Picture Book and Play – Supertato Bubbly Troubly

We were lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are our own.

Supertato Bubbly Troubly by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, published by Simon and Schuster

Supertato is back for another supermarket adventure and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear it!

Peapod is a big fan of everyone’s favourite superhero spud – his cries of “Supertato to rescuuue!” are joyous! (And, honestly, my own cries of the frankly inspired “Soap-ertato to the rescue!” have been pretty damned joyous too!) Indeed, there’s plenty of puns and silliness to keep us, his faithful “read it!” servants, happy too (I’m still chuckling at the stationery aisle now!)

In Bubbly Troubly it’s bathtime for the veggies and they’re having a splashing time playing in the bubbles.

But of course, it’s not long before Evil Pea gets involved and after a tricksy bubble bath switch up, the veggies are left floundering in the foam! Can anyone help them find a way out?

*Spoiler Alert*

Yes! Someone can. And that someone is maybe our new favourite character – Mystic Mango! Hilarious and so much fun to read aloud. Peapod loves this cool dude and repeatedly asks us “what Mystic Mango say?” (to which the only acceptable answer is “chill out, veggies!” despite him not actually saying this in the story!) I defy anyone reading this not to be as delighted by Mystic Mango as we were though.

This has everything you’d expect from a Supertato story – heaps of fun and plenty of puns, brilliantly melodramatic drama and tension as the veggies try to thwart their old adversary once more, and of course the eye-popping and exuberant illustrations!

I think perhaps the best review we can give it though is summed up on yesterday’s tweet

Any book which you go to bed talking about and wake up craving an immediate 6am retelling of must be good! It’s safe to say this has captured Peapod’s imagination and left us all laughing.

So, of course we had to have a bubbly troubly day ourselves! And what better way to start than with good old bubble blowing?!

Turns out it’s quite hard to both blow enough bubbles to chase and capture it on camera! But we had a great time in the park blowing, chasing, popping, stamping and catching bubbles!

Another classic, but how could we not?! Bubble painting! With only minor paint-and-bubble-mix ingestion. Winning.

We mixed paint, bubble mix and water in shallow tubs (great excuse for a take away!) then blew into them with straws and pressed our paper over the bubbles we made.

I wasn’t sure how well Peapod would manage this but he gave it a, surprisingly good go and really enjoyed it…til he got a mouthful of yellow…! It’s definitely one we’ll do again though!

He also chose to draw Mystic Mango and we did some Supertato and bubble colouring as well (the Supertato colouring sheets are available from the Simon and Schuster website here)

And of course, we have to end with this week’s utter fail.

And this week it was the activity I was certain he’d love (of course it was) – wet messy, splashy bubble play in his tray!

To be fair, it started off quite well. He enjoyed mixing the soap flakes to make the bubbly foam, and was very excited to put the veggies in and play with them.

But once the veggies were all in and the bubbles were well and truly bubbly, he decided it was all a bit wet and messy and on his hands! And even the trucks and diggers couldn’t save it 😂

We’ll try it again another day! Maybe I’ll have to wait til summer….! (If your little one is not quite so sensitive, we just mixed pure soap flakes and water – I started them in hot then added a little cold so Peapod could carry on mixing).

Veggie bath aside, we had a brilliantly bubbly day!

#MGTakesOnThursday – A Sprinkle of Sorcery

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

To join in, all you need to do is:

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

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the second book about the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and it’s a series I can’t recommend highly enough.

You can read my review of book one, A Pinch of Magic, here and their most recent adventure, A Tangle of Spells, here.

The sisters make for perfect protagonists – each markedly different to each other, squabbling in a supremely sisterly way, but all fiercely loyal and protective of each other.

Which is lucky, because when Charlie is kidnapped, it’s up to Betty and Fliss to save her.

This is an adventure story like no other – with more than a pinch of magic (see what I did there?!) this is also part ghost story, part piratical adventure, part quest.

