Board Book · Round-Up

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

 

Baby Goat and Baby Kitten. Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang.

Animal behaviours.

img_1245Wake up, explore, play, and end the day with some baby animals. These beautiful board books incorporate finger puppets of baby animals so that different behaviours can be acted out as the text is read.

These books introduce the idea that other animals sound and act differently, but that maybe they are not so dissimilar to ourselves. Little animals wake up, they interact with their mothers, play, eat and explore just like little people. Building this empathy will help the reader to treat other animals with respect and kindness, and to decrease fear when meeting these creatures in the real world.

These books are also incredibly cute. I had never been sold on puppet books when I saw them in bookshops. Then I tried the puppet out. It works just as well as puppetry in other forms. The illustrations provide a landscape for the play.

These would make a lovely gift for a new baby.

Baby’s Very First Faces. Illustrated by Jo Lodge.

High contrast pages. Mirror.

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New babies love to look at faces. They also love high-contrast pictures.

This book has been designed with the very tiniest readers in mind. Make no mistake – we can learn reading beahviours long before we speak a sentence. Reading isn’t just about vocabulary. It is about communication and fun and knowing that there is a secure space at the end of every day. Reading is about so very much more than words and this book reminds us of that.

With striking black-and-yellow designs and crinkly sounding pages, this book is strong on sensory experience.

The three words inside here – Daddy, Mummy, and Baby, are words that lots of children learn earliest of all. This is, of course, only one family model – if it helps at all, the words are on separate pages, so it is possible to pick out the ones most relevant to the young reader in question.

The soft pages also encourage lots of cuddling-up and lots of practice in turning pages.

 

Bake A Rainbow Cake! by Amirash Kassem.

Colours. Baking terminology.

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Cut it. Fill it. Frost it. Sprinkle it.

Run through the process of baking a rainbow cake. With tabs and wheels and colourful illustrations, this is the perfect book not only to practice the colours of the rainbow but to introduce words and concepts associated with baking.

Little people are great bakers. Sure, there are things they can’t do, like use a knife or put trays into the oven, but all that mixing? And sprinkling? And using their hands to roll things into shape? The sooner small people get into the kitchen – under supervision – the better.

This is a wonderful book to run through what the experience of baking might look like. It has a great play factor. Turning a wheel to add food colouring. Pulling a tab to see cakes rise. There is plenty of scope for adult – mini-reader talk, which will introduce even more wonderful vocabulary.

This is the first board book I have seen about baking, and it is fabulous.

Fun At The Fair by Ingela P Arrhenius.

Motion. Location-specific vocabulary. 

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Welcome to the funfair. 

The roller coaster goes up then down. The wheel spins round and round. There’s so much for small people to watch at a fair, long before they are big enough to go on the rides. 

Fairs are great for talking about motion. Spinning. Sliding. Up and down. Twirling around. Not to mention what they do for the imagination. Where on earth do such magical places come from? What might happen when the wheel reaches the top? Where does the little train go when it disappears inside the tunnel? 

The design of this book imitates the experience of visiting a location in real life. Instead of seeing things one at a time, the pages are all different shapes and sizes. As one thing is in the foreground, others can be seen in the distance. 

A beautiful addition to the series. 

 

Let’s Go series (On A Ferry and On A Rocket) by Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore.

Vehicles and new settings.

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All aboard. Let’s Go!

Climb on board different vehicles and get set for adventure. Sail up to the moon in a rocket, or ride the waves and watch out for dolphins from the deck of a ferry.

This beautiful series not only introduces new vehicles, but it also introduces new locations. It is also one of the few times I have seen children of all genders and skin tones at the helm of big and exciting vehicles. Too often, the books feature a single blonde boy wearing glasses and dungarees. Possibly with a cheeky grin. There is such a child in this series, but there are six children in total and the representation is far broader than normal. Research shows that children form ideas about gender limitations by the age of two. Two change this, we need books like these that challenge stereotypes and prove that everyone can grow up to command ferries and rockets.

Two children share each adventure, so this is also a great series to promote friendship and working together.

With heaps of excitement and positive message, this belongs on every nursery bookshelf.

 

 

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! by Todd Tuell. Illustrated by Tad Carpenter.

Movement. Sibling relations.

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The popular picture book is now available in board book form. 

Little ninja is very busy. He runs. He climbs. He chops. Little ninja never stops. As the words follow his adventures, the pictures tell the emotional narrative. This little ninja is watched by a small brother. At first, the little brother is ignored. Then Ninja’s activities cause upset. As he makes it up, he finds out that his little brother is, in fact, the perfect partner. The story ends with the pair dressed up together, kicking, jumping, and chopping. 

For small readers, this book is a brilliant way of introducing vocabulary around movement. It is also good for talking about friendly relationships – with siblings and with other children. 

The rhyme is as fast-paced as Ninja’s actions. It would be fun – in the correct space – to read it and allow small readers to act out some of the movements. 

High-flying, jumping, kicking fantastic fun. 

 

Noisy Farm by Rod Campbell.

Farm terminology. Animal names. 

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It’s daybreak at the farm. Soon all the farm animals are waking up and making different noises. What other sounds can be heard around the farm? Lift the flaps to find out what else is going on around the farm. 

