Thursday, 18 May 2023

Picture Book Round-Up

It's a while since we had a picture-book round up so one is well overdue. And, with so many amazing releases on their way, families are going to be spoilt for choice...

 Mavis The Bravest by Lu Fraser and Sarah Warburton

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 11th May 2023


Lu Fraser has fast become one of our favourite rhyming picture book authors. From The Littlest Yak to One Camel Called Doug (her previous collaboration with Sarah Warburton), her texts are always upbeat, fun and full of brilliantly memorable characters. 

Mavis the Bravest is scared of everything. But when Sandra the sheep is stolen from the farm, can Mavis find the bravery she needs to save her friend..?

Feeling scared is such a relatable concept to young readers and with a clever play on the meaning of 'being chicken', Lu Fraser has created Mavis - an actual chicken who is feeling frightened of the big wide world outside her barn. With echoes of What The Ladybird Heard, there's some great action and adventure across the spreads with an empowering message at the end. We particularly loved the link between Sandra the sheep and Mavis' love of knitting and the illustrations by Sarah Warburton bring the whole story to life.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing us a review copy. 

Snug As A Bug? by Karl Newson and Alex Willmore

Link to publisher

Published by: Quarto, 6th June 2023

"Snug as a bug in a rug" is a particularly nostalgic saying that my grandmother used to say to me a lot. Well, established picture book author, Karl Newson, has made a whole picture book out of it! With a bright, bold colour palette, some nasty pasty villains and a not very snug bug, this is an hilarious chase across the pages. But, will bug escape..?

Bug is all snug until there is a knock at the door. Being a bug is not much fun when all your neighbours want to eat you! As Bug is chased through woodland, caves and even over a waterfall, will he ever be snug again?

This hilarious comic caper is pitched perfectly at young readers who will find both the text and illustrations highly engaging and hilarious - just look at Bug's face! There's a whole cast of predatory characters and a whole range of outdoor settings to explore and Bug's voice is a mix of sing-songy rhyme and humour. Karl Newson is excellent at creating loveable characters and if you enjoyed I am NOT an Elephant, then this is definitely one to read. The ending is particularly brilliant with an important message that small can be mighty!

A big thanks to NetGalley and Quarto for allowing us a review copy. 

Rhinos Don't Cry by Mark Grist and Chris Jevons

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 20th July 2023

Tackling the misconception that it is weak to cry, Rhinos Don't Cry is a fantastic new picture book that speaks to both adults and children alike. With gorgeous illustrations and an original plot, it's a great book for both parents and teachers to use in discussions about emotions. 

Milo loves doing lots of things except crying. His movie-star hero, Spike O'Mcreeee says "rhinos don't cry" and Milo is determined to follow in his footsteps. But when his beloved cat, Pickles, goes missing, Milo certainly feels like he wants to cry. Can he be brave and hold back the tears?

This is a lovely story with a great message that shows it's actually okay for anyone to cry, whether they are young or old. Nick Grist links crying to different emotions and shows readers that we can shed tears when we are happy or scared or sad. Spike O'Mcreee is strong, bold character who allows us to explore what a hero really is and we really liked the characterisation of a movie-star as a role model, rather than a parent. There's a lovely resolution to the story and a surprising gentleness considering the story is about rhinos - busting another myth that they have to be 'big and tough'. This is a book we'd love to see in classrooms, libraries and homes everywhere. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing us a review copy. 

More Peas Please by Tom McLaughlin

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 25th May 2023

There are lots of picture books around about kids who don't want to eat their greens but what we love about Tom McLaughlin is the imagination he brings to his stories. How can a story about peas manage to incorporate a dragon and a two-headed robot? You'll just have to read it to find out...

Milo is adament that he is NOT going to eat his peas. Peas are green and disgusting. But will his sister, Molly, be able to change his mind?

