Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh.

Review: The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh.

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Sam is a fearless captain, who plays all day on the tree at the top of the hill. It turns into a pirate ship under his command, and he sails the world alone. One day, a new boy approaches. He reckons Sam would do a better job of exploring with a partner. 

Can the two boys combine their knowledge to create a better game? 

This beautiful story looks at the compromise and sharing which make up a friendship. Specifically, it looks at how the knowledge and ideas of two people can change a game – a story – to make it better. When the boys meet, Sam is off hunting for diamonds in Nigeria. Agu isn’t convinced this would work. He used to live in Nigeria and he knows what is really there to be found. 

At first, Sam isn’t convinced about playing with a newcomer, but when Agu tells his stories, Sam realises there are whole other adventures to be had when you listen to different people. 

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about whether we should tell stories aside from our own. Wherever you stand in this debate, the key point is that stories are about real, lived experience. If you want to tell other stories, first you need to listen. To learn. Although this book is about friendship and sharing, it gently explores this idea. Sam’s world becomes richer for opening himself to new ideas. 

This would also be a lovely book to use in discussions about sharing, and listening to our friends. Sam could have kept the Pirate Tree to himself, but he would have missed out on all those new games. We might love a toy or make-believe, but by opening it up to others and sharing we will gain more from it. 

The real-world backgrounds are pale and washed out in comparison to the imagined worlds. This makes the games and stories the thing we remember when we close the book. 

A delightful and thought-provoking story which will make readers want to explore and start some adventure games of their own. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my gifted copy of The Pirate Tree. Opinions my own.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel.

Review: A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel.

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What is a stone? How does time change our perspective? 

One stone sits in the world. It is dark in the evening shade, but light to an owl. It is loud when a snail shell smashes off its surface, but a snake curls up on it for a moment of quiet reflection. Time changes the landscape until the stone sits in the water. Time and perspective alter the way the stone is seen. It is just as it always was – and yet different every moment. 

A reassuring narrative about perspective and finding a constant in a world of change. 

img_9785This is one of the most thought-provoking picture books I have read this year. It comes at the right time – at a time when so much on the news is about devastation and change and anger. This book is about a quiet moment in the natural world. The stone is constant. It has been there for hundreds of years and will be there for hundreds of years more. This sense of connectivity is reassuring when there is so much talk about division. 

Is it a book about climate change? Not quite, but it reminds us of our connections to other living beings. However much we deny or ignore it, we are only one of many creatures on this planet. The book reminds us that other lives are meaningful and extraordinary too. 

Pale wash backgrounds contrast with detailed texture. The effect is something like being outside and zooming in on several details. We can’t notice everything in a vast landscape, but what we do notice should grab our attention. Vibrant colours, too, show the changing seasons, and the whole thing is something like a lullaby sung to us by the world. 

A beautiful picture book which poses questions and offers us a space to reflect in a hectic and sometimes disspiriting world. This text reassures us that the world is a miraculous place. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my gifted copy of A Stone Sat Still. Opinions my own.

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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

No Longer Alone

The young protagonist of this story is used to being spoken about. People say how quiet she is. And shy. How she doesn’t like to run about. Everyone gets it wrong. Sometimes it is easier to talk and talk when nobody else is listening and to run riot through the landscapes of her imagination. People don’t understand that the other things are what she did before. 

Before she felt alone. 

Together with her Dad and her little sisters, the young girl in this story explores her feelings and emotions, and bit by bit they start to heal. To find a new normal. Nothing will ever replace the loved one they have lost, but together they start to feel less alone. 

A beautiful book which explores the thoughts and feelings of a grieving child. 

The extraordinary thing about this story is how it shows grief through things which are apparently normal. That is what happens when we lose people we love. We have to act out the old things, the things we did before, and it can feel frustrating and hurtful that the everyday itinerary has changed so very little when everything has changed so much. How can it be possible to get up without that special person to say good morning? Many picture books about grief show the huge, the overwhelming, but No Longer Alone captures that unfairness and wonder of life going on. 

First, our protagonist finds it impossible. She has been left alone and however normal and quiet she looks, there’s a whole world going on inside her head. Then she talks and talks with her family, and together they manage to feel together again. 

