Picture Book and Play – There is No Dragon in this Story

Picture Book And Play is a 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.

It was Peapod’s Dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and Peapod’s gift ‘for’ him were some Castle building blocks, so our downstairs toy shelf has been set up for all things castles and knights and dragons and princesses since then, along with some books to tie into it all.

One Peapod has really taken a shine to is There is No Dragon in this Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright.

It’s one I really love too, so I’ve been really pleased to see him enjoying it so much!

Poor old Dragon is fed up of being the bad guy, so he sets off in search of a story he can save the day in instead!

But no one needs a dragon in their story…until some rickly feathers, one giant sneeze and a blown out sun later, a fire-breathing friend might be just what they’re looking for.

Starring all your favourite fairy tale characters alongside a very loveable dragon, with expressive, repetitive phrases that are a joy for grown ups to read aloud and little ones to join in with.

Peapod loves it when we ‘be’ Dragon asking to be in the story and let him reply as the characters, with a brilliantly pitched “No, no! That’s not how it goes! There are no dragons in this story!” and he makes an impressive giant, putting on his best deep voice for “fee fi foe” – ing with!

He wanted to act the story out this week, so he began gathering figures then we read through the book and made a list of what else we needed, before gathering it together and setting it up.

I do love a story sack or invitation to play, and sometimes I’ll do these, but usually we find the props we need together; it’s a good way to get some writing in and I find it helps with both his engagement, imagination and independence. Also – less advance prep needed from me!

All set up, we acted it out and used a dark cloth to cover everything when the sun goes out. Peapod loved peeking under it and having it put on him to be in the dark.

However, our cloth kept knocking all the characters over so we popped them under his tri-climb instead – perfect!

We also made our own dragon and Peapod had a great time roaring him round the house!

Have you read this book?

What have you been reading or playing this week?

WWW Wednesday 13/4/21

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?

First up my current reads:

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, audiobook read by Isabella Star La Blanc

I’m still enjoying this, though my listening has slowed down a lot this week. I really like the detail and background we get and the way things unfold pretty slowly – I feel like it’s really allowed me to step into it and I’m looking forward to seeing how the undercover assignment pans out…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

This is another I picked up initially primarily for work, but I’m actually really enjoying it!

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom by Dominique Valente

I only started this yesterday but I’m loving being back with Willow and Oswin!

The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean

I haven’t actually started this yet but it is ready and waiting to go…!

What have you just finished reading?

Grow by Luke Palmer

Sensitive, thought-provoking and moving. You can read my review here.

Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza

People, I read it. In order to keep this positive and polite, that is all I’ll say.

What’s next?

Honestly, I don’t know! I think it will take me most of the next week if not longer to get through these so I’ll return to this question next week…!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Grow

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

Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press

There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.

However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.

The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.

At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.

Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.

This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.

Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.

On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.

His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.

And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.

This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.

I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.

Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.

Picture Book and Play – Jack and the Beanstalk

Picture Book And Play is a 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.

We’ve actually not done a huge amount of anything this week after a busy Easter weekend finally being able to see family, hunting for eggs and going for walks.

So I’ve picked out a story that we return to often and some of our past play activities around it – Jack and the Beanstalk.

I’ve talked before (many times!) about the brilliant Campbell First Stories range (here or here for example). Peapod loves this edition of Jack (illustrated by Natascha Rosenberg), especially finding Jack hiding in the cupboard or chopping down the beanstalk and seeing the giant fall!

The moving parts remain a big draw and the simplified, rhyming version of the story is a great first telling for little ones.

We added the Peep Inside version to put collection too as it’s a slightly longer, more faithful version, including for example the essential “Fee Fi Fo Fum…” lines which are a must in our house! Peapod loves shouting them out when playing!

The rich illustrations and intricate cut outs of the peep through elements add a more grown up touch and make these a really attractive series to read and handle too.

I also really like the way there’s a lift-the-flap style to some of the pages and peep-inside parts, which helps retain an interactive feature that children always enjoy.

The Peep Inside books are the perfect follow on from the Campbell First Stories, and we’ll be adding lots more to our collection!

Obviously, there’s so much you could do with this story; it’s one we could (and no doubt will) return to repeatedly over the years adding in lots of different activities – planting, natural collage, painting, measuring, counting, as well as variations on what we did this time with sensory activities, role play and building/small world.

