A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Be prepared to fall madly in love with the most stunning celebration of books that you will ever read!


Ever since I first heard about A Child of Books I have been eagerly awaiting its release.  It is the first collaboration between Oliver Jeffers and another artist, typographical fine artist Sam Winston.  There have been a few teaser images, showing illustrations made up of text, and I knew I needed to have this book.  It has just been released and it is absolutely stunning!

A Child of Books is about a little girl who sails her raft ‘across a sea of words’ to arrive at the house of a small boy. She invites him to come away with her on an adventure where they can journey through ‘forests of fairy tales’, ‘across mountains of make-believe’ and ‘sleep in clouds of song’. Guided by his new friend, the boy unlocks his imagination and a lifetime of magic lies ahead of him… But who will be next?

A Child of Books is a celebration of stories, books and reading, that you will want to read again and again.  It’s one of those books that you will find something new in each time you read it.  You might notice a line from a book that you missed the last time or note the significance of a particular line of text.  I want to take this book everywhere with me and show it to everyone I meet.  However, I also want to take the book apart and have the pages on the walls of my house and my school library to look at every day.

Oliver Jeffers’ characteristic illustrations and hand drawn text that I already love is combined with Sam’s astonishing typographical landscapes that I couldn’t get enough of.  Sam has taken excerpts from classic children’s stories and nursery rhymes, from Treasure Island to Alice and Wonderland, and shaped them into stunning creations.  There is an ocean made from castaway stories and clouds made from lullabies.

If I ever doubt why I do what I do all I need to do is open this book.  If anyone questions the validity of libraries and librarians all I need to do is put this book in their hands.  A Child of Books is my picture book of the year and it will always have a special place in my heart.

Buy this book for your collection and share it with everyone in your life.

A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill

Books can give us a window into a different life or show us that we’re not alone.  I had a pretty happy and comfortable childhood so it was books that showed me how other kids lived and some of the tough things that they have to live with.  I think it’s hugely important for kids to read books about all sorts of kids so that they see the world from different points of view.  Jo Cotterill’s new book, A Library of Lemons, gives us a window into Calypso’s life and the ways that her and her father deal with grief.

a-library-of-lemons-488x750Calypso’s mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can’t, or won’t, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there’s never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction.

When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls’ shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae’s friendship and her lively and chaotic home – where people argue and hug each other – make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus – and Calypso’s happiness starts to unravel.

A Library of Lemons is a beautiful, heart-breaking story about a family that has lost itself in books.  Jo Cotterill has perfectly captured a love of reading and books.  It’s almost like she has seen inside my head and my heart and put down on paper what it means to be a bibliophile.  Jo makes you feel for her characters, especially Calypso and the situation that she finds herself in.

This is a story of grief and how we all cope with it in different ways.  Both Calypso and her dad retreat into books, Calypso into her stories that take her far away and her dad into the book he is writing ‘A History of Lemons.’ Calypso misses her mum, who died five years ago, but her dad tells her to be strong and that they have ‘inner strength’ to get them through.  Calypso’s dad puts everything into writing his book and often forgets to eat and provide what Calypso needs.  When Calypso discovers what her father has been hiding in his library her anger and sadness comes exploding out of her and sets off a chain of events that will hopefully fix her broken family.

One of the things that Calypso holds on to is her mother’s books.  She knows that she can still be connected to her if she reads the books that her mother did.  This is one of my favourite quotes from the book:

‘Books give you more than stories.  Books can give you back people you’ve lost.’

Anyone who reads this book will wish that they had a friend like Mae.  Not only does she love books and writing like Calypso, but she is always there when Calypso needs her.  She absolutely trusts Mae and confides in her about how she is feeling and the situation at home.  Mae listens to Calypso and gets her mother’s help when she knows they need it.

The ending of the book is perfect.  It shows readers that there is no quick fix to the pain and grief that children and adults face, but over time, things will get better.  It feels very real rather than rose-tinted.

A Library of Lemons is perfect for anyone aged 9 and up who enjoys stories about families and friendship.  If you love books as much as I do you need to read it too because you’ll see a bit of yourself in Calypso.


Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson

I love books about books and the experience of reading so when I saw Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson I fell in love.  This wonderful picture book is all about the search to find the perfect place to read.


