Wednesday, 19 November 2014



Written by Jenny Offill, Illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Published by Orion Children's Books

As a parent, have you ever dreaded the words; ‘I want a pet!’? If that time hasn't come yet (and it will) be very careful what you agree to... 

Sparky! is about a little girl desperate for a pet, any pet will do, but her mum says; 'No, no, no!' However, after a month of asking every day (and constantly without fail), her mother finally says; 'You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed'. So it’s off to the library where the little girl finds the one animal that can meet her mum’s request. What’s the one animal that sleeps for days at a time, hardly moves and will eat the leaves out in the garden? Why a Sloth of course, the laziest, sleepiest animal in the world. 

Meet Sparky, the girl’s new pet sloth. He likes to sleep a lot and is not very good at playing games (except maybe Statues). But soon after Sparky arrives, the little girl’s friend, Mary Potts, comes over to investigate. She isn’t impressed with Sparky at all, as her cat can dance and her parrot knows at least twenty words! The little girl decides to prove that Sparky can do tricks, and organises a Trained Sloth Extravaganza! However it doesn’t work out quite that way. On the day of the reveal, the only trick that Sparky is any good at is playing dead, as he doesn’t like to move! Though Sparky may not know any tricks, the little girl still loves him to bits.

The book is illustrated by uber talented Chris Appelhans, who has worked across animated feature films such as Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Princess and the Frog. His illustrations for Sparky! bring a sleepy, dreamy feel to Jenny's words, making this a book that's perfect for bed time (be like Sparky and sleep like a sloth!).

Sparky is very cute and children will be wanting sloths for pets! (you have been warned!). Sparky! is out now in all good bookshops and available to buy on the Orion Childrens website.

Sophy Henn interview

I absolutely loved Where Bear? and was dying to know more about the making of the book and the author/illustrator Sophy Henn. So what better way to get answers to all these questions by asking Sophy heself!

Sophy Henn lives and works in Sussex, England. She studied Fashion at Central Saint Martins, accidentally had a London based career as an Art Director in advertising, then completed an MA in Illustration at University of Brighton.

Now she writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck. Sophy is also this year's World Book Day illustrator. Check out her beautiful illustrations on the website here.

BWB: Who's your favourite fictional bear?

SH: Until trying to answer this question I had no idea there were so many bears I love! There's Baloo for 'Bare Necessities', Paddington for his utter adorableness, Fozzi for his fart shoes and Super Ted for pure nostalgia. But if I had to pick one above all the others it would be Pooh. He's satisfyingly cuddly without be too cute, he gets things wrong as well as occasionally right, which is always reassuring, he occasionally stumbles upon a heartbreakingly beautiful insight and there's a contentment about him which makes it a very cosy read. In all honestly it's the whole gang I love, my daughter did too, and it's always good to share!

BWB: How long did Where Bear? take to produce from the initial idea to the finished artwork?

SH: Where Bear? started as a scribble, then a while later a painting popped up, and so it continued for about 3-4 years, with varying intensity. When I was working on Where Bear? it was alongside freelance illustrating, running my greetings card business and for two years, my MA in Illustration. At the time I had no agent, no book deal and no idea what would happen, so there was no pressure to get it finished. Now I am lucky enough to be under contract with Puffin, my timescales have shrunk somewhat!

BWB: In Where Bear? the bear wants to find his real home - find out who he really is. Was this inspired by anything in your life?

SH: Everyone wants to find their spot, I suppose, that place where we 'fit' and feel happy. So maybe subconsciously there is a little of my own experience in there. But Bear's search for home was also partly inspired by people's desire to reorganise nature. Exotic pets and wild animals in captivity break my heart and the solution could be really straight forward, as the Boy's practical, innocent approach demonstrates. He just wants to find the place where Bear can be Bear. Home!

BWB: You were published for the first time this year. Was it a long and hard journey to get a publishing deal?

SH: I was hugely fortunate to land Paul at Bell Lomax Morton as my agent and he made the publishing deal side of things very painless. But when your work is out there, for the first time, in a field you are passionate about, it still felt like forever!

