‘Pyjamarama Funfair’ and ‘Pyjamarama Fever’ – Barrier-grid animation from Michaël Leblond and Frédérique Bertrand

Pyjamarama Funfair and Pyjamarama Fever, two fun new books from Thames and Hudson, introduce children to the wonder of animation in non-digital form.

In response to changing times, and rather picky customers, children’s author Michael Leblond and acclaimed illustrator Frédérique Bertrand have released this dynamic book duo, filled with awesome, printed animations and interactive pages, as the ultimate solution for when you cannot prise your child away from their smartphone.

These exciting new publications utilise an old graphic design technique to create a swirling, fun-filled world of moving pictures, without a hint of technology. In Pyjamarama Fever and Pyjamarama Funfair Leblond and Bertrand use barrier-grid animation, an effect created by moving a striped acetate overlay across an interlaced image, to create an optically illustrated world for children to interact with, and explore.

The Pyjamarama series tells the story of a little boy who puts on his pyjamas and turns out the lights to go to bed only to fall into a magical, dazzling dream world filled with bright colours and flashing lights. In the past Pyjamarama has taken children across the world to the sights of New York and Paris, but the newest additions to the series stay a little closer to home.

In Pyjamarama Funfair, our little friend finds himself in a magical funfair, where bright swirling lights, rampant rapids, twisting roller coasters and rough dodgems dart and dance across the page. In Pyjamarama Fever the same little boy is sent to bed feeling a little under the weather, before succumbing to a strange but dazzling delirium filled with strange shapes, shimmering stripes, swirling spots, and pyjama-clad firefighting mums and carwashing dads.

As our pyjama-clad hero dreams, children reading the book are able to interact with the images. Sliding the acetate sheet, which comes included with each Pyjamarama book, across the page brings the illustrations to life: cogs turn, lights flash, dots dance and waves flow with just a slight turn of hand. The images flickering across the pages, however simply explained, are pretty cool to say the least.

These innovative books are highly interactive and a great way of encouraging children to rediscover the magic of the printed word. The illustrations, which in themselves are pretty mesmerising, are awarded a whole new level of awesomeness when combined with the acetate sheet. It’s a simple, effective animation technique that children, and the majority of parents and carers, are sure to love – they certainly proved popular among the E&T editorial team.

So if you are looking for a new way to keep your children occupied outside of school, with the added benefit of giving them a break from digital technology and a chance to rediscover the magic of books, then look no further than a little Pyjamarama fun.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.


It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.


The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

Zenith Hotel ― Oscar Coop-Phane


‘When I wake up my teeth feel furry. There’s a foul taste in my mouth – a nasty sort of animal taste.’ – For Nanou, this is how each day begins. Nanou is a Parisian streetwalker ‘Not a call girl or anything. No, a real street whore, with stiletto heels and menthol cigarettes.’

In Zenith Hotel Oscar Coop-Phane details the not so glamorous life lived by Nanou. The book takes the form of a one day diary, interwoven with short portraits of the men who seek solace in the withered arms of Nanou. The book is original and incredibly moving, creating a world of solitude and sadness encompassed in the actions of just one day.

Nanou’s story is different to how you might expect. It is not a sob story dreamt up by Coop-Phane to make a reader feel better about their own sad existence – no, it is just a day. ‘I don’t intend to go into detail and tell you about my childhood, my love life and all my woes. I’m not going to tell you how I ended up like this’ say Nanou, she is clear that in knowing her past ‘you’d get too much of a kick out of it’, and she would not give you the satisfaction. Instead, all Nanou tells us is her day, so, – ‘If you were expecting me to talk about rape, being abandoned, HIV and heroin, you can fuck off, pervert’ – if you are looking for a misery maker this probably isn’t the book for you.

So why does Nanou write, if not to tell of her woes and mistakes in life? She doesn’t complain, and doesn’t even seem to see the worth or the point in her own writing. ‘I don’t know why I write. It churns me up, it soils me from the inside. To pass the time perhaps. That’s it. I write like some people do crosswords, it keeps me busy. I think about words, style and shape of the letters. I feel as if I am doing something without getting up off my arse.’

The book is structured into short chapters each detailing background of each Nanou’s clients – this is the only background information we are given, as though the messed up lives of her clients say more about her life than her own past – each chapter ends with a short interaction between Nanou and her client. Through each entry Coop-Phane digs into the very heart and soul of Nanou’s clients, voicing their innermost thoughts, desires and anxieties, while detailing Nanou’s complete lack of interest. These chapters come between passages written by Nanou herself, short ramblings scratched from the street corner, recording her day’s activities and musings.

