Odd Job Frog by Colleen and Zed Jacey

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“‘I’m bored,’ said frog. ‘Bored, bored, BORED.’

‘Well you’d better get used to it,’ his friend, Mouse, replied lazily. ‘Nothing exciting is going to happen in the middle of this field.’

‘You’re right!’ Frog jumped up. ‘But the city is full of exciting things. I’ll go there.'”

Odd Job Frog

As amphibians go, Odd Job Frog is a bit of a dynamo! When life gets a tad boring in the countryside, does he languish on his lily pad? No he does not! He hops off to London in search of excitement. Unfortunately, all the marvellous things he wants to do cost money so he has to try to get a job. But what sort of work is most suited to a go-getting frog? It’ll need to be something pretty special…

Make a Leap!

Odd Job Frog is a really entertaining and original picture book that shows we’re all wonderful in our own way. As well as being a lovely story told alongside beautifully painted illustrations, Odd Job Frog promotes creative thinking and self-confidence. Teachers in Key Stage One and those running nurture groups will find this to be a valuable addition to their resources. I love that Odd Job Frog has the potential to really get children thinking about themselves and how they too are extraordinary.

As another famous frog once said, ” Life’s like a movie, write your own ending”. We can’t promote diversity enough and when it comes as fabulously presented as this, what’s not to like!

 

Thanks to the author for sending me this lovely book.

 

 


The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig

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By Emer Stamp

“Hello.

Me I is Pig. I is big and pink (sometimes a bit brown if I has been rolling in mud). My best friend Duck says I has stopped growing; that I has reached my maximum size. But I don’t think this is true. I is sure when I eats a lot I gets a bit bigger and when I don’t eat so much. I gets a little bit smaller.”

Pig is Back!

Pig is back and he’s on hilarious form in this, his fourth diary in the bestselling series by Emer Stamp. Action and adventure await young readers as Pig finds himself faced once again with those most dastardly of book villains, the Evil Chickens. Stitched up by the atrocious avians and forced to leave the farm, Pig’s life takes a Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers turn that kids will thoroughly enjoy. Old friends and new join in with the fun, farts and frolics as Pig faces danger (and chickens) in order to save the day.

A Poster from Pig’s Website!

A Book With Style

With cracking characters, surprising plot turns and fab illustrations, The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig is certainly a book with style. Open it up and you’ll see something different with each turn of the page. Fonts are easy to access and change for each character, which makes for exciting reading. Emer Stamp understands what kids want from a funny book and delivers it impeccably; every teacher looking to inspire reading for pleasure should have a set of her books in their classroom. Also, do check out Emer Stamp’s Pig website- it is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT: there are so many great resources and things to explore. Here it is.

Children across the middle grade age range will love Pig not only for his adventures, but also for his impressive variety of farts which are described in gratifyingly specific detail. I just hope somewhere out there there’s a primary school teacher who’s prepared to take the leap and make this a class reader alongside the science topic ‘The Digestive System’. That would be just too wonderful.

GIVEAWAY!

The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig is an absolute corker of a book and you can win not just this little beauty but the whole series by following the blog tour on Twitter and retweeting my review. Good luck!

Thanks very much to Scholastic UK for sending me this copy of The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig and for asking me to be part of the blog tour.


Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.

Nansi

In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?

Gaslight

I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.


Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

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“A high metallic strike made me jump. But it was only the living room clock. It struck twelve, and the last stroke faded away.

And as it faded away, the wind stopped whistling in the chimney. The water stopped gurgling in the pipes. The breeze stopped rustling in the trees. 

I had never known such silence. It was as though the world was holding its breath.”

Christmas Eve, the air just before it snows, getting ready to go out somewhere special. Things that hold a sense of delicious anticipation that make the main event even better. Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters has this from the very start;  a tantalising piece of children’s historical fiction that gives me this exact same feeling. And being surrounded with such a compelling combination of anticipation and action, it’s wonderfully easy to get caught up.

We join Evie as she goes to stay with godmother Anna while her mum’s on honeymoon. Thrown into the unknown setting of Anna’s flat in an old converted manor house, Evie begins to pick up on the history around her and learns about the tragic Sophia Fane: a previous inhabitant who left an intriguing inscription on the window of Evie’s room.

Later that night as the clock strikes twelve, Evie finds herself invited into the past- specifically to 1814 and Sophia’s time. She has a role to play in Sophia’s fate, but even in the past time marches forward. Will Evie manage to help Sophia and still get back to her own time or will she remain trapped in the past?

