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In Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake, a young boy comes up with a master plan to avoid doing his chores: he spends all his pocket money on a robot to take his place. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me! […] But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
But in order to be exactly like the young boy, the robot needs to know everything about the person he will be imitating. All sorts of questions, exploring everything from the boy’s physical characteristics, to likes and dislikes, via feelings and much more follow. Gradually the robot builds up a fairly comprehensive picture of what the boy is like, but will the master plan to avoid chores succeed or will Mum see through the robot straight away?
This very funny, marvellously philosophical picture book offers so many opportunities for thinking about who we are, why we behave the way we do and how we can and do change over time. It’s reflective and reassuring, creating a space full of laughter to talk about feelings, hopes and friendships. Every page offers lots of opportunities for conversations, at the same time as being full of acute and humurous observations about what it can be like being a child, trying to learn how to navigate your way in the world.
Yoshitake’s illustrations, often reminiscent of comic strips, with multiple panels on each page, are full of fabulous detail offering as much to pore over as the text does. Stylishly designed with just a few colours and a great variety of pace (some pages have lots of sections, others are given over to a single spread), the relatively simplicity of the line drawings allows Yoshitake’s fantastical imagination to flourish.
An empowering, laughter-fuelled, imagination-sparking, reflection-inducing delight, Can I Build Another Me? is meaty and marvellous, silly and serious all at once. A triumph!
We don’t ever really need an excuse for making robots out of junk. Nevertheless, we gratefully took reading Can I Build Another Me? as an opportunity to get creative with old plastic boxes and the glue gun, to create a few mini-me-robots:
Whether they are really just like us or not, they definitely have a sense of personality!
As well as making mini-me-robots, we made keepsake booklets about ourselves, inspired by the questions raised by Yoshitake in his book.
We really enjoyed filling them in, and I suspect they will be great fun to look back on in a year or more, to see how our feelings about ourselves and who we are has changed.
I learned a few things about my own kids as we filled in these booklets. “I can put a whole carrot in my mouth,” wrote M…., whilst J likes DIY and ceilidhs.
Creating a nesting doll set that looks like you – you can get blank nesting doll sets (google “blank wooden Russian doll set” for example, to find lots of offerings) and then paint them to show all the different versions of you there are inside your skin. You could do ones with different facial expressions, for example.
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me, featuring picture books with a philosophical theme:
Whilst books about changes in family dynamics and how you as a child might feel when you find out you’re about to become a big sister are not hard to find, Whatever happened to my sister? by Simona Ciraolo is the first picture book I’ve ever come across which explores the sisterly dynamic at a later and equally crucial time; what happens when your older sister no longer wants to play with you, but instead is more interested in music and boys and clothes?
Whatever happened to my sister? is an observant, compassionate and sensitive portrayal of how a younger sister can feel as she sees her big sister grow up and grow apart, leaving behind the shared childhood games and mischief the sisters once shared.
Ciaolo gently witnesses the sadness mixed with hope and the confusion mixed with loyalty as a younger sister tries to understand why her big sister no longer wants to hang out with her. But just as the younger sister bursts into tears at the horribleness of it all, who should step up to give her a hug and reassure her that some things never change? The comforting ending reminds us that whilst at times big sisters may seem strange and distant, in the end they’ll always be there for you.
This rare take on sisterly relations is poignant and honest. The big emotions are contained by muted and calm illustrations made with a limited palette, at times reminding me of the graceful style of Komako Sakai. Greys predominate at times of sadness and confusion, whilst oranges and reds come to the fore when things take a happier turn.
A small personal frustration with the portrayal of he father as someone who doesn’t get involved in emotional life of his daughters aside (he would rather sit behind his newspaper and keep out of it all; this appears to from a different age to that which my two daughters are growing up in), Whatever happened to my sister? is moving, beautiful and reassuring. It’s a book I’m very happy the two sisters I’m bringing up now have as part of their home library.
Having read Whatever happened to my sister? together, we decided to celebrate M and J’s sisterhood by creating a photo album of the fun and games they’ve got up to together over the years. I trawled through all our photos of them since J (the younger sister) was born, selected a good few and then printed them and stuck them in an album in age order.
In a day and age where nearly all our photos remain digital-only, this time-lapse book delighted not only me as their mum, but also the two girls as they relived many happy memories.
They customised the front of the album:
They then went through adding comments or speech bubbles to various photos.
I think we’ve created a lovely keep-sake here, documenting their first 7 years of sisterhood. Hopefully, if and when things get tough between them, they’ll remember both Ciraolo’s lovely book and this photo album, and together they’ll be little lights of hope for better times.
Whilst creating and customising their photo album M and J listened to:
If you were invited to design a school library launch, how would you go about it? What events would you want to facilitate? Who would you want to involve?
These questions have been very much on my mind since the start of the year, for designing and delivering a school library launch is exactly what I have been asked to do by a local infant school. Can you imagine how excited I feel?
It’s an honour to be asked and trusted by the school to design a whole day of activities and I’ve loved every minute of it so far. Library Launch day is February 12th and now we’re counting down the days…
With apologies to NASA, whose original image I’ve modified.
Having got to the stage where I’ve everything prepped and in place, I wanted to share my plans and resources with you as many of them are easily replicable in families, in classrooms, in clubs, anywhere would you might like to help young children and their families get excited about books. And with World Book Day coming up next month, you could take any of these ideas and use them to celebrate perhaps my favourite day of the year
Today I’ll share the activities the 3-5 year olds will be getting up to, and next week I’ll share the session plans for Year 1 (5-6 year olds) and Year 2 (6-7 year olds), although I believe many of the activities could be adapted to work with children of any age.
