English 4-11 Picture Book Awards 2013 Reviews

Winner Fiction 4-7 Years

Hippospotamus, by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, Andersen Press ISBN 9781849394031

If you have ever enjoyed ridiculous rhymes, then this is the book for you – no matter what age you are.  Poor Hippospotamus has a spotamus on her bottomus and in every double page spread, one of her animal friends suggests a cure. Will she ever find a cure? Well, happily, an unlikely looking boy manages to find the solution!   With picture book makers like these we expect – and get – delightful and inventive language play, far-fetched remedies and laugh out loud images.  This is a perfect book to share with one or two children just for fun, but teachers could also go to town with classes or groups, creating new remedies and rhymes, playing with words and making new images. 

Winner Fiction 7-11 Years

Where My Wellies Take Me, by Clare and Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill, Templar Publishing ISBN 9781848775442

This is a beautifully illustrated story book in the form of a diary of a young girl, Pippa, staying in the countryside with her aunt, who loves going on walks while she is there. This simple tale is set out in a child’s nature notebook style with a fold out map, drawings and items stuck in that are found on the way. The illustrations throughout capture perfectly the changing seasons and all the wonderful wildlife, animals and people she comes across on the walk. The extra charm of the book is that they are also accompanied by a relevant poem by well known poets. What also makes this book special is that you can read it as a story, poetry anthology or fact-finding nature book, either alone or shared and read aloud. It is definitely a keepsake book for all.

Winner Non-Fiction 4-7 Years

A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld, Walker Books ISBN 9781406304916

This large joyful book, organised round the four seasons, has a scrapbook feel, with its harmonious collages of paper-cut illustrations, poems, recipes and observations .  It captures how children experience the natural world through looking, hearing, smelling  and touching. What is it like to hold a feather?  Or to become ‘part of the outside’ by being in a summery den?  When you throw bread for ducks they hurry across the pond ‘as if you’d pulled them by a string’.  Respect for creatures is encouraged: pond dip but ‘when you’re done gently put them back’.  Above all, young readers are urged to make time to look at the sky and dream.

Winner Non-Fiction 7-11 Years

How We Make Stuff, by Christiane Dorion, illustrated by Beverley Young  ISBN 9781848777217

A book from the same author / illustrator combination that brought award success and recognition for 'How the World Works', 'How We Make Stuff' has the same appeal, combining engaging presentation with flaps and pulls; it is the sort of book that surprises and has the reader desperate to share some interesting nugget - Guess why we say, 'As mad as a hatter!'.  Thought provokingly written, it transmits powerful messages about the environment without preaching.  One can well imagine a huddle of heads in a book corner, poring over this book, fascinated and transfixed!

Shortlisted Books

Horrible Science House of Horrors by Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles, Scholastic Children's Books ISBN 9781407116730

As the blurb says, ‘This book isn’t about just any house, it’s about your house and its uninvited guests.’  This is real science presented with all the putrefaction, grime and yucky bits. It deals with viruses, bacteria, infestations, animal and insect-borne diseases, with sections like ‘What’s crawling in your kitchen?’  and ‘How horrible is your home?’ and end papers crawling with bugs and spiders. Every section has cartoon-style images to illustrate the science and facts abound throughout the text with added ‘Bet you never knew’ panels.  Anyone who enjoys the Horrible series will relish this but it begins with a warning:  ‘Science is coming home – and it’s going to be HORRIBLE!’ Adults beware. You may never look at you home in the same way again! 

Mr Leon's Paris, by Barroux, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, Phoenix Yard Books ISBN 9781907912085

This cleverly translated picture book provides children with a glimpse of the wonders of Paris. Mr Leon, a taxi-driver, has been driving around Paris for many years and his unusual (if somewhat stereotypical) customers take him to some of the less-well known streets in the city. Moon Street, Chicken Road and Peking Passage really do exist and can be found, with care (and possibly an English-French dictionary) on the hand-drawn map at the back of the book.

The simple illustrations provide additional details about the characters and ensure that there is more to be learnt about the world than just Parisian landmarks. It would be a good book for anybody planning a trip to Paris or to support a topic on 'cities around the world'.

One Gorilla, by Anthony Browne, Walker Books ISBN 9781406325799

While this is a counting book (numbers one to ten) it offers much more, as it explores different primates.  Here we find orang-utan and chimpanzee mothers with their young ones, shy spider monkeys, moody baboons, and, of course, one gorilla!  The message is that we are all from the same family but each of us unique.  Finally, we come to a page that celebrates us as part of the human race.  Looking closely into the human faces, we can draw similarities with our animal counterparts on the earlier pages, teasing us to return to the beginning to once again count, explore and enjoy.

