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.

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.

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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.
Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

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Bob is back and this time there is a rival artist in town. 

Bob’s success has turned his head. He is certain he is the best artist in town, but then everyone’s attention turns to a rather smug-looking blue parrot called Roy. Roy is a sculptor … except he recreates everyday objects in sculpture form. Bob isn’t impressed. He isn’t happy that Roy is getting all the attention. So Bob tries his feathers at sculpture to very poor success. 

Then he decides to copy. The two birds are daggers with each other and it seems nothing can ever be mended. 

A brilliant story about jealousy, rivalry and sharing ideas. 

The modern art in the story is at first viewed with scepticism. The titles are all ridiculous – think BoatyMcBoatFace – and many readers, like Bob, will be certain that a replica of a lollipop or a rubber duck can’t possibly be art. Then Bob tries to create something for himself and finds that it is harder than it looks. 

The themes in this story work on two levels. Cast your mind back to childhood – say between about 6 and 12. Think of the phrases you heard most frequently. She’s copying me comes in at the top of my mind. Every child encounters a moment where someone else’s work looks suspiciously like their own. In the story, Roy reacts with anger, and Bob with hostility, and this leads to disaster. The bird have to question whether there isn’t a better solution and in the end they work together on a joint project. 

The story also looks at jealousy and rivalry. Bob is used to being admired as an artist and he reacts badly when someone else enjoys a moment of fame. It can be frustrating for anyone to feel as if they aren’t measuring up, but Bob’s great quest to better Roy is an example of how not to behave in this situation. Bob’s work is not up to its usual standard because all his energy is going into being the best. He nearly misses the opportunity to befriend Roy because the pair fall out. There are plenty of opportunities for readers to reflect on which outcome they would want in the same situation. 

Bob’s Blue Period was one of my favourite picture books in 2019 for its arty illustrations and lighthearted approach. Bob Goes Pop is equally attractive and relatable. This is a wonderful book which offers children a look at the art world whilst being about their own experiences. Fabulous. 

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing LTD for my copy of Bob Goes Pop. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

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One little girl flies in a hot air balloon and floats downriver and rides on the back of a polar bear beneath the Arctic Lights. Tuck up in bed. Close your eyes. Anything is possible, anything at all, inside your dreams. 

This book is a lullaby, but inside of focusing solely on encouraging the reader to sleep it is filled with positive messages about living an active life and believing that anything is possible. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, it is helpful to remember that there is one place that belongs entirely to us. Good dreams make us stronger and braver during waking hours. 

Each double-page spread is accompanied by a single stanza. Most lines describe the world’s wonders, from cresting waves to stars and waterfalls, but occasionally this is broken up with empowering statements and questions that are echoed in the end: 

You are safe.

You are lovely. 

You are loved. 

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Books offer young people a space to feel safe. The world can be confusing even at the best of times and rhymes like this mean that readers can always find a kind and reassuring place to escape to for a little while. 

The illustrations magic up a strong sense of adventure. My favourite page is definitely the Polar Bear, which is reminiscent of Lyra from Northern Lights but there are so many pictures that could be used as story or conversation starters. Best of all, they capture that sense of wonder that can only be found in childhood. Those times where a young person is so deep in a story or game that they lose all sense of the world around them. Muted blues and purples, and silhouetted details, support the idea that everything is happening within a dream. 

Children, especially young children, spend about half their lives asleep. Reminding them that sleep is a magical and adventurous place is important and this rhyme is not only reassuring but also empowering. A fabulous text with beautiful illustrations. 

 

Thanks to  Nosy Crow for my copy of What Will You Dream Of Tonight? Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

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Night is falling on the hillside. The moon has risen and the world is calm and peaceful. Across the landscape and over towards Sleepy Hill, the animals are ready to sleep.

This gentle, rhyming text reassures the reader that everything is well as the day draws to an end. 

The pages have large cutaway sections that draw the eye naturally towards the animals sitting in the foreground. At first these sections are like large windows, and we peek through them towards the distant hills, but as we get further into the book the windows disappear and the pages get smaller still. We are guided through clearings and mountain plains until we finally reach Sleepy Hills, bathed in silvery moonlight and blanketed by stars. 

