Tag Archives: Orchard Books

#BookADayUK The One I Have Reread Most Often

I’m not sure which book(s) I have reread most often. There have been a few loved to death books over the years. I know I read the first Red Dwarf novel repeatedly as a teenager, and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I don’t really reread books for myself now, and haven’t for a long time. But as a parent of young children, I do read certain books over and over and over again. Today’s choice is one that has been an almost daily request for May and June.

Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk: Rachel Mortimer & Liz Pichon (Orchard Books, 2014)Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk: Rachel Mortimer & Liz Pichon (Orchard Books, 2014)

Danger Girl (5) loves fairy tales / fables / traditional tales. Whatever you call them, they are her favourite genre of story. Humorous twists on familiar tales always go down well, and adding sweeties into the mix makes this a piece of genius storytelling.

In Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk, the familiar tale of poverty starts how we’d expect. Jack goes to market to sell his cow, but on the way he’s offered twenty gold coins for her… Hold on a minute, Jack just sold the cow for something sensible, this can’t be right? Of course it will go wrong shortly, and in this case Jack’s eye is caught by a huge bag of jelly beans in a magical sweet shop…

The tale then returns to what we expect: Jack’s mum’s ire, beans thrown out of the window, Jack sent to bed without any supper, and then… More familiarity with a giant (jelly) beanstalk, a giant, a goose, and a harp, with an imaginative way of escape and enough jelly beans to last every meal for years. The final page is hinted at earlier in the book, but makes DG and MG giggle every time as they shout out the last few words.

This is the third in a series of alternate fairy tales from the team of Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon, and I am regularly told off by DG because we don’t own them all. Fun to read for all ages, and with lots to inspire children’s own storytelling.

Disclosure: Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk received for review from Hachette Children’s Books

Treasuries to Treasure

I kept a selection of books from my childhood, mostly novels from when I was 12+ and no picture books. But the books I do still have from when I was younger are all treasuries. Lovely chunky hardback collections that people generally only buy as presents, especially at Christmas. Here are a selection of newly published, delicious additions to any bookshelves, all of which would make perfect gifts.

Just So Stories: Rudyard Kipling & Robert Ingpen (Templar Publishing, 2013)Just So Stories: Rudyard Kipling & Robert Ingpen (Templar Publishing, 2013)
Long ago, before your parents’ parents were born, O Best Beloved, there was a man who told stories about how things came to be… I would love to write this review in the style of Just So stories but using O Best Beloved is about as good as it gets. Kipling was a genius, there is no doubt. I’m embarrassed to say I have barely read any of his original work (I assume The Jungle Book doesn’t really have singing monkeys in it…) but I did grow up on a sprinkling of Just So Stories and therefore have a soft spot for them, though there are many in this book that I never knew, or don’t remember. But why buy a book when you can get them for free online, you might ask? And there are so many versions, why this one? Because Robert Ingpen’s illustrations are just so 🙂 This is a truly beautiful book, packed full of colour illustrations throughout, with many double-page illustrations, and coloured pages.  It uses the original text, which may lead to conversations about historical changes. I personally love the part where a father is furious with his daughter and is contemplating whether skinning her or not giving her a kiss at bedtime is the worst punishment – this is a book for all ages! This version is beautifully produced, and a nice size for reading too. I’m hugging it a bit as I write this (in between reading a bit more, and gazing and the illustrations.) The RRP is £16.99, which is a bargain for what you get, and I’d not be at all surprised to see this on the Greenaway long list next year.

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)
This is a beautiful collection of traditional tales involving birds in some way. The stories are perfect for reading aloud but even fairly early readers 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. The book has been formatted beautifully, and includes many coloured pages for interest. The stories are suitable for all ages, and include tales that have both sad and happy endings. It is a gorgeous book for any book lover, young or old, and a bargain at RRP £12.99.

Little Grey Rabbit's Story Treasury: Alison Uttley & Margaret Tempest (Templar Publishing, new ed. 2013)Little Grey Rabbit’s Story Treasury: Alison Uttley & Margaret Tempest (Templar Publishing, new ed. 2013)
Little Grey Rabbit books are ones I remember from my childhood and it’s lovely to see them all being reprinted in their original little book form by Templar. Because of course, they should be little books, unless they’re in a treasury. This book collects six of the tales together and includes information about the editor, author and illustrator, as well as the characters. I never knew Alison Uttley was one of the first women to gain a physics degree (in 1906), and that just makes me love the stories even more. These are delightful stories and, dare I say it, much more readable than many of Beatrix Potter’s tales. This is a beautiful gift edition that should delight any age. RRP £12.99.

