Category Archives: Themes

Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul and Maggie Caton

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Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Maggie Caton, hardback picture book, published by The Five Mile Press in 2017.

Blobfish lives at the bottom of the ocean all my himself. He is very lonely and would like some friends and some yummy treats. He decides to throw a party calling for everyone to come and join him and bring treats to share. Unfortunately, like a game of Chinese Whispers, Blobfish’s message is misheard, and repeated, and misheard again! With his party plans scuppered, will Blobfish get what he wants after all?

When my seven year old picked this book out at the library, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it nearly as much as I did. The story is funny, quirky and unpredictable. Each time the message is passed on, it undergoes a change that sounds similar to the last message, but which results in various odd and amusing behaviours. This made us laugh, T1 thought it particularly funny when the kids fling their underwear into the air (there’s nothing quite like toilet humour for a seven year old boy!). The story takes an unexpected turn (I won’t reveal what, you’ll have to read the book for yourself!), which we really liked. T1 thought it was hilarious! He loved the ending, and was pleased with how things worked out for Blobfish.

The simple, easy to read text, was accompanied by bright and vibrant illustrations. Each page was enjoyable to look at, and complemented the story perfectly. There were a couple of very busy scenes which we enjoyed perusing, and finding interesting or unusual things within.

Blobfish Throws a Party is most suitable for preschoolers and lower primary school students. While T1 could have read this book by himself, we enjoyed reading it together, and discussing what was happening. It was fun to repeat the misheard messages out loud to eachother too, hearing how they were similar sounds, but different meanings.

It’s Raining Cats! It’s Raining Dogs! It’s Raining Bats! And Pollywogs! by Sherry West

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It’s Raining Cats! It’s Raining Dogs! It’s Raining Bats! And Pollywogs! written by Sherry West and illustrated by Sherry West and Larkin Stephen-Avery, picture e-book, published by Morgan James Publishing in 2019.

The rain began with cats, followed by dogs, but then things just got crazy! A zoo of animals begins raining from the sky in this fun picture book.

This really is a laugh out loud silly rhyming story book full of  gorgeously rendered animals in pastel colours.

Each page contained just a few lines of easy to read text. Most of the text is printed in black, but a selection of words are brightly coloured, which draws the eye to them. The lyrical story flows well, making it perfect for reading aloud. And overall, it was such a fun book to read.

The illustrations are whimsical and stylised, and perfect for little readers. I love the herd of guinea pigs, and the mice, and the penguins, and… oh, really I just adored all of the illustrations; they are so cute!

It’s Raining Cats! It’s Raining Dogs! It’s Raining Bats! And Pollywogs! is most suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Lower primary school children may also enjoy reading this by themselves.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

Hurricane Vacation by Heather L. Beal

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Hurricane Vacation by Dr. Heather L. Beal and illustrated by Jasmine Mills, picture e-book, published in 2019.

Lily and Niko are visiting with their aunt and uncle when a hurricane watch is issued. They have never experienced a hurricane before, so Uncle Brian, Aunt Sarah and cousin Emma explain all about them.

Hurricane Vacation is an educational picture book designed to explain hurricanes to young children. It does this through the explanations given to Niko and Lily, and the actions that the characters need to undertake in order to prepare for the storm.

As well as being nicely integrated into the story, all of the information presented is clear and logical. The level of detail given is suitable for young children, including explanations of evacuation and storm shelters. A short song about shelters is included in the text, making it easy to remember that the shelters are the safest places to be during a hurricane.

It’s wonderful to see that even though something quite scary is happening in the story, the characters are all helping each other, and being happy to be together. The character’s reactions to the oncoming storm are calm and reasonable; there is no hysteria or anxiety, just the need to complete the preparations and get to the shelter safely. This helps remind us that we need to keep our heads in an emergency.

At the end of the story there are questions and activity suggestions, which will help to reinforce the knowledge gained via the story. There is also a list of resources for further investigation. Reading this story and trying some of the activities is a great way to prepare children for the possibility of a hurricane.

I really like the cover art for this book, it is clever and appealing, something that I would want to pick up and have a look at. The illustrations throughout the story are colourful and realistic. I like that the eye of the storm is drawn literally!

Hurricane Vacation is suitable for preschool children and primary school children, and would make an excellent tool for use in hurricane prone areas.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas

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The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas, hardback picture book, published by ABC Books in 2015.

This is a cute and comprehensive aid for helping parents explain human reproduction to younger children. It covers basic anatomy, puberty changes, sexual intercourse, IVF, sperm donation, fertilisation, gestation, birth and breastfeeding.

We are very open in our family, with no topic off limits for discussion. We adjust the depth and detail of information as well as our language to suit the kids’ ages, but we never avoid their questions. I’d much rather they hear about some things from us, then get a grossly twisted version on the playground! So The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made really suited us. It provides all of the necessary information respectfully, with appropriate language and a little humour. I have used it with my three younger children when they were each around the age of five. We read it together and I answered any questions they had. They were all engaged and curious.

