Thursday, 15 December 2016

Five fab picture books

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel is an absolute gem of a book that introduces the idea of different perspectives through illustrations and a simple narrative.  A cat walks through the world, everyone sees it but they all see it differently. So simple yet completely genius because of the illustrations and clever repetition. This is quickly becoming once of our favourite reads of all time.

Pass it On by Sophy Henn
I wish I could get this cover image as a print. What a lovely collection of illustrations with a vintage feel. This is a charming book that celebrating the little joys in life. A perfect pick for the Christmas season. 
Dogs in Cars by Felix Massie and Emmanuelle Walker
This is not your average counting book. Dogs in Cars is full of fun and, of course, a menagerie of dogs. With this many lovingly illustrated canines it's just a little bit on the absurd side which makes it a delight to read.
How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz

A story of friendship, adventure and shared experience. I'm particularly drawn to each characters' voice and it was a joyful thing to read their conversations aloud to E. And the best part, this pair really does find gold!
Dogs don't do Ballet by Anna Kemp & Sarah Ogilve

To me this is a feel good story of diversity and dreams triumphing over stereotypes.  Children may simply see it as a funny story about a quirky dog with big dreams who manages to save the day.  Whatever your take on it I think it's a fantastic pick.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Celebrating women and their work

As I try to make sense of what's happened in the US over the past 72 hours it's quickly become apparent to me that I need an injection of positive energy and a reminder that women's contributions to the world at large are massive. In this spirit I've compiled a list of 10 children's books (in no particular order) about women in history that I hope to share with E:

Susan B Anthony 
Women's rights advocate, inspirational leader 
and American social reformer, 
founded the National American 
Woman Suffrage Association:

No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.

Martha Graham
Dance pioneer, choreographer, teacher:
You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.
Maya Angelou 
Writer and civil rights activist,
wrote the first nonfiction best-seller
by an African-American woman, 
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings':

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. 
Jane Goodall
Scientist and trailblazing animal rights activist:

The greatest danger to our future is apathy.

 Eleanor Roosevelt
American politician, activist and
United Nations spokeswoman:

The future belongs to those who 
believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Rosa Parks
Pioneering civil rights activist:

I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.

Amelia Earhart
Aviation pioneer and author:
Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others.
 Dorthea Lange
American documentary photographer and photojournalist:
The words that come direct from the people are the greatest... If you substitute one out of your own vocabulary, it disappears before your eyes.
Read more at:
The words that come direct from the people are the greatest... If you substitute one out of your own vocabulary, it disappears before your eyes.

The words that come direct from the people are the greatest... If you substitute one out of your own vocabulary, it disappears before your eyes.
Read more at:
The words that come direct from the people are the greatest... If you substitute one out of your own vocabulary, it disappears before your eyes.
Read more at:


Zora Neale Hurston
Writer, civil rights activist and anthropoligist: 
There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Josephine Baker
Civil rights activist, dancer and singer: 
Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one's soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Two Things You May Not Know About Prague

I visited family in Prague over half term and learned two new things about what's become a very familiar city to me. Number one, Prague is home to an ace children's book publisher called Baobab.  They produce a range of seriously beautiful books and I'm particularly fond of one titled This Is Prague by Michaela Kukovicova & Olga Cerna.  Part guide book and part picture book, it captures the city's eclectic architectural styles in fun collage illustrations peppered with factual little anecdotes.

And while I got excited about the books E and his cousin went completely ape over the 'traffic playgrounds' in the city. A little known fact is that dotted around Prague and other Czech cities are these brilliant little traffic parks called dopravní hřiště in czech.  Implemented during Communist role and often in the shadow of tower blocks, these playgrounds mimic miniature city streets with working stoplights, model gas stations and proper road signs.  