Tiny people have such a lot to learn – and they learn with all of their senses. Noises,  smells and tastes can be just as new and confusing as anything they see. This book is perfect for introducing small people to the things they might see and hear in the countryside, and especially around a farm. It is also perfect for introducing animal names. 

A potentially unknown and frightening location is made friendly with the inclusion of baby animals. The message throughout the book is that animals have parents and babies too. 

This book is such a classic that I remember it from my own infancy. There is a gentleness to the narrative and illustrations that helps the young reader to feel comfortable with the idea of other animals. 

 

 

 

Who Loves Books? by Lizi Boyd.

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Who loves books? Is it you?

On a sunny day, Squirrel sails her boat along the bank handing out books. She has lots of takers. All the way along the bank, little animals appear to make use of her floating library. All except Raccoon, who sneaks along the bank keeping track of the boat. This not only creates a fabulous hide and seek game, but it builds in some suspense as we are kept waiting to learn whether Raccoon will, eventually, get a book to read. 

The design is beautiful. With full-size and half-size pages, it is possible to create different layouts – to match the stream on the bottom half of the spreads with different backgrounds. 

The colour palette, with its summery greens and light pastel blues, is perfect for a calming shared read. 

A lovely way to share some positivity and excitement about books with tiny readers. 

 

Thanks to Abrams And Chronicle Kids, Catch A Star, and Macmillan Children’s Books for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Round-Up

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

 

Anatomicum by Katy Wiedemann and Jennifer Z Paxton. 

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Welcome to Anatomicum – a museum that is open 24 hours a day with displays about the anatomy of the human body. 

Have you ever wondered what you look like inside? What you really look like, with nothing held back? This book examines the different systems inside the body in fine detail with pictures of everything from veins and connective tissues to the different chambers of the heart.

The illustrations are drawn in the style of Victorian anatomy pictures but the style of the book feels fresh and modern. What I like most about this is that the book not only has broad appeal but it treats its younger readers as serious students. 

With the biggest museums in the UK mainly in London, a large number of people are shut out of accessing one of the most incredible forms of education. Putting some of those facts into books in a very visual format brings knowledge to people who might not otherwise access it. 

This series has been a big favourite for its high-quality production and serious approach to different disciplines. A book like this will remain a favourite for years and would make a wonderful gift this Christmas. 

 

Colossus by Colin Hynson. Illustrated by Giulia Lombardo. 

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Colossus explores some of the most amazing engineering and architecture in human history. From the Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt through to the Eiffel Tower and the artificial islands of the modern-day, this book studies a range of buildings, bridges, and structures and celebrates the ingenuity behind their designs. 

Take a tour around the world to admire the greatest structures and feats of engineering – from the ancient to the futuristic. With lots of books suddenly available about travel and exploration it is lovely to see one that looks at the world through this lens. 

Nothing is missed out here. I was delighted to read pages about building for specific needs, such as earthquakes. There are facts here that most people would never know and it is wonderful to see a book for young readers that doesn’t underestimate its audience. It was also lovely to see a book about engineering in context. This shows so clearly how engineering is tied up with design and imagination and that art and creativity can be related to STEM subjects. 

With some double-page spreads dedicated to one structure and others exploring a specific area – such as canals – this book is an eye-opening tour of the world that will encourage readers to question whether they too could become an engineer and create amazing things. 

With striking illustrations and design, this will be a real favourite with young readers. 

 

Darwin’s Voyage Of Discovery by Jake Williams. 

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Step on board HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin and learn about the voyage that led to his theories about evolution. From the invitation to join a warship to the return home five years later, learn about the events that lead to one of the most famous and groundbreaking scientific theories of all time. 

With beautiful full-colour pages and illustrations, this book is one to treasure. 

It is important to learn the links between disciplines and this book reminds us that there is a history in science. How did Charles Darwin come to be on a ship and how were his studies carried out? What kind of kit did he have? The fact that the book follows Darwin’s progress in chronological order allows the reader to imagine themselves inside the story. The detailed pictures of the kit he handled, too, make the story feel more real because by thinking about what kind of objects Darwin might have handled we can think of him as a real person. 

My favourite pages are about the animals Darwin saw. There are clear links between natural science and geography and each section begins with a map of the location. 

Darwin’s voyage is one of the great adventures and as such, it is a favourite story among aspiring scientists and explorers. This wonderful volume brings the story to life and makes studies of the science richer. 

 

Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour Of The Solar System by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

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Get set for an adventure in the solar system with space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

What is space? How do humans get there? What are the conditions like on the different planets? These questions and so many more are answered in this fantastic guidebook to the world beyond our planet. Layed out like a guidebook, this not only offers readers a chance to learn about the solar system but it encourages them to believe in themselves as future space scientists. 

With photographs and clear diagrams, this dispells so many common myths about the solar system. Hands up who once saw a picture of all the planets in a neat row when learning about the relative distances of planets from the sun? (Hand right up). Hands up who heard vague descriptions about gas planets that made it sound as if one was very much like another? Now that so much has been discovered about our solar system, and that so many fantastic images have been taken from space, it makes sense for readers to learn about space with photographs of the real thing alongside non-confusing images. 

Many of the pages are broken into bitesize chunks of text in boxes. This allows readers to digest one fact at a time on a very big subject, but the levels of both the information and language never underestimate the audience. 

The perfect introduction to space for aspiring scientists. 

 

Explorers by Nellie Huang. Illustrated by Jessamy Hawke. 

