My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond

My Dads a Birdman 1
My Dads a Birdman 3

My kids are aged 8, 6 and 3. They still all enjoy picture books but the two older ones really like me to also read chapter books to them before bed. It can be quite a challenge to find ones they like – they really hate anything scary and are sensitive to creatures, monsters, even some kinds of wizardry – basically any stories with evil as well as good are just not up their street. It can be tricky to find stories aimed at their age-group without any baddies!

My Dad’s a Birdman is a great find.

Set in the North of England, Lizzie’s Dad is preparing to enter the Great Human Bird Competition and her Auntie Doreen is getting cross about it. You see Lizzie’s Dad is taking his entry quite literally – building wings of feathers, eating flies and feathering his nest. You see Lizzie and her Dad are getting over the death of Lizzie’s ‘Mam’ and that can be tough on grown-ups as well as kids.

The story is funny and silly but the grown-up reading this will see a sadness in this story of grief, how we deal with it and how sometimes, just sometimes, kids become the grown-ups.

My Dads a Birdman 2

Lizzie is a wonderful character with a huge empathy & understanding. Whilst she has the intelligence to understand her father’s actions she can also see the love of her Auntie Doreen condoning them. She is accepting of other people’s coping mechanisms and the book is great at demonstrating our differences with dealing with difficult situations.

But have no fear of worrying your children with stories of a mother no longer there – my children didn’t really pick up on this ‘back-story’ until we had nearly finished the book, they were too engrossed with the story of this fantastical competition.

Polly Dunbar (who illustrated the lovely Penguin ) provides soft and gentle illustrations, which make this book perfect for children (like mine) moving from picture to chapter book. Available from Amazon (US and UK).

-Mo x

A Spy Birthday Party for an 8-Year-Old

Elias Spy Party 1

This year Elias wanted a ‘Magic’ birthday party. Not being a member of the magic circle myself I was thrown a little by how I was going to pull that off – so I started to brainstorm other possibilities with him – we decided upon a ‘Spy Party’ and I immediately got Pinteresting.

There were so many brilliant ideas that I just knew this party would be fun to organize – and it really was but I did have to be more organized then I usually am for parties and with 8-year-olds I knew I couldn’t pull the wool over their eyes – the spy games would need to be good.

Elias Spy Party 2

First we sent out an invitation inviting his guests to attend Spy School. Included in the invite was a fake moustache (to ensure no one suspected them) and a Cipher Wheel to decode the secret password. I downloaded a template for the Cipher Wheel here and just ‘re-branded’ it a little.

Elias Spy Party 3

Then it was time to plan the actual party! We decided to break down the party into 8 parts – 7 tasks for the ‘spies’ to complete before the final challenge – this was the order of the day:
Arrival – Spies are given their identification tags (1) and scanned (2) to ensure they are not bringing any weapons into Spy School. They then needed to choose a Spy Name by picking one word from one jar and another from another and then this was stuck into their ‘fake’ passports – I got these ideas from this great blog post and they even had downloadable printables! – Inside the passports was a list of the tasks they would need to complete – I stickered them as they passed each level (but actually I’d recommend using a stamp for that bit – the stickering was a little fiddly!).

