Review:Jasper Dog Books by Hilary Robinson

What a joy to discover the utterly charming, funny and informative Jasper series! These books have colourful and engaging covers, are illustrated throughout with delightful black and white drawings, and most wonderfully have been printed on off-white paper using the Open Dyslexic font. I am passionate about finding books which make reading pleasurable for dyslexic readers and firmly believe that what is good for dyslexics is good for all readers. Some young dyslexic readers have told me that they found the spacing between lines to be really helpful in allowing them to read these books easily.

 

Review: Jasper Space Dog by Hilary Robinson

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The first book in the series was published in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It is cleverly structured as a series of letters written between eight-and-a-half year old Charlie Tanner, on behalf of his dog Jasper, to a rocket scientist Dr Isabella Starr (girl power ). Jasper would like to become a space dog! He already has his moon boots and enjoys strutting around the local park in them, but he requires Charlie to ask a rib-tickling range of questions on his behalf before he ventures to the moon. This is such an engaging device as Jasper’s questions definitely reflect the hugely imaginative ideas that spring from the minds of young children. As I read the increasingly funny questions with a big smile I was delighted that the eminent scientist’s replies to Charlie acknowledged the humour in the enquiries, especially the suggestion to explore explosive chocolate as rocket fuel.

So much care has been taken in the compilation of this book, right down to the final chapters summarising the information discovered so far and then expanding on factual information about moon expeditions. Books which entertain and educate seamlessly are to be greatly valued and I highly recommend this to all schools and to any family looking for a book to engage a reluctant reader and help them discover the joy of books.

 

Jasper Viking Dog by Hilary Robinson

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The second book in the Jasper series follows the same pattern as book one, this time Charlie’s letters are addressed to Astrid the Curator of the local Viking Museum. Jasper has heard that actors are required for the Viking exhibits and believing that he might have Viking roots would like to volunteer as a Viking dog! The humorous letters from Charlie yet again had me snorting with laughter, in particular Jasper’s rapid increase in age, as he convinces himself that he is indeed a Viking dog, and his theory that his friend Bruce descends from a line of Viking Berserker dogs! Each of Charlie’s outlandish questions are answered with great attention to detail by Astrid, thus presenting a host of fascinating Viking facts in easy to assimilate chunks.

Another highlight of these books is the care taken (by Lewis James, under the mentorship of experienced children’s book illustrator, Mandy Stanley) to design the illustrations.  Throughout the text there are intricately detailed drawings of artefacts or appealing cartoon-ish representations of Charlie and Jasper’s ideas, perfectly placed for children whose eyes need a break from reading at regular intervals. The illustrations in these books are .

I hugely recommend these books to any school classroom or library collection, and only wish they had been available when a certain member of my own family was of primary-school-age.

 

My copies of Jasper Space Dog and Jasper Viking Dog were gifted to me from the publisher, I am planning to order further copies for the library collection.

 

Review: The Story of the London Underground by David Long

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A sumptuous work of non-fiction, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, but sure to delight readers of any age. The informative and engaging text combined with the striking images are likely to be enjoyed by anyone who has ever travelled on the London Underground. I have seen a group of 9 and 10 year-old children entranced for almost an hour by the comprehensive coverage of absolutely everything you could wish to know about this famous transport system. 

The gorgeous, painted illustrations, by Sarah McMenemy, have a slightly nostalgic feel which seems perfectly in keeping with the historic content at the start of the book. I learned from the back cover that her illustrations are featured on the platforms of Shadwell Station and I am now determined to visit them the next time I am in London. There is quite a lot of text on each page, perfectly readable for 9 and 10 year-olds and packed with interesting facts, but younger children might want to read this with an adult.

Personally, I have always loved the iconic LONDON Tube map, thus I enjoyed gazing at the illustrated tube map towards the end of the book. I was also impressed at the stylish use of the tube map design for the history timeline.

I wholeheartedly recommend this stunning book, as a fascinating insight into an essential part of London, and for its many cross-curricular links in the primary school curriculum.

 

I am most grateful to toppsta.com and Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing for my gifted copy of this book. A review has previously appeared on the toppsta.com website.

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. 

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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

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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: #Goldilocks: A Hashtag Cautionary Tale by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

Jeanne Willis has taken the traditional Goldilocks story and turned it into a marvellous, rhyming lesson about the trouble caused by the relentless pursuit of “likes” on social media. This large, hardback version of the book is gloriously illustrated with trademark humour, by Tony Ross.

