Posted in general and welcome

Don’t be a Scrooge!

We’ve missed a few days of our advent calendar but never fear! Here is a particularly stunning surprise behind Door 12…

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Search & Find A Christmas Carol

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This delicious book, based on Charles Dickens’ novella of the same name (without the ‘Search & Find’, obviously!) took my breath away when I first laid eyes on it. Sumptuously illustrated in rich colours by Louise Pigott, this picture book retells the basic bones of the story for younger readers and includes a fun search and find element on each double-page spread. Besides finding the characters, you’ve also got to look out for more difficult items such as candles, wreaths, mince pies and bows!

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I’ve yet to take it into my primary school to show the children and I must admit I am rather hesitant to do so. It’s just so beautiful that I want to keep it in its pristeen state! Instead, I took it in to two of my GCSE English Literature students, both of whom are studying the novella for their forthcoming exams, for a fun end-of-term lesson. It helped us revise the key points of the story while scratching our heads to locate, in one of the harder pictures, 16 heavy trunks. The apples were also tricky, as was a mouse in a graveyard.

I’d love to see more of this type of book for other classic tales. They’re an interesting and playful way of introducing older novels to modern readers and include more detail than some of the baby board books about, for example, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. These are pretty to look at but I am unsure of their function as the story is too complicated for the readership so why use them at all? You do come away from this book with a decent understanding not only of the plot but the character of Scrooge, helped by some interesting biographical detail at the start.

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This would be a wonderful present for any avid reader – child, teenager or adult alike – who loves a bit of fun thrown in.

Thank you to Templar Publishing / Studio Press for my review copy.



Posted in general and welcome, picture books

The Elephant in the Room

It’s Day 7 of Advent, and you know what that means …

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Today’s Advent book is The Elephant in the Room by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon, published by Templar Books.

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I can’t convey how excited I was when this book came in the post. Several years ago, when Holly was still actively involved in this blog, we reviewed a couple of picture books by this dynamic duo (aka the Superhairies) – The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race and Dogs on Stilts. Holly adored these titles and was over the moon when she met James and Angus in London in 2013 (you can read about that here). This new book did not disappoint. The cover itself promised it would be full of their trademark zany, surreal humour – illustrations in bold colours and wavy psychedelic lines.

The story starts with a teaser ‘It started with an “OOOPS”‘ and the reader is plunged into the mystery of who broke Father Giant’s beloved elephant ornament. Father Giant, determined to discover who is behind this crime against china, cross-examines everyone/thing in his house but every time he thinks he’s found the culprit, another piece of evidence emerges. The naughty newt, the laughing lady and the yucky yak are all in the clear, but someone was responsible. Will the truth ever be out?

The style of Thorp and Mackinnon is very distinct in the world of children’s picture books. It’s not just the almost art-nouveau artistry or the bold colours (as you can see, turquoise, pink and purple are favoured over red, blues and greens)  but the line drawings which I reckon attract an adult’s attention as much as a child’s. I felt like I was looking at and reading a 1940s Miss Marple or similar, with the added appeal of rhymes, which are skilfully done and not at all forced, as occasionally happens in children’s books. It all flows into a fun and zany world that is unique and wonderful.

I hope there will be more from Angus and James!

Please note that I received a review copy of this book.


Posted in general and welcome

DIY Nativity

It’s Day 6 of Childtastic’s booktastic Advent Calendar!

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Today I can tell you all the fun I had making a classic nativity scene using Joey Chou’s Make & Play Nativity, published by Nosy Crow.

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Previously on Childtastic I have revealed my struggles with anything arts and crafts related. I’m all thumbs normally but this kit was wonderfully easy to use (apart from the crib – I didn’t follow the instructions for that well and I think it took me as long to put that together as it did all the other 19 pieces combined). Instead of a box, this kit comes as a book hard-cover book, rather like a board book with spiral binding. The first 16 pages have press-out figures that make up a classic nativity scene – Mary, Joseph, Jesus, manger animals, The Wise Men, Shepherds and an angel. There are also some animals (sheep, a camel, and a donkey) and a couple of palm trees. The ensuing pages have a mixture of fun ideas for Christmas activities: several Christmas songs to sing, a short retelling of the Nativity story, and instructions on how to make a Christmas star, an advent calendar and an angel.