This was by far Peapod’s favourite – building the castle and beanstalk and using figures to tell the story!

He also used his climbing toys as a beanstalk – climbing up, stealing the gold and sliding down before chopping it down!

He’s been practising his cutting so we started making a giant beanstalk but he lost interest once it was time to add any leaves! Still, we cut and stuck a lovely, long, green stripe!

We made a tray using butter beans, gold coins and green covered cardboard tubes for filling, pouring, hiding, stacking, dropping…

… and building of course! It just wouldn’t have been the same of the builders and diggers didn’t get involved 😂

What have you been reading and playing this week?

MG Takes on Thursday – Songs of Magic

#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.

I’m cheating again this week (is there even a week when I don’t?!) and I’ve picked two books:

A Darkness of Dragons and A Vanishing of Griffins, Books one and two in the Songs of Magic trilogy by SA Patrick. Cover art by George Ermos. Published by Usborne.

I had A Darkness of Dragons waiting for an embarrassing amount of time. The only good thing about this is the fact that it meant I could go straight onto A Vanishing of Griffins when I finished it. (Only now I’m left desperate for book three with at least a year to wait!)

I love (almost) any book which draws on fairy or folk tales, so I was really drawn to the way this used the story of the Pied Piper as its base. And it works so well – all at once we have a brilliant take on a classic tale; a fantastically dark, powerful and mysterious villain; and a unique and believable magic system.

Our main characters – Patch, Wren and Barver – make an interesting and loveable central trio who find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly thrown together, but quickly develop strong bonds and an unshakeable loyalty.

Together, they set out to find and stop the villainous Piper, but each with their own journey to make too. The way in which their individual stories unfold and develop is woven into the main plot expertly, and with so many twists and unexpected turns, just when you think they’ve reached their goal, another obstacle appears, another mission is required or another chain of events set in motion.

No quest would be complete without a whole host of interesting characters met along the way, and that is certainly the case here – from noble to untrustworthy to those you can’t quite place; from sorcerers to witches to pipers in hiding and cut-throat pirates; from respectful and respectable elders to power-hungry leaders to, of course, a seemingly unstoppable enemy.

This is a fantastic adventure series, with breathtaking journeys through some well-imagined and depicted places (I am especially intrigued about where our story will pick up in book three!) Full of magic, friendship and excitement – highly recommended!

My favourite quote from page 11 (of A Darkness of Dragons) :

He thought for a moment, but all that came was that terrible, dark wall through the forest, one step after another with no end. His eyes widened.” I don’t even remember my own name!”

These books in three words:

Magic. Quest. Adventure.

WWW Wednesday 7/4/21

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?

It’s been a slow reading week here this week, the first family visits in over a year, Easter and a birthday (not mine) rather took over! And rightly so.

I suspect too that, with my imminent return to work on Friday, this will be the start of a longer term slowing down. This time last year I’d read 16 books; this year I’m nearly halfway to my yearly goal of 100 at 46. So I think it’s safe to say as things return to ‘normal’ I’ll be reading less and probably struggling to get on here as much too. We’ll see but if I’m awol, you’ll find me shelving…!

First up this week though, my current reads:

Grow by Luke Palmer

I have read very little of this this week! I think I need to knuckle down and get into it rather than a couple of pages at a time.

It’s a weird one – on the one hand it feels unsurprising and predictable; but on the other it’s hard to read and frustrating in the best way at times as we see Josh being sucked in to white supremacist rhetoric.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, audiobook read by Isabella Star La Blanc

I have to confess this is one I’m only reading because it’s expected to be big at work. I found this slow to get going with a lot of time taken setting the scene, which I can see the reasons behind and has drawn me in, but I’m glad the pace and action seem to be picking up now. I’m certainly enjoying it more than I thought I would.

What have you just finished reading?

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker, audiobook read by Noah Galvin

This was an enjoyable listen, bringing together themes of nature, overcoming obstacles, friendship and ‘finding your story’.

A Vanishing of Griffins by S. A. Patrick

I went straight onto this from book one and I really enjoyed it. It’s full of such great characters and strong friendships and I love its quest-like style. I did find it a bit slow in parts, but it really ramped up by the end and left me desperate for book three!

