Tag Archives: James Mayhew

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.

Advent Books, part five

The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder, 2003)The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder, 2003)
This is an absolutely perfect Christmas book, as well as being an almost perfect book. Annoyingly, it is currently out of print. Even more annoyingly, meany old grown ups are trying to sell copies of it for £40 and up online (see here) We were lucky enough to get a copy almost three years ago, and I reviewed it here. I am frustrated on behalf of children who are missing out on this lovely book, and it is a pity that the publisher didn’t manage to get it reprinted in time for Christmas. If you find a copy in an independent bookstore, do snap it up, it is a beautiful book that MG and DG love to hear again and again (and then watch the animated version too!)

The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas: Ronda & David Armitage (Scholastic Children's Books, 2002)The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas: Ronda & David Armitage (Scholastic Children’s Books, 2002)

Another one I ordered via school and has only just arrived so we haven’t had a chance to read it enough times to review yet!



The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tim Burton (Hyperion Children's Books, 1993)The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tim Burton (Hyperion Children’s Books, 1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas is probably my all-time favourite film that I can watch over and over again. This is a lot to do with the genius of Henry Selick who is an amazing director, coupled with the imagination of Tim Burton (who sadly ‘jumped the shark’ many years ago in my opinion!) This book is pure Tim Burton in the good days however and a joyous rhyming romp! It’s not the film (there’s no Oogie Boogie or Sally for a start) but it’s the same rough plot. There are a couple of rhymes that don’t gel (maybe it’s not having an American accent but I can’t get “good job” and “macabre” to rhyme) but the luscious art and the plot more than make up for this. A gorgeous book, and well worth it just for the “A Visit From Saint Nick” parody (“… The children, all nestled so snug in their beds, would have nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads…”) This is my book, of course, bought long before I had children, but my children are my children so they love it too! Bear in mind one of DG’s favourite books is The Spider and The Fly!

When It Snows: Richard Collingridge (David Ficking Books, 2012)When It Snows: Richard Collingridge (David Ficking Books, 2012)
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. With an ending which will leave book-lovers everywhere signing with delight. It is so luscious that I’ve added it as an actual Christmas present instead of an advent book so I don’t have my copy to hand! But that gives me the perfect opportunity to share the review written by one of my favourite fellow book bloggers: Read It, Daddy! If you love children’s books and aren’t already following his blog and twitter, I really urge you to do so. I aspire to produce so many outstanding reviews every week!

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker: James Mayhew (Orchard, 2012)Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker: James Mayhew (Orchard, 2012)
DG is going through a Ballet phase. MG did at about the same age. It’s all about dressing up in ballet clothes, pretend dancing (it’s amazing how much they pick up even with not going to a single class ever!) and reading books with ballerinas in. So this book is a HUGE hit. Not to mention that “Ella Bella” are very almost MG’s names as she is Eleanor Isabelle for long 🙂 She likes Ella as a nickname now, but when we tried it as a baby she insisted on being Eleanor so she’s always been that. I often call her El’s Bells which she dislikes intensely! As I mentioned in my Katie and the Starry Night review, James Mayhew is a genius and this is another wonderful introduction to… book. Playing by the Book, another of my favourite book blogs, has such a gorgeous nutcracker feast in her write-up that I can’t resist sending you there to read more! I’ve just found out that there’s another Ella Bella review today, and her review is beautiful so please do look. Library Mice is the cause of much of my book spending with her wonderful reviews of the most beautiful books.

Friday Pick{ture Book}: Katie and the Starry Night

Katie and the Starry Night: James Mahew (Orchard Books, 2012)

Katie and the Starry Night: James Mayhew
(Orchard Books, 2012)

James Mayhew is a simply a genius. As well as the Katie and Ella Bella books, he also paints live at classical concerts and is currently designing the sets for a stage version of Katie and the Mona Lisa. I’m still only really newly discovering James and only just starting to appreciate the depth of his talent and commitment to sharing the arts with all children.

I’m probably a total cretin when it comes to “the arts” but I’m also of the opinion that “I like what I like” is a perfectly valid viewpoint. I like Starry Night, it’s a beautiful painting. I like that Van Gogh was a character in Doctor Who! We were going to watch that episode as part of the “Starry Night” week I planned for half term to go with this book but the week flew by and it turned into one day of projects.

