Perfect Picture Books August -September 2020

I have received some delightful picture books to review recently. Here are three which make perfect back-to-school treats for home, classroom or library enjoyment.

What’s In My Lunchbox? written by Peter Carnavas, illustrated by Kat Chadwick

Cover illustration by Kat Chadwick, published by New Frontier Publishing

I would imagine that every school child is familiar with the concept of opening their lunchbox in eager anticipation of the delights and surprises it might contain. From this everyday experience Peter Carnavas, an award-winning Australian author, invites children to let their imaginations soar as the young boy in his story finds an increasingly unusual collection of treats contained within his mischievous-looking lunchbox.

The simple rhythm of a repeated line leading to a revelation on the subsequent page makes this a hugely enjoyable book to read aloud and builds the audience’s anticipation of the next bizarre lunchtime snack! The illustrations by Kat Chadwick are bold, bright and wonderfully expressive as the young boy approaches his lunchbox with greater apprehension on each page.

Kat Chadwick’s lunchbox appears to be totally aware of the surprises it contains!

I highly recommend this book for pre-school and Reception Class children for whom it will turn a routine experience into a feast for the imagination!

Yellow Dress Day written by Michelle Worthington, illustrated by Sophie Norsa

Cover illustration by Sophie Norsa, published by New Frontier Publishing

This sumptuously illustrated picture book tells the tale of Ava, a young girl whose rainbow-coloured selection of dresses provides the perfect dress to match the atmospheric conditions; red for sunshine, purple for rain, blue for snow. On “whistling, whirly, windy days Ava’s heart tells her that she must wear yellow – but disaster strikes one morning when the yellow dress cannot be found!

Michelle Worthington’s text presents the sensory world of Ava in simple and sympathetic sentences, illustrated with great warmth by Sophie Norsa and printed with beautiful typographic effects. This is a lovely book which I am sure will be greatly enjoyed by all young children who have very determined ideas about their clothing choices. A percentage of the proceeds from Yellow Dress Day are donated to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.

Ruby and Graham written and illustrated by Lucy Barnard

Cover illustration by Lucy Barnard, published by New Frontier Publishing

In Acorn Wood, two great friends, Ruby red squirrel and Graham grey squirrel have very different personalities. Ruby is the fun party girl who loves to have a good time and is much-loved by everyone. Graham, on the other hand, is rarely seen without his clipboard as he tries to keep the wood under control. When his fellow woodland creatures stop listening to him, he decides that he will behave more like Ruby in an attempt to become as popular as her. The results are wonderfully portrayed by author/illustrator Lucy Barnard; on every page the chaos and disruption to the woodland habitat becomes more apparent.

This book makes clear to young readers the importance of staying true to yourself, working as a team and the need for all types of personalities to make the world a beautiful place. It also emphasises the need to take responsibility and could be used as a prompt for conversations about looking after the environment and learning about woodland animals. A delightful story for children in the 3-6 age range and I would imagine that it would work well in Forest School settings with Key Stage 1 learners.

I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing UK for sending me copies of these beautiful picture books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Alphabetty Botty Blog Tour Review: Oi Aardvark! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Cover image by Jim Field, published by Hachette Children’s Books

To quote a phrase from my early childhood…Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

The latest in the hilarious series of Oi! books in which animals are seated on objects which rhyme with their name was published on 3rd September 2020 and I am delighted to bring you this review courtesy of the letter V on its launch blog tour.

Our favourite animal trio – forceful Frog, condescending Cat and delightful Dog are back and this time Frog is on a mission to seat an A to Z of animals on objects ranging from the ambitious to the zany! With brilliantly witty combinations Frog works his way through his alphabetical encyclopaedia of animals with increasingly outrageous seating arrangements. My personal favourite, of course, is contained within the pull-out section at the end – vipers sit (very uncomfortably it would appear) on wipers! By the end of the book it is safe to say that Frog emerges veritably victorious from his quest!

