Category Archives: Books

Children’s Book Week

Children’s Book Week, which begins today in Australia, is a celebration of Australian children’s literature and the authors and illustrators who create it. It is organised by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), which works to “bring words, images and stories into the hearts and minds of children and adults” (Children’s Book Council of Australia, n.d.). The theme for 2017 is Escape to Everywhere, which I think is magical.

Storytelling sessions are often held during Children’s Book Week

School and public libraries organise activities and displays to celebrate books and reading during Children’s Book Week. The Book Chook, Madison’s Library and Book Week For Beginners all offer suggestions for this year’s theme, which can be used as starting points for future celebrations. These include creating posters, bookmarks, postcards and book trailers. Dressing-up as your favourite book character is another popular whole school activity. Public libraries often organise storytelling sessions and writing or colouring-in competitions for children and young adults.

Face painting can be part of the Children’s Book Week celebrations

Each year, the day before the start of Children’s Book Week, the winners of the CBCA Book of the Year awards are announced. The aim of these is to:

promote quality literature for young Australians
support and encourage a wide range of Australian writers and illustrators of  children’s books
celebrate contributions to Australian children’s literature

(Children’s Book Council of Australia, n.d.)

These are the winners for 2017 in each of the five categories:

CBCA Book of the Year-Older Readers
Books for young people aged 13 to 18 (secondary school level)

One Would Think the Deep, written by Claire Zorn

Sam has always had things going on in his head that no one else understands, even his mum. And now she’s dead, it’s worse than ever.

With nothing but his skateboard and a few belongings in a garbage bag, Sam goes to live with the strangers his mum cut ties with seven years ago: Aunty Lorraine and his cousins Shane and Minty.

Despite the suspicion and hostility emanating from their fibro shack, Sam reverts to his childhood habit of following Minty around and is soon surfing with Minty to cut through the static fuzz in his head. But as the days slowly meld into one another, and ghosts from the past reappear, Sam has to make the ultimate decision…will he sink or will he swim.

(Synopsis by UQP)

CBCA Book of the Year-Younger Readers
Books for children aged 8 to 12 (upper primary school level)

Rockhopping, written and illustrated by Trace Balla

Join Clancy and Uncle Egg on a rambling, rockhopping adventure in Gariwerd (the Grampians), to find the source of the Glenelg River. A story about following your flow, and the unexpected places you may go.

(Synopsis by Allen & Unwin)

CBCA Book of the Year-Early Childhood
Books for early readers (preschool and lower primary school level)

Go Home, Cheeky Animals, written by Johanna Bell and illustrated by Dion Beasley

At Canteen Creek where we live, there are cheeky dogs everywhere. But when the cheeky goats, donkeys, buffaloes and camels make mischief in the camp, the dogs just lie there-until those pesky animals really go too far. Then the cheeky camp dogs roar into action!

(Synopsis by Allen & Unwin)

CBCA Picture Book of the Year
Books “in which the text and illustrations achieve artistic and literary unity and the story, theme or concept is enhanced and unified through the illustrations” (Children’s Book Council of Australia, n.d.)

Home in the Rain, written and illustrated by Bob Graham

Francie’s going to have a new baby sister very soon. But what will her name be? Francie has so many ideas! On a long drive home with Mum, in the pouring rain, maybe they’ll find one that’s just right… From multi-award winning author-illustrator Bob Graham comes a tender, touching story of family life, perfect for sharing when a new baby is on the way. A beautifully observed celebration of the way inspiration can, and often does, happen in the most ordinary and unlikely of places.

(Synopsis by Walker Books)

The Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Books “which have the prime purpose of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style” (Children’s Book Council of Australia, n.d.)

