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.


Me and Mister P

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Written by Maria Farrer and Illustrated by Daniel Rieley

“The bear stood like a statue. Inside Arthur’s very still body, his heart was thumping and inside his very still head his mind was racing. He thought it best to seem friendly so he nodded and smiled at the polar bear. The bear nodded at Arthur and bared its long, sharp teeth.”

Mister P

Arthur cannot see past his brother Liam. Whether he’s blocking Arthur’s view of the football on the television by sitting far too close to the screen or embarrassing him in front of his friends, Liam seems to be blocking Arthur from enjoying a normal life. Liam’s challenging behaviour is becoming too much for his brother to deal with and he decides he’s had enough. He leaves the house. On the doorstep as he goes to leave, is a polar bear. This is Mister P and he’s come to stay.

There’s a fine tradition of marvellous bears in children’s literature and Mister P is a more than welcome addition. He is gorgeous and funny and you will love him. A giant white bear, a little on the quiet side, very skilled at blinking and dancing, with an alarmingly toothy grin. No one knows why he’s come to stay or how long he’s planning to stay for, but Arthur wholeheartedly takes on care of him.

The Good Stuff…

In turn, Mister P helps Arthur to understand that although life may not always be fair, it’s not always unfair either. Arthur begins to notice more of the good stuff whilst it’s happening and finds out what really matters to him. As well as entertaining us with lots of fun, there are also the most wonderfully touching moments in Me and Mister P.

And Chocolate Ice Cream Too.

This would be a lovely class reader for any Junior classroom. I’d be equally happy to share it in Year Six as I would in Year Three; a good book is a good book after all and this is a story that provides real depth of content and thought-provoking discussion points. Autism is never directly mentioned in Me and Mister P, but it’s fair to presume that Liam is autistic from his behaviour patterns. I like that he isn’t labelled in the book and I think you’ll enjoy how he changes throughout the story.

The most interesting children’s books (I think) are the ones that can be accessed equally on different levels and the most interesting polar bears are the ones who like eating chocolate ice cream. Luckily, Me and Mister P provides both of these key features. Beautifully illustrated, beautifully written.

Me and Mister P: what a heart warming read for this cold January day.

 

 

Big thanks to Oxford University Press for sending me this lovely book.


The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

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Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet's nose in this picture. Chocolate & dogs shouldn't really mix...

Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet’s nose in this picture. Well spotted!

” ‘In six days there will be no more chocolate in the world…ever!’

That’s what it said on The Seven Show.

Jelly had nearly reached the next level of Zombie Puppy Dash, but hearing this made her plunge the pink puppy into a huge tank of zombie dog food.”

The Great Chocoplot

The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan is a real winner for children seven years plus who like their stories on the lively side.

Both truly funny and imaginatively written, it’s going to tick the boxes for so many readers out there, and maybe even create a few new ones. This is another example of the kind of cracking (sorry) books coming from Chicken House at the minute and if you haven’t already, you should check out their range. Immediately. Well, in a minute.

Chocopocalypse!

After the announcement on The Seven Show that the chocopocalypse is quickly approaching, Jelly (yes I know, it is an awesome name isn’t it?) and her Gran put their heads together to try and get to the bottom of it. Obviously, plot-wise, there aren’t many things as potentially devastating as no more chocolate ever, but with Gran and Jelly on our side we unravel a wonderful mystery of global impact played out with local heart.

We take Jelly to our hearts straight away. On the surface she’s a regular girl from an ordinary family living in a normal town just like yours, but we all know really that there’s no such thing as ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’ and everyone is unique and special. Jelly is sparky, clever and a joy to read about.

Shout Out to all the Grandparents

A big shout out has to go to Gran: a caravan-dwelling, headphone-wearing, scientific icon for our times in my opinion, and Jelly loves her. I also loved Grandad, who we don’t meet as he is no longer with us, but who is described in such a beautiful way. I like this. It’s a little detail that will mean a lot to a lot of children.

Kids who’ve previously enjoyed the stories of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Roald Dahl and David Walliams are going to click with The Great Chocoplot straight away; others will be drawn in by Sandra Navarro’s fabulous cover and will stay for the ride. A true Books-a-Go-Go book of glory and a feast of fun for young ‘uns everywhere!

