Library Mice Reviews from a children's book enthusiast Fri, 28 Jun 2019 06:52:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BLOG TOUR: “A Planet Full of Plastic” by Neal Layton Fri, 28 Jun 2019 06:52:13 +0000 In A Planet Full of Plastic (Wren & Rook) Neal Layton introduces children to the current and vital topic of plastic pollution. The book covers many topics within the theme, from the history of the creation of plastic, to biodegradation and to what we can do to reverse the problem. It is extremely informative, detailed yet simple enough for young audiences, and never preachy.  What works really well is the mixed media artwork; Layton uses photographs of plastic items in situ, so to speak, as part of the illustrations, creating spreads which are particularly impactful. This underwater spread, for example, is particularly effective:

Discovering the identity of the narrator at the end of the book is a lovely touch which children will really enjoy. This is an important book, which will work well both at home (for example following the creative ideas at the back of the book, including building one own’s greenhouse as detailed below) and at school as part of creating well-rounded, responsible citizens. A brilliant addition to bookshelves in both settings!



Build Your Own Mini Greenhouse


To celebrate the publication of A Planet Full of Plastic – a brand new non-fiction picture book by author-illustrator Neal Layton, I’ll be telling you how to help your little ones get involved in reusing plastic bottles by helping them make their very own miniature greenhouse. Miniature greenhouses are a great use for plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in our rivers and seas and the excitement of watching their very own plants grow is an added bonus for children.


You will need:

  • Scissors
  • A large plastic bottle
  • Seeds
  • Compost
  • An old plastic container
  • A skewer


  1. Peel the label off the large plastic bottle, keep the cap on top of the bottle and cut it into two pieces around 4 inches from the bottle’s base.
  2. Poke 2-4 holes in the bottom of the bottle with a skewer for drainage.
  3. Wash both pieces of the bottle in warm and soapy water to ensure they are clean.
  4. Balance the bottom piece of the bottle in an old plastic container and fill half of it up with compost.
  5. Water the soil until it is evenly moist and empty the plastic container of any excess water that drips through.
  6. Place your seeds in a spread out arrangement on the damp compost and cover with more compost.
  7. Cut a small slit in the top half of the bottle and slip it over the bottom half as a ‘lid’, this will create a miniature greenhouse effect to help the seeds germinate.
  8. Remove the cap from the top of the bottle to allow some air circulation once the seed germinate.
  9. Once seedlings appear move the bottle to an area that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
  10. Water the seedlings when the soil surface dries, remove the top half of the bottle if it develops condensation or once the seedlings grow tall enough to touch it.



A Planet Full of Plastic by Neal Layton is published by Wren and Rook. You can buy the book here

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:


Source: review copy sent by publisher


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Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise Sat, 15 Jun 2019 08:36:21 +0000 Katherine Rundell

Fellow children’s literature appreciators have all experienced the following, when stepping out of their echo chambers: the slight bewilderment of others when they learn that you read children’s literature. That bewildered expression often turns to aghast when you confess that you have studied it, or worse, that you read /study picturebooks. Yes, yes, those people exist. Look beyond your Twitter feed for a minute and the reality of it punches square in the face. Alternatively you could read this article, if you dare. Admittedly it might be outdated (2001) but the misplaced snobbiness of it will bemuse you, or anger you, depending how your day is going. Anyway, Katherine Rundell is here to save us from yet another awkward conversation, because this  teeny tiny perfectly formed tome can easily be thrust into such people’s hands. She talks sense. A lot of sense. She writes beautifully ( this will come as no surprise to you  if you are a  children’s literature enthusiast), with real heart, about her own relationship with reading,  stories and writing, about the importance of libraries, but also about the history of children’s literature, the importance of fairy tales (she writes of them that they are “a way of tracing our cultural evolution”, which is splendidly put) and of course what it is that makes children’s literature so special:  its subversive nature, its cornucopia of hope, imagination and optimism, observing that “Children’s books say: the world is huge. They say: hope counts for something. They say: bravery will matter, love will matter.” (48) Life experiences might sometimes tell us otherwise, but in times of turmoil, it is worth being reminded of that. In the end, Rundell reminds us that stories are for everyone, and that what is important is that it talks to you, that you find yourself in them:



A perfect definition of the reading experience in a truly delightful and inspiring essay.



Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You are So Old and Wise is available exclusively in independent bookshops as part of Independent Bookshop Week, and will be on general release on 8th August.



