A new book nook!

13 Aug

The summer holidays has been mainly based around books. We have signed up to the summer reading challenge and Mollie is reading towards her goal of 100 books in a year so she can collect all the online challenge badges. She is a quarter of the way there already! I have been sorting and re-shelving and reading and sorting again. Although I am being ruthless and passing lots of books on, I have also been creating some new book storage areas. Now that she can read herself, Mollie is beginning to collect a stack of chapter books but I don’t think we’ll ever ‘move on’ from picture books. So we created a new reading/writing/art area for Mollie to store her big-girl books.

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This area used to have a big wooden toy chest that was wasted storage space as it was far too big and heavy for Molls to open herself. New drawers filled with paper and stickers and toys, new shelves for big girl books, and rainbow art pots for her pens and pencils and all those little bits that end up in a big tub to be glued on to pictures. These are just Tupperware pots with plastic picnic cups in, hanging on drawing pins. Molls can lift them down when she wants to write her next masterpiece or dig in and design something beautiful.

I’m quite jealous!

Reading my Rainbow Red-Orange-Yellow

13 Aug

My summer reading challenge is a thing of joy! I am rediscovering old favourites, finding new friends and getting to know my shelves again. I am also sticking to the challenge of getting rid of a book a day. And oh it’s actually quite therapeutic! I thought it would be awful but I’m feeling good about it all. I’m tidying shelves, creating more storage and building new book nooks (pictures soon). What’s not to love??

Here are my favourite books from my reds, oranges and yellows. You can find out more about each book, and even buy yourself a copy, here.

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Now on to the greens!!

Freedom to live

2 Aug

Freedom to live – Why Ruth Hunt is right to encourage children to celebrate being gay and combat homophobia.

Today I gave Mollie her first lesson in gay politics. We were getting ready to go to Brighton Pride and she wanted to know what ‘Rainbow Day’ was all about. We’ve taken her every year since she was tiny but this was the first year she saw it as anything more than a big party and asked questions.
So I told her.
I told her that it was to celebrate all the families that had a daddy and a daddy, or a mummy and a mummy just like us; and all the women who wanted to love and live with other women, and men who wanted to love and live with other men; and all the men and women who were just like her best (boy) friend who wants to wear a dress and be a girl.

And I told her that it’s important to celebrate this because we are lucky that we have the freedom to live our lives how we want to. That, not that long ago, LGBT people didn’t have the right to love who we want to love and be who we want to be and that not everyone thinks we should have that freedom now. I shocked her by saying that in a lot of other countries, people don’t and can’t.

It was hard to tell her that the world isn’t always fair – a bit like greying out some of her innocence-tinted spectacles – but I answered her questions as honestly as I could considering she’s only 5. I hope I was able to explain the importance of celebrating equality in terms that she understood.

I’m glad I tried, because this year’s march was a beautiful mix of the personal and the political. It wasn’t just a big party. We had a wonderful day watching the Pride parade and celebrating with dear friends. We celebrated our freedom to live our lives together. We raised a glass to how far we have come. We put money in the donation buckets to support those fighting to sustain and spread that freedom. And all with Mollie at our sides, looking, questioning, learning.

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We have been lucky that Mollie hadn’t yet come across homophobia and that we have been able to teach her about it in such a positive way. Of course we have attempted to shield her from it as much as possible; we are constantly risk-assessing -where we go, who we spend time with, what we do. We have to. We have tried to fill her life with positive role models – and all the books that I review here – to teach her to celebrate diversity. But as soon as she started school our influence was gone. She was out in the world.

During her first year of school, Mollie has had a fantastic, supportive and liberal teacher who has (with the help of a stack of brilliantly inclusive books) taught Mollie and her peers about diversity in an inclusive way. We have been lucky. But it is luck. We live in a society that still treats LGBT people as less than equal. It’s a sad truth that at some point, directly or indirectly, Mollie will face negative comments about her family.

And that is why Ruth Hunt’s proposal to encourage children to celebrate being gay and combat homophobia is so important.

Ruth Hunt is the newly appointed Chief Executive of Stonewall. She hopes to commission a set of books that celebrates difference and send them to every pre-school. Imagine that! Every child under 5 having access to books celebrating difference and promoting equality. Every child having access to books they can see themselves and their family in. Every child learning that the world is diverse and that that is something to be celebrated. The books that I spend my time talking about and sharing and nudging authors to create, that folk like Inclusive Minds help produce and Letterbox Library help people find… they could be put into every pre-school.

