Skye Deiter and Carolyn Angus
In this column, we review picture books originally published in English in the United Kingdom. These stories by British authors and illustrator are popular with young readers on both sides of “the pond.”
Air Miles. John Burningham. Bill Salaman. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. (2022). Candlewick.
Miles, Norman Trudge’s “very difficult dog” who became much happier after a neighbor, Mr. Huddy, built him a small red car and taught him how to drive in Motor Miles (2016), written and illustrated by beloved British author and illustrator John Burningham (1936-2019), is now an old dog in need of something new and exciting to cheer him up. The small red airplane Mr. Huddy builds seems to be the answer. Miles learns to pilot the plane and flies solo until the day Norman helps him into cockpit for the last time, and Miles takes to the skies, flying higher and further than ever before as Norman waves and waves until he can no longer see the plane. “Goodbye, Miles.” The text of this moving picture book, which was conceived by John Burningham as a tribute to his beloved Jack Russell terrier who had died, was written by his friend Bill Salaman and illustrated by Burningham’s wife, Helen Oxenbury, after his death. Bill Salaman lives in Cambridge, England; Helen Oxenbury lives in London, England. (PreK Up)
Frog vs. Toad. Ben Mantle. (2022). Candlewick.
After a fly mistakenly confuses Frog and Toad for two frogs, a heated argument chucked full of punny put-downs ensues as the two amphibians heatedly express their highly opinionated differences. “‘Wait…did you call me slimy?’ croaked Frog. ‘Well, you’re dry and lumpy!’ Toad was annoyed. ‘Oh, why don’t you hop it, long legs!’” Soon, the other frogs and toads in the swamp join in and a mud fight follows, only to be broken up by a hungry alligator who points out that they’ll taste the same because they are relatives. A unified response from Frog and Toad wards off their ferocious predator, leaving the pair on friendly terms—and the alligator enraged when they call it a crocodile. Lively text complemented by animated pastel and digital media illustrations offer a humorous and relatable reminder about the importance of honoring the similarities and differences we all share. Ben Mantle lives in Brighton, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Giant Giant. Dylan Hewitt. (2022). Milky Way Picture Books.
A bossy giant bullies the little people living in a peaceful village, threatening to stomp on their houses if they do not follow through on orders to wash his underwear, cook him a feast, and deliver tasty treats. “Every day the giant would stomp, stomp, stomp down to the little village and be a big brat // Actually, not just a big brat… // a giant brat.” He gets a taste of his own medicine when a giant giant comes to town and makes the same threats to him, and the little giant must rely on the help of the villagers he’s wronged. Dylan Hewitt playfully uses different colors for character associations (blue for the villagers, orange for the little giant, and pink for the giant giant) and size and placement of text in his cartoonlike digital illustrations on a bright yellow background to tell this anti-bullying tale that is sure to captivate readers of all sizes! Dylan Hewitt lives in London, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
I Believe in Me. Emma Dodd. (2022). Templar.
“I believe in me, / I’m reaching for the sky. / Everything is possible / if I’m brave enough to try.” Rhyming verses join with beautifully crafted digital illustrations featuring gold foil accents to tell a nurturing tale about a baby crocodile and its parent who spend their days alongside each other. Positive affirmations fill the pages as the baby crocodile unearths important truths about love, guidance, resiliency, and the tremendous power of believing in oneself. Emma Dodd lives in Surrey, England. (Preschool)
Narwhal: The Arctic Unicorn. Justin Anderson. Illus. by Jo Weaver. (2022). Candlewick.
It is the end of winter in the Arctic, and as the frozen sea starts to melt, an old narwhal leads his pod on their journey north through the floating ice in Baffin Bay to spend the summer around the high Arctic islands along with other narwhals and beluga. When September comes, it is time to head south for the winter. Justin Anderson’s tells the story of the yearly migration of the Arctic narwhal and presents related scientific facts about these toothed whales in a smaller font on each double-page spread featuring Jo Weaver’s stunning charcoal, digitally colored illustrations. Back matter includes a note about the future of the narwhal, a species that is threatened by climate change; a map of the narwhal migration route; websites for further information; and an index. Justin Anderson lives in England; Jo Weaver lives in Scotland. (PreK Up)
Otters vs. Badgers. Anya Glazer. (2022). Kane Miller.
When rival animals, otters and badgers, just cannot get along, their leaders decide the two groups should inhabit opposite sides of the river to avoid ever meeting. One day, however, Francie, an otter who happens to be the best baker along the river, accidentally wanders onto the badgers’ side of the river in search of the perfect ingredient for her newest cookie recipe. After she is discovered by some badgers, the two animal groups find themselves face-to-face in an amusing feud. As arguments escalate and tensions run high, it is Francie who offers up a delicious solution! Anya Glazer’s conversational style of writing and creative use of speech bubbles in her watercolor cartoon illustrations provide additional comedic layers to this entertaining picture book. A cookie recipe is included. Anya Glazer lives in London, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Pantemonium! Peter Bently. Illus. by Becka Moor. (2022). Andersen.
