Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Book Just Stole my Cat! by Richard Byrne

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Review: This Book Just Stole my Cat! by Richard Byrne

Most books are well-behaved. This is not most books. Ben and his cat are playing tickle chase across a double-page spread when cat disappears into the middle of the book. He’s been sucked into the space between the two pages. 

Ben asks his friend for help, then he calls the rescuers, but everybody disappears into the middle of the book. Finally Ben appeals to the reader to tickle the pages and everyone who was missing is spat back out. 

A witty and wonderful picture-book which encourages children to think about the mechanics of a book. 

We’re often so busy telling the story that we forget what it was like to be a tiny reader. Small people want to learn about every part of the book, from the ISBN to the credits to the fold between pages. What if instead of going safely from page to page, the characters got swallowed up by the gap in the middle? It may not be something an adult would ask, but children want answers to these questions. The result, as it turns out, is genius. 

The story invites the reader to be an active participant in the magic, much like a pantomime asking the audience to clap their hands. This is a lovely way of telling stories, especially to children young enough to (almost) believe that the story might be different if they don’t take part. 

I love the bright colour-palette and the bold illustrations. Simple backdrops make an excellent setting for a story filled with action and lots of the story is told through the character’s facial expressions. 

This would also be a brilliant book to use to think about the difference between character, reader and narrator. The story draws attention to the reader (often an invisible participant) and this might encourage readers to think about who else is present when we tell a story. 

An innovative and lively story which is perfect for reading out loud. Expect lots of laughs and plenty of curiosity. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of This Book Just Stole My Cat. Opinions my own. 

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! by Sally Doran and Rachel Saunders

Review: Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! by Sally Doran and Rachel Saunders

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The King and Queen are very proud of the way they have brought up Princess Hannah. She’s polite and neat, and kind to all her friends. They decide to reward her on her birthday with the special gift of a cake machine. When Princess Hannah refuses to share the puddings which come out, the machine brings out a very special surprise …

A delightful story about the virtues of sharing. 

Princess Hannah, like many children, is good and kind. That doesn’t make her perfect. It was lovely to see the main character in a story about sharing who is basically a nice person. The spoiled-brat stereotype is misleading because the world isn’t divided into good and bad. Good people have moments which they are less than proud of. What matters is how they come back. Princess Hannah throws an almighty tantrum, but she picks herself up and makes a good choice. 

img_8359The machine itself is a thing of delight. Readers will love the illustrations of chocolate eclairs, and jellies and caramel drizzle, and most of all the great big meringue that pops out when Princess Hannah is ready to share. This would be a lovely story to read ahead of a trip to the bakery or another sweet treat. 

I love how the illustrations manage to be pink and sparkly without overkill. There are plenty of contrasting colours and the light shades against a white background prevents them from becoming sickly-sweet. 

This would be a lovely princess book to share with all children, and a brilliant book to encourage sharing and kindness.

 

Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Andersen Press for my gifted copy. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Perfectly Polite Penguins by Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan

Review: Perfectly Polite Penguins by Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan

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Penguins are perfectly polite. They wait their turn, share their toys and always remember to say please and thank you. All except for Polly. Polly reckons being polite is boring and she prefers to do things her own way. One day, the other penguins decide to follow Polly’s example and chaos ensues. Can the penguins pull their behaviour back in line? 

A humorous and relatable look at manners. With penguins. 

img_8114Polly’s not got the perfect manners, but she’s not a bad penguin. That’s the first thing I love about this book. It shows a scenario where everyone follows the lead of the persistently rude, and the reader whether they would really want to live in a society without manners. In fact, it is Polly herself who recognises that things have gone too far. 

Nobody is perfect. Not even penguins. We can only be polite most of the time. Kind most of the time. We can only be aware of others and tolerant and do our best to create a nice society. Sometimes we have off days. What matters is how we pull it back. I loved the ending of the book because the final message is realistic and helps readers to aim for an achievable best. 

The illustrations are bright and lively. Penguins bounce and cartwheel all over the page. I love how apparently simple shapes on a plain background can produce a strong impression of a setting filled with different characters. There is no mistaking any of the penguins’ facial expressions. These could be used to start a wonderful conversation about the reactions we get to poor manners. 

A book which will produce laughter and thought in equal measures. This is the perfect text to use to start a conversation about manners. 

 

Thank you to Little Tiger Press LTD for my gifted copy of Perfectly Polite Penguins. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

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Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

Red’s Mum asks her to take a cake to Grandma in the city. She tells Red to follow the heart flowers and stay on the path. The city has many distractions – shops to browse and food to eat, adverts to read and people to talk to. Red finds herself swallowed up by the temptations of the city. 

A timely narrative about modern life and a fresh take on a traditional tale. 

I moved from London to the countryside, and find this story extremely relatable. Even on the edge of London, even with a forest practically on my doorstep, I strayed too often into the shops. Even when I had no money, even when I had better things to do. If I went looking for one thing, I popped into other places along the way. I can’t imagine living that way now. Now I walk under an open sky and use my time to get a bit more writing done. 

img_8238Does this book criticise the city? Not at all. The ending makes that very clear when Red and Gran talk about all the lovely things they might do together in the city. Cities have museums and galleries, libraries and theatres, and you know what? Even shops. If your intention is to spend half a day shopping, that’s all good. This book is about how many distractions we meet along the way. It challenges us to stick to our original intentions. 

As well as being a brilliant story about city life, it could be used as a metaphor for online behaviour. How often do we come online to look up one thing, or to do a specific job, and end up scrolling? Or flicking through our regular pages? 

