Tag Archives: Clara Vulliamy

Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart Holidays Postcard

There are some people or characters that you can instantly fall in love with. Martha Bunny is one of those characters. Clara Vulliamy is one of those people.

The Chaos household have all fallen head over heels for Clara and Martha (the big eared one) and we’re thrilled to be part of this tour of special postcards from Martha Bunny herself to celebrate the publication of the third book in the series: I Heart Holidays.

Monday’s postcard: Read It, Daddy (plus bonus lolly ratings)
Tuesday’s postcard: Smiling Like Sunshine
Wednesday’s postcard (and special interview): The Book Sniffer

Today’s postcard:

I Heart Holidays (Martha and the Bunny Brothers #3): Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2014)

Paws looks so fab in starry sunglasses, and I love Martha’s dress (and still wearing wellies, joy…)

Tomorrow’s postcard will be at Making It Up, make sure you check it out to see (I can’t wait!)

In I Heart Holidays Martha has a shiny new suitcase that she’s packing with all the essentials for a summer holiday – scrapbook, pencils, bucket and spade… Monty and Pip are packing too, and so is Paws (and mum and dad somewhere!) but it’s time to hurry to pack everything into Bluebell, the gorgeous blue camper van. The image of everyone squished into the back in their car seats is wonderful – and we even get a peek of mum and dad.

Martha’s family are having what is probably now an ‘old fashioned’ beach holiday, but it’s the holiday of my childhood, and the holiday of my children’s childhood and is full of everything you’d expect – sand sandwiches, ice creams dropped (repeatedly), rain as the children paddle, and happiness, sunshine, and love.

Read more of what we thought of I Heart Holidays (spoiler: WE LOVE IT! I would say it’s the ‘best yet’ but they’re all the best); a comparison of I Heart Bedtime and I Heart School; and see all our Martha Bunny posts and crafts.

If you want to make some Bunny paper dolls with dress-up pyjamas (and you can always create your own clothes too), then you can download two sizes of doll here: smaller and bigger.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Holidays was published on 3rd July, and is essential summer holiday reading. All three Martha Bunny books are available in paperback.

#BookADayUK Summer Read

I was going to be awkward for the summer read, and choose a wintery themed book, but then this popped through my letterbox this week and it was the only choice really 🙂

I Heart Holidays (Martha and the Bunny Brothers #3): Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2014)I Heart Holidays (Martha and the Bunny Brothers #3): Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2014)

I am hugging this book to my chest as I contemplate how to describe how much all the Chaos family adores Martha and her bunny brothers. I gave some examples of all the wonderful little details in my I Heart Bedtime review and all the little touches are back in this third volume.

It starts with “This is a happy book, all about MARTHA – that’s me!” and has the different fonts, lists, news, things to choose from, menus, expressions, happiness and pure joy that the first two books are packed with and is still unique and fun and brilliant on its own merits. “I love this!” says Danger Girl (5).

I tried to get Danger Girl to choose her favourite of the three Martha books. “I love all of them!” But if you could only have one? She looked completely downcast at this, “But I want them all!” After a little chat she decided that I Heart Holidays was best for packing for a holiday, I Heart Bedtime was best for packing for a sleepover, and I Heart School was best for taking to school, but all three were best for under her pillow at home.

In I Heart Holidays Martha has a shiny new suitcase that she’s packing with all the essentials for a summer holiday – scrapbook, pencils, bucket and spade… Monty and Pip are packing too, and so is Paws (and mum and dad somewhere!) but it’s time to hurry to pack everything into Bluebell, the gorgeous blue camper van. [All of a sudden, I really really want a camper van, Clara makes everything look so gorgeous!] The image of everyone squished into the back in their car seats is wonderful – and we even get a peek of mum and dad.

Martha’s family are having what is probably now an ‘old fashioned’ beach holiday, but it’s the holiday of my childhood, and the holiday of my children’s childhood (we’re off to a Scottish island again this year, bliss) and is full of everything you’d expect – sand sandwiches, ice creams dropped (repeatedly), rain as the children paddle, and happiness, sunshine, and love.

