Category Archives: review

8 New Picture Books to Add to Your Christmas List

At this time of the year I love to add books to my children’s wish list, but it often takes a lot of research to find new books that I know we will all love. I have received a large number of books to consider for review during 2016, so to help those of you who are seeking inspiration, I compiled a list of some of my favourites.

The Barefoot Book of Children

The Barefoot Book of Children is an absolute joy of a book and a clear favourite.  I would urge any parent or teacher to add it to their collection.  This non-fiction title is a celebration of our common humanity and helps facilitate discussions about race, diversity and inclusion. It looks at how other children live, how we are different and most importantly how we are alike.  The book is full of questions that provoke discussion , “How do you share your love? ”  “What would you like to do if you had a chance?” “Do you have a special place?” As a teacher, I would share a few pages each day to lead a discussion or topic.  Detailed descriptions of the illustrations can be found in the reference materials at back of the book. Children who love facts, can find out about the cultures depicted in the book including names of houses, meanings of names, special celebrations or cultural foods. This section has further talking points, to develop the thinking of slightly older children.  My youngest daughters shared this book together and were completely absorbed by discovering new things and discussing the questions together.

The Barefoot Book of Children is not available until the Spring in the UK but is currently available in the US.

The Branch by Mireille Messier illustrated by Pierre Pratt

The Branch is a charming story book featuring a little girl, who has a favourite branch on her tree where she likes to play and watch the world go by.  One stormy night, she is devastated to find her branch laying on the ground. Her mother agrees that she can keep the broken branch, for a while. Mr Frank, her neighbour understands the little girls sadness and seeing  potential in every piece of wood, he crafts the perfect gift from her favourite branch.The relationships in this book are portrayed beautifully through the text and illustrations.  I particularly love the sequence where the old man and the little girl, work together in the workshop to create something special. The Branch is a perfect book for children like mine, who love to climb trees.

The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin

The Littlest Family’s Big Day is about moving to a new home and is perfect for younger readers.  The simple text will keep their interest and the beautiful, detailed illustrations have plenty for children to explore. This would make a wonderful bedtime book as you snuggle together and point out all the tiny details of this woodland world.

A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

A Squiggly Story is the tale of a little boy who wants to write stories like his big sister, but hasn’t yet learned to write words.  His sister encourages him to tell his story, using individual letters and shapes. He tells the story to his class at school, who contribute more ideas.  This is a great read aloud  book for pre-school or kindergarten teachers, perfect for showing children that you can tell a story even if you can’t write words.  It would also make a lovely gift for an older sibling to give to a younger sibling practicing emergent writing.

Lily the Fancipoo and Piper was Afraid

These books come in gift sets, complete with a soft dog and adorable little mouse. The toys are of excellent quality and are totally irresistible.  I didn’t get chance to review Lily the Fancipoo as it was held up in transit, but we received Piper was Afraid. Piper was Afraid, is about a big dog who misses out on all kinds of fun because he is afraid.  The book had two features that made it an instant hit with my kids – the added bonus of the cuddly toys and an interactive element where you find the mouse hidden on every page.  Either book would make a perfect gift for young children.

Leonard’s Beard by Nancy Cote

Leonard’s Beard, is a comical story about a writer who becomes so absorbed in his stories, he forgets about the outside world. His beard grows and grows until one day  during a storm, Leonard realises how out of control it has become. He cuts his beard, revealing all manner of interesting objects. As he removes them, he discovers that being absorbed in writing has stopped him having his own adventures. This would be a good book to encourage children to get outside more or move away from a screen.

This or That: A Busy Morning by Wendy Kronick

A perfect book for babies and toddlers.  It follows the RIE parenting model , offering choices  to the child as he moves through his day. This is a lovely, interactive book to share with a young child.  At transitions during the day the toddler is presented with two options, “the bib keeps your clothes dry and clean, which will you wear, the red or the green?” Simple rhyming text will appeal to small children and it is perfect for promoting early social, emotional and communication skills.