We were keen to get as many children into the new library during the day as possible so each class of 3-5 year olds will spend one session going on a treasure hunt for book characters in the library. The basis of this session with be Katie Cleminson’s Otto the Book Bear, in which a bear in a book steps off the pages and into real life. Having read the book, kids (in pairs) will be given a treasure card to identify which books and book characters they need to find in the library.
Some of the sheets of cards kids will be given so they know which characters to hunt for in the library
No doubt 30 kids hunting 30 soft toys is going to be quite chaotic! Once all the characters are found, the session will finish with a reading of one of the books found by the kids during the session.
A couple of trips to charity shops resulted in a good number of soft toys that either were actual book characters (for example I found Paddington Bear, Pooh, and Poppy Cat without even really looking), then I raided my kids’ soft toys and chose ones which matched (near enough) great books. So, for example, I am borrowing a soft toy squirrel and teaming it up with A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld.
I supplemented these with a few extra official character soft toys (who wouldn’t love the excuse to get a Mog cat or Tiger who came tea toy?). Castlemere Books, based in the US, is the most comprehensive site I found for official book character soft toys, though I didn’t end up using them because of shipping costs to the UK.
Some of the characters kids will be searching for in the library!
On returning to their classrooms the kids will paint/colour their own bookshelves and Otto the bear. You can download the shelves here and the bear here.
The second session will be based around Lulu loves Stories by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw (follow the link to read it for free online). This is a gentle story about a child who is taken to the library every Saturday by her father. Each book they read together inspires different sorts of play, from being on a farm (having read about Old Macdonald) to making a pretend aeroplane (having read a story about going on an adventure).
Each table in the classroom will be set up with a different activity taken from Lulu Loves Stories: there will be one with princess dressing up, one with farm animals and one with construction toys. A fourth table will be set up for each child to create their own library to take home, by selecting and gluing lots of images of children’s book covers onto these shelves.
I’ve spent a fair few evenings cutting up old publishers’ catalogues to create enough “library stock”, but other than time in preparation, this activity has been very cheap to prepare with many publishers willing to send catalogues upon request. (If you were working with older kids you could simply give them the catalogues and ask them to do some fantasy shopping – seeing what books they themselves would chose for their library would no doubt be very informative.)
On a fifth table children will be able to cut out Lulu bookplates. These are available as part of an activity guide on the US publisher’s website. Don’t be confused by the name change – Lulu (in the UK) becomes known as Lola (in the US), but this doesn’t affect the bookplates.
This session will be rounded off by reading Lulu reads to Zeki also by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw, which is a simply delightful (and funny) window into a later stage in Lulu’s life;she now has a younger brother, and is passing on the love of books her father instilled in her to little Zeki, reading to him whenever possible.
The third session for the 3-5 year olds will open with a reading of I Love My Little Story Book by Anita Jeram, which is all about the delights you can find inside different books, and the various places they can transport you to.
Each child will have the opportunity to make their own bunny which comes with a hidden story book of its own. It’s a simple collage activity to make the bunny out of an envelope, a pompom, some dried spaghetti, googly eyes and cardboard ears, all stuck on to an envelope, inside which each child will find a blank mini book (blue to match the one in the story). Kids will be encouraged to make the story book their own with whatever mark-making they like.
The mini books are each made from a sheet of A4 paper, using this technique, my favourite way of making small paper books as it requires no sticking or stapling.
As well as there being tables set up with fairy tale activities (castles and knights to play with, dressing up, plastic animals in a forest play scene) kids will also be able to colour in and cut out several book plates designed by Anita Jeram.
These are all available to freely download (as long as you’re not using them for commercial purposes) from this brilliant website, http://www.myhomelibrary.org/, created by former Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine.
If time allows a reading of I like books by Anthony Browne will finish off this session. This is a very simple introduction to different types of books with just one sentence on each page. It’s a great reminder that there are all different sorts of books you can enjoy reading, not just story books.
The fourth session of the day will be based around an all time classic, Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Once the story has been shared, each child will be given their own cardboard treasure chest to embellish with sticky jewels. I sourced some great treasure chests (from http://www.littlecraftybugs.co.uk/) so large that kids will be able to store favourite books inside them.
This session will be wrapped up with a reading of We are in a book by Mo Willems – a perfect book for this age range where the oldest kids may well be able to join in with reading this funny story about what characters in a book think about their readers.
And as well as all of this, all classes will have a session with the award winning author who is coming to join the school for the day… but more about this in a later post!
Rather than going through topic by topic like many body books do (covering, for example, your brain, your senses, your digestive system), this book is themed around the type of questions kids of this age are so good at asking: Why does x happen? How does y work?
Thus we have spreads asking and answering questions around when things happen to human bodies, how parts of human bodies work, and why bodies behave like they do. This framing of the information about bodies is a effective device; the book sounds like a child asking the question, making the questions and answers seem doubly relevant and interesting to young readers and listeners. It also allows for a rather eclectic approach to the issues covered and for the young age group this book is aimed at I think this is so clever; it creates the space for some more difficult or whimsical questions, such as “Where do my ideas come from?” and also allows dipping in and out of the book with great ease.