I have an extra reason to love I Heart Holidays, on top of the lovely story and beautiful illustrations. Last year I found some material that I thought matched the cover of I Heart Bedtime and sent it to Clara, and she used the material as Martha’s sleeping bag. I sort-of-almost-not-really-but-I’m-pretending-I-did contributed to a Martha Bunny book 🙂

I Heart Holidays (Martha and the Bunny Brothers #3): Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2014)

I Heart Holidays is published on 3rd July 2014, and the Chaos family recommends every Martha Bunny book for all happy bunnies everywhere.

Disclosure: I Heart Holidays received for review from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Henley Literary Festival: Clara Vulliamy

When the chance comes along to see one of your favourite author / illustrators at a location nearby, you don’t say no. Unfortunately I worked out my finances and it couldn’t be done. I also had to cancel four other planned bookish events in London. With fortuitous timing, a BritMums offer of complementary tickets to Henley Literary Festival popped up and I was lucky enough to get two.

The lovely @chaletfan from DYESTTAFTSA had alerted me to the event in the first place, and kindly offered a lift part of the way when public transport failed me, and it was great to meet up with her again. She is as lovely in real life as you’d imagine, you can read her review of the event here.

I don’t know Henley at all but fortunately had @chaletfan as a guide. The train station was right by the venue (if there’d been a train on time!) although you’d then have to go into the town centre to find the ticket office if you didn’t have tickets. We parked near the centre and the ticket office and venue seemed easy to find with a short walk between.

The room for the event was set out well, with tables for the craft session ready at the back of the room, plenty of chairs for grown ups and lots of floor space for children. Clara was ready at the front as everyone arrived, and all the elements ran smoothly. Huge thanks must go to Clare from Random House who made it run like magic.

When the event started, Clara talked through some of the story of Dixie O’Day and showed some of her favourite pages. She then did a live drawing whilst reading part of the first chapter. This was amazing. Seriously amazing. The complexities of two different classic cars plus drivers plus following the story including a very clever ninety degree twist of the paper near the end was just breathtakingly good. I may have had minor heart palpitations when she scribbled over Lou-Ella, but it was all part of the fun!

Clara Vulliamy at Henley Literary Festival 2013

The model car with felt Dixie and Percy made by the awesomely talented Josie was also on display and wow, it is as great in real life as you would expect. I am thrilled I got to see it.

The creative part of the event was for the children to design their own cars. Clara  encouraged the children to use their imaginations to create any kind of car but also supplied a brilliant sheet of kit for inspiration. The pictures will be up on the Dixie O’Day website.

I was really impressed with DG’s creations. She made three using all the bits supplied, but spent longest on her first one. She coloured the taps in red and blue for hot and cold water, and put poor Dixie and Percy in a cold water bath! The ice cream is blue because it is blueberry flavour – DG loves blueberries. Mmmm…

Designing cars at Henley Literary Festival 2013

We all had a wonderful time. DG loved making her cars and seeing Clara again and meeting @chaletfan. I geeked out on the model, listening to Clara, meeting Clare, and chatting with @chaletfan (including discussing how embarrassing it is to introduce yourself in real life by your twitter name!) Then we all relaxed with a drink and cake in the hot October sun (what is with the weather at the moment?!) and all was good with the world…

Disclaimer: I received two complimentary tickets to this event from the organisers via BritMums in exchange for a review, travel not included. I loved the event we went to, thought everything was organised brilliantly, and will be looking out for it next year. Thank-you, Henley Literary Festival and BritMums.

Dixie O’Day: In the Fast Lane

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been written over and over in blogs and newspapers already? I can’t write an unbiased opinion of Dixie O’Day because I love Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy so much. As Polly at Little Wooden Horse says, the names on the front cover should have had you rushing out to buy this book as soon as it was released!

For anyone who has found this page by accident, and doesn’t already know, Dixie O’Day is a gentleman dog who, with his best friend Percy, drives an excellent motor car that he takes great care of. The car was not new but it was a very clean machine. Dixie and Percy get into some exciting scrapes, and this tale involves an all-day race between two towns. They have a worst enemy, Lou-Ella from next door, and lots of helpful friends.

