Peapod’s Picks – This is the Bear

After Christmas, I ordered ‘This is the Bear’ by Sarah Hayes and Helen Craig for Peapod because of his love of the binmen in Dogger’s Christmas.

At first, he LOVED it and we read it repeatedly. So I ordered the collection with all four books in.

Then he point blank refused to read it all of a sudden: “Don’t like that one!” It transpired this was because he disliked the bin men driving off and not stopping fir the little boy!

No amount of cajoling and persuasion – “they just can’t hear him..!” – could convince him otherwise.

Luckily, when the collection arrived he immediately wanted to read the others, which has switched him back on to the original too!

We’ve been reading them all ever since.

They’re a lovely collection, instantly relatable for toddlers with their central characters of a boy, his dog and his teddy (Fred) who has wonderfully teddy-bear-ish adventures (he falls in a bin, he gets left behind, he has a picnic…)

Written in simple, rhythmic Rhyme, with a gentle humour, these are a joy to read and perfect for both reading aloud, and for emerging readers with their clear, large print.

Peapod’s current favourite is ‘This is the Bear and the Bad Girl‘. It’s like a perfect example of what children’s fiction needs – loveable main characters and a ‘wicked villain’ in the girl who steals Fred, a brilliant mix of slapstick trips, falls and puddings-on-head and – of course – a happy ending!

Peapod is outraged by the fact that, not only does she steal Fred, but “girl not say sorry!” at the end. And this is partly what I love too – there’s a happy reunion for Fred and his boy, so all is well, but there’s no saccharine apology and making friends, no seeing the error of her ways etc. and I am all about a good baddie!

Fred and the boy waiting for their puddings in the cafe, shortly before a chase round the house as we act this out for the millionth time!

This is the Bear and the Scary Night sees Fred left in the park one afternoon, snatched by an owl, dropped in a pond and rescued by a kind local musician – adventure for little readers at its finest!

This is the Bear and the Picnic Lunch sees the boy planning a picnic, but the weather and his wonderfully mischievous dog (another fab character who is ever so naughty, but has a heart of gold hidden under his tough exterior!) have other plans. Our little picnic lover is a big fan!

I love that Peapod loves these books. My sister and I loved them growing up and it’s so lovely to be reading them again and seeing how much joy they bring Peapod too!

Have you read these books?

Which picture books have you been reading this week?

Picture Book and Play – At the Vet

Picture Book & Play is a new weekly post (moving to a Friday from next week!) in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

If you and your little ones do similar bookish play, we’d love you to join in with Picture Book & Play and to let us know what you’ve been reading and playing too!

It’s a short one this week – we’ve kept it really simple with some vets role play, which Peapod loves.

I’ve written before (many times but in more detail here and here) about how much Peapod loves the Mog books by Judith Kerr, so for Christmas he got a couple of new Mog books including Mog and the V.E.T., which he loves; he thinks its so funny calling the vet the V – E – T!

Mog gets a thorn stuck in her paw and has to go to the vet (or the V- E – T as they have to be called due to how much Mog hates going) Of course, Mog not being a fan of the vet means chaos ensues and Peapod thinks it’s great fun seeing the animals run wild and the vet fall over! As funny and expressive as you’d expect from Mog!

Mog at the V – E – T! (The laundry basket is the car taking her there of course!)

As we’ve been reading it again recently, we’ve been using the Dr’s set and pet care set he also got for Christmas to play vets.

We’ve also used the brilliant ‘Busy Vets’ to help introduce the idea and talk about who might be at the vets, which animals we might see there, what the vet might need to do etc.

The Busy range of board books are so great for this – Peapod loves the moving parts, there’s lots to talk about with illustrations that are lively but informative and questions and captions to extend on the simple rhyming text.

We don’t have pets so this has been a great introduction to some otherwise unknown concepts for Peapod.

Peapod likes to be the “vesinny (veterinary) nurse” and specialises in putting on plasters (it doesn’t matter what animal it is or what ails them – a plaster is the cure!) and the fact that they’re a bit fiddly and great for fine motor skills is an added bonus!

