Monday, 20 February 2017

Day 41 (Week 6, Day 6) - Friday 10th February 2017

Day 41 (Week 6, Day 6) - Friday 10th February 2017

We headed straight from work to Josh & Xander's other grandma's (Noni) house tonight, and following the 2 hour journey they were both asleep, so no stories tonight unfortunately!

Plenty to read over the weekend though!

Books Read: 92/1000 (9.2%)

Day 40 (Week 6, Day 5)

Day 40 (Week 6, Day 5)

We've got some catching up to do, so with a bit longer in the evening than normal we decided we could fit four books in instead of three! And it's a good mix of four different types of story, too, as we adventure on a far off dinosaur island, look at the love between parent and child, and talk about a couple of important issues.

Bring on the books!

1) Treats for a T-Rex - Adam Guillain (Author), Charlotte Guillain (Author) & Lee Wildish (Illustrator)

An exciting adventure to start off tonight with! It's a trip to a far off island where dinosaurs still roam for young George and his dog, who spend their time teaching dinosaurs all sorts of doggie tricks to stop themselves being trampled or eaten. I particularly love how colourful the illustrations especially the absolutely gorgeous landscapes, which really gave the children a feeling of being transported with the characters to a prehistoric island. Xander spent the entire time shouting rahhhhhhhh!, which made it a bit hard for him to actually hear what I was reading, but it seems like he loved it plenty anyway for that not to matter! For children that know dogs can be taught tricks (and particularly if they've played with them personally this way) this will be extra exciting I imagine, as it'll give extra hope of one day having a dinosaur as a pet - despite the probable protestations of parents!

Chris says: Beautiful to look at, humorous use of teaching dinosaurs tricks (particularly tickling a T-Rex belly!), and a great adventure to take before bedtime! Well worth a read - it's got everything!

J: I liked tickling the T-Rex's tummy.

X: Roar! The mummy dinosaur (N.B. Xander liked it because it looked like it had a baby in its belly, just like this mummy!)

2) I'll Love You Always - Mark Sperring (Author) & Alison Brown (Illustrator)

If you want a book that is sweet as sweet can be about the love between parent and child, then this would be a perfect choice. All the way through it is illustrated with simply adorable images of a mother and child mouse spending the day together, with the mother telling the child that the love they have will outlast any measurement of time, because it's forever. Going off on adventures before bedtime is one of my favourite things to do with the children, but sometimes it can be just as perfect to read a story that leaves them in no doubt that they are the most important things in your life, and that the bond you have together is the strongest force in the universe.

Chris says: I'm a big softie, and though I'm not usually one for getting mushy at a book (TV or film, yes, but strangely not usually literature), I can't help but smile at the thought of this story when comparing it to the love that I have for Josh & Xander (and baby number 3 currently growing in my wife's tummy!). The look of love between the two mice as they snuggle up together captures exactly the love that I have for the kids, and I'm sure everyone else who chooses to read it as a family will feel the same way.

J: I liked the loving parts (N.B. He's chosen not to specify which, but there are a LOT of loving parts with this theme!)

X: Yep (N.B. Short and to the point, but a positive assessment of this story it seems!).

3) Copy Cat - Mark Burchall (Author & Illustrator)

I'm sure that all friendships, particularly with younger children (and siblings!), have had moments where one person has felt that they need a little bit of space to do their own thing. This book is a great way of discussing with your children how it's fine to feel this way, but to make sure that you don't try to shut out a friend for too long as you'll start to miss them, and that you're friends for a reason - because you like to spend a lot of time together!

Chris says; I know that Josh sometimes wants a bit of time alone when Xander follows him around (it's pure older-brother-hero-worship), so this is a useful way of showing him how it's fine to feel a bit frustrated, but that he'd be sad if Xander wasn't there to play with. A nice gentle way of talking about a topic that might arise from time to time!

J: I liked when Dog was going into space

X:Oh-oh! (N.B. Not entirely sure what he was worried about here, but imagining it was either the dragon or the illness!)

4) Don't Pick Your Nose, Pinocchio!- Steve Smallman (Author) & Neil Price (Illustrator)

I have absolutely no idea if Josh & Xander paid any attention to the idea that they shouldn't pick their nose after reading this, because they were clearly having too much fun laughing at Pinocchio doing it to properly listen to me! This is the second book in the A Story About Hygiene series that we've read (not for the Picture Book Challenge, or not yet at least!), and we've enjoyed the nice and daft approach that they take to trying to teach children a bit better hygiene. Though as I still pick my nose like it might contain hidden treasure, I'm probably not the best person to be trying to get this message across...

As an opportunity to discuss said hygiene issues with your children, however, this is a great series, and though I doubt anything in the world is going to stop a determined nose-picker, I find it surprisingly rare that this topic is actually brought up in picture books! When it's a genuinely humorous way of touching on an important topic, I think this is a good choice.

Chris says: It's true that picking your nose can be bad for you. I once picked a particularly sharp piece of bogey and cut under my fingernail. Took me at least a couple of days to get over that one and go back to picking my nose. Terrible times.

J: I liked when Mr Cricket got stuck up his nose.

X: I'm a boy too!

So, to summarise Day 40...

A proper good mix tonight! Funny adventures in a land where dinosaurs still roam; an adorable story of the love between parent and child; a thoughtful tale about not taking friendships for granted; and a good opportunity to discuss hygienic behaviour.

