Peapod’s Picks – New Easter Picture Books

We were lucky enough to receive free copies of these from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

With Easter round the corner, we were very pleased to receive two new picture books from Hachette perfect for this time of year!

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright and Izzy Evans

A rhyming, rhythmic paean to wildness and non-conformity that hops, pops and bops along with energy and pace.

New chick Freddy causes chaos on the farm with his movement, noise and mess…but despite their initial displeasure the other animals grow to love it and soon embrace their wild sides too.

Alongside classic style illustrations, there’s a lovely use of language – from from its well-flowing rhyme to onomatopoeiac shrieks, squawks, cricks and cracks to some wonderful choices of vocabulary (bulbous, floppled, wobbled) this is great to read aloud and listen to.

With a message that every child needs to hear sometimes, this is lots of fun and Freddy’s spirited ways will appeal to children everywhere!

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Easter by Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson

Everyone’s favourite hungry unicorn is back! And no easter egg is safe!

It’s Easter and Princess Oola and friends are excitedly hunting for eggs…only they can’t find any. Not one. What (or should we say who!) could have happened to them all?!

The Easter Bunny can’t make more so the friends work together to decorate and hide some…but when they forget where they’re hidden is there anyone who could help sniff them out?!

Taking him from disgrace to hero, Oscar’s insatiable appetite and ability to sniff out chocolate at a hundred paces is a deliciously daft slice of Easter fun.

As a fan of both the first Oscar book and chocolate, Peapod loved this! He thought seeing Oscar munch all the eggs was very funny and was totally taken by the Easter bunny and pirates too.

On that note – the pirates were an inspired touch! Who doesn’t immediately think of pirates at Easter?! They were such silly fun and – like the rest of this brilliantly bright, bold book – illustrated perfectly.

How could you not love a book that can combine the Easter bunny, a chocoholic unicorn, pirates burying, losing and digging for treasure, a princess and more…?! An egg-cellent Easter treat!

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Edge of the Ocean

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L. D. Lapinski, cover art by Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette Children’s

The first Strangeworlds book was magnificent and sucked me right in (you can read my review here) so I was very excited to read book two!

If you’ve not read book one, start there! If you have you surely won’t need me to convince you to grab book two, but just in case you need a nudge…

I admit, it did take a couple of chapters to reorient myself, but once I did, I devoured this in just a couple of sittings; I could not put it down.

Flick and Jonathan are back and as brilliant a pairing as ever! The addition of Jonathan’s cousin Avery adds another dimension and plenty of interest, and their friendship continues to go from strength to strength in the most hilarious, awkward and heartfelt ways.

Jonathan is one of my favourite characters, not just in this series but in children’s fiction and to see him sailing the seas, swashbuckling and soaked to the skin raised many a smile.

He’s written with such a fabulous dry wit and I have to say that it’s a testament to LD Lapinski’s writing that in the midst of a rollicking, riotous pirate adventure one of my favourite scenes was Jonathan in the veg aisle at Tesco.

On a more serious note, there’s developments from the first book that will have a lump in your throat as often as a laugh and the balance struck is perfect.

Flick for her part has just managed to escape her lifelong grounding and it’s a good thing too, as Strangeworlds are summoned to The Break – a flat, watery world which is vanishing fast.

And so begins a fast-paced, action-packed piratical adventure like no other!

Faced with a lost suitcase, warring pirate crews and mysterious mer-folk they know nothing about, the Strangeworlds crew set about trying to save the inhabitants of The Break (whilst still being home in time for tea).

I said in my review of the first book that the world-building and imagination were top notch and that remains the case here too. To somehow make the fantastic so believable and tangible is no mean feat.

The characters Flick, Jonathan and Avery meet are brilliant too – the pirates tough, robust and wily; the merfolk vividly imagined and depicted.

Packed with excitement, twists, turns and magic (not forgetting the mortal danger, double-crossing and world-hopping), this is a high seas adventure like no other! Absolutely brilliant – I need book three immediately!

My favourite quote from page 211 (sorry Mary, I’m cheating):

“‘Are there any rules for talking to mer-folk?’ Avery asked.

This book in three words:

Pirates. Magic. Excitement.

Have you read the Strangeworlds books? Will you be picking this one up?

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow

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.