The traffic parks give kids a rare opportunity to feel like they're powering through city streets on their bikes and scooters in a car free zone. E's favourite location had battery operated jeeps for hire and the tangle of vehicles proved to be quite challenge much for the lone right hand side driver in the crowd.  All in the traffic parks were a major hit and though they may have been originally designed to teach the rules of the road they provided a wild few hours of fun for our crew.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds & Peter Brown

Full disclosure: I'm re-posting this previous Halloween review b/c we're still enamored by Creepy Carrots! at our house and I think it warrants another look:

Well, it's almost time for Halloween and our annual search for the perfect book for the season is on.  We've settled for a tried and true favorite this year: Creepy Carrots! (words by Aaron Reynolds and pictures by Peter Brown).

Jasper Rabbit is the little tyke in charge of this tale. He can't get enough of the carrots from Crackenhopper Field and in time convinces himself that there are creepy carrots following him around... everywhere.

The illustrations are just that little bit film noir and they work in tandem with the words to create a slightly spooky, unpredictably crackin' tale. Jasper Rabbit's road to gluttony is paved with paranoia and eventually he has to put an end to those creepy carrots once and for all.

E thinks the three main carrots are hysterical and has a ritual of inspecting the illustrated end papers with each read.  I think it's a perfect book to get you in the Halloween spirit.

And for an extra treat check out this awesome little film.

Happy Halloween! 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright & Jim Field

This is a gentle picture book with an important message.  Mouse is overlooked by the rest of the animals who are all much bigger and louder than him.  He's fed up at being ignored, forgotten and even stepped on.  So one day he decides his only option is to ask the biggest, baddest beast of all to teach him to roar. The animal with THE most ferocious roar is the Lion King and he spends his days upon a high rock.  How in world is a tiny mouse going to take him on?  By digging deep, thinking like a winner and being strong is how.  Mouse gathers up enough courage to approach the lion and to his complete surprise discovers that this enormous beast with the powerful roar is actually, well, he's actually scared of mice.  So while Mouse discovers something new about himself he also learns that even the biggest beasts have fears to face. Together the two forge an unlikely friendship and the concluding sentence sums this book up perfectly:

"Yes, that day they both learned that, no matter your size, we all have a mouse and a lion inside."

With sing song ryhme, a quick paced storyline and engaging illustrations (check out Mouse's ears!) this is a winner that E and I have shared together.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Keep those kids reading!

 My book searches have changed some since E started reading. I now spend a lot of time looking for books that are pitched at his reading level but still have a story and characters that interest him. Every kid is different but through trial and error I've found that reading at our house works best when E picks up a book in his own time and reads at his own pace. I leave little book piles around the house so that he can 'discover' new titles without the pressure of thinking he has to read it or even has to like it. And slowly over the last year I've begun to notice him picking up more and more books and sitting down to read them independently.

It's taken me quite a while to find the right books to fit a kid who could be described by any of those trendy labels depending on the day or the hour (early/developing/confident/reluctant, etc, etc). Currently the most popular titles are the Early Reader series from Orion, the Project X Alien Adventure series from Oxford University Press and the Penguin Young Readers books. Penguin is especially good at capturing the nuances of difference reading levels and once E finishes these three series next up my sleeve is the brilliant 'Who Was ...." nonfiction series also from Penguin.

And for anyone who's wondering, I do take E to the library to pick out his own books but sometimes it's just good for everyone to have a little break from Beast Quest now and again.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Robo-Sauce (words by Adam Rubin, pictures by Daniel Salmieri)

I love a book with a good surprise when it's designed well and adds to the overall story. This is certainly the case with Robo-Sauce.  Not your average title, and thankfully not your average book.

We meet a boy pretending to be a robot who decides life would be better as a real robot. He would have loads of playmates and never have to go to bed or take baths. The nameless, faceless narrator then tells him about a magic robo-sauce.  So the kid makes the sauce, gulps it all down and then bam; in a two page spread bursting with colour and chalkboard style illustrations he turns into an actual robot.

