Tag Archives: Nosy Crow

Captain Beastlie’s Pirate Party by Lucy Coats and Chris Mould

Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party: Lucy Coats & Chris Mould (Nosy Crow, 2014)

Captain Beastlie’s Pirate Party: Lucy Coats & Chris Mould (Nosy Crow, 2014)

Pirates and birthdays, what’s not to love? And from the talented team of Lucy Coats, Chris Mould and Nosy Crow? Well, that’s kids and adults happy then. I’m not sure I’ve met a child that doesn’t like pirates. If you think about it, it’s an odd theme for children as I think real-life pirates weren’t actually all that nice. But then children like enormous prehistoric beasties that ripped their prey apart, and creepy crawly hairy things, and fairies, so their tastes are a bit on the bloodthirsty side.

Captain Beastlie is the most disgusting pirate you’ll ever have the misfortune to meet. He sleeps with rotten cabbages, he eats things that come out of his nose and ear, he… Excuse me while I shudder a little here. If your children like the grossness of Morris the Mankiest Monster (Giles Andreae & Sarah McIntyre) then they’ll love Captain Beastlie. However, he lives on a squeaky clean ship, with the neatest of shipmates, so he must have some redeeming features as they seem to like him.

The story itself is full of delights. We count down with Captain Beastlie from Monday to Saturday, surreptitiously sneaking in days of the week and counting down from five reinforcement into the text, as he does a selection of really disgusting things and his crew carry on in the background.

The background, oh the background! Picture books come in all types, and minimal pictures can work exceptionally well, but I do love a book where the illustrations give you something new on many repeat readings, and small children do love their repeat readings… There is of course part of the story happening in the illustrations – the crew collecting wrapping paper, cards, and other birthday treats without the oblivious captain noticing. But there’s also the wonderful detail in the pirate ship, and little touches like 5 rotten cabbages on Monday but look out for them on the other days of the week and count how many there are each day. Wonderful!

I won’t spoil the surprise of what happens to the captain on his birthday, but I will mention the wonderful skull shaped birthday cake. Mmmm… Oh, and the song the pirates sing to the Captain will have polite children gasping (and giggling!) From an inclusivity viewpoint, there are no clichéd peg legs or eyepatches for these pirates, plus the cabin ‘boy’ is a girl (with no pink and not wearing a dress, but she’s still a girl…)

This is a star of a book, expertly written and stunningly illustrated. Nosy Crow have published Hardback and Paperback on the same day which gives a choice (I love to give hardback picture books for presents, but it’s not feasible to always buy them for home) RRP £10.99/£6.99 and almost certainly looking gorgeous on the shelf of your local indie bookshop right now (published 6th Feb.)

A huge hit with my daughters, and a fun book for girls and boys of all ages. Probably best for pre-school and up.

Disclosure: Received from Nosy Crow for review.

The Black Crow Conspiracy by Christopher Edge

The Black Crow Conspiracy: Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow, 2014)The Black Crow Conspiracy is the last in a trilogy of historical-alternate-history-mystery-horror-paranormal tales that started with Twelve Minutes to Midnight, and continued with Shadows of the Silver Screen. Although I commented that the first two books started more slowly (which is not a negative), this is not the case for The Black Crow Conspiracy which starts with glowing phantasms stealing the Crown Jewels within the first few pages.

Two years have passed since Shadows of the Silver Screen, and Penelope Tredwell is now nearly sixteen and suffering writer’s block. Sales of The Penny Dreadful have fallen without Montgomery Flinch’s stories and things are looking bleak until Penny hits on the idea of asking the public for plot ideas, as a competition.

Little does Penny know that the ‘fake confession’ she uses as the basis for a thrilling tale turns out to be real, and before she knows it Montgomery Flinch has been arrested for treason. This starts a thrilling hunt for the real Black Crow, with a backdrop of Edward VII’s coronation, stolen Crown Jewels, missing royalty, hints of the First World War, and state-of-the-art science.

