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All reviews tagged with Valerie Coghlan

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A History of Pictures for Children

Based on their bestselling A History of Pictures, artist David Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford discuss the development of pictures from cave paintings to the computer screen. Hockney’s voice is that of an artist reflecting on how artists created their work, while Gayford supplies plenty of solid information about the development of visual media…

A Perfect Day

Lots of illustrators have a distinguishing style which makes their books immediately recognisable. Not so Lane Smith: apart from some earlier publications which were in the mode of The Stinky Cheeseman with which he came to prominence, his books always present the reader with something different. Though it should be said that one distinctive feature…

Aquarium

At first glance Aquarium looked a bit like it was all fur coat and no – ahem– underwear. Created by a young Argentinian graphic designer for readers of 3 to 5 years, it looked too design-led with not much else going on. But first glance was wrong; the underpinnings in this stylish wordless picturebook are…

Archie’s Holiday

It is always a pleasure to come across a well-designed book such asArchie’s Holiday. The short-cut landscape format is neat and fits with the activities of Archie, a well-tailored canine (dog seems much too ordinary for Archie), as he prepared for his seaside holiday. Gordon’s lightly sketched pen and watercolour images airily disposed over the…

Art, Narrative and Childhood

Art, Narrative and Childhood consists of a series of articles based on papers presented at ‘Reading Pictures’, an international conference held at Homerton College, Cambridge in 2000. As far as I know this was by far the largest gathering devoted to serious consideration of pictures, books and childhood ever held in these islands. It was…

Babar’s Guide to Paris

Jean de Brunhoff produced seven picturebooks featuring Babar the Elephant, his wife Celeste and their family. His son, Laurent, also an artist, continued his father’s work with further Babar titles. The first Babar story appeared in 1931, and whether produced by Jean or Laurent, each has a flavour of that time permeated with a certain…

Bear and Hare Go Fishing

This is the first in a new series by Emily Gravett, one of the best and most versatile picturebook artists working today. It is aimed at very young children, and undoubtedly will delight their older friends too in a delightful book just made for sharing.   Through the large hole on the cover – small…

Bear and Hare: Snow!

Children’s literature brings many ‘odd couples’ to young readers attention, especially through picturebooks where emotions can be shown, not just described in words, where difference is elided by the relationship between the disparate pairings, and where interaction between two individuals who enjoy each other’s company is obvious on the page and doesn’t need any explanation.…

Because of an Acorn

The cycle of nature is beautifully and imaginatively traced from an acorn to a tree, to a forest, and a lot more in between in this attractive information picturebook. The process is shown in clear images with a minimum of words, and readers will find reason to pause at each page and look closely at…

Bee & Me

Alison Jay has a very significant bank of picturebooks to her name. Yet, she is not as well-known as she should be, possibly because most of her books have been collaborations with authors and illustrations of classics, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. However, her distinctive visual style will be familiar to many readers in this…

Beegu

‘Beegu was not supposed to be here. She was lost.’ The opening words of Alexis Deacon’s new picturebook are set against a flat landscape rimmed by dark mountains. In front of the mountains what we may assume is a flying saucer lies partially embedded in the ground. To the right foreground lies a yellow figure,…

Bugs Galore

Bugs in all their many varieties are on show here. Some are mentioned in the rhyming text: spiders, buzzy bees, worms, caterpillars – the sort of bugs that often scare children, and adults too. And lots of other bugs are shown, whether all are real I can’t tell; some certainly look strange, but then, lots…

Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting Visual Texts

Books about children’s books tend either to discuss the field in terms of critical theory or else to take a childcentred or reader-response/reader-reception approach, but Children Reading Pictures endeavours to bridge the gap between those who take more theoretical interest in picturebooks and those who are practitioners in the classroom. Two chapters, ‘The nature of…

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling

This is not a book that fills just one gap, it fills countless gaps. In fewer than 200 pages, it conveys a wealth of information about more or less all aspects of picturebooks, and while at times one would like more on a specific topic, it does point to lines of further enquiry. Laid out…

Cow

Cow is a hymn to the bovine life. Each page opening shows a double spread capturing a pastoral landscape inhabited by cows. Doyle’s words are concise and directly address Cow, describing her day, beginning in the fields before the first milking to the fall of night. Rinaldi’s oil on canvas hyper-realistic paintings take the viewer…

Dog on Stilts

The publisher of Dog on Stilts, digitalleaf, was established in 2011 with the remit of ‘seeking to establish digital storytelling formats that contribute positively to children’s entertainment and educational needs’. But, as they admit on their website, they couldn’t resist the lure of the printed book. Dog on Stilts neatly underlines the dichotomy between digital…