The Red Riding Hood narrative is echoed in the choice of language (‘Oh city, what shiny toys you have …’) and also in the illustrations. The wolf is everywhere, hiding behind every distraction. He is disguised as an advert and a bus stop and a fast-food restaurant. 

The colour palette of greys, black and white is so dystopian and the effect is stunning. It isn’t scary, but like a fairy-tale, there is a hint of darkness at the edges. Little Red, in her bright coat, is in danger of being lost to the enormity of the city. 

A clever take on the traditional tale and a narrative which needs to be told. This will be popular in classrooms and libraries, and it would also make a wonderful bedtime story to open a discussion about the activities which are really important to us. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Red And The City. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Blossom by Yooju Cheon

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Review: In Blossom by Yooju Cheon

A cat. A dog. One sunny day they meet on a bench. Cat eats her lunch and dog reads his book, but the sun twinkles, the breeze blows and there is something sweet in the air …

A beautiful metaphorical look at falling in love. The budding attraction between Cat and Dog is shown as cherry blossom. It flits backwards and forwards between them as they sneak looks at each other over their separate activities. The romance grows from one petal to a whole shower, and eventually, Cat offers to share her lunch. 

img_8302It is that first moment. We’ve seen it in adverts, in films and in stories when characters reflect on the moment the very first moment they saw their partners. Now is has been turned into a beautiful picture book suitable for people of all ages. As well as being a lovely way to introduce the idea of attraction to young children, (you could do this without even going into words) it would make an adorable gift for someone special. I can’t think of a lovelier way of saying there’s something between us than sharing this beautiful story. 

The artwork is as sweet and precious as the story. The line drawings and restricted colour-pallette mean our eyes are drawn to the cherry blossom which falls from the trees. I also adore the facial expressions. As I mentioned above, it is in many ways a story which had been told a thousand times, but that is exactly the point of romance. It is new and special every time. Cat and Dog are just about the cutest couple I have ever seen, and we’re rooting for them to talk to each other. 

The book also captures the beauty of Spring. Those precious days when the world has been decorated with colour and fragrance. 

A lovely, gentle read and a poetic look at the first signs of love. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books for my gifted copy of In Blossom. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

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I am the small green pea  you are the tender pod. Hold me. 

A little green boat sets out on the high seas. On board are a mother, a child, a baby and a dog. They put up their sails and entrust their care to the rain and the wind. They sail through dark nights and past frozen landscapes until they find a place of shelter.

On one level this is a lullaby. Simple, beautiful words to whisper to a small child. 

On another, it is a story about a young family who climbs into a boat and sails until they find land. 

On a third level, it is a story of humanity. The family leaves a place of barbed wire and darkness and throughout their journey, they have faith that someone, somewhere will welcome them with open arms. It is the story of the world at present, where people are so afraid for their lives that they put their trust in any vessel which will float. That they seek asylum in a world which is increasingly hostile to the displaced. 

I love how the story works on different levels. This is very important in fiction for small children, who may not be ready to face the toughest questions and themes. The way Pea Pod Lullaby is written allows them to give the story as much meaning as they understand. The darkness and terror is represented only by a simple fence which might have been put there to guard the cliff. If readers are not ready to talk about war zones, they will not give it that understanding. 

What they will gain, subconsciously or otherwise, is a message about being welcoming. About tolerance. An appreciation of the great journeys people will undergo to find shelter for their loved ones. 

Glenda Millard’s words are perfection. Not a single word is wasted and she captures the responsibility we all have for people who put their lives in our hands. 

The illustrations are beautiful too. At times it feels as if they have been created by a single brush washed over a page. The gentle strokes and colour-wash palettes fit with the whispered tones of the rhyme. 

Pea Pod Lullaby won a Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2018. This is a major award in Australia and marks the importance and achievement of this book. It would be a lovely addition to any bookshelf, and a lovely text to promote tolerance and respect. 

 

Thank you to Old Barn Books for my gifted copy of Pea Pod Lullaby. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

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Yarr! Prepare for a voyage of discovery on the seven seas. Everybody has an image of pirates from films and stories, but who were the real-life pirates across history? What does piracy involve? Meet The Pirates is an accessible and humorous introduction to a favourite topic. 

From the Vikings to the modern day pirates with GPS systems, the book is like  a time-line of piracy. 

img_8171This book continues an already popular series which looks at the periods of history covered by the KS2 curriculum. It is easy to see why the series has taken off. The books are highly visual and the information is broken up by the illustrations. Each page contains a short amount of text. It is easy to make the mistake of looking for non-fiction books which match a child’s fictional reading skills, but readers have limited patience when they are learning new facts. The information needs to be broken up, and what is there needs to be written in such a way that it is engaging and memorable, without skimping on the content. 

The limited colour-palette of the illustrations makes the book look trendy and modern. They still manage to incorporate a lot of information, from the kind of pistol Blackbeard carried to the sails on different ships. The illustrations are as informative as the text. 

I love the features of the book. The title of each topic is written down both sides of every spread, so readers can flick through and find the relevant information with ease. As well as informative illustrations, such as a map of trading routes and an image gallery of different types of ship, there are cartoons and humorous illustrations. The importance of comedy in children’s books can’t be stressed enough. For many readers, these cartoons are the reward for taking in new information.

This will doubtless be a hit with teachers and librarians, but it would also make a lovely introduction to the topic for children who have shown an interest in pirates fictional or otherwise. I am hugely impressed with these books and look forward to sharing my review of Meet The Ancient Greeks. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my copy of Meet The Pirates.