Pirates in Classroom 3 by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse Book Review – 3 Stars

Classroom 3

Not all of us were the child that paid attention in class.  Some would look out of the window and let their minds wander.  Why be stuck in a stuffy room when you could be in space or on the high seas?  Sometimes you do not need to seek adventure as it may just find you.  It makes perfect sense to me that if the teacher leaves the classroom there is ample time for a pirate to enter and ask all the children to help him find some lost treasure.  Who could possibly give up this opportunity?

In Ms Bitsy, the children of Classroom 3 have a strict, but upstanding teacher.  However, once she leaves the room it is open season.  Rather than cause havoc themselves, they instead meet a pirate named Captain Calamity who has a map to some buried treasure hidden somewhere in the classroom.  Can the children, with the aid of the Captain, find the loot before the mischievous Pirate Bloodloss gets it first?

There is a definite charm to ‘‘Pirates in Classroom 3’’ by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse and it is down to the book’s sweet nature.  This is a world in which a pirate can enter a classroom and rather than scream their heads off, the kids decide to help find the treasure.  What entails is an adventure that blurs the reality of the classroom with some imagination.  Do you really know what is under your classroom floor?  For some people it may be another classroom, but for others it could be a hidden beach.

Donald provides several flights of fancy, but is all a little haphazard; a lot of different things happening to a bunch of kids in a short space of time.  There is a lack of defined structure to the book and the characters feel like they are going nowhere; physically or narratively.  You get the sense that it is just meant to be a bit of fun with some pirates.  This is a reasonable thing for a child to enjoy, but it does not have the story to keep all kids coming back over and over again.  What is nice are the little hidden asides, like the relationship between Ms Bitsy and Captain Calamity.  Their blossoming romance will be lost on kids, but does give adults something to smile about.

Whitehouse’s illustrations do a good job of bringing colour and fun to proceedings.  Each double spread is packed with bright images that catch the eye.  It is just a shame that the story seems to randomly trundle along and Whitehouse cannot do much about that.  ‘‘Pirates’’ is a fun book and children that love salty adventures will enjoy it.  However, for those none-to-fussed about Pieces of Eight etc. the slightly directionless story will mean that it loses its appeal more swiftly than with some titles.

3 Stars

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Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos Book Review – 4.5 Stars @pigknit @barbrabakos

Rooster

One of the best things about modern online shopping is the knock on the door and the parcel arriving.  What was it I ordered again?  It could be something as exciting as a new toy, or something as boring as a new mixer for your shower.  The anticipation of opening the box is as close to the feeling of Christmas that an adult is going to get (except perhaps for Christmas).  Rooster has ordered something online and it arrived quickly.  Will his farmyard pals appreciate his buy as much as he does?

Most animals walk around in the nude, but not Rooster.  He has ordered a pair of skinny jeans off the internet and he is ready to wow the other creatures.  With some fine stitching and wonderful blue denim, everyone is going to love them, or will they?  It turns out that the other animals don’t think he looks good, in fact they think he looks a bit daft.  Can Rooster find it within himself to not care what others’ think?

The lesson of teaching kids to be themselves and not bow down to peer pressure is a great one, but a little heavy.  Never has it been done in quite the way that Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos’ ‘‘Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans’’ has.  The book is colourful, hilarious and in places a little outrageous.  It makes no sense that a Rooster would want to buy a pair of tight fitting clothing, but it works as the entire exercise is done with joy.

Miller’s writing is perfect; a light tone, but still getting the message across.  The story is told in rhyming couplets and scans brilliantly.  There are plenty of funny sentences, as many for the adults to enjoy as the kids.  The sense of knowing means that this book works for the parent whist the children can enjoy the animals and story.  We all like to buy things online and reading about a fashion conscious cockerel is amusing.

Bakos also plays an important part as the illustrations are great.  The colours are vibrant and you get the sense of a lovely farm somewhere out on the plains.  There is also lots of things to spot all over the page.  A particularly fun game we played was to count how many chicks were on each page.

The idea behind ‘‘Rooster’’ is so odd that is works, but only because Miller and Bakos both set the right tone.  Any darkness would have made you feel too sorry for Rooster and you want to end the book punching the air and saying good for him.  This is exactly what you get in a story that should not really work, but does magnificently.

4.5 Stars

A Treasury of Songs by Julia Donaldson Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Song Treasury

Some people have all the skills, not only is Julia Donaldson one of the most successful children’s authors, she can also carry a tune.  For the past few years she has adapted many of her most popular stories into songs and plays them during open readings, or releases them as part of a song book.  For the first time ‘‘A Treasury of Songs’’ brings together several of her books in one omnibus and it also has a CD too of Donaldson singing the songs.

