Peapod’s Picks – Review Reads

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read each week plus a review of at least one of them.

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

This week, we’ve been lucky to receive two picture books to review.

We also recently received not one but two of our favourite That’s Not My… books as well. Let’s start with them!

I’ve posted before about how much we love this series and these two 20th anniversary celebration editions are no exception, and have made a fine addition to our current animal themed shelf downstairs.

Peapod has most of his books in his room, but some on the bottom shelf of our bookcase downstairs, I just switch out which ones every so often.

Peapod is especially taken with That’s Not My Lion, as it has it has a shaggy mane, but his favourite ‘feel’ is always the scratchy, velcro-y, rough one so we were very pleased that there was both a flamingo and a lion with rough feet!

That’s Not My Flamingo feels perfectly summery and fun (so much so that I’m using it for one of my storytime sessions over the summer and I’m very excited), while Lion has classic kid appeal – who doesn’t love a chance to roar along with a lion book?!

With shiny, sprayed edges and the usual touchy feely fun, as well as the obligatory mouse-spotting on each page and bright, illustrations, these are welcome additions to our collection! We now have nearly half the set. I think I have a problem…

Next up, picture books.

Chatterbox Bear by Pippa Curnick.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but all three of us really enjoyed it.

Gary is a chatterbox. He chats about everything to anyone everywhere, but not everyone appreciates Gary’s chat so he sets off to find someone who does…

Peapod (and I) liked the bright illustrations, whose pallette zings with neon pinks and yellows, dark purples and tropical blues. The lively style is really fun and characters’ expressions are depicted brilliantly.

Speaking of expression, I loved the eyebrows. I don’t want to give too much away here, but prawn eyebrows are a touch of genius. I also loved the ending – one of those ‘here we go again…’ endings that really makes you smile.

This book is a subtle and touching take on friendship and finding ways to overcome barriers to welcoming newcomers, but mostly it is a hugely fun read with lots to love and laugh about.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut by Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya

Suzy Orbit is an ingenious, enthusiastic and problem-solving (female, BAME) space engineer working on a space station with her boss, Captain Gizmo, who would much rather buy his way out of sticky situations with shiny new gadgets and clothes.

As an aside, I have no idea how they haven’t killed one another alone on that space station, or more to the point how Suzy hasn’t lost her infinite patience with her dismissive, arrogant and incompetent boss. If this review were to take a drastically different turn about now, I’d say it was a fine example of modern politics, a warning on capitalism and its effect on the environment and a portrait of how racism and gender issues are still rife in the workplace. But, we’re not going down that route today, so instead I’ll say…

Peapod loved Suzy Orbit, who he kept reaching out for, and the pages put on space where the contrast between the dark sky and the bold colours of the shiny spacesuits, swooshing spaceships, fiery jets and nearby planets helped create striking and lively spreads.

An enjoyable story with everything space-loving children could ask for – speeding space pods, meteoroid storms, aliens…and pizza. This is also a great example of a smart, capable (insanely patient) BAME girl absolutely killing it in a STEM job.

Have you read any of these?

Which picture or board books have you been reading this week?

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No Ballet Shoes in Syria

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

Apparently today is Empathy Day. Its amazing that I know this when I’m not often sure whether it’s Tuesday or Sunday at the moment, and keep thinking it’s March. But, you know, good old Twitter.

And so I should (but don’t) have a whole post full of books that would help develop empathy. Though really I think all good books do that to a certain degree, because they all force you to see the world through the characters’ eyes.

But, as luck would have it, I needed to give myself a kick up the bum and post my review of No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton, and as that’s perfect for empathy day, let’s all pretend I planned it this way…

We follow Aya and her family as they attempt to find their feet in England after escaping the war in Syria.

Billed as a modern version of, and as the author herself explains in the introduction, influenced by the wonderful ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, this had big shoes to fill (excuse the pun).

While I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a modern version, it certainly has echoes of Pink Rabbit. Miss Helena especially feels like she’s stepped straight out of it and I loved her character and the way we gradually discover her back story along with Aya’s.

The other character I loved was Dotty. She brought real balance to a book that tells a sad but all too common story and doesn’t shy away from the dark bits. Dotty though lifted it with her cheerfulness, her slight clumsiness, her brightness and sparkle, her positivity and friendliness.

