Category Archives: Detailed Picture Book Commentary

Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus: Atinuke & Lauren Tobia (Walker Books)
There are currently seven Anna Hibiscus books published – two picture books and five chapter books – with at least one more chapter book in the works. They are all wonderful and I can’t praise them highly enough.

Atinuke wrote the stories because she found that in the UK children weren’t aware of the Africa she grew up in; the affluent business Africa of big cities and business deals full of traditions and family customs. So she wrote about Anna Hibiscus, who has an African father and a Canadian mother, and her adventures in a middle class African home. Atinuke is from Nigeria, but she chose to write about Amazing Africa rather than a specific country.

Lauren Tobia illustrates these books with warmth and humour and makes you feel like you are in Africa with Anna and her family. The illustrations are spot on and essential to help children who don’t come from this culture to visualise the world Anna is growing up in.

The chapter books are lovely for emerging readers, being short enough for early readers but with enough interest and layers to work for older readers too. Each book contains four separate stories, which can be read as individual stories, but also builds up into a longer tale. For example at the end of book one Anna discovers she can visit her Granny in Canada; in book three she shops for winter clothes; book four is the Canada visit; and book five contains her return.

There are many other stories contained in these books as well. These cover Anna’s brushes with the poverty that exists in the city side-by-side with the more affluent world she inhabits; lots of family love and excitement; the horrors of hair brushing and more!

Anna lives with all her family in one house: parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. She has cousins called Benz, Wonderful, Chocolate, Thank-God, Sociable, Joy, Clarity, and Common Sense; and twin brothers called Double and Trouble. This quote from the first Anna Hibiscus chapter book gives an explanation of the names by way of a conversation between an Auntie returning to America and talking to Anna’s grandparents:

“Welcome, Comfort!” Grandfather said.
“Thank-you, Father,” Auntie Comfort replied. “But I am now called Yemisi.”
“Why?” said Grandmother. “What is wrong with Comfort?”
“I wanted to have an African name, Mama,” said Auntie Comfort.
The aunties started to laugh.
“Comfort is an African name,” said Grandmother.
“But it is an English word, Mama,” said Auntie Comfort.
“It is an English word, but an African name,” said Grandfather. “Have you ever heard of any English person being called Comfort?”

The importance of family and caring for people is deeply rooted in all the stories, which can be enjoyed by all ages. The chapter books are lovely read-alouds for younger children but there are also the two picture books.

Image from Anna Hibiscus' Song (Atinuke & Lauren Tobia)

In Anna Hibiscus’ Song, Anna is full of so much happiness but she doesn’t know how to express it. She asks her family, who tell her all the different things that they do when they are happy, and then discovers her own way, which is to sing. A wonderful book full of joy, and also good for helping children find ways of dealing with all the big emotions that come along. We try to help small children with emotions like sadness, fear, and anger; but happiness is big too and deserves attention.

In Splash, Anna Hibiscus, the family have gone to the beach. Anna wants to splash in the waves but all of her family is too busy. She wants to splash with somebody, but the pull of the waves gets her splashing and giggling, which fills all her family with joy too.

I love this double page spread especially, it perfectly captures the feeling of aloneness:

Image from Splash, Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke & Lauren Tobia)

But soon after, Anna is joined by her family and this spread captures family togetherness and joy:

Image from Splash, Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke & Lauren Tobia)

There are so many reasons to love the Anna Hibiscus books as wonderful stories with beautiful illustrations; but the inclusion of a mixed-race family and unfamiliar cultural setting (for the UK) make these important books to share with every child.

If you’ve not read any before and you’re not sure which one to start with, I recommend Splash, Anna Hibiscus for toddlers & up and Anna Hibiscus for pre-schoolers & up; but once you’ve read those, you’ll want to read them all. We all love amazing Anna Hibiscus here, and we hope you will too.

You can read an interview with Atinuke at Playing by the Book, and I recommend watching the videos there too. You can see more of Lauren Tobia’s gorgeous artwork on her website.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Splash, Anna Hibiscus! by Lauren Tobia for review, but had already bought the other Anna Hibiscus books independently. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Dixie O’Day: In the Fast Lane

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been written over and over in blogs and newspapers already? I can’t write an unbiased opinion of Dixie O’Day because I love Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy so much. As Polly at Little Wooden Horse says, the names on the front cover should have had you rushing out to buy this book as soon as it was released!

