Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

So this review might just win the prize for tardiness! We were sent the hardback version of this last Christmas. Life with a small baby took over and I promised myself I’d get a review up this Christmas instead. The paperback came out, I found my copy. And life once more took over. I have no excuse – when I did finally read this I did so in less than a half hour break. So, very late (but in plenty of time for next Christmas!) here’s my review…

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise by Laura Owen and Korky Paul

I am a big fan of the original Winnie the Witch picture books, by Valerie Thomas, but I’d never read one of the illustrated early chapter books, featuring the same characters but written by Laura Owen, until now.

I think it helps that Korky Paul has illustrated both the picture books and early chapters, both in terms of familiarity and continuity and also just because his vibrant illustrations are so well-suited to this madcap pair!

Winnie has lost none of her slightly dishevelled look and chaotic ways. She means well but her good ideas somehow cause all kinds of trouble, and poor Wilbur is still there patiently helping her through it!

In The Santa Surprise, she is horrified when she realises that while Santa is busy giving out presents to everyone, no one has got anything for him. So, she and Wilbur decide to rectify it.

They consult their friends on what to get, resulting in Winnie attempting both knitting and baking (with mixed results!) and a whole host of school children offering up some very imaginative ideas.

This would be a great talking point/Christmas lesson springboard with children thinking of, designing and possibly making the gifts they’d buy Santa too!

Presents made, bought, sourced and magicked, and with giant rescued polar bear in tow, they are ready to set off on Wilbur’s home made sleigh with his new tablet acting as sat nav.

I really liked the way technology was portrayed with real balance in this story too. Like it or not, it’s a big part of a lot of children’s lives and will be on a lot of Christmas lists.

This deals cleverly with that by having Wilbur get one, which Winnie is at first sceptical of. We do see its failings and times when it’s real people/hands on activities etc that are needed, but we’re also shown its uses and positives and Winnie comes round.

Of course, things don’t quite go to plan! They soon realise they’re at the wrong pole and Christmas is getting ever closer! The elves scarves are given to penguins, the giant socks are used as sleeping bags and the gingerbread house collapses…

Eventually they arrive at Santa’s House…just as he’s left to deliver everyone’s presents! With nothing left to give him anyway and no way to get home, Winnie and Wilbur come up with a plan that results in a happy ending all round.

This is an energetic, feel-good caper with two thoroughly lovable main characters, zingy illustrations and a festive journey with lots of fun along the way. Glorious.

Peapod’s Book Advent Days 23, 24 and 25

You can find out more about our Christmas Book Advent here.

On Monday, we read…

The Night Before The Night Before Christmas by Kes Gray and Claire Powell

We read and reviewed this last year, and while his dad and I still enjoyed it this year, Peapod wasn’t too fussed. Like others, it’ll no doubt be one he enjoys more when he gets more of it, but even the illustrations didn’t get more than a passing glance this eve, which I was surprised about because they’re lovely. Peapod’s favourite thing about this though was the sticker on the front with Oi Frog on!

On Tuesday, we read…

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore, illustrated by Eric Puybaret

Of course we read this – is there any other choice for Christmas Eve?! I really like the more modern illustrations in this one too – they still have a really warm feel and a sense of the old fashioned but feel much fresher and brighter too.

And last night we read

Starbird by Sharon King-Chai

Not a Christmas book at all, but every birthday/Christmas I am trying to get Peapod a ‘special, for-keeps’ book (he gets SO many books all the time it seemed a nice way to give a book as a gift and have it still feel special)

Previously, he’s had Peapod Lullaby and the Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry You’re….With Me set. This was our choice for Christmas, thanks to another children’s book blogger who reviewed it – I’m so sorry I’ve forgotten who!

It’s a gorgeous book, beautifully illustrated with foil details, a predominantly blue and purple pallette (but interspersed with other, more ‘natural’ colours) and stunning nighttime spreads which use silhouettes brilliantly.

A fable that draws on the classic caged bird tales, not only is this brilliant for starting discussions about, or exploring further ideas and questions about, freedom and captivity but this is also a fantastic book for talking about animals, nature and habitats as we see the Starbird pass through forest, sea, desert and jungle.

Beautiful text matched with beautiful prose. A gorgeous gift of a book!