Ella’s Big Chance

In A Life Drawing (2002) Hughes recounts her enjoyment of a fashion design course which was part of her year at Liverpool Art School, and readers of Ella’s Big Chance will immediately see how she has put her love of costume drawing to excellent use. Ella is a highly skilled dressmaker, whose talents far outstrip…

Feather Boy

‘Norbert No-Brain’, Norbert No-Bottle’ – that’s what Niker, talented, goodlooking and a bully, calls Robert Nobel. But Robert, unusual in appearance and physically weak, can fly, or that’s what his ‘Elder’, Edith Sorrel, tells him. Mrs Sorrel is a resident of the local old people’s home with which Robert’s class joins in a project based…

Flotsam

A picturebook about pictures, David Wiesner’s Flotsam  took seven years to make and was the third Caldecott Medal winner for Wiesner, one of the most creative and original illustrators of the twenty-first century. Wiesner’s imaginative and technical brilliance come together here, as in many of his other works, to create art from a gallimaufry of objects and…

Goodbye Mog

Death is not a common theme in fiction for very young children, other than in a number of well-intentioned publications that set out to explain and possibly offer comfort to children who have been bereaved. However, a few books do offer something beyond the somewhat hushed or robustly matter-of-fact/this-can-happen-to-anyone tone of the above. For instance,…

Growing and Knowing

Trim’s book is like a great stockpot full of solid basic ingredients: well-stewed theories on child development, soupçons of advice on a multiplicity of genres and form in children’s literature, and simmering undertones of opinion and suggestions, all compressed into 253 pages. Each time the metaphorical lid is taken off, or the covers are opened,…

Hansel and Gretel

This retelling of a very familiar story by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark is sure to entice readers who do not already know the tale, and for those that do, they will pause afresh to enjoy Morpurgo’s narrative embellishments of this quite lengthy version – and Clark’s arresting illustrations. Stylistically, German folk-art influences the…

Harrison Loved His Umbrella

It’s not often I begin a review with a description of the physical attributes of a book, but Harrison Loved His Umbrella is such a tactile and satisfying volume it is impossible not to comment on this at the outset. Its square shape (17.5 cm.x17.5cm.) is just perfect for small hands to hold and 56…

Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration

Parents, carers and children themselves will be familiar with the rotund babies and gloriously galumphing toddlers who grace the pages of Helen Oxenbury’s books for the youngest readers, and her illustrated Alice in Wonderland will have been the introduction for many readers to Carrol’s classic. Yet Oxenbury’s is a name that somehow hovers under the…

Henry Tate

This is the story of Henry Tate, founder of the Tate Gallery in London. There are now four Tate Galleries in the UK, and while this volume is intended as an introduction for a child visiting the original London Gallery, it would also be useful as an introduction to galleries elsewhere, and to the reason…

Here I Am

A young Asian boy arrives with his family in New York City.  He regards his new home and school as places where little makes sense, until the day he goes in pursuit of a girl who has picked up a dropped seed which reminds him of home. His search leads him through the city, which…

Hic?

That it is printed on a Risograph, an eco-friedly, low tech printing system using soy ink which produces books in which the images are all slightly different, is a great reason to rush out and purchase Hic?, produced by that splendidly innovative Indian publisher, Tara Books. But of course, it is the delightful images, allied…

Home

Familiar homes, exotic homes, homes underwater and homes in space: Carson Ellis takes us on a tour of these and many other homes in this stunning picturebook. Every page opening is a surprise and a delight, and even after many viewings, this panoply of dwelling places continues to enthrall and intrigue the viewer. The written…

How to Put a Whale in a Suitcase

The cover of Spanish artist Guridi’s simple-seeming but profoundly philosophical work encapsulates how a small problem can be metaphor for a very big theme. An image of a small child (boy?) with a little suitcase by his side, holding a very large red whale over his head illustrates the quandary addressed in the title.  The…

If I Was a Banana

A boy speculates about what it would be like to be all sorts of different things: a banana, a bird, a mountain, a lion, a spoon (yes), among others. But none of them seems just right – perhaps he should be a little boy, or a big boy? Perhaps he is better off just being…

Lavender’s Blue

Every home and school should have a copy of the classic nursery rhyme collection Lavender’s Blue, and now there is no excuse not to, as it has been reissued in a special facsimile edition of the original book, celebrating 50 years from the date of its original publication in 1954. Noted at that time for…

Little Red Cap

The original Brothers Grimm's ‘Little Red Cap’ (the one where stones are put in the wolf’s belly), or ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as it is better known in English, is published here in Neugebauer’s delightful ‘mini-minedition’ series. These are small books retelling traditional stories, beautifully formed, and despite their size, just bursting with visual goodies.…

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

This first in a series of ‘Tim’ books by Ardizzone was, in the way of so many outstanding children’s books, originally a story for the author’s children. And, because Ardizzone is one of the truly great picturebook artists of the 20th century, it subsequently became a picturebook. Tim is a small boy, so passionate about…

Millions

Damian places great trust in the interventions of various saints, so when a bag full of thousands of pounds falls out of the sky he isn’t fazed. The money was thrown from a train by a gang of robbers as it was on the way to be pulped just days before the change over to…

Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism

It was the shiny metallic cover which drew me to this. The blurb revealed that Molly is an orphan, living in a grim and cheerless orphanage, Hardwick House, presided over by – yes, you’ve guessed it – an equally grim and unrelentingly cheerless keeper. Do we need another book about orphans who escape from their…

Picture This!

