Monday, 30 January 2017

Day 27 (Week 4, Day 6)

Day 27 (Week 4, Day 6)

I always write an introduction to the day when I do this blog posts, and it's occurred to me that with 365 of these to do I might begin to repeat myself after a short while, so please take this as an apology now if I constantly come back to the same themes when I'm doing so!

There's a reason that I'll talk about the same themes a lot of the time, however, and that's because they're so important. Spending quality time as a family, raising our children's literacy, de-stressing by reading; all of these are benefits of reading together and as both a parent and librarian I want other people to see these benefits too.

I'm lucky in that I genuinely get excited if I've read a fantastic picture book, just as much as I do any other type of book. It's partly because I love to read anything that makes me smile, and partly because I can't wait to see the same reaction from other people, whether it's my children or children that I'm reading to at a storytime or other adults that appreciate it as much as I do.

All 66 books that we've read so far for the Picture Book Challenge has moments to make you smile, and I'm certain that every one of the 934 still to read will have those moments as well. It could be the illustrations, the sense of imagination, the creativity, the ingenious way of bringing across an important message, the humour, the grumpy animals, the hats...or it could be many or all of these things together. I love the fact that a picture book will only take us a few minutes to read together but can create a happy (and in later years, nostalgic) memory that will stay with us for a long, long time afterwards, and that because they're short and sweet it's easy to take a chance on one, in a way that you just can't on any other type of book (because how easy do you find it to read a whole chapter book of any age in a day without making it the focus of your entire waking time?).

Anyway, introduction to Day 27 over, and on with the reviews...

1) Who Am I? - Gervase Phinn (Author) & Tony Ross (Illustrator)

As is probably true with many of you, I know Gervase Phinn best from his tales of life as a school teacher and inspector in Yorkshire, a particular favourite of mine being his Christmas-themed book A Wayne in a Manger. I know that he's written several novels for adults, but this is the first children's book of his that I've come across. As you'd expect from an ex-teacher, it's title theme of 'who am I?' is a perfect one to talk through with young children, asking them to describe who they think they are, and showing them that they have a place in the world no matter how they see themselves.

The legendary Tony Ross is in charge of the illustrations, bringing a quirkiness to the text that never fails to raise a smile (just look at his eyes on the front cover coupled with that smile!). and it all adds up to another fine example of a picture book that is more than just a story to be done with when the pages are closed.

Chris says: I'm reminded of the scene in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when the whale drops out of the sky and has to give names to all his body parts having only just been brought to life. If you had to start with a blank slate, how would you describe yourself? What features do you think other people would mention about you in particular? What is it that you makes you special? All questions that are great for getting children to think about themselves and their place in the world!

Josh says: I liked when the chameleons mummy found him at the end.

Xander says: Crocodile! Snap!

2) Max and Bird - Ed Vere (Author & Illustrator)

I LOVE the opening few pages of Max and Bird, where Max and Bird decide to be friends, before Max gleefully states his intention that part of this friendship should involve Max being able to chase and then eat his new friend, as if it's a perfectly reasonable thing to expect a friend to be alright with. Of course, Bird is able to convince Max that they're friendship will last longer if the latter doesn't eat him, and they work together in a very sweet manner to help Bird learn how to fly. I often mention messages within stories about being friends with people no matter their differences, and you can read this as a message about learning to work together if you want to; alternatively, you can ignore all that and just laugh about the thought of a cat helping an increasingly frustrated bird to fly, and then realising that he's better off not eating him after all.

Also, the illustrations are delightfully quirky, and it shows libraries being awesome. What more could you want?

Chris says: I just love the idea of a cat thinking that the best thing his bird friend can do is to let himself be eaten, as proof of that friendship. Makes me giggle just thinking about it! You could use the message of 'don't eat your friends - work together to solve problems instead!' if you wanted to, but really I think you can just sit back and laugh on this occasion.

Josh says: I liked Max and Bird making friends.

3) This Book Is Out Of Control! - Richard Byrne (Author & Illustrator)

There's no doubt in my mind that Richard Byrne is one of the most creative picture authors and illustrators out there today. This Book Ate My Dog! was fantastic for getting children to physically shake the book to interact with it when prompted, and We're In The Wrong Book! used so many different artistic styles it was almost unfairly creative. This Book Is Out Of Control! is just as imaginative, with it's use of a remote control controlling a dog instead of a fire engine in error, and encouraging the reader to take over the reins of controlling it. It's another wonderfully interactive twist that enraptures children and makes the reading of it all the more fun. Whether it's flipping everyone upside down and onto the ceiling, or spinning the dog round like a tumble dryer (took a long time for Josh to stop laughing at that one!), it's full of actions that will make you laugh all the way through, and doubly so for your children who get to feel like they have an influence on the story.

The illustrations themselves are fun, colourful and expertly drawn, as well as bring so hilariously interactive. It's really a perfect book to read when you want nothing more than to laugh away togehter before bed (or indeed anytime!).

Oh, and I saw what you did, Mr Byrne, with the very end of the story encouraging my children to push the one button that hadn't been pushed yet - and yes, it worked many times!

Chris says: Such a funny book, and such a clever way of getting children to physically interact with the story - not that I'd expect anything else from Richard Byrne. You can't help but smile throughout, particularly with the startled expression of the dog as he finds himself suddenly controlled by the remote. Absolutely glorious!

Josh says: I loved all of it, but especially the dog spinning round.

So, to summarise Day 27...

