Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

3 books for Mothers’ Day

3 books for Mothers’ Day

 

How To Say I Love You In Five Languages by Kenard Pak

img_8403The most important thing to say on Mothers’ Day is I Love You. Why say it once when you can say it in five different languages?

Five different children are introduced and they each speak a different language. English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin are all featured. As well as saying ‘I love you’, the children say hello and use one short phrase to introduce the person they are speaking to.

Buttons to the right of the book allow the reader to listen to voices saying ‘I love you’ in different languages. The best way to learn pronunciation is through imitation and this is the easiest way to start.

As adults, when we set out to learn a new language, it is often easy to forget that native speakers begin with board books and simple content. Learning one new phrase at a time and trying it out is a great way to improve confidence.

With Mothers’ Day books promoted in bookshops often looking a bit sameish and sugary, why not try an authentic approach? Tell your special person or people that you love them. Tell them five times over.

 

Held In Love by Dawn Casey and Oamul Lu

img_8404A mother holds her baby in her arms and recites a blessing. She imagines her child growing over the years, and wishes for them all the things they will need to live a good and loving life.

From working hands to listening ears. The silence and music. The comforts of the universe. This book uses the word ‘blessing’ but not ‘God’ or any other specific religious vocabulary. The arms of the universe could easily mean God, but it could also be a phrase to refer to the children’s protection and safety. This makes the book suitable for different readers, and would particularly suit families where carers hold different religious opinions.

The pictures alternate wide landscapes with closed arms, wide mountains with tight groups. This is about fellowship and being alone to explore. Being loved while being free.

A gentle recitation and a lovely book to share. As well as being a wish from mother to child, it celebrates everything mothers want and wish for their children from the word go. This does very specifically reference one mother, although the sentiments apply to all carers.

 

What Matters Most by Emma Dodd.

What Matter Most to you? What Matters most to me? 

img_8621A mother horse and her foal gallop around the wild world and question what is most important in life. Is it going out or staying in? Having lots of stuff or not having very much at all? At the very end they conclude that wherever you happen to be in life at one moment, the most important thing of all is being loved.

Silver foil effect gives the landscape extra sparkle without ever overwhelming the page. Rainwater and grassy blades and birds in flight are all emphasised with shine.

A beautiful book both in sentiment and style. I admire that instead of wishing one thing for the child, the mother puts forward the idea that we go through different periods in life and experience different things at different stages. Our wants and ambitions also change. With so many children under pressure from an early age, this book is a welcome narrative.

A total celebration of the diversity of life and different things which define us.

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books and Templar Publishing for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Work It, Girl Boss The Bestseller Like J.K. Rowling and Work It Girl RunThe Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey

Review: Work It, Girl Boss The Bestseller List Like J.K. Rowling and Work It Girl RunThe Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey

Introducing a new series of biographies about modern women who have risen to the top of their game and demonstrated admirable qualities and mindsets. 

img_8758These books do not cherry pick the best of their subjects’ lives. The title about J.K. Rowling (Referred to as Jom) speaks about how she didn’t always focus on her schoolwork, and how her attitude towards other jobs wasn’t always positive. The book then shows how with more positive approaches, Jo Rowling worked away at the thing she has always wanted to achieve until she found success. Books about successful people too often paint an unrealistic narrative. By understanding that they were up against the same human failings as the rest of us, it is easier to picture ourselves emulating their hard work and achievement. 

This focus on mindset sets the books apart from other recent books about successful women. 

Oprah’s life story focuses on rising above challenges and seeing opportunities even when they appear not to exist. Jo Rowling’s story looks at determination and single-mindedness and knowing that we can make things happen which seem impossible. If the biographies are correct, neither woman defined herself by her circumstances even when life appeared not to be working out. 

The books follow the subjects’ lives in chronological order, in chapters which are two or three pages long. These short chapters make it easier to dip in and out of the books. They would be lovely additions to a classroom book corner because the chapters can be read in five or ten minutes bursts. 