I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Nevertell by Katharine Orton

A mix of historical fiction and fantasy for MG readers, this is set in a prison camp and begins as we see Lina, who was born there and knows nothing of the outside world, preparing to join a rather shady group of prisoners in an escape attempt, with her best friend Bogdan hot on her heels.

Her mother, Katya, has given her a necklace which starts to seem like it might be more than just a simple piece of jewellery. Not only does it radiate heat to keep her warm but the temperature really fires up when danger is near.

And, of course, danger is near.

With a mix of ‘real’ perils (harsh weather and landscape, lack of food or shelter, not exactly trustworthy criminal travelling companions) and increasingly other-worldly ones (spirit-like wolves, a ghost army of sorts and their formidable master, Svetlana and her powerful magic) this is a journey like no other through a truly unforgiving place.

There were things I really, really liked about this – the setting and the journey, which I thought were really well depicted – I felt achy, exhausted and cold just reading about it! I liked the band they travelled with, especially that they were really a bit if a rum lot, and especially Old Gleb who was maybe my favourite character. I liked the sense of place, and history it conveyed, as well as the injustices it highlighted without getting bogged down in them.

I also really loved some of the magical elements – the peaches, familiars and particularly the Baba Yaga section, which was definitely my favourite part of the book.

However, there were also, unfortunately, quite a few things that niggled at me and that I didn’t get on with.

I don’t like to give too much away but there was a seemingly incredibly sudden u-turn in the relationship between Lina and Svetlana abd it just didn’t sit well with me. How can you go from anger, fear and disapproval to cosy-cosy?

Also, I really liked the character who says it, but the whole “Nevertell” thing itself didn’t work for me either.

On a personal level too, there were twists and unknowns that just seemed a little obvious fir a little too long, though I suspect younger readers may still find they surprise so I’ll keep that opinion on the fence!

But overall, I think its fair to say its a mixed bag. Would I rant and rave, press it into hands, declare it a must-read etc.? No. Would I still recommend it as an enjoyable MG adventure that blends historical and fantasy genres well? Yes.

I suspect this is another I’ll be in the minority about, but we can’t all agree on them all!

Peapod’s Book Advent Days 19 – 22

You can find out more about our Christmas Book Advent here.

Playing catch up again! Friday was another night where Peapod crashed out before we’d even looked at a book, but on Saturday we read

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards, illustrated by Shirley Hughes

Yes, Shirley Hughes again! Although she didn’t write this one!

I loved My Naughty Little Sister when I was little so it was lovely to revisit this story in picture book form with Peapod.

I still got that thrill of disbelief and laughter that My Naughty Little Sister biting poor Father Christmas elicits and she still brings back fond memories of my own little sister, who also disliked Father Christmas for a short spell (though she never bit him!!) and also took such a shine to a doll that had to be hers that she stole it from playgroup!

For his part, Peapod was fascinated by the illustrations of the Christmas tree and especially of My Naughty Little Sister – painting to her face and body parts for us to name them and finding his!

Yesterday, we went for something much more modern and silly, but it’s another we really enjoyed last year…

Mince Spies by Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan

All the tasty Christmas treats in the supermarket are under attack, but who could be behind it? The mince spies are here to find out!

With a fuzzy, warm Christmas message at its core, this has enough humour – both in the story and visually – to still be lots of fun and not at all a ‘message’ book.

Peapod really only cares about the reindeer at the end, but just like with Oh Christmas Tree, I think its one he’ll enjoy more as he gains understanding in years to come.

And I’ve missed a day but I can’t figure out what I’m forgetting so it’ll have to stay missed for now!

Angel on the Roof

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Angel on the Roof by Shirley Hughes

I didn’t really know much about this and just requested it based on it being Shirley Hughes!

And as much as her style of writing, it’s her illustrations I really like…well, these totally surprised me! They’re all blue ink with just a little well-placed gold to highlight the angel (I really liked the subtlety of this). But, although they’re totally different from Shirley’s usual illustrations in that way, they’re also unmistakably hers! Sketchy, loose but rich in detail they capture so much so well.

Our main character, Lewis, has one leg “thinner than the other and not so strong. It bowed out a bit and made him slow…

I loved the way she represented this in the drawings, the tiny differences in line and form when compared to his other. Likewise, the way the angel has a sort of scribbly radiance. And of course the little details in the streets, houses and families Shirley does so well!