The story starts like this, ‘The thing is…when I want to read what I really really need is a place to sit…just for a bit.’ The boy in the story tries to describe the perfect place to read, somewhere that’s not ‘buzz-buzzy,’ or ‘slippy, slimy,’ but also somewhere that is not too hot or too cold. He realises that it doesn’t really matter where you sit, but that a book is best when you share.

Kids and adults alike understand the struggle to find the perfect place to sit and read.  In winter I want somewhere warm and in summer I often want somewhere cool.  Leigh perfectly captures this struggle, both in the text and the illustrations.  I love the way that the font changes to match the things that the character is describing.  When the boy is talking about a place being too itchy and fuzzy the text looks fuzzy.  I also love the way that the chairs change size, shape and pattern to match what the character is describing.  The ‘buzz-buzzy’ chair has flowers all over it and ‘stinky grimy’ chair has a pattern of wafting stink lines.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? is the perfect picture book to curl up with and share with your little book worms.

The Bookshop That Grew Me

I wouldn’t be where I am today, in my dream job as a CYA Librarian and blogging about books, if it weren’t for two things:

  1. My parents
  2. The Original Children’s Bookshop

The Original Children’s Bookshop has been part of my life since I was a baby.  My parents bought my first books for me from the shop when it used to be in Beckenham and were regular customers when the shop later moved to Victoria Street.  I have vague memories of visiting the shop as a kid but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started visiting regularly.  I went to school in the central city and my dad’s business was there as well so I spent a lot of time exploring the centre of Christchurch.  When I was about 14 my reading spark was ignited and I couldn’t get enough of books.  The central public library became one of my favourite places.  When I was old enough I started helping my dad out by running errands around town and I would often wander down to the bookshop after I was finished.  As I started to earn a bit of money I would spend most of it on books.  I remember going into the bookshop to see if the next instalments in my favourite series were in yet.  I especially loved Philip Pullman at this stage and I was very eager to get my hands on the next book by William Nicholson (I loved the Wind Singer trilogy!).  It was while I was chatting with the lovely ladies in the bookshop one day that I got the courage to ask if there was any work available.  It must have been my lucky day as they were looking for someone to do some extra hours in the lead-up to Christmas.  I almost skipped out of the bookshop, I was so happy!  That began six wonderful years of working in the best children’s bookshop around.

Writing this now I still remember the smell of the bookshop as I walked through the doors.  It was a mixture of paper, printer’s ink, wooden toys, plastic dinosaurs, and puppets, but it was also magical.  It reminded me of my childhood but it was also the promise of all those stories waiting to be read by children and adults alike.

One person who I can’t thank enough is Sheila Sinclair.  Sheila owned the bookshop for many years and she took me under her wing from my very first day.  She taught me so much about children’s literature and the book trade, like how to choose the perfect book for a customer, how to display books to catch a customer’s eye, what toys are suitable for different ages, and how to wrap the perfect present (a skill that I am always thankful for).  I’m also hugely thankful to Mary Sangster, the new owner of The Original Children’s Bookshop.  Mary taught me all about the other side of running a bookshop, the behind-the-scenes work that keeps a bookshop ticking along.  I spent many years unpacking, pricing and processing new stock and also got to eavesdrop on visits from publishers selling their new titles.  There were many other lovely ladies who I had the pleasure of working with over the years and who made me feel part of the bookshop family.  You all helped to fuel my love of children’s literature and encouraged me to grow my collection of wonderful books.

There were so many things I loved about working in The Original Children’s Bookshop, but my favourite things were new release deliveries and meeting amazing authors.  I loved it when new releases arrived!  Sometimes you would get a whole trolley of beautiful new books in a trolley to shelve and all the staff would gather around and check them out.  Other times I would get to be the first to see them when I opened the box to process them.  It was hard to restrain yourself from opening a box with a big ‘New Releases’ sticker on it, even if there were stacks of other boxes waiting to be unpacked.  I also met so many amazing authors in my time at the bookshop.  It was incredibly exciting meeting and getting the chance to talk to Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell, Anthony Brown, Joseph Delaney and Julia Donaldson.  I was awestruck (and I still am every time I meet an author or illustrator I love).

