Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ignis the Dragon written by Gina Wilson, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

When we decided to go to Pictiur at the Irish Museum of Modern Art this morning, I did fantasise about seeing one of the artists there. Artists do visit their exhibitions, I think. But when I passed the man on the stairs with the cowboy moustache, I just thought, "It must be a cool thing now, amongst arty folk, to cultivate an Oliver Jeffers moustache." Until I thought, "OH MY GOD. That IS Oliver Jeffers." I was going to turn back and catch him before he left, to ask him to pose for a photo with my kids but the chances of them saying "Who?" "What favourite book?" "Do I have to?" "When can we go to the gift shop?" were high. And also, I felt too embarrassed to tap him in the shoulder. He must be sick of people doing that. But I wish I  had! Oh well.

On another note, Pictiur is in the IMMA cafe and just beside the gift shop, which to my mind is the absolute worst place to place an exhibition aimed at children. It just meant I spent the whole time saying "No, we are not buying anything" over and over and over again. And this morning, the smell of soup was overpowering.

When I stopped fuming about the location and the soup and desperately regretting not saying hello to probably the most famous, fantastic author of children's books I will ever have the chance to meet, I noticed the Ignis drawings.

We know Ignis very well. Written by Gina Wilson and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, I found this book in about 2008, and when I did, I was thrilled. My second son was mad about dragons and believe it or not, there was a time when it was not that easy to find a kids book with dragon characters. When it comes to dragon books, this one is just about perfect.

Ignis is a young dragon who cannot yet blow fire. He tries and tries but has no luck. His friend Scintilla and sister Flamma are encouraging but they can offer nothing but kindness. (Aren't they the most beautiful names?) His Gran-dragon advises him not to panic, it will come. Look at the expressions on the faces. Look at all the illustrations. So lush and so lovely.

He visits his friends Poto, the hippopotamous, Loquax the Parrot and Cara, the little girl, but alas they are good friends but not dragons, and cannot help.

And just when it seems like there is no hope for Ignis,"the very last spark from the volcano's very last eruption, one hundred years ago , came wandering out into the open, weak and wavering and looking for something to light."

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Minpins by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Patrick Benson

I think by this stage most kids over eight have read themselves, or listened to the audio books of Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and all the other Roald Dahl greats. Even as I type Matilda is playing on a little CD player in the bedroom above me. (Miss Trunchbull has just fallen over.)

But yesterday my ten year old came home with The Minpins on loan from his teacher. I'd heard of it from my friend Sarah a few years ago, but think its safe to say its a slightly lesser known Dahl title. Illustrated by Patrick Benson, it was an unexpected treat for both of us. I love Patrick Bensons soft, gentle on the eye drawings, and could read Owl Babies a thousand times (actually, I probably have) and not get tired of those many, tiny black lines. Just look at this forest, and these little people.

Anyways, it was his bedtime read last night, lets find out what he thought.
"I loved it."
Why? What was it about?
"There was a boy who wasn't allowed into the woods and he went in and was chased by the Gruncher! 
The Gruncher? Who was that?
I loved the Gruncher! You couldn't see him, only his breath, he breathed out smoke because there was fire inside him, and you could see his shadow."
So what happens to the boy?
"He climbs up a tree and finds the Minpins."
Who are they?
"These nice little people who are afraid of the Gruncher."
So does the boy help them?
"Yes! Its brilliant, he leads the Gruncher..."

I'll leave it there as I don't want to give away the ending but suffice to say, its a good one.

Picture books like this, with a bit more bite, are great. It gives older kids an age appropriately gripping tale and the pleasure of great illustrations too. This would be a perfect present for anyone between eight and twelve. I mean, why should the little ones get all the nice stuff? Picture books for all ages, I say!

