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Christmas Countdown Week 1

9 Dec

The Advent Book Tree of Joy is working its magic again this year. With one book to open each night in the build up to Christmas, the first week has brought back some old favourites…

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Are You Ready For Christmas

Santa is Coming to Sussex

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me

Winter’s Child
(For a chance to win a copy of Winter’s Child, visit my previous post!)

And introduced some new…

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The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson (Macmillan) is a joy to read. A heart warming story that captures the essence of the school play beautifully. Told from the point of view of a little boy who is not entirely sure what his role is, children will relate to and laugh along with the ups and downs of rehearsals. It is also brilliantly funny for any parents and teachers who have been through one too many school Christmas shows in their time -the illustrations show the truth behind the tinsel. Nose-picking, wardrobe malfunctions, grumpy angels and the small child in his own world in the middle of the stage. With loads going on in Rebecca Patterson’s full of character illustrations, I think this is one we’ll come back to year after year in the build up to our own Christmas Show. It also makes a really awesome present for stressed out teachers at this time of year!

Usborne Christmas Stories for Little Children
Look at that… for children! Not for boys or for girls but actually for all children. Woo hoo!!! I love that this book has been marketed for kids and is beautifully non gender-stereotyped. This collection of six stories is a lovely addition to our advent tree. Mollie loves the humour in the stories and I love their traditional Christmas feel. Fun stories that celebrate trying your best, believing in yourself and being kind to others. What’s not to love?

Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Santa’s Elves (Templar).
This book is AMAZING!
Written by Santa’s elves (with a little help from Christopher Edge) Santa’s Christmas Handbook contains everything he needs to know to make the Christmas deliveries run smoothly. With help on reindeer care, navigation, present refilling and delivering, rooftop and chimney safety and a full explanation of all the new gadgets on Santa’s sleigh, I’m pretty confident that Santa is going to have the easiest Christmas Eve yet. The book contains loads of fun information, flaps to lift, games to play and even an insta-chimney. There really is tons to look at and play with in this book. I am hooked!

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A perfect Christmas Eve present to keep over-excited children entertained and really build up the magic.

Source- Santa’s Christmas Handbook, The Christmas Show, Usborne Christmas Stories for Little Childrenall bought for The Advent Book Tree of Joy.

Gigantosaurus

29 Apr

I grew up with The Land Before Time. It’s the first film I can remember seeing at the cinema and one that I watched over and over on video. I loved those dinos! Such characters!

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So when Gigantosaurus arrived I was instantly whipped back to the eighties and my adventures with Cera, Ducky and Littlefoot. This book feels like a contemporary version of their antics, with all the personality and humour and fun of the film.

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Of course the artwork is stunning and full of character and detail – it’s Jonny Duddle! And I love that the dust jacket from the hardback edition pulls out to a huge dino poster, perfect for classrooms, libraries and kids’ bedroom walls. But the real joy is the language. This book is crying out to be read aloud, preferably by someone who is really good at doing voices and excels at whipping kids into a frenzy of nervous excitement.

Gigantosaurus is full of wonderful repetition and rhyme, with loads of opportunities for calling out, foot stamping and shouting along with the story. The vocabulary is gorgeous with a lovely mix of new language for children to learn and words that you just need to shout out with glee.

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It feels like Duddle has sat in on a lot of crazy reception classes and watched what really gets the children going. He seriously knows his audience and exactly how to write for them. In fact, it’s as if he has been watching my daughter’s class while they roar their way through their pirates topic with their crazy teacher who thinks she has failed if every child hasn’t bounced with joy each day. And that’s where this book belongs. In that room of fun and adventure, where 28 children can roar and stomp and shout along with the story, run their fingers over the art work and run off to build their own dinosaur look-out in the playground. Their book of the week next week is Duddle’s Pirate Cruncher. I think I’ll deliver this one to them in preparation!

THUD! THUD! THUD! ROAAAAAR!!!!

