Category Archives: Books

International Book Giving Day

This Wednesday, February 14th, is not just Library Lovers Day, but also International Book Giving Day. First conceived in 2012, this volunteer initiative is now held in over 30 countries. The aim is “to get books into the hands of as many children as possible… [thereby] increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books” (International Book Giving Day, n.d.). The International Book Giving Day website provides three easy ways to celebrate the day, while their Facebook page allows you to connect with others who are participating in the event. There are also a number of resources available for use, including bookmarks, bookplates and posters. This year, these have been created by Elys Dolan, a children’s author and illustrator from the UK. They are fabulous and free to download from the website.

International Book Giving Day 2018 poster by Elys Dolan

Book Giving Day

Image used with kind permission of International Book Giving Day

So get involved by buying or donating a book to a child. They might just catch the reading bug as a result of your kindness. Whatever you choose to do, have a happy International Book Giving Day (and Library Lovers Day) on Wednesday!

 

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Guest post: Olivia’s top five favourite books

To kick off the New Year, we have another guest at Tales From The Children’s Library. I’ve invited Olivia, my seven-year-old niece, to share her five favourite books with you. Over to you, Olivia…

Here are my top five favourite books:

Olivia's Books

1. Up the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover)

Up The Faraway Tree

One day, Robin and Joy read about the Magic Faraway Tree in a book and decide to go meet Joe, Beth and Frannie themselves. The five children have all sorts of exciting adventures together, including being captured by the Enchanter Red-Cloak in the Land of Castles, a birthday treat for Joy in the Land of Wishes, and a delicious visit to the Land of Cakes!

It’s a book that is funny and cool at the same time. It makes me happy when I read it. My favourite character is the squirrel that brings the cushions up the tree. He is really cute.

This is the fourth book in The Faraway Tree series, the first two being The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree.

2. The Folk of the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover) and Jan McCafferty (interior)

The Folk Of Faraway Tree

Stuck-up Connie refuses to believe in the Faraway Tree-until Joe, Beth and Frannie take her to the Land of Secrets and the Land of Treats!

But then the tree starts dying, and nobody knows what’s wrong. How can they save the magical Faraway Tree?

This book makes me laugh and it makes me feel happy. My favourite story from it is ‘Up the ladder-that-has-no-top’.

This is the third book in The Faraway Tree series.

3. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

I like this book because when I was little, we used to read it a lot and I like the illustrations. My favourite page is going into the big dark forest.

4. Violet and the Hidden Treasure
Written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor

Violet And The Hidden Treasure

Can you solve the case of the hidden treasure?

Violet has spent her holiday exploring India, including visiting the beautiful palace of the eccentric Maharajah where she meets his very special cockatoo. But when she returns home, Violet is surprised to receive a visit from the Maharajah’s butler, asking her to look after the bird. Because the cockatoo holds the secret to the Maharajah’s fortune, and someone is trying to bird-nap her to claim the treasure!

Can Violet discover who the culprit is?

In this book, Violet has to solve the mystery of the hidden treasure, which is a cockatoo. I like it when Violet finds the cockatoo. The characters in the story are Violet, Rose, Art, Angel and Rajesh.

This is the second book in the Violet series, the others being Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, Violet and the Smugglers and Violet and the Mummy Mystery. The next installment, Violet and the Mystery of Tiger Island, will be released in July 2018.

5. Harper and the Night Forest
Written by Cerrie Burnell and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Harper And The Night Forest

When Harper and her friends visit the mysterious Night Forest, their plan is to capture the magical Ice Raven. But little by little the fairy tale secrets of the forest come to light. The children soon realise what it would mean if the Ice Raven left the enchanted woods for ever…

I like this book because it’s a very mysterious book. My favourite character is Smoke the wolf (mine too), because wolves are one of my favourite animals. Harper is a girl from the circus of dreams. She has a magic umbrella and a cat called Midnight. She goes on adventures with her friends, Nate, Liesel and Ferdie.

This is the third book in the Harper series, the others being Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, Harper and the Circus of Dreams, Harper and the Fire Star and Harper and the Sea of Secrets.

Thank you, Olivia for sharing your favourite books with us. Maybe she’s inspired you to try a new book or author!

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

Twelve Books of Christmas: Part II

Continuing with the festive celebrations, here are six books to complete the Twelve Books of Christmas. Again, I have chosen some for their rituals, some for their meaning and some for the story they tell about the birth of Jesus.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Coming Home
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

Coming Home

A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lightning. Across frozen wastes, huge mountains and stormy seas he flies. And all the while he’s dreaming of home. Of her. But will he ever get there?

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a robin journeying from the cold, dark forest across mountains and seas to be his lady love again. Michael Morpurgo’s text reads like poetry, with lyrical turns of phrase conveying a range of emotions. I found myself willing the robin on as he battled the elements and predators to reach home. The last page of the book contains facts about robin migration.

I have included several books by Michael Morpurgo on previous book lists, because his work is outstanding. This book is no exception, but it does differ in that the writing is more poetic and evocative. The focus is on the words and images they convey, rather than the storyline. This is the first book that Kerry Hyndman has illustrated. She has also worked with David Long on Survivors.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Mog’s Christmas
Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr

Mog's Christmas

Strange things are happening at Mog’s house. So she runs up on the roof and there she stays…until she returns to the house with a bump!

I love the Mog books! Perhaps it’s because they remind of growing up in Britain in the 1970s (all funky clothes and decor). Perhaps it’s the gentle humour and warmth found within the pages. In this book, Mog is put out by the preparations for Christmas: baking and decorating the house. But when Mr Thomas arrives with the Christmas tree, she is terrified and runs up the side of the house and onto the roof. Nothing can coax her down. Then the snow melts and she falls down the chimney, just like Father Christmas! After a bath, Mog is ready to enjoy the festivities with her family.

Between 1970 and 2002, Judith Kerr wrote sixteen Mog books, ending with the emotional Goodbye Mog. Then in 2015, after a break of thirteen years, she collaborated with Sainsbury’s to create a new Christmas story about Mog; Mog’s Christmas Calamity. It was accompanied by an advert featuring a CGI Mog, who saves the day (again). It was wonderful to see one of my favourite cats brought to life on the small screen!

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Great Joy
Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Great Joy

Deep in the purple dusk of winter, a monkey and an organ grinder appear on the corner of Fifth and Vine. Frances watches the monkey hold out his silver cup to the busy passersby. Sometimes, when the traffic is very quiet for just a minute, she can hear the organ’s sweet, sad music.

