Library Love 28/6/19

Library Love is a new regular post with short reviews of the picture books we choose from the library each week.

There may be a bit of stop-starting and moving about of Library Love over the coming couple of weeks as we settle into a nursery and work routine and figure out where library trips best fit into it all – please bear with us!

What we took back

  • Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman I’ve written before about how much I love Karma Wilson’a Bear books, so I was pleased to find this one we’d not read. Just as lovely as all the others, with nods to sharing, friendship and giving what you can not necessarily the same as everyone else. A lovely, warm, rhyming tale. I’ll be buying all of these, though they sadly seem to be out of print so I need to get them second hand.

  • The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. Firmly rooted in the everyday and familiar lives of children, this is a fun example of imaginative yet relatable storytelling and testament to Allan Ahlberg’s skill as a children’s writer. I won’t buy it now, but I’d re-read and and would happily buy it if Peapod wanted it further down the line.

  • Twoo Twit by Kes Gray and Mary McQuillan Mixed reactions with this one. Peapod seemed to enjoy it, as we had to read it twice, his Dad wasn’t overly keen and I loved the beginning and some of the names used (affectionately I’d hoped) for poor old Twoo Twit – mushroom bonce being my favourite. Though I wasn’t keen on the end. Twoo Twit’s neighbours seemed unnecessarily unkind and I wasn’t convinced by his about turn of character. That said, I’ve ordered a second hand copy just for “mushroom bonce”.

  • Hide and Seek by Il Sung Na We loved the way the colours mix, run and blend in the illustrations, which suit the chameleon’s starring role perfectly. He suggests a game of hide and seek, so there’s both counting and hunting on offer as we search for the chameleon on each page as the other animals are all found. This was lovely and I’ll probably get a copy.

  • #Goldilocks – A Cautionary Tale by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross You only have to look back at my thoughts on the other books from this duo to know I’d have high hopes here. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to them. This is part of a series of 3 books helping children understand online safety and I can definitely see this working, especially in schools, in helping children negotiate the pros and cons and safe use of the Internet/social media sonin that respect it serves its purpose well. The humorous rhyme is as well-written as you’d expect from Jeanne Willis, and Tony Ross’ illustrations are in his usual funny style. It just didn’t do it for us as a bedtime story.

What we took out

Nothing! We haven’t had chance to get back to the library to choose new books yet this week, with nursery settling in taking over. Not sure what will happen next week either, so we may well have a week away from Library Love, but it’ll be back once we’re settled into our new routine!

What do you think of our choices? Have you read any of them?

Have you been to the library recently?

Kitchen Science Cookbook

I received a copy of this free from the publishers. All views are my own.

The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson, design by Suburban Creative Ltd, Photography by Magic Rabbit Ltd.

It was a lovely surprise last week to receive a mystery parcel in the post

It also showed how much the postmen have got used to me and my bookpost as it was sent to my home postcode but with no house number on…one of the postmen has just written ‘try xx’ and sure enough…!!

Anyway, it was lovely and inside was a real treat.

Not just a copy of Dr Michelle Dickinson’s brilliant Kitchen Science Cookbook, but all the bits needed to have a go at a couple of the experiments – what fun!

Now, before we get into the book itself, I have to tell you the design and layout are slick. It is vibrant, fun and colourful whilst retaining a really stylish, attractive feel; it’s perfectly finished and would make a gorgeous gift for budding scientists or just curious and creative little minds!

The book is split into sections, each themed around a different area of science, meaning you can look for specific themes – handy for teachers or children with specific scientific interests.

The experiments themselves are clearly set out with lists of equipment/ingredients that really do seem to be everyday, household things that, for the most part, you’d either have anyway or could pop in the trolley cheaply and easily.

My only minor grumble is there’s a fair bit of disposable plastic in there (plastic straws, cutlery etc), BUT they are mostly easily replaced by non-plastic versions – I was pleased to see Penguin had put in a wooden spoon instead of a plastic one for my catapult, and I switched out the plastic straws for metal/paper ones in the rocket investigation.