The Orchard Book of Greek Myths: Geraldine McCaughrean & Emma Chichester Clark (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)The Orchard Book of Greek Myths: Geraldine McCaughrean & Emma Chichester Clark (Orchard Books, new ed. 2013)
I always loved Greek and Roman Myths when I was a child, and as this is the 21st anniversary edition I wondered why I never had this one. Then I remembered I was 17 twenty-one years ago, in the midst of A-Levels and was mostly reading Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. If it had been around as a child, I’m sure I would have loved this book. Containing sixteen famous tales from Pandora to Persephone, Orpheus to Odysseus, this is a beautiful introduction to stories that have been told for thousands of years. RRP £12.99.

The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems: Carol Ann Duffy & Jackie Morris (Barefoot Books, 2006)The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems: Carol Ann Duffy & Jackie Morris (Barefoot Books, 2006)
Introduced by Carol Ann Duffy and stunningly illustrated by Jackie Morris, this is a beautiful collection of many favourite poems to share with children, including selections from Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter De La Mare, A A Milne, Eleanor Farjeon, Elizabeth Browning, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Kipling, Shakespeare, Auden… I never studied literature beyond GCSE and I recognise almost every name, and almost every poem. These truly are classics. Accessible, enjoyable, and a beautiful addition to any bookshelf. RRP £14.99, but get 20% off with code TWENTY13 if you buy online (or look at these blogs for 25% off for a limited time.)

Old Bear Stories: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, updated ed. 2013)Old Bear Stories: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, updated ed. 2013)
Even though the original Old Bear stories were wonderful in their original format, Jane Hissey reworked them all this year to reduce the text, making them even more readable, and on a par with modern picture books. The reissued books seem even clearer and more beautiful that before (we have a mixture of old and new versions!) Old Bear Stories collects five favourites: Old Bear, Little Bear’s Trousers, Little Bear Lost, Jolly Tall, and Jolly Snow into one glorious hardback edition. Having had the delight of meeting Jane earlier this year, I am even more in love with these stories. Every picture is based on real-life models that Jane created, and the detail in the pencil pictures is breathtaking. Perfect for very small children and up, this is a very special book. RRP £16.99.

The Orchard Book of Funny Fairy Tales: Laurence Anholt & Arthur Robins (Orchard Books, 2013)The Orchard Book of Funny Fairy Tales: Laurence Anholt & Arthur Robins (Orchard Books, 2013)
A collection of six classic fairy-tales retold with lots of fun, lots of rhymes, silly pictures, and without any of the scary bits. Laurence Anholt and Arthur Robins also collaborate on a series of seriously silly stories for younger readers and this is a great addition to silly fun for threes and up. This would be a brilliant addition to any Christmas stocking, but you’d better be ready to read them all day as they’ll be a hit. Stinky stepsisters, gentle giants, hairy bears, and did you ever wonder what a house made of sweets would do to a witch’s teeth? Once you see the answer, you’ll be brushing your teeth very carefully! RRP £12.99.

My Rainbow Fairies Collection: Daisy Meadows & Georgie Ripper (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)My Rainbow Fairies Collection: Daisy Meadows & Georgie Ripper (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)
Regardless of what you think of Rainbow Fairies, there is a certain demographic (of which my eldest child is a part of) who think they are wonderful. This book contains the original seven rainbow fairy stories plus one special, Flora the Fancy Dress Fairy. The stories are about two girls who are independent and brave, and their adventures helping the fairies of fairyland. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and (in this collection at least) doesn’t depict limiting gender stereotyping. Any series with over 100 titles will suffer quality issues over time, but these are the originals and are quite captivating. The best thing about this collection is that it is illustrated in colour. Mighty-Girl is a very good reader, but she doesn’t stick with books that she is capable of reading because she doesn’t like books without colour pictures. She is a very creative and visual child, so pictures are important to her. With this collection, she is flying through the stories, which can only be good for her literacy levels. The book itself has a padded cover, is covered in sparkling stars and butterflies, and includes a ribbon bookmark. Every page is in colour, and there are added character profiles, a map, and a pictorial list of all (so far) 169 books! A delightful gift for RRP £12.99.

Disclosure: All except The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and Old Bear Stories were received from their respective publishers for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post. Barefoot Books links are affiliate links.