The colourful cartoony illustrations are fun and feature children asking lots of questions and doing different activities. It’s interesting to note that no child with any disability is included in the book; I do wonder if this was a conscious editorial decision. The robust physical properties of the book (with pages more like card than paper) are ideal for young children; it’s easy to handle and will certainly cope with repeated reading and enthusiastic lifting of the flaps.
I love the very last page of Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Your Body, for it turns the tables on the reader/listener and after asking a few questions which your child should be able to answer having read the book, it states “Now here are some questions this book can’t answer. See if you can…”
This gave us the idea to create Mini Me Booklets – a mini book kids can fill in about themselves using these questions as prompts. I’ve created a printable template which you can download from here. Once you’ve printed off the sheet, you’ll need to fold it and cut it to create the booklet. This video will show you how:
As well as some pens and pencils you might give your kids some photos of themselves to cut up and stick into the booklets (my kids adore seeing photos of themselves when they were younger); if you do this I suggest that the photos are sized so that the area to be cut out is no more than 65mm high (to ensure it will fit in the booklet).
I was particularly heartened by what M wrote in one section of her Mini Me Booklet:
Whilst making our Mini Me Booklets we listened to:
I have to admit that there have been one or two occasions in my lifetime when I’ve lost a library book.
I’ve never had a reasonable excuse (the overflowing levels of books in my home may be what has swallowed them up, but I cannot use this an acceptable defence). I’ve certainly never been able to claim that any loss was on account of a wild bear hungry for words.
To make good the loss of a missing manuscript, Brother Hugo is ordered by his Abbot to prepare a fresh copy. Having borrowed the neighbouring monastery’s version of the lost text, we follow Hugo as he carefully recreates the book that has disappeared.
All goes well until his journey to return the loaned copy, when he is stalked by a hungry bear…
A historical note at the end of the book quotes from an extant letter written by Peter the Venerable (c. 1092 – 1156, a real-life abbot who published the first Latin edition of the Koran amongst other things):
“And send to us, if it pleases you, the great volume of letters by the holy father Augustine, which contains his letters to Saint Jerome, and Saint Jerome’s to him. For it happens that the greater part of our volume was eaten by a bear.“
Beebe has used this historical fact to build a captivating and funny story. We learn a lot about how books were at one time made including where parchment comes from and how some inks were made. But this is no dry non-fiction text.
Historical figures and settings come to life in ways which make them real and relevant; “The dog ate my homework” is an excuse I’ve yet to hear in real life – a bit like seeing someone slip on an actual banana skin – but it’s an excuse we are all familiar with, and which resonates clearly with poor Hugo and his encounter with the bear. Beebe’s text is perfectly peppered with slightly archaic language, giving a lovely flavour seasoned just right for using this book with slightly older children.
Schindler’s illustration are a delight, drawing heavily on many styles and motifs used in mediaeval manuscripts. Illuminated letters start each paragraph and the finely executed, detailed ink and water colour illustrations contain much humour. As befits a book about hand-created manuscripts, Schindler’s illustrations are completely executed by hand (you can learn more on Schindler’s blog), without computer manipulation, a relatively rare thing these days in picture books.
Text and illustration are both splendid but what truly completes this book is the inclusion not only of a historical note and glossary but also a commentary from both author and illustrator on the inspiration and process of their work. This adds real depth to an already interesting and beautiful book.
Inspired by Brother Hugo we wanted to make our own illuminated manuscripts. Using some colouring-in pages printed from the web as our inspiration we drew outlines for illuminated letters using pencils before going over them with ink.
The inked letters were then filled in with watercolour and a little bit of gold guache before being leather bound.
Completely at their own instigation the girls used a Latin dictionary to find words they liked to write in their manuscripts.
Whilst making our manuscripts we listened to various 12th century music such as this, this and this.
Watching the super, award winning, family-friendly feature length animation The Secret of Kells, which as you might guess from its title is about creating an illuminated manuscript.
This year sees the 10th anniversary of another of my favourite books about books: Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing a few new book-themed book discoveries – but do let me know your favourite picture books which celebrate books and the joy of reading.
Would you let your child loose with someone whom others might describes as threatening, morally corrupt, gullible, impudent, and very hungry for little people?
I’m guessing not.
And yet with picture books we do that more often than we might realise.
And our kids love us for it.
A great example of this is the newest board book from Gecko Press, a New Zealand based publisher I follow with great interest for they have a very particular eye when it comes to books which do things differently.
Help! The Wolf is Coming! by Cédric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau, translated by Linda Burgess, is a wonderfully thrilling and delightfully funny story about a wolf making its way threateningly towards us, the reader and listener. As it gets closer and closer we’re invited to do what we can to stop Wolf in his tracks and save ourselves from his clutches.
Prompted to turn the book to an angle, we cause Wolf to start slipping off the page. By shaking the book, we can rattle Wolf. But can we actually save ourselves, and more importantly, save our children?
Like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, Help! The Wolf is Coming! pushes the boundary of what we take for granted as a book and how we can interact with the physical object in our hands. It asks questions about how we allow ourselves to play, to let imagination take over whilst we suspend reality. Both Press Here and Help! The Wolf is Coming! encourage us to do various things to the book and these actions appear to have consequences for what’s on the page.
On one level, we are in no doubt that what we’re doing doesn’t actually cause any reaction; A physical book is not like an app, where a tap or a swipe does change what happens. On another level, however, we as readers and listeners have great fun becoming omnipotent, able to shape the story and take control of the book, even if (or perhaps because?) what happens, happens inside us.
