Book Review: How Hard Can Love Be? (Holly Bourne)

Publisher: Usborne

Pages: 480

Release Date: February 1st 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.

Review:

I had to read this straight after reading Am I Normal Yet? as I enjoyed the first book so very much.

This time it’s Amber’s turn to tell her story, and while I did grow to love her more as the book went on, I really missed Evie at first as I grew really attached to her in the previous book.

Amber has a very different set of problems to Evie – she craves love, whether it’s from her alcoholic mother, her dad who is preoccupied with his new wife and evil step-son, or the hot Prom King at the American camp she’s working at this summer.

As the title suggests, love isn’t always straight forward and Amber struggles with it over the summer. Her mother avoids all confrontation and talking about the past and constantly puts other things above Amber. Kyle might be an All American Cliche but he’s also the first boy who’s actually shown Amber any interest, but he also sends confusing messages and she doesn’t know what to think.

I enjoyed the feminism aspect of this book. In the previous book Amber often berated Lottie and Evie for their constant boy talk, but as she falls for one herself she realises what a minefield it can be. It can feel conflicting sometimes, to call yourself a feminist yet have movie style giggly/moaning conversations about boys. The Harry Potter references really made me want to re-read the series again and I loved how it linked in with relationship with her mother. The hopelessness of Amber and Kyle’s relationship also got me hard: I’m not saying it’s impossible to last but a relationship is so hard to maintain when you’re in completely different countries. I could see why Amber guarded herself so much.

The strained relationship with Amber’s mum did come to a fairly nice conclusion but I really disliked her through a lot of the book. I felt more understanding after she opened up about her alcoholism but for most of the book I just wanted to scream “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE HER?!” But as someone who hasn’t ever struggled with addiction like that I can’t even pretend to understand her problems. There was another event at the end of the book which I was a bit concerned about, as Amber’s behaviour got pretty reckless in my eyes (no spoilers!) and I was worried about endorsing that kind of behaviour, but I think it was resolved in a satisfactory way.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Evie’s story but it was still a fantastic book. I know the third book is out shortly and I’m dying to get my hands on Lottie’s story as it sounds incredible <3

4

Little Moore’s Bedtime Reads #4

Welcome back to Little Moore’s Bedtime Reads! Here is the remainder of our most recent library haul.

Sleepy Cheetah (Mwenye Hadithi)

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This was a fun tale of how the cheetah got his spots and features some mischievous monkeys.

Goodnight Already! (Jory John)

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I really enjoyed this. It’s great as a bedtime story as Bear tries to go to bed and his pesky neighbour Duck keeps bothering him. We liked doing a very grumpy voice for the bear.

Daddy I Can’t Sleep (Alan Durant)

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Because of the title I made Mr Moore read this one first. When I read it we did it in two nights as it’s quite long and Little Moore got a bit fidgety. It’s a good ‘don’t be afraid of the dark’ kind of story.

Harry and the Monster (Sue Mongredien)

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This is another good one for teaching kids not to be afraid of things – in this case the scary monster in Harry’s dreams. His parents help him to overcome this fear with some suggestions that give very funny results.

The Nutcracker (Susan Chandler)

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This one was more for me than Little Moore as I love the ballet! It’s a great retelling with wonderful illustrations, though again it was too long for us to do in one sitting.

Moomin and the Favourite Thing (Tove Jansson)

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I actually found the Moomins pretty creepy as a kid but enjoyed this one. I loved how Thingumy and Bob spoke though it was pretty challenging to read aloud!

University: Was It Worth It?

I recently read a post by Katie over on Life of Kitty on whether university was worth it. I really enjoyed reading it as it got me thinking a lot and after commenting I said I’d do something similar myself.

I went to a smallish university in North Wales. I picked it when I was 17, pretty much at random and decided that was the only one I was going to apply for (pretty reckless looking back on it but it worked!). I didn’t do a visit or talk to anyone who was there, I just applied and the first time I saw the town and the uni was in September 2009 when I started.

I wouldn’t recommend that method for everyone, but it did work out for me. I loved it there: I loved the small town, living by the sea, the campus itself, the societies I joined and all the people I met. Oh, and the course itself. As I went before the fees were changed I only (only!) paid about £3000 a year in tuition. I also got maximum amount of bursaries and loans. This isn’t the point of this post but I did struggle to live on that, so I don’t know how people who were given less money did. I also did have several part time jobs throughout my time there so I was trying to support myself too.

