#PrideMonthReview: The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures by Jodie Lancet-Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry

Cover image by Lydia Corry, published by OUP, June 2022

This was the most perfect book to read on a hot, sunny June day which radiated the same warmth and colour found within this picture book. Published to coincide with the June Pride celebrations, this story imaginatively promotes acceptance of unique identities, representing a family with two dads as the backdrop to a funny, engaging tale. The interplay of Lydia Corry’s beautiful artwork and Jodie Lancet-Grant’s creative storytelling will bring smiles of delight to readers young and old(er).

From the first page we are introduced to a town populated by a wide variety of magical and non-magical creatures. The text names some of these; dragons, fairies, mermaids and centaurs and children will enjoy spotting many more depicted amongst the humans on the bustling street (I loved seeing the pirate mums from the previous book by this partnership). We are told that whenever anyone in town feels poorly, they know to consult Ava and her dads, Daddy and Papa. I loved the illustrations of “trainee doctor” Ava, with her stethoscope, too long labcoat and expressive face. Alongside the narrative which portrays her inquisitive, kind and observant nature as well as determination to uncover the cause of a unicorn’s tummy-ache, she is a heart-warming poster girl for a career in medicine, in the opinion of this health librarian! The spread where Ava is struck by the answer to her medical mystery is an absolute masterpiece of “show, don’t tell” and strikes right to the heart of this book’s message of celebrating difference.

The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures bursts with a kaleidoscope of colour, energy and kindness and whilst promoting a message of inclusivity, is first and foremost an entertaining and throughly engaging story. Family life is portrayed in scenes such as bedtime story time familiar to all, and shows that whilst there are all kinds of families, they have more similarities than differences. I highly recommend this picture book to be shared with children of 3 -6 years of age and I will certainly be adding it to my recommended reading list for health-related books.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and OUP for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Picture Book Review: Herman Needs a Home by Lucy Noguera, illustrated by Emma Latham

Cover illustration by Emma Latham, published by Brilliant Monsters Books, 8th June 2022

I was honoured to be sent an early review copy of this thoughtfully entertaining picture book, written by Lucy Noguera, who came to my attention last year as a debut Middle Grade author. Her new title for a younger audience is published on World Ocean Day and blends humour, immersive storytelling and ecological themes in the heart-warming tale of Herman the hermit crab.

The interplay of text, playful font effects and glorious illustration by Emma Latham, make this book an absolute delight, and I only wish that I lived close enough to share it with the youngest relative immediately. As Herman and his little sister Hiro embark on a quest to find a new, larger shell for Herman, accompanied by an enthusiastic group of hermit crab friends, every page glows with interest. The little crustaceans’ faces are cutely appealing and express a range of emotions which young children will easily comprehend. The beach and rockpool habitats are rendered so beautifully that you can almost feel the warm sand between your toes and smell the salty tang in the air. This is a story that pulses with life and prompts early thinking about the inter-dependence of life on our planet.

I love the way that the quest veers away from the happy swapping of seashells between different sized crabs to the fruitless search for Herman’s new home amongst the discarded piles of waste on the beach. The darkening of the colour palette combined with the increasingly sad and bewildered faces perfectly convey the sense that all is not well, and open the opportunity for conversations with young children about the problems that careless discarding of waste can cause for marine life. A range of manufactured products that contribute to ecological disruption are highlighted in a thoroughly engaging way for children as Herman tries to make his home in all manner of garbage. At the end of the story there is a page of facts about hermit crabs and ideas about ways we can all help to protect the environment.  I also must give a shout out to the end papers which have the most beautiful images of pastel-coloured seashells, so enticing that my fingers twitched to pick one up and hold it to my ear.

I cannot recommend Herman Needs a Home highly enough as a perfect book to share with children of 3 – 6 years of age, it would make an ideal summer gift to share either at home, in nurseries, pre-schools or Early Years classrooms. Like all the best picture books, there is a wealth of information to explore on every page and the charming story will likely encourage youngsters to join in with repeated readings. For anyone lucky enough to be visiting a beach this summer, Herman’s story will hopefully make us all think about the impact we have on our surroundings and encourage us to take care of a habitat that is home to so many natural wonders.

