Peapod’s Book Advent Day 8

You can find out more about our Christmas Book Advent here.

Last night, we read…

The Tree That’s Meant to Be by Yuval Zommer

We were 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.

We are big fans of Yuval Zommer’s beautifully illustrated non-fiction books (my review of The Big Book of the Blue is here) so I was really excited when I saw this.

It takes Yuval’s enthusiasm for nature, so clear in his non-fiction, and transfers it to fiction in this tale of a tree who’s a bit short, a bit crooked, a bit imperfect…or so it seems.

As the other trees are chosen for Christmas, cut down by excited families and taken away, our tree is left alone. Until the animals of the forest appear with natural decorations to celebrate.

And unlike those Christmas trees taken away, we see our tree has made friends and found a place for life. It’s lovely to see our tree over time as seasons change in the story, and would be a nice way to talk about seasons with little ones too.

Peapod is mad on woodland animals, so loved pointing at all the animals for us to name and the story feels so warm and hopeful.

With the characteristically gorgeous illustrations and reverence for nature we’ve come to expect from Yuval, this is simultaneously full of Christmas cheer and the joys of the wild. One we’ll be returning to annually!

Peapod’s Picks – Little Wise Wolf

We chose, bought and paid for this ourselves and have not been asked to review it. Opinions and thoughts our own.

9781911496120

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen, Illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma, Translated by Laura Watkinson

This was one of those lovely, ‘perks of the job’ type finds that I chanced upon only because a customer at work had ordered a copy, it came in as part of the delivery and (me being me) I caught a glimpse of the cover and went “ooooh, that’s a Rachael book!” and had a flick through. I then immediately ordered another copy in for myself Peapod.

So, it was the illustrations that initially pulled me in and ultimately totally sold this to me, but let’s pause for a minute and start with the story itself.

Wolf is clever. In fact, he is the cleverest creature around. He likes big books (and he cannot lie…sorry, couldn’t resist) and learning and, perhaps most importantly, solitude. The other animals admire his wisdom and often come to ask him questions, but Little Wise Wolf doesn’t have time for them and sends them away.

When the King sends for Little Wise Wolf to cure him from his illness, Wolf sets out on a long journey and, as he finds himself ill-prepared, cold, hungry and tired in the forest, he realises that perhaps not everything can be learned from books alone and that sometimes it helps to have friends by your side.

This is a fable-like tale with a refreshing message not just of helping others, but also of ASKING for help and leaning on others when you need it. I thought this was so nice to see, especially as mental health issues are on the rise and the idea of community, working together and looking out for one another simultaneously becoming less common.

It makes the point that no matter how clever/strong/talented/skilled etc you may be at something, there is always something you can learn and always someone who knows something you don’t, which I think is a powerful message, especially as it’s the animals who perhaps aren’t the most academically gifted in the story who end up being the heroes.

What I also liked a lot was that while we saw Wolf make friends in the story and realise how it can be helpful, and enjoyable, to be around others, he didn’t suddenly become a super-sociable, ‘people-person’. I was left with very much the feeling that he was still him – he still preferred his own company and his “big books” but had now realised that finding time for others was beneficial all round too.

Those of you who read my posts often will know how averse I am to didactic or saccharine picture books and, as a book with a message, there’s always that risk. This one was saved from that fate wonderfully by both the artwork (more on that in a minute) and the writing style – and by extension it’s translation. I have no way of knowing how it reads in the original Dutch, but the matter-of-fact style, deadpan tone and short, curt sentences of the translation work brilliantly both with the fable-like nature of the tale and with the illustrations.

And, oh those illustrations! (You knew this as coming didn’t you?!)

Even the end-papers are beautiful, and I love the little, stitch-like trail that shows Wolf’s journey both here and in the book itself. There is a textile element to much of the artwork, with a feel of printed patterned fabric, embroidered details and stitching – the butterflies, flowers and trees or the textures on the rocks and rainfall for example.