What I liked best was that she was properly fleshed out, not just a one dimensional, cheery new friend. She had issues of her own and it is testament to Bruton’s lightness of touch that they were made an integral part of the book while emphatically not over-shadowing its main message and Aya’s story.

At the community centre she visits with her mum and brother, Aya stumbles across a dance lesson which reminds her of her own ballet school in Syria. Tired and worried with more on her plate than she should have as she struggles to support her mum (depressed, grieving and alone with a baby and child in a new country with nowhere to live and no English), she discovers an escape in dance.

But it becomes more than that. As she joins Miss Helen’s dance class, interacts with the others and, of course, dances, her memories of her old life resurface.

The way what is happening or being said in the present is mirrored in her memories and flashbacks, and the way they gradually move us forward from before war hit her home to her arrival in England is genius and so skilfully done.

It also helps to convey the idea that this is not something vague happening somewhere else to some ‘other’ people – they are just like us and it could happen anywhere to anyone.

Similarly, the juxtaposition of bombs and shrapnel and fleeing and fear and camps and danger and loss and despair with everyday life really brings home how awful it is. And I was pleased to see Catherine Bruton didn’t shy away from this. While it is sensitive, it is also unflinching and honest.

I really enjoyed Catherine Burton’s writing style. The little details in her descriptions brought everything to life and the amount of research she’d clearly done showed through in how believable Aya’s voice is.

This was a brilliant, well-balanced and carefully thought out book. The way it looks at the war in Syria is timely, sensitive and informative. But more importantly it makes it real, and it makes those fleeing it real. Honest and unflinching, but sensitive, hopeful and joyous too – I can’t recommend this enough.

Peapod’s Picks – A Suitcase, A Small Thing, Some Same Things, A Song

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 I’m sharing a few of the books we’ve read this week – two (The Suitcase and The Same But Different) I’ve bought and two (I Don’t Want To be Small and Hop Little Bunnies) we were lucky enough to be gifted by the publisher (honest opinions all our own though!)

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

I loved Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’ first book ‘I Love You, Stick Insect’ so I’ve been very excited about this one. We bought it without opening it or reading the blurb so sure was I that I’d love this one too.

And I was right.

It’s completely different to Stick Insect, save for the fabulously free and expressive illustrations – the characters’ worries, doubts, thoughts and feelings are so clear.

The story itself though, has a more serious message – it introduces us to a tired and weary refugee at the end of his journey. It is beautifully told and not at all heavy or preachy.

This new creature has arrived with a big, old suitcase. When the animals ask what’s in it, they don’t believe the answer they’re given and sneakily break into the case to see. They then have to deal with what they find.

Throwing up questions of trust, conscience and respect, this is ultimately a story about kindness and the way we treat others. But it is also a story about the power of imagination, memory, friendship and home.

Beautifully illustrated (the ‘resolution’ scene has really stayed with me) and with echoes of Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ and Sandra Dieckmann’s ‘Leaf’, this is an evocative yet unsentimental book that every child (and adult) should read.

I Don’t Want to be Small by Laura Ellen Anderson

Along similar lines to Laura’s first picture book ‘I Don’t Want Curly Hair’, this one takes on an unhappiness with height (or lack of) and how being short is just not fair!

After explaining why it’s rubbish being small, our young protagonist throws a tantrum in which Teddy ends up in a tree. Now needing to be considerably taller to rescue Ted, they try various ways to grow taller, each only leading to some rather smelly, wet and muddy situations. However, they soon discover that it’s really not so bad after all, rescue teddy and find a new friend too!

I like that this doesn’t over simplify the feelings of not being happy with an aspect of yourself (in this case, height) – it’s not reduced to a simple ‘I wish I was bigger’ or made top funny. While it’s told with humour and warmth, the upset, unfairness and frustration of it is explored thoughtfully. Anyone who has felt like this is likely to relate and anyone who hasn’t is given plenty to think about when developing their understanding of others, our differences and feelings.

I also liked that the main character has no name, and while I’ve seen in a couple of blurbs they’re described as a ‘he’, I read it having not seen these and it struck me that they really could be either a boy or a girl. I like that we don’t need to know and/or can make up our own minds.

