Archives for posts with tag: favourite books

The 8th of October is National Poetry Day, and this year’s theme is Light. The first thing that came to my mind was Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection, A Light in the Attic.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Shel is one of my favourite poets, and he was a brilliant artist too. His crazy pen-and-ink cartoons complement the humour and quirkiness of his poetry perfectly. This particular collection has quite a few poems that use light imagery, including a fanciful one about catching the moon in a net:

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Another of his more thoughtful poems is from an earlier collection called Where the Sidewalk Ends. It features a “lovely silver prince of fishes” that you can imagine sparkling in the sunshine:

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Poetry plays a big part in my life as I write a lot of rhyming stories. It must be thanks to the influence of my favourite children’s books when I was a child, including all the Dr Seuss stories and the poems of AA Milne. I have been working on a new collection of poems following the lives of children around the world from first waking, through the day and ending at bedtime when the light goes out. Here is the second-last poem which features bedtime stories with Dad:

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

My two puffin picture books (Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero) are about to become a trilogy! These are my best-loved rhyming stories about brothers Lewis and Harris, two puffins who couldn’t be more different. The third in the series, published by Floris Books, is all about the fluffy little baby puffin you can see on the last page of Harris the Hero. Her name is Skye and she has some pretty hair-raising adventures herself!

Skye cover

This third book has a new illustrator, Jon Mitchell, and I am delighted with the way he captures the fluffy little puffling and her parents Harris and Isla. You can find Skye the Puffling on my website now!

There are lots of ways to get involved in this year’s National Poetry Day. BBC Radio 4 is featuring poets and actors reading and talking about poetry all day, and the Guardian is calling for people to dedicate a poem to someone they love. Get poetic and get involved!

A few weeks ago I got an email from a publishing company in India called Grapevine. They had seen my portrait of Anne Frank (published on this blog) and wondered if I would allow them to use it on the cover of their edition of The Diary of a Young Girl. I was happy to accept!

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank's diary.

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank’s diary.

It was very exciting to receive a package some time later with five copies of the book. This is the first time my artwork has been used as a cover illustration, and it got me thinking about cover art more generally. What makes you pick up a book? Can you buy a book with a hideous cover? (I find that tough.) Have you ever bought a book just for its cover? In spite of the famous saying, it’s very hard not to judge a book by its cover!

A retelling of Helen Bannerman's classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

A retelling of Helen Bannerman’s classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

Here’s an example of an irresistible cover illustration, done by the talented illustrator and cover designer Fred Marcellino. Little Babaji is such an intriguing character, sitting proudly on that tiger, you just have to open the book and read!

Clearly that is the objective of every book cover. Some are more successful than others. With children’s books, we all have our favourite illustrators, but books for adults also have to grab the reader’s attention and have visual appeal. Designing a book cover is a very special talent!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

Now it’s possible to own 100 book covers from a variety of classic publishers, just to appreciate the designs. They are printed on postcards and fill a box that looks like a big book. The first of these was Postcards from Penguin, with classic book covers from the 1940s through to the 1990s.

Ladybird boxOther collections have appeared in the same format since, including Postcards from Puffin (children’s books) and Postcards from Ladybird (1950s learning-to-read books). Faber and Pelican book covers can also be found in 100 postcard boxes, as well as Beatrix Potter illustrations and photos of famous authors. Clearly, cover art is very much appreciated these days!

This summer my daughter Anna found an unusual job illustrating a story about a mermaid, so her work will soon grace the cover of a book too! The mermaid and her friends are fed up with all the rubbish people are leaving on the beach, and the book is designed to teach children to keep the environment clean. Here’s a little sneak preview of the mermaid and her friends (otter, seagull, crab, seal and sandhopper among others):

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The endpapers are also going to be beautiful, with a seaside theme:

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The book will be published by An Lucht Lonrach in Scotland. You can visit their website for more information on the mermaid book.

Happy reading!

Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

The P2 classes at my Patron of Reading school, Comely Park Primary, are looking at the 1960s (“When Gran was a girl”) this term, and it just so happens that I am a 1960s baby. It’s a bit scary to think that I could be a grandmother, since my own kids are just teenagers, but I am looking forward to visiting the school in April to share my memories of those Olden Days!

I was thinking back to my favourite toys when I was very young, and thanks to Google Images I was able to find all sorts of them to show you! I couldn’t resist that troll picture above. Trolls were hugely popular in the early ’60s and I remain a big fan. Who could resist such a face? In researching this topic I have just learned that the first troll doll was carved from wood by a Danish man called Thomas Dam. He made the doll for his daughter but soon everyone wanted one, so he made more and more until he had to set up a factory!

