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Books My Toddler Loves

Dragons: Our Four Fiery Favourites

Fairy tales retold Posted on 21 Jun, 2017 10:12PM

have been part of folklore and literature for millennia, and remain
as popular as ever in contemporary fiction. They can be found in many
wonderful picturebooks, and below we highlight four of our

for Beginners
Elys Dolan, published by Oxford University Press

as long as there have been knights, there have been dragons. But has
there ever been a dragon who has also been a knight?

this chapter book from surrealist comic writer Elys Dolan we meet
Dave, a small and not very green dragon, who’s lack of dragony skill
has led him to seek a new career as an armour-clad knight of the

only with a copy of Knighthood for Beginners (given to him by his
lovely librarian Aunt Maude), he sets off in search of the first key
ingredient, a trusty steed. Or, in Dave’s case, a rather smelly goat
with a strong German accent called Albrecht.

they take on the establishment, rioting peasants, unqualified
clinicians and even Sir Knasty’s axis of evil. Told at a rip-roaring
pace alongside delightfully slapstick illustrations, its off-beat
humour is at times laugh-out-loud for children and adults alike.
Please can this be the first of many in a new series?

Great Dragon Bake Off
Nicola O’Byrne, published by Bloomsbury

dragons just don’t want to be the stereotype – they might seem like
the perfect student to join the Ferocious Dragon Academy and look
“especially enormous and terrifying”, but Flamie Oliver
just wants to bake.
has a “passion for pastry” and takes no part in honing his
“dastardly dragon skills”. He’s told he will fail his final
exams unless he captures and eats a princess, but he and Princess
Rosewater have another, far more tasty idea.

perfect book to accompany a day of baking, the pages are filled with
engaging illustrations that almost burst from the page, and the
spreads of tasty treats look more than good enough to gobble.

Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
Elli Woollard (words) and Benji Davies (illustrations), published by

book opens with a “Mappe of Hardbottom’s and the Surrounding
Lands”, including The Mountains of Dread, the Perilous Peaks and
the Impassable Pass. At the centre is Hardbottom’s Academy, a
formidable castle set in the Darkish wood.

turning the page we see a small boy kitted out in miniature armour,
trotting passed the school – an Academy for Young Knights – and a
notice board informing us that tomorrow is its Sports Day and the
chance to “Fight a Real Dragon”.
a young dragon (the smallest member of the Dragons of Dread) is told
by his kin to leave the nest and prove himself by biting a
“nibblesome knight” of his own. Caught out by a storm,
little Dram splashes down into a lake, where the young boy-knight,
James, has been duck-spotting.

nurses Dram back to health, convinced he’s an odd bird with a curious
quack. The two become friends and as the day ends, James heads back
to the castle as Dram falls asleep in the grounds. Dram wakes,
wanders into a field and through some open gates, and finds himself
in the midst of the dragon slaying contest – face to face with his

the dragon clan and the knights of the realm look set to come to
blows, friendship wins the day. A sweet tale of overcoming difference
and celebrating diversity, with pitch-perfect illustrations that
capture a heraldic feel.

is No Dragon in This Story
Lou Carter (words) and Deborah Allwright (illustrations), published
by Bloomsbury

newest entry to this scaly canon is a novel convergence of dragon
lore and fairy tales. We’re told by a ‘reader’ – whose dragon-like
hands we can see holding up the story – that she was going to tell us
a typical story (you know, where a knight rescues a princess who’s
been captured by a dragon), but that won’t be possible as the dragon
has “gone off in a huff”.

dragon is fed up of being the villain and wants to be a hero – and he
sets off into the midst of other stories to try to save the day. The
problem is, no one wants his help – despite their respective
impending peril.

gingerbread man, Little Red Riding hood, the three little pigs, and
even jack as he climbs up the beanstalk all tell him “no, no,
no! That’s not how the story goes”. Despondent, the dragon
shuffles away. Events, however, take an unexpected turn, and the
dragon gets his chance to shine (literally).

engaging narrative cleverly breaks through the fourth wall and finds
a new spin on traditional tales of old. The illustrations are
pleasing on the eye and depict a delightful array of cartoon-like
characters. A pair of night-scenes are particularly atmospheric. The
book concludes with a trio of endings, which round off a highly
satisfying adventure.

