There’s a Dragon in My Dinner

9 Feb

There’s a Dragon in My Dinner by Tom Nicoll and Sarah Horne is a brilliantly pitched book for newly independent readers who are looking for something to get their teeth into. 

‘When Eric finds a tiny dragon nestled among the beansprouts in his Friday night takeaway, he thinks it’s a free toy. But Pan the Mini-Dragon is very real indeed – and he’s about to get Eric into a whole heap of trouble… How is Eric going to explain the trail of devestation caused by one creature not much bigger than a spring roll?’

Split into ten short chapters with Sarah Horne’s fab illustrations throughout, There’s a Dragon in My Dinner is a fun, fast paced and action packed story that will have kids everywhere digging through their beansprouts with bouncy anticipation.

To celebrate the launch of this fab new series, I asked Tom Nicoll to share his favourite books for new readers. And what a stonking selection he made! 

Top 10 Books to get your teeth into as a new reader

1. Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake(Illustrator). I’ll be honest, I could have picked any book by Roald Dahl here or even filled the whole list with his books (My wife suggested the same thing). I’ve picked this one though because it’s brilliantly funny, but one of Dahl’s shorter books so it should hopefully leave you wanting more. The good news is there’s plenty.

2. Peanuts – Charles Schultz. I read tons of comics when I was young, but my favourite was always Peanuts. One of my favourite experiences in the past few months was taking my four year old daughter to see the new Peanuts movie. In a way it almost felt like passing something on to her. There are countless collections available and you can’t really go wrong getting any of them, though I do love the new the recent hardback releases of every strip going back to 1950.

3. Cakes in Space – Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre – This is the second book by Reeves and McIntyre and has possibly one of my favourite titles for a book ever. I live to think that their publishers asked them what their next book was going to be and they were just like ‘Three words: Cakes. In. Space.’ *Mic Drop* The book itself is delightfully mad and full of fantastic illustrations by Sarah McIntyre.

4. Flat Stanley – Jeff Brown, Scott Nash(Illustrator) – Another book that tells you all you need to know in the title. Stanley’s life is changed when a pin board falls on him, turning him into a human pancake. Hey, we’ve all been there. Imagine what life would be like if you could slide yourself under a door or post yourself on holiday. Well you don’t have to imagine because this book will tell you.

5. Fortunately The Milk – Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell (Illustrator) – “Where there is milk there is hope” A wonderfully illustrated shaggy dog story involving pirates, vampires, aliens, time-travelling, a stegosaurus professor and a carton of milk. What else do you need to know?

6. The Grunts In Trouble – Philip Ardagh, Axel Scheffler (Illustrator) – The first in the series about Mr and Mrs Grunt and their sort-of son Sunny, who they stole from a washing line. I love the way Ardagh writes – there are so many jokes packed into every sentence.

7. The Spy Who Loved School Dinners – Pamela Butchart, Thomas Flintham (Illustrator) – When a new French girl starts at her school, Izzy is convinced that she must be a spy. The evidence: she loves school dinners. No one loves school dinners. I like the rambling style of the book, told from Izzy’s point of view.

8. The Little Vampire – Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, Amelie Glienke (Illustrator) – The first in the series of stories translated from the original German about a nine year old boy Tony and his vampire best friend Rudolph. One of my childhood favourites.

9. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White, Garth Williams (Illustrator). Alright, so most of these recommendations are funny stories. I really like funny stories. But if you’ve had enough laughing and want to have a good cry instead then you could try this book. It’s about the friendship between a pig who doesn’t want to get eaten and a spider who does everything she can to help him. We read this when I was in school, so just picture a room full of kids all trying, and failing, not to cry in front of each other. Yeah, so be warned, it’s pretty sad.

10. Dirty Bertie Stinky Stories (Mud! Germs! Loo!) – David Roberts (Illustrator), Alan MacDonald – if you’re needing a good laugh after Charlotte’s Web then this book should do the trick. Full of disgusting humour, these stories will turn your tears into, well, more tears actually. But they’ll be tears of laughter this time so that’s good. And this one is actually three books in one – bargain!

You can also read an interview with Tom over at Emma’s Bookcorner here.

There’s a Dragon in My Dinner, written by Tom Nicoll and illustrated by Sarah Horne, will be published on the 11th of February by Stripes Publishing. Look out for There’s a Dragon in My Backpack and There’s a Dragon in My Toilet later this year.
Source- Review copy kindly sent by Stripes Publishing.

Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits

31 Jan

Rabbit & Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field is a scrumptious book. I love the tactile hardback format and the gorgeous use of the icy turquoise colour throughout. 

‘Bear wakes up early from hibernation and decides if she can’t sleep then at least she can make a snowman. She soon meets Rabbit, who is an Expert in Gravity, who never ever smiles, and has never said the word F-U-N before. But with avalanches and hungry wolves on the prowl, Rabbit soon realised that sometimes it’s nice to have a friend on your side and someone to share your winter with.’

Jim Field is a master of expression and the perfect match for Julian Gough’s writing. There’s a lovely mix of poo humour and mild peril, brilliant for reading aloud dramatically with comedy voices, making this a book that will become a firm favourite with kids and adults alike. 

The thing that really caught me was the balance of the text. It doesn’t talk down to children but doesn’t ‘do a Pixar’ and try too hard to appeal to the adults and end up going over the children’s heads. It’s perfect for newly confident readers; there’s not too much text per page but Gough uses complicated sentence structure and wonderful vocabulary that will challenge an independent reader. We had a great discussion about the language and structure of the text and why some words had a capital letter for emphasis, even though it ‘breaks the phonics rules’ (take that, Gove/Morgan). I love it when a book opens up a reader’s eyes like that. Bravo, Gough, Field and the Hodder team.  I can’t wait for the next instalment!

Source: review copy kindly sent by Hodder Children’s Books. 

Little Rebels and Radical Acts of Kindness

11 May

I missed The London Radical Book Fair and the awarding of the Little Rebels Award on Saturday. We were away visiting family and I couldn’t make it. But I was there in spirit and via Twitter and it prompted a lot of thinking over the weekend. Allow me to share…

Letterbox Library’s Little Rebels Award celebrates radical children’s books; those that stand up for diversity, inclusion and above all, social justice. They are books that show children the world and how they can make it better. These books are the ones we should want our future leaders to be reading now. Books that let us imagine a future that stands against social injustice and discrimination. Hurrah for the Little Rebels shortlisted authors and winner, Gill Lewis! And for Letterbox Library who back the award. 


(Picture by Letterbox Library)

I will be honest, I really wanted Anne Booth‘s Girl With a White Dog to win. It is an exceptional book that deals with immigration, inclusion, and what can happen when people demonise difference. It is a book that awoke a real sense of social responsibility in the children I read it with. It is also a wonderful story, beautifully written. I wanted it to win because it warns about excluding people that are ‘other’, and it teaches children to look at the world with empathy and understanding and not to be led by propaganda. After Friday morning’s election results I felt like we needed this book more than ever. 

How do we deal with the fallout from last week’s election? So much disappointment and anger and incredulity. I think it’s easy to feel guilty for not doing enough before the elections, to blame others, and to feel helpless and despondent. But that won’t help those already being squashed and it won’t prevent further injustice. I think reading the shortlisted books would be a great place to start. Share them with your children, your friends’ children, donate them to your local school. Because these books could change the world. And let’s face it… We need a bit of that right now. 

When I heard the results on Friday morning I headed straight for Twitter and was so boosted by the positivity on my timeline. There was (is!) a real desire to work together to fight further cuts and act as a safety net for those who are being affected; to make things better. It has reminded me that real change happens not when political parties win elections, but when people take a stand against injustice, and are willing to fight for an inclusive future, together. My Twitter feed is full of booky peeps, journalists, artists, and theatre peeps. It is generally a very inclusive and forward thinking bunch. But the children’s authors especially were winning Twitter on Friday.

By 9am Friday morning, Michelle Robinson was calling for a mass donation to food banks to offset some of the Tory ugliness. Lots of us did. Later that day, thanks to Polly Faber, #foodbankfriday was born – a weekly food bank donation to support people who are being squashed by cuts. 

There was talk of our kindness being seen as support for Cameron’s Big Society. That he will take the credit for our actions. Well, let him. Just because he is a self-serving arrogant bigot doesn’t mean we have to follow his lead. Let’s be inclusive and empathetic and support those who are affected by the Government and their actions. Let’s help pick up the pieces. But let’s not do it quietly. 

Elli is absolutely right with her comment above. We mustn’t mop up the mess quietly. We must rage and raise awareness, we must support those who have the power and legal knowledge to fight the cuts and we must take action to stand up for what we believe in. Together. 