Source: kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing.

Lift the Flap books with a difference

17 Mar

I love quirky lift the flap books. I love it when they are smart and innovative and have beautiful design. When the flaps are really incorporated into the concept of the book and stretch the minds of the readers.

Three of my recent favourites are Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? by Craig Shuttlewood (Templar), Little Tree by Jenny Bowers (Big Picture Press) and Peep Inside the Zoo from Usborne. They are very different books but all deliver wonderful design and use the flaps to create something unique and delicious.

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Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? initially appears to be a book where children lift a flap to discover the hidden character on each spread. Young children love this concept and it offers a brilliantly interactive reading experience for little ones. But this book doesn’t stop there, it gives oh so much more. Each beautifully designed double spread shows a different habitat – a tree, the desert, underwater, even deep space- and children are asked to find the animal that shouldn’t be there. Under the flap on each spread is an out-of-place creature looking suitably bewildered. One of the things I love about this book is the characterisation of these creatures, beautifully done just through their wide eyes. Just look at this bewildered octopus!

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Children can hunt through the book matching the creatures to the correct habitats and giggling over the lost-looking ones in the wrong places. As they are spotted, the creatures congregate in the bottom right corner of the book as visual clues to help children match them to their real habitats. The text is rhyming and each creature on the spread adds a rhyming snippet of their own, a lovely touch which really adds to the humour of this book and ups the appeal for older children.

A perfect spring board for discussion about habitats, animal names, animal groups, or for rhyming games, this has a lot to offer and will appeal to a wider age range than basic lift-and-find books. Full of fun with gorgeous design and detail, Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? will keep adults smiling as well as the children they are sharing it with. Spot on!

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Little Tree is stunning!

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Beautifully illustrated and designed, this is a stroke-worthy book. Following a little tree and it’s surroundings through a year, Little Tree shows children the beauty and wonder of the seasons whilst teaching about life cycles and nature.

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The flaps are used in the way that non-fiction books traditionally use labels – they highlight, reveal and name parts of the illustrations. But Little Tree takes it a step further. Although each double spread looks completely different, each shows the same area in the wood – the growing little tree on the right and a mature tree on the left. Every page turn shows how nature has developed through the seasons. By placing a flap over the same place on each spread, Jenny Bowers has used the revelatory nature of flaps to show children how a tree changes over a year. The flap covering a hole in the mature tree trunk shows an insect in winter, a nest with eggs and then chicks in spring, birds in flight in summer, and then a squirrel and a mouse using the empty nest. This really gives the book a sense of progression and development and opens up a world of discussion points.

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There is so much to look at and talk about in this book. The gentle rhyming text, the creatures that appear across the pages and under the flaps, the developing little tree and the changing seasons, the colours that are used to such wonderful effect. This really is a joy to share and explore. It would be perfect to share with a class of children for a topic on seasons, life cycles, or colours. Imagine the art work or poetry this could inspire. Imagine, imagine, imagine.

Peep Inside the Zoo is a finding out book with a difference.

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Like Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be?, Peep Inside the Zoo speaks directly to the reader, asking them to explore the zoo. Each spread focuses on a different species at the zoo and uses the flaps to give children fun facts and additional information.

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Little peep holes add interest and give you a sneak peek at what’s to come on the next page. With so much to look at and learn about on each page, this will appeal to a wide age range and grow with children as they access the book in new ways.

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Also perfect for that tricky stage where children are just learning to read independently and want small chunks of text that doesn’t talk down to them. Bravo!

You know what else is great about all three of these books? They are not gendered! They are beautiful, innovative, fun and for all children. Hurrah for that!

Source:
Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing, now heading to The Rainbow Library.
Little Tree – kindly sent for review by Big Picture Press, now heading to The Rainbow Library.
Peep Inside the Zoo – purchased for Rhino Reads shelves.

The Odd One Out

27 Jan

Ah, spotting books. Those delicious non-fiction-with-a-twist gems. So much potential. And so often… a bit pants.

