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.

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

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+ .

Halloween 2021

Books featuring ghosts, magic, monsters, vampires and witches for readers of 4 -14

For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.

Winnie and Wilbur and the Bug Safari – Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark – Katie and Kevin Tsang, ills Nathan Reed

With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+

Leo’s Map of Monsters – Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+

A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths

The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+

The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu

The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House – Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa

The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.

Lightning Falls – Amy Wilson, ills Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.

Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering – Harriet Muncaster

Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.

Everdark – Abi Elphinstone

The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+

Gargantis – Thomas Taylor, ills George Ermos

“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, ills Kaja Kajfež

Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.

The Hungry Ghost – HS Norup

An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev

Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!

Review: Everybody Has Feelings by Jon Burgerman

Cover art by Jon Burgerman, published by Oxford Children’s Books

This larger-than-life, vibrant picture book, illustrated in the cartoonish style pioneered by Jon Burgerman is a wonderful resource for helping young children identify and talk about their feelings.

Starting with the premise that ‘Everybody has feelings. That’s okay.’ the book continues with each page naming a feeling and providing an example to which a child would easily relate. To aid comprehension every page contains full colour illustrations, with the cartoon characters displaying the facial characteristics which demonstrate their feelings, alongside lots of extra details that will absorb the attention of young children. What’s more, there is a bouncy rhythm to the rhyming text which is likely to encourage young listeners to join in with repeated readings of this enjoyable book. I’m sure my own children would have spent hours looking at the double-page spread of a playground where there is a wealth of activity portrayed, accompanied by the text:

‘I feel EXCITED. There’s so much to do.

I feel FRUSTRATED. I can’t tie my shoe.’

At a time when it is being recognised that children are feeling anxious at increasingly younger ages, this is an excellent book for helping pre-school and early years children to start conversations about the way that they are feeling by giving them the language to express themselves. The cartoon-style illustrations not only make the book fun, they also deliver the message with great clarity to the intended audience.

Everybody Worries by Jon Burgerman

Cover art by Jon Burgerman, published by Oxford Children’s Books

In a very similar format and for the same audience, Jon Burgerman has also written Everybody Worries. This book points out that no matter how tough, smart or brave an individual might be, we all have worries and everybody worries about different things and that it is important to talk about whatever is worrying you. It helps youngsters identify what worrying feels like:

‘Your head might ache and your heart beat quickly, as worries rise like a wave…

…and make you feel sickly.’

As well as identifying worries, practical tips such as drawing your worries, taking deep breaths and sharing your worries with someone are also provided.

I would highly recommend Everybody Has Feelings and Everybody Worries to homes, nurseries, pre-schools and Reception classes to be shared with children aged 3-5. I am most grateful to Oxford Children’s Books for sending me a review copies in exchange for my honest opinion.

#20 Books of Summer 2021: Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller

I’m kicking off my #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy who writes the marvellous 746books.com blog, with a smart, entertaining and funny book aimed at the Middle Grade market: Mickey and the Trouble with Moles written by Anne Miller and illustrated by Becka Moor.

mc

I was delighted to discover that a second Mickey adventure, written with wit and whimsy by Anne Miller and wonderfully illustrated by Becka Moor, had been published last month as I adored the first in the series, Mickey and the Animal Spies. This book starts with a recap of the essential facts and can therefore be read as a standalone…although I would strongly urge you to read both!

Michaela Rose Thompson (Mickey) might appear to be an ordinary girl who dutifully attends school and gymnastics lessons and reliably takes responsibility for herself when her parents are working late on their scientific experiments. However, Mickey has an unusual aptitude for code-cracking and her undercover activities as human liaison officer to COBRA, a secret organisation of animal spies, set her apart from the crowd. This time she and her animal colleagues must delve into the rogue activities of the moles, dig into their motivation for tunnelling into the United Bank’s ‘Impossible Vault’ and try to unearth the brains behind the plan. Will Mickey’s obsession with the writings of Hildegarde L. McTavish help her crack the triple encryption and rescue a comrade before the ticking clock runs down?

If you like your spy mysteries to be filled with humour, quirky wordplay and an innovative use of seagulls as anti-surveillance accessories, this is the book for you! I would imagine that Anne Miller had enormous fun playing with the tropes of classic spy fiction to create this brilliantly amusing, engaging and satisfying story. It is the perfect length for newly confident readers to finish independently, has a great balance of whole and half-page illustrations by Becka Moor and as an added bonus contains an interactive element as readers are encouraged to crack different ciphers throughout the narrative. I enjoyed reading it enormously and know that it would have been devoured by my youngest had it been around when she was in primary school. As if things couldn’t get any better, it ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving this reader and I’m sure many others, hungry for book three!

This will be an excellent addition to classrooms, school libraries and home bookshelves for anyone of 8+, the blend of animals, spy mystery, humour and illustrations wrapped in a cracking plot making it one of those perfect books to read for pleasure.

I am very grateful to Liz Scott and Oxford Children’s Books for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

One summer, three months, 10 books! Thank you Cathy for hosting!