The instructions are easy to follow (even I managed it!) with large photos of each investigation to refer to if needed.

I had a great time with my marshmallow catapult, so can only imagine how much fun could be had by kids with one!

For non-science-y types like me or younger readers, you could easily leave it there and still have a brilliant time whiling away weekends and rainy days with the huge variety of experiments in here – volcanoes, edible slime, bouncing bubbles, floating eggs…

But there is also a really great explanation of the science behind each experiment. Perfectly pitched, this is easy to follow and understand but doesn’t dumb anything down. It is ‘proper science’ in language children will understand.

There are also suggestions for ways to alter the experiments to test what happens. This is brilliant for deepening understanding and helping children apply it to making more predictions, not to mention giving each experiment more life – revisit it and try one of the ‘explore further’ ideas.

I have to be honest and say I haven’t tried each and every experiment, but I’ve had a go at several and found them all fun and immensely do-able! I’ll be using the straw rockets at our Space Out Saturday in work over the summer too!

Overall, I was really impressed by this book and its one I’ll be recommending enthusiastically in work. Attractive, varied, informative and LOADS of fun – just brilliant!

WWW Wednesday 26/6/19

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

What are you currently reading?

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, audiobook read by Martin Jarvis

I’m nearing the end of this now and I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the narration of the audiobook has helped make it for me, I’m definitely glad I listened to it over reading the physical book. I’m planning to watch the series soon too…


Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

I read A Spoonful of Murder last year and really enjoyed it. It was a brilliant mystery (admittedly I am beyond useless at crimes or mysteries but I didn’t have a clue!) and I loved Daisy and Hazel and the way we saw their case unfold.

I’ve been meaning to read the rest since then and have promised Amy at Golden Books Girl I would do so as she LOVES these books something ridiculous, but new releases/a baby/trying (failing!) to keep up with new releases and a baby kept putting it off. However, I finally have it on ebook from the library and have read the first few pages! Amy, I am going in!

Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by

I had Where the River Runs Gold lined up and but hadn’t really read too much about it, then a friend tweeted the other day about how similar it sounds to How to Bee and having just read the blurb I can’t get over how alike they sound. I’m really hoping this won’t be a ripped off but bigger-name so better-selling version of that, as I loved How To Bee.

I’ve only read the first chapter and do far they read very differently, so I’m hopeful but the blurbs do sound very similar so we’ll see… Has anyone else read both?

What have you just finished reading?

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross McKenzie (eBook)

I enjoyed this, though if I had to sum it up, I’d just say “Night Circus for kids”. That’s not a bad thing, I absolutely loved Night Circus, but they do feel similar! The Nowhere Emporium is written with such incredible imagination and I loved all the Wonders in the Emporium. The idea of a mysterious and magical emporium just popping up and being full of all these fantastic rooms to explore is beyond exciting.

I liked the way the history of Silver and his emporium unfolded within the story and I thought the ending was really clever on the whole (although dead parents reappearing to orphanned MCs – I’m sorry, but yawn) I’ll be reading the follow up, The Elsewhere Emporium, with interest but not exactly wetting my pants to get my hands on it!


Scavengers by Darren Simpson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

I enjoyed this too. It’s a book to make you think and an incredibly well crafted world. My full review of it is here.


When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

I’m taking part in the #PinkRabbitReadalong on Twitter, and I’d been worried I wouldn’t get this finished. Fortunately/Unfortunately yesterday was a tough drop off at nursery and an incredibly anxious day, so I hunkered down with a packet of ginger nuts (yes, almost the whole packet, and what of it?!), plenty of coffee and travelled through Switzerland, Paris and England with Anna, Max, Mama and Papa.

I had forgotten how much I love this book. It was just what I needed yesterday.

What will you read next?