As with all the books in this series, it draws exceptionally well on fairytale, myth and legend and their unwritten rules and tropes. Enchanted objects, an old crone who can help or hinder, wells and wishes come face to face with lost islands, fearsome pirates, maps, old sea tales and treasure hunters.

It is a story with love, loyalty and family writ large against a fast-paced, spooky, magical and hugely exciting adventure.

If you don’t know these books yet, you need to add them to your pile pronto.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Set upon bleak, drizzly marshes and overlooked by a vast prison, Crowstone wasn’t a place people came to unless they had to.”

This book in three words:

Sisters. Pirates. Magic.

A Tangle of Spells

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

A Tangle of Spells by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the third book following the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and we join them as they move out of The Poacher’s Pocket (family home and pub) with their father and Granny, and sail across to Pendlewick to set up home there.

However, despite its sunshine-and-light exterior, something’s wrong in Pendlewick.

Between their crooked new home (adorned with salt, silver coins and secrets), The Hungry Tree that no-one dares venture near, sinister-sounding Tick Tick Forest, whispers of witches and a blanket ban on talk of magic (after all, “magic and trouble go hand in hand”) the sisters find themselves once again caught up in a web of witchcraft and danger.

I love this series.

I may have definitely left it way too long between books one and two, but it’s been wonderful to read A Sprinkle of Sorcery and A Tangle of Spells back to back (I only wish I’d gone back to reread A Pinch of Magic first!) If you’ve not yet read the others – start at the very beginning! My mini review of A Pinch of Magic is here.

It’s lovely to see how the three sisters have grown and their relationship strengthened following their previous adventures, while at the same time they haven’t changed a bit and remain the chalk-and-cheese, ever-bickering, doggedly loyal trio they’ve always been.

Each reader will no doubt have their own favourite sister; I think though that pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping (OK, whiskey-downing) Granny has to be my favourite character throughout this series though. Tough, real and utterly believable, she’s just such a comforting presence in her own no-nonsense way.

I also really like the way the three stories all draw on folktales, superstition and magic but in such very different ways. Each has a different setting, feel and twist to it… But I think this might just be my favourite yet – it is packed to the crooked rafters with witchcraft, charms, superstitions and spells.

Take the eeriest elements of your favourite fairy tales and you have the flavour of this book. It is wonderfully, darkly atmospheric and the imagination and realisation of the world and its magic are second to none; I can’t share my favourite things with you for risk of spoiling them for you, but I will just say that amongst many things here, a particularly cobweb-filled room will linger in my imagination for some time to come.

Magic aside (well, sort of, just momentarily), there is (as there is in all the books) a tangible sense of urgency, danger and tension too that will draw in the fantasy-fearing, adventure-lover and win them over too! The rescue attempt is so exciting and I loved how it took us back to the girls’ first adventure too.

The baddies are brilliant. And that is pretty much all I can say on the matter in order to avoid spoiling the story for you. But they’re malevolent and menacing in all the best ways, with a power and influence that’s terrifying.

This is a truly outstanding magical adventure. Overflowing with fairytale and folklore, hearsay and local legend, witchcraft and wiles, not to mention the fantastic Widdershins family, it had absolutely everything I could have wanted in a book and I completely devoured it.

I am BEYOND THRILLED to hear…theres going to be another Widdershins adventure and it cannot come soon enough!

Picture Book and Play – Pancakes

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

Tuesday was Pancake Day. I love Pancake Day – growing up it was always really fun, flipping (and dropping!) pancakes and filling them with as many sugary treats as possible (my best ever filling that always sticks in my memory being mint choc ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and chocolate sprinkles).

Last year, Peapod wasn’t at all keen on pancakes but I was hoping he’d see sense this year. Sadly, he still turned his nose up, but he enjoyed making them – helping to pour, sift, whisk and mix (he was especially keen on the whisking!)

Obviously, he took a back seat for the flipping (leaving that to the experts!!) but helped to choose and chop the fruit to top them with.

Carefully arranging the fruit on his pancake before demolishing all the fruit on both plates and leaving the pancake untouched 😂

After helping with the real pancakes, I set up his tray with flour, water, bowls, whisk, spoons, sieve etc as well as his toy pan, plates and ‘toppings’ with yellow playdough for him to pretend to make his own.

