Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Rhyming seating plans for animals

When deciding where animals should sit, the best plan is to do so through rhymes. Or so says Frog in Oi Dog! the hilarious follow-up to award-winning Oi Frog! by Kes and Clare Gray and Jim Field, published by Hodder Children’s.

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What it’s about
Frog is fed up with dogs sitting on frogs (understandably)…

 

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.. so he’s decided to change the rules: ‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’
And that’s not the only change. All the other animals in the book are reassigned, such as:

  • cats on gnats
  • whales on nails

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  • and – the children’s favourite – elephants must sit on smelly pants:

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But what will frog sit on? I’ll give you one hint – it won’t be on logs. Instead, the frog in our story decides that amphibians like him can sit on something far more comfortable and non-rhyming.

The children loved this book – it’s fast-paced, witty, unpredictable and rhyming. The frog is cheeky – another big plus for a child audience – and he’s also pretty clever, too. Reading it aloud encouraged the children to participate in guessing what rhymes the frog might come up with for the different animals. At the end, there’s also an opportunity to test their memory skills when Cat and Dog restate the different seating options.

As part of our weekly Library Lunchtime, I decided to base an activity on the book. While we all admired the frog’s cunning, we felt that he needed some punishment for the outcomes he inflicted on his acquaintances. Therefore, I sketched a quick and rather bad version of Frog on a piece of paper (sorry Jim Field!) and asked the children to come up with their own ideas for what he could sit on. The results were interesting, but also pretty violent (worrying!):

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(L-R) Tom was actually quite kind and allowed Frog to sit on a scooter, while Gabe gave him thorns and Isabella allocated him a volcanic seat with a dog sitting on his head.

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(L-R) Seth felt that a bomb with nails was suitable, Hayden preferred a volcano with stinging nettles and a gun, and Sabrina chose a bomb with fire.

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(L-R) Martina chose stinging nettles plus thorns in the Frog’s pants (ouch), Renee thought fireworks were good and another child, who wished to remain anonymous, afflicted the Frog with superglue and wasps.

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(L-R) Isabella gave the Frog a bomb and fire, Alessia chose nails and a volcano plus some sort of virulent virus that causes spots, and Jillian condemned him to Super-Duper Sticky Honey.

We’re super-excited to hear that a new book in the series – Oi Cat! – will be published this September!

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Posted in general and welcome, picture books

An alphabet of animals

You may have heard of an armadillo or an orangutan but if I asked you what a ‘quoll’ was, would you know the answer?

I didn’t when I first browsed through Graham Carter’s beautiful book Alphamals (alphabetical animals!) so I was fascinated to learn that it is a small but fierce creature that ‘sleeps through the day then wakes at night. With a long, dark snout and speckled coat, he prowls the shady forest floor, feasting on birds and other beasts.’

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Carter’s book is an A to Z of animals, insects, birds and fish. Each double-page spread has, on the left side, a description of the creature (written in a stanza form) and on the right side, an illustration. The colours are gorgeous and inviting – 26 pieces of art within a children’s book (there is only one creature per letter). Sometimes the exact details of the animals are a little unclear so perhaps it doesn’t work as a reference book, but it is certainly something that is visually stunning while still having interesting information.

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I showed the book to the children in my library and everyone pored over it. When we looked at the quoll it started off a conversation about nonsense animals (even though the quoll is real!) so we decided it would be good fun to invent an animals, either just by creating a whacky name from nowhere or by combining the names of different real animals.

To aid the children in their creativity I also read them Spike Milligan’s poem, ‘The Hipporhinostricow’

Such a beast is the Hipporhiostricow

How it got so mixed up we’ll never know how;

It sleeps all day, and whistles all night,

And it wears yellow socks which are far too tight.

 

If you laugh at the Hipporhinostricow,

You’re bound to get into an awful row;

The creature is protected you see

From silly people like you and me.

