An Artist’s Alphabet

An Artist’s Alphabet
Norman Messenger
Walker Studio

This is really way beyond a mere alphabet book: it’s a stunningly beautiful art book, extraordinarily clever, playful, sophisticated and nigh on irreverent where the ABC is concerned, being based more on the shape and form of letters than their sound quality.

There are some surreal offerings, letters inspired by works of art such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. (C for curves maybe); mythology,

botany,

zoology,

landscape features including clouds and mountains, tools; but every single one of Messenger’s pages is itself a work of art. Some of them might challenge you: it took me some while to appreciate his use of negative space in R; but once you see it you think, how come I didn’t see it immediately, especially as it’s obvious on the cover.

I’d love to share every single letter with you but rather, I urge you to get your own copy of this book if you have an interest in art, design, and / or language and its components,

An absolute treasure to behold, to pore over and to spark the imagination: I see it being enjoyed by individuals of all ages, used in art and design courses in schools and colleges, and much more.

The Hero’s Quest

The Hero’s Quest
Jeffrey Alan Love
Walker Studio

Told in rhyming couplets writ large on the page, and dramatic scenes of a rider who, tasked by the Ancient One, sets out on a quest into the unknown, this epic tale has a satisfying circularity.

We see the quester looking dwarfed as he encounters the array of massive, terrifying adversaries that threaten. There are dragons, elves wielding swords wreathed in flames,

a terrifying wolfpack

sea monsters and more, each presented in a limited colour palette that serves to heighten the impact of the drama.

Totally brilliant: this enormously accomplished, immersive book will appeal particularly to myth and fantasy lovers across a very wide age group who, due to its structure, will want to read it over and over marvelling at each and every spread.

Having seen this picture book, it’s no surprise to learn that Jeffrey Alan Love is a multi-award winning artist and writer.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

With the continuous stream of books about animals, it’s great to see this large format volume about plants.

There’s an absolute wealth of information packed between its covers with each spread focusing on a different aspect of plant life. The author, Martin Jenkins is highly adept at presenting complicated topics in such a way as to make them accessible and enjoyable for children. Having explained what a plant is, he includes information about such aspects of plant life as photosynthesis, the carbon cycle and reproduction.

There’s a spread on the functions of xylem and phloem (tissues I didn’t come across until I studied A-level botany).

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

so too are plant hormones, and climbing plants – those with twining stems, tendrils, clinging suckers or roots, and hooks.

Symbiosis and other plant interactions are explored, as are carnivorous plants – I’m always fascinated by these when I visit Kew Garden – and parasitic plants.

Sacred and Symbolic Plants talks about the many thousands of plants used as medicinal herbs and stimulants, provide spices, flavourings and perfumes or for ornamental purposes. I knew that the sacred lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism but was surprised to read that it was also revered in Ancient Egypt on account of the way its beautiful pure flowers emerge from unclean waters.

There’s a look at plant defences: I was fascinated to discover that there are plants with ‘spikes’ (needle-like crystals of calcium minerals called raphides) in their tissues that can penetrate the lining of an animal’s mouth and throat releasing poison into its bloodstream.

In fact no matter which spread you choose to read, you cannot  but be excited by the manner in which Jenkins and illustrator/print maker, James Brown present the botanical world. The latter’s full page illustrations, double spreads and borders are absolutely awesome.

This book provides wonderful insight into the wide and varied world of plants.

The Child of Dreams

The Child of Dreams
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Studio

A little girl lives happily with her mother until she realises that unlike the other creatures she observes, she doesn’t have a father.

The answer her mother supplies doesn’t satisfy her and so the girl resolves to find out for herself about her origins.

Her quest takes her into the woods where she encounters first a stork and then squirrels, a salmon

and a fox.

Each one provides a part of her story, which eventually leads her to the source – the place where fox had found her.

There she comes upon a boy sitting alone staring at the road behind which is a tall building. He tells her that he’s waiting for someone to come for him.

As they talk together, the girl realises that what is truly important to her is what she already has.

Unlike the boy who is still waiting to discover where he’s going, that is something which, thanks to her mother’s love; a love ‘stronger than the rocks on the mountain peak, softer than the petals of the meadow flowers, fuller than the harvest moon’, she already knows.

