Review: 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.
Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.
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.
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.
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.
Summer arrived with mild and indifferent weather. WriteMentor got real as I reached halfway through a major redraft and realised I had no idea how to go forward. Talk about cresting a hill to find a mountain. My blogging and creating mojo has been low, although admitting this to people made me aware just how normal these moments are and how they are almost always signals that it is time for self-care.
Out came some old favourite novels and I was soon scribbling away about techniques I wanted to apply to my own work.
That’s June. Sounds underwhelming but sometimes we learn more from those months than we realise.
There was one special moment. I was standing in the front garden and noticed the wildflowers which spring up around this time. They were vibrating. Looking closer, I saw huge numbers of bees gathering pollen. Bee after bee after bee. With numbers of bees in crisis and the environment generally in crisis, it was lovely to see nature hanging on in there. If we allow the wild spaces to thrive, and replace what has been destroyed over the past decades, nature will come back.
What have you been up to this June? Literary or otherwise, I want to hear it.
The series I always wanted filmed and a bar of Dairy Milk Oreo. Happy night in.
I had concerns about Peter Jackson as director (because the second Hobbit film is 2% derived from the book and 98% spinning it out. And even the road to Mordor can’t be that long) but the plot is relatively faithful to the original and any changes haven’t affected the pace.
Every single character felt real to the story, especially Anna Fang and Shrike.
Tom and Hester look my age, and it took me until the end of the film to figure out that no, they really weren’t suggesting that actors close to thirty could play teens. In the original series, Tom and Hester are teenagers in the first book and adults in the remaining three. The film series cuts out the years between and presumably alters the timeline.
The traction cities were everything I had ever dreamed of, and they way details from Old London [or London as we know it] have been incorporated into the great moving beast of a city is quite spectacular. Although I have wanted these films for more years than I can count, I am pleased they were delayed. Any attempt to create them with earlier CGI would have made them redundant pretty quickly.
It is also a delight to see the books brought to a new generation of readers.
Bought a storage trolley for my review books.
In the immortal words of the Toy Story crew: NEW TOY.
Dived into Writer’s HQ
At the very end of May, I had some exciting news. I was chosen for a Six Month Writer’s HQ bursary, which gives me access to online courses and writing forums.
I haven’t explored these as thoroughly as I would have expected, for various reasons, but I have logged in most evenings for a nose. Everything I’ve learned so far has helped my writing, and the material tells it like it is. The team behind the courses understand that writing is a hard slog, that sometimes we just need to let it out, but at the end of the day, the only thing that makes it happen is maintained effort. And the odd biscuit.
I’m looking forward to getting into the serious business of working with Plotstormers and Plotstormers 2 to construct a new plot and to pull the two I have into the best shape possible.
What have you been up to this June? Any books stand out especially? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to link to your June round-up post or reflections.
Review: The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña.
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.
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.