Picklewitch and Jack

As part of my quest to read more younger chapter books as well as ‘MG’, I requested a copy of this from Faber (who very kindly obliged – thank you!) and it’s safe to say I’m thrilled I did as it’s become one of my favourite books of the year.

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Picklewitch lives in a tree at the bottom of the garden. She has a nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox and all-round-goody-two-shoes Jack (who’s just moved in) she’s about to choose him as her new best friend… Jack is in for a whole lot of trouble!

I can’t tell you how much I love this book. Rather than reminding me of any specific book from when I was little, it brought back the feeling I got from reading the very best of them. The ones I loved. That indescribable buzz of a book that just seems to have got everything spot on.

The language for a start. Not too simple or patronising, nor over the top, it’s just right for younger readers The descriptions are wonderfully atmospheric and lively, conjuring up thunderstorms and wild gardens, trying to sleep in a spooky old house and, of course, delicious cakes. The way in which the blossoming friendship between Jack and Picklewitch is described – its complications, and Jack’s frustration and confusion in particular are depicted brilliantly.

The pace is perfectly matched to Picklewitch’s particular brand of chaos – the rollercoaster-like build and scream of it each time Jack moves from feeling relieved to realising something’s not quite right to…uh-oh! And all the while, cleverly dropping in the growing realisation that Picklewitch might be trouble with a capital T but she’s also desperate to be a friend with a capital F.

Which brings us to the characters. It would be easy to dislike a character like Jack – always well behaved, incredibly clever and something of a perfectionist – he has the potential to be boring at best and irritating at worst. Luckily, he’s neither, and his uncertainty about the not-so-black-and-white world of friendship and his earnest efforts to address it are very endearing too.

And then, of course, there’s Picklewitch. Even her name is fantastic – just say it and try not to smile. A tornado of trouble with an enormous heart, an insatiable appetite for cake and confidence enough for two, she is simply wonderful. Everyone should have a Picklewitch in their life.

The glossary of Picklewitch words, as well as her jokes and spells added in at the end of the story was joyous too!

And if all that wasn’t enough on its own, Teemu Juhani’s busy, fun and full illustrations capture the essence of Picklewitch and the feel of the story splendidly.

There will never be a shortage of witch books, especially for this age group, but this truly stands out from the crowd – a madcap tale of friendship and fun – it really is the kipper’s knickers!

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

Hubert Horatio: How to Raise Your Grown Ups

I first read about Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent almost 15 years ago when the picture book above was released.

I was (and still am) a huge Lauren Child fan – her books felt (and still feel) like something different: the illustrations, style and design; the vocabulary, language and phrasing.

So when I heard there was going to be a longer book featuring Hubert Horatio I was very excited. I was lucky enough to receive my copy from HarperCollins in exchange for this honest review.

Fans of Lauren Child will undoubtedly love this, but there’s plenty for newcomers to her work too. Likewise, there is plenty to appeal to both young readers and parents (and everyone in between!)

Hubert’s role as the sensible, clever and responsible child in a hopelessly well-meaning but incapable family, the ways he’s saved his own life on countless occasions and his ongoing feud with Elliot Snidgecombe in the overgrown zip-wired, trip-wired garden next door will appeal to youngsters, while the complications of family trees, family visits…in fact family in general and Hubert’s pragmatic approach to his will generate many a smile from parents.

One of the things I always love about Lauren Child’s books is that she doesn’t talk down to her readers: nothing is simplified or omitted because of a potential reader’s age; the vocabulary selected is always interesting, challenging and very playful.

Likewise, the look of the book is unmistakably hers, with the detailed images and layout serving just as large a role in telling the story as the text. It has her trademark collage style, with numbers, text, print and drawing colliding to provide lively, stylish and varied pages – the images and design alone could hold my interest without reading a word, she is one of my favourite illustrators.

A universally appealing book that is funny, clever and a real visual treat – one for all the family! I look forward to the next installment!

The Beasts of Grimheart

When the first Five Realms book, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, was announced as Children’s Book of the Month way back in June 2017 I wasn’t sure. But, as it was Book of the Month, I read it anyway and I am SO GLAD I did!

I was absolutely hooked from the get go and book two, The Gifts of Dark Hollow, was just as good (so good that I forgot to take it to work with me mid-read so bought it again on my lunch break as I couldn’t wait to keep reading!) and left me waiting with bated breath for this one:

As with the first two, both the cover (Fernando López Juárez) and interior (David Wyatt) illustrations are stunning and perfectly matched to the book. The cover had me so excited about what this installment would bring and felt so in keeping with the story so far, while David Wyatt’s soft pencil sketches inside are full of detail and atmosphere.

