Friday, 31 March 2017

Day 58 (Week 9, Day 2) - Monday 27th February 2017

Day 58 (Week 9, Day 2) - Monday 27th February 2017

Ugh. Utterly horrible migraine from early afternoon onwards. No chance of reading any stories to the kids tonight unfortunately. Back to bed now...

Books Read: 121/1000 (12.1%)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Day 57 (Week 9, Day 1) - Sunday 26th February 2017

Day 57 (Week 9, Day 1) - Sunday 26th February 2017

A trip to grandparents is a great chance to involve more people in the Picture Book Challenge! This time the kids' Grandad David and Nanny got to sit down and read a book each, which is something they both love to do whenever we go to visit. It's always nice to get as many people as possible to read to Josh & Xander so they get to experience a good number of different storytelling styles and interpretations of the characters in their favourite stories. I'm sure Toby the dog would have liked to have read to them as well if he could!

1) Bob the Artist - Marion Deuchars (Author & Illustrator)

I thought this book was excellent for two reasons: 1) the positive message to not try and change a key part of yourself just to try and fit in, and 2) the small lesson in different artists and styles for children. I'm not an art person particularly, but I do think that the gentle introduction that Bob the Artist gives when it shows Bob painting his beak in several different artistic styles is lovely! So too is the way that Bob ends up not caring that he has thinner legs than the other birds because he's happy in himself at the end of the book. It's fine to be a little different, especially if it makes you unique among your peers.

The illustrations themselves show how you can put across an effective message whilst staying minimalist, with Bob himself being an all-black little bird until he discovers different artists and the colours begin to explode off the page (though this isn't to say that there isn't colour and excellent artistic merit in the illustrations before that at all!).

I'd say this is a great choice for anyone who wants to use the differences in artistic styles to show a child how it's fine to be different because everyone has things that are their own that they should be proud of. That's the message I hope Josh & Xander took from the story anyway!

Chris says: It's an easy message to remember in this story, and that's the type of message that I love picture books to promote - having something about you that's different is absolutely normal, and it's what you do as a person that's important. I definitely want my kids to grow up feeling that way!

Josh says: I liked the drawings.

Xander says: I draw too?

2) Tidy - Emily Gravett

I've read a couple of stories recently about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Holly Bourne's Am I Normal Yet? in particular), particularly of the utterly-mentally-debilitating variety, and while Tidy is not trying to tell us about quite as extreme an example, it does a great job of approaching the subject of how it's fine to want things to be neat and tidy, but not to let it get in the way of having fun living your life. Badger is one such person who doesn't like mess, trying to keep the forest where he lives tidy in impossible ways (binning all the leaves, uprooting all the trees), until he eventually realises he might have gone too far when he concretes the forest over and realises that he can't now get into his sett to sleep.

Emily Gravett is a wonderful author/illustrator, and I love the way that children can easily see that as Badger gets more extreme in his tidying, the forest loses its colours and becomes drab and dull. Whether it's intended exactly this way or not I'm not sure (though knowing her skill with storytelling, I'd pretty certain it will be), but to me it's a great echo of the fact that if you let an obsession like this build to the point where you can't enjoy things because you're trying to prevent them occurring to get rid of the threat of untidiness, your life too will become drab and dull.

As ever, it's a gentle way of talking about issues that can affect someone at any age, without making it into a huge talking point. Your children can just laugh at how daft Badger has been if they want, or you can follow up and discuss it in more detail if you feel you need to.

Brilliant, as ever, from Emily Gravett!

Chris says: I'm not a tidy person in anyway, so you'll never get me ending up in the situation as badly as Badger, but I really do appreciate a story that you can use to gently show your kids why you shouldn't take things too far at the detriment of enjoying your life.

Josh says: Daddy isn't very tidy.

Xander says: Trees!

3) Dave's Rock - Frann Preston-Gannon (Author & Illustrator)

I so love the illustrations in this story! Just look at Dave on the front cover with his utterly adorable wide caveman eyes! It's charming right from the first page all the way to the very end in fact, as Dave and his friend Jon first compete to decide who has the best rock, before working to enjoy their rocks together. The fact that they get so close to building a scooter together, only to ignore it and leave the animals to build it themselves afterwards only makes me adore them even more. It's a delightfully funny story that the kids enjoyed as much as I did, as we laughed together about how silly they both were.

I write a lot about loving books that teach kids a gentle message, have swashbuckling adventures, or a twist cleverer than any adult book can manage, but sometimes it's wonderful just to have a book that makes you laugh due to it's simple story and genuine warm humour. Dave's Rock is perfect for the latter, and we'd love to check out the first book in the series, Dave's Cave.

Lovely end to the evening's reading!

Chris says: This is the sort of story that makes you say, 'What? You haven't read Dave's Rock? Well, better put that right straight away!', and then gets you to produce a copy from the place in the library you've stashed it deliberately for such an occasion. In other words, if someone told me they wanted a picture book to make them laugh, I'd have this high up on the list of titles to recommend.

Josh says: The animals were cleverer than they were!

Xander: I have a rock!

So, to summarise Day 57...

A lovely education in different artists during Bob the Artist, a warning not to be too obsessed with tidying in Tidy, and a delightfully funny story about two caveman friends and their rocks in Dave's Rock made tonight's reading memorable for several different reasons! It doesn't matter whether we pick a theme of similar books or have all three being very different like these - we just love to read as a family, particularly if we can get others involved that we don't see all the time!

Books Read: 121/1000 (12.1%)

Friday, 24 March 2017

Day 56 (Week 8, Day 7) - Saturday 25th February 2017

Day 56 (Week 8, Day 7) - Saturday 25th February 2017

The only problem with a lovely day seeing family is that often there's no time left at the end for reading stories before bed! That's what happened to us today, but we're going to try to make up for it tomorrow as we stay with my dad and step mum (the kids' Grandad David and Nanny) - fingers crossed!

