Category Archives: Reviewing it for the Kids

I thought it would be a good idea to have a page dedicated to children’s books. Hopefully this will make it easier to find your next bed time read.

Oi, Dog! by Kes Grey and Jim Field – review

Published by Hodder Children’s

Publication date 6 October 2016

Source – own copy

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“The absurdly funny sequel to the award-winning Oi Frog! from vibrant pairing Kes Gray and Jim Field.

The hilarious sequel to the bestselling Oi Frog! will have children rolling around with laughter. Shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award 2016.

Frog’s had enough, he’s the changing the status quo! Cat insists that there are rules – only mules sit on stools, no one but hares should sit on chairs and however irritating, dogs MUST sit on frogs.

‘Well, I’m changing the rules,’ said the frog.
‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’

And everyone else is going to have to sit somewhere else too. Will Cat want to sit on gnats instead of cushy mats? Will spiders like sitting on gliders? Will whales be happy to sit on nails? And, most importantly, where is FROG going to sit?”

Frog is fed up with where dog’s seating arrangements and turning the tables on bossy Cat, devises a new seating plan for the animals. Having given up his place on the log for Dog, Frog has to find new seats for everyone, and Cat for one is not happy with his new resting place.

This is wonderful sequel to Oi, Frog! with a whole host of new animals who are having to comply with the hilarious new seating plan devised by a rather fed up Frog. The rhyming couplets lend a lovely flow to the book, making it easy to read and easy to follow, and allowing for suggestions of where other animals might sit, to be discussed with active and imaginative young minds. My children were soon joining in with ‘reading’ after only a couple of readings of the book. And it is a book that elicits calls of ‘read it again’ straight after the last lines.

The illustrations perfectly match the text, with the expression of a put upon Cat and a rather perplexed Whale, adding to the story, eliciting giggles when seen in junction with the story being read.

A wonderful addition to any child’s haul of books, I for one can’t wait for Oi, Cat. I mean, the kids can’t wait, obviously…

 

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Harriet the Hedgehog by Victoria Brock – review

Published by Victoria Brock

Publication date – 2 April 2013

Source – review copy

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“Beautiful Children’s book with traditional illustrations. This book is about a Hedgehog who doesn’t have any spikes. Written for my twin nieces who were diagnosed with leukaemia in September 2009 within a week of each other. £1 of every book sold goes to Starlight Children’s Foundation.” (synopsis and image from Amazon)

It is always difficult to write an in depth review for a children’s story such as this as often times the review would turn out to be longer than the actual book.

This is a charming little tale about a hedgehog who is different from her family and friends. Apprehensive when she has to attend school, she doesn’t know how the other hedgehogs will treat her.

This is a short story, told in rhyming couplets and matched with lovely illustrations. My two year old likes to settle down and listen to the tale, a couple of readings at a time, solemnly turning to me and saying ‘got no spines’ with a little shake of the head.

The moral of the story is that it’s ok to be different, that we shouldn’t fear it and that people can be far more accepting than we give them credit for.

 

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Chris Rivers Nuttall – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Chris Rivers Nuttall to the blog. Chris is the illustrator of the Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventure books, written by Natalie Page, the latest being Tinsel Town which was published on 7 November 2016.

Chris kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us about Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: Tinsel Town

Tinsel Town is second story from Zak and Jen’s astronomical adventures. Natalie came to me with the idea of doing a christmas special back in June / July, the title and outline of the story was there so it seemed like a great idea to do. It’s the perfect link between ‘The Petal Planet’ (which is the 1st book) and what will end up becoming the 3rd book which me and Natalie are already talking about.

2. What is the process you take to produce illustrations? How long does it take from idea to final picture?

For these illustrations it usually starts with a very basic pencil sketch to get a rough idea of each image and where the charactors will fit within that image. I don’t like to do to much on the sketches as I perfect to go with the flow once I’m doing the actual paintings. The paintings are all then done using oils, its the only paints I work with, the drying time is really slow which isn’t good when working on a deadline but the paints allow a lot of flexibility.

I added some touches digitally on Tinsel Town, for sparkle effects etc, this was all done in the final stages.

