Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Parakeet AWOL

Today’s review is of Oh no! Where did Walter Go? by Joanna Boyle, published by Templar Books.

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Olive and Walter are a very special couple of friends – one is a little girl and the other a green parakeet. However, they  both love the same things – pretending to be pirates, acrobats, explorers and detectives, and playing a good, hard game of Hide and Seek. However, it’s during one of those games that Walter goes missing and Oliver has a huge task on her hands to find him, especially when he blends in so well with his surroundings.

Joanna Boyle’s colourful book is a fun way to absorb children for a while in a picture book. On each spread, children will be looking out for Walter intently as Olive searches high and low for her friend. When I read the book aloud to the classes in the library, the children were keen to spot the bird, and did so on most occasions (they’ll tell you they did on every page but I know when there were silences and baffled expressions). This is definitely best shared on a smaller basis – one to one, for example, but it’s also a nice class read too and the pictures are engaging and funny. One that’s sure to ‘fly’ off our shelves soon!

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Posted in general and welcome

Strange cravings … books about eating

I often like to choose a theme when reading to the children, as it’s fun to link similar books together and see how they differ, too. So, this week, I decided that our theme would be ‘eating’ but all the books I chose had a strange twist.

The first book in my collection was The Cat Wants Custard, by P Crumble (isn’t that a fantastic name for a book featuring custard?!) and Lucinda Gifford, published by Scholastic.

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In this hilarious book, the finicky feline of the title decides roast beef and other delights won’t cut it – he wants custard, and he wants it NOW. The problem is, this is beyond human comprehension (understandably) and despite his best efforts to tell his dim-witted humans of his particular fancy, they just don’t get it. The cat tries everything – showing them a mustard bottle (what rhymes with mustard?), he spells it, he spells it out with his body (he must be a yoga enthusiast) but still he’s not granted his wish.

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In the end, the grumpy cat sits and stares at the fridge in the mistaken belief that it will magically open. I am sure many of us have had that wish, and my cat Archie no doubt would give it a go if he thought it worked. Eventually the cat gets in, but does he enjoy his much-longed-for food?

The children laughed at the cat and its antics. He’s written and drawn with much character and his superciliousness leaps off the page. I’ve read this book aloud a few times and, every time, it receives a positive reception, as well as an array of hands shooting up to tell me what their cats eat: fish, biscuits, milk, poo. Hmmm. I hope there won’t be attempts to feed the local felines custard tonight though…

The second book concerns a mythical beast’s love of pasta: Spaghetti with the Yeti, by Adam and Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish, published by Egmont.

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Adventurous George decides to set off in search of a yeti and takes with him … a tin of spaghetti. Does he choose this foodstuff because it rhymes? Nope. It turns out that, despite various other monsters’ opinions and advice, yetis really do like spaghetti (or at least this one does).

This picture book races along at a pleasant pace through its rhymes and the children loved guessing the next word – thinking it would be ‘yeti’ but being stumped with alternative female names of monsters including ‘Betty’, ‘Hetty’ and ‘Netty’. Each of these gives George something else to feed the yeti with, including bones, a goat and a crab … making George worried that his tin of spaghetti would be rejected. When I asked who liked spaghetti, virtually every hand went up and I was regaled with tales of last night’s supper (spaghetti with tomato, spaghetti with ham, etc). I think my husband will have to come in as he hates eating spaghetti as he can’t twirl it on his fork – many of the children said they could and would happily show him…

A fun book to share with monster enthusiasts, poetry lovers and anybody who likes a giggle at hairy creatures with rollers.

In the third book, we’re starting to get a little eccentric in terms of who is doing the eating. In This Book Just Ate My Dog, by Richard Byrney, published by Oxford University Press, it is the book itself that has an appetite.

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Little Bella (and she is little – smaller than her huge dog) is walking her dog along the pages of this book when, all of a sudden, the animal disappears, seemingly into the middle. We all looked for him but couldn’t find him, even when we shook the book and turned it upside down. A boy called Ben comes along and offers to help but he soon disappears, leaving only his yellow umbrella. The dog warden, police and fire brigade zoom up to investigate but they’re also swallowed into a large, bookish, black hole. In the end, long-suffering Bella decides to take matters into her own hands and goes in search. Will she get out again?

