Vintage Books

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. 

0 - 2 years, Tate, Vintage Books

Hippu

Words & Illustration by Oili Tanninen

A sweet story about a mouse called Hippu that invites a homeless dog called Heppu to stay with him. Together with many baby mice and a random chick, they enjoy a day filled with many simple and everyday activities. Little readers will be able to identify the ordinary activities on each page and relate to Hippu & Heppu as they go shopping, eat, play dress ups, go for a walk, watch television, have a bath, sleep and drive a car. 

Originally published in 1967, this book was republished by Tate Publishing in 2014. This book is so fresh and modern that it could easily have been created today with computer illustration. There is a lovely blurb at the rear of the book written by Tanninen that describes her inspiration and process for the book. It is lovely to read that the bold illustrations were created with collage, using torn and cutout  pieces of Japanese origami paper and Tanninen then filled in the images by drawing. 

The Finnish author and illustrator's three objectives for the book were as follows: The book had to be small and square and easy for a one year old to hold in their hands, cheap to print using only two colours (red and black); and the book had to tell a story with ordinary, everyday events that all children could relate to. 

Similar in size and equally bold, this book will sit well next to your Dick Bruna classics. A simple story with a sweet message and seriously cute illustrations. Perfect for the littlest of readers. 


0 - 2 years, Vintage Books, Babalibri

Il Palloncino Rosso

Illustration by Iela Mari

Published by Babalibri

Simple, minimalist and elegant. A wordless Italian children's book that follows the transformation of a red bubble as it morphs in to a balloon, apple, butterfly, flower and finally into an umbrella. All objects commonly depicted in children's books. The perspective and size of the red object constantly changes throughout the book. 

Originally published in 1967 by the Italian artist, Iela Mari. The small green hardcover book is detailed using only black pen lines and one block colour of red on each spread. The hand drawn black lines capture large areas of detail such as fields of flowers and apple tree branches. The detailed black lines contrast beautifully with the heavy block of red colour. The rain has been beautifully depicted with very fine, black parallel lines offset very close together across the page. A superb contrast to the large red umbrella.  

The book starts with a young boy blowing a red bubble and ends with this same boy holding a red umbrella. Perhaps Mari is trying to convey a deeper meaning by reintroducing the boy at the end of the book. This is very subtle and a bit lost on me but others may read something in to this. 

A short and sweet wordless book. It is graphically bold and superbly simple. Kids will be amazed by the transformation of the red bubble. 

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

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

Chronicle Books, 3 years +, Vintage Books

Sparkle and Spin: A book about words

Words by Ann Rand

Illustrated by Paul Rand

Published by Chronicle Books 1957

"Some words are gay and bright and full of light like tinsel and silver and sparkle and spin." 

Words are the focus in Sparkle and Spin (well clearly, its 'a book about words'). It is clear that Ann Rand had a love for words, the sounds, the meanings, and the feelings they leave with you. She playfully explains the different ways to use words including the length of words, the volume used to speak them, and that some words sound the same but have different meanings such as 'hair' and 'hare'. The concept of onomatopoeia is explained well by using the words 'toot toot' and 'whee' with a striking depiction of a train travelling over a bridge.

The elegance of both the spoken and written word is conveyed through Ann's text and supported by her husband Paul's bold imagery. Paul Rand was an amazing talent in graphic design, at the forefront of the design wave of the 1950's and 60's.  

The illustrations combine hand sketches, bold swathes of colour, stencilled lettering and collage. Most of the book spreads could be used as standalone works of art. The front cover is the most striking with a black background, bright text and a hand spinning a top on its finger. The words and imagery have been coated with a glitter paint that creates a sophisticated and luxurious texture to the book jacket. 

Sparkle and Spin was written and illustrated in 1957 using phrases of the time, some of which are now considered to be of a bygone era. If I am honest, the words and rhythm of the text are at times a little clunky and almost clumsy. I am also not sure that some of the lines rhyme as well as they could. Perhaps this was intentional. 

I think that the reader will forgive this old fashioned and disjointed tempo because of the clear joy and love crammed into the short text. This book was clearly created for no other reason than to invigorate a childs love for language.

