Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Day 80 (Week 12, Day 3) - Tuesday 21st March 2017

Day 80 (Week 12, Day 3) - Tuesday 21st March 2017

Ooh, I had an exciting email come through today - the chance to review Julia Donaldson's latest book, courtesy of NetGalley! There's always something exciting about getting a proof copy of a book through before it's published, though this particular one was in eBook format so we couldn't take our customary picture reading it.

It was just Josh tonight as Xander was too engrossed in the games he was playing, so here's what we thought of the books we read this evening:

1) The Giant Jumperee - Julia Donaldson (Author) & Helen Oxenbury (Illustrator)

We received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It's always great to read a picture book that has a bit of a mystery within that children can enjoy trying to solve. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed trying to guess the identity of the Giant Jumperee, and they thought it was hilarious when the mystery animal's identity was revealed. I'm sure that most adults would have been able to make a decent guess, but for smaller children this is exactly the sort of thing that can come as a huge shock to them, and make a book all the more memorable.

Though it always feels a little strange not to see Axel Scheffler illustrating a Julia Donaldson book (and there are loads of other illustrators that she's worked with so it shouldn't feel that strange, really), Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are delightful and perfectly suited to the story. She brings a fantastic feeling of warmth to accompany the text, mixing the detailed characters in the foreground with the simple but highly effective landscapes in the background.

People are always going to be excited by a new release from Julia Donaldson - having read it, I'm certain they're going to love this one!

Chris says: A lovely little mystery for children to try to solve, beautifully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and a great addition to Julia Donaldson's catalogue. It's always great when an author you much admire brings out a new story that you really enjoy!

Josh says: I like finding out who the Giant Jumperee is.

2) T'wit T'woo - Maddie McClellan (Author & Illustrator)

I'm fond of this book for one very important reason: it's pretty much the first book that Josh has sat down and managed to read through all by himself that isn't one provided by his school. It's a huge step in learning to read, and so I'm very grateful that we came across this! It's a bright and colourful story about a group of owls causing a bit of mayhem and having fun, and Josh relished the chance to be the one that told us what was going on.

He enjoyed reading it so much that he happily read it again, and then again when Xander requested a third read-through. It's fun watching the owls getting up to mischief, but even more fun to see the look of happiness on your son's face as he gets to be the one to read it!

Clearly, therefore, a good recommendation for anyone who wants a warm and amusing picture book for beginner readers to get their teeth into!

Chris says: It's such a very proud moment as a parent when you see your child reading a book that they've picked up all by themselves for the first time. Yes, Josh has been reading well with his school books for a long time, but they're specially designed to be at his reading level, whereas this was just a book he picked up a wanted to have a go at reading. Wonderful to see!

Josh says: I like that I can read this all by myself.

3) Greenling - Levi Pinfold (Author & Illustrator)

We love learning about nature together as a family, and Greenling is a great story to show just how powerful nature is, and how the process of sowing and harvesting crops plays a vital role in how a community comes together. Initially, when Mr Barleycorn brings home a strange green baby that he finds on his land, his wife isn't keen and wants it taking away, but as the greenling's powers are revealed and the townsfolk also become hostile towards it. so Mrs Barleycorn becomes protective and insists that it be allowed to stay.

It's a lovely fable about how nature can disrupt our lives, but also be there to support our lives if we allow it, and as you'd expect from a Kate Greenaway Medal winner, it's beautifully illustrated too (though I must admit to being slightly scared of the greenling's face on the front cover!).

A lovely opportunity to talk to your children about the ways nature looks after us, as why we should try to take care of it, too.

Chris says: Levi Pinfold really is a stunning illustrator, and the imagery in this is so very memorable. It's very lifelike, and really helps to hammer home the message of nature's power.

Josh says: I like the drawings of the people.

So, to summarise Day 80...

Three totally different stories tonight, as we had a mystery, a comedy, and a fable. All very enjoyable, all very imaginative, and all very worthy additions to our Picture Book Challenge total!

Books Read; 157/1000 (15.7%)

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Day 79 (Week 12, Day 2) - Monday 20th March 2017

Day 79 (Week 12, Day 2) - Monday 20th March 2017

We're safely back in Britain after a wonderful trip to France - the first time that the kids have been abroad and they loved it! Great fun at Disneyland Paris, going on lots of rides and experiencing a different culture (and a HUGE amount of Star Wars!), and also the excitement of getting the ferry there and back (despite such a huge delay on the way home).

We couldn't read yesterday because of all the journeying, but we're back adding to our total tonight!

Here's what we've read:

1) The Road Home - Katie Cotton (Author) & Sarah Jacoby (Illustrator)

Oh, this non-fiction (essentially) title is just absolutely stunning! It's the tale of how different animals (birds, mice, wolves, and rabbits) survive in the animal kingdom, against each other and Mother Nature, and both educates us with it's poetical telling of each species' plight, and enthralls us with the sublime visuals that accompany it.

I love when a story combines non-fiction with a story-based narrative to teach children without them even realising that they're learning. Josh & Xander both loved seeing how the different animals survived against each other, with the birds playing predators against the mice, and the wolves hunting down the rabbits, as well as how the protection that each parent offers its young on this journey means that the long road home is still home.

I can't wait to see more stories from Katie Cotton and illustrations from Sarah Jacoby. Sometimes a story really touches you and I feel such an urge to shout to people about how much I enjoyed this - hopefully I'll get it passed round my colleagues at work for the message to spread!

Chris says: I just loved how beautiful the illustrations are, combined with the lyrical way each animals journey is told. It felt like a genuine honour to read something this beautiful!

Josh says: I liked learning about the different animals.

Xander says: I liked the animals.

2) Odd Socks - Michelle Robinson (Author) & Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator)

Well, this is a delightfully quirky little rhyming tale! I thought it was going to be terribly traumatic at one point when one of the sock at the heart of the story got a hole in it, but it finishes on such a happy note as both socks end up as sock puppets that I was prevented from having to make something up about sock heaven!

