2022 Reading Highlights

So here it is; I offer you my highlights from newly published books that I’ve read this year. It is always so difficult to pick out just a few, but these are the books that have stayed in my head and my heart long after I finished reading them. I offer them to you, in case you are looking for a bookish gift and are still wondering what to choose from the huge and tempting selections on the bookshop shelves. From the sixty or so books that I’ve read this year, here are my favourites by age category.

Picture Books: For the youngest readers, this selection provides gentle stories combined with gloriously vibrant illustrations to enjoy every time the covers are opened. Read my reviews for the two Tatty Mouse stories and The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures.

Illustrated Chapter Books: For any young readers who are just gaining their confidence in reading independently, the books in this selection offer entertainment presented in short chapters with the text broken up by illustrations. You can read full reviews of each story by clicking on the links: Wildsmith, The Little Match Girl Strikes Back, Rainbow Grey Eye of the Storm, Edie and the Flits in Paris and Breakfast Club Adventures The Beast Beyond the Fence.

MG Highlights: Three of my favourite MG stories were sequels and so well written that I thoroughly enjoyed them, despite not having read the first in each series: The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers, The Butterfly Club: The Mummy’s Curse and Amari and the Great Game. I hope that Seed might have a sequel, the story certainly ended on a note that cries out for a follow up. Wished by Lissa Evans is absolute perfection, she is one of my favourite authors of both adult and children’s books and I love this story.

Young Teen Highlights: I highly recommend these outstandingly well-crafted novels to readers just moving on from primary to secondary school, looking for immersive and enjoyable reads with rich underlying themes. Reviews are available by clicking the links: War of the Wind, The Raven’s Song, Ghostlight and The Haunted Hills.

The YA books that I have read this year indicate to me that there has been a huge improvement in the scope and quality of books for this readership. These three are superb; a story full of righteous anger told in free verse, a reimagining of Greek myth and a deeply moving reflection on grief. Read my full reviews by clicking on the links: Activist, Her Dark Wings and Aftershocks.

Adult Books: The majority of books that I read in my bookclubs this year were not newly published, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr I think was published just at the end of 2021, so I am perhaps cheating a little by including it here, but it held me enthralled throughout and I loved the way that the multiple narratives were pulled together at the end. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus was a birthday present and dredged up some long forgotten knowledge from undergraduate studies, made me laugh, made me cry and was the perfect summer holiday read and I can’t even begin to describe the work of genius that is Super-Infinite.

I shall end by thanking the wonderful blogging community that I am a part of, for constant inspiration and encouragement. Thank you to the authors, illustrators and publishers who constantly strive to create books that appeal to all tastes, and grateful thanks to the book PRs who send me review copies. I hope that you’ve enjoyed some of my reading highlights from this year, let me know if you have read any of these in the comments. Wishing all my readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas, however you choose to celebrate during this festive season.

Picture Book Reviews: Tatty Mouse – Rock Star and Super Racer by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley

Cover images by Mandy Stanley
Published by Catch a Star

It is always such a treat to receive new titles from Catch a Star, they produce books which have been designed, written, illustrated and produced with meticulous care to appeal to toddlers and pre-school children. With immaculate timing, the gifted partnership of author Hilary Robinson and illustrator Mandy Stanley have created a new series featuring Tatty Mouse. She is the perfect character for our new age of austerity and up-cycling to increase sustainability.

When Tatty Mouse wants to participate in an activity, she doesn’t let a lack of equipment get in her way. Instead she turns to her instruction books, her tool kit, paints, glue, tape and discarded household objects and creates whatever she needs; whether it’s a musical instrument or a go-cart! Hilary Robinson’s sparse text tells the stories perfectly, with humour inserted through speech bubbles and added interactive interest in the form of “can you find” callouts which are cleverly designed in a recycling-style logo. Mandy Stanley’s artwork is absolutely stunning, the images pop off the page with the 3-D effects gloriously enhanced by the lift-the-flaps element of the books. Tatty Mouse is an adorable character, with her expressive face, dungarees and tool belt accessorised with what looks like a home-made necklace.

