Peapod’s Picks – Too Much Stuff

We are still reading A Pipkin of Pepper, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea has made a reappearance in our bedroom reads, but two new books in the post have also edged their way into Peapod’s oh-so-slow-to-change bedtime book basket!

The first of these is ‘Too Much Stuff’ by Emily Gravett, who I’m such a big fan of.

We’ve written before about Tidy which we love and Too Much Stuff returns to the woods with some familiar faces (I love Badger’s cameo in this!) but this time our main characters are Meg and Ash, a pair of magpies building a nest and preparing for their eggs to hatch.

In a move that will have parents everywhere smiling (they don’t call it nesting for nothing!), our pair start to fret about what their hatchling will need, each finding more and more ‘stuff’ their chicks just can’t do without, until their nest is lost under it all and one final addition might just be a step too far…

Just as Badger’s battle to balance his love of order and cleanliness with his natural wild surroundings saw us reminded – subtly and gently – about our impact and reliance the world around us, Too Much Stuff just as gently reminds us of quite literally that – the amount if stuff we buy, use and importantly throw away.

It’s a call to consider before we consume, and to reuse, recycle or pass on what we’re done with.

Of course, it’s also just a very funny story with a wonderful cast of characters! Reminiscent (but essentially very different from) Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck, it’s a hilariously daft scenario filled with warmth and such a pleasing resolution.

The addition of the vintage style magazine adverts in the end papers is glorious – funny and astute and perfectly delivering the message of the book.

They’ll raise a smile with adult readers and would be absolutely brilliant to focus on and use alongside the book in schools too, especially as a way of bringing picture books to slightly older readers.

It has everything you want in a story – drama, excitement, humour, warmth, friendship, a message that’s carefully woven into it and the gorgeous illustrations you’d expect from Emily Gravett.

#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of…!

#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.

So, “#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m cheating this week. Mary, I’m sorry! But I’ve gone rogue (but only this one week, I promise!)

Because this week I haven’t chosen an MG book at all. I’ve chosen…*whispers*…a picture book.

This is a great picture book for any age and younger children will love it of course, BUT it’s one I think has so much potential for use in KS2 so I’m throwing it in here like the maverick that I am! (Promise to follow the rules again next week!)

The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Two Hoots

This book cracked me up. Written in the form of notes and letters between the titular Frederick and free spirit Emily who sees him in his window one day and sends a paper aeroplane up to invite him out to play.

Unfortunately, Frederick is reminded by his mother of the misfortune that struck last time he went for ice cream so he reluctantly, and ever so eloquently, turns Emily down.

Emily is persistent though. Each day, she embarks on a glorious new outdoor adventure – exploring, climbing, swimming – and invites poor cooped up Frederick to accompany her.

Each day, he sends a beautifully written reply declining her offer, reflecting on the calamaties of the past.

And the ending is simply superb! Predictable yet not, it is a fittingly funny end to a super story!

The illustrations are fantastic – delicately detailed and full of the pleasure getting out in the open can bring. I loved how Frederick’s indoor play cleverly mirrors Emily’s escapades outside, but with strikingly different colour palettes and Frederick’s expression and body language vs Emily’s making clear that its really not the same thing!

The use of colour and the way it gradually creeps into Frederick’s pages is very clever, as is the way we see the wild slowly infiltrating Frederick’s refusals and drawing him in (or should that be out?!)

And the expression and emotion in the images is deftly drawn too – from disappointment to joy, wistfulness to abandon.

So, why am I showing you this instead of a typical ‘middle grade’ book?

Because I think as much as younger readers will enjoy this, it’s older readers who’ll really get it. And there is so much to be done with this, for younger readers too, but also for older.

The language for a start.

Frederick’s letters are a scream – fantastically formal and flowery, they are the perfect contrast to Emily’s brief, informal notes. Both would be brilliant to use for looking at letter writing (or email or communication in general!) and the difference between formal and informal tones, as well as for descriptive writing.

Getting kids to write their own formal rsvps with funny or dramatic reasons would be great.

There’s also the paper aeroplanes – get in an afternoon of plane making, paper folding, trial and error, test and hypothesise, measuring, timing and team work.

Then of course there’s the outdoor elements. OK, you probably can’t take them out for a dip in a local lake but take the opportunity to have an outdoor adventure or two – den building, orienteering, scavenger hunting…

This book in three words:

Clever. Funny. Outdoorsy.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I’d love to know if any of you decide to use or read this book with older children.

Normal service will resume next week!

Hansel and Gretel

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This is another one of those books I’ve been excited about for ages! I finally bought it this week and I think it’s my favourite in Bethan Woollvin’s wonderful fairy tale series so far.

“The good witch Willow only uses good magic, and NEVER gets angry. But Hansel and Gretel test her patience to its limit…can Willow stop the naughty twins from destroying everything?”

Re-inventions, re-tellings, re-imaginings, re-workings: call them what you will, new versions of old tales are nothing new. There are a plethora of fairy-tale-turned-on-its-head stories out there. Some are great, some are awful, most lie somewhere in between and serve their purpose as texts for primary teachers with objectives to cover (call me cynical).

Bethan Woolvin’s series falls firmly into the first category: humorous, strong takes on well-known stories and characters. Each book provides us with something fresh and inspiring: Little Red gives us a bold heroine (with something of a nod to Roald Dahl’s Red Riding Hood in Revolting Rhymes); Rapunzel gives us a similarly brave and self-reliant damsel whose distress is taken firmly into her own hands (although we can’t help but wonder how she gets back into the tower?) and in Hansel and Gretel we see that no-one, no matter how good, is perfect and everyone’s patience has their limits!

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The success of these retellings is down in no small part to Bethan’s fantastic illustrations. With a striking and distinctive style, her artwork is worth a look all on its own, but as a partner to these modern versions of classic tales it’s a perfect match.

Clear, straightforward text with no beating around the bush, fussy description or unnecessary extras leaves plenty of space for the pictures to do most of the talking. Similarly straightforward with an incredibly limited colour palette; big, bold images and clever use of simple lines and marks to add texture and detail, the illustrations are full of life and the facial expressions (despite their deceptively basic features) speak volumes (personal favourites being Hansel and Gretel’s eyes on meeting the witch; their full, hamster cheeks on feasting in her house and Willow’s reactions to their antics!).

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read – children will love Hansel and Gretel’s shenanigans (and adults will no doubt recognise the witch’s shortening fuse!). And as for the ending – well, I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s dark, delicious and absolutely delightful! Go and get the series now (speaking of which: Rapunzel has just been released in paperback, so you really have no excuse not to!)