Not that I believed for one second that Michelle Robinson could ever traumatise me in one of her books! Her stories have easily been one of the main highlights of the Picture Book Challenge so far, making us laugh and smile in equal measure as her creativity unfolds at the heart of every page, and brought to life by an array of talented illustrators. The latest of these, for Odd Socks, is Rebecca Ashdown, whose work we recently enjoyed in The Glump and the Peeble. It makes for such a colourful combination of words and pictures, and the kids loved the idea of turning their old socks into puppets.

Great fun, as always!

Chris says: A book that gives us an idea for a creative activity afterwards! What could be better?

Josh says: I'd like to make sock puppets, especially with googly eyes.

Xander says: I like socks!

3) Sidney, Stella, and the Moon - Emma Yarlett (Author & Illustrator)

The premise of this story, that an inability to share for siblings Sidney & Stella causes the moon to be accidentally destroyed, is exactly my type of wonderfully ridiculous plot that I couldn't help but smile all the way through. Having found myself reacting slightly over the top to the kids messing around before, with suggestions of not-even-slightly-plausible things that might happen should they not calm down, this was a good chance to explain why they nevertheless might cause huge problems if they don't share!

Sharing for young children can, of course, be an incredibly difficult thing, and though the outcome here is obviously not realistic, it's still a great chance to discuss why sharing is a good thing to do.

It's wrapped up in utterly fantastic illustrations (particularly the haphazard hairstyles!) that lends itself perfectly to the quirky story, and makes me yearn for more of Emma Yarlett's work (I loved Orion and the Dark so will have to request it from the library again).

A beautifully drawn story with an important message to discuss - excellent stuff!

Chris says: Josh and Xander flick from being wonderful at sharing to terrible at it in the space of a few seconds, and though it's difficult for children to learn and I can't criticise them too much for that, it's always nice to have something like a memorable story to draw upon as a backup for why they need to share better!

Josh says: I liked the glowing cheese moon.

Xander says: I liked the Moon!

So, to summarise Day 79...

We've come back to some lovely stories: one of the most beautifully illustrated picture books that I think I've ever read in The Road Home (with a lovely educational basis to it), more fun from the fantastic Michelle Robinson with lovely illustrations from Rebecca Ashdown in Odd Socks, and finishing another important message about sharing and playing nicely in Sidney, Stella and the Moon

I might not get these reviews onto the blog very quickly (N.B. I'm publishing this just over a month after we read the books...eek!), but the most important part of it (the reading!) is still such an important part of our day that we're gutted when we go without getting to properly sit down and read. Hopefully we'll put together another good run of days to add significantly to our overall total!

Books Read: 154/1000 (15.4%)

Day 78 (Week 12, Day 1) - Sunday 19th March 2017

Day 78 (Week 12, Day 1) - Sunday 19th March 2017

Ugh. Three hour journey to Calais, three hour delay getting the ferry, then a four hour journey home from Dover...definitely no time for stories tonight!

Looking forward to catching up with some tomorrow night!

Books Read: 151/1000 (15.1%)

Day 77 (Week 11, Day 7) - Saturday 18th March 2017

Day 77 (Week 11, Day 7) - Saturday 18th March 2017

We're still in France (though again, this review is probably going to come out weeks afterwards!), and still trying to enjoy reading in a log cabin despite Disneyland being just around the corner! A beautiful place to read some beautiful stories :)

1) The Something - Rebecca Cobb (Author & Illustrator)

If you want a story that perfectly captures the spirit of a child's imagination, then be sure to pick up The Something, because the search for the truth behind what's inside a hole in the garden (and the differing responses of each character) is the perfect mirror for how imagination can run wild in the most exciting way.

I'm sure we've all seen a dark space like a hole or cave somewhere and wondered what secrets it held, and a child's imagination with that sort of thing is limitless with possibilities, so I had great fun with Josh & Xander talking about what they thought it could be. I love that the ending doesn't give an answer, but instead suggests all of them could be true, which to me is a great way of saying that exploring your imagination is the only thing that matters.

Definitely most likely to be a dragon though, if I had to guess...

Chris says: This is so fantastic for firing up the kids' imaginations because it gets them to a) think about which of the suggested answers for what's in the hole is correct, and b) come up with their own suggestions.

Josh says: I wouldn't want to stick my hand in there.


2) Quest - Aaron Becker (Author & Illustrator)

We couldn't not finish this trilogy as soon as possible, could we? Having read parts 1 & 3, it feels a little weird finishing in the middle, but you really can pick most of the story up at any point in this series. Best of all, this might be my favourite of the lot.

It's a classic second story, taking the basic idea of the first book (a magic pen that draws objects in life) and ramping it all up to 11 (there are SIX pens in total, and they need to be found before falling into the wrong hands). There's also a captured king to rescue. Seriously, it's like Aaron Becker just looked into my soul and said, 'Here you are mate, feast on this'.

The illustrations are just as beautiful, of course, and the world he has created as desirable to visit as any other I've read recently. Once again, the lack of any words places the reader in the driving seat when it comes to interpreting the story to a certain extent, and the kids loved telling me what they thought was going on.

Fantastic imagination and creativity on display in one of the greatest fantasy series that it's been my pleasure to read this last decade. Nay, scrap that; 'tis not just a pleasure, it's an honour.

Chris says: I'm in total love with this series for it's imagination, creativity, the world it builds, the quests it sends us on, the stunning illustrations, the way we get to tell it different every time, the action, the adventure, the excitement...

Josh says: I would like the green pen.

Xander says: I like the bird.

3) Horrible Bear! - Ame Dyckman (Author) & Zachariah OHora

Emotions are difficult to cope with and especially so when you're young and just learning how to deal with them. This story should therefore feel familiar to everyone, as a little girl gets the wrong end of the stick in believing that a bear has broken her kite, when in reality it was an accident that he knew nothing about. She's right to be upset of course, but then so is the bear when he's innocent. What follows is a great lesson in tolerance as the girl realises she shouldn't jump to conclusions and get angry at something without the truth.