The story itself sees Lewis – a bit of a loner, shy and unsure of other children and what they’ll make of his leg – meet an angel on the roof of his apartment block.

They strike up a friendship, which is incredibly touching and all the more powerful for the way we’re told Lewis opens up to the angel and the way the angel understands but remains silent throughout.

I also thought the way we saw Lewis show his frustration at the way he felt his leg marked him as different and hampered him was really well done; the way we saw him express how he felt it created a barrier between him and other children is something readers can relate to or empathise with, without any kind of self-indulgence of pity. He is never made out as a character to be pitied and that is important.

Likewise, I thought the way the angel dealt with Lewis’ plea for a miracle was very clever and I also liked the way the angel’s presence had a small, gradual effect on the building. Whilst, in this case, the changes came about thanks to something supernatural, there was an idea that all it takes is the smallest of changes to create big ones and a reminder to put yourself in other’s shoes before judging or dismissing, as we find out why wears his headphones all the time.

I really liked the fact that no one else saw the Angel and the way he didn’t speak and disappeared. It left this open to interpretation whilst retaining its magic.

If ever a book crossed age ranges it’s this one, with large full spread illustrations and not too much text it’s a great read aloud for younger readers, but with plenty of emotional scope, real life themes and gorgeous vocabulary and detail it’s just as well suited as a short book for older readers.

There are echoes of Skellig made younger here, but that is no bad thing, and it’s still very much its own story – a magical, heart-warming one at that.

Peapod’s Book Advent Days 18 and 19

You can find out more about our Christmas Book Advent here.

On Wednesday, we read

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

We read this last year and absolutely loved it, so I decided to make it the book we read on the night our tree goes up!

It’s a gorgeous book all about choosing, taking home and decorating the tree with a very strong theme of togetherness and being with those you love, it’s full of joy and Christmas spirit.

Last night, we didn’t read anything – Peapod was asleep in minutes (unfortunately for what felt like only minutes too, but that’s another story!)

Last few days now!

Christmas books with bits!

I was lucky enough to receive copies of Meerkat Christmas and The Crayons’Christmas from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

I love a book with bits! So I was really excited to see two new interactive books featuring some favourite characters this year! But I couldn’t review them without first reviewing the one that started them all…

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Having said that I should start with this, what is there I can say about it that hasn’t already been said?! It’s a classic!I think what I like best about it is firstly, the way it includes the reader – little asides, comments and witticisms that feel almost like in jokes – and secondly, following on from this, the humour – it’s everyday and for everyone, but incredibly clever and quick too.

“Shut up you soft bears” – I just love the familiarity and ‘of the people-ness’ of this! I can’t imagine seeing something quite so well pitched, phrased or placed in a similar book today!

The ‘bits’ are just as clever and well-chosen too – from a Humpty Dumpty jigsaw to the Get Out of the Woods game for Red Riding Hood

Again its all in the details – the rules are full of that tongue in cheek humour that understands people so well!

With well-known and loved characters, plenty to pull out, read and do, humour by the bucket load and a brilliantly festive ending, this is a classic for a reason!

And now, onto the new!

The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

The Crayons are back and guaranteed to make you smile.

If you know them from their previous books (The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home), there’s plenty of nods to those books here, but even if you don’t this is a fab book filled with Christmas tradition, cheer and fun things to do!

As the Crayons enjoy the build up to Christmas, we’re treated to cards, dressing ups, tree decorating, a map, a board game and even a dreidel from Grey who’s off home celebrating Hanukkah instead (I thought it was great to see that mentioned and celebrated too!)

As with the other books, so much of the humour is all in the voice and the little details in the illustrations, and the way these two marry up so well. From paper and scissors playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to the Crayon’s asides and utterings, this is a simply brilliant book with both silly and sophisticated humour that parents will enjoy just as much (if not more!) than the kids!

And finally, another interactive Christmas special from a favourite character of mine – I was SO excited when I heard about this and very grateful to receive a copy to review!

Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett

This follows a similar structure and idea as the original Meerkat Mail book, in which Sunny heads decides his home is too crowded and sets off around the world, sending postcards home til he realises that perhaps home is best after all, busy though it may be.

In Meerkat Christmas, Sunny has been reading about the perfect Christmas so sets off again determined to find it. However, after visiting beaches and BBQs, hanging lanterns in trees, getting wet singing carols and cold in the snow will Sunny ever find the perfect Christmas?

