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A visit to City Farm reviews

Mumsnet, 3 November
"Multi-cultural, easy read with great illustrations…" 5 stars! 
I read a lot to playgroup kids and I'm always on the lookout for engaging books with good illustrations and potential for actions and sounds. The story follows Rainbow Class on their first visit to a city farm and all the wonderful sights and sounds that they experience. The author worked with primary school kids to help write the book and you can tell from the language and the observations; it has a feel of authenticity that other children really respond to. Perhaps best of all is the multi-cultural feel of the book. Rainbow class is filled with children of all nationalities and colours, which reflects the world we live in and gives a wonderful inclusive feel to the book. It's educational and fun. I would really recommend A Visit to City Farm to anyone with young children. It is a real gem!


CLPE – Centre for literacy in primary education
Book of the week 25 November
Rainbow Class has an enjoyable day out in this picture book from a new publishing house founded to produce multicultural books that celebrate diversity in our inter-connected world.

Children in a Year 5 class in a Brent primary school collaborated with writer and publisher Verna Wilkins to produce this picture book for younger children about their visit to a city farm. The lively conversation of the children and the questions they ask form a major part of the text, interspersed with rhyming verse describing the activities of the animals they see.

This book is refreshing because it shows many children’s everyday lives in a way still not often seen in picture books and does this by involving real children in its creation. Not only will the children who contributed to this book recognise their lives, so will many others. Karin Littlewood’s illustrations show the children’s journey to get to the farm in a way that can be seen as local to their environment but also typical in having features of many multicultural urban areas.

Verna Wilkins began Tamarind Books in 1987 because she found few books featuring black children that she could share with her own family. The continued lack of enough truly culturally diverse books has led her to found this new company. The initial list includes some reissues of books first published by Tamarind including a set of four board books.

A visit to City Farm is a brand new publication and so is Abdi’s Day (9781911402060), also written by Verna Wilkins and illustrated by Karin Littlewood, which tells of a school trip to the seaside where a boy from a Somali family gets to share his packed lunch including anjeero bread with his classmates.


Letterbox Library, 2016
What a special book! A wonderfully UK-specific, thoroughly relatable story of a group of children and teachers out on a city farm trip. Littlewood’s warm, sweeping illustrations take in alpacas, pheasants, lambs, ponies and great big slumbering pigs. There are little bursts of rhymes, perfect for children to join in with – “Cows mooing, Llamas chewing” –; a fact box sorts out those tricky differences between lambs, ewes and rams; the comical narrative perfectly captures the organised chaos and energy of a school day trip. 85% of the pupils at Chalkhill Primary have English as an additional language; the rich multicultural makeup of this school has been translated seamlessly into this book, so it’s no wonder that the finished product has, in the words of the school’s head, helped “develop a strong sense of identity and belonging”. The creation of this book and the final, high quality finish is diversity in action. Firetree books don’t just talk, they really are in the business of enabling children to see themselves through fabulous stories.


Scottish book trust
How Children Helped Me Write a Multicultural Book - By Verna Wilkins - Wednesday 11 January 2017
Verna Wilkins is the author of over 30 books for young people and is the founder of Tamarind Books, a publisher which aims to redress the balance of diversity in children's fiction.

Her latest picture book is A Visit to City Farm, illustrated by Karen Littlewood, published by Firetree Books and written in collaboration with pupils from Chalkhill Primary School. This approach has resulted in a book which represents the diverse nature of modern classrooms. Importantly, the inclusion of children of different nationalities happens without their backgrounds taking centre stage in the story. As we found out when we caught up with Verna, this type of 'unselfconscious inclusion' is at the heart of her approach to writing.

Read the full article here.


Books for Keeps website 
selected as Book of the week, 2 December 2016
The excitement of a trip to a city farm is described with particularly vivid insight in this joyful picture book, and no wonder: A Visit to City Farm was created as a special and probably unique collaboration between the children of Year 5 at Chalkhill Primary School, Brent and the author, illustrator, editor and printer. A note at the back from headmistress Rose Ashton tells us that the children were ‘hands-on’ from the idea to the finished product and there is definitely a strong sense of the community of young minds behind the story. Some individuals are picked out – Salma, who trails behind on the walk to the station, and TJ who is alarmed when the horses suddenly gallop towards the fence for feeding time – but generally it’s their group reactions that are discussed and recorded. Rainbow Class love meeting the llamas and the alpacas for example, with their beautiful soft coats, and they’re all careful to creep quietly past the enormous pig in his sty. In this scene, Mister Pig is an imposing presence in the foreground but our eye is still drawn towards the row of brightly coloured welly boots across the top of the page, all we see of the children. The story is full of details that primary school children will love and, no matter where they live, they will identify completely with the children of Rainbow Class as they enjoy their special day out.

Firetree Books is Verna Wilkins’s new venture, and this dynamic new company aims to present a range of books with engaging stories that celebrate our interconnected and culturally-diverse world, putting all children ‘in the picture’. A Visit to City Farm does that beautifully and spontaneously.


Read it Daddy blog
If there's one thing children love to see more than anything else in a picture book, it's actually themselves...

Or at least a recognisable facsimile they can immediately associate themselves with. In "A Visit to City Farm" the children of Chalkhill Primary School in Wembley have worked together with Verna Wilkins, Karin Littlewood and FireTree Books to serve up a gorgeous little slice of picture book heaven that must've tickled the kids to bits when they first saw the completed copies.

In the book, the children of Rainbow Class are going on an exciting visit to the City Farm.

When I was a kid myself growing up in London, the City Farm at Vauxhall was one of the most amazing and exciting places you could possibly visit. Growing up in a huge urban sprawl, any green space was somehow made more magical and more wondrous but any green space with animals - animals you'd never see anywhere else at that - was the best place in the world.

Rainbow Class have an exciting journey, walking very carefully along the main road before descending into the London Underground to be whisked away on a tube train to their amazing destination.

Once there, Rainbow Class can't wait to meet the animals, help feed them and help learn all about them too.

The book's gentle and reassuring storyline is beautifully paced for reception-aged kids and above, and the illustrations are full of energy and diversity - just as you'd imagine Chalkhill School itself is.

Returning to the very first paragraph of the review, it's so good to see books like this that (today of all days) celebrate diversity and conservation, and those glorious moments of just taking time away from the hustle and bustle of modern city life to enjoy the beauty of nature.

I can see this book being hugely popular for school storytimes and for a snuggly bedtime read at home too.

Perfect for your little animal fans. 


Dolphin bookseller blog

We recommend A Visit to City Farm for ages 5-7 years, an excellent book  and very interesting dimension in how to work with children on writing and creative projects.


Parents in Touch

City farms are a wonderful thing, giving urban children the chance to experience farm life and get closer to the way our food is produced. The story is set in a real city farm, huddled below the towers of Canary Wharf, and the book is the result of a collaboration between Chalkhill Primary School, Wembley, and Firetree books. Join the children of Rainbow Class as they walk along a busy road to take an underground train which takes them to meet alpacas and llamas, pigs and ponies and so much more in the city farm. Year 5 children helped develop the story, choosing the characters' names and writing poems for the book; it is a true celebration of diversity, superbly illustrated by Karin Littlewood.


Reading zone – review by Alice Green
Librarian’s book choice

Publisher and author Verna Wilkins worked alongside children at Chalkhill Primary School in Brent, London, to help the Year 5 children create this special picture book about their class visit to City Farm. We join the children on their journey, from the excitement of getting ready and their journey underground, to their arrival at City Farm and finding out about the animals they see. There are a number of facts to support the story and also short poems provided by the children. The text is beautifully illustrated by Karin Littlewood; her images also reinforce the idea of diversity, without labouring it; we later find out that 85% of the children at this school have English as a second language. This story provides a wonderful 'template' for any other classes embarking on a school visit who might want to write up what they did and saw, and to create their own images for their story to make it into a picture book. I loved the sense of excitement you get from this story and the small details - like the children's reaction to the galloping horses - that show it is a personal story as well as one we can all enjoy. Any child aged 4+ who has gone on a school trip would enjoy this story; and it's a must share for those classes about to embark on a school visit!
32 pages / Ages 4+


Letterpress Project – 4 December 2016

I have already written about the recent launch of this picture book and the context in which it was written. Verna Wilkins has a long established reputation as a children's author and is also the founder of the pioneering publishing house, Tamarind Books.

