A First Book of Animals

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

Polar bears playing on the ice, tigers hunting in the jungle, fireflies twinkling in the evening sky and nightingales singing in the heart of the woods – there are animals everywhere. From blue whales to bumblebee bats and everything in between, A First Book of Animals takes you all over the planet to visit all kinds of different creatures.

This is a beautiful book of poetry, with many of the poems also containing many animal facts, making it a perfect book for animal lovers old and young.

Split into categories such as ‘Big and Small’, ‘Colours and Shapes’ or ‘Animal Homes’, the poems are thematically grouped within the book and contain a range of facts and styles.

There are short, easy to join in with and repetitive poems, like ‘Why Are Zevras Stripy?’ There are verses with wonderful word choice and/or rhyme detailing facts and characteristics of a particular animal, such as Chameleon Song.

There are comparative poems, such as ‘Song of the Biggest and the Smallest Bird’ and there are poems which work with the illustrations to teach us something, like the wonderful ‘Dragonfly Babies’ whose words create a vivid impression of the growth, emergence and behaviours of the tiny dragonflies and whose illustration serves to help visualise this and show young readers how this would look.

Likewise, there are poems who give nothing more than an impression of the animal, less fact and more feeling, accompanied by illustrations who capture the look and character of the animal perfectly, giving more than enough information without the text – Whale Shark, for example.

Which leads me to pause for a moment to simply admire the illustrations. They are in turn textured, light, colourful, dark, rich, playful, layered, bright… each is wonderful, realistic and detailed and in perfect keeping with both the animal it portrays and the text it accompanies.

In short, both the words and pictures are stunning. The poems are hugely accessible – with fantastic feeling and varied vocabulary, but not overly long or wordy, they’re perfect for children of all ages. Likewise the range of styles is brilliant for showcasing to young readers poetry’s versatility.

This is a gorgeous book that we are loving dipping in and out of at random each day. I can’t recommend this enough for both home and school.

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Peapod’s Picks – Spring has Sprung

It’s time for another Peapod’s Picks/KLTR mash up!

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

This week it’s also time for another #KLTR post, hosted by Book Bairn, Acorn Books and Laura’s Lovely Blog.

This week, ahead of Easter, with the sun finally showing its face and daffodils, bluebells and tulips brightening our walks out, I thought we’d look at some of the spring-themed board books we’ve been reading.

Clockwise from left:

Ten Little Ladybirds by Melanie Gerth and Laura Huliska-Beith

A lovely rhyming, counting-down book with big bold numbers; bright, bumpy ladybirds to count or simply feel; and illustrations which fill the pages with colour.

Where’s Mr Duck by Ingela P Arrhenius

I’ve written before about this brilliant, bold, felt-flapped series – we love them. Simple, stylish and – most importantly – able to withstand a good deal of chewing and pulling!

Five Little Ducks by Yu-hsuan Huang

We love this song, which is a good job as its sung at pretty much every baby group we go to (though with so many variations on the ending!) and this book is lovely too. There’s a whole series of these from Nosy Crow and I think they’re great – simple but sturdy push and pull slides that are within the pages so can take a good bit of man-handling (Peapod’s not quite up to doing them himself yet, but he gives it a good go!). The illustrations are sunny and detailed with lots going on in the background to talk about and name. And there’s even a qr code link to a video of the song too!

Hooray for Hoppy by Tim Hopgood

I’m such a fan of Tim Hopgood’s illustration style – the textures, layers and print methods are really effective and the use of colour is stunning, something shown off brilliantly with all the flowers and rabbits here.

We enjoyed looking at it but this is one of those books that will last and last – covering the senses, spring time, seasons and nature there’s loads for older readers too! Perfect for reading before/after a springtime walk outdoors!

Are You There Little Bunny by Sam Taplin, Emily Dove and Nicola Butler

This is another lovely series for little readers, with peep through holes and tactile trails to follow with little fingers, as well as busy, bright illustrations it’s engaging and interactive but still durable (spot the recurring theme!)

On each page, there’s repetition of a phrase as we look for little bunny and think we’ve spotted him through the peephole, only to find it’s someone else when we turn over. Enjoyable now while Peapod’s little, but perfect for giggles and joining in with older little ones too.

Humphrey’s Garden by Sally Hunter

I have a real soft spot for the Humphrey’s Corner books. I can’t lie, the gender stereotyping is horrendous – lottie plays tea parties and dolls, daddy goes out to work while mums at home etc BUT I reassure myself that we have plenty of books that give balance to this and let it be – the soft, gentle and calming illustrations and familiar characters and everyday activities are still charming and we really like them.

The Secret Garden by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

I’m a huge fan of this Baby Lit series of books. Each takes a classic and turns into a sharp and stylish primer book. Thoroughly unique and absolutely gorgeous. The Secret Garden is a flowers primer, with a quote from the book next to an image of the flowers it mentions. I love the printing technique used in this one.

Outdoors by Mel Four

You can read my review of this one here. We’re big fans of the beautiful images and the way the shiny, colourful parts contrast with the black and white.

