Tag Archive for Ross Tony

Teaching Technology Safety

Do you have a child at primary school? Then it’s likely you’ll have been invited to an e-safety evening. Perhaps your child will have experienced an Internet Safety Day, or you’ll have signed a form with them about acceptable use of electronic devices. But how much of the information is actually absorbed? One of the best ways to teach is through story – narrative telling helps our brains to process information. By weaving information into a narrative, our brains are more likely to make a connection with it – likening it to our own experiences, inviting an emotional response. A narrative actually switches on biochemicals in our brain.

Last year an excellent title, Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross came into the marketplace, explaining how meeting strangers on the internet wasn’t necessarily a good move. This year, Troll Stinks! by the same team talks about sending nasty messages – trolling someone on the phone.

troll-stinks

Troll Stinks by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
In a subtle way, Chicken Clicking references the fairy tale canon, using inspiration from Chicken Licken to tell its tale. Troll Stinks is even more blatant in its reliance on the reader’s prior knowledge of the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Billy, the goat, and his best friend Cyril, are playing with a mobile phone they’ve found. They take silly selfies, film funny things and generally have fun. Until they decide to send text messages to Troll. They’ve heard from Grandpa Gruff that trolls are bad, live under bridges and terrorize goats, so they send some rather mean messages to Troll. But when they decide to take a nasty picture of Troll and blast it all over the Internet, they stumble upon something rather surprising. And realise that being mean over the phone/through the virtual world is a horrible thing to do.

Of course, Jeanne Willis shows enormous imaginative flair in dealing with the subject, creating a really great story filled with humour and pace, all told in a rather delicious rhyme so that it’s easy to read aloud and easy to absorb. Andersen Press have enhanced her text superbly by pairing her with Tony Ross again – who himself adds intense detail and humour to each page and each situation, so that this a fun story rather than a heavy handed message.

Billy Goat hides the phone from his parents, knowing they wouldn’t allow it – and Tony Ross illustrates the goat parents with huge panache – a sumptuous living room complete with a portrait of an ancestral goat, and the newspaper strewn on the floor.

Throughout the book, Billy and Cyril’s attention is firmly fixated on the screen, with an intense stare – although one which doesn’t alienate the reader. The familiarity of Ross’s style (from his Horrid Henry illustrations) are morphed into goat characters here, in his own inimitable thorny style – one could almost imagine Henry holding the phone rather than Billy, but the enhanced billy goat grins and hooves make this even funnier than if it were people of course. And the denouement when it comes is equally well depicted. The goats look sheepish, their lesson is learnt. And not only that, but they turn to a more friendly, less electronic, game.

It’s filled with fun, pathos and drama.You can buy it here.

(Please note that the copy I reviewed was not final)

chicken-clicking

Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
If anything, the lesson in this book is even harsher, despite the illustrations being much softer.

Set firmly in a farmyard, a small mischievous chicken goes into the farmer’s house when he is asleep and browses the internet. She develops a tendency for buying goods, although is rather generous with her gifting. She loves the diamond watch she buys herself, and bags and shoes, but she also buys scooters for sheep, skates for the pigs, and sends the bull on holiday.

Her shopaholic-ism is an issue, but trouble begins when she seeks a friend online – sending pictures of herself and giving her name and age. In the end, she goes off to meet her lovely new friend, without telling her mother and father – and it turns out her new ‘friend’ has rather ill intentions. The ending of the book is brilliant for discussion with a young primary school reader – but if you’re clever, you’ll show the youngster the back page of the book which illustrates the young chick running to safety afterall!

This book too has Willis’ sharp snappy rhymes, which possess a perfect rhythmic scan. Tony Ross has gone to town on the illustrations here too. Deviating from his usual style, these are far more fluffy and innocent, as befits our protagonist chick – but it’s the humour that packs a punch, along with the internet message.

The chick buys the bull a holiday in Spain – Tony Ross illustrates him reclining on a beach, whilst next to him a small boy in swimming trunks waves a red towel. Chick’s overbuying in shoes and bags is depicted by Ross’s brilliant illustration of the farmer blaming his wife for the overspend.

This is a rather wonderful book, and with Troll Stinks!, a great pair of books that seems to nail the message of internet safety. Buy Chicken Clicking here.

Back to School First Readers

It’s September. Back to school time in the UK, and a new school year. Sometimes that means a new school, sometimes a new teacher, and sometimes a new book series. Three new finds for newly independent readers:

isadora moon

Isadora Moon Goes to School by Harriet Muncaster


This utterly charming and totally irresistible new series follows the adventures of Isadora, half vampire, half fairy. Illustrated throughout in pink (for fairy) and black (for vampire), the book is a delightful twist on the current crop of first readers, which often feature fairies, but not like this one, which comes with extra bite (a fairy with fangs!).

Isadora is both cute and quirky, and struggles to decide whether she would rather attend fairy school, in the daytime, like her fairy mother did, or vampire school, at night, just like her vampire father did when he was young.

