Peapod’s Picks – A Suitcase, A Small Thing, Some Same Things, A Song

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 I’m sharing a few of the books we’ve read this week – two (The Suitcase and The Same But Different) I’ve bought and two (I Don’t Want To be Small and Hop Little Bunnies) we were lucky enough to be gifted by the publisher (honest opinions all our own though!)

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

I loved Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’ first book ‘I Love You, Stick Insect’ so I’ve been very excited about this one. We bought it without opening it or reading the blurb so sure was I that I’d love this one too.

And I was right.

It’s completely different to Stick Insect, save for the fabulously free and expressive illustrations – the characters’ worries, doubts, thoughts and feelings are so clear.

The story itself though, has a more serious message – it introduces us to a tired and weary refugee at the end of his journey. It is beautifully told and not at all heavy or preachy.

This new creature has arrived with a big, old suitcase. When the animals ask what’s in it, they don’t believe the answer they’re given and sneakily break into the case to see. They then have to deal with what they find.

Throwing up questions of trust, conscience and respect, this is ultimately a story about kindness and the way we treat others. But it is also a story about the power of imagination, memory, friendship and home.

Beautifully illustrated (the ‘resolution’ scene has really stayed with me) and with echoes of Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ and Sandra Dieckmann’s ‘Leaf’, this is an evocative yet unsentimental book that every child (and adult) should read.

I Don’t Want to be Small by Laura Ellen Anderson

Along similar lines to Laura’s first picture book ‘I Don’t Want Curly Hair’, this one takes on an unhappiness with height (or lack of) and how being short is just not fair!

After explaining why it’s rubbish being small, our young protagonist throws a tantrum in which Teddy ends up in a tree. Now needing to be considerably taller to rescue Ted, they try various ways to grow taller, each only leading to some rather smelly, wet and muddy situations. However, they soon discover that it’s really not so bad after all, rescue teddy and find a new friend too!

I like that this doesn’t over simplify the feelings of not being happy with an aspect of yourself (in this case, height) – it’s not reduced to a simple ‘I wish I was bigger’ or made top funny. While it’s told with humour and warmth, the upset, unfairness and frustration of it is explored thoughtfully. Anyone who has felt like this is likely to relate and anyone who hasn’t is given plenty to think about when developing their understanding of others, our differences and feelings.

I also liked that the main character has no name, and while I’ve seen in a couple of blurbs they’re described as a ‘he’, I read it having not seen these and it struck me that they really could be either a boy or a girl. I like that we don’t need to know and/or can make up our own minds.

The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson, illustrated by Kate Hindley

I was instantly sold on Kate Hindley’s illustrations in You Must Bring a Hat (Simon Philip) and as soon as I saw them on the cover of this new book I wanted to see more!

They are lively, busy and detailed and just have a really fun style that’s full of character. There is so much going on in each image that you could pore over them daily and not get bored (always a bonus in a picture book!)

They are perfect for this book too, which shows a whole host of both children and animals in various situations demonstrating how they’re sort of the same but sort of different too!

I’ll be honest, it was the illustrations that made me pick this up. If I’d only known the title and nothing more, I might have given it a wide berth – I’m pretty hard to please when it comes to stories with morals or messages!

Fortunately I did pick it up, because it is a brilliant example of how to do this sort of book really, really well.

Written in short, fun rhyme, it makes great use of opposites and every day actions to highlight both similarities and differences in a matter of fact way that I really liked – “I am big, you are small. I am short, you are tall.”

It doesn’t feel the need to labour the point, keeping it punchy and letting the simple comparisons and images get the message across concisely, clearly but also subtly.

Sparse text with spot on rhyme and those wonderful illustrations together give a real sense of fun and humour to the story and I love the way it comes together at the end.

I really loved this and will be keeping my eyes peeled for Karl Newson’s next offering.

Hop Little Bunnies by Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes

We sing this song at nearly every one of our baby groups, so I have it hopping round my head at the best of times! This book has only added to that, but at least there’s extra verses to stop me going completely doolally!

It takes the Hop Little Bunnies song and adds to it with chick’s, ducklings, lambs and kittens, so there’s plenty of animal noises and actions to do too, as well as flaps to lift as you wake each of the animals so there’s lots of fun for little ones.

I really like the addition of a final verse where they “Shhhh!” quieten down and get ready to go back to sleep again too.

The illustrations are perfectly suited to the book and are simply alive with colour and movement. The flowers on each spread are bright and I love that, despite the loose style, they are clearly based on real varieties.

It’s a gorgeous book and one that will be going in our Spring book collection each year for definite – it is sunshine and spring in a book.

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