There’s a fairy tale feel to this magical story that is essentially one celebrating the love between a parent and child – that sense of belonging that everyone yearns for.

Richard Jones’s awesome mixed media illustrations add to the power of this story of growing up and finding how you fit into the world.

My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

No matter whether Ingela P Arrhenius is working in large or small format, her retro-modern style is always eye catching.

In her latest large scale offering Ingela has chosen to explore London. She takes readers on a whistle-stop tour to visit all the popular tourist destinations in the capital showcasing each with a double spread of labelled images and an introductory sentence or two.

First stop is Buckingham Palace after which we visit the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and its neighbour. Tate Modern.
Then, it’s on to London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park – a great place for a picnic; followed by the London Eye (taking in the National Theatre). Phew!

If shopping is your thing, then you might take a stroll to the famous Carnaby Street, or perhaps take a trip to Harrods, Liberty or Hamleys toy shop, by which time afternoon tea will be the order of the day.

Covent Garden, with its street performers, stalls and cafes (one of my favourite parts) is the next venue.

You can enjoy a virtual visit to all these and other famous places, including Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory, which is slightly further out that most of the other locations Ingela has chosen to showcase.

A great book to use in nurseries, or to give to a young child who is from outside the capital before a visit.

The Dam

The Dam
David Almond and Levi Pinfold
Walker Studio

Based on a true story, award-winning author Almond tells in lyrical style a tale of loss and hope, music and memories, memorial and mystery, water and wonder.

One morning early, a father wakes his daughter instructing her to “Bring your fiddle,”. Then together they walk into the valley, an abandoned valley in Northumberland that is soon to be flooded once the Kielder Dam construction is complete.

Now the buildings lie empty, their inhabitants re-housed. The father pulls down the door of a deserted cottage, bidding his daughter to enter.
“Play, Kathryn, play,” he instructs. “Dance, Daddy, dance.” comes her response and so they do.

First there, and then at every other one of the deserted dwellings, filling each one with music as Kathryn plays ‘for all that are gone and for all that are still to come…”

It’s heard by the birds, the beasts, the earth, the trees and the ghosts.

As darkness descends the two walk away leaving behind them drowning beauty, water echoing deep in the dam and drifting forth, rising and echoing too in the waves, leaves and grass they tread upon;

in their memories; in their dreams and right through them in all their internal dams, making them play, making them sing, making them dance, and so it will always be.

Totally riveting, this powerful book is a thing of beauty, elegance, awe and reverence as the author and artist pay homage to a deeply loved landscape: Almond with his spare poetical telling, Pinfold with his majestic windswept spreads, brooding vignettes, and musical, mystical skyscapes.

A treasure of a book.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

Surprising Birds / Big Dog, Little Dog

Surprising Birds
Big Dog, Little Dog

Elodie Jarret (élo)
Walker Studio

Here’s a pair of super chic, lift-the-flap concept books created by designer and illustrator Elodie Jarret to share with the very young: they’re in a different league altogether from the usual toddler concept books.

Surprising Birds features a whole host of wonderfully shaped avians that the artist has, with deft touches of colour and distinctive black and white patterns managed to make into enchanting feathered characters.

Part and parcel of each one is a flap – a wing, a tail, a head, a beak –

which when lifted reveals a flash of bright colour and the colour name (eleven in all).

Each bird is set against a pastel coloured background making it stand out starkly, and every one has an element of delight be it the chick sheltering under its mother’s wing or the hide-and-seek owl on the final spread.

With striking images, sturdy flaps and cover, and a perfect size for small hands, this is a super little book to have fun with and perhaps learn some colour names along the way.

Equally enchanting and playful is the assortment of canine characters in Big Dog, Little Dog that features ‘opposites’ (and also introduces some positional vocabulary) including  above/below, long/short, awake/asleep and spots/no spots. Here again flaps and fold-outs are used to effect and every animal has a real personality.

Earth Verse

Earth Verse
Sally M.Walker and William Grill
Walker Studio

The earth is a vast entity orbiting in space: haiku as a poetic form is by nature brief and spare. The combination of the two makes for a truly stunning picture book particularly when the artist is a recent Kate Greenaway medal winner William Grill and the author Sally Walker, a Sibert medal winner some years ago.