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Tales of sea and ice are not for the faint-hearted. 

With so much information available now at the touch of a button, it is difficult to imagine that, not so long ago, people had to set off on great voyages to learn about other parts of the world. Presented like an inspirational people book, Explorers delves deeper into the stories of people who set out to learn more about our world. 

With beautiful illustrations and clear colour photographs, this is a great book for readers who are interested in the history of natural science. 

There are different definitions of ‘exploration’ and I like that different kinds of explorers are represented. From space scientists to sea navigators to all-out chancers, this book takes us back to a time when there was everything to learn about the science and geography of our world. 

Exploration has been tied up with colonialism. This book only touches on the realities of this when it talks about a couple of artifacts that have been returned to other countries. However, it does at least acknowledge this somewhere and this offers adults a chance to open important conversations with younger readers about whether or not ‘discovered’ artifacts belonged to the explorers who stole them from their homelands. 

 

Heroes by Jonny Marx. Illustrated by Gerhard Van Wyx. 

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Not all heroes wear capes. Some are ordinary, everyday people. The kind you might pass on the streets, like firefighters and engineers and artists. This book showcases different kinds of heroes and looks at the work they do. 

With the number of books about inspirational people on the shelves, it is important to see that not every kind of heroic or amazing job is newsworthy. Not every hero goes down in history (although some people who start such a job find they do almost by accident). This book showcases historical and well-known figures alongside names that are never mentioned or heard. 

Although I have seen more inspirational people books in the past 18 months than I can count, this one stands out because it introduces different fields and the events that stand out within their history before giving profiles of people. This shows readers that being inspirational isn’t only about individual actions, but that learning from other people and belonging to a field comes first. Even self-taught people learn from books and conversations and following work that has come first. 

The other thing I like about this is the striking design. It is part comic-book and part retro-style poster and, with the orange, black and green colour scheme, it really makes a strong impact.

This achieves the tricky balance of allowing readers to reach for the heights whilst being grounded in the everyday work that involves. This is why I would recommend it of all the inspirational tales books this Christmas. 

 

Inventor Lab by Jack Challoner. With a foreword from Dr Lucy Rogers.

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Do you know anybody who pulls everything apart to see how it works?  Are you looking for a gift for a young engineer or inventor? This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to makes things work for themselves.

From nightlights to a door alarm to a wire buzzer game, this book is packed with ideas for things to create and explore.

Everybody has seen a recipe book but this is the first time I have seen a book about simple engineering laid out in a similar way. The unwritten message of this book, unlike so many other STEM titles, is that inventing and putting together is something to do on a day-to-day basis, instead of something that happens in a secret laboratory in a faraway place. This is the very best part of this title because it shows readers that engineering is for everyone.

The book begins with introductory sections that show clear pictures of tools and components that might be used. It runs through basic safety and also some simple skills that might come in handy. I like that this has been done over a good number of pages and that everything is backed up by clear pictures. This is so important when readers might not know how something is supposed to look.

Every step of the project is pictured and labelled clearly too and it is impossible to flick through without wanting to have a go.

The perfect book for young inventors as well as for the insatiably curious.

Tyrannosaurus Rex – A Pop-Up Guide To Anatomy by Dougal Dixon. Illustrated by Rachel Caldwell.

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Have you ever wondered what a T-Rex looks like underneath its skin? Now you can lift the flaps up on 3D illustrations and study the anatomy of the world’s most famous dinosaur.

The first thing everyone has said in response to this book is ‘Wow’. Think pop-ups. Think beautifully designed pop-ups. Then throw in some interaction. This is learning through play at its greatest. It is impossible not to be amazed when a realistic-looking dinosaur model forms seamlessly out of the pages.

This book explores different areas of the tyrannosaurus rex’s body, from its skull to its abdomen. It also introduces us to what tyrannosaurus rex eggs look like and to the kind of habitat it might have lived in. Text around the diagrams explains how different features would have been an advantage to the dinosaur, which is a wonderful early introduction to ideas about adaptation and evolution.

Dougal Dixon is a paleontologist and educator who has written previous children’s titles on dinosaurs. This idea – of turning readers into scientists who can see and deduce things for themselves, proves that he knows his stuff. Combined with Rachel Caldwell’s striking illustrations – both the pop-ups and the line drawings – this is bound to be a hit with young dinosaur explorers.

 

Weather by Isabel Otter. Illustrated by Hannah Tolson. 

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Snow, rain, wind, sun, and thunder. Weather is everywhere and there is so much to find out about what makes it happen and change. 

It is a beautiful introduction not only to naming different types of weather but to the science behind them. What I like about this is it is divided into five double-page spreads, like mini-chapters on Sun, Rain, Wind, Snow, and Ice, and Thunder and Lightning. Young children are often introduced to weather as one big list of names but this means they have to be separated out again when children come to study the science. By keeping things in like groups from the start, this allows children to think of weather as a series of different but related systems. 

The big attraction here is undoubtedly the sliders. Each spread has two illustrations that are merged together. One can be changed for another by pulling the slider across. The very best of these is the slider about the water cycle, which lends itself perfectly as a subject to this format. 

As well as the sliders, the spreads are broken up into little boxes and each box is beautifully illustrated. This will go down beautifully with readers who are used to seeing tablet and smart-phone screens as each box is like a separate window. 

 An impressively designed book with just the right amount of facts for a new reader or to share with younger children. 