Despite being a combination of fantastical characters, Isadora is hugely relatable for her feelings of being ‘different’ to everyone else, and her attempt to make sense of the world. Of course the experiences at the two different schools dominate the book, but it’s the little touches that make the story stand out – mentions of Isadora’s favourite food (peanut butter on toast), the mistake of taking along one’s soft toy on the first day of school, managing parents on different time schedules and trying to please them both.

The illustrations of Isadora and her peers make this truly exquisite. The page dedicated to Isadora trying to dance at fairy school is hilarious, with tiny vignettes of her moves – it turns out colour does matter for Isadora! With plentiful wit throughout, and mischief and magic, this is a wonderfully unique and sparkly new series. My test readers already want the rest in the series (Isadore Moon Has a Birthday, Goes to the Ballet and Goes Camping), and in my opinion this is definitely a series to rival Claude. Well-conceived, well executed. A triumph. For ages 5-7 years (and fun adults too!) Find Isadora here.

the new teacher

The New Teacher by Dominique Demers, illustrated by Tony Ross, translated from the French by Sander Berg

Newly available in English, although first published in French in 1994, this is an adorable tale of what a good teacher – one who doesn’t necessarily follow the rules – can do for a class.

Mademoiselle Charlotte, who doesn’t even walk or look like the other teachers, talks to a rock. She doesn’t write her name on the board, and she asks the class what they want to do. And so begins the class’s foray into a new type of learning. Narrated by one of the children in the class, this is a delightfully subversive, humorous and endearing story, wonderfully illustrated by Tony Ross (of Horrid Henry fame).

It’s always cheering to see books for young children with exemplary vocabulary, and this oozes it with abundance – I’m sure it is there in the original French too, for there is the odd quirky phrase that might be more familiar in the original language, but retaining it still makes sense, and gives the book its own distinct flavour:

“And as far as schools are concerned, let’s just say I know my onions. My dad and I have moved house loads and I’ve been to tons of schools!”

Embedded within Miss Charlotte’s teaching is daily storytelling, and this love for storytelling shines out from the story. Added to this is the children’s growing attachment to their teacher, so much so that they put on a performance to illustrate the fact. However, like all great fictional teachers and Mary Poppins figures – they go where they are needed most, and so by the end of the story, our protagonist is left to get used to another new teacher. A gentle persuasive story for age six plus (confident reading alone, or shared with parent). Buy it here.

grandma bendy

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape by Izy Penguin

One of the most popular and talked about elements of primary school education in the UK today has to be ‘show and tell’. Stories of ‘who showed what’ and ‘what was said’ roll from the tongues of little ones on the walk home from school.

So it’s no great surprise that with the launch of publisher Maverick Children’s Books Junior Fiction titles, comes a tale about what can go wrong with show and tell. When Lucy reaches to extract her show and tell item from her schoolbag, she pulls out a snake instead. Bully Mike Grimace has put it there, but when it escapes and everyone blames Lucy, she must find it and reveal the real culprit.

With a cast of zany characters, and exuberant dizzy text, this story zooms along with pace. Grandma Bendy implausibly zigzags and twizzles her super stretchy twisty limbs around the town, getting Lucy and her brother into all manner of places, and mischief, but in doing so helps them search for the snake. There is an inept policeman, a nosy journalist and some other typical characters, but the author has added some nice modern touches, such as Grandma adding broccoli to the children’s ice cream floats so that she doesn’t get told off by their mother for not giving them enough veggies.

The illustrations match the text – a lovely map at the beginning displays the layout of the town with the same crazy aplomb – random sheep, a tree that looks a bit like a sheep etc, which is all the sort of thing that makes a child chuckle. The characters too look like their personalities, and there’s plenty of chaos to behold.

Other titles launching in the junior fiction range include Letter to Pluto by Lou Treleaven and Rickety Rocket by Alice Hemming. They’re not short at 128 pages each, but highly illustrated with different text formats, and might be a good stepping stone from learning to read to reading chapter books alone. You can find Grandma Bendy’s snake escape here.

Summer Reading Suggestions

It’s that time of year – a month off for MinervaReads and a sumptuous summer booklist for readers.

a fun abcoddbods

For the youngest, my top recommends include A Fun ABC by Sade Fadipe and Shedrach Ayalomeh, a rhyming ABC book set in Africa. With full colour, exquisitely detailed pictures on each page showing children what life is like in Africa as Adinah goes on an adventure during her school break to visit her grandfather. Not only showing the ABC, but also filled with delightful visual puzzles, such as how many objects beginning with the same letter are hidden within each picture – T is for table but also for tambourine, tomatoes, torch and teapot. An infectiously bouncy and lively book, bursting with colour and exuberance.

Equally colourful and with rhyming text and an alphabet theme, is OddBods by Steven Butler and illustrated by Jarvis. Weird and wonderful children and personalities laid out on each page, explaining why everyone has their own quirks and strange habits. Hugely funny, and embracing individuality.

great aaa ooosnappenpoop

Be prepared to join in wholeheartedly with The Great Aaa-Ooo by Jonny Lambent, a picture book filled with noise and laughter, as the animals try to work out who is making the great aaa-ooo noise in the woods. Lambent’s wonderful collage-style layering with different textures for each animal brings to mind his first picture book, Little Why, yet this goes one better in its animal expression, body language, and plotline. The text begs to be read aloud, the fears of the animals are assuaged, and there’s a surprise ending too.

