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Grandad’s Secret Giant

25 Apr


Billy doesn’t believe his Grandad when he tells him there’s a secret giant living in their town and protecting the residents with secret good deeds. Billy doesn’t believe in what he can’t see.

‘”But Grandad,” Billy said, ‘if the giant is so helpful and good, why does he want to stay such a big secret?”

“Because people are scared of things that are different,” said Grandad.’

And thus begins Billy’s journey of acceptance and understanding as he meets Grandad’s secret giant and overcomes his fears, learning that all anyone wants is a friend.

David Litchfield’s illustrations have the character of Oliver Jeffers and the luminosity of Tom Docherty. They bring this book to life and give it a real sense of magic and mystery.


A gentle, heartwarming story about the importance of tolerance and the power of friendship. You can get your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by the publisher, Frances Lincoln.

Little People, Big Dreams

25 Jan

Now more than ever we need to empower our girls and young women. We need to show them examples of women who have made a difference, who have stormed their way through glass ceilings. Because these women are so often erased from history, we need to work twice as hard to highlight their achievements. And that is why books like the Little People, Big Dreams series (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) are so important. 


These books feature trailblazing women as children, showing that no matter who you are or where you start in life, you can fulfil your dreams and achieve great things. 


They are brilliantly accessible and inspiring and the perfect way to start armouring the future generation of Nasty Women. I love the way they celebrate difference and show children that your uniqueness is your strength.


Each book includes a fact section and a list of further reading. I particularly like the inclusion of photographs of the women as children, to really show readers where these women came from and how they grew up to be such fantastic, inspirational women. 


These beautiful books really do deserve a place in every school library and classroom. They would work brilliantly with Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst (Bloomsbury)

You can get your copies here. And keep your eyes open for two new titles coming soon. 

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

The Great Big Green Book

11 Mar

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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!

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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

Diverse Voices with Seven Stories

13 Oct

Attention please… Something very exciting has just been announced in the world of children’s books.

This morning, Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, announced it’s new Diverse Voices season – 50 of the Best Children’s Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK.

This is a list of 50 books chosen by an independent panel of experts for all children, from birth to teens. Books published since 1950 to the present day were considered. The list looks fantastic and includes a beautiful mix of picture books, poetry, novels, and biographies. These are books that will help children explore the world around them, giving them the opportunity to see themselves and the selves they could become and helping them understand all those around them.

Kate Edwards, CEO Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books said:
“Children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, building understanding, empathy and tolerance. Despite this there is still a lack of representation of children from different cultural backgrounds – especially as main characters. By drawing attention to some best loved and well crafted children’s books, our Diverse Voices season will curate an exciting and diverse list of books that will help to inform the choices of librarians, teachers, booksellers and readers when they pick books to recommend, stock, read and enjoy. Britain’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is something to be celebrated and championed.”
Kate Edwards, I would very much like to shake your hand.

It’s a beautiful list. But it’s more than just a list. Seven Stories will be using these books as the basis for a whole world of exploration, discussion, creativity and play. They say:
“The aim is to raise the profile of these books, for the books to be read and celebrated, for children to see themselves, step into another’s shoes and find their place and belonging among the characters and settings of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”
Yes yes YES!!!

Seven Stories will be hosting a celebratory weekend on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October with storytelling, music and activities inspired by Diverse Voices. And for the teachers and librarians out there, Seven Stories have also created learning resources for use in schools, which will be available from Thursday 16 October to encourage the use of books that reflect the diverse world we live in. See http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning for details.

The Guardian children’s booksite is celebrating diversity in children’s books all this week with features, discussions, author interviews and galleries. I can’t wait! Join in the fun here

Now for the list. Let’s celebrate, discuss, wave flags and break open the biscuits for these books. Which are your favourites? Which have spoken to you or the children you’ve shared them with? Which will you add to your ever-growing wish list? Have a look here.

I think Sarah Crossan’s Weight of Water is my favourite. But I have only read eleven of the fifty! This excites me! Look at all these lovely new books for me to discover. *orders them all*
What are your favourites??

