Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit

Kevin’s back!

I was a Kevin fan from the moment I read his first adventure (you can read my reviews of books one and two here and here) and his newest adventure is every bit as entertaining as its predecessors!

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, published by Oxford University Press

If you’ve not read the previous books in this series, do. But this can be read as a standalone (or out if order if you’re really that much of a rebel). There’s a great introduction to Kevin (a roly-poly, biscuit-loving flying pony who lives on Max’s roof) at the start and then we’re straight into the action.

And, with police chases, brilliant disguises, cunning plans, an out of control biscuit machine and some very, VERY naughty Sea Monkeys, the action doesn’t let up!

There’s a biscuit thief terrorising Bumbleford…and Kevin is suspect number one (number one of one that is!) So Max and Daisy set out to clear his name by finding out who’s really behind the biscuit burgling.

As with the previous books, this is a huge slab of fast-paced, feel-good, family fun.

There’s a laugh a minute and something for everyone from the celebrity chef pushing Sprout Squashy pseudo-biscuits to a fart-powered panto pony to parental texting to horse prison to the classic poo on the head which, let’s face it, kids will LOVE.

I was absolutely DELIGHTED to see Beyonce and Neville (Ellie Fidgett’s guinea pigs) get not just a cameo but a starring role as they embark on their own daring sunflower seed heist too.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough to young readers. It’s so much fun; with pacy plots, great characters and loads of ‘sound effects’ it’s perfect to read aloud and the dynamic illustrations are packed with wit and humour too.

Best enjoyed with biscuits (of course!)

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

So this review might just win the prize for tardiness! We were sent the hardback version of this last Christmas. Life with a small baby took over and I promised myself I’d get a review up this Christmas instead. The paperback came out, I found my copy. And life once more took over. I have no excuse – when I did finally read this I did so in less than a half hour break. So, very late (but in plenty of time for next Christmas!) here’s my review…

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise by Laura Owen and Korky Paul

I am a big fan of the original Winnie the Witch picture books, by Valerie Thomas, but I’d never read one of the illustrated early chapter books, featuring the same characters but written by Laura Owen, until now.

I think it helps that Korky Paul has illustrated both the picture books and early chapters, both in terms of familiarity and continuity and also just because his vibrant illustrations are so well-suited to this madcap pair!

Winnie has lost none of her slightly dishevelled look and chaotic ways. She means well but her good ideas somehow cause all kinds of trouble, and poor Wilbur is still there patiently helping her through it!

In The Santa Surprise, she is horrified when she realises that while Santa is busy giving out presents to everyone, no one has got anything for him. So, she and Wilbur decide to rectify it.

They consult their friends on what to get, resulting in Winnie attempting both knitting and baking (with mixed results!) and a whole host of school children offering up some very imaginative ideas.

This would be a great talking point/Christmas lesson springboard with children thinking of, designing and possibly making the gifts they’d buy Santa too!

Presents made, bought, sourced and magicked, and with giant rescued polar bear in tow, they are ready to set off on Wilbur’s home made sleigh with his new tablet acting as sat nav.

I really liked the way technology was portrayed with real balance in this story too. Like it or not, it’s a big part of a lot of children’s lives and will be on a lot of Christmas lists.

This deals cleverly with that by having Wilbur get one, which Winnie is at first sceptical of. We do see its failings and times when it’s real people/hands on activities etc that are needed, but we’re also shown its uses and positives and Winnie comes round.

Of course, things don’t quite go to plan! They soon realise they’re at the wrong pole and Christmas is getting ever closer! The elves scarves are given to penguins, the giant socks are used as sleeping bags and the gingerbread house collapses…

Eventually they arrive at Santa’s House…just as he’s left to deliver everyone’s presents! With nothing left to give him anyway and no way to get home, Winnie and Wilbur come up with a plan that results in a happy ending all round.

This is an energetic, feel-good caper with two thoroughly lovable main characters, zingy illustrations and a festive journey with lots of fun along the way. Glorious.

Tuesday Trio – Early Chapter Books

I requested and received copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

A trio of treats for younger readers – reviewing some of the early chapter books I’ve read recently.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Paula Harrison is already a firm favourite with young, early chapter book readers and this first venture into the highly illustrated versions is likely to be just as popular as her Secret Rescuers and Rescue Princess series are.

This new series retains the animal theme, this time with cats. Kitty is a young superhero, following in her mum’s footsteps, with cat-like super powers – agility, speed, night vision.

In her first adventure, we see Kitty discover her super powers, meet her feline friends and overcome her fears to save the day.

With simply written text and lots of gorgeous high contrast, orange, black and white illustrations this will be an appealing book for those just starting to build their confidence with more independent reading.

Between a group of cats with very different personalities, family life and superhero escapades there’s a good mix of interests covered which will appeal to this age group – familiar enough to feel safe but exciting enough to add a bit of adventure.

Purr-fect (see what I did there?!) for fans of Isadora Moon, I can see this series really taking off.

Kevin’s Great Escape by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I was a huge fan of the first Kevin book so I was super excited to receive a copy of book two, which I loved just as much!

Here we rejoin biscuit-loving roly-poly-flying-pony Kevin, best friend Max and his sister Daisy as Daisy’s favourite pop star Misty Twiglet (what a name!) moves into the area with her manager on the lookout for exotic pets for her mansion’s garden.