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was a trip my parents went on when I was about six and my little sister was four. We stayed with our grandparents for a week, and when our parents came to collect us, they brought us each a very special present!

Skipper dolls

Everyone knows about Barbie, but have you heard about her little sister Skipper? My sister and I got identical Skipper dolls with bendable knees and long auburn hair. I really wish I had kept mine, but sadly she is lost now.

Easy Bake oven

Another thing I remember very well was my Easy Bake Oven! It came with little packets of cake mix which I would put in that red bowl and mix up with a bit of water. I’d pour the mixture into the steel baking tray and then slide it into the side of the oven. Amazingly, the little cake would bake with only the heat of two incandescent light bulbs! It was like making one fairy cake, but it really did seem like magic!

tiny rubber dolls

Another toy I used to love playing with was a tiny rubber doll, only 3 inches (8cm) high. She had jointed arms and legs, was very bendy and could fit in the palm of my hand. She looked just like the ones in the picture above, with her painted face and hair, and little painted shoes and socks. Apparently these were made in Germany back in the 1960s. Can you still buy them today?

Silly Putty

I also remember a little plastic egg that broke open to reveal some strange pinkish goo that was stretchy and soft (a bit like blu-tack). It was called Silly Putty and if you rolled it into a ball it would bounce! You could also flatten it out and press it down on a newspaper or comic and it would pick up the ink, creating a picture on the Silly Putty that you could stretch out of shape. Once you’d done that it got a bit dirty, though!

fancy rat

When I think of it now I’m amazed that my Mum allowed Silly Putty in the house. Even more surprising is the fact that I was allowed to have a pet rat! Her name was Whiskers and I think we rescued her from a science lab. Whiskers was very clever and she loved to run through the mazes I used to make for her out of a cardboard box. I let her wander all around the house, and she was easy to pick up and play with. The only time she ever bit me was when I stuck my finger in her cage with some peanut butter on it. “Ouch!” I yelled, pulling my finger away. And then for some reason I tried again, and this time she licked the peanut butter very carefully!


Another fun thing we had was a Slinky. I think you can still get those, so maybe you have one too. In the 1960s they were always made of metal and were quite heavy. This made them perfect for sending down the stairs, because the weight of the coiled metal would hold the “foot” of the slinky in place as the top flipped over to the next step. The only problem with a Slinky is that it is easily bent and even more easily tangled. Once that happens it is sadly never the same.


When I was young I loved watching cartoons on a Saturday morning. I watched Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner and lots of other shows, but my favourite one of all wasn’t a cartoon – it was a comedy show about a boy band called The Monkees! They were always doing silly things and getting in trouble, and of course on every show they would sing a song. To this day I still think Daydream Believer is the best song they did, but perhaps I’m a bit biased because Davey was my favourite of the four.

Gabrielle cover

I’ve already written about my favourite book I read as a child. You can see more about Gabrielle and Selena HERE. I still have my copy of the book (rather old and battered now) and I am looking forward to reading it to a new generation of children who are learning about life in the 1960s!

After Dr Seuss, my favourite author who both writes clever rhymes and draws brilliant cartoons is Shel Silverstein. I didn’t know about him growing up, although he was writing books and silly rhymes in the 1960s when I was little. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that someone gave me a copy of A Light in the Attic to read to them. From that moment, I was hooked!

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

This has got to be my favourite Shel Silverstein poem, not only because it’s so funny but also because the poem is brilliantly written, leaving the reader to finish the final rhyme. I love the loose and exaggerated style of his pen and ink drawings, and it’s been really hard to choose which poems to show you here as there are so many good ones!

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew is another brilliant example of Shel’s clever poetry, which often involves eating. From the same collection you have little Melinda Mae who takes eighty-nine years to eat a whale, Hungry Mungry who eats the whole world and then starts nibbling on himself, and Peanut-Butter Sandwich in which the king gets his mouth stuck shut and even the fire brigade can’t unstick it!

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

This poem about a visit from the Queen is good fun, and I think the illustration really shows off Shel’s amazing skill at capturing the essence of both people and animals in a comical way. If you haven’t discovered the wonderful Shel Silverstein already, go and find some of his books right now!

The opening page from Anna's award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

The opening page from Anna’s award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Another budding cartoonist I am very fond of is my daughter Anna, who won the Reading Zone Picture Book Competition with this charming character Bea. I am always amazed at how she can draw with just a fine-tipped black pen, without even sketching it with a pencil first!

