Posted in general and welcome, picture books

This cow didn’t jump over the moon – he came down from it!

Tonight’s review is of Nadia Shireen’s excellent and hilarious picture book The Cow Who Fell to Earth, published by Penguin.

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I prefaced the reading of this book to my Key Stage 1 children with the warning on the back cover: ‘This book is very silly’. They giggled and their eyes lit up. Silly is good.

Why would a cow fall to Earth? This is the question the sheep must be asking themselves in this story when a young calf, appearing first as a fast, flying star, lands in their field. The poor little cow is rather baffled and stunned when he lands, so the sheep do what one assumes British sheep would do in an emergency – they offer him a cup of tea.

After this, they encourage their visitor to tell them his story, which he does in great detail. The problem is that the sheep can’t understand a word the cow is saying, and not because he’s mooing. Nope – he’s Wooing. Bertha the cow is consulted to see if she can shed any light on matters but wooing doesn’t mean anything to her either.

And just when it looks like things can’t get any worse, a naughty chicken steals the cows jet pack and shoots into space. How will Woo get back to where he belongs?

This story had the children in stitches of laughter. They joined in with the wooing and baaing with great aplomb, and tried to predict how the story would end (I think the idea that the sheep would manage to purloin or build another jet pack was one of the most mooted solution – sorry for the pun). We used the story to talk about other tales involving cows and moons – it heartened me to hear that they still know the old rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon. Although they did insist that the moon was NOT made of cheese but rocks. Scientific explanations are now very much in the minds of the youngest of children.

Nadia Shireen has a real talent for combining funny words with engaging pictures. The children loved her previous book – Bumblebear – equally, and she has a knack for knowing what will tickle their funny bone. The animals are cute but not too much so, and their predicaments hilarious but comfortingly resolved. We look forward to reading more from her!

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Stuff and nonsense

Tonight’s review is of Big Brown Bear’s Cave, by Yuval Zommer, published by Templar

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Look at the gorgeous fellow who came with the book!

I love the dedication Yuval Zommer has written in the front of his new picture book:

‘Dedicated to all the kids who barely tidy their rooms.’

I admit I used to be one of those kids, and my husband will, I am sure, pipe up that I am still one when he reads this review.

Big Brown Bear is on the hunt for the perfect home. Well, not explicitly at the beginning – he’s just taking a stroll but then he sees a cave that looks pretty perfect for him so he decides to move in straight away (perhaps it’s a second home). The problem is that the cave doesn’t really feel like home so he carries on his way until he discovers HUMAN CAVES! And, being human, they weren’t just large, dark spaces like bear caves (though they were dusty), they had STUFF in them. Everywhere.

Big Brown Bear comes to the conclusion that where he’s going wrong in his interior design is lack of STUFF so he sets about gathering things for his own cave, particularly anything with handles, wheels or that comes in boxes. He vows to not stop until he has filled every space.

In short, Big Brown Bear has become a hoarder.

Everyone wants to see this Aladdin’s Cave of STUFF but the problem is – you guessed it – there is no space for visitors. And then Big Brown Bear can’t join his friends on a fishing trip because he gets stuck amongst the STUFF (I must say that however bad I am this has never happened to me).

It’s a good thing that Bear has friends who are adept at pulling from all directions because they free him and then help him have a clearance, returning all the STUFF to the human caves. (So if you ever notice large amounts of items go missing from your garage, it could be down to a bear thief.)

Will Big Brown Bear (BBB) finally feel at home?

This book captivated the children at school – they knew before BBB what trouble he was heading towards and chuckled at his silliness. The illustrations are gorgeous and full of colour, texture and movement, and somehow convey BBB’s clumpiness without looking… clumpy (if that makes any sense). The humour is gentle and clear and while the pages are full of STUFF (illustrations!) the text is easy to find and read (I’m not a big fan of writing that goes in all sorts of directions and changes font – it muddles me).

Will this book encourage untidy children to put their STUFF away? I don’t know. My room hasn’t seen an improvement (sorry, Carl). But they do say that a tidy house or room means a tidy mind so maybe I should give it a go.

Now, where did I put that vacuum cleaner?

Please note that Templar sent me a review copy of this book.

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Introducing Mr Right (and Left…)

Today sees the publication of the picture book Mr Left & Mr Right by Daniel Fehr and Celeste Aire, published TODAY by Bonnier/Templar.

