Thursday, 15 December 2016

Fabulous Festive Reads Perfect for Christmas Part One – Foxes, Magpies and Stars

With Christmas fast approaching it is entirely feasible that you are huddled on the sofa with the kids (maybe in front of an open fire, or the very least a working radiator) and you are looking for book to read together. But as you reach for you battered copy of The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe or The Box Delights again*, don’t despair, there are new festive books out there that can be enjoyed, and here are some of our recommends of recently published ones…

The littlest Magpie and Star by Gill Hutchison and Carol Daniel

The littlest Magpie and Star is a touching story about (you guessed it) the Littlest Magpie and his aspirations to catch and own the shiniest of all shiny things a star. But stars are very high, and the Littlest Magpie has a lot to learn first, like how to fly and even more importantly patience as the wise Old Owl tells him to wait for the snow before looking for a star of his very own. When Magpie is grown and the snow lie thick, he goes on the hunt for his star, and along the way he make some unexpected friends and get given a gift of a gift of… YOU NEED TO READ IT TO FIND OUT!

The littlest Magpie and Star, is a charming story with beautiful wintery-coloured illustrations by Carol Daniel, and I guarantee it’ll bring a tear to your eye, but perhaps not so much as the story behind its publication. Inside the back cover is a photo of the immensely talented author Gill Hutchinson, who wrote the story for her granddaughter, and whom had been a writer for many years with the aspiration of publications. Sadly, just as publishers were really getting interested in Gill’s work she passed away. Her dreams of becoming published lived on, and a dedicated group of her friend’s crowd funded the money and both created and published this beautiful book.

So, The littlest Magpie and Star is a book with not one but two moving heart-warming stories within it. This book is truly a lovely read, and if you wish to purchase a copy please visit the web-site: The Littlest Magpie.

The White Fox by Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris is an award winning author and illustrator who specialises in energetic watercolours of wildlife. The White Fox is a stunning book featuring her exquisitely executed illustrations, along with the story of Sol, a twelve year old living with his father in Seattle, a long way from his home and family in Alaska. Sol’s life isn’t ideal, his Dad is mourning and working long hours at the docs and the kids at school ostracize him due to cultural and visual differences. But everything changes when Sol strikes up an unlikely friendship with an equally displaced White Artic Fox. As boy and fox bond, a sequence of events unfold that bring Sol and his father closer together and instigates a journey back to home and happiness.

The White Fox is visually stunning and is full of positive themes about the harmony between wildlife and humans plus the importance of family and heritage.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Ok, I think I should set this straight; when I started compiling this post I didn’t intend there to be a theme (other than wintery tales), but I suddenly realise that it has become very well, foxy, starry and magpie-y. That said, I offer no apology as these have all been selected on merit, and just happen to coincidently create a theme by their juxtaposition.

As I said, all these books have been picked by merit, and The Fox and Star is no exception, it or more accurately they, as I’m reviewing both the hardback and paperback which are subtly different but equally exquisite.

The Fox and the Star tell the tale of fox, whose only companion is star that he follows through the forest, but then one night when fox looks up, the star is nowhere to be seen. Lonely fox, searches for star to avail, until one day something changes, the leaves fall and when he looks up he sees the and his friend star along with thousands of other stars in the winter sky. 

Both books, are stunning; from the very ‘Filo Society esk’ fabric covered hardback with white cover illustrations, or the larger format picture books, with bright cover, with autumn colours which offers a vintage almost ‘Rosie walk’ feel. Inside the book share the same rich illustrations; highly stylised with repeated patterns and limited pallet, creating an atmospheric and aesthetic feast for the eyes, which will be enjoyed by children of all ages.

Thank you for stopping by and reading our first instalment of recommended winter reads, please stop by again for part two, where we will be talking; elves, dinosaurs and snow queens.

*please do not get me wrong both The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe or The Box Delights are great books to read all year around as are the rest of the amazing children’s classics, we are just offering an alternative!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Gifts (that are not books) for Kids who Love to Read!

 If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a child who likes to read, and you want something that’s not a book, as sometimes you have no idea which to buy them as they read so much, then here are a few suggestions…

Top Ten Books

This is lovely idea, which is relatively inexpensive and displays the child’s love of reading, as well as having the special personal touch. You simply order your print of their top ten favourite book prints and it is sent out in the post. It is simple and looks stunning on the wall. The only problem getting them to narrow down their favourite book down to only ten!