 

The results were very interesting:

 

Left to right, we have:

a Higer: Higer is a horse and a tiger it / likes to eat nuts and tires / it always gets tangled in a wire / They hire there job before they / get fired don’t come next to Higer / or he’ll give you a rhymer and that / rhymer is me.

a Mimi-Lily-Cuty: There is a creature in the forest / Its name is Mimi-Lily Cuty…

a Noctopus: a Noctopus is an octopus / that lives in the night, / It doesn’t like the light, / because it’s to bright. / It’s black with white spots / that don’t look like dots / The fish that it eats / are kept under locks / because it doesn’t want / them adventuring near the docks.

a Poodle Doodle: a Hoodle that eats noodles / and likes to doodle on woodles / and toodles don’t come next to Poodle / or he’ll give you a flue-doll

a Wider: A whale and a spider / create an enormous Wider / It loves looking at pies / With all eight eyes.

Which is your favourite?

Alphamals, by Graham Carter, is published by Big Picture Press.

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Posted in general and welcome, picture books

M’encanta aquest llibre (sempre!)

Today’s review is of a book by a writer and illustrator from Barcelona – Anna Llenas – so I couldn’t resist attempting a little Catalan in honour of her work, and in memory of the months I spent in the city over 20 years ago. I just hope I got it right!

The expression “opposites attract” is much used to describe relationships, and I can’t think of a better summary for the subject matter of Llenas’s new book I Love You (Nearly Always), published by Templar.

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In this delightful picture book, Roly – a woodlouse – and Rita – a firefly – are best buddies … who sometimes get on each other’s nerves. Rita thinks that Roly’s suit is too hard, while Roly thinks that Rita shines too brightly. The two get into a massive row one day and the future’s not looking too bright for their relationship (even with Rita’s natural glow). Roly has even gone to the trouble of creating a Book of Complaints about his best friend, which he digs out of his bookshelf when the two have an argument.

Of course, the two can’t stay angry at each other for long and, through a mature process of compromise, try to lessen those aspects that are most annoying for the other because, “Roly and Rita know they are very different, and this is why they love each other.” The illustrations don’t sanitise anger for the children – even at the end, the two are scowling at each other in one scene, but they return to happiness and affection in the last spread.

This is a funny and engaging read that encourages younger children to think about emotions (I can think of many adults who might benefit from this too). Anna Llenas uses a wide range of illustrative techniques to make reading the book a much more active experience – there are pop-up pictures, pull/lift-the-flaps and other little surprises, such as an actual tiny book of complaints to read, that little fingers will love. The architecture of the book is clever and, boy, is it BIG – even including a mini-scene with real bunting and string. I was amazed at the amount of work that went into this, and the young children I shared it with couldn’t stop playing with the pages.

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As with most stories aimed at children, I Love You (Nearly Always) has a message, a moral. However, no one likes being lectured to, and in this story, we’re not. We’re seeing that, while being different can cause arguments, it can also bring enrichment into our lives. And also – it’s OK to argue sometimes! To suggest that life should always be peaceful is untrue – it’s the making-up that matters.

Llenas’s almost frenetic artwork suit this subject matter perfectly, especially when Roly and Rita are at war with one another; the dark, almost violent crayon lines express anger and movement exceptionally well. The entire book feels full of life and fun and will be appreciated by any child who picks this up. I look forward to seeing more from Anna Llenas in the future (perhaps in her native language – Catalan!)

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Anna Llenas

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Wind and rain …

Monday marked the start of Spring, not that you would have known, with the horrendous wind and rain we had. However, it was good timing to look at the two new books published by the Bodleian Library, whose subject matter was very fitting for the tempestuous and temperamental British weather.

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The March Wind, by Inez Rice and Vladimir Bobri, takes a creative look at what happens when ‘The little boy’ (we never know his name) discovers an abandoned hat in a puddle in the gutter. The boy has been exploring for some time before he comes across the hat and he wonders why it stays still when everything else he’s tried to pick up has been snatched away by the March wind. The boy succeeds in putting the hat on his head but is amazed at how heavy it is, probably because it is weighed down by rainwater.