We had a Playing by the Book moment, and I looked up lots of ideas related to Starry Night to go along with reading this book. In the end we made a starry jar (or four), and MG copied the picture freehand (I was going to print off a colouring sheet!) in a painting session. You can click to see my pinboard of collected ideas.

MG painting Starry Night

This is the twelfth Katie book (which means there’s one we don’t own!) and follows Katie through five Van Gogh paintings: The Starry Night, Noon, Vincent’s Chair, Fishing Boats on the Beach and The Olive Grove. James Mayhew seamlessly melds these paintings together as Katie wanders through them and the art gallery to collect missing stars while her Grandma sleeps…

At the end of the book there is additional information about the paintings, providing a springboard for further study if required. All the Katie books are lovely introductions to various art and any (or all!) of them deserve a place in every household. Katie and the Starry Night is a beautiful addition to the series, we all enjoyed reading it and then making messy art too!

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Katie and the Starry Night 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.

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London’s Calling

You’d think there were things happening in London or something, with all the London-centric books that are out or re-issued this year! 😉 I’m not a huge fan of London, I’m sure it’s lovely really but I’ve lived in Oxfordshire my whole life so have Oxford for beautiful buildings; varied museums and art galleries; crowds of tourists and students; parks to wander round; and much, much more. I’ve never been a fashionista so don’t need to go browse the shops and I prefer peace and quiet to hustle and bustle anyhow. So London, to me, has generally just been a couple of tube stops on the way to visit friends or somewhere ‘central’ to meet people scattered about the country…

However, the books below are inspiring me to take MG and DG for a day-trip in the summer holidays (some time before the Olympics hit I think!) and giving them an idea of what we can expect to see.

The Dog Detectives in… Lost in London by Fin & Zoa and Monika Suska

Covers: Tower of London; London Eye; red buses; Big Ben; Buckingham Palace; Hyde Park; Trafalgar Square; St Paul’s Cathedral; London Underground

The ravens are missing from the Tower of London and Detective Jack and Deputy Poco Loco have until tea time to find them all. With the help from the Rat Riddler, they search London for the missing ravens by solving riddles like: I have a face and two hands but cannot walk. I count to twelve but cannot talk. This book can be enjoyed on one level by very young children while older ones can try to work out the riddles and guess where the detectives are going next.

Katie in London by James Mayhew

Covers: Trafalgar Square; St Paul’s Cathedral; The Tower of London; Tower Bridge; London Eye; Houses of Parliament; Buckingham Palace; a park; Harrods; red buses

Katie and her little brother, Jack, are taken to London to see the sights by their Grandmother who promptly falls asleep so they end up being taken on a fantastical tour through the main attractions by the stone lion in Trafalgar Square. Gorgeous art really gives the impression of the majesty of London attractions.

The two stories are a nice complement to each other, covering many of the same sights of London in very different ways. A good introduction to some main attractions in London for small children, which can then lead on to more detail in…

Paddington’s Guide to London by Michael Bond

This book is separated into short sections of easy-to-read information about different parts of London and is packed with colour photos of all the different areas. I’m not sure whether they actually took a Paddington toy around or if he’s been photoshopped in, but some of the photos with him in look a little odd to me! I suspect this would be readable by eights and ups but I’m guessing based on no practical experience. It was a very quick read for me, and informative as someone who knows nothing about London.

MG has been reading Katie in London at school so when flicking through the Paddington guide and seeing a photo of Tower Bridge, she told me it was in Katie in London book. We then read both the picture books together as she flicked through the Paddington guide to see where she’d like to visit.

I thought a Duck Tour sounded like the best thing to aim to take MG and DG on – seeing a lot of the sights from the stories we’ve read but not tiring them out with lots of trekking to different parts of the city. MG however really wants to go to Marine Ices (the picture of the ice cream sold her, the write-up sold me!) and the London Eye. They don’t look like they’re that close together so I’ll have to check to see whether it’s feasible to do both in one trip but we’ll try to cover at least one or the other (probably ice cream!)

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Paddington’s Guide to London by HarperCollins and The Dog Detectives in… Lost in London by Maverick Arts Publishing for review. I bought our copy of Katie in London. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.