Books My Toddler Loves

Books My Toddler Loves

Chapter Book Series of 2017

FriendshipPosted by Max 27 Nov, 2017 03:04PM

This year our elder daughter, who is now nearly five, developed a love of illustrated chapter books. There are many wonderful choices for her age group, and reading them with her has proved to be a great way to move towards the first readers she now takes home from school.

Our blog will continue to focus on picturebooks - including those adored by our second daughter who recently turned two - but for now here are our top three chapter book series of 2017.

Ottaline by Chris Riddell, published by MacMillan Children's Books

A highlight of our year has been discovering the surrealist world of Ottaline by former Children's Laureate Chris Riddell. Ottaline is a resident of the Pepperpot Building, situated in the heart of a fantastical metropolis. She is the daughter of parents in abstentia - roving collectors, professors and international travellers - who keep in touch with postcards and letters which are sent and received intermittently.

Ottaline is left in the care of a medley of service providers, who keep an eye out for her while she and her companion, Mr Munroe, a small hairy Norwegian troll, pursue a series of adventures.

In Ottaline at Sea (the third of the series but the first we read), Mr Munroe sets off alone for Norway to find the bog that was once his home. We follow him, accompanying Ottaline as she seeks to be reunited and bring him back, adorned with wonderful outfits and an array of oversized hats and sunglasses.

In this and others in the Ottaline series, readers are immersed in the witty prose and astonishing, intricate detail of the illustrations, bringing to life Ottaline's world in a feast for our eyes and an enrichment for our imaginations.

Evie's Magic Bracelet by Jess Ennis-Hill and Elen Caldecott (writers) and Erica-Jane Waters (illustrator), published by Hodder Children's Books

This series, inspired by the childhood of one of the great 21st century role models, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill (written with Elen Caldecott), has become a firm family favourite. It follows the adventures of Evie, a seven year old girl whose family has recently moved to a new area. The first book in the series tells of Evie's early days at her new school, and her tentative steps towards friendship with two classmates, Ryan and Isabelle.

In each book, her grandmother, who lives far away, sends Evie a magical bracelet and an accompanying riddle about how to use the magic it can release. Delightful illustrations by Erica-Jane Waters are placed on the majority of pages, which help our daughter follow the stories (lengthier than other books we've read before at 120+ pages).

The boys and girls help each other in times of need and times of fun. While the stories feature some mystical creatures (including trickster sprites and a majestic unicorn) the underlying message is clear - true magic lies in the friendships we make, the hard work we do, trying our best and the love of family.

Secret Princesses by Rosie Banks, published by Orchard Books

This fantastical series centres on best friends Mia and Charlotte, separated by the Atlantic Ocean after Charlotte's family emigrate to America. However, when cousin Alice reveals to them that she is a Secret Princess - a wish granter who lives with a group of others at Wishing Star Palace - they become Secret Princesses in Training, able to reunite through the power of a BFF heart pendant split in two between them.

Their missions, assigned by the Princesses and a magic mirror, require the girls to use their new powers to grant the wishes of others. These acts of kindness are hindered by the mean intentions of Princess Poison, a former secret princess expelled from the kingdom, who seeks to spoil the wishes and ruin other people's day.

In the first of the series, The Magic Necklace, Mia and Charlotte come to the aid of a birthday girl who wishes for a perfect party. The girls have only a few uses of their powers available for each task, and to succeed requires them to work together and use skill, care and planning.

Exciting illustrations match a pacy narrative, along with a fair bit of detail, which our daughter loves, about hair styles, dresses and shoes (that, for this particular reader dad at least, taught me a few useful things!). Princess Poison (and her sidekick, Hex) is an excellent villain - with just the right level of baddie-ness to excite but not frighten our four year old. Each book that follows has a similar template to the first, with the girls' friendship and our interest in their lives growing with each adventure.

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Blocks: Let's Share!

FriendshipPosted by Max 21 Sep, 2017 07:16PM

Blocks: Let's Share by Irene Dickson, published by Nosy Crow

Our youngest daughter, who is soon to be two, is very loyal to her favourite books, often requesting them over and over again in one sitting. One such current favourite is this simple, lovely board book, which is fitting to feature on International Day of Peace. It's theme is sharing and, ultimately, learning that there is more pleasure to be had in collaboration than division.

The book starts with a peaceful scene of Ruby, building with her red blocks, whilst wearing her shiny red shoes and red stripy top. Ruby is content until...along comes Benji with his enticing blue cart full of blue blocks. For a while, Ruby and Benji play side by side, each with their own coloured blocks.

After a while the allure of Ruby's red blocks becomes too much for Benji and he helps himself to one, much to Ruby's dismay: "Ruby wants her red block back" and they grapple it between them, until - turning to our daughter's favourite double page spread - "CRASH", and they and the blocks all come tumbling down.

Ruby, who has lost a shoe in the melee, and Benji sit amongst the mixed up blocks looking forlorn and rosy cheeked. Happily, it doesn't take the toddlers long to find a new and better way to play - "together" - with both the red and the blue blocks.

