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Books My Toddler Loves

Two tantalising tales of mild peril

Adventures on land and sea Posted on 20 Jul, 2019 02:02PM

Our girls have both loved picture books that involve some sort of mild peril and we’ve reviewed lots of examples here before (such as Little Red, Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo and Edgar and the Sausage Inspector).

These are two of our three year old’s favourites.

Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen, published by Jonathan Cape (Penguin Books)

This is the tale of fearless Billy and her slightly grumpy side-kick, Fatcat. Billy and Fatcat are having a “perfectly lovely day” of all the usual forest shenanigans, stomping, crunching, splashing and saying hello to their forest friends, when they are rudely interrupted by a “TERRIBLE RUMBLE”.

We turn the page, fearing the worst, but discover that it was only Fatcat’s tummy. Billy rummages in her fabulous hair and pulls out some delicious looking doughnuts to satisfy Fatcat. Thinking all is fine, the duo re-trace their steps but are alarmed to find their forest friends are missing. All of sudden everything goes dark and the pair are swiped by a fearsome “Terrible Beast”.
However, brave Billy is not impressed and even less so when she hears of the Terrible Beast’s plans to make a Terrible Soup using her pals as the ingredients. Billy embarks on a cunning plan to trick the Terrible Beast into using less brutal alternatives for his soup. Billy cleverly uses all sorts of things she’s stashed in her hair to fool the not terribly clever Terrible Beast and with the help of the “adorable”, yet surprisingly strong, little bunny rabbits she sees the beast off for good.

This has the perfect mix of humour and mild peril that children seem to love and is beautifully illustrated in bold colours. We love the expressive eyes and facial expressions on all of the characters. Billy is just the sort of kick-ass, female heroine that I love our girls to see in their picture books.

I Want to be in a Scary Story written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien, published by Walker Books

Since our very first read of this great book, it became a regular request at bedtime.

The story takes the form of a conversation with Little Monster, who really wants to be in his own scary story. The narrator dutifully creates scary scenes for Little Monster, but it’s all a bit too frightening for the little guy. Our daughter delights in joining in with Little Monster’s exclamations at each new addition to the story, gleefully shouting “oh my goodness me” and “oh jeepers creepers!” as we turn the pages.
In the end, Little Monster gets his own back on the narrator, with an ending that is funny and scary – the perfect combination!

The clever format of the book and the bold, not very scary, illustrations keep little ones captivated, read after read.

Snow Penguin

Adventures on land and sea Posted on 22 Jan, 2018 11:50AM

Snow Penguin by Tony Mitton (words) and Alison Brown (illustrations), published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a beautiful Antarctic adventure, with a pacey rhyme and wonderfully depicted by a favourite illustrator, Alison Brown (see our review of her I Love You Night and Day here).

The story follows Little Penguin on a trip aboard an ice floe where he meets several Antarctic creatures. First it’s the “huge flappy tail” of a “massive blue whale”, a speedy school of orca with their “whistle and click” noises, a great elephant seal and a cuddly sea lion cub having a “nuzzle, a nudge and a rub” with its mother.

Little Penguin is initially excited to meet these new creatures, but soon realises he has drifted a little too far from the warmth of his penguin family. “How will he find them? What will he do? For now the sea’s looking more black than it’s blue…”.

Alison Brown’s clever use of the whole palette of blues, from the pale white-blue of the ice and of Little Penguin’s tummy to the darkest navy of the deepest depths of the sea, makes each double page a delight.

There is a happy ending to Little Penguin’s intrepid exploration and he is soon reunited in the warm embrace of his mother. He regales the other penguins with his adventures as they huddle around him. At this point our two year old daughter always giggles at the brown fluffy hair of the younger penguin chicks. This use of clever illustrative detail brings each character to life. A delightful read.

A Hole Lot of Fun

Adventures on land and sea Posted on 09 May, 2017 08:49PM

Two of our favourite picturebooks are about what lies beneath our feet – specifically, what we might find down a hole in the ground. Where did the hole come from? Where does it lead? What might be living down there? What treasures might we find?

