August 2017 ReviewsPosted by Max 07 Aug, 2017 08:57PM
As our nearly two year old discovers an adoration for books and being read to, our four and a half year old is starting to explore a new dimension - recognising letters and reading words for herself.
Books that suit them both are therefore ideal for quiet story times, where engaging illustrations are matched by easy read font and clear language.
Here are three favourites, featuring feline friends to mark International Cat Day.
Lulu Gets a Cat by Anna McQuinn (words) and Rosalind Beardshaw (illustrations), published by Alanna Books
Published today, the latest in the delightful series of Lulu stories describes the responsibility and reward of caring for a pet. Lulu really wants a cat. Her mum has told her how much work looking after one would be. Together, they find out more, borrowing a book from the library, reading up about them and practicing good pet care.
After finding out about pet adoption, Lulu is chosen by a little grey kitten when she visits a cat rescue shelter. Her dad helps Lulu get the house ready and, once home, kitten Makeda (named after an African Queen) cautiously shrugs off her shyness and comes out to play.
We see Lulu having lots of fun, and keeping track of her responsibilities with a wall chart of duties. A final spread shows them both enjoying a read of Puss in Boots. The words are charming and clear, ideally matched to warm, happy and colourful illustrations - perfect for engaging young readers.
Jaspers Beanstalk by Nick Butterworth (words) and Mick Inkpen (illustrations) published by Hodder Children's
In this instalment of the ever-determined Jasper we follow his efforts to nurture and grow a giant Beanstalk. We see he's been inspired by the tale of Jack. Taking on a different task each day, we watch him dig a hole on Monday and then plant a bean, water, rake, hoe and mow.
When Sunday arrives he waits all day but nothing seems to be happening. But, "a long, long, long time later", after being distracted by a good book, sure enough the beanstalk grows and on the final page we see Jasper disappearing up the stalk and out of the book.
This story of how patience reaps rewards is told with a minimum of fuss (in fewer than 100 words), through a simple and engaging narrative that highlights the passing of time through clear references to the days of the week. Mick Inkpen's illustrations are light, fun, and as distinctive as ever. This is a perfect choice for both new listeners and early readers.
Posy by Linda Newbury (words) and Catherine Rayner (illustrations), published by Orchard Books
We've written before that Catherine Rayner is our favourite illustrator of the natural world, and our view that her depictions of animals are second to none. Here, her distinctive watercolour and ink artistry brings to life a tiny kitten called Posy, who is discovering a new world of fun and mischief.
A light and breezy narrative tells us of Posy's alliterative adventure as a whiskers wiper and sofa scratcher. Gentle rhyming informs us that she's also a mirror puzzler and an ice cream guzzler, a sandwich checker and a board game wrecker.
A final spread shows her curled up in her mother's embrace, sound asleep, making this a lovely choice for bedtime.
July 2017 ReviewsPosted by Max 25 Jul, 2017 08:59PM
Ellie's Magic Wellies by Amy Sparkes (words) and Nick East (illustrations), published by Egmont
Wellies - the footwear of choice for many children - shiny, bendy and synonymous with messy play, a footwear permission slip to squelch in mud, kick through leaves or (best of all) jump in puddles. The saviours of boredom on a rainy day, wellies turn splashing into adventure.
Last weekend, our four year old chose a new pair. A deep-space blue with cosmic swirls and sparkly stars. She was thrilled, but nothing could have prepared her for what happened when she put them on and did her maiden jump in our back garden - they have LIGHTS! Blue flashes illuminated her soles - shimmering in the small pools of rain that dotted our patio.
We have recently been enjoying the fabulous 'Ellie's Magic Wellies', in which we meet a girl called Ellie Pengelly who is fed up of watching the rain. Her mum tells her she'a popping out to the dentist, and that auntie Flo is coming over to look after her.
Peacock feathers adorn Flo's purple hat, and she carries a handbag that commands "Give it wellie". Ellie knows this wet and dreary day is about to take an exciting turn. And Flo has a surprise gift for Ellie - a pair of golden, winged wellies - fit for a toddler Hermes.
But when Ellie leaps into a huge puddle she doesn't just produce a big splash - out jumps a small, purple creature in a woollen gingham suit and hat - a Flibberty Gibberty (who we think might have escaped from Amy Sparkes' Do Not Enter The Monster Zoo').
Together they set out on an alliterative adventure of messy play, told through a funny and smart rhyme. "Let's juggle with jam, jiggle with jelly...guzzle and gobble" exclaims the creature. They "hippetty-hopscotch" and "zippetty-zoom".