Review copy kindly sent by the publisher on request

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Read for Empathy Blog Tour: Louise Greig Tue, 04 Jun 2019 07:07:19 +0000


Today I am hosting the Read for Empathy blog tour, which celebrates books that help develop empathy, in the build-up to Empathy Day which takes place on June 11th. Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by not-for-profit EmpathyLab. It aims to drive a new empathy movement, inspired by research showing that humans are not born with a fixed quantity of empathy – it’s a skill we can learn. The profile of this now annual event has rocketed, fuelled by concerns about a growing societal empathy deficit. Young people are growing up amidst an increasingly divisive public discourse, with online lives which can limit face-to-face human connection and expose them to casual cruelty.
Empathy Day is a lightning rod for a new story-driven empathy movement.


I am delighted to welcome Louise Greig as part of the tour to talk about her picturebook Sweep, illustrated by Júlia Sardà, which is part of the 2019 Read for Empathy Guide.  Louise  lives in Aberdeen with her husband where she writes children’s picture books and poetry.  She loves nature, wildlife and words in equal measure. You can find her on Twitter


by Louise Greig


Let’s start with a confession.  Sometimes in art a brush stroke or an idea results in a ‘happy coincidence’ with a serendipitous outcome beyond the artist’s or author’s original intention.  And so it was with Sweep.  It would be easy for me to take credit for the praise the book has received but, in reality, I only saw it as a simple story of a temper tantrum I hoped would resonate with readers.  In fact, it’s hardly a story at all – just a metaphor wrapped in a pile of leaves.

It was therefore a lovely surprise to discover the book was being used by teachers, parents and psychologists in many countries as a practical tool to help children recognise and deal with anger, anxiety and other difficult emotional issues.  The Picture Book Blogger summed it up nicely:  “Possibly one of the most deceptively simple, but also most powerfully executed books we’ve seen on handling, recognising and confronting overwhelming emotions”.   Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best!



Reading has long been recognised as a way of promoting empathy by allowing readers to explore the world far beyond their own realm of experience and so see and understand other peoples’ points of view.  This is important in the modern world where everything seems to be increasingly polarised with one side raging against the other, with apparently little attempt to understand why opposing views are held.  The middle ground seems to be disappearing, and with it, the notion of empathy.

Social research is often confusing and contradictory, especially in the mental health arena and, in particular, with respect to the impact of social media on young peoples’ lives.  However, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to recognise social media’s potential for bullying, passive aggression and general dissatisfaction during a child’s formative years.  Furthermore, complex algorithms used by social media platforms intentionally match people with others with similar attitudes and interests thus giving individuals the impression their views are universal and alternative points of view wrong. This is confirmation bias on a wide scale and leads to a narrowing of outlook and more deeply entrenched beliefs.  Ultimately it promotes a lack of understanding, tolerance and compassion, which are the foundation stones of a civilised society.

I can’t claim that Sweep can solve the world’s ills but, in some small way, it may help promote empathy in children by providing them with an increased understanding of themselves and help them recognise entrenched and unhelpful behaviour when it occurs in others.  It may also provide them with the tools to break the cycle of anxiety and anger by demonstrating a better and happier way forward.  In this regard the key to Sweep’s success is the joyous resolution of Ed’s bad mood.  Just as it threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone, a gust of wind simply blows it away and happiness prevails!  Another confession – the original ending I intended was an all-enveloping catastrophe but my editor convinced me that might be too hard a lesson for young minds and fortunately persuaded me to change it to something more positive and uplifting.

With picture books the prevailing premise is always ‘show, don’t tell’ – words are only half the story.  Sweep owes much of its success to the wonderful detail and rich, witty illustrations by renowned artist Júlia Sardà, which bring the whole story to life.  The humour embedded in the illustrations is absolutely key to the success of the book – it’s hard to be angry while you’re laughing!

In terms of recommended reading for empathy I would suggest anything by Anthony Browne.  His books are always multi-layered, simple stories profound in meaning.  I particularly love Voices in the Park which is 20 years old now. It looks at four different perspectives of the same event.





Thank you so much, Louise for this lovely blog post!



You can buy a copy of Sweep here online purchase silagra.


Do you want to curate your own booklist of Empathy-building books? This is the kind of thing you should be looking out for:




To support Empathy Day, you can:

* Join in the social media #ReadForEmpathy campaign across social media platforms

* Attend  The Empathy Conversation evening event with former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, poet Joseph Coelho and psychology expert Professor Robin Banerjee, Waterstone’s Piccadilly,  on 11th June at 7pm; tickers are available here

* Buy empathy books from local independent booksellers, and EmpathyLab’s whole empathy book collection for 26% off thanks to Peters Bookselling Services.