Reviewed by Tom White

3 years +, Vintage Books, Orchard Books

Good Days, Bad Days

Words by Laurence Anholt

Illustrated by Catherine Anholt

Published by Orchard Books

The bedtime book ritual isn't just about getting your kids off to sleep as fast as possible. For many parents, it is the one guaranteed moment of calm connection they have with their child each day. Whether the day's been like an ad for Perfect Parenting (take that haters!), or more closely resembled a disaster movie, it's your last opportunity to make sense of it - for you and your little one.

Starting with the words "In our house, we have ...", each page of Good Days, Bad Days describes a range of experiences that all of us have: quick days, slow days, away days, happy days, sick days and so on. (It doesn't stop there of course: grumpy, tedious and covered in small Lego blocks are alternative suggestions of mine.) 

More than any other book I know, Good Days, Bad Days prompts conversation about the emotions of the day. If you, or your darling, had a serious meltdown and had to be coaxed into the car (hey, it happens), then you can acknowledge it and process it. Why did it happen? How did it feel? These are really useful conversations to have. Who did we see, where did we go? It's really interesting to see what they remember, hardly ever is it what you do from your adult perspective.

Good Days, Bad Days first came out in 1991 when the authors, husband-and-wife team Catherine and Laurence Anholt, were wrangling their own tribe of three young children. That real everyday experience shows in its beautifully simple concept and deliciously detailed pencil drawings. While the townscape is a little bit English, the issues and circumstances are easily familiar.

"Sad days", for example, shows a funeral for a guinea pig. That's a perfect example of a situation when your child may be struggling with complex emotions, which you may not have been able to pay much attention to during the day. If you've ever stood there with your arms full of groceries while your toddler takes their time examining a daisy or drawing in the dirt, then you will recognise a "slow day".

You don't have to have a book like this to hash over the day with your offspring. In fact, you could just lie in bed with them and talk. But Good Days, Bad Days is a really sweet idea, one that suggests a better way of relating to children: with honest and thoughtful reflection on the trials and tribulations of your shared family life.

Reviewed by Stephen Clark

0 - 2 years, Vintage Books, Tate

The Apple

Words & Illustration by Dick Bruna

Published by Tate Publishing to honour the 60th anniversary.

I love this book, I have always loved this book. I had a copy of it when I was very young and I have remembered the striking forms such as the Rooster and the bowl of grapes for what is now decades. The yellow rooster is probably the earliest hero that I discovered when I began reading.

'The Apple' is Dick Bruna's first children's book and was created before he created his most iconic Miffy character. It is a beautiful and simple story of friendship. A red apple is taken on an adventure by a yellow rooster and it demonstrates how with the help of a friend you can have new adventures and experience the world from a different perspective.  

Bruna wrote and illustrated 'The Apple' in 1953 while he was working as a freelance graphic designer in Amsterdam. The dozen illustrations in 'The Apple' are distinct and easily recognisable as the work of Bruna with his use of bold black lines and minimal colours. It is likely that Bruna was influenced by artists such as his countrymen Rietveld & Mondrian and the Dutch graphic design movement, De Stijl.

Bruna's simple bold style is a design standard for graphic designers today, but was considered by many adults to be too simple in the 1950s when this book was first written. Bruna himself comments:

“I remember when I had finished The Apple, I had no idea if it would appeal to children, so I took some copies along to a local book fair. All the parents who came past my stand dismissed my book saying it was too simple, but their children pointed at my pictures and said “But that’s how I draw! And that colour green is just like my green!” So I thought maybe I was right, and I should carry on with this approach.”

When Tate Publishing republished this book in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary, the Official Online Press Office for Miffy issued a press release. It was really interesting to find out that Bruna originally published this book in a rectangular format. The format was changed to the smaller square format (still used today), to make reading easier for the small hands of his readers. 

Reviewed by Tom White

Vintage Books, 6 years +, The Bodley Head Ltd

A Duck Called Angelique

Words by Janice Duvoisin

Illustration by Roger Duvoisin

Published by The Bodley Head Ltd 1962

As a young child, my grandparents would read me this story when I visited their home. I thought it was hilarious that a duck had been named Angelique but what I loved most was that this tattered book was also read to my mother when she was little. I liked to imagine my mother as a small child sitting in my grandmother's arms and laughing at the same story.  

Angelique was the happiest duck in France until her dear mistress Madame Germaine came home with Coco the black poodle and everything changed. The story commences by describing the simple and ordered life of Angelique. "Every morning she walked to the gate and back. She smelled the lilacs if it was spring, the roses if it was summer. Every now and then she took a bite of lettuce."