I really liked the way that gestation is explained, using a fruit analogy along illustrations of the growing baby inside its mother. The kids wanted to know if it actually felt like carrying a watermelon by eight months along. And my son did a wonderful impression of a caesarean birth, where he was the mother behind the sheet having her tummy cut open!

In the Feeding Baby section, the two pictures depict women breastfeeding. This is great, but I would have liked to see a picture of a baby being bottle-fed too. Fed is best, irrespective of whether that is from breast or bottle. (Trying not to rant here, just thinking about how I was made to feel like a failure when my baby needed formula, and I feel strongly that no one should be shamed for feeding their baby milk in whatever form they need).

The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made is suitable for lower primary school children and above. It is best read together!

 

Could a Whale Swim to the Moon? … and other questions by Camilla de la Bédoyère

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Could a Whale Swim to the Moon? … and other questions by Camilla de la Bédoyère and Aleksei Bitskoff, hardback junior non-fiction, published by QEB Publishing in 2015.

Want to learn about blue whales? This book will help to answer some of your questions, such as what if a blue whale came to stay, or tried synchronised swimming!

In Could a Whale Swim to the Moon? facts about blue whales are presented in a fun and quirky way, perfect for younger readers. The text was nice and big, and clear, making it easy to read. The amount of information on each page was not overwhelming, and the illustrations were lovely. My 5yo was fascinated by the baby whale being pushed in a pram with a milk bottle and I liked the whale strapped to the jumbo jet.

At the back of the book, there were some bonus facts, along with a map of the world showing where blue whales live. I found all these facts to be quite interesting and I enjoyed sharing them with my sons. I did have to do some quick calculations into metric lengths and weights, but that was just an extra brain workout for me!

Could a Whale Swim to the Moon? is suitable for preschool and lower primary school students. There are a number of other animal fact books in this series which I think will be worth taking a look at. I want to try Could a Tiger Walk a Tightrope? or Could a Penguin Ride a Bike? next.

My Dino Ate My Homework by Ingrid Sawubona

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My Dino Ate My Homework: a story about the fun of learning by Ingrid Sawubona, picture e-book, published in 2019.

Instead of helping the boy with his homework, the dinosaur eats it all up as a tasty afternoon snack. The dinosaur absorbs all the information, making him very smart, and he passes this new knowledge onto the boy.

I’m a little partial to dinosaur books, so I wanted to read this one as soon as I saw it. I enjoyed reading it and sharing it with my kids.

The text rhymes throughout the story, and contains some interesting factoids. My five year olds thought it was pretty funny, especially when the dino did the eating! I learnt that Maine only has one state neighbour, New Hampshire, which I did not know before.

The illustrations are really good. There are pictures on every page, which are detailed and clear, with great use of colour and shading. The boy’s hair and freckles are great! The pictures are also relevant to the adjacent text. My only complaint is that the picture of the food chain is incorrectly depicted as a cycle, rather than an hierarchy.

My Dino Ate My Homework is suitable for preschool and lower primary school children. It was enjoyable to read aloud with my little fellas, and has already been requested for a re-read at bed-time.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, paperback novel, 370 pages, published by Hot Key Books in 2018.

Jude is a mortal in the Faerie world, raised by Madoc, war chief to the High King, along with her sisters, Taryn and Vivi. Of the three, only Vivi is Fey, the birth daughter of Madoc. Her younger sisters are both mortal, but parentless, thanks to Madoc’s wrath. However, Madoc treats them as his own, raising them among the Fey gentry. This does not sit well with many of the Fey nobles, as they prefer their mortals to be their slaves, rather than their equals. Political change is in the air, and Jude finds herself caught up in the power struggle to be the next High King.

I found it took a little while for me to really get into this story, but once it got going I really enjoyed it. At first it seemed to be a story of some cruel teenage Fey tormenting the only mortals in their school class. While the feud was escalating and I was impressed by Jude’s determination to continue to defy Prince Cardan, I was much happier once there was spying, stealing, and murder plots, treachery and treason! It became much more exciting, and I could hardly put it down. It seemed there was no end to the Fey’s capacity for inflicting pain and humiliation on others for amusement, nor did they reserve this behaviour only for their enemies. A truly interesting and terrifying group. This did make for much action within a fast-paced, exciting story.

I found most of the characters dislikable in many ways. There is much to dislike about Cardan; he is arrogant, mean, vindictive, evilly cunning… the list really could go on, and his noble friends are almost as despicable. There isn’t much going for the other princes either. As for Madoc, he is a true general of war, delighting in bloodshed and strategy. Yet, strangely, Madoc was a character that I could connect with; he was ‘bad’ in many ways, but he owned his decisions, and he was absolutely loyal to his family. Taryn annoyed me with her too timid attitude and her disloyalty to Jude, while Oriana was a bit too distant, and kind of awkward with the girls. And Jude. What can I say about Jude? Well, I really wanted to like her, but she does not make it easy. Her determination and bravery are commendable, and she cares deeply for her family, even loving Madoc despite all he has done. Yet, she is kind of abrasive and prickly, with streaks of a cruelty and fondness for power that could undo her. There weren’t really ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys in this story.

The Cruel Prince is most suitable for middle to upper high school students, given the level of violence throughout the book. And it is only the first in a new series, so there will be more bloodshed to be had in Faerie shortly. Yay!

