Netgalley Picture Book Reviews

As some of you might know, I’m starting a Primary PGCE course in September, and I’ve been tasked with reading more children’s literature. So, here’s my take on the following picture books!

Birds of a Feather by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Robin Hegan)

Designed to introduce kids to common idioms, using a humorous approach; the kids can help the teacher read aloud the idiom on each page and discuss the pictures. Then, when they turn the book upside down, the teacher can read aloud the written explanation and example given for each idiom.

Cons: the illustrations don’t always relate directly to the actual meaning of the idiom… Also a racoon is in one of the illustrations – an animal kids in the UK will not recognise.
Pros: Kids will LOVE THIS BOOK.
               Ages: 4+                           Rating: 5/5 + AUTO-BUY

Little White Fish Has Many Friends by Guido van Genechten

Designed to introduce kids to the concept of friendly play. The teacher can get the kids to explain what game little white fish is playing on each double-page spread, then read the book aloud and see if they’re correct!

Cons: games like dancing the “cha-cha” and giving “eskimo kisses” seem a little exotic for a kids book.
Pros: large, simple pictures, introduces kids to the names of various sea creatures.
                Ages: 3+                           Rating: 3/5


The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep by Caroline Nastro (illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva)

A story about a bear who cannot sleep and so ventures into New York city to visit the galleries, museums and streets there, before finally becoming sleepy… There are plenty of opportunities for the students to explain to the teacher what bear is doing on each page, as the pictures sometimes diverge from the text.

Cons: Perfect for kids from New York, but the landmarks mentioned might confuse kids from other parts of the world.
Pros: Beautiful illustrations and interesting settings, and a main character (bear) kids will relate well too.
              Ages: 3+                          Rating: 4/5


The Toothless Fairy by Timothy Jordan (illustrated by Matthew LaFleur)

A rhyming story about a lonely, ‘ugly’ fairy with a very sweet tooth! The teacher can use this book as a jumping point to ask about what makes Halloween fun i.e. spending time with your friends. And to discuss why too much sugar leads to issues with your teeth! It’s also great for introducing children to the idea of poetry as a narrative device.

Cons: Sophisticated language usages and the topic of ‘Halloween’ works well in the USA where kids know what ‘trick or treating’ is, but might not work so well outside of the USA where they don’t.
Pros: Fun and creative illustrations which kids will love!
                 Ages: 5+                                 Rating: 3/5


Vroom! Kevin’s Big Book of Vehicles by Lisbet Slegers

Designed to help children identify different types of vehicles and their various parts, uses some rhyming. Includes on-page activities for kids.

Cons: I felt the odd ‘story’ page, inserted between more educational pages, actually slowed the pace of the book. Also the technical information cited means this book is more useful for school-aged children,
Pros: large simple images, good technical vocabulary (e.g. “ambulance” and “combine harvester”), good explanations, lots of fun tasks for kids. A really useful book!
            Ages: 4+                     Rating: 4.5/5


Who Will Dance with Little Mouse? by Anita Bijsterbosch

A story about a small mouse who asks everyone to dance with him, but one after another they give their excuses… This book shows kids that if they don’t give up, they’ll eventually find someone to dance with! And that following your dreams can be fun.

Cons: The animals featured include a sloth, not something most kids would have heard of. Also, the story is repetitive.
Pros: Teaches some animal actions and sounds, with strong describing verbs. Large, simple illustrations. Shows kids what digital imaging can do.
               Ages: 3+                            Rating: 3/5

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater


Series Rating: 4.5 STARS

Recommended Reading Age: 13+ 

Read: via Audible

Short Series Review:

Privileged Gansey has always been told he’s destined for greatness and his quest to fulfil this prophesy has brought him to Aglionby School in his old orange Camaro, in search of a buried Welsh king who legend says can grant wishes. Here he meets Adam, the scholarship student with a humongous chip on his shoulder the exact size of his abusive father’s fists; and Ronan Lynch, a blunt-speaking boy who seeks out risk and excitement in any form. And maybe everything could have been simple, but then the boys meet Blue. Blue comes from an eccentric family of psychics, who have predicted that if she kisses her true love, he will die.

Once they’ve all met, a story unfolds. It’s about about lost souls and magic. It’s about family, friendship, loyalty and relationships (gay and straight). It’s about myth and legend, growing up, finding your voice and your purpose. It’s about a small Virginia town on a ley line and the mystery and intrigue related to that. It’s about car chases and hitmen, thieves and liars, demons and fey. It’s beautifully told, with wry observant descriptions and atmospheric settings. If you start reading this series, you won’t want to stop until it’s over. And even when it is over, you’ll want another book…

Tagline: A very modern fairytale.