The radiant boys come straight from a 1950’s B-movie. It would give too much away to say how they fit into the plot, but it’s a fun idea used to great effect and tinged with the mild horror you’d expect from a Penelope Tredwell novel.

Our heroine is back to full force after being slightly weakened in Shadows of the Silver Screen, and all the supporting cast are all included, but this is very much Penelope’s story. This is the last of the trilogy, something that you can guess from the last chapter, but there’s plenty of scope for more tales to fill the two years between Shadows and Black Crow if the author chooses to return to this world.

I am very fond of the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy. One of the things that particularly appeals to me is that they are stories with a female protagonist which can appeal to boys and girls equally. There is much written about how boys will only read books about boys, whereas girls will read either, used as an excuse for main characters being predominantly male.

Even if this is true, Penelope Tredwell is a character who transcends stereotypes. She is absolutely female, not a male part with a girl’s name tacked on, and deals with the prejudices of her time because of this. The plots aren’t stereotypical either, and don’t fit a single genre so have wide appeal.

The alternative-history theme is a gateway to discovering more about the times written about, and the use of real-life historical figures gives a starting block for those discoveries. As my daughters are only six and four, these are not books for them to read yet, but I will be keeping ‘my’ copies to pass on and can’t wait to find out what inspiration they will give.

Great Gifts for Nought to Five Year Olds

Puppet Books

Hugless Douglas Finds a Hug: David Melling (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)Puppet Books are great to engage older babies and toddlers, and because the puppet is attached to the book, you don’t have to worry about losing it either. Our favourite new puppet book is the adorable Hugless Douglas Needs A Hug, full of lovely illustrations and with the cutest Douglas puppet. The puppet is made for grown ups to operate, and for little hands to stroke and cuddle. We love Hugless Douglas here, and this book has been a huge hit.

Child's Play Puppet Books

For little ones who want to operate their own puppets, Child’s Play have a huge range of puppet activity books. Older babies and young toddlers will be able to stick their whole hands in to move the bunny in Bib on, Bunny and the monkey in Monkey and Me, plus the familiar settings will appeal. As always with Child’s Play, the children depicted are from various cultures and look fairly androgynous meaning that every child will be able to find a picture they can relate to in one of the books in the series. Older toddlers and pre-schoolers can improve their motor skills and learn as they play in titles like What’s The Time, Mr Wolf? Grown ups can operate the puppets with fingers (if they’re ever allowed to!) and the three titles that we tested got a huge thumbs up from the four and six year olds, so they have great longevity in use too.

Anything by Jo Lodge

Books by Jo Lodge from Hodder Children's Books and Nosy Crow

We first discovered Jo Lodge several years ago via Mr Croc. The few Mr Croc books we had were literally loved to death over a couple of years and after much fixing and re-fixing eventually went for recycling. This year we discovered Little Roar and Icky Sticky Monster too. Jo Lodge engineers her own books, and they are bright, colourful, attractive to small children and great fun. Little Roar is suitable from the youngest age, with chunky tabs to pull and turn. We used to have a fantastic Mr Croc board book suitable for the youngest hands too, Up and Down, but it appears to be out of print. I’m sure similar are still available. The Mr Croc pop-up and tab books are very innovative. Ours may have broken, but that was from a lot of use and not because of quality. The last page of the books is usually Mr Croc popping up to get you, which my two found utterly hilarious (and still do!) Icky Sticky Monster is more suitable for pre-schoolers and is the first from Nosy Crow, with two more coming out next summer. Hachette publish Mr Croc and Little Roar, plus a new series of crinkly cloth books for the smallest hands. I am not kidding when I say anything by Jo lodge is the perfect gift for babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and up…

Explore and Play

Child's Play Little Explorers and Little Drivers

The Little Explorer and Little Driver ranges from Child’s Play are excellent for imaginative play on the go, with a small character attached by ribbon that you can put in and out of pockets on each page, to pretend to control different vehicles. The character card is shaped and double sided so the child can choose boy or girl characters. These are not only wonderful fun, but great for motor skills development too. There are also dress up books in the same theme. With chunky card pages, and see through pockets, these are great quality and durable books for lots of fun play.