The perfect text to support the 'Eat Them To Defeat Them' campaign, Tom McLaughlin centres the story around a relatable sibling relationship and adds in their pet dog who provides another layer of humour. There's plenty of reasons on display showcasing the benefits of eating peas and the illustrations are bright and entertaining. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing us a review copy. 

Julia Donaldson's Book Of Names, illustrated by Nila Aye

Told in her infamous rhyme, this new release from Julia Donaldson has a gorgeous sentiment behind it. After years of signing picture books for her fans, she's now made a book dedicated to them...

Are you looking for ideas to name a new baby or a pet or a toy? Well Julia Donaldson has kept a list of all the names she's ever signed and here is a round-up of some of them. Maybe your name is on the list or the name of someone you know or maybe there are names you've never heard of before...why not dive in and take a look?

Focusing on names from nature, names inspired by history, names that rhyme and names that are beautifully unusual, this is simply a celebration of readers and a book full of joy. Nila Aye's stunning pictures reflect the theme of the names on each page - from food to fairies to space - and it's impossible not to read it with a smile. Highlighting that each and every one of us are uniquely different, it brings readers together through their shared love of books. Even my daughter's name is in it, reminding us of the special time we were able to get a signed book. If you're a fan of beautiful names and rhyme then this is a book you won't want to miss. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Pan MacMillan for allowing us a review copy. 

Victor, The Wolf With Worries by Catherine Rayner

Link to publisher

Published by:Pan Macmillan, 27th July 2023

Who could resist a book with such a gorgeous front cover? We certainly couldn't! Written by the winner of the Kate Greenaway in 2009, Victor the wolf won our hearts before we even opened the front cover...

Victor is a little wolf with some BIG worries. In fact, he worries about nearly everything. But, when he is encouraged to share his worries with a friend, he finds that not only do his worries grow smaller, but that he begins to feel more like himself. 

Catherine Rayner's storytelling is classic and traditional in style, which perfectly matches her incredible illustrations. Again, there have been a lot of recent picture books about dealing with worries but maybe not one as adorable as this. Even though the story is about wolves, known for being big, strong and fierce, it's gentle tone is packed full of advice for young readers (and adults too) who are struggling with worries - after all everyone worries, even those who seem big, strong and fierce. I particularly liked the author's handling of 'pretending' and the strong emphasis she places on friendship and talking. Another great text to use in the classroom or to prompt discussion about emotions. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for allowing us a review copy. 

The Thing At 52 by Ross Montgomery and Richard Johnson

Link to publisher

Published by: Quarto, 6th July 2023

Reminding me a little of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are? and one of our favourite picture books, The Queen on Our Corner by Lucy Christopher and Nia Tudor, this is another picture book that has both incredible illustrations and a beautifully moving story. Focusing on the themes of loneliness, kindness, unlikely friendships, community and grief, it has so many layers you'll come away with something new each time you read it. 

When a girl's small act of kindness blossoms into a beautuful friendship, a whole community of Things are brought together. But everyone has to go some time and when their friendship comes to an end, will the girl be able to move on?

This is an example of words and pictures working together in perfect harmony to create a Thing that is quite extraordinary. Told through the curious and kind eyes of a child, it will allow readers to explore topics with a gentle hand, rather than providing answers. 

Everything about this book is beautifully understated. It's a story where what is not said is as important as what is and every word on every page has been crafted. The illustrations reminded me a lot of David Litchfield's work and is rich in both colour and heart. Ross Montgomery and Richard Johnson have created something truly moving here and this is a picture book we have taken to our hearts. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Quarto for allowing us a review copy. 

Thursday, 4 May 2023

NEW RELEASE: TheThief of Farrowfell by Ravena Guron, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio

Link to publisher

Published by: Faber & Faber, 4th May 2023


This debut middle grade novel is rather on the long side but please don't let that put you off. Fantasy lovers and more confident readers are in for an immersive treat of a story where heroes and villains merge in a dark and edgy world...