Allow me to introduce you to the very definitely NOT pants The Odd One Out by Britta Teckentrup.

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This book is Beautiful!
It lives up to the potential of the genre and delivers something truly stunning. Its cloth-effect cover and stylish artwork make it especially stroke-able. You’re stroking the picture now, aren’t you!
I don’t blame you.

And inside doesn’t disappoint. Each double page spread shows a different animal with one odd one out. One of the tortoises has fallen asleep, one lemur is cross-eyed, one rhino is having a little sit down. Yes! Rhinos!

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The real joy is in the illustration and design of the book. Big Picture Press pride themselves on producing children’s books that are works of art and The Odd One Out fits the bill beautifully.

Finding the odd one out becomes progressively harder as the pictures become more complex- the lemurs really got me! I love that each page gives you the collective name for the animals – a rabble of butterflies, a stand of flamingos, a crash of rhinos. Who knew that a group of pandas is called a sleuth? Or a cauldron of bats? A lovely touch that widens the appeal of the book to include older children.

Due to be published in March 2014, add this one on to your wish-list. You won’t be disappointed.

Source: kindly sent for review by Big Picture Press

Are You Ready for Christmas?

11 Dec

Ooooooo this book is pretty!

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I appreciate that’s not the kind of thought out, meaningful and heartfelt review I usually produce on here. But it’s Christmas, and at Christmas time I like a bit of pretty! I love the glitter and the window displays and the handmade decorations and the metallic sheen on everything. I like the sparkle and the shine and the prettiness! It makes me smile and feel warm inside -all excited and festive.

If you love a bit of Christmas pretty, then Are you Ready for Christmas may well be the book for you! It has a brilliant blend of traditional subject matter and contemporary design and is beautifully illustrated with Helen Lang’s contemporary looking line drawings.

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The gentle little pop ups appear on every other page, with lovely use of foiling with pink and silver metallics throughout, building to a grand-finale-pop-up-of-joy which I won’t spoil for you. It’s too delicious!

Are you Ready for Christmas tells the tale of Reindeer visiting his friends to check whether they are ready for Christmas. Mouse, Squirrel and Dove are busy collecting last minute decorations before the festivities begin. But Reindeer realises he has forgotten his job and hasn’t done his own preparations. His friends save the day in a gorgeous pop out page of festive prettiness and smiles.

The thing I love most about this book is that it fits snugly across a huge age range so is perfect for bringing out year after year and cuddling up and reading together. The board book format makes it accessible for all ages and the rhyming story is simple enough for very young children, but with a concept and design that will still appeal to older children. And adults who like a bit of Christmas pretty!

This is a very beautiful book sure to leave everyone with a festive glow and a warm smile.

Source: kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing

Winter’s Child by Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith

7 Dec

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A haunting Christmas book from Templar by Angela McAllister and Kate Greenaway medal winner Grahame Baker-Smith, Winter’s Child is beautiful. From the moment you look at the cover you know you have something special. The paper has a metallic sheen and catches the light beautifully and Baker-Smith’s illustrations are magical. His fusion of drawing, painting and digital techniques creates a unique style that makes the real seem imagined. He makes magic. This book takes the magic dreamlike qualities of winter and brings them to life, transforming them into intricate glittering illustrations. With so much detail to soak up on every page this is a book to savour slowly, preferably with some page stroking and a large glass of mulled wine.

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Tom loves winter and wishes it could last forever. Everyday he races out to play in the snow and skate on the ice. But his mother is worried about Nana. It is too cold for her and winter has lasted too long. One day Tom meets a pale boy with ice-blue eyes and they play together in the snow, making snow and ice sculptures. Tom tells the strange boy that he doesn’t want winter to end and everyday the boy appears again to race with Tom through the snow and ride on the back of reindeer. But each day there is less food and wood for the family to use, and soon enough there is nothing left. Tom realises that his Nana, and the whole family, need spring to arrive in order to survive. He explains why he no longer wants to play to his wintery friend who disappears into the snow saying, ‘Spring can not wake until Winter and his child are asleep.’

