Category Archives: Books

Happy birthday, Eric Carle

On June 25th, the renowned children’s author and illustrator, Eric Carle, will celebrate his 88th birthday. For almost 50 years, he has brought joy to children around the world with his stories. Since the publication of his most well-known book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he has worked on over 70 titles. His artwork is instantly recognisable with its use of bright colours and distinctive collage technique (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.). In the following video, marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle talks about how the book came into being and gives some insight into his art techniques.

Eric Carle-The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Waterstones

Born in New York, Eric Carle moved to Germany with his family when he was six. He returned to America in 1952 and worked as a graphic designer at the New York Times and then as the art director of an advertising agency. His collaboration with Bill Martin Jnr, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, marked the beginning of his career in children’s books (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.).

Eric Carle’s picture books often have special features, such as twinkling lights (The Very Lonely Firefly), cut-outs (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and sounds (The Very Clumsy Click Beetle and The Very Quiet Cricket), which add to the experience of reading for young children. Many have a strong nature theme, such as those about insects or marine life, with additional information provided about the characters in the story.

I have selected ten books written and illustrated by Eric Carle. These span his career as a children’s picture book author from 1969 to the present day.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This all-time favorite not only follows the very hungry caterpillar as it grows from egg to cocoon to beautiful butterfly, but also teaches the days of the week, counting, good nutrition and more. Striking pictures and cleverly die-cut pages offer interactive fun (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

It’s hard to believe that The Very Hungry Caterpillar will soon be 50 years old. It has a timeless quality, which appeals to everyone, children and adults alike. It is a fabulous resource for introducing the days of the week and sequential counting.

The Mixed-Up Chameleon (1975)

The Mixed-Up Chameleon

Hilarious pictures show what happens when a bored chameleon wishes it could be more like other animals, but is finally convinced it would rather just be itself. An imagination-stretcher for children (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

This book is all about being yourself, rather than wanting to be someone else. Another picture book with a similar theme is Edward the Emu written by Sheena Knowles and illustrated by Rod Clements.

The Bad-Tempered Ladybird (1977)

The Bad-Tempered Ladybird

A grouchy ladybug who is looking for a fight challenges everyone it meets regardless of their size or strength. How this bumptious bug gets its comeuppance and learns the pleasures to be gained by cheerfulness and good manners is an amusing lesson in social behavior. Die-cut pages add drama and dimension (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

Also known as The Grouchy Ladybug, this story introduces the concepts of telling the time and increasing size as the ladybird spends the day looking for someone to fight!

The Very Busy Spider (1984)

The Very Busy Spider

With the use of raised printing, this innovative book adds the sense of touch to vision and hearing as ways to understand and enjoy the strikingly designed illustrations and the memorable story. Various farm animals try to divert a busy little spider from spinning her web, but she persists and produces a thing of both beauty and usefulness. Enjoyed by all audiences, this book’s tactile element makes it especially interesting to the visually-impaired (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

Children are able to follow the spider’s silken thread with their fingers while learning how it makes its web. Farm animals try to make conversation with the spider, allowing readers to join in with the different noises they make.

A House for Hermit Crab (1987)

A House For Hermit Crab

An underwater fantasy based on the true habits of hermit crabs and the flora and fauna of their marine environment, this book offers young readers an interesting first introduction to marine biology as well as an appealing story of Hermit Crab’s search for a house he can really call his home, as he grows throughout one year’s cycle (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

The months of the year form the structure for this book, with the hermit crab making new friends and adding to his shell as he journeys from January to December. Along the way, children are introduced to a range of sea animals from anemones to lanternfish.

From Head to Toe (1997)

From Head To Toe

“I can do it!” is the confidence-building message of this book. As young children copy the antics of Eric Carle’s animals, they’ll learn such important skills as careful listening, focusing attention, and following instructions. Just as alphabet books introduce letters and simple words, From Head to Toe introduces the basic body parts and simple body movements-the ABC’s of dancing, gymnastics, and other sports activities (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

This is such a fun book to read with children, because it is so interactive. They can mimic the animals as they use the various parts of their bodies in different ways. It is great for developing body awareness and learning to name body parts.

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle (1999)

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle

HEAR the beetle CLICK as it flips through the pages of this book and learns how to land on its feet! Small readers will recognize and empathize with the clumsy little beetle’s eagerness to learn what the older beetle can already do so well. They will understand, too, its frustration when at first it fails. And they will surely rejoice in its eventual spectacular triumph (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

This book is all about perseverance and patience. The different animals the click beetle encounters encourage it to keep on trying. The book features a clicking sound as the page is turned for the final successful flip.

“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth (2002)

Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said The Sloth

Slowly, slowly, slowly…that’s how the sloth lives. He hangs upside-down from the branch of a tree, night and day, in the sun and in the rain, while the other animals of the rain forest rush past him. “Why are you so slow? Why are you so quiet? Why are you so lazy?” the others ask the sloth. And, after a long, long time, the sloth finally tells them (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d)!

In the blurb of the book, Eric Carle asks “Why are we always in a hurry?” The sloth in this story can teach us all about slowing down and experiencing life, rather than dashing from one activity to another. A very zen book!

Mister Seahorse (2004)

Mister Seahorse

Mister Seahorse and fellow fish fathers, who care for their soon-to-be-hatched offspring, share their stories while acetate pages reveal camouflaged creatures who bear witness to the conversation between fathers with fins (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).

