Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Nibbles Dinosaurs

Some of you may already be aware of Nibbles.  He is a little monster that likes to nibble everything.  Nibble nibbles socks, Nibble nibbles clocks, but the thing that Nibble likes to nibble most is books!  Therefore, putting him in a book is not the safest place as he will try and eat his way out.  Whilst the first book saw the tyke getting into trouble in fairy tales, this time it is non-fiction that has whetted his appetite and in particular a book all about dinosaurs.

Nibbles has escaped once more, but instead of devouring Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks, he is munching his way through the Jurassic era.  Although he himself is a monster, Nibbles is only small so when the dinosaurs find out that he is causing trouble they decide to chase him from their book.  Can Nibbles escape the Land of the Dinosaurs before being stomped on?

They are few books that broke the 4th wall better than the original ‘Nibbles’.  Here was a character that could hop in and out of famous stories by eating his way around.  This meant that the layout of the book was a triumph – glorious hardback with mini books contained within.  There is hours of fun just to be had peering through the various holes in the book that Nibbles made.  More of the same would have been great, but with ‘‘The Dinosaur Guide’’ it is a case of more of the similar, showing that changing something small can make a big difference.

The fact that this is non-fiction, rather than fiction means that the book feels quite different.  It made a kind of twisted sense that Nibbles would eat fairy tales and disrupting well known stories means that you know what trouble he is causing as his antics alter the original narrative.  By consuming non-fiction, this structure is missing.  Instead you have a creature venturing forth through a typical encyclopaedia style fact book.  When he gets in the way of a dinosaur they pop out of their frames and chase him.  It does work, but the fun of disrupting traditional folk tales is far greater than just a chase book filled with angry dinosaurs.

Despite the subject matter not being as keen as the first title, the structure of the book is still a tour de force.  This is a wonderful A4 hardback full of flaps that can he looked under.  More often than not you will find a big hole behind it that Nibbles has created.  In terms of interaction, the fun is still wonderful.  You can also learn a little if you read around the holes as there are some genuine Dino facts on offer.

The issue with this title is that the narrative structure is missing by the decision to use non-fiction.  In its stead Emma Yarlett has increased the cheek factor.  The first book had a little mild naughtiness, but ‘‘Dinosaur Guide’’ has brought out the crassness.  There is more than one reference to dinosaur poo in this book.  The original did not need to resort to this humour.  I cannot help feeling that one or two more children’s story based outings would have been nice before tackling dinosaurs.  What you have is a very well put together book that lacks the satisfaction of the first.  Many children will still enjoy this outing, but it is just not up to muster.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

3.5 Stars

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Dog in Boots by Paula Metcalf Book Review – 4.5 Stars @luckytoes72

Dog in Boots

Love is a fickle beast and it is not helped that we often sabotage ourselves before we can even get the chance to be rejected by another.  That person can never love me, I am too hairy, short, tall, fat, or slim.  Our own hang ups get in the way of trying to see if someone will love us for our imperfections.  One such creature going through a crisis of this nature is Philip, a dog with short legs.  He has fallen for his new neighbour Penelope at first sight, but she towers over him.  Can Philip convince Penelope that he is a catch?  Maybe he can disguise the fact that is a little titchy.

The genre of romantic comedy is not the first thing you expect to read in a children’s picture book, but this is what Paula Metcalf set out to do with ‘Dog in Boots’ and she pulls it off.  This is a comedy of errors that has more than a little of de Bergerac about it, but rather than have a big nose, Philip has short legs.  He gets the help of his friends to disguise his stature and several of his daft ideas are very amusing.  When disguises fail, perhaps poetry will work?  The moment that Philip’s prose gets him into trouble is a highlight as it is very funny and uses the lift the flap element well.

As well as being a story book, ‘Dog’ is also a lift the flap book.  However, unlike many books with the flap format, there are not tons of them.  Each page is not adorned with flaps for the sake of them, but they are used sparingly to inform the story.  In fact, I don’t think I have seen flaps used quite as well as seen in this book, many of the best jokes are hidden behind the few flaps on offer.

Metcalf has done a wonderful job of taking an adult feeling romance story and making it appeal to kids.  Philip gets up to some silly antics, but at the core he just wants to go on a date.  The illustrations are clean, colourful and work well – only being enhanced by a good use of flaps.  For a 4-5 year old who is starting to read for themselves, or wants a slightly longer picture book to be read to them, ‘Dog in Boots’ is a great option.

4.5 Stars

Bathroom Boogie by Clare Foges and Al Murphy Book Review – 4 Stars @ClareFoges

Bathroom Boogie

Every day I leave the house with the feeling that I left it in a pretty tidy state, but on my return some things always seem out of place.  This is especially true of my bathroom.  Why is there toothpaste on the mirror, or a flannel on the floor?  It would appear that I may not actually be to blame and that when I am at work all the bathroom items come out for a boogie.  Will I ever catch them in the act?

Clare Foges and Al Murphy return with another jolly rhyming book that explains what happens when you are not around.  Whilst the [[Kitchen Disco by Clare Foges and Al Murphy]] concentrated on the fruit and vegetables getting down, ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ explores what happens with the shampoo and toothpaste when you are not at home.

