Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña.

Review: The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña.

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One day, signs appear all over the wood with slogans like Badgers Are Best and The Only Way Is Badger. The woodland animals listen to Badger himself, who is so convincing that everyone thinks he must be right. He begins a series of lessons, teaching the animals how to be more badger, and slowly evicts those animals who don’t make the grade. 

Soon only skunk and raccoon are left, and they’re not so certain they want to stay in Badger’s domain. As badger paints the forest into a miserable black and white, everyone else enjoys the colour and diversity on the other side. 

Badger is left to apologise. Who wants everyone to be the same when they could have friends?

Nobody can miss the significance of this text to current political issues. With politicians hashing out different ideas about who belongs in which country, with far-right groups certain that shutting the doors will open up a wealth of opportunities for everyone else, it is more important than ever that we discuss the language and mechanics of hate.

How much of what Badger says is fair? Why did the other animals follow along for so long? What were they expecting at the end? Why did Badger claim to be helping the other animals even as he was preparing to shut them out? This story opens up a wealth of questions which enable conversations about hate and prejudice to happen in the safe sphere of a fictional forest. 

The story offers a stark choice – a beautiful world, a world or a world dictated by narrow ideas. 

This could also be used to discuss echo-chambers and online communication. What is the line between fair expression and hate? Has social media made us less open to other opinions?  It would be great fun to write Badger-style messages, stick them on the wall, and then walk around offering responses to other people. How should we then engage with those responses? Badger’s messages all over the trees, in his perfect forest, would make a brilliant prompt for conversation. 

The illustrations perfectly capture the contrast between a diverse world, bright with colour, or one in which the majority of animals are shouted down by a dictator. The humour in the early part of the book, with the animals trying desperately to do things they aren’t made to do, isn’t so funny at all when the message comes through. The pictures perfectly get the balance between allowing small readers a smile and showing the difficulty caused to the other animals. 

 Although this story ends happily ever after, it leaves us with any number of things to think about. This text is so much of our time and should be known far and wide as a book which promotes diversity and tolerance.  

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of The Only Way Is Badger. Opinions my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad.

Review: Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad.

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Sophie Johnson is a detective genius. She solves crimes, studies hard and battles terrible baddies. All before bedtime. The fact that it is all a game doesn’t make any difference to her genius. Sophie also has a detective, her dog Bella, but she’s not very good at her job. She never pays attention, tries to show Sophie pointless things and pesters Sophie to play silly games … like looking at the robbers outside the window. 

Maybe, just maybe, Bella has noticed something that Sophie is missing. 

A laugh-out-loud funny picture book from the author of I Am Bat and the illustrator of Squishy McFluff. 

img_9510The Sophie Johnson series is a breath of fresh air. Sophie is, like many small children, convinced she has it all sorted. She’s the leader, the one with all the special knowledge and there is no point in distracting her from her very important buisness. She also misses things. In the first title in the series, it was a visiting and very real unicorn. This time she fails to notice a real crime. 

Luckily her unrewarded assistant Bella is on the case. 

The biggest delight in the illustrations is watching Sophie take everything very seriously, and making a huge mess of the house, while the real business creeps in and out without her noticing. It is pantomime funny, and little touches like the dog waiting to ambush the robbers bring out the humour. Young readers will either be in stitches or crying out for Sophie to turn around. 

The illustrations have just the right amount of sparkle. The covers are glittery, and Sophie is fond of rainbows and unicorns, but this is balanced by pages of blander colours and Sophie’s determination to be the boss. No gender stereotyping here – Sophie has many interests and no single one defines her. 

The stories also celebrate childhood play in a very real way. Although the joke is about Sophie taking herself too seriously and missing all the action, she’s actually set up some pretty incredible games and goes through any amount of learning without realising. These would be lovely books to open a discussion about play. Is play real? Important? Should Sophie really turn around or is she living something equally real? I would love to see these used to start a debate about the value and importance of play. 

 A new hit series and a realistic icon for children who want to rule the world – but have a couple of years to go. 

