Books My Toddler Loves

Books My Toddler Loves

National Dog Day!

August 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 26 Aug, 2016 10:52AM

It's National Dog Day, so to celebrate here are our five favourite canine picturebooks, all previously reviewed on

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates, published by Red Fox

A few years ago, our toddler's grandparents opened a small antiquarian bookshop. Many of her Granny and Grampa's bookselling joys (and occasional travails) are beautifully reflected in this celebration of reading and imagination by Louise Yates.

At the start of Dog Loves Books, we meet a small canine bibliophile as he prepares for the Grand Opening of his new bookshop. When the initial public reception is less than he'd hoped for, a cup of tea and a good read takes him away from his temporary disappointment to the lands of dinosaurs, kangaroos and space travel.

When at last a real customer arrives, he knows just the book to recommend - the mark of a true booklover - for, as we learn on the final page, the one thing dog loves more than books is his love of sharing them.

Louise Yates' distinctive, charming and expressive characters bring to life this well-told story. Dog Loves Books is one of our favourite reads, and a perfect choice any time of the day.

Hickory Dickory Dog by Alison Murray, published by Orchard Books

As our daughter gets older, she takes an increasing interest in the concept of time: The pattern of the day, the appearance of the moon, ideas of tomorrow and yesterday. Part of her intrigue has been in relation to clocks, asking us what they are for and how they work. Recently, we discovered an effective method for indicating to her that it's time to go upstairs for sleep, asking her "what's the time on the clock", to which, so far at least, her answer has been: "Bedtime!"

The traditional children's verse that starts 'Hickory Dickory Dock' was first recorded in 'Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book', an anthology of English-language nursery rhymes published in 1744. In Alison Murray's playful adaptation, we accompany Zac and his dog Rufus on a sunny Autumn day, first at home then at school.

As well as its two main protagonists, 'time' features throughout the book. Scenes are cleverly announced by a clock, striking the next hour of the day, accompanied by a rhyme to match: "Hickory, lickery, lunch. Some yummy crumbs to munch. The clock strikes noon, Zac's dropped his spoon! Hickory, lickery, lunch."

Their day is packed with activity: Getting dressed and ready to go; dancing, painting and gardening at school; returning home for bathtime and storytime, before snuggling down to sleep.

Oh No, George! By Chris Haughton, published by Walker Books

We think this may have been the first book that made us, and our toddler, laugh out loud at the same time. Chris Haughton's unmistakable, bold and brilliant illustrations are combined with perfectly timed dead-pan humour and superb character expression in Oh No, George!, the tale of a dog trying so very hard to make amends for instinctive and opportunistic mischief.

After coming home to find that George has been digging soil and eating cake, his superbly-named owner Harris is placated by the offer of George's favourite toy. They set off for a walk, which proves to be filled with temptations. George refrains from more trouble and stays on his best behaviour:

"George doesn't even try to chase Cat. Even Cat is a bit surprised". The look on Cat's face, of simultaneous relief and disappointment, is one of the best expressions I've come across in picture books to date. Can George resist a final Siren-like pull, presented by his favourite thing in life, a bin full of rubbish?

With intermittent opportunities to say "Oh No, George!", this has become a frequent bedtime treat.

Smelly Louie
by Catherine Rayner, published by Macmillan Children's

Our older daughter, who is nearly three, is a big fan of baths. She enjoys creating bubble beards and has mastered the bubble clap - taking a large clump of foam and clapping her hands together to create a flurry of bubble snow.

Catherine Rayner's Louie does not like bubbles, and he detests baths. Worst of all is "The Noise" - that awful sound of running water - and most of all, that most hated aroma: "roses and apple blossom!" Why? Because Louie is a dog who has worked hard to finesse his unique stink, and he doesn't like to give it up!

We meet Louie just after he's had a bath, mourning the loss of his radiantly rotten aroma. He is determined to regain his scent - seeking out its key ingredients, with a little help from a filthy fox and some whiffy flies. Along the way, he befriends an old boot, delights in dustbins and rolls in sticky sludge. Something is missing, though...Of course! The pongy pond!

We share in his delight as Louie reclaims his special smell and marches proudly home. We feel his pride as the impressed fox looks upon him. And we share his horror on hearing "the noise" and on smelling that terrible, revolting, perfumed smell and the call "Louie, come here". "Surely, it couldn't be?"

