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Quiz: Which Children's Book Universe Should You Live In? May 24 2018

Have you ever wondered where you would fit in in the children's book world? Would you be hanging out with Christopher Robin and Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood? Or would you be one of the wandering ragamuffins that the Moomin family welcome into their home? Take our quiz to find out, and when you've got your answer, scroll down to find some books and gifts to match your answer!

If you got Wonderland

Pick up this tote bag so you can point sheepishly at it when you turn up late for all your appointments!

White rabbit tote

Or transport yourself to Wonderland when you read one of our beautiful illustrated editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

If you got Moominvalley

Indulge your most Moominous self by picking up a print of the eccentric Moomin family. 

Moomin print

Or delve into the world of Moominvalley by reading one of Tove Jansson's magical Moomin novels, reissued in glorious vintage editions. 

Tove Jansson: Finn Family Moomintroll

If you got Wonka's Factory

Snuggle up  and dream of confectionary delights with your own Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cushion

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cushion

Or explore more Roald Dahl cushions and prints

 

If you got Pettson's Farm

Introduce yourself to the most endearing odd couple you'll ever encounter, farmer Pettson and his little cat Findus, with Swedish author Sven Nordqvist's brilliant book series Findus and Pettson

Findus and Pettson books in English

If you got the Hundred Acre Wood

Revisit the Winnie-the-Pooh books as they were originally published. You'll feel like you're really in that mellow world with Pooh and pals! 

Winnie-the-Pooh, the Complete Collection

Find all of the original Pooh books here. We've also got a range of E.H. Shepard's illustrations available as prints, to help you surround yourself with Winnie-the-Pooh goodness. And remember you can pop into our shop to have your print framed. 

Winnie the Pooh prints

 

 

 


Lesser Known Masterpieces from Your Favourite Illustrators November 08 2017

John Yeoman: A Drink of Water, illustrated by John Yeoman

A Drink of Water, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The nature of children's books and childhood memory means that we often associate our favourite illustrators with just one book or series. Quentin Blake's recognisable inky illustrations will forever be associated with Roald Dahl, and Shirley Hughes' soft style immediately stirs fondness for her well-known Alfie series. But illustrators usually create masses of work in the span of their careers, and some of the most accomplished work from our favourite illustrators lies in books you might not have heard of yet! Here are some of our favourite lesser-known books from the most iconic illustrators of the last century.

Shirley Hughes 
Best known for Alfie

My Naughty Little Sister: A Treasury Collection

In 1968, Methuen commissioned the artist Shirley Hughes to illustrate the fourth collection of Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister stories, which began as a series of popular radio broadcasts. The series' author Dorothy Edwards loved Hughes’ illustrations so much that she was asked to re-illustrate the earlier collections for reissue, and the most well-known image of My Naughty Little Sister is now Shirley Hughes' depiction of her.

Alfie cushion Shirley Hughes

This work was a breakthrough success for Hughes, who went on to illustrate over fifty books, including her own massively popular Alfie series. Egmont recently released My Naughty Little Sister: A Treasury Collection, which has Shirley Hughes’ illustrations in full colour for the first time! You can buy it here.


Tove Jansson
Best known for creating The Moomins

In 1959, Tove Jansson, best known as the creator of the Moomins, was commissioned to illustrate a Swedish translation of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Her illustration style suited Carroll’s strangeness perfectly, and this project is hailed as a meeting of two of the greatest children’s authors of the past 150 years.

The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Tove Jansson

Jansson was later asked to also illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandwhich presented her with an exciting opportunity to try out a new style. Upon receiving her work the book’s delighted editor immediately sent Jansson a telegram which read “Congratulations for Alice- you have produced a masterpiece”.

Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wondrland, illustrated by Tove Jansson


E.H. Shepard
Best known for Winnie-the-Pooh

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

E.H. Shepard sometimes lamented that his beloved illustrations for Winnie-the-Pooh overshadowed his other work. He was a brilliantly versatile illustrator, adept at capturing the atmosphere of any writer’s work. Shepard was the original illustrator of the first edition of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. His drawings for the book show his skill at capturing characters and atmosphere, in a world that is very different from the Hundred Acre Wood. The Wind in the Willows has since been taken on by countless illustrators, Inga Moore’s version is one of our other favourites.