There’s No Such Thing as a Snappenpoop by Jeanne Willis and Matt Saunders explores sibling relationships, especially during summer days in the garden. Fabulously written, with real feeling, and both brothers masterfully depicted by Saunders – reminiscent of the boys from On Sudden Hill. This is more playful though, both in picture and words, as meanies get their comeuppance.

lucinda belindanara and the island

Jeanne Willis also gives Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool, illustrated by Tony Ross what she deserves in this sparky picture book that extends all the way up the age range. With a message that looks aren’t everything; but it’s what’s inside that counts, ironically the book portrays the moral with such panache and style that it’s lucky the message in the book lives up to its looks. A brilliant picture book that manages to be as cool as a pop star.

For something altogether gentler and quieter, try Nara and the Island by Dan Ungureanu. Muted pastel colours, a thoughtful story of friendship and imagination, exploration and discovery – it feels contemporary and old-fashioned synonymously. Beautiful depictions of islands in the sea make this a joyful and peaceful summer read.

puglycaptain pugcaptain firebeard

Newly independent readers will be well rewarded in their reading with Pugly Bakes a Cake by Pamela Butchart, a hilariously funny tale about a Pug who wants to bake a cake, yet gets himself stuck in the cat flap instead. An array of comedy characters, slapstick in abundance and illustrations by Gemma Correll, everyone will fall about laughing with this great story. Further adventures of pugs in Captain Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans, with a slightly more sophisticated pug owner, and a very loveable pug, who can’t help getting into scrapes. Fully illustrated, funny and rewarding. More seafaring in Captain Firebeard’s School for Pirates by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Anna Chernyshova, this is a book that won’t get lost on the beach – it’s luminous orange – throughout! It’s Tommy’s first term on board the Rusty Barnacle learning to be a pirate – tests galore for the young piratey ‘uns, and an author who’s gone mad with the seafaring metaphors.

jim reaper 2max crumblypoppys place

Readers age 8 and over may enjoy the second in the Jim Reaper series, Saving Granny Maggot by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jamie Littler in which Jim has accepted that his Dad is the Grim Reaper, but is not quite fully okay with him killing his best friend’s grandmother. More laughs, more subversiveness. Watch out for Jamie Littler’s wonderful illustration of Granny Maggot dancing. Dork Diaries fans may be interested to hear that author Rachel Renee Russell has produced a new series about a boy called Max Crumbly entering middle school. Max loves comics and in the first in the series, The Misadventures of Max Crumbly, Locker Hero, he has to face school thug, Doug Thurston. Told in first person, with numerous illustrations, lined text pages and comic strips, this is easy summertime reading ‘a la Wimpy Kid‘ for those who may be reluctant. And for animal lovers, Poppy’s Place by Katrina Charman is a delightfully gentle feel-good series about the Palmer family who turn their home into a cat sanctuary and café. Friendship, family and beautiful illustrations by Lucy Truman – the second book in the series has just been published.

whispers of wilderwoodapprentice witchgym teacher alien

A host of meaty middle grade titles (for 9-13 years) land this summer, and are perfect for complete immersion in the garden, on the sofa while it rains, or if you’re lucky, next to a swimming pool. The Whispers of Wilderwood Hall by Karen McCombie sweeps the reader into a Downton Abbey-esque past, with a contemporary heroine who time travels and yet retains a precise sense of self – she’s likeable, flawed and intensely real. A contemporary novel that shows what family and friendship are all about. Another hugely likeable character is Arianwyn in The Apprentice Witch by James Nicols, who demonstrates supreme grit and determination with huge warmth and charm. Arianwyn is a trainee witch, who rises from failure to triumph in a book that lifts the spirit and teaches heart.

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons follows the success of My Brother is a Superhero, and continues in the same vein with Luke’s resentment at his brother’s superhero status, incorporating the same wit as before, references to comics and superheroes, and with gadgets and evilness. It’s funny and pacey – but would be best read as a sequel rather than a standalone. See also my books of the week, The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison, and Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker. Also for this age group, and great summer reads.

five hundred milesriver of inkjessica ghost

For older readers, I highly recommend short and yet compelling Five Hundred Miles by the hugely talented Kevin Brooks – darkness oozes from his novels like treacle from a jar. His first full length YA novel since The Bunker Diary comes out in the autumn – this is a good warm up. River of Ink by Helen Dennis will keep the reader gripped and mystified throughout. It features a wonderfully enigmatic protagonist, a sassy girl and her deaf brother, and stays in the memory long after reading. Not only that, but the pages are interspersed with intriguing images, which also keep the reader guessing. Book two in the series has just been published, and it’ll be in my suitcase – book three is on pre-order. Meanwhile, Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norris is released in paperback and is one of the most perfect novels I have read – easy to read, sharp, interesting characters, a mystery with perfectly crafted cliff-hanger ‘what happens next’ sentences at the end of almost every chapter – this is an emotionally astute, well-told, loving story with exceptional characters and one you’d be mad to pass on. Definitely the pick of the summer.

