Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction, picture books

LOTS of Dinosaurs, Urban Jungles and Monsters!

When the postman delivers parcels of books to review, I always squeal with excitement at what lies within the book-shaped jiffy bag. It’s like receiving regular Christmas or birthday presents and if anyone knows me, they know that books are my favourite things (alongside perfume and clothes!).

Whenever I receive something from Big Picture Press, I know it’s going to be gorgeous, so it should come as no surprise to you that I am going to rave about the four titles in this post.

Lots, by Marc Martin

Published earlier this year, Lots is a fun way for children to find out about the world in which we live. Rather than take a very geographical approach to exploring different countries, Australian Marc Martin chooses cities (eg Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong) and places (eg Antarctica, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands) to crowd his double-page spreads with fascinating facts and gorgeous illustrations. Each picture, each written snippet of information, has been hand-drawn and handwritten, making this book seem very personal and inviting.

Usually if I am presented with pages full of colour and text (eg comics) I find my mind becoming confused – unsure of where to look first or next. I didn’t have this problem with this book; instead, I let my eye wander around the pages. On the Tokyo spread, for example, I found out that there are lots of vending machines (I had no idea about this before), selling everything from soft drinks (pretty standard) to underwear (quite unusual!) and flowers (how do they keep them fresh?!). I learned that the Shibuya Crossing is the busiest crossing place in the world, with 10,000 people per hour making their way through it. What about the traffic lights?! And also, that the word ‘Kawaii’ means ‘cute things’ and that Godzilla is an official citizen of Japan.

In a previous post I mentioned that I love books with fascinating facts in them. Lots has already become my go-to book for trivia and certainly describes what is in this lovely book!

Dinosaurium, curated by Chris Wormell and Lily Murray

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I haven’t yet dared to take this book into school because I know it would be snaffled in an instant by a particular group of boys who are obsessed with anything dinosaur-related. At first I wondered how another book about dinosaurs could possibly be different to the many others that have been published (with them being extinct, surely most of what can be said has been?) but I was glad to be proven wrong.

The USP of this book is its approach and presentation. The fact that it has been ‘curated’ rather than ‘written’ is indicative of its uniqueness – the book is a 24/7 museum ‘that is always open to explore’. The contents are divided into several ‘galleries’, which are then classified according to what falls into them (eg in Ornithopoda, you have Primitive Ornithopoda, The Jurassic Period, Iguanodon, Hadrosauridae and Egg Mountain). Intrigued by ‘Egg Mountain’, I was interested to discover that this name was given to a plateau in the Rocky Mountains in Montana where a herd of Maiasaura made their nests and laid their eggs. Unfortunately, many didn’t hatch as they were covered by volcanic ash, but their loss has become our gain as they have been preserved for future study.

Even though I am not a huge fan of dinosaurs, I can’t help but admire this book, which is part of the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series. It would easily be a valuable addition to an adult’s bookshelf and I imagine many will buy this because they are equally attracted to its beauty and factual content as their children. In-depth, intricate and impressive, this surely must be a Christmas present for any child who is into dinosaurs.

Urban Jungle, by Vicky Woodgate

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This is such a novel idea – to produce a book about animals that live in 38 cities around the world – and Vicky Woodgate does it so well. The aim is to look at the different animals that populate world cities because, as Woodgate says: “As urban areas continue to expand, we’re sure to see more and more wildlife on our doorsteps.”

I’m dual nationality British/Canadian, and I used to live in British Columbia, so I was keen to read about Woodgate’s selection of Vancouver animals, having had a couple of comical encounters with raccoons in Stanley Park (apparently home to around 500 species of fauna). Raccoons didn’t make it onto Woodgate’s list, but I was gutted to learn that I’ve never seen, for example, the Northern Flying Squirrel or the Western Red-backed Salamander.

Next I turned to Barcelona, another city in which I’ve lived, and apparently seen nothing much in the way of wildlife, apart from at the old zoo! Woodgate lists the Kuhl’s Pipistrelle, the Grey Heron, and the Painted Pigeon (I’ve never seen those in the Placa Catalunya), as well as the European hedgehog and Red Squirrel. I might have caught sight of the Iberian Bluetail Damselfly though when holidaying in the rice-growing region south of the city.

This is a great way to find out about the many different animals that exist throughout the world in more urban environments and could also be a fun addition to a city break for young people – and their parents! Colourful, factual and engrossing.

The Atlas of Monsters, by Stuart Hill and Sandra Lawrence,204,203,200_.jpg

Monsters, fairy tales and myths are amongst my favourite things so when this beautiful collection landed on my mat, I was very happy indeed.

