December 6, 2018

December 2018: Picture This!

0-2 Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt

2-4 I Say Ooh, You Say Aah by John Kane

5-8 Detective Gordon: A Case for Buffy by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee

9-12 The King of Birds (The Gamayun Tales) by Alexander Utkin

There is something for everyone in our selection this month,with books that will make you laugh your Santy hats off or pull at your heartstrings, books young readers will race through or won’t want to end, rhyming books, singing books, shouty books, quiet books. All have two things in common. Number one, they have all been tried and tested with real, live babies, toddlers and kids and have received their seals (or dribble) of approval. Number two, all pay particular attention to pictures.

While this may sound obvious for the little ones, it’s not such an obvious choice for older children who often find the jump from picturebooks to full-bloodded novels a bit of shock and something of a struggle: where have all the images gone? Pictures in books for older kids can play a vital part in easing the transition. At their most basic, they help with comprehension (aiding readers to figure out settings, landscapes and characters, and to keep track of what’s going on). At their most ingenious, they are an integral part of the story.

In Brian Selznic The Invention of Hugo Cabret (9+), the wonderfully detailed and realistic illustrations often do away with words entirely and tell the story all by themselves. The splendid edition of Ted Hughes’s classic The Iron Man with art by Laura Carlin, uses pictures to help make sense of the enormous scale the story takes place on and of the sheer otherness of the creatures who populate it. They also help regulate readers’ responses of wonder, worry or fear, making the book never too dark, but always serious enough for its young audience. And let’s not forget comics and graphic novels! They are a lot more ‘grown-up’ than many adults would have you believe. They rely on a kind of literacy (visual literacy) that many children are very fluent in and that doesn’t involve phonics or spelling. Alexander Utkin’s Gamayun Tales series is a wonderful way to introduce children to Russian folklore while sneakily helping them develop those visual literacy skills as they navigate their way through action-packed panels, jump from one speech bubble to the next and fill in the blanks between the strips.

Younger readers still need (and enjoy!) their pictures as they take their first steps into longer picturebooks they can read by themselves and their first novels. The brilliant tales of Frog and Toad (by Arnold Lobel) or Detective Gordon (by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee) combine the right balance of text and image, the latter providing hints as to what to expect in terms of action, but also mood. For readers who can handle more text, comics such as Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin’s Akissi: Tales of Mischief or the completely bonkers series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton The Thirteen-Storey Treehouse will have them gobbling up page after page to find out what manner of craziness the protagonists get up to next. Sit back and watch the delight spread on your young one’s face as they race to the end of a hefty Treehouse instalment and proclaim: ‘I’ve just read a 300-page book!’

It goes without saying that books for babies and toddlers must have pictures. Or do they? If you ever have the chance, try reading BJ Novak’s The Book Without Pictures. Read it aloud to an audience of young kids and enjoy the magic … or the madness. But that’s another story. The best picturebooks will have something happening between words and images. The pictures might give extra clues that the text has overlooked, as in Oliver Jeffers’s The Great Paper Caper. They might make possible something that sounds inconceivable through words alone (check out Jon Burgerman’s excellent Rhyme Crime and what happens to ‘Gumpo’s lovely head’ to see what we mean!). And sometimes, the words might become part of the pictures themselves and act as stage notes telling the reader and the listener to SHOUT or whisper or sing or pat their heads, as in John Kane’s highly interactive (and completely crazy) I Say Ooh You Say Aah.

Last but not least, it can be tricky finding picturebooks that will actually capture the attention of really young babies. Car, Car,Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt is one such book with its brilliant mix of simple rhyming text (that will have you singing in no time) and clear-cut pictures of various vehicles. Lucy Cousin’s Hurray for Fish! has been fascinating hordes of under 2s for nearly a decade, thanks to its detailed underwater scenes and busy, friendly sea creatures.

Juliette Saumande is a children’s book writer who likes to turn each book she reads with her kids (or not) into an adventure. (


Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

Bloomsbury 32pp ISBN 9781408864968

(Age 0–2)

‘Car, car, truck, jeep,/have you any fuel?/Yes, sir, yes, sir,/ three tanks full.’ Hop in and follow a car, a truck, a jeep, a train and plenty more exciting vehicles along the busy landscape of this brilliant book. Based on the rhythm and rhyme of ‘Bah Bah Black Sheep’, Car, Car, Truck, Jeep will have little ones fascinated by the bright and detailed pictures and by the self-appointed task of finding recurring characters and machines from one page to the next. Expect this book to be snatched out of your hands and pored over in intense concentration and perhaps complete silence.

John Kane

I Say Ooh You Say Aah

Templar Publishing 48pp ISBN 9781783708727

(Age 2–4)

Ooh the donkey has lost his pants and it’s up to the reader to help him find them. With the narrator giving ‘helpful’ info and tips (‘When I say Ooh, you say Aah’, ‘When you see an ant, shout UNDERPANTS’ and so on), it makes for interactive, lively reading and you should very quickly have your audience in giggles. Perhaps not one to read at bedtime, I Say Ooh You Say Aah is a brilliant way to encourage toddlers’ listening and watching skills and develop their sense of humour.

Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee, translated by Julia Marshall

Detective Gordon: A Case for Buffy

Gecko Press 108pp ISBN 9781776571789

(Age 5–8)

Chief Detective Gordon is an old toad who has been in charge of the small police station for a long time. Chief Detective Buffy is a young mouse who has proved herself a great asset to the force since she turned up on Gordon’s doorstep. But where has she come from? And what happened to make her leave her original home? The two decide to investigate, braving storms, unforgiving terrain and nasty foxes along the way. Brilliantly told in short chapter with soft illustrations throughout, A Case for Buffy combines elements of mystery and adventure with a gentle sense of humour.

Alexander Utkin

The King of Birds (The Gamayun Tales)

Nobrow 72pp ISBN 9781910620380

(Age 9–12)

Magic and adventure course through the pages of this stunning comic. Based on Russian folktales, The King of Birds tells the story of how a small golden apple began a great war between birds and animals. Action-packed and full of energy, Utkin’s storytelling relies on sharp dialogue, and dramatic narration, but most importantly illustrations that roar off the page. The tale and pictures can get dark at times, but have all the hallmarks of an epic story that young readers aren’t likely to forget any time soon.

For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.

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