Category Archives: Book review

Book Review – Pink!

Title: Pink!

Written by: Lynne Rickards

Illustrated by: Margaret Chamberlain

Published by: Wacky Bee Books


Pink! is a heart warming picture book about challenging stereotypes. It would be a great way to stimulate a discussion about gender both for parents at home and teachers in school. Patrick the Penguin turns pink overnight. His parents try to reassure him that it is OK to be a boy who is pink, but the other penguins tease him.

Discussing the issue of teasing and bullying could be used to encourage compassion for others and also empathy for people who have experienced sudden change. Patrick was not born pink and it was not a gradual change of colour over time. He just woke up one morning and discovered he had turned pink. This must have been a very traumatic experience for Patrick. Suddenly he is different and not because he wanted to be different he just woke up different.

Patrick does not like being different, so he decides to run away to Africa to be with the pink flamingos. But he soon discovers he is not suited to the African environment so returns home where the other penguins are eager to learn about his adventures.

Again from a teaching point-of-view this book would be useful in the classroom to discuss animal adaptations and climates in different parts of the world. The children can compare the features of Antarctica’s penguins with African flamingos and how they are suited to their environment.

The book was first published in 2008 by Chicken House. Pink! Is also a musical. Pink! The Musical, written in collaboration with Hopscotch Theatre, has toured over 200 Scottish primary schools.

This book is empowering for children and demonstrates that the colour pink is for everyone regardless of gender. I believe it will encourage children to be more confident in themselves and the way they look.


Book Review – Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates

Title: Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates (series)

Written by:  Gareth P. Jones

Illustrated by: Artful Doodlers

Published by: Stripes Publishing

If you like pirates and you like robots you’re going to love this series of books. In fact, how can you not love robot pirates?

Captain Clockheart and his crew are renegade robot servants who have been liberated by the Admiral’s daughter. In The Leaky Battery Sets Sail, the first book of the series, the robot pirates take to the high seas and have to avoid being captured by the evil Iron Duke, who is human and not made of Iron at all. The Duke has his beady eyes on the king’s reward for the steampunk pirates’ capture.

In Clash of the Rival Robots they face their old nemesis the evil Iron Duke again but the Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders finds them facing a new antagonist, the dreaded Captain Inkybeard and his wife Nancy (who is a squid that Inkybeard carries around under his pirate hat).  In the Rise of the Slippery Sea Monster, the steampunk pirates get a taste of their own medicine when the Leaky Battery is raided by a sea monster that’s greedy for gold. This is just a taste of the wacky plot lines and characters in this dynamic series.

These fast-paced reads are littered with author asides. Gareth P. Jones takes you on a roller-coaster ride through waves of pirates’ escapades, fuelled by their desire for gold. I like the way each chapter is summarised at the beginning. The stories are enhanced by the brilliant sea shanties at the beginning and end of the books and the amusing illustrations by Artful Doodlers.

I enjoyed reading these books. They are fun! A must for every school book corner and library. Excellent bedtime reading for your children. If you crave excitement these are the books for you.

Book Review – Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering

Title: Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering: A step-by-step course in the art of creative card-making

Written by: Trish Phillips and Ann Montanaro

Published by: Lorenz Books

practical pop ups

This book is not necessarily a children’s book but is all about a craft I associate with children’s books and would make a great art and craft teacher resource. My first experience of pop-up books was when I was teaching. My favourites were The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky and The Wide Mouth Frog by Keith Faulkner and Jonathan Lambert.

With over 100 techniques and projects, in 1000 photographs to choose from, Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering will inspire all ages to have a go at their own paper engineering projects. It is one of the best and most comprehensive paper-engineering books I have ever seen.

Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering outlines the history of paper engineering from volvelles, which were pages of a book that had two or more round paper discs that rotated on a spindle secured to the page at the centre of the circle, to pop-ups that were used to entertain and celebrate. The book is full of fascinating facts, like pop-ups were not invented until the 19th century and how anatomical fold-up flap drawings were used in the 16th century to illustrate human anatomy as physically performing dissections was banned.

