November 2015 ReviewsPosted by Max 22 Nov, 2015 08:14PM
Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner, published by Macmillan
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.
November 2015 ReviewsPosted by Max 12 Nov, 2015 07:32PMMonkey key and the Little One
by Claire Alexander, published by Egmont Books
Before the arrival of our second daughter we often wondered how our older daughter (who is just over two and a half) would respond to the arrival of a sibling. It's now seven weeks since our youngest arrived and, to our great relief and delight, so far so good.
Inevitably, there have been a few moments when our oldest's enthusiasm and usual sweet response to her new sister have been tested. As well as reassurance, cuddles and extra attention, picturebooks have played an important role in helping her adjust to this momentous change in her and our lives. We've written already about the books that we read with her to help prepare her for our new baby.
Since her birth, other books that centre on new arrivals and sibling relationships have also played a role. Of these, a favourite is Monkey and the Little One, a tale of initially unrequited affection, about two creatures who struggle to speak each other's language.
Monkey is happy - whether reading quietly alone, swimming in the tranquil lake, or relaxing in a hammock. From nowhere, a mouse appears. This Little One gets in the way, copies what monkey does, and interrupts the routine. Monkey asks the mouse to leave. The mouse doesn't seem to understand, and instead continues to impose, even keeping Monkey awake all night with 'loud music'. The mouse tries to make amends with a flower and a jam sandwich, but Monkey shouts at the Little One to GO AWAY! The mouse understands and without a word it leaves.
Monkey returns to his routine, but "somehow it didn't seem the same anymore". He realises he'd kind of enjoyed mouse's company and resolves to find her. After searching far and wide he traces her to the field of flowers and they share a jam sandwich together. In fact, they realise they have a lot in common and enjoy each other's company. In a final illustration, we see them sheltering and holding hands in the rain, smiles on their faces, as they keep dry together.
This is a tender picturebook whose messages are as gentle and sweet as its illustrations. It's an ideal choice for reading to a young child when a new sibling arrives, or when significant change has come into their lives. It's an additional bonus that our daughter's nickname for her baby sister is Little One.
November 2015 ReviewsPosted by Max 10 Nov, 2015 10:18PMApple Pigs
by Ruth Orbach, published by The National Trust and Pavilion Books
When we moved to our house a few years ago, we inherited a very old apple tree at the end of the garden. Crooked and weather beaten, it didn't look very happy at all. Its branches were tangled with no sign of buds, let alone fruit.
We arranged for a tree surgeon to have a look, and he cut its branches back almost to the trunk. A year later, there was little sign of life, except for a few smaller branches developing from the stumps that remained.
The next spring, however, green shoots appeared, soon followed by a sprinkling of tiny apples. At the end of summer, a hundred or so apples hung from the tree. Apart from a couple of apple cakes and some apple sauce, most of the apples became windfall and were donated to as many relatives, friends and neighbours as would take them.
Each year since, the tree has produced more and more apples. This year was the largest crop yet - more than 200 apples - resulting in a flurry of apple chutney. Our daughter proved herself a very helpful windfall collector and enjoyed helping wash them and dispose of their peel.
Recently, just as the lawn has been cleared of the last apple of the year, we read Apple Pigs for the first time. Reprinted in 2015 by the National Trust and Pavilion Books, this delightful tale of apple abundance is available afresh to a new generation, nearly 40 years after its debut.
When a girl tends to an old apple tree in her garden, clearing its roots of rubbish and promising to look after it, the tree agrees to start producing its fruit once more. At first, the girl is pleased to benefit from its annual crop. But soon, she and her family can't bear to eat another apple: "apples for dinner, apples for tea - too many apples, we all agreed".
As more and more apples appear, they are increasingly at a loss at what to do with all this fruit and where to keep it: "We packed them in baskets, in boxes, in trunks. We stuffed them in cupboards and up in the bunks". Even their bath, sink, grand piano and pram are filled with them, yet the tree gives more and more.
When there is simply nowhere else to store them, the family decides to hold an Apple Feast and invite not just the neighbours but a local menagerie of birds and beasts too - with dancing, songs and, of course, apples (in every form!): "Apple fritters, apple-ade, apple custard father made. Apple strudel, apples dried, apple pigs were mother's pride".
Many of the guests, such as the hippos, giraffes, camels and elephants, are too big to get into the house and have to eat outside, while in the house bears, monkeys, goats and mice enjoy everything an apple has to offer: "Some ate cores, some ate peelings, some ate apples from the ceiling".
As well as being fun to read aloud, Apple Pigs is also a great choice for helping children connect their everyday lives with nature, build an appreciation for the value of food, and learn about how apples grow. Told with a gentle rhyme alongside sparse yet pleasing illustrations, doused in Royal Gala red, this is a joyful tale of apples and the sweetness of sharing with others.
November 2015 ReviewsPosted by Max 04 Nov, 2015 12:00PMMy Busy Being Bella Day
by Rebecca Patterson published by Random House Childrens
As our daughter approaches her third birthday, she has a growing interest in 'big children' and the exciting world they inhabit - their taller slides, faster bikes, louder voices, longer hair. Perhaps most intriguing of all is that big children go to school, a seemingly mysterious and wondrous place.
Since the arrival of her baby sister six weeks ago, she has adapted remarkably well to her new role as 'big sister', with a new air of maturity, greater confidence in her abilities, and a desire to show her new sibling (and us) how much she can say, do and help. Incrementally, before our eyes, she is becoming one of the big children.
It's perhaps no wonder, with the recent addition to our family, that she and we are finding more and more to love about Bella, Rebecca Patterson's wonderfully wilful 'threenager'. In this book, we join Bella as she narrates a tale of a typical day at nursery - beginning with a reluctant farewell to her mummy and her baby brother, Bob. She tells us it will be a busy day, and speculates about all the fun mummy and Bob will probably be having without her.
The day doesn't start well for Bella. Finding a banana with spots in her lunch box at snack time is bad enough, but when Sasha produces kiwi slices in a special pot, her inner turmoil is almost too much to bear. Then later, the tasks of colouring in a 2 and sticking pasta shapes onto card just seem unreasonably difficult (Sasha and the others make it look so easy!) and she's sure Bob is at "that place with the curly slide" or in a cafe with mummy "licking foam".
Yet Bella's day takes a turn for the better when she is "praised" by her teacher for "singing" I'm a little teapot: "Margaret is right - I AM THE LOUDEST TEAPOT HERE!" Then, after literally riding above Sasha on the horse see saw, she asserts with pride that Bob wouldn't be allowed on it at all as "he might wobble off". During dressing up, Bella puts on all the clothes in the box and remarks that "Bob can't even put on a sock".
We enjoy a touch of schadenfreude when Sasha's lentil shaker spills all over the floor and later, after Bella is the "special person who chooses the weather", it's time for mummy and Bob to collect her. Bella's mum looks weary and Bob is elated to see his big sister, almost leaping from his pushchair into a big hug. What have you been doing all day? Bella asks. "Nothing much", says mummy, as we see a flashback of mummy and Bob sitting by the washing machine trying to get through the never ending laundry. "Most of the time", says mummy, "Bob was busy...missing you".
This is a charming book with characters to whom we can all relate, both ourselves and our children. It's lively, busy and fun - just like Bella's day. The illustrations are full of colour, energy and detail. Most enjoyable is the humour and sweet pathos in the depiction of the push and pull of sibling rivalry, underscored by love. A highly recommended triumph.