I have been lucky enough to teach my daughter about equality before she came into contact with homophobia. Her class have been taught to celebrate difference. Now imagine a whole generation of pre-schoolers being taught the same. And imagine the roll on effect of that. It truly is powerful stuff.

So let’s all get behind Ruth Hunt and her celebration of difference. Let’s show her she’s right. That inclusive books work and that her idea could change our children’s world.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Norton.

The Summer Reading Challenge starts here

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Yesterday Mollie signed up for the Summer Reading Challenge at our local library.
She is officially hooked:

Reading Missing Mummyat the library.

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Home for a booky picnic.

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Reading a big girl book to add to her new and VERY exciting Summer Reading Challenge online profile. “I’m going to read all the way to 100 books, Mummy!”

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A reading break to draw her own Sarah McIntyre inspired unicorn.

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And then, this morning; “I read these in bed last night, Mummy. Can we put them on my special computer list?”

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So 5 out of 6 (or 100) books read on day one. Not bad for a 5 year old.
Can’t think where she gets it from??
The Summer Reading Challenge really is a fantastic way of encouraging children to read for pleasure over the school holidays; helping to prevent that dreaded reading dip and setting them on the path towards becoming a reader for life. Hurrah, and thank you, to The Reading Agency, Sarah McIntyre and our lovely local library.

You can sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library. It’s completely free and children can collect bookmarks and stickers and other goodies along the way. All children who read 6 books over the summer holidays will be awarded a certificate. You can choose whether to collect yours from the library or have it sent to their school. Mollie was very proud to collect hers in assembly last year!

The challenge doesn’t stop there! For extra fun, children can register online to create their own Summer Reading Challenge profile and add the books they’ve read to their online list, collecting badges and unlocking secret videos and learning about Sarah’s fantastic characters along the way. With loads of great features and games there’s something here for all ages. Read about favourite authors, review books and find out what others thought, enter a Finish The Story competition and find your next favourite book. Plus an extension challenge for the bookies out there-Can they read 100 books in a year??

All books count towards the challenge – library books, books online or from home or school. Have a look at the book recommending gizmo on the Reading Challenge website for some great ideas.

And head over to The Guardian where Sarah McIntyre is ready to teach you how to draw your own unicorn.

What are you waiting for????

Signed Margaret Atwood giveaway – Reading my rainbow

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Today I challenged myself to spend the summer holidays sorting out my teetering piles of books; getting reacquainted with the ones at the back and trying to have a bit of a (gentle) cull by releasing a book a day.

It hasn’t entirely worked yet, as hunting through the piles has just made me realise that I’ve lent books out that haven’t come back. Where is Morrison’s Beloved? Donoghue’s Slammerkin? These are books that I really do *need* to replace. So I’ve technically added books today. But, whatever.

I’m kicking off my summer reading challenge in style by giving away a signed first edition hardback copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It is a bit damaged- it fell foul of some over-zealous watering of a nearby pot plant and has some water staining on the bottom of the pages. You can see it in the picture here and it goes through the whole book. But it’s just a bit of staining and won’t stop you reading, enjoying or stroking the book. But worth bearing in mind if you think you’re getting your hands on something worth a few quid – it isn’t.

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I’m giving it away because I just didn’t get on with it. I love Atwood’s earlier work but her more recent dystopian stuff has lost me. I am reading through my rainbow, one book from each colour, starting with my red copy of The Robber Bride so it feels fitting that my first book to go is Oryx.

Want it? Just post a comment below. Tweet a link to this blogpost to get an extra ticket with your name on in the hat (please comment again on here to say you’ve tweeted so I know to give you an extra entry)
I’ll draw a name from the hat on Sunday night so get your entries in before then.

Sorry but I’m going to have to restrict this one to UK only – it’s heavy!

Reading the Rainbow – my summer reading challenge

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This week I’m taking Mollie to the library to sign up to the Summer Reading Challenge and then we’ll have a booky picnic in the park and read each other stories. And I’m really looking forward to it! Last summer Mollie and I had a very booky summer holiday and this one is heading in the same direction. I guess it’s no surprise that books manage to infiltrate every corner of our lives. And of our house. Which leads me nicely to my summer book challenge.

