Pickle goes to the library #3

The wind has been roaring over the last fortnight and Pickle has found occasion to laugh and cry about it in equal measure. It can be scary to hear the gales at night but equally fun to feel the wind whistling past your face and blowing your hair during the day. Imagine having all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the world around you but no clear means of communicating these feelings.

Little Pickle is picking up new words and phrases every day and it is such an exciting time in her development. Conversations range from informative sessions where she tells me knowledgeably that Daddy is at work and Big Grandad is at the shop, to astute analysis: after watching Anton and Susannah in Strictly Come Dancing, she shook her head and announced: ‘bad bits like apples’. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. (She wasn’t wrong though!)

Our library selection for the week has really helped the language development. Pickle has been able to articulate both her excitement and fear about the wind as a result of Carol Thompson’s Wind picture book, building an understanding of words like swoop, rustle and tickle. Or perhaps the active reading was just too entertaining!

Another great board book selection was My First Out and About where she enjoyed identifying items and locations, including wellies, crayons and library.

Plus we’ve had lots of enjoyment from the following stories:

Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark

Bee and Me by Alison Jay

Guess How Much I Love You in the Winter by Sam McBratney

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Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark follows the story of George the bear and his quest to leave the forest and find someone who can explain what all the squiggly shapes mean in a book he found. His journey isn’t easy and he’s challenged by the alarmingly stern police unit, who turn up in full body armour and with shields, to prevent him from entering a school. All for being a bear.

Thankfully Clementine stands up for him (children have wonderful and forgiving imaginations) and her mum supports her (yes!) so he is given a chance. Living with his new companions, George learns to read and loves books even more.

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Bee and Me is another charming picture book by Alison Jay (also reviewed last time). This is a great find for infant school teachers and parents looking to develop their child’s language and narrative skills.

The images, that follow the unlikely friendship between the young girl and the bee that lands in her apartment, are full of blues and yellows, warmth, expression and compassion. And the story promises hope and daft, dream-like adventure as only Alison Jay’s pictures can.

This is a book that I could return to again and again. I will certainly look forward to the days when little Pickle is able to share in the bedtime storytelling with me, inspired by images such as these.

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Sam McBratney’s beloved Guess How Much I Love You range are greatly loved in our household. Pickle even dressed as Little Nutbrown Hare for her first World Book Day in March.

These books are full of actions to copy (reach and stretch) and Anita Jeram’s lyrical illustrations of nature for detail spotting.

The Winter book continues this theme as Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare play a game of Eye Spy, culminating as ever in a reminder of their mutual love.

A beautiful, gentle night time read.

If you have read any of the books above, let me know what you thought OR if you have recommendations for us to look out for at the library or in our shopping, please do get in touch in the comments below!

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Pickle goes to the library #2

This fortnight’s haul of library books for little Pickle included:

-This Rabbit, That Rabbit by Jane Porter

-Mabel and Me, Best of Friends by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton

-The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers.

-Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay

-Looking for Yesterday by Alison Jay

As always, I aim to select a range of books at the library for Pickle to enjoy at home during the day and for her bedtime stories. She has a hoard of her own books as well and I will blog about some of the favourites in time.

I encourage Pickle to make at least two of her own selections from the local children’s library, and I supplement this with a handful of books that look to have intriguing stories and/or illustrations without too much text as she is still only little and, therefore, can get impatient to turn pages!

Please note some spoilers are included ahead in order to best help those of you who are looking for books for little bookworms.

Jane Porter’s board book was an easy pick as we have two adorable house bunnies and Pickle is naturally very fond of rabbits as a result. This was a fun book to explore as she comes up to her second birthday and is picking up new words everyday.

Each page shows the pair of bunnies posing to illustrate the rhyming or related captions, which were great for Pickle’s growing vocabulary. She enjoyed repeating the phrases and could, for the most part, recognise the meaning. She pointed out other features such as the chair that ‘shy Rabbit’ was hiding behind and the hat and coat that ‘blue Rabbit’ was wearing. She also played along at acting them out with me. Although, explaining ‘trendy Rabbit’ was a bit too much of a challenge!

