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NNFN – Mad About Mega Beasts

27 Nov

The line between fiction and non-fiction is thin and often blurry. Many non-fiction books use a narrative or other elements of fiction writing to get their information across. Mad About Mega Beasts by Giles ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ Andreae and David Wojtowycz uses verse to create a kind of non linear narrative.

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Children will meet mega beasts such as the giant manta ray, the wooly mammoth and the Siberian tiger. Tucked between an introductory verse and a rhyming conclusion, each double page spread introduces a new mega beast with a bold and bright illustration and a funny verse. Each verse includes some high level information about the mega beasts in a brilliantly child friendly way.

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There’s also a mini beast or two to spot on every page.

A smidge larger than A4, this is a big, bold and beautiful book for children. Full of colour and fun and completely free of any gender stereotyping. Just look at the colours used in the manta ray picture! Delicious!

A lovely way of introducing very young children to finding-out books, Mad About Mega Beasts is the newest in a fantastic series. And my new favourite!

Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher, Orchard books.

National Non Fiction November – Usborne spotlight

5 Nov

Usborne, Usborne… How I do love you!
Usborne publish awesome non fiction. Finding out books, activity books, spotter’s guides, they do the lot…and they do them well! Their design is always spot on and they are immensely interactive, entertaining and kid friendly. Best of all, Usborne are very good at keeping their finding out books clear of gender stereotyping. Their books about animal facts don’t go all pink and sparkly when it’s about kittens or black and shouty when it’s about sharks. These books are for all children. And they are a million times better for it. Bravo, Usborne!

Here’s a round up of some of our favourite Usborne finding out books:

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For little fingers, the Peep Inside series illustrated by Simona Dimitri is stunning. Peep Inside the Zoo and Peep Inside Animal Homes are full of loads of fun flaps to lift and facts to find out. You can read my review of them here.

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Usborne’s Lift the Flap series is a real winner with loads of information and big flaps for children to lift and engage with. This series really makes the most of the format, using the flaps to show children information in an interactive way. This is something I think Usborne really excel at. The books in this range are large – picture book sized, perfect for pre-school children and above. Our favourite is the shark book with it’s strange and menacing goblin shark. *shudder*

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I really love these books! The Usborne Beginners series is a beautiful fit for newly independent readers or children who are just getting the hang of it. These A5 sized books are packed with fascinating facts and the short snappy sentences support independent fact-finding missions – perfect for those early homework projects. There are more than 60 titles in this series, so certainly something for everyone. Each book has a contents, index, and glossary page to help children learn how finding out books work, and a link to websites to explore the topic further. A great mix of photographs and illustrations and a new sub-topic on each double page spread make these books brilliant for reading from cover to cover as well as dipping in and out of. They are wonderful! You can snap up a starter set of 20 books here.

20141105-140048-50448441.jpgFor slightly older children, or children who crave more information, The Usborne Little Encyclopedia of Animals is a beauty of a book with a huge amount of information and loads of links for curious minds to follow to find out more. This is definitely a step up in content but without losing any of the Usborne joy.

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The See Inside range is a stonkingly good series of books covering a wealth of topics. They are a4 sized hardbacks crammed full with information and diagrams and hundreds of flaps to lift to see what’s going on inside. The level of information in these books suits inquisitive minds, and they can get quite technical, but there’s so much to look at that they work across a broad age range. See Inside Your Body was Mollie’s favourite book in the world when she was 3 and she still loves to look through it now nearly 3 years on. They really do grow with children – a sure sign of a quality, well-designed series!

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And last, but certainly not least, are these two gems. The Usborne First Illustrated Maths Dictionary and it’s Science counterpart. These are every parent/carer’s best friend! No more tricky homework explanations- these books are easy to use and have fantastic illustrated examples throughout. The science dictionary explains terms and gives ideas for experiments and projects and the maths dictionary uses plain everyday language to explain and illustrate maths concepts to children (and the grown ups scratching their heads next to them). Brilliant!

Bravo, Usborne! And hurrah for fantastic finding out books!

Source – all books from the rhino reading rooms.

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon

20 Oct

A group of children find a sloth snoring away in their garden. Not knowing what it is, they pile it into their wagon and set off to find out. Two of the children use their imagination to play out where the sloth could have appeared from, while the smallest looks to books to find out what the creature is and where it belongs. Once they have identified the sloth they need to send it home…

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This is a beautiful book that celebrates things close to my heart – children’s imaginations, the power of books, and the natural joy of animals.

Frann Preston-Gannon’s textured illustrations are just delicious. I love the sloth’s smiling sleepy face, the cracked paintwork for the trees and fences, and there’s something very loveable about these faces with their upturned noses and their squishy cheeks.

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She’s done a fantastic job of capturing childhood curiosity and adventure, and really celebrating their imagination and play. The hints hidden throughout the book suggesting where the sloth has come from, and the double page spread of sloth facts give the book an extra level of interaction. And the ending…the ending is delicious!