 

When We Walked On The Moon by David Long and Sam Kalda. 

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Getting humans to the moon and back began long before 1969. It was a tremendous feat of human engineering and it took the greatest intelligence and resources of the day to achieve. This book looks at the story behind the 1969 moon landing and at missions to the moon before and since. 

With the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing celebrated this summer, the moon will be a hot topic amongst readers of all ages, and especially amongst young readers who learned all about it during the build-up. When We Walked On The Moon is a great book to give this holiday season because it looks at the wider picture of missions to the moon. 

This covers both history and science. It is told in chronological order, beginning with the Space Race and working through to the present day. It looks at the science needed both to build the space crafts and then to get them from the Earth to the Moon’s surface and back again. Later parts of the book detail the kind of work scientists have done on the moon and in space from collecting samples to repairing spacecraft and working on the International Space Station. 

With the Appollo Mission patches reproduced beautifully on the chapter page and pictures of the missions in progress, this book will recall an era of hope and excitement in human progress. 

 

With thanks to Big Picture Books, Templar Publishing, Pavillion Books, Buster Books, Dorling Kindersley, Little Tiger Press and Quarto Publishing Group UK for the titles supplied for review featured in this title.

Opinions remain my own.

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Kitty series by Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie. 

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Kitty wishes she could be a superhero just like her Mum, but she’s not certain she is brave enough. Then she listens to the magic of a starry night and discovers that she has special powers all of her own. What’s more, the cats in Hallam City need her help. 

Kitty’s very special powers make her the hero of the feline world. Together with the cats, she prowls the rooftops, ready to rescue those in need and to return priceless treasures to their rightful owners. This new series is exceptionally charming, with the action of any good superhero story but the friendship and security of a story for very young readers. 

The illustrations are a perfect match for the story. They have a slight roundness to them, making them feel cute and friendly, but the action comes across too. The orange and black creates a world that is dark but magical. There is always something brighter to ensure it is only scary enough. 

This is shorter than a young middle-grade story or early chapter book, but longer than a picture book. This format is growing in popularity, and for good reason – it allows less confident readers to feel like they have a ‘real book’ because it is divided into chapters and builds up a plot in the same way as a shorter novel. 

 

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic by Harriet Muncaster. 

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Isadora is back – half fairy, half vampire, and happy to play in the snow.

Isadora is disappointed and lonely after she is the only person not invited to a party, but not for long. Aunt Crystal – whose specialty is snow magic – comes to play, and soon Isadora has made a snow boy and a snow bunny and brought them to life. They are brilliant friends, but when he starts dripping, Isadora realises that snow magic can’t last forever.

Aunt Crystal makes a suggestion, but can Isadora come to the rescue?

A charming tale filled with sparkles and frost and the magic of friendship.

The Isadora Moon books are fabulous because they balance the pink and pretty with some dark and gothic. Children shouldn’t feel pressured to fall into one camp or another, and this series demonstrates that just being yourself is the best way to be.

This would make a lovely gift for a stocking or a Christmas Eve bag. It is long enough to snuggle up with and listen to over hot chocolate, but short enough to wrap up in one session.

 

Kevin’s Great Escape by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Kevin the roly-poly flying pony is back for his next adventure. He’s been very happy in his new home, with his friend Max, and Max’s big sister Daisy, and a constant supply of biscuits. Especially custard creams.

There is huge excitement when Misty Twiglet announces that she is moving to Bumbleford. Everyone knows who Misty Twiglet is. She’s the famous, all-singing, all-dancing pop star who has everything she needs. A car, a manager, and a ginormous house. Misty has everything – except a roly-poly flying pony.

Kevin isn’t the only one in trouble. Misty and her manager have trapped lots of magical creatures. Luckily, Max is on the case, and he’s not afraid to utilise his big sister …

A fantastic and funny tale from the amazing duo of Reeve and McIntyre.

Just picking this book up makes life feel instantly 325% better. It contains custard creams, guinea pigs, shiny-edged pages and a beautiful flying pony. Stories by Reeve and McIntyre seem to summon up all that is good and interesting and tie them together in a brilliant narrative. The illustrations are filled with such life and energy, too, that at times it feels as if they will burst off the page.

A must for readers who love whimsy and fun.

 

Speedy Monkey by Jeanne Willis. Illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne.

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Deep in the rainforest, everything is peaceful and quiet until Speedy Monkey arrives. He is a bit different from the other animals. He is bouncy, and jumpy and loud and happy and his energy is endless. Day and night, he moves and makes noises. Eventually, the other animals get fed up of him and he leaves their company.

Then a storm comes. Suddenly Speedy’s quickness and loud voice don’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

This is a charming story about acceptance and being true to yourself. It could also be used to open conversations about neurodiversity, especially ADHD and hyperactivity generally.  Knowing that everyone is a valuable member of society and that we don’t all present in the same way is pivotal if the next generation is to change the narrative and welcome true diversity.

The illustrations beautifully capture emotion with use of colour – the sadness Speedy Monkey feels when he is all alone, and the joy when he is accepted and welcomed back by the other animals.

Another big hit from the Stripes colour illustration range.

 

A Sea Of Stories by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Paddy Donnelly. 

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Grandpa’s house is filled with objects, and every one of those objects has a story. When Roo goes to stay, she thinks at first that the whole world must be stuffed inside his cottage. Every night, Grandpa tells Roo a story. A memory from his life which is attached to a possession.

