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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien

We've had this one for quite a while now. It's one of my favourites to read and I probably enjoy it as much, if not more than, Linus.

It's a fun and funny book. Sean Taylor's story is of a predatory owl who's cunning disguises don't go to plan. The illustrations by Jean Jullien are superb and suitably different for this picture book, they just work so well with the unique humour of the story. 

The hungry owl flies around the night sky in search of creatures to eat. He seems to have a ready supply of foolproof disguises that just manage to fall. Fortunately Hoot Owl has a happy ending and his final disguise helps leave him satiated.

There's a repetitive element to the story a good rhythm.
I'd rate this as one of our top ten books of, at least, the last year. I'd say it was in my top three, with Whoops by Suzi Moore and Chris Haughton's Shhh We Have a Plan.
It finishes with "until Hoot Owl returns". I do hope he comes back quickly.
Sean Taylor reads the book below

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Grandad's Island by Benji Davies

Of all the men in the world I'll admit to being one of the easier ones to get to cry. TV shows, films, plays, US presidential elections, they'll all manage to make me at some point.

Picture books, however, mostly don't. Until I read one particular book it had never even occurred to me that a book for 5 year olds would carry such emotion. That book (which i haven't yet written about here) was The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies. When I first read that, the impact of a boy separated and then reunited with his dad had me blubbing somewhat. It's a lovely read, beautifully illustrated and I'm sure I'll get round to a proper post about it soon.

Grandad's Island was released before Storm Whale in Winter but we hadn't gotten round to reading it. I knew little about it, even though I'd seen it in bookshops for some time. I'd always thought the cover made it look a little twee (yes, I know, never judge a book by its cover). I like to read them all with an open mind and usually make sure the first full read is just me and Linus, so any surprises are shared.
The story is about a boy, Syd, who visits his grandad. Simple enough premise, but grandad isn't there. Finally grandad calls to Syd and reveals the, seemingly, magic utopian world he's living in. I'd rather not give a spoiler, however the back of the book sums it up quite nicely;

"A beautiful and comforting book that shows how those who are dear to us remain near to us - however far away they may seem."

The illustrations are lovely and vibrant, remarkably uplifting and conveying the right tone for the story. 

I know from personal experience the difficulties faced by parents and children when confronting loss of any kind. I also know that picture books work well in relating many areas of a young person's life. Grandad's Island is an excellent source to either deal with a current issue or have in your library to refer back to. A highly recommended book.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Tickle Tree by Chae Strathie and Poly Bernatene.

Our recommendation this week, our first of 2017, is a book from 2008. 

Chae Strathie seems to have a relatively unique path in picture books. Linus really liked Gorilla Loves Vanilla last year, a funny tale of an array of animals shopping for ice cream. 

Compared to his earlier work such as Loon on the Moon and Jumblebum, Gorilla Loves Vanilla is positively mainstream, although very much on the good side of wacky.

The title of this blog relates to a line from Spike Milligan's Ning Nang Nong. So The Tickle Tree is  on our wavelength. There's a host of made up words in a fun rhyming story. It's about the endless places your imagination will take you and a great bedtime read. My near five year old wanted it read three times from the first read. 

The illustrations, by Poly Bernatene, as with all great picture books, really fit the words. There's a dreamy element to them with an amazing amount of detail.

It looks as though it's out of print but some copies on Amazon and EBay and I'm sure some libraries will have it too.
So if you're getting a little tired of picking up yet another Julia Donaldson, look out for The Tickle Tree or, the more readily available, Loon on the Moon for a nice bit of warm silliness.
It's worth checking out the Amazon page, if only for the rather angry three star review complaining about the made up words! Who wants imagination? (me, me, me!).

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Play-Doh Shuffle

At four and a bit Linus really loves games. He says that he wins every game because he knows how to cheat!
I was intrigued by this Play-Doh game. It's a simple pack of cards with different pictures of Play-Doh  creations on. The simple aim of the game is to match the cards up. The twist is that each match is created by the person so it can be anything from fire engines and strawberries are both red to creating a story that connects a castle with a water melon.
With no wrong answers there's a lot of scope for using your imagination and having fun.
We like to play these games when out and about. We were recently commended in a restaurant for playing games and not using phones or tablets for entertainment.
I must confess to letting the side down as I'm writing this blog post whilst sat at a cafe table having just played the game.-D'oh!
Shuffle seem to have a range of card games out. Our next to try is Nerf. If we like it I'll blog about it some time.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