He’s got a little notebook which he likes to record the animals he’s seen in – great for getting a bit of mark making in!

Even unicorns are treated at our vets (with plasters of course!)

Are there any favourite vet or pet themed picture books in your house?

What have you been reading and playing this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Shark Caller

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell, illustrated by Saara Katarina Spderlund, cover typography by Sarah J Coleman, published by Usborne

Today I’ve chosen a book that I had been hugely excited for since I first heard of it, and one which – I realised on starting it – I knew nothing about.

I’d got so excited about the title and setting and cover and the fact that it was one Stevie from Usborne was shouting about and I always love the books she’s pushing that I never actually found out anything about it.

Luckily, it was still a great book even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be! And it’s one that I know will be both a source of comfort and a popular read for lots of young (and not so young!) readers.

Set in Papua New Guinea, the setting was one of my favourite things about the book. Vividly depicted and steeped in the village’s culture and customs, I felt like I was there seeing it all newly arrived like Maple. And I really loved the use of the Papuan pidgin English terms, and the accompanying chapter headings and glossary – it all really helped transport me there.

The book sees the stories of local girl Blue Wing and newcomer Maple gradually unfold. At first, they couldn’t seem more different, but could they have more in common than it seems?

It was lovely to see their friendship develop (and the strength they drew from each other once it had), thanks in no small part to Blue Wing’s begrudging efforts, which felt so believable and true. I really loved fierce and funny Blue Wing and her shrewd, Shark Calling waspapi Siringen; they were definitely my favourite characters.

Maple is visiting from America with her professor father, who claims to be exploring the coral there but who the girls are sure has alterior motives.

Together they set out to discover the truth and in doing so we see both families taken on a journey through loss, grief, anger, acceptance, change, sadness and strength.

Cleverly told, with gentle humour and understanding, this is ultimately a story of strength – the strength to fight for what you want, the strength to stand up for yourself and your friends, the strength to accept change and, most importantly, the strength to survive loss and grief and all the emotions they bring with them.

My favourite quote from page 11 (taken from page 11 according to my e-reader as the page numbered 11 has no text!)

“I swim up towards the shark. It is not fighting any more. It has accepted that today it will die.
But it will not.
It is my job to make sure it will not.”

This book in three words:

The Long Now.

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Peapod’s Picks – The Suitcase and Out of Nowhere

Peapod’s Picks is a round up of the books Peapod’s been reading, often at bedtime, each week.

This week is slightly different (although both of these have become the top bedtime book choices too!) as I’m going to take the chance to enthuse on behalf of both of us about two books we’ve been reading from one of my favourite picture book authors.

Normally Peapod chooses his bedtime stories after bath as he goes to bed, but last night insisted on putting these up on the bed ready before he even got in the bath!

Apologies, it’s quite a long one so for a quick TLDR summary:

Out of Nowhere is a heartwarming tale of friendship with the most fantastic illustrations, starring a beetle whose legs I love!

The Suitcase is a moving story about how we treat others and the power of kindness, with a brilliant use of dialogue, quirky and stylish illustrations and the power to get even the youngest readers thinking.

***

I was really excited when I heard Chris Naylor-Ballesteros had a new book out this year and I’ve had it ordered for ages so I was made up when it arrived this week and Peapod wanted to read it straight away!

Out of Nowhere is the story of a beetle and a caterpillar, best friends who spend every day together. Until one day, caterpillar isn’t there. Beetle sets off to find his friend, because even though it’s scary, friends come first. He can’t find Caterpillar anywhere, then out of nowhere comes….

This is such a lovely story of friendship. With echoes of one of my very favourite books, Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, this steers away from the funny but macabre to focus instead on the joy, comfort and pleasure a good friend can bring to your life. And how true friendship finds it way through absence, change or difficulty.