Little Reds

Fairy tales retold Posted on 27 Apr, 2017 09:37PM

many classic nursery rhymes, fairy tales have an extraordinary
ability to transcend generations, cultures and languages. Their plots
are filled with mild (and often more than mild) peril. Perhaps one
reason for their enduring popularity is that they give children, and
the adults they read with, the opportunity to explore challenging
themes from the comfort of a cosy bed or another safe space. Many of
these fairly tales have a clear resolution, vindicate goodies over
wronguns, and teach some helpful values along the way.

Red Riding Hood has survived in literature for at least a thousand
years. Its origins can be traced back to several European folk tales
from the 10th century, including an Italian version called ‘La finta
nonna’ (The False Grandmother). It has inspired an array of
interpretations for page and screen, including many in picturebook
form. Below are three of our favourites.

Red Riding Hood
Anna Milbourne (words), Julia Sarda Portabella (illustrations) and
Nicola Butler (design), published by Usborne

is a hugely innovative delivery of a traditional retelling, brought
to life through an extraordinary feat of paper engineering. From the
front cover onwards, we can see through the story, with each
cardboard page containing intricate cut-throughs to those that
follow. Through the front cover, we can see a dark, thick forest as
the journey begins. The books pace-setting words are matched
perfectly with charming illustrations. With every turn, more of
Little Red’s near-three-dimensional world is revealed. Her red cape
shines through the pages like a beacon, through the dark wood filled
with rabbits, deer and squirrels. The big bad wolf is suitably creepy
and sinister.

book’s unique selling points are accentuated by flaps and hidden
turns, which add to the fun. Over the course of the book the reader
can move through the forest, into grandma’s house, and out again – in
a way that is as close to animation as you can get in a picturebook.
Illustrator Julia Sarda Portabella’s beautiful pictures convey both a
retro and Germanic feel, perhaps as a nod to the most famous version
of this story – that of the Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Bethan Woollvin, published by Two Hoots

cover of this book sets a tone of subversion from the off. This isn’t
going to be a straightforward retelling. Black lines against a stark
white backdrop, depicting a girl’s fringe and side-eyes stare, are
surrounded by a blood-red hood. The inside cover shows the girl,
hands on hips, amidst a bleak forest – she is a Scandi-noir Little
Red who is not in a mood to be messed with.

to take some cake to her poorly grandma, she sets off, not looking
too impressed by the prospect. The wolf, whose teeth literally fill
the page, approaches her, and growls. We are told this “might
have scared some little girls. But not this little girl”. The
wolf makes a plan, but so does Little Red.

won’t reveal the truly brilliant and shocking ending in this post.
Let’s just say that if I’d been drinking tea at the time of reading
this book it might have been splurted across the room. It’s no wonder
this picturebook (Bethan Woollvin’s debut) was chosen as one of The
New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016.

Red and the Very Hungry Lion
Alex T Smith, published by Scholastic

T Smith applies his brilliantly irreverent style to a transposition
of Little Red to the Savannah – with an amusing narrative amid
fabulous splashes of sumptuous colour. Her ruby-red dress is
juxtaposed with the rich pinks and oranges of the African plains and
skies, and the hungry wolf’s (or in this case, lion’s) bronze

Auntie Rosie calls for help – she is covered in spots – Little Red
sets off to see her – with a basketful of medicine and fresh
doughnuts. We follow her all the way, around warthogs and atop
elephants. When she stops for a rest under a shady tree, the lion
makes his move and forms his “very clever plan” –
humorously depicted in the form of what appears to be an
all-too-hastily-doodled step-by-step guide.