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

The Memory Tree: Britta Teckentrup (Orchard Books, 2013)
The Memory Tree: Britta Teckentrup (Orchard Books, 2013)

On December 2nd 2010, my dad died. He was 75, I was 35, neither of us particularly old or young for this life event to happen. But my daughters were eighteen months and three-and-three-quarters, and although the youngest one didn’t really understand that anything had changed, Mighty-Girl certainly did.

“Why is Mummy crying? Why are you crying, Mummy?” she asked. And we told her, because she’s a bright girl and doesn’t take any answer but the truth. And we explained what death meant. And we had a three-year old who couldn’t sleep at night and sobbed that she didn’t want to die. Score zero for parenting.

Friends recommended Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley, a picture book about death and remembering loved ones. I cried when I read it to MG and DG, but it helped to talk about what had happened, and we all healed over time. I don’t cry when I read Badger’s Parting Gifts now.

I cried when I first read The Memory Tree. It is an exceptionally beautiful book and within the first page the art and text gives an emotional punch for anyone who has lost a loved one. Fox has lived a long and happy life, and is ready to sleep. He has many friends who were affected positively by his life, and who join together to remember their friend.

Their memories grow a tree, which nurtures and supports Fox’s loved ones. Remembering all the good things about their friend, keeps him with them forever. The story is lovely to read even if a child hasn’t lost a loved one, but it’s especially poignant if they have. The images of Owl hugging his friend, and the snow covering the ‘sleeping’ fox are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The illustrations are stunningly beautiful. Uncluttered and full of warmth they perfectly accompany the text. The Memory Tree is a very special book, and an essential book to share when losing a loved older relative or friend.

Today I will be remembering my dad, gone for three years exactly. Thinking both sad and happy thoughts, and wishing that my children had got to spend more time with him. And I will be reading The Memory Tree, and crying, but they will be good tears building our own memory tree.

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of The Memory Tree 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.

Beautiful Picture Books for Giving

I think any picture book from a child’s favourite theme or illustration style is a wonderful gift when it’s a hardback edition. Hardback books, especially picture books, have a special air about them. Here are a selection of recently published books that are available in hardback and are especially beautiful.

The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder Children's Books, Anniv. ed 2013)The Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder Children’s Books, Anniv. ed 2013)
I hadn’t seen this anniversary edition when I first wrote this list, but now I have it’s at the top of it. The Tale of Jack Frost is a near-perfect winter story, beautifully illustrated in watercolour. It’s a fairy tale and a winter tale, full of unique magical creatures, horrible goblins, forgotten pasts and hopeful futures. I’ve written about the paperback version before, but this hardback (signed and limited to 1000 copies) takes a beautiful story and packages it perfectly. With shining snowflakes on the cover and endpapers full of sketches, the anniversary edition is also individually hand numbered and signed by the author. Search out a copy now, before they all disappear.

Abigail: Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press, 2013)Abigail: Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press, 2013)
Every Catherine Rayner picture book is a piece of beauty, and Abigail is no exception. Abigail is the newest animal character from Catherine, and she is a giraffe who loves to count. The hardback edition is a near-square with gorgeous matt covering depicting Abigail against a night sky. The story follows Abigail as she tries to count things, but they keep moving. Eventually she gets her friends together and they find something to count that doesn’t move. Stunning imagery of the African plains and its inhabitants pack the book, with a lovely gentle story suitable for all ages but especially for 3-5 year olds because of the focus on learning to count. A flip-up page adds to the interest, and ending with night-time makes this the perfect bedtime read.

Winter's Child: Angela McAliister & Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar Publishing, 2013)Winter’s Child: Angela McAllister & Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This book truly is an object of beauty, and a perfect Christmas story. The story is about Tom, who loves winter and wants it to stay forever. He finds a friend in a strange pale boy and every day they play in the stunning icy landscape. But at home, Nana is getting frailer, food and fuel is running out, and Tom’s mother is worried… I cannot describe how beautifully illustrated this fable is, it is a book to be poured over and enjoyed on many levels. Suitable from 3+, it will probably most appeal to 5-8 year olds, but older children will get so much from the story too.

