Books by Vivian French

Released: Nov. 10, 2015

"Lightly wraps the love of family as the center of life in a silken gown of word and image, with a playful undercurrent of both whimsy and irony. (Picture book. 5-10)"
The king and queen of a city that reflects a fairy-tale Edwardian version of Venice suddenly realize that their beloved daughter, Lucia, will be queen one day, and she will need a husband. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2010

A quick dwarf-spotting expedition into the Unreliable Forest takes a disquieting turn for young Gracie Gillypot and her scruffy royal friend, Prince Marcus, in this third story set in the cozy though occasionally dangerous Five Kingdoms. When Gracie falls into a trap set by a malicious troll-goblin, she also falls afoul of a prophecy that the death of a "Trueheart" (which Gracie is) will elevate the lonely and depressed king of the Underground Trolls to King of Kings. As Marcus frantically mounts a rescue above ground, Gracie manages her own escape then stoutly returns to the tunnels to rescue an ally left behind and finds herself being hustled into a potentially fatal audience with the troll king. As before, French tells the tale in breezy tones—ably reflected in Collins's occasional, comically gothic ink drawings—and folds numerous complications into the plot, along with a generous assortment of dwarves, trolls, mystic crones, spoiled princesses and talking bats. All ends well, and she and Marcus are last seen planning a follow-up outing in search of dragons. That, too, should be fun. (cast list) (Fantasy. 10-13)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2010

Polly loves her PJs, but when Fred invites her to a party, she is at a loss as to what to wear, so she calls her friends for some help. Heap uses color to great effect in this slight story. The eponymous PJs have rosy stripes, squiggles and hearts, and Polly's chair, slippers and walls are also pink. Fred is in grays and blues. Mia, who lends Polly a polka-dot dress for the party, favors red. Harry likes multicolored stripes—even his cat is striped. Claire has blue shoes to lend and blue glasses. But when Polly is all dressed in her borrowed finery, she sees that none of it really fits. Tears ensue, but Fred calls to remind her that it is a—wait for it—PAJAMA party, so Polly can wear what she loves best. All the friends who were willing to lend Polly stuff are at the party in their special colors. The crayon-and-acrylic illustrations are full of candy colors and cheery shapes (a lot of hearts), and it is hard to fault any story that ends with pizza. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2009

The Five Kingdoms almost come in for a spot of trouble in this airy sequel to Robe of Skulls (2008), when a witch from beyond the More Enchanted Forest arrives with evil intentions and a bagful of forbidden Deep Magic. Having cast spells over both the ineffectual local witches and nearly all the local rats, Truda Hangnail looks for a while to have a lock on extorting octogenarian Queen Bluebell XVIII to declare her the royal successor. Hangnail doesn't reckon on having to face levelheaded Gracie Gillypot and young Loobly, an escapee from the harsh Orphanage—both of whom are Truehearts whose very presence makes evil magic go awry and who have the help of an energetic pair of talking bats, a dimwitted but determined troll, a helpful prince or two and other allies. Fans of Jean Ferris's Once Upon a Marigold (2002) and like light fare will be much amused by all the dashing about, the quick brushes with danger and the undercurrents of budding, clumsy romance. (Fantasy. 10-13)Read full book review >
THE ROBE OF SKULLS by Vivian French
Released: July 1, 2008

Conceiving a burning desire for a new gown—black velvet, decorated with poison ivy, spider webs and skulls—wicked Lady Lamorna decides to pay for it by turning all the local princes into frogs and extracting ransoms from their royal parents. She gets help on the way from the considerably more clever Foyce Undershaft, a young lady of stunning beauty and "a heart as hard as a frying pan," who is also the evil stepsister of kindly Gracie Gillypot. Enter Marlon, a bat who addresses young folk as "kiddo" and is forever flitting off with a "Ciao!" to deliver messages or orchestrate some dodgy deal. Thanks to his efforts Gracie hooks up with Marcus, a scruffy prince missed in the general amphibious transformation, to rescue the other princes and to trick Foyce into entering a magical sort of rehabilitation program. Lady Lamorna even gets her gown, in the end. Larded with stock comical characters and illustrated with Collins's gangly, Beardsley-esque line drawings, the story will slip down like the bonbon it is. (Fantasy. 10-12)Read full book review >
HENNY PENNY by Vivian French
Released: July 1, 2006

The traditional tale gets a new—and happier—ending in this clever retelling. French directly addresses readers, telling them they may have heard the story about Henny Penny before, but that was the foxes' version. This one is the truth. Both accounts are identical up to the point where the five fowl meet the fox on their way to tell the king the sky is falling. Since they do not know where he lives, the fox leads them . . . right to his den so they can share a meal. But clever Henny Penny sees feathers, bones, a pot of water and a single place-setting, and knows she must do something. Her clever solution allows the friends to escape safely, without harming the fox. The muted colors and textured feel to Windham's artwork lends the illustrations a country feel that suits the text perfectly. A welcome addition to the fairy-tale genre. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2005

