Our dog is not a work dog,

A round-’em-bring-’em-home dog.

Our dog is a seadog.

Published last year in 2013, this beautifully illustrated book is an ode to a beach-loving, wave-chasing, “find-and-roll-in-fish” dog. A quick google reveals that Claire Saxby writes poetry as well as books, which makes sense because although it does have a sniff of a narrative Seadog reads like a poem, and is full of delicious nuggets of language.  Seadog is a “run-and-scatter-gulls” dog, a “jump-and-chase-the-waves” dog.  He isn’t a “sit-still-then-roll-over” dog. Those adjectival phrases will have Early Years teachers reaching for their literacy planners faster than Seadog can spook a gull.

The main message of this is of course accepting people as they are and celebrating the individual.  Sure he is scruffy and dirty and smelly, and he won’t bring back a stick, or do as he’s told, but Seadog is very much loved by his owners. And his irrepressible joi de vivre is reflected in Tom Jellett’s vibrant illustrations.

Like Seadog himself, this book reeks of personality.  It’s funny, touching and well-written and could be enjoyed on different levels by children of different ages.  A five-star find.


Sally and the Limpet

Sally goes for a trip to the beach and finds a limpet attached to a rock.  She pulls and pulls at it, and eventually it comes loose – and attaches itself to her finger.  The story follows Sally’s travails as she and everyone else she knows tries to remove the limpet from her finger.

Simon James is not a writer I was familiar with until I picked this up in the library; and in fact I only picked it up because it was about a girl called Sally.  However, as you can see from the picture above, this a very pretty book and well worth a read. The watercolour illustrations are beautifully drawn and capture the naivety of its young character.

The story does the pictures justice.  Sally has to go home from the beach with the limpet still stuck on her finger, as her (rather macho looking!) father can’t get it off.

People try everything to remove the creature but to no avail.  At school, her teacher tells her that limpets live for years and spend all that time on the same rock.  I love that that information is delivered to us as readers with no comment and no emphasis, it’s just put there on the page and left.  Which means that when Sally begins to feel rather upset at the doctor’s increasingly aggressive attempts to remove it and makes a run for it, it is for once not immediately obvious what she is doing and why.

Sally, without direct adult involvement, returns the limpet to his rock, and the contrast between the dramatic attempts to get it off and the simple way it eventually leaves – “the limpet, feeling at home once more, made a little squelching noise and wiggled off her finger” – is very effective.  It is a straightforward but very moving lesson in personal responsibility and in not interfering with things that are nothing to do with you.

An entertaining story with a meaningful subtext, this is writing for children at its best.  It has potential as a text for early years study and could easily fuel a discussion about sea creatures, or what’s right and wrong and responsible when you find an animal at the beach.

Look out for more Simon James reviews as they are clearly worth exploring further!


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch

This is an old book but a real classic that has been used in classrooms for many years.  First published in 1977, it is one of those books in which all the elements of a good children’s story come together to form something special.

Mr Grinling is the lighthousekeeper.  He lives in a cottage on the side of a hill directly opposite the lighthouse.

Every day, Mrs Grinling packs him a (quite frankly delicious) lunch and hangs it on the wire that connects the house and the lighthouse, so it travels across to him.  But one day, a pack of voracious seagulls discover their system and help themselves to the lunch.  By the time it gets to Mr Grinling, there is nothing left.  The next day, Mrs Grinling ties the napkin on to the basket to protect it, but this is no match for the scavenging birds.  Next she tries sending the cat over in an identical basket to defend the lunch, but he is so terrified that he cowers pathetically in the bottom and pays no attention to the seagulls.  Then, finally, she has an ingenious idea that puts the seagulls off for good.

The illustrations are beautiful. Scruffy pen and ink and watercolour drawings, the stalwart Mr Grinling and his pipe, the homely Mrs Grinling and their reluctantly put-upon cat are brought to life by David Armitage with expression and humour.  The text too is of high quality; a funny, pacey story with words you can relish.  Mr Grinline is ‘a most industrious lighthousekeeper’ and the moment at which the seagulls descend is also nicely put: “Three scavenging seagulls set upon it and devoured it with great gusto.”  There are also comic touches from the seagulls, who discuss their stolen fare in speech bubbles with some enthusiasm and address each other by name: Fred, Tom, and Bert.  One of the best moments however is the deadpan delivery of the attempt to get Hamish the cat to guard the lunch basket. ” ‘A most ingenious plan,’ agreed Mr Grinling.  Hamish did not think this was ingenious at all.”

A classic story, original and funny with lots to talk about.



The Pirates Next Door

Here is the well-observed opening double page to Jonny Duddle’s prizewinning picture book:

Matilda’s boring life is enlivened only by the prospect of – perhaps – another young girl moving in to the empty house next door.  But one day new occupants do turn up, and they are not quite what the reserved, middle-class inhabitants of Dull-on-Sea (twinned, naturally with Ennui-sur-Mer) were expecting.

Matilda is rather taken with young Jim Lad and his sea-faring family, but the other landlubbers of the town are less than enthusiastic.  There follows a superb commentary on middle-class snobbery and narrow-mindedness, with the various residents demanding the removal of this blot on the moral landscape.

” ‘Miss Pinky called the council, to see what they could do.  She didn’t live through two world wars to have pirates spoil her view!’  ‘It really is DISGRACEFUL, on such a lovely street.  You’d think that they would TRY to keep their garden looking neat!’ ”

The whole town (except Matilda) unites against the pirates and demands they leave.  “Before you know it, there’ll be more – we’ll ALL have pirates lodged next door!”  However, before the aptly-named Jolley-Rogers leave they have a surprise for the townspeople that may change their opinion of pirates.

Adults will love the satirical humour and children the nefarious antics of the pirate family, who board rowing boats in the park and dig up the local roundabouts.  The text is clever and the rhyme works well, despite the occasionally jarring piece of scansion.

Jonny Duddle’s illustrations (sketched initially in pencil and then drawn onto computer via a tablet) have all the detail and skill of someone who worked on the character design for the latest Aardman film (“Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists”)  There is an astonishing amount to spot and to talk about in the pictures and lots of extra little jokes that are worth looking for.

The Pirates Next Door won this year’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and it’s a worthy champion.  It is clear how much work and thought went into creating it and a wide-range of ages will enjoy it on different levels.  With five and six year olds this could lead to quite complex moral discussions about the presence of the pirates and the attitude of the landlubbers, but younger children will like the rhymes and the comic pictures.

Highly enjoyable, original and very very pretty.