Of course, just as he seems to have found it, he realises a real perfect Christmas would be with those he loves! Luckily, there’s a special someone on hand to see him home for Christmas!

With the detailed, lively illustrations you’d expect from Emily Gravett – the end papers alone are worth it! – and a card home from every stop, this is a gorgeous gift of a book for Christmas. The images tell much of the story and contain loads of humour too, which I always love to see in picture books.

I love Sunny’s voice as he writes his letters home, which is endearing and full of character and the little notes and cracker jokes on each page add to the fun feel of the book as a whole.

A funny and warm reminder not to forget what really makes Christmas special for you at a time when panic buying, stressed out shopping and frazzled food prep can take over!

A fantastic, fun book filled with festive spirit!

WWW Wednesday 18/12/19

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

It’s a brief one today as I’ve been in something of a slump recently so this hasn’t changed much from last week.

I’m currently reading Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock (ebook). This was a recommendation from Lily‘s review and, while I’m not far in, I think I’m going to love it!

I’m also finally nearing the end of The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (audiobook) I’ve enjoyed it but it hasn’t grabbed me the way the original trilogy or La Belle Sauvage did.

I finished Nevertell by Katharine Orton and, while there was lots I liked, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped to. Full review to follow.

I’ve paused on Invisible on a Bright Light by Sally Gardner. I want to go back to it when I have more time to read longer stretches. I was finding it a hard one to get into and follow only reading a couple of pages at a time.

Next I’m going to squeeze in a few of the shorter Christmas/winter books I’ve either been sent or wanted to read – Angel on the Roof by Shirley Hughes, Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise and (not pictured) The Curse of the School Rabbit by Judith Kerr.

Have you read any of these? What are you currently reading?

Peapod’s Book Advent Days 16 and 17

You can find out more about our Christmas Book Advent here.

Two very different books in a row here!

Lucy and Tom at Christmas by Shirley Hughes

Another we read last year, and very much along the same lines as Alfie’s Christmas that we read a few days ago, this is another astute and nostalgic portrayal of a family preparing for and celebrating Christmas.

Peapod spent ages poring over the illustrations in this one, which is no surprise with the amount of detail and life Shirley packs into them. He especially liked the pictures of the Christmas tree and of Tom mixing pudding and looking out the window!

Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

This one is new this year from the creators of Supertato, and is full of the rhyming humour you’d expect from them.

Peapod wasn’t as enamoured with this one but I think it’s one he’ll love when he’s a bit bigger and can understand a little more of the story.

We thought it was a funny idea, cleverly done and had a good chuckle at the ending!

Top Ten Tuesday – Winter

For anyone who doesn’t know Top Ten Tuesday is run by That Artsy Reader Girl, who provides a weekly prompt for us to respond to with our Tuesday top tens on that theme.

Today’s prompt is

Winter TBR

My TBR is wobbling worryingly and I’m in a bit of a slump so, even though I’ve only picked out 8 and not the full ten I’m still not sure I’ll get to all of these, but here are my choices:

1. Shadows of Winterspell by Amy Wilson

I’ve had this for ages and really need to get to it soon!

2. The Pearl in the Ice by Cathryn Constable

I bought this after hearing lots of good things from others and I think it’ll be the one I start next.

3. The Box of Delights by John Masefield

This was on my Believathon list but I didn’t manage it. I’d like to think I’ll get to it at some point over the Christmas season!

4. The Curse of the School Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Lily reviewed this ages ago and mentioned it’d be a good read for this time of year so I said I’d read it then. I just need to squeeze it in now!

5. Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

Another of Lily’s recommendations! I’ve been intending to read something of Fleur Hitchcock’s for a while now, so this seemed a good wintry way to go about it. I’m looking forward to another mystery/crime book too so I’ve downloaded the ebook of this one to start soon.

6. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

I don’t think I need explain this one!

I also have the following winter/Christmas books waiting patiently to be reviewed…

7. Angel on the Roof by Shirley Hughes

From what I know of Shirley Hughes and what I’ve heard already, I’m looking forward to this. Not that you’d know it from how long it’s been waiting!

8. Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise by Laura Owen and Korky Paul

I’m a big fan of this duo in their picture book form, but haven’t read one if their early chapter stories yet. I have high hopes!

Which wintery books would you add to take me to ten?

Have you read any of these – which would you make a priority?