Task 1 – Observation: My husband had a lot of fun setting up a table with a Playmobil ‘scene’ on it – he tried to make it quite detailed. The kids were told to study the scene as they would need to observe if there had been changes to it later on. We set this up in our living room were we did the arrival and it was a great game for them to be getting on with whilst we waited for everyone.
Task 2 – Interrogation: Downstairs into our cellar (usually a place for laundry but on this day it was Spy HQ!). Another idea from the above blog – each kid had a character, animal or famous person stuck on their backs – they had to walk round and ask each other questions to try and find out who they were – but the answers could only be yes or no – the kids found this one pretty hard and we had to give them some helpful tips but they all managed in the end.
Task 3 – Code Creating and Cracking: We taught them a way to write a hidden message by writing or drawing something small with a light blue crayon and then scribbling all over it with a red crayon so you can hardly see the blue message. Then take a sheet of red acetate and hold it over the message and you will see the blue message clearly. They had to create a message – then swap with a friend and try and discover what had been written or drawn.
Back to Task 1 – Now we went back to the observation table – in the meantime my husband had made 6 changes and they had to discover what as a team. They loved this one.
Task 4 – With 7 boys and a girl we knew by now they’d need some running about so this was Time Trials. I got my husband to take the kids over to the park to do some races for 15 minutes. Whilst they were gone I roped my Mum and Dad into setting up task 5 …
Task 5 – Laser maze. When the kids arrived back we made them wait outside the door and explained the next task – getting through a laser-maze without breaking it. Our hallway is a perfect corridor for this – we used red crepe-paper and washi-tape to create a maze for the kids to climb through – it looked great and the kids really enjoyed that surprise to come back to – tip if you do this: put some lasers very low down – the kids quite quickly worked out they could slide through underneath most of our maze.
Task 6 – the controversial one … Target Practise. I have never bought these ‘exciting’ Nerf guns for Elias although whenever he goes to anyone’s house who has one he really loves them. I’m just a pacifist and don’t like boys playing war but … they do anyway – my boys often take sticks or their fingers and shoot eachother. I remembered how much fun I had with water-guns as a kid and knew that I would be making my son’s day if he got to have a play with some of those ‘exciting’ guns. So I bought the littlest one I could find (3) and a second one with a laser (4) (because that seemed quite Spy like) and we set up a small target (5) back down in the cellar – they all got a go with the laser gun first and had to try and score 100 points on the target and then they had a go with the small pistol – there were strict rules to not shoot at fellow spies and actually they all really enjoyed it. Elias had about 5 days of carrying these guns around with him after his party and now they are at the bottom of a toy box somewhere and don’t seem to be too exciting anymore – maybe he got the shooting out of his system for now!
Task 7 – Bomb detonation. By now the kids were ready for some food and drink – I made chocolate brownies and ‘bomb’ biscuits and we put sparklers in the brownies to detonate them. (Whilst they were eating I sent my Dad and husband on a little mission to get something ready for the next stage).

Elias Spy Party 4
Task 8 – The final challenge. I bought out a suitcase that was locked with a 4 number padlock. The kids were told there was another bag inside this one with a 3 digit padlock on it and that their party bags were inside the 2nd bag. In order to get their party bags they would have to crack the codes. They were given a ‘Top Secret’ box with some helpful tools inside. There was:
● A clip board with a pen and paper with 7 boxes ready to input the numbers as they found them.
● A piece of fabric with 8 pins in it.
● A couple of code-crackers – A number code, an alpha code, a piece of the red acetate.
● A mobile phone – yes an actual phone (can you imagine how excited they were)
…and this is where the genius of this task was – again credit due entirely to this blog who introduced me to QR codes and this generator. It was really simple to set up; I could just input the questions to our ‘treasure hunt’ and then fix the QR codes up so the kids could scan them to get their next clue – they felt like real proper spies!!! Just a little tip – when you create the codes I copied them into a document and printed them and just wrote at the top of each code where I needed to hang it – this won’t ruin the clues for the kids as it will only say the location they have already reached but it will help you to remember which clue to pin up where! At each location the kids got a spy task to crack to get the number and the next clue where to go. Most of these clues we did as code-cracking tasks but my favourite one (and this is what my Dad and husband were busy with whilst we ate cake) was the bomb detonation – we filled our trampoline with 50 black balloons and the kids had to pop them to find the number – it was a little scary having 8 kids on a trampoline holding pins but luckily no injuries and lots of fun!
So they cracked the code and secured their party loot – each got a pair of spy-glasses, invisible ink pen, note book and some popping candy.
We were shattered at the end – it was full-on but I think it was the most fun party we’ve ever done!

(1) I bought these clips to create ID tags
(2) This scanner was not too expensive and really added to the official feel of entering Spy School – the kids have also enjoyed playing with it since.
(3) We bought this Nerf Gun and this (4) laser version and this is actually a very nice (5) target practise

‘Smartypants: Pete in School’ by Maira Kalman

Smartypants book

There is so much I want to tell you about Maira Kalman. She is my current ‘book-creator-crush’ – I have loved everything I have read by her – adult books or kids books.

Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv but moved to New York aged four. She is an author, an illustrator, a curator and just a brilliant, brilliant voice and mind. She has a style and stream of consciousness like no other author I have ever experienced and as everything she writes is also illustrated the whole experience of looking through a Maira Kalman book is an energizing joy – her books always make me laugh but can be thought-provoking and also touching to draw a tear.

Smartypants 2
Smartypants 3
The stories often don’t follow a clear path – you need to commit to her style and prepare to jump around a little but when you do you go on a journey which is just about as delicious as a salt-beef and pickle bagel – which brings me back to her Jewish / Bronx routes – which gives her work such a rich tone – I’m not sure you can be funny like Kalman unless you are Jewish and from the Bronx (but I may be wrong on that?).