I completely love this book which I am sure will delight parents, grandparents, carers, teachers, librarians and the small people with whom they share it. It not only entertains in grand style, it introduces phonics and rhyme and with its imaginative list of animals it helps to start building the hinterland of knowledge that is a welcome side-effect of reading for pleasure. The blend of Kes Gray’s imaginative rhyming pairs and Jim Field’s playful and expressive illustrations makes this a picture book that will provide hours and hours of laughter and enjoyment; the expression on the face of the “piggy porker” who provides an unwilling cushion for an orca made me hoot with laughter.

Thank you to Lucy Clayton at Hachette Children’s Books for inviting me to join the blog tour; do check out the other brilliant bloggers who have contributed to this Alphabetty Botty blog tour.

Perfect Picture Books July 2020

I have been very fortunate in recent weeks to receive an amazing selection of picture books from New Frontier Publishing, who have made it their goal to produce great quality books with powerful messages and informative content. Here are a selection of their July publications.

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town written by Maggie May Gordon and illustrated by Margarita Levina

Cover image by Margarita Levina, published by New Frontier Publishing

This deliciously imaginative story from Maggie May Gordon, who is a well-known poet and lyricist in Australia, is likely to inspire all kinds of creativity in children with whom it is shared. Polly Profiterole is a very hard-working cook who is completely exhausted from making pancakes for the inhabitants of her little town every day.

Her little town, which is beautifully captured in retro colours by illustrator Margarita Levina, seems to be lost in a time-warp in an out of the way corner of Australia. The verandah of Polly’s bungalow serves as the Pancake Parlour…and is the ONLY shop in a town so neglected that it doesn’t have a school, church, shops or even a pub! In a flash of inspiration one night Polly decides that she will bake the institutions required to bring her town to life, and her builder husband Percy can then construct her vision. From her imagination pours a series of buildings created from some highly unusual but very tasty materials; my favourite joke was the Hot Bread Bank, which required a huge amount of dough!

This quirky tale would be perfect to share with pre-school and Early Years children and could stimulate all kinds of construction, baking and other imaginative and creative activities.

My Grandma is 100, written by Aimee Chan and illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover image by Angela Perrini, published by New Frontier Publishing

This heart-warming story is told from a young child’s point of view as he ponders the one hundredth birthday of his Grandma Edna. The charming text by Aimee Chan and playful illustrations by Angela Perrini fully capture a child’s sense of awe at the magical number 100. I found myself chuckling with amusement as the little boy asks Grandma whether she will have fairy bread and crisps and wonders whether the fire brigade will be required if Grandma cannot blow out one hundred candles! Aimee Chan has brilliantly highlighted the differences in the way that the younger and older generations think whilst conveying the absolute determination of the child to find the perfect present for his beloved Grandma.

The inspiration for the story, I believe, was the author’s own grandmother-in-law and the sense of intergenerational family celebration and love flows from every page. I love the use of different fonts, sizes and colours to emphasise certain words and I am sure that this book will delight all pre-school and Early Years children and provide an excellent basis for discussions about family and growing old.

Amazing Animal Earth, written by Alessandra Yap and illustrated by Anastasia Popp

Cover image by Anastasia Popp, published by New Frontier Publishing

This book takes young readers on a whistle-stop tour of the world’s seven continents in an entertaining and educational look at the diverse range of wildlife that we are lucky enough to enjoy on our planet. The story is told in simple rhyming text by teacher Alessandra Yap, and from the positioning of the young girl on the far right hand side of the first spread you know that you are about to join her on a journey.

First to Africa, which the text explains is made of many countries and a descriptive selection of the amazing animals to be found on that great continent. From the hot colours of Africa the narrative progresses to snowy Europe, exotic Asia, vast North America, fascinating South America, amazing Australia and icy Antarctica. At each stop a small selection of interesting animals are highlighted so that despite this being a slim book the spark is lit in a child’s quest for knowledge about the incredible animals that we should treasure. The illustrations by Anastasia Popp entertainingly place the young girl in the centre of the animal action on each spread which I am sure will encourage young readers to study the pictures with great attention.

The Sloth and the Dinglewot, written by Nicole Prust and illustrated by Amanda Enright

Cover illustration by Amanda Enright, Published by New Frontier Publishing

This debut picture book from Sri Lankan-born Nicole Prust who now works as a teacher in the UK quite wonderfully aims to encourage young children to find the inner strength to try something new. From its glittering front cover onwards this book literally sparkles with the joy of exploration and adventure!

