At the beginning of last year, I wrote a post about a Reading Challenge for 2020. I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and undertake the challenge myself. I did and here are the books I read…
1. A book with a green cover
Written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Jim Field
Dog is looking after lots and lots of puppies. Lots of cute, adorable, badly trained puppies who don’t know the meaning of SIT!
Can Frog take command?
A picture books about dogs; what a great way to start the New Year! Oi Puppies! was great fun to read. I love the illustrations and the different puppies, each with its own personality. In the rhyming section of the book, I like the way the animals ask “I wonder what [name] is sitting on?” This encourages the reader to practise their rhyming skills by guessing what the item might be. Kes Gray and Jim Field have collaborated on a number of books featuring Frog, Cat and Dog. These include Oi Dog!, Oi Cat! and Oi Duck-billed Platypus! And this book is extra-special, because Jim Field dedicated it to libraries and librarians, with a “Thank you”.
2. A book by an author with the same initials as you
Old Bear’s Bedtime Stories
Written and illustrated by Jane Hissey
The beloved toys from Jane Hissey’s Old Bear series are back in a collection of classic stories. Follow Old Bear, Little Bear, Bramwell Brown and friends as they organise a winter picnic, stage an amateur production of the Three Bears, and have many other enchanting adventures.
I love the Old Bear books by Jane Hissey, partly because I have an Old Bear of my own. This collection of 21 stories and poems is a delight to read and would make, as the title suggests, an ideal book to read with little ones at bedtime. Beautifully illustrated with all the familiar characters (and some new ones), the tales feature problem-solving, persistence and thoughtfulness. There is a gentleness to them that contrasts sharply with our modern world. I would recommend reading this book alongside those of Celestine and the Hare for a double dose of love and kindness.
3. A book with non-human characters
The Hundred Names of Darkness
Written by Nilanjana Roy and illustrated by Prabha Mallya
The Nizamuddin cat clan are licking their wounds, recovering after their terrible battle with the ferals from The Shuttered House. But soon they find their beloved Delhi neighbourhood changing around them, and they encounter new enemies – vicious dogs, snakes and humans. Unless Mara, a young ginger kitten, can use her powers as a Sender to help the clan find a safe haven, the small band of cats will be wiped out for good.
Led by the plucky Southpaw, the cats set out on a perilous journey though India’s urban jungle in search of a new home, meeting new loyal friends, and deadly foes, along the way.
I read the first book about the Nizamuddin cats, The Wildings, as part of a blog post about cats in children’s literature. I enjoyed it so much I decided to read the sequel. And I was not disappointed. The Hundred Names of Darkness takes place just after the dramatic conclusion of The Wildings at a time when the urban landscape of Delhi is changing. Humans are encroaching on the cats’ territory, meaning food is scarce and their homes are being lost to developers. They need to find a new place to live and Mara, their Sender, must step outside her comfort zone to help them with this. It was so good to re-connect with most of the characters from the first book and watch as they change and grow as a consequence of the circumstances they find themselves in. This book particularly highlights the challenges faced by those animals who live on the streets, and as such, could be read alongside A Dog’s Life, a particular favourite of mine.
4. An audio-book about an adventure
Have Sword, Will Travel
Written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams and narrated by Oliver Hembrough
Running time: approximately 7 hours 45 minutes
When Odo and Eleanor stumble upon an ancient sword in a river outside their village, something very unexpected happens… the sword starts to talk! Much to Odo’s dismay, he discovers that he’s awoken a famous enchanted blade called Biter and thus has instantly become a knight. Eleanor would love to become a knight – but she’s not the one with the sword.
Unearthing Biter is only the start of their troubles; soon boy, girl and sword must depart on a noble quest to save their kingdom from threats – in both human and dragon form.
I really enjoyed this rollicking good adventure! Odo the miller’s son awakens an enchanted sword whilst fishing for eels with his friend, Eleanor. He becomes Sir Odo and she has to make do with being his squire. And so begins their quest to discover what is blocking the flow of water in the local river. With false knights, thieves and dragons, this story has everything you could wish for in an adventure. The characters are appealing and grow over the course of the book. They inhabit a world where anyone can become a knight (Eleanor’s mother was knighted on the battlefield) and do good deeds. Having listened to the audiobook (which was very well done), the second book in the series, Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, is now on my To Read list.
