Picture books for children reviews – lessons in kindness

A gentle introduction to the refugee crisis – plus tales of big hair and a baby bandit

While the title may nod to a certain fairytale there’s not even a whiff of ballgowns or romance in Nadia Shireen’s joyous monster-slaying adventure Billy and the Beast (Jonathan Cape, £6.99). Refreshingly, the heroine here is a brown girl with a yellow cagoule, skinny jeans and a fabulous frizzy beehive in which she stashes essentials from emergency doughnuts to useful devices. British author Shireen has created her best character yet in the feisty and fun Billy, who rescues her woodland pals from the claws of a goofy green beast.

Elsewhere, some of this season’s most charming picture books feature people who seem to need saving from themselves. In Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival (Bloomsbury, £6.99, 12 July), a young girl’s anxiety is artfully expressed as a scrawled yellow blob with a black monobrow. The blob swells ...

Book clinic: what titles might help children deal with grief?

The Bookseller’s children’s and YA previews editor selects three titles offering a variety of perspectives on bereavement

Q: What books do you recommend for children aged four and up to prepare for, and deal with, a death in the family? What are the best kids’ books on grief?
Postdoctoral student, two book-loving kids (four and eight) and a terminally ill, much beloved relative

A: Fiona Noble, children’s and young adult previews editor for the Bookseller and member of 2017 Costa book awards judging panel
Talking about death can be overwhelming for adults; where to start with a child? Books are an invaluable way to open dialogue. Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy is a straightforward but warm, tender look at the loss of a parent through the eyes of a small boy. Cobb excels at capturing a child’s perspective and a whole spectrum of emotions: anger and guilt, sadness and confusion. The child finds solace in being ...

Tracy Beaker, please never grow up | Claire Armitstead

Jacqueline Wilson’s bolshie girl is now a single mum on a council estate. Raymond Briggs’s wordless Snowman is becoming a book for ‘a new and older audience’. Why can’t we leave kids books for kids?

Stop the world, I want to get off. On 10 March, it was announced that Tracy Beaker has grown up and become a single mum, in a sequel to Jacqueline Wilson’s beloved trilogy aimed at adults and teenagers as well as preteens. And now it’s been announced that Raymond Briggs’s Snowman is flying towards a similar fate with a retelling by the (admittedly admirable) Michael Morpurgo that will transport the heart-melting carrot-nosed snowman to a “chapter book” for “a new and older audience”.

A chapter book! I ask you! The whole point of The Snowman is that there are no words. He exists in the magical storytelling space that enfolds parents and the smallest ...

The many tongues of Lost in Books, the only bookstore in Fairfield

Most of Fairfield, in Sydney’s west, speaks a language other than English – and now it has a bookstore to match

Walking into Lost in Books is a little like walking into a daydream. Models of hot air balloons float near a ceiling covered in billowing white fabric. Bookshelves line one wall, murals adorn another. The gently sloping floor is carpeted in bright colours. A pile of cushions and soft toys is heaped in a corner beside some armchairs and a piano sits opposite. It’s a stark contrast to the hot concrete and brick of the Fairfield street on which it sits.

The multilingual children’s bookstore is the only one of its kind in the western Sydney suburb – the only bookstore, that is. The area hasn’t had a bookshop at all since Angus and Robertson turned its back on bricks-and-mortar outlets, and Kmart aside, the closest storefronts dedicated to ...

How we made Peppa Pig

‘After its success, we’d go to meetings with lots of ideas for other shows – but they just wanted 3,000 more episodes of Peppa Pig’

Animation is a slow, laborious process. I’m way too impatient for it. I want a lunch and a life. So, after studying animation at Middlesex University, I became a producer instead. However, two guys I met there – Mark Baker and Neville Astley – stuck at it. By 2000, things had become very hand-to-mouth for them: they’d make an animated film, pitch another, then make it. So we decided to do something together and Peppa was one of our ideas.

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Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham win top books honour

The couple, whose children’s books include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Borka, receive BookTrust’s first ever joint lifetime achievement award

Two giants of children’s books, Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham, are to be honoured with the first ever double BookTrust lifetime achievement award. The couple, who were married in 1964, are behind some of the most iconic picture books of the last half-century, leading to the unprecedented decision to celebrate them both for their outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

BookTrust chief executive Diana Gerald described them as “titans of industry”, adding that the charity had decided to honour them together because choosing between them proved near impossible “and [we] felt that the brilliance of both should be recognised”.