Help! The Wolf is Coming! not only tests the boundaries of what it means to be a book and engage with it. It also nudges up against themes which push boundaries. It’s about a wolf who is no doubt full of bad intentions. He’s all jagged edges, his mouth is blood red, his eyes stare strikingly out from the page. If we’re not careful, we are going to be eaten up. And yet I can guarantee this is a book that will be requested time and time again. Even though Wolf is a baddy through and through our kids will want to return to him. And why’s this? Why do we put ourselves through the worry and the fear?
Perhaps it’s all for the peal of laughter and delight that comes with the relief when we realise at the end of the book that we’re safe and in the arms of our loved ones. Just like the thrill of a circus ride, coming face to face with a threat, a big worry, or an enormous fear is all worth it if, in the end, we discover we’re safe.
That said, Help! The Wolf is Coming! will suit fans of Jon Klassen as the ending is potentially ambivalent. The door on the wolf may not actually be locked shut… and what then?
This book is sizzlingly good fun to share. It’s got an enormous appeal across the age ranges (don’t be fooled by the fact that is has been produced as a board book. I challenge you to give it to some 10 year olds and see how they react; I’d place money on a hugely positive reaction). Delicious desire, finely tuned tension, wit, power, giggles and exhilaration are all to be found in its pages. No wonder we’ve all returned many times to this book already.
And returning to wolves is something which Gecko Press has also done several times now. They’ve a whole slew of great books which explore that double edged wonderfulness of wolves – their capacity to simultaneously provide enormous excitement and terrible anxiety – and their ability to make us feel clever at their foolishness.
In addition to Help! The Wolf is Coming!, they’ve published I am The Wolf and Here I Come! (such a great book for children learning to get dressed and one which will end with adult and child heaped in a bundle of tickles and kisses and cuddles), I am So Strong, I am so Handsome (two wonderful books about hubris), Wolf and Dog (a fabulous, gorgeously illustrated first chapter book about heart warming friendship). Noting this apparent predilection for all things lupine I asked Gecko Press publisher Julia Marshall for her thoughts on her wolfish catalogue and why she thinks wolves, despite being threatening, morally corrupt, gullible, impudent, and very hungry for little children are so perfect for meeting in picture books.
Playing by the book:Help! The Wolf is Coming, I am The Wolf and Here I Come!, I am So Strong, I am so Handsome, Wolf and Dog…. what does your catalogue tell us about how you feel about wolves?
Julia Marshall, Gecko Press Publisher: Wolves can be so many different things in a book. The image of a pack of gray, slinky, shadowy wolves is terrifying, isnt it? But what our wolves have in common is that they are all a bit funny. They are busy trying to be frightening, though they are not at all. They are a bit bombastic, a little silly, and it is easy to get the better of them. And mostly they are very frightened themselves, poor things.
Playing by the book: What do you think young children love so much about these wolf characters?
Julia Marshall: I think children love to experience the frisson of fear, safely confined to the pages of the book (In I am The Wolf and Here I Come! on the back cover it says “Snap the book shut to keep the wolf inside”. And when I read it to a child I say: “And isn’t it nice that he has to stay there, all night!”). It is a bit like tickling – sort of nice-not-nice at the same time. But of course one should not take a wolf at face value. A wolf is a wolf, after all, and always a little unpredictable, and it is as well to know that.
Playing by the book:What other children’s books (in particular, picture books) with wolves in do you love?
Julia Marshall: I love Emily Gravett’s Wolves – it has my favourite picture book cover also. Old stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Romulus and Remus are very strong for me too. My favourite French wolf is Loulou by Grégoire Solotareff and I would love for that to be a Gecko Press book.
Playing by the book:Have you any more wolf books on the way?
Julia Marshall: We do! We have a new non-fiction book coming early next year about Wolf and Dog, which includes things about mummies and dinosaurs. It is a great book! I like its mixture of fiction and non-fiction and the humour that is at the heart of it.
Playing by the book:Ooh, great! That sounds right up our street. We’ll be keeping an eye out for it!
Inspired by Help! The Wolf is Coming! my girls and I set about creating our own interactive books with instructions for the readers to make magic happen. We each started with a blank board book: You can buy blank board books ready-made, your can make your own from pressed (ie non corrugated) cardboard, or you can recycle old board books by covering the pages with full sheet adhesive labels which you trim to size, which is what we did.
First we talked about different ways we can physically interact with books and what consequences that could have for their illustrations. Then we mapped out our interactions on a story board and then drew them into our board books.
Front covers and titles followed and now I can proudly present to you:
Here’s an excerpt from my 7 year old’s book:
I’m not going to give away the end of this exciting story, but let’s just say it doesn’t turn out well for Evil Emperor Penguin (yes, if you’re a fan of this fabulous comic you might recognise the lead character )
Whilst making our books we listened to:
Wolf by First Aid Kit
Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran in homage to my teenage years (“What Mum, you liked this when you were a kid? NO WAY!?!”)
Howlin’ Wolf by Smokestack Lightnin’, cause you gotta educate the kids.