Quentin Blake
Best known for collaborating with Roald Dahl 

John Yeoman: A Drink of Water, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Long before he ever heard of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake was already a popular illustrator. He first became well known for illustrating covers of Punch magazine, but always wanted to illustrate a full book. He asked his friend John Yeoman to write a collection of stories for him to illustrate, and in 1960 A Drink of Water was published. The book had been out of print for about fifty years, but Thames and Hudson recently released a new facsimile edition which is completely loyal to the original. (You can get it here). Blake’s illustrations, in his now iconic scratchy style, are immediately recognisable. Because of early sixties printing methods, the illustrations only use only two colours, which today gives them a lovely vintage feel. (You can see more of this 1960s print style in The Mellops go Spelunking and A Balloon for a Blunderbuss).

Michael Rosen's Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake


Quentin Blake’s amazing ability to illustrate a book’s most complex concepts is maybe best exemplified in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. He said that this illustration, of the author “being sad but pretending [he’s] being happy”, was the most difficult he’s ever done, as he had to capture the sadness behind a smile. The image that follows it depicts how Rosen is really feeling. The comparison strikes to the heart of what the book is about. 

Michael Rosen's Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake


William Nicholson
Best known for The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit


William’s Nicholson was the original illustrator of Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit, a story which has not declined in popularity since its original publication in 1922. Nicholson’s other books are now less famous, but are no less brilliant. He both wrote and illustrated Clever Bill, which Maurice Sendak described as “among the few perfect picture books for children”.

Clever Bill by William Nicholson

Sven Nordqvist
Best known for Findus and Pettson

Sven Nordqvist is a household name all over Scandinavia and in Germany for his series of books about an old farmer and mischievous cat, Findus and Pettson. But arguably his best work as an illustrator is in his stand-alone book Where Is My Sister.

Where Is My Sister by Sven Nordqvist

He conceived this book before Findus and Pettson ever existed, and came back to the project after becoming a successful illustrator. Where is My Sister is a surreal dreamscape of intricately detailed double spreads, published in large format which allows you to escape into its world for hours.


Jon Klassen
Best known for The Hat Trilogy

Jon Klassen is one of the most popular picture book makers working today. He’s best known for his explosively funny trilogy of books about animals and hats; I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat. His collaborations with the writer Mac Barnett have also brought him acclaim. Their latest, The Wolf the Duck & the Mouse, was published only last month.

The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett

Klassen and Barnett’s books are marked by their sly humour and expressive, devious animals, but Klassen's collaborations with other writers show a versatile range. House Held Up By Trees is written by poet Ted Kooser, and Klassen’s illustrations for it are on a completely different register to his other work. They have a sombre stillness that works well with the book’s reflective and poetic text.

House Held Up by Trees

Jon Klassen has also collaborated with the writer of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. Their book, The Dark, is all about the balance of light and dark, both in its story and its artwork.

Lemony Snicket: The Dark, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Our carefully curated selection of books includes lots of lesser known works by iconic illustrators, as well as books from amazing artists you may not have heard of. You can browse the entire range here


Who is the Best Bunny in Children's Literature? May 24 2017

We here at Tales for Tadpoles like to bring you the hard-hitting questions of the day. It’s important to take the time to question your beliefs and make up your mind on where you stand on important issues. So ask yourself this, who really is the best children’s book bunny? We ran a quick poll on Twitter and Instagram earlier this month, but now we want to open this conversation further and delve into what makes each bunny unique. We’ve listed five of the main contenders here, with rabbits from classic literature to more modern picture books. To make it easier we’ve assigned each rabbit a music genre or song, type of cuisine, and mode of transport, so that you can figure out which one you might relate to most. When you’ve decided who you’re backing, make sure to give us your opinion in the comments below!

 

1. Peter Rabbit

                                            Peter Rabbit

 

Possibly the best known rabbit of all the children’s book rabbits. Will score points with the rebellious crowd for his flagrant disregard for the rules in pillaging Mr. McGregor’s produce, just when his good mother told him not to. Perhaps he is also an eco-warrior concerned about food waste in modern farming methods? There’s definitely an undergraduate thesis in there somewhere… 

                                                The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Peter is a beloved nostalgic figure for many generations, and has been part of peoples’ childhoods for over a hundred years.  In terms of design, Peter is an anatomically correct rabbit, but he wears a tiny jacket and pair of loafers. What a combination! Beatrix Potter’s fine balance between realism and whimsy is what makes her still so popular today.