A board book that’s also a mask? What a wonderful idea! The Look At Me range are a series of books you can hold over your face to pretend to be a robot, or a monster; an alien or a clown. Due to the shape, a child or a grown up can play pretend. Great fun.

Pull, Twist, Poke, and Push

Child's Play Books

Books with flaps to lift and tabs to pull are always good fun with small children, but some are quite complex for little hands. Peekaboo Little Roar has tabs suitable for very small hands, and there are a range of Tiny Tabs books from Nosy Crow that are also good for babies. For older toddlers, Ian Whybrow and Axel Sheffler’s The Tickle Book (Macmillan) is full of tabs to pull and things to move, and Nick Sharratt’s Octopus Socktopus (Scholastic) is another enormous hit here. For preschoolers, Child’s Play’s Ten in the Bed not only teaches counting backwards from ten, but you get to turn a wheel to get a child to fall out of bed each time (and the children represent a variety of cultures, making this perfect for any child)

I couldn’t do a list of the best touchy-feely-pully-pushy-twisty-movey-interactive-novelty books for younger children without mentioning Child’s Play’s books with holes series. There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly was published forty years ago, and it’s one of the first board books I bought for Mighty-Girl when she was born. But there’s not only the Old Lady. We also have Old Macdonald, and I find it so clever how the holes, pictures and text are positioned. The children, of course, just think it’s lots of fun. Books with Holes come in all sorts of formats from small board books to gigantic books for sharing.

For more innovative, interactive, and intelligent book gift ideas please see Gifts for Curious Children (non fiction) and Great Gifts for Children (age 4+)

Disclosure: Many of the books listed were supplied for review by Hachette Children’s Books and Child’s Play International. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Ways into Reading: Oxford Children’s Book Group Conference 2013

Oxford University Press

image from Wikipedia

I am sitting here with about eight A4 pages covered in notes from the Oxford Children’s Book Group conference, wondering how to even start writing it all up. In summary: it was excellent. All of the speakers were interesting and informative and everything ran smoothly. The conference was held at the Oxford University Press offices, which was the perfect venue.

The day was split into ninety minute sections for the speakers. There were drinks and pastries on arrival, the same at mid-morning break and then a delicious buffet lunch. The OUP museum was also open for viewing, which I managed briefly after lunch, and Mostly Books were supporting with their travelling bookstall of relevant books.

My camera battery died at lunchtime so I have limited pictures but I spent more time making notes than taking pictures because the talks were so informative. All the talks were on the theme “Ways into Reading”, and the different methods available to encourage and support children to become readers.

The first speaker was Victor Watson, a retired lecturer and current author. His interest was in series fiction, which a child had described to him as entering a “room full of friends”. Series fiction is comforting to readers, you are returning to characters and places that you’re familiar with and you want to know more. He talked about how series fiction is often sidelined as being worthless, but argued against this premise. The series fiction author must provide a story that regular readers want, but make it different each time. He described the difference between progressive and successive series and the effect that time had on series written over long periods – for example the effect of the second world war and the sixties on series started in 1940’s and completed in 1970’s – and how different authors approached these changes. It was a fascinating talk, and I’ve requested his book Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp from the library.

Oxford Children's Book Group Conference 2013

Victor Watson, Caro Fickling, Tracey Corderoy, and some props!

Andrea Quincey from Oxford University Press talked about the perception of reading schemes and the aims of the Project X scheme. This was a great continuation from the theme of series fiction because reading schemes are series, however Andrea pointed out that becoming too attached to one series can have a negative effect so the aim is to create an interest in all kinds of reading. For some children, reading schemes are the only books that they come across in their lives so it was important to create something that will hold interest. Research states that the clearest indicator for a child’s future success is not economic status, family background or other social indicators but their ability to read. The details behind creating a 21st century reading scheme to hook children and the challenges faced in ensuring that the series can be read in any order but still make sense was fascinating.