Dixie O’Day is adoringly ‘retro’ in style. You’d be more likely to find Dixie and Percy listening to the radio than playing on iPads. Children are immensely adaptable. They may not have the cultural reference for the era (1960’s) that the book represents, but they accept it in the same way that talking dogs driving cars is completely normal.

The Dixie O’Day series has been designed with seven chapters so it can be read one for every day of the week. The chapters may have exciting cliff-hangers, encouraging anticipation for the next night’s story. It’s also possible to read in one go if you read lots to children but separating it into chapters allows busy parents a natural break point, and is just right for building early reading stamina.

I have been thinking, and writing, a lot about gender recently and it would be lax of me not to mention gender in relation to this book. The main characters are male, and the lack of female animal characters in picture books is something Carmen at Rhino Reads writes about compellingly. However, this book comes from the pens of two author / illustrators who are exemplary in their inclusion major female characters throughout their work. This particular story does happen to have more male characters. But let’s look at the two main female characters from In The Fast Lane in detail:

Lou-Ella is the neighbour from hell. She is a character you love to hate, somewhere between Cruella de Vil and Penelope Pitstop. She’s self-centred, mean and thoroughly unlikable. I’m not really selling this character to you? But she’s also an independent woman who can afford to buy a brand new car every year. There’s no husband behind the scenes or any implication that she’s a ‘kept woman’; she’s earning well and is motivated to get what she wants. There’s a lot of unknown back-story here, and much potential.

Auntie Dot
Auntie Dot may only appear on one page, but she is absolutely pivotal to the plot. Without her input, Dixie and Percy wouldn’t get the outcome they achieve. In a similar manner to Dave’s big sister Bella saving the day in Dogger, Auntie Dot is essential. You can’t get more positive than that. She’s also adorable and I hope we see more of her in future stories.

Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane is packed full of extras to hold the interest of today’s iPad generation. There’s the map of the route, interviews, quizzes, and so many things to see on every page that you could easily fill at least a month of activities riffing off different interests. There’s even a sneak peek at the second book in the series: The Great Diamond Robbery. MG and DG are huge fans of Dixie in his own right already, and this is a book we re-read regularly. I get to both read and be read to by MG, which is a lovely role reversal!

Future books will have different colour covers for instant identification, but the duotone interior will remain the same (how could we lose Dixie’s gorgeous red car?!) Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane is not only an important entry in the world of children’s literature on account of its creators, it’s an excellent start to an exciting series that children will love.

Related posts:
Interview at The Book Sniffer
Interview at Library Mice
Interview at Playing by the Book
Review from Little Wooden Horse
Review from Read It, Daddy
Review from Kate Louise (includes book trailer)

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane by Random House 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.

Shirley Hughes, Clara Vulliamy, and Childhood

Shirley Hughes’ illustrations were so all-pervasive in my childhood that I only noticed they were hers as an adult. As a child, the books just were. And they were wonderful. My favourite picture book forever is Dogger, which is very obviously Shirley Hughes, but it’s all the other favourites that I didn’t notice that probably had a deeper effect.

As part of the Oxford Children’s Book Group I got to visit a children’s book collector’s house earlier this year. Entire rooms filled floor to ceiling with books from the last hundred years. I could happily have spent weeks browsing the shelves, but we had only a couple of hours and in that time I caught sight of a few books from my childhood that I’d previously forgotten. One was a hardback with a very distinctive orange colour:
Flutes and Cymbals

A collection of poetry called Flutes and Cymbals. I loved the snippets of words, but the illustrations were the main attraction. “Illustrated by SHIRLEY HUGHES” the cover proclaims, in capitals no less. It’s now on my wish list of second-hand books to collect.

A series of books that I remembered from my childhood and re-bought were the “Stories for [X] Year Olds” collected by Sara & Stephen Corran. Again, it wasn’t until I looked for the books that I saw the illustrator: Shirley Hughes. I devoured these books when I was young. I think the ages on the covers appealed to me because I was reading “Stories for Nine-Year-Olds” aged six, having gone through the series from five-year-olds in sequence!