3. How important do you think illustrations are to a children’s book? What do they add to the story?

Very important as I think it really sparks their imaginations, it shows things they might not have ever seen before, especially with anything that’s fantasy, but the images need a strong story and the story needs strong images, without either then the whole thing would suffer. If both the set of images and the words alone can stand up on their own as something interesting then I think it’s a winner, put them both together and it’s game on..
4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career as an illustrator? 

My advice would be draw / paint whatever you want and whatever feels natural,  you have to enjoy what your doing as well, otherwise the images would suffer. Also, try to be as original as possible and don’t be afraid to take a risk if you have an idea, it’s good to take yourself out of a comfort zone. Anything to do with arts is very competitive so you’ve got to stand out from the crowd and find you’re vibe.. as far as it being a career, very few people get to the point where they can call it their full time career but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it alongside whatever else in your life you have going on! That’s what I do. Also, try and find a good writer to partner up with! Again, that’s what I did!

5. What do you do when you aren’t illustrating? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m a father of twin girls who recently turned 1 and I also play drums in a rock band called Heaven’s Basement which I’ve done full time for the whole of my adult life, so relax time doesn’t happen much, but I love being busy with my art, music and of course my family.

6. Is there a book you wish you had illustrated? 

Roald Dahl is king in my eyes, his stuff is so crazy, I love it, I’d be all over that !!
About the book:
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Best friends Zak and Jen love exploring space using their magic umbrellas. This time, they find a Christmas themed planet, but there is one thing missing, the inhabitants! Join the characters as they make some festive friends, and realise how important it is to appreciate every day. Tinsel Town is written for children over five years old, however younger children will also enjoy the rhythm of the story and its festive theme.

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Come on Daisy! by Jane Simmons – review

Published by Orchard

Publication date 2 September 2004

Source – own copy

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“Daisy the duckling is lost! Will she find her way back to Mamma?

Mamma Duck tells Daisy to stay close, but Daisy thinks that chasing dragonflies and bouncing on lilypads looks much more fun . . .

This warm and comforting story, starring Daisy the duck, has been delighting children for over 15 years.”

Daisy is a duckling who fails to listen to Mama’s calls to keep up. She is forever distracted by dragonflies, fishes and frogs. After wandering away Daisy ends up on her own and has to find Mama again.

This is the favourite book of the youngest member of the family. My one year old demands the ‘duck duck book’ at night time and I can guarantee I will have to read it at least three times each evening. My reading is accompanied by shouts of ‘come on Daisy, ‘Mamma!’ and theatrical shivering and bouncing at appropriate places in the story. To engage a child so completely in a story and to see the excitement when the book is produced is enough to convince me this is a perfect children’s book.

There is of course an important moral to the tale of how it is important to keep close to grown ups, that there are hidden dangers everywhere and that play time can still be fun, its just that it needs to be safe too.

The illustrations perfectly match the story. They are in fact beautiful paintings, the brush work apparent in the images and add a whimsical and soft edge to match the words. The story itself is perfectly paced. It is not a rhyming story but the short sentence structure and repetition of words and phrases aids interaction and allows children to ‘read’ the story for themselves.

This is a delightful story with beautiful illustrations and is the perfect addition to any young child’s reading pile.

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Why Children’s fiction? by Natalie Page – Guest post and review of Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventure: The Petal Planet

Today I’m pleased to welcome Natalie Page to the blog. Natalie’s debut children’s book, Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventure: The Petal Planet is published by Austin Macauley and was published on 31 May 2016.

Natalie has kindly written a guest post on why she writes children’s fiction. Carry on reading afterwards for my review.

Why Children’s Fiction? 

If someone had told me ten years ago I would find myself writing children’s fiction, much less having a book published, I would probably wonder how drunk they were. 

I have always loved to write, but like most people I got caught up in getting what others described as a ‘ real job’, settling down and paying the bills. 

It was only when I was on maternity leave that I found myself with the ability to be creative once again, a feeling that I hadn’t had since I was at school. Without rhyme or reason I found myself jotting down story ideas, characters, plot lines and something became very clear, I wanted to write for children. 

Some of my fondest memories growing up are of books I read or were read to me. 

