Believathon 3 – The Mask of Aribella

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Chain – Read a book with a colourful cast of characters, and it was certainly an excellent choice for that prompt!

Our main character, Aribella, discovers she can shoot fire from her fingertips and, after narrowly escaping the Palace guards after they raid her home and arrest her dad, finds herself taken in by fellow Caannovaccis – masked Venetians who protect the city using their special powers – speaking to animals, walking through walls, reading minds and/or stars and moving or creating objects with their minds…and more. So, yes, colourful!

Honestly, I was a little uncertain going into this. I thought it might be a bit superhero heavy for me, but it wasn’t at all. There’s enough to hook a superhero fan but it doesn’t feel like a typical superhero story.

Instead it’s more of a mystery with a dash of history and a dollop of magic and fantasy thrown in for good measure. And that is right up my street!

The setting of Venice is wonderful. In a serendipitous turn of events, I started this just as I was coming to the end of Katherine Woodfine’s Villains in Venice, which had already seen me captivated by the city, but it was here that I was truly transported there and enamoured by it.

Anna Hoghton’s writing is rich in detail and steeped in the history of the place and its culture and customs. I couldn’t get enough; I was ready to jump straight on a plane!

The characters themselves are likeable and their powers bring a good mix of the light-hearted and the dramatic. There’s some unfortunate sleepwalking mishaps, singed tablecloths and uncommunicative cats, but there’s also a strong message of believing in yourself and some tense and exciting saving of the day.

The mystery element of the book is perfectly plotted and paced too. There’s plenty of intrigue, secrets and uncertainty along with creeping doubts and wariness about just which characters to trust and what was really going on.

As an adult who’s familiar with the genre, I did figure out a fair bit of it, but even so there were things I didn’t see coming and I really liked the way the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and ‘whos’ were gradually revealed.

A thoroughly enjoyable mystery adventure, with an exciting and original slant in its masked protectors, this has strong messages of friendship, courage and being yourself and embracing your differences.

Children’s Books North Autumn 2020 Blog Tour – Sara Ogilvie and The Hospital Dog

I was so excited to be asked to join Children’s Books North’s Autumn Highlights blog tour – celebrating new books from CBN members with a tour of Northern and Scottish book blogs.

Children’s Books North aims to connect children’s book professionals living in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Scotland. The network seeks to promote our members’ work, new books and events. Additionally, CBN is keen to bring focus on the importance of regional diversity in children’s books and the industry.

You can find Children’s Books North here on twitter or check out their website here.

The Hospital Dog Cover

The Hospital Dog © Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie 2020 — Macmillan Children’s Books

For my stop on the tour, I was thrilled to be asked to share Sara Ogilvie’s work with you, having loved her illustrations in Andy Shepherd’s The Boy Who Grew Dragons books and, of course, in the book which precedes this one – Detective Dog.

Her most recent book then is a new collaboration with Donaldson – The Hospital Dog – which we were really lucky to be sent a copy of, and which Peapod has absolutely loved! You can read our review of it here.

Here’s Sara to tell you a bit more about the book and how she works…

Tell us about your new book
It’s The Hospital Dog, written by Julia Donaldson, about a friendly Dalmatian called Dot and her owner Rose, who visit sick children on the Wallaby Ward at their local hospital. While it is a standalone book it’s a companion to The Detective Dog which came out in 2016.

Julia wrote this text a few years ago, inspired by meeting a real-life hospital therapy dog and her owner. It took some time to find the space to fully work on the text in amongst other projects. I ended up doing a lot of the final illustrations during lockdown over March, April and May to meet the deadline in early summer.

The Hospital Dog © Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie 2020 — Macmillan Children’s Books

Share your favourite spread/passage from the book

I think it would be the spread with Dot and Rose having a dip in the sea. Rose is definitely a woman who owns one of those old-school pink flowery swimming caps with the loose rubber petals on it.

There’s also the view into the number 78 bus window, with the standing teenagers peering at a phone. I like to bring a bit of recognisable reality into this kind of scene!

The flow of the text is also very satisfying on this spread:

After their breakfast of porridge and tea, Rose and her dog always swim in the sea.Then they hop onto bus number seventy eight, And the bus drops them off at the hospital gate.

If only real-life travel was that effortless!

What/who/where inspired this book?

Julia had first-hand experience doing a ward round with a real hospital dog, Nala and her owner Sandy, inspiring her text. What inspired me about the text, from an illustration angle, was the range of emotion to contend with through the characters – bored, crying, cross, shy, nervous. It was a good challenge to have and I was inspired by the children in the book, ultimately with the help of Dot, being brave.