This is a story about a child who has lost a parent, although the relations aren’t made clear until the end. This is a clever way of examining feelings of grief which might be universal. It also encourages readers to empathise and question what might be going on. When I was a child, stories about grief were pretty much labeled on the front. They were rarely read to children who weren’t going through it at the time. This encouraged a generation to think of grief as something which belonged in a neat box. Beautiful books like No Longer Alone encourage everyone to know and recognise and empathise with those emotions. 

Certain images have become stock pictures for grief – calm landscapes, pale flowers, and the tide far out from the beach. No Longer Alone turns this on its head. There may be landscapes and oceans but they are brimming with all the energy of a young child’s imagination. There are different types of noise, as the girl in this story is well aware, and it is only when she opens up about her feelings that things become truly still. 

A beautiful, poetic look at grief which has taken the time to imagine and reflect the real experience. This book will encourage readers to empathise with those who are grieving and to go deeper than how things appear on the surface. 

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing for my copy of No Longer Alone. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Billy And The Dragon

It’s party time! Billy and Fatcat are back, and this time they’re off to a fancy dress party. Fatcat isn’t keen on the dressing up part but is persuaded to put on a dragon suit. Everything is going well until a real dragon swoops down and seizes Fatcat. 

Billy and her friends set out on a rescue mission. They fly up to the top of tall trees, climb mountains and befriend fluffy white rabbits on their quest to see Fatcat safely home. Is it possible he will be OK? Will this all end in a slice of birthday cake?

Another delightful story about Billy And Fatcat from the author of Billy And The Beast. 

Resourceful, adventurous Billy and her grouchy (but adorable) sidekick Fatcat may be my new favourite picture book duo. Certainly, these stories have all the ingredients of memorable picture books. They have strong plots, a fearless main character, and happy endings which don’t feel in any way like a cheat or a letdown. They understand – like The Gruffalo, like Peter Rabbit, that young readers have a higher tolerance for peril than many adults realise. 

Fatcat too is a gem. His disgruntled expression is somewhat reassuring. Small children know well that nursery rhymes and unicorns and jelly and ice-cream can get plain annoying. Tantrums and frustration and rejecting perfectly good things are all part of a stable early childhood and we need more disgruntled characters in their literature. 

Wonderful skies in pink, orange, purple, red and blue add a hint of darkness without being too scary. The quest is broken with moments of light relief too, like Billy’s colourful bunch of balloons and the random chat with a fluffy bunny rabbit. The gang of adorable woodland creatures, too, add humour. Whoever heard of noble knights who looked so cute? 

Billy is a fantastic heroine who represents many young girls. She is bright, resourceful and loyal to her friends. I would recommend her in a second to anyone looking to balance out the princesses with young heroines. It is so important for girls to have strong role models. 

Another hit from Nadia Shireen. I hope Billy and Fatcat will be back for further adventures and I look forward to cheering them on. 

 

Thanks to Penguin Books UK for my copy of Billy And The Dragon. Opinions my own.

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: There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

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Little Spider is warned about the dangers of swinging from the web. Cats, light bulbs and clumsy feet are all mentioned. There’s only one problem. Swinging from the web is so fun that Little Spider can’t stop. One day, when everyone is asleep, she ignores all the rules and swings out into the wide world … to land in a bowl of soup. 

It should be a disaster, but taking a risk isn’t always dangerous. The soup-based adventure leads to new friendships, and soon all the spiders are following Little Spider’s lead. 

Little Spider could have been eaten up. Or drowned. That’s the fact, and it is worth pointing that out to young readers. How do we know when it is safe to take a risk and when it is just plain not a good idea? Danger is a difficult subject to discuss with young readers, however, a climate where children are afraid to push themselves and explore is unhealthy too. This is a brilliant story to open conversations about danger and risk. After all, diving from a higher board at the swimming pool is a very different risk to jumping out into the traffic. Risking a grazed knee is a different thing to multiple fractures. Understanding that, as we get bigger, we sometimes have to trust our own instincts is a huge lesson.

The spiders are delightful, and not the least bit hairy or scary. Of course, I’m a spider-lover and have been since childhood, but as illustrated spiders go these are gentle enough that the story could be shared even with people who are phobic. 

 Calm backgrounds are used as a canvas for multiple patterns and colours. Different objects have their own patterns and the result is a collage picture which feels like a snapshot of a normal kitchen. 

An adventure which encourages readers to trust their instincts and to talk about different types of danger, and a wonderful spider-based story. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of There’s A Spider In My Soup. Opinions my own.