He has LOVED doing this!

And of course, we’ve read some pancake stories too!

Our favourite has to be Mr Wolf’s Pancakes by Jan Fearnley, which we wrote about last year too. Peapod has loved this and we’ve read it at bedtime every day at least once usually twice, since Monday.

He woke on Tuesday and the first thing he asked was to “Play Mr Wolf’s Pancakes?!” So we were straight in the playroom at 6.45am acting it out before he went to nursery! He even switched his shop over to be the shop from the story!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any better pictures as we were too busy playing it!

We’ve also been reading Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie, which was one I’d not read before but we both really like.

It’s got a flavour of Not Now Bernard as Daisy is constantly ignored by her busy parents. And even a purple rhino showing up and stealing all the pancakes can’t get their attention. But a sign at the zoo about a missing rhino soon helps them see the error of their ways.

I love Sara Ogilvie’s gentle, colourful and expressive illustrations in this. I’ve written before about how well she captures ‘real life’ and her depictions of family life here do that perfectly.

Peapod loves the rhino. Not least the page with the rhino on the loo. And not least because he has an obsession with rhino poo (ever since we went to the zoo last year and the enclosure was a bit ‘fragrant’!)

And we’ve read Mairi Mckinnon and Silvia Provantini’s retelling of The Runaway Pancake which Peapod thinks is very funny indeed.

In this traditional tale which has many versions and similar tales the pancake hops out of the pan to escape its fate as fodder and makes a run for it, chased by the family. As it runs, it passes various animals who a join the chase until it reaches Pig, who’s got a much better idea than joining the chase…

We have of course played Runaway Pancake too, both chasing the ball and each other!

I appreciate this is a bit late for pancake day fun now, but both pancakes and pancake stories are for life, not just for pancake day!!

Did you have pancakes? Did you do any pancake play or reading?

Which picture books have you enjoyed this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow

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


To join in, all you need to do is:

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

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat, published by Simon & Schuster


A heart-warming tale of adjusting to family change, and navigating a parent coming out as gay.

The friendships and family relationships in the book are strong and caring, which is lovely to read. Even the relationship between Archie’s mum and dad feels realistic but hopeful, as they argue and fight and cry and try to figure it all out, but nevertheless try to support each other and mostly, however awkwardly, support Archie.

This is not just a book which celebrates diversity (which it does, with bells on) but normalises it. For those children who find themselves here when they’ve not seen themselves in books before, there’s so much reassurance, positivity and affirmation.

For those to whom this is unfamiliar, it’s a great way to see the lives and experiences of others. To stop them seeming so ‘other’. To see the similarities not the differences.

The reactions of those around Archie – his best friends and babysitter for example – and maybe even more interestingly, his reaction to their (non)reactions, are great in the way they show such acceptance.

I’ll be honest though, I sometimes found the main characters’ actions and perceived knowledge or ‘worldliness’ (or lack of) a bit off and I didn’t love them. But, I didn’t dislike them either, and I did really like all the adult characters, who I found more believable. I suspect the younger readers this is aimed at would get on with them better and it’s definitely just a personal thing, and not something which would stop me from highly recommending the book overall.

The way it balances humour and real life will make it hugely appealing to young readers and its LGBTQ+ themes and the way it explores them openly, sensitively and with such joy and positivity makes it a really important book to get into young readers’ hands.

And I absolutely LOVED the descriptions of pride and the pride family reuniting the following year.

Peapod ‘enjoying’ his first Manchester Pride with our Pride family in 2019!

We go to Manchester pride every year, with an ever expanding pride family made up of so many people we’ve met there year to year, and now our children too. So these descriptions of Pride and how special it is felt so real and brought joy to my heart (it also has me yearning for our next gay Christmas!)


The beginnings of our Pride family at our first Pride together in 2009 and meeting up ahead of our most recent one ten years later (though our numbers have grown since then!)

