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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The Usborne Book of Planet Earth

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

Where in the world would you most like to go? You could join a stampede of wildebeest in the Serengeti, dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, climb soaring mountain peaks in the Himalayas or take a gondola ride along the canals of Venice. This spectacular picture book has it all – taking readers on a fascinating tour of our amazing planet.

I’m always a fan of Usborne non-fiction. At whatever level it’s aimed, from board books through early readers to more comprehensive primary level books, they’re always informative, attractive, engaging and well-pitched. This is no different.

Structured as a journey around the world, even the contents page is designed with thought and maximum engagement in mind, inviting the reader to start an adventure across continents.

Each chapter begins with an equally enticing spread showing a map of the continent and picking out the features that the chapter will look at in more detail with a short summary of them. Surrounding this are images of the continents flora and fauna and extra illustrated facts about the places.

One of the things I especially like about many of Usborne’s non fiction titles is the way they use short ‘snippets’ of information – captions and labels in amongst the illustrations rather than large chunks of text.

This book is a perfect example of this, and it makes it really accessible and inviting. There’s no overwhelming sections of text or long-winded lists of facts. Great for either working through in order or dipping in and out of, this is eye-catching and easily digested.

In contrast to many books about the world, this book really does cover a multitude of things. Rather than sticking to the familiar ground of animals and plants, here we see plenty of those but also earthquakes and volcanoes, city life and travel too.

There’s also, importantly, a spread at the end about looking after the earth.

Overall, this is a stunning book – beautiful, full page illustrations which are full of colour and just the right amount of realism to make them informative whilst retaining their appeal.

The design and layout are carefully thought out, with plenty of variety and life – some pages require the book to be turned around, others use layers to illustrate layers in nature; some are sparse and open, others busy and crowded, reflecting the environments they show.

Interesting, attractive, engaging and easy to read – this would be a perfect addition to both homes and schools.

Peapod’s Picks – Library Love

We are lucky enough to have access to a great library service near us. Not only can we walk (or bus if it’s raining!) into the large Central library in Manchester, but our smaller local library seems to have a good selection of children’s books too. There’s also a handful of others in walking distance and a great e-borrowing service for audiobooks and e-books. I repeat – we are lucky.

And you know what they say – use it or lose it. So, we took Peapod to join the library this week. I loved going to the library when I was growing up and I really hope he will too.

I’m hoping it’ll be a good way for me to choose some books off the cuff rather than having heard the hype, as well as discovering older gens that have passed me by. I’m also hoping it’ll be a chance for his Dad to choose some more of the bedtime stories we read rather than reading what I bring home excitedly from work!

My Choices

  • A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins I loved the illustrations.
  • Fancy Dress Jungle by Nick Sharratt I know this one and think it’s one Dad will e joy reading too!
  • Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton We read Emily Brown and Father Christmas and all enjoyed it so I was pleased to find another of her adventures!
  • This is Not a Fairytale by Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt All about the title and cover with this one!

Dad’s Choices

  • Jimmy Finnegan’s Wild Wood Band by Tom Knight Peapod’s Dad has a thing for bands in picture books at the moment after seeing Guy Garvey read ‘Farmer Joe and the Music Show’ and Josh Homme read ‘Punk Farm’ on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. A Peapod’s Picks will follow!
  • Just Like Daddy by Lucy Freegard.

This is the only one of the books we’ve read yet. It was enjoyable enough but nothing groundbreaking. I liked that in amongst all the fun things, it recognised too the less rosy days – the tantrums and tiredness and tears. And I really liked the illustrations, especially how ‘brave’ Dad looks catching this monster…

Dad is definitely in charge of monster spider catching on our house!

I’m hoping to turn Library Loves into something more regular, but I haven’t quite figured out how regular, when or exactly what yet! So it’s a one off this week in the meantime, sneaking in under the guise of an extra Peapod’s Picks!

Do you use your local library?

Do you still have one to use?

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?!

Peapod’s Picks – A Brilliant New Book Haul!

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 have had a bumper haul of brilliant new books recently, so thought we’d share these with you today. (It’s a long one because we loved them all so much – sorry!)

Dinosaur Department Store by Richard Merritt and Lily Murray

Eliza Jane wants a REAL dinosaur for her birthday, so a trip to the Dinosaur Department Store is in order…

This is the only book we bought where the author and illustrator were new to me, but they’re definitely ones we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the future!

