A First Book of Animals

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

Polar bears playing on the ice, tigers hunting in the jungle, fireflies twinkling in the evening sky and nightingales singing in the heart of the woods – there are animals everywhere. From blue whales to bumblebee bats and everything in between, A First Book of Animals takes you all over the planet to visit all kinds of different creatures.

This is a beautiful book of poetry, with many of the poems also containing many animal facts, making it a perfect book for animal lovers old and young.

Split into categories such as ‘Big and Small’, ‘Colours and Shapes’ or ‘Animal Homes’, the poems are thematically grouped within the book and contain a range of facts and styles.

There are short, easy to join in with and repetitive poems, like ‘Why Are Zevras Stripy?’ There are verses with wonderful word choice and/or rhyme detailing facts and characteristics of a particular animal, such as Chameleon Song.

There are comparative poems, such as ‘Song of the Biggest and the Smallest Bird’ and there are poems which work with the illustrations to teach us something, like the wonderful ‘Dragonfly Babies’ whose words create a vivid impression of the growth, emergence and behaviours of the tiny dragonflies and whose illustration serves to help visualise this and show young readers how this would look.

Likewise, there are poems who give nothing more than an impression of the animal, less fact and more feeling, accompanied by illustrations who capture the look and character of the animal perfectly, giving more than enough information without the text – Whale Shark, for example.

Which leads me to pause for a moment to simply admire the illustrations. They are in turn textured, light, colourful, dark, rich, playful, layered, bright… each is wonderful, realistic and detailed and in perfect keeping with both the animal it portrays and the text it accompanies.

In short, both the words and pictures are stunning. The poems are hugely accessible – with fantastic feeling and varied vocabulary, but not overly long or wordy, they’re perfect for children of all ages. Likewise the range of styles is brilliant for showcasing to young readers poetry’s versatility.

This is a gorgeous book that we are loving dipping in and out of at random each day. I can’t recommend this enough for both home and school.

The Usborne Book of Planet Earth

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

Where in the world would you most like to go? You could join a stampede of wildebeest in the Serengeti, dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, climb soaring mountain peaks in the Himalayas or take a gondola ride along the canals of Venice. This spectacular picture book has it all – taking readers on a fascinating tour of our amazing planet.

I’m always a fan of Usborne non-fiction. At whatever level it’s aimed, from board books through early readers to more comprehensive primary level books, they’re always informative, attractive, engaging and well-pitched. This is no different.

Structured as a journey around the world, even the contents page is designed with thought and maximum engagement in mind, inviting the reader to start an adventure across continents.

Each chapter begins with an equally enticing spread showing a map of the continent and picking out the features that the chapter will look at in more detail with a short summary of them. Surrounding this are images of the continents flora and fauna and extra illustrated facts about the places.

One of the things I especially like about many of Usborne’s non fiction titles is the way they use short ‘snippets’ of information – captions and labels in amongst the illustrations rather than large chunks of text.

This book is a perfect example of this, and it makes it really accessible and inviting. There’s no overwhelming sections of text or long-winded lists of facts. Great for either working through in order or dipping in and out of, this is eye-catching and easily digested.

In contrast to many books about the world, this book really does cover a multitude of things. Rather than sticking to the familiar ground of animals and plants, here we see plenty of those but also earthquakes and volcanoes, city life and travel too.

There’s also, importantly, a spread at the end about looking after the earth.

Overall, this is a stunning book – beautiful, full page illustrations which are full of colour and just the right amount of realism to make them informative whilst retaining their appeal.

The design and layout are carefully thought out, with plenty of variety and life – some pages require the book to be turned around, others use layers to illustrate layers in nature; some are sparse and open, others busy and crowded, reflecting the environments they show.

Interesting, attractive, engaging and easy to read – this would be a perfect addition to both homes and schools.

WWW Wednesday 17/4/19

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

What are you currently reading?

A Witch Come True by James Nicol (ebook)

I had thought I was going to have to wait for this as it wasn’t available as an ebook from the library, but I found kobo which had £3 off your first book so got it as a bargain ebook from there! I just couldn’t wait when book 2 ended as it did! I’m only a couple of pages in so far…

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling (audiobook read by Stephen Fry.)