Spring/Summer 2022 picture books from Catch A Star and Little Steps

Catch A Star and Little Steps are the imprints of New Frontier Publishing dedicated to producing top quality books for babies, toddlers and early years children. I am always delighted when they send me a package of books to review as I know that I will find titles that are carefully designed to engage these age groups, present positive messages and provide vocabulary building opportunities and awareness of the world.

Clementine’s Bath

Cover illustration by Annie White, published by Catch A Star,
April 2022

This rhyming, beautifully illustrated story will appeal to children aged 3-6 whether they have a pet dog or not. Clementine, as drawn by Annie White, looks like an adorable family pet, with a coat as crinkly and soft-looking as a favourite teddy bear. On the first spread she is seen enjoying the scents from the garden flowers…but there, lurking in the lower right hand corner is a little hint of the assault on the senses to come! Yes, Clementine finds and overturned dustbin and delights in rolling around in the rubbish, meaning that she will need to be bathed.

I am looking forward to sharing this charming book with the youngest relative. There is so much energy portrayed in Annie White’s beautiful artwork as the multi-generational family try to catch Clementine and she tries to hide in various places around the house and garden. Her final journey to the bath is laugh-out-loud fun! At the end of the story there is an utterly delightful plan of the house and garden, showing the story journey. I haven’t seen this used in a book for this audience before and I think it is a brilliant idea which I can see being used by Key Stage 1 teachers as part of the early geography curriculum.

Clementine’s Treasure

Cover illustration by Anne White, published by Catch A Star,
May 2022

This is a perfect picture book to share with little ones over the Platinum Jubilee weekend. As in the previous Clementine title, Annie White’s engaging, rhyming text is accompanied by her warm, stylish illustrations. This time Clementine is confused by the energy going into cleaning the house and baking a huge, celebratory afternoon tea. The activity is explained when the glamorous Queen arrives, only to have her prize jewel swiped by Clementine who rushes out to the garden to play with her glittery new toy. When the Queen pauses her cupcake consumption long enough to notice the missing necklace, the entire family search their home, inside and out…finally finding it in a location that will make young children roar with laughter!

The beautiful, expressive illustrations of a multi-generational family, their cheeky canine and assorted chickens, provide so much interest for young children. Again, there is a super story map at the end, so that children can track the action of the narrative and Catch A Star have provided teacher notes here.

Little Days Out: At the Pool

Cover illustration by Sally Garland, published by Catch A Star

A top quality lift-the-flap board book in bright, primary colours, At the Pool is the perfect title to share with babies and toddlers as the weather warms and trips to the pool become a possibility. The happy, positive illustrations by Sally Garland depict all the common scenes you would expect from a visit to the swimming pool, from the reception desk, to the changing rooms, the pool itself and finally the cafe for a post-swim snack. The simple clear text outlining baby’s first pool visit with her Dad and big brother introduces new vocabulary and the “flaps” are perfectly designed and robust enough to provide hours of fun. I highly recommend this to nurseries, pre-schools and parents/carers of children from 6 months of age.

Meadow & Marley’s Magical Mix

Cover illustration by Natalie Creed, published by Little Steps, 1st June 2022

Meadow and Marley are on a mission to understand their heritage in this wonderful picture book written by Katie Mantwa George, who is herself of mixed South African and British heritage. It is a truly empowering story of twins Meadow and Marley who use a trip to the outdoor food market with their mum and aunt to try to discover why the family are constantly asked where they are from. It is such a clever concept to use a situation that will be familiar to most young children to explore multi-culturalism, and the explanation of their “magical mix” by mum is a beautiful summary and celebration of a mixed heritage. The gorgeous artwork by Natalie Creed highlights the positive benefits to us all that stem from a society that is inclusive of all nationalities and combinations of nationalities, including happy smiling depictions of adults and children of many ethnicities, and a mouth-watering selection of cuisines.

