Saturday, 10 August 2013

An exciting new publishing company for books that unusual or different. I can especially recommend :
Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson  which I have reviewed on The Bookbag:

This is a wonderful book with a very unique message about accepting yourself just as  you are. I would also highly recommend this to parents of girls fed up with the typical princess fare.

There are two main characters. Timothy Limpit is a troll. Most trolls are loud, messy and rude, but Timothy is quiet, polite and tidy. Tabitha Lumpit isn't really bad, but she is messy, very loud and extremely active. And at times she is a bit rude, picking her nose, jumping up and down and shouting. My son felt terribly sorry for her as she jumped up and down in a mud puddle and her parents look on very sadly, wishing she were more like them. Meanwhile, the trolls have been cruel to poor Timothy, telling him he a rubbish as a troll. The two misfits meet and get a brilliant idea. They'll swap places. Timothy goes to live with Tabitha's parents and Tabitha goes to live with the trolls. Remarkably, Tabitha's parents do not notice the difference in their daughter's appearance, but only how neat and tidy she has become. They both have a grand time for awhile, until they realise that they are no longer different from anyone around them. They enjoyed being unique. Finally, they swap places and go back to their own homes. The trolls had missed Timothy, and were happy to have him back; he brought something unique to their lives. As for Tabitha's parents they were so happy their old Tabitha back that the whole family ended up jumping on the sofa together.

 I like the book because it very subtly tells a child that is OK to be different. That they don't have to be like everyone else to be loved, valued and important.

To see the complete review, please visit:

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Books for boys - graphic novels.

 There was a time when teachers frowned on reading comic books. They were considered the junk food of literacy - too much would rot your brain. But comics were books that children wanted to read, that they saved their own pocket money to buy, and often were treasured possessions. Most importantly, the illustrations allowed children, especially boys to connect with the stories at a different level. I know when I read I visualise everything - it as if I can see each scene in my mind, but many children, especially boys can not do this. I have found my own sons enjoy made up stories far more if I really describe each scene to them. As they grow older, most will develop the ability to visualise the story more, but comics and graphic novels provide a bridge, a means to keep children reading while the ability to picture a story in the minds eye develops.  I think all children enjoy picture books when they are younger, but sadly many boys stop reading when they outgrow picture books. Graphic novels and comics can counter this trend.

Unfortunately - graphic novels and comic books for young boys can be difficult to find, especially if they are not into super heroes. These are a few good ones we have come across:

1. SilverFin: The Graphic Novel - Charlie Higson  *****
This is the single best graphic novel for boys I have seen. Something terrible is going on at Lake Silverfin, behind the heavily guarded fences. An unimaginable terror lurks as a crazed arms salesman and a mad scientist team up to create an aberration of nature. When a young boy sneaks under the fences for a chance to fish in this secret lake, an chain of events is set off which include Bond, and deeply affect the man he will become. 

This book has outstanding illustratins to match a brilliant storyline. Having read both the original YA novel and the graphic novel, I can say that nothing has been lost in the transfer to a different format. My son read both books as well at age 6 and these were the books that drove him on to improve his reading ability, which skyrocketed when he discovered Charlie Higsons books.

Please see my complete review @

2. Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz *****
There are 4 books in this series, all featuring a reluctant teenage spy - Alex Rider.
I'll use my son's opinion on the books rather than my own, but I did like these as well. My son received this book shortly before turning 7. When he first started reading I noticed him walking in the hallway book in front of him, reading as he walked. I asked his opinion and received "Mmmgghb" in reply. I will take this a compliment on the book - he was not willing to interrupt his reading to reply. He proceeded to the loo and came out a few minutes later, book still in hand, returned to his room and was not seen again until the book was finished.

After the book was complete, I was able to get a more detailed reply from him. He does still like James Bond the best of all, but this book comes in a very close second. Considering just how much he loves James Bond - that is very high praise indeed. He read the following books immediately afterwards and had to wait for the 4th. I was quite impressed that any time for the next several months you could ask him how long until the next Alex Rider book was out and he could always give an accurate answer.

 My son especially loved the fight scenes in this book - the very part I found to unrealistic - as well as all the gadgets. He also especially liked the parts where Alex shows off his skill in martial arts, as my son is involved in karate as well. I do think my son ( only an orange belt now) hopes he will be capable of such moves by the time he reaches black belt as Alex has, but they are a bit like "Kill Bill" if you ask me. I think these are features that will appeal to most boys. The books have plenty of action and excitement and is ideal for boys who may get bored easily with a slower moving story.

I have reviewed the books individually here:

3. Cherub the Recruit Graphic Novel - Robert Muchamore  ****
The Cherub books are apt to appeal to many of the same readers as Alex Rider. Both have the premise of children being used by MI6 as undercover agents, but while Alex Rider is the only child agent, CHERUB has a whole school of misfit children gathered from care homes and trained as spies - although in many cases I feel they work more as undercover police agents than espionage agents. This does stretch the limits of credibility even more - to imagine an entire industry devoted to training juvenile agents, but it also gives the books a completely different scope. They deal with friendships, relationships and the trials and tribulations of growing up. They also tackle complex ethical and moral issues in what I consider a very positive manner, but some of this is lost in this adaptation. This becomes more of a simple spy book, packed with action and adventure, but lacking some of the philosophical elements

My son really enjoyed this book, and he asked if we could buy book 2 in this series ( so far there isn't one). The fights and karate especially appealed to him, but he thought all the training exercises looked great fun. One illustration shows a very dangerous looking training exercise for heights which he thought looked brilliant, running along a narrow walkway with no hand rails thirty feet off the ground and leaping over gaps. I am sure every child who has ever read these books wished there really was a school like CHERUB so there is a bit of vicarious excitement in this book. This book does have quite the character or story development of the original, but it is a fun book and ideally sited to keep younger boys interested. I can not see adults really wanting to read this book though, and I don't think it will engage teenagers in the way the original series did. I would recommend this book for ages 7- 11. Sadly, the illustrations are not of the same quality as the writing, meaning I could only give this book 4 stars.

4. Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel - Eoin Colfer  ****
My son enjoyed this, but he prefers books without magic. Still it is a well written, fast paced book with very good illustrations as well.

5. The Hitchhiker (EDGE - Horowitz Graphic Horror) *****
Terribly short, but well written with a brilliant twist and just the thing to entice reluctant readers.

If you are looking for Superhero graphic novels these are a few of our favourites. All of these are suitable for younger readers, but the first three are more mature, while the following three could suit a child as young as 4 if a parent will be reading them:
1. Superman/Batman: Search for Kryptonite - Michael Green  ******

2. Green Lantern: Secret Origin - Geoff Johns *****

3. Superman: Earth One - J. Michael Straczynski *****

4. Batman: Brave and the Bold: Emerald Knight- Landry Q. Walker *****

5. Batman: The Brave and the Bold - Matt Wayne

6. Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes - Marvel Comics

Finally - don't forget the classics:

1. Classics Illustrated: The War of the Worlds- H. G. Wells *****

2.Time Machine, The (Classics) *****

3. The Swiss Family Robinson (Classics)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Books for boys - tweens

 They are too old for picture books, but not quite old enough for young adult books. Finding books for boys ages 7 -12 can be a nightmare, but no parent wants to see a child lose interest in books. So many parents tell me their boys just don't like books. All I can say is they haven't found the right books. Boys love books just as much girls do - they just don't love the same books girls do and finding the right ones can be a real challenge. Below are some of the very best books we have found for this age group.

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O Hara  has everything boys love - a mad scientist, a computer hacker, a zombie (even if it just a goldfish) and huge helpings of humour. This is a very firm favourite of both of my boys - ages 4 and 8 and we absolutely can not wait for the sequel - or should we say
Sea-quell ? If you have a son between the ages of 5 -12 this book is a must have. Please see my complete review @

Astrosaurs by Steve Cole:
There seem to be certain subjects that are certain to get young boys interested in a story. I think Steve Cole wanted to make sure he didn't miss any of them with this book. There are sword fights, poop fights, poo filled missiles, a green slime monster, pirates, dinosaurs and more in the wacky space adventure.

I started buying these books for my youngest, who is only 4, as he always wants dinosaur stories at night, and after telling our own make up stories, I like something I can just read and not have to think. I really didn't expect my oldest, who has just turned 8 to like these at all. After all, he complained bitterly about other series having dinosaurs and humans in the same story - which is of course impossible - so I didn't really think he would fancy the idea of talking herbivores flying about in poo powered space ships, having battles with poo torpedoes and poo blasters as they travelled through the Jurassic Quadrant, but I failed to appreciate the attraction of loads of **** in a story.

The entire Astrosaurs series is based on the premise that before the meteor hit earth, the dinosaurs abandoned the planet - flying off to colonise space. The herbivores have the Vegetarian Sector, while the meat eaters reside in the Carnivore Sector. These two areas are separated by a thin "veg meat" or neutral zone. Our heroes are a small band of Astrosaurs dedicated to patrolling the Vegetarian Sector and protecting it against attacks by unscrupulous carnivores. The main characters are: Captain Teggs the stegosaurus, Arx the triceratops, Iggy the Iguanodon and Gypsy who appears to be a cross between a Corythosaurus and a Parasaurolophus. This team is assisted my a crew of Dimorphodon.

There are 30 books in print so far, ( including the Astrosaurs academy books)  of which we own over 20, and I expect to have the whole collection soon. One of the wonderful things about this series is that it gets boys reading and keeps them reading. These books are action filled, full of humour, much of it toilet humour, and just gross enough to keep boys interested, but the series would have petered out after a few books if that was all there was to it. They are also well written, with excellent characters and friendships between the characters, and often have a moral to the story as well. I can't recommend them highly enough,

See my review for Astrosaurs: The Star Pirates @

or Astrosaurs The Castle of Frankensaur @

Magic Ink by the same author is another unmissable book for tweens. It has a very unlikely pair of superheroes, a young boy who wants to be a comic book illustrator, and of all things a talking pig, combines modern day comics with Arthurian lore and has quite a moral to the story but it pulls all of these things off perfectly. Please see my complete review @

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
We originally started this series based on a misunderstanding. My son had heard about the book but thought it was called something like "Diarrhoea Wimpy Kid". However once he got started with this series he loved them and raced through book after book, finishing the entire series win less than a month - and it would have been less than this if he hadn't had to wait for new books to arrive.
The book is about a very ordinary 11 year old boy, and the trials and tribulations of his life. It is a book that will have children laughing out loud. Most boys are going to relate to some aspects of the book and most off all - it makes boys want to read. There are plenty of jokes and enough situations that are close enough to real life to make them funny.