This is my favourite book by Eric Carle. I love the way information about the different fish fathers that care for their offspring is shared as part of the story rather than in a didactic way. I particularly love poor Mr Tilapia, who can’t answer Mr Seahorse because his mouth is full of eggs! Children also enjoy finding the creatures that are camouflaged behind the see-through pages.

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (2011)

The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse

I am an artist and I paint…a blue horse, a red crocodile, a polka-dotted donkey…

Here is a celebration of creativity and colour that will inspire young artists everywhere.

This book was written as a homage to Franz Marc, the German expressionist artist, who was killed during the First World War. He was famous for his paintings of blue horses, hence the book’s title. Each animal is presented in stunning double page spreads with a simple text.

So many of Eric Carle’s books have become classics and this may be because:

The secret of [his]…appeal lies in his intuitive understanding of and respect for children, who sense in him instinctively someone who shares their most cherished thoughts and emotions (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.).

Here’s a treat to end with; Eric Carle reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I particularly love the close-up shot of the poor caterpillar with a stomach ache from eating too much food!

Eric Carle reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Puffin Books

Happy birthday, Eric Carle! And thank you for the beautiful, funny and informative books that you have created over the last five decades.

All images taken by the author. The quote for The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse taken from the blurb of the book.

Picture books about reading

Having previously explored my reading philosophy and reading in libraries, I’ve selected seven picture books that shine the spotlight on reading. In these stories, characters learn to read, love to read or learn to love reading.

How Rocket Learnt to Read
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills

How Rocket Learnt To Read

Meet Rocket, a new student, and his teacher, a little yellow bird.

Watch as Rocket practises singing out the sounds of each letter of the alphabet, discovers the delicious excitement of listening to stories and finally, best of all…learns to read!

Dogs and reading. Two of my favourite things. In this delightful story, Rocket the dog is drawn into reading because he wants to hear the ending of a story read by the little yellow bird. Before long, he is learning “all of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet” and using the letters to spell out words. By the end of the story, the two are reading stories together again and again. Oh the joys of becoming a reader!

Bears Don’t Read!
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Bears Don't Read!

George isn’t happy doing the usual bear things like chatting and fishing. But what else is there? Until one day, he finds a book beneath a tree and knows, more than anything, he wants to learn to read! If only he could find someone to teach him.

Then he meets Clementine, a little girl whose love of reading will change George’s life forever…

With fabulous illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark, this book tells the story of George the bear, who wants to learn to read. He finally finds a teacher in a girl called Clementine. Like the little yellow bird, she starts with the alphabet, showing him what she is learning at school. Although George finds reading tricky at first, he perseveres with the help of his friend. Soon he is able to read a whole book on his own and “that was just the beginning”.

The Bush Book Club
Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ben Wood

The Bush Book Club

All the animals belong to The Bush Book Club. All except Bilby. He can’t stay still long enough to read. But what would it take for Bilby to slow down and look into a book?

I love the work of Margaret Wild and I’m sure more of her books will make an appearance on future picture book lists. Ben Wood’s illustrations beautifully complement this story about the Australian animals who are part of The Bush Book Club. Each has their own reading style (Echidna reads tucked up in bed, while Kangaroo reads as she hops along) and preferred genre (Koala loves fantasy tales, while Crocodile prefers stories that make him cry). Only Bilby doesn’t read, because he just can’t sit still long enough. But after he gets locked in the clubhouse, he discovers that reading happens when you find the right book. In his case, The Terrifying Adventures of Big Brave Bilby! This calls to mind Ranganathan’s Second Law of Library Science: every reader his/her book.

Oliver and George
Written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas

Oliver And George

Oliver is ready to play but George the bear is busy…reading. Oliver tries everything to get George’s attention. What happens when a boy bothers a bear too many times?

This simple but effective story highlights the engrossing (and addictive) nature of a good book. Oliver wants to play with George, trying all sorts of things to get him to join in. But George is caught up in his book and nothing can distract him from it, except…when Oliver takes it away. And just when George is ready to play, Oliver opens the book and gets hooked too!

Rufus Goes To Sea
Written by Kim T. Griswell and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

Rufus Goes To Sea

Rufus Leroy Williams III knows exactly what he wants to do for summer vacation. He really, really, REALLY wants to be a pirate, just like the characters in his favorite book. He’s ready to become a brave matey on the Scurvy Dog. But there’s a small problem:

Rufus is a pig.

“Arrrh! No pigs on pirate ships!” the Captain growls.

What can Rufus do to prove he’s the pirate Captain Wibblyshins is looking for?

Keeping with the animal theme, Rufus is a pig who loves to read and wants to become a pirate. He is also very persistent, never giving up on his dream, despite being rebuffed several times by Captain Wibblyshins. But then, the pirates discover he is just what they need: a reading pirate. Rufus is able to read the instructions on their map, which leads them to the buried treasure. Like Pirate Pete in No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou, the pirates discover that the treasure is a chest of books, where “new adventures waited inside”.

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read
Written by Curtis Manley and illustrated by Kate Berube

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats To Read

Nick has two cats, Verne and Stevenson. They do everything together-except read. So Nick has an idea: he will teach them to read too! But reading can be hard and takes lots of practice. Can his cats learn how?

In this celebration of reading, Nick and his cats discover that finding just the right book can make all the difference.