There is a chapter explaining what a paper engineer is and the materials, tools and techniques they use. Including making templates, cutting tips and troubleshooting. But the main feature of this book is the fact it provides step-by-step instructions for the beginner as well as intermediate and more advanced projects.

inside of pop-up book

Some of the beginner designs could be used in the primary classroom to make novelty cards celebrating special holidays and Mother’s Day. Or for the older age range they may inspire some ingenious craft and GCSE art work.

If like me, you decide to try any of these designs I wold be interested to know. You can leave a message here on my blog, or contact me through my website:

You can find out more about Trish Phillips on her website: or follow her on Twitter @trish_again 

To find out more about Ann Montanaro you can visit:

Book Review – The Novel Inside You

Title: The Novel Inside You

Written and illustrated by: Paul Magrs

Published by: Snowbooks Ltd

The Novel Inside You is an autobiographical collection of writing tips collated into a unique how-to handbook suitable for aspiring writers and seasoned writers alike. It is a cross between Stephen Kings On Writing and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer.

novel inside cover

This book is full of inspiring sentiments that are extremely quotable. The sorts of things I stick into the cover of my notebooks to motivate myself to keep going. Words that really resonate with me, such as:

“If you want to write the real stuff, then you have to know your real self.” (Paul Magrs)

And simple reminders such as:

“Make sure the reader knows exactly what is happening.” (Paul Magrs)

And epiphanies like:

“In order to write anything of lasting value you’ve got to reach deep inside yourself and pay attention to the person you set free when you give yourself permission to write completely freely.” (Paul Magrs)

Each page is constructed from vivid memories and entertaining anecdotes of Paul’s early life as a writer and creative writing teacher. He is telling his own stories in his own way with dramatic and inspiring effect. In between he has illustrated the book with his own artwork.

cartoon pm and socks the cat

I particularly enjoyed the way he shows (not tells) us how he gets his ideas for his stories by people-watching, analysing their behaviour, studying their interactions and jotting down conversations to develop his own characters and their voice. Paul does not say this is the way you should do it but more this is how I do it and demonstrates techniques that work for him, which as an inquisitive writer makes me want to try it for myself.

Weaved into his memoirs are practical exercises to try yourself from developing characters through your own observations to deciding your novels audience and what its structure should be. In this way, The Novel Inside You motivates you to start, continue and finish your writing whether it be a novel, poem, short story, or non-fiction. The ideas and exercise could also be used in your own teaching.

His advice to writers is honest and practical. It prompts you to re-evaluate your own writing and take a fresh look at your own writers’ toolbox.  It feels like having your own personal tutor sat with you whilst you work, helping you to analyse the process of developing good writing habits and create your own writing discipline.

I think Russell T Davis summed it up very neatly when he said:

“This is so much more than How To Write, its How To Live. Part-memoir and part-tutorial, this book asks Where do you get your ideas from? and, miraculously, finds an answer. From life. From memory, family, lovers, heartbreak, childhood, loss and joy, all captured beautifully in these pages” (Russell T. Davies)

The love for his family, friends, pets and partner, Jeremy, shines through. There is an underlying realisation that behind every writer is a great partner. (Very nearly a Eurythmics song). In the background it is the support of a strong, loving partner who helps us through the emotional turmoil of being a writer – all the fears and insecurities that our work is not good enough and a complete waste of time – and they are there at our side to share the triumph, relief and pleasure you can get from holding the, fresh from the press, latest book.

I will leave you with a final quote:

“There are two types of fiction. The good type, that you want to read and there’s the bad type that you don’t want to read. There are books that are crap and sound bogus. And there are books that ring true. Books that are about something. Books where the voices are alive.” (Paul Magrs)

I believe The Novel Inside You will help you to achieve the latter.

Book review – Alfred and the Blue Whale

Title: Alfred and the Blue Whale

Written by: Mina Lystad

Illustrated by: Ashild Irgens

Translated by: Sian Mackie

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

Alfred and the Blue Whale

This beautifully translated Buzzy Reads story is about Alfred who is scared of lots of things, but he is especially scared about speaking in front of the whole class. So when Alfred is told he must speak about the Blue Whale in front of everyone, he just wants to run away and hide. However the more Alfred learns about the Blue Whale the braver he becomes.