Rabbityness, by Jo Empson, Child's Play (International) Ltd. ISBN 9781846434822

Although Rabbit likes rabbity things like hopping and burrowing, he delights in unrabbity activities too.  Rabbit's creativity (he loves painting and making music) is contagious and soon the other rabbits also enjoy his pastimes.  But then Rabbit disappears and the animals can't find him.  They search everywhere for their friend and eventually find that although he has gone, he has left them his music and paintings.  Through these, the other rabbits learn their own unrabbity skills and to celebrate life again.  This story touches on themes of individuality, life and death.  Jo Empson captures Rabbit's joy at music making with explosions of colour.  The loss of Rabbit is felt through the use of white space and simple, sparse images. This unusual book offers adults plenty to discuss with children whilst they share it. 

Who’s for Dinner? by Claire Freedman and Nick East, Little Tiger Press ISBN 9781848954878

City Fox travels to the country and disrupts the idyllic life of all the animals there.  His aim is to eat the well-fed animals but Bull has a plan to bamboozle Fox. It starts with Hen who tells him: ‘I’m a horse! Foxes don’t eat horses!’ and when he consults his book, there it is: ‘Horse: DO NOT EAT!’ The confusion continues until Fox eventually finds the henhouse, throws open the door and has a BIG surprise.  The words and images together make for an engaging and amusing morality tale where Fox gets his come-uppance through a combination of brain and brawn.  The depictions of Fox’s enraged expressions add to the humour and the varied fonts enhance the language effects describing his increasing bafflement and the other animals’ fear, cunning then glee as he hightails it back to the city.     

The Fact or Fiction Behind Urban Myths, by Paul Mason, illustrated by Alan Irvine, Wayland Press ISBN 9780750269605

Generations of children will all at some point have been told to eat their carrots as it makes them see better in the dark! This book is full of popular urban myths and familiar sayings like this. Statements such ‘your fingernails keep growing after you die’ and ‘a dog’s bite is cleaner than a human's’ are all explored and examined humorously and the strength of the book is that it doesn’t just offer a true or false answer but explains why the saying may have some element of truth in it and to what extent it is Truth or Busted! The illustrations are quite eclectic - a combination of cartoon, well-known images of famous people and diagrams – which all work well together in the black and white busy-page style throughout. Together with a collection of different fonts and classic bubble writing, this makes for a very visually appealing book.

Katie and the Starry Night, by James Mayhew, Orchard Books ISBN 9781408304655

This vibrantly illustrated book introduces young children to five of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in a most exhilarating way.  At the art gallery, Katie climbs into the paintings and interacts with the people pictured. The adventure begins with Katie pulling a star out of The Starry Night. Then all the stars in the painting pour out and Katie calls on the characters in the other four paintings-   Noon, Vincent’s Chair, Fishing Boats on the Beach and The Olive Grove - to help her get the stars back where they belong.  This is a brilliant book which is bound to be the starting point for talk and questions.

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk, by Colin Stimpson, Templar Publishing  ISBN 9781848772151

This modern fairy tale is beautifully produced from the baked-bean end pages to its use of light and dark in the vintage-style illustrations. When the burger van, run by Jack and his mother, falls on hard times, Jack is sent out to buy coffee beans but he returns - you guessed it - with magic baked-beans instead.

Children will enjoy spotting the similarities with the traditional fairy tale: a giant counting his gold; and an enormous chicken but the setting, both in terms of time and place, lend themselves to quite a different ending. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read and would be great to use as an alternative fairy tale in the classroom.

In the Forest, by Sophie Strady, illustrated by Anouk Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud, Tate Publishing ISBN 9781849760713

A beautifully engineered pop-up book, whose power lies in its simplicity.  First, there is the forest, and then with each successive page turn, it decreases in size, until suddenly it is no more.  The forest, and its inhabitants, have been lost.  It seems even the sloth, the last creature to leave the forest, has disappeared.  A man arrives, keen to replace that which has been lost, and sows the seeds of regrowth.  New trees emerge and the sloth returns.  Soon the forest is abundant once more, full of life and a safe, green home to the sloth. A powerful, thought-provoking book.

Demolition, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, Walker Books  ISBN 9781406339369

Bang! Clang! Crack! A cacophony of sound abounds in this lively and enjoyable book which narrates the actions of the machines and workforce demolishing a building. Reverberating with onomatopoeia it is ideal for reading aloud. There is a rhythmic quality to the writing with words repeated and sounds boldly printed.
The attractive and colourful illustrations show the details of the machines. The book has a pictorial glossary with facts about each of the machines.

Suitable for Foundation and Key Stage1 it will particularly interest boys but the playfulness of language will appeal to girls and boys. There are also women as well as men in the demolition workforce!

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg, Andersen Press  ISBN 9781849394086

This is a case of an old friend revisted.  These pictures are well-known, and countless children will have told their own stories based on them.  Here, fourteen well-known authors play their own story-telling game with the pictures, with some amazing results, from the letter-based story by Kate DiCamillo accompanying ‘The Third-Floor Bedroom’ illustration, to Lois Lowry’s ‘The Seven Chairs’.  And the best of the stories?  We have a soft spot for the inspired ‘The House on Maple Street’ by Stephen King. What’s interesting here is the way in which, as the reader, you can see how the clues in the pictures have inspired the stories. 


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