Our favourite illustration showed ‘fat rabbit’s’ friend, ‘flat rabbit’ as this is our Bugsy bunny’s favoured position.

Recommended age 2-3years.

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Mabel and Me, Best of Friends by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton was a firm favourite from this week’s selection.

This is a fun-filled story for children young and old. Pickle enjoyed the silliness of Mummy’s over the top French and Italian accents and the colourful and commanding illustrations on every page.

Older children will enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humour when the narrator, Mouse, takes offence at the rudeness of strangers addressing his friend Mabel as if she is a lesser being… or so he thinks. There’s a sweet message about kindness, respect, standing up for your friends and holding your temper. This story can’t help but make you smile.

Recommended for ages 4-7 but we enjoyed it as a bedtime read too!

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We are great fans of Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’ brilliantly funny ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’. Pickle adores the comical pictures of the crayons that look just like her own colouring set. She is learning to identify colours at the moment too. So when we spotted the sequel ‘The Day the Crayons Came Home’, it went straight on the borrowing pile.

The sequel follows much the same lines in that each crayon writes to their owner, the protagonist, Duncan, to express their concerns over their treatment: overuse, lack of use, wrapper tearing abuse and conflicts of interest. Unlike the first book of letters, this book uses the postcard format as the next set of crayons have ventured from the pack on their own mini-holidays, whether than be out the door or behind the sofa!

While the original made use of the regular colour pack of crayons, here we are introduced to a more unusual selection, including pea green and glow in the dark crayons. We also hear about the continuing predicament between Yellow and Orange (previously vying for titular acknowledgement as “the colour of the sun”) and the unfortunate case of the crayon who melted onto a sock.

The sequel brings as much entertainment and humour as the original story but is definitely a read for a slightly more able audience. This is one for school aged children (and grown-ups!) to enjoy.

A highly recommended series for ages 4-8 and their silly friends.

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Our final two books were coincidently picked in tandem but were a wonderful introduction to the delightful mind and talents of writer and illustrator, Alison Jay.

Both Looking for Yesterday and Welcome to the Zoo boast full page illustrations steeped in nostalgia of a slightly absurd, Dali-esque imaginary world.

Welcome to the Zoo is purely picture book and offers lots of I spy and counting opportunities for the littlest bookworms. Each page shows a different area of the Zoo but Jay plays with perspective in such a way that you never quite know who or what’s eyes you’re looking through.

The muted colours are calming for a bedtime study and reminded me of another picture book I’ve had my eye on: Bee and Me. Of course, when I looked it up, I realised that Alison Jay is indeed a busy bee herself and we will certainly be exploring more of her wonderful works!!

Her second book from our selection was the endearing story, Looking for Yesterday. Here a boy dreams of his wonderful time in days past and decides he needs to find a way of time travelling so that he can go back and enjoy the wonderful memories again.

On asking his grandfather for help, he discovers yet more adventure as Grandfather gets out his own photobook if memories. In no time, the two are off on a journey to enjoy the surrealist sights and sounds of memory land.

Having such special grandparents myself and knowing that Pickle does too, I am always a fan of books that highlight the wonderful relationships between the generations. Coupled with the lovely designs here, I can thoroughly recommend this book for shared reading and discussion prompting. Where Welcome to the Zoo is easily accessible for age 2 and up, Looking For Yesterday is more complex and would be a lovely book to read together for ages 5 and up. The quirky illustrations and imagination will be enjoyed by big and little bookworms alike.

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If you have read any of the books above, let me know what you thought OR if you have recommendations for us to look out for at the library or in our shopping, please do get in touch in the comments below!

Book Review: We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

Recommended Reading Age: 11+

Despite being a huge fan of poetry, We Come Apart was my first foray into free verse novels. And I’m hooked.

Dubbed a modern Romeo and Juliet story, We Come Apart follows the unlikely pairing of teenagers facing the adversity of peer pressure and fractious relationships with their parents. Ultimately, despite making plans to escape their complicated and threatening futures, rash decisions are made and they must each deal with the tragic consequences.