I sat contentedly at my work desk putting all the characters and this is the result:


(The angel is hiding behind the tree!)

This would be a fantastic set to give a child for Christmas (or more sensibly in the run-up to Christmas) and looks gorgeous on display. I will be keeping these figures for future years – they encapsulate the story so well, they’re child friendly and they had all the children who came to the library today cooing over how pretty they were. Top marks for a top product!

Please note I received a copy of Make & Play Nativity for review from Nosy Crow.


Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Let it snow (apparently it might)

Yesterday, the advent door for 4 got stuck so, er, we’ll resume service today with a Christmas book for Door 5!

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Snow, by Sam Usher, published by Templar Books

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Snow is such a rare thing for most parts of the UK that we tend to go a little mad in the run-up to Christmas, with television adverts and books full of the white stuff. Everyone hopes and wishes that we will wake up to a deep covering one day – especially Christmas Day – but we’re more likely to see rain, which just isn’t as picturesque, is it?

So the children were very happy today when I read them the mini picture book version of Sam Usher’s Snow, especially when they saw the glittery, sandpapery-texture of the cover. Like the boy in the book, their eyes widened at the thought of a huge blanket of pure, pillowy snow and the joy of being the first to go out and play in it. The problem, though, is that Grandad, whose presence outside is not just requested but expected, is taking rather a long time to get ready, having a shower and undertaking all his usual morning ablutions. The boy becomes increasingly agitated as he sees his his best friend, and then all his friends, dash out in the snow. Will Grandad ever be ready before all the snow goes?

This is a lovely book about the joys of snow and the fun that can be had between the generations. It’s great to see a grandparent joining in and having fun too (Grandad does rather well in a snowball fight), rather than being portrayed as more passive, slow characters. A great book for a grandchild or a grandparent!

(Please note that I received a copy of Snow from Templar for review purposes.)
Posted in audiobooks, general and welcome

Are you ever too old for bedtime stories?

On the third day of Advent, I’m asking: “Are you ever too old for bedtime stories?”

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Once upon a time, a long time ago, I thought that bedtime stories were only for children who were unable to read for themselves. I knew they offered comfort and happiness as well as fostering a love of reading, but I assumed that, once you could comfortably read to yourself, they were pretty much redundant.

How wrong was I.

I should have known really when I spent hours re-listening to my favourite audio book as a child: The Wind in the Willows, read by the marvellous Kenneth Williams. (You can read my review of this here.)

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I just couldn’t get enough of his fantastic vocal characterisations of Ratty, Mole and especially Toad (as well as all the other animals). They came to life in my imagination as I listened to his skillful adaptation and I still, to this day, have a copy of the cassettes (shows you how old they are – and I am!).

As I grew older, I didn’t really listen to stories; I’d read them instead. My Nana was a great fan though of Radio 4’s afternoon play and would have a lie down after lunch to listen to it (and nap, I believe too!). However, whilst at university I discovered how calming listening to the radio was and would often fall asleep listening to the Shipping Forecast – even nowadays I find it utterly soporific. Whenever I hear it now, I think of rolling waves and rough seas and feel comfortable and safe in my bed … and sleepy!

A few years after my husband and I moved in together, I suggested, one night, that we start reading to each other rather than both being in bed and reading our own books silently. Reading to each other seemed more sociable and it had the added benefit that we could share our thoughts and opinions. We started, I believe, with a Ngaoi Marsh mystery Surfeit of Lampreys and enjoyed it so much, we’ve been reading to each other ever since. Though Carl reads to me otherwise he’s asleep in a matter of minutes!

