Ernest in the Wild West by Ermanno Libenzi, illustrated by Adelchi Galloni

When I was a child, we had a book called Robin and the Pirates. You could spend hours pouring over it, and each time you would find something even more exciting and alarming.  I think my sister has got that book, but luckily I found another by the same author and illustrator:  Ernest in the Wild West written by Ermanno Libenzi and illustrated by Adelchi Galloni. He is capable of working in a remarkable variety of styles, as you can see from this page.


It has all the qualities I loved in Robin and the Pirates:  pages crammed full of deliciously scary pictures, funny and edgy and really quite surreal.  Not your average children’s book at all. More

Drogman by Stepan Zavrel

Every time I write about a book that I read when I was a child I want to say “my favourite”.  But Drogman has a special place in my heart. The story is magical.  Its romantic, with scary bits and a clever heroine.  It takes place mostly underwater which is something that has always fascinated me.    I particularly love the range of underwater colours, and the way the bleeding blobby ink style lends itself to watery scenes:bit2

The illustrations are simply stunning.  I cannot really give even a glimpse of them here, as every single page is a huge sumptuous double page spread.  Ive had to crop out little details just to give an idea.  More

The Weathermonger – Peter Dickinson

Title: The Weathermonger
Author: Peter Dickinson
Series : First of the three “The Changes” – but they can be read as stand alone books as well.


In Short: Five years ago, a mysterious change took place in Britain.  Thousands fled the country, and those left behind reverted to a medieval way of life.  Machines are hated and feared.  Anyone associated with modern technology is stoned as a witch.  So far, all missions sent by the outside world, have failed to find the cause of the phenomenon.  Pilots forget how fly, or are struck by lightning.  Soldiers turn upon one another.  And  now, two children – Geoffrey and Sally -are travelling to the heart of “The Changes” on the Welsh border to discover and if possible destroy it’s cause.


What I thought:
The Weathermonger is another favourite book from my childhood.  I first read it when I was about 10 years old and I found it frightening but fascinating. I still do.  Geoffrey and Sally are both very young and have been orphaned by the Changes.  They live in a world where magic is real.  Geoffrey is the village Weathermonger;  he can make it rain,  change the wind, or call up a mist.  This is a dangerous skill in a world where witches are stoned, drowned or burnt to death. More

Varenka by Bernadette

Many of the books I share here are books that I grew up with.  There is something special about books from your childhood.  Varenka by Bernadette was one of my favourites.


I tried to find out more about Bernadette – I have several of her books – but her surname is not mentioned anywhere.  Edit: Bernadette is, of course, Bernadette Watts I used to have a link to her site, but the site appears to have gone down. Varenka is not a re-telling of a Russian folk tale as I previously stated, but written by Bernadette herself. Each picture fills the entire page, so I was forced to reproduce mostly cropped details here.  Which really does not convey the beauty of the book.

Varenka was a widow who lives in a little wooden house deep in the great forest.  “Inside was everything Varenka needed, a table, chairs, a cupboard with a shelf for crockery, and picture on the wall.” More

Franklin Stein by Ellen Raskin

I found this lovely bright little book by writer / illustrator Ellen Raskin.  It was published in 1972:


I’m fascinated by the illustration style which seems to be planned for the way the book was printed.    I love the way the colours are separated and overprinted to create other shades, and how the black  line ties everything together: More

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate di Camillo

Title: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate di Camillo
Series : No, this is a stand alone book


In Short:
This is the story of Chiaroscuro the rat who longs for light, Midge the deaf servant girl who desperately wants to be a princess, and Despereaux the tiny mouse who believes in fairy tales, honour and happy endings.  All of them are drawn, by love or hate to royal daughter,  Princess Pea.


What I thought:

The Tale of Despereaux is much darker than I expected.  More

Wonderful Life by Helen Ward

I’ve found another writer / illustrator:  Helen Ward.  I have quite a few of her books already, but they are all illustrated by Wayne Anderson so I never twigged.  I found Wonderful Life at a book sale and promptly bought two copies.


