The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook by Katie Haworth & Mónica Armiño

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Published by Templar, 2016.

This gorgeous lift-the-flap, pop-up book begins with a large parcel being delivered to your door. Inside is a dragon egg and your dragon keeper’s starter pack. The premise of the book is that it will guide you through the various aspects of dragon care and training. There are also sections on famous dragon keepers from history, and a map showing the native habitats of different dragon species.

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There are lots of exciting interactive elements: flaps in all shapes and sizes, books-within-a-book, and a wheel that rotates to let you learn how to understand your dragon’s facial expressions. The pop-ups are impressive and will certainly delight children and adults alike.

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The illustrations are great: bold, colourful and funny. There’s lots of glorious detail in the text and the pictures; young trainee dragon keepers will be able to acquire a wealth of fascinating dragon knowledge (for example, how to cure common ailments, tips on fire-proofing your home, and some nifty stunts to pull off when flying).

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I particularly enjoyed the book’s humour and found myself chuckling a lot. Children will find lots to laugh about too. They will also enjoy the undercurrent of danger; the book is laced with an underlying sense of peril (looking after dragons is a hazardous business) but the overall tone is light-hearted and very entertaining.

While the book can be read cover to cover, its non-fiction style means that you can also take a more non-linear approach and jump between sections. This is a book you can dip in and out of and because of the level of detail it stands up to repeated readings.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 6+

Thank you to Templar Publishing for sending me this book to review.

Hush-A-Bye Bunny by Holly Surplice

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Published by Nosy Crow, 2017.

Hush-a-Bye Bunny is the perfect bedtime story to share with your little one. The book traces Baby Bunny’s bedtime routine from tidy-up time to bath time and story time. The familiarity makes it comforting. The shared, cosy moments between Mommy Bunny and baby are tender and heartwarming. The gorgeous illustrations capture this beautifully – the cuddles, the laughter, the eye contact – Baby Bunny really is the centre of his mommy’s world.

Hush-a-Bye Bunny is marketed as a story designed to help ease separation anxiety but, whether or not your child suffers from these fears, I think the sentiments the book expresses are relevant and reassuring to all children at bedtime. Mommy offers to “hug away worries and kiss away tears” and promises to love baby forever.

I love this story and it’s one that Sam and I enjoy as part of his bedtime routine.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable from birth

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

Animal Fun! Who lives here? by Tracey Radford

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Published by CICO Kidz, 2016.

This is a gorgeous lift-the-flap board book about animals and their homes. There’s a monkey in the jungle, a mountain bear, a tiger in the savannah, a polar bear, and a shark swimming among the coral. The flaps are larger than in most lift-the-flap books and when you lift the flap a full third page opens up. The pages invite you to guess who might live in each habitat and I really like how before you lift the flap to find out there’s a subtle hint: a furry arm clutching a banana or a fin poking out from behind the coral.

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The images are really original. In place of illustrations, Tracey Radford has used craft materials to create 3D scenes which have then been photographed. There’s cotton wool snow in the Arctic, car sponge coral reefs and papier-mâché caves. She’s also made particularly creative use of egg cartons ! I can imagine children being inspired to recreate these model scenes themselves – it’s certainly something I’d like to do with Sam when he’s older.

This is a lovely, colourful book which will engage and entertain young children while teaching them about the world they live in.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable from birth

Thank you to CICO Kidz for sending me this book to review and to Toppsta for organising the giveaway.

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.