For anyone who has found this page by accident, and doesn’t already know, Dixie O’Day is a gentleman dog who, with his best friend Percy, drives an excellent motor car that he takes great care of. The car was not new but it was a very clean machine. Dixie and Percy get into some exciting scrapes, and this tale involves an all-day race between two towns. They have a worst enemy, Lou-Ella from next door, and lots of helpful friends.

Dixie O’Day is adoringly ‘retro’ in style. You’d be more likely to find Dixie and Percy listening to the radio than playing on iPads. Children are immensely adaptable. They may not have the cultural reference for the era (1960’s) that the book represents, but they accept it in the same way that talking dogs driving cars is completely normal.

The Dixie O’Day series has been designed with seven chapters so it can be read one for every day of the week. The chapters may have exciting cliff-hangers, encouraging anticipation for the next night’s story. It’s also possible to read in one go if you read lots to children but separating it into chapters allows busy parents a natural break point, and is just right for building early reading stamina.

I have been thinking, and writing, a lot about gender recently and it would be lax of me not to mention gender in relation to this book. The main characters are male, and the lack of female animal characters in picture books is something Carmen at Rhino Reads writes about compellingly. However, this book comes from the pens of two author / illustrators who are exemplary in their inclusion major female characters throughout their work. This particular story does happen to have more male characters. But let’s look at the two main female characters from In The Fast Lane in detail:

Lou-Ella
Lou-Ella is the neighbour from hell. She is a character you love to hate, somewhere between Cruella de Vil and Penelope Pitstop. She’s self-centred, mean and thoroughly unlikable. I’m not really selling this character to you? But she’s also an independent woman who can afford to buy a brand new car every year. There’s no husband behind the scenes or any implication that she’s a ‘kept woman’; she’s earning well and is motivated to get what she wants. There’s a lot of unknown back-story here, and much potential.

Auntie Dot
Auntie Dot may only appear on one page, but she is absolutely pivotal to the plot. Without her input, Dixie and Percy wouldn’t get the outcome they achieve. In a similar manner to Dave’s big sister Bella saving the day in Dogger, Auntie Dot is essential. You can’t get more positive than that. She’s also adorable and I hope we see more of her in future stories.

Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane is packed full of extras to hold the interest of today’s iPad generation. There’s the map of the route, interviews, quizzes, and so many things to see on every page that you could easily fill at least a month of activities riffing off different interests. There’s even a sneak peek at the second book in the series: The Great Diamond Robbery. MG and DG are huge fans of Dixie in his own right already, and this is a book we re-read regularly. I get to both read and be read to by MG, which is a lovely role reversal!

Future books will have different colour covers for instant identification, but the duotone interior will remain the same (how could we lose Dixie’s gorgeous red car?!) Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane is not only an important entry in the world of children’s literature on account of its creators, it’s an excellent start to an exciting series that children will love.

Related posts:
Interview at The Book Sniffer
Interview at Library Mice
Interview at Playing by the Book
Review from Little Wooden Horse
Review from Read It, Daddy
Review from Kate Louise (includes book trailer)

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane by Random House Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Bears, Bears, Bears!

Bears, Bears, Bears!: Martin Waddell & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)
Bears, Bears, Bears!: Martin Waddell & Lee Wildish (Hodder Children’s Books, 2013)

Martin Waddell has been creating picture books for… a little while! His work covers a wide range including enormous classics like Farmer Duck and Owl Babies, and personal favourites like The Tough Princess. He is also, of course, very well-known for the Little Bear stories.

What I find particularly interesting in his work is how his writing has kept up with the changes in picture books over the years. Modern picture books involve tight wording, using as few words as possible to convey the story in conjunction with the pictures. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the early Little Bear stories were published, it was still the fashion to have large blocks of text within the picture book but the Little Bear books are beautiful examples of how text and pictures can be combined to appear more interesting.

Bears, Bears, Bears! is Martin Waddell’s latest book, illustrated by Lee Wildish, joint winner of this year’s Red House Children’s Book Award for Spooky, Spooky House. In contrast to the Little Bear stories, the text is sparse. There are 359 words in Bears, Bears, Bears! compared to 976 in Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? [I just counted them myself, so I may have missed a couple!]

I wouldn’t remove a single word from Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? any more than I’d want to add any to Bears, Bears, Bears! They are both right for the books they are.

