Posted by: janesandell | June 26, 2017

Be Creative

With the summer holidays fast approaching in Scotland, I thought I’d take the opportunity of sharing some books with you for children and young people with a creative bent. There are loads out there and the five I’ve chosen aren’t necessarily the best but they do comprise a selection of my favourites.

From Edinburgh-based Floris books, in its Kelpies imprint, is A Super Scotland Sticker Book with illustrations by Susana Gurrea.  As you’d imagine there are stickers galore to affix to the pages of typical Scottish scenes: a highland glen, the Royal Mile, the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh Zoo and so on.  The stickers and illustrations are bright and cheerful and will provide hours of amusement.  For good measure there are a few puzzles thrown in too.


I have two offerings from Sterling Books. Now these come with a caveat: they are American publications so, of course, some of the spelling is a bit weird!!  If you can cope with that these are great books.  One is a crafty one, Creative Lettering for Kids by Jenny Doh.  It gives tips on different techniques you can use to create art with letters.  It’s lavishly illustrated and clearly laid out and has loads of different ideas to try, none of which needs expensive or specialist equipment.  If you like your letters formed into words and sentences try Write It Out by Brandon T Snyder.  This is a journal full of creative-writing prompts and lots of space to let your imagination run riot.


From Ammonite Press comes another journal, this one giving prompts for creative artwork. Creative Space Journal by Lucy Irving is organised by emotion so whether you’re sad, playful or sleepy, happy or bored there are ideas for you to try.  Some are fairly obvious but there are more quirky prompts too that should have all teenage artists (I fail to qualify on two counts) rushing for a pencil.


My final offering comes from Nosy Crow and is another of their collaborations with the British Museum. The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes does exactly what it says on the tin.  Inspired by objects from the museum’s collection Rachel Cloyne has designed this selection of stationery that will need meticulous attention to detail to do it justice.

If you’re looking for something challenging and fun for a young person this summer give one of these a try. You’ll probably find yourself wanting to help with the project – or maybe buy one for yourself!

Posted by: janesandell | June 5, 2017

Stylish Fairy Tales

Although I know more now than I did fifteen years ago, I still don’t consider myself to be any kind of expert on illustrated fiction. However, from being someone who was fairly ambivalent about it, I have become a bit of an enthusiast.  Not being an artist by any stretch of the imagination I don’t really have the technical knowledge or vocabulary to describe illustration particularly eloquently.  But, in that well-worn saying, I do know what I like!

One of the things I’m enjoying just now is a series of books by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney published by Pavilion Children’s Books. The books play around with fairytales, setting them in different periods and subtly altering their messages.  I’ve blogged elsewhere about Cinderella and today another two floated across my desk.

Sleeping Beauty (subtitled A mid-century fairy tale) brings the setting fairly up to date – and beyond.  Annabel, aka Aurora, lives with two aunts and has been cursed by a spiteful witch.  Clever Aunt Flora modifies the wicked Morwenna’s spell although she can only diminish its power.  If Annabel pricks her finger before her 16th birthday she will sleep for one thousand years.

For Little Red, the duo has gone back in time and across the Atlantic to pioneer America at the end of the eighteenth century.  Unlike most versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the main character is a boy but the wolf and Grandma are still there.  This one is subtitled A howlingly good fairy tale with a twist and it very much does what it says on the tin.

What I love about the illustrations in these books is the detail, not just the attention to it but also the amount of it there is. The clothes and hairstyles in both books are particularly wonderful.  I especially love the 1950s styles of the first part of Sleeping Beauty.  Morwenna stands out from all the other guests at Annabel’s christening by dint of her dress and Annabel’s teenage ponytail proclaims her vintage.  Equally evocative are the pictures in Little Red with their stylised fashions voluptuously fixing the story in the eighteenth century.

Look out for both of these as well as Rapunzel, a groovy 1970s fairy tale and the aforementioned Cinderella in art deco design.

Posted by: janesandell | May 30, 2017

Nosy Crow

One of the best things to happen in publishing recently is Nosy Crow.  The independent publisher of children’s books and apps launched in January 2011 and has gone from strength to strength garnering awards every year.  The high production values and wonderful mix of authors and illustrators make the books things of great joy.

Recently Nosy Crow has worked in partnership with two venerable organisations: the National Trust and the British Museum.  Hitting the shelves later this week are a couple of non-fiction titles published in association with the former designed to get children out and about and discovering the natural world.  Go Wild in the Woods by Goldie Hawk and Rachael Saunders is described as an adventure handbook and is packed full of information about being safe and having fun.  Night Explorer is an activity backpack complete with torch, constellation map, glow-in-the-dark stickers and guidebook.  With its help you can spot nocturnal creatures, navigate the night sky and create a night garden.  Both these offerings are brightly coloured, attractively illustrated and carefully researched and written.  They’re ideal school holiday books although, this far north, Night Explorer might be better held over until October!