If you’ve already read this series, what did you love/hate about it? 

I Wish Every Teacher Would Read…

When Kyle Schwartz asked his elementary students to complete the sentence “I wish my teacher knew…”, he did something extraordinary and his students rewarded him with their honesty. 

Kyle Schwartz doesn’t pretend to be the perfect teacher – he freely admits that he’s made his fair share of mistakes – but he does have some very valid, very relevant suggestions for teachers today. Suggestions which will:

  1. Help you to increase learning inside your classroom.
  2. Help you to foster a sense of community inside your classroom.
  3. Help you to provide a more inclusive and supportive environment inside your classroom.

At the core of Kyle’s approach lies a simple statement, made by child psychologist James Comer, that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship” and the belief that every child matters. 

He outlines and tackles real issues that face many of our students – food hunger and bereavements, for example – and his practical suggestions cover everything from how to welcome new children into your classroom, to holding ‘family-school conferences’ instead of a traditional ‘parents night’.

Understanding the realities of our students’ lives may not always be comfortable, but facing these issues head on is the best way to understand and help our students.

If you’re a teacher, you will benefit from reading this book and you will enjoy reading it! (I predict several eureka moments and lots of head nodding…) It doesn’t really matter which country you live in, or what age range you teach there, as issues our students face are the same. 

All of my teacher friends will be getting copies of this – from me! – for Christmas.

I Wish My Teacher Knew will be published July 12th by Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Miranda Kenneally’s A Woman On A Mission


While introducing her new book Miranda explains that during her early twenties she was working 15 hour days, with no opportunity to go to the gym or do drinks after work… And she doesn’t want her readers to make the same mistakes, especially whilst still in high school.

The main character in Defending Taylor, is so worried about ‘earning her way’ and getting into the right college, that she does every extracurricular she can and takes AP class, after AP class. And when this becomes too much for her she abuses prescribed medications to stay awake – putting herself and her future at risk. 

The story opens as Taylor’s world comes crashing down, when she’s caught with drugs on school property and expelled. At the same time Taylor breaks up with her boyfriend Ben, but she can’t tell her friends why. She won’t share that secret. To top it all off, Taylor’s senator father is not happy; he’s up for re-election and now her actions have effected his campaign. To force her to buck up, he sends her to the local state school, Hundred Oaks, where the soccer team sucks and the girls are mean, mean and meaner. The only bright spot in Taylor’s days is Ezra, her brother’s best friend, who for reasons unknown is home from college. 

My Thoughts:

This series just works for me. I usually beatle through these books in a day and this book was no exception. I read late into the night in order to finish it. It’s a compulsive read. And of course, our favourite guidance councillor makes a couple fun appearances! As do a few other familiar couples… 

The soccer elements weren’t as prominent in this novel as I expected them to be (do not anticipate another Catching Jordan style read) and the terminology/mechanics of the game were definitely dumbed down. I’d be interested to know if this last part was the author’s choice or an editor’s…

The romance was ramped up in Defending Taylor. I would not give this book to a younger teen! It borders on being a New Adult book, rather than YA. #sexytimes

Fortunately Erza was pretty crushable – I’d like a yummy construction worker boyfriend too please Miranda! And he was patient with Taylor, which I appreciated. So often romance authors write bolshy, pushy male characters who dominate the story… But Ezra’s the kind of guy you and I would actually want to get to know. #real #READit!

Sourcebooks Fire will be publishing Defending Taylor on July 5th 2016.

What did you prioritise in high school – fun or grades? And do you regret your choice?

7 Mostly Annoying Things about ‘The Problem with Forever’

1. It kept me up reading until like 3AM… I’d recommend it for readers who loved:

2. Mallory is the sweetest main character, seriously, and like me, she has trouble verbalising stuff sometimes, making her a little introverted, but she wants to participate more. #tooperfect And you know, her bestie Ainsleigh is like the most supportive person on the planet too. #jealous

3. Rider. Oh my god. I want one! But he’s fictional… #frustration He does have a girlfriend when we first meet him, but he totally drops everything to big-brother Mallory. #supersweet #sexyYA
4. Heartbreak. Rider and Mallory have the most heartbreaking history together and seeing the scars that left, broke me at times. #needtissues

5. The fact that the book had a final page… #nooooooo! That ending. ❤️ Thank god for Hector, Rider’s sort-of, dirty mouthed Puerto Rican brother. #companionbookfodder

6. The setting. High school romances are my jam people! Who told JLA that? Am I being stalked? Freaky…

7. This book reminded me of some pretty serious stuff: Everyone is human, no one is infallible, we all hurt sometimes. But life is always richer with love. #majorlifelessons

“Forever was knowing that moments of weakness didn’t equate to an eternity of them…. Forever was Carl and Rosa, Ainsleigh and Keira, Hector and Rider…. Forever was simply the promise of more. Forever was a work in progress.”

