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The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for children

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham - Oct 17

While Home in the Rain is based on simple, ordinary life events, this picture book is full of delight and charm. It a beautifully illutrated, profound and touching story of family life.

Francie and her mum, who is expecting a baby girl, are driving home from visiting Grandma in mum's little red car. It rains heavily for the entire journey.

On the way home, they pull into a picnic area and Francie writes "Daddy", "Mummy", and Francie on the misted windows leaving a space for her unnamed, soon-to-be sister.

Francie and her mother return to the road wondering about what to name the expected sister. Francie has lots of ideas. Later, they stop for petrol and while Francie is dancing in a little puddle and the perfect name comes to Mum, to be shared with Dad later as they tumble in their front door.

The story is thoughtful and perceptive, reflecting on the extraordinary nature of family and life.

A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins

Award-winning author, Lucy Cousins, delivers a beautifully illustrated picture book filled with delightful characters doing what they do each day in technicolour animation.

"Can you imagine ... just for one day ... you're a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!"

Lucy Cousins' story of birds is brimming full of energy with flying, flapping, pecking, and hopping galore, accompanied by lots of noise - "cock-a-doodle-doo!", "tuwit-tuwoo" and even "tra-la-la" - and all told with wit and charming rhyme.

From a flamingo standing on one leg to a waddling penguin, it is difficult to decide whether the prose or the illustrations are more skilled and delightful. Regardless, both will engage and entertain readers of all ages again and again.

While this picture book is intended for children two and over, its bold, bright birds will appeal to both adults and children. The author has delivered yet another remarkable book.

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

Starting in Syria and featuring a refugee family, this book is highly topical.

Twelve-year-old Omar lives in Syria and dreams of being a successful entrepreneur. He has two jobs which he prefers to school. He has a brother and a sister around his age, plus a couple of younger siblings.

His brother, Musa, is very smart but not treated accordingly because he has cerebral palsy: people judge him by his speech difficulties. His sister, Eman, is equally smart, and plans to become a teacher when an adult. His father works for the government, his mother worries far too much, and his grandmother is extremely critical.

Then civil war breaks out, soldiers are everywhere, tanks are in the streets and societies turns against themselves. Things get so bad that Omar and his family are forced to leave their home becoming refugees.

The book explores the impact of the civil war in Syria on the families, both adults and children. It is thought-provoking and raises challenging questions.

Radio Boy by Christian O'Connell

Spike Hughes appears to be an ordinary 11 year old boy, clumsly and cheeky like many boys his age, with a forceful mother. He has two loves, Katherine Hamilton, the most popular girl at school, and radio.

Spike volunteers for his for his local hospital station, but despite trying really hard, he gets fired. Determined not to let go of his dream, he decides to set up his own radio show in his garden shed. He enlists the help of two good friends Artie and Holly, to launch his station, disguising his voice and calling himself Radio Boy.

News spreads of Spike's radio show and soon he becomes a local star. His success boosts his confidence grows and he pushes his boundaries. One day he goes too far when he mocks his horrid headmaster on the airways, and the hunt begins for the identity of Radio Boy.

The author, Christian O'Connell, himself a radio star, has written an appealing book for 8 year olds and over which is likely to inspire many young youtubers, hoping to find success and fame.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat - Sep 17

Two parents and their son set out on a long, boring car trip to visit Grandma for her birthday. The son complains that the journey is taking forever.

Suddenly a steam locomotive appears beside the car, chased by a cowboy on horseback. The journey is taking so long that time slows down, and the boy is taken on an exciting adventure into the past.

Pirates fight, ancient Egyptians parade, dinosaurs rampage, and knights battle. This wonderful picture book is an amazing journey through the imagination of a child.

Readers have to turn the book around and upside down to read the text and follow the pictures reflecting the twists and turns in the plot as it explores the amazing possibilities of the past.

The book is clever and entertaining as it dazzles the reader with the breadth of the events it embraces. It works well as a picture book and a platform to make the child aware of aspects of the past.

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick - Aug 17

This wordless, picture book features two families whose paths rarely cross.