What an absolutely marvellous evening for funny and imaginative storytelling! Who Am I? made us talk about how we think of ourselves, Max and Bird had us talking and laughing about making friends, and This Book Is Out Of Control! had us in stitches and interacting with the book as if we were really in the story.

I love that picture books can get us feeling like we're part of the story, usually by trying to talk directly to us as readers, as it makes the whole reading experience so different than normal. We know that we're not really influencing it, and we know on the 24th reading that nothing different is going to happen, but it doesn't matter because we're having such a good time doing it. You just don't get that same experience with the majority of other types of storytelling.

Bring on tomorrow night!

Books Read 69/1000 (6.9%)

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Day 26 (Week 4, Day 5)

Day 26 (Week 4, Day 5)

I'm not expecting the Picture Book Challenge to attract thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter (currently we're on 36!), but it's been lovely to see so many of the authors that we've read talking to us about what we're doing, and obviously pleased that we're enjoying their stories! We'll keep our fingers crossed that we attract plenty of attention by the end of 2017 to help spread our love of reading, and also to hopefully maximise our chances of raising lots of money for the Book Trust!

That's one of the great things about doing this challenge; even if we don't raise a great amount when we've finished, at least we know that what we DO raise will help some families, and we'll have had an amazing time doing it!

Xander refused to sit down and read the stories with us tonight so comments are just from Josh, though Xander was in the room the whole time so I like to think he just enjoyed my soft storytelling tones as a background accompaniment to his playtime!

1) The Little Adventurers, and Leafy the Pet Leaf - Philip Ardagh & Elissa Elwick

When Sprat, member of the Little Adventurers, can't find his cat for Bring in a Pet Day, he does the next best thing and makes a new pet from a leaf, determined to prove that a leaf can be just as fun as a pet than a real animal. What follows is a day of fun activities that you could easily join in with as a family yourselves, as rest of the club slowly come around to the realisation that you can indeed have a great time playing make believe with a pet leaf!

The sense of this being the genuine record of what an exciting children's club has been up to is brilliantly done (there's even a list of club rules at the beginning!), and what better way to encourage children to meet up together to have their own little adventures in nature? We have a wonderful set of friends we have met through our own children's friendships that we love to do similar things with, so it might just inspire us to turn it into our own little club with a list of rules the children can create!

It's so delightfully illustrated by Elissa Elwick too, bringing across the fun and joy that you imagine your own kids would feel at Bring in a Pet Day just perfectly. The little details like Finnegan's little teeth sticking over his lip, and Sprat's cat Shadow hiding just behind him whenever he looks for her are great, particularly as the latter provides plenty of opportunity for giggles as Sprat just misses her each time.

Really can't wait to see the next book in this series - I hope there is one! Philip Ardagh is such a fantastic advocate for libraries and reading, and I'm happy to promote how wonderful this fantastic story is just as much as he promotes how wonderful libraries and reading are!

Chris says: I love a book with lots of little extra things that make it stand out a bit from the norm, and this is a fine example. The fact it gives you a genuine idea for an activity with your children with 'Bring in a Pet Day' is great, as are all the special facts about animals and trees at the end. It also does a wonderful job of making it genuinely feel like it's the latest diary entry for a club of adventurers, something which I haven't seen before in picture books but which reminds me heavily of how I used to spend time with friends when I was younger.

Josh says: I like how the cat was hiding in the back of the pictures when the boy was looking for her.

2) Frog and Beaver - Simon James (Author & Illustrator)

When Beaver comes to live on the river, he is welcomed with open arms. But when his dam building leads to the river drying up and forcing the other animals to leave their homes, can they find a solution so that everyone is happy?

Ah, a book with an important message so we can learn whilst having fun - I can't resist! The message itself, that you must be aware of how your actions impact on others and the environment, is a powerful one, but told in such easy-to-understand terms here that it's impossible to fault. Beaver has every right to build his dam, but he doesn't have the right to put everyone else's lives at an inconvenience by doing so; everyone else, on the other hand, has a right to live as they have been doing, but also to recognise that someone else needs a home and might have slightly different needs. It's a wonderful message about finding a way to compromise and live together so that everyone else is happy, and that's a message that a lot of people in the world at the moment could do with paying attention to.

I love the illustrations (i'm guessing watercolour? I'm useless at that sort of thing but I think they're watercolour!), particularly the wide shots of the river with woodland around them, and I think that Simon James has combined these with such a strong message that this could easily become an essential book for primary schools to read when talking about similar topics in school.

Chris says: As a parent I love to read a book with a message that is easy to understand without being too overtly preachy, and what a perfect example of that this is! I'm determined that Josh and Xander are raised to understand that people have different needs but that you can compromise to make things work, particularly with some of the awful things that have been occurring with intolerance lately, so books like this are fantastic to help illustrate this.

Josh says: I liked frogs new home that Beaver built for him.

3) The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem 'Pangur Bán' - Jo Ellen Bogart (Author) & Sydney Smith (Illustrator)

I'm not in the slightest bit familiar with the poem Pangur Bán, so I really can't say how this compares to the original, but I found an interesting and reflective story about two characters (the cat and the monk) both searching for a prize, and succeeding in those searches as the light of morning appears. It's got lovely symbolism in that respect, and we were perfectly transported into the mind of monk in the 9th Century, with the thought-provoking text, though I have no chance of succeeding in analysing a poem that was written over a thousand years ago in such a small review, compared to the many articles that must have been written about it by much more learned people, so I shall simply say that if you want an absolutely beautifully illustrated story about the joy one finds in succeeding in the pursuit of knowledge, then you'll enjoy this greatly.

