Book Reviews

Mango and Bambang : Polly Faber & Clara Vulliamy

Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig (Mango & Bambang, #1)Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve never been the timeliest of book bloggers.

A part of that stems from the books that I love; those richly layered books that speak of a classical sensibility and timeless potency, and those books about girls at boarding schools in Austria. I read books from 1901 alongside those from 2015, and I love to find the dialogues between them. The ties of literature. The golden ties of British children’s literature. The building blocks of our national literary voice.

I heard about Mango and Bambang a long time ago and I was thrilled. Intensely, madly, because I was lucky enough to know both Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy online and I was, and am, a fan of their work. Vulliamy’s work is something I have blogged about before, for her art is nuanced and clever, subtle and generous, a frank delight in every page. Rich, too, with the layered detail present in them, and that clever, clever eye towards the reader. Always. A consciousness of the view and artwork that revels in such. I love her work, truly. In Mango and Bambang, Vulliamy illustrates four deliciously sized stories from Polly Faber, a blogger who I’ve similarly admired for a while. Faber’s generous and lovely and rich writing is a delight.

And so, to this book, which I was both gleeful over and mildly terrified, because I wondered in that British way of always seeing the best in things : what if I didn’t like it?

But I did.

Oh reader, how I did. How to begin to describe this package of utter loveliness, of a charming and warmly detailed friendship between a lonely girl and a tapir? Mango and Bambang is ferociously eccentric, rather brilliantly so, but through that eccentricity carves itself a space that makes me think of E Nesbit and Dodie Smith, and I love that. I love that little tingle on the back of my spine that makes me think of golden age authors, because then I know that I like this book. I like it a lot.

I like the honesty of Faber’s writing; the sympathetic, warm, honesty of it. The introduction of Mango, talks about her being busy because “being busy was important, living in a very busy city, full of other busy people being good at things / Because otherwise Mango might have been a little bit lonely”. Listen to that. Say it out loud. Books live in the mind but they also live in the voice, in that little stuttering sliding truth at the end of that quote. Truth says itself, and oh Faber gets that. She also gets the rich delicious humour at the heart of any friendship between a girl and a tapir: “Mango and Bambang hid, not terribly successfully, behind a lamppost”

The dialogue between text and image is wonderful; exuberant in some points, where Mango barks orders at the frenetic cityscape, and poignant at others, intensely so, when Mango stands in spotlighted isolation and the words are almost pushed off page because there isn’t enough space for them: “She looked / smaller than / usual on / her own / under the / lights.” It’s small stuff, but God, it’s clever.

I suspect I’m burbling. I would burble more if I gave you this review in person. If I did, I’d pull your attention to the moment where Bambang wears Mango’s spare swimming hut and show you potentially the most beautiful and loving sketch of a proud, slightly self-conscious but very much loving his life, tapir. Possibly the only example of such in existence, but when it’s this good, why seek for competition?

I’ve never been the timeliest of book bloggers. I heard about Mango and Bambang a long time ago, and I loved it then, and I think I might marry it now.

This book is good. So, so, utterly perfectly so. It’s golden.

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“You could put the otters in the sidecar?”

So, I don’t know if you’re like me, but it was a long, long time before I got to an author event. I mean, really. At school we didn’t have author events. We didn’t ever really have, you know, people in. We once had somebody from Look North visit, every year at Juniors we got to go out and wave as the Milk Race went by, and I have very hazy memories about going to listen to some Christian pop singer? Anyway, there really wasn’t nothing like that when I were a kid. *taps pipe, goes back down t’mine*

But there are now. And now I get to go to them! And it’s weird, but every time I come out I think – I want this. I want this world.  I want children debating where to put the otters and how best to make an icecream umbrella. (“I’ve coloured it blue because it’s blueberry icecream”), and I want people talking about where best to put the shark fin. I want this, this legitimising of creativity. Of being a bit different and of colouring out of the lines and not worrying about neat cutting.

Can I tell you you should really go and see Clara Vulliamy if you ever can? She’s really, really good. And lovely! And SO good at what she does. Watching her live-draw a scene from Dixie O’Day is a genuine joy (and so skillfully done!). There was a point where she tilted the pad to the side to illustrate a (no spoilers here!) cliff-hanger of a moment, and I was sold. This is before seeing the tiny felt Dixie and Percy in their model car and learning that the only place Dixie does not wear his tie is either in the bath or in his pjs, which just, er, sold me more.

But I think the reason you should go and see somebody like Vulliamy (and if you can, go with somebody like @childledchaos who is terribly splendid and inspirational) is that you will feel like this afterwards. Which is a great and brilliant and joyous thing.

*goes off to write magnum opus*

*has custard cream first*

Book Reviews

Dixie O’Day In The Fast Lane : Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast LaneDixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane by Shirley Hughes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s books like this that make me remember why I enjoy children’s literature so. I’ve spoken before about my love for Hughes and Vulliamy; the bold, generous, reader-centred nature of their writing and artwork, and so came to Dixie with great expectations.