A Present That Keeps Giving

How about giving a child a gift that continues all year? Well there are a few options, first you can go for a magazine subscription.


For young children who loves stories there is the beautifully illustrated Storytime Magazine which comes monthly and is packed full of fairy tales, folk tales and stories from around the world.

For children who love a bit of excitement and action, try the David Fickling published Phoenix Comic which come out weekly with funny, and all-action comic strips which feature everything from animal antics to space or historical adventures.

If the child in question is more interested in non-fiction, then Aquila could be just the ticket. Published monthly each issue is on a theme and is bursting with facts, stories puzzles about that theme all accompanied with stunning illustrations.

For arty young adults, try Tiny Pencil magazine which explores the art of creating images in graphite.

If book is what you’re after, then try popping into your local independent bookshop, many of which do a service where they’ll send wrapped books throughout the year.

A Way to Keep Books Safe.

Many book loving children love to share their favourite reads with their friends, but are worried about the books not being returned, so how about their own Library kit or book plates?

It none of this catches your fancy than how about the good old staple gift; a good book!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Lottie Lipton – Dan Metcalf & Rachelle Panagarry – Christmas Special - Story Stocking!

Over the past few weeks on SOTB we have been exploring and expanding the concept of Story Sacks, and so we thought it very appropriate to develop them further with a festive theme, adapting their format to become a Christmas Stocking (or sack/pillowcase whichever is your preference).

Story Sacks are versatile and share many or the features of a Christmas stocking so with minimal effort can be adjusted to create a fun packed stocking (press here to read our story sack posts). For our example we have picked Dan Metcalf and Rachelle Panagarry’s Lottie Lipton The Curse of Cairo Cat, to be the book we build the Story Stocking around, (press here for a full 3D review and interview with Dan).

In case you’ve missed our Story Sack post here’s a quick tick list of what makes up a good quality story sack.

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  •  A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

Lottie Lipton is an absolute delight for being the basis of a story sack/stocking, as there are so many potential avenues to utilise for the non-fiction and activities sections. For example, Lottie lives in the British Museum, and she is a detective often solving clues and mysteries to save precious historical artefacts. See what I mean LOTS of scope for fun and educational elements for the story stocking/sack.

So in our Story Sack/ Stocking, we have paired Lottie Lipton’s The Curse of Cairo Cat, with two non-fiction books; first is the Usborne Official Detectives Handbook, which is full of lots of useful hints and tips on becoming a sleuth, then we have added the Explore the British Museum; a Family Souvenir Guide, so readers can find out more about Lottie’s home and the backdrop of many of her adventures. 


As for toys, games and actives, we have a lovely plush Lottie and some spyglasses for detective work, we have also included an Eyewitness Mummy Project Pack and a craft tin to make your own Egyptian scroll, so children can get creative and learn about ancient Egypt. And because Lottie loves solving puzzles we’ve added the board game, Picdocku, which can be enjoyed by the whole family after Christmas dinner, and help hone everyone’s puzzle cracking stills!

Of course this is a CHRISTMAS story sack/stocking, so sweets are required, with this mind, and carrying on the Egyptian theme we’ve included chocolate coins for the gold factor and a Toblerone for pyramids! Also one last thing DON’T FORGET THE CRACKER! 

Thanks for dropping by and do come back to read more of our Christmas features.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Ready Steady Mo! – Mo Farah, Kes Gray & Marta Kissi – Biography Story Sack

 Over the past few weeks here on SOTB we have explored and the concept of Story Sacks to prove them to be an exciting resource which can inspire a wider audience of readers. We have looked at creating story sacks for different ages of readers from key stage one pupil’s right through to young adults, proving that they are adaptable and versatile. But now we are stretching the concept further and we give you is our first Biography Story Sack.

It has become apparent to us SOTB contributors that publishers seem to no-longer publish exciting biographies/ autobiographies for children, akin to; Roald Dahl’s Boy, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell or When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. This is a shame as biographies can be an excellent way to introduce children to reading non-fiction but in an understandable narrative form. With this in mind, we set ourselves a challenge to assemble a Biography Story Sack based on someone who children are aware of and who is both a passive and inspiring role model. Therefore we thought very hard and picked the formidable Mo Farah.

