2020 English 4-11 Picture Book Awards Reviews

Posted by boo11 at Jul 08, 2020 09:05 AM |
These are the reviews of shortlisted books for the 2020 English 4-11 Picture Book Awards by members of the English 4-11 journal editorial board. This list will be updated weekly.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson Andersen Press

Review by Melanie Hendy - Primary consultant & KS2 Assessment and Moderation Manager. Education Performance Team Leicester City Council and member of the English 4-11 editorial board.

The undefeated Kwame Alexander and Kadir NelsonThis remarkable book is, in fact, a beautifully illustrated poem. It tells the story of ordinary and extraordinary black and African Americans many of whom overcame adversity to achieve the impossible. Undefeated captures the lives of many historical figures from Phillis Wheatley, the poet, to Martin Luther King, the activist. Each ‘verse’ is categorised by a word beginning with ’U’ and the poem isn’t afraid to include those who were not so fortunate, the ‘unspeakable’: the transatlantic slave trade that transported between ten to twelve million enslaved Africans to America. Vibrant, glossy illustrations stand out from the pages, leaving the reader to wonder who the poem is referring to as no names are included. Detailed bibliographic information is then provided at the back of the book so readers can discover more about these inspirational characters. This book is a must for all primary school pupils, in the words of Kwame Alexander, “Because black lives matter.


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A Million Dots by Sven Völker (Cicada Books)

Review by Sue McGonigle an independent consultant and Co-Creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk and member of the English 4-11 editorial board.

A Million Dots Sven Völker Cicada BooksThis striking picture book takes its readers from one to a million in just twenty dramatic double page spreads.

Each spread includes numbers represented in bold digits and words, as well as sums which take you to the next page. The focus is on doubling and the speed with which you reach over a million is mind boggling. The invitation to attempt the calculations will have young and older brains working to keep up.

The imagery highlights all that could potentially be counted in the world around us from the number of spots on a ladybird to the numbers of freckles on a face and moves on to all that probably could not be counted from the number of blades of grass on a sports field or stars in the sky.

The minimalist design is bold, graphic and attractive making it perfect for sharing with a class. The final spread is an extra delight, a gatefold page emphasising the magnitude of the number we have reached.

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A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel Chronicle Books

A Stone Sat still by Brendan Wenzel Review by Stephanie Hilder a member of the English 4-11 editorial board

This tale has a mythological, poetic, dream-like quality that sets the unassuming text and tender artwork in a timeless, enduring and constant place. The story of the stone is a story of permanence, consistency, resilience and fortitude. It’s a story of perspectives, contrasts, diversity and drama. The stone in the story sits unmoved and always ‘it was as it was where it was in the world.’ As time passes, the stone represents different things to different creatures: a pebble or a hill, a feel or a smell, a kitchen or a throne and all the time the reader contemplates the stone and wonders ‘Have I ever known such a place?’ Words and pictures flow in perfect harmony, each adding to the other and both exquisite. This lyrical, thoughtful book is a welcome reminder that when the world seems to be moving at pace, some things remain constant and reliable – and perception may be all about perspective.

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A Planet Full of Plastic by Neal Layton  Hachette Children's Group

Review by Sue McGonigle an independent consultant and co-creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk. She is also a member of the English 4-11 editorial board

This book invites young readers to think about all the objects in our everyday lives which are made of plastic. We find out the reasons for the popularity of plastic since its development 150 years ago, but we also find out about the huge problem its safe disposal has created.


A Planet Full of Plastic - and how you can help, Neal Layton, Hachette Children's Group (Wren Book)Photography and comic style illustration are combined in a varied layout to introduce concepts such as the length of time different materials take to biodegrade and the effect of plastic pollution on ocean animals. The text is written as a conversation between an unseen narrator and a young child who is depicted on many of the pages, showing alarm and later enthusiasm about possible solutions.

The subtitle is ‘And how you can help’ and there is a call to action at the back of the book from reducing plastic
use and recycling ideas to coming up with a master plan to remove the garbage patches from the oceans.


