illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Bad Day by Frann Preston-Gannon.

Review: The Bad Day by Frann Preston-Gannon.

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Squirrel is certain he is going to have a lovely day, until he gets stuck up a tree. The animals around him are having a terrible time too: Woodpecker is stuck in a tree, Snake is in knots, Tortoise has overturned, Fox has indigestion, and Mouse … well. Mouse is stuck in Fox’s stomach. 

When the other animals realise that Mouse is having the worst time of all, they band together in an attempt to help. Maybe working together and rescuing Mouse can turn their day into not such a bad one?

Illustrated in Frann Preston-Gannon’s beautiful style, with wide-eyed expressions and lots of texture, this will be a hit with young readers. 

Someone else is always worse off is a phrase beloved of my grandparent’s generation. Sometimes it is used unkindly, to stop a person from talking about their difficulties and experiences, such as grief or chronic illness. However, this story is about day-to-day problems (perhaps the young human equivalents might be not having anyone to play with, or tripping up over messy shoe laces). What can appear to make a day rubbish can be turned around with a little effort, and the help of the people around us.

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This would be a fantastic story for talking about interaction with others. We are so used to the idea of friendships that we sometimes forget to consider how we interact with people who we don’t know so well. The people we don’t like much, even. It is lovely to see a picture book about positive behaviour towards others, because understanding that we sometimes rely on people who we hardly know is important. I especially love the inclusion of Fox, whose guilty (and queasy) expressions betray the fact that he has done something very, very unkind. 

A wonderful double page spread in the middle of all the animals together allows the reader to predict how they might be able to help one another. This would be a wonderful point for an adult reader to pause and ask: what might happen next?

A fable-like story that readers will gain from with every read. This would be a great text for talking about working together as a team. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my copy of The Bad Day. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

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The Vikings gained a reputation as fearsome and bloodthirsty warriors, but their contributions in other areas deserve equal attention. This book offers a more rounded picture of the Vikings as a voyager civilization. 

An account of the Viking era – which spanned more than 300 years and various countries – is presented alongside information about the Viking myths and legends. That history is given together with mythology offers the reader a rich picture – after all, the stories we tell most often offer clues to who we are as people. The book is divided into six chapters, covering everything from mythology and seafaring to home life, legends and an overview of the earlier and later parts of the Viking era. I was particularly pleased with how the book situated the Vikings within a context of world geography – by showing a world map marked with Viking travel routes, the book makes clear that other parts of the world were home to different people. 

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Illustration brings to life the Norse myths and the day-to-day life within a Viking settlement. Showing the two side by side makes plain how the stories we tell grow out of our geography and our lived experiences. Seeing the same mountains in pictures of the Gods as in the picture of a small farmstead made this plain in a way that no words can. Not only will readers of this book learn about history, but they can begin to think about the links between mythology and life. 

As well as larger, double-page spread illustrations, smaller groups of pictures are labelled clearly such as the food the Vikings might have eaten or the names of the lesser deities. Seeing pictures with labels enables children to learn and test their memories, and readers will soon return to their favourite spreads to find their favourite images. 

Fold-out spreads offer even more to look at. I was particularly impressed with the spread on the Bayeux Tapestry – it looks more modern than replicas of the real thing but maintains a faithful style, engaging younger readers and allowing them to browse and ask questions about what is going on at their leisure. 

This is the kind of book that encourages children to engage their own creativity. The drawing style invites readers to copy or to put the characters and images into scenes of their own. I can see this being hugely popular in classrooms where the topic is being studied for its engaging and intelligent content. It maintains a serious tone whilst offering readers plenty to look at if they aren’t up for a long read. Some spreads have very short sections that are a few sentences long, yet they are all informative and interesting. 

A winner both with adults and young readers. Viking Voyagers offers a rounded perspective and beautiful content to bring to life a favourite topic. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Don’t Mess With Duck! by Becky Davies And Emma Levey.

Review: Don’t Mess With Duck! by Becky Davis And Emma Levey.