When I was little I adored story time before bed with my sister, revelling in the classics such as the Hungry Caterpillar, The Faraway Tree and Winnie the Pooh. As I grew older I devoured everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. Once into my teenage years I spent hours engrossed in teen fiction, particularly anything with a female protagonist so Nancy Drew, and Mallory Towers were firm favourites alongside the popular Point Horror series. 

Whilst on maternity I set myself the task of simply writing as much as possible and following my inspiration. By the end of my leave I had the first draft of a YA fiction novel (all 85,000 words of it) and several children’s picture book stories. I was hooked. 

When I started to tell people what I had been doing, it was clear that they were making several assumptions. “So you’re going to continue with the children’s picture books, right? They’re easier.” 

It got me thinking, is writing picture books for children really any easier than writing for adults? 

In short, I think the answer is No, and here’s why based on what I have learnt so far: 

* It is a lot harder than you think to tell a compelling story that will engage children (and not irritate their parents) in 500 words or less. Those of us with young children will know that very rarely do you get away with reading a book just once. I can safely say I know The Gruffalo, Rabbit’s Nap and countless others off by heart. Don’t get me wrong, I do not profess to be an expert at writing for small children, but if you assume that a lower word count means easier to write, then I think you will be disappointed

* It’s a crowded market – if you venture into any bookstore you will see what I mean. There are countless picture books on offer for young children, and competing with the well-known authors / illustrators can be challenging. So what is it that will make your book stand out on those shelves when it is alongside all the other big names?

* You’re not only writing a story, you are writing tag lines for pictures. A children’s agent once gave me some very tough feedback but he had a point. When it comes to picture books you really have to write for the pictures. As an author if you are simply putting words on the page it won’t be enough. To have a successful picture

book the words need to conjure up very clear images so those reading it can imagine the story before a single image has been drawn.

* You need to think in spreads. All genres of fiction have a guide when it comes to length and for the majority that is word count. When it comes to picture books I have learnt that you not only need to think about word count and imagery but you also need to think in book format, specifically page spreads. Traditionally children’s picture books are 32 pages (although there are exceptions) and this includes 24 pages or 12 spreads where your story will fit. It’s not an exact science, I have found some posts which say you have 14 spreads to work with, either way it is something you should definitely consider if writing a picture book and you want to avoid lots of editing later on. 

* Think carefully about the marketing. A critical component of any children’s book success will be getting the book to your audience, this may well mean readings in schools / libraries / summer clubs etc. Unlike adult fiction, in no other genre do you have access to large numbers of your readership all in one place, this can make things easier but also means you need to be a bit more creative! How will you make the experience engaging for your audience? We all know children can be a tough crowd to please, will you be offering anything more than just a simple reading? Will there be activities? Puppets? Drama? 

This is a short summary of what I have learnt so far on my writing journey and I have no doubt that there is a lot more to learn. 

When people ask me why I choose to write Children’s stories I tell them the truth. I write children’s stories because I need to. These are the stories that form in my mind and I honestly feel like I have no choice but to write them down. Whether people end up reading them is another matter entirely! In many ways I feel I am rather old fashioned, I love fairy stories, magic and trying to write characters that will make children want to read about them over and over again. Like every adult who adores Harry Potter (of which I am one!) there is probably a large part of me that simply doesn’t want to grow up, who wants to stay in a world where magic and dragons are real.  All I can hope for is that children who read my work will enjoy it. 

When I wrote Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet, it was because I was inspired by Chris’s original artwork and I wanted to create a story that combined a touch of magic with a thought provoking story and unique pictures. I also spoke to several parents and early years teachers to get a feel for what children will respond to and rhyming couplets was a clear recommendation. Chris and I sincerely hope we have achieved our goal of creating something special. Whatever happens, I will always be thankful for the process we have been through to get to this point. 

Natalie’s debut children’s book Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet is out now and available from Amazon, WH Smiths and Waterstones.

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“To Jen, her life was a terrible bore.
She wished she had more than the landscape she saw…

Jen lives alone on her solitary sand planet, until one day, a boy named Zak comes to visit. Through a little of Zak‘s magic and an unusual umbrella, Jen is transported to a beautiful world, and her new friend helps her learn a valuable lesson along the way.”