This is a fantastic book to share with children of 3-6 years of age, everyone can see themselves represented within the pages, and definitely one that school’s could add to their Empathy Day reading lists.

I am most grateful to Catch A Star and Little Steps Publishing for sending me review copies of this picture book selection, in return for my honest opinion.

Picture Books Review: Spring 2022 arrivals from OUP

Cover image by James Jones, published by OUP May 2022

One More Try is the second picture book from the partnership of Naomi and James Jones. Naomi writes the stories and James illustrates them, although after attending a very enjoyable online book launch for this title, it sounds as if the collaborative process is a whole family affair, with input from their two young children too! This direct understanding of what appeals to children is certainly apparent in this strikingly interactive picture book.

Combining an introduction to the language and properties of shapes with the subtext of resilience and perseverance is a winning combination in this story of Circle, who notices the squares and hexagons building a tower and wants to build one too. However, the circles, diamonds and triangles discover that forming themselves into a tower is far trickier than the other shapes make it look. They try all kinds of strategies to find a solution; eventually Circle looks at the problem in a different way and with a beautifully subtle shift from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional shapes, a solution is found.

This book is sure to be hugely popular in pre-schools and early years classrooms and would be perfect for parents and carers to share with young children, I certainly look forward to sharing my copy with the youngest relative. The shapes designed by James Jones are completely engaging with their textures, colours and expressions enticing the reader to try to lift them from the page. The simple text from Naomi Jones is delightfully playful, encouraging an interaction with maths that is experimental and fun and, without a hint of dogmatism encourages youngsters to never give up. I highly recommend One More Try to be shared with all children of 3-6 years of age.

Cover image by Korky Paul, published by OUP March 2022

The latest book in the Winnie and Wilbur series, written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul, recounts the story of Winnie and Wilbur’s first meeting. In a situation that will be familiar to many children, Winnie the witch feels lonely after moving to a new house and decides that she needs company. Her first step is to invite her three sisters to stay and at first they enjoy spending time together. Sadly, the family squabbles begin and after a spectacular and brilliantly illustrated fight between the sisters’ cats, the happy family reunion comes to an end. Winnie then explores a number of unsuitable friendships before the arrival of a stray cat resolves her problem, and the rest, as fans of the series will know, is history!

I absolutely love the Winnie and Wilbur series because Valerie Thomas’ stories are such fun to share with young children and the intricately detailed illustrations by Korky Paul present so much rich material for children to linger over. These books spark a huge range of opportunities for conversation and this one in particular could be used to prompt chat about loneliness (which has been shown to have increased since the COVID-19 lockdowns began) and the qualities needed to form a good friendship. There is a QR code on the inside back cover which

You can read my reviews of two more Winnie and Wilbur books here.

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending me copies of these two picture books in return for my honest opinion.

Perfect Picture Books JoJo’s Jump and Karma and Koo, from Little Steps Publishing

Published by Little Steps Publishing, illustrations by Natalie Merheb and Emma Stuart

I love receiving book post from Little Steps Publishing because I know that I will always find books of the highest quality within the package. Their new releases for January 2022 live up to the usual high standards; enjoyable and meaningful stories with beautiful illustrations, designed to appeal to the youngest book consumers.

Cover illustration by Natalie Merheb

JoJo’s Jump is written in simple rhyming couplets by Stephanie Mason and promotes the message of self-belief and the benefit of a positive learning mindset through the character of a young pony, JoJo. It is such a clever device to use an animal character as the protagonist, allowing all children to absorb the positive messages as they feel empathy with a character with universal appeal. Jojo is depicted in Natalie Merheb’s colourful illustrations as a gorgeous young pony with a “soft chestnut coat” and long golden tail and mane. As she grows and begins her equestrian training she is supported by a cast of super cute animal friends: Bob the fluffy white bunny; Fiona the friendly frog and Peggy the curly haired sheep. The full coloured spreads and spots on every page are bursting with farmyard flora and fauna for young children to explore and talk about.