The book focuses on Earth’s geological and meteorological aspects beginning with its place in the solar system: ‘third one from the sun. / Earth’s blue and white majesty / dwarfs her lunar child.’

We then move inwards ‘fragile outer crust. / shell around mantle and core – / Earth: a hard-boiled egg.’ How cleverly and succinctly Walker introduces scientific vocabulary into her poetry and you’d find it hard to get more playful than her description of minerals and metals as ‘glittery Earth-bling’;

more beautiful than ‘sediment-filled waves / tumble in a frothy foam … / a gull wears sand socks

or more dramatic than ‘hot-headed mountain / loses its cool, spews ash cloud – / igneous tantrum’.

For each of these small poetic gems, and the others, Grill provides a wonderful atmospheric coloured pencil illustration in his trademark style that is frequently more impressionistic than realistic and never overwhelming the words.
Right in the bottom corner of each spread or sometimes page, is a symbol.: earth, minerals, rocks, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheric and surface water, glaciers and groundwater. Each of these links to the final section of the book where additional prose information on the nine topics is provided, and there’s also a list of suggested further reading.
This surely is a book to encourage children (and adults) to pause and to wonder at the awesomeness of the world and all its natural beauty.

Magnificent Birds

Magnificent Birds
Illustrated by Narisa Togo
Walker Studio

In this celebration of the avian world, Narisa Togo has chosen fourteen subjects for her intricate linocuts.
Each spread, devoted to one species, is a visual treat, and accompanied by two paragraphs of information in addition to the bird’s scientific name and geographic range.

Some of the birds – the Barn Owl or Peregrine Falcon for instance, we in the UK may be lucky enough to see for ourselves. I am always thrilled to catch a glimpse, as I occasionally do, of the flash of iridescent blue and orange of a Kingfisher on my Sunday walk alongside the River Frome near my home.

On the other hand, the Kakapo, a large ground-dwelllng parrot, native to New Zealand almost, so we’re told went extinct in the 1970s with only eighteen males thought to be left in the world. These birds may live to 90 years old and thankfully, following intensive conservation work including relocation to islands free of predators, the population has increased to around one hundred.

Other ornithological wonders featured include the American Bald Eagle, Andean Flamingos, the wandering Albatross, Bar-Tailed Godwits, which fly non-stop over 11,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean from the Arctic to Australia or New Zealand in around eight days, and the Japanese Cranes, known for their elaborate courtship dance.

Narisa Togo’s stunning illustrations and the fascinating facts should instil a sense of awe and wonder at the avian world and draw readers into further exploring both artistic and scientific aspects of the subject.

Published in collaboration with the RSPB, 6% of sales income goes to the charity

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover
Markus Motum
Walker Studio

Wherever you are in the world right now, I’m a very long way away. I’m not even on the same planet as you. I’m a Mars rover.
So begins this story narrated by Curiosity, the robot vehicle landed on the surface of Mars in August 2012.
Readers are given a behind the scenes look at the lead up to, the planning behind and the building of, NASA’s 2011 mission

to land on, and explore, the surface of Mars. We learn how of the 39 previous missions to the red planet over half had ended in failure. Not so with Curiosity however. Launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on 26th November 2011,

the journey was successfully completed in 253 days.

So successful was Curiosity’s early work that what was originally to be a two- year mission was extended, and in August 2017 NASA celebrated the 5th anniversary of the landing and the work continues. More questions are asked; some answers are found; further questions are generated.
The information contained herein is detailed but never too wordy and the narrative style ensures that younger readers are not overwhelmed.
Motum’s graphics make it all the more accessible: geometric in form and richly coloured in blues, reds, grey, black and white, they have a clean sophistication that will appeal to adults as well as child readers.
There’s also a timeline and glossary at the back of the book.
All in all, this is superbly put together: it would make a great addition to a school library or family bookshelf, particularly for those who from time to time stand in the dark looking up into the night sky, wondering and questioning …

Look, Look and Look Again

Where’s the Baby?
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
Baby animals are the objects of the search in Britta Teckentrup’s latest ‘spotting’ book, which, once again is intended to develop visual perception in the very young.
A rhyming text accompanies each digitally composed spread and the challenge is satisfyingly demanding for youngsters: I had to search for a while to locate the gosling on the pond.
With their matt colours and wallpaper style patterns, the artist’s visuals really demand that you look closely savouring the pleasing design of each one be it the vibrant parrots,

the farmyard hens, the kangaroos, the zebras or the seahorses to name just some of the fourteen creatures featured.
The final challenge in the book is different asking, ‘can you see the mother/ whose babies are TWINS?’
Alluring, absorbing and enjoyable.