Combined with the use of a range of media to create a range of effects, the muted tones, the heavy, rough, almost child-like style of Wolf himself (and those red boots – both a striking feature that stands out against the dark backgrounds and more than a tap of the nose to Miss RR Hood, surely?!), the way the city and country contrast so brilliantly and yet feel very much from the same ‘pen’ – it all comes together to create a visual feast that works wonderfully to tell the story, convey emotion and atmosphere, but which is also thoroughly gorgeous to look at all on its own.

Ok, so this was more of a Rachael-Picks than Peapod (again!), but he loved it too! Will be keeping a beady eye on the author, illustrator and publisher (Book Island) in the hope of more in this vein!

Peapod’s Picks/KLTR – Gift Edition

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.

It’s a books-as-gifts special on Peapod’s Picks this week, as my little bundle of sleepless joy turned a huge, big 1 yesterday!

He didn’t actually get many books. Whaaaaaat?! I hear you cry in disbelief and dismay. He didn’t get many as gifts for his birthday, but as either bookpost from publishers or bought books, he has had at least 7 new books already this week so it’s not like the poor child’s got nothing to read!

So, for his actual birthday we just got him some special books to (hopefully) keep. He already has Peapod Lullaby, which was a first Christmas gift but which I’ve still never got round to posting about (though I know I’ve mentioned it several times) so we’ll backtrack to that before his birthday books!

Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

This is an absolutely beautiful book. We bought this without reading it, knowing much about it or seeing inside just because Pea Pod, taking a risk that the story and interior illustrations would live up to how lovely it looked from the cover.

They definitely did. It’s the story if a journey, taken literally, the journey of a refugee family, but it’s also a metaphorical journey – through life, through difficulty, through change.

It gently and subtly encompasses not just the issue of war and displacement, but also points a finger to climate change and despite serious themes sends out such positivity and hope.

Likewise, the illustrations in particular highlight the power of nature, but mostly the wonder and joy it has the ability to conjure.

The smudgy, splodgy, loose, drippy, runny watercolour illustrations are utterly gorgeous and are perfectly in tune with the text and it’s messages.

Lyrical, poetic and emotive, this is a book of looking after each other, of togetherness and openness and support. I love reading this at bedtime – calm, hopeful and full of love, compassion and ‘being there’-ness – what could be better?

You’re Safe With Me/You’re Snug With Me/You’re Strong With Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

We bought You’re Safe With Me after seeing it on either another blog or twitter (I wish I could remember who to credit for this recommendation but I really can’t – if it was you, thank you!) and it is just stunning.

So we bought the other two to go with it for Peapod’s birthday.

All have messages of parental love, reassurance and presence. All are an ode to nature – to its majesty, its balance, its cycles, its wonder. And all are beautifully written and illustrated with the most amazing and intricately patterned full spread illustrations (each with its own style and gorgeous pallette matching its setting). They are truly books to treasure.

They’d really make a wonderful gift for a young child or new family – a great alternative to religious or character based christening gifts, baby shower or new baby presents, or of course a special birthday gift to cherish and keep (like we did this year).

You’re Safe With Me sees Mama Elephant reassuring the baby animals in the forest when a thunderstorm hits.

It’s full of onomatopoeia and folktake-like explanations for the weather and it’s noise which are full of the wonders of nature and ever so soothing.

By the end, the baby animals are calmed and settled and sleeping happily – and Peapod was too!

We haven’t actually read You’re Snug With Me or You’re Strong With Me with Peapod yet (I’ll update the post with his reaction when we have it!!) but I’ll share my thoughts on his behslf (since that’s pretty much what I do anyway!)

You’re Strong With Me follows Mama Giraffe and Baby Giraffe through the African grassland as baby slowly learns about the creatures and land they live in and how to survive it.

As with the others, this shows how interdependent our world is, as well as showing how seemingly unpleasant, difficult or unknown things can actually become positive.

There’s also a message of supporting each other through these experiences when we’re not strong enough on our own – that’s its ok to lean on each other til you can stand alone.

