Monday, 18 December 2017

The Ninjabread Man by Katrina Charman & Fabiano Fiorin – Story Sack

It’s time for a Christmassy Story Sack, and what could be more festive than gingerbread? So we at SPOB present our Ninjabread Man story sack based on the book by Katrina Charman and illustrated by Fabiano Fiorin.

The Ninjabread Man is an educational title by Hopscotch Twisty Tales, as it as exciting and exquisitely illustrated as any picture book published purely for pleasure, with the addition of a fantastic and funny twist. I chose it, because of its humour, exciting storyline, and because my sister a foundation class teacher is often asking for entertaining, good quality contemporary stories based on The Gingerbread Man to use in class, and this fit’s that criteria beautifully.

The story funs along the same lines as the original, but with a feistier protagonist complete with kung-fu skill baked almost to perfection that kicks and fights his way past many hungry animals in a bid for freedom. However, the crafty fox tries to outwit him by the river, but the confident cookie decides to leap across the water but is saved from a water end, by a surprising spry old ninja baker!

So before we start talk about building a story sack around this all-kicking adventure, let have a reminder of the elements that make up a good 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.

So, Good quality fiction book – check!

Non-fiction book, that relates to the story - This could go two ways, you could opt for a book about ninjas/kung-fu, or as this is a (slight dubiously) festive themed Story Sack, I’ve chosen to go with a book about gingerbread. The book in question is Ginger Bread Wonderland by Mima Sinclair, which gives an introduction with a history about gingerbread followed by 30 instructions of gingerbread bakes and projects, all accompanied by delightful and festive photographs.

Toys – and soft toys are a must for this age range, so I’ve included a Gingerbread soft toy, of which there are plenty to be found at this time of year, and a fox hand puppet. With this pair children can roll play for hours, replaying the ending of the story.

A Game or Activity  - well, I think I’ve gone a little overboard with this element but it was so much fun, I couldn’t help it! So there is a lovely Orchard Games, Run, Run, As Fast as you Can, board game, which is available from any well stocked toyshop. Plus some gingerbread foam character to decorate, available cheaply in many shops during the approach to Christmas. Lastly, there’s got to be some baking!

 So I’ve found three NINJABREAD cookie cutters, which can be used in conjunction with recipes from Ginger Bread Wonderland as an activity. Or can be used with Plastercine/Play Dough. I have included a recipe sheet of modelling and Play Doughs recipes that I’ve tried and tested and adapted to make it look and taste like gingerbread. Alternatively I’ve include a large pack or orange Plastercine for instant use.

– lastly, I’ve made a make-your-own Ninjabread Man worksheet which can be used to colour and cut to make a Ninjabread man whose legs move so fast he looks like he’s actually doing kung-fu! Or course you can let you imagination go wild, maybe the gingerbread man is dancing, maybe a ballerina –bread person!

So here we are one, festive, action-packed and tasty story sack bursting with fun!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Best of 2017 - Tiny Dinosaurs – Joel Stewart – Review & Story Sack

One of this year best picture books is the fabulous Tiny Dinosaurs by Joel Stewart, which has both dinosaurs and a dog (I do like a book with a dog especially a dachshund!) and in addition to being entertaining with lovely illustrations, it also has lovely message about dealing with change. 

The book is told by Rex. The dog about him and his best friend Daisy who are dinosaur mad. They pair are inseparable and play and read and dress up as dinosaurs all day. But status quo is interrupted by the arrival of some tiny dinosaurs which Daisy is obsessed by.

Felling left out and lonely, Rex leaves home, but everywhere he goes he’s reminded about what he’s lost. Being Best of Friends, Daisy soon comes looking for Rex, and he realises he was not shunned by apprehensive about change, and recollects ever other occasion he’s felt the same way, and reassures himself that it always turns out fine.

Tiny Dinosaur is a lovely gentle story with charming illustrations which reassures children that change is scary but that change is mostly good, given time and the right support – friends, making it truly one of the Best of 2017!

So here is a bit of a bonus – a story sack based on Tiny Dinosaurs…

Quick recap on what a story sack contains…

  • 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. 


