PictureBook Review: The Happy Mask written by Aimee Chan, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover art by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

This beautifully written and illustrated book explores the issues caused by mask-wearing for the youngest members of society. It is very hard to imagine the emotional impact that having to wear a mask, or being surrounded by mask-wearing grown-ups has had on children who have spent the majority of their lives living under Covid-19 restrictions. I am sure that many will relate to Maggie, the protagonist of this story. She is bored at home, wishes that she could be at school with her friends instead of being “shushed” by her dad when he is on a business call and most of all, does not want to wear her mask. It makes her face itchy and she thinks that people in masks look mean! Fortunately, Maggie’s dad comes up with a simple solution, he draws a huge smile onto Maggie’s mask and from that moment, Maggie walks around the town spreading happiness.

Aimee Chan has a wonderful talent for capturing a child’s perspective and pinning it to the page in carefully chosen description and dialogue. Her simple but impactful text is brilliantly accompanied by Angela Perrini’s glorious artwork. The full-page spreads in this book depict a multi-ethnic and multi-age cast of characters going about their daily tasks wearing the ubiquitous medical masks. I love the blend of facial close-ups, bird’s-eye-view and semi-deserted streetscapes in her illustrations.

This is another essential book for school and nursery classrooms, one in which children can identify their own experiences and begin to discuss and make sense of them.

If you enjoy The Happy Mask, do look out for My Grandma is 100, by the same author-illustrator partnership, which cleverly shows up in an advertisement in one of the illustrations and is an equally lovely story to share with pre-school and early years children.

My thanks to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a copy of The Happy Mask to review.

Review: Harriet’s Expanding Heart written by Rachel Brace, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover art by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

The importance of giving children the vocabulary they need to express their feelings has been recognised in this wonderful book authored by Rachel Brace. As a psychologist, Rachel works with families experiencing the pain of divorce and she has brought her expertise to this story. It tells the tale of Harriet, who has “two homes, two parents, two different bedrooms, one school and a pet cat named Ginger.”

Although her parents have split up, Harriet leads a contented and calm life, understanding the different routines in her two different homes but equally comfortable in both. However, when her Dad sits down to tell her that his special friend Emily and her son Cooper will be moving into his house Harriet sees her orderly life being turned upside-down. Suddenly the words that describe her become negative: “worried, uncertain, apprehensive and anxious.” The accompanying illustration on this page starkly emphasises the sudden change in Harriet’s outlook; the change from a palette of warm colours to an entire page which looks as if it has been scribbled all over with a black pencil, with Harriet huddled in a defensive and miserable pose in one corner leaves the reader in no doubt about the impact this news has on the young protagonist.

Angela Perrini’s ability to portray Harriet’s emotions through her artwork is breath-taking. The other image in the book which will stick in my mind is one of Harriet, again huddled in the lower left of the frame, as she sits inside her Dad’s house, towered over by her step-mum’s possessions.

In gentle, clear language the story proceeds to acknowledge that these feelings are perfectly natural in this situation and offers reassurance that Harriet’s parents still love her as much as ever and that she can take her time to adjust to being part of a step-family. This is a great resource for step-families with young children and even has a selection of clear and practical tips for parents at the end of the book. I highly recommend this book as a useful addition to school and nursery well-being collections for children of 4-7 years old.

I am grateful to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Rainbow Connection written by Vanessa Parsons, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover illustration by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

This beautiful picture book looks at the creativity displayed by so many people throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021 as we were forced to find novel ways to connect with each other.

Focussing on an ordinary family in an ordinary suburban street, the story is told through the eyes of the middle child in a family as “ life as we knew it suddenly stopped.” Each page contains minimal text through which Vanessa Parsons gently unrolls the story of lockdown, which will be utterly familiar to young readers. From the initial weeks of acclimatising to no school and family movies in the evening, to boredom, the home-schooling/parental home-working balancing act and the evening walks, each stage brings back the memories of the first period of lockdown. Overarching these recollections is the theme of the rainbow and the way that its colourful symbol was used to create a feeling of positivity around the world.

The glorious illustrations by Angela Perrini complement the tone of the text perfectly as they are rendered in a slightly muted rainbow palette, perfectly in keeping with the reflective nature of the story. The looks of delight on the children’s faces when they discover the rainbow trail that the neighbours have drawn on the footpath are infectious and young James grinning and waving in the background of his Dad’s video conference made me snort with laughter!