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Since then, we’ve read all sorts of books together. We’ve made it through all of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, Janet Evanovich’s hilarious Stephanie Plum books, the wonderful Mangle Street Murders novels by MRC Kasasian (do check these out – they’re brilliant yet still rather undiscovered) amongst many others. We’ve discovered that some books, while brilliant in their own right, aren’t great when read aloud and we tend to prefer comedies and mysteries. We both have different tolerances for certain subjects too – I became so impatient with the narrator of a book recently that we stopped after a few chapters. I couldn’t take much more of her whining and Carl couldn’t take any more of mine. Carl, on the other hand, doesn’t have much time for ghost stories which is rather worrying as I do tend to write them more than anything!

People have always enjoyed listening to stories. Before books ever existed, people would tell tales around a fire – fairytales and fables, for example – as a form of entertainment. The modern equivalent is audio books and they’re growing in popularity, especially thanks to smartphones. People can listen to anything, anywhere.

When I tell friends and family that we read to each other, they think it’s sweet and romantic. For us now it’s just what we do. As Carl says, it’s like watching a film together or a television series. You can share your response to the text and to the characters. I find I can’t wait for the next instalment … as long as it’s a good book. If not, then I tend to follow in my Nana’s footsteps … and fall asleep.

Please do share with me what you enjoy listening to. Do you like radio plays? Audio books? What’s the best thing you’ve ever listened to? I might do some shopping on audible afterwards! 😉







Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Hope you’re having a DALMAZING* advent!

It’s time to open Door Number 2 to see the latest gift from Childtastic Books!

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Image courtesy of dotty wren studio

When I heard that Peter Bently was going to adapt Dodie Smith’s classic tale The Hundred and One Dalmations into a picture book, I was super-excited. I love the humour in Bently’s books and his storytelling is full of fun and paciness (I had to look that up to see if it was actually a word!). His collaboration with artist Steven Lenton does not disappoint in this beautifully reimagined children’s classic, published by Egmont.

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There probably aren’t many people who are unfamiliar with the story but here’s a quick recap. Dalmation married couple Pongo and Missis live in domestic bliss with the human married couple the Dearlys. One day, Missis announces that she and Pongo are going to be parents and shortly produces an impressive litter. Local nasty Cruella de Vil hears about these gorgeous babies and turns up to offer a princely sum to purchase them. The Dearlys refuse and Cruella slinks off with an evil plan up her own furry coat sleeve. The Dalmation puppies are pup-napped and Pongo and Missis set out to rescue them.

When I announced to the children in school that we were reading this tale, they couldn’t sit still with excitement. Famous story + puppies = what’s not to like? They sat with quiet expectation as I read the story and showed them Lenton’s gorgeous illustrations – bold and full of depth, with contrasting creams and whites and dark reds and blacks, following the dalmation theme.

Image result for the hundred and one dalmatians steve lenton

Image result for the hundred and one dalmatians steve lenton

Peter Bently cleverly manages to capture the most important plot points of the story into the much shorter space of a picture book, introducing a level of suspense and peril that young children can cope with. Cruella’s minions are portrayed more as bumbling, lazy fools than evil co-conspirators and Cruella – while she does make a few appearances – doesn’t overwhelm the story with ‘cruella-ty’. And how Steven Lenton manages to infuse 101 dalmations with their own unique characters just blows my mind and made the children coo with delight!

The story ends with a particularly charming Christmas image which makes this the perfect present for this time of year. And with this in mind, I decided to base our library’s annual Christmas display on the double-page spread. Enlisting the help of all the children in the school, we set to work creating 101 dalmations to go up on the board … and this is the result:

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(Please excuse the rather dim lighting – not sure what happened to my camera! And also the electrics box in the top left corner!)

We had some fab drawings by all the children (some of whom said drawing dalmations was the most fun they’d had in the library!). These are a few of the wonderful submissions:

I love how the dalmation is celebrating the capture of one of the crooks in the first picture! In the second (top right) we have Cruella (lovely detail) with a worried dalmation. And in the third (bottom right) is a dalmation with ‘101’ as its spots.

We hope you enjoy The Hundred and One Dalmations as much as we did!

* I shamelessly borrowed ‘dalmazing’ from Steven Lenton – sorry Steven!

