My Lockdown Books: Sixty

Two reviews for one today.  I’ve added these books to my picture book collection but they’re not simple and they can be enjoyed by fluent readers as well as those we normally think of as picture book consumers.

The Day the Crayons Quit seems like a simple picture book but take a closer look. Debut author Drew Daywalt and celebrated illustrator Oliver Jeffers have produced a sophisticated triumph in technicolour! One day Duncan’s crayons all write him letters that make him re-assess his colouring-in. Drew Daywalt creates unique identities for each crayon in a few well chosen words and Oliver Jeffers brings them expressively to life. Give this book to competent young readers who realise they’re never too old to draw.

The Day the Crayons Came Home is Oliver Jeffers’ and Drew Daywalt’s triumphant sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit. The tale is told through a collection of postcards sent to Duncan by his missing crayons. One by one they tell their sad stories as they prepare to come back. And, full of remorse, Duncan builds them a home. Daywalt and Jeffers collaborate brilliantly to create a funny, strangely heart-warming story of a reunion that children and their parents will enjoy. The premise may be simple but this is a sophisticated book in language and illustration.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Nine

In 1914, a year of significant anniversaries, Flying Eye Books chose to mark a less heralded one in Shackleton’s Journey. This beautiful book, written and illustrated by William Grill, tells the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to cross Antarctica from its early planning to final failure. In between are accounts of individual bravery, the stores on board, the men’s hobbies, the rescue of the main party and the support team. This concentration on the seemingly unimportant minutiae alongside the heroic feats humanises the expedition and causes the reader to live it. And the illustrations in mainly cold blues and white have the feel of an expedition sketch book. The whole is a fascinating account of a relatively unremembered slice of modern history.

That’s what I wrote in The Scotsman.  I fell in love with this book when I first saw it.  It touched something in me and I actually found it hard to review as I didn’t feel I could see it objectively.  What I actually wanted to say was: I really love this book!  But The Scotsman has higher standards than that so I tried to analyse what I felt made it such an excellent book. I hope I achieved that.

What On Earth Books

What On Earth Books are new to me but Laura Smythe who works as part of the publicity team is not and she sent me two of the company’s new books.  And I am delighted because they are wonderful in their own right but they are also about two things in which I am passionately interested: language and islands.  (I know, it’s an unusual group.)


Literally, written by Patrick Skipworth and illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson, does what it says in the subtitle.  Patrick has chosen a selection of English words with different roots.  He explains, with the artistic help of Nicholas, where each word comes from, how to pronounce it and how its meaning has changed.


I’ve chosen this one as my example as it demonstrates one of the reasons English has so many synonyms, something I was very interested in at Glasgow University where I studied English Language.  The history of language and its development is a fascinating thing and this book is an excellent starting point.


Amazing Islands is by Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman and it is due out next month (June 2020). They have chosen some isands and some island groups for a variety of different reasons, be it geographical, geological or literary.


I collect islands in a loose sort of way and am fascinated by the literal insular nayure of them, how it affects the people who live there and the particular phenomena it gives rise to.  Svalbard and Prince Edward Island are two isands I would love to visit and for the reasons in these descriptions.  I’ve been as far north as the top of mainland Norway but I’d really like to go norther still!  And for most of my life I’ve been dreaming about meeting Anne on her home ground.


Although the publisher has aimed these books at quite young children, I’d say that anyone of whatever age will find something interesting in them.  And it might well lead on to further journeys of exploration, virtual or actual.


My Lockdown Books: Forty Five

Every so often, but not often enough, a book comes across my desk that makes me laugh and laugh. Cue: Weasels by Elys Dolan and published by the always wonderful people at Nosy Crow.

Have you ever wondered what weasels do all day? Wonder no more.  It turns out that they plot, and prepare for, world domination! The book takes us inside their HQ on the day they have arranged to take over the world. But as the countdown begins something happens to derail their plans. I guarantee that you will laugh out loud as you read this complex, absurd, utterly engaging picture book.

Who’s it for? Well, everyone!