Circe – Madeleine Miller. I’ve been dying to read this since it was released in hardback! But I just haven’t managed to fit it into all the books I feel I need to read, predominantly the MG/YA ones I feel I need to have read for work (don’t get me wrong though, I love reading them too!). But Charlotte has raved about the audiobook too, so this is going next on my listening list!


I’d like to read Arsenic for Tea and work through the MMU series, but it’s on loan/reserved til August (I could get First Class Murder – how much do you think it matters if I read them out of order?)

So, I’m not sure – I may read Bombs on Aunt Dainty as an ebook as I really want to read that again now I’ve finished When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, otherwise I need to do some searching of the library’s ebook catalogue to see which books from my TBR are available.

Physical copy

I need to crack on with some of the YA I have waiting – Deathless Girls, The Boxer or Meat Market maybe – so will probably read one of these in the evening and an MG during the day.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?


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


Scavengers by Darren Simpson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Landfill enjoys his life in the Hinterland – running free with dogs, foxes, goats and cats; swimming with turtles and chasing squirrels. He is happy in his wild, junk-yard home with old Babagoo taking care of him, as long as he follows the rules and sticks to the routine.

The rules are Babagoo’s way of keeping them safe from Outsiders. So is the wall inlaid with glass shards which must be checked for cracks, disrepair or infiltration every day. So is the need for cover whenever the Eye passes over. So is the fact that Landfill cannot yet accompany Babagoo to the Spit Pit to rummage for useful ‘treasures’ and catch gulls to eat.

And it is this last point, along with a couple of other seemingly, but emphatically not, insignificant events that plants a seed of doubt in Landfill’s mind about Babagoo’s rules and what he has always known to be true. And it is this seed of doubt combined with a chance meeting, that gradually triggers the events which will see Landfill and Babagoo’s world turned on its head.

The world-building in this is fantastic. While very much sticking to show not tell and avoiding being at all laboriously descriptive, Darren Simpson manages to describe in intricate detail this world made up of discarded, broken and ‘good for nothing’ objects in a way which has you clambering around it, climbing over it and chasing through it with Landfill.

The thick, sweet scent of rubbish and the acrid, sour smells of living unwashed, along with a multitude of others infiltrate the pages. The swarms of butterflies we see taking flight, the joy of splashing about in a sunlit pool of water (albeit, rather dirty water!), the absolute abandon with which Landfill lives as he lopes along on all fours with the dogs – all of it is described in a way which not only makes this place incredibly easy to picture,  but in a way which makes it easy to understand both how and why Landfill is so content in this place you couldn’t imagine being a home.

The use of a combination of altered, made up or old versions of words add to the sense of Landfill and Babagoo being a world apart, as do the scenes in the latter half of the book in which Landfill is slowly introduced to ‘Outside’ concepts, inventions and life. The way these are shown and described really hammer home how isolated from ‘normal’ life Landfill has been. Likewise, his innocence and naivety about the world only highlight his separation from it.

This is a coming of age story like no other. Landfill begin to question his world and rebel against Babagoo’s rules and ‘facts’. We see doubt creeping in and hurt, anger and confusion taking their turns. But ultimately, we see his love for Babagoo and his want, and need, to trust him and believe him.

However, as the reader, we are also able to see, or at least guess at, Babagoo’s dishonesty and his motives – there is no doubt he loves Landfill and wants to protect him, but his fear of Outsiders and the actions they cause may be pushing him away instead.

While part of me would have loved to know more about Babagoo’s backstory, I also liked that we were left to make up our own minds about Babagoo and his past – where do the lines of right and wrong blur, cross or meet? What should or shouldn’t he have done? Can we excuse him? What led him to his current life? Why does he do what he does? The book comes with discussion questions at the end (great for schools or children’s book groups) but there is so much to discuss from Babagoo’s character alone.

I thought the relationship between Landfill and Babagoo was incredibly well-written – the bickering and rows and the deception and disobedience juxtaposed with really tender moments where we clearly see how much they care for each other. The way this built over the book made the final chapters even more dramatic and emotive.