Books Read: 118/1000 (11.8%)

Day 55 (Week 8, Day 6) - Friday 24th February 2017

Day 55 (Week 8, Day 6) - Friday 24th February 2017

I finished the working week tonight with a real craving for reading some books, and reading some books is what we did! There's nothing better than finishing a long week at work (in a job that I love, I might add!) and coming home to grab a quick bite to eat and reading some stories before putting Josh & Xander to bed.

I had slight reservations about starting tonight's reading with a ghost story, but there didn't seem to be any complaints about nightmares so I think I got away with it!

1) Ghost in the House - Ammi-Joan Paquette (Author) & Adam Record (Illustrator)

Casper might be a friendly ghost, but he isn't as friendly looking as the ghost in this story! It's a great tale of ghosts, mummies, & monsters, all finding each other in an old house, before the scariest thing of all appears...a young boy! It's a rhyming story, and one of the most fun parts for us was getting the kids to guess what the next spooky creature would be, based on the key rhyming word.

I really did like the illustrations, which make it clear to the kids that this is a fun story really, not a scary one, and the expressions that most of them wear are so outlandishly cartoony that I smiled with every new page.

One you can enjoy even when it's not Halloween!

Chris says: I really liked how Josh enjoyed guessing what the next monster would be - great to see his imagination fired!

Josh says: I liked the ghost best.

Xander: No, thank you! (N.B. This was him refusing to tell me his favourite part - he was enthralled during the story itself!)

2) Small Elephant's Bathtime - Tatyana Feeney (Author & Illustrator)

I'm sure I'm not the only parent who feels this way, but the story of a child who doesn't want a bath until someone else has one rings remarkably true! That's definitely a favourite type of story before bedtime - one where you can all laugh together about the times you've had the same experiences, and see the children laugh as they know it's true and are highly likely to do it again in the future!

The illustrations are done in quite a minimalist style with the focus on what the characters are doing, rather than the detail of their surroundings, and it works really well as we're able to focus on enjoying the familiar scenario. Plus Small Elephant must surely be one of the cutest animals I've seen drawn in a picture book!

Just lovely!

Chris says: Josh & Xander are pretty good when it comes to bathtimes, but there have definitely been arguments from one about getting in that have only been solved when the other decides they're ready! Always fun to see real life played out in a book!

Josh says: This reminds me of Donald Trump because he never wants to get in the bath at nighttime (N.B. I swear this is what he said. I have no words.)

Xander says: I want a smoothie! (N.B. About as useful as Josh's comment but he laughed when Small Elephant wouldn't get in so I know he enjoyed it!)

3) Grrrrr! - Rob Biddulph (Author & llustrator)

We read Blown Away by Rob Biddulph very recently, and instead of spreading his work out over the next year we decided that we had to get more of his work as soon as possible! We're very glad we did, too, because Grrrrr! is another fun tale that the children thoroughly enjoyed (as did I), as Fred Bear's friends help him search for his missing 'grrrrr' before the animals' annual competition begins.

What's great about it is that the thief, Boris, gives a reason that, whilst wrong, is understandable and a good way of showing children that sometimes people do the wrong things when they're nervous or scared, but that a second chance can lead to a friendship (and it's friendship here that helps Fred Bear win). The illustrations are just as good as Blown Away, in a style that I look forward to seeing more of, and the kids loved shouting 'grrrrr!' along with the story.

Immense fun!

Chris says: Great illustrations, great message for kids, great resolution...everything great!

Josh says: I like how Fred's friends came to help him win.

Xander had disappeared to go to sleep at this point...though his comments tonight hadn't exactly been related to any of the stories we'd just read!

So, to summarise Day 55...

I think Josh's comment about Donald Trump's bathtime probably wins the award for Strangest Comment already with only two months of the year gone, but book-wise we giggled our way through the whole evening of reading! Particularly delightful illustrations abound in each story tonight I thought, as well as every book leaving us with a smile on our faces as we finished them.

Sometimes it takes a short bit of persuading to get our evening of reading started, but it's always well worth it when we do!

Books Read: 118/1000 (11.8%)

Day 54 (Week 8, Day 5) - Thursday 23rd February 2017

Day 54 (Week 8, Day 5) - Thursday 23rd February 2017

My optimism yesterday at getting more books read today was sadly misplaced, as we had Another day without any progress, but a renewed determination to have a wonderful evening of reading tomorrow night!

Roll on Friday!

Books Read: 115/1000 (11.5%)

Day 53 (Week 8, Day 4) - Wednesday 22nd February 2017)

Day 53 (Week 8, Day 4) - Wednesday 22nd February 2017)

No books today due to a visit to London for me, and a hectic time trying to sort everything out in the afternoon and evening for my wife. Lots to look forward to tomorrow though!

Books Read: 115/1000 (11.5%)

Day 52 (Week 8, Day 3) - Tuesday 21st February 2017

Day 52 (Week 8, Day 3) - Tuesday 21st February 2017

I'm always happiest doing the Picture Book Challenge when both Josh and Xander sit down to listen to the stories that we've chosen for that day. Tonight, however, I couldn't get Xander to settle down with us, so it was mainly Josh who got read too (though Xander was in the room playing while we read!).

As long as we're reading together in some form, that's good enough for me and for the Picture Book Challenge!

Onward with the reviews...