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks, written by Gina M Newton

This book brings together 55 national parks, selected across all Australian states and territories, and over 120 animals. It is divided into seven sections according to habitat (woodlands and grasslands; forests; rainforests; arid zones; mountains; wetlands and waterways; coasts, oceans and islands), each including a number of national parks and a selection of the fish, reptiles, frogs, birds and mammals that inhabit them. At the end of the book is a section on ‘little critters’-beetles, spiders, butterflies, grasshoppers, bugs and so on.

(Synopsis by NLA Publishing)

So hurry into your local library to borrow these winners and share them with the children in your life!

Dressing up as your favourite book character can be grrrr-eat fun!

The Tiger Who Came To Tea

The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Radarsmum1967: CC BY 2.0

If you are in Australia, enjoy Children’s Book Week. Otherwise, celebrate children’s literature and reading wherever you are!


More picture books about dogs

I had so much fun finding and reading picture books about dogs, that I’m back with another seven stories. These celebrate the joys and sorrows of sharing your life with a dog. Most are funny, whilst one will break your heart. Welcome to the world of dogs!

More Picture Books About Dogs

My Dog Bigsy
Written and illustrated by Alison Lester

My Dog Bigsy

Meet my dog Bigsy. He’s only small, but everyone knows he’s the boss.

Squawk, neigh, quack, moo, baa, oink, cluck, purr, ruff ruff ruff!

What a lot of noise! And all because of Bigsy!

I particularly like the illustrations in this book about life on an Australian farm. Alison Lester has used a collage effect alongside her expressive images of Bigsy and the various animals and birds he meets each morning. A map on the endpapers allows the reader to follow his route to and from his house. It’s a great book for younger children, because of the rhythm of the pages, with the noises of both Bigsy and the creatures he encounters. There are also opportunities to engage in counting; how many cockies are flying away or how many ducks are complaining or how many eggs have been laid by the hens.

Along with Boori Monty Pryor, Alison Lester was the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate in 2012 and 2013. She has written and illustrated over 25 children’s books, many of which celebrate the landscape and wildlife of Australia.

Pig the Pug
Written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey

Pig The Pug

Pig was a Pug and I’m sorry to say,
He was greedy and selfish in most every way…

This is the first book in a series about a bad-tempered, greedy and selfish pug. Pig lives with Trevor, the sweet-natured dachshund. In this story, he refuses to share his toys. But, in the tradition of the cautionary tale, Pig gets his comeuppance. He climbs onto the top of the pile of toys, which wobbles, causing him to fall out of the window. He soon discovers that “pigs cannot fly”!

Aaron Blabey is hugely popular with children and has created three other books about Pig and Trevor: Pig the Fibber, Pig the Winner and Pig the Elf. Like Pig the Pug, they each contain a lesson for the little fella (and for the reader); not to lie, not to win at any cost and not to be greedy.

Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy
Written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

Hairy Maclary From Donaldson's Dairy

Hairy Maclary goes off for a walk with a few of his friends-and comes up against something that gives them all a nasty surprise!

Like Pig the Pug, this is the first book in a series. Unlike Pig the Pug, Hairy Maclary is cute and sweet and fun-loving! In this story, we are also introduced to his friends, who feature in several other books (Hairy Maclary’s Bone and Hairy Maclary and Friends). I was once fortunate to know a “Hercules Morse” who was almost “as big as a horse”, so these books always remind me of him. Check out Hairy Maclary’s website-it’s pretty good, with games, information about the characters in the series and even everything you need for a Hairy Maclary birthday party! Like any self-respecting celebrity, he also has a Facebook page!

Dame Lynley Dodd has written and illustrated more books than you can poke a stick at! Her rhyming is impeccable and she uses gorgeous vocabulary (such as ‘cacophony’ and ‘caterwaul’). Children love the characters in her stories; not just Hairy Maclary, but Slinky Malinki the black Siamese cat and Zachary Quack the fluffy duckling.

Dr Dog
Written and illustrated by Babette Cole

Dr Dog

Both pet and personal physician to the Gumboyle family, Dr Dog is always on hand with the perfect diagnosis and remedy for every complaint.

