Friday, 30 March 2012

We *heart* We Give Books

It's the Easter hols in about three hours, so I (Keris) won't be posting for the next couple of weeks, but before I skip off into the sunshine (there is still sunshine, isn't there?) I thought I'd mention We Give Books.

Created by the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation, We Give Books is an online initiative that features a growing digital library of stories you can read with your child for free - whenever you like, no matter where you are - and each time you read a book online, Penguin will give a hardcover or paperback book to a child in need.

Simple, effective, wonderful.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Chloe, Instead by Micah Player

Who could resist this cover? When I received the bumper box of books from lovely Tina at Abrams & Chronicle Books, it was the first book I grabbed and the first book both Joe and Harry picked up. And the inside is just as bright and lively as the cover.

Molly always wanted a little sister, but Chloe is not exactly what she had in mind. Chloe eats crayons, tears the pages out of Molly's books, messes up her things and interferes when Molly's practicing playing the keyboard.

Molly, of course, comes round to the idea that Chloe is her own little person and that's okay, but it actually happened a little bit too quickly for me. One page Molly is screaming at Chloe and the next page everything is fine. I think the story would have flowed a little better if Molly had taken a touch longer to come around to Chloe's antics, but apart from that, I really enjoyed this book. The ending is particularly gorgeous. I also loved the look at both the upsides and downsides of a new baby in the family and so did Harry, since he's been there himself.

It would make a lovely gift for a child who's about to have a new baby brother or sister.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

We *heart* Sandra Boynton

I bought a copy of Hippos Go Berserk before I even had children. My husband used to read it to my belly during pregnancy and he even attempted to recite it to me during labour (not sure what he was trying to achieve with that, but it made me laugh).

Since then, I've bought quite a few Sandra Boynton books and have loads more on my wishlist. This morning I read the Belly Button Book to Joe and he loved it (toddlers love showing off their belly buttons, no?) and we've also started reading Pajama Time at night and Hey! Wake Up! in the morning (I love how that one starts "Hey little guys, open your eyes! What do you say, it's a brand new day!") Oh and What's Wrong, Little Pookie ("What's wrong, Little Pookie? Your bright eyes are wet. Come over and tell me why you are upset.") LOVE.

Boynton's illustrations are consistently hilarious and the books are fun to read for adults as well as children. Just writing about them now, I've found lots more I neeeeeed to buy. (Philadelphia Chickens has been on my wishlist for years. That one had better be first.)

What's your favourite Boynton book?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Picture Books for Kindle - If You Have a Hat by Gerald Hawksley

I love my Kindle. My boys (aged 3 and 7) would love to get their hands on it, but they're not the most gentle of children and I fear for its safety, but when we went on holiday last year, I didn't want to take a bunch of books in our case and so I downloaded some Kindle books for them, including this one - If You Have a Hat by Gerald Hawksley.

I didn't have incredibly high hopes. Kindle isn't really designed for picture books - or rather, my old, black and white Kindle isn't - but If You Have a Hat was a huge success. Its subtitle is 'A silly rhyming picture book' and it's actually also very simple, which is perfect for Kindle.

The first page features an illustration of a hat, accompanied by 'If you have a hat -'. The next page: the cover illustration of a child wearing the hat, with the text 'put it on your head.' Then we have a cute, waving insect with 'If you have a bed bug -'... can you guess the next line? It's 'tuck it up in bed' with a picture of the cute bed bug, yes, tucked up in bed. The illustrations are simple and cute enough that it doesn't matter that they're not in colour.

Joe (3) loved it because it's funny and he could guess what was coming next. Harry (7) loved it because he could read it himself (which was actually one of the reasons I loved it too - listening to Harry reading to his little brother for the first time...).

(My only complaint is rhyming "wee mouse" with "tree house" - it doesn't really scan and it bugs me every time I read it.)

We also bought Silly Monsters ABC, which was equally successful, and I've just noticed there are five more Gerald Hawksley books for Kindle and I'll be buying them in time for our next holiday.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Never Say NO To a Princess by Tracey Corderoy & Kate Leake

A fun and feisty princess picture book served up with a good helping of adventure, friendship and finally...manners!  The little princess wants her own dragon and no one Ever says NO to a princess, do they?

We meet the young princess as she's in the process of demanding a variety of things and because her parents, the King and Queen are too busy doing royal things, they are happy to instruct servants to give her what she wants.  Her biggest threat to them is that if she doesn't get what she wants, she'll howl and cry and throw a tantrum.

When she sees a dragon, she demands that she should have one.  All manner of antics follow where the servants attempt to snag the dragon, but no joy.  This results in a huge crying spell for the princess and in fact, she cries so much, she floods the castle and the lands and gets swept out on a flood of tears into the dark scary woods.

She's more than JUST a bit scared but help is at hand, in the shape of the very same dragon she desperately wanted for herself.  The dragon is kindly, and the princess demands, quite rudely to be taken home, immediately.  Of course the dragon in turn demands the magic word and the princess is stumped.

Eventually she does figure out what the dragon means by the magic word and after spending the night with him, drying out and chatting, he flies her home.

The princess is reunited with her parents who notice something about her immediately.  She's no longer miserable, she's changed.  The princess dispatches an invitation to her friend and invites the friend to a party and behold: the princess is happy and smiling.  Not only has she made a new friend, but she's also happy.