Sometimes it's nice to have a running theme for the evening, but equally it can be nice to get a great variety of stories. There was certainly plenty to talk about when we were finished, and smiles on both Josh and Xander's faces as they drifted off to sleep!

Books Read: 92/1000 (9.2%)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Day 39 (Week 6, Day 4)

Day 39 (Week 6, Day 4) - Wednesday 8th February 2017

It's nice to have been able to read to the children for two days running, after such a stop-start time with illness/pantomime/tiredness etc.! 

No great introduction from me here, just on with the reviews!

1) The Crocodile Under the Bed - Judith Kerr (Author & Illustrator)

Should I really read the boys a book about a crocodile under their bed? Eek, too late! Luckily, The Crocodile Under the Bed isn't at all scary, but a fun adventure about where imagination can take you, full of friendly animals that ensure Matty can still have a fun evening when he's deemed too ill to attend a party that most of his family are going to. It's full of every bit of charm you would expect coming from Judith Kerr, as well as her signature style of illlustration, drawn lovingly in pencil from the looks of things - what better form of colouring than pencil, and a joy to see such a rare thing in print!

Chris says: It's another great example of how you can go all around the world on an adventure just before bed. It's also a relief when you pick a book like this (and don't read it beforehand) to discover that it's going to inspire your kids rather than frighten them!

Josh says: I liked that the crocodile was friendly.

Xander says: Haha crocodile!

2) Oh, The Places You'll Go! - Dr Seuss (Author & Illustrator)

I realised as we got round to this that I've never actually read it, despite it being such a famous Dr Seuss title. I've read plenty but this one had obviously slipped me by - it's certainly as eccentric as anything else he's written! What struck me most was the way it flipped several times from having a positive outlook on the future to a negative one, which isn't what you'd normally expect in a picture book. It's got some incredible imagination behind the places that the main character travels to, and it's very honest in the way it prepares the young reader for life not always looking positive, so if you're looking for a book that can lead to a discussion on keeping your chin up then you'll find this very handy!

Chris says: It's really not hard to see why Dr Seuss is so revered as a children's author - his quirkiness and creativity is almost unparalled, certainly from works that I've read from the 50s until the 90s (he died in 1991, and published this in 1990). It might be a less than positive outlook at times, but then it's great to see an author not afraid to show that things aren't always great, but that there's hope just around the corner. I do like books that allow me to discuss real life afterwards with the children!

Josh says: I liked how he visited lots of different places.

Xander says: (N.B. Xander had wandered off by this point, though he was still in earshot so hopefully he enjoyed the words!)

3) I Can Only Draw Worms - Will Mabbitt (Author & Illustrator)

Thank you LoveReading for providing us with a copy of this book to review.

I HAVE to open this review with a note about the back cover. It's by far the greatest back cover ever written, with the most wonderful fake review left by the author himself that I can't stop laughing about (and won't spoil here), but it's up there with the funniest things that Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, and Mo Willems have put down on paper. Inside, the story is basically a counting book where ten almost identical-looking worms are introduced in a phenomenally funny manner, from the worm who thinks he's in charge of the other worms, to the lack of a flying unicorn who has to be replaced by another worm. Honestly, if any of the three authors listed above release any books this year (and I really hope they do), it's going to be difficult to be I Can Only Draw Worms, and if you know how much I like said authors then you know that really is high praise indeed. I cannot recommend highly enough that you go and get hold of a copy of this as soon as possible.

Chris says: It's just simply utterly hilarious in every respect. I can't emphasise just how spectacularly good the back cover is without literally wafting it in your face and forcing you to join me in laughing, so I just suggest you all go out and buy it to save me having to come at you a-wafting. Josh and Xander laughed all the way through, and there's not many better feelings than laughing at a book together with your kids, knowing that you've all just discovered something very special indeed.

Josh says: The worm pretended to be a flying unicorn!

Xander says: I love worms!

So, to summarise Day 39...

All the books tonight were written by the illustrator, which I always think must be an advantage in many ways as you literally get to illustrate the words you write in the exact manner you picture them! If I ever do make it as a picture book author (I certainly won't ever make it as an illustrator because I'm useless) I'll be hugely excited to see how an illustrator interprets my work, but I do feel that writing and illustrating your own stories must be slightly easier!

Tonight, we've had three books of brilliant imagination, with two taking us to far off lands, and one showing us that you can draw nothing but a few worms and come out with one of the funniest picture books ever written. Seriously, that back cover is beyond hilarious.

Wonderful evening of reading!

Books Read: 88/1000 (8.8%)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Day 38 (Week 6, Day 3)

Day 38 (Week 6, Day 3)

First of all, please ignore the horrific formatting of this post. No matter what I do, whenever I move the mouse Blogger seems to drag the text around with it and I just can't get it to stop, so there are random gaps appearing in places or text bunching up round photos, and it's taking too much time to find a solution, so please accept my apologies as I'm fed up now and just leaving it like it is, however that might be!

Oh, it feels good to finally be well enough for some bedtime reading again with the kids! Nasty, nasty stomach bug now over and done with, so finally felt like we could resume the Picture Book Challenge tonight. Three brand new books that we've never read before is a very exciting prospect, with the hope that we'd discover some new classics to add to our 'must re-read' pile.