BWB: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

SH: I was going to say doing a presentation at a Puffin Showcase last year. I was on after Allan Allbergh (one of my childhood favourites) and before Lauren Child ( my daughter's favourite and huge inspiration), which was petrifying and awesome all at the same time! Then the bookshop and school visits are really fun too. But I think the highest highlight was when a Mum who had recieived an advance copy of Where Bear? tweeted that her daughter had asked for a re-read "Again, Again!", it was my first feedback and I burst into tears! Of joy, obviously!

BWB: What artists tool could you not live without?

SH: A 2B pencil. Boring but true! Can I have one with an eraser on the end please?

BWB: If you weren't a writer/illustrator what would you like to be?

SH: A tap dancer! Completely unrealistic, but I would absolutely love to don a sparkly bowler, catch a cane and tip tap around the place.

BWB: What picture books would you like to find in your Christmas stocking this year?

SH: That is an almost impossible question. I try not to look too closely at what's around in the picture book world as there are so many amazing books out there I tend to want to run and hide. So I've picked a Christmas theme to limit my choices...

Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. I love Tim Burton.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. Dr Seuss was a genius.

Olive the Other Reindeer by J.otto Seibold and Vivien Walsh, because it looks beautiful.

Snow Day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb. 
Rebecca's illustrations are beautiful and Richard Curtis is a bit good a holiday sentiment!

Snow by Sam Usher looks wonderful!

Oh and I'd love a signed, 1st edition of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter please.

I know I've forgotten some, but I'd best stop there, I don't want to appear greedy!!!

BWB: Favourite picture book of all time?

SH: I have to pick just one?!!! Double hard, but it has to be Oh the Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss. How he simplifies the complexities of the journey of life into a rhyming picture book is beyond me. It's sentimental and so insightful, but in no way cheesy or preachy. Brilliant!

BWB: You clearly love to draw bears. Is there anything you dread drawing?

SH: Hands! I'm getting better but if I can put them in a pocket I will! Just don't tell anyone!

Thank you, Sophy, for being the perfect guest! Where Bear! is available to buy now in all good bookshops.

Where Bear?

Where Bear?

By Sophy Henn
Published by Puffin


Where Bear? is Sophy Henn’s first picture book and what a lovely book it is! This is a tale of a little boy and a bear, of friendship, finding where home is and knowing when to let go. 

This adorable book is about a bear cub who once lived with a little boy, but when this bear grew and grew and grew into a big bear and did things that big bears do (eating lots of food, bathing in ponds and roaring), the boy knows its time to find a new place for the bear to live where he can be bearish and big. But where? 

The boy and the bear visit lots of different places; a toy shop - but these bears are the stuffed kind, the zoo - but this ends up making bear sad. They also try the circus, the woods, a cave and even a jungle - but nothing is right. You may have noticed that Bear, isn’t your run of the mill normal brown bear, he is a white bear… or to be more precise, a POLAR BEAR! And where do polar bears like to live? The Arctic of course! But don’t worry, even the long distance can’t stop them from being the best of friends. 

This is another book with cute endpapers adorned with hiding, roaring and jumping out bears. The pages are simply illustrated, with mostly solid colour backgrounds or limited use of colour, which allows the eye to be drawn to the two main characters. The boy and the bear are very cute with their big eyes and you won’t be able to not root for them in finding the right home for bear. Where Bear? is simple, moving, and fun all rolled into one lovely picture book! You and your little ones will love this boy and bear’s journey in finding a place called home.  

Where Bear? is available in all good bookshops and from the Puffin website. Up next, my beartastic interview with the extremeley cuddly Sophy Henn!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Emily Rand interview

Today's interview is with author & illustrator Emily Rand, who is the mastermind behind the barkingly brillant, A DOG DAY. So without further ado, get ready for a whole load of doggy related questions!

Emily Rand is an illustrator and educator based in London. She illustrates, designs and makes books, mainly for children. She also runs and programmes workshops for families, children and young people in schools and galleries. Emily currently works for both the Serpentine Gallery and Cubitt Education.

