Uncle Shawn and Bill and…

Posted on

…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!

 


Triangle by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Posted on

“One day Triangle walked out of his door and away from his house.

He was going to play a sneaky trick on Square.”

Triangle

Suitable for children aged three years plus, Triangle is a charming new picture book from award-winning duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. This is sneaky trick-based fun without parallel.

The story is about Triangle, who walks to Square’s house in order to play a trick. He does this and Square retaliates by following him home and depending on your point of view, either returning the favour with a trick of his own or getting into a scrape that inadvertently has the effect of a well placed trick.

It’s a gorgeous book to pick up and handle. It has thick board covers, it’s chunky. It’s a shape! It’s even more 3D than a normal book. (Well, it isn’t, but it feels it.)

The narrative is really well paced and reminded me of the Mr Men, my favourite books when I was little. It’s not brightly coloured and nor does it need to be; there are a range of muted colours and brush marks in the palette that are beautiful to look at. Take it outside into the sunlight and you’ll see what I mean. The backgrounds are more than a bit Rothko and we see Triangle making his way past boulder like structures which impact us in different ways depending on their size and shade. They are important enough for the narrator to draw the reader’s attention to their shapes which change as the journey progresses.

Square

What’s really impressive is how much character and personality is transmitted from two shapes with eyes and legs and nothing else. Look here at poor Square, mid-trick and very nervous:

Later in the book we see him fed up, angry, determined and slightly disconcerted and it all works perfectly. These drawings are anything but simple; every emotion gets across its message and works hard with the text to do it in a way that appears effortless. At the same time, kids will see accessible imagery and characters that say “Draw us! Send us on one of your own adventures!”.

Triangle wont be everyone’s cup of tea, but it should be. Does everything a good picture book should do and more.

PS- Upside down, Triangle looks a bit like Norman:

 

 

 

 


Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema

Posted on

girl out of water done

 

High and Dry

When Lou Brown fails to make the grade at try outs for a High Performance Training Camp, her hopes of swimming for Team GB take a nose dive. If that wasn’t hard to enough to take, she also has to deal with her best friend Hannah making it through, which means

  1. Trying to be full of happiness and enthusiasm for her friend’s success whilst hiding (massive) twinges of jealousy, and
  2. Waking up to the sudden realisation that her best friend is her only friend, therefore without her school will suck for the next term (and slinking around unnoticed isn’t really an option when you’re 15 years old, 5’10” and still growing…)

With coach Deb insisting she takes a break from swimming for the time being, Lou is left high and dry. No Hannah and no swimming equals pretty much no life; something the mean girls at the pool are more than happy to confirm. That is at least until a different kind of challenge comes her way and Lou finds herself coaching three very good-looking, very cool boys in the newly created sport of underwater dancing, with hopes of getting them through to the final of Britain’s Hidden Talent. After that, life changes somewhat.

Girl Out of Water (for readers of 12 years plus) is a straight forward, no messing, top-notch read from Nat Luurtsema. It will, speaking from personal experience, take over your mind and cause you to neglect your boiling eggs (not a euphemism) and make you stay up far too late reading on a school night.

Girl Out of Water

Lou is wonderful. She will have you snorting with laughter in that way you do when a friend whispers something hilarious, unexpected and utterly accurate in your ear. Plus, with Lou, it’s easy to empathise from the start. Nat Luurtsema reminds us how much harder it is to not come up to scratch at something you’ve always been good at, than it is to be completely woeful at something that’s not your thing. It’s so true: I managed to be cheerfully terrible at physics throughout school without too much bother, but going from being the best at art in school to being at best average at college was a hard pill to swallow. Pride, as they say, comes before a fall.

Girl Out of Water is an excellent choice for young readers- especially girls- who feel like square pegs in the round hole of school life. Lou, in my mind, is already the poster girl for intelligent, articulate, witty young women everywhere who aren’t interested in conforming to a plastic ‘ideal’. I’m sure you’ll love her too.