Let's have a look at what tonight brought us:


I LOVE the penguin on the front cover of this book! I love the illustrations throughout, in fact. They're just that bit different from the normal and ever so slightly quirky, in the same way that Oliver Jeffers and Jon Klassen have such a recognisably different style to anything else out there, and I'd love to see more of Rob Biddulph's work. The story itself made the kids laugh as various animals across the tale tried to drag our hero penguin down from the sky by his kite tail, and I loved the way their adventure was tinged with just a hint of the fantastical as they made an unlikely journey from the polar regions to the jungle and back (with an uninvited visitor on the return journey).

It's got me really excited to read more of Rob Biddulph's stories, so I'll be ordering in everything that he's done up to this point! It's great to discover an author who instantly has you eager to read more of their work - wonderful stuff!

Chris says: Sometimes a book just hits all the sweet spots for you, and Blown Away has done just that for me. Illustrations that make me smile just from the front cover, and a plot that's just delightful with it's slightly liberal distance from Antarctica to jungle. Loved it!

Josh says: I like when the polar bear was picked up by the kite too.

Xander says: Giraffe! Monkey! Elephant!

Well, if you want a book that has an insane number of little ideas happening on every page then this is the book for you! It's about a boy (Ben) leaving his dog with his grandad while he goes on holiday and the list of instructions that he writes, and they are numerous to say the least! They're also delightfully hilarious all the way through, and the illustrations are incredibly effective and beautifully drawn. Anyone who owned a pet as a child will be able to sympathise with Ben in this situation, as I remember it being incredibly difficult to leave our cats in the care of someone else while we went on holiday, and if I'd ever thought of leaving written instructions they might well have become as extensive as these. Nearly all the double page spreads have a new set of instructions told in a slightly different way each time, which takes so much imagination and creativity to keep making them that little bit different, and gives the family reading together a rich and varied set of things to talk about.

There's so much going on that this is perfect for those who like to stop and discuss what they're seeing with their children as they read - there's no way you can run out of things to talk about in this story!

Chris says: I might not be much of a dog lover (I'm a cat person) but this spoke to me perfectly as someone who hated being away from my pets as a child. The sheer amount of differing instructions and ways of telling them that Alex Latimer has created for this story is astonishing, and I love to see books with so much detail in the illustrations as it means children really study them to discover every treat.

Josh says: I like when the dog jumped in the bath.

Xander says: Woof woof! Bad dog!

Now, I'm well-known amongst our friends as having exceptional dancing skills (don't try to deny it, guys...), but I don't think I ever dreamed about finding a book that tried to teach the kids and I three new types of dance! Oh, how they loved this book as it encouraged them to get up and try the same dances that Alfredo tried, however unsuccessfully the titular character may have initially been! It's a book full of delightfully quirky images (just look at Alfredo on the front cover - if that's not a groovy looking frog then I don't know what is!) and a story about not worrying whether you're cool enough for everyone else, just being happy to do your own thing. This would be perfect for any storytime session in a library or a school, knowing that you could get all the kids on their feet and joining in too - you can guarantee that there'd be a fair number who would pick it as their favourite book after that!

Chris says: We had to do all the dances from this book several times before bed! What an absolutely fantastic way of engaging children with the story! Exhausting when you have to keep dancing, yes, but well worth it to see just how much the kids enjoyed it. Marvellous stuff!

Josh says: I loved being able to dance along; it was so much fun!

Xander says: On your marks, get set, go!

So, to summarise Day 38...
It's been an exceptional day for exciting picture books! We read books full of imagination, humour, and excitement, discovering work by Rob Biddulph and Alex Latimer for the first time, and reminding ourselves why Sean Taylor is always going to entertain us, with Chris Garbutt's quirky and colourful illustrations showing us exactly how to dance in several groovy fashions.

I'd highly recommend that anyone with a love of fun picture books copies Day 38 and reads the three of these one evening. We guarantee you'll finish family reading time with huge grins upon your faces, with exciting dreams soon to follow!

Books Read: 88/1000 (8.8%)

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Day 37 (Week 6, Day 2)

Day 37 (Week 6, Day 2)

Still off work, still not recovered from this bug...


One day we'll get to continue the Picture Book Challenge! We're still on course to complete it, but looking forward to reading a few extra stories to give us a bigger cushion again. The total currently stands at...

Books Read: 85/1000 (8.5%)

Day 36 (Week 6, Day 1)

Day 36 (Week 6, Day 1)

Still recovering from stomach bug, so another day of no stories. The kids are reading to themselves plenty, which is always delightful to see, but as the challenge only takes into account the books we read together as a family I can't count them unfortunately!

Books Read: 85/1000 (8.5%)

Day 35 (Week 5, Day 7)

Day 35 (Week 5, Day 7)

I pushed myself to make the two pantomime performances on Day 35, following the stomach bug of the previous day, but it wasn't easy - luckily, however, Josh and Xander were staying with their Gran so they were still able to get three books read!

It's great that our family all love reading to the children, as we know that no matter where we stay there'll always be someone who wants to pick up a book and sit down to enjoy an adventure with them. Here's what they read that evening!

1) The Wheels on the Bus - David Ellwand (Author & Illustrator)

This is a sound and action book of the famous nursery rhyme, which Josh and Xander have always loved, and always enjoy when they stay at their Gran's house. It's different from the type of sound book where a normal picture book story is enhanced by getting to press buttons for different sounds at different parts of it, because this literally plays said nursery rhyme over and over again, but with different verses written onto each double-spread. It's a great opportunity therefore to get children excited about a book by using familiarity to draw them in, and using exciting visuals to illustrate what they're singing about.

