Today I am absolutely delighted to be hosting Sam Usher for the Red House Children’s Book Award Blog Tour. I love ‘Can You See Sassoon’ – I remember ordering it for all my stores back in June. It’s a fun, colourful book and above all brings reading to life.

Of course, we all know I love picture books…fundamentally, they make up what this blog is all about. I was drawn to this book when I first saw it, just by looking at the cover. It was different, it wasn’t shy about being different and exploring ways of getting children to read. This is what really appeals to me…the fact that the book challenges the reader in an interactive way by asking them to find Sassoon and of course, the illiteration is such fun.

Today, the lovely Sam will be telling us all about his drawing skills, how he came about following his dream and the important things in life. Welcome to 5 Minutes’ Peace, Sam!

My name is Sam Usher. I make picturebooks. I studied illustration at art school in Bristol, where I first came up with the character Sassoon. The book Can You See Sassoon? emerged from a couple of sketchbook ideas that I talked through with my art director.

I spent my childhood drawing – I have spent so much time doing it I’m literally incapable of anything else. At primary school I would set myself projects, such as inventing a new toy pirate ship, or designing a range of trainers, then send off my designs expecting them to be put into production — they never were! Sometimes I take a step back and think “You weirdo, you spend all of your time mushing about with ink on paper” but then I realise humans have done that for thousands of years – people who don’t draw are the weird ones. 

The good thing about drawing is that it’s impossible to go wrong. You can learn to be more proficient at giving an illusion of reality, which is useful if you need to communicate something specific – e.g. designing a bridge – but really you can do whatever you like.

All of my ideas come from drawing. I’ll fill a sketchbook with drawings of faces and one or two will stick out. Something about some drawings makes them leap off the page. Most are just scribbles, but some are real people — they don’t just look like people, they are real people who exist in the page. You begin to wonder who they are, what they’re doing, why they look happy or sad, and a story can come from that.

 I lied about being incapable of everything but drawing — I’m also OK at playing the piano. I live in North West London with an old man called Mr Mattingly. I cook his dinner three times a week and take him on trips to art galleries. In return he lets me live and do my drawings in his house. It’s like being in a Charles Dickens novel.

My work is drawn in pen and ink — there is a long history in the UK of pen and ink illustration, from political cartoons in the 18th century, watercolour artists in the 19th, and people like Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe and Quentin Blake in the 20th and 21st. I am influenced by them, and French cartoonist Sempé. Drawing with a pen is a bit like writing a drawing. The black pen line is the words and the watercolour the tone of voice.

Here are some things I’ve learnt: If you go trespassing take a sketchbook and you can tell people you’re an artist — you’ll be able to get away with it; the three most important things are: 1. Reading, 2. Drawing, 3. Playing a musical instrument

A fantastic insight in to a fresh new illustrators world. And it’s at this point that I’m absolutely thrilled to announce… Can You See Sassoon? has been shortlisted in the Younger Children category of the Red House Children’s Book Award 2013. The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only national children’s book award voted for entirely by children. It is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, and sponsored by Red House. 

Sassoon likes to hide…that’s why you can’t always see him, but can you find him? Look inside! Meet Sassoon the snake as he plays hide-and-seek with his friends. Filled with fun and silly things to spot, this colourful book from exciting new talent, Sam Usher, is guaranteed to delight!


Useful links:

And please do take the time to visit Sam’s website…you may even spot Sassoon!


Can You See Sassoon?

Sam Usher


Paperback, £5.99

Little Tiger Press

June 2012


Still riding on the back of a very royal jubilant year indeed, Nosy Crow are publishing ‘The Princess and the Peas’ by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton. Now, I must admit from the start…I do not like peas. They’re green, they’re a funny texture and worst of all…unreliable. You never know if the pea you are about to eat is a good pea..or a bad pea. But I digress.

Lily-Rose May has a good excuse for not liking peas…she’s allergic to them and gets herself worked up into a terrible state when one day her Dad tries to feed her peas because “they’re good for you”…

Soon the doctor is called and an allergy to peas can mean only one thing…Lily-Rose is a princess! (I was never deemed a princess for not liking peas!)