*Follow the blog tour of some of the authors and illustrators involved:






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Picture Book of the Week monthly recap: May 2019 Sun, 02 Jun 2019 07:38:59 +0000 SEA: A World Beneath the Waves
Patricia Hegarty & Britta Teckentrup
(Little Tiger Press)

Following the huge success of  Tree, Bee and Moon, this wonderful creative duo are back with a new peek-through
picturebook focusing on the natural world, this time on the world underneath our seas. This is a fabulous theme to showcase Teckentrup’s talent. Her use of colour, texture and her ability to bring the natural world alive on the page in a way that is both meticulously detailed yet simple enough to be appealing to a very young audiences is second to none. The die-cuts and two  recurring little clown fish create a playful effect, and this is accompanied wonderfully by Hegarty’s rhyming text, making it a lovely read aloud. The message about conservation on the last page is beautifully done: subtle, engaging, and encouraging further conversations and action about pollution, it is the perfect way of ending a book celebrating one of Earth’s most fascinating yet most fragile natural habitats.


I Can’t Can Fly
Fifi Kuo
(Boxer Books)

Little Penguin wants to fly. He has wings after all, so why shouldn’t he? Despite everyone’s advice, Little Penguin is adamant he will keep trying; will his perseverance pay? Using a limited palette of blue and black with lots of white space, Kuo depicts the arctic environment and its inhabitants beautifully. It feels cold, and vast. The sketchy style, almost crayon-like, really helps brings Little Penguin’s surroundings to life, as does the use of lines, conveying movement wonderfully throughout. The use of space within the page, and going from lots of white background when on the bank to fully-coloured when underwater is so effective. The underwater spreads are truly amazing. The wordless spread of Little Penguin falling deep in the ocean is absolutely stunning, dark and dramatic, and astutely demonstrating  that emotions are often best expressed when there is little embellishment and plenty of space with the reader to think and feel.  Superb!


The Tide
Clare Helen Welsh & Ashling Lindsay
(Little Tiger Press)

This wonderful picturebook introduces us to a little girl and her grandfather, whose special relationship is sometimes put under strain because of the grandfather’s dementia. The story is told in first person by the little girl, and seen through the eyes of a child, readers are presented with a more raw and honest view of dementia, sometimes with a lack of understanding that young readers will recognise, but filled with emotion and innocence which makes it a particularly poignant read for adults.  The metaphor of the tide to explain the effect dementia has on people’s memories is beautiful, and this theme runs throughout, mirrored in the alternating moments of lucidity and absence from Grandad. The colours are warm and comforting; the spread of them dancing through the waves as the tide comes simply glows with warmth and love. Celebrating family love and support in what can be very dark times, this is a really special book.


The Suitcase
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
(Nosy Crow)

The most powerful way to put a message across in a picturebook is not by what is being said but by what is left unsaid. You will struggle to find a recent picturebook that illustrates this better and more poignantly than “The Suitcase”. Simplicity both in the text and artwork convey the plea of displaced people and the importance of empathy in a way that is accessible to children. It is impossible not to be deeply moved as an adult when reading this text, with that one wordless spread like a punch in the gut.
The use of colour is wonderful, with each character given its own, including in the typography. Little readers will notice those colours match the newly-built home at the end. Lots of white space throughout gives the reader space to make connections and inferences and the only two spreads without any negative space show his old and new home, filling the page with warmth and contentment. Simply stunning!





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Picture Book of the Week monthly recap: April 2019 Tue, 07 May 2019 07:39:16 +0000 Norm
Sylvia Liang
(Thames & Hudson)

Norm (short for Normal) lives in a world where everything is the same. Him and his friends go round with rules making sure everything is the right size, the right shape, etc. But when Norm across Odette (Odd for short), she introduces him to a whole different world, one where every one is different and enjoys life to the full. Norm soon realises that there is no such thing as ‘the norm’ and every one’s quirks is what makes them special. Beautiful, quirky artwork and a gentle narrative makes this début picturebooks a lovely story to delve into. The theme of challenging the norms is tactfully explored, while the book highlights there is no such thing as ‘normal’, it also conveys there is nothing worng with conformity and liking things just so (as many children do), as long as one stays open to other other possibilities, change, an a little bit of chaos too. This is a lovely inclusive message, in a overall delightful book.