But Frances is troubled when she notices that the man and the monkey are still on the street late at night. Where do they sleep? She can’t stop thinking about them, even while she’s practicing her line and getting her costume ready for the local Christmas pageant. When the moment finally comes for Frances to speak, the gift of compassion allows her to share the perfect words with everyone, at just the right time.

Great Joy celebrates the generosity and kindness associated with the festive season. Frances watches the organ grinder and his monkey from the window of her apartment. She worries about where they go at night, especially now it is snowing. She stays up at night and sees them still on the street corner in the cold. When she asks her mother if they can come for dinner, she is told, “No…They’re strangers”. On her way to the Christmas pageant, in which she plays the part of an angel, Frances puts a coin in the monkey’s cup and invites them both to the church to see the play. Then, as she is about to deliver her line, “at the back of the sanctuary, a door opened” and in walks the organ grinder and his monkey. This beautiful story shows us how a child can embody the spirit of Christmas and set an example for those adults around her.

Kate DiCamillo has been awarded the Newbery Award twice and is best known for her children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses. Great Joy is her first picture book. She also collaborated with Bagram Ibatoulline on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The Christmas Eve Ghost
Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

The Christmas Eve Ghost

When Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by ghostly noises on Christmas Eve, they run straight into the arms of their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley. Stepping next door for the first time, what will they find on the other side of the wall?

1930s Liverpool is brought alive in this inspiring tale that recognises the richness of human kindness, even in times of hardship and poverty.

In this book, Shirley Hughes recalls growing up in Liverpool in the 1930s. Bronwen and Dylan have moved with their Mam from Wales to Liverpool after the death of their Da. Although they live next door to the O’Rileys, the family keep to themselves, with Mam working hard as a laundress. One Christmas Eve, Bronwen and Dylan are left alone whilst Mam finishes her shopping. After she leaves, the children hear a strange noise coming from the wash house. Afraid it might be “that horrid ghostie coming down the chimney”, they run out screaming into the street, straight into the arms of Mrs O’Riley. She takes care of them until Mam comes home and discovers the kindness of her neighbours. One of the things I love about this book is the way Shirley Hughes weaves into the story information about the work undertaken by a laundress before the washing machine and steam iron were invented. I have a number of ancestors who took in laundry in the ‘old days’, so to see what that actually involved is very humbling.

I love the work of Shirley Hughes. Her illustrations evoke days gone by, whilst her stories, although simple in terms of their plots, contain a depth of emotion and gently challenge how we view the world and one another.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle
Written by Glenda Millard and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Applesauce And The Christmas Miracle

One orange evening, tiger-striped with blackened trees, a pig sat, reminiscing…

Against a rural Australian setting of drought and bushfire, a little pig called Applesauce learns that Christmas comes from the heart.

This is a touching story set in the Australian bush. Paralleling the Nativity, it tells how a bushfire destroyed Joe and Marigold’s house, forcing them to live in the shed with the blistered door. Their pig, Applesauce, feels “it would be a miracle if Christmas came at all”, as there will be no celebrations, no special dinner and no gifts this year. Then, high on the hill, the Shepherds see a star above the shed and head down through the burnt-out bush to visit them. On Christmas Day, Marigold’s three aunties arrive, bearing gifts: a plum pudding, some shortbread and a crate filled with hay. Into this, Marigold places her newborn baby. When Applesauce sees the infant, she feels something change inside her as she lets “Christmas fill her heart”. Just wonderful!

I love the work of both Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King. They have created a number of books together, including the Kingdom of Silk series. Glenda Millard has written a range of books from picture books through to ones for young adults. Her latest one, The Stars At Oktober Bend, was a Notable book in the Older Readers section of the 2017 CBCA awards. As an author and illustrator, Stephen Michael King is responsible for, amongst others, the delightful Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat and the wonderful Mutt Dog.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Little One, We Knew You’d Come
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jackie Morris

Little One, We Knew You'd Come

Evokes for children the excitement of the day they were born–and the wonder of the birth of God’s baby son.

Little One, We Knew You’d Come will touch new parents and children alike. Jackie Morris’ beautiful illustrations and the lilting, lyrical text bring this beloved story vividly to life. A celebration of life and the miracle of birth. It is a classic, simple retelling of the Christmas story that can be read at Christmas, and on every child’s birthday, as well.

(Synopsis by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

This is the story of the Nativity told from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. As with any good picture book, the reader gains as much from the illustrations as from the text. The gorgeous images from Jackie Morris perfectly complement Sally Lloyd-Jones’ poetic language and gentle refrains (“On the day that you were born” and “Little one, we knew you’d come”). There is much for children and adults to share and discuss in the pictures and the storyline. I would also highly recommend The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas, as a companion to Little One, We Knew You’d Come.

On her website, Jackie Morris talks about how Little One, We’d Knew You Come became The Newborn Child when she regained the rights to the images. Both books tell the story of Jesus’ birth without mentioning him, although anyone familiar with the Nativity will recognise the characters and events. What I like is the intimacy and love present on every page, with the focus on, as Jackie Morris says, “the waiting, the hoping, the dreams and desires” (Morris, n.d.).

I hope you have enjoyed the Twelve Books of Christmas. I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas. May it be filled with love and laughter.

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

 

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Twelve Books of Christmas: Part I

To celebrate the festive season, I’ve chosen twelve books about Christmas. Some are about the rituals associated with this festival: the tree, the presents and the food. Others focus on the meaning behind this special time of year: hope, peace and love. And of course, I’ve included several that tell the story of the first Christmas.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Queen Victoria’s Christmas
Written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Queen Victoria's Christmas

There’s a mystery in the palace.
What can it be?
There are lots of spicy smells…and a large green tree!

Join Queen Victoria’s dogs as they discover the magic of Christmas in this hilarious new royal adventure by award-winning duo Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

This wonderful book, which is a companion to Queen Victoria’s Underpants, tells how the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. In the palace, the dogs and the parrot are excited by the sights, sounds and smells of the festive season. But they are puzzled by the arrival of a large tree. The mystery is solved on Christmas Day when they discover the tree has been decorated with tinsel, candles and baubles. The family exchange presents and sit down together for a feast. But under the flap on the final page, we discover the dogs are already enjoying their Christmas dinner!

Jackie French is a well-known Australian author, who has written over 170 fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She was the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014 and 2015, during which time she advocated for “the right for every child to be guided to the books they’ll love” (Jackie French, n.d.). She has worked on a number of books with Bruce Whatley, including Pete the Sheep and the much-loved Diary of a Wombat. As an author and illustrator, Bruce Whatley has created picture books including  The Ugliest Dog in the World and the Christmas story, The Little Drummer Boy.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers
Written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers

Slinky Malinki, the most rapscallion cat of all, is watching and waiting in the shadows while the glimmering, shimmering Christmas tree is decorated. Will he be able to resist the twinkle and tinsel of the glorious, tempting tree?