arrives at her Auntie’s house and on entering her bedroom immediately
sees her – locked in the cupboard – with the lion tucked up in bed.
She decides to teach him a lesson (several in fact) including hair
braiding, dental hygiene and fashion. The lion finally has enough of
playing the role of Auntie, and can stay in character no longer.
Happily, a deal is struck, doughnuts are consumed, and the lion’s
interest in eating aunties and girls vanishes, as do Auntie Rosie’s

you like these, and are looking for more Little Reds, try:

Yummy by
Lucy Cousins – a compendium of classic folk and fairy tales depicted
through the author’s famous primary colour palette (including Little

Little Red Riding Hood
Teresa Heapy – where the wolf is worn down by the energy and
persistence of a “threenager” Little Red.

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake

Fairy tales retold Posted on 07 Mar, 2017 01:36PM

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake
by James Mathew, published by Orchard Books

For World Book Day, children across the country went to nursery and school dressed as their favourite book character, and took the related book in to read with their class. It’s a fun way to bring stories to life, and an opportunity for parents to try their hand at costumes.

This year, when our now four-year-old daughter insisted on wearing her Elsa dress, we enthused her with the idea of being the Princess and the Pea – on the condition that she could take with her a single pea in a small plastic pot. She also chose the costume for our one year old – a Sophie la Giraffe tutu onesie – on the basis that her book character must be ‘Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake’.

This book is one of a series of Ella Bella stories based on real ballets, a perfect showcase of Author illustrator James Mayhew’s love of art and classical music (read his biography here). As well as the hugely popular ‘Katie’ series, James has written for the fabulous CBeebies series ‘Melody’ (where a girl listens to classical music and unlocks her vivid imagination).

Ella Bella Ballerina presents a version of the magical, majestic and at times quite dark Swan Lake. It starts on a rainy evening when Ella Bella is dropped at her ballet lesson. She joins in with Madame Rosa’s class as they dance to the melody from Tchaikovsky’s evocative score (a composition that is now more than 140 years old).

As the class ends, the other children filter out to change, and Ella finds herself alone on stage. Suddenly, the theatre transforms into another world, of watery reeds, ballrooms, the night sky and, first, a flock of swans who become white ballet princesses. Odette, the swan princess, leads Bella on an adventure to secure the true love of her prince and break the sorcerer’s spell that is cast to commit her to her half-swan form forever.

The dreamy, washed illustrations are beautiful and full of movement, and reminiscent of the Madeline books. When we read the story, it is brought even more to life by playing a clip from the denouement of the score – which (like Melody) proved to be an ideal way to introduce our young children to classical music.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Fairy tales retold Posted on 23 Sep, 2015 01:08PM

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli, published by Miles Kelly

For breakfast, our daughter usually requests ‘cereal with jammy bits’ (cranberry wheats), ‘an egg in a cup’ (boiled egg in an egg cup with an elephant on it) or porridge.

Of late, porridge has been her favourite, which may be due to a new fascination with the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. This began after we read Lucy Cousins’ excellent ‘Yummy’, a compendium of fairy tales including that of the precocious girl and the family of bears who discover her asleep in their house.

A few days later, her auntie sent her a surprise gift – a small rag-doll with golden pigtails, which she immediately named after the story’s main protagonist. Over the last week we’ve explored a diverse range of adaptations, including the 1939 Disney animation.

A version that she loves is the delightful My Fairytime Tale edition from Miles Kelly publishers and Italian illustrator Francesca Assirelli.

The story is well told in clear, easily repeatable language, brought to life by colourful, bold illustrations and larger than life characters. Our daughter loves to point out the traditional antics of “that naughty girl” – as she eats baby bear’s porridge “all up”, breaks his chair and sleeps in his bed.
There are some nice touches to the book itself, such as the sparkly, bobbly butterflies, bear noses and title on its front cover, which our daughter enjoys feeling with her fingertips.

After more than 150 years of The Three Bears, as it was first known, this is a sweet, charming take on a truly classic tale.