Have You Seen My Lunch Box?
Steve Light
Walker Books
Morning chaos reigns as a small boy gets ready for school: the clock is ticking but he wants help locating all the things he needs: his socks, his pencil case, a crayon, his book,

a ball, marbles and particularly important, his lunch box. Mum and Dad are on hand to hunt but essentially it’s down to the reader to save the day and ensure he boards the bus on time.
The text, delivered as a first person narrative, appears on each verso, set against the same colour as the missing item to be located on the recto among the plethora of items inked in detail against a predominantly white background. This pattern continues throughout until the last object is safely in the hands of its owner. The final page shows all eight things.
Essentially this is a game for adult and toddler to play together: there’s plenty to talk about in addition to those misplaced items, and that’s in the hands of the adult sharer; in fact every spread is a possible starting point for some adult/child storying.

Double Take!
Susan Hood and Jay Fleck,
Walker Books
We’re in the company of a little boy, his cat and a friendly elephant being asked not to take things at first sight. Assuredly, we’re told, some opposites – in/out, asleep/ awake for instance, are pretty straightforward, albeit orchestrated herein; but others are totally dependent on one’s frame of reference.

Subtitled ‘A New Look at Opposites’ and published under the imprint Walker Studio, this rhyming invitation certainly demands that readers think about opposites with regard to perspective.

I’ve signed the charter  

Animals, One Cheetah One Cherry & Flip Flap Pets

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Animals
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio
This over-sized picture book by Swedish illustrator/designer Arrhenius is sure to have youngsters poring over its gigantic retro-style pages. It features thirty two animals large and small from grasshopper …

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to gorilla, and hippo to frog …

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Every one of the pages would make a lovely poster and it’s hard to choose a favourite animal: I love the muted, matt colours used and the careful placing of pattern; and the lettering fonts and colours seem to reflect the essence of each animal portrayed.

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If you’re looking for something impressive to generate language in youngsters, try putting this book on the floor in your book area and see what happens.
It might also be put to good use in an art lesson for older children.

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One Cheetah, One Cherry
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Absolutely stunning paintings of wild animals grace the pages of this stylish, smallish counting book. We start with ‘One cherry, one cheetah’ showing a graceful beast with a luscious-looking cherry between its paws and continue, encountering two dogs, three bears, four foxes …

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five elephants, six tigers, seven pandas, eight otters, nine mice, ten cherries – all carefully poised, thus :

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which takes us back (numberwise) to None. The cheetah has feasted on those ten delicious cherries and looks mighty pleased about it.
What a wonderful array of animals and activities. The language too is so carefully chosen: alliteration abounds as here: ’Four fine foxes/ sharing strawberries.’
or, try getting your tongue around this one: ‘Seven giant pandas, with pretty painted parasols.’

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Such delicate patterning on those parasols and lantern. Indeed pattern is part and parcel of every painting, so too is gold-leaf; but that’s not all. The end papers are equally gorgeous, the front being a dance of numerals, orchestrated by the cheetah and the back shows the number symbols in order with animals/cherries alongside.

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Flip Flap Pets
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Axel Scheffler offers a multitude of opportunities to create quirky creatures in his latest Flip Flap rhyming extravaganza. Youngsters can turn the basic ten or so popular pets into a whole host of crazy combinations of feather, fur, scale, shell and more. What happens for instance when you cross a stick insect with a budgerigar? You get a STICKERIGAR of course …

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Try crossing a goldfish with a tortoise – that results in a GOLDFOISE:

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and a snake crossed with a cat gives something pretty irresistible – a cake!
It’s possible to make – so that butterfly on the back cover of this bonkers book informs us – 121 combinations. What are you waiting for? If my experience of previous titles in this series is anything to go by, this new addition to the series is likely to inspire children to set about making their own flip flap books.

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