When I was nearing the end of the final spreads, I got an email from Macmillan to say Julia had received a fan letter with a request from a little girl. In her letter she had asked, ‘In your hospital dog book please could there be a girl with a bald head because I have alopecia and I look beautiful’.

Coincidentally I had already sketched a little girl with a bald head in the early roughs for the Wallaby Ward spread layout. Her letter was very timely as it was the last spread I worked on, so I made sure she was more prominently at the front, with a little string of ducks.

The Hospital Dog © Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie 2020 — Macmillan Children’s Books

Nominate one children’s book by a northern or Scottish creative to read this winter.

Last year I was a mentor on the Picture Hooks mentorship programme 2019. I was lucky to have illustrator Anna Gordillo as my mentee. She is from Terassa in Northern Spain…Northern but Spain! (Check out her lovely work!)

But the overall winner of Picture Hooks illustrator of the year was Helen Kellock from Glasgow (mentored by Maisie Shearring), whose work has a lively warm glow of inks, and lovely movement in the compositions. Her book, The Star in the Forest, published by Thames and Hudson, is one to watch out for.

Where do you like to draw – is there anywhere you go to for inspiration or that you know you’ll spot something interesting to draw?

When I’m not sitting in the middle of a sprawl of paper on the floor in my studio, I think the best thing is just stepping out of your front door. Then it is just all around you for the taking really. You always see characters that you could never imagine in your head – how people stand, odd clothing combo’s, aloof cats in windows, bored teenagers on street corners, etc.

I have lots of little quick drawings on the back of envelopes and receipts (if I can’t find my sketchbook in my bag fast enough), lots of little scraggy bits that I stow away in folders. Like most folk I often grab things with my phone camera when out and about, but it isn’t the same. Drawing makes me focus, take the time and see better.

Some of the people in the hospital gate illustration are drawn from little sketches made in a hospital waiting room in Newcastle.

Thank you so much to Sara for taking the time to answer our questions, and to Children’s Books North for having me take part in the tour. I’ve loved being part of it

Don’t forget to read our review of The Hospital Dog here, and check out the other stops on the tour below!

The Hospital Dog

We were lucky enough to be sent a free copy of this to read as part of our participation in Children’s Books North’s Autumn blog tour.

You can read our Q and A with illustrator Sara Ogilvie later today.

Written with the flawless rhyme and cadence you’d expect from picture book master Julia Donaldson, The Hospital Dog tells the story of Dot – a dalmatian who visits the children in Wallaby Ward at the hospital each week.

One day, after leaving, she saves one of the children from a passing car but finds herself knocked by it instead and now it’s her that needs looking after. Luckily, her friends from Wallaby Ward rally round.

Peapod helped me open this when it arrived and we’ve not stopped reading it since.

He’s been utterly taken with Dot and loves poring over Sara Ogilvie’s busy, observant images talking about what’s happening and how Dot and the children in the hospital are feeling.

Sara’s ability to portray such an array of people and emotions so clearly is wonderful; Peapod is really drawn to their faces, examining their expressions and situations. Some he names himself – “happy” or “sad” or “crying”, but I can see him really looking and considering other more nuanced expressions such as nerves, boredom or worry too.

Sara really captures everyday life brilliantly. There’s a vitality to the images and a realism to the people – they’re recognisable; they’re the people we pass on the street or sit next to on the bus, our neighbours and neighbourhoods – there’s a familiarity to the scenes and people that will appeal to young children.

Peapod has been most taken by the dramatic accident in the book, in which Dot is knocked over as she saves one of the young patients she’s been visiting when they wander into the road.

We have re-enacted this in so many ways recently (yes, that was me walking through the wood shouting “be careful Dot, there’s a car!”) and I loved seeing him yesterday, completely independently, set up his small world toys as everyone coming to visit Dot at home while she recuperates.

They say (correctly) that children learn about their world and take reassurance from both stories and play, and this book is a fine example of that.

A story about a children’s hospital ward a visiting dog and a car accident has every risk of becoming something mawkish, condescending or banal. But, of course, this doesn’t stray into anything of the sort thanks to the vibrancy and energy that Donaldson’s repetition and rhyme alongside Ogilvie’s engaging and relevant depictions of daily life bring.

Written and illustrated with gentleness, warmth and a touch of humour, this is a lovely addition to a child’s book shelves and one we’ll be returning to (along with its predecessor The Detective Dog) often.