All Through The Night: John Ceiriog Hughes & Kate Alizadeh (Simply Read Books, 2013)All Through The Night: John Ceiriog Hughes & Kate Alizadeh (Simply Read Books, 2013)
This book has perfect Christmas stocking filler written all over it. It is a small square hardback with words of a traditional Welsh lullaby (translated into English) with beautiful pastel illustrations. The lyrics are very Christian and refer to God and Guardian Angels so will appeal more to people with Christian faith. The book is a small package of beauty, lovely for bedtime reading. It may even be a thoughtful gift for someone who is grieving, but that would be a very personal choice.

Barefoot Books - The World of Miss Clara Gift SetThe Princess and The Pea; The Twelve Dancing Princesses; and The Snow Queen: Miss Clara (Barefoot Books, 2013)
I’m cheating a little here, because I haven’t seen these books in real life yet. I have however seen the chapter book versions and know how stunning Miss Clara’s illustrations are. These three hardback editions are new to Barefoot Books this month, and are also currently available as a gift set saving 10% on individual prices. You can get a further 20% off ordering online with the code TWENTY13. All Barefoot Books are produced to a high standard, and these will be no exception. A trio of classic fairy tales with beautiful illustrations, what more could you ask from a Christmas gift?

Rules of Summer: Shaun Tan (Lothian Children's Books, 2013)Rules of Summer: Shaun Tan (Lothian Children’s Books, 2013)
I don’t ‘get’ Shaun Tan’s picture books. The art is stunningly beautiful, weird and unique, and wonderful for getting lost in. But the picture books make absolutely no sense to me at all. I read this one to my four year old and she told me I was reading it wrong, because I must have missed out some of the words! These are not books for small children. Stunningly beautiful, cinematic and wonderful, this could be read to any child, but is probably of more interest to children aged 8+. I think this is one to add to the Christmas stockings of any art students you know too. This would be perfect as a springboard for discussion about… Well, I have no idea what the book is about at all, which I think may be the point, so the discussions from this book are potentially limitless.

The King of Space; Jonny Duddle (Templar Books, 2013)The King of Space: Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2013)
The paperback version is already out but the hardback is still available. You can read my full thoughts on this book here. This will appeal to all space-loving children (so most of them) of any age, but under threes probably won’t appreciate it as much. It’s also perfect for all sci-fi geek parents too. I’m usually a fan of traditional artists, as I find a lot of digital art too ‘shiny’ (for want of a better word!) but in all three of his books Jonny Duddle has packed the pages with grime and details. I’ve read them so many times and still have the odd “oh!” moment when I notice yet-another connection between the stories in the background…

The Tiger Who Came To Tea: Judith Kerr (HarperCollins Children's Books, Gift ed. 2013) The Tiger Who Came To Tea: Judith Kerr (HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gift ed. 2013)
This story probably needs no introduction. The fun, and surreal, tale of a Tiger who visits Sophie and her mummy to eat everything in their house has been well-loved since it was first published in 1968. To celebrate Judith Kerr’s 90th birthday this year, a beautiful gift edition hardback complete with slipcase has been released. This gift edition deserves its place on every child (and children’s book lover’s) bookshelves, and makes a perfect gift.

The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013)The Girl With A Brave Heart: Rita Jahanforua & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013)
A traditional tale from Tehran which 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. Because of Shiraz’s kind heart, and the good that she does, it appears that she receives the gift of beauty. In reality it is Shiraz’s own personality shining through. Beautifully illustrated, this is a very positive and non-stereotyped story; the perfect antidote to Disney princesses. Available to buy from Barefoot Books.

amelienanetteSparkly Shoes and Picnic Parties (Amelie and Nanette): Sophie Tilley (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2013)
In a complete contrast to the non-stereotyped Girl With A Brave Heart, Amelie and Nanette are the epitome of girlyness, and you can read my thoughts on this book here. This is such a beautiful hardback that it deserves a place in this list, as it will make a lovely present. The theme of summer picnics will be a great pick-me-up on a cold, dull winter’s day and the beautiful illustrations should put a smile on even the grumpiest face. Suitable for reading to any age, this will be enjoyed most by 3-8 year olds.

Barbapapa and Barbapapa's Voyage: Annette Tison & Talus Taylor (Orchard Books, new ed. 2013)Barbapapa and Barbapapa’s Voyage: Annette Tison & Talus Taylor (Orchard Books, new ed. 2013)
The Barbapapa books were originally published in the 1970’s although I have no memory of them from my childhood so it’s with new and adult eyes that I was introduced to Barbapapa, a pink blob-creature who was found in a garden (in Barbapapa), and his family (in Barbapapa’s Voyage). The stories are a little strange and surreal, but full of adventure and concepts that small children will be familiar with. These books will either be a classic for parents who read them as children to share, or just fun new additions. They are very lovely, and the hardback editions are beautifully produced. Suitable for any age, but especially 3-5 year olds.