He wants to do cool robot things like activate his 'robo-rocket blast' and 'robo-tornado'.  Unfortunately, it's just not that simple.  The kid, turned out of control robot, invents a robo-sauce launcher and then the trouble really begins. He starts turning everyone into robots, even his family and his dog. By the end he can't help but turn the book into a robot and that's when you get to do something very clever that leaves this book standing out from the crowd.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Llama, Llama and Anna Dewdney

I'd like to celebrate the life and work of Anna Dewdney this week. Her Llama Llama books have been a staple around our house for over six years now and I was shocked to read the news that she passed away on the 3rd of September.  It's often hard to separate the character from its creator and I think it's incredibly true in this instance. Llama Llama is bursting with personality and human emotion and if you've not read one his books then please do so now. I am saddened that his adventures will come to a premature end but celebrate the life of the person who created his stories and touched so many of us in the process.  Let's all go out and share a book with a child in honour of Anna Dewdney.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's Only Stanley by John Agee

Stanley is up to something and everyone in the house wants to know what it is. This endlessly cute little beagle is focused, intense and on a mission.  His tinkering wakes the Wimbledon family one child at a time.  Mr Wimbledon investigates on each occasion but returns to the bedroom over and over again assuring his family 'it's only Stanley'. He's underestimated this beagle though and by the end Stanley, with his own little paws, has trasformed the family home into a rocket so he can fly it to moon. 

With impeccable rhyme, a sense of adventure and a truly loveable main character this book is a clear winner in our house.  I love that Stanley never speaks (except for one long howl at the moon) and instead makes a cacophony of sounds with his tinkering. The text is so carefully worded that it's a joy to read aloud and with brilliant illustrations to boot I recommend you all get acquainted with young Stanley.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley

I judged this book by its cover and decided it was a must read. I was right. Two sisters are sent outside to play - one ecstatic and one trying very hard to keep her nose in a book and ignore her younger sibling.  The younger one invents a secret tree fort so magnificent she can hardly believe it herself. It has a secret entrance, a marshmallow and chocolate storage compartment, a crow's nest that's high enough for spotting whales and pirates and the entire thing, the entire thing is made of sweets.  She boasts to her sister that she can even play board games with whales and there's a whole two page spread about all the amazing cool things she can see with a magnifying glass. Her sister insists it doesn't exist and their battle of 'Yes it does' 'No it doesn't' reaches epic proportions until finally they both relent and decide to build a real fort together.

E loved the detail of the fort but also latched on to how the younger sister's mood changed throughout the story from ecstatic to disappointed to contented. I love Brianne Farley's sketch style illustrations of the girls and the saturated colours of the fort, sweets and assorted whales. This is not just a book about sisters and it's not just a book about girls.  It's about how far your imagination can take you which is actually what a book should do.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Barnes Children's Literature Festival

It was a glorious two days at the the second annual Barnes Children's Literature Festival and I'm not just talking about the weather.  It seemed that every available nook and cranny in the idyllic village of Barnes was dedicated to children's lit this past weekend.  And with so many of my favourites on the bill I was never going to take it all in. Word is they were laughing out of their seats listening to Ed Vere, and Anthony Browne's family of musicians brought Willy the Wimp magically to life. I was privileged to be volunteering in the marquee while Jacqueline Wilson won over the crowd with her charm, honesty and engaging personal anecdotes.
The Booktop marquee
 The picturesque Barnes Common was on show and it delivered. The place simply buzzed with books: strangers meeting and talking about books, people eating burgers and talking about books under the trees, children lying on the ground reading books, authors chatting with fellow authors about books. It was a treat to spot Judith Kerr in the audience for Lauren Child/David Mackintosh and in turn spot Axel Scheffler in the audience for Judith Keer. These are all the kinds of positive exchanges that the festival prides itself on and the weekend passed in a flash leaving a trail of sheer delight.

