Books My Toddler Loves

Books My Toddler Loves

A Hole Lot of Fun

Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 09 May, 2017 08:49PM

Two of our favourite picturebooks are about what lies beneath our feet - specifically, what we might find down a hole in the ground. Where did the hole come from? Where does it lead? What might be living down there? What treasures might we find?

The Something (by Rebecca Cobb, published by MacMillan Children's Books) wondrous celebration of a child's imagination. This is a tale that starts when a ball doesn't bounce back - disappearing into a small hole besides a tree adorned by the green buds of Spring, in a boy's back garden. As the boy and his dog look down, we look up at them from the hole.

At first, the boy just waits and wonders. As the tree blooms into colour, the boy begins to ask others what they think might be down there. In the top half of the pages that follow, we see the boy, his family and his friends each taking a turn at guessing what might be below - and in the lower half of each page we see his imagination come to life - a mouse's house, a troll, a snoozing fox, even a dragon. In each scene, the boy's lost ball can be found.

As the pages turn, so do the leaves on the tree as autumn arrives, and finally the tree is bare. The boy is not upset that he doesn't have the answer - rather, he is "pleased that something has chosen our garden to live in".

Rebecca Cobb's beautiful and distinctive illustrations bring her first person narrative to life. There are charming and touching details to be discovered. When the boy's grandparents suggest that if something does live down there it is most likely a mole or a badger, the boy imagines the creatures knitting and doing the crossword - just like his Granny and Grandad are above ground. The diversity of the boy's friends is worth a particular mention.

We adore Rebecca Cobb's books and highly recommend others she's written and illustrated (including The Paper Dolls; Lunchtime; Aunt Amelia and There's an Owl in My Towel - all reviewed on our site).

In Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books) we meet two determined diggers on a mission, who vow that they "won't stop digging until we find something spectacular".

Setting out with their spades into a barren field next to a farmhouse and a single apple tree, Sam and Dave begin to dig. Here we see clear looks of determination from the pair, and their dog. Their cat looks sceptical and watches from the porch step. Jon Klassen's use of 'side-eye' in his characters' faces is second to none for illustrating a huge range of emotions.

They begin to dig down, and then across, at each turn narrowly missing increasingly huge diamonds buried in the earth. They stop for a rest and animal biscuits. When they fall asleep, their dog digs a little further, and opens up a hole in the bottom of the page. They all fall, landing with a bump on the earth below. "That was pretty spectacular" they say. But are they home?

Mac Barnett's sparse narrative is perfectly matched to Klassen's deadpan illustrations. The minimalist style enables readers to focus in on details, and notice new aspects of the story on each reading - it wasn't until recently we realised that the dog is always trying in vain to indicate where the gems are buried.

If you are looking for more books featuring holes in the ground, check out these two (reviewed previously): A New House for Mouse by Petr Horacek; and Rabbityness by Jo Empson.



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Adventures on the High Seas

Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 19 Sep, 2016 11:27AM


Mayday Mouse
by Seb Braun, published by Child's Play

This is a tale of brave Captain Mouse who sets off across the sea determined to get a birthday gift to her brother on the other side. Her journey begins on a lovely day, perfect for a cruise in her walnut shell boat with its toothpick mast. As she departs, two of her friends, a frog and dragonfly, remind her that if she needs help they'll be there for her.

Dark clouds descend and the sea becomes choppy, and before long great 'watery perils' appear, depicted with extraordinary movement and colour by Sebastian Braun's wonderful illustrations.

Crashing waves hurl her and her small craft towards a narrow miss with rocks and a dark cave, before she lands, stranded, on a small island. With the water closing in she calls upon her friends for aid with a cry of "Mayday!" They arrive just in time, bringing her materials for a new cork boat, which sees her on her way. Finally she reaches the shore and embraces her brother on the other side with a sigh of relief.