The illustrations are strong, everyone has particularly fine fur or hair, and the bear shouting 'rawr rawr rawr' tickled me pink more than it was probably meant to, just because I imagine him firing off a string of curses in bear language as he runs to confront the girl.

It's also lovely in the way she says sorry just as he's about to complain, and they spend time making friends together. A beautiful resolution to a delightful story, with a fantastic message about reining in your temper and not jumping to conclusions.

Chris says: Another great story to help talk gently to your children about a moral issue, and illustrated with such lovely bold colours (and fantastic fur/hair!).

Josh says: I like how they fixed things together.

Xander says: Rawrrrrrrrrr!

So, to summarise Day 77...

A proper feel good evening tonight! We saw our imaginations fully engaged with guessing what was inside the hole in The Something, we went on a quest in a far off land in Quest, and we talked about the importance of not jumping to conclusions and getting annoyed at other people for no good reason. Reading together is one of the best ways of putting a smile on our faces, and we love doing so as often as possible, particularly when we get to read a wonderful selection of books like these!

Books Read: 151/1000 (15.1%)

Friday, 21 April 2017

Day 76 (Week 11, Day 6) - Friday 17th March 2017

Day 76 (Week 11, Day 6) - Friday 17th March 2017

We're enjoying our time in France at the moment, spending the day at Disneyland Paris and coming back to the lodge to enjoy a bit of reading before bed! It's lovely being out in a log cabin knowing that we've got more Disney magic to enjoy for the next couple of days (though with the delays in getting these blog posts written up we could well have been home for a month by the time this one is published!).

Here's what we read today:

1) Let's Go For A Drive! - Mo Willems (Author & Illustrator)

We've read several Mo Willems books for the Picture Book Challenge already, and it's always great to welcome another one! This is the first of the Elephant & Piggie series to feature, which is itself one of my favourite series for kids of all time. The two title characters are so fun and innocent with the misunderstandings that occur and the ideas they come up with, and Let's Go for a Drive is a perfect example of this. They decide that they need to go for a drive, gathering the bits they'll need for their journey, until they realise they've forgotten one rather essential piece of kit...

It's classic Mo Willems, with repeated dialogue and theatrical declarations from the characters ending with a delightful twist that makes you laugh out loud. I've seen a lot of people say that he's the nearest thing we have to Dr Seuss nowadays and I can easily see why that is. The illustrations remain simple but oh so effective, and I can't think of a series that has as many titles as this in it but has retained a level of quality so high throughout.

Best of all, there's so many Mo Willems book we still have to read for the Picture Book Challenge that we aren't going to run out anytime soon!

Chris says: I just love how Elephant & Piggie get so excited about things before realising that they don't actually have the most essential thing you need for going on a car journey. Fantastic!

Josh says: I like how silly they are.

Xander says: I like Daddy's car best.

2) House Held Up By Trees - Ted Kooser (Author) & Jon Klassen (Illustrator)

This is a book about the power of nature, about how you can try to stop it but ultimately it will win against you. Even though the father of the children in this story does everything to keep the trees away from his house, snipping tiny shoots before they can take proper root, he's just delaying the inevitable, and when he has to move away the trees quickly begin to reclaim their land. Eventually, they grow so tall and powerful that they uproot the house and take it high into their branches, claiming it for their own.

It's all visualised superbly by Jon Klassen in his unique signature style, fitting in perfectly with Ted Kooser's haunting story about one man's struggle to hold back nature, and the ultimate futility of the attempt. It's clear that the father believes it to be a battle worth fighting to try and keep his lawn perfect in the spot where the trees were removed to build his house, but in the end even he acknowledges it's time to give in.

The father isn't a villain in this piece, just someone with a slight obsession that will ultimately come to nothing. It's this theme, that in the end we're powerless against nature, that makes for a haunting yet beautiful read.

Chris says: We all have something that we're slightly obsessed about (I'm not going to make myself sound too flawed by repeating any of mine), so any reader will relate to the father that just wants to keep his lawn pristine. In the end though, this is a powerful statement about how nature will always win, and a good lesson for children on what would happen to our surroundings if humans all suddenly died out!

Josh says: I liked that they ended up with a treehouse.

Xander says: I like trees!

3) Journey - Aaron Becker (Author & Illustrator)

We read Aaron Becker's Return, the final book in his Journey trilogy, a short while ago, and were blown away by the powerfully imaginative fantasy tale (told with no words at all) of a girl with a red pen trying to rescue a captured king. It was a truly special tale that has to be one of the best I've read with the kids so far for the Picture Book Challenge, indeed since Joshua was first born, made all the more special by the fact it was indeed word-free throughout. Naturally we couldn't make do with just the third book, so we've got hold of Journey and Quest, the first and the second books in the trilogy, and I'm happy to say that Book One, Journey, is just a spectacular a tale as Return.

What's great is of course that we've filled in several of the questions we had when reading Return about what exactly was going on (which I refuse to criticise as it works well as a standalone book still, and it's my fault I chose to read it before the first two books), and having already cheated and read Book Two as well (don't tell the kids!), followed by Book Three again, I can safely say that it's one of the most satisfying and breathtaking trilogies I've read in any format. It's a true testament to Aaron Becker's skill as a storyteller that one of the two ingredients we would usually consider essential for a picture book to word (words & pictures) isn't present, and yet that doesn't matter one iota.

Purely as illustrations they're lovely, but they weave such a fantastic story that they feel like so much more than just images. They're storytelling perfection laid out in front of our eyes, and I'd love to return to these again and again and again.

I realise that I've barely mentioned how the kids feel about these books and that it's mainly been what I think, but that's because I've connected so well with them personally I can't help but want to share how they made me feel. The kids themselves, Josh particularly, loved that they got to help tell the story and make it slightly different with each read, interpreting the pictures how they want to and imagining what they would do if they had a magic colour-pencil. We did read it again straight away, twice in fact, so that both kids could tell their own version.

