Peapod’s Picks – All Sorts of Lost Property!

I’ve talked briefly about The Lost Property Office by Emily Rand before, but we’ve revisited it this week as I popped it in Peapod’s downstairs book basket near the trains he’s been playing with and he’s really taken to it.

As luck would have it, I’d also just bought another Emily Rand book – All Sorts (this time illustrated by her and written by Pippa Goodhart) – after Mathew Tobin posted about it on Twitter, and he’s really enjoying that too.

So, it’s an Emily Rand double today.

The Lost Property Office is a lovely story which sees a little girl leaving her teddy on the train, and I’ll be honest we don’t always get much further than this page when reading it!

Peapod is fascinated by this part of the story, pointing out the teddy on the train and saying they’ve left him, then “Choo-Choo! Gone!”

Please excuse my morning hair!!

When we do manage to read on, we see the little girl staying at her Grandpa’s overnight (with a teddy who’s just not the same) and dreaming of finding her Teddy – along with lots of other long lost belongings.

This is a simply wonderful spread and I challenge anyone not to start hunting for the objects listed in the glorious jumble Emily has created!

And it’s these pages and those at the Lost Property Office I love best about the book.

There’s so many different things to spot, find, talk about and notice – it’ll never get boring! Collections of things the same but not quite, oddities and the everyday all jumbled in together and several “how could anyone lose that?!”s!

One of those books you’ll see something new in every time.

And the same can be said of All Sorts, perhaps even more so.

Frankie likes to sort things. She sorts all sorts of things in fact. But when it comes to people, things get trickier and she starts to realise that sometimes things are best all mixed up.

With minimal text, a lovely message and an upbeat vibe, this is a lovely book to share and Emily Rand’s gorgeous illustrations really sing.

There is something ever so satisfying and aesthetically pleasing about the sorted objects, and yet the unsorted assortments are just as appealing!

And, as with The Lost Property Office, I really love her portrayals of everyday life and people. They always seem so real and I love that they have a distinctly urban feel too.

Two truly brilliant books. Perfect for poring over and super for sharing! Bring on more Emily Rand!

The Girl Who Became a Tree

I was lucky enough to request and receive a free copy of this from Bounce. All views and opinions are my own.

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner

Those of you who’ve been around the blog for a while will know I’m a sucker for a novel in verse (incidentally, is it just me that thinks these seem to be popping up more and more? Next big trend? You heard it here first 😉) Anyway, I love ’em! So I was thrilled when the lovely Louise at Bounce sent me a copy.

Between the verse factor, the brilliantly fairytale-ish title and that ⬆️⬆️ cover art, I was pretty much sold on this before I’d even opened it! And reading it only cemented this!

Through a series of poems, we meet Daphne as she struggles to cope with the loss of her dad. Increasingly withdrawn and escaping into her phone and her local library, strange things occur when one is lost within the other. In journeying to find her phone, can Daphne find herself again too?

This is a wonderful collection of poems. And first and foremost, that is what it is. I’m finding it hard to articulate this (and let me say now when I write this – I love both, this is in no way a criticism of either) but some verse novels feel like they’re told through very deliberate, sparse chapters of narrative, all in the same style rather than a collection of poems as such. Others, rarer I find, feel like a collection poems with a story, theme or common thread running through them, and this landed firmly in the second camp.

Collectively and in sequence these poems come together to tell a very well-crafted and multi-layered story, but so many of these would read just as well picked up, opened and read at random as stand alone poems.

As such, there are many styles and sorts of poems here, and as with the best poetry collections some will bowl you over and leave you speechless, speaking straight to your heart, with others meaning more to other people – each reader having their own favourites and personal connections with different ones.

For me, A Mother’s Love reminded me so much of my own mum and me, while the word play in The Librarian really touched on my own mental health struggles.

I also liked best those with no rhyme, those dealing with nature, and those that really brought the mythical, fantastical elements of the story to life, like You Cannot Go which really grabbed me.

We see Daphne following her namesake’s path and venturing into woodland through a hole in the library, meeting a monster, becoming a tree and it was these poems, and those that told the original myth (which I was unfamiliar with) that I really loved.

The use of the natural world, and of trees in particular, in the imagery, history and characters is phenomenal. Who knew trees could be written in such versatile and emotive ways? In the same vein the use of imagery, symbolism and recurring themes throughout is so strong and effective.

It’s amazing the way technology is fused with nature in the book and I really felt immersed in this world where the two meet; bringing together that feeling of old magic, of ancient times, of tricksters and monsters and of nature’s hand in it all with iPhones and consoles and modern connections and wires and cables .

And finally, a word on the illustrations which are stunning and absolutely made this book for me. It’s an emotional, magical thing without them but with them it’s just something else. I could pore over them for hours; I love the details, the textures, the feelings, the depth.

This is a collection of poetry filled with loss, loneliness, mythology and memories which combine with layered, atmospheric imagery to create a truly modern fairytale where nature and technology collide. Brilliant.

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.

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.

97814063846597019486236904744467.jpg

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!

The Afterwards

I’d seen and heard all sorts of good things about this on twitter before I received a copy from Bloomsbury for review (imagine my excitement at finding it was signed too!).

However, as is so often the case, I’d heard how great it was but didn’t actually know anything about it! Normally, I’d find out a bit about it before deciding to read it or not but in this case Emily Gravett decided for me! I’m such a fan of her picture books that I wanted to read this if only for the illustrations!

And I wasn’t wrong to – they are both very like some of her picture book work in some ways and much more detailed and with an older feel in others, which is as it should be for an older children’s book.

Her use of both incredibly detailed pencil sketches and bright colour images not only mirrored and matched the storyline but really enhanced it, adding extra atmosphere and bringing home what was happening.

