Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

Nutmeg and Celery love making Moo-grass music. Farmer Joni loves their music too, even though she would like them to include the sheep and donkey and other animals once in a while. But Moo-sic is a cow thing. When the barn roof is damaged, a bit of moo-sic seems the perfect way to raise some money for the farm. 

Spotting Nutmeg and Celery’s potential, a music producer comes along and insists they switch their sound to dis-cow. Will the new sound give Nutmeg and Celery everything they have ever dreamed of, or will they need to rethink their plan?

A witty story about friendship, sticking to your roots and hogging the spotlight. 

Nutmeg and Celery begin with confidence in their own sound. Country music is the obvious choice for a pair of cows and the duo has an established audience. Their plan is to raise enough money for the barn roof and to carry on as normal. Their encounter with a music producer may raise more money, but the barn roof doesn’t appear to be his priority. 

This story offered an entertaining range of cow puns and wordplay. Moo-sic, Discow (that’s disco to us humans) and mootiny spring to mind. It would be a lovely book to encourage wordplay and introduces a range of animal sounds to young readers. 

Themes of sharing and taking turns are explored. Other animals have big ideas about how to raise money for the barn and how the farmyard should sound, but it always comes back to Nutmeg and Celery. Learning to put ideas together and reach an agreed outcome is a big skill and this would be a lovely book to read ahead of group work or a shared project. 

A fun, friendly story where there is as much enjoyment in the language as there is in the story. A picture book which is especially suited to a young audience. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of The Moosic Makers. Opinions my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Lula And The Sea Monster by Alex Latimer

Review: Lula And The Sea Monster by Alex Latimer

Lula And The Sea Monster

Lula loves her home by the beach, but she won’t be living there much longer. Soon her family will be forced to leave and the beach will be covered over to make way for for a new highway. One morning, Lula makes friends with a little creature named Bean. To her surprise, Bean gobbles up the food Lula brings. He grows and he grows and he grows until he’s bigger than Lula’s house.

When the demolition trucks come, Bean is ready to face them with is tentacles and he chases them away. 

A delightful story about good hearts winning out over greed, with strong messages about protecting our seashore. 

Stories about children in need of help offering food to an angel in disguise are old as time, but this one feels up to date and perfect for our times. Overdevelopment is a major problem, especially the kind which is motivated by money. Lula’s appreciation for her seaside home comes strongly across and will encourage readers to look out for their wild spaces. 

Bean’s name is perfect because he grows and he grows and he grows. Looking at him when he is a full-sized sea monster made me smile because we know that really he started out as just a little blob. This is a perfect metaphor for the first person to speak out and gather support against a cause. 

I especially loved the double-page spreads which focused on Lula and Bean. From little Bean wrapped around Lula’s fingers to their shared picnics and finally Bean’s ginormous eyes peeping out of the water, the progression made this book a real joy. 

 The perfect story to give hope to even the smallest of heroes, and a lovely book about friendship and kindness. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of Lula And The Sea Monster by Alex Latimer. Opinions my own.

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.

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.

blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. 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.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.