Tag Archives: Alex T Smith

World Book Day celebrations

5 Mar

So now that exciting announcement is off my chest and I’ve done a little happy dance, let’s get down to World Book Day business.

World BookDay isn’t all about dressing up as your favourite book character, or for us parents, desperately trying to cope with a last minute costume change. It is about celebrating books and fostering and encouraging reading for pleasure.

So for WBD this year I am:

Buying some books
What a hardship!!
I have ordered some books from my wishlist via Hive.co.uk. A brilliant website that supports indie bookshops and doesn’t rip off publishers and authors. My books will be delivered for free and a percentage of the money from my order will go to my nominated independent bookshop. Hurrah for hive!

Gifting some books
Mollie will get her WBD voucher today from school and she will be so excited by the idea of choosing her book. But in the meantime, this awaits her…

And for those of you who are zooming in to try and see through the paper (I know who you are)…

Mollie is inhaling books at the moment. She has read a Claude book a night this week and has exhausted her current supplies. I want to encourage her love for reading so here’s the next few nights sorted.

Donating to book charities
Take a #bookselfie and text Read98£2 to 70070 for Readwell, a charity gifting quality books to hospitals and getting them into the hands of ill children. Then nominate 3 mates to do it.
Here’s mine:


Or how about watching a book den being built from the ground up? Head over to @playbythebook on twitter and watch her transform her kitchen into an enormous book den, all for BookAid. Donate here to support Zoe’s efforts and cheer her on. BookAid increases access to books to support literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa, and they really do deserve your support.
Zoe’s doing a grand job so far:


Celebrating books
For the rest of today I’m going to be racing through my review piles and my bookshelves, posting pictures on twitter and writing reviews of books that I love and that I think children will love. Have a look through… maybe you will see something just right for that World Book Day voucher?

Reading books!
Because that’s what it’s all about!
Happy World Book Day, folks! Enjoy!

More Fab Female animal characters

21 Jun


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

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.


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

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.

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!


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

Female animal characters in picture books

6 May

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted about the lack of female animal main characters in children’s picture books. Since then, I have been pondering the impact that gap might have on children. I’m beginning to think that portraying an overwhelming majority of animal main characters as male is more damaging than the more explicit gendered marketing of picture books. At least when books are explicitly marketed at a particular gender you are going into that book with open eyes and the awareness that you are being marketed to as a girl or boy. With animal characters the gender is often not visually obvious and relies on the text. The gendering here is more insidious. The overwhelming majority of animal main characters are male so children are subconsciously learning that male characters are more frequent, more normal, more important. Am I reading too much into this? Possibly. But take any child to the zoo or the farm. Do they automatically call the animals she or he? If they spot a mini-beast or bird in the park do they assume it is a girl or a boy? And is their reaction different depending on the type of animal? Are cats girls and dogs boys? Are all mini beasts male apart from ladybirds who are all female? Do you unconsciously confirm those gender associations with your use of language? Try it, it’s an eye opener.

In this respect, picture books are (unconsciously) reinforcing dated social stereotypes about gender roles and values. But it doesn’t have to be like this and things are slowly changing. There are great books with female animal leads out there. It is possible to even it out a bit by being aware of what you are reading to children and ensuring you include some books with female main characters. And not books that have an animal’s mum or sister in, or a female main character that reinforces negative gender stereotypes, but books that really celebrate their female characters and portray them in a positive light. Over the last two weeks I have been collecting examples of great books that put female animal characters in the limelight or play with traditional gender stereotypes. Here are a few of my favourites.

Ella by Alex T. Smith

Ella is a strong and self assured ladybird who knows how to rock her dots and stand up for herself. Ella is a feminist twist on the traditional Cinderella story, full of positive role models and affirming images for children. This is one of the books that I buy again and again to give to children for birthday pressies. I think every child should have a copy of this book because Ella is such a strong and empowering character. The Cinderella story can often reinforce negative gender stereotypes, but not in the hands of Alex T. Smith. Oh no.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers – I Heart School and I Heart Bedtime by Clara Vulliamy

Martha is a wonderful role model for children because of her immensely positive attitude. She is strong, exuberant and imaginative and inspires children to see the world and their place in it in a positive light. Clara Vulliamy has a real talent for portraying childhood and her Martha books give children a strong sense of seeing their lives represented, and therefore their potential through role models like Martha.

