2019 English 4-11 Picture Book Awards Book Reviews

Posted by boo11 at Apr 17, 2019 09:50 AM |



Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers (Quatro Group)

Ages 7-11


Finn remembers the stories his grandfather told him about a place where the ocean meets the sky.  As Finn’s grandfather is gone, Finn decides to honour him by building a boat fit for a long journey and to set sail to find this magical place himself.  Removing this book’s dustjacket reveals an object to treasure and explore.  The atmospheric and beautiful illustrations which fill each double page spread emphasise Finn’s dreamlike adventure, guided by a golden fish.  Readers will be reminded of David Weisner’s Flotsam and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and there is plenty for a young reader to ponder over, explore and return to as they accompany Finn on his journey.  This is a compelling celebration of family and the magic of stories.



Ocean illustrated by Hélène Druvert Text by Emmanuelle Grundmann (Thames and Hudson)

Ages 7-11

There are so many wonderful features in this beautiful picture book exploring the ocean. It is a large format book which makes it perfect for reading together with every turn of the page surprising with new creative ways to discover facts about the sea from the shoreline to right into the depths of the ocean bed. The book opens with a stunning laser-cut page of ocean creatures that entices the reader to turn the page and enter the underwater world. Once inside, Hélène Druvert brings to life the ocean’s inhabitants and the movements of the waves and water. There are pages with lift-the flaps, more laser-cuts, unfolding pages and layered pages to take you deeper and deeper into the ocean to reveal what lives at different depths. We discover shellfish, jellyfish, crabs under rocks, the inside of a shark, get close-up with a giant squid and more. All this is presented in beautiful colours of the sea throughout with a text from Emmanuelle Grundmann that is full of details and facts that will more than satisfy anyone with an interest in the ocean. It also ends with an important reminder to the reader of how essential it is to preserve the oceans. This is a book which informs and surprises throughout and is one to revisit over and over again.



I say Ooh You Say Aah by John Kane (Templar Publishing)

Ages 4-7


Reader involvement is encouraged right from the start in this hilarious romp with Ooh the donkey. You are kept on your toes as instructions on what to say flow thick and fast. If the text says ‘ooh’ you say ‘aah’, if you see an ant you say ‘underpants’ and if you see the colour red you pat your head.  Kane leads the way and through the variety of font sizes and use of capitals cues the reader into quieter and louder sections. He also teases the reader by ‘tricking’ you into saying underpants over and over again and into adding your own name so they become your underpants! This book will make you chuckle out aloud on your own, but really comes alive when shared with the young readers it is aimed at as they love joining in all the way through.



The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar Publishing)

Ages 4-7


This book of sweeping landscapes brings to life the water cycle, detailing the remarkable movement of water across the earth in all its majesty.  When Issac, playing in the rain, empties a jar of water into a pool on the mountainside, he idly wonders where it will go. The reader then follows this water as it journeys through streams, waterfalls, rivers and across oceans and continents, before returning finally to Issac playing once again by his favourite pool.

At all times the role of water as a source of life and energy is evident and it is the depiction of the water, in its various forms, that dominates each page.  The text is short but the images vast, drawn from a dark, rainy palette. In contrast the front cover has beautiful foil effect rain literally dripping down the page.  Both the illustrations and the language are rich.  Although the text does not pretend to be poetry, it does have a rhythmic, lyrical quality, reflecting the flow of water and words are carefully chosen to good effect, for example ‘The clouds let go their gift of water.’  A beautiful book that explains a complex process in terms that the young can understand.




Inside the Villains – Clotilde Perrin (Gecko Press)

Ages 7-11


Have you wondered what makes for the perfect villain?  This wonderfully interactive book by Clotilde Perrin takes you inside three archetypal fiendish characters.  Hidden gems lie behind the flaps on The Wolf, The Giant and The Witch leading you to discover their secrets. Fact files are concealed behind the pages and new stories written for each character.  This is a voyage of discovery into some of our favourite baddies.  Did you know that The Wolf swallows chalk to give him a softer voice or that one of The Witch’s favourite recipes is Rapunzel Salad?

Children loved interacting with the book; lifting the flaps, opening the pages, pulling the strings and levers and even removing The Giant’s knives and looking inside his boots!  The illustrations are captivating, and the stories innovate on old favourites.  This is definitely a book to enjoy sharing.


