With the end of today, we're a quarter of the way through the Picture Book Challenge, and our grand total of 175 shows us to be wayyyyyyyyyy down on our target of 1000 books - we must improve!
Of course, the most important factor here is that we're reading together as a family, and that's what I really want to help promote. Reaching the 1000 book goal and helping to raise money for charity will be a very worthy addition to it, but spending time reading as a family is one of my favourite past-times, and to have a record of everything we've done together over the last three months is lovely to look back on.
Thank you for anyone who has commented on either this blog, Twitter, or Facebook, and thank you to the wonderful authors, illustrators, editors, agents, librarians etc. who have made it possible for us to read all these wonderful stories!
Our final three books of the first quarter of 2017 are as follows:
Sometime you read something that seems to hit a whole host of different levels, each of which strikes a proper chord with you, and The Tree is such a fine example of this. It's a very quick read if you take the word count at face value, but you can actually spend as long (if not longer) reading this than any 1000-word book. It's a brilliantly-realised story about the effects we can have on the natural world, and the way we can change our plans to try and live in harmony with it, to share it, and not destroy it.
The story revolves around a woman and a man coming to chop down a tree to make way for a new house, but discovering that their plans will dislodge a host of wildlife from where various species live in this same tree. It's clear from the sorrowful expressions on the faces of the two main characters that they deeply regret their actions shortly after beginning the process of sawing away at the tree when they accidentally dislodge a birds nest, and the two of them set about reworking their plans to find a new solution so that everyone can have a place to live with the tree at the centre.
What I thought quite striking was the fact that it appears the couple simply didn't realise that their actions could result in several species of animal losing their own homes, which would be true of most folk, I imagine. There's no malice at all, just that lack of awareness. It's incredibly heartwarming then to see their change of plans and how they rebuild all the others animals' homes so that they can live together in peace, which is a topic that the children and myself discussed immediately following this story.
It's such a simple story with a powerful message behind it, drawn in beautiful fashion by Neal Layton, and I really felt a warm glow inside after reading it. Utterly worth your time, and utterly worth reading over and over again.
Chris says: I just loved this. It's utterly heartbreaking when the birds nest falls out of the tree, and so heartwarming when everyone lives together in peace around the tree at the end. Really felt quite emotional with it all!
Josh says: I like that they could all live together.
This book is BEAUTIFUL! Both illustrations-wise and story-wise. It almost feels like three different tales in one: one is about the fun of being inventive, one is about friendship, and one is about the wonder of nature, and they all add up to make such a delightful whole!
Josh particularly has often said he wants to be an inventor (as well as a builder, rock star, and princess), so this appealed to him enormously. It made both of them laugh at the thought of Alpha (the dog) being used in an invention, and there were certainly some strange ideas for future inventions being thrown around.
Books like this have so much going on to inspire our children's imaginations and creativity that it's impossible not to be taken with them. Particularly, as I've already mentioned, when the illustrations are so wonderfully beautiful like these!
Wonderful fun to read together before bedtime!
Chris says: This was just glorious fun in so many ways! I loved the quirky illustrations and the way it felt like several types of story in one, and of course the way the kids liked to start thinking about their own inventions again!
Josh says: I would like to be an inventor when I grow up.
Boy oh boy have we learned to look forward to Rob Biddulph's stories! It's the return of Penguin Blue from Blown Away as well, so that's a double bonus!
It's a glorious swashbuckling adventure this time round, as Penguin Blue and friends head off in search of treasure, only to find their ship sinking and things turning a bit more troublesome than they'd expected. A sunken boat on the seafloor provides a ray of hope, if only they could find a way to raise it...
It's such good fun (in perfect rhyme) to sail with this crew one more time (see what I did there?). It's bright and colourful as usual from Rob Biddulph, with those oh-so-fantastic expressions on Penguin Blue and friends. There's humour and excitement thrown in to the mix in equal measure, and we simply can't wait to see what this immensely talented author and illustrator throws together for us next!
Chris says: There are a few authors that we've really taken to with the Picture Book Challenge so far, and Rob Biddulph is definitely one of them. Everyone should be looking out for his stories the next time they go to the library or a bookshop as they're always such fun and so well illustrated!
Josh says: I like how they found the boat at the bottom of the sea
Xander says: Arrrrrrr!
So, to summarise Day 90...
What a fantastic evening of reading! I really do think that this is one of the best sessions of reading that we've had so far for the Picture Book Challenge. The Tree brought us incredible emotional depth and got us thinking about the environment and our impact on it; Norton and Alpha has several different strands of story going on at once that made us smile all the way through; and Sunk! took us on a swashbuckling adventure which saw a sunken ship rescued from the bottom of the sea.
Day 89 (Week 13, Day 5) - Thursday 30th March 2017
We're back on with adding to our total today after having a couple of days without progress, so that's excellent news! 89 days in and I'm having trouble thinking of anything interesting and poignant to write in these introductions, so I'll skip most of it and get right on with telling you about what we've read!
Ah, now, if you want a fantastic book for challenging gender stereotypes then this is a perfect fit! The girl in this story is sporty, intelligent, loud, messy, strong, and forever being mistaken for a boy because of it. Despite her protests, no-one is willing to accept who she is, until she meets a kindred spirit in a boy wearing pink and a skirt at the end.
Seriously, I hate anything that tells a boy or a girl how they have to behave like a member of their sex is 'supposed' to. Well, forget it: if my son wants to dress as a princess then I'm damn well going to let him, stereotypes be damned (I wrote a book about it once, though sadly it's still not good enough to publish). Full praise to anyone who tries to challenge this ludicrous sexism we still seem to have rampant in 2017, damaging our children's minds and destroying their dreams.
I'll stop ranting now so you don't have to listen to me go on too much, and instead praise a book that is both beautiful in text and beautiful in imagery. If you're anything like me, you'll want to shout at the characters who refuse to recognise she's a girl, and will her on as she doesn't let gender stereotypes stop her enjoying what she wants to do.
I really like some of the subtle bits of illustration, such as the fact that the girl (a hippo) has a blue skin tone, and the boy (a lion) has more of a pink hue. It makes a mockery of how pink things are marketed at girls and blue things marketed at boys, and the best part was Josh asking why they thought she was a boy, clearly not seeing any of these stereotypes himself.
Loved this book!
Chris: Wonderful, wonderful stuff! My children will NOT grow up being subject to ludicrous stereotypes, and if they want to do 'girl' things then they'll damn well get to do them!
Josh says: I like how she kept shouting 'I'm a girl!'.
Blimey, if I had to eat a doughnut for everytime we've had to re-read this from Day 89 until I'm actually publishing this post on (embarassingly, six weeks later) Day 137, I'd be one queasy person! Seriously, the kids have read this loads, and I do mean that THEY have read it loads - I'll often find Xander reading his own interpretation out loud, or Josh sitting down with him to give HIS version of events. That's one of the greatest joys of this whole undertaking; watching the kids want to re-read books that we've enjoyed together already.
I've said it before and I'll confidently say it again: nobody, but NOBODY, puts more things happening at once into their illustrations than Elys Dolan! Honestly, there's always tons and tons happening which helps to build up such a busy picture of life in her stories, and the kids have such fun looking out for everything that's happening. And what fun it is indeed on this occasion, being a part of the wacky world that she's created, with it's enormous killer doughnuts and peanut butter sandwich reporters, bringing a monster/disaster movie hybrid into picture book format!
It's bright and colourful, exciting and funny, and has one of those covers that children are physically incapable of seeing and not wanting to immediately pick up and read. You aren't going to go wrong with Elys Dolan's work, and The Doughnut of Doom is guaranteed to entertain anyone with the slightest taste for fun!
Chris says: Just look at that doughnut on the front cover; how could anyone resist? Particularly with so much going on inside! Fantastic fun.
A book about inventing monsters? Oh, how could we resist such a perfect opportunity to be inspired into talking about creating our own?! Which is just what we did of course, when we'd finished reading this fun-filled story of one young boy who does just that, even if things start to go slightly wrong...
I'm not entirely sure that I'd want the kids inventing a monster to become their new best friend, even if it works out well for Monty in this book, but I'm 100% behind them reading books like this which help to inspire their imaginations and creativity! It's not surprising really that this works so well when you realise that it's Claire Freedman behind the story (author of Aliens Love Underpants), and Ben Cort's illustrations bring the ideas so wonderfully to life.
Truly, books like this are amongst my favourites because they help take the fun beyond that which we've had reading together, and further on into the kids' playtime. You just know that your children are going to be able to have fun together inventing their own monsters, and that's a great thing to know they have to look forward to!
Chris says: Everyone loves coming up with new creatures when they're little, and Monstersaurus certainly seemed to get my two in the mood for unleashing their creative sides! I feel lucky that I didn't get woken up the next morning by two very excited little monsters!
Josh says: I liked the monster trying to kiss people.
Xander says: I like monsters!
So, to summarise Day 89...
I really do feel that this has been an exceptional day for stories, even compared to the rest of the Picture Book Challenge so far. I'm a Girl! started us off with a wonderful showcase of why gender-stereotyping is utterly ridiculous (no, whatever certain public figures and newspapers try to tell you, there are NOT boy and girl jobs!), The Doughnut of Doom led us on such a fun thrill ride of a disaster-movie-in-picture-book-form, and Monstersaurus had us putting our creative hats on and unleashing our wildest imaginations.
You aren't going to go wrong with this selection of three!
Day 88 (Week 13, Day 4) - Wednesday 29th March 2017
Another evening without any books read - or should I say, without any NEW books read for the Picture Book Challenge. I forgot to pickup some new ones from the library and couldn't find any on the shelves that we hadn't read yet, so we re-read a couple of favourites! Goodnight Digger, I Want my Hat Back, and The Clockwork Dragon to be precise!
They can't count twice towards our total, but it's nice to re-visit a classic (or three!).
I really don't think I'm likely to find a concept that I like more than this all year: a war between green lizards and red rectangles. Why are they warring? How are they warring? Steve Antony, please write the deep and dark history that this topic clearly deserves!
That aside, I really do love when someone creates a story with a premise as madcap as this. Of course it's mad, but it feels perfectly natural in a picture book. 'What are we fighting for?' yells one green lizard before he's squished by a red rectangle. We don't care, of course, we just want to see the absurdly daft idea of green lizards fighting self aware red rectangles. Honestly, just how DO red triangles even fight?! Well, you'll have to read it to have any idea...
In terms of illustrations, there's really only two colours in this book, which helps identify the two sides very well indeed (lizards and rectangles not being obvious enough for me, apparently), but they're delightful as you'd expect, and I really can't emphasise just how much I love seeing these red rectangles trying to fight.
Lovely truce and solution to their war at the end, too! Wonderful stuff!
Chris says: Utterly random and fantastic for it. I desperately wish I had this sort of insane creativity!
Well this is an utterly heartwarming tale of giving up something precious for a friend who needs it more! Little Roo goes everywhere with his blanket, Moomie, but when his new friend Wooly needs to patch up his hot air balloon to return home, there's only one solution, leading Roo to make the difficult decision to give up the thing that goes everywhere with him...
I mean, you just can't help feeling good after reading something touching like that, can you? Especially when Mandy Stanley has drawn such darn cute characters to go along with David Bedfiord's words! Josh gave me a huge smile when we'd finished reading it, and I think it had triggered happy memories of playing with his friends and the fact that they always seem to be lending each other their favourite toys with no demands on when they need to be returned (seriously, ask any of the parents around here - our kids are always coming back with toys that aren't theirs!).
A lovely little tale about friendship that will cheer up any fractious bedtime!
Chris says: Any story that encourages the selflessness of true friendship is a winner for me! I didn't cry, but I did have a bit of an emotional wave at one point...
Josh says: I like that he gave his blanket to his friend.
There's a wonderful poetic quirkiness about Are You Sitting Comfortably?. It's sort of a book about a quest, with the quest being the perfect place to sit and read a book, but at the same time it's not really that, but more a comment on just how wonderful reading is altogether and that the perfect place is wherever you happen to be at that moment, particularly if there are friends around to share the story with. A fine message if ever there was one!
What I thought was great about the illustrations was that for ever place the boy in this story went to, he picked up a new follower that joined him on each subsequent spread, so that by the end of the book he had a whole group of new friends who were excited about being read to. It's little details like that in a book that often elevates it for me, so it was great to notice this and be able to tell the kids to look out for it as well!
I don't think Josh and Xander really care where we read either, as long as we're reading some fantastic stories. This is another such fantastic story to add to our collection!
Chris says: Books like this one fire up a child's imagination so well because they get them thinking about all the strange and wonderful places they could read, before pointing out that they've just been on this wonderful trip in their own minds while being sat right there in (most likely) an ordinary or usual place, like the living room or bedroom. You definitely don't need to go anywhere special to read a book; you just need an author or illustrator crafting the way for you!
Josh says: I like reading anywhere.
Xander says: I like the cat.
So, to summarise Day 86:
We loved the utter randomness of green lizards fighting red rectangles in Steve Antony's book on the same subject, the lovely friendship in Roo the Roaring Dinosaur, and the wonderful message about reading wherever you want to from Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Basically, we loved our evening of reading as we have done so often during the Picture Book Challenge! So many times we've read books that I've extolled the virtues of the next day in work to numerous people, and I think all three of these have got people that I know would love them.
I'm so pleased that we're undertaking this challenge - what immense fun!
Day 84 (Week 12, Day 7) - Saturday 25th March 2017
Far too much going on today for Catherine's birthday, so unfortunately no time for any stories at bedtime as we were all so exhausted! Fingers crossed we'll be back on with improving our total tomorrow!
Friday might be the end of the working week and the night a lot of people like to flop down and do nothing, but for us it's just as good a time as any to read some more as a family! Though it would be fair to say that after a long week at school, Josh tends to be a little more tired on a Friday night and doesn't always find getting ready for bed to be the easiest thing to do...
Aye-Aye wants nothing more than to be in a picture book (which is a noble dream, indeed). The two twin rabbits in his class are scathing of his plans however, and hardly fill Aye-Aye with confidence. When a competition is put on the blackboard, Aye-Aye tries to be the best at each of the changing criteria, but he always seems to lose out to the twins. But when the truth about who has been changing the criteria is revealed, Aye-Aye's helpfulness might just see him rewarded in the way he has been dreaming of all along...
It's a story, then, of trying hard and being helpful to those around you, which is a fantastic message for children of course, and a great way of starting off an evening's reading! The illustrations are delightful, capturing Aye-Aye's determination to be helpful and slight despair at how the competition seems to be falling away from him perfectly, and when you realise it's Richard Byrne behind the story (he of This Book Just Ate My Dog!) then it's no wonder it's so enjoyable.
Great for a story where the hero gets just what he deserves, and where you have a chance to talk about the important moral messages behind it with your children.
Chris says: If you've followed this blog at all then you'll know that I love a story with a good moral behind it, and 'be helpful and kind to those around you' is always going to be a winner. It's also great to see Aye-Aye rewarded for using his creativity! Great messages for children in this.
Josh says: I like that he got to be in the book at the end.
Zot lives in a world without colour. When he spots Earth, he decides to journey there and take all its colour for himself to take back to his planet. But when he sees how sad it's made a young boy to now live in a world without colour he returns it all, satisfied with taking back just one bright orange balloon. It's a nice tale about how just a small bit of colour can brighten an entire world, and if you want to use it as a metaphor with your children then it's easy to translate into a slightly different scenario (a single kind word can bring a moment of happiness to someone's life, for example). There's also the moral as well about not invading a place and taking everything for yourself without seeing how it would affect those already living there, but I don't think that one is supposed to be the main focus of the story!
Visually, the book does a great job of proving this point; the opening pages, though nicely drawn, are definitely drab compared to those in full colour (as is the intention), and I know that myself and the kids are much happier to live in a world with fantastic colours around it!
A nice story about how one little thing can brighten a person's world!
Chris says: I don't always twig when there's a metaphor hiding in imagery, but I think I understand this one! A bit of colour really does brighten the world, whether it's literally a splash of blue or red in a sea of grey, or a spark of happiness for a person in a bad place.
Josh says: I like that he put the colours back when he saw the boy was upset.
It's not easy for anyone of any age to stick at something until they nail it, particularly if they're struggling to succeed or they're afraid of what they have to do, so this story of a little bird who can't quite bring himself to learn how to fly is quite inspirational in that sense. It takes a bit of desperation when the nest he's living in is no longer beneath his feet and he finds himself falling, but when he tries his hardest George finally succeeds in learning to fly, and continue on South for the winter.
Stories like this help to show children why it's important never to give up, even if something is difficult (a message that I wish Josh sometimes heeded when he declares himself too tired to get ready for school in the morning and gives up part way through getting dressed...), because the reward for doing so is just around the corner. It's illustrated delightfully in watercolour (at least that's what my minimal knowledge of art leads me to believe!), and it's a book that fitted perfectly for us at the end of a nice evening of reading!
Chris says: Lovely message and easy for children to understand. The perfect type of book for parent's to read with their kids!
Josh says: I like that he was able to fly in the end.
Xander says: I like to fly!
So, to summarise Day 83...
A very good evening for positive messages tonight, whether it was about being helpful to others (This Book Belongs to Aye-Aye), always looking to put a bit of colour into the world (The Colour Thief), or never giving up (George Flies South). Picture books are great for getting across these messages in simple but effective ways, and I do enjoy having the chance to talk for just a little bit with the kids about what we think the important message behind each story is.
It's also great that the vast majority, like these three tonight, are just jolly good fun to read!
Day 82 (Week 12, Day 5) - Thursday 23rd March 2017
We've had a good streak going lately, managing to books read each night for the last few days to keep heading towards our target of 1,000 picture books read in 2017. Xander unfortunately fell asleep early tonight, so it was just Josh and I on reading duty!
ANY day that you get to read with your children should be cause for celebration, but there have been far too many days as far as I'm concerned that we've had where for one reason or another we just haven't been able to settle down and get those stories read. Usually it's because of sickness or the children just being too tired, but it's added up to far more days than I thought it would, and so we're aiming now to either read six books in the evening after one where we haven't read any, or read the three intended for the previous night in the morning before school if we can.
However we do it, we're determined that we'll reach that 1,000 book goal!
Michael Rosen is an author and poet that I admire greatly for all his work advocating reading and the importance of libraries, so it's surprising that we haven't yet read any of his work for the Picture Book Challenge. With Happy Harry's Cafe, it's easy to see why he's such a highly respected wordsmith with the beautifully poetic way this story is told, using alliteration and rhymes without a standard rhythm throughout, and making the kids giggle along as the story is told. We laughed as Matt the Cat realises he doesn't like the soup Harry has served because he has no spoon to eat it with, at the silly song they make up about it, and particularly at the bit where Robin the Robin comes bobbing along, bringing back memories of a song that many of you probably sung many years ago (as I did in a school play).
The illustrations by Richard Holland are great as well, featuring mainly one character per page and allowing the focus to fall solely on them, which is a contrast to how most picture books seem to be drawn, and a bit of variety is always welcome!
A lovely tale with a poetical feel that can't fail to raise a smile!
Chris says: I like when a particularly clever poet is able to tell a story in a way that doesn't have a standard rhythm to it, but makes it work perfectly anyway. It shows just how you can play around with storytelling techniques and find a different and exciting way to tell a tale.
I love a story that builds slowly towards it's climax, teasing a repeating theme or scenario along the way before the big event happens, and this book is a great example of that storytelling technique at work. Owl, Rabbit, and Mouse are all afraid of the Monster Of The Woods, and put a plan in place in case it comes calling. Will they be able to stick to the plan though when the time comes, or will curiosity get the better of them?
It's hard to get across without reading it yourself, but the pacing of the buildup to the appearance of the 'Monster' really is perfect, and the way the words dominate the page at the time we finally meet it is just so well done that it lends itself to being read out loud as well as anything I can remember. That's one of the key successes of this for me: it really is just glorious fun to read to your children!
It's beautifully illustrated too, of course, with the terror that the friends are going through put across in fantastic tandem with the words.
And if you like your positive morals, it's also a chance to talk about not judging something until you know it!
Chris says: Perfect pacing and such fun to read aloud - two things that help to make up a great story for me!
Josh says: I liked that the monster was very nice.
We see the name Caryl Hart on the front of a book and we instantly celebrate because we know we're going to have a great time reading it! There's a Monster in My Fridge in another imaginative and delightfully fun story about the monsters that live in someone's house, hiding in the fridge, the cupboard, beneath the sheets, and many other places! There are lift the flap pages to make the reveal of each monster all the more exciting, and even a mirror at the end to show the scariest monster of all!
As you'd expect with a monster book, the illustrations by Deborah Allright are an incredibly creative collective of bright colourful monsters and other ghoulish beings in a variety of locations, and they compliment Caryl Hart's teasing questions about what the reader might find hidden in this house incredibly well.
We had great fun afterwards talking about what monsters we might find hidden in our own house, until I realised that it probably wasn't the best think to be talking about just before bed!
Chris says: We just have so much fun when we read Caryl Hart's stories, and that's a fantastic thing - to know that one of your favourite authors keeps bringing out highly enjoyable tales like this gives us plenty to look forward to!
Josh says: I liked the wolf scratching his bottom.
So, to summarise Day 82...
The theme of the day isn't quite monsters (there weren't any in Happy Harry's Cafe), but you could certainly classify it as 'incredibly creative'! Whether it's the majestic wordplay in Happy Harry's Cafe, the fantastic pacing and build up of Watch Out! There's a Monster About!, or all the monsters in There's a Monster in My Fridge, we've had another evening of books that inspire our imaginations, and I'm certain that any one of these books would put a smile of the face of you and your children if you were to pick up a copy!
Day 81 (Week 12, Day 4) - Wednesday 22nd March 2017
Xander was happily playing with his train set tonight and unfortunately I couldn't coax any coherent answers out of him as to what he enjoyed about each story, though he was in the room as we read them so I'm hoping he enjoyed having stories in the background as he played!
Josh on the other hand sat with me on the sofa as always, thoroughly enjoying what we read. Here's our reviews...
We wouldn't necessarily have picked this book up if it hadn't have been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is, for all intents and purposes, a non-fiction book with facts about various animals, and though we've read a few books so far that are very informative they've always been stories (rather than information books) at heart.
I'm so pleased that we didn't skip this, therefore, because it's one of the most breathtakingly beautiful books that I've ever seen, filled with illustrations that you'll genuinely struggle to understand just how Stephen Walton has created. From a distance you could easily mistake them for photographs, and that's really not an exaggeration. If you think about how realistic the digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin was in Rogue One, then this is many times more realistic still. They're staggeringly lifelike, and I can't fathom how an artist can be so skillful.
The words are written by Katie Cotton, who we recently enjoyed with The Road Home, and the poetic accompaniments to each illustration she provides are small but highly informative pieces on each species.
Children's books often say so much with so little, and this is a fine example. We loved it in every way.
Chris says: You really can't exaggerate how magnificent these illustrations are. Everytime I look at them again I'm in absolute awe.
Josh says: Is that a photo? (N.B. Referring to the front cover)
This is NOT a book to sit and read quietly together; this is a book to read as loudly and enthusiastically as possible, just like life on a real building site! Josh loved making the sounds and actions of all the various machines throughout, and Xander had to come and see what was happening to join in with them too. Smriti Prasadam-Halls' words and Ed Eaves' pictures guided us through the chaos like a seasoned foreman onsite!
Diggers have always been big in our house, and it's great to read stories that you know the kids have a personal interest in. If you want a book that's great fun with plenty to shout about and noise to make, here you go - this is the perfect story for you!
Chris says: It's a good job we don't look for quiet stories before bed! Loads to shout about noisily with this one!
It's a bit of an irresistible name, 'Sir Scaly Pants', isn't it? And a proper hero he turns out to be, saving the common folk from a giant where everyone else fails, including the bullying Nasty Knights, with the help of his trusted steed Guinevere.
It's excellent fun and wonderfully colourful, featuring the most fantastically grumpy looking horse in Guinevere since the one from Disney Pixar's Tangled. Josh loved this adventure, and I had to ask him to sit down and stop pretending to be a knight at one point to finish it!
Inspired their imaginations no end!
Chris says: Always going to welcome a story about a knight on an adventure - particularly one with a fantastically fun name! Great way of getting kids excited about reading a book.
Josh says: I like how he defeated the giant.
So, to summarise Day 81...
Tonight, we've had simply stunning and photo-realistic illustrations, irresistible shout-out-loud noises, and heroic adventures. A perfect cocktail for inspiring the imagination (both for children and adults alike!).