Doodle Girl & the Monkey Mystery

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews
Doodle Girl by Suzanne Smith, Lindsay Taylor, illustrated by Marnie Maurri

  
This is a lovely fun book about Doodle Girl who lives in a magic sketchbook and has a very handy magic pencil, when she whispers “Draw, draw, draw” the adventure begins. Starting with just a triangle Doodle Girl conjures up an aeroplane. She soon finds herself in the jungle, with her incredibly cute pals, and gets to put her drawing skills into action.

Freya & I enjoyed this book. Freya loved the story especially the imaginative way Doodle Girl rescues the monkey.

While reading the book we were reminded of the ‘shape game’ we like to play where we draw shapes & turn them into pictures. Inspired by the story Freya was keen to get her pencils out, luckily the book came with a special bonus – stickers & a giant colour-in poster. While colouring the poster Freya liked looking back at the pages of the book and spotting the different characters.

A beautifully creative book which makes us reach for the pencil case after every read.

  

Are You Sitting Comfortably? By Leigh Hodgkinson

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

Before reading this book we did as the title suggested & found somewhere comfy to sit. Luckily unlike the boy in the book we didnt encounter places that were too “growly, itchy, fuzzy” or had “giant stamping boots”. As we follow the boy in the book looking for the perfect place to read his books we see him learn that the real joy in reading is not about where you sit but who you sit with.

This is such a beautiful book in both story & look. Freya and I loved the illustrations. She was especially taken with all the different patterns on all the chairs, she couldn’t pick a favourite because they were all too beautiful. We also enjoyed spotting the different animal friends the boy collected on each double page spread.

What I enjoyed about this book is that Freya, who is beginning to read independently, was keen to join in & read some of the words from the story. Some words in the book stand out owing to the different fonts used, my favourite was ‘hoots’ with eyes in the ‘o’s, and Freya enjoyed reading those words aloud.

A treasure of a book celebrating the joy of reading.

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow & Sheena Dempsey

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews  
We hadn’t realised just how funny pigeons were until we discovered Dave & Skipper. In this story, expertly typed by Skipper, we find out just how much pigeons like biscuits, the importance of a good plan, whether a pigeon can outwit a cat and what good friends can achieve.

When Dave pigeon is injured trying to get some croissant crumbs he is rescued by a kind human lady. However, her mean cat becomes Dave’s arch nemesis. While recovering in the garden shed he & his friend plot the cat’s downfall. With the cat out of the way they can get all the bread & biscuits they could ever eat.

We read this book across a few evenings and the wonderful illustrations alongside the funny plot kept Freya captivated & always eager to hear more. We both chuckled at Dave pigeons many plans, not always the most cunning, and it was funny to see if any would be successful. Freya really liked seeing the list of plans crossed out. She liked testing her memory as she happily trotted out all the preceding plans.

As a result of reading this book Freya has been looking out for Dave. She has even run through a series of plans in the hope of enticing Dave to the garden including the Bread plan, the Jewel plan, the Skipping rope plan and the Coat plan. No success as yet but like Dave & Skipper she is determined, so pigeons beware.

Here is a bird feeder decorated by Freya hoping to tempt Dave & Skipper.

  

Frida Kahlo by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

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

Little People,Big Dreams:Frida Kahlo written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara illustrated by Gee Fan Eng.

  
This is a really interesting book to share with Freya. It is perfectly suited to engage Freya with its brightly coloured illustrations (by Gee Fan Eng). She happily listened to the story and asked question as together we found out about Frida Kahlo’s life & her art. I loved how this book celebrated Frida’s strength & determination and I was pleased to be able to introduce Freya to such an inspiring character.

I also liked the illustrations and how many of the spreads included depictions of Frida’s art. After reading the book we went online to see images of the original artwork & hopefully one day we will get to see then in real life.

A stylish book which not only introduced Freya to some beautiful art but as a neatly packaged biography of Frida Kahlo she also discovered more about the artist too. This is one in a series of biographies of outstanding people from artists to scientists suitable for young children. I think its a great stepping stone into non-fiction and we are looking forward to discovering other such inspiring characters as Frida Khalo.

Illustrated Library

Libraries and librarians in picture books  
We’re in the Wrong Book by Richard Byrne

A very funny book where 2 children find themselves lost in different types of books, like a counting book, sticker book etc. In a comic book they come across a library & know to ask the lovely librarian for help.

  

Thank You Guardian children’s books site

  

Like many, we were really sad to hear the Guardian were closing down their children’s book site. We signed up to be family reviewers nearly four years ago & its been a blast. Over the years we have clocked up around 55 family reviews & once Bryn was old enough he signed up as a site member & has written 15 reviews himself. 