In both Tatty Mouse Rock Star and Tatty Mouse Super Racer, every page is packed with interest and vibrates with colour which will stimulate so many opportunities for conversation and vocabulary building when shared with young children. The pages and flaps are constructed from thick, high quality card that will bear up to repeated reading which is fortunate as I am sure that these books are going to be extremely popular with their target audience. It is so important to generate a love of books in children at the earliest opportunity and if you are the carer of a pre-school child, I absolutely recommend the Tatty Mouse books to begin their book adventures.

I am grateful to publishers Catch A Star for sending me review copies of these books in return for my honest opinion.

If you enjoy Tatty Mouse, I also recommend the Gregory Goose series by the same creative partnership: Gregory Goose is on the Loose in the Jungle, Gregory Goose is on the Loose on the Moon, Gregory Goose is on the Loose up the Mountain and Gregory Goose is on the Loose at the Fair.

Spring/Summer 2022 picture books from Catch A Star and Little Steps

Catch A Star and Little Steps are the imprints of New Frontier Publishing dedicated to producing top quality books for babies, toddlers and early years children. I am always delighted when they send me a package of books to review as I know that I will find titles that are carefully designed to engage these age groups, present positive messages and provide vocabulary building opportunities and awareness of the world.

Clementine’s Bath

Cover illustration by Annie White, published by Catch A Star,
April 2022

This rhyming, beautifully illustrated story will appeal to children aged 3-6 whether they have a pet dog or not. Clementine, as drawn by Annie White, looks like an adorable family pet, with a coat as crinkly and soft-looking as a favourite teddy bear. On the first spread she is seen enjoying the scents from the garden flowers…but there, lurking in the lower right hand corner is a little hint of the assault on the senses to come! Yes, Clementine finds and overturned dustbin and delights in rolling around in the rubbish, meaning that she will need to be bathed.

I am looking forward to sharing this charming book with the youngest relative. There is so much energy portrayed in Annie White’s beautiful artwork as the multi-generational family try to catch Clementine and she tries to hide in various places around the house and garden. Her final journey to the bath is laugh-out-loud fun! At the end of the story there is an utterly delightful plan of the house and garden, showing the story journey. I haven’t seen this used in a book for this audience before and I think it is a brilliant idea which I can see being used by Key Stage 1 teachers as part of the early geography curriculum.

Clementine’s Treasure

Cover illustration by Anne White, published by Catch A Star,
May 2022

This is a perfect picture book to share with little ones over the Platinum Jubilee weekend. As in the previous Clementine title, Annie White’s engaging, rhyming text is accompanied by her warm, stylish illustrations. This time Clementine is confused by the energy going into cleaning the house and baking a huge, celebratory afternoon tea. The activity is explained when the glamorous Queen arrives, only to have her prize jewel swiped by Clementine who rushes out to the garden to play with her glittery new toy. When the Queen pauses her cupcake consumption long enough to notice the missing necklace, the entire family search their home, inside and out…finally finding it in a location that will make young children roar with laughter!

The beautiful, expressive illustrations of a multi-generational family, their cheeky canine and assorted chickens, provide so much interest for young children. Again, there is a super story map at the end, so that children can track the action of the narrative and Catch A Star have provided teacher notes here.

Little Days Out: At the Pool

Cover illustration by Sally Garland, published by Catch A Star

A top quality lift-the-flap board book in bright, primary colours, At the Pool is the perfect title to share with babies and toddlers as the weather warms and trips to the pool become a possibility. The happy, positive illustrations by Sally Garland depict all the common scenes you would expect from a visit to the swimming pool, from the reception desk, to the changing rooms, the pool itself and finally the cafe for a post-swim snack. The simple clear text outlining baby’s first pool visit with her Dad and big brother introduces new vocabulary and the “flaps” are perfectly designed and robust enough to provide hours of fun. I highly recommend this to nurseries, pre-schools and parents/carers of children from 6 months of age.