The story itself picks up where The Gifts of Dark Hollow left us:

The bard and and his young apprentice Rue are taken to Spinestone, the temple warren of the bonedancers. It is here that the bard is ordered to retell the tale that has got him in so much trouble . . . and so to the next instalment in the astonishing tale of Podkin One-Ear . . . Podkin, Paz and Pook once again find their home under threat, but this time they are ready to fight!

It is, like the first two books, told through the tales of this travelling bard, which is inspired and works wonderfully. The majority of the book is his telling of Podkin’s ‘legendary’ adventure, we are simultaneously told his story through odd chapters set in the present day.

The old characters are back and there are some interesting new faces too – I particularly liked meeting the Guardians, I thought they were so imaginatively described and Pook’s counterpart Pocka made for lots of fun (I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t seen the last of him just yet either…) I loved reading more about the Bonedancers too and David Wyatt’s illustration of them was spot on.

The relationship between the three siblings – Podkin, Paz and Pook – has always been well-depicted with plenty of humour and warmth, and it is lovely to see how Podkin, particularly, is growing and changing with each book. And, of course, there’s the rest of the old gang too. There’s a part of the book that describes the rabbits from Dark Hollow as:

“…a tatty lot…made up of all sorts… Every colour of fur, every length of hair and shape of ears… It would be easy to look down on them… But Podkin believed they had something no other tribe had… Every rabbit was welcome at Dark Hollow, no questions asked.”

and, alongside the strong, positive message of inclusion and togetherness that is evident both here and throughout the books in general, it’s this quality that endears the group to me – Crom, Brigid, Mish and Mash…not to mention Podkin, Paz and Pook of course!

The world-building in the series as a whole is fantastic, and this instalment is no exception. I’m always completely transported to the centre of the action, whether that be a warm and busy warren, the bonedancer’s temple or the heart of the forest.

There’s a particularly well-written battle which pulls no punches and makes no attempt to hide the sorrows and losses of war. It’s quite a skill to depict a battle in this way – on the one hand exciting and nail-bitingly tense, on the other senseless, confusing and sad, and all the while remaining firmly age-appropriate

This series has it all – magic, adventure and folklore, as well as danger, humour and hope by the bucketload. If you haven’t read it yet, start with book one (The Legend of Podkin One Ear)- you’ll be clamouring for more as soon as you’ve finished! And if you have read the first two, you’ll be as enthralled as ever by book three. Personally, I’m already getting impatient for book four!

Thanks to Faber Children’s for my copy.

Mini Monday: 5/11/18

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Mini Mondays are my attempt to get everything reviewed even while drowning in nappies, washing and milk! Shorter than usual but hopefully still enough to give a flavour of the books!

This week I’ve been playing catch up with short ‘early reader’ chapter books.

These are often the books that fall by the wayside in my attempts to read as much as possible for work. This year, I made an effort to read more Teen/YA and – while I could probably read more of those still – next year my aim is to read more of these ‘first’ chapter books.

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Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees by Tony De Saulles

Following Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens  – which never fails to give me this earworm: https://youtu.be/1Ti2P_z5IPw

Meet Melvin, a boy who keeps bees on the roof of his tower block (incidentally, I love that he lives in a flat) and occasionally turns into one! It’s up to him, best friend Priti and new boy Berty to solve the mystery of a strange sickness that’s hit their fellow pupils.

This series cleverly turns facts about bees and the environmental issues affecting them into the centre of a funny, fast-paced plot.

With a fun yellow and black themed cartoon-like design, there’s a dastardly uncle, giant plants, cunning spies, bucket loads of bodily fluids and, of course, killer zom’bees’! This is a fun-filled, action-packed adventure kids will love.

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic

The incredibly popular Isadora Moon is back in a new wintry adventure, in her characteristic sparkly pink and black design.

With a nod to The Snowman, Isadora builds a Snow Boy from magic snow – he comes to life and they have a lovely time until he starts to melt!

With fairy ice palaces, magic snow, ice skating, a frozen feast and a flying snow-sleigh this is a book with plenty of winter magic to capture the imagination!

As an added bonus, there’s recipes, crafts, quizzes and more at the back of the book too – plenty to do over the Christmas holidays!

The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I’ve saved the best for last! I LOVED this and can’t wait to read more from this pair.

