Book Review

Picture Book Round Up.

A slightly different sort of picture book post today, I’m simply rounding up the picture books I’ve read recently.

A Home for Mr Tipps written and illustrated by Tom Percival – a cute book about a young boy adopting a stray cat. It has lovely illustrations with bold colours which work well with the story.

Daddy Does the Cha Cha Cha is written by David Bedford and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo – a fun story about lots of dads who all have their own signature dance. Not particularly high on plot but the choices of different dances made me smile.

Grandma’s Saturday Soup is written by Sally Fraser and Derek Brazell. Published by Mantra Lingua, the book is available in 29 different dual language editions, I read the English with French version. It’s a lovely story, everything Mimi sees around her reminds of her grandmother and the delicious sounding soup she makes on Saturdays. There’s lots to discuss here, from family to different cultures to the seasons and days of the week.

Here Be Monsters written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene – an exciting pirate adventure with a real sting in its tail. The illustrations are gorgeous and add a lot to the reading experience. The text is rhyming, some work better than others, and lengthy – this would be best suited to slightly older children.

And finally, sticking with the nautical theme, The Sea Tiger is written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull. It’s a touching story about a sea tiger and merboy who are best friends, having lots of adventures together. The story is quite deep and whilst the illustrations are beautiful they’re also very muted, I’m not entirely sure what young readers would make of the book.

Book Review

Book Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle.

FamousInLoveShe fell in love with him in the books – now she has the chance to star opposite him in the film…

Paige doesn’t think she’s particularly special, but after getting the starring role in a massive film adaptation of the bestselling Locked trilogy, the rest of the world would disagree. Now she’s thrown into the spotlight, and into a world of gossip, rumour and deceit. The only people who know what she’s going through are her two male co-stars, and they can’t stand the sight of each other. Paige knows it’s a mistake to fall in love on the set of a movie, but days of on-screen romance and intensity start to change her mind. The question is, can she keep what happens behind the scenes a secret when the world is watching her every move?

This book feels really current and very relevant, it focuses on Paige a young actress who gets the lead role in the latest YA movie adaptation. She’s done lots of acting locally, but never dreams that she’s going to be successful at the open audition looking for an unknown actress.

The book opens with a prologue that’s set at some point in Paige’s future. She’s already a famous actress at this point but she suggests that all is not as it seems. The story then leaps back to just before she gets the role, and then follows her through the filming of the first movie in the trilogy (like most existing YA movie adaptations the fictional story is a trilogy with fantasy elements and two boys vying for the girl’s attention).

Paige narrates the book, this along with the use of the present tense makes the book feel fresh and draws the reader into Paige’s life. Paige struggles with the transition from regular teenager to lead actress in a film that matters so much to so many fans, whilst this is generally well done she does from time to time come across as unnecessarily angsty.

The author works hard to explain to the reader that Paige isn’t your typical teen, she doesn’t read gossip mags and is happiest hiding in her local bookshop reading screenplays. This is necessary so that when she meets Rainer and Jordan, the two male actors she’ll be filming with, that she doesn’t know anything about them, their pasts or the trouble there has been between them.

There is a section in the book where Paige reflects on her favourite film, one with a makeover reveal scene – she talks at length about how much she loved the way the character becomes beautiful. She experienced a similar sort of makeover and is entirely buoyed by how everyone reacts to her – it made me sad that she bought so firmly into the clothes and make up and image thing. I really wished that she could see how false this was – I didn’t feel like it fitted in with what we knew about Paige either.

Like the fictional YA book that is the focus of the movie being filmed, this book has a love triangle. This lacked some subtlety, the tensions between Rainer and Jordan left me thinking they were both lying and manipulating Paige at points in the book. The ending felt very abrupt, lots of things slotting into place in a very short space of time. I think this was meant to reflect the whirlwind nature of the press commitments for promoting a film, but it didn’t translate so well.

I had lots of quibbles with this book but I did enjoy reading it. It’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to return to, and I won’t be racing to read the subsequent books in the series or the novella of the fictional book being made into a film (yes, the author of this has written and released the book that features in this book under the pseudonym of the fictional author – there’s no easy way to write that). I will more than likely read the later books at some point, if only to find out where the prologue of this book fits. This could have been a great book, but sadly it’s execution just falls a little short of its concept.

Famous in Love is published by Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK from 23rd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

PoPB: The Dinosaur Games by David Bedford & Dankerloux and A Day with the Animal Doctors by Sharon Rentta.

