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.

Go away bird

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.

Review: On the Origin of Species retold and illustrated by Sabina Radeva

origin of species

This simplified explanation of Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking book, retold and illustrated by Sabina Radeva is one of the most sumptuous non-fiction books that I have had the pleasure to read, and I sincerely wish that it had been available in my, or my own children’s childhoods.

The first thing that struck me was the beautiful blue/green palette of the illustrations, which to me amplifies the beauty of life on our planet. Inside the covers there are detailed pictures of insects which the reader is challenged to find within the pages of the book.

The text is simple and straightforward, accessible to every reader, as it describes the way that living organisms have evolved on earth and explains Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory of adaptation and evolution. The balance between text and illustration has been designed so perfectly that this book absolutely grabs your attention.

The work of other scientists such as Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Alfred Wallace is acknowledged, giving readers the message that scientific progress is often the work of more than one famous name. As you progress through the book, you fully appreciate the many years of detailed observations of multitudes of species that Darwin made in order to formulate his theories; the power of curiosity and wonder shines through the pages. Direct quotes from Darwin’s original text are illustrated with immense care and beauty by Sabina Radeva, whilst terminology like variation, natural selection and migration are explained with absolute clarity. I liked the way that difficulties in the theory and more recent updates are also discussed.

In summary, I think that this incredible book should be an essential addition to every school library to help all children understand how scientific discovery and scientific theories progress. Its extraordinary design can only help to enthuse readers about the natural world and scientific curiosity and development of understanding. I know that I will be gifting copies to my young relatives to marvel at. Oh, and don’t forget to identify the bugs and butterflies featured on each page!


This is #Book10 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books.

Review: The Curse of the School Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Curse School Rabbit

This is the final book written and illustrated by the late, great Judith Kerr, and displays her infectious sense of humour and unique ability to capture family dynamics in an engaging story.

The tale is relayed in the voice of a young boy, Tommy, as he blames his family’s misfortunes on Snowflake, the school rabbit with a propensity for accidents of the wet and rather smelly variety. The rabbit belongs to his little sister Angie’s Year 2 teacher, Miss Bennet. Angie adores Snowflake and is delighted when her family is asked to look after the rabbit when Miss Bennet is called away to look after a sick relative. Unfortunately Snowflakes arrival coincides with a very important meeting between Tommy and Angie’s Dad, who is desperate for an acting job and a washed up but self-important former star, about a new film proposal. This project is doomed from the minute that Snowflake leaves its wet signature on the movie star’s trousers! 

More dramas follow; Tommy tries to take Snowflake for a walk on a lead with almost disastrous results, Angie gets ill, and nagging away in the background is the family’s shortage of money and the diminishing prospects of a new bike for Christmas. Will Tommy’s duties as Snowflake’s carer ever become easier, and will the family’s misfortunes be reversed? You will have to read the book to find out!

As with my favourite of her books, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr brilliantly captures the anxieties, interactions and love of a family with childlike simplicity by telling the story in a straightforward narrative through the observations of a young child. She has left us with a final story to enjoy and cherish – its length, language and content make it an ideal bedtime or whole class story, as well as one that newly confident readers can tackle alone. It is illustrated throughout with wonderfully expressive pencil drawings which perfectly complement the text, making this a book to treasure.

My thanks to Toppsta and Harper Collins Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Review: Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Spiders by Katie and Kevin Tsang

sam wu spiders

With its eye catching bright orange cover, illustrated with trademark flair by Nathan Reed, the latest outing for everyone’s favourite brave boy, Sam Wu, leaps at you like a hunting arachnid. Sam asks his best friend Bernard why he is spending so much time researching spider facts, to discover the uncomfortable prospect that the sixth- graders are due to visit his classroom with the Tarantula that resides in their science lab!

Sam’s class are so excited by the prospect of this visit that Ms Winkleworth has “to write four names on the Not Listening Board and clap her hands SIX times” to settle everyone down!

Eventually Mr Dougal arrives with four kids from the sixth grade and Tulip, a Goliath bird-eater tarantula, the size of a kitten. Although he assures the class that Tulip is not aggressive and that tarantulas rarely bite humans, Sam is less than convinced and needless to say he is relieved when the visitors depart rapidly after Tulip displays some less-than-friendly behaviour towards Regina Zinkerman.

However, when Sam and his friends go to the sixth grade classroom, to deliver the batch of questions their classmates have compiled, they are met with panicked scrambling and the information that “Tulip’s on the loose!”

Can Sam catch the tarantula and prove to his nemesis, Ralph Zinkerman the Third, that he is not Sam Wu-ser and he is definitely NOT afraid of spiders? You will laugh out loud at the chaos and pandemonium caused by Sam, his little sister Lucy’s cat, Butterbutt (wrapped in a tin foil protective outfit), an over-excited classroom rabbit and a school-full of nervous children!

The cartoonish illustrations and graphics by Nathan Reed, vibrant font effects, alongside the kinetic storytelling make this book a hugely enjoyable one. I highly recommend it for anyone age 7+.