Dragon Post by Emma Yarlett (Walker Books)

Ages 7-11


Alex is obviously an eminently sensible little boy so when he finds a baby dragon living under his stairs, he knows he needs to seek expert advice on how to prevent it setting fire to the house. He does what he deems to be the ‘obvious’ thing and writes to the fire brigade. Naturally, in the style of the Jolly Postman, he receives a reply.  The book contains five letters in total including one from Mr Angus Teak the local butcher and another from his best friend; ‘the wisest person he knew’.  These five letters, which can be taken out of their meticulously crafted envelopes bring the book to life with their witty ingenuity and word play.  The extra touches of spelling mistakes and bites marks really engaged the children (and adults) with whom this book was shared.

The final words about this engaging book should be left with these child reviewers who summed it up perfectly, saying that it contains ‘a touch of emotion, a pinch of fright and a handful of happiness and excitement’.  Perfect ingredients for a wonderful read.



Baby’s first bank heist by Jim Whalley, illustrated by Stephen Collins (Bloomsbury)

Ages 4-7


Baby Frank loves animals. He loves animals so much that all he wants in life is a pet. However, his parents are not as keen on the idea believing that he is too young to look after them properly. The solution to his dilemma is blindingly obvious to Frank.   He takes matters into his own tiny hands and, on a visit to the bank, escapes from his pushchair and, capitalising on his size to dodge the high security, carries off a daring robbery, hiding the swag in his stripy romper suit and escaping nonchalantly on the bus with his oblivious mother.  Using the internet, he makes his first purchase. It starts with a meerkat and continues until his mother eventually discovers a rhino in the shed.  The rhyming text drives the story forward to a potentially surprising conclusion where Frank both gets his way and pays his dues. The illustrations bring the text to life throughout and children love looking to find where in the house the various animals are hidden.

This book was a favourite with child reviewers: one commented ‘I know bank robbery isn’t the right thing to do but this is really funny!’



The Big Book of the Blue by Yuval Zimmer (Thames & Hudson)

Ages 4-7


As with the other Big Books, Yual Zimmer’s The Big Book of the Blue is hugely appealing and brimming with interesting information about our oceans.  Each double page is lively and fun.    Engaging and interesting sentences provide readers with factual information on everything from flying fish and creatures which can be found in rock pools to krill and how our oceans are in danger. This book is accessible and informative for children of all ages.   There is also an additional hook for sharp-eyed reader – a challenge to find the exactly the same sardine 15 times throughout the book.



Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)

Ages 7-11


Sanna takes an emotion that everyone has at some time, that of being scared, and makes it concrete and visual in a way that children can relate to. This book could have a Philosophy for Children session based around it, talking about fear, or it could speak to an individual, helping them realise that we all have times when we are scared and how this can be overcome through the power of friendship.

The depiction of fear in the illustrations as a creature linked to the main character with its own emotions which causes it to grow when scared and shrink when happy really captures the reader. The creature itself is not scary and soon the main character sees that everyone has one. The books ends with a note by the author that includes an endorsement by Amnesty International ‘for reminding us that every child has the right to express their feelings, relax and play with friends’.


Cinderella of the Nile By Beverley Naidoo Illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian (Tiny Owl)

Ages 7-11

A falcon drops a tiny rose red slipper into the hand of Pharaoh Amasis. Seeing it as an omen from the god Horus, the search for its owner begins. In this version of the Cinderella story, drawn from ancient Greek writings, Rhodopsis has hair the colour of sunset and a kind and loving disposition but as a young girl she was stolen by pirates. Eventually she was sold to a kind old man in Egypt but his kindness angered his other servants, particularly three sisters…  Beverly Naidoo re-tells this story beautifully, with many motifs of traditional tales - bird and animal friends, Aesop as the ‘fairy godmother’ who has wise words for Rhodopsis, and a small, delicate slipper which can only fit the virtuous.  The illustrations are as rich as Rhodopsis’ hair, reminiscent of Egyptian paintings, patterned and detailed, with much to delight the eye and add to the narrative. This is a book that deserves sharing, perhaps leading to the exploration of the many other versions of this enduring tale.


On the Trail of the Whale by Camilla de la Bédoyère, llustrated by Richard Watson (Miles Kelly Publishing)

Ages 4 - 7


This is an ocean-themed narrative packed with facts for the budding oceanographer. Did you know that kelp stalks can grow more than 30 metres long? Sea otters wrap themselves in it so they don’t float away. Bold, vibrant illustrations draw young readers in to the story and active challenges encourage them to search the pages and follow the clues to help Otto the octopus find his missing friend Hula. There are quizzes and problems to solve, rhyming instructions and lively dialogue which reveal intriguing details about the world’s oceans and the creatures that live in them. Readers discover details like the wingspan of a Wandering Albatross (3.5 metres) and find out that some creatures, like the Fangtooth, are adapted to live 11 kilometres down in the deepest, darkest part of the Pacific Ocean. Words and illustrations work closely throughout the book so that special details in the text can be matched to the creatures on the pages. The fold-out front and back covers also deserve a mention. These reveal a panoramic scene that makes the whole book an immersive ocean adventure and the charts on the final pages ensure that readers will want to revisit every detail.