The protagonists, Jess and Nico are fascinating characters, each riddled with complex lives that are gradually unravelled through the narrative.

Nico is an immigrant struggling to find acceptance in his new country. At school, neither the teachers or students can see past his broken English. He desperately longs for people to realise that he is smart, funny and capable of independent thought. This was the biggest message of the book for me. I loved how the writers gave Nico such a powerful voice in a time when immigration and citizenship are hot topics for all ages. There is nothing preachy about the ‘be kind’ and ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ message here. Nico has a great sense of humour and a brilliant ability to laugh at himself too. He has a huge heart and his comical attempts to express this had me laughing out loud as he wrangles with the best way to share his feelings with Jess.

It is refreshing that Nico chooses to put a regular, working class girl up on the supreme pedestal for adoration. It ensures that we are not following a prince and a pauper tale but one of greater equality, both struggling with the hand they’ve been dealt, both accepting the other for what they are. Although it takes longer to warm to her, we sympathise with Jess’ need to belong. She is as much of an outcast as Nico. Increasingly isolated and deserted at home, Jess steps back and sees her school friendships become shallower as she gains an outsider’s perspective on the actions and implications of her so called friends’ behaviour.

With less words on the page, the pace is quick but the unfolding secrets and drama propel it along even faster. Free verse takes a little getting used to as there’s no set rhythm or rhyme scheme. This is not a criticism; I love technical free verse poetry. However, you soon slip into the quick paced style and accept its seeming simplicity. It cuts out so much of the waffle from prose (I’m also a fan of waffle in other books) and the use of first person narrative makes the quick read feel a bit like a script. Years ago, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses took off in schools and the play was a popular source for Drama teachers too. With my theatre hat on, I can see this text being a great stimulus for Youth Theatre. There’s so much discussion to be had from a book that is so incredibly relevant for teenagers today.

I’ve booked to hear Crossan and Conaghan speaking about We Come Apart and their latest solo novels, Moonrise and The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and I can’t wait. I’m intrigued by their co-writing process, how much of the story/details they plotted in advance and whether they took turns in writing sections and characters. Hopefully I’ll manage to squeeze in at least one more of their novels before the day too!

Pickle goes to the library #1

In writing this blog I hope to keep a record of all the books that I’m reading with my toddler as well as logging recommendations for her to read when she is older. It’s also an excuse to read more of the beautiful children’s books that are around and to indulge in sharing the love with others.

When writing about live theatre, reviews are the lasting legacy of the audience perspective on the performance. Like any opinion, they hold a bias that should always be taken into account by the receiver. Nevertheless, they become a historical source to document the unrecorded artwork. Books don’t have the same transience in that they will exist for years to come in their own right. However, I hope that in reviewing our little library hauls each fortnight, we will be able to bring older and lesser known books to the fore alongside new publications, as a reminder of some of the wonderful publications that might have slipped off the bestseller shelves and deserve a bit of a comeback.

So, over the last week, little Pickle and I have been reading the following library books (plot spoilers ahead):

That’s Not My Duck (Usborne Touchy Feely Books)

Busy Machines *Emergency* by Julie Fletcher

Milly and the Mermaids by Maudie Smith and Antonia Woodward

The Marvellous Moon Map by Teresa Heapy and illustrated by David Litchfield

Moonlight Bear by Rosie Wellesley

I always aim to select a range of books at the library. Pickle is just shy of two years old so enjoys bedtime stories and exploring books throughout the day. I encourage her to make at least two of her own selections from the abundant choices at our excellently stocked local children’s library, and I supplement this with a handful of books that look to have intriguing stories and/or illustrations without too much text as she is still only little and, therefore, can get impatient to turn pages!