Bears, Bears, Bears! is about a little girl called Ruby who wants to find some bears to play with. A friendly bear pops out from Bear Wood and they have great fun, but Ruby calls for more and more bears. Eventually all the fun becomes too much, and Ruby ends up with just what she needed: one good bear friend.

This is a lovely tale. “More bears mean more fun!” exclaims Ruby near the start, but more bears also mean less space for Ruby. Small children often want “More, more, more!” before becoming over-tired and overwhelmed (some adults too, for that matter!) and a book can be the best place to keep all the excitement, especially before bed time.

Ruby’s bears are a lot of fun and there are some fabulously funny moments throughout. With lots happening in the illustrations, the story is a joy to read. I adore Ruby’s bear especially, with his multi-coloured scarf. One for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and up.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Bears, Bears, Bears! by Hachette Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Bubble and Squeak

I have been sitting on this book since April. Even by my standards, that’s a very long time not to write a review. Especially for a book I love. But that’s been the problem. I’ve been afraid I’ll not do Bubble and Squeak justice so I keep pretending I have something else to do and letting this review slide…

In summary, all you really need to know about this book is that it is well written, beautifully illustrated, full of detail, full of love, suitable for a broad range of ages and genders, (can you have a broad range of genders?!), and both my daughters request it over and over again.

Bubble is an elephant acrobat in Mr Magnifico’s circus. She is a very lonely elephant though because although everyone in the circus is lovely, they are all so very busy. One day, a tiny mouse arrives, but as everyone knows elephants don’t like mice. Or do they?

I’ve written before on how the first line of a picture book can just grab you and I have so much respect for authors having to create something that appears so simple. Bubble & Squeak starts with a seemingly simple four words: “Bubble was a star!” but you get so much from that which is reflected beautifully in the art. On the first double page we see people coming “from far and wide” travelling towards the circus tent with Bubble on the poster.

Bubble & Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, 2013)

I’ve learnt a lot about analysing picture books from other blogs, and LH from Did You Ever Stop to Think? taught me to look at how images pull the reader in and this first double spread is wonderful for that. On the right hand side you have an assortment of characters (some recognisable from Clara Vulliamy’s other books, which is even more of a delight) walking towards the left hand side where the entrance of the circus tent is barely visible, pulling you onto the next page while the text ends in an ellipsis so you can’t wait to read more.

It’s quite absurd to have an elephant balancing on the top of a pyramid of people, but it works. It works so well that it doesn’t seem odd or absurd at all, and when later in the story Squeak realised that without her bouquet of flowers Bubble will be in danger, again it makes perfect sense that the flowers are that all important. To pull your audience into the logic of the story so fully is no easy task but again it seems effortless.

I can happily read this book over and over (which is handy really) finding more delightful details each time, but here’s just a small selection of my favourite bits:

Bubble & Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, 2013)

Clockwise from top left: They all looked high… …and low; Bubble travelled to all sorts of places with her carefully packed trunk…; And so he hid himself away…; They were happy!

A lovely tale of finding friendship in odd places, suitable for toddlers, pre-schoolers, KS1… and anyone who loves candy-coloured imagery and a happy ending.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Bubble & Squeak by Hachette Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Primrose by Alex T. Smith

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children's Books, 2013)

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children’s Books, 2013)

This is one of those picture books that should be in every library, every nursery, every school and every bookshelf. I’m afraid there may be a large amount of gushing about to follow, but I’ll try to contain it.

Primrose is a pink princess; but she’s also the antithesis to the typical Pink Princess. She lives in a “pretty pink palace” and has “a pretty pink tiara, two prancing pink ponies and a plump little pug named Percy.” In many other hands, I might be running a mile by this point. But… Well, just look at the artwork for a start:

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

IMG_2850sml

Primrose is bored, bored, bored! So she tries to have some fun but everything she does is met with cries from her family to do something more princessy.

She’s not allowed to climb trees.

She’s not allowed to dress up in a monkey costume.

She’s not allowed to play board games.

She’s not allowed to to dig vegetables in the garden.

Princesses must dress in pretty pink dresses and sit decoratively. How utterly, wonderfully, subtly subversive this book is. All these activities are things that manufacturers and retailers would want to make you believe are not for girls. Don’t believe me? Look at the examples campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks find day after day after day. Science kits are for boys only; dressing up clothes for girls are all pink dresses and fairy wings; lego is for boys; kitchen play is for girls…

The messages that children are receiving daily in their everyday lives is disturbing and must be stopped. I battle constantly against the sexist drivel my six-year old brings home from school every day (and when she was five; and when she was four…) I have got somewhere in that Mighty-Girl now tells me that she’s the only person in her class who doesn’t think there are ‘boy’ colours and ‘girl’ colours.

