Review: Twelve Days of Kindness by Cori Brooke

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This boldly colourful picture book is perfect for sharing with Early Years and Key Stage 1 children at any time, but its arrival is particularly well-timed during anti-bullying week. Written by Cori Brooke and illustrated by Fiona Burrows it demonstrates how one little girl’s careful observation, kindness and determination can make a huge difference to the happiness of another.

On the first page we are introduced to Nabila, the new girl at school, as she stands alone at playtime surrounded by small groups of children who are quite obviously whispering and giggling about her. Only one girl, Holly, stands apart from the others, looking sad and uncomfortable at the behaviour of her peers. She wonders if Nabila is lonely and devises a 12-day training plan, helped by the school football coach. Can her scheme to promote acts of kindness bring the football team together and integrate Nabila into the friendship group?

This inspiring and hopeful book, with its vibrant and expressive illustrations, makes a glorious addition to a school library or Key Stage 1 classroom as children will recognise situations that occur in the playground reflected in the book. The messages of welcome for a newly arrived pupil and advancement of teamwork to the benefit of everyone are great for starting conversations with young children. The level of detail in the pictures will be enjoyed each time the book is re-read.

 

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Caveman Next Door by Tom Tinn-Disbury

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This quirky and original story is the debut book as both author and illustrator for Tom Tinn-Disbury who has previously illustrated children’s books written by others.

A warmly humorous tale, it recounts the difficulties of fitting into the modern world for Ogg, the caveman next door. Fortunately for Ogg he has a willing helper and friend in Penny, who does all she can to help the discombobulated Ogg to adapt to his new surroundings. It is a classic “what if” book which taps in perfectly to the imaginative thoughts of an audience of 3 to 6 year-olds, highlighting exactly the sort of differences that young children seem to notice, for example Ogg doesn’t have TV or wear socks! My favourite part of the book is when Penny decides to commence her mission to help Ogg at the library “it was her favourite place”. Unfortunately the librarian gets very annoyed when Ogg starts eating the books, the illustration of the librarian hopping with annoyance made me snort with laughter (I must try to get a print)!

Ogg s misadventures continue in hilarious style as he travels around the town with Penny, but the next day Penny discovers Ogg s talent for illustration, when she sees his cave paintings. She takes him into school as her “show-and-tell” which turns out to the benefit of everyone.

A funny and engaging book which explores themes of kindness, patience and taking the time to discover someone’s hidden talent. It is a beautifully produced hardback with an attractive font and colourful, quirky illustrations with plenty of detail for young readers to explore. Highly recommended for ages 3-6. 

 

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Magical Kingdom of Birds The Snow Goose byAnne Booth

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This is a wonderfully gentle story, perfect for children from the age of six who love magical, fairy adventures and have an interest in the natural world.

Firstly, the book itself is irresistible with its seasonably scarlet cover featuring the titular snow goose, embellished with just the right amount of glitter to appeal to its intended readership. The 117 pages are beautifully illustrated by Rosie Butcher, which together with the font size make this book ideal for newly confident readers.

The story begins with Maya enjoying the company of her big sister Lauren, who has newly arrived home from university. They are preparing for Christmas, enjoying building a snow goose in the fresh snowfall and looking forward to a visit from two of Lauren’s university friends. When they go inside to warm up, Maya notices that the “Magical Kingdom of Birds” her special colouring book  is open in her bedroom, with a picture of a snow goose waiting to be coloured.

Only Maya is aware that this book, inherited from her mother, transports her to the Magical Kingdom of Birds as she colours the pictures. Once there she helps Princess Willow and a talking magpie named Patch to foil the wicked plans of Willow’s uncle, Lord Astor. This time Maya finds herself sitting beside a lake, in a wintry landscape, which is covered with magnificent white and blue geese. Princess Willow appears and explains to Maya that the geese are waiting for the Silver Snow Goose to arrive, bringing the first snows of winter, and then leading the Winter Festival before guiding the flock in their migration south. However, it appears that Lord Astor has kidnapped the Silver Snow Goose and it will take a great act of bravery to rescue him and ensure that the noisy gaggle of geese are safely lead to their winter feeding grounds.

As the adventure unfolds, the courage and teamwork of the geese is explored and an incredible amount of knowledge about these awesome birds is provided quite seamlessly as a natural part of the story. The loyalty and community spirit of the birds is inspirational to Maya and the lesson “to find your own way and listen to your heart” is presented in a non-preachy way. I loved the fact that Maya’s physical disability does not prevent her showing courage and contributing her skills and ingenuity to the rescue mission.