The first book, That’s Not My Duck, was a Pickle choice. Firstly for her love of ducks and secondly out of recognition for the format as we have others at home. The Usborne touchy feely books are a brilliant first book for even the littlest of people. We introduced the penguin, elephant, hedgehog and otter editions when Pickle was just months old and they were the books she first learnt to turn pages with. I loved helping her to explore the different textures and introduced the repetitive phrases and key words using BSL from our baby signing classes. Pickle is starting to form basic phrases now but still signs certain words, including hedgehog.

Now that she is slightly older, she chimes in with the repeated ‘that’s not my…’ phrases and also dwells on each page exercising her vocabulary by identifying the cameo mouse and features such as stars, dragonflies and ladybirds.

I highly recommend this range of boardbooks to new parents looking to introduce textures, images and vocabulary to babies and toddlers aged 0-2 years.

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Busy Machines *Emergency* by Julie Fletcher is another simple board book for little hands that has been a useful play toy this week. We live on a main road with a lot of ambulances passing and Pickle loves to hear the sirens. She can identify, what she calls an ‘abudab’ from sight at a distance, although granted these sightings also include yellow Morrisons’ delivery vans and any vehicle with emergency/safety stripes! This book has helpfully introduced her to the difference between police cars and ambulances. Quite how to show her real examples of snow ploughs and lifeboats where we are based in the UK is a trickier conundrum… perhaps we need to book some holidays! 😉

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Milly and the Mermaids by Maudie Smith and Antonia Woodward is a colourful and sparkly treat for small eyes. Pickle loved the secret world of the mermaids and there were plenty of things to point out and new words to learn in doing so. The story is about patience, hope and belief as young Milly longs to see the mermaids on her holiday only to have her hopes dashed…until the last night when something magical happens to make her wishes come true.

We loved spotting the mermaids sneaking into every page, whether they are hiding behind rocks or reflected in Milly’s favourite mermaid doll. A feel-good adventure story for 3-6 year olds.

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The Marvellous Moon Map by Teresa Heapy and illustrated by David Litchfield is a cute story about accepting help and realising that two heads are better than one. What makes the book so enchanting? David Litchfield’s special magic, woven into sumptuous illustrations. I defy you not to ‘ooohhhh’ and ‘ahhhh’ on opening up the book – everyone else I have shown it to this week has. I recently blogged about his exquisite book, The Bear and the Piano, which poignantly resonates with our family life in a number of ways but speaks so reassuringly to adults and children alike. I can’t wait for the sequel which is due out this week!

In The Marvellous Moon Map, Teresa Heapy crafts several beautiful moments in Bear and Mouse’s journey to find the moon. My favourite page sees the delicious description of ‘the fat Moon, trailing milk in the water’ married together with the sparkling illustration of the ‘long glitter of water swept out before them’.  I can always hear the enthusiasm echoed in Pickle’s onomatopoeic wonder as she points out the ‘moooooon’ on this page. I say always as this was read and enjoyed in the morning and at bedtime every day over the last week.

The book is wonder-filled but also fun and engaging for children up to about 8 years old. There is a clever twist when [spoiler] Bear constructs an origami boat from Mouse’s Moon Map in order to complete their journey. I love that the end of the book includes instructions on how to make your own origami boat. On a side note, we enjoyed a trip to the World of Wonders exhibition at The Wilson Art Gallery this week and it was cute to see this book on the interactive display surrounded by a selection of little paper boats that previous visitors had constructed.

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Books about the moon were certainly a popular theme for success this week. The last lovely read was Moonlight Bear by Rosie Wellesley.

This a sweet little book, originally released in 2014 and recently back in print with Pavilion Children’s Books. The night of adventure ensues when Eva, in her bunny-eared onesie, heads to bed only to find that her companion, Bear, is nowhere to be found. After searching she discovers that he has in fact turned into a real bear and awaits her company to head out and play games under the illuminations of the glorious full moon.

We loved this little treat of a bedtime story that will grow with children from young toddlers – identifying key features and actions and recognising the comfort of Bear – to older children enrapt by the magical ideas of what might happen when their toys come to life.