So to choose a book to review was the hard thing here – I’m sure I’ll tell you about some more soon but I picked Smartypants: Pete in School because it is the book that makes my kids laugh loudest and what better reason to spread the love?

Pete is the dog of Poppy & Schmookie Wise – he eats everything. One day he turns up at school and starts causing havoc by eating his way through Poppy and Schmookie’s classes – until, called to the principal’s office, he eats a Big Book of Everything and ends up really smart …. The story is funny but the characters – Poppy, Schmookie, the teachers and of course Pete you will just love. Kalman, talks in asides (if she was on Instagram she’d be the hashtag queen!) and goes off on tangents, which lets us get to know these characters in a deeper way.

Smartypants 4

You can buy Smartypants: Pete in School here, but I warn you it could spark a book-buying-spree!

-Mo x

PS: If you want to know more about Maira Kalman you can hear her 2007 Ted Talk here (it’s perfect!) and books for grown-ups by her are The Principles of Uncertainty, which is a compilation of her columns for The New York Times. And the Pursuit of Happiness  is her year-long investigation into American democracy and lastly (my personal favourite) is My Favorite Things which was created to accompany her curation of the artifacts at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The book explores the significance of objects in our lives and combines personal objects and artifacts from the exhibition. Lovely.

A Bell for Ursli by Alois Carigiet & Selina Chönz

A Bell for Ursli 1
A Bell for Ursli 2

We talk a fair bit about social media in our house – my husband really hates it whilst I love a bit of Instagram and this can lead to some interesting debates, but this is a story of how social media got me to discover a wonderful book I didn’t know about but which was already on my bookshelf….

One of Esther’s Insta-friends posted a picture from the book ‘A Bell for Ursli ’ and she messaged me to ask if I knew the book – it just looked so lovely. It looked familiar but I couldn’t place it. Esther’s friend revealed the title and so I looked it up and by the front cover I knew it was on our bookshelf somewhere. My husband is German and so we have lots of kid’s books in German – I always look at them when we buy them (in fact I buy a lot of them purely based on their illustrations!) but then they go on the ’German Shelf’ for him to read. ‘Schnellen-Ursli’, ‘Der Grösse Schnee’ and ‘Flurina und das Wildvöglein’ – all by the same author / illustrator were all on our shelf having been bought for our eldest son when he was born by friends.

Noticing some of the titles were also in English I bought them and feel like I found treasure – what lovely stories! You see these books are real classics – beautiful tales of idyllic childhoods in the Swiss mountains accompanied by equally idyllic pictures.

A Bell for Ursli 3
A Bell for Ursli 4

A Bell for Ursli is a perfect story for this time of year – based on the Swiss tradition of children ringing cow-bells through the streets of the villages during the Spring Festival. Each child carries the biggest bell they can and ring it loudly to drive the Winter away and welcome the Spring. The village people then fill the children’s bells with treats – but only the big children can carry big bells, the smaller children must carry the smaller calves bells – the story of Ursli is of a small boy wanting to be bigger and the adventure he goes on to be so.

I think this book would make the perfect Easter present (and paired with this super-brilliantly-kitsch Playmobil set it beats almost any chocolate egg I know!).

-Mo  x

6 Easter Book suggestions

Easter books
1. The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
Margaret Wise Brown is probably best known for Goodnight Moon but I prefer this story for Easter – a young bunny finds a curious object (an egg) and can hear some tapping inside it – what is it? The bunny sets to investigations – some of which are quite disruptive but the little duckling that emerges is also an inquisitive little thing … a sweet little story of curiosity and friendship and of course its right in keeping with this time of year.

2. I am A Bunny by Richard Scarry
An old Babyccino favourite (see here) and if you don’t have it already this story of Nicholas the Bunny would make a perfect gift for Easter for a baby or toddler.

3. The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith
I’m a big fan of Brian Wildsmith’s books and this book is a good way to introduce children to the more difficult religious story of Easter time. Like his other book, A Christmas Story, Wildsmith uses an outsider to the story to tell it – in both cases a donkey. The donkey in The Easter Story carries Jesus into Jerusalem and sees the whole story unfold – how he is bought before Pontius Pilate, how he is crucified and how he comes to life again with the resurrection. Wildsmith uses bright colours, which evoke a Middle-Eastern landscape and gold to show that this is a very special, precious story. Whether you are religious or not it gives a good overview to what the festival of Easter is about. Good for children aged 4 – 7.

