Posts Tagged ‘Picture Books’

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


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This is a very special picture book. It stands out from the norm and belongs with the fairytale and gift book. For starters, it’s a hardback and would truly make a lovely, individual gift for somebody who loves picture books. The thing about this book is it will appeal to children but like Lane Smith’s ‘It’s a Book’ it has a little adult humour and the illustrative design will appeal to budding artists.

‘I want my hat back’ is all about the bear who has lost his favourite red hat. For every person he comes across on his walk, he asks if they’ve seen his hat but nobody has and none of them are exactly helpful! Until he comes across one pesky animal wearing something very familiar. This book will make you laugh and definitely appreciate the notion of ‘less is more’. Beautiful


Jon Klassen


£11.99 HB

Walker Books

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Once there was little tree…

I couldn’t not post about this beautiful book by acclaimed children’s book author Shel Silverstein. If you’ve ever seen any of Silverstein’s books, you can tell they’re quite American in nature but the messages transcend culture differences and this book in particular is beautiful and has a lot to say.

I’ve been admiring it at work for some time now and had it out on my ‘beautiful books’ table. But it wasn’t until my colleague Michelle came in to see me that my interest piqued. Upon hearing Michelle’s stunned gasp; she told me the story of how she has been trying to get her hands on a copy of a book. Years ago, an American boy at church (who she was madly in love with) told her the story of The Giving Tree. And it was his storytelling which made her fall for him even more. Of course in hindsight, it was merely a passing crush. But this experience cemented her love for the book and now everytime she sees the book she is hit by such a feeling of nostalgia and happiness; she has to buy the book.

“Once there was a little tree … and she loved a little boy.

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein. 

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk … and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. 

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.”


Shel Silverstein


Partcular Books

December 2010


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Finally! I can put words to the pictures. Ever since the Hay Festival back in May when Oliver gave us a sneak peek at his new book, anticipation has been building and I’m pleased to announce the book itself is not a let down.

Full of trademark Jeffers wit and childlike nostalgic writing and thought; this book is fun, carefree and a cautionary tale of what not to do when your kite gets stuck in a tree. Just think of it as organised chaos!

When Floyd gets his beloved kite stuck in a tree, he gets it stuck in his mind that the only way to get it down is to throw things as it. Funnily enough, these things all get stuck too. From firemen, to huge ships; this book will have you laughing throughout. The ending, naturally is hilarious.

This tale differs from Jeffers’ previous stories. Less heartbreak, more fun. But what remains is a beautiful book with beautiful drawings showcasing Jeffers’ inspirational talent and wit.


Oliver Jeffers,

£10.99, HB,



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The first book recommendation in a week of ‘Alice’ themed books is Emma Chichester-Clark’s adaptation of the classic tale into a picture book.

Emma now has a cult following thanks to the success of the wonderful Blue Kangaroo series. Anyone who doesn’t fall in love with her books must have a heart of stone. The tales are emotive and the illustrations (also done by Emma) have a really distinctive style with an angular 2D style.

This picture book has been out for a little while but there is added interest at the moment as the new adaptation is released in cinemas Friday 5th March. It’s a longer-than-usual picture book but that’s to be expected with the length of the original tale.

The book contains all the classic characters we know and love and being brunette myself, I fully endorse the portrayal of Alice as a brunette!

I just adore the Alice tale’s, probably more so now than I did when i was younger. This might be down to my growing awareness of the complexity of the prose and the coded subtext. Like many Victorian stories and fairy tales, Alice In wWonderland is a deceptively frightening tale with the possibility of no escape but Emma’s modern update allows chiuldren of a younger age to enjoy Lewis Carroll’s exuberant talent without the prospect of rabbit-hole nightmares.

There are so many editions and interpretations of this tale, I can’t wait to share some different ones with you this week. With so many adaptations available to us for this and indeed, other stories such as Cinderella it might be nice to explore the history of children’s literature and I have a great book with does just that for us, so we don’t have to do all the hard work. Expect information about that tomorrow aswell.

Happy Alice reading, and get ready for a fantastical 3D experience at the cinema. As much as I loathe the fact it’s ANOTHER Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter AGAIN, it looks to be a spectacular film that suspends our disbelief.

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A great re-released picture book to look out for is ‘Mr Wolf’s Pancakes’. Of course it may have been more appropriate to post this BEFORE pancake day but as usual, life got in the way. In my opinion pancakes should be enjoyed frequently and this could be the next best thing to actually consuming all that sugar. In fact, The Bookseller has reported that sales of this book shot up to 500 per week around the time of pancake day, averaging about 8 a week throughout the rest of the year.

Mr Wolf already has two other picture books out titled ‘Mr Wolf and the Three Bears’ and ‘Mr Wolf and the Giant Turnip’- both a worth a read. Written by Jan Fearnley (I always think ‘Fearnley-Whittingstall here of River Cottage fame- food is on the brain) these books have a great homely feel about them as they draw upon existing fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters such as Little Red Riding Hood (yes, her again) and my favourite; the gingerbread man.

The book kept me guessing about the wolf’s behaviour throughout. Traditionally the wolf is seen as big, bad and not to be messed with so it was refreshing to see him struggle with everyday things such as shopping and baking. In all honesty, my heart went out for him and I was rooting for him the whole time.

This is a lovely book to add to the collection if the kids love their classic characters.

Pancakes, anyone?

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Coming this weekend a feature on ‘dark theme’ picture books. With the influx of the ‘dark fantasy genre’ (meaning Twilight, True Blood and Blue Bloods) I’ve looked into the representation of this new genre in the children’s age group.

What might be quite interesting to discover is that there are many picture books available with a dark residual theme in them. Don’t get me started on the fairy tale themes and walking into the woods, but there seems to be a recurring and very real theme of danger in picture books recently and I review their effectiveness and once again, the issue of age group appropriacy.

One picture book which particularly caught my fairy tale induced eye is ‘Darkness Slipped In’ about the threat of the dark, or at least the perceived threat of the dark.

And of course ‘Into the Forest’ by the most wonderful, Anthony Browne. A re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Check back Sunday for an in-depth discussion.

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At number 8 of the Christmas countdown (yes I sound like a wannabe Top of the Pops presenter) I have chosen The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Undoubtedly, most children will have seen the film before they even knew the story existed in book form but I urge anyone, fan of the film or not to read this book if only for the wonderous illustrations.

This book is quite simply, magical. It advocates everything I believe to be important to Christmas; that belief that magic exists. Only a few things can drum up such a feeling for me. The first being the Coca Cola christmas advert (even though I despise the drink) the second being a great christmas story and this is it!

For the protagonist of the book, a young boy who boards a magical train, this story ends up being far more of a fairy tale than any of us could realise. The boy is disarming in nature and will certainly bring a smile to the reader’s face for his quiet modesty.

What is not modest however is the use of pictures and believe you me, this is not a bad thing. The double page spreads of illustration are necessary to take the reader into the book, travelling with the boy on the magical train.

This is a timeless story which has the power to reunite the child with the magic and possibility that Christmas brings.

ISBN: 9781842709498

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