So, whether it’s tickly tonsils, itchy nits or unspeakable tummy troubles, hear some common-sense advice from Dr. Dog-the canine consultant that no home should be without!

I love Dr Dog and so have the children I have read it to. The book is full of information about good health, such as when Kurt Gumboyle has a “wicked cough” and Dr Dog tells him, “It’s not good to smoke”. He then explains, using simple illustrations, how this damages our lungs. Dr Dog also gives his patients advice. He tells Kev Gumboyle, who has nits, to “never swap combs and brushes with anyone”. But my favourite bit is when Baby Gumboyle catches worms, which “are breeding in his tubes”! The advice Dr Dog gives is hilarious: “Never scratch your bum and suck your thumb”! The book has resulted in both a sequel, A Dose of Dr Dog, and a TV series.

Earlier this year, I was really sad to hear that Babette Cole had died. She was an outrageous, irreverent children’s author and illustrator. She subverted many of the traditional fairy tales (Princess Smartypants and Prince Cinders) and tackled difficult topics with humour (Mummy Laid an Egg! and Hair in Funny Places). She will be much missed by those who loved her work.

Smelly Louie
Written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner

Smelly Louie

Nobody smells quite like Louie…

I love the illustrations in this book. Louie has his own smell, which gets washed away when he has a bath. He goes in search of it, finding lots of different smells on the way. He rolls in “sticky sludge” and “the pongy pond” before finally he smells right again. He returns home, with grey and green and yellow clouds emanating from him. Unfortunately he doesn’t stay that way for very long… This story will be familiar to any owner whose dog has rolled in sticky, smelly duck poo! It also has a similar theme to Lynley Dodd’s Schnitzel Von Krumm’s Basketwork, in which the dog with the very low tum is given a new basket, but “something was wrong with the smell and the fit”.

Catherine Rayner has created more than 10 children’s books, all of which feature animals as the main characters. She also illustrated the fabulous Olga da Polga by Michael Bond, a particular favourite of mine.

Looking For Rex
Written by Jan Ormerod and illustrated by Carol Thompson

Looking For Rex

The children are sure that Gramps would never feel lonely if he had a dog of his own. They say the dog should be called Rex, but what would Rex look like? So they play ‘Looking for Rex’, and pretend to see Rex, but whenever they think they find Rex…it is never really the right Rex. Where is he?

This is a book full of dogs, including on the back inside cover. Everyone thinks Gramps should get a dog and call him Rex. So they all start looking for him when they are out and about. Children will have fun searching for Rex in the pictures as they read the book. The story is particularly touching when Gramps imagines life with Rex; only to decide that he is too old to take care of a dog and “that Rex is not for him”. Then he discovers his family have got a dog and they would like Gramps to help them look after him. This, of course, is the perfect solution! I love the last page, which is wordless, but says so much. There are four small pictures of Gramps and Rex sitting next to each other; in these, Rex slowly gets bigger and bigger, and closer and closer to Gramps.

Jan Ormerod is best known as both a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Now over 30 years old, her Sunshine and Moonlight are classics; simple, beautiful books without words.

Harry and Hopper
Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Harry And Hopper

Harry and his dog Hopper have done everything together, ever since Hopper was a jumpy little puppy. But one day the unthinkable happens. When Harry comes home from school, Hopper isn’t there to greet him. Hopper will never be there again, but Harry is not ready to let go.

Harry loves Hopper (what a great name for a dog!) and they do everything together. Then there is an accident and Hopper dies. Harry is devastated and refuses to accept that he will never see his beloved dog again. He sleeps on the sofa, because the bed feels empty without Hopper. “Harry lay curled up, longing for the feel of Hopper, the smell of Hopper, the bark of Hopper”. But the next night, Hopper wakes him up and they play together. Over the following two nights, Hopper comes to Harry, but each time, he is less solid and warm. Finally he is “as wispy as winter fog, as cold as winter air”. Harry carries him into his bedroom and says, “Goodbye, Hopper”. I can’t read this book to children, because I end up crying. It is a simply beautiful book, both in terms of words and pictures, which will resonate with anyone who has loved and lost a dog.