This is the tale of Jen, alone on her sandy planet. Then Zak comes to visit her and takes to visit a far off land. Through Zak, Jen learns not only about new places, but about new outlooks for familiar surroundings.

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The rhyming couplets lend a lovely lilt to the tale, making it easy to read, (always a bonus for parents who have to read a story what can be multiple times in one sitting), and give the story a lovely flow and pace. It had my eldest sat upright and listening intently on first hearing it.

Chris Rivers Nutall’s illustrations perfectly complement the story. The pictures in this book are beautiful and help create the magical quality the book has. In fact one of my little ones snuggled up so that they could have a better look at the pictures as I read the story.

The pictures could be classed as a little dark, though I think they are beautiful, but the book is saved from being scary by the story. It is a story of making new friends, of helping others be happy and of learning to appreciate what you already have, all valuable lessons for anyone, not just children.

This book is a lovely new addition to our bedtime routine and I look forward to reading more adventure of Zak and Jen in the future.

My thanks to the author for the review copy of this book. My review is my honest opinion of the story.

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Fright Club by Ethan Long – Review

Published by Bloomsbury Children

Publication date 8 October 2015

Source – own copy

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“Only the SCARIEST monsters are allowed in Fright Club (members include Fran K. Stein and Sandy Witch). So when a cute little bunny announces he wants to join everybody laughs at him. Poor old bunny. If only they knew you don’t have to be a monster to be scary. Perhaps he should show them …A brilliantly funny read-aloud text with delightfully spooky illustrations perfect for Halloween. This book will have young readers laughing and begging to be the newest members of Fright Club. – See more on the Bloomsbury Children’s website. “

Bunny wants to join Fright Club but Vladimir won’t let her. Will she manage to change his mind?

This is a tale of a bunny who wants to join fright club in time for Halloween. It has become a favourite with my children and so means multiple readings for me, though thankfully I don’t mind.

The illustrations are very detailed and fit the story perfectly. They are dark in places, with lots of grey and black used. Luckily they don’t scare the children, even when Mumford the mummy does his scary party trick with his eyes (once you’ve read the book you’ll see what I mean!).

There are some references that are geared more towards the adult reading the book, for example there is a line about how the monsters moves were scary, but not in the way Vladimir had hoped, and the were-wolf is called Virginia. I would expect some of the content to go over children’s heads, though my children love the story and have no issue with me reading it repeatedly.

My children love this book, shouting out at certain parts, joining in with scary noises and frightening faces. In amongst the scary moves, and ghostly goings-on there is a lovely moral to the story – that no matter what you look like, or appear to be, you can be anything when you set your mind to it. And that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.

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Pirates Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, Illustrated by Ben Cort – Review

Published by Simon and Schuster Children

Publication date – 28 February 2013

Source – own copy

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“Ahoy me hearties! Join the Pants Pirates on a special treasure hunt. Grab your cutlass and sail on the Pirate Ship Black Bloomer past angry crocs, sharks in fancy pants and through gurgling swamps on a quest to find…the Pants of Gold! This hilarious new addition to the phenomenally successful Underpants series will not disappoint. You’ll be yo-ho-ho-ing until the sails come down! – See more here

This book came into our household as a birthday gift for one of my children. It has since become a firm favourite.

The Black Bloomer and the pants pirates are on the hunt for the famous golden pants to add to their treasure booty. Will they find the famous pants of gold or will another pirate crew get there first?

Some children’s books are obviously educational, others hide the lessons in the pages. Some books are just plain old fun, and this is one of them. Don’t get me wrong there are opportunities for kids to learn, as there are with the majority of children’s books. There are footsteps to spot, times when we have to whisper and opportunities to play find the object or count crocodiles under the Long-John bridge (a cracking double joke covering both pirates and underpants in one fell swoop). This is a lovely adventure story for young children. It includes pirates, crocodiles, parrots and underpants so there’s lots to appeal.

Ben Cort’s illustrations are fun and colourful, perfectly capturing Claire Freedman’s words and help children engage with the story.

Its the sign of a good children’s book when you are asked to read it again straight after the last page. Its a sign of a great children’s book when you don’t mind that second, third or twentieth read through. This is an engaging, fun read for young children and those reading to them.

