Friday 27 May 2011

Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs

The rather cute pre-movie scenes on our blu ray copy of the movie "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" made me want to pick up the original book. As it's extremely cheap on Amazon at the moment (and seems to drift in and out of print) I thought I'd grab it and see what all the fuss was about. 

First up, it's worth stating that the movie was very loosely based on this book - so if you're expecting to see Flintlock Wood, the amazing Steve the Monkey (possibly the best sidekick character in any kid's movie of the last 30 years) or cute weather girls, think again. 

This book is more whimsical, charming and fantastically illustrated. 

Telling the tale of the sleepy town of Chewandswallow, a grandfather's tall story depicts a town at the mercy of food-shaped weather. The inhabitants of Chewandswallow don't go out for groceries, they step out of their houses and open their umbrellas to see what the weather holds. 

I loved Ron Barrett's excellent depictions of the food storms. Delicate little strokes of inkwork to flesh out flying bacon or storms of stale bread. Everything looks good enough to eat. 

So if you're a fan of the film, go grab the book anyway as it's a fine little bedtime story that isn't quite as manic and crazy as the movie, but definitely deserves a place in your bookcase. 

Charlotte's best bit: Flying olives!

Daddy's favourite bit: What would health and safety say about kids being hit in the face with red hot pancakes?

Rating: 5 out of 5
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I Dreamt I was a Dinosaur

We're big fans of these rather cute and beautifully put together Barefoot Books. Stella Blackstone and Clare Beaton's combination of rhyming couplets and superbly detailed sewn felt pictures compliment each other perfectly. 

In this tale of a youngster dreaming all about dinosaurs, the story gently takes us through various dinosaur 'breeds' and their jolly japes. Dappy about a Diplodicus? Partial to a Pterodactyl? Then there's plenty to see in this book, and let's face it, what kid of any age doesn't love Dinosaurs (except, as Charlotte points out, the robot dinosaur at the Natural History Museum in London - Far too scary!)

Charlotte's best bit: The Terrible T-Rex

Daddy's favourite bit: The superb sewn-felt pictures

Rating: 4 out of 5
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The Three Billy Goats Gruff (Ladybird First Favourite Tales)

This traditional tale has been reworked for the Ladybird First Favourite Tales series, with child-like illustrations and easy to follow text. 

Most adults will be familiar with the story of the three billy goats, the troll and the bridge. A time-worn tale indeed, but one that still tickles and entertains youngsters (particularly if, like me, you can't help but read these books while doing daft voices for all the characters). 

Irene Yates has done a nice job of making the book approachable for early readers, but also entertaining for children being read to. 

Charlotte's best bit - The troll (why do kids always love the monsters best!)

Daddy's favourite bit - The troll's well deserved demise.

Rating: 3 out of 5
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Tuesday 17 May 2011

The man whose mother was a PIRATE

Let's see now. If you had to tick off on your ten fingers some of the most endearing characters children latch on to at an early age, you'd probably mention dinosaurs (check), maybe even monsters (though only friendly ones - check), fairies and other mythical folk (check) and a whole zoo full of anthropomorphized animal characters (check check check). Oh, and of course pirates. 

It's easy to see the appeal of pirates to toddlers. They're naughty and they get away with it. They sail the seven seas in search of treasure. Oh and did I mention they're naughty and get away with it?

So in this book we find the rather whimsical tale of a rather boring accountant and his extremely vibrant and interesting mother, who just happens to be a pirate. They settle down in the big city. The man goes to work juggling figures but his mother yearns for the call of the sea. 

Begging his boss for time off (so it's not just me then!) to take his mother to the seaside, the man embarks on a journey of discovery with his mum, and they meet several fascinating characters along the way. 

There's a whopping great big message in this book that peppers the pages from start to finish. The ordinary, the everyday and the mundane should be shrugged off regularly in favour of something a bit more "derring do" and it takes a while for the accountant to figure this out (of course). 

Absolutely loved the pirate mum though. 

Charlotte's best bit: Pirate Mum's habit of shooting a silver pistol into the air when happy. 

Daddy's favourite bit: The man's boss. The epitome of bosses everywhere. "Turn up in a week or we'll replace you with a computer!"

Rating: 4 out of 5
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Up and Down

The boy and his penguin friend are back! If you remember our review of "Lost and Found" you'll remember we found Oliver Jeffers' rather touching tale of a lonely boy and a lonely penguin finding each other a fantastic book with great artwork. 

There's more of the same here, and this time the boy and his penguin friend want to solve one of life's greatest mysteries. Why penguins can't fly. 

There is, of course, a very good reason but you'll have to read the book to find out what it is. As usual though, it's the underlying study of true friendship that underpins Jeffer's excellent crisp illustrations. 

Now Jeffers is in the big league with his own animated features and toy merchandise based on his books, he's probably old hat to a lot of you - but if you haven't discovered one of the best author illustrators working in children's books today, it's high time you did. 

Charlotte's best bit: Penguin's various failed attempts at flight. 

