Reviewed by Angela Paull
I’ve always been very lucky that Lucas is a keen reader but during the summer (hopefully sunny) months it’s inevitable that the lure of the outside is stronger and sitting down with a book takes a bit of a back seat for a while. However now we’re firmly in Autumn and days are getting shorter it’s the ideal time to squish up on the sofa and get stuck into a few good books. I was really pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to check out some new releases (and old favourites) from some of our favourite publishers.
Firstly we had a couple of fab picture books from Child’s Play – “Baking With Dad” by Aurora Cacciapuoti and “Little Home Bird” by Jo Empson. We were really drawn to “Baking With Dad” as Lucas loves helping in the kitchen and this is a really fun book. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, so not many words are required. We follow a Dad and his daughter making a “super cake”. I loved the page where all the potential ingredients are pictured and we enjoyed talking through what we would put in our cakes (and equally how it would be daft to put in the socks). The pair of them get messy and silly in the kitchen but produce an amazing looking Birthday Cake at the end of the day. Then there was a twist, as you assume this is going to be a Birthday Cake for Mum, but no it’s for another man. Who knows whether this is a girl with two Dads (as there is a picture at the end of a typical family party at the end) but how refreshing that it’s not stereotypical in any way! This is a really fun book for Pre-Schoolers and early readers – after all most kids love cake so it’s a subject matter that will appeal straight away.
“Little Home Bird” follows Little Bird as he migrates South for the winter. It is illustrated beautifully with bright colours but real emotion too. The pictures carry a sense of the bird’s feelings as he has misgivings about leaving home. He decides that he needs to take all of his favourite things with him and joins the flock with a heavy nest laden with all of his home comforts. Along the way it becomes too heavy and everything but the nest is abandoned or lost (to the benefit of others along the journey). However Little Bird soon realises that there are lots of wonderful new things in his new home. This would be a fantastic book to share with young children if they are facing change of any sort as it shows that whilst things can be scary the unknown can also be fun. Lucas really enjoyed this book and, because it uses simple language, he was able to read and understand it independently.
Flicking through the Child’s Play catalogue was a delight – they have a raft of books covering early years (up to age 8) and learning games. Their philosophy of learning through play shines through their products. Well worth a look.
As Lucas is now starting to read independently I was really interested in the range of “Read it Yourself” books from Ladybird. We had the chance to take a look at three books – one from each of levels 1, 2 and 3. The first thing I like about these books was their size, just right for smaller hands to hold and turn the pages of. Our level 1 book was “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” which has long been a favourite of ours. The illustrations were big and bold, as was the writing which made it really easy to read. The book uses simple words and frequent repetition to reinforce learning. Our level 2 book was “Peppa Pig: School Bus Trip” – this is a story we have read (and watched) many times before. Slightly wordier it was still within Lucas’ capabilities, with a little help at times, and clearly laid out and easy to follow. The Level 3 book was “Planet Earth” and this was a brilliant introduction to the geography and creation of our planet. There were more complicated words (it is a factual subject after all) but the pictures really brought the subject to life. Showing cross sections of earth with clear labels this was a good introductory book for any child interested in how the world/space/weather works. All of these books have an introduction for parents/carers at the beginning, so you can utilise them at their best. I also loved the little quizzes at the end of the books as these help you gauge your child’s understanding of what they’ve read. This is great as books aren’t just about the words but their meaning too!
We also took a look at the “Ladybird I’m Ready for Science” book. This is suitable for age 5+ (perfect for Lucas as he’s 5) and starts to explore the science that’s around us every day. It talks about some of the different branches of science before getting into specifics. These include how plants grow/reproduce, weather, human/animal bodies and the materials that surround us day to day. In every section there is an “investigate” suggestion with ideas for experiments. Given the time of year we plan to go out this weekend and investigate leaves (just one of the many ideas). Packed with facts this is a great book for making kids aware of their world and will brilliantly complement Lucas’ learning at school. It’s refreshingly jargon free too and I daresay most parents could learn a thing or two from it (did you know, for example, that the Great White Shark has a huge mouth filled with rows of about 3,000 jagged-edged, sharp teeth? No wonder Jaws was so scary!!).