You’re Snug With Me sees Mama Bear give birth to two cubs and, as they hibernate under the ice and snow, she tells them about the world beyond.

Like ‘Safe’, it has a lovely folktale feel, with the “earth dancing on her toes”, and it reads as though Mama Bear speaks directly to us too.

Here especially we are shown the importance of respecting, preserving and protecting our earth. There is a strong theme of give and take with nature and of not taking it for granted or acting superior no matter how mighty you may be.

It has some beautiful spreads – the icy lands, the ocean’s wonders, pregnant Mama Bear in her den, the earth and sun dancing – just outstanding.

As a mum, this is a book with a bittersweet ending. We know Mama Bear is leading up to letting her cubs go and her almost wistful last ‘you’re snug with me’ is guaranteed to get me blubbing at some point – it certainly had a lump in my throat!

I’ve certainly got a lot to live up to at Christmas and in the years to come, but I absolutely afore all four of these books – aside from being completely gorgeous, they really are something special and I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you have’ keep forever’ gifts to buy.

Nothing at all to do with the books – just a birthday pic from Sunday!

Have you read any of these?

Do you have any special books you love to buy, or have been bought, as gifts?

Peapod’s Picks: The Pigeon

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, we’re looking at ‘the pigeon books’ by Mo Willems.

Some of you will probably be familiar with this one – it’s a classic and popular in schools too (especially when looking at persuasion with older classes – imagine that, a picture book being read to older children 😏)

For those of you who don’t know it, it begins with a bus driver addressing the reader:

Then, along comes the pigeon, and he is desperate to drive the bus!

Using every persuasive phrase and technique known to toddlers man, he cajoles, pleads, tantrums and bargains. He begs, sulks, sneaks and bribes. And as its all addressed to you, the reader, kids can have great fun being the ones to say “No!”!

Peapod’s not quite at that stage yet, but he loves listening to us read this one. Luckily, it’s as much fun to read as it is to listen to (it’d be a great one for older children to try out changing their tone, expression, pitch etc while reading too) and it’s only quite short, so bears repeated reads well!

He even rooted past the toys in the basket to get to the book at the back and bring it out to read!

That’s my boy!

When I went off work on mat leave, my amazing colleagues (who know me and my love of this book so well – special tip of the hat to Michelle and Brian) got me this pigeon as part of my pressie. It actually shouts “Let me drive the bus!”

He let him drive the bus!!

Anyway, we recently found out there were others in the series (and I call myself a kids bookseller! For shame!) We’ve had The Pigeon Needs a Bath for ages but only just found out about/ got hold of the others.

They all follow a similar pattern – the pigeon either wants or doesn’t want something and employs his best persuasive techniques to get his way.

Hot dog and cookie move away from the mould without entirely breaking it, offering insight into Pigeon’s thoughts on sharing and fairness as well as introducing us to Duckling, who is a great character and a perfect counter to Pigeon.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! is hilarious. It’s a perfect picture of injustice as seen through the eyes of a tiddly one, and the twist at the end is brilliant.

Peapod’s Dad likes The Pigeon Needs a Bath and if you’ve ever needed to bath a reluctant child, you’ll likely appreciate it too. Likewise, any of you who’ve ever been around a small child at bedtime can’t fail to smile as familiar argument after charming phrase is played out in Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late.

We love these books. They are SO funny and have such a fantastic understanding of children at their heart! (I recently learned that Mo Willems worked on Sesame Street and it suddenly all made sense).

If you haven’t read these yet, start with Bus – you won’t regret it!

We saw this sign randomly hanging in a pub a couple of years ago. It still both baffles and amuses me!

Peapod’s Picks – Happy Mother’s Day

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 some of our favourite ‘mum’ books (and I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a cheat post as most are links to previous reviews – everyone’s allowed a best bits/recap type post once in a while, especially on Mother’s Day, right?!)

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Little Owl falls out of his best, but luckily Squirrel is on hand to help find the way back to mum. A classic ‘have you seen my mummy?’ story.