This picture book features cats and not just any cats, but a grumpy cat! Nick wants to read with his cats, but they are less enthusiastic about the activity. So he tries to teach them to read using flashcards. When he reads stories about fish, Verne gets hooked and he is soon borrowing library books with Nick. But Stevenson (the grumpy cat) is not interested until Nick discovers he loves pirates. Like Bilby in The Bush Book Club, it was simply a case of matching the reader to the book. This is a great story about reading for pleasure. I love the illustrations by Kate Berube, especially those of Stevenson with his pirate’s patch!

A Child of Books
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

A Child Of Books

A little girl, a child of books, sails her raft across a sea of words and arrives at the house of a young boy. She invites him to go away with her on an adventure into the world of stories…where, with only a little imagination, anything can happen.

Like a number of picture books, this one straddles the topics of reading and stories. I have included it, because it focuses on the joy of reading stories, rather than the process of learning to read. It is described as an “extraordinary ode to the power and promise of storytelling”, which of course lies at the heart of reading fiction. The authors have been economical with their words, choosing them carefully to create poetic sentences including “We can lose ourselves in forests of fairy tales” and “We will sleep in clouds of song”. Each page is filled with Sam Winston’s typography from relevant stories and songs, creating a landscape and adding an extra layer to Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations. This is a remarkable book arising from a truly collaborative process.

I hope you enjoy sharing these wonderful books about the joys of reading. Coming soon…picture books about books!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

Libraries in children’s literature: Part II

Continuing on from the post about libraries in children’s literature, here are the final three books in which libraries play an important role in the story.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Written by J. K. Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay

The Chamber Of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

When the shabby little house-elf Dobby pops up in Privet Drive insisting Harry Potter must not return to Hogwarts, Harry suspects his arch-rival, Draco Malfoy, may be behind it. Rescued from the dire Dursleys by Ron Weasley-in an enchanted flying car-Harry spends the rest of the summer at The Burrow. Life with the Weasleys is so full of magical distractions, Harry soon forgets Dobby’s frantic warnings.

But back at school a sinister message found daubed in a dark corridor echoes Dobby’s predictions that terrible things are about to happen…

In the second book in the Harry Potter series, someone is turning students from non-magical families to stone and suspicion falls on Harry after he is heard speaking in Parseltongue. Harry and his friends must discover who has opened the Chamber of Secrets and who is the heir of Slytherin.

The Hogwarts Library features in most of the Harry Potter books. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry uses his invisibility cloak to search the Restricted Section for information about Nicolas Flamel. A year later, when the Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Hermione is able to borrow a potions book from the Restricted Section by presenting a signed note from Gilderoy Lockhart. She uses this to make polyjuice potion. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the three friends try to find material in the Legal Section that will help in Buckbeak’s hearing, while the following year, Harry looks in the Restricted Section for ways of breathing underwater in order to complete one of the tri-wizard challenges in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hermione once again returns to the library to search through the Restricted Section to find information about horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

In the first book in the series, there is a brief description that gives an indication of the magnitude of the Hogwarts Library:

And then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.

Within the library, there are a number of different sections: Restricted, Legal, Invisibility, Dragon and Reference. Books can only be borrowed with permission from the librarian and those in the Restricted Section required a signed note from a teacher. Spells have been placed on books to prevent students from defacing or stealing them. The librarian, Madam Pince, is very strict and enforces a number of rules, including no eating in the library. She is described as being “a thin, irritable woman who looked like an under-fed vulture”.

The books in the Hogwarts Library provide Harry and his friends with information that is helpful during their adventures. Remember, as Ron says (in reference to what Hermione would do), “When in doubt, go to the library”.

Information in this section taken from the Hogwarts Library page of the Harry Potter Wiki.

Ink and Bone
Written by Rachel Caine and illustrated by Christina Griffiths (cover)

Ink And Bone

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar… but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life-and soon both heretics and books will burn…

Ink and Bone is the first book in the Great Library series, followed by Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill (to be released in July 2017). The premise behind the three books is that the Great Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in ancient times, has been saved, along with the information it contained. The year is 2031 and the Great Library now controls all knowledge, functioning as a nation-state connected to daughter libraries or Serapeum throughout the world. Jess Brightwell, a Londoner from a family dealing in stolen books, is accepted as an apprentice by the Great Library. Once he arrives in Alexandria, he discovers secrets about the organisation, which put his life and his friends in danger.

Physically, the Great Library of Alexandria is “more of a sprawling, vast complex than any single building”. Guarded by automata in the form of lions and other creatures, it houses all the original books and scrolls ever written. Politically, it controls access to information through a process called mirroring. Any item within the Library’s collection or Codex can be written into a blank, allowing “protection of knowledge while also giving free access to all”. This is reinforced by the Doctrine of Ownership, which makes the possession of an original document illegal. The Library owns all knowledge in order to protect and preserve it. Throughout this alternate history, there have been threats to the existence of the Library, notably in the development of the printing press by Gutenberg. These ideas have all been quashed in order to maintain the Library’s power and its control of knowledge.

Each daughter library is staffed by librarians and scholars, who are specialists in particular areas. These include Medica, Artifex, Historica and Lingua. The Library also has its own army, the High Garda, who protect both the Great Library and its Serapeum. The process of mirroring is carried out by the Obscurists, who are born with the ability to perform alchemy. They also provide the spark of life in the automata.