 


Hoot Owl Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, Illustrated by Jean Jullien

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hoot owl ready

” Everyone knows

owls are wise.

But as well as

being wise,

I am a master

of disguise.

I organise a costume.

Look…

I disguise myself as…

an ornamental bird bath.”

Being partial to an owl or two, I find it very hard not to go over the top here. I think you’ll agree I managed to keep the owl quota on the photo down to the bare minimum. It’s all about applying appropriate levels of restraint and I think I’ve succeeded in that.

Hoot Owl Master of Disguise is a fearsome hunter who, like Liam Neeson in Taken, has a very particular set of skills. By employing a variety of cunning disguises, he attempts to outwit his prey in order to fill his tummy. The results of this will have you rolling around wheezing like a drain with laughter, regardless of age, but will probably best appreciated by those with at least three years under their belts.

Sean Taylor himself is a bit of a master at this writing lark- not just the sentences, but the space around them (if that doesn’t sound too fancy) which gives the one reading out loud the gift of comic timing and makes them sound like a comedy genius. How kind!

The descriptive language is very poetic and for me the hero of the hour, with gems such as

“The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast.”

Dreamy, huh?

Jean Jullien’s illustrations are strong lined and smooth, with flat clashing colours and excellent use of big eyes imperceptibly changing but telling us exactly what the characters are thinking. His artwork is as creative as Taylor’s words, making this a pretty much perfect picture book.

hoot owl inner ready

The more I research authors, the less surprised I am to find out that the most creative story tellers are usually poets too. Sean Taylor’s own poetry is well worth a look and teachers will be pleased to hear that he also does workshops and school visits. I can’t imagine these would be anything less than brilliant.

Hoot Owl Master of Disguise has it all: great art, humour and owls. No wonder it’s been shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, or Lollies, in the picture book category.

I strongly encourage that anyone in need of a bit of a cheer up should check out Hoot Owl Master of Disguise and display it proudly thereafter on their coffee table as a thing of great beauty and infinite wisdom.

Hoot Owl Master of Disguise is a picture book of true glory, and a proper hoot to boot.

Notes for Teachers on Poetry

When I was in primary school and our fourth year teacher introduced poetry, she told us that poets used something called Artistic License. It was years before I realised this wasn’t an actual thing you had to apply for once you’d made the decision to enter the creative industries as a career, which was a shame because I really wanted one. Poetry for me was amazing, because not only could you combine it with illustration, but using drawings actually made it look even better! You could act it out too- we performed on local radio as a class, each reading a line or so of our group creation. It was something I bet not one of us has forgotten the thrill of.

Nowadays poetry is way, way undervalued in most primary schools- at least in my experience- and it’s such a shame because kids love reading it, writing it and hearing it. If you go in any primary classroom and take a look at what the kids are choosing to read in their own time, I guarantee you’ll see lots of them have chosen poetry books. They choose them because they’re exciting; for the variety of subjects and the way they make them feel, plus they look interesting and can feel friendlier than a big fiction text.

They can hear them in their heads, enjoy reading them out loud and performing them with friends. It’s a total no-brainer that this is a great way to develop reading for pleasure, because kids are already choosing to do it!

Try to, if you can, ignore the lacklustre approach the government takes to poetry in our current Primary Programme of Study for English (poetry is mentioned 11 times, as opposed to spelling’s 102 times plus there’s another document entirely devoted to all things SPAG…) and try to comfort yourself that poetry is at least hazily acknowledged in this document to be key in children developing a positive attitude to reading and a good way of getting kids reading for pleasure, which is something we can all agree on.

Teach it for its own sake, without trying to tailor it to a specific outcome, as you would teach art ( I hope). Talk, act, draw, sing, laugh, work together, get a poet in. Even get Sean Taylor in, or at least remember to check out his poetry here.

Follow the sage advice of wise owl Brian Moses who knows his onions about how to raise the profile of poetry. Take a look at his ten point plan here and share it with your colleagues. Go, do it now.