You can read my original review here. And if you haven’t seen Tchéky Karyo (BBC’s Baptiste) read this on CBeebies Bedtime Stories, give it a watch – the voices are first class! I’m still hoping he’ll read Chris Haughton’s other books too!

On the Way Home by Jill Murphy

Claire has a bad knee. On her way home, she meets lots of friends and tells them all exactly what happened…or does she?!

This is not strictly a very mum-ish story at all. Her mum only features on the last couple of pages and doesn’t even have a face. But even in this bit part, she’s such a mum – comforting, understanding and reassuring, all the things a mum should be, fetching Claire the very biggest plaster in the box!

You can read my original review here.

The Large Family Books by Jill Murphy

Yes, it’s another Jill Murphy, but I couldn’t possibly mention picture book mums without a huge shout out to Mrs Large!

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Large Family’s warmth, observational humour and realism and nowhere is this more evident than in Mrs Large, often harassed (Five Minutes Peace captures this perfectly!), the struggle is real but her love for those little elephants is abundantly clear – she’s my mum hero (especially when she caves in to the cake in A Piece of Cake!)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

Sarah, Percy and Bill wake up to find their mum gone. Sarah is reassuring – convincing herself as much as her brothers that mum will be back, Percy is doubtfully reassured, and Bill…well, Bill just wants his mummy!

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, I know but it’s a favourite and it’s probably the book that resonates most with me, as I definitely have a Bill! This is a go-to bedtime story when we’re having a particularly clingy time (resulting in us reading it most weeks!)

Happy Mother’s Day to you if you’re celebrating!

Do you have any favourite picture book mums?!

Peapod’s Picks – A Brilliant New Book Haul!

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!

We have had a bumper haul of brilliant new books recently, so thought we’d share these with you today. (It’s a long one because we loved them all so much – sorry!)

Dinosaur Department Store by Richard Merritt and Lily Murray

Eliza Jane wants a REAL dinosaur for her birthday, so a trip to the Dinosaur Department Store is in order…

This is the only book we bought where the author and illustrator were new to me, but they’re definitely ones we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the future!

I think it’s fair to say Eliza Jane is a handful! She’s a great main character – fiery, fun and full of confidence, this is a girl who knows what she wants and most importantly, how to get it – we loved how the story ended (and the lead up to it in the illustrations throughout!)

This book has huge appeal on so many other levels too.

Its a must-read for Dino fans with wonderful descriptions and illustrations of all kinds of different prehistoric pets, not just your standard fare, as well as a handy pronunciation guide at the back (I don’t know about you but I am awful at knowing how to say dinosaurs’ names!)

The illustrations are beautifully bright and colourful, with a touch of magic in simultaneously making the dinosaurs fairly realistic and utterly absurd (bowler hats and bow ties, hot dogs and stargazing, not to mention the glam rock theropods!)Absolutely fantastic.

The story itself zips along with enjoyable rhythm and rhyme and LOADS of exciting and interesting vocabulary and opportunities for expression and ‘sound effects’ when reading aloud.

In short – brilliant.

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Most of you will already know how much I love these books. I was so excited for this one that we read it on the bus home from the shop (and again when we got home, and again at bedtime, and…)

Circle was definitely worth the wait!

I never fail to be amazed at the depth and expression in Klassen’s illustrations considering the limited pallette and facial features. Indeed there are several double pages that are dark save for eyes yet they say so much – there’s not many books that could get away with that!

Likewise, the text is carefully considered and had us cracking up.

Just as dry and funny as the first two books – Circle has retained her cool, Triangle is as sneaky as ever and Square is still, well, square.

And surely with that ending there’s a glimmer of hope that we’ll see these guys again?!

The Steves by Morag Hood

Meet Steve. And, erm, Steve. This book ain’t big enough for the both of them!

Aside from giving me a Sparks earworm every time I read the back cover, I love this!

Morag Hood is fast becoming one of my favourite, favourite picture book authors – if you don’t know her other books either, I highly recommend rectifying that!

The Steves is hilarious. And it has puffins in and I love puffins.

