Hey Grandude! by Paul McCartney and Kathryn Durst review – no magical mystery tour


This post is by Kitty Empire from Books | The Guardian


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An old rocker takes his bored grandkids for a ride in the former Beatle’s safe second children’s book

Is there a single celebrity who hasn’t written a children’s book? Madonna alone has published a dozen. Unwholesome curmudgeons, venal narcissists, the 1% – the Queen of Jordan is in on the act – all believe they are entitled to cobble together a mothwing of a plot whose holes are magically filled in by fairy dust. Moral high-ground natives such as Keith Richards and smiley, personable types like Bob Dylan have picture books on shelves.

Paul McCartney got in early – Hey Grandude! is not the former Beatle’s first foray into young minds. A decade ago, alongside Philip Ardagh and Geoff Dunbar, he put out High in the Clouds. Although the title may have suggested a lysergic post-Dr Seuss romp, High… was an environmental parable starring Wirral the Squirrel. A ...

‘They just wanted us to read about a white boy and his dog’: why teenager Marley Dias fought back


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She was 10 when she first decided to distribute children’s books with black girl leads – a campaign that has taken her to the White House. Now she’s written a book of her own

When I arrive at the photography studio to meet the education activist Marley Dias, I am surprised to find the shoot is long over. The 14-year-old is sitting patiently, her luggage packed, coat neatly slung over her lap, waiting. The photographer explains the early finish is because they got all the pictures they needed with Dias near-immediately; that she is the perfect subject to work with.

This was perhaps the first inkling of what would become abundantly clear during our interview: Marley Dias is a pro. Despite her tender years, the campaigner for diverse children’s books – which took her from her New Jersey home town to the White House – carries herself with a mature ...

Children’s picture book reviews round-up – to the moon and back


This post is by Imogen Carter from Books | The Guardian


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Imaginations rove from the wonders of space travel to the world of a pea

Publishers this summer seem determined to produce the next generation of space explorers. July marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings, and picture book authors have responded to the event with gusto across space-themed fiction and factual titles. My pick of the bunch is Viviane Schwarz’s fictional How to Be on the Moon (6 June, Walker), which perfectly captures its magnetic pull.

The second adventure for Schwarz’s best-friend duo Anna and Crocodile finds Anna longing to visit the white glimmering ball she can see out of her window. “But that’s out in space,” says Crocodile… “It will be almost impossible.” Together they decide that if they take their special skills – maths, patience – along with sandwiches and travel games, they can make it happen. With her inky, splotchy illustrations and can-do ...

Book clinic: What can I give a child to help them with losing a parent?


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Writer and critic Kate Kellaway suggests nonfiction and novels to support young people dealing with grief

Q: Are there any children’s books dealing with grief and, specifically, losing a parent? My niece and nephew, aged 11 and seven, are likely to lose their mum due to illness and I am wondering what may be of help.
Anonymous, 38

A: Kate Kellaway, Observer writer and critic, writes:
The first thing to say is that there is a gap where the perfect book should be. I’ve been to bookshops to inquire (a book was thrust into my hands in which a mother is in a car crash but survives). I’ve searched online and, with premature triumph, ordered Still Here With Me: Teenagers and Children on Losing a Parent, edited by a Swedish writer, Suzanne Sjöqvist. But the book’s first-person accounts seem more depressing than consoling (double-check – you’ll know what is ...

Picture books for children – reviews


This post is by Imogen Carter from Books | The Guardian


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A rowdy camel, hippo and alligator unite an uptight family, while Darwin’s seminal study is retold in pictures

Poor Harold Snipperpot is about to turn seven and longing for his first proper birthday party. Normally too uptight for parties, his parents relent and call up Mr Ponzio, the local problem solver, who promises something “absolutely extraordinary” to mark the day.

Into the family’s pristine palace, all art deco antiques and potted plants, marches a mob of wild animals. All is fine at first: Dad snaps a selfie with a camel, a penguin gazes out of a stained glass window, but there’s a smirking alligator climbing the stairs followed by a hippo with a bottom so big and ripe for destruction that calamity is surely imminent.

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The best children’s books of 2018 for all ages


This post is by Fiona Noble, Imogen Carter, Kitty Empire and Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian


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From celebrity-penned tales to fresh interpretations of the classics, here is our pick of the best for hungry readers from tots to teens

Children’s books have had a record-breaking few years. The sector was worth £381.9m in 2017, according to Nielsen BookScan, and 2018 may well top that. One in every three physical books sold is now a children’s book. Judging by bestseller charts and supermarket displays you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of those were by celebrities. Famous faces certainly continue to sell in big numbers: David Walliams’s The Ice Monster (HarperCollins), David Baddiel’s Head Kid (HarperCollins) and Greg James and Chris Smith’s Kid Normal series (Bloomsbury) are among the year’s most notable. But beyond this, a rich and varied landscape of books for children and young adults is very much in evidence. This year, Jacqueline Wilson returned to her best-loved heroine in My Mum Tracy Beaker ...

Fiction for older children reviews – many happy book returns


This post is by Kitty Empire from Books | The Guardian


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With a host of popular characters back this autumn, picking up from where you left off has rarely been more fun

It’s easy to be sniffy about franchises, especially when they absorb all oxygen and shelf space. But there is such pleasure in catching up with characters in which you are invested.

Returnees stud this autumn’s books calendar – few bigger than Jacqueline Wilson, whose most famous creation, care-home rebel Tracy Beaker, is now all grown up with a headstrong, mop-haired daughter of her own. My Mum Tracy Beaker (Doubleday £12.99) is narrated by young Jess. She has an imaginary dog named Snapchat; she’s embarrassed by her mum’s ongoing authority issues, and horrified at Tracy’s new boyfriend, a flash footballer. It’s no spoiler to note that Tracy’s past has a way of turning up in her present, and that rehoming strays remains a strong moral theme in this ...

Julia Donaldson: ‘If I have an idea for a new book, I slave for hours’


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The Gruffalo author on her creative and domestic routine – and how she gets to sleep at the end of it

I sleep for eight hours; I go to bed between 10.30pm and midnight, and read modern fiction by writers like Sarah Waters. I don’t have to turn off my mobile phone, as I don’t have one. I go to the loo often and when I get back to bed, I do an alphabet of flowers or mythical creatures in my head. I’m usually asleep by the time I get to the letter I. If I feel worried, I count my blessings: I let anyone I love or like drift into my head – an old schoolteacher, my husband Malcolm, my mother, someone in the fish shop.

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Want the kids to read more? 15 modern classics for all ages


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From greedy dogs to shimmering dragons and from dance competitions to grisly murder – these books can inspire a lifetime of reading

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer (Words and Pictures)
A concertina-book that falls open in yards of pages, taking you to the centre of the Earth and back again; good for budding geologists, treasure-hunters, archaeologists and those who aren’t too keen on traditionally book-shaped books.

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Picture books for children reviews – lessons in kindness


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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?


This post is by Fiona Noble from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Stephanie Convery from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Interviews by Ben Beaumont-Thomas from Books | The Guardian


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‘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


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Donna Ferguson from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Patrick Benson from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Julia Eccleshare from Books | The Guardian


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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’


This post is by Judith Kerr from Books | The Guardian


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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


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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 ...