Which was odd, really, because I Do Not Get Cars. I mean, I really don’t. Horses, ballet, witches and wizards I get, but cars leave me spectacularly cold. Spectacularly. It remains family legend that on the only time I have ever had cause to phone my car insurance people and they asked “What was the other car?” and I said “…….red?”

Cars and me don’t mix. (“And where did the incident occur?” “….near the Chinese?”)

But I think Dixie O’Day might just work for me. It’s a chapter book for new chapter book readers; structured in a considered seven chapter format (ie: one for every night of the week). And that, just that gets a star from me because it is clever and fun and smart. Hughes and Vulliamy get how to make books good. That’s possibly the least critically astute sentence I’ve ever written but it’s true. Hughes’ text is vividly Hughesian (can we make that a verb? Let’s) and writes a story with influences ranging from Whacky Races through to the Wind In The Willows. It’s lovely. There’s not many people that know how to construct text for this age group without being either viciously didactic or patronising. Hughes never, ever does either. There’s a rather empowering feel to the text of Dixie and it’s something quite brilliant.

Vulliamy is one of my great picture book loves. I adore her artwork and her skill in making a book so open and generous in a way. Her work is something to be savoured and to be devoured all at the same time.

In Dixie, Vulliamy’s centred on a red, black and white spectrum of colours. This ranges through ear-grey, smokey broken-engine-blacks, through to smug-car-pink. Her Dixie and Percy are vividly delightful (and reminiscent to me of another great double act – Winnie the Pooh and Piglet), and there are moments in this book that made me (who doesn’t do cars!) squeal with delight. The ‘black smoke’ moment on page ten is just perfectly constructed.

I often have people ask me why I treat children’s literature in the way that I do, and as I mentioned at the start of this review, it’s books like this which remind me. I write these sorts of reviews and I read these sorts of books because they are, regardless of how they’re dressed up or presented, story. At the heart of it, they’re stories which tell us how to be brave, or to be a good friend or how sometimes the best thing in life is a custard cream at the right time. And all of that happens in this book which makes me now, very much, Team Dixie.

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News, reviews and articles from the world of Children’s Literature

Good morning!  What better way to start a Sunday then with some interesting reading? As ever, DYESTTAFTSA is here to help with the regular round-up of things you may have missed this week from the world of children’s literature.  Enjoy!

  • This is a gorgeous review of Meg Rosoff’s latest – “Picture Me Gone”. Rosoff on writing: “”Be as adventurous as you can! Don’t aim for the middle!”
  • How Stories Help Sick Kids discusses the redemptive and positive power of storytelling. I was struck by the last paragraph (sorry for the spoiler!) where they say that realising “that you can have complete transformation from a single story almost seems too magical to parents, but we do it over and over again.” The skill and transformational impact of storytelling is something to be recognised.
  • Holly Bourne wrote about love in YA fiction for the Huffington Post. Her piece “Are Happily-ever-afters in YA Novels Bad for Teenagers’ Love Lifes?” is excellent. 
  • Birmingham Library opened – and it’s GORGEOUS. Have a look at the pretty here.
  • I know it’s a Daily Mail link (sorry), but the research it refers to is really interesting “Picture books DO boost literacy”, and the original press release is available here.
  • And finally, the BEST thing in the world is happening which I am VERY excited about. The Federation of Children’s Book Groups are holding a festival in Birmingham on November 9th. I am going. You should too! You’ll get to see Micheal Morpurgo, Clara Vulliamy, David Almond, James Mayhew, Emma Chichester Clark and get to spend the day with some very booky very amazing people. What’s not to love?

If you’d like to view previous posts in this series, they’re available here. See you next time!

Everything else


As you may know, I’m a one for taking a moment out every now and then to reflect on things. I think sometimes, especially in this golden age of children’s literature, it’s possible to become lost in the ever wondrous newness of things, and so this post is an attempt to redress that. And also it’s to share some other stuff (I know, pithiest sentence ever. I’m ill, don’t give me grief :p)

1. Representation of Children’s Books in mainstream media

Julia Donaldson wrote an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph about how we don’t take children’s literature seriously enough. I read the comments on this piece (don’t, as one of my fabulous Twitter friends advised, ever read online comments) and wrote this in response. A few days later, the Guardian published this piece of eye-opening (and infuriating) research about the nature of reviewing and being reviewed in the print media.

I think this topic is Becoming A Bit Of A Thing for me. I know that papers like the Guardian have substantial online coverage, but it’s an attitude that does not translate into their print version. And that’s sort of my issue. It’s about breaking out of the echo-chamber, outside of the ‘children’s literature space’ and into the ‘literature space’. It’s about not housing the children’s literature, picture books, YA reviews, whatever, in a fenced and contained space at the back of the supplement, or fifteen clicks away from the main site corralled in a children’s book section, it’s about treating these books (which are the first thing your children read) with the respect and excitement and the time that they deserve. Recently the Independent announced that they’re launching a new Children’s Book blog which is very exciting and something I’ll be definitely watching. And my offer to write for the Guardian (I’ll even do my own proof-reading!) is still on.

