Winter wonderland….18 sleeps to go!

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Two very different animals feature in our next winter wonderland installment. Whilst not strictly festive (apart from the snow!), both books have wonderful themes of being brave and celebrating friendship and would make lovely gifts at Christmas time!

 

 

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Don’t Leap, Larry! by John Briggs, illustrated by Nicola Slater

You can’t help but fall a little in love with Larry the lemming.  He is bold and fearless and unlike his fellow lemmings, loves to be different and think for himself.  From going sledging with the puffins to choosing his own very brilliant name (everyone else is just called lemming!) he stands out from the crowd. So much so in fact he decides to see if he’ll fit in better with another group of animals – but nothing works – especially not the polar bears!  Finally, Larry returns home only to discover he can help his fellow lemmings think for themselves just like he does.

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This is a gorgeous story. Funny and heart-warming with a few thrills and spills to boot, it will have all readers cheering for Larry and eventually, the other lemmings too. Brilliantly drawn by Nicola Slater, it’s a joyful story with a wonderful message about being brave, standing out from the crowd and not worrying about thinking differently.

Find out more at www.johnbriggsbooks.net and www.goodillustration.com

Published by Pavilion Books 

 

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The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones

This is a lovely tale about a little girl who needs a friend and some courage. Who better to help her than The Snow Lion? Caro and her mum have moved home and Caro is just a little bit lost in her new surroundings of bare white walls and no one to play with. As if by magic, a beautiful big white lion appears and soon Caro has made a new friend with whom she can play all day!  And not only does he stop her from being lonely, the Snow Lion helps her find the courage to go outside and make new friends. As the gentle narrative unfolds, Caro’s new home isn’t so lonely anymore; it’s filled with colour – and friends! The Snow Lion quietly leaves but Caro will always know where to look for him…

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Text and wonderful illustrations come together perfectly to create a charmingly touching story young readers will want to visit again and again.  I loved the beautifully described friendship between the Snow Lion and Caro, and how he gently and ever so kindly encourages her to be brave. It’s reassuring to know that sometimes we all need a little comfort and how it’s very often finding a friend in unexpected places that can be just the thing!

Find out more www.stripyhorse.com and www.paintedmouse.com

Published by Simon & Schuster

 

 

With thanks to Pavilion Books and Simon & Schuster for sending me these books to review!

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Winter wonderland…20 sleeps till Christmas!

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With only twenty sleeps to go till Christmas Day, it’s really starting to feel festive! For the next few weeks in the run up to Christmas I’ll be featuring some gorgeous wintry and festive stories on the blog. Today we’re exploring some snowy landscapes!

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Up and Down: A Walk in the Countryside with Nosy Crow and The National Trust, beautifully illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, takes young readers on a walk through a snow covered landscape introducing them to the idea of opposites.

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Two little walkers explore the woods and discover ‘up and down’, near and far and many other ‘opposites’, all the while enjoying getting close to nature.

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Young readers will love to spot the various animals who live in the woods and all manner of festive creatures. There’s even a snowman!  This is a great addition to the A Walk in the Countryside board book series and will have everyone wishing for snow!

Find out more at www.rosalindbeardshaw.com

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Another wintry landscape is stunningly brought to life in this beautiful exploration of winter; Little Hazelnut by Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard. I literally gasped when I opened this book – there’s something utterly magical about pop-up books.  Books like this make me love them even more! Little Hazelnut takes the reader on a journey with a variety of animals and birds venturing into the garden during winter.

Each page features a different animal pop up, with a charming narrative capturing the variety of life that appears in a garden in winter. The blue-tit is my favourite – just gorgeous! Simple but detailed, the artwork shows even the animals’ footprints as they navigate the snowy landscape. Little Hazelnut is an absolute delight and would make a lovely gift at Christmas time.

Find out more at Old Barn Books.

 

With thanks to Nosy Crow and Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

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New reviews: Beautiful picture books to warm the heart..!

 

What could be better on a cold winter’s day than two beautiful picture books to warm the heart?  Old Barn Books publish some stunning titles and these two are no exception, both having been nominated for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal.  They would make lovely gifts for little ones and budding readers to enjoy.

