Jo Empson burst on to the picturebook scene back in 2012 with the widely acclaimed Rabbityness, which was followed by Never Ever. So far in 2016 she has released two picturebooks, Little Home Bird (Child’s Play) and Chimpazees for Tea (Puffin), both completely different in theme as well as style.

Little Home Bird is the story of Little Bird who loves his home so much, he cannot bear to leave it to fly South for Winter. He decides he can only leave if he brings his favourite things with him and begins his journey weighed down by a basket full of treasures. When he finally reaches his new home, he realises that he has lost them all along the way, but soon he discovers new treasures, making this second home very special too. Splendid depictions of flora and fauna and stunning landscapes adorn this lovely story of a little bird struggling to accept he now has two homes. This theme is dealt with subtly and beautifully, and Little Bird’s vulnerability will be particularly relatable to young children who might find themselves in a similar situation. The story also offers a wonderful account of the treacherous journey birds undertake during migration.   This wonderfully multi-layered tale is a real feast for the eyes, and the soul.

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In Chimpanzees for Tea we follow Vincent while he runs an errand for his mum. She has asked him to get a bunch of carrots, a box of rice, some China tea, a big firm pear and tin of peas from the shop but when the list flies off in the wind, Vincent is forced to try to remember its contents. This turns out not to be so easy for Vincent who is easily distracted and gets gradually more muddled up, which leads to wonderful plays on words and their rhyming equivalents, resulting in increasingly more preposterous alternatives for the items on his mum’s list, and eventually a rather strange assortment of friends for Vincent who invites them all for tea. The energetic artwork sets the tone of this clever story and the ludicrous alternatives for the items on the list will have little readers in fit of giggles. There is a real sense of movement and whimsy in the artwork which is mirrored in the text, and the interplay between the two is quite wonderful, and makes a great read-aloud.

I am delighted that Jo has agreed to share five fabulous picturebooks with us.


Five Fabulous picturebooks that inspire me
by Jo Empson



All these books inspire me to become a better writer and illustrator…I hope!



The Cat in the HatThe Cat in a Hat
Dr Seuss

I can safely say that as a young child this book definitely influenced my idea of what ‘a book’ was. I distinctly remember seeing it for the first time at my local library and being absolutely overwhelmed by the humour, originality and complete nonsense of this book. Until then, I thought books had to make sense, so to see something that broke all the rules in such a fun and chaotic way was a total revelation!


redtreeThe Red Tree

Shaun Tan

I am a massive fan of Shaun Tan’s work. The Red Tree is not only visually stunning but also deeply moving, with layers for the reader to discover. It tackles the difficult subject of depression (or simply having a bad day) with a sense of empathy and hope. The limited use of words are used to maximum effect and every page is thought provoking! It is definitely a picture book for both adults and children.



Suzy Lee

This is a beautiful wordless picture book in which the simple illustrations express the story so completely, that you really don’t notice that there are no words. Suzy Lee really capture the relationship between the little girl and the wave and the game they play together, along with the audience of seagulls. It amazes me how Suzi achieves such energy and movement with a very simple colour palette of just two colours. I also love the way she uses the binding of the book to great effect which becomes an integral part of her illustrations.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green

Lane Smith

I am a real sucker for beautifully written text in books and Lane Smith has an amazing talent of marrying beautiful text and gorgeous illustrations. In this book we see the relationship of both a young boy and his Grandfather – unfolding a garden full of memories, discovering important life events and the touching relationship between the old and young. It’s just beautiful!


Imaginary FredImaginary Fred
Eoin Colfer & Oliver Jeffers

A very unique book and a wonderful collaboration between two children’s literature giants. It’s a beautiful story about friendship, imagination, the fear of loss and how wishes really can come true! What I love about Oliver Jeffers illustration work is that he is always an innovator.



You can find Jo on Twitter, Facebook and her website.


Thank you so much Jo, what a great selection!

You can buy Little Home Bird and Chimpanzees for Tea here