Children whose tastes are more artistic and creative might like Origami, Poems and Pictures, published in conjunction with the British Museum to celebrate its Hokusai exhibition.  The title describes it pretty accurately: at the front there are pages of instructions for making origami objects including a boat, a fan and a dragonfly.  Accompanying each set of instructions is a haiku about the object.  The rest of the pack is full of sheets of origami paper to enable the reader to turn the instructions into works of art.

Posted by: janesandell | May 24, 2017

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff and Alan Lee

Following on from yesterday’s piece about the Carnegie Medal I’d like to draw your attention to a book that won its sister Medal.  The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for excellence in illustration and in 1993 it was won by Alan Lee for Black Ships Before Troy, a retelling of Homer’s Iliad.  It is just about to be republished by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

It’s a beautifully written, illustrated and designed book as one would expect from Frances Lincoln.  The text by Rosemary Sutcliff is as well written as you would suppose from a Carnegie Medal winner.  It is written as prose but keeps enough rhythm and pace to remind the reader that it is in fact a poem that is being translated and paraphrased.  And it’s a complex read, reminding us that the Kate Greenaway Medal is not only given to illustrators of books for very young children.

The illustrations are also complex and diverse.  Alan Lee worked in film and in 2004 won an Oscar for his work as conceptual artist on The Lord of the Rings.  Here he brings atmosphere and detail to his watercolours (I think!) of ancient Greece.  The soft tones belie the aggressive nature of much of the story but they are dynamic and engaging.  The overall design is clever, ensuring that the text and pictures work together with neither outshining or overwhelming the other.

Posted by: janesandell | May 23, 2017

Collecting the Carnegie

I first made an abortive attempt to collect a copy of every winner of the Carnegie Medal back in 2007 when I was involved in organising the Carnegie Children’s Book Festival in Dunfermline. I did track down some of the older titles but since then I’ve moved house twice and not all of them have survived those processes!  Now, ten years on as the eightieth anniversary of the Medal is celebrated, I’m starting again.

Some of the books have been part of my life for a long time irrespective of their Medal-winning status. It was The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton that first made me aware of the prize.  I borrowed it from Lossiemouth Library back in the day and the front cover had an image of the Medal on it.  I didn’t know what it was at that point but it was clear that it was significant. The Edge of the Cloud is still one of my favourite books – and I now have a signed copy, a treasured possession.  An even earlier acquisition is Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome, the very first winner.  I read all of the Swallows and Amazons books at a very early age and they remain on my shelves.  And so, in an aside, does Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick, a fictionalised account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia.  It was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal but unaccountably didn’t win.

There are other winners on my shelves including the Scottish trio of The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater, The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter and Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin.  Naturally, I have A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce as I was involved in awarding those two Medals.  And as I looked back through the list of winners I realised that along the way I’ve acquired many others simply because they’re books I want to have: One by Sarah Crossan, Just in Case by Meg Rosoff, Tamar by Mal Peet,The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo, Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, Wolf by Gillian Cross, The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Last Battle by CS Lewis, We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold, Visitors from London by Kitty Barne, The Circus is Coming by Noel Streatfeild and The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett.

So here we go again. Some will be easy to find as they’re still in print, others will be trickier and a few, I have no doubt, will be nigh on impossible. A Valley Grows Up anyone?  Or The Story of Your Home?  But I love a challenge!

Posted by: janesandell | May 19, 2017

Interesting Animals

9781454921141Earlier on this week Paul at GMC sent me a couple of books published by Sterling Children’s Books.  I couldn’t choose between them so, as they both feature animals, I thought I’d share the two with you.

First up is Dance is for Everyone by Andrea Zuill, set in Mrs Iraina’s dance class and starring Tanya (that might not actually be her name).  The class is surprised to see an alligator at the barre but given that she’s bigger than them (than all of them put together, in fact) they decide to be happy to let her join in.  There are a few challenges but nothing the class can’t cope with…

And then there’s Ella Who? by Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez.  In it a little girl makes an unusual new friend the day her family moves house.  The grown-ups are a bit too distracted to pay proper attention to the girl and are just delighted that she has found someone to play with.  The two spend a happy day reading, dressing up and splashing in the pool but all things come to an end.  The little girl is sad – until Babette shows up.


I love the vitality in the illustrations in both these books and their strong colours.  And they’re ideal for young children with their clear messages of acceptance and true friendship.

Posted by: janesandell | May 19, 2017

Cute Cats, Cruel Cats, Crazy Cats

I love cats and over the years I’ve reviewed lots of books in which they star.  Here are just a few of my favourites.