Pop back later today to read our Q&A with illustrator Sara Ogilvie as part of the Children’s Books North blog tour!

WWW Wednesday 25/11/20

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

What are you currently reading?

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

I admit I had reservations about this. I not a sci-fi fan. But I’m about a third in and really enjoying it.

That Time i Got Kidnapped by Tom Mitchell audiobook read by Jot Davies

This isn’t my usual cup of tea either but I do think Tom Mitchell’s books have been much needed in finding something for fans of funny books to move into as they move out of MG and into teen. It may not be the sort of thing I’ll ever love but I’m glad to see it available and I’m still dying yo see how it ends!

What have you just finished reading?

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby

I didn’t dislike this but neither did I love it. I wanted to with its mythical inspirations, and I did enjoy elements of it, especially as the real action and stories began, but I don’t know…it just felt a bit lacking in parts; I can’t quite put my finger on it but it didn’t quite do it for me.

Taylor and Rose – Secret Agents: Villains in Venice by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

I really enjoyed this, and while I coukd see certain revelations and twists coming from two books ago, I didn’t mind! A great setting and an even better ending!

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton.

I didn’t think I was going to like this, but in the end I really did! And I loved the Venice setting (especially as it completely coincidentally dovetailed with my reading of Villains in Venice!)

Full review coming, hopefully later today.

What will you read next?

Up next is Katya Balen’s The Space We’re In. I really enjoyed October, October by her so I have high hopes for this.

Have you read any of these? What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks – Mouse and Bear

We are still reading A Pipkin of Pepper, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea has made a reappearance in our bedroom reads, but two new books in the post have also edged their way into Peapod’s oh-so-slow-to-change bedtime book basket!

One of these is Ross Collins’ There’s a Mouse in My House, which we were delighted to see picks up where There’s a Bear on My Chair leaves off and we’ve been reading them back to back each evening.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the first book, we’ll start there. ‘There’s a Bear on My Chair’ sees an increasingly frustrated mouse desperately trying to get Bear off his chair.

Peapod especially loves seeing Mouse up the ladder giving Bear his nastiest glare (mostly because he loves a ladder..!) and when Mouse calls him a “stinky bear” which he finds hilarious.

In the end, our exasperated rodent gives up and leaves. Bear, clearly feeling smug to have won the battle of wills, also decides he can now get up and head home, only to find that perhaps he’s not won after all..

We rejoin this pair as an outraged Bear tries to boot out his unwanted lodger. I loved how some of the scenarios reflect some of those in the first book to an extent but are different enough to not feel like a repeat (important when you’re reading one after the other night after night!)

The ending is just what you’d want and is definitely Peapod’s favourite part of the book (along with the leaky bath and “cheerio” which he delights in joining in with!)

It’s a wonderfully warm and joyful way to leave this troubled twosome, referring back to the very start of book one in such a pleasing way.

These books are a brilliant example of what a really enjoyable picture book should be. It’s such a seemingly simple concept, but it works so well – bouncing, rhyming text, great characters (and a great relationship between them) and expressive illustrations all combine to create a lively, funny read with enough humour for the adults reading it to appreciate too, and buckets of visual humour too of course.

It’s a classic case of the picture being worth a thousand words telling, as the way Bear and Mouse are feeling towards each other is so clear throughout and we clearly see their exasperation building as we read towards the showdown(s)!

Ross is a big favourite in our house and this newest outing is no exception. Lots of fun.

Peapod’s Picks – Too Much Stuff

We are still reading A Pipkin of Pepper, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea has made a reappearance in our bedroom reads, but two new books in the post have also edged their way into Peapod’s oh-so-slow-to-change bedtime book basket!

The first of these is ‘Too Much Stuff’ by Emily Gravett, who I’m such a big fan of.

We’ve written before about Tidy which we love and Too Much Stuff returns to the woods with some familiar faces (I love Badger’s cameo in this!) but this time our main characters are Meg and Ash, a pair of magpies building a nest and preparing for their eggs to hatch.

In a move that will have parents everywhere smiling (they don’t call it nesting for nothing!), our pair start to fret about what their hatchling will need, each finding more and more ‘stuff’ their chicks just can’t do without, until their nest is lost under it all and one final addition might just be a step too far…

Just as Badger’s battle to balance his love of order and cleanliness with his natural wild surroundings saw us reminded – subtly and gently – about our impact and reliance the world around us, Too Much Stuff just as gently reminds us of quite literally that – the amount if stuff we buy, use and importantly throw away.