A mother owl and her three owlets are living happily on their branch when one night when they are trying to get some sleep, another family choose to make the same branch their home, a mother bat and her bat children.

Adult bats and adult owls know that owls and bats do not mix, even when sharing the same branch. The baby bat and the baby owl have no such knowledge, and make friends much to the consternation of the adults. Then a stormy night disrupts the families shared home forcing them to think about the meaning of difference and acceptance.

The illustrations in this book are exceptional especially the expressions of the characters, which the author-atist uses to tell the story. It is an extremely joyful book abounding with humour and charm that will be willingly read again and again.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (2+) - Jul 17

This book is the final book in Jon Klassen's very popular prize winning hat trilogy. The two prior books in the series are I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.

Two turtles find a large white hat in the desert ("We found a hat. We found it together") and each try it on thinking it looks good on them although the reader is likely to think otherwise. They both want the hat but there are two turtles and only one hat so ...

Klassen tells the tale through the expressions and actions of his characters, cleverly portrayed with delightful illustrations. The book evokes sympathy, laughter, and surprise as the story works it way towards an unexpected twist before it concludes.

The book can be enjoyed on several levels. The story and illustrations are a delight in themselves that will charm both adults and children. If you want more, the stories are about justice illustrating that it means different things to different people and is not always easy to achieve.

Beetle Boy by MG Leonard (7 to 10) - Jun 17

Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, the director of science at the Natural History Museum, vanishes from the locked beetle vaults in mysterious circumstances. His only son Darkus vows to find him.

Darkus is forced to move in with his eccentric archaeologist uncle Max who leaves him to search for his father undisturbed helpedby two school friends, courageous Virginia and timid Bertolt.

However, the real hero is Baxter, a rhinoceros beetle, who Darkus rescues Baxter from the unpleasant cousins Pickering and Humphrey, who live next door in a house infested with beetles. While Baxter does not speak, he is brave, kind and loyal.

When wealthy insect collector and fashion designer, Lucretia Cutter, becomes interested in the beetles, links emerge connecting her to the disappearance of Dr Cuttle.

There are fireflies, jewel beetles, blister beetles, a Goliath beetle and some dung beetles who aid Darkus in solving the crime. The books is funny, informative, orignal, and captivating, right from the outset.

No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee - May 17

It's time to harvest the school's garden, and Gnome cannot wait. Everyone has a responsibility, even Gnome, but because he is so eager and excited he keeps getting things wrong, and whenever he does, the other students shout in unison "No, no, Gnome!".

It actually seems that no matter what job Gnome is given, even watering or collecting clippings, he can't seem to last without doing something wrong, so is eventually sent back to the classroom and the harvest is postponed.

When Gnome finally realises how much he has upset his schoolmates, he sets out to make amends. The next day, they are excited to discover that Gnome has tidied up, and their garden is beautiful again. This time they shout, "Oh, oh, Gnome!", and can happily bring in the harvest together.

The story is clever and charming, and supported by illustrations that are full of life and colour. It is bound to become a favourite of any child, and will encourage a love of books and reading.

Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schultz - Apr 17

Many people don't realize that giraffes ruin everything like birthday parties, going to the movies, playing in the park, Hide and Seek and Everything Else. "A giraffe will eat the ice cream right off your cone from half a block away," with its long spotted neck according to the boy narrator.

Giraffes aren't being mean, in fact, they just want to be good friends, helpful and appreciated. They really cannot help always being in the way.

The tables are turned when the boy is accused of being in the way and the giraffe demonstrates that he is a real friend.

The book reminds us that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and with understanding, friendship is rewarding even with a lanky, spotted friend who tests your patience. It is funny, mischievous and entertaining. It delivers aheartwarming message with engaging illustrations. Ideal for 5 to 7 years olds.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams - Mar 17

Ben's Granny has white hair, false teeth and tucks tissues up her sleeve, like most other grannies but she is not like other grannies. The thing is that Ben's granny is an international jewel thief.

At first, Ben does not know this about his gangsta granny and finds visiting her each Friday night, very tiresome and boring.

When he does find out, he discovers something even more amazing. His gangsta granny is planning her greatest jewel heist ever - stealing the crown jewels from the Tower of London. Friday nights with Granny suddenly become the most exciting part of Ben's week, and he cannot wait for them to come around.