Stories for [..] Year Olds

Fast forward to adulthood and having my own children and I’m embarrassed to say that Shirley Hughes wasn’t on the top of my list of authors to buy. It’s only since browsing and re-remembering childhood favourites that I’ve realised how she was always there for me, in my comfort reads. I only discovered Alfie as an adult, and “Annie Rose Is My Little Sister” brought me to tears. Sniffles. She’s now always there for my daughters, and they are smitten.

Almost two years ago, I discovered a new-to-me author / illustrator via the wonder of Twitter. She was such a friendly lady, chatty and full of joy. Her blog was full of gorgeous illustrations, so I bought The Bear With Sticky Paws… And found not only a wonderful talent but books that my daughters asked to be read again, and again, and again. Books that I loved to read, stories that held interest and were a joy. I also found a truly lovely person.

And because I’m somewhat slow (and because it didn’t make a jot of difference to talent and lovliness), it was a little while before I realised that Clara Vulliamy also happened to have an extremely well-known mother! Mother and daughter’s books are now entwined for me as the perfect accompaniment to any childhood. Each new Clara Vulliamy book gets gasps of delight in this household, and my daughters may be unique in referring to Shirley Hughes’ books as “Clara’s mummy’s books” 🙂

This year, something wonderful happened in the world of children’s literature. Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy collaborated on a book. Not just one book, but the start of a series. Neither a picture book or a chapter book, but a wonderful highly-illustrated hybrid perfect for early readers to tackle as well as perfect for reading aloud. Enter Dixie O’Day, and the exciting childhood…

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)

Bubble and Squeak

I have been sitting on this book since April. Even by my standards, that’s a very long time not to write a review. Especially for a book I love. But that’s been the problem. I’ve been afraid I’ll not do Bubble and Squeak justice so I keep pretending I have something else to do and letting this review slide…

In summary, all you really need to know about this book is that it is well written, beautifully illustrated, full of detail, full of love, suitable for a broad range of ages and genders, (can you have a broad range of genders?!), and both my daughters request it over and over again.

Bubble is an elephant acrobat in Mr Magnifico’s circus. She is a very lonely elephant though because although everyone in the circus is lovely, they are all so very busy. One day, a tiny mouse arrives, but as everyone knows elephants don’t like mice. Or do they?

I’ve written before on how the first line of a picture book can just grab you and I have so much respect for authors having to create something that appears so simple. Bubble & Squeak starts with a seemingly simple four words: “Bubble was a star!” but you get so much from that which is reflected beautifully in the art. On the first double page we see people coming “from far and wide” travelling towards the circus tent with Bubble on the poster.

Bubble & Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, 2013)

I’ve learnt a lot about analysing picture books from other blogs, and LH from Did You Ever Stop to Think? taught me to look at how images pull the reader in and this first double spread is wonderful for that. On the right hand side you have an assortment of characters (some recognisable from Clara Vulliamy’s other books, which is even more of a delight) walking towards the left hand side where the entrance of the circus tent is barely visible, pulling you onto the next page while the text ends in an ellipsis so you can’t wait to read more.

It’s quite absurd to have an elephant balancing on the top of a pyramid of people, but it works. It works so well that it doesn’t seem odd or absurd at all, and when later in the story Squeak realised that without her bouquet of flowers Bubble will be in danger, again it makes perfect sense that the flowers are that all important. To pull your audience into the logic of the story so fully is no easy task but again it seems effortless.

I can happily read this book over and over (which is handy really) finding more delightful details each time, but here’s just a small selection of my favourite bits:

Bubble & Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, 2013)

Clockwise from top left: They all looked high… …and low; Bubble travelled to all sorts of places with her carefully packed trunk…; And so he hid himself away…; They were happy!

A lovely tale of finding friendship in odd places, suitable for toddlers, pre-schoolers, KS1… and anyone who loves candy-coloured imagery and a happy ending.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Bubble & Squeak 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.

Friends creating books

I have a ridiculous pile of review books to get through, so much so that I will have to schedule time to write in as just writing when I feel like it doesn’t seem to be working for me at the moment, because I don’t really feel like it.

But I really need to share some of the wonderful books I’ve been sent and we’ve been in enjoying, so in lieu of proper reviews (which will follow), I want to talk about three books that MG and DG are particularly loving at the moment. Actually, it’s six books but four are by the same author/illustrator team so I’m choosing one from them.

