3 years +

Vintage Books, 3 years +

The Snowman

Illustration by Raymond Briggs

Perfect.
Gentle.
Beautiful.

I grew up where it was meant to snow every Christmas. It didn't. The countryside around London would only have its overdue (but uncontrollably exciting) fall every few years. As a young one this was not enough, the disappointment of another cold but snowless and probably rainy Christmas Day was deep. This extreme expectancy for snow, and eventual let-down was only ameliorated by one thing - The Snowman.

Raymond Briggs' gorgeous and graceful work is an exceptionally beautiful book. The softly crafted story is a wordless ode to winter, companionship and loss.

My first introduction to this magical friendship was the TV special aired to coincide with Christmas. This is a slightly extended tale told gently with the same graphic style of coloured pencils with large strokes overlapping to bring the subtlest of colour to every view. The attention to detail that Briggs can weave into the simple pencil strokes is also shared by the animated version, that went on to be nominated an Academy award for best short film.

I remember feeling the cold when in both book and animation the boy is building the Snowman.

I remember the heat and fear when the snowman begins to melt near the fireplace, and the relief when he gets in the freezer.

But above all, I remember the slowly building anticipation and eventual elation when the Snowman takes the boy by the hand and runs into the night sky.

Perfect.
Gentle.
Beautiful.

If it never snows again for me on Christmas Day, I can still be happy as I will always have that feeling when I remember the pure, peaceful joy of 'The Snowman'.

A must read for every family at Christmas. 

3 years +, Little Tiger Kids, Contemporary Books

Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go

Illustration by Britta Teckentrup

Words by Patricia Hegarty

Pubilshed by Little Tiger Kids

A simple peek-through picture book using rhyming couplets to describe the changing of the seasons. The same tree is depicted in the same location on every page. With every turn of the page, the seasons change and the tree comes to life with new cutouts revealing different animals, birds, insects, fruit and colours. 

Central to the tree is an owl that is the central figure of the story as he experiences all seasons. "Owl sits watching in his tree... No one see as much as he." Each page is filled with colourful details and has something new for children to discover such as a spiders web, birds nest, animals hiding, new plant growth, fruit falling. The clothbound cover is solid and high quality, pages are thick and this book will survive the poke of many little fingers as they reach out to touch the numerous cutouts and revealed animals. 

Britta Teckentrup's illustrations are bold, colourful and have been created with a wood block print style, though most likely digitally created. In my opinion this book is created for a younger audience than some of her other books and the illustrations are not as detailed as her spotting books. 

I am a big fan of Britta Teckentrup's work and I have previously reviewed The Odd One Out: A Spotting Book. Be sure to check it out if you are new to her work. 

Seasons books are fairly common but very few are worthy of a special mention. Another favourite of mine is Jenny Bower's book Little Tree which I have reviewed previously. Similar in concept, the little tree is shown in the same location on every page of the book, however it starts as a seed and grows and changes with each new season. Flaps are incorporated in to the illustration on each page to reveal hidden details within the tree such as insects, rain, nest, seeds. 


3 years +, Contemporary Books, Tate

A Lion in Paris

Words and illustration by Beatrice Alemagna

Published by Tate

An oversized book with a surreal story of a lion curbing his boredom by touring the streets of Paris. Upon arriving in Paris to find "a job, love, and a future", the Lion is disappointed that despite his size (and the volume of his roar!) that no one seems to take notice of him. The simple story sees the Lion visit the many sights of Paris including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and River Seine. As the lion explores, he becomes more at ease and eventually finds his place within the city.

The story was inspired by the statue of a lion in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris and a curiousity to know why the Parisians are so fond of him. What a charming idea!