B is for Baby
Atinuke & Angela Brooksbank
(Walker Books)

B is for Baby. B is for Brother, Bus, Bridge and Butterfly. The title of this glorious picturebook might fool readers into thinking at first that this is simply another ABC book, but oh no! Using the letter B as focus, the narrative describes a day in the life a toddler, from her morning routine to visiting her grandparents. Brookshank’s use of colour is superb, wonderfully reproducing the vibrancy of the local flora and fauna of  the village from an unspecified African country (though most likely to be Nigeria, the author’s home country). You can almost smell the Bougainvillea! Her scenery illustrations are incredibly detailed and movement bursts from the page, really bringing the simple text structure to life. The themes running through the narrative are universal, highlighting that while the backdrop might be different, children across the world have much in common. A wonderfully joyous picturebook!


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Five Fabulous Books that inspire me to look at the world in a different way by Fifi Kuo Thu, 11 Apr 2019 06:45:47 +0000 Panda and Penguin live together and share everything, including the beloved tatty old sofa they love to sit on. They decide to go and buy a new one, but none feels quite right, and for good reasons.
Fifi Kuo’s  The Perfect Sofa (Boxer Books) is absolutely delightful; its succinct text is teamed with bold colourful double-spreads and together they create a quirky, fun tale with a cleverly observed and conveyed , child-friendly message about consumerism and throw-away attitude at its heart. There is just warmth and contentment radiating from the final spread, and this will undoubtedly spark discussions about appreciating belongings rather than always yearning for more.  The dynamics between the two characters is joyful and will delight little readers and make it a great, fun read aloud.

I am so happy to welcome Fifi to Library Mice for another fascinating Fabulous Five!

Five Fabulous Books that inspire me
to look at the world in a different way

by Fifi Kuo



I’ve always loved to draw and dream. I believe that pictures can tell stories that we cannot put into words. Together, words and pictures can help us see the world in a different way. Dreams can come alive. Problems can be resolved. Picture books can speak to us however old we are.

Here are five books that inspire me to look at the world in a different way


The Snowman
Raymond Briggs

I was five years old when my mother introduced me to The Snowman. I live in Taiwan, which has a tropical climate, and had never seen snow but immediately fell in love with this classic. At about this age I started to learn English but one of the good things about wordless books is that the story is told through the pictures. I loved the warmth of the friendship between the boy and his Snowman. I really wanted to fly and get a bird’s eye view of the world. I still do!



A Fish That Smiled at Me
Jimmy Liao

Jimmy Liao, also from Taiwan, is one of my favourite artists. He studied art at Chinese Culture University, and then he worked at an advertising agency as an editorial illustrator for many years. After surviving leukaemia in the 90s, Jimmy devoted himself to his art, and has since created about forty picture books which have sold millions of copies around the world. When I studied for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art I realised that Jimmy is not well known in the UK.  I really admire the way he tells a story through text and drawings. Sometimes the stories are sad but still have some tiny warmth inside. He makes us realise that even when life is sad, lonely or tough there are still tiny joyful things to give us hope.


When The Moon Forgot
Jimmy Liao

I go to the Taipei International Books Exhibition every year especially to see him and to get his books signed. Sadly, some of my favourites, like A Fish That Smiled at Me, are not available in English but When The Moon Forgot was translated into English in 2009. In this story a young boy becomes close friends with the moon when he falls out of the sky. But without the moon in the sky things go wrong in the world and so the boy realises that he has to help the moon return to the sky even though this means that they have to part. I love the fanciful surreal illustrations.


A Chance of Sunshine
Jimmy Liao


It is really hard to limit myself to just three books by Jimmy Liao. His books are so beautiful. In A Chance of Sunshine he shows us that we do not know where destiny will lead us. This love story was turned into a film called Turn Left, Turn Right. In the book the characters are not given names only referred to as ‘him’ and ‘her’ and I think that this device makes us realise that the story could be about ourselves.


Duck, Death and the Tulip
Wolf Erlbruch


My thesis for my MA degree looked at the subject of death in Children’s Picture Books. This wonderful picture book, originally published in German, is unashamedly sentimental. Duck and a character called Death become friends and discuss, life, death and what any afterlife might be like. Their conversations are really charming. Of course, in the end duck dies and Death lays her gently in the water putting a tulip on her. Erlbruch shows us how picture books can deal with difficult subjects with sensitivity, warmth and humour. Like all the other books I’ve selected, this picture book is not just for children. I would like my books to be shared by people of all ages.