Sloth Sleeps On is also beautifully inclusive and gives more than a nod to equality. The children are wearing non-gender-stereotyped clothing and their imaginative play isn’t gendered. They ask Dad what he thinks but he is too busy cleaning. The other adult pictured is hidden behind a newspaper and is gender-neutral.

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I’m happy to see some diversity in the illustrations too- how refreshing to see children of colour in the book. These purposefully ambiguous characters leave it open to the reader, allowing them to find themselves in the book. This could be a family with two dads. It could be a foster family or family with adopted children. It could be a lot of different things because Frann Preston-Gannon has thought about diversity and thought about how children see themselves and their families in their books. Hurrah for her!

Source- kindly sent for review by the publisher, Pavilion 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.

Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

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Attention please…! You must all read this book:

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I am newly converted to Hilary McKay’s outstanding writing. She has such a gift for observation, understanding, warmth and wit in her writing. This is a book that feels like coming home.

‘Binny’s life has been difficult since her father died and her dreadful old Aunt Violet disposed of her beloved dog, Max. Her world changed then, to a city flat with not enough space for her Mum, her big sister Clem and her small brother James. Definitely no room for a pet.

Then one day Aunt Violet dies, leaving a small cottage in Cornwall to Binny and her family. Binny finds herself in a new world once more, full of sunshine and freedom and Gareth, the enemy-next-door and the ideal companion for dangerous dares. But Max is still lost in the past, and it seems impossible that she’ll ever find him again…’

Binny is a character that readers can aspire to be like. All of McKay’s characters are so beautifully realised that they jump from the page and follow you around. They get into your head and pull you in to their story, their lives. And then, without your realising it, your lives have become intertwined and you look up from the book, unsure as to what is real and what is written.

McKay is a truly gifted storyteller and she invites you inside the world of Binny and her family through a brilliantly delivered dual narrative. One layer tells the story of Binny and her new enemy, Gareth, as they attempt to pull out a huge barbed fishing net tangled amongst rocks.
The second layer provides the background, the family history and the build up to their mission.

McKay’s writing is pared down to perfection with sentences that surprise with their exactness:
‘For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends. Totally. Inevitable from the beginning, like the shape of a shell.
Only it wasn’t friends; it was enemies.
Binny had known at once that she was looking at her enemy, and the boy had known it too. The understanding was like a swift brightness between them.’

The best children’s writers can place themselves inside the mind of a child. They can remember and imagine what it feels like to be a child, the everyday thoughts, worries, dreams and actions. McKay has the fantastic ability to master this across a wide age range. James, six, is portrayed beautifully. His dreams and inspirations, his ideas and imagination feel plucked straight from the mind of a creative six year old boy. Binny is adventurous and headstrong and big sister Clem is full of determination and self belief, and McKay excels at Gareth’s anger and hurt, his fear and bravado.

McKay really *knows* children. She writes about the things that affect children and play on their minds. And that makes her books so perfect for child readers. They can see themselves in these books. They can read about characters believably going through the same experiences as them. And they can see these characters come out the other side, they can watch them develop and learn and grow alongside them. By including positive images of older children, teenagers and adults, McKay is filling her books with role models and inspiration. I can’t wait for Binny in Secret to be published so I can catch up with them all again

You can get your copy of Binny for Short here.

Try the Casson family stories too. The first book, Saffy’s Angel is stunning.

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

Opal Plumstead by Jacqueline Wilson

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I’m going to let you in on a secret… This is the first Jacqueline Wilson book I have ever read. Gasp! My year 6 book group were horrified when they found out, and spent a year howling at me and plying me with recommendations. Somehow I still remained a JW virgin until this book came along. But what a way to start! Tying in beautifully with the centenary of the Great War, this is Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book. And it had me hooked from the very first page!

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Opal Plumstead is the Matilda for this generation. A book I wish had been available to me when I was growing up. I longed for a book like this where I could see characters who thought like me, and learn about a world I could be a part of. Books are such magical tools in this way – they show us who we are and who we could become. They inspire, comfort, open the mind and create hopes and dreams. Opal Plumstead offers the reader all of this, and more.

Opal Plumstead is a scholarship girl. She is always top of the class but wants more from life than the prescribed future of marriage or a career in teaching. She is intelligent, self aware and proud of her individuality and dreams of university. When her family’s circumstances change she is forced to leave her school and her dreams behind to work in a sweet factory. Opal has to take on new responsibilities and find her way in a world of older, more street-wise girls. But through this new working life Opal meets Mrs Roberts, the factory’s owner, and is whisked into the women’s rights movement, meeting Mrs Pankhurst and her fellow Suffragettes. Perhaps Opal will have a bright future ahead of her after all?