The absolute highlight of this book is the surreal and panoramic illustrations combining mixed media with collage and a great variety of drawing techniques. Alemagna's use of colour is very restrained but used beautifully to highlight the lion and a small number of features such as baguettes, rosie cheeks, River Seine and sparkling facade of the Centre Georges Pompidou. Distorted perspective, rough pen and pencil strokes, shading and photographic collages. The intensely detailed illustrations are charming and at times retro, reminding me of the work of Pop Art collage artists such as Richard Hamilton. 

The sheer size of this book and landscape orientation makes it really special and possibly a little awkward to hold. The book opens upwards and young readers will find themselves very up and close to the panoramic illustrations as they stretch to turn each page. This is a fantastic experience. Text is kept on the upper page of the book and the intensely detailed illustration is on the lower page.  The minimal text and clear focus on the illustration allows for the story to be enhanced in the minds of readers.

This oversized gem of a book conveys the feeling of being a stranger in a new city and is perfect for your imaginative little reader. This book is really quirky. I love it!  

Gecko Press, Contemporary Books, Bilingual Books, 3 years +

Ko Wai E Huna Ana? (Who is Hiding?)

Words and illustration by Satoru Onishi

Te Reo Maori translation by Paora Tibble

Published by Gecko Press

My husband brought this bright coloured book home for my little one after a recent work trip to New Zealand. Bright and simple, each page has 18 cute animals posing with a question. Who is hiding? Who is crying? Who is backwards? Who is who? This book is fun and interactive and little ones will learn to name animals, colours, count and recognise expressions. 

Released to celebrate Maori Language Week in New Zealand, this book introduces beginner level Te Reo Maori. It is a great book for children and adults to learn Maori with the naming of animals. 

I love to include foreign language books in our little library. I don't for one minute kid myself that my little one will become a fluent speaker of another language because of the bilingual books we include in our library. However, I do believe that it is really important to introduce little ones to other languages at a young age so that they can start to think about their own cultural identity and their place within the world. And our indigenous cultures should be a part of this education. 

Originally published in Japanese, this book is also available in English and many other languages. With simple sentences and the focus on finding the odd one out on each page it did not matter that we can't read Maori. The question posed on each page was fairly obvious for the adult reader. However, I did check the english translation of each sentence just to be sure. Thank you google translate! 

This book is fantastic fun for young children but is just as suited to anyone who wants to learn Te Reo Maori. 

3 years +, Contemporary Books, Hatchette Children's

Please Mr Panda

Words and Illustration by Steve Antony

Published by Hachette Children's Group

If your little one forgets to use please or thank you then this might just be the perfect book for your little library. Simple and amusing, Mr Panda carries a tray of doughnuts and offers them to a number of animals including a penguin, skunk, ostrich and orca. As you would expect, all of the animals say yes but the panda changes his mind and does not give them away. It is not until an upside down ring tailed lemur uses the word 'please' that the panda decides to give them away.

Little readers will be reminded of the importance of manners and they will love it when they realise why Mr Panda is not sharing his doughnuts.  Adults will love the deadpan expression on the panda's face. 

I love the restrained use of colour in this book. All of the animals in this book are monochrome. Generally, the page background is grey and the only vibrant colour on each page is the tray of doughnuts that tempts each animal. The endpapers of this book are filled with hundreds of doughnuts and are delicious! Make sure to look out for the lemur hidden amongst the doughnuts in the front endpaper.

3 years +, Contemporary Books, Bloomsbury Publishing

The Dawn Chorus

Words and Illustration by Suzanne Barton

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

A beautiful story about self discovery and the anguish felt by a little nightingale as he tries to find his place in the world. 

'Peep' wakes to a beautiful song and decides to follow the tune. The story introduces a number of animals including an owl, mouse, frog before he finally finds the Dawn Chorus - a tree full of birds that sing together every morning. 'Peep' is very excited to audition to join the group but is so disappointed to find that he can't stay awake to perform at his early morning audition. Feeling sad and alone, 'Peep' finds another bird who likes singing in the night and discovers that he is a Nightingale and has his own beautiful song to share.  