My favourite quote from page 11 331

I’m cheating a bit this week (sorry Mary!) and I’ve chosen one of my favourite quotes about Pride as these were the parts of the book I really loved best.

Pride is all about family, both the ones you’re given and the ones you make.”


This book in three words:

Pride. Family. Positivity.

When the World Was Ours

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.

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler, cover art by unknown, published by Simon and Schuster

Although it can feel a popular topic and a crowded market at times, I’m always interested to see a new book set during wartime; it’s one of my favourite themes for children’s literature.

So I was really excited to be sent a copy of this.

Set during World War Two and written from the alternating viewpoints of three best friends – Leo, Elsa and Max – we follow their stories from pre-wartime through to the end of the war.

I really loved the use of the three different narratives and the way we joined each of them at the same points in time really helped emphasise how their lives were changing both in themselves and changing compared to each other’s.

I think everyone reading will feel one story speaks to them more strongly than the others, although all are compelling and incredibly moving. For me, it was Max’s.

I don’t really want to write too much more about that for fear of spoilers, but I found his character and situation so complex – frustrating and heartbreaking; his was the story that I desperately wanted to change and the story which felt the easiest to slip into.

If any of the book is a cautionary tale for today (and let me assure you, it subtly but emphatically is) against against complacency, against ignorance, against following the herd and believing the hype, against keeping your head down, against each man for himself…it is Max’s.

But Leo and Elsa’s stories are equally important, emotional and tough. While this may not be as graphic or hard-hitting in some ways as other books about the Holocaust, it has a quiet, haunting ability to stay with you long after reading.

And this has much to do with the relationships, memories, hopes and resilience of our main characters. It is these human connections that are central to the novel and in turn our connection to it.

A story of family, friendship, love and hope in the bleakest of times. This is a poignant story with an important message not only to remember, but to prevent anything like it happening again.

The Black Kids

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

I don’t read a huge amount of YA (far less than I should!) but I loved The Hate U Give and the premise of this combined with the ‘perfect if you loved THUG’ taglines and general buzz about it really pulled me in.

Ashley is well-off, spoilt (by her own admission) and black. Until recently, the latter hasn’t played much part in her thoughts or her daily life – her best friends are rich, white kids; her home is in a rich, white area and her life has almost always been as theirs is (although, as we see when she starts to reflect on it, perhaps it hasn’t and she’s just chosen to ignore the more casually racist behaviours around her).

We’re told in the synopsis online that

everything changes one afternoon in April, when four police officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

but it’s not quite this clear cut.

The LA riots of the 1990s (that began when the officers who beat up Rodney King were acquitted) do form the backdrop to the novel and they do become increasingly intrinsic to Ashley’s choices, feelings and actions, but their effects – on Ashley and more broadly – are not quite so quick and defined as this.

The book begins with Ashley herself admitting that she wasn’t all that bothered by the case to begin with; she and her friends are on the cusp of Summer, graduation and college. Life is a lazy time of skipping school, going out and having fun as they all prepare to go their own ways.

On the surface, it’s a stereotypical scenario – well-off teens skipping school to sunbathe, swim and smoke, mess about with boys/girls and generally enjoy themselves without thinking too much about anyone or anything else.

However, it’s as we spend so much time just ‘hanging out’ with Ashley and her friends in this way that we see – both in their interactions and her memories of growing up there with them – that we see the casual, incidental racism embedded in their lives. Little comments, ‘jokes’ and assumptions made; the knowledge that when they’re stopped by the police for trespassing she’s probably the reason and definitely the one at risk.

However, they’re her friends. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just how things are. It’s okay.

Or is it?

Gradually Ashley begins to see the racism around her, amplified by the riots, and the contrast between her sheltered, protected life and the lives of the other black kids in her school and in neighbourhoods being looted, burned and vandalised.

It’s likely we’ll see a flux of books about racism given the current climate, but this one especially tackles it somehow subtly and frankly all at once and really addresses how larger events that seemingly have “nothing to do with us” can suddenly feel much closer to home.

