Peapod’s Picks – witches, skeletons, pumpkins and soup!

Can you guess I should have posted this a couple of weeks ago?! It’s been a few weeks since I managed to get a Peapod’s Picks up, and I don’t really know why, but that’s life sometimes!

Anyway, we’re back today with some books that you might have expected to see in a Halloween themed post. They’ve certainly found spots there before.

We’re still reading lots of these repeatedly at bedtime though, so I don’t feel too bad about posting them now.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The popular tale of the “witch, cat, hat ginger plait” who gains several passengers on her broom until it “snap two!” as a dragon appears hungry for witch and chips – will her new friends come to the rescue?

I love this and read it EVERY year at Halloween for storytime at work and it’s always great fun. Obviously this year was a bit different, but I read it online instead and hopefully it was still enjoyed!

Peapod, for his part, is still doing his Room on the Broom jigsaw several times a day and has spent a good deal of time running round dropping his wand/hat and making us tie the ribbon back in his hair so it could fall out again – “down!!”

Funnybones books by Janet Alan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz

The classic trip down a dark, dark staircase to a dark, dark cellar and the skeletons who live there who set off on a mission to frighten someone… and all the other adventures they have.

Peapod has loved these – he thinks it’s great when we sing the songs to put dog back together and loves seeing the animal skeletons too.

He loves skeleton crew because he’s been taken with pirates ever since we read Jeremy Worried About the Wind, and Mystery Tour because he is obsessed with cars!

And if we’re not reading them, he’s crawling behind our pillows pretending he’s going into the cellar!!

Winnie the Witch/Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

We do have some other Winnie books too, but I haven’t got them down yet…i will be though!

Peapod has taken to loveable witch Winnie and her long-suffering, oft tripped over cat Wilbur, in no small part because of Korky Paul’s animated and humorous illustrations and Winnie’s propensity for tripping over Wilbur falling down the stairs which he thinks is very funny indeed.

In Winnie’a first adventure she gets fed up of falling over Wilbur and tries some colour changing spells. Peapod has started joining in with “Abracadabra!” though it’s more like “Abadaba!” It’s lovely listening to him trying to get his tongue round it though!

Peapod loves Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin because of all the veg in it (“I like carrots, I like peas…”) and seeing it all toppling off Winnie’s broom.

The Pumpkin Soup books by Helen Cooper

We’ve saved the best for last. Peapod absolutely LOVES, LOVES, LOVES these!

If you don’t know them, Cat, Duck and Squirrel live in the old white cabin and make pumpkin soup, each with their own part to play in making it “the best you’ve ever tasted”, until one day Duck decides he should stir…

Delicious sees them run out of pumpkins and having to find a new soup to cook, much to Duck’s chagrin. Peapod likes seeing Duck’s reactions to all the soups the best!

But his absolute, unquestionable favourite of the favourites is A Pipkin of Pepper.

He especially loves the police dogs (and the Hippo phoning them), the list of peppers at the pepper shop, and Duck “not hold[ing] on tight!”

We are reading this multiple times each evening and he has it down to act out pretty much all day on a loop too.

Our days now sound something like this, repeated from wake up to bedtime:

“No salt!”

“Lost! Lost my friends!”

“Pepper shop.”

“Ring ring. Hello police. Lost Duck situation (‘sedation!’)”

“There they are! Cat! Squirrel!”

Often with extra bits and always with actions.

We spent today calling for Cat and Squirrel as we walked round Dunham Massey, which did at least draw slightly fewer odd looks, than when we had to act it out on our way round tesco earlier in the week…

And that’s brought us pretty much up to date!

Did you read any picture books over Halloween? Are any of these, favourites in your house too?

Reading along, singing a song…

This is a series of picture books published by Oxford University Press, in which Tim Hopgood has illustrated lyrics to some classic songs.

While I am reviewing them, this is also quite a personal post so there’ll be detours for that. This blog is, after all, for me to have a record of our reading as much as anything. But, I totally understand if you just want the review, so in that case –

These are beautiful, evocative books which capture classic songs and their sentiments perfectly.

What a Wonderful World by Tim Hopgood, based on the song by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, with CD sung by Louis Armstrong.