Nevermoor: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Before we go any further, all you really need to know is: this book is A-MAZING!

But that wouldn’t make for much of a review on its own, would it, so…

This is the third book in the absolutely fantastic Nevermoor series. If you haven’t read books one and two (where have you been?!) stop reading immediately and go and read them now.

I realised on writing this that I reviewed book one before I had my blog, so I’ve posted it here belatedly. And I’m not sure where my Wundersmith review went but let’s blame that on new baby craziness and just know that it was every bit as good, if not better, than book one.

And the same can most definitely be said of Hollowpox.

We rejoin Morrigan in her second year as a member of the Wundrous Society and see her beginning to learn more about the Wretched (or Wundrous) Arts in a most brilliantly devised and captivating way, as she is helped to try and harness, master and diversify her powers as a Wundersmith, whilst simultaneously struggling to keep her Wundersmith status under wraps outside of WunSoc – something which proves increasingly challenging as the story unfolds.

We are introduced to a new, third part of WunSoc, which is every bit as intriguing, magical and atmospheric as we’ve come to expect from Jessica’s settings and we’re introduced to some great new characters and typically WunSoc style secrets too.

But of course, things couldn’t go smoothly for long. And in an eerily prescient way (for the book was written way before this year’s Covid 19 pandemic), we see a deadly ‘virus’ sweeping through the Wunimals of Nevermoor, turning them into Unnimals on the rampage, with no sense of their human sides left and a compulsion to attack.

As the attacks increase, panic spreads. No-one knows where the Hollowpox came from, how it spreads and there’s no cure. With curfews, closures and messages to “Stay Alert” it felt like a mirror for current times in many ways.

After attacking, the Wunimals left ‘hollow’ in a coma-like state but with seemingly nothing left inside, leading to increased debate in Nevermoor about who the victims of the Hollowpox are.

Indeed, it felt all too realistic and equally saddening to see the way in which the disease sees Wunimals blamed, with fellow citizens turning on them and the sparks of prejudice many carried against them already ignited.

There is an absolutely hilarious, but all too true quote about numpties which I will let you discover for yourselves but it summed up perfectly both Nevermoor in this crisis, and our own world too.

With twists, turns, blame and backstabbing, not to mention a race against time to beat the mysterious disease, this is already thrilling, shocking and thought-provoking. But then, of course, comes the return of Ezra Squall.

The last Wundersmith, banished from Nevermoor for his evil acts, he reappears to Morrigan on the Gossamer from the Wintersea Republic with a, deal to be done, and the plot well and truly thickens….

And that ending! Oh my god.

I loved everything about this.

As, ever, the characters are well-fleshed out and considered, and I especially liked how we dug a bit deeper with Squall in this book.

The inhabitants of Hotel Deucalion (including of course the hotel itself, which is one of my favourite ‘characters’ I think) are as fantastical, funny and fiercely loyal as ever.

The story itself is compelling and complex, with heavy doses of humour and gloriously magical moments, as well as messages of equality, kindness, courage and honesty which always run through this series.

And of course, it is breathtakingly imaginative, heart-stoppingly exciting, goose-bumpily (yes that’s a word!) observant. At once a wundrous escape from reality and an astute commentary on it.

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Need book four immediately.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

So, I thought I’d reviewed this way back when it came out but realised that I hadn’t started my blog them so had only reviewed it online.

Ahead of the imminent release of book three in the series, Hollowpox (my review is here) I thought I’d post my review of book one here too.

I received a reading copy of this in exchange for review and while I knew it was the sort of story I’d enjoy, I just wasn’t prepared for how much I’d love it!

I was utterly hooked, pulled straight into the world of Nevermoor and still stubbornly gripping my umbrella on the Brolly Rail refusing to get off at the end.
It was hailed as the next Harry Potter by pretty much everyone and with good reason. It does draw heavily on what has come before – a purportedly cursed child with a pre-determined fate, a villain hiding in the shadows supposedly banished from Nevermoor with ordinary folk scared to mention him, a heavy dose of magic and friendships forged between a variety of ‘misfit’ type characters.
But, and it is a big BUT as this is where it moves away from the many other magic-adventure-type books written post-Potter: Jessica Townsend’s writing transforms this into so much more than a wannabe-HP: despite it’s obvious similarities, it feels fresh, unique and new.