I’m still really enjoying the Harry Potter audiobooks. I’m right near the end of this and have just reached that ‘no…no…surely not…but it can’t be…NO’ point (if you’ve read it you’ll know, if you haven’t I don’t want to give it away!) As I mentioned last week, I really haven’t remembered this book at all but as this part approached all the familiar feelings of disbelief and hope against hope from the first read were well and truly back!

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher, illustrated by Sam Usher

I started this last night after much deliberation over what to read next! I’m only a couple of chapters in but very much enjoying the tone and feel of it so far.

What have you just finished reading?

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

Oh, this book! It is incredible. Its gone straight into my favourites from this year, last year, possibly just ever. The sheer imagination in it is wonderful and it seems to take all the best aspects of Abi’s previous books and put them together with a new magic too. I’ll review it in the next week or so, but honestly – you can’t fail to love this book.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King (ebook) .

I read this in a night (so those of you who know me will know this makes it a very quick read indeed!) and I LOVED it! What a fun, funny and generally fantastic book. Brilliant characters, a bookshop to die for (the imagination that’s gone into the book emporium is phenomenal and I really, really wish it existed in real life!) a snappy, pacey adventure and a rather grumpy but very clever cat – it’s simply fab!

A Witch Alone by James Nicol

I enjoyed this even more than the first book – just as easy and enjoyable a read but with more drama, more dark magic and more secrets and suspense. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out in book 3!

What are you planning on reading next?

It’ll be a while before I finish anything I think, but when I do:

Audio

I’ll be on the last of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows, soon!

E-book

Murder Most Unladylike is available from the library from early May so depending on how long A Witch Alone takes me, I’ll either go straight onto that or squeeze in Erica’s Elephant, another Sylvia Bishop, in between if I have time.

Physical copy

To be decided on…Peculiar Peggs, A Darkness of Dragons, Scavengers, The Dog Runner, The Girl With Shark’s Teeth…plus I have a couple of YA proofs on the way that I’m actually looking forward to (I know, shocking!)

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks – Spring has Sprung

It’s time for another Peapod’s Picks/KLTR mash up!

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

This week it’s also time for another #KLTR post, hosted by Book Bairn, Acorn Books and Laura’s Lovely Blog.

This week, ahead of Easter, with the sun finally showing its face and daffodils, bluebells and tulips brightening our walks out, I thought we’d look at some of the spring-themed board books we’ve been reading.

Clockwise from left:

Ten Little Ladybirds by Melanie Gerth and Laura Huliska-Beith

A lovely rhyming, counting-down book with big bold numbers; bright, bumpy ladybirds to count or simply feel; and illustrations which fill the pages with colour.

Where’s Mr Duck by Ingela P Arrhenius

I’ve written before about this brilliant, bold, felt-flapped series – we love them. Simple, stylish and – most importantly – able to withstand a good deal of chewing and pulling!

Five Little Ducks by Yu-hsuan Huang

We love this song, which is a good job as its sung at pretty much every baby group we go to (though with so many variations on the ending!) and this book is lovely too. There’s a whole series of these from Nosy Crow and I think they’re great – simple but sturdy push and pull slides that are within the pages so can take a good bit of man-handling (Peapod’s not quite up to doing them himself yet, but he gives it a good go!). The illustrations are sunny and detailed with lots going on in the background to talk about and name. And there’s even a qr code link to a video of the song too!

Hooray for Hoppy by Tim Hopgood

I’m such a fan of Tim Hopgood’s illustration style – the textures, layers and print methods are really effective and the use of colour is stunning, something shown off brilliantly with all the flowers and rabbits here.

We enjoyed looking at it but this is one of those books that will last and last – covering the senses, spring time, seasons and nature there’s loads for older readers too! Perfect for reading before/after a springtime walk outdoors!

Are You There Little Bunny by Sam Taplin, Emily Dove and Nicola Butler

This is another lovely series for little readers, with peep through holes and tactile trails to follow with little fingers, as well as busy, bright illustrations it’s engaging and interactive but still durable (spot the recurring theme!)