A story that allows you to do that is a very important story indeed. We're so lucky to found this series!

Chris says: I feel honestly privileged to get to read such a fantastically-imagined fantasy series like this. Genuinely one of the best fantasy series I've ever read, no matter what format it comes in.

Josh says: I like the bird.

Xander says: A ship!

So, to summarise Day 76...

So many of our favourite things here today: Mo Willems, Jon Klassen, rich fantasy worlds, beautiful storytelling, stunning illustrations - all adding up to an incredible trio of books for this evening! We've had some incredibly impressive sets of three stories so far for the Picture Book Challenge, but this has got to be right up there with the best.

Makes you so excited for what's coming next!

Books Read: 148/1000 (14.8%)

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Day 75 (Week 11, Day 5) - Thursday 16th March 2017

Day 75 (Week 11, Day 5) - Thursday 16th March 2017

We wanted to get some books read today after a nil return yesterday, but alas it wasn't to be. There's always tomorrow!

Books Read 145/1000 (14.5%)

Day 74 (Week 11, Day 4) - Wednesday 15th March 2017

Day 74 (Week 11, Day 4) - Wednesday 15th March 2017

Unfortunately we couldn't read any stories today, though it was for an excellent reason - we were driving down to Dover to get the ferry across to Calais on Thursday morning!

Books Read: 145/1000 (14.5%)

Day 73 (Week 11, Day 3) - Tuesday 14th March 2017

Day 73 (Week 11, Day 3) - Tuesday 14th March 2017

The intention for the Picture Book Challenge has always been to read every day with the kids, knowing that occasionally we'll have to miss a night for whatever reason, but that we'll still easily make our 1,000 book target by the end of 2017. At the moment, however, we're leaving away from home while we have work done on the house, and coupling that with illnesses, late working, tired children etc. means that we've had far more days without reading anything towards the Challenge than I'd like.

It's good then to get two days running of reading! Hoping it'll be the start of many in a row, but I'll take two days on the trot at the moment!

Here are the books we read today:

1) 15 Things NOT to do with a Grandma - Margaret McAllister (Author) & Holly Sterling (Illustrator)

N.B. The only entry on goodreads.com lists this as Grandma, not Granny. However, the book on Amazon and the copy I have both list it as Granny, so presumably the title was changed somewhere along the line. 

My mum is a big fan of this book for obvious reasons! It's a delightful tale about lots of outrageously silly things that you shouldn't do to your grandmas (or anyone for that matter!), like swapping them for a giraffe, or leaving an elephant in their bed, as well as some more sensible suggestions at the end. Josh and Xander love this because it's so daft, but also because they have such love for all three of their grandmas that it makes it that bit more of a special story for them.

The illustrations are really bright and colourful, full of joy and warmth, and most wonderfully of all they feature something that is all too lacking in so many stories today (and of which you can find plenty of discussion on the internet about the importance of changing) - diversity amongst the characters. The two children come from a mixed-race background, having grandmas of different ethnicities, and the fact that there's no reference to this in the story is the best way of showcasing that this is how our society really is, full of people of different backgrounds and cultures that join together and love one another. It's so important with the horrible prejudices and racial tensions that have sadly become more apparent over the last year or so that we see more stories like this where diversity is the norm, so that our kids don't grow up to see it as something unusual.

A lovely book to make grandmas, grandchildren, and anyone else who reads it smile and want to read it over and over again!

(N.B. Having published this post a ridiculous six-weeks or so after the actual date, I can confirm that they've read this a ridiculous number of times - seriously, it's like 30+ times now having lived with my mum while we had work done on the house and insisting on it most days!)

Chris says: Seriously, I've seen them read this more with their Gran more than any other book ever! A book that is about one particular family member is a great way of encouraging that person and your children to read together, and makes the story that little bit more personal and special. I've talked about diversity above and I really did love to see it here, particularly how it was so naturally done that I almost missed the fact that the characters were of different ethnicities.

Josh says: Can we read it again because I want to read some of the things myself to Gran.

Xander says: Hugs for Gran!

2) Two Can - Smriti Prasadam-Halls (Author) & Ben Javens (Illustrator)

Do you know what? I nearly cried at the end of this story. It's not a story that tries to make you cry at all (I don't think), but the whole scenario reminded me so much of Josh & Xander, and ended on such a happy note, that there was definitely a tear in my eye.

The story itself is about an older sister and younger brother, where the younger just wants to play with the elder, but she doesn't want to play with him. When she sees how upset he is, how other children play nicely together, and how some games can only be played with someone else. She takes the olive branch that her brother offers, and they have a lovely afternoon playing together.

It's visually delightful, with a lovely blue and orangey-red theme throughout, and what I thought was so cleverly done was the mirroring of the words throughout as the sister realises that everything she previously said comes back to haunt her. There's so few words that I'd spoil it by quoting any of it here, but that's what makes it so special. Please, check it out as soon as you can, to see just how fantastic this story about playing together is!

Chris says: My wife and I are lucky, because generally speaking the kids are good at playing together. There's the odd occasion, obviously, where one demands to play on their own, and so this is a great book to cover those bases!

Josh says: I like to play with my brother.

Xander says: I play with Joshua?

3) They All Saw A Cat - Brendan Wenzel (Author & Illustrator)

Oh, now this is brilliant! A book about a cat and the different ways that humans, dogs, foxes, fleas worms etc. would see it, all beautifully illustrated to showcase every one! How marvellously educational as well as entertaining!

The illustrations, and every individual depiction of the cat as seen by each animal, really are fantastic. I couldn't comment on the exact scientific accuracy of each (though my delighted mind sees no reason to doubt their authenticity particularly), but the main point is that it's perfect for getting kids to consider how things can appear differently to different people, and that perspective can make an enormous difference in every part of our lives. It was great for a lead in to talk about not just visual perspective but moral too (very heavy just before bedtime!).