Samuel Sloth’s family hang out on the banks of the lazy lagoon, but while the rest of his family lie in the trees with their eyes closed Samuel has one eye open for adventure. He is encouraged to follow his instincts by the mysterious Dinglewot, a bird whose feathers explode with colour, leaving a trail of multi-coloured sparkles behind her flight path. She leads Samuel beyond the edge of the trees to frolic with baboons, be entertained by musical bats and eventually to feast in Dinglewotville. At every new stage when Samuel’s inner fears threaten to hold him back the Dinglewot gently encourages him to find his determination and relish a new experience.

I enjoyed this book hugely. The text written as rhyming couplets is perfectly complemented by the beautifully detailed and brightly coloured illustrations so that Samuel’s journey, from sleepy sloth longing for adventure to bold explorer who has conquered his inner fears, flows gloriously through the story. I can imagine that this book will be hugely popular as a read-aloud story in Early Years classrooms or as a bedtime story and I am sure that young children will love joining in with the Dinglewot’s rhyme as they learn to embrace new experiences. I am looking forward to sharing it with Reception class children when term begins in September.

There are teaching resources available for this book on the New Frontier website, available here.

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing and Little Steps Publishing for sending me these books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Encouraging Exploration 1: Gregory Goose Adventures by Hilary Robinson, Illustrated by Mandy Stanley

Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Star
Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Sta

With so much evidence based research pointing to the positive benefits of reading on mental health, educational outcomes and development of empathy it is so important to encourage a love of books in children from a young age. These two latest titles in the Gregory Goose series are perfect for sharing with toddlers and pre-schoolers to help develop an intrinsic love of books. As with everything from Catch a Star/New Frontier Publishing they are made with the highest production values; printed on quality thick card, with eye-catching shiny highlights on the covers and made to a perfect size for a pre-schooler to hold comfortably.

I had the privilege to meet both the author Hilary Robinson and illustrator, Mandy Stanley earlier this year and I know how much effort they put into their collaboration to perfectly combine the simple rhyming text and pictures so that they perfectly complement each other. Hilary’s text is written with precise rhyme and rhythm and I love the way that she does not compromise on vocabulary so that children are introduced to words such as chalet, clinging and zooming. Mandy’s illustrations are full of colour and energy and feature the most sartorially elegant fowl in fiction! The end result are books which will give endless hours of pleasure to children and adult readers alike.

The pictures are full of detail, in stunningly vibrant colours blending simple shapes with more detailed artwork. For example in Gregory Goose is on the Loose Up the Mountain the pine trees are portrayed as both simple green triangles and also as beautifully detailed branches of pine needles and pine cones. Triangles are in evidence throughout this book, as flags on the ski slopes, the rooftops of chalets and of course Gregory’s beak. This gives opportunities for discussing shape and number as well as the huge opportunities for chat about the action taking place on every page. In Gregory Goose is on the Loose At the Fair the pictures are full of circles: lights on the rides and attractions, round windows on the rocket ship ride, toffee apples and the Hoopla hoops. Finally, I should mention that these are “seek and find” books with the challenge to discover Gregory’s whereabouts on every page – there are hints in the text, but it is not always easy! With so much detail to observe, Gregory Goose certainly encourages children to concentrate on the page, thus building a stamina which will be required to develop reading skills.

If you are the parent, grandparent, Godparent or in any way related to pre-school children, do put these on your Christmas/birthday shopping list, you will be making a hugely positive contribution to the future of any child with whom you share these books.

For my reviews of other books in the Gregory Goose is on the Loose series, please click here.

I am grateful to New Frontier Publishing/Catch a Star for sending me copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

In My Dreams by Stef Gemmill and Tanja Stephani – Blog Tour

In My Dreams front cover, published by New Frontier Publishing June 2020

I was fortunate to get an advanced glimpse at this beautiful book at a bloggers event hosted by New Frontier Publishing back in February. The glorious jewel-coloured cover, with its gold foil highlights marks it out as a book to treasure; it is crammed with happy imagination, brought to life in Tanja Stephani’s tender and joyous illustrations.

