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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

15 Mar

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‘Pax was only a kit when his family was killed and he was rescued by ‘his boy’, Peter. Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. Far worse than leaving home is the fact that he has to leave Pax behind. But before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their journeys back to each other as war rampages throughout the country.’

As is the case with all the best children’s books, Pax is about so much more than a boy and his beloved pet. Pax is about love, trust, the price of war, and the importance of self discovery. Peter’s fear is of becoming like his father; of inheriting his anger and closing himself away. Through his journey he learns to trust in the people he meets and to trust in his self and his ability to become the boy he wants to be. It is a powerful message of tolerance and hope in the face of adversity, beautifully echoed by Pax’s own discovery of his inherent wildness.

Peter’s time in the woods with an isolated and self-destructive ex-soldier highlights the human cost of war. She is a brilliantly created character who resonates long after the last page is turned. Their relationship is beautifully developed and sings of the power of standing against social expectations and following what is in your heart.

Told from both Peter and Pax’s point of view, Pax is deeply layered and filled with echoes and balances. The sections from Pax’s point of view made me look at everything through fresh eyes and were an intelligent, well-researched, sensory adventure. Beautifully illustrated by Jon Klasson – just look at that cover! – Pax truly is a wonderful, wonderful book.

Source – my lovely local library.

I want to see myself in my books – eczema/allergies/skin conditions

19 Sep

A dear friend asked me if I knew of any books that would help her 2 year old son understand his eczema and allergies, something to show him that he is not alone or ‘different’. He has severe allergies and as a family they are still learning what his triggers are and how best to deal with it all. It would really help him and his siblings if they could see him represented in books and understand that other children have the same problems.

So with a little help from my friends I pulled together this collection of beauties:

Hop a Little, Jump a Little by Child’s Play Books, illustrated by Annie Kubler.

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I love this for its casual inclusion. It isn’t ‘about’ allergies or eczema, or children that are ‘different’. It is about very young children being children. But the pictures have such diversity and allow children to see themselves in their books. Children with allergies/skin conditions/birthmarks will recognise themselves in the picture above. The illustration shows bandages peeping out beneath clothing and red patches on skin, but it’s subtle. It allows children to recognise themselves in the illustration but it’s not what that child *is*. Brilliant!

Recycling! by Child’s Play, illustrated by Jess Stockham is part of the Helping Hands series.

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A brilliant series of inclusive books that blur the line between fiction and non fiction, the Helping Hands books use conversational text to explore tasks that children can help adults with as a natural extension of pretend play. They work beautifully as jumping boards for discussion and play and are perfectly pitched for inquisitive young children.

Recycling! shows twins helping with lots of different recycling tasks. The illustrations of the children are wonderfully gender neutral, allowing children to place themselves in the story. For my friend’s son there is an illustration of a child with eczema or a birthmark.

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Doctor is another Child’s Play book illustrated by Jess Stockham. This one is from the First Time series of books which, like the Helping Hands series, uses conversational text to explore experiences children will come across for the first time. In Doctor there is a double page spread showing a child with eczema.

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Casual inclusion is so important for children – that moment of recognition when they see themselves in their book and feel that sense of inclusion and of being valued. But books that are more overt and ‘about’ an issue can be helpful too, and are often sought after by adults trying to help a child’s understanding of an issue they are dealing with.

Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes (Hachette) aims to fill this gap.

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Emmy has eczema, which makes her skin really itchy. She knows she shouldn’t scratch, but sometimes she just can’t help it. One day, she scratches so much she makes her skin really sore. Can her friends help her?

I think this book will help my friend’s son feel less alone and will also help his older sister. The dinosaurs have to work together to support Emmy and remind her not to scratch. They journey together to help her find the flowers to make a cream that relieves the itching. The sense of teamwork and support in this story is one that I’m sure will resonate with my friend and her family. I can imagine them all cuddling up to read it together and discussing how it relates to their own lives.

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For older children, The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster and Maryann Cocca-Leffler is a fantastic book that celebrates difference and shows children adapting their daily routines to support a new classmate with a peanut allergy.

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Simon loves peanut butter. But Grant, the new kid at school, is allergic to it – he can’t even sit near anyone eating it. Grant sits all by himself at lunchtime until Simon comes up with a great idea: turn part of the cafeteria into “The Peanut-Free Cafe” and make it a fun place! Soon the other kids are leaving their peanut-butter sandwiches at home so they can eat in the cafe with Grant. But it’s not so easy for Simon. Can he give up his very favourite food?