I think it’s fair to say Eliza Jane is a handful! She’s a great main character – fiery, fun and full of confidence, this is a girl who knows what she wants and most importantly, how to get it – we loved how the story ended (and the lead up to it in the illustrations throughout!)

This book has huge appeal on so many other levels too.

Its a must-read for Dino fans with wonderful descriptions and illustrations of all kinds of different prehistoric pets, not just your standard fare, as well as a handy pronunciation guide at the back (I don’t know about you but I am awful at knowing how to say dinosaurs’ names!)

The illustrations are beautifully bright and colourful, with a touch of magic in simultaneously making the dinosaurs fairly realistic and utterly absurd (bowler hats and bow ties, hot dogs and stargazing, not to mention the glam rock theropods!)Absolutely fantastic.

The story itself zips along with enjoyable rhythm and rhyme and LOADS of exciting and interesting vocabulary and opportunities for expression and ‘sound effects’ when reading aloud.

In short – brilliant.

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Most of you will already know how much I love these books. I was so excited for this one that we read it on the bus home from the shop (and again when we got home, and again at bedtime, and…)

Circle was definitely worth the wait!

I never fail to be amazed at the depth and expression in Klassen’s illustrations considering the limited pallette and facial features. Indeed there are several double pages that are dark save for eyes yet they say so much – there’s not many books that could get away with that!

Likewise, the text is carefully considered and had us cracking up.

Just as dry and funny as the first two books – Circle has retained her cool, Triangle is as sneaky as ever and Square is still, well, square.

And surely with that ending there’s a glimmer of hope that we’ll see these guys again?!

The Steves by Morag Hood

Meet Steve. And, erm, Steve. This book ain’t big enough for the both of them!

Aside from giving me a Sparks earworm every time I read the back cover, I love this!

Morag Hood is fast becoming one of my favourite, favourite picture book authors – if you don’t know her other books either, I highly recommend rectifying that!

The Steves is hilarious. And it has puffins in and I love puffins.

With bold, print-like illustrations against bright but plain backgrounds, the illustrations really pop off the page and with nothing else going on you can really home in on the expressions and body language of The Steves which capture their feelings perfectly.

The text is simple and short and all the more effective for it – it has all the energy and exuberance of a child’s sulky strop!

And it’s fantastic for reading aloud – even better if there’s two of you to do it (Daddy and I read this one jointly for bedtime, each taking on the role of a Steve and it was great fun! We laughed a lot!)

Loved it! (And I’ll be sending a copy to my friend Uno, another Rachael, to whom I am Dos…!)

In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

Frog is singing in the swamp one night, but singing alone isn’t much fun so he heads off to find others to join his swampy-song!

Perfect for anyone who ever played the triangle at school, this is the tale of Frog’s search for all the sounds of the swamp to make his song complete. He has a crocodile and mice, fish and birds but something’s still missing – it couldn’t be the tiny firefly who thinks their song isn’t good enough though, could it?

It’s quite different to Frann Preston-Gannon’s other books (I think) but no less charming. The illustrations are immersive and it feels like a lazy, summer evening.

A lovely, lyrical, rhythmic book with plenty of repetition that children (ok, not Peapod just yet!) will love to join in with and which lends itself brilliantly to inspiring other musical activities!

Have you read any of these?

What picture books/bedtime stories have you enjoyed this week?

More than a Tad terrific!

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

Meet Tad.

She’s the smallest tadpole in a big pond, and lives there with all her tadbrothers and tadsisters.

A big story about a tiny tadpole – about growing up, branching out, and taking a leap into life.

We’re big Benji Davies fans already in our house – we love his books about Noi and The Grotlyn was one of my top picture books of last year. So I was very excited about Tad.

And I was right to be. We loved it. It’s a charming story about a tiny tadpole growing up and facing change, uncertainty and her fears, as well as being separated from her family for the first time.

Tad is bright and happy even as she lags behind her brothers and sisters in growing her legs and losing her tail. Being smallest and slowest does not trouble her, she is hopeful. While she is more troubled by tales of Big Blub, she is sensible and courageous.

Big Blub himself is a great character – the stuff of legend as he is intended to be. Old as time, patient and quietly threatening, still I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for him!

