The Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton and Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt

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Mary Anning was a pretty inspiring person – because who doesn’t love dinosaur fossils, right? – so it’s hardly surprising that there are a number of books for children, written about her amazing work.

The Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton and Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt are two examples.

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Both books tell of Anning’s early life as she gathered enough ‘curiosities’ to fill her shop.

The Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton

Pictured above, this book tells Anning’s story using a comic-book format. The pictures are beautiful and light and have a real seaside-feel – to me at least, they’re reminiscent of the early railway posters.

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The format lends itself really well to early readers on account of the deliberate narrative, but manages not to be patronising. There is a wealth of information there – it’s just presented in a really concise, accessible manner. And though the words are few and scattered, the pictures really do tell their own story. I really love this detail from the cover – the clusters of swirling fossils, Anning’s practical shoes and her utilitarian apron, all help to tell us about her without actually saying anything at all.

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Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt

Unlike the previous book, Stone Girl, Bone Girl lends itself well to being read aloud. Don’t get me wrong – I love a comic as much as anyone – but if I’m reading bedtime stories, comics just don’t have the same ‘flow’ as prose or poetry. I always feel the need to fill in the descriptive narrative myself and the book goes from being an elegant, well-considered series of plot-points to me, waffling about the pictures until the kids get bored and remind me to read the next panel.

The prose is nice, the pictures are rich and colourful, though it is heavily stylised so if realism is important for your family, this book probably isn’t for you.

I found that the two books worked really well in combination. Any differences in the two stories merited investigation – an invitation to further study the life of Mary Anning.

Do you have any favourite books about the science of palaeontology?

Farn ❤

Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different, by Ben Brooks

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I’ve had this book on pre-order since it was announced and was so happy when it arrived this morning, just in time for the spring holidays!

As a household, we’re big fans of the Rebel Girl books but I’m also very aware of the fact that in addition to showing my children strong female role models, I have to give them examples of men and boys who don’t conform to the stereotype that brute-force will always win the day. And despite the amazing resource that is A Mighty Girl , I’ve yet to find one which lists boys defying stereotypes in the same way.

Which is why I was so excited when I heard about Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks.

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We’ve only read a few of the pages so far, but there are some amazing stories about men I’d never heard of, and equally amazing stories about men whose works I know.

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The format is the same as Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – a beautiful illustration opposite a short text about the subject. So far there’s a few people I might not have included (Steve Irwin, for example, I thought was an odd choice), but disagreement on this sort of thing is never bad – just an opportunity for discussion about their deeds, both those chosen for the book and those which have been omitted. At the moment, Son is too young for these discussions but I’m sure Daughter will have some lively thoughts on the matter…

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Whilst the majority of the artwork is wonderful and quite ‘literal’ be aware that if reading to a younger audience there are a few stylised pictures which might cause upset. Son won’t let me read to him about Ai Weiwei as the illustration is a page of sunflowers with faces instead of seeds and he found this distressing. That said, as an adult I love the art – it’s detailed and interesting without being fussy.

Which are your favourite books about Boys who Dare to be Different? And which are your favourite books about Rebel Girls?

Farn ❤

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George

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I sat on the fence for a long time before deciding to write about Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George. I mean, what more is there to say about the almighty Julia? She was the first author that Son would read in lieu of the Reverend Awdry’s The Railway Series and for that alone I will be forever grateful.

What I love about Freddie and the Fairy though, is that it’s the only book that I’ve found – so far – which includes a pink fluffy fairy and a little boy.

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The premise of this lovely rhyming story is simple – Freddie meets Bessie-Belle, the fairy, who offers to grant him a wish. Freddie mumbles his requests and as Bessie-Belle ‘can’t hear very well’, she misinterprets him.

Freddie’s wishes are met with lots of different rhyming alternatives, until Bessie-Belle – who has been valiantly trying to get it right all along – finally succumbs to tears of frustration. Freddie is encouraged by a more experienced fairy to speak slowly and clearly, instead of mumbling and everyone tries again. This time, Bessie-Belle gets it spot on and everyone is happy.

As I mentioned above, this is the only book I’m aware of which places a boy amongst a cast of fairies. That alone makes it awesome as far as I’m concerned… But I also really like the fact that it showed perseverance, frustration and resolution. It’s a great way of illustrating resilience, and growth mindset.

Plus, who doesn’t like super cute fairies?

Am I wrong – do you know of other books which feature little boys as the  protagonists of fairy stories? I’d love to know if there are!

Farn ❤

I’m Me! by Sara Sheridan and Margaret Chamberlain

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Our copy of I’m Me! by Sara Sheridan and Margaret Chamberlain is very well worn and loved. Gifted to Daughter shortly after she was born, this has been a firm favourite ever since.

The story follows a little girl called Imogen who goes to play with her Auntie Sara. Auntie Sara is very excited and has all sorts of ideas for games, but Imogen isn’t in the mood – she just wants to be herself, not a knight or a pirate or an astronaut.

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The premise of the book is incredibly simple – Auntie Sara suggests a game and Imogen says, “Not today,” until Auntie Sara eventually pauses long enough for Imogen to express herself. The prose follows a pattern which makes it easy for early readers to follow, and predictable enough for pre-readers to join in whilst listening.