We are going to miss:

  • the regular newsletters highlighting great new reads
  • the exciting packages of new books to read & share
  • discovering new family favourite reads (thanks to all the reviewers in helping us find new bookish treasures)
  • the friendly encouraging emails from the Guardian team (thanks Guardian team for introducing us to the 52-storey treehouse)
  • the delight in seeing our reviews online amongst the others
  • the great “How to Draw series..” (thanks to all the fabulous illustrators for providing us with entertainment & new skills) (this is a blog post showing our drawing attempts)
  • all the fun competition & quizzes
  • the entertaining author interviews 

We are however very thankful to have been a part of this wonderful haven of, as the children called it, ‘book filled fun’. 
I’d like the chance to continue reviewing books with the kids (let me know if you have any tips). It has been an enjoyable way to share books & also give them confidence in their own voice, thoughts & opinions. 

So thanks again Guardian for letting us join in all the fun!

Fairytale Hairdresser and Beauty & the Beast by Abie Longstaff & Lauren Beard

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews 
I have to confess that Freya loves the Fairytale Hairdresser series of books. On seeing this latest one, Beauty and the Beast, she squealed with joy and kissed the cover. Her excitement didn’t abate as we read the book.

The book stars Kitty Lacey ‘the best hairdresser in the land’ and is set in a world full of fairytale characters. Having read the others in the series Freya enjoys spotting familiar characters including Snow White and Jack Frost as well as working out characters from other fairytales she knows such as Puss in Boots.

In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast we get to hear more from the Beast with Kitty on hand to offer sensible advice about beauty being on the inside. A bright & clever reworking of this tale with all characters on an equal footing & the all important happy ever after.

A common spread in the books in this series is when Kitty provides a makeover offering a number of alternative looks. We always enjoying looking at the selection & picking our favourites. Often this changes on every read but this time Freya was very taken with the Ziggy Stardust look (as was I).

  
Freya declared that ‘I love this book because I like all the different styles Kitty does & think the pictures are very beautiful especially the last page’.

A great addition to this fun series. Freya’s enthusiastic joy for these books is contagious, making them a household favourite.

Welcome to the Symphony by Carolyn Sloan and James Williamson

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews  
A fun and noisy introduction to classical music. This book has plenty of buttons to press to accompany short introductions to what a symphony is, the different instruments in an orchestra & key vocabulary such as theme, harmony etc.

The book focuses on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which is being performed at the concert that 3 mice are attending. The questions the mice ask, such as “What’s a Beethoven” and “Who’s that guy coming on the stage?” provide the perfect starting point to explore the nuts & bolts of classical music.

Freya loved pressing all the buttons which play snippets of the symphony with the sound of the trumpet proving her favourite. We all enjoyed looking at the pictures of the different instruments & pressing the matching buttons to the string, woodwind & brass instruments.

I think this is a great introduction to classical music and imagine it will be a very helpful before going to a concert to help Freya understand what she will be seeing & hearing.

Jill & Dragon by Lesley Barnes

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews I am completely smitten by this sumptuous & stylish book. Jill spots that its not ‘happily ever after’ for all the characters at the end of the story and so invites the captured dragon to live with her. However her attempts to cheer Dragon up by showing it how to do all her favourite things don’t go to plan. Luckily she discovers that Dragon has a hidden talent and manages to arrange a truly happily ever after for everyone.

From the picture on the title page of a girl sitting on a pile of books with her head in a book, Freya and I knew we would like this book. Freya especially loves Dragon and the exciting fold out flap when Dragon is breathing out fire. I adore the striking artwork and also have a soft spot for Dragon whose large frame is often spilling off the edge of the page. Having a pet dragon is one of Freya’s ultimate dreams so this was a perfect read in our house.

T-Veg by Smriti Prasadam-Halls & Katherina Manolesso

We wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Books Family Reviews  
Both kids were instantly drawn to this book with its vibrant illustrations & charming story. They happily pored over the cover & end papers spotting the different vegetables and chuckled at the idea of a t-rex not eating meat. However my hope that seeing their favourite dinosaur eating a massive slice of avocado pie would entice them to be more adventurous has not been met!

T-Veg a ‘carrot crunching dinosaur’ is teased by his friends for his vegetarian ways and runs away to make friends with some herbivores but this doesn’t go to plan. Its not long, however, before his friends begin to miss him & when he reappears to save the day everyone learns the important lesson of ‘being happy being you’.

This jewel of a book exploding with colour & warmth has been a hit with the children. The story told in rhyme is a joy to read aloud. The pages, teeming with brightly coloured dinosaurs, are captivating and the heartwarming message is an important one to remember.