Tag Archives: Lee Wildish

Bears, Bears, Bears!

Bears, Bears, Bears!: Martin Waddell & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)
Bears, Bears, Bears!: Martin Waddell & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children’s Books, 2013)

Martin Waddell has been creating picture books for… a little while! His work covers a wide range including enormous classics like Farmer Duck and Owl Babies, and personal favourites like The Tough Princess. He is also, of course, very well-known for the Little Bear stories.

What I find particularly interesting in his work is how his writing has kept up with the changes in picture books over the years. Modern picture books involve tight wording, using as few words as possible to convey the story in conjunction with the pictures. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the early Little Bear stories were published, it was still the fashion to have large blocks of text within the picture book but the Little Bear books are beautiful examples of how text and pictures can be combined to appear more interesting.

Bears, Bears, Bears! is Martin Waddell’s latest book, illustrated by Lee Wildish, joint winner of this year’s Red House Children’s Book Award for Spooky, Spooky House. In contrast to the Little Bear stories, the text is sparse. There are 359 words in Bears, Bears, Bears! compared to 976 in Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? [I just counted them myself, so I may have missed a couple!]

I wouldn’t remove a single word from Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? any more than I’d want to add any to Bears, Bears, Bears! They are both right for the books they are.

Bears, Bears, Bears! is about a little girl called Ruby who wants to find some bears to play with. A friendly bear pops out from Bear Wood and they have great fun, but Ruby calls for more and more bears. Eventually all the fun becomes too much, and Ruby ends up with just what she needed: one good bear friend.

This is a lovely tale. “More bears mean more fun!” exclaims Ruby near the start, but more bears also mean less space for Ruby. Small children often want “More, more, more!” before becoming over-tired and overwhelmed (some adults too, for that matter!) and a book can be the best place to keep all the excitement, especially before bed time.

Ruby’s bears are a lot of fun and there are some fabulously funny moments throughout. With lots happening in the illustrations, the story is a joy to read. I adore Ruby’s bear especially, with his multi-coloured scarf. One for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and up.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Bears, Bears, Bears! by Hachette Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

My Funny Family On Holiday by Chris Higgins & Lee Wildish

My Funny Family On Holiday: Chris Higgins & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)
My Funny Family On Holiday: Chris Higgins & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children’s Books, 2013)

Warning: contains spoilers!

This is an early reader chapter book aimed at 5+ (although I’d say 7 for most children to read themselves, probably a read aloud earlier than that) about a larger than average family going on holiday told from the viewpoint of second-eldest child Mattie, who is nine.

It’s the second in a series and I’ve not read the first but that wasn’t necessary as all the characters were described and explained in the early pages. I thought it was a wonderful story for young readers containing lots of things that they’ll either be familiar with or could learn about. It’s nicely written, not overly complex and has enough happening to remain entertaining.

For me, it fell apart at the end with the reveal of Mattie’s friend being a ghost. It just seemed so out of place in the story, but maybe for very young readers it might be an exciting reveal. I love fantasy, it’s my favourite genre, but I never think it works tacked on to the end of a book. If the fantastical is there throughout, bubbling under, then fair enough, but this didn’t seem the case to me.

I realise I am completely over-analysing a book that I’m thirty years too old for, but a more literal child who was expecting a story about a holiday may not enjoy the addition of a ghost character either! Otherwise, an excellent book for young readers and one I’m sure my daughters’ school will be glad to receive.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of My Funny Family on Holiday by Hachette. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Note: We are fortunate to receive a variety of review books, far too many to keep! Most of the chapter books and novels, plus about half of the picture books, are donated to either my daughters’ primary school or a local charity.

Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony 2013

RHCBA13_01

On Saturday I was delighted to go to the Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony for the first time, representing Oxford Children’s Book Group. I joined the group (and committee) thanks to the encouragement of Zoe from Playing by the Book and Mélanie from Library Mice who are both on the national executive of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. This is a personal account of MG and my experience of the day, 23rd February 2013.

The Red House Children’s Book Award is owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and is the only award where all the books are nominated and voted for by children. This blog was part of this year’s blog tour, hosting Caryl Hart who I’ve got to know on Twitter as a wonderful person as well as talented author so MG and I were beyond happy to be sitting on her table for lunch.

I didn’t realise that we’d get to have lunch as well as go to the awards, so that was an added bonus to a wonderful experience. Originally I was taking both MG and DG but was then advised that the day was really for children aged seven and up. MG is a bright and (generally) patient child so the fact it was one day after her sixth birthday wasn’t a problem but I am glad I didn’t take DG because she would have been bored and grotty as there was a lot of waiting around which MG only just managed.

RHCBA13_04

A trip to London is a special treat for MG and something we’d only done once before. I’m glad we had that trip because we went to South Bank which is where the Awards were based so we were both familiar with how to get there. On arriving, my anxiety hit because my phone decided to stop working. I have a basic android smart phone but I rely on it far too much it seems: it is my clock, my alarm, my communication, my train timetable… Without it I felt somewhat lost, because I didn’t even know what the time was. Plucking up courage, I asked several people and managed to end up in the right place at the right time and once in the building at 11am knowing the time didn’t matter because everything was run beautifully.