There is one place which crops up in his stories more often than anywhere else – the sea cove which his elderly legs will no longer carry him down to. As Roo realises that so many of his memories are associated with this special place, she formulates a plan.

Winner of the ‘Not A Singe Eye Dry’ award. This beautiful and gentle tale had me in tears because it captures how much we love the people we have lost, and how their stories remain a part of our lives. Objects and places and even special moments like a sunset can bring memories of them flooding back inside our hearts.

The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly give a sense of the sea cove waiting around the corner to be discovered. Of waves and sunsets and breezes creeping into our memories.

A beautiful story about the importance of memories and tales.

 

Jasper & Scruff – Hunt For The Golden Bone by Nicola Colton.

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Jasper the cat likes the finer things in life. Scruff the dog prefers the simple. This doesn’t stop them from being friends, and they happily run a bookshop together.

When a rare book about the pirate cat Black Whispers appears in the shop, the pair find a treasure map and set out on an adventure. However, as the trail runs cold, the pair realise that they have been tricked by the Sophisticats – the society who only accept cats like themselves. Will anyone come to the aid of the duo who dare to like each other regardless of difference?

Jasper & Scruff is one of my favourite series for younger readers. The stories are well written and the running theme of accepting each other as we are is woven into the tales. I also love the illustrations, which look effortless (but probably take ages to perfect) and make me itch to pick up a pencil or a crayon every time I see them.

Highly recommend this series.

 

Little Penguin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye.

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Fliss travels magically on incredible adventures with animals.

A snow day lands her in the Antarctic, where she meets a colony of penguins with chicks who are ready to head North for the winter. Then a blizzard sweeps in and when it is over Fliss finds an injured mother with her chick, separated from the other birds. Fliss realises that it must be her mission to help them, but how will they ever catch up when the mother bird has an injured leg?

Luckily Fliss knows all about animals, and her respect and determination will see her through.

This series of beautifully written tales won me over from the first book. The stories show total understanding of the relationship between humans and other animals. How we can bond with our fellow creatures only if we fully respect them as intelligent beings. Fliss sets a great example to her young readers in how to treat other animals.

The third book in the series is perfect for wintertime as it takes us into a land of ice and snow.

 

Peanut Butter And Jelly by Ben Clanton.

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The fabulous friends are back for a whole new underwater adventure. And this time they have peanut butter. Lots of it.

Narwhal is certain nothing can beat waffles. Then Jelly gives him some peanut butter cookies and a whole love affair begins. Everything in Narwhal’s life is peanut butter.

Like the previous volumes in this series, this book contains three main stories, one fact-file and a side story that will have readers in stitches. This is cartooning at its best – whimsical and expressive and packed with fun and laughter. By the end of the volume, we feel as if we know the two friends like our own.

These books have been a big hit in book corners according to the educators I talk to during Twitter chats. I can see why they would appeal to a generation who speak Meme and GIF as fluently as they speak their first language. There are pages and spreads and individual boxes that could be copied into relatable and entertaining posters. The humour speaks directly to the social media generation.

Bright, bold and witty, these offer readers an alternative format to novels and stories.

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing, Oxford University Press and Stripes Books for the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Board Book · Round-Up

Board Book Round-up (October 2019).

Board Book Round-up (October 2019).

 

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A Marvelous Museum and A Forest’s Seasons by Ingela P Arrhenius.

Learn the seasons of the forest, and take a walk through different museum exhibits with these fantastic Bookscape Books.

Why should all the pages of a book be the same size and shape? It is something we all take for granted, yet the world is full of such interesting shapes. When we look across the different distances of a landscape, we see things of all shapes and sizes. This idea works especially well in the board book format. The pages are sturdy enough to hold it, while all the different colours and images peeking out at the start are irresistible to little readers.

The books themselves are simple introductions to two places – museums and forests. The forest book focuses on seasons, as if one forest is changing over time, while the museum book looks at a wide variety of exhibits. These would be lovely to give to a small child who is going to a new place for the first time, to talk them through what they might see and hear.

 

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Animal Homes by Clover Robin

We often pass by animal homes without even knowing it. From underground warrens to beehives, lodges, and the nests in the trees, other animals are all around us, and their homes are more incredible than we could possibly imagine.

Clover Robin is a designer whose children’s books always win my heart. She specialises in nature and botanical designs, and her work always seems to come from careful observation. She captures more than the shape, getting right to the very spirit of her subjects.

Animal Homes is a lift-the-flap book that takes its audience seriously. It is too easy to underestimate tiny readers and to offer them watered-down explanations, but doing so forgets that tiny people are always learning and looking and drinking the world in. Anybody who has ever spoken to a small child knows that they are always observing or questioning something. Animal Homes takes them right inside nests and hives, lodges and warrens, and allows them to explore the worlds of their fellow creatures.

Little bites of information surround the pictures. This is a book that will grow with the reader, taking them right into early information books already prepared to learn. Top marks for design, level of knowledge and sheer wonder factor.

 

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5 Wild Shapes by Camilla Falsini.

Circles and triangles. Hexagons and squares. Our world is full of shapes and lines. Learning their names and appearances is the first step in understanding their properties.