It’s a call to consider before we consume, and to reuse, recycle or pass on what we’re done with.

Of course, it’s also just a very funny story with a wonderful cast of characters! Reminiscent (but essentially very different from) Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck, it’s a hilariously daft scenario filled with warmth and such a pleasing resolution.

The addition of the vintage style magazine adverts in the end papers is glorious – funny and astute and perfectly delivering the message of the book.

They’ll raise a smile with adult readers and would be absolutely brilliant to focus on and use alongside the book in schools too, especially as a way of bringing picture books to slightly older readers.

It has everything you want in a story – drama, excitement, humour, warmth, friendship, a message that’s carefully woven into it and the gorgeous illustrations you’d expect from Emily Gravett.

Fairytale Revolution

I was lucky enough to request and receive copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

There are, let’s be honest, a plethora of fairytale retelling, reimaginings and reworks out and coming out at the moment.

But I was instantly drawn to these thanks to their gorgeous artwork and design. All but one – Cinderella Liberator (which uses carefully selected classic Arthur Rackham images) – are illustrated beautifully by Laura Barrett.

They all use a minimal colour palette and silhouette style to great effect. It really gives them that classic fairytale feel, even when depicting more modern scenes and activities, as in Blackman’s Blueblood.

They really complement the stories well, bringing a rustic charm to Duckling, humour and environmental contrast to Hansel and Greta and a fresh, contemporary feel to Blueblood.

The use of the silhouette style also ties them in beautifully with the traditional illustrations used in Cinderella Liberator, which I adore.

I really loved reading about how the illustrations used were carefully selected from Rackham’s originals too to reflect the inclusive, empowering messages of this retelling.

All have a polished finish and stylish design that give them that special quality you want in books to gift or treasure.

The tales are all twists in the originsls to greater or lesser degrees. I was intrigued to see what these authors more used to writing for adults (with the exception of Blackman) would do as they turned their hand to children’s tales.

Interestingly, it was Malorie Blackman’s Blueblood that felt the ‘oldest’ of the collection; a take on the dark take of Blackbeard and his locked room of dead wives, here we see Nia taking vengeance on known bullies, abusers and misogynists by marrying them and forbidding them access to her study. Of course, their controlling natures mean it’s only a matter of time before they venture down there…

This definitely has the darkest themes of the four, being more suited to older children who will better grasp its message and ideas.

It cleverly addresses some complex, important and challenging subjects – domestic violence, misogyny and murder and questions. The moral dilemma it poses of the victim taking revenge becoming the wrongdoer, for example – can this be excused? Where are the lines drawn?

I certainly loved this aspect of it, though I have to be honest Blackman’s writing is rarely my cup of tea (I know! I’m in the minority!) and this is quintessentially her, so if you’re a fan of her books you’ll love it and as a take on fairytales that teens can also get their teeth into this is perfect.

Jeanette Winterson’s take on Hansel and Gretel by contrast probably felt the youngest of the four, with much pantomime caricaturing, silliness and word play. With its fast-pace, humour and bordering-on-the-ridiculous, almost spoof-like baddies, I can see this going down a treat with young fans of Pamela Butchart or similar big, bold early chapter books.

Gretel here is Greta, with more than a nod to Greta Thunberg as the tale takes us on an environmental tour de force looking at deforestation, plastic waste, consumerism and our love of processed/fast/sugary foods over the planet.

The witch is, of course, not the villain we expect and there’s a dose of Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread in her tale, which I enjoyed.

Overall, while I liked elements of this and the idea behind it, I didn’t love it. However, I suspect a younger reader would!

Kamila Shamsie’s Duckling is probably the tale that stays truest to its original form. Rather than huge changes, twists and reworking, this is all about emphasis and viewpoint.

While the original Ugly Duckling focuses on fitting it (or not), on ‘finding your crowd’ as it were, Shamsie’s take on it is instead about being different, being proud of it, accepting it – and accepting others who are. It is less about being around those who accept you for looking the same (or vice versa) but finding a place among those who accept you as you are, for you.

The stork, the Grand Old Duck and the Mother Duck are excellent, thought-provoking characters bringing depth and subtly raising themes of being an outsider, peer pressure and standing up for what’s right even when that’s hard to do.

I love that this story does not shy away from how gruelling and difficult Duckling’s life is made because of her difference and her unwillingness to bend; she is kind, she she is helpful, she is friendly, but she is not a push over. She is herself and stays true to this even when deserted, bullied and alone.

