A younger chapter book double

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

It’s a double bill of books for slightly younger readers today – the first perfect for those just edging towards MG but not quite there yet, and the second an illustrated chapter book for those just starting to read more at length but still wanting pictures with their prose! Both would also make excellent read aloud choices to share.

Dragon Detective: Catnapped by Gareth P. Jones, cover and chapter art by Scott Brown

My friend Michelle is a big Gareth P Jones fan, her boys have loved/still love his books and she has been championing him for years. So, I was very pleased to be offered the chance to try his newest/oldest offering (this is an edited, re-jacketed, generally refreshed re-publication of the book).

This is a classic down-on-his-luck, heavy drinking (in this case neat orange squash), works-alone detective story, but with a twist, namely that our Detective, Dirk Dolly, is a dragon.

It transpires that dragons are mostly in hiding in their natural habitats – sea, mountain, underground etc – and urban dragons, like Dilly are rare, so he needs to be doubly careful to go unnoticed.

Luckily for him, his landlady, the brilliantly named Mrs Klingerfilm, is almost blind as a bat. Unluckily for him, his most recent client is rather keen to help and soon finds out his secret!

Partnered (begrudgingly) with smart keen bean and loner, Holly, and on the case (begrudgingly) searching for her missing cat, the plot soon thickens…

With dodgy dragons, a great double-act of bad-guy henchmen, an enormous and mysterious creature in a lake, a detective detecting our detective, and crates full of stolen cats, this case turns out to be much more complicated, dangerous and intriguing than you’d think a missing cat could be!

Told with plenty of humour, and a touch of fantasy, this is a great addition to the younger chapter book offering, especially as the detective/crime/mystery genre in children’s fiction remains strong.

Skeleton Keys: The Unimaginary Friend by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

I received a copy of this aaaaages ago but it got a bit lost in the pile (sorry!), so when Mary mentioned she was hoping to listen to it after hearing the author read a little from it and thinking it was brilliant, and with book 2,The Haunting of Luna Moon due out in March, I decided to read it via audiobook!

It’s narrated by Guy Bass himself and honestly it’s just a joy to listen to – what a performance! Full of energy, feeling and drama it sweeps you up into the action and the voices really make the characters complete!

And if, like me, you’re an enthusiastic read-aloud-er who’s a bit rubbish at voices, I can highly recommend listening to the audiobook of this with young readers instead (even if you’re a dab hand at voices, this really is one kids will love to listen to with all the sound effects etc!)

That being said, you’ll also want a physical copy as the illustrations really bring it to life! Managing to be all at once dark, funny, and full of detail, they have a touch of Tim Burton but with plenty of warmth and character. The whole book is beautifully designed and laid out – with some dark pages, some lighter, borders and decorations, text which grows and moves in emphasis – utterly appealing!

The story itself is both imaginative and a champion of imagination in itself. Ben doesn’t have many (any) friends, that is except for his best (imaginary) friend, The Gorblimey. When no one shows up to Ben’s party and his dad tells him he’s too old for imaginary friends, Ben manages to imagine The Gorblimey Unimaginary and he comes to life – as warm, friendly and caring as he is in Ben’s mind.

Close on his heels is the slick and suave Skeleton Keys (who also narrates our tale) determined to capture The Gorblimey and send him to Oblivion, as Keys is convinced he’s up to no good and preparing to unleash chaos.

But is The Gorblimey the only Unimaginary around?

This is such a fun read for younger readers – packed with humour, action, wordplay (those names!) and mayhem… and of course a skeleton, a monster abd a pirate not to mention a naughty little girl with a backwards head! An imaginative and dark delight that’s full of giggles too.

Library Love 30/1/20

Library Love is a weekly/fortnightly-ish (depending on when we read what!) post featuring books we borrow from the library. Sometimes Peapod and I go (in which case it’s always books I don’t know) and sometimes he goes with his dad.

What we took back

Don’t Leap, Larry by John Briggs and Nicola Slater Another lemming book – our second in as many weeks! I much preferred this to last week’s, although Peapod’s dad wasn’t sold on either! I thought this was a sweet and funny tale of not following the crowd – think Odd Dog Out or Be More Bernard – and I liked the illustrations too.