I feel that it's difficult to overplay just how beautiful the illustrations are, with the darker tones giving way to brighter ones as the light comes in the morning, and the recreation of illuminated manuscripts making me think delightfully of so many trips to the British Library to see similar. If I'm going to hold up a book to showcase why picture book art can be as stunning as art in any other form, this would be a prime candidate. I'm definitely seeking out more of Sydney Smith's illustrated books when I'm next in the library!

Chris says: Stunning, STUNNING illustrations that I want to show to everyone! I'm not one for getting hidden meaning in poetry to be totally truthful, but I do like the duel meaning of the light coming in the morning contrasted with a breakthrough in ones search for an answer. I don't know whether that's the same interpretation that Josh made of it, but I don't think that matters, as long as he enjoyed the story as a whole!

Josh says: I like the pictures of the cat.

So, to summarise Day 26...

A fantastic day for stories that bring something a little extra! There's the Little Adventurers club that have given us ideas for our own special pet day with friends; a fantastic story about the importance of working together to help ensure everyone is happy and the environment is respected; and a beautifully illustrated retelling of an old poem that has symbolism for anyone who wants to seek it.

Picture books can offer incredible depth that I'm sure they wouldn't be given credit for by a lot of people, but they can be such a valuable tool for helping fire children's imaginations from a young age, and helping to teach them important messages in gentle ways. We love our picture books, and we can't wait to read so many more this year!

Books Read: 66/1000 (6.6%) 

Friday, 27 January 2017

Day 25 (Week 4, Day 4)

Day 25 (Week 4, Day 4)

Dear oh dear - what with pantomime rehearsals and assignments needing writing for qualifications, as well as work in general and spending time together as a family, it's not always easy to write up the day for this blog! I'm doing this just as Day 27 becomes Day 28, so nearly three days since we actually read these stories! I'm determined to keep this blog going all the way to the end, though - it's good fun to write down what we've read, and to get the chance to promote reading as a family, even if it does mean there's sometimes a delay in writing it up!

I think we need a bigger house. One with several small libraries within it that I can store books in, because I'm someone who really struggles not to take out a million and one books whenever I go to a library - and as I work in libraries and often visit two in a day for my job, you can imagine this makes it pretty difficult for me!

Luckily, as we're reading so many picture books at the moment, I'm able to refresh our selection often, so when I spot several that I can't wait to take home to read with the kids I know that I'm going to free up space in the house soon to take on a new load.

We just couldn't do the Picture Book Challenge without libraries - no matter how much we love to read, we just couldn't afford to buy this number and so we'd miss out on so many fantastic stories. I've seen a large number of posts from authors about the Public Lending Right (PLR) that makes sure they get a small sum of money for each library loan of their books. It's nice to know that they are still getting rewarded for writing such fantastic pieces of work, even if the book is being taken from a library rather than bought from a bookshop!


Ah, the joy you feel when a book perfectly captures the imagination of a child entertaining themselves on a boring journey! Who hasn't wanted to imagine that a long ride on the train (or car, or plane etc.) is actually filled with dinosaur attacks, or getting held up by bandits, or stopping escaping boulders from crushing everyone, and many other exciting escapades. When Titus Took the Train is filled with creativity, right from the very first pages where you see a sketchbook of the first half of the train journey, through the above mentioned excitement, and to the end where the sketchbook concludes.

It's bright and joyful in its illustrations, a perfect compliment to the ideas within the text, and it's another delightful example of discovering an author for the first time and wanting to head straight out to see what else they've written (we've read books illustrated by Sarah McIntyre before, so it's always great to find a new one that she's done!).

Chris: The kids loved to talk about what had happened and what they thought could happen the next time we take a boring long journey, and what what more could you want from a book like this than to fire their imaginations so well? It felt like reading an Indiana Jones-style adventure, where the hero has to overcome obstacle after obstacle to reach his goal, even if the goal here was just getting to the last train station rather than finding an ancient artefact!

Josh says: I liked when he got to use his lasso.

Xander says: Dinosaur!

2) Elephant Joe is a Knight! - David Wojtowycz (Author & Illustrator)

I love a twist in an adult book, but it's not as often that you'll find one in a picture book; it's great, therefore, when one comes along that both you and your children appreciate! I won't spoil it (so that you're encouraged to go and find out for yourselves!) but the kids loved it because of the surprise, and I loved it because it played against stereotypes, which is something I'm big on encouraging. It's still a classic tale of a hero (Elephant Joe) journeying to rescue a damsel in distress from the evil Dark Knight's tower, itself protected by a dragon. It makes itself different due to the aforementioned twist, and it's lovely cartoony illustrations ensure that this is well worth checking out.

There's also a little frog that keeps appearing and making comments about the story at the bottom of every few pages, which is exactly the take of random and sarcastic humour that I enjoy, so bonus points there as well!

Chris says: I'll always come back time and time again to the story of a knight going on a quest, and I really liked that this played about with stereotypes, something that I'm always keen to do. A picture book is a great way of helping children to understand from an early age that there shouldn't be defined roles in stories (or indeed life) for girls and boys, which helps promote equality and help prevent some of the awful stereotyping that still goes on today.

Josh says: I liked when the dragon melted the sword.

Xander says: Dragon!