Jude Ripon is a thief! Desperate to be part of the family business, who steal and sell tamed and edible magic, she is determined to pull off a heist that impressives them. 

But Jude might have bitten off more than she can chew with her latest theft. As she becomes embroiled in curses, lithrum attacks and a search for two people who have mysteriously gone missing, Jude begins to discover the extent of what her family are up to - does she really want to be part of it after all?

This is a fantastic exploration of family, villainy and coming of age set in a high-concept and spellbinding fantasy world.  Ravena Guron's imagination is second-to-none and the complexity of her world-building is phenomenal - full to the brim with 3D imagery and perfect detail. The plot is perfect for fans of Crookhaven and Wednesday and reminded me of a darker version of The Addams Family.

I found the plot enthralling. It's dark, dangerous, twisty and turny and Grandleader is a particular character to watch. The story branches out like a spider's web, ensnaring you inside, and there are revelations throughout that will make you gasp. Yet, what I also loved was that the heart of the story is simple as Jude explores her identity and who her family really are. I loved her character journey and its one that I think will really capture the hearts of the reader. There's a lot of thought-provoking moments, edge of your seat action and a gorgeous blossoming friendship to boot. 

Middle-grade fantasy is definitely on fire this year and I've been lucky enough to review some crackers. For me, The Thief of Farrowfell is right up there with the best and it is worth investing the time in the slightly higher wordcount. It's the first in a series and if book one is this good then I can't wait for the others...

A big thanks to NetGalley and Faber & Faber for allowing me a review copy. The Thief of Farrowfell publishes today, 4th May 2023. 

NEW RELEASE: Lenny Lemmon and the Invincible Rat by Ben Davis, illustrated by James Lancett

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, 4th May 2023


Released today, Lenny Lemmon and the Invincible Rat is an hilarious caper and history lesson (sort of) rolled into one. It's perfect for those who love a school setting drama and maybe not so perfect for those - like me - who don't like devilish rodents. But don't worry, you're safe! This unleashed rat is safely contained within the pages of the book in a story so funny that I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it. 

It's Olden Days Day at Lenny Lemmon's school and he's super excited. But when his Olden Day 'Show and Tell' contribution - a wild rat in a box - escapes, pandemonium reigns across the school. Can Lenny, his best mate and new girl, Jessica catch the cunning culprit of chaos before too much damage is done?

With themes of friendship, fitting in and good old fashioned school rivalry, this is an upbeat, action-packed spoof that places humour right at the top of the menu alongside a bowl of gruel, a bag of flour and chunks of cheese. The villainous rat is star of the show, closely followed by a relatable Lenny and an awesome Jessica who's both hilarious and unexpected. Surely this is the worst day at school anyone could ever have?

The simple plot is elevated into something special by Ben Davis' lively writing, spot-on dialogue and genius comic timing. Accompanied by James Lancett's fabulous illustrations - that rat's expression says it all - it is the perfect text for reluctant readers; short, accessible and with lots of white space on the page. If funny books are in demand, and I keep hearing they are, then this is an absolute winner, ratty and all. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. Lenny Lemmon and the Invincible Rat is out today, 4th May 2023, in the UK. 


Friday, 14 April 2023

Dandy The Highway Lion by Stephanie Sorrell

Published by: Chicken House, 2nd March 2023


One of our favourite reads of 2023 so far, Dandy, The Highway Lion by Stephanie Sorrell, illustrated by Roxana de Rond and published by Chicken House is wonderfully old-fashioned storytelling. Taking me back to my own childhood favourites such as Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, with a dose of The Tiger Who Came To Tea mixed in, this 1920's novel, set in London, is an absolute delight. 

Ben and Hattie are struggling to adjust to their new life in London. But when they meet a gentlemanly lion in the park called Mr. Dandy Paws, an unlikely friendship blooms between them. But Dandy is a highway lion on a mission and soon Ben and Hattie are caught up in dangerous adventure whilst trying to avoid a Private Investigator who is determined to sniff out the identity of the highway lion and bring him to justice.

