Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The 1000 Picture Book Challenge - A June Update

The 1000 Picture Book Challenge - An Update


2017 has been a fantastic year for us so far. Our highlights include:
  • The birth of our third son, Theon, in early June
  • Being shortlisted for the Oh Zoe! Rising Talent Award for The Sword of Complete Awesomeness (http://www.ohzoe.com/shortlist)
  • Our first trip abroad as a family to Disneyland Paris with the kids Gran
  • Reading several hundred books towards our 1000 book goal!
Our goal at the beginning of the Picture Book Challenge was to read 1000 picture books over the course of 2017. Reading roughly three per day would see us hit nearer 1100, and we've been giving it a jolly good go. However, there are many factors that have prevented us from sticking ahead of our goal, many involving work, tiredness, and particularly the impending birth of our third child, and so despite our efforts to increase the number of books in an evening following days when we haven't managed to read any, we've slipped behind a bit.

This does not, however, mean we're giving up. No way. Not even close. We've carried on reading and reading, as well as doing much re-reading too, and we're determined that we're going to beat the 1000 book figure by the end of 2017 as planned, and hopefully raise some money for charity whilst doing so.

There were always two parts to the Picture Book Challenge though - one was doing the actual reading, and the other was blogging about reading. It's the latter that I've found a real challenge (no pun intended), and the main bit I want to update you about here. It takes a surprising amount of time to write up three reviews per night, especially when trying to think of useful things to say, put hyperlinks in, take photos of the kids holding the books, get their comments in, put in an intro and summary etc., and as of writing this I'm something like two and a half months behind with getting the reviews up. Whilst the most important part is undoubtedly actually reading the books, I really want to have the blogging side up there as well as a companion, especially as it provides anyone following our progress with some excellent ideas for what to read themselves as a family.

With that in mind, I'm going to change the way that I put our reviews up, which hopefully should make it all go a bit quicker. Instead of an in-depth review of each story, I'm going to put them in the following format:
  • Title/Author/Illustrator
  • The Story: praising the author's work
  • The Illustrations: praising the illustrator's work
  • Why Parent's Will Love It: replacing 'Chris says', where I talk about what I liked from a parent's point of view
  • What Josh Says: as before
  • What Xander says: as before
Hopefully, a sentence or two on the above will make it easy to catch up on the enormous backlog, and then let me keep up with it as we go along from here on out. That way you still get to know what's awesome about each of the books, but you don't have to wait months to find out why!

It's even more important over the second half of the year to do this because:
  • The aforementioned newborn baby is going to take up rather a lot of time!
  • I am currently exam marking, which takes up a heck of a lot of time in the evenings
  • I have a rather exciting bit of news regarding a writing project that I can't share yet
  • I'm down to be a judge for a book award that is going to eat up my life for several months at some point
  • I'm undertaking another qualification for work that requires plenty of work in the evening
  • I need to sleep at some point
We WILL read 1000 books for the Picture Book Challenge, and this blog WILL detail all 1000 of them! It's been enormous fun to read so many wonderful stories together, and I love getting the chance to promote reading as a family. With the reviews, I'm focusing only on the positives of each book because I firmly believe that every story has something that people will enjoy. Some books are funnier than others, some have better rhymes than others, but EVERY book deserves to be heard about and read by a family somewhere.

Thank you to all the authors, illustrators, publishers, and fellow readers that have helped to share our reviews and news about the Picture Book Challenge - we look forward to you joining us on the second half of our adventure!


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Day 91 (Week 13, Day 7) - Saturday 1st April 2017

Day 91 (Week 13, Day 7) - Saturday 1st April 2017

No books to add to our total today - and sadly that's not an April fool!

Books Read: 175/1000 (17.5%)

Day 90 (Week 13, Day 6) - Friday 31st March 2017

Day 90 (Week 13, Day 6) - Friday 31st March 2017

With the end of today, we're a quarter of the way through the Picture Book Challenge, and our grand total of 175 shows us to be wayyyyyyyyyy down on our target of 1000 books - we must improve!