This book is very easy to read. I would put it on the same level as Horrid Henry, but while he outgrew Horrid Henry some time ago, this still captures his interest and I feel this will appeal to an older audience than Horrid Henry. It is difficult for me to place age levels on a book as every child reaches reading milestones at different ages, but at age 7, this book gave my son no problems at all. In fact it is far to easy to present any challenge - but sometimes that can be a good thing. Of course children do need to read more difficult books and stretch their ability - but some times it is nice to just relax and coast for awhile. This book just makes reading fun for him. It has him waiting on the postman with more anticipation than he shows for a new video game and has made reading one of his favourite activities again. He says this book should get more than 5 stars as it one of the best ever. I can not give this anything less than 5 stars after my sons reaction.

Varjak Paw
Don't write this book off if your son does not like cats. There is so much more to this book than just a story of a karate kitty. Varjak Paw will learn martial arts, but more importantly he will learn how to survive, how to trust others and to be worthy of trust, and how to trust himself. This book touches on racism, prejudice and selfishness, but even more on the triumph of good over evil, once good takes a stand - and it does have something for dog lovers as well. An incredibly moving, fast paced story of action and adventure that will never be forgotten.

I'm Dougal Trump . . . Where's My Tarantula? by Dougal Trump
Another favourite with my 8 year old son, this book follows the standard diary format, but with a clear standard font type  which is double spaced to make it easier for struggling readers. This is a quick moving, humorous read about the misadventures of a fairly normal wee boy who gets mixed up with an evil animal thief while looking after a Goliath Bird Eating Spider. There are plenty of other boy friendly animals as well, and a few scientific facts to boot.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Unusual Alphabet Books for older children

Although I purchased these for a younger child (age 4)  most of these books are intended for older children - some are listed as meant to be for adults. My youngest delights in scary, spooky, frightening books usually meant for much older children, so has really enjoyed these, but many are not suitable for all younger children.

 These would be most helpful for older children, who for what ever reason have not learned their Alphabet at an early age, but feel embarrassed and bored with the typical A is for Apple type books.

If you are looking for unusual alphabet books for younger children - or ones that are nor frightening please try my home education blog:

I have an extensive list of alphabet books including tactile alphabets, dinosaurs, animals and traditional alphabet books.

An Alphabet of Dinosaurs by Peter Dodson

An Alphabet of Dinosaurs is beautifully illustrated with vivid, colourful paintings showing a great deal of artistic talent. In addition to a full page painting for each letter there is also a very detailed black and white drawing of the animals skeleton. This makes this book ideal for art students as drawing the skeleton of an animal can help you draw more realistic pictures. Some years ago, when I used to draw myself I practiced quite a bit drawing animal skeletons in very light pencil and then fleshing them out with muscle and skin. Next to the skeleton is a simple figure of a man to give an idea of the size of this animal.

Each letter also has a long paragraph describing the animal. This is written on a fairly high reading and interest level. For instance, one sentence reads "Erlikosaurus belonged to a group of dinosaurs called the segnosaurs".  This is a well written scientific book which is certain to please young paleontology fans, well suited to an older child or even adult. 

Like many other alphabet books for older readers though, this does not clearly display the letters. The only place a child will  see the letter is at the start of each dinosaurs name. This is written in an artistic and highly stylized manner, which looks lovely, but really is not the best for anyone just learning to read.  I drew large letters into the book myself. Then having seen how helpful stickers were in an alphabet book, I also placed foil alphabet stickers for each letter on the page with the text. With minor alteration this book can suit any age.

Full review on dooyoo

Z is for Zombies An Illustrated Guide to the End of the World by Adam Troy Castano

This is not classed as a child's book and could give many horrible nightmares. It is intended as a humour / horror book for adults. I feel it would perfectly suit much older children learning to read, especially teenagers. That said, my own sons , ages 4 and 8 do enjoy this, but this is quite violent. It is illustrated n black and white with red. The illustrations are of an exceptionally high quality, which may make this more frightening. There is blood, death and gore.My sons' favourite part is : "O -Omigod Omigod Oh Jesus Get it off Get it off Me .....".

From an educational standpoint - the main problem with this book is that letters are given in Upper Case only. Of course you can add stickers, or draw in a set of upper and lower case letters, but the art work is so good I hate to mar the book and have left this one as it is.

Z is for Zombie Merrily Kutner:

 Z is for Zombie is a very unusual alphabet book. Each page has a picture of a monster or some other creepy item, followed by a short rhyme such as " Bogeyman: Darkness masks the Bogeyman, till you're sleeping that's his plan". The illustrations are usually in darkened shades, some showing the subject very clearly, such as a sink full of bloody eyeballs, the cyclops eating a man, or a queen with her head in her hands, while others only give you a hint of things to come - a clawed hand reaching in the door for the bogeyman, or a set of eyes staring in a bedroom window for the end of this book accompanied by this warning "Beware the night and what it brings, for out their lurk such scary things".

My sons love this book, but I do not feel this book would have been of any use in teaching the alphabet without being altered. It has the name of each spooky item, but this is in a highly stylised block text, which I would find difficult to read if I did not already know the spellings for each word. Lower case "U" is the worst. It is presented as a black square shape with a white diamond in the middle, but all of the letters in the name of each subject are splattered looking, as if made by dipping a shape in ink, and slopping tons of extra ink over the letter. It actually doesn't look bad. There is a certain artistic quality to it, but it hardly suits a child who is just learning to read.