Described as ‘a guide … to illustrate real childhood situations through pictures and words’ Picture This! succeeds in its stated intention most admirably. It is thematically arranged under headings such as ‘Growing Up’, ‘Home and Family’, and ‘Fears and Anxieties’. The choice of titles represents old favourites and others which may be new to some…

Ruby Holler

‘Tiller wondered what it would be like not to have trees and creeks and barns, and what it would be like never to have been rocked.’ This sentence sums up the life of twins Dallas and Florida in the Boxton Creek Home for Children run by the unpleasant Mr and Mrs Trepid. When they are…

Running Home

Reading a novel in proof form can be a serendipitous experience – no cover illustration, author biography or quotes from other reviews to give even an inkling of what to expect within. The plain blue covers of the proof of Running Home, giving it a look of Bunreacht na hÉireann (The Irish Constitution) provided no…

Scariest thing of all

Debi Gliori’s starting point for The Scariest Thing of All was a line left in her head from a previous book, ‘The scariest thing you’ll ever find comes from the deeps inside your mind’*. Pip, a ‘very, very little rabbit’ is scared of almost everything in the wild wood. He carries around an enormous and ever-growing list…

Snow Bears

Mummy Bear can’t find her three babies, who are having great fun snowballing and sliding down snowy slopes because they are covered in snow and camouflaged against the snowy forest. But back inside their cosy cabin, she is surprised when the snowy covering melts and her babies reappear and happily eat their toast by the…

So Much to Tell

For many adults Puffin Books were an important part of their childhood, and some might remember the name of Kaye Webb, Puffin editor for twenty years, whose name appeared on each book as a hallmark of quality. Parents, teachers and librarians could feel assured that a book selected for Puffin by Webb was good literature,…

Strange Boy

David (10) is the ‘strange boy’ of the title; strange because he looks different and has different interests from his macho, strutting school mates. The ‘super powers’ with which he invests himself enable him to cope with the recent break-up of his young parents’ marriage and life in Newton Aycliffe, a bleak new town. His…

The Alchemist’s Apprentice

The Alchemist’s Apprentice might well have been called ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ if someone hadn’t already used that title. The central motif of Thompson’s finest work to date is Jack’s quest for that which turns base substances into gold, or the mundane into the fabulous. The novel opens in the crowded streets of London in 1720,…

The Burning City

New York summers can be hot, very hot. And the intensity of the heat on the city streets and parks beats down on Heller Highland, just turned 16, cycling at speed through the streets to deliver messages conveying loss of one sort or another to people he has never met. Heller has a gift for…

The Crying

After a bout of ME, teenager Sam is trying to establish an independent life for herself away from her overfussy mother. Her new flat in a seaside town seems an ideal starting point, until a ghostly presence intrudes unsettlingly in her new surroundings. This is the ghost of her landlady’s sister who died young and…

The Dragon Machine

‘George noticed his first dragon one wet Thursday.’ Then he realised dragons were everywhere, ‘unseen, ignored and overlooked … just like George’. The problem with all these dragons is the damage they do: breaking things, making muddy footprints, creating untidiness – and poor George has to clear up all this dragon-made mess. With the help…

The Great Granny Gang

Seven grannies, the youngest is eighty-two, leap from their granny van. Each has a different skill, ranging from chimney or car fixing, to road mending to lion taming, with a few others in between. What they have in common is dauntlessness, and an enviable agility that would be remarkable even in their great-grandchildren. So, when…

The Mediterranean

The opening spread of Greder’s tough, uncompromising book contains only the words “after he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom, where the fish were waiting.” Hanging on to the right-hand edge of the page, like a doomed man on a capsizing boat, the words impel the turning of the page to…

The Milk of Dreams

Born in Lancashire in 1917, Leonora Carrington had an Irish mother. This heritage, enhanced by tales told by her maternal grandmother and Irish nurse, combined with her interest in Celtic spirituality and mystical Mexican folk culture, heavily influenced her work, both visual and written. Mainly she is known for her surreal paintings depicting all sorts…