The Bolds by Julian Clary: From Stage to Page

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The Bolds by Julian Clary, Illustrated by David Roberts

bolds fr

Gollop

There are indeed a gollop of famous folk writing children’s books at the moment, but there again, I suppose there always have been. In my childhood, we had Prince Charles terrorizing us with his old man of Lochnagar. That was a trial. It seems somewhat unfair on regular, normal children’s authors, that a bunch of celebrity Johnny-come-latelys rock up and immediately get the coveted ‘just in time for Christmas’ publishing dates. It’s a teensy bit like pushing in really, isn’t it? Still, be thankful that at least most of them don’t go on to reveal intentions to open a free school, as Geri Halliwell has been linked with today… Heaven forfend.

School Boys

I’m always more interested in those celebrities coming to children’s fiction from less child-friendly areas of stardom. I reviewed Russell Brand’s Pied Piper on here back in January and the children I shared it with were appalled and delighted in equal measure. There was, of course, much reliance on puerile humour and details designed to gross the reader out, but blended with moments of deeper reflection.Julian Clary also comes from the world of alternative comedy, albeit it from an older (and I’d say more original) strain. Well known for his impeccable use of the saucy entendre, I wanted to see how easily he’d made the transition to children’s fiction, aged eight and upwards.

Well, similarly to Brand it would seem, he’s written with a fair amount of schoolboy humour (also see Walliams, David). I suppose this is fair enough seeing as he’s trying to get his book to appeal to school boys. It’s a much seen approach to writing books- most children enjoy sharing a giggle over a silly joke or two- however, it has to play second fiddle to a cracking story. Matt Brown, Archie Kimpton, Firna Rex Shaw and Andrew Norriss get this totally: please read their books to your children immediately. Julian Clary? Well, he’s kind of nearly there, but it needs a bit of work.

What’s Good

Don’t get me wrong, The Bolds is a lovely story. Here we have a family of hyenas living in Teddington disguised as humans and masquerading as ‘The Bolds’. The original Bolds were sadly eaten by crocodiles in Africa, and our enterprising hyena pals decided to take advantage of their demise to initiate a drastic lifestyle change. They nab their passports and move to England. Being a wild animal in suburbia comes with its challenges, but it’s all good fun and the adventures they have are entertaining and full of warmth. Their visit to the safari park is excellent reading and Clary has cleverly and succinctly given a brilliant description of their journey round the park and the encounters with the different animals. The zebras are ace:

bolds

And check out those illustrations! They are just wonderful and the book is packed full of them. There will be many carefully traced versions of these beauties on bedroom walls, fridges and in the backs of exercise books throughout the land. This is the art of David Roberts, who has previous form with some amazing authors and works well here with Clary as their styles are well suited.

So What’s Up?

My issue is whether it’s going to engage kids from the start. There is no story line introduced until page nine and in my experience children need this as early into a book as possible. They need to hang their hat on to the actions and events of a character from the off; to have something to believe in straight away, or the chances are they’ll put it down and choose one of the other hundred or so books on offer in the library, classroom, shop.

The first pages here are a bit of an exercise in being funny for funny’s sake. Anyone who’s watched a supply teacher trying to crack jokes to a room full of unknown kids will understand when I say it’s not the best idea. Build links first, crack jokes later.

I understand Clary is a comedian, but would guess most kids will not know this. They’ll be seeing him as an author first and foremost- after all, he is better known to adults- so it’s a great opportunity for him to do something really different. He almost pulls this off, but on occasions the plot rambles rather, due to his funny asides. I just wanted to get back to the story, which as I’ve said is really good.

You might argue that as it’s the adults that’ll be buying here, those who know Clary’s style well and will be making the Christmas spending choices, it doesn’t really matter how much the kids know of him. That’s all well and good but I doubt this is going to be Clary’s only children’s book, so he needs his young readers to be excited about the next release and waiting impatiently for his next adventure.

Pared down a bit, this would be just perfect for the primary market; in fact, I think with some decent pollarding, he’d be able to access more six and seven-year olds too.

GGG The Bolds needs some more snap, but one to watch.

 


Reading for Pleasure: 11 Point Plan to Get Kids Reading!