1) Super Stan - Matt Robertson (Author & Illustrator)

Poor Jack. Constantly unnoticed as he sits in the shadow of his literally-a-superhero-with-powers little brother Stan, he can't help but feel resentful at his sibling. It's a problem that I'm sure countless siblings have to deal with growing up, feeling second best if one sibling does better academically or sportingly etc., and trying not to let it ruin their friendship. In the end things work out fine for Jack and Stan, as Jack finds a way to help rescue something precious to his little brother and be a real hero himself, and I was so pleased to see both Josh and Xander's reactions being that they loved being brothers too. I hope they don't have to deal with feelings like this at any point, but it's great to know that there are useful stories we can turn to should problems like this ever occur.

The illustrations are lovely and in a big, bright, colourful style that the kids always enjoy, and they're also very emotive as you see poor Jack's downcast expression in his relegated position next to his brother.

A great story with a great message of hope for any siblings feeling like they're stuck in another's shadow!

Chris says: I really hope that we help to mitigate any feelings of resentment from the kids to each other if one does better in some areas than the other, but knowing there are stories like this to help is very welcome!

Josh says: I liked that the big brother saved the day. Like me.

Xander says: Joshua is my brother!

2) The Lion Inside - Rachel Bright (Author) & Jim Field (Illustrator)

Throw me a book written by Rachel Bright and I'm a happy man. Throw me a book illustrated by Jim Field and I'm also a happy man. Throw me a book that combines the two? Colour me extremely happy!

Mouse might be small, but he's determined to make himself heard. If he can just get the most fearsome beast of all, the lion, to teach him how to roar, maybe he won't go unnoticed anymore. It's a classic story about the smallest personal still being able to make a difference, as the mouse discovers that the only thing which can scare a lion is a mouse! Josh loved it as these two made for an unlikely friendship, and a lowly mouse found a way to prove he was as fearsome as anyone else. Utterly charming, and hope for anyone who feels in this position themselves.

It's filled with the usual warmth and gentle morality of Rachel Bright (author of the wonderful Love Monster series, and Mine! amongst many others), and the outlandish cartoon-wonder of Jim Field (illustrator of Oi Frog and Oi Dog, two of the most recognisably-memorable books of the last decade). It's a dream combination creating a wonderfully warm story that is impossible not to enjoy. Excellent stuff!

Chris says: A great story from two of my favourite picture book creators. I always enjoy a story where I can give the kids a positive message at the end of it, and this is perfect for showing them that they are never too small to be noticed.

Josh says: I liked when the lion and the mouse made friends.

N.B. Xander has disappeared by this point to go and find some food, so he missed this and the next story!

3) The Bear Who Stared - Duncan Beedie (Author & Illustrator)

This is a story about a bear who stares. A lot. But like a lot of misunderstood heroes, there might be a reason for it that's different then the one you first think...

Poor Bear. Turns out he's just shy and curious, and by the time he's figured out something to say to the other animals he's met, they've got all grouchy with him and he's had to move on. As with many stories that we've read for the Picture Book Challenge, this presents an excellent chance to discuss with your children about children and others who might be quite shy and therefore appear a little odd, but that could be good friends if you give them a chance. On the other hand, it can also be good to show shy children that they can make new friends if they can pluck up the courage.

Also, the illustrations are wonderful! Those bear eyes that stare so nervously! Especially when we zoom in on them near the start of the book. The other animals that Bear stares at are delightfully grumpy before he makes friends with them, and all of them have particularly expressive eyebrows!

An excellent story about overcoming shyness, and understanding those who suffer from it.

Chris says: Another story with an excellent message behind it! I've never been shy enough to literally just stare, and I don't think Josh or Xander have either, but none of us are totally un-shy all the time, and so we took the chance here to discuss the fact that it's alright to be shy, but that we should try to pluck up the courage to be braver in social situations when we feel shyness overcoming us. Great to have books that help prompt useful conversations! Also, I love those eyes!

Josh says: I liked when he made new friends and when the badger bit him on the nose.

So, to summarise day 52...

I felt very disappointed for Xander that he missed both The Lion Inside and The Bear Who Stared as I'm sure he would have loved to see the mouse scaring the lion in the former, and those incredible staring eyes of the bear in the latter, but alas that's how it goes sometimes! As it happened, Josh and I enjoyed them immensely as we saw two characters conquer there own personal problems, as the three of us did with Super Stan as older brother Jack found his rightful place alongside superhero-brother Stan.

An evening then of characters overcoming problems in very positive ways - what better theme to send the kids to sleep thinking about?!

Books Read: 115/1000 (11.5%)

Day 51 (Week 8, Day 2) - Monday 20th February 2017

Day 51 (Week 8, Day 2) - Monday 20th February 2017

No time to read tonight, as some very tired children needed an early bed following dinner! We'll get back on with trying to catch up again tomorrow!

Books Read: 112/1000 (11/2%)

Day 50 (Week 8, Day 1) - Sunday 19th February 2017

Day 50 (Week 8, Day 1) - Sunday 19th February 2017

One of these days I really will make more of an effort to read some of these stories in the morning rather than just before bed when everyone is exhausted (including me!).

Not that we're not knackered in the morning too, of course, but it always seems somehow to be slightly easier to be waking up than falling asleep when you're trying to convince everyone involved that photos of comments on books are an exciting thing to be doing when you've finished reading!

1) Secret Tree Fort - Brianne Farley (Author & Illustrator)

Now this story must ring true for lots of siblings out there! When one of you wants to play but the other wants to read or just relax; the one who wants to play invents increasingly elaborate and creative suggestions for why the other should come and play with them, because HONESTLY, this thing you've got is LITERALLY the most exciting thing ever...

Brianne Farley has truly captured this conflict in a wonderfully creative way, and beautifully illustrated style. As a parent of two kids who experience this from time to time, I've got total sympathy with both sides, and I love the resolution at the end - this fabulous creation that one sister has imagined might not exist, but the other sister know that perhaps they could have fun building it together anyway.