Of course, the most important factor here is that we're reading together as a family, and that's what I really want to help promote. Reaching the 1000 book goal and helping to raise money for charity will be a very worthy addition to it, but spending time reading as a family is one of my favourite past-times, and to have a record of everything we've done together over the last three months is lovely to look back on.

Thank you for anyone who has commented on either this blog, Twitter, or Facebook, and thank you to the wonderful authors, illustrators, editors, agents, librarians etc. who have made it possible for us to read all these wonderful stories!

Our final three books of the first quarter of 2017 are as follows:

1) The Tree - Neal Layton (Author & Illustrator)

Sometime you read something that seems to hit a whole host of different levels, each of which strikes a proper chord with you, and The Tree is such a fine example of this. It's a very quick read if you take the word count at face value, but you can actually spend as long (if not longer) reading this than any 1000-word book. It's a brilliantly-realised story about the effects we can have on the natural world, and the way we can change our plans to try and live in harmony with it, to share it, and not destroy it.

The story revolves around a woman and a man coming to chop down a tree to make way for a new house, but discovering that their plans will dislodge a host of wildlife from where various species live in this same tree. It's clear from the sorrowful expressions on the faces of the two main characters that they deeply regret their actions shortly after beginning the process of sawing away at the tree when they accidentally dislodge a birds nest, and the two of them set about reworking their plans to find a new solution so that everyone can have a place to live with the tree at the centre.

What I thought quite striking was the fact that it appears the couple simply didn't realise that their actions could result in several species of animal losing their own homes, which would be true of most folk, I imagine. There's no malice at all, just that lack of awareness. It's incredibly heartwarming then to see their change of plans and how they rebuild all the others animals' homes so that they can live together in peace, which is a topic that the children and myself discussed immediately following this story.

It's such a simple story with a powerful message behind it, drawn in beautiful fashion by Neal Layton, and I really felt a warm glow inside after reading it. Utterly worth your time, and utterly worth reading over and over again.

Breathtakingly good!

Chris says: I just loved this. It's utterly heartbreaking when the birds nest falls out of the tree, and so heartwarming when everyone lives together in peace around the tree at the end. Really felt quite emotional with it all!

Josh says: I like that they could all live together.

Xander says: I like trees!

2) Norton and Alpha - Kristyna Litten (Author & Illustrator)

This book is BEAUTIFUL! Both illustrations-wise and story-wise. It almost feels like three different tales in one: one is about the fun of being inventive, one is about friendship, and one is about the wonder of nature, and they all add up to make such a delightful whole!

Josh particularly has often said he wants to be an inventor (as well as a builder, rock star, and princess), so this appealed to him enormously. It made both of them laugh at the thought of Alpha (the dog) being used in an invention, and there were certainly some strange ideas for future inventions being thrown around.

Books like this have so much going on to inspire our children's imaginations and creativity that it's impossible not to be taken with them. Particularly, as I've already mentioned, when the illustrations are so wonderfully beautiful like these!

Wonderful fun to read together before bedtime!

Chris says: This was just glorious fun in so many ways! I loved the quirky illustrations and the way it felt like several types of story in one, and of course the way the kids liked to start thinking about their own inventions again!

Josh says: I would like to be an inventor when I grow up.

Xander says: Woof woof!


Boy oh boy have we learned to look forward to Rob Biddulph's stories! It's the return of Penguin Blue from Blown Away as well, so that's a double bonus!

It's a glorious swashbuckling adventure this time round, as Penguin Blue and friends head off in search of treasure, only to find their ship sinking and things turning a bit more troublesome than they'd expected. A sunken boat on the seafloor provides a ray of hope, if only they could find a way to raise it...