With the new hat on his head, The Little Boy is free to imagine all sorts of things he could be: soldier, cowboy, bandit, judge and a song-and-dance man. But while he is lost in his imaginary world, a stern, loud voice asks him: “Where did you get that hat?”

The Little Boy realises that the hat he has been playing with belongs to the March Wind, who definitely wants it back now. Without the hat for bravery (he no longer can imagine himself as a soldier or a cowboy, etc) his knees knock in terror, until the Wind thanks him for picking it up. He can relax and enjoy the adventure he has experienced, but wonders if anyone will ever believe what really happened that wet and windy March day.

This is a charming book about the power of imagination and the freedom that it gives young children in creating wonderful worlds of their own with only a simple prop for help. When I asked the children in the library what they could use a hat for, the answers were proof of their creativity – a bath for a baby, a bucket for water, a pair of underpants (if you cut holes in the right places), or a toy sailboat. Their attention was held by Bobri’s lively pictures, full of contrasting colours and shades and shadows – they particularly picked out the expressions of the March Wind when it came to claim its hat back. When I asked them if they believed the March Wind was real, most of them shook their head – it was obviously a leap too far – but they liked the idea of what it did in the story. As we looked out at the trees waving in the wind, and the rain hammering down on the window, we couldn’t think of a better day on which to read this book, and the next in the Bodleian’s releases.

The Rain Puddle, by Adelaide Holl and Roger Duvoisin

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It all starts with a plump hen picking and pecking in the meadow grass until she comes across a rain puddle in the yard. When she peers into it, she sees another plump little hen looking back at her and panics: “A plump little hen has fallen into the water!” The hen rushes off and asks her friend the turkey to take a look. But what should the turkey see?

Yes, you’ve guessed correctly: another turkey, not a chicken. The turkey goes off in distress and tells a fat pig munching apples about the plight of the gobbly bird… and so it continues until more or less all of the farm is looking into the rain puddle and seeing another farm of animals apparently trapped inside the water.

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They run around in alarm and, in the resulting melee, the sun comes out, dries up the puddle, and the animals think that their counterparts have managed to escape. The only animal who has not been fooled is the owl (of course) who chuckles at the scene in front of him.

The children I read this to knew from the start that the animals were seeing their own reflection but this didn’t take away from the comedy of the piece. They enjoyed making the appropriate animal noises to go with each creature (just as well as, with a cold and only half a voice, I wasn’t up to it) and explained to me that owls are always wise. When I asked them why, one child suggested that it was because of their big eyes that see everything. The story’s bright, cheerful pictures kept the children entertained and added even more humour to the story (particularly the massive rain puddle and the blueish-grey sheep).

The book is a great way to talk about animals with very young children, and to engage them with the story by asking them to make the noises. On a very basic level you can also talk about science subjects such as reflections and evaporation. My audience knew all about these topics (clever lot) and decided to teach me about them.

Both books are perfect for this time of year, although we’re nearly through March, so you had better get a copy quick!

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Odd Dog Out Fits Right In

Remember your school days when it was essential to fit in? To a certain extent, the same is true of adulthood, though perhaps we have more resilience and courage to be different with a few more years under our belts. Nevertheless, there is always pressure to be one of the gang no matter who you are, so imagine what it must feel like if you’re a sausage dog with a quirky dress sense and personality. Award-winning author and illustrator Rob Biddulph has done just that in his new, hilarious book Odd Dog Out (published by HarperCollins Children’s Books).

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Amongst scenes of countless dachshunds wearing suits, driving cars, and playing football in the same kit, our heroine Odd Dog is rather fond of her rainbow scarves and bobble hat, playing her electric guitar while the others choose the violin.

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But soon the pressure mounts and she decides to leave the place she has always called home in search of somewhere where she won’t stand out from the crowd. After journeying far and wide, she discovers such a place: Fabulous Doggywood. At last she can blend in and feel at ease… until she finds someone else who looks out of place and who doesn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

Odd Dog Out is immediately appealing to the eye with its vibrant colours and incredible attention to detail. How he managed to include so many dachshunds on one page is a mystery – and a delight – to me, and the children I read the book to loved them. They were even more excited at the end of the book when more dogs decide to break rank and show their individuality. This can be the basis for excellent and creative activities – there is a downloadable Odd Dog template on Rob Biddulph’s website, along with other fun things: http://www.robbiddulph.com/downloads We did this in school and the children decorated their dogs with all sorts of accessories!

