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?

Adventures on Trains – Murder on the Safari Star

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.

Adventures on Trains: Murder on the Safari Star by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, published by Macmillan

This is the third installment in what has fast become one of my favourite middle grade mystery series, Adventures on Trains.

If you’ve not already read the first books (The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on The California Comet), the series centres on Hal who accompanies his Uncle Nat, a travel writer and train enthusiast, on amazing train journeys.

However, they seem to have a knack of landing themselves in the centre of it all as each journey sees a crime committed, with Hal (ably aided by friends on board and his uncle) combining sketching and sleuthing to solve the cases!

Each book can easily be read as a stand alone (but I promise you’ll want to go back and read the others straight after you finish!), with a completely new case, train and supporting cast each time. You can read my reviews of the first books here and here.

Here, we rejoin Hal and his Uncle Nat as they embark on another train ride of a lifetime, this time journeying through South Africa and Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls at Zambia’s border.

The African landscape they travel through and the wildlife they see, both from the train and on safari, really enhance the book, as do Elisa Paganelli’s wonderful illustrations.

There’s also a nice environmental theme running through this, with issues of smuggling, hunting and conservation highlighted. It would be perfect for fans of Lauren St John or Jess Butterworth who maybe haven’t tried this series yet.

So, in some ways, this very different setting gives it a very different vibe to the previous two. However, Leonard and Sedgman are a formidable writing duo who manage to keep it feeling very much in their style and in keeping with the earlier books too.

This is the perfect blend – it keeps it fresh and different, offers up new areas of interest, locations and themes, but ultimately you feel at home – I knew what to expect and was not disappointed!

From the get go, as we join Hal’s family on Christmas morning (which felt just as it should be for them; his dad was spot on!), there’s a warm and gentle tone set – yes, there’s crimes to solve, but there’s a security and light-heartedness too.

Then there’s his Uncle Nat’s unwavering support for, and their open discussion of, Hal’s on board sleuthing. I know I mention this after every book, but I make no apologies as it’s so refreshing to see this adult-child dynamic in a story rather than the missing, dead, cruel or stupid adults we often see.

And let’s not forget the level of detail and passion shown for the trains themselves. Carefully researched and cleverly dripped into the text through Nat’s experience and Hal’s interest in them and sketches, it never feels like an information dump but by the end of the book, we’ve found out all about the train they travel on, its history, route and features. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I’d never have considered myself interested in trains but I’m always fascinated by what I find out in this series!

You can also expect a brilliant mix of characters on board in each book, including Hal’s new partner in crime (detection), in this case Winston…and his pet mongoose!

As ever, the characters/suspects were a great mix from the loathsome to the lovely to the famous and the fun. And of course, there’s suspicion and motive aplenty amongst them!

Like in the previous books, Hal’s sketches (courtesy of Elisa) are his means to documenting and solvimg the case, providing us with diagrams and sketches to aid the solving of te case. These are brilliant and complement the text so well.

I reached Hal’s initial sketch of the passengers as they gather at the start of the journey, present in every book, with proper tingles of excitement – “here we go!” – ready for another mystery to begin.

Because, of course, with young detective Hal and his Uncle aboard, this could never be an ordinary train ride! Helped by new friend Winston, Hal sets out on the trip convinced there’s a crime to solve, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the classic locked door murder he’s faced with!

As ever, I really enjoyed the solving of the case – I had my (correct) suspicions from early on but couldn’t piece them together to make it fit or figure out the hows, wheres and whys of it all so seeing the pieces slowly start to fall into place and Hal put it all together, well, I was glued to it!

I always enjoy the way the motives are explored in this series too; they never justify the crimes, but there’s a level of understanding there, they never feel senseless. This one in particular feels really well done, but I can’t say any more on that!

And of course, there was the obligatory musically themed chapter title for chapter eight, which I’ve now come to look forward to spotting in each one! (chapter 25 gave me a giggle too!)

I can’t recommend this series highly enough – fast-paced, fun and full of mystery, they are hugely gripping and entertaining reads and I am already eagerly awaiting book four which (from the teaser at the end of this) sounds like it’ll be amazing!

Picture Book and Play – Spaghetti Hunters

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 doing too!

Last week, we looked at some snowy books and play. This week is the absolutely brilliant…

Spaghetti Hunters by Morag Hood, published by Two Hoots

We always enjoy Morag Hood’s books and this sees yet another typically quirky, unique and funny addition to our collection.