Pickle’s favourite page (and the reason she chose this book to take on our weekly visit to show Great Grandma and Grandad!) was the stunning illustration of the cockerel who announces the morning sunrise and time for Eva to return home to bed. We also loved the bonus Cockerel inside the back cover. A new word and a new favourite in the animal kingdom!

Cockerel from Moonlight Bear

If you have read any of the books above, let us know what you thought OR if you have recommendations for us to look out for at the library or in our shopping, please do get in touch in the comments below!

Book review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Suggested reading age: 8-14

Katherine Rundell’s writing is quintessentially quaint. Rooftoppers is the classic children’s novel that children’s fiction writers wish they could have dreamt up and penned in their own little writing nooks, surrounded by an assortment of queer little collectible knick-knacks and fading photos of a ‘once upon a time’ research trip to gai Paris.

It is a story of locations and making a home out of what you have. It is a story of families and making a life with the people you care for.

‘Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Even paper mothers were better than nothing; even imaginary ones. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath.’

It runs ideas up walls, over skylines and round in circles to find truths and tease you with answers that you may not get to know, while always reminding you to ‘never ignore a possible’.

Rundell pounces on every ploy in the creative writer’s black book to render a charming tale that will enchant readers and tantilise teachers with opportunities for topic work and literacy exploration. On page one, the narrative hook ensnares as we are plunged into a shipwreck, inspired by the sinking of the Titanic, where ‘the violins went on sawing for sometime after the screaming had begun‘. Our compassion for the tiny washed up child is instant and we are swept up in the tidal wave of her upbringing, accompanied by the pitter-patter of music that underscores the description on every page.

The baby, Sophie, becomes the ward of scholar and self-proclaimed eccentric, Charles Maxim, whose topsy-turvy life will make parents and book lovers cringe and adore him in equal measure. As the pair come to face challenges from the National Childcare Agency, our loyalty is affirmed and we remain right by their sides through the symphonic escape to a seemingly timeless Paris of the past.

‘The dark was darker up on the roof; it was thick and silent. Down on the street, the dark feels dull and matter-of-fact, like a blackboard. Up here, it felt full of unseen birds and city whispers. The smell, too, was different.’

Away on their adventure, Sophie pursues her own gambit in the wee hours, whereupon she encounters the titular allegiance on the rooftops of Paris. This encounter is long awaited (over 100 pages) – perhaps the title of the book is somewhat misleading as this is an element of the book but certainly not the focus. Nevertheless, the energy of the rooftoppers is daring and refreshing, teaching Sophie courage and determination beyond her cosy and sheltered childhood. This is a coming of age novel that challenges the dangerously saccharine loyalty of its orphan protagonist with a perfect dose of wild adventure.

Click for link to video of Katherine Rundell talking about the book.

Rundell’s charm sweeps from chimney top to chimney top with pace and imagination. She drips metaphors and profound little life lessons into the writing as effortlessly as dropping a penny into a wishing well. And she’s right, you know, ‘books crow-bar the world open for you‘ in more ways that you can imagine.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell is published by Faber and Faber.

If you have read Rooftoppers or any of Katherine Rundell’s other books, or are intrigued to do so after reading this review, please do share your own thoughts and/or other recommendations in the comments below. Let’s talk books!

Book review: Nevermoor – The Trials is Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Reviewer’s recommended reading age: 10+

The fatality of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, has been decided. Just not in the way that the vast populations thinks. One man, Jupiter North, has plans in store that even Morrigan will struggle to ascertain. Swept away to the land of Nevermoor, she has a handful of chances to prove her worth… if only she could convince herself first.

This magical-realism, coming-of-age feast has no doubt been compared and contrasted with JK Rowling’s masterpiece umpteen times. And so it should be. JK Rowling set a precedence and capitalised, very successfully, on an approved concept: child comes of age, is welcomed into new society and must find their feet whilst conquering challenges. It’s there in every teen high school movie from Sabrina the Teenage Witch to Clueless; it thrives in classic children’s literature from JM Barrie to Enid Blyton. And Jessica Townsend’s ‘wundrous’ addition to the list is well received.