I'd love to see what other conflicts Brianne Farley could tell us about, and the solutions she could create!

Chris says: A fantastic illustration of the difficulties that siblings (or anyone, really) can suffer when one of you wants to do something together but the other just wants to get on with their own thing. Neither of you being unreasonable, but neither willing to budge. A lovely resolution to it and a great chance to talk about how to solve such problems with your kids!

Josh says: A house made of sweets!

Xander says: I want sweets!

2) Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool - Jeanne Willis (Author) & Tony Ross (Illustrator)

If you're one of these folk that doesn't like anything slightly gruesome happening to characters in books then look away now. If you're not one of those strange folk however then do please go and pick up a copy of Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool, because you'll love the cruel fate that befalls the heroine of this story.

Heroine isn't really the best choice of description for Lucinda in all honesty though, because despite having an incredibly misplaced intention to make the world a better place, she's actually rather a shallow individual who thinks that everyone needs to make themselves as perfect as she is, and isn't afraid of hurting people's feelings to get her point across - or at the very least she's totally oblivious to the fact that most of what she's saying would cause anyone to be upset. Once again it's a great topic to talk to your children about, highlighting why tact and acceptance of so important to be mindful of (and not just because you might end up the main course for a hungry monster's next meal!).

Also, it's from the team of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross once more, so there isn't really much chance you aren't going to enjoy it, is there?

Chris says: You can't not love a book where the main character gets eaten, particularly one who has some kind of cruel fate coming. Anything that invokes the spirit of Roald Dahl is a winner!

Josh says: I liked when Belinda got eaten.

Xander says: Make the monster pretty!

3) This Is My Rock - David Lucas (Author & Illustrator)

Ah, grumpy goats. One of my favourite grumpy animals, definitely, and this little goat is no exception! He does not want anyone else on the rock which he has claimed, until he gets hungry, cold, and bored, that is...

I really do love how the goat insists on having the rock to himself, before realising that maybe he made a mistake, and perhaps he'd better go try to make amends. A great message for kids on not being selfish, and also that it's not too late to try and put right! The illustrations are funny and very effective at demonstrating the goat's initial triumph (particularly the celebratory yodeling and dancing!), and David Lucas might have drawn some of the best (and ridiculously simple) eyes I've yet seen in a picture book.

Hilarious ending, too! We loved it!

Chris says: I just love grumpy animals, and this goat in particular is funny as anything. I especially love how the little bird at the end then tries to claim the rock as his own - only a short extra piece of fun on the last page, but it really topped off a wonderfully funny story for me!

Josh says: This is my rock!

Xander says: This is MY rock!

So, to summarise Day 50...

There's been a fair few grumpy characters today! From sisters who can't agree what to do in Secret Tree Fort, someone who can't accept people being less than perfect in Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool, and the best grumpy goat I've come across in This is My Rock, there's no shortage of characters that start off showing less than their best sides, but end up redeemed (even if one of them gets eaten to achieve redemption...). Isn't is great that picture books aren't afraid of showing our worst sides along with our best?

Books Read: 112/1000 (11.2%)

Day 49 (Week 7, Day 7) - Saturday 18th February

Day 49 (Week 7, Day 7) - Saturday 18th February

At this stage I honestly can't remember what I've written about in this little introductions, but one of the major problems that I'm having with keeping this blog up to date is honestly convincing the kids that it would be nice to have a photo of them with the books at the end of our pre-bed reading time! If I don't get the picture there and then, I have to try and get it the next day, by which time I might've fallen behind with the reviews, so the blog post gets delayed, and then I might manage to get a photo with a later book but not the earlier ones so I can't put out either blog post as the first isn't done yet, and so on and so on until you have the ludicrous situation where this particular post is actually getting finished on Wednesday 22nd March, over a month after we actually read the stories!

Moreover, sometimes I end up returning the books to the library without a picture, and then I have to try and get them back out on loan which means waiting even longer to publish the post, and then I might forget, and...

Which is my way of saying 'there's no photos of the kids with these books when I'm first publishing this, although hopefully I'll get them added at a later date'!

We've had illnesses, staying away from home while we have work done on the house, generally being exhausted, work, holidays, other projects to work on etc., whilst still trying to make sure that at the very least we try and get the actual stories read and make a note of them, so that the follow up blog posts can be written at some point. I actually have most of the other posts written at this point, but refuse to not publish them in order, hence why this one is so late - though hopefully it will now start up an avalanche of published posts that will put us somewhere near being back on track!

Thank you for taking the time to check out the Picture Book Challenge and see what we're doing - it's very much appreciated!

1) Monkey's Sandwich - Michelle Robinson (Author) & Emily Fox (Illustrator)

There's a rather hungry monkey at the heart of this story, who presumes a little too much of how much he's allowed to take from his friends without their permission, helping himself to food from all of their houses and making the most extraordinary sandwich. His friends aren't too happy that he's been generously helping himself to their food, even though in the end they do share all of it together without him, as he ends up asleep from all the excitement before he can eat a bite.

It's a great story about sharing for a couple of reasons. Monkey shouldn't just take without permission, because your friends need to say that they are for you to do so, but at the same time, all the animals have a great time together when they realise that sharing their food with each other is lots of fun (even if it came about through selfish reasons!).

It's very bright and colourful indeed, with Emily Fox's illustrations perfectly highlighting Monkey's gleeful (if selfish) delight at his 'borrowing' spree. They'll certainly entertain children who want to see fabulously tall sandwiches being made!

It's a great way of discussing sharing from a wonderful author/illustrator team!