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As I shook the book and peered at the pages and binding, the children also checked theirs in case the various missing animals, people and vehicles had somehow ended up there. There were chuckles at the thought of a naughty book swallowing up its contents and the red lead coming out of the middle of the spine was a great touch to suggest that the dog, and others, were trapped within. This is a great way to be interactive with a book and use the children’s imagination while reading.

The last book in this feature is perhaps the oddest of all, and comes with a bit of a warning in case you have impressionable children! It is Oliver Jeffers’ fabulous The Incredible Book Eating Boy, published by Harper Collins.

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People talk metaphorically about a thirst for knowledge or a hunger or appetite for something but to literally eat a book? That’s quite impressive. Yet that is exactly what Henry does – starting at first with words, then moving on to sentences, pages and then entire books. When he masters that art, he moves on to eating several books at a time and finds, to his delight, that he’s absorbing all the knowledge from the books. His general knowledge is amazing and he’s cleverer than his teachers from all his fact … eating.

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As with all things, though, moderation is key. Because soon this rather restricted (and one would think highly indigestible) diet, starts confusing Henry. Facts come out back to front and he realises that he’s probably gone over the top with his taste for paper.

This idea is so good and eccentric and anarchic. The children loved hearing about this boy who’s a bit of a vandal really and, unfortunately, started gnawing on their library books even when we got to the end where Henry changes his ways. So have fun when reading this but be aware that it comes with a gentle health warning …

 

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Oh so Pretty

Just what is it that makes a person pretty? Canizales looks at this topic in the new picture book Pretty, which is a perfect Hallowe’en read.

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The picture book Pretty is ‘a warts-and-all story about being yourself’, according to the strapline on the front cover. And that is what the witchy heroine on the cover is like – covered in warts (well, at least one large one on her nose) – as well as having green skin and very spiky, bristly hair. ‘Is she pretty?’ I ask the groups of children I read to. The answer is a resounding, and nearly deafening ‘NO!’

It turns out that warts, green skin, a hunched and crooked back, and a pointy chin are not physical attributes that garner someone praise. This is what leads our witchy heroine down a route of self-improvement, with advice from various forest animals about what she needs to do to look at least a little bit more attractive for her date with a troll. Every animal she meets suggests what might make her prettier, such as a straight back; a neat, little nose; a dainty chin and wavy sleek hair. The problem is, when the witch arrives, very out of breath and late for her date with her troll, she looks nothing like herself anymore. The troll grumpily scarpers and the witch is left horrified by what she’s done to herself in the name of beauty. With a quick wave of her wand, she’s back to normal, and looking for another date (and perhaps some vengeance).

The children enjoyed this story and participated with in its telling. We waved our wands to change her physique and discussed whether the witch did in fact look prettier (the answer was always ‘NO!’ – poor thing, all that trouble for nothing). The bit at the end where the witch has a more successful outcome on her picnic was perhaps not the best thing to read just before lunch but I felt a certain schadenfreude at it (not sure if the children did). I had hoped that someone might pipe up with the statement that the book was about being yourself and not worrying what other people said or thought about you but the children just kept proclaiming that the witch was ugly and that not much could make her any more pleasing to the eye. Which I suppose is proof that this title doesn’t rely on schmaltzy morals – instead it tells a funny story with a bit of revenge on the side that will have children laughing.

The language is great, as is the humour (not sure if the children understood what ‘dating’ was but they didn’t raise it as an issue), the tone quite tongue in cheek and the illustrations marvellously simple but effective. This is a fun and different read for Hallowe’en and definitely not as sweet and sickly as you might originally think.

Pretty, by Canizales, is published by Templar books, who sent me a review copy.

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

Two nab-them-now non-fiction books

Today’s review on Childtastic concerns two amazing non-fiction books from Dorling Kindersley, which any child fascinated by fun facts will want to have at their disposal.

The first is:

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When I was little, I used to carry around a huge but deceptively light paperback book about amazing facts. I couldn’t get enough of learning about people, places and things from around the world and I’d tell anyone who would listen what I’d discovered. I still have that book – I can’t bear to give it away – but this new release from DK is a great addition.