Next we had a couple of books from Puffin to look at. Firstly “Oddbods” by Steven Butler and illustrated by Jarvis. The cover of this was such fun and really reminded me of the film “Inside Out”. Behind the cover is a riot of colour and laugh out loud illustrations. It’s a real celebration of differences, a roll call of oddity and strangeness. Each child has a peculiarity – from howling at the moon to super strength – until you get to Zelda who’s the perfectly normal child (yet amongst the others the oddest of the lot!). We both loved this – it’s a fabulously extreme way of getting kids to realise that we’re not all the same and that difference should be celebrated. It rhymes throughout and flows with ease, a super fun read for adults and kids alike.
Unsurprisingly Lucas was quickly drawn to Puffin’s second offering the “Dangermouse Official Sticker Book” – he loves stickers in any way, shape or form and usually ends up plastering them on the table, doors, floors. You name it and its probably part of a sticker graveyard! However, although this book has over 1,000 stickers it really has the feel of an annual about it at the same time. A lot of the stickers are designed for use on specific pages and there are lots of fun games and puzzles too. This would be an awesome book for school holidays as it would keep kids occupied for hours, if not days. There are loads of stickers for just general use too so I expect to see Dangermouse and Penfold popping up all over the house soon but this really is a super book and would make a fantastic gift for all boys and girls as there is something to appeal to everyone amongst its pages.
Now I’m fairly certain that Lucas isn’t alone in his love for Dinosaurs so “Dinosaur Roar” by Paul and Henrietta Strickland (from Pan MacMillan) went down very well indeed. Its jam packed with super dino illustrations and is a great way of demonstrating opposites to young readers. The pictures are full of character too and I’m sure most parents will raise a smile at some of the behaviours on show! It’s simple rhyming words and bold text make it great for Pre-Schoolers or early readers and we had lots of fun finding all the little dinosaurs that were dotted around too. A nice touch was the pull out poster at the end which repeats the entire book on one big sheet – that will definitely be finding its way onto Lucas’ bedroom wall.
In addition to books that are suitable right now I also like to get ahead of myself and seek out books that Lucas might enjoy in the future (good job we’ve got big bookshelves!) or that are just great to have for reference purposes or just general dipping in and out of. The final two books were therefore more for my benefit than Lucas’.
Firstly “I Like This Poem” from Puffin Poetry. Edited by Kaye Webb this is, as it says on the cover, a classic anthology to treasure. The poems included within the volume have all been chosen by children with age ranges from 6-7 year olds all the way up to 15 year olds. With verses written by authors as diverse as Spike Milligan to William Shakespeare there is bound to be something that tickles every reader’s fancy. I like that at the end of each verse there’s a little quote with the reason why the child in question likes it too. This isn’t a book you’d read in one sitting but rather something to grab when the mood takes you or if you’re looking for a poetic slant on any given subject. I can see us making reference to this for the next decade and am sure it will come in useful for homework in years to come! A great source of inspiration and imagination.
Our final book was from Random House – “Where Monsters Lie” by Polly Ho-Yen. This is a book for older children and written from the perspective of 10 year old Effie. Without giving away any spoilers, it follows the disappearance of Effie’s mother from a small lochside hamlet and some of the weird things that happen in the aftermath. Slugs start to appear in their multitude – are they related to a monster in the loch? Is the local legend more than just a fantasy? Effie and her best friend Finn set out to find the truth. Even as an adult I LOVED this story. It is just the right side of creepy to make you squirm a bit but not too much that it will scare you. The characters are all fabulously written and the location described with just the right amount of gloom to keep you on edge. A really great book for older children – I would say 10 to 13 year olds maybe – but with enough content there to satisfy adult readers too. I can’t wait until Lucas is old enough for this one!
This fabulous collection has filled some gaps in our bookshelf and just proves that there really is something for everyone!