So let’s all be Little Rebels. Let’s make Radical Acts of Kindness. Let’s donate to food banks, volunteer, support, sustain. But let’s back up each act of kindness with action. Join a protest group, join an organisation that fights for justice, support them, donate to them so they can make change happen. And share it all on social media so that others can make their own Radical Acts of Kindness too. #LittleRebelRAK

Here’s my starter:

David Cameron wants to replace our Human Rights Act with his own leaner and meaner version- the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Let’s not stand for that. Share your support here:

And here:

The shortlisted books are available here:

Girl With a White Dog by Anne Booth (Catnip Books)

Grandma by Jessica Shepherd (Child’s Play)

Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, illustrated  by Margaret Chamberlain (Janetta Otter-Barry Books/Frances Lincoln)

Nadine Dreams of Home by Bernard Ashley (Barrington Stoke)

Pearl Power by Mel Elliott (I Love Mel)

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis (Oxford University Press)

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard (Catnip Books)

Too Close to Home : Aoife Walsh

24 Apr

You know when you read a review and *know* that you *need* to read that book…. Well here’s one for you, courtesy of @chaletfan:

Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

Too Close to HomeToo Close to Home by Aoife Walsh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I described this on Twitter as one for the ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ crowd. And it is; it’s a book full of complicated and complex and Casson-esque characters, all of them bumping against each other in their complicated and complex lives. Too Close To Home isn’t really about much on the surface (except, in a way, it’s about everything and perhaps that surface stillness is so very metaphorical for the book itself) but underneath it’s peddling away like mad. There’s Minny; central character (and oh I am full of semi-colons and punctuation in this review, but that’s this book – thoughts and movements and emotions and people all jumbling against each other and trying to find their space in life).

So. In an attempt to be precise:

1. Walsh’s prose is very classic…

View original post 276 more words

The Story of Britain – history doesn’t have to be horrible

13 Apr

The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granström has transformed the way we talk and learn about history in our family. Mollie is fascinated by history but is too young for the blood and guts versions that seem so prevalent at the moment. The Story of Britain is hugely accessible, full of information, and FUN. 


Beginning fifty thousand years ago with an explanation of how the British Isles were created and continuing chronologically through to the present day, The Story of Britain covers the key periods and historical figures that children will come across at school with tons of detail and brilliantly engaging illustrations.

We have used this book so much over the last few weeks, and it has worked – Mollie has referred back to it constantly. During a week in Wales she was fascinated to stand on the edge of a hillside and look down at the valley and see where the ice would have been. She found a piece of flint and declared it an original axe head. A piece of broken plant pot was a real Roman relic. This book has lit a fire of interest and there’s enough information here to fuel it for years to come. 

The joy of this book is its accessibility – the book has a wonderfully chatty tone and simple explanations of tricky terms or ideas. It truly is the story of Britain and it’s story-like chronological structure and language makes it hugely appealing to children, without relying on blood and guts to try and catch their interest. It makes history relevant; showing children their place in the story of Britain and making them a part of the story. The structure of the book is well thought out, allowing for reading through in bite-sized chunks or searching for a favourite topic.  We particularly love the use of speech bubbles to give real life perspectives on events, and the brilliant timeline that runs across each page. 



I cannot recommend this book enough. If you are looking for a book to inspire young minds, to kindle a passion for history and an understanding of society, or just something to pop on a shelf to help with homework, you can stop the search now. This will do the lot. Job done. 

Source- kindly sent for review by Franklin Watts/Hachette Children’s Books. 

The London Eye Mystery

18 Mar

I’ve been making the most of my local library lately – discovering books that I’ve missed and picking up ones that have been languishing on my wish list for far too long. One of the joys I’ve discovered is The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. As a quick side note – if you haven’t come across the Siobhan Dowd Trust then do take a look, they do brilliant work getting books into the hands of kids in areas of social deprivation. 

‘Monday 24 May, 11.32a.m. Ted and Kat watch their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye. The pod rises from the ground. Monday 24 May, 12.02 p.m. The pod lands and the doors open. People exit – but where is Salim? Even the police are baffled. Ted, whose brain runs on its own unique operating system, and his older sister, Kat, overcome their prickly relationship to become sleuthing partners. They follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin, while time ticks dangerously by…’

The London Eye Mystery is that wonderful mix of strong story and character. The plot is well structured and full of drama, never talking down to the reader or letting the mystery or outcomes become too obvious or too far fetched. It is brilliantly constructed and entirely believable. But the true beauty of this book is the depiction of the characters, particularly the main character, Ted. The London Eye Mystery has the most realistic and sensitive portrayal of a child with Aspergers that I have read. His hopes and his thoughts, the way he responds to his Aspergers and to the responses of others, are all thoughtfully realised. There’s some brilliant analysis of sibling relationships here, with wonderful moments of truth. This book has helped me to understand Aspergers. It has made me think and taught me about the world and my responses to it. And that is everything I could wish for from a book.

