Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Have You Ever Ever Ever? by Colin McNaughton and Emma Chichester Clark

This book feels like a love letter to libraries and for that reason alone I love it. I hate it when I read about libraries being forced to close or run by volunteers and their budgets being more and more squeezed. This coupled with a huge literacy push from the government is such a muddling contradiction and makes me mad!
Anyway I am not writing to rant about the failures of those on high to protect our precious libraries but to discuss Have You Ever Ever Ever which beautifully encapsulates the magic and brilliance that can be found within the four walls of a library. It's a cryptic tease of a book which draws you in and through a journey with different well-known (nursery and fairytale) characters. It points out the general craziness of nursery rhyme characters and fairytales in a gentle mocking way to a boy sitting in a playground on his own. It's a poignant image a child playing by himself in an empty playground and makes the big reveal that books can introduce you to a whole different world of friends and scenarios much more powerful. The idea that the library (and books) are full of these wonderful characters just waiting to burst out is a lovely image and just really rather fabulous!

I love the illustrations of Emma Chichester Clark anyway and this book is beautifully done, the repetition and rhythm of the text by Colin McNaughton is lovely. My daughters love it because they know all the characters (with the exception of Punchinello!) and they can join in the story telling. They like to chant the text back at me! All in all a wonderful book which celebrates the magic and secret worlds that books can draw you into.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Charlie and Lola's Extremely New Play

We're having a lovely time with Charlie and Lola at the moment, reading their books and going to see them at the theatre!

Charlie and Lola's Extremely New Play is on at Norwich Playhouse this week. It's a lovely theatre to take children to see productions because of its relatively small size plus the seating is great with clear views. I took both my girls (5 years old and 2 years old) to see it and they both loved the play. It is loosely based on the seasons with as many different plots from the books as they could squeeze in! The amount of effects they used was extremely impressive, I think they were only missing a smoke machine! I had the good fortune (or otherwise) to sit directly underneath the snow machine so that was hilarious for everyone in my party.
It was an unusual children's theatre production in that the voices of Charlie and Lola were pre-recorded (so very recognisable). The characters were puppets and skilfully manipulated by the puppeteers who also constantly changed and rearranged the set. The effects really were magical and the kids got very excited by the giant fish on sticks that swooped through the theatre and the leaves blowing, bubbles floating and the snow coming. All in all it was great and a lovely production, I'm not sure if the tour is continuing but if it comes near you, do go!

We're also enjoying a particular Charlie and Lola book at the moment, This is Actually My Party. The sibling relationship is presented so well in this book and I think it's why both my girls love it. They can understand the youngest wanting to be so involved that she nearly ruins the party for the oldest. It's a funny story of Charlie having his birthday (monster themed) party and Lola trying to help but not really thinking that maybe Charlie would like to open his own presents and cards and play his own party games. It's delightful!

I do like all the Charlie and Lola books we have read but my absolute favourite is I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato, a sublime book - up there with the greats! A lot of the later books are based on Lauren Child's characters, and written with the TV scripts in mind, so although they are great stories they are not such complete picture books. So if you haven't read any of them yet I would recommend starting with this one.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Mrs Pepperpot Learns to Swim

I love Mrs Pepperpot Learns to Swim, it's a lovely, gentle fantastical tale about a little old lady being envious of the freedom of the children she sees frolicking in the water and deciding to do something about it. I remember reading Mrs Pepperpot when I was a child but I don't think we ever had this one.

My oldest daughter has recently really taken to swimming and is very confident about going on her own to her swimming lessons, as well as loving swimming as a family, so I think this really ticks all her boxes. My youngest daughter really likes it because she spends a lot of time being a frog at the moment and she also likes to swim, but not as much as she likes to pretend she's a frog! Ribbit!

Mrs Pepperpot is very special because she shrinks, usually when she least expects it. In this story she shrinks just as she is jumping into the woodland pool. It suddenly seems like an ocean to her and she panics and is rescued by what seems like a very large frog, who teaches her to swim. She's an unusual heroine, being a middle aged woman whose concerns are mainly domestic, but she's brilliant!