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My 11 Point Plan To Get Kids Reading for Pleasure Has Landed…

Reading for pleasure is everything. Let’s spread the word and share the joy!

1. Remove Boundaries

First stop, talk to the kids- what kind of reading do they enjoy? Find out, listen, use or adapt this questionnaire from the National Literacy Trust and give it to your class. What does it tell you? Every class is different of course. Encourage all kinds of reading- comics, instruction manuals, whatever floats your boat. Keep a suggestions box in plain site so the children can recommend new book purchases; even better, take the children to the book shop to choose their new school books. Don’t make reading for pleasure a chore. Instead, observe the wisdom of Daniel Pennac, who wrote The Rights of The Reader and follow the instructions of his brilliant poster, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Quite the simplest and most effective explanation of creating happy readers that I’ve seen. Here’s a little version:

daniel pennac

2. Adults Get Reading

Get some reading for pleasure recommendations. There are plenty on my site, and I’d also recommend the excellent www.lovereading4kids.co.uk. Invest in the right class readers for your current cohort. Make it your business to read like billy-o. Teachers and parents need to read for pleasure too and children’s books are a source of constant delight for everyone. Find out what books parents liked when they were at school and use the information to create a lovely big display. Offer parents a space in school to develop their own book group. Provide a good example.

3. Flaunt It

Look to the reading for pleasure Experts. Go to your local library book shop and see how they present and display their books. How are they promoting them to create sales? What makes you want to borrow or buy? Look out for prominent displays, short punchy recommendations and think about how this could work in your school. Reading spaces matter. Does your book corner look exciting, welcoming and well-cared for? Does it have to be constrained to just a corner? Display all sorts of books: shiny new fiction ones, picture books, ones bursting with facts and figures, giant old mysterious books that look like they’ve been plucked from the Hogwarts restricted section. Books are beautiful for many reasons, so keep your eyes open for inspiration everywhere.

4. Tell Stories

Read to your class every day and complete at least one book a term. Run story telling clubs at lunchtime or after school. Tell parents about www.readaloud.org, a non-profit organisation that is ‘working to make reading aloud for fifteen minutes every day  a new standard in childcare’. Here’s their poster:

read aloud

Share stories with your colleagues. Make time in staff meetings to regularly share reading for pleasure gems: books, book news, sites of interest, events, competitions and soon you’ll have a whole school bank of knowledge to feed into your classrooms.

5. Make it Competitive

How many insects did James join in the giant peach? What district did Rue come from?  What gives Mr Strong his strength? Everyone loves a quiz. Get some teams together, including teachers and parents and have some fun. And make sure there are amazing bookish prizes too, of course- as well as chocolate. Remember, there must always be chocolate.

6. Promote Poetry

Entertaining, thought-provoking and creative, you should be making poetry a part of every day. Poetry is awesome. Every child can find pleasure in finishing a poem. Michael Rosen is the ultimate poet of glory. I won’t even consider visiting a school without taking my memory stick loaded with Rosen performing his poems. Pure joy. He is the absolute expert here. I recommend you check out his video tips on creating a poetry friendly classroom.

7. Inspire

Choice and motivation. Take care to recommend the right books to read for pleasure, especially for children who have just come off a prescriptive reading scheme, or those who don’t know which books to choose. Create a classroom reading box with a variety of easily accessible books that you have already read as a supportive way to encourage confidence when choosing a book. Make sure every child has a reading buddy in another year and ensure they spend time with them weekly. Cool your boots and  give children time to choose books. Tell your class about Faith, whose mum tweets  her reading habits as @272Book Faith. Faith reads a book a day and has more than 2500 twitter followers. Something of an inspiration, she donated all her finished books to her old primary school when she left too.

8. Bring Me the Funny!

Last week Scholastic revealed their new book award: The Lollies, or The Laugh Out Loud Awards to celebrate the best in funny books for children. Clever move. Funny books are unbelievably powerful: they blow a giant raspberry at the misconception that reading is silent and serious, and aim a well-placed kick up the backside of boring comprehension activities. Check out my list of funny books, or pop into your local bookshop and go for the one with the silliest cover.

