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Favourite children’s books

Favourite children’s books: Hello Ruby

If you are into coding, educational children’s literature or you happen to be Finnish, you might have already heard of the book I’m about to showcase. I’m a huge fan of this book and the concept behind it, so without further ado, let me present to you Hello Ruby!

Hello Ruby
Written and illustrated by Linda Liukas

Badge of greatness for the imaginative way of morphing a learning experience into a story

The mastermind behind Hello Ruby is Linda Liukas, a Finnish programmer and educator, whose mission is to make the world of technology more approachable for everyone – including kids. That’s how her book, Hello Ruby, was born. Hello Ruby is a story about a little girl, whose father gives her a mystery to solve. The mystery takes Ruby on an adventure, during which she meets lots of new friends; penguins, Django and his pet snake Python, Snow Leopard, Robots and Foxes.

As you might already guess from their names, all the characters of the story are based on and inspired by actual technologies and things related to programming. This kind of insider jokes add to the whimsical story and will surely amuse older readers as well. Aimed at 5 – 7 year olds, the story itself is far from the complexities of programming. The book introduces programming concepts such as decomposition, pattern recognition and sequences through the characters, and applies the concepts to everyday situations kids can relate to.

At the back of the book the reader can find fun activities related to the concepts introduced in the story. The book is surely at its best when a child gets to read it with a grown-up, visiting the activity section of each chapter together after reading them. (Though I assure you, doing this by yourself as an adult is pretty fun, too!)

Prior to Hello Ruby, the author-illustrator Liukas had no experience in writing children’s stories nor illustrating them. According to her, she studied illustration on Pinterest and practiced by drawing things over and over again until she would get them right. Although drawn digitally (with the legendary Kyle Brushes I recently started using as well), the illustrations in the book have a soft hand-drawn – even sketch-like – feel to them. The cute simplified characters with their innocent faces make me think of Japan and Hello Kitty. With this kind of aesthetics and a technology driven concept it’s no surprise that the book has made it big in Asia, too!

The determination of Liukas to get things done and learn on the way is really admirable. It blows my mind that she has made Hello Ruby happen all on her own by crowdfunding the first book through Kickstarter and writing and illustrating the story by herself. With. No. Prior. Experience. Reading about people like her is truly a motivational kick in the butt for those of us who tend to make excuses to not get started and be slightly less efficient when it comes to executing Great Ideas.

Kudos to Linda! To find out more about the philosophy and the story behind Hello Ruby, watch this TED talk:

Favourite children’s books: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the fifth book in my collection of inspiring children’s books. This time it’s going to be one of my personal childhood favourites – a book straight from the 90s!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith and designed by Molly Leach

Badge of greatness for the hilariously odd stories and extraordinarily entertaining design

“A long time ago, people used to tell magical stories of wonder and enchantment. Those stories were called Fairy Tales. Those stories are not in this book. The stories in this book are almost Fairy Tales. But not quite. The stories in this book are Fairly Stupid Tales.”

The memory of my dad reading this book to my 7-year-old sister and my 9-year-old self is one of the clearest childhood memories I have about books. The reading experience of this one was quite special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was written in English, so my parents simultaneously translated it to us. Secondly, the stories were so amusing and the design was so playful that I can still vividly picture us sitting on a bed looking at the graphic details and laughing at them together. This book has been incredibly dear to me ever since – so much so that it’s pretty much impossible to look at it objectively without walking down the memory lane!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is a collection of parodies of popular children’s stories. The stories are tied together through some reappearing characters and the narrator Jack, who introduces the stories and deals with the rest of the cast.

The stories in the book are extremely funny to begin with, but they would not make such a strong impact without the expressive illustrations AND the design. It’s typically said that it’s the combination of text and illustrations that either makes or breaks a children’s book. However, in this case the design plays a key role as well, bringing all the different elements together into an all-around amusing entity. In fact, the author of the book, Jon Scieszka, wrote an insightful article called “Design Matters”, which shows first hand what a difference Molly Leach’s designs made for The Stinky Cheese Man and some other books.

And what about the characters? Well, they exaggerated and very outspoken, both in text and images. There’s dissatisfied, nagging Little Red Hen and a truly crazy-looking Ugly Duckling, just to mention a few. Created by an acknowledged illustrator Lane Smith, the characters show a range of strong emotions from fearful to angry, disappointed, greedy and surprised. It’s very interesting to observe how Lane Smith has translated these feelings into the illustrations using a variety of techniques from painting to collage. And here’s a fun fact: Lane Smith and the book’s designer Molly Leach are actually a couple, who have collaborated on many of the books written by Jon Scieszka. Quite a super trio, I would say! When asked about their working process, Lane answered:

“Jon writes a story, gives it to me, I work out the art, give it to Molly, she works out the type then we all get together and tweak stuff. Then we turn it in.” (Quote from www.

I keep on finding myself drawn to books that are charmingly absurd. This is a realization that has led to some self-reflection: when I am working on my own story ideas (yep, I’ve got a couple!), I tend to be Very Serious about it. Naturally, I want to bring my stories to life in the best way possible, which often leads me to just thinking and doing research instead of actually creating anything. It feels my stories are in danger of becoming watered-down by my over-analytical approach. I should definitely try to keep the process more light-hearted and leave some space for absurdities. After all, I can relate to this thought of Lane Smith:

“I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books.” Quote from

Children’s book showcase: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Tadaa, it’s time to introduce the fourth book in my collection of inspiring children’s books: a book written and illustrated by Peter Brown (who has sort of become my illustration hero).

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Badge of greatness for the expressive illustrations and visual storytelling

One day at a children’s book shop, a beautifully green cover caught my eye. My hand reached for it, and almost immediately after opening the book it became clear: I would need this title to be part of my children’s book collection!

Now that book is in my bookshelf, and it is called Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. It’s a story about a tiger, who gets bored with the conventional life in his conventional hometown, where he lives with animals, who embrace being proper. Mr. Tiger begins to express his wilder side and little by little builds up the courage to break free from the rules of convention. The wild behaviour of Mr. Tiger affects the entire town and eventually leads to everyone questioning the way they have been living. It’s a beautiful, uncomplicated story about being yourself and accepting others as they are.

Story-wise, the text has been kept straight-forward and minimal, making the book an ideal read even for small children. However, whilst the text is simple, the book offers plenty of variety when it comes to visual storytelling. Peter Brown has certainly stepped away from the conventional (pun intended!) text-between-images kind of layout that so often dominates children’s book design. Creative use of the gutter, playful speech bubbles and fully illustrated spreads with no text at all carry the plot in a visually strong manner, highlighting the turning points in the story.

The illustration style in the book is absolutely wonderful. I love the contrasting combination of geometrical shapes, straight lines and soft, organic paint textures. The book’s colour palette is also cleverly aligned to the different elements in the story; grey shades add to the feeling of convention, lush tones of green express the wilder side of things and the bright orange colour of Mr. Tiger sets him apart from the other characters. Brown has also done a great job at keeping the characters fairly simple whilst still managing to add life and a range of expressions on their faces.

All in all, Mr Tiger Goes Wild is an admirable example of how much design thinking and research there is behind a well illustrated story. I highly recommend watching this film clip of  Peter Brown himself sharing some of the process behind the book:

Author and Illustrator Peter Brown On His Process.