Peapod’s Dad says “Mmm…repetitive. Not my favourite.”

Would borrow again, might buy.

Cuckoo by Fiona Roberton This started quite well and had so much potential but just ended so weirdly. I love a bit of weird when it works but this was just…odd. Especially when there was a perfect, amusing ending staring you in the face (both Peapod’s dad and I thought we knew exactly what it’d be!) We did like the illustrations though and Peapod was a fan of making some of the animal noises in the book.

Peapod’s Dad says “Can’t remember it. *quick recap* Err, not brilliant. The fact that I can’t remember it doesn’t bode well.”

Wouldn’t bother again unless Peapod asked for it. Read Chatterbox Bear instead – same theme, better done.

How Elephants Lost Their Wings by Lesley Sims and Katie Lovell. I’m sure this would be an appealing and engaging retelling of a folktale for many early readers (at whom it is aimed). As a bedtime story to read aloud though it was a bit meh, not awful, just none of us were bothered at all by it. (this was of course to be expected since its not the point of the book)

Peapod’s Dad says “Not bad. Not high brow. Easy reading.” For once, I think his dad has hit the nail on the head with his review!

It’s not one we’d look at again until Peapod was older, if he wanted it then, maybe.

Spot Loves His Grandma by Eric Hill We love ‘Where’s Spot?’ but the other Spot books are hit and miss and this was definitely a miss. A bit dull, no flaps and not much to relate to. We did enjoy naming some of the things in the pictures but even that didn’t last long.

Peapod’s Dad says “Not bad if you read it in the style of Guy Garvey (in cBeebies Bedtime Story style – Peapod’s Dad tries to read every rhyming book like Guy Garvey) Otherwise not great.”

Would borrow again if Peapod chose it, but wouldn’t bother otherwise.

Top picks of the week:

Peapod – Probably Cuckoo for the animals and their sounds!

Me – Don’t Leap Larry.

Peapod’s Dad -…

What we took out

It was a flying visit to the library today on our way home for lunch after music. Peapod enjoyed seeing all the other children there and playing in the house!

We’ve got a few of our own to read too, so we just took 3 today…

…as well as this one, which Peapod carried round the whole time we were there (all about the dogs at the moment!!)

Have you read any of these? Have you been to the library recently?

WWW Wednesday 29/1/20

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

What are you currently reading?


The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle (ebook)

I’ve just started this and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to that book 3 is nearly out before I’d read it when I was so excited for it! I’ve been immediately drawn back in and am once more loving the blend of magic, folklore and the book’s island setting.

What have you just finished reading?

Running Girl by Simon Mason (ebook)

Honestly, I still don’t know how I feel about this book. I really enjoyed the murder mystery elements of the story, the twists just kept on coming and I especially liked that every time I rolled my eyes at a predictable or stereotypical turn of events, they turned again! However, I found the characters a bit flat and the women especially in the book were pretty poorly represented. I think I’m going to read book 2 and see if there’s any improvement, as I did enjoy the plot; the victim in book 2 is male so I’m hoping for a better perspective, but we shall see…

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Whilst this is very much an adult book in its themes and the way it tackles them, it has all the atmosphere, detail and depth I’ve come to expect from Kiran’s books for younger readers – I was totally immersed! A full review will follow, but essentially it was bleak and unflinching, historical but immensely relevant and I loved it.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, audiobook read by Emilia Fox

I really enjoyed this. A warm, funny coming of age tale read brilliantly by Emilia Fox.

Dragon Detective: Catnapped! by Gareth P. Jones

A great addition to the younger fiction range – full review to follow shortly.

Stig of the Dump by Clive King


I find it hard to believe I never read this growing up as I know it was one of my mum’s favourite books to read with her class, but I don’t remember ever reading it.

I enjoyed it though. There are parts that strike you as very much of their time, with gender roles etc, but nothing so much as to be offensive, just noticeable today. And otherwise it is a wonderfully whimsical ode to imagination, outdoor play, make believe and the impossible.


What will you read next?

Physical copy – The Highland Falcon Thief has just arrived and I am SO excited to read it!

Ebook – I’m not sure, but maybe Shadowsea.