Coco has never seen a duck before and enjoys chasing Angelique. Upset that her happy life has been ruined, Angelique decides to run away and spends the night in the Luxembourg Gardens. When Angelique rescues a sparrow from being eaten by a cat, she realises that she should be at home with Madame Germaine. The book ends with Angelique gradually befriending Coco and we see a duck and a poodle sharing bathwater and the job of warming eggs. The story is simple, very sweet and spoken with a gentle humour. 

It seems likely that Janice Duvoisin wrote this story for children to relate to when a younger sibling is brought home from the hospital, to help prepare them for the imminent massive and sudden change.    

The illustration layout is a combination of black line and coloured mixed medium artwork that is alternated through the story. Coloured artwork is created with a muted palette of mustard yellow, brown, aqua and teal green with a brilliant white duck. Roger Duvoisin's illustrations are very elegant. 

I love that part of the story is set within the Luxembourg Gardens. When I originally read this book as a child, I had never been to France and the lake filled with little sailing boats looked like a kid's paradise. As an adult re-reading this story, I have been to Paris a number of times and it was more than wonderful to see the Luxembourg Gardens central to the book's plot - as it is the location where my husband and I celebrated our engagement.  

Reviewed by Georgia White

Vintage Books, 0 - 2 years, Golden Books Publishing

Pat the Bunny

Words & Illustration by Dorothy Kunhardt

Published by Golden Books Publishing Company

The Easter Bunny came a day early in our house. I could not wait to put this 1940's classic through the hard yards with my little one.

Each page shows the characters Paul or Judy involved in an activity and the young reader is invited to participate. Activities include peekaboo, look in the mirror, make the dolly's ball squeak and waving bye-bye. 

Pat the Bunny is a touch and feel book and introduces young children to the senses, even smell. The 'smell the flowers' page is embedded with the scent of old lady perfume (flowers). Strange but true. And while taste is not depicted on the pages, my little one has already started eating the book. 

I was very keen to see if my little one would in fact pat the bunny and feel Daddy's scratchy face. This book did not disappoint and we shared many giggles as we joined Paul and Judy in their many activities. 

Some of the pages are a little bit cumbersome (and strange) with a squeaky ball or rattle box inserted between the pages. It is also quite unusual to see a book presented with a plastic comb binding. It does remind me of a workplace document or school assignment and I am not sure how durable it will be with a curious toddler who puts everything in her mouth. With this said, I have no doubt that this sweet and simple book will be a hit. 

Reviewed by Georgia White

Pop-Up Books, Vintage Books, 6 years +, Methuen Children's Books

The House at Pooh Corner, A Pop-up Book

Words by A.A. Milne

Illustration by E. H. Shepard

This vintage pop up book is looking a little worse for wear but is still very much loved in our home. Given to my husband by his mum when he was little, this book has been read, popped and pulled far too many times. Most of the tabs have been ripped or do not work, but the illustrations remain as beautiful as ever. This book includes six short adventures of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Roo, Eeyore & Owl each with their own unique pop-up illustrations. 

Published by Methuen Children's Books 1986

Reviewed by Georgia White

Vintage Books, 3 years +, Harper Collins

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Words & Illustration by Dr Seuss

Published by Harper Collins

The last Dr Seuss book published in his lifetime and the illustrations are as bold, imaginative and nonsensical as ever. My sister shares a birthday with Dr Seuss and she is about to embark on her own adventure. As her mountain is waiting, I thought this was a very timely post. "There is fun to be done!"

Reviewed by Georgia White

Vintage Books, 3 years +, Harper Collins

Little Blue and Little Yellow

Words & Illustration by Leo Lionni

Published by Harper Collins

Originally published in 1959, this simple story tells the story of two friends - Little Blue and Little Yellow. This charming book reinforces the principles of colour and importance of family.

Reviewed by Georgia White

Vintage Books, 3 years +, Chronicle Books

A Long Piece of String

Illustration by William Wondriska

Published by Chronicle Books

With no words, this book has a stunning, bold, red image on each page. In no time at all, my copy of this book will be filled with the grubby fingerprints of my little one as she traces the long piece of string that weaves through the alphabet.

Reviewed by Georgia White

Vintage Books, 3 years +, Philomel Books

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Words & Illustration by Eric Carle

The distinctive collage images of Eric Carle take me back to my own childhood. I can't wait to share my favourite books with my little one.

Reviewed by Georgia White