It's such good fun (in perfect rhyme) to sail with this crew one more time (see what I did there?). It's bright and colourful as usual from Rob Biddulph, with those oh-so-fantastic expressions on Penguin Blue and friends. There's humour and excitement thrown in to the mix in equal measure, and we simply can't wait to see what this immensely talented author and illustrator throws together for us next!

Chris says: There are a few authors that we've really taken to with the Picture Book Challenge so far, and Rob Biddulph is definitely one of them. Everyone should be looking out for his stories the next time they go to the library or a bookshop as they're always such fun and so well illustrated!

Josh says: I like how they found the boat at the bottom of the sea

Xander says: Arrrrrrr!

So, to summarise Day 90...

What a fantastic evening of reading! I really do think that this is one of the best sessions of reading that we've had so far for the Picture Book Challenge. The Tree brought us incredible emotional depth and got us thinking about the environment and our impact on it; Norton and Alpha has several different strands of story going on at once that made us smile all the way through; and Sunk! took us on a swashbuckling adventure which saw a sunken ship rescued from the bottom of the sea.

Fun, fun fun, all the way through!

Books Read: 175/1000 (17.5%)

Day 89 (Week 13, Day 5) - Thursday 30th March 2017

Day 89 (Week 13, Day 5) - Thursday 30th March 2017

We're back on with adding to our total today after having a couple of days without progress, so that's excellent news! 89 days in and I'm having trouble thinking of anything interesting and poignant to write in these introductions, so I'll skip most of it and get right on with telling you about what we've read!

1) I'm a Girl! - Yasmin Ismail (Author & Illustrator)

Ah, now, if you want a fantastic book for challenging gender stereotypes then this is a perfect fit! The girl in this story is sporty, intelligent, loud, messy, strong, and forever being mistaken for a boy because of it. Despite her protests, no-one is willing to accept who she is, until she meets a kindred spirit in a boy wearing pink and a skirt at the end.

Seriously, I hate anything that tells a boy or a girl how they have to behave like a member of their sex is 'supposed' to. Well, forget it: if my son wants to dress as a princess then I'm damn well going to let him, stereotypes be damned (I wrote a book about it once, though sadly it's still not good enough to publish). Full praise to anyone who tries to challenge this ludicrous sexism we still seem to have rampant in 2017, damaging our children's minds and destroying their dreams.

I'll stop ranting now so you don't have to listen to me go on too much, and instead praise a book that is both beautiful in text and beautiful in imagery. If you're anything like me, you'll want to shout at the characters who refuse to recognise she's a girl, and will her on as she doesn't let gender stereotypes stop her enjoying what she wants to do.

I really like some of the subtle bits of illustration, such as the fact that the girl (a hippo) has a blue skin tone, and the boy (a lion) has more of a pink hue. It makes a mockery of how pink things are marketed at girls and blue things marketed at boys, and the best part was Josh asking why they thought she was a boy, clearly not seeing any of these stereotypes himself.

Loved this book!

Chris: Wonderful, wonderful stuff! My children will NOT grow up being subject to ludicrous stereotypes, and if they want to do 'girl' things then they'll damn well get to do them!

Josh says: I like how she kept shouting 'I'm a girl!'.

Xander says: I'm a girl! We both are!

2) The Doughnut of Doom - Elys Dolan (Author & Illustrator)

Blimey, if I had to eat a doughnut for everytime we've had to re-read this from Day 89 until I'm actually publishing this post on (embarassingly, six weeks later) Day 137, I'd be one queasy person! Seriously, the kids have read this loads, and I do mean that THEY have read it loads - I'll often find Xander reading his own interpretation out loud, or Josh sitting down with him to give HIS version of events. That's one of the greatest joys of this whole undertaking; watching the kids want to re-read books that we've enjoyed together already.