Quill Soup by Alan Durant and Dale Blankenaar  Tiny Owl Publishing

Review by Sue McGonigle an independent consultant and co-creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk. She is also a member of the English 4-11 editorial board

Quill Soup, Alan Durant (illus. Dale Blankenaar), Tiny Owl PublishingNoko the porcupine arrives at a village tired and hungry after a long journey. But the villagers are far from welcoming, wary and selfish they deny having food to share. Knowing they are lying Noko decides to play a cunning trick on them. He starts making soup with a few of his quills, a meal he alleges he prepares for the king.  Intrigued and impressed, in no time at all the previously unfriendly villagers find that after all they have additional ingredients to add to the pot and improve the soup.  This is an amusing and clever retelling of the European trickster tale Stone Soup set in South Africa, the village inhabitants include meerkats and pangolins.  The illustrations are striking, full of detail and activity contributing to the storytelling by, for example, refuting the villagers claims to have no food! Quill Soup is a story with a powerful message about generosity and kindness with a setting and cast of characters which might invite enquiry into African wildlife and endangered species.

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Through the Wall by Jonathan Standing  Salariya Book Company

Review by Sally Wilkinson, a Primary SCITT Leader for Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT leading the team and working with partnership schools to train primary teachers. Current Chair of the English 4-11 editorial board.
Book cover Through the Wall, Jonathan Standing, Salariya Book Company

There are two groups of people in this story: the yellows and the blues. In the beginning they are separated either side

of a wall. Opposite the title page is a proclamation ordering all the yellow citizens to stay on their side of the wall.  As you read the story, parts of the proclamation appear at the foot of each double spread and contrast with the message provided by the illustrations and text covering most of the page.  This juxtaposing helps the reader do exactly what the main character, a lonely boy, also does – question the truth behind the proclamation.  This leads to him finding a friend, a blue girl, but she is on the other side of the wall.  They hatch some creative plans to be together and at last one works.  Not only are the two friends united, so are all the yellow and blue people as the wall crashes to the ground.  This story could support many discussions about relationships. For older children it could provide an accessible way to consider current and past situations where propaganda and physical divides have driven neighbours apart

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Book cover of #Goldilocks, Jeanne Willis (illus. Tony Ross), Andersen Press

#Goldilocks by Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross Andersen Press

Review by Isabel Macdonald, Senior Teaching Fellow Primary PGCE and Primary Teach First Module Leader English PPM PGCE and Member of the English 4-11 editorial board.

I am not sure when it was that I realised that the benign traditional tale of Goldilocks was actually about a child breaking and entering a house illegally. Perhaps the moral message had been lost within the humour of the young child’s misdemeanours and the glorious patterning of three which gave momentum  to the story until she falls asleep in baby bear’s bed or the focus on  Goldilocks’ search for something that was ‘just right’. Whatever it was, as a young reader, I missed it. Not so now, for Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, whose gloriously clever retelling highlights the moral message of the tale with an important new angle for children of this technological age. Goldilocks is recast as a smart phone obsessive who wants to develop her popularity by increasing her following on social media. This pursuit of popularity through the number of likes for her posts draws her into ever more daring deeds and she shares her adventures in the Bear family’s house. I won’t tell you the ending but safe to say, she gets her comeuppance. Written in lyrical rhyming couplets with the trademark comedic illustrations of the writing duo, the tale bounces along with a deftness which conveys the seriousness of the philosophical message underneath. A delight to share with children of all ages and definitely one to be read aloud. It also allows parents and teachers an opening to discuss some of the perils of the new technological age should they choose.

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The Golden Cage, Anna Castagnoli (illus. Carll Cneut), Book IslandThe Golden Cage
by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut Translated by Laura Watkinson   Book Island

Jo Bowers is an Associate Dean at Cardiff Metropolitan University, lecturing in literacy to student teachers. She has a lifelong love of children’s literature and is a member of the English 4-11 Editorial Board. Jo is can be found on Twitter talking and sharing books with other fellow book lovers at @Jo_Bowers

This remarkable picture book really stands out with stunningly detailed illustrations by Carll Cneut, filling whole pages of the large hardback book to pore over alongside the text set out in green font and large pencilled handwriting. The illustrations also contrast starkly with the dark and chilling fairy tale of Valentina, the emperor’s daughter, who collects the most exotic birds from around the world to fill her birdcages in her garden and chops off the heads of anyone who dares to come back empty handed. When she dreams one night about a bird who can talk sweetly to her, she knows that this is the bird for her golden cage, that will make her collection complete. What makes this quite a unique tale is how the reader is allowed to decide the end for the Valentina waiting for her talking bird egg to hatch. Anna Castagnoli has beautifully written an unusual European fairy tale for older readers that will invite discussion and most definitely encourage a wealth of possible endings.

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