I must say that it has been a real joy rediscovering Mrs Pepperpot and I think we will be reading many more of them in the next year or so - I have my eye on Mrs Pepperpot's Christmas for the season which is nearly upon us (hold back, it's not quite December yet!).

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger

Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble is a delightful look at a very alternative type of granny! She's different because she's a witch and this causes all sorts of unusual scenarios! Her granddaughter eventually decides that it might be easier if her granny were to fit it and be a little more normal. But the granny gets quite depressed and finds it very boring so the little girl quickly realises that it's much more fun when her granny is just being herself.

I don't know if it's just me but I don't think that the problem that this book potentially identifies is really a problem for the age group that the book is addressed at. My girls are not bothered at the moment by differences - as far as I can tell and would probably love to have a witch as a granny, as well as keeping their current ones! Maybe as my five year old moves more firmly into school and her relationships with her peers develop this might be something that is more of an issue. Of course it might come in handy in a more subtle way as well, a difference that isn't a witch as a granny for instance! I'll keep you posted (and this book handy!).

However, both my girls really enjoy this book and the rhyming text is lovely to read aloud. The illustrations are great, lots to look at and lovely use of colour. It's one of those great books which we can all read together!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Millie's Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura

Millie's Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura proved a hit last week and also provided us with a fabulous half-term activity!
It's the lovely simple tale of Millie who goes into a hat shop after spotting a hat she likes in the window, but when she opens her purse and looks to see if she has enough money to pay she finds it totally bare and so the shopkeeper comes up with an imaginative solution. The text is spare but beautifully written and the illustrations are gorgeous with wry funny touches that mean going back again and again (and again!) is a joy rather than a chore.

We had a lot of fun making our own marvellous hat, although it proved hard to wear for very long! I'm sorry it's not a brilliant photo but you can see the kind of thing we did.

Satoshi Kitamura is actually appearing very soon at the South Ken Kids Festival at the Institut Francais which runs from the 17th to the 23rd November. I wish we could go to this festival, there are more than 50 events on the programme including Quentin Blake, Judith Kerr and Axel Scheffler. You lucky London people!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Woolly and Tig: I Love Mummy

I didn't really expect to be writing a post about Woolly and Tig: I Love Mummy. We picked it up in the library a couple of weeks ago and I grudgingly said my kids could bring it home. I have nothing against Woolly and Tig, I like to watch the programme. I just prefer to read original picture books when possible and I find that sometimes the books that tie-in to a TV programme tend to just be retellings of an episode (nothing that wrong with that of course, heaven knows I've been responsible for a fair few myself!).

But when we read this story I was pleasantly surprised (and not for a totally honourable reason!). It is a book about Tig and her mummy and delves into the relationship between a working mother (from home) and a child who wants constant attention. I can more than relate to this because it's very much how I work, although I tend to do most of my work when my two year old naps or when they are both at school and nursery. Anyway the message that sometimes mummy needs to concentrate on other things and can't play all the time was an interesting and helpful one. And both my kids loved reading it, although I think it was partly the novelty of seeing the faces from the programme on the page!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Knight School by Jane Clarke and Jane Massey

Knight School has been a very handy book for us recently. It tells the story of two friends Little Knight and Little Dragon who are starting school.
But... they go to different schools! Little Knight goes to school in the daytime and Little Dragon goes to school in the nighttime.
Little Knight and Little Dragon love going to school but they get a bit fed up that they never see each other anymore - until they concoct a plan to have a mini adventure out of school time! They disappear off and find a brand new friend to watch some stars with. Their daddies eventually catch up with them and after the initial worry realise that the friends just want to spend some time with each other again. 

This is a particularly good story for us right now because Rosie has just started school but she is going to a different school from her best friend. They have gone from spending at least two days a week together to virtually not seeing each other. So reading a picture book which helps to explain this, and also points out that you need to make time to see your friends, is very helpful. We just have to hope she won't plan to meet her friend after dark for an adventure!

