The Friday Book Review, The Stinky Cheeseman.

Todays book is ‘The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales’ by Jon Scieszka  illustrated by Lane Smith and designed by Molly Leach.

Wow what a trio! Leach is married to Smith and the close collaboration results in a beautifully, cleverly, awesomely designed book.The three of them have worked together on a number of books and they are all great. Smith contributes to a blog about children’s books, he says;

“I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child.”

This book is not newly published, but I had to include it here as it has been a firm favourite for so long, and an inspiration on so many levels, and for me sets the standard of what a childrens book should and can be about.

As I mentioned, a perfect trio, the design is witty, its fun, its clean, it pushes the boundaries and boy does it pull it off! As Smith said in an interview, he produces sketches and tells Leach what typeface he wants, she then tells him which one will work better and redesigns where his drawings will go. It works!
Scieszka’s writing is an absolute joy, playful,clever and storytelling at its best. He really does know how to talk to his audience. I love his playfulness and his reinvention of traditional stories.

And Mr Smith, I think I pretty much have everyone of his books, but this remains a firm favourite- maybe because it was the first one I came across, maybe because its just so good. I greatly admire how Smith constantly pushes his work, some more pared down, others more experimental. I love in this book how the three of them seem to have springboarded off each other. I like to think they had a lot of fun working on it, it certainly seems that way.

I remember reading in an article that it took them a long time to get it published. In todays publishing climate, I wonder if a publisher would have taken the risk? It’d be sad to think a book like this wouldn’t be published.

The Friday Book Review: The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My.

Todays book is ‘The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My’. It is by Tove Jansson and published by Sort of Books. It is translated by Sophie Hannah with calligraphy by Peter Blegvad.

As a rule I don’t have a ‘thing’ about the Moomins. But this book is wonderful. It’s the kind of book I would love to do and is one of my absolute favourites.

First the story, it’s a simple tale of Moomintroll going to get some milk for his mother and the adventure he goes on on his journey home. The text is rhyming in a way that carries you through the book and is beautifully hand lettered/illustrated by Blegvad. The book features the usual Jansson characters; Moomintroll, Mymble, Fillyjonk, Hemulen etc.

I particularly like how at the end of each page is a line encouraging the reader to think ahead or turn the page

“..Chased them away like Dust and Mess-


The design is great, featuring cut throughs from one scene to the next, which add to the depth and the whole idea of looking forward to what is coming next. The illustrations are printed in three or four colours per page, in flat colours, with glimpses through the page adding an additional colour.

The text is usually in a box and so it gets its own chance to shine. The hand lettered text is drawn in a way that some words reflect their meaning, ( a calligram apparently!) and this just adds to the quirkiness of the book.

It’s definitely one to check out!

Images taken from this blog review.

The Friday Book Review: The Dunderheads.

Todays book is ‘The Dunderheads’ by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by the fabulous David Roberts, published by Walker Books.

You are in for a treat with this one! The book is 56 pages long and for the older age range of picture book readers. As it says on the back,

“Meet Miss Breakbone. She shouts, she confiscates, she makes kids cry..

Now meet the Dunderheads, an unlikely band of children with extraordinary hidden talents, about to teach Miss Breakbone a lesson she won’t forget!”

The writing is great, everything you’d expect from a story titled ‘The Dunderheads’ and more. The characters names are inspired (Spider, Hollywood, Wheels,Spitball-now what could his special talent be I wonder??) and the story works so well, unlikely heros getting their own back. It’s a quirky story, with bite.

The illustrations are fantastic,as always, from Roberts-can you tell I’m a fan? The pages are a mix of double page spreads, singles, and panels dividing the page up. The characterisation is brilliant and beautifully compliments the writing. The illustrations are done in ink line and watercolours.

I was particularly impressed with his characters outfits, and he draws a very nice carpet! The compositions are very strong, oh its just fantastic, check it out! And for those of you who love it, as I’m sure you all will, there’s a sequel..”The Dunderheads Behind Bars”. I won’t say anymore for now, just that it doesn’t disappoint!

The Friday Book Review: The Chicken Of The Family.

Today’s book is ‘The Chicken Of The Family‘, written by Mary Amato and illustrated by Delphine Durand. It is published by Putman books.

The story is about two sisters who tease their younger sister by telling her that she is actually a chicken!  They take the joke further by leaving feathers by her bed and an egg, that she has supposedly laid, in the bed. The little sister, Henrietta, believes them and leaves home to join a farm and live with other chickens.

It is illustrated by one of my favourite illustrators, which is why I bought the book in the first place, little realising what a treat the story would be. It is a longish story, so is a picture book for older children , though younger ones would enjoy it too.

The illustrations are painted (in acrylic I think?) and are a mixture of double page spreads, singles and vignettes dotted about. The painting style is quite flat, with patterns /texture added on top.  Durand has clearly had a lot of fun with this book and the details of toys in the girls bedrooms clearly reflect some of the creatures that Durand is so good at creating. I love the lushness of the farm scenes and the cheerfulness of Henrietta playing with the chickens. The expressions of the two older sisters getting exasperated with Henrietta are great and very funny.

In the dedications of the book Amato thanks her agent for telling her a family story, inspiring her to write this. The tone of the story beautifully captures the way kids (and particularly siblings) can be quite cruel, though far from being moralising, it is a very funny book.

On Amato’s website it says that there is also a theatre script of the book and a musical- the chicken costume looks very good! It’s a great book and as it says on the back  ‘sometimes it’s good to be a chicken’ ..

The Friday Book Review: The Wildwood Chronicles.

The Friday Book Review. In this section, posted on a Friday (and I know I’m early, I’m just keen!) I want to bring to your attention some of the brilliant books I have come across. They might be old, new, a great story or fantastic illustrations- but in my opinion they are all great and they are all  for children.

Todays book is ‘The Wildwood Chronicles’ by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis. Published by Canongate Books. It is a couple of inches thick and is one of those chapter books that crosses easily between childrens and adult fiction.

This book is epic. The book tells of how Prue, a girl, witnesses her baby brother being snatched and carried away by a murder of crows. She gives chase and sees them disappear into the Impassable Wilderness, where no one ever goes. The following day she sets off to get him back. An unwelcome school friend  joins her and this is the story of their adventures. But it is so much more.. the world they encounter is beautifully imagined, and described and so well thought out. The writer and illustrator are a couple, and  they had imagined this world between them, long before Meloy wrote it. The illustrations are beautiful. A mix of full colour pages, small black and whites and some silouette illustrations, they just add so much to the text. The illustrations are painted in watercolour with some dip pen. Ellis uses quite a muted, limited palette with brighter colours here and there which really draw the eye in. I love how she uses loose washes combined with detail, she gets a great feeling of depth in her illustrations. As you can tell I really like this book. Best of all it gave you that  feeling that all great books give you, where you have been utterly lost amongst its pages, and can’t stop reading it or thinking about it, but suddenly the end is in sight and you have to try to eek out those last pages. I felt quite bereft when I’d finished it. Thank heavens there is a sequel, not out yet here, called ‘Under Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book 2’. Check out the beautiful animated video on their website.