3) I Love You, Little Monster - Giles Andreae (Author) & Jess Mikhail (Illustrator)

We've read so many of Giles Andreae's books that it's always a surprise to find one that we HAVEN'T read yet, particularly when I know I've seen the cover of this many times before as the drawings are so memorable and distinctive! Jess Mikhail has drawn two adorable monsters here, and the whole book is drawn with the same kind of care and love that the title suggests. It's very much a book to snuggle up together as a family with, and perfect for finishing off an evening's reading by letting your family know how much you love them. It's also very recognisable for parents of young children, going through a busy day not always getting to say everything you want to to them, explaining why sometimes you get frustrated but that you still love them with all your heart, and it ends on a lovely note as Little (Monster) hears Big (Monster) explain all this to him so he can go to sleep with a smile on his face. It's the perfect illustration of parental love in that respect, and it's not one that you can read without feeling warmth inside for your little ones.

Chris says: It doesn't matter how you end storytime before bed - finishing with an adventure in a fantasy land brings excitement before you settle down, and reading something funny can give you a last chance to giggle together before they close their eyes, but sometimes it's great to finish with a story that is purely about love. I always hope that the kids going to sleep knowing that I love them more than anything, this book is perfect for showing how that love wins out over everything, no matter how many little arguments or stressful times you might have had that day.

Josh says: I like the title of the book.

Xander says: Monster!

So, to summarise Day 25...

We've been on a couple of adventures this evening, firstly on a train with amazing happenings round every corner, onto a far off land where an elephant needs to be the heroic knight his kingdom requires, and finishing off with a story about unconditional love between parent and child. I don't ever particularly intend on the order we read our stories in (I just pick from the pile and see what we get), but it seems to have formed a nice order tonight!

Reading can take you on all sorts of journeys, and we've had some fantastic ones so far for the Picture Book Challenge. Hopefully you'll spot some of these and want to make those same journeys too - do let us know if you've read anything that we talk about here, or if you're intending to go out and get them!

Books Read: 63/1000 (6.3%)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Day 24 (Week 4, Day 3)

Day 24 (Week 4, Day 3)

Ooh, I came back from the library with a big bundle of 20+ books this evening! It's always strangely difficult taking back so many fantastic books, even though I know we're taking out a load more, because we've had such a good time reading them it's disappointing to know that we won't be able to just pick one of them back up to read one more time if we fancy it. Still, that's what makes our libraries such important and fantastic places - they're always there for us to go to, to get our favourite stories out time and time again.

So, what did we read this evening? Read on to find out!


When picking books for the Picture Book Challenge, I literally just grab the first things that I find which we haven't read yet, so that I'm maximising our chances of discovering hidden gems that we didn't know about before. What I wasn't expecting to pick up and choose for tonight's reading was a book about divorce! I'm sure that there are people who would think children shouldn't be exposed to this sort of thing at a young age, but a) my parents went through a separation when I was about 5 (Josh turns 5 in May) and this sort of thing would no doubt have helped explain what was happening in a gentle way, and b) it's highly likely (unfortunately) that your children will know someone in their class whose parents have separated from an early age. I don't believe in ignoring topics, as I think you can explain things to children early on without it traumatising them as long as you're there to answer their questions.

Now that I've finished that small bit of background, we enjoyed reading Miss Dirt the Dustman's Daughter as we saw the fortunes of Miss Dirt's parents change from one extreme to the other, talking about how some people can have a lot of things and others are less fortunate, and how it can all change without warning. Josh seemed really thoughtful after we read it, and I think he had difficulty choosing a favourite part of it as it made him think in a more grown up way than normal, though I think it's good that a story can do that. It didn't focus on the parents getting a divorce, more just that they had done and so Miss Dirt lived in two very different ways when she was with each parent (if that makes sense). I'm sure this would be a good book to read from a pastoral care point of view in a school. 

Chris says: I liked that the story was up front about the fact Miss Dirt's parents were divorced, but it didn't try to explain too deeply how Miss Dirt felt about it or why they had gotten divorced, just that it happened and this is how Miss Dirt lived. It's not trying to say that divorce is normal or not a difficult subject, just that children will know other children who have divorced parents and therefore here's what their lives might be like. A picture book doesn't have to shy away from a difficult subject, particularly when it deals with it sensitively and matter-of-factly like here.

Josh says: I liked that she still had fun with her mum and dad.

Xander says: I have photo now? (N.B. He wanted his photo taking with it quite badly tonight!)


Animals acting like humans? Yep, always good for a laugh! This particular story sees a mother and pup going shopping for his father's birthday, and makes a good showing of the difficulty that parents face keeping their children entertained whilst shopping in a big department store. Let's face it, kids just want to be in the toy section and nothing you say or do will change their minds on that one! There's lots going on in the background of each picture spread which gives plenty for you and your child to talk about, and there's a good lesson as well to bring up with them about not running off in a public space. I do appreciate a story that allows me to have an important discussion with the kids!

Chris says: I particularly like the dogs' choice of present for the father - I'd be chuffed if Josh and Xander thought I was cool enough to merit buying a skateboard for! 

Josh says: I liked the skateboarding dog.

Xander says: I'm doing fixing! I'm going to fix the dog! (N.B. We really have no idea what he thought needed fixing with the dog, but he had a very determined look in his eye when he said it!)


