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

Of all TS Eliot’s Practical Cats, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is my favourite. From ‘the whisper down the line…when the Night Mail’s ready to depart’ the rhythm, rhyme, pace and story of the poem draw the reader in to Skimbleshanks’ domain. Arthur Robins brings the word pictures to life with his spirited, dynamic illustrations (even if he is a little confused about which way is east). Those who have read the earlier poems in this series will be delighted to spot Macavity and Mr Mistoffelees on board, heading for ‘the northern part of the northern hemisphere’. An ideal Christmas present, this is such fun that you’ll probably want to keep it for yourself!

That was my review in The Scotsman for this illustrated edition of TS Eliot’s poem.  I first met Skimbleshanks when I was a pupil at Troqueer Primary School in Dumfries.  I think my class learned it for a school concert.  It was the first time that I saw a place I knew immortalised in fiction, even if it was just a fleeting glimpse: ‘You saw him at Dumfries where he summons the police if there’s anything they ought to know about…’

Forty five years one from my first meeting, I still love Skimbleshanks and I’ll share his story at the drop of a hat whether you’re interested or not!

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!

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.

Only One of Me by Lisa Wells and Michelle Robinson

Only One of Me is a beautiful book written to help families prepare for the death of a parent.  It is the creation of Lisa Wells, a young mother who has been told that she has only a few months to live.  The book is warm and positive and full of love, not at all despondent or gloomy.  It’s an ideal way in to what must be a horrendously difficult conversation to have with young children.

The copy I have is subtitled A Love Letter from Mum but there is also an equivalent Love Letter from Dad.  Mine is illustrated by Catalina Echeverri and the other by Tim Budgen.  The colour palettes of both are vibrant and warm and the pictures themselves are full of life, recalling positive memories.  Michelle Robinson’s moving text has been co-written with Lisa Wells and encourages the child to remember but not be weighed down by grief, to go on and live life to the full.


Two From Sterling


Two new books from Sterling Books have made me smile recently. They both make the point that life can be better with friends but along the way they tell entertaining stories.

First for me was Selfie Sebastian by Sarah Glenn Marsh and Florence Weiser.  The eponymous hero is a good-looking young fox on a quest for the perfect selfie.  His clothes are fantastic, the backdrops are spectacular and his experiences are second-to-none but still something seems to be missing.


And then this week I read But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor.  It’s told in the first person by a little boy who receives an unexpected visit from a bear.  But bears don’t live in houses so the boy tells him to go home.  The bear, however, is persistent until finally the boy shouts at him and he doesn’t come back.  Strangely the boy misses the bear (and that is unbearable!) so he decides to go looking for him.

Both of these books are slightly absurd, gently funny and warmly endearing. Simply told with no unnecessary words, they are accompanied by splendid illustrations that describe and extend the story.  I’d happily give both of them to small children of my acquaintance and I’m also delighted to give them houseroom in my own collection!


Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Following on from Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! comes Oi Cat! (Hodder) by Kes Gray and Jim Field. Cat is NOT happy.  Ever since Frog changed the rules, Cat can longer sit on mats but instead must sit on gnats.  And they keep biting him on the bottom!  But rules are rules and Cat must sit on something rhyming.  The problem is that everything seems to have been taken – unless Cat becomes something else…

oi cat

The first two books in the series are loved by children for their interesting rhymes and crazy illustrations and Oi Cat! is sure to be just as popular. Here we have a pony sitting on some macaroni, a vole sitting on a bowl and an alpaca on a cream cracker.  The pages are of bright colours with bold illustrations on top of them.  The book is funny and clever and has a surprise at the end.  Don’t miss it.