The Maisy books by Lucy Cousins

I love the Maisy books for their primary coloured, gender-stereotype-free happiness. Maisy is a female mouse but in these books gender is, as it should be, largely irrelevant. The characters are far too busy being friends and having adventures together to worry about traditional gender roles. They all wear primary colours, with no particular colours being linked to gender. They all play together, sharing and swapping roles and responsibilities, completely regardless of gender. Hooray! Very young children don’t care about gender, they just want to play. It’s only when they begin to pick up on and absorb society’s view of gender that they start to include it in their play and their thinking. What better way to teach children about everyday experiences than to reflect the way they play – everyone in together, wearing what they want and playing how they want. Lucy Cousins, I salute you.

Doodle Bites by Polly Dunbar

A FEMALE CROCODILE! Who is allowed to flip the prescribed gender roles and be loud and boisterous.
And a male pig who wears pink and is quiet and sensitive. The traditional gender roles have been well and truly swapped around. Interestingly, at 3 and 4 years old, the children I have read this book with sometimes try and reverse the genders back. They are sure Hector is a girl and Doodle is a boy, isn’t she? How quickly the gender programming takes hold! All hail Polly Dunbar for challenging it and showing children that gender stereotypes can be messed with and swapped about happily.

Copy Cat by Mark Birchall

I gave this book a special mention in my original blog post because Mark Birchall has a female dog as the main character and a male cat as her friend. Yes it’s a small thing to have a female dog but it feels subversive and progressive in comparison to the other animal books on the market. He has turned traditional gender assumptions on their head and you can see the power of this when you read it with children. They initially assume that the dog is male and the cat is female. Mark Birchall has illustrated his characters with clothes which helps children visually associate the characters’ gender. I find it sad that they need to reprogram their minds and learn that dog characters can be female and cats male, but hooray for finding a great book that addresses that.

I’m very fond of lists and have started one on this topic. If you can think of any books with a strong female animal character, please leave a comment below, I’d love to add your suggestions.

Primrose by Alex T. Smith

2 Apr

Quick! Look out the window! Do you see that? Do you? It’s ‘sunshine’. I know!! Take a photo of it, quick, the clouds will be back any second.

In celebration of the sun making a very overdue appearance I have a new and deliciously sunshiny book to hug to my chest today.

I give you Primrose by Alex T. Smith.


Fans of Ella are in for a treat with this one as we meet Princess Primrose and her Royal family at the palace. Princess Primrose has everything she could possibly want, including two prancing pink ponies. But life at the palace is sooooo boring! Everyone is terribly serious and properly proper. All Primrose wants is some fun.

Together with her loveable pug dog she tries climbing trees and dressing up and bouncing on the bed, but each time she has a smidgen of fun she is caught by one of the grown ups and made to be a properly proper princess. How very dull! She is not allowed to play games or dig for vegetables or bake cakes. No matter how much she tries. Her family despair. When she is found having a dip in the fountain everybody agrees that something must be done. Time to bring in… Grandmama!


Grandmama’s arrival doesn’t go quite as the family had imagined and soon they are all remembering the importance of giggles and fun.

This is a delicious book. It is perfect for reminding children – and their adults -that the simple things in life are often the most important. It celebrates play and the imagination and having oodles of fun. This book basically shouts ‘look, the sun is shining, work is dull, go out and play and eat cake’ What’s not to love about that?

The style is similar to that of Ella with lots of brilliant and very funny detail and it would be the perfect compliment to Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton’s Princess and the Peas. Percy the Pug dog is comedy genius! Look out for his super-snazzy suit, it’s perfection!

A real winner for me for it’s sunshiny fun and frolics, it’s comedy, the celebration of play and innocence and it’s slap in the face for perfect pretty pink princessness. Priceless.

Primrose is published in April 2013 by Scholastic.

Source: My bookshelves.

Ella by Alex T. Smith

19 Jan

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.


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.


Source: Our bookshelves.