Benji Davies’ illustrations are always lovely and always in keeping with the story they accompany – the dark of the Grotlyn particularly adds to its atmosphere for example. Likewise, the illustrations in Tad fit the story perfectly. They have a different look to much of his other work (though there’s something of the lush flora and fauna of Grandads Island in the final spread).

There’s a lot of wonderful print in this book – I love the bubbles and frogspawn especially – and the pages are layered with rich textures. The use of colour is brilliant too and I think the way we move from dark and murky to light and bright is very effective too and mirrors the feelings portrayed in the story well.

The design and layout is engaging, with changes in font and non-uniform ‘wiggly’ text worked in with the images very effectively, especially with some wonderful onomatopoeiac phrases – swishes and gulps and blubs and whooshes!

This is a brilliant new book from one of our favourite authors. It’s the gorgeous, rich images that set it apart for me, but it’s also a story that both adults and children will enjoy. Full of warmth, and showing hope, positivity and bravery in the face of uncertainty, it is perhaps a timely read too…!

Multi Monday – sisters, magic and dreams of adventure.

I requested and received advance proof copies of both of these for free, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

The books I’m reviewing today are, on the surface, completely different – one a fantasy tale filled with magic; the other a historical tale of rural Scotland.

However, both books are driven by the main characters’ longings to see more of the world than just their tiny corner of it. They hunger for adventure, the thrill of the unknown and the chance to experience new places.

And in both, there is great (but incredibly different) consideration given to how this affects their family and friendships, particularly their relationships with their sisters.

Both books are full of realistic family relationships, but both shine a particular light on those between the sisters – prickly, exasperating and with a clear pecking order, but at the same time fiercely loyal, defensive, protective and loving.

In A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison, we see Betty and her sisters try to use three magical everyday objects – an old carpet bag, a set of nesting dolls and a mirror – to break a family curse that keeps them trapped on their small island home.

The way the history – of the curse, the place, their family – magic and local folklore is woven into the story, often as ‘tales within a tale’ I thought was very clever and it was these parts of the book I liked best.

The introduction of Colton, a young boy in the local prison, adds yet another dimension to the story too as do the stories of Sorsha and her mother – prodding us to consider right and wrong, ‘otherness’, difference, blame and trust.

There are nods to many classic fairy tale and magic tropes but the way they are used feels original and Michelle Harrison skillfully balances these fantasy aspects with good old-fashioned, non-magic adventure which adds twists and tension.

This was a gripping adventure with lots of my favourite things – history, magic and folklore – and I’m looking forward to seeing where book 2 takes us next.

I’m also very much looking forward to Little Bird Lands – the follow up to the fantastic Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie. I read this after it was recommended by Amy at Golden Books Girl and I’m so glad I did.

Here we meet Bridie (Little Bird) and her family on a remote Scottish island in the late 19th Century. Their kind and fair Laird has died and change is on its way…

In the very best of ways, this was reminiscent of many other authors and books (including His Bloody Project so by no means am I suggesting ‘the same as’ when I say reminiscent of!) It’s like the author has taken a bit of Gill Lewis, a touch of Frances Hardinge, a little of Emma Carroll, just a smidgen of Geraldine McCaughrean and a drop of Julia Green, then stirred a sprinkling of each through her own quite unique tale.

And unique it is – it feels very different to other offerings for this age group, whilst having everything it needs to be popular with it – friendships, family, villains and escape.

Rich in historic and geographical detail, it really is like being there – racing and tumbling to the top of Glas Crags I could picture te view, feel the crisp, fresh air…seeing the boats arrive and greeting the visitors I felt that mix of excitement, nerves, pride and curiosity…hurrying through the city streets I’m surrounded by the hustle, bustle and hum of it all – the noise, the smells, the people.

As well as the contrasting settings, the different lives lived by rich and poor are well depicted too and their reactions to one another highlight these differences well. Without any spoilers slipping out, I found certain members of the upper class in the book to be thoroughly odious – wonderfully written!

Meanwhile, Bridie herself is a brilliant main character – full of energy, dreams, determination and curiosity. Born with one hand and foot mis-formed, she is quick to dismiss pity and show her independence.

There is so much to enjoy about this book – the setting really was my favourite thing about it, but the characters are so well written too and the complex feelings of change, growing up and losing something to gain another are explored brilliantly.

An historic, rural adventure, with brave and immensely likeable characters and despicable antagonists, a dramatic escape and the thrill of the new – I can’t wait for the sequel.