The magic of Townsend’s imaginary world is, as ever, drip fed into the story to tempt us out of the gloomy darkness of Morrigan Crow’s home life and to follow her into the light-hearted, colour-infused, scent-sational Nevermoor. The latter is a land of the uncanny and inexplainable. There are rooms, festivals, gardens and selves to be explored. Identities questioned. Secrets moored. Talking animals of all shapes and sizes, run amok, run hotels and run races through piazzas like bulls in a china shop – or something more extraordinarily literal.

Townsend’s glorious descriptions are imaginative, visceral spectacles that have you flicking back to study the clues on the front cover. The faceless clock and daring leaps are just two of the joyous metaphors she extends for the wild abandonment and freedom from constraints that magical realism offers. Morrigan’s evolving bedroom decor is another sensational brief that leaves the reader doodling design concepts for the film adaptation.

The story is well structured with enough intrigue to hook and retain young readers. Some YA readers may demand more but compare the Philospher’s Stone to the Deathly Hallows and we can only dream what Jessica Townsend has in store as her writing prowess grows and blooms.

Artwork for Swedish Cover

Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor is a must-read for ages 4-13 and a solid recommendation for the young at heart.

The first sequel, WUNDERSMITH, is due for publication in October 2018, which is also when Jessica Townsend will be appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss the creation of magical worlds.

If you have read Nevermoor or are intrigued to do so after reading this review, please do share your own thoughts and/or other recommendations in the comments below. Let’s talk books!

For little bookworms

Welcome to my children’s book review blog, where I intend to blog my way through bedtimes, sharing the books that I read with my little Pickle, building up a library of beautiful books for her to enjoy herself as she learns to read and, hopefully, relish books as I do.

I have decided to start by sharing a post from my theatre blog, A Little Life Rounded, which gave me the idea to set-up a second blog for mini bookworms.

The Work-Life Balance of a Piano Playing Bear

This blog post was originally published here on the 4th August 2018.

This week’s trip to the library led to bringing home a copy of David Litchfield’s picture book, The Bear and the Piano, to read at bedtime with my toddler. This is a touching book in so many ways and one I would definitely seek out to buy as a gift for a child of any age.

[Spoiler] A bear cub finds a piano in the woods and investigates it, returning to explore the funny object over days, weeks and years and eventually becoming a proficient player to all his friends. Some visitors to the forest hear him and invite him back to Broadway where he becomes a celebrated concert pianist. But he misses his friends back home and fears they may have forgotten him. On a return visit he discovers quite the opposite to be true.

The story deals poignantly with remembering your roots and appreciating those who are behind you while you chase your dreams. It also hints at the need for perseverance and practise in order to hone a skill and that bright things come to those who work hard.

David Litchfield peppers each page with musicality through harmonious splashes of colour and three-dimensional texture, encouraging an adult reader to reflect on perspectives and how we view situations from both close up and afar. These atmospheric illustrations are exquisitely beautiful.

As I read to my little Pickle, my mind twisted around my own predicament on shifting from being a stay-at-home mum, dabbling in theatre projects, to launching myself back into the working world. I thought about the wonderful women like Tamara Harvey, the impressive Artistic Director of Theatre Clwyd who is also promoting the challenges and massive successes of the #workingmum via Twitter.

I thought about the inspirational Kate Cross MBE, director of The Egg, creating theatre with and for children whilst being an awesome role model to her own. I thought about how lucky I am to have a supportive family to help with child care and to always come back to at the end of the working day, whatever time that might be.

And I thought about the incredible workers – not just in theatre – like my husband, who is often travelling for work and doing exceptional things to make our family lifestyle possible, even if he is not able to be at home with us everyday.

Finding a work-life balance is tricky in any profession but what a stunning reminder David Litchfield’s book is to the importance of remembering the supporters back home.

Hooray for libraries but also for writers, illustrators and publicists. Here is a link in case you want to pick up a copy of The Bear and the Piano for yourself or as a present for someone special who will also appreciate this beautiful book.

All images are from David Litchfield’s The Bear and the Piano published by Lincoln Children’s Books.