Inspirational quotes and captions are picked out and decorated so beautifully they could be made into posters. With the rise and rise of motivational quotes online, these books have found a format which is relevant and interesting to the latest generation of readers. This is the other thing which stands out about the series. It is right up to date and appealing to today’s young readers. 

These attractive books challenge the reader to look at their own dreams with a different mindset. They are excellent additions to the canon of life stories about successful women. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books for gifting the books reviewed in this feature. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

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Extract:

Our hatred of the Riki was written onto our bones. Breathed in us by Sigr. What had started as a quarrel between the Gods had turned into a hunger for revenge – a blood feud.

(Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young. PP98 – 99.)

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Synopsis:

There are two options in battle – honour or death. 

Eeylyn is a warrior from the Asha clan. She is trained to fight their sworn enemy, the Riki clan, and believes this is the life for her until she sees the impossible. Her brother, who supposedly died five years ago, is fighting with the enemy. At first she believes her brother’s spirit was sent to watch over her by Sigr, but then she sees her brother Iri again and knows that he has betrayed her family and her clan. 

Eeylyn is taken prisoner by the Riki and is forced to wait out winter in the mountains. There she learns about her brother’s new life and his connections to the Riki. 

When a common enemy comes to attack, an enemy who was believed to be a legend, the two clans must unite if they are to survive. 

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Review:

A story of loyalty, family and the extent to which we should define ourself by a common belief. 

Eelyn grows up learning certain things. That the God Sigr has decreed that the Asha tribe must fight the Riki. That the Riki is the sworn enemy, that they are totally different people and that failing to kill them in battle goes against personal honour. She has also been told that her brother is dead. When this turns out not to be true, it sets off a chain of events which causes Asha to question the other things she has always believed. 

It was lovely to read a warrior story which was not all about battle. There are certainly fights and raids, but this is a coming of age narrative. Eeyln’s quest is about defining herself as an individual and where that puts her in the wider scheme of society. 

I loved the relationship between Fiske and Iri. This is not a romantic relationship, but it has a special definition which made me think about the way different cultures across history have found words for different types of bond. All kinds of relationships are valid and it is easy to slip into the way of thinking that only easily defined friendships, love affairs, etc are worthy of acknowledgment. 

The plot is straightforward but the themes and the bonds between the characters gave it depth, and it flowed so well that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Young writes a great action scene, filled with emotion as well as action. 

A clan-war fantasy with themes which are relevant to the modern day. 

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Sky In The Deep. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

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Shampooch is the cleanest, prettiest, most pampered dog in the park. She declines all invites to roll in the mud and riffle through bins because she’s got an image to maintain. Then Sampooch chases after some beautiful kites and all chaos ensues.

A light-hearted and witty story about the price of maintaining a perfect image. 

With young people under increasing pressure to maintain an image online, it is important that children learn from an early age not to prioritise appearance over living. Shampooch misses out on friendship and fun because she is so concerned about her fur and her hair. When she is sucked into the doggy fray, she finds it liberating. 

There are extra laughs in the illustrations, especially in the contrast between aristocratic-looking Shampooch and the smelly dustbins and muddy puddles around her. We just know at some point that the two are going to meet and this keeps the reader waiting. The joke is obvious but we have to know how and when it will happen. 

Maverick Arts Publishing always produces books which are friendly to the youngest picture book readers. Their books appear to be produced with a strong knowledge of what amuses and captivates children. 

Move over Aristocats – Shampooch is here and she’s throwing off her collar. A lovely message and a great read. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my gifted copy of Shampooch. Opinions my own.

Literary Fiction Reviews

Blog Tour: Folk by Zoe Gilbert (Longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize).

Blog Tour: Folk by Zoe Gilbert (Longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize).

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Extract:

This is not at all what he thought Gertie Quick would turn out to be either, who never makes a squeak on the school bench, and what’s more, she has just called him stupid, twice. 

(Folk by Zoe Gilbert. P37.) 