historium activityprofessor astro activitypierre maze colouring

For those who want something more hands-on, Historium Activity Book by Richard Wilkinson and Jo Nelson takes the reader inside the museum to recreate ancient artworks, spot differences, answer artefact questions and explore ancient mazes. For pure history buffs with a creative bent. Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book by Zelda Turner and Ben Newman includes experiments, codes, quizzes, crafts and more, all related to the science of space. Learn and play at the same time, this will keep them busy all summer. It looks good, feels good and teaches well. And lastly for pure fun, try Pierre the Maze Detective and the Great Colouring Adventure by Hiro Kamigaki and IC4Design. Like a Where’s Wally to colour in with puzzles to solve – finding objects, navigating mazes. Enormous fun, hours of entertainment (answers at the back to avoid frustration).

The Lollies

Nearly two thirds of children aged between 6-17 years say that when choosing books to read, they want books that make them laugh, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report 2015. So it was with some dismay that the children’s book publishing world watched the closure of the Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize last year.

However, in its place come the Lollies – The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, launched by Scholastic in 2015 – and supported by Michael Rosen and the Book Trust. The shortlist was announced in February, and voting is now open for teachers to register votes on behalf of their classes and schools. The links and voting deadlines are at the bottom of the article. There are three categories: Picture books; 6-8yrs, and 9-13yrs. Here follow reviews of the four shortlisted picture books.

Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book

hoot owl

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
This bright, distinctive book with deceptively simple-looking illustrations is a hoot from the start. The eyes give it all away throughout this cleverly paced picture book, which is a delight for adults and children.

Telling the story of Hoot Owl, who disguises himself to pounce on his prey, Sean Taylor takes an older narrative concept and warps it for the younger age group. Although a picture book, the text reads, unusually for this format, in first person construct and with an extremely unreliable narrator. Hoot Owl tells his own story, awarding himself the title of ‘master of disguise’; this owl is not just wise. In fact this rhyming refrain is key to the story, as each disguise is more and more ridiculous and unwise, and each plan is unsuccessful, despite the owl’s keen boasting.

He dresses as a carrot to entice a rabbit, and a sheep to entice….a lamb. The costumes are of course blatant humour for the child reader, but the text keeps the adult amused with its tongue-in-cheek poking at ‘real’ literature conceits:

“The night has a thousand eyes, and two of them are mine.”

And

“The terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere.
But I cut through it like a knife.”

Even children will giggle at “The lamb is a cuddly thing, but soon I will be eating it.” Particularly when they view the accompanying illustration of a cute white lamb with glasses, set against a black backdrop. A simpler, more innocent looking lamb you could not find.

The eyes win the story through – in each case Hoot Owl’s eyes looking askance at his prey, or the wide-eyed stare at the reader. And the ending – well the ending is a child-perfect solution. An excellent shortlist title. A big ter-wit-ter-woo. You can hoot for it below and buy it here.

slug needs a hug

Slug Needs a Hug by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Two colossi of the children’s book world, Willis and Ross, also lead with an unconventional main character in their latest picture book. Slug Needs a Hug – the concept is in the title – anyone who comes across a slug will be loath to touch it and anyone who knows children is aware that slugs remain a source of fascination and disgust.

In this story, though, pathos abounds as even slug’s mother won’t hug him. His glum face and cute sticky up eyes provoke empathy from the beginning, and Willis cleverly portrays him with a mixture of this interest and grossness with her rhyming text:

“Once upon a time-y,
There was a little slimy,
Spotty, shiny, whiny slug.”

He is at once unappealing and pathetic, yet needy of our love and attention. Her subversiveness in making words rhyme by adding a ‘y’ is a giggle-factor in itself. This book too relies on disguise, as the slug asks other creatures for help, and then in order to be more like them – cuter – he dresses up in aspects of their demeanour – “to make himself more huggable, less slithery and sluggable”. He dons a furry jacket to seem more catlike (as well as a hat with a picture of a cat on it), and trotters like the pig, and a string moustache – like the goat’s handsome goatee beard.

Of course the irony is clear – none of these other creatures is particularly cuddly either (note the cow and its udders) – and Ross paints them as being rather arrogant and vain – the picture of the goat posing, stroking his beard, is simply perfection.

Slug’s lack of self-esteem and thoughts of his own ugliness are banished in the end – his mother’s reason for not hugging him is again, the perfect ending to a picture book. Complete common sense. You can hug a slug here.

gracie grabbit

Gracie Grabbit and the Tiger by Helen Stephens
One of our favourite picture books is How to Hide a Lion, so it comes as no surprise that Gracie Grabbit is equally well-drawn and adorable. The themes continue – big cats and burglars – but in a new story with another tantalisingly oddbod heroine.

Gracie Grabbit’s defining feature is that her father is a robber, and Stephens is at great pains to point out how naughty this is. On a day out to the zoo, Gracie’s Dad can’t help steal things from people and animals, but when his back is turned, Gracie returns all the items. The only problem – she returns them to the wrong owners, with surprising results.