The illustrations are very sweet and there are lots of gentle funny moments. My two year old has been enjoying reading this with us as well so it bridges the age gap from two to five pretty well. I particularly like the scene at the end where they hold a big fete/summer party. I'm hoping to emulate it for my daughter's birthday party!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Toys in Space by Mini Grey

We invariably love Mini Grey's fabulous picture books and Toys in Space is no exception. It's conceptually brilliant and we've been enjoying it a lot recently. It's similar in style to her Traction Man series (which is also completely wonderful) but the story is more rounded and less wacky (I do love both though, the 'wacky' is not a criticism!).
It's essentially the story of some toys left out in the garden overnight and the adventure they find themselves on, or the story they tell themselves - does it really happen?!. They get beamed up into a space rocket and meet Hoctopize, the very sad alien. He looks like a glove wearing pyjamas(!) and has lost his toy, Cuddles. He shows them all the thousands of toys he has collected in his quest to find Cuddles and they are slightly horrified by all the children that have lost their toys and must be feeling bereft. So they help him to send them back to their homes (handily Hoctopize labelled them by their addresses as soon as they were beamed up!) and then to cheer him up they throw him a party. All too soon they have to go and they float gently back to the garden leaving Hoctopize to continue his sad search. But as Hoctopize prepares his spaceship to leave he spies a little someone. Can you guess who?!

The artwork is amazing and as I mentioned at the beginning the whole concept of this book works really well. It almost has a filmic quality to it which draws you in, I think it's partly the way it is laid out.

The funny thing is that since reading this story Rosie has not liked to leave her toys out in the garden. So she's tidying up a bit more. It can only be a good thing!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

What can you see Spot? by Eric Hill

My (just) two year old is loving What Can You See, Spot? at the moment. It's perfectly pitched for her and is working really well at giving her new vocabulary and also has a lovely repetition. It's quite a simple concept, placing Spot the dog in different places (countryside, beach, farm, home) and then asking the question 'what can you see?' The thing about it is that all the objects to spot are fun to look at, interesting to say and help to expand my toddlers vocabulary. I really think it's a pretty perfect example of a book of this kind!

Spot the dog is well known and we have enjoyed many of his books but this one is a real stand-out for us. Sadly the author Eric Hill died earlier this year but because he produced such a huge variety and quantity of books with Penguin, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Spot. And of course so many of them are great backlisters which will stick around for many moons to come.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Jampires by Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell

This one is a bit personal because I have been a tiny bit involved in the publication of it. But have no fear, I wouldn't blog about it unless I thought it was BRILLIANT! And it's also been road-tested by Rosie and pronounced as 'Yummy!' and a few seconds later 'Can we get some doughnuts? Will there be any jam in them?' (Rosie loves jam doughnuts - who doesn't?!)

Anyway it's a great picture book about some loveable characters called 'jampires'! These naughty little creatures are stealing the jam out of everything and one day a little boy, Sam, decides he's had enough and sets out to discover what is happening. He catches the jampires and they take him to their land (note - make sure you're not hungry at this bit, it will have you reaching for the cake tin!) and introduce him to their mummies. After making such great friends the jampires take great care never to leave Sam jamless again and even make sure they provide him with extra. But the thing is they have to get their jam from somewhere so make sure YOU check your doughnuts carefully!

I think this will really come into its own over halloween, I think we might download the masks and do some kind of jam doughnut bobbing (instead of apples). But let's not run away with autumn too quickly, it's great to read now as well!

There is a lovely website with a few activities on it and a guide to making your own comic-jam which is how the authors came up with the whole concept. And Sarah McIntyre has a wonderful blog which has a great post on it at the moment about how the book was created.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Elephant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt

We've been having a lovely time with Elephant Wellyphant. It's hilarious and perfect to share with mixed age children. The link above is for the publisher's website but I don't think there is a link to buy so here is another one!