Anyone who has had a child or grandchild in the past ten years or so will be well aware that The Gruffalo has turned out toes.  He also has a wart on the end of his nose.  They may also know about Superworm, Stickman or Room on the Broom.  All of these stories are Donaldson classics and were written in a rhyming style.  With a little massaging Donaldson has created songs based on these books and has added them to loads of new action songs written by herself.

Trying to create new nursery rhymes in this day and age is very difficult as the likes of Humpty and Baa Baa are not going anywhere soon.  However, the fact that Donaldson has so many strong stories to work with means that she is starting with an advantage.  The book is split between songs that are based on her books and those based on new ideas.  Surprisingly, both areas are as strong as one another.  The Gruffalo song etc. has instant appeal, but the action rhymes also make a nice alternative to the same old Grand Duke.

On paper some of the rhymes are not that easy to pick up straight away, thankfully the books comes with accompanying CD.  Here the author sings her own songs and the production value is of a decent level.  Donaldson does not have a voice that will feature on Top of the Pops anytime soon, but it has a soft lilt to it that is perfect for children’s songs. It took me a little while to get over the slightly cringey feeling of listening to someone sing children’s stories, but kids love it.

An important part of many of Donaldson’s most familiar works is the illustrations of Axel Scheffler.  It has to be said that in this Treasury his impact is lessoned.  The illustrations are dotted around the page and are often taken from the original books, although there are plenty of new dancing children and animals to enjoy.  It is just that this is a song book first and not a traditional children’s book.  Fans of the duo will love being able to immerse themselves even deeper into the stories, but any adults will have to prepare themselves to listen to over 20 new songs over and over again as the CD is required to learn the songs.

3.5 Stars

What Was I Scared of? by Dr Seuss Book Review

Scared of

All Hallows’ Eve is upon us once more and that can only mean that we are soon to be surrounded by all types of monsters, ghoulies and manifestations.  Fear not, as many of these unsettling creatures will actually be children dressed up on another adventure trick or treating.  But what about that pair of seemingly malevolent trousers that walk by themselves?  That is no child, but a pair of haunted kecks.  Run, run, run, but perhaps if you have them a friendly hello these pants may be nicer than you think?

On a dark night, as our hero travels along a long and lonesome road he passes the most oddest of all sights – a pair of disembodied trousers walking themselves.  Like any sane person, the hero runs off, but he keeps seeing the trousers.  There is only one solution for a situation like this, buck up the courage and go and say hello.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Dr Seuss always specialised in crazy flights of fancy, but the trousers in ‘‘What Was I Scared Off?’’ are actually amongst the most bizarre things he invented.  This is because this book is one of his most grounded pieces.  It is set in his usual Seussian world, with his usual Seussian prose, but the actual narrative is quite dark and spooky, with few twists.  This is certainly a Halloween type of book as our hero is a little terrified of what the trousers represent.  It is just very odd (and so like Dr Seuss) that the monster in his horror story should be phantom pants.

To reflect the darkness of the tale, this is one of Dr Seuss’ darkest illustrated books.  There are lots of greens and blacks; none of the bright colours you will be used to.  It has the effect of making this silly story a little bit unsettling.  Thankfully, the finale shows that you should not judge a pair of trousers by their coveralls.  What makes this particular special edition special is the glow in the dark technology.  Some of the white elements glow if you store some light into them.  To get the best of the effect you need to read the book in the dark though, which you can imagine if a challenge.  Therefore, the glow in the dark is a fun extra, but not that easy to use.

For fans of Dr Seuss, ‘‘What’’ is a curio.  The prose is as good as ever, but the story is a little too linear to be a real classic.  The narrative betrays the books roots as part of a collection.  As one of several spooky and short outings it would work brilliantly, on its own it feels a little like an anomaly.  But, what an anomaly.  Even when being a little too bizarre by his own odd standards, Dr Seuss books remain fantastic.

4 Stars

Seconds Away by Harlan Coben Book Review – 2 Stars

Seconds Away

Selling books is not as lucrative a market as it once was, but one area that continues to do well is books for children.  This is possibly why authors known for their adult work have decided to try writing for tweens, with mixed success.  Harlan Coben has many a top selling crime thriller under his belt, even if they often might be the same book over and over again.  Surely he could take his tense time based fiction and adapt it for kids?