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Must monsters always be male? Huge gender bias revealed in children’s books

A thieving duck in Peppa Pig is one of the few female villains in the 100 most popular picture books. An Observer study shows that, from hares to bears, females are mostly sidekicks

Male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books and are given far more speaking parts than females, according to Observer research that shines a spotlight on the casual sexism apparently inherent in young children’s reading material.

In-depth analysis of the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017, carried out by this paper with market research company Nielsen, reveals the majority are dominated by male characters, often in stereotypically masculine roles, while female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked.

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Amelia Edwards obituary

Founding art director of Walker Books who oversaw some of the company’s great children’s classics including We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Amelia Edwards, who has died aged 77, was the art director of Walker Books and one of the most important influences on children’s book publishing in the 20th century. Working with some of the best illustrators and writers of the age, she built a list of classic titles that shaped the reading experience of generations of children.

In 1978 the entrepreneurial Sebastian Walker invited her to join him as the first employee of his fledgling company, Walker Books. It rapidly became Britain’s leading independent children’s publisher.

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Jill Barklem obituary

Creator of the Brambly Hedge children’s books

Jill Barklem, who has died of pneumonia aged 66, was the creator of the Brambly Hedge children’s titles, a richly imagined and beautifully illustrated series of stories that are a fine example of the pastoral tradition in children’s books. Inspired by her observations of the countryside around Epping in Essex, where she grew up, Jill created the series on the underground as she commuted to her degree course at St Martin’s School of Art in central London. Hating the overcrowded trains, she transported herself to a place of her own imagining that offered peace, space and friendliness, populating it with a community of mice.

The first four Brambly Hedge books – each set in a different season – were published simultaneously in 1980, thus creating from the outset a year-round introduction to Jill’s wonderfully imagined, small-scale world. Together, and mostly in the illustrations ...

Judith Kerr: ‘I’m still surprised at the success of The Tiger Who Came to Tea’

The creator of Mog on learning how to draw a tiger at the zoo, heeding the advice of her cat and still working at 94

Mine isn’t really a writing day, it is a drawing day and it varies according to the time of year. I can draw by artificial light, but I can’t colour or paint by it, so I always hope to finish a book before the clocks go back. In the summer it is wonderful, I can work until 9pm if I want to, but in the winter I try to get on with it in the morning. The summers are very carefree because I can go out for a walk during the day, knowing I can work the rest of the day.

I need to walk in order to think about work. I feel lucky to be alive at this time: I’ve had two cataract operations ...

Pat Hutchins obituary

Illustrator and children’s author best known for Rosie’s Walk

Pat Hutchins, who has died aged 75, was an award-winning illustrator and author, best known for her 1968 children’s book Rosie’s Walk. She created more than 40 picture books and short novels, all of which show her storytelling skills, her tremendous sense of humour and her warmth for children.

For two years from 1966, Pat and her husband, Laurence, lived in New York, and it was here that she first found recognition. In a recent talk looking back on her career, Pat described how she followed advice from Susan Hirschman, then editor-in-chief of Macmillan children’s books, and turned a long “and in fact very, very boring story” about animals into the simplicity of Rosie’s Walk. “There was one line in the story: ‘This is the fox who never makes a noise.’ Susan picked up on that one line and ...

Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers review – a heartfelt hug of a story

Jeffers’s first nonfiction book is a witty, tender introduction to the world for his newborn son

Like many new parents back from hospital, Oliver Jeffers found himself taking his baby on a tour of his home: “Here’s the kitchen, where we make food...” This sparked the idea for his first foray into nonfiction, a picture book introducing his son to “the big globe, floating in space, on which we live”. Unmistakably conceived in the afterglow of new parenthood – the sun blazes, everyone smiles and the baby is a cute, luminous cocoon lighting up the nursery – it bursts with tenderness.

As you’d also expect from the world-renowned creator of such characters as Henry (The Incredible Book Eating Boy) and Wilfred, with his botched attempts at moose-taming (This Moose Belongs to Me), it’s witty and fun. At the bottom of a diagram of the body, ...

The story that helps children speak out about abuse

Book and animation aim to help children identify the difference between good and troublesome secrets

Some secrets are worth keeping. A surprise birthday party for Granny, absolutely. An uncle peeking under your dress, definitely not. That’s the clear message in Share Some Secrets, a book by children’s author Christina Gabbitas. The story has just been animated by students at Sheffield Hallam University and turned into a free online resource.

