2014 English 4-11 Book Awards - Reviews

At the English Association, we believe in the simple power of a good story, well told. When it comes to picture books, this means that the text has to captivate and delight, whilst the illustrations should complement the story, and bring it to life in a creative and eye-catching way. This year’s English 4-11 Picture Book Award winners celebrate the very best of picture books, and we are thrilled to be able to share with you what we believe makes them so special. Now it’s over to you - let us know what you think of them on our Facebook page!! (follow the link top right)

Winner: Fiction 4-7 years

Cover of The Day the Crayons QuitThe Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Harper Collins ISBN 978-0-00-751375-8 £12.99

Duncan has a problem. Each of his crayons has decided to quit, and has written him a letter to express how they feel. From overworked Red Crayon to the emptiness felt by White Crayon, the letters reveal a lot. As for Orange and Yellow, they’re not speaking any more - each of them is convinced they are the true colour of the sun! Can Duncan save the day and find a way to get his crayons to work together again? This imaginative book is all the more special, as it contains artwork of some real children. Pure magic on the pages!

Rob Sanderson

Winner: Non-Fiction 4-7 years

Cover of Get into ArtGet Into Art: Animals, Susie Brooks

Kingfisher ISBN 978-0-7534-3576-2 £12.99

Not only does this lively art book introduce children to a range of artists’ work, including that of Matisse, Degas and Braque, it also helps children acquire the skills and techniques which could enhance their own work. Each double spread features an example of one artist’s work, large enough for young learners to appreciate the composition and palette. There is a clear explanation about what makes the artist interesting and a flap opens to suggest some exciting art activities to try. Susie Brooks picks out just the right sort of detail to fascinate children. For example Maurits Escher intrigued mathematicians with his patterns of objects including fish, insects and birds ‘-but surprisingly, Escher struggled with maths at school!’ The painting ‘Fish (E59) ‘ is a wonderful green and orange medley of fish shapes; children are shown how to make a template for their own Escher- style tessellation. There are also examples of the skills of traditional artists, for example totem poles from the North West coast of North America and the blue and white dragon dishes from seventeenth century China. It is a good thing for children to learn that as well as appreciating art’s aesthetic appeal some of the best creations make an emotional impact on the viewers and make them think and wonder. This is particularly evident in two of the paintings shown – both of dogs. Edwin Landseer’s ‘Suspense’ shows a large, soulful dog sitting on its haunches waiting anxiously behind a door. There are clues – feathers from a hat, spots of blood and a knight’s armoured gloves- to help work out the sad story. Equally affecting is Andy Warhol’s ‘Portrait of Maurice’, a full frontal picture in dramatic pink, blue and red of a patron’s dachshund which stares out with gentle eyes. And there’s a telling quotation from the artist: ’I never met a pet I didn’t like’.

The selection committee considered that this book would be an excellent resource for teachers of the 4- 7 age group. The children would need some adult help when talking about the paintings and trying out the activities. Many older primary school children would be able to read the book themselves. Above all, the committee were impressed by the encouragement given to young artists to experiment in their own painting and drawing.

Margaret Mallett

Winner: Fiction 7-11 years

Cover of The PromiseThe Promise, Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

Walker Books ISBN 978-1-4063-3278-0 £12.99

This exceptional picture book has the power to take your breath away whilst filling your soul with hope! On a mean street in a mean city, a young thief makes a bargain with an old woman, who surrenders her bag in return for ‘the promise’ to plant what is within. On opening the bag, the thief finds ‘I held a forest in my arms’ and soon, it is not only the dull grey environment that is transformed. Lyrical language and soft, dream-like illustrations combine to create a mood and emotion that will carry readers of all ages along. The sombre palette makes a huge contribution; even the font is a shade of grey! A thought-provoking tale, with huge potential for philosophical debate in the classroom and interesting discussions at home.

Carolyn Swain

Winner: Non-Fiction 7-11 yearsCover of Charlie's War

Charlies' War Illustrated: Remembering World War One, Mick Manning and Brita Granström

Franklin Watts ISBN 978-1-4451-1033-2 £11.99

‘Tough lads, shy lads, mummy’s boys and bullies pushed out of the trenches in their thousands; going over the top into a storm of bullets and explosions’.

These authors know how to draw young readers into a fascinating personal story while passing on a great deal of information. When he was a boy, Mick Manning wondered why his grandfather wore a poppy in his buttonhole on November 11th each year. This book answers that question by relating his grandfather’s story of his experience of the First World War in France, Greece and Palestine from 1914 when he joined up, until the end of the war in 1918. Young readers first meet him as a boy before the war catching rats with his bare hands and starting work at the age of twelve, and at the end of the story when he comes back from the war to face new hardships. So he is seen as a person before and after his war service.

Mick’s grandfather was in the artillery fighting close to the front line and survived to tell his story to his family. The brutal realities of war are not hidden: the horrors of poison gas, the miseries of life in the trenches and the dangers faced at the front are told simply and honestly. But the friendships and camaraderie in the trenches and artillery positions where soldiers sang , played cards and made ‘trench art’ from discarded bits of wood are also part of the account. And there are glimpses of a feeling of shared humanity even with those with whom they were fighting. For example, when he was travelling along lanes in the French countryside and passed a column of German prisoners, one of the British soldiers who knew some German tells his companions that a prisoner was lamenting how much he was missing his family. This drew the comment: ‘The Germans don’t look like monsters to me. They’re just like us!’