As a picture book aficionado, Tracey Corderoy was my most anticipated speaker, and she didn’t disappoint. With a suitcase packed with props she exuded enthusiasm and wit. She talked about her childhood growing up in what she described as a grey and smoky Welsh town, in a school that was often closed due to chemical spills, and a childhood with few books. But being unconventional she turned into a literature student, a teacher, a parent and an author with 38 published books in three years. Tracey’s talk was all about setting children’s  “senses on fire” – using colour, props, crafts and singing to pull out a story and make it an experience. She talked about how she tells children that if they write stories then they are writers just like she is; this particularly spoke to me because it’s something that I do with my children. Tracey was incredibly inspirational, and a very humourous speaker. This was the highlight of an amazing day.

Tom and Caro Fickling talked about comics, and specifically The Phoenix. Tom talked about how comics are a way into reading that works because the child ‘owns’ the books by discovering themselves. As adults we’re allowed to look at pictures but children are expected to dump pictures at a certain age. Caro wondered whether declines in literacy were correlated to the lack of decent children’s comics in the last few decades and about how today’s ‘comics’ are thinly veiled marketing devices based on characters with printed matter not designed to stand up on its own and are thrown with relief into the recycle bin – I could completely relate to this having small children who are only interested in the plastic tat attached to the front! They talked about the medium of telling stories visually and how positioning and page turns affect how a story is read. Another fascinating insight.

Oxford University Press Museum

Oxford University Press Museum

Vineeta Gupta from Open University Press talked about the Oxford Children’s Corpus. This is not a term I’d actually come across before but with a background in analysis I now want to work for them! The Corpus is an enormous database of words used in writing for children and, more interestingly, in writing by children. The writing by children was collected in collaboration with Radio 2’s 500 words competition which gave them access to 160,000 samples of writing and over seventy million words to analyse. The Corpus is used to create dictionaries full of words that children actually come across in daily life, and to give real-life examples. Analysis of connections between words (for example, how often a word is used ‘near’ another word) means that, for example, ‘zoom’ can be illustrated by Harry Potter zooming around a Quidditch pitch making dictionaries relevant for today’s children.

Andy Mulligan only just arrived in time for his talk, having a journey cursed by public transport problems (Trains? Today? Of course they’re not running…) His theme was dangerous books and contemplating at what point children go from wanting to read “Shadow the Sheepdog” (Enid Blyton) to “The Fault in Our Stars”, and is something like The Fault in Our Stars a children’s book? Should children read books that don’t offer them reassurance that everything is going to end well? His talk was fascinating and engaging and covered a range of experiences. I now have all his books on my wish list too, especially The Boy with Two Heads and Trash. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do go.

Finally the day was rounded off with Bill Laar, educational consultant, whose passion for sharing books and words spun into the room of fairly tired attendees. It is quite lovely as a ‘grown-up’ to have picture books and poetry read to you by such an enthusiastic reader. The perfect end to a packed day!

Thanks must go to everyone at Oxford Children’s Book Group who put together such a smooth-running and informative event whilst keeping costs low; and to all the speakers and publishers who provided their services, especially Oxford University Press. I had an amazing day, got to meet up with some people I usually only know on Twitter, and learnt so much.

How to Spend £100 Book Voucher

I’m sure I saw a competition for £100 Book Voucher recently but then lost it. In the meantime I’d already started planning how to spend it (which as far as I remember was how to enter the competition – or maybe I dreamed it?!)

I could easily spend a £100 book voucher a hundred times over but here is what I planned. I would spend it at Mostly Books in Abingdon, so no tax-free online discounting to get more books, but Mostly Books have loyalty schemes that will stretch the voucher to between £118 and £123. I’m going to assume the lower end.

After some thought about where to start with my wish list, I decided to spend my virtual voucher solely on Nosy Crow books, because so many are on my wish list.

Rescue Princesses Series

Firstly, I would add the complete Rescue Princesses series (so far) to my basket. I’ve heard great things about this series and they sound like they’ll fit my wish for no gender stereotypes and Mighty Girl’s interest in princesses and adventure stories. There are ten books currently published, at £4.99 each. Running total £49.90.