At the end of the book there is a factual section presenting a great amount of interesting information about snow geese; this is followed by an introductory chapter to another Magical Kingdom of Birds adventure, The Silent Songbirds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story and highly recommend it to readers of 6+.

 

With thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review: Seek and Find Cities by Kate Baker

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This colourful, informative book is perfect for opening up the world to primary school-aged children. The “blurb” describes it as “The ultimate urban treasure hunt” which is an excellent description. Cat and her friend Bird, set off on a whistle stop tour of celebrations, sights and marketplaces around the world, with each full-colour double-page spread featuring a different city. Starting with an ice-rink in a Toronto city square, the variety in this book includes Carnival in Rio de Janeiro; a Running Festival in Sydney; The Day of the Dead in Mexico City; and marketplaces in Marrakesh, Nairobi and Moscow. 

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As you visit each scene there is a list of objects to spot on the busy, bright, boldly illustrated pages, which encourages careful observation from the reader. This will appeal to fans of “Where’s Wally” with the added appeal in this book of a short, factual description of each object. I shared this book with a Key Stage 1 child during library time and he was utterly engrossed throughout a 20 minute session and asked to borrow it from the library immediately. It was very clear that the task of seeking the objects was totally engaging. At the end of the book there are pages of additional facts on flags, clothes, animals, landmarks, food and souvenirs from the featured countries. A perfectly balanced combination of child-friendly text from Kate Baker and visually arresting illustrations by Sandra de la Prada make this an excellent addition to any school or home library.

Thank you to Toppsta and Lonely Planet Kids for my copy of this super book, which is already a big hit in the school library! 

 

Review: Eco Rangers by Candice Lemon-Scott

 

Eco Rangers is a new adventure series with an ecological theme, aimed at the MG market, written by Australian author Candice Lemon-Scott.

Book 1: Eco Rangers Pelican in Peril

12-year-old Ebony and her best friend Jay live next door to each other in a small seaside town – and yes, there is a map at the start of the book, which always scores brownie points from me! On an everyday visit down to the beach Ebony spots a “black, feathered mound” at the base of the pontoon, closer inspection reveals a pelican covered in smelly, black gloop. The children try to help the pelican out of the water, with comically wet consequences for Jay, and eventually Ebony manages to gain the confidence of the distressed bird sufficiently to lift it into the milk crate on the back of Jay’s bike.

After pedalling to the conservation centre the children take the pelican, named Poseidon by Ebony, to the vets in the Wildlife Hospital (Dr Battacharjee – known as Dr Bat, and Dr Tan). This earns them the sobriquet “Eco Rangers” and starts their adventure as Ebony decides to investigate whether the oil spill from a cruise ship in the harbour is accidental or more sinister. Are the slimy manager of the cruise ship and his crew really taking their oil waste to the correct disposal facility? It is up to the intrepid Eco Rangers to find out!

This is a fantastic book for newly confident readers to read alone, a perfect length at 102 pages of easily-readable font, alternatively it would make an excellent bedtime story. The action is fast-paced, driven along in short chapters, and contains just the right degree of peril for an audience aged 6+. The friendship between Ebony and Jay is utterly believable; Ebony’s determination and bravery is matched by Jay’s loyalty to his best friend and his endearing tendency to think about food at every opportunity. The ecological message that underlies the story shines through the entertaining plot and is a great start to a discussion of these issues with a young child.

Book 2: Eco Rangers Microbat Mayhem

The second book in the Eco Rangers series starts with Ebony and Jay enjoying their reward, from the Wildlife Hospital staff, of a free pass to Super World theme park. However, it doesn’t take long before they are pulled into another ecological investigation and adventure after discovering two baby microbats abandoned on the grass outside the derelict Wild Jungle Ride which is due for demolition.

In this adventure, Jay and Ebony are up against a devious and greedy theme park manager in their fight to save the microbat colony. The manager of the theme park, Ms Pitts, does not take kindly to Dr Bat and Dr Tan telling her that she will have to delay demolition while the bat colony is rescued and re-homed. She “doesn’t look like someone who loved rides, or kids.” It soon transpires that she doesn’t like protected wildlife species either, especially if their roosting site might delay her plans to cash in on the summer tourist season with a huge new roller coaster ride! Will Ebony and Jay be able to foil her machinations and save the colony before the bulldozers roll in? Read this exciting adventure to find out!