But was it worth the £21,000 debt I am in now, plus the overdraft I struggled to get out of for over a year? Well…

We’ll start with the obvious one – I got a degree out of it. Actually I got two, as I did a Masters straight after I finished my undergrad, but I paid for that all myself. Most people would probably say that’s the main reason for going to university, although I’m of the opinion that it’s the experience that counts just as much. I got a 1st class degree in Creative Studies and a Master of Research in Creative Practice, and I’m really proud of that as I worked very hard.

Fast forward through four years of university and I was working full time at a supermarket cafe for little above minimum wage. Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a good job. Though I was well educated, all my friends who didn’t go to uni had four years worth of work experience, while I’d only had several part time jobs. Work experience is a real key thing when you’re looking for a job and I think a lot of university students don’t have it, and that’s where they fall down.

I eventually managed to get a temp job in an office. In the phone interview for it I was asked about my extra curricular activities rather than my degrees: I had experience as secretary for a drama society and coordinated a performance for the local council as voluntary work. And that’s what got me the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the degrees helped, but that was what my soon-to-be boss was interested in, as it was real world experience I could pull on. I think when you’re at uni you don’t always realise what a bubble you live in.

That six month temp job turned into a year and a half until a different department offered me a full time position with the company, which I’ll return to after maternity leave. I work in IT and do absolutely nothing creative in my job. But I am happy there and that matters to me, having been utterly miserable in jobs in the past.

The experience of university was what really made it worth it for me. I did so many things there which I might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I’ve done a little list of some of the things I’m proud of:

  • The above mentioned voluntary performance, which I scripted, cast, led rehearsals for and basically did everything for myself and was a great success
  • Performed in several plays in Wales which were all unforgettable experiences: favourites include Ariel in The Tempest, Hermia in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Jack in Lord of the Flies
  • Performed in a dance competition in Edinburgh
  • Did lights for a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month
  • Performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two weeks
  • Had a short story published in an anthology
  • Acted in several short films which have been shown across the UK, America and South Korea

And then we get on to the more sentimental stuff. I didn’t really make friends for life at school, bar one person, but I made excellent friends at university and still speak to a lot of them. There’s a few who also came from the West Midlands and we all came back here and still meet up, which is awesome. I wouldn’t have those people if I hadn’t gone to uni.

And now the really mushy stuff. I also met Nathan at university. He was one of the first people I spoke to there and we were friends for a couple of years before getting together in our third year. And now we have a son together. Again, I wouldn’t have these two if I hadn’t gone to university. I know if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t know what I was missing and yada yada but I love them both and wouldn’t change a thing.

So while university may not have worked out as I might have once planned – I haven’t (yet!) got a job in creative industries – it worked out well for me in so many other ways that I know I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned a lot there I’ll always treasure the memories I made.

If you’re not sure whether to go to university then I’d say go with you gut – it’s not for everyone, but it definitely was for me. It’s definitely a life changing experience and one that I would go back and do all over exactly the same if I could.

Book Review: Paper Butterflies (Lisa Heathfield)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 320

Release Date: June 30th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

June’s life at home with her stepmother and stepsister is a dark one – and a secret one. She is trapped like a butterfly in a net.

But then June meets Blister, a boy in the woods. In him she recognises the tiniest glimmer of hope that perhaps she can find a way to fly far, far away from her home and be free. Because every creature in this world deserves their freedom . . . But at what price?

Review:

I loved Lisa Heathfield’s Seed last year, so when I saw people raving on Twitter about her new book I was desperate to get my hands on it. Massive thanks to Egmont Press Office Maggie Eckel for sending me a copy!

Seed was so incredibly I wasn’t really sure how Heathfield would follow it up, but Paper Butterflies is an absolute triumph. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. I’m not really a crier at books but this pushed me close!

June suffers horrific abuse at the hands of her step-mother, Kathleen. In front of June’s teachers and father she is all sweetness and caring and really appears to be on June’s side, but when they are alone she tortures her in the most horrendous ways, and even makes her own daughter, Megan, assist her. June finds escape in her new friend, Blister, but it’s not enough to escape for just a few hours. Unable to ask anyone for help, June soon finds herself pushed to breaking point.