P.s. I forgot to mention that one his favourite parts of the book was the way the Minpins talk to and travel on birds. Pretty cool right?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Chop-Chop Mad Cap by Juliette Saumande, illustrated by Sadie Cramer

Here is my eight year old. Refusing to eat breakfast or get dressed for school because this book is TOO GOOD to put down. Not that he said that of course. Being male he simply ignored my pleas to hurry up and kept doing what he was doing. It took a LOT of persuasion (shouting) to get him out the door this morning.
Anyways, the book is called Chop-Chop Mad Cap written by Juliette Saumande and illustrated by Sadie Cramer. And it gets two thumbs up from this stubborn boy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

I knew nothing about Origami Yoda when I bought it other than I loved the title. My eldest read it in two sessions (he was eleven) and I ended up reading it aloud to two of his younger brothers on holidays. They could not get enough of it.

Its written in the form of a report put together a group of  middle school children. With (fantastic!)doodles by some of them. I'm not in middle school but I think the characters are really well drawn, the kind of people that you find something familiar about. Mike was a favourite of mine because he simply could not stop himself bursting into tears when things didn't go his way in sports. Its such a typically embarrassing thing for slightly older kids and yet I've never seen it addressed before. (And I did it all the time!)

And there's Dwight, the origami master of the school, who, when he knocks a drink onto the floor, wipes it up with his t shirt. Without taking it off.

As the main narrator, Tommy says "Dwight never seems to do anything right." And yet, the Origami Yoda on his finger gives great advice? What gives? (as I think they say in the States.) Anyone who has ever been called a wierdo will love Dwight.

And theres Harvey, the person who would have called you a wierdo, but he is human too. Like I said, its a really good book. This is what the chapters look like.

And the next book; Darth Paper, which is just as good!

Doctor Dan and Little Boy Brown

This is what the postman delivered yesterday. The plan was to hide them away for Christmas, but its November, and we need a treat. Doctor Dan is a Classic Little Golden Book, costs less than three euros and occupied my three year old for about ten minutes three different times yesterday. He's looking at it again now. So, well worth it.

Little Boy Brown is a masterpiece. I'd say it would be good for ages three or four to six or seven. Or anyone who likes beautiful books. I saw the review here and ordered it immediately. Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves is my encyclopedia for great kids books. 


I think it  might be one of the most beautiful childrens picture books I have ever seen. I'd gush more but my kid are hungry and I should really feed them!

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey

This edition is a Penguin Modern Classic and its small enough to stuff in a stocking. My boys have read it by themselves and I have read it to them aswell. Being written by Robert McCloskey it was a pleasure to say aloud and the illustrations are pencily and lovely.

Homer lives just outside the little town of Centerburg on his parents tourist camp. Its pre-Second World War America and Homers adventures (there are six in this book, more in Centerburg Tales) take place in the Diner, his bedroom (where he likes to make radios - he has hobbies, remember hobbies?), and his parents camp, where he helps. He's a nice boy and does his best, but can't resist breaking the rules every now and then. (For example, his parents would not be happy if they knew he had adopted a skunk called Aroma). He gets glasses of milk from the ice-box and drinks them with cookies his mother has made.
Each story is just the right length to read at one bedtime (they would be a little long if they were badly written, but they are not!) and whilst not nail-biting, there is definitely enough going on to keep everyone listening. This book is a little gem. We love it.
I'd recommend it for ages six and up for read aloud and eight and up for reading themselves.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Supposing by Alastair Reid and Bob Gill

I got this from the library a few months ago and read it to my then 11, 9 and 7 year old sons. They got a real kick out of it. Both text and illustrations are daft and crazy and very funny. It's just gas. Not all the pages are as good as the ones below, but most of them are. So here it is; Supposing by Alastair Reid, illustrated by Bob Gill.

Supposing I built a small boat and sailed around the world and when I was a mile from the shore of my home town, and everybody was waiting for me with medals and cameras, I just turned the boat and sailed round again the other way...

Supposing I had fur instead of skin...
Supposing a very beautiful lady fell in love with me and wanted me to marry her but I just yawned and said maybe...

Supposing I had a great house with valuable paintings and furniture and things and I came home one day and it was all blazing and burned down and people came rushing up to me being sorry for me but I just laughed and took off my clothes and threw them into the fire...

Supposing I appeared on television answering questions and there was one question which nobody could answer and although I knew the answer instead of saying it I just burped...
Supposing my Aunt Mabel came to tea and said to me how big I was getting for the millionth time and I just stared back and said to her, How old you're getting...