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Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

The Dinosaur Games by David Bedford and Dankerloux (illustrator). Macmillan Children’s Books.
TheDinosaurGamesReady, steady, RAAAAAAH! Titus the T-Rex is ready for the Great Dinosaur Games. He may only be young, but he’s a tough lizard king and he’s out to win everything! Or so he thinks . . . He’s not built for hurdles and swimming isn’t easy when you’ve never learnt how. But with a meteor on its way to Earth, everything is set to change. Titus may not win a race, but he might just save one!

I enjoyed this book so much! It has a wonderfully catchy, rhyming text – I started reading it in my head but soon switched to reading it aloud just so I could enjoy the reading experience to its fullest. Titus the T-Rex is a lovely character, he starts the book completely ready to dominate all of the sporting activities in the Great Dinosaur Games. When he discovers that actually he’s not suited to any of them he goes off and sulks in true childish fashion, before getting the opportunity to redeem himself and find his own sporting path.

Dankerloux’s illustrations are bold and appealing, working really well with the text. I really enjoyed how the text is paced throughout the book, a couple of times the final, rhyming, word appears on the following page allowing for prediction (and the satisfaction of predicting the correct word) and the building of anticipation. The page where Titus is throwing his strop is wonderful, there are four pictures showing him engaged in different sulky behaviours – he looked so much like some of the young children I’ve seen sulk!

This is a lovely, fun book that will make an excellent addition to any collection. It’s a lot of fun to read aloud (though thankfully avoids the sort of rhymes that require hours of rehearsal) and children will enjoy listening to it. It also provides some great talkabout opportunities, and will fit well into any sports themed events.

A Day with the Animal Doctors by Sharon Rentta. Alison Green Books.
ADWTADIt’s going to be a busy day for the Animal Doctors.

A snake needs unknotting, a leopard has lost his spots, and a dog has swallowed an alarm clock…

A fabulously funny book for every child who loves playing doctors and nurses.

This book is so cute! Terence is a young tapir, and this book follows him as he spends the day at work with his mum – a doctor at the Animal Hospital. He gets to see all sorts of aspects of hospital work, and finds he’s able to do lots of things to help out (though the tiny mice cleaning the hospital often seem to wish he’d help a little differently). The story has a real gentleness to it, there’s humour throughout though this is quieter than in some picture books. Terence is adorable (though I love baby tapirs so I admit I may be a little biased) – I liked how childlike his helping was.

The illustrations in this book are as gentle as the plot. The colour palette is on the slightly muted side which works beautifully in this book, the the illustrations themselves appear hand drawn which adds to the overall softness. The pages are rich with details, I loved spotting all of the little things – like the cleaner mice who are often to be found mopping or sweeping or the hen going around collecting eggs.

This cute book would be a lovely way to discuss hospitals with a young child, the language used is simple and to the point. I loved the book and will look out for more by the author.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

Book Review: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty.

FeelingSorryLife is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the “Joy of the Envelope,” a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else. But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter….

A No. 1 bestseller in Australia, this fabulous debut is a funny, touching, revealing story written entirely in the form of letters, messages, postcards-and bizarre missives from imaginary organizations like The Cold Hard Truth Association. Feeling Sorry for Celia captures, with rare acuity, female friendship and the bonding and parting that occurs as we grow. Jaclyn Moriarty’s hilariously candid novel shows that the roller coaster ride of being a teenager is every bit as fun as we remember-and every bit as harrowing.

Contemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’m not sure what I want to read. Epistolary fiction is another of my great loves, so this book sounded like it would suit my reading tastes very well when I first heard about it.

The story is recounted solely through written communications, some are between real people – Elizabeth and her mother communicate frequently by notes left for one another, whereas some are from imaginary committees or groups either berating or praising Elizabeth for the way she’s living her life. This structure works well to tell the story, there’s always a risk with epistolary fiction that it can leave the reader feeling a little short changed – letters can sometimes only scratch the very surface of a story resulting in a more shallow read. This book completely avoids that, I think the reasons for this are two fold. The first is the imaginary organisations’ letters – Elizabeth’s personality and feelings about herself and her identity become increasingly clear through these letters, I felt that I really got to understand her through them. The second is the letters Elizabeth and her new penfriend Christina share. The fact they are complete strangers means that they are incredibly honest in their letters to one another which gives a surprising depth to their relationship.