There are a few bits inside the book that mean you can't really leave your toddler alone with it - spinning wheel and pull out tabs etc but the whole premise is beautifully suited to 18 months plus although I'm sure you could use it with younger children too.

It's a very simple play on the word elephant. There's Smelliphant (pull a tab and out pops a 'parp' - greatly loved by my four year old!). A poorly, spotty Unwelliphant. A Cinderellaphant (turn the flap and there she is ready for the ball). And of course as the title suggests an elephant wearing wellies - a Wellyphant.

Nick Sharratt's fantastic artwork is perfect for this format and style of book and his sense of humour and the ridiculous can be seen to great effect here. Love it!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Mini Scientist - In the Kitchen by Lisa Burke

Rosie was taken to a science event for kids by my husband earlier this year and was completely bowled over by it. As he commented 'she thinks it's all magic and a show' (two of her current loves!) but we're keen to foster this interest and so when I saw Mini Scientist - In the Kitchen at the library yesterday I decided to get it out. 

It's a DK book and similar to a cookbook layout with good explanatory text and helpful photos to show you what to do. There are some really fun experiments and a lot of them don't require many materials. We tried making an egg float yesterday and all you need for that is a container, an egg, water and some salt. There's another good one using balloons to learn about static electricity. 

It's nice to see a book like this out on the shelves (although since this particular title is out of print then it won't be everywhere!) because as the parent of an inquisitive four (nearly five) year old this gives some great ideas about things we can do together and hopefully is going to make her think of science as an exciting and interesting subject as she grows up. 

Unfortunately the Mini Scientist In the Kitchen is no longer in print (although you can get it second hand), they do have a few titles in the series though In the Garden and Water Fun and My Body are on their website and I think we might give them a try next! There's also a book called Science Experiments by Robert Winston which I'm going to keep an eye out for, although I think it's probably better for older children. Happy experimenting!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon by Axel Scheffler

Pip and Posy are lovely characters and great favourites in our house, they are good at holding both my one year old's attention and my four year old's (only just these days, mind you!).
In Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon Pip has a lovely red balloon that he is very proud of and takes to show Posy. But he accidentally lets go of it and they follow it until it eventually bursts. Thankfully Posy has a bright idea and saves the day by bringing out some bubbles. They have fun blowing them and watching them pop, as they are meant to! 

This is of particular interest to us because we have recently lost two balloons to the great outdoors. And there really is no greater sadness for a child than losing an exciting balloon that you have been clinging to and then watching it float up into the air. (My sadness is more that it is very bad to let something plastic and rubbery float off into the environment and add more to the mounds of plastic that litter our world.) But anyway we all felt very sad. So this book is wonderful and next time we lose a balloon (probably soon!) I'm sure my four year old will suggest we get the bubbles out!

Of course you'll recognise the artwork on this - it's the wonderful Axel Scheffler. The illustrations are lovely with gorgeous little details and lots to spot and talk about. 

This series is lovely for children who have started to want a bit more of a story and can sit down to listen (but wouldn't survive a full picture book text). Perfect from 18 months I would say!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hey Presto! by Nadia Shireen

We are into magic tricks at the moment! Rosie's nanny found a magic set at a car boot for 10p or something and although it's in French (Rosie's daddy is a whizz at that) it hasn't set her back.
So when we dug out our copy of Hey Presto! it was even more of a hit than it was when we got it last year. It's a very sweet story of Presto and Monty who decide to set up a magic show together but Monty likes the limelight so much he hogs it, even though Presto is doing all the tricks behind the scenes. Presto eventually gets fed up and leaves and Monty realises the error of his ways. They reunite and all is well!

I particularly like the use of Presto as a name in this, it always makes me smile when Monty says 'Hey, Presto'. The artwork is great and I love the comic touches that Nadia brings to this. We also like to read Good Little Wolf which has a great (possibly shocking?!) twist at the end.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

In praise of fathers - books with lovely daddies!

Amazing Dad
I was just going to look at My Dad by Anthony Browne for this blog post, it seems to cover everything about dads and is such a lovely book. It tells us how the dad is brilliant at all things (football, singing, dancing, wins the race at sport's day easily!) but most of all he's 'my dad'. It's just wonderful and funny!