Kevin is a roly poly flying pony and Sarah McIntyre has brought him to life brilliantly – he’s quite the character. Plus, his favourite food is biscuits so he’s obviously a good sort!

This is full of fun – a slightly silly adventure written with a dry, almost matter of fact tone that makes it immensely readable and enjoyable.

When a flood hits Max’s town, its up to him and his new friend Kevin to save the day!

With stylish mermaids and an underwater hair salon, stinky sea monkeys and a near miss with a shark, shopping in swimming trunks and sea-faring guinea pigs, not to mention the headteacher stuck on the school roof there is imagination, absurdity and laughs by the bucket load.

Kids will love this, but adults reading it with them will too thanks to the voice and style of the writing. The illustrations are full of life and detail – the mermaids in the hair salon is a brilliant example of just how much of a story can be told through its images – and in a story of this level particularly, quality illustrations that can do that are vital. These are more than up to the job.

I am really hoping we’ll see more of Beyonce and Neville in the future too!

Have you read any of these?

Which other ‘early’ chapter books would you recommend? 

The Restless Girls

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When I was younger, Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of my favourite stories. Something about the midnight trips out, the worn out shoes, the boats to magical forests and dancing maybe.

As a huge fan of Jessie Burton’s adult novels ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘The Muse’, I was very excited to hear she was writing a modern version of this.

Especially since I revisited it myself last year as part of some artwork, and was struck by how little autonomy the Princesses have.

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And it is this lack of autonomy, and the sexism that dominates traditional fairytale kingdoms, that is put right in The Restless Girls.

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There’s a real energy and spark to both the girls and the story – with some fantastically impossible events (a dance hosted by a lioness and a peacock with a wild animal band for starters) alongside some fantastically important ones – namely the girls being in charge of their own choices and futures, and being a force for change in those around them too.

Rather than just stumbling across the party in the woods, the girls use their skills, talents and knowledge to find it – each demonstrating their unique personality and strengths, from science to languages to sports.

There is an inspiring sense of determination and loyalty in the sisters and their relationship with each other is portrayed with warmth and understanding; youngest sister Agnes is described affectionately as “their little walking popcorn” which I loved!

It is little phrases and details like this which I really enjoyed in the book – adding depth at times (“The dark was simply the beginning of new things. The dark was necessary.”) and humour at others (the excuses they found for the holes in their shoes are brilliant and there’s a perfectly placed “It’s bloody freezing!” which made me smile too.)

Truly a fairytale for modern times, this keeps all the magic of the original, with midnight feasting and dancing in glittering forests, but throws in a large helping of adventure, independence and resourcefulness too.

Wonderfully detailed illustrations from Angela Barrett complete the package and make this a stunning book to give, gift and keep!

The Lost Magician

I was offered a copy of The Lost Magician for review (thanks to Hachette Kids) and how could I resist with a cover like that?! Courtesy of Ben Mantle, it has a wonderfully magical feel and is a perfect match for the story inside.

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An ode to the world of Narnia:

1945. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet.

I didn’t know about the connections to Narnia when I got this, but as I started reading I was taken back to the first time I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the countless times I stepped into my grandma’s wardrobe (complete with *fake* fur coat) hoping it would lead me through to a snow-covered Narnia (and imagining it had when it invariably didn’t!).

As in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the story centres around four siblings who unwittingly find themselves key to saving the land they’ve stumbled upon.

As with the original four, here too are four very distinct personalities and everyone will have a different favourite. Personally, I loved Larry and Grey Bear. Evelyn will go down well as a female science fanatic, and Simon’s dyslexia (undiagnosed because of the time period) proves an interesting perspective and its nice to see it represented in a book about books.

Cleverly reimagined, this uses the Narnia stories as its base and leaps off into an entirely new world, albeit one with a war raging – mirroring the one the children have left behind and posing some interesting thoughts, ideas and talking points on that theme.

First we meet the Reads (pronounced ‘red’) and Unreads. The Reads are storybook characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little buzz of excitement as some very well-known and well-loved characters were described, introduced and alluded to.

However, trying to destroy the Reads are the Unreads, led by the White Queen inspired Jana (and yes, she is every bit as icy cold and merciless!) The Unreads represent facts, truth, information and data. Brilliantly imagined and described, they turn what could easily have become a nostalgia-fest right into something original and altogether less cosy, with futuristic robots, vehicles and buildings. They provide a great balance to the comforting idea of the Reads.

