Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [8]

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Orchard Books.
An interesting book to kick off this selection of picture book mini reviews, The Dark grabbed my attention at the library based entirely on it’s dark yet inviting cover. The story is about Laszlo, a boy who is afraid of the dark, and how he conquers this fear. The story has an odd quality, as you would expect from Lemony Snicket, and I think it’s probably one that will split opinion. I personally really liked it, and Klassen’s illustrations are absolutely spot on to support and extend the story. It is a generally dark coloured book so the contrast of the patches of light works superbly. An unusual treat of a book.

The Tear Thief by Carol Ann Duffy and Nicoletta Ceccoli. Barefoot Books.
This book is absolutely beautiful, both in story terms and illustration terms. Carol Ann Duffy’s story of a secret being that visits in the hour between supper and bedtime, stealing tears from upset children is gorgeous. It has a mild moral element, discussing how different types of tears (for instance tears of anger, tears of laughter, tears of boredom) differ in value to the Tear Thief, but this is subtle and may easily be overlooked. I thought the reason for the Tear Thief’s existence and work was lovely, I think I may adopt it as my personal thinking! The illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli are as lovely as the story, they’re soft and gentle and beautifully coloured. I haven’t read any books illustrated by her before but she’s now an illustrator I will actively be looking out for.

Ping! By Chae Strathie and Marion Lindsay. Scholastic.
Ping! is a lovely, simple story about a purple Thing called Ping who befriends a little girl called Evie. It has a predictable, rhyming structure perfect for reading aloud (and would need a little practice beforehand as it turns out there are many different ways you can say the word Ping!) and is a solid feel good book. The illustrations are colourful and have a youthful quality to them that works perfectly with the text. There’s a nice mixture of single page and double page illustrations along with some pages with a few illustrations showing Ping’s movement – I really liked this about the book. I get the feeling this is the sort of book that would easily become a dearly loved and often requested read, and I think it’s cute enough that most adults will happily oblige.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [7].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.


Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton. Nosy Crow.
This is the story of two not very good thieves, who try to pull off a robbery but end up learning a lesson. It’s written in rhyme and is most enjoyable to read aloud. The story does have a moral but it’s nicely subtle, this is a fun book about two rubbish robbers first and foremost. The illustrations are colourful and detailed, I liked them very much – the double spread where Shifty and Sam are drawing their plans up was a particular favourite.

Small Knight and George and the Royal Chocolate Cake by Ronda Armitage and Arthur Robins. Orchard Books.
This is one of a series of picture books featuring Small Knight and George. When King Wilfred the Wonderful announces that he and the Queen are coming to visit everyone gets busy preparing for the big party. Small Knight and George have to go and rescue the very special chocolate cake from a band of brigands who have stolen it. The story is quite simple, and for me felt like it was lacking something. I’m sure however that young readers will enjoy it regardless. I loved the illustrations, there are very few straight lines, they’re all at least a little wobbly which seems to add a warmth to them. I enjoyed lots of the little details in them, and think children would appreciate these too.

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere. Puffin.

I absolutely loved this! It’s fun and clever, and has a nice sense of peril that young readers will love. We follow the monster as he gets closer and closer to the reader, and hungrier and hungrier. The peril grows and is then resolved in a surprisingly delightful manner. The descriptions are playful and inventive with lots of wonderful phrases – I grinned all the way through. The illustrations are similarly playful and have a childish charm to them. This is the first of Ed Vere’s books that I’ve read, I shall definitely be hunting out the rest now.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [6].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.

Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure by Thomas and Helen Docherty. Templar.
I thought this was a nice story but it does need the reader to really suspend their disbelief. I’m sure children won’t find this an issue, but I struggled a little with it. This combined with the fact that the driving factor for the story was the featured child taking an ice lolly from a stranger meant I didn’t really enjoy reading it, and would be reluctant to have it in my own collection (it would be just my luck that I’d end up having to read it time and time again). The illustrations in the book are very colourful and engaging though at times they’re incredibly busy – I found there was too much on them to take in.

Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills. Boxer Books.
I was drawn to this book by the name, Duck, Duck, Goose is a very popular game with my Beaver Scout colony. The book is a lovely story about friendship – Duck and Goose are best friends and do everything together but then Duck meets Thistle Duck and is wowed by her so brings her along to play too. I thought this was a really nice exploration of friendship, it would provide lots of talking opportunities. The illustrations are lovely and I liked the variation of font size and style to show volume and thoughts etc. Since reading this book I’ve discovered that there is a whole series of books featuring Duck and Goose so I’m going to be on the lookout for others next time I visit the library.