This is #Book8 in my #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.

Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

wolf wilder


I think that one of the qualities of a great book is that it lives on in your mind long after you have finished reading it. The knowledge that a new title by Katherine Rundell is due to be published next month has prompted me to review my favourite children’s book from 2015 for those of you who have not yet read it. The Wolf Wilder completely entranced me from its opening line: “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.” right up to the final page. This modern fairy tale of courage and wisdom has all the makings of a classic, and is a book you are likely to return to many times.

Feo and her mother live in a wooden house in the snowy Russian forest where they un-tame wolves thrown out by their aristocratic owners when they tire of keeping them as house pets. One night the cruel, malicious General Rakov, the commander of the Tsar’s Imperial Army bursts into their home and sets in motion an epic adventure. It will lead Feo on a journey through the harshest winter, accompanied by her wolves and a new-found friend, in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Tsar’s prison in St Petersburg.

The quality of Katherine Rundell’s writing is magical, you can almost feel the frost biting into your own fingers as you turn the pages of this wonderful book, where every word seems to be chosen with absolute precision. This story is a perfect balance of page-turning plot, beautiful imagery and uncompromising morality.  Highly recommended to all Upper KS2 readers.

If you enjoy this book, look out for the following titles by this wonderful writer: Rooftoppers, The Explorer

Review: Dave Pigeon Series by Swapna Haddow

Dave Pigeon

I was fortunate to win this collection of four Dave Pigeon books in a Twitter competition run by Faber Children’s Books, they have been added to our school library and I highly recommend them to everyone, but especially Year 2 children. You are likely to snort with laughter whilst reading Swapna Haddow’s fantastically funny books and enjoying the magnificent illustrations by Sheena Dempsey!

Book 1: Dave Pigeon

The first book in the Dave Pigeon series introduces anyone who can understand Pigeonese to the eponymous avian hero and his sidekick and “trusty typer-upper”, Skipper. When we first meet this scavenging duo they are looking for food and chance upon a lovely “Human Lady” who shares the contents of her picnic basket with them. Unfortunately for Dave, the picnic basket is concealing Mean Cat alongside the tasty treats, who attacks Dave, breaks his wing and removes a considerable number of feathers!

The Human Lady takes a napkin-wrapped Dave back to her house to treat his injured wing and makes Dave and Skipper comfortable in her garden shed, where they will be safe from Mean Cat. As Dave begins to recover he uses all of his brain-power to plot revenge on Mean Cat, and when Skipper is not busy typing up their adventures he is generally pushed into carrying out Dave’s crazy plans to eject Mean Cat from the house.

This book is an utter joy to read. I love the device of Skipper typing the adventure on the old typewriter in the garden shed and the way that his voice captures the absurdly deluded over-confidence of the strutting Dave Pigeon. This pair are a wonderful comedic duo who will have children and adults in stitches as they read about their exploits. Illustrated throughout by Sheena Dempsey, this story is an absolute must for primary school libraries where it will provide huge reading pleasure for anyone aged 6+.


Book 2: Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!)

The second outing for Dave and Skipper, the pigeon pals begins with the Human Lady taking a holiday with Mean Cat, which is bad news for the birds as they will no longer have delicious food served on a regular basis. Dave is not prepared to go back to a life of getting by on scraps, and forces Skipper to join him in searching for a new human with whom they can live. Unfortunately he falls for the tricksy breadcrumb trail of Reginald Grimster and, despite Skipper’s warnings, enters the patio doors of doom! Will smart Skipper be able to rescue his greedy friend Dave, and are there really Pigeon spies? Read this madcap adventure, and enjoy the superb illustrations by Sheena Dempsey, to find out what could possibly drive a man to inventing a fiendish machine which spells bad news for the Pigeon population!

  1. Dave Pigeon(Racer!)

During a visit to Pawsville Vets, where Dave is fitted with a pigeontastic prosthetic wing, the Pigeon pals meet a group of new friends led by Jet the three-legged dog. They include an iguana who has injured her eye climbing into a television, a rabbit with memory issues after running into a speeding cricket ball and a hamster who has survived three toilet flushings!

These unfortunate animals are taunted by retired pirate parrot Opprobrious Vastanavius who challenges Dave Pigeon to a race. Despite the fact that Dave has never before raced, he takes up the challenge and another madcap adventure begins. Prepare to be entertained and amazed as Dave is trained for the big race by a legend of the racing-pigeon world!

Book 4: Dave Pigeon (Royal Coo!)

In their quest to eat the tastiest snacks available, Dave and Skipper take a trip to the Human Palace the day after a grand party, to feast on the leftovers. In true Dave Pigeon style they travel by tube because Dave’s prosthetic wing is still not ready to fly!