I've said it before and I'll confidently say it again: nobody, but NOBODY, puts more things happening at once into their illustrations than Elys Dolan! Honestly, there's always tons and tons happening which helps to build up such a busy picture of life in her stories, and the kids have such fun looking out for everything that's happening. And what fun it is indeed on this occasion, being a part of the wacky world that she's created, with it's enormous killer doughnuts and peanut butter sandwich reporters, bringing a monster/disaster movie hybrid into picture book format!

It's bright and colourful, exciting and funny, and has one of those covers that children are physically incapable of seeing and not wanting to immediately pick up and read. You aren't going to go wrong with Elys Dolan's work, and The Doughnut of Doom is guaranteed to entertain anyone with the slightest taste for fun!

Chris says: Just look at that doughnut on the front cover; how could anyone resist? Particularly with so much going on inside! Fantastic fun.

N.B. I'd normally write down here what Josh & Xander both thought of the book, but they literally just started trying to eat me when I asked so I have absolutely no idea! I'm guessing they enjoyed it somewhat though!

3) Monstersaurus - Claire Freedman (Author) & Ben Cort (Illustrator)

A book about inventing monsters? Oh, how could we resist such a perfect opportunity to be inspired into talking about creating our own?! Which is just what we did of course, when we'd finished reading this fun-filled story of one young boy who does just that, even if things start to go slightly wrong...

I'm not entirely sure that I'd want the kids inventing a monster to become their new best friend, even if it works out well for Monty in this book, but I'm 100% behind them reading books like this which help to inspire their imaginations and creativity! It's not surprising really that this works so well when you realise that it's Claire Freedman behind the story (author of Aliens Love Underpants), and Ben Cort's illustrations bring the ideas so wonderfully to life.

Truly, books like this are amongst my favourites because they help take the fun beyond that which we've had reading together, and further on into the kids' playtime. You just know that your children are going to be able to have fun together inventing their own monsters, and that's a great thing to know they have to look forward to!

Chris says: Everyone loves coming up with new creatures when they're little, and Monstersaurus certainly seemed to get my two in the mood for unleashing their creative sides! I feel lucky that I didn't get woken up the next morning by two very excited little monsters!

Josh says: I liked the monster trying to kiss people.

Xander says: I like monsters!

So, to summarise Day 89...

I really do feel that this has been an exceptional day for stories, even compared to the rest of the Picture Book Challenge so far. I'm a Girl! started us off with a wonderful showcase of why gender-stereotyping is utterly ridiculous (no, whatever certain public figures and newspapers try to tell you, there are NOT boy and girl jobs!), The Doughnut of Doom led us on such a fun thrill ride of a disaster-movie-in-picture-book-form, and Monstersaurus had us putting our creative hats on and unleashing our wildest imaginations.

You aren't going to go wrong with this selection of three!

Books Read: 172/1000 (17.2%)

Day 88 (Week 13, Day 4) - Wednesday 29th March 2017

Day 88 (Week 13, Day 4) - Wednesday 29th March 2017

Another evening without any books read - or should I say, without any NEW books read for the Picture Book Challenge. I forgot to pickup some new ones from the library and couldn't find any on the shelves that we hadn't read yet, so we re-read a couple of favourites! Goodnight Digger, I Want my Hat Back, and The Clockwork Dragon to be precise!

They can't count twice towards our total, but it's nice to re-visit a classic (or three!).

Books Read: 169/1000 (16.9%)

Day 87 (Week 13, Day 3) - Tuesday 28th March 2017

Day 87 (Week 13, Day 3) - Tuesday 28th March 2017

No stories read today. It's disappointing but hey, it happens!

Books Read 169/1000 (16.9%)

Friday, 12 May 2017

Day 86 (Week 13, Day 2) - Monday 27th March 2017

Day 86 (Week 13, Day 2) - Monday 27th March 2017

A couple of days off and now we're back again, ready to read some more fantastic picture books!

Here's what we read tonight...

1) Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles - Steve Antony (Author & Illustrator)

I really don't think I'm likely to find a concept that I like more than this all year: a war between green lizards and red rectangles. Why are they warring? How are they warring? Steve Antony, please write the deep and dark history that this topic clearly deserves!