Ben's ballroom dancing obsessed parents, his Granny's nosy neighbour and their attempts to steal the crown jewels make for an entertaining and amusing story. However, the book is not only funny, but thoughtful, reflecting on parents expectations and relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne - Feb 17

A little girl Bella takes her dog for a walk when it disappears. This may seem like an ordinary tale but it is not, but quite the opposite. Bella actually takes her dog for a walk across the page of a book and it is during this walk, that the dog disappears into the book. Yes, the book captures her dog.

Bella goes through a range of emotions from surprise to shock, and then hope when the authorities arrive to help her. She, her friend Ben, and the authorities agree that the book is dangerous but no-one can help. Then matters go from bad to worse when Bella heads towards the dangerous centre of the book, and she disappears too.

The book has eaten its characters and all is lost, unless maybe the reader can help. A note appears, from Bella, asking the reader to intervene and save the day.

A wonderfully creative story that will delight its readers.

How Machines Work by David Macaulay - Jan 17

How Machines Work won the Royal Society's young people's prize for 2016. The Society promotes science books for children.

Seventy-five panels of children's judges across the UK picked the winner from a short list of six books. Feedback from the children on the winner was extremely positive.

It is the story of a clever and intelligent sloth who makes and invents endlessly to achieve his goals and outwit the keeper. He builds levers and bridges using cogs and pulleys, in fact, each page explains how he solves a problem using the the principles of engineering and mechanics.

The book uses pullouts and pop-ups to demonstrate the principles used in each problem. It makes what is an applied science lesson, seem like entertainment. It is what the teaching of science should be - fascinating and fun, as well as educational.

Quit Calling Me a Monster by Jory John - Dec 16

Floyd angrily resents being seen as a stereotype, and trys to prove to readers that he is not monstrous. "Quit calling me a monster! Just ... stop it, right this minute!", screams the immaculately dressed, wildly hairy monster.

However, the problem is that Floyd has a "huge, toothy smile that glows in the dark", "crazy hair" and "wild eyes" so looks just like a monster, and cannot shake the label.

The monster fails miserably to make his point so decides on a different approach. Accepting that it looks like and is a monster, it starts to introduce itself using a name that sounds like someone ordinary and likeable - "My name is Floyd, Floyd Peterson" - to show that he is more than shaggy purple fur and pointy monster teeth.

The funny story, expressive illustrations and endearing protagonist, show how it feels to be different.

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons - Nov 16

The book follows Luke, who because of a five minute trip to the loo, loses out on the the chance to receive superpowers from a powerful alien, along with every superheroes dream, a mission to save the universe.

Luke, a comic-mad eleven-year old, shares a treehouse with his older brother, Zack, who knows nothing about superheroes, has no interest in superheroes, and has never read a comic. All Zack is interested in, is doing his homework and some girl at school, so Luke is angry and jealous when his brother receives superpowers instead of him.

Everything changes when Zack is kidnapped 5 days before his most important mission. Luke and two of his friends are left to rescue his brother, in order that he can save the world.

David Solomons won Children's Book of the Year 2016 for his debut children's novel, and rightly so. The book is exciting and funny, and will appeal to a wide range of readers and ages.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo - Oct 16

Listen to the Moon brings together many of Michael Morpurgo's favourite themes which readers of his other books like Kensuke's Kingdom and War Horse, will know all too well.

The action is set on the Scilly Isles during the first world war. Alfie Wheatcroft and his parents, Jim and Mary, live on the island of Bryher, fishing and farming to survive. One day Alfie skips school to go fishing with his father. Together they go to an uninhabited island and discover a girl on the island. The girl is in very poor shape. She is injured, and nearly dead from starvation, so they take her back to their island, Bryher.

The girl is at the centre of the story as the family tries to find out how she came to be stranded on one of the Scilly Isles. When she won't speak, the working of a small community and the paranoia of the war, the intrigue of the islanders turns to suspicion.

Michael Morpurgo is a skilled story teller, and like his other books, this one is a rewarding read.

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