Using a combination of collage, drawing and painting, Barton has created the sweetest illustrations. Bird wings, feathers, tree leaves, flowers, music notes and the insides of the various animal's ears have been illustrated using collage and an exquisite range of textured and patterned papers. The muted colour palette and vintage charm of the papers used in the collage perfectly complements this gentle story. And the book itself must be mentioned, I loved the textured cover of the book and the metallic copper lettering of the title. 

My little one loves to listen to birdsong in our garden. This book is a great introduction for the many types of birds that we will see and hear together. The story also introduces the concept of nocturnal birds. This gentle tale is a perfect bedtime story for little ones. 

3 years +, Contemporary Books, Tate

Grandma's House

Words & Illustration by Alice Melvin

I was so excited to buy this book as my little one loves to visit her grandparents and I am a massive fan of the British Illustrator Alice Melvin's work. 

Exquisite. This book is so rich with colour and detail that it is an absolute joy to get lost within its pages. We really enjoyed exploring the various rooms within Grandma's House and I am sure that your little readers will too. The book follows a little girl who often visits her grandmother after school. She moves through the house looking for her grandmother and every spread is a treasure trove of detail and it was hard for me not to feel nostalgic with every page turn. I could relate to so many of the details contained within an old period style home and the collection of objects contained within a home that has so clearly shared so much family history. 

At least one cut out window is included on every spread with a glimpse in to the room where you have come and a peek in to the next room. Children will love to peek through these doorways and guess what room is next. The attic is particularly special with a page unfolding twice to reveal an attic and a gloomy space filled with family heirlooms.

The level of detail captured by Melvin is extreme. It is wonderful to see beautiful stained glass windows, mosaic tiles, lush plants, and patterned rugs illustrated alongside the mundane details such as light switches, power points, rubbish bin and broom, wallpaper patterns, a metronome on top of the piano, downpipes and a garden hose. 

Melvin's illustrations reminded me of the work of my favourite Australian artist Cressida Campbell. Like Campbell's painted woodblock prints, Melvin's illustrations are so detailed that I get the sense that I am privy to the inside of their own homes or their childhood memories. This beautiful book is a special treat. 

Contemporary Books, 3 years +, Thames & Hudson

Stripe Island

Words & Illustration by Tupera Tupera

Published by Thames & Hudson

As the name suggests, everything on Stripe Island is stripy. The book starts with a stripy sun rise and describes a stripetastic day. The story is a detailed description of a day in the life of a striped boy called Stanley and his experience visiting his town's spectacular Festival of Stripes.  While the story itself is fairly unremarkable, the details described are quirky and fun and the colourful illustrations are an absolute treat. 

As you would expect from a local fete or circus, the book details many and varied stripy acts and sideshows. Everything from a striped strongman and a snoozing striped elephant to the teeniest tiniest stripy bug. My favourite being the "stupendously long, spiralling stripy beard" and the stripy children measuring its length with a stripy tape measure. It is all very absurd and quite funny.

I think that kids as young as babies will enjoy the stimulating and chaotic details contained within the pages of this colourful book. It is quite the treasure trove of funny illustrations including singing bears, babies, acrobats, cake and many different animals.  Adults will enjoy the kooky details such as Stanley's father who "adds up stripy sums and solves stripy problems". 

It is a little bit hard to tell exactly what the artist has used to illustrate these colourful pictures (I wish I could read Japanese!) but I think they have used mixed medium with a combination of crayons, pencils and/or pastels? The hand drawn pictures appear like cutouts and are absolutely charming. The bold black and white endpapers are fabulous and beautifully set off the chaos of the detailed coloured illustrations inside the book. 

Tupera Tupera are a husband-and-wife design team based in Japan. They have created many great titles in Japanese but unfortunately only a handful have been published in English. Chronicle Books released an hilarious title called Polar Bear's Underwear earlier this year. Other Tupera Tupera works include a great variety of playful and interactive faces and animated fruit and vegetables. I hope to see more of their colourful books released in English soon!