On each page, there’s repetition of a phrase as we look for little bunny and think we’ve spotted him through the peephole, only to find it’s someone else when we turn over. Enjoyable now while Peapod’s little, but perfect for giggles and joining in with older little ones too.

Humphrey’s Garden by Sally Hunter

I have a real soft spot for the Humphrey’s Corner books. I can’t lie, the gender stereotyping is horrendous – lottie plays tea parties and dolls, daddy goes out to work while mums at home etc BUT I reassure myself that we have plenty of books that give balance to this and let it be – the soft, gentle and calming illustrations and familiar characters and everyday activities are still charming and we really like them.

The Secret Garden by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

I’m a huge fan of this Baby Lit series of books. Each takes a classic and turns into a sharp and stylish primer book. Thoroughly unique and absolutely gorgeous. The Secret Garden is a flowers primer, with a quote from the book next to an image of the flowers it mentions. I love the printing technique used in this one.

Outdoors by Mel Four

You can read my review of this one here. We’re big fans of the beautiful images and the way the shiny, colourful parts contrast with the black and white.

That’s Not My… Bee/Bunny/Chick/Lamb by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

While we love all the other books mentioned, That’s Not My… are definitely Peapod’s favourites. He LOVES this series! We have about 20 now and it’s a god job there’s so many as we read them all the time! You can read a more detailed review of them here.

A Mouse Called Julian

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

With traces of The Mouse and The Lion fable, this is like The Gruffalo’s Big Bad Mouse grown up – older, cooler, wiser…and luckier! – but still trying to avoid bring eaten by owl and fox.

But here any similarity ends, this is most definitely not a wannabe Gruffalo in any way at all. It’s something quite unique and would be perfect to whip out in response to the ‘you’re too old for picture books’ line. I can see this being very popular with all ages, but feel that it would be especially popular with those just on what is traditionally ‘the way out’ of picture books, around 6-8.

The illustration style is very different to most picture books, having more in the way of a comic or anime style, which I can see appealing greatly, especially to older children.

Equally appealing is the visual humour and expression which fill the pictures. There is also great detail to them, with plenty to pore over; my favourite spreads were the underground ones where I did just this.

The story itself is a clever and amusing tale of friendship which avoids the sometimes smushy ground such stories tread by keeping the animals very true to nature, the humour deadpan and the telling matter of fact.

I also like that, while Julian may adjust his viewpoint slightly, he remains happy in his own company – there’s no great turn around. He doesn’t suddenly ‘realise’ a life of quiet and solitude is not the way its done and become a more sociable mouse. Rather, he retains his personality but finds that a spot of company and friendship occasionally is a welcome change. I found this a refreshing and more inclusive take on friendship than is often the case – it was nice to see the quiet life validated.

Add to this an unexpected twist in the tale and it becomes a real winner, which fans of Barnett and Klassen especially are sure to appreciate.

Gingerbread

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

Ever since I read ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ a few years ago I’ve been a huge fan of Helen Oyeyemi’s books, so when I saw this was coming out I was VERY excited!

And when this beautiful book arrived in the post (the cover is by Neil Lang and I think it’s stunning) I was itching to get going with it!

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories…Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

As many of you will know, I’m not the quickest reader at the best of times and even slower since trying to fit it in around Peapod, so despite my enthusiasm and best efforts it took me an age to finish! But it was worth the long journey…

…and a journey it was – from modern day life through fairytale farms in non-existent countries, through ‘looking-glass’ cities with dark, gingerbread underbellies, and back to the familiar, albeit slightly warped!

This book is impossible to pin down and almost as hard to describe.

It’s a family saga but not like any you’ve ever read before, with an extremely eclectic cast.

It’s sort of magical realism but it’s a very matter of fact magic, if indeed it’s magic at all.

It’s a sharply observed commentary on society, politics, prejudice, feminism, class and more…But one that’s hidden in talking dolls, changelings in wells and not-haunted houses.

It’s like Margaret Astwood collided with Haruki Murakami in a fairytale world.

Deftly written with a lyrical beauty that’s laced through with a sharp wit, this book demonstrates a detailed knowledge, and love of, fairytales and their tropes as well as a shrewd understanding of people – of cliques, of types, of behaviours and, especially, of women and families.