 

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Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

This is a beautiful lyrical lullaby putting into a very few words just how important we can be to each other, especially during times of great need. A family – mother, baby, boy and dog – are escaping danger across the sea in a tiny boat, through wind and rain.

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During their journey they come across a stranded polar bear, who too needs help. Together they cross the ocean and eventually both the family and the polar bear find a place of safety.

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The stunning illustrations depict the many wondrous ways we can help each other – shelter, reassurance, food, light, acceptance, love.  The words are perfectly and lovingly placed to appear just at the right moment as your eyes travel over the pages. Pea Pod Lullaby is a wonderful example of how words and pictures can effortlessly communicate a truly heartfelt message – a message that can speak to any and every situation where we might find ourselves in need.

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Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner

A beautifully illustrated exhilarating tale, Storm Whale tells of three sisters who visit the beach one windy day and find a whale washed up on the shore.  Their family day at the seaside is transformed; they battle the wind and waves all day to save the whale seemingly to no avail. As night closes in, they have no choice but to return home.  In the morning they rush to the beach only to find no sign of the stranded whale….for with their help and the power of the storm, he has returned to the sea.

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The poetic narrative in Storm Whale reads like an ancient tale and captures the enormity of the task in front of the girls, from which they do not falter. Amazing scenic illustrations, each like a canvas in its own right, bring to life the wildness of the sea, the sound of the wind, the awe of waves and the bravery of the three sisters.

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There is something other worldly about the sea and the creatures who live in it and Storm Whale creates a wonderful connection between ‘our’ world and theirs.   It also depicts a sense of family and warmth between the sisters which I loved.  Despite the danger and the incredible force of nature, their bravery and determination wins through, showing how even though a problem may seem insurmountable it is possible to make a difference.

Both of these picture books would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf to be enjoyed by readers young and old!

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Find out more at: 

https://sarahbrennanblog.com/category/storm-whale/

http://www.janetanner.com.au/Home.html

https://glendamillard.com/

https://www.stephenmichaelking.com/books/

 

 

 

 

 

Pets as therapy – in books and in action!

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When Madeline Finn and the Library Dog arrived from Old Barn Books, it was clear this was a very special book.  The story, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, features Madeline Finn a little girl who really does not like to read – at all.  Madeline struggles with reading so she really does not enjoy it, especially when she has to read aloud at school.

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So when she meets Bonnie the library dog at her local library, something quite wonderful happens. Madeline stops worrying about getting it wrong; she stops worrying about being stuck and she learns to be patient with herself. Bonnie makes her feel that it’s okay to go slowly and Bonnie doesn’t laugh at her like the other children in the class do so Madeline can practice her reading aloud without any worries.  And on the day when Bonnie isn’t there to help her, Madeline pretends that she is and reads so well that she even gets a special star from her teacher!

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Madeline Finn and the Library Dog perfectly illustrates how some children struggle to read and how those struggles take away any joy they might discover between the pages of a book.  Madeline could have been any number of children I have worked with during my career as a librarian – I wish I’d had a library dog on hand to help.  What an amazing way to help a child feel more confident in themselves!  Beautiful illustrations depict the frustration and joy Madeline experiences and of course, bring to life the gorgeous dog Bonnie. This really is a lovely book and one that could help struggling readers understand they’re not alone and those who can read well feel more empathy with those who can’t. For every copy of this book sold Old Barn will donate 50p to support the work of the Read2Dogs programme run by Pets as Therapy.

It seemed a huge coincidence that at the time of receiving this book, I heard that the school my son attends, Warden Park Secondary Academy, had got a therapy dog.  I wanted to find out more so I’m delighted to say that the teacher behind the scheme, Amanda Bell, joins me on the blog today to share how this came about and the impact the gorgeous dog has had so far. Welcome to the blog Amanda!

Tell us how you came to have a therapy dog at Warden Park. The idea originated from setting up the garden space which was an area developed through an ASDAN course we were running. Part of that project led us into getting chickens and ducks. I watched the impact these animals had on bringing the children into school but also taking responsibility for their care. I wanted to see how I could engage a wider audience through animals and so researched the organisation ‘Pets as Therapy dogs’ and then contacted schools that already had a therapy dog. This enabled me to research into the impact of a dog in classrooms.

