Books My Toddler Loves

Chapter Book Series of 2017Friendship

Posted by Max 27 Nov, 2017 03:04PM

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



Revisiting Old FavouritesCooking and eating

Posted by Max 22 Nov, 2017 10:25AM

It is a particular pleasure to revisit our own favourite childhood reads with our daughters, and these two have certainly stood the test of time.

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The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage, published by Scholastic

We were delighted to find this treasure in our local library. First published in 1977, forty years later it remains a firm family favourite.

It is the tale of Mr Grinling, the dedicated lighthouse keeper; his wife, amazing concoctor of delicious lunches; and their battle against three determined seagulls, Tom, Fred and Bert. Mrs Grinling lovingly made tasty packed lunches everyday for Mr Grinling and delivered them (thrillingly) via a basket clipped on to a wire connecting their cottage with the lighthouse out at sea.

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This happy existence is interrupted one day by some pesky seagulls who tuck into that day’s tasty morsels: seafood salad, sausages and crisps, peach surprise and iced sea biscuits. Lucky seagulls.
Blog imageMr and Mrs Grinling set about making a plan to foil the seagulls and after a few failed attempts (including the reluctant involvement of Hamish, their cat who “didn’t like flying” with the lunch basket), the seagulls are chased off. Mr Grinling happily resumes his luxurious lunches, at the expense of an unlucky fisherman.

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This whimsical and taste bud enticing tale is charmingly depicted in watercolour illustrations, showing the beautiful colours of the ocean, dark and imposing cliffs and sun streaked sky above.


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Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy, published by Walker Books

This ageless classic by Jill Murphy, author-illustrator of the bestselling The Worst Witch series, was first published in 1986, celebrating its 30th anniversary last year.

The story follows Mrs Large’s desperate quest for a bit of “me time”. Mrs Large is the somewhat harassed elephant mother to three boisterous young elephants and she’s definitely a character to whom most parents will no doubt relate. We join the family at breakfast, a particular chaotic and rowdy scene.

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Mrs Large looks weary and begins to prepare herself a tempting breakfast tray to enjoy in the bath. She tries to sneak off, but before she can make her happy escape the children demand to know where she is going and why. Mrs Large explains that she needs “five minutes peace from you lot” and implores the children to entertain themselves.

The next scene is one from all parents dreams: Mrs Large (resplendent in her bright bath-hat) luxuriating in a deep bubble bath: “It was heaven”! However, all too quickly the peace is shattered by visits from each child, wanting to display their recorder or reading skills or simply to jump right in the bath.

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Eventually Mrs Large gives up on her bath (now full of children and toys), and heads back down to the kitchen, still hoping for her elusive five minutes peace. In the end she has to settle for a measly “three minutes and forty-five seconds” of tranquility before the mayhem resumes.

The illustrations are colourful and detailed, making this a charming classic that can be enjoyed time after time.



Lulu and the Noisy BabyPreparing for a new arrival

Posted by Max 12 Nov, 2017 07:43PM


Blog imageLulu and the Noisy Baby by Camilla Reid (words) and Ailie Busby (illustration), published by Bloomsbury

We've written before about some of the many brilliant books that helped us and our elder daughter prepare for the arrival of her little sister. Now that she is four, and her sister is two, we've found it helpful at times to revisit these, and also others that are specifically about what it means to be a big sister.

One of our long-standing favourites, Lulu and the Noisy Baby is an interactive, reassuring and (in our experience) accurate depiction of becoming a big sister to a new baby. When we are first introduced to Lulu, we see her enjoying life as an only child - reading, painting, dressing up and having fun with her mummy. Clever flaps help us uncover Lulu from beneath her monster costume, and reveal her behind the window of her playhouse.
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Lulu notices that her mummy's tummy is growing, and her parents show her a picture of the baby scan - "I'm going to be a big sister" she says in delight. While mummy rests, we see her making a fairy castle with her daddy and then, a few weeks later, granny arrives to help out. That night mummy and daddy say "see you soon" as they depart for the hospital.

The next morning, Lulu and granny keep busy building towers (with a clever flap that opens up several times as the tower grows), playing pirates and hide and seek (behind the curtain flap). Then, just as granny has fallen asleep on the sofa as they watch a cartoon, Lulu "hears a noise" - ""Waaah" Waaah" Waaah" - and, as we look behind the door and lift up a flap on the baby basket her parents are carrying, we see her new baby brother smiling up at her.