It’s author/illustrator teams that I want to talk about. I’m merely a (very) interested party when it comes to picture books so I know a few things about how picture books are magicked into existence, but not the full details. So I may get some things wrong here!

In general it appears that for books created by two people, i.e. an author (or “illustrator’s assistant” as Korky Paul described them in a recent event we went to) and an illustrator, the creators may never even meet each other. For the books that MG and DG are loving so much at the moment, this is not the case.

All three books are about friendship in some way, and have been created by friends. This really seems to shine through and make these stories extra special.


Mabel and Me is a hilarious, insightful, quotable and gorgeous book. You can read about Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton on Sarah’s Blog.

Bubble and Squeak is a delicious, moreish, adventurous and happy book. You can read about James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy on Clara’s Blog; and on James’ Blog.

Faster, Faster, Nice and Slow is a colourful, contradictory, bouncy and bright book. I couldn’t find any Nick Sharratt or Sue Heap information probably because this is an older book, but it’s extra-special because Nick and Sue both write and both illustrate and both appear in the books. They’ve collaborated on four books together, and this is my personal favourite (DG loves them all extra specially, they are her special books).

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of Mabel and Me by HarperCollins Children’s Books and Bubble and Squeak by Hachette Childrens Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

I Heart Bedtime Blog Tour: Bunny Crafts

It’s PUBLICATION DAY!!!! If you haven’t already, get running to your nearest bookshop and grab a copy of I Heart Bedtime! After you’ve done that, why not read on about my bunny crafting attempts 🙂

Clara Vulliamy is the sort of person who could inspire practically anyone to have a go at some kind of craft. From her website packed full of things to try; to events where there’s always something to make involving felt, button and ribbons; to tid-bits that arrive in the post occasionally from the Happy Bunny Club. We’ve had the pleasure of bunnies in matchboxes, bunny ears, felt bunnies with satin hearts inside, colouring and sticking…

Not only is Clara an extremely talented author illustrator and crafter, she can do mechanics too. Look at this amazing music player that she actually made: (You can watch the video of it playing at www.claras.me)

I Heart Bedtime: Clara's Music Box

I jumped at the chance to be part of the I Heart Bedtime blog tour, and knew something crafty would end up happening. I’ve already reviewed I Heart Bedtime in a separate post, and to celebrate publication day I offer you: my rubbish sewing skills! Don’t worry, there’s also a little treat from Clara herself to download too 🙂

I didn’t know what I wanted to do so just wandered into the local haberdashery (I know how lucky we are to have one: Masons in Abingdon, if you were wondering) and wandered. Near the entrance I saw the most utterly perfect material for the book: mini hearts in pink, blue, yellow and orange. Squee! And then my latent inner-crafter took over and I came out with a bag including white fleece, felt, mini sewing kit (I didn’t even own a needle and thread) and from their sister shop next door, embroidery thread in pink and black.

We had a paper colouring-in template from last year, which I traced around to make a simple bunny doll template. Actually there was about five iterations, because the picture was designed for colouring in, not for cutting out. I traced around the head, and then moved the body to make a neck; then I ditched the idea of fingers as they’re too small and fiddly; and I moved the legs closer together so they looked better as a doll; plus I widened the arms and legs (but not enough as it turned out!) Finally I drew a dotted line around my template for the seam and cut it out.

I Heart Bedtime: Martha Pattern

The only way I know to make soft toys is the very simple “cut two of the same shape and sew them together” method! I do know enough to leave room for a seam, and to sew inside out and then turn round to fill, so I realised that I would need to create the face first. I pencilled in the face and cut out two inner ears in felt to sew in place then used the black and pink embroidery thread to sew her sunny smile.

I Heart Bedtime: making the bunny toy smile

Next, I put the two fleece pieces back to back and sewed around, leaving the head unsewed for turning. I used backstitch – at least, I think that’s what it’s called! – to make the seams stronger. Oh, I wish I had a sewing machine! Hand-sewing seams takes forever! As I was sewing I thought the arms and legs were a bit thin, and I’m not going to admit to how long it took me to turn them the right way round, with copious help from the back end of a pencil. When the body part was turned, I used the same backwards method to sew the face and ears, leaving a small hole at the top for filling.