The book is also great for discussions on individuality. How important is it to be who you are rather than who you think you should be? How are you different to other people?

Whether you use this for that reason or just for fun, you’re sure to enjoy this book. It flew off the shelf the moment I put it on display, and you can’t hope for better than that.

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Will Mabbitt can only draw worms… or can he?

There are many books that I wish I had written, but I’ve just come across a picture book that I wish I had drawn. And that’s saying something considering I am about as good with a pencil as Mr Bean is with, well, anything. The book in question is I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt, published by Puffin.

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The title says it all, really. The author/illustrator admits that the only thing he can draw is worms and they’re the only things that appear on the pages, apart from a pair of glasses, so you can distinguish Worm 2 from Worm 1 (they’re both an attractive shade of neon pink). Worm 3 appears in yellow, but when you ask yourselves or the eager children around you why that might be it’s not for identification purposes. Nope – Mabbitt lost his pink pen. There you go.

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The rest of the book follows in a similar vein, teasing the children with promises of pictures of adventures then showing worms instead. A worm riding a unicorn? Yes please! But then we have to suffice with one worm riding on the back of another. This didn’t frustrate my young audience though – they all fell about laughing. The next time Mabbitt played the same trick, some fell for it again, some knew what was coming but they all enjoyed it regardless.

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Books like these show how, often, the simplest of ideas can be the best. A missing worm who needed the loo and another worm whose fate is best left unmentioned here can have children entranced and delighted so this book works on all levels. It’s also great for teaching or reinforcing counting skills so it really is an all-rounder.

We did a lunchtime activity in the library based on the book and the children enjoyed drawing their own worms and giving them colours; rainbows proved popular. We stuck them on lolly sticks to make them wiggle even more!

By the way, the most popular worms in the book were 2, 3 and 8 (or 8.5…).

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Clever cat?

As a cat lover, I know that cats can be very clever…

… but also very silly.

In I Am a Very Clever Cat, author and illustrator Kasia Matyjaszek shows these two sides in a joyful and humorous way, though admittedly Stockton the cat errs on the side of silly. Despite his claims that he is good at everything (including painting, juggling, rhythmic gymnastics and violin playing) and especially knitting, we soon discover that he is anything but a genius with a ball of yarn and two needles.

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Stockton wishes to knit himself a glorious scarf for a soiree but he soon ties himself up with his neon pink threads, and loops it around all the furniture in his house. He is reliant upon the help of two quiet but industrious mice who take over when things go very wrong for Stockton. So the question is – is Stockton really clever? He changes his claim to ‘smart’ at the end of the book, but of course that word can be taken in more than one way!

I read this book today to the children in Year 2. They loved telling Stockton that he really wasn’t a clever cat! They also weren’t keen on his choice of neon pink for a soiree scarf, though the yarn Stockton uses is great to follow throughout the book as the line continues from one spread to the next. Matyjaszek’s illustrations are beautiful and lively and encourage the children to engage with her characters – on Stockton’s body there are faint fingerprints mixed in on top of his teal-coloured coat. The mice, by contrast, are drawn in swirling pencil, and the children loved watching what they were doing behind Stockton’s boasts and claims. They also preferred the mice’s scarves!

Kasia Matyjaszek graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2010 with a Masters in illustration, and a picture book that she created for her final degree show was highly commended in the Macmillan Book Prize. It is easy to see why. Her images are vivid, fun and inviting and, as with all the best picture books, the illustrations tell a different version of a story to the words. This is sure to become a favourite in my school library and is one of the brightest, freshest releases I have seen this year.

I Am a Very Clever Cat has just been published by Bonnier Publishing, who kindly sent me a review copy. However, the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.