This was the first of these we bought. It’s a gloriously bright and hopeful reminder to love and take care of the world around us – Tim’s illustrations always showcase nature vibrantly and lovingly and sit perfectly here.

What a Wonderful World is one of my mum’s absolute favourite songs, so we bought this as a Mother’s Day present for her from Peapod back in March.

She was, of course, very pleased, but the really lovely bit came later on. Mum had been to pick up my Grandma, Dot, who has dementia and can no longer really recognise us and is often quite agitated (fortunately not aggressively, but clearly quite unsettled, confused and anxious in herself.)

She sat down to look at the book with my mum and Peapod and loved it, saying/chanting the words from the song which came back to her a little, with mum’s help, and loving the pictures as much as Peapod.

Singing in the Rain by Tim Hopgood, based on the song by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, with CD sung by Doris Day.

We couldn’t believe our luck that this song was also available in this series – it was my Grandad’s favourite! So we bought this one next and Dot has enjoyed it just as much – looking at the joyful illustrations and sort-of reading/singing/remembering along with the words.

I don’t have any pictures of the interior as it’s at my mum’s, but it’s as wonderful as all the others! Capturing the freedom of splashing in puddles and playing in the rain, it’s a lush, green rainbow-filled slice of carefree joy and imagination.

Moon River by Tim Hopgood, based on the song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, with CD sung by Andy Williams.

We were lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from OUP in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own. (I can only apologise to OUP that it’s taken so blooming long!)

Of all the songs featured in this series, this is the one I know least well (in fact I know it almost exclusively because of the galaxy advert it was in!), so it doesn’t have the connections and emotional ties that the others do, but this is still a lovely book.

This has a much darker palette than the other books, but it works really well as the paler, more colourful river winds through it. The use of watercolour and the way it blends and runs is really effective too, as is the way the brightly coloured rainbow appears in a wonderfully wiggly, wavy way.

Beautiful.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Tim Hopgood, based on the song by Felix Bernard and Richard B Smith, with CD sung by Peggy Lee.

As with the others in the series, the illustrations here really have the feel of the song and showcase its wintery magic.

It manages to be both a cold, frosty snap of a book and leave you feeling toasty warm inside! There’s a lovely feel of togetherness, leisure and – a recurring theme nit just in these books, but in Timsbooks overall – a real appreciation of the natural world.

We gave this to Dot for Christmas and though she had no idea who we were, who it was from or quite probably what it was for or that it was hers, she had a lovely time looking at it and hearing my sister singing (almost as tunelessly as me) along with her was proper Christmas magic!

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Trio – Early Chapter Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin’s Great Escape by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Unrateables’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mini Monday: 5/11/18

mini mondays

Mini Mondays are my attempt to get everything reviewed even while drowning in nappies, washing and milk! Shorter than usual but hopefully still enough to give a flavour of the books!

This week I’ve been playing catch up with short ‘early reader’ chapter books.

These are often the books that fall by the wayside in my attempts to read as much as possible for work. This year, I made an effort to read more Teen/YA and – while I could probably read more of those still – next year my aim is to read more of these ‘first’ chapter books.

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Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees by Tony De Saulles

Following Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens  – which never fails to give me this earworm: https://youtu.be/1Ti2P_z5IPw

Meet Melvin, a boy who keeps bees on the roof of his tower block (incidentally, I love that he lives in a flat) and occasionally turns into one! It’s up to him, best friend Priti and new boy Berty to solve the mystery of a strange sickness that’s hit their fellow pupils.

This series cleverly turns facts about bees and the environmental issues affecting them into the centre of a funny, fast-paced plot.

With a fun yellow and black themed cartoon-like design, there’s a dastardly uncle, giant plants, cunning spies, bucket loads of bodily fluids and, of course, killer zom’bees’! This is a fun-filled, action-packed adventure kids will love.

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic

The incredibly popular Isadora Moon is back in a new wintry adventure, in her characteristic sparkly pink and black design.

With a nod to The Snowman, Isadora builds a Snow Boy from magic snow – he comes to life and they have a lovely time until he starts to melt!

With fairy ice palaces, magic snow, ice skating, a frozen feast and a flying snow-sleigh this is a book with plenty of winter magic to capture the imagination!