The Something (by Rebecca Cobb, published by MacMillan Children’s Books) wondrous celebration of a child’s imagination. This is a tale that starts when a ball doesn’t bounce back – disappearing into a small hole besides a tree adorned by the green buds of Spring, in a boy’s back garden. As the boy and his dog look down, we look up at them from the hole.

At first, the boy just waits and wonders. As the tree blooms into colour, the boy begins to ask others what they think might be down there. In the top half of the pages that follow, we see the boy, his family and his friends each taking a turn at guessing what might be below – and in the lower half of each page we see his imagination come to life – a mouse’s house, a troll, a snoozing fox, even a dragon. In each scene, the boy’s lost ball can be found.

As the pages turn, so do the leaves on the tree as autumn arrives, and finally the tree is bare. The boy is not upset that he doesn’t have the answer – rather, he is “pleased that something has chosen our garden to live in”.

Rebecca Cobb’s beautiful and distinctive illustrations bring her first person narrative to life. There are charming and touching details to be discovered. When the boy’s grandparents suggest that if something does live down there it is most likely a mole or a badger, the boy imagines the creatures knitting and doing the crossword – just like his Granny and Grandad are above ground. The diversity of the boy’s friends is worth a particular mention.

We adore Rebecca Cobb’s books and highly recommend others she’s written and illustrated (including The Paper Dolls; Lunchtime; Aunt Amelia and There’s an Owl in My Towel – all reviewed on our site).

In Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books) we meet two determined diggers on a mission, who vow that they “won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular”.

Setting out with their spades into a barren field next to a farmhouse and a single apple tree, Sam and Dave begin to dig. Here we see clear looks of determination from the pair, and their dog. Their cat looks sceptical and watches from the porch step. Jon Klassen’s use of ‘side-eye’ in his characters’ faces is second to none for illustrating a huge range of emotions.

They begin to dig down, and then across, at each turn narrowly missing increasingly huge diamonds buried in the earth. They stop for a rest and animal biscuits. When they fall asleep, their dog digs a little further, and opens up a hole in the bottom of the page. They all fall, landing with a bump on the earth below. “That was pretty spectacular” they say. But are they home?

Mac Barnett’s sparse narrative is perfectly matched to Klassen’s deadpan illustrations. The minimalist style enables readers to focus in on details, and notice new aspects of the story on each reading – it wasn’t until recently we realised that the dog is always trying in vain to indicate where the gems are buried.

If you are looking for more books featuring holes in the ground, check out these two (reviewed previously): A New House for Mouse by Petr Horacek; and Rabbityness by Jo Empson.

Adventures on the High Seas

Adventures on land and sea Posted on 19 Sep, 2016 11:27AM

Mayday Mouse
by Seb Braun, published by Child’s Play

This is a tale of brave Captain Mouse who sets off across the sea determined to get a birthday gift to her brother on the other side. Her journey begins on a lovely day, perfect for a cruise in her walnut shell boat with its toothpick mast. As she departs, two of her friends, a frog and dragonfly, remind her that if she needs help they’ll be there for her.

Dark clouds descend and the sea becomes choppy, and before long great ‘watery perils’ appear, depicted with extraordinary movement and colour by Sebastian Braun’s wonderful illustrations.

Crashing waves hurl her and her small craft towards a narrow miss with rocks and a dark cave, before she lands, stranded, on a small island. With the water closing in she calls upon her friends for aid with a cry of “Mayday!” They arrive just in time, bringing her materials for a new cork boat, which sees her on her way. Finally she reaches the shore and embraces her brother on the other side with a sigh of relief.

For the final spread we zoom out from her level to a bird’s eye view, and a surprising reveal, which always causes our three year old to laugh out loud in delight, showing us her world in a very different way. A lovely bonus is a final scene on the inside cover where we see the mice siblings sharing the gift that Captain mouse so determinedly clung to during her various ordeals.