My house is overflowing with books. I know that won’t come as a shock to any of you. I have a lot of The Rainbow Library books here for a summer holidays patch up and reshuffle, a (large) heap of review books I haven’t caught up with, all of Mollie’s books and all of my books. And somehow I still manage to keep buying more! You can actually hear the house creaking and shifting under the weight of all this paper. This beautiful, dream-smelling, transporting paper. But something has got to give. It’s the books or the house. And if I didn’t have my house where would I put my books??

So my challenge this summer is to release a book a day.
Gulp!

As well as all the boxes of books for The Rainbow Library, I have my own Rainbow Library in my house. It is full of actual grown up books (yes… I do read grown up books too! A lot of them)

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And I have my beautiful book nook on my landing.

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And what’s left of my Christmas book tree and the three rows of children’s books by my bed. And… And… And…
And then Mollie’s Room. Which is basically a library disguised as a bedroom.

I’ve been following the #bookaday tweets and thinking about all the amazing books I have stashed away that I don’t really look at enough. It made me realise that my books are a little bit neglected. I have a lot of unread books that have been gathering dust and overtaken by newer books in my reading list. It’s time to get up close and personal with my books again.

So my challenge is two-fold; to explore my bookshelves and read some of the books that have been hidden at the back of the queue, and to reduce the volume by releasing a book every day. I’m going to read through my rainbow, starting at red and choosing one book from each colour in turn. I’m going to read some of the books that have been smiling down at me, patiently unread, for a very long time. And I’m going to be Ruthless. I will give up on books that don’t grab me. I will give books away. I will cull. (But I will do it nicely while stroking them and telling them they are going to live on a farm.)

The ultimate plan is to get to know my books again and to give them a bit of an overhaul, hopefully making a bit of space. I’m not deluded enough to think that there will be more outgoing books than incoming. But at least I’ll be easing the floorboards a little.

Follow the fun with #readingmyrainbow

I hope that this will lead to some book chats. I do love book chats! So I’m going to start it off by asking which of these red books I should read first. What’s your recommendation?

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Interaction + immersion = possibilities.

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Children’s books and art have a lot in common. Not just because the majority of children’s books are highly illustrated and created by artists, but because the art and language work together to create a kind of theatre and immerse children in the world of the book. When they are immersed in this new world they are encouraged to look and question, challenge and learn. This process helps them find out about themselves and the world around them, to think about their place in it and who they may become. That is what the best children’s books, the best theatre and the best art give to children.
Interaction. Immersion.
Possibilities.

This Saturday we went to the new Hauser and Wirth gallery in Bruton, Somerset. Mollie’s Grandparents live in Bruton and we are hugely lucky to have such an amazing, inspiring and child friendly place right on their doorstep. Mollie took part in their first Family Saturday; a child focused tour of their Phyllida Barlow sculpture exhibition, followed by a creative session where the children made their own recycled art inspired by what they’d seen.

Mollie particularly liked the room filled with fabric pom-poms of different sizes:

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And the art that celebrates the farmland where the gallery is situated.

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It was a hugely immersive and interactive exhibition that made us think about why and how art is created. Mollie was inspired. She came home and experimented with different materials and tried out some of the techniques she had learnt. She recycled plastic bottles into skittles and made her own large scale art work on cardboard.

I am thrilled that Mollie will grow up with access to world class art like this just ten minutes walk away from her grandparents’ house. And of course… access to a gallery bookshop! The shop has a whole stand devoted to children’s books and art materials. Mollie and I were in our element! I stroked some beautiful looking Tate Publishing books, flicked through some wonderfully inventive Herve Tullet books and smiled at Lydia Crook’s Paper Play, which we have and love -and is published by my local Ivy Press. I have added a fair few books to my wishlist, particularly the delicious looking Art in a Box- a keepsake box with twenty A5 cards each depicting a work of art from Tate’s collection, with related art activities for children on the back. Want!

But this trip was all about Mollie so she got to choose the books. And she chose two corkers.

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The joy for me is that these books (and Paper Play, the Herve Tullets and Art in a Box) all echo our experience of the gallery. They are interactive and immersive and they have made us look carefully and think again about what we have seen and thought we knew. That, I think, is what art and creativity is all about- interaction, challenge, inspiration, making us think and feel and question who we are and what we know. The best children’s books do this seemingly without effort. These books certainly made us look at the format of children’s books anew.

In The Forest by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud (Tate Publishing) is a delicious pop-up book that tells the story of a sloth living in the forest. Huge machines come to destroy the forest, gradually getting closer and closer to the sloth’s tree. The reader is invited to hunt for the sloth in every pop up scene and encourage him to run for safety. The machines destroy the forest and the sloth is gone. But then a man comes. He misses the forest and plants some seeds.
Regrowth. Regeneration. Reappearance of the sloth.