This Is A Ball by Beck & Matt Stanton

A while ago I was reading The Book Chook's blog. It's an Australian blog and in this instance gave a top ten of children's books.
From memory there were several I was familiar with but one that stood out as being unfamiliar and sounded interesting.
At the time of reading the blog my uncle was in Australia and asked if I could think of anything for Linus' birthday that he could buy there.
Fast forward and here we are reading "This is a Ball". It's an almost perfect book for Linus, it's funny, irreverent and interactive.
The front cover starts the book off and it continues throughout with contradictory silliness and reader's commentary along the way.
I found myself reading it in the style of one of Ronnie Barker's Two Ronnies solo officious characters.
The only downside, and it's not a criticism, is that it has a relatively short shelf life so needs to be read sparingly. If we kept reading it every other day Linus would soon get fed up of it. He did ask for it repeatedly when we first got it though. The latest read was about the tenth time and still lots of fun.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Slug Needs A Hug

Author Jeanne Willis is quite a prolific children's writer, with a range of writing for a range of ages. Poles Apart and Ready, Steady, Jump are two we already know and love. I'll probably get to Poles Apart in a future post.
Illustrator Tony Ross is even more prolific, notably illustrating Horrid Henry. I must confess that I haven't heard of Dr. Xargle which was a series of books written by Willis and Tony Ross between 1988 and 1993. Even more strange is that this was turned into an animated series and Dr. Xargle was the last voice work of the late and especially wonderful British comedian Willie Rushton. I've never seen or heard of it, YouTube throws up nothing more than the intro. I shall make it my blog duty to uncover it somewhere and watch it for you (or maybe just for me and Linus!).
With such a distinct back catalogue between them it's nice to see that they haven't phoned this one in and it really is a wonderful book. The title goes some way to telling the tale, a baby hug wants a hug from his mum. He seeks out advice from other animals who offer their assistance. The rhyming story is funny enough but the illustrations enhance it to a fabulous picture book.
It's an easy rhythm to read and Linus likes it. He especially likes disclosing why Slug's mum doesn't do hugs. I won't spoil the plot, but you may be able to work it out for yourself without the book. Although it is well worth a read.
This is one book I could see quite easily translating to a stage show, I'd quite like to play the goat if anyone's casting.
Alongside this, for story time tonight, we also read Mr. Forgetful (Roger Hargreaves) and Pass It On (Sophie Henn).

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fathers and Son's Day

I thought of writing this post a few days ago and as Father's Day was approaching it seemed more relevant.

Lately, Linus has been having some minor problems getting to sleep and a little anxiety settling down. After putting him down he'll ask whichever one of us is there to stay a while. I've been trying to get it so he will be less anxious and allow us to leave earlier. In that respect I think we're getting back there.

On one of the more anxious nights I thought he had dropped off and was just starting to stand up, he turned his head around to make sure I wasn't leaving. In that moment he turned his head I saw my dad and was transported to a much sadder place, probably exactly ten years prior to that moment.

In 2005 my dad was seriously ill, having lost my mum and sister in the previous twelve months, there was just the two of us. He was in hospital most of the time from (I think) February until he died on his 70th birthday in August. Some days were better than others, some days he was awake and alert, others he was in what I would describe as mini comas, just sleeping for more than a day at a time.

When he was awake, I'd often try and see if I could get him to think of a future, he never could. When that failed I'd talk about other stuff, he'd ask about work, from what I remember I didn't get a great deal of time to do any but just about managed. I didn't really get much chance to do anything beyond eating and going to hospital, there was no way I was going to have a day when he'd be alone. After such a long time in hospital he ended up in a room of his own and I'd given up on any idea of when visiting hours were. I just turned up and the hospital staff were happy to let me, I was often the only one who could calm him down if he was anxious. His ill health had made his temperament volatile and it was a vicious circle. Often the hospital staff made it worse and spent hours trying to settle him, I could do it in a minute or two.

So, I'd sit by his bed, sometimes we'd talk, sometimes he'd sleep. Seeing him wake and be pleased to see me was somehow worth it. There was a smile and a flicker of life that was otherwise missing. Perhaps in the moment of just waking up there were no problems, my mum and sister were still alive and he was still fit and healthy. On the other side was sometimes him not wanting me to go. The irony was that he was hanging on to life because he didn't want me to be alone, yet he needed me more than I needed him. So, sometimes I would sit and wait until he fell asleep, occasionally I'd get up thinking he was asleep and he'd swiftly turn his head wanting me to stay a little bit longer. A swift turn of the head, my dad had probably seen me do the same when I was a little boy and didn't want him to leave. Then I saw it again at Linus' bedtime. Being there for my dad was an option I chose to accept, being there for Linus is an obligation I cherish.

I hope one day that Linus has a child he watches fall asleep. I hope he doesn't ever have to put himself in a position to watch me.