A lovely and imaginative end to this evening's reading!

Chris says: This hit home because I've come across articles or documentaries about the different ways that non-humans see things, and it's always fascinated me (as has colour blindness). Great to see something like this in a picture book!

Josh says: I like that they all know the cat and the knows all of them.

Xander says: Meowwww!

So, to summarise Day 73...

A really good showcase for great imagination in picture books today. Plenty of silly things NOT to do with a granny, fantastic use of repeated words to show why playing together is rewards, and the perspectives of different animals to get our brains thinking about how different species must view the world. A great evening of reading and two happy children off to sleep!

Books Read: 145/1000 (14.5%)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Day 71 (Week 11, Day 1) - Sunday 12th March 2017

Day 71 (Week 11, Day 1) - Sunday 12th March 2017

Another nil return - sometimes they happen! More often than we'd like, sadly, but we're still motoring towards our target of 1,000 picture books read in 2017 so we'll make progress again tomorrow!

Books Read: 139/1000 (13.9%)

Day 72 (Week 11, Day 2) - Monday 13th March 2017

Day 72 (Week 11, Day 2) - Monday 13th March 2017

I don't particularly aim for a theme when I pick the books to read each day. It just so happens that today has turned out three books that are all illustrated by the author, giving them complete control over how the visuals tie in to the text. There are countless picture books out there where separate author and illustrator teams create incredible stories, and as an author-only myself I live in hope that one day I'll have excellent working relationships with illustrators who can bring my stories to life.

I do always think, however, that a picture book has the best chance of succeeding if the illustrator happens to have written it, so they can bring about the exact interpretation that they intended onto paper! Though that isn't to say that it isn't all the more impressive when a separate illustrator creates a phenomenal interpretation of an authors work. It reminds me heavily of the role of a scriptwriter for film and television; it's rare that the scriptwriter will end up directing or producing the film or TV show they've written for (though there are obvious notable exceptions, such as Joss Whedon for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly etc., or Russell T Davies/Stephen Moffatt for Doctor Who), so they're relying on someone else creating the end vision of the product.

Anyway, whether a picture book comes courtesy of an author/illustrator team or a single author/illustrator, it's wonderful to see into the mind of some of literature's most creative talents.

Speaking of creative talents, on with the reviews...


I really do have a warm feeling inside after reading this! What a lovely way to talk about adoption and how the important thing is who you see as being your parents, not whether you came from them. I love when an author tells a story in such a gentle way, ,so that children reading it will see the outcome as perfectly acceptable and reasonable (as it should be).

If you've read any of Debi Gliori's other books, you'll know how beautiful her illustrations are, and how well she conveys a feeling of loving warmth through them. You have no doubt whatsoever in this story, for instance, that there's pure love between little penguin Bib, his mum, and his dragon grandma.

There's a surprising amount of peril in places, but it just helps to highlight how love will make parents anything for their kids, which is particularly important when it's in cases of adoption, as is the case for both Bib and his mum, and his mum and dragon grandma.

An excellent story to bring about important discussion points, and so heartwarming it'll make the whole family smile.

Chris says: I love how well this story shows that even if somethings are different than usual (like a child's mother not being the one who gave birth to them) it's still absolutely fine because all that matters is the love between the family. It brings the subject up gently and allows them to ask questions, and shows the power of a story to explain some of the most important lessons in life to our young ones.

Josh says: I liked that the mummy was the egg all along, and when the granny dragon read the story

Xander says: I liked the flapping wings.


Now, it might be March and therefore unlikely that we'll see any snow (though far from impossible!), but we loved Sam Usher's Rain so much that we had to seek out Snow immediately. It's similar to Rain, but with snow instead (duh), and just as charming. The little boy from Rain (though Snow comes before it) is once again desperate to go and play outside as he sees the weather from his grandad's house, but has to wait until the old man is ready. It's another great lesson in patience, though I did feel sorry for the boy as he watches people outside start to make their way through the snow and threaten to melt it all!

Eventually though they make it outside, and then they get to join in the fun with his friends and all the animals from the zoo, which grandad had earlier joked about being out enjoying the snow too. It's hugely imaginative fun once for, and the illustrations are as beautiful as the idea of playing in the snow causing your imagination to run wild with excitement.

We're looking forward to finding out the weather in the third book of the series!

Chris says: Who doesn't love playing in the snow? I can't stand getting wet so I'd definitely be more up for this than going out as they did in Rain!

Josh says: I loved seeing the monkey and penguins.

Xander says: Snow!


I don't feel that Mo Willems necessarily gets the level of adoration that he deserves, considering he's the author of the incredible Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series, the Elephant & Piggie series, and other classics including Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, which is my second favourite picture book of all time. If you talk to any children's librarians then they'll sing his praises til the cows come home, but I don't see his name in many annual Best Of lists, which is an absolute travesty. That is NOT a Good Idea!, for example, has an absolutely perfect twist for children that is highly unlikely to be rumbled before it's read. It's made all the better for the fact that the little ducks (which keep appearing and warning that it is NOT a good idea for the duck to go with the fox) join in on the act of eating said fox, when it's revealed at the end that the warnings were really for him and not the duck as we were led to believe (the twisty-turny real villain of the piece).

I LOVE this twist because it's built up so well by Willems, bringing us closer and closer to the inevitable conclusion of someone being eaten, coupled with the aforementioned warnings by the ducks. More than that though, the twist is genuinely clever because at no point are you actually misdirected; YOU presume that the fox is going to do the eating, and YOU presume that the ducks are warning the other duck, but there's not actually anything there that explicitly states this. Most adult books with a twist don't manage this feat; nearly all of them throw a twist at you and then make up a reason you couldn't possibly have known to justify it (not a bad storytelling device by any means, and I've enjoyed story after story that employs this), but I can only think of one thriller from the last five years or so (Tina Seskis' One Step Too Far) where it was the reader who made assumptions without the author actually explicitly stating something was true.