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Duck likes peace and quiet. When his neighbours continue to quack and splash, Duck packs his suitcase and sets off in search of a quiet place. The trouble is that everywhere he goes is noisy and overcrowded. When he finally finds a peaceful spot, he has competition. Duck And Frog refuse to talk to one another, each determined that the pond belongs to them.

Everyone needs some chill time. With increasing numbers of people renting in busy cities, and living without garden space, it can be difficult to find somewhere to unwind or concentrate. Duck and Frog are both in search of the same thing, but they realise that maybe the competition for space doesn’t have to be so fierce. Maybe a little noise is worth it if it means having a friend around?

Duck’s anger is brought out in the illustrations to humorous effect and the crowds get noisier, busier, and more extreme (a flock of bats, anyone?) with every move he makes. Knowing how Duck has reacted in the past builds anticipation, and his reactions get more and more comically livid. This would be a wonderful book for discussing overreaction with children – Duck’s initial response might be justified, but it soon becomes an ongoing campaign.

It is lovely to find a picture book that makes the most of watery settings. From elegant white ducks in boaters rowing across a pond to a fountain populated by pigeons, seagulls, and rodents, the illustrations especially bring the settings to memorable life. There is a touch of The Wind In The Willows – perhaps a homage – in the interactions between the different communities on the water. 

A humorous and enjoyable story about balancing our needs with an open mind to new experiences. A true keeper. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Don’t Mess With Duck. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

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Inspired by her Grandpa’s adventures, Tessa writes a love letter to the Earth. As she writes, her mind takes her to all the wonderful places on the planet and she realises what an extraordinary place our planet really is. Grandpa says that humans have damaged the planet. Tessa wonders whether, if everyone knew how wonderful it is they would make more effort to save our home. 

A poignant and beautiful response to the climate crisis. 

Climate has been a hot topic for picture books in the past year. It can also be difficult to strike the right balance. Children need to know, without glossing over, exactly where the climate crisis stands. We are out of time to pretend. Facing up and responding is the only way we will save the planet. However, too many details too soon can result in tears and fright. This, in turn, will lead children to avoid the topic altogether. This book sits squarely between the brutally honest (better for slightly older readers) and the gentle stories that encourage interaction with and respect for the outdoors. Grandpa does say that the Earth is in trouble. However, most of the story is about one girl’s growing love of our world. 

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Illustrations take readers through the magical places conjured by Tessa’s mind and back to the present moment. After this journey through beautiful landscapes, it is impossible not to care for our wild spaces. 

The idea of writing a love letter to the Earth is beautiful, and it offers readers an immediate activity to engage with. After reading about difficult topics, it is important for young readers to feel immediately empowered. Dear Earth allows exactly this. Sending a message to the planet is something that readers of all ages can engage with. 

Both the illustrations and the text are warm and filled with a sense of wonder. Dear Earth is perfect for introducing the topic of climate crisis because it tells the truth but offers readers enough hope that they will feel safe after finishing the book. A balanced and beautiful love letter to our planet. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Dear Earth. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

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Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson

Extraordinary. Inspiring.

We live in a world obsessed with the mighty. The large. The barely achievable. Yet wondrous things happen all around us. Extraordinary! is both a wake-up call and a love song to the quiet, everyday moments that remind us what an amazing thing it is to be alive in this world. 

This is a theme I adore. It is like seeing my interest in Romantic literature meet squarely with my love of children’s fiction. 

The gentle rhyme takes us from dreaming of bigger, more unusual things to slowly noticing the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It is like tuning in. Turning from the exciting dreams put into our heads by the media to a realisation that every day is incredible. 

Recent articles have highlighted that environmental themes in picture books have been approached in ways that don’t necessarily make easy bedtime reading. Extraordinary! is the antidote. The book for younger readers who aren’t yet ready to hear about the damage inflicted on the world by humans. It reminds us how special and beautiful our planet is by drawing on the known. The everyday. 

Author Penny Harrison has kindly written a post about her favourite things to do outdoors and I am honoured to host it. Thank you to Penny Harrison for your time, and to the stars at New Frontier Publishing for organising this opportunity. 