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Dave by Sue Hendra, illustrated by Liz Pichon – Review

Published by – Hodder Children

Publication date – 7 February 2013

Source – borrowed copy

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“By a bestselling team, this hilarious picture book will appeal to all those young children who love toilet humour!

A reissue of this hilarious picture book with a stunning glittery cover. Written by Sue Hendra, the creator of the bestselling Barry the Fish with Fingers (88,000 copies sold in the UK alone) and Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell (83,000 copies sold in the UK alone), and illustrated by Liz Pichon, the creator of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates.

Dave is a great big ol’ greedy guts. He loves his dinners. One unfortunate day, after eating a bit too much, he gets stuck in his cat flap. How will he escape? The answer will have you rolling around the floor with laughter.

‘A simple story brilliantly told, with a hilarious conclusion.’ The Bookbag

‘I laughed so much I farted!’ Edward, aged 6″

5 0f 5 stars

“Dave is big and quite fantastic”. So goes the opening lines of this delightful children’s book that charts the tale of Dave the ginger cat and an unfortunate predicament he finds himself in.

Not only is Dave fantastic, so is the whole book. The lines are perfectly paced for little readers to be to join in, gleefully shouting what has happened to Dave. I am always on the look out for books to encourage speech development and this is one such book.

It is the sign of a good children’s book when it entertains adults and children alike. It is the sign of a great children’s book when the reader doesn’t mind the tenth straight reading of it. And this is such a book. I was more than happy to turn to the first page on each gleeful plea of ‘Again’. This book is great for bed time reading, and was a boon for soothing during a fitful night’s sleep.

The illustrations are perfect, matching the lines of the story extremely well. They are an integral part of the story, as they should be and are a delight to see.

The copy we have is borrowed from nursery so I will have to get a copy for our house soon. Double Dave is due for release in January 2016 so I will have to snap up a copy of that on release. I will be seeing what other treats Sue Hendra and Liz Pichon have published while I wait.

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Oi, Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field – Review

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

Publication date – 5 February 2015

Source – own copy

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“A wonderfully funny rhyming story with laugh-out-loud illustrations from an award-winning team.

From the award-winning Kes Gray and the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Jim Field, comes an hilarious rhyming tale about a frog who discovers that all animals have their special places to sit!

Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gofers sit on sofas, but Frog does not want to sit on a log! Jam-packed with animals and silliness, this original rhyming story will have young children in fits of laughter.”

5 of 5 stars

One of the key things I look for when I’m buying new children’s books is that its a story I won’t mind reading repeatedly. As anyone who has ever read to a child will tell you, its very rare that you get away with reading a story only once. So its lucky I came across Oi, Frog, having seen it mentioned on Twitter.

This is a story of a frog learning exactly where he’s allowed to sit. Poor Frog wants to sit down but Cat tells him he can only sit on a log. Cat then proceeds to tell him where different types of animals must sit.

This is an extremely entertaining book. It had us laughing out loud, and by us I mean three generations; my daughter, myself and her grandparents were soon chuckling away. Each time we read it she giggled away to the story and shouted out the ending with glee.  It is full of lovely rhymes that lend it a musical lilt and mean that the flow of the story is pitch perfect. My daughter soon picked the book up and was ‘reading’ the story to herself, following the illustrations. And Jim Field has done a fantastic job illustrating this tale. The pictures jump off the page. The haughtiness of Cat and the confusion of Frog is obvious and each animal and their ‘seat’ is a joy to look at.

Rarely I come across a book I wish I’d written. This one of them. You can see what fun Kes Gray and Jim Field must have had when creating this gem.

I said at the beginning of this review that one of the keys to a good children’s book is not minding the need to re-read. Well this one I had to re-read four times on the day it arrived in the house and I wish I could have got away with reading it again. I had to stop my daughter taking it to nursery for fear it would be lost. It’s been here one day at the time of writing this review and it’s already a firm favourite. Luckily I’ve two younger children so I get to read it for a while longer yet.

I’m on the hunt for more books by Kes Gray and Jim Field. Until then I’ll just have to read Oi, Frog again. ‘Oi, Frog!’ ‘Sit on a Log’….

 

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