Buzzy reads are of a similar length and style designed to bridge the gap between picture books and first chapter books. This particularly inspirational book is about finding courage and learning to believe in yourself and has been translated from its native Norwegian.

It would be an excellent book to use for discussing feelings and things children may be afraid of. Alfred manages to stand up to his fear by distracting himself with his research. This would be a great jumping point to find out other children’s coping methods and to inspire empathy.

I like Ashild Irgens, use of colour within the book. She uses blue to illustrate how shy and timid Alfred is with yellow to demonstrate the moments he is feeling happy and more confident.

Mina Lystad has divulged some brilliant facts about the Blue Whale which are conveyed in a simple and easy to understand way. The use of repetition reinforces these facts. The last two pages are dedicated to a Blue Whale fact file. In the classroom, this book could be used to encourage the children to research and create their own animal fact files. They could also find out what other animals are endangered and why.

Find out more about Buzzy Reads on the Wacky Bee website:

Book Review – Fuzzy Mud

Title: Fuzzy Mud

Written by:  Louis Sachar

Published by: Bloomsbury

Fuzzy Mud

A story of friendship, bullying, secrets – and toxic, itchy awful fuzzy mud. Everyday Tamaya and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. When they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – Marshall can’t be seen with a little kid like Tamaya, especially not with Chad around – Chad the bully, who makes Marshall’s life utterly miserable. But one day, Marshall and Tamaya take a detour through the woods to avoid Chad… And what awaits them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected.

This novel is a gripping, heart-warming tale about the struggle for survival. Tamaya wants to be good but does not understand when the rules changed and it was good to be bad. She has to fight against peer-pressure to be more rebellious. Marshall has to overcome his fear of Chad, the school bully, and is surprised when he finds out the reason why Chad has been picking on him. Together all three must use all their courage and determination to save the whole town. Tamaya proves herself to be brave, regardless of her small stature and the detrimental effects of the fuzzy mud.

Louis Sachar is an expert at showing, not telling. I love how he uses imagery and dialogue within the story, so the reader can use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. I also like the way the micro-organism cell replication is pictorially represented in the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter.

The novel is left open-ended, with hints of a sequel… or maybe this is just my own wishful thinking!

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.


Book Review – Tiz & Ott’s big draw

Title: Tiz & Ott’s big draw

Written and Illustrated by: Bridget Marzo

Published by: Tate Publishing

Tiz and Ott

Tiz & Ott’s big draw is an ode to the imagination and expressing yourself creatively. Children, parents and teachers will love this fun, creative way of introducing art to young people. This book reveals the multitude of different ways we can create marks, whilst showing the effects these marks can produce. Tiz and Ott demonstrate how to draw your way out of illustrator’s block.

This high-energy story is about Tiz the cat and Ott the donkey who are drawing themselves an exciting adventure. They have no idea what they are going to draw next they are just going with the flow where their imaginations take them. They start off small with a house here, a sun there and a rain cloud for shade and their adventure literally explodes right off the page.

Tiz and Ott2

Ott gets stuck in a scrape of orange sand and Tiz scritch scratches herself out of the hole with her multi-coloured crayon. The sky really is the limit. Bridget’s bold and colourful illustrations will capture the children’s imagination, encouraging them to try the ideas for themselves. At the end of the book, there are some step-by-step instructions on how to draw each of the characters and a recap of all the individual marks they used.

“Tiz and Ott is not just about creative block – getting carried away, landing in a hole and having to find a way out of it but also, oddly I realise high energy Tiz is a bit like my daughter, and my son says he identifies with low energy Ott.”

Bridget Marzo

This book is an ideal resource for stimulating art activities at home and in the classroom. It would be an excellent tool for encouraging children to express their imagination. Tiz & Ott’s big draw demonstrates there is so much more to painting and drawing than just painting and drawing. It epitomises the brilliance of free will.

To find out more about author-illustrator Bridget Marzo and her books see her website: or follow her on Twitter: @bridgimage