This is a fascinating page-turner of a book, exploring issues relevant to our times: the desire for power, the control of information, corruption within institutions and the suppression of knowledge. It could almost be a primer for America under Donald Trump! It’s going to be interesting to see how the story unfolds across the next two books.

The Grimm Legacy
Written by Polly Shulman and illustrated by Zdenko Bašić (cover)

The Grimm Legacy

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as some cash. The repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books-everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are locked away: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves-or the thief captures them.

This book introduces readers to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, which was established in 1745 and has been in its current location in Manhattan since 1921. Despite a fairly ordinary exterior, the Repository has an impressive main examination room (MER) with “tall ceilings, massive imposing tables, and an elaborately carved staging area”. Its centrepiece is the Tiffany windows:

All four sides of the MER were paneled with forest scenes. To the north was winter, with frost-rimed rocks and black branches against a bright sky. To the west, spring: crocuses, the barest glimmer of green, blossoming trees dropping petals that seemed to twist and float. To the south, summer: layer upon layer of green, with birds peeking out here and there and a pair of deer stooping to drink from the mossy stream. And to the west, fall in all its blazing yellows and reds. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The New-York Circulating Material Repository loans objects rather than books. These include “musical instruments, sports equipment and specialized cooking tools”. It also has several Special Collections, the most important of which is the Grimm Collection. This houses items bequeathed to the Repository in 1892 by a grandniece of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. These were collected by the brothers along with their folk tales and include a glass coffin, a golden egg, spindles and dancing shoes. There are a number of other Special Collections in the Repository. The Wells Bequest contains items related to science fiction, such as shrink rays and a time machine, while artificial intelligence, computer viruses, software and technology are found in the Gibson Chrestomathy.

As well as librarians, there are library pages working in the Repository. They are responsible for fetching items requested by patrons. These are stored in stacks on different levels and call slips are sent to the relevant sections using a system of pipes. Once an item has been picked, it is placed in a lift and sent down to the MER where the patron can inspect and borrow it. Items that have been returned are re-shelved by the pages.

There are two other books, which feature the New-York Circulating Material Repository: The Wells Bequest and The Poe Estate. More books to add to my reading list!

All these brilliant books have adventure running through them. Who would think that the library could be such an exciting and dangerous place!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

Libraries in children’s literature: Part I

After gathering together picture books about libraries, I thought I would take a look at libraries in children’s literature. The seven books I’ve chosen, covering both junior and young adult fiction, each have a library at the heart of their story. In this post, I will introduce you to the first four books.

Lily Quench and the Lighthouse of Skellig Mor
Written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Janine Dawson

The Lighthouse Of Skellig Mor

At the ends of the earth is Skellig Lir, a dreamy magical island that is inhabited by mysterious people with strange powers. To get there, Lily Quench and Queen Dragon must brave magic, storms and seas swarming with deadly sea dragons-and Ariane, the rebellious keeper of the lonely lighthouse of Skellig Mor.

In the depths of an undersea cavern, Lily struggles to communicate with the sea dragons and escape the skeleton-filled tunnels beneath the lighthouse. Only then can she complete her quest: to enter a fantastical library that has existed from the beginning of the world…

The winner of the 2003 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Short Fiction, this is the fourth book in the fabulous Lily Quench series. Our heroine is the last in a long line of dragon slayers, but has a gentler nature than her ancestors. She befriends Sinhault Fierdaze, otherwise known as Queen Dragon, who helps her to save the town of Ashby from the Black Count. In this adventure, Lily and Queen Dragon set off for the legendary Library of Skellig Lir, in the hope of finding magic books to help in the fight against the invaders threatening their home. Although initially barred from entering the library by the librarian, Lily later returns with a book that she has found and is allowed in.

The Library of Skellig Lir is “the most magical place in all the world”. When Lily enters the library, she discovers that it is alive:

A single great tree grew out of the bedrock of the little island. Its arching branches filled the space beneath the crystal cupola…and its leaves sighed and rustled in some invisible breeze. In the shelves formed by crevices in the trunk stood thousands of books, living books, that glowed with all the colours of the rainbow.

Books within the library grow on the tree: “As Lily watched, print started appearing on the tiny pages and miniature people in brightly coloured clothes ran over the paper like insects and settled into the illustrations”. The librarian, who has been in the Library of Skellig Lir since the beginning of the world, ‘picks’ the books when they are ready, just like fruit. She tells Lily, “Everyone who has ever been born has at least one book in this library”. Although she closed the library to outsiders after it was damaged by a group of magicians, she helps Lily find the information she needs in her quest to protect Ashby.

An interesting fact about the series is that one of the main characters is a librarian, as was Natalie Jane Prior before she became a full-time children’s writer (Prior, 2017).

Tally and Squill In a Sticky Situation
Written by Abie Longstaff and illustrated by James Brown

Tally And Squill

Tally is an orphan…She works as a maid…And sleeps in the kitchen sink.

But all around her there are secret passages, ancient mysteries and magical adventures waiting to be found. With the help of a furry friend, Tally discovers the hidden world of Mollett Manor…and the underground place where magic happens.

When Lord Mollett’s treasures are stolen, Tally is determined to catch the burglars. But all she has are her brains, her courage and a faithful squirrel. Can she save a sticky situation?