5. A book that has been made into a film
Written by Philip Reeve
London is hunting again. Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City is chasing a terrified little town across the wastelands. Soon, London will feed.
In the attack, Tom Natsworthy is flung from the speeding city with a murderous scar-faced girl. They must run for their lives through the wreckage – and face a terrifying new weapon that threatens the future of the world.
This is the first book in the Predator Cities quartet and was released as a film in 2018. Set in a post-apocalytic world, it features cannibalistic cities and towns constantly on the move in search for prey. The story begins in the traction city of London with a chance encounter between Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice historian, and Hester Shaw, a would-be assassin. They are thrown together on an adventure that takes them to the static settlements in Asia. On the way, they encounter slave traders, pirates and secret agents, whilst being pursued by a murderous cyborg. The two must work together when they discover that London has built a deadly weapon. Mortal Engines is full of action and adventure, with plenty of twists to keep readers engaged. The concept of traction cities is both innovative and haunting. Highly recommended for those who love steampunk stories.
6. A book with a two word title
Written by P. L. Travers and illustrated by Lauren Child
When Mary Poppins arrives at their house on a gust of the East Wind, and slides up the banister, Jane and Michael Banks’s lives are turned magically and wonderfully upside down…
This abridged version of the children’s classic is wonderfully illustrated by Lauren Child, known for creating Charlie and Lola. Containing seven of the original twelve chapters, it begins with the arrival of Mary Poppins on the East Wind and ends with her departure on the West Wind. Those familiar with the original film starring Julie Andrews will recognise Bert and the Bird Woman, as well as the laughing gas scene. With gorgeous collage images that enhance the text, this is a perfect introduction to the world of Mary Poppins. A sequel to the film, Mary Poppins Returns, was released in 2018 whilst Saving Mr Banks tells the story of how the book became a film.
7. A book with an animal on the cover
SkyClan and the Stranger
Created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by James L. Barry
Leafstar has fought to restore her clan. But can it survive a dangerous new threat?
Newleaf is coming, and Leafstar is proud to see SkyClan thriving under her leadership. The woods are brimming with prey, the warriors’ den is full, and Leafstar is expecting kits of her own. But when the arrival of a mysterious stranger throws SkyClan into turmoil, Leafstar must figure out what is best for her Clan – once and for all.
The very popular Warrior series by Erin Hunter is now available in graphic novel format. This edition includes all three of the SkyClan and the Stranger books: The Rescue, Beyond the Flood, and After the Flood. These tell the story of SkyClan, led by Leafstar. She encounters Sol, a stray cat who has been taken in as a kitten and cared for by a human. He helps Leafstar and her kits escape when they are taken from the clan by his twoleg. Sol tells her that he wants to become a warrior like her, but things don’t go quite according to plan. SkyClan and the Stranger was recommended to me by my 10-year-old niece, who has read several of the Warriors graphic novels. It is ideal for fans of the series and for those who love stories about cats.
8. A book with a colour in the title
Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
This chameleon can turn into anything and appear to fit in anywhere, but it seems that neither the swirly snail, the green grasshopper nor the stripy sock want to be friends. Will the chameleon ever find someone to talk to?
Synopsis by Pan Macmillan
This is a deceptively simple book, which is ideal for sharing with young children. It consists of double-page spreads, each with just two words (a colour or pattern and a thing; eg. “Yellow banana” and “Swirly snail”) and a picture of the chameleon mimicking the object or creature. At the same time, there are thought and speech bubbles showing how it is feeling as it tries to find a friend. Finally, after a sad “White page”, there is a “Hello?” and the final pages are a riot of colour and patterns as the chameleon finally meets someone just like it. Another stunning book from the creator of Dogs and Cyril and Pat.
9. A book about something scientific
Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing!
Written by Tim Flannery and illustrated by Sam Caldwell
Professor Tim Flannery has discovered new animals, dug up dinosaur bones, floated down crocodile-infested rivers and wrestled pythons. He also knows the answers to questions like:
Are zombie jellyfish real?
Which animals eat poop? And more importantly, why?!