But then I was thinking about the way fathers are depicted in picture books and thought I'd offer up a small selection to look at. Penguin did a similar thing on their blog this week, they concentrated purely on Penguin books (understandably), but it's still worth a read.

Detached Dad
Gorilla, another Anthony Browne fabby-do whizz-corker of a book, is the story of a dad who just doesn't make time for his daughter. Hannah is desperate for her dad to take notice of her and do some fun things with her. Then one night her toy gorilla comes alive and takes her on a nighttime adventure. Finally her dad takes some notice and they end up going to the zoo together. It's a beautiful, poignant and memorable picture book.

Ridiculous Dad
This isn't really from the picture book genre but Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig is certainly one of the most prolific dads around right now. Poor daddy pig is always getting everything wrong and into all kinds of problems but he's also very hands on and involved!

Adventuring Dad
We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is superb and an all-time favourite and it's easy to see why. The dad and his kids go on an exciting hunt for a bear through all kinds of terrain with the classic refrain 'We're going on bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one, we're not scared' echoing throughout. When they find the bear though they are scared and end up snuggled in bed all together.

Champion Dad
In The Tiger who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr we see more of Sophie, the little girl, and her mummy than we do of the daddy. But at the end when Sophie's daddy returns and finds Sophie and her mummy with no food or even water in the house he whisks them off to tea at the local cafe. Maybe a bit old fashioned in the 'knight on shining armour' theme but also an extremely comforting thing to happen!

Sleepy Dad
In the Gruffalo's Child by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler the dad spends the whole time asleep while his child goes off on a whole adventure on her own. It's immensely comforting to know that although the child is alone the daddy is there snoozing in the background and would surely come to help if needed!

Disbelieving Dad
In Dogs Don't do Ballet, by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie, Biff the dog wants to be a ballerina but Dad doesn't think dogs can be ballet dancers and his owner (we don't find out her name because she narrates) is incredibly surprised and delighted when Biff proves them all wrong. The dad in this is a bit stern and serious but is shown to be taking his daughter to the ballet and engaged in her interests. He just doesn't listen to her when she says her dog likes ballet!

Trying to get home Dad
Stickman by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a heartwarming story of Stickman trying to get home to the family tree to his family. It's an adventure story but also a story of a dad's devotion and love for his family. Finally he returns, just in time for Christmas!

So there you are, a selection of different fathers, I'm sure there's many I've missed and don't even know about!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Jumping on the bandwagon of the World Cup! Willy the Wizard by Anthony Browne

Now, I'm not the world's biggest football fan, I don't like the culture surrounding the overpaid players and I think that they should pay more attention to the fact that they are role models for young children. But I do follow Norwich City (sob, they've just gone down to the Championship) and the fact that the World Cup starts today (my husband has pinned a chart up - it's ruining my decor!) has not passed me by. So after a very long preamble (and slight rant), sorry about that, hope you're still with me! I thought that it might be nice to feature a picture book about football. The Willy books by Anthony Browne are big favourites in our house and Willy the Wizard is a particularly good one.
Willy loves football and is desperate to play but he doesn't have any boots and is never picked for the team. Then one night he's given some boots by a mysterious stranger and all of a sudden his luck begins to change. It's a great story and the illustrations are superb, as you'd expect! This book also draws beautifully on the superstitions that some sportspeople can have. And I think it really does portray football as a beautiful game, which it can be!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The 'Tim' books by Edward Ardizzone

We were bought the box set of the 'Tim' books by Edward Ardizzone by my dad when Rosie was only about two years old and I've been saving them to read until she is old enough. I think we're finally there! We've read Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain three times this week so far, they're obviously as appealing now as they were when I was young. Not really a surprise!
They are true classic picture books with superb, beautiful illustrations. They are also great adventure stories of a type that you don't see much of in picture books today. The ending of Tim and the sea captain has Tim asking his parents if he can go away to sea again (after he's been rescued by a lifeboat from a sinking steamer in the middle of the ocean) and his parents say 'yes'. I'd be interested to see if that would get through in a modern picture book!

