Lucky by David Mackintosh

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews

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Two brothers start the day in utter excitement having been told by their Mum they’re having a surprise at dinner. They spend the day trying to guess what it could be working themselves into a frenzy and convincing themselves & others it is an exotic holiday to Hawaii.

When they discover what the surprise really is, the older brother is left embarrassed & disappointed. Luckily with the help of his family, especially his younger brother Leo, he is able to laugh about it. A wondrously funny & warm story that appealed to us all.

The children laughed at the ideas from the over excited brothers, like a swimming pool in the back yard they don’t have, and enjoyed the quirky & sometimes surreal illustrations, especially the two headed elephant. A keenly observed story with some close to home truths such as “grown-ups say things they don’t really mean” & holidays spent “watching TV and arguing” had me smiling and appreciating this delightful story.

Winnie’s Big Bad Robot by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Book Family Reviews

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Winnie the Witch is always popular with Bryn & Freya; they enjoy her mad cap adventures and this book was no exception. Proud of her cardboard robot creation Winnie decides to turn it into a real robot. The real robot turns out to be a big bad robot and chaos ensues when he gets hold of Winnies magic wand.

The illustrations bring this story to life especially when the robot causes havoc turning ducks, frogs, Winnie’s house & even Winnie into robots. The transformation from one picture to the next is as magical as Winnie’s wand.

The mix of magic with familiar activities, such as going to the library, provides a comforting start before the roller coaster adventure begins. A great story to share with the children.

This book just ate my dog ! by Richard Byrne

Freya & I wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews

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This book both surprised and delighted us. Bella takes her dog for a walk only to find it disappears off the page. The same fate awaits all who come to help and even Bella herself. Luckily this is the perfect opportunity for the reader to come to the rescue and Freya had great fun lending a helping hand.

This is an inventive book making use of the guttering to make the characters disappear then inviting the reader to give the book a good shake to get everyone out again. Freya was very pleased with herself when she shook the book and turned the page to see all the characters re-appear. I liked the cheeky nature of the book especially the ending.

A perfect smile inducing book.

Captain Coconut and the case of the missing bananas by Anushka Ravishankar and Priya Sundram

Photo of Bryns review

Bryn’s Review

We are becoming fans of Anushka Ravishankar in this house (review of To Marker, To Market) so jumped at the chance to review her book Captain Coconut illustrated by Priya Sundram. (We were fortunate to get a copy of this book from the publishers to review but all opinions are honest and our own.)

The eponymous hero of the story, Captain Coconut, is a brilliant detective, or so he thinks, and his debut case in this new series of stories involves some missing bananas. Labelled a ‘number mystery’, there are simple sums weaved into this very funny story and plenty of clues – so as in all good detective stories the reader is able to solve the mystery too.

Like all good detectives Captain Coconut has a handy notebook for jotting down the clues, interviews the suspects, checks the facts and (perhaps less typically) even bursts into song. The songs in the book reminded me of my favourite bollywood films being big, catchy, fun and they include a number of costume changes (I now just need to work on the dance routine.)

We have all enjoyed this original book which has a distinctive illustrative style, lyrical prose and humour – but it is Captain Coconut we have all fallen for.

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Monsters Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

We were fortunate to get a copy of this book from the publishers to review but all opinions are honest and our own.

“The aliens stole them, the dinosaurs fought over then, the pirates got rich from them – whatever will monsters do with underpants?!”

Monsters Love Underpants is the latest in the underpants series and like the preceding books this is just as colourful riotous fun.

We were smiling as soon as we opened the book and we didn’t stop till we closed it, meaning we just had to read it again.

The front & end papers of the book are covered in glorious colourful pants, plenty of choice to pick favourites from.

In Monsters Love Underpants we gets to see all sorts of amazing monsters, wild wooly mountain monsters, spiky spooky space monsters, having fun stealing & wearing their pants.

With it’s fun rhyming text & colourful illustrations a great book to share with my two little monsters.