2. Reviews

Just in case you missed them, here are some of my most popular reviews / pieces of the last thirty days. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne,  Pantomime by Laura Lam, two Chalet School reviews (Genius and Two Sams), and two slightly more theoretical pieces:- The Use Of Framing And Composition in Ellen and Penguin (by Clara Vulliamy) and a thing about the Complications of Being Merely Whelmed by a book. I’m hoping to do a few more ‘in-depth’ picture book reviews in the future so would welcome titles of a particularly writeable nature (I think my next may be something on the use of colour in  Beegu following this lovely review over on Childtastic which made me discover this incredible book).


There was a point on Wednesday, when I fell in love with our new children’s laureate. Of course I knew how good Malorie Blackman was (I gave away copies of Noughts and Crosses for World Book Night 2013 and reviewed it here). And then I read this and saw her namecheck the Chalet School and I swooned a little bit. Malorie, if you ever fancy being interviewed about the Chalet School, you let me know okay?

Overviews Theory

The use of Framing and Composition in Ellen and Penguin : Clara Vulliamy

I’ve spoken before about how much I love Clara Vulliamy’s skill with picture books. She’s got an awareness and respect – and love – for the medium that translates into some very good and very smart books. It was with some excitement when I discovered Ellen and Penguin and the New Baby nestling on the bottom shelves of my library.

Ellen and Penguin and the New Baby is a very sensitive and  charming book that is practically a lesson in frames and composition. So I thought I’d share some of that with you by looking at how Ellen is treated throughout the book.

Book Reviews

Martha and the Bunny Brothers : Clara Vulliamy

(1) Front Cover

I’ve been wanting to do a slightly more in-depth review of a picture book for a while, and when I came across the very gorgeous Martha and the Bunny Brothers by Clara Vulliamy it felt like the perfect opportunity.

What I want this post to do is give you a bit of background on how I read picture books. I don’t have children. I don’t read them with children. I read them in a sort of different manner that I think is worthy of examination.

So where do I start? I take a look at the plot, briefly, but usually I start by looking at the front cover (1). The front cover of a picture book is vital. The intended audience is quite often pre/emerging literates and so the words may mean very little. It’s about the feel. And this feels gorgeous. It makes me smile. Hugely. I love how the little I ❤ School motif on the bottom, right in the centre has a distinct exercise book / name label quality to it , what with the little dashes underneath and the carefully formed lettering on top of it. There’s a lot to be said as well about the exuberance of the bunnies. We have Martha and her brothers, all of them smiling and arms outspread. This is such an open moment, these rabbits aren’t hiding anything from you. They want you here. This book wants you here. It would be rude not to read it.

(2) Page One

Once inside, we immediately see this (2). There’s a lot here that’s making me happy. The bold felt-tip pen colours continue (which I like, feeling instantly drawn back to school), and we start to see shapes being introduced. One recurrent motif turns out to be these scalloped edged circles. I really enjoy the dialogue between the pink circles on the left hand side – one, two, three “That’s me!”. There’s an exuberance in that movement, stretching all the way across the double page spread, pulling the reader visually to a bright and exciting discovery at the end of it. I also love the way that Martha errupts from the inside of her own circle. That springy sense of ‘I’m here!’, the way she doesn’t quite fit in her circle, she’s too big for it. I love that – the construction of an image that is, in its own way, as complicated as the highest of textual metaphor. To discover it so early in a book is reassuring to say the least.

(3) Page 2/3
(3) Page 2/3

The next double page spread (3) is the moment that I know this book has got me. And it’s a very specific moment. It’s in this little section (4), right by the spine, where Martha says that she likes doodling, and the way the typography slides, very gloriously right through to the ‘background’ of the page, and the doodles spin off into the page. I love books that acknowledge their form, that connect the front image with the back, and acknowledge the glorious potential of these layers of image.

(4) Doodling close-up
(4) Doodling close-up

I mean, it’s glorious. This book is so lovely and put together with such a genuine love for the subject and the medium, that it’s a rampant pleasure to read. Moments such as (5) where the story slides into the picture frames set against a rabbit Toile de Jouy is lovely. It’s a play on the overly formal living room setting, cheekily undermined by Paws racing across the bottom with a shoe in his mouth.

And so this is the moment where I make my decision, and it’s balanced on all of this. It’s balanced on how a book makes me feel, on whether I go through it with a smile, of whether I’m intrigued and excited, of whether I’m surprised about what comes next. It’s also thinking about whether I’d like other people to see it, to enjoy it, to feel like what I did. And it’s about thinking about how I’d feel if I saw it in the hands of my niece or nephews, or my friend’s baby. It’s about thinking what I want this books journey to be in the world.

(5) Picture frames
(5) Picture frames

But, sometimes, all of that doesn’t matter. Not at all. Because sometimes a book just makes you feel intensely happy that it exists and that’s what has happened here. I’m sold.  I was sold ever since I saw those pink circles, that doodling beat, and the way the book is so furiously happy in what it is.

Martha, I really really like you. You made me proper happy.