My four year old used to love being a pirate and her favourite colour was orange. A year in pre-school and she wants to be a pink ballerina. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s peer pressure into pinkness that has forced this change, not her own opinion.

Primrose, a very pink princess book, is perfect. It starts with pink and frilly to lure in the princess-loving brigade, and then adds in all the other elements whilst remaining pink and frilly. Because, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with pink, it’s just the all-pervading non-choice that’s the problem.

Returning to the story… The royal family despair at Primrose’s lack of princessliness and decide there is “only one thing for it. Somebody must call Grandmama.” The introduction of Grandmama is perfection again. On one side we see the stern matronly visage of Her Royal Highness (Senior); on the opposite page Primrose and Percy are tiptoeing in mud, brightly clad and not a care in the world. Storm clouds are gathering, but whom are they for?

IMG_2851sml

But we really needn’t worry because Grandmama has the perfect solutions for every issue that the family have with their darling daughter and is soon bounding off again leaving everyone happy. The last double page spread showing Grandmama’s method of travel is, of course, sublime.

There are many other touches that add to this book. The copyright page ties in beautifully (“borrowed from The Royal Library”) and Percy bears an uncanny (intended) resemblance to the awesome Book Sniffer – toot toot! Overall, a sunny slice of perfection from the “royally talented” (hear hear!) Alex T. Smith.

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

Mabel and Me Best of Friends by Mark Sperring & Sarah Warburton

Mabel and Me Best of Friends by Mark Sperring & Sarah Warburton

Mabel and Me Best of Friends: Mark Sperring & Sarah Warburton (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013)

Unlikely friends are a common theme in children’s books. Unlikely friends. But let’s think about that for a bit. Terry Pratchett writes in his Discworld novels that million-to-one chances work out nine times out of ten and it seems to me that unlikely friends are just as likely. I’ve written before how author / illustrator partnerships where the collaborators are friends seem to produce books that stand out more, whether they were friends before or became friends from working together, and the partnership of Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton shines through in Mabel and Me Best of Friends.

I’ve loved Sarah Warburton’s work for several years now and have previously raved about The Princess and the Peas, a collaboration with Caryl Hart. I’m not sure Caryl and Sarah knew each other well before working on The Princess and the Peas but they certainly completely “got” each other and what was needed there, and Sarah showcases her talent for matching pictures to text again with Mabel and Me.

Mabel and Me‘s unlikely friendship is between a little girl and her “strange little creature thing with scrawny hairy rodent legs” friend. “Me” takes centre stage with Mabel only saying a few words throughout the book, although these words are significant as well as being “hugely harrowing and diabolically difficult” on occasion.

The words chosen throughout the story are spot-on. Many phrases from this book have entered the everyday subconscious of the Chaos household. “Hey, you, you in the tutu!” being a particular favourite. But it’s not just the words that are spot-on; each character’s expression conveys so much meaning. The shocked faces of Monsieur Famous French Photographer and Senora Prima Ballerina (and what wonderful names they are too!); Me’s perplexity, indignation and forlornness (amongst others); and most of all the looks of friendship between Mabel and Me.

There is too much to love about this book. From the copyright page styled as a wall with posters pasted on; the end papers showing the characters in daytime and night; the detailing of the city they walk through; the cat in one window eying up a goldfish in another; the fez and stetson thrown in the air (Fezzes are cool!); the photobooth with a mustache; more wall posters…

The detail in the illustrations make this book a joy to read over and over again, plus give so many jumping points for follow on projects: houses and architecture; Europe; ballet; photography; design; dance; emotions… Not to mention what can be taken from the text: alliteration; mixed-up sayings…

Overall and beyond all that, this is a lovely story about friendship that we all enjoy on different levels. Although suitable for toddlers and up, there is so much in Mabel and Me that makes it perfect for older children so I’d recommend for any household with children aged 2-10.

Mabel and Me Best of Friends is currently out in hardback with RRP of £12.99 and is worth every penny; it’s out in paperback on 4th July.