Audiobook – I’m really enjoying using audiobooks to listen to children’s classics and I’m debating a few for my next read – maybe 101 Dalmatians or The Secret Garden. Which classic should I choose next?

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

Paddington’s Post

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.

Paddington’s Post based on the stories by Michael Bond, illustrated by R. W. Alley

This is a lovely new addition to the Paddington range of books.

With post to take out and read throughout, it follows in the footsteps of the classic ‘Jolly Postman’ format, which seems to have become quite popular recently (not that I’m complaining in the slightest – Emma Yarlett’s Dragon Post and Beast Feast books are stunning new examples of this style and The Crayons’ Christmas/Meerkat Christmas are really warm, fun gift books too).

This is a lovely way to get to know Paddington through the post he sends and receives. It tells the story of his arrival in the UK from Darkest Peru and introduces us to his ‘adoptive’ family and friends here, as well as some of his most well-known and best loved traits and habits.

There’s plenty of scope too for ‘taking the book further’ and using it as a stimulus for activities such as map making, cake baking, or letter writing (of course!)

With elements of the original Paddington stories and bright, characterful illustrations from RW.Alley that manage to both capture the history and tradition of Paddington and still feel fresh and modern too, this book would make a lovely gift for new fans as well as bring a perfect addition to the bookshelves of lifelong Paddington lovers!

Six for Sunday – Habits

Six for Sunday is Steph at alittlebutalot‘s creation with a prompt each week to blog about.

Today’s prompt is:

Another I’ve had to ponder. I’m sure as I read the habits others have I’ll recognise many I have too, but all I can think of is my habits regarding when and where I read, so I’m going with that.

Six times and places you’ll almost certainly find me reading…

1. On my lunch break. This is one if the main chunks of time I get to read a physical book, so invariably I will be at the staff room table, lunch in one hand and book in the other

2. On my commute. I usually read my ebook on the way to work and back but if I don’t have too much stuff and get a seat on the tram I sometimes read my physical book too.

3. Nap times. I usually spend most of Peapod’s naptime listening to an audiobook while I do jobs around the house, but try to squeeze in a bit of time for a sit down with a coffee and a physical book too if he hasn’t woken by the time I’ve finished the housework.

4. In the evenings when I’m up and downstairs resettling Peapod. Peapod is a frequent waker still, so while I do get to go downstairs after putting him to bed, I’m usually up a few times with him before I go up to bed too. I usually read an ebook on my phone while he feeds back to sleep.

5. Before bed. It used to be that my main reading time was in bed before I went to sleep. I can’t really read my physical book in bed now without rusking waking Peapod but I manage to get a few pages in with a glass of wine and some chocolate before I go up most nights!

6. Peapod’s bedtime. The three of us all share a story when putting Peapod to bed. We have done since he was new born and I hope it will be something that sticks as he gets older and be ones a habit for him too!

When and where do you read? Do you have any bookish habits?

Peapod’s Picks/#KLTR – Happy Early Birthday Spot!

Peapod’s Picks is a regular(ish) post featuring books Peapod has been enjoying – from favourite board books, noisy books and busy books to bedtime stories and books with props from his story baskets.

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

Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill

In preparing this post, I found out that Spot turns 40 this year! I was tempted to postpone this til May when the ‘official’ date for celebrations is, but thought I’d post it now – Happy early Birthday Spot!

An absolute classic, this is a perfect example of a well-executed lift-the-flap story, evidenced by its enduring popularity with both children and parents.

It’s simple enough to read fairly quickly and hold those short attention spans; repetitive enough to become familiar and allow little ones to really get to know the story and what will come next and it also features loads of animals! And I am yet to meet a child who isn’t an animal lover (at least in play and pictures!)

Spot’s mum goes looking for him as it’s dinner time and he’s nowhere to be found (this is the only part of the book I’m not a fan of, as it starts off with “Naughty Spot” but I usually just skip that bit!).

As she goes hunting around the house, instead of Spot, she finds lots of other animals – a lion under the stairs, a crocodile under the bed, a hippo in a piano and a snake inside a clock… until at last, the tortoise (cleverly hidden under a rug) suggests she looks in the basket – will she find Spot there? (spoiler – yes, yes she will.)