Diverse Voices Book List and season is supported by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and has
evolved out of the Diverse Voices Book Award, which was founded in memory of Frances Lincoln
(1945-­‐ 2001) to encourage and promote diversity in children’s literature.

Welcome to the Family

9 Jul

Last night Mollie was reading an old finding out book about the body. She called me upstairs and asked “It says that when they grow up a man and a woman can live together and have a baby but it doesn’t say that a woman and a woman can, or a man and a man can. Why?”
Gulp!
She had been looking up belly buttons in the index and come across a very high level and outdated ‘making babies’ page. Mollie has two mums. We have always been honest with her and answered any questions that arise and she knows that the doctors put the man’s seed into my tummy to make her because we were two mummies. But this book dated from my childhood and it confused her. And I was the stupid mum who left it on her bookshelf.

Luckily, just a few days before, this gem had arrived through the door:

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By the inclusion dream team of Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family follows in the footsteps of their previous non-fiction books Great Big Book of Families and Great Big Book of Feelings and explores all the diverse ways a baby or child become members of a family. It covers natural birth into a nuclear family, fostering, adoption, same sex families, surrogacy, IVF and more, all in their inclusive, child-friendly and humorous style.
I knew Mollie was in safe hands.

The overriding message of this book is that all families are different and all families are equally valid and special. A message that is so important for children and their families to hear and see. I wish something like this had been available when I was a child – what a lot of progress has been made in one generation. Hurrah to that. The sentence that is repeated and emphasised throughout is ‘the children are very welcome.’ No matter what the family make up, or how the child came into the family, they are welcome. They are special. They are valid. Affirming stuff.

Affirming, but also honest. I love that the Hoffman/Asquith dream team don’t shy away from honesty. They show such respect for the children that will be reading their books. They respect their right to see themselves portrayed in an honest and truly reflective way. So we see that families are complicated. Things don’t always go smoothly and children aren’t always perfectly happy. They show us reality. And that can be equally as affirming – seeing a family in a book that is going through a tricky patch just like yours is, seeing that it is normal and okay to feel angry and jealous and frustrated and worried and all the other million emotions that a child will go through. That is a hugely affirming and positive message for a child.

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Mollie’s friends come from all sorts of different families and came into their families in all sorts of different ways – they are all different and all special. Mollie knows that and is happy and comfortable talking about it. But a book that reflects that is such an important resource. Mollie has devoured it, reading it to herself and hunting through the illustrations. She has found her friends who are adopted, found her friends who are in foster care, found her friends that have blended families, mix race families, one parent, two parents, three parents… She has found herself and how she came to be in our family. All that from one book. Impressive stuff!

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I used it to support her last night. Imagine if every teacher or adult who works with children had access to a copy. Imagine the ways in which it could be used to help children see themselves and their place in families, to help them through a change in the family – a new sibling, fostering, adoption, a new parental relationship. To help them understand all the diverse families they will come across in their lives. It has such potential.

Perhaps Gove should scrap all his education reform and, instead of donating a King James Bible to every school, he could put a set of the Hoffman/Asquith books in every school library. He could change the world.

This wonderful book is due to be published 4th September 2014- just in time for the new school year. I’ll be getting a copy for Mollie’s school library and probably a few as presents for some beautiful families I know. But this copy is staying right here on Mollie’s bookshelves, replacing the outdated body book and ready to give her an affirming inclusive nod whenever she may need it.

Thank you Mary, Ros and everyone at Frances Lincoln for making this book available to her and all her peers. You have made a difference.

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

Zeraffa Giraffa

27 Mar

In Longleat safari park there is a tall wooden platform where you can stand eye to eye with giraffes and feed them lettuce leaves. It is an experience I will never forget. They are such graceful creatures with wise mournful eyes and incredible eyelashes. They look kind and curious and wise, and are full of character and mischief. When you feed them they twirl their long black tongue around the lettuce leaf and gently pull it from your hands. It is an extraordinary sight. They practically have to do the splits to nibble grass from the ground. I will always remember my daughter asking the keeper how the giraffes go to sleep. (They fold their legs underneath them and bend their neck round to use their own bum as a pillow.)