 

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Things To Do Outdoors by author Penny Harrison

Growing up on a cattle farm, in central-western New South Wales, Australia, it was easy to develop a strong connection to the outside world. Even when I moved to the city, in later years, I always sought out the nearest park, found a favourite tree to read under, or planted some cheery daffodils in a pot by my back door.

Many of my books aim to inspire a similar love of nature in children. But in Extraordinary, I wanted to do more. I wanted to instil a sense of mindfulness in readers, encouraging them to experience the ever-changing natural world with all their senses, to notice the little things, and to cherish these moments.

Here are some of my favourite things to do outdoors:

 

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  • Make a nature mobile. Forage in the garden or park for pine cones, feathers, stones, seedpods and vines that you can bend into small shapes (circles, stars, hearts). Tie a variety of items to different pieces of string, then hang them from two sticks bound together to form an x-shape. Arrange them so the mobile is balanced.

 

  • Start your own nature journal. Use your magnifying glass to zoom in on a flower or bug; then sketch it, and add colour and labels. Include tracings/rubbings of leaves and drawings of the different flowers you find (press some between the pages, using heavy books). Look for beetles, lizards, worms, or caterpillars to draw. Give them names and make up stories or poems about them. Go on a nature walk and record everything you notice.

 

  • Sit outside and make a map of your garden, park or neighbourhood. Draw in all the little details that mean something to you (eg. a flower bed that butterflies love to visit, your favourite climbing tree, the best patch of grass for daydreaming/cloudgazing, the spot where the best tomatoes grow, the house next door with the fairy lights in the tree).

 

  • Turn yourself into a witch or wizard for the day and make your own potions and spells from nature. Gather flower petals, seeds, dirt, leaves and other natural ingredients to stir in a pot. Give your spells names and don’t forget to make up your own magic words. For some extra pizzazz, you could add a little baking soda and food colouring to your potion, then a splash of vinegar for a fizzing, enchanting illusion!

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  • Make your backyard or balcony a friendly place for birds, bugs and other creatures that might visit. Decorate an old milk carton and turn it into a bird feeder. Leave out bowls of water for birds and small creatures on hot days. Make a bug hotel by creating a tight bundle of twigs, bark and and dried seedpods and flowers to hang. Plant a patch (or pot) of flowers rich in pollen to attract butterflies and bees (try lavender, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos). And have a go at growing some of your favourite vegetables.

 

  • Go hunting for fairies in your garden or neighbourhood park. Make flower wreaths, crowns and wands to entice them out. Find a hollowed-out tree or stump to turn into a miniature mailbox and leave natural treasures and notes for your fairy friends. Put together your own ‘fairy garden’ in a shallow bowl or pot, complete with moss, pebble walking path, a pond and a fairy house made from pieces of wood (this is where your hot glue gun comes in handy!)

 

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My copy of Extraordinary! was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour.

Extraordinary Blog Tour Poster 1

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner.

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About The Bat Book. 

What is a bat? What do bats look like, and what do they eat, and how do they fly? Whereabouts in the world do bats live? 

This fantastic volume answers every question a reader could have about bats. Additionally, it is informative about the threat bats face today from deforestation, demolition of old buildings, and pesticides. A helpful section at the back advises readers on how to keep a bat-friendly garden. 

With pages divided into short sections – the text is in chunks from a couple of simple sentences to a paragraph – this book is perfect for less confident readers, and for children under 7. The bold, close-up pictures make it easy to visualise the topic in question. 

I was lucky enough to be given a chance to put some questions to author and illustrator Charlotte Milner. Her responses tell us not only about bats but about her approach to nature writing. 

Thanks to Charlotte Milner for your time and answers. 