Paramount Movies shocked rachel mcadams mean girls regina george

Did I mention it’s funny too? Bound to be loved. Girl Out of Water: sure to make a splash this June.

 

Thank you very much to Walker Books for sending me this copy of Girl Out of Water.


Brum Radio Book Show: My April Recommendations

Posted on

Wonderful, Marvellous, Hurrah!

Earlier today I was lucky enough to be invited on the Brum Radio Book Show again to share some of my favourite recent reads. This time I wanted to big up the Midlands Massive and share some of our wonderful local talent. Oh, and talking of local brilliance, big shout out to all involved in The Brum Radio Book Show, which is a truly marvellous thing! It’s well worth a listen, although be warned: tuning in WILL result in multiple new book purchases, as the titles recommended and discussed by Blake, Mike and Catherine all sound great. Luckily for you though, they’ve done a deal with Birmingham Waterstones, so you can buy the book of the month (currently Different Class by Joanne Harris) at a heftily discounted rate. Hurrah!

You can listen to April’s Brum Radio Book Show here.

The following books featured as my recommendations:

Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Kate Hindley

choochie poo

Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh is the perfect picture book for anyone three or over. Sean Taylor, the writer here, also to be much applauded for his Hoot Owl Master of Disguise, is a Booksagogo favourite. Kate Hindley is the illustrator and Birmingham resident of glory. She has an incredible knack for drawing animals with ‘telling’ expressions on their faces and our Choochie Pooh is no exception. See here on the front cover: he’s properly miffed because:

  1. He’s wearing a big, pink, floppy bow.
  2. He gets carted round in a handbag all day.
  3. He’s called Choochie Pooh.

What he wants to do instead is romp around the park, play with the other dogs and roll in muddy puddles. Does he get to do this? You’ll have to buy it to find out! I’ll say no more, except it’s a wonderful book to read aloud and share with others. Good stuff!

Oh, and if you’re after a book for slightly older children (7-12years) but still want to chuckle at Kate’s amazing art, you should definitely check out Jumblecat by Archie Kimpton– another winning read.

The Next Together by Lauren James

My other choice is The Next Together by Lauren James. This is a BIG story and you should get it straight away if you want something to binge read and get really immersed in.

It’s the story of Matthew and Kate. They meet at Nottingham University in 2039 as science undergraduates, and both immediately get that strong feeling that they’ve met before. They have, but more than that, in their past lives they’ve fallen in love and been tragically separated many times.

Lauren James chooses three pasts to show us…

  1. 1745 and the Jacobean uprising
  2. 1854 and the Crimean War
  3. 2019, and on the brink of the next world war.

…which are events Kate and Matthew are in some way linked to.

I was sucked right into this book and hardly came up for breath. The intrigue for me was ‘Why are Kate and Matthew playing out this tragic love story again and again? What force is driving it and can or should they break the cycle?’ Gripping stuff. Get reading now and you’ll be ready for the sequel which comes out in the Autumn.

 


Alphonse, That is Not OK to Do! by Daisy Hirst

Posted on

alphonse done

“ONCE there was Natalie

and then, there was

Alphonse too.”

Marvellous

Alphonse, That is Not OK to Do! by Daisy Hirst is another wonderfully silly story of glory from Walker Books. Suitable for readers of three years plus, and especially marvellous for those with siblings, this a great book for sharing and enjoying with others.

Big Love for Little Alphonse

Alphonse is Natalie’s little brother. Most of the time they play together nicely, but then Alphonse, being that bit younger, doesn’t always do the right thing and makes Natalie cross. Well, you might be a bit fed up too if someone ate your new drawing, even if they were really cute and little and blue. Will it all be okay in the end? ‘Course it will!

alphonse inner done

Alphonse, That is Not OK to Do! is a gorgeous picture book and a little slice of joy: it’s full of warmth, plus it’s jolly funny and charmingly illustrated. I like it very, very much, from Natalie’s exasperated expressions to Alphonse’s tiny, pointed teeth and predilection for yumming up works of art. One thing is clear: Daisy Hirst not only knows how to name a pigeon, but also how to write and illustrate a stonkingly good book. Kids will love it; adults will love it too. I possibly love it most.