I am a huge fan of Margaret Wild’s work, which I am sure will feature on many lists that I compile. She has written a series of three books about The Pocket Dogs, which are illustrated by Stephen Michael King. He also wrote and illustrated Mutt Dog, another brilliant dog book, which my niece loved when she was small. That’s another four picture books about dogs to check out. See I told you it was hard to stick to just seven!

I could do several more posts on picture books about dogs. But I’m going to stop now and direct you to your local library. There you can search in the catalogue for ‘dogs’ and ‘picture books’. I’m sure you’ll find lots more fabulous books, such as the Spot and Kipper series. There I go again…

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

Picture books about dogs

Following on from last week’s post about story dogs, I have gathered together some picture books about man’s best friend. However, because there are loads of brilliant books out there, it was really hard to limit the list to just seven. So I have decided to share more with you next week, because you can never have enough books about dogs!

Picture Books About Dogs

Let’s Get a Pup!
Written and illustrated by Bob Graham

Let's Get A Pup!

At the Rescue Centre, there are dogs of all shapes and sizes. Kate knows which one she wants, though, the moment she sees him. He’s small and he’s cute and he gets all excited. To Kate, Dave is everything a dog could be.

But then she sees Rosy…

I love Bob Graham’s books. His writing is very lyrical and his illustrations are filled with wonderful details. This story begins with the line; “The end of Kate’s bed was a lonely place.” Tiger the cat has died and Kate wants to get a pup. She heads down to the rescue centre with her parents, where they find all kinds of dogs. Walking down the row of cages, they see Dave, who is full of life. When he is let out, “Dave climbed right over the top of Kate, who briefly wore him like a hat”! The family decide to take him. Then they see Rosy and it is love at first sight. But they can’t adopt two dogs, because, as Mum says, “We would take them all if we could, but what can we do?” That point in the story always brings a lump to my throat. But thankfully there is a happy ending when the family return the next day for Rosy. Yay!

Dave and Rosy, along with Kate and her parents, return in the sequel, “The Trouble With Dogs…” Said Dad. In this book, the family call in the man from Pup Breakers to try to train a certain little tearaway!

Harry the Dirty Dog
Written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

Harry The Dirty Dog

Harry is a white dog with black spots who loves everything…except baths.

So one day before bath time, Harry runs away. He plays outside all day long, digging and sliding in everything from garden soil to pavement tar. By the time he returns home, Harry is so dirty he looks like a black dog with white spots. His family doesn’t even recognize him!

It’s hard to believe this book is over 50 years old! Like all good classics, it has stood the test of time and its humour is still loved by children today. Harry the white dog with black spots hates having a bath. So he buries the scrubbing brush and runs away. He spends the day getting dirtier and dirtier until he returns home as a black dog with white spots. His family don’t recognise him, even when he shows them his tricks. Finally he bites the bullet, digs up the scrubbing brush and jumps into the bath. Soon he is Harry the white dog with black spots again.

Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham collaborated on another three Harry books: No Roses for Harry!, Harry and the Lady Next Door, and Harry by the Sea.

Little White Dogs Can’t Jump
Written by Bruce Whatley and illustrated by Rosie Smith

Little White Dogs Can't Jump

My dog, Smudge, has got really short legs.

Which makes it very difficult for him to jump.

Smudge and his family have a problem to solve-Smudge’s legs are so short that he can’t jump into the car. One of the children in the family devises a series of ingenious ways of getting Smudge into the car, but none of them work.

Who can solve the problem?

In this very funny story, Smudge can’t get into the family car. As a bulldog, his legs are just too short. One of the children tries different ways of solving the problem. Unfortunately none of her ingenious ideas are successful and by the end, “Smudge can’t jump, is afraid of small spaces, hates heights, is scared of loud noises and moving at great speed”! Then Mum steps in and comes up with a simple solution: a new car!

