rhyming

Back to Nature

Three very different but equally intriguing books landed on my desk at the end of the summer. For three different age groups, they all demand that their readers sit up and notice what’s out the window. They may be dissimilar in their readership from each other, yet I’m grouping all three because they all share a common trait – they excite the mind about nature through their distinct illustrative styles.

lets go outside

Let’s Go Outside by Katja Spitzer
The smallest title in size, aimed at the smallest child, and designed especially to be held by the smallest hands. Although the publisher claims that this title aims to teach first words, I would add that it is useful as an inspirational tool for developing the eye – for reinforcing a toddler’s passion for ambling on a walk and looking around them, noticing things that an adult passes by with scarcely a glance. The book’s colours harp back to the 1970s with their intense vibrancy of oranges, browns, yellows and greens, and a quick flick shows that each page depicts a fairly simple word accompanied by a picture which illustrates it: flowers, insects, bird, butterfly, fruit and vegetables.

However, closer inspection – as a toddler would demand – gives a much more insightful view of what’s on display. The picture of the tree demonstrates use of pattern; the picture of the neighbour’s cat (an interesting choice – the cat belongs to someone else) shows a cat with attitude – proud and haughty – the illustrator managing this by showing the cat on tiptoes, body and head erect, eyes slightly staring up, whiskers sharp; the depiction of cherries is unexpected too – the girl is clearly eating one, although all that can be seen is the stalk poking out of her mouth. She is wearing cherries over her ears, and the buttons on her top could almost be mistaken for cherries too.

Each picture contains its own world. The positioning of the squirrel on the page following the girl on the swing suggests the same fluid motion – is swinging an exercise in being part of the landscape – soaring or leaping in the air like an animal? There is plenty to name, count and spy in the pages. The last few pages diverge off into showing seasons – a pumpkin follows leaves, which leads to a snowman – the last picture is of the garden in different seasons. You buy it here.

tree

Another book that shows the changing seasons, is Tree by Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty. This was snatched from my hands by excited children the minute it arrived. The static picture of the tree, with its die cut hole through to a picture of an owl nesting inside, stays throughout almost the entire book, with further die cuts within showing bear cubs playing, squirrels scampering, birds and insects.

However, the change from the original template of the tree is startling on each page – the slow change through the seasons represented by the number of leaves, the shape of the tree, the animals frolicking beneath and the silence of winter, and most particularly the use of different colour palates on each page from the pale frosty greens and blues and greys and whites of winter to the slow snow melting of spring, with the introduction of browns and yellow and purple as the bluebells and crocuses appear.

Britta Teckentrup portrays the subtle changes with an expert use of colour, creating an almost sensual reaction to the page. The clever layering of the die cut reflects the layering of the leaves – the increase in die cuts, with more and more animals, is in tandem with the increase in foliage as the seasons turn to summer, and then the mass of leaves before they fall in autumn. Each page contains an array of detail to spy and talk through – spring contains squirrels and fox cubs as well as many different types of flowers, leaves, insects and birds, and a changing sky, with rain or sun. The blue skies of summer change to the fading yellow light of autumn.

There is a small amount of rhyming text at the bottom of each page to explain what’s happening, with language to reflect the illustrations – the “springtime breeze” reflected in the illustration of movement in the tree – forests “abloom with flowers” reflected in the colourful flowers amassing on the page. And then of course the year begins again… “Owl sees the first new buds appear, And so begins another year…”

A simple concept, expertly executed. Both stylistically beautiful and informative. An autumnal must for every young child. You can purchase it here.

the wonder garden

Lastly The Wonder Garden, illustrated by Kristjana S Williams, written by Jenny Broom, takes illustrated books for children to a new illustrative level, with a gold embossed cover reflecting the sumptuousness of the natural world in all its glory.

Exploring five lush habitats, including the Amazon rainforest, the Chihuahuan desert and the Great Barrier Reef, Williams uses layers of vibrant colours to explore each environment – it almost feels as if one is wearing 3D glasses when reading – there is much layering in the illustrations.

On closer inspection, the illustrations are not hand-drawn and old-fashioned as they first appear, but prepared digitally, which makes sense as some of the images are repeated in the same pose, and cast over one another to simulate the variety and layering of the landscapes. The detail is exquisite, capturing the textures and patterns of different animals and birds well, although of course they are not drawn scientifically accurately, but more as drawings to ‘wonder’ at.

But it is the colours that demand attention – splashes of neon pink and oranges lending the book a magical quality. Unfortunately the text doesn’t stand up to the same scrutiny; for those children who like animal non-fiction there is nothing new here – the creatures chosen are atypical of these books, with atypical facts – a poison dart frog, a hummingbird whose heart beats 100 times a minute, the green turtle, the golden eagle with its speeds of up to 320 km an hour. There is an immediacy to the text that I liked – the author talking to the reader as if you yourself were walking through the landscape, and describing the sounds of the animals, but also including the species’ Latin names. Sadly, there are one or two typos, which I hope are corrected for the next edition.

This is definitely an inspirational piece of non-fiction – a sumptuous looking gift for curious children, which I would recommend for its ability to motivate children to be inquisitive about the world around them and then go on to explore further for more in-depth information. Click here to see the Waterstones link.

 

 

 

 

Pieces of Eight

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question children ask themselves a great deal – I discussed it with some Year 1s recently. Many of them wanted to be teachers (they must have great role models), and none wanted to be librarians. (I am working on this!) Some wanted to be pirates. Although I don’t condone criminal behaviour, it was an opportunity to discuss what sort of person could be a pirate, which skills they would need, and most importantly what would pirates wear, and eat?

flinn

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto
An old favourite of ours – even as an eight month old baby one of our children knew when the ‘roar’ was coming in the text. Flinn is an ordinary boy who falls into a world of dinosaurs and pirates through his school art cupboard. He takes his friends with him, and before long they are fighting on behalf of Captain Stubble to rescue his beloved ship from the roaring Pirate Dinosaurs. The humour that infuses this text makes it loveable and readable – from the cowardice of Captain Stubble to the references to dinosaurs liking tomato ketchup and a dual which lasts for precisely two hours and twenty-five minutes, exhausting the T-Rex. It is a flowing adventure story packed neatly into a picture book with phenomenally rendered illustrations of pirate ships, ferocious dinosaurs, and on the final pages, a typical school room with the gentle Miss Pie. A great mix of content that children of this age devour. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

rufus goes to sea

Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim T Griswell, illustrated by Valerie Gorbachev
Can anyone be a pirate? Rufus, a young book-loving pig, inspired by adventure stories he reads, decides to be a pirate for his summer holiday. The stereotypical pirates on board the ship, including Captain Wibblyshins with his wooden leg, and First Mate Scratchwhiskers with his eye patch, have their doubts that a pig has the right skillset to be a pirate. Finally Rufus demonstrates his one very useful skill – the ability to read – not only books but treasure maps – and is accepted on board. Packed with pirate references from yardarms to crow’s nests, Jolly Rogers to quarter decks, this will not only invigorate your child’s seafaring vocabulary, but endear them to a little pink pig who is ruthless in pursuit of his own destiny. Perseverance and reading pay off! There’s a lovely twist at the end too – the treasure it not quite what you’d expect. A lovely little story from the US. Look out too for the very colourful, detailed illustrations. Buy it here from Waterstones, or click through to Amazon.

