Peapod’s Picks – Book Advent Days 6 – 13

So, after starting our Book Advent, I kept remembering, hearing about or seeing even more books I’d either forgotten or not heard of and adding to the pile! I have no doubt there’s still more I’ll think of too! So I’m addition to what we started with last week:

We now also have:

I think I need a bigger sideboard! A couple of the new ones were prizes and I was really excited to win board book copies of both Kipper’s Snowy Day and Ten Little Elves – although we had both as picture books, these will last us much longer and be much better for Peapod to look at himself!

This week, we’ve read:

That’s Not My Reindeer – Peapod loves the touchy feely bits in these books!

A lot of Shirley Hughes!

‘Alfie’s Christmas’ and ‘Lucy and Tom at Christmas’

Daddy picked both of these,and after his initial coolness towards Shirley Hughes’ books, I’m beginning to think he’s being won over! Though he’d never admit it!

Both are charming and relatable depictions of traditional Christmas celebrations, full of warmth, an observant humour and details which capture the moment perfectly.

Snow in the Garden – you can read a full review of this here. We just read the poems from it this week – wonderfully wintry!

‘Supertato: Evil Pea Rules’ – Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

I’m a big Supertato fan and, judging by the way he leaned himself over to look, so is ‘Peapod’!

Evil Pea is one of the best (worst?!) villains around and I love how dastardly he is. Bright, bold and laugh out loud funny and with some puns my dad would love! This series manages to be both brilliantly silly and brilliantly clever at the same time, and this is an excellent seasonal escapade from the veggie crew!

‘Father Christmas Needs a Wee’ – Nicholas Allan

I had hazy memories of how much a previous class had laughed at this years and years ago, but remembered very little of the story.

As it turns out, I had issues with some of the rhyme, but I thought it was great as a counting book and will definitely have very young readers in stitches as Father Christmas becomes more and more desperate for a wee!

One Snowy Night – Nick Butterworth

Ok, like a couple of last week’s, this isn’t strictly a Christmas book, but it’s one I love to read at this time of year. It never fails to make me smile. Percy the Park Keeper is a favourite anyway, but this book in particular is an absolute must-read for winter – cosy, atmospheric and humorous, it’ll have you wishing to be snuggled up in bed while the snow falls outside!

Humphrey’s Christmas – Sally Hunter

I wrote about how much I like the Humphrey books here and Christmas with Humphrey and family is as full of warmth as you could hope for. Perfect for younger readers, this simply told story depicts a wonderful family Christmas, not least through its lovely illustrations.

Emily Brown and Father Christmas – Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

This was a brand new one to me – it had been recommended or reviewed or mentioned on twitter (I’m so sorry, I forget who by!) and caught my eye. Then, as luck would have it, we won a copy from Hachette!

It was great and I loved the writing style. A thoroughly modern story, with hugely appealing, lively illustrations reminiscent of Lauren Child’s collage-y, textured appearance, and a very traditional twist. It takes all the magic of Christmas and delivers it by the sleigh load! It’s jumped straight into my favourites and I look forward to reading more about Emily Brown.

Do you have any favourite Christmas books? Have you read any of the ones we’ve read this week?

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Snow in the Garden – A First Book of Christmas

 

I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this in exchange for a review – Shirley Hughes is such a special author that has played a large part in so many childhoods; from Dogger (my sister’s favourite) to the Alfie stories (my own) via Lucy and Tom and her poetry – she has a style, both in her illustration and text, that is reassuringly warm and charming, so she is a surefire hit for a bookish Christmas treat!

In this book, her stories, poems and artwork are accompanied by plenty of traditional, but timeless Christmassy things to do: paper lanterns, shortbread and paper robins, for example and it’s a perfect match.

I was transported back to my own childhood by the activities: I could see the flour dusted kitchen counter, smell Christmas biscuits baking and feel the excitement of a rainy afternoon spent indoors with scissors, glue and glitter!

Likewise, the poems are incredibly evocative – seeing your breath on a cold, winter morning, bare branches and wrapping up warm for walks in the park; being cosy and warm when it’s dark and cold outside, and – of course – the magical build up to and wait for Christmas.

The stories also bring back plenty of memories – school nativities, snowy days and family life. And that is what Shirley Hughes is so good at, in both the text and the expressive and detailed illustrations – describing everyday, family life with warmth, honesty and humour.