You can read a lovely story behind the creation of the book and a newsflash mini-story starring Mabel and Me on Sarah Warburton’s blog plus an interview with Sarah here. I’m not leaving Mark out on purpose, I just couldn’t find much of an online presence to share!

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Mabel and Me Best of Friends by Sarah Warburton and HarperCollins Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Sarah also wrapped the book beautifully and added some lovely extras, which made me squeak loudly when we opened the package. Huge and extra-special thank-yous from us all to Sarah xx

Mabel and Me book and cards

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime

Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart Bedtime: Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2013)

Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart Bedtime: Clara Vulliamy (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013)

Occasionally, when I review books, I look at them almost entirely from an adult perspective. This is usually when the book is so loved by my daughters and me that I feel it really needs some extra attention in the review. This is one of those books.

I Heart Bedtime is the sequel to I Heart School and is just as utterly delicious as the first book. There is a wonderful adult-centric review as to why I Heart School is such a great picture book on the blog Did You Ever Stop to Think…?, which I thoroughly recommend.

For a child-centric reason why both Martha books are wonderful, I offer up the examples of my daughters. Destructo-Girl (almost-four) has slept with a variety of Clara Vulliamy books under her pillow for chunks of the mere fifteen months since we first discovered them. Martha Bunny was a favourite from the moment it arrived a year ago, and DG could find it spine-out on a bookcase at age two. Mighty-Girl (six) is a good reader but currently stuck in the mindset that she can only read banded books, but she has read the entire Martha books to her little sister – and they are fairy verbose books even though they don’t feel it when you’re reading them. Both DG and MG can quote huge sections of the text from either book, and they both relate to almost all of the scenarios. These are picture books for children that children enjoy, but are packed with so much that they are a joy to read over and over again as an adult.

From the very first page, the bright colours and happy smiling bunny entice you to read more, but more than that the links between both I Heart School and I Heart Bedtime are cemented in this first page too. Small children love and need the familiar, the world can be a scary enough place and often children latch on to a familiar toy or comforter. The Martha books understand this need in small children and keep the familiar not only in the situations that children will experience, but in the structure of the book too starting on this first page:

marthafirstpage

Other similarities are more subtle, but bring the child into the second book with ease once they are familiar with the first book (in whatever order they are read):

marthasimilarities

I often comment on fonts used in picture books and how I like easy-to-read fonts for early readers. But for some books, the array of fonts used is part of the story. In the Martha books, there is a script font that can be challenging to read but it is used sparsely and for similar words (see examples in images above) so familiarity/guesswork can be used!

On the subject of fonts, and being such a part of the story, I have to share these examples of words (doodling is from I Heart School, and sharks is from I Heart Bedtime). What an absolutely wonderful use of typography in the text:

marthatypography

My final example of book love for the two Martha books is Martha’s clothes. In I Heart School we are shown a selection of Martha’s favourite clothes, and in I Heart Bedtime we are shown her favourite pyjamas. What is absolutely wonderful is that Martha is shown in pyjamas in I Heart School which then appear in I Heart Bedtime, and shown in a dress in I Heart Bedtime that appeared in I Heart School. Just wonderful!

marthaclothes

And I haven’t even mentioned that lovely expression Martha has in both the inset pictures above, all because of her bunny brothers! Or that their toothbrushes in I Heart Bedtime are the favourite colours listed in I Heart School. Or that no adult characters appear, all the images are about Martha, Monty, Pip and Paws. Or that my Destructo-Girl copies Pip’s antics regularly including the necessity for strawberry toothpaste…

And really finally, I don’t know about other parents, but I am certainly guilty of this little white lie in order to get children to bed on time:

5oclockbedtime

In this case, Martha is so excited to spend some time with her best babysitter that she starts trying to get her bunny brothers to bed as early as possible. Later in the text, mum says “Now it really IS bedtime, little bunnies,” as they have taken so long coming up with excuses not to go to bed that the time has flown past. There is a delightful scene where Martha, Monty and Pip are shown going up and down the stairs with one excuse or another. Something else that is very familiar in the Chaos household!