pirates in pyjamas

Pirates in Pyjamas by Caroline Crowe and Tom Knight
So pirates come in all shapes and sizes, and need to be able to read, but what do they wear? Caroline Crowe wonders what pirates wear when they sleep in this playful new rhyming picture book.  The book leads the reader rather merrily to bed, describing which pyjamas the pirates might wear, what they do in the bath (make shark fins with the shampoo in their hair), what a pirate pyjama party might look like, and how they finally get to sleep. The last rhyme is rather cute, for smaller pirates everywhere:
“So if you want to be a pirate,
you don’t need a patch or sword.
You just need your best pyjamas,
and a bed to climb aboard.”
The illustrations are touchingly sentimental – two young friends or siblings sharing a bedroom, decorated with pirate paraphernalia – even the teddy has an eye patch. The pirates come in all shapes and sizes – bearded, thin, fat, large and small, pale, dark, exotic, and with different facial expressions too – a source of wonder and excitement for little readers. It’s colourful and fun. This book publishes in mid August 2015. You can buy it here.

pizza for pirates

Pizza for Pirates by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish
Lastly, what pirates eat! Part of the ongoing picture book series about George, including Spaghetti with the Yeti and Marshmallows for Martians, the authors continue their foody adventures. George sets off armed with a pizza to win over a pirate crew. He takes some time to find the crew, firstly being swallowed by a whale, whose stomach contents suggest that it too has had dalliance with pirates, and then landing on an island. Along with a helpful parrot, George finally finds his pirate crew, digs up some treasure, and saves them from a sea monster (with the assistance of his now soggy pizza). Also, as above, using a bed to represent a boat, the authors have used home props to make the adventure familiar. George’s bedroom also has a teddy with an eye patch, pirate dress up props and some themed lamps and curtains. There is no end to the brightness here – mermaids, fish, cartoon crabs and starfish, and an ending that looks like the most terrific pool party. Lots to look at, I can imagine this being a firm bedtime favourite. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

As I recently pointed out, much of our ‘pirate’ cultural heritage stems from Treasure Island. Stevenson’s inspiration for the story was a map drawn by a child, and ever since there have been a plethora of fictional references to treasure maps, x marking the spot, and dastardly pirates, all descended from the ever-lasting Long John Silver and his search for treasure. (Note: Robert Louis Stevenson first called the story The Sea Cook – one has to wonder if the story would have endured in the same way with this flat alternative title).

We’re Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

Animals. They hold a fascination for children like nothing else – stuffed animals, real animals, extinct animals, underwater animals. We have them all over the house – plastic sharks in the bath, stuffed bears on the bed, a real cat in the garden, and animal books in every room in the house. So many of our favourite picture books feature animals: Tigers who eat tea, lions that must be hidden, caterpillars that are very hungry. Here are some wonderful new picture books featuring ANIMALS:

Poo in the zoo

Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Ada Grey
Children find poo funny. There’s no escaping it – they like jokes about farts and underpants and burping and all those things which we, as adults, grow inhibitions about (well most of us anyway). Poo in the Zoo goes that little bit further – rather than just dropping in a few harmless defecating jokes, Steve Smallman goes all the way and has written an entire book about animal droppings:
“There was tiger poo, lion poo, prickly porcupine poo
Plummeting giraffe poop that landed with a splat
Dollops of gnu poo, bouncy kangaroo poo
A trail of dripping droppings from a fat wombat!”
The marvellous thing about Steve’s text is the sparkling rhythm – it bounces along with barely a pause for breath – you could almost sing it (actually he does, when reading it aloud). The pictures to accompany it are lovingly drawn (despite the subject matter!). The animals expressive, the colours vibrant. Also, and this is Steve’s cleverest accomplishment – there is a whole narrative behind the poo joke. The story follows zookeeper Little Bob McGrew who has to clean up after the animals, but then discovers a poo he doesn’t recognise as being from one of his animals, and thinks it’s from outer space. He sells it to Hector Gloop, owner of Gloop’s Poo Museum, and with the money buys a robot pooper scooper to pick up all the animal poo for him. The last page shows our zookeeper and all the animals relaxing while the robot does the work – see if you can spot which animals opt for ice cream and which a cup of tea. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

no more cuddles

No More Cuddles! By Jane Chapman
Of course picture books are more likely to take the lovable aspects of animals rather than the pooey ones. This particular gem features Barry, who is one of the cuddliest 2D illustrations I have encountered. A bigfoot, he is so squishy and fluffy and loveable, that all the creatures in the wood want to huggle Barry. He, however, would just like some time alone. He advertises for a replacement cuddly creature, and finds a bear, but the woodland animals still gravitate to the bigfoot instead. In the end their enthusiasm to cuddle Barry topples them all into a swamp – and suddenly, covered in squelchy boggy mud, he’s not so cuddly after all. This is a book that would be meaningless without its sympathetic and enticing illustrations. From Barry’s self-effacing adorableness to the rabbits’ delight in cuddling him, to the bear’s suitability for the role of new cuddle monster – all the illustrations are worthy of hanging as loveable paintings in a child’s bedroom. For anyone who sometimes craves a little ounce of privacy, or perhaps for a parent who wishes to explain that they want a little time in the bathroom without being clung to, this book fits the bill. The animals are adorable – it’s as comforting as a familiar toy, or a snuggly bed. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

how to be a dog

How to be a Dog by Jo Williamson
Another one that leads by illustration, with text to complement. This is a guide written as if by a cheeky dog to all his dog friends. It’s a picture book debut from Jo, and she is definitely one for my future radar – the humour emanates from every page, the dogs all exhibit character and exuberance, and the premise is fresh and exciting…and I don’t even particularly like dogs! It’s written in a tongue-in-cheek style, but with enough zest and simplicity that children will understand the irony of what’s being suggested. The dog’s tips include:
‘To get extra treats, pretend that you have not been fed’,
as well as hilarious illustrations of suggestions of a game other than ‘ball’, to play with your owner, which shows the dog and his owner playing chess: the dog with ambitious intent and drive, and the girl with a sad, defeated look. The other wry illustration which particularly tickled me was that of the dog comfortably under the duvet, taking up most of the bed, whilst the boy sleeps, half hanging off the bed, and the teddy bear lies awake on the floor, clearly having been ousted. Jo Williamson certainly knows how to do expression. Her dog is slightly reminiscent of an old favourite, the illustrations of Margaret Bloy Graham in Harry, the Dirty Dog. Other mentions must be made of the endpapers – all different types of dogs – and the colours – mainly a turquoise blue dotted with expressive deep red. It gives the book a style reminiscent of a manual. A witty new read, which I’m longing to take for walks in the park! You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