If the contents sound somewhat unequivocal, that’s the point. The book, illustrated by Leeds artist Ric Lumb, is designed to encourage children to identify the difference between good and troublesome secrets. In the story, a boy, Billy, encourages his sister, Milly, to tell a teacher about abuse she’s receiving at the hands of Uncle Peter after she reveals that his visits make her sad. In what could have ended up being a harrowing tale, Milly is praised by the teacher. ...

Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels

Scary stories for Halloween, the transformative power of education … and fish-finger sandwiches

Ghoulish goodies abound for picture-book fans this Halloween, including I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien (Walker). Asked what sort of story he’d like to be in, Little Monster demands a scary one. But a spooky forest and haunted house prove too perturbing – and he wants to be the one doing the scaring … This is beautifully structured for reading aloud; a vibrant, viewpoint-flipping picture book that should lessen small readers’ fairytale fears.

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Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels

From a retelling of Rapunzel to a tentative romance, there is something for all ages from toddlers to teensAuthor-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red. Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist. Continue reading...

Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels

From a retelling of Rapunzel to a tentative romance, there is something for all ages from toddlers to teensAuthor-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red. Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist. Continue reading...

Jenny Slate: ‘Ivanka Trump is a fake feminist and should be ashamed’

The US actor, standup and author on her new film, Gifted, rescuing her career after being fired from Saturday Night Live, inspirational women and the terrifying situation in the White House Jenny Slate, 35, is an American comedian, actor and author. The middle of three sisters, with a ceramicist mother and poet father, she was raised in Milton, Massachusetts. While at Columbia University, Slate performed standup and improv. Moving to Los Angeles with then-husband, director Dean Fleischer-Camp (they’ve since amicably divorced), Slate joined Saturday Night Live in 2009, but accidentally swore in her first episode and was fired after one season. A stop-motion short animation made with Fleischer-Camp, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, became a viral hit, leading to New York Times bestseller children’s books and plans for a feature-length movie. With her distinctive voice, Slate featured in Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets. On television, she ...

Jenny Slate: ‘Ivanka Trump is a fake feminist and should be ashamed’

The US actor, standup and author on her new film, Gifted, rescuing her career after being fired from Saturday Night Live, inspirational women and the terrifying situation in the White House Jenny Slate, 35, is an American comedian, actor and author. The middle of three sisters, with a ceramicist mother and poet father, she was raised in Milton, Massachusetts. While at Columbia University, Slate performed standup and improv. Moving to Los Angeles with then-husband, director Dean Fleischer-Camp (they’ve since amicably divorced), Slate joined Saturday Night Live in 2009, but accidentally swore in her first episode and was fired after one season. A stop-motion short animation made with Fleischer-Camp, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, became a viral hit, leading to New York Times bestseller children’s books and plans for a feature-length movie. With her distinctive voice, Slate featured in Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets. On television, she ...

How Dr. Seuss could simplify boring, wordy documents

Bank of England staff read the children’s classics to learn how to get their message across. Who else would benefit from a little Seussification?
Dame Nemat Shafik, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, surprised an audience at the Hay festival over the weekend when she said that Dr Seuss books such as The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! are used to train bank staff in the art of clear writing, with the emphasis on “very simple language and very short words”. Previously, she said, the linguistic complexity of bank reports on subjects such as quantitative easing made them accessible to only a fifth of all readers; Seussification is designed to change all that. It now seems inevitable that other organisations will follow suit: Continue reading...

Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey review – chicest picture book of the year

Full of quirky detail, this father and son jaunt is satisfyingly sillyA tall tale of fatherly devotion with a dash of Edward Gorey and a lot of mid-century modern style, Daddy Long Legs is surely a frontrunner for the year’s chicest picture book. Created by two established French talents, author Nadine Brun-Cosme and illustrator Aurélie Guillerey, it’s a story told in glorious Technicolor about a dad with an unreliable car and his anxious son wanting reassurance that he’ll be collected from nursery. From the opening page, it’s clear we’re in for a quirky ride: Matty’s dad, a lanky chap with dots for eyes, a pink carrot nose and a drainpipe suit, leans, puzzled, over his old green “hiccuping” car. The pair eventually make it to nursery, but “what if the car doesn’t start again?” worries Matty. There’s always the neighbour’s big red tractor, says Dad, beginning to ...