Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Bear, The Piano, The Dog And The Fiddle by David Litchfield


Hector plays his fiddle. Hugo the dog is one of his biggest fans. They have always been the best of friends. Now times aren’t so good and Hector has stopped making money from his music. He puts down his fiddle for good. 

When Hugo picks up the fiddle and gains a big following and joins a famous bad, Hector is jealous. At their parting, he says something he regrets. 

Will the two friends ever be united? 


A poignant and beautiful picture-book about the lasting power of friendship. 

David Litchfield is a rare talent. His story is as touching and memorable as his illustrations. This isn’t a one-read picture book. It is a story which will stick in your mind. 

I loved the themes of friendship. Even the best of friends fall out and our actions are often motivated by our emotions. Elderly Hector has always wanted to play a famous concert hall but never achieved that success. Seeing his friend rise to fame brings back difficult feelings and Hector says something he regrets. This would be a lovely story for talking to children about how arguments start. Hector is not a bad person. He is a sad person. That understanding can help children to empathise with each other and to understand that, often, nobody is at fault. 

The moment of reconciliation is touching and special. 

img_7098The illustration is top-rate. Litchfield captures the atmosphere of a big city – how it can be both beautiful and ugly, crowded and lonely. I particularly love his use of light – light reflecting from damp pavements. Windows glowing and streetlights casting a narrow beam. I grew up in London and can think of no picture-book which has ever captured this quite so well. 

This is the kind of arty, beautiful book which I would gift to adults. It is also going to be a big hit with the target audience – expect it to become a real favourite and one which your children remember beyond childhood. 


Thanks to Quarto Books for my copy of The Bear, The Piano, The Dog And The Fiddle. Opinions my own.


Review and Giveaway: Hey Duggee Sticky Stick Sticker Book


About Hey Duggee and the Sticky Stick Song

Stick Stick Stick Stick

Sticky Sticky Stick Stick.

Who would have thought the hit of the World Cup would be an animated stick? Hey Duggee is an animated series for pre-school children. It follows the adventures of the Squirrel Club as they gain badges and explore the outdoor world. The Sticky Stick song featured in a single episode of the programme but has since gained something of a cult following. Millions of views later and a special version was introduced for the World Cup.

Kick Kick Kick Kick

Add some techno-vibes, background chanting and an animated stick and an anthem is born. 

 Sticky Stick Sticker Book review and giveaway

The lovely people at Penguin Random House sent me some copies of the Sticky Stick Sticker book to review and share with my readers. 

img_6638The book combines stickers with puzzles, activities and your favourite Hey Duggee characters. There is an added element which would earn a great big WOOF of support from Duggee – as well as the usual sticker activities, the book encourages children to get outside, find a stick and decorate it with their stickers. This would be a lovely activity to share with pre-school children and a great way into nature play for the shy or reluctant. 

Great fun was had in the creation of sticky-characters. The stickers didn’t stick perfectly to the real sticks, but this would be a nice introduction to decorating sticks with objects from the garden. An alternative would be to use ice-lolly sticks, or to photograph your sticks before the stickers come off. Why not create a gallery of stick friends? 


The stickers peel easily and repeel from the pages without tearing. They are big and solid enough for their young audience. The puzzles and games are pitched at different levels so this would be as friendly to a six-year-old as it would to a smaller child. The suggested age range is 3 years upwards. 

If you would like to win a copy of the Sticky Stick sticker book head over to my Twitter. I have FOUR copies for giveaway within the UK and Ireland. Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to host this giveaway 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: AdoraBull by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore


Tom is all grown up and Derek the bull feels rejected. He and Tom used to be best friends. Now Tom is at school and he wants a pet. A cute pet. Derek sets out on a mission to make himself cute, but it is hard to be convincing when you are a bull …

A hilarious and warm-hearted narrative.

The story is right up to date. It uses internet trends and smart-phones to tell an age-old narrative. This means it could also be used to discuss the pressures of social media. Derek looks online and sees cute animals. Does this mean he needs to change himself? It is great to see modern-day problems reflected in children’s books.

Alfred also learns about his own beauty. When he stops trying to copy others, he does something genuinely cute. This is an important message at a time when young people feel increasingly pressured to alter their appearance.

The story could also be a metaphor for new-arrival jealousy. Alfred wants to upstage any new pets, but when the kitten arrives he bonds with it and everybody agrees that Alfred and Kitten make an adorable pair.