Laughs come from all over the place with this book – from the stereotypical eye mask and stripy top that the robber wears no matter where he is, to the stance of little Gracie who is forever wagging her finger at her naughty Daddy or telling on him. Her cuteness, of course, contrasts hugely with the naughtiness of her father.

But the concept is what wins the giggles. Gracie’s Dad steals the silliest things and Gracie gives them back blatantly incorrectly: a wet fish back to the baby, the rattle to the snake, the egg to the lady and the hat to the penguins. The expressions are priceless, the egg on the lady’s head a wonderful illustration. And then of course there’s the winsome tiger.

The crowd at the zoo seem very old-fashioned, as does the tale itself which is sweet and wholesome in the end – naughtiness is punished. Modern touches abound though, as Stephens is good at including diversity, and brightness in her illustrations. Hugely enjoyed by the children testing it here – maybe because of the familiarity of the illustrator, but also surely for the fun in the robber getting his comeuppance, and the child being wiser and more well-behaved than the adult. A good tiger tale. You can buy it here.

i need a wee

I Need a Wee! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
More big guns from the picture book world, Sue Hendra can do no wrong – from Supertato to Barry the Fish with Fingers, Hendra is another household name. This title though, as with the slug, the robber and the pomposity of Hoot Owl, takes a subject that is fairly taboo, and makes it the dominant characteristic of the book. The cover illustration of a teddy bear holding himself with his legs in the ‘need a wee’ position sums it up, and is appealing immediately (to a young child).

The brightness of the book – the cover is a luminous yellow with pink and green lettering, with a beautifully textured bear – continues throughout, as the story follows a group of toys and in particular our bear, Alan (even the name is comical for a teddy). He is having a fun day out, but needs a wee.

As is common with pre-schoolers, Alan is too engrossed in what he is doing to make the time to go and wee – the world is just too exciting. From queuing for a slide (then not wanting to leave the queue as he’s nearly at the front) to attending a tea party, and then reaching the toilet only to find a queue there too – this is a hilarious little story.

The touches in the illustrations are excellent – Linnet’s penguin blowing a party horn, the wind up toys, and those on springs, the size difference between Alan and dolly (who kindly invites him back to her house to use her toilet, only to find of course that the doll’s house is tiny).

Alan looks like a well-loved worn toy, which only adds to the charm, and Hendra excels in the items that Alan wants to resort to weeing into to alleviate himself – a teapot, a hat….

The ending is well-executed and very funny indeed. Watch out too for the blob who comes second place in the dance competition. This is a book that made me smile despite being entirely toilet humour! You can spend a penny on it here!

You can buy the books and vote NOW. Children will decide the ultimate winners in each category with their class votes (see here and parents can read information on how to get involved here.) Voting closes on the 10th June 2016.

The other categories are as follows:

Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds

Badly Drawn Beth by Jem Packer and Duncan McCoshan

Wilf the Mighty Worrier: Saves the World by Georgia Pritchett and Jamie Littler

The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom by Jonny Duddle

Thorfinn the Nicest Viking and the Awful Invasion by David MacPhail and Richard Morgan

Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13 year olds.

Danger is Still Everywhere: Beware of the Dog by David O’Doherty and Chris Judge

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon by Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll

Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald

The Parent Agency by David Baddiel and Jim Field

 

With thanks to Scholastic for the books, and related information. 

The Cake, the Wolf, and the Witch by Maudie Smith

cake wolf witch

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Actually I’m only going to write this review if you promise not to give away any of the spoilers to your children but just give them the book to read as a surprise. Ready? This is a book set in the land of Ever After, and explores the adventures of Max and his step siblings as they attempt to overthrow the wicked witch and make sure that Ever After remains Happy Ever After.

There are of course massive overtures to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The children travel by accident, not through a wardrobe, but through a cake, to the land of Ever After (rather than Narnia) – they encounter a wolf rather than a lion – and the wicked witch is turning everything to greyness and ash rather than whiteness and ice, but rather than draw some Christian allegory, Maudie Smith is simply having fun, and her creativity shines through the story. The inhabitants of Ever After are all familiar characters from fairy stories, and the author depicts them with cheek and flourish. Little Red Riding Hood has attitude, the troll under the bridge is adorably childish with his pinky promises and appetite for a playmate, and there is even a sneaky eighth dwarf. Max’s search for the witch uses a familiar narrative of age-old quests, including an encounter with a knight, inclement weather, a maze, and finally a daunting castle over a seemingly insurmountable mountain, but the journey is exhilarating and fun for the reader. The danger is never too threatening, the familiarity of the characters is comforting, and there is the growing inevitability that Max and Ever After will have their happy ending.

Maudie’s talent for reinvention blazes a trail here, but her characterisation of her ‘ordinary’ children is what really distinguishes this book and makes it my book of the week. Max, despite being in a fairy tale land, is one of the truest children I have read. His grief over the death of his mother pours through, as does his readjustment to life with a step-family, and his fears and worries. Maudie is assured in her ability to incorporate an aspect of his personality that explains his favourite hobby, (marble runs), why it makes him happy, and how it enables him to complete his adventure. She provides the reader with a character who develops beautifully from the start of the book to the finish, growing in self-awareness and empathy. Through all the fantasticalness of the story, the character of Max and his step-siblings remain very much grounded in reality, and this makes this book a complete winner. With illustrations by the wonderful Tony Ross (of Horrid Henry fame), this is the summer’s must-read for children aged 7+. You can buy it here or purchase from the Amazon sidebar.