In light of the fact that nearly 30 years on, as Black Lives Matters protests continue and we still have police officers kneeling on black necks and abusing their stop and search rights, we don’t seem to have changed at all.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

There are so many layers to this book, so many clever ideas and angles and so much to love about it that it’s hard to review without a sprawling essay full of tangents and spoilers.

It’s less a book I want to review and more a book I really want to talk about and share thoughts on.

So, I will instead keep it short(ish!) and say just this – it is superbly written with complexity, understanding and excellent characters and relationships.

It takes quite something to take a group of wealthy, spoilt brats and give them depth, but that is exactly what we get here. It doesn’t necessarily make them likeable, but it does make them believable and understandable.

Ashley herself is judgmental and self-absorbed (to begin with at least) but it is as she learns from her mistakes and opens herself up to possibilities, people outside her friendship group and begins to consider the wider world that we see her grow.

Her sister Jo and ‘nanny’ Lucia are both fantastic characters too who bring much in the way of context, contrast and social commentary.

Ultimately, this is a book about racism, but it is also a fantastic coming of age story, a realistic and sometimes difficult examination of family and an honest look at friendships – their evolution, their end and the beginnings of new ones. And the themes interplay brilliantly.

I feel like I’ve not done this book justice here, but it is a gripping, thought-provoking, complex and believable read.

It also references some awesome music and I very much need an accompanying The Black Kids soundtrack now!

Jungledrop

I was lucky enough to be offered a copy of this for review and I am beyond tardy in posting it – I’m sorry! All views and opinions are my own.

Jungledrop by Abi Elphinston, illustrated by George Ermos

As most of you will already know, I am an absolutely massive fan of Abi’s books and had been VERY, VERY excited about this since finishing the absolutely tremendous Rumblestar last May.

Following that was never going to be easy, but rest assured Abi’s done it again!

This is the second full length book in the Unmapped Chronicles, each of which sees children from the Faraway (our world) journey to the Unmapped Kingdoms, where our weather is made, to defeat the evil Morg as she tries to gain control. But unlike many series, these can be read out of order quite easily.

While this book refers to the events of Rumblestar (we bump into one of the characters from that book in this and I was so excited when I realised who it was!) but you don’t need any prior knowledge and there’s no real spoilers from reading this one that would prevent you going back to enjoy Rumblestar (or Everdark).

jungledrop map

So, in we go. We’re heading back to the Unmapped Kingdoms, this time on a magical train to Jungledrop, with the brilliantly named twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble.

I have to hand it to Abi, when it comes to names, she gets them spot on – with Utterly Thankless in Rumblestar and this pair here (not to mention Heckle, Total Shambles, Tedious Niggle and more!) I can’t wait to see who she comes up with in the next installment (yes, I’m already excited for the next one before this one is out!)

We meet Fox and Fibber in a wonderfully Dahl-esque scene in which we’re also introduced to their frankly awful parents. This horrid pair have no interest in their children, they see them only as useful tools to make money and develop their shady and deceitful businesses.

They have taught them the Petty-Squabble way of life, namely to stomp on anyone and everyone who gets in your way. To show kindness is weakness. It’s every man, woman and child for themself in this household and if you’re not making the family businesses money, you’re looking at a one way trip to Antarctica. Thatcher would have loved them.

Fox and Fibber are therefore brilliantly bad (at least at first!) They are probably the most ‘unlikeable’ characters ever to set out (begrudgingly and with alterior, selfish motives!) to save the world and readers will both delight and despair at their unbelievable rudeness, bad manners and selfish ways.

Written with a lot of humour, which children will love, it is also underpinned with a real understanding of human nature and the effects we all have on each other, especially that of influential adults on children in their care.

The way we’re asked to consider the reasons behind behaviours, and the way in which the seeds of change are gradually sown and grown in this pair really gives the characters a depth and credibility, as we see their internal struggles with what they know and what they’re coming to realise from those they meet. Indeed, to write such seemingly disagreeable protagonists and have us utterly invested in them, rooting for them and caring about them almost as soon as their adventure begins is no mean feat!