Chris says: I've said it many times and I'll happily say it again - I love a story that has a moral you can discuss, whilst at the same time also completely ignore discussing if you want to and just enjoy an entertaining story. Always good for a parent to have that option!

Josh says: I can't stop laughing!

Xander says: I eat all the sandwich!

2) Mr Bunny's Chocolate Factory - Elys Dolan (Author & Illustrator)

I genuinely don't think there's any illustrator out there who puts as much into their illustrations as Elys Dolan! There is always SO MUCH going on in her pictures that half the fun of reading it is just trying to spot exactly how much crazy stuff is going on there. I remember when we read Jonathan Emmett's The Clockwork Dragon we saw how much extra detail Elys Dolan had put into creating a believable world in the background, and it's the same in Mr Bunny's Chocolate Factory, where she plays author as well as illustrator.

The story itself of a tyrannical factory owner who has to learn to be more understanding for his workers is a great tale in itself of not putting yourself on a pedastal above everyone else and making unfair demands of them, but it really is the bits in the background that make this so much more. The missing chicken Debbie, for example, who is continually referenced through posters and signs and then finally shows up at the end, is one of the greatest secondary plot threads ever, and in 32 pages it's ridiculously impressive to even HAVE a secondary plot thread. The illustrations themselves are wonderful cartoons, but I really can't stop waxing lyrical about just how effective they are at building such a full and substantial world around the story (particularly the search for Debbie).

Please, do yourself a favour and go and join the hunt for Debbie as soon as you possibly can!

Chris says: I know, I'm saying it again, but I can't stop going on about how fantastic the Debbie plot thread is - it's the sort of thing that just makes you want to spend all your time convincing everyone else to read the story, and though I'll equally champion a book that effectively enhances a story with a minimalist approach to its illustrations, you've really got to admire when there's so much going on.

Josh says: I liked the chocolate eggs.

Xander says: All the eggs!

3) Neon Leon - Jane Clarke (Author) & Britta Teckentrup (Illustrator)

Wow, Leon is so bright! A proper luminous chameleon who stands out in what should be a very exciting way, but unfortunately for a chameleon who is supposed to blend in to his environment this isn't seen as a good thing. Even with the help of the reader (in some fantastic interactive parts of the story) he still can't change, and eventually has to leave when he's so bright that he keeps the other chameleons awake. Nor does he fit in with other similarly coloured animals who can fly away. Luckily though, there's always someone else out there who's the right match to be your friend, and we leave Leon happy with his new mate at the end of the book.

All of this together is a lovely way of talking to children about how sometimes you stick out from the crowd because you're different and it isn't your fault, but that it doesn't matter and that you'll find someone similar out there who wants to be friends with you, so not to give up hope. All the way through, the author encourages the reader to help Leon by talking louder to him or turning the pages softly to help him sleep, and it helps children to invest in the story so well when they think they have a chance of making a positive outcome to the character they're rooting for. Britta Teckentrup has used such a dazzling array of colours and themes throughout that it's a real joy to behold.

A lovely message with some gorgeous illustrations make this an excellent interactive story for helping to show that it's okay to be different!

Chris says: I love interactive stories. The kids get so much out of it and it makes it fun for me too when I get to encourage them to take part! Lovely message as well.

Josh says: I'd like to be orange with my brother as we're best friends.

Xander says: Orange!

So, to summarise Day 49...

Such a bright and colourful evening of reading! None of the books tonight were at all afraid of being bold, beautiful and eye-catching, effortlessly drawing us into the stories they've created and delighting the children and myself with what we've found.

Also, we had the campaign to save Debbie, which once more I cannot emphasise enough how much I loved. Definitely one of my favourite moments of the Picture Book Challenge so far!

Books Read: 109/1000 (10.9%)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Day 48 (Week 7, Day 6) - Friday 17th February 2017

Day 48 (Week 7, Day 6) - Friday 17th February 2017

Do you know what often delays me getting these blog posts published? It's not the actual writing up - I usually get that done in the same evening, and just leave the post as a draft until it's ready to publish.

Nope, it's actually taking the photos of the kids with the books to go along with them! If they're really tired (and they usually are) following the stories that evening, it's almost impossible to get a decent photo, so that bit gets delayed and then I don't want to publish the post without them so we end up with huge backlog like this where Day 48 from Friday 17th February is only getting published in the wee hours of Friday 10th March!

I love having the photos to go along with the post to show that the kids have been enjoying the books, but sometimes I think I should focus more on just getting the posts up and including the photos at a later date! Or even reading in the morning before school - though that's not to suggest anyone is more awake then than they are in the evenings!

Here are today's reviews, anyway...

1) Nursery Time - Mij Kelly (Author) & Mary McQuillan (Illustrator)

There's so much going on in these illustrations! I love to see books where you can spend time pointing out the various things the characters are up to, and the fun they're having, in this instance at the nursery where Suzy Sue has gone to. It's a good example of how a book can take the fears a child might have about starting nursery, or even a younger sibling worrying about an older one starting, and showing that there's nothing to worry about - they're going somewhere to have fun, and they'll always come home.

There's some cracking rhyming text here too, to go along with the busy pictures, and I always think that rhyming texts in general are fun to read because of the rhythm which children enjoy.

Lovely, colourful fun!

Chris says: Both Josh and Xander were a little nervous about starting pre-school, though not as bad as some children can be (I imagine), but it's great to know that there are books like this out there that might help alleviate some of those fears.

Josh says: I liked the farm nursery at the end.

Xander says: I liked the swing.

2) Don't Wake Up Tiger! - Britta Teckentrup (Author & Illustrator)


Oh, we did like this funny tale! Everyone is being so careful not to wake the sleeping tiger, but will the little band of animal friends make it past him without doing so? And is there a more innocent reason why they don't want to wake him up?