This book features the star of The Ugliest Dog in the World, which, of course, he isn’t!

Some Dogs Do
Written and illustrated by Jez Alborough

Some Dogs Do

All dogs walk and jump and run, but dogs don’t fly-it can’t be done…Or can it?

Whenever I’ve read this to children at storytime, they have been entranced by this book. The writing has a lovely rhythm, making it easy to read (and predict), and the illustrations are gorgeous. The story explores different emotions. When Sid is happy, he discovers he can fly. He tells his friends at school about this, but they don’t believe him and say he is lying. They go outside and ask him to show them how he flies. But Sid has lost his happy feeling and can no longer do it. After school and back at home, he feels sad. “He did the things he always did, but something wasn’t right with Sid”. Then Dad shares a secret with him; he can fly. The book ends with the question; “Do dogs fly? Is it true?” And the answer; “Some dogs don’t. and some dogs do”.

This uplifting book is from the creator of the BearDuck and Bobo books. Be sure to check them out as well.

Pom Pom, Where Are You?
Written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

Pom Pom Where Are You?

Pom Pom lives with his family in a tall building in Paris. He longs to see more of the world, and one day his wish comes true…

Described as “an energetic and joyous story about a little dog with a big sense of adventure”, this book was created by the team who brought us Lucy’s Book. Pom Pom, who is small and cute (a little like Dave in Let’s Get a Pup!), lives in Paris with Henriette. One day, he seizes the chance “to see more of the world”, slipping his collar and running off with some other dogs. His adventures take him to the different landmarks around the city: Pont Neuf, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and the Eiffel Tower. He is taken in by a kind man and his family. But the next day, he “smelled something that reminded him of home”. Hitching a ride on the baguette bicycle, Pom Pom is finally reunited with Henriette.

I love Paris, so this book was a joy for me to read. Once again, Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations  add extra details to Natalie Jane Prior’s words. They work so well together, as all good picture books should!

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett


Gorgeous canines of every shape, size and colour are bounding through the irresistible Dogs by Emily Gravett. Can you choose one dog to love best of all?

With playful pencil and watercolour illustrations to delight children and adults alike, everyone will love to bark along with the Chihuahua and tickle the Dalmatian’s tummy. Emily Gravett has created another wonderfully satisfying book- with a twist in the tail.

(Synopsis by Pan Macmillan)

Starting with a Scottish terrier and ending with a pointer, different breeds pose on the endpapers of this fabulous book. Children (and adults) can have fun finding these in the illustrations. With each double-page spread beginning with “I love…”, the text explores the theme of opposites: big and small, hairy and bald, and slow and fast. The last page has a twist, which is a delight.

Emily Gravett’s books are always enjoyable, with beautiful illustrations. Check out Wolves, Meerkat Mail and The Rabbit Problem. Plus her groovy website!

Daisy All-Sorts
Written and illustrated by Pamela Allen

Daisy All-Sorts

Daisy was an ordinary dog living an ordinary life with Stanley.

Now she is an EXTRAORDINARY dog living an EXTRAORDINARY life-and all because of three lovely liquorice lollies…

This book always reminds me of when my niece was small. She loved the story and used to re-enact it with her toy puppy and trike. So I had to include it in this list. Plus it is brilliant, with a great combination of evocative pictures and rhythmical text. It isn’t rhyming, but Pamela Allen has such a way with words that it makes the book a joy to read out loud. Daisy develops a taste for liquorice all-sorts after Bella gives her some during her morning walk with Stanley (who looks like a bearded Where’s Wally!). The next day, she tries her hardest to get some more: dancing, singing, barking, bouncing and begging. But Bella doesn’t have any. Daisy won’t leave without her sweets, so poor Stanley has to carry her home on his bicycle. In the morning, Daisy rushes to see Bella with Stanley in tow. Bella hands a paper bag to Stanley, saying “For Daisy when you get home”. What is in the bag? Yes, that’s right: lovely liquorice all-sorts!