There are too many little (and big) familiar moments in I Heart Bedtime that makes it a delight to read. Not only that but the highlight for MG and DG is the Bedtime Bunnies Song. My singing is rubbish but I do try! To listen to the song pop along to www.claras.me.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime is published on Thursday, 28 March 2013, and I’ll be sharing some bunny-inspired crafting with you then as part of the official blog tour. I can’t wait! 🙂

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime by HarperCollins Children’s Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

 

First Words, Letters and Numbers

Little Tiger Kids

Little Tiger Press has started a new imprint this month, Little Tiger Kids. These are a series of colourful, sturdy board books with pictures of real things, big flaps, things to trace. All of which appeal to babies and toddlers. We’ve been lucky enough to be sent three to test drive. All three instantly appealed to MG and DG with the bright colours and flaps and they’ve been having fun with them. I’m going to review from a grown up educational viewpoint but in terms of child-appeal, these are winners.

first100wordsMy First Book of Words: 100 First Words (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
There are similar books to this already available and to be fair Priddy Books have probably got the corner on this market but it would be an oversight for Little Tiger Press to have left out a book of this type in their new range, and it makes a nice addition. What Little Tiger Press have got (but I’ve not seen) is a lift-the-flap version of the 100 first words which should prove to be extremely popular. Based on the flaps in the Numbers book that we have seen, these are likely to be extremely robust and great for fine motor skills. Using real pictures is important for very young children who are learning to organise and categorise the world. Cartoon word books are lovely but a child’s absorbent mind also needs reinforcement of the real world.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
This is a book with enormous child appeal. The format is perfect. Each single page focusses on one letter. The top half of the page has the letter in upper and lower case, the upper case letter is cut out for tracing. The bottom half of the page has a picture starting with that letter and is also a giant flap with another picture for the letter underneath. Each page has bright, clear colours; uncluttered, real photographs; an easy-to-read-and-write font and start and end points for how to draw the letters. It is almost perfect and the only alphabet book you need to start a child’s journey to letter recognition and learning to read. Almost. It is let down by a lack of phonetic awareness. On chatting with other interested parties (parents and educators) on Twitter about the subject of phonetic ABC books, it was pointed out that many books are printed for a worldwide market where phonetics may not be the prescribed teaching method. In the UK (well, in England at least), every child who goes to a state-run school will be taught to read using synthetic phonics.

Phonics has its detractors but as an initial method in getting children to learn to decode quickly, it is excellent. Maria Montessori used phonetics in her methods for teaching children to read. Montessori also used sandpaper letters to get the children used to the shape of letters when they still hadn’t got the fine motor skills for writing, which this book also emulates in its touchable letter tracing. It’s only the upper case letters which are traceable, which is a pity given that we use lower case letters far more frequently in reality but it’s a good start. I also like how the start and end points for letter tracing are highlighted with red and green dots in this book.

I would still recommend this as possibly the best first ABC book I’ve seen. It ‘fails’ as an introduction to the phonetic alphabet in seven of the fifty-two words it includes. These are: ice-cream, ivy, owl, shoes, unicorn, xylophone and x-ray. Admittedly ‘x’ is impossible to do phonetically if you’re only chosing initial letters as there are no words that start with the /ks/ sound. I’m also not keen on ‘jelly beans’ as it’s two words! If you’re fussy on phonics like me, why not stick photos of igloo, insect, octopus, sock, fox and box in the book! I’ve searched but umbrella does seem to be the only object starting with the short-u sound. Up and Under are probably the best options, but hard to illustrate. In summary, this is an excellent alphabet book which is exactly what it sets out to be.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)

My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
Another appealing book for children, this comes with a ‘handle’ so it can be easily carried around. I really can’t stress enough how sturdy these books are. They are made from quality strong board, have pages that feel like they wipe clean easily (we haven’t needed to test this) with big, robust flaps. In first numbers, each page shows a picture of an object or objects (one cake, two kittens, three butterflies etc); the flap can then be opened to reveal simplified pictures of the outside of the flap – for example the outside picture may have things that overlap or are slightly different e.g. different kittens, but the inside picture will have the number of things clearly shown separately and be the same in one or two colours only – plus the number with start and end dots, and tracing guide. Another wonderful ‘first’ book.

All three books have enormous child appeal and would be excellent to share starting with babies who will be attracted to the bright, simple and familiar images; onto toddlers who will love the interactivity and ownership they can take for the books; onto pre-schoolers who can take pride in recognising numbers and letters… The Little Tiger Kids range are priced between £5.99 and £8.99 which is excellent value for money, especially the First ABC book above which is only £5.99. More in the series are being released in May. These include jigsaws, tabs and touchy-feely books. If these were around when my girls were younger we would have bought lots of them!