Gran says: I've always loved hearing them sing along to this, particularly Xander as he's done it from such a young age.

Josh says: The wheels on the bus...

Xander says: ...go round and round!

2) Five Minutes Peace - Jill Murphy (Author & Illustrator)

My mother's favourite book to read to me when I was little, this, because it's something that every parent can identify with strongly! No matter how much you love your children, there's always plenty of occasions where you just wish you could five minutes' uninterrupted peace to take a quick rest and gather yourself ready for whatever high-energy activity you need to take part in next. Sounds like I wasn't particularly good at letting her have five minutes' peace, and neither Josh nor Xander have ever particularly excelled when it comes to this - not that I think any parent would disagree when we say that we don't mind really, because every minute with our children is a minute that we wouldn't want to spend doing anything else!

Though occasionally it would be nice to get to go to the bathroom without having a small army in tow...

Gran says: It's lovely to be able to read the same stories that I read to Chris, when he was Josh and Xander's age, to them now as my grandchildren. Particularly one where I still don't seem to get much peace when they're around!

Josh says: No peace for you, I'll keep you forever!

Xander says: Elephants!

3) How to Babysit a Grandma - Jean  Reagan (Author) & Ian Wildish (Illustrator)

It should be pretty obvious why the kids' Gran chose this one! It's a beautifully colourful book with loads going on in every scene, and full of ideas for what children and grandmothers can do together. It's told in a very instructional manner, too, which makes it that little bit different from normal - always nice to see something done a little differently! I'm not sure how many of these things that they all did together while I was at the pantomime, but I know they've always enjoyed reading this one together!

Gran says: How could I resist with a title like that? Though for some reason 'Play at Star Wars' isn't included in the story which makes up a large part of what we have to do when the children come to visit!

Josh says: I love to babysit my Gran.

Xander says: Gran!

So, to summarise Day 35...

I love to hear about the fun that the children have had when they visit relatives, particularly if they've read plenty together! This was the first night that the kids have ever spent away from both my wife and I as it happens, so we were both very glad to know that they enjoyed some excellent stories before bedtime. 

Thank you to their Gran for being a part of the Picture Book Challenge and making sure they read three books towards it this evening! Illness has definitely taken its toll on our progress, though we're still ahead of target and I intend to make up some time in the coming weeks!

Loads of books still out there just waiting for us to discover them!

Books Read: 85/1000 (8.5%)

Day 34 (Week 5, Day 6)

Day 34 (Week 5, Day 6)

I'm filling this in wayyyyyy after the day itself, because I had the worst stomach bug that I've had in years (since the last time I had Norovirus), and spent about 12 hours throwing up. I had to miss this evening's pantomime performance too, which was gutting, so needless to say we didn't get any stories read today!

In fact, though I'll make a blog post for each day, we didn't manage to get any more stories read until Day 38 because I was either doing two pantomime performances (Day 35) or suffering from the stomach bug still and not in work because of it (Day 36/37). That's some significant setbacks in reaching our target (though we're still well on course), so we're definitely going to have to start reading more than three books per day for some of the next few weeks!

Day 33 (Week 5, Day 5)

Day 33 (Week 5, Day 5)

It was a stressful afternoon/evening as it was our first pantomime performance tonight, but it was also nice and relaxing to read a few stories together as a family before I had to head on out! There's nothing like reading to calm stress - literally, as it's scientifically proven to be one of the most effective stress relievers after just six minutes. 

I'm still determined to up the number of books that we read per day for a little while to make up for some of the time we've lost through early sleeps and illness, but there wasn't time tonight, so we'll have to pick those up in the coming weeks.

And the pantomime went very well indeed :)


If you want to read a Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler story to make you feel warm inside all the, way through then The Smartest Giant in Town is an excellent choice. It's great for sharing the idea with your children that you don't need to have the best of everything to be happy, and that sharing with people can be much more worthwhile. It's not an iconic story like The Gruffalo or Stick Man, but in many ways I prefer this one because of the positive message that is has throughout. I'd look forward to seeing a TV adaptation of this, anyhow!

Chris says: I always appreciate a story where there's a nice moral that we can discuss afterwards. I'm lucky that Josh and Xander are already quite generous, but it's good to be able to show them more good examples of where having a selfless outlook can be the best choice!

Josh says: He was a very nice giant and it was really nice of the animals to bring him a crown at the end.

Xander says: Giant giraffe!


It's nice discovering all the Mr Men & Little Miss characters in newer stories (not that I can remember exactly what happened in all the originals from my childhood!), and I suggested in a previous post that we'd be reading many more of them for the Picture Book Challenge. This is the story of Little Miss Sunshine helping to thwart the actions of a wicked witch who is turning many of the characters into animals. It's a proper punch-the-air triumphant tale for children where Little Miss Sunshine succeeds in tricking the wicked witch and saving the day, and there's not a lot that can beat an exciting magical tale before bedtime! The illustrative style of all this series is so iconic that it's great to have our children discover and fall in love with them too, and I think it must be one of the most recognisable series of the past few decades. 

Chris says: It's definitely one of the best things for a parent about reading with your children, when they love the same books that you loved as a child - or at least from the same series as here! I love them discovering stories that will become classics for them to remember and read with their children too, but it feels that bit extra special when you learn that you're sharing the same affection for the story.

Josh says: I liked it when the witch got turned into a cat and was scared away forever.

Xander says: Bad witch!