Pamela Allen has been writing and illustrating children’s picture books for more than 35 years. Those that feature dogs in them include Black Dog and Our Daft Dog Danny.

I hope you enjoy reading and sharing these wonderful stories. See you next week with another list of picture books about dogs.

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


Picture books about books

Having gathered together picture books about libraries and reading, I thought it was time to look at those that put the spotlight on books themselves. The seven that I’ve chosen include several that focus on the relationship between a child and their favourite book, something that all readers can identify with.

Picture Books About Books

The Children Who Loved Books
Written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas

The Children Who Loved Books

Angus and Lucy love books. They have hundreds of them. Then one day, all the books are taken away, and Angus and Lucy discover they need books more than they ever imagined.

Angus and Lucy don’t have much, but they do have lots of books, enough to fill the caravan they live in with their parents. However, one day, when the books pour out of the door and windows, they have to go. The family then discovers that “because there was more space in their home, there was a lot more space between them all”. When Lucy comes home with a library book, they begin to read it together long into the night. The next morning, they head out together to the library.

This is “a warm and moving celebration of books and the way in which they bring us all together”. Beautifully illustrated, it conveys the joy that comes from sharing and reading books.

It’s a Book
Written and illustrated by Lane Smith

It's A Book

Can it text? Blog? Scroll? Wi-fi? Tweet?

No…it’s a book.

In this hilarious book from the illustrator of Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (highly recommended), the printed word meets new technology. Monkey is reading a book when Jackass begins to ask questions: “How do you scroll down?”, “Can it text?”, “Tweet?”, “Wi-Fi?” In response to “Where’s your mouse?”, a tiny mouse appears from under the monkey’s hat. Then Jackass starts reading the book. He can’t put it down and tells Monkey, “Don’t worry, I’ll charge it up when I’m done!”

The message in this story is not about books being ‘better’ than computers. It’s about books offering something that can’t be found in computers; the experience of getting lost in the printed word and in the turning of the page.

But Excuse Me That is My Book
Based on characters created by Lauren Child

But Excuse Me That Is My Book

Charlie has this little sister Lola. She really loves books. At the moment there is one book that is extra special. Lola says, “Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies is my favourite book and I really need it. Now. Now. Now. Now!”

Lola has a favourite book, which she wants to borrow again when she goes to the library with her brother. But it isn’t there. Charlie tries to find another one for her to read by asking questions and making suggestions. Each time, Lola finds something wrong with the book. Finally Charlie offers her Cheetahs and Chimpanzees, which turns out to be “probably the most best book in the whole wide world”.

This book, based on the TV series, Charlie and Lola, clearly shows the relationship a reader has with their favourite book. Lola only wants Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies; nothing else will do. However, with perseverance from Charlie, she opens up to an alternative, which quickly becomes her new favourite. This reminds us that, through thoughtful questioning and listening to a reader, we can help children to consider other books, thereby broadening their reading experience.

Lucy’s Book
Written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

Lucy's Book

Lucy loves to read, but there is one special book that she borrows from the library over and over again.

The book is shared with her friends, dropped in the ocean, flown to China and even made into a banana sandwich.

But what will Lucy do when her favourite book goes missing?

Lucy is introduced to a book by her local librarian. It quickly becomes her favourite book and is recommended and shared with her friends. Lucy borrows and re-reads the book several times through the story until one day she is told that it is no longer available in the library. Everyone searches for a copy for her without success. Then the book is found at a Friends of the Library sale and Lucy is reunited with her favourite book.