I Heart Bedtime: Sewing the bunny toy and dressing her

My plan was to use a funnel and fill the bunny doll with rice. Could I find a funnel anywhere? Hah! We have at least three plastic funnels in the house and the last time I saw one it was in the correct drawer but Destructo-Girl does have a habit of stealing things from the real kitchen for her pretend games and after searching through three boxes of their toys I lost patience! I then looked up toy fillings and it said rice was a bad idea because it went mouldy when wet too, so the next day I went back to Masons and bought proper hollow fibre toy stuffing instead.

I Heart Bedtime: Not Quite Martha Bunny

Of course, having made Martha for Mighty-Girl, I had to make Pip for Destructo-Girl. I made a couple of changes when cutting round the same template, widening the arms and legs, ditching the feet (they were so fiddly) and thinning the neck. I think the original one looks better, maybe third time lucky I’ll get a suitable template, or just leave that to the experts!

I used the perfect material for Martha’s dress (nightie) and decorated it with mini buttons and ric rac we already owned (I’m a bit of a button and ribbon addict!) It was a very simple “cut round the outline and sew it up” design! My plan was for the dolls to have several outfits to dress and undress but I got the sizing totally wrong and it’s a good thing Martha was filled with her outfit on or it would never have fit her! Pip is obviously wearing Monty’s old pyjamas because they’re Monty’s favourite colour and Monty loves stars too (well, he loves rockets, so he probably loves stars too), DG wanted Pip to have stars because he is wearing stars in I Heart Bedtime. I didn’t do any seams on the clothes so they are fraying and rubbish, but it’s the thought that counts?!

I Heart Bedtime: Two soft toy bunnies, entirely hand made!

All the above was something that was a little more complex than my little bunnies could cope with so I begged the lovely Clara for some paper dress-up bunnies and she e-mailed me a set of bunnies and their pyjamas. I printed out a few sets and they’ve been lying around this week for my girls and any guests to have a go. There’s been some great decorating and cutting going on, and a whole lot of mess!

I Heart Bedtime: DG and MG's paper doll bunnies (I might have coloured in one of them!)

You can download your own paper bunnies too! I made two sizes – one where all three bunnies fit on one page and their pyjamas on a second sheet; and another where each bunny and two pairs of their pyjamas are on each page.

I Heart Bedtime Paper Doll Templates

Bunny Paper Dolls small (takes you to OpenDrive to download)
Bunny Paper Dolls medium (takes you to OpenDrive to download)

I Heart Bedtime is a dream of a book, and has spent its life so far in the Chaos household being dragged up and down stairs like a yo-yo so that it can be read just one more time… 🙂

I Heart Bedtime Blog Tour so far:
23 March: Clara Vulliamy guest post at Netmums
24 March: Bedtime routines with Jax and family from Making it Up
24 March: Illustrated interview with Martha herself from The Book Sniffer
25 March: Princess C interviews Clara Vulliamy at Read It, Daddy!
26 March: Bedtime routines with the Library Mice
27 March: Bedtime with Smiling like Sunshine

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime

Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart Bedtime: Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2013)

Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart Bedtime: Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013)

Occasionally, when I review books, I look at them almost entirely from an adult perspective. This is usually when the book is so loved by my daughters and me that I feel it really needs some extra attention in the review. This is one of those books.

I Heart Bedtime is the sequel to I Heart School and is just as utterly delicious as the first book. There is a wonderful adult-centric review as to why I Heart School is such a great picture book on the blog Did You Ever Stop to Think…?, which I thoroughly recommend.

For a child-centric reason why both Martha books are wonderful, I offer up the examples of my daughters. Destructo-Girl (almost-four) has slept with a variety of Clara Vulliamy books under her pillow for chunks of the mere fifteen months since we first discovered them. Martha Bunny was a favourite from the moment it arrived a year ago, and DG could find it spine-out on a bookcase at age two. Mighty-Girl (six) is a good reader but currently stuck in the mindset that she can only read banded books, but she has read the entire Martha books to her little sister – and they are fairy verbose books even though they don’t feel it when you’re reading them. Both DG and MG can quote huge sections of the text from either book, and they both relate to almost all of the scenarios. These are picture books for children that children enjoy, but are packed with so much that they are a joy to read over and over again as an adult.