Shoe Baby by Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar. Walker Books.
This is a really fun rhyming story, with a little bit of magic sprinkled through it. We follow the baby on his adventures, meeting new people and greeting them all “how do you do?”. There’s a warmth and predictability to the book that will make it a firm favourite with many children, and I think its charm will mean adults won’t mind the repeated readings I’m sure it’d get. The art is, like all of Polly Dunbar’s work, truly beautiful – bright and colourful with wonderful use of patterns and textures.

Book Review

Book Review – The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones by Jamie Courtier and Vicky Kimm.

Tooki An exquisitely illustrated and enchanting adventure story that will capture the heart and the imagination and show us that nothing is what it seems and anything is possible.

When Tooki loses his way in a snowstorm, he is cold and afraid and all alone; but in this moment of great danger, Tooki’s fortunes are about to change for there is an unexpected kind of magic waiting just where he least expects to find it.

I was completely taken by the synopsis of this book, it sounded like it would be a lovely read. I’d only previously read one graphic novel aimed at the 7+ age group before I picked up this book so I was curious to see how it would work.

The book is lovely, and warm, and lots of fun. It tells the story of the Tufties, at the beginning of the book they are preparing for the winter and their annual migration from their stone circle – they complete their harvest, and as the seasons begin to change far too rapidly they make a hurried departure for their winter home in the lowlands. Tooki, our hero, becomes separated from the rest of the Tufties and discovers some of the secrets of the stone circle.

The story is very simple, yet very clever – it covers quite a lot of ground in a very accessible manner. It would give plenty of opportunities for discussion, both in terms of how individuals relate to one another and in broader concepts too. There’s a great sense of adventure to the book, I liked how the line was clearly drawn for what was okay and what wasn’t – there are moments of peril and great emotion, but these are kept in check to make it entirely suitably for the young intended audience. Tooki and Obo (another key character) are both really engaging, I found that I warmed to them instantly and wanted to know more about them and their lives.

The art in the book is wonderful. The first double spread of the book introduces all of the Tufties – 20 in all, I loved how individual each one of them was. This was mirrored by the closing pages which contain a similar roll call for the Shuffleys, another tribe who feature heavily in the book, this time there are 23 characters, and again all very individual. The colours used really help to give the sense of the weather, and the season – I particularly found I began to feel cold when I was reading the section of the book set in a rather fierce snow storm! There’s plenty to take in from the illustrations, I read the book twice and found I spotted all sorts of different things on my second read through!

The book closes with the suggestion there may be further stories to come, I really hope this is the case – I want more adventures from Tooki and Obo!

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Tomorrow I will be hosting a fantastic two part interview with Jamie and Vicky all about this book. Please do drop by to hear all about the book and how it came to be – the answers are fascinating!

The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones will be published by Walker Books on 5th September 2013. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book to review all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [5].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George. Pan Macmillan.
This is such a lovely picture book, it has a strong message but puts it across in a humorous manner rather than feeling preachy. Freddie makes wishes for the fairy to grant, but the fairy has a hearing impairment and he doesn’t follow the rules she’s given him for speaking clearly to her – this means his wishes are misheard and he gets lots of wrong things. The wrong things he receives are always funny, I loved the way that whilst the book is written in rhyme which encourages you to guess what the wrong thing will be you don’t always guess right – a couple of the ones I’d failed to predict really made me giggle. The illustrations are lovely, there’s so much life in them.

Oscar’s Half Birthday by Bob Graham. Walker Books.
This book is gorgeous. It’s a really nice wordy story, one that would be great to read aloud. The book tells the story of a family celebrating their baby’s half birthday – there’s a picnic in the park complete with a cake with half a candle and everyone joining together to sing Happy Birthday. The characters are lovely, Oscar’s big sister Millie is wonderful. I particularly loved the illustrations – the way the family look and dress is different to how families are often portrayed in picture books, I think increasing diversity in picture books can only be a good thing and I hope to see more and more like this one.

Where is Fred? By Edward Hardy and Ali Pye. Egmont Books.
This book is so much fun! It is the story of Gerald, a crow, chasing Fred, a fluffy white caterpillar, who is very good at hiding. It’s a lovely take on the hide and seek structure of picture book, I know I delighted in spotting where Fred was hiding each time so I’m sure young children will really love this book. There’s lots of humour in the book, and the ending is lovely. I can see that this would be an enjoyable read aloud book, but I think it would be even better read one-to-one with a child so they really get the full experience of finding Fred each time.

Book Review

Recent Reads.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

TwelveMinutesTwelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. Nosy Crow.
Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old heiress of the best selling magazine, The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain, even if no one knows she’s the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined…

This is a really good, atmospheric thriller aimed at the 10+ market. I found that I was drawn into the story really quickly, it’s written in such a way that you find yourself completely swept up by it. The Victorian setting, complete with gaslights and a public taste for ghost stories, works so well and really adds to the reading experience.