This is a fun bedtime story - "sweet stripy dreams, everyone!"

Reviewed by Georgia White

Universe Publishing, 3 years +, Vintage Books

Puff

Words & Illustration by William Wondriska

Published by Universe Publishing

Puff is a reprint of a rare 1960s children's book by the acclaimed American illustrator and writer William Wondriska. This rediscovered classic is the story of a small steam engine that lives in a train yard and dreams of one day travelling and having grand adventures to places like Egypt, Italy, India, Paris and even a space station. Puff gets the chance to broaden his horizons and do something important when a modern engine breaks down in a snowstorm and circus cars filled with animals need his help.   

Similar to his other classic children's book A Long Piece of String, Wondriska uses only three colours (black, white and red) to illustrate this lovely underdog story. The graphics appear like woodblock prints with the details carved by hand. The illustration of the steam engine is identical on every page, like a stamp. The only change to the engine is that the illustration of the engine's steam (using the letter 'puff') differs according to the activities of the steam engine. 

Text is used as part of the book's illustration in the most wonderful and playful way to document the steam of the steam engine, convey the contrasting level of noise created by a small steam engine ('puff') and a big modern engine ('DING DING DING DING DING DING'), capture the echo of the small steam engine in a deep canyon, convey the strain and large amount of steam produced by the small engine as it climbs the highest mountain and the speed with which it rides down the mountain. The sound of the wet and cold animals is also documented using the letters that make up "howl and yowl and screech" in a range of sizes, font types and colours. The enormity and randomness of these letters is a clever way to convey the animal's distress and the seriousness of the situation. 

There has been a lot of mid-20th century children's book released recently by publishers such as Tate Publishing and Chronicle Books. I have reviewed other classic children's books that have recently been reprinted including Dick Bruna's The Apple and Celestino Piatti's The Happy Owls. It is wonderful that the work of classic designer's such as William Wondriska has been reprinted so that it can be shared with a new generation of kids and graphic designers. 

3 years +, Edizioni Corraini, Vintage Books, Bilingual Books

Bruno Munari's ABC

Words & Illustration by Bruno Munari

Published by Edizioni Corraini (Italian edition) and Chronicle Books (English edition)

I purchased this classic children's alphabet book from Present&Correct on a recent trip to London. The Italian edition of this book is a little bit harder to find than the English version but is worth hunting down as it includes all text in both Italian and English. I love to find bilingual books for my little library so I was very happy to find this one! 

Illustrated by the late great Italian artist & designer Bruno Munari, the book starts with an Ant on an Apple, and continues with a Blue Butterfly, Banana and a Book. As to be expected, the entire alphabet is illustrated. The book features many predictable items such as a dog, elephant and fish but there is also many fun and random inclusions such as a vertical violet violin and a watermelon on a wagon with a wooden wheel. The book is filled with lots of gorgeous details. Some of the illustrations do appear a little dated now (such as the Ticket & Telephone) but I think that they still remain easily recognisable. 

The letter 'F' is beautifully illustrated using a Fly, a Flower, a Feather, more Flies and a Fish. There is a pesky fly that breaks free of his own 'F' page and reappears throughout the book in the Green Grass ("still another fly!), under a Hammer ("look out, fly!") and close to an Icecream ("shoo, fly!"). Just as you think that the fly has disappeared, it reappears to the amusement of little readers on the letter 'V' as "a fly on a Voyage". The book ends with the fly making the final sound for the letter Zzzzzz.

Each letter of the alphabet is printed large and black and contrasts sharply with the crisp white pages. The book illustrations are bold and detailed using a great variety of gorgeous colours. Bright illustrations sit confidently within large areas of white space and Munari uses paint brushstrokes and gradients of colour washes to provide detail.  