Fred (a giant) sets off for the beach with his fishing rod, not realizing his favorite, stretchy pair of underwear is caught on the hook at the end of the line. As he makes his way through the town, his gigantic underpants trail behind him, scooping up townspeople, animals, a police car, and even a train! With Fred growing more and more oblivious to what is being gathered up in his undies, each page turn of this silly, rhyming tale invites readers to relish each hilarious “Oh, pantemonium!” Finally, Fred reaches his fishing spot, and his underpants release everyone and everything, right before his undies catch one last surprise in the water! Peter Bently lives in London, England; Becka Moor lives in Manchester, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Ratty’s Big Adventure. Lara Hawthorne. (2022). Big Picture.
Ratty, a giant rodent, is living a contented life deep inside an extinct volcano called Mount Bosavi in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea until he spots a luscious-looking fruit and makes the difficult climb up a very tall tree to reach it. Amazed by what he sees from the treetop, he drops the fruit and sets out to find something “bigger and better” in the outside world in spite of the warning of his cave bat friends. “Beware, Ratty! It’s a big world out there!” Ratty’s big adventure becomes a misadventure when his “new friend,” a toothy crocodile, invites him for dinner. Rescued by his bat friends, Ratty has had enough of adventuring and is content to be back at home among his old friends. Back matter includes facts about a scientific expedition to Mount Bosavi in 2009; a profile of the Bosavi woolly rat, one of 55 new species identified by the researchers; and a challenge to locate ten of Ratty’s friends pictured in Lara Hawthorne’s colorful watercolor-and-gouache illustrations. Lara Hawthorne lives in Bristol, England. (PreK Up)
Saving the Butterfly. Helen Cooper. Illus. by Gill Smith. (2022). Candlewick Studio.
Two children are the only survivors when a boat load of refugees sink. The older one, a girl, has a hard time letting go of memories of the trauma and moving forward. The younger one, her brother, more easily forgets and is able to make friends. “But the bigger one couldn’t forget. / She felt she shouldn’t forget. / Over her mind a shadow fell, / and a squeezing in her chest / sometimes made it hard to breathe.” The brother catches a butterfly and brings it to his sister in an effort to connect her to the outside world. When the butterfly escapes from its jar inside their little home, the girl must find strength within her to save the butterfly and release it outdoors, or perhaps, allow the butterfly to save her. Mostly gray mixed-media illustrations with minimal pops of color echo the book’s somber tone until the final spreads burst with color as the girl finally gives the outside a chance. Helen Cooper lives in Oxford, England; Gill Smith lives in Liverpool, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Tale of the Whale. Karen Swann. Illus. by Padmacandra. (2022). Margaret K. McElderry.
In this lyrical story, a young boy is called to an ocean adventure by a friendly whale. “Where land becomes sky/ and sky becomes sea, I first saw the whale . . . / and the whale first saw me. / And high on the breeze came his sweet-sounding song— // ‘I’ve so much to show you, if you’ll come along.’” What starts out as a playful adventure as the two dance with dolphins, explore an abandoned shipwreck, and admire the beauty of the coral reefs evolves into a surprising discovery of the plastic trash polluting the ocean. Overwhelmed with sadness for the ocean’s creatures, upon returning to shore, the child promises to tell the whole world “the tale of the whale and the plastic soup sea” to inspire others to join him in being agents for change. The final illustration shows a group of children working together in a beach clean-up. Karen Swann lives in Nottingham, England; Padmacandra was born in Scotland and now lives in Norfolk, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Very Special Thing. Alex Willmore. (2022). Tate.
Squirrel’s prize possession is a special acorn prominently displayed in her nest in a hollow tree. Eager to add to her collection of all sorts of things, she sets out to look for more items in the forest. After snatching up Bear’s hula hoop, she continues to gather up the special treasures of Frog, Snake, Bird, Rabbit, Fox, and Turtle. When she gathers flowers from Moose’s garden, however, Moose snorts, “That’s it! Let’s go and get our things.” What they discover is Squirrel crying because she can’t find her special acorn. Being the good friends that they are, they sort through the giant pile of things in her tree—and find not only Squirrel’s special acorn but also how much fun they can have when they share their special things with each other. Alex Wilmore’s humorous cautionary tale with a spare text and colorful cartoonlike illustrations is a good read-aloud choice. Alex Willmore lives in Northampton, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Skye Deiter is a third-grade classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).