The best way to describe ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ is that it is joyous.  This is a book that is all about kids having fun, from the kooky idea and rhymes to the silly illustrations.  The combination of Foges and Murphy worked wonders in ‘‘Kitchen Disco’’ and ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ follows the same format.  Almost the exact same format.

On a positive note, this is no bad thing.  The idea that inanimate objects suddenly pop into life when you are out of the room is great fun for a child and they will love imagining what their bath toys are doing as they sleep.  Foges also returns with her rhymes.  The book is like a song that tells the story about a day in the life of the bathroom.  You are introduced to a series of characters and you even get a repeating chorus that you will be humming in no time.  The best element is once again Murphy’s excellent illustrations.  He has a way of creating colourful and daft characters that you love being with.  The raving toothbrushes are particularly amusing.  Murphy packs each page with drawings so that a child can hunt for everything and one or two elements are designed to make the adult chuckle.

On the surface all elements are once again present for lightening to strike again; idea, song, pictures.  However, the book is a little too similar to ‘‘Kitchen Disco’’, it follows the same format and even the song sounds similar – same tune, different lyrics.  The difference being that the words don’t scan quite as well.  Even so, this is still a great book that is full of fun ideas.  Fans of the first book may feel like it is more of the same, but this is a good same.  New readers won’t know and they will just read a really fun book that will have the family bopping all the way to bedtime.

4 Stars

Cool Duck and Lots of Hats by Elizabeth Dale and Giusi Capizzi Book Review – 4.5 Stars

Cool Duck

Children are a little like Pokemon; you may not be able to house them in a Pokeball, but they are always evolving.  Your little kiddo may have spent the first couple of years or so intent to sit on your lap and listen to you read a story, but at some point they are going to want to read themselves.  This is not the moment to lend them your copy of ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ as their own first books will actually be simpler stories than the books that you have shared together.  You need to know your ducks and your hats before you can tackle what on Earth a Gruffalo is.

‘‘Cool Duck and Lots of Hats’’ by Elizabeth Dale and Giusi Capizzi is part of the Early Reader series of books by Maverick Arts Publishing and comes under the simplest Pink Band.  It actually contains two tales, one about a set of hot animals needing to cool down and one about a family with a series of increasingly large hats.  Each tale spans around 10 pages and is less about the narrative and more about associating simple words and concepts.

If you remember the ‘‘Billy Blue-hat’’ and ‘‘Roger Red-hat’’ books, this is essentially a modern series like this, but the tales are a little more fun and less 70s.  As a Pink Band book ‘‘Cool’’ offers the simplest form of reading. Each page may have four words on it e.g. the cat is hot, the duck is cool.  These words are placed next to one of Capizzi illustrations that are a colourful interpretation of what the words are saying e.g. a picture of a hot looking cat!

The stories included are extremely basic, but for a reason; this book is meant as a very first reader.  Connecting the concepts of the words with the images helps a child to understand – H, O, T means hot, like the cat in the picture.  Although incredibly simple, Dale’s stories are also a little daft so they are still fun.  Capizzi is able to capture this sense of lightness in the drawings.  This makes a book that could have felt like my first academic text, actually feel like my first special book just for me.

For parents who are worried about how they can help their child develop their reading, Maverick have included a section for both stories about the book aims, what the important words are and the type of questions you may want to ask.  All children will develop at different rates and the fact that all the Early Learner books are part of a staggered progression means that you can buy the book that suits your child.  I can certainly recommend ‘‘Cool Cat and Lots of Hats’’ as a very first emerging reader book; it is simple, but also simply fun.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

You Can Do Anything by Akala and Sav Akyuz Book Review – 2.5 Stars

Hip Hop

If you think about rapping, what comes to mind?  The hard streets of the East Coast and West Coast of America as they brag about what cars they own and women they date?  Rap is like any musical form; it varies greatly.  There is loads of Gangster Rap, but what about the pop of Will Smith, or the Grime of the UK?  Just have a look at the 80s for loads of unqualified people having a dabble in the format (Wham! Rap).  Rap in of itself is nothing but a way to project a message and if this message is about trying hard and succeeding, it could just be suitable for a kid’s book.

Hip and Hop are two friends that like nothing better than spitting rhymes and hanging out together.  Whilst Hip is a confident Hippo, his pal Hop is a less self-assured bird.  With a big bike race coming up Hop is hoping to enter, but he keeps crashing.  Can Hip and all his pals convince Hop that if you keep on trying, you will get to the race on time?

‘‘You Can Do Anything’’ is the first in a series of ‘‘Hip and Hop’’ books that are written by singer/artist Akala.  With this in mind you would think that the rhyming style couplets of the children’s book format would be perfect for him.  However, out of all the elements of the book, the way it scans is probably the worst.  The story feels a little disjointed; a series of mishaps for Hop and then him getting back on his feet. These work ok, but it is the mini rap in between that feels off.  Hip tries to raise his pal’s confidence by laying down some rhymes.  For the life of me I could not get the tempo right for this – perhaps I am just a bad rapper.