That’s Not My… Bee/Bunny/Chick/Lamb by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

While we love all the other books mentioned, That’s Not My… are definitely Peapod’s favourites. He LOVES this series! We have about 20 now and it’s a god job there’s so many as we read them all the time! You can read a more detailed review of them here.

A Mouse Called Julian

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

With traces of The Mouse and The Lion fable, this is like The Gruffalo’s Big Bad Mouse grown up – older, cooler, wiser…and luckier! – but still trying to avoid bring eaten by owl and fox.

But here any similarity ends, this is most definitely not a wannabe Gruffalo in any way at all. It’s something quite unique and would be perfect to whip out in response to the ‘you’re too old for picture books’ line. I can see this being very popular with all ages, but feel that it would be especially popular with those just on what is traditionally ‘the way out’ of picture books, around 6-8.

The illustration style is very different to most picture books, having more in the way of a comic or anime style, which I can see appealing greatly, especially to older children.

Equally appealing is the visual humour and expression which fill the pictures. There is also great detail to them, with plenty to pore over; my favourite spreads were the underground ones where I did just this.

The story itself is a clever and amusing tale of friendship which avoids the sometimes smushy ground such stories tread by keeping the animals very true to nature, the humour deadpan and the telling matter of fact.

I also like that, while Julian may adjust his viewpoint slightly, he remains happy in his own company – there’s no great turn around. He doesn’t suddenly ‘realise’ a life of quiet and solitude is not the way its done and become a more sociable mouse. Rather, he retains his personality but finds that a spot of company and friendship occasionally is a welcome change. I found this a refreshing and more inclusive take on friendship than is often the case – it was nice to see the quiet life validated.

Add to this an unexpected twist in the tale and it becomes a real winner, which fans of Barnett and Klassen especially are sure to appreciate.

Gingerbread

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

Ever since I read ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ a few years ago I’ve been a huge fan of Helen Oyeyemi’s books, so when I saw this was coming out I was VERY excited!

And when this beautiful book arrived in the post (the cover is by Neil Lang and I think it’s stunning) I was itching to get going with it!

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories…Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

As many of you will know, I’m not the quickest reader at the best of times and even slower since trying to fit it in around Peapod, so despite my enthusiasm and best efforts it took me an age to finish! But it was worth the long journey…

…and a journey it was – from modern day life through fairytale farms in non-existent countries, through ‘looking-glass’ cities with dark, gingerbread underbellies, and back to the familiar, albeit slightly warped!

This book is impossible to pin down and almost as hard to describe.

It’s a family saga but not like any you’ve ever read before, with an extremely eclectic cast.

It’s sort of magical realism but it’s a very matter of fact magic, if indeed it’s magic at all.

It’s a sharply observed commentary on society, politics, prejudice, feminism, class and more…But one that’s hidden in talking dolls, changelings in wells and not-haunted houses.

It’s like Margaret Astwood collided with Haruki Murakami in a fairytale world.

Deftly written with a lyrical beauty that’s laced through with a sharp wit, this book demonstrates a detailed knowledge, and love of, fairytales and their tropes as well as a shrewd understanding of people – of cliques, of types, of behaviours and, especially, of women and families.

I can’t lie, it’s not an easy read. There’s often a complaint that books don’t flow; if anything this flows so freely that it takes a bit of concentration to try and follow its weird and winding ways.

That said, I was snatching a page or two here and there where I could – I think if I could have read it in larger chunks, I would have followed much easier.

So if I have one piece of advice in regards to this book it is – Read It. But read it when you have time to really read it – lose yourself in it, allow yourself to luxuriate in it, indulge.

Poppy and Sam’s Animal Hide and Seek

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

This is possibly still a little old for Peapod (7mths) to fully appreciate. We’ll still read it together sometimes but I know we’ll get a lot more from it and read it WAY more often as he gets a little older.

Perfect for toddlers (I’d say 12mths+ as a very rough guide), especially fans of the That’s Not My… or Where’s Mr/Mrs… series. The Poppy and Sam books provide a bit more in both text and interactive elements, but are still simple, repetitive and engaging for very young readers.

Peapod enjoyed the touchy-feel elements, though many are smaller than he’s used to. There’s multiple textured images on each page though so great for older babies. Likewise, he loved the flaps but still needed some help to not tear or eat them!

Each page in Poppy and Sam’s farmyard introduces a different farmyard animal in increasing numbers, perfect for developing counting and vocabulary. With one of the animals hiding on each page, there’s plenty of fun ‘finding’ them and the background images are full of detail too, again brilliant for language, observation, making connections and finding out about the world.

And of course, there’s the duck. Oh, the Usborne yellow duck! How I LOVED finding this duck growing up.

Older toddlers and young children (and their parents – you know you do a silent cheer when you find him first. Admit it.) will love hunting for the yellow duck on each page.

A brilliant series – flaps, textures and duck hunting with lovely illustrations and loads of opportunities for talk, learning about the world, counting and early reading. Thumbs very much up!