For me, this immediately had the feel of a timeless classic with a larger-than-life character at its centre. Debonair Dandy leaps off the page with flair and panache - a loveable rogue (or he is?) who develops an endearing and rather humorous friendship with two young children. Naturally Ben and Hattie are over the moon at landing a lion as a best friend because what child wouldn't want a lion as a best friend?

However, Dandy isn't the only stand-out character by any means. Leonard is a brilliant, sheepish sidekick while Dandy's bear friend will melt your heart. We loved Miss. Postlethwaite's plain but dogged determination which complimented Dandy's flamboyance and posed a permanent lingering threat similar to a unmoving grey raincloud.

Despite being a fun, roguish adventure, Stephanie's Sorrell's novel tackles big themes. In the same way Dandy sits at the centre of the story, so does animal welfare. Not only does Sorrell hold humans to account over their treatment of wild creatures, she raises a discussion around animals kept in captivity, one that the animal characters contribute to through their voices on the page. Sorrell shows rather than tells, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions on the subject but the result is hugely thought-provoking and there is a great twist at the end. This is magical realism at its best - perfect for adventure lovers, animal lovers and those drawn to the dangerous enigma of highwaymen. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

Lost on Gibbon Island by Jess Butterworth, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 13th April 2023


We loved the Animal Adventure Club young fiction series by Jess Butterworth but this is the first of her middle grade books we've read. Rich in setting, detail and drama, Jess Butterworth sticks firmly with the theme of animal conservation in the wild and explores the very concerning topic of gibbon smuggling in Cambodia...

When Lark Taylor finds herself stranded on a desert island with no one but a baby gibbon for company, her fight for survival becomes brutally real. But soon Lark has more than surviving on her mind as she begins to put the pieces of what happened to her together. Will Lark find her missing companion and get off the island? And can she put a stop to what is happening to the gibbons?

Told in diary format, which makes Lark's experience of being stranded so vivid that you feel like you're there with her, this is a story which unfolds before the readers eyes. With scorching sun, stinging jellyfish and a lack of water to contend with, Lark has to use her instinct and wits to stay alive whilst solving the mystery of why the boat she was on sank. 

Lark is a strong and determined character but her fear and vulnerability of being stranded alone is portrayed beautifully by Jess Butterworth. The first half of the novel, which is illustrated by the fabulous Rob Biddulph, is essentially Lark's solo adventure - alone and afraid with only adorable Goldie for company. Yet, the story is anything but boring, flowing from the Lark like a river as she encounters and overcomes obstacle after obstacle. In the second half of the novel, the mystery comes more to the forefront, building to a dramatic and dangerous climax that took my breath away. The setting is richly imagined and the descriptions of the flora, fauna and animals on the island are wonderfully detailed. 

Woven throughout Lark's story is also the story of Goldie and the gibbons. Raising awareness of human crimes against nature, it explores the danger of smuggling rings and the difficulty in stopping such activity. Heartbreaking and honest, it's a powerful read for the classroom and yet inspires hope within the reader that there is still time to act and people who want to help. On the other hand, however, there's no sugar-coating of the situation Lark finds herself in and I loved the truthfulness of her account which will keep readers gripped. 

So, if you are after a survival story with animal welfare at its heart, this is a book for you. Wild yet wonderful, this has definitely made us want to read more of this author's work. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing me a review copy. Lost on Gibbon Island releases tomorrow, 13th April 2023. 

Nic Blake and the Remarkables by Angie Thomas

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 4th April 2023


If you're into magic, werewolves, vampires or dragons then this new series from Angie Thomas, author of the YA novel The Hate U Give, is perfect. With a dark, edgy and ominous atmosphere right from the get-go, Nic Blake and the Remarkables, with its twisty-turny plot and shocking revelations planted all the way through, is storytelling that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Nic Blake is desperate to become a powerful Manifestor like her dad - although her dad keeps putting off teaching her the gift. But when a face from her past unexpectedly turns up, Nic is faced with a series of shocking truths. 