I did at times find the early chapters a bit slow, but the pace gradually quickens as events unfold, until the final chapters which are punchy and pacey, chaotic and tense, making this slow burning start very effective in the end. These final scenes are frenetic with panic, confusion, and desperation and a stark contrast to the contented tranquillity of their life at the start.

Again, this leaves us with questions that open up a wealth of discussion about personal vs. private lives and when we intervene and how, about mental health, homelessness and support (or lack of), about society, materialism and ‘the norm’.

I started reading this with echoes of Room or Our Endless Numbered Days, but it soon moved into its own, with its unique and detailed language and world-building to thank. There is a feel of David Almond to this, or at least there was for me, though I can’t quite place why, perhaps the coming of age narrative or the fact that the voice of this sits so well in that mid-ground between MG and YA, or perhaps for other reasons entirely! Whatever the reasons, I think if you like Almond, you’d enjoy this.

This book was a slow burner for me, but I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s incredibly moving, heart-breaking at times, and there is much to discuss, pick over and reflect on by the end.


Peapod’s Picks – Review Reads

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read each week plus a review of at least one of them.

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

This week, we’ve been lucky to receive two picture books to review.

We also recently received not one but two of our favourite That’s Not My… books as well. Let’s start with them!

I’ve posted before about how much we love this series and these two 20th anniversary celebration editions are no exception, and have made a fine addition to our current animal themed shelf downstairs.

Peapod has most of his books in his room, but some on the bottom shelf of our bookcase downstairs, I just switch out which ones every so often.

Peapod is especially taken with That’s Not My Lion, as it has it has a shaggy mane, but his favourite ‘feel’ is always the scratchy, velcro-y, rough one so we were very pleased that there was both a flamingo and a lion with rough feet!

That’s Not My Flamingo feels perfectly summery and fun (so much so that I’m using it for one of my storytime sessions over the summer and I’m very excited), while Lion has classic kid appeal – who doesn’t love a chance to roar along with a lion book?!

With shiny, sprayed edges and the usual touchy feely fun, as well as the obligatory mouse-spotting on each page and bright, illustrations, these are welcome additions to our collection! We now have nearly half the set. I think I have a problem…

Next up, picture books.

Chatterbox Bear by Pippa Curnick.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but all three of us really enjoyed it.

Gary is a chatterbox. He chats about everything to anyone everywhere, but not everyone appreciates Gary’s chat so he sets off to find someone who does…

Peapod (and I) liked the bright illustrations, whose pallette zings with neon pinks and yellows, dark purples and tropical blues. The lively style is really fun and characters’ expressions are depicted brilliantly.

Speaking of expression, I loved the eyebrows. I don’t want to give too much away here, but prawn eyebrows are a touch of genius. I also loved the ending – one of those ‘here we go again…’ endings that really makes you smile.

This book is a subtle and touching take on friendship and finding ways to overcome barriers to welcoming newcomers, but mostly it is a hugely fun read with lots to love and laugh about.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut by Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya

Suzy Orbit is an ingenious, enthusiastic and problem-solving (female, BAME) space engineer working on a space station with her boss, Captain Gizmo, who would much rather buy his way out of sticky situations with shiny new gadgets and clothes.

As an aside, I have no idea how they haven’t killed one another alone on that space station, or more to the point how Suzy hasn’t lost her infinite patience with her dismissive, arrogant and incompetent boss. If this review were to take a drastically different turn about now, I’d say it was a fine example of modern politics, a warning on capitalism and its effect on the environment and a portrait of how racism and gender issues are still rife in the workplace. But, we’re not going down that route today, so instead I’ll say…

Peapod loved Suzy Orbit, who he kept reaching out for, and the pages put on space where the contrast between the dark sky and the bold colours of the shiny spacesuits, swooshing spaceships, fiery jets and nearby planets helped create striking and lively spreads.

An enjoyable story with everything space-loving children could ask for – speeding space pods, meteoroid storms, aliens…and pizza. This is also a great example of a smart, capable (insanely patient) BAME girl absolutely killing it in a STEM job.