Hubble Bubble Granny series

Secondly, I’d complete our Hubble Bubble, Granny Trouble series. The only one we own is Whizz Pop, Granny Stop and it’s in hardback so I’d need the first and third in hardback to match, plus the new early reader. That’s £10.99 each for the picture books, and £5.99 for the chapter book. Running total £77.87.

Trio of Nosy Crow picture books

Thirdly, a trio of picture books I’ve had sitting on my wish list for too long: Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam; Troll Swap; and Weasels. £10.99 each. Running total £110.84.

I’m getting close to my limit and so many more I could add. If I didn’t already have them, I’d add the two Playbooks: Farm and Pirates (they are awesome!) or Open Very Carefully, or Goldilocks and Just the One Bear. If I was allowing myself unpublished books, I’d add the third in the Twelve Minutes to Midnight series or Captain Beastlie’s Pirate Party or The Princess and the Presents (I can’t wait for all three!) but I think I’ll finish up with Flip Flap Farm because it looks like so much fun. Final total £118.83.

Axel Scheffler's Flip Flap Farm

I had great fun thinking about what to choose within my constraints. Now if only I could find the competition to enter… How would you spend a £100 book voucher if you had one, and where would you spend it?

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Nosy Crow Crew, but it’s an unpaid partnership and I was not asked to write this post. I have no affiliation with Mostly Books but should probably just have my salary paid directly there 😉

Fables and Reflections: 10 Traditional Tales Retold

After talking about retelling fables, I’d like to share a very small selection of some of the traditional and modern versions we have on our bookshelves. Many of these are recently published, but I’ve added a few extra that I haven’t reviewed yet. You can find more I’ve already reviewed by clicking here for the Fables tag.

The Emperor's Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)
If you’ve any interest in children’s literature, just put this on top of your Christmas list straight away. Or treat yourself now. Or use the children as an excuse. This will make a lovely gift for any child person. The stories are perfect for reading aloud but even fairly early reader’s can attempt the easily laid out text (although the words may be challenging.) This is the first in a series of tales collected by the enormously talented Jane Ray and illustrated using scraperfoil techniques. It is a gorgeous book and only priced at £12.99. A mix of retold stories and collected poetry, this book deserves its own blog post. It is an example of traditional done well, with stories suitable for all ages. All the tales in this collection are linked by feathered friends and include traditional tales from across the globe. (Source: review copy)

whatsthetimemrwolfWhat’s the Time, Mr Wolf?: Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2012)
Technically not a retelling at all, but packed full of familiar characters following Mr Wolf’s day. Most children are familiar with the “What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?” game and the repeatedly asked question leads us through the day from 7am when Mr Wolf is woken by four and twenty blackbirds (“It’s time for blackbird pie,”) and sleepily wakes up and gets chores done in time for… Ah, that would be telling. Featuring three little pig neighbours (who slam their doors – “It’s time for bacon sandwiches,” (I feel like that most mornings when woken too early, and thankfully this Mr Wolf is a nice wolf when he isn’t being annoyed by naughty neighbours!) Gorgeously illustrated with Debi Gliori’s recognisable style, a humourous and happy story for toddlers and up. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve read it. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? Time to buy more books… (Source: review copy)

Beauty and the Beast: Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb (Orchard Books, 2013)Beauty and the Beast: Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb (Orchard Books, 2013)
The illustrations for this traditional retelling of Beauty and the Beast are exquisite. A mix of silhouettes and washes of colour, with gold foiled cover, this is a book to be cherished for its beauty and every detailed poured over. DG (4) certainly thinks so and requests the story night after night, and it’s a wordy book but she listens raptly all the way through and asks again (tomorrow, it’s a bit too long to read twice in a row…) I have some issues with the retelling. It is traditional, and there is a lot of focus on the sisters only being interested in gaining husbands, and new dresses every day being a highlight of Beauty’s stay in the Beast’s house. Beauty is also frequently described as stupid. It is, however, the most complete picture book retelling I’ve read. This Beast is not a Disney-fied softy but there is real horror in his appearance and the “ear-crunching noise” that accompanies his arrival. This really is a stunning, traditional retelling and deserves its place on any child’s bookshelves. (Source: review copy)