You'll probably guess that the answer is obviously yes, and it's a great way of throwing a little twist in for kids (though you'll have to read it to find out what it is...). What was really great was how interactive the book is, encouraging kids to help each character as they try to avoid waking the tiger while sneaking past. I like the way too that the illustrations seem to have been made with brushes of different textures; it makes them stand out just a bit more, and the characters themselves are so all wonderfully expressive that it draws you right in.

Great stuff!

Chris says: The interactive nature of this book makes it such a fun read for a family. Anything that breaks the fourth wall and gets kids joining in directly with the characters is excellent in my eyes!

Josh says: I liked singing happy birthday!

Xander says: Happy birthday!

3) Boa's Bad Birthday - Jeanne Willis (Author) & Tony Ross (Illustrator)

Oh, now this IS a good message, and not just for kids! I'm sure we've all had presents that haven't been exactly the most useful things for us personally (like gloves for Boa in this story, who doesn't have, you know...hands), and for children especially, who are excited about what a present could have been, it can be incredibly difficult to control their fragile emotions. This story (from the legendary pair of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross) is an excellent reminder never to dismiss a present or the thoughtfulness behind it, because you never know when it might turn out to be the perfect present for you after all.

I like how the story doesn't shy away from showing that the presents genuinely aren't useful for Boa, so it's not just a case of him being ungrateful, and that it's alright for him to feel disappointed that people haven't thought logically enough for what might be suitable for him, but that it also shows how things can work out unexpectedly well if you give them a chance.

Valuable messages wrapped up in a good read!

Chris says: I like to think that Josh and Xander are considerate when it comes to thank yous for presents, and that even if they weren't overjoyed with what they'd received they'd still be appreciative, but it's a welcome chance just to re-iterate that it's alright to sometimes be disappointed, but not to dismiss something outright. Gentle moral messages are always a nice feature in a picture book story!

Josh says: I like how the present turned out to be good in the end.

Xander says: I liked that!

So, to summarise Day 48...

We've alleviated fears of going to nursery, interacted with characters trying to sneak past a sleeping tiger, and reminded ourselves not to judge whether a present is useful or not too eclectic mix indeed! All the stories share a key thing in common though - they're all brilliant to read as a family!

A lovely evening's reading, with three titles that deserve to be read far and wide in the near future!

Books Read: 106/1000 (10.6%)

Day 47 (Week 7, Day 5) - Thursday 16th February 2017

Day 47 (Week 7, Day 5) - Thursday 16th February 2017

No books tonight sadly, as we had two very tired boys, so we look forward to some excellent books tomorrow night!

Books Read: 103/1000 (1.3%)

Day 46 (Week 7, Day 4) - Wednesday 15th February 2017

Day 46 (Week 7, Day 4) - Wednesday 15th February 2017

I'm so, SO far behind as I write up these reviews. Everything seems to have gotten so busy lately that I'm putting a few weeks' worth of reviews together in a random order, so that I'll write up books not in the order that we read them, but in the order that I happen to pluck them from the ever-growing pile and manage to convince Josh or Xander to pose for a picture holding them. I've finished this page (eventually) before I have Sunday 12th February (though that's mainly because the write up that I DID do for it didn't save, and it's always tricky to feel motivated to go back and re-write something that you've unfairly lost).

The important thing is that we've tried to keep reading three books a day where we can, and that we know we can always catch up on the mini-reviews with time (and I do think we're getting closer!). Apologies if there doesn't happen to be anyone who was enjoying getting a daily report when the Picture Book Challenge was fresh! Hopefully we'll reach that stage again soon.

Anyway, for now, on with the reviews...

1) Life is Magic - Meg McLaren

A magic show is turned upside down as the great magician Houdini's rabbit turns the wizard himself into another rabbit, in a magic trick gone wrong! Can the rabbit keep the magic show going, or will he need to turn his mentor back into a human again> Well, it's great fun finding out!

It's a story of warmth, as the rabbit realises that despite being proficient at putting on a show himself, he preferred things how they were before, and he's certain that Houdini did too. It's a great story of friendship and doing the right thing to make your friends happy, and that's a very positive message to share before bedtime! It's illustrated superbly, with a cartoony and almost magical feel to the pictures, and the expressions that all the bunnies wear particularly made me smile.

A magical bedtime story that's guaranteed to make everyone feel good inside!

Chris says: I thought the fact that the rabbit turned his back being the main magician so that Houdini would be happy again was an excellent message to send to children, both about being selfless for your friends, and also about doing the right thing for a project, even if you cease to have the starring role.

Josh says: I liked when the magician turned into a rabbit

Xander says: I liked the turning around (N.B. Not exactly certain which bit he meant by this...)

2) There's a Tiger in the Garden - Lizzy Stewart

I'm sure there'll be a point where Josh decides he's too old for certain games, but this story is an excellent reminder for children of why you're never too old to let your imagination run wild. Nora might not believe there's a tiger in her grandmother's garden, but her grandmother thinks she should go outside and play there anyway, just to find out. Sure enough, when Nora gets to the garden she finds out there's plenty of exciting animals to find there when she lets her imagination takeover, and perhaps at least might have made its way inside the house by the end, too...

It's a really beautifully drawn book, full of creativity as Nora explores her grandmother's garden, and it's the type of story that gets kids excited for going and exploring the outdoors (which is always a good thing!) - it was a pity, therefore, that we read it before bed and couldn't actually immediately go out on an adventure! Pretty certain we'll go hunting in the woods for animals the next chance we get though!

A great one for reminding those slightly older children that you don't have to grow up too soon.