Again, this is a perfect book for Key Stage 1 readers who are ready to progress to early chapter books. It is printed in a thoughtful size for small hands and I am particularly impressed that it has been published on slightly buff-coloured paper which is especially helpful for children with certain reading difficulties.

 

I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me review copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

For children who enjoy the combination of adventure with an ecological theme demonstrated by the Eco Rangers stories, I highly recommend, as next steps, the Kat Wolfe Investigates series (for age 8+) and the Carl Hiaasen children’s books, Hoot, Flush, Scat and Squirm (for 10/11+)

 

 

Review: The Nature Girls by Aki

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I picked up this book as the cover transported me back to one of my favourite childhood series, the Madeline books, with their iconic description of “little girls in two straight lines.” This time the girls are dressed in pith helmets and yellow safari suits and they travel further afield, but the book has exactly the same warmth and feel-good factor.

The Nature Girls tell the tale of their explorations in rhyming sentences, as they leave their school building with rucksacks packed ready for their adventures. Starting on a tropical beach they dive beneath the ocean to meet a pod of dolphins and numerous fish. Onward into the jungle they trek to look at birds, followed by expeditions to the desert, the savannah, the Arctic and finally a great forest.

Every page is illustrated in a bright, bold style, with only two rhyming sentences which are printed with imaginative font effects. The writer and illustrator Aki has included a wealth of detail in the illustrations which will reward repeated viewing. The final pages explain, in simple and straightforward terms, the biomes featured throughout the book.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and librarians to share with pre-school and Key Stage 1 children. The sixteen Nature Girls will inspire an early interest in the natural world and all of its diversity. I would have loved to read this to my own children had it been available when they were little!

 

STEM Picture Books with Websites

Recently I have received a number of stunning picture books which are accompanied by interactive websites, I will review two of them in this post.

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Firstly, Engibear’s Dream by Andrew King, illustrated by Benjamin Johnston.

A fabulous rhyming story designed to get primary school aged children interested in STEM. Engibear needs to make time to pursue his work and his dreams, and is determined to build a robot to take on some of his workload. However, construction does not go entirely to his beautifully-drawn plans and he finds that he has to learn from mistakes and iterate many times to build his robot.

The astonishing technical detail in the illustrations by Benjamin Johnston will have young engineers poring over the blueprints, and the logical presentation of the improvements presents a great model for progression from initial idea to finished product, in any field. 

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The rewards of persistence are clear at the end of the book, which is a great example to children to persevere with their dreams. The writer and illustrator have engineered a wonderful book with a perfect mix of colourful and technical drawings, humour, a lovable protagonist and a tool-box-full of educational content to excite children about the marvels of STEM.

There is an accompanying website, with construction simulations and other games here: www.engibears.com

 

My second book for this post is Goodnight Starry written by D’Arcy Lewis and illustrated by Andrew McIntosh. 

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A glossy, paperback, bedtime story which introduces young readers to the wonder of the planets and stars. The text has rhyme and rhythm and the same soothing quality for bedtime as such classics as Goodnight Moon. In this lovely, gentle storybook, published in the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, the reader wishes each of the planets in our solar system goodnight. The illustrations by Andrew McIntosh are in a blue and yellow palette, with imaginative and charming representations of the planets accompanied by an interesting fact about each one. An excellent introduction to our closest celestial neighbours for very young children. IMG_2877

The team who created this book have put together a website which you can find here www.goodnightstarry.com The resources and links here have enough fascinating and educational content to be used throughout primary school as an excellent teaching resource.

I am most grateful to the team at Little Steps Publishing for sending me review copies of these delightful, educational books.

Fabulous First Books

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I have recently been very grateful to receive a selection of fabulous first books published by Catch a Star, an imprint of New Frontier Publishing. All of the following books are printed on glossy, thick, quality card, making them sufficiently robust to share again and again with young children. They are 16.5cm squares, an excellent size for toddler hands to grip.

The Little White Fish series, written and illustrated by Guido van Genechten follows the adventures of a very cute little fish whilst introducing young children to colours, comparative language and prepositions, IMG_2783 2

The first book Little White Fish opens with our small marine hero crying because he has lost his mummy. On each subsequent page he meets an ocean creature which is named and described by colour; in a nice scientific touch they appear in the order of the colour spectrum, until at last he finds his rainbow-hued mummy. 