New Readers

krazy ketchup horrid henry dirty bertie jackpota home for mollyknightmare foul play

There’s a wonderful transition that happens when reading clicks for children. In the blink of an eye, suddenly they are able to read, and they read EVERYTHING. Lo and behold those of you who leave your Facebook page open, or receive uncouth words in your texts…those pesky children get everywhere! For me, as you can imagine, the real spark inside me lights up when they are so buried in their current book that they won’t get dressed for school, when they come downstairs for breakfast without lifting their head from their book. But which chapter books should they first be reading? What will propel them forwards? The series featured below are all for age 6+

krazy ketchup horrid henry

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross
A divisive series among some parenting groups. These are hugely popular with children, and with good reason. They are lively, spritely, filled with glee for a child’s life, and even for me, rather funny. What’s more there are non-fiction versions – Horrid Henry factbooks, which appeal because of the character, but impart interesting facts on a variety of topics. However, more often than not I am approached by parents who loathe the examples of bad behaviour contained within. Personally, I think the books are great. I stock loads of them in the school library, and here’s why. Horrid Henry tests those boundaries that most children wouldn’t dream of testing themselves – it’s a way of living it out for them – children don’t act on the behaviour they read about; it’s merely a safe environment for their emotions. In the same way that we don’t commit a murder after reading Ruth Rendell, children don’t act out just because they’ve read Horrid Henry. In fact, if you read it carefully, you’ll see that Horrid Henry’s catchphrase is ‘Noooooo!’ in response to being caught. Yes, Horrid Henry really doesn’t get away with much. And Francesca Simon has made a point of saying that she doesn’t have him do anything that a child wouldn’t be able to think up.
The other reason I love Horrid Henry books is the simplistic 2D characterisation. Henry is Horrid, Margaret is Moody, Peter is Perfect. This gives very simple signposts to children as they first read longer stories, enabling them to decipher character and motive easily as they follow the plot. These sorts of signposts are also extraordinarily good for autistic children. Of course, the books also have short stories split into easy sections and good illustrations. The other reason I adore this series is that they truly do equally appeal to boys and girls.

dirty bertie jackpot

Dirty Bertie by Alan Macdonald, illustrated by David Roberts
Another hugely popular series in the same vein as Horrid Henry. By the time of his 25th adventure in Jackpot!, published May 2015, the series had sold over 750,000 copies. So what’s the difference between Horrid Henry and Dirty Bertie, you may enquire? Dirty Bertie with his friends at school such as Know-All Nick and neighbours such as Mrs Nicely, also features 2D characterisations for easy understanding, has great illustrations and each book is split neatly into three different stories for manageable first reading. Dirty Bertie though is less naughty than Horrid Henry – just has filthy habits, and is more prone to mishaps. In fact, whereas Horrid Henry schemes and devises plans, Dirty Bertie is more passive – things just seem to happen to him, or he picks up on the wrong end of the stick. He’s much gentler, but like Horrid Henry, always gets his comeuppance. In the title story of Jackpot! Dirty Bertie mistakes his grandmother’s win on the lottery as being a life-changing jackpot win and misleads his entire family. In Crumbs! Dirty Bertie mistakes salt for sugar when baking a cake – and that’s not his only mistake of the day – and in the final story Demon Dolly, Bertie’s sister wreaks some well-placed revenge on Bertie after he throws away her favourite toy. They are funny, yukky and addictive. Buy it here from Waterstones or visit the Amazon sidebar.

a home for molly

Animal Stories by Holly Webb
Another storming series for first readers which has also sold well – 650,000 to date. Each one comes packaged with an adorable animal picture on the front – saccharine for an adult perhaps, but endearing for a young child. The latest, A Home for Molly, tells the gentle story of a stray dog rescued by a little girl on holiday. Holly Webb flits between the feelings of the young girl and the feelings of the small dog to create a narrative that’s full of emotion – the little girl comparing her memories of once being lost to how the dog must feel. It hits the right notes with no great surprises, but tells the short story well with cues for empathy, including familiar parental rules and family life, and the preoccupations of being young and on holiday. The text is interspersed with a few illustrations by Sophy Williams which add to the narrative, and the text is split into short chapters. Holly Webb captures simplistic storytelling in a neat package in a formula that can be repeated without getting tiresome. It’s also nicely modern – mention of emails, Calpol!, a father who works long hours, and yet tied into a perfectly old-fashioned beach holiday. Perfect for today’s first readers. (There’s a free Animal Stories app too. You can download it here.) Buy the book here, or see the Amazon sidebar.

