2016 Picture Book Awards Reviews

Counting Lions, by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 978-1847807212

This is a large book of ten double-page spreads of creatures – lions, gorillas, giraffes, tigers, elephants, Ethiopian wolves, penguins, turtles, macaws and zebras. The charcoal drawings are immensely detailed, and each picture is accompanied by a poetic description of each species set out like free verse in orange text. All the pictures are impressive, but the drawing of the lion, which is used as the cover of the book, is stunning. The magnificent creature stares out across the savannah, waiting to defend his territory. There is a foreword by Virginia McKenna, OBE, of the Born Free Foundation, which stresses the reality of vanishing species. At the back of the book there is further information about the creatures, including the protection status of each species assigned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The book has an important message, and universal appeal. Readers of all ages can gaze in awe at the fabulous drawings of the beautiful creatures. Young children can count the number of animals and older children can read the information sections. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to the Born Free Foundation.

Brenda Marshall

Dreams of Freedom, by Amnesty International

Frances Lincoln Children's Books 9781847804532

Dreams of Freedom is a picture book of powerful words by champions of freedom both past and present.  It is written in association with Amnesty International in the format and style previously seen in We are All Born to be Free.

Each page is centred around a quote or a poem from writers such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai, who demonstrate a shared commitment to justice, freedom, truth and dignity.  The words are complemented by a striking visual interpretation, created by a selection of well-known artists. The pictures have contrasting styles, reflecting the diversity of the illustrators contributing to the book, but all add an extra dimension, offering opportunities to explore the meaning of the text.  The illustration for Anne Frank had a particular vibrancy for some Year 6 children, with her tiny figure writing her diary in the eaves beautifully evoking the feeling of isolation, and an ominous feel given to the page by the planes glimpsed in the distance above the tall Dutch houses.  The book and its illustrations will prompt much discussion on human beings, life, and society.

Elizabeth Connolly

Greenling, by Levi Pinfold

Templar Publishing ISBN 9781783700554

Mr and Mrs Barleycorn lead a quiet life in a rural landscape.  When the farmer finds an unknown plant containing a strange baby near his home, he decides that it isn't right to leave it and he returns home to his wife with the baby.  Now that the Greenling has been brought inside, slowly the house is overtaken by nature: harvests of fruits, vegetables and flowers begin to grow freely.  Mrs Barleycorn's distrust of the baby and distance from her husband are increased as the baby's strange powers take hold of their home and of her husband's heart.  However, when an angry crowd of people come to remove the Greenling for taking over their world, Mrs Barleycorn stands up for the child.  At this acceptance, the Greenling provides the villagers with a bountiful harvest which unites the community.  Then the Greenling disappears.

Written in rhyme, this is a modern fable which draws on folklore.  The intricate and beautiful illustrations demonstrate the mysterious powers of the Greenling over the landscape and people.  This is a magical and poignant tale which will spark discussion.  The detail of the illustrations invites rereading and exploration which may lead to many different interpretations.

Rebecca Kennedy

I Am Henry Finch, by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Walker Books ISBN 9781406357134

Henry is a finch, whose community is plagued by a Beast.  But Henry is not any finch, he is a finch who has a thought.  He translates that thought into an unexpectedly brave and decisive action which, in turn, helps to change the way the Beast thinks.  Henry’s actions ultimately lead to the finch community thinking and acting on their own individual thoughts.  Henry is the perfect embodiment of how the power of thought combined with action, can bring about huge change.  This deceptively simple picture book, with its quirky - and entirely appropriate ‘thumb print’ illustrations of the finches is a must have in any primary school book collection.

Rob Sanderson

I Love This Tree, by Anna Claybourne

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445130750

This delightful non-fiction text opens with some contextual framing, with the author’s declaration on the first page that, ‘Close to my house, there’s a beautiful, huge, spreading sweet chestnut tree.  I see it every day.’   It seems that gazing on this tree each day has provoked many questions such as, ‘What if there were no trees at all?’ and ‘...just how many trees are there?’  Thus the author’s sweet chestnut tree, an old living deciduous, becomes the inspiration and then the vehicle for a book where such questions are explored.

This charming exploration of all things tree-related covers a wide range of topics, including the life of a tree, the importance of trees on our planet and the tree habitat itself.  Throughout the author refers back to her original tree, which lends the book a personal touch, perhaps asking the reader to also consider a tree that they know.
The book contains a mixture of photos and artwork alongside the factual information, making it visually appealing. There are also some pleasing touches, such as the use of a branch of a tree to demonstrate a timeline of what the tree may have seen in its lifetime. With its interesting content and presentation, the judging panel consider this a welcome addition to any primary library.