I really loved the fact that Jojo does not succeed on her first attempt to jump a fence and has the be encouraged to find the inner resolve to have another go. This is such an important lesson for children to learn and I suspect will be readily absorbed as the story of JoJo’s Jump is enjoyed over and over again. Highly recommended for all children of 3-6, whether at home, nursery early years classrooms or in the library.

You can find teachers’ notes and activities to accompany JoJo’s Jump on the Little Steps website here

Cover illustration by Emma Stuart

Karma and Koo, written by Jacquie Lait and illustrated by Emma Stuart would be the most perfect book to share as a bedtime story, especially in the middle of winter! It features two adorable penguins, a mother and child, and begins with the child penguin asking who the “Koo” is, mentioned in the name of mother’s shop. Mother tells her child to search for Koo within the shop, which sparks and imaginative quest through the contents of a large wooden toy box contained at the back of the lovely, old-fashioned shop. The watercolour paintings by Emma Stuart are divine, the little penguin has such an expressive face, and the imaginative exploration through its toy box is depicted with details which I am sure will draw young children into the story.

The combination of soothing rhyme and rhythm and a story spilling over with love and warmth makes Karma and Koo the ideal book for snuggling up and sharing with any child of 2-5. I would have loved to have had this as part of the bedtime books box when my own children were small, I am sure it would have been worn out with re-reading!

The publisher has provided teaching notes and activities to accompany Karma and Koo here.

I am most grateful to Little Steps publishing for providing me with review copies of JoJo’s Jump and Karma & Koo in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.

The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.


Non-fiction published in 2021 by David Fickling Books and Bloomsbury

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.

How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.

Translated Fiction

Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.

Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.

MG Fiction

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.

Island Adventures

Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.

The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.

The Way to Impossible Island by Sophie Kirtley is a life-affirming, time-slip novel about overcoming fears and challenging expectations.

Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.

I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .

Blog Tour: Bob the Bear’s Adventures by Alice Chambers

Today I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for Bob the Bear’s Adventures a sweet photographic story aimed at pre-school children. The author and photographer, Alice Chambers certainly knows her audience well after a long career teaching in kindergarten and primary school settings, followed by grand-parenthood!

Bob is a very dapper knitted bear who sports a smart waistcoat and wire-framed glasses and loves to climb and try to hide in Alice’s verdant garden. On the evidence of the photos, I would say that Bob is rather better at climbing than hiding! The text is very simple, a running conversation with Bob about his current hiding place, pitched at exactly the right level for toddlers and I can imagine that the chatty style and recognisable settings will be very engaging for young children. There is so much in this book to prompt interesting conversations with young children, awakening their knowledge of the garden habitat and sense of exploration.

It reminded me very clearly of an activity that my children took part in during their first year in Primary School, where a class bear was sent home with a different child each week and through the school holidays. The idea was to take the bear (in this case he was called Barnaby) along to any activities and photograph or draw him joining in with your football match or trip to the beach or Sunday lunch and write a sentence to take back to school. Bob the Bear’s Adventures would, I think, inspire children to want to recreate some of his antics with their own soft toys. Listening to the story multiple times will help with language development and I particularly like the use of prepositions to describe Bob’s locations as these can be a tricky concept for some children to grasp. The Primary School computing curriculum encourages children in Early Years classes to use digital cameras and I could see this book being a useful model for four/five year-olds to try to replicate in the school wildlife area.

In summary, I think that Bob the Bear’s Adventures will be a lovely story to add to home reading collections, pre-school bookshelves and even Reception Class bookshelves.

I am grateful to Helen at LiterallyPR for supplying a copy of the book and inviting me to join the blog tour for Bob the Bear’s Adventures and I encourage you to check out the other reviews written by my fellow book bloggers.

Review: The Lights That Dance in the Night written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Books

A perfect picture book to share with young children, especially this autumn/winter when the Northern Lights have been visible to many in the north of the UK, Yuval Zommer’s latest work is an absolute essential for home and school bookshelves. He consistently produces the most amazing books which capture the awesome spectacle of nature through his distinctive artwork and careful choice of simple text.