Source: my lovely local library (although I loved this book so much that I have since bought myself a copy, with royalties going to the Siobhan Dowd Trust. Get your copy here

Beautiful Birds

11 Mar


Designed as part alphabet book and part introduction to the world’s most beautiful birds, this book is a thing of beauty. The text is pure poetry and the artwork is delicious!

My photographs can’t do Emmanuelle Walker’s illustrations justice. The vivid orange/pink colour from the cover (think bright pink highlighter pen) is included throughout, highlighting parts of each bird. And oh the exquisite lines! And the patterns! And the contrasts! And the colours!


The birds are introduced through Jean Roussen’s rhyming text with wonderfully creative and inspiring language. Owls have ogling orbs, macaws are ‘rainbows that ruffle’ and tanagers have polychrome quills. Beautifully evocative language for children to absorb.

Stunning illustrations, tactile pages, beautiful language, unique birds and the odd amazing fact dropped in. This is a special book that will appeal to children of all ages. Even the fully grown ones!

Source – kindly sent for review by Flying Eye Books.

The Great Big Green Book

11 Mar


We have a responsibility to teach our children about conservation issues and to do so in a way that inspires them to make a difference. The Big Green Book is a hugely positive book that highlights where we have been going wrong but clearly points the next generation to a brighter greener future. This book says ‘we can fix this. You can fix this!’

The Big Green Book begins with our place in space and explains the balance of life on earth and our responsibility to maintain it. Looking at water, plants and trees, air and animals, and touching on climate change, everything is explained in a child-friendly and child-focused way. Climate change can be a scary concept for children but it is handled with perfect balance here – and linking it to Santa’s reindeer is genius!


The rest of the book focuses on what we can do to protect our world. Full of practical and inspirational ideas to save water and energy and recycle and reuse, it even explains nuclear energy and food miles.

As always, Ros Asquith’s illustrations are beautifully inclusive, witty and filled with speech bubbles and captions. They add so much to this book and help make it so beautifully child-focused.

I love this book for its perfectly pitched information, just at the right level for prompting children to question the way they (and their families) live. The part that really inspired my daughter was the double page spread encouraging the reader to be the change, to think big and invent solutions. Including information about young inventors who are already making a difference has left my daughter scribbling designs and dreaming of saving the world.

Quick! Get a copy of this book in every primary and secondary school – the people who are going to save the world are waiting!

If you like the look of this, try the other two titles in the series:
The Great Big Book of Feelings and The Great Big Book of Families.

Source – kindly sent for review by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The Trail Game by Herve Tullet

5 Mar


Herve Tullet is the master of interactive art books. This one is a particular favourite here. Place your finger on ‘start’ then follow the trail. Turn the pages to match the shapes and find your way through the split pages of this beautifully designed book.

Part maze part art book, the split pages and crazy lines left us in a heap of tangled fingers and giggles. A lot of fun!

The Trail Game is part of the brilliantly fun and imaginative ‘game’ series. Perfect for little ones who like to explore their books, use their imaginations and create their own stories. If you like the look of this, check out The Game of Lines with its bright pink and yellow patterns that you can transform with the turn of a page:

and The Game of Tops and Tails where you can create your own precarious balancing acts.



Source: kindly sent for review by Phaidon Press.

How to Fly with Broken Wings

5 Mar


This is a stunner from Jane Elson. Her debut, A Room Full of Chocolate, was well received and I think this one is even better.

Twelve-year-old Willem has Aspergers Syndrome and two main aims in life: to fly and to make at least two friends of his own age. But all the other boys from the Beckham Estate do is make him jump off things. First his desk – and now the wall. As his toes teeter on the edge, Sasha Bradley gives him a tiny little wink. Might she become his friend? Bullied by Finn and his gang the Beckham Estate Boyz, Willem has no choice but to jump. And soon, while the gangs riot on their estate, Willem and Sasha form an unlikely friendship. Because they share a secret. Sasha longs to fly too.

I love this book for its believably written and diverse crew of characters. It has depth and it has soul. Touching on loss, absent and troubled parents, Aspergers, bullying, gang culture, poverty, friendship, and the power of believing in yourself, How to Fly with Broken Wings is a beautiful book that will make you want to lift your arms and fly.

Get your copy here.

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


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