When they arrive, Dave comes “beak to beak” with his Pigeon doppelgänger who happens to be Prince Raju, the royal Pigeon. Immediately Dave is arrested by the Head of Security for “stealing the Royal Pigeon’s face!! After clearing up that little misunderstanding, Dave comes up with one of his clever plans, which will be familiar to anyone who has read “The Prince and The Pauper”. Another pigeontastically hilarious outing for Dave and Skipper.

Review: Akimbo and the Crocodile Man by Alexander McCall Smith

Akimbo Crocodile

This is a charming short story, ideal for reluctant readers as it packs an exciting adventure as well as a host of interesting facts about crocodiles into its 86 pages.

Akimbo is the son of the Chief Ranger in an un-named African country. He is fascinated when one of his father’s friends comes to stay and cannot tear his eyes away from the jagged scar which runs down John’s arm. John is a zoologist and in particular, a crocodile expert. He is carrying out research into the survival of mother and baby crocodiles on the nature reserve and invites Akimbo to join his research team. The expedition develops into an exciting adventure, during which Akimbo will need to demonstrate great initiative and bravery.

I love the skill of the author, Alexander McCall Smith, in conjuring the child-like sense of wonder at the natural world that Akimbo articulates in his questions to John “The Crocodile Man”. Children and adults who read this book will gain a fascinating insight into these amazing reptiles in an accessible and entertaining adventure. Perfect for newly confident readers in Year 2 and reluctant readers in Key Stage 2.

Review: Kat Wolfe Takes the Case by Lauren St John

There are so many things to love about this book that I hardly know where to begin! It is an outstanding piece of storytelling which I unhesitatingly recommend to all readers of 8+.

It is the second in the series featuring the “Wolfe and Lamb Detective Agency” comprising Kat Wolfe, who has extraordinary gifts with animals of every kind and her best friend Harper Lamb, a genius with languages and computers, with an impressive knowledge of dinosaurs thanks to her palaeontologist father. On one level it is a pacy, MG mystery with the young detectives, Kat and Harper, trying to discover who was responsible for the death of an amateur fossil-collector at the foot of the cliffs in picturesque Bluebell Bay. However, the author, Lauren St John, has seamlessly woven other important themes through this story; extinction, environmental concerns, unscrupulous profiteers and the importance of not judging people based on appearances. I was swept along by the gripping narrative, clever characterisation and along the way learned a great deal about conservation and palaeontology.

If you like complex plots with multiple riddles to solve, this book will not disappoint! At one stage the two young detectives calculate that they have eleven mini-mysteries to solve, ranging from the reason that a glamourous Hollywood couple have decided to vacation on the Jurassic Coast to the identity of the ruthless members of the Order of Dragons. At one point in the story we are given a fabulous lesson on  the interdependence of species in the food web, reflecting this, the detective agency relies on teamwork between humans and animals to unravel the tangled web of clues and crack the case. One of my favourite characters is Edith Chalmers the retired librarian whose encyclopedic knowledge has taught her “a thing or two about unravelling mysteries”!

I was constantly in awe at the way Lauren St John’s love of animals and nature shone through her writing, from similes such as a car “glistening like a forest in winter” to Kat’s changing attitude to the film star couple when she realises that they have crocodile-hide and leopard-skin accessories. I was not a surprise to find the author’s note at the end of the book, encouraging children to do whatever they can to protect the environment. Above all, I think that this confirms “Kat Wolfe Takes the Case” as a hopeful book, which recognises that our smart, wonderful children have the ability to change the world for the better. Finally I must mention the glorious cover art and black and white illustrations throughout the book by Daniel Deamo which contribute to the overall enjoyment of this reading adventure. I love books which entertain and educate simultaneously and I think that this one will be hugely popular with children of 8+ and any adults lucky enough to read with them.

Thank you Toppsta and Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me this book to review – I will be adding it to the school library tomorrow and recommending it highly.

Book Review: Lifesize written and illustrated by Sophy Henn


Have you ever wondered how you measure up against the world’s largest and smallest animals? That is the concept behind this stunningly gorgeous picture book created by Sophy Henn.

The striking cover illustration of a Panda’s face makes this book irresistible and as soon as you open the front cover you will be amazed at the size and beauty of the animals within. Every time that the word LIFESIZE appears in the text you are assured that the picture of an animal or, in many cases, part of an animal is actually lifesize. For example, one of the earliest pictures of an elephant’s foot only shows two toenails and the reader is invited to get their own toes out to compare! A perfect bedtime reading activity, although it probably would cause chaos and lost socks in a class reading session!

Sophy Henn’s illustrations are awesome and annotated with just the right amount of text to spark the curiosity and wonder of young (and older) readers. Amongst the marvels you will encounter in this book are a polar bear’s paw, a toucan’s beak, a giraffe’s tongue, a tiny pea crab and my favourite – a giant-squid’s eye!

There is a brilliant infographic at the back of the book where the featured animals are measured in Lifesize books and the reader is encouraged to measure themself with the book. A perfect activity for a practical KS1 maths lesson to round off an absolutely fascinating book.

I love this book and think that it is a perfect way to introduce young children to the splendour of the animal kingdom.