knightmare foul play

Knightmare by Peter Bently
This series by prolific writer Peter Bently is for those readers who want a slightly longer narrative stretch such as the Holly Webb series, but with a plethora of silly jokes and stupid happenings – and a more advanced vocabulary. Rather than based in reality, as Henry and Bertie, Knightmare is set in a time of knights and castles. Each tale is an action-packed, silly, and at times hilarious, romp through a cobbled-together medieval landscape. The fifth book of the series, Foul Play!, takes place during the May Fair, with central character Cedric – a knight in training to Sir Percy – a master who’s not quite as chivalrous or gallant as a knight should be perhaps. Before long Sir Percy is trying to avoid some relatives and some Morris men to whom he owes money, as well as attempting not to lose his castle in a bet over a football game. Medieval football though, is not quite the game it is today, and before long there is much mayhem – and many fouls! There are some lovely modern references – the cook enters a bake-off competition, the football game starts at 3pm, and there’s a fair amount of traffic heading to the fair – not to mention the parking permits! With all the excitement, plays on the historical setting and constant punning, this may be enjoyed by slightly older readers. It’s a pacey read and incredibly daft. You can buy it here from Waterstones, or on the Amazon sidebar.

 

With thanks to Stripes publishing for review copies.

How Can I Help My Dyslexic Child To Love Reading?

Dyslexia Action quotes that on average one in three children in every classroom is dyslexic and therefore struggle in some way with literacy.[i] As a reading for pleasure consultant, it’s vital to help parents find those texts that will appeal to a dyslexic child, and keep them reading because they want to. In particular, it’s important not to make that child feel as if they can read only ‘easy’ books that their peers read long ago, and for which they might be ridiculed for reading.

Being dyslexic only means that the processing channels can get mixed up – it doesn’t mean the child is in any way less intelligent, and so the books still need to be content appropriate. It’s also vital that the child doesn’t find the processing too difficult, so that their confidence (which can be the first thing to go) is nurtured, and it’s vital to help them discover that reading can be a pleasure not a struggle.

Luckily, in today’s publishing industry, the publisher Barrington Stoke is doing some excellent work producing books that are dyslexia-friendly, and seek to be like any other chapter books in their outward appearance.

What does dyslexia-friendly mean? In the main, it means that books have the following features:
paper that’s off-white to reduce glare, well-spaced text, thick paper so that the words from the next or previous page do not show through, wide margins, straightforward syntax, (which means that there aren’t too many clauses in one sentence), an unjustified right-hand margin, a well-structured story, and signposts that clearly show the story’s natural pauses – pictures, headings etc.

I’m most often approached by parents of children aged about seven who are learning about dyslexia for the first time and are desperate to find appropriate books to encourage them to read and learn to love reading. Here are some titles by phenomenal children’s writers to help:
Haunting of Uncle Ronyoung werewolfsnake who came to stayreal true friendsmeet the weirds
The Haunting of Uncle Ron by Anne Fine
A funny book about a guest who doesn’t want to leave! Part of the 4u2read series from Barrington Stoke, which also includes excellent stories by the likes of Annie Dalton, Michael Morpurgo, Jeremy Strong, Malorie Blackman, and Terry Deary, all aimed at an 8-12 years interest age.

Young Werewolf by Cornelia Funke
One of my favourite authors ever since reading Inkheart, Cornelia has the ability to create magic through simple text. When Matt gets bitten on the way home from the cinema, he realises he’s been infected by a werewolf. Can he undo the curse before the full moon? See also The Moonshine Dragon by Cornelia Funke for younger readers.

The Snake Who Came to Stay by Julia Donaldson
Another excellent children’s author best known for her picture books (many are surprised that Julia Donaldson has so many titles for older readers, but she does!), this is a simple tale of a home for pets and the trouble that ensues when Doris the snake comes to stay. Part of the Little Gems series, this is aimed at the 5-8 years age group, which is quite a wide range in my opinion, but excellent for confidence building for first readers.

Real True Friends by Jean Ure
When Hannah moves to a new school she needs to discover who are her real friends. A good story about fitting in and friendships. Jean Ure is a well-established writer and many of her books feature girls aged between 10-14 years, so a young reader can progress through her books if she likes the style. I personally remember Jean Ure for her now out-of-print titles such as One Green Leaf and A Twist in Time, and Hi there, Supermouse! which I adored!

Meet the Weirds by Kaye Umansky
A fabulously funny story about unconventional neighbours. Mrs Weird is a stuntwoman and Mr Weird a mad scientist and they have some unconventional habits, so moving in next door to the Primms is bound to spell trouble.

There are many more titles on the Barrington Stoke website, to which I highly recommend a visit.

However, I would also point to stories such as the Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon as a good read for dyslexic readers because they contain brilliant illustrations by Tony Ross, and are divided into short manageable chapters. Likewise Clarice Bean Don’t Look Now by Lauren Child and the Ottoline books by Chris Riddell are all stories broken up into short chunks with fantastic illustrations to accompany the text. Mr Gum by Andy Stanton has excellent spacing too, and try the Agatha Parrot books by Kjartan Poskitt, which, like the Mr Gum series, are also illustrated by the amazing David Tazzyman.

I would recommend the Edge series of graphic novels from the publisher Franklin Watts, which are also published on dyslexic-friendly paper. They are an excellent publisher of non-fiction titles, and their Slipstream series of reading resources is aimed at struggling readers.