I can’t lie, it’s not an easy read. There’s often a complaint that books don’t flow; if anything this flows so freely that it takes a bit of concentration to try and follow its weird and winding ways.

That said, I was snatching a page or two here and there where I could – I think if I could have read it in larger chunks, I would have followed much easier.

So if I have one piece of advice in regards to this book it is – Read It. But read it when you have time to really read it – lose yourself in it, allow yourself to luxuriate in it, indulge.

WWW Wednesday 10/4/19

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

What are you currently reading?

A Witch Alone by James Nicol

I enjoyed the first book in this series and the first few chapters of this are certainly loving up to expectations. Arianwyn is as likeable as ever and Gimma quite the reverse! It promises just as many fantastic creatures and spirits, both good and bad, more magical mishaps and generally a good, fun read!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m still really enjoying the Harry Potter audiobooks. I have to admit, I don’t remember this one at all. I had no recollection of Slughorn and can’t remember a thing that happens! So it’ll be interesting to see whether it starts coming back to me as I read it or whether it’s like reading it for the first time again!

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

I don’t have as much time to read physical books but I’m slowly tumbling into the wonderful world of Rumblestar – it’s brilliantly imaginative and Utterly Thankless is Utterly Fantastic! Absolutely loving it!

What have you just finished reading?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

What are you planning on reading next?

It’ll be a while before I finish anything I think, but when I do:

Audio

I’ll be on the last of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows, soon!

E-book

I’d love to go straight onto the final book in James Nicole’s Apprentice Witch series, A Witch Come True, but sadly its not available yet as an ebook so I’ll have to wait!

Instead, I’m hoping to read Murder Most Unladylike (Amy will be pleased to hear!) but it’s currently on loan, so it’ll either be that or Sylvia Bishop’s Bookshop Girl (as Charlotte reminded me this week that I’d still not read it despite loving The Secret of the Night Train).

Physical copy

To be decided on…

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Poppy and Sam’s Animal Hide and Seek

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

This is possibly still a little old for Peapod (7mths) to fully appreciate. We’ll still read it together sometimes but I know we’ll get a lot more from it and read it WAY more often as he gets a little older.

Perfect for toddlers (I’d say 12mths+ as a very rough guide), especially fans of the That’s Not My… or Where’s Mr/Mrs… series. The Poppy and Sam books provide a bit more in both text and interactive elements, but are still simple, repetitive and engaging for very young readers.

Peapod enjoyed the touchy-feel elements, though many are smaller than he’s used to. There’s multiple textured images on each page though so great for older babies. Likewise, he loved the flaps but still needed some help to not tear or eat them!

Each page in Poppy and Sam’s farmyard introduces a different farmyard animal in increasing numbers, perfect for developing counting and vocabulary. With one of the animals hiding on each page, there’s plenty of fun ‘finding’ them and the background images are full of detail too, again brilliant for language, observation, making connections and finding out about the world.

And of course, there’s the duck. Oh, the Usborne yellow duck! How I LOVED finding this duck growing up.

Older toddlers and young children (and their parents – you know you do a silent cheer when you find him first. Admit it.) will love hunting for the yellow duck on each page.

A brilliant series – flaps, textures and duck hunting with lovely illustrations and loads of opportunities for talk, learning about the world, counting and early reading. Thumbs very much up!

Peapod’s Picks – Library Love

We are lucky enough to have access to a great library service near us. Not only can we walk (or bus if it’s raining!) into the large Central library in Manchester, but our smaller local library seems to have a good selection of children’s books too. There’s also a handful of others in walking distance and a great e-borrowing service for audiobooks and e-books. I repeat – we are lucky.

And you know what they say – use it or lose it. So, we took Peapod to join the library this week. I loved going to the library when I was growing up and I really hope he will too.

I’m hoping it’ll be a good way for me to choose some books off the cuff rather than having heard the hype, as well as discovering older gens that have passed me by. I’m also hoping it’ll be a chance for his Dad to choose some more of the bedtime stories we read rather than reading what I bring home excitedly from work!