We've read another Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs book already in the Picture Book Challenge, despite my usual insistence upon reading book series completely in order, so it felt right to go to the very first book for our next installment in the series! I can remember the feeling of discovering toys that belonged to older members of my family whey they'd long since stored them away, and I bet all parents look back on those feelings as fondly as I do when they get stirred up by a story like this. Harry discovers all his dinosaurs in Gran's attic, cleans them, and then transports them around with him in the titular bucket, and I don't think it needs saying really just how much I approve of his research sessions in the library! 

It's a great chance to teach kids the names and species of some of the dinosaurs too, as all the books in the series take great pains to make sure that the dinosaurs are named frequently. The pain that Harry feels when he accidentally leaves the dinosaurs on a train is also very deeply felt, as we've all lost a favourite toy somewhere in public where it's very unlikely we'll get it back, and having a replacement just doesn't seem the same. Therefore it's a great book for hope when Harry does manage to get them back again! People love this series for a reason, and that's because they're informative, fun, delightfully illustrated, and guaranteed to put a smile on your children's faces with their happy endings. We'll read many more over the next year!

Chris says: I really hope that the children never lose a favourite toy in public because it's so heartbreaking when it happens, but at least this story will give them hope of finding it again! I like going back to the beginning of a series to remind myself how it all started, and Josh and Xander certainly like coming back to this one to see how Harry found his dinosaurs all over again. It's great to have series that they like to come back to time and time again, no matter which book in the series it is!

Josh says: I like when Harry tipped his cereal on his sister's head.

Xander says: Dinosaurs!

So, to summarise Day 33...

We've had a day revisiting favourite authors and series! Whether it's an author who doesn't really do series but has classic book after classic book, or it's a series where we can read any entry and know that we'll have a fun time doing so, sometimes it can be the most relaxing thing in an evening to curl up with something you know well and retread old memories. There's a reason we go back to certain things again and again - familiarity is good!

I once came up with 'The Three R's of Reading - Reading, Re-Reading, and Reading-Again', which I feel should be adopted as some sort of national literacy slogan. I'm certainly one for reading an old favourite over and over!

Books Read: 82/1000 (8.2%) 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Day 32 (Week 5, Day 4)

Day 32 (Week 5, Day 4)

Ugh. Day off with a sickness bug for Cat, Josh and myself. No-one feeling well enough to read today so a nil return!

Day 31 (Week 5, Day 3)

Day 31 (Week 5, Day 3)

I'm soooooooooo behind on writing up these reviews...

Due to illness and pantomime performances, I'm technically on Day 41 as I write this up! Luckily I have notes to go along with these stories so I can remember exactly how we felt about them (though I wouldn't mind reading them all again to remind myself!). 

That's one of the difficult of undertaking a challenge like this in the modern day, when I've promised that I'll blog and tweet about it every day - finding the actual time to do it!

So, in the unlikely event that you await these reviews with baited breath every day, I do apologise and fully intend to get caught up eventually!


There can't be many authors whose work we've read more of together than Jonathan Emmett. I've talked previously about how friendly and approachable he's been when I've met him on a couple of occasions, and how useful the information he gave me on the picture book market was, and it's great to know that on top of all that his books are always so imaginative and enjoyable too! I think The Princess and the Pig was the first picture book to make me really laugh out loud when I started working for libraries, so in many ways he's been the biggest influence on me picture-book-wise.

In this tale, a fearsome pirate captain doesn't believe in monsters, but when he remains oblivious to his crew disappearing around him, will he ever make it to the treasure he's so desperately seeking? Poly Bernatene's illustrations bring this swashbuckling adventure to life brilliantly (as they always do when the two collaborate), and Josh and Xander were so excited for this when they saw the cover and realised it was a story involving monsters and pirates! It's great fun to see the crew slowly disappearing and leaving the captain alone by the end, so close to his treasure and yet so far. Who doesn't want to go on an adventure searching for treasure just before bed, only to return to the safety and comfort of your bed when you're finished? A wonderful example of a story to inspire exciting dreams during family time before bed!

Chris says: I love to take the kids on adventures with our stories before bed, as I can guarantee it'll leave a smile on their faces as we say goodnight afterwards. The fact that Jonathan Emmett's stories always make us laugh so much along the way is always an added bonus! I don't recall any story of his where they haven't been delighted to return to it again and again, particularly when the fantastic Poly Bernatene has provided the illustrations to bring it to life.

Josh says: I liked how he got eaten at the end!

Xander says; Nooooo, thank you! (N.B. This came immediately after I asked him whether he'd like to go and find treasure with this pirate crew - obviously he didn't think they were up to the task!)


Sometimes a book can take you completely by surprise. I often don't look at the blurb on the back of the books when I pick them out for the Picture Book Challenge, as I want to have the joy of stumbling across a new classic without any hint of what was to come before, so I really wasn't expecting to read a story about adoption. What a beautiful story it is too, dealing with the subject in a gentle and sensitive manner, whilst making it clear that this is an issue that children might come across and that whoever acts as parents to a child will be doing so out of love. I felt my emotional heartstrings tugging throughout, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a tear in my eye throughout. I wouldn't expect anything less than a fantastic story from Kes Gray, and the illustrations from Mary McQuillan are just as sweet as the text. It's such a lovely way of bringing up the subject of adoption that it can be an easy way into the subject for any parent that wants to talk about it but isn't sure how to begin - just surprise your kids with this as one of their evening stories and then talk to them about it afterwards! They won't have any doubts afterwards that adoption means anything other than love from parent to child, and vice versa.

