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.

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: TIMELINE: Activity Book by Peter Goes

timelineactivitybook_hr-coverTIMELINE: Activity Book is the companion book to the best selling Timeline book. This book is basically a timeline through history from dinosaurs onwards. As you travel through the book you’re asked to complete or add to the illustrations. Its sort of like a very lovely artistic workbook. In fact, if you view it that way it will be the nicest work book you’ve ever seen.

This idea is a brilliant and interactive way to get children learning and thinking about history. The way that you move through time as you move through the book encourages children to draw parallels between different time periods and to use their imagination. Drawing is very important for children, it encourages their fine motor skills, imagination and allows for a creative outlet.

My seven year old daughter absolutely loves this book, shes spent most of half term sitting, reading and illustrating. She has been creating her own little worlds in different time periods of history and learning at the same time. The book has encouraged her to research the things she is meant to be drawing and really think about the time periods. I’m so impressed. Not only that, she has a beautiful book which she has illustrated herself and can keep.

Adding the tentacles

Fifi’s cave painting

I think this would make the ideal book for any child (or adult- i’m tempted to buy my own copy) for Christmas. If you’d like to find out more you can have a look at the Gecko Press website here

Book Review: Happy Hooves- Yuk! and a blog from the author Anna Bogie

happy-hoovesOne of our current  favourite bedtime reads is Happy Hooves- Yuk! by Anna Bogie and illustrated by Rebecca Elliot. This is the third book in a brilliant series  inspired by the Sapnish Countryside where Anna lives at the weekend. This is a story of friendship, inappropriate cooking and overcoming differences.

My children think this book is hilarious, the story clearly hits the right note with them. I’m a little concerned they think it somehow relates to them and my cooking abilities!

The book is nicely illustrated with a real retro feel which makes it stand out from the usual farm animal type books. Overall, its been a big hit, so I was thrilled when the author Anna Bogie offered to tell me how her kids inspired her writing:

How having kids inspires my writing- Anna Bogie

anna-bogieI’ve always loved writing but it wasn’t until I spent a lot of time with my (then) young nephews that I actually tried to make a career out of being a children’s author. I loved reading with my nephews, and adored the closeness and bond I had with them when we snuggled together with a good book. These feelings inspired me to start writing down the ideas that were floating in my head.

Being with children makes you look at the world through their eyes, and now, having three young children myself, I do this constantly. From the games we play, to the things that they ask about, they are little banks of inspiration – I might have to have some more babies so I can keep the bank filled up, although my hubby might not agree…!

Being serious, though, children have the most incredible, inquisitive, and imaginative minds. If I can just translate their thoughts onto paper, then I’ll have a bestseller – hopefully they won’t mind if I leave the copyright deeds to them?! I am always writing things down when I’m with children – little nuggets of genius from simple words that they make up (like ‘lasterday’ and ‘nextoday’), to what the moon is doing in the sky in the daytime, and why I have squirrels on my skin (my nephew confused squirrels with moles).

My latest book, ‘Happy Hooves, Yuk!’, was inspired by my son who was going through a ‘tricky eating’ phase. Sometimes I would (jokingly!) threaten disgusting meals if he wouldn’t eat what I had given him… slug and snails, mud pie etc… to this he would shout ‘Yuk!’ or ‘Bleugh!’ and in the end would giggle and be persuaded to try one bite of broccoli. This went on for quite a while and so when I came to write Yuk!, it didn’t take me very long at all as so much of it was already in my head.

My kids are my constant inspiration for writing, and my writing keeps me, vaguely, sane being a busy mum of three.

Happy Hooves, Yuk! is published by Fat Fox Books, £10.99 hardback

You can follow Anna on:

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