This is the first book in the Tally and Squill series (the second, Tally and Squill and the Scent of Danger, has just been published). Like Lily Quench, Tally is an orphan, working as a maid at Mollett Manor. Squill is the squirrel she becomes friends with. He helps her to discover who is stealing Lord Mollett’s valuables. When Tally explores the grounds of the manor, she discovers an underground library. She then uses books she finds there to trap the thieves and restore the treasure to its rightful owner.

The Secret Library is accessed by solving a puzzle. This unlocks a trapdoor with a ladder that leads down into an enormous room. Lamps provide illumination, revealing shelves and books:

This was no ordinary library. There were no aisles or neat ordered rows. Here shelves twisted and turned and corkscrewed from floor to ceiling…She looked up and the ceiling narrowed to a tiny point high, high above her. Here and there were little wobbly ladders which stretched up to reach the highest levels.

The collection was begun in 1150 by the Minervian Monks to “preserve our knowledge and protect the information we discovered”. But a hundred years later, disaster struck and the library entrance was sealed. It can only be opened by the Secret Keeper, which means that Tally is now responsible for protecting the library and the knowledge it contains.

The books are old and worn, covering all subject matters (although there don’t appear to be any fiction books!). When Tally reads them, magic happens. They come to life and she watches as a spider spins its web or a turtle snaps its jaw in front of her.

Like any good reader, Tally uses the knowledge she gains from the books, along with her own courage, to right a wrong.

Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library
Written by Chris Grabenstein and illustrated by Gilbert Ford (cover)

Escape From Mr Lemoncello's Library

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on the first night, he’s determined to be there. But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library-it’s getting out. Kyle’s going to need all his smarts, because a good roll of the dice or lucky draw of the cards isn’t enough to win in Mr Lemoncello’s library.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down when I read it. Which isn’t surprising as it won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult Mystery. If you enjoy solving puzzles, codes and clues, this is for you! Kyle loves games, especially the board games created by Mr Lemoncello, a ‘Willy Wonka meets Parker Brothers’ genius. Along with  eleven other 12-year-olds, Kyle wins a competition to take part in a library lock-in at the new Alexandriaville library. This has been designed and funded by Mr Lemoncello, who loved the original library that had been pulled down twelve years earlier. The children have to “use what they find in the library to find their way out of the library”, without setting off the alarms or using the front door or fire exits. As Mr Lemoncello says, “It’ll be like The Hunger Games but with lots of food and no bows and arrows”! And so the competition begins…

The town’s bank building has been converted into Mr Lemoncello’s library, retaining many of the original features:

With towering Corinthian columns, an arched entryway, lots of fancy trim, and a mammoth shimmering gold dome, the building looked like it belonged next door to the triumphant memorials in Washington, D.C.-not on this small Ohio town’s quaint streets.

Three storeys high, the library boasts a range of features: a large circular reading room, a Children’s Room, an Electronic Learning Center with educational video games (each with 3D vision, surround sound and smell-a-vision) and the Book Nook cafe. The Wonder Dome consists of ten video screens lining the library’s dome. These can display a single picture, such as the night sky, or individual images relating to the Dewey Decimal System. There are holographic statues in recesses at the base of the Dome, holographic animals among the bookcases and animatronics in the Story Corner.

The collection includes books and artefacts. Books on higher shelves can be reached using hover ladders, which utilise “advanced magnetic levitation technology”. Antique games and toys are located in the Board Room, while the Lemoncello-abilia Room houses ‘junk’ that Mr Lemoncello has collected.

Dr Yanina Zinchenko, a world-famous librarian, is responsible for overseeing the construction of the library: “Only she knew all the marvels and wonders the incredible new library would hold (and hide) within its walls”. The only other staff are holographic librarians, who provide assistance and answer questions, and robots, who restock the shelves.

For those who have enjoyed this book, there are two sequels: Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics and Mr Lemoncello’s Great Library Race (to be published in October 2017). I’ll definitely be reading both!

The Forbidden Library
Written by Django Wexler and illustrated by David Wyatt

The Forbidden Library

When Alice is orphaned she is sent away to live with the enigmatic Mr Geryon, owner of a huge, dark-and forbidden-library. After gaining entry with the help of a talking cat, Alice opens a book and finds herself trapped inside; she can only escape by conquering the dangerous creatures within. Alice has stumbled into a world where all of magic is controlled by Readers: she must open more books, face increasingly powerful foes, be the lead character in her quest to find a happy ending…

This book is the first in The Forbidden Library series. Like Lily Quench and Tally, Alice is an orphan, who has been sent to live with her uncle after her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Upon discovering the library, she enters a world of magic, which includes fairies with teeth and books full of danger. She is assisted by Ash, a talking cat with attitude, and both helped and hindered by Isaac, a boy with the same powers as her.

The library is housed in a building in the grounds of the house in which Alice is now living. From the outside, it looks like a fortress, with no windows and a single bronze door. But inside it is quite different:

The library seemed to be in a single vast room, cluttered with bookcases that rose almost to the low stone ceiling. They were arranged in rough rows, but irregularly, with gaps at random intervals.

The library is alive, with shelves that shift position and cats that wander among the books. It is also guarded by Ending, a mysterious giant feline, who wants to help Alice understand what she is caught up in. For Alice, like Isaac, is a Reader. This means that she is able to enter books and interact with the characters in them. Sometimes, in order to escape the book, she has to bind to her will the creature that she finds inside.