Will a vampire bat suck your blood?
Which insect drinks tears?
Bursting with bizarre facts and vibrant illustrations, this deep-dive into the natural world will make you laugh out loud… and squirm in disgust!
This is a fabulous non-fiction book, beautifully illustrated and filled with fascinating facts. It’s divided into four sections: Water, Sky, Forest, and Deserts and Grasslands. Within each of these are double-page spreads containing details about creatures found in these habitats. There’s also a Concepts section, which explains ideas such as evolution and extinction, a Glossary and an Index. The book is written in an easily accessible and enjoyable way, with the illustrations adding to the experience. There are lots of interesting information and insights into the animals, birds, fish and insects we share this world with. For example, I learnt that a group of moths is called a whisper (just adorable!) and that the vampire moth drinks blood. This book would make a great addition to the bookshelf of a budding naturalist.
10. A book about a mystery
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient
Written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor
Can you solve the case of the Pearl of the Orient?
When the Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into Violet’s neighbourhood she’s sure there’s something strange about them. And when her eccentric neighbour, Dee Dee Derota, has a precious jewel called the Pearl of the Orient stolen, a series of clues make Violet think the new family are to blame. But with no one willing to listen to her, Violet’s going to need to use all her detective skills to uncover the truth…
The Violet series was recommended to me by my niece, who’s ten. In fact, she loaned me her copy of Violet and the Pearl of the Orient. And I must say, she has good taste! I really enjoyed the story, which centres around the theft of a precious jewel belonging to Violet’s good friend and neighbour, Dee Dee Derota. It’s a classic whodunnit with clues, suspects and red herrings. And, just like Poirot or Holmes, Violet Remy-Robinson uses her little grey cells to solve the mystery. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, including (be still my beating heart) a map of the neighbourhood. Highly recommended for all amateur detectives.
11. A book based on a true story
The Gypsy Crown
Written by Kate Forsythe and illustrated by Jeremy Reston
For Luck, Light and Magic
Emilia Finch and her cousin Luka are on a dangerous quest to find six ancient lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace.
Uniting the charms will give the gypsy family the bit of luck – or as Emilia believes, magic – they need to escape. For everyone in Emilia’s family has been wrongfully accused of vagrancy and murder, and thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. It will be up to Emilia, Luka and their strange menagerie of animals to save their families from the dreaded hangman’s noose.
This was a particularly tricky challenge! In the end, I chose the first book in the Chain of Charms series because, although it’s not about a particular event, it contains real people woven into a historical narrative. Set during the English civil war, it tells the story of Emilia and Luka, who have to find six gypsy charms to save their families. I first read The Gypsy Crown with my eldest niece when she was about 10. We worked our way through the series and greatly enjoyed the adventures of the children and their animals (Zizi the monkey, Alida the mare, Sweetheart the bear and Rollo the dog). We also learnt about the ways of the Rom and the prejudices they faced (and still face). This is what makes the Chain of Charms so good: it weaves historical facts into the narrative so delicately.
12. A book with a number in the title
Written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King
One, two, three…
One, two, three…
Every day was a skip and a hop for Three. He was happy to walk from here to there, wherever his nose led or wherever his legs took him… all the way to new friends.
I love Stephen Michael King’s books. And Three is no exception. Beautifully illustrated, this is a poignant story about a homeless dog with three legs. He is a happy-go-lucky little fellow, living life in the present moment: “Every day was a skip and a hop for Three”. We follow him as he journeys through the city streets and, catching a “sweet scented breeze”, out into the countryside. There he meets a girl called Fern and is welcomed into her family. The book ends with “Three was thankful for everything”. This gorgeous story can be paired with Stephen Michael King’s Mutt Dog (a favourite of my nieces when they were small), which also features a dog living on the streets. And if you want to meet a real-life Three, check out Pod’s account on Twitter. He is just beautiful.
Like last year, I really enjoyed taking part in the 2020 Reading Challenge. The experience was like a treasure hunt as I searched for books that fitted each item on the list. As a consequence, I found myself reading more widely in terms of format. I shall certainly be doing the challenge again this year!
Click on the book cover image to link to the source. Quotes taken from the blurb and content of the books.