I really loved Penny, the lead character. She’s brilliant and plucky, and really smart. I found myself really rooting for her. The villains are well thought out, they could easily have felt like tired, pantomime characters but they’re written carefully to avoid this.

The book whips along really well, there’s no filler – everything contributes to the plot. I was a little unsure when it looked like everything was getting resolved partway through the book but delighted in the way the plot continued to develop. A really enjoyable read.

BeautifulLieA Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. Bloomsbury UK.
An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition.

The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition – news that he knows will break his father’s heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth…

Whilst on the surface this is a historical novel about the time of Partition, it’s really about friendship and family, and about love. The historical aspect of the book is done well, the descriptions used really bring this unfamiliar place and time to life for the reader, but it is the characters and their relationships that are the truly wonderful aspect of this book.

The central friendship between Bilal and his three friends is warm and lovely, you get a real sense of the love between them. The reader sees the act of Partition through their eyes, and you can feel the growing helplessness they feel – their lives are irrevocably changed by this fight between grown ups, however much they wish they weren’t.

Similarly you really feel for Bilal and his mission to keep the news of Partition from his father. It is so thought provoking, I found myself wondering whether his actions were right and whether I would have done the same in his situation – I think this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, there is so much to think about and discuss.

LilysShimmeringSpellLily’s Shimmering Spell (Stargirl Academy #1) by Vivian French. Walker Books.
Welcome to Stargirl Academy, the magical school in the clouds! Previously a rather old-fashioned establishment, it has been reopened by its head teacher to train children to be modern day fairy godmothers. The girls learn lots of spells – shimmering, starry, shining, sparkling, glittering and twinkling ones – which they use to fix problems and help people in trouble. For every successful mission they gain a star, and once they have six stars they will be fully qualified Stargirls!

I must begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. I usually avoid books that appear to be overtly pink and princessy, but lovely Hannah at Walker made such a great pitch for this book that I knew I had to give it a chance rather than pre-judging it. And I’m really glad I did.

This is a lovely book, I adored Lily, the character this first book focuses on, from the very beginning and really cared about what happened to her. She lives with her great aunt, a dreadful woman who treats her so badly, I spent the whole book wishing for her to get her comeuppance!

The Stargirl Academy itself seems like a really lovely place, I really liked the staff members that we meet in the first book – especially Fairy Mary McBee. The ethos I love too – the focus is on using the spells they learn to help other people, I think this adds a lot to the overall warmth of the book.

I think this series of books will be really popular, I know I’m a complete convert and will most definitely be reading the other five in the series – I need to know how the girls earn the rest of their stars!

My copy of Lily’s Shimmering Spell was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [4].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Walker Books.
I’ve been aware of Mo Willems and the Pigeon for a long time, but it’s usually impossible to find any of Willems’ books in my local library so I hadn’t read any of them. When I saw this one I grabbed it before anyone else could spot it, and immediately sat down to read it.

This book really deserves all of the love and praise it gets. It’s so funny, I know I got completely drawn into the book and found myself answering the pigeon’s repeated requests – I’m sure reading this with a young child is absolutely wonderful. I loved the illustrations, they’re eye catching in their simplicity and work perfectly to support the text. I’m a definite Mo Willems convert and shall be adding his books to my own collection.

Dear Vampa by Ross Collins. Hodder Children’s Books.
This picture book is about a family of vampires living in a normal neighbourhood and struggling to cope with the new neighbours who are normal and live their lives in a completely opposite manner to the vampires. The story is told through letters Bram the young vampire is sending to his grandfather. I adored this book, it made me laugh lots and has a fab twist at the end, I didn’t see it coming and was thrilled by it.

The book has lovely illustrations, they help to reinforce the contrast between the two families – Bram’s family are drawn in black and white line drawings whilst the Wolfson family are in full, sunny colour. This is definitely going on my favourite picture book shelf.

The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan. Red Fox.
I admit it, I picked this book up purely based on the title! I couldn’t resist at all. The book explains how the Queen has special knickers for all sorts of occasions, and describes the emergency that occurs when her special knicker chest goes missing.

This is a very inventive book, there are lots of different sorts of knickers with plenty of humour attached to the designs. I particularly loved the way the paintings in the Queen’s chambers reflected what was going on – their looks of shock when the knicker chest disappeared made me laugh out loud. This is such a fun book, I know kids will love it (and more than likely the adults reading it too). I know Nicholas Allan has recently published The Royal Nappy: A Royal Baby Book, I’m looking forward to reading that one too.