Book Reviews

Claude on the Slopes : Alex T Smith

Claude on the SlopesClaude on the Slopes by Alex T Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore these books, I truly do. The witty, warm illustrations coupled with a mischievous dog and his best friend – Sir Bobblysock – combine to make beautiful books. Claude on the Slopes is no exception.

I love the round richness of the illustrations. I love that people have breasts and bellies. I love that the library has a book called “Peter Pan’s People”. I love that Sidney Snood and his fabulous moustache exists. I love that Claude and Sir Bobblysock are back from their adventure before the grown ups get back in from work. I love the illustrations (I would buy a print of every single page) and I love how I am overusing the word love in this review and I love that I don’t care!

There is a part of me that wants these books to be mandatory, to have them given out to everyone and sung out about on street corners by people using their OUTDOOR VOICES. There is such joy inherent in each and every page. Claude is perfection and perfection is Claude. There’s really very little else to say.

View all my reviews

Everything else

Sunday round-up of news from the world of children’s literature

Gosh, I need to figure out a pithier title for this series of posts! If you have any ideas do let me know? 😉 Here’s some of the things you may have missed from the world of children’s literature this week. Enjoy!
1. Alex T Smith was named as the illustrator for World Book Day 2014. This is genuinely the best of things and if you’d like to know why, have a look at my review of Claude In The Country, or Claude On Holiday or  Egg  Basically he’s really good at what he does. I, for one, am very very excited about this.2. Kate Kelly writes about the rise of ‘Cli-Fi’ (Climate Fiction) over on the Scottish Book Trust: “Cli-Fi : The Fiction of Climate Change”. If you’re after more books in this area, have a look at Playing By The Book’s blog carnival on books about green issues, and my reviews of Saci Lloyd’s climate-dystopias ‘The Carbon Diaries 2015’ and ‘The Carbon Diaries 2017‘.

3. In an article on the Daily Mail, Charlie Higson and Meg Rosoff discuss how to get boys and girls into reading: “Boys V Girls : it’s the battle of the bookworms”

4. There’s a preview of Catherynne M Valente’s new ‘Fairyland’ book: “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two” here.

5. BuzzFeed collated some of the best children’s book themed Halloween (or maybe World Book Day? 😉 ) costumes ever. Have a look at them here and adore the brilliance that is the Alice In Wonderland.

6. A new study suggested that the bedtime story was dying out. According to researchers, the average modern day child receives three bedtime stories a week.

7. Over on The Edge, Katie Dale asks whether YA girls are too skinny?

8. And finally, Women Write About Comics talks about female antiheroes here. Though the piece is focusing specifically on TV, there’s a lot of crossover to literature in it.

If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in this series, they’re available here. See you next week!

Everything else

Sunday round up and reflections

It’s that time of the week again! Here’s a catch-up of things in the world of children’s literature that you may have missed. Warning, it includes rants, farting and school stories. Well, would you expect anything less of me? 😉

1. Several new school stories have been released this week. They’re middle grade and the start of a series and all look really interesting. Here’s a preview of “Stars” by Laura + Luke Jennings and here’s a preview of “First Term At L’Etoile” by Holly & Kelly Willoughby. I’ve had a look at both and I really like the Enid Blyton-y meets Alice-Miranda meets Noel Streatfield overtones of them. They’re both very much on my TBR pile now.

2. In the world of interesting articles, these caught my eye. Laura Lam, author of Pantomime, writes a fascinating article on “The Grey of Gender : Intersex and Gender Variant / Non-Binary Characters in YA”. It does include mild spoilers for Pantomime itself (which I review here) so if you’re wary of spoilers stay away until you’ve read it. It is very much worth reading!

In this piece (“Get rid of the parents!”), Julia Golding wonders why there are so many orphans in children’s literature. It’s a thought-provoker for sure, and one worth having a think about.

3. Review wise, I had a look at Azzi In Between (an award winning graphic novel), the vibrant Geek Girl, and The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair. I also had an in-depth rant about an aspect of Girls’ Own books which really bothers me and had a look at paratextual theory in Egg. That’s a review of a comic about refugees, a review of YA about models,a rant about turn of the century boarding school stories, a look at a MG about musical farting and an in-depth post on picture book theory. How’s that for an eclectic week!

If you’d like to catch up on previous round-ups, you can view them here. See you next week!


The use of paratexts in Egg by Alex T Smith

” Fig. 1: Front Cover

This is ‘Egg’ by Alex T Smith. It is very very lovely (as is all of his work) but what makes this one shine (and inspired this post) is the use of paratexts in this book.