The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson, illustrated by Kate Hindley

I was instantly sold on Kate Hindley’s illustrations in You Must Bring a Hat (Simon Philip) and as soon as I saw them on the cover of this new book I wanted to see more!

They are lively, busy and detailed and just have a really fun style that’s full of character. There is so much going on in each image that you could pore over them daily and not get bored (always a bonus in a picture book!)

They are perfect for this book too, which shows a whole host of both children and animals in various situations demonstrating how they’re sort of the same but sort of different too!

I’ll be honest, it was the illustrations that made me pick this up. If I’d only known the title and nothing more, I might have given it a wide berth – I’m pretty hard to please when it comes to stories with morals or messages!

Fortunately I did pick it up, because it is a brilliant example of how to do this sort of book really, really well.

Written in short, fun rhyme, it makes great use of opposites and every day actions to highlight both similarities and differences in a matter of fact way that I really liked – “I am big, you are small. I am short, you are tall.”

It doesn’t feel the need to labour the point, keeping it punchy and letting the simple comparisons and images get the message across concisely, clearly but also subtly.

Sparse text with spot on rhyme and those wonderful illustrations together give a real sense of fun and humour to the story and I love the way it comes together at the end.

I really loved this and will be keeping my eyes peeled for Karl Newson’s next offering.

Hop Little Bunnies by Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes

We sing this song at nearly every one of our baby groups, so I have it hopping round my head at the best of times! This book has only added to that, but at least there’s extra verses to stop me going completely doolally!

It takes the Hop Little Bunnies song and adds to it with chick’s, ducklings, lambs and kittens, so there’s plenty of animal noises and actions to do too, as well as flaps to lift as you wake each of the animals so there’s lots of fun for little ones.

I really like the addition of a final verse where they “Shhhh!” quieten down and get ready to go back to sleep again too.

The illustrations are perfectly suited to the book and are simply alive with colour and movement. The flowers on each spread are bright and I love that, despite the loose style, they are clearly based on real varieties.

It’s a gorgeous book and one that will be going in our Spring book collection each year for definite – it is sunshine and spring in a book.

Peapod’s Picks – Spring has Sprung

It’s time for another Peapod’s Picks/KLTR mash up!

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.

This week, ahead of Easter, with the sun finally showing its face and daffodils, bluebells and tulips brightening our walks out, I thought we’d look at some of the spring-themed board books we’ve been reading.

Clockwise from left:

Ten Little Ladybirds by Melanie Gerth and Laura Huliska-Beith

A lovely rhyming, counting-down book with big bold numbers; bright, bumpy ladybirds to count or simply feel; and illustrations which fill the pages with colour.

Where’s Mr Duck by Ingela P Arrhenius

I’ve written before about this brilliant, bold, felt-flapped series – we love them. Simple, stylish and – most importantly – able to withstand a good deal of chewing and pulling!

Five Little Ducks by Yu-hsuan Huang

We love this song, which is a good job as its sung at pretty much every baby group we go to (though with so many variations on the ending!) and this book is lovely too. There’s a whole series of these from Nosy Crow and I think they’re great – simple but sturdy push and pull slides that are within the pages so can take a good bit of man-handling (Peapod’s not quite up to doing them himself yet, but he gives it a good go!). The illustrations are sunny and detailed with lots going on in the background to talk about and name. And there’s even a qr code link to a video of the song too!

Hooray for Hoppy by Tim Hopgood

I’m such a fan of Tim Hopgood’s illustration style – the textures, layers and print methods are really effective and the use of colour is stunning, something shown off brilliantly with all the flowers and rabbits here.

We enjoyed looking at it but this is one of those books that will last and last – covering the senses, spring time, seasons and nature there’s loads for older readers too! Perfect for reading before/after a springtime walk outdoors!

Are You There Little Bunny by Sam Taplin, Emily Dove and Nicola Butler

This is another lovely series for little readers, with peep through holes and tactile trails to follow with little fingers, as well as busy, bright illustrations it’s engaging and interactive but still durable (spot the recurring theme!)