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

As you can see, Bea is a sweet little character, but she has hidden powers…

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Anna has always loved drawing cartoons and she is especially good at conveying emotions on her characters’ faces. If you’re a keen cartoonist like Anna then perhaps this worksheet of Bea’s facial expressions will help you perfect your technique:

©Anna Rickards 2012

©Anna Rickards 2012

I think if you click on the image it should be possible to print it, and then you can practice your own cartoons. Have fun!

Potter flying car

Recently my children went with friends to see The Making of Harry Potter in a giant studio space in northwest London (near Watford Junction). Visitors can wander around the original film sets of JK Rowling’s brilliant Harry Potter series, and look at spectacular props, models and costumes worn by the real actors!

The flying car greets you at the entrance, along with giant images of some of the main characters from the films (can you spot Draco Malfoy behind the car with his Slytherin badge?) At the beginning of the tour, a film is shown on a giant screen about what you will see inside. The final image of the film shows the huge doors leading to the Great Hall. Suddenly the screen rises to reveal those very same doors for you to walk through!

Great Hall entrance

As the doors slowly open you enter a huge dining hall lined with refectory tables set with copper plates and golden goblets. Statues line the walls and tall windows rise at each end of the room. This is where Harry and his friends ate their meals, while at the Head Table the Headmaster Dumbledore and all the teachers sat surveying the pupils.

dining hall

At the top of the Great Hall stand figures wearing the costumes of Mad-Eye Moody, Sybil Trelawney, Minerva McGonagall, Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid, among others.

Great Hall top table

From the Great Hall you can wander through other sets at Hogwarts, including the potions classroom where a figure of Severus Snape stands menacingly before an array of bottles, jars and cauldrons. (Snape was always my favourite character, so I would have loved to see this room!)

Snape's potions class Other sets from Hogwarts School of Wizardry include Dumbledore’s study, with its walls filled with books and stone columns bathed in an eerie blue light.

Dumbledore's studyIn contrast, the Gryffindor Common Room where Harry, Ron and Hermione spent many hours has a warm atmosphere with its giant hearth, luxurious Medieval tapestry and soft furnishings in orange and red.

Gryffindor common room  Another exhibit of costumes shows what Harry, Ron and Hermione wore, including the Invisibility Cloak with its green-screen lining for special effects!

invisibility cloak

Elsewhere in the Hogwarts section lies the Sword of Gryffindor in a glass case. There are also cases showing different models of broomstick and a wide range of magic wands.

sword of gryffindor

Children under 15 who take the tour are given a special Harry Potter passport, in which they can get stamps for the different areas they visit. They can also get free badges to show they’ve been on the tour.

Harry Potter passport

Visitors can also see The Burrow, where the Weasley family live. The low ceilings and earthy colours give it a cosy and somewhat chaotic feeling, a bit like a rabbit warren.

The Weasleys' burrow

The style of Dolores Umbridge’s office in the Ministry of Magic couldn’t be more different! You can see her taste for pink and very ornate furnishings. If you look very closely you can see the painted plates with images of kittens hanging on the walls.

Ministry of Magic office

One part of the tour has a full street scene where Diagon Alley is recreated. You can see all the shops where Harry and his fellow pupils would have got all their school supplies, including a wand at Olivander’s, quidditch equipment at the sports shop and magical instruments at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment.

Diagon Alley

I’m sure I would have spent hours window shopping in Diagon Alley! Look at all the wonderful instruments in Wiseacre’s window…

Wiseacre's shop

But the best shop in Diagon Alley has to be Fred and George Weasley’s magical emporium, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. You can see it above – the red shop with a giant man sticking out of the window! I’m sure you remember all the amazing sweets and other clever things available there, including Weasley’s Puking Pastilles and Sticky Trainers.

puking pastilles

sticky trainersElsewhere you can see how Harry and Hagrid rode into the air on their special motorbike-and-sidecar. The actors sat on a model which rose up on a hydraulic lift, and the green screen behind allowed the filmmakers to create an image of clouds and trees far below them.

motorbike greenscreenOne of the most impressive things you can see on this tour is a giant model of Hogwarts, which is built to look like a Medieval castle in the middle of the Scottish highlands. The model stands surrounded by craggy hills and fir trees, and in the film it appears both at night and in daylight as the pupils arrive at the school at the beginning of each new year.

Hogwarts modelIt’s amazing to think that all the images of this fantastic building in the Harry Potter films were made using this scaled-down model. My kids had a great time on the tour, and their three hours positively flew by! Maybe one day I’ll get a chance to go there and see it all for myself…

If you want to explore the world of Harry Potter even further you can visit Pottermore, JK Rowling’s website where you can become a student of wizardry at Hogwarts, get sorted by the Sorting Hat and lots more!