The premise is simple: a double-page spread for more than 100 topics with 13 concrete facts about them and then a half-a-fact that acts as a myth-buster. For example, looking at the snowboarding infogram (Feel the Force – there’s a lot of pleasing alliteration in here and play on words), I discovered that while many people think that snowboarding is dangerous, you’re more likely to get injured playing football, basketball or rugby. (Tell my knees that!). Meanwhile, on the ‘Get the Message’ spread (about methods of communication throughout the ages), I was surprised to read that car phones date back to 1946, although to be honest you would have needed a car anyway to transport them, since they were a handset attached to a 36kg (80lb) box.

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Image of Planet Parade, from the book.

The best ideas are simple ones and I can see that this will be a hugely popular addition to my school library. The children love books in which they can find facts quickly and easily and the accompanying images are arresting (I must admit I skipped past the enormous fly and the skull with the eyes literally out on stalks). This book is big, bright and brimming with fascinating facts that you can keep coming back to when you want to learn something new. I’m off now to read more about storms … not in teacups, though.

And… I’m back. The second title under the microscope today is a tome that requires some upper-body strength to lift.

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If you have a budding naturist at home, this is a must-read. The authors and illustrators of this book have chosen a huge variety of creatures and looked at them from different viewpoints, helped by the use of specially commissioned photography.  For example, in the spread below, ‘How Herbivores Work’, we find out exactly what it is that makes herbivores the animals they are, rather than the simple knowledge that they eat plants. They specifically need large digestive systems to help them break down the massive amounts of hard-to-digest cellulose that they ingest. As you can see in the picture below, giraffes often grab their food with their tongue, which is dark-coloured to help protect them from getting sunburnt (scientists think). I never knew that!

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A page I found fascinating was on how octopuses work. I had no idea, for example, that they are relatives of slugs and snails, and that they are amongst the most intelligent of invertebrates. Also, thanks to their soft composition (no hard internal or external shell), octopuses can squeeze through most spaces, as long as their beak fits (the only part of them that is hard). They are nature’s escape artists: ‘Houdinis’ with 8 legs.

I admit I skipped the insect pages – I have no stomach for creepy crawlies up close – but I had a good look through the rest of the book, which comprises ten chapters covering:

  • the basics of life
  • microorganisms
  • plants
  • invertebrates
  • fish
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • birds
  • mammals
  • habitats.

This is a huge compendium full of answers to all sorts of questions that any young natural scientist may have, such as why chameleons change colour, how wings work, and how trees work (did you know that more than 99% of a big tree trunk is actually dead?). This will be another much-borrowed book in the library, though I may have to ensure the children have adequate biceps to carry it!

Please note that while I received review copies of both books, the views expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, poetry

Happy National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day and I thought there is no better way to celebrate on Childtastic than by reviewing Michael Rosen’s hilarious poem ‘Chocolate Cake’, which was recently turned into a colourful and exciting picture book, with illustrations by Kevin Waldron.

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Most of us love a piece of chocolate cake but Michael takes it to extremes when he wakes up one night thinking of the glorious baking creation his mother has left in the kitchen. He is usually allowed to take a piece to school for lunch or break but he can’t wait that long. He wants cake. Now.

Michael creeps downstairs, trying to avoid the creaky floorboard, and once inside the kitchen finds the object of his desire – a towering beauty of a chocolate cake. In a way that is disturbingly similar to my way of thinking, he reasons that it’s OK to swipe up a few crumbs on his fingertip, then tidy an uneven slice here and there… until the tidying means the cake has completely disappeared into his belly. What’s he going to do?!

The children roared with laughter when I read this book to them. They loved the suspense of creeping down to the kitchen at night (most said it was their favourite part of the story) and they totally understood why it was imperative to eat the cake in the middle of the night, although a few faint-hearted souls hid their faces behind their books as Michael ate his way into trouble (some even muttering ‘nonononono!’). The little exclamations peppered throughout the pages had them guffawing and as soon as I had finished it, they demanded I read it another time. Instead, I played a great recording of Michael Rosen performing the poem himself, which you can watch here.