This is one of the story baskets Peapod has had in his room for a while now, and it’s one of the most played with, most simple, most versatile and one he’s got so much out of too!

As well as making the sounds for the animals when he opens the flaps (or, now that we’ve read it do often beforehand because he knows who it will be under each!), he finds them or points them out from the basket and we then have fun moving them, making noises etc, for example monkey jumps about everywhere chattering, while he pulls crocodile round to chase his toes!

We have read some of the other Spot books too and have liked some more than others, but this original story that started them all is one we read over and over and over again – he loves it!

WWW Wednesday 22/1/20

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

What are you currently reading?

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I’m about a third through and loving it!

Running Girl by Simon Mason (ebook)

I have such conflicting thoughts on this book! I’m intrigued by the actual mystery and like the use of both Garvie’s and Inspector Singh’s viewpoints. I also like the Garvie isn’t your typical main character – he’s lazy, arrogant, skips school, gets bad grades, smokes and drinks and none of it is so he can reform, nor is it to naje him cool. He just feels like a normal (if slightly cleverer) teenager for a change. But I’m not loving the writing style or voice at all and the portrayal of the female characters – so far at least – is pretty poor. I’m going to finish it and see how I feel then about reading the others.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, audiobook read by Emilia Fox

Continuing with my attempts to read more children’s classics, I chose this as I’d never read it. I’m really enjoying it and Emilia Fox is a great narrator for it.

Dragon Detective: Catnapped! by Gareth P. Jones

I started this on my lunch yesterday and am hoping to finish it today. I love the old style detective feel of our dragon detective, Dirk Dilly, and the tone of the book. I think it will be a great addition to the younger fiction range.

What have you just finished reading?

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, audiobook read by Bernard Cribbins

This was odd. And that’s really all I can say about it. There were things I liked, especially the way that it stood up for children’s rights and well being, bearing in mind the time it was written in. But overall it felt a bit too dated, moralistic and religious.

What will you read next?

Physical copy – probably Lost Tide Warriors but I’m eagerly awaitung a copy of The Highland Falcon Thief at work so if that arrives it’ll skip the queue!

Ebook – I don’t think I’ll be reading the other Garvie Smith’s, but if I do it’ll be those. Otherwise, probably Shadowsea.

Audiobook – I’m really enjoying using audiobooks to listen to children’s classics. Which classic should I choose next?

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

Library Love – Grab and Go!

Library Love is a weekly/fortnightly-ish (depending on when we read what!) post featuring books we borrow from the library. Sometimes Peapod and I go (in which case it’s always books I don’t know) and sometimes he goes with his dad.

What we took back

Read the Book, Lemmings by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora This was ok and quite funny. We liked the characters (especially Ditto) and GERONIMO-O-O! Overall, it felt like a bit of a nearly but not quite – like it was missing an unknown something that would have really nailed it.

Peapod’s Dad says “Mmm…repetitive. Not my favourite.”

Would borrow again when Peapod is bigger and see how he enjoys it, but probably wouldn’t buy.

Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks I thought we’d all quite enjoyed this one, until I asked Peapod’s Dad for his verdict! I liked it anyway! Peapod liked pointing to the cats (“tat!”) and I was a big fan of the illustrations. A criminal caper in search of a fishy feast results in a kidnapped penguin and a daring escape.

Peapod’s Dad says “Can’t remember it. *quick recap* Err, not brilliant. The fact that I can’t remember it doesn’t bode well.”

Would borrow again, was contemplating buying it until I got Peapod’s dad’s verdict (probably still will!)

Treats for a T-Rex by Charlotte and Adam Guillain and Lee Wildish An enjoyable enough bedtime read. Brightly illustrated with rhyming text, this bounces along and is plenty of fun.

Peapod’s Dad says “Not bad. Not high brow. Easy reading.” For once, I think his dad has hit the nail on the head with his review!

Would borrow again happily, but probably wouldn’t buy.

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane by Anne Haworth and Daniel Rieley I liked the idea of this – a little girl travels to different cities and collects an animal native to or related to that country in some way in each place – and I liked the illustrations and design. But I didn’t get on with the repeated refrain in each place, which just seemed like it had some fairly random stuff shoehorned in because it needed to rhyme.