As an added bonus, there’s recipes, crafts, quizzes and more at the back of the book too – plenty to do over the Christmas holidays!

The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I’ve saved the best for last! I LOVED this and can’t wait to read more from this pair.

Kevin is a roly poly flying pony and Sarah McIntyre has brought him to life brilliantly – he’s quite the character. Plus, his favourite food is biscuits so he’s obviously a good sort!

This is full of fun – a slightly silly adventure written with a dry, almost matter of fact tone that makes it immensely readable and enjoyable.

When a flood hits Max’s town, its up to him and his new friend Kevin to save the day!

With stylish mermaids and an underwater hair salon, stinky sea monkeys and a near miss with a shark, shopping in swimming trunks and sea-faring guinea pigs, not to mention the headteacher stuck on the school roof there is imagination, absurdity and laughs by the bucket load.

Kids will love this, but adults reading it with them will too thanks to the voice and style of the writing. The illustrations are full of life and detail – the mermaids in the hair salon is a brilliant example of just how much of a story can be told through its images – and in a story of this level particularly, quality illustrations that can do that are vital. These are more than up to the job.

I am really hoping we’ll see more of Beyonce and Neville in the future too!

Have you read any of these?

Which other ‘early’ chapter books would you recommend? 

WWW Wednesday 10/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

It’ll be a short one this week as I’ve not managed much reading at all. I don’t know where this week has gone!

What are you currently reading?

I pre ordered this, having been ridiculously excited about it since it was announced. I picked it up early, at the end of September. And up until today, I still hadn’t started it! I think I’d built it up so much I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to begin! So, I’m taking the plunge today…

What have you just finished reading?

I didn’t know what to expect from this and hadn’t realised at all when I requested it that it was predominantly poetry, but it was a pleasant surprise – especially in light of my recent decision to read more poetry and dedicate Thursdays’ posts to it.

I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit like a book of two halves and I definitely preferred the first half. The latter part of the book did feel a bit ‘filler’, but on the whole it was a really creative and interesting take on the fairytale-retelling that seem very popular at the moment.

Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m probably going to go on an MG spree, but as I’ve only just opened The Way Past Winter, I’m not sure yet, so instead of what I’ll read next, I’m asking/answering

What books were added to your TBR this week?

I received an absolutely bumper bookpost parcel from OUP this week and am very excited to dive into these, especially the Michael Morpurgo Myths and Legends.

I also received these gems from Harper Collins – I’m especially looking forward to Hubert Horatio.

I ordered both of these after seeing them on Read It Daddy and they both look fab!

And this is a treat to myself! I absolutely love it when a book has a map in it, so I just couldn’t resist!

Did you get any exciting book deliveries/purchases this week?

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

Am I Yours?

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Who does this lost egg belong to? Can our little egg find its way back to the right parents before it hatches?

While the story is a familiar one (lost baby – looking for parents – finds lots of others but not their own because of x/y/z – reunited for a happy ending), this is a charming picture book with plenty of thoughtful details that bring it into its own. I really liked:

  • The fact that it’s not mentioned whether the baby dinosaur, its parents or most of the dinosaurs it meets along the way are male or female, making it perfect for any family to share and any child to enjoy.
  • The facts you learn about the dinosaurs as egg ‘meets’ them, and the details given about them in the text: great as a gentle introduction to dinosaurs for the curious and a springboard for talking about their different features and finding out more.
  • The way the dinosaurs are named throughout the book then illustrated and labelled at the back – young dino fans will LOVE this (and it gives grown ups like me who are useless at remembering which dinosaurs are which a chance at learning some of them!)
  • The repetition of “What do you look like inside that shell? I can’t see in so I can’t tell.” Lovely for joining in with, and for talking about what children think might be in the shell…
  • …and leading on from that the element of surprise at the end. It’s nice that we don’t know which dinosaurs might be its parents either: plenty of opportunities for guessing and talking!
  • The illustrations are lovely too – bright, rich, gentle, they’re detailed enough to add interest but simple enough not to confuse or take over. The dinosaur faces in particular make me smile.

There’s plenty to talk about, compare and find out when looking at this book, but it’s also a lovely, warm story that is perfect to snuggle up together to share at bedtime.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for my review copy.