Goldilocks starts her social media presence by posting very average “selfies”, but becomes discontent that the only likes she receives are from her mum. After a great response from her friends to a picture of her baby brother covered in jam, she begins posting increasingly embarrassing photos, until the response to these also pales with her followers.

This leads to increasingly risky behaviour, following the classic Goldilocks narrative, in an attempt to entertain her followers. Inevitably, this course of action lands our protagonist in a heap of trouble, and Goldilocks realises that her bad behaviour will always be available on the internet for all to see.

This is a perfect book for all schools to add to their armoury of internet safety resources. It is hugely enjoyable to read aloud to Early Years and Key Stage One classes, and early KS2 children will enjoy returning to the story too. In an age where even reception children are able to use mobile devices to take photos and videos, the message of this story,

“Think twice before you send!”

has to be reinforced regularly and this is a wonderfully engaging way to do so. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to all families and schools.

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

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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: Holes by Jonathan Litton

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Until i picked up this book I had never even considered that a hole was more than just an empty space! However, in his introduction the author, Jonathan Litton, explains that he has wanted to write about holes since spending his childhood digging them! Thank goodness for that obsession as he has, over the subsequent years, gathered information on an incredible number of holes – which he presents here, accompanied by Thomas Hegbrook’s stunning illustrations.

I am simply incredulous at the amount of knowledge that I have learned on the subject of holes from this book. Just one surprising example is the reason that Swiss Cheese Plants have holey leaves – apparently it gives the leaf the best chance of catching maximum light in the rainforest! The range of natural holes is explained, we are informed where they are located, how they are formed and what they contain. In the “Man-made Holes” section there are fascinating facts about mining, wells and boreholes, tunnels, subways and living underground. Further topics include: holes made by plants and animals, architecture, astronomy and even a couple of pages on philosophy.

All pages are fully coloured and illustrated, with paragraphs of text packed with facts. My only criticism is that occasionally the dark text is printed over a dark background colour, making it difficult to read.  I think that children would need to be confident readers to access this book independently, I could imagine it being shared between an adult and children from 6+

Reviews: Beetle Queen & Battle of the Beetles by MG Leonard

Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonardbeetle queen

Book 2 in the Beetle trilogy opens with famous fashion designer Lucretia Cutter dangling from the ceiling by her four chitinous legs as she awaits the arrival of one of the movie stars for whom she has created an awards ceremony gown. Meanwhile Dr Bartholomew “Barty” Cuttle has recovered sufficiently from his ordeal as her kidnap victim to be introduced to the mountain of beetles who helped his son Darkus to rescue him. When Barty realises the extent to which his former colleague’s transgenic experiments on beetles has succeeded, he forbids Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt from pursuing any further investigations as he fears for their safety.

However, this is a story about courage and loyalty and fighting for what is right, so when Barty disappears the three adventurous children accompanied by Uncle Max Cuttle, Bertolt’s starstruck mother, Calista, and a suitcase full of beetles travel to Los Angeles to disrupt Lucretia’s dastardly plans. Fortunately Uncle Max has an old friend named Motty who not only owns her own plane (named Bernadette – which just made me love MG Leonard even more) but is also able to take them and their unusual cargo to her house in LA. On a separate itinerary, the crooked cousins Humphrey and Pickering have also made their way to LA in the hope of making Lucretia pay for the ruin of their shop, home and lives. The comic set pieces featuring these two deluded incompetents will have you in tears of laughter.

The tension builds up brilliantly to a spectacular showdown at the Film Awards ceremony which is being televised globally where Lucretia finally reveals her true identity and her goal for world domination.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone of 8+ who is looking for a hugely entertaining adventure, which along the way will leave you marvelling at the insect kingdom, on the edge of your seat with excitement on one page and howling with laughter a few pages later!

Once you have finished, you will want to read….

The Battle of the Beetles by M.G. Leonard

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In the final installment of the trilogy evil genius Lucretia Cutter has set her plan to rule the earth, using her genetically modified beetles, in motion. She has escaped from LA in her personal helicopter and set off for her secret biome, taking Barty Cuttle, her long-suffering daughter Novak (whom she treats as no more than a scientific experiment), the butler Gerard and a team of bodyguards with her. Unknown to the chitinous fiend there are a couple of stowaways who have replaced her suitcases in the luggage compartment – our comic relief – Humphrey and Pickering!