Notes from our initial reading – a good six years ago – state that Daughter “really engaged … in a way I’ve not seen before. There’s something about the illustrative style which she found particularly appealing, pointing at ‘imagined’ Imogen and then at ‘narrative’ Imogen, identifying that they were the same character. What I also found incredibly exciting was the page in which Imogen is depicted as a witch’s cat – Daughter pointed at the protagonist in her costume, said ‘cat’ and then proceeded to point to the ‘real life’ Imogen whilst shaking her head and saying ‘cat’ again.”

Daughter was just over fourteen months at this time. That she still likes it as she approaches seven and is able to read fluently for herself speaks a great deal for what is essentially a list of make-believe games.

Do you have any books which have endured like this?

Farn ❤

Wow! Said the Owl, by Tim Hopgood & White is the Moon, by valerie Greeley

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Wow! Said the Owl, by Tim Hopgood & White is the Moon, by valerie Greeley are two books which aim to introduce babies to colour.

My favourite of the two is White is the Moon, but according to the internet, it’s somewhat rarer that Wow! Said the Owl, so I’ve included both.

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Wow! Said the Owl

Wow! Said the Owl is a short book about a baby owl who is curious about what happens during the day time while she remains asleep. So one morning, she decides to stay awake and watch the colours of the day. The sun rises – yellow – and dawns across orange flowers, spreading into green trees as time progresses. And the day ends with a rainbow at sunset and bright, multi-coloured twinkling stars.

The illustrations are simple and modern, the prose is clear and concise. This is another book – like My Big Shouting Day – from one of my children’s Bookbug Bags. It’s a solid addition to any home library and a great introduction to colour as more than an abstract concept – there is story there, even if it is small.

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This is one of those books that I love as an adult. The pictures are rich and detailed and the rhyme which serves as a narrative is lovely. Gifted to us by a friend when Daughter was born, this book has probably seen more outings than any others on our shelves. It’s perfect for babies because the rhythm of the poem is almost like a nursery rhyme, but the artwork is varied enough to keep older children interested too.

It’s been out of print for a while, but if you do come across it, it’s so worth buying. It also fits with the Montessori principals of not introducing children under the age of 6 to fantasy. This is an area of children’s books which I’m often asked about but struggle to find recommendations for – so much of the stories we read involve very silly, made-up things – and as a result, I always make a point of noting when something is set very firmly in the real world.

Which are your favourite books for introducing very young children to colour?

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My Big Shouting Day! by Rebecca Patterson

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My Big Shouting Day! by Rebecca Patterson was gifted to us as part of Daughter’s Bookbug Bag three years ago. The idea is that children across Scotland are gifted books at key points in their infancy – within their first year, between one and two years old, at three years old and in their first year of school. There are ideas for songs to sing together, books to read and suggestions for activities to do at home with a view to improving literacy.

Whilst all of the books that we’ve received in my six years of parenting have been funny, or thought provoking, and well-written, this is the one which stands out most and which both of my children keep coming back to.

The story follows Bella, a girl of around three years old, who wakes up one morning on the wrong side of the bed. We follow her throughout the day during which she vocalises the things which are just too much for her.

 

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At the end of the book, Bella’s (very tired and incredibly patient) mummy manages to make a connection with her as they read their bedtime story. Bella apologises for her behaviour and Mummy validates her feelings.

It’s a really simple, small story but it does so many things right. Firstly, you see that picture above? That’s me at just about every bedtime – and I doubt there’s a parent in the world who doesn’t feel like that every some days.  The characters – though largely only expressed through illustration – feel real and relatable and honest. There’s no sheen of perfection on anything. Yet at the same time, there’s a definite tone of fondness and humour throughout.

I love that Bella’s mummy doesn’t force an apology and let’s Bella come around in her own time. I love that she admits that everyone feels overwhelmed some days and doesn’t dismiss Bella’s feelings as her having been cross for no reason. I love that I can take my children to bed after a particularly rough day, read this book and have them in peals of giggles by the end of the story – all of us sated and validated by what we’ve read.

Which are your favourite books about feelings? Do you have any go-to stories for after a rough day? I’d love to hear them.

Farn ❤

Lily Brown’s Paintings, by Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis

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Lily Brown’s Paintings by Angela Johnson and E. B. Lewis is a wonderful look at a child’s imagination. The book talks about the ways in which Lily uses paints to impose her imaginings on the world around her, setting sailing ships amid fields of corn and animals picnicking in her local park.

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I love the soft, watercolour pictures of this book, and how it gives licence to those all-important daydreams that every child has. I love how Lily’s pictures mimic famous works of art without it seeming contrived. I love the tone of the book – how hopeful and full of wonder it is.

Which is why I made it the focus for another story sack.

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In this sack, I included the Usbourne Children’s Book of Art, some water colours, some paint brushes and another book which is completely deserving of a dedicated review, Beautiful Oops!

To go with this sack, I prepared this sheet of ideas for discussions and games: Lily Brown PDF Download

If you don’t happen to have any water colours to hand, you can use any other art supplies, or even a paintbrush and some water on a concrete/tarmac/wooden surface outdoors – the water will act as a mess-free paint. My kids use old decorating brushes for this and it becomes a whole-body art-spree. Information about the history of art is available online and free art lesson plans can be found here.

I’d love to see some of the art you manage to create – why not share them on The Inquisitive Newt facebook page?

Farn ❤