Have you read any of these?

Which picture or board books have you been reading this week?

Library Love 21/6/19

Library Love is a new regular post with short reviews of the picture books we choose from the library each week.

There may be a bit of stop-starting and moving about of Library Love over the coming couple of weeks as we settle into a nursery and work routine and figure out where library trips best fit into it all – please bear with us!

What we took back

  • The World-Famous Cheese Shop Break In by Sean Taylor and Hannah Shaw A family of rats are on a mission to break into the fancy pants cheese shop, but they don’t make the best burglars. After several failed attempts, they hit upon a new plan. Honestly, this wasn’t really for me. The Dad rat is called Daddypops which really grated on us and while the story started well, I couldn’t get on with ending. I did like the lively illustrations (there’s definitely something a bit Pesky Rat about these rodents) and I’d read it again if Peapod chose it, but otherwise I’d give it a miss.

  • Kiss the Crocodile by Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle. This was the second Sean Taylor book we borrowed, albeit accidentally (we hadn’t realised Cheese Shop was by him too). This is one I’d been meaning to read so was pleased when we found it. Three friends play lots of different games until one day little crocodile wants to join in with his favourite game of kiss the crocodile. There was lots to like – I thought the illustrations were lovely, fun and full of character and I thought the way the suspense was built and built as the friends dared to kiss the crocodile was fantastic. Overall though, I can’t lie, I think I’d have liked a darker, more surprising or subversive ending. It was all a bit too nice. One I’d happily read again if asked but won’t be rushing out to buy.

  • Oddly by Joyce Dunbar and Patrick Benson Three creatures wondering who, what and where they are are surprised by the arrival of an upset little boy who provokes more questions about life and love and feelings and family. I had high hopes for this one, the creatures were, as the title suggests, odd and I liked them, but honestly it felt like it was trying a bit too hard. It drew heavily on Where the Wild Things Are, but lacked the subtlety, the unanswered questions, the darkness and the magic. I’ll stick to Where the Wild Things Are.

  • Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis and Jarvis I liked this one a lot more (you’ll be relieved to hear!) A family of penguins set out for a picnic, only to end up at the other end of the world! Mr White, a very wise polar bear (“Don’t think of it as a mistake. Think of it as a big adventure.”) agrees to help them home, but they stop for adventures on various countries on the way. With lots of repetition, humour, a sense of place which should not be taken too seriously, and a very satisfying ending children will love this is a very enjoyable story that I might buy and would definitely read again.

  • Little Owl’s Orange Scarf Peapod’s Dad wasn’t taken with this, but what foes he know?! I loved it, definitely my pick of the week and one I’ll buy. Little Owl’s mum has given him a scarf. He’s not keen and does his best to misplace it. Understated text with simple but expressive illustrations, this is a warm and humorous story that will no doubt ring true to many a parent, with a gentle and well-pitched message of give and take.

What we took out

What do you think of our choices? Have you read any of them?

Have you been to the library recently?

The Wild Folk Rising

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

The Wild Folk Rising by Sylvia Linsteadt, cover art by Sandra Dieckmann

The Wild Folk was one of my favourite books of last year (you can read my review of it here) and I was so excited for this second, and final, installment of The Stargold Chronicles.

It was well worth the wait, I loved it and I’m already looking forward to re-reading them both back to back.

If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll enjoy this immensely too. If you haven’t yet read the first book, stop reading this and go and start reading that straight away!

In this second installment we rejoin Tin, Comfrey and the hares Mallow and Myrtle as they race to save Farrallone from the Brothers’ greed.

I loved the way this opened. In fact, I thought both the start and end of this were excellent.

There’s no slow build, long recap or drawn out reunions. There’s enough as we go along to recall book 1, but we are straight back into the action with a dead Brother, a daring and deadly escape and the start of a seemingly impossible mission crossing Farallone via the underworld and the very highest mountain tops.