The kids just found it really funny that the fox got eaten, but it's so much more than that to me because it proves once more that a picture book can be so much more intelligent than an adult book, and that's an incredible thing to be giving our children!

Chris says: I just can't help laughing at the thought of those little ducks joining in and eating the wolf soup! It really isn't a fantastic twist because it allows you to assume one thing before revealing the truth, without ever having made you believe what you did. If I could write a twist that clever then I'd be a very happy man!

Josh says: I liked the wolf ending up in the soup, and that the ducks ate him

Xander says: Quack quack!

So, to summarise Day 72...

An evening of stories that are beautiful in different ways: Dragon Loves Penguin is beautiful for it's story of adoption, Snow is beautiful for it's depiction of the joy of playing in snow (as well as the anticipation beforehand), and That is NOT a Good Idea! has such a beautifully orchestrated twist that it deserves to end up on lists of 'Best Twists' alongside adult books.

There's so much that a picture book can do in only 32 pages!

Books Read: 142/1000 (14.2%)

Monday, 17 April 2017

Day 70 (Week 10, Day 7) - Saturday 11th March 2017

Day 70 (Week 10, Day 7) - Saturday 11th March 2017

It's a very exciting evening today - we're staying in a hotel room before seeing family tomorrow! Always something that the kids enjoy doing a lot, and particularly as it means we get to read our books for this evening in a super-exciting new location!

1) Monkey Puzzle - Julia Donaldson (Author) & Axel Scheffler (Illustrator)

I hadn't read Monkey Puzzle before tonight (can't say that for many of Julia Donaldson's picture books!), but I was delighted to find that this might be one of my favourite stories of hers. It's got her trademark excellent rhyming (and Axel Scheffler's iconic illustrations), and it's humorous with the butterflies well-meaning but not-so-helpful-as-it-happens help (with a wonderful second appearance by an elephant), and also the exact type of sweet ending that can't help but make you smile.

A warm book with a happy ending that's perfect for family reading before bedtime!

Chris says: It's nice to find a book from a classic author that you haven't read before, doubly so when you think it's one of their best. I really thought that the fact the butterfly's children are still caterpillars so don't look anything like him was both wonderfully accurate nature-wise, and a good point to share with children that what is obvious to you might not be obvious to someone else, and not to judge how they make their decisions without talking to them first.

Josh says: I like he found his mum.

Xander says: I like that he found his dad.

2) Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits! - Tim Warnes (Author & Illustrator)

Yes, you already know that this book obviously contains rabbits (imagine the disappointment of a child if they didn't after this tease on the front cover...), but the real question is do said rabbits made me laugh, giggle, and want other people to go and get it from the library? It's three yesses from us over here!

Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits! is the story of a little mole who loves to label things, and his crocodile friend who discover a magic hat that keeps producing bunny rabbits, and the trouble they encounter with trying to get the bunnies back into the hat. It's funny and charming all the way through, though you can sell the book in one very easy sentence by pointing out to your children that at one point the bunnies poop everywhere - no guesses for which bit was Josh & Xander's favourite then! With that visual image in mind, the illustrations are drawn with warmth and care, and perfectly capture the increasing frustrations of Mole (who fails to easily label them all as he wants to) as he and the Lumpy-Bumpy-Thing (the delightfully-named crocodile).

A fun story for anyone who remembers well the frustration of a problem getting quickly out of hand!

Chris says: I know that I shouldn't fixate on rabbits pooping as being the highlight of a story, but I knew the second I saw that bit how much Josh & Xander would love it, and sure enough they were still talking about it half an hour later when trying to settle them down to sleep. In many ways, Mole's frustration at the problem getting out of hand is very similar to that which any parent will have experience when the stresses of trying to calm children down crop up!

Josh says: I loved the rabbits pooping.

Xander says: I liked crocodile magic.


You're not going to have anything other than a wonderful time with a book about a monster competition featuring a 'Smelliest Fart' round, are you? Five fantastically funny rounds are present in this story actually, about a boy and his monster who wants to win the 'Best Pet Monster in the World' competition, but whose monster is far to pleasant to stand a chance. There's no setting fire to people in the 'Hottest Breath' round, or terrible skin afflictions in the 'Hairiest Warts' round, all of which are guaranteed to get huge laughs from children (and adults alike, let's be honest).

I love the little repetitive touches that William Bee has included, like one judge fainting each round, or the slightly pathetic results the monster gets in each round (though we know it's because he's a nice monster really). Kate Hindley does a fantastic job with the illustrations, bringing us a plethora of monstrous beasts for the competition. Josh and Xander really loved seeing all the little details hidden within, like the parasite in the robber costume with a small bag of swag, or the 'Fartometer'. 

It's also apparently inspired a new nickname for Xander. Having just read the bit about one monster setting a judge's bottom on fire, he quite proudly declared, 'I am BOTTOM FIRE!'. Thank you Mr Bee - I'll remember Worst in Show for a long time just for that!

Chris says: There's really nothing not to love about a book that openly embraces everything that slightly-conservative groups wouldn't approve of - making farts one of the focuses of a story should be rewarded with acclaim after acclaim, especially teamed with Kate Hindley's brilliant illustrations. 

Josh says: I loved the 'Smelliest Fart' round the best.

Xander says: I am BOTTOM FIRE! (N.B. Just repeating this for emphasis!)

So, to summarise Day 70...

It seems like on a couple of occasions tonight the kids' favourite bits happened to be about poo and farts, which goes to show that there are some subjects that are never going to fail to entertain! As well as those classic subjects though, there was a definite theme of love running through the stories, with a child's love for its mother dominating Monkey Puzzle, the friendship of Mole and the Lumpy-Bumpy-Thing at the core of Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits!, and a boy's pride at his pet monster evident throughout Worst in Show.