Those of you who know me will know I have little time for books that are “too nice” or overly sentimental, and that’s why I love this so much. It takes a topic that usually ends up being a bit schmultzy and ensures it’s heart-warming but has a lightness of touch and an understated, simplicity of phrasing that saves it from being layered on too thick or over-explained.

Indeed, so much of the story (as is the case with all the best picture books) is told through the illustrations and what gorgeous, expressive illustrations they are.

With a strikingly beautiful black, white and red palette, wonderful textures and use of shading and line, I absolutely loved these; I think my favourite thing about the whole book is the artwork.

Peapod loved the book too, and when we’d read it (several times) he was looking at the pictures of other books in the back as he likes to do (these pages at the end of books have me buying so many more books!!) pointing to each asking “got that one?” I said we had The Suitcase and went to get it…

I’ve reviewed The Suitcase before here, but when I did Peapod was only 9 months old. At nearly two and a half now, the thing that struck me most reading it this week is his response to it.

*There are story spoilers below!*

A stranger arrives with a suitcase. The animals he meets are by turn open, curious and a bit suspicious. While he sleeps, they break open his case but then see the error of their ways and, in an attempt to make amends and welcome him, not only fix his case and his cherished teacup with memories of home but build him a new cabin.

Peapod’s favourite part is the ending, and I think my favourite part of reading it with him is when we get to the end and our newcomer responds to the animals’ gift with “There’s just one tiny problem… we’re going to need more…”
Before he can continue with “teacups”, Peapod jumps in with “need more chairs!” which makes me smile and which I think is quite a good observation all of its own!

Peapod is still too little to understand the references this book makes to refugees, but what he is able to understand is the way the animals behaviours affect the newcomer’s feelings, and he’s been exploring this and testing it out (with the repetition that only a toddler can manage) so that a hundred times a day we go through:

Peapod “I broken your suitcase. I broken your teacup.”

Watches for my reaction.

Me (with accompanying facial expressions and body language of course) “Oh, that makes me so sad. They’re so special, I’m upset they’re broken etc etc”

Peapod (looking utterly delighted with himself) “I fix your suitcase. Fix your teacup. Made you new cabin!”

Watches for my reaction.

Me (with accompanying facial expressions and body language of course) “Oh, that’s so kind. Thank you. You’ve made me so happy and welcome. What good friends etc etc”

I can’t tell you how many times a day we go through this. What I can tell you is how amazing it is to see books doing this – helping him work out the world, work out feelings and how our behaviour affects the feelings of others.

This book is often cited as a great book to read to encourage empathy and understanding, and has quite rightly been selected as one of Empathy Lab’s #ReadForEmpathy books too, and it’s a book that’s perfect for reading across all ages with so much opportunity for discussion.

Peapod’s reaction to it only goes to illustrate how effective it is in conveying its message to even the youngest of readers. It’s one I know we’ll continue to read, both every day for the foreseeable future, and for months and years to come. Maybe next time we revisit it, he’ll be ready to dig a bit deeper again…

WWW Wednesday 27/1/21

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

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What will you read next?

So, first up, my current reads:

Uki and the Swamp Spirit by Kieran Larwood

It took me the first chapter or two to get back into the Five Realms and remember what was going on (this is a series I would love to re-read/listen to from start to finish one day…!) Now that I’m back there, I am SO back there and loving it!

Melt by Ele Fountain

I’m a big fan of Ele’s writing (Boy 87 especially – if you’ve not read it, do!) and this is another that has drawn me straight in. I’m about half way through and really enjoying it. Her talent for packing so much inyo such short, readable books is quite something.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, audiobook read by the author

I read and enjoyed the Poet X but this is something else. I’m loving it, mostly because I love main character Emoni, the food theme and Elizabeth Acevedo’s narration.

What I’ve just finished reading

I seem to be on a roll recently for reading books that turn out to be quite different to what I think they’ll be like! I have just finished two more books which I did enjoy, but which once again were quite different to what I’d expected in one way or another.