Elizabeth reminded me so much of myself as a teen, and if I’m completely honest as a younger adult too. There is much discussion about with it means to be a true teenager, I know I spent all of my teenage years feeling somewhat deficient as the things that motivated and interested me were very different to most of my peers. I think this would have been a really important book to me as a teen, seeing someone expressing the same sorts of thoughts and feelings would have been a real comfort. I’m sure there are so many teens out there who feel this way, I hope they find this book and enjoy being able to see themselves within its pages.

Christina’s story is also one that I found myself very invested in, and appreciated the deft way it was handled. During the book Christina experiences questions about her relationship, about sex and intimacy. I wasn’t expecting this book to deal with any such issues and the fact it did and did so very well added a lot to the book. The open nature of her letter writing to Elizabeth worked really well for this.

This book is funny, and sweet, and smart all at the same time. It feels very realistic and the various characters jump off the page. It’s the first in a set of books all set within the high schools attended by Elizabeth and Christina, I thoroughly enjoyed this one so have every intention of reading the rest. I am really grateful to lovely author Kaz Mahoney who told me about this author, she’s definitely a new favourite!

Feeling Sorry for Celia is published by Macmillan Children’s Books. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

PoP: Belle & Boo and the Yummy Scrummy Day by Mandy Sutcliffe and Cats Ahoy! by Peter Bently & Jim Field.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Belle & Boo and the Yummy Scrummy Day by Mandy Sutcliffe (text by Gillian Shields). Orchard Books.
BelleBooIt’s time to eat, but how can Belle convince Boo that fruit and vegetables are as tasty as cake?

Enter the charming world of Belle and Boo, a bob-haired little girl and her adorable bunny friend. Follow the adventures of this curious pair as they enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood, drawing us into a magical world of imagination and discovery.

Boo is hungry, but he only wants to eat cake. That is until Belle finds a clever way to convince him that fruit and vegetables are just as tasty, and can be a lot more fun. And because this is Belle and Boo, there is an adventure or two along the way.

This delightful tale with vintage-inspired illustrations is perfect for fans of Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh and Milly-Molly-Mandy.

I’ve known of the Belle & Boo books for a while, but they’re always out on loan from my local library so when I spotted this one I grabbed it before anyone else could. The big draw of these books for me is the gorgeous illustrations. They’re described as vintage-inspired which is pretty accurate, I think I might add timeless too. The illustrations are very attractive, their somewhat muted colour palette adds a warmth to the book.

The story itself is a simple one. Boo (the rabbit) is a big fan of cake and doesn’t want to eat other things for a wonderful variety of reasons (I loved the description of the boiled egg as “too eggy” – this is one I’ve heard more than once from people). Belle encourages him to help to pick some tasty fruit and vegetables and slowly brings him round to the idea of eating them. The solution is a simple but entertaining one, I think it’ll please children and adults alike.

My only slight disappointment with this book came from the recipe print included at the end of the book. The whole point of the story is that Belle’s trying to encourage Boo to try foods that aren’t cake or cookies, she makes soup and baked apples. The recipe isn’t for either of these though, it’s for spiced biscuits – to me this doesn’t fit. I’m sure the biscuits are lovely, and the recipe card is illustrated beautifully but it isn’t what I was hoping for.

Cats Ahoy by Peter Bently & Jim Field (illustrator). Macmillan Children’s Books.
CatsAhoyWhen Alfonso the cat hears there’s a boat coming into harbour carrying its largest ever catch, he hatches a plan. It’s brave! It’s bold! And it involves a ghost pirate ship, some rather gullible fishermen, and cats … LOTS of cats. With an infectious rhyming text and laugh-out-loud illustrations, this book is set to become a firm favourite for fans of life on the high seas.

Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2011: a swashbuckling tale of pirate plunder, derring do and a huge haul of haddock!

This is a really fun read, it is a rhyming text that lends itself brilliantly to reading aloud. The blurb above is a pretty comprehensive account of the story held within the book, I don’t want to add any more for fear of spoiling the reading experience. I loved the choice of cats for pirates, it makes a lot of sense and allows for some lovely word play towards the end of the book.

I loved the illustrations, they’re richly coloured and contain so many clever little details. I liked the variety of page layouts within the book, particularly one double spread that is divided into 4 vertical sections. The cats themselves are a wonderful bunch, lots of different shapes and sizes and colours, I’m sure readers who own a cat will be able to spy one the looks similar to their cat.