To make up for this shortcoming I placed large foil alphabet letters to the side of each poem. This worked out perfectly as the letters are very visible, but can also be traced with a finger allowing a child to learn the alphabet through touch as well. Of course you could simply write the letters in with marker, but having used the stickers, I would highly recommend this - and if possible - a textured sticker would work even better. I'm actually glad now this did not have the letters printed on the page as the stickers worked out so much better.

This does have lovely illustration, and is much more mature than the simple baby book type ABC's so if you are willing to alter this, I am happy to recommend it for older children. Some younger children will enjoy it as well, but others may be frightened.

Full review on Dooyoo

The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman
Fun illustrations with additional items beginning with each letter to find in the illustrations and a dark and twisted sense of humour. This book is about two children on a dark and dangerous journey with pirates, monsters and possible cannibalism.  The pictures are cartoon like, and the monsters are not really frightening, but it may still upset sensitive children. I do not feel this one would appeal to teens as much, but might very well suit children of 8 -10.

 This has a large Upper case letter at the top of each page. It is painted, not ordinary print, but easy enough to read. I have added small stickers for upper and lower case letters myself, but this is not strictly necessary. This does have one major fault though. The letters W and V are reversed and W has vampires and a venus fly trap while V has a witch and a warlock. Oops. My children found this mix up quite funny though.

Animalia by Graeme Base
Beautifully illustrated animal ABC - suits all ages. The hidden items in the pictures make this much more interesting for older readers. This does not display individual letters, but the letters are prominently displayed  the text features all words starting with the featured letter.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Books with black humour for children

Warning: These reviews all contain spoilers. These books have shocking endings that some will find very amusing, but may upset other children . These books do not end with happily ever after - they end with dinner and the main characters are also the main course.

1. It Ate Billy On Christmas - Roman Dirge
The most horrible, twisted book for children ever written! Do not give this to a child without the parents reading it first. This book will delight some children - but traumatise others.

 It begins with a lonely little girl who is traumatised by a truly evil older brother who makes every waking moment misery. He parents are cold and indifferent, and she lives a life of constant abuse at the hands of her brother, neglect from her parents and cruelty from school bullies. The only thing Lumi has ever really wanted is a puppy - but Billy destroys anything she cares for, breaking her toys, killing her hamster - and he is thought to have killed the neighbours cat as well.

Meanwhile in a deep dark well lives a creature of unspeakable horror, for many years it has fed on the neighbouring children, but then the well was closed off and no longer used, the beast was forced to survive on insects - even a stray cat, growing more and more hungry and desperate. Finally, as Christmas Eve comes, it can bear no more. It emerges from it's lair - looking for food. Creeping and crawling it inches closer to the home of Lumi and Billy. I quite like the way the author builds the suspense as the creature comes closer and closer. It finds the chimney and makes it's way down.

This horrible creature and a small loveless child will come together, and despite the fact that it is horribly ugly, evil and a monster, Lumi will come to love it with the pure innocence of a child, thinking at last she has her long dreamed of puppy. I think it goes without saying that Billy will be eaten - and for once Lumi will be safe and comfortable in her life - but where will the monster stop?

 This book is horrible, sick and twisted, but my children loved it. I realise some people will feel it is wrong to read such a book to a child, but I grew up on a diet of war stories from my Grandfather, the original Grimm's fairy tales and the best of all treats- ghost stories in a darkened house. My children are easily able to distinguish between fictional and real violence - and like many children very much enjoy the old fashioned tales where something is eaten up. Perhaps this dates back to a very primal time when our greatest fears were really hunger - or finding enough to eat and in fact being eaten by another hunting beast.

A part of me hoped that Lumi would change the monster. That given pure and innocent love - this evil creature would learn to love as well. But this is not a heartwarming tale of redemption. Love does not triumph. There is no redemption here, nor any hope of it. The monster remains a monster, destroying anyone foolish enough to love it.  And so the moral of this story, at least in my opinion, is - don't fall in love with a monster.

If you are considering buying this - please read my full and more detailed review here:
This does give more spoilers, but it essential that parents know the ending of this book before considering it for a child.

2. Rotten and Rascal
Rotten and Rascal are two terrible Pterosaur twins. They live in a land filled with thunderstorms, active volcanoes and landslides - but the noisiest thing of all is the screeching and screaming of two quarrelsome siblings - meaning their neighbours never get a minutes peace and quiet. The illustrations in this book are absolutely perfect. You can see the little Pterosaurs faces scrunched up and beaks open wide as the scram, shout, screech and bellow and each other morning noon and night. My sons loved the expressions on their angry faces - as well as all the screaming screeching and shouting.

Now the prehistoric pest were always arguing, but one day they both dived down to catch the same fish. Rotten said he should have it, because he saw it first, but Rascal felt he should have the fish because he was the loudest. A terrible screaming hullabaloo ensued until Triceratops tried to settle the argument by saying the fish should go to the Pterosaur with the best beak. So naturally the next screaming argument was over who had the best beak. Other prehistoric reptiles suggested other ways to settle the argument - all of which led to more screaming and arguing. Even a suggestion that the fish should go to the dinosaur who argued the least erupted into a screaming match with each dinosaur claiming they argued least. This was another part my sons found especially funny with the little creatures screaming and spitting about how little they argued. Ankylosaurus thought the fish should go to the toughest dinosaur and this resulted in a terrible fist fight, with even more screaming and shouting.