Chris says: Yes, I cried a bit, because I don't care what medium you read a story like this in - if it's this darn sweet about how much a family loves each other then it's going to make me weep. What an absolutely perfect way of saying 'It doesn't matter if we're different - we love you no matter what', which is the greatest message you can give to a child.

Josh says: I enjoyed them playing with echoes - I want to do that!

Xander says: Oh wow, lula! (N.B. I really don't know what he was talking about here, but he seemed to enjoy the story...!)

3) Grandad's Island - Benji Davies (Author & Illustrator)

And we move straight on from the emotional subject of adoption to the emotional subject of a loved one dying. Honestly, I can't praise this enough for being a beautifully-written and illustrated story of a grandfather and grandson spending their last bit of time together, which is able to explain to children that it's alright that people die because you'll have the memories of the time you had together to look back on and smile about. 

Seriously, I'm nearly tearing up just writing this and thinking back about it again.

It inspired me to write my picture book text about the death of my grandmother following dementia, and though I have no illusions about it ever being published, it hammered home to me how a picture book can tackle a difficult subject in an honest and frank way for children without having to shy away from the truth of it, whilst still making them enjoy the journey that it takes us on, and reassuring them that everything will be alright.

Benji Davies rightly won the Sainsbury's Children's Book of the Year in 2015 for this, and I've loved it ever since I first read it. I've used it to talk to Josh and Xander about death, and I really think it helped me as much as anything. They're very matter of fact about it at this age (well, Xander's a bit too young still to talk about it properly, but Josh certainly), whereas I could ramble on and on for ages, but instead this helps me sum it up in just a few short pages.

It's absolutely beautiful.

Chris says: As powerful as any adult book on death as far as I'm concerned. In less than 32 pages we see the final time a grandad and grandson will be with each other, and at the end of it we know everything will be alright because the grandad is happily at peace and the grandson has the memories to look back on. I'm 30, and I know that I will find this reassuring when the sad day comes for my grandfathers to pass away (which I'm still hoping is years away). 

Josh says: I liked when they went to the island and saw an orangutan.

Xander says: Birds!

So, to summarise Day 31...

A surprisingly emotional day to end the first month of the Picture Book Challenge! We've laughed and adventured with Here Be Monsters, learned about adoption and how love can be just as powerful no matter how parents and children come together, and covered death in the most beautiful way.

Picture books can be incredibly powerful tools for dealing with all manner of subjects, and there's almost certainly a sensitive story out there to cover any topic that you might want to talk to your children about. Don't forget that a librarian can help you find that story should you want to find it!

Books Read: 79/1000 (7.9%)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Day 30 (Week 5, Day 2)

Day 30 (Week 5, Day 2)

Me: (browsing shelves in library) Ooh, 367 books that I'd like to get out!

My Brain: You only have 24 spaces on your library card.

Me: And?

My Brain: And they're all taken up already.

Me: *sigh* I guess you're righ-

My Brain: Ha, I'm totally kidding. Let's take ALL THE BOOKS!

Me: Huzzah!

*both look to My Heart for confirmation*

My Heart: You already know my answer is yes. TAKE THEM ALL!

*gleefully takes all the books and runs out, laughing maniacally*

*awakens from dream*

*sighs heavily*

*notices c.367 books scattered around the room*

Awake Me: Huzzah!

Think that sums up a visit to the library, don't you?

On with the reviews! Four books today to try and make up for a few days where we couldn't read any. And BOY, what a set of stories we had today!

*N.B. I didn't actually steal 367 books from the library - I hope you realise that!*

1) Green Eggs and Ham - Dr Seuss (Author & Illustrator)

It's a pretty safe bet that most of you are familiar with this. Dr Seuss (despite actually being scared of children) is for many people the most children's author of all, and wrote classic after classic, from The Cat in the Hat to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and so many more. Green Eggs and Ham has always been my favourite, for the wonderful rhymes and the ridiculously daft scenarios that Sam tries to persuade the un-named protagonist to eat green eggs and ham in. There are actually only 50 different words in the entire story, which is a staggering achievement when you think about it, and for that reason it's also a brilliant story for children who are beginning to read to attempt by themselves as their confidence grows. It's without a doubt one of my favourite picture books, and I was so pleased that Josh and Xander both enjoyed it too when we read it for the first time a few months ago. 'I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am!' is just such an iconic couplet and so instantly memorable that it's not too much of a stretch to claim that one could memorise the entire story in the same way that a lot of families nowadays know the entire text of The Gruffalo off by heart. It's the type of book that oozes intelligence without seeming to put any effort in with which to do so, and with such intense creativity that it shames my own imagination, even as someone who likes to think I can come up with some creative storylines.

Chris says: To have a story like this, where it builds silly idea upon silly idea in irresistible rhyme, repeating them all as a new one is added and allowing you to become more and more outraged in the role of the protagonist as you read it, is just an absolute dream to read to your children. The fact that the eggs and ham happen to be green, that this may effect the taste, that somewhere out there this baffling possibility may exist, is delightfully ridiculous, but also perfectly weighted to make the story work. Simply wonderful.

Josh says: I like they he tried the green eggs and ham at last and that he enjoyed them when he did.

Xander says: I like the train!