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Sometimes looking for Mr Right isn’t about looking for ‘the One’. It’s about learning the difference between your left and right and this picture book is just the thing to do it. It’s an ingenious concept dreamt up by board-game designer Daniel Fehr, and his geometrically-delighted illustrator Celeste Aires to help children tell the difference between the two sides, although this isn’t a specifically stated aim on the publicity material. But as I read through the book, and had great fun playing with the various flaps, I realised what an amazing resource this would be for parents teaching their children (or even themselves – many adults struggle with this problem) how to tell right from left.

The storyline at its most basic is this: Mr Left and Mr Right are desperate to meet but they can’t find their way over to each other’s side. They try everything – jumping, climbing, digging … but they just can’t bridge that gap. Until Mr Right (well, it had to be him really, didn’t it?) has an idea.

Children will have a great time playing with this book (if they can wrestle it away from the adults). The story is simple but amusing, the images are gorgeously bright and inviting. The paper is also sturdy enough to withstand a lot of playing with and I imagine this book will be one that children will return to time and time again.

Often, I donate the books I receive to our school library, but I think this one will remain on my bookshelves for a while longer… just in case I can’t remember which one is Mr Right…

Please note that while I received a copy of this book for review purposes, the views I have expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

This is Not a Fairy Tale

Today’s book for review, and a very funny one it is too, is This is NOT a Fairy Tale, by Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt, published by Penguin.

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Once upon a time there was …

What? A princess perhaps? A queen? Two children who wandered into a forest and got lost?

These are some of the tropes of traditional fairy tales but young Sophie is bored with the familiar. She wants her fairy tales to be unusual. A princess who rescues a bald prince, for example. On a combine harvester instead of a horse, because it’s much quicker to battle your way through a forest of thorns. This is much better – combining modern sensibilities with traditional structures.

Thus is the idea behind Will Mabbitt’s and Fred Blunt’s new picture book and it works well. There is a gentle chaos in the words and pictures that kept the children I read this book to captivated. They weren’t too thrown at the idea of a princess saving a prince – that’s been done before in avant-garde retellings. But a bald prince instead of a handsome one with a head of hair? Fantastic. A combine harvester instead of a strong steed? Even better, especially for the boys who love a bit of machinery in their stories. And the inclusion of a transformer? Well, you can’t get much better than that.

This story will no doubt go down a treat with both boys and girls, especially if you can encourage the boys past the front cover (they tend to scoff at fairy tales). This is where it’s great in my library sessions – they are a captive audience so kind of have to listen to what I choose to read! But the boys loved this as much as the girls, possibly more with the surreal turn of events with cartoon-like characters sorting out the baddies. The girls giggled at the princess saving the day. It was a winner with all my listeners. I just hope that the underlying message gently gets through to the girls, who still like their pink princesses being rescued. It’s OK to be strong, it’s OK to be funny and independence is pretty cool too.

Please note that while I received a copy of this book to review, the views expressed are entirely my own.

Posted in general and welcome

Happy International Cat Day!

In honour of International Cat Day, I thought I’d do a quick post about some of my favourite cats in children’s literature. Of course, there are many out there gracing the pages of books and I am bound to forget some, but these are a few that spring to mind. And not in any order of preference either because that would just be unfair!

Enjoy – and do tell me who YOUR favourite is!

Mog – by Judith Kerr

I couldn’t really start a list without lovely Mog, created by Judith Kerr. Cuddly, forgetful and always hungry, she’s the perfect example of a cat who loves her creature comforts.

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Huckle Cat, by Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry’s gorgeous and hilarious books were very much a part of my childhood and I am still as delighted to read them now with the children in my Library. Huckle Cat features in many of the stories, often alongside his pal, Lowly the worm. What I love so much about him is his almost-always happy expression.

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Zorba, in Luis Sepulveda and Satoshi Kitamura’s The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly

Zorba is a cat who likes his routine and a quiet life. When his human goes away, he is unperturbed until he spies a baby gull in trouble. He takes it upon himself, and his friends, to care for this bird until it is old enough to do so itself but when it’s time for flying lessons, he and his friends are really stumped. A delight to read!