I loved Never Say NO to a Princess.  The artwork is fresh and cute and full of mad sparkles, and gives us the idea of chaos this princess' life is all about - what she demands, she gets, no questions asked.  She's rude, arrogant, and has no manners.  Yet it takes a run-in with a fearsome monster who has far better manners than her, to teach her this lesson, someone to stand up to her, ignoring the wailing and the bad manners.

Smart and funky, Never Say NO to a Princess, is a great read for readers 3+.  The lesson is pretty obvious but done in a very charming way so that even as an adult, I didn't felt preached to.  Which I think is a great lesson to learn: being polite makes you a better person and invariably makes you friends.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Where is Fred? by Edward Hardy & Ali Pye

Hey, you! Yes, you reading this! I'm Gerald the crow and I'm looking for a lovely, fluffy white caterpillar called Fred. Have you seen him? I want him for my lunch! You haven't? Are you sure? Then...Where is Fred? Follow Fred the fluffy white caterpillar as he outwits Gerald the Crow, in a scintillating new take on the much-loved hide-and-seek theme. 

Poor Gerald is not really the cleverest of crows.  He spots little fluffy caterpillar Fred going about his daily business of relaxing and eating leaves and decides that Fred will be his lunch.  But Fred is fast and clever and uses all manner of mad devices, like hiding in plain sight, to prevent himself from being eaten.

A fast and sweet read, Edward Hardy has given us a clever new hero in Fred and a rather hapless villain in Gerald the Crow.  Although, of course, I was hoping Fred survives, it's poor Gerald who has all my sympathy. Being unobservant and a bit unperceptive has cost him a good meal and probably made him the laughingstock of his crow buddies.

Wonderfully illustrated by Ali Pye, she had her work cut out for her to show us the mad schemes Fred comes up with to hide in plain sight.  Creative and clever, I'd recommend Where is Fred? for younger readers, maybe 1 to 3 years old, as the story is not very involved, but exceedingly sweet.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gorgeous! by Caroline Castle

I thought I'd feature an old favourite today because I've read it so many times lately.

Gorgeous! by Caroline Castle & Sam Childs was one of Harry's favourite picture books, and recently I read it to Joe and he adored it too. Now Joe is not the most enthusiastic picture book audience and I usually have to offer him at least twenty books before he finally plumps for one about fire engines (with a siren button), but Joe has actually started requesting Gorgeous! every night.

And I don't mind, because it's enormous fun to read. It's the story of Little Zeb who is born at the start of the book after Big Zeb goes behind a bush and says "Ouch!" (at which I always allow myself a wry smile...). Big Zeb tells Little Zeb that he's "Tip Top Gorgeous", but when Little Zeb gets left behind and meets a lion, he doesn't realise that all animals aren't as gorgeous as he is, particularly not hungry ones. Luckily Big Zeb is soon on hand to kick the lion's bottom and send him on his way. It's the bottom kicking and the accompanying "Vamooooosh!" that has Joe in stitches every single time.

Little Zeb learns that some things are "Gorgeous!" some things are "Not gorgeous" and other things should be avoided altogether "Danger!" but at the end of the book, he's snuggled up and happy with his Big Zeb and all is right with the world.

Tip top.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer

“Give me your buns and your biscuits! Give me your chocolate ├ęclairs! For I am the Rat of the highway, and the Rat Thief never shares!”

You may have heard of a Highwayman – but what about a Highway Rat? No food is safe from this rascally rodent! He steals clover from a rabbit, and snaffles nuts from a squirrel. He even hijacks his own horse’s hay! But when a cunning duck crosses his path, has the Highway Rat met his match? Put your hands up for this rhyming romp from the current Children’s Laureate, starring a wickedly loveable baddie who’ll steal your grub – and your heart! This hilarious cautionary tale about greed and its comeuppance will enchant every reader.

I simply adore this picture book - wonderfully illustrated by Mr. Schaffer, everything about it is a bit tongue in cheek and charming.

I ended up reading it aloud to a friend of mine in Foyles, because it trips off the tongue and it is one of those picture books that just stays with you, no matter if you are far too old for them (like me).

Loosely based on the poem by Alfred Noyes, The Highway Rat comes riding riding riding and has no qualms robbing the other animals of their food and snacks, in fact, just about anything. There's a message here about gluttony and general mayhem, bit it's done so well and with such style that it doesn't strike me as preachey. In fact, it is fun, even when the rat gets his comeuppance near the end.

Highly recommended to confident young readers and older readers who like a bit of wicked rhyming. (Like me).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest

I wasn't sure about reading this book with Harry because he's pretty sensitive and much of the book is rather melancholy.

As well as the dog who belongs to no one, there's a "wisp of a girl" named Lia, who spends her time delivering bread from her parents' bakery and making up stories as she rides her bike. Both of them are longing for a friend.

And then, one night, they are both caught in a storm and both arrive at Lia's house at the same time. They get dry, they eat cake, and they become friends.

It's an incredibly sweet and easy to read story and the illustrations by Amy Bates are absolutely beautiful. Old-fashioned (I know I always say that) and beautifully detailed - the kind of illustrations I'm tempted to rip out and frame.

And I needn't have worried about Harry - the first time I read it, he said, "That was a lovely story. I'm sad and happy at the same time."