There is no organisation within the library, with books placed haphazardly on the shelves. Each book is a doorway to another place, either in this world or another. Some books ‘leak’ out into the library in that “they make a little bit of our world into a little bit of theirs”. When this happens, elements from the setting of the book appear among the bookcases.

The librarian, Mr Wurms, sits at a table in the middle of the library and moves so infrequently that “dust had settled all over him, like snow, and turned him a dirty grey”. Alice doesn’t like him, with his unpleasant gaze, his black, rotten teeth and his voice “as dry as a corpse”. He spends his time reading, stopping only to give Alice chores within the library.

The Forbidden Library is an enjoyable read, with a strong-willed heroine, a sassy sidekick, magic and mysteries. I look forward to working my way through the series.

Watch this space. The second part of the post will appear very soon.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

Picture books about libraries

Following on from my post about the value of physical libraries, I’ve gathered together seven picture books about these wonderful spaces. The Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyLibrariesProvide highlights many of the important roles that libraries play within our communities. These books reflect some of these within their pages.

The Detective Dog
Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

The Detective Dog

Sniff, sniff, sniff!

Peter’s dog Nell has an amazing sense of smell. Whether it’s finding a lost shoe or locating a bounce-away ball, her ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work. But Nell has other talents too. Every Monday she goes to school with Peter and hears children read. So who better to have on hand when they arrive one morning to discover that the books have all disappeared! Who could have taken them? And why? Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the culprit…

I love this wonderful story from “the outrageously talented, prize-winning author”, Julia Donaldson (Pan Macmillan Publishing, 2017). With attractive illustrations by Sara Ogilvie, it ticks all the right boxes for me. Dogs. Check! Books. Check! Reading. Check! Libraries. Check! Nell is a Story Dog, part of a Bark and Read programme, helping children to gain confidence as readers. She is also a detective dog, leading the class and their teacher to Ted, who has taken all of their books. She then solves Ted’s problem. He was only borrowing the books and intended to return them. So Nell takes him to the local library, where he “can take lots of books out for free”. Everyone is happy, because the children have their books back and Ted has a new library card. Hooray for Detective Dog Nell!

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree
Written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop

The Reading Tree

One day, Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends discover a hollow tree in the middle of the forest. What can the tree be used for?

“I will keep my book in this nook so everyone can read it,” Red Knit Cap Girl says.

“Great idea!” Bear cheers.

But the tree isn’t only for books. Little by little, one by one, the animals share their unique gifts and turn the ordinary tree into a special spot for everyone to enjoy!

This book, beautifully illustrated using plywood as a canvas, shows how it takes a community to create a library. Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends share their resources (books, newspapers and blankets) and their skills (carpentry and writing) as they set up a library in the nook of an oak tree. Everyone is welcome, even the outsider, Sly Fox. As Naoko Stoop says, “In this story, the library is a special symbol of community and sharing”.

No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou
Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene and illustrated by Brian Ajhar

No Pirates Allowed!

Chills ran down spines as those readers all shook.
They hid behind bookshelves, but ventured a look.
And what was that odor? Disgusting! Phhhew!
But no one at Seabreezy knew what to do.

Aha, me hearties! This swashbuckling, rip-roaring tale is all about Pirate Pete and his search for treasure. He ends up at Seabreezy Library, where Library Lou helps him in his quest. She teaches him the alphabet and introduces him to fiction and non-fiction books. Then, shiver me timbers, Pirate Pete discovers that the treasure is not gold or jewels, but books! The role of the librarian in finding information and promoting the joys of reading is clearly shown in this rollicking picture book.

Library Lion
Written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Library Lion

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. But when a lion comes in one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library.

It turns out, though, that the lion seems very well suited for the library. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. And he never roars in the library-at least not anymore.

But when something terrible happens, the lion helps in the only way he knows how. Could there ever be a good reason to break the rules?

In this prize-winning book, the story begins with a lion passing between two stone lions (reminiscent of Patience and Fortitude, the New York Library lions) and entering the library. Like a big cat version of the Story Dogs, he joins the children for story hour. After learning not to be noisy in the library, he visits regularly and soon proves to be very useful. He dusts the encyclopaedias, licks the envelopes for the overdue notices and is a comfy cushion for the children to rest against. Then disaster strikes and the lion has to break the rules. But will he be allowed to return to the library? The rules associated with libraries are the focus of this book. No running. No shouting (or roaring). But the underlying message is that rules should be broken if there is a good reason to do so.

The Midnight Library
Written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara

The Midnight Library

Once there was a library which opened only at night…

Step inside the Midnight Library and meet a friendly little librarian and her three assistant owls.

I love the simple and engaging illustrations in this book. They have been created using linocut and only three colours: yellow, blue and black. Again the focus of this story is on the role of staff in the successful running of the library. The little librarian and her three assistant owls ensure that visits to the library are a positive experience for all. They help everyone to find “a perfect book” and they solve any problems that arise. When the band of squirrels want to rehearse in the reading room, the little librarian shows them to the activity room. When Miss Wolf gets upset reading a sad part in her book, the staff take her to the storytelling corner and read with her, because they “knew the story has a very happy ending”. When a new visitor, the tortoise, won’t leave because he hasn’t finished his book, they give him a library card so he can take it home with him. This is a simple story with a powerful message about the importance of staff in the library experience.