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Tom, in The Tale of Tom Kitten, by Beatrix Potter

It would be impossible for me to write this list without including dear Tom Kitten, the naughty pussy cat who gets into all sorts of mischief and mortifies his mother, Tabitha Twitchit, during one of her tea parties. A purrfect example of the mischief kittens can get up to!

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Before – nicely dressed…                           After – in a mess! Naughty

(Tom in the foreground)                           kitties getting a smack!

 

Captain, in Captain’s Purr, by Madeleine Floyd

At first glance in this charming book, Captain seems to be a typical cat – he likes to sleep, eat and clean himself. He really doesn’t do much of interest… until at night, when he leaves his house, jumps into his row boat, and visits his ‘sweetheart’ – a lovely ginger female. Beautiful, romantic and always a joy to read.

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Fred, in Posy Simmonds’s Fred

Holly suggested this one to me, as she remembers the story well from her childhood. This book deals with the death of a much-loved family pet. The children mourning Fred are helped through their grief when they witness a wake given by Fred’s friends, at which they discover that Fred had a secret life and talent away from his usual routine of eating and sleeping at home. He was quite a character, and will get children (and adults!) wondering what on earth their cats get up to at night when they sneak through the cat flap.

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Bob, in A Streetcat Named Bob, by James Bowen

Bob is a pretty famous cat now, not only on the streets of London but through a book (one version for children, another for adults) and a film. Bob adopted James, who admits the cat saved his life as much as the other way around. It’s a heartwarming tale of friendship between cat and human and proof that encounters aren’t always by accident.

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There are many more cats I haven’t mentioned. You can read a similar post I wrote a few years ago on National Cat Day here:  https://childtasticbooks.wordpress.com/tag/captains-purr/ – in which some of these cats are mentioned again, and there are also some different ones.

What literary cats do you like? Please share!

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books, popular authors

Where’s the strangest place you’ve left your favourite childhood companion?

In my next catching-up-on-book-reviewing instalment, I look at Dogger, by Shirley Hughes, published by Penguin.

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Shirley Hughes is a multi-award-winning national treasure in children’s literature, and rightly so. This summer she celebrated her 90th birthday, alongside the 40th anniversary of the publication of her classic picture book, Dogger.

Rather like another grande dame of picture books – Judith Kerr – Shirley Hughes started off in another field before specialising in children’s literature. She studied fashion and dress design at Liverpool Art School and then continued studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford before embarking on a career as a freelance illustrator, which led her into writing and drawing books for children when her own children were young. You can read more about her here.

Because I grew up in Canada, I was never familiar with Shirley Hughes’ books but they have come as a lovely discovery. When I read Dogger to the youngest children in the Library, their eyes were opened to her magic too.

Dogger looks at an area many of us as children are familiar with – losing a loved soft companion. Dogger is Dave’s favourite toy and goes everywhere with him. Unfortunately, this brings a major risk: loss. This is what happens to Dave and he’s desolate at the thought that he may never find his beloved friend again.

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Shirley Hughes, with the original Dogger, who belonged to her elder son!

As I read the book aloud to the children, their fidgetiness stopped. All looked on with wide-eyed worry as Dave and his family searched for Dogger, suggesting places he might be. When I paused to ask if they had ever lost their favourite animal or doll, everyone had – usually under a bed or in a different room. (I revealed that I’d left my bunny Hoppy on a transatlantic flight from Canada to London and the kind airline staff announced their discovery over the tannoy system at the airport and they were suitably impressed.)

It is this ability to tap into and soothe the worries of children that makes Shirley Hughes such a popular author and illustrator. Things that other adults or parents might think are minor are given the importance children attribute to them in her books, and the fact that the accompanying emotions are treated sympathetically and resolved is reassuring to her young readers. I have one particular boy in the Library, in Year 3, who always borrows and re-borrows the Alfie stories by Shirley Hughes because he loves them, and enjoys sharing them with his younger sister. When I told him about the re-release of this book, the joy in his eyes was unforgettable.

Please share with me your tales of favourite lost-animal/dolly/toy woes. Where is the strangest place you’ve left a much-loved toy?

Please note that while I was sent a copy of this book to review, the views expressed here are entirely my own.

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

Non-fiction round-up

Boy, have I got a lot of lovely books here to review! I’ve fallen behind somewhat recently because of the end of the school term and then a much-needed holiday in Spain, but now I am hoping to be back up to speed again, with news of the latest titles.