Soundtrack: Peter is definitely a little punk

Food: Radishes

Mode of transport: Wanders about going “lippity- lippity-, not very fast”

Tiny jacket rating: 10/10

                                               Peter Rabbit and Family Cup and Saucer

 

2. Miffy

                                      Miffy Print

Miffy is everyone’s favourite minimalist, everyone’s favourite bicyclist and everyone’s favourite artist. How she fits all these activities into the day is frankly remarkable, and all without opposable thumbs!

                                              Miffy cycling in rain print

She is an action bunny and has starred in such stories as Miffy the Artist, Miffy’s Bicycle, Miffy is Crying and Miffy at the Playground. Miffy will win points with some for being slightly alternative. She is originally from the Netherlands, where she is known as Njintje, and like all cool, alternative things, she is very popular in Japan. In terms of illustration, Miffy is very different to Peter Rabbit, being created out of minimal strong black lines, block colours and defined shapes.

                                           Miffy by Dick Bruna

Dick Bruna created his own colour palette to work with on the Miffy books so that they would be recognisable instantly. Miffy has been on the scene since the mid 1950s, but Bruna's style of drawing still looks modern today. 

Soundtrack: Minimalist electronica

Food: Sushi

Mode of transport: Bicycle 

Tiny jacket rating: Miffy has many tiny, well put together outfits. Dick Bruna made her a girl bunny because he found dresses more interesting to draw than trousers. Miffy also gains sartorial points for the snow-hat she can sometimes be seen in, which is shaped to cover her entire ears.

                                               

 

Miffy

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh

                                    Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh

Unlike most of the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood, who are based on Christopher Robin's soft toys, Rabbit is a real rabbit. This gives him a sense of self-importance that he usually fails to live up to. Like Peter Rabbit he is drawn realistically and often shown standing on two feet and gesturing at things. Rabbits can stand on two feet in real life, but whether they gesture at things is a matter of debate. Rabbit is introduced to the Winnie the Pooh stories when he invites Pooh into his burrow for a visit. Pooh, being Pooh, eats too much and gets stuck in the hole on the way out, and for this scene alone Rabbit deserves a place on this list.

                                 Winnie the Pooh print

He loses points for not having a tiny jacket, though at one point he says he would need seventeen pockets to carry all of his friends and relations around with him, so perhaps he has an overcoat in his burrow that we don’t know about. Rabbit is looked up to by the other characters; he is often called upon to settle things, and to take charge of group events. However he usually gets rather flustered and messes them up.

Soundtrack: ‘For Emma’ by Bon Iver: “for all your lies, you’re still very lovable”.

Food: Vegan fine dining

Mode of transport: Public transport, because he is community minded.

Tiny jacket rating: Rabbit is a naturist and wears no clothes.

 

 

4. The White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

                                  Arthur Rackham Alice in Wonderland Print                       

Without the White Rabbit there would be no Alice in Wonderland! There would merely be Alice Sitting on the Bank of a River While Her Sister Reads A Book, which would not have made a very good story at all. The White Rabbit is the first hint that things are about to get weird in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  When he takes a watch out of his waistcoat pocket, Alice realises that not only do rabbits not generally have watches, they don’t generally have waistcoat pockets either. The White Rabbit leads Alice down the rabbit hole and so begins the great adventure we all love! It’s possible that the White Rabbit is the rabbit of most literary significance on this list, with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland having never been out of print since its publication over 150 years ago. Another point to consider is that there is no end to representations of the White Rabbit, so he has something to suit any taste in illustration style.

                                  White Rabbit illustration by Helen Oxenbury    The White Rabbit illustration by Robert Ingpen

The White Rabbit consulting his pocket watch (Helen Oxenbury) and breaking into a run (Robert Ingpen)       The White Rabbit by Sir John Tenniel         

                                                         Sir John Tenniel's original White Rabbit

Soundtrack: Psychedelic rock

Food: Afternoon tea

Method of transport: Running late!

Tiny jacket rating: Most certainly has a waistcoat, and a watch in his pocket.

 

 5. The rabbit in I Want My Hat Back

                        I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The most recent rabbit on this list, this rabbit is a key character in I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. He is the one seen wearing the hat that looks suspiciously like the hat the bear is looking for in the title.