This is a beautiful book, and will make a wonderful addition to a Christmas collection. The combination of activities and stories/poems/illustrations make it ideal for dipping into throughout the season and, while there’s a wonderful sense of nostalgia and old fashioned charm, there’s also plenty for new, young readers to love and relate to – playing in the snow, going for wintry walks and acting in the school nativity – and the activities are timeless: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without paper decorations, homemade cards and gingerbread!

A cosy, nostalgic hug of a book and an absolute delight – it’s one we’ll be getting out year after year.

WWW Wednesday 12/12/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. I’ve only just started it, but I’m loving her writing style and the magic in the book. Plus, I just love the whole idea of the snowglobes.

What have you just finished reading?

I’ve finally read Wundersmith! Jessica Townsend’s follow up to the brilliant Nevermoor is just as imaginative and ‘wunder’-full (couldn’t resist!) as the first and I’m. Now impatiently waiting for book 3! Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m stuck! On the one hand I still have a gazillion MG books I really want to read waiting for me to get to them – The Train to Impossible Places, Sky Circus, The Missing Barbegazi and so, so, SO many others.

On the other hand, I have some brilliant YA and adult books clamouring to be read to – Angie Thomas’ new one, On the Come Up, and Marcus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay especially.

And on the other hand again (yeah, three hands. And what of it?!), I keep promising myself a re-read of Harry Potter and what better time than Christmas?!

What do you think – what should I choose? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks – Book Advent Days 1-5

I decided to do a book advent for Peapod, so this week’s picks are all the books we’ve read so far.

This year, the books aren’t wrapped or hidden or anything – they’re just all out together.

There’s a few I’ve not yet read – Grandpa’s Christmas and The Night Before The Night Before Christmas are a couple – but on the whole I’ve read them so Dad is choosing one a night for Peapod’s bedtime story, which is nice as he’s not read most of them, and we’re just reading the board books whenever we fancy!

This week, we’ve read:

That’s Not My Snowman and That’s Not My Penguin – Peapod loves the touchy feely bits in these books!

Where’s Mr Penguin? – The felt flaps in these are ingenious and withstand Peapod’s eager grabbing. Plus he loves the mirror at the end!

Kipper’s Snowy Day – Mick Inkpen

OK, not strictly Christmassy but everyone knows snowy books and Christmas books go hand in hand!

A classic character in a story so full of snowy fun you can’t help but smile – makes you want to go and play in the snow.

snow

Snow is My Favourite and My Best – Lauren Child

Another book featuring favourite characters, this time Charlie and Lola, and more snowy day fun.

This book perfectly captures the building excitement of waiting for the snow, seeing it start and finally getting out to play in it…as well as the disappointment when it melts which is dealt with in a really fun and clever way!

maisy

Maisy’s Christmas Eve – Lucy Cousins

Yet another well-known character! With bold illustrations, simple, bold text and a story combining preparing for Christmas, friendship and a mishap in the snow it’s a great book for younger readers!

Santasaurus – Niamh Sharkey

I first read this book at least 10 years ago with my first reception class in my very first teaching job. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it in @FatherReading‘s book advent pic. It brought back such lovely memories that I had to order it. It’s the illustrations I love best – beautifully detailed and coloured!

santa

Aliens Love Panta Claus – Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

Another of everyone’s favourites – those Aliens who Love Underpants are back causing more mayhem (and, yes, saving the day!) in this pants-tastic Christmas tale. Guaranteed to make you giggle, I can’t wait to read this one with Peapod when he’s older.

WWW Wednesday 28/11/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Wundersmith – finally! I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to read this, especially considering how excited I’ve been about it.

The follow up to last year’s Nevermoor, I’ve been transported straight back there. It’s such an immerdive world, so we’ll written and with such imagination. I’m loving it.

What have you just finished reading?

I was drawn to this because it was illustrated by the fab Emily Gravett, and I have to say the illustrations really made the story come alive for me (excuse the pun) You can read my full review of it here.

What are you planning on reading next?

My plan to read one of these and start Wundersmith last week seemed to go well, so I’ll attempt to read Magical Myths and Legends at some point over the coming week or so as well.

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

The Afterwards

I’d seen and heard all sorts of good things about this on twitter before I received a copy from Bloomsbury for review (imagine my excitement at finding it was signed too!).

However, as is so often the case, I’d heard how great it was but didn’t actually know anything about it! Normally, I’d find out a bit about it before deciding to read it or not but in this case Emily Gravett decided for me! I’m such a fan of her picture books that I wanted to read this if only for the illustrations!