On each page, there’s repetition of a phrase as we look for little bunny and think we’ve spotted him through the peephole, only to find it’s someone else when we turn over. Enjoyable now while Peapod’s little, but perfect for giggles and joining in with older little ones too.

Humphrey’s Garden by Sally Hunter

I have a real soft spot for the Humphrey’s Corner books. I can’t lie, the gender stereotyping is horrendous – lottie plays tea parties and dolls, daddy goes out to work while mums at home etc BUT I reassure myself that we have plenty of books that give balance to this and let it be – the soft, gentle and calming illustrations and familiar characters and everyday activities are still charming and we really like them.

The Secret Garden by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

I’m a huge fan of this Baby Lit series of books. Each takes a classic and turns into a sharp and stylish primer book. Thoroughly unique and absolutely gorgeous. The Secret Garden is a flowers primer, with a quote from the book next to an image of the flowers it mentions. I love the printing technique used in this one.

Outdoors by Mel Four

You can read my review of this one here. We’re big fans of the beautiful images and the way the shiny, colourful parts contrast with the black and white.

That’s Not My… Bee/Bunny/Chick/Lamb by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

While we love all the other books mentioned, That’s Not My… are definitely Peapod’s favourites. He LOVES this series! We have about 20 now and it’s a god job there’s so many as we read them all the time! You can read a more detailed review of them here.

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?

Mini Monday: 7/1/19

Kicking off 2019 with three snowy books (maybe it will bring the actual snow!)*

*The last of these reviews is a tweaked and slightly expanded version of one from WWW Wednesday last week – you can always skip it if you saw it first time round!

First up…

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart

Illustrated by Thomas Flintham

It’s snowing and Izzy and friends are hoping they’ll all be sent home early. But then they hear weird noises in the playground, and find a big footprint in the snow… And that’s when they know! There’s a YETI in the playground and it’s HUNGRY!

The young readers in work LOVE these books and it’s easy to see why with plots, plans and action aplenty – not to mention huge dollops of humour that adults will love too.

As a former infant teacher, so much of this made me properly laugh out loud – both supremely silly and totally believable at the same time! Anyone who’s ever been in a school will find plenty of familiar faces, recognisable rules and everyday events here, but bigger, bolder and funnier!

Snow, survival skills and being stuck in school – not to mention a seriously stinky scent! This is observational humour at its best – larger than life and laugh out loud!

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy.

The Missing Barbegazi by H. S. Norup

Cover design by Anna Morrison

Tessa knows that the Barbegazi exist because her beloved grandfather told her about them. So she sets out to prove to her family and friends that her grandfather wasn’t just a confused old man. But Tessa realises that uncovering the truth carries great responsibilities.

This was set on the ski slopes of Austria and is a great example of an author really knowing and loving their setting. It’s clearly well-loved territory, fondly described with little touches of the familiar that help to paint the picture for those of us who have never touched a ski!

Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that it was written from both Tessa and Gawion’s perspectives and the addition of the pages from the guide to Alpine elves was a really interesting and unusual way to add background information and detail.

With themes of friendship, loss and trust as well as protecting the environment and knowing when to keep a secret, this is a story of unlikely allegiances, cunning plots to foil the bad guy, wintry landscapes and daring late night escapades this is a great adventure, perfect for fans of Lauren St John’s Kat Wolfe Investigates or Jess Butterworth’s When The Mountains Roared.

Thanks to Pushkin for my copy.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

Cover illustration by Rachel Vale

Clementine discovers a mysterious house full of snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician. One of these is Dylan, a boy who teases her in the real world but who is now desperate for her help.

So Clem embarks on a mission to release Dylan and the other magicians, unknowingly unleashing a struggle for power that will put not only her family, but the future of magic itself in danger.

I finished reading this on Christmas Day. I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely (even if I did have to read stood up!) and the magical feel of this book was perfectly suited to it!

I really enjoyed the characters of Ganymede, Io and Clem especially and the way strong emotions are portrayed and played out through the magic of the book worked really well.

But what I really loved were the magical elements of the book and the world building – so imaginative and exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. The whole concept was such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore!

Thanks to Macmillan for my copy.

Have you read any of these – what did you think?

What are your favourite wintry or snowy books?