                        I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Soon after the bear realises this, the rabbit mysteriously disappears and is never seen again. Like Peter Rabbit, this rabbit is undeniably a petty thief, but unlike Peter, who sheds a tear or two, he expresses no remorse. He is rendered in Klassen’s recognisable clean style, using watercolour and ink, with very expressive (shifty) eyes. Klassen's subsersive sense of humour means the fluffy bunny rabbit is the dishonest villain in this book, so he may deserve your vote for subverting bunny norms.

Soundtrack: 'Smooth Criminal' by Michael Jackson.

Food: Whatever is on someone else's plate.

Mode of transport: Getaway car.

Tiny jacket rating: All this rabbit is wearing is the hat that will lead to his demise.

Please cast your vote and settle this once and for all! And if you have another suggestion for the best rabbits in children’s literature, please let us know - we may even let you include hares

 


The Power of Storytelling and How it Affects Your Brain February 23 2017

Once upon a time there was a young man who worked in a museum. Each day the young man would study the precious relics around him and wonder what they were, where they had come from, and who they were created for.

A tablet from depicting The Epic of Gilgamesh

The oldest story in the world: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Amazing as they were, there were still a small number of relics so mysterious that all he could do was look on in fascination. They were stone tablets many thousands of years old and from thousands of miles away. On them were strange and ancient markings that no-one could understand.

To unravel the mystery the young man decided to work hard and study languages so old they were no longer spoken. Languages once used by people in far-off places whose bones were long since dust in the earth.

Finally, more than two decades after the tablets had first arrived at the museum, the young man successfully managed to crack their mystifying code. For the first time in over two thousand years the tablets found a new reader and what they revealed to him was the world’s oldest recorded story.

From Stone Tablets to Podcasts

The young man who decoded the tablets’ puzzle was an English archaeologist named George Smith and the story he unearthed was The Epic of Gilgamesh – an ancient Mesopotamian poem written sometime around 2100 BC.

Despite the date and place of its origin, the Gilgamesh epic showcases many of the same elements and themes still present in the stories enjoyed today by modern readers – a hero embarks on a difficult journey in which there is romance and seduction, encounters with strange and exotic characters, impossible obstacles to overcome, and a final redemptive character arc.

The similarities between old stories and newer ones are no coincidence. Time does not seem to matter much to themes; nor indeed does location.

Princess and the Frog Warwick Goble Print

The Princess and the Frog. Illustration by Warwick Goble.

A 2006 analysis of 90 folktale collections from around the world (from both tribal societies and industrialised ones) reveals as much, with scholars describing the presence of a number of distinctly common narratives covering basic human needs and desires in the stories they examined.

For journalist and author Christopher Booker, there are just seven of these universal plots, and they can be seen to return time and again in books, television programmes, movies and even podcasts. They are:

  1. Overcoming the monster - Beowulf, War of the Worlds
  2. Rags to riches - Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Pretty Woman
  3. The quest - The Iliad, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Serial
  4. Voyage and return - Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story, Where the Wild Things Are, The Little Prince
  5. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol, The Shawshank Redemption
  6. Comedy - A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Four Weddings and a Funeral
  7. Tragedy - Hamlet, The Godfather

Though stories often differ wildly in a rich variety of ways, Booker believes that almost all can still be simplified to a core theme that fit neatly into one of the categories outlined above.

Alice in Wonderland Arthur Rackham

The voyage and return narrative is perfectly exemplified in Alice in Wonderland. Illustration by Arthur Rackham.

This has nothing to do with a lack of invention on the part of the writer though. The commonalities in stories around the world merely express shared human impulses, thoughts, fears and aspirations.

“Stories have always been a primal form of communication,” says psychologist Pamela Rutledge. “They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.”

‘What’s the Story?’ How Stories Help Us Understand the World

Not only do stories connect us to the past and express universal beliefs, they can also help us develop a better understanding of the world and those we share it with. This is part of the reason why your brain loves stories.

With around a hundred billion neurons and almost a quadrillion connections between the neurons your brain is an extraordinarily complex organism – so complex, in fact, it borders on the wondrous.

Yet it is still a pattern-seeking instrument that looks to put the chaos of the world into some kind of recognisable order. Stories represent our most powerful and meaningful way of doing just that.

From bedsides to firesides, we regularly use stories to relay our experiences and connect with those of the people around us. We use them to explain events, examine our values and explore notions of meaning and purpose.In this sense, stories offer a perfect common ground for reflection. What makes this common ground all the more precious is that it gives us a glimpse into the lives of others and the everyday situations and struggles they face.