The Pond

Beautifully conceived and constructed, The Pond is Davies and Fisher’s second collaboration with Welsh publisher Graffeg. Told through the eyes of a young boy grieving after his father’s death, ‘the muddy, messy hole’ left by the unfinished pond which Dad started to make, is a metaphor for the family’s sense of emptiness. Fisher’s images combine…

The Story of Ferdinand

Ferdinand is 81 years old this year, quite an age for a bull destined for a Madrid bullring. His story has remained in print and this year a special heritage edition has been published in the UK. Readers first meet Ferdinand as a little bull sitting under a shady cork tree, smelling the flowers. Ferdinand…

The White Book

What happens when you take a small boy, six pots of different coloured paint and whole load of imagination? An outstanding piece of picturebook-making, of course! The small protagonist is drawn in the simplest of lines in black pencil against a white background which he colours with his paint roller. Each colour reveals different creatures…

This Little Chick/An Sicín Beag Buí

A lot of picturebooks, especially those for under fives, no matter how attractive and technically well produced, have a sameness about them. John Lawrence’s book is strikingly different from many of the blander offerings available. It has the features desirable in a picturebook for young readers: the pictures are simple and clear, the text provides…

Uncle Holland

Palmer and Ella had three sons, good boys, apart from Holland who had a weakness for stealing beautiful things. After he was caught for the thirty-seventh time the police gave him an ultimatum: go to jail or join the army. Holland chose the army and was posted to a very pretty place, far away in…

What’s in the Pan, Man?

A perfect early summer read, What’s in the Pan, Man? will transport you to the Caribbean even if it’s not on this year’s holiday itinerary. Bold, saturated, flat colour and a rhythmic text bring to life Dan’s culinary efforts. Actually, the pan is more of a large pot, but just as well, since everybody on…

When Titus Took the Train

Some familiar picture-book conventions are employed in a narrative showing and telling Titus’s imagined exploits on his first solo train journey to visit his uncle who lived ‘very far away’. But the use of such devices to enhance the reader’s understanding of the narrative is part of a problem with this book; it is as…

Where the Poppies Now Grow

Produced with the stated aim of commemorating those who died in World War One, Where the Poppies Now Grow, tells the tale of Ray and Ben, two country boys who liked to play in the eponymous poppy field, and what happened after they went to fight in the war. There, in an advance from the…

Where’s My Mummy?

The egg from which Little Crocodile hatches rolls down a hill and our newly emerged protagonist looses his mummy. He wanders around meeting all sorts of animals who definitely are not his parent, since he can’t do what they do, such as squirting water like an elephant or rolling in the grass like a tiger.…

While You Are Sleeping

Deacon is one of the newer kids on the picturebook block, but one that fast made a name for himself with Slow Loris and then the outstanding Beegu a couple of years ago. Here, in a gentle story of toys that keep watch over a small girl during the night, we see the same tonal…

Wild Child

Wild Child is the ‘very last child left in the wild’. The blurb urges readers to ‘follow her adventures in a magical prehistoric world and release the wild child in YOU’. The other children shown have been rounded up, put in zoos, made to do sums and wear sensible shoes, scrubbed, made to eat peas…

Wings Over Delft

Wings Over Delft is the first volume in Aubrey Flegg’s ‘Louise’ trilolgy which takes its name from Louise Eeden, the daughter of a well-to-do pottery manufacturer in Delft in the mid-17th century. Louise, 16, is to have her portrait painted by Jacob Haitink, a curmudgeonly old artist who is not at first over-enamoured with the…

Wolf Won’t Bite

Gravett’s picturebook definitely contains a moral: don’t take risks with someone bigger, stronger (and smarter) than you. When three uppity circus pigs capture a wild wolf they think they have him tamed. They can stand him on a stool, dress him in a bow, shoot him into the air, make him jump through hoops and…

Wolfy

Wolves have featured as story-characters since Antiquity. They have been cast as violent and savage, or sometimes as devious or predatory, but almost always as synonymous with danger, or perhaps evil. Some cultures equated wolves with the devil, others drew parallels with man’s–and especially men’s–animalistic nature. More recently in Anglophone children’s books the wolf appears…

You, Me and the Big Blue Sea

Perhaps the landscape format of You, Me and the Big Blue Sea should be described as ‘seascape’, for most of the action takes place at sea on the good ship Colander . The opening and closing spreads show the boy through whose eyes we see the voyage unfold, and his mother whose words it is…

‘Laureate’s Progress’ and ‘A Life Drawing: Autobiography of Shirley Hughes’

Anyone who thinks that the creation of picturebook art is not a significant matter should be sat down to read these books. They are both magnificent expositions of what artists of outstanding talent can do with the form, as well as providing an opportunity to engage with two of the greatest British creators of children’s…

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