Whoops

Whoops! By Suzi Moore, illustrated by Russell Ayto
The experienced award-winning illustrator Russell Ayto brings his distinctive style to this zany book by Suzi Moore. Three animals: dog, cat, and mouse, can’t seem to utter noises correctly. An owl sends the animals to see an old lady who he thinks can help. From the title, Whoops!, it’s clear that there are mishaps along the way, and even at the end! This is a good book for reading aloud or introducing toddlers to a story narrative. The initial page presents a problem, which is eventually solved, although there is a twist at the end. There is lots of repetition – as the old lady doesn’t quite get it right first time – so plenty to join in with, and also the entire text rhymes. In fact there’s a good solid rhythm to the text here – it reminded me a little of Room on the Broom, one of my favourite read-aloud treats. Moreover, it’s a beautifully produced book – each page has its own distinguishing background colour from vivid blue to magenta pink, some darker, some lighter – they give the book a clean feel. The formation of the text is played with too – some wiggles, some in speech bubbles, but it’s never hard to read. Russell’s simple line drawings also lend a minimalism to the story – the house in the woods is stark and peculiar, the animals themselves sharp-edged and repetitive too – their expressions and body language seldom change – but this complements the text. These are not cuddly animals! I must admit I reviewed the hardback copy of this title – but this book deserves to be read in this format. I also liked that the animals chosen were three of the most basic and simplest animals with knowable noises; the irony lying in the fact that although natural predators of each smaller animal, they seem to be in this together! You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

two beasts

A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton
One of the main reasons we thrust stories and books upon children is that they teach empathy. This picture book is a story in two parts – each part told from a different point of view. For this reason it immediately calls to mind Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne, but this is for a younger age group than that – it’s much more unsubtle, but works precisely for this reason. My other motive for picking this book was that it features an unidentifiable animal, ‘the beast’. Part squirrel, part chipmunk, part skunk, it could be any woodland creature, slightly cute, but slightly menacing. It is up to the reader to identify what it could be. I like the ambiguity as it matches the ambiguity in the rest of the story. Part one is told from the girl’s point of view, and describes how she finds a creature in the woods and rescues it – taking it home and looking after it, but it escapes, then returns, and the girl and the creature become friends. Then the story is told again, but from the creature’s point of view. Fiona has kindly inserted a couple of well-known quotes in the book to give us a clue as to what she is trying to do, one of which:
‘There are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth’ Mark Twain
The colour palate works well here – some beautiful autumnal oranges, muted reds and browns, and a blue/purple tinge to the night-time vista. It feels fresh and sharp. It’s particularly interesting to spot the small differences in the illustrations in the two parts of the book too – although similar, there are some lovely differences in expression. A great teaching tool, and rather lovely visually too.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

A huge thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending me a collection of their new picture books, and inviting me to their Tigers’ Day Out at London Zoo. You can visit their web site here and see their fantastic range of children’s books for yourselves too.

 

There’s A Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins

bear on chair

So I’ve had a bit of a feast of picture books recently. I know we’ve bought too many when my children can’t get them out of the bookcase because they’re rammed too tightly. This one, however, never gets put away, so it’s available to read every day. The front cover sums up the story – a disgruntled Mouse gets angrier and angrier when a Bear won’t get off his chair. For anyone who’s ever witnessed children squabbling over a seat (hehemm *pretty much every day*), this is hilarious for parent and child alike, and also teaches a little bit of a lesson.

Sometimes it’s hard to work out what makes a picture book stand out from the rest. This one ticks many boxes. The illustrations start to work and tell the story even from the title page. Then, as has been spoken about a lot recently, the pictures themselves tell the story as much as the text – the two work perfectly in conjunction with each other – if you isolated either text or pictures, it wouldn’t be enough to tell the whole story.

I love the complacent and slightly bemused look on the bear’s face, and the mouse’s expression – betraying unhappiness, disgruntlement, anger, impatience – so much in such a cute face. Even his jumper gives him a distinct personality. The children loved the different things the Bear got up to in his chair, from reading the newspaper to preening himself in the mirror, to reclining half asleep, to looking determinedly at his phone and ignoring the mouse (“my Dad does that” said one of the kids I read it to!). The mouse is also a delight to look at – getting angrier and angrier – and then more disconsolate when the bear won’t budge.

The text is a joy to read – and reminded me hugely of Dr Seuss – yes the rhymes and rhythms are that perfect. The entire book concentrates on rhyming with ‘bear’, so that the mouse has to ‘declare’ about it not being ‘fair’, the bear on his ‘chair’, with references to ‘underwear’, and ‘hair’ and ‘flair’. It’s magical. And the ending is pure comedy. I loved it – buy it from your local independent bookseller. Or here, from Waterstones, or on the Amazon sidebar.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me a review copy.

Picture Book Bonanza

So many fantastic picture books have been published so far this year – I wanted to tell you about a few of my tried and tested favourites.

princess daisy and nincompoop

Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights by Steven Lenton (5 Feb)
Any book that has nincompoop in the title is a winner for me – but subsequently I was blown away by the content inside. From an ironic beginning about how all fairy tales are the same, right to the end with our feisty heroine proving her father wrong, this is an absolute rhyming delight. When a roaring dragon disturbs the peace of the town, the king sends for some knights to tackle his problem. They turn out to be complete nincompoops, and it’s his daughter with a brain who solves the issue. So much of the text here is worth quoting because the rhyming is spot on and totally hilarious – both for children and their parents:
Then everybody cheered, “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books!
And doesn’t it just go to show you mustn’t judge on looks?”
The pictures are bold and fun and colourful. A great twist on stereotypes, and characters with impeccably drawn expressions. I had to read again and again! A storming success. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Beastly Pirates

The Beastly Pirates by John Kelly (12 Feb)
Another rhyming tale, but this one with extremely complex vocabulary. Don’t let that put you off though, we adored exploration of the new sounds and meanings, from colossal to rogue to halitosis! Oh yes, these are revolting pirates, but they get their comeuppance at the end, thanks to a clever child and savvy use of shadows. Many different types of pirates are depicted here, from Wicked Cass the Pirate Lass to Admiral Archibald the Angry – John Kelly plays with language with great ease – but these aren’t even the beastly pirates. The beastly pirates gobble up the others with glee, led by Captain Snapper. The pictures are as intricate as the text – packed with detail, colour and daring. Lots to look at – lots to take in. One to be savoured. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Follow that car