I am delighted to be able to bring you a Q&A with illustrator Tanja, conducted via email, with the help of Henry at New Frontier.

Firstly, Tanja, can I congratulate you on the beautiful illustrations you have created for In My Dreams. I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers event in February and everyone there was drawn to this book, almost like bees to a particularly attractive flower!

Thank you so much for that, I received the book today in the mail and I’m really totally happy with the result!

How did you collaborate with author Stef Gemmill to communicate her vision for the story and how long did it take you to illustrate this book?

I actually didn’t speak with Stef Gemmill, I was invited to collaborate with a lovely Agency called Plum Pudding, and after 3 weeks I had this wonderful opportunity to sign the contract for this lovely story.

As I read the book, I found that some of the illustrations sparked memories of books that I had read as bedtime stories to my children, was this your intention? 

I’m sure I am inspired by a lot of children’s memories! But when I was reading the text for the first time, most of the pictures came immediately to my mind.

I absolutely love the picture of the boy riding his dragon over the dancing elephants; do you have a favourite picture in the book?

Oh yes, I love the cover very much. And now with the glitter it’s amazing – the art director did a wonderful job as well. 

How did you produce the illustrations for this book, do you start on paper and transfer to digital illustration?

First I started with the marshmallow page and worked only by hand, but then my sister got very ill and I had to work in the hospital sometimes too, so I decided to create the whole book on the iPad.

Do you have a favourite medium for creating your artwork, and has it changed over your career?

I’m an art supply “junky”. I love to try new things out, but mostly I end up using pastel, water colours, colour pencils and then I finish things off with the iPad.

How did you become a children’s book illustrator and was this always your ambition?

Yes it was always a dream for sure, but I started with a graphic design career and then moved on to art stuff like creating giant dragons for playgrounds or lamps for children’s rooms, paper objects, fine art etc… finally after 30 years I became a children’s illustrator.  

Do you have a favourite artist or illustrator and was there anyone who particularly encouraged your development as an artist when you were younger?

I think I’ve always had an artist’s soul…creating small worlds and trying out every kind of material. The teachers didn’t like me very much at this time. I always changed the assignment and had a better idea as an example. They wanted us to make a little dwarf made of felt, but I decided to create a big, big dragon. I worked on it over the whole weekend. 

My favourite children’s book artists in my childhood were Tomi Ungerer, Tatjana Hauptmann, Hans Fischer, Jean de Brunhoff, Maurice Sendak and of course Alois Carigiet.

What advice would you give to a child (and I would have been in this group) who struggles to get started when they are asked to draw something at school?

Oh that’s a good question… I worked a lot with children in schools and I never asked them to start drawing with something. We always started with kind of traces on paper, backgrounds of brushes that danced over the paper and other different ways to create backgrounds, so every child was able to see something coming out from that background and the question was answered.

Thank you for answering my questions and I wish you much success with In My Dreams; I can’t wait to share this wonderful book with children in my library.

Thank you so much for asking me, it was pleasure!

And here is my review:

The story begins (and ends) in a young boy’s bedroom, stuffed with toys and shaded in muted blue tones with his bed suffused in moonlight as he sleeps with his dog snuggled up on the covers. Each fully-illustrated double page spread takes you on a fantastical journey through the boy’s dreams, with simple sentences meandering across the pages. We accompany the boy and his faithful dog across rainbow-dappled marshmallow clouds, through rain and puddles made of sweet treats,, to the ocean floor and through jungles. My favourite page shows them gathering treasure…but no, it is not the gold coins or jewels we might expect, but rather “kisses and kindness from the island of Love”

This would make a wonderful bedtime story; Stef Gemmill’s sentences are filled with assonance and gentle rhythm, lulling any child to whom you read this into a tranquil state. I can think of no higher praise than to say that as I read it aloud (to an empty room) I was transported back 23 years to reading “Goodnight Moon” to my own children. In a preschool or Reception class this book would be a wonderful prompt for a discussion about dreams, it would be interesting to find out if children find that some of the pictures are redolent of bedtime stories that they already know. Some of the pictures certainly set me wondering whether the boy’s dreams were being influenced by some well-known bedtime story books.