And the tension, drama and danger keep going right to the end. There’s no gradual resolution, no light at the end of the tunnel as you pass the halfway point. If anything, things get harder and harder until the very end.

I loved this about it. There’s no simple solutions or happy coincidences. There are risks and deals and consequences; there are bargains and gambles and backs against the wall.

Accordingly then, and as with the first book, the story is steeped in folklore, myth and fairytale influences. And, just as Baba Itha’s scene stole the show for me in the first book, it was the First Bobcat’s dealings in the Underworld that I loved best in this for its truly dark, fairytale feel.

On top of this, it is a book which positively glows with wonder at the natural world. Don’t let that be mistaken for gushing, flowery prose though. This is a book that understands the, well, wildness of that world, and it demands respect for it.

There are some beautiful, fantastic and awe inspiring scenes (the flock of birds!), as well as some really heartbreaking ones which should serve as a warning to all of us about the way we treat others, the impact of power and greed and being reckless with nature’s resources.

We meet many old characters, both good and bad – I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say there’s a terrific reappearance of Father Ralstein.

And there are wonderful new faces too – I especially loved Rupert and Oswald, and was so pleased to see a gay couple in an MG book not as a ‘token’ or an ‘issue’ but just there as lovely characters playing their part in the story, whilst ever so subtly making a point about prejudice.

This book is a fantastic adventure in a magical place that all the while mirrors our own. It deals with many timely issues, primarily but not exclusively environmental, in a non-confrontational way which nevertheless forces the reader to consider our own world, its past and, most importantly, its future.

Pacy, dramatic and dark at times but with friendship, hope and nature’s wonders bringing balance, this is one of my standout books of the year so far, just as book one was last year. This series is truly something special.

WWW Wednesday 19/6/19

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

What are you currently reading?

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, audiobook read by Martin Jarvis

Another book I know I should have read sooner but just never got round to, it seemed a good time to jump into it on finishing Tiffany Aching.

It took a while to get into initially, but now I’m really enjoying it, and the narration is a perfect match for the shrewd, cynical and dry-witted text.

I’m wondering whether to watch the series when I finish it – has anyone seen it?

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross McKenzie (eBook)

Night times are still a roulette wheel at the moment – sometimes I am miraculously awarded some actual sleep and other times I get none but am so bone tired I can’t manage to read! So I still haven’t got very far with this! I’m about halfway through and am enjoying it. I especially like the wonders and the book they come from – a really inspiring, magical idea!


Scavengers by Darren Simpson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

I am enjoying this, though I’m finding it a bit slow. I think in parts this has helped as we’ve really gotten into the world Landfill and Babagoo live in, but I can’t help but feel like I’d like it to move a bit faster. It also reminds me of other books a bit here and there and I can’t help but feel like I know where it’s going, so I’m hoping for some surprises in the second half!

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

I’m taking part in the #PinkRabbitReadalong on Twitter, although I need to get a wriggle on if I’m going to join in with the chat next week! Peapod is starting nursery, just short sessions at the moment, so I’m hoping to squeeze a few pages in while he’s there – just need to hope I can concentrate!

What have you just finished reading?

I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, audiobook read by Stephen Briggs (cover art pictured by Laura Ellen Anderson)

I can’t say anything about The Shepherd’s Crown without mentioning a really huge event that happens at the start of it and just had me like “noooooooo!” but obviously I can’t say much about that either as I don’t want to give it away, but if you’ve read it I’m sure you’ll know (Lily?!)

I thought it was a really fitting end to the Tiffany Aching books. I’ve really enjoyed reading them – the Nac Mac Feegles are fantastic and it’s been lovely rejoining a slightly older, slightly wiser, slightly more experienced Tiffany in each book and seeing her grow.

What will you read next?


Circe – Madeleine Miller. I’ve been dying to read this since it was released in hardback! But I just haven’t managed to fit it into all the books I feel I need to read, predominantly the MG/YA ones I feel I need to have read for work (don’t get me wrong though, I love reading them too!). But Charlotte has raved about the audiobook too, so this is going next on my listening list!