Follow That Car by Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp (1 April)
Another one that packs in the detail, but in pictures this time, is Follow That Car. This is a completely different type of picture book – in which the idea is that the reader traces a path through the different landscapes to help the police mouse on the motorbike chase the gorilla in the yellow car. Slightly reminiscent of Richard Scarry, this is another triumph for Nosy Crow publishers. The text is merely to help the reader find a pathway through each page; the roads are as messy as spaghetti junction. The mouse has to avoid road blocks, train tracks, fallen trees, sheep and ducks on the road – there are endless dead-ends. This is another highly colourful book, bursting with animals and transport. Each page is a feast for the eyes. Loved by every reader to whom I showed it – from age 5-20!!! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

little red and the very hungry lion

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith (7 May)
This super twist on Little Red Riding Hood, by the clever writer and illustrator Alex T Smith, should be in every school library. Little Red Riding Hood has always been depicted as being fairly nifty and astute, from the first tellings to Roald Dahl’s protagonist who ‘whips a pistol from her knickers’. In this version, nicely transplanted into a jungle region rather than the woods, the wolf becomes a lion, and Little Red sees through his tricks immediately. Rather than conquering him, she tames him instead (after doing his hair and teeth and changing his clothes), and on the last page she is silhouetted playing skipping with the lion, her father and her poorly aunt (replacing the grandmother). Alex T Smith has had great fun depicting both Little Red’s jaunt through the jungle to reach her aunt, but also the lion’s descent into grumpiness as his plan fails and Little Red gets carried away doing his hair! It’s fun, subversive, and inspiring, showing children how to twist a tale, and use imagination to recreate old classics. Thoroughly enjoyable. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

daddy's sandwich

Daddy’s Sandwich by Pip Jones, illustrated by Laura Hughes (7 May)
For slightly younger children, but probably one of the most adorable books I’ve spied this year. Pip Jones has captured the little girl’s language expertly, from the moment she calls ‘Daaaadddddy’ on the opening pages to her vocabulary such as ‘teeny’, and the varying sizes of text emphasising words such as ‘ages’ and ‘not’! The little girl attempts to make her Daddy a sandwich with everything in it that he likes – except this little girl is putting in EVERYTHING that Daddy likes, from his camera to his bike helmet. This is one very large sandwich! Laura Hughes’ illustrations are just the right mixture of cute and vivacious, the perfect ingredients for a picture book that any child will want to read again and again. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

ten little dinos

Ten Little Dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow, illustrated by Simon Rickerty (7 May)
One of Huffington Post’s summer picture book picks and for good reason. This is good old fashioned fun, in a stylish and accessible book. Even the cover is great fun. It provides a rhyming poem to teach counting to anyone who has any love for dinosaurs – especially when they’re illustrated in such an endearing way. Ten fairly similar baby dinosaurs, differing in colour and the number of spikes each one has – gradually get diminished in number until the end when they are all reunited with Mummy dinosaur. It follows a similar pattern to many counting books, the ending rhyming number being always just over the page:
“Nine little dinosaurs think the world smells great!
“Slurp!” goes a hungry plant. Now there are….”
The slight apprehension that these dinosaurs might be disappearing because of some danger gives the book edge, and Simon Rickerty has plumped for simplicity in the drawings – every page is a delight of simple patterns and rainbow colours – which makes it stand out and appeal massively to the target audience. Much enjoyed…Roar! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

 

 

Father’s Day

Sometimes the best presents are those that you share. For Father’s Day – and I’m posting this early so that you have time to buy the right gift, here are some books about dads that fathers can share with their children. For me, and many others, the quintessential father in children’s books features in Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World: “My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had.”

But I’ve found some other marvellous and exciting fathers for you in children’s literature. First, picture books:

superhero dad

Superhero Dad by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Joe Berger
A simple idea, astutely executed. To the narrator (the small boy) of the picture book the boy’s Dad is a superhero – everything he does is super. Of course to anyone else, he is a normal Dad. Although, clearly an excellent modern Dad who spends a considerable amount of time with his son, cooking for him, telling him jokes, and playing with him. An exuberance pitches the reader headlong into the book and the rhyming text and joyful rhythm continue to the end. The illustrations match perfectly, so that our rather comical fairly skinny ordinary Dad in glasses is seen holding the tiny dog Jumbo above his head in an extraordinary pose:
“His jokes are Super Funny…
…and his laugh is Super Long.
He can pick up our dog Jumbo
so he must be Super Strong.”
Every word is taken tongue-in-cheek, every picture matches. And yet the tone is loveable, warm and enchanting. The punchline is simplistic yet apt – the father denies he is a superhero, insisting instead that he knows of a superhero – his superhero son. There is also playfulness with the layout of the text – using bold and larger letters to convey emphasis and differentiation. Buy it here from Waterstones or on the Amazon sidebar.

my dad beard

My Dad’s Beard by Zanib Mian and Laura Ewing
This was published last year by a new publisher, Sweet Apple, which continues to grow their list. Although slightly niche, in that it appeals obviously to those whose fathers have beards, it is both cute and original. For younger children than those I usually cater for, each page draws on an example of why the child loves his Daddy’s beard – and how it defines him. It draws on our sensory perceptions from describing the look of the beard – how it is different from other family members’ beards – to the feel of it in different situations, and finally to what the child imagines lives in it (spoiler: a teeny tiny cat). It also manages to draw in the rest of the family as the child witnesses their perceptions of what the beard means to them. This is clever in that it highlights the important place the father has within this family – as a protector, and a person whom they trust and look up to. It draws on Islam in that it explains why this particular Dad has a beard, and so works as a picture book that reaches out to a diverse audience. Buy it here from Waterstones or on the Amazon sidebar.

my dad birdman

My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Many children’s authors absent one or both parents so that the children of the story can go on an adventure without parental restrictions. What’s beautiful about David Almond’s writing is that so often (as with Roald Dahl), it is the adults themselves who bear the idiosyncrasies that make the story so appealing. Although one parent is absent here – the death of the mother is an overriding concern throughout this short tale – the consequences lead to a strengthening and developing of relationship between the daughter and the father. Lizzie’s Dad wants to enter a Human Bird competition, and believes he needs to adopt the characteristics of a bird to be able to fly. He encourages Lizzie to join him in this mad venture, despite the protestations of her adorable Aunt Dotty. The premise is barmy, the characters eccentric – but illuminated by Polly Dunbar’s flamboyant illustrations, the book manages to soar. Highly original, imaginative and everything a children’s story should be. Wonderfully typical David Almond. Age 6+. Buy it here from Waterstones or on the Amazon sidebar.

