Saturday, 30 June 2012

A Few Old Favourites

I've been enjoying picture books for over 13 years now and have kept a lot of my favourites, even though my youngest is now nine!    
Over the coming weeks I'll be reviewing a wide range of picture books, early readers, young fiction and teenage fiction, including what I think are the hottest new releases.

But for now, here are some of my old favourites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted,
Made by the Cat who slices the pumpkin
Made by the Squirrel who stirs in the water
Made by the Duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips in just enough.

What could be nicer? Three old friends living in perfect harmony, doing things the way they have always done them.  Then, one day, the Duck decides he wants to stir the soup!  Oh dear!  The three friends get into a terrible argument and the Duck leaves home.  At first the Cat and the Squirrel are glad he's gone, but soon they start to worry.  What could have happend to him?  Perhaps he's in danger.  Or, even worse, perhaps he found some better friends!

Helen Cooper is one of my favourite authors, and this story always makes my tummy rumble! Her illustrations are so delicious you can almost taste them!  Definitely a book to cosy down with by the fire on a rainy afternoon.  Preferably with a mug of hot soup to warm your cockles.

Activities and Discussion
There is only one sensible thing to do after reading this book and that is to make some delicious pumpkin soup of your own!

Helen Cooper has written two more books in this series: A Pipkin of Pepper and Delicious.  Choose one of these titles and write your own story, then borrow the books from the library and see if your story is anything like Helen's. 

Other Brilliant Books by Helen Cooper
  • The Baby Who Wouldn 't Go to Bed
  • Tatty Ratty
  • The Bear Under the Stairs 
Helen Cooper's Website
Check out Helen's Teachers Notes for ideas for more activities

Pumpkin Soup Recipe

Pumpkin Soup won the Kate Greenaway prize in 1998 and is published by Corgi Childrens

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Story of Everything by Neal Layton

I adore Neal Layton's illustrations and this is one of his best.  The Story of Everything is, well, the story of EVERYTHING!  And it's in glorious three-dimensional pop-up as well, with more flaps, gadgets and surprises than there are trilobites in the prehistoric sea. 

This awesome book tells the story of the Earth from the Big Bang to the present day, with lots of action and incredible facts along the way.  As a confirmed fiction fan, I often find non-fiction difficult to digest, but this book blows all that out of the primordial soup for me.  

Watch out, though, as with all pop-ups, it is reasonably delicate, so buy an extra copy for yourself that your kids are NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH!

Activities and Discussion
How do scientists know that the universe was created after a gigantic explosion?
Where does the idea of a god fit in with all this?
Choose your favourite animal and see if you can copy it

Other Fabulous Books by Neal Layton
  • That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
  • Oscar and Arabella
  • Jennifer Jones Won't Leave me Alone by Freida Wishinsky and Neal Layton
Neal Layton's Website

The Story of Everything is published by Hodder

You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

Whatever you do, DON'T read this book at bedtime. You'll still be there at Ten O'Clock while your little one delights in the myriad of shoes, hats, bedroom furniture and make-believe relatives on offer in this fabulous book.

You Choose is a must-have for anyone with young children.  It is the best thing I have ever found for encouraging children to create their own stories.  Will they journey to an errupting volcano, or a bustling city?  Will they live in a toadstool, or an igloo or a lighthouse?  Will they have a pet hamster or a lion or a worm?  Who will kiss them goodnight and in what kind of bed? There are a million trillion combinations to delight any child and fire their imaginations. A real classic from a picture book king.

Activites and Discussions
Just open the book, you'll have more than enough to talk about!
Encourage children to create a story as they go along, picking their favourite characters and items, or choosing something at random. 

Other Great Books by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
  • The Big Book of Crazy Mix Ups - Nick Sharratt
  • Just Imagine - Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart


You Choose is published by Random House Children's Books

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Tom & Small by Clara Vulliamy

It is not just the story, but the illustrations in this book that my children and I find delightful. Tom's large, soft, soulful eyes and rumpled appearance make him irresistable.

It's the night before Tom's first day at school and like many young children he is worried about what the morning will bring. But magic is in the air, and in the middle of the night, Tom joins his favourite toy, Small, on an exciting adventure that reveals just how much fun school is going to be.The school room is bright, colourful and inviting and Tom discovers he will have his own peg and drawer and place to sit.

One of the loveliest things about this story is that both the theme, and the setting will be very familiar to many young children.  They may even have some of the same toys as Tom! 

A great story for pre-schoolers and infants alike.

Discussion and Activities
  • Are you worried about anything at school? If so, what worries you?
  • Did Tom really shrink down to Small's size, or was it just a dream?
  • If you could go on an adventure with your favourite toy, where would you go and how would you get there?

Other great books by Clara Vulliamy
  • The Bear with the Sticky Paws
  • Martha and the Bunny Brothers
  • Muffin and the Birthday Surprise

Clara has a wonderful new website full of fun things to do.  You can find it here:

Follow Clara on Twitter: @claravulliamy

Tom & Small is published by Collins

You Do! by Kes Grey and Nick Sharratt

"Don't pick your nose," said Daisy's mum.
"You do," said Daisy.
"When?" said Daisy's mum.
"In the car on the way to Nanny's" said Daisy.
"I wasn't picking, I was scratching," explained Daisy's mum.

Daisy's mum is always telling Daisy not to do stuff.  Don't slurp, don't leave your clothes on the floor, don't fidget.  But how can she tell Daisy off when she does all those things herself!! 

Daisy is a gloriously cheeky, independent thinker who loves to challenge her mother's - and society's - expectations.  In this story, she reminds us that nobody is perfect and that we can sometimes get a little bit too hung up on social niceties and forget to have fun. Kes Grey captures perfectly the refreshingly logical way many young children question the world around them.  

Like many people, I love Nick Sharratt's distinctive, simple style.  My kids, however, think Daisy is rather ugly because she has weird hair.  Oh well.  You can't please everyone.  Sorry Nick!

Activities and Discussion
Why do adults tell us not to pick our noses or slurp our soup?
How does it make us feel when other people do these things?

Other great books by Kes Grey and Nick Sharratt 
  • Yuk - Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt
  • Eat Your Peas - Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt
  • Daisy and the Trouble with Life (Daisy Fiction)
  • Billy's Bucket - Kes Gray and Garry Parsons
  • You Choose - Nick Sharratt
  • Muddlewitch Does Magic Tricks by Nick Sharratt
  • Ketchup on Your Cornflakes
Kes Gray's Website 
Nick Sharratt's Website
Follow Kes Gray on Twitter: @kesgray

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury

There once was a duck who had the bad luck to live with a lazy old farmer. The duck did the work and the farmer stayed all day in bed.

Poor Duck. He is so tired, and fed up that the other animals make a plan to get rid of the lazy old farmer once and for all and take over the farm themselves.

This is my favourite book of all time!  The story is simple, charming and heart-warming. The text is beautifully written in a lilting, rhythmical style which flows perfectly, and Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are wonderful. 

Activities and Discussion 
What jobs does the Duck do on the farm?
Do you know anyone who works as hard as the Duck?
What do you think you could do to help them?

Other great books by Martin Waddell
  • Pig in the Pond 
  • Can't you sleep Little Bear
  • Dirty Great Dinosaur
To visit Martin Waddell's Web page, click here

Farmer Duck is published by Walker Books