The Original Children's Bookshop

Saturday 31st October is New Zealand Bookshop Day.  Make sure you visit your local bookshop and tell them how much you love what they do.  Buy books and support them so that they can keep bringing you the books that you love.  If you’re in Christchurch make sure you pop along to The Original Children’s Bookshop (now at 227 Blenheim Road).  They have illustrators Jenny Cooper and Helen Taylor in the shop and you could even come and listen to me read some stories at 2:30pm.

Thank you to Sheila, Mary and The Original Children’s Bookshop for growing this passionate reader.

My Favourite NZ Books for Kids and Teens

I love New Zealand books and I’m happy to shout it from the rooftops.  We have so many wonderful, talented authors and illustrators here in NZ who write for kids of all ages.  My personal mission, as a librarian and a blogger is to spread the word about New Zealand books and get as many kids (and adults) reading them as possible.  I’ve also had the absolute joy of judging our New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, which really highlighted the breadth of literature that we have here in New Zealand for our young people.

I’ve read and reviewed many NZ books here on My Best Friends Are Books over the years.  I’ve got so many favourite books that I come back to again and again (especially picture books).  Here are just a few of my favourite NZ books for kids and teens, along with the links to my reviews if you want to know more about them:

There are many more fantastic books that I’ve missed off this list, so it is no way complete.  I have a New Zealand category here on the blog so if you want to find more New Zealand content click on the category on the right hand side of the page.

Happy New Zealand Book Week!

There is no New Zealand Book Month this week but the wonderful New Zealand Society of Authors are running New Zealand Book Week instead, from October 26 to November 1.  This is the week to celebrate all the fantastic, talented authors and illustrators (don’t forget the illustrators!) that we have here in NZ.  There are events organised all around the country, with authors and illustrators visiting independent bookshops to celebrate NZ Bookshop Day on Saturday 31 October.  Check out the list of events on the NZ Society of Authors website.

Join me here on My Best Friends Are Books this week to celebrate New Zealand Book Week.  I’ll be highlighting my favourite NZ authors, illustrators and books, giving away some great NZ books, and of course I’ll be reading NZ books.

Happy NZ Book Week!

Winners of the 2015 Carnegie and Greenaway Medals

The winners of the 2015 Carnegie and Greenaway Medals were announced on Monday in the UK.  Tanya Landman was awarded the CILIP Carnegie Medal for Buffalo Soldier and William Grill was awarded the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his debut picture book, Shackleton’s Journey.  They each received a medal and £500 of books to donate to their local library and William Grill also received the Colin Mears Award of £5,000.

xxxxxCharley, a young African-American slave from the Deep South, is freed at the end of the American Civil War. However her freedom is met with tragedy after her adopted mother is raped and lynched at the hands of a mob, and Charley finds herself alone with no protection. In a terrifyingly lawless land, where the colour of a person’s skin can bring violent death, Charley disguises herself as a man and joins the army. Trapped in a world of injustice and inequality, it’s only when Charley is posted to Apache territory to fight “savage Indians” that she begins to learn about who she is and what it is to be truly free.

The judges said: Engrossing from the very beginning, the strong narrative voice engages the reader in the world described; perfectly conveying raw emotions without the overuse of sentimentality. This is a beautiful, powerful piece of writing that will remain with readers long after the last page.

xxxxxIn the last days of the Heroic Age of Exploration, Ernest Shackleton dreamed of crossing the frozen heart of Antarctica, a place of ferocious seas, uncharted mountains and bone-chilling cold. But when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the deadly grip of the ice, Shackleton’s dreams of crossing Antarctica were shattered. Stranded in a cold, white world, and thousands of miles from home, the men of the expedition set out on a desperate trek across the ice in search of rescue.

The judges said: This beautiful non-fiction book seems to effortlessly bring a modern and fresh feel to the story of Ernest Shackleton, whilst remaining traditional and classic. This is an exciting, quality book which provides a true experience and reminds us that it is the people, not the journey, that truly matter.