demolition dad

Demolition Dad by Phil Earle, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Phil Earle’s fictional father comes about as close to Danny the Champion’s Dad as I can find. However, as with much children’s fiction I’ve been reading recently, this is a depiction of a modern Dad who fits right into our current world. Jake and his Dad love to spend every Saturday together pursuing their hobby in common – wrestling. Jake’s Dad George knocks down buildings as a day job, and at the weekend takes part in wrestling matches – knocking down other men – and he’s really good at it. So good, that Jake thinks he should go public, and so secretly enters a video of him in action in a pro-wrestling competition. When George wins, he agrees to travel to America for training and a headline fight, mainly for Jake, but unfortunately things start to unravel, and it’s not quite the dream venture they had all planned.
There were so many things to love about this book. As a refreshing change from much of the ‘humorous’ fiction in the marketplace for this age group – this book wasn’t full of silly jokes and slapstick happenings. It is extremely funny but the humour is carefully woven into the story; there are many wry laughs here, not fart jokes. Also, the wrestling is a major factor but doesn’t dominate. What comes across and leaves quite an impression is Phil’s adeptness at portraying the hidden emotions of parents, the sense of a community in a town, friendships, and most importantly father and son relationships. It’s clever, has emotional depth, and packs quite a punch. Touches I enjoyed – how the mum’s past career influences her behaviour, Phil’s capturing of the small town landscape complete with the ‘house that was stolen’ mid terrace, and Jake’s wonderful innocence and naivety – and his gradual responsive awareness. There are some stunning illustrations from Sara Ogilvie – the cover itself betrays this – but there are even better ones inside (the fight scenes are spectacularly hysterical). Moreover Phil Earle’s self–referential authorial musings are brilliant – see chapter 17. If you buy your Dad just one book this Father’s Day – make it this one. (then keep it for yourself). Age 8+. Buy it here from Waterstones or on the Amazon sidebar.

a boy called hope

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson
On the other end of the spectrum from Danny Champion of the World’s Dad is the Dad in A Boy Called Hope. That’s mainly because he’s absent, having left his family and remarried. This is heartbreaking for Jake Hope, the boy in the story, especially when his Dad appears on the television in his role as a journalist – the first time that Jake has seen him in four years. Sadly, this speaks to so many children today. But despite the sadness of the situation, this is a poignant and uplifting story. Jake comes to see that he is surrounded by a loving family – especially as his Mum has met someone new, Big Dave, who actually turns out to be a terrific father to Jake.
Lara Williamson has magic on her side – she imbues the novel with a myriad of symbols and devices from sky lanterns to glow-in-the dark statues and stars that lift Jake’s situation from the humdrum of normality to the wonder of childhood – she lets us see things through Jake’s eyes that we would never normally capture in our vision.
There is humour too – Jake frequently misinterprets situations which leads to some trouble, but in the end, much laughter, and there are some splendid characters too – from his friends Christopher, who has his own troubles, to Jo, who is obsessed with the saints. It was also hugely enjoyable to read about Jake’s teenage sister through his eyes – older siblings can seem so detached from the family until you dig beneath the surface a little.
This is a wonderful book – fantastically true characterisation, and great writing. Be prepared for tears to accompany the laughter though – as in real life – sometimes you have to make the best of what you’ve got. You can buy it here from Waterstones or see the Amazon sidebar.

Poetry: It Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Lend a Handstars in jarsWerewolf Club Rules

So it’s one thing buying your children fiction or non-fiction. But how about poetry? Have you ever bought your children a poetry book? Recited poetry to them? You definitely have, but you probably don’t know it. When you told your baby a nursery rhyme you were reciting poetry. When you bought them a picture book, you were buying them poetry. I bet The Snail and the Whale would look and most importantly, sound great written out as a poem without the pictures (sorry Axel Scheffler).

Poetry has had a bad reputation. It’s often labelled as boring, reflected in our recollections of poring over the Romantic Poets at school and trying to extract meaning in each word, each line. But in today’s age, we should be embracing poetry. Is expressing ourselves in a 140 character tweet that different from expressing an opinion in a haiku? Is a poem of rhyming couplets any different from a rap song? In the same way we disregard rules of grammar and syntax in text messages, poets do the same with poetry. E. E.  Cummings didn’t bother with capital letters at all. In fact, by using poetry as a means of expressing emotion, we can let children strip away all the rules and regulations of writing, and concentrate on the pure emotion, expression, opinion and feelings within the language. For children who struggle to read a large amount of text, the jumble and randomness of poetry can be hugely appealing. They can interpret and describe what they see and hear and feel in an artistic way rather like drawing, but using words instead; a mood board of words.

Lend a Hand

Lend a Hand by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd
This landed on my desk a while ago; a large hardback with full page illustrations and small quiet poems alongside. It exudes a calm even from the cover; the illustrations are unusual for a children’s book – they are portraits of ordinary people doing ordinary things in acrylic paints, realistic and fairly muted in colour, yet they suit the poems in this collection. Each poem depicts an individual making a difference to their community, from the child planting trees in her street and the child clearing rubbish from a communal stream, to the child who helps another at P.E instead of laughing, and the child who befriends a lonely elderly gentleman. John Frank has not only captured the magic of these small incidental acts of kindness, but also the different points of view. The child collecting rubbish remarks that she didn’t make the mess – perhaps someone else should be tidying it not her – the child who watches the rest of the class nearly fall over with laughter at the ‘klutz’ in PE. I particularly liked the poem called ‘No Charge’, which shows how one good deed deserves another. There are other excellent ideas hidden within the poems – in ‘No Bounds’, the multiplication tables suddenly make sense to a child when she spends time quilting with her grandmother.
Although highly American in language and style, I think these poems are particularly plaintive and appeal to a wide audience. The illustrations show a good diversity too. Ages 6+. You can buy a copy here or see the Amazon sidebar.

stars in jars

Stars in Jars by Chrissie Gittins
A book which I suppose is what you imagine when you think of a collection of children’s poetry. Silly poems, heartfelt poems, school poems, worry poems, poems about everyday things and about fantastical imaginings. It’s perfect for showing children how poetry can stretch the boundaries of our language and grammar, can mix vocabulary – can use the space on the page to define the poem. These are poems to get lost in. Ones that I particularly like include ‘Me, Myself, and I’, which does rhyme, although not many in the collection do, and points out the importance of self in simple, clear repetitive language. There is much poignancy in ‘The Way He Used to Be’ about watching your sibling grow up and be at a slight distance from you; as well as the very simple ‘Three’ about three best friends. It’s a great little riddle and lesson to learn. My favourite is ‘Lullaby’, which implores the child to pack away their worries, or concerns or frustrations and embrace the night as tomorrow is another day. It’s told beautifully, with wonderful imagery playing with childhood illusions of the ‘cheesy moon’ and preoccupations with homework and fights, but is a grown-up way to approach bedtime thoughts. The whole collection contains silly poems too, but the ones with truisms stand out. One to be treasured and dipped into again and again. Chrissie Gittins is no stranger to poetry, having been shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Awards on more than one occasion, and working with the BBC many times.You can buy it here, or on the Amazon sidebar.