For the final spread we zoom out from her level to a bird's eye view, and a surprising reveal, which always causes our three year old to laugh out loud in delight, showing us her world in a very different way. A lovely bonus is a final scene on the inside cover where we see the mice siblings sharing the gift that Captain mouse so determinedly clung to during her various ordeals.

This is terrific tale of determination, overcoming adversity, friendship and the importance of perspective.



Claude All at Sea
by Alex T Smith, published by Hodder Children's Books

This is Claude's first adventure in picture book format and it certainly lives up to the reputation of the popular Claude series for young readers.

It's a fun-filled frolic of a read following Claude on a bath-time expedition on the high seas where he encounters all kinds of characters from Captain Poopdeck, Cindy Seaweed, Nigel the not-so terrifying sea monster and of course, Claude's faithful sidekick, Sir Bobblysock.

Alex T Smith's witty prose combines brilliantly with distinctive, predominantly red and white illustrations. The illustrations themselves are full of life and movement - two particularly memorable double page spreads being the moment when the bath tub escapes along the street with a "whoosh" and lands in the ocean with a "splash".

This is a great introduction for a younger audience to the Claude series and will have little ones laughing out loud.




This pair of picturebook adventures on the high seas would form a lovely trio alongside Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek, reviewed previously and in full here.

Petr Horacek's distinctive, colourful and full of life animals and birds are vivid wonders to behold. Here, his illustration is combined with a charming story of Peter, a small puffin, separated by a storm from his best friend. After the storm passes, Peter sets out to look for Paul with the help of a kind whale. This is a sweeping and satisfying adventure, filled with vistas of bold colours, and a sweet, happy ending. It's a perfect depiction of the value of friendship and persistence and a great book to introduce young children to useful adjectives through scenes from nature.

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Mortimer's Picnic

Adventures on land and seaPosted 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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Ducks, hatchlings and Hattie Peck

Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 08 Jun, 2016 04:25PM


Five weeks ago, two ducks swooped into our garden as we were playing with our daughter on the swing, one almost touching the top of her head as he landed on the lawn, quacking loudly. The next day, after the male had patrolled up and down the grass, we saw that the female was resting in our flowerbed. When she got up briefly to change position we saw several pale blue eggs under her in what was clearly a nest.

For four weeks our resident duck sat in the flowerbed. We became something of experts in mallard nesting, including the rules on what not to do, and kept our garden time to a minimum so as not to disturb her.

Two days ago, ten fluffy ducklings emerged from their shells, and yesterday they completed a daring departure - crossing under our hedge to next door, then beneath a fence on the other side and on into a garden beyond where we think a pond awaits. At one point, one duckling was left behind by its mother and nine siblings, only for them to all return when they heard its plaintive cries for rescue (this high drama observed by our transfixed three year old from her bedroom window).

Unsurprisingly, stories featuring eggs and ducks have become popular choices in recent days. Below is a review of one of our favourites.



Hattie Peck by Emma Levey, published by Top That Publishing

This is a delightful and heartwarming tale of nurture, family and the value of overcoming adversity. Hattie Peck is a chicken who loves eggs. She had laid just one egg herself, which hadn't hatched. She was sad, longing for more eggs. One day she decides she will make it her mission to rescue as many abandoned eggs as she can.

So begins a perilous journey, over crashing waves, up mountains, across rooftops and even through a blazing fire. In one very memorable scene she appears soaring in a hang glider over a Manhattan-esque skyline in search of lonely and left behind eggs.

Finally, with eggs of all sizes and colours piled high on a raft she gets a tow from an ocean liner and heads for home. The final page reveals an astonishing array of hatchlings that have emerged, including a flamingo, a platypus, a crocodile and a snake, all of whom receive Hattie Peck's unequivocal love. Adorably, she is busy knitting, with most of the brood already wrapped up warm in bobble hats, jumpers and scarves, made to fit their many shapes and sizes.