Carolyn Swain

One Day On Our Blue Planet...in the Savannah, by Ella Bailey

Flying Eye Books ISBN 9781909263567

This is the second in a new series of children's books focused on the way young animal friends spend a day.

Ideally suited to year groups 1-3, children will enjoy watching the curious lion cub minding his mother and playing with his father.  They will have fun joining in as he chases trouble and will delight in exploring the little corner of that big blue planet he shares with us. Fans of animals, nature, and ecology will be thrilled by the adventures of our playful lion cub as they learn all about young animals and their homes.

Ella Bailey's brilliant illustrations bring to life the vibrancy of the land and the encylopedic end papers  are a comprehensive exploration of the living creatures found in the African Savannah. The story line is simple but informative with introductory vocabulary and concepts about the Savannah. A great addition to be read aloud or independently, which expands a child’s knowledge about nature.

Jane Myerscough

Take Away the A, by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Andersen Press ISBN 9781783443444

This is a highly innovative alphabet book that keeps you page turning until the end. Such a simple idea that is so effective and imaginative: each page works from A to Z and subtracts a single letter from a word to transform it into a completely new word. It asks you to imagine a world without each of the letters of the alphabet, e.g. without the A the beast is the best. Both words on each page are then illustrated together in a fun and humorous way. Language is used playfully and celebrated throughout, with some pairs of words rhyming too. The book invites interaction and it’s hard not to resist trying out other combinations just by the inventiveness on each page of both the words and pictures. The illustrations are original, quirky and beautifully enhance the humour and meaning throughout with a theme of animals having adventures together. From start to finish this book is a sheer delight.

Jo Bowers

The Bear and the Piano, by David Litchfield

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 9781847807175

A young bear finds a piano in the middle of a clearing in the forest and teaches himself to play. Combining persistence and talent he plays firstly for himself, then well enough to engage his friends until finally, he leaves the forest to share his music with a wider audience. The illustrations early in the book cleverly demonstrate the passage of time and the confidence of the bear  as he learns to play. They sensitively convey the impact that music has on the soul as well as the power of learning by discovery. The book follows the common home-away-home pattern found in children’s books, but touches on a theme of loneliness and importantly the difference between being alone and being lonely. It reminds children that fame can be a lonely experience and that being amongst friends who mean something to you is as important, if not more so, than the accolades that acclaim may bring. In a world where for some being famous is a common ambition, this book, with its evocative images, carries an important reminder of the importance of friendship in every situation.

Isabel Macdonald

The Crow's Tale, by Naomi Howarth

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 9781847806147

This beautiful book, inspired by a Native American legend, combines glorious colour and lyrical rhyme to create a story that young children will want to hear read again and again. It is set in a world of snow and ice where a group of animals huddle together for warmth (the polar bear's expression says it all!). They are expressively portrayed from the magnificently coloured crow to the watery hues of the walrus. In their desperation, they devise a plan to save themselves from their plight.

The tale is told effectively through rhyming couplets providing listeners with a wonderful opportunity to predict who should visit the sun to ask for more heat - no prizes for guessing who goes! The quest is fraught with danger for the crow and appears to end in sorrow but we are shown that it is his courage and kindness that is important - not his appearance! It would be a super introduction to legends!

Mel Hendy

The First Slodge, by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Little Tiger ISBN 9781848690387

‘Once upon a slime, there was a Slodge.  The first Slodge in the universe.’  Everything this blob-like creature sees is ‘Mine, all mine’ but not for long, when she wakes to find that another Slodge has taken a bite out of the first fruit! How dare he? Before you know it, the two are battling for supremacy before a greater threat brings them together and they decide that actually no-one owns the world; it should be shared.

Despite its thought-provoking content, Willis and Desmond manage to deliver the message with a great deal of humour.  Words and pictures are combined to create some lovely comic moments.  The book is beautifully illustrated, in a soft green and blue palette by Jenni Desmond, who does a fantastic job of conveying the characters’ emotions through their facial expressions.

What begins as a charming and witty tale with the frontispiece showing the first Slodge declaring, ‘my book’, continues to the end.  I wonder if you can guess how this declaration is altered in the endpiece?  A creation myth but also a fable about sharing and friendship, this book is an absolute delight to read and will be sure to generate challenging questions and thoughts amongst young readers.