Telling this story from the point of view of a classmate makes it a book that encourages awareness and support for children with peanut (and all) allergies. It also shows Simon – a very fussy eater – being brave and trying new foods so he can join the Peanut-Free Cafe and support his new friend. A great book for friends and families of children with allergies, this is a book that will work equally well in the classroom.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins) is another picture book that celebrates difference.

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Marshall Armstrong is new to the school. He looks different, he acts differently and he eats different food. But it doesn’t take long for Marshall to prove that you don’t have to follow the crowd to be the most popular kid in the playground. When he invites the children from his class to his house for a party, they learn that Marshall Armstrong is fun and friendly and they have a great time trying new things.

A quirky and humorous book that celebrates the differences that make us unique, Marshall Armstrong will bring a smile to anyone who feels a bit different.

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions and pointed me in the right direction. If anyone has any more recommendations, please do add them in the comments below – we’d love to hear your ideas!

UPDATE
It’s working!!!!!

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Source – all copies bought from these lovely people:
Child’s Play
Letterbox Library
Hive stores

None the Number – a counting adventure

16 Jul

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.

The Day the Crayons Quit

11 Nov

I read a gorgeous post this morning about the importance of picture books. It’s here and you should read it! I imagine that, as you are reading this blog, you already believe that picture books are wonderful inspiring things that teach children (and adults) so very much. But read it anyway because it will make your heart glow and it covers so many diverse ideas that it might make you think ‘yes! *that’s* why I love picture books so much and *that* is why I believe in them.’ It might even inspire you.

One of the points in the post is about how picture books introduce children to a love of art. Yes! And the quality and variety of art on offer in picture books today is outstanding. Think about what children can pick up from a picture book. Visual thinking skills. Understanding how to look at and ‘read’ art. Understanding how pictures can tell a story and work with a text. Appreciating art and all it’s wonderfully varied forms and styles.

And picture books can inspire children’s own creativity and encourage them to make their own art too. Take The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers as an example.

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This book is about a boy’s crayons going on strike and leaving him letters of complaint. They have been underused, overworked or entirely ignored. They have been stripped of their wrappers, forced to colour the same pictures over and over again and they have had enough. It’s a brilliant concept! What would crayons say if they could talk? What do crayons think about the way they are used? What do they want?

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Poor Duncan just wants to do some colouring, but the protest letters from his crayons make him think about the way he uses them and he creates a picture that is very different from his normal work.

Simple, yet brilliant! I love this book! It’s laugh out loud funny, it’s zany, it’s clever, it’s different. And it will make children think about art and creativity in a different way, from a different angle. Yes, at school they are probably asked or expected to colour in an elephant grey or a sun yellow (or orange!) but why should that always be the case? Why not throw your crayons in the air and caution to the wind and experiment with different colours? What happens if you colour the sun blue? What happens if the sky is yellow? Is the sky ever yellow?

This book could inspire some great art and some great creative thinking. I’d like to take it into a year 1 classroom with a lovely new box of crayons for each child and see what they came up with. I bet it would be magical. And I bet it would make us all think differently!

Source: kindly sent for review by Harpercollins

We All Sing with the Same Voice

18 Oct

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We All Sing with the Same Voice is full of inclusive joy. I must admit to not knowing the Sesame Street song that it comes from but the book works beautifully as a standalone. Each page shows children celebrating their similarities and their differences in a brilliantly simple way.

The children sing about their different hair colour, the different places they live and the different ways they feel. The repeated refrain ‘and my name is you’ grabs the reader and pulls them in. It includes them in the song. Then we get the chorus, ‘we all sing with the same voice, the same song, the same voice. We all sing with the same voice, and we sing in harmony.’ Beautifully matched with illustrations of a diverse group of children dancing together. What a clever and gentle way to introduce young children to the ideas of diversity and inclusion. How much they can unconsciously learn from reading or listening to this book, singing the song or looking through the pictures.

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I love the nearly-last page with children floating on their pillows and the nod to the power of bedtime stories. But obviously this is my favourite page:

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Diverse and inclusive in every sense of the words! Did I mention I love this book?

And guess what I found… A lovely video linking this book and the song. Play it to yourself with a smile, play it to your kids, put it up on that whiteboard and get your class dancing. Enjoy!
YouTube – We All Sing with the Same Voice

Source: kindly donated to The Rainbow Library by the Truffle Snufflers at Letterbox Library

Friendship through the books of Tom Percival

2 Oct

I have just had another sort through of books. I am not naturally organised but I do love a list. And making piles. I don’t tend to get much done beyond that, but my lists always look good and the piles of books make me feel organised. Today, however, I have had a crazy coincidence. Sitting at the toppest most top of my review pile is this:

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And at the top of my ‘library books I love’ pile is this:

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And nearish the top of my ‘books I’ve bought that I must tell everyone about’ pile is this:

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So there you go! I’m being book-stalked by Tom Percival. Luckily, I can take a hint and will take this opportunity to rave about them a bit.