How did you go about finding/choosing the right dog? I researched the breeds – mainly for their temperament in working with children but also with regard to their ability to be trained and came up with a Springador which is a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel.

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Tell us about her! We decided to call our dog a name that links with the Forest as this was another initiative we had recently brought into the department. This would mean that we would not favour a particular child’s name – however, we did find out that we had one child with this name so I asked him if he would mind if we called our dog after him! We first brought our therapy dog into school at just ten weeks old to get her used to the noise and lots of different people. We also secured the help of Michelle Garvey from Essentially Paws who has already trained eight school therapy dogs. She did a few training sessions with me and then I worked on this over the summer holiday. At nearly seven months old, Oakley is now involved with individual students, tutor groups, interventions and staff book her for lessons in a variety of subjects. We have a ‘puppy points’ scheme where students have a card that they can collect points on essentially for acts of kindness towards each other, staff or the environment. Once they have accumulated some points, they can earn free time with Oakley, teaching her tricks or just being with her.

What is the main purpose of your therapy dog? Oakley helps with the well being of the students and just has a ‘feel good factor’. Classes respond with calmness. Some teachers have a group task where they present/read to Oakley. For some students, they are able to express how they feel more readily to the dog than a member of staff! Research has shown that during interventions, students are more likely to engage with the sessions and attend than without a dog present. We will be gathering data to measure impact. Oakley will also be around the school at lunchtimes and breaktimes and allows students to engage with her who may not have a pet at home.

How have the students responded?  There must be a queue to see him at times! Students have engaged really well with the dog. Their role is to ensure that they take control and make her sit before stroking her. They also have to ask if it is OK to stroke her before doing so in case she is in training or on a toilet break. They really love her being in their class and many students have collected a puppy points card. Each week, Oakley writes a blog in the newsletter and currently there is a little competition for students to identify where she is from a photo.

Would you encourage other schools to do the same? It can be time consuming in the first few months and it is essential to get the training right so that the dog learns to respond appropriately to students. However, only a few months in we would definitely repeat the experience as there have been many more benefits that we had not anticipated!

Thank you Amanda. I think the work you and Oakley are doing sounds like an incredible opportunity to support and encourage students in school in a completely unique way.  

Find out more about the above book and pet therapy at www.lisapapp.comwww.petsastherapy.orgwww.wardenpark.co.uk

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

New review: The Secret Diaries series by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler

Blending fiction and non fiction can create a perfect harmony, bringing stories AND facts to life so children can enjoy learning about the world around them. This is exactly what happens in the fantastic series written by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler and published by Nosy Crow in partnership with The National Trust. The Secret Diaries series introduce wonderful fictional characters who live and work in a particular time in history and share their experiences with the reader through diary entries.

The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge Medieval Knight in Training and The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny Victorian House Maid describe what daily life was like for a working young person, with each central character brilliantly brought to life. Younger readers might need a little guidance with the authentic accents but they’ll soon get the hang of it! All the facts and trivia are supported by footnotes that explain various terms and phrases along the way and give a wonderful insight to the time period in question.  There is a fictional narrative running through each book with a mystery to solve or a thrilling adventure to be had, ensuring the reader is fully engaged, all the while learning through the story.  The wider cast of characters featured give an opportunity to share what different roles people had and how the class system worked.

In Medieval Knight in Training we learn who the kennel boy was (poor chap!), how people ate, all about falconry and what a Fletcher did!  In Victorian House Maid in Training we discover how a chimney was cleaned, what ‘pinny’ is short for, the huge number of people who worked in a Victorian mansion and just how hard a maid had to work! All the while John Drawbridge survives a plan to overthrow the castle and solves the mystery of the attack; and Jane Pinny uses her detective skills to find out who stole a beautiful necklace.  Each book is brilliantly illustrated by Jamie Littler with drawings that bring to life the humour and adventure as well as the historical trivia.

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All in all The Secret Diaries series is ideal for young readers wanting to learn more about history and enjoy a great fun story.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review. 

Bookchat: Mark Powers, author of Spy Toys!

