Source: Times Online

I recently wrote about a lack – or supposed lack – of books for boys. Thank you to everyone who made suggestions for books which they think boys will like.

One type of book which didn’t get mentioned too often was picture books. This may be because they are seen as “babyish” but I think that’s wrong. There’s a real revival in the picture book genre, and this often appeals especially to boys, who like great visuals. My son is a big fan of such books as Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs and also the Mungo books. Both are beautifully illustrated, and also have great, funny, stories for children aged around 4 to 6.

Another picture book which recently appealed to my almost-five-year-old was a new Topsy and Tim storybook. In what may be a stroke of genius, some of these classic books (which I used to enjoy when I was a child) have just been rebranded and released as sticker books. Robbie enjoyed Topsy and Tim Have a Birthday Party and was very engaged by putting the stickers in the right place.

Talking of picture books, today sees the release of the 2010 shortlist for the CLIP Kate Greenaway Medal. This is awarded by children’s librarians for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people, and is the most prestigious award of its kind. I actually attended one of the shortlisting sessions and was very impressed by how serious it all was, and how well the librarians knew the books they were discussing. They also really had strong feelings about them. Some books (and remember, these are picture books) were being discussed for more than 10 minutes each before a show of hands determined their fate.

There are eight books on the shortlist. I – and my children – were really impressed by Leon and the Place Between, illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith and written by Angela McAllister. It is stunningly illustrated, with lots of gold and black and very dramatic. It is also a terrific story – about magic, reality and the belief that magicians really can do amazing things.

Another favourite was David Roberts and Paul Fleischman’s The Dunderheads, which is clever, funny and clearly aimed at slightly older children. It’s quirky and appealed more to my eight-year-old than my four-year-old.

Harry and Hopper, which is illustrated by Freya Blackwood and written by Margaret Wild, has really beautiful drawings, but is such a sad story (about a beloved dog who dies) that I’m not sure I could read it too often. Meanwhile Oliver Jeffer’s The Great Paper Caper is clever, but I didn’t think it was quite up to the standards of the others (and I’m going along the “how often would I like to read it” line). Satoshi Kitamura’s Millie’s Marvellous Hat is lovely, and like the Jeffers’ book aimed at younger, rather than older readers.

Neil Gaiman has written two of the books on the list, The Graveyard Book (a proper chapter book, for older children, probably around 8+) and the rather crazy (but definitely imaginative), Crazy Hair, which is illustrated by Dave McKean. These two books alone show how broad the picture book category can be.

For younger children, the most fabulous book on the shortlist (in my humble opinion) has to be Viviane  Schwarz’s There are Cats in this Book (which you can see above). It is fantastic – clever, innovative and really good fun. Buy it if you love cats – and even if you don’t (there are fish in the book too!).

Let me know what you think of picture books and if you have any others to recommend – especially newer ones. The winners of this award will be announced on June 24th.

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