So we have picked the vibrant and picture book Ready Steady Mo! By Mo himself along with Kes Gray and Marta Kissi, as central core to build the story sack around. Ready Steady Mo!, is a funny, vibrant beautifully illustrated picture book, following Mo, as he runs through extraordinary settings inspiring others to get active too. We have paired this up with Where’s Mo, a fun Where’s Wally style spotting books full of puzzles and based around London 2012.

For the obligatory non-fiction book element of the story sack, we have included Roy Apps, short biography ‘Dream to Win; Mo Farah’ which concentrates on Mo’s story from when he was a boy and his extraordinary journey from Somalia to the UK and young sportsman to Olympic champion. The book is told in narrative form and is interjected by lovely illustrations by Chris King. In addition to this we have included another non-fiction, Richard Brassey’s fully illustrated picture book of ‘The Story Of The Olympics,’ to help put Mo achievement into perspective to young readers.

However the essential soft toy element of the story sack was problematic, as after searching toy shops, the internet and even charity shops, it became apparent that it is near on impossible to by a soft toy/ rag doll or plush of a person unless you want a white blonde haired girl. Therefore our Mo, has been homemade, and we have tried very hard to make the likeness as close as possible to Marta Kissi’s illustrations of Mo in Ready Steady Mo!

For the game part we have chosen the Top Trumps GOLD 30 Legend of London 2012, which includes a Mo Farah card, and we also included a god medal so children can pretend to be a gold medallist too.

So here we bring another adaptation of the Story Sack, a biography, hopefully this will excite children and hopefully inspire them to read and run! I much hoping that it would meet Mo’s approval.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tinder – Sally Gardner & David Roberts – Young Adults Story Sack

Another day, another post, another Story Sack, but todays isn’t the usual story sack; yes it’s constructed around a picture book, but it’s not for Key Stage One children, but for Young Adults, and older adults too! Continuing on our features on stretching the scope, and challenging the pre-conceptions, of Story Sacks we bring you a story sack inspired by Sally Gardner and David Roberts’s beautiful re-imagined fairy tale yarn, Tinder.

Tinder was penned by the hugely talented Sally Gardner who took come the Carnegie medal in 2013 for her novel Maggot Moon, and was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Tinder Box. It’s is a touching story for older YA readers and is beautiful accompanied by David Roberts monotone and atmospheric illustrations, and it was also shortlisted for the Carnegie in 2015, for a full review press here.

I chose Tinder to be the basis for a YA Story Sack for a few reasons; firstly because it’s a wonderful book, and secondly because it is one of a few (but ever increasing) number of highly illustrated books for young adults, and lastly due to the current debates about the changing of Fairy Tales that have recently been in the news, (for find out more press here), my use of Tinder illustrating my opinion that Fairy tales should and have to evolve in order to remain relevant to society and therefore survive.

So as you may know from our previous post story sacks usually have: a picture books, a non-fiction book, a soft toy and a game, that are all to be related to the story in the picture book.

As Tinder was inspire by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Tinder Box, it seemed right to also include a copy of The Tinder box, for comparison, and to see how fairy tales have changed across time and generations. For the non-fiction element I picked Jack Zipes’s What Dreams Come True, which explores the history, eviloution and social life of fairy tales from the sixteenth century to current day, including The Tinder Box. However, being a YA Story Sack I thought it’d be fine to include more than non-fiction books, so if What Dreams Come True looks a little heavy there is also a lighter biographical book about Hans Christian Anderson, and his work.

Adapting the concept of a story sack for young adult readers, has meant that the soft toy and games, can be replaced with alternatives like the little wooden Tinder Box that can be decorated, and the sketchpad and pen, so the reader can try their hand at both penning and illustrating their own fairy tale. Thereby not being childish, but still incorporating the educational element and inspiring imaginative flow.