We also have a Balloon for a Blunderbuss by the same authors, and Ounce Dice Trice by Alastair Reid and Ben Shahn, both of which are worth buying immediately. But they deserve reviews of their own.

P.s. Apologies for the picture quality, I've been waiting for a bit a bright sun to re-do them but the Irish weather seems permanently dull these days. (unlike this book.)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Fortunately costs €4.35. Which is insane! This is a genius book that any child between three and seven is guaranteed to enjoy. Guaranteed. (I had to write that twice because it is so true and also because I can finally spell it on the first try.)

Every time something fortunate happens to Ned like being invited to a party, something unfortunate happens too. Every fortunate page is in colour, every unfortunate one is in black and white. Here is an example: because the party is so far away, Ned borrows and airplane, but the engine blows up.
Fortunately there was a parachute in the airplane.

Unfortunately there was a hole in the parachute. 

Its just brilliant. The colours are vibrant and beautiful and the illustrations are so clever and funny. Really, these pages are a pleasure to look and and read. Check out the expressions on the tigers faces below. And the little boy escaping from the sharks!

If I was a bit more organised I would order about six copies of this and have it on standby for birthday parties. Seriously, it really is a sure thing - EVERYONE will love it. 

We also have Arm In Arm, a collection of connections, endless tales, reiterations and other echolalia by Remy Charlip. He died in August 2012 at the age of 83 after a lifetime dancing, choreographing, painting and writing children's books. In an interview with the Library of Congress he said "I really don't know where it all comes from....I'm in another world and I'm very lucky." 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Thumpity Thump Gets Dressed by Cyndy Szekeres

This is another Petit Livre D'Argent. I have it in French but its easily available in English. Thumpity Thump Gets Dressed by Cyndy Szekeres was first published in America in 1984 and its such a sweet little book.

When Thumpity Thump wakes up, the weather is warm.

So he dresses in his swimsuit. But the weather changes - he is too cold! He puts on his playing clothes and hops into the sandbox. But the weather changes - it is too windy!

He puts on a woolly jumper and with Daddy's help, gets his kite. But the weather changes - it is too wet!

And so on. No matter what Thumpity Thump wears, he has to go back inside to dress differently. But every time his Mum and Dad and there, waiting for him with comfort and cuddles. I think it highlights how often in kids books the main character is isolated and figures things out alone. Not that that is a bad thing - it clears the way for many adventures. But here it is nice that this little bunny gets so much love - for Thumpity Thump there is no such thing as too much cuddles.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Pierre Probst

I love visiting French supermarkets, I love the kids clothes, the way the vegetables are sprayed with a mist, the yogurts in little clay pots. Two years ago I found the children's book section. Tucked in beside the many tasteful coloriage books I found Caroline visitent Paris. There are many Caroline books in this series but I chose this because it is written as a series of postcards and the short blocks of text were within reach of my Leaving Certificate French. Written and illustrated by Pierre Probst It was first published in 1984 and it  has a real eighties feel. (In a good way!)

Caroline does write to her parents but they don't make an appearance. On her trip to Paris she is accompanied by her pets; two dogs, two cats, and bear, leopard and lion cub. Its impossible to look at any  illustration without counting to eight to find each of them and see what they are up to.

This crew didn't come together in the eighties though, because after I found this book I discovered the Petit Livre D'Argent, the French equivalent of Little Golden Books. At only €1.70 each they were mostly books originally published in the fifties. Here Caroline's pets made few appearances in stories of their own. Below, the fluffy kittens Pouf and Noiraud, have a snowy adventure and go on a camping trip.

In the centre, also by Probst is my sons favourite, "Si J'Etais" which roughly translates as, "What I would like to be when I grow up."

You really don't need French for these little books, the illustrations say it all, and they don't disappoint. Keep an eye out in the supermarket if you are ever in France. 

P.s. Pierre Probst was a writer and cartoonist all his life and was hugely popular, mainly in his native France. He was born in 1913 and died in 2007. I've found some Caroline books in French on amazon and I know some were translated but so far haven't found any in English.