Poop and Love - two of the most important things to children!

Books Read: 139/1000 (13.9%)

Day 69 (Week 10, Day 6) - Friday 10th March 2017

Day 69 (Week 10, Day 6) - Friday 10th March 2017

I don't really know how we've had such a stretch without reading - even with late nights, illnesses, early beds etc. it's still disappointing to not find the time to read together, but it feels excellent to have settled down properly again to resume the Picture Book Challenge!

Here's what we read this evening:


I've read funny stories by Jonathan Emmett, adventurous stories by Jonathan Emmett, and with A Secret Worth Sharing I can definitely say that he does heart-warming stories very well too! It's a story that touches gently on why sharing with friends is a happier route than keeping things to yourself, but acknowledges that it's normal to have these feelings, and I always think that this latter part is just as important as the former.

The reason behind Mole wanting to keep Mouse as his own secret friend is really very sweet; it celebrates a friendship that makes both characters very happy, and it also allows Mole to have something really exciting to enjoy in this little secret, which is perfectly normal for a child to crave. It's great for children to see at the end that things work out better for everyone when the secret is shared, too, to show that when you do manage to let go of these (more selfish) feelings, things often work out very well indeed. Vanessa Cabban's illustrations have the perfect level of warmth and cuteness to go along with the story, doing a particularly wonderful job with the expressions on the characters faces, whether happy or sad.

A lovely story for families to read to talk about why sharing our most precious things can bring about even more happiness.

Chris says: Josh has always been fairly good at sharing, but books like these are useful for reminding him that, even though he won't always feel like it, he'll end up having fun with other children if he does so.

Josh says: I like that they all became friends.


Some people hate change. They get oh so nervous about it, and I can well sympathise because I'm not the greatest lover of change in general either. Spare a thought therefore for poor Kevin, a koala who likes to keep things exactly the same and stay in his tree, even when his friends ask him to come and play, but who's about to be unseated by a woodpecker...

Rachel Bright and Jim Field teamed up in delightful fashion for The Lion Inside, which did a great job of showing that even the smallest of people can be as brave as a lion, and The Koala Who Could does a similarly delightful job of showing that it's normal to fear change and the unknown, but that by embracing it you might end up happier than you thought you'd be. Rachel Bright's rhymes are as warm and charming as ever, and Jim Field continues to be one of my favourite illustrators of all time.

Any story with a positive message gets the thumps up from me - doubly so when it comes from the minds of such a talented team!

Chris says: I won't presume that you read every post of this blog religiously, but I often say how much I love a story with a positive message for children, and this obviously fits the bill superbly. It shows just why reading is so important, because it can help to gently raise an issue without ever making it into a big deal if you don't need it to be.

Josh says: I like how the koala made better friends when he was out of the tree.


I tried to put off reading this for as long as possible, to preserve the pleasure of knowing we had this still to enjoy, but I couldn't put it off any longer. This is, without doubt, one of the greatest BOOKS ever written, let alone picture books. It is so unfairly funny that I can't think about it without bursting into fits of giggles. It's one of my three favourite picture books of all time, and I simply must INSIST that you go out and get a copy as soon as you can. Like, right now. Go. Begone with you. Even if you've read it before.

It's the most wonderful retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but with dinosaurs instead: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happens to be visiting from Norway. It's killingly funny and self-knowingly ridiculous on basically ever page, from the way the dinosaurs loudly spell out there plans in totally not suspicious fashion, to the loud noise that sounds suspiciously like a dinosaur delighting in the prospect of a little girl to eat, but could have been a rock falling. Or a squirrel.

Essentially, this delightfully colourful story is everything I love about humour written down in picture book form, and it does humour better than 99.9% of anything you'll see on TV. Josh laughed at the thought of a dinosaur eating Goldilocks rather than bears, and the silly ways in which it looks like it'll happen; I laughed about 453% more often than him because I kept thinking back to previously funny things whilst reading new funny things, and thinking about the possible funny things still to come.

I would love to one day write books to make people laugh, but I've already given up trying to write the funniest picture book ever because Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs exists (along with the slightly different but equally hilarious I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

If you asked me what one book I thought people should read throughout their lives, this would honestly be there fighting with I Want My Hat Back for my nomination.

It's so good, I'm going to have to go and read it again.

Chris says: Just read it. Best thing ever.

Josh says: I liked all the dinosaurs.

So, to summarise Day 69...

There were two important messages today on sharing and trying not to worry about trying something new in A Secret Worth Sharing and The Koala who Could, and then one of the greatest and funniest THINGS, let alone books, of all time with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. Josh certainly looked happy when we finished reading them, and I truly felt so happy that I couldn't stop smiling with him, such is the power of reading good books.

We've not had a single evening that we haven't enjoyed when we've read books for the Picture Book Challenge, but this definitely had to be one of the best!

Books Read: 136/1000 (13.6%)

Day 68 (Week 10, Day 5) - Thursday 9th March 2017

Day 68 (Week 10, Day 5) - Thursday 9th March 2017

The final day of this 5-day nil return stretch thankfully! Back onto reading stories again tomorrow!

Books Read: 133/1000 (13.3%)

Day 67 (Week 10, Day 4) - Wednesday 8th March 2017

Day 67 (Week 10, Day 4) - Wednesday 8th March 2017

No stories again today, as explained on Day 64. We'll add to the total in a few days' time!

Books Read: 133/1000 (13.%)

Day 66 (Week 10, Day 3) - Tuesday 7th March 2017

Day 66 (Week 10, Day 3) - Tuesday 7th March 2017

No stories again today, as explained on Day 64. We'll add to the total in a few days' time!

Books Read: 133/1000 (13.%)

Day 65 (Week 10, Day 2) - Monday 6th March 2017

Day 65 (Week 10, Day 2) - Monday 6th March 2017

No books today on Day 65, as explained yesterday. We'll add to the total in a few days' time!