 

Little White Fish Has a Party presents comparative vocabulary (big/small, long/short, sad/happy etc) as we are introduced to all of the party guests.  Finally Little White Fish is So Happy introduces prepositions as the little fish bids his friends goodbye and describes where they are positioned. All three books share strikingly colour-block illustrations, with simple, clear outlines perfect for young children alongside simple, repetitive language. IMG_2784

The Can You Find? Series, illustrated by Nancy Bevington are a gorgeous introduction to animals and objects: At the Beach, In the Forest, On the Farm and Under the Ocean.  The illustrations are exquisite – detailed enough to encourage even the youngest reader to lingerIMG_2779IMG_2780 and enjoy, with all of the creatures possessing cute, googly eyes which make them hugely appealing and friendly-looking. I am not an expert in fonts, but these books have been printed with a clear, handwriting-style font, which to my eye looks like sassoon, perfect for the target audience.

It appears to me that great care has been taken with the production of these books, ensuring that they will be wonderful for sharing with very young children. The simple, repetitive language, rhythm and beautifully realised illustrations being perfect for an early introduction into the pleasure of shared books. In my school I can also see these titles being extremely useful as an EAL resource, especially in Reception class. Where, again, the simple text and bright clear illustrations will be perfect for vocabulary acquisition 

 

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for gifting me this collection in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison

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Kitty is an energetic, graceful and adventurous girl. She wishes more than anything to be a superhero like her mum – but there is a slight problem. Kitty is afraid of the dark! While her mum dresses in her black cat superhero outfit each night and uses her abilities to see in the dark, sense danger, climb walls and balance perfectly on rooftops, Kitty wants to feel safe and secure, snuggled up in her bed.

Then, one night a cat called Figaro arrives at her bedroom window, searching for her mother, to help with an emergency in the old clock tower. Amazed to find that she can communicate with a cat and not wishing to disappoint him, Kitty remembers her mother’s words:

Don’t let fear hold you back. You’re braver than you think!”

and takes a leap in the dark!

This story, the first in the Kitty series, is an utter delight and a perfect book for emerging readers. The striking cover design (by Jenny Lovlie) in black, orange and white is continued throughout the book, making this a memorable reading experience. The story itself is perfectly pitched for upper Key Stage 1/lower Key Stage 2 children with an exciting plot and an inspiring message of finding the ability to rise to challenges, especially when someone shows their belief in you. I think that Kitty will be immensely popular with fans of Isadora Moon, Amelia Fang and the Rainbow Fairies books, as well as with all cat-lovers.

One final interesting touch in this already appealing book is the collection of super facts about cats at the end of the story. I am looking forward to adding this to the library shelves at school, and predict that it will jump into the hands of willing readers very rapidly!

 

My thanks to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue to review.

New Rhyming Picture Books by Favourite Authors

Two new picture books arrived in the school library, just before the end of term, so I decided to review them together, whilst I catalogue them.

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Firstly, The Go-Away Bird by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Catherine Rayner, published by MacMillan.

As with the other books in the Julia Donaldson collection, this is a rhyming story which will entertain and educate early years and key stage 1 pupils. Its enjoyable text tells the story of the elegant grey Go-Away Bird as she sits in her nest, rejecting offers of friendship from the little, green Chit-Chat Bird, the little, red Peck-Peck Bird and the little blue Flap-Flap Bird. However, when trouble raises its eagle-shaped head in the form of the Get-You Bird, the Go-Away Bird might need companions after all.

This is a lovely story for young children, showing the power of friendship and the importance of not rejecting others, even if we are feeling a bit grumpy. I also loved the fact-filled pages at the end of the book which provide some interesting information about this unusual bird. I am sure that this will be enjoyed repeatedly by children of 4+.

 

The second book I wish to review is a perfect addition to our collection of titles to encourage a “reading for pleasure” culture. 

not just a book

 

Not Just A Book by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross and published by Andersen Press, is a full-colour picture book designed to embed and encourage a love of books and reading. The glorious, full-page illustrations in Tony Ross’s inimitable, expressive, humorous style complement the text perfectly. There are only a few words of rhyming text per page describing the different uses that a young girl and her cat can find for a book. My own favourite shows the book being used to funnel the cat’s milk!

However, with the repeated reading that this book is likely to encourage, the final message that books are more than just words and ink will hopefully be internalised by all young listeners and encourage an emotional connection to stories.