This is another story about a favourite book, although, unlike Lola’s, this one is shared with other children. It demonstrates the love of a book and the desire to pass that love  on to others. We follow the journey of the book through the hands of many children, each experiencing it in different ways. The story also shows the role of the librarian (the images of the character in the book are based on Megan Daley, a teacher-librarian who writes the blog, Children’s Books Daily) in matching the book to the reader and initiating the relationship between the two.

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravatt


It’s nearly Cedric the dragon’s bedtime-there’s just time for his mum to read him his favourite book. Unfortunately for her, Cedric likes the story so much that he wants to hear it again…and again…and again… A cross dragon is a fiery dragon, and Cedric ends up burning a hole right through the book!

(Synopsis from Pan Macmillan)

Cedric loves hearing the story about the red dragon. He loves it so much he wants his mum to read it again and again and again. Each time she changes the words, shortening the story. But still Cedric wants to hear it again. When she falls asleep, he sees red, which is a bit of a problem, because Cedric is a dragon. Soon there is a flaming hole in the book (and the blurb-hence the synopsis from the publisher’s website!).

This is another fabulous story about a favourite book from the wonderful Emily Gravatt. Many adults will sympathise with Cedric’s mum, having experienced repeated demands for more of the same story. Thankfully these are not usually accompanied by fire and flames!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore
Written by William Joyce and illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm

The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr Morris Lessmore

Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved books. But every story has its upsets.

Everything in Morris Lessmore’s life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds.

But the power of story will save the day.

Morris Lessmore loves books. But one day, the wind blows him and everything he knows far away from home. Thankfully he encounters a lady who sends him a book. This then leads him to a building filled with books. Morris lives amongst them, reading and caring for them. He shares them with others; “sometimes it was a favorite that everyone loved, and other times he found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told”. As Morris says, “Everyone’s story matters”. Years pass and, as Morris grows older, the books care for him. Then one day, it is time for him to leave and he says goodbye to the books, pointing to his heart and telling them, “I’ll carry you all in here”. Shortly afterwards, a little girl arrives and begins to read…

This is a touching story about the role that books play in the life of a reader. The friendships that develop between them will be familiar to those who have books they love. This is the same theme that plays out in the ‘favourite book’ stories in this post. The book has also been made into an Academy Award winning short film.

The Treasure Box
Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

The Treasure Box

When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.

As war rages, Peter and his father flee their home, taking with them a treasure box that holds something more precious than jewels. They journey through mud and rain and long cold nights, and soon their survival becomes more important than any possessions they carry.

But as the years go by, Peter never forgets the treasure box, and one day he returns to find it…

The treasure in the title is a book that has been saved after a library is destroyed by war. It is carried in a box by a father and his son as they flee their homeland. This is “a book about our people, about us” and is “rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold”. After his father dies, the boy buries the box, returning for it many years later as a young man.

Because of the themes of war and displacement, this moving story is suitable for older children. It is “a haunting and beautiful tale of the power of words, the importance of stories and the resilience of the human spirit”. I love the work of Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood, both of whom have received numerous awards for their work in children’s literature.

These seven picture books show the relationships readers have with books and the different ways in which they interact with them. They can help us introduce children to the joys of reading and growing to love a book.

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



Farewell, Michael Bond

Last week, on 27th June, Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear, died, aged 91. He had written over 150 children’s books in a career spanning 60 years (Horwell, 2017). A Bear Called Paddington, the first book featuring the bear from Darkest Peru, was published in 1958. It was followed by more than 20 novels and picture books, with the last one, Paddington’s Finest Hour, appearing this year. Michael Bond also wrote a series of books about a guinea pig called Olga da Polga (a personal favourite of mine) and another about the detective, Monsieur Pamplemousse, and his dog, Pommes Frites. But his most beloved creation is Paddington Bear, who is “charming and sweet and gentle” and “reflects the best of us” (Morpurgo, 2017). Flowers and jars of marmalade have been laid around the bronze statue of the bear in the duffle coat at Paddington Station in London as a tribute to Michael Bond.

