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Books My Toddler Loves

The Truth According to Arthur

Sharing and caring Posted on 04 Jul, 2016 11:40AM

The Truth According to Arthur
by Tim Hopgood (author) and David Tazzyman (illustrator), published by Bloomsbury Children’s

“You’re joking, aren’t you daddy?”, said our three and a half year old this week when I told her she’d only grow big and strong if she ate her mushy peas as well as her fish fingers.

My wife and I recall that, before her third birthday, the task of gaining her cooperation used to be a lot simpler; something of a golden age in this regard, a time when she rarely challenged our contorted reasoning, usually took our answers as unequivocal fact, and it was relatively straight forward to persuade her to do something we asked.

Since turning 3, we’ve found that our use of the previously occasional white lie has become more of a go to staple in our parenting toolbox – despite us being ever so keen to teach our daughters about the importance of telling the truth.

In the deserted park on a drizzly morning: “We have to go home now so that the other children can enjoy the swing”.

When our daughter discovers an empty packet of choc ices: “This is from the vegetables mummy and daddy had with our dinner last night”.

After dad accidentally breaks one of her crayons in half while drawing a Diplodocus far too enthusiastically: “Well, you have two now, so that’s better isn’t it??”

Her straight-faced reply: “You’re joking, daddy”.

With our daughter’s increasing scepticism at our half-truths and porky pies, Tim Hopgood and David Tazzyman’s terrific new picturebook, ‘The Truth According to Arthur’, could not be more timely in our lives. It’s a delightful and humorous tale of a young boy who literally and figuratively tries to bend, stretch, disguise and hide his nemesis, ‘the Truth’.

After wobbling off his brother’s bike and bashing it into his mother’s car, he tries to contort and conceal the Truth in various ways to cover his tracks. After three friends fail to see how his revised versions of events will get him off the hook with his mum, he looks the Truth straight in the eye and does something that surprises himself – he owns up – and in doing so finds a good friend in the Truth.

This is a gentle and persuasive tale about why telling the truth is always the best option. Its narrative is fun and reassuring, with a clever visual use of verbs and thought bubbles. The illustrations are warm and inviting, and ‘the Truth’ is a particularly memorable and innovative character. Truly a book that will be enjoyed and appreciated by readers of all ages.

P.S. We’re big fans of Tim Hopgood’s storytelling and illustration (our daughters love ‘Wow! Said the Owl’ and ‘Walter’s Wonderful Web’, both reviewed earlier). It’s fabulous that a selection of beautiful prints from ‘Wow! Said the Owl’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’ are now available through Tim’s new website ‘HopShop’.

‘Good Manners’ in Picturebooks

Sharing and caring Posted on 23 May, 2016 08:45AM

“That’s good manners” is one of our three year old’s favourite phrases. It is often her concluding remark in a regular exchange with us, which starts with her asking for “a tiny weenie biscuit”/”another olive”/”some smokey cheese”. “What do you say?”, we ask. “Pleeeeeease, Mr Panda!”, she replies, grinning.

Manners are the subject of many favourite picturebooks, with sharing, saying please and being patient their most popular points of politeness. Below is a round up of brilliant books, all on their best behaviour.

All Mine! by Zehra Hicks, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

In this laugh-out-loud tale of greed and comeuppance, a mouse’s lunch is snatched away by a rude seagull. Not content, and ignoring his small victim’s admonishing critique, the seagull takes mouse’s crisps as well, and even follows mouse into his little house. However, mouse has a cunning plan, which ends with a glorious cake and a bunting-laden celebration.

A different solid bright colour fills each page, and Zehra Hicks’ boldly drawn characters are juxtaposed with clever and highly effective, superimposed photographs of various seagull-tempting treats.

Crunch by Carolina Rabei, published by Child’s Play

Crunch is a gluttonous Guinea pig living a comfortable life alone in his cage. When a hungry mouse asks him to share his tasty titbits he refuses. The mouse offers friendship and a hug in exchange, but Crunch just grumbles and grumps and sends him away.

His behaviour leaves Crunch with a bitter taste in his mouth and he can’t enjoy his breakfast. He thinks about poor mouse, and imagines a bad fate. He sets off to find him and discovers a world of wonders. He returns home to find mouse tucking into a pile of leaves, where sharing and friendship follows.

Rabei’s delightful illustrations have an unusual wood cut-like aspect to them, supported by an array of strong colours, including lime green leaves and a huge slice of juicy red watermelon.

I’ll Wait, Mr Panda
by Steve Antony, published by Hodder Children’s Books

We waited patiently for this follow up to the magnificent ‘Please Mr Panda’ and were fully rewarded. In this sequel, the enigmatic Mr Panda has taken to baking, and is preparing a mouth watering surprise.

A series of impatient animals demand to know what he is making. When Mr Panda tells them that they need to wait and see, for “it’s a surprise”, one after another refuses and walks away.

Finally, a small penguin shows good manners and stands quietly to one side. while Mr Panda finishes up. “Thank you, Mr Panda. It was worth the wait”, says the penguin, calling out from underneath the enormous, hundreds-and-thousands-coated, sweet surprise.

As he did in his groundbreaking ‘Please Mr Panda’, Steve Antony’s distinctive black and white characters and teal/grey backgrounds are juxtaposed with an array of wonderfully coloured doughnuts, which this time provide the pattern on Mr Panda’s fabulous apron.

For more picturebooks with exceptional manners try these, which we’ve reviewed earlier:

‘Monkey and the Little One’ by Claire Alexander

A tale of initially unrequited affection, about two creatures who struggle to speak each other’s language. This is a tender picturebook whose messages are as gentle and sweet as its illustrations. It’s an ideal choice for reading to a young child when a new sibling arrives, or when significant change has come into their lives.

