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Shhh! A lift-the-flap book with a difference

21 Oct

We LOVE Keep Out! Bears About! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton. It’s a brilliant concept which involves the children directly in the story – the narrator speaking are they sure they want to carry on? Are they brave enough to go through that dark wood, even if there might be bears? And all the children I have read it with relish the interaction.

Shhh! came first, first published in 1991, but we are very late to the party and have only recently discovered it.

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SHHH! You are about to enter a giant’s castle. Will you get through without waking the giant? Do you dare try?

Based on the familiar story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the narrator leads the reader through the castle, creeping past the characters from the story and peeping back to the previous page to check that they haven’t been disturbed.

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I love the illustrations, with tons of detail and magical things for children to spot. But the true joy of this book is the way it reinvents the way children respond to and interact with a book. It invites them in, right in to the story and the setting. It asks them to get involved and encourages them to play.

Repeated phrases, beautiful interaction and building of tension that leads to a squeal-worthy ending. What’s not to love?

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

Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

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I always feel in safe hands with Jeanne Willis. She has written some of my absolute favourite books – Wild Child, Bog Baby, Susan Laughs – and this one doesn’t disappoint.

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One day, Chick wanders in to the farmhouse and starts browsing the internet. Much hilarity follows as Chick buys unexpected gifts for herself and all the farm animals.

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It’s not long before chick realises that the internet could be a fantastic place to find a new friend. A few clicks later and Chick is chatting with a friendly seeming chick with Best-Friend-Potential. But when they arrange to meet up in the Wily Wood things aren’t quite as chick expected.

I love this book. I really, really do. But initially I was thrown by the lack of resolution in the book. But Mollie wasn’t! She was instantly off imagining high jinks and creative escape plans. It all led to a great discussion of internet safety, stranger danger and which is the best knot to use when tying a stranger’s shoelaces together. And of course THAT is why this book is so perfect. Because Jeanne Willis has empowered the child reader and given them the freedom to think and discuss.

This book has become a firm favourite in this house, asked for again and again. Chicken Clickingbelongs in every primary school and deserves a place on the curriculum. I’ll certainly be buying Mollie’s school a copy. It is a book that will make children laugh but also help them think about important contemporary issues. It is Wonderful! My apologies, Ms Willis, I’m sorry I ever doubted your brilliance.

Source – kindly sent for review by Andersen Press.

Lil’ Merl and the Dastardly Dragon

8 May

Flying Eye books have put together a cracking book by Liam Barrett. They refer to it as a story-activity book. I think of it as an adventure in book format.

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Lil’ Merl is a young wizard called upon to help rescue the king’s treasure from the claws of a Dastardly Dragon. The reader is whipped along for the ride and tasked with guiding Merl through the story by completing activities along the way.

There’s much to love here. The range of activities is impressive. Word games, mazes, number puzzles, dot to dots, spot the differences, colouring pages and mental challenges, as well as pages that encourage children to let their imagination loose.

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I love the mix of story and activity and the imaginative way the puzzles are incorporated into the story. The art work is bright and bold with a contemporary feel and lots to draw children in. The book even feels good! It is big with thick tactile matt pages and raised cover design. Yes, it smells great too – important factors!

Although Liam Barrett has chosen to go down the stereotypical gender role route with his characters, this book oozes kid appeal and will steal the hearts of girls and boys from a wide age range. The puzzles range in difficulty so there’s something here for everyone.

Bright, colourful, packed full of fun, strokeable, and good to sniff. What’s not to love? Beautiful and well-produced, this book would make a stonkingly good present for primary school aged children. But make sure you buy two copies – you’ll want to keep one for yourself!

Source- kindly sent for review by Flying Eye Books/Bounce Marketing.

Chickens Can’t See in the Dark by Kristyna Litten

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Roll up, roll up! Pull up a chair, squeeze in, pass the sweets round, for I have a thing of wonder for you to behold! The fabulous Kristyna Litten has created a picture book with a female animal main character! Yes, it is true! Now hold on to your seats because there’s more…. She’s female, yes, but she doesn’t feel the need to wear pink, or be quiet and peck away in a corner, or to take the word of a cockerel without question. She dares to be different! In short, she is a feminist hen! I can’t tell you how excited I am by this! You may get a sense of it from my excessive use of exclamation marks. (!)