All this racket disturbed a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He is drawn to look very angry with furrowed brows and a huge mouth full of teeth as he yells at the screaming twins to quit fighting and yelling - so we have even more screaming! T Rex demands to know which little reptile is " the fattest, the juiciest, the crunchiest and the tastiest". Of course this sets off another screaming match with each Pterosaur claiming to be the fattest, juiciest and tastiest. And finally silence fell as for the first time ever the twins stopped their incessant squabbling. The illustrator has done a brilliant job drawing the T- Rex leering down with drool dripping from his sharped toothed jaws as the twins stare with wide open mouths finally shocked into silence.......

3. I Want My Hat Back
 The story itself is quite simple. Bear has lost his hat - and he wants it back. Bear is a good natured fellow. He politely asks each animal he meets if they have seen his hat, and helps others where he can. Most of the animals reply that they haven't seen his hat. One asks what a hat is. Only one answers quite rudely. Rabbit's lines are in red as he angrily replies that he hasn't seen it - he wouldn't steal a hat and why is Bear asking him? Bear walks away politely but later realises Rabbit was wearing a red and pointy hat. Bear's hat was red and pointy. A very angry Bear runs back shouting "You stole my hat!"

The next scene shows a very happy bear wearing his hat. But when squirrel asks if he has seen a rabbit wearing a hat he replies angrily - in red that he has not. He has not seen any rabbits anywhere. He would not eat a rabbit. "Don't ask me anymore questions" he says.

This is one of those books you just have to get very involved in reading - shouting and taking the huff when reading the conversations in red. It would easily adapt to a play for beginning readers. My sons love the arguing, but especially the realisation that bear has eaten rabbit. Other children might not find this nearly so amusing though.

In addition to being a funny story - this book is ideal for children learning to read.  It is very simple, with large bold text which is double spaced on a white background. The vast majority of the text is in black, but a limited amount is in red for emphasis. Most of the words are very easy words to read such as "hat", "look" and "please". There is quite a lot of repetition, and there are only 68 different words used to create this whole story. This makes it ideal for beginning readers, and I would compare this with Oxford Reading Tree level 2 or perhaps 3. The most challenging words in this book were "pointy", "excuse" and "questions", but even if your child is unfamiliar with these words, the vast majority of the words will be familiar to any child who is beginning to read - so you can easily point out the 3 most difficult words. As far as reading level, I would put this at age 5 - possibly even age 4 and feel this would be easier for a new reader than even the easiest of Dr Seuss books.  Because this book has a unique - if slightly twisted approach I feel this book would be perfect for older children who struggle to read more advanced books but feel embarrassed or bored with traditional picture books.

4. This Is Not My Hat
This story is about a small fish who steals a hat from a much larger fish. He is quite pleased with himself, gloating about how he will get away with his crime - but crime doesn't pay and tiny fish should not antagonise big ones. Tiny fish swims through blackened ocean happily talking to himself about how big fish will never know what happened, will never find him etc.... All the while big fish is swimming behind getting closer and closer. I will not give away the ending - but I will say it might upset some children. However, the unhappy parts are not actually shown, they are simply implied by illustration so you can easily craft your own happier ending.

This has an absolutely delightful deadpan humour. My children are ages 4 and 7, and although my 7 year old rarely reads picture books anymore, he did enjoy this - and I have to admit - so did I. The illustrations are striking as well. I very much like the black water as opposed to traditional blue. It adds to the uniqueness of this book. It also a nice book to discuss the morality of taking things that do not belong to you with children.

But in addition to being a brilliant story certain to entice reluctant readers, this book, is a wonderful resource for reading instruction. The early readers by Dr Seuss were limited to 250 words. This book uses only 92 and almost all of these are extremely easy to read words, which would be on the same list the Dr Seuss books were drawn from. Most of the words are common one syllable words easily sounded out with phonics and familiar to most children such as "hat", "fish", "big" and "small". The most challenging words in this book were "probably" and " worried" but if a child can read the rest of the book they can easily learn two new words for one book. In addition, the text is in a very large clear black font, on a white background with good spacing in between lines, making it ideal for new readers or children with dyslexia. Most pages only have one or two short sentences - this would make the ideal reading primer and it is ever so much more fun than Peter and Jane. It's high interest level and slightly wicked wit will appeal to older children as well, making this the perfect book for children who are reading below age level. This really is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages.

5. Tadpole's Promise - Jeanne Willis
Tadpole's promise is written by Jeanne Willis. We have enjoyed many of her books including: Who's in the Loo, That's Not Funny, The Really Rude Rhino and Bottoms Up. Most of the books we have by her tend to be funny, but at first glance this looks very sugary sweet. It begins with a tadpole and a caterpillar who meet and fall in love. The caterpillar has coloured stripes down her side and the tadpole calls her his beautiful rainbow. The Tadpole is shiny and black and caterpillar calls him her shiny black pearl. She declares her love for him, and makes him promise never to change.

But change is part of a caterpillars nature, and soon he grows legs. The caterpillar is angry because he has broken his promise and the poor besotted tadpole begs her forgiveness. The next time he has front legs and the caterpillar is even more upset saying she will forgive him this time - but it is his last chance. Of course he continues to change and the butterfly refuses to forgive him the third time. She doesn't think he is beautiful anymore and refuses to forgive him for changing. the poor frog is heartbroken - he would happily give up his legs for her - but as much as he wants to, he can not change what he is. The caterpillar builds a cocoon and falls asleep. When she wakes up she decides to forgive the caterpillar after all. She doesn't even think of asking him for forgiveness. She flutters down to ask a frog if he has seen her friend, but before she can finish her sentence the frog has shot into the air and gobbled her up. Then he sat back down to think of his beautiful caterpillar and wonder where she could have gone.