That aside, I really do love when someone creates a story with a premise as madcap as this. Of course it's mad, but it feels perfectly natural in a picture book. 'What are we fighting for?' yells one green lizard before he's squished by a red rectangle. We don't care, of course, we just want to see the absurdly daft idea of green lizards fighting self aware red rectangles. Honestly, just how DO red triangles even fight?! Well, you'll have to read it to have any idea...

In terms of illustrations, there's really only two colours in this book, which helps identify the two sides very well indeed (lizards and rectangles not being obvious enough for me, apparently), but they're delightful as you'd expect, and I really can't emphasise just how much I love seeing these red rectangles trying to fight.

Lovely truce and solution to their war at the end, too! Wonderful stuff!

Chris says: Utterly random and fantastic for it. I desperately wish I had this sort of insane creativity!

Josh says: I like the red rectangles.

Xander says: I like the green lizards.

2) Roo the Roaring Dinosaur - David Bedford (Author) & Mandy Stanley (Illustrator)

Well this is an utterly heartwarming tale of giving up something precious for a friend who needs it more! Little Roo goes everywhere with his blanket, Moomie, but when his new friend Wooly needs to patch up his hot air balloon to return home, there's only one solution, leading Roo to make the difficult decision to give up the thing that goes everywhere with him...

I mean, you just can't help feeling good after reading something touching like that, can you? Especially when Mandy Stanley has drawn such darn cute characters to go along with David Bedfiord's words! Josh gave me a huge smile when we'd finished reading it, and I think it had triggered happy memories of playing with his friends and the fact that they always seem to be lending each other their favourite toys with no demands on when they need to be returned (seriously, ask any of the parents around here - our kids are always coming back with toys that aren't theirs!).

A lovely little tale about friendship that will cheer up any fractious bedtime!

Chris says: Any story that encourages the selflessness of true friendship is a winner for me! I didn't cry, but I did have a bit of an emotional wave at one point...

Josh says: I like that he gave his blanket to his friend.

Xander says: I like the mammoth.

3) Are You Sitting Comfortably? - Leigh Hodgkinson (Author & Illustrator)

There's a wonderful poetic quirkiness about Are You Sitting Comfortably?. It's sort of a book about a quest, with the quest being the perfect place to sit and read a book, but at the same time it's not really that, but more a comment on just how wonderful reading is altogether and that the perfect place is wherever you happen to be at that moment, particularly if there are friends around to share the story with. A fine message if ever there was one!

What I thought was great about the illustrations was that for ever place the boy in this story went to, he picked up a new follower that joined him on each subsequent spread, so that by the end of the book he had a whole group of new friends who were excited about being read to. It's little details like that in a book that often elevates it for me, so it was great to notice this and be able to tell the kids to look out for it as well!

I don't think Josh and Xander really care where we read either, as long as we're reading some fantastic stories. This is another such fantastic story to add to our collection!

Chris says: Books like this one fire up a child's imagination so well because they get them thinking about all the strange and wonderful places they could read, before pointing out that they've just been on this wonderful trip in their own minds while being sat right there in (most likely) an ordinary or usual place, like the living room or bedroom. You definitely don't need to go anywhere special to read a book; you just need an author or illustrator crafting the way for you!

Josh says: I like reading anywhere.

Xander says: I like the cat.

So, to summarise Day 86:

We loved the utter randomness of green lizards fighting red rectangles in Steve Antony's book on the same subject, the lovely friendship in Roo the Roaring Dinosaur, and the wonderful message about reading wherever you want to from Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Basically, we loved our evening of reading as we have done so often during the Picture Book Challenge! So many times we've read books that I've extolled the virtues of the next day in work to numerous people, and I think all three of these have got people that I know would love them.

I'm so pleased that we're undertaking this challenge - what immense fun!

Books Read: 169/1000 (16.9%)