This came about in 1987 because she was concerned at the under representation of Black people in books for children at that time. To some extent this lack of visibility has been addressed by more mainstream publishers and the Tamarind distinctive brand has since been subsumed into the vastness of Random House Books. Determined that the message of everyday and recognisable images of Black people should be presented positively in books, she and Simona Sideri have recently founded Firetree Books and this charming little story is published by them.

As with their earlier picture book Abdi's day, the author and illustrator use a school trip with young children from diverse backgrounds as the basis for the plot. This is comfortable and familiar territory for nearly all of us, whether as a childhood memory, as a parent or as a teacher. The excitement of the children is palpable as they prepare for the outing to a City Farm with their teachers.

The journey is often just as memorable as the final destination and this is an important part of the story. And so Rainbow class set off across London walking in a crocodile towards the underground station past the ' howling traffic' , along the busy street, stopping to point up at a church steeple and calling out to someone's grandma who works in the flower shop along the way. Once on the train, everyone is helpful and smiley and we get a real sense of the overcrowding which is then balanced on the next double page spread which provides a sense of space as we look at them arriving at the farm as seen from a distance.

From this point, the animals are the focus of the story and I particularly liked the enormous sleeping pig almost filling a page. This contrasts with a later page where we see the energy of some horses galloping towards the children as they watch from behind the fence. In my experience as a teacher, eating a packed lunch on a school trip is always a pivotal part of the day so I'm glad that we get to see what is inside the lunch boxes of four of the children, all very healthy looking stuff of course as per 21st century school policies. 

The plot is very straightforward and provides an authentic, cosy and accessible second hand experience of a visit to a city farm. The soft colourful watercolour illustrations definitely contribute to this atmosphere. Karin Littlewood spent a long time at Chalkhill School in Tower Hamlets drawing real children and this means that she has successfully captured the individuality of expressions and stance with real warmth. I liked the last pages where we see all the animals in the foreground and the children in the distant background waving goodbye as they leave them behind on the farm.

The text is very simple, but do not be deceived by this as every word is carefully crafted. The nine and ten year old children who were co- authors of the book were apparently keen to have lots of rhymes throughout and these provide a good rhythm for much of the book. There are also some interesting facts about the animals clearly embedded in the illustrations and the text throughout including a conversation about eating chickens versus vegetarianism. There is plenty of potential discussion as a follow up here whether at home or as part of a topic about animals in an educational setting.

David Lewis is a children’s literature academic who writes extensively about picture books and he defines the best ones as being where ‘The words are pulled through the pictures and the pictures are brought into focus by the words’.

‘A visit to City Farm’ certainly achieves this with its overall pleasing design that provides a perfect balance between words and illustrations.


Armadillo – online children’s books reviews - January 2017

Verna Williams and Karin Littlewood bring the outdoors to the pages of their book in A Visit to City Farm, the perfect book for children who have grown up in an urban environment and want to learn more about the countryside beyond.  This book tells the story of a real class trip to a farm with lots of fun facts about the animals, a fun story and even some poetry alongside the vibrant illustration this is a charming launch title from Firetree Books aimed at celebrating the diversity that surrounds us everyday.


Book Trust - February 2017

The pupils of Rainbow Class eagerly set off on their school trip to City Farm, descending into the clatter of the underground station, before emerging into the luscious green of the farm, nestled among the bustling London streets. The children have a fun-filled day, meeting the animals and eating their packed lunches, before heading back to school.

This joyful tale of everyday life perfectly captures the excitement of a school outing. The narrative is interspersed with sections of rhyming verse, and vibrant watercolour illustrations bring the tale vividly to life. Written in collaboration with Year 5 pupils from a London primary school, this inclusive book reflects the cultural diversity found in British society today. A lovely book to share with young children, particularly if they are embarking on their own school trip.


First News - 7 February 2017
A Chalkhill School pupil who worked on producing A visit to City Farm with us submitted an article to First News.