A beautiful book with a most lovable lead, Smelly Louie is a family favourite, full of fun, humour and brimming with colour and life. An aromatic treat for all the senses.

Time for Bed, Fred! by Yasmeen Ismail, published by Bloomsbury

This is a book filled with fun, with wonderful illustration and strong, clear language that is perfectly suited to be read from the earliest months and still enjoyed years later.

The playful, mischievous and loyal Fred is one of our daughter's favourite characters from her picturebook collection. It's a great option for helping young toddlers who are just starting to talk to learn about emphasis and tone - "That's not your bed, Fred. That's my bed".

It's a book that also helped our toddler to develop an understanding of the bedtime routine and that, after a day of digging soil, chasing cats, having a bubble bath, and getting cosy, it's time to settle down in your own bed for a lovely night's sleep.

On turning to the final page, our toddler always joins us in saying "night night" to Fred and wishing him sweet dreams.

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Mortimer's Picnic

August 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 25 Aug, 2016 06:14PM

Mortimer's Picnic by Nick Ward, published by Troika Books

Several of our three year old daughter's favourite U certificate films state on the box that they contain 'mild peril'. Picturebooks can also provide a safe place for children to tentatively experience what it means to be a little bit frightened, to help them to ask questions about things that may concern them, and to support discussion about real life emotion and feelings.

Ancient myths and classic fairy tales remain adored across generations because they deliver mild peril so well. There are many excellent recent additions to this genre, including one of our daughter's favourite and most requested picturebooks 'Mortimer's Picnic'.

Mortimer mouse is preparing a hamper to take on a picnic with his best friend Oggy, when a letter from Oggy arrives. Sadly, he is not well and won't be able to make it. Undeterred, Mortimer makes a home made get well soon card and sets off to Oggy's house where he plans to nurse him back to good health.

As well as his basket of food Mortimer carries an anthology of adventure stories, which before the story proper has begun, Mortimer is seen reading intently on a page inside the front cover. This is certainly a clue to how the story is set to develop from here, as author/illustrator Nick Ward cleverly weaves together a host of classic fairy tales to create this innovative iteration.

Just as Mortimer sets off on his journey, ominous rain clouds form overhead. This is just the start - to reach his friend, Mortimer has to face many perils along the way, including a rushing river and a (really quite) scary forest, as well as using the contents of his hamper to save himself by placating a series of baddies that would otherwise gobble him up.

There are lots of enjoyable details, such as the touch of pantomime when a gnarling crocodile hot on Mortimer's heels breaks through the 'fourth wall' and turns to the reader, finger to its mouth to tell us to "shhhh", as it creeps up behind our furry protagonist.

The book gives a clear nod, we think, to classic tales of mild peril including Little Red Riding Hood, Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gruffalo. Mortimer's Picnic certainly brings something new to the genre, not least through Nick Ward's distinctive Brothers' Grimm meets Punch-and-Judy style illustration (we were already fans of his work from reading his illustrated chapter-book, Superbot, reviewed earlier).

Just when all seems lost, as Mortimer's foes close in, a 'deus ex machina' intervenes to ensure an unexpectedly sweet and pleasantly surprising ending (not to be revealed here), which simultaneously reassures and delights.

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London, Baby! The Capital in Picturebooks

August 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 09 Aug, 2016 01:56PM
A few weeks ago we took our daughters to London for the first time. In advance, we'd read lots of wonderful picturebooks featuring the capital.

"Big Ben!!" exclaimed our three year old with glee and a beaming smile when we saw the bell tower standing tall above the trees from our viewpoint in Trafalgar Square. The Square's huge lions, Nelson's Column, Horse Guards Parade, black taxis - all ten times more exciting for her in person because she'd seen them depicted first on paper.

Below are four of our favourite picturebooks set in London.

The Queen's Hat by Steve Antony, published by Hodder Children's Books

This royal romp through London is a feast for the eyes, celebrating London's most recognisable monuments with dazzling detail and a patriotic palate of red, white and blue. We follow the path of the Queen's hat as it whooshes on the wind across the capital, chased by all the queen's men. From Buckingham Palace, to swinging round the London Eye and floating up to the top of Big Ben, the guards (and their daring and acrobatic monarch) try in vain to get back control of the windswept headpiece.