Peace is restored and they harmoniously build a magnificent tower of red and blue blocks. But wait: Here's Guy, with a cart full of green blocks! Guy is smiling though, and the sense at the end of the book is that these toddlers will soon find a way to incorporate a third party into their play.

Beautiful, bright, block colour illustrations are a perfect match for the crisp, clear language. It's an ideal choice visually and verbally for an early listener and early reader, and is sure to remain a firm favourite in our home.

For more books featuring peace-making, reconciliation and making amends, try these (all reviewed on our site):

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Our Favourite Picturebook Friendships

FriendshipPosted by Max 18 May, 2017 08:38PM

The theme of friendship is found in many of our favourite picturebooks. Below we review two much-enjoyed, recent additions to the genre.

Winnie the Pooh: The Great Heffalump Hunt
written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Angela Rozelaar, published by Egmont

One of the most famous picturebook pairings is the unlikely duo of Winnie the Pooh and his faithful pal, Piglet. The original stories of A A Milne are among the best works of children's literature, and we love this new iteration from author and master rhymer Giles Andreae.

His retelling of the pair's hunt for a heffalump brings out all their best qualities - adventure, partnership and loyalty - and the carefully crafted and gentle rhyme moves the story along at a quick pace.

Angela Rozelaar's delightful illustrations capture the spirit of the original story with a modern feel, ideal for young children. Her heffalump dream sequence and piglet's nighttime search for his friend are suitably atmospheric with just the right pinch of mild peril.

South by Daniel Duncan, published by Abrams Young Readers

This book begins with the depiction of a fisherman's lonely life out on the ocean. He has only his banjo, old photographs and mementoes of happier days to keep him company.

When a bird with a broken wing lands on board, the fisherman finds a renewed purpose as well as an unexpected friendship. He sets a new course, both literally and spiritually.

A sparse, poignant narrative is combined with lustrous illustrations brimming with beauty. Each page is filled with a nautical treasure trove of details, whether out on deck with nets and buckets, inside the ship's cosy cabin, or down below on the wondrous sea bed.

Other favourite picturebook friendships, all previously reviewed on our site, include:

A dog and a stripey sock (Claude All at Sea)

A boy and an alien (The Way Back Home)

A boy and a baby whale (The Storm Whale)

A monkey and a mouse (Monkey and the Little One)

A lion and a mouse (The Lion Inside)

Children and an alligator (Aunt Amelia)

A mouse and an ogre (Mortimer's Picnic)

A goose and a crocodile egg (The Odd Egg)

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Solomon and Mortimer

FriendshipPosted by Max 13 May, 2016 04:07PM

Solomon and Mortimer by Catherine Rayner, published by Macmillan Children's Books

If you were looking for fun in the Savannah, would you sneak up on the biggest hippo in the river? Solomon the crocodile is back, this time with twice the splash, as he is joined by his new best friend, Mortimer.

'Solomon and Mortimer' is (Kate Greenaway Medal winner) Catherine Rayner's terrific follow up to her brilliant 'Solomon Crocodile' (previously reviewed here), which ended with the promise of "double trouble".

This sequel is a tale of pranks, pelicans and peer pressure. Bored with their failed attempts to fly, look for lizards and climb trees, they spot hippo, the largest creature in the river and hatch a plan to creep up and scare him. Others see what they're up to and try to warn them off, to no avail. But surely they should heed the wiggle of the hippo's ear, the twitch of his tail and the turn of his eye?

The jungle river and its hubbub menagerie is the perfect backdrop for Rayner's glorious watercolours, which burst with life and light. Solomon and Mortimer's ill-advised adventures are first and foremost great fun and lovely to look at.

Yet the book can also serve as an ideal choice for teachers and parents as a prompt for discussions with young children about risk-taking, making choices, heeding advice and understanding consequences.

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The Odd Egg

FriendshipPosted by Max 23 Feb, 2016 08:51PM

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett, published by Macmillan Children's

At our eldest daughter's third birthday party this weekend, we had a dinosaur themed pass the parcel. Contained within each layer of wrapping was a small brontosaurus, pterodactyl and triceratops.

The final prize, won (of course) by the birthday girl, was a 'dinosaur egg', from which, when left overnight in a bowl of water, emerged a large sponge tyrannosaurus Rex.

So it seemed particularly fitting to enjoy a reading tonight of Emily Gravett's marvellous modern classic, The Odd Egg.

Depicted through her distinctive pastel watercolour and pencil illustration, and a clever use of flaps for dramatic effect, we follow the travails of duck, the only bird in the book who hasn't laid an egg.

While owl, flamingo, robin, chicken and parrot look on at their clutch with pride, duck is alone. When he (yes he) finds an enormous egg covered with green spots, he thinks it's the most beautiful he's ever seen.

In the face of the others' taunts and ridicule, he nurtures his huge egg. After all, their insults are merely water off his back.

When all the other eggs hatch, duck starts to wonder if his ever will, and he settles down to knit a long, woolly scarf while he waits.



The ending is a joyful surprise, not to be given away here. The other birds certainly learn their lesson for their meanness, and duck and his hatchling waddle off happily together.

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