4. Hare and the Easter Eggs (Little Grey Rabbit) by Alison Uttley & Margaret Tempest
For those of you unfamiliar with the stories of Little Grey Rabbit – Hare is quite a cheeky, brave character and here he uses his boldness to get a most special Easter treat for his friends on Easter Sunday. A sweet little story with pretty, pastel drawings. The books are in small hardback format (reminiscent of another ‘rabbit’ book which doesn’t feature here as I figured it was just too obvious) so it makes a neat little package to hide as part of an egg hunt!

5. Rabbit School by Fritz Koch-Gotha and Albert Sixtus
We have this book in German but I double-checked that it is available in English! Fritz Koch-Gotha and Albert Sixtus are both Children’s Literature legends in Germany and this book is a lovely example of why. The illustrations are lovingly detailed whilst the rhyming story tells of 2 rabbits who are off to school. At school they learn what plants are tasty and good and how to make them grow. They learn about the evil fox and how to avoid him and of course they learn how to paint Easter Eggs so they can be Easter bunnies!

6. Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood
Released at the beginning of March, this is Ciara Flood’s first picture book. The story of annoyingly nice new neighbours and a grumpy bear who is just not into being disturbed (even by niceness!). Of course those ‘peskily nice rabbits’ win in the end and we all feel rather happy that bear turns over a new leaf to not be such a grump. Not an Easter story as such but rabbits felt enough of a link to get this one in this little list!

Have a great Easter – Mo. x

Where’s the Pair? by Britta Teckentrup

Where's the Pair
Where's The Pair 2

Courtney wrote about The Odd One Out by Britta Teckentrup and I bought it immediately – Otto loves ‘looking’ books and particularly ones where he can get involved. I love them too – these moments sitting and chatting to my 3-year-old over a book are all too precious. How they chat at this age is so great isn’t it? And these moments are made even more enjoyable when the book is as pleasing to the eye as with Ms. Teckentrup’s illustrations. That’s why I was happy to see this new book Where’s the Pair? released.

Where's The Pair 3
Where's The Pair 4

As with ‘The Odd One Out’ each page is adorned with a vibrant pattern of animals and a little rhyme questioning us to find the pair. And it’s not too easy — I even found the pairing a bit tricky. After Otto and I had read it I found him later sitting with his older sister trying to find the pairs – maybe she also enjoys these quiet moments and chats with our little one?

The book is available from Amazon (UK and US ).

-Mo x

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long

A Rock is Lively

My eldest son, Elias, has a love for stones and rocks (or as he calls them, crystals). Our house is full of stones he has found outside of our house, in the garden or in the park – to me they are just stones but to him they are all wonderful – he looks at them for ages finding the sparkling bits or fossilized fragments. He cleans them and studies them and keeps them in boxes and old printing trays in his bedroom.

So when I found this book I knew it would make the perfect birthday present for him.

A rock is lively_inside
A rock is mixed up
A Rock is Lively book

The title itself captures the special thing that people like Elias see in ordinary stones: A Rock is Lively … well I was yet to be convinced but as Mother and Son sat down to read this book – this Mama slowly became a convert. It turns out that stones really rock (if you’ll excuse the pun).

The book is written in such a way that it opens up the world of Stones, rocks and crystals and demonstrates just how interesting they are with bite-size nuggets of facts and stunning drawings to illustrate.

I really loved reading the book with Elias and by the end of the book I was proud that he was so interested in such a subject. Never having been one for Geology as a kid, it was great for me to learn (or re-learn as I’m sure is the case) how different rocks are made up, how old they can be and just how beautiful they can be. Maybe as a result I will be more patient about the piles of stones I find in my washing machine after washing Elias’s trousers! Maybe ….

-Mo x

p.s. A sweet story for younger kids about a ‘special’ stone is the Shirley Hughes Alfie story, Bonting (found in The Big Alfie Out Of Doors Storybook ) – Elias loved that as a little boy – I should have known then that stones are special to some kids!

Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman & Cristina Amodeo

Matties's garden
matisse's garden_inside
matisse's garden book

If you are anything like me you can’t resist a museum shop. I found this book on a recent trip to the Tate Modern and bought it as semi-compensation for missing their exhibition of Matisse’s Cut-Outs last year.

I really love taking my kids to art exhibitions, even if it is not always their bag yet. My eldest (who is nearly 8) is starting to be interested in his own perceptions of what he is looking at and I love those dialogues with him. My middle one (the girl) loves drawing and painting and is often inspired to do an art-project as the result of a visit, and my youngest (3) is … to be honest … really, really horrible to take to museums!!!