And I wasn’t wrong to – they are both very like some of her picture book work in some ways and much more detailed and with an older feel in others, which is as it should be for an older children’s book.

Her use of both incredibly detailed pencil sketches and bright colour images not only mirrored and matched the storyline but really enhanced it, adding extra atmosphere and bringing home what was happening.

The illustration felt really fresh and modern, whilst retaining a traditional method and style. The girls and Harry felt expressive and real and the cat in particular was (in my mind) a perfect representation of his character in the story.

Ah yes, the story:

Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is. It is what will always be. Ember and Ness. Then Ness dies.
When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back. Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They rescue each other. They help. They never give up.

 

This is ultimately a story about death – loss, grief, letting go and moving on; I can see it being a great book for a lot of children dealing with these things, with many aspects of death (finding out about it, the funeral, getting on with life) tackled head on, but in a very age-appropriate way.

I would say that due to the nature of the story – the mysterious afterworld and the way that works – it would probably be better for slightly more mature readers who’d be able to easily separate the fantasy elements of the story from the more real aspects.

However, this is also what makes it a universally good read with a wider appeal. Sensitively written, it takes an incredibly tough, real situation and everyday life and combines it with fantasy to create a story which is at once familiar and otherworldly. For those who are in, or have been in, Ember (or Graham)’s situation coping with loss, there’s plenty of subtly delivered advice and comfort; for those who (fortunately) have not had to deal with this, there’s a supernatural story firmly rooted in familiar settings, making this ideal for fans of a range of MG fiction – from Lisa Thomson’s ‘The Light Jar’ to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’, for example.

I thought the relationships in the story were one of its strongest points – very believable and easy to relate to, with characters it was easy to warm to. Both the relationship between Ember and her dad, Harry, and her friendship between Ness and Ember were very well depicted, in both the text and illustrations, with little details giving them added depth and credibility.

Characters such as the cat and Ms Todd gave the book an extra dimension and the fact that their roles are left obscure and undefined I thought was very clever in giving the reader something to ponder and draw their own conclusions from. However, I would have liked a more definite conclusion to Uncle Graham’s role in the story, but that’s just me!

The real world felt, well, real – familiar and relatable in both text and image, while the mysterious, grey afterworld Ember follows Ness to is just that – an eerie place that’s easy to imagine but feels goosebumps-strange. The way it mirrors the real world in a warped sort of way was very clever: similar enough to keep the focus on the characters as they come to terms with their loss without getting lost in fantasy world-building, whilst being strange enough to provide interest, mystery and space away from that reality.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative, personal and touching take on a difficult topic (I especially liked the way the scene was set in the prologue), which strikes a delicate balance between real life and fantasy. Harrold and Gravett have previously collaborated on ‘The Imaginary’, which I’ll be keen to read after this.

Peapod’s Picks: Alfie

I’m conscious I’ve not posted a Peapod’s Picks for a few weeks now either! Best laid plans… Speaking of which, the next few weeks of Peapod’s Picks will be the books from our book advent (as long as I can get my act together and post!) For this week though, it’s an old favourite…

This week: Alfie

I loved the Alfie series when I was little and, after receiving Snow in the Garden by Shirley Hughes (review to follow during our book Advent in December!) last week, I chose An Evening at Alfie’s as our bedtime story.

I’d been reminded of the wonderful way she depicts the little hiccups and triumphs, the daily events that make up family life and the little details of our everyday surroundings and happenings.

So we read An Evening at Alfie’s, where Alfie hears a drip drip drip and discovers a leak from a pipe while Maureen’s babysitting. When we finished, Peapod’s Dad said “Hmm. Well, that was an unusual one wasn’t it?” When I asked what he meant, he replied “Well, nothing happened.” which totally threw me.

To me, these stories are nostalgia and warmth; gentle tales full of the familiar. There’s no dragons or monsters or robots here. Nothing here of the ridiculous, crazy or wild. Here are children playing, shopping, having baths, going to parties, getting new shoes, losing toys – the events that are seemingly, well, uneventful but that are a child’s world.

But to his Dad, who’d clearly never read them as a child, they were books about the mundane, lacking excitement or adventure. He didn’t dislike it as such, just found it a little dull. I’m hoping to convert him…!

Have you read the Alfie books (or indeed any of Shirley Hughes’ others)? What do you think of them?