Giving a sentient voice to the tiny specks of dust that have travelled through the stormy atmosphere to perform the awe-inspiring light display known as the Northern Lights, Yuval Zommer inspires all readers – adults and children to embrace their potential to spread joy. His wondrously rendered artwork shows the radiance, happiness and pleasure that this natural phenomenon brings to a range of creatures; making whales sing, wolves howl…and my favourite, foxes sashay! Every page sparkles with the mystery of the lights and the marvels of the natural world. The human storytelling inspired by the lights is encompassed as:

People stopped to stand and stare, to feel the magic in the air.


I think that his description of the Northern Lights as “a miracle of winter” can be applied to this book as well as to the festive season and this will be high on my gift-giving list to young relatives this winter and, I suspect for many years to come. An absolutely perfect picture book which I highly recommend to everyone to share with a young child.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott for organising my gift copy of The Lights That Dance in the Night from Oxford University Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Other books from Yuval Zommer which you might want to share as Christmas gifts include A Thing Called Snow and The Tree That’s Meant to Be.

Review: Once Upon A Silent Night written by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Katie Hickey

Cover illustration by Katie Hickey, to be published by Bloomsbury on 11th November 2021

This beautiful retelling of the Nativity story is inspired by the medieval Christmas carol ‘The Friendly Beasts’ in which the stable animals recount their parts in the story of Jesus’ birth.

In this picturebook, the extraordinarily gorgeous artwork by Katie Hickey accompanies Dawn Casey’s simple, rhyming text. The combination draws you into the story from the opening spread. Here, woodland creatures look across a snow covered landscape rendered in a palette of warm blues and pinks. Their gaze is focussed on a small wooden stable, from which a golden glow shines above the half-door.

Once upon a silent night,

a stable stood.

A star shone bright.

As the heavily pregnant woman and her husband arrive, followed by a donkey, they are dressed in contemporary winter clothing; you can almost feel the texture of the woman’s Scandi-style, woollen jumper. She wonders who will welcome her baby, and is answered over the subsequent pages of the book by each of the stable animals, their faces shining with joy.

I love the way that the natural world and the supernatural, in the form of angels, have been seamlessly combined in this addition to the Nativity canon. Although I have read this as an e-book, I believe that it will be published in hardback and it will make a treasured gift for young children, even the end papers have been produced with great care and attention. I think that it will be a very popular addition to the Christmas story collections of nurseries, preschools, Early Years and Key Stage 1 classrooms where the rhythmic text will be memorised and the illustrations pored over repeatedly.

I am grateful to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me access to an electronic proof copy of Once Upon A Silent Night, which will be published on 11th November 2021.

Picture Book Review: So You Want to Build a Library by Lindsay Leslie, illustrated by Aviel Basil

Cover image by Aviel Basil, to be published by Raintree Publishers,
3rd February 2022

I am always attracted to a book with “library” in its title and therefore requested this picture book as soon as I saw it on NetGalley. Having spent some time looking at library design as part of my professional librarian course, I give So You Want to Build a Library a big thumbs up; author Lindsay Leslie and illustrator Aviel Basil have totally captured the playful, interactive aspects that attract youngsters to the library and keep them returning!

The story follows the vivid imagination, obviously fed by her reading habit, of a young girl who believes that:

There is no better place on Earth than where stacks and stacks of books are kept – the LIBRARY


…and who wishes to build her own, with an impressive number of extravagant features. As she chooses her location, gathers materials and  friends, including a helpful giant, and begins to build, her whimsical design cannot fail to delight. The simple text is colourfully brought to life by fantastic, full page illustrations in an ice-cream palette and I found myself longing to curl up in the “biggest, cushiest, floofiest chair” with a chilled treat from the sundae bar and a book! Everyone is catered for in this inclusive temple of books, from dragons to teeny, tiny fairies and I’m certain that young readers if not older librarians will be enthralled by the idea of zip lines and water slides!

A charming picture book for children of 3-6 which presents a lovely image of the joy and adventure to be found inside the library and the books within.

So You Want to Build a Library  is due to be published on 3rd February 2022. I am very grateful to Raintree Publishers and NetGalley for allowing me access to an advanced electronic edition in exchange for an honest review.