So we missed the exhibit but … we found this book! Surely the next best thing? The book, published by MOMA, unfolds the artistic process that Matisse went through to develop some of his famous Cut-Out works. Told, as a story, we learn about Matisse, the curiosity and experimental nature of artists and, of course, some of his most famous works.
The book has been illustrated in a cut-out style, which nods to Matisse but still has its own individual look and then the pages unfold to reveal some of Matisse’s finished work which example that part of his artistic journey.

Lioba doing Matisse art project
henri matisse art project
Lioba and art project

We really enjoyed the book and it was also fun to have a go at producing a cut-out ‘art-piece’ with my daughter (a few phone-pics here to see). You can pick up a copy of ‘Matisse’s Garden’ from Amazon (UK and US ).

-Mo x

Henri’s Walk to Paris, by Saul Bass and Leonore Klein

henri's walk to paris
Henri's Walk To Paris 2
Henri's Walk To Paris 3
Henri's Walk To Paris 4
I’m a list maker – normally the ‘to do’ variety but occasionally more interesting – my Desert Island Discs (you never know I might one-day end up on Radio 4 and I better be prepared), my top recipes if I were to write a cookery book (they are all sweet) and of course a variety of book lists – kids books that make me cry, my favourite books to give a new baby, kids books for grown-ups and kids books that would make nice wallpaper. Yes you read it correctly. Some kids books are real works of art and I often thing they would be great on a wall – for example: William Bee’s ‘And the Train Goes… ‘ (imagine spreading out the whole length of the train around a kid’s room – super cool!), ‘Who’s Hiding? ‘ By Satoru Onishi – the graphic animals in their stand-up grid would be so great as a wallpaper and so much fun to see which ones are hiding! But top of this list is ‘Henri’s Walk to Paris by Saul Bass.
For those who don’t know, Saul Bass is considered by many to be the greatest Graphic Designer ever – he is famed for his film-title sequences (Pyscho, North by North West, The Seven Year Itch etc) and designing some of the most recognisable corporate logos in America (United Airlines Tulip being one of the most famous). Henri’s Walk to Paris is the only children’s book he created. It is gorgeous.

The story, written by Leonore Klein, is that of a boy from a small town wishing to visit the big city – Paris. It is simple and sweet and provides the perfect vehicle for Bass to work his magic. For years it was a hard-to-get-hold-of collector’s item but thankfully it was reprinted in 2011 and so is once again available to all – and all should have it! It is a study of design – so rich and vibrant yet simple and clean – colour and form are here in perfect harmony. C’est Magnifique!

-Mo x

Lucky by David Mackintosh

Lucky by David Mackintosh
Lucky book
Lucky 3
Lucky 4

This book is for my son, Elias. No seriously … it is. I met David Mackintosh at a friend’s place recently and when I sussed out he was the Author/Illustrator responsible for Marshall Armstrong Is New To Our School – I had to tell him about how Elias loved that book – he even slept with it by his bed for quite a long while, which in Elias’s world means it was VERY special (and probably a bit magic)! So David (very sweetly) sent Elias his newest book, Lucky , and it is a book we all really enjoy and laugh out loud to!

David combines illustration with photo-montage and bold typesetting for a distinctive look which is pacey to fit with the story-telling – you can’t help but go into character when you read this book and when you go back to read it again you spot quirks and little jokes in the illustration that first time round you missed.

But what David does so well is capture a child’s voice and way of thinking. The story, told by our hero, is about how a kid’s imagination can play Chinese-whispers with itself. One idea turns into another and before you know it imagination has turned into reality. There is also an underlying story here of brotherly love and maybe even a question of what ‘lucky’ is? At least the grown-up in me can see that this boy – disappointed by his ‘luck’ not paying off as he imagined it would – is really a very lucky boy indeed.

-Mo  x

I like Animals by Dahlov Ipcar

i like animals
I Like Animals book
I Like Animals 4

I like vintage kid’s books – one day I’ll write some more about that, but suffice to say it’s quite a habit. I always argue with my husband that I’m cheaper then other wives – I don’t need Jimmy Choos! I spend literally NOTHING on cosmetics! But he argues that we need to buy a bigger house to store the books and so it turns out that even a penny-book obsession can get out of hand.
You see there is a snowball effect with my purchases – when I stumble upon an illustrator (usually) or author that I think is brilliant I start trying to track down more and more of their books and so one purchase can turn into 3 or 4 or more!