Evie’s Ghost is a beauty of a book that will have young readers and listeners on the edge of their seats asking for the next chapter. Teachers looking for a riveting class reader will appreciate this and will love the way Helen Peters creates drama and empathy, especially around Evie’s perceptions of the past and the people she meets. There are differences to consider throughout and the author strikes a sensitive balance between noting advantages of the modern world and suggesting sacrifices made for it.

There is enormous value beyond the pages of Evie’s Ghost, especially for Upper Key Stage Two classes looking to study the past in a really meaningful way. Use it to create great drama opportunities in relation to the story, then take it further and encourage children to find their own inner Evie to explore their own slice of local history outside of the classroom and away from the internet.

Evie’s Ghost: perceptive, inspiring, absorbing, and a must for fans of historical fiction.

 


Uncle Shawn and Bill and…

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…the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure

By A.L. Kennedy

Illustrated by Gemma Correll

An excellent book, but apparently not enjoyed by whippets.

“Badger Bill was having a very bad evening, maybe the worst of his life. He was stuck inside a bag. “

“Meanwhile, on the dark side of an incredibly rainy hill, four llamas were trying to find shelter.”

“”Meanwhile, an extremely tall and quite thin person called Uncle Shawn was sitting near the river. His lanky arms were folded round his gangly, big legs at around about the height of his bony, big knees, which were tucked up under his chin. He was wearing no socks because he had given his last pair to a young squirrel who wanted to play at camping and use it as a sleeping bag.”

Uncle Shawn and Bill (and Some Llamas)

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure is the first book in a brand new series from Walker Books sure to go down a storm with humour loving readers aged seven years plus. The first three chapters (or sections) each introduce a character or group of characters, as shown in the quotes above, and the story takes us on their adventures which are linked by the magnificent and heroic (and ever so slightly dishevelled) Uncle Shawn.

Having pretty much snorted with laughter throughout my own reading, I’m really keen to spread the love with Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure. It’s a pure pleasure: thoroughly heart-warming with a fun and exciting plot and everything a class reader should be. It conveys the joy of a really great story. Kids will care about the characters and want to know what happens next and adults will enjoy A.L. Kennedy’s rather nifty turns of phrase.  Gemma Correll’s illustrations are blooming brilliant and perfectly suited to the story. I could have photographed so many for this review, but in the end I chose this beauty:

Grinning Cheesily

Other illustrations you can look forward to include depictions of the differences between good and bad adventures, a mean looking man in a rubber suit carrying a bucket of hot porridge with bananas and raspberries, and also a friend with soup. As I say, blooming brilliant.

I’m delighted that Uncle Shawn and Bill is part of a new series as I can’t wait to see what they get up to next. A book that’s sure to stick a big, cheesy grin on everyone’s face!

 


When is a Children’s Book Not a Children’s Book?

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The Importance of Taking Children’s Books (& Adults Who Read Them) Seriously

“You blog about children’s books but you don’t have children? Has anyone ever questioned that you’re not qualified to do this?”

” I see you write about children’s books. Do you have your own children? No? Oh, you’re a teacher. So you’re coming from a professional point of view then.”

These are a couple of examples of responses I’ve had in relation to me and my children’s book blog www.booksagogo.co.uk.  Being questioned by strangers about my suitability as a reader of children’s books has always struck me as a bit odd (and a bit rude). I find it embarrassing and uncomfortable and I’m ashamed to say that in order to avoid these sort of comments I find that I self-justify before they can begin.  I get in there first and say that as I teach and am also doing an MA in Children’s Literature it makes a lot of sense for me to be interested in children’s books. The truth is it’s actually the other way round. I’m a teacher because of my love of children’s books. I’m doing the MA because of my love of children’s books.

Children’s Books for Everyone

What if I wasn’t a teacher? What if I had no reason deemed ‘proper’ for writing about children’s books? What if I simply loved to read them- would that not be justification enough?  To be a proper champion of children’s books, I need to be up there waving my copy of Jill’s Gymkhana with pride and claiming children’s books on behalf of everyone. So here I am, waving.

Back Up

C.S. Lewis had it right. He wrote this brilliant piece on writing for children and shared his thoughts on being a reader of children’s books at any age:

(In defending children’s books) “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.”

Also:

“They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.”

Children’s Literature as a Genre

If we consider children’s literature as a genre open to any age, it begins to make sense. For a start, childhood is not a static state of being. Children (like adults) are all different depending on time and circumstance. Children today read books written for the children of 20, 50, 100 + years ago without any thought to it.  For example, Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden might be a ten year old child of The Empire who has never been to school, but she remains credible today because she has a spirit children can identify with.  It works because children recognise the similarities rather than the differences. So should we.