Each page features an impressively accurate illustrated landmark, and an array of often amusing 'Where's Wally?' style micro-stories. Our favourite pages include the cacophonous scene of London Zoo, with guards and animals stampeding after the queen who surges ahead on giraffe-back, and the scene of the guards and their Queen scaling the dizzy heights of Big Ben, with one guard clinging onto the hour hand of the clock-face.

Finally, reaching Kensington Palace, the Queen, her guards and her hat float down Mary Poppins-style to a regal pram, the hat landing gently on its infant passenger's head. As the Queen, her restored hat and her grandson take a well earned stroll on the final page, a butler follows with the offer of a very British cup of tea.

L is for London by Paul Thurlby, published by Hodder Children's Books

Paul Thurlby's highly distinctive 'retro-modern' style is showcased brilliantly in this alphabetised picturebook love-letter to London. From Abbey Road to London Zoo, the best of London (and Londoners) is portrayed through bold block colours and a matt finish that's reminiscent of the portfolio of a 1960s advertising agency.

It's a celebration of London's iconic diversity, stereotypes and history, too: From bridges old (Tower) and new (Millennium), red phone boxes and Foyles Books, the pink chested man reading the paper in the park, the punk rocker queuing (a classic British pastime) alongside Shakespeare and a Wimbledon tennis pro. This is a book of art, which would be equally at home on a Shoreditch coffee table as in a child's bedroom.

Maisy goes to London by Lucy Cousins, published by Walker Books

Reading a book from Lucy Cousins' Maisy series is a wonderful way to prepare for firsts - whether its a first trip to the cinema, the swimming pool, or the capital. Each scene is filled with Cousins' trademark primary colours and menagerie of animals.

London is depicted in probably just the way that a child would see it - not focusing on the history, scale or architecture, but on the more immediate impact of the 'flashing lights' of Piccadilly Circus, the joyful play and carnival atmosphere of the riverbank, and the seemingly endless descent of the escalator to the underground train. Reading this was a great way to prepare our young children for a visit to the capital and its noisy "Honk! Honk! Honk!".

A Possum's Tail by Gabby Dawnay (words) and Alex Barrow (Illustrations), published by Tate Books

This is a delightfully whimsical, rhyming tale of a boy's walk to and from London Zoo in London circa 1940 - with illustrative echos of the Madeline series. The double page spreads are packed with detail, allowing the reader to follow the boy's footsteps through classic London scenes, whether the pomp and formality of Buckingham Palace or the diversity of life at a street market.

A highlight is a bird's eye (or in this case, a balloon's eye) view of London, which is quite beautiful.

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Mungo Monkey Goes On a Train

August 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 03 Aug, 2016 08:47AM

Mungo Monkey Goes On a Train by Lydia Monks, published by Egmont

Earlier this year we took our two daughters on holiday to the beautiful North Norfolk Coast. A memorable highlight was an enjoyable half hour al fresco ride on the Wells to Walsingham miniature steam train (pictured above - it was May, and happily blankets were provided!).

Our elder daughter, who had recently turned three, was very excited by the whole experience including buying the tickets, hearing the train's very loud "toot toot" and wearing her train driver's cap bought for her by granny.

It's little wonder that the bright, sparkly and joyful tale of Mungo Monkey Takes the Train became a favourite read soon after. With a superb combination of an easy read narrative, highly engaging illustrations and clever page flaps, this is a delight to read for all involved.

Recently, after our daughters' first 'proper' train journey from our home town to London, the tale of Mungo's locomotive adventure was requested a record seven nights in a row.

The pages are full of bright colours and charming details, with a bounty of page flaps that cleverly add to the fun. Our favourite scenes include the dark tunnel where four flaps reveal the creepy crawlies hiding in the dark; the triple fold flap that flips up three times to incrementally take the train "up", "up", "up" the hill; and storefront of the shop at the top of the hill that lifts up to reveal its wonderful wares, including ice creams, souvenirs and outdoor toys.

As the story is of Mungo and his sister Mimi on a day-trip with their granny and grandad, it serves as a lovely depiction of a grandparents and grandchildren relationship, joining other great options such as Grandad's Island and Snow, reviewed already.

All in all, this is a first class ride!

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