I think that this will be a lovely book for parents and school staff to share with preschool and early years children, to help them reflect and make sense of the strange start that they have had to their lives and education. The final message of making the most of all the small pleasures in life is an important one for us all. If you need any further incentives to purchase a copy: 10% of author royalties are being donated to NHS Charities together AND there is a recipe for rainbow cake at the end of the story!

I am very grateful to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a copy of The Rainbow Connection in exchange for my honest review.

Blog Tour: Bears Don’t Wear Shoes written and illustrated by Sharon Davey

Today I am delighted to join the blog tour for Bears Don’t Wear Shoes and welcome a guest post from author and illustrator Sharon Davey describing her creative process.

How to write character led stories by Sharon Davey.

Character led stories are at the heart of picture book making and perfect for young readers who like to know whose point of view they are following from the very first page.

For me, most stories start with a character sketch that makes me laugh. It could be a penguin stuck in a teapot or a leopard sunbathing. Now to write the rest of the story.

I use the who, what, where and want approach.

Who – Suzy – the only child in a family of parents and grandparents. Also affectionately known as Dearie and Little Lady. She’s bubbly and playful with the confidence that only another pre-schooler would understand.

What – she’s a natural negotiator and creative organiser. She likes biscuits, painting and colouring and dressing up. She doesn’t like waiting.

Where – she’s between houses and feeling pretty worried about that.

And then we give her a problem.

Want – she wants a friend. Someone to play with and to persuade into doing her favourite activities.

A popular picture book sequence is to create a character, give them a problem, make it worse, resolve and end with a twist.

When you start with a character rather than a theme or story idea your biggest challenge is often how to end the story.

I find it useful to work your way through the problem.

Problem-Suzy wants a friend,

Worse -Suzy’s new friend is not as cooperative as she would like, and they disagree.

Resolve -Suzy learns to compromise, she loves Mr. Bear (Even without the shoes)

Twist – Suzy now wants to find a friend for her friend, for when she’s at school so he doesn’t get lonely.

If you create a super appealing character and are looking for a story to write around them try keeping it simple and following the problem all the way to the end.

Thank you so much Sharon for the insight into your writing process and for the use of your beautiful illustrations. I absolutely adored this book with its vibrant colours, lively protagonist and message of acceptance. It recognises a situation which raises anxieties in many children; will they find a friend as they start or change nursery, pre-school or school and resolves the problem with humour and empathy. Suzy is a delightfully appealing character and her interactions with Mr Bear reveal so much about their personalities. I particularly love the scene above where she is interviewing him for the position of best friend with all the confidence of a pre-schooler who has got their hands on a clip-board!

For me, this book had echoes of two classic picture books, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Not Now Bernard; I heartily recommend that you add this to your picture book collection where I am sure it will be much loved by children from 3-6 and any adults with whom they share it!

I am grateful to New Frontier Publishing UK for inviting me to join this blog tour and for providing me with a review copy of Bears Don’t Wear Shoes, and to Sharon Davey for the guest post and artwork. Do read the other posts by a wonderful selection of book review bloggers on the tour throughout this week.

Picture Book Review: Into the Wild written by Robert Vescio, illustrated by Mel Armstrong

Illustrated by Mel Armstrong, Published by New Frontier Publishing UK

Into the Wild written by Robert Vescio and illustrated by Mel Armstrong is an absolutely joyful book to share with young children as it follows the adventurous wanderings of a young boy named Roman. It celebrates the wonder of nature and the comfort of finding someone special to share your precious moments with.

The illustrations by Mel Armstrong are beautifully rendered in all the vibrant colours of nature. The expressions on the young protagonist’s face completely capture the absorption displayed by children as they witness the marvels of the natural world.

This book is beautifully designed, with some pages having multiple illustrated panels, encouraging your eyes to naturally follow Roman on his expeditions through the woods, fields and shoreline surrounding his house. The minimal text by Robert Vescio is very simple, often just a few words per double page spread and in my opinion they are in poetic harmony with the pictures, projecting the story whilst leaving plenty of space for discussion between adult and child readers.

As we progress through Roman’s journey of discovery, we glimpse the tantalising fluttering colours of something just to the edge of his vision and when Roman finally discovers the owner of the coloured scarf we share his joy at finding a soulmate with whom he can share nature’s treasures.

This is an utterly beautiful book which I would highly recommend for sharing with any child from the age of 2 to 6. Not only are the text and illustrations completely absorbing, it is one of those picture books which will stimulate hours and hours of conversation and inspiration to get outside and investigate the plants, insects, birds and animals to be found wherever you live. It is so important for younger children to have access to books which will help them build the hinterland of vocabulary and knowledge needed for learning and I strongly encourage you to add Into the Wild to your bookshelf or library collection.