Books Read: 133/1000 (13.%)

Day 64 (Week 10, Day 1) - Sunday 5th March 2017

Day 64 (Week 10, Day 1) - Sunday 5th March 2017

Here starts a five-day period where we didn't manage to get any stories read. I cannot for the life of me remember why not, but I think it just coincided with several nights of late finishes at work, very tired children, illness etc. so unfortunately we've not been able to add to our total for a little while.

Books Read: 133/1000 (13.%)

Day 63 (Week 9, Day 7) - Saturday 4th March 2017

Day 63 (Week 9, Day 7) - Saturday 4th March 2017

We've long since given up trying to be young and having a Saturday night out with two young children, but that's fine because since whenever I touch a drop of alcohol I immediately fall asleep anyway, so I'm more than happy to say my Saturday nights usually consist of a few good stories with the kids before they go to sleep and then a quiet evening with my wife in front of the TV or with a book before we head to bed ourselves!

There's FAR much more adventure to be found in the picture books we read than trawling from pub to pub anyway, so here's where our adventures took us tonight (just me and Josh - Xander fell asleep early!):

1) Return - Aaron Becker (Author & Illustrator)

We had great fun with this story! It's another story with no words at all, which gives us the chance to tell it slightly differently everytime, which Josh enjoyed doing with both me and then his grandma. The illustrations are truly beautiful, perfectly capturing the fantastical feel of this world that a young girl and her father find themselves in. They arrive via a door drawn by a magic pen, and have to stop an evil bad guy from capturing a prince and destroying all the magic-pen creatures with a terrible device - or at least that's how we told the story!

I'd worry that some parents might dismiss a book like this because of the lack of words, thinking that it would be for much younger children or not appropriate for those learning to read, but I would beg them to reconsider because this sort of story fires the imagination as well as any other, if not more so. It improves their own storytelling and creativity in a way that a worded-story can't, and those are fantastic skills to encourage development of at every turn.

This is apparently the third in a trilogy, so we'll be ordered the other two books ASAP! We encourage you to do the same, and let us know the plots that you came up with!

Chris says: I love stories like this, where the skill of the author/illustrator is apparent with the tale they tell despite the lack of words. It's stunningly drawn and richly creative with the fantasy world we are taken to, and I can't wait for us to get the other books in the trilogy - I hate starting anywhere but the beginning of a series, so it's testament to Aaron Becker's skill that it's got me so excited about the others and desperate to get going on them!

Josh says: I like getting to make up the words to the story each time.

2) Little One - Jo Weaver (Author & Illustrator)

As the story began, I realised that it felt like I was watching a beautifully drawn version of a television nature documentary, the type of which the kids have always enjoyed to snuggle up and watch when we've been talking about nature and similar themes, so this was a lovely chance to explore how bears survive throughout the year.

The illustrations are truly stunning in black & white, and I'm always astonished at the level of detail talented artists can put into their work, recreating individual twigs and blades of grass in a way I can only dream of. It's great to see it in an educational story like this, giving a sense of real important to the facts it's illustrations, and making the year of a bear & bear cub's lives as beautiful as the drawings that showcase it.

We'd lap up anything else that Jo Weaver wanted to teach us about!

Chris says: I see beautifully drawn picture books all the time, but these are SPECTACULARLY beautiful. I'm in awe of people who can draw like this, especially when it's used to help teach something like a year in the life of a bear. We've seen the life of a bear or polar bear in documentaries before, and this is another great way of reminding ourselves what a journey the animals go on.

Josh says: I like how the mummy bear and baby bear spent their time learning about the world together.

3) Rain - Sam Usher (Author & Illustrator)

I loved Josh's reaction to this story, about heavy rainfall causing a flood and a community not letting it bother them, having fun on boats instead. He told me 'I liked it because I didn't know what a flood looked like and now I do,' so how great to finish a book and feel like you've learned something where you weren't expecting to!

There's a positive feel about Rain, that people can make the most of a bad situation and find ways to smile as a community, but the best part is that the flood is only one of three individual stories that are being told (that I could see, anyway). The above is one, a child learning that the best things are worth waiting for is another (showing great patience it must be said!).

The third though is what I think makes this book really good - it's one that's easy to miss (and doesn't affect the story if you DO miss it), but is a lovely touch when you do see it. Throughout, the grandad keeps telling the boy to wait until the rain has stopped before they go out, and if you pay close enough attention you realise that it's because he's received a long love letter, and can't quite find the right reply (screwing up the paper), until the rain stops and he's ready to go outside with his grandson to post it. This then leads to an adventure in a boat to post it, connecting the three plotlines together.

I love books that have connections or slightly hidden extras like this, and if you've paid enough attention throughout you'll notice that everyone who joins in the street party on the boats at the end has been seen elsewhere in the story already, such as the penguin in the dinghy, the dragon prow, the musical boatmen etc. There's a reference to a floating city too, and so we can easily conclude that all this is the boy's way of having the adventure in the rain that he's been looking forward to.

It's fantastic - a simple story on one level, but with so much more on many other levels. You can choose any of these to read, which is a fantastic achievement. I'll be sharing this with many people!

Chris says: There's so much to this, from the grandad writing the love letter to the people at the end party having been seen already throughout the story. I love a story where you can choose just to read a simple plotline or read something more into it. The illustrations themselves in general are lovely too!

Josh says: I like that they had to use a boat because of the flood, and now I know what a flood looks like.

So, to summarise Day 63...

So much stunning creative talent this evening! The incredible world with no words that we visited in Return, the beautiful illustrations for the life of a bear and cub in Little One, and the multi-layered story of Rain, together added up to a perfect evening of reading picture books. I would defy anyone to read these three stories and not be delighted at the journeys that they weave and the way they inspire the imagination of both children and adults alike. I love reading with the kids any night (though it was just Josh tonight), but tonight was particularly wonderful.

Isn't reading fantastic?

Books Read; 133/1000 (13.3%)