A delicious play on the Jack Frost story that has the warm feel of a remembered traditional folk tale with a contemporary look. This book is going to be a firm favourite for years to come.

Source: kindly sent for review by those clever folk at Templar.

My Zoo by Ellen Giggenbach

2 Nov

My Zoo by Ellen Giggenbach is a stunner of a playbook. Just look at this deliciousness:

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It takes the concept of the press out and play book and mixes it with stunning contemporary illustration and design, and Templar Publishing’s incredibly high production values to create this:

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Everything about this book oozes thought and quality. The paper art is innovative and gorgeous, the cover doubles up as a play board and there are brilliant inspiring ideas for play included. There are fun added details like admission tickets and a joey that slots into the kangaroo’s pouch. And, unlike most press out and play sets, it can be put together by a patient four year old. Hurrah.

I don’t usually put pictures of my daughter on this blog but this picture says more about how she feels about this book than I can write with words.

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Well done, Templar. Another cracker!

Source: Bought for the very proud little lady above.

Magic books at the Rainbow Library

16 Oct

Books are magic! Anyone who loves books knows how therapeutic they can be, how they can grab you, open up hidden worlds, teach you about yourself and the person you could become. But today I learned that books can actually Be Magic.

This morning I took a box of new books to one of the Rainbow Library nurseries. I stayed for a play and to read some books to the children. There are a lot of new kids at the nursery and they are all very, very small. Just little dots running around with their teddies and their blankets. I wasn’t sure how they would react to someone they didn’t know coming in to read with them. But I did have a secret in my bag that I thought might help!

When I go in to read at the nursery I like to plonk myself down on the comfy cushions, spread some books out on the floor and let the children come to me if they want to. It means I sometimes just get three or four children and sometimes I get jumped on by twelve of them. But it does give them the chance to explore the books at their own pace and to choose what they want to look at. Today I put out a few of the books from the That’s Not My… series and a couple of Maisy books, hoping they would be simple enough yet interactive enough to attract the attention of the little ones. And sure enough, a few bottoms edged over to me and soon we were all giggling and pretending to be robots.

Then, I released my Secret Supply!

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Magic books! Books where the children had to join in, make the magic work, turn the pages, interact with the characters, the storyteller, the books themselves. And oh how they loved it! And oh how we laughed and oooohed and aaaaaahed.

Press Here is a very different book. It is a book that I think every teacher should be given when they complete their training. It should be kept in their cupboard and brought out on rainy days, at wet play, or when the children (or the teacher) need some magic. Because that is exactly what it holds between those deceptively simple covers. Magic!

The idea of the book is to involve the children in its progression. Each page asks them to interact with it. Press here, shake the book, tip it to the left. As the page turns the children can see the effect of their actions. The dots have multiplied, or tipped to the side of the book or changed colour. Such a simple idea, yet pure genius. And really, really good fun! It was like giving them a gift. Their faces lit up, they squealed with delight, they sat with their eyes wide and their mouths wider, they threw themselves backwards giggling.

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Their reactions to the magic were contagious. Children turned to watch, came over to join in. It really was magic. It drew in children that hadn’t given the books a second glance before. It isn’t a normal book or a usual reading experience. Yes, we usually end up dancing and giggling and doing crazy actions when we read together at the nursery, but we don’t usually shake the books, or tip them upside down, or all sit in a circle and blow on them. Children were watching. Our reading had become a show. And I hope that they saw that books are fun. That books are interactive and they make you giggle and sit wide-eyed and bounce on your bottom with excitement.

It was interesting to see how the children reacted to the books after Press Here. They were instantly more involved, wanting to interact with the books and touch things on the page and see what happened. It was like they had learned that books work best when you interact with them, that they are more fun when you get involved. (Magic!)