So the fiction book is sorted, so I’ve paired it with the lovely and vibrant ‘I Love Dinosaurs’ which is factual and fun.

Toys & Activity

Obviously soft toys are key, so we have a plush Daisy and Rex, plus some really tiny dinosaurs from Schleich, which comes with their own dinosaur terrain jig-saw puzzle, which doubles as the activity.


For the worksheet I’ve made a simple colour –cut and stick make your own Rex-dinosaur like in the book. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Best of 2017 - King Coo – Adam Stower

King Coo, which is penned and illustrated by Adam Stower with great comedic flare, is one of the Best of 2017 for one simple reason, my son read this book, and then re-read, and re-read , and read it over and over, and over again. It tells the tale of Ben Pole or ‘Bean’ who spend his life slinking and skulking about trying to avoid the school’s meanest boy, Monty Grabbe and his motley crew of thugs, when he falls (literally down a tunnel) to a unknown forest and meets the formidable and feisty King Coo. 

Spear wielding and passing an uncanny resemblance to The Adam’s Family’s Cousin It, the crown wearing beard adorned royal, is in fact not a boy but a GIRL.

‘I’ve never seen a boy with a BEARD before!’
 ‘How DARE you!’ replied King Coo indignantly. ‘I am a GIRL with a beard!’

With only, Herb, a tunnel obsessed wombat for company King Coo rules the forest, building tree-houses and swinging through the canopy. Ben and King Coo, become instant friends but the harmony is soon disturbed by the presence of Monty and his followers. Together Ben and King Coo defeat the intruders with an array of tricks and 'Heath Robinson' style traps. But Monty is not one to take defeat lightly and hatches a plan to get revenge on Ben and King Coo, plus ensnare Herb the wombat with the assistance of shady Ded Leigh, followed by the most dastardly of all - bulldozing the forest. 

But the self-proclaimed ‘Bearded Girl Genius’ King Coo, isn’t about to let anything happen to her pet wombat, or secret forest, so together her and Ben hatch their most ingenious plan and build their craziest invention to give Monty a taste of his own medicine.

King Coo is an excellent read for young readers, or to be read as a family, and is a enhanced by it beautiful and vibrant illustrations, putting it in the leagues of Chris Riddles’ s ‘Goth Girl’ books, or his and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Fortunately the milk’, but with a tad more eccentricity which would appeal to the readers of the Sarah MacIntyre and Philip Reeve books or fans of the’ 13 Storey Treehouse’.

King Coo is a light-hearted and funny story told together with the pictures. Every image and page designed to work together, with cheeky and charming characters and barmy inventions, all visualised in a fun and entertaining way. In fact the illustrations are so integral to the story telling that at one point it switches from text to graphic novel format.

It is no coincidence that King Coo a book which dares to transition from text to comic book format and back again is published by David Fickling Books who brought us The Phoenix Magazine, as they really are pioneers of the pushing the boundaries of children literature and with Adam Stowers’s King Coo they’ve struck gold.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Best of 2017 – Storytime Magazine

We at SOTB are keen supporters of all types of children’s literature, including quality children’s periodicals and so our round up of the most notable publications of the year reflects this, as we present Storytime magazine as one of The Best of 2017!

Storytime  is a monthly magazine which is full to bursting with fables, myths and fairy tales all adapted in an engaging, entertaining yet sympathetic manner. Every tale is accompanied by truly stunning, vibrant and perfectly matched illustrations, which are a veritable feast to the eye.  It is aimed are younger children but forgoes the plastic tat ‘free gift’ confident that the quality will draw a readership, which is a welcome change.

Storytime offers free printable activity sheets each month that ties in with one of the featured stories, and are great for promoting the love of stories at home, or use as a resources in a school environment. In addition there are well thought out games and activities within the magazine itself, and its monthly competition where the prise is their children’s book of the month.

2017 was a great year for readers of Storytime, as they began including their own new stories penned especially for them. These new tales have given each issue an added dimension juxtaposing beautifully with the more traditional tales, which really enhances the reading experience.   So far we’ve been delighted by the antics of the Alphabet Zoo, naughty nobody elves, witches, lonely leopards and many more.