“Paratexts?” I hear you say, “What are these paratexts you talk of?”

Take a seat my intrigued friend!

Book Reviews

Claude in the Country : Alex T Smith

Claude in the Country. by Alex T. SmithClaude in the Country. by Alex T. Smith by Alex T Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think the Claude series is rapidly turning into one of my top recommendations, regardless of the context. “You like chocolate? Great, read some Claude.” “The weather *is* nice today isn’t it. Read some Claude.” “You want me to sign for that parcel? Only after you read some Claude.”

This series by Alex T Smith is adorable, and it’s going from strength to strength. Just in case you don’t know what the premise is, the eponymous Claude is a dog full of je ne sais quoi. Him and his best friend – Sir Bobblysock, a stripey sock – get into all sorts of adventures. Previous titles have seen them visit the circus, the beach, the city and now they’re in the countryside.

Drawn and coloured in a limited palette of reds, blacks, and whites, this book is glorious. The distinctive colouring shifts, quite brilliantly, to reflect the situation Claude is in at the moment. It’s one of those books that you read very much on a visual level as well. There’s a spread, for example, where a bull goes on a rampage and suddenly the page behind it is coloured in deep angry red. Then Claude lassoos it (amazing) and suddenly we have white space creeping back onto the page in the form of mimicking those ‘speed lines’ you always used to draw to indicate something going fast. It’s very subtle and very cleverly done.

I also love Smith’s drawing style. The central protagonist in this one, Mrs Cowpat (ha!), the farmer, is beautiful. She’s reminiscent of those old pictures of land girls, with her dungarees on and a little red scarf in her hair. There’s a lot of this sort of contextual quality throughout, giving the entire book the feel of being something both old-fashioned and gloriously modern at the same time.

And how can you not fall in love with a book that sees Claude being bored enough to do a concert for all his other friends? His other friends: Dr Chewed Squeakybone, Dame Nibbled-Slippers, Mr Smelly Sock and a toy rabbit named … Keith.

View all my reviews

Book Reviews

2012 rewind! The best books I’ve read this year

I’m very lucky in that I have access to an amazing children’s literature library. It’s one of those places that make you skip along the shelves and want to just stroke the spine of every book on the shelf. Even the ones that have been there a little too long, those ones who have gone pale in the sun, have a peculiar appeal. It’s an addictive place to visit. It’s a place that has sourced my best reads of this year. And it’s a place that I know is going to continue to inspire me next year.

So here’s to the best reads of 2012! You’ll see not all of these books were published in 2012, but they are the best books I read this year.  I spent 2012 surrounded by books I liked, and books I loved. And some of those books bordered on utter perfection.

In no particular order, we have:

My David Almond phase with a look at the incredible My Name is Mina and My Dad’s A Birdman. These two books defined the end of the year for me and have had a massive impact on me.

The other author who appears twice on my best of 2012 is Sita Brahmachari (who, if you get to hear speak, is ridiculously charming and coped very well with my geeking out in front of her – sorry Sita 😉 ) and her books Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies. Magical, evocative books both.

Patrick Ness’ multi-award winning piece of perfection A Monster Calls appears on my list and to be honest, is in a class of its own. The pairing of Patrick Ness’ spare, elegant text with Jim Kay’s illustrations is world-class.

Another award winning book that’s on my best of 2012 is The Unforgotten Coat by my book Yoda Frank Cottrell Boyce. A gorgeous, sharply heart-breaking, and beautifully produced book.

Then there’s the newcomer (to me!) Guy Bass with his reminder that good things come in small packages. The adorable Stitch Head was superb, moving, and a reminder of all that can be good in children’s books.

I came back to my other book Yoda – Michelle Magorian — and rediscovered her beyond perfect A Little Love Song. Magorian is so superbly gifted, and this book is a gift. She’s one of those effortlessly heartbreaking (and rather amazing) writers.

And finally, I read an amazing picture book and a graphic novel. Alex T Smith dazzled me with the epic and hysterical glory of Claude on Holiday. If you’ve not discovered Claude and Sir Bobblysock, hop to it because you won’t be disappointed. Graphic novel wise, I read a lot of good stuff but loved discovering the work of Gareth Hinds and his magisterial version of Beowulf in particular.

And here’s to 2013! 😀

Everything else

An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part one)

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Brahmachari stormed into publication with this stunning tribute to life, love and growing up. Told in first person by the engaging Mira Levenson, Artichoke Hearts covers some difficult topics but does so with such warmth and love that it’s hard not to fall in love with this rare gem of a book.