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Over the last few weeks I have been (over)analysing gender in picture books as I read them. I have been blogging about the lack of female animal characters in picture books and the potential effects on readers, and hunting for positive female animal characters. AND I HAVE FOUND A TRULY MARVELLOUS ONE! Chickens Can’t See in the Dark has jumped out as being different from the mould in many ways.

The story centres around our feminist hen Little Pippa, who has been told by her teacher Mr Benedict that chickens can’t see in the dark. Well, Little Pippa isn’t impressed with that at all! She wants to see in the dark more than anything. So she decides to find out for herself. She goes to visit Mr Owl who laughs at her seemingly ridiculous suggestion. But our plucky hen (oh dear) will not give in that easily. Off she goes to find out more. Her inquisitive mind leads her to the library where Miss Featherbrain the librarian tells her that seeing in the dark is merely an old hen’s tale. Still not prepared to give up, Little Pippa hunts for a book of old hen’s tales. And there she finds it – carrots help you see in the dark. Carrots! Off to the farm shop and the pantry she goes, laughed at all the way but determined to test her theory. Soon she has prepared a huge feast of carrot-based cuisine and the whole town arrives to witness Little Pippa prove them all wrong.

What a gal! Resourceful, inquisitive, resilient, determined, brave, sure of her own mind and more than prepared to use it. We could all do with a bit of Little Pippa’s self assurance now and then. Perhaps carrots are the answer?

I love that Kristyna Litten has created such a warm, positive book with a strong inspirational character. I think the message of believing in yourself, following your dreams and never giving up is a hugely positive one to get across to young children, and I think she has done just that beautifully. I’m particularly impressed by the nod to the power of libraries and by the gentle humour found throughout the book. And to be honest, who could possibly resist a chicken wearing glasses and thigh high blue boots? Chickens Can’t See in the Dark is a real winner and one I will proudly wave under the noses of children and adults for a long time to come. Bravo, Ms Litten, BRAVO!

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Ella by Alex T. Smith

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Now this is what I’m talking about! Look at this beautiful book. I haven’t felt this happy since the great cake stall incident of 2010. It looks good enough to eat. (But don’t! I gave the foily red cover a little lick earlier and it doesn’t taste of strawberry jam as I had hoped.)

Still, I think I’m in love with this book.

Ella is a little ladybird with big dreams. But her ugly wasp stepsisters make her do housework all day long, and Ella feels very sad. Then one day the famous Parisian artist Pierre decides to throw a party. And on the day of the Grand Bug Ball, Ella’s life changes forever!

Ella is a ladybird who rocks her dots and her glasses, and can stand up for herself. Her meanie step-sisters tell Ella she’s not going to join in. “Oh yes I am”, she replies. This book is full of positive role models and affirming images for children (and grown ups). It’s the closest I’ve seen to a feminist version of Cinderella for little people. There is no fairy godmother to rescue Ella, no magic to make her dreams come true, just a great friend, a swig of self-belief and a pair of snazzy specs. And hooray for that. Ella needs nothing more to win Pierre’s heart and prove that she is the star of the ball.

The language doesn’t patronise, it is full of wonderful words for little people to learn. Like ‘enchanting’ and ‘spectacular’. The story is full of humour and fun and the message is clear- be yourself, be open to adventure and follow your heart.

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Just like the story, the illustrations are quirky and full of sparkle and fun. There are funky pages of pinks and reds, flowers and hearts but, crucially, it never tips from funky to sickly.

With shiny flowers on the cover, buttons for antennae, and bright, bold illustrations throughout, Ella is a very impressive book about a very groovy ladybird. Alex T. Smith definitely gets my Ronnie rhino hurrah!

In honour of Ella, I have made a little version of her to remind me always to be myself.

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Source: Our bookshelves.