The illustration felt really fresh and modern, whilst retaining a traditional method and style. The girls and Harry felt expressive and real and the cat in particular was (in my mind) a perfect representation of his character in the story.

Ah yes, the story:

Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is. It is what will always be. Ember and Ness. Then Ness dies.
When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back. Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They rescue each other. They help. They never give up.

 

This is ultimately a story about death – loss, grief, letting go and moving on; I can see it being a great book for a lot of children dealing with these things, with many aspects of death (finding out about it, the funeral, getting on with life) tackled head on, but in a very age-appropriate way.

I would say that due to the nature of the story – the mysterious afterworld and the way that works – it would probably be better for slightly more mature readers who’d be able to easily separate the fantasy elements of the story from the more real aspects.

However, this is also what makes it a universally good read with a wider appeal. Sensitively written, it takes an incredibly tough, real situation and everyday life and combines it with fantasy to create a story which is at once familiar and otherworldly. For those who are in, or have been in, Ember (or Graham)’s situation coping with loss, there’s plenty of subtly delivered advice and comfort; for those who (fortunately) have not had to deal with this, there’s a supernatural story firmly rooted in familiar settings, making this ideal for fans of a range of MG fiction – from Lisa Thomson’s ‘The Light Jar’ to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’, for example.

I thought the relationships in the story were one of its strongest points – very believable and easy to relate to, with characters it was easy to warm to. Both the relationship between Ember and her dad, Harry, and her friendship between Ness and Ember were very well depicted, in both the text and illustrations, with little details giving them added depth and credibility.

Characters such as the cat and Ms Todd gave the book an extra dimension and the fact that their roles are left obscure and undefined I thought was very clever in giving the reader something to ponder and draw their own conclusions from. However, I would have liked a more definite conclusion to Uncle Graham’s role in the story, but that’s just me!

The real world felt, well, real – familiar and relatable in both text and image, while the mysterious, grey afterworld Ember follows Ness to is just that – an eerie place that’s easy to imagine but feels goosebumps-strange. The way it mirrors the real world in a warped sort of way was very clever: similar enough to keep the focus on the characters as they come to terms with their loss without getting lost in fantasy world-building, whilst being strange enough to provide interest, mystery and space away from that reality.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative, personal and touching take on a difficult topic (I especially liked the way the scene was set in the prologue), which strikes a delicate balance between real life and fantasy. Harrold and Gravett have previously collaborated on ‘The Imaginary’, which I’ll be keen to read after this.

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!

The Restless Girls

20181002_152922

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.

Twelve Dancing Princesses

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

20180924_170140

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!

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!

mini mondays

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…

20180924_165312

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!

Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli

First published almost 125 years ago, the combination of the wild world, freedom and adventure in The Jungle Book mean it is just as appealing today as it was then. And that writing a ‘companion’ for it would be no easy task.

Luckily, Katherine Rundell is more than up to the task. Already a huge fan of her writing and the way it captures perfectly a scene, a mood, a character… and knowing from her last book The Explorer how well she can conjure up the jungle, I had no doubts she’d bring The Jungle Book roaring to life in Into the Jungle.

9781509822317

Charming and compelling origin stories for all Kipling’s best-known characters, from Baloo and Shere Khan to Kaa and Bagheera. As Mowgli travels through the Indian jungle, this brilliantly visual tale will make readers both laugh and cry. 

Firstly, this is going to be an absolutely stunning book. I received an ARC which included samples of Kristjana Williams’ sumptuous illustrations and they are as rich and vivid as Katherine Rundell’s text. Put together in a hardback edition, this is going to be a beautiful gift of a book.

This is a wonderful series of five stories, as told to Mowgli as he makes his way through the jungle (trying to evade Mother Wolf and the telling off he thinks is coming!) Each story is narrated by one of the animals and tells the backstory of one of the others, with the stories giving a brilliant new depth to each of the characters, while at the same time staying true to Kipling’s original depictions of them.

Mother Wolf’s story is one of the reckless invincibility of youth, female ferocity, loyalty and love. Bagheera’s solemn, often solitary nature is perfectly explained by his story – one of loss, freedom and the ways of the wild. Kaa’s story was the most surprising to me, while Baloo’s was without a doubt my absolute favourite of the bunch – a story of intelligence, courage, defying expectations and challenging preconceptions. While Shere Khan doesn’t have his own chapter, his story also threads through the book and, like Baloo’s, is one of the ones that I enjoyed most.

Mowgli’s own character – one of a typical child: selfish, blunt and arrogant at times; carefree, mischievous and friendly at others, but always full of life – is gradually drawn from each of these encounters before the final chapter shows just how much of life, loyalty, courage and respect he has learned from his jungle family.

These individual stories weave together as the book progresses to create the central plot of the book, which has a much more modern feel to it, despite still being rooted in the characters and events of the original. It is an exciting, colourful and cleverly woven tale, in which quick-thinking, creativity and teamwork make for a dramatic and gripping finale. It has all the ingredients needed to be a hit with young readers today, whether they are familiar with the original or not.

Important messages about diversity and celebrating differences, as well as the impact of man on nature, run through the book too and are written into the story in the very best way: it’s not at all shouty, preachy or shoe-horned in, but it makes the points in no uncertain terms that, as Bagheera finds: “To be alive is to be wild and various.”

Full of warmth, humour and life, and perfectly complemented by beautiful, bold illustrations – this is an adventure for all ages. Those familiar with Kipling’s Jungle Book will relish the chance to delve deeper into some of our favourite characters, and for those unfamiliar with the original this is a perfect introduction to whet the appetite or a thoroughly enjoyable stand alone story bursting with jungle life.