9. Celebrate & Saturate

Make the most of book fairs and go to town on book weeks. Really go to town! Get authors and illustrators in, create your own sculpture trail based on favourite books, adapt a book into a film or a drama and invite people to watch, do something with your local library, ask the kids what they want to do! Celebrate reading success and books with parents- make it a part of every week. Saturate your curriculum. Source relevant books, not just for your english lessons but also for science, art, PE, everything. Get them up in the classroom, show them off, change them often. Invest in guided reading. Reading needs to be more than a bolt on, you get out what you put in. One after-school book club is nice, but for the best results you need to create a culture of reading throughout the school.

10. Be Generous

Allow the children to take the books home. All the books. If you haven’t got a library or a librarian, create your own lending system or make a note of loans but the key is to make it easy for the kids to borrow the books. What’s the worst that could happen? The books aren’t returned, right? Look at it this way: if the kids are stealing the books, you must be doing something right.

11. Keep Up To Date!

There has never been a more exciting time to read children’s books! The quality and quantity of amazing authors releasing new material is out of this world. http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/ have been independently writing about children’s books since 1980 and you should add them to your favourites. Also, twitter is a brilliant place to get the latest news and connect with authors. Plus, I’m spending as much time as possible doing this for you, so keep checking out www.booksagogo.co.uk too!

 

 

 


Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week by Andrew Norriss

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arch

 

The Lollies

Yesterday, Scholastic announced a new series of book awards: The Laugh Out Loud Book Prize, or The Lollies. Books that make you laugh out loud should indeed be celebrated. When I see someone snorting with laughter whilst reading, I want to ask them to read me the bit that tickled them; I get a fear of missing out because a funny book is always a good book. Kids have obviously always known this. We all used to know a kid who carried round a dog-eared joke book, ready to delight you with knock knock jokes at a second’s notice. Funny books should be celebrated, bombarded with trophies and paraded through the streets. One such book is Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week by Andrew Norriss- just the thing to get children reading for fun.

The book’s about Archie, who seems to have a knack for attracting the surreal. We follow him for a whole week while his teacher is away poorly, and watch his adventures with five different supply teachers. I particularly like Miss Hurrell, who has a neck tattoo and enjoys wrestling. Always by Archie’s side is his best friend Cyd to help sort things out.

Chapters are split into days of the week and so it’s a series of adventures within a book. Everyone loves a good series, and whether it’s on TV, book or  film, we tend to get hooked. This series of adventures will engage children and keep them reading right to the end, and we know that for many children reaching to the end of a book seems an impossible task. Because of this, it’s a must for struggling readers.

Knickers

Imagine you’re eight. Now look at the cover and consider the evidence:

  • A banana yellow cover. Everybody knows bananas are funny.
  • Oh, there’s a banana too.
  • A grinning dog dressed in school uniform.
  • A giant spider. With eyebrows.
  • A man with a toilet on his head.
  • A middle-aged woman running around, in frilly knickers.

You’re definitely going to pick up this book aren’t you? It looks fun and silly, plus there’s a lovely new illustration with every turn of the page. At only 122 pages long, it’s also ideal for children who are just starting to become independent fiction readers. I’d recommend Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week for kids aged seven up, although because it’s funny and imaginative, most junior aged children will enjoy it. It’s worth noting too, this would also be great to read out loud- there are plenty of opportunities for putting on silly voices along the way!

GGGG Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week is a top banana choice for 7 to 11 year olds. (Much older readers may also want to note that the author wrote the series ‘Woof!’ back in the ’80s/ ’90s about Eric, a boy who turned into a dog. I’ve added an episode from YouTube to the bottom of the page for those who want to revisit this series of glory. The theme tune alone is worth a click!

Teacher’s Notes

Andrew Norriss has a great website that links to www.teachingideas.co.uk, His wife Jane has created a bank of excellent resources to accompany his books and there’s some brilliant ones that go with Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week that I’m going to be printing off in a minute. It’s always lovely to read a book you immediately want to take into school and share, but it’s even better if they come with a set of ready prepared resources!

Here’s an example:

gen

 

It’s good isn’t it? Clicking on it should take you to the original page.

And now, it’s time for Woof!