Many thanks for this post Fifi and for introducing us to Jimmy Liao, his books look absolutely fascinating!

The Perfect Sofa is out today and you can purchase a copy here.


Source: review copy kindly provided by publisher




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Beatrice Blue presents five fabulous reads which have inspired her since childhood Tue, 09 Apr 2019 06:45:01 +0000 Today is National Unicorn Day and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to introduce Beatrice Blue’s gorgeous début picturebook Once Upon a Unicorn Horn (Frances Lincoln), which is published as part of the First Editions list, which showcases new talents.

June lives with her parents in a magical forest and loves to go on adventures and discover treasures in the forest. When she comes across a herd of tiny magical horses who are learning to fly. All but one, who doesn’t seem to be able to and looks so very sad. June is desperate to help but seems unable to fix it. She goes home to ask for help, and with the support of  her mum and dad and  a perfectly timed and placed ice-cream cone, something truly magical happens.
Themes of kindness, perseverance and never being afraid to ask for help are threaded into this joyful tale full of magic, colour and happiness. Blue’s style is wonderful; some of the spreads are reminiscent of Mary Blair’s art for Little Golden Books, who also had a flair for magical child-centered illustrations. The magical creatures are adorable and as Once Upon a Unicorn Horn is the first title in a picture book series about how fantastical creatures got their magical features, there is plenty more to look forward to!

Click to view slideshow.



I am delighted to welcome Beatrice to Library Mice for a Fabulous Five special on books that have inspired her since childhood:

Five Fabulous Inspiring Reads 

by Beatrice Blue


I have always been fascinated with magic. The way some authors describe it and make it feel absolutely real makes me want to go on a thousand adventures every day. With Once Upon a Unicorn Horn my aim was to make readers feel the magic and want to go on adventures with me!  To make them go out and discover the unknown; and/or make the unknown happen. I want every reader to  appreciate how wonderful kids are, and all the amazing things they can discover. Here are 5 books that have inspired me every day since I was a child:


 Peter Pan
J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is my absolute favourite book. The way it’s written is absolutely mesmerizing. It shows us how beautiful the kid’s mind is and all that there is to discover anywhere we go. It’s truly inspiring and I don’t lie when I say I could read it every day. It makes me miss home, love my childhood, enjoy every second I live and want to go on every possible adventure there is. Peter Pan should be in every book shelf of every home.




Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling

Of course, who doesn’t love Harry Potter and the way J.K Rowling developed a whole magical world surrounded by such amazement and wonder? I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time back in 1999. And my whole world spun. Magic was then suddenly more present forever in my life.




Neil Gaiman stories 

From Neverwhere, to  The Ocean at the End of the Lane and stopping basically on every single one of his short stories, Neil Gaiman has my entire heart. His way of seeing  the world seems absolutely fascinating to me, plus the way he writes and how delicious each story is makes him probably my favorite author.






Roald Dahl

The magic of Roald Dahl is undescribable, we all know that. But this specific book stole my heart right away. It showed me how a regular girl like me could actually make her dream and her magic real. It also taught me how being patient under someone else’s rage, anger or bad attitude could make me more powerful every day. And how being good to others, sharing and caring can make magic more than real.




The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling

The way Kipling shows us the mind of the kid in the middle of the Jungle; his decisions, his adventures and the way Mowgli grows and learns throughout the book is mesmerizing. Mowgli, along with Baloo, Kaa, Shere Khan, and Bagheera, taught me how to be fearless and learn from every adventure I venture into. They also made me learn to be cautious and that every action has its consequences. I will treasure this book forever.




Thank you so much Beatrice!

Once Upon a Unicorn Horn is out today and you can purchase it here.


Source: review copy kindly sent from publisher



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Picture Book of the Week monthly recap: March 2019 Tue, 02 Apr 2019 11:05:02 +0000 Wisp: a Story of Hope
Zana Fraillon & Grahame Baker-Smith
(Orchard Books)

One evening, a Wisp of air  floats in a refugee camp. A little boy called Idris notices it and with his help, the Wisp visits inhabitants of the camp, helping them to remember life before the camp. Out of those memories, Hope grows once again. But what about Idris, who knows nothing beyond the camp? This  is a powerful, heart-wrenching tale, which highlights how camps dehumanise refugees and how vital it is for people to hold on to who they are, where they come from, and never let go of Hope. Fraillon has created a story in tone with her novels while making the theme accessible to a much younger audience, which is greatly aided by Baker-Smith’s artwork. Much is left unsaid, told in the stunning pictures, conveying both the darkness of the camp and the magic of memories. Baker-Smith’s play with light and air are truly breath-taking. An important story, superbly told.