With her dad being accused of a crime she can't believe he committed, Nic is plunged into a terrifying and dangerous quest. To prove her dad's innocence she must hunt for a magical tool she's never heard of in a remarkable world she knows very little about. But with some very dodgy characters on her tail, does she have any chance of finding it in time? And what is Nic's role destined to be in this remarkable world?

Although all of the elements in this novel have essentially been written about before, Angie Thomas has taken up the mantle of this very popular 'magical quest' fantasy genre and created an immersive 3D world that will excite and enthrall fans of Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, Amari and the Night Brothers and Onyeka: The Academy of the Sun. I particularly loved the dark mood which takes the novel to the borderland of horror and the fact that the family drama is as equally as strong as the fantasy elements, giving the story a powerful and personal drive. 

The pages are packed with fabulous characters and settings. From Cocoa, Nic's baby hellhound, to Uncle Ty, her unpredicatable author godfather, to Hairy Junior the shapeshifter to Dee Dee, the devil's daughter, there's a brilliant balance between the cute and the dangerous as Nic struggles to know who she can trust. As if this isn't enough, Angie Thomas has grounded the novel in African American history and folklore, interweaving factual accounts of African American slavery and the civil right's movement with fiction. This gives the novel authenticity and depth as well as raising awareness of the history of the setting and allowing readers an insight into how African Americans were treated. 

The epic ending is not to be spoilt. However, Angie Thomas has set-up what is going to be a incredible trilogy with an outcome that is impossible to predict. Turning the 'chosen one' scenario on its head, I cannot wait to see what happens next in this world and what lies in store for Nic Blake and her friends and family.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Walker Books for a review copy. Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy is available to buy now.

Friday, 31 March 2023

The Boy Who Saved A Bear by Nizrana Farook

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, 6th April, 2023


With another stunning front cover, the fourth book is this gorgeous series is released on Thursday. Yet again, this is a story perfect for animal lovers, lovers of adventure and those who enjoy tales of strong bonds between animals and children.

When Nuwan tries to prove himself by taking over his brother's job of delivering books, he finds himself in big trouble. Having accidentally thwarting the plans of some ruthless thieves, he now needs to put things right and stop the thieves from catching him. But when he stumbles into the cave of a rumoured vicious bear, things take a terrifying turn. Can Nuwan form an alliance with a wild animal? And, if he can, will he just be leading the bear into grave danger?

Set on the same fictional Sri Lankan island as all the other stories in this series, Nizrana Farook weaves another adventurous tale that places wild animals at its centre. Although the main characters develop a bond with these creatures, Farook ensures that respect is always key to the story: the child characters learn to respect the wildness of the animal and readers are made aware of the dangers and persecution facing them. Meanwhile the animals themselves are portrayed as having all the emotions and fears that we do, with the wish of being left to thrive in their natural habitat. This is certainly true of Karadi, who is an awesome, funny and endearing character who reminded me of Gentle Ben but perhaps with a bit more of an edge. 

But that is only one strand of the story. As Nuwan inadvertently crosses some ruthless criminals, he becomes embroiled in a race against time as he journeys across the island, trying to outwit them. Here, the setting and the adventure become centre stage, with high stakes and obstacles galore. These are not just animal stories, that are animal-action stories, pairing a thrilling adventure with a equally edgy wild beast and giving us a glorious insight into life on different parts of the island. 

So, if you fancy something cosy, comforting and heart-warming but with a bit of a bite, this is definitely a series worth checking out. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. The Boy Who Saved A Bear is out on 6th April 2023 and is available to pre-order. 

Picture Book Round-Up

It's a while since we had a picture-book round up so one is well overdue. And, with so many amazing releases on their way, families are ...