Book review: Stylish summer reads from Phoenix Yard Children’s Books

Stylish summer reads from Phoenix Yard Children's Books
Stylish summer reads from Phoenix Yard Children's Books

There’s a distinctly French flavour to some of the quirky, clever books coming out of a 17th century converted yard and brewery near King’s Cross in London.

Phoenix Yard Books is an award-winning children’s publisher whose aim is to produce distinctive, innovative and original picture books and fiction for children aged three to 13 and, true to form, their summer selection includes some eclectic titles.

Their expanding fiction list boasts strong character-based series and a flair for translation is currently delivering the very best of French style. From a picture book special on the ‘ill winds’ of climate change to a seven-year-old boy with a penchant for adventure, these are books to inspire, enthuse and inform.

Age 3-6:

Lollipop and Grandpa’s Dinosaur Hunt

Penelope Harper and Cate James

Meet Lollipop and her lovable, eccentric grandfather, an irrepressible family partnership whose extraordinary exploits are based on trust and mutual affection. The multi-generational stars are on their fourth outing now and their sense of fun and adventure shows no sign of flagging.

‘Nonsense!’ says Grandpa. ‘Dinosaurs are not extinct. They’re just very good at hiding.’ On a family outing to a blustery British beach, Lollipop and Grandpa explore the Jurassic coast.

And as they follow Grandpa’s dinosaur trail, they encounter a Diggero-Docus, a Stair-Go-Saurus and even a Try-See-The-Tops but when they stumble across a terrifying Pylon-a-Saurus Rex, Lollipop has to think fast. In a fast-paced competition of hide-and-seek, who is hunting who?

Deliciously adorable Lollipop is an intelligent, inquisitive little girl and her mischievous, madcap Grandpa understands perfectly the workings of a child’s mind. Author Penelope Harper combines the familiar trials and tribulations of being four years old with great fantasy adventures arising from ordinary, everyday identifiable situations, all brought to life by the playful, eye-catching illustrations of Cate James.

An affectionate and funny series which reinforces those important and developmental family bonds.

(Phoenix Yard Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Hot Air

Sandrine Dumas Roy and Emmanuelle Houssais

Inspired by an article in a scientific journal, French journalist and film director Sandrine Dumas Roy decided to turn the hot topic of climate change into a thought-provoking picture book for young children.

Hot Air, with its funny, fascinating illustrations and arresting text style, features climate change in a decidedly unusual and ‘wind-propelled’ way! Dumas Roy’s story of ‘farting cows’ threatening the planet will cause a few giggles as well as making children think about the way the world works and how important it is for us all, however young or old, to protect our planet.

With the ice melting even faster than usual, things are definitely hotting up. The animals know something is wrong with the planet and decide to hold a conference. They really need to get to the bottom of this problem but what is the answer?

Their research all seems to point to one thing… farting cows, of course! Their gassy emissions are making the seasons go topsy-turvy. Can the animals ever agree on a sustainable solution? Will they find it in time? Or it could just be a load of hot air...?

Hot Air is an unusual, sideways look at global warming and environmental politics in a picture book that is visually fun, a learning lesson without lecturing and charmingly cheeky in true Gallic style.

(Phoenix Yard Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 to 8:

Arthur and the Guard Dog and Arthur and the Yeti

Johanne Mercier

What’s like being a seven-year-old boy? Arthur knows… he’s the star of French Canadian Johanne Mercier’s warm and reassuring series about a boy who’s brilliant at, well, being a little boy of seven who loves his family... and sharing his adventures.

Full of understated humour which is so appealing to growing boys, Arthur narrates his own stories and brings the straightforward, rational world view that comes from being only seven.

Arthur visits his grandparents’ house by the lake and, more often than not, becomes entangled in a new adventure or a mystery which he must solve with the help of his animal friends – and hopefully without too much input from eccentric Cousin Eugene.

In Arthur and the Guard Dog, Arthur and his Grandad find a great big hairy grey and white dog at the lakeside. He is so friendly and looks so lost that they take him home with them. He is allowed to stay just one night with Arthur at his grandparents’ house but Grandma is not sure how wise it is for the dog to stay permanently. Will he pass the test to be their loyal guard dog? Cousin Eugene has a cunning plan…

And in Arthur and the Yeti, Arthur is staying at his grandparents’ house when they all get a bit of a fright. The night before, the neighbour Mrs Potter heard weird scratching noises coming from her garden and she saw two big, black eyes staring at her before a strange creature ran off through the hedge towards the lake.

There was only one thing for it – Grandma phoned Cousin Eugene and before they knew it, the whole world had come to see the Yeti of Picket Lake!

With bold, lovable characters and stories to enchant and entertain, all brought to life by Clare Elsom’s quirky illustrations, the witty, wonderful adventures of Arthur and his merry ménage look set to run and run.

(Phoenix Yard Books, paperback, both £4.99)

Age 8 to 12:

The Naming Of Tishkin Silk and Layla Queen Of Hearts

Glenda Millard

And from Australia comes the award winning Kingdom of Silk series from an author who uses the rural communities and landscapes of her homeland as the rich source of inspiration for many of her tender, lyrical stories.

The extraordinary and yet, in many ways, ordinary Silk family live in Cameron’s Creek – mother, father, grandmother, five sisters and little brother Griffin Silk – and their lives and adventures explore all-important themes of love, loss and home.

In The Naming Of Tishkin Silk, the first book in the series, we discover that Griffin Silk has a secret in his heart that nobody else knows – until he meets Layla. Griffin is an uncommon sort of boy, from an uncommon sort of family, but when he meets Layla, a princess with a daisy chain crown, he knows he’s found a friend.

So Griffin shares his inner thoughts with her and together they find a way to deal with his secret. Just like the mythical beast whose name he bears, Griffin discovers he has the courage of a lion but it will take a friend like Layla to help him find the answers to his biggest questions.

The enchanting illustrations in The Naming Of Tishkin Silk come from the pen of the talented Caroline Magerl.

In Layla Queen Of Hearts, we find Layla has become an integral part of the Silk family. A friend like Layla comes along once in a lifetime and Griffin knows this with all his heart. Layla fits in as though she belongs. Griffin’s daddy used to say that Layla had been sent to comfort them after Tishkin went away, ‘like an arm about their shoulders, a candle in the dark or like golden syrup dumplings for the soul’.

When Senior Citizens’ Day is announced at school, Layla is determined to find someone special of her own to take. With the help of Griffin and his grandma Nell, she meets Miss Amelie. A miracle will take Miss Amelie to school with Layla and through their new friendship, Layla and Griffin learn the importance of memories, generosity of spirit and the small miracles that warm the heart.

Beautiful, dream-like and atmospheric drawings from illustrator Stephen Michael King complement Millard’s unforgettable and ethereal story which is ideal to read aloud to younger children and guaranteed to delight all generations of the family.

(Phoenix Yard Books, paperback, both £5.99)