Emma Levey's illustrations form a colourful tapestry of high energy pages, accompanied by a strong narrative packed with verbs and adjectives that match the scale of her adventure. Her use of alliteration works very effectively ("Hattie Peck decided it was time to return her colossal clutch back to the coop", "she dived to the deepest depths"). We'll be sure to seek out the next instalment, 'Hattie Peck: The Journey Home' which was published earlier this year.


P.S. Another 'egg-cellent' picturebook we've reviewed already is Emily Gravett's 'The Odd Egg'.



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Reading About Robots, Through the Ages

Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 02 Jun, 2016 08:15PM
As our elder daughter nears three and a half, we've been reflecting on how her reading choices have developed over time. We have been reminded of how far she has come in this regard, and many others, as we watch her little sister (who has just turned 8 months) change and grow.

Our three year old continues to adore picturebooks, but she is increasingly interested in books that involve a greater amount of text and narrative. She has also had a lot of fun in the last few months revisiting some of her favourite board books, which are now being devoured (figuratively and literally) by her baby sister.

This tale of her literary development can be told through books featuring robots. Books featuring robots piqued her interest at a very young age, continuing through her toddler years and as she transforms into a girl before our eyes.



ABC Alphabet Fun (My First Touch and Feel) by Jonathan Litton, published by Little Tiger Press

As a one year old, our elder daughter (and now increasingly her little sister) was keen on board books based on the alphabet, first words and shapes. One of the best series of early learning books is those published by Little Tiger Press - whose excellent range includes board books, stickerbooks and jigsaw puzzles.

One of the series' authors, Jonathan Litton, created the cleverly designed 'Roar: A big-mouthed book of noises', one of our favourites. His 'ABC Alphabet Fun (My First Touch and Feel)' is another delight from start to end, with an array of tactile features to interact with, including a dog's squishy nose, a lion's fury mane, and a sticky splodge of jam. 'R' is for Robot, memorably depicted upside down, which in itself is a talking point, along with its shiny buttons, whirring dials and wind up cogs. From A-Z, this is a super sensory delight.



Tin by Chris Judge, published by Andersen Press

This brilliant combination of storytelling and eye-spy features a periodic table of characters, and has been enjoyed again and again since our daughter turned two. It is the tale of Tin, a young robot, whose mother entrusts him with the care of his little sister, Nickel. Although he is pleased with this responsibility, he is nevertheless distracted by his comicbook and only with an alert from his robot dog, Zinc, does he notice his sister floating off into the sky, holding a helium balloon.

So begins his intrepid rescue, involving flights across a futuristic cityscape, and daring adventures in a fairground and zoo. The story develops within a series of magnificent landscape spreads, each packed with details to spot and enjoy, reminiscent of the best scenes from Where's Wally. Tin and Nickel's escapades, eventual rescue and return home go unnoticed by their mother, who arrives back just after they do. She praises Tin for his attentiveness and care of his sister, neither of them noticing Nickel has been enticed by another balloon. This is the equivalent of picturebook metallurgy - turning words and images about common metals into storytelling gold.



Superbot and the Terrible Toy Destroyer by Nick Ward, published by David Fickling Books

Earlier this year our elder daughter was given her first chapter book - Superbot and the Terrible Toy Destroyer by Nick Ward - a tale of robots with many more words than other books in her collection, split into bite sized chapters.

Although it has longer passages of text than she had been used to, these are set alongside engaging and detailed illustrations depicting the world of Superbot, his maker Mrs Brightspark and his nemesis, Bruto the Bad.

When Bruto takes and crushes all of the local children's favourite toys, it's down to Superbot and his array of clever gadgets to put an end to Bruto's destructive behaviour, and discover the reason behind it.

Over the last few weeks, Superbot has been requested over and over again, probably more times than any other book. While on holiday at Easter, we read it five nights running - usually two chapters at a time. This tale is part of David Fickling Books' new Dfbees series of early readers. We're excited for what we hope will be many future instalments of Superbot.



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