Book Review: Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith


If you are after a well-paced comedy story for children but really (I suspect) aimed at parents then you cant go wrong with this little gem. The little penguin in the story is plagued with anxiety,  he cant fly, he looks the same as everyone else, his mum looks the same as everyone else. Life really isn’t easy. I think my children could identify, so much so that it made us all laugh.

This is a great book if you need to subtly get a child to open up about problems and convey the idea that everyone has similar anxieties. At the end the penguin realises that he only has one life and that maybe things will work out, then carries on moaning. It really is charming right up until the last page.

I love this book, its beautifully illustrated, funny without being slapstick or condescending and also conveys a message about life. My children thought it very appealing and have asked to read it lots of times since it was delivered for review. We haven’t stopped laughing about the penguins problems, thats not to say that they aren’t important and we don’t recognise that. But I think it has helped the children to put things into perspective and to laugh at themselves sometimes. When moaning starts happening I just remind them about penguin and all his problems!


You can find out more about the book here.

Book Review: A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Petr Horacek

first-book-of-animalsIt isn’t often that a children’s book appears that I think is worthy of pride of place on my adult bookshelf. This is the bookshelf where children need to be very respectful and careful with the books rather than fling them about willy nilly once they’ve read them. However, this is one of those very special books. The illustrations and writing are absolutely delightful, some of the best I’ve seen in this genre of books and this really is a book that is worth its weight in gold.

A First Book of Animals is a tour right through the animal kingdom from Birds of Paradise  through to Sailfish, wide-ranging with the unusual alongside the usual. The illustrations are worthy of an art gallery and i’d love to have most of them on my wall. My children particularly liked the page about beetles, they sat and discussed them talking about the features of all the different sorts and which colours they liked best.

Although this book is suitable for all ages, it’s clearly aimed at a younger audience as it is a ‘First’ book of animals. I think the writing is perfectly pitched with short poems or details about each of the animals. These provide just enough information to spark and interest and further discussion without boring the child. They’re sparky and punchy little bits of writing which are simply delightful. Fifi (7) pointed out to me that there are lots of poems which provide inspiration for the sorts of things they are doing at school in literacy.

I cant praise this book enough, its simply delightful and really nicely presented. I think this is an ideal Christmas Gift or a Christening present for a special little person in your life. I can guarantee that they will keep it till they are older and will always be able to find something which delights.

You can find out more about the book here. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Disclaimer:We were kindly sent a review copy

Book Review: The Stone Age: Hunters, Gatherers and Woolly Mammoths by Marcia Williams

the-stone-ageMarcia Williams consistently produces topic books for children which are accessible even for the most reluctant reader and yet again has come up trumps with this fabulous series of comic strips based around The Stone Age.

This book is a journey through The Stone Age right the way through to the advent of farming. Now, as an archaeologist I did read the book and wonder about the validity of a couple of things. However, I think I was being a little bit picky as this is a very difficult to write about and is subject to such a lot of change dependant upon interpretation.

The real purpose of this book is to inspire and inform children about The Stone Age, a topic which many teachers are finding difficult to come to grips with. Running across the bottom of  each page is a handy timeline which provides children with a clear visual reference. The cartoons are absolutely brilliant. Each cartoon tells a story that relates to a particular time period; The Neanderthals, Hunter Gatherers and so forth. These are great as they place events into a clear literary framework, which can inspire all sorts of creative writing whilst the children absorb information without even realising. There are very few books aimed at this age group which achieve this without confusing facts, however I think Marcia Williams does a great job.

If you’re looking for a really clever and engaging book relating to The Stone Age for your primary school age kid then you wont go wrong with this. The cartoon format works and is such a modern step away from vast tracts of un-engaging text that even the most difficult to inspire reader should enjoy this. Its certainly a fantastic addition to The Stone Age books on the market aimed at this age group and I suspect will be essential purchasing for parents of primary school aged children and school teachers alike.

If you’d like to find out more have a look here.


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

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.