You should have seen how excited the kids were when I picked this one up! We loved the other two Panda stories in the series, so it was wonderful for them to recognise this as the third entry. It follows a similar structure to the others, but with a slightly different twist to it, with the reminder that 'it's the thought that counts' being presented throughout and leading to a very humorous pay off at the end. The Panda books have always had a very gentle moral at their heart and this is no exception, and I love too that Mr Panda seems just as grumpy throughout thanks to Steve Antony's fantastic illustrative style. Mr Panda's less than perfect choice of gifts throughout make this possibly the funniest installment yet and we had to go back and read it again immediately, with Josh and Xander both insisting on performing their own version of it. What could be better than your children enjoying a book so much that they have to go and read it allowed to you the second you finish it? Particularly when one of them can't read and is just telling you his version from the pictures! How fantastic for a book to inspire their imaginations like that. Truly wonderful!

Chris says: I just can't praise a book highly enough if it inspires the kids to want to read it back to me straight away afterwards. It shows how excited they are by reading and telling stories together, and the fact that Xander can't even read means that it's obviously created such a visual feast for him that he doesn't need the words to have immense fun with it. Thank you, Mr Panda!

Josh says: I loved all of it, especially when he had the underpants on his head.

Xander says: Oh, panda! With presents! (N.B. This was before we'd even read it - that's how much he loves these books!)

3) Knock Knock Dinosaur - Caryl Hart (Author) & Nick East (Illustrator)

It's always great when I realise that Caryl Hart has brought out a new book! And from the front cover (beautifully drawn by Nick East), it's kind of a given that you're going to have a great time with this story, aren't you?

It's great to receive some dinosaur toys in the post - but it's a bit unexpected when they turn out to be real dinosaurs! It's also a brilliant chance to laugh at all the hijinx that they get up to, and talk about what fun you would have if it ever happened to you as a child, and also just how on earth you would try to clean up the place before your parents got home! This is such a bright, colourful, and fun story that it's impossible not to get swept away in the little boy's panic as he realises his mother will soon be home, only to discover that it was her error in the first place (and to think that parents always blame the children!). If you want stories that involve fantastical beasts, Caryl Hart really should be your go-to picture book author!

Chris says: We had great fun talking about what games we would play if we had real dinosaurs come to visit, as well as a variety of other animals and characters from favourite films and TV shows, so this was perfect for getting Josh and Xander's imaginations fired up. The illustrations are just as exciting as the story they're telling, too, and I'm a big fan of Nick East's work so this was an excellent collaboration.

Josh says: It was so good! It was funny that the dinosaurs were big and not play size!

Xander says: Bra on his head? Not again!

4) I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen (Author & Illustrator)

This is the big one, my favourite picture book of all time. It's the one that had me literally weeping with laughter, and really kickstarted by love of picture books. It's drawn in such a unique and now unmistakable style, and is utterly, fantastically, totally, absolutely hilarious.

And dark. So very, very dark. Which is not what you'd expect from a picture book for young children!

In case you've not read it yet (in which case, stop what you're doing and go outside to buy it now!), it's the story of a bear who has lost his hat. On his search to find it, he meets many different animals who are unable to help him, until one triggers a memory of where he might just have seen said hat very recently...

Cue one of the most darkly comic moments to happen in a picture book ever, as the bear finds the culprit and exacts his revenge in the most delightfully implied manner possible. Roald Dahl would be proud of this. It's my personal favourite picture book spread ever as the bear and the thief stare each other down. The use of repeated language has quite simply never been better applied than it is here, helping us to understand the thief's fate in a callback to earlier in the book. I love to perform this with one of the children's librarians at work when we have school groups visit, and it never fails to get them giggling. More than that, I've never met a grown up who didn't laugh out loud when they read it for the first time either (or each subsequent reading for that matter). It's taught me that you can push whatever humorous boundary you want to in a picture book, and my dream is to one day be published with Jon Klassen illustrating my work.

The illustrations themselves, and Klassen's signature style, are so unique and so memorable and I utterly adore them. In the same way that you can recognise an Oliver Jeffers illustration from a thousand yards away, so too you can Jon Klassen's work, and I admire him as much as any artist from history whose work I've ever been impressed by.

I cannot, CANNOT, emphasise just how much I love this book and it's two subsequent sequels (which are thematically-related though not story-related), and believe that they should be required reading for the whole of humanity on account on them being so utterly fantastic.

Chris says: See above. I can't say anymore than that. Not just my favourite picture book of all time, but one of my favourite books of all time, period, and the single biggest influence on my own picture book writing. Read it, and know that what you felt flowing through you was true happiness.

Josh says: I love that the bear eats the rabbit.

Xander says: (N.B. Xander just applauded without having to say anything. I loved that reaction!)

So, to summarise Day 30...

What a astonishingly fantastic evening's reading! Each book is wonderful in it's own right, but it was finally the day when we got to read I Want My Hat Back for the Picture Book Challenge, which automatically qualifies it as my favourite day of the challenge so far!

The imagination in the stories that we read today is simply staggering. From the daftness of Green Eggs and Ham to the humorous morality of Thank You, Mr Panda, and the madcap excitement of Knock Knock Dinosaur to the FUNNIEST THING EVER in I Want My Hat Back, we have had our minds blown time and time again tonight as we've gone on adventure after adventure with these characters, and laughed ourselves silly.

Reading together as a family with the quality of stories available to buy from your local bookshop or borrow from your local library is one of the greatest pleasures that you can have - enjoy this time together and look back on it in the future as one of the best parts of raising young children, and hopefully you'll see them turn into lifelong readers with all the benefits that it brings. 

