Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane by Caroline Baxter & Izabela Ciesinska

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Published by Big Sunshine Books, 2017

Pilot Jane and her aeroplane Rose are an airborne dream team. They have won awards for speed and have a reputation for always getting their passengers safely to their destination, whatever the weather. They are so highly regarded that they are chartered to transport the Queen of England to a party. However, disaster strikes when Rose contracts plane flu. Engine failure means that she is unable to fly.

Mighty Mitch, a replacement jet, is brought in. He’s the biggest plane Jane has ever seen. Unfortunately, he has some outdated ideas about female pilots. He assumes Jane will either be slow or a scaredy-cat. He decides to show her that he’s the one in control and so, not long after take off, he begins to show off – looping and swooping through the air. Proud and conceited, Mitch thinks he’s better than Jane and that she will be no match for him. However, he’s chosen the wrong girl to pick a fight with!

The book conveys a positive message about female strength. Jane is confident and capable. She can stand her ground, is cool in a crisis and knows how to lead. Yet this female empowerment is not at the expense of female/male relations. The final message of the book is one of collaboration: girl and boy power.

I liked how the reader gets taken around the world with the story, seeing some of its most famous landmarks in cities across the globe. The book is written in rhyme and this adds to its read-aloud appeal. The cheerful illustrations are very attractive and will definitely captivate a young audience – they certainly caught the eye of my 15-month-old who, although too young for the story, did keep returning to the book to pore over the pictures! There is also a lovely gentle humour running throughout the book. I particularly liked the handbag-dwelling Corgi and the terrified look on its face during the flight.

I have just one little niggle: I would have preferred for the plane not to be pink and covered in flowers. I think this somewhat detracts from the book’s message and reinforces the gender stereotypes it is trying to challenge.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 3+

Thanks to Big Sunshine Books for sending me this book to review. I reviewed this book as part of the Pilot Jane blog tour.

Let’s Find Fred by Steven Lenton

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Published by Scholastic, 2017.

Let’s Find Fred is such a fun read. You know you’re on to a winner when the front cover has wobbly eyes! In fact, it’s a wonder we ever opened the book at all – pulling the tab to make Fred’s eyes move kept my son amused for ages!

Fred is a panda who lives in Garden City Zoo but he’s hungry for an adventure. One evening he escapes. Stanley the zookeeper is soon in hot pursuit. What follows is a high-jinx caper across town, taking in the market, a maze, the funfair, the art gallery and finally ending up at the Panda-monium Ball.

I absolutely love all the detail in the pictures. There’s so much to look at and I’ve spotted something new each time I’ve read the book. For those of a certain age, look out for the Got to Be Certain-era Kylie on the carousel. There’s lots of humour in the illustrations too – some of which will pass over the heads of young children but it will make the adult reader smile. There are puns galore and you’d be hard-pushed to count all of the clever panda references. The final scene is a magnificent fold out page which brings Fred’s adventure to a fitting climax.

Children will love finding Fred and will enjoy following him through the pages. The fantastic detail and humour mean that it’s a book that will stand up to repeated readings and it’s sure to become a firm family favourite.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 2+

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

Wow! said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

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Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2016.

img_2344Little Owl is curious about the daytime and so, instead of sleeping through it as normal, she decides to wake up just before dawn. Awestruck, she admires the world around her: the sky, the sunshine, the trees and the flowers.

This is a book of colours. We see the contrast between the indigo darkness of Owl’s nighttime world and the bright, rainbow colours of the daytime.

Tim Hopwood’s illustrations are beautiful. I especially like the patterns and textures that he uses for the leaves, and the way he’s painted the sky. Owl’s wide-eyed amazement is particularly endearing too.

This book is a lovely way to introduce your child to colours and it’s a joyful celebration of the natural world.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable from birth.

Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me this book to review and to Toppsta for organising the giveaway.

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

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Published by Nosy Crow, 2016.

While travelling through central London by bus, Maya innocently takes a photo on her phone of the Christmas lights and bustling street scene. Unfortunately, it’s a case of wrong place, wrong time because Maya also unwittingly photographs a violent altercation between a man and a woman. Unluckily for Maya, they see her too.

What follows is a tense, action-packed thriller complete with kidnapping, murder, shoot outs and criminal gangs. Maya is placed under police protection and moves in with her aunt who lives in the middle of nowhere in the Welsh mountains. Her surly cousin, Ollie, is not impressed by her arrival and makes her very unwelcome.

Fleur Hitchcock has used the wintry weather and remote location to great effect. Blizzards cut them off from the outside world and trap their enemies dangerously close. The heavy snow provides perfect cover for anyone wishing to track Maya down, and fleeing for your life in a swirling snow storm takes on a whole new level of peril.

I loved that Maya was a daring, resourceful and hands-on female lead; she’s a great role model. Relationships are well drawn, particularly the one between Maya and Ollie. When the cousins are pitted together against great danger, Ollie’s barely disguised resentment gives way to respect and friendship.