I spied Caryl fairly quickly and we made our way to say hello. MG was instantly smitten, and Caryl is as lovely in real life as she appears. Despite her nerves, she treated us like old friends and during dinner she was sat next to MG engaging with her. Thank-you, Caryl! In the pre-dinner reception we also found Zoe and Mélanie to talk to, despite them both also being incredibly busy. Before the meal all the authors and illustrators were pulled off to signing tables and the children from around the country were excitedly meeting their heroes and getting books signed. It was a lovely sight to see. I would have loved to have brought my copy of A Monster Calls and met Patrick Ness in person but the day was about the children, so we bought new copies of Can You See Sassoon? and Spooky, Spooky House and lined up to get those signed along with the copy of Welcome to Alien School that we already owned.

Sam Usher signing

I love Dog Loves Drawing, but it wasn’t such a hit with my daughters sadly, so we didn’t buy that one or get it signed. To be honest, by the second queue MG was fed up and wanted to sit down again but I was a mean mummy and we lined up to meet the authors and illustrators for the three books we’d chosen. Sam Usher and Louise Yates had the longest queues because they drew fairly complex doodles in each book they signed and therefore took longer for each book. I hadn’t been sent with any requests from my group so we just had books signed for us, but some people had four or five copies of each book. All the authors and illustrators were fantastic for the time they put in, not to mention the organisers!

There were two authors missing. Pittacus Lore, on account of being an alien on the run, and David Walliams, on account of being a ‘sleb. David Walliams did turn up to the ceremony for his part of the awards and I’m glad to see the behind-the-scenes pictures on the FCBG website where the children who should have presented to him during the dinner did get to meet him and present his portfolio in person.

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves recieving portfolios

Before the meal, every author and illustrator was presented with a portfolio of drawings and writing from various school children. MG got to sneakily look through Caryl Hart’s because she was sitting next to her! I thought this was a lovely thing, and really added to the child-centred aim of the awards. Every child who was attending from a local book group was involved in the ceremony in some way. Groups of three or four children presented the portfolios at the meal, and groups of children also presented the awards for each category. As MG was the only person for Oxford, she ended up with a different surprise…

Welcome to Alien School portfolio

The meal was very well organised. Every table had at least one author or illustrator plus representatives from FCBG, Red House, or a publisher as well as the adults and children from local book groups. Every child got a teddy and a goody bag with things to keep them amused like book samples and colouring. The event was all about the children and they could all happily mill with the authors and illustrators, chat and get books signed. Being at the younger end, MG stuck with me, but the delight on the faces of children meeting their favourite authors and illustrators was lovely to see. The food itself came in child-sized portions served on long wooden trays for everyone to help themselves. This was an excellent idea, as the food just kept coming so the adults could eat whatever they needed and the children had a good choice from a healthy and varied selection including the ever-popular mini burgers and ice cream cones!

After the meal, we went into the venue for the ceremony. The various VIPs from the meal (and their parents or carers in the case of the children) were in the front rows getting a great view of everything. The Awards were hosted by James Campbell who also hosts Red House’s Big Book Babble so he’s both very familiar with the authors and illustrators, and with keeping children amused. The event consisted of introductions, interviews, children from Stagecoach performing, and the winner announcements. I could write more, but there’s good write-ups at Red House and FCBG already!

Look at the crowds, no wonder MG was shy! Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

From a personal viewpoint, the main part of the ceremony for us was during the interviews of the Younger Children shortlisted authors and illustrators where everyone was invited to try to find Sassoon under their seat. It was under MG’s seat. We’d actually had a bit of a head’s up on this and when I saw it was there when we sat down I talked to MG about going onto the stage and whether she wanted to do it. This is the girl who refused to have her picture taken at the table, but she said she would go up and when the time came she held up Sassoon, smiled excitedly and ran to the stage.

I found Sassoon! Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

At this point, she realised how big the place was and how many people were there and became very, very shy. I probably should have gone down and held her hand but I was stuck to my seat with nerves too. Here James Campbell showed how good he is with children. He spoke to her on her own level at all times; he found her name tag so she didn’t have to say her name out loud; he tried to get a smile out of her; he didn’t force the Sassoon model on her (we got it after the ceremony!); and he carried her back to her seat! She was in tears so we had a huge snuggle and she asked to leave but she only cried for a minute because it was a huge thing for her and then she was happy again. She stole my camera and started to film the end of the ceremony, her favourite part being this tiny snippet where James Campbell asks after her:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdCKYYoJ23I”]

Sadly we don’t have too much of the ceremony filmed, my camera stops filming at ten minutes so we completely missed the part where Patrick Ness repeatedly used the work b*ll**ks in order to avoid using the word b*ll**ks. I did find this amusing, especially when MG said to her dad: “I’ve learnt a new rude word. But it’s not from mummy, it’s from an author.” I have a different opinion on swear words than my husband 😉