My oldest son doesn't care as much for picture books anymore, but he will still listen to one the first time. He found this very amusing and we feel it would make a perfect stop motion project with a bit of plasticine. My youngest is only 4 and just starting to get to the age where he can laugh at awful things - as long as it is fiction. He did seem drawn in a bit by this story, feeling very sorry for the poor tadpole. He took an instant dislike to the shallow caterpillar, who could only love the tadpole as long as she found him beautiful and thought the ending was especially funny. I don't know if he would have liked this at all a year ago though, and might well have ended up feeling very sorry for the butterfly at the end. I would only recommend this book for children who do clearly understand that story books are not real. I can very clearly remember my youngest crying his eyes out at the ending of The Very Hungry Caterpillar two years ago - simply because he didn't want the caterpillar to change into a butterfly. I certainly would not have considered this book for a very long time after that.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Children's books about poo, farting, bums and underpants.

 The very mention of poo is enough to get many children giggling. Something about this topic delights young readers, and once again, anything that makes books desireable is a plus in my opinion. So here is the dirt on the very best books about poo.

1. The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business - Werner Holzwarth
The very best book ever about poo. This is one of our favourites, as my sons, like most young children find poo very entertaining. The main character is mole, who wakes up one morning to rather unpleasant surprise, just as he pokes his head out of his hole, a rather large poo plops down on his head. Mole spends the rest of the trying to find out who the culprit was. In his search he meets several different animals, who all give him a demonstration of how they eliminate waste. After a long and smelly day, mole at last finds the guilty party and takes revenge in kind, before retiring at last to his hole.

While some people might find this book a bit rude, crude, even distastful, those are just the qualities that make it so amusing to young children. My son laughed until he ahd tears in his eyes when we first got this book and even now it brings many a smile. A really delightful bedtime story - although perhaps not so well suited to mealtimes :) This is available in standard paperback, or a newer version, a board back with sound buttons. My sons do prefer the newer book - but the sounds are more musical than poo like in my opinion.

2. Bottoms Up - Jeanne Willis
This story starts with several small children carrying banners protesting nappies and asking "Why won't you let us run around in the nude?" In the next page the children move from nappies to pants, but this is not met with any happiness on the children's part. After all animals don't wear underwear do they? There is page after page of silly suggestions about different creatures in panties, knickers, bloomers etc... And of my sons very favourite part asking if wombats wonder if they must cover their ------. The answer is no of course "that would be silly". The book ends with the children stripping off and proudly displaying many bare bums.

Now from an adult point of view, this book may not seem terribly funny. In fact I'm sure a few people would find it in poor taste. To a two year old, the idea of all sorts of animals sticking out their underwear clad behinds is hilarious, but children taking their clothes off and mooning everyone is even more funny. My son knows this story by heart, but still can not listen to it without bursting into giggles.

  The text to this is very short, with a nice rhythm and rhyme to it which I think suits this age group especially well. There is also a picture of a child sitting on a potty which I think is good during the period when children are learning to use the toilet. The illustrations are really cute and very funny, especially to my son. he loves the pictures of the bear and elephant shaking their bums at everyone. Personally, I like the rather indignant look on the bullock wearing breeches.

We have had tis book for years now, and while it is not read as often as it once was, it still gets a laugh when it is brought out. I think this would best suit younger children perhaps 18 months - age 3, but my oldest did still have a laugh at age 6 - although at 7 he has completely outgrown it, and my 4 year does still keep this in our favourites book shelf.

3.The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas.
The story is about a very greedy little boy. He has mountains of toys but he wants so much more - so Santa Clause leaves him a very strange gift - a gigantic dinosaur egg with a very large dinosaur inside.  But for all the disgusting bits - and this book really is disgusting - it presents a message as well. Christmas is more than gifts and tinsel - what matters most at Christmas is the people you love - something Danny does come to realise - but is it too late?

Some very sensitive children might find some pages distressing- especially the part where Danny's family is eaten - but don't worry it will all come out in the end ---- literally. I don't think it can be taken as spoiler because the title clearly gives away the ending, but after eating everything from the Christmas Dinner and presents to Danny's family, pets and even Santa Claus the dinosaur finishes off by eating the whole house, leaving Danny alone in the snow.

The dinosaur is sorry and thinks of a way to fix things - so the dinosaur begins to poo..... and he poos and he poos and he poos. Out of his bum comes the house, the Christmas presents, Santa and his reindeer, Danny's family and even the Christmas dinner. Everything is back to the way it began - more or less. Except that it is covered in poop and rather brown and smelly. But Danny has learned his lesson and won't be so greedy next year, and the dinosaur has learned his lesson too - I gather pooping a house, reindeer and all the other bits and pieces might not be very pleasant - he won't be gobbling anything else up either.

4.Who's In The Loo
The story is very simple and told in a rhyming text. It begins with the question, "Who's in the loo" and offers several very entertaining guesses. Could it be an elephant having a poo? A poor frozen penguin whose pee has has turned to ice midstream? Each suggestion is illustrated in a manner that completely captivates the children, but my son's favourites are the very expressive rhino who is feeling the after effects of a hot curry, and a very naughty monkey who looks like he is dancing in the toilet. Each page is delightful though right up to a very cute ending.