You can watch a trailer of Tanja Stephani creating her artwork here

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me a copy of In My Dreams to review.

Do check out the other stops on the blog tour this week, with reviews and interviews from an amazing list of children’s book bloggers.

Review: Boo Loves Books by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Tracie Grimwood

Front cover of Boo Loves Books, illustration by Tracie Grimwood, Published by New Frontier Publishing

As we mark #EmpathyDay2020 today, it seemed the perfect time to post a review of this gorgeous picture book which demonstrates empathy throughout. Firstly there is the kind teacher, Miss Spinelli, who recognises Phoebe’s anxiety about reading and decides to take the class on a trip away from the classroom to read to a non-judgemental audience in an unusual location. Then we see Phoebe’s mum recognising her reluctance to participate in the trip and reassuring her that she is going to have a wonderful time. Next, the small but significant action of her best friend giving her hand a squeeze; showing children that sometimes even the tiniest gesture can mean so much to someone. Finally, Phoebe’s recognition that Big Boo, despite his enormous size is every bit as anxious as she is and her recognition of a kindred spirit helping her through her difficulties.

Kaye Baillie’s story has a heart-warming outcome, showing young children the positive impact of empathy. The charming illustrations by Tracie Grimwood give the impression that they have been created with colouring pencils, the muted shades perfectly matched to the tone of the story. The transformation of Phoebe’s nervous facial expressions and body language to a face suffused with smiles is deeply touching. At a time when even the youngest children display anxieties at the strange conditions we are all operating under, stories such as Boo Loves Books, with a message of quiet reassurance are invaluable.

I highly recommend this book for any pre-school or Key Stage One’s collection of books to read for empathy and if you are looking for a book to share at home with a child of 3-6 years old, then add this to your shopping list!

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for sending me a copy of Boo Loves Books in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Winnie and Wilbur books by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Winnie Bug Safari

In The Bug Safari Winnie the Witch and her big black cat Wilbur are enjoying the most magnificent picnic in the garden when fallen scone crumbs cause a rustling in the undergrowth and an organised column of ants arrived to claim their prize. A host of other insects fascinate Winnie, who impetuously decides that in order to get a better look she should shrink herself and Wilbur to insect proportions.

The resulting perilous adventure will entrance young readers and listeners, as Winnie and Wilbur dodge multiple hazards in their quest to return to their normal size! The vibrant illustrations overflow with detail about the insect kingdom, the bugs almost rivalling Winnie in their multi-coloured costumes.

This is a book to be opened flat on the carpet and surrounded by young children who will find almost countless wonders to marvel at – oh for the days before social distancing. I recently used the book as a prompt to going on a garden bug hunt for a videoed Google classroom segment, and there are many other counting and sorting activities which could stem from this beautiful book.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 at 19.54.56

Delightfully, the wonderful folk at OUP Children’s have issued Winnie and Wilbur Stay at Home as a free e-book for anyone to download during lockdown. You can access it from the link here.

This book is an absolute hoot, with Winnie’s attempts at joining in with an online exercise session being my highlight (probably because it’s rather similar to certain attempts in my house)!

Children will recognise all the adjustments to activities that they have had to make, reflected in Winnie and Wilbur’s household. This book shows them how to find the joy in singing songs whilst hand-washing, covering the house in rainbows and simply enjoying stories. Winnie really is an utterly joyous character with her multi-coloured fashion choices and accessories and this book is overflowing with good humour to put a smile on the faces of children and adults staying inside to keep the country safe.

With thanks to OUP Children’s Books for my copy of Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari in exchange for an honest review.

Dragons for St George’s Day!

I thought that for St George’s Day I would give a shout-out to my favourite dragons in MG literature. So, in no particular order, here they are:

 

Dragon in LibraryIn  The Dragon in the Library  by Louie Stowell, we meet Draca, the giant sleeping dragon who resides deep under The Chatsworth Library where librarian Faith allows her young apprentice Kit, and her two best friends Alita and Josh into the secret of library dragons. I love the idea of a dragon being kept happily asleep by visiting librarians reading her stories, and the theory that profoundly shocking world events occur when dragons are awoken from their slumbers. Quite wonderfully, this book also features Dogon, a cute half-dog, half-dragon, who I sincerely wish lived in my little school library! Perfect for newly confident readers of 7+, or as a whole class story.

book dragonThe Book Dragon  by  Kell Andrews, features a dragon who remains nameless throughout the story. In this book which again celebrates the joy of reading, an important message is delivered about thinking for yourself. The town has banned books and indeed anything written on paper for fear of the Book Dragon who lives on the outskirts of town. It is said that she will appear to steal your books and then return the following night to search for more. However, when Rosehilda investigates for herself, she finds that the bookish dragon has entirely different motives and a happy solution is found to suit all parties. This picture book is ideal for children of 4+.

