4-7 books, 7-11 books, Brilliant Books

REVIEW: THE CREAKERS by Tom Fletcher

‘What silently waits in the shadows at night? What’s under your bed, keeping just out of sight?…What makes all the creaks, cracks and clangs in your house?…’

IMG_3722

So, it turns out that Tom Fletcher is not just a pretty face! This book is genius! I have to be honest, I bought this book not long after starting this blog, after being swayed by all the hype around its release. But we were not disappointed. I was a bit dubious that this might be a bit too ‘old’ and subsequently too scary for my six year old but I thought we’d give it a go and perhaps miss out the scary parts if need be – but why would you want to?!! It has just the right balance of scariness and humour and oh my goodness does Tom Fletcher have writing for children down to a ‘T’! ‘T’ for Terrific!

Children’s fiction is crying out for strong female heroines and in this story, the second of Tom Fletcher’s solo novels, we are presented with Lucy Dungston. She awakes one morning to discover that not only are her parents missing but ALL the grown-ups in the town where she lives. While the rest of the children in Whiffington relish in their independence and get up to all the things you would expect children to get up to if their parents vanish, Lucy along with a couple of unlikely sidekicks try to find out what is going on. Enter – ‘The Creakers’, four mysterious creatures who are discovered creeping around the bedroom. What follows is every child’s nightmare as the ‘things’ that lurk under the bed become a reality.

Tom Fletcher creates a magical ‘underground’ world in which these creatures thrive. When the two worlds collide, all sorts of calamity and horrors present themselves. There are hugely scary moments, laugh out loud funny bits and perfectly poignant parts. Tom Fletcher’s voice is prominent throughout and we loved the play on words and helpful warnings from the author when things might start to get a little creepy!

The book also has a strong (but no so much that it’s in your face) environmental message about rubbish, litter and what we do with it. This is presented very cleverly and prompts thinking in both adults and children alike.

Neither of us wanted to put this book down (and I have to admit that I sneakily read ahead more than a couple of times!). On more than one occasion, my daughter woke me up, the book clutched in her hand, begging me to read ‘just one more chapter’ before the day had started!

This is Tom Fletcher’s second solo novel, the first being ‘The Christmasaurus’ which is also pretty amazing (so amazing in fact that plans are in the pipeline to turn it into a feature length film).

Thank you Tom Fletcher for a brilliant read! We absolutely can not wait to read what you come up with next.

Brilliant Books, Reading Adventures

Having a ‘whale of a time!’ at The Discover Story Centre.

 

IMG_3410.JPG

Living in Essex, we are very lucky that London and all it offers is only a short train journey away. The Discover Centre in Stratford is one of our favourite family places to visit. If your child loves exploring, stories and make believe then it is an absolute must!

We have made a few visits here now, but I realised my youngest, now 2 1/2 hadn’t been since he was a baby. Now a fully fledged toddler, I thought I would try it out with him this week while his big sister was at school and we quite literally had a whale of a time!

‘Discover Children’s Story Centre is a place where children and their families can enjoy playing, learning and making up stories together.’

When visiting, you can expect to find purpose built creative spaces consisting of two Story Worlds and a Story Garden, all designed to inspire children’s curiosity and imagination.  There are also regular exhibitions and workshops as well as a wonderful Storytelling space and a lovely (and of course super family-friendly) cafe. The current exhibition ‘A World Inside a Book – Gruffalos, Dragons and other Creatures’, based on the popular stories by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, is running until September 2018. Previous exhibitions have included the works of Oliver Jeffers and Dr.Seuss (all of which we have visited, and all of which have been equally as amazing!). Discover is also a charity and works with schools and libraries in the local area, running a series of community and education programmes with an aim to improve reading, writing and speaking and listening skills.

After a very exciting train journey with my vehicle crazy son, we arrived at the Discover Centre at around 11am. I hadn’t pre-booked as it was a bit of a spontaneous trip and I wasn’t expecting it to be too busy during term-time (which it wasn’t). After buying our tickets and booking into the exhbition, we left our coats, hats and scarves in one of the spacious honesty lockers and set of to explore. I had braved not bringing a buggy, just because I didn’t want the hassle of it getting on and off the train. However, I have brought the buggy on previous visits, there are lifts at Stratford station and plenty of buggy parking space within the Discover Story Centre. Buggies are not allowed on the Story World spaces but they are allowed in the cafe.

