Picture books 2017

We are lucky to have a fabulous fishmongers around the corner but on Saturday the counter was almost bare.

“Herring?” I asked hopefully.

Patrick threw up his arms in despair. “No herring, no sardines, no mackerel! Very little of anything!”

Storm Dylan was the culprit, keeping all the fishing boats harbour-bound. The dearth of fish reminded me of one of Little Owl’s Christmas presents. A beautiful book called The Mousehole Cat. Do you know it? It’s quite old now, but timeless.

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley is a re-telling of an old Cornish tale about a terrible storm which prevented any boat from leaving the harbour at Mousehole (pronounced mowzel). It is Christmas and the town’s people are starving but old fisherman Tom and his Cat Mouzer brave the waves to bring back fish. It is really Mouzer who saves the day by singing to the great Storm-Cat who is causing all the trouble. It’s a beautifully illustrated book with a lovely early 90s vibe that makes me feel quite nostalgic. They don’t seem to publish picture books with extensive text like this anymore. Publishers seem to jump straight from young children’s picture books to chapter books with small black and white illustrations. I would put the Brambly Hedge books in the same category as The Mousehole Cat and they are beautiful too. It’s a shame because they are exactly the sort of books Little Owl loves so I end up trawling the archives for new purchases for her.

Can you see where I’m going with all this? Yes, it’s time for my annual round-up of the picture books we bought or received in 2017 and loved. The Mousehole Cat is pictured below alongside Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp by Margaret Mayo and Alex Aycliffe, and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Mouse hole Cat, Antonia Barber, Nicola Bayley, Stomp Dinosaur Stomp, Margaret Mayo, Alex Aycliffe, Room on the Brrom, Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley; Stomp Dinosaur Stomp by Margaret Mayo and Alex Aycliffe; Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp is from a series of books by Scholastic about various different things from dinosaurs through to diggers. Finch is an enormous fan and I can highly recommend them. They have a nice rhythm so don’t get wearisome on endless re-readings. Alex Aycliffe’s illustrations have a lovely collage feel to them and a great colour palette. I have also learned quite a bit about dinosaurs by reading it (admittedly I didn’t know much before!)

Two of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s books hit our list this year, Room on the Broom and Tiddler. Now I know some people get sniffy about the Donaldson/Scheffler dynamo. “Their books are everywhere!” I hear you cryI too, have perused an airport WHSmith where the only picture books for sale were by this pair. However, the fact is their books are brilliant. Donaldson’s texts are so easy to read when you can barely keep your eyes open after wrestling the kids though dinner and bath time. I find myself romping through them and the kids love them. Tiddler was in the waiting room at our local GP surgery and Finch thought it was so hilarious he pestered and pestered me for his own copy. So there we are. Two more Donaldson/Scheffler books to add to our burgeoning collection.

The Snow Lion, Jim Helmore, Richard Jones, Tiddler, Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones; Tiddler by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler

Pictured above with Tiddler is The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore (of Who are you, Stripy Horse? fame) and Richard Jones. I honestly cannot tell you how beautiful this book is. The illustrations are so thoughtful and wistful. It is ostensibly a story about a little girl adjusting to moving to a new area but as with all great picture books it’s much more than that. The way Richard Jones portrays the relationship between the little girl and the lion is very special. It’s already a classic in our house and we can’t seem to go anywhere now without a snow lion or two in tow.

Leon and Bob, Simon James, I'm a Girl, Yasmeen Ismail

Leon and Bob by Simon James; I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail

Pictured above are Leon and Bob by Simon James and I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail. Leon and Bob is another story about a child moving house and finding a friend. It’s another book that’s quite old now too. I think it’s a fantastic story. It’s sparsely written so the twist at the end (it’s a good twist!), really packs a punch. One of the things I love about it is the atmosphere of the illustrations. It has a real sense of place and I love all the little details in Leon’s house.

I’m a Girl is a celebration of not being pigeon-holed because of your gender. In this book a little girl likes to race around, to win, to be noisy and to be clever just as much as the boys. The illustrations are really simple and very effective. They convey so much jubilant enthusiasm in each brush stroke. As with many picture books written by illustrators the writing isn’t top notch, but I do love it.

A meia perdida, Anine Bosenberg

A meia perdida by Anine Bosenberg

Finally here is one of my favourites. A Meia Perdida is by Anine Bosenberg who is a rather wonderful friend of mine BUT that’s not the reason this book is one of my favourites! A Meia Perdida means The Lost Sock but those are the only words you’ll need because this is a wordless book. Two children find their sock has gone missing and trace the red yarn across a snowy landscape full of all sorts of marvellous creatures (complete with intricate page cut-outs) to work out what has happened to it. It’s so well designed and beautifully executed. I love the play on the idea of what happens to all those missing socks!

So there we are. Did you buy or receive some great books in 2017? I hope so. There will be no post from me next week as I am away to Scotland on illustration-related matters. I will return the week after to tell you all about it!

