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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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/KLTR – Classic Collection #1

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.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Peapod has really taken to his Hungry Caterpillar toy this week, he’s been commando-ing over to get it from the shelf and playing with it loads, so of course we’ve been reading it loads too!

Our only copy was this one:

It’s absolute treasure – it was mine and my sister’s when we were little. It also still has mum’s name inside from when she used it in school teaching, which is then semi-crossed out and replaced by mine from when I did the same.

So, we will keep it and read it too, but I wanted a more durable one for him to enjoy (read: eat) too, so we bought the board book version too.

It’s been a big hit already. To say he’s turning the pages would be a huge exaggeration but it’s lovely seeing him flip through the fruits and open and close it…in between chews of course!

When we bought it, I couldn’t resist getting the finger puppet book too. And I’m really glad we did – it’s a board book too so ticks all the handling/chewing/chucking boxes and he loves the caterpillar puppet (you guessed it, mostly he loves chewing it!). I really like that it’s a simple 1-5 counting primer using the fruit from the story but with added description – juicy oranges, tart plums etc – which makes it more interesting to read and will add to its longevity.

He’s had the cloth book for a while but has been looking at that more this week too. I love how soft and light it is – nice to hold and feel, chewable, hard to damage and even more hard to damage himself with! He also really likes grabbing the caterpillar’s head on the front!

Buying this in board book format made me think about which others we should have like this too. Obviously there’ll be those books that become favourites as he grows that we might choose to get, but I’m going to get some ‘classics’ too.

Which classic (or newer!) picture books would you add to his board book collection?

The ‘Unrateables’

I know there is great debate within the blogosphere on the posting of negative reviews. Personally, I choose not to. I’d prefer to spend my time writing about books I enjoyed and sharing the book love.

However, that sometimes leaves me with a bit of a ‘grey area’, with books I like to think of as ‘Unrateables’. (This is not, I promise, a back-handed compliment!)

You see, another thing I see quite often (on twitter and the like) are children’s books being given rubbish reviews (on a****n, goodreads etc) because “it’s childish” or “it’s ok for kids”…well, um, yeah…its a *children’s* book.

Which leads me to my quandary (we got there in the end), which is that usually when I read the kids books I choose to read (MG for the most part) I love them as me, an adult.

However, sometimes I read books that I didn’t particularly fall in love with, but that I know are absolutely spot on for their intended audience (kids) and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend at work etc to young readers.

Books that are well pitched and written for that age. Books that often tackle thorny subjects or feelings incredibly well and at just the right level. Books that balance serious stories with humour or fantasy or a pinch of the unlikely. But books that don’t grab me on a personal level.

Today’s books are two like this. The Boy at The Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf and The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.

He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets.

But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help.

This book is a great way of opening up discussion about war, refugees and – more generally – differences, prejudices, fairness, right and wrong.

I thought the way we were introduced to Ahmet, and the way we see his integration into the classroom and relationships with others unfold was brilliantly written and paced.

Ahmet’s situation is described perfectly – there are some very difficult themes written about, but all are addressed sensitively and age-appropriately, and the author uses small, everyday things to really make it understandable and bring the message home (I thought the pomegranate storyline was lovely).

Likewise, the bullies at school not only introduce another, likely more familiar issue, but also cleverly highlights both how refugees are treated and mirrors the larger issues in the book.

A book which makes helping others – against the odds, in the face of obstacles and when we have no real reason to – seem obvious.

With strong themes of friendship and loyalty, and including a fast-paced, very funny adventure, this takes on some heartbreaking issues but with humour and a heart-warming touch.

Present day: Semira and her mother were brought to England by a man who has complete control. Always moving on, always afraid of being caught, she longs for freedom.

1891: Hen’s trapped in a life of behaving like a lady. But her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to a whole new world. A world of animal rights, and votes for women, and riding bicycles!

When Semira discovers Hen’s diary, she finds the inspiration to be brave and to fight for her place in the world.

Semira and her mum have had to flee their country, and the way not just this but the surrounding issues – the reasons they fled, the way they had to do it, the control and power someone else now has over them, the constant moving – are explored sensitively and age-appropriately.

This Victorian narrative – that we see through Hen’s diary, found by Semira – likewise highlights issues of that time too, not least some very sexist and prejudiced attitudes, but also the very beginnings of change and a glimmer of hope.

The use of birds and cycling to draw parallels between the two times, and between the characters really drew them together as well as creating powerful metaphors for the feelings of being trapped and free was very cleverly done. And of course, there was the link between Semira and Hen. Both feeling trapped and powerless, both find the courage to do something about it – Hen drawing on the spirit of her Aunt Kitty and friends, Semira on turn drawing on Hen.

Another thing I thought was very clever about the telling of Semira’s story was the way it drew on things both good and bad – ice cream, cycling, birds and homework; being an outsider, domestic abuse and bullying – that helped draw the characters together in spite of outward differences, and which in turn will help readers from all backgrounds relate to, empathise with and understand them.