This is the hilarious tale of a Duck in search of spaghetti, and his friend Tiny Horse who, as luck would have it (or not), is an expert spaghetti hunter. Together they set out on a spaghetti search…

Peapod loves this. We’ve read it at least twice a night since he got it for Christmas. He thinks it’s so funny and loves to pore over the pictures naming things and talking about what’s happening.

His favourite page – “what this mama?” – where we name every spaghetti hunting tool Duck and Tiny Horse take. Twice. At least.

The spread showing Tiny Horse’s triumphant spaghetti haul has him in stitches – “Snakes! Snakes in spaghetti!” – and pitches perfectly for that delightedly disgusted response as he squeals in disbelieving, ribs-tickled horror.

So, these spreads combined, of course, had to be the basis for our first Spaghetti Hunting activity…

Spaghetti, string and, of course…snakes! Plus all the tools from Tiny Horse’s kit – a spaghetti server, forks, fishing lines, a net, spoons, a spade and tweezers.

Peapod got a good two days’ play out of this as he tried to scoop up the spaghetti into the pot and delighting in scaring himself when one of us caught a hidden snake instead! It was great for his fine motor skills and hand eye coordination too!

Much to Tiny Horse’s derision and disbelief, Duck finds a simple solution to his spaghetti-less state. Peapod loves this page, shouting that you can in fact ‘just make it’ because that’s what daddy and him do!

So of course, we had to prove it with a bit of pasta making.

Obviously I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a pasta machine! We make pasta fairly often, so just threw a spaghetti session in to tie in with this!

Peapod always enjoys some pretend cooking too, so he also had dry spaghetti, whisk, spoons and colander (with handy holes for pushing it through too) to play with.

And, it wouldn’t be right to leave you without also mentioning all the things that failed miserably!!

We tried spaghetti painting (I’ve lost the pics!) which I thought he’d love as it was messy as… and involved a bit of throwing which he is all over at the moment. But Peapod had other ideas as he happily ignored the spaghetti and covered his hands in paint.

I set up a ‘spaghetti hunt’ outside (string spaghetti) – Peapod was all for it…til we got outside when he remembered he only wants to play on his bike and nothing else. Ever.

Have you read Spaghetti Hunters or tried any other spaghetti play?

What have you been reading and playing this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Valley of Lost Secrets

#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 so glad to be joining in with #MGTakesOnThursday again. It’s ages since I’ve managed to do it, but I’m determined to join in more regularly again this year.

My choice today seemed like a good one, as its the first book I’ve read this year out of choice. It should also have been Children’s Book of the Month at work…well, it technically is CBOTM at work but I’m not there to rave about it, so this seems like a good place to do that instead!

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, audiobook read by Iestyn Arwel/physical copy illustrated by David Dean, published by Bloomsbury

I love a wartime children’s book and this has shot into my favourites.

We join brothers Jimmy and Ronnie as they are evacuated from Islington in London to Llanbryn, a small village in the Welsh valleys.

Jimmy is set on protecting, comforting and reassuring his little brother, but as they settle into life in the valley, it’s Jimmy who struggles with homesickness and his sense of loyalty and belonging.

The story is centred on the mysterious discovery Jimmy makes when he finds a skull in the hollow of a tree, but it’s really about so much more than that – bullying, belonging, friendship and family; home and change and growth; the ways in which we judge, treat and label others as well as the ways we can show patience and care and offer chances for them to bloom.

There’s some absolutely fantastic characters in this – Ronnie is joyous, Jimmy complex, the Evanses utterly hateful (honestly they had my blood boiling!). I loved Florence (and by extension Phyllis and Ieuan) and I think maybe Alun Thomas was my favourite of all.

The way the mystery of the skull is underpinned by a bigger mystery closer to home in the Thomas household was so well done – the way it built subtly then wove seamlessly in.

The richness of the setting and the history and culture of it were gorgeous to read, utterly transporting me. Lesley Parr mentions David Almond as a favourite author at the back of this and that really shows through – there are unmistakable echoes of his talent for capturing a place and its community in this.

I listened to the majority of this on audiobook and the narration was perfect – exactly how being read aloud to should be; I too was taken straight to the heart of this little village.