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How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim

Billy Hippo Learns to Swim, picture book, Little Door Books, Hannah Foley, Vivian French, illustrator, hippos, swimming, childrenI’m back at my desk and my mind is full of festive images…Christmas sing-a-longs, snow-covered hill-tops, purple clouds over a golden sunset, hoicking our friend out of a muddy puddle on a country walk (we nearly had to sacrifice his wellies!). Good times.

Waiting for me on my return was a very exciting parcel; an advance copy of a picture book I worked on last year for Little Door Books. It’s called How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim and is about a little hippo who hates water. It’s a lovely story written by the super-amazing Vivian French. Little Door Books were fantastic to work for; hugely supportive, thoughtful, and massively committed to producing beautiful children’s books. I learnt loads and am thrilled to bits with the final copy. Billy Hippo is out in March so I’ll keep you posted!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, 2018, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, children, family, educational, natural history, non-fiction

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Merry Christmas!

priorities, Christmas, mental load, feminism, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, parenting, family life, mistletoe, baby, miscopies, wrapping paper, Merry Christmas, 2017Merry Christmas everyone! Thanks for all your wonderful support and for following my adventures on this blog. Lots of love to you and yours x

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dry point, etching, ink, printmaking, baby, crawling, black, white, children, illustration, illustrator, Hannah FoleyThe other day Finch broke my necklace. It wasn’t just any old necklace. It was the necklace Big Dreamer gave me when Wren was born. It has five little stars on it, one for each of us. I wear it all the time, never take it off. Finch was play-fighting, made a grab for me and accidentally snapped it.

“I’m sorry Mummy,” he said.

“It’s okay,” I said sorrowfully. It wasn’t okay.

He ran downstairs to Big Dreamer. I heard him say, “I broke Mummy’s necklace.”

“Oh dear,” said Big Dreamer. “Did you say sorry?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But it’s okay cos she’s got more.”

There was a long pause then I heard Big Dreamer say, “Finch mate, here’s some advice that might just save your life. When you’re bigger and have a wife of your own, never ever say it doesn’t matter cos she’s got more.”

Our Christmas tree is up. I’d been putting it off until the last minute after the traumas of last year. That tree barely stayed upright for more than twenty minutes and I never did find some of the decorations that went missing. As is now a family tradition, we headed over to Dartmoor and bought a real beauty from the Dartmoor Park Rangers. We also headed to the same twinkly-lit barn we always visit for some sausage sandwiches and mugs of hot chocolate. This year we were joined by a little robin who hopped around under the tables picking up crumbs. On enquiring about him the café owner said they can’t keep him out. As soon as their backs are turned he’s found his way in again. It must be richer pickings than the hedgerows outside, and I can’t say I blame him. There weren’t many crumbs to be had from under our table I can tell you!

Another of my dry-point prints above. Not quite sure what’s going on with her ear.

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Christmas bustle

Shirley Hughes, Lucy and Tom, Christmas, bustle, nativity, gazebo, rain, snow

Illustration from Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

The kids break up on Friday so the end is in sight. Christmas plays, Christmas concerts, Christmas fairs, Christmas parties, and nativities are all done. Just Christmas jumper day (oh yes!), Christmas school dinners and one more deadline for me, then we’ve made it. My highlight in all this celebratory bustle was the community nativity in our local park at the weekend. Three of the nearby churches got together to organise it and it was a very special (if rather chilly) experience.

Families gathered with torches and lanterns to follow a trail of tealights around the park. We stopped at different stages to hear a section of the Christmas story and sing a carol or two. Lots of people had come in fancy dress so at every stage anyone dressed up as a particular character got to come to the front and act out their bit of the story. There were angels, shepherds and kings of all shapes and sizes, and the littlest donkey I’ve ever seen, who got a resounding “ahhhh” when he stepped forward for the journey to Bethlehem.

All the way round we were accompanied by the local Railway Band, which was just brilliant. There is actually nothing in the world like a brass band at Christmas. I still well up at the illustration of the Salvation Army Band in Shirley Hughes’ Lucy and Tom’s Christmas, even though I’ve read the book a zillion times at least. I can almost hear them just by looking at it.

Finally, as we reached the stable (a cunningly disguised gazebo full of straw bales), the rain started to fall. It could have been very magical if we’d been a bit further north but it is a sad fact about Devon that the only place you get snow is on the moors. So while the rest of the country built snowmen and enjoyed traffic chaos we hurriedly finished off the last carol and then bolted home for tea; all extremely grateful that we wouldn’t be spending Christmas under a gazebo and just a little bit more mindful of those who may be.