What’s next?

These are all highly likely to change, but…

My next ebook will be The Supreme Lie by Geraldine Mcaughrean.

The Firekeeper’s Daughter is a loooong audiobook so I won’t finish that any time soon!

My next physical children’s book will probably be Starfell: Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom by Dominique Valente.

And my next adult read will probably be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks – What About Me Said the Flea?

“What About Me?” said the Flea by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt, published by Buster Books

I was a huge fan of Dinosaur Department Store (read our review here) , the first book from this duo, so I was very excited to see they had a new collaboration out and it’s every bit as warm, witty and wonderful as the first!

Sofia (or ‘Fia as she’s known in our house!) is trying to decide who should star in her story. The usual suspects – lion, unicorn, dinosaur, penguins, bears etc – all make their cases (and are such fun to read aloud trying out different voices!) but there’s a noise in the background that’s bugging our budding author – what on earth could it be?!

This is one of those brilliantly executed examples of the joy and excitement that comes from the reader knowing more than our protagonist, and the fun of the visual humour that comes with that!

We see it’s poor old Flea trying to plea for a part in the tale and we all loved spotting him on each page as Sofia remains oblivious.

And then of course, there’s the resolution which is PERFECT! A slightly dark and very funny touch saves it from being mawkish or obvious whilst allowing our friend Flea to get the ending he deserves. And that is all I’ll say on the matter!

The text absolutely bounces along – fast-paced, full of energy, fun and perfectly flowing.

There’s always a danger with rhyming texts that there’ll be an awkward rhyme jammed in somewhere, a close-but-not quite pairing, a syllable or sound just off, and this danger is doubled when cramming in the action and humour of a book like this, but we don’t need to worry. Lily Murray is a pro.

Everything fits just so and rolls off the tongue; there’s a confidence and an exactness to her text which makes her one of my favourite rhyming-picture-book authors around. Donaldson – take note.

And then of course, there’s Richard Murray’s illustrations which are lively, expressive and vibrant and absolutely packed with visual humour and detail – Lion’s fashion show spread is a personal favourite and I know Peapod loves the chaos the dinosaur causes!

This has fast become a favourite in our house abd I can’t wait for more from this pair.

#MGTakesOnThursday – Bloom

#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.

Bloom by Nicola Skinner, cover art by Flavia Sorrentino, published by Harper Collins, audiobook read by Lauren Chandler

Nicola Skinner is one of my favourite ‘new’ voices in children’s books. I say new pretty loosely, as Bloom was originally published in April 2019, nearly two years ago, and we’ve since had two more gems from her – most recently, Starboard, which I’ve just received and cannot wait to start!

In between the two came Storm last year (you can read my review of that here) Ever since reading that I’ve been dying to read Bloom but never seemed to manage it amongst the deluge of new releases! Luckily I found it was available on audiobook so I’ve listened to it instead (though of course, I’ve still ordered the hardback to complete my set of stunning Flavia Sorrentino covers!) and it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped!

Sorrel Fallowfield (can we just pause before we’ve begun to give a nod to the names, of both people and places, in this – from Sorrel to Little Sterilis, from Grittysnits to Miss Mossheart… they’re perfectly picked! Though as an honorary Manc, Strangeways garden centre gave me a moment!)

Anyway, Sorrel is good. With a capital G. She’s known for it and wouldn’t dream of putting a foot wrong – head girl with enough behaviour certificates to sink a ship, she’s a shoo-in for the school’s competition to find the best behaved child. Which is lucky as all she wants is to make her mum happy and that starts with the prize holiday.

Unfortunately, things don’t go quite to plan. When she finds a packet of Surprising Seeds promising to give her what she needs in her yard, she and best friend Neena plant them…in a rather unusual way and that is where the town’s ‘trouble’ begins.

Soon, Scalp Sprout is spreading through Little Sterilis, with the most imaginative and characteristically-approrioriate plants growing from everyone’s heads! It sounds barmy but it’s brilliant!

This is a sharp, clever and incredibly warm and funny look at the power of nature, the importance of green spaces and the world we’re living in in which they’re disappearing fast, in which we’re spending increasing amounts of time indoors in which health & safety, exams and neatness are prioritised over safe risks, exploration and experiencing things first hand.