Meadow & Marley’s Magical Mix

Cover illustration by Natalie Creed, published by Little Steps, 1st June 2022

Meadow and Marley are on a mission to understand their heritage in this wonderful picture book written by Katie Mantwa George, who is herself of mixed South African and British heritage. It is a truly empowering story of twins Meadow and Marley who use a trip to the outdoor food market with their mum and aunt to try to discover why the family are constantly asked where they are from. It is such a clever concept to use a situation that will be familiar to most young children to explore multi-culturalism, and the explanation of their “magical mix” by mum is a beautiful summary and celebration of a mixed heritage. The gorgeous artwork by Natalie Creed highlights the positive benefits to us all that stem from a society that is inclusive of all nationalities and combinations of nationalities, including happy smiling depictions of adults and children of many ethnicities, and a mouth-watering selection of cuisines.

This is a fantastic book to share with children of 3-6 years of age, everyone can see themselves represented within the pages, and definitely one that school’s could add to their Empathy Day reading lists.

I am most grateful to Catch A Star and Little Steps Publishing for sending me review copies of this picture book selection, in return for my honest opinion.

Picture Books Review: Spring 2022 arrivals from OUP

Cover image by James Jones, published by OUP May 2022

One More Try is the second picture book from the partnership of Naomi and James Jones. Naomi writes the stories and James illustrates them, although after attending a very enjoyable online book launch for this title, it sounds as if the collaborative process is a whole family affair, with input from their two young children too! This direct understanding of what appeals to children is certainly apparent in this strikingly interactive picture book.

Combining an introduction to the language and properties of shapes with the subtext of resilience and perseverance is a winning combination in this story of Circle, who notices the squares and hexagons building a tower and wants to build one too. However, the circles, diamonds and triangles discover that forming themselves into a tower is far trickier than the other shapes make it look. They try all kinds of strategies to find a solution; eventually Circle looks at the problem in a different way and with a beautifully subtle shift from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional shapes, a solution is found.

This book is sure to be hugely popular in pre-schools and early years classrooms and would be perfect for parents and carers to share with young children, I certainly look forward to sharing my copy with the youngest relative. The shapes designed by James Jones are completely engaging with their textures, colours and expressions enticing the reader to try to lift them from the page. The simple text from Naomi Jones is delightfully playful, encouraging an interaction with maths that is experimental and fun and, without a hint of dogmatism encourages youngsters to never give up. I highly recommend One More Try to be shared with all children of 3-6 years of age.

Cover image by Korky Paul, published by OUP March 2022

The latest book in the Winnie and Wilbur series, written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul, recounts the story of Winnie and Wilbur’s first meeting. In a situation that will be familiar to many children, Winnie the witch feels lonely after moving to a new house and decides that she needs company. Her first step is to invite her three sisters to stay and at first they enjoy spending time together. Sadly, the family squabbles begin and after a spectacular and brilliantly illustrated fight between the sisters’ cats, the happy family reunion comes to an end. Winnie then explores a number of unsuitable friendships before the arrival of a stray cat resolves her problem, and the rest, as fans of the series will know, is history!

I absolutely love the Winnie and Wilbur series because Valerie Thomas’ stories are such fun to share with young children and the intricately detailed illustrations by Korky Paul present so much rich material for children to linger over. These books spark a huge range of opportunities for conversation and this one in particular could be used to prompt chat about loneliness (which has been shown to have increased since the COVID-19 lockdowns began) and the qualities needed to form a good friendship. There is a QR code on the inside back cover which

You can read my reviews of two more Winnie and Wilbur books here.

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending me copies of these two picture books in return for my honest opinion.

Review: Everybody Has Feelings by Jon Burgerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Worries by Jon Burgerman

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

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

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

…and make you feel sickly.’

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

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