You can find teaching notes and activity sheets linked to Into the Wild here.

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

If you wish to explore other books by this author and illustrator you can read my reviews of Under the Same Sky by Robert Vescio here and A Home for Luna illustrated by Mel Armstrong here.

Advent Review: A Thing Called Snow written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image by Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Children’s Books

This spellbinding book is absolutely perfect for sharing with young children at this time of year and will give hours of pleasure to both children and adults as they experience the joy of first snowfall through the characters of arctic fox and hare.

These two animals have developed a friendship since their birth in the spring and now as they face their first winter in a frozen landscape they are intrigued by the idea of snow. As they walk through their forest habitat they question the animals they meet, slowly building up a vocabulary to describe snow. Their joy when they finally experience the white, cold, fluffy, sparkly miracle absolutely leaps off the page and reflects that of all children of my acquaintance.

Yuval Zommer’s love of the natural world is present in every one of his books. In this one I love the way that the colour palette changes to reflect the atmospheric conditions, starting with warm oranges and browns which are gradually replaced by cold blues, greys and white. Children will learn so much from observing the details of the plants and animals depicted in the amazing artwork contained within this book. It again demonstrates the immense value in beautifully crafted picture books which can be read or looked at for pure pleasure and which educate by stealth.

An absolute delight, I recommend it to everyone – teachers, librarians and families.

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a review copy. I have already purchased a second copy to gift to a young relative.

If you love A Thing Called Snow, then I highly recommend The Tree That’s Meant To Be by Yuval Zommer which has been published in paperback this autumn.

Advent Review: The Snow Dragon written by Abi Elphinstone, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock

Cover image by Fiona Woodcock, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am an enormous fan of anything written by Abi Elphinstone, so it should come as no surprise that this is a story I love to read as we approach Christmas! I first read a version of it in an anthology of Christmas stories owned by my daughter entitled Winter Magic, and last Christmas a hardback edition of this picture book was published. This year the paperback has been released which has prompted me to write a long overdue review.

Phoebe lives in Griselda Bone’s Home for Strays which is the very epitome of a miserable orphanage. Daydreaming, skipping and hide-and-seek are forbidden as Griselda wages her private war on childishness. As the last unclaimed child left at the orphanage it appears that Phoebe faces a bleak future of grammar and punishment with only her dancing dog Herb for company…until her snow dragon magically appears.

Urging her to “never keep an adventure waiting” he transports Phoebe on an enchanted journey during which the combination of Abi’s glorious writing and the beautifully delicate artwork by Fiona Woodcock remind us all to look at the world around us in awe and wonder. This wonderful story about hope, believing in the miraculous and never losing a sense of playfulness and joy is a perfect story to share at bedtime or with a class of primary school children. A highly recommended Advent book which you will enjoy year after year.

Advent Review: Where Snow Angels Go written by Maggie O’Farrell, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

Cover image by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, published by Walker Books UK

This book is such a thing of beauty that it would make a wonderful Christmas present for any child and is destined to become a future classic. The illustration on the cover gives you a hint of the sumptuous detail within, as the angel’s outline on the extreme left welcomes you into a story which has a modern fairy tale feel.

The story itself concerns Sylvie, a girl of probably eight to ten, who is awoken suddenly in the night to find a snow angel in her bedroom. This proves troublesome for the rookie snow angel who is on his first mission and is supposed to remain invisible to the child he protects! Sylvie is a very inquisitive girl and persuades the snow angel to tell her far more than he ought! I don’t want to reveal too many of the details here as I wouldn’t want to ruin your enjoyment of Maggie O’Farrell’s spell-binding story telling.

This is her first children’s book and I certainly hope that there are many more to follow. Anyone familiar with her novels will recognise the absolute pinpoint clarity with which she writes and I am delighted that she has not compromised her choice of vocabulary or uniquely descriptive style in creating a story for a younger readership.

As we share stories with children throughout the Advent season this is definitely one to add to your repertoire. The themes of love, wishing to protect your loved ones and remembrance are all particularly poignant this year and the combination of exquisite writing, illustrated so perfectly by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, makes this a book to continually revisit.

I am most grateful to Toppsta and Walker Children’s Books for my review copy. As proof of my wholehearted recommendation, I have already purchased further copies to give away.

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.