Illustrated chapter books

Recently, C has started requesting Longer Books.  These books also need to have Lots Of Words.  His interest in exploring life outside traditional picture books actually started just before he moved up to Big School in September, though it has gathered momentum rapidly since then.

It seems as though he’s ready for something that he views as slightly more complex.  I thought for a while about how to phrase that previous sentence and could only include it once I’d made it clear that the complexity was from his perspective, not mine.  Yes, obviously there are some picture books that have simple language, a simple plot and simple illustrations.  (None of this ‘simplicity’, I should add, detracts from their awesomeness.)  However, there are also some picture books that deal with incredibly difficult or sensitive subjects, often with only a few – exquisitely chosen – words.   These books may well have illustrations that are open to discussion and interpretation as well.

Therefore, it is not *me* that thinks picture books are something that we grow out of – I am (at least, in theory) a Proper Grown-Up now and I still love picture books and read them pretty much every day for myself, as well as to the boys.  I do get where C is coming from though, and I understand that he wants to challenge himself and try something new.

Luckily, we had a rather brilliant selection of books for him to choose from when he chose his first Longer Book.  He’s not yet reading much himself (and he prefers to read picture books when he’s doing it himself anyway) so we were still looking for books to be read out loud by a confident reader rather than for him to read alone. His first choice was ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl, as he recognised the Quentin Blake’s distinctive illustrative style (and obviously, those were the *exact* words he used…).  We’re still going with that one and he (and H, actually) is enjoying it, but it’s certainly something we tackle in short bursts rather than lengthy sittings.

I then steered him towards some gorgeous examples from what appears to be a really up-and-coming genre, the illustrated chapter book.  We had been sent a few such books and though I had read them myself, I have been holding off on reviewing them until the boys (or at least one of them) could contribute as well.  A couple of them are illustrated collections of short stories rather than chapter books, we thought we would include them all together as in his mind they are the first group of ‘grown-up’ books we’ve seen and thus hold a special place in his heart 🙂

Dixie O’Day In The Fast Lane‘ by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy (published by Bodley Head)

IMG_7490I can’t even begin to describe how much Shirley Hughes’ work meant to me as a child (and still does).  Her daughter’s work, Clara Vulliamy, is becoming just as precious to the boys (and to to me, as an adult!) and therefore it was with great hurrahs and gazelle-like leaps of joy that we opened up this first book (yep, there are going to be more.  YAY!!!!!!!!) about Dixie and his charming companion, Percy.  The story is paced perfectly for younger children and for C and H it has everything they ever look for in a book – that magic combination of excitement, friendship, food references along with a dazzling array of transport pictures.
IMG_7491There are lots of extra swirls, twirls and thingummybobs in this book as well – quizzes, maps and ideas for activities related to the book.  All of these (plus the brilliant story, of course!) demonstrate to me how much love and laughter was put into the creation of this book and although it is handily split into seven chapters so that it can be read across a week, we ended up reading it in one afternoon as C and H would not let me put it down (other than for enforced snack breaks 😉 ).


It’s just the perfect book for those children who are ready to immerse themselves in a longer story but still want everything that’s wonderful about the picture books they’ve been reading until this point.  I know we will return to this once the boys are reading independently and it will be interesting to see them re-reading it by themselves – I’m sure they’ll adore it just as much as they do now!

The Adventures of Shola‘ by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde (published by Pushkin Children’s Books) IMG_7448I’m so glad we were sent this quirky little gem as I can honestly say I don’t think I’d have come across it otherwise, which would have been a great shame.  The book is a collection of four stories about Shola, a plucky little dog who has a great imagination and a seemingly boundless capacity for adventure.  She also has an impressive appetite, which won her serious brownie points with the boys 🙂

Although it probably doesn’t help me when trying to write reviews, I really like it when a book has something about it that I can’t quite put into words.  ‘Shola’ reminds me of books I read when I was younger (a mixture of ‘What-A-Mess’ and a few other characters whose names have, frustratingly, been eluding me for weeks now) and some of the language just makes me grin from ear to ear as it reminds me of how my grandpa used to speak, “‘Look, titch,’ he said to her.  ‘This rubbish bin is mine, so just tootle on off.'”  As you may have gathered from previous posts, part of my enjoyment of reading with children comes from remembering how much I loved reading – and being read to – as a child, so I especially love books that help rekindle childhood memories.

I also like Shola as a character – she made us laugh, think, nod knowingly and then giggle with surprise.  Each story is probably long enough for the boys in one sitting as some of the language is quite advanced – I’m not sure at what point C will be able to read this by himself but it’s a glorious read-aloud book in the meantime.  As it’s a translated book (Axtaga is a celebrated Basque writer) there are some names and things that are slightly tricky to pronounce, but I actually enjoy that as it shows the boys that even grown-ups come across words they don’t know, as well as sparking questions about life and languages in other countries.

It was a new adventure for us to read a book like this and I’m so glad we did.  Having visited Pushkin’s website, I’m very excited about  some of the other releases they have coming up and recommend that you keep your eye on them.

Claude in the Spotlight‘ by Alex T. Smith (published by Hodder Children’s Books)

We fell in love with Claude and his smashing sidekick, Sir Bobblysock (if you’re like us then you’ll have been won over just by reading that name) from the absolute first moment we discovered them.  They are shining examples of those witty, warm and wonderful characters that you sometimes come across in books where you desperately hope that, if you close your eyes and wish hard enough, they’ll come to life and be your very best friends.


As with Dixie O’Day, the book’s illustrations are shades of black, white and red (I find it almost impossible to write that without referring to that ‘hilarious’ childhood joke about the sunburnt penguin…) which work harmoniously with the text in that they complement each other rather than confusing young readers about which one they should be looking at.  The Claude books aren’t written as chapter books, though there are definitely enough mini-cliffhangers within the plot to allow you to spread the story over more than one session if you can bear to wait that long.