Daddy's favourite bit: The sneaky nod to Jeffers' other books

Rating: 5 out of 5
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Tuesday 10 May 2011

Eeeek, Mouse!

After seeing "Aaargh, Spider!" read out on Cbeebies, we jumped at the chance to read "Eeeek, Mouse!" when we spotted it at the library. Though the books are similar, this mousey tale is excellent mostly because of the rather sneaky 'thought gags' the family's cat adds to the story. 

At first, like good old Grill Pan Eddy, this little nameless mouse is a thorn in the family's side but a little girl befriends the rascally rodent, and takes great pains to protect it from her daddy's crazy schemes of building a better mousetrap to catch the little blighter. 

If you want to know if she succeeds or fails, you'll have to go and read Lydia Monk's cute story (and if you spot any of her other books like "Oo Oo Gorilla", they're excellent fun!) Although very similar to Grill Pan Eddy, I think we preferred this one by a whisker. 

Charlotte's best bit: The mouse house behind the skirting board

Daddy's favourite bit: A cat with a screwdriver = dangerous!

Rating: 5 out of 5
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Grill Pan Eddy

Apologies for the rather thin-on-the-ground reviews of late, but our local library has been a hive of activity. Last week's foraging session for books had us coming up empty handed because we could barely get in the door of the place. Note to self: Try and get to the Library before 11.00 or suffer the consequences of the place being packed out by song-groupers!

I'm still catching up with the reviews from last week though, so here's Grill Pan Eddy, a nicely rhyming sing-song tale about a rather naughty mouse who moves into a family's home and trip-traps through their larder, their lounge and their food supplies with reckless abandon. 
The family try all sorts of ways to rid themselves of this pestilential rodent, but Grill Pan Eddy merely thumbs his nose at them, sings a little song and serves himself up some dinner from their table. 

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross have produced some excellent titles together and this is no exception. Ross's illustrations are jolly and wibbly, and Willis' rhyming text is fun. 
Oddly enough we ended up with two mousey books last week so stay tuned for "EEK! Mouse!", a very similar tale. 

Charlotte's best bit: The rat-catcher's dog (who could only catch fleas)
Daddy's favourite bit: Grill Pan Eddy leaving little trails of poo. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

(PS I'm canning the affiliate links at the bottom of reviews as no one's clicking on 'em. If you do feel like picking up books, please use the Amazon link to the right, thanks!)
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Thursday 5 May 2011

Ladybird Books drop the ball with no new Royal Wedding book

The recent Royal Wedding captured my daughter's imagination (and Mrs Peej and Charlotte dutifully watched quite a lot of the coverage on TV while grumpy daddy hid away upstairs) so it was a bit disappointing to find out that Ladybird Books would not be publishing an official Royal Wedding book for Will and Kate's big day. Oddly though, Ladybird produces a book on the engagement and run up to the event and a rather odd looking dolly dress up book, but doesn't seem to have anything planned for the day itself. 

My wife, and quite a few others of her generation grew up as avid royal watchers and also avid collectors of those cool pocket-sized Ladybird books that commemorated royal occasions and events with photographs and descriptions laid out and produced in a child-friendly way. Ladybird books set the standard for other publishers to follow and to be fair, those old books may seem a little antiquated and old fashioned compared to modern books and publishing standards. Nevertheless it seems like a massive missed opportunity for the publisher to produce another collectable that my daughter could pass on to her children in the same way we've shared our Ladybird books with her. 

As a side note, Ladybird states that it wants to carry on the tradition of producing affordable full colour pocket-sized books for children (and amazingly it was quite cool to find that they do still print and reprint classics like the Peter and Jane books!). So c'mon Ladybird, let's see you do Will and Kate Proud!
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The Littlest Dinosaur

From time to time we manage to spot books in our local library that have been read out during Cbeebies "Lunchtime Hour". Various Cbeebies characters and presenters come along, snuggle up in a comfy chair and read a children's book and some weeks back we remember Andy (tall lanky bloke, terrible hair but jolly and happy) reading out a "Littlest Dinosaur" tale. 

We grabbed this one on the basis of that, and it's excellent fun. A tiny squirt of a dinosaur is the last egg to hatch, and the poor little beast is soon finding life hard in a dinosaur filled world where everyone else is gigantic. 

His brothers and sisters trample the poor little fellah into the dirt when they play games, the neighbours point and laugh and soon the little mite feels completely useless. 

As we all know though, the biggest hearted heroes in children's stories are often those tiny little creatures who are folorn and neglected, and soon the Littlest Dinosaur gets the chance to prove his bravery.

With Charlotte being on a massive dinosaur kick at the moment (see my wife's excellent blog post about the superb Woodstock Museum in Oxfordshire) the littlest dinosaur is a fab family friendly book with great illustrations and one of a series featuring the scrawny but brave little scrap. 

Charlotte's best bit: Commenting on how odd the poor little dinosaur looks when he finally emerges from the egg

Daddy's favourite bit: The Long Neck

Rating: 4 out of 5
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