I’ll start with A Home for Mr Tipps as it was published first. Mr Tipps is a scared and lonely stray cat who strikes up a friendship with a small boy who leaves milk out for him. But one day the boy doesn’t come to visit and Mr Tipps is bereft, lost, and in mild peril! And I love a bit of mild peril! Yes, the story is lovely and well-written. It is a joy to read aloud and has a heart warming ending. But for me, the real joy is the artwork. The illustrations are delicious! The colours and the contrasts are beautifully used to enhance the story and really explore the character’s emotions. It looks fresh and stylish. The word that is rolling around on my tongue is luminous. I think this book is luminous.

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Jack’s Amazing Shadow is about a different kind of friendship. This time between a young boy, with super cool hair, and his pesky shadow. Jack and his shadow are best friends but sometimes his shadow can get a bit carried away. Eventually, Jack has had enough and decides that his shadow has to go. His attempts at escaping his shadow are genius and genuinely very funny. The illustrations showing Jack playing on his own once he finally succeeds in losing his shadow are wonderful, you can hear the ‘bok’ of the solitary swing-ball. This is a book that will appeal to children and adults alike as we all giggle together at Jack’s shadow’s exploits. I love the way this book works across age groups with extra elements for older children to notice and understand. Great concept, well executed. It’s a good’un!

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Herman’s Letter is the most recently published and my favourite of the three. It is beautiful in every way. It centres around two friends- Herman and Henry. They are the best of friends (notice a theme?) and when Henry has to move away they are determined to write to each other and stay friends forever. Alas, life is never quite that simple and Herman’s emotions get in the way of his letter writing. Time goes on and their friendship is tried and tested. But true friendship always wins in the end, and Herman embarks on a wintry adventure to reunite with Henry. Tom Percival’s trademark humour is evident throughout and his illustrations get better and better. In Herman he has melded the best of his illustration techniques and we have strong character and that luminous quality again. The lift-the-flap letters are a wonderful addition to a beautifully created book. I think this will end up being the first of many copies of this book that I buy. It’s going to make a delicious Christmas present!

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Source:
A Home for Mr Tipps – borrowed from my lovely local library.
Jack’s Amazing Shadow – kindly sent for review by Pavilion Children’s books.
Herman’s Letter – bought from my lovely local bookshop, Bags of Books.

Tv tie-in books

17 Feb

This is the book that has been the immediate hit in the Rainbow Library.

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Fireman Sam Hide and Slide by Egmont

I made a point of including some tv tie-in books to encourage the children’s use of the book box and boy was that a smart move. The library has only been running for two days but already three children have read this book and it has been taken home by two of them. It barely touched the box when it was returned by the first borrower before it was whipped out with glee and a little jumpy dance by borrower number two.

For me this book is a success because it works on two levels. A child can happily look at it on their own and slide the pictures open to reveal the characters. It’s bright and interactive and works perfectly without the text but it is also a book that can be enjoyed with an adult, reading the text and talking about the situation on each page.

Before I set up the library I had read Loll’s tv tie-in post over on her Storyseekers blog. I have to agree with her frustrations. A lot of the tv tie-in books I have come across have terrible stories and sometimes rather clumsy screen shots from the show. I can’t help thinking that the publishers are cashing in at minimum effort.

The most successful tv tie-in books aren’t tie-ins at all but are the books that inspired the tv show, such as Polly Dunbar’s Tilly and Friends books and The Octonauts books by Meomi. These are the books that I have been looking to include in the library. Familiar enough to encourage the children to choose them but quality books in their own right. That is why it was refreshing to learn that the Abney and Teal books reviewed on Storyseekers, although created from the show, were created as stand alone quality books and not ‘episode dumps’.

This morning I went back to the storyseekers blog to add the Abney and Teal books to the Rainbow Library wish list and I came across her previous tv tie-in post where she says:

‘Watching a television programme that captures your imagination can be wonderful and if you are then allowed to immerse yourself further in this world through books, then the magic continues. If your siblings and/or friends are also keen on the same series, then it becomes a shared experience and something that can form a sentimental part of childhood…I’d still like to find some beautifully executed TV tie-ins, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge the boys’ Pontypandy passion as a more meaningful part of our reading.’