The story is split into Before and After, though we’re not sure what event the After refers to. I had an inkling on what would happen and was mostly right (I’m getting pretty psychic at books these days) but it didn’t make it any less shocking and awful. The Before chapters move quickly through the years of June’s life, and we see her turn from a young, scared girl into a tortured young adult.

My heart went out to June completely. Kathleen’s version of abuse is truly awful. It’s not what you might think of when the word abuse is used: it’s not sexual, she doesn’t hit her. A lot of it is psychological and it all combines to break June down and make her feel like she isn’t even human. This isn’t an easy read and I can imagine this level of intensity isn’t for everyone.

There are moments of respite from this, for both June and the reader. June is happiest with Blister and his family, who give her hope and remind her that she is important and special. Heathfield’s beautiful writing also saves the reader from becoming completely depressed: her voice is unique and the descriptions are vivid and elegant. I just want to eat up all her words.

This is a heartbreaking read with just enough hope sprinkled in so I wasn’t reduced to a blubbering mess. Read this, and if you haven’t read Seed yet then go buy that as well. I loved both. I really hope she’s working on a Seed sequel now…

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Book Review: Am I Normal Yet? (Holly Bourne)

Publisher: Usborne

Pages: 434

Release Date: August 1st 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

Review:

This has sat on my shelf for a little while now and after a quick poll on Twitter the people spoke and decided this was what I needed to read yet.

My first thought on finishing was OMG why haven’t I read this sooner?!

There were so many times in this book when Evie said the exact thing I’ve thought before. Like the stupid blue gel on the tampon adverts or the special period Nurofen which is just the normal one in a pink packet and twice as expensive. Feminism is a hot topic at the moment and a book like this is a must read for any teen wanting to know more about the subject. While some bits were familiar to me there was a lot that it taught me too. I love the Spinster Club and can’t wait to see how it develops over the next books (I’ve already started reading the sequel!) The book didn’t read too preachy either, showing how feminism related to different situations the girls got into rather than just telling the reader about it.

Another major topic of this book is mental health issues and how Evie deals with her OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Although I feel mental health issues are more talked about now than they were when I was a teen, there’s still a long way to go. This book is a great addition to the conversation though as it bluntly debunks some myths about OCD and addresses the way we talk about mental health. I hate hearing someone say they’re ‘so OCD’ when they like cleaning or something equally trivial. Because that’s not what OCD is about. While I’ve known this, I didn’t really know much about the disorder and I feel Evie’s story is really enlightening. It doesn’t glamourise mental health issues and shows the real ugly side of the condition.

The boy issues in the book felt familiar from my dating days and while it was easier to pick out the jerks from this side of the page, I’ve been in Evie’s position before and it’s so easy to get suckered in by a pair of pretty eyes. I’m glad that Evie didn’t find herself a boyfriend and suddenly her illness was cured: I’ve read books like that before and it’s not only unrealistic but dangerous to teach teens that a relationship fixes all.

The book was really easy to read and got me out of the horrid reading slump I’ve had lately. My dad even got reading it when he visited and said he was engrossed by the first few pages. Bourne has a real talent for writing and I just want to devour all her books now.

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Book Review: SuperMutant Magic Academy (Jillian Tamaki)

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly

Pages: 224

Release Date: April 28th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

The New York Times and New Yorker illustrator Jillian Tamaki is best known for co-creating the award-winning young adult graphic novels Skim and This One Summer—moody and atmospheric bestsellers. SuperMutant Magic Academy, which she has been serializing online for the past four years, paints a teenaged world filled with just as much ennui and uncertainty, but also with a sharp dose of humor and irreverence. Tamaki deftly plays superhero and high-school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns.

Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating.

SuperMutant Magic Academy has won two Ignatz Awards. This volume combines the most popular content from the webcomic with a selection of all-new, never-before-seen strips that conclude Tamaki’s account of life at the academy.

Review:

This was a Christmas present that I’ve finally gotten round to reading. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all: I didn’t know anything about it going in and was expecting a traditional kind of story. Instead, this book is made up of one page comic strips which Tamaki has been serialising online. It’s completely different to anything I’ve read before, a bit like reading a whole book of the comic strips I used to read in the Metro. This felt like a lot to do in a few sittings and I did wonder if I’d have preferred to read it online bit by bit.

After reading a lot of other reviews of this book, I feel like other people ‘got it’ more than I did. I enjoyed reading it and a lot of them made me chuckle, but I’m just not sure I got all the jokes. A good part of that could be the way I read things – way too fast, so maybe I needed to slow down and look at the words and pictures a bit more to fully appreciate it.