Keep Out! Bears About! was an absolute hit. It is a brilliant concept which involves the children directly in the story – are they sure they want to carry on? Are they brave enough to go through that dark wood, even if there might be bears? Straightaway the children understood the concept and joined in. “This book looks ever so scary. Are you sure you want us to read it?’ begins the book. “Yes!!!!” Cried the children, and we were off. They were huddled around the book and lifting flaps and calling out and having a conversation with the book. These children are two and three year olds, fully engaged in a conversation with a book. Eat that Mr Gove! (Until the bears came and we all had to hide Very Quickly!)

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Oh No is also a very interactive book but again it works in a different way. This book has no words past the title Oh No! Each page shows a double page scene which the children can alter by turning a transparent page and moving a section of the design. So a girl buying helium balloons can be moved to float off into the sky, and a gorilla can be released from its cage at the zoo. Can. The control and choice is in the hands of the children. They get to make their own story happen on each page, and then they can undo and repeat their actions. Liberating! Exciting! Fun!

Once they got the hang of how it worked the children sat together with this book and explored it on their own while I read to a small dot with a blanket. They took ownership and control of their own stories, and they loved it! I love this book for being different and for it’s genius design, but mostly for giving the children that experience of making their own stories.

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Nahta Noj’s The Lion and the Mouse gave the children a similar experience of control and involvement. This book is so beautiful and bright, the colours and contrasts are stunning enough to draw in any child. But when you combine the artwork with peep holes and a butterfly with lion eyes, you have a winner! The book tells the traditional tale of the lion and the mouse helping each other, but with a Templar-twist. The peep holes and cut pages allow the children to move the story forward as they turn the page, transforming a lion’s mane into berries and giving them the power to rescue the mouse from the lion’s claws and release the lion from the hunter’s net. It’s a lovely concept, giving the children real involvement in the book but without losing any of the story. A beautiful combination.

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I hope that the children I read with today learned that books are fun. I hope they saw that books are full of magic and you never know what a book might hold. I hope they learned that you can be actively involved in a story and the story can stay with you. And that sometimes you have to sit on a book so the bears can’t get out..
Big lessons for such little people. But books can do that, because they are magic!

As I left, one little boy piped up “will you bring that magic button book again next time?”

Source: Press Here – kindly donated to The Rainbow Library by Helen Dineen.
Keep Out! Bears About! – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s books.
Oh No! – from the Rhino shelves, recommended by Loll at Storyseekersuk.
The Lion and the Mouse – Kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing.

More Fab Female animal characters

21 Jun

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The quest to highlight positive female animal characters in picture books continues. I have received brilliant suggestions through twitter and comments on my previous posts, thank you so much to everyone who is joining in the hunt. Between us, we have sourced some fabulous female crocodiles. But I am still yet to track down that elusive female rhino. Perhaps I am the only one? And I am yet to be realised in a book, although I do think I have the character for it. Alas, the search continues on that front. But I do have some corkers to share with you here. Today I have a brave and heroic female dog, and a cat who isn’t afraid to show her true feelings. Next up is a mighty raccoon and I also have it on very good authority that a female gorilla is on her way over to the Rhino reading room. I shall keep you posted on that matter. For now, I give you….

Bella Bones from Bella and Monty – A Hairy, Scary Night by Alex. T. Smith

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Alex T. Smith is a very clever soul who is making his second appearance in the round up of strong female animal characters. That alone entitles him to use the name Sir Alex T. Smith of Fabulousness. I wonder if he will? His Ella is a work of feminist genius and should be required reading for all 4 year olds. Gove shouldn’t be messing about with breaking the curriculum, he should be getting a copy of Ella into every reception classroom. Anyway, I digress.