Similar to : Itself.

Jasmine Skies – Sita Brahmachari

The sequel to Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies sees Mira exploring her heritage in India. Kolkata and India are intensely drawn with a lush richness that is gorgeous to read. Mira faces some difficult decisions and, in a way, completes the ‘coming of age’ story began in the previous novel.

Similar to : Artichoke Hearts (ha, sorry but it really is!)

Who’s afraid of the big bad book – Lauren Child

Both a stunning treatise on the book as object, the act of reading and also a metatextual treatment of fairytales, this book is superb. Plus it’s really, really very funny. I adore this.

Similar to : Revolting Rhymes

Beowulf – Gareth Hinds

Adapting an epic poem into graphic novel form is no mean feat (have you seen a graphic novel version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for example?) but Hinds does it with brilliant skill. His book has dark, macabre artwork that is so vital that it practically sings from the page.

Similar to : The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds)

Unhooking the Moon – Gregory Hughes

Another book which deserves to be a classic, this is the story of Bob and his sister ‘The Rat’ on their way to New York to meet their long lost Uncle. If you’ve not read this, you’re missing out on one of the greatest female characters this century: The Rat. She’s adorable, gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Similar to : Jack Kerouac meets Willy Wonka.

A Little Love Song – Michelle Magorian

This is one of Magorian’s lesser known titles, this is the story the summer where Rose fell in love, A Little Love Song is one of – and perhaps – her greatest. Set in the middle of the second world war, and featuring the ‘holiday’ town from Goodnight Mr Tom, it is a stunning achievement.

Similar to : I Capture The Castle

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

What to say about this stunning multi-award winning book? It is devestating, stunning, and deserves to be a forever classic. Based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and ultimately written by Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, Conor faces the unfaceable in the shape of a monster who visits him at night and forces him to confront the worst things in his life.

Similar to : Neil Gaiman (His ‘Sandman’ series in particular)

Life : An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Sometimes we need a book to just go giddy and revel in what it is. Life : An Exploded Diagram is such a book. Stretching majestically over countries, lives, and years, this book is vividly human and alive. Alive. It’s an interesting thing for a book to be, but this one is.

Similar to : Brideshead Revisited, Flambards, Where the Wind Blows

Claude on Holiday – Alex T Smith

This is probably one of the only books which has transferred the ‘saucy British seaside’ aesthetic into a witty, astute and very very funny picture book suitable for all ages. Claude, and his best friend Sir Bobblysock, go to the seaside and naturally hijinks ensue. This book is gorgeous.

Similar to : That postcard your Nan sent you from Southend

Dead Man’s Cove – Lauren St John

Laura Marlin deserves to be on the national curriculum. A funny, brave, Buffy-esque heroine (without the actual violence!), she’s sent to the seaside to live with her mysterious Uncle and rapidly discovers there’s mysteries in her new home.

Similar to : Nancy Drew meets the Famous Five

Tune in next time for part two! It’ll be a picture book / graphic novel special 🙂

Book Reviews

Claude on Holiday : Alex T Smith

Claude on Holiday. by Alex T. SmithClaude on Holiday by Alex T. Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am very lucky in that I have access to a university library which has a genuinely superb children’s literature collection. I have got hundreds of books out of there and I am nowhere near reading them all.

And sometimes, when you turn left instead of right, when you go to 823.92 as opposed to 712.092, you can come across an absolute treasure. Claude on Holiday by Alex T Smith is such a treasure. It’s flipping lovely and ridiculously adorable.

There’s a delightfully naughty feel to the story, and one that translates brilliantly to the youngest of readers and the adult (the “lifeguard helping someone with their beach balls” page is so brilliantly naughty it made me laugh out loud).

Visually, the illustrations are gorgeous. It’s very reminiscent of the Eloise books; there’s a similar colour palette and sense of subversive anarchy. Smith’s art however is resolutely unique, and visually luscious (his seaside scenes are an utter treat).

I also particularly enjoyed how Claude on Holiday introduced a second language element – and retained its funny, sparky feel whilst doing so. I have bitter memories of being force-fed some dry, dry French books at school that told me all about ‘cats’ and ‘Easter’. Claude on Holiday teaches you the important bits of French, including: “Un Vilain Pirate” (A naughty pirate) and “Une chaussette” (a sock)

Bravo Claude! Bravo Sir Bobblysock!

(Et BRAVO Monsieur Smith!)

View all my reviews