The supporting cast are also a wonderfully eclectic bunch. Doogie Herbalsneeze is fab and I would love a spin off featuring him. Total Shambles stole a little bit of my heart and the Lofty Husks were a sense of calm power – I loved how different they were to the Lofty Husks in Rumblestar, and the message they gave our twins (and us) about leadership and authority, that respect should be given but also earned, and that kindness, empathy and fairness are emphatically strengths not weaknesses.

And then there’s Heckle. Oh, Heckle! If you’ve read Everdark and liked Bartholomew, you are going to LOVE Heckle. And if you haven’t, well you’ll love her anyway! She is the brilliant companion to the twins’ adventure as she candidly and drily shares both her views and the thoughts of those around her.

jungledrop

As well as the characters, there’s the flora and fauna and inhabitants of Jungledrop. Abi’s books always overflow with imagination and her world-building is extraordinary. I don’t where the ideas come from or how she keeps them coming and keeps each world do unique, but Jungledrop is every bit as fantastical as you’d expect!

There’s glow in the dark plants, sloths having bubble baths, a treetop unicycle network, a tantrum tree that will not stand bad manners, hunchback trees full of faces… Then there’s the Constant Whinge with the Jungle Apothecary’s peculiar potions, cures and remedies; Doodler’s Haven with it’s only waterfall, hissing cauldrons and canvasses of all kinds of rain…

And, my favourite – a forest of weird and wonderful trees and plants that make me wonder if Abi ever watched Greenclaws as a child (I’m aware that reference will be lost on most but I couldn’t help but think of the useful and impossible plants he grew in his tree when reading about the Chapterbarks, Left-Behinders and Gobblequicks!)

Sadly, there’s also the destroyed areas of Jungledrop – those ravaged by drought or by Morg and the description of the Faraway with no rain for months either, which are equally well written but rather more sobering as they highlight, as Abi’s books almost always do, environmental issues, especially those linked to climate change, and our role in protecting the planet.

Which leads us of course to the return of Morg and the Midnights (still think someone needs to call their band that). This time there’s a rather Wizard-of-Oz-like band of monkeys (with a brilliantly imaginative and clever twist) scurrying through the jungle, malevolent and mischievous, doing her bidding, led by fearsome giant ape Screech.

Tense, dark and dangerous, its hard to see even nearing the end of the book how Fox and Fibber can come through and defeat Morg, especially as so much seems stacked against them. But

“Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more powerful than a child in possession of a plan.”

The writing itself is fantastic – each word and phrase well-placed and, as you’d expect, the use of language is rich, playful and an utter delight to read.

As ever with Abi’s books, I haven’t come close to doing this justice or to putting into words exactly why it is so great and what it is I love so much about it.

Suffice to say though, I do love it – cleverly written and with humour and imagination absolutely oozing from its pages, it’s a thoroughly gripping adventure with danger lurking at every turn. Threaded through this are strong themes of kindness, growth and treating both other people and our world with respect and consideration, making this a book brimming with both excitement and heart.

I now return to waiting impatiently for both my finished, pre-ordered copy and the next Unmapped Chronicle…

Peapod’s Picks 26/8/19

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

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

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

My Pet Star by Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be More Bernard by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a Dog by Ross Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peapod’s Picks/KLTR – New Picture Books

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.

We’ve had an influx of brilliant new picture books over the last week or two, so we’re sharing those today.

With the exception of Samuel Drew, which was a gifted copy we requested from Tate, we bought all of these. In both cases, opinions are all honest and all our own!

Abigail by Catherine Rayner One of our last library books was Catherine Rayner’s Ernest. I loved the illustrations and design (you can read my review here) so when I spotted Abigail at the back of the book, I knew we had to buy both!Abigail is a lovely book about counting, loving to count, finding it tricky, and helping your friends. It’s one of those ‘there’s a message but not in neon lights’ books – it’s mostly just a lovely story about a giraffe who loves to count!

