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.

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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, 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, picture books

Veggies on the run

What better book to read in the (pardon the pun) run-up to sports day than Sue Hendra’s and Paul Linnet’s latest instalment in the Supertato series, Run, Veggies, Run!?

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It was actually pretty coincidental that I picked this up in the bookshop the week before our school had its annual sports day. I just saw the cover and thought I had to add this book to our collection because the children at St Michael’s are such huge fans. And indeed, when I showed them their special surprise during story time, their faces lit up, and they gasped so excitedly, that I knew we’d be onto a winner.

What it’s about:

Supertato isn’t impressed by his fellow veggies’ fitness … or lack thereof. They can’t keep up with the speed on the conveyor-belt/treadmill and he has to rescue them from falling in the baggage area.

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Added to that, their diet leaves something to be desired – gorging on crisps (uh, do they not know where they come from?!), doughnuts and burgers and dozing in hammocks mean they’re not at their fittest. As Supertato remarks: “Whoever heard of an unhealthy vegetable?” (The children piped up at this point that there are some – eg ones that are rotten.)

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To inspire his friends to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Supertato arranges a sports day, where there will be running, jumping, carrying the heaviest item… etc. But just as they’re about to start, who should make a last-minute appearance but The Evil Pea, along with his protegee, Gloria (a suspicious-looking watermelon). The Evil Pea announces that Gloria is going to win all the activities and she soon does. But Supertato knows that something’s not right … and he’s out to find out what it is.

What we thought:

As expected, the children loved this story from the first to the last page. The usual silly (but very funny) jokes were there, along with the favourite vegetables. I think The Evil Pea ranks up with Supertato in terms of popularity too – it was as if the children were holding their breath for his appearance in the story to make it that bit more funny and exciting. They nearly jumped out of their seats in excitement when he rolled up with Gloria! They followed the story avidly and asked for it to be read to them again as soon as I had finished. You can’t ask for better than that, can you?

Afterwards…

Since we were gearing up for Sports Day, I asked the children to design pictures of various fruit or veg doing sporty things. They got stuck into that with glee, with some interesting results.

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Sorry for the blurry image – it’s because the fruit and veg are moving! (Not really…) In the pic on the left, we have a swimming banana with a carrot balancing on his head, and a red pepper jumping rope alongside The Evil Pea on a trampoline. On the right is a netball game of carrots against aubergines. Not sure who’s winning, but Supertato, as ref, will ensure a correct result.

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In this picture, The Evil Pea, wearing his black cape, is jumping rope alongside a happy broccoli. They seem to be enjoying themselves…

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Of course Supertato had to feature in many of the drawings. In the three above, we see various representations of the Super Spud, one swimming after The Evil Pea, one running to the rescue of a friend, and a final one who looks rather frightened (and like he’s sprouting something out of his head).

As usual, Supertato has been a huge success. We can’t wait to read his next adventure!

 

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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