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December Flowers

It is my last visit of the year to Margaret Erskine Wilson’s book Wildflowers of Britain Month by Month. We have reached December and of course in the lead up to Christmas, I had to chose her beautiful illustration of holly. Holly is synonymous with Christmas and we have several lovely specimens near us. It seems to have been a good year for berries too, with lots of the trees heavily laden. Apparently a good crop of berries used to be seen as a warning of hard weather to come, but is in fact the result of a fine summer past. Certainly that’s not how I remember August but I’ll concede on June and July.

I read a lovely article about holly as a garden tree this week. The author was bemoaning the modern ‘quick results’ approach to gardening which means slow-going trees like holly are often rejected in favour of faster-growing plants. She suggested that garden plants form important threads to previous times. She says, “A satisfying garden is a resonant one and has things going on in it that are not of the here and now. Built into it are messages from previous owners of the garden and previous uses of the land.” She talks about huge pear trees in gardens on the outskirts of London that are remnants of old orchards, old bay trees planted near to the house to ward off the devil, and holly trees at the bottom of the garden left from the natural landscape that existed before urbanisation spread. It left me rather wanting to plant a holly tree at the bottom of our garden. Even if it doesn’t keep out the current neighbour’s cats it might prickle the bottoms of future cats, and that’s a rather satisfying thought!*



*Disclaimer: Before any of you cat-lovers log-off in disgust, I don’t actually hate cats, I just don’t want them to poo in my garden. Please stay and read! 🙂

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Drip drip

Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, printmaker, printmaking, artist, dry-point, baby, crawlingIt poured on the school run this morning. The rain dripped off my hood, onto the end of my nose, and from there bounced off alternate knees. Wren screamed her head off when I put the rain cover on the pushchair, she hates it. Honestly, what I wouldn’t give for someone to be pushing me round in a cosy pushchair in a downpour!

From wet to dry, dry-point printmaking to be exact (tenuous link!). Some of you may remember me taking a dry-point day-class with the wonderful printmaker Lynn Bailey back in the spring. Dry-point is the process of creating a printing plate by scratching into a sheet of perspex or metal. I enjoyed it so much I booked myself onto an evening class and have been going along over the last few weeks, this time led by another great Devon-based printmaker, Jeremy Speck. Here is one of my prints (it’s Wren if you haven’t guessed). You might have noticed that I’m heavily influenced by Anita Klein! I’m so pleased with the effect and will be sharing some more prints here over the next few weeks.

When I graduated I received some sage advice from one of my college tutors about trying to do some sort of creative class once a year to keep the creative juices flowing, to challenge myself, and create opportunities for experimentation. Even better, she added, if it was something completely different to my normal approach, technique or discipline. She was right. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going along to the class. It’s given me loads of food for thought for potential things I would like to try and most importantly, it’s been wonderfully cathartic to head out of the house for a quiet couple of hours and get mucky with inks.

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Time for school

Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, safari, education, non-fiction, children, kids, family, elephants, ibis, egret, gazelle, hippo, hippopotamus, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, mountains, rhinoceros, rhino, waterholeThe skies are leaden and the day is blustery. The radio regales me with dire weather reports from Scotland; wind, rain and the chance of snow at rush hour tomorrow. Meanwhile I sit snugly at my desk and press Send on Finch’s school application. That’s right, no pen and paper required, it’s all electronic now. I hesitated over that last click. I have a friend who is completely unsentimental about moments like these. She waved her youngest son off to school with glee and went home to put her feet up, but that’s not how my heart works. It definitely registers; with a funny emotional mixture of nostalgia, pride, relief, and sadness.

If I had any worries over Finch at school, the following conversation about a runny nose the other day soon resolved them. It went like this:

Me to Finch: I’ll get you a tissue.

Finch: No, I can just lick it.

Me: Your tongue can’t reach your nose.

Finch: No. I wait for it to dribble down.

Gross but ever practical. He’ll be fine!

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Exeter guildhall

Exeter, guildhall, Exeter Illustrators, Exeter, illustration, illustrator, Hannah Foley, buildings, city, urban, medievalOver the last few months I have got involved with a group called Exeter Illustrators. As the name suggests they are a bunch of illustrators who live around the Exeter area who have got together to collaborate on projects, socialise and share information. They are a fantastic lot, with many well-known names amongst them. As they say themselves, between them, there isn’t much they haven’t scribbled! Being still very much in my journeyman years of the illustration profession I do at times feel slightly overawed but everyone has been very welcoming and generous.

Last week one project some of us collaborated on was delivered to the Lord Mayor of Exeter in person by two of the team. They even had their picture in the local press! Exeter Illustrators produced a poster of distinctive Exeter buildings, each drawn by a different illustrator from the group and the City Council asked if a special edition of the poster could be used as a civic gift for visiting dignitaries. I got the historic guildhall. It’s not an easy building to draw, I can tell you. It’s got all sorts of decorative carving on it and is so well known in Exeter that I knew I couldn’t miss out a single twist of ornate masonry or it would be noted! Here is my final illustration. As I drew, I kept reminding myself, at least I hadn’t got the cathedral!!!

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