Immediately my little boy felt at home and set off to investigate the ground floor Story World space. In 2016 the illustrator Jim Field worked with Discover to redesign the spaces. Jungle vines and flora and fauna hang overhead. You feel like you are walking into an actual magical woodland. In the corner, my son enjoyed walking along the mirror lined wobbly bridge, with lighting designed to make you feel you are suspended in water. There are plenty of hidey holes and hollows for little ones to explore including an interactive cave with sound and light spots on the floor and a changing screen displaying some of the resident ‘Hootah’ birds – a huge hit with the younger children. A rope attached to a grassy hill further encourages chilren to explore and climb. If you have children with boundless energy, this really is a great place to let off some steam, not-to-mention a creative alternative to the soft play centre! My son was enthralled with the steam ship and really enjoyed taking the helm at the wheel, declaring that Mummy must sit in the passenger seat as we were “on an adventure”. Opportunities to make and create were also available with craft tables filled with wooden spoons, tissue paper, pencils, sticky tape, scissors and adornments. We made a little ‘spoon person’ together and added him to one of the ‘spoon trees’ alongside creations left by other visitors. We also enjoyed playing in the mock castle which was big enough for us both to climb into and where we engaged in some role play with lion puppet! Hootah’s sorting office also gives older children a chance to do some writing. Hootah being Discover’s resident alien who comes from the planet Squiggly Diggly where everyone has lost their imagination. Children are invited to create a story for him to send home! There are of course numerous books scattered everywhere and plenty of opportunities to cuddle up in a cosy spot and read a book or three! However, my son was not going to be sitting quietly when there was so much to do!

After a while, the first floor Story Space was also opened up. it may be a good idea to check when this space is open, as I believe that during the week it is sometimes used for school workshops and classes. Making our way upstairs we discovered Hoothah’s spaceship/observatory with periscope, telescope, buttons and levers a plenty to press, pull and grab. For older children there are ideas for story starters and story titles to interact with and spark the imagination. If needing a bit of down time, there are desks for children to colour in and complete Hootah themed worksheets. In the corner resides an inviting and hidden book nook, with a range of colourful and exciting books to share together. However, the highlight of the floor is the sky walk and giant slide – perfect for tiring out energetic toddlers!

Following the Gruffalo’s footprints, we made our way to the basement for our allocated time slot for the exhibition. Adorning the walls outside the entrance to the exhibition was the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler gallery. Beautiful, original illustrations and page layouts were framed together in collections of the famous stories with little anecdotes about each. My son was quick to recognise the drawings from his favourite ‘The Monkey Puzzle’. I could have studied them all day! As the door opened we were ushered inside to Charlie Cook’s front room. There, we were read ‘Zog’ by one of Discover’s ‘Story Builders’. This is definately one of Julia Donaldon’s longer stories and as it was during term time and the audience was on the younger side, they did get bored quite quickly. But the ‘Story Builder’ read with enthusiasm and managed the somewhat rowdy bunch of toddlers and babies. The big reveal came after the story and a secret entrance into the main exhibition was theatrically revealed! As expected from previous exhibitions attended, the attention to detail throughout the exhibition was impeccable. The worlds of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s were created in full technicolour glory. From ‘The Snail on the Whale’ to ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ my son throughly enjoyed being immersed in each story, flitting from one to the other in turn. We rode on the witches’ broom, uncovered our very own Stickman, made friends with a Gruffalo, spied ‘Owl’ in his tree top house, squashed and squeezed into the old lady’s house and dressed as a monkey who searched for his Mummy. My son’s favourite was the submarine and the undersea world of ‘Tiddler’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Having worked up an appetite we headed up to the cafe. They really cater for adults and children alike and serve a wide range of hot and cold food such as paninis, jacket potatoes and sandwiches and  a varied selction of drinks at a very reasonable price. I was almost persuaded into a slice of delicious looking chocolate and Guiness cake with cream cheese frosting! but settled for a homemade flapjack which was also delicious. The tables were clean, the service was excellent and we were not in anyway hurried.