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

I’ll post a full review of this in the coming days. It’s a tale of grief and loss and finding strength in unlikely friendships. This contemporary theme wasn’t really my sort of thing, BUT it was really well-written, has a fantastic sense of place and a fabulous main character in Blue Wing so I did still enjoy it and would still recommend!

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

This felt a lot younger feel than I’d expected, and while I did enjoy it for me that was all down to the writing style which painted a perfect picture and set a fantastic scene. It’s one I’d recommend MASSIVELY to animal lovers and fans of animal-themed MG though. (Amy, I’m looking squarely at you here!) Full review to follow.

What’s next?

From my January TBR I have two books left – Amari and the Night Brothers, and The Forest of Moon and Sword – so these will likely be next and taje me into February. But I’d also like to squeeze an adult book in soon and (like a fool!) I’ve just added to my netgalley shelf too 🙈

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

When the World Was Ours

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.

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler, cover art by unknown, published by Simon and Schuster

Although it can feel a popular topic and a crowded market at times, I’m always interested to see a new book set during wartime; it’s one of my favourite themes for children’s literature.

So I was really excited to be sent a copy of this.

Set during World War Two and written from the alternating viewpoints of three best friends – Leo, Elsa and Max – we follow their stories from pre-wartime through to the end of the war.

I really loved the use of the three different narratives and the way we joined each of them at the same points in time really helped emphasise how their lives were changing both in themselves and changing compared to each other’s.

I think everyone reading will feel one story speaks to them more strongly than the others, although all are compelling and incredibly moving. For me, it was Max’s.

I don’t really want to write too much more about that for fear of spoilers, but I found his character and situation so complex – frustrating and heartbreaking; his was the story that I desperately wanted to change and the story which felt the easiest to slip into.

If any of the book is a cautionary tale for today (and let me assure you, it subtly but emphatically is) against against complacency, against ignorance, against following the herd and believing the hype, against keeping your head down, against each man for himself…it is Max’s.

But Leo and Elsa’s stories are equally important, emotional and tough. While this may not be as graphic or hard-hitting in some ways as other books about the Holocaust, it has a quiet, haunting ability to stay with you long after reading.

And this has much to do with the relationships, memories, hopes and resilience of our main characters. It is these human connections that are central to the novel and in turn our connection to it.

A story of family, friendship, love and hope in the bleakest of times. This is a poignant story with an important message not only to remember, but to prevent anything like it happening again.

Picture Book and Play – Pizza!

Picture Book & Play is a new weekly post, in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

If you and your little ones do similar bookish play, we’d love you to join in with Picture Book & Play and to let us know what you’ve been reading and playing too!

Last week, we made spaghetti after reading Spaghetti Hunters; here, we’ve done the opposite after eating done tasty pizza…

As a treat, we had a home made “pizza picnic” (we always eat at our table!) which Peapod loved, and it set us off onto all things pizza-related for a good week or two!

After helping his dad with the dough for our pizzas, Peapod continued to explore some – rolling, squashing, stretching and prodding it. This was particularly nice for us to see as for a really long time he wouldn’t go near dough or playdough!

The next day we made some super simple, basic dough (2 cups flour, 1 cup warm water, some veg oil, food colouring for the ‘tomato dough’ yes, there’s better recipes for longer-lasting, brighter-coloured, ‘better’ dough, but this is mega easy and quick and does the job just fine!), I put some ‘toppings’ in a tray (buttons, beads, pompoms, dried chickpeas and pasta) and he spent most of the day, and a good deal of the days following making us ‘delicious’ mini pizzas!

He also had a great time making pizzas in his shop and is still, three weeks on, selling us pizza from his “pizza shop”.

We made some of the pizzas for his shop out of paper using different shsped/coloured paper for different toppings. It was a good way to use shape language and Peapod loved cutting some of the pieces abd using the glue to carefully position them all too.