I discovered Dahlov Ipcar when I stumbled upon a copy of My Wonderful Christmas Tree and thought it might be good for our Advent Book Calendar. I loved her illustrations so much that I searched for more and discovered that a few of her books had recently been republished and bought back to life with remastered artworks by Flying Eye Books, and so I bought I Like Animals for a little boy who does.

What hit me first is the use of colour – this book feels right in keeping with today’s fashion – a coral pink, khaki-mustard, forest green and petrol blue – Some pages printed with all and others using just one – the result is striking. Not so much of a story but rather lists of the different animals and where you’d find them. It’s a really lovely book to look through.

Mo x

Favourite snow-themed children’s books

Snowy Richmond Park
Otto in the snow

favourite snowy books

favourite snow books

Finally it happened. Finally it snowed here in London. As it is the way of the Englander – it seems we have been discussing this possible event for weeks – the postman, the lady in the supermarket, my next-door neighbour, my Mum – we do like to talk about the weather in this country and SNOW is a rare and exciting event. Apart from halting all forms of transport the bare splattering of snow transforms our landscape and of course for children … well there is nothing quite so heart-warming as their excitement as they look out of their windows when woken to the words of ‘it’s snowing”.
As we have been waiting for the snow (which sadly only lasted a few hours) I dug out the snow-themed books we had on our shelves and I thought I’d share them with you:

Snow by Roy McKie & P.D. Eastman
This is a ‘Beginner Book’ from 1962, which means it is simply written using short, repetitive words that a child just learning to read can manage. The main focus is on pictures, which have a bright and bold primary palette and really express the fun of kids playing in the snow.

Immi by Karin Littlewood
We’ve written about this beautiful story here but the pictures are so lovely that a snow-themed read-athon was a great excuse to pull it out again.

The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers
I’m a big fan of the art of Sibylle von Olfers and this story of the Snow Children is (I think) one of the most enchanting examples – the story of a little girl called Poppy, who is tempted by the fairies of the snow to visit the Snow Queen. The berry-red of Poppy’s coat and mittens ping of the page against the tealy blue, gold and crisp white of the fairies snowy world. It is remarkable that a book published 110 years ago feels so fresh.

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth
This is a story from Percy the Park Keeper – a gentle series that my children really like. The story sees Percy taking in the park animals one-by-one as they shiver and suffer from the cold one snowy night. I think I like this one as it reminds me a little of our own household with my children creeping into our bed one-by-one at various stages of the night (except in our house it doesn’t need to be snowing!)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
I can’t believe I haven’t written about this book yet! It is one of my favourite books. The story itself is a simple tale of a boy going out to play in the snow and worrying it won’t be still there when he wakes the next morning but what makes this book special is the bold colours and graphic layouts – each page is a surprising piece of art. I only recently learned that the book was also groundbreaking. Published in 1962, The Snowy Day was the first full-colour children’s book to feature an African-American protagonist. Keats had previously only illustrated other Author’s books and it occurred to him that his own minority was never featured so he changed it and he won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for doing so!

I’d love to hear what your favourite snow-themed books are? I’m optimistic that we’ve not seen the end of the snow – we still have some tobogganing to do and a snowman to build!

-Mo  x

Shakleton’s Journey by William Grill

Skakleton's Journey Cover

I loved this book before I read it – my friend, Clem, had just bought it and I knew I’d love it – she is always right about these things. I flicked through it sitting in her garden and first fell for the illustrations – in a naval palatte of blues, browns, gold and a dotted journey-line of red they were so tender — I was instantly drawn in. Then I came to page 7 – about how many dogs were aboard Endurance (Shakleton’s Ship) drawn more like an infographic (I’m a stats geek with a love of graphic-design so an infographic is my idea of heaven on a page).

Shakleton's Journey inside 1
Shakleton's Journey inside 2

William Grill uses so many illustrative techniques to bring the story of this remarkable adventure alive. On one page we are in a picture book, the next is more like a cartoon built up of lots of small pictures showing scenes from that particular part of the story, then a storyboard page and then we have the pages that feel like they are from a deliciously doodled notebook – it is a truly gorgeous book and it was the perfect introduction to a fascinating story, which I knew very little about. I love it that my kids have got to an age where their learning is teaching me too!

The book is shown here with my late Grandfather’s nautical flags from when he was a leader of the Sea Scouts in the 1960s – they now hang in my son’s room!

Shackleton’s Journey is available from Amazon (US and UK ).