Werewolf Club Rules

Werewolf Club Rules, poems by Joseph Coelho
A scintillating collection of poems about the primary school environment, and also about language and writing. These may be simple in tone, but they demand to be spoken. Joseph Coelho is a performance poet, and it shows in his writing. From ‘Onomatopoeia’, exemplifying that words that sound sounds need to be spoken, to ‘Skateboarding’, where the rhythm of the poem belies the speed and force of the skateboard, the words Joseph uses can almost be tasted in the mouth – rolling around on the tongue like taste explosions. Many are told from a child’s point of view, which makes them all the more appealing to the age group – from observations about teachers to the taste and feel of a jam tart. Like Chrissie Gittins, there is some playfulness with the space on the page, but it’s mainly the language in this collection that pulls it above the rest. Not only does Joseph explore vocabulary within classroom depictions –his description of the teacher Miss Flotsam and her seeming life experience:
“Miss Flotsam had climbed peaks
circled by vultures,
waded rivers with unseen bottoms,”
but he also uses language to explore language itself in ‘Collective Pool Nouns’:
“A school of pools
a loud of bubbles
A soak of splashes’.
My favourites were ‘If All the World Were Paper’, which cleverly explores wrapping a baby sister in bubble wrap and smoothing out the creases of a grandfather, and the stunning and unusual imagery of a piece of artwork in ‘Make it bigger, Eileen.’ This has been shortlisted for the CLPE 2015 Poetry Award. You can buy it here, or on the Amazon sidebar.

Towards the end of the summer I’ll revisit poetry, as I’ve just been sent the most powerful young teen book I’ve read for a while – and it’s all in verse. I can’t wait to tell you about it. In the meantime, you can see that from the very young to teen, poetry is a great way into story and narrative.

National Share a Story Month: Dragons

May is National Share-a-Story Month and the 2015 theme is dragons. To celebrate, I’m using the Tuesday Top Ten Bloggers’ Meme created by The Broke and the Bookish writers to list my top ten dragon picture books. In no particular order:

Doughnuts for a Dragon

Doughnuts for a Dragon by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish
I love that dragon books tend to have protagonists called George, seeing as they are following the old legends of George and the Dragon. This George decides to go in search of a dragon. To do this he builds himself a time machine and packs lots of snacks, including doughnuts. On his way to meet the dragon he bumps into all sorts of strange and horrid creatures, such as a witch, and an ogre, but pacifies them all with tasty treats. When he finally meets the dragon, he discovers that it’s not as ferocious as he thought, and together with a lonely princess they feast on doughnuts. The text rhymes well, and the illustrations are fantastically fun – right from the opening pages in George’s bedroom with its puns on modern culture, and the characters depicted cheerfully and colourfully. The language is great, from the very incidental time machine, to the whooshing, click clacking and squeaking. There are others in the series, including Pizza for Pirates, Spaghetti with the Yeti, and my personal favourite, Marshmallows for Martians. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

george and the dragon

George and the Dragon by Chris Wormell
Admitting a slight bias here, as Chris Wormell kindly opened my school library and did some amazing illustrations for our walls, but I loved this book before I met him. It’s a subversive take on the typical legend, and shows great humour. George here is a mouse, not a knight, although this is only revealed halfway through the story. Before this, we have magnificent illustrations and fierce text on how powerful and mighty the dragon is, although he has a secret. He is scared of mice. When our unknowing hero George moves into the cave next door to the dragon, he inadvertently rescues the princess, and is rewarded with a fine meal and a new home. The illustrations are dramatic and vivid, and drawn to incredible detail. Chris Wormell is the illustrator of the cover for the 2014 Samuel Johnson winner H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald– his illustrations are truly a cut above. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

the trouble with dragons
The Trouble With Dragons by Debi Gliori

A much-loved and re-read text, this is a warning about our environment and how we treat the world, told simply, elegantly and cleverly in a dragon tale. The dragons use up all the resources on earth by building houses, taking up space, eating all the food, leaving a mess, and blowing hot air which melts the snow and turns the ice to water. The rest of the animals ask the dragons to think about what they are doing before it is only dragons left on the planet, to reduce their hot air, to reuse and recycle. The end stanza has a telling tone:
“So – if you know a Dragon (and most of us do)
ask it if it thinks that this story is true.
For if we can’t see that our stories are linked
then sadly, like Dragons, we’ll soon be extinct.”
It’s not subtle, and it’s not a picture book for pre-schoolers, but occasionally it’s good to hear to get a message across directly. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

zog

Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
I can’t not feature Zog in my list – this quintessential book all about dragons at a dragon school and the various lessons they undertake each year from learning to fly to blowing fire and capturing princesses, but it did feature heavily in my Brave Girls feature a week ago, so click the link to read more about it.

where did all the dragons go

Where Did All the Dragons Go? By Fay Robinson, illustrated by Victor Lee
This is like reading a lyrical poem with accompanying dreamy illustrations. It’s for older children and it’s not lighthearted and funny like Zog, but is a beautiful picture book, and one worth cherishing. When reading aloud, it’s wonderful to watch the faces of children as they hear the rhymes, savour the language and look at the impressive illustrations. Older children will appreciate the dark artwork of dragons swooping through the air, lit by the illuminated balls of treasure in their claws, and other artworks with dragons, wings outspread, lit from beneath as if flying above the sun. The vocabulary is stretching:
“Gentle dragons, young and old,
hoarding gemstones, guarding gold,
gathering in dragon crowds,
breathing fire, making clouds.”
Sadly, it appears to be out of print. I suggest borrowing from a library or seeking second hand through online retailers.

that pesky dragon

That Pesky Dragon by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Melanie Williamson
Lightening the tone once more, this is another picture book for younger readers. I chose this almost entirely for the page that shows the dragon with a tear in his eye. A female protagonist here, Izzy lives on a farm with lots of farm animals, and a dragon! Although over the next hill, its roars can be heard by everyone on the farm, and the adults deem it too dangerous to go near it. Not only that, but they blame the pesky dragon for the eggs being hard, the milk turning to yogurt and for burning all the wheat in the field. Izzy decides to be brave and go to see the dragon, and discovers that it is trapped:
“I’ve been shouting for help for days,” the dragon cried.
The illustrations are so tender and heart-warming, so bright and colourful, that no child can be scared or upset reading this book. It teaches that you don’t have to be afraid of something that is ‘other’, as the unfamiliar can always look scary until you know what it is. It also implies that it can be good to be brave. It’s a happy ending. Sadly not available everywhere, but you can buy it from online marketplaces or borrow from your local library.