What is children’s literature anyway? Robinson Crusoe was written for adults but has always held a fascination for children. It has been abridged over time and is considered by most now as a children’s book. Tom Sawyer is a children’s book but not one I’ve seen in any of the schools I’ve worked in, which is a shame and a loss. The picture book Rosie’s Walk is one of the most satisfying reads I have had the pleasure to analyse as part of my course. Fairy tales are not always about the happily ever after. Accepting that children’s books are complex is essential. This is something you can remind yourself of every time there’s a controversial winner of a children’s book prize. There is nothing that children’s literature doesn’t deal with: war, poverty, death, cruelty, violence, abandonment, it’s all there. Can you handle it?

 You’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Children’s fiction has come a long way from its moralistic and didactic roots. We are in a new golden age and the choice out there is astounding. I can only begin to touch on all the good things going on in the children’s book world. I encourage you to take a look and ask yourself what you expect from a good book. I suspect it will be very similar to what you hope a child will get from reading.

Expectations for All & Some Suggested Reads

  • Expand Horizons. (Rebel of the Sands, Doomspell Trilogy, Bartimaeus Trilogy, Deathscent)
  • Feel Empathy. (Wonder, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, The Incredible Journey, Perijee and Me, The Arrival)
  • Learn new things. (Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, Voices in the Park, The London Eye Mystery)
  • Be Delighted (The Bell Family, The Little Grey Men, Holiday House, I Capture the Castle)
  • Fire imagination. (The Earthsea Quartet, Strange Star, The Snow Merchant)
  • Have a laugh. (Who Let the Gods Out, Pugs of the Frozen North, I Can Only Draw Worms)
  • Get emotional. (Black Beauty, Skellig, Listen to the Moon)
  • Lose Yourself. (If You Find Me, Five Children on the Western Front, Darkmere)
  • Think. (Tape, Picture Me Gone, Noughts and Crosses, Winter Damage, Wells & Wong Mysteries)

Children’s books are for everyone. Have the hock and the lemon squash. Be enriched.

 


Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

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Book seen here with terrifying Easter Bunny

“It began on a Friday, as strange things often do.”

Who Let the Gods Out

Elliot’s worries are very much grounded in the real world. His mum isn’t well and whilst Elliot is trying to hold everything together, the money problems keep coming. If he doesn’t find £20,000 in exactly one week they will be turfed out of their farm for good with nowhere to go.

But sometimes life surprises you with a bolt from the blue.

(Or a constellation.)

Possibly the last thing Elliot was expecting to land in their cowshed was Virgo: a young immortal from Elysium, on Earth to deliver ambrosia to a prisoner kept by the Gods near his home. Specifically, under Stonehenge. Thrown together by fate, they join forces but when the delivery goes wrong and the pair accidentally release Thanatos, diabolical Daemon of Death, things get a bit dicey. With the whole of the human race under threat, it’s time to get the big guns involved. Enter Zeus and a cast of Gods like you’ve never seen them before.

MG Roller Coaster

Who Let the Gods is a substantial MG roller coaster of an adventure.  It’s a big story- over 350 pages- and is packed full of action and humour. It’s properly roll around on the floor can’t get your breath funny. The characters are varied and hilarious. For example:

Charon the ferryman crossing passengers over the river Styx is genius, a kind of London cabbie:

“Right-o, we’ll take the Severn- the Wye’s murder this time of day.”

And Zeus, retired for the past 2000 years. An ageing Lothario, schmoozing mortal women and having a blast:

“…he was rather surprised to find Zeus in a badly fitting light-blue tuxedo with a frilly shirt, holding a cheese and ham vol-au-vent. The long white hair was there, albeit badly slicked back with hair gel. And it wasn’t a strapping chest bursting out so much as a gigantic belly.”

Then there’s Sisyphus, who I’m pleased to report has a lisp. Thithyphuth.

I’ll leave you to discover the episode with Her Maj the Queen; sufficed to say it’s rather surprising!

Reader Response

Whether it’s a main character or a brief encounter, the attention given to reader response is second to none. This is why I’d love to teach it and see those reactions first hand. If I were sharing this with a class, I’d have a whale of a time. I’d be going all out with drama, role play, anything to get the children up and enjoying the pure joy Who Let the Gods Out gives. Fun and learning, together at last!

Who Let the Gods Out is the first part of a series and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, out in the summer.