The OSO community arts centre on Barnes Common

For all the wonderful moments and new books discovered I think my lasting memory will be Judith Kerr in conversation.  It was a grown up interview and her sense of fun was evident from the start. She spoke with quiet conviction about her need to draw and create and the limitations imposed on women of her day. She spoke in detail of her family's escape from Berlin and the new home that she eventually made in London, in Barnes with the cat she'd always wanted.  I really could have listened to her cat stories for the entirety of the interview but the gems were in her description of her drawings, the motivations for her stories, her personal anecdotes and her drive to continue working.  I think she summed it up best when commenting about her hip replacement she remarked: 'I'm not decrepit, I'm just someone who used to dance the can can.'

Bring on Barnes Children's Literature Festival 2017!

Swans by Barnes pond ... probably the only ones not reading books.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Albert's Tree by Jenni Desmond

Writer and illustrator Jenni Desmond is the creator of a treasure trove of books and her latest title, Albert's Tree, introduces us to a sweet young bear and an unlikely friendship. 

Albert's just woken up from a long winter and cannot wait to reacquaint himself with his favourite tree. He climbs up, assumes his springtime position on the familiar branch, but to his surprise the tree suddenly begins to cry.  It looks alright to Albert, in fact it looks the same as always but clearly something is making it very upset.

Rabbit and Caribou both offer to help and share what makes them feel better (digging holes and eating grass respectively), but Albert has no luck comforting his tree. Finally, in a last ditch attempt to soothe his special tree he climbs further up, gives it a hug and speaks to it in a gentle voice. And boy is he surprised to hear the tree answer back. A case of mistaken identities is later discovered as Albert meets tiny Owl who's been living in the tree over the winter.  The two quickly become friends and the tree becomes twice as special. 

A story about friendship and a a story about feeling sad and feeling better that's lovingly illustrated with adorable forest animals ... and a particularly beautiful tree.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

For the love of reading...

Well, I do declare, a certain someone in my house has discovered that he loves to read by himself and Roald Dahl is suddenly sharing a pedestal with Luke Skywalker. It's a joy to behold and a crash course in mixed metaphors as much of the Star Wars Lego has been dismantled to form a large chocolate factory. Even Yoda's legs have been transformed and are now part of an oompa loompa - this is getting serious folks.

E can't get enough of Roald Dahl at the moment and it's been an absolute pleasure to watch him devour the stories and grab hold of the magic. And while Roald Dahl's genius is not news to any of us, it's been such fun to discover it anew with my primary school aged partner in crime.

And because we live in London we are spoiled for choice when it comes to add-on book related activities. If you've not yet been then make sure to experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl at the Southbank Centre; on until 3 July 2016. It's a mighty exhibition and I'm holding out until we finish the BFG before we go.

The Wondercrump

 And don't miss the Imagination Seekers and their interactive theatrical experience that explores Dahl's stories. You can catch them this spring at the the marvelous Barnes Children's Literature Festival on 14-15 May.

Imagination Seekers

Happy reading all!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

I've had this book for a few years and I plucked it off the shelf today in honour of International Women's Day. I expected E to protest (as he's inclined to do with many of my suggestions lately), but today there were no gripes and together we enjoyed reading about the life of Jane Goodall.

Created by the much revered author/illustrator Jeanette Winter, this book works as a biography on a child's level and it works as a story plain and simple. The illustrations are wondrous and together with the text they lure you into Jane's world. Immediately you care about Jane, her work, the chimpanzees and the environment.  Time passes quite peacefully at first which is why the arrival of the hunters towards the end, and the dose of reality they bring with them, is that much more startling.

