Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright & Jim Field

This is a gentle picture book with an important message.  Mouse is overlooked by the rest of the animals who are all much bigger and louder than him.  He's fed up at being ignored, forgotten and even stepped on.  So one day he decides his only option is to ask the biggest, baddest beast of all to teach him to roar. The animal with THE most ferocious roar is the Lion King and he spends his days upon a high rock.  How in world is a tiny mouse going to take him on?  By digging deep, thinking like a winner and being strong is how.  Mouse gathers up enough courage to approach the lion and to his complete surprise discovers that this enormous beast with the powerful roar is actually, well, he's actually scared of mice.  So while Mouse discovers something new about himself he also learns that even the biggest beasts have fears to face. Together the two forge an unlikely friendship and the concluding sentence sums this book up perfectly:

"Yes, that day they both learned that, no matter your size, we all have a mouse and a lion inside."

With sing song ryhme, a quick paced storyline and engaging illustrations (check out Mouse's ears!) this is a winner that E and I have shared together. And I think we both agree that statement is true, we all have a mouse and a lion inside ... and my lion is especially prominent right about bedtime.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Keep those kids reading!

 My book searches have changed some since E started reading. I now spend a lot of time looking for books that are pitched at his reading level but still have a story and characters that interest him. Every kid is different but through trial and error I've found that reading at our house works best when E picks up a book in his own time and reads at his own pace. I leave little book piles around the house so that he can 'discover' new titles without the pressure of thinking he has to read it or even has to like it. And slowly over the last year I've begun to notice him picking up more and more books and sitting down to read them independently.

It's taken me quite a while to find the right books to fit a kid who could be described by any of those trendy labels depending on the day or the hour (early/developing/confident/reluctant, etc, etc). Currently the most popular titles are the Early Reader series from Orion, the Project X Alien Adventure series from Oxford University Press and the Penguin Young Readers books. Penguin is especially good at capturing the nuances of difference reading levels and once E finishes these three series next up my sleeve is the brilliant 'Who Was ...." nonfiction series also from Penguin.

And for anyone who's wondering, I do take E to the library to pick out his own books but sometimes it's just good for everyone to have a little break from Beast Quest now and again.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Robo-Sauce (words by Adam Rubin, pictures by Daniel Salmieri)

I love a book with a good surprise when it's designed well and adds to the overall story. This is certainly the case with Robo-Sauce.  Not your average title, and thankfully not your average book.

We meet a boy pretending to be a robot who decides life would be better as a real robot. He would have loads of playmates and never have to go to bed or take baths. The nameless, faceless narrator then tells him about a magic robo-sauce.  So the kid makes the sauce, gulps it all down and then bam; in a two page spread bursting with colour and chalkboard style illustrations he turns into an actual robot.

He wants to do cool robot things like activate his 'robo-rocket blast' and 'robo-tornado'.  Unfortunately, it's just not that simple.  The kid, turned out of control robot, invents a robo-sauce launcher and then the trouble really begins. He starts turning everyone into robots, even his family and his dog. By the end he can't help but turn the book into a robot and that's when you get to do something very clever that leaves this book standing out from the crowd.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Llama, Llama and Anna Dewdney

I'd like to celebrate the life and work of Anna Dewdney this week. Her Llama Llama books have been a staple around our house for over six years now and I was shocked to read the news that she passed away on the 3rd of September.  It's often hard to separate the character from its creator and I think it's incredibly true in this instance. Llama Llama is bursting with personality and human emotion and if you've not read one his books then please do so now. I am saddened that his adventures will come to a premature end but celebrate the life of the person who created his stories and touched so many of us in the process.  Let's all go out and share a book with a child in honour of Anna Dewdney.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's Only Stanley by John Agee

Stanley is up to something and everyone in the house wants to know what it is. This endlessly cute little beagle is focused, intense and on a mission.  His tinkering wakes the Wimbledon family one child at a time.  Mr Wimbledon investigates on each occasion but returns to the bedroom over and over again assuring his family 'it's only Stanley'. He's underestimated this beagle though and by the end Stanley, with his own little paws, has trasformed the family home into a rocket so he can fly it to moon. 

With impeccable rhyme, a sense of adventure and a truly loveable main character this book is a clear winner in our house.  I love that Stanley never speaks (except for one long howl at the moon) and instead makes a cacophony of sounds with his tinkering. The text is so carefully worded that it's a joy to read aloud and with brilliant illustrations to boot I recommend you all get acquainted with young Stanley.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley

I judged this book by its cover and decided it was a must read. I was right. Two sisters are sent outside to play - one ecstatic and one trying very hard to keep her nose in a book and ignore her younger sibling.  The younger one invents a secret tree fort so magnificent she can hardly believe it herself. It has a secret entrance, a marshmallow and chocolate storage compartment, a crow's nest that's high enough for spotting whales and pirates and the entire thing, the entire thing is made of sweets.  She boasts to her sister that she can even play board games with whales and there's a whole two page spread about all the amazing cool things she can see with a magnifying glass. Her sister insists it doesn't exist and their battle of 'Yes it does' 'No it doesn't' reaches epic proportions until finally they both relent and decide to build a real fort together.

E loved the detail of the fort but also latched on to how the younger sister's mood changed throughout the story from ecstatic to disappointed to contented. I love Brianne Farley's sketch style illustrations of the girls and the saturated colours of the fort, sweets and assorted whales. This is not just a book about sisters and it's not just a book about girls.  It's about how far your imagination can take you which is actually what a book should do.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Barnes Children's Literature Festival

It was a glorious two days at the the second annual Barnes Children's Literature Festival and I'm not just talking about the weather.  It seemed that every available nook and cranny in the idyllic village of Barnes was dedicated to children's lit this past weekend.  And with so many of my favourites on the bill I was never going to take it all in. Word is they were laughing out of their seats listening to Ed Vere, and Anthony Browne's family of musicians brought Willy the Wimp magically to life. I was privileged to be volunteering in the marquee while Jacqueline Wilson won over the crowd with her charm, honesty and engaging personal anecdotes.
The Booktop marquee
 The picturesque Barnes Common was on show and it delivered. The place simply buzzed with books: strangers meeting and talking about books, people eating burgers and talking about books under the trees, children lying on the ground reading books, authors chatting with fellow authors about books. It was a treat to spot Judith Kerr in the audience for Lauren Child/David Mackintosh and in turn spot Axel Scheffler in the audience for Judith Keer. These are all the kinds of positive exchanges that the festival prides itself on and the weekend passed in a flash leaving a trail of sheer delight.

The OSO community arts centre on Barnes Common

For all the wonderful moments and new books discovered I think my lasting memory will be Judith Kerr in conversation.  It was a grown up interview and her sense of fun was evident from the start. She spoke with quiet conviction about her need to draw and create and the limitations imposed on women of her day. She spoke in detail of her family's escape from Berlin and the new home that she eventually made in London, in Barnes with the cat she'd always wanted.  I really could have listened to her cat stories for the entirety of the interview but the gems were in her description of her drawings, the motivations for her stories, her personal anecdotes and her drive to continue working.  I think she summed it up best when commenting about her hip replacement she remarked: 'I'm not decrepit, I'm just someone who used to dance the can can.'

Bring on Barnes Children's Literature Festival 2017!

Swans by Barnes pond ... probably the only ones not reading books.