On one level Opal Plumstead does what the Enid Blyton books did for me as a child – introducing children to a whole new era of language and culture and history. But Opal Plumstead does so much more than describe a character in a historical setting. It introduces the reader to inequalities of the past in a highly accessible way, enabling them to compare their own lives and make connections with social and political situations in the world they live in now. Opal Plumstead‘s themes introduce the reader to feminism, the realities of poverty, injustice, corporate greed, the economic class system and social politics, as well as more domestic ideas such as the reversal of the parent/child relationship, the need for positive role models, unhappy adult relationships and a new generation’s hope to do things differently.

Opal Plumstead, along with her sister, Cassie, are fantastic characters for children to relate to and emulate. Readers will be able to find shared characteristics; see themselves and confirm who they are and who they could become. Opal feels misunderstood by her teachers and her family and longs to find a soulmate who she can share her dreams and ideas with. Opal and Cassie have strong self awareness and know who they respect (and who they don’t). Despite set backs and circumstances that are thrown at them, they stay true to their beliefs and follow their dreams with passion and integrity. As Cassie says, “I’m the heroine in my own life and I’ve got to live it the way I want”. Isn’t that what we hope for in any role model?

Opal Plumstead is a thoroughly enjoyable read with a storyline that had me in turns hiding behind my hands waiting for the inevitable disaster and sitting up into the small hours racing through to the end. But more than that, it’s an important book that will show a new generation of children that they can look at the world they live in and make it better.

I am officially converted. *orders 99 books*.

Published on 9/10/14 pre-order your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Random House

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

Rosie Revere, Engineer

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Hurrah!!!! A book that shows a female engineer! In fact, Rosie Revere, Engineer (Abrams) provides two stonkingly good role models for children and celebrates the history of women engineers and aviation pioneers. Shortlisted for the Little Rebels award 2014, it is a book that has the potential to empower children and change their future.

Shy Rosie Revere dreams of becoming an engineer. She collects treasures for her engineer’s stash and alone in her room she creates gadgets and machines from all her broken bits and pieces. Worried about being laughed at and failing, Rosie keeps her inventions to herself. Until great-great-aunt Rose comes to stay.

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Great-great-aunt Rose built planes during the war and inspires Rosie to invent something bigger and more daring than ever before.

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By handing down her notebook of role models throughout history, and sharing that all-important life lesson of persistence, Great-great-aunt Rose teaches Rosie (and the reader) to always follow dreams and never give up.

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Andrea Beaty’s inspirational story full of diverse characters, positive role models and stereotype-squashing, is matched perfectly with David Roberts’ absolutely gorgeous illustrations. This book deserves to become a feminist modern classic.

Imagine a young girl who is fascinated by science and loves to design and invent and create. Imagine this book in her hands. Empowering, much?? In a world where gender stereotyping is still sadly rife, young children need all the positive role models and gender-stereotype-free messages that they can get. Bravo to all behind Rosie Revere, Engineer!

As an added bonus, the hardback copy reveals this under the dust jacket. Beautiful!

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Source – bought from Letterbox Library to inspire and empower my own little engineer. You can get your copy here

Welcome to the Family

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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.

Pea’s Books of Pure Joy by Susie Day

17 Jun

I spend a lot of time looking for and championing inclusive books. Books that show real people and real characters, reflecting the true diversity of our world. If I could have given you an overview of what I have been personally looking for, it would have looked a bit like this:

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I can’t tell you how happy the Pea books make me. If only there had been books like these around when I was a girl. I would have devoured them then as joyously as I am savouring them now.

Full of wonderfully diverse characters that are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, Susie Day’s Pea books are the books I am foisting upon everyone at the moment. My friends, their children, my year six book group, my daughter’s school librarian, anyone who will listen to me! Because I think these books are really important and I think people deserve to be able to read them as much as the books deserve to be read.

I am so thankful that my daughter will be able to read these when she is a bit older. She will be able to read about real children who grow up in diverse families that are brilliantly unique and creative and imaginative and caring and fun. She will be able to read about a family like hers – one that has two mums. And she probably won’t even notice because the story won’t be about that. The story will be about things that she will care about – finding a new best friend, settling in at a new school, having a really good birthday party, planning what job to do as a grown up.

Hurrah to Susie Day for creating genuinely diverse characters that are refreshing, relevant, unique and casually included. For me, casual inclusion is when you have no idea that you are about to meet these characters. When the book is all about the story and the fun. When the book looks like it could fit nicely in to any child’s bookcase or any school shelf and looks enticing enough for the child to want to grab it and read it. The inclusion is secondary to the story itself and the book is something that children want to read. Congratulations to Susie Day – she’s nailed it on all those fronts.

This is storytelling at its best. Brilliantly skilful writing, fantastic characters, and a series that you will never want to end. I am off to read the latest book in the series, Pea’s Book of Holidays. Treat yourself to a few copies – you’ll be wanting to share!