 

Thanks to Simon And Schuster for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

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Everyone knows about the grumpy little mouse who lives in a tree. Everyone except Mouse, who doesn’t think of herself as at all grumpy. One day, she wakes to find a baby badger blocking her front door. Baby Badger is upset because he’s lost and he’s trying to find his mummy. Together the pair set off in search of the baby badger’s home. They join up with other animals, who discover that there is more to Mouse than her legendary temper.

A cute story about friendship, bravery and looking beyond the surface.

The grumpy woman down the road. That mean man who walks his dog near school. Such characters are part of the landscape of childhood and everyone can reference at least one person from their own childhoods. A running theme with these stories is how little is actually known about the person in question. They were horrible. We avoided them.

That’s how the story usually goes. Mouse is such a character and her temper is legend. However, she has a good heart and her determination is exactly what is needed to get Baby Badger safely home through the forest. 

The other animals learn to look past Mouse’s temper, and once she has been given a chance to make friends, Mouse feels much less grumpy than before. 

Gentle woodland greens and different leaves and flowers provide a peaceful backdrop to a story which has moments of real drama. Like all the best fictional forests, there is a sense that something could be lurking unseen on the edges and as more animals join the mission we feel happier about their chances of getting through safely. 

The characters are painted with such relatable facial expressions. There is never any doubt about how they are feeling and this opens up lots of conversation about what is going on inside their minds. 

A brilliant story which reminds us that the best of friendships don’t always start with a friendly face. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of I’m Not Grumpy. Opinions my own.

Early Reader Reviews · Picture Books · Young Middle Grade

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

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Flat Stanley is back, and this time he is in picture book format.

When a pinboard falls on Stanley, it squashes him flat. Flat as a pancake. Changing shape has advantages and disadvantages. Stanley’s brother can fly him like a kite, but Stanley also gets stuck up a tree.

When the local museum reports trouble with sneak thieves, Stanley comes up with a cunning plan to help. A plan which only someone who is flat can enact.

A humorous adventure from the author of the original Flat Stanley titles. This is a very similar story to one in the original book, but the words have changed to bring it to a new audience.

img_9403Changing shape and doing things which nobody else can is a big dream at a certain age. The Flat Stanley stories play on this to great effect, but they also explore the downside of feeling different. Stanley faces physical obstacles and he is also on the receiving ends of unkind comments and thoughtless behaviour from other people. This more than anything makes him wish to be the same as everybody else.

Stanley is lucky to have a big brother, Arthur, who is always there to help him. The sibling relationship in this story is as memorable as that in the Horrid Henry series. It is difficult to imagine Stanley without Arthur.

Rob Biddulph’s illustrations have brought the stories to life. Both in the picture book and the new collection of the Flat Stanley stories, Biddulph’s work adds energy and freshness which was missing before. Given that the stories are over 50 years old, it makes sense for the illustrations to be updated for the current generation.

Seeing the same brand in different formats is an encouraging new trend in children’s fiction. There is nothing more powerful at an early age than a familiar character. Think how small children are drawn like magnets to their favourite television characters. (For me it was Postman Pat. Everyone can name theirs.) Transitioning to chapter books can feel like a big jump, but knowing the character already takes away part of the work and makes it feel more like an adventure. For a great post about picture book/early reader pairings see this post by mother of small children and blogger Lilyfae. 

A bright and beautiful new edition of an old classic which will be a hit with a new generation. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

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Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

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Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. This fantastic visual guide shows dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes – horned ones and beaky ones and dinosaurs with long necks.

Each section has an introduction which explains what specific characteristics were for. Beaks, for example, were useful for snipping leaves, spearing fish and cracking open nuts. The double page spreads are largely visual, making this a catalogue of dinosaurs. It would be perfect for flicking through and finding a favourite. The dinosaurs are named and it would be a wonderful resource for enthusiasts to learn names and test their memories. 

The illustrations use a wonderful range of colours which stand out against single colour backgrounds. The use of shape is inventive and the book is a lovely starting point for anyone wanting to draw dinosaurs. 