-Mo  x

Birds of a Feather (and other books) by Francesco Pittau Gervais

Birds of a Feather Cover
Birds of a Feather inside 1
Birds of a Feather inside 2

All three of my kids fell in love with books when they first ‘read’ Dear Zoo – the definitive lift-the-flap book (in my view). In fact lift-the-flap books were always a hit in our house and that’s why this book by Francesco Pittau Gervais was a perfect gift for them last Christmas.

Whilst I am a big fan of one of Pittau Gervais’s earlier books – Elephant Elements (which I wrote about here), this series of lift-the-flap books aimed at older children – Birds of a Feather , Out of Sight , The Open Ocean are more sophisticated in their style. In ‘Birds of a Feather’ the flaps give you a hint to the bird hiding behind – maybe a silouhette of a particular feature of the bird, a detail of the markings on their feathers or the egg they came from, and the illustrations of the birds are really beautiful.
The book takes that which babies and young toddlers love about a lift-flap – the element of surprise – and uses it to educate in a playful but informative way. It is really a treasure of a book – but beware of young lift-flappers – the books are made using thinner card then the normal board-books and so are not as robust!

NB: the photo shows the German version of the book – the English cover is actually a lot nicer (in my view).

-Mo  x

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau
Madame Chapeau inside
Madame Chapeau inside 2

Beaty & Roberts are a pairing akin to Donaldson & Scheffler – if I see a new book from the duo I buy it without thinking, without reading the sleeve, without anything – it WILL be good.
OK, so unlike the latter pair these guys have only produced 3 books together (so far) but those 3 books are just soooo good – we have written about Iggy Peck Architect before and Rosie Revere Engineer and now I’d like to introduce you to Madame Chapeau … I’m sure you will fall in love with her!
Unlike Iggy & Rosie, Madame Chapeau is not in Lila Greer’s 2nd grade class but rather owns a hat shop in Paris and makes the most beautiful hats for her chichi Parisian clientele. But Madame Chapeau is a lonely lady until on her birthday a thieving crow gives Madame Chapeau the chance to see how many people are eager to be her friend.
The story starts with a pang of sadness for this lady who is quietly unhappy and lonely but how powerful the message is that there is love out there for all if you seize it and a birthday is always a good time to ‘seize’!

Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau is available from Amazon (US and UK ).

-Mo x

Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

Once upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
Once upon an Alphabet inside 1
Once upon an Alphabet inside 2

A – Astronaut, ages, adventure, aliens, although, anything, air, accurate
B – Bernard, Bob, bridge, battling, burning, between, back
C – cup, cupboard, cold, closed, clear, counter, concrete

Leave it up to Oliver Jeffers to take the concept of an alphabet book and raise it. This book of short stories works its way through the alphabet avoiding all the obvious phonetic examples – no apple, ball or cat in this book! Whilst some of the examples may be a little tricky for a first reader (see M for Marvellous, Mattresses, Mountains, Microscope and Molecule) the stories are a great way to introduce children to letters and each story is (in typical Jeffers style) hilarious (I LOLed!!!), surprising and beautifully illustrated.

Once Upon an Alphabet is available from Amazon (US and UK ).

-Mo  x

Cinderella App

We’ve often talked about ‘apps’ here on Babyccino and I definitely fall into the camp of loving them for my kids but I do have some rules …

1.  I want them to be beautiful
2.  I want them to be imaginative and to use the media to its best advantages (so not JUST being a book or a TV show – it has to be interactive so the kids have a different experience then they would in another media)
3.  I don’t like them being part of a big corporate machine promoting some already huge kid’s brand (I realise this is highly hypocritical from a lady whose career was spent in advertising but this is mainly because they rarely satisfy points 1 and 2 and are seemingly lazy/cheap way to expose children to a bigger brand — I am all open to be shown I’m wrong on this!)

I really love the ‘Peekaboo’ (Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Wild and Peekaboo Forest) apps for my 2-year-old but my 4-year-old needs something a bit more. Enter the new Cinderella App from Nosy Crow (the same people who made The Three Little Pigs app I wrote about a while ago).

Nosy Crow’s 2nd App, Cinderella includes dazzling extras that my kids can not get enough of: helping Cinderella with her chores, stacking the king’s invites to the ball, dressing the ugly step-sisters, building the carriage, choosing Cinderella’s dress for the ball and even the music she dances with the prince too (our favourite bit!). All beautifully illustrated (tick!) and narrated by child-actress, Freya Wilson (who you may recognise from The King’s Speech).