The illustrations allow us to read Derek’s emotions, first when he feels rejected and then as he sets about on his desperate attempt to win Tom’s affections back. They are also funny. It is difficult not to laugh at Derek strutting down the street, bedecked with bows. The reader knows ahead of Derek that his attempts aren’t working. This is a powerful form of humour which puts the reader in charge.

A book full of laughs and fuzzy-moments. A lovely bedtime story. 

Thanks to Maverick Books for my copy of AdoraBull. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton



Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Kaya’s Heart Song by Diwa Tharan Sanders

heartsongbanner.jpgimg_5015 With increasing pressure on children to achieve good results, maintain friendships and to grow up in a world of non-stop information, it is important to teach them the importance of relaxation and living in the moment. It is also important for children to make the link between relaxation and increased happiness. 

img_5076When Mama hums it helps her to relax. She calls it her heart song. Humming helps her to move into a state of awareness known as mindfulness. Kaya sets off in search of her own heart song. Along the way she helps Pak to reawaken the magical elephant carousel. The reader is encouraged to find their own heart song through play and adventure. A message at the back gives some additional information about mindfulness. 

The artwork is beautiful. Jewel-bright elephants and flowers stand out against a calming green background. The pictures, like the text, encourage a state of calm. 

A couple of reviews have suggested that this would be too abstract for the youngest picture book readers, but I don’t think that is the case. The reader may not understand the concept of mindfulness when it is explained to them, but they can explore the difference between calm and excitement. 

img_5078Lantana’s mission is to redress the balance seen in publishing so that children of all nationalities see themselves represented in fiction. Representation goes beyond skin colour – imagine if the food you ate or the words you used were never shown in fiction. Kaya’s Heart Song is set in Malaysia and shows children from different backgrounds together on the carousel. 

A beautiful addition to any bookshelf, and a great resource for mindfulness and relaxation. 


Thank you to Lantana Publishing for sending a copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.

Picture Book Reviews

Review: Real Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker



Real-Life Mysteries is a fantastic book which has been nominated for the Blue Peter Award. It is the ideal book for helping young children understand the topic of 2017: Fake News. Real-Life Mysteries works on two layers. 

  • It is a factual book about unsolved mysteries 
  • It teaches children skills to decide for themselves where the facts lie in a piece of information

img_4739Real Life Mysteries turns unsolved historical stories into a detective’s casebook, and leaves the reader in charge. It encourages them to approach stories objectively, and carefully, and to work through all the facts before they draw a conclusion. A page at the front explains these skills, including the meaning of the word objectively. After that the mysteries are presented. A double page spread gives the story context (eg. historical and geographical) then a further double page spread presents a ‘case file’ where the evidence is layed out. 

img_4743What I love most as an adult reader is that the book does not patronise its readers, nor tell them when something is not fact. Aside from a friendly warning on the cover that not all writing is true, it lets readers make up their own minds. This is hugely important. Arguing with a young child about the existence of Bigfoot is like arguing with a tabloid reader about political misinformation. Nobody likes to be corrected, being corrected can make people more stubborn and it can make them less willing to engage in reasoned argument. 

The mysteries examined are wide-ranging, from Bigfoot to curses to superpowers and spontaneous combustion. The selection might encourage children to remain objective. If they are certain one idea is true, what do they think about Bigfoot? If the only answer is ‘it says so here and I think this is true’ they might be reminded about objectivity. 

img_4745This is an attractive book for young readers. The theme of detectives is created with the notice board background. Notes and diagrams are pinned to the board. It is just serious enough that the child might think it is something more than play, while bright splashes of colour and cartoon-style pictures keep things safely in the realm of fun. I like how much thought has been given to the child reader – they need to feel they are taken seriously, but may need reassurance if the stories get overwhelming. 

The text is broken into small chunks. It would be a great book for reluctant readers, as the theme encourages lots of breaks for discussion, and it can be made into an activity where the child is encouraged to make their own case file with diagrams and pictures. If a child connected with this book, they might search out others linked to their favourite stories. 

Real-Life Mysteries is an attractive book which puts the child reader first. As well as being a good fact-file on historical mysteries it identifies a concept which children need to learn. The need for objectivity to be taught at a young age has never been more apparent, and this would be a great place to start. 


Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Bounce Marketing for my wonderful prize. All opinions my own.