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts is an ideal book for teachers or parents wishing to inspire art projects.  The story focuses on the latter part of Matisse’s life, when due to cancer he was no longer able to create art as he had done before.  Matisse found new ways to create, by cutting shapes from paper and displaying them around the room.  I’m looking forward to using this one in my art lessons next year.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  I recieved review copies of the books featured in either digital or traditional format.

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8 Spooky Picture Books

Perhaps a little late for Hallowe’en, but if you have kids who love spooky things, wizards, witches or monsters here are a few recommended picture books to share.

1. The Ghosts go Scaring

My kids love this one. Set to the tune of ‘ants go marching’, you can read or sing along as different ghosts come out to scare people.  My children loved counting the ghosts and finding their favourites on each page.  If you are looking for new rhymes and songs to add to the Hallowe’en preschool collection, this book is a perfect choice.

2. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day

An amusing tale about Brunhilda the witch, who likes to cause mischief with her spells. One day her cat decides to make trouble and casts a spell that turns Brunhilda’s mischief into good deeds. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day is a charming story, with vibrant illustrations and I’m sure will become a firm favourite.

3. I Want to Eat Your Books

A zombie book that really isn’t scary.  The rhyming text tells the story of a zombie who comes to school to eat books but soon discovers a love of reading.  The book has a nice message and would make a good class read aloud book, as the children chant ‘I want to eat your books’.

4. Winnie the Witch

We love the Winnie the Witch stories and the audio books are also a nice addition to the collection. These comical  books share the adventures of Winnie and her cat Wilbur as they get themselves into all kinds of situations through casting spells.

5. Titchy Witch

Titchy Witch is another family favourite.  Titchy Witch is a little witch who faces the challenges of life as a young witch.  She deals with challenges that many children face, like having a new baby, bullies, inviting her school friends to her party,  learning to read and having a pet, but through the eyes of a witch.

6. Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters

We bought this book for an art project and fell in love with the illustrations.  This is a perfect book for little ones who are afraid of monsters, to help them see that monsters are really just like them.

7.Monsters Love Underpants

My youngest daughter’s favourite monster book. A silly, rhyming  tale about monsters who love to wear underpants, from the authors of Aliens Love Underpants, Pirates Love Underpants and Dinosaurs Love Underpants.

8. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

An old one, but a great story that captures the suspense that children feel as they encounter the unknown. The anticipation of the little mouse as he wonders what is at the top of the stairs makes this a perfect book to read at Hallowe’en.

Let me know your favourite spooky books in the comments.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

The Book of Kringle: Legend of the North Pole. (Review)

When I was a child, Christmas picture books had a very special place in our celebrations.  Every Christmas Eve, my dad would settle down with us and read “The Night Before Christmas” from a tiny square book, that was his when he was a boy. Despite the size of the book, the illustrations were truly magical and it was a Christmas tradition that my brother and I would look forward to.  Books also held a special place in our gift list. Every Christmas we would receive a new hardcover book, my mother would preserve the dust cover by wrapping it in plastic and sign the book with a loving message.  To this day, I treasure hard backed children’s books. When I enter a children’s book shop, it still feels as though I am entering Aladdin’s cave and I’m compelled to cradle a new book like a baby.

The Book of Kringle could easily ignite a similar magic and love of books for young children. I could imagine its reading becoming a Christmas tradition in many families.  I have only viewed a digital copy of the book, but other reviewers have praised the look and feel of the physical book, especially its resemblance to an old leather-bound document. This would make it a very special gift that could be enjoyed by all the family. Perhaps if you have a visiting elf, he could leave it as a gift to explain the history of the elves.

The story is simple and charming, written in the style of an old fairytale. The Book of Kringle tells of the days when the North Pole was ruled by a greedy king who didn’t allow elves to have fun.  The king’s friendly brother spreads kindness amongst the elves and the story of Santa unfolds.  I liked the traditional tone but sometimes I felt the language didn’t  flow. That may have been because it was more difficult to follow in the digital format and it loses some of its magic without a physical book to hold.

The real magic though, lies in the illustrations. The soft watercolour illustrations are stunning, full of detail and fit beautifully with the traditional feel of the book. They transport me back to my childhood treasures, illustrated by the likes of Arthur Rackham, Mabel Lucy Atwell and Kate Greenaway.  A pre-reader could happily spend hours pouring over the illustrations and the longer text would keep older children entertained.

