• Book Review and Author Interview: Jennie Maizels- The Great Grammar Book and Terrific Time Tables Book

  • Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

  • Book Review: Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers

    imaginary fred
  • BooK Review: Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen


Book Review and Author Interview: Jennie Maizels- The Great Grammar Book and Terrific Time Tables Book


For a good few years I’ve admired Jennie Maizels books, they really are pieces of art in themselves. A few years ago she very kindly signed a few editions for my god-daughter and I was quite envious when they arrived.

I first came across her books as a by-product of my interest in sewing- she creates these brilliant Iron On Patches. These patches were a god send as my children seem to create holes in clothes almost instantly!

Anyway, we were kindly sent The Great Grammar  Book and The Terrific Times Tables Book. These are perfect ways to try to engage the kids in what are essentially quite dry topics. The books are colourful, interactive and interesting.



Terrific Timestables

Fifi (7) who is currently learning time tables has spent hours pouring over the Terrific Times Tables, asking me questions and revelling in little tips that she has learnt. Its the first time i’ve seen her really engage for a long time with a book.

Its very difficult to find books which compliment school work and aren’t dull. These are anything but and all three children have been fighting over them. Clearly the youngest needs a little bit of supervision as they have lots of pop-ups which can be easily damaged, but to be honest if they are having a fight over a times tables book you know there is something good about them.

As a child I was obsessed with looking at Jan Pienkowski’s amazing pop up books and it was brilliant to hear that Jennie was inspired by his books especially my favourite one- Haunted House. I can see her inspiration in these books and I do hope that for my children Jennie Maizels books make the same impression as Jan Pienkowski’s did for me.

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a primary school aged child then these are the answer, you really cant go wrong!

I was  really fortunate to be asked by  Walker Books if i’d like to interview Jennie and I jumped at the chance:

jennie maizels

When did you first develop your style of illustration?

When I was in my second year of Art School, I went to Barcelona on an exchange for four months. When we turned up to the Spanish art school, we realised the course was in technical drawing, the students were all sitting in silence drawing carburettors!

So we never returned.

In those four months I was more prolific than I had ever been. Drawing every day and keeping an obsessive hand lettered journal for the whole duration of my stay. Without any influences or any instructions, I developed my own style and confidence. It was such a fun and memorable trip.

What are your top tips for anyone interested in illustrating books for children?

Firstly, don’t feel you have to write. Publisher’s are looking for illustrators to pair up with Authors and it is very rare to be equally skilled in writing for children as illustrating (I certainly couldn’t write a Children’s story!). Start by illustrating an existing picture book but in your own style, this way you will see how your illustrations look when formatted in a 15 page book. It’s important not imitate, be true to your own style. I have always asked people’s opinions, children are the harshest critics but also sometimes the most accurate, my my own children’s advice is always the best.

How long did it take you to illustrate The Great Grammar Book?

The Great Grammar Book was my first ever Children’s book! I had barely left Art School. I remember finishing the first spread and then looking at what lay ahead of me and not thinking I could do it! My style is very laborious, so each book usually takes about six months to complete the artwork. The Grammar Book took even longer as I hand lettered the whole book TWICE (once for the UK and then for the US version). Now, my lettering has been made into a font, but I still hand render the titles and speech bubbles etc.

What are you favourite topics to illustrate?

I adore drawing buildings. I love the intricate challenge of recreating every window of a tower block, or every torrent of a castle. If I go on holiday I will always seek out the nearest town or village and sit and draw the architecture.

Would you consider illustrating a fiction picture book?

I would love to. However, I have been illustrating Pop Up Books for over 20 years and it is hard to branch out of what you are ‘known’ for by the publishers. Maybe one day a manuscript will arrive on my editors desk that she will think I am perfect for!

How does it feel to see people wearing your Clothes Plasters when you’re out and about?

It is so thrilling! To date I haven’t been able to stop myself from saying to them that I made them! I especially like seeing children wearing them, knowing that they have personalised their clothes and that in some way they feel more individual.