Charlie and his friend, Fred, managed to rebuild their lives when the war was over. But these authors do their young readers the courtesy of showing them the realities of war. Charlie remarks that : ‘ the things we’d seen and done and the friends we’d left behind haunted us for the rest of our lives’.

The book is a fine example of autobiographical writing for the primary age group. The pages are superbly designed : written text, illustrations, photographs and pictures of memorabilia such cigarette cards are all carefully arranged and, where appropriate, annotated. There is a lot of telling dialogue and children will easily believe they can hear Charlie telling the story and be moved by it. The committee felt that this book was sensitively written for children and that the art work, which includes maps and diagrams as well as fine, evocative pictures of soldiers at war, gave the book its power and individuality.

Margaret Mallett


Cover of Silver ButtonsSilver Buttons, Bob Graham

Walker Books ISBN 978-1-4063-4224-6 £11.99

At 9.59 on Thursday morning, Jodie draws a duck. Just as she is about to add one final silver button to the duck's boots, her little brother takes his first step. This gentle story then goes on to show what else is happening at this exact same moment, such as a man buying bread, a soldier leaving home, a baby being born. It is beautifully done starting with what is happening nearby and panning out all the way to show a tanker heading for China. These moments frame the big moment of a toddler taking his first step and so it ends where it started, with his first step being celebrated by mother and sister.

It is a simple story that is full of rich detail and emotion with opportunities for many questions and discussions throughout. The illustrations also offer this opportunity as they are filled with other tiny details ranging from a falling feather, tying a shoelace to glorious urban landscapes. The words and pictures convey themes of humanity, kindness and compassion, uniquely portrayed, and so it fully deserves to be one of our shortlisted picture books.

Jo Bowers

Cover of BugsBugs, George McGavin, illustrated by Jim Kay

Walker Books 978-1-4063-2873-8 £14.99

The book's author, an entomologist, explains that Bugs will introduce the reader to the ‘mind-boggling number of species’ he has found on his travels. In fact, the visuals, layout and tone of this engrossing pop-up book echo the era of Charles Darwin beautifully, providing an old-fashioned feel to this subject matter for a younger audience. As the reader turns the page, they discover bite-sized, notebook style information and realistic yet detailed illustrations of various arthropods. The book is a triumph of paper engineering, with flaps, tabs and larger-than-life pop-up bugs, the most impressive of which has to be the fat-tailed scorpion. Whilst older children will soak up the information contained in each section, children of different ages will enjoy exploring this book.

Carolyn Swain

Cover of The Crocodile who didn't like WaterThe Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water, Gemma Merino

Macmillan Children's Books ISBN 978-1-4472-1471-7 £6.99

Imagine being a crocodile, unable to swim with your brothers and sisters. Imagine constantly being on the outside as your loved ones play ball joyfully in the water? Imagine feeling like a failure when you sink to the bottom of the river, rather than swim. Well, this tale teaches us of such an unlucky crocodile: a young crocodile, who does not like water. Despite his feelings, this determined young croc hatches a plan, using his pocket money to purchase a rubber ring. Desperately trying to fit in with his brothers and sisters, he takes a leap of faith – to no avail. Determined to succeed, he tries one last time, flinging himself off the high diving board. Cold. Wet. Embarrassed. Suddenly, a hidden talent is revealed. He isn’t a crocodile at all; he is a dragon- born to breathe fire and soar to new and exciting heights!

This beautifully illustrated book teaches young readers about the importance of determination, dedication and appreciation of diversity. Readers will empathise with this young, despondent crocodile, desperate to fit it with what he views as ‘normal’. When in reality, he isn’t meant to be like everyone else; he is unique, with a new talent to embrace. Striking and entertaining images, engaging format and language, portray a journey of self-discovery for this young ‘crocodile’; one that many readers will enjoy and be inspired by.

Heather Babbs

cover of AbigailAbigail, Catherine Rayner

Little Tiger Press, ISBN 978-1-84895-645-2 £10.99

Abigail the giraffe loves counting, but leaves, butterflies, Ladybird, Zebra and Cheetah do not stay still. She decides to teach her friends to count. Night falls, and counting stops. A flip-up page surprises with stars scattered across the sky. The illustrations are glorious, with sensitive watercolours of creatures. Warm, spicy colours evoke the heat of the African landscape.

Brenda Marshall

Cover of Mr Wuffles!Mr Wuffles!, David Wiesner

Andersen Press ISBN 978-1-84939-780-3 £11.99

David Wiesner has produced another distinctive creation with an unusual interaction between images and text. Mr Wuffles, a particularly bored cat, discovers an unusual new toy - a tiny alien spaceship - which rattles, rolls and makes noises. During the cat’s ‘playful’ investigations, it becomes damaged and starts smoking. Despite his unassuming name, Mr Wuffles is a source of extreme danger to the minuscule aliens and his piercing glare is something to behold!

The almost wordless story is cleverly told through a mixture of full-page images and detailed, comic-style tiles as the aliens plan how to repair their ship (and stay clear of Mr Wuffles). Readers are drawn into the story and encouraged to interpret it in their own way as the alien’s conversations are conveyed through bizarre hieroglyphics. Hours could be spent trying to translate their language, identifying which symbols are repeated in which contexts, and inferring possible meanings.

This book appeals to primary children of all ages and makes a good teaching resource; the alien’s interactions and escape strategy are great to explore with children in KS2 and the story could also be enjoyed and retold in KS1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Melanie Hendy

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