My Lockdown Books: Ten

I adore the Ottoline books, both as items and for the content.  This one is my favourite, though, because it has Norway and the sea in it!  It’s another one I reviewed for The Scotsman.  Here are my thoughts from 2010:

Chris Riddell returns to delight and amuse with Ottoline at Sea. In this instalment Ottoline is devastated when Mr Munroe disappears. Eventually, with the help of the bear, she puts together the clues and realises where her friend has gone: back home to Norway to search for Quite Big Foot. Ottoline and the bear set off after him, meeting many interesting people on their journey. Chris Riddell’s absurd story and brilliant annotated illustrations are a constant joy. With its combination of oblique references and obvious humour this will appeal to children and adults alike.

I see no reason to change my mind about any of that.  But I would add my congratulations to Macmillan for publishing such beautifully tactile items and not stinting on the number of pages.  Whoever was responsible for the design deserves praise.  And I’m happy to say that since then another two instalments of Ottoline’s adventures have been published, bringing the total to four.

My Lockdown Books: Seven

The first books I seriously set about collecting were the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer.  I acquired the first one (actually the seventeenth in a series of fifty eight) when I was eight.  It took me until I was twenty five to complete my collection.  In the early days, Mum found many of them for me and they became birthday and Christmas presents.  Although they hadn’t reached the ridiculous heights of their value in my early collecting days, they were still expensive enough for a family on a limited budget.

My best Chalet School collecting story comes from when I was around ten.  We were driving back to Lossiemouth, having (I think) visited my grandparents in Musselburgh.  We stopped en route in St Andrews and came across a secondhand bookshop near the golf course.  Naturally we went in and I discovered two Chalet books I didn’t have: Althea Joins the Chalet School and Prefects of the Chalet School, the final two in the series.  I still had holiday money left, just enough to cover the cost of both of them.  I swithered and swithered, doubtless driving everyone concerned crazy, and eventually decided to buy both.  I’m very glad I did as, only a few years later, I saw these books on sale at £350 each.  I had paid a total of 70p!

I have chosen Jo Returns to the Chalet School as today’s book.  It’s one of the early titles and is set in inter-war Austria in the fictionalised (and renamed) Pertisau-am-Achensee.  The first fourteen titles, set primarily in Pertisau, are my favourites, partly because of their setting and partly because I think they’re better books than most of the later ones.  I often cite Jo Returns as one of my favourite books in the series but sometimes I think it’s because of the wonderful dustwrapper and plates by the artist Nina K Brisley.

Kate Greenaway Medal

Alongside the Carnegie Medal sits its sister prize the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.  The nominations list for it has also been published today.  The nominating and judging process is the same for the two awards and you can read about it in my previous blog.

Once again this list is varied and I’m delighted that many non-picture books are included.  Having said that, I am probably most pleased to see When Sadness Comes to Call by Eva Eland on the list.  I’ve written about it elsewhere.  It’s a book about depression and anxiety for small children.  That makes it sound heavy and forbidding but it’s not.  It’s gentle and calming and reassuring.

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castles illustrated by Kate Leiper and published by Edinburgh’s Floris Books is possibly my pick of the rest.  I love Kate’s style and use of colour and the way her illustrations work so well with Theresa Breslin’s text.  (And she’s a Lossiemouth quine too! (Kate, that is.)

I had the pleasure of working with Emma Shoard at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which makes me even happier to see her nominated for Good Boy published by Edinburgh-based Barrington Stoke and written by the late and lamented Mal Peet.  Not even Emma or Mal’s wife Elspeth was quite sure how to read Good Boy (that’s one of its joys) so Emma was faced with having to interpret it in an open way.  And she has succeeded stunningly.

And there’s The Dam by Levi Pinfold.  His illustrations are so evocative that you almost don’t need David Almond’s words.  But if you didn’t have them you’d be missing utter brilliance.  They absolutely can’t be separated from each other, a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

There are plenty of other great books on the list and you can see them here:

You have until June to decide what decision you think the judges should make.