This is a story of hope and ultimately of togetherness, and a retelling I felt worked really well.

Rebecca Solnit’s take on Cinderella – Cinderella Liberator – was definitely my favourite of the series. I loved it.

It keeps the essence of the original brilliantly but brings it up to date – getting rid of the outdated royal marriage and focusing instead on finding friendship, creative outlets and ways to be our best or truest selves.

The writing style is wonderful and there were SO many passages I loved, that felt important and moving and poignant and empowering for any reader – on love, on self, on beauty, on help, on kindness…on dresses with big pockets.

And it’s this realism and humour that prevents it being preachy, saccharine or twee. There’s a lightness of touch and a perfect blend of magic, the familiar and observant humour that all comes together to create a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

At the end of the book (indeed at the end of all the books) is a piece by each author on their inspiration, on how and why they wrote these tales the way they did and I found Rebecca’s fascinating, giving a weight and context to the tale that made me love it even more.

Overall, this is a great new series of beautiful books, each of which will appeal to different readers in different ways. My favourite was undoubtedly Cinderella Liberator, but the beauty of this range is that each author brings something different so there really is something for everyone!

WWW Wednesday 18/11/20

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

What are you currently reading?

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby

I have read the prologue and nothing more so can’t really comment yet!

Taylor and Rose – Secret Agents: Villains in Venice by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

I’ve only just started this, but I think it might be the best yet (despite the awful narration!)

What have you just finished reading?

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth by Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell

I loved this! You can read my review here.

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray

This has been on my tbr for ages and I know lots of you loved it and expected me to as well. And I did really enjoy it, though I perhaps didn’t come away as blown away as others have. There was lots I loved, nothing really I didn’t like, but at the same time it didn’t leave me desperate for book two or yearning for it to last a bit longer the way the best books do. That all sounds very negative and it shouldn’t – I thought it was a brilliant book, it just didn’t give me the book hangover I was hoping for! You can read my review here.

Taylor and Rose – Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

Another very enjoyable adventure in such a fun mystery series.

What will you read next?

Next up in my Believathon picks is The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton.

Have you read any of these? What are you reading at the moment?

Believathon 3 – Orphans of the Tide

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Dagger – Read a book with a dangerous setting. With hindsight, I’m not sure I’d choose this for that prompt, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Footprints – read a book with a prominent villain.

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac, published by Puffin

I’d heard a lot about how great this was but knew very little about the story itself, but you can’t fail to be pulled straight in when a book begins with a whale ‘beached’ on a rooftop with a boy emerging from its stomach, with only a young inventor brave and quick-witted enough to go up there and help him.

I was hooked immediately.

Ellie (our young inventor) is a typically great female lead – clever, loyal, determined, a little impulsive and with a mind that’s always whirring. I really loved the descriptions of her chaotic workshop; they painted a perfect picture of her and I wanted to spend hours in there looking at all her drawings, half-hatched plans, interesting finds and unfinished creations.

Ellie lives and works in The City – the last city on earth, jutting precariously over the sea, everywhere else destroyed by The Enemy in The Great Drowning that saw the other cities and islands wiped out.

The Enemy returns sporadically, each time claiming a new Vessel to work through and each time claiming more lives.

When Seth emerges from inside the whale (with no idea who or where he is), the other residents of The City are convinced he is The Vessel and set about trying to capture and kill him before The Enemy can use him to return.

Ellie, however, is determined to save him and so begins the darkest, most perilous game of Cat and Mouse you’ve ever seen as Ellie and Seth (aided begrudgingly by Ellie’s best friend Anna) attempt to hide from and outwit The City’s Inquisitors.

Everyone lives in fear of The Enemy and The Vessel and the sense of mass panic, hysteria and tension they create in The City is palpable and all too believable.

I have to confess that the way rumour, fear and alarm spreads through the residents, and the authoratitve, powerful nature of The Inquisitors in charge had me convinced this book was going to take a different path.

However, the route it actually took was brilliant and took me an embarrassing amount of time to cotton on to (I’d guessed at certain things but hadn’t put two and two together!)

And this is, of course, thanks in no small part to the excellent writing and the way it somehow manages to keep up a relentless pace and tension, but also to drip feed information and gradually unfold. The use of old diary entries especially was really effective.

Likewise, our characters feel like they never stop; always on the run, hiding or plotting and planning with wolves at the door. And yet, somehow we’re given time to really get to know them, to explore their back stories, their feelings and their relationships. They have both urgency and depth. And there is space to sensitively explore themes of grief, loss and friendship too.