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Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Q: Your books deal with environmental conservation issues and facts about the natural world. Please can you tell us about your approach to the subject?
A: My aim with each of the books is to inspire a love of nature by offering children an understanding of the amazing ways that animals survive within the context of different ecosystems.
When we understand how plants and animals interact with each other, we can understand why certain problems like climate change or habitat loss have an effect on them and what can be done to help. I try to make the books as simple and as visual as I can, and I hope that the books can be used as a tool for parents and children to have a conversation about conservation issues while enjoying learning about animals.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about bats?
A: I think generally a lot of people see bats as either being scary or as vermin, I’ve heard them being described as ‘flying mice’ before. But bats are not even closely genetically related to rodents, they belong to their own order, Chiroptera, and as the only mammals that can fly, there really are no other animals like them. While it is important never to touch a bat, they are also no more likely to carry a disease than other wild animals.
As a common Halloween symbol, I can also understand why people might think of bats as spooky but bats keep to themselves and are unlikely to fly anywhere near a human. As nocturnal animals, most of the time we don’t even know they are around. I hope that The Bat Book will give a more in-depth understanding of how bats live, and how, as pollinators and important seed dispersers, they have a really important ecological role.
Q: What sort of experiences did you have with bats whilst researching the book?
A; I went on a fantastic bat walk in Hyde Park. I’d really recommend a bat walk, it’s a great way to see the different bat species that live around you, which you might not have even known were there. You also get to use a bat detector, which is a very exciting gadget that detects the high-pitched calls of bats and translates them into sounds we can hear. This is a really useful for understanding echolocation- the way that bats use sound to ‘see’ what is around them so accurately that they can catch tiny-fast flying insects.
 
Q: Please can you share your favourite facts about bats? (I think if you can share just the one, that would be great as these are featuring in a different blog post I think!)
A: My favourite bat fact has to be that bats pollinate over 500 species of plant, including plants that grow tropical fruits such as bananas. Many of the plants that bats visit for nectar from have evolved to attract their nocturnal pollinators. The flowers will often bloom at night, and have white petals to stand out in the dark. Unlike the sweet-smelling flowers that bees love, bat-pollinated flowers often have a rotten smell that attracts bats during the night-time.
 
Q: How can humans help bats? What can everybody do to make the world a friendlier place for bats?
A: Yes they can! The main problem that bats face is habitat loss which means that there aren’t enough places for bats to roost and find food. If you have a garden you can make it more wildlife-friendly by adding certain plants. Plants such as borage, cornflower, night-scented stock and evening primrose release their scent in the night-time which attracts moths and flies that bats love to eat. Putting a bat box up is also great for giving bats a place to roost.
 
Q: Any hints about which areas of the natural world you are currently writing about?
A: I’m having a lot of fun writing the next book which is all about a part of the world that feels a million miles away from my London home. It’s a place where there are endless animal species to write about that have all evolved in the most fascinating ways to survive in an environment that is wildly dense!
The Bat Book is available from Dorling Kindersley Books. RRP. £12.99.
Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR for organising this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.
illustrated · Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

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Count from one through to twenty with the help of some animal friends. 

1 fox in a pair of socks. 

2 gorrillas looking in mirrors. 

On we go through llamas in pyjamas, dogs with frogs and moles making holes, all the way to 20 birds who have the last words. Counting animals works on so many different levels. It helps the reader to visualise and compare different quantities, it allows them to compare on quantity to another and it encourages them to look at realistic drawings of animals. 

At the end of the book, over two double page spreads, the animals are lined up together in rows. This helps the reader to understand some basic numerical princples. For example, there is only one fox, but there is one gorilla and another one gorilla, and that makes two. Children encounter numbers in different contexts. The number 2 bus, for example, uses the number as a label but it is only one bus. This is a nominal use of the number 2. It can be terribly confusing to understand that the number two can also be broken down into 2×1 or 1+1. The number 2 can represent a quantity. 

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Chanting the names of numbers is only the beginning. By looking at the illustrations, readers will gain a deeper understanding of numbers as a quantity. 

For all the whimsy of the rhymes, the illustrations show animals in realistic poses. Certainly, most foxes don’t wear socks but aside from the knee-high stripey socks the illustration is realistic and clearly informed by observation. Later on in the book, different species of dog, cat and bird are clearly labelled. As well as introducing readers to basic numeracy, this increases their vocabulary about the natural world. This gives an added advantage. Books like this are read over and over across a number of years – say from toddlerhood through to the end of Infant’s School. The adult reader is less likely to get bored if they enjoy the artwork. 

A beautiful and intelligently designed introduction to animals and numbers .

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing for my copy of 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty. Opinions my own.