I hope that has given you some ideas of a tiny fraction of the beautiful books currently released in the UK that would make wonderful gifts. I will be writing more gift list ideas over the next two weeks.

Disclosure: All books (except Barefoot Books) received from their respective publishers for review. Barefoot Books links are affiliate links. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

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.

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.

Pirates and Pi-rats

Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, 2013)Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, 2013)

Five girl and five boy pirates start on an adventure in this delightful rhyming counting book; and are dispatched one by one by a variety of creatures, natural events and other means… This book is wonderful!

Told in rhyme, which scans beautifully, and leads children to correctly work out the next number counting down. The number symbol of remaining pirates is shown on the bottom left hand corner of each double spread, and the number word is in large, bold text (in the same font) on the top middle left spread. This will help cement number symbols and words into young children’s memories without them noticing 😉 Or if they already can read the number symbols, they will delight in pointing it out (in the case of DG, 4) or can just read the whole book (in the case of MG, 6!)

Six little pirates,
trying to stay alive.
Chomp! goes a giant squid –
now there are…

But what about all this chomping and zapping of pirates you may ask? Ah, well, maybe at the end the last lonely pirate isn’t alone for long, and there’s an opportunity to count up to ten again… DG has been choosing this book regularly (“again!”) and joins in with the “Arrrrrrr!”s and counting the numbers down. MG loves reading it. The clear cartoon art is attractive to young children, and still enjoyable for older ones. Suitable for little ones who love pirates and monsters, this has been a huge hit here!

Pi-rat: Maxine Lee (Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Press), 2013)Pi-rat: Maxine Lee (Caterpillar Books, 2013)

Avast and shiver me timbers! Meet Pi-rat and his dastardly crew, afeared of no-one and nothing… Ah, but here comes the scariest hairiest creature of them all – to get pi-rat out of his bath!

Another wonderful piratey book. We’ve been utterly spoilt. This would also be a great introduction to the idea of comics, because it’s mainly told through speech bubbles and gloriously anarchic images. Every small child would love to have the freedom Pi-rat’s crew has, to do whatever they want. This shows that you can do anything in your imagination, and the scariest monster might just be your closest ally after all.

Another book that DG loves and requests be read repeatedly. Lovely for toddlers and up, but older children will understand the imagination / reality twist better. A must for all pirate-mad children and their grown-ups!

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of Ten Little Pirates by Hachette Children’s Books and Pi-rat 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.

Belle & Boo and Mandy Sutcliffe

As part of the Blog Tour to promote the first two Belle and Boo Activity Books (reviewed here), we were given the chance to interview Mandy Sutcliffe. I asked our lovely local school if they’d ask the children for any questions and the KS1 class (5, 6 & 7 year olds) came up with the following:

Belle & Boo Stories

Children: How many books are there about Belle and Boo?
Mandy: There are 3 books currently in print ‘Belle & Boo and the Birthday Surprise’ ‘Goodnight Kiss’ and ‘Yummy Scrummy Day’ and a Christmas book out this September

Belle & BooChildren: Is there a reason that both names begin with B?
Mandy: As soon as I first drew the pair I knew their names were Belle & Boo, it was just a lovely coincidence that they began with the same letter.

Children: Are they based on a real child and a real toy?
Mandy: Belle is based a little bit on me as a child, I had the same hair style, mind you my mum based my hair on my favourite story book character Milly-Molly-Mandy, so there is that influence also. I had a pet rabbit when I was a child although he was pure white and called chalky. 

Children: What makes them best friends?
Mandy: Because they do everything together, because Belle looks after Boo and Boo makes Belle laugh a lot.

Children: Why isn’t there any other characters in the story? [They were read “The Goodnight Kiss” only]
Mandy: The only other characters that feature so far are the other toys, Snuffly Elephant, Raggedy Doll, & Yellow Duck. 

Belle & BooChildren: What else do they like doing together?
Mandy: They love to climb trees, kick leaves, bake cakes (especially carrot cake), draw, paint and sing.

Children: Who else lives in the house?
Mandy: The other toys & a few mice.

Children: How long does it take to illustrate a Belle and Boo book?
Mandy: Approximately 3 months, some spreads are super quick to draw and others can take a little bit too long, when that happens I try to leave the one I am struggling with and work on another and then come back to the troublesome one, that usually works.