there's a dragon downstairs

There’s a Dragon Downstairs by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Amanda Harvey
This too, I’ve written about before, as it exemplifies our fear of the dark and also, like That Pesky Dragon, our fears about what’s unknown or unfamiliar. Click here to read my review of it, in terms of books about the dark. I’ll also admit that it’s slightly cheating, because as you’ll discover – there’s really no dragon in this book at all!

paper bag princess
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

A feminist tale about a smart princess who outwits a dragon and then decides that she won’t marry her prince because he wants an archetypal fairy tale princess, and she is certainly not one of those. In a fairy tale twist, an extremely powerful and dangerous dragon comes along and destroys the princess’s castle and captures the prince. It is left up to the princess to rescue him, but the dragon has burnt all her possessions so the only thing she can wear is a paper bag. She follows the dragon to his lair, outwits him and sets the prince free. The last page sees her skipping off into the sunset on her own, but happy. There are some faults with this text, but kudos must be given for a feminist tale published as long ago as 1980 and still in print. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar.

mirrorbelle and dragon pox

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Julia Donaldson’s mirror princess started life in chapter books, but has recently made the transition to picture books, which is fabulous because Lydia Monks’ drawings are exquisite, and the added sparkle on each page is quite irresistible. With Julia Donaldson you know you’re going to read quality text, even if it’s slightly longer here than in her more well-known picture books, and also isn’t in verse, but in simple prose. The story is about Ellen who has chicken pox, and her mirror princess, Princess Mirror-Belle who climbs out of her bathroom mirror, announces she has dragon pox and that she knows the cure. Before long the princess has the bathroom in completely disarray, but of course disappears back into the mirror before Ellen’s Mum discovers her. It’s a simple story, beautifully told and illustrated and will charm any child affected (or not) by the pox. And yes, I’ve cheated here – there’s no dragon. Just dragon pox. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar

george dragon fire station

George’s Dragon at the Fire Station by Claire Freedman and Russell Julian
My last dragon story is for younger readers (probably the youngest for whom I cater), but again is written by such a picture book talent, that it would be sad to miss her out. This series starts with George’s Dragon about a boy who has to convince his parents that a dragon is a viable pet, and now includes George’s Dragon Goes to School, and this latest addition published last year. An open day at a fire station should be perfect for a dragon, after all there’s a whole crew to extinguish any unwanted dragon fire, but it turns out George’s dragon can be quite a liability. He is clumsy and large, and gets in the way, until a real call to the fire station warrants a helping hand from a creature who can fly, and in steps George’s dragon. This is narrative prose, but with nice touches of typeface, such as larger letters, and nee naars and dings all over the place. Added to that, Russell Julian’s purple dragon has the friendliest features of all. You can purchase it here or see the Amazon sidebar

Just for fun, learn how to draw a dragon with children’s illustrator Emily Gravett here or how to make a dragon (out of paper!) with Lydia Monks here.

 

 

 

Brave Girls

rosie revere engineerzog  pearl power

I know many successful women. They work hard, are intelligent, interesting and skilled people. Yet, often a theme that resurfaces time and again is women’s lack of confidence. It often manifests itself in a barrier to then pushing forward and getting to where they want to be, or a crisis of confidence in appearance. Much has been written about this, one of my favourite articles being this one from May 2014.

One way to bust through this perpetual wobble is to instil a sense of confidence in our littlest readers from early on. Three books to help you do this, and which are in NO WAY just for girls, are:

rosie revere engineer

Rose Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
A picture book, but not for pre-schoolers. It’s one of those titles I point towards as lasting throughout primary school and even beyond as a learning tool, as well as an enjoyable read. I even use it as a pep talk for myself on low days. Rosie Revere dreams of being an engineer. But what I love most about this book is that it doesn’t contrast Rosie with ‘boys’ in order to make the point that girls can be engineers. In fact, for me, gender isn’t really the issue here at all – Rosie could be gender neutral – it’s about building confidence and persevering with something –for me it just suits my purpose in featuring a girl. Rosie is shy, but secretly likes to build and make models out of junk materials. The genius also lies in the fact that it mentions when she was smaller she didn’t have a lack of confidence but almost reveled in her fine inventions. As many toddlers grow into little girls, they do also start to lose that bravado. In the story, she makes her uncle, the zookeeper, a snake-deterrent hat, but sadly, he laughs at it, and by default, her.

“And when it was finished, young Rosie was proud,
But Fred slapped his knee and he chuckled out loud.
He laughed till he wheezed and his eyes filled with tears,
all to the horror of Rosie Revere,”

At this point, she decides to keep her dreams simply as dreams. Then her great, great Aunt Rose visits and inspires her to build a flying contraption. It also fails, and her aunt Rose has the same reaction as her uncle. This comes as a surprise to the reader, who is obviously expecting better from her aunt. Rosie thinks that she will never be an engineer, but her great, great Aunt explains to her:

“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!….
….Life might have its failures, but this was not it.
The only true failure can come if you quit.”

Her great great Aunt teaches her perseverance and pursuing of dreams, and Rosie stands proud next to her inventions.

There are a couple of other things to point out here. In the last page, Rosie’s whole class are shown with their crazy inventions, boys and girls of all races, which is refreshing to see. On the final back page, barely noticeable, but there is a historical note, referencing the women who provided the workforce during the war effort – especially in the US represented by Rosie the Riveter, the fictional character whose slogan was ‘We can do it!’. I love that the author has referenced the time in which women really started to come to the forefront of the workforce – being indispensable and doing jobs that had previously been deemed suitable only for men.

The vocabulary throughout is enriching and bold – from words such as perplexed to dismayed, and swooping and lingered. The illustrations are detailed and wondrous – there is lots to look at and inspect on each page – from the different patterns worn by the children, to the mass of material Rosie uses for her inspiration in building. This is a page to linger on for quite some time. And the text rhymes! This is a gem of a book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. See the Amazon side bar or purchase from Waterstones here.

zog

Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
I don’t always like to recommend books by this pairing – not because I don’t love their books – I do, and could write a whole blog about them, but I often feel everyone already knows them, and some bookshops devote so much space to them, it can be hard to find all the other picture book gems hidden away at the back.

Zog tells the story of a school of dragons learning their different skills year on year, from flying to breathing fire to rescuing princesses. Zog is the biggest dragon, and the keenest to learn. However, although keen, he often fails and hurts himself, and happens to be ‘rescued’ and tended to by a small girl called Pearl. The subversive ending is that Pearl is a princess who wishes to be a doctor, and doesn’t want to be saved by a prince, the prince wants to train to be a doctor too, and Zog chooses to be part of the ‘flying doctors’ crew, which Madame Dragon, the school teacher, regards as an excellent career choice.