Again, as with so many of the other books in this post, the Claude stories just made me feel all warm and fuzzy – they feel like the best form of escapism, with humorous touches for the adults (some of the characters’ names, for example – Mr Lovelybuns, anyone?!?!) while still predominantly focusing on engaging their intended younger audience.  The language is delicious and, in a similar way to all the other Alex T. Smith books we’ve read, the emotions of the characters are drawn and written with exquisite sensitivity.


I had to include the above shot as C and H are absolute suckers for a book that requires you to turn it sideways occasionally 🙂

Below are other ‘Claude’ books we now own as a result of now being ginormous fans – I just know are going to be sellotaped together through overuse very soon.  They are great as read-alouds and will be brilliant for C to attempt himself once he’s reading independently.


 You can have more fun with Claude and Sir Bobblysock on their very own website and Alex T. Smith has also been chosen as the official illustrator for World Book Day 2014, so you’ll be seeing more of his gorgeous work in the upcoming months.

N.B.  The newest Claude book, ‘Claude on the Slopes‘, was published this month and we cannot WAIT to get our hands on it!

The Reindeer Girl‘ by Holly Webb (published by Stripes)

This is another book that I would never have picked up if it hadn’t been sent to us – if only because we don’t spend a lot of time browsing outside of the picture book section yet – and again, it would have been a great loss.  I have yet to share the whole of this book with the boys, but am still reviewing it now because I have fallen in love with it.  I should add here that I am a big reindeer fan and for years had an adopted one that lived in the Cairngorms in Scotland, plus a framed picture of him on my wall.  Oooh, and M and I got engaged in Norway so I had a soft spot for the setting of the book as well 😉

However, I know that I would have adored this book even if I felt only moderately keen on reindeer, or perhaps even indifferent to them.  You don’t *need* to love reindeer to love this book.  You do need to love a great story, with brave and imaginative characters and a healthy dose of primary-school-age-appropriate adventure.

IMG_7444Although this chapter book does have illustrations, they play a far smaller part in the book than the others listed above.   You’d perhaps, therefore, need to be a more confident reader to feel comfortable with amount of text on each page.  I know that this is a book that would have captured my imagination as a child (it certainly did as an adult) and one which I would most definitely have been reading this under the covers with a torch when I was supposed to be asleep.  That’s pretty much the highest form of praise I can give.  It’s pitched brilliantly for those who are ready to move on to a more challenging book in which they can totally lose themselves.

Moonlight Tales‘, an collection of short stories by various authors (published by Stripes) IMG_7446 This is a lovely collection of short stories by a wide range of authors (including one by Holly Webb, author of ‘Reindeer Girl’) that is very suitable for the autumn and winter ahead.  We have read these snuggled up on rainy days after school, as each story is the ideal length for reading aloud when C and H are weary but most definitely *not* ready for bed.  We love reading seasonal books – it really helps to bring books alive when the action could be taking place outside your very window 🙂

As the boys get older, I can imagine that a collection of stories by different authors, but on a similar theme, will be an interesting way for the boys to ask questions about the writer’s ‘voice’ and style, but for now we are just enjoying sharing them as great stories.IMG_7447

The Emperor’s Nightingale and other feathery tales‘ by Jane Ray (published by Boxer Books) IMG_7461 This book blew my socks off.  It’s another one that I haven’t shared in its entirety with the boys yet, but which could most definitely be given to children slightly older than C for them to read themselves.  I was won over just from the introduction, which is written by Jane Ray herself and describes how she has always collected stories and what they have meant to her over the years, culminating in her writing them down here for the reader and illustrating them as well.  I’ve always thought that it feels so special when the author gives you some personal information.

Visually, it’s quite a departure from the Jane Ray books we have shared thus far (‘The Doll’s House Fairy’ is a particular favourite of C’s) and the darker colour palette does initially make the book seem as though it is intended for a slightly older audience than her picture books.

IMG_7462 However, given that ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ (which is one of our favourite poems) features, it’s definitely not the case that there is nothing here for younger ones.  The text and pictures have been paired beautifully and as a child or an adult you could dip in and out of this book with pleasure, finding something new and exciting every time.

While I was familiar with some of the stories used in the book, I had never seen the poem pictured below, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, by Emily Dickinson.  It made me cry, especially as it was matched so beautifully with Jane Ray’s illustration.IMG_7464

There is no doubt in my mind that this book is solid gold Loft Treasure material and I am very much looking forward* to the other story collections in this series.

*for which, read, desperately counting down the minutes until they are published…

I know that some of my fellow book bloggers who have older children have reviewed some of these books from the perspective of a young independent reader.  While I can DEFINITELY see the boys reading these books for themselves in years to come, in the meantime you might want to check out Little Wooden Horse, Child-Led Chaos, Playing by the book or Library Mice for thoughts on what these books are like to read to yourself (as a child) as opposed to having them read to you.

Oooh, and having recently tweeted about my own re-reading of ‘The Worst Witch’ for my next book club meeting, I am planning to share that with the boys next, if only because I need an excuse to re-read the rest of the series 😉


Disclaimer: I received my copies of ‘Claude in the Spotlight’, ‘Dixie O’Day In The Fast Lane’, ‘Moonlight Tales’, ‘The Adventures of Shola’, ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale and other feathery tales’ and ‘Reindeer Girl’ from their respective publishers. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the reviews represent my own honest opinion.


  1. Wow! Some fantastic recommendations here, what a great post. We couldn’t put Dixie down either and read it in one sitting :o)

  2. […] written about the Claude books before (here) and this book proves they’re still up there sprinkling the glittery icing sugar on top of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: