We Love You, Mr Panda. Can anyone write a picture book?

I thought I was onto this “children’s book” caper. It seems like anyone can write one. For celebrities, it can be an easy entrée to becoming a published author: 

“We Love You, Mr Panda” is the latest in Steve Antony’s Mr Panda series about a loveable, but slightly grumpy Panda:


In this book, despite wearing his “Free Hugs” t-shirt, Mr Panda cannot get a hug. His animal friends, skunk, elephant, sloth and others, want to hug someone else……….until the very end when they all want to hug him.

I don’t know, but it was probably inspired by Juan Mann, the guy who invented fee hugs:


Click on the video for great music by Sick Puppies and roving shots of the Sydney CBD…….Yes, Mann is an Aussie…..Who would have thought?

Books for infants like the Mr Panda books, with big glossy pictures and not many words, are called picture books. Antony studied children’s book illustration and the pictures in all his books are his own work. 

For a long time, picture books to me seemed largely about the pictures…….. Which is why I have always been a sceptic. Are they really books? [Whoa………get angry all you picture book writers out there!] Surely little kids deserve better? My 1 year old should be fine with that book I loved as a 5-year-old. He may not understand Tolstoy, but my kid is clever!

So I went googling and it turns out that by 18 months, most kids only know about 50 words:


Even a child prodigy like Mozart couldn’t read music until he was at least 3. 

Maybe my little Jonny isn’t as clever as I thought, but at 18 months children can make the connection between a word Mum or Dad says and a picture in a book. 

The role of a picture book is to facilitate shared reading between parent and child. And as with other types of books, there are good ones and bad ones. How to assess this? Again, I went googling:


According to another children’s author, Alan Durant, here are the key elements of a good picture book:

  1. A theme which could appeal to any child; like a favourite toy or fear of the dark.
  2. A character children can identify with……Animals are ace! Even if they behave badly!
  3. Keep the sentences short and easy to follow. A picture book is meant to be read aloud so make the language sing.
  4. Think in pictures. Minimise words.

So from being initially a bit dismissive, I think this Mr Panda book rates quite highly on Durant’s scorecard. Pandas are cute (even grumpy ones) and relatable. The pictures are the story. In fact, you could take out the words and still easily read these books to your kid. The pictures are big and bright, yet uncomplicated. 

Perhaps the only thing I am unsure of are the free hugs. The appeal of Juan Mann’s initiative is strangers hugging strangers. Mr Panda isn’t hugging strangers. Even if I was a 1-year-old, I would be thinking: Why can’t Mr Panda and his friends just give each other hugs? Why do they have to be “free” hugs? 

But I have to say that after writing this little review for Duffy, I have a new appreciation for picture books and the thought which goes into them. Through the eyes of a baby, picture books ARE real books and if Mum or Dad are reading it to him, little Jonny couldn’t be any happier!

We love you, Mr Panda. Book review.
Published by Hachette RRP $15.99 paperback $24.99 hardback. Available now at Booktopia

Thanks for the review and the research Mr B! If you want to read more of Mr B’s reviews, check them out here.