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The Bear and The Piano's David Litchfield Picks The Best Picture Books of 2017

Posted on 23rd November 2017 by Martha Greengrass
The author of the stunningly beautiful bestseller, The Bear and The Piano, which won the Best Illustrated Book Category in The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2016, David Litchfield knows a thing or two about what makes a great page - turner for adults and children alike. As he presents his brilliant new book, Grandad's Secret Gianthe selects his favourite picture books of 2017 exclusively for Waterstones. Featuring a boy with wings, an inspirational, soul-filled history of Ella Fitzgerald and an adventure into the mysterious world of bugs, it's got something for everyone.

Perfectly Norman written and illustrated by Tom Percival.

A young boy called Norman suddenly grows wings. Initially he loves them, happily flying through the air like a bird.  But soon he becomes embarrassed by the wings and tries to hide them away so he can go back to being normal just like everybody else.

I bought this book at the Cheltenham Literature festival based on a glowing recommendation from a bookseller in the Waterstones Children’s Book Tent. I read it to my son the next night and we were totally and utterly enchanted by it. Accepting yourself and allowing others to love you for who you are is the beautiful message we took from the book. That’s a message that I hope my son carries with him throughout his life. 

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Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly - and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Can Norman ever truly be himself again?
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Du Iz Tak? written and illustrated by Carson Ellis.

A number of weird bugs question the unusual happenings that surround them, using their own dialect to do so.

I’m a huge fan of Carson’s previous book Home and an admirer of her artwork over all, so I was incredibly excited to see this follow up. Just like Home this book has a real timeless quality to it. In fact, it is a picture book that could be from any era over the past 150 years. Which is absolutely one of the things I love about it.

Also, oh my, it induces genuine big belly laughs from us every time we read it. An absolute classic in the making. 

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In her follow-up to the internationally acclaimed Home, Carson Ellis invites readers to imagine the dramatic possibilities to be found in a garden, where insects talk their own mysterious language... ... Du iz tak? What is that?
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The Gold Leaf by Kirsten Hall with illustrations by Matthew Forsythe.

A gold leaf enchants a number of different forest dwelling animals, each of whom try to claim the leaf as their own.

This book is just beautiful. It’s a beautiful object. I want to frame so many of the pages. As an illustrator, I get a weird enjoyment out of feeling jealous of other people’s artwork, it spurs me on and invigorates me. I am happy to declare that I am 100% jealous of Mr Forsythe’s artwork in this book. The use of colour is outstanding and gets more and more vibrant as the book progresses, resulting in a giant explosion of luminous creativity on the last few spreads.

The rhythmic, poetic narrative conveyed to us the beauty of nature and how that beauty should be shared by all of earths creatures. This book is a magical experience. 

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Hall and Forsythe team up to great effect in this sensitively paced, gorgeous book about truly appreciating the natural world.
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The Grotlyn written and illustrated by Benji Davies.

A mysterious creature called The Grotlyn appears to be behind a number of weird and scary happenings taking place in an English Victorian town.

This book is fast paced and actually builds tension in a way not often seen in picture books. The resulting twist at the end is sweet and humorous and we found it to be a satisfying pay off for such a roller coaster story.

Another thing I found really interesting about the book was its setting in the Victorian era. This allowed Benji to really flex his creative muscles and some of the architecture and scenery depicted in this book is fantastic.

I have admired  Benji’s art for a number of years now and he is becoming a real master  of visual story telling. His ability to convey such varied emotions through his characters with just the barest of details- maybe just a raised eyebrow or a fleeting hand gesture - is a real skill. This book - which is pretty much a journey through all the human emotions - conveys this ability more than ever. 

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A stunningly illustrated picture book full of mystery and suspense, from the bestselling author of The Storm Whale and Grandad's Island What is the mysterious Grotlyn? What sort of creature could it be, scuttling across the town, frightening everyone in its path? And why has it stolen PC Vickers' knickers?!
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Ella Queen of Jazz written and illiustrated by Helen Hancocks.

This is the story of jazz musicians Ella Fitzgerald’s early career and how she and her band faced adversity and racism within the music industry and 1950’s/60’s American society as a whole.

There are a number of reasons why I totally love this book. First and foremost I am a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald’s music and this book gave me the opportunity to play some of her fine tunes to my son. Secondly, I am also a huge fan of Helen Hancock's artwork and in this book her traditionally rendered creations have never looked so totally charming.

The third reason is that it feels like we need this book in 2017. The book depicts a period of our modern history when bigotry and ignorance were common place. Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of that history echoing in the present day. Reading this book to my son inspired him to ask me a lot of ‘big questions’ and opened up a dialogue about racism and discrimination.

On another note, I was recently very lucky to be asked to illustrate a book about the early career of Simon & Garfunkel, which opened my eyes to the ‘music biography as picture book’ sub-genre. Ella Queen Of Jazz is a tremendously fine addition to this list and one I heartily - soulfully even - recommend. 

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The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born - and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity.
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The Night Gardener by Terry Fan and Eric Fan.

A young boy tries to discover who the mysterious Night Gardener is who sculpts a number of the towns tree’s into captivating, leafy works of art.

I am a firm believer that, whatever your profession and however long you have been working in a career, you should always remain a student to your craft. Reading this book I felt like I was totally learning from two master artists and storytellers. Each stunningly rendered page offers a crash course in artistic techniques, colour and lighting management and line work rendering.

That’s what I - the geeky, forever illustration student - took from the book the most. My son however saw it for what it was in its purest form; a magical tale that explores the wonder and mystery of the world. All told through some of the prettiest pictures ever committed to print. 

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"Something was happening on Grimloch Lane. Something good." A best-selling debut picture book about an orphan whose life is transformed by a mysterious night gardener bringing colour and life to his town.
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Franklin's Flying Bookshop by Jen Campbell with illustrations by Katie Harnett.

Franklin is a dragon who loves stories. The problem is that he can’t find anyone to talk to about the books he has read as everyone is far too scared of him. That is until he meets Luna and the two go on a franticly magical journey through each others imaginations.

This book is bonkers. It’s a completely surreal and totally wonderful look at the joys of reading and escapism.

I literally loved every moment of it. After we first read it we had to read it again and again. With each reading something new and crazy popped out at us.

Katie Harnett’s artwork is a total joy. This book looks like it was so much fun to draw. Like the kind of fun you had aged 7 on a gloomy Saturday afternoon with nothing but a box of brightly colored crayons and a stack of blank paper in front of you.

This was another recommendation from the Waterstones Booksellers at the Cheltenham Literary Festival and I am very grateful indeed that they pointed me in the direction of this book. It’s a real treasure and Franklin and Luna are now officially new-found favourites within the Litchfield household. 

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A spellbinding story about a little girl and a dragon who hatch a plan to share their love of books and stories.
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