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Synopsis:

Every year and every generation, the same traditions are observed on the island of Neverness. Boys run through the gorse hunting for arrows fired by girls to determine their future partner. A boy dressed in ox-skin waits behind the waterfall to answer questions girls have on love and marriage. Every winter the tale of Jack Frost is told. Lives are lived in accordance with nature and folklore.

Characters recur and age, their relationships with each other woven together in a web of history and love. 

A collection of short stories which come together to show how myths and stories represent a deeper truth inside ourselves. 

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Review:

A small island ruled by tradition and steeped in its own history. This collection of short stories, which are as dark and quietly gory as the best of fairytales, shows us a place which is both unfamiliar and yet startlingly like our own country. Inhospitable, inward-facing and dictated by the outcome of its own ancient rituals.

The stories are separate and yet tied together by a cast of characters and a set of locations and rituals which recur across the collection. It is neither novel nor a traditional book of stories, but something which plays with form to great effect. By introducing us to the customs of Neverness, Zoe Gilbert paints a picture of one generation and how it fares across time. 

As a real folkie, I was keen to read this and I fell in love with the language. This is a land of gorse tunnels and ox-hide, fish scale and hare skin and wattle and daub. It is like getting to know England not by its pop culture or city life but by taking a walk along the hedgerows. 

My favourite story was The Neverness Ox-Man where young Harkley Oxley takes his turn at the family tradition of dressing in an ox hide and hiding behind the waterfall to answer questions about love. It is his role hide his true nature from the girls, but he too is unaware of exactly what the girls on the other side of the waterfall are like. 

The stories may be whimsical, even fantastical, but they stop short of being straight fantasy. They paint a portrait of past lives and past ways of life, and much of their commentary on the way women have struggled as a result of social structure is astute. Fishskin, Hareskin, for example, shows a woman in the depths of postpartum depression caught between being scolded by her husband and by her father. She wraps her baby in a hareskin, the only remains of the wild and wonderful animals she had felt an affinity with as a girl. Her action shows both her desperation for the baby to lead a different life and the futility of it when the hare has already been skinned by a man. 

A striking and unusual collection which lingers in the mind like the best of stories – a word here, an image there, until it demands to be reread and looked at in a different light. If you love old stories, wild spaces or beautiful language look no further. It’ll inspire you if nothing else to ramble through some outdoor spaces. 

 

Read the International Dylan Thomas Prize longlist and follow the blog tour:

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Thanks to Midas PR for gifting my copy of Folk as part of a promotional blog tour.

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

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Extract:

what’s the point of God giving me life

If I can’t live it as my own? 

 

Why does listening to his commandments

mean I need to shut down my own voice?

 

(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.

It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.

Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?

A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.

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Review:

This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.

Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.

There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.

I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.

I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.

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Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

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What will you choose at the British Museum? Will it be a red toy car or a hot air balloon? A king with a sword or a lady in a gown? Written in a similar style to Pippa Goodhart’s ever popular ‘You Choose’ books, This Or That allows readers a first look at some of the artefacts held by The British Museum. 

The double page spreads are themed by categories familiar to young children including transport, animals, clothes, and toys. These pages are laid out in an attractive format of squares and rectangles, which reminded me of a modern blog layout. 

As well as picking their favourite items, readers can engage in spotting games which are suggested in the text. An index at the back offers readers the names of the objects featured in the book, and a QR code leads to more in-depth information about the artefacts. 

With London an increasingly expensive place to live or visit, it is important that people in all areas have access to information about its museum collections. This early introduction too is inspired. Not only does it allow conversations about what a visit to a museum might involve, but it also allows readers to play their own games of curation. As an additional challenge, it might be nice to challenge readers to come up with a theme and pick objects which would fit that exhibition (ideas for themes include childhood, the great outdoors and entertainment). 

I often say on my blog that reading is about so much more than the words. Or pictures. Time spent feeling rewarded by books, time spent enjoying books as a social activity, only makes us more enthusiastic to engage with reading again. 

The popular format of You Choose is adapted to great effect to introduce a museum collection. Big thumbs-up to this playful approach to non-fiction. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of This Or That? Opinions my own.