And of course, we couldn’t do all this and not have some pizza-picture books too! Though I’ll be honest, I struggled to think of many! Luckily we had these two, both of which are loads of fun…

We’ve reviewed Secret Agent Elephant by Eoin Mclaughlin and Ross Collins, featuring a mini-pizza loving spy, here.

Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor is a brilliantly deadpan, linguistically lovely and very, very funny tale of a very hungry owl on the hunt… If you don’t know it, you should definitely give it a read!

Do you have any pizza-themed picture book recommendations.

What have you been reading and playing this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Good Thieves

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week I’ve chosen a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages but only just got round to. It’s really been one of those “how have I let it go so long before reading this?” reads too, so I wanted to share it with you!

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Matt Saunders, Cover Art by Marie-Alice Harel, audiobook read by Margaret Cabourn-Smith, published by Bloomsbury

I’d forgotten how much I love Katherine Rundell’s books, but this drew me straight in and reminded me if what a brilliant writer she is; surely one of the finest MG authors around today.

She has such a way with words, especially in the way she makes it do thoroughly readable but also uses such carefully selected, effective and exciting language. Her stories leap from the page and this is no exception.

A brilliantly fast-paced heist featuring a classic ‘odd ball gang’ comprising a knife-thrower, animal tamer, acrobat and pick pocket; the group fizz with energy – feisty and strong, with a hefty dose of attitude.

Similarly, the setting of gritty, grimy, glamorous and downright dangerous prohibition era New York oozes cool and demands drama.

This is a wild and exciting ride in which the action never lets up. I can’t recommend it enough!

And I should also add that I listened to the audiobook which was fantastically narrated too, so I’d highly recommend that as well if audiobooks are your thing!

My favourite sentence from page 11:

A strange man with two guard dogs came out of the caretaker’s cottage and pointed a rifle at him.

This book in three words:

Action. Attitude. Adventure.

Peapod’s Picks 20/1/21

Our weekly round up of (mostly bedtime) reads!

It’s been a week of classic characters here…


Peapod absolutely loved Dogger’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes when we read it as part of our Book Advent, but I couldn’t find my copy of the original…


I finally ordered it, along with This Is the Bear by Sarah Hays and Helen Craig, as he loved seeing Dogger being rescued from the bin just before the bin men came in Dogger’s Christmas, and its safe to say they’ve both proved huge hits.


I think his Dad and I could recite This is the Bear in our sleep now and I’m in a constant loop of “be[ing] the little girl mama” acting out the end of Dogger during almost every waking moment.


We could probably also recite Paddington by Michael Bond now as well, as this is a perennial favourite that rejoins our bedtime basket often. It’s back on the nightly reads and I’ve ordered a couple of new Paddington stories in an attempt to branch out…!

He’s been enjoying Kipper’s Toybox by Mick Inkpen for a while too, so he chose a couple of new Kipper books which arrived this week too. We’ve only read Kipper’s Monster so far, but that’s gone down well!

WWW Wednesday 20/7/21

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

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What will you read next?

So, first up, my current reads:

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

This was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and, while it’s not quite what I was expecting, I am enjoying it.

What have I just finished reading?

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell, audiobook read by Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Technically I still have 20mins of this to go, but I’ll finish it this evening, so I’m counting it! I’ve absolutely loved this. It’s been a while since I read any of Katherine’s books and I’d forgotten just what a way she has with words. One of the finest MG authors around in my book.

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, audiobook read by Iestyn Arwel

This made a wonderful start to the new year’s reading and I can’t wait to read more omfrom Lesley, I really enjoyed her writing. My review of this is here.

Murder on the Safari Star by M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Just as much fun as the previous two books, this was another great crime-solving caper featuring Hal and his Uncle Nat (definitely one if my favourite MG grown ups). You can read my review of it here.

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

I did like this, although (and I feel awful for saying it) it didn’t quite pack the emotional punch I was hoping for. But it was still a really good book – full review to follow.

What’s next?

Something else from this ridiculous tbr for the rest of the month! Probably Amari or The Last Bear in physical format and Melt as an ebook.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?