This book is instantly attractive, with primary-coloured backgrounds populated with funny creatures. At a second glance, these animals are made up of different shapes, with plenty of strong examples to point out (the fox, for example, has a triangular nose).

At the centre of each spread is a shape, cut away from the rest of the board so that it can be traced around by little fingers. There is also a disk to chase around each shape so that readers can guide a little insect around the outlines of the shapes. Tactile learning is a brilliant way into early geometry – the more familiar readers are with tracing the shapes, the more confident they will feel when they come to drawing and identifying them.

This book is beautifully designed, balancing fun with early learning. The large format makes the game more fun, and there are plenty of things for a young reader to look at and enjoy.

 

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A to Z Menagerie by Suzy Ultman

Enter the wonderful world of the alphabet with this delightful book of letters and words. Look at the pictures. Touch the cut-out letters, and pull the tabs to see them come to life. Trace their shape with your fingers. Learning to read has never been more exciting.

Essentially this book is two things – it runs through the alphabet, and it introduces first words alphabetically, with illustrations. Its design makes it one of the most delightful A-Z books I have encountered, with doodle-style drawings in pastel colours. It is so beautiful that people will pretend to pick it for their children just so they can enjoy it themselves.

The pull-the-tab feature changes the cut-out letters from white to decorated. The tabs also feature an extra word, related to the design.

The spellings and words are American – as the title suggests if you make it rhyme – so what Brits would call ‘aubergine’ is down as ‘eggplant’, for example. Personally, I think this is fantastic because children today live in a global world where they will encounter different formats of English online on a daily basis. Introducing them to these words early prepares them for this reality.

A fantastic introduction to letters and words.

 

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Can You Find? series by Nancy Bevington. 

The world is full of adventures for little people. The forest, the farm, the beach, and the ocean all represent new and exciting possibilities.

The Can You Find? series introduces vocabulary specific to different places. Throughout the book, there are labeled illustrations, which show is there to be discovered. At the end of each book is a wonderful reminder of everything which has been introduced. A smaller version of every illustration is included on this double-page spread. This gives the reader (especially older board book readers) an opportunity to test their memory and see if they can name all the pictures. 

It is always great to have books that introduce new words and a new understanding of our world. A fantastic and fun series. 

 

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Goodnight, Rainbow Cats by Bàrbara Castro Urio. 

Who is asleep in the big white house? 

One one side of every spread is a house. The cut-through windows show colours – the colours of the cats already indoors and asleep. On the other side of the spread, the next cat comes creeping up to the door. 

There are cats of all different colours. Essentially, this book teaches readers words for colours. At the same time, it is great fun, with a narrator who talks directly to the cats, and a clever cut-through design. 

A simple concept done to perfection. This is a beautiful book and would be top of my list for anyone looking to introduce colours to small people. 

 

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Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty. Illustrated by Greg Abbott.  

Everybody’s welcome, no matter who they are. A group of animals meets in the forest. Every one of them has been forced to leave their old home, whether by predators or for environmental reasons. They all band together, united by one principle: everybody is welcome. The little animals search for a space to build a safe home. 

Given the state of the world, and the attitudes which children might pick up about people who are searching for a safe place to live, it is important to teach them other values early on. It is also a lovely message for children to learn before they go to nursery. Learning to share and collaborate is always a good thing. 

A gentle and beautiful story. 

 

Little Explorers – Goodnight Forest and Goodnight Ocean by Becky Davis. Illustrated by Carmen Saldaña.

Whisper goodnight to the forest and the ocean, and learn what they look like during the nighttime. 

Beautiful peep-through pages build up a landscape that is almost 3D. It reminded me of a paper puppet theatre, but an exceptionally beautiful one, with details from later pages visible as you read. Fun facts surround the illustrations, explaining how different creatures behave when the sun goes down. 

A rhyming couplet heads each page so that the book can be read as a bedtime rhyme. 

The combination of design, lullaby, and fact-file is a winner. I love it when books do more than one thing at once, especially with board books because it allows the book to grow with the reader. If you are looking for something attractive and clever, give this series a try. 

 

Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle Books, Catch A Star Books, Little Tiger Press, Nosy Crow and Quarto Kids for my gifted copies of the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Round-Up

Round-Up: Children’s books for Halloween.

Witch Girl by Jan Eldredge

IMG_E7056Evangeline Clement is almost thirteen and there is no sign of her familiar. She’s afraid it will never come and she will turn out to be a middling with no magical powers. Magic has been handed through her family for generations and she spends her days learning from her grandmother.

When the pair are called to an old mansion, they are confronted with a terrifying case and Evangeline finds out secrets about her family’s past.  

This has serious Princess And The Frog Vibes. Set in Louisianna, the landscape is all swamps and cypress-trees and rivers. The language, too, reminds me off The Princess And The Frog – Evangeline wears gator skin boots and lives for her Grandmama’s pecan pie. 

I liked this version of witch-craft – it was less about waving wands and more about talismans and forcing dark spirits along on their journey. The magic has been handed down for generations and I always like stories where the character learns about their family history through the adventure. 

IMG_E6915The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan

There are two types of people in Town – the ones who believe only perfect people should be allowed, and the ones who believe there is no one ‘right’. Since Perfect was liberated from the Perfectionists and renamed Town, the two groups have lived alongside each other.

Now strange things are happening in Town.

First objects go missing, then children. Violet’s friend Boy is blamed, and old questions are raised about whether certain people should be locked away for the good of others.