As this unlikely collection of individuals heads towards the research centre in the Ecuadorian rainforest, swarms of modified beetles are destroying crops in various parts of the globe and Darkus, Uncle Max, Virginia, Bertolt and Motty head to Prague to alert an international conference of entomologists of Lucretia’s schemes. From Europe the team set off to Ecuador – once again piloted by Motty in her trusty plane, Bernadette, it transpires that Uncle Max managed to obtain the co-ordinates of the biome during the altercation in LA in the previous book.

The plot builds perfectly to a high tension adventure in the rainforest. I love the way that the author has developed all of her characters across the trilogy in the most believable manner. Here we have Darkus frustrated at the lack of fight he perceives in the scientific community, questioning his father’s loyalties and his own ability to make a difference. Virginia rails against the fact that Lucretia’s threats are not being taken seriously because the world does not take female scientists seriously and would rather view her as a fashion designer who has gone crazy. Even Lucretia makes some good points about the conservation of our natural world, although her proposed solution is criminally misguided! At the end of book there are many links to websites and organisations for anyone who wants to take an active interest in beetles, insects, conservation and nature.

Overall, I adore the entire Beetle trilogy. These books are original, beautifully written and open up an entirely new world to the majority or readers. They also boast eye-catching cover art by Elisabet Portabella and humourous inside illustrations by Karl James Mountford. Highly recommended for everyone of 8+.

Review: The Book Dragon by Kell Andrews

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The town of Lesser Scrump has a rule: NO BOOKS ALLOWED!

The school teacher Mr Percival has to write on bark, slate or even in the dust, which doesn’t make reading a very pleasurable experience. When Rosehilda announces that she wants stories written on pieces of paper which are somehow joined together, she is sent home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf (this passage made me snort with laughter)! Her grandfather has to explain that the Book Dragon hoards books in a deep cave in Scrump Mountain and will come to steal books from any house which has one, returning the next night to terrorise the neighbourhood, therefore it is not safe to own a book.

However, Rosehilda is undeterred, and the full-page picture of her, tucked up in bed reading a book which she has bought from a peddler, is utterly gorgeous – conveying the sheer joy of reading for pleasure. When her book goes missing during the night brave young Rosehilda travels to the Book Dragon’s lair to investigate.

I absolutely love this story by Kell Andrews with its glorious illustrations in a subdued colour-palette of oranges, reds and yellows by Eva Chatelain. It is deeply imbued with a love of books, libraries and reading and gently presents a message of understanding another person’s (or dragon’s) viewpoint and resolving problems in a positive manner. An amazing addition to school library shelves, and a joy to read aloud to whole classes or as a bedtime story for all children of 4+.

Add it to your “read for empathy” collections!

Review: Sam Wu is Not Afraid of The Dark by Katie and Kevin Tsang

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The third laugh-out-loud outing for Sam Wu sees our hero facing another of his fears on an unexpected camping expedition. The story starts so well for Sam as he reassures his best friend Bernard that there is nothing to worry about on his forthcoming camping trip with his father. Little does Sam realise that he too will be invited on the expedition to the dark, dark woods. Even worse is to come when his bossy, older cousin who has just arrived from Hong Kong is also invited along! Just when Sam thinks that things couldn’t get any worse, they arrive at the campsite to discover that Sam’s tormentor Ralph Philip Zinkerman is also camping there, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Ralph’s kind and lovely sister Regina is also on the trip with their friend Zoe!

Poor Sam seems uncertain what to be most frightened of, aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or quite simply just THE DARK. However, as we have come to expect from Sam, he takes inspiration from his favourite TV show, Space Blasters, to help him conquer his fears.

There are many reasons to love this book. Firstly, it is just such a fun read, with Sam and his friends getting themselves into unexpected situations with hilarious consequences. The banter between the characters is wholly believable and totally recognisable to anyone who has spent time with children. The diversity of the characters makes this a book in which many children will recognise themselves, and the themes of working as a team and overcoming your fears are presented with great dollops of humour. Adding to all of this enjoyment are the wonderful illustrations by Nathan Reed and the interesting use of different fonts in the text.

A book that definitely fulfils the “read-for-pleasure” criteria and which will be enjoyed even by the most reluctant readers. Highly recommended for ages 7+