I’ve been toying with a rather big idea recently: whether or not to stop reviewing books by authors and illustrators I somehow know.
When I started this blog I don’t think I’d met an author or illustrator since I was a child, but now the situation has changed. I’m incredibly fortunate in that I regularly meet people who create amazing books, and even more often I chat with them on twitter or via email. I know that each and every one of them puts everything into creating wonderful books, and I respect what they do so very much.
But as a reviewer, I also have respect for all of you who read my blog in the hope you might find particularly brilliant books. I feel a profound sense of duty to be honest when it comes to what I think of books, and when one starts to build friendships / relationships with people one admires it becomes increasingly hard to admit that one of their books is NOT one you’d particularly shout about.
So when Tim Hopgood sent me one of his latest picture books, Ping and Pong are best Friends (Mostly), I was rather anxious. I’m a BIG fan of Tim’s work (you can find all my past reviews here), and we’ve been in touch with each other fairly regularly since I started blogging. But when I opened the envelope from his publisher I felt slightly sick inside. What if I didn’t like his latest book?
I was so nervous I made M read it first.
She laughed a lot.
Then I made my husband read it.
He really liked it.
Then I made my Mum read it.
She too thought it was great.
Finally I dared to read it.
Not only did I like Ping and Pong are best Friends (Mostly), I fell in love with it.
Whatever Ping does, Pong can do it just that little bit better. Can you imagine how annoying that is for Ping?
Ping eventually decides to step away from Pong’s competitive streak and do… well, do nothing. Nothing at all.
But, can Pong “do nothing” better than Ping? And, even if he can, will doing nothing be fun without a friend to share it with?
Before long, Ping and Pong kiss and make up realising that it’s far more fun together than apart, however hard it is at times. And it turns out Ping is best at something… being a best friend.
I fell in love with this book not just because it deals deftly with a classic childhood situation, but because it does so with such humour and keen observation that I was giggling and shaking my head and feeling very, very happy all at the same time.
Hopgood’s exploration of the tension that can nevertheless exist in a very secure friendship reminded me of Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. Hopgood has the same deadpan delivery, the same compassion, and creates the same longing to have the pair in question be your own friends.
I love colour and Hopgood clearly does too. Full bleed pages in a rainbow of colours help give this book a tremendous feel-good vibe while the spot on capturing of emotion in the penguins’ body language gives the reader/listener/viewer the same sense a great poem can – of capturing something profound with such apparent simplicity that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Yep, this is a winner. And I would be so very sorry if I couldn’t share this with you because I had a policy of not reviewing books by people I know.
Given our current Edible Book Festival we couldn’t resist baking a cake to match that which appears in the book itself.
Can you see what we added? Two edible penguins made from aubergines with eyes made out of M&Ms and chocolate drops 🙂
Raw aubergine may not be the most enticing thing to nibble on, but the cake was gone all too quickly!
Whilst baking and eating we listened to:
Other activities which would be great fun to try alongside reading this gorgeous book include:
So I started this post with an idea – what to do about reviewing books where I have some level of conflict of interest, whether through being friends with their creators, their publishers, or simply because I got it for free. It’s a big question for me, and one I’m still not sure I’ve got the right answer to (or at least the right answer for me). I’m very aware I have my own taste in books, and I’m also a great believer that just about every book is right for one reader or another out there. I have a clear review policy, which means I generally don’t have to review books I don’t like, and I always try to remember to include a disclosure statement if the book isn’t one I’ve personally paid for. But have I got the right balance. What do you think?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Ping and Pong are best Friends (Mostly) from the publishers. I was under no obligation to write a review and I received no payment for this review. Oh, and if you’re an author or illustrator I know, don’t worry, it wasn’t one of your books which set me off on the train of thought expressed at the opening of this post, but rather a book by an author and illustrator I’ve never met, never even emailed or tweeted with. Which book? This one, which many are heaping praise on, but which does not make my heart beat faster. Unlike Ping and Pong.