This was the perfect book to read ahead of Halloween – it has vibes of Dianna Wynne Jones. Town is often painfully ordinary – with committees, schools and day-to-day activities – that the stranger things, like the eye-plants which are used as a security-system – stand out.

I love how the theme of diversity and acceptance was handled. It encourages the reader to think for themselves, to empathise with others and never to follow others blindly.

 

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Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad is the world’s least-scary vampire. He’s afraid of spiders, he’s afraid of the dark and he’s especially afraid of looking like a failure next to cousin Lupus.

Lupus upholds all the Vampire traditions, like drinking blood. He keeps a raven near him at all times and he has mastered all the flying skills. Nobody seems to notice that he is rude and horrible. Nobody except Vlad.

Is Lupus really as perfect as he seems? Is there any chance he could be friends with Vlad?

This is a lovely series, perfect for newly-readers, and would make a lovely bedtime story. The events of the story are much like any book about friendship and family, except the family happens to have fangs. And ravens. This would be a great Halloween read for children who don’t like scares but love a touch of the gothic world.

 

Night Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchinson and Lee Cosgrove

Zombie Bears! Ghost Bears! Witch Bears! Alien Bears!

Lisa-Marie is adjusting to having a step-parent and living with her new step-brother Veron. Vernon can be nice but he won’t stand up for his new step-sister.

When Lisa-Marie makes a witch bear at Create-A-Ted, she gets more than she bargained for. Henrietta is alive and she is dangerous. In fact, there is a whole army of Halloween-bears on the loose, led by the terrifying Grizz.

If Lisa-Marie is going to stop them from destroying humankind, she’ll need help from her new step-brother Vernon.

The premise of this story is hilarious. A shop where children pick a bear-skin, add stuffing then provide the bear with a heart. What’s creepy about that?! Someone has clearly spent an hour too long in Create-A-Ted.

This story shows that ideas come from observation. I reckon children will love this spooky twist on their favourite shop.

I love that the humour is accessible to adults as well as children. Books of this length are often read aloud and it makes a difference to the child’s experience when the adults are laughing along too.

 

Dirty Bertie – Frights And Bites by David Roberts or Alan MacDonald

Fangs! Scream! Zombie!

Experience three whole volumes of Dirty Bertie in one book. Know someone who loves Dennis the Menace and Horrid Henry? You need to introduce them to Bertie. He’s silly, he’s full of terrible ideas and best of all, he embraces all things disgusting.

The three books in this compilation are divided into stories which are about forty pages long. There are nine stories between the three books, which means plenty of silliness and troublesome events.

I love how the stories have recurring features. They quite often end with Bertie in some kind of bother – whether his head is stuck in the railings or he is running away, you can be sure the story will end on a memorable note.

These are perfect for newly confident readers. Finishing the short stories offers a high level of reward and there are plenty of hilarious illustrations.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK, Stripes Books and Usborne Publishing for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

What are you reading this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.

Round-Up

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

mgleonardDid you know we would die without beetles? I didn’t either until I heard MG Leonard talking as part of the Guildford Book Festival. Dung beetles clear away the nasty stuff – the clue is in the name – which would otherwise litter our world and cause lots of diseases. Without dung beetles, we would be dead in weeks.

Way to captivate an audience – especially a young one. 

It was clear that MG Leonard had thought about how to keep her audience interested – and she spoke about how children as a general rule are more open to new facts and new ways of thinking than adults. Her event reminded me what it was like to be young, and to be in a state of near-constant exploration. 

I read Beetle Boy for the first time ahead of the event. I have meant to read it since its debut in 2016, but one way or another never got my hands on a copy. The story follows Darkus, whose father disappears in suspicious circumstances. As he investigates, he learns about genetically-modified beetles and a villain called Lucretia Cuter, who is as interested in high-fashion as she is in science. 

I read the book in one setting and chose the sequels for my birthday. I loved how, although it was the familiar and archetypal story of child-vs-big-bad-power, there was so much I hadn’t seen before. For one thing, the villain is not only a woman, she is also a mother, and her child aids our heroes. I can’t think of a single book where a woman with a family is the villain. Female villains are often shown to have chosen something wrong in over family. (Think of Nicole Kidman in Paddington, who totters around London in impossible heals and tight cat-suits.) Lucretia Cutter has both. 

During the talk, MG Leonard spoke about the inspiration for her story, and the pressure to be original. She struggled with many genres because she felt everything had been explored before. The thought which set her on the road to her story was that, although beetles have featured in stories, they are usually shown as monsters. As villains. 

It was lovely to hear a children’s author talk honestly about her writing history. Too often, it can seem that writers were just able to write a manuscript without any learning. MG Leonard spoke about being a child, and about how her ideas seemed to come faster than her writing. 

It is always a pleasure to hear authors talk about their work. There is no better way to gain an insight into the writing process and to add depth to our reading of a novel. Many thanks to MG Leonard for her time, and to the organisers of the Guildford Book Festival.  

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: September 2018

 

 

Violet And The Mystery Of Tiger Island by Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor

These may be the most photogenic books for younger middle-grade readers and I love everything about this series.

Violet and her friends are invited to a wedding on a tropical island. Tiger Island used to be an animal sanctuary, and now it is a luxury hotel. It has tree houses, gourmet food and even a tame tiger.