Feeling refreshed and with some new found energy we grabbed our coats and headed back down to the ground floor and out to the Story Garden. Outside there are plenty more activities to discover, a giant taxi to ride, another huge slide and oversized musical for children (and adults!) to bash and play to their heart’s content. Seeing as we visited on a very typical grey and drizzly January day, we didn’t spend too long outdoors but on a lovely day this is a great extension to the indoor spaces.

With the promise of a visit to the shop, and perhaps a new book to take home, I managed to steer my toddler towards home! The onsite shop stocks a huge range of children’s literature and book related merchandise as well as some smaller ‘pocket money’ toys and items to cater for all budgets. I could have spend hours browsing, but settled for ‘Shh We have a Plan’ by Chris Naughton, probably because of the vivid illustrations and recognising them from another of his books ‘A Bit Lost’. You are also welcome to access the shop without paying get into the Centre.

IMG_3372.JPG

You can find the Discover Story Centre at 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London, E15 4QZ. The nearest stations are Stratford High Street (DLR) and Stratford which is served by the Central and Jubilee lines, as well as the DLR, Overground and main line services to and from London Liverpool Street. If you are coming from Stratford station just make sure you take the exit marked ‘Town Centre’ which is the opposite exit to the Westfield Shopping Centre! It is then a very short 5-8 minute walk. Discover is very easy to spot and adorned with large red flags at the top of the building. At the time of writing admission prices are £6.50 adults and children over 2 years old. Under 1s are free and 1-2 pay £2. There is a small additional charge of £1.50 to enter a selected time slot at the exhibition which is worth every penny! Pre-booking is not essential but I would advise if you are planning to visit during the school holidays or want to enter the exhibition or other special event including Story Telling sessions for babies and toddlers. The Centre is aimed at 0-11 year old. I would personally say that the story spaces are primarily suitable for pre-schoolers, but there are aspects that would please older children. The exhibition suggests and age range of 0-8 (but older children are also welcome) and I would certainly recommend this for all ages. If you have older children, it is also worth checking out their events page as there are lots of workshops and author visits to cater for all.

I hope you enjoyed reading the first of our ‘adventures in reading’! and I hope that you get a chance to visit the Discover Story Centre soon!

Emma x

 

 

4-7 books, 7-11 books, Brilliant Books

WEEKLY ‘WHAT’S ON THE SHELF?’ Snowball the Baby Bigfoot by Ruth Symes Illustrated by Tina Macnaughton

Happy New Year! So…. it’s been a little while since the last post. We have had a busy but brilliant Christmas  holiday. However, I can assure you that even more reading than ever has been going on and I have lots of fantabulous books to share with you, as well as lots of other book related posts brewing in the pipeline! The first is ‘Snowball the Baby Bigfoot’ – the third book in ‘The Secret Animal Society’ by Ruth Symes.

The series so far consists of:

Cornflake the Baby Dragon

Spike the Sea Serpent

Snowball the Baby Bigfoot

The premise of the series revolves around a brother and sister who bring home one of the school’s forgotten pets to look after for the holidays…. and before they know it their lives change forever!

Without giving too much away, the third book in the series continues with their encounters with mythical creatures and fans of the original will be delighted to know that ‘Cornflake’ makes an appearance too!

There is a magical Christmas/Winter theme to this book too and it would make a great alternative to the traditional Christmas story.

We found this series in our local library and my daughter, who adores all things dragon was intrigued by the title of the first book. We were not disappointed – surely it would be any animal lovers dream to discover and raise a baby dragon?!

This is a chapter book aimed at young readers, I would suggest from Reception age up to lower KS2 and depending on reading capabilities, could be read aloud or read independently. The chapters are a ‘good’ length so don’t allow younger readers to get bored but they absolutely still create that important element of suspense to keep them wanting more.