A departure from French's previous brightly colored picture books by a variety of illustrators, this easy-to-read chapter book, first published in Great Britain in 1995, is part of a series labeled, "Roaring Good Reads" that are "short, lively stories with illustrations on every page, for children just started to read by themselves." Morris the cat has first one problem then another as he gets stuck in a tree and encounters a fierce dog. The black-and-white drawings have simple appeal, sketching feline feelings, antics and accompanying dialogue. Functional for its purpose, but this original paperback with black-and-white illustrations will be a tough sell next to standards like Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge or Mr. Putter and Tabby. (Easy reader. 6-8)Read full book review >
T. REX by Vivian French
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

Representing all children who must know everything about T. rex, a lad grills his granddad as they take in a dinosaur show at the museum: "How were his teeth, his terrible teeth? / Were they sharp? Were they long? / Were they terribly strong?" Granddad answers as best he (and modern paleontology) can, but often he's forced to protest that, "It was millions and millions of years ago!" Using intensely hued acrylics applied in broad, visible brushstrokes, Bartlett depicts the two visitors examining dioramas of toothy carnivores in action (even engaged in a rather gory meal), then moving on to fossils, smaller scenes, and, at last, the inevitable dinosaur gift shop. French intersperses brief prose commentary to fill in some of the blanks, and has Granddad turn the tables on his young interrogator by suggesting that he—and by extension, readers—might one day themselves answer some of the many questions remaining about T. rex. That's an energizing idea for young dinosaur fans. (index) (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-7)Read full book review >
I LOVE YOU, GRANDPA by Vivian French
Released: Sept. 1, 2004

When Grandpa comes to spend the weekend, Mom goes off to work, leaving Rex, Flora, and Queenie to look after Stanley, their younger brother. Stanley's job is to look after Grandpa. Each child has an idea of how to spend the day, but Grandpa and Stanley (who just wants to go to the playground) can't play their games. The siblings go off to play by themselves, leaving Grandpa and Stanley to make do. Noticing that Grandpa is tired, Stanley tells him he will look after him and sing him a song, just like Mom does for him. Curled up together on a chair, Stanley sings everyone to sleep with a sweet song about loving his Grandpa. When Mom returns, Grandpa rewards Stanley for taking such good care of him by taking him to swing—at the playground. Kubick's illustrations gently portray a lovable cat family and by adding details and drawing out facial expressions, she has extended the story for those who are careful observers. A wonderful selection for the littlest one in any family and for the grandpa that is special in his or her life. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
OLIVER’S MILK SHAKE by Vivian French
Released: May 1, 2001

This fine third Oliver title from French and Bartlett (Oliver's Fruit Salad, 1998, etc.) again takes up the themes of exploration and good times in the world of food. Here, Oliver's aunt is aghast to find him slurping orange soda for breakfast. He tries to explain, but his aunt cuts him off: " ‘You don't like milk!' . . . ‘What you need is one of my yummy milk shakes.' " So Aunt Jen, Cousin Lily, and Oliver shuffle off to a farm to gather the makings of a milkshake and a fun day. They meet roosters, pigs, cows, lambs, and goats; with each meeting they reel out a little bit more of their milkshake description, from "yummy scrummy fruity milk shake" to "yummy scrummy fruity frothy icy nicy tip-top tasty dreamy creamy milk shake." Then Aunt Jen learns that Oliver actually does like milk—he had just grabbed the orange soda because he had used all the milk on his cereal—but milkshakes have his attention now. Big moon heads, paint-box bright colors, a somewhat child-like smeary gouache medium, and a feather-light story will grab and hold the attention of the youngest readers and surely inspire a trip to a farm. (Picture book. 3-6)Read full book review >
A PRESENT FOR MOM by Vivian French
Released: April 1, 2001

With Mother's Day fast approaching, young Stanley feverishly attempts to find the perfect present for his dear old mum. After all, his three older siblings have already found their ideal gifts. Yet somehow, their offerings just aren't the right choice for Stanley: his handpicked flowers quickly shed their petals, a raid on his bank box elicits a lone puzzle piece, and his mud cake turns into a mud slide. Forlorn, the kitten retires to bed with dreams of elusive gifts flitting through his head. A little advice from his oldest sister sets Stanley in the right direction and he learns that a gift doesn't have to be costly or elaborate—just full of good intentions. When Mother's Day dawns, Stanley's box of kisses turns out to be the best present he could give. French's (Oliver's Milk Shake, 2001, etc.) simple tale rings true for little ones, reminding them that their love is truly the most precious gift of all. Kubick's (Cats, Cats, and More Cats, not reviewed) watercolor and gouache illustrations are precisely drawn and vividly hued, filled with pattern and detail. Whimsical touches are freely scattered throughout the pictures, from the cat motif of the upholstery to the feline-shaped teapot perched on the kitchen shelf. Little Stanley, with his sooty ears and crumpled whiskers, is bound to work his way into reader's affections. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 2000

