I don’t know if I’ve ever previously mentioned my love of lists, but I have a serious obsession. My heart broke a little bit when The Independent stopped including the ’50 best…’ supplement on a Saturday, as I’d happily tear it out of my parents’ hands (yes, this was a while ago, I don’t travel weekly to my dad’s to rob him of his weekend paper now that I’m a Proper Grown-Up) and study the pages regardless of what the subject might be, though I have to say I made more notes when it covered things like books than I did when it covered lawnmowers.
I don’t just read other people’s lists, I have a plethora of my own as well – the ‘Notes’ feature on my phone is heavily overused. I have what you might think of as ‘normal’ lists (shopping list, to do list, books I’d like to read, etc.) but also longer term lists that M finds endlessly amusing. This include, but are not limited to, sets of bullet points on topics such as:
1) My dream life
2) Things I am interested in
3) Beatrix Potter books we own
While these do have a very tenuous broader purpose (to help me try and organise my constantly evolving thoughts on what sort of job I want to do once the children are all at school, in the case of the first two at least), mostly they are just a reason for me to feel in control of a small part of life.
Lists make me happy. As well as the ones that serve an obviously practical purpose (see shopping lists, etc.) they give starting points, open to elaboration and further discussion. They take away from the scariness of a blank page and they help keep track of bits and bobs of ideas and plans that might otherwise float away.
Bearing all of the above in mind, I was very excited to see a new list in my Twitter timeline recently – the shortlist for the 10th Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.
Not only is it wonderful to see any celebration of children’s books, but it also prompted me to get my blogging butt into gear and finally review a couple of books that have been sitting in my blogging box for a shamefully long time (if anything was going to rouse me into action once again, it was a list!). As well as all that, I get to tell you about a new book featuring a character with whom I can definitely identify as a kindred spirit. Woohooooooooooooooooooo!
The first of these books is ‘Penguin in Peril‘, by Helen Hancocks, published by Templar.
In the same way that I love lists, I also love collecting things and when I was younger I went though a huge penguin craze. Thus, although my preferences are more owl-based now (with a sprinkling of seahorses for good measure), I still get a thrill whenever I see the cute black and white waddling shape of a penguin.
However, although this book already had me on its side with the front cover, as the old saying goes that shouldn’t necessarily form our complete judgement. Luckily, Helen Hancocks has come up with a story that surpassed even my high initial expectations.
Three hungry cats decide to use the last of their money not to buy more food, but to watch ‘The Fishy Feast’ at the cinema. Inspired by the penguin stars of the film, they decide to steal a penguin from the zoo to become their own personal fish-finder. Soon after his capture, the penguin gets wise to their plan and makes a bid for freedom. A high-paced chase ensues, ending up with justice being served and the cats behind bars. For C and H, who are currently obsessed with things being fair (not that this sentiment informs *every* choice they make, it has to be said…!), this was the perfect solution and they revelled in ‘good’ winning out over ‘bad’.
Not only was the message popular with them, but the illustrations themselves are ones that we rejoice over time and time again. I’ve realised that I am personally a huge fan of matt (matte?) pages and although I love many books with glossy pages too, matt pages are seemingly a shortcut to me knowing I’ll fall in love with a book’s illustrations. I adore the colours Hancocks has used, we all loved searching for the penguin in the deceptively complex city scenes and C and H squeal with delight when we come to the spread where they can trace the penguin’s journey through the underground pipes from the park back into the zoo.
This is one of those brilliant books that is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for the children they read with and we can’t wait to see more of Hancock’s work in the future.
Then we have ‘Weasels‘ by Elys Dolan (published by Nosy Crow)
This is a book that, at the moment (with C and H being nearly five and three, respectively), is probably funnier to M and I than it is to the boys. Not that they don’t enjoy the gloriously silly plot featuring a gang of weasels hatching a plan for world domination but encountering a few technical difficulties along the way.
N.B. I looked up collective nouns for weasels while writing this post and was pleased to note that, besides a ‘gang’, ‘pack’ and ‘boogle’ (I questioned the validity of the website at that point, but I really want it to be right!), a group of weasels can also be known as a confusion of weasels. This description would fit very well with the theme of this book ;)
There is much here to appeal to those who have spent any time having to rub along and work with a group of other people, especially within a large organisation. The little thoughts and bits of speech that the weasels come up with have me laughing out loud every time, which is quite an achievement now that I know exactly what’s coming. Having said that, just because the boys don’t ‘get’ all the jokes doesn’t mean that they don’t devour the details in the pictures of various machines – we’ve spent ages talking about what various bits might actually do, and what sort of functions a World Domination Machine would need to perform. We all also hoot with laughter over the endpapers, but I’ll leave you to discover those for yourselves…
For me, this is the funniest of the books that have been shortlisted (and the funniest book I’ve read in a long time) and again, we definitely think Elys Dolan is one to watch.
A book we’ve previously used to wondrous comic effect is ‘Open Very Carefully – A Book with Bite‘ by Nick Bromley, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne (published by Nosy Crow).
You can read all about it here.
Given that it’s taking me an AGE to finish this post, I’m now also able to add the update that C and H used their World Book Day vouchers to buy two more books on the shortlist, ‘Time for Bed, Fred!‘ by Yasmeen Ismail and ‘The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water‘ by Gemma Merino.
As with all the other books on the list, we really enjoyed these two. H, in particular, has become a BIG fan of Fred the dog, who finds some very funny ways to avoid bedtime and who discovers some highly comical alternative ‘beds’ in the process. The message behind ‘The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water’ is also endearing; about being yourself even if you don’t seem to fit in with those around you – you might discover that you are even more exciting than you ever dreamed possible and that blending in with the crowd isn’t the be all and end all.
Finally, although it’s not on the Waterstone’s list, ‘Dangerous!‘ by Tim Warnes (published by Little Tiger Press) appealed to me IMMEDIATELY.
While he doesn’t make lists per se, he does like to use lots of words to describe things and I can definitely identify with that. The first spread shows Mole pootling about labelling everything in his forest habitat, from sapling to anthill to poo (cue much chortling from C and H – we’re well into the toilet humour appreciation stage). He continues with his habit even as he discovers Something New on the path, but the Something New (now revealed to be a crocodile) bites back and eats the labels. This infuriates Mole, who initially stomps off in a huff, only to be followed by the crocodile. It eventually transpires that the crocodile just wants to be friends, but only after Mole has used some less than complimentary words against him which he subsequently regrets. This leads on to one of the most happy-making final pages I’ve come across in a long time, with Mole riding happily on top of crocodile, who in turn is covered with labels to describe a good friend (‘precious’, ‘unique’ and ‘safe’, among others).
I love how this book subtly highlights the potential dangers of labelling people, especially according to their appearance. It would be hard to sum up even those we know and love well within a concise set of adjectives, so it’s impossible to do so for people we’ve just met – everyone is more exciting and more complex than that.
Having worked as a teacher I can see how well this book would work as a teaching tool in the classroom – for literacy, PSHE and science for starters – but even more importantly it’s just a really fun book to read together and it can be enjoyed as much as a lighthearted tale that features the word ‘poo’ as it can as a deeper book about how we relate to others. In either circumstance we would highly recommend it.
Thank you so much for indulging this lengthy post. I feel certain there’s an elusive happy medium between essays such as these and the shorter posts I did at Christmas, but I also have a feeling it’ll be a while before I discover it ;)
Disclaimer: I received my copy of ‘Penguin in Peril’ and ‘Dangerous’ from their respective publishers. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the reviews represent my own honest opinion.