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.

Peapod’s Picks – New Easter Picture Books

We were lucky enough to receive free copies of these from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

With Easter round the corner, we were very pleased to receive two new picture books from Hachette perfect for this time of year!

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright and Izzy Evans

A rhyming, rhythmic paean to wildness and non-conformity that hops, pops and bops along with energy and pace.

New chick Freddy causes chaos on the farm with his movement, noise and mess…but despite their initial displeasure the other animals grow to love it and soon embrace their wild sides too.

Alongside classic style illustrations, there’s a lovely use of language – from from its well-flowing rhyme to onomatopoeiac shrieks, squawks, cricks and cracks to some wonderful choices of vocabulary (bulbous, floppled, wobbled) this is great to read aloud and listen to.

With a message that every child needs to hear sometimes, this is lots of fun and Freddy’s spirited ways will appeal to children everywhere!

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Easter by Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson

Everyone’s favourite hungry unicorn is back! And no easter egg is safe!

It’s Easter and Princess Oola and friends are excitedly hunting for eggs…only they can’t find any. Not one. What (or should we say who!) could have happened to them all?!

The Easter Bunny can’t make more so the friends work together to decorate and hide some…but when they forget where they’re hidden is there anyone who could help sniff them out?!

Taking him from disgrace to hero, Oscar’s insatiable appetite and ability to sniff out chocolate at a hundred paces is a deliciously daft slice of Easter fun.

As a fan of both the first Oscar book and chocolate, Peapod loved this! He thought seeing Oscar munch all the eggs was very funny and was totally taken by the Easter bunny and pirates too.

On that note – the pirates were an inspired touch! Who doesn’t immediately think of pirates at Easter?! They were such silly fun and – like the rest of this brilliantly bright, bold book – illustrated perfectly.

How could you not love a book that can combine the Easter bunny, a chocoholic unicorn, pirates burying, losing and digging for treasure, a princess and more…?! An egg-cellent Easter treat!

Peapod’s Picks – Seaside Stroll

Seaside Stroll by Charles Trevino, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, published by Charlesbridge

I bought today’s book mostly for me rather than Peapod, after Simon (@smithsmm) tweeted about it a couple of weeks ago.

I loved the exuberance of the illustrations, and the sheer joy on the little girl’s face as she splashes in the surf just grabbed me. Maribel Lechuga has captured perfectly that face-lighting, saucer-eyed, utterly involved childish delight. I had to have this for that single cover illustration alone.

Luckily, the rest of the book is just as wonderful. And even better, Peapod agrees. He read it as soon as we opened it and we’ve been re-reading since.

Poetically told in a rhythmic, alliterative style this is the story of a little girl’s day at the beach. What makes it more magical and unusual though is that it’s winter. She’s bundled up and stops to play with the snow in the dunes on the way; I could feel that biting, fresh cold of a clear, bright winter’s day.

This is truly a book for all the senses. After much chasing of gulls, splashing in the sea spray, sidestepping up to crabs and treasure hunting amongst the natural debris washed in, our little girl drops her doll in a rock pool.

After she gets soaked retrieving it, it’s time to return home for shower, snuggles, story, sleep.

Both the words and images are perfectly chosen. At the beach, they are exhilarating and full of life – movement, energy, feelings… As we return home, they become warmer, slower, sleepier, quieter…

Peapod loves the ‘everyday drama’ of the girl dropping her doll in the pool; it’s one of those perfect choices of a picture book main event – instantly relatable and imaginable to any young reader.

And I don’t think there’s a parent or toddler who can’t relate to the soggy tired child at the end – all played out, wet clothes peeled off, getting warm and cosy again. Peapod loves that she falls asleep on the sofa and has to be carried to bed.

It makes me want to get us straight to the beach for our own day of swooping and spinning and digging and running and splashing and laughing. But unfortunately we’ll have to live it through the book for now, for that since we’re not close enough to go to one at the moment (thanks covid).

But, of course we’ve had to act it out! Peapod was even determined we had a book about a crab like the girl for the bit on the sofa! Luckily I grabbed Chris Haughton’s Don’t Worry, Little Crab which was a perfect match!

I can’t do justice to this book at all. It is just gorgeous and really spoke to me. Full of warmth, life and laughter it is a book which celebrates the everyday, the pleasure to be taken from getting outdoors (even in winter!), the special something between parent and child.

The language is gorgeous, the images stunning, the story classic. It’s a balm and a tonic. We absolutely LOVE it.

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?

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…

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!

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.

Peapod’s Book Advent Week Three

It’s been lovely seeing Peapod really starting to understand and get excited about Christmas this year, and he’s loving all our Christmas books. He gets one a night from his “Advent bag” – you can see what we read in weeks one and two here and here.

This week we’ve read:

Day 15 –

Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet We’ve written about this one before, here, but it raises even more of a smile now Peapod’s a bit older. He likes seeing the tree riding a bike best!