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As a metaphor for bedtime, this couldn’t be more reassuring. Instead of suggesting that there is anything to fear, the book guides us from a place where Sleepy Hills seem distant and impossibly far away through to the place of sleep itself. Along the way we see lots of animals having their last play or tucking in for the night. If they can settle down, then surely the reader can too. 

A gentle colour palette of lilacs and blues and silvery-greens completes the effect of night drawing in. 

Although this is a book about bedtime, it also promotes walks through nature. The cut-away pages layer together like a landscape and remind us one place is not separate from another. Forests and clearings and foothills and mountains roll into one another, and there is always somewhere else on the horizon. This book recreates the feeling of being outdoors. 

On Sleepy Hill brings nature and bedtime together beautifully and reassures the reader that sleep is a lovely place to be. A perfect bedtime read. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Group) for my copy of On Sleepy Hill. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne.

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne. 

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Rabbit isn’t tired and he doesn’t want to go to bed. Then he has a clever idea: if the sky doesn’t get dark, he will never be forced to rest. So he gets out his biscuit tin, opens the lid, takes it outdoors and SNAP. The Dark is trapped inside a biscuit tin.

It seems like the perfect ending until the other animals are upset and Rabbit’s carrots begin to wilt in the sunlight. Eventually, Rabbit is forced to face up to his feelings and open the biscuit tin lid. To his great surprise, the Dark has some really very interesting lessons. 

A gentle and humorous story that encourages readers to think beyond their own feelings and fears.

Rabbit’s feelings about bedtime will be relatable to so many young readers, but this is also the perfect story about thinking about people other than ourselves. Rabbit’s action with the biscuit tin may solve his own problem but it creates sadness, mayhem and even hunger for the animals around him. Eventually he faces up to this and recognises that his own feelings don’t always come first. 

This would also make a lovely companion read to the great classic The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark. 

The illustrations drew me straight in and made me want to pick this title up. Rabbit’s facial expressions are strong and help to tell the story alongside the words. There is also a stunning fold-out feature where readers can open the biscuit tin for themselves and release the night sky. 

This story is gentle in just the right way. The character overcomes his fears and finds that this new way of looking at things is more beautiful than the old. The perfect bedtime story to read in the darkest nights of the year. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

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A shy girl called Mimi finds a baby dragon asleep in the woodpile. Everyone in the village is afraid of the great Mountain Dragon but Mimi decides that the baby must be returned. As soon as the bells ring and call the other villagers to church, Mimi sneaks out treks up the mountainside to take the baby dragon safely home.

The Mountain Dragon is huge. She breathes fire. She is also relieved to have her baby home. As a gesture of thanks, she keeps watch over Mimi’s village which, being situated under the snowy mountains, is in constant danger from avalanches. 

Get ready for television animation by sharing the story together. 

This story, which has been available in a smaller book format for many years, has been remade as a larger picture book. The form suits it beautifully. Looking at the double-page and full-page illustrations, I felt as if I was a part of the landscape – looking down on the village from the mountains or up the slopes with Mimi as she climbed. It also allows us to look at the smaller pictures in more detail, and the illustrations are so beautiful that this is fully-deserved. 

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The main themes are friendship and fear and the way we judge others. A person who comes across as terrifying – maybe because they shout too much, or maybe because their tone is blunt and to the point – but who is kind and generous and filled with empathy. The dragon in this story may have a reputation for being fierce, but she cares greatly for her child and wants to show thanks for the little dragon’s safe return. 

Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of our best-known storytellers. Reading his stories always feels more like being told the tale of something that happened by a witness. Often this is intentional. In Mimi And The Mountain Dragon, as in some of Morpurgo’s books, we meet the narrator and learn of their connection to the tale before we hear the story itself. This is so rarely done now in children’s literature and yet it reminds us that the narrator is a part of the story and that stories are, after all, about people and places and experiences worth sharing. Putting The Mountain Dragon down, it is hard to believe the story never happened. 

A touching and gentle story that teaches us not to judge other people on their temperaments so readily. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the animation over Christmas, or make some hot chocolate and read the story together. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for my copy of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. Opinions my own.