We loved the note from the author at the start and couldn’t resist having a go at the suggested recipe – yum! A great baking experience, even for very little hands and they tasted delicious too! At my daughter’s request we even saved a cake and left it on the window sill because “Cornflake must love Cornflake cakes’. She left a note and of course he visited and left a note back!

 

You can find out more about Ruth Symes and her books at www.ruthsymes.com

4-7 books, 7-11 books, Brilliant Books

WEEKLY ‘WHAT’S ON THE SHELF?’ The Hodgeheg by Dick King Smith

 

‘The story of Max, the hedgehog who becomes a HODGEHEG and becomes a hero!’

So, this week I’ve pulled another favourite from my daughter’s shelf. I remember reading this as a child and was then re-introduced to it whilst teaching Year 2 – encouraging the sustained reading of a chapter book.

This is an endearing tale of a hedgehog called Max and his family, who dream of one day reaching their local park. However, nobody has found a safe way of crossing the very busy road. Little Max is determined to find a way! The story follows his problem-solving journey with elements of humour and tragedy along the way. The hedgehog characters are simply lovely. As always in his classic animal stories, Dick King-Smith truly brings the animal characters alive so as readers, we are clearly invested in their trials and tribulations.

This book lends itself to some great discussion points – ‘road safety’ and the protection of hedgehogs to name just a few. I also love that the book was first published in 1987 and therefore provides a little insight into ‘the past’! with references to milk floats and ‘telephone booths’. These created some very interesting discussions with my daughter!

This is a great introduction to chapter books for young children and is a great length to be read aloud without either person getting bored! My daughter was of pre-school age when we first read this together and she couldn’t wait to move onto the next chapter after each reading session. It also made her curious about other books by Dick King-Smith and as a result, we have since added other of his books to our collection. Older, more confident readers, would enjoy this for themselves and it is definitely a book for both boys and girls.

‘A charming classic from an all-time favourite author’.

 

4-7 books, Brilliant Books, Preschoolers

WEEKLY ‘WHAT’S ON THE SHELF?’ I NEED A WEE! By Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet

“No! You can’t wee in there!” whispered Robot. “It’s a teapot – not a wee-pot!”

Welcome to the first of my weekly “What’s on the shelf?” posts. When I asked my daughter which book I should pick, I knew what her answer would be. She loves anything by Sue Hendra (we all do!) and loves adding to her collection. However, this is her absolute favourite book of all time!

The story is about a gorgeous knitted bear who goes by the name of Alan. He is having sooooo much fun playing with his friends until…. you’ve guessed it – he needs a wee! His adventures continue whilst he gets more and more desperate! Hilarity ensues as obstacles and distractions present themselves and finding a suitable place for having a wee becomes more and more unlikely until finally… well, I’ll leave it up to you to find out!

The bright and vivid illustrations help the story along, the expressions on the characters’ faces are adorable and comical at the same time! I have definitely developed a soft spot for Alan!

This book is laugh out loud funny. My daughter has read this time and time again and never fails to giggle at Alan and his antics. A fabulous, fabulous story that will appeal to children and adults alike of all ages. ‘Perfect for anyone who’s ever been desperate….’

Brilliant Books, Preschoolers

REVIEW: TEN LITTLE PIRATES By Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty

 

Our first adventure takes takes us sailing the seas, confronting sea birds, being zapped by lightening and of course searching for hidden treasure!

My son recently turned 2 and was bought this beautiful hardback version of the story by a good friend. We love receiving books as birthday presents especially when it’s not a book I have come across before – a new adventure to open and discover!

My daughter announced that she had been read this book at school so was already familiar with the story. Within minutes of reading, my 2 year old was ‘arrrrrring’ away with the pirates and joining in as much as he could with the counting. “Oh no!” he exclaimed as the pirates were picked off along the way. My personal favourite page has to be when pirate number seven gets seduced by a singing mermaid and off he sails…!

A great little book for pre-schoolers and beyond. The story encourages number recognition, counting forwards and backwards, is repetitive enough to enable little ones to interact but also sparks the imagination with bright and colourful illustrations, big sound effects for reading aloud and inventive situations for the dispatching of the pirates along the way. This story will be sitting on our bookshelf for a good while.