Murder Most Unladylike (if I ever finish Nowhere Emporium!)

Physical copy

I’m not sure what else I think I prob need to crack on with some of the YA I have waiting – Deathless Girls, The Boxer or Meat Market maybe. Although I have SO many MG boks I really want to get into too…!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks/KLTR – New Picture Books

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.

We’ve had an influx of brilliant new picture books over the last week or two, so we’re sharing those today.

With the exception of Samuel Drew, which was a gifted copy we requested from Tate, we bought all of these. In both cases, opinions are all honest and all our own!

Abigail by Catherine Rayner One of our last library books was Catherine Rayner’s Ernest. I loved the illustrations and design (you can read my review here) so when I spotted Abigail at the back of the book, I knew we had to buy both!Abigail is a lovely book about counting, loving to count, finding it tricky, and helping your friends. It’s one of those ‘there’s a message but not in neon lights’ books – it’s mostly just a lovely story about a giraffe who loves to count!

As with Ernest, the illustrations are beautiful, ‘splodgy’ watercolours and I really liked the numbers dancing over the pages too – perfect for little ones learning to count/recognise numbers themselves.Peapod’s dad preferred this to Ernest, but Ernest still just tips it for me! Peapod was very happy with both, but did seem to take a shine to Abigail in the pictures so 2-1 to her I think!

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad

The first Sophie Johnson book (Unicorn Expert) was brilliant and this one is just as good, packed with wit and visual humour.

Here, Sophie has turned her hand to detective work, with the help of her “not very good” assistant, Bella the dog, who is “no help at all”.

True to form, Sophie wearily tries to show Bella the tips and tricks of the trade as she attempts to investigate a lion’s missing tail. Meanwhile, in the illustrations we see Bella is, of course, busy solving the crime and catching the criminals.

As with the first book, Sophie will bring a smile to everyone’s lips – children will love her and adults will recognise her! These books are an absolute joy – full of a dry humour and with text and illustrations working in perfect harmony. I can’t wait to see what Sophie gets up to next!

Samuel Drew Hasn’t a Clue by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow

We were kindly sent this to review and it’s lovely. Samuel Drew has a parcel and everyone wants to know what’s inside!

Written with a lovely, rhythmic rhyme, this feels very reminiscent of Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy, while at the same time being completely unique in its style and subject.

As Samuel Drew walks along the street with his parcel, various animals see and sniff and follow in the hopes of finding something tasty inside! What’s clever is the way their guesses actually reflect what’s happening in the shops they pass.

Likewise when we reached the end, the last page suggests there are clues right through the book as to what is actually inside (hence the title I suppose!!) They’re well hidden, merging into the scenes of everyday life seamlessly, so I’m not sure you’d guess before it’s revealed (but maybe I’m just not a very good guesser!) We (and yes, I do mean Peapod’s dad and I) had lots of fun poring back over the pages looking for hints once we knew what it was though.

And that is one of the best things about this book – the details and the opportunities for looking at, hunting, finding and spotting in, observing and talking about the pictures.

And the pictures are great, I really liked the style. With a flat, almost childlike, papercut pencil look about them, they reminded me of David McKee’s wonderful Mr Benn illustrations. And they are if course, full of detail. I really liked the high street setting too – there’ll be plenty that’s familiar in this walk by the shops and park, but with a butchers, fishmongers and florists on the street there might be something new for many children too.

Penguinaut by Marcie Collins and Emma Yarlett

A lovely tale of friendship, being brave and following your dreams. Orville the penguin’s friends all have BIG, exciting adventures, but he is only small. He doesn’t let that put him off though as he works through failures and setbacks to achieve his goal of flying to the moon and having the BIGGEST adventure yet.

The illustrations have a touch of Oliver Jeffers about them, indeed there is a feel of his Up and Down throughout, but this is no bad thing (I love Oliver Jeffers!) and it very much goes in its own direction too.