Even at Christmas, Slinky Malinki is up to mischief. He destroys the beautifully decorated Christmas tree as “he knotted the tinsel and swatted the bell, he batted the baubles and trinkets as well”. After the family put everything back in place, they discover the fairy is missing from the top of the tree. But Slinky Malinki knows how to fix that!

As usual, Lynley Dodd’s rhyming is spot-on. This book, like her others, is a joy to read out loud. I particularly love her use of more complex words, ones that are often not seen in picture books for younger readers: magnificent, mischievous, glorious and smothery. Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers can be enjoyed alongside the four other books about the adventurous black cat.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas
Written and illustrated by David Melling

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas finds a new magical friend on his hunt for the PERFECT Christmas tree.

Hugless Douglas is a bear “full of hugs”. In this book, he enjoys the snow with his friends, the Funny Bunnies and Little Sheep. Whilst playing in a winter wonderland, they meet Rudi the blue-nosed reindeer, who uses Christmas magic to make a tree. At the end of the book, there are two pages of things to do at Christmas time. Each page also has Little Robin on it for readers to find. I love the humour in this book, which is conveyed through both the text and illustrations.

Hugless Douglas has his own website, which includes fun stuff for younger readers and links to an interactive book app. There are a number of other Hugless Douglas books, including the one that introduced the lovable bear to the world: Hugless Douglas. David Melling has illustrated over 60 fiction and picture books and has worked with well-known authors, including Vivian French, Ian Whybrow and Francesca Simon.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Shooting at the Stars
Written and illustrated by John Hendrix

Shooting At The Stars

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing that evening and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a true story that John Hendrix wonderfully brings to life, interweaving his detailed illustrations with hand-lettered texts. His telling of the story celebrates the kindness and humanity that can persist during even the darkest periods of our history.

This moving and thought-provoking book tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when the Allied and German soldiers, who had been fighting one another on the Western Front, laid down their arms and came together in No Man’s Land on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Through a letter written by a fictional soldier, Charlie, to his mother, John Hendrix details what life was like in the trenches: mud, rats and artillery fire. He then describes how the soldiers on both sides set aside their weapons to sing, play football and bury their dead. The feelings of the men are expressed by one of the Germans; “Why can’t we just go home-and have peace?” The themes and illustrations make this story suitable for older readers. There is also additional information about the conflict at the beginning and end of the book. It could easily form the basis for discussions around the issues of war and peace and is highly relevant as we head into the centenary year commemorating the end of the First World War.

John Hendrix has written and illustrated his own books, including Miracle Man and John Brown, as well as illustrating the work of other writers, such as A Boy Called Dickens and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with Deborah Hopkinson.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Father Christmas
Written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas

Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, this classic picture book has been treasured by generations for more than thirty years. Raymond Briggs’s irreverent look at Christmas is one of his best-loved picture books.

Despite being over 40 years old, Father Christmas is still enjoyed by children and adults today. Its comic-book format makes it readily accessible to reluctant and emerging readers. In an interesting article in the Guardian, Raymond Briggs shares how he made the book. His Father Christmas is reimagined as a real man doing the things that need to be done before delivering presents to children around the world: making a cup of tea, going to the toilet, getting dressed and having breakfast, whilst complaining about the weather (“Blooming cold!”). Then he sets off on his sleigh, which is pulled by two reindeer. I love the cut-away scenes where we can see into the houses as Father Christmas makes his way across roofs and down chimneys. And there is the gentle humour present throughout the book. A wonderful story to share with a child.

Raymond Briggs is a much-loved author and illustrator, who has been awarded both the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. His work includes The Snowman, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows. He also illustrated The Elephant and the Bad Baby, written by Elfrida Vipont, which is a firm favourite with young children because of all the naughtiness in the book!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The First Christmas
Illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski

The First Christmas

The shepherds said one to another,
Let us now go to Bethlehem.
And they found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

The text for this book, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus, comes from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in the King James Bible. The illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski are stunning. Silver gilded branches stretch across each double-page spread bearing roses, mistletoe, holly or berries. The images accompanying each verse are composed of silhouettes against a coloured background. Despite the apparent simplicity of the solid black figures, Jan Pieńkowski effortless conveys movement and emotions, from the wonder of the Annunciation through to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. As with Shooting at the Stars, this book is perhaps best suited to older readers, as the language is beautiful but challenging. Another book I would highly recommend, but was unable to find in my local library, is Jane Ray’s The Story of Christmas. With equally stunning illustrations and biblical text, it would compliment The First Christmas perfectly.

Jan Pieńkowski is known for his distinctive silhouette illustrations, used in The First Christmas and The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken. He also worked with Helen Nicoll on the Meg and Mog series of picture books, which began in 1972 and are still in print today. Jan Pieńkowski also created a number of pop-up books, including the wonderfully scary Haunted House, a book I remember well.

Later this week I’ll share the other six books with you. Until then, enjoy your Christmas preparations. Just under one week to go!

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

Guest post: Ellie’s top five favourite books

This week, we have a guest at Tales From The Children’s Library. I’ve invited Ellie, my sixteen-year-old niece, to share her five favourite books with you. So let’s handover to her…

Here are my top five favourite books in descending order:

Ellie's Books

1. A Court of Mist and Fury
Written by Sarah J. Maas and illustrated by Adrian Dadich (cover)

A Court Of Mist And Fury

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people-nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

A Court of Mist and Fury is the second book in A Court of Thrones and Roses series. It is my favourite book because reading it allowed me to feel really connected to the people and their world, far more than most other books do. I like the way Sarah J. Mass has written the characters and the setting. I also like how many of the events in the story are unexpected, so you can’t put the book down because you have to know what happens next.

2. The Book Thief
Written by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up an object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

I love The Book Thief because it taught me a lot about the time period in which it is set. It presents a different perspective to the one World War II is usually told from, giving the reader a chance to understand the similarities between the people living in this era. I liked it because it made me feel the emotions of the characters. Even though the narrator told you some of the events beforehand, this didn’t make the reading of those words hurt any less when the time came.

3. Empire of Storms
Written by Sarah J. Maas and illustrated by Talexi (cover)

Empire Of Storms

Blood will run. Dreams will shatter. An army will rise.

The assassin-queen has sworn not to turn her back on her kingdom again. Especially when she might be the only one who can raise an army to keep the Dark King from unleashing his beasts upon them all. But Erawen will wield Aelin’s past, her allies, and her enemies against her.

With a powerful court trusting Aelin to lead them, and her heart devoted to the warrior-prince at her side, what-or who-is she willing to sacrifice to spare her world from being torn apart.