In the Forest is a book that begs for interaction. The pop ups are filled with animals to hunt for and identify. The machines destroy a further section of forest with each page turn.

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Mollie played with the seed page for ages; growing the shoots and then shrinking them down again, holding the book to the sun and raining on the shoots with her fingers and growing them back up. She was chatting away narrating her own part of the story. She was truly immersed in the world of the book.

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There’s so much to do and love in this book. The story delivers an important ecological message and discussion point and the format makes the book hugely interactive. A beautiful combination.

Dot to Dot by Malcolm Cossons and Neil Stevens (Thames & Hudson) is a flip-over book about a little girl called Dot and her Grandma, also called Dot. They share a birthday and more than anything they want to spend their special day together. But Dot lives in London and Grandma lives in New York. Each side of the book tells a Dot’s story with the culmination double page spread in the centre of the book describing the meeting of the characters as the two stories combine.

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Mollie was fascinated and inspired by the format of this book. You know that look of innocent wonder and fascination that flashes across children’s faces when they find out something new? That was her face as she played with this book. She’s come across flip over books before, her favourite being Sue Hendra’s Upsy Down Town where the book is turned upside down halfway through. But Dot to Dot uses the format perfectly, the centre spread cementing the characters, the story, and the reading experience.

These books have encouraged Mollie to look at the traditional book format and storytelling experience from a fresh perspective and have opened her eyes to new possibilities. Much as the Barlow exhibition inspired her to look at materials in her home through an artist’s eyes. She has been intrigued, immersed and inspired. New possibilities have been opened for her.
And that is what art, literature, creativity and childhood is all about.

Mine! A sharing story

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Sharing is a tricky concept that all children have to learn to deal with at some point. It can be a very emotional lesson to learn and often children need a little help.

Mine! by Jerome Keane and Susana De Dios is a bright, bold and stylish book that gently explores sharing through humour and fun.

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Fox was bored. Horse was bored. But then something happened. An egg falls down between them. Can Fox and Horse learn to share their new entertainment?

This book is a visual delight. It has perfectly balanced design with great use of colour. The illustrations beautifully capture the characters’ emotions. Mine contains the best bored horse I have ever seen…

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as well as a fantastic portrayal of the rigid awkwardness of Uncomfortably Pretending Indifference.

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You can feel the tension. All that character and emotion portrayed through the positioning of eyes, hands and bottoms. Great stuff – and something that could inspire some fab creativity if pointed out to children.

Brilliantly simple repeated text builds tension and involves children in the story. Allowing the children to see the duck appearing in the background to reclaim the egg really empowers them.

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They know what is going on before the characters do, and will be yelling at the book as the duck creeps closer and closer. This is a joyful way to involve children and encourage them to interact with the book – whilst also placing them in a position of wisdom. They can call out and tell Horse and Fox what they should be doing, leaving them confident in their own knowledge of how to share.

Deceptively simple, yet very clever stuff. Bravo!

And don’t worry, my caring sharing friends… Horse and Fox may have lost their egg but something far more exciting soon appears for them to play with. And surely they’ve learnt their sharing lesson now. Haven’t they?

If you liked this you could also try It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine by Susanna Moores. Another great book about learning to share.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Orchard Books.

None the Number – a counting adventure

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Oh, picture books! I really do love them! They give children so, so much… and then they just keep on giving.

In my recent post about learning to read I begged parents/carers not to leave picture books behind when children are learning to read – or when they can read independently. Picture books still have so much to give children and aren’t only for the 3-5 age range that they are often slotted into. They are created by writers and illustrators at the top of their game. They expose children to world class art and language. They encourage their minds to open and question and explore. These are skills that will set children up for life.

I often write posts about picture books that give children something more. Something different. In addition, I’m going to start a semi-regular feature of picture books that stretch the genre and work beautifully for children learning to read or already reading. For children who are at the stage where they are told they should be ‘moving on’ from picture books – as if picture books are only an introductory tool to real reading. NoNoNoNo!

These books will stretch children, give them a new way of seeing something, prompt them to stop and think and question. They will build on all those wonderful skills that their early picture books have taught them and stretch them further. Think of these books as the picture book gifted and talented programme.