And ultimately, that is a key theme of the book – balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences – as is the idea that stories are not just entertainment and diversion, but that despite seeming to be the complete opposite of fact, they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and bring about change and progress.

Books, adventure, battles and magic – it’s an exciting and modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!

WWW Wednesday 3/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

Last time, I snuck an extra W in there too with what Peapod and I had read that week, but I’ve decided to do a regular “Peapod’s Picks” post each Friday instead – picture books/board books new and old!

This week’s WWW, then:

What are you currently reading?

I’ve only just opened this, so no idea about it yet, though it begins with a poem that I thought was beautiful so it’s a promising start…

What have you just finished reading?

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I finished The Lost Magician by Piers Torday. I’ve been meaning to read his ‘Wild’ books for quite some time and still not got round to them, but if this is anything to go by the hype surrounding them is justified!

It’s a fantastic, modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!

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Talking of modern takes on classic books, I’ve also read this beautiful modern version of ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ which was one of my favourite fairy tales growing up.

Full reviews of both will follow…

What are you planning on reading next?

These are the most pressing of my TBR pile:

But I also have this which I’ve been waiting months for…

Which would you choose?

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

Mini Mondays

As I may have mentioned (you know, just once or twice..) I’m finding it hard to find enough time to read, let alone review anything since Peapod made his entrance into the world.

Last week, I saw this post from BookBairn and it gave me the idea of ‘Mini Mondays’ – can’t promise I’ll manage it every week, but I’m going to try!

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So every (most/some) Monday(s) I’ll do a ‘Mini Mondays’ review post where I’ll try and give a briefer than usual (cheer here) review of a few books. If you fancy doing your own Mini Monday reviews, leave a link in the comments (feel free, but don’t feel obliged, to use my rather amateurish little logo thing!) 🙂

This week…

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First Facts and Flaps: Giant Dinosaurs, illustrated by Naray Yoon

Campbell’s range of board books are always a hit – bright and bold, informative, with just the right amount of text and plenty of interactive features this is no different.

Each Dino is introduced with a full page illustration and rhyme, with lots of short, simply-worded, interesting and unusual facts clearly laid out on the facing page, accompanied by bold subheadings to draw you in.

There’s plenty to keep young fingers busy too with flaps to lift, a wheel to turn and change the pictures with and a brilliant fold out spread at the back.

Fun and engaging, with attractive illustrations with just the right level of detail – this is a fabulous book for young dinosaur fans. There’s an Amazing Animals in the series too, which I’ll definitely be picking up and hopefully there’ll be others to follow!

Thanks to Macmillan Kids for my copy.

All About Families by Felicity Brooks

With cheerful, detailed and appealing illustrations from Mar Ferrero and a clear, uncluttered layout, this is a lovely look at families in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Both in illustration and text, care has been taken to make this a truly diverse and inclusive book. Not only does it feature a wide range of family set ups but people from all walks of life – there’ll be someone in here that every reader relates to.

Good use of labels, speech bubbles and captions crams in plenty of clear, concise information in an engaging way that stops it from feeling overloaded.

Perfect for ks1 ‘about me’/’family’ topics or PSHE work, as well as a great resource to encourage talk (the pictures alone give a wealth of things to chat about) when read independently at school or shared at home.

Thanks to Usborne for my copy.

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus by Kes Gray and Jim Field

If you don’t already know how much I love this series, see this post on Oi Cat! I was so excited for this 4th installment and was a fan before it even arrived (it’s pink and it has a platypus in!) Even better – I won my copy (thanks Hachette Kids!)

Here we meet a selection of animals with very hard to rhyme names causing quite the headache for Frog, Dog and Cat as they dish out the rules on where everyone should sit! With the usual combination of Jim Field’s characterful illustrations and Kes Gray’s hilarious text, it’s as clever, fast and funny as the first 3 and an exuberant addition to one of my favourite picture book series.

Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

Benji Davies is another author/illustrator I love (I thought I’d reviewed his last picture book ‘The Grotlyn’ but haven’t – such an oversight, it’s wonderful!) His newest book, Grandma Bird, is a return to Noi (of The Storm Whale)’s world and is just as gentle, cosy and warm as both Storm Whale books.

Noi is off to stay with Grandma (who is fantastic – she’s guaranteed to make you smile!) on her tiny, isolated island. With imagination, freedom, wild adventure, dark caves and island life, this is a hug of a book full of accepting things we’re unsure of and of friendship, love and family.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my copy!