Lily-Rose thinks the Princess lifestyle is fabulous..until she learns what she will be eating every day…cabbage stew anyone? mmmm. Lily-Rose begins to miss home and the lovely house she lived in with her kind father. Quick as a hat she realises what’s more important and hot-foots it home in to the loving arms of her Dad and comes up with a clever way of eating those peas!

The illustrations are fun and full of colour and imagination. I love the idea of a story within a story when the doctor tells the tale of princess who couldn’t eat peas. It’s a fun take on an old classic, without being preachy.

Yes peas…this is a lovely charming tale with a moral about eating up your greens. They are good for you, after all. And if you need to dip them in ketchup, so be it.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEAS By Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton


Nosy Crow, HB, £10.99

September 2012

I was really pleased to receive this book for review after seeing it reviewed by the lovely Playing by the Book who loved it.

Published by Blue Apple, an American publisher ‘Red Cat, Blue Cat’ tells the tale of two cats who couldn’t be more different but who both want each others talents and end up fighting because of it….jealousy ensues!

Red cat is fast, Blue cat is clever. They live in the same house; blue cat upstairs and red cat upstairs. Try as they might, all they seem to do is fight because secretly they want to be like each other. They try everything… Blue cat puts on red clothes to be just like red cat. And red cat covers himself in sticky blue paint to look just like red.

Through all these hilarious adventures they come to realise that the person they really want to be like the most…is themselves and actually they really rather like one another. This is a charming story about friendship and identity with a funny twist at the end. The book will teach young children to accept themselves and realise their own unique characteristics and talents and they shouldn’t change themselves for anyone.

The simple illustrations really complement the story I feel and the expressions on the cats faces are hilarious at times.

I now wonder if this is what my two cats used to get up to when we were all our during the day…

RED CAT BLUE CAT by Jenni Desmond


Blue Apple, £11.99, September 2012

As I sit here writing away, keeping warm with a cup of tea I can think of no place I’d rather be than curled up in the warm reading a book as the real autumnal weather kicks in. And what better book to read than one that takes you right back to childhood?

‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame is a children’s classic and a copy belongs on every bookshelf of every child. In this new edition, published by Oxford University Press, illustrator David Roberts brings the story to life with vivid colour illustrations in and around every page. I love the way the characters leap out from the page as you read through the book.

As the Christmas season dawns upon us (there’s no denying it the advent calendars are out the chocolate reindeers are ready to be eaten) it occurs to me that this will make a truly lovely gift and one to be treasured for years to come. The illustrations complement the classic nature of the tale as Mole embarks upon adventures with Ratty, Mr Toad and Mr Badger yet they also bring the story in to the twenty first century- inviting more children to step in to this magical world. As the blurb rightly says “The best classics deserve to be made contemporary”. I don’t always mention this but I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the price is only £12.99 I thought it deserved a mention. That really is great value for money for a full length hardback gift book. Just breautiful.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS By Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by David Roberts



Oxford University Press, September 2012

If there’s ever a series of books that bring back the fondest memories of my childhood, it’s the Usborne Farmyard Tales series. Celebrating 35 years of the series, the books have been there for so many children. It’s their timeless appeal and charm (all thanks to the little yellow duck of course!) which has meant the books are still in print today and boasting a huge interactive range from sticker to touchy feely books. I’ve always been very vocal in my love of Usborne books, they’re everything a children’s book should be. Here I’ll be exploring my fondest memories of the Farmyard Tales and what I would recommend for today’s young reader.

There are a few illustrators who evoke that strong feeling of nostalgia but none so much as Steven Cartwright, the creator of the Apple Tree Farm characters. His creations take me right back to childhood and of reading ‘Tractor in Trouble’…

Each story was new and exciting, following the Boot family around their farm. Of course the real joy came from spotting the little yellow duck on every page. He is always very well hidden and poses a good challenge in finding him.


The Farmyard Tales series has grown and grown over the years as we’ve seen new types of books involve and there has been the ever increasing need of ‘interactive’ books. I really think Usborne has got it right here. Whilst it’s wonderful that publishers have been able to create apps to coincide with print books, Usborne continue to cater to the demands of a young reader by producing books which engage the child in reading and activity, which I think is so important for development.