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The recent controversial killing of Marius the giraffe in Copenhagen zoo reminded me of that incredible morning watching the giraffes at Longleat; of being amazed at their grace and beauty, being at their level and seeing the world as they do – as much of an experience as feeding them! I felt so awed and humbled by the giraffes and was amazed that a zoo felt it had the right to destroy such an incredible creature. These feelings were brought into relief by Zeraffa Giraffa by Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray.

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Imagine seeing a giraffe for the very first time. I wish I could remember that feeling, or could experience it now that I know enough to appreciate it. That is what happened in France in 1827 when a baby giraffe called Zeraffa was sent to Paris as a gift for the King of France. It took two and a half years for her to travel from Egypt to Paris – a 2000 mile trip down the Nile, a three week sail across the sea and a 550 mile walk across France. Zeraffa Giraffa describes her journey and her reception in France and explores her relationship with her keeper, Atir, who was her companion along the journey and throughout her new life in Paris.

Jane Ray’s illustrations are, as always, magical. They beautifully portray the changing landscapes and cultures that Zeraffa and Atir experience along their journey and the developing bond between them. The curves and grace of the paintings; the details, colours and characters in the scenes all build to create a sense of beauty and care and wonder.

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The lush language transports the reader to the banks of the Nile and through the valleys and streets of France. Zeraffa Giraffa is bursting with wonderful descriptions and vocabulary to introduce to children – mistral winds; orchards of almonds and olives; felucca; amulet; elegant sails that see-sawed and pivoted; the place where the sea sipped up the Nile; stars that turned the sky into curdled milk. Beautiful! This is the kind of language that we should be whispering into the ears of our young children and encouraging our older children to form with their own mouths. It is beautiful and evocative and mysterious. It is the kind of language that can take you on an adventure.

I love the way the whole book mirrors the character of Zeraffa – graceful and wise, playful and mischievous, but always with an air of magic and wonder.

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

My Inclusive Minds call to action

25 Feb

You know when you meet up with a group of like minded people and you instantly feel at home, at ease? Well on Friday I took my family to the Inclusive Minds ‘What About Me?’ event at the Imagine Festival. The whole day had that warm and special feel to it. The day was devoted to inclusion in children’s books and, although we walked in to a room of mostly strangers, before very long we felt like we belonged. We felt like that because it was entirely inclusive. Everything about the event was set up to include everyone and make everyone feel equal. And it worked beautifully.

When we arrived Ben Hawkes was working magic with a large group of children. Sprawled across the floor with felt pens and sheets of paper, Ben and The Curved House Kids team had children of all ages and abilities happily imagining and creating their own stories. Ben is a natural with kids and had them all so engaged. They were all clamouring to show him their work and chatting excitedly about what they were doing, and sharing felt pens with each other. It was a lovely welcoming atmosphere to walk in to. And it stayed that way all day.

Throughout the day there were workshop style events where children could reimagine a story and put themselves in a book. They could include themselves in popular stories like Handa’s Surprise, join in with sensory storytelling, alter character illustrations to reflect themselves, create their own comic strip with their own characters taking centre, or draw themselves and their families on a giant canvas covering the whole wall – all with the help of a team of enthusiastic and approachable illustrators. Rebecca Elliott, Jo Empson, Claudia Boldt, Trudi Esberger, Gem Ahmet, Louie Stowell, Pippa Goodhart, Eileen Browne, Jane Ray, Carol Thompson and more were all at hand to help the children to create, to see themselves in books, and to play. Because that was what it was all about. To allow children to have fun creating their own stories and putting themselves in the picture. Everyone joined in. Everyone was involved and smiling and chatting and drawing and creating. Nobody was left out of the story.

Beth Cox and Alex Strick from Inclusive Minds and all the illustrators and authors that were there to support them did an amazing job of showing the importance of inclusion through showing inclusion in practice. And it worked! During the day we met with Caryl Hart and brought her up to the event. We chatted about The Rainbow Library and the Patron of Reading scheme and the importance of books and the power of seeing yourself and the world around you in them. It was eye opening for both of us. I told her about struggling to find books with same sex parents or books that reflect the beautifully diverse classroom of children that our daughter is a part of. She told me about her efforts to get diverse characters ‘signed off’ by some publishing houses. To stand in the centre of an entirely inclusive event talking about the importance of inclusion was a very powerful thing. We could see it working around us. The proof that it is the right thing to do was everywhere.