Although the book has board pages, it is not exclusively for tiny readers. It could be enjoyed by anyone aged two upwards. As this is a visual guide, I can imagine readers flicking backwards and forwards through the pages, and the more durable material means the pages won’t wear about with heavy use. 

A ROARsome visual guide which will be loved and examined by young dinosaur enthusiasts. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of Creature Feature Dinosaurs. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Reviews: 3 funny picture books (April 2019)

Reviews: 3 funny picture books (April 2019)

 

Wakey Birds by Maddie Frost

Wakey Birds live in the jungle. They got their name because they can’t ever sleep.

One night little Wakey Bird can’t get settled so she gets out of bed, finds a stick and wakes up the others. Soon all the animals in the jungle are awake, including the never to be img_8796-1woken Dreaded Jungle Beast. Luckily, the Jungle Beast has storybooks in his cave, and soon all the animals are back to sleep.

A witty take which will gain huge recognition with people whose children won’t … ever … stay in bed.

The whole aesthetic of the illustrations recalls a night with small things racketing around the house. It should be dark, it should be quiet, but there’s a bright yellow bird banging a stick against a rock. Small creatures are bouncing everywhere, screeching and chirping and outright snarling.

And there’s the Dreaded Jungle Beast in his cave.

Any young family will gain a laugh of recognition and this might help persistent wakers to understand that making noise in the middle of the night sets off a chain reaction which inevitably leads to a tired and cranky big people. Otherwise it is just a hilarious story about one noisy and busy night in the jungle.

The One-Stop Story Shop by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

img_8797-1Once upon a time, there was a fearless knight. Except there wasn’t much of a story because his dragon had gone on holiday. Lost without his antagonist, the knight heads to The One-Stop Story Shop in search of someone to battle. Could his next story be about space ferrets, or giant snakes, or monsters of the deep? When the dragon returns, the knight and his new sidekick decide to set out on a journey and explore all the other stories in the world. 

A witty tale about moving beyond our comfort zones. 

This book does something I love in any text. It explores story and story structure. The knight ventures to new worlds and battles new monsters, but if you listen very carefully all of these stories sound very much alike. This would be a beautiful text to introduce this concept and encourage readers to look at the basics of story structure. All of these quests begin with the same thing. A knight. A fearsome monster. The knight’s quest to defeat the fearsome monster. Hopefully, this will encourage young writers to pick up their pencils and create their own stories in amazing imaginary worlds. 

The illustrations are full of cartoonish life and the knight reminds me irresistibly of Buzz Lightyear. He’s a bit too sure he is the hero, a bit too certain of his role in life. 

The laughs are on every page, from the ferret who turns up in every story to the octopus who meets its end when it is sucked down a plughole. Humour can be intelligent and this is a prime example of why funny books matter. 

 

Stefano The Squid Hero Of The Deep by Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie

img_8795-1The Deep Sea TV team love filming dolphins and sharks and puffy little pufferfish. They never film Stefano the squid. He isn’t colourful or ginormous, and he doesn’t have a deadly weapon for the television crew to talk about. Stefano is just wondering what he will have to do when he saves one of the divers from a terrible fate. Suddenly he is the hero of the day and the crew return to give him some screen time. 

Stefano watches the other fish showing off and despairs. It shouldn’t be funny, but even while we empathise we laugh. The other fish are just so full of themselves, and anyone who has watched a few nature documentaries will recognise the affectionate send-up of the topics most often under discussion. 

Should Stefano have had his screen time? Rescuing the diver should be its own reward, we all know that but this is a story and I am glad Stefano had his moment to shine. This would be a great opener to discussions about validation – do we need someone else’s good opinion to feel confident in ourselves? It could also help in discussions about playing together and recognising everyone. We all know how it feels when there is a little group at the centre and everyone else is treated like a hanger-on. 

The illustrations are bold and cheerful and will encourage readers to draw fish in different styles. 

One which is as funny for the grown-ups as the young readers. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press and Templar Books for my gifted copies of the books in this feature. Opinions remain my own.