I believe this show one way that a story sack can be assembled to inspire and interest Young Adults, but there are many more books which would produce equally lovely story sack, like Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls or Marcus Sedgwick’s Ghost of Heaven to name but a few.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Beetle Boy – M. G. Leonard - Middle Grade Story Sack

Today we are continuing our Story Sack feature with a story sack complied especially for Middle Grade readers, and constructed around M.G. Leonard’s hugely successful Beetle Boy. Being for older readers, we have consciously played with the traditional format of the Story Sack to make it appeal to more mature children, and also endeavoured to make it exciting for boys in particular. This is made really very easy because the novel Beetle Boy is such a riveting read, with so many themes running through, that it is really a very easy book to base a story sack around. 

So firstly a very quick blurb about Beetle Boy supplied by my ten year old son:

Beetle Boy is a fantastic and exciting book all about a boy called Darkus who discovers huge beetles that have had experiments done on them, and learns that a creepy lady is trying to capture them. Darkus’s father has gone missing so he goes and lives with his uncle and together with his two friends and his new pet rhinoceros beetle they join forces to save the beetles and find his dad.

So for this story sack, we picked a non-fiction book Explore Natures: Beetles and BUG, which does exactly what it says on the tin, with lots of beautifully full colour photographs and illustrations. 

Traditionally story sacks come with soft toys, but with this one being for Middle Grade readers, we decided that they would require something a bit more grown up, so the soft toy has been replaced by a beetle in resin, and a bug hunting book plus a kit comprising of scrapbook, looking glass, compass and binoculars to assist with the finding of bugs in the local area, identifying them and recording the findings. 

Another must for story sacks is a game, so with this one, I’ve opted for the beautiful and educational Bug Bingo, BUT there are many different games which would also be very appropriate, plus fit smaller budgets such as: Bug Top Trumps, or the vintage classic Beetles, or the more recent strategy game Hive.

This displays that story sack can be utilised to inspire older children to read, and are not exclusive to Key Stage One. This Beetle Boy story sack has a blend of fiction, exciting and educational activities and non-fiction reading, all of which are things that appeal to middle grade children and to boys in particular. Why not try compiling one your self or even seeing if you can turn a young reader into a Beetle Boy or even a Beetle Queen!

Thank you for stopping by, and please drop by again for more Story Stack ideas, coming up in the next few weeks we have; YA Story Sacks, Story Sacks on a budget and Biography Story Sacks.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Grandpa was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres and Hannah Coulson – Story Sack – Barrington Stoke

Continuing our features on Story Sacks, we bring you a space themed Story Sack inspired by Grandpa was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres and Hannah Coulson. From the moment I opened up the padded envelope (with the tell-tale Barrington Stoke squirrel on the front), and laid my eyes on the vibrantly illustrated front cover of Grandpa was an Astronaut I wanted to not only review it but make it the central component for a Story Sack.

The story it’s self is beautifully simple, exploring the tender and joyful relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Where two generations of the same family bond through play and make-believe, utilising every child’s favourite toy, a cardboard box. In a cardboard-box-rocket, Sherman and Grandpa, a former astronaut, go on an expedition to the moon. The story is told in a way that will engage young readers and bring a wave of nostalgia to adults. The story is further brought to life by the wonderfully colourful and energetic illustrations by Hannah Coulson. All in all, it’s is an ideal story to be shared by the whole family at story time.

With the story being so captivating, and being to the back drop of space I went about creating a Story Sack around it. As you may know, Story Sacks are designed to get children excited about reading. A story sack is a bag and inside there is a good quality fiction book (usually a picture book) and a non-fiction book which is related. There are also soft toys a game and sometimes an activity sheet. All the contents of the sack relate to the story in the fiction book, and are designed to explore the story in other ways, and to ignite the child’s imagination.

So when putting together story sacks I firstly look for the soft toys, for the Grandpa was an Astronaut Story Sack, I opted for finger puppets for Sherman, Grandpa and Mum (which are inexpensive and readily available on online), and a small dog figurine to represent Luna, Sherman’s pet.

Once the soft toys were in the bag (literally), I looked for a game, and found a lovely Rocket Game by Orchard Toys, and paired this with the fully illustrated Biggest and Best Universe Guide to be the non-fiction and educational elements of the sack. 

To further enhance the imaginative play, there is a crocheted moon, and a paper box rocket.

The completed Story Sack is colourful and fun looking, and should be enticing for children, furthermore, it was inexpensive as both the game and non-fiction books were sourced second-hand, and the puppets cost less than £1.50, making the whole thing cost less that £10.00, proving that Story Sacks can also be complied on a budget!