From the very first page, the bright colours and happy smiling bunny entice you to read more, but more than that the links between both I Heart School and I Heart Bedtime are cemented in this first page too. Small children love and need the familiar, the world can be a scary enough place and often children latch on to a familiar toy or comforter. The Martha books understand this need in small children and keep the familiar not only in the situations that children will experience, but in the structure of the book too starting on this first page:


Other similarities are more subtle, but bring the child into the second book with ease once they are familiar with the first book (in whatever order they are read):


I often comment on fonts used in picture books and how I like easy-to-read fonts for early readers. But for some books, the array of fonts used is part of the story. In the Martha books, there is a script font that can be challenging to read but it is used sparsely and for similar words (see examples in images above) so familiarity/guesswork can be used!

On the subject of fonts, and being such a part of the story, I have to share these examples of words (doodling is from I Heart School, and sharks is from I Heart Bedtime). What an absolutely wonderful use of typography in the text:


My final example of book love for the two Martha books is Martha’s clothes. In I Heart School we are shown a selection of Martha’s favourite clothes, and in I Heart Bedtime we are shown her favourite pyjamas. What is absolutely wonderful is that Martha is shown in pyjamas in I Heart School which then appear in I Heart Bedtime, and shown in a dress in I Heart Bedtime that appeared in I Heart School. Just wonderful!


And I haven’t even mentioned that lovely expression Martha has in both the inset pictures above, all because of her bunny brothers! Or that their toothbrushes in I Heart Bedtime are the favourite colours listed in I Heart School. Or that no adult characters appear, all the images are about Martha, Monty, Pip and Paws. Or that my Destructo-Girl copies Pip’s antics regularly including the necessity for strawberry toothpaste…

And really finally, I don’t know about other parents, but I am certainly guilty of this little white lie in order to get children to bed on time:


In this case, Martha is so excited to spend some time with her best babysitter that she starts trying to get her bunny brothers to bed as early as possible. Later in the text, mum says “Now it really IS bedtime, little bunnies,” as they have taken so long coming up with excuses not to go to bed that the time has flown past. There is a delightful scene where Martha, Monty and Pip are shown going up and down the stairs with one excuse or another. Something else that is very familiar in the Chaos household!

There are too many little (and big) familiar moments in I Heart Bedtime that makes it a delight to read. Not only that but the highlight for MG and DG is the Bedtime Bunnies Song. My singing is rubbish but I do try! To listen to the song pop along to www.claras.me.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime is published on Thursday, 28 March 2013, and I’ll be sharing some bunny-inspired crafting with you then as part of the official blog tour. I can’t wait! 🙂

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime by HarperCollins 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.


Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Ed, Tom and Clara Vulliamy

In September I was fortunate to see Shirley Hughes in conversation with two of her children at the Soho Literary Festival. I started writing about it but got sidetracked by a dozen other things and Clara wrote such a wonderful post that it didn’t seem necessary to add my meagre efforts! Today I got to see them in conversation again, this time with the addition of the third Vulliamy sibling and in a larger venue.

In the morning of the Oxford event, MG had a minor meltdown which resulted in me phoning the festival and luckily managing to get the very last ticket for the event for her! I knew it was more for ‘grown ups’ but she was so patient at the Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony I thought she would manage the day. She was fidgetty and bored for some of it, and totally fed up in the queue for signing afterwards, but cheered up immensely when seeing Clara Vulliamy and Shirley Hughes to sign our books. To MG, Shirley Hughes is important because she is “Clara’s mummy”, and Clara Vulliamy is important because she is Clara 🙂

Fortunately a festival person queue-jumped us (and other children) as the queue was so very long and MG so fed up, so kudos to the festival for prioritising the children over the adults! This did mean I didn’t get to chat to two lovely Twitter-friends who I’d met for the first time at the event for as long as I would have liked, but we still chatted and it was brilliant as both a me day, and a me-and-MG day.

