon has long been a source of fascination and inspiration to both children and adults, and with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing later this year, as well as the Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January, this is a timely publication.

In just eight spreads, engineer and scientist Anne Jankeliowitch has packed a considerable amount of information, but it’s Olivier Charbonnel’s four spectacular pop-up visuals that steal the show.

Readers can find out about how the moon came into being; what its surface and atmosphere are like; why it apparently changes shape and how it can have an effect on the tides.

There’s a look at eclipses and their cause; as well as space exploration including the Apollo landings.

Non-scientific ideas considered by many to be mere superstition, receive a mention too.

Space enthusiasts or not, children will be excited when they open the book and images such as this leap out at them from Annabelle Buxton’s illustrations.

The spectacular nature of some of the paper engineering is likely, I think, to result in such enthusiastic handling that this is perhaps more suitable for home than classroom use.