Sir Alex T. Smith of Fabulousness is clearly a feminist. He has created yet another strong female role model for young children. Bella is a dog who loves life and isn’t afraid to live it to the max. She isn’t frightened of anything and doesn’t let anything get in the way of fun. But…her best friend, Monty Mittens, is a scaredy cat. He is scared of EVERYTHING. Luckily, Bella reads books and is very intelligent (as all true feminist icons are) and she boldly leads Monty into the night and explains away his fears using a beautiful mix of knowledge and imagination.

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The traditional gender roles of nervous, passive girl and brave, bold boy have been reversed with style. The illustrations are gorgeous and quirky and Sir Smith’s humour is always apparent. Bella and Monty provides another example of a female dog and a male cat. When I read this book with children there was no confusion over genders, perhaps due to the illustrations portraying their gender, maybe because they are so well characterised. Perhaps because these children are now so used to me throwing books at them that challenge their assumptions? Whatever the reason, the children didn’t question a female dog and a male cat. and it felt like progress. Hurrah for a book with a strong female animal character and a reversal of typical gender assumptions!

Source: The Rhino-shelves, thanks to a recommendation by ReaditDaddy

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Olive from Olive and the Bad Mood and Olive and the Big Secret by Tor Freeman
Olive is a cat who knows her own mind. She is strong-willed, confident and not afraid to be herself. Olive and the Bad Mood begins with Olive tripping over her shoelace and landing with a button-popping bump. She is Not Impressed. She is now in A Very Bad Mood. As she stomps along she meets her friends one by one and takes out her frustration on each of them in turn. They catch her bad mood and all is not well. But, hooray! A sweet shop and a bag of jelly worms that saves the day. Almost!

In Olive and the Big Secret Olive can’t quite contain the temptation to tell a secret and so starts a chain of blabbing that leads right back to the start.

I love the humour in the illustrations- Olive’s physicality and facial expressions, the extra long giraffe-sized straw, Matt the dog singing as he changes after swimming. The joy of these books, though, is the lack of gender stereotyping. There’s an even mix of boys and girls and all the characters wear bright clothes. No pink princess dresses here. Olive in particular wears very fetching dungarees and Matt has a gorgeous floppy hat. It’s also refreshing to see the characters playing with a mix of toys regardless of gender.

Olive is a great character to use to step away from the gender stereotypical passive girl characters. She is confident, self-assured and not afraid to stand her ground and show her feelings. If she is grumpy, you will know about it. It’s great to see a female character being given the freedom to be wrong, make mistakes, feel frustrated and be bad-tempered and yet come out the other side. After all, that’s what happens to children every day, it is how they learn when they are young and it should be reflected in their books.

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Hurrah for Tor Freeman representing a strong female animal character and showing children being children.
And… wait for it… There is a female crocodile! Whoop!

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Source: Both kindly sent for review by the smiley souls at Templar.

Hans and Matilda by Yokococo

19 May

This book ticks all the boxes for me. It has a strong female animal character, it is quirky and clever, both in design and concept. It is a book that begs to be stroked, makes you smile and makes you think.

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Hans and Matilda was shortlisted for the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award. Guest judge Wendy Cooling called it “A quirky picture book packed with humour and surprises. People, or cats in this case, are not always what they seem.”

There was once a little cat called Matilda. And there was once a little cat called Hans. They were SO different.

Matilda is a very good cat. She is shown in colourful scenes sitting quietly reading her book, watering her garden and sweeping her floor. Hans is the polar opposite, shown up to mischief in greyscale against a black background, with just a hint of red for danger.

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I love the way the pictures echo each other. Matilda and Hans playing with water, both using their brushes.

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But then one night Hans goes too far and causes chaos and calamity at the zoo. Can Matilda save the day? And are they so different after all?

It is hard for me to review this book without ruining it. It is hard to explain why I love it so much without spoiling the joy you will experience when reading it for the first time. So instead I will say this… Go and find it and experience it for yourself. Ask your local bookshop or library or buy it here from Letterbox Library. You won’t regret it.

Source: The RhinoReads bookshelves.