I’ve seen the way the children respond to the Fireman Sam book and Loll is right, it is a real emotional connection. So whilst I will remain cautious of the quality of the books, I will keep adding tv tie-ins to the library. The whole idea of the Rainbow Library is to support a child’s love of books and if Fireman Sam gets them interacting (with their friends) with books and words then who am I to complain?

Books added to the Rainbow Library wish list:

The Adventures of Abney and Teal Brilliant Boots and Bop’s Hiccups

Doodle Bites by Polly Dunbar

Books added to the library:

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The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade. This book is perfect for the library. The children know the characters. The illustrations are beautiful and full of detail to spark their imagination. They could easily look through this book independently and imagine their own story lines. The story itself is complex enough to encourage questions and discussions and to introduce new vocabulary. It’s a winner.

Do you have suggestions of any more I could add? Please do let me know.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers – I Heart School

23 Jan

Today is a very special day – it’s Martha’s first day at school and she is SO excited! But first there are clothes to choose and a brand new bag to pack. But…what about Martha’s bunny brothers? How will she stop them from missing her while she’s gone? Could a Happy Bunny Club be just the answer?

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I heart Martha! And I heart Clara Vulliamy for creating such a positive book for little people. The book’s blurb describes it as ‘beautifully sunny and positive’ and it is exactly that. And more!

It is so refreshing to find a book about starting school that is packed with positive experiences. There are no nerves, no tears, no imagined scenarios of school trauma here. Not on Clara’s watch! In this book Martha can’t wait to go to school and is full of the excitement of the morning’s preparations.

And what fun she has! There are so many favourite things to choose from and so much to do to get ready. Each page is like a little party, bursting with colour and collage and pattern, celebrating the things that young children hold dear. Their favourite toys, their favourite clothes, the adventure of breakfast and the dreams of the future.

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I love the way Martha talks. She waves out and chats directly to you about her crazy day. The speech beautifully emulates children’s speech, without going over the top or becoming patronising, so you get the energy and excitement and character bouncing out at you from page one.

I think the key to the success of this book is Clara Vulliamy’s ability to absolutely get children. Martha and the Bunny Brothers is testament to her ability to put herself right into their shoes (or spotty wellies) and portray their thoughts, characters and imaginings through her text and illustrations. When Martha finally makes it to school she can’t imagine the bunny brothers going about their day without her. Instead she freeze frames them waiting for her return. How true to life! Children really do live in the moment. And what a perfect way to show Martha’s character.

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So a big rhino hurrah from me for a book bursting with colour, energy and fun that portrays children positively and perfectly.

In honour of Clara’s genius book and Martha’s sunshine approach to life, I have made a mini Martha to remind me to always look on the sunny side.

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Clara’s website is just as sunshiny as her books. Check it out here.

Source: Our bookshelves.

This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers

14 Jan

“Wilfred owned a moose. He hadn’t always owned a moose. The moose came to him a while ago and he knew, just KNEW, that it was meant to be his. He thought he would call him Marcel.”
Most of the time Marcel is very obedient, abiding by the many rules on How to Be a Good Pet. But one dark day, while deep in the woods, someone else claims the moose as their own…
Is Marcel really Wilfred’s pet after all?

This Moose Belongs to Me is a brilliantly fun book that treats children as totally capable thinkers. It doesn’t patronise them. It isn’t a fluffy gentle book with a happy ending. It challenges. With words they will have to think about, ideas they will have to ponder, illustrations that they will have to unravel. This is a book that will encourage children to think and process what they are seeing and hearing. Hurrah!

Oliver Jeffers doesn’t simplify language for children. They will come across wonderful words that they may be unfamiliar with, like dumbstruck, enraged, proximity, compromise and PERILOUS! The language structure will need breaking down and even the illustrations themselves may be in an unfamiliar style and need their own unlocking.

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I too had to ponder over this text:
“The moose had a very good sense of direction, and Wilfred did not. And because the moose was particularly poor on Rule 7 [subsection b]: maintaining a certain proximity to home, Wilfred quickly learned to bring some string along on their outings so he could find his way back again.”

This doesn’t mean that this book is ‘too hard’ for small children. Quite the opposite. It is funny and beautiful and perfect for exploring together. It becomes a very interactive read.

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When Wilfred gets himself into a perilous situation he thinks about various options of escape. His thought bubble contains images rather than words, prompting children to examine the illustrations, discuss what the images in the thought bubbles might mean and whether or not they would be feasible routes of escape. They are encouraged to interact with the book, decode images and have their own opinions. All whilst laughing at crazy Wilfred and his zany ways. Beautiful!

And of course, in true Oliver Jeffers style, there is an element of wry humour throughout and a lovely last twist at the end. What more could you want from a book?

Source: Our lovely local library.