Perfect Picture Books JoJo’s Jump and Karma and Koo, from Little Steps Publishing

Published by Little Steps Publishing, illustrations by Natalie Merheb and Emma Stuart

I love receiving book post from Little Steps Publishing because I know that I will always find books of the highest quality within the package. Their new releases for January 2022 live up to the usual high standards; enjoyable and meaningful stories with beautiful illustrations, designed to appeal to the youngest book consumers.

Cover illustration by Natalie Merheb

JoJo’s Jump is written in simple rhyming couplets by Stephanie Mason and promotes the message of self-belief and the benefit of a positive learning mindset through the character of a young pony, JoJo. It is such a clever device to use an animal character as the protagonist, allowing all children to absorb the positive messages as they feel empathy with a character with universal appeal. Jojo is depicted in Natalie Merheb’s colourful illustrations as a gorgeous young pony with a “soft chestnut coat” and long golden tail and mane. As she grows and begins her equestrian training she is supported by a cast of super cute animal friends: Bob the fluffy white bunny; Fiona the friendly frog and Peggy the curly haired sheep. The full coloured spreads and spots on every page are bursting with farmyard flora and fauna for young children to explore and talk about.

I really loved the fact that Jojo does not succeed on her first attempt to jump a fence and has the be encouraged to find the inner resolve to have another go. This is such an important lesson for children to learn and I suspect will be readily absorbed as the story of JoJo’s Jump is enjoyed over and over again. Highly recommended for all children of 3-6, whether at home, nursery early years classrooms or in the library.

You can find teachers’ notes and activities to accompany JoJo’s Jump on the Little Steps website here

Cover illustration by Emma Stuart

Karma and Koo, written by Jacquie Lait and illustrated by Emma Stuart would be the most perfect book to share as a bedtime story, especially in the middle of winter! It features two adorable penguins, a mother and child, and begins with the child penguin asking who the “Koo” is, mentioned in the name of mother’s shop. Mother tells her child to search for Koo within the shop, which sparks and imaginative quest through the contents of a large wooden toy box contained at the back of the lovely, old-fashioned shop. The watercolour paintings by Emma Stuart are divine, the little penguin has such an expressive face, and the imaginative exploration through its toy box is depicted with details which I am sure will draw young children into the story.

The combination of soothing rhyme and rhythm and a story spilling over with love and warmth makes Karma and Koo the ideal book for snuggling up and sharing with any child of 2-5. I would have loved to have had this as part of the bedtime books box when my own children were small, I am sure it would have been worn out with re-reading!

The publisher has provided teaching notes and activities to accompany Karma and Koo here.

I am most grateful to Little Steps publishing for providing me with review copies of JoJo’s Jump and Karma & Koo in exchange 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+ .

Blog Tour: Bob the Bear’s Adventures by Alice Chambers

Today I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for Bob the Bear’s Adventures a sweet photographic story aimed at pre-school children. The author and photographer, Alice Chambers certainly knows her audience well after a long career teaching in kindergarten and primary school settings, followed by grand-parenthood!

Bob is a very dapper knitted bear who sports a smart waistcoat and wire-framed glasses and loves to climb and try to hide in Alice’s verdant garden. On the evidence of the photos, I would say that Bob is rather better at climbing than hiding! The text is very simple, a running conversation with Bob about his current hiding place, pitched at exactly the right level for toddlers and I can imagine that the chatty style and recognisable settings will be very engaging for young children. There is so much in this book to prompt interesting conversations with young children, awakening their knowledge of the garden habitat and sense of exploration.

It reminded me very clearly of an activity that my children took part in during their first year in Primary School, where a class bear was sent home with a different child each week and through the school holidays. The idea was to take the bear (in this case he was called Barnaby) along to any activities and photograph or draw him joining in with your football match or trip to the beach or Sunday lunch and write a sentence to take back to school. Bob the Bear’s Adventures would, I think, inspire children to want to recreate some of his antics with their own soft toys. Listening to the story multiple times will help with language development and I particularly like the use of prepositions to describe Bob’s locations as these can be a tricky concept for some children to grasp. The Primary School computing curriculum encourages children in Early Years classes to use digital cameras and I could see this book being a useful model for four/five year-olds to try to replicate in the school wildlife area.

In summary, I think that Bob the Bear’s Adventures will be a lovely story to add to home reading collections, pre-school bookshelves and even Reception Class bookshelves.

I am grateful to Helen at LiterallyPR for supplying a copy of the book and inviting me to join the blog tour for Bob the Bear’s Adventures and I encourage you to check out the other reviews written by my fellow book bloggers.

Review: The Lights That Dance in the Night written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Books

A perfect picture book to share with young children, especially this autumn/winter when the Northern Lights have been visible to many in the north of the UK, Yuval Zommer’s latest work is an absolute essential for home and school bookshelves. He consistently produces the most amazing books which capture the awesome spectacle of nature through his distinctive artwork and careful choice of simple text.

Giving a sentient voice to the tiny specks of dust that have travelled through the stormy atmosphere to perform the awe-inspiring light display known as the Northern Lights, Yuval Zommer inspires all readers – adults and children to embrace their potential to spread joy. His wondrously rendered artwork shows the radiance, happiness and pleasure that this natural phenomenon brings to a range of creatures; making whales sing, wolves howl…and my favourite, foxes sashay! Every page sparkles with the mystery of the lights and the marvels of the natural world. The human storytelling inspired by the lights is encompassed as:

People stopped to stand and stare, to feel the magic in the air.

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I think that his description of the Northern Lights as “a miracle of winter” can be applied to this book as well as to the festive season and this will be high on my gift-giving list to young relatives this winter and, I suspect for many years to come. An absolutely perfect picture book which I highly recommend to everyone to share with a young child.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott for organising my gift copy of The Lights That Dance in the Night from Oxford University Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Other books from Yuval Zommer which you might want to share as Christmas gifts include A Thing Called Snow and The Tree That’s Meant to Be.

Picture Book Review: So You Want to Build a Library by Lindsay Leslie, illustrated by Aviel Basil

Cover image by Aviel Basil, to be published by Raintree Publishers,
3rd February 2022

I am always attracted to a book with “library” in its title and therefore requested this picture book as soon as I saw it on NetGalley. Having spent some time looking at library design as part of my professional librarian course, I give So You Want to Build a Library a big thumbs up; author Lindsay Leslie and illustrator Aviel Basil have totally captured the playful, interactive aspects that attract youngsters to the library and keep them returning!

The story follows the vivid imagination, obviously fed by her reading habit, of a young girl who believes that:

There is no better place on Earth than where stacks and stacks of books are kept – the LIBRARY

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…and who wishes to build her own, with an impressive number of extravagant features. As she chooses her location, gathers materials and  friends, including a helpful giant, and begins to build, her whimsical design cannot fail to delight. The simple text is colourfully brought to life by fantastic, full page illustrations in an ice-cream palette and I found myself longing to curl up in the “biggest, cushiest, floofiest chair” with a chilled treat from the sundae bar and a book! Everyone is catered for in this inclusive temple of books, from dragons to teeny, tiny fairies and I’m certain that young readers if not older librarians will be enthralled by the idea of zip lines and water slides!

A charming picture book for children of 3-6 which presents a lovely image of the joy and adventure to be found inside the library and the books within.

So You Want to Build a Library  is due to be published on 3rd February 2022. I am very grateful to Raintree Publishers and NetGalley for allowing me access to an advanced electronic edition in exchange for an honest review.

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.