Michael Bond and Paddington Bear-in 60 seconds by The Telegraph

In response to Michael Bond’s death, Michael Morpurgo, the renowned children’s author and former Children’s Laureate, wrote a touching piece about Paddington, “an immigrant from Peru who is found on a station platform with a label around his neck” (Morpurgo, 2017). That label became known the world over and said simply “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” These words take on a deeper meaning when we consider the current refugee crisis in Syria and the reaction by other countries, which include closed borders and proposed walls. The kindness shown to Paddington by the Brown family is much in need in our world today. For as Michael Bond said, “Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees” (Bond, in Pauli, 2017).

Paddington himself was an illegal immigrant

Paddington has become as much a part of British culture as that other famous bear, Winnie the Pooh. Both are instantly recognisable and have made the transition from books into films and merchandise. In 1976, the original TV series, Paddington, aired, with its distinctive combination of a three-dimensional bear, hand-drawn backgrounds and character cut-outs. It was narrated by Michael Hordern, who famously said that “his most challenging roles had been God, Lear and Paddington Bear” (Horwell, 2017). I have happy memories of watching the show as a child. So for old times’ sake-and because it’s so good-here is the first episode, entitled Please Look After This Bear.

Paddington Bear-Please look after this bear by Paddingtonbeartoons

I’ll end with a quote from Michael Bond that I feel we would do well to remember when working with children :

I think the most precious thing you can give a child is your time. And I think the next most precious thing you can give a child is an interest in books. If you’re brought up with books being part of the furniture, with a story being read to you when you go to bed at night, it’s a very good start in life. I never went to bed without a story when I was small (Bond, in Pauli, 2017).

Farewell, Michael Bond. Thank you for the joy and laughter you brought to the world through your books. You will be greatly missed.



Happy birthday, Harry Potter!

June 26th marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published ten years later in 2007, bringing the adventures of the boy wizard to a conclusion. During that period, the popularity of the series grew as it was embraced by children and adults. The seven books have resulted in eight films, a range of computer games, a stage production (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), a fan website (Pottermore) and several theme parks. Fans have come together to form the Harry Potter Alliance. With chapters around the world, this organisation uses principles from the books to promote activism, especially amongst youth.

Levioso! (With thanks to Harry Potter Wiki)

Harry Potter Series

Potter by L. Whittaker: CC BY-NC 2.0

Whilst it is widely acknowledged that the Harry Potter series has played a significant role in encouraging children to read, there has been criticism about the quality of J. K. Rowling’s writing (Dickenson, 2017). The first three books won numerous awards, many of which were judged by children. However, as the series became increasingly popular, the debate around the books as works of literature began. The issue I have with this is that critics assess the writing using adult standards and tastes (Dickenson, 2017). They also judge the books in terms of the educational value they have rather than the pleasure they bring the children who read them.

Grim news….critics slate the Harry Potter series

This, of course, brings us back to the issue of reading for pleasure, which I explored in an earlier post. Many popular children’s writers have experienced the same criticism that has been levelled at J. K. Rowling. This is intellectual snobbery at work (Gaiman, 2013); by downplaying the value of Harry Potter, high culture can once again be presented as superior and pop culture as trash. This attitude ignores the passion and delight children feel for the series and for the characters within the books. It also downplays the richness of the world that J. K. Rowling has created (Dickenson, 2017), as well as her ability to create page-turning plots. As with other popular books and series, adults are still telling children what to read rather than respecting their choices. Yet again, reading for pleasure is being sidelined in the name of raising standards.

Despite adult criticism, children love Harry Potter

Reading Harry Potter

Hermionivy by Jeremy Hiebert: CC BY-NC 2.0

Perhaps it’s time to accept Harry Potter as a entertaining read that has been, and continues to be, the first step into the world of reading for many children.

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.

Picture Books By Eric Carle

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.

Picture Books About 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.

Children's Books About Libraries

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.

Children's Books About Libraries

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.