Micky Bolitar is the nephew of famed ex-basketball player turned agent/PI Myron, but even his uncle cannot help him when one of his friends at school dies.  The police seem to think that Micky may be in some way involved, so he must ask for the help of his pals Ema and Spoon to investigate once again.  Their investigation will lead to great dangers, but for some reason this bunch of random children still go back for more.

‘Seconds Away’ feels like a flashback to the days of the Hardy Boys, but with more danger.  Whilst the Hardy duo would find themselves in situations close to death, it always felt like mild peril and did not happen too often in one book.  Coben decides to go his own way and create a rather dark book that has his characters continuously close to dying.  At one point they even witness someone being shot in the head – this is not the teen fiction that I read as a youth.

With this in mind, it is a book aimed at the slightly older child who won’t mind a bit of action and a few scares.  The problem is that even they will find the characters a little jarring.  These are school children who don’t really need to get involved, but continue to do so.  On so many occasions they should just leave well alone, especially as the book starts with the death of one of their own.  Admittedly, a fiction novel about people not getting involved is not interesting, but Coben fails to make the scenarios believable enough that these kids would get involved.

‘Seconds’ is the type of book that feels like it is taking 12-14 year olds for granted – they don’t know better.  Personally, I think that the audience will be well aware that something is not right in this book.  Coben never earns the right to have so much violence and tension in the book.  It is just a set of empty headed children getting into empty headed situations.  The author should and can do better.

2 Stars

Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field Book Review – 4.5 Stars @_JimField

Oi Cat

When did children’s books become so Meta?  Back in the day each Thomas the Tank Engine adventure was separate from the other as if they lived in their own episodic wildness, but not today.  In this world of Nintendo Switches and online platforms the average adult is too scared to venture onto, we have metaphysical children books.  Books that reflect back on previous outings in the series.  If you are going to get the most out of ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, you best know about your ‘‘Oi Frog!’’ and ‘‘Oi Dog!’’ too.

When we last left the creatures of ‘‘Oi Frog and Friends’’ world they perched precariously on a selection of odd items.  One unhappy customer of Frogs rhyming solution was Cat.  This feline found itself having to sit on gnats and that is not a comfortable place to be.  Therefore, Cat goes about looking for an alternative place to nestle, but Frog won’t let Cat off easily – you must follow the rules.

Both original outings by Kes Gray and Jim Field were examples of daft excellence.  ‘‘Frog’’ and ‘‘Dog’’ are basically books about rhyming animals with silly things.  The fun is in seeing Field’s illustrations as he shows a pony having to sit in macaroni etc.  Things are little different in ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, but there is a twist.  The rules that Frog makes everyone live by come to the fore. In this dictatorial landscape we find our hero, Cat.  The book plays a little on gentle questioning of authority, but really it is still an excuse to have a load of animals doing silly things.

The combination of Gray’s writing and Field’s illustrations work wonderfully once again, no matter what Gray fires at Field, he can draw it.  Fans of the series will love this outing as it is essentially more of the same, but delve a little deeper and it is playing with the lore of the world.  Not many children’s books create a universe in which the characters inhabit, but Gray has achieved it.  New readers to the books would be best tackling them in order as you will otherwise lose out on some of the in jokes and the bigger picture.  Fans should grab this with abandon, they will especially love the ending.

4.5 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate by Caryl Hart and Nick East Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate

There are certain subject matters that seem to resonate well with the toddler demographic; dinosaurs, animals, pirates.  ‘Knock Knock Pirate’ by Caryl Hart and Nick East takes one of these big hitters and brings the pirates to the child.  When a child is visited by some pirates she is in for more than she bargained for as they confiscate her house and sail it away to look for treasure.  Can the child help the salty crew before they make her walk the plank?

‘Knock’ is a charming book that really plays up a child’s love of pirates.  If you know a child like this, then this book will have instant appeal.  It hits many a cliché and East’s illustrations really give the book a sense of fun and movement.  The pirates bring with them a sense of anarchy and many a mischievous kid will enjoy their antics.  There are so many things to look at on each page that a lot of entertainment is just had talking about what is going on and not really focussing on the narrative.

It is some of Hart’s choices that bring the book down from being a must have.  Within the book is a counting element, but it feels a little sporadic.  One minute you are counting up, then next the story is progressing.  It gives the story a slightly stilted feel and this is also seen in some of the rhymes.  They don’t all scan perfectly, so you find yourself stumbling over some of the words as the timing is slightly out.

There is enough contained within the illustrations and daft nature of the tale to entertain most children, but especially those that love the high seas.  With a little more finessing on the wordage front, it would have been one for all, as it is, stick to pirate loving children.

3.5 Stars