My Choices

  • A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins I loved the illustrations.
  • Fancy Dress Jungle by Nick Sharratt I know this one and think it’s one Dad will e joy reading too!
  • Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton We read Emily Brown and Father Christmas and all enjoyed it so I was pleased to find another of her adventures!
  • This is Not a Fairytale by Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt All about the title and cover with this one!

Dad’s Choices

  • Jimmy Finnegan’s Wild Wood Band by Tom Knight Peapod’s Dad has a thing for bands in picture books at the moment after seeing Guy Garvey read ‘Farmer Joe and the Music Show’ and Josh Homme read ‘Punk Farm’ on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. A Peapod’s Picks will follow!
  • Just Like Daddy by Lucy Freegard.

This is the only one of the books we’ve read yet. It was enjoyable enough but nothing groundbreaking. I liked that in amongst all the fun things, it recognised too the less rosy days – the tantrums and tiredness and tears. And I really liked the illustrations, especially how ‘brave’ Dad looks catching this monster…

Dad is definitely in charge of monster spider catching on our house!

I’m hoping to turn Library Loves into something more regular, but I haven’t quite figured out how regular, when or exactly what yet! So it’s a one off this week in the meantime, sneaking in under the guise of an extra Peapod’s Picks!

Do you use your local library?

Do you still have one to use?

Peapod’s Picks – A dragon, a mole and a monster, a lullaby, a book and a music show.

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

We bought all our books this week.

This week we’ve read

  • Farmer Joe and the Music Show by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees

Soon to feature in a musically themed Peapod’s Picks!

  • Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

We bought this at Christmas and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but a proper post featuring it will happen soon. Definitely.

  • Alfie and Dad by Shirley Hughes

It was Peapod’s Dad’s birthday this week so,in honour of his love of Shirley Hughes, Peapod bought him this!

  • Love Monster and the Scary Something by Rachel Bright

I’ll be honest, I’m one of the seemingly rare picture book readers/parents who’s not a huge Rachel Bright fan – too much of a message. But we really liked the original Love Monster book so tried this one too.

I really liked the start and the build up, and the ‘scary something’ but the end was all a bit too ‘typical Bright’ for my tastes!

  • It’s a Book by Lane Smith.

We all loved this one.

Jackass is fascinated by Monkey’s book – what is it? How does it tweet, scroll or charge? Monkey, in turn, is increasingly frustrated.

Sparse, well-selected text and expressive illustrations make up some of my absolute favourite picture books and this gives that box an enormous tick.

This is one of those brilliant ‘conversation’ books – deadpan, dry, very funny (with an ending adult book lovers in particular will appreciate) and great for a ‘joint read’ at bedtime.

  • Have You Seen my Blankie? by Lucy Rowland and Paula Metcalf.

I wasn’t sold on this from the title and cover, I thought it was going to be a bit cutesy (stay with me!) But Lily highly recommended it so we gave it a go and it’s BRILLIANT!

Reminiscent of Jane Hissey’s Little Bear’s Trousers, everyone has seen and used Princess Alice’s blankie but they’ve given it to… This makes for plenty of imaginative scenarios and interesting characters, leading up to the loveable and misunderstood dragon who just wanted something to help him sleep.

Determined to help, but unwilling to give away Blankie, Princess Alice takes us back through various possibilities until a solution that keeps everyone happy is found.

Written and illustrated with warmth, a touch of humour and imagination this is (as Lily quite rightly said before me) a brilliant, well-paced and expressively illustrated story of sharing, compromise and friendship.

  • Rocket Mole by Matt Carr.

I might not have picked this up if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d read and loved Spyder at storytime last year. It went down a storm with kids and parents alike and Rocket Mole is in the same vein.

It’s longer and wordier, but no less funny or engaging. Like Spyder, it’s full of puns (“it’s out of this world”, “boring” moles) which will keep adults amused as well as visual humour and a lively, fun story kids will love. It’s bright, bold, comic strip style has universal appeal.

Inspirational without being preachy or twee, this is a story which encourages you to dream big and think creatively whilst recognising the importance of friends, familiarity and sharing successes.

It has both mole and moon fact files at the end – brilliant for non-fiction fans or, conversely, perfect for those a little unfamiliar or unsure about non-fiction to dip their toes cautiously in!

Have you read any of these?

What bedtime stories did you read this week?