 

 

IMG_3401Dirk Dilly the hero of Dragon Detective: Catnapped by Gareth P Jones, fits all the tropes of a private investigator from the classic black and white movies. Sitting with his feet up on the desk of his unkempt, office with smoke unfurling from his nostrils, I can absolutely imagine him talking out of the side of his mouth with Humphrey Bogart’s voice! Of course Dirk Dilly has actually exhaled that smoke because he is a dragon! To be precise: an urban-dwelling, green-bellied, red-backed mountain dragon. Although projecting a hardened, cynical shell, his soft heart is slowly revealed as he works alongside his young client (Holly Bigsby) to unravel the mystery of the disappearing cats. A funny, exciting story for children of 8+.

 

RumblestarFrom Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone, Arlo the miniature, blue dragon who belongs to impulsive and reckless Utterly Thankless. must be one of the cutest dragons to appear in literature. Although tiny, there is no doubting Arlo’s huge heart as he demonstrates true bravery in protecting  both Utterly and Casper Tock, a nervous but ultimately heroic boy who has accidentally stumbled into the kingdom of Rumblestar. Arlo is one of many things to love in this exciting and imaginative adventure. Suitable for children of 8+.

 

 

Harry PotThere are a number of dragons to choose from in the Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling but my personal favourite is Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, hatched from an egg by Hagrid in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Hagrid has wanted a dragon all his life and ignores the ruling, against owning them, by the Warlock’s Council of 1709 when presented with the opportunity to hatch a large black dragon egg. I love the way that JK Rowling wrote this magical creature into the story, and in so doing provided a marvellous insight into the character of Hagrid, a true giant of MG literature. The image of Hagrid bucket-feeding Norbert with a mixture of hen’s blood and brandy has remained lodged in my mind since I first read this book to my children nineteen years ago!

boy grew dragonsIf you happen to discover an unusual looking, spiky, plant with yellow and orange tendrils resembling bursts of flame in your vegetable patch, then, beware. You too might be about to grow dragons like Tomas, The Boy Who Grew Dragons written by Andy Shepherd. You’d better hope that they turn out like Flicker, the cutest little dragon ever to hatch from a dragon fruit, with his smoky little hiccups and out-of-control arrowhead tail. Of course, having a pet dragon can have drawbacks and there are plenty of comic moments to laugh at in this wonderfully entertaining book for anyone of 7/8+.

 

 

Smaug from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien the majestically avaricious dragon from The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet  by Martin Howard are rather less cute and cuddly than those previously mentioned. Both sharing an obsession with guarding a sizeable haul of treasure and behaving in a less than welcoming manner to those they suspect of coveting their hoards! Both of these fearsome reptilians stand in the way of the heroes being able to fulfil their quests. Can Bilbo Baggins and Alfie Fleet outwit their dragon foes? If you want an exciting, mythical quest read The Hobbit, if you like laughs and adventure in equal measure, read The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet!

Do you have a favourite Dragon? Which dragons have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

New Picture Books from Little Steps

Little Steps Publishing have released some gorgeous new books for Spring 2020 and I am grateful to Lucy for sending them through for me to review.

 

Brave Adventures, Little Girl by Iresha Herath, illustrated by Oscar Fa

brave little girl

Four year old Anika loves to visit her grandparents each Sunday afternoon. She knows that she will be welcomed with hugs and laughter and shared food and stories. The gentle, simple text by Iresha Herath and beautiful digital illustration by Oscar Fa perfectly convey a loving bond between the generations of a family.