Nanou’s life is routine, living hand to mouth with only but the smallest of pleasures to call her very own. ‘I drink my coffee all alone in my room. Smoking my fags. To cheer myself up, I tell myself I’m saving money.’ The reality is more depressing, it is not that Nanou cannot afford to drink her coffee out, but that she gave up socialising when the smoking ban was implemented, the pleasure of a combined nicotine and caffeine hit too great to spare for a chat with friends.

1024px-Rotlichviertel_Frankfurt_MainHer living quarters are dismal, the shared bathroom having fallen into the bleakest state of disrepair, Nanou resorts to borrowing the bathroom of another friend, where her morning wash routine is clinical, a mere formality rather than something to be enjoyed: ‘I wash with a mini soap. I like feeling the roughness of my skin, the way it goes taut and chapped after washing. Shower gel is too gentle. It leaves your skin slightly greasy, like when you oil it. I prefer it when my skin’s dry. I feel cleansed – disinfected.’

After leaving the discomfort of her living quarters for a day on the street Nanou meets an extraordinary circus of men. Among them Dominic, a young man who, having been convinced of his family’s desire to murder him, beat them to it and earned himself life in an institution, and Emmanuel a dreary school worker, who has no friends and spends each Saturday when his wife is away sneakily masturbating into their sofa.

Of course Nanou does not really notice these men. She is not really there when she sees them, making small talk, being kind and giving them what they want is all part of the service after all. It is just as much a part of prostitution as the selling of her body itself. These men use her as escape, as a method of running away from the harsh realities of life, which she herself has come to accept. The reality is that these men do not even come close to being with Nanou when they pay for her services: ‘I can tell you that when they screw me, when they get all horny jiggling about on top of my poor inert body, those sad suckers are well and truly alone.


Her work day is rhythmic, relentless and monotonous ‘like a factory worker in a production line. The same action relentlessly for years. No hope. A little factory worker of the flesh’. She gets no pleasure from the lifestyle, other than the cigarettes and coffee bought with her wages. As the day progresses Nanou’s thoughts become bleaker and bleaker, as though she has an intrinsic hatred of everything she stands for. She is not self-pitying, but self-loathing, considering herself to be of no worth other than a temporary recipient of other men’s primal desires: ‘I feel hollow – as commonplace as a chamberpot that you plonk down beside the bed.’

The day drags on, and the money comes easily, ‘but at what cost?’ she asks herself. She works the street all day, until finally, after her sixth client and a day spent absorbing the filth of the city, it is time to go home. ‘At last’ she thinks, ‘I can go to bed, turn on the television and light up another fag.’

Nanou is a streetwalker in Paris. Her heart has taken on the colour of the pavement. And when she falls asleep she knows ‘Tomorrow is another day.’

Taken at face value Zenith Hotel is a striking representation of the depressing life lead by a Parisian prostitute, but it is also deeply poetic, insightful, and beautiful in a way which speaks mountains about the work of Coop-Phane. Nanou is the picture of a life lost to the grime of the Paris streets, her ‘soul sweats the filth of the city’, and her words speak volumes.

I was given a free copy of Zenith Hotel by Arcadia Books, the publishers, in return for an honest review.

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.” ― Sylvia Plath

There are two sides to every story

The Confidant – Hélène Grémillon

Confidant final cover.448x688

Another truly beautiful piece of literature to add to my read list. ‘The Confidant’ was given to me by my partners godparents as a Christmas present last year, and sadly ended up hidden in the bottom of a box until a few weeks ago, one of the downsides of having moved house and never fully unpacked. Having just read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ I was excited at the prospect of getting started on another piece of French literature, and potentially giving myself a nice topic of conversation for our next family dinner.

‘The truth lies hidden in the past’ is such a fitting tagline for this novel. Grémillon draws the reader into the depths of a long hidden secret, of longing, forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. The novel achieves an almost perfect blend of historical narration, thrilling suspense and harsh reality, the result of which is truly stunning.