Peapod’s Picks – A dragon, a mole and a monster, a lullaby, a book and a music show.

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

We bought all our books this week.

This week we’ve read

  • Farmer Joe and the Music Show by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees

Soon to feature in a musically themed Peapod’s Picks!

  • Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

We bought this at Christmas and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but a proper post featuring it will happen soon. Definitely.

  • Alfie and Dad by Shirley Hughes

It was Peapod’s Dad’s birthday this week so,in honour of his love of Shirley Hughes, Peapod bought him this!

  • Love Monster and the Scary Something by Rachel Bright

I’ll be honest, I’m one of the seemingly rare picture book readers/parents who’s not a huge Rachel Bright fan – too much of a message. But we really liked the original Love Monster book so tried this one too.

I really liked the start and the build up, and the ‘scary something’ but the end was all a bit too ‘typical Bright’ for my tastes!

  • It’s a Book by Lane Smith.

We all loved this one.

Jackass is fascinated by Monkey’s book – what is it? How does it tweet, scroll or charge? Monkey, in turn, is increasingly frustrated.

Sparse, well-selected text and expressive illustrations make up some of my absolute favourite picture books and this gives that box an enormous tick.

This is one of those brilliant ‘conversation’ books – deadpan, dry, very funny (with an ending adult book lovers in particular will appreciate) and great for a ‘joint read’ at bedtime.

  • Have You Seen my Blankie? by Lucy Rowland and Paula Metcalf.

I wasn’t sold on this from the title and cover, I thought it was going to be a bit cutesy (stay with me!) But Lily highly recommended it so we gave it a go and it’s BRILLIANT!

Reminiscent of Jane Hissey’s Little Bear’s Trousers, everyone has seen and used Princess Alice’s blankie but they’ve given it to… This makes for plenty of imaginative scenarios and interesting characters, leading up to the loveable and misunderstood dragon who just wanted something to help him sleep.

Determined to help, but unwilling to give away Blankie, Princess Alice takes us back through various possibilities until a solution that keeps everyone happy is found.

Written and illustrated with warmth, a touch of humour and imagination this is (as Lily quite rightly said before me) a brilliant, well-paced and expressively illustrated story of sharing, compromise and friendship.

  • Rocket Mole by Matt Carr.

I might not have picked this up if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d read and loved Spyder at storytime last year. It went down a storm with kids and parents alike and Rocket Mole is in the same vein.

It’s longer and wordier, but no less funny or engaging. Like Spyder, it’s full of puns (“it’s out of this world”, “boring” moles) which will keep adults amused as well as visual humour and a lively, fun story kids will love. It’s bright, bold, comic strip style has universal appeal.

Inspirational without being preachy or twee, this is a story which encourages you to dream big and think creatively whilst recognising the importance of friends, familiarity and sharing successes.

It has both mole and moon fact files at the end – brilliant for non-fiction fans or, conversely, perfect for those a little unfamiliar or unsure about non-fiction to dip their toes cautiously in!

Have you read any of these?

What bedtime stories did you read this week?

Peapod’s Picks – Happy Mother’s Day

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

This week it’s some of our favourite ‘mum’ books (and I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a cheat post as most are links to previous reviews – everyone’s allowed a best bits/recap type post once in a while, especially on Mother’s Day, right?!)

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Little Owl falls out of his best, but luckily Squirrel is on hand to help find the way back to mum. A classic ‘have you seen my mummy?’ story.

You can read my original review here. And if you haven’t seen Tchéky Karyo (BBC’s Baptiste) read this on CBeebies Bedtime Stories, give it a watch – the voices are first class! I’m still hoping he’ll read Chris Haughton’s other books too!

On the Way Home by Jill Murphy

Claire has a bad knee. On her way home, she meets lots of friends and tells them all exactly what happened…or does she?!

This is not strictly a very mum-ish story at all. Her mum only features on the last couple of pages and doesn’t even have a face. But even in this bit part, she’s such a mum – comforting, understanding and reassuring, all the things a mum should be, fetching Claire the very biggest plaster in the box!

You can read my original review here.

The Large Family Books by Jill Murphy

Yes, it’s another Jill Murphy, but I couldn’t possibly mention picture book mums without a huge shout out to Mrs Large!

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Large Family’s warmth, observational humour and realism and nowhere is this more evident than in Mrs Large, often harassed (Five Minutes Peace captures this perfectly!), the struggle is real but her love for those little elephants is abundantly clear – she’s my mum hero (especially when she caves in to the cake in A Piece of Cake!)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

Sarah, Percy and Bill wake up to find their mum gone. Sarah is reassuring – convincing herself as much as her brothers that mum will be back, Percy is doubtfully reassured, and Bill…well, Bill just wants his mummy!

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, I know but it’s a favourite and it’s probably the book that resonates most with me, as I definitely have a Bill! This is a go-to bedtime story when we’re having a particularly clingy time (resulting in us reading it most weeks!)

Happy Mother’s Day to you if you’re celebrating!

Do you have any favourite picture book mums?!