(NB Before I proceed, please excuse any typos in this post. I’ve tried to check for them but my computer seems to be giving up the ghost and freezing when I type, missing letters out!)

First on my pile here are three lovely non-fiction books from Dorling Kindersley. Since I am keen on increasing the number of quality non-fiction books I have in my school library, I greeted these with particular enthusiasm and I think they’ll go down well with the children.

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This wonderful book has everything children (and adults!) need to know about the basics of science, from ‘What is Energy?’ to ‘Properties of Matter’ and ‘Shaping the Land’. The book is full of double-page spreads covering all the major themes in science such as Earth and Space, Materials, Life Science, Physical Science, etc. Each of these spreads is colourfully illustrated with photos of the topics, diagrams, facts and ideas for experiments you can try at home (for example, you can half-fill a jar with soil, top it up with water and give it a good shake, then leave it for a day to see how the soil separates into layers).

What I like about this book is how science is made so accessible, fascinating and fun. I remember my early textbooks being drier and more theoretical in nature which perhaps explains why I never became so interested in the sciences as in other subjects. Children are very fortunate now to benefit from a real publishing push to make all subjects lively and entertaining and hopefully this will go a long way to encouraging more children to consider sciences as career choices from a younger age.

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The next book I’d like to look at is the Children’s Illustrated Thesaurus, also by Dorling Kindersley.

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Now, my first copy of a thesaurus was by the famous Peter Mark Roget, a British, Victorian natural physician and lexicographer (to my utmost shame, I thought he was French until fairly recently, having never looked him up or indeed wondered why a Frenchman would compile a book of English words). This thesaurus was very old – I think I picked it up from a library sale for a few cents (this was in Canada) and I thought it was the bees knees.  It always puzzled me though that there were no entries for words that began with the letters L, M, N, O and P until I was older and realised that a good portion of the book hadn’t been included in my copy!

I digress… this book, while lovely and incomplete, was not written with a child audience in mind. It had thin paper and tiny writing, with no pictures or useful explanations. The new Thesaurus by Dorling Kindersley, by contrast, is bright, easy to navigate and attractively illustrated with drawings and photographs. The words have definitions, followed by synonyms and, sometimes but not always, antonyms. Occasionally, whole or part-page spreads are given to a featured word, with an extract of text to bring its usage to life, and I particularly like the double-page spread at the beginning of the book which shows how to use it properly. With people’s ever-increasing reliance on Google and the internet to search for answers (I include myself in this group – it’s just so easy and quick now), I do worry that children are losing the ability to use old-fashioned reference skills. This book addresses this in a helpful way, while using an alphabetical bar on the left and right page of each spread to show readers where they are in the alphabet while researching a word (perhaps more useful than the traditional top-of-page references I had in my old Roget).

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I would say that this Thesaurus would be a useful addition to any classroom library and could helpfully be used alongside schools’ weekly ‘Big Write’ activities, to encourage children to broaden their vocabulary while learning useful research skills.

Last, but not least, is Dorling Kindersley’s What’s Where on Earth ATLAS – an atlas with a difference because it’s not only a fab way to find out about countries and continents, but it is also in 3D.

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With the National Curriculum focusing heavily on geography through related subjects such as history and science, this atlas is another hugely helpful resource in classrooms. Not only does it show where different countries are in the world, and in relation to each other, but it also includes interesting spreads on things like Famous Landmarks (just looking at the Europe page now, I can see Brussels’ Hotel de Ville, Toledo’s Cathedral and of course the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben), satellite images of countries by night, and a very red map of Africa’s climate (did you know that the coldest temperature recorded in Africa was in Morocco, where it reached -23.9C in 1935?!). Mountain ranges leap up in the pages, giving a much more realistic sense of the terrain than traditional atlases do, and the double-page spread allocated to the Grand Canyon is particularly stunning in this way. Animal lovers will enjoy reading about the different species in each continent (nice to see the Prairie Dogs of North America featured – I used to watch them sunbathing near my elementary school in Canada), while fact finders will enjoy the spreads with interesting trivia about each continent (did you know that more than 2,000 languages are spoken on the continent of Africa?).

I am looking forward to adding these titles to my library when the next school year starts in September. I’m sure the children will be eager to get their hands on them!

Please note that while I was sent copies of these books for review the views expressed are entirely my own.