One of the most popular books I’ve noticed as a bookseller, and certainly a favourite of mine is Touchy Feely Animal Hide and Seek. It’s a lovely hardback book which introduces characters on Apple Tree Farm with texturised patches on every page, all whilst following a story narrative. It’s a fantastic book for children to explore themselves.

Of course there are so many books in the FarmYard Tales series – cookbooks, nature books, sticker books, touchy feely books, Christmas books. When I have children on my own, I’ll relish bedtime because it means I will get to relive some wonderful stories and introduce Apple Tree Farm to another generation. I really can’t recommend the cookbook enough. It’s visually pleasing and has some great recipes in there with all your favourite characters…


Congratulations Usborne and Steven Cartwright on 35 wonderful years of bringing little yellow ducks to little people!

When I found out there was a second Oliver Jeffers book being published this year, I did a little jump for joy. As if The Huey’s wasn’t enough, we now get to follow the adventures of Wilfred and Marcel the Moose.

One day Wilfred comes across a Moose and declares that the moose is his, and he is to be called Marcel. Wilfred has fun adventures planned for him and Marcel but sometimes Marcel has other ideas and doesn’t always follow the rules and goes off on his own. One day he comes across an old lady who shouts: ‘Rodrigo you’re back!’ This angers Wilfred who shouts back: ‘This Moose belongs to me!’ Wilfred heads off in embarassment and in his rush to run away, he trips and falls down the mountain getting trapped…who will save him?

This is such an aesthetically pleasing book. Of course, once again Jeffers is championing all  those who appear to be a bit bald, but it’s the variety in texture, colour and media on each page which makes it so wonderful. There are elements of digital design super-imposed on to Jeffers’ wonderful artwork and the textures from acrylic paintings really make this feel like you are reading the one and only original copy.

This book is a triumph and such fun to read. Really, could it ever be anything else? Like many of the characters in Jeffers’ books, we come to love Wilfred and his naivety. I do hope there will be a follow up adventure…

This Moose Belongs to me by Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins Children’s Books

HB, £11.99


As with any new school year, there comes the inevitable worry, tears and tantrums for some over the return to school or indeed, starting school for the very first time. I remember when I was very young, my first time at school was fine but for the few years after, I got very worried about going back and felt butterflies in my stomach. What I was worried about I don’t know, but I never could get to sleep the night before the new term started.

For those who have just started school and are feeling a little apprehensive, the wonderful Emma Chichester Clark has the answer thanks to blue kangaroo. It’s lovely Lily’s first day at a new school and she thinks Blue Kangaroo is nervous about going but actually he’s really quite excited about all the new things he would be trying.

When Lily arrives at school with all her new pens, pencils and a new lunchbox, she thinks Blue Kangaroo has a tummy ache and need to go home, but her kind teacher Mrs Zazou shows Lily where to hang her coat and she starts her day. Soon Lily is having fun learning, drawing and playing with friends. She has so much fun that when she leaves at the end of the day, she leaves Blue Kangaroo on  the windowsill…but he has fun of his own and gets to do everything Lily did during the day as he watched on from the windowsill.

When Lily returns the next day, she’s settled and absolutely loves school…and so does Blue Kangaroo.

This is a charming tale which subtly introduces the problem and solution of being worried about starting school. Of course it was never Blue Kangaroo who was nervous, it was Lily who transferred her worries on to her friend. The Blue Kangaroo series is charming and Lily is, as ever, adorable and really a lovely character you can relate to.

Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations are beautiful; vivid yet comforting at the same time. She provides security in the book with involvement from everyone in Lily’s family and I really can’t recommend this enough for anyone who ever loved Blue Kangaroo and for those starting school.

Come to School, Blue Kangaroo by mma Chichester Clark

HarperCollins Children’s Books

September 2012, HB £10.99


Last week the cover design for David Walliams’ latest book ‘Ratburger’ was revealed via twitter by the man himself. What do we all think?