Weddings in Bookshops and Giggles on the L…

As I’m visiting New York for the first time, I decided to read something by a local author… So of course I went to the wonderful Housing Works bookshop in Manhattan. I have been buying books from them for years (over the Internet of course), so it was amazing to actually step inside their store in person… 

Did you know they do weddings?! They closed early for one while I was there. I found this photo on Yelp:

It was at Housing Works that I found Jesse Eisenberg’s ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups’. A wonderfully zany collection of stories…You can expect wry incites into the modern day and an abundance of humour. 

The collection opens with a set of ‘restaurant reviews’ from a young boy (with an underlying commentary on his relationship with his divorcee mother). 

This is followed by a series of midnight text messages between a brother and sister; a father’s guide to the medications his son is prescribed; a series of conversations where men try to avoid invitations to dance; letters written to a high school guidance councillor; a monologue from a middle school bully; personalised spam emails; a series of imagined historic conversations; and so on…. 

What happens when a young boy, asked to wear his seatbelt, continues to question “why” in ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups’, you ask? This is your answer (or part of it!):

Eisenberg’s selective use of stereotypes and attraction to cultural issues, make this a timely, funny and thought provoking book. It’s topics and approach may be ‘eccentric’ and ‘fluid’, but there is no doubt that for the reader, this book is a tour de force. 

I giggled on the subway and people stared… I didn’t care. #JesseEisenbergGaveMeGiggles

Okay, so I’m a Feminist… in Washington

Last week I was in Washington DC for the first time and spent an evening at Busboys and Poets, where I bought my first book on feminism at the grand age of 28… You could say I’m a little behind the curve on this one. Oh well!

In Arlington, opposite the Signature Theatre – now showing a fabulous production of La Cage aux Filles!

Bread pudding in the cafe!

Fem-I-ism: Belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” –p.14

Jessica Valenti’s thoughtful and classic book ‘Full Frontal Feminism’ has made a covert of me, because, guess what? I do care about women’s issues. I don’t want to see a glass ceiling in the workplace and I do want equal pay. I don’t want a bunch of male politicians telling me what I can or can’t do with my own body either and, strangely enough, I want to be able to walk down a normal city street without fear (of rape). I don’t want to try to live small, be small, in an attempt to fit an antiquated, yet traditional, ‘female’ ideal… And I would like my marriage (one day) to be an equal partnership. I also want childcare costs to not be a factor as regards my being able to return to work after having a child. I could go on…

‘Full Frontal Feminism’ is no heavy academic tome. It’s accessible – blunt, practical and not a little witty. Although I don’t always agree with Valenti’s perspective, I found her book to be full of scary and illuminating facts – from enacted laws (in the US and abroad) and population statistics, case studies and personal anecdotes etc. So if you’re trying to decide whether or not you are in fact a feminist, this is the book for you! It will spark an understanding of modem injustices and inequalities and, yes, likely convince you that more needs to be done to combat these instances.


When you’re getting abstinence-only education during the day and Girls Gone Wild commercials at night, if’s not exactly easy to develop a heathy sexuality.” pp.20-21

Both harassment and rape are the results of a culture that teaches men that women exist solely for them, their desires.” –p.79

The government wants happy housewives. More than they want financially secure women.” –p.131

One of the main problems with feminism today is its inability to recruit younger women and keep them interested.” –p.173

We should tell girls the truth; ‘Beautiful’ is bullshit, a standard created to make women into good consumers, too busy wallowing in self-loathing to notice that we’re second-class citizens.” –p.204

Men have body standards to live up to as well…. But their[s] – big, strong, muscular – push them to be strong, to take up space. Ours – skinny, skeletal, weak – push us to be fragile, to take up less space, to disappear.” –p.217

Perseverance and an ability to get shit done are generally thought of as good qualities in male politicians.But as a woman, you can’t win. ‘Cause if you’re not a “bitch”, you’re too “soft” for politics.” –p.224

Value yourself for what the media doesn’t – your intelligence, your street smarts, your ability to play a kick-ass game of pool, whatever.” –p.246

Just So You Know:

– April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

– October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

– The American Psychiatric Association says that “government restrictions on abortion are more likely to cause women lasting harm than the procedure itself.”

– Women are 40% more likely to be poor.

– Statistics show that mothers earn less and less with each child they have – the Mummy Wage Gap.