The imagination that has gone into creating Nevermoor and the thought that has gone into detailing and describing its weird and wonderful features (not least the fantastic Hotel Deucalion, which I would happily handover a month’s pay packet to stay at for a night or two!) is truly wonderful: it is vibrant, bursting with life and sucks you right in.
The characters are charming, funny and believable. Morrigan is a perfect ‘heroine’ – at times insecure, at time courageous, but always loyal – I was relieved that she was also ‘real’ enough to be likeable.

Jupiter is zingy, zany and full of verve, his self-assured, confident manor the perfect balance to Morigan’s self-doubt.

Hawthorne brings humour, daring and warmth as the sort of sidekick anyone would want. And so the list goes on…all the characters bring something else to the story, none seem gratuitous.
The story itself zips along through the darkness of the Hunt of Smoke and Shadows and the elusive Mr Jones; the vivid colour of Nevermoor itself – the Hallowmas and Christmas celebrations in particular; the nerves, tenacity and adventure throughout the Trials (like others the Book Trial made me smile, but it was the witches in the Fright Trial I loved best).

It’s a book you don’t want to reach the end of – I can’t wait for the next instalment!

Peapod’s Picks – An Alphabetty Botty Book!

Oi Aardvark! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

The latests in the Oi! series, and its just as good as ever. Frog has decided to write his own alphabet book, and its the funniest alphabet book you’ll ever read!

In his Alphabetty Botty Book (and honestly, what child isn’t going to live that title?!) Frog has decided to give animals that still have nowhere to sit somewhere to park their derrieres, one (or in some cases several!) for each letter of the alphabet.

Frog is as confident and bossy as ever, with Cat remaining their usual resigned and superior self, and there are some classic Dog moments too (not least in the very funny ending!)

Fans of Kes Gray’s ‘You’re Called What?!’ will be pleased to find a plethora of lesser known (or certainly lesser mentioned!) creatures included, with pangolins, quolls and uakaris for starters.

Peapod likes that “pigeons sit on wigeons”, joyfully repeating “pidge-widge! Pidge-widge!” at this point, but his favourites are definitely the jays (after seeing one on a walk once, we must hunt for them on every walk now!) and, of course, the kudu sat on doo-doo, which he (and surely every other toddler who reads this) finds hilarious -” Poo! Sit in poo!”

For my part, I giggle at the iguanas sat on piranhas (“they’ll bite their bottoms!” – I don’t know where Peapod gets it from!) and love the big fold out spread from Q to W. If I still taught early years, I would definitely have ended up buying multiple copies of this to turn it into an alphabet strip for my wall!

As bright and bold, as delightfully daft and as completely comical as you’d expect from this series. Just when you think they can’t possibly find anywhere else to go with it, they take it in a new direction and deliver all over again. Fab!

P. S. You can read our reviews of Oi Cat and Oi Duck-Billed Platypus here and here!

When Secrets Set Sail

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari

I really loved Sita’s last book, Where the River Runs Gold so I jumped at the chance to read this one too.

It didn’t quite take my breath away the way Where the River Runs Gold did, but I still very much enjoyed it, the symbolism especially, and it’s one that I can see going down very well with fans of Emma Carroll, A.M. Howell and Gill Lewis’ The Closest Thing to Flying.

Part ghost story, part historical mystery and partly contemporary, Where Secrets Set Sail is a tale rich in culture, history and family; it is a story about knowing, or not knowing, where you come from; of promises, secrets and injustices, both in society and closer to home.

Imitiaz is being adopted by Usha’s family, but timing is poor as she’s moving in just after Usha’s grandmother, Kali Ma’s funeral and Usha seems distracted and unhappy to have her there.

While Usha does have her misgivings about Immy’s arrival, it’s the presence of Kali Ma’s ghost, the arrival of a strange stray cat and the mysterious book and conch shell she’s found in her grandmother’s things that she’s dwelling on.

That, and the imminent prospect of having to give up their home. Her parents run The Hearth downstairs – a community hub supporting refugees and others – but it’s being threatened by bigoted locals who ‘don’t want that sort around here, thank you’. The only way to save it is to find some lost documents, but time is running out.