‘Norris the Bear Who Shared’ by Carherine Rayner

Catherine Rayner’s illustrations are always stunning – in our view she’s the most talented illustrator of wildlife in the picturebook business – and the message that underlines her stories is one of adventure, fun and the value of persistence.Norris’ patient wait for his prized treat, the wisdom he exhibits, and the benefit of his decision to share it with his new companions is simply and perfectly told.

‘Please Mr Panda’ by Steve Antony

Steve Antony’s illustrations are bold, beautiful and funny. The doughnuts are a colourful feast for the eyes, in a clever contrast to the black and white of the characters that the panda encounters. As the story unfolds, the animals (and their levels of rudeness) increase in size, from a penguin to skunk to ostrich to whale), before concluding with the polite, well-mannered (and very full) lemur.

‘Aunt Amelia’ by Rebecca Cobb.

Aunt Amelia has been a favourite for a long time. It is a fun, bright and charming book, which wonderfully captures the nostalgic joy of childhood. The gorgeous tapestry of spreads are accompanied by details from the list of strict instructions left by parents for their children’s babysitter. Little do they or their parents know, but Aunt Amelia – a matronly crocodile, with her a huge peach sunhat adorned by flora and fauna, equipped with a Mary Poppins-esque purse and umbrella – likes to bend, and even reverse, the rules!

Oh Dear, Geoffrey!

Sharing and caring Posted on 07 Jan, 2016 09:12AM

Oh Dear, Geoffrery! by Gemma O’Neill, published by Templar Books

All the rain recently has meant our outdoor family fun was somewhat limited to a few quick dashes to the park in between downpours. And with rain comes mud and puddles – perilous for our pushchair but a delight for our toddler. She’s enjoyed all the splashing and squelching almost as much as riding in her favourite blue swing.

But as she’s keen to point out to us when we read Emma O’Neill’s tale of Geoffrey the clumsy giraffe, he doesn’t enjoy his experience of puddles and mud one bit.

We first meet Geoffrey as he tries in earnest to make friends with the meerkats, rhinos, elephants and zebras, who are all so much closer to the ground than he is. Wobbling, teetering, ‘bending and buckling’, Geoffrey is the butt of the others’ jokes and jeers.

Despondent, his day takes a turn when some monkeys ask if they can climb his long neck to reach the treetops. Geoffrey eagerly obliges, much to the monkeys’ delight. Then, standing tall with pride, the birds in the trees tweet their delight as they greet their tall new companion, who shares their view from the trees’ lofty branches.

The story is perfectly aligned to beautiful illustrations, which bring movement and life to the pages – the droplets of water and clouds of sand dancing and billowing off the page, and a final double page of the twinkling night sky. This is a charming tale, reminding us that, if we keep looking, we can all find a way to be ourselves, help others, and bring happiness to new friends.

Not Me!

Sharing and caring Posted on 19 Aug, 2015 02:53PM

Not Me! by Nicola Killen, published by Egmont

In recent weeks, we’ve found ourselves inadvertently interpreting our daughter’s actions as possible indicators for her professional future. Recently she’s developed a keen interest in Duplo, particularly building steps and towers, and often creates structures that inspire us to wonder if she’ll become an engineer or an architect. She loves being part of cooking dinner, particularly making breadcrumbs, peeling onions and plucking grapes from their stalks – maybe she’ll be a famous chef? When in artist mode, she enjoys painting, chalk drawing and decorating cardboard boxes – she might be the next Barbara Hepworth?

One talent she’s not yet honed is tidying up. She knows it’s a good thing to do in principle – indeed, she’s mastered a song about it (happily singing “this is the way we tidy up” as she removes puzzles and dinosaurs from her toybox) but hasn’t yet adjoined the lyrics with the representative actions.

‘Not Me!’, by Nicola Killen, depicts a series of happy children engaged in the sort of creative play on which toddlers (including ours) thrive, along with the accompanying mess. Alongside each scene of disarray, the question is asked as to who is responsible and, on the page that follows, we are presented with the small culprit, along with clear, visual clues to highlight their guilt. An additional give-away is that each child’s name rhymes amusingly with the act for which they are (quite literally in one case) caught red-handed.

“Who’s been making the carpet dirty?” “Not me!” said Bertie (as he rides his muddy bike across the room). “Who’s been dropping all these peas?” “Not me!” said Louise (as we see a pile forming under her chair as she eats). A useful final scene depicts all of the children featured having fun together as they tidy up.

With charming illustrations that have been masterfully created using what appears to be techniques often found in primary school settings (stencil, collage, sponge painting) and the use of pleasing pastel colours, this book is a real treat and great fun to read aloud.

Author Feedback

@NicolaKillen said: “Thanks for the great review – it’s lovely to hear that the book strikes a chord with you AND your toddler!”


Sharing and caring Posted on 21 Jul, 2015 08:36AM

Penguin by Polly Dunbar, published by Walker Books

This is a tale of patience, loyalty and friendship. It’s told in clear language, with moments of genuine surprise and humour, perfectly pitched alongside beautiful illustrations.

When a young boy unpacks a penguin from a box, he finds his new companion to be a reluctant and reticent playmate. Despite the boy’s efforts to engage his feathered friend through funny faces, jazzy dance and even space travel, “Penguin said nothing”.

When the boy and his attempts to communicate become exhausted, he finally loses patience, gets upset and is rather loud. A passing lion makes an unfortunate gastronomic intervention, but Penguin stands up for his friend with a brave and daring defence.

The final two pages, a wondrous showcase of shared experiences as “told” by Penguin, expressed with a newly articulate voice, is a joy to behold and one of our favourite scenes in picturebooks.

Penguin is a charming winner and an equally perfect choice for daytime and bedtime.

Penguin was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

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