It is 1975, and in her apartment in Paris, Camille receives an anonymous letter, a letter narrating the lives individuals seemingly unrelated to Camille, surely the letter has been sent to her by mistake? The anonymous letters continue to fill the post box of Camille’s Paris flat, and a long hidden secret begins to unravel before her very eyes. As the story unfolds Camille becomes desperate to discover the source of the letters, before finally succumbing to the realisation that it is her own story which is being told. The story of pre war France, a young boy in love, a young girl eager to please, and a rich and lonely madame is inextricably linked to Camille’s unlikely friendship with the concierge of her apartment building, the recent death of her mother, and the future of her unborn child.

What struck me about this book was the profound effect it has on my emotions. As the secret unraveled I found myself taken on an emotional journey of empathy and hatred of Annie, and simultaneous hatred, and empathy for Madame M. There are two sides to every story, and Grémillon highlights this so perfectly, by the end of the novel I felt as though neither character did anything wrong. Their actions were inevitable, driven by emotion and instinct.

The story presents a fierce, raw examination of women, coupling motherhood and feminism with love, passion, and desire. In this respect there was one theme in particular that struck a chord with me, and that is Grémillon’s unrestrained examination of infertility.

Madame M’s yearning to have a baby is spoken of at length throughout the novel, and I find the way in which her desires are portrayed incredibly moving. The world around M seems almost super fertile, numerous women in Paris are falling pregnant, and the newspapers are awash with stories crying for the need for more babies:

‘Have more Children! Have more children, France must make up for her losses in 1914’.

M is described as going to all lengths to sure her infertility, even physically injuring herself in a desperate hope that someday she will discover a solution. She describes her constant consumption of an aphrodisiac made from wine and spices,  resorting even to bathing in the concoction to the point where:

‘Over time my skin acquired a spicy scent that disgusted me’

Gremillon delves further into the realms of M’s depression, describing at length her dismay at her sudden transformation into ‘the infertile woman’. What I think is the most striking description of this comes during a dinner with her Husbands family, his grandmother makes an announcement that someone at the table is with child, and the guests begin to guess who it could be:

‘Every name except Granny’s and my own. Because it was no longer possible for her, and for me, it never had been.’

This seems to be time when M finally succumbs to the fact that she will forever be the elephant in the room, the person whom everyone must be careful around, who is looked upon with pity. I found reading the following passage quite emotional, my heart goes out to anyone, who is ever made to feel this way:

‘Suddenly her eyes met mine and she looked away at once, her broad radiant smile frozen on her face, and a moment of awkwardness spread round the table. Silence. The game had yielded to the weight of reality, my reality. At that moment I realised I had become ‘the infertile woman’ in the family, the one whose presence absolutely precluded any displays of joy , the one who was so unfortunate that the happiness of others could prove fatal. My shame was confirmed

M’s story touched on something I feel is shied away from far too often: the unspoken ‘shame’ that is placed upon infertile woman. I found myself asking why? Why is being infertile considered something to be embarrassed about? The following quote was taken from a comment on a feministphilosophers blog post ‘On Becoming Infertile – Part 1’:

‘I feel like I’ve often been treated like a faulty baby machine rather than a person. The guilt, the shame, the sense of failure, the indignation and the grief have all been a lot to deal with’ (Commenter: L Stokes).

The idea that anyone should be made to feel this way is incredibly sad. M’s story took place in the early 20th century, and this is an issue that is still felt today. I very much admire Grémillon for approaching the subject.

There is so much more I could say about this book, so many themes which could be explored, but I feel I have written enough for now. For anyone reading this who has not, I would urge you to read the book, it is a beautifully written, thought provoking read. You will not be disappointed as you read the final page, and see the secret of fully unraveled and laying before you in its entirety. The novel is captivating to read and satisfying to have read.

When I finished ‘The Confidant’ I felt the indescribable mix of sadness and fulfillment which accompanies the completion of a really fantastic novel.

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” — Wallace Stegner

A tramp is a man like any other

Down and Out in Paris and London ― George Orwell


Originally published in 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London was Orwell’s first full length novel, written when Orwell was a struggling author in his early twenties. The book, set in two parts, is Orwell’s memoir of a seemingly depressing time when he found himself jobless, homeless and penniless. The experience was, however, very much self induced, as Orwell was from a privileged background and set out for Paris with the intention of submerging himself in the dregs of society. Somewhat ironically, it was this period in Orwell’s life which allowed him to establish himself as an writer.