Still, what I did get I really enjoyed. It’s an interesting way to get to know characters, from these small snapshots of their lives rather than continuing stories like I’m used to. I loved Frances and her performance art, those were definitely some of my favourite strips and also Marsha’s story of her secret love for her best friend. Although the characters are all mutants and have magical powers, the stories focus on more typical teenage growing up issue, such as feminism, body issues, being gay and falling in love.

The art style was really varied: some were a lot more detailed than others and I’m not sure if there was a point to that or not. I did love the sparing use of colour though. The majority of the strips are in black and white, but occasionally there’s a splash of red that really makes the drawings pop. My favourite part was the Prom Night story which ended the book was more like a continuous story than the rest of the book.

There’s an odd charm to this book and I really did fall in love with a lot of the characters, even if I’m not sure I got all their jokes.

3

Why Indigo’s Dragon is Set in Poland: Guest Post by Sofi Croft

Today on the blog we have Sofi Croft, author of children’s fantasy novel Indigo’s Dragon, talking about why the novel is set in Poland. Welcome Sofi!

When I embarked on writing my first book I decided to follow that famous piece of advice ‘write what you know’, so I set the story in the Lake District, where I live. However, by the time I got to chapter seven Indigo was on his way to Poland, a country I have never visited.

I have often wondered why Indigo refused to follow my plot plan and wandered off to the Polish mountains on his own, and have come up with a few theories.

  1. Poland is in Indigo’s blood.

Indigo has Polish roots. His story was inspired by The Dragon of Krakow, a Polish folktale, and I always knew his grandparents would be Polish. Although my early plot plans didn’t have Indigo disappearing off to Poland, the pull of his homeland just became too strong.

I too have Polish roots. My maternal grandmother was Prussian (from Allenstein, which is now part of Poland), and I grew up hearing her stories and being tantalised by snippets of her past. She lost her family and country during the war, and I watched her take comfort in her culture; the foods, music and stories of her past. I have always wanted to visit the land she loved so much, and I think Indigo must have known this and led me there in spirit if not in body.

  1. Poland is full of monsters.

Polish, Slavic and Baltic mythology has always fascinated me. It is full of incredible stories, creatures, and deities. I think Indigo, having a curious nature and a deep affinity for strange and unusual life forms, was naturally drawn to this place where so many mythical creatures thrive.

Indigo was so comfortable among the monsters of the Polish mountains he actually stayed there for the duration of the second book, Indigo’s Demons, and visited some legendary creatures of the Baltic Sea in the third book, Indigo’s Deep.

  1. The Polish mountains are other-worldy.

Indigo lives in the real world, but among the fantastic. I love the mountains of the Lake District, and genuinely believe that incredible creatures might be hidden in its remote places. However, in mountains that are even bigger, with even more remote places, there is even more scope for finding hidden wonders.

The Tatra Mountains in Poland are incredible; vast, fairy tale-esque and other-worldy, with a variety of habitats that almost certainly contain the hiding places of a whole range of mythical creatures. If Indigo was going to find the spectacular, the Tatras seemed like a brilliant place for him to begin his search.

Big thank you to Sofi for the wonderful guest post! You can check out my review of Indigo’s Dragon here.

Indigo’s Dragon (Indigo’s Dragon #1) by Sofi Croft is a children’s fantasy novel full of adventure, mystery, monsters and dragons.

It will be published on 23rd June 2016 by Accent YA

Sophie Croft

You can find out more about Sofi and her books on her website www.soficroft.com

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Indigo's Dragon Blog Tour

Book Review: Indigo’s Dragon (Sofi Croft)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Accent Press

Pages: 90

Release Date: June 23rd 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Some families keep monstrous secrets…

Indigo lives in the Lake District, and spends his time exploring the mountains he loves. An unexpected parcel arrives containing a first aid kit inside his grandfather’s satchel. Indigo’s curiosity is raised as he looks through his grandfather’s notebook to discover drawings of mythical creatures.

Strange things begin to happen and Indigo finds himself treating an injured magpie-cat, curing a cockatrice of its death-darting gaze, and defending a dragon. Indigo realises he must uncover the secrets his family have kept hidden, and travels alone to the Polish mountains to search for his grandfather and the truth.