We were all there because we care about children and how they see themselves and find themselves in their books. We were all there with the same hopes and passions. We were all included and equal. And that’s how it should be for every child. But it isn’t… yet. Children learn about the world around them by seeing it and reading about it in their books. Their acceptance of all the wonderful differences in life are developed and supported through the literature they are exposed to. But my daughter’s picture books do not reflect the world she lives in. No matter how hard I try to provide her with books that truly reflect society, the majority of books that are published have predominantly white male middle class children (or animal) characters. And then she goes to school or out into her world and sees a very different reality.

So how do we achieve inclusion in children’s books? How do we take the energy and hope and warmth from that room and put it into every child’s book? How do we convince the resistant publishing houses that it is a viable way forward? By buying smart, raising awareness in our reviews and by talking openly. By gently nudging the right people in the right direction.

As the people that buy the books (and I know you guys… you buy books!) we have the power to influence change. We should be supporting the people that are helping us find inclusive books, we should be buying these books, borrowing them from our libraries and supporting the authors, illustrators and publishers that are brave enough to create them. Go to Letterbox Library. Buy from ChildsPlay, Alanna Books, Tara Books, Frances Lincoln and Barefoot Books.

Reviewers can do a lot to raise awareness of the books that are inclusive, that do have female characters, that do show somebody other than a middle class white male.
But we should also be talking about this and raising awareness. We can help by seeing it in action, watching children’s faces as they spot a picture of a child just like them, or a family just like theirs, in a book. By realising the power and positivity that it gives them. By remembering that every child has the right to see themselves in their books, and to be seen and understood by their peers. By knowing this and talking about it with others we can remind authors and illustrators that the world around them is beautifully diverse and that perhaps they could (should?) include that in their work. Perhaps they shouldn’t be writing from an adult’s memory but instead, be writing for a child’s potential. They in turn can gently nudge their publishing houses. Because a lot of small nudges can move mountains.

It really was a wonderful day and a very important and inspiring event. I left it with a renewed sense of possibility and purpose. And I certainly wasn’t the only one!

Where’s Lenny? The perfect book for a nursery.

13 Feb

Where’s Lenny? by Ken Wilson-Max is a nursery or play group’s dream book! It is just brilliant on so many levels!

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The version I have is a lovely chunky hardcover, just the right size for toddlers to handle themselves and with gently rounded edges. Even the pages themselves are perfect for the age-group. Rounded card pages that are shiny enough to be splatter resistant and thick enough to be tear-proof, yet still flexible enough for little ones to manage and learn how to turn carefully. This is a wonderful step up from a board book before a paperback picture book – resilient is the word I would use! Toddler-proof!

Lenny is playing hide and seek with Daddy. The reader conspires with Lenny as he swaps his hiding place and stays one step ahead of Daddy. I love the way this brings the reader in and involves them in the game. Children will be squealing and pointing as Lenny runs up the stairs or sneaks behind the sofa. A lovely touch.

The language is immediate and exciting and helps to engage the child in the game. It even includes counting to ten, with numerals for the children to follow. The illustrations work beautifully to keep the child’s interest, bright and bold with not too much going on so that the focus can be drawn to cheeky Lenny as he disappears off again.

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For me, the true beauty of this book is the way it reflects our diverse society. The illustrations show a mixed race family. Dad is playing with Lenny while Mum is fixing a lightbulb. Little things, but so, so important. Hurrah!

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This book really is perfect for a nursery, where it can teach children about our world and fill them with fun and giggles. So my copy is off to The Rainbow Library where it can sit happily in a Brighton nursery and do its job daily.

Thank you to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for sending me this review copy.

Max the Champion – a book for EVERY child

21 Nov

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith is truly and joyfully inclusive. I love it for being a fun story that children will really be able to identify with. On top of that, it is filled to the brim with inclusive images.