Alongside reading Help! The Wolf is Coming! you could look up other wolfy books to enjoy together. Here are some of my favourite:
My thanks go to @AHintofMystery, @jonesgarethp, @chaletfan, @librarymice, @ruthmarybennett, @AitchLove, @KatyjaMoran, @kdbrundell, and @KrisDHumphrey for a stimulating discussion on Twitter around wolves in books for children, especially exploring the notion that wolves in picture books are often depicted as threats (as in many of the picture books above), whilst in books for older children are often depicted as allies (for example in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, or Katherine Brundell’s forthcoming The Wolf Wilder). Whilst there are exceptions to this generality, we discussed why there might be different relationships with wolves depending on the age of the readership: Wolves as a metaphor for growing sexual awareness – which has (mostly) no place in picture books and is therefore presented as bad thing, but as readers get older it becomes less threatening, wolves as a cipher for independence, growth and maturity, and / or our relationship with wolves shifting as we grow up, as we become bolder and more interested in (or at least less threatened by) unpredictability. No doubt there’s much more that could be unpicked here, but it was a really enjoyable conversation and I’m really grateful to everyone who chimed in.
Last week we were on holiday in a county where 9 libraries have had their funding withdrawn. If volunteers can’t be found (putting aside the whole issue of whether volunteers running libraries is a good thing) the libraries, more than a quarter of all the libraries in the county in question, will shut their doors for a final time within a year.
The message this sends out to me is “We, the powers that be, don’t care about imagination, exploration, understanding. We don’t care about community.”
Image: Phil Bradley
And yet, without imagination, exploration, understanding and community what sort of life would we lead? Would it be the sort of life we want to lead?
A great deal of what I document here on the blog is about how books spark our family’s imagination, encourage us to explore and help us to understand the world around us. The blog is important to me as it helps create, bring together and nurture a community that I’m delighted to be a part of.
And whilst many of the books I review here are ones I’ve bought or been sent, it’s the library that is the backbone of so much that I do with the kids. It’s the library I turn to for books on crafty projects, it’s the library I turn to for books recommended by readers of this blog, it’s the library I turn to to find older books by authors who are new discoveries to us, it’s the library I turn to for browsing which sparks ideas, thoughts and eventual adventures which end up here on the blog.
It’s the library that I hope you first turn to when you read a review here of a book you think sounds wonderful.
So when I read Otto the Book Bear, the latest book by Katie Cleminson, I hugged it! It’s a book about the magic of libraries and the life book characters can lead. It’s about the joy of being read (and as a writer, if only of a blog, I definitely appreciate this), and it’s beautiful, tender and full of optimism.
Otto is a book bear with a special secret. Although he is “at his happiest when children read his book“, when no-one is looking he can escape the pages of his books and come to life. This ex-folio exploration is lots of fun until the day his book is packed up and taken away before Otto can return to the safety of his pages.
He searches and searches for a new home but without success. Just as he is on the verge of giving up, Otto sees “a place that looked full of light and hope“. Given my preamble above I’m sure you can guess what sort of building this might be; yes – a building full of books, imagination and friendship – a library.
Otto is thrilled with his new home, and the friends he makes from other books but best of all, “now Otto had lots of readers – and that made him the happiest book bear of all.”
Do you enjoy suspending disbelief when you read? For me it can be like entering into a secret pact with the book, forming a special bond of trust, being cocooned in little bubble of escapism and magic.
It seems to me that children’s books can be especially brilliant at enabling, encouraging their readers to suspend disbelief, to enter into another world where the events described or drawn on paper really do happen, really do exist. Perhaps calling it a suspension of disbelief isn’t accurate; could it be that kids still believe in the magic in some sense?
Press Here by Hervé Tullet is the book that’s got me thinking about how and why we as readers suspend disbelief. It’s a brilliantly simple, brilliantly magical interactive, imaginative book that deserves to be inside many children’s Christmas presents this year.
At first glance this book might not startle you. There’s not much more to its physical presence than a yellow dot and a few simple instructions directed at the reader. There are no lavish illustrations and no poetic text. But put the book into your hands, or even better the hands of some slightly curious children, and Puff! you’ll be surrounded by enchantment.
You’ll be asked to push buttons, tap buttons, blow onto the page or even clap at the book and suddenly you’ll be possessed with supernatural powers to create, to make disappear, to turn all the lights off, and more. Who doesn’t enjoy (the idea of) having magic in their fingertips?
Tullet is a creator par excellence of books that get their readers doing things, forming physical (as well as emotional) bonds with the books. This summer’s big hit with M was Tullet’s The Scribble Book – an activity book that appealed enormously to her love of being active and wild and slightly out of control! (You can read my review of it here.)
It’s not that we go out of our way to avoid it, but it’s not a celebration we wait all year for. M’s birthday is just before the 25th, we’re not a religious family, and we don’t want to be sucked in to a big cycle of (over) consumption, so all in all, Christmas is a quiet time for us. We don’t do stockings, we don’t have faith, but (of course) we can’t entirely do without books.
Findus at Christmas by Sven Nordqvist is one of the few Christmassy books that we have already enjoyed and will no doubt read ever more frequently in the coming weeks. We’re huge fans of eccentric old farmer Pettson and his cheeky cat Findus (for my reviews of earlier Pettson and Findus books click here), and in this story there’s everything we could hope for.
It’s December 23rd and after days of terribly wintry weather, finally Pettson and Findus can set about getting everything ready for Christmas Day. They’ve got so much to do; shopping, baking, felling the Christmas tree and preparing the house. But disaster strikes when out in the forest they have a sledging accident and Pettson badly hurts his foot.
Having limped back home it becomes clear that Christmas isn’t going to happen as they’d planned. They’ve almost no food in the larder and the house is bare of decoration. “Silently they sat and watched their reflection in the window against the darkness outside. It can get this quiet when things don’t turn out the way you expect.”