With bold, print-like illustrations against bright but plain backgrounds, the illustrations really pop off the page and with nothing else going on you can really home in on the expressions and body language of The Steves which capture their feelings perfectly.

The text is simple and short and all the more effective for it – it has all the energy and exuberance of a child’s sulky strop!

And it’s fantastic for reading aloud – even better if there’s two of you to do it (Daddy and I read this one jointly for bedtime, each taking on the role of a Steve and it was great fun! We laughed a lot!)

Loved it! (And I’ll be sending a copy to my friend Uno, another Rachael, to whom I am Dos…!)

In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

Frog is singing in the swamp one night, but singing alone isn’t much fun so he heads off to find others to join his swampy-song!

Perfect for anyone who ever played the triangle at school, this is the tale of Frog’s search for all the sounds of the swamp to make his song complete. He has a crocodile and mice, fish and birds but something’s still missing – it couldn’t be the tiny firefly who thinks their song isn’t good enough though, could it?

It’s quite different to Frann Preston-Gannon’s other books (I think) but no less charming. The illustrations are immersive and it feels like a lazy, summer evening.

A lovely, lyrical, rhythmic book with plenty of repetition that children (ok, not Peapod just yet!) will love to join in with and which lends itself brilliantly to inspiring other musical activities!

Have you read any of these?

What picture books/bedtime stories have you enjoyed this week?

Peapod’s Picks – World Book Day

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!

Unless you live under a rock (ok, or you don’t have kids or read kids’ books) you’ll know that this Thursday was World Book Day, so it’s a WBD themed Peapod’s Picks this week.

Peapod had a very early start on Thursday so Daddy got up with him while I had “5 more minutes” (half an hour!) So he’s already kicked off his WBD reading with a couple of books before I even got up.

Can you guess who I am in my previous bookish outfits?!

Between teaching then bookselling, this is the first year in over 10 years that I’ve not been dressed up and running something for World Book Day! The whole dressing up thing could be a post all of its own but debates aside, I love an excuse to dress up so I was very disappointed to be missing the WBD costume action this year!

And the worst part is…I didn’t need to! We found out last minute that the lovely Heidi at Waterstones Trafford was doing a story session that we could have dressed up for but I couldn’t very well dress myself up and not Peapod, so we settled for a book dress for me and a Gruffalo top and trousers for him!

We had a lovely time listening to Mini Rabbit Not Lost (which we love) and Heidi has brought lots of extra props to make it a multi-sensory story which was a great idea and really added to the fun. We sang some nursery rhymes then headed home, leaving older little readers making playdough cakes for Mini Rabbit!

We’d already bought our books the day before. I was really happy with the selection this year – some top quality authors (not a celebrity in sight!) and a better age range too, with teen books back in the £1/free selection too.

Our World Book Day books.

We were most looking forward to Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty’s Ten Little Bookworms (Dad especially is a big fan of this series!) so that was our World Book Day bedtime story.

It’s every bit as good as the others in the series. Better in fact, because it’s about books and all the wonderful adventures they can take you on!

From jungles and space to aliens, robots and fairytale favourites, it’s filled with the usual dramatic and fast-paced countdown from 10, as page by page we lose a bookworm. Accompanied as ever by those bold and lively illustrations from Simon Rickerty and wonderfully energetic descriptions of sounds that beg to be read out loud, enthusiastically and noisily – perfect for little bookworms!

Cadpig and Cruella by Peter Bently and Steven Lenton has now also had a good chew read too and we really loved the illustrations in this one too.

I attempted to start Everdark by Abi Elphinstone (my own WBD choice that I’d been very much looking forward to) at naptime on Thursday but Peapod was having none of it and woke up 2 pages in! I’ve nearly finished it now though and IT’S BRILLIANT!

So that was Peapod’s first World Book Day! Next year he’ll be a bit bigger and hopefully we can do a little more, but he enjoyed the books and sharing stories and that, after all, is the point!

Did you celebrate World Book Day too?