BWB: A Dog Day is produced entirely in black and white, did you enjoy working without having to worry about colour?

ER: Yes, working in black and white allowed me to think more about the patterns, textures and tones of the illustrations. Sometimes I find that colour can be a bit difficult, striking the right balance between too bright, too dull or too many different colours.  Many of the children's books that have inspired me from the past, the illustrators were working with a limited colour palate in maybe two or three colours because of the printing methods, so I suppose I have also been influenced by these too.


BWB: Is the dog in Dog Day based on a family or friends pet?

ER: Not really, although my own dog Jack who died a few years ago who was a border collie cross and was a big fan of walks and the park. The dog in the book was originally going to be a greyhound/whippet type dog, but a big fluffy, curly airedale was just so much fun to draw!


BWB: What inspired the story?

ER: I was inspired by how patient and loyal dogs are.  I often see dogs waiting outside shops for their owners, desperately watching the door for their owners to return.  Dogs are eternal optimists, I imagine that every time they leave the house they are expecting to go to the park or for a really great long walk, even when the owner has other ideas!


BWB: I love French Bull Dogs. What's your favourite breed of dog?

ER: I love pretty much all breeds of dog, but the bigger and fluffier the better! One day when I move out of London I would love to get a great big poodle or an airdale!


BWB: I've seen from your work that you experiment a lot when you create new illustrations. What's your favourite medium to use?

ER: Actually most of my work is done with black fine liner pens! Maybe sometimes indian ink and a brush. In A Dog Day I mixed this with collage for some of the blocks of pattern or texture. I am also really interested in different printing techniques and the quality of the printed illustration on the paper, so some of my other books have been printed in small runs on a risograph printer which is somewhere between a photocopier and screen-printing.


BWB: Who inspires you most in the art world?

ER: This is hard, I have lots of favourite artists and illustrators!  I really like artists who have a sense of fun or playfulness to their work. I am inspired by lots of illustrators and cartoonists who use simple line work that looks so light and effortless, such as: Saul Steinburg, Jean-Jacques SempĂ© and Quentin Blake.  I admire the amount of character and emotion they can convey with just a few tiny lines, it's magic!


BWB: Which picture book has had the biggest impact on your work? 

ER: I have so many favourite picture books that it is really difficult to pick one!  I think unconventional children's books by people like Bruno Munari really changed my ideas about what a children's book could be, that they could be more experimental in their form, The Circus in the Mist was the first book I saw by him.  Also Iela Mari, the wife of the artist and designer Enzo Mari created some beautiful wordless picture books in the 1950s and 60s: The Red Balloon, The Apple and the Butterfly and The Chicken and the Egg. The illustrations in these books are so timeless they look like they could have been published last year.

But I do also love a really good story! And some of my favourite books growing up such as The Tiger who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr or Dogger by Shirley Hughes no doubt had a huge impact on me and my work.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Emily. If you'd like to see more of Emily's work visit her spendid website.



By Emily Rand
Published by Tate Publishing

A DOG DAY is Emily Rand’s first book for children and what a refreshing debut it is. The title pretty much sums up the story, its the day in a life of a dog. And our dog in this case is a big, fluffy, lovable Airedale Terrier. 


A DOG DAY is a rhyming book and its written in the voice of the dog, which I absolutely loved. The breed of dog is captured brilliantly, I’ve always felt sorry for Airedales as they seem quite sad all the time. This Airedale is no exception, as he starts off on a positive note; ‘We’re off on a walk, hi there, hello! The park’s my favourite place to go.’ But his owner has other ideas, as the dog has been duped into thinking that this walk was to visit the park to play ball. But as they pass the entrance the dog is pulled into a busy street ‘Looking down at me below, no one wants to say hello.’- which he finds distressing with all the busy feet going this place and that.To make matters worst his owner visits the high street shops, where the dog is left outside to suffer the cold and have a long hard wait until his owner returns. 

Eventually they walk towards the park again, only for his owner to meet someone he knows. The dog can’t quite understand why he isn’t being let to play with his friends as he’s been so patient and good whilst his owner drags him everywhere but the one place he wants to go! But as the day comes to a close he does get to have some fun before eventually returning home. 