Chris says: I think what I like best is just how vast this garden gets as Nora explores it - maybe her grandmother just has a big garden, but I feel like we get deeper into a never-ending garden the more Nora unleashes her imagination. And I love the mermaid in the bath at the end, showing that Nora has forgotten all about being too old for games!

Josh says: I liked the mermaid in the bath.

Xander says: Tiger!

3) The Journey - Francesca Sanna

If you feel deeply saddened by the plight of refugees in the world at the moment then have a box of tissues handy when you read this, because it's one of the most emotional picture books that I've ever read. It's about a mother and two children, forced to flee their war-torn country when the father/husband is taken, and their endless struggle to find a new place in the world to live. And the saddest thing of all? There ISN'T a resolution at the end of the book. Just like all those refugees currently displaced in the world from Syria and other countries, many of them are still searching for a home that will welcome them and look after them.

The family face danger throughout the journey, and you're genuinely unsure whether they'll survive it, because picture of not, this isn't a book that want's to hide the harsh reality from those reading it, though it does so in subtle (rather than in-your-face) ways. This is done primarily through it's astonishingly beautiful, and at the same time haunting, illustrations, which often contradict the slightly more hopeful narration by one of the children, allowing us to see the much darker truth. On one page, for example, a border guards stands ten times their size, highlighting their mammoth struggle to find a way over a border wall; later, the mother cries while the children sleep, in stark contrast to the child's narration which claims she is never scared. Earlier, a friend's breath becomes a literal picture of a far off land, using the canvas in inventive and unusual ways that make this an ever-more impressive work of art.

It's a stunning combination of text and illustration, showcasing the perfect way in which each can tell a different story and layer the tale in so many different ways.

When I asked Josh what he liked, he said (rather quietly), 'Nothing'. When I asked why, he said, 'It made me sad'. With a tale like this, I think that's an understandable response from a four year old child. It made me sad, too. It broke my heart to be truthful. It also left me in no doubt about how beautifully this tragic story is told, whilst at the same time being so utterly haunting that I've thought about it many times since.

A timely reminder of the pain and suffering that innocent families suffer when we deem it prudent to close our offers of help to them, and leave them to continue their painful journey with no real hope of resolution.

Chris says: I've not read many picture books this stunningly emotional. The pairing of text to illustration and the conflict between what is narrated and what is actually happening is just exquisite, and I'm not ashamed to say that I had tears in my eyes at the end. Josh's reaction of saying he felt sad is exactly the reaction I think he should have had, and I talked it through with him afterwards to reassure him that it was fine to feel that way. I'd be stunned if this doesn't win awards.

Josh says: It made me feel sad.

Xander says: I liked the birds.

So, to summarise Day 46...

We were treated to a magical tale with Life is Magic, and the joy of not growing up too quickly in There's a Tiger in the Garden, but what stays with me most (and I have no doubt will be one of the most memorable books we read this year) is the breathtaking The Journey by Francesca Sanna. It's beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure, and is far more than a children's story about refugees. It deserves to be read by anyone and everyone, and I'll be championing this as often as possible.

A lovely evening of picture books to share with you all!

Books Read: 103/1000 (10.3%)

Day 45 (Week 7, Day 3) - Tuesday 14th February 2017

Day 45 (Week 7, Day 3) - Tuesday 14th February 2017

We always aim to read at least three books for the Picture Book Challenge per day, but sometimes tiredness sets in and we settle for two. Those two books this evening though have taken us to our first big milestone - 100 books read! One-tenth of the way there!

I would have liked us to have gotten there sooner, but that's just how it goes with busy lives and illnesses. We'll pick up the pace again soon I'm sure, and hopefully get to reading more than three a day regularly, to up our numbers a bit.

What an excellent first 100 books it's been!

1) Toad and I - Louise Yates

This highly imaginative tales takes us to the secret world of the forest through Toad's treehouse, and the disruption it faces when Kitty accidentally bounces her ball too hard, creating mayhem in it's path. It's exactly the kind of adventure that I can see the children creating out in our local woods if they were to imagine playing with all the animals that might live there, and they laughed a lot at the problems the animals faced thanks to Kitty's errant ball. Josh in particular loved the fact that the ball gets burst on Hedgehog's prickly behind (it's not difficult to make him laugh where bottoms are concerned!)/

It's colourful with its illustrations, and they perfectly capture the fun fantasy world of this forest, and the mishaps that befall its residents. A lovely tale of adventures amongst the trees that will inspire any children to beg for an outdoor trip in the near future!

Chris says: I've always enjoyed stories about animals in forests, so this is perfect for a bit of a nostalgia trip, and for inspiring that feeling of excitement about going to play outdoors.

Josh says: I love when the ball burst on the hedgehog's bottom!

Xander says: Can we play outside, Daddy?

2) Harry and the Jaggedy Daggers - Jan Fearnley

First things first - this books comes with an immensely detailed pull out map! It's fantastic just for that fact alone! Seriously, anything like that gets me incredibly excited, and I think we spent as long looking at the map itself as we did reading the actual story! What better way to lead you on an adventure than a map?!

The story itself is one about the dangers of the sea, and the heroes that brave the dangerous waters to rescue those in need. It had Josh and Xander cheering by the time Harry had completed his mission to get all Samina Songbird's eggs to safety, away from the storm and the Jaggedy Daggers (the awesome name for the dangerous coastal rocks). The illustrations are beautifully detailed and chockful of action, and did I mention that it it came with an amazing map?

Chris says: I'm going to say it again, but I LOVE that map! Seriously, seriously good way of getting you all excited about a story if you can see a proper layout of where everything is!

Josh says: I liked the Jaggedy Daggers.

Xander says: Boats!

So, to summarise Day 45...