This “peeking” into another life through a story is possible in any number of ways – it could be when you read a book, watch a movie or talk with a friend. Whatever their form, stories are a constant in our lives.

In fact it’s estimated that as much as 65 per cent of all human interactions take the form of social storytelling (i.e. gossip). And where there are stories, there is greater potential for empathy and discovery. As Rutledge puts it: “When you listen to stories and understand them, you experience the exact same brain pattern as the person telling the story.”

Telling a story

Storytelling has been an important tool for social cohesion for millenia.

So by imagining ourselves in someone else’s position we can either affirm or challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Indeed, according to psychology researcher Dan Johnson, simply reading fiction can increase our empathy towards others we may have initially viewed as being “outsiders”.

This is in agreement with the findings of another study published in Science magazine that fiction “uniquely engages the psychological processes needed to gain access to characters’ subjective experiences.” One alluring implication of this is that our personal stories are therefore never complete; they’re part of a narrative that continually evolves as we try see the world from multiple points of view.

The Power to Imagine New Worlds

There is widespread discussion today about the potential for technology to transport us to new places, with virtual reality a particularly good example.

Yet technology too relies on stories since a good plot and credible characters are essential to deep engagement. It’s even reasonable to suggest that stories are in fact the original virtual reality, since they allow us to experience other places, characters, events and consequences purely by stimulating our imaginations.

As Rutledge puts it “To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences... Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery and change.”

Psychologists refer to this flight of imagination as “narrative transport”. It occurs when we are fully immersed in a story’s world. It’s understood that the greater the level of empathy in the reader, the deeper the transportation experience becomes.

But what is actually happening in the brain as it engages with stories?

The Science Behind How Stories Affect Your Brain

Listening to a story that’s being told or read to you activates the auditory cortex of your brain. Engaging with a story also fires up your left temporal cortex, the region that is receptive to language. This part of your brain is also capable of filtering out “noise”; that is, overused words or clichés. That is why the most skilled storytellers are careful about the language they use, employing a host of literary techniques to keep your brain engaged.

And once it is, other regions soon begin to participate in the process.


For instance, once you begin to feel some kind of emotional engagement with a story it is because the frontal and parietal cortices have been stimulated. Powerful descriptions of food, for example, will also stir up your sensory cortex while descriptions of motion or action will get a response from the central sulcus, the primary sensory motor region of your brain. Indeed, just thinking about running can activate the neurons associated with the act.

Research also shows that all this brain activity can last for several days, explaining why good stories tend to stay with us. Additionally, stories also improve our ability to recall any information embedded in them. One estimate suggests that we can recall facts up to 22 times more effectively when they are part of a story rather than just isolated data. Thus you are much more likely to remember the story of Gilgamesh’s discovery from earlier on than just the facts of the discovery alone.

All this mental activity can also bring about changes in your body. During scenes of high action or tension, the stress hormone cortisol is released into your bloodstream, which leads to greater immersion and responsiveness to the arc of a story.

More character-driven stories will affect the release of oxytocin into the blood, a so-called “empathy” hormone that helps people bond. It is, in fact, the same hormone that's released into the bloodstream of breastfeeding mothers.

Making Childhood Connections

As we’ve seen, the huge role that stories play in our social interactions and views is universal. Their formative impact also begins very early in life.

In just their second year, children have already begun to understand basic concepts (discussed in another blog here). However, they will not hold on to most of their earlier memories because they have no context on which to anchor them.

This changes as soon as a child begins to develop narrative skills. These will give him or her a better mechanism for making sense of the world around them. By the age of four or five a child will also have developed what’s known as “theory of mind”. Essentially this relates to their ability put themselves in another’s shoes, or to be aware of their awareness.

Story time Shirley Hughes

This rapid mental evolution can be seen in a 2007 study by psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario in which researchers found that while three-year-olds were unable to follow the thoughts of an imaginary character (a farmer looking to milk his cows), the five-year-olds in the study were able to do so.

The adventures and characters that children experience through stories are almost certain to have a lifelong impact. This then is a pivotal time in their development, not just in terms of vocabulary or reading skills, but in the broader terms of their ability to think, empathise and imagine.

Find stories worth sharing by browsing our carefully curated selection of books.


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