I haven’t read either of these books but they both sound really interesting.  My picks were More Than This by Patrick Ness for the Carnegie and Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell for the Greenaway.  There were certainly some great books on the shortlist and I’m sure it would have been a tough decision.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. The shortlisted books this year were:

  • When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
  • Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossman
  • Tinder by Sally Gardner
  • Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
  • The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird
  • Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman
  • The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness

The Greenaway Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. The shortlisted books this year were:

  • The Promise, illustrated by Laura Carlin
  • Jim’s Lion, illustrated by Alexis Deacon
  • Shackleton’s Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill
  • Dark Satanic Mills, illustrated by John Higgins and Marc Olivent
  • Smelly Louie, written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner
  • Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, written and illustrated by Chris Riddell
  • Tinder, illustrated by David Roberts
  • Rules of Summer, written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

Chris Riddell – Children’s Laureate 2015-2017

It was fantastic to wake up to the news that Chris Riddell has been named the UK Children’s Laureate for 2015-2017.  Chris is the nineth laureate and follows in the footsteps of such giants of the children’s literature world as Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, Anthony Brown and Anne Fine. Chris Riddell is a fantastic illustrator who has worked with Neil Gaiman, Russell Brand, Martin Jenkins, and most notably with Paul Stewart on their Edge Chronicles series. Has also written and illustrated his own books, including the Ottoline series, the Goth Girl series, and the picture books The Emperor of Absurdia and Wendel’s Workshop.

His plan for his two-year post as Children’s Laureate is to encourage people to draw every day, he’ll post a daily illustration on his online ‘laureate log,’ and he wants to “to celebrate librarians at the heart of our schools.”

If you don’t follow Chris Riddell online you really should.  He posts some of his wonderful illustrations to his Facebook and Twiiter pages.  Follow him or http://www.facebook.com/chris.riddell2.

Check out the Love Reading 4 Kids UK Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lovereading4kids) as Chris has illustrated each of the previous Children’s Laureates .  They are absolutely wonderful illustrations!

Here is my virtual book display of some great books by Chris Riddell.

Introducing SmackFiction

SmackFictionI’m really excited to be able to introduce you all to SmackFiction.  SmackFiction is a brand-new mobile app, aimed at teens, that allows readers to discover upcoming novels, read free sample chapters, earn rewards and share what they’re reading with friends.  You can add reviews or comments about the books on the app and tell others about what you’re reading on Facebook.  It’s an awesome app for readers of all ages and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can download it for free from the AppStore or Google Play.  Libraries and schools can sign up to receive information on the use of the app by library users and students, and you can also receive a promotion pack with bookmarks and posters.

For more information about SmackFiction read the media release below.

A new mobile app aimed at getting younger adults reading has been launched by Wellington-based SmackFiction. The app features sample chapters for readers to browse when they are commuting or waiting for class, as well as entertaining articles about authors and their creations. People can see what their friends have been reading, and status points are awarded to readers who explore new books and share comments with friends.

Early interest in SmackFiction has come from The New Zealand Book Council and Hutt City Libraries who see the app as a way to divert a mobile focussed generation away from games and onto reading. Authors are interested because they can participate on the app community, allowing them to have direct contact with their fans.

Public Libraries of New Zealand Chair Paula Murdoch says “SmackFiction is to be congratulated in offering readers a new choice in the way they read and the added appeal of connecting with others in an online community to share their love of a good book.”

SmackFiction is supported by HarperCollins New Zealand and many other leading New Zealand publishers who have provided content such as Gecko Press, Steampress Books, Huia and Victoria University Press. SmackFiction particularly celebrates Kiwi fiction, but has attracted interest (and content) from quality publishers in Canada, Australia and the US, who are watching the New Zealand pilot with interest.

The SmackFiction app can be downloaded from the Apple™ App Store by anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch and a Facebook™ account. An Android™ version will be released shortly.

Libraries and schools will be able to get aggregated reporting on their reader activity by signing up at www.smackfiction.com.

Win a stack of new books from Walker Books for your school

Walker Books Australia have so many fantastic books being released this month.  From a tale of Ancient Greece, to a story of a girl who wants to act but suffers from stage fright, and even a new book by David Almond and Dave McKean.

Thanks to Walker Books I have a stack of their latest release novels to give to one lucky school.  The pack includes:

  • 2013-06-10 17.49.33That Boy, Jack by Janeen Brian
  • Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo
  • In the Wings by Elsbeth Edgar
  • View from the 32nd Floor by Emma Cameron
  • Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones
  • Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf by David Almond and Dave McKean

To get in the draw just enter your name and email address in the form below and tell me why your school deserves a stack of books.  These books are suitable for ages 9+.  Competition closes Wednesday 19 June (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Grace for St George’s School.