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Animals in odd places

Welcome to Childtastic’s Christmas Advent Spectacular!

That’s probably a massive overstatement but, over the period of Advent, I will be attempting a post a day! So let’s see what is behind Window 1…

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At school I have been reading stories to the children about animals in strange places, as this does seem to be a recurring theme in children’s picture books in particular. There are all sorts of animals in all sorts of places but in this post, we’ll concentrate on lions and tigers.
Catherine and the Lion, by Clare Jarrett, published by Collins Picture Lions
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The premise of this delightful story is very simple – young Catherine wakes up one morning and sees a lion in her bedroom. Rather than find this situation frightening, Catherine welcomes the Lion into her life and the two enjoy a typical day together – going to school, doing arts and crafts, having meals together and swinging in the hammock. Lion is a gentle, comforting presence in Catherine’s life and perhaps a much-needed one as we’re told subtly, in a by-the-by type of way, that a new baby sister has arrived in her family. Perhaps Lion is providing some comfort in a home where disruptions is inevitable with a new baby. In any case, the story is gentle, sweet and has – I am afraid – a very funny moment when we’re introduced to Catherine’s teacher, Mrs Tickle (I kept thinking of the Mr Men and Little Miss series with this). Jarrett’s deceptively simple line drawings are flooded with warmth, making this a soothing book to share.
How to Hide a Lion at School, by Helen Stephens, published by Scholastic
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Helen Stephens’ How to Hide a Lion series is both best selling and award winning and it’s not hard to see why. The fun that Iris has hiding her best friend Lion makes for great reading, and the accompanying illustrations bring the story to glorious, humorous life. In this instalment, Lion desperately wants to be with Iris at school, but the strict Miss Holland is having none of it. Wherever he hides – behind the whiteboard, inside the piano and behind the coats – she spots him and sends him out of school. On this day, however, Lion decides to take a nap on top of the school bus so that, when Iris and her friends come out for playtime, he can listen to and watch them. Unfortunately, this is also the day the children are going on a school trip to the museum (which looks very much like the Natural History Museum in Oxford) and Lion wakes up to find the bus zooming along the road with him on top of it! What will become of Lion? And will Miss Holland spot him? A book with much humour and fun in both words and pictures.
There’s a Tiger in the Garden, by Lizzy Stewart, published by Frances Lincoln
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This picture book won the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017 and its appeal is instantly obvious – the cover is gorgeous, bright and welcoming – inviting the reader into a world of colourful imagination. The story focuses on Nora, who is staying with her grandmother and, despite having toys all over the place, is bored. Grandma suggests she try exploring the garden, where she might find dragonflies the size of birds, plants that can swallow a person whole, a grumpy polar bear who loves fishing, and a magnificent tiger. Unlike Catherine in our first book, Nora doesn’t believe in endless possibilities and scoffs at her Grandma’s claims … until she spots a dragonfly the size of a bird. Nora keeps exploring her grandmother’s garden with her friend, Jeff the giraffe, and comes across everything her Grandma promised – including the elusive tiger! The ending promises an extra surprise which I won’t spoil here. The children in my classes loved this book and looking for clues and hints of what they might find next. When the tiger finally appears, he bears a huge resemblance to Judith Kerr’s Tiger Who Came to Tea and it has been suggested that this character, who Lizzy Stewart adores, eventually found his way into this book from little Sophie’s home after draining dry her taps of water! Which leads me on nicely to my final book…
The Tiger Who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr, published by Picture Lions
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This is a perennial favourite in the library, thanks to Kerr’s fantastical story of a tiger who turns up, very hungry and thirsty, and proceeds to literally eat and drink Sophie’s house empty and dry. While Sophie’s mum looks on in alarm as her house guest exceeds the boundaries of hospitality, the little girl follows the tiger around, seemingly enamoured. Children love the naughtines of the story – little Sophie behaves well but the tiger needs to learn a few manners, although admittedly he does says “Thank you for my nice tea.”
That’s today’s post. What will be behind door 2 tomorrow?
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