Of course, a flying pony would make an excellent addition to the collection but all is not as it seems and Kevin soon finds himself kidnapped!

There’s plenty of humour, as you’d expect, and a host of well-executed and exaggerated characters that stop just short of becoming caricatures – from cruel and cold-hearted music mogul Baz to hired heavyweight Lumphammer, to Misty Twiglet herself, the pop sensation (who “dresses like a posh cobweb” – I love this!) to goth teen superfan Daisy! Not to mention all the other creatures imprisoned alongside Kevin…

…and BEYONCE AND NEVILLE ARE BACK and playing their daring parts in Kevin’s rescue!

This is loads of fun, with fun poked at the characters lovingly, and relationships between Max and Kevin, as well as between Max and Daisy, drawn with warmth.

There’s a great balance found between the hectic, hare-brained hustle and bustle of adventure and the feel good family factor.

Just as good as book one, this is another brilliantly daft, fast-paced adventure that’s guaranteed to have you giggling.

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton

Jasper is cultured, well read and fed, and enjoys the finer things in life, which is why he’s hoping to be invited to join illustrious and exclusive members club The Sophisticats by impressing them at dinner. After all, it’s important to have the right friends too.

Everything is ready for a perfect evening, until Scruff makes an appearance while Jasper’s out shopping for supplies.

In a take on the classic theme, Scruff is everythibg Jasper’s not – a dig fir a start, and a hairy, slobbery, all-over-the-place mess of one at that. He’s also enthusiastic, friendly and persistent.

He takes a shine to Jasper and despite Jasper’s best efforts to dissuade him (cue funny games of fetch and hide and seek) turns up at Jasper’s just in time to cause chaos at the Sophisticats dinner party.

At first Jasper panics, but as his guests become increasingly rude, he starts to realise just what makes a good friend and who the right friend for him might be.

It’s a sweet message that’s balanced by mishaps and mess making for a fun and lively text and even livelier illustrations that will both engage and encourage newly independent readers.

This first book sets the scene brilliantly for countless adventures from this unlikely and very funny duo, and I look forward to seeing what madcap mishaps they get involved in next!

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin

I received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin by Claire Barker and Teemu Juhani

I reviewed the first Picklewitch and Jack book last year and I LOVED it, so when I was offered a copy of the new book to review I leapt at the chance.

I wasn’t disappointed. This more than lives up to the expectations built by book one!

Much of what I wrote about the first book stands true about this one as well.

The language and writing style are as vibrant, pacy and original as ever and remain perfectly pitched – accessible but in no way dumbed down.

“As secret as a nut in its shell.”

And there are some wonderful invented words and phrases adding spark and humour – think Roald Dahl’s BFG and you’re on the right lines for Picklewitch’s vernacular.

“I can’t be dealing with mooncalves and frazzlers.”

Picklewitch

The illustrations are stylish and expressive, with the characters’ very different personalities shining through and Picklewitch’s love of the wild and nature made visual.

There is again a glossary of Picklewitch’s words, a selection of spells and recipes, nature guides a la Picklewitch at the end of the story and they’re an absolute delight – I grinned and grinned reading them!

The characters remain true to themselves – Picklewitch is still a cake-loving, slightly bonkers, brimming with confidence, rule-breaking/making, tree-dwelling witch and Jack is still a school-loving, rule-following, bit-of-a-worrier Boxie who lives in the house attached to Picklewitch’s garden.

But they’re given chance to grow and develop in this episode as well, which – especially in Jack’s case – is lovely to see. Yes, he’s still a worrier but he’s taking more chances, starting to make friends, enjoying life more… Picklewitch, whilst being a terribly bad influence, has of course been a fantastically good one!

And for her part, she shows in this book just how smart and loyal this apparent kidder really is, whilst – of course – retaining her pride, her irrefutable manner, her incredible knack for absolutely always being right and of course her enormous sense of fun.

Picklewitch and Jack’s friendship is put to the test in this book, when Picklewitch receives a letter

“Do witches get letters?” asked Jack, squinting into the sun.

“All the time,” she said.

“Have you ever had one before?”

“No.”

from a mysterious, and hitherto unknown, cousin saying he’s coming to stay.

Jack is naturally anxious – what if Picklewitch has so much fun with her cousin she forgets about being friends with him? But when Archie Cuckoo arrives, Jack thinks he’s perfect – well behaved, interested in learning, smart (he even has a briefcase) – and they end up getting on splendidly.

But is Archie Cuckoo too good to be true? (Spoiler alert – Yes. Yes he is.)

He is in fact a brilliant baddie. I love how we see him charming/magicking his way into Jack’s life and the repercussions of this for Jack and Picklewitch.

There’s a serious story of friendship, loyalty and trust which underpins the humour, magic and dancing ants.

I think that’s what I love so much about these books – they zip and ping with energy, spells, flying feathers and creepy crawlies, and you will giggle from start to finish (I chortled my way happily through my lunch hour) but there’s also a huge amount of warmth, understanding and gentle reassurance for some tricky situations in there.

This second book in the Picklewitch and Jack series is just as full of heart as the first and has confirmed their place as firm favourites of mine. I can’t wait for the next one (roll on Autumn 2020!!)

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.

38088271

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!

Mini Monday: 5/11/18

mini mondays

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.

20181105_193212

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?