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Books My Toddler Loves

The Girls

Friendship Posted on 26 Apr, 2019 09:16AM

The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie, published by Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Press)

Now that our youngest daughter is 3 1/2 and our eldest is 6 going-on 16, the name of this blog should perhaps be changed to “Books my young girls love”! Raising strong, independent girls with ambitions to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be, is very important to us and luckily, there are some great books, such as this to help us out.

The Girls is a heart-warming and uplifting tale of the life-long friendship between four young girls, that begins when they meet whilst playing under an apple tree, “their Secret Meeting Place”. The Girls each bring their own strengths and unique personalities to the group, “they were as different as they were the same”. There’s Lottie “the adventurer”, Leela with her good ideas, practical and kind Sasha and Alice whose important talent is “for making everyone laugh”.

The follows the girls as they grow older, sharing “secrets, dreams, worries and schemes” beneath their tree. It demonstrates how good friends both “celebrate successes” and are there to build you back up after failures. The girls become women, who go on to climb their own mountains, find love, dazzle crowds of people with their knowledge and in Sasha’s case, use her inherent practicality and kindness to become a doctor “looking after bruised apples”. There are highs and lows along the way, of course, but the women are rooted together in a support network that gets them through.

The characters’ diversity is welcome, and should be seen in far more picturebooks. The message of this book – of the strength and support that can be found in female friendships and of what can happen when that is harnessed to help girls achieve their dreams – is such an important one and is beautifully told and illustrated.

The Girls won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Illustrated Book of the Year 2019

Have You Seen Elephant? and The Big Race

Friendship Posted on 15 Apr, 2019 02:03PM

Have You Seen Elephant? (Gecko Press) and The Big Race (Hodder Children’s Books) by David Barrow

We recently had the pleasure of attending a kids workshop by author illustrator, David Barrow, as part of Northamptonshire Children’s Book Group’s fantastic inaugural event at the wonderful Delapre Abbey (find NCBG on Twitter @NorthantsCBG and Facebook).

Have you seen Elephant? was David Barrow’s first picture book and we were delighted to have a masterclass from David in how to draw, and how not to draw elephants.

The book has a simple, yet charming premise – a baby elephant, that is nevertheless much larger than it’s small friend, claims to be ever so good at hiding.

Although as the reader, we can easily spot the elephant with its ears or trunk or feet poking out from under a blanket, from either side of a too narrow tree, or from behind Dad’s tv, the little boy is stumped as to where elephant might be.

Thrilled when elephant finally reveals himself, the boy and the elephant are then greeted by a sporty looking tortoise keen for a game of tag.

A delightful read from beginning to end, the illustrations are vibrant and the animals are alive with wonderful characteristics, from the tufts of hair and smiley eyes of baby elephant, to the pricked up ears and inquisitive snout of the family dog.

The Big Race was published last year and is an uplifting tale of a brave and determined little aardvark. Little aardvark refuses to be intimidated by “fast” cheetah, “big” buffalo and “strong” crocodile and, despite their sniggers, she determines that she will complete “The Big Race”.

Aardvark starts well, “hot on the heels” of her fast, big and strong competitors, showing great courage as she scoots up a steep hill, plunges down a waterfall and tight rope walks across a valley. Aardvark starts to feel very tired, but won’t give up and with a little help from a friend she finds herself about to cross the finish line. In the end, it’s not clear who has come first, but for little aardvark she is over the moon to have completed the race and had lots of fun.

This book is great for encouraging little people to have a go and take part, even when we’re not the fastest, biggest or strongest. The illustrations wonderfully capture the movement and efforts of the animals, together with their expressive faces and each page bursts with colour.

Goat’s Coat

Friendship Posted on 30 Apr, 2018 09:34PM

Goat’s Coat
by Tom Percival (words) and Christine Pym (illustration), published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

As spring arrives, so does the transition in outerwear for our girls from warm winter coats to bright, lightweight macs. It’s perfect timing, therefore, to have a book about a special coat.

Alfonso the goat’s coat is not just special because it does its job well and looks beautiful, but because it becomes his means to help others, and receive kindness by return in his own time of need.

Alfonso is super proud of his magnificent gingham, and sets off to strut his stuff. En route he meets a menagerie of animals in various states of peril – from a family of homeless frogs, to a cat with a trapped tail, to a forlorn hen.

For each, Alfonso offers improvised assistance, utilising his coat’s practical potential to come to their aid. Piece by piece is offered to others, and the coat becomes nothing more than threads. When a sudden snow storm arrives he risks a frozen fate. Happily, karma prevails and his new friends bring him a warm, patchwork present.

Tom Percival’s smart and amusing rhyme is perfectly matched by Christine Pym’s bright, colourful and innovative illustrations. Her use of space and angles are eye-catching – particularly the “chick’s eye view” from atop a tree. Goat’s Coat is a real winner – great to look at and with a feel-good factor to match.

Star in the Jar

Friendship Posted on 15 Jan, 2018 01:26PM

Star in the Jar by Sam Hay (words) and Sarah Massini (illustrations), published by Egmont

We’re starting 2018 with this real treasure of a book. Both our girls love to collect miscellaneous bits and pieces that they find in all sorts of places and become completely attached to. Our eldest daughter has her own “treasure chest”, a special tin where she stashes her precious finds and often whiles away an afternoon with emptying its entire contents and carefully sifting and sorting them.