Lottie Paris and the Best Place
Written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Scott M. Fischer

Lottie Paris And The Best Place

Lottie Paris has lots of best things. She has the best dog, the best room, and the best Papa Pete.

But her best place is the library. There are books about space, new discoveries to be made, and new friends to meet-like Carl.

Lottie and Carl are about to find that the real best thing is when you can share your best place with someone else.

The illustrations in this book express the exuberance of young children. Lottie Paris jumps and runs and leaps into the library, which is her “best place in the world”. Carl hops into the library, which is also his best place. The story shares a love of libraries with readers through the eyes of two children, who become friends when they meet at the end of the shelves. The final pages find them reading books alongside one another, having discovered connection and friendship at the library.

A Library Book for Bear
Written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

A Library Book For Bear

Bear is quite sure that he already has all the books he will ever need and can see no reason to go to the library for more. Yet his friend Mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed, thinks otherwise. When Bear reluctantly agrees to go with Mouse to the big library, neither rocket ships nor wooden canoes are enough for Bear’s picky tastes. Will Mouse ever find the perfect book for Bear?

This book is one of several about Bear and Mouse. The humorous illustrations convey the two different personalities; Bear is cranky, whilst Mouse is cheerful. Bear doesn’t see the point of the library, because he has all the books he needs. But he has promised to go with Mouse. When they arrive, Mouse sets about trying to find his friend some books to borrow. But nothing pleases Bear. Then he hears the librarian reading to the youngsters at story time. Slowly he gets drawn in to the story and ends up borrowing seven new books. As the illustrator, Kady MacDonald Denton says, “Libraries have lovely surprises for each of us, whoever we are, big or small”.

These fabulous picture books all highlight the value of libraries within communities. They are suitable for advocacy in both public and school libraries and can be used to encourage engagement with these important institutions.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.


International Children’s Book Day

April 2nd is Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. It is also International Children’s Book Day (my apologies for the belated post, but I’m still getting the hang of this blogging lark!). Organised by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), it is “celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books” (IBBY, n.d). The event for 2017 is sponsored by IBBY Russia, with the theme Let us grow with the book!

Let everyone grow with the book! 

IBBY was “established by the visionary Jella Lepman following the devastation of the Second World War, [and] is devoted to encouraging excellence in children’s books, to supporting literacy and reading projects across the world, and to developing international understanding through children’s books” (IBBY UK, 2017). The non-profit organisation has a number of activities aimed at “bringing children and books together” (IBBY, n.d.). Their Children In Crisis Fund supports projects to replace or create libraries in areas that have experienced natural disasters or conflict. Another initiative is Silent Books, “a collection of children’s books without words, created as a response to the need for books on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the destination for many refugees fleeing North Africa and the Middle East” (IBBY, n.d.).

Michael Rosen at the 33rd IBBY International Congress, another IBBY activity

IBBY Congress

IBBY Congress 2012 by Jack Dix Davies: CC BY-NC 2.0

Along with International Children’s Book Day, IBBY presents the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award to authors and illustrators, who have made a significant contribution to children’s literature. Recipients include the authors, Martin Waddell, Margaret Mahy, Katherine Paterson, Astrid Lingren and Tove Jansson, and the illustrators, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Robert Ingpen and Maurice Sendak.

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen by Thora Hallager (1821-1884): Public Domain

The article, Hans Christian Andersen: Father of the Modern Fairy Tale by Terri Windling, provides information about the writer. It makes interesting reading and gives an insight into the man behind such fairy tales as The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea, and The Little Mermaid.

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, let’s embrace the important work of IBBY and promote children’s literature every day, helping all children to grow with books!

No such thing as a bad book

Since my last post, I have been re-reading the books of my childhood. It has been an interesting experience, because, as an adult, it is clear to me that some of them are not particularly well-written. Yet I still feel an emotional attachment to them, because they are a link to the little girl I was all those years ago.

In her blog post, The Stories We Need, Terri Windling also recalls the books she loved as a child. As a writer and editor, she acknowledges that they were perhaps not the best books, “so cloyingly sweet, so heavy-handedly moral” (Windling, 2016). However, they were the books she was drawn to; books that filled an emotional need within her. She says she took what she needed from them and, in return, they made her the person and writer she is today.

Enid Blyton has frequently been criticised for the quality of her writing

In a 2013 lecture for The Reading Agency, Neil Gaiman examines the issue of quality in children’s literature, stating, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children” (Gaiman, 2013). He discusses how, over the years, genres and authors have been criticised for being unsuitable for children. Comics have been blamed for “fostering illiteracy” (Gaiman, 2013). Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine are among those who have been branded poor writers. Roald Dahl was denounced by the book critic Eleanor Cameron for his writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its “phoney presentation of poverty and its phoney humour, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism” (Cameron, in Mangan, 2014). Despite these views, generations of children have loved the work of these authors and, for many, their books have resulted in a love of reading.

Despite adult criticism, Roald Dahl’s books have always been popular with children

According to Neil Gaiman, adults often seek to discourage children from reading particular genres and authors, because they don’t approve of them. As he points out, in order for children to learn to read and to learn to love reading, they need to find books they enjoy, be able to access those books and be allowed to read them. This is something we need to be aware of as librarians and teachers. It is important we don’t judge children’s choices based on our own preferences. Equally important is allowing them access to the books they enjoy through our library collections. Maybe we need to remember the books we loved as children and consider how we would have felt if someone had told us not to read them or had taken them away from us.