Emily, who not only illustrates, is also an educator for Cubitt Education and has worked for the Serpentine Gallery. Her style is simplistic and full of character, using pen and light washes in this black and white title. The fine attention to detail on the dog’s coat and his surroundings are a nice touch to the fine line illustrations. All in all this is a simple yet lovable story. Children will adore the illustrations and the story helps them understand what a dog may feel when they’re being walked. A
is in all good bookshops and on the Tate website.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ed Vere interview

To tie in with my recent review of Max the Brave, I wanted to get to know more about this fearless feline and ask the author/illustrator behind the book, Ed Vere all about his brave antics.

Ed Vere studied fine art at Camberwell College of Art and has been writing and illustrating children's books since 1999. He is published in both England and the US. Ed is also a painter, working from his studio in East London and is represented by galleries in London and Los Angeles. After a year and a half living in Barcelona, Ed now lives and works in London.

BWB: What inspired Max the Brave?

EV: I rarely have a plan, I just draw until I find a new character who insists on having a story. Max started off as an impossibly sweet kitten… as a joke for myself really, I always try to stay away from anything saccharine. But I thought that it could be fun to work with a character who was seen as impossibly sweet. And Max is so sweet that people like dressing him up in ribbons… which of course he hates... Seeing himself as a fearless, adventuring, mouse-chasing kitten. I wanted to make Max a combination of curious, feisty and tenacious… but as he’s very young he’s also gullible and doesn’t know much about the world yet. Mouse chasing isn’t easy if you don’t know what a mouse looks like (and there’s a mendacious mouse about).

BWB: Are you a cat or dog person?

EV: I grew up with a dog and four cats. So I’m a cat and dog person… But leaning more in the dog direction.

BWB: Will we see Max again?

EV: We will. I just finished 'Max at Night' which will be published next Spring. It’s way past Max’s bedtime… he is VERY tired. Before he goes to bed he just wants to say goodnight to the moon. But where is the moon? Adventure ensues as he hunts for the moon.

And I’m just starting a third Max book… which is highly classified information at the moment!

BWB: What's the bravest thing you've done?

EV: Well, there was that time I dragged a defenceless kitten from a burning building…

I used to absolutely hate the idea of speaking in public… so probably when my publisher asked me to speak for 5 minutes about ‘inspiration' in front of 120 people at a book event I wasn’t overjoyed. Those 120 people were all the movers and shakers of the children’s book world, so I was incredibly aware that this might be my first… and if it all went wrong… my very last talk as a picture book maker. I gave a distinctly average talk.

It was an amazingly horrible feeling beforehand… and then an amazingly good one afterwards.

BWB: I love the different coloured spreads in Max the Brave. Was there a reason for this?

EV: I love colour… that’s the main reason. I wanted to make a book that was graphically full of colour but visually pared back, so Max could be at the centre. Max is drawn very simply, black with yellow eyes and a blue nose… I wanted to use the flat colour fields to draw all the attention to him, so the expression is the focus rather than background information. I also use the colour to amplify the mood I want a scene to have.

BWB: You have created a whole cast of memorable picture book characters over your career so far. Who is your favourite to draw?

EV: I genuinely love drawing them all. I still draw Mr Big quite a lot because he features in series of concerts, sometimes with the Neil Cowley Trio (who are an amazing jazz group), and sometimes with The Britten Sinfonia (a brilliant classical group). We tell his story through music and live drawing. It’s great fun to be a part of… especially as the potential for disaster when you’re drawing live is ever present.

BWB: Are there any authors you'd love to work with?

EV: I love writing my own stories… If there were any unpublished Roald Dahl stories, that would be heaven sent… but I think Quentin Blake might just get the call before I do! Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson both have amazing minds… it would be interesting to see where I could take their words.

BWB: What's your favourite picture book at the moment?

EV: There are a few. But of the last few years I think Jon Klassen is brilliant. Incredibly concise, beautiful art and very funny. Both 'hat' books are stunning in every way… most of unkind of him to make the rest of us look so average!