Christmas morning arrives and a neighbour pops his head round the door to check everything is ok. When he sees the state of Pettson’s foot, and hears Findus’ wailing he steps into the breach and brings in some firewood and promises to return later with milk.
As word spreads of Pettson’s predicament, one by one neighbours rally round, each bringing a basket of delicious food. Pettson and Findus have managed to make a Christmas tree laden with imaginative decorations out of a bits and bobs they have lying around and unexpectedly the house is full of ““Merry Christmas!” and talk and laughter” as neighbours and their families stay and share good will and good cheer. Christmas turns out to be better then the farmer and his cat could have possibly hoped for.
This story is my sort of Christmas story: what really matters about this season, is not the tree, is not the rushing around like crazy trying to do too many things, but rather simply generosity, kindness and community.
The “message” shines through in a gentle but powerful way because the book is packed with humour, both verbal and pictorial. The capers Pettson and Findus get up to, from surfing over the wet floor of the kitchen, to choosing unusual Christmas presents for each other will get you giggling, whilst the affection that is so strong between the farmer and his feline friend will make you feel like hugging those near and dear to you. A pretty good way to start Christmas, don’t you think?
3 Comments on (Sort of) Counting down the days till Christmas, last added: 11/15/2011
One, Two, Three, Me by Nadia Budde is a board book for the pre-school / nursery crowd. It is a quirky take on the “learn about the world around you” type of book with an exploration of colours, shapes, weather, locations, clothes, sizes and emotions/characteristics. Told in rhyme with naive, childlike drawings that reminded me a little both of Finnish illustrator Hannamari Ruohonen and Dutch illustrator Babette Harms, this is not your average toddler learning book, and is so much more fun for all that.
The choice of vocabulary is interesting (eg “gigantic, average, wee” when talking about size, or “spotted, plaid, pale” when talking about colours and patterns), and the animals modelling the cloths / locations / emotions etc are unusual: you’ll meet boars, cockroaches, rats, moose and a gnu!
The unusual lexical and illustrative choices made by Nadia Budde ensured that was this book inherently more interesting to read than many of its ilk. Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised if some parents felt happier with a more conventional approach, for example Kali Stileman’s Big Book of My World (which I reviewed here), the slightly anarchic slant taken by this book meant I loved reading it aloud, my enjoyment came across to J, and she too discovered a new book to love.
So now for a slightly geeky diversion, if you’re interested in translation. As a rhyming book, and a book where there is a close connection between the text and the images I was curious to find out how it had been translated.
Nadia Budde’s book is called Eins Zwei Drei Tier (One Two Three Animal) in the original German. A little rooting around has shown that not only has the translation been creative, Nadia Budde also must have redrawn some of the images for the English language version. Here are some images from the original book side by side with the corresponding images from the translated version.
German and English frontcovers. Note the different animal a
Every time we open a book we set off on an journey. We don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know who we’ll meet. We just hope we’ll come out (more) alive at the end. Now imagine if you could make your dream adventure come true… Who would you invite to join you? What provisions would you take? Where would you go?
Louise Yates’ wonderfully warm, deliciously drawn Dog Loves Drawing is all about exactly this. Friends. Cake. A little bit of danger. Being able to create your own adventure.
And the power of imagination and pencils on paper.
Dog, who you may already know owns a bookshop, receives an unusual type of book from his Aunt: a book full of blank pages. Inscribed inside the front cover is an exciting invitation:
Dog enthusiastically dives in, draws a door and, yes, walks through into his own adventure.
Starting with the simplest of stick men, Dog draws friends and before long they are off exploring a world they create as they go along. They want sandwiches? They draw sandwiches. They want to explore? They draw a boat. Then for fun, Dog’s friend, Duck, draws a Monster…. oh no! How will Dog and his friends escape? Will Dog make it back to the bookshop safely?
Yates has made a perfect picture book with Dog Loves Drawing. The story is so alluring for kids (I want something? I’ll draw it and make it come to life! Feel the power in my fingers!) and it is told with warmth and humour. The little impishness that drives Duck to draw a monster is so believable and causes that addictive rush of adrenalin that makes a story feel so satisfying, once safe and sound again.
Yates’ illustrations are deceptively simple. They do indeed look like something a young child reading the book might be able to sketch for themselves; just like the words, the pictures are empowering! Yet they are also light and graceful. The facial expressions of the adventurers are a particular delight (we like Duck and Owl arguing, and the look of bliss on Stick Man’s face when travelling at speed in the steam train), lifting Dog and his friends off the page and into living breathing characters.
I defy you to read this book and NOT want to get drawing straight away!
After reading this book for the very first time I succumbed, in that heady rush of new love, to getting something I’ve been hankering after for a long time – a proper pencil sharpener!
I honestly think it is a thing of beauty. And even now, at 38, sharpening pencils holds an addictive sway over me! I love the sound as the shavings are made, and then the rainbow dust that is created has its own magic, to say nothing of the end result:
5 Comments on Ever needed some encouragement to get drawing?, last added: 4/26/2012
Every month (where possible), she is going share some ideas to encourage children to tell stories of their own, using the monthly theme from the “I’m looking for a book about…” carnival. She and I will be turning her prompts into a library of mini books you can print off and give to the kids in your life (and yourself!), along with a blank mini-book ready and waiting for stories and illustrations to fill its pages.
Maybe it’s an older child who would like to write their story down, or a younger one who would be happy telling theirs by drawing pictures…
or, my own personal favourite, making up a story together while chatting at bedtime after lights-out…
I’ll suggest a starting point, a few nudges along the way to keep the story flowing along and an inspiring object or two (I always find an actual THING helps me when I’m writing a story) –
Whose bed could this be?