Murder in Midwinter is a really exciting read – an atmospheric page-turner. I got so hooked in and caught up in the action that sometimes I found myself flicking forwards because I couldn’t stand the tension and wanted to know right away what was going to happen! This is definitely the perfect book to curl up with under the covers on a dark winter’s evening.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 10+

Thank you to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

The Unicorns of Blossom Wood series, books 3 & 4 by Catherine Coe

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Cover illustration by Andrew Farley. Inside illustrations by Renée Kurilla.

Published by Scholastic, 2017.

Storms and Rainbows and Best Friends are the two books that complete the Unicorns of Blossom Wood series. You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here.

Cousins Cora, Lei and Isabelle are on holiday with their families. They are staying on a campsite but, by placing their feet in three sets of hoof prints that they have discovered in a nearby cove, they are able to transport themselves to the magical world of Blossom Wood. Once they get there, the three girls are transformed into unicorns! On their previous two visits, they have befriended the talking animals who live in the woodland and, on both occasions, they have managed to come to the rescue of one or more of the animals.

In the earlier two books, Cora and Isabelle discovered that they have magical powers as unicorns. Cora is able to heal poorly animals and Isabelle has the power to create light. Only Lei is unsure of her powers or if indeed she has any magical powers at all. Storms and Rainbows, book three in the series, focuses on Lei as she struggles impatiently with not knowing. In an interesting twist, it turns out that Lei’s magical power – to alter the weather – actually threatens the safety of the animals. Frustrated by being the only unicorn unsure of her gift, Lei gallops off in a temper. Moments later, thunder rumbles overhead and a flash flood causes panic among the inhabitants of Blossom Wood. The flood waters rise and the animals have to flee their homes. Will the unicorns, and Lei in particular, be able to save the day?

Best Friends is a sentimental final visit to Blossom Wood. The family holiday is nearly over and the girls will soon be returning to their homes on opposite sides of the world. So, on the final night of their holiday, they sneak off for one last adventure. It’s an extra special one because the animals of Blossom Wood are staging a spectacular talent show. There are tightrope walking bears, juggling caterpillars, hula-hooping rabbits and even a breakdancing beaver! The three unicorns join in with a tap dance, magical rainbow sparkles bursting from their hooves. The book is tinged with sadness but the unicorns are grateful for their happy memories of Blossom Wood and the story ends with a big thumbs up for girl power; the cousins discover that their magic is even more amazing when they combine their powers.

Again, the themes of friendship and community run through both stories and they give the books a positive, life-affirming message. The books are perfectly pitched to their target audience; the three cousins have distinct personalities and readers will enjoy choosing a favourite with whom they most identify. The four-book series is a perfect length – just long enough to draw readers into the magical world and give them a sense of really knowing its characters but short enough to be an achievable goal for a young independent reader. I think this series could be the hook that gets many newly independent readers into reading.

There’s a brilliant, fun-packed website to accompany the series and both books have lots of additional content at the back: wordsearches, puzzles, quizzes and fact files.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 6+

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me these books to review. I reviewed these books as part of Scholastic’s Unicorn Day.

Little Christmas Tree by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

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Published by Big Picture Press, 2016.

Little Christmas Tree is a gorgeous foiled board book, full of wintry sparkle. One of the reasons that this lovely book stands out is that it’s a Christmas book which doesn’t mention Santa or presents. Instead its focus is a winter’s day in the forest. The little Christmas tree, whose branches glisten with silver, features on every page. Different woodland animals scamper and fly across the forest, among them a greenfinch, a robin, a squirrel and a fox. We also learn the names of winter plants: mistletoe, ivy and fir cone. As the day passes, we see the changing light and watch as the weather changes too.

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It’s a lift-the-flap book and there are three or four flaps on each double page. They are really well hidden and we didn’t spot them all on our first reading. I also like how the flaps are shaped; the zigzag and contoured edges are wonderfully tactile.

Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s illustrations are beautiful. She has created a magical wintry wonderland with snow-laden branches, bright red berries, shimmering snowflakes and a frozen pond. Her rhyming text is fun to read aloud. This is a great book to snuggle up together with on a winter’s day.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 2+

Thank you to Big Picture Press for sending me this book to review.

Welcome to the Christmas Market by Ruth Russell

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Published by Usborne, 2016.

This is a beautifully detailed book to fold out and colour in. When folded out completely, it’s easily a metre long. That’s a lot of colouring fun! It’ll either keep one avid artist busy for most of the Christmas holidays or several members of the same family could all sit around the table and colour in together.

The scene is a Christmas market and it has stalls brimming with gifts, toys and tasty festive treats. There’s a huge Christmas tree and an ice skating rink. Choristers sing carols outside the church and two cheerful snowmen stand surrounded by presents. You’ll even spot Santa’s sleigh and Rudolph, but there’s no sign of the big man himself.

A sheet of over a hundred tiny rub-down transfers are included with the book in case you want a break from the colouring or just want to add a different artistic effect.

This would make a lovely Christmas gift for both children and adults – personally, I can’t wait to get my felt tips out and start colouring!

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 6+

Thank you to Usborne for sending me this book to review.