Disclaimer: We were sent a copies of My First Book of Words: 100 First Words; My First Touch and Trace: First ABC; and My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers by Little Tiger Press for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Friday Pick{ture Book}: The Princess and The Peas

The Princess and The Peas: Caryl Hart & Sarah Warburton (Nosy Crow, 2012)

The Princess and The Peas: Caryl Hart & Sarah Warburton
(Nosy Crow, 2012)

I am a teeny (huge) bit of a fan of both Caryl’s and Sarah’s work separately, so this combination was hugely exciting to me. It looks like I should dislike it intensely: see the princess, see the pink cover! But this is Caryl Hart, Sarah Warburton and Nosy Crow so you know you’re going to get something wonderful and this book doesn’t disappoint.

“With all things considered, I have to assess
This disease has no cure! The girl’s a princess.”
“You have to be joking!” her father exclaimed.
“Shes a princess all right,” the doctor explained.

Forgive me for going off on an adult-focussed commentary but I absolutely love this book and need to write about it in detail! Lily-Rose May lives with her dad in a lovely home in the woods. All the pages set at home are in beautiful natural colours with a lovely garden, rabbits, nature everywhere. Lily-Rose has a dress which is white with cherries on and a red ribbon in her hair. She is wonderfully, happily, girly without the default pink-ness. Her room is shown as being bright and feminine with the natural green and yellow that permeate the ‘home’ images and there are pink things in it because why not, girls do like pink too and that is just fine.

She lives with her dad. In the background of the pictures there are photo frames where you see a happy couple on their wedding day, plus baby pictures. The whole aura is of a well-loved little girl with a very caring dad who tries his best to give her a great and healthy life. There is no mention of the mother so there seems to be a tinge of sadness behind the story but Lily-Rose and her dad are having a lovely life together. The sadness behind the scenes may be why her dad tries so hard to get her to eat peas, but this is a children’s story so it’s also a slightly surreal point that drives the story on too.

http://swillustrators.co.uk/illustrators/sarah-warburton

The doctor is quite utterly mad, and has very much the look of a mad scientist about him. The diagnosis of Princess-itis and taking Lily-Rose away from her idyllic, but normal, life is probably one that many children brought up on a diet of unrealistic expectations and reality TV dream of. The cautionary tale of “The Princess and The Pea” retold beautifully in monotone with the main characters peering around the side of a gigantic book is the second distinct colour-scheme in the book making each location very distinct from each other.

Lily-Rose is torn between her love for her dad and the promise of great things and her loving father soothes her and does what he thinks is best for her future. Onto the palace location and pink becomes the primary colour in the illustrations. There is everything a princess could wish for: dressing up room, shoe room, a huge library, a room of her own with a television, jewels and pink dresses!

She’s initially taken in by all the material things, she puts on the frilly pink dress and tiara, she bounces on the luscious pink bed, she’s smitten by the enormous library (I’ll give her that one!) but of course reality soon hits in the life of a real princess isn’t wearing clothes and looking pretty, it’s hard work meeting people, representing your family, giving speeches and encouragement, shaking hands and deportment… The food also isn’t up to much 😉 Peas may be off the menu but the replacement certainly isn’t an improvement!

http://swillustrators.co.uk/illustrators/sarah-warburton

Lily-Rose soon realises that home and her dad are where she belongs so she gives back all the jewels and clothes and goes back. The odd pea is a minor inconvenience in the wonderful life with a loving family, and all’s well that ends well.

There is too much to love in this story: the lyrical rhyming, the fun and funny story, the encouragement to eat what you’re given, the pro-books imagery everywhere, the moral that for most children, home is the best place to be and celebrity isn’t all it may seem… Maybe I read too much into it but I love, love, love what this book says to me!

As for MG and DG, they love the book for its funny story, for its beautiful illustrations, for all the details they can pick out. And of course they also love the pink palace and all the princess things but I hope the message is going in too. There’s no reason not to like pink, or to play dress up and pretend to be a princess, and to like a variety of things (including tons of pink if you want!) but reality is a different matter too and happy ever after comes in all sorts of forms…

Disclaimer: I requested & received a copy of The Princess and the Peas by Nosy Crow for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Addendum: I also bought a copy which was kindly signed by Sarah and Caryl for MG and DG, so I’ll be donating the review copy.