My first example is this gem:

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None the Number – A Counting Adventure is not your average counting book. It doesn’t deliver the numbers 1 to 10 with sweet pictures of animals that can be neatly grouped and gently counted. Instead it questions the way counting books work and the way we count objects. It encourages children to think and question things for themselves. And of course, being authored by Oliver Jeffers, it does so in a very funny way.

None the Number introduces the concept of none, or zero, as a number through the Hueys. Written as conversation, one Huey is explaining the concept to another, who is finding it somewhat tricky to grasp. I like the neutrality of these characters. Beautifully simple and yet full of character and expression.

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“Is none a number?” asks white Huey. “Of course,” says Huey Blue who proceeds to count objects up to 10 before taking them all away to demonstrate the concept of none as a number.

I love the quirky and often very funny objects that readers are given to count. My personal favourites are ‘Four. That’s how many tantrums Kevin throws every day.’ And seven:

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The addition of handwritten text -an Oliver Jeffers special- offers a challenge for independent readers as well as working beautifully towards the design of the book.

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At the end of the book White Huey is still confused. But children won’t be. They can laugh at White Huey’s inability to grasp the concept and position themselves with Huey Blue. The use of conversational writing here is a clever approach that allows children to act out the book and take on the roles of the characters, enabling them to ‘be’ Huey Blue and read the book from a position of knowledge. Deceptively simple, hugely effective.

So is this one of those picture books that has been created for adults, with Pixar style humour to entertain the adult reader as they read a book for the ninetieth time? No, I don’t think so. Mollie has just turned five and she loves the humour in this book. She particularly enjoys reading the handwritten speech and doing the voices. The book involves her and entertains her. It has made her think and the facts about zero on the endpapers have prompted some great discussions. This is a great example of a book that works across ages. With design and language that is simple enough for young children to find lots to love and lots to point out, it has enough depth and humour to entertain older children and encourage them to question and wonder. It’s also a beauty for the adults trying to get a look in over the children’s shoulders!

If you like this book, try Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit which includes pages of handwritten letters for children to read, a lot of advanced language and ideas and a highly original concept that will get children thinking and questioning and looking at the crayons they have taken for granted through new eyes.

Source: kindly sent for review by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Worries Go Away by Kes Gray and Lee Wildish

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The dream team of Kes Gray and Lee Wildish have done it again with their new book Worries Go Away.

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Like their previous two books, this one should be in every school, library and children’s centre. Mum and Dad Glue is the perfect book to support children and families through parental separation or divorce, Leave Me Alone is a stunning book that deals with bullying, and Worries Go Away is a comforting look at coping with worries. Quite a trio!

Leave Me Alone portrays the bully as a big dark monstrous form and in Worries Go Away Lee Wildish has taken a similar approach. A young girl hides herself in her head in a world of her own making. At first it is beautiful and filled with ice creams and sunshine and bees buzzing. But before long her worries begin to infiltrate her world and long tentacle-like yellow and orange arms creep and stretch in from the edge of the page. They are ominous and threatening and they spoil everything they pass. Ice creams melt. Skies darken. And the worries grow larger and take on forms with squinting red eyes.
‘They turn into monsters
That circle and prowl,
That bellow and cackle,
That grizzle and growl.’
The girl panics and runs. The monstrous worries give chase. The illustrations become more threatening, beautifully matching the tightening rhythm and increasing pace of the text. It is immersive and powerful but not too scary for young children. A wonderful balance that’s tricky to achieve.

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The girl is backed into a corner by her worries – until she finds a locked door. Her family and friends stand behind the door calling for her and she realises that she is the key – if she opens her heart she can let her friends and family in.

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There’s a lot to love about this book. I was initially concerned about the message being a bit ambiguous. What is meant as a book saying ‘don’t bottle things up, talk to someone about your worries’ could potentially be suggesting that children shouldn’t live in their imaginations and that a world of their own can be a bad place. But the more I read this book the more I see and the more I love. The endpapers are a delight, combining the colours from the worries and the family reunion with the images from the girl’s imagination. This brings everything together in a positive happy light, celebrating her imagination and new-found happiness. Plus I just love that unicorns serene smile!

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The combination of Gray’s emotive rhyming text and Wildish’s colour-rich and textured illustrations create a book that is immersive, emotional and uplifting. It’s a fantastic springboard for discussion and would work perfectly in any classroom or library. A great book to use with children who are worried or struggling with their emotions, Worries Go Away is another winner.

Source – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s books.

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