The Lost Book
Margarita Surnaite
(Andersen Press)

Henry the rabbit lives in a world where books are everywhere and everyone loves reading; except him. When he finds a lost book, looking for its owner leads him to a world opposite to his: there is not one book in sight and people are glued to screens instead. How will he find his way home?
Using a great mix of panels and full-bleed spreads, this is a lovely tale of the power of stories and their ability to unite people. Yet it also offers a stern warning as to what happens if we let technology take over, offering a peek into an almost dystopian book-free version of our world. This message is undoubtedly aimed at the adult co-reader: the little girl’s dad being shown constantly on his phone is very effective. Soft lines and colours as well as a happy ending ensure that this story does not feel ominous to its young readers however, focusing instead on the joy books bring.
A début well worth looking out for!




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Anatomy of the picturebook: Covers Wed, 20 Mar 2019 07:50:42 +0000


Don’t judge a book by its cover. Are we not always telling children this? Yet the intended audience of picturebooks are, for the majority, pre-literate and as a result particular care is given to designing covers and other peritextual elements for picturebooks (defined more or less as anything other than the narrative, such as dust jackets, endpapers, title and dedication pages etc. ). In fact, peritextual elements are vital tools for ‘readers’, allowing them to determine genre, predict plot, sense mood and identify settings and characters (Sipe). The information given by the cover is therefore vital, wetting the appetite of readers, feeding their expectations of the story.  Here is a closer look about different types of cover designs readers might come across.


Front and back covers


-Wrapround covers

One picture extend from the front across the spine to the back, such as the cover of Levi Penfold’s The Django (Templar):


From the front cover, readers can make many assumptions about the setting of the story. My personal response would probably be a farmyard, with the assumption this is a chicken coupe. Opening up the full jacket not only gives a sense of space, but also a sense of scale. Readers can also make further assumptions: the character on the cover might be from a travelling community, and, looking at the caravans, it is likely that the story takes place a long time ago. Readers might also wonder why the main character is sitting away from the rest of the group.

Sometimes the wraparound cover is used to create an element of surprise. Olivier Douzou’s Loup (Editions Rouergue ) uses this by playing with readers’ expectations of wolves’ behaviour:

– Dual image covers

Some covers are made out of two different images, recto and verso. The back cover might recreate a scene from the book, or introduce the characters from the story, as is the case with Pom Pom is Super by Sophy Henn (Puffin). The illustrations on the back cover introduces Pom Pom pre and post ‘super’ transformation.


In Claude Ponti’s My Valley  (Elsewhere Editions) , the back cover introduces the characters but with little else information. However, readers do get an impression of playfulness straight away. In the original French edition, it is the barcode rather than publisher logo that is falling down, Ponti being renown for always integrating ISBN barcodes as part of his back cover artwork.



On the back cover of Lucy & Tom at the Seaside, the back cover repeats the illustration from the title page, and along with the front cover complement the main theme of the book.



– Book jacket & Book casing

Hardback picturebooks sometimes include a dust jacket, and as a result might end up having two very different covers – one for the dust jacket (which will often, but not always, become the paperback cover) and one for the case.
In the case of Little Red by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots), the dual covers allows readers to be introduced to the two main protagonists.


Sometimes the book casing will not be fully illustrated but instead include a small illustration, a repeating pattern or even a debossed pattern over block coloured casing.


The image chosen for the cover


– An illustration taken from the book

Covers that are duplicates from an inside spread “seem to have been chosen to convey the essence of the story inside and thus set up appropriate expectations for it” (Nodelman).   Here is an example from Witchfairy by Brigitte Minne & Carll Cneut (Book Island), which takes it cover from a spread from the book.


Interestingly it is actually not that common for book covers to be a complete duplicate of an illustration from the book. Often if a spread from the book is used as cover illustration, it will be a slightly different version, whether it is colour, or position or simply some objects added or removed, as in the example below from the hardback edition of  The Grothlyn by Benji Davies (HarperCollins Children’s Books):

– An illustration not found in the book

According to Nodelman, illustrators “often try to create appropriate expectations by pictures on covers or dust jackets that appear nowhere else in a book and that sum up the essential nature of the story” (49).The cover of Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck  (HarperCollins Children’s Books) illustrates Nodelman’s statement perfectly:


The main elements of the narrative are present: Flyn, looking confused, a tree, and something stuck in it. Even pre-literate children, who would not be able to decode the word ‘stuck’, will nonetheless get the meaning as the title has cleverly been set as part of the artwork (also called intraiconic text).