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She is happy to have a brother, showing him the princess castle, the cat, and helping to get him dressed. Here, a variety of flaps allow us to choose multiple options for his outfit for the day. Next, we are asked to help Lulu and her daddy find the ingredients for dinner, hidden behind a variety of flaps in the kitchen.

The book ends with scenes of Lulu having fun with her mummy and daddy, as well as some of the less fun aspects of having a little sibling (he can be noisy, and sometimes they quarrel) but he's a great playmate too. Finally, with the help of a large flap against a height chart, we see Lulu and her brother grow from toddler and baby to school age children, and drawings on the wall showing them as great friends.

This delightful book is carefully crafted, with well thought-through interactive elements that remain engaging and fun after multiple reads, high quality card pages and an eye-catching glossy cover. The illustrations are bright and colourful, and the text is minimalist and easy to read. Happily, it's one of a series and we look forward to joining Lulu for more adventures.



Stories for a GoodnightBedtime

Posted by Max 01 Nov, 2017 08:49PM

Bedtime stories have been an established part of our youngest daughter’s bedtime routine for some time now and these two picture books are ideal for winding down before saying good night.

Blog imageGoodnight Like This by Mary Murphy, published by Walker Books

We were already fans of Mary Murphy’s “Say hello like this”, so were pleased to find this bedtime version in our local library.

Starting with bunny rabbits, each double page spread visits a different pair of creatures carrying out their own bedtime routine. The bunnies are “yawny and dozy, twitchy and cosy”, the cats “snorey and furry, stretchy and purry”. The reader can peek under the flaps in each page to see the sleeping animals.
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The illustrations, painted in all the colours of dusk in the countryside are both beautiful and calming. The gentle rhyme of the words adds to the welcome soporific effect, fitting the final message of “everyone’s tucked up in bed - now it’s your turn, you sleepyhead”.

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Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton, published by Walker Books

We love Chris Haughton’s distinctive illustrations and bold colour palette and “Goodnight Everyone” is a lovely choice for a bedtime read.

It’s the end of the day and all of the forest animals are sleepy, with heavy, drooping eyelids. The mice are sleepy, the hares are sleepy, the deer are sleepy, Great Big Bear is sleepy, all are sleepy, except, of course, for Little Bear with his big wide open eyes.

For a while Little Bear tries to entice the other little animals to play with him, but eventually he lets out a yawn and acquiesces when Great Big Bear carries him home.
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By this time, all of the animals are sleeping and we visit each snoring family, depicted in beautiful sunset colours. Finally, Little Bear is cuddled up, under the twinkling night sky, “goodnight everyone”.

An extra treat in the end notes are the solar system and constellation graphics, of course depicting Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear).

Previous reviews of other great bedtime reads can be found here:

My Little Star
I Love You Night and Day
Bedtime with Ted



I Love My BirthdayFamily fun

Posted by Max 15 Oct, 2017 07:44PM

Blog imageI Love My Birthday by Giles Andreae (words) and Emma Dodd (illustration), published by Orchard Books

"Happy Too Too" declares our two year old daughter, reaching for this marvellous celebration of a young child's birthday. Her adaptation of the Happy Birthday to You song has already become one of her catchphrases.

This book is part of the excellent series written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Emma Dodd, which depict the unconditional love of a family for its littlest members. The smooth and light-hearted rhyme is perfectly matched to the pastel and primary palette of the bold and engaging illustrations.

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The book follows the whole of the little one's birthday, starting with the early morning wake up (at 6.05am according to the clock in the parents' room) and morning cuddles (at 6.10).

Having recently hosted our daughter's second birthday party with a large group of family and friends, we empathise with the parents' effort of entertaining, clothing and feeding the children with one hand and blowing up balloons and hanging banners with the other.

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But, as ever, it's the small things that count - the child in the book is of course excited about his presents, but is most thrilled by helping to make the cake, with its "naughty treats" and chocolate flakes.

When it come to the page with the lit candles our daughter loves trying to help blow them out, while we adults join the boy's mum in giving "a little sigh" when the front door closes as the last guests leave.

This brilliant book rightly celebrates a special annual event, but is a perfect choice to read throughout the year.

(You can find our review of I Love You Baby, from the same series, in our A-Z search)