Day 16 –

Emily Brown and Father Christmas by Cressida Cowell This was our introduction to Emily Brown a couple of years ago, and we’re all mow big fans. Peapod likes re-enacting the bit where Santa’s sleigh breaks down and they have to find some reindeer instead!

I promise he was more impressed than he looks😂

Day 17

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alex T Smith This is a new one for this year and is a really fun take on the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas song, with increasingly extravagant and outlandish gifts from Grandma being delivered.

We sang it, complete with dramatic pauses, super speedy bits and silliness and Peapod thought it was hilarious!

Day 18 –

Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes I make no apologies that our book advent has been somewhat dominated by Shirley’s books as we love them. You can read our original thoughts on this one here.

Day 19 –

And speaking of Shirley Hughes, here’s another new one for this year, and without doubt Peapod’s favourite of the week – Dogger’s Christmas.

It’s Christmas and Dave has lost his favourite toy Dogger (again!) Everyone has helped search but they can’t find him anywhere until Bella has a great idea anj just in the nick of time!

The combination of Shirley Hughes’ writing and illustration, which Peapod always likes, a lost toy and bin men cemented this a favourite and we have read it and acted it out endlessly since we first opened it!

Day 20

Mince Spies by Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan This is another we’ve written about before, though as predicted Peapod did get more out of it this year. Its a great fun read, perfect for fans of Sue Hendra

Day 21 –

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

We live the Bear books and this was no exception. Bear should be sleeping, but he’s trying extra hard to stay awake to spend Christmas with his friends.

Warm, cosy and full of the joys of celebrating simply with friends, this is a gorgeous rhyming read and has gone straight into our favourites.

I have been awful at getting photos this week, but it’s been another great week of Christmas reads here!

Have you been enjoying a book advent or any favourite Christmas picture books?

Peapod’s Book Advent Week Two

Welcome to our round up of the books we read during week two of our Christmas Book Advent.

You can see what we read in the first week of December here.

Day 8 –

We read Aliens Love Panta Claus by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. I thought Peapod would love this because, well, pants! He did enjoy it, but it’s not one that’s really captured his attention.

Day 9 –

Okay, he actually got two books tonight as I added in How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens after he loved How to Hide a Lion at Christmas last week (and pretty much every day since).

But tonight’s Christmas Book was Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. He LOVES it. We’re reading it multiple times every night and we have to play Alfie when we go outside too!

He’s fascinated by Alfie finding his scooter but being unable to go straight out in it (“no shoes on! Got jammies on!”) and by him speeding away from Great Uncle Will later on, so this is re-enacted repeatedly in our garden!

I love it as it really feels like a snapshot of a family Christmas!

Day 10

We read The Very Busy Day and The Very Noisy Night by Diana Hendry and Jane Chapman earlier in the year and he loved them, so I ordered this Christmassy Big Mouse and Little Mouse tale – The Very Snowy Christmas – months ago ready for Christmas and it’s proved just as popular.

He’s enjoyed playing this with our pretend snow (packing foam bits!) and toy mice too, so we’ve taken this one downstairs!

Day 11

“SUPERTATO TO THE RESCUE!!” It’s safe to say Peapod is a Supertato fan so he was very excited to find Supertato: Evil Pea Rules by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet in his advent bag today (though of course it did mean bringing the original book in too – unquestionably his favourite of the series!)

He loved this seasonal supermarket adventure too though – “Evil Peeea!!!” Such a, great series which always, makes us giggle.

Day 12

The Tree That’s Meant to Be by Yuval Zommer. We reviewed this more fully last year but it was a big hit this, year too. Peapod enjoyed spotting all the animals and birds, and was particularly taken by the two children reading under the tree at the end and I always enjoy Yuval’s, illustrations and depictions of nature and the seasons.

Day 13

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis. This is another we talked about last year and another favourite. I always, leave this one til we’ve put up our tree and Peapod has really enjoyed it this year. We read it repeatedly back to back yesterday as I managed to coerce him into a nap (bkniwung we’d be out late and he’d need it but also knowing it’d be a big ask to get him to have one!) and it was a, lovely, cosy story to read as he gradually settled and snuggled and slept.

Day 14

Peapod doesn’t watch much TV, 10mins a few times a week maybe, but when he does Postman Pat is his go to choice. He loves it because of Peter’s tractor, especially when he, has to clear the roads of snow or mud and help or when he gets it stuck.

So I knew he’d LOVE last night’s book – Maisy’s Christmas Eve by Lucy Cousins – as Eddie gets stuck in the snow and Maisy gets her tractor to pull him out.

Well, I was right. We read it repeatedly last night then as soon as we got up this morning then three more times before nursery, and squeezed in a quick rescue of Eddie from the snow (the vacuum is the tractor. Obviously.)

So it’s been another great week of Christmas books here!

Have you read any of these? Are you doing a book advent? Which Christmas picture books have you chosen/would you choose?