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Max is a little boy who is mad about sport. He thinks about sport all day, everyday. As he goes through his daily activities his imagination takes over and he becomes a sporting superstar. Every element of his day is transformed in his mind into a major sporting event. Handwriting practice becomes a javelin tournament with giant pens, diving into his cereal becomes diving into a swimming pool. He dreams of becoming a world class athlete and a fun sports tournament with another school is the perfect place for him to start.

Sports-mad children will love identifying with Max’s passion. All children will laugh as Max confuses a bowl of fruit with a bowl of balls during art class. And, importantly, all children will be able to see themselves in this book. Because this is the first ever children’s book to include so many images of disability and inclusion. This isn’t your usual token child in a wheelchair. The writers and illustrator have thought carefully about every area of life and have included images of tactile paving, makaton signs on the classroom wall, a child with cherubism, someone with an oxygen tube, Max’s hearing aid and inhaler.

The beauty of this book is that the story is fun and positive and the inclusive images feel natural, not forced. No other book has achieved this with so many children able to see themselves in the same book. A sad fact, but a wonderful achievement by the authors, illustrator, and publisher; Frances Lincoln. Hurrah to them!

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Max the Champion belongs in every classroom and school library. Government statistics suggest that every child will come into contact with a range of different special educational needs in their classroom. 1 in 20 children in the UK are disabled and 1 in 5 children in a typical British classroom will have some form of special educational needs. And yet there are still so few books that show these children and allow them to see themselves. Every child deserves the right to see themselves and a true reflection of their community in their books. And that is why this copy of Max the Champion is heading to a school library where it can be enjoyed by every child.

Fancy buying a copy for you or your school library? Of course you do! The lovely Letterbox Library can help with that here.

There are some brilliant free resources to download at Max’s website – maxthechampion.co.uk and if you are passionate about inclusion I recommend a visit to Alexandra’s Inclusive Minds site.

As a side note, The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now accepting nominations and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see this on the short list. The Award website says:

‘For the purposes of this award, a ‘radical fiction’ book is defined as a story which-
*is informed by any of the following: anti-discriminatory, environmental, socialist, anarchist, feminist concerns
OR
*promotes social equality or challenges stereotypes and/or the status quo or builds children’s awareness of issues in society
OR
*promotes social justice and a more peaceful and fairer world.’

Tick, tick, tick! Although this book is certainly an inclusive book rather than a radical book, it certainly fits the requirements for the award in my mind. Watch this space!

Source: kindly sent for review by Francis Lincoln Children’s Books

Troll Wood by Kathryn Cave and Paul Hess

17 Nov

‘This is Troll Wood.
No one goes there.
Will you?
We will.
And they did.

A family in need of a new home find themselves in the mysterious Troll Wood and forced to take shelter there. But within the wood they find a world of unpicked flowers, uneaten fruits and unexplored paths, just waiting to be discovered. Can you see the trolls in Troll Wood? And will you join them there?’

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This is a book that I love for lots of different reasons. I love what it shows and what it doesn’t tell. It is written with such spare prose and is full of implied meanings and messages, hidden and missing characters and the sense of mystery. We are never given a complete story or a full answer, leaving the book open to interpretation and discussion. For this reason it works beautifully across different ages and abilities. Children can read it as a book about a family being brave in a wood, with all the associated links to fairy stories that the children may know. Other children may wonder who the family are, how they came to be in the woods, why the trolls are watching them and who they might be or represent.

The illustrations are wonderful watercolours that are full of detail and character. This is my favourite page. Look at the eyes – open or closed they all tell their character’s story. What is the girl thinking? How is the Grandfather feeling? How is the wild animal in his arms feeling? How do we as readers feel about the troll on this page?

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The perfect book to use to introduce topics such as homelessness, refugees, travellers, dealing with change and overcoming obstacles, or to link in with fairy tales, or learning about asking questions from a text. Troll Wood works on so many levels and is relevant to such a wide range of ages and abilities that it really deserves to be in every school library so that lots of children can experience it, enjoy it and learn from it. And that’s exactly where this copy is headed.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Frances Lincoln’s Children’s Books.