The setting itself is perfect, managing to feel all at once like a historical town – all cobbles and towers and terraces and alleys, all markets and gossip and hangings; a remote coastal Isle in winter – all wind-swept, salt-sprayed, freezing cold edges; and a dark dystopian future.

It’s a perfect setting for the book, all dark corners, precarious heights, shadows and crashing waves. Matched with Manuel Sumberac’s atmospheric illustrations, the formidable Inquisitors and the absolutely terrific Enemy it all comes together to create a gloriously dark fantasy.

And I’ll leave with a word on The Enemy itself – What. A. Villain. Marvellously evil, it is brilliantly drawn.

Overall, this is a tense and twisting fantasy with a brilliantly dark setting and an even darker Enemy.

Peapod’s Picks – witches, skeletons, pumpkins and soup!

Can you guess I should have posted this a couple of weeks ago?! It’s been a few weeks since I managed to get a Peapod’s Picks up, and I don’t really know why, but that’s life sometimes!

Anyway, we’re back today with some books that you might have expected to see in a Halloween themed post. They’ve certainly found spots there before.

We’re still reading lots of these repeatedly at bedtime though, so I don’t feel too bad about posting them now.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The popular tale of the “witch, cat, hat ginger plait” who gains several passengers on her broom until it “snap two!” as a dragon appears hungry for witch and chips – will her new friends come to the rescue?

I love this and read it EVERY year at Halloween for storytime at work and it’s always great fun. Obviously this year was a bit different, but I read it online instead and hopefully it was still enjoyed!

Peapod, for his part, is still doing his Room on the Broom jigsaw several times a day and has spent a good deal of time running round dropping his wand/hat and making us tie the ribbon back in his hair so it could fall out again – “down!!”

Funnybones books by Janet Alan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz

The classic trip down a dark, dark staircase to a dark, dark cellar and the skeletons who live there who set off on a mission to frighten someone… and all the other adventures they have.

Peapod has loved these – he thinks it’s great when we sing the songs to put dog back together and loves seeing the animal skeletons too.

He loves skeleton crew because he’s been taken with pirates ever since we read Jeremy Worried About the Wind, and Mystery Tour because he is obsessed with cars!

And if we’re not reading them, he’s crawling behind our pillows pretending he’s going into the cellar!!

Winnie the Witch/Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

We do have some other Winnie books too, but I haven’t got them down yet…i will be though!

Peapod has taken to loveable witch Winnie and her long-suffering, oft tripped over cat Wilbur, in no small part because of Korky Paul’s animated and humorous illustrations and Winnie’s propensity for tripping over Wilbur falling down the stairs which he thinks is very funny indeed.

In Winnie’a first adventure she gets fed up of falling over Wilbur and tries some colour changing spells. Peapod has started joining in with “Abracadabra!” though it’s more like “Abadaba!” It’s lovely listening to him trying to get his tongue round it though!

Peapod loves Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin because of all the veg in it (“I like carrots, I like peas…”) and seeing it all toppling off Winnie’s broom.

The Pumpkin Soup books by Helen Cooper

We’ve saved the best for last. Peapod absolutely LOVES, LOVES, LOVES these!

If you don’t know them, Cat, Duck and Squirrel live in the old white cabin and make pumpkin soup, each with their own part to play in making it “the best you’ve ever tasted”, until one day Duck decides he should stir…

Delicious sees them run out of pumpkins and having to find a new soup to cook, much to Duck’s chagrin. Peapod likes seeing Duck’s reactions to all the soups the best!

But his absolute, unquestionable favourite of the favourites is A Pipkin of Pepper.

He especially loves the police dogs (and the Hippo phoning them), the list of peppers at the pepper shop, and Duck “not hold[ing] on tight!”

We are reading this multiple times each evening and he has it down to act out pretty much all day on a loop too.

Our days now sound something like this, repeated from wake up to bedtime:

“No salt!”

“Lost! Lost my friends!”

“Pepper shop.”

“Ring ring. Hello police. Lost Duck situation (‘sedation!’)”

“There they are! Cat! Squirrel!”

Often with extra bits and always with actions.

We spent today calling for Cat and Squirrel as we walked round Dunham Massey, which did at least draw slightly fewer odd looks, than when we had to act it out on our way round tesco earlier in the week…

And that’s brought us pretty much up to date!

Did you read any picture books over Halloween? Are any of these, favourites in your house too?