Zog stands out for me as a particularly interesting picture book. I love to use it when talking about girls and confidence for two reasons. Although Zog is the title of the story, there are two characters within who represent ‘girl power’ for me, and whom the children I read it with love more than Zog himself. Madame Dragon, who runs the dragon school, and Princess Pearl, who not only rescues Zog, and shrugs off her princess fripperies to be a doctor, but also in the end, hires the dragon as her transport, and trains the prince to be her junior doctor.

Of course, as with all Julia and Axel’s books – the rhyming is pitch perfect, the illustrations are familiar, funny, friendly and detailed, and children love them. You can buy from Waterstones here.

pearl power

Pearl Power by Mel Elliott
Another Pearl, but this one written with a clear agenda in mind. For this reason, I think it fails a little where the others succeed. It is not quite as polished – the rhymes don’t always scan perfectly. However, it is a useful and rather fun addition to this canon, particularly if like me, the advert Drive Like a Girl, tends to make you hit the steering wheel in frustration – no matter how they wish to spin it.

Pearl moves to a new school, in which there’s a particularly irritating little boy called Sebastian who keeps trying to insult Pearl by saying she does things “like a girl”. Pearl’s response is to take the intended insult as a compliment and prove that she is very skilful indeed. By the end she is hugging him ‘like a girl’. It’s a simple story, with simple illustrations, yet wins me over with the expressive Pearl and the stylised tonal colours. I particularly liked:

“The new school was huge and Pearl was afraid,
but she had to be tough, it was time to be brave.
Most of the kids were bigger than Pearl,
but she knew that she was a clever strong girl.”

This is one girl whose sense of self-confidence has already been instilled by her recently promoted Mum (the reason for Pearl’s moving and attending her new school).
With thanks to @pbooksblogger for the suggestion. You can purchase Pearl Power here or through the Amazon sidebar.

I’d also like to say, when choosing picture books look carefully at what’s being represented. You will want to aim for a subtle message for your children – they aren’t stupid! For instance, How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens, a book I’ve mentioned before, luckily isn’t promoted in any way as being ‘girl power’, and yet it features a brave little girl who embraces difference when no one else will. I wouldn’t promote buying a picture book specifically with a gender agenda in mind, but as well as looking at whether you like the pictures, the text, whether the rhymes works and the story is good – have a look to see if your protagonist is a boy or a girl, and whether the picture books you have portray a different mix of genders, races and religions. See if you can spot those brave girls lurking out there somewhere…

 

 

Bridging the Gap

I’m really excited today to have a blog post about four fantastic series of books for newly independent readers. They bridge the gap between picture books and first fiction brilliantly, all with a stunning combination of text and pictures that work so well together they could be described as picture books – and yet they reach new heights by appealing to young readers longing to explore text on their own, and feel as if they are reading ‘grown-up’ chapter books. I must caveat this though, by saying that newly independent readers haven’t grown out of picture books. As I said previously here, one is never too old for a picture book – some picture books work for children all the way through school and into adulthood.

However, first chapter books can be jolly good fun. Some publishers release certain titles as both picture books and chapter books – eg. Winnie the Witch and Mrs Pepperpot.

Claude in the City

One of the most popular series in my school library is Claude by Alex T Smith. These never stay on the library shelves for long – with good reason. This is a series of books about a dog, who is in no way ordinary! Claude in the City exemplifies all that is good and appealing about this series. The stories are exquisite – Claude always notices what’s interesting and different about things – as a child would. The accompanying drawings are terrific– all the humans always look at Claude with a slightly disdainful look, as if a dog shouldn’t be doing the human things that he does. Claude looks perfectly at home in his beret and jacket in whichever place he chooses to go, be it looking at sculpture in an art gallery or sipping his hot chocolate at the table in the café. He is marvellously eccentric and endearing. He has a sock as a pet, whom he takes to hospital in part 2 of Claude in the City, in his own home-made ambulance. The scenes in the hospital are hilarious, from Claude taking temperatures with a banana to the diagnosis of his sock. It’s a fantastic read with both witty and silly humour and a child’s sense of wonder and fun. The titles are printed with one tone colour red, which make them bright and appealing. The text is split into easy bite-sized chunks, but the stories are meaty and fulfilling and often have a separation of parts, which gives the reader a boost of confidence for managing a bigger book. Titles include Claude on Holiday, Claude on the Slopes, Claude in the Spotlight, Claude at the Circus, and Claude in the Country. In fact, Alex T Smith is bringing out a picture book version of Claude in June of this year. The six young fiction titles were enjoyed equally by the children I tested them with – from aged five to aged 10 years. You can buy the Claude books from Waterstones here

squishy mcfluff

Another excellent series, currently with three books out, is Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat. This is a rhyming series by Pip Jones and illustrated by Ella Okstad, which is equally enjoyable and endearing, but I won’t say too much more as I’ve already reviewed it here.

wigglesbottom primary

A new series, which I’m really excited about is Wigglesbottom Primary by Pamela Butchart and illustrated by Becka Moor. The first title in the series is The Toilet Ghost, although this book has three stories contained within. Also one-tone colour, this time green, Wigglesbottom Primary relates the happenings of one class at the school from a first person perspective, in a chatty tone as if this child were telling you the story verbatim: “One time Gavin Ross asked to go to the toilet, and when he came back he was completely SOAKED.” The text makes good use of capital letters and much dialogue. I can report that much dialogue in CAPITAL LETTERS does indeed happen in school! The three stories are well-contained, well told and simply plotted, and each one is great fun. The camaraderie of the pupils in the classroom comes across well, as does the joyfulness of school days. Becka Moor’s illustrations highlight the different personalities of the pupils and seamlessly merge with the text. Really hoping for many more in this series…this pairing of author and illustrator really knows how to make children laugh. Another one that stretches across the age band from five to 10 years old. Click to buy

woozy the wizard

Lastly, but by no means least is Woozy the Wizard by Elli Woollard and illustrated by Al Murphy. This is one of those books that screams to be read aloud, in fact when it dropped through the postbox I had to stop myself running into the street and grabbing someone to read it to. Woozy the Wizard: A Broom to Go Zoom is the latest in the series. It’s told in rhyming verse and describes the travails of a wizard called Woozy in a village called Snottington Sneeze. Although aimed at four years and over, I think that much older children will delight in this piece of poetry, which has a combination of excellent vocabulary and made up words. Rhyming is great for newly independent readers who find it helpful as the words just drop into place:
‘Woozy!’ Titch cackled.
‘You nincompoop nit.
Your hoover’s not made yet –
it comes as a kit!
You need globules of glue,
You need screws, you need pliers,
And hammers and spanners and
wrenches and wires.’
Woozy’s clearly as good at flatpack as I am. It appeals to the child in the adult, as well as the child, and full colour pictures make this a pleasure from start to finish. Again, more please! Click to buy.