Nick East's marvellous illustrations fizz with energy and burst with colour, and we watch as the new pals turn the house upside down. Luckily, Ellie's wellies have another important magic power - the ability to help with tidying up, just in time for mum's return. It's time for the creature to go home too - but who knows? The next time Ellie splashes in the puddles, maybe the Flibberty Gibberty will bring some friends.
July 2017 ReviewsPosted by Max 02 Jul, 2017 09:12PM
As our younger daughter nears her second birthday, she's become increasingly enthralled by the wonder of books. Her current favourites include four board books that are fabulously interactive and engage her hands, ears and eyes.
We're Going On a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen (words) and Helen Oxenbury (illustrations), published by Walker Books
A few months ago, when our nearly two year old became quite obsessed with 'Bear Hunt' we decided to order it in board book form to preserve our original copy.
This more robust version is a perfect size for little hands, and still big enough for Helen Oxenbury's beautiful whimsical illustrations to be appreciated. Her swishy swashy grass seems to actually sway in the gentle breeze. You can almost feel and hear the squelching mud.
And the words! They are enticing, addictive, immersive and fun. Who can resist joining in with the "Hoooo Woooo's" of the swirling whirling snowstorm? Or doing the actions of stumble trip. Both our daughters mastered "uh oh" and "oh no!" at a very young age thanks to Michael Rosen and Bear Hunt.
Earlier this year, we were reading this book more than 10 times a day for many days running. We are grateful to a wonderful film of Michael Rosen reading his story aloud, which several times saved our nearly-lost voices.
Touch and Explore Pets by Geraldine Krasinski (words) and Xavier Deneux (illustrations), published by Twirl Books (Abrams & Chronicle)
This pet edition of the highly tactile series is adorable and a sheer delight. We meet an array of homely animals, with fun and amusing facts alongside cute, stroke-able and fur-covered illustrations.
Each spread includes four inviting windows of information, one of which opens out as a flap to reveal extra insights into each pet. The combination of fun facts and hands-on elements makes it a great book to engage both our daughters (aged 1 and 4).
The pages are hard-wearing and the words are in a clear, friendly font. A final spread of more unusual potential pets includes further opportunities for textural discovery.
Rabbit's Nap by Julia Donaldson (words) and Axel Scheffler (illustrations), published by Macmillan Children's Books
This title in the Acorn Wood series is one of our younger daughters most read board books. "Babbit", she calls (which is also her name for her much adored bunny comforter) and "again" she demands, as the final page is read.
The magical combination of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is internationally acclaimed, and this book is no exception. Here their words and pictures alchemy tells the story of a tired Rabbit who simply wants somewhere to sleep. No matter where she goes, a neighbour is making noise - from a builder bear to a wood-chopping fox.
Filled with delightful details (such as carrot curtains) and told with a gentle rhyme, the story is enhanced by clever flaps that reveal each of the noise-makers in turn.
Hush... Little Bear Is Sleeping by Surya Sajnani, published by Wee Gallery (Quato Group)
From a very young age our daughter greatly enjoyed the series of boardbooks from Wee Gallery. This is a stylish, sleek, minimalist book, with simple text and drawings in predominantly white and black with a dash of one other colour (in this case blue).
The pages present a cwtch of nocturnal animals, whose miaow, bark, cricket and twit two are keeping little bear awake. They are brought to life in a second dimension through sound buttons, which enable children and their tiny fingers to hear the animals making their nighttime noises.
This book, and the series of which it is a part, is a sure winner with very young readers. As well as enjoying for yourselves, all of these Wee Gallery books also make a lovely and unusual gift.
June 2017 ReviewsPosted by Max 21 Jun, 2017 10:12PM
Dragons have been part of folklore and literature for millennia, and remain as popular as ever in contemporary fiction. They can be found in many wonderful picturebooks, and below we highlight four of our favorites.Knighthood for Beginners
by Elys Dolan, published by Oxford University Press
For as long as there have been knights, there have been dragons. But has there ever been a dragon who has also been a knight?
In this chapter book from surrealist comic writer Elys Dolan we meet Dave, a small and not very green dragon, who's lack of dragony skill has led him to seek a new career as an armour-clad knight of the realm.
Equipped only with a copy of Knighthood for Beginners (given to him by his lovely librarian Aunt Maude), he sets off in search of the first key ingredient, a trusty steed. Or, in Dave's case, a rather smelly goat with a strong German accent called Albrecht.
Together, they take on the establishment, rioting peasants, unqualified clinicians and even Sir Knasty's axis of evil. Told at a rip-roaring pace alongside delightfully slapstick illustrations, its off-beat humour is at times laugh-out-loud for children and adults alike. Please can this be the first of many in a new series?The Great Dragon Bake Off
by Nicola O'Byrne, published by Bloomsbury
Some dragons just don't want to be the stereotype - they might seem like the perfect student to join the Ferocious Dragon Academy and look "especially enormous and terrifying", but Flamie Oliver just wants to bake.