- and the rest is up to them!
Now to the first mini-books from our library-to be…
Two books especially for you from Clara and me
The Small book of Big Story IDEAS by Clara Vulliamy
A blank book waiting to be filled with stories!
For each book you’ll need to download a pdf file (see below), print it off, and then use the method shown in this video to fold/cut the paper to create the actual book:
How wonderful it is to be welcoming back author/illustrator Clara Vulliamy with this month’s mini-books to inspire children (young and old) to create their own stories!
This month’s theme, to go with yesterday’s book review round up, is the seaside. Clara and I hope that, armed with top book tips, crafts and our mini books, you and your kids will be inspired to get storytelling and playing together – do let us know how you get on!
An almost wordless, non-fiction accordion book, High Times: A History of Aviation takes you on a journey from Icarus via Leonardo da Vinci, to the Wright Brothers, through the Second World War on to Concorde and the Space Shuttle. Key dates and inventions are picked out and briefly explained in the book’s wrap-around cover, which acts as a key for details to spot in the exciting and broad landscape presented as the book opens out.
Ping Zhu’s Swan Lake, which takes the same format, is entirely wordless. One side of the book shows the audience watching a performance of the ballet, whilst on the reverse you can see behind the scenes as the ballerinas prepare themselves to go on stage.
Both books are wonderfully tactile to hold and interact with. Printed on heavy-weight card these are books you really want to feel between your fingers.
Swan Lake‘s illustrations reminded me of 1960s illustrations, and the girls really enjoyed exploring the audience and making up stories about the different characters they could see, from the bored looking lady with a pearl necklace to the rather mysterious animals who have somehow snuck in to the theatre (they made me think of a Finnish illustrator I like, Hannamari Ruohonen, who also creates fabulous wordless picture books).
The printing technique and bold colour scheme of High Times ensures the book feels both retro and modern. Again, there is lots of fun to be had looking for details, from the family going on holiday with their rubber duck, to the zoo animal being transported by Boeing 747. This book is a great example of how science (in this case, engineering and inventions) can also be explored through art. Team it up with The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith, illustrated by Eva Montanari (which I reviewed here) and The Story of Inventions, by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Adam Larkum (which I reviewed here) and you’ve got a terrific trio of books to inspire the next generation of flying machine inventors.
But these books are not just for the young. Both NoBrow books are immensely stylish, and as such, will no doubt appeal to adults as well as children. I can easily imagine them unfolded and on display in beautiful, architect designed houses. And why not?
Displaying stories and illustration on your walls is great way to integrate books into your lives, and at £10 a pop I can’t think of a cheaper way to get some eye catching, discussion-inducing art up on your walls.
Inspired by the idea of displaying an illustrated story, the girls set about making their own “mural book”. I blu-tacked a length of fax paper (yes, such a thing still exists, I got mine from Rymans) up our staircase and the girls took turns to illustrate a story chinese-whisper style.
M would illustrate a stretch of paper, then J would take over the story and add her twists and turns. Because I was nervous about pen marks going on the wall I illustrated a simple border along the length of the paper and explained that the girls had to draw inside the border. This worked really well and The HWA (Humane Wall Association) can confirm “No walls were harmed during the making of this book”.
The story grew and grew…
The narrative was somewhat complex, with lots of free association going on, but some of my favourite cameos were these:
“Zeus sent down thunderbolts onto the dinosaurs escaping by bicycle.”
“The dragon and the unicorn came to the magic castle.”
The girls’ mural book is still up on the wall and it’s the first thing anyone sees when we open our front door. I rather like how a story welcomes people into our home.
Whilst we were all illustrating we listened to
Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (although dancing on stairs is not to be encouraged…)
Lately, I have read several posts by writers blogging about the challenges of writing on a full-time basis, staying up-to-date on the latest, being swept into a vortex of social media drains on their time. Overwhelmed, many of us are unable to process that barrage of information, to sift out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
I have found a strategy to retain some of the more important content from the frequent Tweets, blogging, Facebook interactions. Compile a commonplace book. Let me explain.
internalising that information: engaging deeply, processing it so that it becomes part of you….If the web is a wild, furiously creative ecosystem – a rainforest, say – the commonplace book is a private vegetable patch. Different things grow best in each.
What a refreshing, manageable, metaphor to use for a commonplace book—a vegetable garden! Amateur gardener that I am (see my blog at PM_Poet Writer), I realize that I can make a commonplace book, a container garden for these “vegetables” of information, even one that is sustainable!
In the midst of this information age, we can re-invent the commonplace book concept of poets, politicians, and women of the past, by selecting and copying choice quotes, comments, to file for later consideration.
On a personal note, I have to say that I was unaware of commonplace books until I read this article. Afterwards, I realized that although I did not know the term, I had actually kept such a book in the 70s through senior high school year and university. I have included a few pictures of this small green book, measuring about 3” x 4” (7cm x 10cm). (Figures 1, 2, 3) It is filled with quotes from Thoreau and Shakespeare and Camus, lines from the
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These may be exhortations, but I can assure you that if you pick up a copy of Do! by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram Dhadpe with Gita Wolf, published by Tara Books, these things will come naturally to you. Do! is a heady mixture of gorgeous art, open ended storytelling, an adventurous exploration of an aspect of Indian culture and beauty made solid in the form of a stunning handmade book.