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Have you met the Spy Toys?! If not, Christmas might be a great time to introduce them to your children!!  There’s Dan, the super-strong teddy bear, Arabella, the doll with a serious temper, and Flax, the gadget-crazy robot rabbit.  Originally unwanted, now they’re part of a top-secret agency whose job it is to save the world – of course! In their latest hilarious and thrilling adventure Spy Toys: Out of Control, the trio do battle with a deadly unicorn and even a slightly jumbled up jigsaw. Complete with state of the art gadgets and daring deeds, brilliantly brought to life  by Tim Wesson’s fantastic illustrations, the Spy Toys series would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf!

Today, author Mark Powers joins me for a bookchat and shares some of the inspiration behind the adventures. Welcome to the blog Mark!

Congratulations on the publication of the second in the Spy Toys series! Tell us about the inspiration behind the stories. Thank you! I’d had the three main characters – a teddy bear, a rabbit and a rag doll – in my head for quite a while. I imagined them sharing a flat and bickering a bit like characters in a sitcom. Then I saw Marvel’s first Avengers film and it struck me it would be fun to turn this trio of toys into a crime-fighting team, to give each special powers and action scenes that would allow them to fire off snappy one-liners at the bad guys. I like writing about teams and how clashing personalities can sometimes get in the way of solving problems.

The Spy Toys stories are full of fun and it feels like you’re having great fun as a writer with the characters and the humour throughout.  Has your experience of writing them been as enjoyable as it seems?! It’s been enormous fun. I get a real kick out of writing for these characters. The fact they’re not human means I can push the slapstick a lot further than I’d normally be allowed in children’s fiction. There’s a cartoony aspect to it. If a major character in a regular children’s book got their head chopped off, it would be a pretty horrific thing. If it happens to one of the SPY TOYS, they can just have it reattached with a screwdriver at the end of the scene.

What were your childhood experiences of writing and reading and how have they helped inform your creativity? I loved reading and writing. In primary school I would often read fairly adult stuff like Ray Bradbury and Douglas Adams. When I got to comprehensive school, my friend Richard and I used to write and record comedy sketches on tape using BBC sound effects records. We did that for a good few years and it was fantastic practice at comedy writing. So much so, in fact, that by the time I was in the school 6th form, I was earning money regularly by writing material for comedy shows on Radio 4 and Radio 2.

The books include great illustrations by Tim Wesson. Did you always plan to have the stories illustrated and how do you work with Tim to bring the characters to life?It was always the plan to have illustrations. I had input and approval over how the characters looked but really the main liaison with Tim was done by the editor and designer at Bloomsbury. When I first started to write children’s books I imagined they’d be meetings with writer, illustrator, designer and editor sitting around a table (with cakes, preferably) and thrashing out between us what we wanted the illustrations to be. In reality, things are much more rarefied and most communication is via email.

The Spy Toys characters each have their own unique personality; I love the idea of the bear who hugs too hard and even the slightly less amiable rough and tough sunshine doll!! How do you go about creating the characters featured in the books?In any story, but particularly with comedy, you need contrasting character types. So a placid teddy bear, a spiky rag doll and a nerdy rabbit seemed a good combination. Again, I was lucky in having three non-human central characters. Kid heroes in books can be a bit bland and it’s the sidekick or supporting characters who tend to be the really funny ones. With SPY TOYS I have three fairly dysfunctional characters centre stage, so it’s easy to set them bickering with each other or anyone else they encounter.

Spy Toys has been described as James Bond meets Toy Story. If you could be any character – good or bad – in a spy story who would it be and why?! It might be fun to be a super-villain of the type you get in Bond films. To come up with some dastardly plan. Maybe I’d create a machine that zaps people if they talk during a film or open sweet wrappers noisily.

What can we expect in the next Spy Toys mission ‘Undercover’?! I can’t wait to see who the villain is – how will you top the dastardly unicorn?!! Oh, the usual mix of action, adventure, laughs, high emotion and petty squabbling. Glad you liked John the Unicorn! He was a lot of fun to write. In Undercover we meet diminutive child genius April Spume, who’s leader of a SPECTRE-like evil organisation of super-intelligent kids (called SIKBAG!) In this book, our three heroes go undercover in an ordinary primary school. The first book concentrated on Dan the teddy bear, the second on Arabella the rag doll, so in this third the main focus is on Flax, the ex-police rabbit. Slightly to my surprise, he’s shaping up to be the most popular character of the three.