At first, the book looks similar in layout to many produced by Big Picture Books – each country or continent of interest is introduced with a map with the ‘main’ monsters of note drawn onto it. This is followed by a page or two of short descriptions to match the monsters, detailing their names and the legends behind them. I was pleased to see the Sasquatch, which was a monster I was familiar with from British Columbia (though of course I’d never seen the fellow). I was interested to see a monster from Spain called Cuegle (from Cantabria) which apparently has three glowing eyes and arms with no hands or fingers. Apparently mothers put holly sprigs onto their babies’ cradles to keep them safe from the holly-hating Cuegle! The Gurumapa has an onomatopoaeic name – at first I thought him grumpy but it seems he’s more than that as people in Nepal think he’s a terrifying ogre with monstrous fangs.

However, there is a difference in this Atlas to other similar titles. Throughout the book there are notes and questions made by a mysterious explorer called Cornelius Walters, who lived in the 15th century. Walters in fact made this map … or is it just a hoax on the readers? The librarian who writes the introductory letter to this book isn’t sure what is fiction and reality, unable to decipher the cryptic code in Walter’s ship’s log.

So, we have a gorgeous series of maps drawn in a medieval style, short, punchy descriptions of monsters and a mystery. What’s not to like?

Please note that I was sent copies of the books in this post for review purposes but the views expressed are entirely my own.

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Et tu, Meg?

This week I’ve been busy reading Meg and the Romans, by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser, to the children.
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We’ve had the usual fun with Meg, Mog and the Owl’s antics and enjoyed the bright, engaging pictures, but we’ve also learned a thing or two. For example, we can now introduce ourselves in Latin thanks to Julius Romanus, we know that the Roman name for Britain was, well, Britannia, and we also can say the Latin name for London (Londinium). But you HAVE to remember to say this with a flourish of the arm, as if raising a sword and ordering your troops to ride on.

Julius Romanus arrives at Dover in a suitable boat but gets his toe pinched by an angry crab (well, you’d be angry too, if you were meant to be cooked for lunch) so Meg sorts him out a ride on a horse called Dobbin. The problem is, Dobbin is a bit of an equus Britannicus and an equus rapidus and likes throwing poor Julian onto the ground or into some water.

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Julius does eventually get to London, however, and bids his new friends farewell with the word ‘Vale’. His golden eagle decides life is better with Meg, Mog and Owl and flies back to their house, declaring ‘Domum dulce domum.’ Home sweet home indeed.

A great book to spark some giggles and teach a few Latin words. The Meg and Mog books are classics for a good reason, and the children were delighted with this new offering from the madcap pair.

Please note that I was sent a review copy of Meg and the Romans by Penguin.

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

I am Actually a Penguin

Well, actually I’m not, but in this picture book by Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek the little girl definitely thinks she is.

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Everyone loves dressing up (I am an adult and still am thrilled to be invited to fancy-dress parties) and the little girl in this delightful picture book is no different. She uses her costumes to turn herself into someone or something completely different, such as a princess, a pirate and a witch. But then, one day, she’s given the best-present ever: a penguin suit.

The children laughed as we followed the little girl on her penguin adventures: in the supermarket (where she tells her mother than penguins can’t choose between lasagne or spaghetti because they eat neither), at her auntie’s wedding (where she blends in well with the penguin-resembling waiters) and at home (where her brother throws fish fingers into the air for her to catch with her ‘beak’). Every member of her family unsuccessfully reminds her that she’s not actually a penguin, to which she stubbornly retorts: ‘I am actually a penguin’. This carries on until it’s time for the penguin to have a wash… what will she do?

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This book has wide appeal for children who love the wacky and unconventional (hurrah, because when they become teenagers they might as well have all come off a factory production line). We often get children in Reception coming in wearing superhero outfits as they don’t have to wear uniform. And why not? I totally get it. I rather like the idea of dressing up as Wonder Woman. The book is a great conversation starter for young children too; you could ask them what they would choose to dress in and how that would affect their behaviour and their habits. I imagine we’d get many princesses in here and Spidermen – but perhaps not as many penguins.

Interestingly, the little girl in the story has short hair and nearly everyone assumed that she was in fact a boy. A heated argument broke out on the carpet about this before I even started the book, with some children insisting that she was a he, and others saying they had relatives with short hair who were girls. It perhaps goes to show that no matter what you do as writers, illustrators and publishers to combat stereotypes, they still do exist sometimes in the minds of children. The fact that we were able to debate this though was good and hopefully the children who assumed girls had to have long hair went away with a new opinion about this.

Please note that I received a review copy of I am Actually a Penguin from Templar Publishing.


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!

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, 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?

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.

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.

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.,204,203,200_.jpg

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!