Winner of the 2010 Ragazzi award at the Bologna Children’s Book fair, Do! contains a series of double page spreads each depicting one or two activities, all drawn in the style of art from the Warli tribal community of painters in Maharashtra, western India. “Work”, “Dance” “Farm” “Play” are just some of the verbs depicted in the intriguingly simple yet detailed illustrations, all hand printed, and every page is a treat to pour over. M and J have loved challenging each other to find vignettes such as the monkey carrying her baby, the mice climbing the roof, the crab in the stream.
This book is for you if you and your children like telling your own stories; with only a word or two per page accompanying scenes full of people and animals doing all sorts of things, this book makes it easy to weave your own stories and for your kids to create their own narratives.
This book is for you if your children (or you!) enjoy books like Where’s Wally?, Flotsam or looking for the duck in Usborne books; the illustrations in Do! will draw any “reader” in – my two girls have spent a long time pouring over the pictures looking at every detail.
This book is for you if you appreciate books to hold, feel and smell; Do! is a book you want to have in your hands, not on a shelf . Having been silk-screen printed on recycled kraft paper (to recreate the mud walls of village homes where the art has its origins) its easy to feel connected right back to the people who made it. And reading that helps you feel connected to the world around you is exactly my sort of reading!
Do(!) take a look at this video showing how the book was made.
Appropriately enough for a book from a publishing house whose name means “star” in a number of Indian languages, Do! is a stellar book. Unusual, engaging, gorgeous, creative. Yep, it’s been a big hit in our home!
The final illustration in this lovely book is based around the verb “Draw”; The images show how the reader can create their own Warli-style figures. This was all the encouragement we need to go off and do our own drawing. But to create something of a keepsake (which seemed like the right think to do given that this book is indeed worthy of being a keepsake), we opted to draw Warli-style using glue, and to create a batik style decorated pillowcase. Here’s what we did.
If you have a new baby in your family, are looking for a perfect getting-ready-for-bed book, or just have a child who loves role play with their toys I have the ideal book for you today!
In Tuck Me In! by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt it’s time for the animals to go to bed. One by one a whole menagerie needs your help to get ready to sleep – will you tuck in Pig, Zebra and Peacock? Each double page spread features one animal and their colourful blanket ready for you and your kids to lay over them – a lift the flap book of the simplest variety but pitch perfect for small hands just learning to turn pages.
And once all the animals are tucked up tight is there anyone else you can think of who might need tucking in? If our experience is anything to go by, your little one will be keen to join in and get tucked in themselves Getting your kids ready for sleep has never been easier with this beautifully produced, interactive book absolutely perfect for babies and toddlers (but also a surprising hit with my 6 year old who has adored acting it out with her own stuffed animals.)
The cartoon style pictures are cute and cuddly looking, the bold colours are eye catching without being garish. The physical production of the book is excellent – stiffer, shiny pages are easy to hold on to and turn even for little hands (they wipe clean easily too and will put up with quite a lot of rough love, or over enthusiastic tucking in!)
M and J were keen to create their own book along the lines of Tuck Me In! so first they painted pictures of the animals they wanted to include.
Then M made blankets for the animals – using large scraps of material the girls chose we made rectangular pockets, sewing the material right sides together and then turning inside out to create a mini duvet cover (open on one of the narrow sides).
We interleaved our pages of animals with their blankets and then I used the sewing machine to bind all the pages and blankets together (just like I did in this post). To cover the binding, I glued a broad strip of felt over the spine of the book. Then M set to writing the text inside, using the original text of Tuck Me In! as her guide.
Here you can see the felt on the spine – it worked rather well, giving the book and old fashioned sort of feel!
So when I saw that Ellie’s second book, Daisy plays Hide-and-Seek came out at the start of May I was very keen to take a look…
Jake and his bovine friend, Daisy, play hide and seek. You’d think finding a large cow wouldn’t be that difficult, but Daisy is no ordinary cow. In fact she’s somewhat of a chameleon, able to change her hide (no pun intended!) to blend in with the background. Jake looks in low places, high places, wet places and dry places but, despite his best efforts, he cannot find his friend.
Finally Jake can think of only one more place Daisy might be – in the field full of cows. But is she there?
This gorgeous, gentle book about the delights – and frustrations – of playing hide and seek is perfect for a quiet, calm storytime. Ellie’s illustrations are highly textured, full of soft colour and kids and adults alike will love looking for Daisy on each page. If your children enjoyed the game of finding Halibut Jackson, I’m sure they’ll love this book!
Another thing I like about this book is that it can be enjoyed by a wide age range of kids. The simple text with plenty of repetition makes it great for the preschool crowd, whilst I think the book could be used well if you’re teaching prepositions, or talking about the senses with slightly older kids. The number of different processes used in creating the beautiful illustrations might inspire even older children to mix and match different techniques in their own artistic creations.
All in all, whilst we all love a book that allows us to roar and yell, it’s great to have such a beautiful, sunny and peaceful book (with a boy protagonist, to boot) in our story collection.
Inspired by Daisy’s ability to camouflage herself M and I made our own book of hidden animals. To start with we created a concertina book by sellotaping thin card at opposite ends.
We then chose matching pieces of patterned paper (we happened to use origami paper, but you could use wrapping paper, or anything you like as long as it has a regular pattern on it), and keeping one piece whole, we cut out animal shapes from the matching piece, and then glued them on to card.
I’m not great at drawing animals so we googled “animal silh