The story of The Brave Sea Captain is an interesting one because the main protagonist, Tim, doesn't really speak, we're told how he is feeling but he isn't given a voice. However he has plenty of action, from becoming a stowaway and having to work his passage, to becoming violently seasick and then discovering he has been abandoned by all but the captain to a rapidly sinking ship. It's thrilling stuff!

I defintitely have a soft spot for these books because of my own childhood (as you can guess, having purchased them so early on for Rosie, my dad loved them) and also because they feature the coastline of suffolk and little details that recall places I know - the last page of The Brave Sea Captain has the lifeboat men lined up with a flag that says 'Thorpeness Life Boat'. Slight digression here but Thorpeness is a lovely place with a fab boating lake themed around Peter Pan, I have many happy memories of water fights and frolics all over it!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Cinderella's Bum by Nicholas Allan

Cinderella's Bum is a bit of a misleading title since it's really not about her bottom at all! But it is about bottoms and it makes my four (nearly five - eek!) year old laugh a lot. It's classic Nicholas Allan and lots of fun to read and talk about.
Narrated by an adorable younger sister, it tells the story of her older sister not wanting to go swimming because she feels her bottom is too big. Her younger sister talks her through various characters from history and fiction that have had big and different shaped bottoms. We particularly like the page where it says 'Some bottoms have trumpets in them' (cue us trumpeting loudly!)  and then 'Posh ones have clarinets' (cue us peeping!). Rosie loves the page where the wicked queen from Snow White is talking to the mirror with her bottom 'Mirror, mirror, don't be rotten. Say I have the nicest bottom!'

All in all it's funny, good to share and generates lots of laughter - you can't get better than that!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens

How to Hide a Lion is a lovely picture book which has an instant classic look about it. We've been really enjoying this one as a family, my 20 month old particularly likes roaring at the moment so it works well for her!

The story is very sweet, all about a lion who is running away from people who are scared of him. It's the classic tale of a small child, Iris, who is wiser than all the grown-ups and of course children love to hear this! It reminds me a little bit of 'Rhino's don't eat pancakes', it has the same sense of people not seeing what's right under their noses (in both cases a rather large animal!). I really like the ending and think it's very satisfying. I also like the references to Judith Kerr, Iris reads to the lion 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' and the lion stops the burglars at the end in a way that is reminiscent of Mog. Maybe I'm reading too much into it but I thought it was nice!

I've always been a big fan of Helen Stephens illustration style and I think her work is perfect here. She has a rather lovely website which you can find here. How to Hide a Lion has been nominated, shortlisted and won many awards, all of which Helen mentions on her website.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Starting School

This may seem an odd time of year to write a post about books for starting school but I have been asked by several people for recommendations recently and my own preschooler, the one and only Rosie doesn't stop talking about going to school (she's been going on about it since last year!). I think it's great that she's excited but in reality she doesn't really know just how life-changing it's going to be. Five days a week for the foreseeable future are going to be a 9-3 cycle of learning. So it's helpful that there are a fair few books available to help us through the transition.

These are the books that we have been reading and enjoying:
Starting School by Janet and Alan Ahlberg, this is a classic and possibly the best of the bunch. It's a little old fashioned now, it was published in 1988 after all. But as an introduction to the routine and relentlessness of starting school this takes some beating. We meet eight characters as they start school, they take us round their first day, then the second day, then the first week, until we get to Christmas and the holidays. The detail is fantastic and the emotions of the children and their ups and downs are minutely documented, it's quite surprising what a picture book can achieve in just 32 pages!