A shopping excursion with Dad turns into a fun-filled, edifying romp for French's irrepressible Anna (Not Again, Anna!, 1998). Counting opportunities abound as Anna and her increasingly frazzled parent procure gifts for their loved ones, from five oranges down to one large ice-cream cone (for guess who). With glee, Anna offers her assistance—and seasoned Anna fans will know this means a rollicking adventure is in store for everyone. French's text is appropriately brief, with short sentences focusing on favored treats and familiar family members. Ayliffe's vibrantly hued illustrations perfectly capture Anna's exuberant joie de vivre. Each two-page spread highlights an item on the shopping list. A half-page gatefold unveils Anna's antics and the ensuing chaos, e.g., a florist's shop is portrayed in full splendor as Dad and Anna select the perfect blossoms for Mom. However, when readers lift the flap, they discover Anna sprawled upon the floor in a puddle of water and greenery from the toppled pail. For each new number, there is a new mishap. Preschoolers will enjoy the predictability of the tale, joining in with the text as each misadventure is heralded by the phrase, "Oops, Anna!" A four-page, accordion-style gatefold opens up to reveal Anna safely back at home sharing her thoughtful presents with her family. The final two-page spread, a tally sheet of the items purchased features the numerals one through five, accompanied by illustrations depicting the correct amount of items. With Anna merrily leading the way, young readers will have a grand time exploring the concept of quantities. (Picture book. 2-5)Read full book review >
NOT AGAIN, ANNA! by Vivian French
Released: Dec. 1, 1998

In comfortable shapes, paintbox colors, and very few words, Anna has an appealing and very recognizable day. Anna and her mom go out to the garden, and Anna gets a cookie when she remembers to say "please." Her toy bunny wants a cookie, too, and gets messy. Anna's efforts to wipe Bunny's face, and then wash it in the wading pool, have predictably untidy results, but in the end, Bunny is dancing on the clothesline where the mother has put it to dry, and Anna is dancing, too. Anna, in her toddler determination and floppy hat, is a most engaging child. The cut-paper illustrations are beautifully constructed, with fold-out pages disclosing significant facets of the action. The final, extra-wide spread, where the stuffed toy and all the clothes Anna has managed to soak bounce on the line, is a vibrant, child-friendly denouement. Clean, clear colors will catch the picture-book crowd, and the simple story will hold them. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

French (Once Upon a Picnic, 1996, etc.) mirrors Hans Christian Andersen in an original Thumbelina-like fairy tale, in which a child, magically born of a thistle, comes to a childless king and queen. They are so happy that they build protective gates and walls around the kingdom and garden to keep every harm and everyone away from their beloved daughter. The princess misses the children she once laughed and played with, and in her isolation grows more and more despondent, until little is left but a wisp. Sadly, she blows away like a seed in the wind, but not until her true work is done. The story, with its lovely sentiments, is almost overwhelmed by the intentionally flowery language, but some children will take to the telling with their whole hearts. Delicate watercolor illustrations make use of borders to gracefully frame text and depict elongated toy-soldier-like figures prancing among the topiaries. Especially enchanting is the bookmaking_a fine design on creamy paper that feels satiny to the touch. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Oliver, who didn't like vegetables in French and Bartlett's Oliver's Vegetables (1995), returns to express his opinions on fruit. The canned and packaged fare offered by his mother makes him unhappy; none of it measures up to the fresh garden goodies he saw while staying at Grandpa and Gran's. So they go to the market and load up on fresh fruit, which Oliver also turns down: "No, thank you. I just helped Grandpa. I didn't eat any of the fruit. I don't like fruit." Then Grandpa and Gran come for a visit and they whip up a fruit salad, which is so eye-pleasing that Oliver digs in. This story doesn't have the clever twist or the narrative strength of Oliver's introduction to vegetables, which involved discovery and connection—this time he decides to eat the fruit because it looks nice. But French's story is never didactic, and perfectly reflects many children's feelings about fruit. Bartlett's artwork is as lush and electric as ever, demonstrating in the selection of fruit an act akin to picking jewels. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
ONCE UPON A PICNIC by Vivian French
Released: June 1, 1996