Empire of Storms is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series. It is one of my favourite books because everything I wanted to happen did. And after reading four other books in the series and a collection of novels, it was good to get everything I wanted from the book. I find Sarah J. Maas creates characters that are impossible not to get attached to and even more impossible to forget once you finish one of her books.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Written by J. K. Rowling and illustrated by Jonny Duddle (cover)

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rebus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

An incredible adventure is about to begin!

You rarely find a top five book list that doesn’t include the Harry Potter series. But the reason why this book is one of my top five favourite books is because when I was little, my dad read it to me. I remember every night we would sit down and he would read some to me until we eventually finished the whole series. Then later, when I read them for myself, I found I was very attached to the characters and could picture Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the others so clearly, as well as the settings in the books.

5. A Game of Thrones
Written by George R. R. Martin and illustrated by Larry Rostant (cover)

A Game Of Thrones

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must…and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

A Game of Thrones is the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love it because I found it very interesting to see how the show (which I watched first) compared to the book. I enjoyed the elaborate world and cast of characters George R. R. Martin has created and seeing how they are all connected. I liked trying to work out what was going to happen next and seeing how there could be so many possible outcomes, but having to narrow it down to the most likely. I had a lot of fun reading this book.

Thank you, Ellie for sharing your favourite books with us. Maybe she’s inspired you to try a new book or author!

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

 

National Non-Fiction November

National Non-Fiction November is a month-long “celebration of all things factual” (Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG), n.d.). It advocates for “all those readers that have a passion for information and facts and attempts to bring non-fiction celebration in line with those of fiction” (FCBG, n.d.). In this way, both reading for information and reading for imagination can result in children reading for pleasure. This year, the theme is The World Around Us and the FCBG’s website has lots of ideas and resources for promoting non-fiction in schools and libraries.

To celebrate Non-Fiction November, I pulled out a book, Wildlife in Towns (written by Cathy Kilpatrick), that I was given as a prize for “general progress” when I was in primary school. Published in 1976, it was a good choice for a child who loved animals and birds, but who lived in inner London surrounded by bricks and concrete. Looking through it, I realised how much non-fiction for children has changed over the last 40 years.

Wildlife In Towns

Wildlife in Towns, written by Cathy Kilpatrick

The book is very text-heavy, with pages filled with writing interspersed with black and white photos and a couple of pages of colour pictures. It looks and feels more like a textbook, which was probably not uncommon in the 1970s. Whilst I loved it, it is not an enticing book for a reluctant reader. Nor is it likely to attract the attention of a child browsing the shelves of a library or bookshop.

So I went to my local library and borrowed a selection of non-fiction books from the children’s section. I chose those about animals to see how they compared to my wildlife book (and by happenstance, this is also the theme for 2017’s Non-Fiction November). And I unearthed some real beauties.

A Seed Is Sleepy

A Seed is Sleepy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long

Like A Seed is Sleepy, most of the books I found contain illustrations rather than photographs, making them very appealing to young children. They have a picture book quality to them, which is enticing. The variety of artistic styles and ‘looks’ make for an interesting, rather than a homogenous, non-fiction collection.

Creaturepedia

Creaturepedia, written and illustrated by Adrienne Barman

Creaturepedia is published by Wide Eyed Editions, which “creates original non-fiction for children and families and believes that books should encourage curiosity about the world we live in, inspiring readers to set out on their own journey of discovery” (The Quarto Group, 2017). Another beautiful book from their catalogue is Atlas of Animal Adventures. This includes a double-page illustration on honeybees, containing snippets of interesting information about these creatures so familiar to me from long summer days in England.

Atlas Of Animal Adventures

Atlas of Animal Adventures, illustrated by Lucy Letherland and written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins

This approach, which differs greatly from my 1970s wildlife book, is a feature of today’s non-fiction for children. Images, either photos or illustrations, are peppered with sentences rather than paragraphs of information. It makes for a less overwhelming read for those who are learning or are less confident. It also encourages the use of pictures to make sense of the text, an important strategy for emergent readers. Another publisher that uses this approach very successfully is DK, with their Eyewitness series.

Mammal

Mammal, written by Steve Parker

Another means by which information is conveyed to young children in an appealing way is through the picture book format. Using storytelling alongside facts engages readers and allows adults to share a non-fiction book with children in the same way as they would a fiction book. This encourages the concept of reading for pleasure and demonstrates an acceptance of reading preferences. As I explored in an earlier post, when we view all forms of text as being equally important, all children come to see themselves as readers.

Just Ducks!

Just Ducks!, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

My journey into today’s world of non-fiction books for children has shown me how far publishing has come in four decades. There are many beautiful, interesting, informative and engaging books out there. Between their pages, images are balanced with words, much like in picture books, making them accessible to all and providing a doorway into a subject. These books will often lead to further exploration of a topic through more in-depth texts.

Big Picture Book Outdoors

Big Picture Book Outdoors, written by Minna Lacy and illustrated by Rachel Stubbs and John Russell

Finally there are a couple of non-fiction series that children particularly enjoy: Horrible Histories (along with Horrible Geography and Horrible Science) and The Magic School Bus. The former contains gory and unusual facts, presented in a humorous way, whilst the latter involves “wild field trips exploring a wide variety of science topics including invasive species, weather hazards, … brain and nervous system, and deep sea exploration” (Scholastic, 2017). Both cover a range of subjects, with something to interest everyone.

Welcome to the world of children’s non-fiction. It is a wonderful place to visit!

All images taken by the author.

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Cats in children’s literature

After two weeks of picture books about cats, it’s time to introduce you to books for children and young adults that have felines at the heart of them.

Children's Books About Cats

Ship’s Cat Doris
Written and illustrated by Jane Simmons

Ship's Cat Doris

When Bosun thinks his new ship’s cat is a she, he names her Doris! But Doris-definitely a he-soon finds this isn’t his only problem: making friends with the ship’s dogs is tricky, and standing up to the shipyard bully will take a lot of courage…

Will Doris ever be a true ship’s cat?

Doris is taken from his mummy to live on Cap and Bosun’s boat. There he meets two dogs: John the gentle giant and Madge, who was badly treated by her previous family and needs time to get to know Doris. Freda the chicken also lives with them and spends most of her time scrounging food in the boatyard. When the Beast (the vet) visits, it turns out that Doris is actually a boy! But Cap and Bosun decide to keep the name. Life on the boat is never dull. Doris chases a rat into the water, encounters mean Jasper the boatyard cat, is attacked by seagulls and is trapped on the boat by the threat of the Queen’s (the owner of the boatyard) pet. Finally the boat is sea-worthy and Doris sets sail for new adventures with his family.