 

 

 

 

 


The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

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Illustrated by Ashley King

The Bookshop Girl, with…

…and without whippet

Property Jones

Property Jones loves books. The smell, the feel of the pages, the little differences between them. She understands almost everything about them. Everything that it, except the words. Property Jones has a secret: she can’t read.

Property has managed to keep this secret despite living in a bookshop, the one she was abandoned in at the age of five. You see, Property’s parents left her there and disappeared. She was found by Michael Jones, a logical thinker, who seeing that Property was lost promptly put her in the lost property cupboard. Hence the name.

Six years later, Property, Michael and his mum, bookshop owner Netty, live there as a family. Times are hard but a competition to own the prestigious Montgomery’s Emporium of Reading Delights might just solve all their problems. They enter and await the outcome…

(But why is such a famous and esteemed bookshop simply being given away as a prize? Surely there must be a catch?)

Join Property and the Jones as they enter the most marvellous bookshop ever invented, tangle with some very bad baddies (BOOOO!) and spend time  with a really grumpy cat.

High Adventure

This is high adventure in gorgeously imaginative settings. The narrative is lovely: the book begins and ends with a chapter communicated directly to the reader which makes it a bit different. Sylvia Bishop has great warmth in her style and I enjoyed it very much. I’m sure that children will love it too.

The Bookshop Girl is a really fun mystery. It creates amazing images in the reader’s head that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned. This is a book to be read again and again, each time enjoying favourite parts and taking something new.

The text is nicely spaced out which will help give young readers a bit of room to take the story in. It’s illustrated (as all really good books are) throughout and Ashley King has done a brilliant job visually all the characters and exciting scenes. The Bookshop Girl has it all. It’s a wonderful choice for children aged seven years plus.

 

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this copy.


Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey

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Piranhas, Bananas and Whippet

“Hey there guys. Would you like a banana?

What’s wrong with you Brian? You’re a piranha.”

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas

Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys was one of my favourite children’s books last year because every kid I lent it to ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. At the upper end of Key Stage Two, finding a book that your whole class want to take home and read doesn’t happen every day, so understandably I’m a big fan of Aaron Blabey’s work. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas has a similar feel and will go down really well with younger children because like The Bad Guys, it does funny very well indeed.

Bananas Are Not the Only Fruit

Yes, Brian the piranha likes bananas, but they’re not the only fruit recommended here. Brian knows that in order to get the other piranhas to eat something other than meat, he’s going to have to offer a few tasty alternatives. But much as he tries to tempt with bananas, plums, apples, melons, all that good stuff, what they really would prefer to be eating is….bums. There’s a strong bum theme going on here and that’s got to be a good thing.

Look- he has eyebrows!

Told in rhyming couplets, it’s a shining example of why kids love Aaron Blabey’s books: it’s not too wordy but still tells a fabulously funny story. Also, as you can see, the accompanying illustrations are fantastic. Backgrounds are left white so those piranhas really are the stars of the show, eyeballing the reader rather menacingly and looking like they’re about to swim off the page towards you.

Piranhas, Bums and Belly Laughs

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a top choice and a guaranteed kid pleaser. Best bought alongside The Bad Guys as the piranha theme continues. A wonderful book for younger children (and adults) who like a good giggle!

 

Thanks to Scholastic for sending me this copy.


Superbat by Matt Carr

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“Is it a BIRD?

Is it a PLANE?

Er… I think it’s a BAT in a funny little costume!”

Superbat

Pat the bat is having trouble sleeping. Bored of being a normal bat, he wants to be more like the superheroes in his comics. Pat is the kind of bat who has an idea and acts upon it. He gets things done, has a cup of tea and then he does a bit more.

The other bats question that his super powers aren’t actually all that super, being as all bats have them. Although his ears flop a little with sadness, Pat picks himself up, takes his skills and uses them for good! Check out his antics for yourself, enjoy his story and learn more about bats along the way.

A Book with Style

Hands down the most super bat I have encountered in children’s literature with the most super art work; this is a book with style. Some proper colour genius is going on here: we have teal and red and mustard and together they are magnificent. A book that provides not only excellent design but also offers new colourway combinations for the wardrobe as we sashay into spring. What could possibly be better?

Just this: the best aspect of Superbat for me is the message it sends out to young readers that we can all do extraordinary things. What seems ordinary to a bat is extraordinary to us and what we take as normal can provide us with the means to do achieve wonderful outcomes. We can all be amazing with or without the cape. Preferably with though.

We could learn a lot from Pat the Bat. We too can be heroes.

Superbat is full-on, important, technicolour joy.

 

Thanks Scholastic for sending me this lovely book!