– The REAL Hot 100 list features women who are hot for what they do, not how they look.
So it’s a list woman could actually vote for!

Something Witchy This Way Comes…

The story:

Poppy has always known she was different – cats follow her everywhere and mysterious things happen when she gets angry, bad things, like windows shattering and random fires. There’s usually blood involved. So exactly the kind of things that get you expelled from eleven schools in a row and which eventually drive her mother into a mental institution…

What Poppy doesn’t know is that there is a very reasonable explanation for all of this: her evil witch aunt swapped her out with a regular mortal – Ember – when she was less than a day old. Making Poppy, ta-da!, a witch… And poor Ember, a talentless mortal in witch clothes. (It’s difficult to say which character feels the most sorry for themselves at the beginning of the story.) Then there’s Leo, the young homeless boy who steals Poppy’s heart.

You can expect:

– Dark, gothic undertones. #myjam

– A cute, magical romance…. A love triangle of sorts. #SOmean

– Multiple p.o.v characters.

– Dark family secrets. #yeahbaby!

– High school drama.

– A brutal ending. Seriously. I need a sequel stat. This ending CANNOT stand! #obsessed #really?

Orchard Books is publishing The Hawkweed Prophesy on June 16th.

The Book Review: One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank

Publishing June 6th, ARC curtesy of Netgalley.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sophie and her brother are sent to Paris to spend the summer with their father, his soon-to-be wife and his stepdaughter. The stepdaughter, Camille, agrees to show them around the city, but she makes it clear that she will do everything in her power to make Sophie miserable.

Sophie’s dream is to become a pianist, and she was supposed to spend the summer preparing for a scholarship competition. Still, after a few encounters with a gorgeous French boy, Sophie finds herself warming to the city. There’s just one hitch—he’s a friend of Camille’s.


Camille was a typical bully, the type we’ve all met before as young girls and know to dread. #evilstepsister Though this is probably one reason why I connected so well with the story, it also kind of sucked for Sophie!

I loved how Sophie’s life in Paris was built up slowly, brick by brick – with each new place explored, each new pastry tasted and each new phrase she learns. I really felt like I was learning how to live in Paris, whilst reading One Paris Summer.

Piano-obsessed Sophie grows up a lot during the course of the novel, in large part because of Camille’s actions. Her impression of her childhood crush is reformed, her relationships with her brother and estranged father mature and she learns to believe in herself more. 

Sophie’s less inclined to cry and mop around by the end of the novel. So I definitely liked and respected her more as the story progressed.

Matthieu was a typical French love interest – alluringly aloof and yet suitably romantic. His scenes definitely made me swoon a time or two, not something that YA usually does for me… Expect cute texts, sexy French lessons and the Eiffel Tower! 

The only negative thing I’d say is that Matthieu’s reasons for staying away from Sophie in the beginning, became rather tiresome after a while. I sort of felt like if the author had used maybe a smidgen more of her imagination, then she might of have solved this issue.

A Week In San Francisco With Nina LaCour and David Levithan…

We listened to beat poetry and Lehna’s poem, that one about friendship, reminded me of my best friends from high school and what leaving them behind felt like.

What we really were,
Were twins.
The kind that feel it
When the other is cold.
The kind that always hears
Two heartbeats
Instead of one.
Pinch me
And you’d say

We attended pride and watched the Dykes on Bikes. And we revelled in the openness. In the love.

Mark spent most of that week figuring himself out, when his closeted best friend found somebody else. But that was cool.

Mark: “I have this thing inside me, and it’s angry and it’s scared and it’s uncertain and most of all it’s so completely in love with him, and it would do anything to keep him, even if it means things staying the way they are now…. I don’t love him for who he is now. I wouldn’t love him for who he is two years from now. I love him for all the hims he’s already been with me.”

Katie ‘call-me-Kate’, the under-confident artist, ran away from her dream girl time after time, but what she was really running from, who knew? Only she did. Only her fears did.

And Garrison took our pictures, forced us to stare at our truths. To try to live them. He was safe, he was wise, he was honest and knew a little something about hearts. He told us, “Most lives are long, and most pain is short. Hearts don’t actually break; they always keep beating…. As that famous homosexual Winston Churchill once said, if you find yourself heartbroken, keep walking.”

That time I spent in San Francisco with Nina LaCour and David Levithan, that time was amazing.

It taught me that it was okay to not have stuff figured out. Any of it. Because that’s life.

But, funnily enough, eventually Kate did figure some important stuff out. And so did Mark.

Kate: “Hiding and denying and being afraid is no way to treat love. Love demands bravery. No matter the occasion, love expects us to rise…”

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan (St Martin’s Griffin) publishes June 7th.