My opinion of this book is that it is absolutely brilliant. Not only does it help interest children in reading and books, but I think it also helps demonstrate what a toilet is for and encourage the use of the loo. I especially like that the creators of this book are not frightened to show the characters using the toilet, or even a stream or puddle of pee. I think being unwilling to discuss such things could only make it harder for a child to learn to use the toilet, and I think children should see this as a natural activity, not something embarrassing.

5. Farley Farts
Farley farts is an exceptionally rude tale about a frog with a serious flatulence problem. The story begins with Farley sitting on a pot, with loo roll beside him, and has several PFFFOOOOTTT!'s No matter what Farley is doing, he is farting as well. Finally his teacher and parents have had enough, and Farley is told he must stop. Without passing the gas though, it builds up and Farley swells up like a huge balloon before floating up into the sky. Only one thing can save him - you guessed it - farting!

6. Potty Poo-Poo Wee-Wee! - Colin McNaughton
The story itself is very simple, everyone seems to want Littlesaurus to use the potty - but he uses it for everything except what he is meant to. Littlesauraus delights in singing at the top of his lungs "Potty Poo Poo Wee Wee!" and no amount of telling him "That's rude" will get him to stop. Of course at the end he does use the potty - but only when everyone gives up on making him do it ---- there could be a lesson for all of us grown ups there :)

A few others to consider : Aliens Love Underpants,  Dinosaurs Love Underpants, The Pop Up Book of Poo, Cinderella's Bum and Sing a Song of Bottoms!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Books about naughty children part 2

6. The Christmas Crocodile - Bonny BeckerMy son's love books with plenty of naughtiness and mischief and this book is just packed with both. Alice Jayne finds a most unusual gift under the Christmas tree, a crocodile with a bright red bow wrapped around it's neck. From that point on it's one mishap after another, but the book always tell us "The Christmas Crocodile didn't mean to be bad, not really". And I don't think he does mean to be bad - it is just in his nature.

However, things go from bad to worse. The Christmas Crocodile eats his lovely red bow, then the presents, the wreath and the Christmas roast. He takes things too far when he decides to have just a smallish bite of Aunt Figgy's toes while she is sleeping and is banished to the basement. But that isn't the end of things - oh no, the Christmas Crocodile is only getting warmed up - but of course ""he doesn't mean to be bad - not really".

This is an absolutely delightful book. It is quite large and perfectly illustrated and certain to have any child in giggles at story time. Children of course relate to a creature that doesn't mean to be bad. After all most children don't really mean to get into trouble either. But the crocodile gets up to mischief on a scale most children could never dream of - and even if they could dream of it, eating the Christmas tree is just out of the question. Even a real crocodile would be hard pressed to eat many of the items in this story. Both of my sons, ages 3 & 6 enjoyed this and this is currently in the favourites pile, it just stays beside the bed as it gets read every night.

My favourite part of the story is Alice Jayne - she truly loves the crocodile - warts and all. No matter how many mistakes he makes, and how much trouble he gets into, she loves him just the same. This book is now so much a part of our family life that when one of my sons really misbehaves I'll say, "But of course you didn't mean to be bad - not really", and perhaps mention that sometimes crocodiles and little boys just can't resist. And of course like Alice Jayne - I love them just as much no matter what. Everyone needs an Alice Jayne in their life, someone who loves and accepts them, just as they are.

Another nice aspect of this book is that it very subtly draws attention to the fact that Christmas is not just a tree, gifts and a fancy meal. Thoese things are only trimmings. Christmas is about family and love and kindness to each other, and even without all the trimmings, it is Christmas just the same. Of course we love our tree and decorations, our presents and sweets, but this book offers a gentle reminder that Christmas is more than all that. It is so easy to get wrapped up in all the material aspects - we forget what is really important.

7. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak:

Note : This review is for the original storybook as shown, not the modern movie version. The movie is loosely based on this, but very loosely in my opinion.

Everything about it is perfect from the storyline to the lovely pen and ink drawings that illustrate it. You can see the expressions clearly on Max's face and the monsters are botth a bit frightening, and quite adorable at the same time ( not unlike some children ). I personally love the way the illustrations show the trees growing in Max's room, so that you can really imagine it changing. I think all children must imagine their own rooms growing into forests like this after reading the story, at least I did as a child.

The story itself is simple but unforgetable. Max is a typical boisterous wee lad, dressed up in a wolf costume. He seems bent on mischief, until his mother sends him to bed. There in his room a forest grows. Max discovers a boat and sails away for the land of the Wild Things. he fits right in among the beasts, so well that they make him king and enjoy a wonderful wild rumpus. But of course little boys can only remain beasts for a short time, and he longs to be home where someone loves him "best of all". So sails back on a tremendous journey until at last he reaches his own room and finds dinner waiting for him.

I remember this very well from my own child and remember be totally captivated by the magic of the story, you could almost smell the woody forest, and feel the sea breeze. I do remember I also cried my eyes out because the poor monsters were left alone and were sad, but then I was an odd child.

My sons both love this book. They jump up and dance around with waving arms and terrible roars and we have our own wild rumpus. They both loves stories about nauhty children anyway , and find the part about Max's misbehaviour hillarious. They also likes that Max's mother loves him best of all anyway. I think perhaps all children may like that reasssurance that even if they act up a bit, Mom always loves them "best of all".