Operation Alphabet

I am having quite the most perfect morning and there is one reason responsible …. After a long wait, my lovely friend Al’s first children’s book, Operation Alphabet , finally plopped through my letterbox.

You might remember I mentioned Al and his book a while ago here (along with his Top Ten list of children’s books). I was lucky enough to be introduced to The Ministry of Letters over a year ago and even then, whilst the i’s were still being dotted and t’s crossed (literally), I knew that this book would not only become the children’s book of the year but one of those books that will be passed down and loved by generations to come.

Operation Alphabet is the first story from The Ministry of Letters, published by Thames and Hudson last week, and tells the tale of Charlie Foxtrot, a day-dreaming boy who just doesn’t have any interest in learning the alphabet for his homework.  To the rescue comes an army of charming letters — sent on their mission by top secret government department, The Ministry of Letters.  In their plight to help Charlie with his ‘alphabet-a-heebiegeebies’ and show him how brilliant letters, words and reading can be, they incur great adventure – speeding through a fabulous London landscape, escaping a hungry cat (cats like to eat letters!) and even getting a helping hand from Royalty!  Other then just being a great story, I also love the underlying message about how learning can be fun and that letters and words are more then just school-work.

Al’s day-job is as a (splendid) Creative Director for the much-acclaimed Advertising Agency, Mother.  And I think you can see his expert creative eye in his partnering with Barcelona based illustrator, Luciano Lozano and Mother’s own Head of Design Jim Bletsas.  The genius-team have created a truly, truly beautiful book.  You can also see their consideration for the readers on The Minstry of Letters website, where you can download some MoL extras — bookmarks, book-plates, ‘keep out of this room’ signs and the Letters themselves are bought to life.

After receiving my copy this morning I have already ordered 5 more for upcoming birthdays of children I know.  As you know from me already, I think books are the best thing you can give a child and this is now my favourite, favourite picture book.  You can buy Operation Alphabet in most good book shops or from Amazon (UK or US ).

PS – You can also actually see the letters on YouTube here — my kids LOVE watching this over and over.

Taro Gomi’s Play All Day

I love Taro Gomi’s illustrations and we’ve always enjoyed his books (My Friends, Bus Stops and Everybody Poos) so I was really interested when I discovered Taro Gomi’s Play All Day activity book.  Since then, I have bought it for everyone I know — I feel like I’ve found treasure!  The book is basically the BEST book in the world for a rainy day (which we are prone to over here in Blighty).

It is cram-packed with things to make and pretty much everything you need is already in the book.  There are more then 100 innovative ‘punch-out’ pieces for making games, cities, landscapes, sculptures, hats, finger-puppets, picture frames and all in Gomi’s distinctive style.  All the ideas are simple enough for my 4-year-old to construct with a little bit of guidance.  But what I love (other then the end result actually looking good — unlike our ‘start-from-scratch’ craft ideas) is that all the ideas inspire play — we made the ring-toss game last night and once made my kids played with it for 45 minutes. It’s available from Amazon (UK and US ).

Mo. x

A Sick Day for Amos McGee


I just asked Courtney if I could please write about this book.  I was worried she’d pip me to the post and write about it before I did, and I just love it so much that I really wanted to be the person to enthuse about it.

Courtney and I both spotted A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee on Brooke Reynold’s site a few weeks ago and had both noticed how cute it looked.  Courtney then bought it for me and gave it to me last weekend at her birthday party (just a side note — how nice is it to have a friend who gives YOU presents at HER party!).  I read it to the kids the next morning and afterwards I had to sit quietly (sans kids) and read it again to myself.  Reading this book (or even just looking at it because the illustrations are so off-the-scale beautiful) feels like eating hot-buttered-toast or smelling freshly cut grass on a warm summer’s day.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.

Why?  Well, as mentioned, the illustrations are exceptional and don’t trust just me on that — Erin E. Stead won the Caldecott Medal for them — not bad for her first book!  But, for me, the key to this book’s brilliance is Amos — a supremely wonderful character, a character who oozes kindness in every detail of his make-up from how he prepares his breakfast, to the way he spends his time with each of his animal friends, how he understands their individual personalities and how he suffers sickness — I love him.  Oh!  And a sweet detail — the red balloon … It’s never mentioned in the story, but this illustrative bit of narrative is so graphically endearing, it somehow touched me.

If you want a really good idea of what to spend your pocket money on this month then I’m sure you, your kids, your future grand-kids and in turn their grand-children would all love A Sick Day For Amos McGee. Available from Amazon (US and UK ).

Mo. x

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