Goldilocks and Just the One Bear: Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow, 2012)Goldilocks and Just the One Bear: Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow, 2012)
Another modern tale and not quite a retelling of Goldilocks but to say much more would give too much away. “Once upon a time, there was this bear…” and so begins a story  of a bear finding himself in a big city and accidentally entering an apartment. There he tries to find some porridge, but the soggy, crunchy and dry “porridge” that he finds aren’t quite right (hilariously illustrated, you just have to get this book to see!) The same happens with the chairs, and the beds… The Daddy, Mummy and little persons who come across the mess left by the bear aren’t very amused, but the wonderfully satisfactory conclusion perfectly ends this familiar-sounding tale. Funny, stunningly illustrated, and a perfect addition to any bookshelf, I can’t recommend Goldilocks and Just the One Bear highly enough. (Source: own copy)

The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013) The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013)
This is a traditional tale that I had no previous knowledge of. It starts in a Cinderalla-like way; Shiraz’s mother dies young and her father remarries but after he too dies, her life changes from one of happiness to drudgery as the step-mother and step-sister make her their maid. Unlike Cinderella, no prince is required for a happy ending. Shiraz loses a ball of wall off her balcony, precious to her because it was her mother’s, and goes to the house whose garden it dropped in. The lady living here appears to be an unkindly witch and sets three tasks, which Shiraz gladly completes. Because of Shiraz’s kind heart, and the good that she does, it appears that the old women gives her the gift of beauty. In reality it is Shiraz’s own personality shining through. The step-sister attempts to replicate what Shiraz has done but it backfires because of her selfishness. Beautifully illustrated and with an exotic (to my children) location, this story especially grips MG (6) who listens attentively (she usually wanders off during stories to do other things) and tries to read it herself after. A very positive and non-stereotyped story, this is the perfect antidote to Disney princesses. (Source: review copy)

Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is another huge success in our household, and has torn pages to show for how much its been read (sniffles!) Here we find Fairytale Village, where all the fairy tale characters live. Little Red Riding Hood’s mother runs the tea shop and sends our heroine with some treats to see her grandmother. But, oh, the illustrations! They tell the story and more. Starting in the tea shop, there’s Hansel buying a loaf of bread, the Frog Prince gloomily drinking a cup of tea, Rapunzel and the Gingerbread man chatting, Three Little Pigs munching cakes, and who’s that shifty looking character in dark glasses and a trenchcoat pretending to choose jam? MG (6) was the one who pointed out to me that the wolf appears on every single double page of the book, if you look carefully, and she’s right. The backgrounds of the illustrations tell too many stories to mention: Jack taking his cow to market, Hansel and Gretel going for a walk… The Hansel and Gretel tale plays out throughout the entire book, and we regularly see the woodcutter keeping an eye on Little Red Riding Hood too. Which brings me to my only grumble with the story. Despite the mostly modern retelling (the wolf locks grandma in a cupboard instead of eating her, and is sent to a school for naughty fairytale creatures at the end), this retelling doesn’t take the opportunity for Little Red Riding Hood to be resourceful and work her own escape, she is a passive traveller in the tale and the story just happens to her. I do wonder about Grandma too, she lives next door to the gingerbread house, didn’t she notice what was happening to the children there? Apparently I’m reading too much into this! The book really sucks you into the fairytale world and is wonderful for reading again and again. I do hope there will be more stories in this series and thoroughly recommend this version. (Source: review copy)

The Lion and the Mouse: Nahta Noj (Templar Publishing, 2013)The Lion and the Mouse: Nahta Noj & Jenny Broom (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is a very clever book. Cut-outs in the pages mean that what you think is part of a butterfly’s wing on one page, becomes a lion’s eye on the next; plants on one page become footprints on the next… The art style is simple enough to encourage small children to try making animals with paper collage, and complex enough to hold interest throughout. This is a beautifully illustrated and designed book and for that I think the designer, Jonathan Lambert, should be on the front cover too because he has done a superb job. This would make a lovely gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers (and grown ups…) and is full of educational potential as well as being a lovely read aloud. (Source: review copy)

Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story; Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale; and Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn retold by Lynn Roberts & illustrated by David Roberts (Pavillion Children's Books, 2001, 2003 & 2005)Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story; Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale; and Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn retold by Lynn Roberts & illustrated by David Roberts (Pavillion Children’s Books, 2001, 2003 & 2005)
We love these books so much! David Roberts is one of the best illustrators working today and these three retellings of favourite fairy tales showcase his art beautifully. They are retold by his sister, Lynn, talent obviously running in the family. “In a time not too long ago and in a land much like our own, there lived…” begins each tale. Each has its own era. Cinderella is set in the Art Deco 1920’s/1930’s; Rapunzel in the 1970’s; and Little Red sometime in the 1700’s. They are all thoroughly hilarious with so much to look at in the illustrations that you could just spend hours pouring over them. They are a labour of love, and a must for any fan of fairy tales (or children’s books, or illustration, or humour…) Cinderella follows the most traditional route, with a prince and a ball along with step-mother and step-sisters. How Cinderella ends up with her step-mother is comic genius (a very absent-minded father is involved) and the attention to detail in the pictures is astonishing. We originally borrowed this one from the library but after keeping it for several months I had to buy it and the two others from the series. I am so sad there haven’t been any more since, it looks like plans for the fourth were postponed and I can but hope there are more one day as these are excellent. Rapunzel is set in the 1970’s with a dinner-lady aunt who keeps her long-haired niece on the top floor of a tower block before Roger from the school band finds her. No royalty or weddings in this tale which makes a lovely change, and oh, the ’70’s is so perfectly represented. The illustrator note in this book says he imagined Rapunzel being related to Cinderella somehow so look out in the background for items that appear in both books. Finally, Little Red is set further in the past and Red is gender-swapped to become a boy. I think there should be more gender-swapping in retold tales, it changes the stereotyped interactions into something more interesting in many cases. For instance Princess Rosamund in The Tough Princess finds a sleeping prince to wake. Just wonderful. Little Red does outwit the wolf on his own (now I wish he was female again, but only because of all the other female Reds who have to be saved) and how he gets grandma back after she was swallowed whole should delight almost every child. These three are a delight for children and adults. Humourous, intelligent, and great fun. (Source: own copies)

I would love to include more, because there are so many to write about, but I’m up to almost 2000 words already so this is finished but I’m sure I will write about more retold fables in future.

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of the books labelled review copy by Boxer Books, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Orchard Books, Barefoot Books (via BritMums Meet Up) and Templar Publishing for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Shadows of the Silver Screen by Christopher Edge

Shadows of the Silver Screen: Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow, 2013)Penelope Tredwell, thirteen year old proprietor and writer for popular Victorian magazine The Penny Dreadful, is back in her second historical-alternate-history-mystery-horror-paranormal tale starting six months after the end of Twelve Minutes to Midnight.

This time she’s pulled into the new and exciting world of the moving picture when the mysterious Mr Gold offers to make a film of one of Montgomery Flinch’s tales of terror.

Shadows of the Silver Screen has a similar pace to Twelve Minutes to Midnight, with a slower set-up for the first half of the book before you start finding out what’s really going on. The novel has a Sherlock Holmes feel to it, except the supernatural is real in this world.

When Penny left Alfie in London to travel with Monty, I was a little sad because I wanted all the characters to be included. I needn’t have worried as we need him in London to track down further clues. I found Penelope not as strong a character as the first novel, but this may have been the effects of ghostly interference. I hope she returns to strength for the third, and I hope there is a third because I am getting quite hooked on Christopher Edge’s alternate version of Victorian England.

A highlight of the novel for me were the historical facts the story inspires you to look up. I hadn’t heard of Louis Le Prince before and yet I would have called myself reasonably aware of film history (apparently not!) I also loved how the story didn’t end where I thought, but still held more thrills. Creepy and gripping, Shadows of the Silver Screen should appeal to anyone with an interest in film, horror, Victorian era, strong female leads and gripping plots.

Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge

Twelve Minutes to Midnight: Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow, 2012) Twelve Minutes to Midnight is the first in a series of books about Penelope Tredwell, thirteen year old proprietor and writer for The Penny Dreadful – a monthly periodical she’s made so successful since her father’s death that it’s now outselling The Strand.

In this tale, Penelope’s alter-ego Montgomery Flinch is requested to help a baffling mystery at Bethlem Royal Hospital – the notorious Bedlam. Fortunately for Penny, she has already hired actor Monty Maples to ‘play’ Montgomery Flinch, as she’s desperate to solve the mystery for her next story. Unfortunately for her, Monty is terrified of almost everything so she doesn’t get to find out as much as she needs from the haunted inhabitants at Bedlam. Every night, at twelve minutes to midnight, every Bedlam patient is compelled to write and write. Words of madness believe the Superintendent but Penelope is sure there is truth in them…

The first 100-or-so pages set up the characters and plot and are relatively slow-paced. Relatively compared to the second half of the book when as soon as we’re introduced to the mysterious widow, Lady Cambridge, things start happening in speedy succession. Lady Cambridge’s creepy research subjects are still making my skin itch a day after finishing this book; and the world of Penny, Alfie, Monty and Mr Wigram are somewhere that the reader will almost certainly feel compelled to revisit.

Twelve Minutes to Midnight is an intriguing mix of historical, alternate history, mystery, horror and paranormal novel with a strong female lead and decent supporting cast. Penny is probably a little too brilliant to be believable, but not in an overly irritating way. I also wasn’t convinced by some elements of the dream-based finale but I am not the target audience!

I have to review this as an adult, because MG and DG are too young. This is aimed for age 9+, and I wondered how many of the historical references would be understood by this age group. However, I have no current direct experience of the age range to know, and even if the historical references pass the reader by the story can still be followed and enjoyed. I just got an extra thrill from the inclusion of Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, Freud et al.! I found this a very enjoyable read and will be getting the sequel because I want to find out more about Christopher Edge’s turn-of-the-century Victorian world. The synopsis for the sequel, Shadows of the Silver Screen, sounds intriguing and it’s published on 10th January so not long to wait!

The Princess and the Peas at Tales on Moon Lane

Invitation

I was so excited when the invitation arrived in my mailbox and said “Yes! Yes! YES!” immediately. I live near Oxford and have no clue about London but it generally seems fairly easy to visit. The night before when I actually checked the route and realised it was going to take me three hours to get there I panicked but still thought it was worth it. On the actual day, DG had her pre-school booster inoculations and was really upset so I turned into overprotective mummy mode and didn’t want to leave her!

I missed this fab event, but Caryl and Sarah very kindly e-mailed me lots of pictures to share instead. Thanks to Dom from Nosy Crow who sent me a copy of the book to review and I also want to give special thanks to Elli, who offered to ‘hold my hand’ finding the event and in my absence got a copy of the book signed for my girls 🙂

As I wasn’t there, I’ll have to let the pictures talk for themselves, it looked like an amazing time was had by all and the children look so captivated. Well done Nosy Crow, Sarah, Caryl and Tales on Moon Lane!

Caryl & Sarah with Lily-Rose May, Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl & Sarah with Lily-Rose May, Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl reading, Sarah drawing, crowd laughing - Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl reading, Sarah drawing, crowd laughing – Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl reading, Sarah drawing, crowd laughing - Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl reading, Sarah drawing, crowd laughing – Tales on Moon Lane

Caryl & Sarah signing for their fans

Caryl & Sarah signing for their fans

Sarah & Caryl join the Tales on Moon Lane wall of fame

Sarah & Caryl join the Tales on Moon Lane wall of fame

The end of the evening, and it looks like even the made up characters had too much bubbly... ;-)

The end of the evening, and it looks like even the made up characters had too much bubbly… 😉

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.