I love when a book gives us something to talk about for a while afterwards, and after reading Big!, a story about a boy who likes to look at the world around him to see what he's bigger than and what is bigger than him, we spent some time before bed doing exactly the same thing! The illustrations in this book are delightful, giving off a warmth and charm that make you pleased to be snuggled together as a family, talking about the different sizes of anything that comes into your head. We liked the end where the boy has grown taller than his friend, which shows kids that some of what they compared themselves to size-wise will change as they get older.

Chris says: This type of story is great, because it gets children thinking about the real world and how it relates to them, in addition to firing up their imaginations. Even as an adult there's a fascination with anything much taller or much smaller than ourselves, because they stand in such contrast to us, and this book helps children to think about it in a bright and colourful way.

Josh says: I'm bigger than your phone but smaller than huge buildings.

Xander says: I'm bigger than Superman but smaller than Captain America. 

So, to summarise Day 24...

An evening to talk about real life 'things' with the children tonight; what it's like when parents split up, their place in relation to the world around them, and most importantly what to buy Dad for a present! I'm kidding with the last one, of course...

But seriously, most of the stories we read focus mainly on having fun, rather than worrying about what's going on in the real world, so to have an evening being a bit more reflective is no bad thing from time to time! 

Books Read 63/1000 (6.3%)

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Day 23 (Week 4, Day 2)

Day 23 (Week 4, Day 2)

I had to take the day off work today with a sore throat, bad cough, and a lost voice, so it was my wife's turn to do the bedtime reading to the children! We both like to read to the kids as much as possible, and though I've been the predominant reader so far with the Picture Book Challenge, it's more just because I like to be the one who gets to put on the silly voices in stories and be the first hand participant - so it's a selfish reason really! In truth, Cat has been there for pretty much every story that we've read, and has enjoyed hearing what the kids think about each story just as much as I have (particularly when Xander comes up with a pretty random response to what his favourite bit of the story was!).

As has often been the case, Xander and Josh wanted to tell one of the stories themselves too, so there's some lovely pics towards the end of this round up when they treated us to a reading for the final story.

Read on, dear friends...

1) Cave Baby - Julia Donaldson (Author) & Emily Gravett (Illustrator)

I love Emily Gravett's work, both her own authored works and her illustrations in general, so it's wonderful to see her teaming up with Julia Donaldson for the lovely tale of Cave Baby. Now, I have sympathy with his parents when he draws on their walls (there's a fair few scribbles from a certain pair of children on some of ours!), but it's also fantastic to see what happens when our little hero is given the chance to let his imagination run wild on the walls of the mammoth's cave. Before this there's plenty of tension as he travels to said cave with the fear of wild animals all around, but it's really the story of how you should allow children's creativity and imagination to bloom that makes me smile here - at least, that's how I interpret the story! The fact he's all snug and safe in his crib at the end, possibly having dreamt it all, just makes me smile even more at the thought of Josh and Xander safe and sound asleep at the moment, letting their dreams take them on their own adventures.

And I'd firmly request that any wall paintings they choose to do in the near future remain in Dreamland!

Chris says: I'm presuming that this is a story about letting children be creative and unleash their imaginations, though I'd accept it's just a nice story about a child going on a painting adventure with a woolly mammoth if someone told me I was wrong! The kids certainly loved the idea of getting to paint on walls, which they are certainly NOT going to be doing round here anytime soon!

Josh says: I liked when he painted on the mammoth's walls.

Xander says: No thank you! (N.B. I hope this was Xander rejecting the idea of painting on walls in the future, though the question as ever was 'What was your favourite part of the book?'!)

2) The Lighthouse Keeper's Cat - Ronda Armitage (Author) & David Armitage (Illustrator)

We used to have a cat, so we're well aware of how much they like to journey to other places to see if there's food for them there! That's the premise of this story, as Hamish the cat leaves home when it looks like he's going to be put on a diet, trying out the food in various other places, before deciding that home is the best place for him to be. If you want a nice message to give to children about how home will also be the best place for them to return to when they've finished a day of exploring, then this is obviously a great place to start! It's a lengthier picture book than you'd normally expect nowadays, having been published over 30 years ago, and it's nice to have something a bit longer to get your teeth into from time to time. It's filled with bright and colourful illustrations, and you can understand why a charming tale like this is considered a picture book classic, so many years after its initial publication.

Chris says: I like to see longer stories as picture books (and I know there are several picture book authors out there who bemoan the tendency for stories to be pushed towards lower-word counts nowadays) simply because I don't think there's any reason not to have a decent word count without forcing it into becoming a short chapter book. Nothing wrong with taking a slightly longer adventure than normal!

Josh says: I like when he found his owners again.

Xander says: (N.B. Xander had taken himself off to the potty by this stage, so I never got an answer as to his favourite part!)


I always feel lucky about the fact that I've actually served Caryl Hart many times at one of the libraries where I used to work! She's always been excellent at talking to me about my own picture book writing ambitions, and so I'm delighted that it's one of her books that we finish with today, and one of Josh and Xander's favourites at that! They love the idea of going to a library and escaping into magical fantasy lands through the power of a good book, just like Albie does here. So much so in fact, that they insisted on reading it to me and my wife when she'd finished reading it to them the first time:

Before that, they'd had a great time lying around listening to it, Xander even bringing his dinosaur to listen!

His dinosaur LOVED it :)

I've talked many times before about the fact that reading can transport you all to far off lands from the comfort of your own home, and this book exemplifies this (with a library instead of a home, but you get the idea) - Albie visits his library discovers that he can go in search of dragons while he's there, meeting knights and other creatures and letting his imagination run wild. We love this particular story as a family because it's full of excitement and adventure, and the kids want to revisit it time and time again to meet the bear and the troll, and find the dragons at the end.