I think it’s great and Quentin Blake’s cover designs have become synonymous with Walliams’ witty stories. It’s interesting how well his books have been received with a cover designed by Quentin Blake. For so long Blake and Dahl went hand in hand and that’s what made Dahl’s stories so recognisable to children. It’s nice that his style can translate to other authors too. Certainly though, we will continue to make comparisons between Dahl and Walliams but I don’t think David Walliams will mind too much. In fact, I think it’s quite an honour.

Can I also give a word of advice? Don’t google image Ratburger…you may well come across some actual rat burgers!

Ratubrger is published 19th September.

The fifth screamingly funny novel from David Walliams, number one bestseller and fastest growing children’s author in the country.

“Hot on the heels of bestselling Gangsta Granny comes another hilarious, action-packed and touching novel – the story of a little girl called Zoe. Things are not looking good for Zoe. Her stepmother Sheila is so lazy she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her. The school bully Tina Trotts makes her life a misery – mainly by flobbing on her head. And now the evil Burt from Burt’s Burgers is after her pet rat! And guess what he wants to do with it? The clue is in the title…”

Everytime I mentioned to someone that a new John Boyne book was being published, I was met with much excitement and anticipation. When I showed them the book, aptly illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, this excitement was met with further ooh’s and ah’s.

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket is a departure from the type of novel we have come to recognise Boyne for. Best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which has now sold over 1 million copies), Boyne has created in this book a character to love, an adventure to behold and a lesson to learn.

Barnaby Brocket is born in to a very normal family who just wish to go about and live their boring, unassuming lives. Except, Barnaby disrupts that plan when he is born defying the laws of gravity; he simply floats away from the ground until something stop him in his path…usually the ceiling which results in an “Ouch” from Barnaby. His parents are aghast  that their offspring could be so strange and immediately seek to hide him from the public. Soon Barnaby is old enough to go to school and it’s really this moment that sets in motion the events which take Barnaby on an adventure across the world.

Eventually, after a school burning down and Barnaby appearing on national TV after a school trip Mr and Mrs Brocket have had enough of Barnaby and his floating ways and that’s when they do the terrible thing….they let him go. Mrs Brocket, (under the pretence that she and Barnaby are merely going for a walk) frees Barnaby of his weighted rucksack and sees him float away. Barnaby can do nothing but look at his mother with fear and disappointment as she slowly gets smaller and smaller. This time, there’s no ceiling to stop him floating away.

Soon we see Barnaby flying across the world and embarking on a journey of adventure and discovery. From a hot air balloon to the precarious edge of a New York skyscraper; Barnaby goes all over the place and meets a few interesting characters along the way too. It’s here that he really makes the journey of discovering who he is and realising that being normal isn’t actually all it’s cracked up to be and really, is anybody truly normal?

You’ll find it hard not to love Barnaby Brocket; a character so full of innocence. This book is a charming, humorous look on our understanding of the ideal norm and teaches us all a lesson in acceptance and never being anything but who you are. And of course, I can’t finish this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Oliver Jeffers (who previously illustrated Boyne’s ‘Noah Barleywater Runs Away). Boyne and Jeffers are a match made in heaven and I can’t now picture anybody else up to the job of illustrating Boyne’s children’s books. There are illustrations throughout the book and we really get the feeling we too are on a worlwide adventure flying high in the clouds with nothing but anticipation and no gravity getting in our way.

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers


£10.99, Hardback, 2nd August 2012

Doubleday Children’s

Emily Gravett is one of my favourite children’s book illustrators. Like so many, she has a very distinctive and recognisable drawing style and that’s part of her appeal. Children’s books are all about creating that sense of familiarity and nostalgia (for when we are older at least)

Matilda’s Cat doesn’t disappoint in this respect. It takes a traditional picture book subject; animals and puts a new spin on it. In fact, it very much reminds me of the wonderful series Zoe and Beans.

Matilda is sure her lovely cat will want to play with her and chase strings of wool around the house. And of course, it will love dressing up and going to tea parties. But when the cat seems rather disinterested Matilda is worried she and her cat will never be able to play with one another.

A charming tale about a girl…and her cat with the trademark wit and warmth Emily Gravett always provides in her drawings.

Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett


Macmillan Children’s Books, £10.99, August 2012