Books My Toddler Loves

Books My Toddler Loves

Dragons: Our Four Fiery Favourites

Fairy tales retoldPosted 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.

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Little Reds

Fairy tales retoldPosted by Max 27 Apr, 2017 09:37PM

Like many classic nursery rhymes, fairy tales have an extraordinary ability to transcend generations, cultures and languages. Their plots are filled with mild (and often more than mild) peril. Perhaps one reason for their enduring popularity is that they give children, and the adults they read with, the opportunity to explore challenging themes from the comfort of a cosy bed or another safe space. Many of these fairly tales have a clear resolution, vindicate goodies over wronguns, and teach some helpful values along the way.

Little Red Riding Hood has survived in literature for at least a thousand years. Its origins can be traced back to several European folk tales from the 10th century, including an Italian version called 'La finta nonna' (The False Grandmother). It has inspired an array of interpretations for page and screen, including many in picturebook form. Below are three of our favourites.

Little Red Riding Hood by Anna Milbourne (words), Julia Sarda Portabella (illustrations) and Nicola Butler (design), published by Usborne

This is a hugely innovative delivery of a traditional retelling, brought to life through an extraordinary feat of paper engineering. From the front cover onwards, we can see through the story, with each cardboard page containing intricate cut-throughs to those that follow. Through the front cover, we can see a dark, thick forest as the journey begins. The books pace-setting words are matched perfectly with charming illustrations. With every turn, more of Little Red's near-three-dimensional world is revealed. Her red cape shines through the pages like a beacon, through the dark wood filled with rabbits, deer and squirrels. The big bad wolf is suitably creepy and sinister.

The book's unique selling points are accentuated by flaps and hidden turns, which add to the fun. Over the course of the book the reader can move through the forest, into grandma's house, and out again - in a way that is as close to animation as you can get in a picturebook. Illustrator Julia Sarda Portabella's beautiful pictures convey both a retro and Germanic feel, perhaps as a nod to the most famous version of this story - that of the Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Little Red by Bethan Woollvin, published by Two Hoots

The cover of this book sets a tone of subversion from the off. This isn't going to be a straightforward retelling. Black lines against a stark white backdrop, depicting a girl's fringe and side-eyes stare, are surrounded by a blood-red hood. The inside cover shows the girl, hands on hips, amidst a bleak forest - she is a Scandi-noir Little Red who is not in a mood to be messed with.

Asked to take some cake to her poorly grandma, she sets off, not looking too impressed by the prospect. The wolf, whose teeth literally fill the page, approaches her, and growls. We are told this "might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl". The wolf makes a plan, but so does Little Red.

We won't reveal the truly brilliant and shocking ending in this post. Let's just say that if I'd been drinking tea at the time of reading this book it might have been splurted across the room. It's no wonder this picturebook (Bethan Woollvin's debut) was chosen as one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2016.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith, published by Scholastic

Alex T Smith applies his brilliantly irreverent style to a transposition of Little Red to the Savannah - with an amusing narrative amid fabulous splashes of sumptuous colour. Her ruby-red dress is juxtaposed with the rich pinks and oranges of the African plains and skies, and the hungry wolf's (or in this case, lion's) bronze mane.

When Auntie Rosie calls for help - she is covered in spots - Little Red sets off to see her - with a basketful of medicine and fresh doughnuts. We follow her all the way, around warthogs and atop elephants. When she stops for a rest under a shady tree, the lion makes his move and forms his "very clever plan" - humorously depicted in the form of what appears to be an all-too-hastily-doodled step-by-step guide.

Rosie arrives at her Auntie's house and on entering her bedroom immediately sees her - locked in the cupboard - with the lion tucked up in bed. She decides to teach him a lesson (several in fact) including hair braiding, dental hygiene and fashion. The lion finally has enough of playing the role of Auntie, and can stay in character no longer. Happily, a deal is struck, doughnuts are consumed, and the lion's interest in eating aunties and girls vanishes, as do Auntie Rosie's spots.

If you like these, and are looking for more Little Reds, try:

Yummy by Lucy Cousins - a compendium of classic folk and fairy tales depicted through the author's famous primary colour palette (including Little Red).

Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy - where the wolf is worn down by the energy and persistence of a "threenager" Little Red.

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Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake

Fairy tales retoldPosted by Max 07 Mar, 2017 01:36PM

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake
by James Mathew, published by Orchard Books

For World Book Day, children across the country went to nursery and school dressed as their favourite book character, and took the related book in to read with their class. It's a fun way to bring stories to life, and an opportunity for parents to try their hand at costumes.

This year, when our now four-year-old daughter insisted on wearing her Elsa dress, we enthused her with the idea of being the Princess and the Pea - on the condition that she could take with her a single pea in a small plastic pot. She also chose the costume for our one year old - a Sophie la Giraffe tutu onesie - on the basis that her book character must be 'Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake'.

This book is one of a series of Ella Bella stories based on real ballets, a perfect showcase of Author illustrator James Mayhew's love of art and classical music (read his biography here). As well as the hugely popular 'Katie' series, James has written for the fabulous CBeebies series 'Melody' (where a girl listens to classical music and unlocks her vivid imagination).

Ella Bella Ballerina presents a version of the magical, majestic and at times quite dark Swan Lake. It starts on a rainy evening when Ella Bella is dropped at her ballet lesson. She joins in with Madame Rosa's class as they dance to the melody from Tchaikovsky's evocative score (a composition that is now more than 140 years old).

As the class ends, the other children filter out to change, and Ella finds herself alone on stage. Suddenly, the theatre transforms into another world, of watery reeds, ballrooms, the night sky and, first, a flock of swans who become white ballet princesses. Odette, the swan princess, leads Bella on an adventure to secure the true love of her prince and break the sorcerer's spell that is cast to commit her to her half-swan form forever.

The dreamy, washed illustrations are beautiful and full of movement, and reminiscent of the Madeline books. When we read the story, it is brought even more to life by playing a clip from the denouement of the score - which (like Melody) proved to be an ideal way to introduce our young children to classical music.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Fairy tales retoldPosted by Max 23 Sep, 2015 01:08PM

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli, published by Miles Kelly

For breakfast, our daughter usually requests 'cereal with jammy bits' (cranberry wheats), 'an egg in a cup' (boiled egg in an egg cup with an elephant on it) or porridge.

Of late, porridge has been her favourite, which may be due to a new fascination with the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. This began after we read Lucy Cousins' excellent 'Yummy', a compendium of fairy tales including that of the precocious girl and the family of bears who discover her asleep in their house.

A few days later, her auntie sent her a surprise gift - a small rag-doll with golden pigtails, which she immediately named after the story's main protagonist. Over the last week we've explored a diverse range of adaptations, including the 1939 Disney animation.

A version that she loves is the delightful My Fairytime Tale edition from Miles Kelly publishers and Italian illustrator Francesca Assirelli.

The story is well told in clear, easily repeatable language, brought to life by colourful, bold illustrations and larger than life characters. Our daughter loves to point out the traditional antics of "that naughty girl" - as she eats baby bear's porridge "all up", breaks his chair and sleeps in his bed.
There are some nice touches to the book itself, such as the sparkly, bobbly butterflies, bear noses and title on its front cover, which our daughter enjoys feeling with her fingertips.

After more than 150 years of The Three Bears, as it was first known, this is a sweet, charming take on a truly classic tale.

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