Who are your favourite illustrators?

I love Janet Ahlberg’s illustrations, as a child I was obsessed with The Old Joke Book, I think I can see it’s influences in my work even today. I also love Jan Pienkowski. The Haunted House was treated like the Crown Jewls in my home and it is still a huge treasure. I adore intense detail, The Butterfly Ball (illustrated by Alan Aldridge) was my favourite book as a child. I loved how it had hidden secret and so much colour! I’m not sure if it is still in print but I would really recommend it if you haven’t come across it.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading a wonderful book by John Lewis-Stempel called the Running Hare, it is an anecdotal diary of farming in today’s environment but using yesterday’s methods. It sounds dull but it is so beautifully written, peppered with fascinating facts and poetic language. I live very rurally and am deeply saddened by the decline in birdlife and the starkness of the modern day farming landscape. John Lewis-Stempel proves in his book that it is all totally unnecessary and nothing is gained my using chemicals or clearing land.

The Great Grammar Book

The Great Grammar Book

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Unless you’ve been in an underground bunker for the last few months you’ll know that the release of J.K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is imminent. This Friday in fact. Along with Star Wars Rogue One, it’s tipped to be one of the top films of the year, so expectations were high as we fastened our seatbelts to drive around the M25 to the O2 for an advanced screening last night.

It turns out that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the perfect tonic for a two and a half hour car ride at an average speed of 20 miles an hour, followed by 40 minutes of queuing outside a cinema screen in a corridor bereft of air-conditioning but with no shortage of other people.

Yes, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I finally sat down in the cinema with Fifi, the boy and one of their Harry Potter mad friends yesterday but fortunately once the opening credits rolled, everything was put right. I’ll get it out of the way up front, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is, erm, fantastic.

Since Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based around the concept of a textbook of magical creatures, it is able to create it’s own characters and story in an entirely different manner to a straightforward book adaptation, thereby neatly sidestepping any pacing issues that adapting a 500+ page novel into a two hour film might suffer from. To this end there is a fairly strong argument that it’s a better movie than the majority of the Harry Potter films because it doesn’t have to remain true to a narrative book whilst cutting massive sections of it out.

The story follows wizard and magizoologist Newt Scamander as he arrives in America to release a beast he’s freed from captivity. Through a series of amusing incidents, his magic briefcase that’s full of beasties gets swapped and a load of the creatures get released by mistake. Newt and his new made friends Jacob (a Muggle), Tina and her sister Queenie go through various scrapes to try and recover them, whilst the New York wizarding community also fight against unexplained manifestations of magic that threaten outright war.

Although there are a group of four lead characters, who you’ll see in the majority of posters, this film is really about Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne who seems to be doing his darnedest to channel Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, (costume, check, TARDIS/briefcase that’s bigger on the inside, check, wand/sonic screwdriver that gets him out of a tight corner, check) but then that’s not a bad thing and Redmayne is great.

I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, I’ve watched the films and am currently (tortuously) reading The Prison of Azkaban to the kids at a rate of two pages a night, but that didn’t matter as the story is self contained-there are continuity nods all the way through: Dumbledore is mentioned, apparently the wand maker from the HP films is name checked etc, but if you miss these, you’ve not missed out and they’re not shoehorned in too obviously.

The film looks wonderful, the 1920’s New York setting is done perfectly, there are plenty of great performances too and the characters interact well with the CGI, which helps make for a believable world. Since the film deals with adults, there is no need to explain everything to the protagonists, which at times hampered the Harry Potter films, everybody just gets on with stuff. The majority of the magic used is of the teleportation, things moving on their own, broken stuff repairing itself or wand waving followed by an explosion, so it doesn’t require exposition of what the spell is or means. This lets the plot flow without any unnatural pauses.

