Music in beauty and sorrow…an elegant memoir of life in China

The authors of ‘Little Leap Forward’ have kindly sent me some photos of their performance and reading at Liverpool Philharmonic for The Children’s Bookshow last Tuesday.  As you can see, Little Leap Forward is no longer so little and appears huge, loud and proud projected on to the back panel of the beautiful Art Deco stage there. I’m sure the 1,200 children in the audience loved every minute, especially as they all got to go home with a copy of the book itself.

The Children's Bookshow

Authors, Clare Farrow reading from Little Leap Forward and Guo Yue accompanying her at the Children’s Bookshow.


llf and bird in cage

Little Leap Forward and his small yellow bird.

I am very proud of LLF because, as I  might have mentioned once or twice before (!), it was chosen to be included in the ‘Diverse Voices’ list in 2014 – the top 50 culturally diverse books since 1950 in the UK; organised in conjunction with Seven Stories: The UK National Centre for Children’s Books.  It was actually published in 2008 and it’s fantastic to see then, that it still gets reviewed – even now.  I’ve been aware of for some time and was very pleased to find ‘Little Leap Forward’ on this lovely site about children’s books (via Twitter of all places!).  The site is a great read with a beautiful selection of incredibly colourful illustrations …

Click below to read the review…

Source: music in beauty and sorrow…an elegant memoir of life in China


Little Leap Forward comes to the Liverpool Philharmonic

Little leap Forward in the paper shop.

Several years ago now, the internationally acclaimed musician Guo Yue and his wife Clare Farrow collaborated to write their award-winning book, Little Leap Forward (Barefoot Books) which I had the pleasure to illustrate. After many awards, a stage show and an inclusion in the 7 Stories list ‘Diverse Voices’ – the top 50 culturally diverse books in the UK since 1950 –  the authors are celebrating the novel at the Liverpool Philharmonic on March 22nd 2016.

The hour-long performance uses a blend of readings, artefacts and live music to bring the story, based on Yue’s childhood in Beijing at the time of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, to life.  Marking the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, it’s the wonderful tale of a little boy, a little bird and a little leap forward in understanding the true meaning of freedom.

The performance has been organised by the Children’s Bookshow and every child who attends the show will receive a copy of  Little Leap Forward.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016 | Time: 10.30am

Running time: Approximately 1 hour
Suitable for children in Years 4, 5 6 and 7
Tickets: Children £5.00 Accompanying teachers FREE

To book tickets, please email


Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Hope Street
Liverpool L1 9BP

For information about theatre facilities, please visit: 


Diverse Voices – ‘Little Leap Forward’ is one of the 50 best culturally diverse children’s books

Little Leap Forward Cooking

I am delighted to announce that ‘Little Leap Forward’ has been included in the ‘Diverse Voices’ List –  the  50 best culturally diverse children’s books in the UK collated by the National Centre for Children’s Books- Seven Stories,  in conjunction with publisher Frances Lincoln and in association with The Guardian.

The Guardian will be supporting the announcement with a week of articles and features on the issue of diversity – a hot topic in Britain at the moment – there is a lively debate here for the need for more diversity in children’s books so it’s a great honour to be included in the list.

Little Leap Forward’ written by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow and published by Barefoot Books is a semi-autobiographical novel about a small boy living in the time of  Mao’s Great Leap Forward. From the greyness of the mazy alleys of the  Beijing Hutongs springs a love of food and music – something that the real Guo Yue later followed to become a celebrated  flautist and chef – you can see him playing here –

From his family home in the traditional courtyard between the beautiful Drum and Bell Towers, Little Leap Forward spends his days flying kites, playing by the river and helping his sister to cook. He learns to play the reed flute and begins a friendship with a small yellow finch. Little Leap Forward plays to her in her red cage but he can never make her sing. As Mao’s political repression hardens, Little Leap Forward realises that the best gift he can give is freedom and one day goes to the riverside, gently opens the cage door and lets the small yellow finch fly up into the skies. And in thanks for her liberty, the bird sings the most beautiful song for him, high and sweet…

It’s one of those stories that makes your hair stand on end and I was so honoured to illustrate it. I took my time with research and used some elements of Chinese art to influence the design – in the clouds and riverwater outside and the steam rising from the hot woks in the cramped little kitchen.

It’s great to be part of this fantastic book and I’m so proud it has been honoured at the highest level of recognition.




Welcome to Helen Cann Illustration News!

ciartic animals and birds copy
It’s a new year and there are lots of exciting things happening already! Just as the ‘Picture This’ exhibition at the Riverside Gallery in Richmond has finished, another show is starting at JS Peters in Birmingham. It should run for the duration of February and is showing a selection of illustrations from ‘Mother and Daughter’ and ‘Father and Daughter’ Tales and Wintery scenes from the ‘Inuk Quartet’ and ‘ Fireside Stories’…