Alfie and the Big Boys by Shirley Hughes is not a book about starting school exactly but I think it's great at pinpointing that even boys who are big and tough might sometimes be weak and vulnerable (and want their mummies!). Alfie is still in nursery at this point but it is in the nursery attached to the school and every morning at playtime he and Bernard watch the older boys led by a big tough boy called Ian Barger playing in the playground. Alfie and Bernard long to be part of their gang. But then one saturday morning Alfie is out with mum and Annie-Rose when he discovers Ian Barger crying and becoming quite hysterical because he's lost his mummy. I won't explain the entire plot but Alfie and Bernard come to realise that there is another side to their hero!

I also have two books by Ladybird from their series Start School: Talkabout My Big School and When I Start School by Richard Dungworth and Emma Dodd. Unfortunately these are now out of print but they are available from abebooks or other second hand retailers. These are really great for going through in close detail what happens at school and addressing any worries a child might have. When I Start School follows a boy who is worried about lots of little things like not liking the school dinners and not knowing anyone and as each worry is addressed you turn the page to find the solution. Talkabout My Big School gives more a sense of place and shows a child exactly what their school will be like. Out of the two I think Rosie prefers When I Start School - probably because we follow a character throughout.

The lovely folk at Random House very kindly sent me a few books at my request. One of them was Bobbo Goes to School which is a classic Shirley Hughes title. Lily is not quite old enough for school yet but her toy dog, Bobbo accidentally goes to school one day and when Lily picks him up she gets to see the school and the classroom. It's not a lot about the routine of the school day but is a nice gentle introduction to the concept of going to school and the difference between being at home with mum and being at school.

They also sent me Dear Panda by Miriam Latimer which follows the story of Flo who has just moved house and is starting a new school (although not for the first time). The new teacher writes to her and asks her if she will be able to stand up in front of the class and tell them a little about herself and this makes Flo very worried (I must say I can totally understand that!). So Flo makes friends with a Panda who lives in the zoo next door and he proves to be a great ice breaker (oh I wish he was a penguin!). This is a lovely story and a sweet introduction to school and the fear about making new friends and being in a new place.

We have been Topsy and Tim mad in our house ever since the TV series started. If allowed Rosie would probably just watch it non-stop back to back. So I decided that she might enjoy the original books on which the series is based. Topsy and Tim Start School by Jean and Gareth Adamson is a lovely book which has the advantage of having twins so there are two perspectives of the first day at school and as usual in the books Tim is a little bit grumpy. They find their pegs, join their class, have playtime, lunchtime and more class time and then go home. It's a great introduction to the routine of the day. I'm not sure Rosie recognises them as Topsy and Tim though, which makes me sad since the books came first and I used to read them to my brothers.

I love a Charlie and Lola book so I decided that we'd definitely want to have a look at I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child. It's a cracker of a book with the inimitable Lola finding various reasons why she doesn't want to learn numbers, reading and writing and Charlie finding just the thing that will appeal to her and change her mind. The invisible friend character is funny too!

So that's our collection! I do have a few more books that address starting school and school life but I think the above are the cream of the crop.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

This book is the sequel to You Choose - a firm favourite in our house! So we were really looking forward to reading Just Imagine. It's funny because at first I really wasn't sure about how well it worked. But it has become such a bedtime favourite and a real winner for my 18 month old that I have reversed my opinion.
I think I felt it was slightly limited as appose to You Choose which seemed so boundless in choice and options. But as I say it has become a real favourite and we've spent hours reading it. The format and the look is similar to You Choose but the topics are quite different. I particularly like the page where you're invited to imagine yourself back in time and you can go to the Egyptians, the dinosaurs, world war two and many more, it's a very good basis for talking about history (if you can remember it all!).

There's a great picture of an amazing machine which covers two pages and you're invited to imagine what the machine would make. At first we thought that it would make the best ice cream in the world but lately Rosie has been saying that she thinks it can make medicine to cure any illness. When she first said that I was amazed, but I guess this book exercises your imagination to its peak!

There is a magical creatures page that at first I was confused by, not realising that it was essentially a before and after snapshot. Once we realised we had great fun spotting what things had turned into and what had changed. It's like a fantastic spot the difference for younger children!