Star in the Jar is a lovely read that really captures this ability of small children to find pleasure and beauty in the smallest things. Narrated by his big sister, this is the story of a young boy who loves to find all kinds of treasure, “tickly treasure” from the park, “glittery treasure…even litter bin treasure”.

One day, whilst kite flying with his big sister, he comes across “something extra special”, his very own twinkle star. The wise older sister counsels that something so precious must belong to somebody else. So, they check with all the likely owners of a sparkly star; the big girl at school who hands out good work star stickers, the dinner lady with her 5* food hygiene rating, the sheriff, the fairies and the wizards, but none have lost a star.

The little boy is initially gleeful that he gets to keep his star and stows it safely in a jar, which he takes everywhere with him. It’s only at night that he notices the star looking a little sad. A message sent from the star’s friends reveals the true home of the star, up in the twinkly night sky. The siblings join forces to try to come up with a way to return the star to his friends.

Eventually the big sister has the bright idea of shining their own message back to the stars in the sky. In a wonderful double page spread, we see the stars join together in a “long, whirly, sparkly silver chain” to rescue their friend. The delightful ending that follows makes this a particularly good read at bedtime.

We love the illustrations throughout – the depictions of the sparkly night sky and the use of light and shade work really well – which perfectly accompany the tale, adding extra details for the reader to enjoy.

Chapter Book Series of 2017

Friendship Posted on 27 Nov, 2017 03:04PM

This year our elder daughter, who is now nearly five, developed a love of illustrated chapter books. There are many wonderful choices for her age group, and reading them with her has proved to be a great way to move towards the first readers she now takes home from school.

Our blog will continue to focus on picturebooks – including those adored by our second daughter who recently turned two – but for now here are our top three chapter book series of 2017.

Ottaline by Chris Riddell, published by MacMillan Children’s Books

A highlight of our year has been discovering the surrealist world of Ottaline by former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. Ottaline is a resident of the Pepperpot Building, situated in the heart of a fantastical metropolis. She is the daughter of parents in abstentia – roving collectors, professors and international travellers – who keep in touch with postcards and letters which are sent and received intermittently.

Ottaline is left in the care of a medley of service providers, who keep an eye out for her while she and her companion, Mr Munroe, a small hairy Norwegian troll, pursue a series of adventures.

In Ottaline at Sea (the third of the series but the first we read), Mr Munroe sets off alone for Norway to find the bog that was once his home. We follow him, accompanying Ottaline as she seeks to be reunited and bring him back, adorned with wonderful outfits and an array of oversized hats and sunglasses.

In this and others in the Ottaline series, readers are immersed in the witty prose and astonishing, intricate detail of the illustrations, bringing to life Ottaline’s world in a feast for our eyes and an enrichment for our imaginations.

Evie’s Magic Bracelet by Jess Ennis-Hill and Elen Caldecott (writers) and Erica-Jane Waters (illustrator), published by Hodder Children’s Books

This series, inspired by the childhood of one of the great 21st century role models, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill (written with Elen Caldecott), has become a firm family favourite. It follows the adventures of Evie, a seven year old girl whose family has recently moved to a new area. The first book in the series tells of Evie’s early days at her new school, and her tentative steps towards friendship with two classmates, Ryan and Isabelle.

In each book, her grandmother, who lives far away, sends Evie a magical bracelet and an accompanying riddle about how to use the magic it can release. Delightful illustrations by Erica-Jane Waters are placed on the majority of pages, which help our daughter follow the stories (lengthier than other books we’ve read before at 120+ pages).

The boys and girls help each other in times of need and times of fun. While the stories feature some mystical creatures (including trickster sprites and a majestic unicorn) the underlying message is clear – true magic lies in the friendships we make, the hard work we do, trying our best and the love of family.

Secret Princesses by Rosie Banks, published by Orchard Books

This fantastical series centres on best friends Mia and Charlotte, separated by the Atlantic Ocean after Charlotte’s family emigrate to America. However, when cousin Alice reveals to them that she is a Secret Princess – a wish granter who lives with a group of others at Wishing Star Palace – they become Secret Princesses in Training, able to reunite through the power of a BFF heart pendant split in two between them.

Their missions, assigned by the Princesses and a magic mirror, require the girls to use their new powers to grant the wishes of others. These acts of kindness are hindered by the mean intentions of Princess Poison, a former secret princess expelled from the kingdom, who seeks to spoil the wishes and ruin other people’s day.

In the first of the series, The Magic Necklace, Mia and Charlotte come to the aid of a birthday girl who wishes for a perfect party. The girls have only a few uses of their powers available for each task, and to succeed requires them to work together and use skill, care and planning.

Exciting illustrations match a pacy narrative, along with a fair bit of detail, which our daughter loves, about hair styles, dresses and shoes (that, for this particular reader dad at least, taught me a few useful things!). Princess Poison (and her sidekick, Hex) is an excellent villain – with just the right level of baddie-ness to excite but not frighten our four year old. Each book that follows has a similar template to the first, with the girls’ friendship and our interest in their lives growing with each adventure.

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