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar by Lois Wickstrom

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Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar by Lois Wickstrom and illustrated by Francie Mion, picture e-book, 38 pages, published by Look Under Rocks/Gripper Products in 2017.

Loretta watches the masses of butterflies in the milkweed meadow near her home. When she goes to investigate, she finds tiny eggs stuck to the underside of the leaves. Over the following weeks, Loretta watches as an egg hatches, and a caterpillar grows, readying itself to become a butterfly.

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction. The story follows Loretta as she witnesses the life-cycle of a caterpillar from egg through to Monarch Butterfly. The process is interesting, and has been well explained and illustrated throughout the story. I laughed when Loretta taped the leaf back to the plant! And I liked the way that the possible predators of the caterpillar were introduced.

There is further information about the annual Monarch butterfly migration, how to obtain milkweed seeds and how to determine the sex of Monarch butterflies. This extra section was quite interesting and informative.

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar is a lovely way to introduce children to the butterfly lifecycle, and is suitable for primary aged children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Where is Heaven Anyway? by Dunnett Albert

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Where is Heaven Anyway? A Hattie the Hummingbird Story by Dunnett Albert and illustrated by Catherine Wilder, picture e-book, 16 pages, published by Henley Publishing in 2016.

Little Hattie the Hummingbird is sad because her friend Auggie the Frog has gone away. Hattie’s mum helps her to understand that Auggie has gone to heaven, but that he will still be with Hattie, in the world around her, in her heart and in her dreams.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is a lovely rhyming story that explains the concept of heaven using language and ideas appropriate for a younger audience. It is heartwarming and tender, reminding us that our loved ones will always be in our hearts and memories, even when they can no longer be with us physically. This book is a great way to start a conversation about death and what happens afterwards, so I recommend reading it with the child/children to help them understand (and to answer their questions!).

Where is Heaven Anyway? contains truly beautiful watercolour illustrations. They are full of colour and life, yet retain a softness that suits the gentle nature of the story.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is suitable for primary school children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison, e-book, 574 pages, published in 2018.

Twins, Sarah and Jon have travelled to Wales to spend the summer with their maternal grandparents, whom they have only met once before. They’ve barely landed in Wales when they begin to encounter some odd things; was that a werewolf they hit on the road? Things only get stranger at their grandparents’ farm, where there’s a creepy handy-man with a wooden leg, a magical book, and Sarah is sure those garden gnomes waved to her. They are giving a swift introduction to the magical world, learning much about themselves, and how they fit into that world, along the way. Sarah and Jon are excited to enter the ancient castle, TwoSpells, which is actually an humungous magical library, where one can enter the books and view the story from within. It also acts as a refuge for magical folk, where the “regulars” cannot go. Unfortunately the library is experiencing some rather frightening disturbances, and an illness is also affecting the magical populace. Sarah and Jon must help to save the library and all those who are sick.

This book is Awesome! TwoSpells had me hooked from the first chapter; that’s where the action started, and it just kept coming. It was a rollercoaster ride of magical creatures, book characters and a villain intent on controlling not just the world, but all worlds and realities. I could hardly put it down, I just had to read the next chapter, and then the next!

The battle at the library was wonderfully told. It was detailed and energetic; the highlight of the story. The diversity of creatures, magical, historical and mythical that emerged during the battle was incredible. Many of them were terrifying, but all came to life, rampaging about, creating a swirling mess of the library. I love the idea of being able to enter books, but the possibility of unleashing something big and dangerous was somewhat alarming!

All of the characters were strongly developed and described. I really felt like I got to know Sarah and Jon, and their grandparents. Grandpa was such a funny old man, but completely loveable. His relationship with Grandma was lovely, and I enjoyed their interactions. Their banter, and Grandpa’s propensity for “nicking” stuff, made me laugh. I loved when he fooled the security system at the exit of TwoSpells. Grandma standing up to the Golems was also quite funny.

I liked Sarah better than Jon; he was a bit too happy about slaying dragons and swinging swords. I preferred Sarah’s more cautious approach to their new-found magical identities. She was more likely to think before acting, and was very compassionate towards others, even those that were very different to her. I liked the relationship she began to form with Liam, one of the Junior Guardians at TwoSpells. While Liam, and his brother, Seth, were more minor characters, they were both very likeable.

The handy-man at the farm, Clyde, was an interesting character; he seemed pretty shifty, but also had kindness behind his exterior grumpiness. He had a strange back-story, and I’m still wondering what happened to his dog. I liked his gruffness, in the same way that I liked the abruptness of the Golems. Though the Golems were all made the same, the ones in charge of security about Sarah and Jon, were developing their own personalities nicely.

TwoSpells ended with many of my questions unanswered, and the fate of several characters unknown. I really hope that means there will be a follow-up book! I want to know about so many things! There are still lots of connections to be fulfilled, and I feel that there must be another great adventure coming.

TwoSpells is suitable for upper primary and high school students. I recommend it for fans of fantasy and action. Read it, it’s fantastic!

 

*I received this book as a digital book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.