As with Ernest, the illustrations are beautiful, ‘splodgy’ watercolours and I really liked the numbers dancing over the pages too – perfect for little ones learning to count/recognise numbers themselves.Peapod’s dad preferred this to Ernest, but Ernest still just tips it for me! Peapod was very happy with both, but did seem to take a shine to Abigail in the pictures so 2-1 to her I think!

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad

The first Sophie Johnson book (Unicorn Expert) was brilliant and this one is just as good, packed with wit and visual humour.

Here, Sophie has turned her hand to detective work, with the help of her “not very good” assistant, Bella the dog, who is “no help at all”.

True to form, Sophie wearily tries to show Bella the tips and tricks of the trade as she attempts to investigate a lion’s missing tail. Meanwhile, in the illustrations we see Bella is, of course, busy solving the crime and catching the criminals.

As with the first book, Sophie will bring a smile to everyone’s lips – children will love her and adults will recognise her! These books are an absolute joy – full of a dry humour and with text and illustrations working in perfect harmony. I can’t wait to see what Sophie gets up to next!

Samuel Drew Hasn’t a Clue by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow

We were kindly sent this to review and it’s lovely. Samuel Drew has a parcel and everyone wants to know what’s inside!

Written with a lovely, rhythmic rhyme, this feels very reminiscent of Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy, while at the same time being completely unique in its style and subject.

As Samuel Drew walks along the street with his parcel, various animals see and sniff and follow in the hopes of finding something tasty inside! What’s clever is the way their guesses actually reflect what’s happening in the shops they pass.

Likewise when we reached the end, the last page suggests there are clues right through the book as to what is actually inside (hence the title I suppose!!) They’re well hidden, merging into the scenes of everyday life seamlessly, so I’m not sure you’d guess before it’s revealed (but maybe I’m just not a very good guesser!) We (and yes, I do mean Peapod’s dad and I) had lots of fun poring back over the pages looking for hints once we knew what it was though.

And that is one of the best things about this book – the details and the opportunities for looking at, hunting, finding and spotting in, observing and talking about the pictures.

And the pictures are great, I really liked the style. With a flat, almost childlike, papercut pencil look about them, they reminded me of David McKee’s wonderful Mr Benn illustrations. And they are if course, full of detail. I really liked the high street setting too – there’ll be plenty that’s familiar in this walk by the shops and park, but with a butchers, fishmongers and florists on the street there might be something new for many children too.

Penguinaut by Marcie Collins and Emma Yarlett

A lovely tale of friendship, being brave and following your dreams. Orville the penguin’s friends all have BIG, exciting adventures, but he is only small. He doesn’t let that put him off though as he works through failures and setbacks to achieve his goal of flying to the moon and having the BIGGEST adventure yet.

The illustrations have a touch of Oliver Jeffers about them, indeed there is a feel of his Up and Down throughout, but this is no bad thing (I love Oliver Jeffers!) and it very much goes in its own direction too.

They are full of energy and movement and the way the font style, size and layout is designed to enhance all the sound effects and onomatopoeiac descriptions is really effective and engaging.

I’m looking forward to our Penguinaut Read and Make session over the summer, I think it’ll go down really well as a read aloud book and as a stimulus for our rocket making!

I Really Want to Win by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti

This is another of the books I’ve chosen to read at one of the summer storytime at work and I’m really looking forward to it. We read their first book, I Really Want the Cake, and it was really popular so I’m hoping for a similar reaction to this one!

And I’m sure I won’t be disappointed! With the same fantastic pace rhythm and rhyme and expressive illustrations as the first book, our young protagonist is back; this time it’s Sports Day and she’s determined to win! But things don’t quite go to plan…

A hilarious, relatable story of a young girl who really wants to be the best (and is in fact pretty confident she is…at least at first), this is also a gentle, non-threatening way to explore losing, having different strengths and skills, supporting each other and process over result.

I loved this just as much as the first book and really hope she’ll be back for more adventures. Also, I’m loving the reappearance of the cake – brilliant!

Have you read any of these?

What picture books have you enjoyed recently?