The film gets a thumbs up from me but to put it properly to the test, I asked the kids. Despite the film finishing at around quarter past nine on a school night, they loved it. The kids friend was literally bouncing up and down with excitement in her Harry Potter t-shirt afterwards (a continuation of the bouncing beforehand that had to stop once we sat down). The kids had a long discussion over the best of the beasts and the funniest way they were recaptured. Fifi said there were one of two scary bits that were quite intense but overall she loved it- she’s the one out of the three kids with the least Harry Potter exposure, so that bodes well the films mass appeal.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out on Friday 18 November, with a 12A rating.

Book Review: Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers

imaginary fredSometimes a book comes along which strikes a chord with you as an adult reading it and you spend some time thinking about the content. This is one of those books which doesn’t surprise me as Oliver Jeffers in particular tends to illustrate some really thought provoking stories.

One of the over-riding issues of childhood is the coming to terms and grappling with issues related to friendship and it’s something often covered in children’s picture books. My children have all had friendship issues of one sort or another and they all have their own special ‘best friends’ at the moment, but in the past it hasn’t always been like this. They have all had imaginary friends and its something which I hope they can use to fall back on if they ever do find themselves short of a friend.

Having an imaginary friend can help children deal with issues of loneliness, not belonging and also help them to feel empowered to do what they want to do, to buck the trends and to test themselves. I remember really clearly when my daughter had her imaginary friend and I think this really helped her deal with play ground politics and also her feelings of being left out at home when her brothers were playing together.

I thought I’d ask the children what they thought about imaginary friends and the book. Bear in mind they are only 7 and 4 but have a look at what they thought:

In the book the imaginary friends are in colour, but  they are not solid. The perfect way of depicting them. As the story goes along they begin to fade, which I think is a metaphor for how friends come and go; they fade in and out of life. This concept is a difficult one for children to grasp in real life so its great to find a book which can be used as a starting point to tackle this and the associated emotions.

I’d say that this is quite a long book for very little children. It’s best suited for slightly older children perhaps 6 +. This is a book to spend time over, to enjoy and take inspiration from (perhaps a whole school holidays worth of activities) or to read at bedtime over a week in small sections. It’s a lovely book, nicely presented, illustrated and would make a really nice gift for Christmas.

If you’d like to find out more then have a look at the website here.

BooK Review: Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen

ollies-christmas-reindeer-9780857076007_hrOllie’s Christmas reindeer is a really magical Christmas story about a little girl who meets a lost reindeer in the forest on Christmas Eve. This is a unique and enchanting story which we all absolutely loved.

One of the lovely things about this book are the cut-outs. These are not often used in children’s picture books but they really work well, stimulating interaction with the book. My littlest really enjoyed peeking through the windows into the next page and I found that they help to lead the story and encourage conversation (comprehension).

Nicola Killen is an incredibly talented author and illustrator and this is without doubt one of the best new Christmas books I’ve read in many years. I absolutely loved the illustrations and would quite happily buy them and frame each one as an individual piece of art in my house.

I can see us getting this charming story out each Christmas for many years to come.

If you’d like to find out more you can have a look here. If you’d like to find out more about all the things Nicola Killen does you can have a look at her website, where I’ve noted you can also find some lovely hand-made Christmas cards.

Book Review: If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee illustrated by Kieran Rynhart

bananaGecko Press produce some lovely and unique children’s books. They are always well made and feel like miniature pieces of art in themselves. If I Was a Banana is no exception, its beautifully illustrated and is quite a thoughtful read for children.

The book basically follows a boy view of everyday things. Its about the magic and wonder that can be found in everyday things and encounters. I thought it was a useful read with my 4 and 7 year old as it enabled us to talk about their lives and their experiences of their own everyday adventures. It came  at a brilliant time for us when I was trying to get my 4 year old to open up a little bit more about his experiences in Reception.

I should say that this is quite a quirky book, it suits my children’s world view perfectly as they are all quite creative quirky little characters, but some kids might not ‘get it’ and just be a bit confused!

You can get hold of your own copy here (and also have a sneak peak inside).