For older readers (young teen) the Wired Up series by the publisher A&C Black are an invaluable source of gripping reads at manageable lengths and levels.

Of course it’s hugely helpful for a child to be able to identify with the characters they are reading about. So, here below are some books in which the protagonist has dyslexia:

percy jacksonhank zipzerreading the gamemaggot moon
Percy Jackson
Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief is the first of a hugely popular series of adventures by Rick Riordan. This series focuses on adventures with the Greek gods, and the books are tremendously exciting and fast-paced. Aged 9 and up.(and there’s a film).
Hank Zipzer
The Hank Zipzer series of books by Henry Winkler (yes the Fonz to you) follows the haphazard adventures of a ten year old boy. Very American but also very funny.
Reading the Game by Tom Palmer
A lovely story about a football mad boy who is great at football but struggles to read. Part of the Football Academy series. Tom Palmer is also published by Barrington Stoke.
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
A teen novel that won the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Award, about a young teenage boy called Standish Treadwell, set in a totalitarian future state. Totally brilliant for its menacing subject matter, startling prose and exceptional characters:
“There are train-track thinkers, then there’s you, Standish, a breeze in the park of imagination.”
I also want to champion Sally Gardner here, who herself is dyslexic and has spoken out about this many times. She has written much for younger readers, including the Magical Children series, and gives splendid advice such as not shying away from giving dyslexic children a different platform from which to read. Giving a dyslexic child an ereader or a tablet for reading can help build confidence as it masks what they are actually reading – and therefore reduces any peer pressure. Some readers also find the letters jump around less on the ereader, and of course you can play with the font size. You can also try an audio book alongside the printed word for more challenging titles. And never, never underestimate the joy of reading aloud to your child (whatever age) to encourage their love for reading.

[i] Dyslexia Action (2012) Dyslexia still matters.

Picture Books Aren’t Just for Preschoolers

With the wealth of picture books in today’s children’s book market, it will come as no surprise to find that they are not all targeted at pre-schoolers. Reading the rich, beautiful vocabulary in some of them, imbibing the intensity of the emotions in others, and gaining moral insight in others, demonstrate that certain picture books are destined for audiences older than the 0-5 years marketplace. Many parents seem to think that once their child can read, they should progress swiftly to chapter books. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actively persuade my older children to look at picture books for inspiration for good writing, creative ideas and simple explanations of complex ideas.

The Snatchabooksnatchabook

One recent example, The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, published by Scholastic, is enjoyed much more by my grown self, and my seven year old avid reader, than by the toddlers in the vicinity! The language lends itself to an older audience, and the message itself – that stealing is wrong, but that one can put wrong a right and become accepted for admitting your crimes – is for the older audience. Language such as “making amends”, vocabulary such as ‘rumours spread’, and ‘solve the mystery’ give clues that the book demands to be looked at by the older reader.

I hate schoolHonor Brown

Sometimes the ‘joke’ inside the book and the punchline at the end, also lead to the understanding that the book is intended for a much older child. I Hate School by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, and published by Andersen Press, is intended for a school child with some sophistication. A lovely rhyme about a child who explains to an adult how much she hates school (with some vivid imagery…”They beat us till we bleed”) until the punchline when it’s revealed that actually the child cried on leaving:
“Yes, Honor Brown just hated school
For years and years and years,
Yet on the day that she could leave,
I found her full of tears.”
Even Year 11s leaving school would relate to this one I think.

kicking a ballWhat does daddy do

Two books that I bought for my husband are Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Sebastien Braun and published by Puffin books and What Does Daddy Do? by Rachel Bright, also published by Puffin. In the first, by Allan Ahlberg, it’s not even the words that transfixed me so much, as the pictures, which have the capability to produce empathetic emotions only in those who have parented. Not only that, he makes a pun on the word ‘scoring’, using it in both senses of the word, which, thankfully, goes over the head of all three of my children at present:
“Kissing my wife, bathing our baby
Kicking a ball and SCORING (maybe).”
But in essence, it’s a book about the love of kicking a ball (anywhere, anyhow) and it works for any football mad boy to man in the world.

Kicking a ball2

What Does Daddy Do? by Rachel Bright, published by Puffin, is slightly more personal, because a member of my family does a job in the financial sector that for years was impossible for me or anyone related to him to describe! The title alone was enough to get us all chuckling, but even the text itself lends itself to a more grown up humour (even though it works perfectly well for four year olds too):
daddy superhero

““And he is a superhero!”
“Like Superman? gasped Bob.
“Yes!” said Daisy, “because he has to rescue people from a big bored room”
The illustrations in this one also come alive right off the page. It’s a smashing little find.

Lastly, revisit some Julia Donaldson picture books to fully appreciate the rich vocabulary she uses. The Snail and the Whale, published by Macmillan, is a good study for anyone wishing to hone their creative writing:
“These are the waves that arched and crashed
That foamed and frolicked and sprayed and splashed”
Sometimes the most complex ideas and feelings are best explored through picture books. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and The Promise by Nicola Davies are outstanding examples of this, and all for different reasons and on different themes – but more on them another time!