This is terrific tale of determination, overcoming adversity, friendship and the importance of perspective.

Claude All at Sea
by Alex T Smith, published by Hodder Children’s Books

This is Claude’s first adventure in picture book format and it certainly lives up to the reputation of the popular Claude series for young readers.

It’s a fun-filled frolic of a read following Claude on a bath-time expedition on the high seas where he encounters all kinds of characters from Captain Poopdeck, Cindy Seaweed, Nigel the not-so terrifying sea monster and of course, Claude’s faithful sidekick, Sir Bobblysock.

Alex T Smith’s witty prose combines brilliantly with distinctive, predominantly red and white illustrations. The illustrations themselves are full of life and movement – two particularly memorable double page spreads being the moment when the bath tub escapes along the street with a “whoosh” and lands in the ocean with a “splash”.

This is a great introduction for a younger audience to the Claude series and will have little ones laughing out loud.

This pair of picturebook adventures on the high seas would form a lovely trio alongside Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek, reviewed previously and in full here.

Petr Horacek’s distinctive, colourful and full of life animals and birds are vivid wonders to behold. Here, his illustration is combined with a charming story of Peter, a small puffin, separated by a storm from his best friend. After the storm passes, Peter sets out to look for Paul with the help of a kind whale. This is a sweeping and satisfying adventure, filled with vistas of bold colours, and a sweet, happy ending. It’s a perfect depiction of the value of friendship and persistence and a great book to introduce young children to useful adjectives through scenes from nature.

Mortimer’s Picnic

Adventures on land and sea Posted on 25 Aug, 2016 06:14PM

Mortimer’s Picnic by Nick Ward, published by Troika Books

Several of our three year old daughter’s favourite U certificate films state on the box that they contain ‘mild peril’. Picturebooks can also provide a safe place for children to tentatively experience what it means to be a little bit frightened, to help them to ask questions about things that may concern them, and to support discussion about real life emotion and feelings.

Ancient myths and classic fairy tales remain adored across generations because they deliver mild peril so well. There are many excellent recent additions to this genre, including one of our daughter’s favourite and most requested picturebooks ‘Mortimer’s Picnic’.

Mortimer mouse is preparing a hamper to take on a picnic with his best friend Oggy, when a letter from Oggy arrives. Sadly, he is not well and won’t be able to make it. Undeterred, Mortimer makes a home made get well soon card and sets off to Oggy’s house where he plans to nurse him back to good health.

As well as his basket of food Mortimer carries an anthology of adventure stories, which before the story proper has begun, Mortimer is seen reading intently on a page inside the front cover. This is certainly a clue to how the story is set to develop from here, as author/illustrator Nick Ward cleverly weaves together a host of classic fairy tales to create this innovative iteration.

Just as Mortimer sets off on his journey, ominous rain clouds form overhead. This is just the start – to reach his friend, Mortimer has to face many perils along the way, including a rushing river and a (really quite) scary forest, as well as using the contents of his hamper to save himself by placating a series of baddies that would otherwise gobble him up.

There are lots of enjoyable details, such as the touch of pantomime when a gnarling crocodile hot on Mortimer’s heels breaks through the ‘fourth wall’ and turns to the reader, finger to its mouth to tell us to “shhhh”, as it creeps up behind our furry protagonist.

The book gives a clear nod, we think, to classic tales of mild peril including Little Red Riding Hood, Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gruffalo. Mortimer’s Picnic certainly brings something new to the genre, not least through Nick Ward’s distinctive Brothers’ Grimm meets Punch-and-Judy style illustration (we were already fans of his work from reading his illustrated chapter-book, Superbot, reviewed earlier).

Just when all seems lost, as Mortimer’s foes close in, a ‘deus ex machina’ intervenes to ensure an unexpectedly sweet and pleasantly surprising ending (not to be revealed here), which simultaneously reassures and delights.

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