It is the story of a little creature, an Ift called Snutt.  Snutt is an explorer and a dreamer who travels through space finding life all over the universe: More

Stories Without Words – An Ocean World by Peter Sis

Some books touch your heart.  ” An Ocean World” by  Peter Sis is one of these.  It tells a simple and powerful story about a whale’s search for friendship and love.   Apart from the writing on the postcard on the first page, the entire story is told through the images- the evocative watercolour marks and the muted colours. We meet the whale for the first time in baby picture that has been turned into a postcard:


On the back of this card we can read a message from Peter Sis to his children: More

Telling a story with colour: Jaap Tol

This is a book that I loved as a child;  “Het vroutjie van Stavoren”  which means “The Lady of Stavoren” written by Maryke Reesink.  This book tells a story with words but also with colours,  the wonderful illustrations of Jaap Tol.

Jaap Tol’s paintings let colour run into colour in great splodges.  The pages seem saturated and stained.  We meet a young spoiled rich girl who has all the clothes and dolls and toys a girl could want – but is still unsatisfied.

She grows into a spoiled and self centred woman who owns more ships and houses than anyone else in the city of Stavoren.  She is still unhappy and sends out one of her captains to find “the most precious thing in the world”. More

The circle of death and life illustrated by Spirin

What makes a good subject for a children’s picture book?  I see so many similar books on the bookshop shelves.  Clear happy pictures, short happy stories.  “Once There Was a Tree”, written by Natalia Romanova and illustrated by Gennady Spirin,  could not be more different.  As a foretaste, here is a page number:

You can read more about Spirin at this page. He is described as being “like a magician, using his paint brush as a wand.” I hope these scans of the books do justice to his work.  I was once lucky enough to see an exhibition of his original paintings.  They are breathtaking. More

Read it out loud!

Don’t you find some books are just MADE to be read out loud? Phrases stick in your head, and you can recite bits of them at will. How about “The Thirteen Clocks” by James Thurber:

This is how it starts: More

Molly Bang’s Paper Crane: Joyful and Profound.

Dont you just love an excuse to sort through your book collections? To be paging through old battered survivors of childhood, as well as look at new discoveries. For me, one such new discovery is “the Paper Crane ” by Molly Bang. This little book is perfect. I love the freshness of the storytelling, the sensitivity and beauty of the artwork, and the quiet joy it radiates.

What could be a more satisfying medium for this story than to tell it in pictures made up of folded and cut paper and collage? More

Calling all grownup children: Swallows and Amazons for Ever!

Why is it that so many books that are loved in childhood are forgotten when we are grown? Many marvelous stories which are classified as “children’s books” are magical at any age. Of course there are children’s books that are the literary equivalent of coloured sugar popcorn – to be devoured by children, but heartburn inducing in adults. No – I’m talking about books that can be read and re-read at any age, and always gives you something more. One such an author is Athur Ransome, well known for his “Swallows and Amazons” stories.

He is another author who illustrates his own books. More

Errol Le Cain’s Sleeping Beauty: Rich and Magical

Isn’t it strange how some childhood moments stay with you so clearly, while most things fade into a half remembered muddle? It was just before Christmas, many years ago when I was just a little girl. My family were getting into the car to go home after a visit to the bookshop in Cape Town. My father was holding a brown paper packet. I tried to peep into it and caught a glimpse of two books, but my father whisked them away before I could get a proper look.


That packet re-appeared again under the Christmas tree, and contained Errol Le Cain’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. More

Arabian Magic with a Polish touch: The Illustrations of Janusz Grabianski

Did you also have books, as a child, that you read over and over again? The images become so familiar that you cannot imagine the story without them. This is, for me, the ultimate edition of The Arabian Nights. The text reworked by Hedwig Smola, translated into Afrikaans by Andre Brink and above all illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

As a child I loved Grabianski’s vivid colours and strong brushwork – the storytelling in the pictures is just as lively as that in the text. Here you can see the first meeting of Aladdin with the evil magician, pretending to be his long lost uncle. More

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