When Anika tries to demonstrate her newly learned skill of hopscotch to grandfather Seeya and grandmother Achi, she becomes nervous, loses her balance and hurts her arm. She then admits to Seeya that she wishes she could be as brave as he was when he had adventures all over the world in his youth. She gets a funny feeling in her tummy when she tries something new and thinks she has no bravery at all.

In his kindly way, Seeya explains that in each of his youthful adventures he had to face new challenges and that he always had a funny feeling in his tummy at those moments; bravery means recognising the challenge of something new and then doing it. These stories are wide ranging, opening new cultural experiences to young children, and all told with a wonderful sparkle of humour. The illustrated country maps are striking and I particularly loved the painting of Enzo Ferrari!

This is a perfect book to enjoy sharing with young children. The author’s Sri Lankan/Australian heritage provides an awareness of different cultures, the family dynamic is portrayed in a lovingly positive light, children will delight in the humour and it is a great discussion starter for conversations about confronting fears. Highly recommended for everyone of 4+.

Where Do Teachers Go At Night? By Harriet Cuming, illustrated by Sophie Nora

Where teacher go at night

Written by a teacher with many years’ of experience, this hugely amusing picture book with bouncy rhyming text reveals the secret life of teachers after the classroom door has closed for the day! The illustrations are perfectly designed, resembling a mixture of watercolour and crayon familiar to all who work in primary schools. They portray the activities with great humour and children will love spotting the accessories that highlight each teacher’s personality and speciality. In addition, this book falls into the category of teaching children new facts without them even realising it, with the action taking place all over the world and a summary map at the end. 

I can see this book being extremely popular with young children and providing a creative spark for their own ideas about what their teacher might do out of hours!

Where Else Do Teachers Go At Night? By Harriet Cuming, illustrated by Sophie Nora

where else teacher go at night

Not content with their many adventures in Book 1, the intrepid and energetic teachers are off around the world on a new set of out-of-hours adventures! Again Harriet Cuming’s amusing, rhyming text is perfectly complemented by Sophie Nora’s colourful and richly detailed artwork. The locations ranging from the Andes, to Cork to Outer Mongolia are rendered with humorous geographical detail which both amuses and educates.

This is a book which will reward repeated readings and provides many fascinating details for young children to explore.

 

Little Steps Publishing provide teacher’s notes which include ideas for artwork and classroom activities based on these two books, you can find them here:

http://d.site-cdn.net/6cd93335c8/a13ed7/5589-where-do-teachers-go-at-night-teaching-notes.pdf

 

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! written by Penny Harrison, illustrated by Katie Wilson

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Welcome to my stop on the Extraordinary! blog tour. I am very grateful that I had the chance to ask Penny Harrison some questions about her inspiration for this wonderful book. Here are her answers:

This book abounds with an appreciation of the natural world, does this stem from your own childhood?

Yes! I grew up on a cattle farm in the middle of New South Wales, in Australia. It was an incredible place, in the Capertee Valley, surrounded by the bluest mountains.

We really did experience four seasons there and each season bought something special, whether it was exploring and camping in the bush in spring and swimming in the creek in summer, or picking fruit for homemade jam in autumn and hunting for natural treasures while collecting kindling for the fire in winter.

I felt a strong sense of place in this natural world from an early age.

Could you tell UK readers what life is like on an Australian farm?

I was five years old when we first moved to the farm. It was in the middle of one of Australia’s worst droughts and all I can remember is the dust and driving around on the back of a truck, feeding hay to the cattle.

I learned to read when I was very young and escaped into books, like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, where nature was pretty and lush.

But the drought eventually broke – the hills turned green, the trees in the orchard were laden with fruit, and the rivers and creeks started flowing. At times they even flooded, cutting us off from the nearest town.

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We had plenty of pets, including a poddy calf, a joey kangaroo, a milking cow, and various guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens.

We would catch a bus to the nearest primary school, which usually took about an hour (including a bumpy 15-minute drive along our dirt driveway).

For high school, we were sent to boarding school in Sydney. But, being a shy homebody (and a country girl at heart), I didn’t last long and ended up doing most of my schooling by correspondence, which involved packages of work being sent to me in the mail.

I read in your biography that you have written for many audiences, what drew you to children’s picture books?