Orwell tells of a time when he first set out in Paris, living in the dingy, insect infested Hôtel des Trois Moineaux, of persistent shouting in the streets, singing at night, and a constant overturn of so called ‘floating’ lodgers. The desperate search for employment, at times going for days without food, having to pawn all but the clothes he stood up in in order to buy a loaf of bread. His bizarre friendship with ‘Boris’ the starving Russian, and final pitiful employment as a dishwasher in the dismal Paris kitchens, working physically and mentally exhausting 17 hour days.

Finally overcome by the long hours of work required to ‘live’ in Paris, Orwell sought help from a friend to return to England, at the promise of securing employment caring for a mentally disabled gentleman when he returned.

Orwell’s story was only just beginning, as he found himself without the hope a job for another month. Fending for himself on the streets of London Orwell tells of life in the overcrowded English bedsits, gathering round the fires in the communal kitchens, the biblical sustenance that was the a cup of tea and bread and butter, or ‘tea and two’. And, when luck was really down, finally resorting to the ‘spike’ – the dreaded poor house, locked away, tobacco confiscated, being forced to sleep on the cold stone floor, and always with the possibility of unwanted homosexual advances.

At the time of publishing Down and Out was a sneak peek into an underworld that the educated knew little about. Indeed even today I feel the book has a lot to say about a part of life which remains fairly hidden from the more privileged in society. Allowing the reader a more ‘educated’ if you like, understanding of the homeless, those people whom we all see, every day, with their eyes permanently fixed towards the ground on the look out for spare change. A sad, lonely and exhausting existence.

While tramps today cannot so easily be compared to the men Orwell rubbed shoulders with in the 1920s, I feel one can take a lot from the straight forward way in which Orwell describes the plight of the tramp. A man who is has found himself shunned from society, and has become something other than human, a man despised by everyone, a lazy, greedy, corrupt creature.

I feel Orwell’s argument is best summed up in this extract from chapter 36:

“It is said, for instance, that tramps tramp to avoid work, to beg more easily, to seek opportunities for crime, even—least probable of reasons—because they like tramping. I have even read in a book of criminology that the tramp is an atavism, a throw-back to the nomadic stage of humanity. And meanwhile the quite obvious cause of vagrancy is staring one in the face. Of course a tramp is not a nomadic atavism—one might as well say that a commercial traveller is an atavism. A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so. A destitute man, if he is not supported by the parish, can only get relief at the casual wards, and as each casual ward will only admit him for one night, he is automatically kept moving. He is a vagrant because, in the state of the law, it is that or starve. But people have been brought up to believe in the tramp-monster, and so they prefer to think that there must be some more or less villainous motive for tramping.”

To think that anybody would choose this life for themselves. The life of a wandering vagrant, shoved from pillar to post, never allowed to spend more than one night in an evil smelling, cold and hard bed before being moved on. Never able to sustain himself beyond the point of mere existence.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orwell’s memoir. I found it thought provoking and insightful, and would strongly urge any keen bookworm to add it to there ‘to read’ list.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank

Truly stunning.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog ― Muriel Barbery


I don’t feel as though I can stress enough just how beautiful this book is. Barbery’s style is so perfect and so utterly captivating I found myself completely hypnotised, both by the story itself, and the sheer elegance with which it is written. I enjoyed this so much I insisted that my partner watch the film adaptation ‘La Herison’ with me. As to the film, while not bad in itself, it is nothing compared to the book.

Renée Michel is a concierge, and self confessed member of the lower class, despite being fantastically intelligent, she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Renée lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of number 7, Rue de Grenelle where she works.

Upstairs in one of the 4,000-square-foot luxury apartments Paloma Josse is planning to commit suicide. She is an incredibly intelligent 11 year old girl, so disillusioned by the world in which she lives that is does not see the point in carrying on. She begins to write a journal of profound thoughts, and observations on the movement of the world, in a vague attempt to find a reason worth living.

When an elderly inhabitant of the apartment complex passes away the whole place comes alive with excitement, at the idea of a new face setting foot inside the walls. Karuko Ozu moves into the late Pierre Arthens apartment and forms an unlikely friendship, with Paloma Josse, with whom he shares his suspicions that their faithful concierge Madame Michel is not all she appears to be. The unlikely friendship leads to the unison of three souls, almost inseparably fused together. This could possibly be everything Madame Michel needed, and just the thing Paloma was looking for as a reason to live.

I cannot go into further detail for ruining the plot, and I very much hope that anyone who reads this will make the effort to read the book.

Barbery’s writing had just the effect that a good book should. When I reached the last pages I felt emotional, fulfilled, and somehow devastated that I was closing the book for the last time.