On a positive note, the entire book has a bright and upbeat feel.  The message is all about striving for what you want and you will achieve your goals.  This is reflected in Sav Akyuz illustrations.  The pictures have a street art style to them that has the vibrancy of the streets, but are also suitable for a children’s book.  Akyuz is particularly good and mimicking action, be it the bike rides or the sweet, sweet moves of the rappers.

It is strange that the unique selling point of Hip and Hop’s adventure, that of being written by real-life rap artist Akala, is the weakest element.  The book’s heart is in the right place, but it is executed a little clumsily.  If you are interested in a positive rapping message of believing in yourself for kids, then try the classic ‘‘Parappa the Rapper’’ computer game – you gotta do what?  You gotta believe!  It manages to do the same thing as ‘‘Anything’’, but also have some rhymes that work.

2.5 Stars

The Secret Life of a Tiger by Emilia Dziubak and Przemyslaw Wechterowic Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Secret Tiger

If David Attenborough has taught us anything is that a lot goes on in the natural world that we are unaware of.  Animals will hunt in interesting ways, or find a mate using secret dances, but did you know that Tigers sometimes sneak up on apes and give them new haircuts?  You will be amazed with the revelations found in Emilia Dziubak and Przemyslaw Wechterowicz’s book, but I am not convinced that this kid’s book is based on facts.

Tigers are misunderstood.  They don’t want all the jungle creatures to cower from them.  On occasion they have been known to eat another living creature, but what about all the other things that they do in secret; the dancing, the art, the hairdressing.  Is Tiger’s plan to settle the minds of all his jungle pals so that they become friends with him, or is he just looking for an easy lunch?

‘‘The Secret Life of a Tiger’’ is a spectacular book to look at, especially if you are lucky enough to obtain the large hardback version.  Each double spread is full of luscious illustrations of a jungle landscape in which we find our tiger hero partaking of one of his secret pleasures.  The fact that most of the book is green foliage is not an issue as Wechterowicz has used touches of colour that stand out.  The jungle almost acts like a frame for tiger’s antics and you can view each one as a great piece of art.

When you highlight the illustrations of a children’s books first it is often because it is the best element of the book and that is certainly the case here.  Whilst Wechterowicz’s drawings are sublime, Dziubak’s story is less so.  The book’s narrative acts more as a means of allowing the images to be made, rather than being something of themselves.  They are a seemingly random selection of activities until the book ends.  This not a huge issue as children’s books are often very simple to appeal to the audience, but there is also a strange ambiguity in this book; is Tiger good or bad?  The book is written in a way that you cannot tell if Tiger is being sarcastic or not.  This makes a huge difference as to how you see the character – secret fun lover, or manipulative carnivore?  The individual reader can decide for themselves, but for a book aimed at 3-5 year olds, a clearer indication that he is nice would work better.

The story of ‘‘Tiger’’ is not great and the tone a little off, but the illustrations alone are enough to recommend the book.  Adults will appreciate the amount of work that went into each page and the children will be able to find many new surprises each time they read the book.  If you can get over the fact that Tiger many be a master manipulator, he does get up to some hilarious hijinks. Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

3.5 Stars

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Chengdu

The list of entertaining things about toddlers does not include any of the following; throwing food against your recently painted walls, nappy deposits, or deciding to stay up way past their bedtime.  There are few things more unsettling to a parent than a toddler used to their routine suddenly deciding to stay up way past their bedtime; they scream, they procrastinate, they blub and then finally collapse (and that is just Mum and Dad).  The reason that so many children’s books are about settling down and going to bed is to avoid the staying up eventuality, so will a book about an insomniac panda work?

Chengdu wants to sleep.  He has tried shifting position, hanging from a branch, resting on his head, but none of these tactics seem to work, he just cannot nod off.  That is until he decides to climb to the very top of the tree where he finds the most soft and yielding cushion to lie on, but will the cushion be happy to be used thus?

‘‘Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep’’ by Barney Saltzberg is a book for toddlers that has a got a lot to recommend about it.  Just as a little board book it is wonderful.  Too many of these types of books are a little dull as the author decides not to bother having a story, Saltzberg has managed to cram 32 pages into his book and although the story is simple, it is great fun.  He also has fun with the format as some of the pages are not the same.  To represent Chengdu’s ascension up the tree, Saltzberg has cut the pages so that they get smaller and smaller.  This is a simple little trick, but does make the book stand out.

The illustrations also work well.  Chengdu is a cute character and has wonderfully sad eyes as he tries to get to sleep.  Some of the antics he gets up to are daft and add to the entertainment.  There is also a great ending to the book that is a nice surprise and genuinely funny.  It will be appreciated by any adult that has been awoken by a child just because they can’t sleep.

The books only downside is the subject matter.  Toddlers can be impressionable and there is a reason you read books about sleeping and not staying awake.  As anyone with a toddler prone to refusing to sleep, reading a book that reinforces this behaviour is not ideal.  For those parents with children that sleep at a drop of a hat, this book works brilliantly, for those with kids like mine, perhaps leave it until they are a little older and can see the book is meant to be funny and not a life lesson.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

3.5 Stars