Imitiaz is sceptical of Usha’s tall tales of ghosts at first, thinking she’s just trying to scare her away and being cold and unfriendly. But when another ghost, Lucky, appears to her too the girls begin to work together to solve a mystery that they hope will bring them closer, bring peace to the ghosts and save their home.

I really liked the way the many themes of the story slotted together, and found the themes of knowing where you come from and the importance of heritage especially engaging.

From Immy trying to find her place as someone who knows nothing of her background to Usha’s family history and the trouble secrets can cause, to the broader social histories of Ayahs and the Windrush generation, the book is steeped in history and strong in its message to remember them.

In particular the story of the forgotten Ayahs – nannies brought back to England with families returning from India but then left stranded with no passage back – was really interesting, very sad and something I’d previously known nothing about.

I thought the way racism was highlighted, both historically and in the present, too was important, timely and subtly but clearly done.

I thought the use of art, symbolism and traditions in the book as a whole, but especially in the girls’ hunt for the truth was very effective and helped create a real atmosphere, as did the wonderful ship house they live in!

The mystery of Kali Ma and Lucky’s stories and how they are connected is brilliantly unravelled and I really liked the way it drew in other cultures, stories, people and events too (the founding of the NHS, the first female doctors, Roma families and the injustice they have faced and still face today and much more besides).

This is a brilliant historical mystery, rich in culture and with family, identity and equality at its heart. Highly recommended!

Fri-YAy – The Black Flamingo

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

Whether or not this becomes any kind of regular thing depends both on

a) me reading some more YA like I keep saying I will

and

b) me posting anything on time or with any degree of reliability

There’s a double post today, with both this one and Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal, and after that I’d like this to be a fortnightly or, maybe more realistically, monthly post to review my YA reads.

The two books I’m kicking off with though are both brilliant ‘coming-of-age’ tales of finding out who you are and becoming comfortable with yourself.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, artwork by Anshika Khullar

I’m such a huge fan of Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse and really enjoyed Meg Grehan’s The Deepest Breath too, so I was really pleased to find a new YA verse novel, this time from Dean Atta (If anyone has any other verse novel recommendations I would love to hear them!)

The Black Flamingo is Michael’s story, told in the form of narrative style poems, illustrated effectively throughout and with gorgeous feathery pages at the start of each chapter. I know I’ve said it before but don’t let the verse put you off, especially in this case. More like carefully selected, carved and crafted prose than your typical idea of ‘poetry’ might be, this is immensely readable.

We follow Michael through the book as he grows up – from a young child coveting Barbies, being guest of honour at the girls’ sleepovers and playing “husband and wife” with the boys…to a teenager lacking in confidence, befriending “the misfit” and discovering his sexuality…to a student away from home for the first time and finding his people, his place, his voice…himself.

The book is universally relatable in many ways – family dynamics and the effects our family relationships can have on us, both positive and negative; the uncertainty, confusion and constant navel-gazing of teenage years; friendships, fallings out, first crushes, fitting in (or not) and those first steps away from home.

It certainly spoke to me and brought back many experiences and emotions from when I was growing up (and as a white, heterosexual woman in her thirties I am definitely not its target audience!)

But, it’s clear that for some, this book will be so much more than that – a beacon of hope, bringing with it reassurance and a message of strength, unity and positivity.

Michael deals with homophobia and racism – in upfront, deliberate ways, but more often (and as I suspect is more commonly the case in reality) in latent, almost unintentional, ingrained and learned ways – as well as old-fashioned, unhelpful and stereotypical views of gender, yet he finds his way through this and gains self confidence and belief.

I loved the way drag (along with friendship and learning from his mistakes) was in the end what helped Michael find his confidence and his voice and, in more ways than one, his identity. I really liked the way we saw drag explained, given depth and taken seriously as a performance too.

With themes of ethnicity, sexuality and gender as well as family and friendships addressed believably, powerfully and with a great deal of insight, sensitivity and warmth this is a must-read for so many young readers (and older ones like me will find plenty to enjoy, relate to and feel about this too). I loved this and can’t wait to read more from Dean Atta.

Fri-YAy: Becoming Dinah

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

Whether or not this becomes any kind of regular thing depends both on

a) me reading some more YA like I keep saying I will

and

b) me posting anything on time or with any degree of reliability

There’s a double post today, with both this one and The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, and after that I’d like this to be a fortnightly or, maybe more realistically, monthly post to review my YA reads.