I’ve mostly written for newspapers and magazines, covering every thing from courts and police rounds to gardens and interiors. But the thing with journalism is that you’re telling other people’s stories and often using their words.

I’ve always loved children’s books and am completely obsessed with illustration (I would so love to be able to draw). It just took me a long time to realise that these were the stories I wanted to tell, and even longer to build up the confidence to try writing them.

Why did you choose to write this book in rhyme?

It honestly just came out that way. The concept didn’t begin as a rhyming story, but when I started, I found it really wanted to rhyme. Some stories are stubborn like that.

What message would you like your readers to take away from Extraordinary!?

That the little moments in life are what matter most. We can strive for success and grandeur, but being able to notice and treasure the ‘ordinary’ is what will ultimately fulfil us. And what we need more of in this world.

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For years I’ve had a quote from William Martin (beautifully illustrated by children’s author/illustrator Jess Racklyeft) pinned to my wall and this was the inspiration for Extraordinary:

Penny Harrison

How closely did you work with the illustrator, Katie Wilson, and what do you think about the way she has illustrated your story?

About six years ago, I started following Katie’s beautiful work on Facebook and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’d love to see her illustrate a picture book’. When I heard that I’d been paired with Katie for one of my own books, I was blown away. Katie worked with the publisher and designer. I simply sent her effusive messages every time I saw some of the pages. What she’s done is exquisite.

What were your favourite picture books from your own childhood, and do you have any favourites that you shared with your own children?

I was a big Shirley Hughes fan as a child. I adored Dogger, but my favourite was probably Sally’s Secret, about a little girl who finds a secret cubby hidden in the garden. I spent a lot of my childhood creating similar cubbies. My son and I loved reading Koala Lou (Mem Fox and Pamela Lofts) and anything by Dr Seuss. And my daughter and I both adored Peggy (Anna Walker), Sadie (Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad), and Ada Twist Scientist (Andrea Beaty and David Roberts). We still do.

Do you have a particular writing space in your home?

I have a lovely big old table for a desk that looks out into my garden, but, to be honest, I don’t often write there. Usually, I’m scribbling notes while waiting in the car to pick up one of the kids, sitting outside with a cup of tea, or unable to sleep in the middle of the night!

Can you tell us what you will be working on next?

I have a couple of picture book ideas that I’m working on and a concept for a junior fiction series that I’d love to explore.

Thank you so very much Penny for this insight into the background to Extraordinary! I cannot wait to read your next picture book. In the meantime, here is my review of Extraordinary!

This amazing picture book encourages children to appreciate the beauty of nature and the everyday moments which make life extraordinary.

Firstly, you have to take a few moments to linger over the glorious hardback cover. The stunning woodland scene painted in rich autumnal colours, with small details such as leaf spines picked out in foil is so evocative that you can almost smell the loamy scent of the forest floor as the young boy and his dog explore it.

Penny Harrison has written the entire book in gentle rhyme, with a soothing rhythm that lulls you into a meditative recognition of the simple pleasures of life.

The accompanying artwork by Katie Wilson immerses the reader initially into open landscapes where the imagination is invited to soar like an eagle as your wishes expand to the horizons. Then, from these grand vistas the story moves to the domestic, where simple indoor pleasures like relaxing with a bookcase full of wonders in a cosy lounge are to be treasured. Outside, the focus zooms in to observe the antics of insects exploring a blade of grass, or the delight to be found in inhaling the scents of a spring day and observing new life bursting forth. On every page there are joyous depictions of the life-enhancing experience of appreciating the natural world throughout the seasons, with numerous tiny details to find, which will reward re-readers of this book. The words and pictures are in complete harmony as they encourage a feeling of deep gratitude for precious moments in life.

 

As we learn to appreciate the benefits of children spending time exploring the natural world for the benefit of their mental and physical health, and as we encourage them to enjoy and protect their environment, this book will be a wonderful addition to any primary school classroom or library and indeed to any home picture book collection. In a world where even the youngest children are spending large amounts of time staring at screens, this book is a welcome reminder to relish the fleeting special moments of connection with nature.

 

Thank you to New Frontier Publishing UK for my review copy of Extraordinary! and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.