It's also fantastically illustrated by Ed Eaves, with it's bright and colourful illustrations bring the excitement of the library and far off lands into vivid detail. We loved his illustrations a few days back when we read Captain McGrew Wants YOU For His Crew!, and it's confirmed for me where I recognised his style from!

I also need to share Xander's interpretation of the story, from when he read it back to us. Josh did a pretty accurate re-telling of it which was lovely to hear, but Xander's had us in stitches: 
             'One day, Mummy and Albie went to a castle, and met Mike the Knight!' 

We tried to convince him it was actually Sir Cuthbert Clinkety-Clank, not Mike the Knight, but he was having none of it!

Chris says: Caryl Hart's books are filled with adventures and wonderful imagination, and that's why we love them! They really do take us to far off lands and bring us back again in the space of 32 pages, just in time to relax before bed and reflect on where we've travelled in our stories that evening. We've come back time and time again to How to Catch a Dragon in particular, because it's the best book of this theme that we've read together. Looking forward to many more Caryl Hart books during the Picture Book Challenge!

Josh says: I love it when they visit the library which is actually a castle.

Xander says: I'm reading the story of dragons!

So, to summarise Day 23

We've seen children letting loose their imagination a couple of times this evening, as well as a cat deciding that home is definitely the best place to come home to, and that latter part is definitely a running theme throughout this evenings books - no matter what adventures you go on, whether it's to a mammoth's cave to paint pictures, around a town to find exciting new food, or to a fantasy land to try and discover dragons, it's always great to come home at the end of it and curl up together as a family.

We love reading together because we know that, once the books are put away for the evening, we guarantee that we'll have had one last fun adventure together and gone to sleep knowing how much we love and care for each other. 

Tomorrow, it's time to re-stock our picture books with a trip to the library, so I'm looking forward to bringing home a great big bundle for us to enjoy over the next week!

Books Read 60/1000 (6.0%)

Monday, 23 January 2017

Day 22 (Week 4, Day 1)

Day 22 (Week 4, Day 1)

And so we begin Week 4! I always feel it's a little odd starting a new week on a Sunday, but that's the way the calendar fell this year so...

We're looking forward to refreshing our shelves with a good haul from the library this week so I'll be coming home with a bumper load tomorrow! I don't head to the library with a particular set of books in mind; I just go to the picture book section, start pulling them out, and go with the flow! I might have to be a bit pickier at the end of the year when we've read so many, but at the moment they're all coming up as new (for the Picture Book Challenge anyway!).

I'm choosing to focus all these reviews on what makes us smile about each story, because I want to show that all time spent reading together is valuable, and that every story and illustration has something to bring to reading time that you can appreciate together. With that in mind, let's get on to the reviews!

1) William Heads to Hollywood - Helen Hancocks (Author & Illustrator)

It's great to come across something a bit different, and what I loved about William Heads to Hollywood is that I don't think I've ever read a picture book that involves a detective solving a crime! In this story, 'International Cat of Mystery' William heads to Hollywood to solve the mystery of the stole Golden Cuckoo Awards statues. Just like in a classic adult detective novel, we're shown a couple of clues before William solves the mystery, and I really did like how I could help Josh and Xander spot the clues to see if we could solve the crime before the thief was revealed. It's a great way of making a book that bit more interactive and fun for telling with your children! I even felt the illustrations captured a bit of a noir style. They might not be ready for Agatha Christie yet, but this was a nice introduction to crime-solving for the kids, picture book style!

Chris says: I really enjoyed helping the kids look for clues to who had stolen the statues. It's nice to just read to them and see them become enraptured in a story, but it's even better when we get to talk in more detail about what's happening in the illustrations!

Josh says: I liked the ladies funny hairstyle on the plane to Hollywood.

Xander says: Cats!

2) Rosie's Hat - Julia Donaldson (Author) & Anna Currey (Illustrator)

This is the story of Rosie's hat, which is blown off her head on a trip to the seaside, only to be found by her again when she is grown up and serving as a firefighter. It's the sort of extraordinary coincidence that makes for a lovely children's tale, and it's great fun to see the journey that the hat makes to get back to Rosie (not that it has a mind of its own or anything!). It's superbly illustrated (I'm always particularly impressed when people blend so many tones within the colours of a picture - it's an extraordinary skill that I just can't fathom how to do!), and we had a good time afterwards talking about what adventures various things we own could go on before coming back to us.

I think some of Julia Donaldson's works that aren't done in collaboration with Axel Scheffler are possibly less well known (due to the fact that it's such a fantastic and recognisable partnership), but there really are some excellent stories she has written that are equally deserving of being read.

Chris says: Sometimes extraordinary coincidences do occur in life, so perhaps this shouldn't be so unbelievable, but it makes for a magical little children's tale about how you can find something that you thought you had lost, and the memories that it can bring back with it. That little bit of magic is what children's stories should be about!

Josh says: I liked that she grew up to be a firefighter and rescued a cat.

Xander says: I'm digging! (N.B. Xander back up to his usual trick of moving away the second a story has finished to continue playing as much as possible before bed!)