– Ambiguous book covers

Some illustrators (or indeed book designers) create book covers which do not fit into Nodelman’s definition.  For instance, the cover of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Red Fox) famously lacks its main protagonist, creating a possible confusion for the reader. Discussing the cover of the book,  Leonard S. Marcus suggested that  “the cover image was meant to be another open door, and a signal to readers that they were going to have to venture inside”. He adds the he doubts this cover design “would make it past any present-day publishing committee.” This omission  is particularly striking in the French translation, as Max is named in the title, Max et les maximonstres (L’École des loisirs). Readers are then left to wonder whether Max is the monster in the picture, who is about to meet other, bigger (‘maxi) monsters.

The cover of Eve Coy’s Looking after William (Andersen Press) is also ambiguous.  The reader might assume from looking at it that the child on the cover is a boy called William and that the story focuses on looking after him when in fact, the story is told from the little girl’s point of view (the astronaut helmet adding to the ambiguity) with her telling the story of ‘looking after’ her dad, named William.


Interestingly, the American edition is called Daddy-Sitting, and the forthcoming paperback edition will be called Looking after Daddy,  thus removing the ambiguity.

Another completely ambiguous cover is from wordless picturebook The Tree House, by Ronald and Marije Tolman (Lemmiscaat):

The ocean, a whale and a polar bear: an intriguing combination but one that would not necessarily be associated with tree houses. Here, the ambiguity tickles the reader’s curiosity- how on earth will they encounter a tree house?

Do those covers create false expectations? Maybe, but this is in turn creates an element of surprise as readers identify their expectations might have been purposely misdirected.


Does the cover impact readers’ expectations?

We make assumptions, as seen above, and therefore by doing so, we make a judgement. Which is why I was very interested to see that the French editors of The Secret of Black Rock, L’École des loisirs, decided to change the cover of the book completely, presenting the reader with a completely different entry point into the narrative, including giving away the secret of Black Rock right from the start:



I was intrigued as to why they would do that, taking away the charming element of surprise in this narrative. So I asked them why, and this was the reply from the design team:

“We did not feel that the cover of the original edition reflected the intensity of the interior artwork: it gives the impression that the heroine is simply going sailing and lacks dramatic tension. We felt it would be more interesting to show the point at which both characters meet, a key moment in a narrative, even if it meant giving away part of the plot.”

It is an interesting point; is it more important for covers to be enticing, even if it means giving some of the narrative away, rather than keep any excitement inside?

Does shape and size tell us anything?

Though format is a different aspect of picturebook anatomy, the two are interlinked, both influenced by content and theme. For example:









The cover of  Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (Hodder Children Books) uses a landscape orientation, which emulates and emphasises the shape of the building. Meanwhile, Béatrice Rodriguez chooses the portrait orientation for her book The Chicken Thief (Gecko Press), highlighting the idea of movement, particularly with Fox in the bottom right corner of the illustration, just about to run ‘off’ the book.

Debi Gliori’s Greenaway Medal shortlisted Night Shift offers another interesting example; not only was the illustration changed from hardback to paperback, but the size of the book also.

What does it mean it terms of reading experience? A smaller book offers a more intimate reading experience. A larger format facilitates a shared reading experience, but also might make the book less daunting for some readers. This is accentuated by the addition of the main character on the cover of the paperback as well as more colour. The new cover gives more of an inkling as to what the book is about (heightened by the addition of the tag line “Fighting dragons is one way of fighting depression”). These two covers of the same story ‘speak’ to different readerships.

Picturebook covers offer the reader a point of entry into the narrative, and the choice of cover, to a certain extent, does manipulate that point of entry and the reader’s initial response. As Marcus states,  “the best picture book cover design is made from the inside out”.