The two books I’m kicking off with though are both brilliant ‘coming-of-age’ tales of finding out who you are and becoming comfortable with yourself.

Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal, artwork by ?

Published as part of Hachette’s ‘Bellatrix’ YA range, all written by female authors and designed to tell the “untold, mistold or misheard” stories of women.

We’ve already seen Kiran Millwood-Hargrave tell the story of Dracula’s brides in The Deathless Girls and here Kit de Waal retells Moby Dick – a book with almost no female characters at all – with a female main character in a modern day, terra firma setting.

I haven’t read Moby Dick. I was inspired to after reading this and I tried with it but I just couldn’t get into it. However, from what I know of it and what I read before abandoning ship so to speak, I really liked what Kit did with Ahab in this telling and the way she uses Ishmael, in particular the way she plays on the famous “Call me Ishmael” line.

Becoming Dinah tells the story of Dinah/Ishmael essentially doing just that – finding out who she is and “becoming Dinah”.

I loved the way her story was told. We begin not knowing exactly what she’s running from, just that she’s done something terrible and has to leave. I really liked the way we begin to guess at what this is as the backstory takes shape, and at how the book builds up to it; in Dinah/Ishmael’s mind, it is calamitous, while we gradually get the sense it may not be and this helps to convey that.

We’re then witness to Dinah shaving off her long, thick hair – her ‘crowning glory’ – in a scene that is part reverse-Samson, as we see later on rather than losing her strength with this she gathers strength from it, and part re-invention as she sheds her most defining feature ready to flee as Ishmael.

Initially planning on walking and hitch-hiking, she ends up agreeing to drive (despite not having passed her test) an old camper van for a neighbour who, like her, we find is also running away though in a more metaphorical sense and who, like her, ends up on a more emotional than physical journey.

The story unfolds in a really effective way with chapters in the present, written as Ishmael, that feel like they’re on a collision course with something, though we know not what, alternating with chapters looking back at the events in Dinah’s life that have led us here.

Dinah grew up homeschooled on a commune and while this is mostly portrayed as a happy time, I did have some misgivings about elements of it. That said, for the most part I recognise that this was not really intended as a comment on her life, more so on the way her peers used it to mark her out as different.

After some upheavals at home, and as she is growing older and experiencing that teenage itch to spread her wings, rebel and be her own person, Dinah decides to enrol in the local high school. Life there is tough at first, but she is befriended by Queenie and things start to look up. I’ll be honest though, I’m glad Queenie had only a small role in the book as, while she was necessary, I found her a bit two dimensional.

Dinah/Ishmael herself I found much more credible and I really felt for her, as well as reliving so many pangs of my own teenage emotions – shame, anger, angst, confusion, desire, freedom… at various points of her story. There is one point at which Ishmael daydreams of moving to New York, where she’ll be cool and popular and life will be good and I had this dream almost so exactly in my late teens that reading it here was particularly emotive.

I also grew to really love the character of Ahab in the book – complex, layered and deep, there is more than meets the eye to the crotchety old bully of a man we meet in the first chapter or two.

I really liked the multi-generational aspect of the story, and the way we saw the effect of the journey not just on Dinah/Ishmael, but also on him. For Dinah/Ishmael, there is a real sense of growth, finding her identity and becoming more self-aware and self-confident.

Ahab is not lacking in self-confidence, or so it seems, but he is hurting and he too needs this journey to open up, grow emotionally and let go of his pride. For both of them, it is a journey of healing and of dealing with the past in order to move forwards.

The ending was for me a little too tidy, happy and predictable BUT I know this is just me. I’m a miserable old cynic who’s not a fan of happy endings and in a YA book of this style and on this theme it’d be ridiculous for it to have anything else! So, in this respect, it’s very much a case of “It’s not you, it’s me”.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Despite not caring much for the smaller characters, I thought the main characters were complicated and credible, and I felt like I really got to know and care for them.

I really enjoyed how the story was told over the course of the road trip, and the way their encounters along the way all helped to move their journey along both physically and emotionally.

Telling Ahab’s story alongside Dinah/Ishmael’s really added depth and different perspectives to the themes the books addressed and was something I really enjoyed, especially as an older YA reader.