It’s summertime and Ava is enjoying the seaside. But with Squishy McFluff in tow there always seems to be something that can go wrong.  Whether digging a hole, buying an ice-cream or chasing invisible fish, nothing goes quite to plan for the inseparable twosome.  And then Squishy goes missing.  Pip Jones and Ella Okstad return with another funny adventure starring the little girl and her invisible cat in the early chapter book Seaside Rescue!

In This is NOT a Cat! by David Larochelle and Mike Wohnoutka the first lesson at mouse school is how to recognise danger.  And danger, of course, means cats.  It’s a simple story but clever and very funny with a double twist in the tail!  The text is repetitive, ideal for encouraging small children to join in, and the illustrations are strong and dynamic.  I especially love the expressive faces of the three pupils.  Much of the plot is told pictorially and repeated readings will only enhance the enjoyment.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, one little girl thinks.  When a cat turns up on her doorstep and makes it clear he’s there to stay, she is quite pleased.  But she struggles to find a name for him.  Finally, however, the right one presents itself. I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey is a simple and warm story told in words and augmented by cute pictures in gentle pastel shades.  The dynamic characters jump off the page and into the imagination.

The Lost Kitten  is a charming and engaging picture book by LEE and Komako Sakai. Hina and her mother are surprised when a cat appears on their doorstep and seems to be asking them to take care of her tiny kitten.  But they take on the task.  When her mother goes to buy some cat food, Hina is left in charge of the kitten.  An adventure and a fright ensue for both but all ends well and Hina is finally able to name the new kitten.  The delightful illustrations perfectly capture the emotion of this gentle and delightful tale.

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat  by Emily MacKenzie is crazy and quirky and colourful and fun. Mice are safe around Stanley and he doesn’t care about dozing in the sunshine.  Stanley loves to knit.  All his friends are dressed in his handiwork and stay warm thanks to him.  But when he runs out of wool before an important competition he is forced into desperate measures.  With its cute animals, bright woollens and happy ending, this is a joyful story about friendship and loyalty.

The Cat, the Mouse and the Runaway Train is a rollicking, rolling adventure of suspicion and friendship. Peter Bently’s resonantly rhyming tale is of Carruthers, the mouse-chasing station cat who rules the roost, petted by the stationmaster.  But when Carruthers’ tail gets stuck in the rail as a runaway train approaches, who will save the day?  Steve Cox’s illustrations are full of colour and vitality as they capture the drama of the story.  Brilliant for reading aloud, this is a book to be shared again and again.

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’.  I first met Skimbleshanks as a seven-year-old at Troqueer Primary School in Dumfries and loved the poem so much that at one point I could recite the whole thing.  But Skimble is significant for another reason too: for the first time I felt the excitement of reading (albeit very fleetingly) of a place I knew.

Posted by: janesandell | May 17, 2017

Wave by Paul Dowswell

Following the highly successful Eleven Eleven, Paul Dowswell returns to the First World War with Wave, a novel set on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  Compelling and brutal, it is the story of the (imaginary) Hastings Pals and specifically of brothers Charlie and Eddie.  In the midst of the chaos of that notorious day the Pals’ home community is shattered.  The brothers’ lives are both changed and the repercussions of the summer morning echo down the years.  Paul Dowswell’s unflinching writing and eye for detail make this a gripping and haunting read.

This novel was commissioned and published by Barrington Stoke which specialises in books for young people who struggle with reading, particularly because of dyslexia.  I say that not to suggest anything other than that this is a book for any teenager.  And I’d whole-heartedly recommend it.

Posted by: janesandell | May 17, 2017

Hill of the Angels by Sue Mayfield

Religious intolerance, radicalisation, violence and flight: a story of our times you might think. But Hill of the Angels  by Sue Mayfield is set centuries back during the English Civil War.  Full of complicated relationships, family feuds and deeply held beliefs, the novel is told alternately by Grace and Abigail, friends who unwillingly find themselves on opposing sides by association.

Sue Mayfield is a superb storyteller with a gift for creating characters with strong voices. Hill of the Angels is a welcome addition to her all too small collection of novels.  I only wish that she’d write more fiction for teenagers.  I discovered her through I Carried You on Eagle’s Wings, a book that stayed with me for a long time.  And then, many many years later, Voices was one of the longlisted titles for the Carnegie Medal when I was a judge.  It’s a very different book but I loved it just as much – for its strong characters and for the clever way the plot twines round a production of The Tempest.

Posted by: janesandell | May 16, 2017

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

I have never grown out of my delight at reading books set in places I know so when I realised that Frank Cottrell Boyce had set his latest book in Dumfries I was ridiculously excited.  In fact I felt it necessary to share my excitement with Catherine at Macmillan Children’s Books!  As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down causing him to retreat into silence.  When his grandfather is taken ill, Prez is sent to live with a family on a farm for the summer and in their care he begins to relax.  But when Sputnik erupts into his life everything changes.  For the better?  Well, eventually.  Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception.

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