Leonard S. Marcus Face Out: Picture Books Covers (Horn Book, November 2012)
William Moebius Introduction to Picturebook Codes (Word & Image, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1986)
Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures (University of Georgia Press, 1990)
Lawrence R Sipe  Storytime: Young Children’s Literary Understanding in the Classroom (Teachers College, 2008)

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BLOG TOUR: Mick Inkpen’s “The Blue Balloon” is 30 years old! Sat, 16 Mar 2019 08:05:47 +0000

The Blue Balloon (Hodder Children’s Books), Mick Inkpen’s classic picture book, is 30 years old this year! A favourite of so many families, which uses innovative use of flaps and fold-out pages, it is a true celebration of the importance of play and the power of the imagination for preschoolers. It also highlights how easily it is for children to enter imaginative play; here a discarded balloon found by (the then-not-yet-famous) Kipper in the garden becomes the starting point of endless games and wonders.
This was written in  pre-smartphone/tablet era, and it is timely reminder as to what children’s play looked like then, what it should still really look like now and how we, as adults, should nurture those opportunities.



I am delighted to welcome Mick to Library Mice as part of the Anniversary blog tour, and he has written an inspiring piece about how The Blue Balloon came to life and the importance of picture books as play rather than purely pedagogical tools.

Picture Books as Playground

by Mick Inkpen


When you are four, if you have been prudent and chosen your parents wisely, life can stream at you as it is, and you in turn can run at it headlong. It’s a very singular time, where imagination co-exists happily with reality. It’s a pleasure, and I guess a responsibility, though it doesn’t feel like one,to make stories for a readership that has so little trouble suspending its disbelief.

Stories are ways of making sense of the world, ways of finding patterns and shape and resolution, ways of reaffirming meaning. Perhaps it was a growing awareness of our own unpredictable mortality that brought them into being in the first place; happy endings we can be sure of.

At any rate the need for stories is hard-wired into us. There is no issue about getting children to engage with them. Stick a child in front of the TV and they will always want to know what happened next. Reading on the other hand is a strange skill, often difficult to learn.

If we belong to that lucky group of children who learnt to read very young, we probably don’t remember the point at which those strange marks on a page began to translate into meaning. We take for granted what an astonishing lifetime of opportunity opened up for us at that point.

Unlike watching TV, reading is a much more collaborative act of imagining. How many people have read The BFG? Whatever the answer, that is the exact number of Big Friendly Giants, all of them slightly different, bought into being by the imaginations of all those readers in collaboration with the wonderful Mr Dahl. It’s this shared ownership of the story that makes reading so peculiarly rewarding.

This is an end in itself but I’m guessing that the work involved in imagining during reading is also an important component in equipping the brain to make the kind of leaps that accelerate other kinds of learning.

But teaching children to read can be tricky. Parental anxiety about it translates to kids as, ‘I must knuckle down and do this because it will be good for me’, which has very little to do with the simple pleasure of finding out what happened next. We know that children who master reading soon discover the pleasure of diving into a book independently of adults, so how do we avoid conditioning others into suspecting that books are a kind of unpleasant educational medicine?

And what is my role as a picture book author in helping children to learn to read? Well perversely I am at my most useful when I ignore that responsibility. My job is imparting stories not literacy.

When I started writing for children I felt that in order to create the kind of stories that would engage them I would need to be as playful as possible. I would need to trust my own instincts. And the key to that was being willing to entertain my own inner 4 year old self.

The Blue Balloon was not the earliest expression of that approach for me, but 30 years ago it was the most ambitious. The freedom to play extended to the physical format of the book itself. If my balloon was to have ‘strange and wonderful powers’ might it be possible for it to escape the constriction of the page? That prompted the idea of the fold out pages, and that in turn opened up new possibilities which fed back into the story. It led for example to the dramatic irony of the ending.

As the child reading the story opens out the final double folding page, the boy narrator is unaware that behind him the blue balloon is elongating into rainbow colours. At that point the child reading becomes the sole custodian of the facts. For a four year old that is pretty empowering. Over the past thirty years I’ve often tried to subvert roles to the advantage of my reader.

The point is that none of this was carefully rationalised. It arose spontaneously out of a willingness to be playful. The ideas and text for The Blue Balloon seemed to unpack themselves in the course of one afternoon. Not all picture books are so cooperative, but that afternoon set a marker early in my career. It taught me the importance of playfulness and gave me the confidence to pursue it in my work.

Picture books at their best are an affirmation of this quality. They don’t set out primarily to educate or improve, they simply celebrate all the possibilities of being three or four or five years old.



Thank so much for this amazing piece, Mick! So much food for thought.

The Blue Balloon’s 30th Anniversary edition is out now and can be purchased here.


Don’t forget to check out the other stops of the blog tour:


Source: review copy kindly sent from publisher

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