Thanks, Ed for such an insighful interview! Can't wait to see what Max does next!

Max the Brave

Max the Brave

By Ed Vere
Published by Puffin

I adore kittens and Max from Max the Brave is no exception. He’s cute, sweet and people like to dress him up in ribbons which Max hates, as would any kitten (especially if you’re a boy!). Max is another lovable character from the author/illustrator of Ed Vere. And with all his zany creations, Max is just as big and bold as Mr Big, Fingers McGraw and Sam Bungle.  

Max is fearless, Max is brave and Max is a kitten that chases mice, but before he can do that, Max just needs to find out what a Mouse looks like! We join Max on his search for Mouse, but it would be hard for anyone to find something that they didn’t know what to look for. Max comes across a fly, a fish, birds, even an elephant! And when he does finally come across Mouse, Mouse tells Max he’s a monster and sends Max on his way towards a sleeping, ugly, giant monster (you might recognise this certain monster from another Ed Vere book) Uh Oh, poor Max, will he escape the monster?

This minimalistic style of the fuss free illustrations, which is Ed Vere’s signature style, is visually striking. With bright and bold coloured pages and no backgrounds, your eye is immediately drawn to Max and his expressive eyes. Ed has also captured all the charming characteristics you associate with kittens perfectly - especially the way they pounce on their prey (you’ll love the spread of him jumping on the sleeping monster for the first time!). Adults and kids will adore Max and you’ll be rooting for him to catch that cheeky Mouse (or is it a monster?).

And I have it on good authority that this is not the last that we'll see of Max. Watch out for my interview with Ed Vere popping up on the blog very soon! Max the Brave is available to buy in all good bookshops and on the Puffin website.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Dinner That Cooked Itself

The Dinner That Cooked Itself

By Jennifer C Hsyu and Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Published by Flying Eye Books


From Flying Eye Books comes another aesthetically pleasing title, The Dinner That Cooked Itself  is a thing of beauty. The hardcover is textured like Chinese rice paper, and the cover art and title are produced with a gloss finish, making it a title you have to pick up and explore. 

Based on a Chinese folk tale, The Dinner That Cooked Itself  is a story that encourages the belief that hard work will result in good fortune. Written in a traditional fashion by new author Jennifer C Hsyu and illustrated by Kenard Pak, his second picture book after his debut, Have you heard the nesting bird? 

The Dinner That Cooked Itself  focusses around a boy called Tuan. As a child he lost his parents and is brought up by his kind neighbours. When he is old enough he leaves home and moves into a small house with a small field. Tuan then finds himself alone and approaches a matchmaker to find him a wife. But because of his circumstances he doesn’t find his wife to be, so he buries himself in his work instead. Then one night whilst tending to his field he comes across a large snail. Seeing it as a good luck charm he takes the snail home and cares for it. The next night he returns home to find a dinner waiting for him. The following night it happens again, so Tuan sets out to discover who is being so kind to him. How does a dinner cook itself?  

Kenard Pak’s style adapts seamlessly to an Eastern backdrop, using a full spread approach to a lot of the illustrations and creating space and emptiness when Tuan is feeling alone and unhappy. His illustrations of the White Wave fairy capture the magical essence of her with keeping it simple and as grounded as possible. Each spread is a thing of beauty and I love the Chinese calligraphy that appears above certain animals and objects as they get introduced into the story.

This book is for the slightly older reader (recommended for children who are 5-7 years of age). It’s ideal for children who are curious about other cultures and want a change from the usual picture book. It would also be ideal for introducing school children to Chinese calligraphy – especially with the additional activity spread at the end of the book which explains the Chinese characters that have appeared throughout the book. I could look at Kenard’s illustrations all day and Jennifer’s writing style is traditional but written in a fresh modern tone which I found refreshing. What remains is the strong message it delivers to the reader; work hard and you will be rewarded. A message that’s as old as any Chinese folk tale and still rings true in todays world.

The Dinner That Cooked Itself is available to buy in all in good bookshops and on the Flying Eye Books online shop. To view the trailer take a peek below!