In September Storytime marked its third Birthday, and they are getting and better, with a great mash of old and new stories all paired with eye-catching and alluring illustrations, it really is one of the best of 2017, and we at SOTB can’t wait to see what crazy yarns they deliver through our letterbox in 2018!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Best of 2017 – This Zoo Is Not For You – Ross Collins

Time for another picture book on our round up of the best books of 2017. I don’t think there’s been nearly enough animals so far in our selections and so I remedy this immediately with the charming retro feel ‘This Zoo is Not for You’, which is both penned and illustrated by Ross Collins.

This Zoo is Not for You, is instantly inviting with its hardback tactile cover depicting beautifully imagined zoo animals, with the tiger, panda and flamingo all giving the dull and dreary duck-billed platypus the cold shoulder. The premise is simple, Platypus applies for a job at the zoo, but being strange and new is shunned by all its inhabitants, for being too dull, too common, too dreary and not throwing poo! 

Having failed his interview platypus, leaves and the other animals contemplate their behaviour, and realise they’ve been unkind and ponder the predicament, ‘What shall we do?’ However it is platypus, that saves the day, and soon the tables are reversed, in a beautiful play on words and twist of fate, all animals are reunited with platypus, and all is forgiven.

This Zoo is Not for You, is a delightful story about acceptance and friendship, and also being self-aware – being able to identify when you’ve done wrong, and being brave enough to remedy your actions, even apologising. Along with its poignant message, it is lots of fun, with vibrant illustrations that really have a retro mid-century feel, but in a thoroughly engaging modern style.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Best of 2017 – Superdad’s Day Off by Phil Earle and Steve May

Another of Barrington Stokes Little Gems of 2017 is the strangely familiar tale by Phil Earle illustrated by Steve May, about a father who takes his son out for the day BUT is so tried that he can’t play or do any of the exciting things his child has planned.

You see- familiar! How often have you had a day of work but have been so tired that a DVD, trip to the cinema or indoor play area, where you can sit and sip coffee while your child is entertained – sounded appealing?

However as much as you can empathise with this story, it has one fundamental difference, and the clue is in the title – SUPERDAD’S day off. Yes, Stanley’s dad is you guessed it – a superhero – Dynamo Dan. The reason he’s sooo fatigued is that he is busy twenty four hours a day saving the world. So when father and son go for a say trip to the park and disasters ensue, Stanley steps leaving his Dad to recharge his batteries. Stanley endeavours don’t go unnoticed and soon both he and his Dad are both adorning capes and protecting the world - together.

Superdad’s Day Off is one of the best of 2017, as it takes an all-too-familiar situation and twists it into a fun and family centric story, with lovely messages of empathy and love as son supports parent. The illustration by Steve May are vibrant and funny working beautifully with the text. The book is further enhanced by the activities at the end of the book and lovely dedication with a photograph of Phil Earle’s own Marvellous Mini -Superhero!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Best of 2017 - Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith

Black Friday is almost upon us, the nights are longer and the season colder. Everywhere you look there is Christmas decorations and fake snow, which is a good place to start the next Best of 2017 review of the fabulous, Nellie Choc-Ice by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith.

Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is one of Barrington Stokes’s Little Gems, and it is just that, it’s a frosty, funny, fast adventure about a feisty penguin named (you’ve guesses it) Nellie Choc-Ice. Nellie is an adventurer, that inadvertently explores not only beyond the colony in the south pole but the north pole too!

As Nellie is going where no penguin has gone before exploring the south pole, she encounters a large object that thinks is a killer whale, which crashes into her iceberg and sends Nelly floating off on an ice-raft , all the way to the opposite pole!

On her adventure Nellie encounters a series of dubious characters and manages to outwit them before finally being reunited with the ‘whale’ that takes her home.

As you would expect from Jeremy Strong, the story is fun and engaging, and it is enhanced by Jamie Smith’s energetic illustrations. Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is definitely one of The Best of 2017!