If you visit the Book of Kringle website, you can watch Santa himself talk about the book and how the legend was discovered after all these years. It will hopefully give you a taste of this visual delight. The Book of Kringle retails on Amazon at $19.99

 

Roald Dahl Inspired Clothing from Boden

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Image credit: Boden US

It isn’t often that I feel compelled to write about a product I haven’t tried out for myself, but when this new collection by Mini Boden popped into my feed yesterday, I was so excited, I had to share it.

To mark Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Boden have created a limited edition children’s clothes range, inspired by Roald Dahl’s most loved books.  Every piece in the Roald Dahl collection is beautifully thought out and the attention to detail is exquisite.  I’ve always loved Boden clothes. I don’t often buy clothes in this price range for my kids but this range would make extra special Christmas gifts for my kids and our friends and family.

I showed them to my twelve-year-old. She loved the Fantastic Mr Fox gloves and the Matilda dress. With its book themed lining, this would be perfect for her but sadly she is too tall now for the children’s range.

matilda-dress

Image credit: Boden US

We also loved the ingenious design of the golden ticket sweater with its sequined logo that can be swiped to change colour. It is even machine washable!

golden-ticket

Image credit: Boden US

My eight year old loves the girlie, sparkly rainbow drops dress.

rainbow-drops-dress

Image credit: Boden US

“How is it a Roald Dahl dress though?” she asked. “It is meant to be like lots of tiny sweets”, I told her. “Ah, I get it now.” she replied,” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

We are currently reading The Twits, so my six-year-old and I loved the Twits inspired sweaters.  My personal favourite is Mr Twit, I love all the little details poking from his beard.

mr-twit

Image Credit: Boden US

The one item that really caught my eye though, is the BFG inspired cape coat.  Throughout my college years I always longed for a full length cape (I think as a literature student, I saw myself as a romantic poet, or maybe the French Lieutenant’s Woman).  I never had one, but this coat brought it all back – I so wish they made one in an adult size! I love the lining depicting a London landscape, if I were a little girl again, I would treasure this coat.

bfg-cape

Image credit: Boden US

Now all I need to do is start saving and keep hoping that one day they’ll make Roald Dahl inspired adult clothes too. Take a look at the collection. Which are your favourites?  Sadly, for my British readers, the collection is only available in the United States but browse this visual spectacle anyway; they are guaranteed to make you smile.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.  All recommendations are personal and no payment or goods were received for writing this post.  Boden US granted full permission for use of images in this post.

Picture Books for Children Who are Afraid of the Dark.

Fear of the dark is fairly common amongst young children. It often arises around the age of two or three when their imaginations develop and they begin pretend play.  Often, children become fearful about what might be lurking in the darkness but sometimes it is also tied up with other anxieties.

Sharing a book is the perfect way to invite a child to talk about their fears. Children’s fears are real so it helps to listen to them and work out strategies for alleviating fears together .  When my daughter was young, she developed an extreme fear of darkness, so bad that she would cower and cry if I left the curtains open as it was getting dark. It turned out that she had very poor eyesight but was too young to articulate it.  When it was dark, she could barely see anything at all.  Once her eyes were tested and she wore glasses, her fear was more manageable.  She still gets scared sometimes when she gets up in the night, but having a night-light by her bed (preferably one she can carry) helps a lot. When her fear was at its height, sharing stories helped a lot. I even wrote a book just for her, about a magic elf that she could call upon whenever she was scared.

Fears are helped when children can talk to you about them and what better way to start a conversation than reading a good book together. Below are some of my favourites; let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

  1. The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

This new title, is the story of Ella who grows more comfortable with darkness as her mother gently encourages her to appreciate  nature’s night-time wonders. Ella’s favourite colour is yellow and she feels sad as the yellow disappears at dusk.  The illustrations move from an indoor world of yellow, black and white to an outdoor twilight of green, red, blue and oranges.  Ella looks and listens as she explores with her mother and finds many beautiful things. She finally decides that if she leaves fewer lights on inside, then she can experience the glow of the moon from her bedroom.