Here is some near the end. Patrick Ness does say the b-word: it’s so noisy you don’t really hear it, but I feel I should add that warning! Bear in mind all of this was filmed by a newly minted six-year old, it isn’t great footage.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRZuqo3mWVE”]

The memory card in the camera ran out too, and after I deleted some pictures to make space MG didn’t press the record button hard enough. But she loves the part she did record, and watches it to remind herself of the day out. As soon as the awards were finished, we rushed off to catch a train because MG was feeling very worn out by this point. Looking at the pictures on the FCBG site, it seems that most of the book group children got their pictures with Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish, the overall winners, but we didn’t stay to congratulate them sadly. MG did drag me to say goodbye to Caryl, who lifted her up for a big goodbye hug. We also went to ask for Sassoon but just missed Sam Usher to thank him in person.

In summary, it was a wonderful experience and MG enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a little too much for her at six but she did really well and I’ll hopefully take her again next year; and DG in a couple of years’ time. We may not be representing Oxford CBG for a few years, as other children will get a turn, but the ceremony alone was good fun too.

Both MG and DG chose Spooky, Spooky House as their first choice so they’re very happy about the winner. As I said in my summary review of the four picture books, it was so hard to choose between them myself but I had a feeling Spooky, Spooky House would at least win the Younger Children’s category given the reaction of the children we tested on locally. Congratulations Andrew and Lee, and to all the other winners, shortlisted authors and illustrators, organisers and children. Well done all.

Overall Winners, Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish. Image (c) Dominic Turner, from FCBG website

The top five photos and two video clips were taken by myself or MG; the bottom four photos are from FCBG, copyright Dominic Turner.

Red House Childrens Book Award 2013 Younger Children Short List

Welcome to Alien School: Caryl Hart & Ed Eaves (Simon & Schuster Childrens Books, 2012)Welcome to Alien School: Caryl Hart & Ed Eaves (Simon & Schuster Childrens Books, 2012)
We’re fans of Caryl Hart in the Chaos household, and bought Welcome to Alien School when it was first published. It’s the third in a series following a boy called Albie and the strange things that seem to happen to him – I’m not quite sure if it’s all in his imagination or not. He’s been to a supermarket that sells zoo animals, planted dinosaurs in the garden and here he ends up on another planet for school. It’s a very fun story with much appeal to small children who may feel that going to school is an alien experience in itself.

Can You See Sassoon?: Samuel Usher (Little Tiger Press, 2012)Can You See Sassoon?: Samuel Usher (Little Tiger Press, 2011)
The bright primary colours and packed illustrations make this a lovely book to curl up with and try to spot all the things in the pictures. I struggled to find Sassoon, the striped snake, in some of the double page spreads but MG’s beady eyes spotted him quickly! There are various scenes that he is hiding in, including food, toys, a bookcase and outer space. DG found the search more challenging but still enjoyed looking and was very excited when she first spotted him without assistance! Great fun and beautifully illustrated.

Spooky, Spooky House: Andrew Weare & Lee Wildish (Picture Corgi, 2011)Spooky, Spooky House: Andrew Weare & Lee Wildish (Picture Corgi, 2011)
This book has flaps to open, pop ups and a heat-sensitive picture on the last page. In a similar vein to Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House, an unseen narrator tells the reader to keep away from the house because it’s full of so many terrifying monsters. But children, peeking through their hands, insist on each flap being opened and each page being turned before discovering the scariest spook of all on the last page – under a heat sensitive patch which adds another element of exciting discovery, and a twist to the tale…

Dog Loves Drawing: Louise Yates (Red Fox Picture Books, 2012)Dog Loves Drawing: Louise Yates (Red Fox Picture Books, 2012)
If you’ve already read Louise Yates’ Dog Loves Books, you’ll know that Dog loves books so much that he’s opened a bookshop. In this tale, he received a sketchbook from an aunt, and somewhat daunted at first he starts an exciting adventure through the pages joined by a host of friends. This may appeal to fans of Harold and the Purple Crayon and is a clever and fun journey through the world that books and drawing can open up to small children. Plus it has a monster in, which always appeals. Beautifully illustrated and a fun tale of trying out new things even when you’re not sure.

Who do I think will win? They are all brilliant books and well deserving of their nominations, but based on the reactions of children I’ve tested with I think I can guess which might win… I don’t know which one I’d choose as my favourite to be honest, we’ve loved Welcome to Alien School for some time; but Dog Loves Drawing is such a fun idea; but Can You See Sassoon is brightly coloured and challenging; but Spooky, Spooky House has great monsters and cute twist… They should all win!

Voting is open until 27th January, you can vote online as an individual or as a school / library. The books can be purchased from Red House for £2.99 or £3.49 each, click on the images above for the direct link to Red House. The winners will be announced on 23rd February.

Disclaimer: I am on the committee for Oxford Children’s Book Group, part of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups who run the award, and have been test reading the younger children short-list to various children. My opinions are my own and I receive no financial reward for supporting FCBG.