There are a few pages of animals where my toddler really starts to engage (ie. roar like a lion!) and has been very helpful in learning the different animal noises, although I'm floored by a few (armadillo?). I'm also a fan of the flying in the sky and living in the sea pages, full of a mix of fantastical and real creatures and people and so many different options!

I could actually write a lot more about this book, I really think it's wonderful and that we will be enjoying it for a long while yet!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

100 First Animals by Little Tiger Kids

I was given this book by Little Tiger Books last year as part of their parent panel testing out books and doing reviews but at the time my youngest was 9 months so a bit little and my nearly 4 year old didn't seem that keen. So I didn't review it because I didn't have much to say!
But now! My 18th month old adores this book. It has umpteen flaps on each page with loads of different animals and because her language is exploding at the moment she's really interested in sounding out the animal names.

The flaps are integrated so much harder for little hands to pull off and the book is arranged thematically so you have 'farm animals', 'jungle animals', 'desert animals', 'pets' etc. Each flap lifts to show a close up, or maybe a mother and baby, of the animal pictured on the top. It's not the greatest surprise in the world but for this age group it works nicely.

It's a big sturdy book which uses photos instead of artwork and I think it works very well. There is something very cute about watching a toddler lug around a big book and then plonk themselves (usually right in your way!) and sit and read it totally absorbed.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Winnie's New Computer by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

We've been Winnie the Witch mad recently, mainly reading Winnie's New Computer - because that is the only Winnie book we have! Although we've had quite a few out from the library in the last few months, Winnie in Winter being a favourite, too.
 I think Rosie particularly likes the computer one because she feels sorry for Wilbur being shut out in the rain and being turned blue and then invisible. It's nicely done and thankfully fun to read (I think it might be nearing about 50 times now, I'm available for recitals!). 
Winnie orders a new computer and when she gets it she realises she can scan all her spells in and get rid of her spellbook and her old wand. But then something goes terribly wrong! It's actually quite an interesting comment on the paperless office now I come to think of it! And I did experience the utter terror of losing everything you hold online when my yahoo work email went down a few days ago. Yikes!

I think the Winnie books are charming and there is enough extra detail in the illustrations to bear rereading them again and again. The duo of Winnie and Wilbur is great fun too, although Wilbur always seems to bear the brunt of Winnie's crazy plans.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Monkey Nut by Simon Rickerty

This book has captivated my 18 month old. My four year old also loves it. I don't totally understand why the toddler adores it so much but I think it must be to do with the minimal text and slapstick humour!
It did however win the Roald Dahl funny prize in 2013. I do enjoy reading it since the minimal text and the amount happening in the illustrations lends itself to reading it in a very silly way. I always add 'CRUNCH!' when the elephant steps on the big black spider.

The design is quite clean and graphic, using photos (of the monkey nut) and illustrating the spiders. It's good fun! But it has made me realise I must buy some monkey nuts to show the girls since they've never had them - I know, deprivation in its worst form.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

We've been really enjoying The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb. It's the story of a little girl whose mother makes her a string of paper dolls and they name them 'Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow' and take them on all sorts of adventures until they are untimely cut short by a little boy with a pair of scissors!
It's a simple story but touches on some very big themes, including remembering people who have died, and growing up to become a parent and the passing on of traditions. After the little boy cuts the paper dolls into pieces the text tells us that they 'flew into the little girl's memory' and in the little girl's memory we find all sorts of things including 'a kind granny'.

The text is slightly different to Julia Donaldson's usual fare and I really like it, it's rhythmic but not rhyming and I know from experience how hard it is to get that to work. I guess if anyone is going to do it well it would have to be Julia Donaldson!

I really like the artwork by Rebecca Cobb as well. I like the sketchy feel of it and the colour palette she uses. She also manages to show the movement of the paper dolls, which I think is a feat in itself!

I'd almost forgotten that you could make paper dolls, they're so easy to do, anyone can make them, even me! We've made quite a few sets and seeing Rosie play with them is fascinating, it's easy to see why this picture book came into being, it's the imaginative world of a little girl come to life.