Having looked at the author’s website I see he wrote King Jack and the Dragon, a picture book very different to this one that I absolutely loved when I read it. Clearly this an author whose style I enjoy a lot, expect to see more of his books appearing in these posts!

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

PoP: Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner and The Frank Show by David Mackintosh.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan Children’s Books.
SolomonCrocodileIn his swampy home, Solomon is looking for fun but nobody wants to play. The dragonflies tell him to buzz off, the storks get in a flap, and the hippo is downright huffy. But then somebody else starts making a ruckus… and for once it is NOT Solomon. Could it be the perfect pal for a lonely croc? Matching vibrant art with rollicking words, Scottish artist Catherine Rayner has created a funny, reassuring story about a rambunctious youngster who chases off the friends he’s trying to make.

I was drawn to this book by the sticker attached to the front cover announcing it was by the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. Within a couple of pages of the book I understood why the creator had won it for her earlier book Harris Finds his Feet – her style is very attractive and adds lots to the story. I liked the illustrations of Solomon the crocodile in particular, his expressions were superb.

The story itself left me a little underwhelmed. It all starts really well with Solomon trying to wind up different animals and being sent away. Rather than him learning a better way to try and play with the other animals he finds a partner and crime, the two of them work together to carry on the efforts to wind the other animals up. Whilst I’m sure the mischief making element of this will appeal to the young listener (and the older listener too if they’re anything like me) I do think some children could get a little confused by the message of the book.

The Frank Show by David Mackintosh. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
TheFrankShowThis hilarious, offbeat picture book from the creator of Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School reveals that there is more to the older generation than meets the eye. Grandpa Frank doesn’t have any interesting hobbies, unless you count complaining about how everything was better in the old days. He doesn’t speak Italian like Paolo’s mom, or play the drums like Tom’s uncle. He’s just a grandpa. So when the young narrator of this story is forced to bring Frank to school for show-and-tell, he’s sure it’s going to be a disaster. But Frank has a trick—make that a tattoo—up his sleeve! And a story to go with it. After all, the longer you’ve been around, the more time you’ve had for wild adventures.

This is a really lovely book that has an important message to share but does so in a fun, light hearted manner. Much of the book is spent with the narrator talking about all the reasons Grandpa Frank is not a good subject for the upcoming Show and Tell – he’s old, he doesn’t like new things, and everyone else’s relative is just a better choice. The inevitable reveal that Grandpa Frank is not as boring as the narrator believes is done really well, there’s a strong visual clue first of all (I want to read this book with a group of children so I can talk about this with them afterwards) and then of course it’s spelt out in the story.

One thing I loved was that in spite of the narrator focusing on all the reasons why Grandpa Frank is an uninteresting subject there is a lovely moment when he jumps to Frank’s defence – it’s one thing for him to be aware of Grandpa Frank not being very interesting but it’s a whole different matter for someone else to suggest it. This made me smile, we can all be like this about the people or things we love and I really liked its inclusion in the story.

I like the art style a lot, every page has lots of detail to absorb but they never feel cluttered or overly busy. There are two double page spreads with lots of pictures of different characters doing different things – I really enjoyed poring over them and I’m sure young readers will too.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [3].

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.

I Do Not Eat the Colour Green by Lynne Rickards and Margaret Chamberlain. Hodder & Stoughton.
I really loved this book. It’s a fun story about a girl who refuses to eat anything green – even green sweets! I felt able to identify to a certain extent with this, though green sweets are generally my favourite, and I know other people who refuse to eat a certain colour – I’m sure parents of fussy eaters will definitely enjoy the humour (and message) in this book. The book is written in rhyme which gives it a really nice rhythm – definitely a great book for reading aloud.

Again! by Emily Gravett. MacMillan Children’s Books.
This is another funny book, it made me giggle all the way through. Again I think a lot of parents will identify with the parent dragon having to read and re-read the book to their demanding child. The book has an interesting structure, the story isn’t obvious which I liked. I loved the illustrations, the dragons are really very nice.

Lulu and the Best Cake Ever! by Emma Chichester Clark. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
This is a tale from Wagtail Town, an ongoing series, there is quick introduction to characters at the beginning which makes it easy for new readers or for existing readers to refamiliarise themselves with the characters. It is a nice story about it being okay not being the best / winner and highlights that everyone has their own things that they’re good at. The illustrations are lovely, there’s lots to explore – speech bubbles, labels etc which make it ideal for re-reading.