Empowering and inspiring, this is a book filled with brave, determined and strong female characters. It is a book of solidarity, trust and friendship. It is a book about helping others, but also allowing others to help you. It is a book about standing up for your beliefs and for each other. It is a book full of hope, power and action in the face of adversity. It is a book about finally flying free.

 

Flights of Fancy

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

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In this lively anthology, the UK’s best-loved writers and illustrators share their top tips and ideas to inspire budding artists and writers.

Published to celebrate 20 years of having a Children’s Laureate to champion any and all aspects of children’s reading, writing, illustrating, book-loving this is an absolutely wonderful collection of insights, ideas and inspiration.

There’s a chapter from each of the ten Laureates with a short discussion about where they get their ideas, the way they work, things they did as Laureate, what’s important to them etc. followed by their own tips, suggestions and prompts for getting creative in one way or another and a piece of text or art from each.

Because it’s written by such stars in their field, it’s pitched perfectly: accessible and understandable but not simplified or dumbed down. And because they’re from such varied backgrounds with such different interests, strengths and audiences, it contains everything from short stories to sketchbooks, doodles to descriptions and poems to plays. There’s word play and shape games, design ideas and creative writing starters.

My favourite chapter was Lauren Child’s because I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years and I love her style.

It’s also beautifully presented (I’m not sure if there’s a paperback version on the cards, but the hardback is such a lovely quality book and would make a great gift too) and £1 from each book goes to Booktrust (a brilliant charity helping get all children access to books – their bookstart packs alone are worth it! But I digress…).

There is so much creativity jam-packed into this it’s impossible to read and not feel like cracking out the pencil case whatever your age!

WWW Wednesday 20/2/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Monsters by Sharon Dogar.

I’m still chipping away at Monsters. I have mixed feelings on this one but I definitely want to see it through to the end.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobooks too…which is disastrous as Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t available for another 2 weeks…! As you can tell. I’m still really enjoying these!

What have you just finished reading?

Flights of Fancy – Children’s Laureates

I thought this was a lovely book – perfect for aspiring writers, illustrators, creatives everywhere. I’ll post a full review this week.

Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Amy at Golden Books Girl recommended this and I’m so pleased she did as I might not have picked it up otherwise and I loved it. With a remote, rural, historical setting it felt do well rooted and it was such a joy to read – I really liked the writing style. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as soon as its available. In the meantime I might give something else a go but I’m not sure what yet…

I’m just about to start The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis too which I have high hopes for.

Have you read any of the books here?

What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks: You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (usually for his bedtime story) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

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

This week:

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

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green by Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Deborah Allwright.

Sidney Green loves going on rip-roaring adventures with his dog, Jemima. Together, they race cars, sail all the way to Africa and build an enormous castle, complete with a moat full of crocodiles. But Captain Shipshape and his pirate band are NOT happy. They think it’s time for Sidney Green to become a Proper Pirate – right now, not “in a minute”. What will Sidney Green do?

Daddy spotted this one when we were out the other day, and luckily for him I’d been sent a copy to review!

I have to admit I’m a bit funny about pirate books, so it’s not one I’d have picked out but I did enjoy it more than I expected to.

An ode to imagination and imaginative play, this is guaranteed to bring a smile to any parent (or teacher or relative or..) who’s heard that phrase “in a minute”. Sidney is so wrapped up in his exciting adventures that everything else (including Captain Shipshape’s demands that he get pirate-ing) must wait!

The illustrations work perfectly with the text and are full of the joy and excitement a make believe adventure can bring.

There’s a great pace to it too, which as well as highlighting the impatience of Captain Shipshape, also serves really well to evoke those whirlwind “and then this happened…and you did…and I said…and then a…” stories children create.

Likewise, the way everyone sent to get Sidney ends up joining in with his adventure instead both adds humour and wonderfully captures those games that snowball, with more and more children joining and adding their ideas and voices to them!

I thought this was a cleverly written, visually appealing story that is an absolute champion of imagination and the importance of play, as well as a reminder to us grown ups to make time for play, make believe and adventure too!

I had only one small dislike, and its a personal, nit-picky and easily remedied one: the phrase ‘a rip-roaring time’. But I just substituted various other phrases and then we were all happy! It definitely wouldn’t put me off reading it again…which is a good job as it was a definite hit with both Peapod and Daddy, and we were absolutely cracking up, crying laughing trying to do pirate voices (farmer pirates anyone?!) – lots of fun!

Other pirate books we like:

What else did we read this week?

  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (a classic!)
  • Night Monkey, Day Monkey by Julia Donaldson and Lucy Richards
  • Mr Bump by Roger Hargreaves (Who doesn’t love the Mr Men?!)
  • Lemur Dreamer by Courtney Dicmass (I’m all about the illustrations in this one, the story itself is a bit odd, but you know…lemurs!)
  • Little Red by Bethan Woolvin (I love this series of books – read more here!)

Have you read any of these?

Do you have a pirate picture book you love?

Which picture books or bedtime stories did you read this week?