Until tomorrow!

Books Read: 76/1000 (7.6%)

Day 29 (Week 5, Day 1)

Day 29 (Week 5, Day 1)

A nil return today unfortunately! Two children asleep in the car on the way back from visiting friends. We're still way above schedule for the year, but I think we'll try to read more than three books on a few occasions coming up, just to make sure we keep that comfort barrier between us and our target!

Books Read: 72/1000 (7.2%)

Day 28 (Week 4, Day 7)

Day 28 (Week 4, Day 7)

And just like that, we've finished our fourth week of the Picture Book Challenge! It's easier to measure it in weeks I think, rather than months, so we're one-thirteenth done! Woo!

And it's been a fantastic first four weeks, something I'll talk about more in a separate blog post, most likely. For now, I'll just quickly say thank you to all the authors, publishers and readers on Twitter/Facebook who have been helping to promote what we're doing here, and that we can't wait to read more fantastic picture books as the year goes on!

On with the mini-reviews...

1) A Beginner's Guide to Bear Spotting - Michelle Robinson (Author) & David Roberts (Illustrator)

Who would have thought that a picture book about avoiding getting eaten by bears could be genuinely educational as well as utterly daft and hilarious? In such a beautifully illustrated manner too! All those individual strokes of the pen to create the fur - stunning!

I really do mean that I'm delighted to see some completely truthful facts about brown and black bears in this story - normally you might expect a book to just talk about running away from bears if you ever spot one, but Michelle Robinson has specifically tried to show the difference between brown and black bears and how you need to react very differently to each if you ever come across one in the wild - something that the protagonist here has difficultly doing when coming across both at the same time! The narrator is fantastically sarcastic with the child in question at times, and it's also very aware of the fact that the advice it gives for dealing with one bear only seems to attract the other. I'm delighted with everything that I read from Michelle Robinson, and David Roberts wonderful illustrations feel so familiar that I'm sure I must have seen some of his work before.

Definitely the best bear spotting guide you'll find around!

Chris says: I'm absolutely in love with both the illustrations here and the gentle way the narrator continues to chastise the protagonist for not taking things seriously. And, of course, the fact that you learn actual facts about how to react if you run into a brown or black bear!

Josh says: I liked when the bears played with the boys' teddy.

Xander says: Bears!

2) Jasmine's So Fussy - Judith Heneghan (Author) & Jack Hughes (Illustrator)
Image result for jasmine so fussy cover

A nice little tale that shows just why you shouldn't be quite so fussy about what you try, and the rewards you might find if you're a bit more open. It's particularly a message that I'm keen for Joshua to heed, as he's not the greatest at giving new food a try! His reaction to this was positive, especially when I asked him what the benefits of trying new things could be, so perhaps we'll see a marked change from here on out! It's nice and colourful, illustrated with care, and a good example to use with children when you want to address the sort of issues talked about above. Any opportunity to encourage our kids to try more things is welcome!

Though I'd feel bad if I didn't point out that, food aside in Joshua's case, they're both really rather good at giving new things a go...

Chris says: It can often be the hardest battle that you face with your children (getting them to try new things, especially food), so I'd welcome any chance to try and show them exactly why trying something new can be positive. Let's hope it has the desired effect!

Josh says: I liked the strawberry cake - I'd like to have some!

Xander says: Strawberries!

3) Is There A Dog In This Book? - Viviane Schwarz (Author & Illustrator)

The kids absolutely adored There Are Cats in This Book which we read way back on Day 4 so they were delighted to get to read another in the series! Just like the other book, this is a fantastically imaginative and interactive story about a group of silly cats encouraging the reader to help them along the way, which in this case involves investigating whether a dog has gotten into the book. Though they're initially wary (most of them, anyway), they soon come to have fun with the playful pup, as the reader gets to help them using the various lift-the-flap features throughout, almost certainly giggling and laughing heartily as they do so. We certainly did anyhow! The illustrations also have a quirky feel that perfectly matches both the characters and the tone of the book.

What we love more than anything is how much the interactive bits really drive the story forward. In a regular lift-the-flap book it's fun for children to discover what's hidden beneath, but with Viviane Schwarz's stories the flaps are an integral part of the narrative, sometimes being not so much 'lift' flaps but 'turn' flaps, revealing a secondary image on the other side which reveals the next part of the story. It keeps it fun for older children who might be outgrowing the simple 'lift' flaps, and also paves the way for excellent humour. We'll be reading the third book in this series, There Are NO Cats In This Book, at some point for the Picture Book Challenge, and hoping that Viviane Schwarz comes up with more in the series as time goes on!

Chris says: I really stories that make the reader feel like they're influencing what's going on, and I'm certain that Josh and Xander really do get a sense of that with this series. They're very funny and sweet, and VERY well requested!

Josh says: I loved the crocodile, and when the dog was in the trumpet, and the cats hiding in the piano/wardrobe.

Xander says: I liked when the dog appears.

So, to summarise Day 28... 

A really good mix tonight: one book that is hilarious, informative, and highly imaginative in how it presents that information; one that gets across a useful message about not being afraid to try new things; and one that is very interactive and very funny with it. All very bright and colourful too! A perfect advert for different ways that picture books can have a positive impact on children's imaginations, and just how much fun it can be to take them all such exciting literary places.

Books Read: 72/1000 (7.2%)