As I’ve come to expect from Nicola Skinner, Bloom takes a seemingly out-there, impossible and fanciful idea and depicts it in such a believable, tangible and important way. The way the outlandish and funny sits comfortably alongside emotional moments and stark realities works perfectly.

The warnings that open and close the book are brilliant too!

With characters I rooted for (geddit?!), timely and important themes to make you think, plenty of warmth and humour and a Dahl-esque kind of clever craziness that I love, Nicola Skinner is one of the most original and unique voices in kid’s publishing today.

My favourite quote from page 12:

“A gloomy glumness. A grumpy grimness. A grimy greyness. Cheery Cottage always felt cross and unhappy about something, and there was nothing this mood didn’t infect. It inched into everything, from the saggy sofa in the lounge, to the droopy fake fern in the hallway, which always looked as if it was dying of thirst, even though it was plastic.”

This book in three words:

Green vs Grey

March – April

A look back at last month’s reading and ahead to my reading plans for April.

I had thirteen books on my tbr for March. I only read seven of them, but I did read eight that weren’t on there, so I finished up reading fifteen in total (including three re-reads) – four audiobooks and eleven in print.

I’ve kept the adult/YA reads ticking over with a couple of adult fiction reads and a couple which straddle the two.

Next month I have another ambitious TBR, with four netgalley books to read. I’m especially excited for Nicola Penfold’s new one.

I have five books I’ve been sent to review on the shelf. I don’t think I’ll get to them all but I might chip away at it a bit..!

A much more exciting pile is this stack of new (or newish!) gems and I’m much more likely to get through these!

My adult pick for this month will be Hamnet, mostly because I know it’ll be a big one when I go back to work. And my YA pick is The Firekeeper’s Daughter, which I’m hoping I might be able to get on audio. Hopefully I’ll squeeze a couple more adult and YA in too.

It’s hard to know how my reading (and blogging!) will go when I’m back in work in the next couple of weeks. I expect it will all slow right down, at least initially, but we’ll see!

Either way I’m unlikely to get through all sixteen of these plus the extras that inevitably appear, but I can try…!

Have you read any of my April to-reads?

How was your reading in March?

What are you hoping to read this month?

WWW Wednesday 31/3/21

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:

Grow by Luke Palmer

I’ve not got very far with this. I feel like I’m going to like it well enough, but not be blown away by it. But we’ll see…

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker, audiobook read by Noah Galvin

I’ve been meaning to read this for ages so I’m squeezing it in on audio. I’m not far in yet, so my thoughts on it are still very much TBC!

A Vanishing of Griffins by S. A. Patrick

I haven’t actually started this yet but what else but this could I pick up after finishing A Darkness of Dragons?!

What have you just finished reading?

Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

In the end, this didn’t quite work for me. I liked the lyrical prose, but it didn’t suit the story and I found it got in the way of me really investing in the characters.

I usually like books with multiple perspectives but I don’t feel like this added anything here and I’d have preferred just one or two POVs.

For a book with such hard-hitting, difficult and uncomfortable themes (poverty, prostitution, rape, domestic violence, gang violence…) it could have been powerful, but didn’t deliver.

Bloom by Nicola Skinner, audiobook read by Lauren Chandler

I loved this and it’s made me even more excited for Nicola’s new book Starboard which I’m hoping to read soon! Full review to follow.

A Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

I was a bit poorly this week, so I curled up in bed for a comfort re-read of this favourite and it more than did the trick. Love it.

A Darkness of Dragons by S A Patrick

I finally, finally got round to reading this and the only good thing about it taking me so long to get to is that I can go straight into book two immediately! This was great, I’ll try and get a review up ASAP!

Also, to those of you who’ve read it: what did it remind me of??! In a good way this felt like it had a flavour of another book or author (not the plot or characters or anything specific just a feeling or the style maybe) – any ideas? I feel like there’s a hint of Howl, a bit of Podkin but it’s neither of those I’m thinking of I don’t think – I absolutely can’t place what it is it reminded me of!

What’s next?

These are all highly likely to change, but…

My next ebook will be The Supreme Lie by Geraldine Mcaughrean.

My next audiobook will probably be The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley.

My next physical children’s book will probably be Starfell: Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom by Dominique Valente.

And my next adult read will probably be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?