Originally published in 1960, this classic alphabet book is funny, witty and beautifully illustrated. I love to include classic books by great artists in my little library and a children's book by Bruno Munari is definitely one to be shared with our littlest readers.

Reviewed by Georgia White

3 years +, Big Picture Press, Board Books

Little Tree

Illustration by Jenny Bowers

Words by Rachel Williams

Published by Big Picture Press

It is official. This is the most beautiful board book. It is so refreshing to find a board book with sophisticated and elegant illustrations targeting young learners. I cannot recommend this book more highly. 

'Little Tree' follows the growth of a little seed throughout the year as it grows to become a tree and change with the seasons. A mature tree is shown on the left of every spread and becomes the anchor point for each new illustration. The little tree is shown in the same location on the right side of every new illustration, however it grows and changes with each new season. 

Similar to other non-fiction books that I have reviewed like Saisons and Nature's Day, this book highlights the cyclical nature of the seasons. With each turn of the page the reader is able to see how the tree has grown. Every double spread is a different kind of colourful and is filled with a stunning array of gorgeous details particular to each new season. The illustrations are teamed with a gentle rhyming text that summarises the change of the season and focuses the young reader's attention to the key changes of the little pear tree. 

This charming board book has over 20 flaps. Each flap within the illustration hides a number of gorgeous details within each page such as an beetle, rain, nest, cocoon, spider, antlers, worm, owl, seed. As a non-fiction text, the flaps work to label the hidden items and educate the reader on the distinct features of each new season. I love that one flap is located over the same hollow within the mature tree trunk on every page. Bowers uses this sweet detail to demonstrate the changing use of this hollow as the seasons change - a birds nest with eggs and then chicks in spring, a bird roost in summer, an acorn store for a squirrel in autumn and a home for a mouse and insects in the winter. 

Illustrations are overlaid blocks of colour and the elegant flaps become an additional block allowing each flap to be beautifully incorporated in to the illustration of each page. This is another brilliant publication from Big Picture Press and a beautiful and interactive book for the little ones in your life. 

Reviewed by Georgia White

3 years +, Contemporary Books, Edizioni Corraini

Winter

Words and Illustration by Aoi Huber-Kono

Published by Edizioni Corraini

'Winter' is simple, gentle and elegant. Gone are any of the harsh, cold and inhospitable elements of winter, and what is left is a simple tribute to the beauty of falling snow, the calm and quiet that snow creates and the fun of leaving footprints in the settled snow.

The illustrations are minimalist in style and Aoi Huber-Kono uses little or no colour throughout the book to capture both the silence of snow falling and the paralysis of life in the cold. The last double spread of the book provides a lovely surprise for the reader as the hidden life within a snowfield is uncovered and the coloured graphics provide a great contrast to the rest of the book. 

I was very happy to find this gem at London's Present&Correct. Inspired by the mundane routine of homework, the post office and school, Present&Correct is a gorgeous store celebrating stationery. Owned by graphic designers, their mission is "to spark a distant memory, make you smile or look at the most mundane in a new, and fonder, light."  Their collection is stunning and has been curated so beautifully. Click here to look at their fantastic collection of vintage and contemporary books.

Reviewed by Georgia White

Albin Michel, 3 years +, Contemporary Books

Saisons (Seasons)

Words & Illustration by Blexbolex

Published by Albin Michel Jeunesse (French edition) & Enchanted Lion Books (English edition)

Saisons (or 'Seasons' in the English publication) is a beautiful book exploring the changing of the seasons. I bought this book on a solo trip to Paris in 2010 before kids were even on the radar. I was enchanted by the stunning illustrations and by what appeared to be the most beautiful French word association book. It is not until reading this book in both English and French that I realised that this was not the case. Do not overlook this book as no more than a simple word association book. 

The book is made up of a vast imagery of each season and the objects, weather, experiences, people, emotions and curious connections particular to each one. Every page or spread has an image with an accompanying word printed above it. 