Thank you for stopping by and please drop by again!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Poo at the Zoo by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey - Story Sacks – DIY - Poo Bags

Getting children engaged in stories from an early age can be the cornerstone to them developing a love for reading. There are many ways to accomplish this but one of the most fun ways, which is adopted by schools and pre-school and can also be easily adapted for the home, is to use Story Sacks, (press here to read our last Story Sack DIY guide).

Over the next few post, we at space on the bookshelf will be exploring the concept of story sacks; looking at how to create them, how to put-together story sacks for older readers like Middle Grade and Young Adults, and looking at creating Story Sacks on a frugal budget. But to start off our Story Sack features, we shall begin with; Poo Bags. It is pretty universally acknowledged that children find poo funny, so why not use their amusement to both engage them in stories, and slipping in a bit of education on the way?

What’s a story sack?

Story sacks are another way of getting children excited about reading. A story sack is a bag and inside there is a good quality fiction book (usually a picture book) and a non-fiction book which is related. There are also soft toys a game and sometimes an activity sheet. All the contents of the sack relates to the story in the fiction book, and are designed to explore the story in other ways, and to ignite the child’s imagination.

Tips to make best use out of your story sacks...

Teaching assistance and story sack creator Janice Markey (whose been making story sacks for over ten years) shares some tips for making story sacks and how to use them best to excite children about reading.

  • Don’t forget the toys -There MUST be a soft toy and a game in the sack!
  • Fewer are better - We keep four to five story sacks in the class room at any one time allowing the children to borrow them on a rota system. A child can take them home for a week and read them together with their families. The rota system means they look forward to their turn the children often ask when their turn is to take home a story sack.
  • Keep them Fresh- I’m always keeping them fresh and making news ones and keeping up with trends. I did an Olympic one and a queen’s jubilee one last year. If they get tired I take them out of circulation and remake them. Keeping them fresh means they are always exciting for the children.
  • Scrounge – Story sacks cost to compile, so scrounge funds wherever you can!

Poo Bag #1 Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey

Poo in Zoo is a funny and vibrantly coloured picture book following the adventures of Little Bob McGrew the keeper at the zoo, whose job mainly consists of shovelling up – you’ve guest it - poo! The illustrations of the differing type of poo from varying creatures are amusing, and you feel a little sorry for Bob McGrew, but it’s when the naughty Iguana starts greedily guzzling everything he can find, and then deposits it in a glowing smelly plop, which is when the keepers job becomes really horrible.

Poor Bob doesn’t know what to do with glowing poo, but it soon becomes the main attraction, with people flocking to see it, so much so that Hector Gloop for his Amazing Poo Museum, meaning that Bob can buy an automatic Poo picker-up-er!

I chose this book for the basis of the Story Sack not only because it is funny and beautifully illustrated, but because when I was a teenager I had a pet – you’ve guest it – iguana! And indeed iguanas do have the smelliest most horrendous poo, on account that they only do a move every few months! My iguana’s poo was so bad that it will smell out the whole house, for days even after it had been cleared up!

My very Smelly Iguana  - Iggy.

The Other aspect of the book that I thought was quite topical was the Poo Museum, as earlier this year an actual Poo Museum; The National Poo Museum, opened up on the Sandown Zoo on the Isle of White.

Of course a Story scam need to be educational as well as funny, so I’ve paired Poo at the Zoo up with the factual ‘Animal Sciences; Poo a Natural History of the Unmentionable’ which is an interesting picture filled book full of interesting poo facts.

To make the Story Sack educational and fun, there are an array of soft Zoo Animals, plus a hand-puppet Little Bob-McGrew Zoo Keeper and of course a cuddly iguana, a pretend poo, and lastly a game of Plop Trumps!

This Story Sack should cause lots of fun and laughter, and maybe even slip a bit of education in without children even noticing! But if maybe Iguana’s aren’t your thing, then you could always try one utilising the classic ‘The Mole who knew it was None of His Business!’

Poo Bag #2 The Mole who knew it was None of His Business - Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbuch

I hope you've enjoyed this Story Sack post, and please come back and visit for more Story Sack inspiration!