8. David Goes to School
For those of you who are not familiar with this character, David is the literary creation of David Shannon and meant to be a literary incarnation of the author as a child. If David were a real child, he would be the type that would drive some adults bonkers. In reality he is not very far removed from many delightful children I have known - but I know a few people described them in other terms. He is the type of child that you have to meet halfway, and keep them busy, or they will drive you to distraction. But these children also have a certain charm. and a spark to them that simply can not be matched. I can't tell you how many times I have been the position as a youth leader of trying to correct one of these boys only find my eyes tearing up with repressed laughter - which of course they catch on to right away! You just can't stay mad at them.

David is character that parents will either love or hate. He has been described as ADHD in a few reviews - I'm not sure if it is possible to diagnose a fictional character, but he certainly has a few of the common traits. Some adults find him frightening, with sharp teeth and small black eyes. Others feel he is a terrible example for children. But for every one who despises David, there are many who love him. He is a bundle of irrepressible energy - childhood in a pure and natural state. Yes he gets in trouble - and plenty of it but you can't help but smile as you read about his escapades, and children relate to him completely. He allows them to experience pure naughtiness vicariously, and gives them some one to empathise with when they too are misunderstood by the adult world.

This book shows us a day at school for David. All of the books in this series have a very simple text - usually one short sentence in large black crayon. The book begins "No David!" and a brief list of school rules " No yelling, No pushing ......" Each of the following scenes will show David doing something he shouldn't - or at least that the teacher believes he should not and the teacher's words - always another way of saying no.

We have had the first two "No David!" books for years and they have been among our most loved and cherished story books. I had skipped this one simply because my son is home educated. I didn't really think they would relate much to the school setting, but when we bought the Christmas book, we bought this as well simply because there are no other books in this series that we do not own. I need not have worried about the boys not relating - mischief is mischief and once again David Shannon's book has become a fast favourite.

I really like the simple text in this book. It is so clear and easy to read. Of course this was very easy reading for my 6 year old, but my 3 year old was able to memorise this in a few days and recite the story as he followed the words on the page. I do believe this helps the children learn to read at an earlier age. The illustrations are lovely, and the book is quite funny.

On the downside though, I'm afraid this gives a rather negative impression of school. I can't help but think if you were reading this to a toddler who has not yet started school it might fill them with dread. My sons' eyes were rather wide in a few instances as they asked me if schools really do things like that. I like to hope they do not, but it did remind me of my own school days. There is one scene where David is clearly desperate for the loo. He is holding his hand up while squirming in front of the class. - while the teacher shouts "Again?!" I remember this all to well from my own school days as I developed rather serious kidney infections and only a letter from the doctor and a few weeks out of school convinced the teacher to be a bit more lenient. I still remember the teacher deliberately humiliating others who needed the loo though - and I have had lifelong kidney complications. I would hope these days have passed. If a prisoner or suspect is denied the right to use the toilet as needed during questioning, that is considered a clear violation of human rights that may result in any criminal case being thrown out as well as a hefty financial settlement. I would like to think the average school child enjoys as many human rights as prisoner. While this is the most disturbing scene in the book it is not the only one.

Of course part of the story is just ordinary childhood antics - a food fight in the lunch room, staying out late after recess. But the overall tone of the school setting here is very repressive and even frightening. There is nothing that makes school look fun or pleasant, and the only good thing to happen to poor David is to finally be allowed to go home after being held after class.

My sons love this book - and I have to admit I enjoyed reading it myself - at least the first 50 times. It is full of humour and a wonderful way to help children learn to read. Of course David is always in trouble - in every book - one expects him to be in trouble here too. I afraid it was a rather accurate representation of many schools years ago - I just like to hope they have moved on a bit. This is the only one of the David books where my sons were really concerned by the adults behaviour. Even in our situation, as a home educating family, I did have some concerns that this book could give my sons too negative a view of school. I home educate my son now, because I feel that is the best option at this point in time. Things change, and they may want to attend an ordinary school at some time, or we may find a school with more to offer. I do expect that they will attend regular schools at least by secondary school though, and I would not want them to think schools are awful. I would recommend this book for a child who is already comfortably established in a school routine. I'm sure most will find a few a bits to identify with and hopefully it will make their school look very good by comparison. I also think it would provide an excellent opportunity for children and parents to discuss your child's experiences at school. It could prove a real eye opener. As much as we loved the book - I can not find myself giving this an unqualified recommendation though. If your child has not started school yet - I would think very carefully before buying this and be certain to preview it carefully before sharing it with a child

9. Rotten and Rascal

 Two terrible  Pterosaur twins with a horrible case of sibling rivalry. This book will have children laughing until they are in tears, but may upset some childen with it's shock ending.  Please be aware thisnreview will contains spoilers.

The story begins with the pterosaurs arguing, they are constantly shreiking and screaming and none of the other dinosaurs get a minutes peace and quiet.. the arguing gets worse as they both fight over a fish. Each dinosaur suggests a wat to solve the argument, but it only makes things worse with a horrible hollering hullabaloo. Until T Rex comes along. He silences the twins for good and the ending will shick most children into silence as well.

10. That's Not Funny
A practical joking hyena deligts in the misfortune his jokes cause others - but he won't get the last laugh - nor will he come up smelling of roses in a book that could ahve qualified for mention in my list of books about poo as well.

11 Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson
 A wonderful story about a very active, energetic little girl and a shy and quiet troll who both learn that is OK to be different - we don't have to change who we are to be loved.