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Cheltenham Literature Festival

We had a fabulous weekend at the Cheltenham literature festival. A lovely atmosphere with excited kids keen to hear from their favourite authors & in turn such generous authors & illustrators, taking the time to really listen to the children, answering their questions and putting on entertaining shows.

Bryn & I started the weekend at the Etherington brothers talk who gave great writing tips as well as being hysterically funny & entertaining. So entertaining Bryn fell of his chair laughing. They had tips about genres, characters, settings all the ingredients for a great stories. My favourite analogy was making stories like a of bowlful mixed cereal where every spoonful is a surprise. I wasn’t sure how much Bryn understood but he clearly got the concept ofcreating a world for your story. His creation was conker world, mountains & buildings made of conkers. He went home with the excellent puzzling Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey, which proved to be more preferable than watching Tangled with his sister.

The next day started with Chris Judge who read a couple of his books, drew a robot with direction from the audience & gave a master class on drawing the Lonely Beast. I remember seeing a spread from his latest book Tin months ago, from the design & exquisite colour palette I knew I had to have this book. It was therefore a relief to discover it was the total package beautiful illustration & a fun tale, a favourite in the house from just one reading.

We got our book signed & a highlight for Freya was getting a high five from the author after showing her drawing as well as her robot voice for Tin.

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The show that was a hit with the entire family was Michael Rosen. An hour of funny anecdotes and poems,
which we were still chuckling over days later. I remember buying a book of Michael Rosen poems, Mustard, Custard Grumble Belly & Jelly, for Bryn on holiday when he was 3. The CD of poems was requested endlessly for the whole week & he proudly took the book into nursery to share with everyone & recite his favourites.

The day ended with Bryn & I going to see Cressida Cowell talking about how she started writing & all the things that have inspired her. As with all the talks Bryn was transfixed soaking everything in. He was especially pleased when he was picked to ask his question, he asked whether it was the writing or the pictures that came first. Bryn has devoured the How to Train your a dragon series & the excitement of hearing the author speak led to him to spend the long car journey home planning his own series of books. A series involving 100 books about time travelling dragon hunters in space.

Illustrated Libray

Libraries and librarians in picture books

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Little Bo Peep’s Troublesome Sheep by Cressida Cowell
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep so she goes to the library to borrow a book on finding sheep. The library is full of familiar faces from fairy tales & nursery rhymes, with Mother Goose as librarian.
Opening the book is like stepping into a library with mini books behind flaps in the pages

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A Year of Stories and Things To Do by Shirley Hughes

Freya & I wrote this for the Guardian Childrens Books Family Reviews

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A fabulous treasury of well loved stories & poems for every month of the year.

Each month introduces you to a flower or plant, and suggests play and craft activities. The ‘Things to do’ often echo activities from the stories, such as making a scrapbook, blowing bubbles, playing thumb wars: charming simple games that have stood the test of time.

The treasury includes stories featuring familiar characters such as Alfie & Lily; Alfie’s Feet, Alfie Wins a Prize, Don’t Want To Go, Bobbo Goes to School.

An instant hit was the spectacularly stylish Ella’s Big Chance, a reworking of Cinderella, while the wordless A Midwinter Night’s Dream gave us plenty to talk about & pour over.

Since this treasury arrived Freya has shown no interest in her other books & has requested one story after another. So far she’s enjoyed every one.

Utterly Amazing Science by Robert Winston

Bryn & I wrote this for the Guardian Childrens Books Family Reviews

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This book is stuffed with facts either bursting out of pages or hidden behind flaps. I particularly like the mix of high quality photography & illustrations alive with colour & vibrancy. The book also quickly caught Bryn’s eye and he happily dived in confidently reading out the facts, planning experiments etc.

The books covers core National Curriculum content in science which meant some of the information was familiar to Bryn and it was good to hear him remember some of his lessons from school.

The success of this book was that the content & presentation of the information was a good level for Bryn. As well as reading about science the practical ‘Do try this at home’ experiments meant he was able to see the science in action under his own steam.

His verdict was it’s such an interesting book it makes him want to be a scientist when he grows up.