I think this is a hugely important book and it's prompted numerous conversations between E and me.  Many at fist were understandably about the hunters but today it was also about watching, how we define home and what it's like for a little girl to work hard and make a dream come true. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The pursuit of friendship in picture books

My post this week is inspired by E's homework assignment to make a poster describing what friendship means to him. As we got to talking and I tried to turn the abstract into something tangible, our faithful picture books saved the day once again.  We started talking about all of our favourite book friends and I quickly realised how many stories are indeed about the pursuit of friendship.  Here's a list of some of our favourite 'friends' starting with a new book called The Adventures of Beekle an Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

Beekle is one of the first books in a while that E picked up as soon as he saw it.  It's that sweet little face and the uncertain smile from Beekle - the little white unimaginary friend wearing a crown.  Beekle just wants to find a friend, his special friend and we follow him on an adventure from the imaginary world to the real world where his dream and his destiny finally come together. 

More of our favourite picture book friends in no particular order:

Willy and Hugh by Anthony Browne
Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson
Corduroy by Don Freeman
The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge
On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies
Bubble and Squeak by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy

Do you have favourite book friends? Let us know - we'd love to hear from you!


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Winnie's Big Bad Robot by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

If you've not yet met Winnie the Witch then you're in for a treat.  Winnie's a loveable, slightly accident prone witch who's not afraid to try new things with the help of some magic and her trusty cat Wilbur. E discovered her books in his school library and is devouring the series on a nightly basis.

In our latest title, Winnie's Big Bad Robot, Winnie uses her magic wand to bring her art project robot to life.  Almost immediately Winnie realises this was a bad move as he steals her wand and starts turning the garden creatures into robot frogs and ducks.  No one is safe and before you can say 'Abracadabra' the robot turns Winnie into a robot witch!  Wilbur quickly realises that he's the only one who can save the day ... and so he does.

With order safely restored and the robot reduced to a pile of junk, Winnie sits back in her deckchair to enjoy one of her special drinks and a little downtime with Wilbur.

E absolutely loves the illustrations and when I asked him why he liked the Winnie books so much he simply said, "Because they're funny".

A big bonus in this book are the sheets of stickers in the back perfect for making your own robot.  We had a great time with ours and I hope you will too!  Learn more from the website dedicated to all things Winnie.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Standing in for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh

David Mackintosh is an author/illustrator/graphic designer with a distinctive style that gives his main character, Lincoln Green, an energy and sass that's well deserved and reminds me just a bit too much of the little guy in my house.

So who is Lincoln Green and why does he need a stand-in?  He's a kid who fancies himself a bit of a cowboy but behind this bravado Lincoln Green just wants to avoid all the boring things in life like chores and dental appointments. Preferring to spend his time drinking fizzy sarsaparilla and eating hotdogs, Lincoln Green invents a 'stand-in' to take care of his dirty work. All seems to go swimmingly until his 'stand-in' decides he wants to have fun too.

Standing in for Lincoln Green is full of humour, an engaging main character double act and superb illustrations and design.  I just can't get enough so expect to see more of David Mackintosh's books popping up here again soon.

For more of Mackintosh's work visit his website Profusely Illustrated. He also made a fun short film about Standing in for Lincoln Green that you can watch here:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

New year ... new mag

And a belated happy new year folks!  It's taken longer than usual for us to get back into the routine of early morning departures, school uniforms and homework.  And I'm the first to admit that the holidays have been a bit of hard time for E and books.  While I've managed to read everything I could get my hands on (and a few novels not actually gifted to me), the books in E's room have been playing competition to Lego, Star Wars and well, more Lego.

We're getting there slowly but surely and crossover relief arrived yesterday in the form of his first issue of Okido, the Arts and Sciences magazine for children. Londoners will have likely come across the mag before and I'm here to say that it's worth it. What sweet relief from battledroids and storm troopers was the illustrated article (comic book style) about Tim Peake, the space station and sleeping strapped into a bed. Enthusiasm carried through to the craft project and by the time you could say 'time to brush your teeth' we'd built a rocket carrying Yoda, our cat and some Okido characters.

Okido states that the mag is aimed at kids aged 3 to 8. It's immediately engaging and gloriously gender neutral so do give Okido a go!