It is paradise … until Violet’s old enemies show up.

The Du Plicitouses have a history of stealing rare objects so they are top suspects when a valuable figurine goes missing. Violet and her friends set out to investigate and a race begins to figure out the truth before the wedding day is spoiled.

These books are perfect – they are as engaging as any middle-grade mystery but suitable for younger readers. They would make a brilliant quick-read for older mystery fans. I loved the set-up – we’re introduced to different hotel guests and our attention is then turned on the Du Plicitous couple. Harriet Whitehorn is a master at dropping hints while drawing the reader’s attention on to red-herrings.

The illustrations are fab – Becka Moor is a total star of young-MG and it is lovely to see her pictures in colour. Her characters are a delight – I feel as if I am reading the pictures at least as much as the worlds. This is so important for readers of this age – decoding words is still an effort and the pictures offer a quicker way into the story.

Five shining stars.

 

Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad is the world’s least-scary vampire. He’s afraid of spiders, he’s afraid of the dark and he’s especially afraid of looking like a failure next to cousin Lupus.

Lupus upholds all the Vampire traditions, like drinking blood. He keeps a raven near him at all times and he has mastered all the flying skills. Nobody seems to notice that he is rude and horrible. Nobody except Vlad.

Is Lupus really as perfect as he seems? Is there any chance he could be friends with Vlad?

This is a lovely series, perfect for newly-readers, and would make a lovely bedtime story. The events of the story are much like any book about friendship and family, except the family happens to have fangs. And ravens. This would be a great Halloween read for children who don’t like scares but love a touch of the gothic world.

 

Night Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchinson and Lee Cosgrove

Zombie Bears! Ghost Bears! Witch Bears! Alien Bears!

Lisa-Marie is adjusting to having a step-parent and living with her new step-brother Veron. Vernon can be nice but he won’t stand up for his new step-sister.

When Lisa-Marie makes a witch bear at Create-A-Ted, she gets more than she bargained for. Henrietta is alive and she is dangerous. In fact, there is a whole army of Halloween-bears on the loose, led by the terrifying Grizz.

If Lisa-Marie is going to stop them from destroying humankind, she’ll need help from her new step-brother Vernon.

The premise of this story is hilarious. A shop where children pick a bear-skin, add stuffing then provide the bear with a heart. What’s creepy about that?! Someone has clearly spent an hour too long in Create-A-Ted.

This story shows that ideas come from observation. I reckon children will love this spooky twist on their favourite shop.

The scares are softened with humour. I love that the humour is accessible to adults as well as children. Books of this length are often read aloud and it makes a difference to the child’s experience when the adults are laughing along too.

 

Anty Hero by Barry Hutchinson 

Ant is the total opposite of cool. He’s bony, has an obsession with insects, and wears shaded-glasses. In fact, Ant has a secret, and it is hidden behind those glasses which he refuses to take off.

When Ant’s science teacher glimpses what is behind those glasses, Ant’s life is in danger.

It is up to his friends Zac and Tulisa to save the day. Can they round up the insects of the school and rescue Ant?

Imagine if the thing which made you different put you in danger. Grave danger. Ant isn’t like the other boys at school. He counts insects among his friends and he looks at the human race objectively.

This story has some brilliant themes about perceived differences and human attitudes towards nature.

Like all Barrington Stoke stories, Anty Hero is printed in a way which makes it accessible to a larger number of readers. These books also make excellent quick reads for fluent readers.

 

Dirty Bertie – Frights And Bites by David Roberts or Alan MacDonald

Fangs! Scream! Zombie!

Experience three whole volumes of Dirty Bertie in one book. Know someone who loves Dennis the Menace and Horrid Henry? You need to introduce them to Bertie. He’s silly, he’s full of terrible ideas and best of all, he embraces all things disgusting.

The three books in this compilation are divided into stories which are about forty pages long. There are nine stories between the three books, which means plenty of silliness and troublesome events.

I love how the stories have recurring features. They quite often end with Bertie in some kind of bother – whether his head is stuck in the railings or he is running away, you can be sure the story will end on a memorable note.

These are perfect for newly confident readers. Finishing the short stories offers a high level of reward and there are plenty of hilarious illustrations.

 

 

Sherlock And The Baker Street Curse by Sam Hearn

It’s a new term at Baker Street Academy which means new adventures for Sherlock, John Watson (Watson, geddit) and Martha.

There’s something spooky going on at school. Caretaker Mr Musgrove has seen a ghost and some great, big, spooky letters appear on the side of a wall. Is the school really haunted by the Baker Street Ghosts? So begins an investigation which uncovers hidden treasure, and old legend and some dastardly deception.

This is Sherlock like you’ve never seen him before. He’s a totally modern kid – he has a smart-phone and he’s not afraid to use it. Moriarty is the school-bully and Baker Street Academy is like any school from this decade … except there’s a heck of a lot going on.

The format of this book will really appeal to comic-book fans and might attract less-confident readers. Cartoon strips are mixed with emails and speech-bubble chats (which are the most recognised form of communication among today’s pre-teens.)

Innovative format aside, the mystery is solid and the information is given in just the right places. I reckon kids would stand a chance of solving the puzzle but there is also huge satisfaction in identifying the clues.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke, Scholastic UK and Laura Smythe PR for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Have you read any great books for younger readers? Have any of the featured books caught your attention? Let me know in the comments below.