Talking points for children

  • What can you see at night?
  • What can you hear at night?
  • Does it feel darker inside or outside?
  • How does it feel to look out of your window at night?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have night? What would you miss?

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Lazlo is afraid of the dark but the dark usually lives in the basement. That is until one night when the dark, in its personified form, enters Lazlo’s bedroom and takes him on a journey through the house to the basement. Once there, the dark shows him  a drawer where he finds night-light bulbs and Lazlo and the dark live in harmony ever after.  This book combines sumptuous, descriptive text with pictures that show the stark contrast between the shiny blackness and the light of the flashlight.

Talking points for children

  • What does dark look like?
  • What does dark feel like?
  • What can we do to make the dark feel different?

3. Can’t you Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

This timeless classic tells the story of Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear can’t go to sleep because he is afraid of the darkness all around. Big Bear brings lamps of different sizes to help Little Bear, but he is still afraid.  When Little Bear still can’t sleep, Big Bear takes him outside to see the light of the moon and stars. Finally convinced that he is safe, he falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms, in front of a warm fire.  If comfort food came in book form, this would be it.

Talking points for children

  • What helps you when you can’t sleep?
  •  Why aren’t grown-ups afraid of the dark?
  • How do you feel when you look up to the sky when it is dark?

4. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard

Another timeless classic, this time in early chapter book format.  Plop is a barn owl, but unlike all of his friends, Plop thinks the dark is scary.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of darkness as Plop learns  through his many adventures, that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful. This is a perfect read-aloud book for young children.

Talking points for children.

  • Why do you think dark is fun, fascinating, beautiful etc.?
  • Can you think of other adjectives to describe the dark?
  • Have you ever been convinced by someone else that something you thought was scary wasn’t actually that frightening at all?

5. I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross

I first came across this picture book as part of a children’s literature module back in my student days and it is a personal favourite. Though not strictly about a fear of the dark, it is a book about putting fears into perspective.  As a creature from outer space hurtled towards Earth, it warns Tommy , “I’m coming to get you”.  Tommy  searches for it as he goes off to bed but can’t find it. In the morning, the monster gets ready to pounce, only to find that he is smaller than a matchstick in the human world.

Talking points for children

  • If you could squish one fear with your shoe, what would it be?
  • What things are you scared of that might in reality be more frightened by you?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

The Making of a Harry Potter Fan’s Holiday – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Diagon Alley

My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK.  Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious.  Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary.  You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and  seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.

dementors

Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room.  The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.

Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside.  All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.

Hogwarts great hall

I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.

audio tour warner bros studio tour

As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour.  I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it.  My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.

There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.

Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.

Platform 9 3/4

This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.

 

The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter.  The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.

Olivanders
Olivanders

 

There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time  for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour.  We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once.  Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.

knight bus lunch box

There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return.  If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter!  In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.

happy childrenimg_2125-2

Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical

charlie-and-the-choc

 

I took a blogging break this summer to concentrate on travelling with my family and now I am back, I have lots to share from my busy summer.  Today is Roald Dahl day and would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts on the West End musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This was our first visit to London with the children.  We only travel home every few years, so we wanted to show them the sights and experience a West End show.  To be honest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t our first choice of show and we arrived with a little uncertainty.  We couldn’t have chosen anything more memorable or spectacular.  From curtain up it was visually mesmerising.  Costume and set design were out of this world and totally lived up to the company’s aim to astound the audience.

Roald Dahl’s original story was preserved throughout but was cleverly tweaked with  modern touches. The children were characterised perfectly and wonderfully portrayed by the cast.  My kids spent time discussing who they would like to play;  ballet dancing Veruca Salt, video game obsessed Mike Teavee or Violet Beauregarde the acrobatic child star. The parents were also brought to life in quirky and interesting ways.

Directed by Sam Mendes, this is the first stage adaptation in 50 years and completely surpassed my expectations.  We all came out of the theatre feeling a little emotional. We had clearly witnessed something  unique and special.

If you get a chance to see it before it closes at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 2017, I highly recommend it.  Don’t despair if not, a UK tour is coming soon and for US audiences, the Broadway production will open in 2017.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation, no monetary compensation or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.