The Trouble With Perfect

I read ‘A Place Called Perfect’ when it was shortlisted for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize last year and thought it was brilliant – a real breath of fresh air in the MG (‘middle grade‘) releases; don’t get me wrong, there were many I LOVED but this felt very different in style.

 

I finished the first book already eagerly awaiting the sequel, so when Usborne very kindly sent me a copy of The Trouble With Perfect I couldn’t wait to revisit Violet, Boy and the rest of the citizens of Perfect and find out what was in store for them this time. The cover is once again illustrated by Karl James Mountford and has retained the same bold and quirky print-like style of the first; this suits the books so well, with the eyeball motifs in particular a great touch.

Strange things are happening in the town that used to be Perfect. Things are being stolen…children start going missing too. And everyone is blaming Violet’s best friend, Boy.

Town is in trouble – double trouble – and it’s up to Violet to save it.

I audibly gasped upon reading on the back of the book: “Boy’s not bad – is he?” Surely not?! But what a fantastic twist to start the book with – I was hooked before I’d even opened it!

The book begins with David Shephard’s map of Town (I love, love, love a book with a map) and a fantastic ‘story map’ of book 1.  I think a visual recap like this is truly inspired! Helena Duggan does a great job at reminding us of events from book 1 in more detail or at key moments as the story goes on too, but this is such an instant way to bring it all back and begin book 2 feeling like you’ve only just finished the first. It also means anyone inadvertently picking up this one first can still enjoy it and understand it.

Trouble builds on the themes book 1 began – segregation vs unity and fearing differences vs embracing them. With questionable ethics in the press, some persuasive public speaking and fighting against the tide of mob mentality,  as an adult reader, it resonates with a familiarity that is almost as sinister as the book’s creepy goings on.

That said, A Place Called Perfect had a lot to live up to, and hand on heart I have to say The Trouble With Perfect didn’t quite manage to knock it off top spot. For me, book one felt just that little bit darker and creepier; Trouble felt even more action-packed, but at times it felt like there was so much going on it was hard to keep up and that there was almost too many ideas, characters and twists to cram in to it.

Nevertheless, it is full of the adventure, mystery and sinister goings on that we’d expect in Perfect/Town. There’s still no sign of the evil Archers, but with robberies, kidnappings and missing eye-plants aplenty, we’re thrust headlong back into a weird and wonderful world of all-seeing eyeballs, secret passages, mutant zombies and chemical clouds that will be a sure-fire hit with younger readers.

#ReadABookDay

I am reliably informed (thanks Twitter) that today is #ReadABookDay. I’m choosing to ignore the fact that really that’s every day and using it as a good way to play catch up on the blog, especially since I missed yesterday’s WWWWednesday…

So, the blog has been somewhat neglected over the past few weeks, thanks to our new arrival!

20180822_064946.jpgQuite the bookworm already!

He is GORGEOUS and wonderful and amazing and other superlatives, but he is also a full-time milk-guzzler, wee-machine and sleep-is-for-the-weak-stayer-upper. Which means our hands are pretty full and the blog is having to take a back seat. I’m attempting to catch up a bit, but it’s a one-handed, grab-10-minutes-where-I-can-and-hope-he’s-not-sick-on-the-laptop sort of affair, so posts will continue to be sporadic!

20180906_153720Our current set-up!

So, while I attempt to get some reviews posted and generally catch up, here’s a quick look at what we’re reading on #ReadABookDay…

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It’s taken the first few weeks, but I have finally just about mastered reading-while-feeding! Keeping me company at the moment during the never-ending feeds is the fantastic The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan. It’s the sequel to last year’s equally fantastic A Place Called Perfect (think Gaiman meets Dahl meets Stepford Wives meets Tim Burton and throw in a good bit of mystery – if you haven’t read it, you really should!) So far, it’s just as good as the first…full review to follow!

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I was very excited to find some #bookpost waiting for me when I got home from my breastfeeding group this morning too…

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I have been SOOOOOOOO excited about this and was lucky enough to win a copy! Pretty certain kids would love it too, but I just read it with my mum who came to visit us this afternoon and we were both absolutely cracking up so it’s definitely recommended for those in their 30s/60s ! Every bit as good as the rest of the series, if not even better because it has a platypus in and it’s pink. Again, a full review will follow, but it was SO worth the wait!

As for ‘Peapod’ and I – we’ve had a play with his black and white cloth book ‘Faces’ and he also very much enjoyed Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!

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What have you read on #ReadABookDay?