I loved that the president of the Mining Institute was Mr Bevan and that one of the most important, yet seemingly minor, characters was Aneurin, or Nye. Surely a tip of the hat to the NHS legend Nye Bevan who came from a Welsh mining village himsrlf. I’d love to know for certain if this was intentional, but I feel it must have been, surely?

I also loved the details and small extras in the illustrations – the way the chapter headers developed through the book and the secret message too.

Everything about this book has been beautifully crafted and carefully considered. It’s a stunning piece of storytelling set off beautifully by its illustration, design and/or audiobook narration.

I’m so, so excited already to see Lesley Parr has a new book, also set in Wales, this time post-WW1. I absolutely cannot wait. Til then, I’m off to listen to Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting on repeat.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I can feel the place swallowing is up – my little brother, all the others and me.

This book in three words:

Family. Home. History.

Peapod’s Picks 14/1/21

The first Peapod’s Picks of the year, and the first of the new, shorter version!

Here’s his favourite bedtime reads from the last couple of weeks:

More Mog books by the wonderful Judith Kerr – he got these for Christmas and has loved them. Mog is a firm favourite in our house, as is The Tiger Who Came to Tea which is pretty much always in the mix and which he can pretty much tell himself now!

Morag Hood’s Spaghetti Hunters has been read closely at least twice a night and is our choice for Picture Book and Play this Saturday so watch this space for more on that!

Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen and Kipper’s Toybox by Mick Inkpen were happily added to the mix after Peapod loved the snakes in the spaghetti and I desperately (but pretty unsuccessfully) tried to find other books we had with snakes in – anyone got any good picture books featuring snakes?! They are both likely to feature in PB&P in the coming weeks too.

It might be a very

WWW Wednesday 14/1/21

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:

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

I started listening to this this morning and I’m about three quarters through. I might have to switch to my physical copy though as I won’t get much chance to listen for the next few days and I’m desperate to keep reading. That said, I’m absolutely loving Iestyn Arwel’s narration so I’m torn! Either way, I’m really enjoying it.

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

OK, strictly speaking I haven’t actually started this yet but I’ll be starting it this evening if I don’t switch to the hard copy of Valley of Lost Secrets, and in the next few days if I do, so I’ve snuck it in!

What I’ve just finished reading:

I have finally reached the end of my mammoth reading pile for work! It’s safe to say the last few books were a mixed bag…!

Dangerous Remedy by Katt Dunn

I liked the cover and title of this but hated the blurb on it and don’t think any really reflected the book very well. I ended up liking it much more than I expected and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Midnight’s Twins by Holly Race, audiobook read by Billie Fulford-Brown

Honestly, there’s no nice way to say it – I hated this. It didn’t help that I couldn’t stand the narrator, but I csn normally grin and bear that of the story’s good enough (like with Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclairs/Taylor and Rose Mysteries) But this was an utter slog from start to finish. If it hadn’t been on my work list I would definitely have DNF’d.

Melt my Heart by Bethany Rutter and Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Neither of these are my usual cup of tea, consequently both were at the bottom of the pile!

Safe to say, they’ll never become my cup of tea, but both felt well written and I could see how they’d be enjoyable if they were your thing. It was easy to see where both were heading, no great twists or shocks, and they were super quick reads, but for all that both had elements I liked and both seemed to cover themes thst would be hugely relevant, reassuring and empowering to their intended teen/YA audience.

I’m glad to have finished them but it was good to be pushed outside my comfort zone a bit as I really need to up my teen/ya game at work!

What’s next?

Something else from this ridiculous tbr for the rest of the month! Probably Uki, The Last Bear and/or Shark Caller

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Picture Book & Play – Snow

Picture Book & Play is a new weekly post where 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 doing too!

We’ve been lucky enough to have some actual, real snow in the last couple of weeks so since Christmas, we’ve been reading lots of books about snow.

Lots of the activities we’ve been doing are really general and link in to any and all of these, like our snow paintings using cotton wool, corks, cotton buds to print snowflakes…

Or throwing “snowballs” using ball pit balls (no pics sorry, too busy lobbing balls at my toddler!)

Others are pretty general but were done because of an interest in particular stories, like Peapod’s snowmen.

Peapod’s been loving using scissors recently, so I got this ready for him to practice that. I drew the outline of the snowman then he coloured and cut out the hat (with help!) and cut strips of coloured paper for the scarves. He chose to do a second one drawing the face (“eyes, orange nose, draw mouth with finger”) and buttons himself.