Thank you Mark! I’m looking forward to reading Spy Toys: Undercover!

 

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Find out more at www.spytoysbooks.co and www.timwesson.co.uk.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review and organising this bookchat!

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog: James Brown, illustrator of Al’s Awesome Science.

How many times have you opened a book and marvelled at the illustrations inside?  I often do and feel somewhat envious of someone who can pick up a pencil, pen or paintbrush and create a little bit of magic, bringing to life an authors’ words! AAS_CVR_WEB

James Brown is just such a person and his delightful illustrations in Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! written by Jane Clarke demonstrate how words and pictures work together to capture the imagination.

Today on the blog, James is sharing his experiences of working on Al’s Awesome Science and insight into his illustration techniques. Welcome to the blog James!

 

“Pictures don’t just trigger the imagination, they fire it up. And in particular for the Al’s Awesome Science series, which features lots of science experiments for young readers to try at home, it was important to get things ‘spot on’. How else could readers give the experiments a go? I think that’s what drew me most to it – the buoyancy, the action and how to convey this visually to readers.

I remember as a child being a bit disappointed when images were repeated in books or when there were insufficient drawings. Al’s Awesome Science is filled with pictures of all the key hilarious moments in the story, but the series also allows for the ‘extras’ – awesome facts and experiments – the refreshing bits and bobs which the designer Becky places so quirkily throughout each book. I admit the experiment pages bring out the kid in me. I like doing them snappily, like I used to do in my homework diary at school. I was forever doodling. I used to Tipp-Ex the inside lid of my pencil case and draw repeatedly on it. Once it was filled, I’d blob over it and start again. If it was a caricature of the teacher I could always hide the evidence!

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When I’m out and about, especially on trains, I love using sketchbooks. I’ve got lots of Moleskin ones, a different colour per project. But, I confess that, in the main, when I’m working up an idea, character or spread, I use everyday plain A4 white paper – and reams of it!  Squiggle, scratch, swirl, sweep. I’m not sure how many other illustrators do this, but I also enjoy sketching in biro first. It’s all about getting the right shape and movement – those ‘unprecious’ sketches and scorings loosen up my initial drawings. Now I understand why editors always jump to the back of portfolios to find the sketchy stuff!

 

Then, from this sketchy beginning, I start refining, trying to retain some of that initial energy. I think that’s why my other favourite stage is watercolour (which I save ‘til last). No matter how adept you might think you are, watercolour has its own mind and it can sometimes surprise you. Often the happy accidents are the ones that add more character, either to clothing or backgrounds.

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Using my lightbox really helps to overlay and position. I do less-rough roughs on my iPad, using Procreate, then crayon, watercolour and gouache for the finals. I always aim to do the final artwork in character batches, for continuity, and have whole afternoons or evenings on just one person. You really get to ‘know’ them that way!

Sometimes characters pop up first time around. Einstein, for instance, is very similar to the first sketch I drew. I was given free rein, which is always exciting. I knew he had to be big, hairy and animated. Immediately I thought of THE Einstein and gave him a big, bushy moustache and scraggly hair. The lolling tongue and sideways eyes gave him just the look I was after. Mr Boffin is basically me (if I ate my spinach, drank umpteen protein shakes and actually went to the gym, that is). Mrs Good is a take on my mum (sorry, Mum!). But Mr Good, who was a little portly at first, took a bit of slimming down… The twins Lottie and Al were a little too old at first but soon lost a couple of years.

The freedom to try things out has been the most splendid aspect of illustrating this series. It’s very much a two-way conversation between me and the creative team. We always bounce ideas back and forth! I think flexibility and being open to ideas is important. My editor Natascha even sends me videos of her son doing the experiments! Then, BINGO! I can picture it and so too (hopefully) can the young scientists reading it with their own sketches and diagrams and oodles of doodles.

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Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown is out now, £6.99 paperback (published by Five Quills). Look out for more fun and experiments with Al and Lottie in book two, Splash Down!, coming spring 2018!

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With thanks to Catherine Ward and Five Quills for sending me this book to review. Find out more about the illustrator at www.jamesbrownillustration.com.