Comics are often frowned upon by librarians and teachers


Comics! by Brian Wilkins: CC BY-NC 2.0

By viewing certain titles, genres or authors unfavourably, we run the risk of turning children off books when we want them to find a way into them. I agree with Neil Gaiman; the most important thing is to get children reading. And if that means reading books that I may not like or choose to read, so be it. They are not going to be ‘harmed’ by poorly written books, despite what some people believe. But they will miss out on all that reading offers if they turn away from books after being told that what they are reading is rubbish.

The books of my childhood

While I’m in a nostalgic mood, and inspired by Jackie Morris’ blog post, First Love, I spent time this week reminiscing about the books I enjoyed as a child. Although I never read the ‘classics’ when I was younger, the books I remember have become classics in their own right. They are still in print and I was able to borrow all of them from my local libraries.

Books Of My Childhood

Little Old Mrs Pepperpot
Written by Alf Prøysen and illustrated by Björn Berg

Little Old Mrs Pepperpot

Whoever heard of an old woman becoming queen of the crows? Or riding through the snow on the back of a cat? Or tricking a mouse into cleaning her house?

Well, with the amazing Mrs Pepperpot, anything can happen-and usually does-especially when she can shrink to a few inches high without a moment’s notice! But being small can have its advantages, especially when it means you can also talk to the animals…

Mrs Pepperpot is an ordinary lady until she shrinks to the size of a pepperpot (obviously). I loved the idea of ‘smallness’, being able to see and experience the world from another perspective. This is also a theme in another of the books I read as a child: Five Dolls in a House by Helen Clare (no longer in print).

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
Written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook

The stories of Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends have charmed generations of children since their first publication in 1925. Perfect for reading aloud, these twenty-one stories with original illustrations will bring back happy memories for parents and grandparents and introduce younger readers to an enduringly popular heroine.

These were simple stories of friendship and everyday happenings in a small village in the English countryside. The setting was very different to my childhood in inner London, but I yearned for the woods and fields and wildlife that were found in the books. I particularly loved the map of the village on the endpapers and would follow the route that Milly-Molly-Mandy took to school.

The Enchanted Wood
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Victoria Ball (cover) and Jan McCafferty (interior)

The Enchanted Wood

When Joe, Beth and Frannie move to the country they are amazed to find an Enchanted Wood and a magic Faraway Tree on their doorstep. They soon make friends with the magical characters who live there. Together they visit the strange lands that lie at the top of the tree and have the most exciting adventures-and narrow escapes!

Trees that go wisha-wisha; Moonface, Silky and Saucepan Man; the ladder into the clouds. What adventures the children had in the different lands at the top of the magic Faraway Tree. When I read this book to my classes, the children loved it, especially going to the Land of Do-As-You-Please. But no-one wanted to visit the school run by Dame Slap (later Dame Snap)!

My Naughty Little Sister
Written by Dorothy Edwards and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

My Naughty Little Sister

My naughty little sister is stubborn and greedy and full of mischief. She tries to cut off the cat’s tail, she bites Father Christmas’s hand, and she and Bad Harry eat all the trifle at Harry’s party!

How much trouble can one little sister cause?

This was the Horrid Henry of my generation! The stories are vignettes of life with my naughty little sister and her friend, Bad Harry. And the illustrations are by the wonderful Shirley Hughes, who wrote one of my favourite children’s books, Dogger.

The Famous Five
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (cover)

The Famous Five

Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog find adventure wherever they go.

The Secret Seven
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Tony Ross

The Secret Seven

It’s their very first adventure and the Secret Seven super-sleuths are already on the trail of a mystery!

The gang are dressed in disguise, following a lead to a spooky old house in the snow…

Whenever I read these books, I would try to solve the mystery before the ending. This was the beginning of my love for whodunnits, which led to Agatha Christie and then Ellis Peters and other historical mystery writers. I also loved the freedom the children had to roam the countryside and have adventures (whilst drinking loads of ginger beer). As children, we roamed the local streets and park, but sadly were never called on to solve any mysteries! Both series have been repackaged with cover illustrations for the Famous Five by leading UK illustrators, including Quentin Blake, Chris Riddell and Babette Cole, and illustrations for The Secret Seven by Tony Ross.

Charlotte’s Web
Written by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams

Charlotte's Web

This is the tale of how a little girl named Fern, with the help of a friendly spider, saved her pig, Wilbur, from the usual fate of nice fat little pigs.

This book is wonderful and has an ending that broke my heart. I adored Wilbur and still have a soft spot for pigs. Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep-pig (aka Babe) is another book that captures the intelligence of these delightful creatures.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe
Written by Penelope Lively and illustrated by Oliver Burston (cover)

The Ghost Of Thomas Kempe

Bottles have been smashed, doors slammed and strange messages scrawled everywhere. And James is being blamed.

It’s not fair. Why won’t his parents believe in ghosts? Because the ghost of Thomas Kempe is very real. And he’s got it in for James…

This ghost story scared the life out of me when I read it! I had a vivid imagination and kept expecting a book to go flying across my bedroom. Yet, despite being terrified, I kept reading and finished the book.

It’s been fun thinking back to the books of my childhood. Since I’ve borrowed them all from my local libraries, I think I’ll re-read them and see what I think of them now.

What about you? What books do you remember reading as a child? Please share your memories in the comments section.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb of the book.