Danger looms as events spiral out of control, and Indigo needs to make choices that change him, his world, and his future forever…

Review:

I’ve started reading a little more MG books lately – it’s always good to try something new, and I’m definitely glad I did with this one.

Indigo’s Dragon is a quick and exciting fantasy novel set in the rolling hills of the Lake District and the beautiful Polish mountains. I felt the settings played a huge part within the story and the descriptions really brought it to life: it’s not too description heavy, which is better for younger readers, but there’s enough there so that you can really visualise it and get a good sense of the wonderful surroundings.

There’s plenty of mystery within the book and it gets stuck into it straight away: it certainly grabbed my attention and I think younger readers will have no problem with staying engaged. The plot moves quickly without feeling rushed, and you never quite know where it’s going – I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, and it’s really made me look forward to the sequel, which I think will be a different book from what I was expecting.

I loved the creatures in the book the most – they could easily have been standard monsters, but Croft adds in little details that makes you see them as animals instead, with their own habitats and habits and quirks.

Indigo is a great protagonist and someone I feel readers will relate to. He’s smart, but not overly clever, and he has his flaws too, which make him feel human and real. I love the debate that goes on between him and Orava on the effect of the creatures living near to humans – dragons and cockatrices can be disruptive and deadly to humans, so it’s hard to get the balance between preserving the creatures and looking after your own needs.

This is a book I can really imagine reading aloud to my children one day, or having them read it aloud to me as they grow more confident with reading. For fans of Harry Potter and How to Train Your Dragon, this book is sure to be a hit with younger readers, and I look forward to the sequel!

4

Little Moore – 3 Month Update

It’s probably the thing you hear parents say most, but man time really does fly and the really do grow up so fast. It feels weird to think that 3 months ago I was a huge pregnant person with no baby in my life, and now everything is about this little man.

At three months I think we’re doing pretty well:

  • Little Moore had his tongue tie cut and is feeding better – it was a pretty horrible thing to watch as he screamed and was upset for days after, but I know it’s done us both good in the long run.
  • He can now hold some toys and has a few favourites that he enjoys putting in his mouth.
  • We’ve moved into our 3-6 month clothes and put away the Newborn/0-3 months. There was still room a bit in the 0-3 but I thought it was time to move on. I felt a bit sad about never seeing him in the old clothes again, but we’re saving them for the next one 😉
  • He’s a bit sporadic with naps but on a good day he’ll have a long morning and afternoon nap in his Moses basket, and usually one when we go out for a walk in the pram.
  • He still feeds pretty frequently during the day (around 15 times) but he goes longer stretches at night now (thank God!) Usually he’ll have a few hours before we go to bed, a dream feed and then he’ll go 5-6 hours before the next one. After that it’s still every couple of hours but that long stretch is heaven to me now!
  • He loves to chat and normally wakes me up because he’s gurgling to himself. He’ll hold conversations with me and his dad with lots of loud excited noises and thrashing arms and legs.
  • He doesn’t mind tummy time so much now and can hold his head up for a few minutes at a time. He doesn’t always though – I think he’s a bit lazy!

It’s crazy to think how much life has changed in the last few months. I’m trying to savour and enjoy every moment because before I know it he’ll be running circles around me!

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Little Moore’s Bedtime Reads #3

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a bedtime read post – I told you they might be sporadic! But here is what we’ve been reading lately.

The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler)

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This was in our #parcelsofjoy from the lovely Bex at The Ninja Book Swap. I read this to my sisters when they were younger and it’s great to read again to my son. The rhyming and story are just perfect and it’s definitely a favourite of mine.

Fetch (Jane Cabrera)

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This was a fun read about a cute little dog and has some good counting lines as Fetch helps a different person on each day of the week.

The Great Balloon Hullaballoo (Peter Bentley & Met Matsouka)

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This was a real wacky read as a squirrel and his friends travel to different planets to get shopping for his mum (including cheese from the moon, of course). The illustrations are gorgeous too.

The Pigeon Needs a Bath (Mo Wilems)

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This was easily my favourite of our recent library books. It’s conversational and easy to read, and the pigeon is very funny. We’re trying to get Little Moore to enjoy bathtime more so I read this one a lot! I’d like to check out the other Pigeon books too after reading this one.

Underpants for Ants (Russell Punter)

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This was another favourite. It’s a great phonic book and really fun for me to read, as well as to listen to. There’s great rhyming and lots of words with similar sounds and the story has good humour too.