3) You Must Bring A Hat - Simon Philip (Author) & Kate Hindley (Illustrator)

There are some books that help teach your child important messages. Others help you go on wild adventures before bed. And them some are just utterly silly, and absolutely wonderful for it. You Must Bring A Hat had us giggling all the way through, as a series of increasingly ludicrous criteria for securing entry to a party builds to a hilarious twist at the end (that is actually signposted early on, which is very rewarding if you re-read it!). It's bright and colourful, features someone getting extremely grumpy with the situation (something I always enjoy seeing in a picture book), and most importantly made Josh and Xander both smile at me when it had finished to show how much they enjoyed it.

I thought the illustration style looked familiar, and then I realised that it was Kate Hindley who had illustrated it, whose work we saw yesterday on Don't Call Me Choochie Pooh! Excellent treat getting to see her work again so quickly!

Chris says: When we realised that it was time to read You Must Bring A Hat, both me and Josh clapped our hands in delight because we've enjoyed it so much in the past. It's great discovering new books, but it's also great to re-visit old favourites, and this is one we've enjoyed reading many times before.

Josh says: I liked reading all the different rules.

Xander says: Ah, yes. (N.B. Nope, no idea either!)

So, to summarise Day 22...

We've had a good mix today; one story to use our detective skills, one to get us thinking about the journeys that our favourite objects could make before they return to us, and one to get us laughing together as a family before we go to sleep! I'm not sure if Josh or Xander have ever told me their favourite genre of picture book - to be honest, I think they just enjoy reading anything they can at the moment!

There's a link that connects the three which might not be obvious to begin with until you've read all three books, and that's hats! Yes, 'hat' is in the title of two of them, but a hat plays a vital role in solving the mystery in William Heads to Hollywood, so be sure to pick up a copy and see just how it does that!

Books Read: 57/1000 (5.7%)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Day 21 (Week 3, Day 7)

Day 21 (Week 3, Day 7)

And just like that, we've reached the end of Week 3! We've had a few days over the last three weeks where we've not read any books towards the Picture Book Challenge due to the kids falling asleep on the way back from trips out etc., but we're still well on target to read 1000 picture books in 2017. We're re-reading some old favourites and discovering some fantastic new ones as well, both newly published and from the last few years, and we hope that some of you have spotted some books that you'd like to read as a family too!

So, here's how we finished off the third week of the Picture Book Challenge...

1) Big City Kitty - Susie Linn (Author) & Lindsay Dale (Illustrator)

We're a cat family first and foremost, and so we'll happily lap up anything to do with a feline friend, even if it looks like the kitty in question might end up in a bit of peril! This particularly little kitty ends up lost in the big city when a scary sound sends her running from home, but when the big city turns out to be scarier than life at home, will she find her way back again?

I mean, you know what the answer is going to be here of course, but a heartwarming story with a feel good ending can never be a bad thing, particularly as a nice way to send your children to sleep with happy feelings before bedtime. It's lovingly illustrated and fun to guess what the scary noise was that sent Kitty running in the first place - and I laughed a lot when I found out what the noise actually was, as it's something that can certainly cause a bit of pain to the ears when someone is just beginning to learn it! No spoilers, but maybe that's given you a clue...

Chris says: Watching your children turn round at smile happily at you when they realise everything has turned out okay and the hero of the story is safe is one of the nicest things about reading together, and so this is a great choice for anyone who wants to send their child to bed in a happy mood. I love to go on an adventure across the high seas or in a far off fantasy land with them too, but it can be nice to balance that out with something calmer!

Josh says: I liked finding out what the noise was.

Xander says: I'm just doing digging! (N.B. Apparently if I wait more than three seconds to ask him a question when we've finished reading, he'll already have moved on to his next task and can't be disturbed...)

2) Don't Call Me Choochie Pooh! - Sean Taylor (Author) & Kate Hindley (Illustrator)

Seriously, look at the expression on the face of that dog and tell me you aren't going to enjoy this book? A grumpy animal is always going to be a winner with me, and Don't Call Me Choochie Pooh! is an absolute treat if you're the same. From the ridiculous (and completely recognisable) things that this dog's owner calls him, to the social embarrassment that it causes him in front of bigger dogs, this is perfect at imagining just what would go through our pets' heads if they thought the same as humans. Heck, let's face it, with cats it's pretty much a given that they are constantly thinking all this, so it's nice to see it from a dogs point of view for a change! The illustrations make this even better, with that impatient and frustrated image on the front cover making me laugh just by looking at it.

If you want to have a giggle next time you go to the library, make sure you look for this one!

Chris says: I just laughed and laughed with the kids at this one. You can't beat a grumpy animal, and this dog is particularly grumpy. A lot of people who find the attitudes of some pet owners to their animals will have double empathy with the dog here too! A great way to laugh together and put the children in a good mood before bedtime.

Josh says: I like what the story is called, and the silly things the dog owner said.

Xander says: (N.B. Xander just sung the Imperial March from Star Wars at this point when I asked him what his favourite bit was, so I've absolutely no idea what was going through his mind...)

3) Blue & Bertie - Kristyna Litten (Author & Illustrator)

When Bertie the giraffe gets lost, he finds Blue, a giraffe who's a little different (i.e. entirely blue!), and who will help him find his way home. Will Blue find a new home in the herd too, even if he's a little different?

It's kind of impossible not to love giraffes, so it's kind of impossible not to pick up a picture book about giraffes when we spot one. Combine that with a story about a new friendship and how it doesn't matter if you're different, and you've got a great book to finish off our third week!

Chris says: Sometimes, I find illustrations that just make me smile, and Blue & Bertie had me smiling all the way through. They feel warm and drawn with care, and the little smiles that the giraffes wear make it impossible not to smile with them. It's also a great chance to show how being different shouldn't stop you making friends and being part of a crowd, something we need as much of as possible at the minute.