Alphonse is my new favourite thing in the world. He rocks.

And if you enjoy this, you should definitely check out some of Walker’s other picture books. There are some real crackers, such as Alan’s Big Scary Teeth, Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! and Hoot Owl Master of Disguise.


The Next Together by Lauren James

Posted on

” ‘It’s happening again,’ Katherine said, and immediately regretted it. Matthew didn’t reply, only squeezing her hand a little tighter. She knew what it meant. They were going to die.”

next together (2)

Timeless Romance

Suitable for readers of 13 plus, The Next Together is the ultimate timeless romance. When Matthew and Kate meet at university in 2039, they have a sense that they might have met before. They couldn’t even begin to imagine the depth of history behind this gut instinct…

For Kate and Matthew this serendipitous meeting is just the beginning of their next together, a romance which has played time and time again through some of the most interesting periods in history. As well as the ‘present’ of 2039, Lauren James shares three of these previous relationships: one in 1745 at the time of the Jacobean uprising, 1854 and the Crimean War, and 2019 on the brink of the next world war. This makes for an interesting saga, as although Matthew and Katherine are always essentially the same people, James takes into account how times alter their appearance, characters and even accents.

(Oh, and if you’re thinking “2039, uh-oh, do I sense another dystopian novel?”, you needn’t worry. This isn’t that kind of book. Rest assured, there will be no genetically modified teens living inside mountains here. This is a proper book. Some of it’s even set in the West Midlands- always a mark of quality!)

Switch

I really enjoyed the switching between time frames and certainly had my favourite era and my favourite versions of the protagonists. As far as trying to figure out where we were heading and why this couple were seemingly locked in a tragic romance destined to play out again and again, I was more than happy to fail miserably, which kept me reading avidly to the end.

In all truthfulness, I didn’t really click with 21st century Kate or Matthew fully, but I have to say that this didn’t alter my enjoyment of the book, it’s just one of those things. I will say though that they did come across as plausibly three-dimensional people rather than the default YA ‘oh so pretty and perfect but doesn’t know it’ girl or ‘imaginary model boyfriend material’ bloke, and for that I’ll forgive a lot. Plus I like that they’re science undergraduates in 2039 and scientists in 2019- clearly intelligent, logical people with their heads screwed firmly on.

Science Rocks

I’m hopeful that science is having a moment in fiction, having also just finished Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard. It’s great to see scientific thinking being used as a bedfellow to imaginative writing. In The Next Together, by using science and also historical information, James is adding substance and individuality to her story and considering she’s got an Masters in Chemistry and Physics herself, it all begins to make sense.

The Next Together is a great binge read: I was caught up in it for hours- always a good sign. It’s the sort of book that could begin to mess with your head and start to convince you that we are indeed about to launch into a third world war. It’ll certainly get you thinking beyond its pages about our own recent history.

The sequel is out in the autumn and I’ll be keen to check it out. I’m confident that readers won’t need a re-read or even too much of a recap either before starting book two, as James ties up the plot to a high level of satisfaction and leaves the way ahead memorable and clear. This earns her major brownie points, as I totally felt like I’d finished a whole book to its conclusion, whilst being excited to see there’s more to come, and also fairly confident I will recall it in six months!

The Next Together is a great choice if you’re after a new YA series to get your teeth into.

 

 


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

Posted on

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.


Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! By Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley

Posted on

choochie poo

Poor Choochie Pooh

Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! by Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley is a new picture book just out this month and suitable for children three years plus. It tells a story of great doggy woe. Poor old Choochie Pooh. Look at his angry face and check out the angle of those eyebrows! He might be a little dog, but he certainly doesn’t appreciate his owner treating him like some posh pampered pooch. He longs to be an ordinary dog, not popped into a handbag or fed heart-shaped Mini Puppy Treats, and most of all not called Choochie Pooh in public. Oh, the shame.

choochie inner

Don’t fret though, as all will come good for Choochie Pooh in the end- in fact, he might just find he’s not the only dog out there putting up with a silly name…

Spoiled Rotten

With a combination of writing sizes and styles (speech bubbles and a mixture of lower case and capitalised words) that children will love, great written content from Sean Taylor including plenty of speech and opportunity for high pitched posh lady voices as well as the chance to talk like an ex-police dog, plus Kate Hindley’s awesome artwork, we are definitely being spoiled rotten with this book. Obviously it’s funny and very, very re-readable, like all the best picture books are.

Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh is a top notch doggy treat!

Kate Hindley and Bournville Children’s Book Festival

If you’re anywhere near Birmingham on the weekend of 18th-20th March (and let’s face it, as it’s in the middle of England a lot of you will be), you might like to come along to the Bournville Children’s Book Festival where Kate Hindley will be the festival Artist in Residence. Kate is a local artist, so it’s particularly lovely that she’s able to come along and run a range of rather marvellous illustration workshops. Do check out the rest of the programme for the weekend, as there are so many wonderful things going on, including lots of author and illustrator events, opportunities to work with the Birmingham REP and also the very exciting launch of a brand new book called Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory. This is Bournville, after all.

Here’s a link to the programme. Secure your places quickly though, as there’s not long to go! Hope to see you there!


How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz: A Little Treasure.

Posted on

How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz

gold

Littlies

I’m really excited to be developing my age range on the site this year, starting with books for littlies. How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz is a great one to kick off with, plus it’s brand new to the shelves this month so it’s all shiny and exciting! How to Find Gold is a picture book with a big personality, suitable for sharing with children of three years plus and will especially appeal to parents and teachers who enjoy doing ‘voices’ as there’s a good bit of speech to play with. So, prepare your best crocodile vowels, you’re going to love this one.

Yes that’s right, a talking crocodile. Anna and Crocodile are after gold by use of maps, ‘secret faces’ and the implementation of much adventuring.

Treasure

Why should you choose How to Find Gold?

Firstly it’s a hoot: really funny, and often in a dry way which works wonderfully and will definitely appeal to the adults who will be reading it time and time again. With funny books recently found in a Scholastic survey to be the most popular genre for kids and adults, this has got to be good and Schwarz proves that picture books can do this just as well, if not better, than books for older children.

Here’s an excerpt, although you’ll have to imagine your own voices for the purposes of this exercise:

” ‘…Gold is very heavy. We might not be strong enough to carry it,” said Crocodile.

‘Is it heavier than a crocodile?’

‘Probably not,’ said Crocodile.

‘I am strong enough. Where is the gold?’

‘Put me down now,’ said Crocodile. ‘I will tell you.’ ” 

And it’s obviously even better when seen with the illustrations.

High Expectations

Secondly, you’ve probably noticed from the excerpt that the language used here is interesting and varied, at times challenging. Well, thank goodness for that. It’s my opinion, that you may or may not agree with, that there is a lack in the breadth of books with personality being used in schools. At a critical age, reading is often used as a decoding process for the purpose of achievement. This is a necessary aspect of both Key Stage One and Two, of course it is. I’ve personally seen the benefits of teaching phonics and using phonics based reading schemes. But this is also the key time to provide so much more through reading, preferably outside of literacy lessons. Exciting books with beckoning covers, something away from the usual suspects that the children already know. Essentially, books kids want to pull from the shelves time and time again and this is one of those for sure.

Still thinking of young readers, I also really like the way Schwarz plays with how the story is broken up. Sometimes there’s a full page of text, on others maybe just one sentence. There are actually a few pages simply devoted to pure blissful illustration, but as our friends Anna and Crocodile are underwater at this point and can’t therefore speak, that of course makes total sense.

What children can rely on with every fresh turn of the page are the presence of those gorgeous drawings. What child (or adult) doesn’t love that, especially as the pictures here grow bigger, brighter and more exciting as the adventure really gets going! Every aspect of How to Find Gold amplifies the joyfulness of reading and hands it over to young readers at a crucial time. Possibly even better than finding gold!

A picture book of true glory. I love.

gold inner