Peapod’s Dad says “Not bad if you read it in the style of Guy Garvey (in cBeebies Bedtime Story style – Peapod’s Dad tries to read every rhyming book like Guy Garvey) Otherwise not great.”

Would borrow again if Peapod chose it, but wouldn’t bother otherwise.

Hide Me, Kipper! by Mick Inkpen Were big fans of Kipper and this was no exception. I especially liked that the book was the setting with Little Squeaky Mouse and Kipper hiding in “the foldy bit”. Peapod especially liked that it had a mouse, a cat and a dog in it!!

Peapod’s Dad says “Yeah, that was quite good that. Easy to follow.”

We’ll definitely be buying more of the Kipper books.

Top picks of the week:

Peapod – Probably Hide Me, Kipper for the mouse, cat and dog combo!

Me – Either Hide Me, Kipper or Penguin in Peril.

Peapod’s Dad – Hide Me, Kipper

What we took out

By all accounts, Peapod and his dad had an eventful trip to the library this week, involving much befriending of librarians and bookshelf ‘reorganising’ on Peapod’s part, and much running after him on his, Dad’s. So, his dad chose a couple and also took out the couple Peapod had got his hands on!

Have you read any of these? Have you been to the library recently?

Six for Sunday – Associations

Six for Sunday is Steph at alittlebutalot‘s creation with a prompt each week to blog about.

Today’s prompt is:

I found this hard. I’m not really sure which books people associate with me (please tell me if there are any you think of!), so I’ve gone with a more general ‘sorts of book’ I think people associate with me, largely based on what colleagues say and show me. I think it really just reads as a ‘my favourite sorts of book’ list, but I suppose that’s sort of why they assosciate them with me!

1. Unusual picture books – whether delightfully drawn, deadpan, dark or just plain different, whenever we get a slightly quirky picture book in everyone in work comments on knowing I’d like it/buy it etc.

2. Fantasy/adventure MG – magic, quests, journeys, new worlds, reluctant heroes, perilous rescues – you know I’m going to love it!

3. Anything that draws on fairytale and folklore. OK there’s a bit if crossover here with the last one but if it’s remotely fairytale based I am THERE!

4. Bleak or gritty books. Can’t beat a bit of dystopia and despair…! OK, I’m exaggerating a bit but I do like books that tackle real events (without going full on contemporary ‘issues’!) and those that lean towards a hopeful ending over a happy one.

5. Adult fiction with a touch of the ‘other’ – whether magical realism, a gothic sense of the supernatural, a touch of madness or mind games or all of the above!

6. Books with pretty covers! I’m a book magpie. I can’t help it! Lots of the books I’ve already pictured tick this box too!

Which books do people associate with you?

Are there any books you associate with me?

Are there any books you’d recommend me based on this?

Migrations

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.

Migrations by various illustrators, edited by the International Centre for the Picture Book in Society and introduced by Shaun Tan

This book would have struggled to displease me, filled as it is with images from a wealth of picture book illustrators and with an introduction from personal favourite Shaun Tan. But it truly is an absolutely gorgeous book, both visually and in its message.

Each artist has contributed a postcard on the theme of migrations and, while the illustrations show a plethora of birds in a huge range of styles and media, the common thread is that of human migration.

The book is divided into four parts – Departures, Long Journeys, Arrivals and Hope for the Future, although there is much crossover between them and the over-riding message is one of welcome, hope and togetherness.

Some artists have chosen to use solely imagery, while others have added text to the back, so in addition to a book full of stunning art work, we also have messages of hope and encouragement, as well as quotes and poetry.

Lost Words authors Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris have collaborated here too to give the book Lost Words-style endpapers with an acrostic poem from Robert beautifully illustrated by Jackie.

And the rest if the book is just as impressive, with a collection of styles, techniques and media – everything from collage to paint to pencil to digital.

The illustrators themselves hail from all over the world and come from a selection of both famous names – Axel Scheffler, Shaun Tan, Jon Klassen, Chris Riddell, Jane Ray – and less well-known artists that were new to me and exciting to discover.

A powerful gallery of kindness, bravery, imagination and support, this beautiful book is a much-needed ray of hope in today’s increasingly divided and difficult world.