To summarise – with themes of relationships, family and identity, this is a warm, emotional and cleverly told road trip of self-discovery, facing your fears and growing up.

Where the Wilderness Lives

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.

Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth, artwork by Rob Biddulph

Many of you will already know what a big fan I am of Jess’ other books (you can read my reviews here and here) and this one more than lived up to expectations.

Twelve year old Cara and her three younger siblings – six year old twins Bryn and Aria, and nine year old Enzo – live on a boat with their mother. When the canal is drained for cleaning, they find a locked safe. Intrigued and excited by what might be inside, they decide to keep it to try and open it.

But disaster strikes before they have chance and they soon find themselves fleeing, with their mum in hospital and a thief on their tail.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in some ways, as after books set in the Himalayas, Australia/India and Louisiana this one takes place much closer to home – in Wales. However, it was just as transportive and vividly depicted.

Nature plays a huge part, as you’d expect if you’re familiar with Jess’ writing. It feels like an education, exposing small treasures of nature hidden closer than we think in the world around us. Plants, animals and natural phenomena are described and detailed with wonder and respect as a natural part of the story, and environmental concerns and issues are part of the conversation throughout.

The way Jess threads a fairytale-style story through the book too with a paragraph or so at the start of each chapter also adds to the overall emphasis on nature – its bounty as well as its power, alongside both our responsibility for it and dependence on it. I thought this combined with the more contemporary aspects of the book gave a really nice balance and really suited the backdrop of the story.

Cara and her family live on a narrowboat and I loved the way life on the boat was depicted – I think the early chapters which set the scene of their life on ‘Newt’ are probably my favourite from the book, even though not much is really ‘happening’ yet and would make for the BEST cosy Autumn re-read (which is exactly what I intend to do!)

There’s no pretence that boat-living is easy, but it seemed satisfying, close and rewarding. The snug fireside games, books and general co-existence making up for the almost non-existent TV, for example. Being able to spot shooting stars and wildlife from your roof compensating for the cramped living space and non-negotiable, must-be-done-to-live chores. Jess spent several years living on a narrowboat and it shows – this aspect of the book especially is written with such fondness and insight.

Similarly, Cara’s struggles with other children also felt compassionately written with a real understanding, and my heart went out to her as she tries to deal with both their reaction to her living on a boat (or, more commonly and interestingly, their thoughts about it as she believes them to be), her own shyness and, most of all the bullying behaviour she finds herself on the receiving end of. I thought this especially was very well written, showing the way this sort of thing can be so insidious and the way the worry and uncertainty chip away unseen.

On the flipside of this is the gloriously close and caring relationship between Cara and her siblings and the blossom of hope that develops from an unlikely place in friendships she tentatively starts to make.

Both of these are really given chance to shine as we journey with Cara, her siblings and unlikely accomplice Keaton. And what a journey it is! By boat, train and then on foot we accompany them first in doggedly trying to escape from the thief who is hunting them down to retrieve ‘his’ safe – a heart-pounding, tense affair.

Then there’s the walking – taking a route only ever travelled by car before, they soon realise this way takes much longer. It is arduous – long and tiring, with dwindling food supplies and poorly equipped for the rough terrain and snowy, stormy weather; as their journey becomes more and more isolated, in worsening weather, I really began to worry for them. But the way in which Jess balances the set backs, dangers, risks and difficulties with the joys of being outdoors was wonderful, and there is never an absence of hope.

And, as with all of her books that – along with the wonder of nature – is the thread that runs through the book. There is always hope.

So many children will see themselves in this – those who’ve suffered bullying, found it hard to make friends or felt like an outsider especially, but also those with hearing loss (or relatives who have), those who’ve experienced a parental break up and those who’ve been wrapped in cotton wool. And for all of them there is positivity, hope and a sense of normality – this may be difficult at times, but it is not you.

Very much in keeping with Jess’ trademark style and themes, and once more with gorgeous artwork from Rob Biddulph as the icing on the cake; this is another brilliant adventure full of family bonds, tentative friendships, excitement, emotion, natural wonder and most of all heart.

Peapod’s Picks 26/8/19

We were lucky enough to request and receive copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and views are all my own.

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!

