Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Review: 'Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans' by Jenny Moore

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of review but all words and opinions are my own.

How far would your kids go to get out of a test at school? Go off on a secret service mission involving time travel?! For the hero of this new middle-grade novel, it's worth the risk!



'Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans' is the story of 10 year old Oliver Starling, who finds him thrust into the world of a very inept secret service. His mission is to travel back in time to the Roman era to save history as we know it from the evil Dr Midnight and his efforts to introduce modern products, including baked beans and nappy pins, to the ancient civilisation. Along the way he meets Jules, an escaped slave desperate for a new life, one where she can be equal to males.

There is a lot of humour in the book, with the rather bizarre secret agents, a running gag about pink frilly knickers and of course the odd joke about the effects of baked beans, but I found that as the story went on the humour became more sparse and the tone shifted to more of a straight adventure story. There were some really quite scary bits - I won't spoil the story but it does include lions in a gladiator arena - which further changed the tone. I did feel that this shift made it harder to read, as the two styles jarred a little the more serious the story became.

That said there are a lot of positives to the book. It would be great for lovers of 'Horrible Histories' and books about ancient civilisations as there is a lot of authentic detail about Roman history in the story. I especially liked the character of Jules, a plucky heroine with a love of learning. Her story would be a good springboard for talking about equality, both in terms of how slaves were treated and in terms of how girls were (and sometimes still are) seen as inferior and undeserving of education. She's a great foil to Oliver, encouraging him not to give up on his quest to stop Dr Midnight.

Girl Child read the book too and said it was, "good but a bit weird." I did ask her to elaborate but no luck! She read the whole book over two evenings so I think she was interested in it, but it's not really her usual genre so I can understand her reaction.

Overall, despite my reservations about the tone I think this is an enjoyable read which would appeal to older primary-age readers who love history, adventure and the occasional joke about underwear!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog, BookBairn and Acorn Books.


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Monday, 14 October 2019

Review: 'Iguanas Love Bananas' by Jennie and Chris Cladingbee and Jeff Crowther

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

What things do all small children love? Animals? Food? Rhymes? This picture book has all three!


The premise behind this book is a pretty simple one - all the animals in it like to eat the foods they rhyme with. As you can imagine this makes for some very creative pairings - not only do we get iguanas eating bananas, we also get marmosets eating stuffed courgettes, poodles eating pot noodles and bees eating cream teas! 


While the funny and inventive rhymes are great for young children, I think the thing I like most about this book is the illustrations. They tell the story hiding between the lines, of all these animals descending on the human world to get to their favourite foods and causing havoc in the process! It's a really good example of how illustrations can build on the text to create new layers to a story.


As soon as I read this book to Preschooler it became a favourite of his. He's animal mad so loves spotting all the ones he knows and finding out about the less commonly known ones. Girl Child had a read of it too and really enjoyed all the rhymes, she 'got' the humour of it too which Preschooler didn't quite, hopefully he'll work it out soon! I can imagine it being a favourite in our house for a long while yet.

'Iguanas Love Bananas' will be published by Maverick Books at the end of October.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 7 October 2019

Review: Little Gems by Katherine Woodfine

I feel like I've been lucky so far when it comes to teaching my children about books and reading. I've written before about Girl Child's freakishly precocious literacy skills - it seems so weird now to think that when she was the age Preschooler is now she was already climbing up the Oxford Reading Tree. He shows no signs of following her example but loves books and is starting to 'read' by looking at pictures and guessing what the text might say. He's always wrong, but I know it's the first step towards literacy.

So I've no idea how hard it is for parents whose children are reluctant readers, or struggle to learn to read. But what I do know is that the range of books available to these children is fantastic these days, with many publishers realising the importance of providing books which are easier to read but still have compelling storylines suitable for older children. I've heard lots of good things about the Little Gems series by Barrington Stoke and was lucky enough to win two of their books in a Twitter giveaway recently.



Both books are written by Katherine Woodfine and are based on the lives of pioneering women in history, which is right up my street. 'Rose's Dress Of Dreams' tells the story of Rose Bertin, a French seamstress and fashion designer whose work was very influential in the French court of the 18th century.



It's a story of determination and grit as Rose sets out to follow her dreams of creating flamboyant fashion pieces despite many people, including her first employer, deriding her ideas. With hard work, patience and creativity, she manages to introduce her designs into court and becomes a sought after designer. The illustrations are by Kate Pankhurst who I've long been a fan of, and her quirky style is perfect for illustrating Rose's journey and creations.

'Sophie Takes To The Sky' is a reimagining of the childhood of Sophie Blanchard, one of the first female aeronauts. (At first I read it as astronaut and was very confused by the historical setting!!)



Sophie is a young girl who is afraid of almost everything, but longs to see a hot air balloon at the local fair. Step by step, she musters up the courage to travel to the fair and even explore the balloon up close - only to end up as an unwitting passenger on a flight! It's a lovely tale of courage and reinvention, and the illustrations by Briony May Smith are just gorgeous to look at, with stunning colours and so much detail.

I loved reading both books and think they would be great for struggling readers who like historical stories and tales of brave and determined girls. The stories are fairly short with clear, well spaced text that is very easy to read. I actually think that if they'd been out three years ago they'd have been perfect for Girl Child, there's nothing scary or inappropriate for younger readers so they would work well as early chapter books for any reader. Girl Child did enjoy them but prefers longer stories now, so I'll be keeping hold of them for when Preschooler starts to move on from picture books.

It's really encouraging to see a broadening range of books available to reluctant or emerging readers, and these two stories are a fantastic addition to that range.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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