Jane Simmons is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including the Ebb and Flo and Daisy series. She based this story on her own experiences living with Doris, John, Madge and Freda on a boat in Cornwall.

Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!
Written by Pip Jones and illustrated by Ella Okstad

Squishy McFluff

An imaginary friend is a wonderful thing.
What giggles! What games! What adventures they bring!
Well, Ava’s a girl who knows all about that…
Meet Squishy McFluff, her invisible cat!

Suitable for younger readers, this book introduces Ava and her invisible cat, Squishy McFluff. Soon the two are getting into all sorts of mischief: chasing birds, painting the carpet, drawing on the curtains and putting plants in the bath. Of course, it is all Squishy McFluff’s doing. Mum tries to get rid of him by sending him on a train ride and then to the moon, but he just comes back. Finally she enlists the help of Great Grandad Bill, who solves the problem of the mischievous invisible cat…for now!

This rhyming book about an imaginary cat is delightful. The words and pictures are a perfect match, enhancing the reading experience. The length and layout also make it an ideal way of introducing children to independent reading. And there are another five Squishy McFluff books, as well as a website to explore. Yay!

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess

The Cats Of Tanglewood Forest

Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills-until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through the untamed lands of fabled creatures-from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People-to find a way to make things right.

With beautiful illustrations throughout, this book tells the story of Lillian, who gets bitten by a snake whilst playing in Tanglewood Forest. The cats, who live there, turn her into a kitten in order to save her life. Lillian then sets out to find a way to return to her original form. During her adventures, she meets T. H. Reynolds (a Truthful and Handsome fox), who takes her to Old Mother Possum. She changes Lillian back, but there are awful consequences. So, again, Lillian sets off to make things right by journeying to the Bear People. Finally, with the help of Apple Tree Man and Father of Cats (a panther), things are righted, for a price.

This is a wonderful book, full of folklore and magic, which is only to be expected as both Charles de Lint and Charles Vess are well-known for their work in the mythic arts field. Based on the picture book, A Circle of Cats, I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys fantasy and legends.

Warriors: Into the Wild
Written by Erin Hunter and illustrated by Owen Richardson

Into The Wild

Fire alone can save our clan.

For generations, four Clans of cats have shared the forest. But ThunderClan is in grave danger, and ShadowClan grows stronger every day. In the midst of this turmoil appears a house cat named Rusty…who may turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.

This book marks the start of the Warriors series, The Prophecies Begin, and is set in a rural area inhabited by four clans of cats: Thunderclan, Shadowclan, Riverclan and Windclan. When cats dies, they journey to Starclan, which provides guidance through dreams and omens. This first book introduces Rusty, a kittypet (a house-cat), who leaves his home and joins Thunderclan, whose territory covers the woodland areas. He is renamed Firepaw and becomes friends with two other apprentices, Graypaw and Ravenpaw. But there is trouble in the wilderness. One clan has disappeared and another is trying to extend its territory. Meanwhile not all cats in Thunderclan can be trusted. It is just possible that Firepaw is the cat foreseen in a message from Starclan: “Fire alone can save our clan”.

Although I am not a cat-person, I really enjoyed this book. It is fast-paced and exciting, with high and low points. Written from a cat’s-eye view, it captures the mannerisms and ‘speech’ of the felines; eg. ‘miaowed’ and ‘mewed’ are used instead of ‘said’. I also love the maps at the front of the book, which show the wilderness from a cat viewpoint and then a two-leg (a person) viewpoint. The good news for those who enjoy this book is that there are nine series to read, as well as a website to explore. So, plenty to keep you busy! Erin Hunter (a collective pseudonym for six authors) has also written several other series: Seekers (about three bears), Survivors (about a pack of dogs) and Bravelands (about a lion, elephant and baboon).

Kaspar, Prince of Cats
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman

Kaspar, Prince Of Cats

Kaspar the cat first came to The Savoy Hotel in a basket-Johnny Trott knows, because he was the one who carried him in. Johnny was a bell-boy, you see, and he carried all of Countess Kandinsky’s things to her room.

But Johnny didn’t expect to end up with Kaspar on his hands forever, nor did he count on making friends with Lizziebeth, a spirited American heiress. Pretty soon, events are set in motion that will take Johnny-and Kaspar-all around the world, surviving theft, shipwreck and rooftop rescues along the way. Because everything changes with a cat like Kaspar around. After all, he’s Kaspar Kandinsky, Prince of Cats, a Muscovite, a Londoner and a New Yorker, and as far as anyone knows, the only cat to survive the sinking of the Titanic

This is the story of Johnny Trott, a bell-boy at The Savoy Hotel in London, whose life becomes entwined with that of Kaspar, the Prince of Cats. He meets Countess Kandinsky and her cat when she arrives at the hotel. He is given responsibility for looking after Kaspar whilst she is rehearsing for an opera at Covent Garden. But a tragedy occurs and Johnny ends up hiding the cat in his room. Lizziebeth, an American heiress staying at The Savoy with her family, finds Kaspar and befriends Johnny, who saves her when she climbs onto the roof trying to help an injured pigeon. When the family and Kaspar return to New York aboard the Titanic, Johnny stows away and ends up working as a stoker. Soon disaster strikes in the middle of the North Atlantic…

Like much of Michael Morpurgo’s work, this is a wonderfully emotive story. It is based on real events: the lucky black cat at The Savoy and the sinking of the Titanic. I love the way he has woven a story around these things. This is a feature of several of his books; eg. Listen to the Moon (the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I), The Fox and the Ghost King (the discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a carpark in Leicester) and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (the practice for the D-Day landings on a beach in Slapton, South Devon).

Cat on the Island
Written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Gillian Warden

Cat On The Island

In 1894, Stephens Island, New Zealand, was paradise. This true story, told by an old man to his grandson, reveals how one innocent event can change the delicate balance of nature forever.

“Told as a fable, but based on a real event, this story is a timely reminder of the fragility of our world” (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014). A grandfather tells his grandson about his family’s arrival on Stephens Island in Cook Strait between New Zealand’s North and South islands. His father is the lighthouse keeper and his mother brings a pregnant cat named Tibbles. The island is home to many different bird species, including the world’s only flightless wren. The trees are cleared and the vegetation is removed to make way for the lighthouse. As the grandfather says, “We built a lighthouse to save the odd ship, but wrecked an island to do it”. Then Tibbles gives birth to a litter of kittens, which become feral once they have weaned. They start to prey on the birds, especially the wrens which, being flightless, have no means of escape and no vegetation to hide in. Within two years of the family’s arrival, the wrens are extinct. The grandfather explains to his grandson that “Nothing comes back when it’s extinct”. This is “the only instance in the world where a single species has been made extinct by another single species”.