Children: Does Belle have any other favourite toys?
Mandy: Yes she loves all her toys but Boo is definitely her absolute favourite.

Mandy Sutcliffe

Thank-you so much Mandy for answering our questions; lovely Sarah from Hachette for organising everything; and of course the staff and children at our local school for the questions.

We also have part four of the exclusive blog tour downloads, click on the image below to collect the hangers for your wardrobe.

Belle and Boo exclusive downloads

Collect the rest of the exclusive downloads by visiting the blogs below:
Colouring-in Dress-up Belle from Read It, Daddy
Belle’s Summer Outfits from StorySeekers
Belle’s Wardrobe from Book Sniffer
Belle’s Winter Outfits from Library Mice

Belle & Boo Sticker and Activity Books

I’m not the best person to review sticker and activity books because I’m not a huge fan. Despite my feelings on the activity book concept, the Belle & Boo books are beautiful examples of their type.

Belle & Boo Play DayBelle & Boo Play Day has four pages of dress-ups; a kite to design and colour; cupcakes to decorate; spot the difference; a maze; matching game; colouring page; story and more pages to add stickers to. There is very little freedom with the dress up clothes, most are one outfit to stick in the ‘correct’ place but I’m not one for teaching my children to follow rules so DG stuck her stickers wherever she wanted to anyway, and had a great time ignoring all the instructions! This is my favourite of the two books because the designing and colouring are more open-ended, and therefore I think it’s suitable for any age.

Belle & Boo My Favourite ThingsBelle & Boo My Favourite Things is, to me, more suitable from an older age (e.g. 4/5+) due to the activities included. There is a grid picture copy activity; wordsearch; spot-the-difference; sticker pictures; finding objects; weather words; shadow matching; writing and numbers. MG loves wordsearches at the moment, so she chose this book straight away, and I think she chose the right one of the two for her and her sister’s ages. There are more smaller stickers in this book, good for designing patterns after the bigger ‘special use’ stickers have been used.

Both books are A4 size with gorgeous matt pages and are filled with beautiful artwork. There are two double pages of stickers stapled in the centre, and 24 pages of activities. At £4.99 RRP they won’t break the bank, and would be lovely start-of-summer-holidays gifts. Easy to transport and beautiful to look at, these Belle & Boo books almost change my overall opinion on activity books.

For a taster, you can download the wordsearch here (although the one in the book is in colour) and a similar grid picture copy activity here.

Please read our interview with Mandy Sutcliffe, and collect your exclusive blog tour download (part four of five) after the interview.

Belle & Boo Giveaway

It’s Belle & Boo Blog Tour week, which means I not only get to promote one of my favourite publishers but also some of my favourite children’s book bloggers too. Make sure you pop by to these fantastic blogs on the dates below for an exclusive download (one per blog) and more…

Belle and Boo exclusive downloads

Monday 8th July – Read It Daddy! (http://readitdaddy.blogspot.co.uk/)

Tuesday 9th July – Story Seekers (http://storyseekersuk.wordpress.com/)

Wednesday 10th July – The Book Sniffer (http://booksniffingpug.blogspot.co.uk/)

Thursday 11th July – Child-Led Chaos (http://childledchaos.me.uk/)

Friday 12th July – Library Mice (http://librarymice.com/)

Not only that, I get to offer a wonderful prize to one lucky reader! A complete (so far) set of Belle and Boo story and activity books (in paperback), plus the cutest bag to keep them (or other special things) in. We reviewed two Belle & Boo books previously, and they are very lovely.

Belle & Boo prize

I’d normally do a Rafflecoptor widget for the giveaway, but inspired by the lovely Book Sniffer’s competition, I thought I’d make this one more interesting. For a chance of winning, please e-mail childledchaos @ gmail.com or tweet @childledchaos a picture of a rabbit that you’ve drawn or made. I’ll get my resident artist, Mighty-Girl, to choose her favourite. The deadline is 3.30pm, Monday 15th July. Entrants must have a UK address for the prize to be posted to. I’ll post all entries on Facebook and here.

On Thursday we’ll be reviewing the two new sticker and activity books, plus there’s an interview with Mandy Sutcliffe and the KS1 class of our local primary school.

Small Print: It would be nice if the e-mail subject was “Belle & Boo Giveaway” or you added #belleandboo to your tweet, but not required 🙂