He has a "passion for pastry" and takes no part in honing his "dastardly dragon skills". He's told he will fail his final exams unless he captures and eats a princess, but he and Princess Rosewater have another, far more tasty idea.
A perfect book to accompany a day of baking, the pages are filled with engaging illustrations that almost burst from the page, and the spreads of tasty treats look more than good enough to gobble. The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
by Elli Woollard (words) and Benji Davies (illustrations), published by MacMillan
The book opens with a "Mappe of Hardbottom's and the Surrounding Lands", including The Mountains of Dread, the Perilous Peaks and the Impassable Pass. At the centre is Hardbottom's Academy, a formidable castle set in the Darkish wood.
On turning the page we see a small boy kitted out in miniature armour, trotting passed the school - an Academy for Young Knights - and a notice board informing us that tomorrow is its Sports Day and the chance to "Fight a Real Dragon".
Meanwhile, a young dragon (the smallest member of the Dragons of Dread) is told by his kin to leave the nest and prove himself by biting a "nibblesome knight" of his own. Caught out by a storm, little Dram splashes down into a lake, where the young boy-knight, James, has been duck-spotting.
James nurses Dram back to health, convinced he's an odd bird with a curious quack. The two become friends and as the day ends, James heads back to the castle as Dram falls asleep in the grounds. Dram wakes, wanders into a field and through some open gates, and finds himself in the midst of the dragon slaying contest - face to face with his friend.
As the dragon clan and the knights of the realm look set to come to blows, friendship wins the day. A sweet tale of overcoming difference and celebrating diversity, with pitch-perfect illustrations that capture a heraldic feel. There is No Dragon in This Story
by Lou Carter (words) and Deborah Allwright (illustrations), published by Bloomsbury
The newest entry to this scaly canon is a novel convergence of dragon lore and fairy tales. We're told by a 'reader' - whose dragon-like hands we can see holding up the story - that she was going to tell us a typical story (you know, where a knight rescues a princess who's been captured by a dragon), but that won't be possible as the dragon has "gone off in a huff".
The dragon is fed up of being the villain and wants to be a hero - and he sets off into the midst of other stories to try to save the day. The problem is, no one wants his help - despite their respective impending peril.
The gingerbread man, Little Red Riding hood, the three little pigs, and even jack as he climbs up the beanstalk all tell him "no, no, no! That's not how the story goes". Despondent, the dragon shuffles away. Events, however, take an unexpected turn, and the dragon gets his chance to shine (literally).
The engaging narrative cleverly breaks through the fourth wall and finds a new spin on traditional tales of old. The illustrations are pleasing on the eye and depict a delightful array of cartoon-like characters. A pair of night-scenes are particularly atmospheric. The book concludes with a trio of endings, which round off a highly satisfying adventure.
June 2017 ReviewsPosted by Max 16 Jun, 2017 02:57PMThe Birthday Invitation
by Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes, published by Bloomsbury
On a recent family holiday, we celebrated three birthdays for people ranging from age 1 to 63. Our girls marked each occasion with great excitement, helping to unwrap (other people's) presents, eating cake and singing raucous renditions of "happy birthday".
There are many lovely picturebooks about birthdays and birthday parties. Our favourite is a new story from the brilliant author/illustrator partnership of Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes.
This is a tale of a party invitation - dropped by a young girl who sets off to deliver them to her friends, caught on the breeze and found by an array of larger than life fairytale characters - including a wizard, a pirate crew, a princess and a knight.
The book starts with a teddy bear wearing a party hat and a puzzled face, sat by a hand written invitation. The opening spread of the title page is an incredible bird's eye view of the girl's quiet village, surrounded by a geography created in her imagination - a mountain with a white castle on top, a gingerbread house, a red aeroplane doing loop the loops and a pirate ship out at sea.
Laura Hughes' ink and paint illustrations are (as ever) bright, breezy and full of life. Her scenes follow the invitation's journey switching from ground level to high up in the sky - whether within the beak of a parrot, in the pilot's cockpit or atop a castle turret.
The pictures are perfectly matched to the rhythm of Lucy Rowland's engaging words, which tell the story with a light and lyrical rhyme that is fun to read and cleverly constructed.
Later, as the girl is preparing for her party she hears a KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK at the door. Unaware of the path of her invitation, she opens her door to quite a surprise! Pleasingly the book ends with the same teddy bear from the start, now sat in front of a delicious slice of cake.