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.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Albert's Tree by Jenni Desmond

Writer and illustrator Jenni Desmond is the creator of a treasure trove of books and her latest title, Albert's Tree, introduces us to a sweet young bear and an unlikely friendship. 

Albert's just woken up from a long winter and cannot wait to reacquaint himself with his favourite tree. He climbs up, assumes his springtime position on the familiar branch, but to his surprise the tree suddenly begins to cry.  It looks alright to Albert, in fact it looks the same as always but clearly something is making it very upset.

Rabbit and Caribou both offer to help and share what makes them feel better (digging holes and eating grass respectively), but Albert has no luck comforting his tree. Finally, in a last ditch attempt to soothe his special tree he climbs further up, gives it a hug and speaks to it in a gentle voice. And boy is he surprised to hear the tree answer back. A case of mistaken identities is later discovered as Albert meets tiny Owl who's been living in the tree over the winter.  The two quickly become friends and the tree becomes twice as special. 

A story about friendship and a a story about feeling sad and feeling better that's lovingly illustrated with adorable forest animals ... and a particularly beautiful tree.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

For the love of reading...


Well, I do declare, a certain someone in my house has discovered that he loves to read by himself and Roald Dahl is suddenly sharing a pedestal with Luke Skywalker. It's a joy to behold and a crash course in mixed metaphors as much of the Star Wars Lego has been dismantled to form a large chocolate factory. Even Yoda's legs have been transformed and are now part of an oompa loompa - this is getting serious folks.

E can't get enough of Roald Dahl at the moment and it's been an absolute pleasure to watch him devour the stories and grab hold of the magic. And while Roald Dahl's genius is not news to any of us, it's been such fun to discover it anew with my primary school aged partner in crime.

And because we live in London we are spoiled for choice when it comes to add-on book related activities. If you've not yet been then make sure to experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl at the Southbank Centre; on until 3 July 2016. It's a mighty exhibition and I'm holding out until we finish the BFG before we go.


The Wondercrump

 And don't miss the Imagination Seekers and their interactive theatrical experience that explores Dahl's stories. You can catch them this spring at the the marvelous Barnes Children's Literature Festival on 14-15 May.

Imagination Seekers


Happy reading all!


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

I've had this book for a few years and I plucked it off the shelf today in honour of International Women's Day. I expected E to protest (as he's inclined to do with many of my suggestions lately), but today there were no gripes and together we enjoyed reading about the life of Jane Goodall.

Created by the much revered author/illustrator Jeanette Winter, this book works as a biography on a child's level and it works as a story plain and simple. The illustrations are wondrous and together with the text they lure you into Jane's world. Immediately you care about Jane, her work, the chimpanzees and the environment.  Time passes quite peacefully at first which is why the arrival of the hunters towards the end, and the dose of reality they bring with them, is that much more startling.

I think this is a hugely important book and it's prompted numerous conversations between E and me.  Many at fist were understandably about the hunters but today it was also about watching, how we define home and what it's like for a little girl to work hard and make a dream come true. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The pursuit of friendship in picture books

My post this week is inspired by E's homework assignment to make a poster describing what friendship means to him. As we got to talking and I tried to turn the abstract into something tangible, our faithful picture books saved the day once again.  We started talking about all of our favourite book friends and I quickly realised how many stories are indeed about the pursuit of friendship.  Here's a list of some of our favourite 'friends' starting with a new book called The Adventures of Beekle an Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

Beekle is one of the first books in a while that E picked up as soon as he saw it.  It's that sweet little face and the uncertain smile from Beekle - the little white unimaginary friend wearing a crown.  Beekle just wants to find a friend, his special friend and we follow him on an adventure from the imaginary world to the real world where his dream and his destiny finally come together. 

More of our favourite picture book friends in no particular order:


Willy and Hugh by Anthony Browne
Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson
Corduroy by Don Freeman
The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge
On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies
Bubble and Squeak by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy

Do you have favourite book friends? Let us know - we'd love to hear from you!