The host of both the Soho and Oxford events was Mark Ellen who had known the family for over 30 years and was excellent at holding a very engaging and interesting talk with all family members. The first thing I learnt in September was that I’ve been pronouncing Vulliamy completely wrong: it’s more like vol-you-may than the voo-lee-army that I’ve been saying. Ooops!

Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Clara and Ed Vulliamy at Soho Literary Festival 2012

At both events there was a talk through some slides of family pictures and paintings, some of which can be found in the book A Life Drawing, and on Clara Vulliamy’s website. There were a lot of similarities between the content of the Soho and Oxford events for obvious reasons, but I’m glad I went to both as they were still very different and hugely enjoyable. Today’s event was a lot busier, and I suspect the Hughes-Vulliamy family must be completely worn out!

Ed Vulliamy is known as a war journalist, but he vehemently despises war. You could see the journalist in him at the Soho event, as he took notes during the conversations on the back of an old envelope. A very engaging speaker, he talked of his work and childhood. In Oxford, possibly because there were children in the audience, he appeared more muted, but still added my favourite line of how a psychiatrist once said she didn’t envy him getting over a happy childhood!

Middle brother, Tom Vulliamy, a reasearch scientist, wasn’t in Soho (but referred to often in that event) so it was lovely to have his viewpoint included in person in Oxford. He commented how Shirley Hughes’ first picture book included a boy called Tom which he liked! He talked about his research and added to the anecdotes of childhood that the whole family shared.

As a daughter myself, and a mother of daughters, the most interesting people for me to watch and listen to were Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy. Shirley Hughes commented at the start that there is no perfect time to have a childhood and that she is described as having an idyllic childhood, but growing up on the Wirral in the Liverpool Blitz wasn’t that idyllic! Later in the event, the family talked about how television was not allowed much when they were children. Clara added an anecdote of how she wanted a plastic doll which played a tune, rather than the hand sewn toys her mother made her, but she was not even allowed to go into the toyshop where it was sold! “The darker side of our childhood” she joked, continuing “which made me the bitter adult I am today”!

Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Ed, Tom and Clara Vulliamy at Oxford Literary Festival 2013

Shirley Hughes said she could tell at a young age what her children were drawn to. Ed was interviewing people on election day with a skipping rope handle aged ten; Tom was racing to school on Saturday mornings to see how his aphids were doing; and Clara had a sense for visual narrative that meant illustration was in her future. But she didn’t push them into anything. Mark Ellen quipped that parents not encouraging children meant they were more likely to do something!

All the Vulliamy children said they didn’t realise that they had a famous mother until they were adults. She was just their mother. Tom told his teachers that his mother was a landlady because they shared their house with a succession of lodgers. Shirley Hughes still lives in the same house her children grew up in. The house used to be in a deprived area with communal gardens where the children played together and she sketched and sketched observations of the children who amalgamated into the children in her books. Bernard from the Alfie books was probably one of those children, she recalled, but now the area is affluent and she is surrounded by merchant bankers who don’t send their children out to play in communal areas.

Being outside, experiencing the world and looking are very important to the family. Tom, Ed and Clara all work in very different fields but they all observe the world meticulously to produce their work. Shirley Hughes said she thinks a lot of that came from her late husband’s family and how they all learnt that really looking at the world is so very important an ability to cultivate in childhood.

It’s hard to do the talk justice in my rambling, but it was a wonderful experience (both times!) Today I took some notes during the event so I will end with some wisdom gleaned from Shirley Hughes:

How to encourage a child with an interest in art: give them decent art materials, leave a sketchbook near them always. In times of boredom they might just start sketching in it. All children go through a phase at about 7 or 8 where the freedom in art that they had previously experienced turns into “I can’t draw”. Some persevere, they just have to get through it on their own but encourage them to persevere. If something doesn’t look how they want, they can do it again. Don’t be discouraged.

On creating a picture book: use minimum words, choosing them carefully. Someone is going to have to read this again and again and again and you don’t want them getting bored. Add something of interest into the pictures to keep adults entertained too, lots of details in pictures for children and adults.

There will be another novel.

Keep calm and carry on!