In this sequel to Once Upon a Time (1993), the bored little boy is on a picnic, during which he encounters many of the same fairy-tale characters (three bears, the bumbling witch, the giant, Red Riding Hood, and the wolf) he met the first time around. The first work, however, relied less on physical slapstick than does this one, in which the father bear brains himself with a baseball bat and requires immediate first aid. He's not the only one involved in a mishap: Red Riding Hood clobbers the wolf; the hapless witch blows herself up with a spell gone awry and turns into a frog. Among the gentler outcomes: The giant's discarded shoe makes a new home for the old woman with all the children; the three billygoats outsmart the troll; and the gingerbread boy gets away. Although this book is not as much fun as the original, the formula still affords droll, amusing moments for fans. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

Oliver likes french fries, pretty much to the exclusion of all other food. So when he goes to spend a week at his grandparents' home, they promise him his favorites only if he can find the taters in the garden. Whatever else he pulls up during the search he must eat each night for dinner. Thus Oliver is introduced to carrots, spinach, rhubarb, cabbage, beets, and peas, all of which he thinks are delicious. Introducing young readers to the bounty and magic of a garden, French (Under the Moon, 1994, etc.) establishes a particularly fine point of departure, in no small part the result of Bartlett's stunning illustrations in her first book. Deploying the fiery richness of acrylic paints, her broad, voluptuous brushstrokes convey extraordinary sophistication and character; she captures gestures succinctly, as when Oliver expectantly clutches his foot behind his back, hopping about as his grandfather digs up a dozen dearly won potatoes from the patch. Generous and nourishing fare. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
LAZY JACK by Vivian French
Released: Aug. 1, 1995

In this fine retelling of a classic tale, Jack's mom drags him out of bed to work with a succession of employers, but he just can't manage to get his wages home. Far from being lazy, though, the heavy-lidded lad labors industriously and makes his bosses laugh so heartily that, rather than scorn him, they want him back. French (Under the Moon, 1994, etc.) has come up with a differentand nicely appropriateending for a story widely available in collections and single editions, and Ayto's squiggly illustrations, which feature Jack sleepwalking his way through task after task, capture the silly, physical humor perfectly. Funny, nonviolent, and mildly subversive, few folktales have such wide- ranging appeal; this is a particularly readable version. (Picture book/folklore. 4+) Read full book review >
UNDER THE MOON by Vivian French
Released: April 1, 1994

From a British storyteller's repertoire, three stories to tell or read aloud—graceful morality tales about busyness vs companionability, the perils of disobedience, and making altruistic use of ``luck.'' In the title story, a workaholic ``old woman tossed in a basket'' sweeps cobwebs from the sky for the wispy, whispery man in the moon. ``Little Ivan'' is an adaptation of an Eastern European tale of a heedless boy who, tricked by Old Mother Wolf, is rescued by his clever grandmother with the help of a children's band (with plenty of opportunity for audience-supplied sound effects). In ``The Apple Child,'' the well-being of a village is at stake when a nurturing spirit contends with the forces of decay, personified as an ``elder bogle.'' French adheres to the satisfying fairy-tale convention of grouping events into threes. Her dialogue is marked by repetition and delightful snippets of colloquial speech; opening and closing paragraphs are models of artistry, echoing imagery and phrasing while contrasting moods to emphasize happy endings. The outlook is commendably positive and humane; characters move from separation to connection with lots of shivery moments but no violence. Fisher's pen drawings are as timeless, quirky, and lively as the tales. An enchanting trio. (Fiction. 5-8) Read full book review >
ONCE UPON A TIME by Vivian French
Released: May 1, 1993

``Not much to do. Not much to see,'' complains a bored child, sticking close to his own yard and oblivious to the familiar folklore in progress all around him: three bears chase Goldilocks, then mend their broken chair (much comic difficulty with the glue); Humpty Dumpty cavorts on a wall; the three pigs borrow Humpty's ladder to complete their roof; a giant looms in the distance and then marches into the foreground. The idea isn't unique, and some of the details are a bit off (the ``wolf'' looks more like a fox), but ``readers'' will enjoy spotting favorite characters, following them through successive spreads, and picking up on amusing variants (Red Riding Hood gets rid of the wolf by stamping on his toes). Prather's broad, deftly limned spreads are lively and expressive. After a first reading of the brief text, children will happily pore over the eventful illustrations alone. (Picture book. 3-8) Read full book review >
ONE BALLERINA TWO by Vivian French
Released: Oct. 16, 1991

A sleek, graceful girl of perhaps 12, neatly clad in a leotard, and a disheveled preschooler wearing a baggy sweater and legwarmers take turns demonstrating some familiar moves: ten careful pliÇs, nine approximate knee bends, eight precise changements, seven oddly assorted little jumps, etc. The logical- minded may enjoy observing that, while the figures are repeated the appropriate number of times, the activities sometimes aren't- -e.g., the older girl is caught at six stages of a single pirouette. The illustrations are delightful and the implicit story is charming, especially when it's wrapped up with ``One happy hug.'' As quintessentially simple as Ormerod's own wonderfully expressive line. (Picture book. 3-8) Read full book review >