Spyder – The World’s Smallest Secret Agent by Matt Carr (Scholastic)

Ages 4-7


Spyder is a highly-trained spy professional who lives is the attic at Number 7 Flemming Road. Sitting comfortably with her feet up (all eight of them) reading a relaxing book (Charlotte’s Web) at the start of the story she receives instructions from Miss Money Spider on her spy-phone. Spyder’s urgent mission is to save Tom Webster’s birthday cake from the notorious villain: Bluebottle. The mission is a race against time. The world’s smallest secret agent has to navigate danger afoot, from Mr Webster’s Sock of Doom and perils such as Douglas the family pooch. Children love the gorgeous, striking illustrations in bold, retro colours. These and other quirky design features, such as the split-frame action shots, add to the drama and humour of the story and reflect the thriller-spy-adventure style of this witty tale. The story cleverly incorporates plenty of facts too. A Top Secret fact file includes gory warnings of Bluebottle’s eating preferences and comparisons given on the WEBsite explain that spiders’ silk has the relative strength of steel! The resolute puns, literary references and ironic twist toward the end keep parents entertained, which is handy, as this book is likely to be requested again and again.


Ten Fat Sausages by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Tor Freeman (Anderson Press)

Ages 4-7


Cast your mind back and recall the Ten Fat Sausages traditional rhyme where a pan of sausages gradually diminishes as ‘one went pop and the other went bang!’  Have you ever wondered what might happen if said sausages refused to pop and bang?  Well, this tasty little offering relates the demise of sausages with giggles along the way. Some do indeed go pop, whilst others escape from the pan.  Sadly, any victory is short-lived as each sausage meets their end in a series of kitchen mishaps involving, amongst other things, a blender!

This playful twist on the traditional rhyme made me laugh out loud and appealed to my naughty side.  Once I realised the premise of the book, I turned the page readily, eager to discover the next sausage’s fate. The irony of this jaunty rhyme detailing destruction was a lot of fun.  Poetry and image combine here to create a humorous book that would make a great read aloud in any Early Years setting or Year 1 classroom.  For those wishing to make teaching points, clearly there are opportunities to identify rhyme.  But, personally, I would share this book with a class just for its pure entertainment factor.


Moth by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (Bloomsbury)

Ages 7- 11


This stunning book is a wonderful blend of science, social history and artistry, which, in the author’s words, tells the ‘…story of light and dark.  Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’  Subtitled ‘An Evolution Story’ it takes the reader on a journey through time to understand how the peppered moth has evolved in response to its environment, tackling tricky concepts for young children, such as natural selection and industrialisation along the way. The story is told through a poetic combination of visuals and text, whilst the final two pages house a more traditional non-fiction explanation of the evolution of the peppered moth.

On each page, the interplay between word and image have been carefully constructed to have maximum impact.  Thomas writes with scientific clarity but also with some poetry, describing the moths’ wings as ‘salt and pepper’ and later as ‘charcoal black’.  Each page is a visual feast of mixed-media; I pored over Egneus’ breath-taking images and enjoyed considering how effects had been created.  Dark and light are used with excellent impact to communicate evolutionary change but also to create mood.  This book provides an excellent introduction to Darwin’s theories and justly deserves its place on the bookshelf for its visual beauty.


Margaret Mallett Award for Children’s Non-Fiction


Rebel Voices: the rise of votes for women By  Louise Kay Stewart, illustrated by Eve Lloyd Knight (Hachette Children's Group).


Beginning in New Zealand, the first country to introduce votes for women, the story of Kate Sheppard introduces Rebel Voices which travels the world telling the stories of the women and men who strove for women’s emancipation. With striking images, the individual accounts tell of these struggles, giving surprising information, for example, that in Australia, although non-indigenous women gained the vote in 1902, Australian Aboriginal women and men were not granted the right to vote until 1962. And theirs wasn’t the only country. There are well known names like Eva Peron, Sojourner Truth and Emmeline Pankhurst, but this book also tells the stories of some 20 others, including Matilde Hidalgo de Procel in Ecuador, China’s Tang Qunying, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria and Rola Dashti of Kuwait. The different accounts tell of individual courage, determination and endurance and the timelines and other graphic information give a view of the gradual establishment of votes for women across many countries of the world. In this unique combination of well-told stories and arresting visual text, this book will be the basis for much further exploration of issues of human rights – a worthy winner of this award.


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