This picture book is more appropriate for older readers and I would shelve it in the fiction section, rather than with the picture books. There are slightly confronting images of the cat (all fangs, claws and blood) and the theme is suited to deeper discussions around a range of ecological issues. These are included in the Teaching Notes written for use with the book. In addition, an article published by The Ornithological Society of New Zealand and entitled The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat (not Hamish from last week’s post!), provides more information about the extinction of the flightless wren. It makes interesting reading. As does a recent article in The Guardian about the number of birds killed each year by cats in Australia (an incredible 377 million).

The Wildings
Written by Nilanjana Roy and illustrated by Prabha Mallya

The Wildings

Prowling, hunting and fighting amidst the crumbling ruins of one of Delhi’s oldest neighbourhoods, are the proud Wildings. These feral cats fear no one, go where they want and do as they please. Battle-scarred tomcats, fierce warrior queens, the Wildings have ruled over Nizamuddin for centuries.

Now there is a new addition to the clan-a pampered housecat with strange powers that could turn their world on its head. And something is stirring in the old Shuttered House-something dark and cruel and dangerous. As a terrifying new enemy emerges from the shadows, the Wildings will need all the allies they can get, as they fight for Nizamuddin, and their lives.

The Wildings are the feral cats of Nizamuddin in Old Delhi. Consisting of toms, such as Katar and Hulo, and queens, such as Beraal and Miao, they prowl the parks and streets of the neighbourhood. In many ways, this book is similar to Into the Wild, as it introduces the clan members and world in which they live. Into their lives comes a kitten, a house-cat like Rusty, who plays an important role in the future of the Wildings. However, unlike Rusty, Mara interacts with the other cats in a non-physical way and refuses to leave the safety and comfort of her home. While she develops and learns to control her powers, the cats in the old Shuttered House are getting restless. They are not like the Wildings; they have no morals or scruples. They want to kill and take over the surrounding territory. Only the feral cats stand in their way…

This was an exceptionally well-written book, which I found hard to put down. The characters are engaging and there is a good balance between action and setting, so you get a feel for the place, but the storyline continues to move forward. I also enjoyed the fantasy element of the Sender. The sequel, The Hundred Names of Darkness, is on my ‘to read’ list and I look forward to meeting Mara, Southpaw, Beraal, Katar and the other cats of Old Delhi again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of books about cats. Maybe you’ve been inspired to seek some of them out and read them. If you have, let me know what you think of them in the comments below.

This post is for Olivia, who loves cats, but may have to settle for her own Squishy McFluff!

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

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More picture books about cats

Last week I shared seven picture books about cats with you. Here are some more to enjoy alone or with friends.
More Picture Books About Cats
Macavity the Mystery Cat
Written by T. S. Eliot and illustrated by Arthur Robins
Macavity The Mystery Cat

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,

He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity…

A celebration of the world’s most mischievous cat, featuring gloriously funny illustrations by Arthur Robins.

This book was released to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, from which this poem is taken. Macavity is known as the Hidden Paw, because he is “the master criminal who can defy the law”. He steals anything and everything (and also cheats at cards!), but never gets caught. Children will love joining in and shouting the refrain, “Macavity’s not there!”. Readers can also try to spot Macavity as he prowls the pages of the book.

T. S. Eliot’s collection of feline poems inspired the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber. A number of other picture books have been also published alongside Macavity, including Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and Mr Mistoffelees the Conjuring Cat.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean

Pete The Cat

Pete the Cat loves his brand-new white shoes so much he goes walking down the street singing…

“I love my white shoes,

I love my white shoes,

I love my white shoes.”

Along the way, Pete’s white shoes don’t stay so white. But does that worry Pete? Goodness, no! Because it’s all good.

Pete the Cat is one chilaxed feline. Nothing bothers him, not even when his brand-new white shoes get stained different colours. He just keeps walking and singing his song. This is fun way for children to explore the colours, white, red, blue and brown, as Pete’s shoes change when he steps in strawberries, blueberries and mud. The colour of the page also changes accordingly.

There are a series of Pete the Cat books, which you can check out on the Pete the Cat website. These include picture books, song books, I Can Read books and storybooks. You can also access songs and videos, including the one about Pete’s white shoes.

Mog the Forgetful Cat
Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr

Mog The Forgetful Cat

Mog always seems to be in trouble for her forgetfulness… but one night it comes in very handy!

This is the first Mog book, introducing us to the endearing tabby, who lives with Mr and Mrs Thomas and their children, Debbie and Nicky. In this story, Mog can’t get back into the house, because she can’t remember, amongst other things, where the cat flap is. The family complain, “Bother that cat”, as she creates havoc trying to get inside. However, being forgetful is helpful, because Mog saves the day when the house is broken into. The illustrations have a real 1970s feel to them and remind me of my childhood in London. I particularly love the scene where the burglar has been caught and the policeman has come to take statements from the family. The thief is having a cup of tea with Mr and Mrs Thomas as he waits to be taken to the nick. What a terribly British attitude to crime!

There are 18 Mog books in total, including the poignant Goodbye Mog, in which Mog dies. Judith Kerr is also well-known for her picture book, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and the semi-autobiographical trilogy, Out of the Hitler Time, which includes When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Now aged 94, she continues to write, with two new books being published in 2015.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cat
Written and illustrated by Ronda and David Armitage

The Lighthouse Keeper's Cat

Hamish, the lighthouse keeper’s cat, has been neglecting his duties. So when he hears that Mr and Mrs Grinling are going to punish him by putting him on a diet, he decides to find somewhere else to live. Soon, though, Hamish realises there’s no place like home…

Hamish lives with Mr and Mrs Grinling in “the little white cottage on the cliffs”. He helps Mr Grinling in the lighthouse and Mrs Grinling in the garden. But mostly he likes to sleep. When there is a problem with mice, the Grinlings decide to cut out Hamish’s breakfast so he will get rid of them. However, the poor cat thinks they no longer love him and he leaves home. He finds several possible places to stay, but none are quite right.  Then, whilst at the top of a tree in the middle of a storm, Hamish comes to realise that home is best. But he is stuck and it is only with the help of Mrs Grinling and his favourite Star-gazy Pie that he is able to get down. When he gets back to the lighthouse, he persuades the mice to leave.

Like Mog, this is an oldie but a goodie. And like Mog, there are a number of books in The Lighthouse Keeper’s series, including The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch. This is the book that introduced readers to the Grinlings. It also features Hamish in a basket high above the sea!

There Are Cats In This Book
Written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

There Are Cats In This Book

Come play with the cats in this book, Tiny, Moonpie and André. All you have to do is start turning the pages!

PS. There are fish in this book too.

Like Chester in the previous post, this book challenges the picture book format and the conventions of storytelling. The cats engage the readers by speaking directly to them; eg. “Turn the page”, “Can you dry us too?” and “Will you tuck us in?” Along with flaps to turn, this makes for an interactive experience. It is almost as if you are playing with the cats.

Viviane Schwarz has created a series of books featuring Tiny, Moonpie and André, including There Are No Cats in This Book and Is There a Dog in This Book?

Drat that Cat!
Written and illustrated by Tony Ross

Drat That Cat!

Drat that cat! Suzy the cat is always getting into trouble much to the annoyance of her family. But then one terrible day, she refuses to eat or drink. Whatever can be the matter?

Suzy Cat Baggot is both well-behaved and naughty. Her antics draw a “Drat that cat!” from her family. Children will particularly love it when she does “a piddle in Dad’s golf bag” (this reminds me of Frank Spencer’s “the cat’s done a whoopsie in my hat!”). But one day, Suzy won’t eat or drink. She is taken to the vet and things don’t look good. The family realise how much they love and miss her. When she gets better, everyone welcomes her home. Later Suzy meets Charlie Dog during her evening stroll and tells him she was only pretending to be ill. She wanted her family to know how much they love her!

Tony Ross is well-known for his Little Princess stories and for illustrating the Horrid Henry books by Francesca Simon. He was recently “named as the most borrowed illustrator from the UK’s public libraries” (Flood, 2017). Having written or illustrated about 1000 books, it is easy to see why his titles were borrowed more than 1 million times (Flood, 2017)!

Homer the Library Cat
Written by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Homer The Library Cat

Homer the cat loves to stay at home, so when one day he goes out-CRASH! BANG! CLANG! CLANG!-he can’t believe how noisy it is. Where can he find a cosy place to curl up for a snooze?

Homer lives in a quiet house with a quiet lady. He stays inside and plays with feathers and wool. But one day, he hears a loud noise and jumps out of the window. Then his adventures begin. He tries to find a quiet place, but there are noises everywhere: in the post office, the fire station and the railway. Finally Homer discovers the library, where he finds… the quiet lady, who is a librarian. He stays for storytime with the children and becomes the library cat.

Reeve Lindbergh is the daughter of Charles Lindbergh, the American aviator who made the first solo transatlantic flight. She has written many books for both children and adults, including Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of “Brave Bessie” Coleman, the first licensed black aviator.

Next week I’ll introduce you to some fiction books for children and young adults with cats at the heart of them.

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

Picture books about cats

After celebrating books about dogs, it’s time to share with you some about cats. Here are seven picture books about felines that will delight and inspire readers, young and old.

Picture Books About Cats

I am Cat
Written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

I Am Cat

I am Cat. At night I prowl, but in the day I sleep, curled up in warm places. And when I sleep I dream…

I am a tiger, flame cat of the forest; a cheetah, fast as the wind on the African plains; a lion, lounging through the heat of the day; a jaguar, perfectly camouflaged deep in the jungle.

But above all, I am Cat.

I love Jackie Morris’ work. Her illustrations are gorgeous and the pictures in this book are no exception. Beginning with a domestic cat, curled up on a beautiful patchwork cushion, each double-page spread presents a big cat in its native habitat, from the tiger in the jungle to the Amur leopard in the forests of Russia. Accompanying the pictures are poetic descriptions of the animals and the landscapes they live in. The last two pages contain interesting information about each species.

On her website, Jackie Morris tells how the book, I am Cat, came into being and writes about the many cats she has shared her life with. They are also represented on the dedication page in a touching group illustration.

The Tobermory Cat
Written and illustrated by Debi Gliori

The Tobermory Cat

In the village of Tobermory, on the Scottish island of Mull, lives a very special ginger cat. But once upon a time he didn’t think he was special at all-not like the woolly cats of Loch Ba, the singing cats of Staffa or the fishing cats of Fishnish.

But now everyone knows about him. He’s the cat who has become a legend in his own lifetime by simply being himself. He’s the cat who dances on top of the fish van; the cat who speaks to otters; the cat who drives the big yellow digger; the cat who rides on top of cars. He’s the Tobermory Cat.

Another picture book with a ginger cat on the cover! This story is based on a cat from the Isle of Mull, who was a celebrity on the island. Whilst the other villages have special cats, the Tobermory cats are very ordinary. In an attempt to attract tourists, the people of Tobermory try to teach their cats how to be special. This proves to be impossible until one ginger cat becomes famous without even trying! Soon everyone knows him and people start flocking to the village. The twist in the story is that he is the cat in the Hey Diddle Diddle rhyme.

Debi Gliori is the author and illustrator of many children’s picture books, including No Matter What and The Trouble With Dragons. Her illustrations contain lots of details to interest children (and adults), providing plenty to talk about.

Tabby McTat
Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Tabby McTat

“Me, you and the old guitar,
How perfectly, perfectly happy we are.
MEEE-EW and the old guitar.
How PURRRR-fectly happy we are!”

This book tells the story of Tabby McTat, the busker’s cat. When Fred gets hurt, he and McTat get separated. The tabby finds a new home with Sock and her people, Prunella and Pat. He has plenty to do, especially when he becomes a father of three kittens. But McTat still thinks about his friend, Fred, so he sets out to find him again. However, when they are reunited, he realises how much he misses Sock and his new life. So his littlest kitten, Samuel Sprat, becomes the busker’s cat instead!

This is another wonderful book from the team that brought us The Gruffalo (which has a fabulous interactive website). As usual, Julia Donaldson’s words roll off the tongue with ease, having a lovely strong rhythm and smooth rhyming. Alex Scheffler’s illustrations enhance the story with detailed vignettes and full-page pictures. It’s just a joy to read!

The Minister’s Cat ABC
Written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

The Minister's Cat

A very special alphabet book, based on the traditional game The Minister’s Cat, and featuring Slinky Malinki, Butterball Brown, Scarface Claw, and other well-loved Lynley Dodd cats.

This book contains feline characters from the Hairy Maclary series, such as Slinky Malinki and the dreaded Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town! As expected from Lynley Dodd, the rhyming and vocabulary are excellent. Two double-page spreads are devoted to each cat and in alphabetical order; for example, the minister’s cat is airborne, busy, crazy and dizzy.

Lynley Dodd has created a number of other cat books, including Slinky Malinki, Scarface Claw, Scattercat and Catflaps. This book is based on the Victorian parlour game, The Minister’s Cat. Maybe you could try playing this at home with your family and friends.

Chester
Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt

Chester

Hi, I’m Mélanie Watt and I’m trying to write and illustrate a story about a mouse. But Chester just won’t stop interfering!

Thank Goodness! NOW it’s a great book about me!

See what I mean? Chester keeps doodling on and rewriting my story with his annoying red marker. How am I supposed to deal with this cat upstaging me at every turn? I need to think of a way to put a end to this before he completely takes over!

Good luck, Einstein!!

As you can tell, Chester, A.K.A. the red and self-centred fur ball, always has to have the last word.

NOT true!

You see?

See what?

What did I tell you?

Whatever!

This is an interesting book in that it challenges the conventions of picture books and linear storytelling. As the author writes, Chester the cat uses his red pen to change the words and pictures, because he wants the story to be about him, not the mouse. There is a wonderful twist at the end when Mélanie Watt finally outwits Chester, only for him to deface her photo on the last page.

Children love the humour and irreverence of Chester and his additions (“Blah! Blah! Blah!). Thankfully there are two other books featuring Chester and his red pen to keep them happy: Chester’s Back! and Chester’s Masterpiece.

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats
Written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Birgitta Sif

Miss Hazeltine's Home For Shy And Fearful Cats

Are you a cat who’s scared of mice? Afraid of birds? Who can’t pounce and won’t purr?

Then follow the sign in the woods to the place with the open door: it’s Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, a place where you belong.

Crumb is the most timid cat at Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats. There he learns Bird Basics, Climbing, Pouncing and Meeting New Friends. “The hardest lesson? How Not to Fear the Broom”. Miss Hazeltine has fears of her own: mushrooms, owls and the dark. One day, when she is fetching milk for the cats, she stumbles and falls into a ditch. There, stuck in the dark, she is surrounded by mushrooms and owls! Only Crumb knows where she has gone. So, when the cats become afraid, he leads them out to find her. Working together, they form a chain to get her out of the ditch. Later the sign is changed to the Home for Shy and Pretty Brave If You Ask Us Cats.

Beautifully illustrated by Birgitta Sif, who was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award, this is a wonderful story about overcoming your fears to help the one you love. Alicia Potter has created a caring, gentle character in Miss Hazeltine, who nurtures and loves the cats. And they return that love, turning it into courage when they need it most.

Felix
Written and illustrated by Pamela Allen

Felix

Grandma was VERY CROSS.

“Someone’s been nibbling the bread,” she shouted, “and someone’s been eating the jam!”

“It wasn’t me,” said Grandpa.

“It wasn’t me,” said Molly.

Could it be Felix?

Poor Felix! He knows he’s not to blame, so he sets out to find the thief…

Someone has been eating the bread and jam. Felix the cat decides to find out who it is. He discovers a mouse in the jar of jam and then gets his head stuck trying to catch it. Banging the jar against the floor doesn’t dislodge it, so Grandma, then Grandpa and then Molly try to help. Finally the jar smashes, releasing both Felix and the mouse, who runs out of the door. Like several of Pamela Allen’s books, this one features a child with her grandparents, rather than her parents, making it good for families in a similar situation.

For over 35 years, Pamela Allen has written and illustrated picture books. Consequently, she is as prolific as Lynley Dodd, with almost 50 books to her name. She has created several other cat stories, including Hetty’s Day Out and My Cat Maisie.

That’s a few stories to be getting on with. See you next week with a second list of picture books about cats.

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

Happy birthday, Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl, the master storyteller, was born on this day in 1916. Known for his irreverent and often dark humour, he is the creator of such well-known characters as Charlie Bucket, Sophie, James Trotter, Danny, George Kranky and Matilda Wormwood (Characters, n.d.). His books were published across three decades, beginning with James and the Giant Peach in 1961 through to The Minpins in 1991, a year after his death. They have been hugely popular, remaining in print since their initial publication. His long-time collaboration with the fabulous illustrator, Quentin Blake, has shaped how the world sees the characters in his books. Roald Dahl also wrote screenplays, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and short stories for adults, many of which were filmed as part of the Tales of the Unexpected TV series (which I remember watching when they were screened in the UK). But Roald Dahl was much more than a writer; he was also “a spy, an ace fighter pilot, a chocolate historian and a medical inventor” (About Roald Dahl, n.d.).

The wonderful world of Roald Dahl

I enjoy reading Roald Dahl’s work to children. They love the characters, with their crazy names and personality traits, and the humour that runs through every story. There is also a sense of fairness and justice in the books. The mean, nasty adults (and there are many scattered through the pages) always get their comeuppance, often at the hands of the children. And there are so many memorable words and quotes that children (and adults) just love. For example, in Revolting Rhymes (highly recommended, although not for the faint-hearted!), Red Riding Hood “whips a pistol from her knickers” (Dahl, 1982) and shoots the wolf, whilst poor Jack is beaten by his mother for exchanging their cow for magic beans, “using (and nothing could be meaner) the handle of a vacuum cleaner” (Dahl, 1982). The recently published Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary contains words used in the books, including bogrotting, horrigust and plussy! It’s wondercrump!

 UK stamps featuring characters created by Roald Dahl and drawn by Quentin Blake

Each year, Roald Dahl Day is held in schools and libraries to celebrate his birth. A range of activities are organised as part of this, including hosting a Roald Dahl Day party, dressing up as your favourite character, reading a Roald Dahl story or making dream jars or marvellous medicine at school or at home (Roald Dahl HQ, 2017). As part of the celebrations, Puffin Virtually Live broadcasts a themed event live to children around the world and last year this included a draw-along with Quentin Blake and a message from the cast of The BFG (Puffin Virtually Live, n.d.). You can follow all the festivities at Roald Dahl HQ on Twitter.

Celebrations wouldn’t be complete without some scrumptious chocolate cake; just ask Bruce Bogtrotter!

For further fun, you can visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, the village in Berkshire in which he lived for almost 40 years. It has three interactive galleries and is suitable for children aged 6 to 12. Nearby, in Aylesbury, is the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery. This has hands-on exhibits inspired by his stories, including the mini- beasts living in the Giant Peach.

  The splendiferous Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre!

Roald Dahl died in 1990, at the age of 74 (About Roald Dahl, n.d.). He left behind a wealth of stories and characters loved by children (and their parents and grandparents). But his legacy also continues to live on in the charity established in his name. Shortly after his death, his widow, Felicity, set up the Roald Dahl Foundation, which has since been renamed Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity. It helps support seriously ill children and their families through providing Roald Dahl nurses and offering financial grants for those experiencing hardship. Through his stories and his charity, Roald Dahl is still bringing joy to children throughout the world.