They are full of energy and movement and the way the font style, size and layout is designed to enhance all the sound effects and onomatopoeiac descriptions is really effective and engaging.

I’m looking forward to our Penguinaut Read and Make session over the summer, I think it’ll go down really well as a read aloud book and as a stimulus for our rocket making!

I Really Want to Win by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti

This is another of the books I’ve chosen to read at one of the summer storytime at work and I’m really looking forward to it. We read their first book, I Really Want the Cake, and it was really popular so I’m hoping for a similar reaction to this one!

And I’m sure I won’t be disappointed! With the same fantastic pace rhythm and rhyme and expressive illustrations as the first book, our young protagonist is back; this time it’s Sports Day and she’s determined to win! But things don’t quite go to plan…

A hilarious, relatable story of a young girl who really wants to be the best (and is in fact pretty confident she is…at least at first), this is also a gentle, non-threatening way to explore losing, having different strengths and skills, supporting each other and process over result.

I loved this just as much as the first book and really hope she’ll be back for more adventures. Also, I’m loving the reappearance of the cake – brilliant!

Have you read any of these?

What picture books have you enjoyed recently?

No Ballet Shoes in Syria

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

Apparently today is Empathy Day. Its amazing that I know this when I’m not often sure whether it’s Tuesday or Sunday at the moment, and keep thinking it’s March. But, you know, good old Twitter.

And so I should (but don’t) have a whole post full of books that would help develop empathy. Though really I think all good books do that to a certain degree, because they all force you to see the world through the characters’ eyes.

But, as luck would have it, I needed to give myself a kick up the bum and post my review of No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton, and as that’s perfect for empathy day, let’s all pretend I planned it this way…

We follow Aya and her family as they attempt to find their feet in England after escaping the war in Syria.

Billed as a modern version of, and as the author herself explains in the introduction, influenced by the wonderful ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, this had big shoes to fill (excuse the pun).

While I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a modern version, it certainly has echoes of Pink Rabbit. Miss Helena especially feels like she’s stepped straight out of it and I loved her character and the way we gradually discover her back story along with Aya’s.

The other character I loved was Dotty. She brought real balance to a book that tells a sad but all too common story and doesn’t shy away from the dark bits. Dotty though lifted it with her cheerfulness, her slight clumsiness, her brightness and sparkle, her positivity and friendliness.

What I liked best was that she was properly fleshed out, not just a one dimensional, cheery new friend. She had issues of her own and it is testament to Bruton’s lightness of touch that they were made an integral part of the book while emphatically not over-shadowing its main message and Aya’s story.

At the community centre she visits with her mum and brother, Aya stumbles across a dance lesson which reminds her of her own ballet school in Syria. Tired and worried with more on her plate than she should have as she struggles to support her mum (depressed, grieving and alone with a baby and child in a new country with nowhere to live and no English), she discovers an escape in dance.

But it becomes more than that. As she joins Miss Helen’s dance class, interacts with the others and, of course, dances, her memories of her old life resurface.

The way what is happening or being said in the present is mirrored in her memories and flashbacks, and the way they gradually move us forward from before war hit her home to her arrival in England is genius and so skilfully done.

It also helps to convey the idea that this is not something vague happening somewhere else to some ‘other’ people – they are just like us and it could happen anywhere to anyone.

Similarly, the juxtaposition of bombs and shrapnel and fleeing and fear and camps and danger and loss and despair with everyday life really brings home how awful it is. And I was pleased to see Catherine Bruton didn’t shy away from this. While it is sensitive, it is also unflinching and honest.

I really enjoyed Catherine Burton’s writing style. The little details in her descriptions brought everything to life and the amount of research she’d clearly done showed through in how believable Aya’s voice is.

This was a brilliant, well-balanced and carefully thought out book. The way it looks at the war in Syria is timely, sensitive and informative. But more importantly it makes it real, and it makes those fleeing it real. Honest and unflinching, but sensitive, hopeful and joyous too – I can’t recommend this enough.