We watched this over New Year and then read the book and Peapod has really taken to it. I’m really glad that we have a few copies – one with text based on the film (that we read at bedtime) and other original ones with no text that are brilliant for really looking at and talking about during the day.

As well as our big colour and cut snowmen, we have acted this out a billion times a day and Peapod’s enjoyed our Snowman jigsaws too.

And just to prove it doesn’t always go to plan, is printed some Snowmen for us to add buttons to. Peapod couldn’t have cared less about the buttons but loved making them dance, say hello and explore our house like the snowman in the story!

We’ve also read One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth at least twice a day for the past week and Peapod’s new favourite word is definitely “chuckled” – he loves that “Percy chuckled” – but also just loves retelling the story, so we’ve had a little story basket to do that with too.

But far and away Peapod’s favourite thing we’ve done has been his snow tray, loosely based on Maisy’s Christmas Eve by Lucy Cousins, in which Maisy pulls her friend Eddie out if the snow with a tractor.

We first read this during our Book Advent and he was instantly grabbed by it, since he is obsessed with Postman Pat’s Rainy Day in which a tractor gets stuck in the mud and there’s a road block!

So we used both of those as a starting point, adding packing foam bits, tractors, diggers, a couple of houses and the animals from Maisy to the tray and going from there – the animals and tractors have been stuck and pulled out, dug out or found as the snow plough cleared the snow and much more.

We’ve had a solid two days out of this now playing very little else. It has been a huge hit!

What are your favourite snowy picture books or activities?

Peapod’s Picks – Picture Book and Play Saturdays

As ever at this time of year, I’m tweaking and rethinking the little details and whats, hows and whens of the blog.

One of the things I’m planning to try is a shorter Peapod’s Picks – making it almost just a weekly list of the main books we’ve read rather than reviews of them all, but with this new weekly post ‘Picture Book and Play’ focusing in on one of the books he’s got hooked on and ways we’ve used it in our play.

I ummed and ah-ed doing it – I don’t want this to become some glossy-seeming, unrealistic, pinterest-parenting blog after all! Especially not when I spend most of most days convinced I’m failing.

Many of my most regular readers are all about the MG not picture books, so I worry it’s going to be irrelevant too.

And it is a book blog, not an early years or childcare blog, so does this really have a place?

Well, ‘I hope so’ is essentially the answer I ended up with!

This blog began as a personal way to record my reading, and then by extension Peapod’s. I’m enormously grateful to have been welcomed into the book blogging community, a more supportive and friendlier bunch I couldn’t ask for. But primarily, I need to remember that the blog is my space, our reading memories, and these activities are big parts of that in our house.

Peapod loves stories. He loves acting them out and retelling them, referring to them in our day to day happenings and in his play, and so much of what we do comes back to them.

And in the last 6+ months especially, as naps have disappeared, toddler groups been cancelled, visits to/from friends and family halted and – most recently – nursery hours reduced, I’ve found myself using stories as a stimulus for our play more and more.

So, I’m going for it.

Hopefully others finding themselves similarly housebound and desperately trying to keep toddlers, preschoolers and newly at-home-all-day eyfs/ks1 pupils entertained might find it useful and those of you who are really just here for the MG and/or some good old blogger support will at least get a smile out of it!

We’ll post a Picture Books and Play every Saturday (or that’s the plan!) starting tomorrow.

If any of you who also read and review picture books fancy joining in with it, I’d love to see your ideas too! And I’d really like to hear all your thoughts (good or bad, just please be kind!) on the posts as we get going too.

WWW Wednesday 7/1/20

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?

There’s been an extension put on the reafing I’ve been trying to finish for work so as much as I wanted it boxed off for January, it was good to slow down and take a break over Christmas, meaning I’m not quite done. I’m on the last few though!

Currently I’m reading Dangerous Remedy by Katt Dunn which – so far – is much better than I’d expected!

I’ve finished A LOT of books since my last WWW post, but the one I most recently finished was Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann which I thought was brilliant. Moving, real, tough, hopeful and written so cleverly and with such understanding and feeling.

Next I have three books left for work that I’m really not looking forward to! But then I can move on to my own choices once more and I have some I absolutely can’t wait to get stuck into.

My (albeit rather ambitious and never going to happen) TBR for the rest of the month is:


So, ten books plus an adult fiction of I can, after the three I need to finish first in the next month – how many will I actually manage?! Place your bets please!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?