It might be a slightly shorter evening of reading tonight, but we've hit the 100 books read mark! Hooray! Two lovely books to get us there as well, and particularly one INCREDIBLE map! Simply marvelous!

Let's see now if we can't get to the 200 book mark a little bit quicker!

Books Read; 100/1000 (10%)

Day 44 (Week 7, Day 2) - Monday 13th February 2017

Day 44 (Week 7, Day 2) - Monday 13th February 2017

I love doing the Picture Book Challenge. We have such a nice time as a family reading together, and we've discovered so many fantastic books, some of which I hope people have gone out and reserved or bought having seen on here.

I'm not going to lie and say that the Challenge has gone smoothly at every turn, however, There's been plenty of illness, children asleep in the car before we can read at home, and sometimes they're simply so tired that they just don't WANT to read - and that's absolutely fine! Not great when we need to get so many books read, of course, but in the grand scheme of things it's no problem at all to want to have a night off from reading. We want this Challenge to stay fun, after all, and not something that's being forced upon the kids so it becomes something to dread.

With that in mind, it was quite obvious tonight that it just wasn't the right evening for reading, so we're leaving tonight as a nil return, and looking forward to tomorrow night instead!

Books Read: 98/1000 (9.8%)

Day 43 (Week 7, Day 1) - Sunday 12th February 2017

Day 43 (Week 7, Day 1) - Sunday 12th February 2017


Don't you just hate it when for some reason all your work doesn't save? Like this blog post for example, which I spent an hour on the other night and for some reason has chosen not to save everything I did. Hence, after a few days of having a strop with it, I've finally gotten round to re-writing it all.


Anyway, a second night at Noni's house, and some more wonderful stories for Josh & Xander to read! They always love going to any of their grandparents houses and snuggling up for stories - in this case before the long, boring journey home!

At least we know we sent them off to sleep with some exciting tales filling their minds up!

1) Mr Wuffles! - David Wiesner (Author & Illustrator)

Now this was a fantastic surprise - a book with barely any words except an alien language! From a group of alien tourists! And a grumpy cat! Marvellous stuff!

It really is a fantastic idea, too, because it means that virtually every re-telling is going to be unique, as you can decide anew what exactly they're saying and create a new storyline each time (do a certain extent, anyway). I loved the way that all the insects and bugs that the aliens team up with to escape from Mr Wuffles have cave-painting like drawings within their hideout in the walls, and that they all team up to escape from him. It's exciting and well drawn, and there were wonderful touches like the aliens and insects/bugs swap items, like ravioli and alien artefacts, and clearly have delightful conversations about them.

A great chance to tell the same story differently over and over again!

Noni: I think it's great that I can read this with my grandchildren many times, and make the details of the story different on each occasion. Particularly when it's something exciting that they love like aliens!

Josh says: I like them all working together to escape.

Xander says: I like aliens!

2) A Tale of Two Beasts - Fiona Roberton (Author & Illustrator)

This is a story we've enjoyed many times, and one that never fails to make me laugh! I love how we see the same story twice, from the different perspectives of the two main characters, and the second time is all the more hilarious as we see what the 'beast' is really thinking as the little girl 'helps' him. It's a fantastic storytelling technique that I have always loved in any other medium, so to see it executed so well here is marvelous. The illustrations are great to go along with it too, highlighting the beast's discomfort later on in perfect style as he desperately tries to flee the situation he finds himself in.

The whole concept also makes this book perfect for a second read-through; armed with the knowledge of what the beast is actually thinking, the narration from the girl's point of view if just that much funnier, as her well-meaning attempt to look after him is exposed as hilariously incorrect. Josh in particular understands fully why it's so funny, and we've acted out our own little stories before where one of us pretends to do things for the other, not realising that the one being helped isn't after help at all (it usually involves an awful lot of giggling).

Definitely a perfect example of picture books delivering comedy storytelling that grown ups will love every bit as much as children.

Noni says: I did enjoy seeing the story from both perspectives. It's great to know that picture books can offer such wonderful ideas like this that adults will enjoy, and makes for such fun when reading to my grandchildren.

Josh says: I like when the beast escapes.

Xander says: Oh no! (N.B. Not sure what this bit was about...)

3) The Glump and the Peeble - Wendy Meddour (Author) & Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator)

If you want a story that tells children they don't have to stick to what everyone thinks they should do, and that they are free to try to be whatever they want to be, then this is a great example to read to them. It involves a Glump, a species of creature who are supposed to sit quietly and think, who wants nothing more than to dance, and a Peeble, a species of creature who are supposed to want nothing more than to dance, who wants to just sit quietly and think. The two meet, become friends, and encourage each other to do what they've always wanted. It's a great story about not letting stereotypes stop you doing something different that you want to, which is a positive message for children to learn as early as possible.

The imagination of Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown in creating these funny creatures (and the gloriously colourful world they inhabit) is marvelous, and brings a superb alien quality to the very human emotions of wanting to do something different. I hope that lots of families embrace stories like this and the messages within, to try and instill a sense of fearlessness in their children from a young age to embrace the challenge of going against the norm!

Noni says: It's great for my grandchildren to be encouraged to try anything they want to, not be consigned to stereotypes about what they ought to do. I welcome any sto98ry that teaches them to try new things!

Josh says: I like when the glump dances.

Xander says: I can dance!

So, to summarise Day 43...

So much creativity on display in this evening's books! Whether it's a story with barely any dialogue that we tell over and over again in a different way each time, a tale from two different points of view, or strange new creatures teaching us important human lessons, these picture books are perfect for inspiring children's imaginations. You'll have an excellent evening of reading if you pick up this particular selection!

Books Read: 98/1000 (9.8%)