The illustrations are overlaid blocks of colour and adopt a vintage colour palette reminiscent of 1960s screen printing. Using the same screen printing process, the images are at times extremely minimalist and capture an image with a scant silhouette or record exquitsite detail with layers of colour and texture. Some of the illustrations are fairly abstract or complex in their subject matter and will be difficult for children to truly understand. I do not think that this is a problem as the variety of imagery provides an opportunity for parents and readers to begin a dialogue and discuss the associations with each season. More complex images or themes can be passed over quickly if not suitable for the age of the reader. 

The abstract imagery is also a lovely way to introduce the concept of abstract art to little developing minds. Even if children do not understand all of the concepts, the illustrations are bold, colourful and interesting. The book itself is an exquisite object for the hands with thick matt paper and a high quality binding. The endpapers are stunning! A true pleasure to read.

There are countless books that introduce first words, counting, relate humorous stories of animal friends, discuss themes of kindness, manners etc. These stories are wonderful and serve their place in any little library. What this book offers is a unique reading experience for children and their parents. Which image belongs to which season and why? Thoughtful and at times curious pairings make you wonder why these words go together. A t-shirt and a watermelon (Summer bliss on a hot day); shout and snow (the excitement of seeing the first snowfall); wind and delight (autumn leaves falling and the opposing feels associated with the wind). I think that the placement of the retro illustrations has been a deliberate effort by the French illustrator Blexbolex to trigger associations, encourage reflection on the impermanence of the seasons, highlight the cyclical nature of life and evoke memories. 

A beautiful book. 

Reviewed by Georgia White

North-South Books, Vintage Books, 3 years +

The Happy Owls

Words by Theo van Hoijtema

Illustration by Celestino Piatti

Published by North-South Books

"You can draw an Owl a thousand times, and never find out it's secret." - Celestino Piatti 1992

Owls are fantastic. It is not until reading this beautiful work that it occurred to me that owls appear in so many great childrens' works; 'Harry Potter', 'The Gruffalo', 'Winnie the Pooh' and Lear's rhyme 'The owl and the pussy cat' to name just a handful. They are graceful and dignified birds and oddly, in real life the owl is very rarely seen by children. I think it is this mystique that surrounds the owl that makes them well suited for children's books and ripe for imagination. 

'The Happy Owls' is an illustrated fable. The quarrelsome barnyard birds send the peacock to ask the owls why they do not fight and bicker like the rest of them. The wise owls call all of the birds together and share their secret to finding peace.  Their words are poetic and a beautiful tribute to nature. The two contented owls fail to convince the birds that there is reason to celebrate in the natural beauty and changing of the seasons. The chickens, the ducks, the peacocks and the geese find this story absurd and ignore the advice of the owls. How could anyone be happy just to watch the sun shine and leaves fall? The story ends fairly abruptly with no verbal response from the owls and they simply go "on thinking their wise thoughts".  

Short and simple, this fable has a timeless message and many lessons for all of us. The natural beauty of our world should not be overlooked for it has immense value. Stand apart from the crowd. Do not be easily influenced by others. Stay strong to your own beliefs. 

Piatti's "The Happy Owls" was originally published in 1963 but still feels very relevant for both the bold illustrations and simple timeless message. The last page of this book pays tribute to the original author of this fable. The original story was written and illustrated in 1895 by the Dutch artist Theo van Hoijtema under the title "Uilen-Geluk". The author and illustrator, Erwin Burckhardt translated it into German and suggested that Piatti should draw the illustrations for a new edition. 

Celestino Piatti died in 2007 and is remembered as a Swiss graphic artist, painter and book designer. The illustrations in this book are representative of his style with large colourful images with bold, black outlines.  The details of each image are reminiscent of stained glass windows and the textures contained within each image remind me of the colourful collages of Eric Carle. A truly beautiful book. 

Reviewed by Tom White