Josh says: I loved the blue giraffe!

Xander says: Giraffes!

So, to summarise Day 21...

We didn't particularly intend to read three animal books today, but that's obviously been the theme of our evening! There's been one story returning to the comforts of home, one to make us laugh out loud, and one about forging new friendships and being welcomed no matter how different you may be.

It's been been a proper feel-good evening of reading, and that's exactly what we love about reading together as a family - books and stories allow you to share these feelings and adventures together, bring you closer and giving you lots of quality family time. The words and pictures can transport to you on infinite adventures together, and I've no doubt that the authors and illustrators that put these together can be some of the most important influences on our children from an early age.

Thank you once again to all the wonderful authors and illustrators that have provided our stories so far - and we can't wait to discover hundreds more this year!

Books Read: 54/1000 (5.4%)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Day 20 (Week 3, Day 6)

Day 20 (Week 3, Day 6)

We had a slightly different setup tonight, as Josh fell asleep early but Xander stayed awake, so Xander had storytime all to himself! If you've followed this blog for a bit, you'll probably have noticed that Xander doesn't always stick around for the entirety of a story, often doing his own thing for a bit while Josh listens patiently, so I wasn't 100% sure if I was going to have a captive audience for the duration of all three books.

Luckily, Xander happily sat and listened to our three stories for the evening, once again insisting on reading one of them himself when we'd finished, pictures of which I've included below! I love that he wants to tell the stories straight back to us as it shows just how much he loves our reading time together, and gives me great hopes that he's already become a reader for life.

So, on with the stories!

1) Captain McGrew Wants YOU For His Crew! - Mark Sperring (Author) & Ed Eaves (Illustrator)
Full Size Cover

We had great fun reading this first, as Xander is a huge fan of pirates and pirate ships, and this book promised to make him a member of the pirate captain's crew! He enjoyed seeing the different things that he would have to do as part of the crew (even though they become increasingly tiring, even as the captain relaxes more and more!), and the big bright colourful illustrations captured his eye and his imagination perfectly, letting him talk to me about everything that was going on as we went through it. It's a really good idea to have a story and title like this, to make it seem like it's talking directly to your children and make them feel involved directly in the story, and Xander immediately wanted to read it out loud himself afterwards. I don't think the tiring life put him off wanted to join Captain McGrew's crew, and I can see us returning to this one quite a few times in the future!

Chris says: Xander really loved talking about everything happening in the pictures, and I loved how the pirates got more and more tired while the captain got more and more filthy - there's definitely some parallels with the captain representing your children and the pirates representing yourself! Pirates are always a great draw for children, and this is a damn fine example of how to make a pirate story exciting and interactive for kids.

Xander says: I like the cannon!

And here's Xander reading the book himself, and getting annoyed when he didn't feel we were giving him enough praise for it:

2) How to Find Gold - Viviane Schwarz (Author & Illustrator)

I'm not sure I've ever read a book that captures the imagination of playtime for children quite as well as this. It's about a girl and her crocodile friend who go searching for gold, but it's the way it develops with events happening simply because they suggest them that makes this so wonderful - let's face it, playtime as a child often involves loosely connected, plot-hole filled story line that evolves in the most fantastically random directions as time goes on. The fact that they make up their own map, for instance, then draw a cross on it to represent where the treasure should be, before making the journey to the place they've just made up, is spectacular. It takes a special mind to make something like this into so special but brilliant a story, so I can only heap praise after praise on Viviane Schwarz for this.

Chris says: The more I think about it, the cleverer this story becomes. It's just perfect at highlighting how a child deals with a problem in their play, or even how they think about life - I need to do this, and I need this to do it, so that's what will have to happen next. How wonderful to find a book that captures the essence of this so perfectly, that you can to someone and literally say, 'Here, this is a illustrated example of how a child's mind works'. I want everyone I know to read this now, to check that they agree with me!

Xander says: I loved the pirate ship!

3) When Angus Met Alvin - Sue Pickford (Author & Illustrator)

What I like about this isn't so much the story itself, but the way it tells it. Some books really try to involve the way the text is presented as part of the storytelling experience, making it move around with the actions it's describing (flying, jumping etc.), increasing in size when the dialogue is shouted etc., and that's something that When Angus Met Alvin does very well indeed. It's a fun story in its own right, about two aliens trying to outdo each other before forming a firm friendship, but the aforementioned presentation of the text, coupled with some excellent illustrations that really capture the alien-feel, help to make this extra exciting for children.

Chris says: It's always nice to see a story that tries to make the whole experience of reading it more fun, and Sue Pickford has clearly gone to great effort to make it so. I love how eccentric the looks on the aliens' faces are too, and I could tell that Xander was going to enjoy it when he laughed at the four eyed dragonfly-esque alien bug on the first spread.

Xander says: Aliens! (N.B. Short and to the point!)

So, to summarise Day 20...

Great imagination and inventive storytelling techniques were the main themes of the day for me. From telling the reader themselves that they are part of the story, to entering the mind of a child during playtime, and finishes with words that take you on a journey just from their style, this was a great selection of stories to show how inventive a picture book can be. Not only do they inspire children to enjoy reading and use their imaginations, picture books like this also make reading extra fun for adults too.

We've been lucky enough to read many inventive picture books in the past, and we can't wait to discover many, many more!

Books Read 51/1000 (5.1%)