My Pet Star by Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw

This is a lovely story and one that I think will be extra enjoyable as the nights draw in and autumn arrives – there’s just something really cosy and comforting about it.

A little girl finds a star that’s fallen from the sky. She takes it home, patches it up and takes care of it. As the days pass, the star gets better and brighter until the time comes when it’s time to say goodbye as the star returns to the sky.

With pared back text, this is a perfect example of illustration and text working in harmony to tell a story, create atmosphere and express feelings. To do this using rhyme (and using rhyme which flows, reads well and doesn’t feel clunky or forced) is an achievement indeed.

Bonus points for a non-white main character who doesn’t live in a detached house with garden!

I loved the way the book conveyed imaginative play and bigged up reading – if I still taught I’d have the spread below framed:

“I showed him pictures in my book. He couldn’t read, but he could look.”

So many early years children would start the year telling me “I can’t read though” as if being able to decode the words was the only way to enjoy a book. A lot of work went into encouraging looking at pictures, making up stories etc.

And of course, there’s a gentle introduction to the idea of letting go, transience and saying goodbyes.

This is a warm, tender-hearted book perfect for snuggling up with at bedtime.

I can’t wait to have Corrinne into work in October for one of our Read and Make sessions!

There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom by James Sellick and Frann Preston-Gannon

Produced in collaboration with Greenpeace, this starts much like your typical picture book might – funny, animated, bright and seemingly light-hearted. An orangutan (or Rang-Tan) has arrived in a little girl’s room and is causing chaos.

But, when the little girl stops to find out why the Rang-Tan is there, the book’s more serious message is revealed, along with a clever change in illustration style to mirror it.

We see how humans are destroying the Rang-Tan’s home for palm oil in dark and muted tones, desolate and bleak.

We’re then offered a ray of hope along with a nudge of encouragement not to be passive but to do whatever we can to help. We see the little girl writing letters to big companies, rallying friends and neighbours through posters and word of mouth and going on protests.

It finishes with more detailed information about orangutans and their habitat as well as palm oil, its uses and the problems with it, as well as suggestions for action similar to that taken by the girl in the story.

This would be ideal for use in schools, as well as for reading at home, as a way of both developing understanding and interest in environmental issues and getting children engaged and involved in doing something about them.

Be More Bernard by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley

Bernard pretends to be just like the other bunnies, who all eat, dress, act and even dream alike. But deep down, he knows he’s different.

Until one night, he decides to let his inner self go! Of course, the other rabbits are shocked at first but they soon start sharing their dreams of being different too and slowly the burrow realise they can be themselves as well.

We always love Kate Hindley’s illustrations but the burrow scenes in this are truly fab and not without a touch of Richard Scarry which is wonderful!

Its an enjoyable read with a positive and affirming message about being yourself and following your dreams, and Bernard is brilliant in both words and pictures.

Here’s the thing though – we love You Must Bring A Hat by this duo so were very excited for this and, honestly, although we enjoyed it and it did have some of the dry humour that we love in YMBAH, it just couldn’t compete with it…even with Bernard’s absolutely kick-ass, roller-disco-dancing outfit and moves.

Fun, positive and guaranteed to make you smile, but it didn’t have the originality, daftness or ‘just because-ness’ of ‘You Must Bring A Hat’ so while we like and recommend this, for one you’ll want to read and read again get YMBAH.

This is a Dog by Ross Collins

This is a great example of a book that benefits hugely from not being afraid to strip the text back to bare bones and let the pictures do most of the work.

Written in the style of a young children’s animal primer, each page introduces us to a different animal…except that dog (in typical dog style) isn’t content with just his page. He needs your attention on everyone else’s page too!

From crossing them out to chasing them off the page, disguises and even wee – dog goes to great lengths to remain centre stage!

The other animals eventually get fed up of dog’s antics, but he has one last trick up his sleeve to ensure he stays top dog (couldn’t resist that, sorry!!)

It’s such a great book – dog is utterly doggish! It’s simple but clever and its minimal style allows the humour to really shine.

Peapod loved looking at this too. It’s a book that we enjoyed as a softback story to read together, but one that would make an even more fantastic board book – perfect for toddlers to ‘read’ with its repetition, recognisable animals, block-coloured backgrounds and visual humour. I’m told there are whisperings so fingers crossed!