Carolyn Swain

The School of Art, by Teal Triggs, illustrated by Daniel Fox

Wide Eyed Editions ISBN 9781847806116

Triggs and Frost invite their readers, probably aged nine years or older, to imagine they are attending an art course over an academic year. Five imaginary ‘professors’, each with a different personality and each with a different expertise,  give between them 40 lessons covering such basics as form, line, composition, colour, shape and perspective. After explaining a key concept each professor sets out some guided activities. For example in Lesson 35, about telling stories by using pictures,  the follow up activity is ‘ to use a comic format to tell a story to your friends’.

Every encouragement is given to help young readers ‘think visually’. With this in mind, Lesson 17 is about how ‘different colour combinations can cause different reactions’. The activity that follows is to paint a picture of two rooms- one bright yellow and the other one blue and to ask people which room looks happy and which makes them feel calm.  We liked the questioning approach in this book and felt we were engaging in a conversation: ’How does ‘contrast’ work to make colours brighter?  and ‘What is ‘rhythm’ in art?’  Welcome  involvement continues to the end of the book when readers are invited to make their own creation in the blank frame.  This large information and activity packed book is beautifully designed and so full of life and humour it is bound to be an inspiration to any young artist.

Margaret Mallett

The Story of Life: A First Book About Evolution, by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 9781847804853

How do you best create a book which meets the challenge of explaining to young children how life began and evolved on earth? ‘The Story of Life’ is a large format tome which does this magnificently through pages alive with dramatic illustrations, an inviting main written text and copious captions and speech bubbles.  Young readers are taken through a series of significant stages.  First the book depicts a time when nothing lived on earth - a noisy, dangerous place full of erupting volcanoes and meteorites from space ‘smashing into churning seas’.  Then it tells of the first simple one cell life and explains how, later on,  fish became developed enough to emerge from the sea onto swampy forests.  The time of the dinosaurs - always of great interest to the very young - and the ice age which the first warm blooded hairy mammals survived - comes next. Children will love the touches of humour – ‘lovely and squelchy in here!’ remarks a frog in a swamp. But, nevertheless, with advice from experts at The Natural History Museum, this account is sound in the present stage of knowledge. It is a simply splendid starting point for children’s understanding of demanding but important concepts. Young learners will be fascinated – so be prepared for lots of searching questions.

Margaret Mallett

The Wonder Garden, by Jenny Broom, illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams

Wide Eyed Editions ISBN 9781847806475

The first thing you notice about this book is the beautiful front cover. It is exquisite and feels 3-dimensional with a gold embellished gate inviting you into amazing habitats full of wonderful wildlife which fill up the cover. Opening the book certainly does not disappoint either. The Wonder Garden explores the different habitats from around the world, some which are more well-known than others – The Amazon Rain Forest, The Great Barrier Reef and the Himalayan Mountains – while also including lesser known habitats - The Black Forest in Germany and The Chihuahua Desert.

What sets this apart from other non-fiction books that look at animals and their habitats is the wonderful, colourful illustrations and the choice and variety of animals. Each chapter has just enough information about each habitat and animal for you to find out new facts but allows you to feel hungry to research for more. This book is inviting and a perfect stimulus to start any habitat topic for children aged 7-11.

Jo Bowers

William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the world’s greatest writer, by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 9781847803450

This hugely enjoyable book takes young readers from William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564, through his childhood and schooldays and then on through his marriage and move to London to become a great actor playwright.  With their distinctive multimodal spreads with lively, colourful  pictures, speech  bubbles and informative text, Manning and Granström bring alive Shakespeare’s life and times. The spread showing London reveals the rickety wooden houses ‘at precarious angles’ and gives a realistic picture of the cobbled street ‘slippery with rubbish’.  William must have found the London streets very different to the countryside in Stratford.  These author illustrators  help give their young readers a convincing  picture of the vibrant but dangerous  place Tudor London was when William arrived there to find people carrying swords and knives for protection.

The significance of The Globe theatre which opened in 1599 is well explained and the interior with a large lively audience and actors in Tudor costume is shown in a detailed double spread. Stories of some of the favourite plays –including ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘and ‘Romeo and Juliet’- are set out with lively graphic illustrations.  Informed by the latest biographical research with the help of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this is a simply marvellous introduction to our greatest writer.  We found that children queued up to read it.

Margaret Mallett

Share this page: