What I read | January / February 2021

[ my image - Norwich Cathedral across the fields, February 2021]

All the books I read, reviewed, shared and enjoyed in January and February 2021...

Gaspard, Best in Show by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew.  This is the followup to Gaspard the fox by Zeb Soanes, usually known for reading the news and the shipping forecast on the radio, and there are little hints to this in the story as we see the shipping forecast names flowing beautifully out of the radio in Peter the cat’s house.  It’s a lyrical, humorous story that introduces big words to children without us even noticing - crepuscular, ludicrous, shipping forecast, musketeers and outrageous.  There are dogs in fancy dress, and a fox in fancy dress, a bit of chaos, a chase, and a happy ending. Thanks to @Graffeg publishers.

Only one of me, A love letter from Mum by Lisa Wells, Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri.  Lisa Wells lost her battle against terminal bowel cancer in August 2019.  This picture book is her legacy of love, addressing the fact that she will die.  And it is a beautiful, sensitive, somehow uplifting poem, inviting the children to “be a little bit like Mum” as they grow up.  Unsurprisingly it did make me cry… and along with its sibling publication “Only one of me, a love letter from Dad”, will support families along their difficult journeys.

Lisa hoped that Only one of Me will help other families facing bereavement long into the future, bringing them comfort whilst raising money for charity along the way.  Author and illustrator royalties are donated to Mummy’s Star (supporting women and their families affected by cancer in pregnancy), and We Hear You (WHY, who give free professional counselling to those affected or bereaved by cancer or other life threatening conditions).  Thanks to @graffeg

Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees by Ryan Mizzen, and illustrated by Paula Winward, part of the Time to Care series where each book in the series will look at a specific environmental issue. The author uses rhyme and humour as he draws attention to the challenge of pesticide use and the associated drastic decline in bee numbers. Hedgey-A is a friendly hedgehog who cares for and likes helping others, and in this story, he learns about the effect of pesticides on bees, and enlists the help of the Queen and her new team of Earth Defenders. Written by an author with a BSc in Climate Change and an MA in Creative Writing, this series has the potential to inspire many new, informed activists, much needed for the future. Thanks to www.ryanmizzen.com www.paulwinwardillustration.com

I’ve been sent | Where’s Brian’s Bottom? by Rob Jones.  This is a great chunky board book all about a very very very long sausage dog named Brian.  He’s so long no-one knows where his bottom has gone.  We turn the pages and ask Brian’s friends if they’ve seen his bottom….but they haven’t.  Where is it? You’ll have to follow his body all the way round the house until you find it.  It’s a very long way.  

A delightful, colourful board book that can be read as a story by turning the pages, and is cleverly designed so it can also be folded out to over 6½ feet long!  Very young children will love this, and older children will have fun laying out Brian and measuring themselves alongside his very very long body.  Brilliant. Thanks to @PavilionBooks. Find out more here.

Omar, the bees and me by Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle.  Illustrated by the award-winning Katie Cottle (The Green Giant, The Blue Giant), this is a story about sustainability, working together in small ways to help save or big planet, friendship and the plight of the bees.  We learn the facts behind the story, and get to know Omar whose grandpa in Syria is a beekeeper and whose Mum makes gorgeous honey cake, and Me (that’s Maisie) whose grandad also keeps bees. Omar and Maisie become best friends as they work with their teacher and their class to learn about the importance of bees, and observe the changing seasons as they plant and grow flowers for the bees. A lovely story celebrating inter-generational relationships and the coming together of a diverse community, and a perfect introduction for little ones to environmental issues.  Thanks to @owletpress, here, and also available from www.kabloom.co.uk with wildflower Seedboms.

The Paramedic Chris series by Tim Parsons. Tim was inspired by his job as a chaplain to the Ambulance Service, to write this series about colleagues Paramedic Chris and Paramedic Zara, with the aim of educating young children about the work of the ambulance service. His long term goal is to use the proceeds from the book venture to open a healing centre to support mental health. Find out more here - www.timparsons.co.uk.

Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara. The boy is lonely, all his friends are hibernating, and it is Winter. But one day strange patterns appear on the window and he ventures outside to investigate. He meets Jack Frost and they have a magical time together playing in the snow and ice. This is a beautiful story, and we were inspired by the illustrations to give the children some loose parts to explore and make transient art - various sized circles of white card, tiny sticks, buttons and leaves that we collected in the woods. We arranged the pieces to make a snowman, snowdog, snow Jack Frost, snow balls, a campfire and a sausage!!

Skip through the seasons by Stella Blackstone and Maria Carluccio. A beautiful double page spread for each month of the year. We looked at the January page and talked about what we could see in the picture.

Lottie loves Nature - Bee-ware! by Jane Clarker and illustrated by James Brown.  This is the second in the series Lottie loves Nature from publisher Five Quills, with two more planned for Summer 2021.  Intended for young children of about 5 and above, this is a short read-alone (or for sharing together) illustrated paperback. Lottie loves nature and is inspired by her favourite wildlife TV presenter Samira Breeze  to find out all about birds and animals and create habitats for wildlife in her garden.  In this episode, her neighbour, Mr Parfitt is trying to make a perfect golfing lawn in his back garden and wants to get rid of all the bees and insects that are annoying him.  Lottie discovers that he wants to exterminate a bees nest, and her mission becomes convincing him that this is not the right thing to do, for the bees, the garden or the planet…  Along the way we discover facts about bees, animal habitats and behaviours, and how to make a bee friendly garden and a bug hotel.   Slightly above the age range of books that I normally review, this is perfect for children aged 5 and above who will be inspired to help nature and restore biodiversity needed for our, and our planet’s, health. Thanks to @5Quills_kids, find out more here.

Emergency! by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe. Rhyming text and lovely colourful illustrations. Some of the children are super interested in all sorts of vehicles so this book is perfect. We discover planes that put out forest fires, boats that rescue people from floods and helicopters that rescue walkers from mountains.

And a selection of books about vehicles that we found in the book basket and on the book shelves.

The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donanldson and Joel Stewart. One of my favourite ever children's picture books, The Magic Paintbrush is the story of a little girl, Shen, who lives in a small village in China, and is gufted a very special paintbrush by the old man on the beach. What ensues is a perfect story of heroism, including a battle with the evil emperor and a village party. Inspired this week by 2 things - one, we explored melting ice cubes and the children painted with the water onto sone pale brown paper and it left watery matrks and then dried invisible; and two, the wonderful Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler have been sharing some humourous illustrations with a cornavirus theme, which made me smile. So we read the Magic Paintbrush and explored painting with brushes. See here for more.

A True Champion and Sister Rivalry by Puneet Bhandal and illustrated by Saad Ali.  Set in the world of junior tennis, the authors are hoping to increase interest in tennis in young children, as well as writing about sporting values, and donating one book for every one purchased.  A True Champion is the story of Storm who feels nervous in the tennis final, and is scared of losing, but changing his mindset and being honest turns out to be much better than winning.  Sibling Rivalry is the story of sisters Mili and Tara, and it gives us the opportunity to talk about a whole range of emotions from happiness to jealousy to sadness to joy.  We learn loads of tennis words, like line judge, umpire and volley, and there’s even a glossary in the back.

Mindful thoughts for Birdwatchwers, finding awareness in nature by Adam Ford. I love these little mindfulness books. They look beautiful and are perfect little books to take out on a walk or to read when you want a few mindful minutes. Published by Leaping Hare Press at Quarto Knows see here for more.

My Grandad is a star by Lucy Thatcher and illustrated by Anand Ayinikati. A sweet tale about love, loss and the special relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. Lucy and her Grandad enjoy adventures together as we travel through the pages with Grandad represented as a shining star as they play, go to the park, read stories together and share an ice cream. "Always twinkling and brightening my life from near and far, I know this to be true because my Grandad is a star." Thanks to www.ljthatcher.com

The Invisible by Tom Percival. A beautiful book, beautiful illustrations and a beautiful and necessary story. It's about a little girl called Isabel who lives in a cold, cramped house with her loving family, who, one day, find they can no longer pay the bills. They have to leave the house and move to a new part of the city, and as she explores her new area, finds she is increasingly invisible. However, her new found invisibility leads her to notice all the other invisible people, planting flowers in old paint pots, feeding the birds from the park bench, and helping to fix broken stuff. Soon, she finds that this invisibility, when experienced together, leads to something truly amazing - making a difference, and making a wonderful community. This one is definitely a contender for my "Best of 2021" collection.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo.  The American academic writes about "why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism".  This is a really good book to read following on from Reni Eddo Lodge's best seller "Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race".  The author writes in an accessible style, defing concepts of prejudice, discrimination, racism, white fragility, white supremacy and civil rights.  If you want to read a book to begin your journey of anti-racism, a good place to start would be to define where we find ourselves now and why.  It is written from an American perpective, but she does compare with Western Europe, and finishes off by looking at "Where do we go from here?"  The author's explainer videos on youtube are a good starting point too. From Penguin Random House​

The Greatest Showpenguin by Lucy Freegard. The latest from author / illustrator Lucy Freegard is a story of Poppy the Penguin who grows up in the circus and becomes a great performer, bouncing, spinning and flying through the air. Until one day she realises that the performing life is not for her, she prefers to be calm, quiet and in control...but there's only one problem, she has to tell her Mum. Of course, Mum accepts Poppy's brave choice, and is super proud when Poppy puts on the Greatest Show on Earth.  Thaks to Pavilion Books @LucyFreegardIllustration and @lucyfreegard.  Pavilion books website here.  

Alone by Barry Falls. I loved Falls' first picture book "It's your world now" with its beautiful illustrations and powerful message. And this new picture book from the same author lives up to expectations. Billy McGill lives all alone at the top of a hill, which is just how he likes it. Until he discovers a mouse, then needs a cat to get rid of the mouse, a dog to get rid of the cat, and hilariously on and on until the house is full, there's even a vet, a baby and a hairdresser! Billy McGill isn't alone anymore, but does he like, and what will he do? I'll not give it away here, suffice to say that I absolutely love this story that is full of rhyme, chaos and amazing things to explore on the pages, and I'm guessing it will become a well loved classic. A perfect story for realising that we all need each other. Thanks to Pavilion Books , see their website here.

Sugarlump and the Unicorn by Julia D
onaldson and Lydia Monks. The latest offering from the team behind Ahhhgghh Spider. The children loved the rhyming story, joining in with repeated refrains and finishing of the rhyming strings. We took a walk to the big house near the cathedral to look at the real rocking horse in the window. From Pan Macmillan here.

Ceri and Deri - Get your skates on by Max Lowe. The latest installment from Welsh author / illustrator Max Lowe, in which we meet Dai the Duck who wants to be the best at whatever he is doing right now, which right now is skateboarding. Bright and bold illustrations combined with great storytelling make this perfect for sharing, as Ceri and Deri help Dai learn that taking part, having fun with friends and enjoying things are what matters even if you need to try and try again. Dai has a go at being in a band, inventing stuff that's already been invented, rugby, boxing and even discussing philosophy and writing poetry. But in the end, having a go at skateboarding, even if you are not very good at it, is great fun with friends.  Thanks to Graffeg.  Find out more here.

Don't touch that razor, Fraser! by Stuart Simmonds and Bill Greenhead. More hilarious antics from the creators of Harry the Karate Monkey. Fraser is curious about a package that arrived for his Dad. Rather more curious than he probably should have been.... Mum says to put the package down and not to touch it, but Fraser has other ideas. And so we get led on a merry jaunt, if you can imagine what a runaway electric razor would do in the hands of a curious boy with a little sister, a big brother with a mobile phone, an elderly Nana, and Auntie Pat's cat. The illustrations capture all the hilarity of this laugh out loud rhyming story perfectly. Very funny.  Thanks to Stuhead Ltd

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse. If you liked the Labyrinth trilogy by Kate Mosse, you will love this too. It's the first part of another series set in France in 1652, in Carcassonne and Toulouse. The second in the series, just published is called The City of Tears. Historical fiction at its best. From pan macmillan here.


My Christmas reading - a couple of weeks off to do a bit of different reading.  I read Enlightened Entrepreneurs by Ian Bradley, a collection of stories about Victorian businessmen who were also known for their social responsibility adn philanthropy, such as Jeremiah Colman and Joseph Rowntree.  The Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar. A series of essays from one of the most well known faces of yoga. If you are interested in the background, history and depth of yoga, as opposed to purely the physical exercise part, then this is for you. And Straight outta Crawley, Memoirs of a distinctly average human being by Romesh Ranganathan. The comedian turned hilarious TV travel documentary presenter writes about how he got the where he is now. He talks, as you would expect, honestly and openly about his teaching career, his late father, his now equally famous Mum, his long-suffering wife, a job as a trolley tidy-upper in Sainsburys and his job in accounts for an airline food company. Very funny.

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