How to be Extraordinary


Containing biographies of fifteen extraordinary people from around the world, ‘How To Be Extraordinary’ is a joyous celebration of the many ways there are to be extraordinary! Bursting with colour, the vibrant illustrations are very appealing and the short sections of text make an achievable read.


There is something very appealing about the selection of stories chosen for this collection. Some are fairly familiar faces, rightly celebrated for their achievements- Nelson Mandela and Frida Kahlo for example. I was delighted to see the wonderful Judith Kerr included, not only as an author/ illustrator, but also as a refugee. The entry is written in the present tense, obviously written before her sad dead earlier this year. However, many of the fifteen are less well known and make for fascinating reading.


Polish born Krystyna Skarbek was Britain’s first female spy. The entry recalls her bravery and quick thinking, but also the appalling lack of recognition she received for her efforts afterwards. Aeham Ahmad- the pianist of Yarmouk- is extraordinary for his love of music and his desire to use this to bring hope and joy to Syrian civilians during the civil war. the extraordinary stories of both men and women, from the past and present, are celebrated in this extraordinary book.

How To Be Extraordinary Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest

Puffin ISBN: 978-0241385401


Owl Logo 2019.jpg

Picture books- such a wonderful thing! We love them and use them across the curriculum in lots of ways, including just being enjoyed! Perfect for all ages, there really is a picture book for all occasions. Their length makes them very achievable, but there is often great depth and plenty to think about within those pages- not to mention the beautiful illustrations that make them so special. So here is this year’s long list- 20 fabulous books across four posts!


Beautiful in both sentiment and illustration, ‘Wisp’ is a powerful story for sharing with everyone. It is a story of hope in the bleakest of situations. As the wisp seeks out each person, it fills them with memories of their time before the camp, offering them hope. The book lends itself perfectly to discussion, but could also be used for drama work and to inspire poetry and other types of writing. The illustrations are simply stunning. Perfect for using in many ways, this is a must have for all schools, libraries and homes.

Wisp: A Story of Hope Zana Fraillon, illustrated by Grahame Baker- Smith

Hachette ISBN: 978- 1408350119

You can read another review of this here.


When a competition is announced to find who is the most beautiful of all, the animals are thrown into a state of worry and self doubt. Each (except fly) is unhappy with their appearance and tries to change themselves for the jungle jamboree. The weather, however, is not on their side and it is left to the little fly to shed some light on the matter so that they realise they are beautiful just as they are. It’s a lovely message and firefly’s kindness is also celebrated. The illustrations are wonderful- vibrant colours leap off the page and dark and light have been cleverly used. Simply joyful!

Jungle Jamboree Jo Empson

Penguin ISBN: 978-0141356891


The perfect text for starting discussions about internet safety, ‘#Goldilocks’ tackles this subject with great humour, but does not shy away from making the point about the need to act wisely when posting pictures on the internet. Cleverly using the original tale as a framework, Goldilocks’ desire to be ‘liked’ online leads her to behave in more and more outrageous ways which will have children laughing, but will also make them think. Tony Ross’s wonderful illustrations are full of life and humour. An excellent book!

#Goldilocks Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen Press ISBN: 978-1783447176


This is a wonderful re-telling of the traditional tale, versions of which can be found in many cultures. As well as encouraging drama and puppet work, this would be a wonderful place to start in developing oral re-tellings as well as encouraging written versions. There is much to discuss and the characters are perfect for developing through role play and other activities. It would be fascinating to compare different versions of the story from around the world and to look at other tales about the pitfalls of greed! The illustrations are lively and colourful, making the book very attractive. As a great fan of traditional tales, I think this is a must have!

Please Mr Magic Fish Jessica Souhami

Otter-Barry ISBN: 978-1910959183


Who doesn’t love Elmer? This colourful, cheeky character has been a part of many childhoods and is often used in school. This new story reminds us all of the need to pause, notice things and take in the beauty of the world around us. As Elmer goes on his walk, he notices many things, but when he tries to interest the other animals, they are far too busy to stop and pay attention. It is only when he meets Wilbur that he finds someone else prepared to wait and watch, to listen and notice. Plenty to think about and plenty to discuss, this is also the perfect book for inspiring Elmer walks and encouraging us all to be a little bit ‘more Elmer’.

Elmer's Walk David McKee

Andersen ISBN: 978-1783446049

The Odyssey

DSC_0007 (2).JPG

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus and his ten year journey home after the Trojan War. Confronted by threat after threat and adventure after adventure, Odysseus’s courage and cunning are tested to the full before he reaches his homeland. This beautifully illustrated version is the perfect introduction to this ancient classic tale.

DSC_0009 (3).JPG

This seemed the perfect book for today as Jan Pienkowski has just been awarded the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award. Here at JAB HQ, we are huge fans of his work and have used his books regularly over the years to inspire art work, to encourage writing and for the love of reading so we are delighted by this news and offer our congratulations along with everyone else!

DSC_0010 (3).JPG

Each stage of Odysseus’s journey is introduced by a short rhyme, adding to the story telling feel which the story maintains. Vivid, engaging illustrations bring each episode to life, matching the evocative language of the text. The original story has been simplified sympathetically, losing none of the power of the original and a guide at the end of the book explains how the Greek names should be pronounced. This is a brilliant introduction to the adventures of Odysseus which can be enjoyed by everyone.

The Odyssey Jan Pienkowski and David Walser

Puffin ISBN: 978-0241298794

You can read our review of ‘The Glass Mountain’ here.

You can read out review of more books illustrated by Jan Pienkowski here.