Chocolate Cake is now a firm favourite in the library and is always requested as a read. Parents who visit us after school on a Wednesday are roped into reading it and enjoy it just as much. The only problem is… well, I want a piece. Now!

Please note that I was sent a copy of Chocolate Cake to review by Puffin Books.

Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

Even more animal magic!

Childtastic has animal fever this week, with Britta Teckentrup’s beautiful Where’s the Baby yesterday, and two lovely animal titles today, too! The first is Melissa Castrillón’s Animazes, which follows 14 of the world’s most fascinating animal journeys.

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If you ask me what I know about animal migration I’d probably say that I know how salmon in Canada can swim miles and miles back upstream to spawn and die, and that certain (lucky) birds fly south to spend the winter in sunnier climes than in the UK. Not a very impressive bank of knowledge, I know. So, I was fascinated to find out that Mali elephants are constantly on the move to find water and food in the Sahara Desert, even travelling through the aptly-named Porte des Élephants (the Elephant Door) – a passage between two rocky ravines. Apparently, these large, beautiful beasts can travel up to 34 miles a day, though they tend to do so when it’s cooler at night.

And then there are the Christmas Island red crabs, who provide the world with one of the most colourful migrations when 40-50 million of them journey from the central rainforests of the island to the coast to mate and lay their eggs. One of the biggest dangers they face is the automobile, so special underground tunnels have been made to help protect them on their journey!

Animazes is designed so that readers must find their way from the creature’s starting point to their final destination, taking care not to take a wrong turn into a dead end. Fascinating facts are littered throughout the double-page spreads – for example, did you know that a wildebeest calf can run only five minutes after being born?! Melissa Castrillón’s stunning pen and ink drawings are vibrant and magical, lending beautiful artistry to her non-fiction subject matter. This is a book that any child would love to have on their book shelves, or any adult for that matter.

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Animazes is published by Big Picture Press. I received a review copy but the views expressed here are entirely my own.

The second book, My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals, from Dorling Kindersley, is a mighty tome that’s perfect for animal lovers.

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Split into four sections – All About Animals, Amazing Animals, Animal Antics, and More Very Important Animals, the book is both generalist and specialist when discussing traits belonging to species and individual members. For example, there are over 10,000 species of birds and they all have the following in common: they have feathers that keep them warm and dry, their babies hatch from eggs, and they use their beaks to clean themselves. However, not all birds can fly – emus have the ability to run fast instead. On the other hand (or should I say ‘wing’?) owls have special feathers that enable them to fly silently.

The encyclopedia combines a mixture of photography with illustrations designed to be eye-catching and appealing to children, particularly little ones. The pages aren’t word-heavy so it is easy to find information and absorb it, rather than be inundated by facts and explanations. Graphics such as photographs showing the different sizes of eggs belonging to a hummingbird, chicken and ostrich help children to understand and appreciate perspective and variety, while the colour coding at the top edge of each page helps them (and their adults!) navigate easily around the book.

Encyclopedias for children have come a long way since I was a child, and I think this would be a useful addition to any home or school library. The problem will be getting the child to put it down!

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

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Where’s the Baby?

What better way to introduce young children to the world of adult and baby animals than Britta Teckentrup’s newest title Where’s the Baby?

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This gorgeous book is full of double-page spreads of different animals – large and small – and it’s the reader’s job to try to spot the baby hidden amongst the adults. The left page tells the reader a little about the animal in question and give a little clue as to where the baby may be hiding. Teckentrup does this through a lovely use of poetry (rhyme) which will delight younger (and older) readers and listeners.

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If I’m being honest, there were certain spreads that foxed me for a while, particularly the geese and the seahorses! This felt like a much less stressful and infinitely more pleasurable version of Where’s Wally?, which often gives me a headache and a thumping heart as I search in vain for the stripy-clothes-clad boy. As is always the case, Britta Teckentrup’s artistry is divine and her use of colour sublime. I really can’t wax more lyrical about it. Whenever I receive a book of hers to review, my heart soars.

Where’s the Baby is published by Big Picture Press (Bonnier Publishing). I was sent a copy of the book for review.